Sunday, April 21, 2013

Water and Butterfly

Originally posted on the old Servant Leadership Blog on March 13, 2008.

The 50 degrees temperatures in Minnesota today prompted me to exit my bus early and walk home to get some exercise and enjoy the evening. The snow was melting fast, and water was running everywhere, bringing back memories of my childhood splashing in the puddles. As I walked along, I couldn’t help but notice the trash, dog poop, and other pollutants that had accumulated over the winter being carried away by the melting water. I recalled the news earlier this week on an Associated Press investigation that detailed the “vast array of pharmaceuticals — including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones — (…) found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans (…).” Continuing my walk, I reflected on how to relate the way we treat our water to the state of leadership in our world. Once I got home, I looked to Robert Greenleaf for the answers.

In his essay the “The Search and the Seeker” from the book Seeker and Servant, Robert Greenleaf relates an experience of a friend of his coming across two boys who found a butterfly who had emerged from its chrysalis in a window well that was enclosed with a screen. Two women notice the boys and stopped to help them figure out a way to free the trapped butterfly. For Greenleaf the story was more the then just the “human concern for the hurt of the natural world”.

The butterfly represented “our beautiful loving self (truly a gift of grace). The bars can be the hardened attitudes of the inhuman in us that keep our natural loveliness imprisoned. The boys could represent our creative capacity for awareness (…). The adults may be our rational, responsible, perhaps impersonal, self that thinks of its role as good but would not be aware of the imprisoned beauty except as that awareness is mediated by the boys. (…). But it is a message from the environment that could pass unnoticed. It is part of the vast world of symbolic communication, the riches of wisdom in which we are all constantly immersed but which some of us miss altogether”.

So what was the message that the environment was trying to tell me? Could it be that the sunshine and warmth is a representation of the potential for compassion that we humans have. My memories of playing in the water, as a child might just be a reminder that we need to recoup that ability to play and enjoy life. The dog poop could be a sign that our quest to find companionship in our pets is a waste of an opportunity to find companionship with our friends, families, and neighbors in our communities. And the garbage and pollutants that we dump in our water might be telling us to let go of our focus on consuming the right pill or product, and instead focus on finding real balance and health in our lives.

So those are my thoughts from today’s walk with Greenleaf.

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