Passionate Presence

anniversary birthday blue bow

From the desk of Teresa Jordan, Executive Director – In the recent training with PLAN’s Rebecca Paul the discussion of gifts was paramount. I loved that the definition of gifts was broadened in my thinking thanks to this session. Probably before, I would have defined gifts as skills and abilities that I could offer others – like my ability to impersonate Elvis’s voice, my prowess in pie evaluation and my ability to go to eight meetings in a single day (sometimes even on time for all of them).

Rebecca, however, challenges us to think beyond just what we have to offer in talent; she stretches the definition of gifts to include those things about which we are passionate, in which we find interest, about about which we know a lot. So, by that definition, I could now offer that I have a gift in Robert’s rules of order, or in Ministry budget codes – and I never would have considered these gifts in the past. Equally, my passion for local history and for storytelling are now also potential gifts of mine.

Natural networks and community connections are bound together in gifts; both Rebecca Paul and Cormac Russel would say that everything begins with that that is strong, not with that that is wrong. Seek out gifts, seek out interests, seek out expertise and passion to learn more and find the cross over points. It is in those points that the magic of natural connection and community hides, and it is there for all of us. Imagine how connected I would feel if I could find a group of people who love Elvis and pie, understand parliamentary procedure and spin good yarns of local pioneer heroes – heaven. Find your tribe, share your gifts; this is the stuff of magic; this is connection.

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Digital Downside

photo of holding hands

From the desk of Teresa Jordan, Executive Director – This week I received a text with sad news from a friend. In the few seconds that I was thinking of how to respond, I noticed the usual offerings of my phone itself. I have been noticing, for quite a while now, that the artificial intelligence I call my ‘phone’ often anticipates what I want to say with a degree of accuracy. For example, I often say “yepperooni” by text and, despite the fact that this intellectual response cannot be found in Webster’s dictionary, my phone has made the connection and often offers this option to me as a quick one-touch reply.

This week however, my phone offered, “Awesome news” as a suggestion to this very sad and troubling text. Where did that come from?

This experience reminded me, though, that in a world of one-touch responses, funneled web interests and pattern recognition, there is still a human touch needed – our human capability, our human compassion, our human intuition, our human empathy and thought processes.

DifiIt would seem that Siri and Alexa are capable of just about anything, from turning on the lights and playing my favourite song to remembering all of the phone numbers that I no longer store in my head anywhere. But, when it comes to sadness and the messy bits of life, I know that is not ‘awesome news’ – it is the stuff of life. We all go through the storms that are most certainly not ‘awesome news’ and I’ve got your back.

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The Community Cup Runneth Over

six white ceramic mugs

From the desk of Teresa Jordan, Executive Director – This week, we had the privilege of having Rebecca Pauls, from ‘Plan’ in BC, join us in Fenelon Falls. This not-for-profit works on creating networks and circles of support with families, and Rebecca shared some of her wisdom on how to mobilize with groups that express interest. She told us that the key jumping-off point to this type of work is overcoming our fears about community. She urged us, as a group, to see the community as a welcoming place that is brimming over with open and positive people just waiting to be invited. She is right.

I think that we sometimes get caught up in this new era of self-sufficiency and isolated World Wide Web living, that we do become a little fearful. What if I smile at the person pumping gas next to me and they call the police because they mistake me for a maniac? What if I strike up a conversation with the cashier and he becomes annoyed that I am slowing him down? What if I ask this employer if he wants to know more about our work and he flatly refuses?

The conversations we had this week about a natural circle had to recognize that natural connections and social circles are beginning to be counter cultural. Gathering in groups to share gifts and interests is not done as often and no one needs to borrow a cup of sugar anymore – there is always a 24 hour mini-mart close enough to stop us from invading someone’s privacy.

What changes if we tell ourselves that the community is waiting for an invitation? Perhaps, we start seeing more of what we are looking for – we see people who are just as lonely and isolated, we see gifts and interests and openness where we may not have before. We charge ahead, get curious, stay open and make connections. While I know that this does not instantly turn around isolation and rejection, maybe, if we are believing in the good, the bad fades more and more into the background.

Humans are social creatures. At our very hearts we do want to connect. I usually have sugar in my pantry and, if asked, I would gladly scoop you a cup. Most of us have things we love or know a lot about, and if asked, I bet most would scoop a cup of that just as readily.

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The Generational Gist

adult aged care caucasian

From the desk to Teresa Jordan, Executive Director – I read the greatest quote today, “Be a good ancestor” ~ Marian Wright Edelman. Let that sink in for a moment. This is heavy … this is long after your sojourn on earth is through. This is the kind of thinking that requires a quiet span of non-interrupted time … and perhaps some candy.

This is not about our improvement or the immediate work of a great thing … it is so much more. It’s about leaving an indelible mark, a legacy that will last through time.

I love family history, and what I have learned is that while most older tomb markers say “Gone, but not forgotten” very often it is in my research that I am reminding my elders of family connections – the connections which they had never known about or simply forgotten.

My introductory quote also makes me think about the word ‘ancestor’. It’s not referring to being a great figure of history or a heroine of mankind … it is more intimate, speaking of a family bond, a moment in the DNA of millions connected by family … and moment to shine, to add something to the earth and to the family.

They say that many First Nations cultures make decisions not on the here and now, but on the impact of seven generations from now. Equally heavy, more candy required.

This all just reminds us that we are here for a brief time. We can make a big difference in small ways and, 200 years from now, people might say, “and that, believe it or not, was my great great great great grandmother.”

Very cool.

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Goal Oriented

grayscale photo of person pulling up woman using rope

From the desk of Teresa Jordan, Executive Director – I have been having conversations lately about how to make the goals of people and the agency more visible. Ours is a large, complex agency, within a large and even more complex sector… and yet, it is important to me to make sure that we can be visually reminded, often, that the core of what we do is based on hard work and the dream of something always more and better.

So yes, a person has achieved great success in finding paid employment. What’s next? Yes, compliance review teams found great practices and records. How do we get better?

There is great merit in keeping a balanced focus that is not frenzied, but our work is that of constant improvement, stretching and opening more doors to great and connected opportunities.

So yes, while we are a huge corporation, it is our business to be reminded of the goals – big and small – that fuel the day-to-day work that we do in a million ways, all
celebrated across our three communities.

“With each new day comes new strength and new thoughts (Eleanor Roosevelt).” My only caution in our conversations is that we would never want to etch goals in glass or with permanent marker – goals are always changing and not just because they are achieved. Sometimes other factors and realities change us, our work, our plans

in such a way that goals have to shift. Let’s air our dreams and get them out into the open, let’s make new ones and change, let’s get inspired and inspire each other.

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Local Liability?

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This week I was in Woodstock in a snow storm. At lunch hour, I sat with a group of folks who were more local to Woodstock and, despite knowing where I was from, they talked excessively about the local highways and trouble spots, and mentioned hamlets of which I had never heard. Trying to include me, they would check in about if I agreed that ‘highway 59 is terrible.’ Each time I had to say that I do not spend very much time over here and am not familiar.

Later in the day, I was part of a work group in which someone knew where I was from and said, hopefully trying to break the ice, “I hope you don’t tell people that you are from Eastern Ontario because I grew up in Renfrew County and it drives me crazy when people your way say that they are from the east.”

Now, I can’t really explain how geography became such a talking point except that perhaps the weather – and worries about how it is different across the areas we had all travelled from – was top of mind.

The whole collective bunch of interludes did remind me, though, of the challenge of measuring people’s experiences against our own and then making a snap judgement – “not from east,” “completely unfamiliar with the weather patterns in Teeswater,” “not from here,” “not the same as us,” “other.” This was all done without any plan or thought to making me feel like the “other” in the groups. It was just some small talk – and perhaps it almost always is – but it is great to be reminded to check in, take a mini moment to wonder, “how am I including everyone around me in what we are doing, am I excluding by how I am phrasing my input or in my use of acronyms, how can I take a step back and make this time richer by first understanding from where everyone is coming?

I might have had little to add about the safest route to Drumbo; however, as always, I had lots to say.  🙂

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Coming Out

orange and and brown chess pieces

From the desk of Teresa Jordan, Executive Director – I am reading the book ‘Becoming – Michelle Obama’ and, so far, I am completely entranced by her writing style and her reflections on her own, rather ordinary life – up to a point. The author’s description of going to university and being a visible minority – like about only 3% of the student population – really stood out for me. Obama tells many great anecdotes about the Third World Centre and refers often to the number of black students that gathered there. She describes the natural tendency to seek each other out when so heavily outnumbered, a gravitational pull to the known and the familiar.

I think this requires some more thought. I read somewhere that our brain is hardwired to seek out the familiar for safety in the times we spent in caves so long ago. I think this hardwired tendency means that, on auto pilot, we will keep clumping up with our ‘own kind’. We relax into the banter of familiar topics with people of familiar backgrounds that eat, do, play and travel in places that are familiar to us.

But while this is happening, what are we missing? Who are we missing? I think, maybe, that the first step is to simply to acknowledge and declare that, without effort, I will consistently avoid those I see as ‘other…’ and then follow that up with a promise to ourselves to seek out a new and different experience, or point of view, or life experience, and see how it feels, sounds, tastes … to find what hidden joys the ‘other’ may bring. Venture out a little beyond your tribe’s cave, and who knows what riches await!

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The Kindness Effect

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From the desk of Teresa Jordan, Executive Director – Where does a kindness end or stop being important? There are great thinkers in this world who believe that the effect of one positive thought changes everything, forever. It is a well known theory that, if time travel were something that was real, the most disastrous thing would be to change even the smallest detail because you’d thus alter the trajectory of the future so much that there would be no present to return to that would resemble the present that you left.

I wonder though, if we all accept that theory ~ and pretty much everyone does ~ why don’t we feel the same about changes in the present. If a butterfly crushed under a time travelers boot alters the outcomes of wars and famines for hundreds of years in the future (I think I saw a movie based on that) how much is one act of kindness able to change the future from the here and now?

A wise woman in the Peterborough office put “Kindness, pay it forward” on the inspiration board and, in one week, the board was filled with more comments and words of kindness. That, my friends, could alter the outcomes of wars and famines hundreds of years from now. Kindness moves things forward in a way that can never slide backward. Keep on sprinkling that sparkle everywhere.

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Elephants & Turnips

gray elephant figurine, a blog from Teresa Jordan, Executive Director – I think we have all heard the story of the five blind monks who encounter an elephant and then argue on and on about how it feels. One thinks it is hard, sharp and pointy; one thinks it is fan-like and wispy; one thinks it is long and tubular; one thinks it’s like a tree trunk; another thinks it feels like a brick wall. Each monk experienced a different part of the elephant and drew very true conclusions from their part, but none could see or feel the whole elephant – nor could they conclude that it was indeed a pachyderm!

I was recently a part of a webinar at which one presenter said, “To a worm in a turnip the entire world is turnip.” Systems are vast and complex; communities are an interlinked system of citizens, interest groups, agencies, neighbourhoods, sports teams, ethnicities and challenges. Every connected part is an important piece of the elephant and makes up the whole ~ but inside each separate turnips, it is hard to see anything beyond turnip.

I guess this is why dialogue, collaboration and collective impact are so crucial to any community change conversation. We all have our areas about which we know the root causes, the contributing elements, the real fallout of past and present circumstances. The difficulty continues to be that, at some point, we have to lay aside our ‘turnip lens’ and really, deeply listen to the other perspectives and, at a very real level, accept that truth as equally as we know our own. Then, it gets even more challenging as we work to create an alliance or initiative because some decisions will grate against our part of the picture. But the only way forward is together. If we are only fashioning a solution to keep the elephants ears warm, the rest of its body remains exposed to the cold.

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Speedy Discovery, a blog from Teresa Jordan, Executive Director – On my drive, there is a weird sign that says “your speed” but then does not tell you your speed … it just flashes ‘slow down’ … or so I thought.

For months now, I have been wondering about the purpose of placing a solar-powered sign in the trees that only flashes ‘slow down’ at all speeds. Is it some kind of experiment in subliminal messaging? Some kind of suggestive flashing hypnosis?

I believe that I am a safe driver and I’m always cautious on that particularly hilly road and yet, always, the flashing directive to slow down. Then one night last week, I turned onto the road and there was a tractor ahead – so I slowed down to roughly 60 km per hour. Lo and behold, the sign that had been yelling at me for months, had a ‘thumbs up’ shining down at me.

Let’s put aside for a moment that I passionately believe that the speed limit for an unmarked country road in Ontario is 80 km per hour and, instead, consider the sudden change in my atmosphere. Something that I had written off as being a permanently negative force in my life suddenly changed gears and showed me some love.

While I know that things are most often very predictable – and we sort of cruise through things based on a summation of all our past experiences – sometimes, out of nowhere, the ‘thumbs up’ appears and changes everything.

This past week at the agency, we had braced ourselves in almost every corner for a ‘flashing light’ of correction notices from our compliance reviewer, but I am happy to report that, more often than not, it was praise for the work, acknowledgement of the careful documentation and heroic stories of fast corrections and sought out documents. Further, even the homes that did not get reviewed still prepared with the same thorough zeal … and our entire agency is the better for it.

So yes, day-to-day we can get caught up in the constant demands. This compliance review, however, has offered us yet one more reminder that there are far more positives to celebrate than the correction notices delivered by speeding tractors on Hayes Line … no, wait … that euphemism doesn’t work at all … or does it?

Huge thanks to everyone for the preparation, participation and hard work.

Image by Bruce Mars,