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Last night I saw video footage of the BP oil spill here and here.  I had already been deeply concerned about it; seeing the footage, I was grief-stricken.

At first, I was focused on the horror of it.  I saw that the thing had already happened. I felt the death of all that life very very keenly.  My heart hurt.

Fortunately, I’ve spent enough time with grief to know a few things about how to navigate the territory.  I shifted modes, and prayed: “how is one to relate to this?”

The answer was a shift in how I was carrying the disaster.  Instead of something that I couldn’t do anything about, it became something I could help with.  I didn’t yet know how I could help, but I did know that there would be a way of lending my particular strengths.

This morning as I woke I saw those images again in my mind’s eye.  But today I saw the images peacefully, as a thinker and troubleshooter.  (This is a big part of what I do for a living.)

Looking at the whole thing from this new perspective, I saw an instance of something I see all the time at a smaller scale: people frantically continuing to do what isn’t working because they are caught in a particular interpretation of the situation.

I noticed that the word carrying the heaviest load in the oil spill disaster is ‘containment’.  Thousands of people are trying very very hard to surround that oil.  The thinking goes, “it should have been prevented, but now that it’s happened, we’ve got to contain it.”

But it’s becoming apparent that it’s too big to contain.  The last words I heard on one of the videos last night were, “for the first time, I’m seeing that it’s hopeless.”

Right here, I see something crucial: the speaker was equating ‘uncontainable’ with ‘hopeless’.  But that’s an error in thought.  Containment isn’t working, but that doesn’t mean that the situation is hopeless.  What it does mean, is that we have to think differently here.

The second video I watched showed the leak itself.  This is the root of the problem.  When BP tried to cap it (a form of containment) it didn’t work because inside the container, the leak itself was still a leak.

What we need is not to contain the leak, but to stop it:  to mend that wound.  Now I begin to think of a gushing artery, and to wonder what would happen if we were to bring skilled surgeons together in the same room with the kind of engineers who mend enormous leaks that happen under pressure.  I think ‘tourniquet': take the pressure off enough to be able to work at the site.

These thoughts are very unskilled of course; I don’t actually know enough here to think the next thoughts.  But it’s a possible direction.

But this particular possible direction is not my real message here.  My real message is the meta-direction, and I want to say something to Obama in particular, here:

You won the election because you never allowed yourself to get caught in a defensive position.  You didn’t let your opponent define your next moves.  You took in reality very accurately, and then you thought three steps ahead of it.  This is your strength.  We need it here.

The oil that’s already spilled, is spilled.  We can’t contain it, but we can work to mend. Obama, your job as our leader in this moment is to cast the nets widely for thinkers who know a lot, from their day in day out work of mending this kind of  thing.  Let ‘this kind of thing’ be generous enough to hold a variety of kinds of thinking.

Bring these thinkers together, face to face.  Don’t let BP try to handle this alone.  They’re in panic mode, they’re stuck merely responding.

And when the flow has been staunched, the next task will be to find how to think about this new ground zero: not as a dead zone, but as … what?  That question, I’ll leave open.  But let’s not leave it just to the ‘experts’, okay?