Create Something Beautiful

“Give me one wild word, and I promise I will follow. The word the Sea rolled back to me was “mosaic.” I began to see through acts of witnessing, that the extermination of a species and the extermination of a people are predicated on the same impulses: prejudice, cruelty, ignorance and arrogance, all circling around issues of power and justice. The world is broken. We are broken, whether it is through our distractive, fragmented lives or war. Taking that which is broken and creating something whole is an act of healing and restoration. Call it reconstruction. Mosaic: an art form, a form of integration. Finding beauty in a broken world is creating beauty in the world we find. It is more than the act of assemblage, it is the act of daring contemplation that leads us to action. To bear witness is not a passive act. To be present with a piece of art, with a prairie community, with a Rwandan mother who is telling you a story of what happened to her children during the war, is to be moved to a different point of view. Empathy is the word that comes to mind. Through acts of witnessing our consciousness shifts and as a result, we can choose to act differently. Pete Seeger says, “Participation is the key to rescuing the human race.” I believe him. I certainly do not have any recipe for engagement, I can only share three things that have made a difference for me. Trust your heart, follow your passion and share it with others. Become biologically literate — learn the names of the plants, birds, and animals where you live, extending your notion of community to include all life. Become part of that community with all the rights and responsibilities that it offers, both human and wild. We can improvise. We can create without a map. And we don’t have to live in isolation. The gift of an attentive life is the ability to recognize patterns, and find our way towards a unity built on empathy. Empathy becomes the path that leads us from the margins to the center of concern. The pattern is the thing. The beauty made belongs to everyone. Finding beauty in a broken world becomes more than the art of assemblage. It is the work of daring contemplation that inspires action. Create something beautiful.” – Terry Tempest  

Hope I Don’t Die

My friend Nick sent me a powerful video essay on the Western ethos of war. Incredibly moving four-minutes. Hard to watch this film and not be changed. (You can view the film on its homepage here.) The line was continually blurred between perpetrator and victim, between hero and villain. In time, the labels that heretofore defined my perceptions of the world became meaningless. You see what you want to see. You see it the way you want to see it. You see what you can bear to see. – Peter van Agtmael The structure of the current global economy is not designed for equitable, plodding growth; it’s designed to reward opportunistic, risk-seeking innovators. Were one to construct an investment portfolio of illicit businesses, it would no doubt outperform Wall Street. – Nils  

Favorite TED Talks 2010

Great to see Bill Gates taking global energy seriously. In fact, he publicly stated from the TED stage last week what I’ve been saying since 2003:  energy is this century’s greatest structural issue. Fellow TED’ster Richard Branson went public this week with a similar clarion call. Worldchanging founder Alex Steffan, whom I spoke with at length, calls this “the most important climate speech of the year.” Sir Ken Robinson defined once again the highest art of public speaking. TED curator, Chris Anderson, noted after Ken’s talk that he may be the only person who can break all the TEDTalk rules – and we love him for it. Robinson focused on why education needs to change from an industrial model to an agricultural model. I think the same can be said of religion. Echoes of Wendell Berry. Mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot took us through a stunning visualization of design simplicity, in the form of fractals. I had a chance to spend some time with Benoit at TED, discussing emergence theory in light of fractal geometry and the Mandelbrot set. The music at TED this year was stunning: David Byrne (who also gave a TEDTalk), Thomas Dolby, and Natalie Merchant melted us with a brand new suite of songs based on romantic poets from the last 100 years. Cheryl Crow showed up, but probably shouldn’t have. Not much there musically. Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon and family, and other musicians were soaking up the TED experience, but not there to perform. Oh, and ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro captivated everyone. I’ve never heard a uke played with such subtlety – a true master of the instrument. I understand he gave impromptu concerts back in the lobby of the TED hotel. Anyone who takes the stage at TED is unpaid, including the invited musicians. Drawing from the field of Behavioral Economics, Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman presented what amounted to an intellectual foundation for our activist social-media site Compathos.com. Dan asks, “when we return from a vacation, do the memories we bring back have intrinsic value?” Compathos (still in beta) seeks to realign the concept of “vacation” as a proactive event in which we aid or assist our destination with skills we possess (medical, engineering, skilled labor, crafts, etc..) and in doing so, we become deeply changed – bringing back to our own communities a new perspective, a new heart, and transformed motivations – far more than a traditional vacation memory. Sam Harris gave a surprisingly engaging talk. Rather than rehashing his views on atheism, Harris focused on finding an objective framework for morality and ethics. I’m reminded of Arthur C. Clarke, who said “one of the great tragedies of mankind is that morality has been hijacked by religion.” Kevin Bales presented a detailed, moving account of global slavery. It’s Kevin’s academic work that gave us the estimate of 27 million slaves worldwide. His work in slavery has effectively paved the way for most of today’s anti-slave efforts. I was honored to have lunch with Kevin after TED ended on Saturday – what a truly amazing man. Game designer Jane McGonigal sees video gaming as a core solution to many of today’s social problems. Don’t laugh – her TEDTalk is a must-watch. Brilliant. Cell biologist Mark Roth is onto something big. He’s discovered a way to put biological systems into suspended animation. Using his techniques, people who would otherwise die from serious trauma on the battlefield, in car accidents, etc.. can be placed into suspension (heart and breathing stopped – effectively dead) for hours without tissue damage while they are transported to a trauma center. Jaw dropping. Entertainer Sarah Silverman reminded me of those shallow and bawdy Las Vegas night club comedians from my parent’s era (Redd Foxx, etc..). With kids sharing the live TED experience both in Long Beach and virtual associates worldwide, this was not a wise choice. Live and learn. But many of the best talks were those that happened between sessions, in the halls, in the social spaces, at the lunches, and dinners, and parties, and spontaneous gatherings that define the TED experience. To elaborate on all the amazing, emotive, high-energy, a-ha! conversations I had this year might sound like name-dropping, so I’ll spare you the details. I go to TED to get energized, inspired, challenged, and awestruck by and with amazing people doing amazing things. I spend a week of my life here to renew a sense of childlike wonder and remind myself that I’m not crazy – that there are others who dare to dream big. ADDED:  Eighteen-year TED veteran Jack Meyers captures the scope and nuance of a TED Conference in his Huffington Post essay ADDED: Scoble’s excellent summary of attending TED ADDED: Overview of Bill Gates’ energy talk, at  

Life on the Virtual Frontier

New Frontline documentary by Douglass Rushkoff on the benefits and dangers of connective technologies. About 80 min and well worth your time. I especially like Sherry Turkle’s interviews. Sherry is among the world’s foremost experts on human-machine interface, with 30 years as MIT professor. Sherry and I were on panels together at Renaissance in Charleston last month – we had some really great conversations.  

Wired to Contribute

Israeli orchestral conductor Itay Talgam tells the story of Italy’s La Scala opera, a 700-person creative community who felt smothered by artistic director Ricardo Muti’s strong top-down leadership style. In a letter to Muti, the community complained “you are not letting us develop as musicians. You are using us as instruments, not as partners. We need a leader who leads without controlling us.” Creatives are wired to contribute. Creatives aspire to have their voices play a constructive role in community formation and direction, including (especially) religious community. Great orchestra conductors become conduits for this individual creativity to flourish. An intentional virtual network is like a well-led orchestra with every player listening carefully to the ensemble while contributing their individual part. Religious / clergy-based leadership (or, for that matter, any vertical leadership model) can often behave like an overbearing conductor, not partnering with the orchestra but managing and controlling the musical conversation. Talgam concludes, “The worst damage I can inflict on my orchestra is to give them a clear instruction, for it prevents the sectional ensembles from listening to each other.” The Internet is not simply an incremental enhancement to inherited forms of community. It is — like La Scala’s creative community — a confrontation, a protest, a demand, an awakening. Global networking facilitates an entirely new form of engaged people. When a radical new technology appears, things that were previously impossible start occurring (Jenkins, Kelly, Shirky, etc.). If enough of those impossible things happen with increasing frequency — as is happening today with the meteoric rise of human connectivity — the change becomes a revolution. The global-virtual community is listening to each other “moving their focus away from the podium, the institution, the isolated expert — towards a harmonious collective of the  

Playing to a Legacy

Renny Gleeson shares, …[those who] survive and prosper recognize that rejecting the technosphere or attempting to dam it will simply reroute its flow to more viable channels – and their only chance to lead is having those channels pumping through their doors. Innovation and capital will go where opportunity exists. I was at the Seattle “Museum of Flight”, and a particular plaque caught my attention in the ‘space’ display wing. In the ‘history of rocketry’ section, a note mentioned that two thirds of Nazi Germany’s physicists and half its physical chemists fled the Nazi’s ethnic and political policies – fueling Western leaps that resulted in the Atom bomb and (eventually, once the Peenemunde scientists were added to the mix) space travel. They played to a legacy, and sacrificed their future. Government restriction will drive innovation – at home, to circumvent such restriction, and abroad through migration of human capital and resources. Survival is based on the answer to a simple question: do you drive innovation, or do you drive it  

Compassion

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect. It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others “even our enemies” is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion. We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings “even those regarded as enemies.” We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community. – From the Charter for Compassion, a TED Wish by Karen