New Stories: Sweet Fruit From The Bitter Tree

New Stories: Excerpts from a new book by Mark Andreas
Here are two stories selected from the just-released new book by Mark Andreas.

The Plywood Artwork

A Stunning Example of Rapport

While these two examples are directly drawn from NLP people, this book covers a broader spectrum. Mark cast a wide net for these stories, and the qualifier was simply a unique and compelling story about a “creative and compassionate way out of conflict.”

The book includes stories from people from all kinds of backgrounds, among them Marshall Rosenberg’s NVC (non-violent communication), people who draw upon their spiritual tradition, and people who have no framework at all for their response.
This book is just about the unfolding story, so it is inspiring and entertaining, and the teaching is in the story itself.


Tom Dotz

The Plywood Artwork

by Gerry Schmidt
© 2009 Real People Press

It was the summer of 1992, the last day of a residential NLP training in the Rocky Mountains in Winter Park, Colorado. A group of 75 people had bonded very strongly over the past 20 days, and one thing they did as part of their group process was to create a piece of visual artwork representing “our community” or “who we are.” The group started with a big sheet of plywood which they covered with a collaborative painting symbolizing their experience together. It was painted with red, white, black, and yellow to symbolize all the peoples of the earth, and it was filled with a collage of handprints, spirals, a yin-yang, and the individual contributions of every participant. The finished piece was very meaningful to everyone.

Now we were at the very end of a packed three weeks and the group was about to finish their time together and head home. Only one thing remained to be done. The question before the group was, “What are we going to do with this piece of art that is ‘us’?” The group discussion started, and since I was the closing trainer I was somewhat involved with helping facilitate this process. Soon it became clear that most of the group’s opinion was that it should be kept safe and given to somebody who would be the custodian. But the question remained, “How the heck are we going to do this?” We had people from all over the world, and it was not a small piece of plywood. Who was going to take it and how were they going to get it there?

Then one man spoke up.

“Well,” he said, “because this is so challenging, and because we’re spread out all over the planet—we’ve got people from Europe and Asia—my proposal is we destroy it. If we burn it, it will be like everybody has it.”

I could feel the tension in the room mount instantly. It was clear that the group was generally very opposed to the idea of destroying it. It was the end of 20 days, and everyone was tired and ready to leave. I could see in their faces that to most of them, burning the artwork would seem like a great offense to what it represented. The man who had offered the suggestion was thinking on a more abstract level, but most everyone else wanted to keep this piece of art that represented the close-knit community they had formed over the past weeks. They did not want it destroyed.

I was trying to facilitate the conversation and I was not particularly effective. After about 15 minutes we hadn’t made any progress toward a solution, and I had my eye on the clock because we were already going overtime and I needed to get everybody out of the room. It was obvious to me that this was not going to resolve quickly. Even on the “keep it” side there were many different opinions, but that side was becoming more and more polarized against this guy who was saying, “destroy it.” People were getting frustrated and upset, and the prospect of a satisfying group closing was unraveling by the second. At this point somebody in the group stood up and proposed to have a vote at least to get past the “keep it” or “destroy it” alternatives. But before I could respond, a Native American from the MicMac tribe in eastern Canada stood up and faced me directly.

“Gerry, can I take over?” He asked. “I have an approach, and if you give me ten minutes by the clock, I’ll have it solved.”

I had no idea what he had in mind, but I was more than glad to let him take this problem off my hands. I was tired and the discussion wasn’t going anywhere useful, so I told him to go ahead.

He came up to the front of the room and first he asked, “Everybody’s agreeing that we’re ready to get a resolution?” People nodded, so he continued. “I have the solution if you’re all willing to go along.”

Everyone said, “Yeah, yeah, go ahead.”

Then he turned to the man who wanted to destroy the artwork, and gesturing to him he spoke in a soft, deep voice that seemed utterly unconstrained by time.
“In my Native American tradition, when we have a group which is all on one side, and we have one person who is on another side, we would never have a vote to overrule him, because it’s obvious that the majority will win, making him isolated.

“We would never do that to someone.

“The solution is we’re going to turn over the responsibility for the decision to you—the one who’s the isolated person. We’re going to let you decide for all of us.”

There was no mistaking that the words of the Native American were wholeheartedly genuine and sincere. He was really completely giving over the decision to this man.

I could hear people’s jaws hitting the floor, and as I looked around the room I saw eyes wide with surprise. It was an amazing thing to watch the wave of shock move through the room. But then very quickly I began to see that certain people started to get the wisdom in what the Native American had done, and they relaxed a little.

The man who had been given responsibility to make the decision went through his own initial shock. Right at first there was a little bit of glint in his eye which I’m guessing was his self-interest side, but then I could see a change taking place inside of him as well. His face went through several emotional swings, though I couldn’t tell exactly what they meant. Pretty soon he stood up to speak.

“Well I think it’s obvious that we need to find a way that satisfies all of us,” he said.

I could feel the tension in the room disappear. Earlier it had been clear in the man’s argumentative tone that he had set himself against the rest of the group, but as soon as the responsibility was completely in his hands, his resistance simply melted away. It was wonderful. He immediately started moving in the other direction.

“My objection was that there wasn’t a place where we could put the artwork,” he said, “And I want to honor the spirit of what we all did together. Is there a place where we could put this piece of art where everybody would have access to it, and it would feel fair to all of us?”

Very quickly someone who had not been involved in the earlier discussion spoke up.

“I have a place,” she said. “It’s a big barn in the central US where I could hang it. I also have a truck here; we could cut the piece in half to transport it, and once it’s hanging up I can take a picture of it and send it to everybody, and anyone can drop by and visit it at any time.”

Immediately it was done. The shift was profound. The emotional ripple through the room was huge. You can tell the difference between people who are just agreeing because they want an argument to be over, and people who are deeply and fully satisfied. It was quite a wonderful moment. Everybody was really pleased, including the man who had originally objected. The whole group was suddenly aligned and there was a powerful sense of completion.

I think part of the reason it worked so well was because the guy who was given the responsibility had such a strong relationship with the group. The wisdom of the Native American in trusting so much responsibility with this one man made me imagine a culture in which that kind of approach was a common practice. That conception of community would create a profoundly different way of working together.

My MicMac friend looked at his watch and said, “Seven minutes.”

Click Here To Get Your Own Copy from Amazon

A Stunning Example of Rapport (and Pattern Interrupt!)

-Steve Andreas

A couple of months ago I got an email from Scott Leese, who had attended one of our practitioner trainings 16 years ago, and is now a coach in California. At that training I had said something about how every culture has very beautiful traditions (as well as others not so beautiful!), and used the Navajo handshake as an example, something I had witnessed often during two summers on the reservation in the early 1950s. When two Navajos meet, they gently place their hands together and look each other in the eye, and silently sense each other’s state, both visually and kinesthetically, for some time. Scott’s email below, (slightly edited and approved by Scott) is eloquent, and is wonderful example of repeatedly offering someone a new scopes of experience, and new ways of categorizing them.

“We spend the 4th of July in Telluride every summer. This year we had a Navajo family move in to the campsite next to us. They had a son in his 20’s who appeared to have a lot of anger and history of violence (multiple scars on his hands and head and current black eye and scabbed knuckles from fighting). As he approached our site I reached out my hand and remembered you telling us how Navajos greet each other, by not shaking hands but just holding each other’s hand and just looking into each other’s eyes. Our hands and eyes met and I just held his hand still and stayed in that position for about 2 minutes. I could tell he just couldn’t believe that this white guy was greeting him culturally correctly. That instantly developed a deep rapport that led to hours of conversations about the struggles in his life. . . .

We talked about his life, why he gets into lots of fights, his drinking, his anger at the world, America, whites, etc. We talked about what were the things that he wanted his son to have in his life. What most impacted him was the idea that he was modeling what his children would learn, and that he can create a different path for his own two-year-old son. And that he had a specific mission in this world that he was here to do that transcended his environment. Connecting him with a sense that he was of value beyond his own beliefs of himself also had a great impact, and that his beliefs about himself could be changed easily and did not have to be formed by his environment–like finding a treasure on your own land when you had no idea it was buried there. His family (about 12 of them) just stood in (literal) jaw-dropping amazement that their son was talking so long to this strange white man. . . .

After some hours of conversation I said to him, “Look Fred (name changed), there is a specific reason God had us meet, and he cares for you so much that he made sure I drove 997 miles from Thousand Oaks California, so that we could talk. We talked at length about how his own identity will shape his mission in the world, and that his mission and identity will shape those of his son, and grandson and great-grandson seven generations down. I told him that he must be important in this world because of the distance I traveled and that this had been the most important conversation that I had all week in Telluride. ‘Now you tell me that you don’t have a special purpose on this planet?’ That is when he put his hands over his face and wept and walked away. He came back several times, but couldn’t speak without breaking up. . . .

I told him, ‘You appear to be someone who is wasting your energy on fighting people on the outside, when you should be fighting for yourself on the inside–someone so worthy deserves someone to fight for their survival.’ Then I anchored the feeling of him protecting his 2-year-old boy as a father into that same protection for himself on the inside. ‘You wouldn’t let some outsider come up and harm your son, correct? Then why would you let thoughts, patterns, and your own behavior harm that little boy’s father?’ Your little boy is going to use you as his model for the rest of his life to know that he was of value to you and to himself. He will forever either say, ‘I want to be like my daddy or I don’t want to be like my dad. You need to choose today, whom you will be to your son and whom you will be to yourself. Fred, we were supposed to have this talk, and you have a blank map to draw the journey of your life. Decide today that you will fight just as hard for the survival of yourself as you would for your son.’ Again he left weeping. . . .

Another part of this story was that I had been cooking a hamburger for myself on the campfire. His family was getting ready to have hotdogs for dinner. I asked him if he would be interested in some steak that I had that I wasn’t going to be able to cook since we were leaving the next day. He said he had no way to cook it. I told him that I would be happy to cook it for him and I pulled out this huge 2- inch-thick rib eye steak and started to cook it for him. He stood amazed, and kept staring at it, because again what I was doing didn’t fit into his old beliefs. Then when it was finished, he said, ‘Why are you doing this?’ ‘Doing what Fred?’ ‘Why are you eating a hamburger while you cook me this steak? Why?’ I said. ‘Because of my faith I do what I would want someone to do for me, and I want you to have my best.’ Tears in his eyes, he left again. . . .

We had to leave the next day, but before we left he came over and said that our talks had a deep impact on his life and that I was a blessing from God. So you never know, Steve, what bit of information you teach to someone will have an enormous impact on someone else’s life.” . . .

(The Navajo handshake was both a powerful nonverbal pace of Fred’s cultural tradition, and at the same time a complete pattern interrupt, because it was so incongruent with his expectations and beliefs about white people. However, the handshake was only an entry that provided an opportunity; Scott did the rest— exquisitely.)

Click Here To Get Your Own Copy from Amazon

Every time I read the inspiring stories in this book, I wind up with tears in my eyes. If you like the stories half as much as I do, you’ll really appreciate them. There is a lot of both wisdom and “heart” in these pages.

Over the past 7 years, our son Mark has been interviewing people who have a story to tell of how they dealt with a situation of potential conflict, and writing up their stories for this book. To this he’s added some great stories others have written, but which in most cases have not been easily accessible or well-known. Connirae and I are very pleased with the result, and happy to make it available to people around the world through Real People Press.

Below is the full description of the book, as well as endorsements from Dan Millman, William Ury, Mark Gerzon, Pamela Gerloff, Bill O’Hanlon, and a link to order.

—Steve Andreas

Sweet Fruit from the Bitter Tree is a book of fascinating stories of how real people dealt with conflict situations by responding in unusual and creative ways that most of us would never think of. Some intensely moving, some funny, some startling or surprising—these stories will open your heart with a deep appreciation for what is possible.

These pages cover the full spectrum of life—from the kinds of conflicts that all of us face, to the intensity of war and threats of extreme violence. Here you will find stories that take place in the community, the workplace, the schoolyard, and the backyard. You’ll read stories from dark alleys, psych wards, jails, hostage hideouts, and wars.

These stories show how each person came face-to-face with a significant challenge and found their own unique way to meet it. There are no recipes here, no set of steps—just raw experience unfolding with a richness that will keep you on the edge of your seat through the last page.

Click Here To Get Your Copy from Amazon
This unique and meaningful book includes stories from Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, NonViolent Communication founder Marshall Rosenberg, Colonel Christopher P. Hughes, Milton H. Erickson, as well as many people like you and I—you may know some of these contributors.

  • You’ll laugh out loud at the funny interventions used by a cop.
  • Be touched by the forgiveness and generosity of heart that made resolution possible between people who suffered tragedy in the midst of war.
  • Learn how an estranged husband and wife rediscovered their love for each other by studying their dog.
  • Witness a creative teacher dealing with bullying on the school playground.
  • And marvel at how a taxi driver with a gun to his head avoided being murdered by a “psycho.”

Two of these stories have appeared earlier on this blog:

“A Stunning Example of Rapport (and Pattern Interrupt)” (add link)

“The Plywood Artwork” (add link)

Order below to enjoy the other 59 stories! (LINK TO AMAZON Here? And to RPP order page?)

What People are Saying about this book:

“As a sage once said, ‘God invented men and women, because God loves stories.’ The stories compiled by Mark Andreas in Sweet Fruit from the Bitter Tree, tasted one by one, each morning or evening, can transmit real-world reminders about how changing our behavior can change the behavior of others — and that the right words, used skillfully and with heart, can turn a life around.”

— Dan Millman, author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior and The Journeys of Socrates

“In the immortal words of songwriter Nick Lowe: What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding? This book is a charming and moving book about peace, love, creativity and understanding. I predict that you will be inspired by the stories in this book. One of them may even save your life someday.”

— Bill O’Hanlon, featured Oprah guest and author of Do One Thing Different

“There’s an old saying that some conflicts are so difficult that only a story can heal them. Mark Andreas has done us a great service with this collection of extraordinary stories that have this inspirational quality.”

— William Ury, co-author of Getting to Yes, author of The Power of a Positive No

“What a wonderful book this is—truly exceptional.  The stories are so varied, so profound, so fun and surprising. The result is a sense of possibility awakened. If these “ordinary people” can turn a tense or scary situation into harmony and peace, couldn’t the rest of us do that too? Sweet Fruit from the Bitter Tree subtly instructs us in the fine arts of possibility and peacemaking, as we savor its beauty and grace.”

— Dr. Pamela Gerloff, Founder of The Global Possibility Project, co-author of Dignity for All: How to Create a World without Rankism (Berrett-Koehler)

“The stories in this book can teach you more than any academic course or workshop. They are not ‘case studies;’ they are life itself.”

— Mark Gerzon, President of Mediators Foundation, author of Leading Through Conflict (Harvard Business School Press)

Click Here To Get Your Own Copy from Amazon

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top