Building Ideas, Building Cathedrals

img_1343Hey gang,

I’m just back from the OpEd Project retreat in Vermont, where 20 of us gathered to discussed the big ideas and strategies behind our group effort to change who narrates the world.  Or as our new t-shirts say, THE STORY WE TELL BECOMES THE WORLD THAT WE LIVE IN.

At the retreat, our founder Katie Orenstein told us a Sufi parable.  Some of you may have heard it before, but it was the first time for most of us.  And throughout our time together it continued to resurface as a touchstone.  Here is the parable.

Once upon a time, a traveler came across three stonecutters and asked them what they were doing.

The first replied saying that he was the most miserable person on Earth and that he has the hardest job in the world. “Every day I have to move around huge stones make a living, which is barely enough to eat.” The traveller gave him a coin and continued walking.

The second one did not complain and was focused on his work. When the traveller asked him what he was doing, the stonecutter replied “I’m earning a living by doing the best job of stonecutting in the entire county. Although, the work is hard, I’m satisfied with what I do and I earn enough to feed my family.” The traveller praised him, gave him a coin and went on.

When the traveller met the third stonecutter, he noticed that the stonecutter cutter had sweat and dust on him but he looked happy and was singing a cheerful song. The traveler was astonished and asked “What are you doing?” The stonecutter looked up with a visionary gleam in his eye and said, “Can’t you see? I am building a cathedral.”

That’s what we’re doing together.  Each time we speak out in public, sharing our ideas, our research, our outrage, our solutions, our beauty, it’s another stone.  And you can think of each contribution as a mere stone.  It’s pretty easy not to thrill to the idea of a stone, especially when there are so many heaps of them we’ve cut in our careers and personal lives, and when there’s so much uncut rock around us.  But without each stone, we can’t build the cathedral.  So I invite you to think of each idea you’ve been reluctant to share, or each draft you’ve been putting off writing or finishing, in the eyes of that stonecutter.  We have less than one month before we gather together again.  Let’s see how much we can  manifest the architecture of meaning before our next convening.


Periodically we share wisdom from our team with our community. The above letter was sent as a weekly missive to the Public Voices Fellowship cohort at Columbia from leader Lauren Sandler. 



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