Posts Tagged ‘social consciousness’

I’ve written two posts (here and here) on “That Used to Be Us:  How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back” by Thomas Friedman and Michalel Mandelbaum.  As promised, here’s a post about some of the solutions Friedman and Mandelbaum propose.

First, I have to just  say – the book is FANTASTIC on outlining what’s wrong.  If you feel America is headed in the wrong direction and need some facts, figures and talking points this is a great resource.  Like some of Friedman’s other books the description of the problem can feel almost overwhelming at time.

As I focus for 2012 (Create. Positive. Change.) I remind myself to get out of despair/anger and into solutions.  This post will cover solutions proposed for the first of the four major areas of challenges that the book addresses:

  1. How to adapt to Globalization
  2. Hot to adjust to the IT revolution
  3. How to cope with the large and soaring budget deficits
  4. How to manage a world of both rising energy consumption and rising climate threats

For Globalization – in essence, the antidote is education.  On page 19 he quotes Charles Vest, former president of MIT who said:

“..it requires a public awakening, establishment of political will, resetting of priorities, sacrifice for the future, and an alliance of governments, businesses and citizens. … Engineering, education, science, and technology are clearly within the core of what has to be done.  After all, this is the knowledge age.  The United States cannot prosper based on low wages, geographic isolation, or military might.  We can prosper only based on brainpower: properly prepared and properly applied brainpower.”

He again emphasizes the importance of science and math on page 100:

“Because of the merger of globalization and the IT revolution, raising math, science, reading and creativity levels in American schools is the key determinant of economic growth, and economic growth is the key to national power and influence as well as individual well-being.”

  • We need to close the educational gap between whites and minorities – we need “all hands on deck”
  • Tony Wegner, from Harvard, argues that we should “create a West Point for would-be teachers and principals”


Use these lessons from Colorado:

  1. Pay teachers for results and watch what happens!
  2. Reward the best teachers and then pay them to teach their methods to others
  3. Base tenure on performance, not seniority
  4. If reductions in force are needed do it based on effectiveness, not seniority
  5. Let principles hire their own teachers.  “That is, the school district cannot take ineffective teachers, whom no school wants to hire, and force them on a school.  Teachers who are not hired by any school on their merits after one year get released.”

There are other things WE can do to help:

  • Support effective teachers as a community.  Money isn’t the only reward – Washington, DC does an event called “A Standing Ovation for D.C. Teachers” (p 118)
  • Push politicians to make educational reform a priority.
  • Get who the real competition is – it’s not the other middle school in your town, but the middle school in Shanghai or Seoul against which you should compare your children’s school
  • Expect more of your children or the kids in your life.  I love this line:  “American young people have got to understand from an early age that the world pays off on results, not on effort.” (p 125).  Amen!
  • Get involved – ACTIVELY involved in your kids education and learning.
  • Read to your kids and have lots of books in your home:  “children growing up in homes with many books get 3 years more schooling than children from bookless homes, independent of their parents’ education, occupation, and class.” (p 127)
  • “At precisely the moment when we need more education to bring the bottom up to the average and the American average up to the global peaks, our students are spending more time texting and gaming and less time than ever studying and doing homework.  Unless we get them to spend the time needed to master a subject, all the teacher training in the world will go for naught.” (p 129)

Those are just a few suggestions from one chapter – the book is full of ideas that could each spawn a movement.

The statistics and anecdotes they provided about how VERY far behind America is educationally scared me a lot. I don’t have kids, but I have nieces and nephews and now a lot of grandnieces and grandnephews.  I want a better future for them.  If you have kids you love, consider providing them with encouragement, inspiration, books and resources.  Push them to get results – it’s so important for them and for America.


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It’s Wednesday, so it’s Community day here at Taking it to the Streets.

You might recognize the title – it’s a quote from Karl Marx.  Like Jesus, he said radical things that have gotten woefully twisted into bizarre aberrations of the speakers intent.  And like Jesus, if you take his words at face value they make a lot of sense, right?

I’ve just come through a powerful few months where the power of community felt life-changing.  When my not-then-yet-46-year-old friend Becky got diagnosed with liver and bone cancer in October I initially felt helpless. She and her partner Annemarie have been close, cherished friends of mine.  They’re also enough younger than me so that my protective Big Sister genes seem to get triggered.  Now there was Big Trouble brewing (way worse than when the neighbor kid smashed my brother’s head into the frozen snow – I KNEW what to do about that – beat the hell out of that kid!).  No easy answers. What to do?

“from each according to their abilities”.  My dad said when I became  a Life Coach “Diane, I just don’t get this one on one work for you – since you were three years old you’ve been in front of a group of kids saying “C’mon, kids, follow me!”. Tis true.  And, like my mother I tend to like to communicate. A lot.

So my abilities lay in organizing a way for us to communicate and quickly form a community – Facebook! From there we could easily organize to meet the other needs our friends had with a wide group of community members (our FB page, Becky & Annie’s Support Team, currently has 275 members).

We could ask for help (We need healthy dinners.  We need someone to walk their dog.  We need a ride for Becky to another hospital.  We need a wheelchair.) – and someone who COULD do this, and was WILLING to do it, would spring forth. 

Most of us are way busy already.  Many had husbands, wives, partners and/or kids, pets or several of the above for whom to care. Some had cancer themselves.  We all have very different skills. And likes/dislikes.

I found that the hands-on nursing care in Becky’s last two days of life was not something I felt comfortable with – no matter – we had others who willingly jumped in.  We each gave from our hearts, from our abilities, what we were able to give and (hopefully) no more. 

I am a big fan of technology – it’s how I’ve made my living on and off since 1981 and in my personal life while I’m very much a minimalist about the material world, I am NOT a minimalist about my electronics as they provide me a gateway to the Internet and thus to the world. 

Like with the revolution in Egypt (was that cool or what??) technology was both an enabler of our efforts and an expediter.  We got tech support from my nephew in Atlanta, contributions to our fund from Alaska, words of encouragement from London.  People who didn’t know Becky & Annie personally, but knew one of us, joined the tribe. It was my first-cousin-once-removed, Michele, who suggested we set up a monetary fund to help defray costs – she lives in Albany, NY, doesn’t know Becky or Annie and barely knows me.  Technology enabling community and community enabling healing.

We’re using our Support page now to stay together as a community for the fundraiser one of the people on the team volunteered to set up.  I suspect we’ll stay together after that – at least for a while as we walk through our own grief and try to do whatever we can to assuage Annie’s grief.

How about you?  Has the Internet in general, Facebook in particular, helped you create community?  Do you see instances, maybe at your church/mosque/synagogue or community groups where Karl Marx’s dictum is working pretty well?  I’d love to hear about YOUR experiences of community.

We’re stronger together.  a lot stronger.

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Building on yesterday’s post here’s my initial proposal to start a TRUE revolution in this country.  The America I grew up in was the leader of the world in virtually all measures – not a plutocracy, with people’s day-to-day quality of life falling behind. I think we can use the Army of the Unemployed to turn this ship of state around.  Please dialogue with me – this is simply an initial offering.


  • LifeSchool – learning what we REALLY need to know; each one teach one
  • BodyShop – real HEALTH with CARE – taking back our bodies, not turning them over to BigPharma
  • Earth Forces (the REAL “Green {Hats}”)
  • S.O.S. – Save Our Society

Program overview

We all have talents and abilities.  The unemployed, the retired and the generous have time to donate.  There are ghost-towns of empty buildings available.  Instead of “wasting time in the unemployment lines, standing around waiting for a promotion” (nod to Tracy Chapman); instead of waiting for the government or (imho, worse yet) the corporations or the rich – let’s roll up OUR shirtsleeves ala Greg Mortenson and turn this ship around.  So this is all about things regular people could do by, for and with each other (remember the Gettysburg Address).  OUR country – not the rich people’s or the corporations (or, to give a nod to my friends on the right – of the government).


Let’s set up free schools with volunteer teachers and administrators (or – someone who can write grants, write a grant to get money for building space and a SchoolMom/SchoolDad – someone to organize the thing).  “each one teach one” – people who know things can teach people who want to learn those things.  I see 5 initial curriculum:

  • Strengthening your Self (personal skills, including a tie-in to BodyShop)
  • Strengthening your Relationships – relationships of all kinds:  parenting classes, negotiating skills, marriage-strengthening, getting along at work, etc.
  • Work and Money Skills – Create your own job, find a job, job skills, money 101, investment classes, frugality, buying a house, anti-foreclosure classes
  • LifeSkills – cooking, plumbing, fix your car, write a grant, gardening, etc.
  • Save the World – getting beyond yourself to help your community, the world, how to make a difference, setting up your own Grameen-Bank-like skill/money co-op, etc.

BodyShop (REAL Health CARE – taking charge of your own health)

  • Natural Healing classes of all kinds (herbs, Chinese medicine, ayurveda, first aid)
  • Fitness Camp – personal training you can do at home with very little equipment or info about cheap gyms, etc.  Free classes (spin, aerobics, circuit training)
  • Food & Nutrition – cover basics, nutritional defense for specific diseases, build your immune system, fast and easy nutritious meals, eating healthfully when you’re broke, good food for people who don’t like to cook, etc.
  • Cooking classes – beyond just educating – big kitchen, group cooking, hands-on fix a meal.  Use Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution idea – learn a meal, then teach your neighbor.  Eating healthfully, inexpensively with meals that are tasty and easy/fast to prepare.
  • Emotional Health – things YOU can do to help with what ails you – EFT, support groups, exercise, nutrition, mentoring

EarthForces (Green Baseball Hats? – smile and nod to the other Greenhat guys…)

  • Classes on sustainability
  • Green your home
  • Habitat-for-Humanity like group to focus on weatherizing homes for the poor, elderly, infirm, etc.
  • Johnny Appleseed Corps – tree planting  – help people, public spaces, unused land – fill it with trees
  • WaterWorks – water conservation – from in your house to in your country – water action!
  • Garden Guerrillas – turn this land into food  – teach gardening, encourage community gardens, ask to put gardens in unused land, etc.

S.O.S. – Save our Society

  • Take back Food:  localvorism, CSAs, food co-ops.  Move AWAY from the industrial agriculture that is killing us and is outrageously inhumane to animals.
  • Take back Money:  Buy local! Say no to Big Box stores
  • Take back Money, Part 2:  barter economy, skill banks, stop outsourcing your life

What’s Next?

Your “yes, we can” ideas.  I’m sure some of you have 100 “that will never work” ideas, which you are welcome to ponder while we move into action ala Greg Mortenson.

What I’m interested in:

  • Feedback on these ideas
  • YOUR ideas – what else can the army of unemployed, under-employed, retired or generous folks do with their ‘spare’ time?
  • Interested folks.  You don’t have to be local.  I somewhat suspect Chicago is not the only town that could use an initiative like this.  Start a school/movement/group in YOUR town!
  • But if you are local and would be interested in seeing what we could collectively create let me know – send an email to lifeschool.chicago@gmail.com

“We can change the world.  Rearrange the world.  It’s dying.” (nod to CSNY for lyrics, nod to YOU for wanting to change the world).

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I just finished reading Greg Mortenson’s “Three Cups of Tea” about his extensive work in building school for girls in remote, rural Pakistan and Afghanistan.  What an inspiring book!  I DO hope he gets  a Nobel Peace Prize – surely he deserves one.

For those of you who haven’t read the book, Greg went from being broken, lost, and with a huge sense of failure with little help or direction.  From those very dismal beginnings he has made a HUGE impact on the lives of tens (hundreds?) of thousands of poor girls and has been a force for peace and understanding.

I finished the book the night before last and then this morning heard on some snippet on the radio that the average length of unemployment in this country is now 33+ weeks – the longest ever recorded.

That juxtapositioning has stayed with me. 

Awhile back my friend Mary Anderson noted that there surely MUST be something that the army of unemployed can do to change the world as they await employment.

This idea continues to percolate for me.  Today my friend Diane Shak is working on an all-women crew building a Habitat for Humanity house.  People with a little time on their hands (employed or not) making a big difference in the world – and a HUGE difference for the family who will end up in that house.

Can we talk about this?  How can the folks who are unemployed and discouraged band together and change the world while still attending to their own pressing need – to get work that PAYS so they can meet their own needs? 

I will continue to let this percolate – but I sense that it is YOU GUYS who have some deciding ideas that can do for  the US what Greg Mortenson has done for rural Pakistan and Afghanistan.

And by the way – if you haven’t read Three Cups of Tea- do.  It’s positively inspiring, well-written, and very very hopeful.

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Last night before bed I did a quick check of the news online and saw the story about Tyler Clementi, the young man at Rutgers University who just committed suicide after two fellow students surreptitiously videotaped him having sex with another man.

I couldn’t sleep last night and Tyler kept coming to mind. I felt haunted by his suffering.  I prayed for the repose of his soul and for his family, a lot.

And as bad as this is by itself, it’s worsened as it comes on the heels of a 13-year-old boy in California, Seth Walsh, who committed suicide last week after being taunted for being gay.

I was a gay teenager back in the pre-Stonewall era and I can tell you it was NOT a cakewalk.  You’d think 41 years after the Stonewall Rebellion kicked off the Gay Liberation movement that things would be better for gay youth, but in some ways I wonder if it’s even harder with cyber-bullying being added to the ways to ostracize gay youth.

But this post isn’t about being gay.

It’s about cruelty and kindness.

One of the bumper stickers on my car says “Compassion is the radicalism of our time. – The Dalai Lama”  Seems like.

And just like with BP and the burning turtles – I can point my finger and blame someone else (these kids who torment their gay classmates, the schools and society for not doing more, etc.).  Or I can do two other things:

 – Look for ways to make a positive impact in the life of those who suffer, and particularly for gay teens, a group close to my heart.  This is something I’ve said I’d do for years and I haven’t.  Maybe it’s gotten to be time.

I can look in the mirror.  Look for where I have been unkind, or, God forbid, cruel.  Look for where I’ve turned the other way when someone needed kindness.  Look for opportunities I’ve walked away from to lighten the load in the lives of others who were suffering.  But more than just calling myself out for my transgressions, I can vow to be a force for good.  The Dalai Lama also said “Kindness is my religion.”  I can stand by that.

Tonight I’ll try to find it in my heart to pray for the young man & young woman who put the video of Tyler on the Internet (the impetus, seemingly, for his suicide). I’ll try to remember that they too need kindness. 

And along with this wisdom from the Dalai Lama I’ll take to my prayer time the reminder from Gandhi to “be the change you wish to see in the world.”  May all beings be well.  May all beings be happy.  May all beings be at peace.

And Tyler and Seth – may you rest in peace. And may your families be comforted.

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I’ve been so saddened and upset by the rancorous, fearful shunning of both Muslims and Mexican immigrants that I hear all around me these days.  If only it were just “out there” – in the “gotta-make-a-buck-so-let’s-sensationalize-EVERYTHING media.  But alas, people I know – GOOD people, seemingly kind people, often purportedly religious or spiritual people – send me anti-Muslim emails.  Or post things on their Facebook pages cheering on the mean-spirited racist law in Arizona targeting Mexicans (really – have you heard of the illegal Polish or Irish immigrants – of whom there are PLENTY – being arrested or harassed?).

I saw an article the other day that compared our current anti-Muslim hysteria to the internment of Japanese-Americans (who were American citizens, as you’ll recall) during World War II.  One of my friends was not even aware of this – a part of our history that we’ve shamefacedly downplayed, I suppose.  I pointed out to her that in WWII we had two enemies (3, I guess if you count the Fascist regime in Italy).  So we locked up American citizens of Japanese descent on the West Coast – fearing a Japanese invasion and their possible collusion.  But we did NOT do the same to German-Americans (note:  Largest ethnic group in the US = German-Americans) on the East Coast.  If there is a reason beyond racism and that it’s easier to “see” that someone is Japanese rather than German, I don’t know it.  And I would argue that whatever other reasons are put forward racism and fear were the predominant reasons.

So too with Mexican immigrants.  I would argue that here in Chicago Polish illegal immigrants are likely as numerous as Mexican ones. If you’ve had home repair work done or your house cleaned you may have second-hand hired such folks.  Or if you work in an office building that gets cleaned at night – those invisible bathroom-cleaning sprites are likely Polish immigrants and I so very doubt that they are all “legal”.  But they are white.  So they apparently do not pose the same threat to our economic well-being as the brown-skinned people who do our yard work in the middle of the heat of summer or bus our tables when we go out to eat.

With Muslims it gets even more complicated.  My friend Bill told me yesterday that he had read that most Arab-Americans are actually Christian. And most Muslims in this country are from India, Pakistan and North Africa (and I would add that I believe there is a growing African-American Muslim community dating back to the time of Malcolm X). 

Even if you believe that it was Al Qaeda ONLY who were behind the 9/11 attacks on America (I personally think that is a simplistic, reductionist view, but I recognize it is the majority view), blaming all Muslims for that action is like equating all Irish-Americans or Irish nationals with the IRA.  It’s absurd. And racist.  And fear-based.

September 12, 2001 I went to Barnes & Noble and bought a copy of the Qur’an/Koran and in that next week I read the whole thing. Since the media was blaming the attack on the ‘violence’ of Islam, I wanted to see for myself.  Like the Old Testament, it’s a mixed bag- there is plenty of smiting and a sometimes violent (and to me, at times capricious) God involved.  And there are even more reminders to live a good life, to be kind, to be loving.  Actually, I think there is way more of the latter in the Qur’an than in the Old Testament.

Reading that holy book in such a charged time brought me a few revelations.  The first was quite personal – a deeper understanding of what a total radical Jesus was.  What has been said and done in his name has struck me as so often offensive that I don’t think I had a good understanding of  how totally revolutionary his message was – not only in the time/place in which it occurred, but now.

The second was a reminder of how “religion” like “patriotism” are both used by the power elite and the media who serve them to corral the public.  How wrapping people’s fear in the flag or the cross are used to justify meanness at the least and state-sanctioned terrorism (the Japanese internment being one such example) at the worst.

I understand that people are very fearful now and I understand that without a broader view or strong spiritual underlying principles how that makes sense – the fear. 

And when we’re fearful it’s comforting in some primordial way to have someone to blame.  Things will be better if only we can eradicate THEM.  We don’t look at our own darkness, or our own power – but seek to “make it go away” by blaming the other.  And it’s so much easier if the other doesn’t LOOK like us, for then when we hold up the mirror (as we surely must) we can fool ourselves into the “not like me” self-righteous bullshit that so serves the power structure. 

For if we really wanted to look at the state of America today it would not be illegal immigrants or Muslims we’d have to call out.  And so the true villains – which, perforce includes every single one of us to some degree, and most assuredly includes the power structure – distract us with “Look! over there! there’s the bad guys.”

There was an article this morning on www.cnn.com – that was in response to the obscenity of the Glenn Beck rally yesterday (which I did not read as it seemed an apologia for the right-wing – yes, I should broaden my perspective but at least not before breakfast) but it’s title struck me “U.S. was born a Christian nation”. 

I would challenge that writer and others who call themselves Christian.  Not on the title – for the U.S. WAS founded precisely because of the strong desire for religious freedom – and it WAS founded by people from the Christian tradition.

But I would ask them to go back and reread THEIR book (and I would suggest a quick read of the Qur’an as well).  Who would Jesus shun?  Do you think he’d be hanging out with Jan Brewer? Or Mexicans huddled around their family table, after a long day in the fields?  Does it seem to you that he would be rallying people to preach hate?  Would Jesus hang out with Fred Phelps?  Glenn Beck? 

Or would he be helping Muslims in Dearborn Michigan? 

Where is the “religious” right  – where are ANY religious leaders – speaking out on religious freedom?  Who is standing for the oppressed?  Who is reminding us to “love one another, as my father has loved you?” 

With the most recent incident of receiving an anti-Muslim email from a person I know to be good occurred, rather than delete it (or worse, delete her from my life) I chose to write to her. I nabbed a copy of the image of the “Coexist” bumper sticker I love (with symbols of the world’s great religions built into the word). I simply titled my email response “No one religion is “right” or “wrong” – we are all one (and scare tactics —– who benefits??)”

So I ask you today – whatever YOUR religion, or lack thereof – who would Jesus shun?  What would Buddha suggest we do about “the Muslim threat” or “illegal immigrants”?  And while my knowledge of Judaism is woefully weak, the thing I like most about it, learned from my Jewish friends, is the culture of welcoming strangers into community.  Would a truly observant Jew shun her Muslim neighbor?  Or invite her in? 

Religion is being dressed up to look like the Big Bad Wolf at the door – distracting us from the ‘men in the shadows’ who are wearing Armani suits and don’t live in caves in Pakistan – they live in suburbs of DC – or in your town.

Who benefits from this divisiveness and mean-spiritedness?  I can assure you definititively – NOT YOU.

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This morning I’m trying to reconcile the difference between the lady in South Carolina who murdered her two little boys and Seth Godin.

I was thinking of Shaquan Duley (the mom) last night.  How when I heard what she had done it gave me chills – and I felt appalled. Then when I saw her picture on the Internet how it just filled me with sadness.  I must confess, I’m hypersensitive enough so that stories like this upset me too much and so I don’t know many details.  What I do know is that her picture told me a whole lot. about pain, despair and hopelessness.

Then this morning I read Seth Godin’s superb blog about actively seeking inspiration, rather than passively waiting for it to alight on your shoulder.  I thought of all the great inspiring people whom I read (books, blogs, Facebook ‘fan pages’) – people like Marianne Williamson, Wayne Dyer, Sonia Choquette, Wayne Muller, the Dalai Lama – on and on.

What do they have in common – Shaquan and Seth? 

That’s the point – what I’m mulling over.

Years ago I read Richard Bach’s book One in which he talks about “The City of Love and The City of Hate” – that there are differing realities.  His posit is that we can choose which one to inhabit.  I certainly believe that for those of us who have some modicum of emotional/spiritual/financial foundations and the attendant safety nets of family/spiritual community/community.

But is that true for Shaquan?

This week in my upper-middle-class suburb a 17-year-old boy committed suicide – stepping in front of a commuter train right near our high school’s football field (which the school calls “the field of dreams” – hmm….).  His foundations would seem to have been far richer, in all senses than Shaquan’s.  But his despair rivalled hers, it would seem.

If people don’t know about The City of Love, or don’t believe it is REALLY there, or that they are worthy of entrance, the  City of Hate looks like the only alternative – that, or death.

How can we provide a map?

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