Was that you I saw standing on the edge?
I was the Lumber Jack size of a man with his toes on the precipice just a stone’s throw away from you. My toes were nearly hanging over, which meant my belly extended even further over the edge.
The other side – that place beyond the chasm where I wanted to be – wasn’t all that far away. I imagined if I backed up 20 yards and ran fast, I could make the leap with room to spare.
Were you thinking the same thing?
I tried not to look down or at the jagged rock face that would be my ruin if I missed my mark. I tried to keep my eye on where I wanted to be, on the prize so to speak. But truth be told, I stood there on the edge alternating my eyes between the perils below and the possibilities that waited for me “over there.”
We looked at each other a few times, quick glances as if each of us offered the other some solace, some sort of connection about the individual choices that we were facing. Would it help to stand side by side? Could we help each other understand the risks and the rewards we might realize by leaping over the void?
Of course, we weren’t alone. Down the way from each of us were others standing on the edge as well. Young and old, women and men, people of all colours. I think I saw a mother carrying her child and a man in a wheel chair.
There we were, all of us on the edge of who we were at that moment, wondering about the possibilities over there, our fears swirling beneath us, dark and dangerous.
That’s when I woke up.
It was the strangest dream.
Like many dreams, this one lingered for a while as I went about my business and then dissipated over the next few days. I had forgotten all about it until I started writing this piece. I remember thinking, “that dream could be a great introduction to a book.”
As an activist, writer, musician, father, and partner, I have stood on the edge of who I am many times. Sometimes I leapt over the darkness below and carried on with my journey on the other side until, as you likely anticipated, I ended up on another ledge, facing another chasm separating me from possibility.
Other times, I turned around and walked away, either not ready for what I might find “over there,” or just too damn afraid to risk the fall. As well, there were times when I realized that the possibilities of where I was were still unrealized and that leaping from one cliff to another would have smacked more of escape than exploration.
In all of these cases, one thing was certain and constant, namely that there was no certainty I could rely on. Staying put may have offered me comfort and safety, but if I am honest there was no certainty that my current location would serve me best. And the possibilities offered across the way – or perceived to be offered – were only that, possibilities. Nothing guaranteed was waiting for me.
This uncertainty was simultaneously unnerving and exciting. It seemed like every choice facing me was terrifying and yet I felt rich with choice.
While the dream was mine, the experiences it painted are, I suggest, part and parcel to our humanity, our human condition.
In the context of my work to end poverty or within the frame of being a creative person (writer, musician, artist), I am constantly faced with choices and few, if any, offer me a predictable outcome.
Reflecting on the dream, I see it as a story about change and its many risks and possibilities. The dream sparked my thinking about my own resistance to taking chances and my all too frequent desire to just let what is be good enough. I am comfortable with good enough, with my routines of living. I know what to expect or at least think I do. My guess is you get what I am trying to say here. There is often something heartwarming about the status quo.
There are many, many people testing new waters, crafting ideas, launching innovative actions. I am blessed to know so many incredible leaders and thinkers, risk-takers and catalysts, and passion-makers and boat-rockers. But even the best explorers get lost, prefer calm waters, and hesitate.
I have said more than once: transformative ideas require (and deserve) transformative practice. They must weave together if we have any hope of our ideas coming to fruition. To create unique, beautiful music goes beyond the composition. Creativity, passion, and experience are put to practice (technique) and what we hear is all of that, not just the notes the pianist is playing. In other words, often, if not all the time, new music requires new technique in order to act on the possibilities of our creativity.
And for a pianist to create new music, does she not have to redefine who she is as a pianist, if not a human being?
Think of the risks jazz musicians take when they sit together and jam. For such interplay to work well, each of the players has to trust their skills and techniques while being open to possibilities that unfold during their session together. Even the best musicians experience times when the magic doesn’t happen. Even the best player can miss a note or go sideways while the others head off in a common direction.
The risk goes beyond embarrassment for missing a note. Mistakes and misses are also about the person making them and the more innovative we try to be, the more likely we will fail along the way. How do we incorporate a value of failing within our identities? How can we find sustenance from one another when our quest for the new and better way to do things, tumbles us to the ground.
Our desire to act on what is possible relies on all we have learned while at the same time challenges us to move beyond what we know to what might be. It is hard enough to do this by yourself; it is so much more difficult to do this together.
One of the fundamental tenets of my practice as a leader, teacher, and innovator is this: big change is a group activity requiring that we help one another overcome our fears, our personal or professional shortcomings, and our collective tendency to gravitate toward what is comfortable and easy.
We need our edges and our chasms. Without them we are limited in where we can go and what we can discover. But I suggest we should not stand on the edge by ourselves. We have a much better chance of leaping forward if we do it together.