Endings and Beginnings – Being Present to Both

Tom GibbonsChange, Learning, Organization Development, Presence, Social Construction1 Comment

Back in August of 2010 I wrote the post Kids, Parents, Organizations, Models and Understanding

It had to do with a conversation with my son, using our model of organizations, as he left for his last year as a hockey player in an elite amateur league here in Canada.


While the message was mostly about ways of understanding organizations, let’s fast forward 7 months.  Two days ago, in the last regular season game before the playoffs, my son was accidentally hit in the face with a shot and collapsed, twisting his ankle underneath him, breaking his ankle.  His time in this league abruptly ended.  There is not a ‘next game’ or ‘next year’.

When you are hit in the face with a puck you are totally present to that experience and very focused on the immediate interactions that are taking place.  Even watching on TV though you could tell that as he was helped off the ice he was at least a little bit thinking of intentions into the future.  It does not take long to feel angry when you know you won’t be helping your team in the playoffs and that anger comes from knowing those intentions will not have a chance to be realized.

You then are being looked after by the team trainer, you go to the hospital, a doctor stitches you up, you get painkillers and x-rays and the news that you will need surgery and that means your season, and time in this league as a player is over.  You are very present to those local interactions and there is still a strong feeling of anger and frustration in the background originating in those lost intentions.  Those feelings stay in the background as people care for you and as that care progresses and a little more time passes a deep sense of loss begins to emerge.  You feel an ending and that ending feels like loss.

And loss is only there because you have a generalized memory of past experience, memories of interactions, and patterns of interactions that you imagine and know you will miss.  Your intentions were to repeat those patterns of interaction, each new one unique and different, but still part of that pattern.

You are very present to this feeling of loss, it’s in your body, somewhere around your heart and you cannot think it away.  It has its own pattern of interaction and keeps you present to it.

People interact with you differently now.  They are sorry for you.  They care for you differently; they are angry and sad as well.  And your team mates in a few days will have an interaction you won’t have; they have a playoff game to play.  Their intentions are now different than yours, and need to be, and you feel different as people interact with you differently and you are very present to that feeling of difference.

And some days down the road as these new patterns of interaction emerge your sadness and anger get edged aside for a moment as you wonder about ‘what’s next’.  You slip a little further ahead of pain, healing, anger and sadness and a new intention makes a brief appearance.  It’s mainly in your head but as it edges other things aside a bit more you also feel it in your body, somewhere near your stomach and it feels like excitement, even though you might not describe it as that yet.  Maybe right now it just feels like inevitability.  That feeling is a beginning and it can wait for you to be present to it.

And you start to have interactions with people that are just a little different.  You bring all of those wonderful experiences forward that made the feeling of loss possible in the first place and mix them up with some new, emerging intentions and you feel just a little different.  In fact you ARE just a little different and so are those you are interacting with; just a little.

As more time passes those present and slightly different interactions begin to form new patterns and you are no longer an elite hockey player you are something different, one interaction at a time.

This is how we use our model above.  Interacting with people as they loop around and around from experience to intention and always through interaction.  They tell their organizational stories within this framework; stories of strategy, change, communication, conflict and friendship.  As the stories are told within this framework, understanding emerges, sometime easily and sometimes with great difficulty.  And people move forward together.

I’m pretty sure your own story could fit in here, or your story of what it is like to be in your organization.  The details of course are different but you and your organization are the product of all those countless interactions you have every day.  Every one of them.  And every one of them balancing naturally on a foundation of uncertainty.

Author – Tom

One Comment on “Endings and Beginnings – Being Present to Both”

  1. Tom, I must say this really resonated. What I like about it is that while we cannot control the experience or to some extent our interaction, we can control our intentions.

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