Interviewsand Articles


Interview with Donald Schell: Risking Song

by Mary Stein, Dec 15, 2012



I first met Donald Schell on the mat of the dojo on Clement Street in San Francisco where we both began practicing aikido almost thirty years ago. As the years went by, I heard about his work as a rector in a local Episcopal church on Gough Street, and then about the exciting work of building St. Gregory of Nyssa, on Potrero Hill, an extraordinary  church designed to provide space for the congregation to move and dance and sing during the service,  with portraits of dancing saints of all hues and faiths—from Christ to Gandhi and Sojourner Truth—painted on a mural that circles the whole space of worship.  Some years later, I began to hear about Donald’s work with All Saints Company, an organization dedicated to working with churches and communal groups to encourage and teach what he called “paperless singing,” singing without the mediation of hymnbooks or scores, “by heart.” Whenever I talked to Donald about this, his face lit up and he would talk about how much he was learning with each workshop he gave around the country. It looked like he had followed his bliss, and I wanted to hear more about this when we sat down recently in the headquarters of All Saints Company on Potrero Hill. 

Mary Stein:  You’ve mentioned that in the workshops you give that teaching and learning happens “face to face.” I was struck by that phrase.

Donald Schell:  The thing that is so powerful about singing face to face is that something actually happens between us—literally in the space between us--that makes not only communication possible but makes us possible. It isn't just our eyes, it’s our whole presence. When we offer a musical phrase for someone to hear and mirror, the image of the mirror is a face-to-face image. But it could be back-to-back. It's such a different experience to hand the person a piece of paper and say, "Here, sing this."
     We've been conditioned to think that the music is on the page, but the page just points to what's beyond it. The music that happens between us as one person begins and another person echoes and we begin to build on that. That music is right there in the relationship.  Music puts us in a place where we actually feel connected with other people. Working with a group, if I sing a phrase there's a learning curve. The group hears it and sings it back. They may actually hear it inaccurately, so they sing it back differently from what the person intended. But sometimes--this happens surprisingly often--they hear it more accurately than the person sang it. (He sings Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, with "star" going slightly flat.) The group will recognize that it's flat and they will make a correction. What are they doing there? They are not reading music off a text--they're reading me and connecting to an unspoken intention. It’s a collaborative work. In tiny little events like that you realize we’re engaged together in a common hearing that brings something into being.

MS:  So it's a mutual listening.

DS:  Yes, thinking actually begins together. My thoughts are births of all the varieties of "we" that I'm part of. The obvious place that shows up is with the mother and child, where the baby doesn't have her or his thoughts separate from the mother's for quite a long while. But there's also an experience of a "we" that is exploring together what's happening and making sense of it.
     Even when we see ourselves as isolated individuals, when we're trying to sort out something that’s really difficult, we engage in internal dialogue, a back and forth conversation with ourselves. Sometimes we actually talk to someone who is not present, one of the people we carry with us who is wise. The serious thinking that I need to do happens in dialogue, in conversation. Music is a foundational dialogue, like that the mother-child dialogue. Our early human ancestors didn't yet have speech, but were nevertheless communicating to one another as they faced a common danger and had a task they needed to handle together.  Call and echo, call and response—these are truly ancient forms of communal participation in moments of crisis. And as we’re learning now from neuroscience research, thinking is actually a shared human process.

MS:  Call and echo, call and response—they’re important in the kind of singing you’re working with. Could you say more about that?

DS:  Call and echo is pure mirroring: I sing something, you sing it back.  Call and response--you just did a response. That “umhmm,” that's part of this primitive language. It's a different kind of acknowledging that we're communicating. We both hear that “umhmm” as just a tiny little melody. I've offered something, and you've offered a response. Call and response, and call and echo--those two basic building blocks show up profoundly in communication. And they are tied in with movement. There are lots of languages where there are no separate words for music and movement—music and movement or dance have one word. It’s very common. Music and bodily gesture, taken together, make up this basic building block of communication between people.

MS:  You're talking about a kind of empathy building between people. Yet there's also the kind of group solidarity that leads to violence, the Nuremberg rallies and so on.  There's such a profound difference and yet they're almost as close together as two fingers, part of this whole question of how we influence each other. 

DS:  That's such an important question. Tyrants, people who actually intend to stir up rage against the common enemy, also know how much music and gesture can pull people together and create a sense of solidarity. I'm pointing to the ways that singing together puts people in touch with love, forgiveness, compassion, creativity. And freedom. The anthropologist Rene Girard has done a lot of work on the corporate, communal act of violence that is at the core of a lot of human solidarity and how we try to hide that. 

MS:  So the question might be, how to be in touch with another kind of solidarity?

DS:  Yes, exactly.  Someone asked the jazz musician Clark Terry , "How do you make jazz?" And he said, "Oh that's simple. Imitate, assimilate and innovate." So, you watch a jazz group doing that, and somebody makes a figure, and the first thing that happens is that the group just plays with that figure and in the process the person who took the lead ends up giving the lead on the same figure to another musician. It's pure imitation at that point. But if the other musician then is taking the lead and it's becoming theirs, they’re assimilating it, making it their own. And if they make it their own, they discover new possibilities in it. They begin to innovate.

MS:  So it may sound like you're echoing for a while, and then you can become more innovative.

DS:  This became clear to me when many years ago I started practicing aikido. The leader showed something physical that we tried to imitate, over and over again. I knew what it looked like and I tried it, getting closer and closer to what I saw. In music, I'm getting closer to the things that I heard. It also means I'm getting closer to the intention, to the heart of the music. And then there are the times when, in doing something over and over and over again, if I turn a little bit this way or that way, I find something else that’s something new. But you get there through the imitation and assimilation. We have this notion of originality in our culture. It’s a big cult. It's an idol. We think of originality as something that comes from nowhere, and we think of imitation as mimicry and repetition as boring and mechanical. But in fact, at any time in a learning practice, a spiritual practice, there is going to be a ton of repetition. And all learning begins with imitation.
To go back to the Nuremberg rallies and tunes, if the purpose of our modeling, our imitation, is to produce lock-step solidarity, we are going to do our best to prevent individual assimilation and to shun and balk at any kind of discovery that may happen as people are doing the thing that they do in common. It's a completely different spirit from jazz.

MS:  It’s the dark side of the wish to excel, to be in perfect alignment.

DS:  To take some of the freight off this, everyone knows about the Rockettes. So here's a line of dancers that are aiming for perfect unison, and there's something fascinating and satisfying, seeing people do something in really tight perfect unison. It's not inherently tyrannical or evil. But if it's the only thing that we are and the only thing that we do, something else has happened.

MS:  How does “imitate, assimilate, innovate” apply to what you’re trying with paperless singing?

DS:   A number of professional musicians I know say they love participating in this work All Saints Company is doing because when they went to conservatory they had their love of music drummed out of them. One of our composers is great at making simple pieces of music that are catchy and interesting that people can learn very quickly. Growing up, she taught herself the piano, was improvising on the piano, decided she wanted to be a musician, went to conservatory, and before she knew it she'd quit improvising. She took a composition class where the first composition that she submitted on paper the professor said, "There are some people who are composers and there are some people that are not. Go ahead and do the assignment and pass this course--you need the course to graduate--but let me just tell you, frank and direct right now, you are not a composer.”
     What on earth is going on here? Why can’t we say, “Let's work a little bit on imitating a gesture. Take a piece of music that you love and copy it and play with it and see what you discover.” Not “you need to deliver something that I’ve never heard before or I don't believe that you're a composer.” It's crazy. It's totally crazy.
It’s the same in aikido. If you break a technique down into steps and try to do each segment “correctly,” you're actually never going to get to a place where your body feels what we're doing. That kind of teaching takes aikido, or anything else, and reduces it to lock-step. We think that the value is accuracy, but we cut things short at the first step, at the imitation step, in the interests of perfect conformity.

MS:  There's such a thing as precision, but it's not the same as this kind of lock-step. You actually never get there when you break it down too much.

DS  Yes, exactly. There's a wonderful book by William Westney called The Perfect Wrong Note. He is a concert pianist who is also a performance therapist for musicians that are stuck. There's a big strand of musical training that is completely perfectionist, and the theory behind it is, you must not ever make a mistake because making a mistake establishes a neural pathway, so what you need to do is to practice everything in tiny pieces and do them perfectly every time and then tack those tiny pieces together like tinker toys and then you get the music. What Westney says is we need to invite musicians to be bold and attentive and to risk making what he calls juicy mistakes. And then when you make a mistake, look at it and say okay, what just happened? What happened is that the way I shaped the phrase doesn't work, or what happened there is my fingering got me into a trap. So you look at it and make a discovery and then take that and go somewhere different with it.
     My friend Amy McCreath, who used to be the Episcopal chaplain at MIT, took our musical practice to the chapel congregation. MIT has a culture of perfectionism—all of the students there are used to being the smartest kid in their school, and they're all dumped into this big kettle where their task is to survive and excel and where they're all hoping to get some kind of wonderful opportunity to do a PhD afterwards.  So you've got to be better than anybody else. So there's tension, and it has one of the highest suicide rates of any institution of higher learning in the country.  Amy had some heart-breaking stories about that. At the same time MIT also is a really imaginative and creative place.
     Amy had a couple of our music leaders come and teach the students some paperless music and techniques for leading paperless music. And because it's at MIT, there was the creative edge, the mind-set that we can figure out how to do it. So within a matter of weeks six or seven composers in the congregation, who'd never composed a piece of music before, were writing and leading new pieces of music in their gatherings of worship. So they were making brand new stuff and were, in the best way, stretched beyond their musical capabilities. For most of them it was the first time they had ever risked failure in public, knowing that they could be forgiven and try again. So failure, making a mistake, is essential to learning. The instance I gave of someone singing a note a little bit flat and the group hearing it and not laughing, but simply hearing the intention and offering back what the person meant to offer—without derision, without scorn, without putdown—that's forgiveness. It’s such a contrast with the perfectionism that says you must not make a mistake, the many stories about tyrannical music teachers  who got angry at mistakes, a choir director who shouted at people when they did it wrong and the music teachers who said to people, "Don't sing. Mouth the words. You're not one of the singers.” This  perfectionist, unforgiving context kills music.
      So in this work with paperless singing we have conservatory trained professional musicians saying, "I love doing this work. It's really risky, really scary, and it's restoring my love of music."

MS:  You're doing these in church services, workshops? Are people coming who are connected to a church for the most part?

DS:  Yes. All the work so far has been with churches. I've had some inquiries—would we do this in a business setting? It makes good sense to me. It would work. We'd adjust what texts we sang.

MS:  You said that you had searched for people who could compose this kind of music that could be taught and sung face to face, without a text or hymn book.

DS:  I had several composers in the congregation I was leading.  And I thought, okay, I need this kind of music, so I'll get my composers to write. And none of them were willing to try. But I had this hunch based on thinking about traditional music and, to some extent, on listening to world music, that there have got to be ways that this kind of music can be satisfying. So for about two or three years whenever I was doing a workshop or at a conference and met musicians, I would talk to them about this. I got the "That would be boring" response from a bunch of people. And then I began hearing another response, which was, "Do you understand that you're asking any composer to do what's the most difficult thing of all, which is to create something which is truly simple, but also memorable and beautiful?" That's at the core of what we're trying to do.

MS:  Like asking them to compose “Amazing Grace.”

DS:  Right. And then I began to hear from musicians who would say, “I really hope you can find some way to do this.” Then I’d hear the stories about how their passion for music got muted in their music training. So I developed a list of about twenty composers who I met during this period of time around the country.  Then we had Emily Scott come as a summer intern from the Yale Institute for Sacred Music, and I put her on the phone. I gave her the most complete description I could from what I'd heard already in conversations and from what I'd observed. I said, "Okay, take this description and talk to people about making music relationally, in the moment, that kind of transmission where the making of music is part of the music, where we're not dependent on a piece of paper. See if we can define a clear direction, a mandate that we can gather some people around, so that they can begin writing music.” And she interviewed each of these twenty or so people for at least an hour on the phone, took extensive notes, distilled the notes, called all the people back and said, “This is what I'm hearing,” and then came back to me and said, “I think I've found about ten or a dozen of these people who would be eager to participate in some music making.” Then we brought them together. We talked about what we were trying to do, and then people went off and composed. By the end of three and a half days we had 58 new pieces of music. Out of that came the book Music by Heart, which includes those pieces and some others as well. 

MS:  Did it seem a little ironic, that you had all this material for paperless music, and it’s in print, on paper?

DS:  Ben Allaway, who is one of the composers in the book, said, "If we just publish a book, our best hope is that people will buy a lot of copies of it and they'll sing from it. If you really want to take this music and have people do it the way we intend it to be done, we have to teach people how to do it.” So that was the beginning of the workshops. We have done 21 of them now. In the process of doing the workshops we’ve found a lot more music and are getting ready to do another book.

MS:  In one of the essays on the All Saints Company web site, you wrote something that really struck me, that “the ground of imitation is our embodied sense of another person's intention and presence.” Many years ago a teacher I respected very much said to me, "Don't imitate--emulate.” And I think that what he meant is very close to what you are saying there, this idea of feeling the embodied sense of someone's presence and wishing to be like that.

DS:  When he said don't imitate, that gets back to the idea of not getting stuck in being a literal imitator. Begin by imitation—and make a discovery. At that point you're catching the good intent of the teacher and then doing something and making it your own. So to me "emulate" feels like the arc that imitate, assimilate, innovate all contribute to.

MS:  The idea of making fresh choices or innovations really struck me because it can be a way looking at one's life, as well as what you're doing in this work with these musical pieces.

DS:  Yes. My assumption is that people are actually good. That's the first thing. And then the second thing is that our dilemma is that we don't feel free, empowered to enact our goodness. So compassion, courage, creativity—what are the practices that make us able to act in a moment in a way that we've never acted before? I see that in this practice of music-making we are continuously coming to the threshold of the courage to improvise. And the courage to improvise is, I think, the core practice of living out our God-given goodness.

MS:  You’re working with the disconnect, the lack of contact.

DS:  People will say, "I just don't know how to help. I see something, but I don't know what I'm supposed to do.” This is a moment when having a manual and directions in advance and all of that just won't work. Jettison it. I have to improvise. I have to make something up. But what am I going to make it up from? I'm going to make it up from the relationship I'm discovering with this person. I'm going to make it up from something inside of myself that is engaged and generous and ready to act. I'm going to make it up from past experiences and the people I carry inside of me, but I'm not going to be able to say, ”Here are the three steps that I'm going to do next.”
     We do improvisation in the workshops, and I will give people a text on paper and say, “Okay, sing this and we'll sing it back to you.” And the piece of paper just has words on it, no musical notes. And they say, "What am I supposed to sing?" "No, just sing it." And an interesting thing that happens is—as the designated leader begins tentatively to sing a line and has the congregation, the gathering, the assembly, sing it back—they find the courage to sing without planning. And as soon as they're singing without planning the music comes alive. It quits being notes. I've seen it happen with the most unexpected people, and I've seen people astonish themselves for doing it. We don't know that we've actually got the resources in us for creativity and freedom.

MS:  You’ve mentioned working with dissonance in music.  That can feel like a risk, can’t it?

DS:  Dissonance is interesting. Working together doesn't just mean working harmoniously. It's like aikido –those moments when intentions that begin as antithetical actually blend and become interesting or satisfying or beautiful. So a dissonance creates a lot of energy. It wants to resolve. When you’re teaching a piece, the first time two parts come into dissonance, you can see people kind of looking—"oh no"—and then they see.

MS:  They get to live together in the dissonance. That's terrific.

DS:  There's lots of traditional stuff, too, where people actually sing different texts at the same time. The texts make sense together, but one group is singing one text, and one group is singing the other. One of our leaders loves taking different spirituals and layering them on top of each other. So one group is singing one song and another group is singing a completely different song, but they actually fit together. You hear things in a different way, just from what word shows up next to what word.

MS:  When I looked at the You-tube clips on “Music that makes community,” which are examples of what you’re trying with paperless singing, very often people were in movement. And then I remembered that the whole architecture of your church, St.Gregory of Nyssa, seemed to incorporate a wish to combine movement with singing. I know there are references in the Gnostic gospels to Christ and his disciples doing a round dance. There seems to be some essential link between movement and singing.

DS:  We built the church in 1995 after 20 years of experimenting in different places with congregational movement and dance. Movement began quite simply with people gathering like monks in a medieval  church seated facing each other rather than all facing the speaker, and then we’d leave the area where we were seated and gather together around a table. Then on Easter in 1975, at the Episcopal church at Yale, as we sang our last hymn we began simply walking in a big circle, or several circles, in time with the music. It was a very rudimentary dance. When we were in the process of founding St. Gregory's, Rick Fabian wanted to include congregational dance in a more systematic way, and he began taking courses in different kinds of dance at the rec department at UC Berkeley to figure out what sorts of dance would work. He happened on Greek taverna dances, some of which are actually very old. These were dance forms where even somebody who wasn't sure what they were doing could stay in the line because you were just moving in one direction together.
     As for the early Christian dancing, there’s evidence of that in the Acts of John, a second century apocryphal writing. One scholar points to a saying in that book, "Whoever does not dance does not understand what is coming to pass," and makes a compelling case that this may very well be an authentic saying of Jesus. And in that text also, the account of the Last Supper concludes with Jesus and the disciples dancing in a crisis moment, a moment of threat. We tend to think of dancing as exuberant and joyful, but it happens in a great variety of settings in spiritual traditions where dance is very much part of things. We know that dance was a practice in the earliest church and was gradually suppressed. It persisted in a few monasteries on certain occasions. In The Divine Comedy, as Dante has traveled deep into Paradise, he encounters this amazing whirling of lights, and as it comes closer he sees that it’s Thomas Aquinas and the doctors of the church spinning and swirling around and giving off light, which seems odd unless you know that in the medieval universities, when the doctorate in theology was given, the acknowledged teachers would literally dance with the new graduate; that was part of the ceremony.
     What interests me, from the work that I'm doing now, is the likelihood that song and movement or gesture precedes language. People found ways to communicate and collaborate and work together as language itself was evolving. There are many cultures in which the same word means both song and dance. In many places in Africa Anglican and Roman Catholic churches include dance as part of the liturgy. The Ethiopian church still dances; they never stopped. In African culture and African music dance and movement are inseparable, and dance is capable of expressing all kinds of things, including sorrow and grief. And dance, like singing, is a way of coming into alignment. We move together, we are moving to a common rhythm. Singing has us breathing together. The dances we use at St. Gregory's, the Greek steps are like that in that you've got a hand on a shoulder of the person next to you, someone next to you has a hand on your shoulder, you're part of a line, you're connected physically, and feeling the flow of energy and movement that belongs to everybody.
     And of course we’re not the only ones. Both rhythm and song seem to be part of how other mammals relate to each other. There are whale songs, wolf calls, elephants trumpeting and what elephants do in speaking to one another. You might say that, literally, the rhythms are shaking the earth. And of course there are the birds. In all of this there is language without words, a communication of meaning in melody and rhythm.
MS:  Songs without words. So this idea of moving in rhythm with music has been there from the beginning of your thoughts about what needs to happen in church, or could happen.
DS:  So many of the things we found started simply with the idea of moving during the service, literally getting up and walking to go from one place to another. An Orthodox scholar at New Skete Monastery named Brother Stavros has discovered that in the ancient church processions were very much a part of the liturgy itself. People didn't go into the church and find their seat, for there wasn't any seating. The congregation began moving outside the building and then proceeded into the building, where different parts of the liturgy would take place in different parts of the church. The people would travel about the church, singing as they moved from place to place. Nowadays, in solemn high mass, the movement that once belonged to everybody has been simplified and codified and assigned to a few key leaders. Anywhere in a liturgy that you see a priestly procession, it probably used to involve all the people.
MS:  I noticed in the book Music by Heart that there’s often a leader or cantor for these songs. So even though you're trying something quite creative, something that could change from moment to moment, there is someone, this leader or cantor, who is thinking ahead a little bit. How do you see the role of the leader in this kind of singing?
DS:  People sometimes fall into thinking of leadership as implying hierarchy and power in very few hands. Gathering people and convening them and inspiring them to work together takes strong leadership, but strong leadership that is skilled at sharing authority and evoking participation from people. So we're trying to recover some kind of traditional understanding of how a leader or teacher gets a whole lot of people doing something together without simply locking them into conformity. It reminds me of the situation when we practice aikido. How does somebody leading practice get everybody exercising their own judgment while they’re learning, while they’re fully engaged bodily in practicing a technique? It takes someone taking the lead and then it takes kind of a generous letting go and making space for people to explore together.
MS:  Taking the lead in listening, in a way. You've gone to Africa a number of times. How have those experiences fed into what you’re doing with All Saints Company and this kind of paperless community singing?
DS:  I only have knowledge of two countries—two visits to Ethiopia and three or four visits to Malawi. Ethiopia and Malawi are different cultures with very different histories and very different music. And yet in both of those settings drums are part of what happens, so there's serious attention to rhythm.  There’s dance in the churches in both places. These are cultures saturated with music, with singing and dancing.
     One of the things that you see very clearly in Malawi is that a village has got a vocabulary for improvisation, so you might take a familiar tune that everybody knows and then when the leader makes a little change the people know how to sing it back. And the leader can improvise words. It's a little bit like what you might see at a football rally or even a political rally, where people find something to shout or chant together, and when they have found a phrase that's got the right kind of ring and rhythm to it, people will settle in to doing that—our funny little remnant of a culturally learned ability to improvise.
MS:  Did you find, in a place like Malawi or Ethiopia, that people have better memories, that they don’t need paper as much as we seem to? If they can't read and write, do they remember words and music better?
DS:  I haven’t gathered first-hand evidence of that. But I have a friend who grew up in Saudi Arabia, where his father was an Aramco executive, and he said that they had an illiterate driver who'd memorized the entire Koran. In oral cultures that is not startling. People can memorize a massive text and are actually able to find things in that text to quote, so it's not just a rote act but they actually know their way around the text. What the human mind is capable of doing there really is beyond our present-day imagination. 
     I've been singing in church for a long time and I've occasionally tried to figure out how many hymns I know where I actually know all four verses—or Christmas carols, how many Christmas carols I know where I know all four verses. I've never been able to count. It's hundreds, easily. We don't use that ability as much as we might. Along those lines, I had a beautiful and sad experience when I was living in Idaho. I had a parishioner who, at the time I knew him, was a cattle broker. He had told me that when he was a young teen-ager he had a summer job caring for sheep in the mountains. And there was a unseasonal storm when he had the sheep way up at high altitude, with no way to get down to shelter. He and the sheep had to huddle together for warmth in the bitter cold and snow. That night, as he was going off to sleep, not knowing whether he was going to survive, he had recited the 23rd psalm, “the Lord is my shepherd,” which he had memorized. All these many years later, when he was in the hospital dying and in a coma, I went and sat beside him. He hadn't responded in any way—no eye movement, no hand squeeze—for at least a couple of days. Remembering his story, and recalling that people can hear, even in a coma, I started reciting the 23rd psalm, these words he had memorized and that had been important to him at another time in his life. So I thought I’d say these words to him and if there was any hearing there they'd mean something. I was astonished when he began reciting the 23rd psalm with me. So there is something that happens to us when we take things into our lives by memory. And we need to do it more than we do.
MS:  Like the singing you’ve been describing, it’s a practice that brings a deeper quality of feeling and relationship, with ourselves and other people.
DS:  More and more it seems to me that the practices that allow people to discover that they have the power to act—that's really the heart of what we're doing. We have the cultural dilemma of people who feel powerless and think that they need a product or an expert in order to accomplish something, people who claim they “can’t sing,” for example. How to help people learn that they CAN sing, to find out how deeply creative they are, how to help them find the courage to risk trying something, how to move into the experience of failing and trying again? When we're talking about singing together, moving together, finding the rhythm together, these very foundational ways of being together touch the places where people discover that they have a creative improvisational ability to do something that needs to be done that they've never done before, and that no one has told them how to do. When that happens, the goodness in people finds its way to good relationship, to reach out in a way that's helping, to collaborate with other people to make something beautiful, to persist in addressing a problem or a crisis or a dilemma even when the first thing you try doesn't work. All this conversation about making music and movement together I think is actually talking about practices that point toward that end.
MS:  It has to do with learning that I can have a choice of attitude, a choice of ways to be with other people. I can choose to sing.
DS:  I remember when I was 15 I spent the summer with my aunt and uncle who were living in Costa Rica. I picked up a decent amount of Spanish while I was there, but I had already had a couple of years of French and I was terrified to open my mouth because whenever I opened my mouth French came out instead of Spanish, and I felt stupid. Then just a few years later I was at the airport and there was a Spaniard who was lost and who kept asking for help and no one would stop to help him. And I remember it as this very exciting moment because I went up to him, thinking, "I'm the best he's got! I don't really speak Spanish, but I understand what he's asking and I will find a way to help him find the answer to his question.” I remember it as a moment of moving from being an adolescent to engaging as an adult. But how often we are in positions or places where somebody needs something and we think, I don't know how. That I don't know how is true; that was exactly true in that situation—I do not know how I'm going to help this person. I have what doesn't look like adequate resources but what resources I have, let's see what we can do. So how do we help people come to that threshold and step across it? That wouldn’t be “fixing” them; it’s where they want to be. When people say, “I can't sing,” I say “Hmm, that's a good conversation to begin with. Let's see.” 
MS:  Let's see something about the possibilities of becoming more human.
DS:  Yes, exactly.


About the Author

Mary Stein is a writer who lives in San Francisco and a contributing editor for works & conversations   


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