Monday, September 27, 2010
There's a reason, probably not a good excuse, why I haven't been posting lately. Late last year I got this crazy idea to start an online dating site. I had vowed never to use online dating again. I felt like an item on a grocery shelf. And then I thought--it doesn't have to be that way!
When I started dating after my divorce, I had this idea in my head that dating would be like it was on Mary Tyler Moore. You know, every once in a while a cute guy calls and asks you to some fun thing. Ha ha ha ha ha. Instead, I find myself interviewed and interviewing over coffee. Mental checklists are sizing up the potential here. Don't hear heavenly choruses singing "Allelujiah?" REJECT.
Have you ever met someone who you really dislike at first, and they end up being a close friend-- maybe even your spouse? A friend told me the story of a guy she met on a date. She disliked him so much that she spent practically the whole date in the bathroom. She absolutely did not want to see him again. But her sister was dating his brother, and wanted to double date. So she saw the guy again for her sister. This time they went dancing. She saw in him a completely different person, and they had great fun together. They've now been married for 25 years and have three kinds.
So I started Plume Blue. At Plume Blue you meet people by doing fun things-- you browse dates that members post, not the members themselves. There are a lot of other things we've done differently too. We launched our private beta last Friday to our network of friends. Check it out for yourself: Plume Blue. And if you register through our private invite page, you can join free forever.
Public policy is nice, but Plume Blue is lots more fun. Some day, I promise to get back to my posts, especially the ones on how to change the world. Right now, I'm trying to change dating, and by doing so, bring more fun and joy into people's lives.
Hope to see you there!
Monday, August 9, 2010
Two week ago, I sat with a group of American Indian Elders. And listened. What I heard, and didn’t hear, I’ve never heard and not heard before.
I met them along with Laurie Young of the DNR to discuss land, parks and trails, and Legacy funding (see this April post). We’ve had seventeen meetings with Minnesotans throughout the state—wonderful, thoughtful meetings. But the core of these meetings was business stuff—how much to spend it, where to spend it, why to spend it.
The Elders did not talk about these things. To them, land and water are spiritual beings, with as much right to exist in their pure form (unpolluted, unexploited, undisturbed) as humans. There is equilibrium and harmony between humans and nature.
Yeah, well, that’s great you might say. But how the blazes does that help us plan for parks and trails? Here are some of the pertinent questions that arose for me:
-- Can we imagine a system of “public” lands, where public is not defined as owned and operated by the government, but rather, as held jointly in stewardship by all Minnesotans to enjoy and care for, with the only proviso that the land be respected?
-- Is “recreation” too narrow a word? Throughout Minnesota, people spoke of their favorite outdoor recreation—hiking, camping, snowmobiling, horseback riding—all of which are “to do” in nature. Shouldn’t we broaden this to “to be” or “to commune” in nature? The American Indian Elders spoke of the importance of land to their scared ceremonies. In other meetings, Hmong Elders spoke of the importance of land to community gatherings. If we want to instill a deeper sense of connection to nature, are we handcuffing ourselves by limiting our thinking to "recreation?"
--The Elders spoke of memories and traditions gifted to them from their parents and grandparents. Likewise, Minnesotans across the state told of cherished childhood memoires that aroused a love of nature. Over the next 25 years, what traditions do we impart, what gift do we leave that personally touches each and every Minnesota child?
A few words about what I did not hear, for the silence was as loud as the talking. The Elders shared vivid memoires of repression—land takings, language takings, religious takings, cultural takings. Yet they told these stories without rancor. They left no doubt they felt brutally wronged, but also made clear by the absence of vitriol that no brutality can disturb who they are as a people. It was this sense of understanding and purpose in heir lives that shaped the telling of their stories, not spite.
And, I’m afraid I’ll never be in another gathering like this again. When an elder was speaking, everyone else listened. They listened as if every word was filled with wisdom. Indeed every word was filled with wisdom because it came from a place of truth in the speaker’s heart. Imagine if we all listened like that!
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
On Monday I interviewed four gifted people—gifted because when we were talking, I felt as if they were lifting a veil on some deep mystery of life. No man behind the curtain here. This was as real as it gets, almost like stepping out of your pretend life, with its everyday distractions and nuisances and pettiness, into your real life. A real life utterly simple and reachable and always there. They were showing me humanity.
How do you talk about death? Easy, you talk about life. Everyone has a story. It turns out that an essential part of being human is that the story of who we are—whatever it may be—must matter. These days, when “mattering” is equated with fame and money and political power, it’s hard to imagine that our own humble stories might matter. But they do. We make them matter by sharing them with someone who cares about us and can listen with respect and without judgment. Find that person. We also make them matter by ensuring that the choices made at the end of life are consistent with that story. The choices must honor that story.
I heard many unremarkable but remarkable stories on Monday. A twenty-six year old newlywed uses a road trip across America to discuss end-of-life choices with her husband. She reaches her destination feeling “safer and more confident” now that she better understands her own values and desires, and how she would be cared for in her last days.
An elderly gentleman who understands that continued treatment is unlikely to help his illness, but can’t give up because he is waiting for the birth of his grandchild. The Buddhist family that remarks when their parent is dying, “This is what we’ve been waiting for.” The woman who chooses to die in the hospital surrounded by her family instead of being ambulanced back to her hometown where she always wanted to be. She made a choice. The family found peace in their grief because they knew she died as she wanted, with her family at her side.
Thank you to Kim, Mary, Dennis and Paul for sharing their stories and inspirations. Videos from these interviews will be posted soon on TPT’s website.
But also, it’s easy to complete a health care directive. You can find documents and instructions at the Minnesota Board on Aging. It just might be one of the kindest things you’ve ever done for yourself.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
One of my favorite sayings is “Every system is perfectly designed to achieve the results it gets.” This is indisputably true, and a testimony to the power of rules. If you have a rule that liability for oil spills is capped at $75 million (which is so ludicrous I had to verify that it is millions, not billions; ha ha, now the senators want to raise it to $10 billion ), no one should be surprised that safety will get short shrift when the daily cost of overruns is $1 million (as reported by the Wall Street Journal/The Week). Rolling Stone goes further to show how this calculation even extended to human lives. If you have a rule that the fine for oil spill is $4,300 a barrel, you can expect oil companies to lie about the amount of spillage, especially when it’s so hard to measure. And oh yeah—quick send in the chemical dispersants to make it even harder to measure!
Rules are important to an orderly functioning of society. If society is in a nice equilibrium and nothing needs to change, then the rules are probably fine too. But if the common good is no longer being served, the rules must be revamped.
Since the rules are deeply ingrained in culture and economic ways of life, they can be hard to recognize and nearly impossible to change. I once heard an advocate for the poor say that delivering aid directly through social service agencies, ridding the system of bureaucracy and red tape, was a bad idea because then social service agencies would have to complete with one another. Perfect example of a rule that is becoming ever so clear: the welfare of existing institutions trumps the needs of their constituents.
The heartache comes, I believe, because (most) people and institutions are well-intentioned and trying hard within the system of rules. If I’m in a boxing ring, I can play by all the rules and fight my heart out. However, the question I should ask myself when I get knocked out is not “Did I do my best?” but “What the hell was I doing in the boxing ring?”
Shortly after Medicare Part D passed, I heard a luncheon speaker relate the uphill battle of quickly enrolling hundreds of thousands of seniors for the new prescription meds benefit. She went on and on about all the challenges, and was rightfully proud of what her organization has accomplished. When she finished, a retiree stood to ask the first question. He said, “If I didn’t have diabetes before your speech, I think I have it now. I should be able to take my Medicare card to any pharmacy and get my prescription filled. Period.” The audience, stunned by the audacity of this truth, didn’t know whether to clap or gasp.
When education no longer keeps up with a global economy, the rules about how to educate, and what education is, no longer suffice. When demographics overwhelm our social insurance systems, like social security and Medicare, the rules have to change or these systems collapse. When the planet is warming at a pace to swallow whole islands, the rules about how to transport people have to change, or, we’ll just keep not adequately responding to one Deepwater Horizon after another. If food rules don’t change, as a society we’ll eat ourselves into impoverishment.
Rules bind us like marionettes. Can we become uber conscious about what strings bind us, who's pulling them and why? When we see that the string is acting more like a ball and chain than a life line, can we take a deep breath and sever it? On second thought, maybe we are borg-like (see last post). We need to disconnect from a collective based on rote action and absence of conscientious choice, and start to create new rules based on individual choice and a collective conscious. Be a rule breaker!
After writing this, I thought of a good example of a rule so "hidden" it took research to uncover what was going on. It is well documented that elite soccer players have birthdays in the first half of the soccer year. For example, studies of players in the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Belgium found that approximately 70% of elite youth players had birthdays in the first half of the soccer year. After investigating any number of reasons this might be so, researchers found what is called the "relative age effect". At young ages, a 6 month differential can make a big difference in physical and mental maturity. These are the children selected for the more elite team play, and they receive better coaching and socialization. Higher self-confidence builds as well. These kids then get more attention. The whole thing becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The rule? Age-based team play.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
In an earlier post, I noted that many institutions, experts and professionals talk a good game about innovation and reform, but mostly they want someone else to do the changing, not themselves. It’s like a family thing. You may think your sister is mean, stupid and ugly, but if anybody else says so, you’ll knock their lights out. People in bureaucracies usually know things aren’t working, but they’ll defend the status quo with their lives.
The way to change the world is not to wait for someone else. My mom and sister have been waiting for each other to change for fifty years. I suspect there will be little change even if they should both live another fifty. I want to suggest that there are five things each and every one of us has the power to do. Collectively, we’d change the world—a helluva lot faster and far more meaningfully than the government will ever do... And in the process we’ll each live a happier life.
1. Take care of your health.
2. Talk, read or sing to young children.
4. Use less gasoline.
5. Do a small kindness every day.
The common argument is that the actions of one person cannot possibly make a difference. But I want to argue the opposite— it already IS mattering. We don’t need to digress into the sentimentality of It’s a Wonderful Life to see that the choices we make impact not only our own lives, by the lives of those around as was well as those lives of people we may never meet.
It’s not so much the heroic effort but the collective effort that counts. In a me-first society we may reject the idea of collective effort. But then again, we’re not borgs, we’re compatriots on this planet. And I believe that most of us search for our legacy, knowing it will never be riches or fame. It’s nice to know that it is within our humble selves to change the world.
I’ve selected the five based on: 1) the degree to which an individual has control over choices; 2) the magnitude of direct and possible spin off effects; 3) the nature of potential change in our culture. Maybe you have a different suggestion for the top five. I’d love to hear them!
Next up: taking care of your health.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
About ninety people showed up in St. Cloud, and a remarkable thing happened (hoped for, to be sure...but you never know). These ninety people rolled up their sleeves and got to work. They shared written responses. They discussed issues at their tables with like-minded, and not-so-like-minded people. They voted. They agreed at their tables on how money should be spent. Take a look at these pictures from the event by David Simpkins of Minnesota Trails Magazine, and there's no denying how seriously participants took their roles as contributors to public decision-making.
There was a young girl at the meeting. She came with her dad and he kept saying that they were going to leave early. But every time dad wanted to go, the young girl wouldn't let him. She was learning at an early age the power of processes that help find common ground.
So, you might argue, that's much easier to do when there's no controversy. Having money to spend is a good problem to have. But on tough issues, the public is poorly behaved and close minded--take a look at the health care town halls.But what if controversy is created in the way we develop public policy? Prior to the actual health care proposals, people were pretty united on the need for health care reform. Does the act of selecting a specific proposal without public discussion fuel controversy? If a proposal is made about something that people really care about and that proposal does not reflect their interests, of course they are going to be hostile and upset. The proposal puts them in a defensive position, with little to do but complain or fight. At this point they are losing something dear to them, and their minds are not in a particularly generous position to be open to other people's priorities.
Imagine if the DNR had chosen instead to develop a proposal behind closed doors and then shop it around the state in a series of town hall meetings (the typical public process). I think you'd see a lot of controversy. There are actually quite a few different viewpoints about how the money should be spent: motorized trails, local parks, natural resource preservation, horse trails, land acquisition, land acquisition, land acquisition. But because people's priorities are being fed into the proposal development and they have the opportunity to discuss trade-offs with people of differing priorities, there was no controversy at the meeting. Will everyone sing kumbaya when the final proposal is released? Unlikely. But there is no denying that people have a much broader sense of a common mission as a result of being asked to contribute in this way. Here's what participants said when asked for insights from the meeting:
- People came wanting to trumpet their personal projects but left feeling they were involved in something quite bigger.
- I realized I am not as radical as I thought.
- To think "we" and not "me."
- It is fun to disagree and vote.
- Many people are concerned and passionate about our world.
- I was amazed at how serious people were in what they were doing and how they took it all in.
- People are a lot more united on some of these choices.
We have defined leadership as "having the answers." Maybe we need a new definition as someone who works with the public to find the common ground needed to advance the radical changes we need to address our most perplexing challenges: education, the public debt, obesity, poverty, long-term care, social security, climate change, name yours.
you can weigh in on the Legacy Funds at www.citizing.org