On Being Flexible

History in the United States is short and still moving outward. It is still being written as it expands. I knew a couple of my Great Grandmothers growing up. They were born in the late 1800’s. Their parents were alive when Lincoln was President. My Great, Great, Grandfather was alive during the War of 1812. His father saw the birth of our nation.

One of my favorite places to visit is Boston. Not only is it where my son Stuart lives and attends college at Berklee, it is where you can walk into living spaces that played and still play out a roll in the founding of our country. Take Christ’s Church, better known as the Old North Church, for instance. This is where a young twenty-three year-old Episcopal Sexton, named, Robert Newman, had been directed by Paul Revere and the Sons of Liberty, to climb the tall steeple where he briefly hung two burning lanterns, signaling the direction independence would take. It was by water. Newman climbed a narrow dark stairwell to reach the top. Liberty demands as such. Once the two lanterns were lit, his friends across the Charles River in Lexington and Concord, readied themselves as they knew the British regulars were coming by boat as opposed to marching by land.

It may be an over-simplification, but as I understand it, an argument had arisen between the Crown and its colonial subjects over who would represent the voice of the people. Would it be a distant parliament separated by an ocean or left to the various individual legislatures found in the colonies at that time? The Crown took a hard position because it was powerful and felt it was the best parent for a rebellious child. In fact, Great Britain was the most powerful country at that time. There would be no negotiation. Ben Franklin was sent to England over a period of several years to work a compromise on behalf of the various individual colonies to try to keep the Empire together. After hitting his head against a wall, even he, perhaps one of the greatest minds of the last 400 years, saw the futility of trying to work a solution with the deaf Crown.

What ultimately happened was a revolt. But not in the sense of what has been or would become a revolution as we have seen in other parts of the world. No, it was a revolution of a very slow burn–one, that some would argue, still continues today. Slow was its genius. It gave time for the people to awaken and be touched by the light of liberty that was burning. It gave time to lighten the darkness. This slow-paced revolution continues in our founding document the Constitution. It has the component of Federalism, reserving certain rights to the states. The boundaries are meant to be discussed and constantly shift. It is not meant to be an absolute rigid measuring stick. It’s soft and malleable to avoid breakage. Different people will interpret it differently. There is no black and white. There are checks and balances.

People are born with the potential to make a difference if they involve themselves in the flow of the revolution. It is not the end that matters. It is the progress of the process. What also matters is the need for all sides involved in any conflict to listen. Being inflexible and myopic will eventually lead to being broken and short-sighted. Being flexible and open to new ideas, on the other hand, leads to longevity and creativity. Is there not a lesson to be learned here in our current social climate? Whether it is a stalemate in Washington or a party to a divorce that is being purposefully entrenched, being flexible serves your future and moves you into the realm of what Lawrence Susskind, one of the fathers of modern negotiation, calls the “what ifs” and the “trading zone” where you can create a bright new future for all parties.

Although the lanterns of the night only burned a short while so not to be given away to the enemy, that light is still expanding out into the dark night.

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