Shift the Conversation?


Two American Teenagers.
Two American Killers.
Two situations where powers that be reacted with silence.

=  Two powerfully different collective conversations

Who Are Those Boys?
Many of you are aware of Travyon Martin from the wealth of recent media attention, as well as a  9-1-1 recording as he died at the hand of a neighborhood vigilante packing both a gun and a history of violence, who acted under the auspices of protecting the neighborhood.  Protests calling for the perpetrator’s arrest have ensued.  Meanwhile the collective conversation expresses outrage that an adolescent carrying skittles and an iced tea has been murdered while the response to this tragedy amounts to a lackadaisical police process with no criminal charges being filed to date.

Perhaps fewer of you know much about Abdul Rahman Bin Anwar al-Awalki. He is the fourth American citizen killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen since 2002.  Please note the U.S. is NOT at war with Yemen.   This teenage boy was born in Denver, Colorado on August 26th 1995, according to a birth certificate released to the Washington Post.  He became a resident of the Yemeni capital Sanaa after moving there from the U.S. in 2002 - still possessing the American citizenship.  Abdulrahman was 16 years old when he died. Two weeks earlier Abduhlrahman’s father, Anwar al-Awlaki had been killed, also in Yemen.

Context for the elder al-Awalki's death comes from a Salon article posted by Glenn Greenwald: “It was first reported in January of last year that the Obama administration had compiled a hit list of American citizens whom the President had ordered assassinated without any due process, and one of those Americans was Anwar al-Awlaki. No effort was made to indict him for any crimes (despite a report last October that the Obama administration was “considering” indicting him). Despite substantial doubt among Yemen experts about whether he even had any operational role in Al Qaeda, no evidence (as opposed to unverified government accusations) was presented of his guilt. When Awlaki’s father sought a court order barring Obama from killing his son, the DOJ argued, among other things, that such decisions were “state secrets” and thus beyond the scrutiny of the courts. He was simply ordered killed by the President: his judge, jury and executioner. When Awlaki’s inclusion on President Obama’s hit list was confirmed, The New York Times noted that“it is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing.”

To summarize then, one boy, Travyon was killed by a neighborhood vigilante armed with a gun and a history violence.  The response lacked the due process demanded in such a situation here in America.  The other, Abdulrahman, was killed by Americans, armed with a drone and a history of violence under the auspices of protecting the nation. The response by those in power (we the people who elect our leaders to act on our behalf and in our name) has been dominated by a lack of bold outcry then and continues to be as secrecy, silence and the excuse of neutralizing a threat is used at the highest levels of American leadership to excuse the atrocities being committed. 

As a person who believes any vision must be powered by heart - I have to ask myself, "How can my heart generate or pursue any vision when my own positive power is overcome by the negative power of shame?"  When I say shame, I mean around the idea there is still an issue of race in my country that causes a 16 year old boy to lose his life and his parents to have to fight for a proper investigation. Or that acts of violence are being perpetrated everyday, humans killed in my name and on my behalf in countries America is not at war with, like Afghanistan and Yemen.  And all of this without any demand here, in America, for due process. 

Using Blame to Discharge Shame

The stories of the two young men pictured represent two tragedies I would submit we are having profoundly different conversations about in their aftermath. Yet while the majority reaction to each boy is completely different both include strong energy around identifying who is to blame at the core, and the bottom line, “I’m sure it isn't me."  This is a different driving force than say, empathy. 

The lives both these boys surrendered represent a terrible cost paid for our individual and collective obligation to, and engagement with, fear and righteousness, enemy-naming, and weaponry. And this is true whether at the neighborhood vigilante or our national leadership level. Our obligation to these life-costing elements is based in and introduces a great deal of shame to our individual and collective narrative.

It is no wonder our first unconscious instinct is look for where the blame can be placed. This approach allows us to relieve the pressure of shame by outlining to ourselves and others how different we each are from the "others" who perpetrated the crimes.   

It is human to use blame to discharge shame. Well maybe I should clarify, the people who don’t suffer with shame are those with no capacity for connection or empathy, aka sociopaths. I don't believe you or I are sociopaths.  We are good people, with good intentions, who can figure out some way to get through the "Swampland of Shame" without having to set up a house there or settle for the blame game as the only option for navigating to the other side.

The Shift
The conversational shift I am proposing would move the focus from blaming (the police, racism, terrorism, radicals, etc.) to courageously, with vulnerability in our own hearts and minds ask ourselves “What is at the base of these two tragedies for which shame exists?” What are the closely held bits of thought we keep secret, or over which we mercilessly judge ourselves. Things like “I am so afraid of the unknown and the threat of terror ‘out there’ and that harm may come to my brother, sister, son or daughter - that I have willingly ignored the potential that my country can and has assassinated a 16 year old boy.” Or,“I am ashamed to say when I see a young black man, pants bagging, hood over his head, walk slowly across the crosswalk I want to rev up my motor so he gets the message that I have the power over his disrespectful self.” Perhaps others wouldn't call the feeling shame, but more of an unease that resists definition as we struggle to identify what would possibly allow us to balance the fear of change/outside threat with a desire to feel good, justified, right, and endorsed.

Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, offers insight based on the work she has done the past ten years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. She spent the first five years of her decade-long study focusing on shame and empathy.  Her research reveals before we can get to empathy we have to walk through the individual and collective topics shrouded in shame.  Her research reveals shame is an unspoken epidemic and is highly correlated with many forms of broken behaviors such as addiction, depression, violence, aggression, bullying, suicide, and eating disorders. (interestingly guilt is inversely related to those behaviors. Dr. Brown describes the distinction between guilt and shame this way: Guilt is "I feel bad I did that." Shame is "I am bad.") She articulates another interesting point: for women shame is around unattainable and conflicting expectations, for men it is around the edict “do not be perceived as weak.” As men and women learn to enter conversation vulnerably and be assured of being heard with compassion and empathy, a great deal of understanding, change and creativity will be unleashed. 

In Dr. Brown's latest TedTALK she describes an example where entering into a vulnerable individual and collective conversation allowed creativity, innovation and change to occur on a huge landscape. She outlines how it was when American citizens heard the most compelling call ever to have a conversation about race, that we heard that call, yet could not have had that conversation without shame. As Dr. Brown points out, there is no conversation about race without talking about privilege - and when people talk about privilege, they get paralyzed by shame. She suggests if you put shame in a petri dish and add secrecy, silence and judgment, it will grow exponentially. If you douse it with empathy, it can't survive.

I'm proposing the loss of both these boys is a compelling wakeup call to have a new conversation about how the fear of being perceived as weak permeates us at the individual and collective level.  This fear is killing our children, our fellow humans in countries we are at war with, and our sense of confidence for the future. If we are going to find our way to a safe and joyful future, vulnerable conversations will be the starting point to move us from a model of ever-escalating conflict to something that embodies integrated diversity.

Perhaps the most powerful words we can say when someone articulates their own fear or shame is, "Me too." or, "I can empathize with how you feel." It takes courage to admit something that feels like failure, and courage to listen without judgment as another person articulates what feels like a failure to them.  As Dr. Brown says in her TEDtalk, "It’s seductive to stand outside the arena and think 'I won’t go in until I’m bullet-proof perfect, otherwise I will be perceived as weak. But the conversation we need to have wants us to dare greatly, to come into it with our imperfections and lay the groundwork for something different." 


I invite you to note your thought and emotion as you look at the graphic above.
Did you even know who the boy on the right was?
Is there any thought or feeling that represents an unease of any sort?
What is the feeliing or thought at the opposite end of the spectrum
that would allow you to balance out your current thought or feeling?
If confusion, perhaps clarity?
If defensiveness, perhaps vulnerability?
If grief, perhaps healing?
If overwhelm, perhaps clarity?
If anger, perhaps calm?
Now, breathe in whatever thought and emotion you identified first …
and breathe out the word that describes what would balance it.

For me, I could post a picture of my son right next to
Travyon and Abdulhraman above - and he would fit right in.
Perhaps that’s why this post is from my heart,
rather than a detached study problem exercise.
I am breathing in hopelessness - then breathing out trust.


First Response-Ability – v2.0 Upgrade

Also known as the answer to "WHAT CAN I DO NOW?"

The Short Version

V2.0 facilitates the User to take what seems like poison, and turn it into medicine.

First Response v1.0 Users have reported wrestling with a great deal of unconscious internal thought or feeling several times a day, including overwhelm, hopelessness, helplessness or anger, all of which powers more of the same both internally and externally.

The First Response v2.0 Upgrade facilitates the User becoming aware of their First Response feeling or thought. If the feeling or thought does not come from an empowered place, V2.0 prompts you to ask yourself, “What is the opposite of this thought or feeling?” 

Example: If your First Response thought is overwhelm, perhaps the opposite is “clarity.” Or if your First Response thought is “hopeless” the opposite might be “trust.”

The User is prompted to breathe in while quietly saying the word “overwhelm” or “hopeless.” Then as the User breathes out, v2.0 prompts quietly saying the word meaning the opposite of overwhelm, clarity or whatever has been identified, which would be in this case “clarity” or “trust.” Then, v2.0 keeps the loop going on in the background as the User moves through the rest of the interaction.

Allows the User to transmute unconscious thought and emotion into conscious positive energy.

The Details:
Consider this upgrade if you have recently experienced a moment where you thought, “I don’t want to hear/know/see this, because I have no idea what to do about it, or the time to do it if I did know.” Instances that may initiate this phrase looping in the background:

· the boss describes the proposal you need to write before 10am tomorrow
· the moment you discover your partner’s infidelity
· hearing a bill collectors voicemail
· absorbing news about war, poor veteran treatment, resource scarcity, betrayal by leadership
· teenage children spewing their intolerance for our intolerance
·  upon receiving news of a loved one’s death

Evolving Operating Environment
Thought represents a unit of energy, and the positive, negative or neutral feeling attached to that thought yields an emotion.

Emotion = pressurized energy.

Over the last decade platforms connecting the individual to the collective, like Facebook, text, email, and Skype are now firmly plugged into our consciousness.

A First Response thought and emotion is generated to an exponentially greater volume and velocity of awareness, news, and information.

Individuals have ample and ever-increasing opportunity to contribute a great deal of pressurized positive or negative energy in to the infinite field of possibility.

Upgrade Overview
Version 2.0 Upgrade takes the individual’s First Response ability from unconscious generation to the improved, ­exponentially more productive Version 2.0 – conscious generation.

Example: When the User receives an aggravating email message, or enters a conversation about something less happy, exciting or positive than winning the lottery, or perhaps is absorbing a Facebook link about the horror our American soldiers are enduring or perpetrating, or when someone is dogging your favorite vehicle or political party leader you will observe what you feel in those initial moments.

Maybe there is tingling at the back of the hairline. Wait 3 seconds and the feeling morphs into a clenched jaw and tightened shoulders. Perhaps it the word is defensive or judgmental, but first the throat constricts, causing you to swallow hard. Or maybe you become aware of sucking your cheeks in just a little bit? (Really face OR butt cheek contractions are both indicators on this one.)


First Response V2.0 DELUXE With this Upgrade Package the User is able to not just identify the thought or emotion behind their own First Response, but also that of person or situation they are interacting with. The DELUXE package allows the User to monitor and address their own First Response while concurrently identifying and transmuting the unempowered thought or emotion of the other person or situation.

Example: User’s best friend calls with the news his partner has been secretly seeing someone else. With the First Response v2.0 DELUXE package installed the User will identify and transmute their feeling of overwhelm, hopelessness, anger, judgment etc. into clarity, trust, calm, acceptance. Simultaneously the User will first identify the prevailing thought and/or emotion represented in the energy of the other person or situation; then commences the transmutation of the unempowered energy into something that empowers the exchange.

In this sample case the User might identify “pain” as the energy to be transmuted into “healing.” By breathing in the word Pain, then breathing out the word Healing, the Users of First Response 2.0 Deluxe consciously provide the most energetically conducive space for others to express their thoughts and emotional energy.


Take the First Response 2.0 Version Upgrade Public! 

When absorbing something that twizzles the you in some manner, comment by saying – “As I took this in, my First Response was ‘___.’ However, as I  sat with it a moment realized I am able to upgrade my First Response to ‘____.’”

Read more about the practice of Tonglen at http://www.shambhala.org/teachers/pema/tonglen1.php


Are Rocks A Path to Wisdom?

Could rocks be a starting point to ground and generate the wisdom needed to power our collective future?

What prompts me to ask this rather abstract question is a great beta website I discovered called Anthropocene.   The word "Anthropocene" was not a familiar term, hence a Wikipedia search which revealed "Anthropocene is a recent and informal geologic chronological term that serves to mark the evidence and extent of human activities that have had a significant global impact on the Earth's ecosystems."  The information at the Anthropocene website includes an excellent 3 minute video that aggregates the last 250 years of our history, from the start of the Industrial Revolution to the Rio+20 Summit. The video shows that the growth of humanity has become a global force on an equivalent scale to major geological processes.  What I got from that video is that humans can look to Earth, this rock we live on, for clarity of our current and future interdependent status. 

One purpose of this blog is to explore how humans recognize and act on the reality that all matter is interconnected.  My work over the past few years has planted itself firmly in the awareness that each individual represents a basic building block of the global sustainability solution we are collectively generating.  A side note, but a paradigm-shifting thought for me:   the realization that a strategy which considers global sustainability as the end goal is inappropriately limited.  The broadest vision we can paint calls for strategy and action in support of universal expandability. 

Whether we are talking global or universal landscape, I have clarity the Earth's future is our future.  Earth will take care of herself; the question more accurately is whether humanity will also be living on Earth, or will she have been rendered an inhospitable host to our survival needs.   

The  Anthropocene website is a collaborative project between researchers and communicators from some of the leading scientific research institutions on global sustainability.  The goal is to improve our collective understanding of the Earth system, as well as to inspire, educate and engage people around humanity’s impact on Earth.  I am impressed after exploring the combination of high-level scientific data and powerful imagery found there.   It helped me visualize and better understand humanity’s geographic imprint in recent time and how that connects to me.

Clients over the years have benefited from my focus on the process by which we gather information (data, or perhaps data arranged to answer a specific question) and convert it to knowledge (systematic, aggregating information across certain webs of questions which we often define as disciplines).   As I have grown into my life work, I have become even more intrigued with the next step:   how we take knowledge and leverage it into wisdom?  Getting from knowledge to wisdom requires something radically different than just aggregating information. 

Nelson Kelloggdescribes the crisis humans find themselves in:  “… not that of the depredation of the planet, or the exploitation of entire peoples, but one of meaning and purpose, both individually and collectively.   In “Wisdom Communities”, Nelson’s essay included in the book “Healing Our Planet Healing Ourselves”, he writes

“Wisdom requires a meditative thinking that uses conversations amongst knowledge systems to aid in answering questions of meaning, incorporating the insights provided by knowledge systems through the high art of empathy."

Anthropocene's website facilitates its visitors moving from the information stage to the knowledge stage quickly in the way it has aggregated science and communication disciplines.  These two disciplines could simplistically be thought of as representing left and right brain approaches to processing knowledge.  The art of engaging unique right and left brain fortes to generate individual and collective understanding is another area of fascination and focus for me.  (The brain represents duality at our individual level that, when integrated, allows us to apply our most complete brainpower capacity to address the challenges in front of us.  However, I will hold that discussion for a future post.)

The collaborative effort represented at the Anthropocene website yields a full-brain pathway for the layperson to explore information that has been gathered into knowledge.  The website facilitates the generation of a personal knowledge/understanding of "how planetary boundaries and planetary stewardship have heralded a profound shift in perception of our place in the world, as well as articulating the growing evidence base of scientific observations that show we have become the prime driver of global environmental change."

The beauty of high level knowledge articulation combined with easy access for any internet user means more and more lay people can be equipped to create their own wisdom and empowered to contribute to the collective’s wisdom.  This phase of the process, moving from knowledge to wisdom, happens as each of us contributes our individual knowledge to the conversations we engage with in our networks and our communities. 

In same essay, "Wisdom Communities, Nelson Kellogg also notes the conversations that will yield wisdom are the ones that explore and reveal satisfying answers around questions that address the crisis of individual and collective meaning and purpose.  Questions like:

 "What constitutes a good life?"
 "What is the narrative of my own life?"
 "How do I understand my linkage and responsibility to other human beings?"
 "Is there any meaning to be found in the succession of human generations on this planet?" 

Kellog writes, "If we cannot address such questions straightforwardly, without a smirk of irony, what does it matter that we do anything in life beyond the immediate and the selfish?"

Are you interested
in generating personal and planetary evolution
by choice rather than by chance?

If you are, I believe it will require traveling a path that takes us from information data points, to aggregate knowledge across multiple disciplines, and on through the quantum leap required to generate wisdom. 
I propose we study how Earth's systems work and ways in which we humans impact the rock on which we live.  In a nutshell let's explore how humanity's fate is interconnected to that of Earth.  From that place of knowledge, we employ our hearts and capacity for empathy to power our internal, personal, community, national and international conversations.  It is those conversations that will yield the meaning and wisdom needed to generate our personal, collective and planetary future.


Occupy My Heart

"We stand at a critical moment in Earth's history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise."

"This is the preamble to the Earth Charter, a beautiful document written a decade ago, after a lengthy international collaborative process, which recognizes the profound changes we must make if we are to survive as a species and prosper spiritually. I want for its call for "a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice and a culture of peace" to be realized. And to do that the powers that be - political, corporate and military - cannot continue to drift beyond all accountability or even sanity." ~ Robert Koehler 

All the above is to say I hope Occupy America, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Duluth or wherever YOU are is a movement that doesn't go away. My sense is this movement represents renewal around the principles that formed this nation's foundation - the ones that are now being eroded - replaced by their opposites. Where there was freedom, there is now restriction of rights in a wide variety of ways. Surveillance of many areas of life is becoming the norm. In the name of security and protection, the powers of the government are upheld over the rights of the individual in a vastly increasing takeover unprecedented in the history of the U.S. The cornerstones of the internal fabric of the country are starting to dissolve in the onslaught of governmental control and dominance.

The principles of freedom, justice and equality cannot flourish when military domination becomes the overriding aim of the government. I believe we are in the midst of a waning or dissolution of ideals. In the cycle that is the U.S. - our primary purpose of birthing a higher expression of political intent, one that brought forth ideals of freedom and equality never before part of the cornerstone of a political state - has reached its zenith and is dissolving. It is natural - and like other natural cycles - lunar, seasonal - the human race has much to look forward to even as we complete the Fall and Winter seasons of our power cycle.

So the question becomes: What is my role when a cycle is waning, when the ebb of the great political intent and accomplishment begins to recede from the beach leaving the debris of greed and improper use of power all over its shoreline? My sense is we are the caretakers of that beachfront property. Our task is to clean and clear away the unwanted debris and corruption from the body politic and prepare that beach for maximum human use.

You and I are the citizens who hold the powers that be - corporate, political, personal - accountable. We can decline the version of democracy that isn't transparent and hold forth for something that is. Here's the key: If we hold dear the ideals this country was so wonderfully precocious about building itself on - even as the U.S. power cycle wanes - we can make it a priority to ensure the legacy conveys the purity and force of the concepts on which it was founded. As citizens we are being tested in this crucible. If we can insist our country return to the principles upon which it was founded, we will walk the higher road and provide a contribution of inestimable importance to the people of the future. If we fail to uphold the higher ideal, the end of political prominence for the United States will be painful, and just another example of a culture's inability to uphold the spiritual intent upon which it was founded.

This citizen role does not include initiating conflict by beating others up for how they feel - it means I have to initiate conversation to discover where we converge and cooperatively build something that honors both. And in order to have that conversation, to fill that role effectively, I have to Occupy my own heart and mind - take responsibility, clean up my greed and corruption debris at my personal shoreline, as well as to search and prioritize using the practices that bring peace to my own being. Once I fully Occupy Me, I become a healthy foundation to engage in the discovery of convergence and the opportunity for cooperation with others.

I know in my heart that the Constitution of the United States can provide a model for emerging nations all over the world in the coming centuries. I want to be a citizen who occupies herself at the individual level, and serves as a basic building block of how collectively America returns to the principles this country was founded on.


American Sustainability Rests in our Hands

Click graphic to enlarge

Memorial Day 2012

This weekend we will honor those who have given their lives in the name and service of our country. This is our opportunity to stand together as grateful and proud Americans accepting the honor of personally protecting, nurturing, and ensuring the sustainability of the bodies, minds, and spirits of each living soldier who has, or will, return home.

Memorial Day is one of personal significance for many - and a collective significance for all Americans. It is a day we honor the sacred contribution of American warriors from past and present conflicts. Our hearts are filled with love and appreciation for the men and women who served us and this country with their minds, bodies, and spirits - ultimately giving the personhood they embodied in the name of our country. And, while they are in our hearts everyday, on this day we will stand with our heads bowed, honoring their sacrifices on our behalf.

Along with our desire to honor those who have died in the name of our country, I believe Memorial Day also represents an opportunity to focus our attention on America’s returning soldiers.

It is not enough to honor the dead. We must heal and recover the full personhood of those who served and lived.

This is a time when the concepts and ideas around the word “sustainability” are being bandied about in many theoretical and esoterical realms. Yet, this is the precise point in time for the broadness of all that sustainability could mean - that Americans insist sustainability be founded and supported at a personal, simple, and practical level.

We watched our soldiers go forward into roles and environments that would wound their hearts, minds, bodies and spirits. Our soldiers engaged in these conflicts in the name of protecting and sustaining the American collective’s values on foreign fronts.

Now those of us sitting on the domestic front, whether we supported the war or not, are called to engage - from a place of honor and gratitude – to protect and sustain every returning soldier’s heart, mind, body and spirit.

Now is the time Americans are called to hold these soldiers and their families in honored space, flowing toward them with every resource necessary - moving gently and lovingly toward the ones who fought for us – faciliting their reconnection to the depths of unique creativity that lies within them.

Now is the time to use every standard and alternative tool or method available to nurture, heal, re-engage and ensure the personal sustainability of these soldiers, their families, and the communities with whom they are reintegrating.

We know this effort is a critical building block to American sustainability. The very act of nurturing the individual soldier's sustainability – ensures we help them find, heal, and expand their personal and uniquely creative resources. In return, the healed bodies, hearts, minds, and spirits of these soldiers will contribute greatly to the store of creativity America has available to itself. And, this store of creativity is the very source of how America will build, rebuild, expand, and innovate our way through the evolution and broader questions of sustainability we are encountering at every level and segment of our world.

I invite every proud and thankful American to take the sacredness of this Memorial Day to renew and engage our hearts and minds toward the successful re-entry of every soldier to the fullness of their life here at home.

For those interested - check out Soldier's Heart to see the ongoing work Dr. Ed Tick has been doing with returning veterans from conflicts of the past 30 years.  Truly, his is a vision powered by love.