Knees Loose,Glove Well Oiled

A small, close group sees flexibility and integrity
as the basis for their governance

One of the articles in Governance (IC#7)
Originally published in Autumn 1984 on page 26
Copyright (c)1984, 1997 by Context Institute

The U. V. Family is a team of people who travel and live in a motorhome that they designed and built (U. V. = ultimate vehicle). They all follow the financial independence program described by Joe Dominguez (one of the group) in the Summer 1983 issue of IN CONTEXT, so they are free to be of service wherever they travel. Their article on "Heart Sharing" appeared in our Spring 1984 issue.

"AND REMEMBER, KIDDIES, keep your knees loose and your glove well oiled." With that phrase Jean Shepherd – New York radio raconteur, midwestern baseball nut and absurd guru to legions of misfit nightowls – would sign off in the wee hours of the morning. It took a while before the deeper meaning of that bit of baseball wisdom became apparent. Knees loose: aha! flexible, ready to move in any direction. Glove well oiled: yes, ready to catch the ball, to catch anything life throws your way.

When asked what our form of governance and decision-making is, the short reply is often just that phrase: Keeping our knees loose and our glove well oiled. The longer answer is what follows…

First we should tell you who "we" is before going on to how this "we" does things. We are four adults in a 15-year-long relationship, dedicated individually and together to transformation, to putting love out into the world. With this shared purpose, our decisions are made not just for peaceful co-existence or for synchronizing our lives, but for consciously creating and maintaining a single focus for our combined energies to maximize any given situation. We are also full-time travelers, so we do this within the confines of a 6′ by 10′ box (our motorhome) with four unique and autonomous individuals.

We have no particular formula or method for reaching decisions. It is easier and more accurate to speak about the underlying guiding principles that generate our process. It might be more accurate to call ours a decision-listening process than a decision-making one. Given our shared purpose of service to the highest good, choices are made in the context of that purpose and we listen for the decision that has that ring of truth to it. It’s the sort of thing you just know when you hear it – the true note. One could also call it a decision-watching. As each new element is added to the picture of what the appropriate action would be, it comes more into focus until there’s an almost simultaneous gasp of recognition – like when you’re connecting the dots and you do the one where you get that it’s a picture of a clown, or when you’re doing close-up flower photography and you hit the very instant when the rose leaps into focus.

Aside from this foundation of a shared vision and purpose, what allows decisions to "just emerge" for us is a set of three principles: no preference, impeccability, and mutual surrender.

"The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences." There is quite a bit more that the 3rd Patriarch of Zen, Seng Ts’an, has to say about enlightenment, but that first sentence has given us plenty to chew on for many years. How can you have no preferences, especially in Western culture? Our whole education and acculturation has to do with defining and learning to fulfill our needs, wants and desires. Sure, we try to gussy them up to look good and virtuous, but really, isn’t happiness getting what you want, or at least wanting what you get? But NO preferences??? What we have seen over the years is that preferences aren’t bad or wrong; they just make the way more difficult, as Seng Ts’an would say. So, while we might have preferences, we don’t allow them to govern us. By relaxing even our subtle campaigning to have our needs, wants and desires met by and through the group, invariably we find that what is then allowed to appear is a solution or plan infinitely more elegant or more intriguing or more desirable than what any of us could have dreamed up. So we notice and report our preferences, but we don’t keep holding onto and out for them. And that’s the key to our flexibility.

"Trust in Allah, but tether your camel first." To us that says that it is no breach of faith to cover the nitty-gritty level of life and to do it with impeccability. To the degree that it is both possible and practical, we don’t hope and pray for the way to open; rather we open it, through thorough, accurate endeavor. We have found that there is no 11th commandment that says it’s impossible to do the job right, consistently. Yet built into our language are phrases like: "nobody’s perfect" … "we all make mistakes" … "to err is human" … "I’m only human." Only human!! Whether you are an evolutionist or a creationist, that phrase is an insult! We’re at the pinnacle of billions of years of evolution or we’re created in the image and likeness of God; either way we’re designed to work impeccably. So, we have chosen to not build leeway for error into our decision-making process. We hold ourselves and each other accountable. Whatever information/data/observation any one of us feeds into the process, we trust it to be accurate and thought out. (Aren’t you glad that surgeons and pilots hold themselves accountable and don’t fudge "just a little" or "just this once?") Hand in hand with this commitment to impeccability goes the promise to do whatever it takes to remedy our "peccability." This discipline, both aspects of it, allows us to move forward with a craftsmanlike pride in what we do.

Mutual surrender is the final principle. It has to do with each of us being willing to give up the conviction that "I am right and s/he is wrong." Each of us, in our own hearts, is constantly releasing the grains of resistance to another being right. We willingly and consciously and responsibly surrender/"give up" our will to the one who in that moment is clearly the leader by virtue of articulating the clear vision, by virtue of expertise, by virtue of fine tuned sensitivity to a certain person or situation, by virtue of being the one in charge of a particular duty, by virtue of agreement, or whatever. When we are functioning at peak demand and peak performance, leadership becomes quite fluid. We may shift leadership ten times in five minutes with no need to label or explain what’s happening. For example, we often surprise people who attend our three seminar series: One night Joe is the lecturer and Evy the ticket taker, and two days later Joe is the usher and Evy’s at the podium.

This question of leadership is an interesting one. So often, these days, strong leadership is held suspect. And, in many ways, rightfully so: many of us have been disillusioned by the paternalism and unworkability of hierarchical structures, the inequities and shirking of responsibility fostered by the leader-follower game, the arrogance in the veneration of strong personalities, and the inhibitions to creativity and intimacy that are implied. These are not the values we want to bring to our emerging culture. And yet, there is a gift here. There are times when a strong leader can bring just the qualities needed by the situation, can shine a clear light on the issues and mobilize right action. How do we use this gift – the charisma or the clarity and vision of such a person – without watering down the contribution and participation of each other individual? There are times with us, for example, when we turn to one or another of us more often, for vision, for overview, for direction. The key point in such "turning to authority" is that authority is vested not in the role of the person, with status or personality distinctions, but in the results s/he has produced in the world. In short, when someone has established, over time, a good "track record," there is a natural authority based on what works – and our working principle of mutual surrender may include surrendering to the track record. At all times, however, we are each aware of our own responsibility for how it turns out, and 100% accountability is the bedrock of our functioning. Herein, perhaps, lies the key to keeping the balance between leadership and equal participation by all.

And finally, our Catch 22, is what we call the theory of the strong opinion. When there are no gorging calls to a particular form of action, when no clear vision emerges, when all the dots are connected and there’s still no picture, we have a space for any one of us to propose a course of action just cuz. Assuming there’s no equal and opposite strong opinion and nothing in any of us against the idea, we will often just get in line behind that opinion and make it our own. To say it another way, we make it our way for one of us to have his or her way. This willingness to participate with each other without judgment of the forms allows the magic of synergy to keep happening.

All of this – the decision-watching, the decision-listening, the higher purpose, the true note, the release of preferences, the commitment to impeccability, the mutual surrender, and the willingness to keep the dance going by aligning with a strong opinion – all allows us to keep our knees loose, our gloves well oiled, and our lives aligned with each other in the service of love.

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