Last month I received an anonymous and wide-ranging letter in the mail about the state of affairs in Richmond, Indiana, addressed to "Positive Place Committee, Madame Mayor, Richmond and Wayne County Government Officials, Palladium Item Advisory Board, and Leadership pundits."
I take it that I received it because I'm on the Palladium-Item's community editorial advisory board (though I would much rather reside in the 'leadership pundit' category because it sounds cooler). The letter was mailed on May 15th, and was sent via USPS to an incorrect version of my office address, but made it to me anyway.
Continue reading An anonymous letter about the state of Richmond
I've said before that to truly participate in public life, we must do so as ourselves, with our identities revealed. Online discussions are now a part of the public sphere, and when used well, can bring people together in ways that complement and enhance real-world community.
A related trend I'm appreciating is the increasing number of tools available to help make online conversations more personalized. A particular tool I'd like to encourage you to start using right now is that of a Gravatar - a "globally recognized avatar" - which displays an image of your choosing (sometimes a photo of you) next to your contributions to online conversations.
Here are 4 reasons why you should: Continue reading 4 reasons to start using Gravatars right now
I attended a presentation recently where the person speaking was talking about when it is and is not appropriate to challenge your host's views, perhaps at a dinner party or other social event. He noted that in some cultures, it's perfectly appropriate and expected to have a heated discussion about the topic at hand, and that it is done without introducing any sense of offense, malice or personal attack. In the U.S., he noted, we tend to make (and take) everything so personal that it is generally not acceptable to challenge someone's views unless (the narrative goes) you are prepared to take extraordinary measures to dance around their ego and perhaps walk away never to speak to each other again.
As I thought about these observations (which I suppose are fairly obvious to those who hop between cultures), I realized that I'm definitely someone who prefers to be challenged, and who gets the most out of a conversation when I feel safe doing the challenging. But I know that in the course of seeking healthy dialog, especially dialog in the public sphere amongst relative strangers, it can still be quite a balancing act to engage in challenge with a positive outcome. And I worry that our fear of challenging or being challenged, or being out of practice with actually doing it, means that we end up missing out on great opportunities for conversation and building shared vision with those around us.
So I thought it worth writing down some of the ways that I find useful to challenge and be challenged, in hopes of eliciting comments and refinements from others who find themselves aware of their own tendencies and preferences in these areas.
Continue reading To challenge and be challenged in conversation
I remember the first time I was logging onto a remote computer system (a BBS) and was asked to choose a handle - an alias for my online activities. There'd been plenty of times where a computer game or other piece of software had asked for one, but this was the first time when other people were going to know me by this name. Wow! I thought about it carefully...what nickname would be the best representation of my personality and my approach to life, while also exuding the appropriate amount of playfulness, mystery and anonymity? At the time, I chose something that might politely be called "lame."
Since then, I've used a few other handles that were more appropriate and cool (to me, anyway), but lately, I've decided that the handle that best represents of my personality online is the same one that represents it offline: my real name. And in most cases, I'm of the opinion that we should all use our real names when engaging in online discussion and community-building.
It's sometimes a suggestion that makes people uncomfortable, so I want to provide some additional reasoning to consider and discuss:
Continue reading Using real names in online communities
I 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.
Continue reading Curfews as further erosion of a healthy public life