Naturalist David Whyte says that unlike geese, people do not possess that same confidence about their goals and how to achieve them.

Naturalist David Whyte says that unlike geese, people do not possess that same confidence about their goals and how to achieve them.

October 17, 2011

EDMONTON — There is a surety about geese flying that humans admire.

While waiting to catch a ferry at Puget Sound, poet David Whyte saw a gaggle of geese shoot up into the sky. It was an astounding sight and, seeing them, a collective sigh went over the crowd. The birds, with each set of wing beats, formed a faultless V, and were soon flying high on a strong current, in perfect formation.

“When humans see geese migrating, they are looking at one part of creation that knows exactly where it belongs. The geese know when it’s time to lift their wings and leave the place they’re staying,” said Whyte.

The geese were confident about the direction they were flying. They had absolute certainty about their plans and goals.

Whyte was the keynote speaker at Covenant Health’s annual general meeting, held Oct. 5 at Delta Edmonton South. He lives in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. He holds a degree in marine biology, working as a naturalist guide in the Galapagos Islands, and leading anthropological expeditions in the Andes, the Amazon and the Himalayas.

Whyte expounded on themes found in two of his nine books, The Three Marriages and Life at the Frontier.

He examined the notion of the work/life balance, as well as leadership through courageous conversation. He used poetry and thoughtful commentary to illustrate how people can foster qualities of courage, a quality needed in relationships and in today’s workplace.

When it comes to the three marriages (work, self and relationships), important decisions must be made. Unlike the geese, however, people do not possess that same surety of their goals or how to achieve them. They do not always know what direction to take. There is a need to take that courageous first step, shed one’s old skin and prepare for the next challenge.

“In the workplace, one of the real dynamics of leadership is that we must eventually get to the point where we leave behind the initial call of technical competency for which we were first recruited or hired for originally.


“Almost always you’re promoted into the field of key human relationships,” said Whyte.

He holds workshops on this subject through the Institute for Conversational Leadership, which was created as a response to the extreme challenges confronting business leaders.

Why is it difficult for individuals to be courageous? People are inclined to turn away from conflict and avoid confrontation.

To be afraid and to doubt in the face of danger is human. Whether in relationships, the workplace, or when striving to make changes within oneself, people tend to hope that problems will fix themselves rather than dealing with them head-on.

“Why is it so easy for human beings to turn away? It’s because human beings cannot really comprehend how much disappearance and loss there is in life,” said Whyte.

People have prized possessions taken from them, friends move away, marriages disintegrate and loved ones die. About half of life, said Whyte, involves letting go of someone or something we cherish.

“A courageous conversation is a human feat that involves turning towards both sides of life, embracing what is given to you but also what is being taken away at the same time,” he said.


In Matthew 14.22-23, Jesus asked Peter to step out of the boat, and Peter demonstrated faith by showing courage and taking that risky first step.

“Whenever you take a courageous first step, you always feel that you are stepping onto a surface that will not hold your weight — that’s why it’s courageous,” said Whyte.

The AGM also featured the premiere of a short video celebrating the Catholic sisters who have served Alberta for over 150 years. The video is viewable on Covenant Health’s website (

Whyte said the sisters epitomized courage and made strides in health care, education and social work that no one else at the time would dare try.