Posted by: MC | November 27, 2010

Gratitude and Coherence

“Often I can hardly hear what another says because of the internal noise that goes on in the judging of them.”

David Brandon Zen and the art of helping.

I’m reading about rhetoric – about the way words are used both to make sense of and to form our realities.  I could be reading a novel or watching a movie.  It is after all, the Thanksgiving holiday.  Still, I’m captivated by the way human language and spirit mix to make sense.  It’s the listening thing, again.  It’s the heart and soul of this EX:Change in which I’ve now been involved for a month short of two years.

Shifting to the circumstantial context for this writing – to Thanksgiving.  Gratitude is a state of mind and heart that seems naturally to support listening.  There is the listening to the words and stories, to the interests and concerns of the ones with whom we spend time over the days associated with this holiday of thanks.  There is also the metaphoric listening for the abundant reasons to pause for recognizing the facts and circumstances of good fortune.  Things like, each of us woke up again today.  We are able to read words like the ones moving across this page.  We are able to ponder and imagine.  And we have had enough experiences up to now in these lives to find some measure of joy in the path and our companions on the journey.

I am in Wisconsin.  The chill of the winters here is leaving hints everywhere.  Frozen spots in driveways and on sidewalks where the rain midweek left puddles.  Frost on the grass in the mornings that sparkles well into the afternoon.  A thermometer that reads things like 18 and 22, depending on when you look.

In a window in this house, there is a curtain.  The curtain is white and has printed on it a large black enso (enzo) – that single brush-drawn circle originally painted one after another as a meditation of ancient Zen masters practicing and knowing all the while that perfection may never be achieved.

With listening, the exchange and resolution (if not perfect agreement) possible again and again is what scholars of rhetoric call coherence.  One such scholar suggests that one opportunity for coherence is revealed in the fact that any ‘two’ are implicated in one another – that finally one cannot enjoy existence without the other.1 Like Fox News and MSNBC; like the Republican and Democrat sides of our State and Federal governing bodies; like people who love New York City and people who absolutely prefer the expansive spaces of prairies or the close-in solitude of forests, the heights of rocky peaks or the edges of oceans.   In these and infinite other circumstances coherence is possible in the recognition and enacting of, “Self help and helping others, wisdom and compassion.”

Oddly, the hostility and dismissal that arises from not listening is evidence in rhetoric of complicity.  Since finally one cannot exist without the other, the presentation of positions as absolute authority requires that, “Assumptions of the opposition [be] inherent in our own positions.”  That means, we have to rely on the assumptions of the people we completely oppose – we even use their reasoning at the center of our own arguments for absolute authority.  At its worst, “We [all] violate the rule of justice in order to legitimate the rightness and righteousness of our own positions.”

Here, the Saturday morning after Thanksgiving, I am grateful for people who think deeply about speaking and listening.  I am grateful for having had the astounding opportunity to listen to so many American voices in those first 100 days following the inauguration of our nation’s president.  I am grateful for enzos … in small town Wisconsin, of all places … of course.  I am grateful for the chance to practice listening across differences again and again even knowing there is no perfection.  And I’m grateful for the chance we all have to cohere – to listen toward helping ourselves knowing it helps others, helping others knowing it helps us, having the courage to risk wisdom and compassion.

I know I keep saying it, but this is what I found as I listened to those 100 voices – we not only have the maturity to practice coherence, we have the desire and the powerful congruence in fundamental desires.  We want love, health, happiness, clean water – air – soil, freedom to know what we know – and all of this for our children.  For these things we set aside a whole day – Thanksgiving.

1 McPhail, Mark L. (1996).  Zen in the art of rhetoric. Albany, NY:  SUNY Press.


  1. Good Morning Mary, how wonderful to hear from you. Thank you for this opening and clear writing. I totally agree with you “letting opposing thoughts rule and judge our thoughts ” you wrote it so clear and beautiful.
    I am so happy for you being in a good space. I also moved and I am very happy. I love my home and I am working on healing myself everyday. Love you and when you come back let me know to get together. Have a great time.

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