How To Say "Yes"

January 28, 2011 3 Comments
trivial pursuit

|Photo by Claus Rebler||

Peter Block has had considerable influence with a number of us here at IISC through his recent writings – Community: The Structure of Belonging and The Abundant Community.  These have inspired me to dip back into some older publications of his, most specifically the wonderful book, The Answer to How is Yes: Acting On What Matters.  What I appreciate about this particular work is both its timeliness and his constant reminder that “Transformation comes more from pursuing profound questions than seeking practical answers.”

The gist of the book is that we often jump to practical considerations in undertaking otherwise transformational work, and in so doing relegate ourselves to playing it safe, replicating what already exists and does not work, and (my own addition here) preserving the status quo/existing arrangements of power and privilege.  And so as I’m often prone to do, I have identified some of the powerful points I’m taking away and offer them for your consideration:

  • Choosing to act on “what matters” is the choice to live a passionate existence, which is anything but controlled and predictable.
  • Taken in isolation, and asked in the right context, all “How?” questions are valid.  But when they become the primary questions, the controlling questions, or the defining questions, they create a world where operational attention drives out the human spirit.
  • When we ask how to do something, it expresses our bias for what is practical, concrete, and immediately useful, often at the expense of our values and idealism.
  • The question, “How long?” [is this going to take] drives us to actions that oversimplify the world.
  • The most common rationalization for doing things we do not believe in is that what we really desire either takes too long or costs too much.
  • The value of another’s experience [and the answer to the question, “Who else has done this?” or “Where has this worked?”] is to give us hope, not to tell us how or whether to proceed.

As an answer to “How?” questions that shut down possibility before they get started, Block offers six “Yes”/possibility creating questions:

  • What refusal have I been postponing?
  • What commitment am I willing to make?
  • What is the price I am willing to pay?
  • What is my contribution to the problem I am concerned with?
  • What is the crossroad at which I find myself at this point in my work/life?
  • What do we want to create together?

How else might we practice saying yes?


  • Gibran says:

    Another excellent post Curtis! I really like how Peter comes at this and I’m appreciating what you are lifting up. It seems to me like everyone of these bullets points to a different way of being. It does not seem like these are just different steps to take, but that these steps demand a shift in how we are in the world – how we contend with reality.

    I think we have to say yes to trust, trust in our better spirits, trust in our capacity to move together, trust in our ability to deal with the inevitable set backs and points of conflict. Trust not avoidance.

    With this in mind I also feel validated in continuing to emphasize “ways of being” as we go about our work, and remaining committed to the development of an interior condition if we are indeed going to attain some form of social transformation.

  • Curtis says:

    G, I met with Bill Reed this morning, who was echoing all of Block’s and your sentiments. He was invoking the importance of “essence-to-essence connectivity” and building the capacity to self-organize and evolve. That’s the work, from which the more practical questions launch. What I like about Block’s questions is that they destabilize us, take us out of the safety zone, and really get us looking at what matters. How strange that is such an uncomfortable place for so many. That says a lot about the world we’ve built for ourselves!

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