Clarity First Newsletter,
November 13, 2020

“I am an optimist. It’s going OK. I don’t believe anyone is going to stop the spirit of all the humans out there.”                                     – Gillian Welch

Clarity First

A notebook about how we work, and learn, and love and live.

Yes, we have more than ample reason to be very, very concerned and frightened. But so too, do we have reasons to feel a lot of hope and potential. As Paul Hawken said: “The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer. Hope only makes sense when it doesn’t make sense to be hopeful.”

This week I’ve given the mic first to John Lewis. It’s from the preface to his memoir. It’s longer than I typically post, but it’s well worth it to both read the story here, then to click onto the video and let him tell you the story himself. They are different versions of the same story, both inspiring. You will feel hope.

Happy Friday.

Collective Action

John Lewis tells a story from his childhood to describe his vision of how we can face profound challenges and make a better world.

“About fifteen of us children were outside my aunt Seneva’s house, playing in her dirt yard. The sky began clouding over, the wind started picking up, lightning flashed far off in the distance, and suddenly I wasn’t thinking about playing anymore; I was terrified…

“Aunt Seneva was the only adult around, and as the sky blackened and the wind grew stronger, she herded us all inside.

“Her house was not the biggest place around, and it seemed even smaller with so many children squeezed inside. Small and surprisingly quiet. All of the shouting and laughter that had been going on earlier, outside, had stopped. The wind was howling now, and the house was starting to shake. We were scared. Even Aunt Seneva was scared.

“And then it got worse. Now the house was beginning to sway. The wood plank flooring beneath us began to bend. And then, a corner of the room started lifting up.

“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. None of us could. This storm was actually pulling the house toward the sky. With us inside it.

“That was when Aunt Seneva told us to clasp hands. Line up and hold hands, she said, and we did as we were told. Then she had us walk as a group toward the corner of the room that was rising. From the kitchen to the front of the house we walked, the wind screaming outside, sheets of rain beating on the tin roof. Then we walked back in the other direction, as another end of the house began to lift.

“And so it went, back and forth, fifteen children walking with the wind, holding that trembling house down with the weight of our small bodies.

“More than half a century has passed since that day, and it has struck me more than once over those many years that our society is not unlike the children in that house, rocked again and again by the winds of one storm or another, the walls around us seeming at times as if they might fly apart.

“It seemed that way in the 1960s, at the height of the civil rights movement, when America itself felt as if it might burst at the seams—so much tension, so many storms. But the people of conscience never left the house. They never ran away. They stayed, they came together and they did the best they could, clasping hands and moving toward the corner of the house that was the weakest.

“And then another corner would lift, and we would go there.
“And eventually, inevitably, the storm would settle, and the house would still stand.
“But we knew another storm would come, and we would have to do it all over again.
“And we did.
“And we still do, all of us. You and I.
“Children holding hands, walking with the wind….

Story/Video: Walking with the Wind
(Thank you to my friend Cheri Lovre for sharing this beautiful story.)

Collective Leadership

“The sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light
in the darkness of mere being.” — Carl Jung


Last week I caught up with my friend and colleague Luea Ritter. Together with Nancy Zamierowski (Zam) she runs Collective Transitions. They help businesses, organizations and groups to “build shared capacity for fostering and maintaining transformational shifts”.

We talked a lot about their work with Systemic Constellations. She shared this article with me that they published last winter. It describes a way to share our own individual and collective power to help navigate transformational shifts from a human culture that is frighteningly disconnected from nature and each other.

“Many of us working in social change or social innovation fields have built networks among people who share similar values inspired by living systems, regeneration, and holistic practices. Like mycelium, these networks span across people and organizations yet are more or less functioning ‘underground’ compared to the mainstream.

“How do we show up and become visible for those who are searching for guidance, hope and practical solutions, at this moment in time? How do we become ‘light towers’ individually and collectively? Light towers help travelers better orient themselves at night and in times of turbulent waters. If there are three or more points of reference, navigational wayfinding becomes easier. The more differentiated the points, the more accurate the reading.”

Article: Beacons of Light: Our Collective Presence


“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

From Austin Kleon, one of my favorite artists, writers and bloggers:

“Seeing a lot of ‘We’re fucked’ tweets lately. These tweets are not necessarily wrong, but I don’t see their point.

“’Doom is inevitable,’ as Seth Godin recently put it. ‘Gloom is optional.’

“Life is bad enough. Twitter is already worse than bad. I’m not asking you to blow sunshine up my butt, but if you’re going to tweet, ‘We’re fucked,’ at least follow it up with the ‘eat trash be free’ raccoons:

“…Edith Wharton said, “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.’ So either be the light or go find some and reflect it.”

Article: Be the Light or Reflect It.

Futures Thinking

Maybe empathy for our decedents can help us take a longer view.

“’I had been writing books and lecturing and talking about empathy for many years,’ says Roman Krznaric, a self-proclaimed public philosopher. ‘But what I hadn’t thought about so much is this: How do we step into the shoes, not just across the space, but through time—with people in future generations?’

“This question guides Krznaric’s book The Good Ancestor: How to Think Long Term in a Short?Term World. It is a volume brimming with ideas about how to combat ‘our pathological short-termism,’ as he calls it. In the age of the ‘buy now’ button, we are collectively failing to acknowledge how climate change, resource overconsumption, and biodiversity loss are sentencing coming generations to live on a chaotic planet.

“Empathy toward future generations is a way to think long. One can’t offer a cake, a hug, or words of support to people born in the 23rd century. But gifts and words are not the only means to convey care for another person, and as Krznaric writes, being a good Samaritan is no longer enough. The 21st century requires us to become good ancestors.”

Article: “Are We Being Good Ancestors?” Should be the Central Question of our Time.


Three pieces of concrete advice on how to approach conversations, open up others to new ideas, and keep discussions productive. 

“Many people don’t discuss controversial topics with their friends and family in an effort to avoid the seemingly inevitable fights and hurt feelings. My extended family now staunchly avoids talking politics for that very reason. But some topics are impossible to ignore, especially if you’re trying to understand or even challenge the opinions of others.

“And although they make me feel like I’m treading on thin ice, these difficult conversations are important to have. Discussing controversial topics with our family and peers helps us learn and grow. We don’t exist in a vacuum and we’re not static. As people, we develop our ideas by interacting with others, testing our thinking, and getting feedback.”

Article: Conversations on Polarizing Topics Are Possible. If You’re Up for It, Here’s How to Start


We don’t need to reinvent capitalism. We just need to practice it.

“To practice capitalism means that corporations that embrace market mechanisms and decry government intervention in the good times should not change the rules when times turn tough. Privatizing profits while socializing risks isn’t capitalism: it’s rigged roulette. Equally important, practicing capitalism does not mean insisting on special treatment from government that benefits shareholders at the expense of other stakeholders. And it means treating government as the vital partner to business, one that supports the physical and social infrastructure, and the political stability, that make business possible.”

The coolest thing abut this article is that it wasn’t published in Mother Jones magazine. It was published in the Harvard Business Review.

Article: It’s Time to End Slash-and-Burn-Capitalism

“Other Countries Have Social Safety Nets. The U.S. Has Women.”

These Companies Are Hosting the Weirdest Office Christmas Parties

This Recovery Will Be Measured By Whether It Creates Greater Equity

We Could Get Used to This: Americans Embrace Remote Work, per Exclusive Morning Brew Polling

Just for Fun

A little keepsake of the year that sucked, to hang on your tree

We should have seen this coming.

Gift Idea: Hand Sanitizer Ornament in Elegant Hand-Blown Glass



As the seams of the American promise are stretched by a leader who seems intent on busting us apart, it is soothing to be reminded of the many things that hold us together. On the short list is Appalachian folk music. And on the shortest of lists of master practitioners is Gillian Welch and her longtime musical partner and husband, Dave Rawlings. They are an American balm.

Now, just as the days are getting dark, there are some real treats from this duo.

Early this year they played a delightful live gig at the TBF in Telluride, CO. I defy you not to smile while listening to this infectious music.

Video: Dave Rawlings And Gillian Welch-Live At The TBF

In July, they released All the Good Times, an album of folk songs. Their rendering of John Prine’s Hello in There will make  you cry all over again. And the whole album is this good.

Album: All the Good Times

In late summer they released the first of a series of three albums that they wrote and recorded in December of 2002. They did it in order to fulfill a publishing contract that was set to renew in January of the next year. In one weekend they pored over more than 100 notebooks and stitched together myriad ideas and wrote 58 songs, enough to fulfill her contract.

“Singing and playing just to get the job done, she and Rawlings have never sounded so nonchalant on record as they do here, delivering these songs with the candor of an afternoon band rehearsal. Effortlessly balancing light and dark, this first batch of 16 songs is an essential distillation of her ability to tell detailed stories open for endless interpretation.”

Record Review: Boots No. 2: The Lost Songs, Vol. 1

Album: Boots No. 2: The Lost Songs, Vol. 1

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings in Nashville in September.Credit…Kristine Potter for The New York Times

Finally, early this month Hanif Abdurraqib wrote a beautiful profile of the duo in the NYT. Put one of these albums on and read it. He spends a lot of time with them, and cites the many musicians who influenced them and who they influence.

He ends with this quote from Gillian: “I am an optimist. It’s going OK. I don’t believe anyone is going to stop the spirit of all the humans out there.”

Like I said. They are an American balm.

Article: How Gillian Welch and David Rawlings Held Onto Their Optimism.

P.S. “Welch and Rawlings are certainly not at the end of their careers — in fact, Welch insisted, ‘I think we’re only just now getting good at what we do.’”


Image of the Week

The image of the week was shot by California-based photographer Gregg Segal. The work “provides a visual representation of the trash problem in the US with his revealing series 7 Days of Garbage. The photographer invited people from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds–friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and near-strangers–to come to his backyard with a week’s worth of their garbage. Spread out over natural backgrounds like sand, grass, and water, the subjects wallow in the trash they’ve accumulated over seven days, providing a shocking glimpse of consumption and waste in the US.

“With 7 Days of Garbage, Segal hopes to raise awareness of the excess and waste that run rampant in our society. “Obviously, the series is guiding people toward a confrontation with the excess that’s part of their lives. I’m hoping they recognize a lot of the garbage they produce is unnecessary,” he says. ‘It’s not necessarily their fault. We’re just cogs in a machine and you’re not culpable really but at the same time you are because you’re not doing anything, you’re not making any effort. There are some little steps you can take to lessen the amount of waste you produce.’”

Article: Revealing Photos of People Lying Down in a Week’s Worth of Trash

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If you’re new to Clarity First, it’s the weekly newsletter by me, Mitch Anthony. I help people use their brand – their purpose, values, and stories – as a pedagogy and toolbox for transformation. Learn more.

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