The Art of Possibility

Today’s Reflection is about possibilities.


1. The quality or state of being possible; the power of happening, being, or existing.
2. That which is possible; a contingency; a thing or event that may not happen.
3. A future prospect or potential.

While this dictionary definition makes sense, intellectually, it does not really tell me much about what an impact of such a word, or action, can be. Perhaps this is where the “art” part comes into play, in allowing us engage our human heart and spirit, and put the word into practice with transformational outcomes. This is what Madeleine did, through the story below.

“Art, after all, is about rearranging us, creating surprising juxtapositions, emotional openings, startling presences, flight paths to the eternal.” – Benjamin and Rosamund Zander, “The Art of Possibility”

I have never been very close with my mom’s parents. They always seemed more interested in their own lives than those of their grandchildren. They spent their time working, socializing with friends, and playing handball and tennis into their early 80s. Rarely did they participate in an event of their grandchildren’s.

Last year, my grandfather had a stroke. He went from playing handball three days a week and working at least part time to being stuck in bed without the use of the left side of his body. At the same time my grandmother’s dementia, previously guarded from view by my grandfather, became quite severe. Due to my grandfather’s new need for assistance, my mom and her brother’s persuaded them to move into an independent living facility, where my grandpa could receive care as needed. That was a year ago.

Despite the fact that my grandfather can now walk with a walker for at least a 1/4 mile and despite that he has regained nearly all of his speaking abilities, he has been bound and determined to die. He believes that without the power to move freely, there is no reason to live.

Sunday evening, following the intensive [a face-to-face studying weekend in an MBA program Madeleine is currently taking], my mom and I had a long conversation about language. We talked about how to frame a conversation with Grandpa so that he might actually listen. She talked about her frustrations, telling me of how should would visit him and he would talk for hours at her, never asking a question about her life. She mentioned his comments about not having family that cared… that if they really cared, they would visit more often. My immediate reaction was to get protective of my mother. How could this man who had shown little care towards my mom, let alone towards my sister and I, talk about lack of family? How could he be so self-absorbed? But then I stopped. I listened as my mom continued on and recognized something. Perhaps my grandpa wouldn’t change, but the framework in which he was operating could.

When my mom had worn herself out, I told her about a chapter I had just read in the Art of Possibility. I asked her if there was a way to move the conversation from a polarizing die vs. live, movement vs. static, to a realm of purpose and possibility. My grandpa needed a goal. He needed to commit himself to something.

The next day, yesterday, my mom went to visit my grandparents. While they discussed many issues, she told them that I, as their granddaughter, had a request. She told him of my desire to learn from the his wisdoms of his life, of his wisdom about how to use business to change the world. He fought back, saying he couldn’t write. That it would be to hard. She stopped him and asked, dad, what more do you have to give to this world? Your time is not finished, she said. What more do you have to share with your grandchildren and the world? Slowly, his eyes began to light up. He conceded, saying maybe he could write some notes until a voice recorder arrived.

It was only a small step. He has not changed, nor has my mother. They likely won’t. But by moving the conversation into a productive realm, the framework was altered and there emerged a glimmer of purpose.

“Historically, artists have been employed by leading institutions to bring emotional truth to established principles.” – Benjamin and Rosamund Zander, “The Art of Possibility”

Not to take away from the power of the mind and the intellect, I keep thinking that this is not what we, or the world, needs now. We have used our minds to create incredible changes and inventions, like this laptop I am currently using, or the bicycle I ride, the plane I take, and the house I live in, among myriad other things, structures, and ideas. I know I use many of them, and they make my life easier. Yet, the power of the intellect is not what is making my heart sing, my visions and dreams emerge, or my soul soar. These happen as a result of playing with my dog, or witnessing a transformation in another, in looking into my beloved’s eyes, or when being in Nature. I think that while the mind and the intellect have the power to both create and destroy, it is not the case for the heart and soul. They only create. Learning to balance these forces, with special attention to the latter, has been a very long journey for me in my life. Still is.

“Someday after we have mastered the winds, the waves, and gravity, we will harness for God the energies of love; and then for the second time in the history of the world, human beings will have discovered fire.” – Teilhard de Chardin

A sunny week to you all, inside and out.

Simon Goland