Daniel Quinn's Write Sideways

Daniel Quinn's Write SidewaysDaniel Quinn's book If They Give You Lined Paper, Write Sideways is a short read, but it's not necessarily an easy one to digest, and it leaves more challenges and questions on the table than it takes off. But for anyone interested in having effective engagement with fellow humans about how to make the world a better place, I definitely recommend having it in your toolbox.

Quinn, who I've mentioned here a few times, is an author who has spent much of his life writing books that try to show readers a different way of looking at the world and the story we tell ourselves about how the world works. In Write Sideways, Quinn essentially tries to answer the question, "once you have seen the world from a different perspective, how do you help other people see that same new perspective in a way that's meaningful and lasting for them?"
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The 2007 Wayne County Alternative Gift Fair

Wayne County 2007 Alt. Gift FairThe 2007 Wayne County Alternative Gift Fair, held at the new Reid Hospital today, has just concluded. It was a great opportunity to get gifts for family and friends in the form of donations to local non-profit organizations, and at least for me, a great alternative to a day at the mall buying stuff. I was volunteering as a roaming greeter/explainer/helper, primarily tasked with walking folks through the order forms we used, but it was also a great chance to catch up with faces I haven't seen around town in a while. Lots of laughter, great music, kids running around having fun, and a real spirit of giving in the air - what a great idea! You can learn more about Alternative Gift Fairs in general, or check out my small set of photos from the fair.

If you missed it, you can also check out the Annual Holiday Bazaar happening next Saturday at the Clear Creek Food Cooperative, where you'll be able to buy crafts, jewelry, pottery and other homemade items from area artisans. See you there!

Curfews as further erosion of a healthy public life

IMG_2360.JPGI remember seeing author and activist Parker J. Palmer speak in Richmond in the late 90s, about the needed renewal of America's public life. He spoke of a time and a culture where U.S. citizens were much more likely to engage each other fully and authentically in the public sphere - parks, playgrounds, town meetings, neighborhood events, community gatherings. And it wasn't just nostalgia - he talked about a strong public life as a therapy for some of the world's ills, by connecting us with viewpoints, resources, and people beyond what we know in our more insulated lives at home. As Ronald Rolheiser put it, "To participate healthily in other people’s lives takes us beyond our own obsessions. It also steadies us. Most public life has a certain rhythm and regularity to it that helps calm the chaotic whirl of our private lives." Indeed.

It's too bad, then, that we often seem to be trending toward the further diluting and replacing of a strong public life, especially for our younger community members. In Richmond, the Common Council recently decided to enact a new curfew that restricts people under the age of 18 from being out past a certain time of the evening, and threatens to fine the parents of those people progressively higher for each offense.
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The beginning of the Wayne County Time Bank

Last fall while I was at a conference on our planet's energy crisis and how local communities can be more self-sustaining, I had a conversation with a gentleman from the TimeBanks USA organization. Time Banking is a revolutionary (I think) concept in community building that helps us value the unique skills and experiences that each person has to bring, and helps bridge the gaps in our society created by economic and social disparity. Put simply, it's a system of "give support, get support" that doesn't depend on conventional notions of wealth. I made a note at the end of that conversation that some day I would help bring a Time Bank to Richmond.

As a part of my participation in this year's Institute for Creative Leadership workshop, a group of Wayne County citizens are now creating the Wayne County Time Bank, and I'm so excited about it. If you're interested in learning more about this new tool for social change, I hope you'll come to our next information session on May 16th at 5:30 PM, at the Uptown Innovation Center. And whether or not you can attend, check out WayneCountyTimeBank.org to sign up for our mailing list; we'll let you know when the project is ready for public participation!

Our education system is broken

IMG_1334.JPGThis rant may eventually turn into a podcast segment, but I haven't had time for that and I can't wait any longer. The news has been all the buzz lately: Only 54% of Richmond Community Schools students graduated in 2006, putting us in the bottom 7% of Indiana high schools. There's the commentary on the school system's reaction, great thoughts on what to do and how the community can be more involved. And I'm sure some good things will come out of all of the discussion that is being generated.

But the bottom line for me is that that our system of education in the US is almost entirely broken, ill-conceived in the first place, and that calls to make incremental improvements to a broken system feel largely like a waste of time.

Old minds think "how do we stop these bad things from happening?" New minds think "how do we make things the way we want them to be?" If education in the city of Richmond, the state of Indiana, and the U.S. is to be improved or fixed, it will be with new minds, not new programs put in place by old minds.

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Beyond sustainability

Thanks to Paul Retherford for pointing me to this essay, Beyond Sustainability: Why an All-Consuming Campaign to Reduce Unsustainability Fails. Highlight:

Our very approach to solving the “problem” of unsustainability is grounded in a mindset that prevents sustainability from emerging. Always anchored to the past, the future is envisioned as being bigger or better. But such an approach will always keep us rooted in the past. To escape from the past, one must think in an entirely different way.

The current ideal of sustainability, as sustainable development, is not a vision for the future. It is merely a modification of the current process of economic development that its proponents claim, in theory, need not cause the terribly destructive consequences of the past. Sustainable development is fundamentally instrumental. It suggests new means, but still old ends. Sustainable appears as an adjective; the noun is still development.

As I look at sustainability efforts in my own life and at sustainability as a local progressive value, it's important to me that someone out there has the right words to say what so many people are afraid to say: there are ways in which the survival of life on Earth is in conflict with traditional economic development, a.k.a. the continued growth of our civilization. Many sustainability efforts are purely or primarily anthropocentric, and therefore fail by definition.

This essay doesn't have all the answers, but it's got a good grip on that particular problem.