Leadership Library Review: A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas

July 2017

A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas
by Warren Berger (Bloomsbury, 2014)

What are the big take-aways?

A More Beautiful Question is a thorough and enlivening “inquiry into inquiry.” The book insightfully explores how our Western culture relates to questions (and question-askers), and how it could use the inspiring power of well-crafted questions to even more greatly benefit our businesses and our lives. I share the author’s assessment that our culture is overly focused on answers and does not pay nearly enough attention to the transcendent value of questions. The heart of Berger’s incisive book is probably Chapter Three, “The Why, What If, and How of Innovative Questioning,” which provides pragmatic guidance for discovering, (re)framing and experimenting with the kinds powerful questions that create transformative results.

Why do I like it?

I’m biased about the astounding potency of good questions, so I like this book. As a leadership coach, the tools of my trade are open and curious questions that are designed to leverage the strengths and talents of my clients as they work to enhance their leadership effectiveness – through both their triumphs and their growth edges. For my information and my clients’ I am especially drawn to the chapter on “Questioning In Business” (e.g., Will anyone follow a leader who embraces uncertainty? Should mission statements be mission questions?) and to the chapter on “Questioning for Life.” The latter addresses topics which are critical for agile leaders:

  • Why should we live the questions?
  • Why are you climbing the mountain?
  • Why are you evading inquiry?
  • Before we “lean in,” what if we stepped back?
  • What if we start with what we already have?
  • What if you made one small change?
  • What if you could not fail?
  • How might we pry off the lid and stir the paint?
  • How will you find your beautiful question?

I like that A More Beautiful Question promotes strengths-based approaches to business purpose and life purpose; and to the extent those purposes are connected, parts of the book – in my opinion – offer superb career-coaching questions.

In what situations would this be useful?

I recommend this book as a modern classic in leadership literature, applicable to any leader or organization. That said, it strikes me that it might be a particularly positive and refreshing “lifeline” to an organization or leader who feels intractably stuck. Inquiry – especially the subgenre of appreciative inquiry – is Goo Gone for managerial stuckness! And while many of us have a natural tendency to reflexively avoid some types of questions when situations seem ambiguous, unclear and confusing, this is when inquiry can serve us best. As Berger writes (page 186):

If you fear not having answers to questions you might ask yourself, remember that one of the hallmarks of innovative problem solvers is that they are willing to raise questions without having any idea of what the answer might be. Part of being able to tackle complex and difficult questions is accepting that there is nothing wrong with not knowing.

The notion that “there is nothing wrong with not knowing” is a counter-cultural, counter-intuitive, and – in some contexts – subversive idea, indeed! I will also note here that, by the same token, asking questions without knowing the answers is a central characteristic of effective coaching.

What other resources might “pair” well with it?

If, like me, you often consider leadership growth through the lens of adult development theory, an excellent pairing with this book might be Jennifer Garvey Berger’s Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders (previously reviewed here in the Leadership Library). For more about leadership and appreciative inquiry theory, I highly recommend Appreciative Leadership by Diana Whitney, et al. (previously reviewed here in the Leadership Library).

I haven’t read it yet, but if you’re a leader interested in adopting or adding coaching skills to your toolbox, Michael Bungay Stanier’s new book, The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever, comes highly recommended by some of my esteemed colleagues from the Georgetown Leadership Coaching Program.

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Leadership Library Review: 2017 Harvard Law School Commencement Address by Sally Yates

June 2017

2017 Harvard Law School Commencement Address
by Sally Yates

What are the big take-aways?

Sally Yates was fired as acting Attorney General of the United States on Monday, January 30, 2017, three days after the Trump administration issued its first travel ban against immigrants and refugees from seven predominantly-Muslim countries. Yates told her story, and the lessons she drew from it, in a speech to Harvard Law School graduates last week. You can view her remarks in their entirety on YouTube.

The late-Friday announcement of the administration’s executive order had come as a complete surprise to Yates on the preceding Friday afternoon. Yates – who devoted 27 years of her career as a government lawyer in the Department of Justice (DOJ) – quickly studied the situation and became unconvinced that the travel ban was legal, truly issued for its stated purpose, or consistent with the mission of the DOJ to protect fundamental rights such as religious freedom. On that Monday the 30th, Yates defied the administration and the ban by declaring in a statement that concluded: “For as long as I am the Acting Attorney General, the Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of the Executive Order, unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so.” Within hours, she was informed by hand-delivered letter that the president had fired her for, per a White House press release, having betrayed the DOJ.

Why do I like it?

I admire the guts, clarity of values and patriotism it required for Yates – in her temporary role as the acting leader of the United States Department of Justice – to take a stand against the new president and the executive order on a matter of constitutional principle. Yates could have resigned rather than defy the administration, “[b]ut here’s the thing,” she explained to New Yorker journalist Ryan Lizza, “resignation would have protected my own personal integrity, because I wouldn’t have been part of this, but I believed, and I still think, that I had an obligation to also protect the integrity of the Department of Justice. And that meant that DOJ doesn’t go into court on something as fundamental as religious freedom, making an argument about something that I was not convinced was grounded in truth.”

In her speech at Harvard last week, Yates described the emergency legal analysis she had been forced to conduct as “illustrative of an unexpected moment where the law and conscience intersected.” I like this advice she gave to the law school graduates, and I consider it both a definition of leadership courage as well as a stark expression of what genuine risk-taking means: “[it] “means that you have to be willing to be wrong. And that can sometimes be a lonely place to be. But I’m hoping that fear of being wrong won’t keep you from acting. Because inaction, doing nothing, or simply going along, that’s a decision, too. And it seems the times in my life that I haven’t acted that’s when I’ve regretted it the most.”

In what situations would this be useful?

I think of several of my leadership coaching clients over the years, including nonprofit executive directors and CEOs who have reported to domineering and/or dysfunctional boards of directors, when Yates observes: “Doing your job means you are not simply a reflection of someone else’s talents or opinions. You’re the person to whom a leader turns when he or she needs to hear the truth.” This is a useful, affirming and astute description of what the job of being a leader entails, regardless of where you sit in the established hierarchy.

In my view, the way Yates describes “doing your job” on your toughest and most lonely days is what psychologist Robert Kegan refers to as “self-authorship” in his theory of adult development, and it is why self-authoring adults are more effective as leaders than those who haven’t yet reached this stage. Self-authoring leaders have the ability to manage the complexity of listening to and synthesizing and learning from (often contradictory) information offered by other people, and still come to their own authentic conclusion about the right thing to do.

What other resources might “pair” well with it?

For this blog entry, I drew on an article about Yates’ speech from the New York Times, having been inspired by reading Ryan Lizza’s more in-depth biographical piece on Yates in the New Yorker. To check facts, I also consulted this CNN article from the day after Yates was fired.

For Robert Kegan’s definition of the self-authoring mind – as opposed to the earlier-stage socialized mind – and why it matters to organizations, see this short (four-and-a-half-minute) video of him discussing it on YouTube.

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Leadership Library Review: “Accepting This”

May 2017

“Accepting This” by Mark Nepo

What are the big take-aways?

My three-month spring Leadership Book Group began last week, and the theme of it is “Leadership, Poetry and Paradox.”  We are discussing topics such as the paradoxical natures of power (why are leaders who show their vulnerability often the most powerful?), complexity (what is it that makes some of the simplest ideas also the hardest to enact?), time (how does slowing down help leaders get more done, faster?) and risk (when is a “safe” decision actually a dangerous one?) through the lens of poetry.

In our first meeting, which was a conversation about selections from the book Leading from Within: Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Lead (previously reviewed here in the Leadership Library), we focused on a poem by Mark Nepo called “Accepting This,” which presents various paradoxes.  The “big take-aways” are going to have to be your own:

Accepting This

Yes, it is true. I confess,

I have thought great thoughts,

and sung great songs—all of it

rehearsal for the majesty

of being held.

 

The dream is awakened

when thinking I love you

and life begins

when saying I love you

and joy moves like blood

when embracing others with love.

 

My efforts now turn

from trying to outrun suffering

to accepting love wherever

I can find it.

 

Stripped of causes and plans

and things to strive for,

I have discovered everything

I could need or ask for

is right here—

in flawed abundance.

 

We cannot eliminate hunger,

but we can feed each other.

We cannot eliminate loneliness,

but we can hold each other.

We cannot eliminate pain,

but we can live a life

of compassion.

 

Ultimately,

we are small living things

awakened in the stream,

not gods who carve out rivers.

 

Like human fish,

we are asked to experience

meaning in the life that moves

through the gill of our heart.

 

There is nothing to do

and nowhere to go.

Accepting this,

we can do everything

and go anywhere.

Why do I like it?

I like Nepo’s advice, as hard as it is to follow.  Many of us who are leaders in any sector that provides professional services, treatment or other forms of care to others eventually come to understand – through our own or others’ suffering – the harsh limits of what we can control or even influence.  We realize, somewhere along the way, that trying to avoid suffering paradoxically causes more pain.  When we stop striving and instead begin to stretch our tolerance for the discomfort of where we are right now, we might come to a moment when we recognize, like Nepo does, that

…everything

I could need or ask for

is right here—

in flawed abundance.

At the end of the day, taking care of each other’s basic human needs and having compassion for ourselves and everyone else – and I mean everyone else – is all we can do with the inevitability of hunger, loneliness and pain.

In what situations would this be useful?

It’s in the aftermath of a devastating loss or diagnosis, or some other trauma, that leaders are stripped to our most naked selves – and often in public.  In such times, these paradoxical words ring truest:

There is nothing to do

and nowhere to go.

Accepting this,

we can do everything

and go anywhere.

This poem and its leadership dimensions bring to my mind the interviews that Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, has been giving lately about what she has learned about suffering, gratitude and resilience in the two years since her 47-year-old husband Dave died suddenly of coronary artery disease during a vacation.  For an especially poignant interview, I recommend last week’s “On Being” conversation with Krista Tippett, in which Sandberg shares strategies she has been adopting that promote post-traumatic growth in kids as well as adults.

What other resources might “pair” well with it?

Perhaps you would enjoy reading along with the “Leadership, Poetry and Paradox” group on your own?  In May we will be grappling with the “On Being” podcast of Krista Tippett’s interview of poet David Whyte entitled “The Conversational Nature of Reality” (previously reviewed here in the Leadership Library), and in June we will engage with Ursula Le Guin’s translation of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching.

For an enlightening review of this particular translation of the Tao Te Ching, see Maria Popova’s marvelous article in Brain Pickings entitled “A Small Dark Light: Ursula K. Le Guin on the Legacy of the Tao Te Ching and What It Continues to Teach Us About Personal and Political Power 2,500 Years Later”.

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Leadership Library Review: A “20-20-20” Resiliency Practice

April 2017

A “20-20-20” Resiliency Practice

What are the big take-aways?

Last month I was interviewed by the executive director of Vermont’s nonprofit network, Common Good Vermont, in a live call-in show on community television as part of a series called #worklifebalance. One of the strategies that was highlighted in the interview is a “20-20-20” daily renewal practice for maintaining long-term resiliency, which I developed early on in my leadership coaching business many years ago.

Why do I like it?

I am a fan of what some have called work-life integration, as an alternative to the concept of work-life “balance.”  This is the idea that you can craft ways of integrating the major parts of your life so that your personal activity energizes and propels your ability to make contributions at work; and reciprocally, so that stretching yourself at work enriches the development of your mind, body and spirit in ways that serve your personal growth. The goal is to generate a virtuous cycle of renewal as opposed to “managing” competing demands.

So what is the 20-20-20 resiliency practice, and how does it support this cycle of renewal? I recommend a simple formula: strive to spend a minimum of 20 minutes every day doing one positive thing outside of work for your body, your creativity, and your spirit (by which I mean nurturing your connection to someone or something larger than yourself).

In my own 20-20-20 practice, I keep my standards loose and flexible, and adjust them according to my schedule. Sometimes engaging in three separate roughly-20-minute activities is ideal. However, on my most hectic days, I might bring the kind of upbeat attitude to my one-hour dance fitness class that covers all three bases. (Another example: if you have young kids, fully immersing yourself in playing with them for an hour can certainly cover all three bases, too.) Other things I do for my body besides cardio-vascular exercise are visit the chiropractor, indulge in a special meal, or take a long soak in the tub. Things I regularly do for my creativity include outdoor photography, solving word puzzles, following my curiosity and making new connections (via museums, documentaries, reading, etc.), and writing. These physical and creative enjoyments can also count toward feeding my spirit. So can having fun with good friends, doing volunteer work, composing a thank-you note, walking in nature, or getting absorbed in a performance (music, theatre, dance, sports…), all of which help me to connect with someone or something larger than myself.

In what situations would this be useful?

I believe it is useful for everyone to lead an integrated life. Perhaps it’s especially useful for leaders. Whether it’s this 20-20-20 practice or other strategies, any habits or routines that keep leaders healthy, fresh and agile elevate their effectiveness as well as that of their organizations and the larger systems in which they operate.

What other resources might “pair” well with it?

If you want to hear more about the 20-20-20 resiliency practice and/or my other “life hacks” for leading an integrated life, you can watch the entire #worklifebalance interview here.

For additional exercises and activities that support happiness, resilience and kindness, I highly recommend the Berkeley-based website, Greater Good In Action. If you like it, consider signing up for the Science Center’s weekly newsletter containing links to well-written articles about the latest research into “the science of a meaningful life.” One recent piece – related to the 20-20-20 resiliency practice – discusses the role of creativity in fostering a sense of well-being.

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Leadership Library Review: Leading from Within: Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Lead

March 2017

Leading from Within: Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Lead, edited by Sam M. Intrator and Megan Scribner (Jossey-Bass, 2007)

What are the big take-aways?

I was recently introduced to this volume at a lovely “mindful pause” retreat, sponsored by the Center for Courage & Renewal and facilitated by my excellent friends at WholeHeart, Inc.  Leading from Within is a collection of 93 poems picked by a wide range of leaders from business, law, religion, health care, public service and other disciplines, who explain in a couple of paragraphs why they chose the poems.

The book is a remarkable resource for any of us who recognizes that embracing the power of metaphor is part of embracing our own power.

Why do I like it?

I like the stunning array of poems from different eras and cultures; there are selections in here from Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, Rumi, Hafiz, Seamus Heaney, and May Sarton, along with Rabindranath Tagore and Alfred Lord Tennyson, Lao Tzu, William Blake, Yehuda Amichai, Adrienne Rich, Billy Collins, Denise Levertov and William Wordsworth, to name a bunch.

Even if you don’t think you “get” poetry or enjoy it, there is probably a piece in this book that lends strangely precise eloquence to an inner wisdom you’ve only ever felt and not thought possible to describe.  It might be a message that comes to you when you are at your most still inside.  As Parker J. Palmer writes in the Introduction (p. xxvi):

Quietude and clarity are both doorways into and destinations of an inner journey.  They name what harried and hard-pressed leaders most need: not just the reassuring words of those who have found hope beyond the headlines but a path that can take us toward that hope in our own way, our own time, our own lives…Poetry offers that path.  In some mysterious way, poetry is that path. 

I also like the short essays by the editors that introduce each segment of the collection, as well as their reading and discussion guide, “Leading with Fire: Using Poetry in Our Life and Work.”

In what situations would this be useful?

Almost all leaders I know – including those who are simply leaders of their own lives – need to slow down and pause for reflection more than they do.  Poetry can help with that.  Indeed, our call to be leaders often comes (formally or informally) as “poetry” from a truth-telling core inside ourselves where our inherent creativity meets our unique expression.

Also, I have a leadership coaching client who sends me poems several times a month in order to convey what he’s experiencing, mostly because he believes he can’t skillfully articulate these profound things himself, but partly because – it seems to me – the very existence of the poems make him feel understood, less alone and more courageous.  And there are other coaching and consulting clients with whom I trade poems when they are in great joy or deep pain, because there are some moments in life when only metaphor can fully capture certain universal, crucial, semi-conscious truths.  As David Whyte says, poetry is “language against which we have no defenses.”

What other resources might “pair” well with it?

If you’re interested in quite a tour-de-force of an interview with the poet David Whyte by Krista Tippett, I highly recommend the “The Conversational Nature of Reality” (previously reviewed in the Leadership Library) from the radio program On Being.  Leadership is one of many topics the two address in their astonishing discussion.

If you are a “hands-on” experiential learner and would like to playfully explore the connections between leadership and metaphor in a retreat atmosphere, I invite you to check out this workshop I am co-facilitating in June 2017 with Maine poet and naturalist Kristen Lindquist.

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Leadership Library Review: “Hidden Figures”

February 2017

“Hidden Figures” (20th Century Fox, 2016)

What are the big take-aways?

To my mind, the uplifting film “Hidden Figures” is three suspenseful (even though you think you know how they all turn out…) movies in one. In some ways, it is as much of a NASA space-race story and a story about the elegant charisma of practical mathematics as it is a civil rights story. It’s full of leadership lessons because it’s full of characters taking initiative in uncharted territory (in space, science, gender equity and race relations).

The movie is based on the actual events reported in the book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. It depicts the friendship, and the personal and professional lives, of three African-American women who worked at the Langley Research Center in 1961, when the U.S. was trying to catch up to a surge in space exploration triumphs of the former Soviet Union. The U.S. was desperate to get a man – astronaut John Glenn – into orbit around the earth. (In the film, NASA is still racially segregated in 1961, but my internet research indicates the agency had been desegregated when it changed from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, a couple of years before.)

Why do I like it?

What I like about this film is the same thing that many people seem to comment on in their reviews of “Hidden Figures”: it’s almost unbelievable that this powerful information about these potential role models had been largely ignored for half a century, and it’s thrilling to see it get due attention – especially via the performances of such superb actors. While a tad manipulative and righteous at times (e.g., the music choices, the flawlessness of the characters and the sets, a key historical inaccuracy, etc.), the movie nonetheless covers a lot of complex ground with clarity and emotional nuance. I was left feeling inspired and elevated, and hoping lots of kids everywhere in the world are sparked in their imaginations about what’s possible for themselves by learning about these heretofore uncelebrated STEM pioneers. (STEM is the acronym for the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields.)

I also liked being provoked into more curiosity about the protagonists. The three real-life women featured as characters in the film were: mathematician Dorothy Vaughn (1920-2008), who managed human “computers” and served as a machine-computer programmer for NACA/NASA from 1943 to 1971; Mary Jackson (1910-2005), who originally worked for Dorothy Vaughn, then became NASA’s first black woman aeronautical engineer, and retired from Langley in 1985; and Katherine Goble Johnson (age 98), who was a mathematical genius who – according to Wikipedia – “calculated the trajectories, launch windows, and emergency back-up return paths for many flights from Project Mercury, including the early NASA missions of John Glenn and Alan Shepard, and the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon, through the Space Shuttle program.” Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.

One of the moments in the movie that particularly piqued my interest was when John Glenn is portrayed as asking specifically for Katherine Johnson to re-calculate his space capsule’s re-entry trajectory from orbit, because the mathematics produced by the IBM machine computer are considered by launch engineers as less trustworthy than her numbers. While paraphrased for dramatic effect in the film, the basic fact of John Glenn’s request is true.

In what situations would this be useful?

For leaders of all personal or professional backgrounds, this movie would be useful as a boost to follow timeless advice: be yourself, stand up for your values and vision, and be willing to take the risk of being “the first” at anything in which you deeply believe.

What other resources might “pair” well with it?

Obviously, there’s the book the film was based on, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly (William Morrow, 2016).

I’d also recommend the first 22 minutes of this “What Matters” WHRO program from 2011, which features a short biographical video about Katherine Johnson, followed by an interview of her. In it, she discusses her childhood, how she became a NASA “computer,” why John Glenn asked for her to hand-check the machine-generated mathematics for his first flight orbiting the earth, and – as a former education professional – Johnson also shares some of her thoughts on the intersections of gender, teaching and learning.

For the latest research on how young children are when their gender stereotyping about intellectual ability begins, see this study that came out last week in Science magazine. A very accessible summary of the findings was written by the Associated Press.

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Leadership Library Review: Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia

January 2017

What are the big take-aways?

I am surprised by how affected I’ve been by the passing of the complex, hilarious and courageous actor Carrie Fisher last week on December 27th, a few days after she suffered an apparent heart attack.  She was only 60.

While controversy rages (appropriately, in my opinion) about whether Carrie Fisher’s career-defining portrayal of Princess Leia in the Star Wars space opera series is a feminist icon or quite the opposite, I can speak for myself that Leia was a certainly a powerful female role model for me.  Perhaps because I was about 11 years old when “Star Wars” came out in 1977, an early teen when “The Empire Strikes Back” hit the screens in 1980, and a sophomore in high school for the release of the final flick in the original trilogy – “Return of the Jedi” – in the spring of 1983, Leia’s evolution over those six years influenced my own development as a young woman leader.

Why do I like it?

Carrie Fisher was just 19 when she first played the astute, battle-tested and dedicated spy for the Rebel Alliance against the Empire.  In retrospect, I realize now that I looked up to Leia like a fantasy big sister with revolutionary political convictions, who knew how to get shit done under pressure and against the odds.

Leia was the only female hero in the mass-media culture of my youth for whom leadership, in service of a (literally) galactic cause, was the defining characteristic.  She embodied numerous potent and appealing paradoxes: Princess Leia is both royalty and a scrappy fighter for justice in the trenches; her rebel movement is predicated on the long-term possibility of peace but she does not shy away from taking deadly shots with her blaster when it is morally justified.  She gives a lot of orders, yet never hesitates to plunge into dirty work herself; she’s a straightforward boss who plays a hard-core man’s game without undermining other women or succumbing to stereotypes.  Although Leia’s title and passion alone earn her male colleagues’ respect, Leia repeatedly demonstrates her equality and credibility with disarming nonchalance, such as when she oh-by-the-way pilots the Millennium Falcon in a pinch.  She is both affectionate toward her compatriots and tough enough to withstand Darth-Vader-level torture.  Leia is pretty but it always seems more important (and attractive) that the Force is strong with her.  Romance is way down her list of priorities in life, but when Leia reluctantly falls in love with Han it is in large part because she’s so compelling she’s managed to captivate a swashbuckling maverick whose very name is Solo.

Throughout the original trilogy not much was really ever made of the fact that Leia is a woman until the quasi-scandalous scene in “Return of the Jedi” when she appears in a gold metal space bikini, as a slave chained to Jabba the Hutt.  That stupid outfit is so understandably distracting – to both men and women of all sexual orientations, for a variety of reasons – that nearly everyone forgets (1) Leia was actually captured in the process of rescuing her boyfriend, and (2) the escape sequence ends with Leia ruthlessly dispatching her monstrous tormentor by single-handedly strangling him with the chain that had been her leash.

In what situations would this be useful? 

Well, what’s interesting is that the latest trilogy in the Star Wars saga kicked off last year with a blockbuster hit, “The Force Awakens,” just a few months before my twin nieces turned 11 years old.  The kids loved it.

The rebooted story takes place in the same far-far-away galaxy, 32 years after the events depicted in the three original films, and introduces a new female powerhouse character named Rey.  An unlikely hero, Rey is a self-sufficient scavenger of mysterious lineage who – circumstances reveal – possesses mighty and unmistakable Jedi traits.  She becomes a confident, charismatic and decisive agent of her own destiny, and by the end of the movie Rey seems to consider both Han Solo and now-General Leia to be mentors of sorts.  (Perhaps we will find out in the next episode – which Carrie Fisher recently finished filming, due out in December 2017 – exactly why Rey is astonishingly adept at wielding Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber!)

Anyway, my twin nieces are among the next generation of Star Wars fans who will, I hope, be encouraged and inspired by a gender-transcending female leader.  Judging by my own experience, the timing is perfect.

What other resources might “pair” well with it?

I highly recommend the New York Times obituary of Carrie Fisher.  It is thorough, enlightening and richly sprinkled with fascinating hyperlinks worth exploring.  If you like, you can play John Williams’ composition “Princess Leia’s Theme” in the background while you read it.

The passing of Carrie Fisher also seems like a poignant moment to reflect on the meaning of the Force, especially if you are not a geek like me who is inclined to habitually contemplate it.  It’s interesting and potentially revelatory that, according to Wikipedia, George Lucas’s first draft of “Star Wars” makes two references to “the Force of Others” and does not explain the phenomenon; in the movie, it is just “the Force” and Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi describes it as “an energy field created by all living things [that] surrounds us, penetrates us, [and] binds the galaxy together.”  The Force has a light side that can be used for beneficent purposes and a dark side that can be harnessed for malevolent ends.  Yoda describes the Force in these terms in my favorite Star Wars installment, “The Empire Strikes Back”:  “Life creates it, makes it grow.  Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.  You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes.”

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