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.

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“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-detail

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.

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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”)

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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.

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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.

Sticks

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.

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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.

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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.

GND-PR

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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Related Posts:

Will We Ever Stop Dragging Our Knuckles?

Update August 14, 2019: I wrote this post seven years ago. It’s every bit as applicable today as it was then – maybe more so. That said, even with the transgressions on the inhabitants of the White House, I have hope that by the uncovering of the evil that is possible at high levels of government we will wake up to the need for us reassess our personal role in society and how we influence it.

The references I make to several of the tech companies are also relevant as are the questions … as we are still awaiting answers.

I would like to thank John Kelden for our discussion yesterday. It got me thinking about this again – which is always a good thing. 🙂

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Neadrathal

From February 23, 2011

Yesterday I commented on a provocative blog post by my friend Greg Rader, “The Future of Status – Conspicuous Production.”

Imagine if there was no money and no things to buy. How would you show the world your worth? Or how would you show yourself?

Would your value lie in the number of friends you have – physical or electronic? Would it lie in the quality and depth or your relationships with these friends (kind of three-dimensional assessment)? Maybe it would lie in the number pieces of art you produced, or books and articles you’ve written.

Or better yet … what about the number of karma points you’ve accumulated by doing random acts of good? Haven’t we reached a point on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs where we can at least flirt with self actualization?

Over your last couple posts, I think you’ve been us leading to this. It’s obvious, the standard societal measurement of wealth and worth just isn’t cutting it for you. I join you brother.

Maybe this is the first step – discontent. Only then we can find our own “store of value.” and from there truly maximize it’s worth. Maybe this is what mean when I talk about “On the Road to Your Perfect World.” Thanks for pointing me the way. 🙂

I viewed the focus of Greg’s piece as: “Isn’t there a way of presenting our value to world other than just through the money we make and our consumption habits?” As you can tell from my comment above – it’s a topic that’s been on my mind also.

Recently, in light of the sky-high valuations of several dotcom 2.0 stocks, such as Facebook, Groupon and Twitter, this matter seems to be especially relevant. Recent investments have Facebook worth $52 billion and Twitter at $10 billion, while Groupon recently turned a $6 billion offer from Google.

But I ask you … on what are these values based. In the first two it’s their ability to act as an advertising platforms and Groupon is worth what it can take as a cut of the pie. Isn’t there more though … more than just money and advertising, more than just a vehicle to accommodate more and more consumption. God I hope so.

Let’s put Groupon aside, they are what they are – a group buying coupon service … nothing more, nothing less. Eventually they will fall prey to another ‘new and improved’ version of the same.

But Facebook and Twitter are different. To label then as just advertising platforms is to vastly understate what they really are – what they’re really worth. One needs to look no further back than one month. Only thirty days ago the political environment in the Middle East was much the same as it’s been for the last thirty years. No longer. Tunisia is liberated. Egypt is liberated. Libya will be in a matter a days, and whoever is next is anyone’s guess.

While Facebook and Twitter didn’t overthrow these dictatorships … they played an integral role. They facilitated strategic and tactical communication that was on the level of a sophisticated military sorte, only performed primarily by young civilians. These social networks provided something that wasn’t there before … coordination. The results to this point have been the liberation of tens of billions of dollars and ten millions of people, people who now have the prospect of governing themselves and having a say in their future.

What’s that worth?

How can you put a monetary value on person’s freedom? How can you say in dollars and cents what it’s worth to know you have something to get up for in the morning; to know that just maybe your children might just have a better life than you … a life you could only dream of.

Why does everything have to be based on money and what we spend it on. Just because you drive a Mercedes 450SL (and I drive a Ford Taurus) – does that make you worth more than me. I could make a case on the contrary. We focus so much on our children making sure they go to college and get a job that pays a lot of money. How many us even discuss any other options – any other means of worth? This valuation system seems Neanderthal in the light of what’s happening in the world these days.

I have been there and done it. I’ve had the nice car, the apartment on the water, the original art on walls. But it sure wasn’t “the be all end all.” The car’s gone, the apartment gone and the art … well, Blake, Brody and Sydney are enjoying it. The memories are good, but now it’s time to move on.

It’s like the pursuit of possessions had put me in a cloud. I had other pursuits, but the almighty dollar reigned supreme. No longer.

My valuation lies not in my financial net worth, but rather in what Greg says, “my conspicuous production” and what results from it. Production can be anything. It could this blog post. It could be the comments that result from it. And as I said in my comment above, it could be in the karma points I accumulate by doing good things. So here it is, here is my definition of “my value:”

My value is the sum total of all positive synaptic connections I have a role in creating, both in myself and in others. In other words, the more I can get people thinking in ways they wouldn’t otherwise think in – and correspondingly act in ways that benefit themselves and others … the more I’m worth.

There you have it.

Now it’s time to pick up my hands … my knuckles are bloody.

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Related posts:

What If Things Would Never Be The Same?

Update, January 15, 2019: I wrote a version of this seven years ago during the midst of the Occupy Movement. The change that many of us hoped for never happened. What is happening in the United States today is a whole different matter. It’s struggle for the definition of change. Some believe it’s a retreat to a time we can never go back to while others are pushing for an idealistic version that is fraught with unrealistic implementation and unintended consequences. But one thing I know is that the status quo isn’t an option – and it shouldn’t be.

As I write this, America’s federal government is in the midst of a three-week partial shut-down; a result of a vanity legacy project concocted by a president who has created the exact crisis that he contends this “beautiful wall” is going to solve. Like a petulant toddler, he’s threatened to declare an unprecedented national emergency by diverting federal funds from the Puerto Rico and California national disasters to build the project. Aside from the grave effects this diversion will have on those affected – what precedent does this create? What next will this president … or any other president do in aim of feeding their ego and thirst for power and eternal fame.

change cloud

Will things ever be the same?

It’s obvious that we are in a period of transition; a period of change. And whether we like it or no … there’s nothing we can do about it. But what if the change was so profound that, “things would never be the same again?”

It’s becoming painfully obvious that humanity’s addiction to fossil fuel is leading us down a path of extinction if we don’t make drastic changes in our personal and collective behaviors. But to make this happen, we’ll have to move past political rhetoric and attempts to appease those stuck on a life cemented in the past. Politicians have made it habit appealing to the lowest denominator of human rational and those exhibiting it.

When will the realization finally set in that a college degree no longer provides that fail-safe career protection with a Fortune 500 company and iconic the gold watch after decades of service? Instead of the promise of a BMW in the garage and an ever-increasing 401K – you get a five-figure plus school loan debt. When will the societal norms we put on our young people instead release the shackles of past expectations and let them live for the realities of today and the future they want?

What if investing in that “white picket fence” doesn’t provide that retirement security it did for you parents? What if that possibility no longer exists? And what if that mortgage you’ve sacrificed everything for instead anchors you professionally in a world where flexibility and mobility is a prized commodity? Your “white picket fence” now surrounds not your security, but rather imprisons you in a sinkhole of geographically restrictive professional stagnation.

Unfortunately too much of the time, we evaluate ourselves by the money we have in the bank, the toys we have in the garage and the school on that diploma on the wall. As we will find out, during times of change – monetary worth is fragile and often irrelevant. We may try to hedge, set up backup plans and do whatever we can to preserve our “things” – but we can’t stop the wheels of change. And often our “things” get run over in the process. What will you do to break your addiction to “things” and evolve to a state beyond personal consumption; one where the contribution to our relationships with our friends and neighbors dictates our real wealth?

If we choose to pursue a life based on security and the preservation of the status quo, we have to make assumptions, assumptions based on the past and the value systems of prior generations: Energy is and will always be plentiful, college is a safe bet, buying a house is your retirement and success is “things.” These are life views that may no longer be relevant.

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What would you do?

A few years ago, I saw a movie about life after an economic and societal meltdown. I don’t remember the name of it, but the imagery still sticks with me. The things that were valuable before, were no longer. And what wa taken for granted, such as water and gasoline – were invaluable.

Now I’m not predicting Armageddon, but it’s obvious that we’re staring right in the face of change – not just here in the United States, but worldwide. Just ask my friends in Great Britain. The things you hold near and dear, may soon be gone. That economic and societal security that was always first and foremost in your mind, may now become nothing but a memory of “the good old days.” All the constants you believed in … are now just more variables, variables you have to figure out. What are you going to do?

You have two options. You can attempt to hang on to yesterday – a yesterday that most definitely will never be back. Or you can look forward to living life differently – shedding yourselves of the same, the convenient, the comfortable – and replacing it with the unpredictable, the inconvenient and the exciting. Rather than fearing the inevitable change, what if you embraced it? What if you built your life and raised your children to expect the unexpected?

When I say unexpected though … I don’t necessarily mean bad. Not having rock-solid security is not a death sentence. In fact it may be the key that unlocks the door of your self-imposed prison. Imagine every morning you looked forward to what the day could bring you; who you could meet and what opportunities could unveil themselves to you that could change your life forever.

One thing we know for sure, change is a constant. Tomorrow is not going to be the same as yesterday, no matter how much you may want it to be. The only question will be is how you handle it.

” The mind can make heaven of hell … and hell of heaven.”

Personally I don’t do well in the heat, how about you?

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Related posts:

Creating Communities of Permission

In Giving Permission,”(posted December 20, 2018), I did a deep dive into what I believe it means to have a community of inclusion; one that is built on giving its residents permission to be and do what drives them. While it can be, we cannot assume that this permission is implied. Permission requires engagement. It is the antithesis of indifference, which is too often commonplace. It’s taking the time and exerting the mental energy to acknowledge that your fellow residents, whether or not they hold the same demographic characteristics or social standing you may (for better or worse) … still warrant your attention, reaction and respect. Without this acknowledgement, your community has little chance of equitably moving forward in a sustainable way. Through this acknowledgement we build healthy communities founded on neighborly engagement that can act as an ad hoc social safety net; one to compensate for the one too often left to fray by our decaying institutions.

“A rising tide lifts all boats.” ~ John F. Kennedy

The first step to achieving this model of embrace is for us to individually reach out and actively make it a point to include – to give permission, to our neighbors and fellow community members . Every encounter is an opportunity to “raise the collective tide.” And the more we engage, the easier it becomes. Turn acknowledgement and benevolent engagement into new community norms and expectations. Through these norms and expectations of inclusion we are giving permission for others to feel comfortable in being who they are and pursuing what they may dream. We are making engagement and permission contagious. We’re creating an ecosystem of strength and support under the assumption that engaged diversity will benefit us all. Repeating what John Kennedy famously said: “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

The higher our levels of engagement are individually and collectively, the more well; physically, mentally and socially we will become. Engagement creates agency and self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is defined as the extent or strength one believes in their own ability to complete tasks and reach goals. The more a person believes their actions will help their situation, the more likely they are to try. The more a person does, the more they’re likely to do. And the more they do, the more they feel what they’re doing is helping … creating a cascade of positive results and well-being.

Our community focus should be to “get the ball rolling” by nudging activity – personally, socially and civically through behaviors that benefit us physically, mentally and socially. 

The question is … how do we create this ecosystem that nudges people towards this positive activity? Forcing people to be benevolent and kind will probably only produce the opposite effect. Our efforts must be rooted in action, not just conversation; physical engagement that organically grows from the individual and collective needs and desires of the people. We need to create a journey where all citizens will travel together … all pursuing our own dreams in parallel – but also in collaboration for the good of the community.

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“On the Road” … Embracing the Journey

About twenty years ago while building my recruiting firm, I coined a term, “On the Road to Your Perfect World.” In a nutshell it means; in life and all its nuances (including work): it’s the journey that matters not the destination. It’s our experiences that create the human beings we are. But maybe more than that – it’s how we think about those experiences and most of all … how we react to them.

Not being tied to the destination through an overly rigid plan can provide a sense of relief; a freedom to act, assess and adjust; a going with the flow. All the best laid plans will eventually go awry. Being unnecessarily shackled to an arbitrary figment of utopia creates a detachment from what’s happening around us. As community leaders and change instigators we too often relentlessly pursue control; trying to stay meticulously on task in pursuit of this utopia. Regrettably this “utopia” was probably conceived under circumstances far different what we are confronting today – bringing a disaffected approach to the issues of current relevance.

 

“The difficulty we face is that the ecology of the biosphere is at odds with the ecology of our institutions.” ~ Nora Bateson

Decision makers and the researchers they depend on have an overwhelming habit of thinking in terms of functioning parts (especially those in the academic, scientific and medical communities). Our human tendency is to deconstruct our complex world into smaller, digestible, independent parts. These “parts” are much easier to understand in isolation rather than in their entangled, chaotic whole. This is misleading for our future inquiry of living, co-evolving systems.

We must evolve from a culture of static planning to one of learning to appreciate the messiness of uncertainty and contextual interconnectedness. Our mission can’t be control – but rather the nurture of ever changing relationships. Nora Bateson has led pioneering work in the world of this “messiness.” Like with my “On the Road to Your Perfect World,” Bateson looks at the world as journey of relationships – and the actions and reactions needed to respond to the volatility and unpredictable nature of them. All we can do is prepare best we can and adapt accordingly. By no means should we trash our goals and objectives, but see them in more nebulous terms; more of a guiding force than an equivalent of a personal and civic GPS unit. The destination we’ve plugged in may not be anything like what we’ll see when we arrive there, assuming there’s even a place to arrive to. We must be always collectively learning and readjusting as we go. Batesom calls this phenomenon, Symmathesy: learning together. It’s imperative we understand that all parts are connected and the learning opportunities due from changes in circumstances are available to all parties.

Just as a virus is constantly adapting as the immune system trying to defeat it, the change movement must learn to evolve. Being wedded to the form that leads to early success is a sure route to failure. Unless the change effort mutates to fight the organisational anti-bodies, its legacy will be nothing more than a sense of what might have been. You may not be able to plan in advance just when or how you will need to change the way you change, but you need to be very aware that at some point you will have to. What you end up with may not be what you first envisaged, but it will be real and lasting.

The key is to see change as not simply about moving from A to B. The key is to see it as a much more fluid and organic process. You never really know where it might end up. As the organisational identity acts to re-assert itself, the rebels and radicals need to morph their efforts into something else. The approaches and energy that provoke the response are not the same as the approaches and energy that overcome that response. The leadership that manages the status quo is not the leadership the moves into a radically new space. (How the Organization Subverts its Subsersives – John Atkinson)

A primary obstruction to the “fluid and organic process” Atkinson described above is silos. Traditional institutions and conventional organizations are built on hierarchy and the silos that support them. Communication, let alone collaboration is seldom fluid in these situations. Their structures are built for preservation and the illusion of certainty. What we need is the antithesis of this – a phenomenon constructed to accommodate uncertainty and a flow that optimizes resource maximization, taking advantage of the situational skills and abilities of those in our community.

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Building a Rhizomes-based Decentralized Ecosystem

How can we design our communities in a way that we encourage an inclusive journey of contribution and well-being for all our citizens. How can we create environments where everyone has an opportunity to realize their place – whatever and wherever that may be. Just resorting to traditional social and civic institutions and the hierarchies that reinforce them is not the solution. We need new alternatives: and what better place to look than in nature.

Biologists say trees are social beings. They can count, learn and remember. They nurse sick members, warn each other of dangers by sending electrical signals across a fungal network and for reasons unknown, keep the ancient stumps of long felled companions alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through roots. (Marije van Zomeren)

One of nature’s most effective means of sustainability is the rhizome. The rhizome is a modified subterranean stem of a plant that is usually found underground, often sending out roots and shoots from its nodes. Rhizomes develop from axillary buds and grow perpendicular to the force of gravity. The rhizome also retains the ability to allow new shoots to grow upwards if resources permit. If a rhizome is separated into pieces, each piece may be able to give rise to a new plant … and a new node of above ground activity.

Collaboration organization

In 2016, during my construction of the blog series On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” I came across “A Thousand Plateaus” and the philosophies of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari – specifically their concept of rhizomes and how their actions in nature can be extrapolated in terms of an alternative view of societal development.

“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)

Deleuze and Guattari broke down their rhizomatic social philosophy into components. From these components we can engineer our version of a locally based civic engagement platform that nurtures inclusion, self-expression and most of all permission.

  • Rhizome: Rather than using the organizational structure of the root-tree system which charts causality along chronological lines and looks for the single origin of “things” and looks towards conclusion of those “things” (the destination); a rhizome continually establishes connections between threads of meaningful communication, organizations of power, and other influences (including arts, sciences, and social struggles). The planar movement of the rhizome resists chronology and formal organization, instead favoring a nomadic system of growth and proliferation. In this model, influence and application spreads like the surface of a body of water; spreading towards available spaces or in the application of community – maximizing the resources available to it, regardless of the type.
  • Nomad: Nomadism is a way of life that exists outside of the traditional organizational or societal norm (at least in modern times). The nomad is a way of being in the middle or between points. It is characterized by movement and change, and is unfettered by systems of conventional organization. The goal of the nomad is only to continue to move within the “intermezzo.” (the journey rather than the destination). This constant state activity prevents itself from existing for the sake of existing as organizations and institutions most often do. The goal is to make things happen; to find opportunities and solutions, not just to “be.” This nomadic behavior also lends itself to the individual focusing on what interests them and where they can contribute the most, rather than just working within the constraints of a pre-defined, often inefficient role or job. In short, being a nomad can greatly enhance ones sense of engagement and well-being. Or according to the Danish philosopher Søren Kiekegaard, be the evolved man.”
  • Smooth Space: 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, existing organizations (government and other) as well as social norms, ideals and community expectations. In the context of Community 3.0, the Smooth Space is the Front Porch network (the small business community), healthcare providers,NGOs and the members of the community who are their patrons, along with the societal norms they create. What a community does and creates on its Smooth Space will determine the well-being of its populace. It is the duty of the rhizome structure and its Smooth Space to nurture the intangible, serendipitous, sensual and tactical engagements of all the members of its community (e.g. empathy, creativity, collaboration and self-actualization) that produce positive societal outcomes.
  • Body Without Organs: Body Without Organs is what happens. 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 are injected into it. The community’s personality and overall state of well-being are the results of the interactions between its members, organizations and businesses; it is its Body Without Organs. It can take a conservative form or a progressive one; NIMBYism and gated communities, or more communal; tolerant and welcoming, or closed and siloed; Wall Street or Main Street. This is the community’s personality. But rather than the personality being dictated by those in the high rungs of a traditionally mandated hierarchy (e.g. government) – it will come to form through the participation of those who live there … those on the streets, no matter their social stature. How the community directly responds to its needs and opportunities will be what it is.

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james rizzi city main
James Rizzi

Nurturing a Societal Evolution

How do we tie all this together into a functioning array of response to needs and opportunities while not resorting back to traditional top-heavy hierarchies? Our focus must be on the empowerment, not just the management of our civic ecosystem. The Smooth Space is your community’s desktop, its workspace. Let it take form as the situation dictates.

“Too many algorithms are centrally designed with a singular philosophical view of the world, using contextual data but via a single lens” ~ Indy Johar

The flow arising from our appreciation for situational awareness and adjustment will be the cornerstone of our community’s inclusive success.

  • Journey of Engagements: It’s about 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 and delivered in a decentralized manner. The specifics of the engagements that prove 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 situational alternatives that lay on the matrix of our community’s Smooth Space. And it’s with these stories we can manage the relationship that make up our community’s every-changing intermezzo.

“Our challenge is not bringing order to successful chaos but creating successful chaos within a well-ordered failure.” ~ Charles Marohn, ‘Strong Towns’

Let the journey begin …

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Related Posts:

Imagining a ‘Perfect World’ for 2019

2018 has been … well, let’s just say I won’t spend a lot of time looking in the rear view mirror. Instead I’ll be looking to 2019 and the road ahead; visualizing what can lie ahead and do what I can to make it a reality. Let’s imagine what this ‘Perfect World’ could look like.

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Imagine if the default was to include … not exclude. Instead of leaning on our race, ethnicity, gender and especially where we live or where we came from; we all looked at ourselves as just citizens of the world – like anyone else, anywhere else.

Imagine if we embraced change and yearned for the future, looking to better – rather grasping for the past, the ways things were (or how we mistakenly thought they were) and obsessing on the word “again.” The future is a blank template, a canvas for creativity; while the past, important as it may be, is a cerebral prison, constrained by the walls of only what has been … not what could be.

Good morning full

Imagine if we were all social seamstresses mending the “safety net of life” for all those around us, rather than sitting by idly as our friends and neighbors fall through the torn fabric of their daily struggles. Everyone adds to the unique tapestry of our community. They all have something to offer – no matter their age or social standing. It’s up to us as individuals, as a community and as a society to find that something, and help them see it and build around it. Not only does their construct benefit them … it benefits us all.

Imagine if we looked at our health and well-being not as a profit center, but as a journey we all go on together throughout our entire lives. The collective “us” is only as strong as each one of us. Our health and well-being does not lie in some building labeled a clinic or hospital, or even on a piece of paper alleging to be insurance. It lives in all of us; in our hearts, and in the civic norms and expectations we use to guide our actions and influences as we create communities of proactive health complete with all the amenities that reflects it.

Imagine if older generations embraced the young and saw them as a source of knowledge, rather than as irrelevant showing indifference and assuming them a threat to their beloved status quo. What if retirement wasn’t thought of as a reward and recreation, but as a way of passing the touch through the mentoring and guidance of the next generation. And also imagine the young not only recognized the knowledge of the elderly … but looked for opportunities to seek it out as part of an assumed succession of civic and social responsibilities and duties.

Imagine if we viewed our children’s education as not the responsibility of the state or other antiquated institution, but as ours and that of those around us in our community. Why would we absolve ourselves from the most important function of our lives, that of preparing our offspring for the future, by turning it over to a system that has shown to be not prepared for the job. While our schools provide a valuable function, it’s us as parents who must show our children the future’s possibilities and keep lit the light of life-long learning and the importance or a never-ending curiosity for all things they encounter.

Imagine if we were immune from the constraints of “so-called” societal norms cemented generations ago. Instead of being shackled by the expectations of “past times behind” – we viewed ourselves free to determine our own fates dictated by our passions and our own definitions of happiness and success.

And imagine, after just finishing an election year and the absurd disconnect between the words of campaign rhetoric and subsequent actions, we don’t immediately fall back into the spectacle of Washington narcissism. The never-ending media-driven horse race of election hypothesizing has left us blind from seeing our civic potential being anything more than a search for that elusive savior who we believe will deliver us from our plights in life (regardless their political persuasion) … real and imagined. The solutions and our future lie within ourselves and those close to us in our neighborhoods and our communities.

2019 is here – and that is my ‘Perfect World’ for it.

Dream I may … but doesn’t everything start with dream.

Make 2019 The Year You Change Your ‘Chief of Staff’

Well it’s almost the beginning of another year; this one being 2019. And with it comes a resurgence of optimism taking form in our annual resolutions (all things considered). We all want to believe that this year will be the one when all the promises we make to ourselves to lose weight, save money, stop smoking, or whatever – will last longer than just the end of January. Who knows, maybe you will be one of the few where they do. Or maybe you’re one of those cynically realistic ones who believes the whole resolution exercise is pointless. In the past I kind of fell somewhere in the middle. But I still can’t let go of this optimism thing.

Being 2019 – we just got over the midterm elections from two months ago. And already we’re hearing about the plethora of candidates jockeying for position for the 2020 presidential election. It’s all about the horse race (i.e. the election) … and very little about the governing that will follow. Personally, the logistics of governance is far more interesting to me than the popularity contest of the election. Most specifically, I’m intrigued by the role of the ‘gatekeeper’ otherwise known as the Chief of Staff.

According to Wikipedia, a ‘Chief of Staff’ provides a buffer between a chief executive and that executive’s direct-reporting team (among others). The chief of staff generally works behind the scenes to solve problems, mediate disputes, and deal with issues before they are brought to the chief executive. Often a Chief of Staff acts as a confidante and advisor to the chief executive, acting as a sounding board for ideas.

Don’t we all have an internal Chief of Staff; the part of us that determines what we’re going think about, what we’re going do and how we prioritize?

Gulliver 3

Reigning in the Lilliputians

Metaphorically speaking, our minds are kind of like Gulliver of the famous English work of satire by Jonathan Swift . Every minute of every day we are pushed, pulled and tied down by our own Lilliputians. These mental intruders can be our family, our friends, our co-workers, social media or even the cable news we see on television. They are making us afraid of things we shouldn’t be afraid of.  They make us preoccupied with our To Do lists – lists that often are prioritized with tasks that are more habits than anything else. “We have to check our Facebook and Twitter feeds first everyday rather than write a letter, play with the kids or just relax and clear our minds.”

These Lilliputians that dictate our thoughts and actions are really no different from what the President deals with daily. He is bombarded by his staff, members of Congress and lobbyists … all with their own personal agendas and priorities. These priorities often have little to do with those of the President. If he (or she) had their way, they’d probably spend their time thinking – pondering the big picture … hopefully trying to make the world a better place (again my naive optimism showing).

It’s the job of the Chief of Staff to determine who occupies the President’s attention, and in turn his agenda and priorities. Imagine if there was no Chief of Staff though.  It would be endless barrage of “squeaky wheels” … with no WD40 anywhere in sight.

But how does your personal ‘Chief’ interact with these intrusions? Is your Chief of the “in your face” mode of Rahm Emanuel, from the first Obama term, or more of the “in the background” demeanor of Obama’s second term Chief of Staff (who was so much in the background, I don’t even remember who he was). You probably don’t want to be hostile to your kids for wanting a ride to the mall (that’s so ’80s); but conversely, you don’t want to be so passive to let every mundane intrusion run your life.

First you need to communicate with your Chief or Staff about your priorities and the methods required to accomplish them. A changing of the process can often be the most important component your journey. Make sure your ‘gatekeeper’ knows the things that excite and energize you … the things that allow you to be who you want to be – not just tasks on a To Do list. Don’t let other’s representation of the world and what they think should be important dictate yours. Yes media, I’m talking to you and all your scare-mongering terrorism hysteria. It’s hard to concentrate on ‘good things’ and on helping the world when you’re scared of anyone not like you because underneath you think they’re nothing but a terrorist or some other “trumped-up” threat promulgated by the media (most often for their own financial benefit) and worse yet, the current administration.

Is your Chief of Staff a holdover from past administrations such as your parents or even your grandparents. Societal expectations such as the white picket fence, the virtue of a college degree (and the erroneous assumption it’s a guarantee of financial and social success) are little more than distorted memories seen through rose-colored glasses of those generations past. Society is changing at breakneck speeds and that requires a realist view of the world today and your potential role in it. Your Chief of Staff, the priorities you dictate and the processes to achieve them must reflect that.

If you’re one of those who still believes in resolutions – your resolutions can’t operate in a vacuum. It’s like addiction recovery. Just ‘stopping’ doesn’t work. A wholesale change needs to happen within the addict’s ecosystem. Going back to the same environment, with the same acquaintances (I hesitate to call them friends) and performing the same daily routine will lead nowhere but the road to relapse. First the addict has to not only change the priorities of their Chief of Staff, but give them the boot and start new. While your situation starting out 2019 may not be as drastic as this … your world may still require a changing of the guard to accomplish the goals you’ve set for the new year.

Who you select for your own internal Chief of Staff, and how they act, is up to you. Remember you are the President of Yourself (and let’s hope you’re not using Trump to emulate) … and your mind is your White House. And maybe it’s time to shake things up.

After all … it’s a new year.

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Come and join me on Twitter at @clayforsberg