For/Against

The people who I see making the most progress in community building (at any level) are the ones who can effectively articulate the things that they are working toward, what they're for, and then get other people excited about different ways to make that happen.

The people who I see doing the most damage to community building efforts are the ones who only seem able to talk about the things they are against.

Maybe you recognize these different profiles?

For...

  • Is usually dreaming about ways to make something better
  • Celebrates existing strengths and accomplishments as a foundation to build on
  • Understands possibilities for the future, describes them well
  • Lets their ideas evolve as they get feedback
  • Connects with stakeholders and figures out how to help
  • Engages through questions, observation and collaboration

Against...

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Powerlessness and Empowerment with Frances Moore Lappé

A week ago I had the opportunity to hear Frances Moore Lappé speak here in Richmond. She's primarily known around the world as author of Diet for a Small Planet, but she's also an Earlham College graduate, so it was great that she came back to her alma mater to give a talk.

Lappé's talk overall was about how we can move from a place of powerlessness to a place of empowerment when it comes to working on addressing various ills that plague the world - from climate change to energy/resource crises to poverty, and all of the other systems and issues that are related.

It's a topic, a question that's been on my mind lately as I think about my own vocation, and where (to borrow from Frederick Buechner) my talents and interests might meet the world's deep needs. The question wasn't answered for me during the talk, but there were a few insights and random bits of wisdom that I want to preserve here:

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Our complex relationship with revolution

I've been thinking about the complex relationship that mainstream U.S. culture has with the notion of revolution.

In the abstract, we seem to celebrate the possibility of wide-reaching changes in some government or other system that affects the lives of many people.

We like things that provide a chance for a clean slate, a fresh start, a putting aside of ways that aren't working well. When we think about other countries that may have been living under oppressive regimes and then hear that they are in the midst of revolution, we probably assume that this change is leaning toward kinds of freedom and opportunities that are good for the people there. We have ourselves spent many billions of dollars on facilitating "regime change" or other dramatic shifts in power around the world. And we know that our own history as a country is full of revolutions - some peaceful, some bloody - and we take it as a given that these kinds of struggles and shifts are milestones to be remembered, if not honored.

When revolution is in the past, or in distant places, it's okay.

But when we think about revolution in the context of our own present, everyday lives, it seems we are much less tolerant of revolution.

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On maturity

Edison/Ford TreesAs a young person I was aware of the concept of maturity as something that could be sought, developed, worked on, but I was never quite sure how to measure whether or not someone had achieved maturity.

I've defined maturity in different ways throughout my life, most of them probably flawed.

Recently I've come to see maturity as a measure of someone's ability to understand the motivations of other people, to build for themselves a context about how a given situation or set of decisions has come about, and to have empathy for those motivations and that context.

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Facebook Appreciation Day?

Idea:

What if Facebook shut down once per day, every year?

Turn it all the way off. No one could get to it.  No walls, timelines, profiles, friends, games, apps or messages.

They could call it Facebook Appreciation Day.

Some people would appreciate that Facebook was off for the day and turn their attention to other things.

Some people would appreciate how much they enjoy / like / depend on Facebook the other 364 days of the year.

Facebook's servers and employees could appreciate the day off, or maybe they could do some deep cleaning.

I'm only partly joking here:

A ritual of sabbath from something that has become so engrained in modern culture, something that many people can't imagine NOT using in some form every day, could be useful.

Having everyone who uses Facebook experience it on the same day, together, would just be amazing.

What would you do on Facebook Appreciation Day?

Life In a Day, a crowd-sourced documentary

You should watch the film Life In a Day.  It's a crowd-sourced documentary assembled by the folks at National Geographic and YouTube, where folks from around the world sent in 4,500 hours of video footage of their lives as recorded on July 24th, 2010.  (Don't worry, the film itself is only an hour and a half.)

Life In a Day weaves together moments of joy and sadness, frivolity and struggle, plainness and great beauty into a wonderful fabric of the human experience.  It at once shows the ways in which the routines of our days are shared across cultures and landscapes (we wake, we clean up, we eat, we interact, we travel, we love, we argue, we sleep), but also the stark contrasts of wealthy and poor, privileged and oppressed, healthy and unhealthy, troubled and care-free.

There are only a few "characters" we see multiple times throughout the day - a man bicycling around the world, a family struggling with cancer - but the amazing editing and soundtrack create a story arc grounded not in personality or plot twist, but in the experience of having 24 hours pass and all of the amazing (or mundane) things that can happen in that time.  It's a masterpiece that will perhaps seem quaint in a few decades, but that could not have been possible even 5 or 10 years ago.

Life In a Day is inspiring and moving.  Best of all, it's real.

Here, you can start watching it right now:

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Summer reading mini book reviews

What We Leave BehindIt's been a decent summer of reading for me, and I thought I'd post some very brief reviews of some of what I've encountered along the way.  For each book I’ve linked to an online purchase option, but please consider buying from your locally-owned bookseller or visiting your local library first.  I've organized the reviews into three sections: Culture, Novels and Business & Politics:

Culture

Ghost in the Wires by Kevin Mitnick
Finally, Mitnick gets to tell his side of the story when it comes to his adventures in computer cracking and social engineering.  Though his writing style isn't particularly compelling and his personal meditations on the interpersonal aspects of his adventures are a bit awkward, the details of how he pulled off some pretty technologically impressive (albeit illegal and sometimes destructive) hacks - and how law enforcement responded - make for compelling reading on their own.  As someone who spent a fair number of hours in my childhood trying to deconstruct how the phone system and the emerging world of BBSes and Internet nodes worked, Mitnick's book is a great visit to the past and a reminder that humans continue to be the weakest link in all computer security.

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A pretext for violence

I'm reading with sadness the news coming out of Norway.  Apparently, 32-year old Anders Behring Breivik decided that his Christian beliefs were so threatened by cultural shifts, minorities, immigration and multiculturalism that he needed to bomb and shoot people in order to address that threat.  The killings were politically motivated: the bomb was detonated at the Primer Minister's office and Breivik then stalked and shot at close range people at a political retreat.

Some will talk about the dangers of having weapons of various sorts and sizes available to individuals like Breivik and passionately implore for tighter controls and regulation of firearms or other weapon-making materials.  Indeed, we should be asking hard questions about when, where and why we create weapons designed to kill other human beings, and how we allow them to be used.

Some will talk about how this is a clear cut example that acts of terrorism are an ongoing threat and need to be safeguarded against using increased governmental or military power to fight terrorists and prevent attacks.  Indeed, we should be asking hard questions about whether current efforts to prevent acts of terrorism are effective, and what else could be done.

Some will speak of a lone madman who was mentally ill, and how we must find better ways to diagnose and treat mental illness of this sort before an individual's darkness can turn into violence.  Indeed, we should be asking hard questions about how those among us who suffer from mental illness are treated and how they are helped.

But we must not forget that behind all of these interrelated paths to such awful acts of violence, there is a singular cause that no amount of weapons control, military might or psychological analysis can predict or prevent:

Somehow, this man was able to construct a worldview for himself in which it was permissible to murder other people because of their political views.

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