Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Margaret Wheatley's Perseverance

Perseverance is a day-by-day decision not to give up.

The highly regarded writer, speaker, and educator Margaret Wheatley has produced a practical, insightful, and inspirational book for each of us: Perseverance

Having observed people persevering through tragedies and other difficult circumstances that she honestly admits she hopes never to encounter, Wheatley seeks to uncover what keeps you or me or a friend or a colleague going in the face of failures, betrayals, set-backs; how we find energy or motivation when exhausted or despairing; how we hold onto faith when it seems faith has only let us down. She aims to enlighten us about what enables devotion to a cause, a day-after-day focus and otherworldly dedication to a pursuit or a calling.

Wheatley, whose book includes images of beautiful paintings by Asante Salaam and calligraphy by Barbara Bash, doesn't offer this-is-how-you-survive-it advice or even anything that resembles a hard-and-fast answer to getting through and beyond uncertainty, of navigating ourselves out of darkness when hope is evanescent.

What she offers is the wisdom of words. Words that get us started thinking about our personal struggles and challenges and how we deal with the pain and fear and anxiety they cause. Words that carry us from that place where we intuit "a knife poised over our hearts" — the symbols, in Chinese, for perseverance — through willingness to try to rise above heady waters, to being able to change things by becoming aware of and exercising the choices that each of us has.

The questions we ask ourselves when confronted with a difficulty are, as Wheatley avers, not to be taken lightly, and our experiences as humans, which make up "the story of perseverance", contain the answers to the questions of what makes some of us steadfast, patient, tenacious and others unable to get up in the morning.

Wheatley divides her almost-pocket-size book into five parts, each containing a rich mix of illustrative or thought-provoking quotations or poems and commentary that focuses on specific feelings, situations, challenges, and behaviors that either support or inhibit us in our ability to respond to whatever life puts in our paths. The short essays (none more than a page long) take up such subjects as fear, blame, praise, death, loneliness, anger, discipline, groundedness, laziness, boredom, jealousy, vigilance, choice. Each is self-contained, eliminating the sense that some process is at work that we can trace from starting point A to culminating point Z and need only learn to apply to produce magical results every time. None of the sections depends on the other but together they cover a lot of ground.

And especially laudable is Wheatley's unique approach: Each commentary is devoid of examples of other people and what they've experienced and done to persevere. While such examples might be instructive — who doesn't enjoy reading about someone else's tragedy and how he or she rose above it? — they would fail to deliver Wheatley's crucial point, which is that each of us is our own example, that the answer to how to persevere lies in our examination and understanding of our mindset and personal experiences. Moreover, by not linking a particular person's response to a particular situation, or a particular situation to a particular theory or suggestion of approach, Wheatley neither dates her commentary nor deprives it of the very thing that makes it work: its universality.

Physically, Perseverance is a lovely book, produced with care and attention to format and flow, without requiring a linear perspective. It can be read a chapter or a section at a time or entirely randomly. Browsing it is almost like having a conversation with the author, who addresses her readers in a familiar voice. The book's appeal also owes much to its author's prodigious powers of observation as well as her compassion both for the messiness of the human condition and our capacity to ride out and rise above our "most horrific" circumstances.

Here are a few bits of Wheatley's wisdom you'll find in Perseverance (all excerpts © Margaret Wheatley):

✦ "We can't restore sanity to the world, but we can still remain sane and available.

✦ "Anger is not a naturally occurring phenomenon... It doesn't give us energy. It eats away at us and makes us sick... clouds our perception... separates us from solutions to the problems that make us angry... There's no such thing as righteous anger. Anger in any form only makes us blind.

✦ "When we are overwhelmed and confused,.. [w]e reach for the old maps, the routine responses, what worked in the past... To navigate life today, we definitely need new maps... The maps we need are in us, but not in only one of us. If we read the currents and signs together, we'll find our way through.

✦ "Jealousy and generosity are reverse images of one another... Jealousy is such a waste of a good human heart.

✦ "There's a fundamental distinction between guilt and regret. Guilt turns us inward, creating a cauldron of self-hatred that destroys us. People never act widely from guilt—the intensity of emotions prevents discernment and right action. Regret... gives us the capacity to see clearly, to clarify our future, to change... to move forward to become who we'd like to be. 

✦ "Accepting death, far ahead of its appearance, is richly liberating. 

✦ "Giving up is a moment of either acceptance or resignation, two very different states.

✦ "The edge is where life happens. But let's notice where we are and not lose our balance."

Wheatley's book will be published this September by Berrett-Koehler. Until then, it is being offered as an "Author's Limited Edition". For early-bird purchases, go here. To look further inside the book, go here

Wheatley also is offering a free e-mail series, "For Persevering People", comprising two pages from the book that will arrive on your desktop every week for eight weeks.

Margaret Wheatley's Yes! Magazine Blog

Huffington Post Interview with Wheatley: "Perseverance in the Gulf: A Test of Our Soul's Endurance


Louise Gallagher said...

Oh my -- another to add to my summer list. This one sounds fascianting and enlightening and beautiful -- what a perfect read it will be!

Thanks :)

Kathleen Overby said...

Those would be encouraging e-mails to receive. Thanks for showcasing such a lovely person.

Anonymous said...

M, Thanks so much for the heads up. I've known Meg for years (she lived in the Boston area when she was getting her doctorate), and she is a woman of intelligence and passion.

L.L. Barkat said...

Not out yet?!

I was just going to the library site to put it on hold. Well.

This reminds me that I have wanted to do some thinking with Chinese characters. Of course I don't know Chinese, which is a drawback. :)

Maureen said...

Yes, as I note, the author is offering "Author's Limited Edition" (directly from her) until September publication.

Joyce Wycoff said...

Meg Wheatley is one of my favorites so I was delighted to see this and will pass it along. Thanks!!

S. Etole said...

This makes me eager for September ...