Provision #520: Chautauqua Diary

Laser Provision

I’m in the midst of a rich two weeks, filled with relaxation and stimulation. Last week I was in Chautauqua, New York at The Chautauqua Institution. This week I am in Harvard, Massachusetts at the NVC for Educators Institute. The two experiences have ended up being closely connected. Read on to get a glimpse of life in the slow lane. I invite you to slow down with me, to savor these musings, and to enjoy the view.

LifeTrek Provision

I would like to share a few bits and pieces of my week at the Chautauqua Institution for this week’s Provision. As I write, my wife is working on a jigsaw puzzle, my daughter-in-law is taking a ceramic’s class, my son is on the Internet (naturally), and my parents are taking a nap. It’s drizzling outside which makes for one of those lazy days of summer. Perfect.

My family and I have made an annual, one-week pilgrimage to the Chautauqua Institution ( since 1994, when we were brought here by members and friends of the church I was serving in Columbus, Ohio. It is an experience unique, beyond compare. With its wide mix of spiritual, educational, cultural, recreational, musical, and artistic offerings set in the context of a beautiful, lakeside Victorian village, Chautauqua has a way of casting its spell over people of all ages, races, cultures, and creeds. It’s a great place to renew your balance and restore your soul.

This year, my wife and I had an opportunity to introduce about 50 people at Chautauqua to our latest “find” • Nonviolent Communication (or NVC) by Marshall Rosenberg ( At some point I plan to write a Provisions’ series on NVC, after we have had the chance to receive more training ourselves and to work with the process in a variety of situations (including our own household). Although easy to learn the basics, NVC is challenging to practice and master. The more I know about NVC, the more I know that I don’t know about compassionate communication.

That’s how it is with learning something new, it raises our conscious awareness. We suddenly see applications and connections in the most unlikely of places. The other night, for example, we all went to see the new Spiderman 3 movie. Talk about a case study in Nonviolent Communication! The movie frequently showed people imagining events as a prelude to action. The stories people were telling themselves led either to violence or forgiveness, to hostility or tenderness. That was true not only for Spiderman, but for other characters as well.

NVC starts with that presumption. It’s not the events themselves that drive our actions, but the stories we tell ourselves about the events. When we interpret events from the framework of judgment, shame, and blame, we end up playing the game of “Who’s Right?” That game leads to a downward spiral of violence and alienation because no one ever wins. There’s always another “but” as people jockey for position and strive to get in the last word.

When we interpret events, however, from the framework of understanding feelings and needs, we end up playing the game of “What’s Alive?” That game leads to an upward spiral of empathy and enrichment because everyone wins. Instead of arguing about what people think, we attend to what people need in the present moment. That shift, from arguing to attending, makes all the difference in the world. Instead of jockeying for position we end up feeling heard and looking for ways to make life more wonderful.

The Chautauqua Institution has recognized, explored, and encouraged that very shift for many years. On Monday, for example, we heard a lecture by Stefanie Coontz on the historical transformation of love, sexuality, and marriage. Her evidence-based conclusion? Modern marriage has both more opportunities to be fulfilling and more opportunities to fail than ever before. Most of us probably resonate with that description.

I liked her comment about the indigenous people of North America who did not have strict sociopolitical controls on the institution of marriage. When confronted with the “problem” of knowing a child’s paternity and pedigree by European missionaries, they responded, “You people only love children of the body, we love all children.”

That theme surfaced again on Wednesday, in a different way, when Adam Pertman of the Adoption Institute called into question the traditional stigma and shame associated with adoption. When he asked for a show of hands as to how many people were adopted or knew of an adoption among their family or friends, virtually every hand went up in a room filled with more than a 1,000 people. We are no longer people who love only children of the body; we are becoming people who love all children. As well we should.

The theme surfaced several times on Thursday, when we heard from both Gary Knell, President and CEO of Sesame Workshop, and Phil Lerman, author of DADditude. Knell had a clear sense of purpose, one might even say a calling, for taking the message of Sesame Street to the far corners of the globe. My wife spoke briefly with him about bringing the Jackal and Giraffe puppets of NVC onto Sesame Street • now that would get the message out! It fits so well with an organization dedicated to providing children and adults with practical strategies for building respect, resilience, and resolve.

Phil Lerman made it all very personal, as he talked about his journey of becoming a father, for the first time, in his 50s. With humor and love, Lerman made clear the message of the week: children matter. They matter to him as a dad and to us as a world for the ways in which they enrich life.

Next week I hope to share with you another installment in my series on Optimal Fitness. Until then, I am enjoying an NVC Training Institute for Educators in Harvard, Massachusetts as teachers, administrators, and consultants seek to learn how to use NVC in the making of compassionate schools. Since LifeTrek works with educational leaders around the globe (, and since my wife teaches educational leaders at the College of William & Mary (visit, we have a particular interest in becoming better equipped ourselves.

Coaching Inquires: How many times a day do you play the game of “Who’s Right?” How could you shift to playing the game of “What’s Alive?” How could you pay more attention to the needs that lie behind people’s behaviors and words?

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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..

Have a great conference. Your last Provision was perfect • short, informative and informational enough such that I will pass it along!! Thanks!

For whatever reason, I hadn’t gotten •Provisions• for a while. I had missed receiving it • so thanks for getting me back on the list! (Ed. Note: You were never off the list. Provisions must have been filtered out, perhaps because it was so long! Glad this one got through.) 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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