What Must We Remember?

Imagine how powerful it could be for an enterprise of any kind to have a sign at the door that read: “What must we remember?”

Steve Roberts color photo: stone sculpture of knight with head bowed

This most useful of questions, directed to all who enter––colleagues, customers, vendors, partners…––not only encourages everyone to reflect on what’s essential, but also to contribute any fresh perspective to the shared understanding of what deserves respect.  In this way, over time, the question becomes a mantra that underlies every consideration the community addresses.

Imagine being able to answer in a manner that prompts a smile of gratitude not just “What must we remember?”, but also “How well have we designed the environments in which we live and work to help us do so?”

The architecture of most work spaces, even so-called “class A” office parks, does little to remind us of the fathomless beauty of the human spirit.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t transform virtually any space into a celebration of those principles and practices we must be mindful of in order to serve who we have committed ourselves to being or die trying.

Of course, to do so, we must actually define what we must remember.  As in, make a list.  It’s been humbling for me to realize that I’ve never done so, or even considered it––until that question landed in my lap like a new puppy.  It reminded me: the life I want demands my best answers.

Curiously, the form of that new puppy was the recent New York Times obituary headline: “John Tavener Dies at 69; Composer With Eye on God”.  Though Mr. Tavener was a stranger to me while alive, anyone whose professional life is a duet with the infinite is a voice I’m intrigued to hear, dead or otherwise.

Like many good obits, this one wrapped up with a statement attributed to Mr. Tavener describing where his life of composing had led him, inwardly speaking.  His is among the awakenings we all carry somewhere within us, I’m pretty sure.  And while it has been a whisper in my ear for maybe my whole life, I continue to need all the help I can get to remember it moment by moment:

I used to fret over manuscripts and think,‘What am I going to do?’  Now it’s a question of going very quiet, emptying my mind of preconceived ideas and seeing what happens.  It’s not so much a question of finding my voice as finding “the” voice.
~ John Tavener, composer (1944-2013)

When it comes to what I must remember, that’s just for starters.  Or maybe it’s the only thing I need to remember.


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"I honor that we are killing the earth for the same reason I consider being an alcoholic a privilege: it is a doorway to the profound self-understanding required to make truly healthy choices."

The Essay: Honoring the Killing of the Earth