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The Water We Swim in: The Right to be Yourself

May 16, 2011 at 9:50 am
by Cathy Carmody

As a student of history and leadership, watching recent news and commentary about the profound events unfolding in the Arab world sends thoughts of history studies from long ago flooding through me like the Nile (or the Mississippi, the river where I grew up, which is flooding).  Principles of motivation, leadership, organization, and communication swirl around my head vying for how to best connect them to make a point about change.

Observing The Water We Swim In

Alas, I’m no Tom Friedman or David Brooks, both of whom I admire for their ability to observe the world and make sense of it in writing.  As a coach, my role is to observe, listen and communicate with clients in ways that help them achieve their dreams and goals, grow, and make sense of their own worlds.  Using historical examples, whether current or past, to illustrate leadership and communication principles clients are learning and practicing often appeals to them.  It broadens their abilities to observe outside themselves, regardless of their political persuasion.

What a fertile area for discussion about change these movements are—making change and living through it! Friedman is right that these movements are more existential than political.  After Mubarak resigned, President Obama mentioned in his brief speech that what the Egyptians were gaining was the ability to be themselves.  It struck me as an elegantly simple way of speaking about what I do: I help clients be themselves. I foster hope for this possibility to make changes.

Like the saying that a fish sees everything around it except the water in which it swims, we Americans see other cultures, notice differences, but we don’t notice an essential part of ours: that the water Americans have been swimming in since the early 1800’s (at least white, male, straight Americans) is one in which we have not had to worry much about the right to be ourselves.

It is an ongoing challenge to notice the water in which we swim, to be our own observers, so we indeed can become our best, true selves.  Successful makers of change, whether leaders or coaches, are able to observe the ability of their constituents or clients see their own water.  For some, it is useful to compare and contrast their experiences with historical contexts; for others, journaling about more personal or family experiences helps create awareness.

We Swim in Challenging Waters

How and when do you notice the water you swim in, and how does that help you become more of yourself?

Thanks for stopping by to read.  I’m interested in your thoughts, what would you like to ‘declaire’?


Categories Beliefs Change Coaching Leadership Personal Practice


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