Wisdom from a 3rd Grader: “Boxes, Lockers and Islands”

Too often we fall into the trap of looking at everyone through the same lens. No surprise that our dealings with them don’t always turn out as we wish. This lens we use is normally the one we’ve constructed for ourselves. How we look at things is how we expect everyone else to.

I originally wrote this post eight years ago. I figured it would be a good time to dust it off and give it some light in today’s world.


I follow Sarah Hodsdon on Twitter. She’s a mixed media artist, author, DIY female McGyver and works in a bat cave … or at least that what her bio says. Maybe she does? Who am I to say. But what she really does is tweet about what her kids say – ages 7, 9 and 10.

I learn more from these three everyday by 8:00 am, than I do from all the gurus, experts and rockstars I follow all day. Their gift is to take complex sociological issues and boil them down in simple terms. We get to see the world through their eyes. The clarity they have, well … we could only hope for.

Well this me got thinking about when my daughter, Alexandria, was seven. Alex and I were living in Tiburon in northern California. At the time I was recruiting and living near and I was having difficulty communicating with a someone who was close to both Alex and I. Alex was in the middle of it. She told me how she dealt with the bone-headedness (her word not mine). “You can’t think she’s like the people you work with.”

Alex has always been a master of metaphors. And this time was no different. She divided people up into “types.” Each of these types were described according to how their brains worked (the big words are mine, but the descriptions still apply).

  • Boxes – with closed lids: Members of this archetype organized ideas and thoughts in large groups. They had lots of different types of thoughts in single boxes, and they could easily put them together. These people had more than one box. They could jump from one box to another, but not without effort. Also sometimes they moved their stuff from box to box. The close lids, however, made it kind of hard to do that; thus switching cerebral gears. She said most people we dealt with had “Boxes – with closed lids.”
  • Boxes – with open lids: This is pretty much like the “Boxes – with closed lids,” except that the person could move between boxes (e.g. Meta thought groups) easily. She said these people can be kind of hard to follow though. It took practice to see the connections they they were trying to make. Alex said I have “Boxes – with open lids.”
  • Lockers: People with lockers were organized: and they had multiple lockers.  Everything was segmented and in its place, more so than “Boxes.” People with “Lockers” were perfectionists and didn’t jump to quick decisions unless it was a micro-decision and all relevant input was contained in that locker. It just took a while to open the lockers. Alex had “Lockers.” As she’s gotten older though, I think she’s evolved to “Boxes – with open lids.”
  • Islands: People with “Islands” existed in their own myopic cerebral world. “If you are on an island how are going to be exposed to what other people are thinking?” Empathy seldom is a priority – if even possible. There might be other islands out there that they can see … but if they can’t swim or don’t want to learn – they’re stuck in their own world; on their own island. The person in question I was having problems with had “Islands.” And as Alex said, “and she’s not leaving her island anytime soon.” We  just had to deal with her that way.


Now, let’s come back to 2011. There’s a million books on relationships and how to communicate with people. But it all comes down to realizing that people are different and all our brains work differently. Whether they have boxes, lockers or islands, you just have adapt your communication style accordingly if you want to get your point across. What works for you, doesn’t necessarily work for them. And you can’t really change them. You just have to figure out how they use their brain.

But then again, there’s always help … maybe there’s 3rd Grader available.


“It may not be about you!”

It’s so easy to be wrapped up in our own worlds we look at everything as “us” centric. We assume what goes on with other people we interact with is somehow always due to our presence in the situation.

A few years back I was traveling on Amtrak from Orange County, California to Seattle to visit Jennifer, a friend of mine from way back. Trains are great … way better than planes and cars. You get to spend hours together with people you’ve never met and probably will never see again. All you have is that single experience. You are submersed in this environment where no one has the upper hand on their home turf.

At the beginning of the trip, I met and sat next to a young man who happened to be a Buddhist. Now he didn’t look like the stereotypical Buddhist; no shaved head, no robe … just kinda look like I looked thirty years ago (except probably better looking). For miles we talked, ate and talked some more.

Note: Coincidentally, I did meet two “typically looking Buddhists” the next morning a few hundred miles up the road after being left a train station; That’s different story for different day.


One of topics of our conversation was his girlfriend – who lived with him in a Buddhist compound outside of San Diego. Over the last couple of months their relationship had declined. She would come home from work in a surely mood and stayed that way through the night. “What was wrong and what had he done to cause her malaise,” was his daily question.

“What can I do to make you happy,” was the pretty much how every evening ended up.

At wits end, my new Buddhist friend went to his monk for advice.

This is it:

“How can you be so arrogant and self-absorbed that you think everything in her life revolves around you and is caused by you.”

The next time you beat yourself up over something having to do with somebody else, try empathizing. Look at the world from their perspective.

Believe it or not – it may not be about you.


Note: This story may be one of the most important bits of wisdom I’ve shared as a parent with my daughter in her 29 years of life. It has given her a sense of relief in difficult situations, personal and professional, where control is assumed to be the normal course of action … but instead just stepping back is.


Related posts:

Peer leadership and searching for your own Billie

Every member of your community is unique and adds to its colorful fabric. Everyone has something to offer and everyone should be heard – no matter their age or social standing. And just maybe their words are the exact ones you need to hear.


I love metaphors. The connecting of apparently unrelated items and circumstances provides a cerebral stimulation for me. Especially interesting is when I can connect pop culture to how we could better ourselves and others in this world of ours. And on top of this list is music. Maybe it’s my concert promoting experience during my formative years in college, or just the enjoyment of music I get coupled with the creative personalities of those who create it.

Pop culture is so much more than just the demeaning term of pop that’s attached to it. For much of the population in the western world (and increasingly beyond), especially the young; it’s what we choose to put in our brains when we’re not doing the things we have to do and often don’t want to be doing. And even the things we have to do are often influenced by pop culture. Assuming you’d want to, it’s virtually impossible to escape it’s grasp; whether it be music, fashion, film, advertising, and on and on. Many in the adult world, where they say the real business of life happens, make every effort to dismiss it as adolescent trivialities. This is especially the case, and always has been, with music. “Subversive messages are being put out to undermine their authority and their beloved status quo.” In reality all these dismissive types are doing is disconnecting themselves from the forbearing messages of the future that will articulate the upheaval of their positions of power in society’s hierarchy.

I’ve become addicted to Spotify; not the premium version, the free version with the commercials and random song interjections. Many of these random interjections turn out to be songs from artists I’ve never heard of and have ended up becoming staples in my favorite list. One of those such artists was Billie Eilish and the song was Ocean Eyes.’ In the summer of 2016 I first heard her ethereal voice and immediately favored it. Normally I look look up the artist and delve into their backgrounds if I hadn’t heard of them – but for some reason I didn’t with Eilish. Over the next couple years I tagged a couple more of her songs I had heard, but it wasn’t till last year I did a do deep dive on who she was. In 2018 Billie Eilish was sixteen years old: and then I realized I had been listening to her since she was only fourteen. With the vocal maturity she exhibited, I could have sworn she was ten years older. Midway through 2018 Eilish began gaining traction in my little personal attention span; much having to do with an appearance on Ellen singing the bizarre (but addictive) spider-ridden song, You Should See Me In A Crown,’ and a get-out-the-vote PSA with Eric Garcetti (mayor of Los Angeles). By the time 2019 rolled in … her popularity had exploded.

Over the last year my psyche has drifted into an abyss of malaise. Maybe it was my ongoing battle with the after affects of chemo from the year before: but probably more accurately it was the relentless bombardment of half-baked political ideas conjured up by equally half-baked political candidates, all claiming to fix all that ails us. But what’s worse than the ideas themselves is that they’re taken seriously, especially by the media. To most of them anything that comes out of a politician’s mouth must be considered legitimate policy and taken verbatim. The issues of feasibility and implementation don’t play into it, let alone the unintended consequences that could very well make things worse. We’ll deal with the messy stuff like actually doing it later. Now is the time for sound bites, the news cycle and rhetoric, specifically rhetoric for the white working class in Trumplandia. Regardless, I’ve been in a dark place. Then Billie Eilish thrust herself front and center in my mindspace – literally jump starting my synapses. Music, specifically its sociological implications, has always been a huge influence in my life.

But there was something different here.


Billie and Finneas

Billie Eilish (age seventeen) and her brother Finneas (age twenty-one) grew up in Highland Park, California, a predominately Latino inner suburb of Los Angeles. They’ve lived in their current two bedroom house their whole lives. Each kid has a small bedroom and their parents, working actors, slept on a futon in the living room. Both kids were home schooled with their curriculum being their daily lives where music and creativity was in abundance. Finneas began musically collaborating with his sister when Billie turned thirteen. A year later, ‘Ocean Eyes’ was uploaded on SoundCloud; intended only as Billie’s dance choreography assignment. It went viral and very soon there after the young sibling collaborators and their parents were meeting with music executives.

At present Billie Eilish is the #4 most streamed artist on Spotify and has eight songs over 100 million streams each. Her latest release (and first official album), ‘When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?’ debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 with 313,000 units in March of this year; the second-largest sales week for an album in 2019. It also made her the first musician born in the 21st century to top the chart; as well as the youngest female act to top the chart in 10 years since Demi Lovato did so, and the youngest female artist to spend more than one week at number one since Britney Spears in 1999. Billie Eilish has officially arrived.

Billie’s music is beyond genre classification. You could hear, ‘Bad Guy and say it’s pop and then listen to “Bitches Broken Hearts” and think Frank Sinatra was about ready to step in and sing the second verse. Her influences growing up, seeded by her parents, range from Green Day and the Beatles to Sinatra and Peggy Lee; from Linkin Park to Etta James. What comes from Billie and Finneas is a synthesis of their lives unfiltered by conventional schooling and traditional parenting ideals with a dash of Los Angeles and all that it offers, good and bad.

This synthesis has seeded is more than just a unique sound though. It’s a different world she’s created, fueled by her muti-sensory synesthesia. Each song takes on a color, a feel, a smell and even a number to Eilish. Upon kicking off the launch of her debut album, Billie and Spotify created an immersive experience in downtown Los Angeles which guides you through the album with 14 rooms dedicated to each track, featuring the sounds, smells, colors that Billie imagined composing each. It’s essentially a look into the mind of Billie Eilish.

And what a story it is. With “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?,” Eilish has imagined a universe of her own making — a place that exists entirely within the miniature aural world of her LP. To say that her album possesses its own atmosphere — its own flora and fauna, even — is an understatement. “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” is like no place you’ve ever been before. Why? Because Eilish hadn’t invented it yet. (“Billie Eilish is the new pop intelligentsia” – Kenneth Womack: author of the life and work of Beatles producer George Martin; and Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Monmouth University.)

But maybe more than the music Billie and Finneas produce – is what it represents … more specifically what it represents to the legions of devoted rabid fans.


Transcending the music

I may sound like a fanboy, but to me Billie Eilish represents so much more than her music. She shows us a view into humanity that has the potential to model the communities where we live … one where creativity and expression reign over conformity.

First Billie Eilish and her creations represent the disregard of existing structures, conventions and the way you’re supposed to do things – but not in an anarchist way. She’s not trying to tear anything down; but rather use love and expression as a road to connection. All her music was recorded and produced in her brother’s bedroom – not an expensive recording studio. This isn’t your basic do-it-yourself quality project though. Her latest album will likely spawn four Grammy nominations, including best album. Now the “establishment” is scrambling to replicate the magic that was born from Finneas’ bedroom. I rather doubt it will happen anytime soon.

If the oft-repeated note that the Spotify generation is one unfettered by genre is true, then Eilish is the epitome of this. She’s a new kind of star that can go from the ukulele sing-along of party favor to the industrial throb of bury a friend without apology or pretense. This refusal to be classified is unnerving to all those who strive to put everything neatly in boxes, and have their lives directed by predetermined definitions – whether it be music, politics, ideologies or just societal norms and expectations of how one’s life should go.

It’s one thing to be unique, but the bar for quality the siblings have set, especially with the resources restrictions they faced, is extraordinary. They take you to places where it’s easy to identify with – but in a way like nothing you’ve heard. For example, she recorded a dental drill taking off her braces and included it in ‘bury a friend’ – and it fits perfectly.

Billie’s creative expression at such a young age has spurred creative expression from her fans. They see it’s possible, no matter how old they are. Art creates more art – and expression creates more expression and from this expression comes confidence. That in itself is worth more than one can describe.

Her authenticity extends beyond her music to her very being. There is no one like Billie Eilish. Her fashion sense is closer to that of a male rapper than her female peers and their skin tight leggings. Her androgynous wardrobe shuns the sexualized look thrust upon teenage girls by adults in the music industry and society in general. She empowers young girls to be and dress how they want, not unwillingly having to showcase conformity to some unrealistic body image depicted everywhere and played out everyday in school. Maybe more than anything, authenticity has cemented her reputation. “I don’t care what you don’t like about me,” she says. “I care what I have to say.”

Coming of age in a decade that can feel apocalyptic, she is attuned to the concept of a future on the brink. Her music reflects that throughout as she tackles global warming, depression, suicide as well as normal teenage angst. “I really care about the world, and global warming, and animals, and how everything is ending and I feel like nobody’s really realizing it,” she says.

Maybe the most heartening thing about the Billie Eilish ascent is her connection with her fans, which she hates calling them. To her they’re siblings. I know it sounds trite, but she consistently comes across as genuinely having respect, connection and most of all love for them. She performs live not like a star on stage, but like a fan herself. Her shows are giant sing-alongs where everyone in attendance knows every word of every song. Her breathy intimate voice is most often drowned out by that of the crowd. This empathy and connection attracted the Ad Council. They are currently featuring Billie in their ‘Seize the Awkward’ mental health campaign. She is normalizing mental health by stressing to her peers (and beyond) that it’s alright and normal to ask for help – and it’s the responsibility of everyone to initiate and reach out and help. This is how you break the stigma – not sequester help to a counselor’s office next to the principal where everyone is surely to see you go in. This peer responsibility and connection at our most vulnerable times is the very definition of community. Young and old, we should all learn from it.

Billie-Eilish green hair -- yes

She has become a voice for a generation that is tired of manufactured pop stars put together by adults; singing lyrics that mean little to them. Billie speaks to them in subject material that is dark – but resonates with what so many are going through as they’re growing up. The world adults have given them is not a pretty place. It’s riddled with expectations so many can’t identify with; and an environment that continues to be destroyed as adults act in ways contrary to what the science they are suppose to learn tells them. And on top it, their parents’ and grandparents’ generations have turned over the country and their future to a bumbling narcissistic fool.

In step with what you’d assume, there are words of warning coming from the adult peanut gallery. To have their children exposed to something dark and different, especially something that resonates so deeply is to be looked at with skepticism if not dismissal. The rise of Billie Eilish shows how out of touch many adults are, parents included, as few even know she exists. We may claim to be in a digital age but most adults participate little more in it than Facebook, email and streaming Netflix. There’s a reason why young people are fleeing Facebook, it’s the platform of their parents and that of little relevance to them. Gen Z is using the internet, especially Instagram and Twitter, to rally its brethren around issues such as gun control (MFOL), climate change (#fridayforfuture) and now Billie Eilish and her therapeutic lyrical discussion of mental health, depression, suicide and other teenage issues of angst. Adults get sucked into the propaganda of cable news (regardless their political persuasion) and the vacuous promises of the next messiah, regardless if it’s Trump or Bernie Sanders. It seems most are yearning for a time pre-Gutenberg when thinking was not part of the human repertoire.

Many adults look at Billie and see baggy clothes and blue hair (or white, depending on the week or whim). They see a slacker, someone who doesn’t care about anything; and this is what they see influencing their kids. On the contrary, her and Finneas are the antithesis of that. They are accomplished professionals of the highest degree (again, wait till the Grammy nominations come out). On the song ‘Bad Guy’ Billie re-recorded one word forty times to get the tone and intonation just how she wanted; how she felt it would best reflect the song’s message. I would hardly call that slacking.

Our children on the other hand are looking for and willing to give and receive empathy, and want permission to know that they can be who they think they are. They see that in Billie; someone their age who has shattered the creepy adult-driven sexualization of their their still developing teenage bodies and emotions. They want to be part of creating the world they live in for themselves. They want the issues that should matter to everyone, regardless of age, addressed – and addressed now. Tradition and institutional process is not to be revered for the sake of its existence, but rather questioned and confronted head on. It’s an attitude we all should adopt; one where we actually use our minds, not just ignorantly search for next “savior on the white horse” to protect us from whatever demon of our own making lives under our beds. We are bumbling through life doing what we’ve always done, because we’ve always done it, letting anything or anyone lead us over a cliff if it’ll absolve us from thinking too hard.


Looking for leaders among us

Billy Eilish has urged her fans not conform to the sexualization of teenage girls through the baggy clothes she wears. She’s also advocated against drug and alcohol use by writing, xanny,’ a song that depicts the unattractive and stupid side of getting high and wasting your life on drugs and booze. These are issues that hit her demographic square on. ‘xanny’ currently has 79 million streams on Spotify (up 6 million from two days ago). Her matter-of-fact anti-drug message hits a huge a amount of young people and reinforces it every time they listen to the song. Her unique look is ubiquitous as kids (and adults) are reminded of it in every picture, video and interview she does. It’s textbook marketing; authenticity, honesty, and then repeat … and again. She is setting the foundational values and norms for young people in our communities everywhere. It cool not to get drunk or use drugs and your clothes don’t have to be for other people to judge your body by. Add to that her outspoken advocacy for mental health – her value as a positive influence is infinitely more valuable than any endless parade of politicians pontificating values and vacuous legislation from their disconnected viewpoint in their ivory towers.

How can we populate our communities with Billie Eilish type peer leaders who embody the the traits we value in our communities; authenticity, inclusion, expression and awareness? How can we find these people who are individuals, not mindless conformists; not afraid to call out difficult issues, and propose and implement solutions, not unrealistic political rhetoric and ideological nonsense. And how do we find these people who are doing it by example – not just talk.

Our communities must become breeding grounds for these peer leaders, regardless their age or socioeconomic level. We need to find those who will exert the influence we need to evolve. Not everyone will be Billie, but there are people out there who will and are. And once we find them, we must nurture them. These are our true leaders who will provide the guidance and empower us to help ourselves rather than just look for next “white hat on a white horse.”

Not every leader, peer or otherwise, should be expected to step up and lead in all situations though. This is the quagmire we often find ourselves in under our reliance of traditional institutional structures. We elect a leader and expect them to provide expert guidance across the full spectrum of civic responsibilities. Such will never be the case; instead we find ourselves void of true leadership in the majority of circumstances we face. We concentrate on structures, organizations and the process of anointment to positions of power – regardless of whether the competence exists to actually get anything done.

My remedy is not only peer leadership, but making that leadership situational. Situational leadership ebbs and tides according expertise levels, need requirements and resource availability. The rhizome model of civic engagement I’ve written about details this methodology well. This infrastructure template abhors static roles and instead promotes inclusion and the use of human resources and skills appropriate for the need or opportunity when and where needed.


In much of the world, we are living in a dark place. Certain sectors of the population; often elderly, white and traditional are scared, very scared, of the changes they see all around them. They see inclusion and minority empowerment as a threat: and as a reaction they are pushing back against the exact things we should advocate for. Many are afraid of uncertainty, and anything and anyone different. Their reactive tactics are aggressive and punitive. They are actively looking to punish anyone who does not conform to their antiquated version of society: and they’re using government and many of our traditional institutions as their tools. We cannot be passive about our response to them. We cannot assume our institutions are there to support us. We must push hard and fast for inclusion, creativity and diversity. Too many in the high rungs of power are not willing to compromise – and will fight to the end for their ideologies and pathologies. We must match their commitment and their resolve. And our execution must come from the situational leadership of those we find among us – not through the traditional positions of institutional power who are there first and foremost to sustain their positions and promote the status quo.

Our future hangs in the balance.


Related posts:


Draft and notes

Consciousness of Community

One of the great questions of our time, or any other for that matter is: “what is consciousness?” Some think it doesn’t exist. Others think it’s everywhere. Regardless, we are nowhere near to solving this seemingly unsolvable question. But why should it be unsolvable?

Now a new project currently under review hopes to close in on some answers. It proposes to draw up a suite of experiments that will expose theories of consciousness to a merciless spotlight, in the hope of ruling out at least some of them. The initial aim is for the advocates of two leading theories to agree on a protocol that would put predictions of their ideas to the test. Instead of each camp championing its own view and demolishing others: researchers, funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation will collaborate and agree to publish in advance how discriminating experiments might be conducted — and then respect the outcomes.

According to the cognitive scientist Stanislas Dehaene of the Collège de France in Paris conscious behavior arises when we hold a piece of information in a “global workspace” within the brain. This argument assumes all of cognition, including consciousness, is merely a form of computation; just an algorithm. This view is dominant in scientific communities worldwide. It also provides the basis of motivation for the technical community who thinks we can create an artificial brain since with enough processing power – it’s only a hack away. This hypothesis is called global workspace theory (GWT).

Dominant doesn’t mean consensus though. The other view competing for viability is one championed by neuroscientist Giulio Tononi of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Tononi and his collaborator Christof Koch, chief scientist and president of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle. To them consciousness is not a product of just inputs and outputs but rather an intrinsic property of the right kind of cognitive network, one of specific features in its architecture. Tononi calls this view integrated information theory (IIT).


The Consciousness of a Community

Personally I’m a proponent of Tononi’s integrated information theory; but not just as it relates to individual human consciousness. I can extrapolate and envision it relating to how a community is designed and develops. We can’t just “hack it to get it where we want.” We have to have an architecture or foundation to start with: and how this foundation is designed will determine what can be built on top of it. From this architecture will come a serendipitous synthesis that will be a product of its components. These components consist of a mash-up of a community’s values, norms and the expectations of its residents created through both overt and subliminal means. Think of it like the genetic makeup of an offspring. They may or may not directly resemble their parents – but the parts are in there; whether they be dominant or recessive, they’re just waiting to show themselves down the line when paired in the right combination. We can’t just wish something into existence by adding a few more inputs and taking away a few others.

Over the last few years, the philosophy or Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari has dominated my societal thinking as I’ve attempted to “find a better path to an evolved society.” In their treatise One Thousand Plateaus, written in 1980, Deleuze and Guattari introduced the concept of rhizomes as a metaphor for the constructs of a society.

“A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles … the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes of signs, and even nonsign states … The rhizome operates by variation, expansion, conquest, capture, offshoots.” A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo. (A Thousand Plateaus)

I distilled this rhizome metaphor down to the community level in my piece Growing an Evolved Society. One of the main tenets of this rhizome hypothesis is the assumption that the workings of our society (or community) lie on the Smooth Space, or underlying social architectural of a community and its foundational definitions or components.

The platform or naked infrastructure on which the community and in turn the array of “need and opportunity based activities” operate is called the Smooth Space. This platform is not formally defined, but rather takes the form of the influences that inhabit it. These influences can include meaningful communication, actions of existing organizations (government and other) as well as social norms, ideals and community expectations. In the context of my model, Community 3.0, the Smooth Space includes the small business community, non-governmental organizations (Front Porches), the members of the community who are their customers and members; along with the societal norms they create. What a community does and how it creates its Smooth Space will determine its personality and the well-being of its populace. It is the duty of the Rhizome structure and its Smooth Space to accommodate and nurture the intangible, serendipitous, sensual and tactical engagements of all the members of its community that best serve the collective (i.e. empathy, creativity, collaboration and self-actualization).

Upon the foundation of the Smooth Space a community is built. The Smooth Space will take either an intentional form … or an accidental one if no conscious effort is made to create otherwise. As with Tononi’s theory of consciousness, you can’t create something if the right ingredients aren’t present to build it on.

The subsequent actions of the community are then dependent on the norms and expectations first established in the development of the Smooth Space. Deleuze and Guattari call these actions the Body Without Organs.

Body Without Organs is what happens, the actions. It is the result of what the Rhizome social philosophy using the Nomadic actions of its components operating on the Smooth Space. In itself the Body Without Organs has no form until the variables of the community infrastructure are injected into it. The community’s personality and overall state of well-being are the results of the interactions between its residents. The individual and collective projects and serendipitous acts of goodwill (or malice) that result from the values established in the development of the Smooth Space compose its Body Without Organs. If empathy, inclusion and connection isn’t a norm of the community – what happens there will reflect it. You can’t build on what isn’t there.

We can all organize annual cancer marches and fundraising efforts until we have no more free weekends; but they will still only be one-offs, single events that don’t leverage beyond their singular purpose – if there isn’t a deep foundation of benevolence built into the community in the first place (Smooth Space components). If we still find reasons to exclude people based on where they used to live, what color they are or how old they are – our efforts will produce little lasting value; and can often do more harm than good. Our primary focus must first be to create our Smooth Space, our foundation where our seeds of goodwill can grow rather than just consumed at the moment.

But what are the components that we’ll need to create this fertile ground?

Every community must be responsible for its own Smooth Space and making it unique to that community. This is your community’s personality. That said, certain elements are nonnegotiable. These elements must transcend political, geographic and ideological differences.

  • Every member of the community is unique and adds to fabric of the community. Everyone has something to offer and everyone should be heard – no mater their age or social standing. It should be responsibility of all us to help everyone realize their own worth and where they can contribute.
  • Tradition and the static nature of institutions cannot be revered to the point of impeding flourishment. Existing structure and archaic systems are too often the foundation and reinforcement of ideologies, prejudice and exclusion. The value of the status quo and its trappings must continually be assessed.
  • The ideal of resource maximization must permeate all our actions and reactions. ”Don’t worry about what you don’t have … use what you have.
  • Conservation and environmental constraint must be held at the highest of priorities. Unfettered growth and consumption must be curtailed. Every action we make, macro and micro, must be looked at in so far as what effect it has within the larger ecological system, societal and environmental.
  • Wealth is not just about money. It’s about quality of life: and your “personal currency” can take any form.
  • Cross pollinate – personally and professionally.
  • The future of the community is its youth. We nurture them and things will take care of themselves.


Constructing the Smooth Space

How do we create this foundation for our community though? How do we establish the values and norms to guide ourselves and our children; and help them build the type of places we will all be proud of? But we can’t just sit around and have conversations about it. Talk is easy, but most often it’s fleeting. Conversation seldom roots anything beyond more conversation. Action begets more action – and with it the behavior that sets community norms.

We need to create community ideals and norms that are based on action and engagements among residents; ones that nurture environments and gives permission to everyone to venture out and attempt whatever they choose. This society of permission is made up of residents who don’t just lobby for services, services they feel the government entitles them to – but rather actually go out and act to create their own solutions. Our communities must be workspaces of action, not just talk. It’s from these actions and the relationships they create, will come the norms, values and expectations we need to create the architectural foundation of community will sit on.

Our paradox is that in order for us to create these actions; we need the space that contains the components that are best created from these exact actions. It’s the chicken or egg first dilemma. How do we rectify this? We must force the seeding of interaction and engagement— specifically by using peer leaders. I imagine the mechanics of this seeding process below:

  • Build a team of peer-leading evangelists to anchor the efforts. Often hidden in weeds are the true leaders of the community – the ones people really follow. Fight the urge to fall back on community icons from the status quo; instead identify key community segments (often underserved, ferret out the influencers and solicit their input. Find that one key member that will contribute in outsized proportions: and when you find them:
    • Create a web page announcing your collaborative intention (brand accordingly)
    • Breakdown target segments and research peer leader prospects
    • Recruit
    • Meet people where they are using their physical hubs (Front Porches)
  • Build your community’s Front Porch network:
    • Identify locally owned centers of current activity that can be transformed into civic hubs of engagement working from your peer leader efforts
    • Use a combination of direct sales (via evangelists), public relations and covert guerilla marketing
    • Leverage the owners, employees and patrons to build your effort’s member base and network
  • Build your community participant base via the efforts of your Front Porch network:
    • Provide member acquisition training and guidance to Front Porch management and employees
    • Reach out to and organize in local high schools and colleges seeding a cause-specific young generation movement (e.g. green and conservation actions)
    • Social media, public relations focusing on community specific causes
  • Template civic volunteer projects, specific to your community, designed to kick-start the emotional momentum for a new street-driven empathetic civic engagement attitude (Body Without Organs)
    • Use your Front Porch network as the physical presence and your evangelists to bring in a diverse offering of participants
    • Create a clearinghouse for ideas from all people in your community to be implemented now and later as appropriate
    • Engage with other communities adopting the Community 3.0 model by sharing your ideas and execution techniques
  • Construct/acquire a communication platform/vehicle that will maintain the emotional momentum and upkeep of the Smooth Space foundational components. The building process must be ongoing to combat outside influences fighting to undermine transition to a more evolved inclusive community (often from traditional sources of power – corporate, government, etc.):
    • Community-wide guerilla organization and participation
    • Content-driven Front Porch based communication
    • Civic-focused content and messaging
    • Database-driven customization and personalization


Call to Action

Putting the above tasks in play may seem like a lot – but it doesn’t have to be. Just take each one at a time. Building your initial team of diverse peer leaders is step one. This is recruiting function is not unlike that a headhunter would use. I did this for fifteen years. The process isn’t magical: it’s methodical. Patience is not just a plus … it’s mandatory. So strap in for the long haul; but it will be well worth your effort.


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Creating a New Healthcare Paradigm

The healthcare community has been abuzz the last couple weeks over the Apple Watch’s ability (or not) to detect irregular heartbeats in attempt to predict atrial fibrillation. Enthusiasts, naysayers, survivors, Eric Topol, and everyone else in between have been giving their assessment of the results of 400,000+ person study done in conjunction with Stanford University. Some praised the results, others obsessed on the chance of false positives causing unnecessary alarm in apparently healthy young adults. I’m guessing where someone’s opinion fell is pretty much where it started out.

That said, the new Apple Watch, Version 4 is not a FitBit. This is not about adoption of a new-fangled gizmo that after a month will end up in the top drawer of your nightstand next to the (no offense to the FitBit). This is the next generation of that smart device that never leaves your side, or your wrist. I’m not trying to be an Apple commercial … rather just acknowledging a bellweather fact of a societal shift in how we view health and what it means to take care of it.

This is a serious entry into a market by the largest, richest example of capitalism the Western world has ever seen; one whose iconic founder’s last corporate directive was to disrupt healthcare in a way he successfully did to computing, telecommunications, music, retail and essentially culture as we now know it. And it’s one that its current leader has fully taken to heart.

In an excellent piece on digital health usage among young people, Susannah Fox, former Chief Technology Officer of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found these teens (14 to 17-year-olds) and young adults (18 to 22-year-olds) making extensive use of a wide range of digital resources to access health information, tools, peer support, and providers online (Digital Health Practices Among Teens and Young Adults: Key Findings):

  • Nearly nine out of ten (87%) teens and young adults say they have gone online for health information: the top five topics searched are fitness (63%), nutrition (52%), stress (44%), anxiety (42%), and depression (39%).
  • Nearly two-thirds (64%) say they have used mobile apps related to health, including for fitness, sleep, meditation, and medication reminders.
  • The majority (61%) say they have read, listened to, or watched other people share about their health experiences online, whether in podcasts, TED talks, or YouTube videos.
  • About four in ten (39%) say they have gone online to try to find people with health conditions similar to their own, using methods such as participating in online forums or closed social media groups on specific issues, doing hashtag searches on social media, or following people with similar health conditions.
  • One in five (20%) young people report having connected with health providers online, through tools like online messaging, apps, texting, and video chat.

To the old guard firmly ensconced in their white coats and stethoscope technology conceived 100 years ago … ignore at your peril. Retirement may best be had earlier than later.

James Rizzi - Summer in the City

The world is increasingly becoming one whose inhabitants have never been without a smart phone – a computer in their hand. Texting and social media isn’t something they take breaks from – anymore than eating or breathing. And that’s not just your teenage kids … it’s becoming everyone. Imagine your life without a car. It’s no different.

The healthcare industry in the traditional sense can longer be debating whether they should acknowledge these gizmos in their patients hands anymore than we can debate that climate change is real. Denial only shows an allergy to change and says little of the context and everything of the person. Physicians and providers will very soon need to put forth all available resources in integrating these digital tools into the process of their patient’s care. If they resist … well, I’ll say it again: it’ll be at their own peril.


Consumers of Health

We can’t just limit our attention to that of cardio health technology though. The Apple Watch and its siblings competing for our attention and our dollars represent much more. They are an emblem of the empowerment to take control of our health. Being constantly reminded of your health status transcends the once a year check up by putting it front and center on demand. The level of our potential awareness is omnipresent. And with this elevation will come modification of our behavior; maybe not always overtly, but at least covertly. Consumers of cheeseburgers can now be consumers of health. And with that will come changes in what the marketplace offers. For example, McDonald’s just announced they’ve removed artificial ingredients from their seven classic burgers, including the Quarter Pounder and the Big Mac. While no bastion of healthy eating, McDonald’s actions show a recognition that health plays a role, an increasingly larger one, in the decision-making of their patrons. These same people will also demand the same empowered recognition from their physician and health provider. And with each day their voices will grow louder. Patient collaboration improves self-efficacy. If patients think what they are doing is going to help their outcome … they’re much more likely to do it. And the act of “doing” is power in itself.

To accommodate this new paradigm, healthcare providers will have put forth resources, both financial and attitudinal, to accommodate the movement of patient health data; or as they call it in the industry, interoperability. This interoperability must extend from within the confines of their clinic walls to other providers (often competing ones) to the personal data gathered by the health consumers themselves. In their new empowered state, patients and consumers will want access to their health information no matter where and how it’s gathered. And if the healthcare provider wants to maintain market share, they will have to oblige. The OpenNotes movement is making strides raising awareness and organizing patients to demand their providers give them access to the notes physicians take during and after their visits. At last count over 26 million consumers are represented by healthcare providers who subscribe to this process … and this number will only increase exponentially. Just yesterday, I was involved in a Twitter thread on the realism of recording patient/physician office visits.

Even with this data flying in all directions – a true health collaboration runs the risk of being siloed in the domain of only the technical assessment of the physical body. We are much more than that. We are an accumulation of our experiences; our environments, and the actions and reactions we make in those environment. We are products of how we grew up, our education level, the work we’ve done, where we’ve done it – and maybe most of all who we’ve done it all with. This is our narrative, or as I call, an Engagement Narrative. The idea for this came from many inspirational discussions I have had with the patient engagement leader, Jan Oldenburg – as she puts her interpretation of it to use in real life. This narrative must be taken into account when looking at our health and well-being – and what we should do about it going forward in our lives.


The Ivory Tower Must Go

The days of the patriarchal middle age white male in a white coat standing in front of you as sit on a hard exam table in an open back gown, stripped of all power and dignity, are fast becoming a relic only to be seen late at night on second tier cable television. Today’s physicians are not different from the people we see everyday. Many are just as tuned into technology as their most informed patients. They’re health consumers and patrons of Apple and Amazon just like us. They reflect the population. Women and ethnic minorities represent an increasing portion of the demographics making up the industry (though not nearly enough).

It’s not just that our physician demographics have changed; so have the societal conditions around us. Our population is aging and with it is the increasing role played by caregivers. With the prospect of Trump-induced knee-jerk governmental austerity measures looming daily – our mental health is constantly being put to test. Health happens outside the clinic walls more than it does within them … and someone has to be there to assist. In most cases this role is played by spouses, adult children, grandchildren and other family members. But we can’t discount the part played by other stakeholders outside immediate family. Friends and neighbors should be considered an active part of the support solution. This will be even more the case with the government trending towards abdication rather than responsibility. These components of a changing technical and sociological health landscape are demanding a new vision … a new paradigm.


A Collaborative Health Paradigm.

We must create a national movement of empowerment, one of New Power, revolving around health and well-being that transcends our current definition of “healthcare.” The traditional position of fee-for-service reimbursement is coming to an end – though not nearly fast enough. In its place I hope will be compensation models that reward healthcare providers for their role in elevating the health and well-being of not only their patients, but also the communities they operate in. And this new role will require collaboration from parties beyond the constraints of “healthcare” itself.


The Health Consumer as a collaborator

If we, as health consumers and patients, don’t look to ourselves as being the main source of  health – the actions of our healthcare providers don’t really matter. Past are the times when your physician was the only source of good health. And gone are times your annual checkup is the only times you even think about your health … if you even do that.

The first step in taking control of your health is creating an Engagement Narrative. The Engagement Narrative is much more than just your story though. It’s an exercise in self-awareness. The very act of writing something down makes it real, something you can refer to and build on. Creating the Engagement Narrative also gives you an unprecedented opportunity to involve those close to you to shed light and become more involved in your life. This collaboration will provide more insight and commitment than if you just composed it yourself. And with it carries accountability. Not only are you writing down where you’re at and where you want to go … it’s being shared with your closest confidants. There’s no escaping now. Whether you like it or not – you have a team behind you.

Even with an enhanced physician relationship brought on by your Engagement Narrative, your path to health involves much more. Inspirations for well-being comes from everywhere. Just your normal day-to-day comings and goings give you a multitude of opportunities to better yourself through simple engagements – however insignificant those engagements may seem. Participating in a local clean up effort gets you off the couch and gives you an opportunity to meet new people; taking you out of your comfort zone and building synaptic connections. Deciding to walk to the store rather than … well not, can start a habit that literally can change your life.

Your positive actions will also have an effect on others – contributing to their health and collectively that of the community. A simple compliment in line at the grocery store can not only make a person’s day; it may cascade into the validation of a decision they made (say a new hair style) that empowers them to carry themselves with confidence before an important meeting or job interview. No act of kindness is too small. No engagement is insignificant.


Healthcare providers as a collaborator

My idea of the healthcare provider isn’t a physical clinic at all, but a relationship; beginning with one person, a concierge, who would direct me to who and where I need to go (including transparent options) for specific situations, including prevention advice. Imagine a human health interface. Accompanying this human component would be comprehensive AI functions integrating and managing my care, as well as suggestions to elevate my self-efficacy. All administrative functions would be hidden from me (appointment setting, forms, etc.) – synced with my personal data wherever its origination, and available on the technological communication conduit of my preference. In addition to my technical data, my healthcare provider (physician and any support staff) would refer to the Engagement Narrative I provided them (personal and professional history, etc.). We’re all on board recognizing health is a function of my environment and my interaction with it as much (if not more) than anything happening between the four clinic walls.

Being a healthcare provider, we need you to lobby for our communities to be places that prioritize people and relationships – not cars, parking lots and box stores. We need you to take the money you don’t pay in taxes and invest it in community gardens, farmers markets and street fairs that showcase local art encouraging creative engagement. We need you to lead the way advocating for healthy eating by including cooking and nutrition as an integral part of our treatment. And while you’re at it – include our stakeholders. We need you to be advocates for engagement and “getting out of the house.” Communities that encourage something as simple as allowing dogs in parks will boost their residents’ collective health and well-being. Why not propose that at a city council meeting?

But however substantial your clinic’s direct efforts may be, whether it be setting up a farmers market in your parking lot or organizing mentor groups for current cancer patients – we need you to do more. We need you to use your stage and your megaphone to reach the entire community. We need you to be vocal when you see politicians and government not doing what they should to improve the human condition of our communities. You should be a regular contributor in the OpEd section of the newspaper. You can’t hide behind the nonpartisan label just because you’re afraid of losing a few ideological wayward customers. Losing them is nothing compared to losing your integrity and human decency. And believe it – there are people out there like me, who can write better than I can, who aren’t afraid to call you out on it … publicly.


The community as a collaborator

Our actions and reactions determine our physical, mental and even social health. We our products of how we interact with our environments – as well as choosing what environments to put ourselves in. In the post A Saturday in May … a study in engagement, I chronicled a day of incredible experiences I had entirely due to breaking outside my comfort zone.

We need to use our daily routine as a source of good health and well-being. Everywhere we normally go has the opportunity to nudge you in a healthy direction – we just have to look at it that way and engage. We have to be present and mindful. I call these physical sources of opportunities in your community, Front Porches, named after the front yard gathering spots so often seen in Latino communities that are used for neighborhood discussion and connection to the street. Only in this context, they’re very often small businesses … places we probably already frequent, like the corner grocery store or our habitual morning coffee shop. But it’s not just businesses that can be Front Porches though. It’s anywhere where people gather than can be turned into hubs of social interaction and civic engagement; schools, parks – even our neighbor Bob’s garage with the big screen television. From this engagement we can create home-spun volunteer efforts that mend the social safety net commonly let to fray by our traditional institutions. These efforts can range from to fixing a school playground, to organizing an elderly outreach effort, to even spearheading a high school mentoring program.

Ivan Illich argued that it is not a case of ‘either/or’ (community or institution), so much as a question of, which comes first. He contended that an institutional inversion had taken hold in modern societies, through which the community role becomes that which is left after the institutions and their professional helpers have done what they think they can do better or more expertly. Illich contested this inversion, and argued for its reversal whereby the institutional and professional role should be defined as being that which is left after the community has done what it can and wants to do. (Cormac Russell in “Does Medicine Make Us Sicker?”)



Today … looking forward

Healthcare is changing. Reimbursements are now starting to be tied to community health metrics. No longer is it only about number of procedures and tests. But still – this progress is slow. It needs to be turbo-charged. It needs all parts of the community working together for individual and collective goals. The days of the silos of healthcare and looking at health from only the perspective of medicine are numbered.

We must create a societal “wave” of health and well-being. It will be up to all parties, including healthcare providers, to decide which side of the societal evolution they wish to be on. Profits and revenue can be very fickle … and fleeting. Pleading ignorance or thinking that substantive change is beyond the parlor rooms of their ivory towers isn’t a viable option.

The barbarians are at the gate … and they’re the ones who are paying the rent in those ivory towers.


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Rekindling Community

Anyone who’s a parent can probably concur with me. You’ll do anything for your kid to get good grades in school. In a perfect world it would be straight “A’s.” If you have the resources, you’ll pay for tutors or whatever other leg up it’ll give your little genius. Straight “A’s” means getting into a good college – and for many that’s everything? And don’t get me going on the recent “pay to play” college scandal.

Mitra, my ex-wife, and I split up when our daughter Alex was young. She spent time between us and both Mitra and I cared a lot about Alex’s school performance (as would be expected, of course). My GPA in high school was about 3.9 (back when 4.0 was all you could get). While I don’t remember what Mitra said her’s was, I know she got a 4.0 in college. Grade point average was obviously a big deal to us.

That said, Alex was her own person and had her own scholastic agenda. She rebelled within the excepted norms … for the most part: and she didn’t necessarily hold our views of GPA. If she didn’t connect with a subject – she didn’t see any real reason to work extra hard to get that “A” (and there wasn’t a lot of moving her on that). Instead she concentrated on the classes that resonated with her. Instead of being satisfied with an “A” – she wanted to do even better. Instead of competing against the grade scale – she competed against herself. Personally I grew to accept and embrace her philosophy. Mitra … not so much: “GPA should be the goal.” In the end Alex did what she wanted (no surprise there) and focused on writing and Mr. Marx’s classes (government and economics); leaving math and whatever else was left to whatever little time and cerebral energy was left.

Alex played to her strengths rather than just hone up her weaknesses.


“Discoverables,” Not Deliverables

Recently I’ve had the privilege of previewing Cormac’s Russel‘s new book, Rekindling Community: Democracy Redefined. Cormac is the Managing Director of Nurture Development in Dublin Ireland, as well as a faculty member of the ABCD Institute. Cormac’s work spans the continent of Europe. I look at Cormac as a visionary in the thought space of local empowerment and decentralized civic engagement. His views transcend the normal soundbites and rhetoric, instead diving deep into the nuances and unintended consequences of policy.

Cormac’s vision of society is a collection of unique communities rooted in principles of self-sufficiency and citizen empowerment. At the core of Cormac’s vision is the concept of “playing to the strengths.” He coined the phrase “Discoverables,” Not Deliverables. Cormac believes communities have the resources they need, they just have to “discover” them, nurture them and put them to the most effective use for the collective good.

“Communities are all around us, close at hand, awaiting the community building that will make the invisible assets within them visible in all their abundance.” – Cormac Russell

It’s easy to fall into the trap of looking at society as a runaway train careening ever close to a fate of Armageddon. Whether it be climate change, increasing income inequality or the threat of authoritarian governments; it’s all doom and gloom. Regardless what end of the political spectrum we reside, we’re looking to the man “on the white horse in the white hat” to ride in and take us away from all this. We’ve seen the trends throughout the world; whether it be populism on the right or grand plans such as the Green New Deal on the left. What they both have in common is they both defer to some overarching force, whether it be a strong-arm ruler or the omnipresent federal government; we’re to be recipients … not producers of the solution. Thomas Hobbes vision of the Leviathan is alive and well.

Hobbes Leviathan

On the contrary, as Cormac lays out in his book; “the underlying goal is start with what is strong, not what’s wrong, then to liberate what’s strong to address what’s wrong, and to make what’s strong even stronger.” This is a far cry from the usual institutional way of doing things. The map an outside agency has of a community is never the same as the one that actually exists – and communities do not work in silos with institutional goals primarily in mind. Much of the work of what makes a community healthy and well is being done by those who don’t even know they’re doing it.

Cormac introduces to us to his concept of White Swans and Ugly Ducklings. He contends most communities are the latter, not because they’re in need of repair or a make-over, but because we don’t see them as what they can be, White Swans; made up of relationships where relatedness can flourish – not just of strangers in a shared geography. The reason they haven’t transformed is that we haven’t seen their potential and we haven’t nurtured them to realize it.


Rekindling Community

In United States, before World War II, our neighbors were our support. They were the doctors, the midwives and the handymen. They were where we could go to get food when we needed it. It’s what got America through the Great Depression. But with Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, the government became America’s de facto support system. The help of your neighbor wasn’t as important as before. The New Deal was needed at the time, but as a result reliance on the township, the community, the neighborhood and in turn the nurture of our Middle Ring of neighborhood relationships … began to wane. It wasn’t so evident at first. But the chinks in the armour, so to say, were beginning to show, even back then. Now we’ve seen the full effect of it. We have turned into consumers … consumers of services of most everything. In turn, we’re no longer producers; not of the support we once provided our friends, family and neighbors. And this transformation from producers to consumers wasn’t isolated within the borders of the United States. Unfortunately, like a disease, it’s something we to other nations worldwide.

The Cargo Cult

“The island of Tanna is one of the world’s most remote places. Prior to World War II, its inhabitants had few encounters with the outside world. That all changed with the arrival of American soldiers who set up their military base on the island. They arrived en masse in ships and planes brimming with cargos of medicine, clothes, food and equipment to sustain the troops across the Pacific. They also arrived with their military customs, their uniforms, radios and a myriad of other behaviors and regalia previously unseen by the inhabitants of Tanna.

On Tanna the American soldiers regularly shared items of cargo with the local inhabitants. Then war ended in Europe on May 8, 1945, and Japan surrendered to the U.S. on September 2, 1945. While the rest of the world celebrated, the inhabitants of Tanna were bereft. The soldiers systematically left and with them took the “cargo.” Not surprisingly, after the soldiers left, in an effort to invoke similar favor from the gods, many of Tanna’s inhabitants took to imitating the militaristic “rituals” of their visitors – [literally forgetting their traditional ways cooperation, collaboration and self-reliance].

The name “cargo cult” is used to describe those imitations even though it is a pejorative one. The term impugns the motives and intelligence of the island inhabitants and carries little critical comment about the behaviors of those who landed on the island and then abruptly left, having forever altered its culture.” (Cormac Russell from “Rekindling Community: Democracy Redefined”)

Is the cargo cult really a metaphor for the United States? Has seventy years of a service-oriented entitlement mindset, increasingly more austerity-leaning government policies and corporate bombardment of convenience and solving our every problem; created a society void of community and only of individuals looking to the next “box”?

All is not doom and gloom though. Cormac remedies this community deficit by preaching the “small is beautiful” concept coined by E.F. Schumacher in his work promoting the Global South. This concept of “small” is at the root of community production. Cormac then elaborates on it by giving us a prescription for designing our communities around their residents by focusing on what they inherently bring to the table.

Included in this far-ranging treatise, Cormac delves into building a health system that is citizen centered, using the community as the center, not the institutional healthcare system we’ve become addicted to.

The evidence clearly shows that it is not services and programs, but our community assets that primarily determine our well-being––that is, the extent to which we are well and how quickly we recover when unwell. (Cormac Russell from “Rekindling Community: Democracy Redefined”)


The Science of Deepening Community

Most discussions about community speak on platitudes; instead Cormac dives deep into the sociology of what it takes to actually create community. He introduces us to Connectors, Conductors, Circuit Breakers and Dynamos. For all those familiar with Malcolm Gladwell and his seminal book, The Tipping Point, and his definitions of Mavens, Connectors and Salespeople – Cormac’s philosophy will be easy to grab hold of. Aside from Gladwell and Russell though, few burrow down into the mechanics of how community actually happens.

Cormac also bring up inspiring examples of connected groups banding together to address community issues. He gives us the citizen-organized Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA). BACA is a worldwide organization that fights child abuse but doesn’t only approach the issue from a punitive traditional hierarchical approach (as most do). They also stress having the perpetrators “take ownership” while providing support in conjunction to local authorities and NGOs. This is using the strength of a common connection to be there for one another and not just sitting by waiting for the next box to arrive.

After Cormac outlines how to meticulously rekindle our communities, he takes us through the process of unlearning the habits of acting subservient to the metaphorical Leviathan. This process could almost be viewed as a detoxification or civic rehab.

After we set the stage in our own communities, designing them from the bottom up to be rekindled – we look beyond our individual borders to how we can collaborate with the state to spread our model nationwide and even further. Cormac gives us instruction here too.


Two things ring true in Cormac’s book. The first is that we are not problems to be solved, waiting passively to be served. Each one of us are opportunities to be realized, both for ourselves and in the context of those around us in our communities. It’s not that our government needs to be participatory … our society needs to be also.

And second, Cormac continually uses the word rekindle.” He doesn’t propose revolution or disruption, so often bantered around in reformist communities. Anyone who’s spent time camping knows that gathering kindling for the camp fire is the management of the resources at hand, a process in itself – and one of continual exploration. It’s using what’s nearby to provide heat, warmth and sustainability. Whether conscious or not, Cormac is using this metaphor in his vision of an inclusive resourceful society.


When Cormac’s book comes out, it isn’t enough to buy it and read it. It has to be read, and reread. It has to become dog-eared and full of notes in the margins. It has to be stained with pizza droppings from late night strategy sessions with fellow community activists and builders.


Living in a Time of Identity and Entitlement

Here in the United States (and in many other western countries) we live in a society overwhelmed by the victim mentality, fueled by identity politics. Maybe some of it is justified, but only some of it. Political parties have become conduits for this. Candidates on the stump fall over themselves offering up an endless array of “gifts” to different groups of constituents; whether it be African-Americans, Latinos, students, suburban moms, laid-off Rust Belt white males, etc. – all reduced a single demographic or socioeconomic characteristic. Most often these characteristics highlight weaknesses. Collective strengths seldom come into play.

Whether it’s the “identities” liberals target pacifying those in the inner cities, or conservatives rallying MAGA wearing Trumpites in the rural heartland; this country has taken on the role of the victim as its default collective identity. With this alleged victimization (some legitimate, some not so much) comes a feeling of powerlessness that has permeated through our entire psyche. We wait impatiently for someone to save us from all that ails us – real and imagined. And now the political rhetoric and pigeonholing has shifted into high gear with the 2020 presidential election squarely in the media’s cross hairs. There can’t be enough promises, no matter how wild and unrealistic. How we pay for it – we don’t bother with that now. “They” will pay for it … whoever “they” is.

Our obsession with identity and “entitled services” leaves no oxygen left in the room for developing the skills we already have; the skills we need to build our communities so they can shine in their own light (regardless what group we’re put into). Instead we ignore our strengths and focus only on our collective group weaknesses.

We render ourselves functionally impotent.


The Advantage of Empowered Inclusion

“Every member of your community is unique and adds to its fabric. Everyone has something to offer and everyone should be heard – no matter their age or social standing. It’s up to us to find it and help them see it.” (Cross-pollination and Creating You Own Renaissance)

Wouldn’t it be safe to say that the confidence of excelling at something, making a contribution to your community (no matter what it may be), has a good chance of spilling over in other areas of life? I would think it does. But if these talents are never uncovered and developed … we’ll never know.

We need to create community ideals that nurtures an environment for everyone to venture out and attempt whatever they choose. This society of permission is made up of residents who don’t just lobby for services, services they feel the government entitles them to – but rather celebrate their capabilities and create nurturing bonds with family and friends building on everyone’s strengths. Our focus must be on managing relationships for synergy, not just maintaining the static status quo, often one of dysfunction. Your community should be a workspace of relationships, not a finished relic. It’s a collective journey … not a destination idealized by a select few.

The flow arising from our appreciation for this situational awareness of inclusive engagement will be the basis of our community’s success. Below are its pillars of support.

  • Journey of Engagements: We must value the incremental journey of permission and engagements that specifically benefit the individual and collective health and well-being of the community … not the plan and destination.
  • Unique solutions: There are no “best case” solutions (since there is no one context); only engagements specific to one of multiple contexts. The specific engagements that prove to be most beneficial are the ones most applicable to the parties involved and the situation at the time.
  • Stories of engagements provide context: Proper context is best arrived at through stories and anecdotes of our engagements as they depict unique alternatives that lay on the matrix of our community’s workspace. It’s with these stories we can manage the relationship that make up our community’s every-changing intermezzo.

Whether it be Cormac’s Nurture Development, Michel Bauwens’ P2P Foundation, Community 3.0 or any of the other projects that have been created worldwide – their success has and will rely on local execution, inclusive participation and most of all a commitment to the idea that solutions are best created by focusing on unique assets and strengths of the community … not waiting for a Leviathan in an ivory tower far away to bestow you with a litany of services you feel entitled to.


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The New Green Deal: Moving Beyond the Hype

A couple of weeks ago we saw the unveiling of the New Green Deal. In the spirit of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, with a second from Senator Ed Markey from Massachusetts, stood in front of the media and laid down an ultimatum to the American public and political elite alike.

The New Green Deal makes a compelling case that we have to act now on carbon emissions or face the consequences of climate Armageddon. I agree with this. In fact I’ve been saying it for years. Ocasio-Cortez and Markey’s plan outlines several broad objectives. Among them; our electric grid must be powered entirely by alternative energy by 2030, and by 2050 our nation’s automotive fleet is to be converted to electric power. There are several other ambitious environmental goals, including retrofitting buildings for conservation. You can dig deeper here for the details.


The New Green Deal isn’t just about combating climate change though. If it was maybe it wouldn’t be seeing such an outburst of resistance from the right. Equally highlighted are the foundational tenets of the Bernie Sanders platform – free college and free healthcare for all. It didn’t take much for the GOP to stamp the scarlet letter of socialism on its front cover. I’m not going to do a deep dive into the specifics of the New Green Deal here and hypothesize what it’ll take to accomplish it and whether it it’s even doable. Let’s just say, I don’t think anyone else did either.

This brings us to Ocasio-Cortez, or as the media has dubbed her – AOC. The New York  based national media can complain all they want about Hollywood celebrities, but their fawning takes no back seat when idolizing their own. One only has to look to our current clown in chief, put there in large part by the unrelenting (New York) media coverage of his every move and tweet; and this continues to this day, as we get a double dose of his antics as clown in chief as well as those who are fighting to terminate his rule. As a counter balance to Trump, the media has now created AOC.

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’m against her and I don’t disagree with the premise of her far-left proposals. I do take issue with her tactics. They’re straight out of the Bernie Sanders scorched-earth playbook – which isn’t surprising since she worked for him. I don’t believe in spewing policy options that have little possibility of being implemented, regardless the accurate articulation of the problem. This is exactly what Bernie did three years ago; and what Ocasio-Cortez is doing now. I believe a lot of supporters of Ocasio-Cortez acknowledge this now, but apparently don’t care. Their rationalization is that by bringing attention to the dire predicament of climate change, the fine print of actually “doing it” doesn’t matter: “We’ll figure that out later.” The proposal is Ocasio-Cortez’s idea of a protest, only without the marching in the streets and the risk of getting arresting. I question the value of the publicity for publicity’s sake. Why do our proposed solutions need to be just hyperbole?

I just wonder if a realist road map for implementation was put forth along with the rousing speech and sound bites – wouldn’t we be a littler better off? Why not take a month or two and get it right first; incorporating insight from people who would actually have to implement it. When Charles Darwin unveiled his epic “Theory of Evolution” he first prepared to such a degree that he became his own biggest critic. He anticipated every conceivable objection; and researched and rehearsed his response to each. Understand his adversaries were the hierarchy of omni-powerful and omnipresent “church.” Odds against his theory being accepted by the submissive public were daunting at best and the personal risk he took could not be overstated. But with all this – he succeeded. His process should be a case study for the preparation of movements everywhere, regardless the context. And make no mistake, his “theory” was a movement.

Instead Ocasio-Cortez went off half-cocked, even inadvertently exposing a draft version not intended for public consumption. The proposal has put many of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates in a difficult position; either support the New Green Deal or risk the brazen ire of the Bernie/AOC fanboys. Whether she knows it or not, Ocasio-Cortez is emulating the GOP Tea Party strategy. Look where the Tea Party is now; virtually gone, relegated to the scrap heap of ill-fated political over-reaction. And if dividing the Democratic party isn’t enough, she did it all less than a month before the Conservatives’ annual convention, CPAC. Conservatives and kooks alike now have a common villain to unite around. Nancy Pelosi has been replaced by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Socialist who wants to take not only our guns, but our airplanes and hamburgers. Every speech at the convention had Ocasio-Cortez in the crosshairs. The GOP and Trump couldn’t have laid out better strategy. Who needs Russia when you have AOC.

It’s not just with ardent conservatives are we seeing the backlash. Both of the nation’s two major farm groups, even the left-leaning National Farmers Union have come out against the New Green Deal. They say it blames farmers for the climate crisis. While I don’t necessary agree with their assessment, I’m not one of them in the Midwest who is critical to the 2020 election. These are exactly people the Democrats are banking on to take back the White House from Trump. That said, farmers have a lot of room to improve in making the impact they have on the environment less so. I can’t see how the nation’s current crop selection bloated with corn used for processing  (including ethanol) is a good thing and has anything to do with the industry’s manta of “feeding the world.”

If the Tea Party was a testament to lack of staying power, then Occupy Wall Street is one that exemplifies the peril of having no plan, “after the flag is raised.” No matter how much someone agrees with you on the problem, at some point the details of solving it becomes relevant. You would assume Ocasio-Cortez, being from New York City, would realize this. But apparently not. For her, it’s the protest that matters; the noise – Bennie-style. Throwing out a premature proposal of aspirations can do more damage than good if we aren’t organized to combat the inevitable push back. We saw what happened after the Sandy Hook massacre and the resultant mobilization of the NRA and its minions. Troops were rallied, more lobbying money was raised, more guns were sold … and no legislation was passed. These are the same people. They’re just waiting for reason to hate on liberals (aka socialists) and a villain to focus on. And now they have it.

Now let me establish something: I am not a “green Luddite.” On the contrary, I was on the front lines of the alternative energy movement before Ocasio-Cortez was born. In 1978 I even had a giant bubble solar panel on the back of my home in North Dakota. During this time, while in college at the University of North Dakota, I sold solar and wind systems and created a Fortran code (remember that) model on the college’s IBM 306/370 mainframe using punch cards. My model predicted the economics any of solar or wind system installed anywhere in the Unites States. And if that wasn’t enough, I wrote a state legislative bill for net electrical billing (with future North Dakota Attorney General Sarah Vogel). Unfortunately, the national lobby for the REC (Rural Electric Cooperatives) flew in from Washington D.C. in force and hammered it to oblivion. Now forty years later net billing is ubiquitous throughout the country.

It’s time we get past rhetoric. I’m exhausted thinking a grand vision is enough, a start that goes nowhere else. Most of these pontifications are little more than lip service, vacuous political promises; kicking the proverbial can down the road isn’t going to do it. It’s just an excuse for not doing what it takes to burrow down into the details of execution. It’s lazy policy making and it’s lazy on our part buying into it – not requiring more of ourselves.


Diving Deep Beyond Rhetoric

Now enough of the naysaying.

I believe we can make this happen, but it won’t happen by only looking to Congress and some airy proposal created by people with none of the requisite skills needed to pull it off. A truly progressive society that is dedicated to creating a better world needs to differentiate between pragmatic policy outlines and protest slogans. It just needs to be tactical, not just ideological. We need to sweat the details.

Now for details.

The government should provide large subsidies to green-energy companies; including solar power, batteries and electric cars, as well as mandating the replacement of fossil-fuel plants with zero-carbon plants. It shouldn’t require the decommissioning of nuclear plants (regardless the objections of what’s left of the anti-nuclear movement). It should also provide incentives for higher density in urban areas, since sprawl contributes to emissions. It should also implement a carbon tax (or cap-and-trade policy). This would engage corporate polluters and encourage them and their factories to reduce carbon output. A carbon tax (or cap-and-trade policy) would also encourage air and sea travel, as well as other sources of emissions, to search for lower-carbon alternatives. It should also remove the incentives for farmers to not grow food; and where needed help build out the logistic channels for changing crop selection to real food.

The United States government’s role in environmental restoration should extend beyond its borders also. American companies, with the help of federal research dollars, should strive to discover cheap ways of manufacturing cement, concrete and other materials used in building without carbon emissions. Along with reducing emissions from agriculture, this will give developing countries a way to reduce carbon output without threatening their economic growth. This would leverage the technical innovation expertise here in United States empowering it to become a leader in the “new world” – all while working to save it. This is the new economic opportunity

“Large-scale problems do not require large-scale solutions; they require small-scale
solutions within a large-scale framework.”

Even with an aggressive far-reaching federal government commitment, we also need a decentralized approach that will spread locally and takes advantage of expertise distribute throughout the communities of America. We need to uncover and support local leaders who can spearhead efforts in their respective communities. This nurturing needs to start in our schools. Just preparing our young people for gainful employment might have been a noble directive in the past; but today we need leaders to inspire their peers to act with purpose and rapid commitment to restore the environment around us.

We need an abundance of deep thinking and expertise in supply chain management – supplies of everything, tangible and other. We need a thousand community activists and logistical virtuosos to coordinate all the moving parts making our aggressive goals a reality. We need not only the public sector, but even more so, we need the private sector – specifically the business community. We need businesses that see that abundant economic opportunities can be had from “greening their communities.” And we need local elected leaders to understand their position isn’t a reward … but a responsibility.

We need citizens and consumers to form the foundation of support. We need them to use their purchasing power to force businesses to green up; and we need them to use their power at the ballot box to hold their public officials accountable by making decisions that are not only economically prudent, but environmentally vigilant.

Decentralized solar needs to spread like a wildfire. For that to happen we need rate payers to in buy and buy. We need to force utilities to support green energy and offer financing to make it a reality – not fight tooth and nail to protect the bad decisions they made in the past. We need zoning changes, and where we can’t get long-term policies, we need situational variances until we can. We need private financing options. That means banks not being conservative to a fault while they “hold onto yesterday.” We need people to install the millions of solar panels we have to sell – which is no easy task in a time a low employment. We need schools to catch up and be the labor conduits. Trade schools, community colleges and even high schools need to partner with private companies, develop curriculum, ramp up instruction and training, and create apprentice and intern programs. And maybe most of all, we need the manufacturing capacity to create the products we need to evolve to a “green economy.” This means companies and production capabilities to make and sell them, and the banks willing to finance the production of these systems.


Moving Past the Movement To Reality

Represent.Us is a non-profit organization that is on a mission to reform our election process. Rather than using the tried and not-so-true methods most activists use (March For Our Lives not included) – their road to national reform winds through the state and local levels. In the following video, their spokesperson and board member Jennifer Lawrence introduces us to what she calls the line (at the 7:45 mark). This line represents when an issue, say gay marriage equality, reaches a tipping point of state adoption. At this point support spreads exponentially to eventually force federal law. This local and state approach not only anchors key grassroots support in a plethora of locales – it strengths its ability to fight any anecdotal overturn in the Supreme Court.


This is the approach our “green campaign” should take … and we have two models we can emulate.

First is the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is a nonprofit organization of conservative state legislators and private sector representatives who draft and share model state-level legislation for distribution among state and local governments in the United States. ALEC is a big reason the United States is run by a conservative minority. Their successful efforts to commandeer state legislatures has resulted in gerrymandered districts in key states that resulted in the Trump presidency and contributed greatly to the House of Representatives turning red in 2010. While the Democrats completely abandoned state and local politics during Obama administration, the Republicans through ALEC filled the void. In addition to losing the national House in 2010, Democrats lost control of over a 1000 state and local seats. And with that, America ushered in Trump’s reign of terror in 2016.

To appreciate ALEC, we have to look past the context and what they advocate for. I’ve brought them up before in social media and was most often greeted with open hostility. People on the left can’t look past the objectives of their operations to appreciate the logistics they use and the success that has resulted from it. Unless the “green movement” turns these 1000+ seat back over to Democrats, how are state and local governing bodies going to pass the legislation that is needed for the movement to succeed? And how will we be able to build the momentum to achieve the tipping point (the line Jennifer Lawrence alluded to) we need to generate rooted national legislation? It’s all about operations and tactics, not context.

The second case study I want to look to is March For Our Lives. Last year, high school students from Parkland, Florida turned the deaths of seventeen of their friends and teachers into an incredible example of how to use local organization and social media to build a movement. In a piece I wrote last Spring, I contended the real value of the MFOL movement is its ability to uncover, nurture and give confidence to young leaders through the establish of local chapters (currently in over 200 cities in America). The potential of these groups and their leaders transcends their mission of gun legislation. Not only have they continued the push for sane firearms control – they’ve rallied for student mental health and voter registration by launching Vote For Our Lives ahead of the 2018 mid-terms. This effort is continuing on through the 2020 presidential election. Leaders of the green movement should take note and engage with these young leaders. Their networks could be invaluable as their members are the exact demographic who would be passionate and organized enough to invoke change.

A bunch of kids (actually young adults) won’t necessarily lead the charge for zoning changes – but their parents can. Also, there are millions of rooftop solar systems that are needed to be installed. Who is going to do that? Logistics aren’t glamorous and don’t get the press – but without it, the protests, press and AOC’s vision of a perfect world is nothing but a sugar high. We need young people to participate on multiple fronts. We still need the vocal activism and loud protests, but let’s make sure our message is succinct. That was the beauty of March For Our Lives. They articulated four bullet point objectives; specific legislation they wanted passed – not just generic gun control, but four specific objectives. Ocasio-Cortez’s New Green Deal lays out only very broad climate change remediations. Add in the boilerplate socialist-depicted talking points – and the message is muddied, opening the proverbial oppositional can of worms.

We need to use young people to spearhead this green movement, but their action need to be directed and pragmatic. They have the most to lose in future and least amount to sacrifice today. Their lives haven’t been built on the oxymoron of material wealth and well-being. We need their out-of-box ideas, sweat equity and urgency. However incomplete it may be, a lot of the Green New Deal came from the minds of young people. We just have figure out how we can take the pertinent ideas, work out the logistics and do it.

Now we can sit around and expect the federal government to come riding in to save us — which they have absolutely no recent history of being able to do; or we can add them to the mix which includes us and our kids all working in concert in our neighborhoods on solutions fitting the specific places we live, utilizing the strengths each of our communities embody – all while taking into account the obstacles that may exist due to local social, cultural and economic baggage put there by us and our ancestors.


Solutions, Suggestions and Front Porches

Now of course we need a national and even an international plan – but we can’t expect that to be all. We need to be able to act without approval from some elected body. We need to create hubs of civic engagement independent of government. These hubs will be where the real expertise and leadership will surface; the exact expertise and leadership required to succeed at this monumental task ahead of us. It’s too big to entrust to a single entity that may or may be up to the task or even if the want to undertake it.

I call these hubs of civic engagement Front Porches. These informal meeting places, most often locally owned businesses, are named after the front yard gathering spots so often seen in Latino communities that are used for neighborhood discussion and connection to the street. Through our community’s Front Porch network, we can create environmentally restorative civic Solutions that bring us together – regardless our political affiliation. It’s through this network we can establish new community norms of conservation and environmental stewardship; creating expectations of each other that will empower all of us to succeed individually and collectively by taking advantage of the opportunities that will present themselves as well as ensuring our children and grandchildren have a hospitable world to live in. We have to re-condition our thought processes. No action or decision should be immune from what effect it will have on the environment and how best we can conserve and economize. Consider the adage; “Think globally, act locally” … only on steroids.

Every candidate we consider for public office should be scrutinized on their commitment to the implementation of our green agenda. Schools need to be pressured to include “living a green life” into the curriculum — from the earliest ages. All of this means we have to think. We have to engage with the world around us. Shut off your autopilot – and pressure those around you, young and old, to do the same. Stories of the successes we achieve in our own communities need to be shared with other communities. Any efforts we make will be all for naught if they’re not synthesized with those of others.

Even though we might take solace in the litany of promises by our many public figures (current and want-to-be) – the societal measures we need to fight this demon of environmental destruction we’ve created will come through our personal and professional efforts, and those we persuade in our communities to join in.

Complacency is not an option … but pragmatism is required.

Now is the time to build a clearinghouse of ideas on how we can restore our world to place we can be proud to bestow to our children and their children. Check out the Community 3.0 site for how we can create a network of environmental accountability that put our habitat first. We invite you to respond at the end of “If not us … then who” with your ideas. Or if you prefer, just comment below.


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