What does being alive and human really mean?

The following is an excerpt from a speech given by Anita Hofer (Class of 2011) describing her experience as a participant in the Leadership Calgary Program.

This program – the human venture framework – these books – the conversations – that mapbook – it did something. It woke me up. It un-numbed me. It has opened my eyes. I am awake.

Suddenly I’m awake to illusions, awake to authorities, awake to the forces of culture. I am wide awake at night! And that un-numb/suddenly wide awake feeling – sometimes it feels like a relief – like clarity, but it hasn’t always felt so good. Over the year I’ve had bouts of despair about my mindless compliance, my gullability, my ignorance and arrogance – but it’s this un-numbing, this awakening to something bigger, this feeling of connecting and caring – that is the beginning part of being truly alive and human.

 What I’ve learned this year is that we humans don’t think deeply. There are all these problems out there – really awful systemic problems. Some of these problems were discussed in the selected readings this year: destruction of the ecosystem, economic collapse, a lack of adaptive schooling, war and genocide. There is a lot at stake.  And we humans have this sense of invincibility, but our existence is more tenuous then we think. Our culture of distraction and illusion, and the seduction of consumption have made it easy to walk our way through life with big, invisible question marks hanging over our heads as we fumble along without truly understanding what’s going on.  Or maybe worse, by turning off and becoming numb.

We’re not thinking deeply! So, the antidote to this? Inquiry. I’ve learned that if we become explorers, if we can dig, listen, read, investigate, wonder….there are some solutions, there are some preventions to these problems in the world. They are discoverable and they are applicable across many fields. There is hope. I’ve learned to explore and search for deeper understanding.

In history there are successes and failures. Investigate those and look for the patterns. Engaging with others and connecting with great thinkers can be fertile ground for inquiry. Who is doing work on the frontier? How can we connect with those people?

We need to question the news. And we need to question what isn’t on the news and why? I’ve learned I need to spend time searching for the truth. And what is true anyway? How would I know?

I learned if something moves you – a faraway civil uprising, a speech from an activist, perhaps a favourite story, a Bach Prelude, someone’s life story, the Mona Lisa – if it resonates with you – if you are passionate about something – WHY? Figure it out. It’s worth taking the time to dig. This passion serves as fuel.

Recently I remembered something that has always moved me – one of my favourite children’s books, The Velveteen Rabbit. In it, the young and naïve toy Rabbit has a conversation with the Skin Horse, who is an old and shabby toy but is also very understanding and wise. The toy Rabbit wants to become real. So he asks the wise Skin Horse, “What is Real?”  The Skin Horse replies, “Real isn’t how you are made, it’s a thing that happens to you.” And he continues on to say, “It doesn’t happen all at once. You become.” So I think we should have a Leadership Calgary version of this book and instead of reading “You become.” we could change it to read, “It doesn’t happen all at once. You are becoming.”

Anita Hofer

Leadership Calgary, Class of 2011

What does being alive and human mean to you? Join Leadership Calgary on Sunday, February 19 for the first of our Blue Water Workshops “What is the Human Venture and Why Does It Matter?”. For details and registration information, please visit our website.   


About Propellus

Propellus is a non-profit organization that has been empowering organizations since 1955. Through a dynamic range of consulting, training and member services, it helps organizations envision and realize new paths, practices and possibilities. Propellus guides, mentors and educates clients, arming them with tools and resources to help boost organizational effectiveness. Propellus strengthens organizations; in doing so, it leads the way toward building thriving communities.
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