Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

The Water They Swim In

Marin County, California, USA

September 3, 2018

"If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen."  ... President Harry S Truman quoted by  
This essay, The Water They Swim In, is the companion piece to Being Upset: This Side Of A Breakthrough.

It is also the twenty first in an open group on People: I am indebted to Patricia "Pat" Shelton who inspired this conversation and contributed material.

The closer you play to the source of transformation (both physically and contextually  - but in this case I mean physically ie in closer proximity to), the higher the stakes. Any group of highly-intentioned people working closely together, are invariably and inevitably, inexorably  going to bump each other, working it all out until the sweet spot  of teamsmanship comes into everyone's focus. In any team situation with new players, there's a learning curve. In the production of transformation, there's also a learning curve for new players, except it's a lot steeper. So it's not if  the you-know-what hits the fan, but when, and over how wide an area.

The story doesn't matter. It's not what this is about. But to give you some context, I was working on an assignment with Werner's Projects' Team at his home, the Franklin House in the Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco. A staff member came over to me, looked at what I was doing, and said I wasn't doing it right. He said I was doing it my  way, and not according to the instructions. I said I had no intention of diverging from the instructions. He got right up in my face (literally) and, as the team supervisor looked on, said "Listen: the way we do things around here is we do them as instructed, or we don't do them at all, capiche?". I blanched. My entire contribution was invalidated.


Actually with hindsight, my entire contribution wasn't invalidated. Rather, what's closer to the truth is it occurred  for me that my entire contribution was invalidated.

You know, hindsight is always  20/20 vision, yes?


That was it. My participation was over. And what I want you to get is there was no second chance  for me. I had invested hours and days if not weeks and months in this. And now it was just over. Muttering a few choice expletive deleteds  under my breath, I was out of there. I strode out (didn't sign out, didn't say goodbye to anyone, nothing), all heavy and very  significant, and walked down the sidewalk to the nearest cablecar stop. And all too painfully obvious to me, was my resolve to split didn't dispel one ounce of my feelings of powerlessness and resentment. I was thwarted, unfulfilled, unheard, unappreciated, upset.

Halfway to the cablecar stop, I became aware a person was walking next to me. It wasn't just another pedestrian on that crowded city sidewalk. It was someone who had intentionally walked up to me from behind, and was now walking along abreast with me, almost in lock-step with me. It was a woman. She was walking fast (she had to walk fast to keep up with me because I was walking fast). At first I ignored her, looking dead ahead. But then she spoke. "Are you OK?" she asked. That's when I looked to my right to see who it was. It was her, my erstwhile team supervisor ("erstwhile" because I had walked out, remember?). Two seemingly conflicting things occurred for me simultaneously:

 a)  I wanted her to just ... go ... away  ... and leave me alone, and
 b)  I wanted to reach out and hug her, and hold on to her, and never let her go.

I slowed down, and eventually stopped walking. When I did, she stopped walking too. We stood there on the sidewalk facing each other, like we were the only two people on the planet. Long story short, in the space she provided, I got off it. It was a relief (the understatement of the century). I took the opportunity to apologize for my behavior, for playing small. Then I asked her "How did you do that? How did you get me back when for me there was zero  chance I was ever  coming back?".

She explained it in a way that I was not only soothed by, but was also inspired by. She said she knew people weren't there merely for the joy of it. She said she knew they didn't come in just because the projects are interesting (which they are, by the way, very). She said she knew the main reason they came in wasn't necessarily to make a difference, even though their coming in did make a difference. She said she was equally clear they weren't there for her. She said she knew there was something else they were there for. So she began inquiring "What's the water they swim in?". And the answer she got, was: the water they swim in is their relationship with Werner. That's what it is! It's why they come. So to be on the same page as me (or in the same ocean, if you will), she had to swim in the same water I swim in.

She knew her place to stand with me (if this was going to work at all) was not as the boss, the authority, the law. Neither was it as a custodian of the joy of assisting, nor was it as a leader of an interesting projects' team. It wasn't even as a portal through which making a difference is accessed. And is also wasn't as a policewoman busting my broken integrity (I had, after all, made an agreement to complete a project and stay its duration no matter what, and whichever way I spin it, I broke that agreement). None of that would have worked. Where she stood, and what worked (in fact it was the only  thing that could have ever worked) was as the context for and in recognition of  my relationship with Werner, the only reason I was there in the first place, the water I swim in.

In my decades of participation in Werner's work, I've canonized a few heroes. She's a hero. She's up there in my upper echelon. I'm indebted to her. There would never have been this Conversations For Transformation internet series of essays, were it not for her. There would never have been Conversations With A Friend, Encounters With A Friend, Experiences Of A Friend, Questions For A Friend, Visits With A Friend, were it not for her. And as for the transformation of South Africa, it would have eventually, inexorably happened through someone else, but it would certainly never have happened as early as it did through me, were it not for her.

We all get upset from time to time, every single one of us one hundred and eight billion people who've ever trod our God's green Earth. That's rote. It's machinery. It's automatic. It's ordinary. Oh, and it's human. It's very  human. But it's in whatever action(s) we choose to take next  after being upset, that the extraordinary becomes possible and can show up. And there are those heroes who unerringly, brilliantly, and unselfishly get themselves out of our way deliberately, in such a way that creates a space in which we can make our best choices to be extraordinary. They're like the midwives at the birth of the miraculous.

Forty years ago I walked out on Werner's work forever. Thanks to such a hero's way of being, I came back. I cleaned it up with everyone. I've been here ever since.

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