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What you tell others matters

In an absurd world, it means a lot when we as adults do even one thing that expresses who we truly are and what we can be and stand for.

Source: The Nuclear Freeze Movement, by John Carl Baker

I was on the BART train the other day with my mom, and I told her how important it was for me that she had been a part of the Nuclear Freeze Movement in the early 1980’s. At the time I was in middle school. I remember her heading out some evenings to attend meetings.

Now, from an adult’s perspective, she has always dismissed her efforts as insubstantial. But to a child, they seemed significant. Coming up in a world where lots of things didn’t make any sense at all; where the grownups seemed to be going against many of the fundamental tenets of their own morality; it mattered a lot that she was going to that.

The Nuclear Freeze campaign was a mass movement in the United States during the 1980s to secure an agreement between the U.S. and Soviet governments to halt the testing, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons. The movement quickly gained enormous public support and, together with antinuclear allies abroad, played a key role in curbing the nuclear arms race and preventing nuclear war.

Wikipedia

The story I told myself about her efforts was that she was breaking from the normal flow of life to do something in service of the Earth and humanity. In my mind she was a warrior for the planet. She helped me to create an archetype of showing up for the things that mattered.

She has continued to do these things. Since retiring from teaching, she has helped to found and run Fossil Free California, a small group that has successfully managed to push forward several pieces of legislation in the state, and put pressure on California pension funds. (She downplays that too; I think it’s part of our legacy.)

The point is that what were perhaps small acts to an adult really meant a ton to a child. In an absurd world, it means a lot when we as adults do even one thing that expresses who we truly are and what we can be and stand for.

A few years later—at 17—I just sort of “happened” to be staying in a cheap room near Paddington Station (by myself), and when I walked out into the street, I found myself joining streams of protesters emerging from the West. It was one of the largest anti-nuclear demonstrations in British history. Some sweet people from Wales invited me to join them. It felt very meaningful.

I think the point of making this note is that it really matters what we all do—not just adults to young people, but all of us.

1999 Ant-WTO protests

The stories we tell each other about what’s possible (or not possible) are infectious. Don’t lose a chance to tell others a story about what’s possible. And don’t let your small and fearful self (“oh, it’s not really that much”) stop you from telling everyone a story that lets us all become more and more of who we truly are.

Notes from early 2019 Climate Strike in San Francisco
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Components of social action (from So Be It Club)

This was from our podcast that is mostly casual conversations. I thought it said a lot of good things (in 18 minutes) on how to do social action properly to effect changes.

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We come full circle

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Your own personal philosophy of what makes you happy and what’s worth doing

Don’t be on your deathbed someday, having squandered your one chance at life, full of regret because you pursued little distractions instead of big dreams. You need to know your personal philosophy of what makes you happy and what’s worth doing.

Derek Sivers, Anything You Want

This is from one of my favorite business books. By an accidental businessperson. He is one of the most thoughtful, insightful people I know.

It is very calming to listen to him. Derek Sivers on the Tim Ferris podcast.

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The perils of “follow your passion”

This is from the wonderful podcast WorkLife by Adam Grant, where he shares very clever ideas about how to make work rewarding.

In it, he quotes Angela Duckworth:

I like the passion part… but I don’t love the “follow” part. It sounds like it’s out there and you just have to discover it, and if you don’t feel like you have passion for your work, you missed it somehow or you have to keep looking for it, as if it were a whole thing and not something that gradually develops over time and I think that’s actually the better verb, that you should develop your passion, not follow it.

Well, this is exactly what I thought, and lots of vision-minded, caring and thoughtful friend after college, in early-90’s San Francisco. Now, I can see how this story might not have given me the best strategy.

I love people like Adam Grant, because he’s always thinking and looking beyond what’s assumed. He uses the framework of “looking at the data,” but you can also do this by being a more thoughtful observer.

I had to figure out for myself what my story was going to be, and I plucked “follow your passion” out of the air because it appealed to my sensibilities. It was a given; but implied in that was a story (probably gotten from Hollywood movies) that passionate, exceptional people should do special, unique things, and so I should hold out for those unique things, otherwise I’d be subsumed by an uncaring world of mindless automatons. I actually spent years with the hidden idea that there was this one great thing I would do that would make me so happy that it would “remove all my problems”. I really did. It took a long time to realize that you can feel satisfied for many different reasons in work, and you don’t actually know what’s going to make you happy.

And as the podcast points out, happiness can be emergent; it can be generated by giving yourself to something. So, how can you know what will generate it, before you put yourself into something and find out? I now feel that all of life is emergent—that is, the Universe doesn’t “know” exactly what our path is “supposed to be”. There is no one answer; we are life, figuring it out, once again. Through the doing, discovering, and living.

The story that there was this one great “thing” I was meant to do probably kept me from understanding this emergent thing. Now, I actually do spend a lot of my time doing things where I feel quite useful and having a lot of fun (though there are many other ways in which I’d still like to tweak that). But none of it looks like a movie; and it really doesn’t matter if “the world” knows about it. It matters if my world knows about it.

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Space

Space is so important. Even with the most brilliant of ideas, it’s the space that someone creates, to allow it to come in, that makes it valuable.

The value of an act of communication (web page; poem; slide presentation; class) is successful when it meets the viewer—in his or her body, embodied presence, sensory experience—in such a way that the interplay of space and transmission of ideas goes in, intermixing with the minds of the audience, causing change that is deemed helpful.

We put so much attention on the content. And while that is important, the space around it must be equally important. Maybe this would be one of the things that could happen in (quietness cafes)—tea is served, the rippling of the waterfall in the background, a lovely breeze blows through, and after a requisite pause the speaker delivers his communication. The entire thing was part of the communication. (How could it not be?)

A cultural baseline is assumed when one puts out any media. Perhaps it’s a given level of patience; the ability to read the language, of course; the right amount of the right kind of attention, priming, readiness. All of this matters. The right skill is to be tuned in to the reality around us. The social reality, and how the realities of weather, space, circumstances, all surround us.

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Post 1

I’ve spent the last 30 years kinda struggling to see exactly what my role in this whole thing was supposed to be. After years of work, study, wondering, and trying to see how I could make a difference, I kept getting the same, simple message:

Just do this.

A dream I had this May, told it to me simply: Just climb to the top of a hill, and start broadcasting. What you are already doing, means something. Will mean something to people.

And in truth, what I do often does seem meaningful to people. But when I’d try to think about putting it out there, there was always some reason why it wasn’t quite ready. It’s taken a while to realize that what I do naturally is “my thing”. That’s what I’m here to do.

Just turn on the radio tower… I was at the top of a high hill, in a small radio station. There was nobody to broadcast, and I was supposed to do it.

So I am here… turning on the broadcast.