About Doug Marshall

Constant Learner

Two Books – Instant Replay

There are books I read which leave me empty. Not because they were not good, because I simply did not want them to end. On occasion I have remedied this sense of loss by flipping the pages to the beginning and reading it all over.

John Steinbeck’s The Pearl is one of those books. I remember coming to the end and asking myself, “What did I just read?” I wanted to remain in La Paz and was not ready to leave Kino, Juana and Coyotito. Steinbeck took me to a places I was not ready to leave.

I Heard the Owl Call My Name is a lesser known book written by Margaret Craven. It had the same effect on me as The Pearl did. Her first novel published in 1967 in her mid 60’s, the setting is Kingcome in British Columbia where First Nation people have lived for thousands of years. This is where Mark Brian, a young vicar is sent by the Bishop.

Even today as I think about these books I feel the profound sense of loneliness, starting deep inside me after just a few pages in. The loneliness I found in these books has never resolved itself when I return to their pages.

The Next Time You Shit

Okay maybe a bit of a harsh title but worth thinking about. Billions of people in the world play and drink water from a source where their own piss and shit flows to. Watching the first Netflix episode of “Inside Bill’s Brain” you understand what a monumental problem this is. Children are dying from diarrhea because of the lack of sanitation where they live and Bill and Melinda Gates set out to look for solutions after reading an article written by Nicholas Kristof.

I’ll admit I was uncomfortable watching the episode so focused on human waste yet at the end I was inspired by the story and the journey. If you have Netflix it is well worth watching and learning, but perhaps not during dinner.

A documentary that tells Bill Gates’ life story as he pursues solutions to some of the world’s most complex problems.

Systems Again

If you have not watched the movie Spotlight or if it has been a while or if you did not really pay attention it is worth seeing right now. It is on Netflix now and I’m not sure for how much longer.

It is the devastating story of how the Catholic Church covered up years of predatory sexual abuse committed by priests and others.

Spotlight


The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.

Now I’ve watched this movie several times over the past few months to study great writing and to think about how systems work and why we need to know more about them. How does a system like the Catholic Church allow this to happen and let it go on for years? How did it not protect thousands of victims? It wasn’t just in Boston, it was discovered to be a global problem. Wherever the Catholic Church was it most likely had priests who were sexual predators. In the end you realize the system enabled it. The Catholic Church covered it up and then moved the offending priests to other positions where they abused all over again.

The same thing has happened in the Boy Scouts. There are over 82,000 sexual abuse claims against the Boy Scouts of America. Keep it quiet and cover it up.

Everyone is a part of many systems to varying degrees. It is important to identify the systems we are a part of and look critically at those systems. Are they good or bad? What is the history of the system? Systems influence our daily life and sometimes they make our lives easier and sometimes they make our lives more difficult. Systems which benefit me may put others at a disadvantage or do outright harm to them. This is where the systems break down.

Constraints Are Your Friend

And they are powerful –

Understanding constraints can help you get things done. At the same time they can help you do better work and create better stuff. Seth Godin writes about this in his new book “The Practice” and he too recognizes having constraints enhances the creative process.

It is worth studying. I’ll give you an example. Time is often a constraint when you are working on a project. If there is not a deadline you are likely to get the project done. With the deadline of let’s say, the end of the week, you now know you need to have something done and this will force you to do two things. The first thing is you will get to work to meet the deadline. The second is you will accept your work even if it is not perfect. You only had so much time.

Constraints can also be resources, money, size, materials and many more things. You are more creative about preparing dinner if you only have a few items to work with in your refrigerator. The constraints will make you more creative. I am not explaining this the way I would like however my constraint is I want you to hear about this. So as flawed as this post is you have it in your hand.

Understanding and embracing constraints will help you in every area of your life and give you the courage to put your work out there. Perfect never comes.

You might be interested in the video. If you don’t have the time here are a few quotes from the TedTalk. Thank you for Ding Ling for providing this summary.

Chickenization

I came across this today. If this posts correctly and you click on the picture of Chuck Heston it should take you to the Twitter thread. This is a series of 25 posts and it is rather fascinating and it will make you think.

The pluralistic.net link takes you elsewhere. My focus here is on the Twitter Thread.

Systems

“We create systems to make things easier.” – Andre Henry

This is a revisit to a post made back in July of 2020.

Now past Election Day it is worth taking a few moments to contemplate how everyday our lives are made better or less better by all of the systems we are a part of.

There are natural systems and human created systems. We can sometimes alter natural systems through our actions and creations. The systems I am most interested in are those we created. They were all created to solve a problem.

We like systems which make our lives better and we do not like the ones which make life more difficult. Understand those we do not particularly care for were put in place by other people to make their lives easier. Some systems I suppose are Zero Sum in nature. For a system to work enough people have to agree about its structure.

I could write from now until the end of time about systems but mostly I want us to think about them and take a hard look at the origins of those we are all a part of. I want us to think about the good and the bad. Think about why these systems exist, who they are for and the problems they were created to solve.

My Father said the N word

The only time my sister heard my Father say the N word was on October 3, 1995. It was the day OJ Simpson was acquitted and the first time I heard of this was today, twenty five years later. They were watching the news and she remembers him saying, “That N…. got away with it.” My father was white and had just retired after 40 years of being a minister.

There is so much packed into this one short outburst. Here was a man who spent his life preaching the message of Jesus and telling how he came to earth in human form to save everyone. I would not call Dad a racist but I do not think he understood the reality of racism,  white supremacy and white privilege. It is a bit surprising because when I went through his files after his death I found hundreds of magazine and newspaper clippings on the subjects of race, politics, sex and many other topics. I believe he was searching for understanding, insight and answers. He considered it is job as a minister to know what was going on in the world outside of his church walls.

I’m just putting this out here for anyone to see as I work through this. It is important to understand.

Racism Does Not Just Go Away

America has a racism problem so deep we can’t see it in ourselves. Recently a friend on the East Coast posted his review of “HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST” by Ibram X. Kendi. I referred him to another book, “me and white supremacy” written by Layla F. Saad. Note – I used the Upper and Lower Case for the titles as they are printed on the book covers.

Next on my reading list is Robin Diangelo’s “White Fragility.” She grew up poor and white. I’ve held this book at arm’s length for a while because I wanted to hear from black people first about their experiences with racism. 

After tackling Kendi’s book I need to go back and read “me and white supremacy” with a new perspective and with a greater commitment to go deeper. Saad’s book is a workbook. Each day it takes you further into the reality of racism and it asks the reader to reflect and journal about many hard truths. It is in my opinion written for a white reader and for the white reader. It is a book written so the reader can self examine.

Diangelo’s book is about “Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism.” If you have not dipped your toe in the water on this subject perhaps her book is the best place to start especially if you personally are not convinced about racism in America. Although I’ve not read the book I know she is respected by many in the black community and is considered an ally.

Now I will tell you up front, when you google these authors there are plenty of opinions trying to tear apart their message. All I can say is these books are out there, available to you. 

Systems – An Invitation

“We create systems to make things easier.” – Andre Henry

I’m thinking about all the systems in our lives. There are many. We live in them, we create them, we work in them and they are inside of us.

The more time I spend contemplating and studying the systems in my life, in our society and in the world the more I realize the vastness of this topic. With this in mind I am inviting anyone into a conversation about systems. This could be in the form of an e-mail exchange or scheduled and occasional Zoom Meetings.

What is your understanding of systems? What systems do you recognize having significant influence in your life? There are these and many other questions we can have an exchange about.

System, this is a word we use quite a bit yet we most likely do not give it enough thought. I am betting the more we ponder over this word and what it means to us individually and as a society it will make for a rich conversation.

Do you want to start a conversation with me on this topic? Let me know in the comment section.