The Peace of Wild Things

By Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

“I hate my life.” The words tumbled from my 11-year old son’s mouth like gravel through the gate of a dump truck. As I turned the car onto Winnemac Avenue, he sat silently in the passenger seat, awaiting my response. “I know,” I finally said. He went on to share that he missed his mother and stepmother, both of whom were always working, that school was stupid, and that “you [Dad] are always distracted.”

It was a true statement. I had been distracted for months, really years. My attention was constantly bouncing between work, community, family, and other responsibilities, all with the best of intentions. “This shouldn’t be happening,” I thought. I was giving my attention to what I value, including him. But I also knew that I, too, was not that far from hating my own life.

In 1971, Edward Deci and Richard Ryan started researching human motivations and needs. Eventually their work, with the help of many others, would lead to the recognition that there are three core human psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. This periodical chart of human well-being, now called Self-Determination Theory, has been cited more than 13,000 times in the last fifteen years.

Even without the map of this knowledge, it seemed like I had been following a path toward well-being. I owned a business doing work that I enjoyed. I was active, healthy, and surrounded by whole-hearted friends and family. I was deeply connected to community. As much as I loved the people and events that filled my days, life was far too much about the clock and the calendar.

I had been caught in the addiction of addition – tallying more and more connections, opportunities, and activities. Some of these efforts were dedicated to maintaining a healthy business, community, or relationship. Beyond what was necessary, I was loyal to this mathematical myth. In order to “make it,” in order to have an impact, in order to find peace, I needed to keep pushing harder and further. Even though I cherished lying on the couch with my wife, or our meditation practice, I was filling each hole with a possibility or a commitment. I was very busy thinking, planning, rushing from one place and task to another. Most people would respect the juggling act as “doing something with my life,” but I was growing simultaneously weary and stressed.

The city is full of people like this, a blend of frantic achievers and people working three jobs to pay the rent. The result is an energy of frenetic seeking and frenzied survival. People are struggling for capitalist supremacy, for social status, to discover themselves, or to simply stay alive. Everyone is busy doing, and I was among them. I had started to feel less space to just be.

I was striving for autonomy, competence, and relatedness, but too often settling for a shallow version of the real thing. It is deep in our western, and especially urban, heritage that autonomy means financial freedom, competence is accomplished through a career, and relatedness is the number of friends, or even Facebook friends, that one has. It is measurable and therefore comparable. In many ways, it is the American dream.

Even if I believed I was not adopting this vision, its ethos of accomplishment was sneaking its way into priorities and decisions. I do want financial security, a fulfilling vocation, and close relationships, but I was starting to acknowledge that the pace and fervor of pursuit were not going to lead me to some promised land of well-being. I wanted out.

Six weeks after my son released his gravelly pronouncement, I pulled an old copy of Sam Keen’s The Passionate Life from the bookshelf. For a couple nights I read passages to my wife around the fire, feeling energized as our conversations started to shift from managing the present to imagining a future that was much different. For the first time in my adult life, I was ready to consider leaving the city.


Though my life and work had largely been about connectedness, I was feeling more and more disconnected. George Monbiot calls this “The Age of Loneliness.”

We have ripped the natural world apart, degraded our conditions of life, surrendered our freedoms and prospects of contentment to a compulsive, atomising, joyless hedonism, in which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves. For this, we have destroyed the essence of humanity: our connectedness.

My wife and I love nature. We were married in a forest clearing, and have always been able to reconnect by the water, or in the woods, on a camping trip or hike. My son, however, is a city kid who tends to like controlled environments without bugs.

To watch him at his computer is to watch a pilot in the cockpit of a 787, checking his gauges on ten different tabs at once, communicating with teams and collaborators at a dizzying pace, taking a class, building a server, and responding to alerts left and right. His web is deeply personal, going back and forth between chat platforms, forums, and multi-player games. He has more Skype contacts in more corners of the world than I do.

I understand this level of stimulation, the desire to find a tribe, become proficient at something, and experience the thrill of a full dashboard of options which I can seemingly control. When he’s sitting at his computer, he’s not only the pilot, he’s a god creating his own reality.

I didn’t know how to tell him that I’m sensing we all need to connect in a different way, to leave behind these tiresome cycles of working, buying, doing, and with so much of it mediated through a screen. Andrew Sullivan writes in New York Magazine:

I began to realize, as my health and happiness deteriorated, that this was not a both-and kind of situation. It was either-or. Every hour I spent online was not spent in the physical world. Every minute I was engrossed in a virtual interaction I was not involved in a human encounter. Every second absorbed in some trivia was a second less for any form of reflection, or calm, or spirituality. “Multitasking” was a mirage. This was a zero-sum question. I either lived as a voice online or I lived as a human being in the world that humans had lived in since the beginning of time.

Never before have we attempted to meet our essential psychological needs through devices. It is not the wires, cables, and satellites that connect us. The air, the water, the common elements and non-elemental bonds we share have always been there, waiting for us to re-member, to accept our membership in life itself.

So, one month ago we moved to a small town in a house on the edge of a nature preserve. There are trees, critters, and water all around us. The night soundscape of sirens has been replaced by crickets and frogs. It’s a grand experiment.

Even with the slower pace, our lives are still too full. There have been moments of true rest and delight, but still plenty of frenzy. It’s not nirvana; it’s a process. The boy is not as excited as I am about fungi and foxes, but he’s adjusting. A few nights ago he pointed out the number of stars in the sky. We have more time together, some of it unbound by the ticking clock.

Cities, consumerism, technology, and the pace of life may be impacting our well-being but are not preventing it. As a wise man told me recently, “The thing is never the problem. The problem is our relationship to the thing.” Not everyone needs a geographic downshift.

We do need a new economy, a more natural pace of life, and an evolved relationship with technology. But the deepest form of relatedness does not need to be sought. You just open to it. The connection is always there.

This post originally appeared in ReImagining Magazine.

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A Wildly Inclusive “We”


Our systems are broken. From economics to education to government, there is widespread agreement that the structures we have created are not working for most people. With smoldering anger beginning to flame, we want someone to blame.

Who is ultimately responsible?

We crave villains. Our wishes are granted by the faces on our screens, emails in our inboxes, and the pronouncements from soap boxes everywhere. We gather, shake our fists, and agree upon the source of evil. It feels good, for a time, because we connect through establishing a common enemy.

We demand victims and heroes, surrogates for our pain and desire for freedom. The media exploits this Drama Triangle: Hate the bad guys. Weep for the victims. Cheer for the heroes. We cannot just blame the media. We are the media. The media is us.

I am completely uncomfortable with this perspective. There are real victims, real heroes, and real evil in the world. People are harmed in subtle and tragic ways every day in every culture. Billions of people devote their lives to family, justice, and wellbeing. But conveniently simplifying the madness and injustice of this world into a triangular equation is bad math.

Fritjof Capra writes, “The more we study the major problems of our time, the more we come to realize that they cannot be understood in isolation. They are systemic problems, which means that they are interconnected and interdependent.” Not only are the problems interconnected and interdependent, so are we. You don’t need to believe in the butterfly effect to grasp that we cannot escape the systems we live in. We are in the systems. We are the systems.

What if I am partially responsible for the rise in mass shootings, though I do not own a gun? What if I have played a part in one in six women being sexually assaulted, even though I am a feminist? What if I have contributed to the quadrupling of people incarcerated in America in the last thirty years? What if I am responsible for the waters of this planet being dammed, polluted, and poisoned?

In Dostoyevsky’s novel Demons, the enigmatic monk Tikhron says to the guilt-laden Stavrogin, “In sinning each man sins against all, and each man is at least partly guilty for another’s sin. There is no isolated sin.”

On the right, we have people upholding the importance of “individual responsibility.” On the left, we have people fighting for “collective responsibility.” What if they are both equally valid? I am responsible. We are responsible. I am a part of we.

I am still uncomfortable. It is easier for me to live with “They,” not “We” and “I.”

“The whole world is filled with all these horrors. But you have felt the whole depth of it.” This is the compassionate statement of Tikhron when Stavrogin confesses to the monk that he has taken advantage of an 11 year old girl, leading to her suicide.

If I can sense my own interconnectedness, then I can feel into the impact of any injustice. They are not just harming them. We are harming us. This shift, as well, is so difficult because I fear that life will be only suffering as I experience the world suffering. I already feel guilty for not having done enough. How could I possibly feel more?

Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering,” writes Parker Palmer. Perhaps we need more connection to suffering. Perhaps my intellectualization of the issues, my avoidance of the pain, are attempts to escape this suffering. Who could blame me? We have so much access to others’ pain.

It is not only people that suffer, but other living beings as well whose perspective is often overlooked. As novelist and essayist Chinua Achebe writes, “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

Gus Speth is a US advisor on climate change. He writes,

“I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation.”

Perhaps the embrace of our interconnectedness, the opening to suffering, the allowance to feel, is one of the seeds of this transformation.

We need people on the streets, in the corridors of power, and voices in public and private venues speaking boldly about the injustices of our time. We need people to resist, to educate, and to spread compassion.

But perhaps we also need to open wider and deeper, to the water, to the “other,” to the wildly inclusive “we,” and trust that we can make space for all that is there. I also know that in opening to suffering, we open more to joy.

I do not want more suffering in the world. Therefore I am willing to suffer, not as a martyr, but as a participant in the transformation.

This post originally appeared in ReImagining Magazine.

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The Holy Grail of Education


Postcard widely attributed to French artist Jean-Marc Côté ~1910


“The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.”

— Robert Henri

Despite massive shifts across the globe over the last century, we remain in the industrial age of education. The arrival of the Information Age, or Digital Age, has resulted in new classroom technologies fit into the old models of knowledge transfer. The industrial age has been digitized. Decreasingly eager young learners line up at the service stations of our educational institutions, waiting for their tanks – their brains – to be filled with what they need to know according to the powers that be.

To be educated is not to be filled, stuffed with the “essential” abstract knowledge of the day. To receive an education is to be “led out,” from the Latin educere. The educated person, then, is one who has been “brought forth,” led into his or her uniqueness. This knowledge originates in the self, and is truly what the world needs – human beings who are whole, aware, and ready to contribute because they know what they have to offer.

The world abounds in knowledge and data. For us to collectively confront the challenges we face, we need whole-hearted people much more than we need more information. In this context of “leading out,” then, what is the role of the educator?

We need teachers, administrators, and community leaders who can build and maintain strong “containers” for learning to take place. The best educators already know this, instinctively creating safe environments where people and learning flourish.

A container is a space – physical, psychological, and spiritual – within which a group works. As Bill Isaacs has written, the image of the container is very old, being referenced in the Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical texts; in the writings of the alchemists; and in modern times in some of the work of psychologists looking to create what they call a “holding space” for the emotional intensity of the family.

The Holy Grail, the image from the myth of King Arthur, was supposedly the chalice that was used by Jesus at the Last Supper. The word grail comes from the French word graille, which means great container. The graille was a common soup container. The word also has the same root as corral–a round, containing enclosure–and also kraal, a Zulu word meaning “an enclosure of huts and cattle.” According to Laurens van der Post, a novelist and unique elder to this age, these roots reveal the magic of this term and the universal quest behind it. The container is “round, which has always been magical and an enclosure of life, sacred because it is an image of wholeness, something which contains all.”

The container is a symbol of wholeness, and a space in which creative transformation can take place. The holy grail of education is the container in which students are “led forth” into themselves and into the world. Not limited to a classroom, or a physical space, the learning container is the psychological and spiritual environment that is “held open” by the educator. As the authors at Groupworks have written, this active process of holding allows knowledge, learning, understanding, energy, ideas, perspectives, dissonances, and appreciation to flow and be contained in that space.

In these containers students grow in autonomy and connection as they are part of a process of exploration with other students. They discover their own value as they ask questions, follow their own curiosities, and help each other. In the best of containers, the students experience themselves as indispensably part of something – a unique whole individual in a group of unique whole individuals.

So, how does an educator build and maintain these containers? How does a teacher create an environment where students discover their own wisdom? How does an administrator insure that teachers, students, and staff are free to be themselves, offer their own gifts, and care for each other?

Holding a container can be compared to a protective embrace. Much has been made of “safe spaces” on college campuses, and the prevention of violence in schools. Protecting sacred space includes, but goes beyond, preventing offensive language, bullying, and keeping students emotionally and physically safe. This sense of protection is vigilant in keeping out forces that diminish the human spirit, making sure that each person’s opinions, feelings, and way of being in the world are respected. It also means keeping out conversation and activities that stray from the group’s intentions. You can visualize this sense of protection as a person with gently curved outstretched arms, palms facing outward, keeping out what interferes with learning and discovery.

There is the protection of the container, and there is the embrace. In this sense, the arms are outstretched, but the palms are facing the heart, making room in this container for all the people within it. Holding this embrace involves cultivating presence, an awareness of what is happening within and without. The one who holds the container with presence is attentive to what is said and not said, happening and not happening, sensing the flow of energy in the room and her own instincts. She has the ability to tune into herself and the group.

One must also be accessible within the container in order to be effective, with eyes on the people and energy of the room more than the next task at hand. A teacher or administrator is available to the degree that learners can connect with her on a human level. The best educators find the appropriate level of self-disclosure, becoming increasingly trustworthy as they reveal their own doubts and their own processes of discovery.

Finally, the embrace must hold diversity and dissonance. Nature always presents us with its own challenge. In the form of a group, the challenges are frequent. Our differences often provoke discomfort. In the hands of a gifted educator, these differences provide opportunities to reiterate the value of all sides and all people.

There is a dynamic paradox between the protective arms and the embracing arms—keeping out that which holds us back, and simultaneously welcoming all. It’s not an easy dance.

The artist develops the awareness and discipline of getting into a state in which art flows. In the same way, the educator is constantly learning how to tune into the group and individual students to make the dynamic container conducive for self-discovery as well as community-discovery. The objective is not to transfer knowledge, but to make the state of learning inevitable.

This post originally appeared in ReImagining Magazine

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Peer-to-Peer Perspective


Last weekend, I spent the majority of Saturday at an unconference, Cooperation 2015. Three of us – Steve Ediger, Jean Russell, and I – had spent a few months been planning this event, organized around Michel Bauwens‘ visit to Chicago.

The theme of the event was to connect people and ideas across Chicago in the “p2p” movement. What is peer-to-peer? You can read Bauwens’ definition, or my own simplified summary here:

Peer-to-peer is an approach to people organizing themselves based on some combination of:

  • Removing intermediaries
  • Enabling full participation
  • Open knowledge and sharing
  • Fair distribution of power
  • Equality of ownership or membership
  • Dedication to nurturing the commons

Here in Chicago, there are examples of p2p already emerging. About 40 attendees from a variety of backgrounds and industries shared their experiences, knowledge, and hopes for the future. The Dill Pickle Food Co-op was in attendance, along with the Mutual Aid Network, and our generous host, the Institute of Cultural Affairs. Throughout the day, we discussed open cooperatives, social cooperatives, open value accounting, time banking, coworking spaces, participatory budgeting, chamber of the commons, open design and manufacturing, WIKISPEED, FairCoop, mutualization of independent workers, commons based reciprocity licenses, and much more.

True Sharing

Many people (especially investors) are praising the development of the sharing economy. But some sharing economy companies are extracting value rather than distributing it. The peer-to-peer movement provokes us to pause and ask the following question:

Who is ultimately benefiting from my time, money, and knowledge?

The difference between a cooperative, and platform capitalism is significant. For example, the citrus farming cooperative “Sunkist acts on behalf of its farmer members.” When I buy a Sunkist orange, I am more directly helping the people who grow the oranges. Through a CSA I could remove another intermediary – the grocer. In this case, peer-to-peer would be farmer-to-eater.

If I buy an orange from a big box grocer, which sources the fruit from a corporate producer, I am supporting at least two sets of shareholders. Though we are starting to see a shift in who companies ultimately choose to serve, the dumbest idea in the world still lives on – that companies exist to maximize shareholder value. The low price I may pay is at the expense of the farmer or grove worker. When I pay for efficiency, I sacrifice my relationship with the earth and the farmer. I’m more removed from my food, and the people working with the land suffer.

Paramount Citrus packing facility

Paramount Citrus packing facility

Peer-to-peer empowers more people. It also brings us closer together as we connect to each other, often without the comfort of hierarchical relationships. Openly negotiating roles and exchanges of value may feel “messy,” but it reveals our interdependence and helps us see more clearly the contributions of everyone.

There are examples of peer-to-peer become more significant in lending, banking, food, journalism, technology, and governance. Together, Buffer, Semco, Morning Star, Valve, Zappos, Supercell, stretch across three continents, employ 100,000+ people, and bring in more than $20 billion per year. What do they have in common? They all have transitioned to alternative governance models. Whether it’s going to a boss-less work environment, or organizing a workers’ cooperative, peer governance can really work.

After five days of Michel sleeping in our guest room and an inspiring unconference, what do I take away?

Optimism for the Future

By adopting a peer-to-peer perspective, we can bypass some of the burdens of living in a world of broken systems. Otto Scharmer refers to these as divides – ecological, social, and spiritual/cultural – that lead to systemic disconnects.


Rather than fighting the system, we can connect to each other and create our own structures that are better suited to our needs. As Buckminster Fuller said,

“You never change something by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

There’s no need to wait. Peer-to-peer is open and free.

The Value of Perspective

We can view peer-to-peer as a model, but I also prefer to also see it as a perspective. In this way, we can build mutually beneficial relationships in the ethical economy, and we can ask questions in any arena. The peer-to-peer questions for me are:

  • Is value being fairly distributed?
  • Is power being fairly distributed?
  • Are all the stakeholders being considered?
  • What can be shared freely and openly?

I can ask these questions for my own company, community, and whenever I have a need or something to offer. Fair does not always mean equal, but it’s always a question worth asking.

For the last question, I’m pondering what it is that I want to contribute to the commons. I’ll keep you posted.

We closed the conference with another Otto Scharmer quote:

“The quality of results produced by any system depends on the quality of the awareness from which people in the system operate.”

I’m thrilled with how much my awareness grew in the last week, and looking forward to connecting with others who can amplify what we are doing, learning, and dreaming of together.

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The Masculine Principle


“We can be redeemed only to the extent to which we see ourselves.” – Martin Buber

Last week I had the opportunity to facilitate a call with corporate leaders on “Awakening a New Masculinity.” It is a topic I feel passionate about, and like my feminism, sometimes hard to discuss.

I feel like every conversation on this subject needs a disclaimer stating:

  • Patriarchy and misogyny both exist and are destructive
  • There is more diversity in gender expression than a binary of male and female, man or woman
  • Masculine and feminine are not captive traits to men and women respectively – they are principles

It’s confusing, I know. Just as it is confusing to be a boy growing up in our culture right now. As I wrote at the beginning of my Men’s Group,

I see a quiet crisis in the world of men. The violent silence and silent violence continue to cycle through generations. Boys are growing up feeling trapped between conquering and apathy.  I see confusion – what am I supposed to be doing? Who am I?

I have read books, spent time with men, played with frameworks and roles, and made a fool of myself trying to push out my chest and prove I was worthy — to prove I belonged in the company of men. And now I am left with few answers, only that growth is learned through experience. And that manhood is not something to be figured out, but lived.

In her 2010 book, The End of Men, Hanna Rosin asks what it would mean if “modern, post-industrial society is better suited to women.” Newsweek’s cover story two months later was titled, “Man Up!” and stated that the traditional male is an endangered species” and that it is time to “rethink masculinity.”

We know the male breadwinner is vanishing. Males comprise 80 percent of suicides and 94 percent of prison inmates. Boys, more than girls, are struggling in school. Boys are more likely to have ADHD, drop out of school, and choose not to go to college

Caught Between Extremes

Boys in many cultures are growing up with a direct experience of patriarchy both crumbling and being defended. New identities are emerging, but the transition is tense within this dialetic. There is corporate greed, cage fighting, and rollin’ coal. And there are “soft males” and ambivalence.

The synthesis is starting to become more evident in younger generations, and in movements like The Good Men Project and #HeForShe, I initiated a Men’s Group because I wanted to have honest conversations about these issues, and because I recognized that I needed intimacy with men. But I didn’t know how.

Transitioning from Roles to Principles

Intimacy between heterosexual men is not always an acceptable role. We are not supposed to show our “weakness,” doubts, or feelings. But intimacy requires all of this vulnerability. Stratified roles lead to soul trouble, and this one is no different. Bound by the concept of what it is to “be a man,” we sacrifice our own uniqueness and integrity in order to gain acceptance.

In order to move away from prescribed roles and the generational cycles of inheriting them, we need to embrace something different. Viewing the masculine as a principle, rather than a role or trait, allows anyone – man or woman – to embrace and embody the principle when needed in accordance with who he/she is. This provides freedom because it doesn’t need to look a certain way.

Transformative Axis

Tantric teacher Rudolph Ballentine brilliantly illustrates this principle with an added dimension. Masculine and feminine each also contain a yin and yang element. The transformative axis of the yin masculine and yang feminine balance the stabilizing axis of the yang masculine and yin feminine.

Transformative Axis Ballentine

Why is this significant? Our communities need these energies, and all of them exist within each of us. We don’t need balance as much as we need awareness. Boys need to learn the diversity that is within them rather than what it means to be a man.

Neither women nor men need men to be “men.” They need people who can be aware of the situation, aware of themselves, and aware of what energy is needed that derives from these (and many other) principles.

Accepting it All

I closed my reading from the inaugural Men’s Group with this:

For me, now is not the time to sit silently or disappear.

Now is not the time to let anger brew within me, a slow boil until there’s nothing left.

Now is not the time to let the power games and violence that men have brought to the world to continue to define who we are as men.

Now is the time to accept it all – the dark, the light, the masculine, the feminine – everywhere and within me.

Now is the time to acknowledge my fear, and lean into it bravely.

Now is the time to redefine power as that which brings life and well-being, not money and glory.

Now is the time to sit here with you and not have the questions answered but be willing to ask them.

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Thinking Too Much


“Thinking only begins at the point where we have come to know that Reason, glorified for centuries, is the most obstinate adversary of thinking.”

Martin Heidegger

There are two things I hear my mentor say most often: “Where’s your heart?” and “You seem to be thinking a lot.” We have been in relationship long enough that I immediately know what he means. I’m thinking too much. I’m in my head.

When I’m in my head, I enjoy life less, I’m less nimble and adaptive, less creative, and I’m less aware of people and energy. It’s not a “bad” state of being. In fact, my habitual way of being – relying on my analytical self – is necessary for survival.

From a very early age, I was told I was intelligent. Living in an age and place that values this intelligence – the ability to learn and synthesize knowledge – means that I was encouraged to rely on, demonstrate, and increase my own intelligence.

While I received accolades (especially from the systems that reward this intelligence), I became less attuned to the things that matter most to me. Relationships, with others and myself, did not develop as well as long as I focused on being or looking smart.

It’s not that the brightest and happiest people “think” less, they just depend less on their analytical thinking. Einstein and DaVinci are examples, as are many of the greatest innovators throughout time.

I know when I’m embodied, I am more alive and able to connect deeply with myself and others. The intuitive mind is not just in my head, it pervades my senses and flows through and around me. This is when I’m creative and have a capacity to sense “what is.” Sadly, it’s hard to stay there. I revert back to my habitual ways of diagnosing, explaining, and planning.

PlansSees Possibilities
DissectsSees Connectedness
VerbalizesSenses Energy
Has KnowledgeKnows

The analytical mind is a good thing, we’ve just become too dependent on it.

“The revolutionary thinker must go beyond thought.  He knows that almost all his best ideas come to him when thinking has stopped.”

Alan Watts

With all the challenges across the globe, we can’t think our way out of this. We have millions of intelligent people but are not solving climate change, poverty, violence, etc. It’s going to take more than our rational minds to bring about a better world.

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Why I am a Feminist

Symbiotic Growth by Jason Hallman and Stephen Stum

Symbiotic Growth by Jason Hallman and Stephen Stum

Diversity and symbiosis: Twin principles that allow eco-systems to thrive. – Otto Scharmer

I’ve been struggling with this post for days. I’m passionate about the topic, and yet it is so difficult to address in writing as a white American male. Women have been abused, manipulated, silenced, disregarded, dishonored, and dismissed by men for millennia. I am not responsible, but I am. This is why it is difficult to write.

I was on a call this fall listening to the perspectives of women who have been working in two of many male-dominated realms: the boardroom and technology. I found myself pacing, feeling horrified, angry, and awkward hearing their stories. While it was difficult to listen, I was not surprised. I hate the judgment my wife receives as a woman who owns a business.

Prejudice, Language, and Questioning

What am I to do with this?

The conversations around male advocacy have picked up steam but are complicated. My experience and privilege are different than a woman’s.  Still, I can listen, believe their experience, and speak up — especially to my son.

We all have prejudices. We are human, so we quietly (or loudly) form judgments based on what could potentially help or harm us. It’s unavoidable. We cannot rid ourselves of judgment. We can only bring our judgments into consciousness which may or may not cause them to slowly crumble based on our beliefs and values.

I can speak out against misogyny and obvious sexism, but there are many more subtleties that I often catch within myself. Some Concerned Feminists did a great job of bringing this to attention recently in the form of a workplace bingo card. Our language matters, and it reflects our own biases and prejudice.

Any time I assume a cultural default (female nurse, straight athlete, male carpenter, black rapper, etc.) in my language, my prejudices leak. Pronouns of presumption (the unknown boss is a “he”) collectively have an impact. When I’m aware of my assumptions, I have the opportunity to ask, “Where does this come from?” “Is it true?” “Does it match my values?”

Asking myself and others these questions is key to chipping away at the effects of prejudice. “Why do I want to hire him/her?” “Why did I use that word?” “Why did I choose that gift for my nephew or niece?” Asking these questions is not about political correctness, it’s about becoming more conscious.

The Value of Diversity

Why am I a feminist?

The diversity that exists in the world is a representation of the diversity that exists in me. Every time the world embraces more difference, we all have more freedom.

I applaud the many people doing the work of social justice in the world. We need people to point out inequality wherever it exists. My part is to bring the light of awareness to my own prejudices, own them, and take action. I am a feminist because I want to live in a world of equal opportunity where differences are respected and honored. I value diversity and believe that our complementarities are essential for well-being. We need difference in order to thrive.

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Personal Risks of Entrepreneurship


Stains by Ryan Hide is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I remember the feeling of that first contract in hand — a promise that an organization was going to pay me to “consult” rather than work for them.  Then the first invoice.  The first revenue.

After spending eight years working in the corporate world, and another four years in startup companies, I decided to start a business in 2009.  I was confident I could be successful, and excited to bring my experience and ideas into the world on my own terms.  I had six clients within fourteen months and I was definitely leaning into my own edge.

It felt as if I was a tea bag being submersed in boiling water with the aroma of possibility seeping out all around me.  My own enthusiasm was only matched by my fear.  What was my value?

I had started blogging in 2007.  When I become an entrepreneur, I mysteriously stopped.  Why, when I love to write, would I stop?

The thrill of starting a business captivates many of us.  It’s one reason entrepreneurs gather: to share the adrenaline rush of taking risks. What is discussed less is the fear.  I am not just a representative of “some company.” I am representing my idea, my team, or just me.  It’s very personal, regardless of whether I’m launching a life-changing product, or just carrying a bag into someone else’s office.

Perhaps I stopped writing because I like to control the risk.  By meeting prospective clients and partners face-to-face, I can discern what needs to be said and done.  “Putting myself out there” with words and ideas means those words and ideas could circulate outside of my purview.

Being a successful entrepreneur and hiding are not compatible.

Today I decided to take some more risks.

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