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...

Continue reading For/Against

The Trump we asked for

As an Indiana resident and voter, it's tempting to be embarrassed at the headlines of "Trump wins Indiana" blanketing the national news today. Indeed, I find almost everything about his candidacy, personality and public statements to be deeply problematic on numerous levels. But Mr. Trump's success in the primary and his win here in Indiana are just more symptoms of a brokenness in U.S. politics that goes far beyond this state or this election year.

When I was growing up, a career in politics mostly seemed like something boring, unglamorous and yet perhaps ultimately noble that certain kinds of people would necessarily take on in service of their town, state or country. Many kids wanted "to be President some day," but most would redirect their attention to other more practical and personally rewarding pursuits when they realized the amount of mundane policy details they'd have to immerse themselves in, or the long road of statespersonship that only just began with a law degree or military service. In this way the bar was set somewhat high for entering a life in politics, and while somewhat contrary to the promise that anyone with a good idea can make a difference in a government of the people, maybe in some ways it was a good thing.

As the lapel pin-wearing political class has emerged, the idea of just anyone being able to make a difference in politics seems more myth than anything. In a country of hundreds of millions of people, the same small circles of people are held up as the only realistic candidates. If you're not willing to amass gobs of money (or friends with gobs they can share), compromise your values and public persona to fit with the room you're in, make promises you can't keep and bow to the primacy of the so-called military-industrial complex, it's unlikely that you can succeed as a politician. Those of us who have in the past held out hope for a candidateperson who can transcend those constraints to restore a principled, dignified approach to government leadership have now mostly learned to know better.

So if we can't relate to or become a part of the political class, we at least expect them to entertain us. Between the 24-hour cable network rehashing of Every Little Unimportant Detail, tell-all insider memoirs, the salacious political affairs and scandals of the last two decades and the fear-mongering around U.S. national security, our appetite for political theater that distracts us from any substantive discussion of issues or outcomes has grown each year. Congressional gridlock, court decisions around corporations as people and money as free speech, and a media generally unwilling or unable to do anything other than chase the story of the day means the founding structures of U.S. government that once required a boring but otherwise accountable and productive national conversation have been all but undone.

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Why Activism is Failing

millennium-curse-coverI suspect that reading Tony Saghbiny's book The Millennium Curse: Why Activism is Failing might be a disturbing experience for you. It was for me.

If you consider yourself an activist in any form, there's a good chance that the book will challenge some aspect of the way you think about what kinds of activism are useful and effective. If you're proud of the successful Facebook or Twitter campaigns you've orchestrated to raise awareness about a certain issue, you'll probably be made uncomfortable. If you have invested heavily in becoming the change you wish to see in the world, you might feel insulted or deflated. If you think of yourself as a pacifist, you might feel like hitting something. And if you're pretty content with the status quo, or if you're not someone who appreciates activism in any form, it might be upsetting to think about the very existence of such a book, let alone some of its implications.

The Millennium Curse tackles head on the question of why much of modern activism is proving itself to be largely ineffective.

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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?