Oneness Isn’t Sameness

“It takes a lot of different flowers to make a bouquet.”

—Ancient Islamic proverb

I can still picture the world from my dad’s shoulders.

I’m two and a half years old and he has an ankle in each hand. My head is above his and I feel as if I’m on top of the world as we move in unison down the dirt road, surrounded by pines.

After a time, my dad breaks the silence and begins his favorite poem:

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost is a poem I have already memorized as a result of my dad’s frequent recitations when we walk together in this way.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

I join in and then fall back into silence before asking if we can recite the poem again.

Which, of course, we do.


My dad and I grew up in the same village, went to the same college, began careers in the same profession (education), felt called back into the same family business, and ultimately would progress to occupy the same role, as president and then CEO of Hancock Lumber Company (barely twenty years apart).

There are a lot of common trajectories here. Yet no one who knew us both would say that we are the same person.

Related, yes.

Similar (in some ways), yes.

But the same person, no.


We all grow up in a tribe, and the moment and place of our birth pull on us to think and act a certain way. Yet we’re all here, living a life on Earth, with the goals of individuation and self-actualization. We’re each trying to find and make peace with our own true voice.

Since Hancock Lumber’s inception in the 1840s, our company has sawn hundreds of millions of eastern white pine logs into boards. Across that span of time no two logs have ever been the same.

The same is true for people. No two are ever the same. Similar, yes. The same, never.

It is estimated that approximately 110 billion people have lived since the dawn of human time—only about 6 percent of which are alive today. That’s a fascinating contemplation in and of itself.

Across that continuum, no single human life has ever been experienced identically, and this is where the power of our collective human experience lies. Honoring each of us exactly as we are marks the ultimate evolutionary progression of society. The sacred energy of creation manifests in countless iterations. The universe, it turns out, is simultaneously an exercise in sameness and diversity. Could this be how the universe explores itself, learns, and grows?

Now think about the history of human institutions. They’ve almost always sided with conformity. They recite the same anthem. Worship the same god. Perform the same tasks in the prescribed manner. Lots of effort goes into conformity. And while a degree of common understanding and rulemaking is necessary in order for a society to function optimally, what we really need to be teaching, encouraging, and honoring is uniqueness in the form of authentic self-expression and self-actualization. Every person is different by design, but many of our human organizations have historically pursued a counter-objective.


Kevin walking on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

As it turned out, my dad and I worked together at Hancock Lumber only briefly, as he passed in 1997. I’ve occasionally wondered how that experience would have played out for us if it had lasted longer. Even after his passing, I spent a good bit of time following in his footsteps.

It was not until I acquired my voice disorder (spasmodic dysphonia) and began traveling to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation that I truly found my voice and started my own leadership journey—something I’m sure my dad has appreciated from what the Sioux call “the world that lives beside this one.”

It turned out that I had to veer off the family path in order to stay on it. It was only when I individuated that I began to accelerate, creating something new and adding the value that only I could bring to the world around me.

Ultimately, to celebrate our oneness we need to honor our differentiation.

All of this reminds me of my favorite Robert Frost poem:

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;


Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,


And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.


I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.


Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours.

Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.




“All this time I was finding myself and I didn’t know I was lost.”

—Avicii, “Wake Me Up”

How do you find and stay on your path?

This is the question often pondered by self-actualizers for which I have acquired five personal tenets:

  1. You finding your path may have very little in common with me finding mine. Each path is unique unto itself and must ultimately be discovered alone. You can only give so much advice to another about path finding.
  2. Wherever you are right now is, by definition, part of your journey and it’s on your path. Discomfort is part of it, so don’t discount the pain. It’s inviting you to go somewhere.  You are never off your path.   
  3. Seeking is the biggest part of finding. Embrace the search process; there is no finish line.  The path always keeps going.   
  4. I calculate that it’s about one and a half feet from my forehead to my heart. That eighteen-inch journey is the physical distance that must be covered to become a path finder. Only your heart, not your head, knows your path.
  5. When you do land on your path, you’ll know it. It’s the place where the weight of the world releases and time loses its meaning.

* * *

So how do you listen to your heart?

One simple strategy is to begin by observing your mind, which is easier than you might think. All that is required is the recognition that the voice in your head is not you, and as such, you can detach yourself from it.

Be playful along the way. Path finding need not always be mystifying. To that end, one approach I enjoy is the process of elimination. To play this game, you just pick something you’re sure you do not want to do, manifest, or become, and then you simply rule it out.

Here’s one I recently ruled out: caving. I am not going to be someone who goes caving.

Yes, caving. You know—the adventure sport where people tie themselves to ropes and explore uncharted corners of underground caverns. That’s caving, and I have zero interest in doing it, so I’ve ruled it out of my path.

Here’s why:

  • I don’t really like rocks. I don’t like hiking on them or climbing around them. I prefer dirt, grass, and sand under my feet.
  • At the age of fifty-five, I don’t like crawling anymore. My knees, back, and hands all hurt when I crawl.
  • I’m claustrophobic. I don’t like being in small, tight spaces.
  • I’m afraid of small animals. Mice, snakes, and bats scare me. When our youngest daughter Sydney was a small child, a bat got into her room. When my wife Alison asked me what I was going to do about it, I replied that we were going to sell the house and move.
  • I don’t like being tied and roped to anyone or anything. I like freedom of movement.
  • I don’t really like the dark. I sleep with a little light on.

There. I just narrowed down my path. It’s not going to include caving.

Yet there are other unexpected and seemingly impulsive adventures that I have jumped right into without any clear context as to why.

In August of 2012 I picked up a copy of National Geographic magazine and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation was the cover story. IN THE SPIRIT OF CRAZY HORSE: THE REBIRTH OF A SIOUX NATION read the headline, above a picture of a teenage boy riding a horse bareback across a rolling plain.

“I’m going to go there,” I said to Alison as soon as I finished the article. Ninety days later, I was on the Rez.

I’ve now been there over twenty times. What I experienced there changed my life. It came from the heart. That’s path—something you’ll follow without knowing the full answers as to why.

Remote western Indian Reservations, yes.

Caves, no.

Guideposts for my path.

In summary, here’s the moral of this story: If your path takes you into a cave, I won’t be there.

Happy trails to you!

“Not all those who wander are lost.”

—J. R. R. Tolkien


Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.


This is the forty-fourth post in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!