John Hunter’s Classroom

One of my favorite speakers from TED2011 is John Hunter. The night before his talk, at the TED party, I randomly sat down to dinner next to him and shared some of our family wine. I was fascinated as he described his unique work as an elementary school teacher. It wasn’t until later that I found out he was giving a main-stage TED Talk the next day.

And what a talk he gave. Standing ovations weren’t as plentiful this year, but after John’s talk, the entire auditorium immediately jumped to their feet, many in tears. Take 18 minutes and be inspired by this man’s unique and remarkable teaching methods. I’m convinced that student engagement is the key to deep and lasting scholastic success, and John is proving it true.


Living Memorials

When I heard the news of Bruce’s death in a plane crash, I recalled that I never really told him how much his friendship meant to me. His passing reminded me that I take a lot of people in my life for granted, never really telling them how much they inspire me, and how much I love them.

I wrote a memorial for Bruce on this journal, and spoke at his public memorial in L.A. last week. But why do we wait? Perhaps we should be writing and speaking “living memorials” to our dear friends and families – while we are still together with them. As James Taylor wrote, “shower the people you love with love – tell them the way that you feel.”

Ric Elias gave a “TED University” talk a few weeks ago (TED-U is a series of talks during TED off the main stage). He was on Captain Sully’s airplane that landed in the Hudson. I encourage you to watch his beautiful and important five-minute talk.


Where Do Dreams Come From?

A girl slams the door of her little room
under the eaves where marauding squirrels
scamper overhead like herds of ideas.
She has forgotten to be grateful she has
finally a room with a door that shuts.

She is furious her parents don’t comprehend
why she wants to go to college, that place
of musical comedy fantasies and weekend
football her father watches, beer can
in hand. It is as if she announced I want
to journey to Iceland or Machu Picchu.
Nobody in their family goes to college.
Where do dreams come from? Do they
sneak in through torn screens at night
to light on the arm like mosquitoes?

Are they passed from mouth to ear
like gossip or dirty jokes? Do they
sprout from underground on damp
mornings like toadstools that form
fairy rings on dewtipped grasses?

No, they slink out of books, they lurk
in the stacks of libraries. Out of pages
turned they rise like the scent of peonies
and infect the brain with their promise.
I want, I will, says the girl and already

she is halfway out the door and down
the street from this neighborhood, this
mortgaged house, this family tight
and constricting as the collar on the next
door dog who howls on his chain all night.

– Marge Piercy


Zeitgeist 3 – Moving Forward

Peter Joseph (probably not his real last name) has released a new Zeitgeist film. I disagree with a number of Peter’s “Venus Project” assumptions, conclusions, and leading questions. I also found his first two films especially lacking in solid content, relying more on hearsay, dubious history, and weak conspiracy theories. In some cases, Zeit 3 is terribly naive (“upgradable” technology, idealized production and distribution incentives and strategies, utopian city design, overstated energy alternatives, etc.).

Yet I’m sharing this movie with you because I think the film is a good conversation starter and especially good thought provoker, addressing a number of profoundly important questions.

I find it ironic that the filmmaker, an atheist, uses a John Ortberg lecture as his core value statement — ultimately pointing to the failure of GDP as an adequate, or even relevant, measurement of our individual and collective well-being (a position I passionately agree with).

I’m convinced that we need to start thinking towards third-way “systems-based” economies that combine the best elements of free-markets and central resource planning, while retaining the liberties of an unalienable rights-based republic re-imagined in healthier paradigms of resource sustainability, human empathy, and global-equitable access to fundamental human needs.

Centralized economies fail for many reasons. One reason is because, historically, they haven’t appropriately rewarded the people and organizations who excel and add real value back into the community. But cultural definitions of excellence, value, reward, and community vary subjectively. Corrupt, bailed-out banking systems and an obese military-industrial economy are two areas in which we can start to radically re-define the terms excellence and reward. And we can start to expand our definition of community from tribes and borders to a sense of global family.

I agree with the filmmaker (@ 2:16) that we are faced today with a potentially fatal “value system” disorder and (@ 2:20) that many of today’s economic assumptions are gross distortions driven by temporary access to cheap, concentrated energy. For the health and well-being of our great grandchildren and our planet in general, we need to develop a better informed and more comprehensively linked value system between our economic systems, our natural resources, and our fundamental connectedness as a human community.


Blessed Are The Thieves

You ask me how I became a madman. It happened thus: One day, long before many gods were born, I woke from a deep sleep and found all my masks were stolen ” the seven masks I have fashioned and worn in seven lives ” I ran maskless through the crowded streets shouting, “Thieves, thieves, the cursed thieves.”

Men and women laughed at me and some ran to their houses in fear of me.

And when I reached the market place, a youth standing on a house-top cried, “He is a madman.” I looked up to behold him; the sun kissed my own naked face for the first time. For the first time the sun kissed my own naked face and my soul was inflamed with love for the sun, and I wanted my masks no more. And as if in a trance I cried, “Blessed, blessed are the thieves who stole my masks.”

Thus I became a madman.

And I have found both freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us.

– Kahlil Gibran, Prelude to The Madman


Coloration

One size fits all. The shape or coloration
of the god or high heaven matters less
than that there is one, somehow, somewhere, hearing
the hasty prayer and chalking up the mite
the widow brings tot eh temple, A child
alone with horrid verities cries out
for there to be a limit, a warm wall
whose stones give back an answer, however faint.

Strange, the extravagance of it ”who needs
those eighteen-armed black Kalis, those musty saints
whose bones and bleeding wounds appall good taste,
those joss sticks, houris, gilded Buddhas, books
Moroni etched in tedious detail?
We do; we need more worlds. This one will fail.

– John Updike

Updike was both a prolific writer and consummate art-literature critic. Of his six rules for reviewing a book, rule number six hits home with me. Normally, I want to review a book because (1) I love it, or (2) I passionately disagree and want to present a balancing viewpoint. I’ve never been good at remaining the dispassionate reviewer when reviewing a topic of deep personal bias. Updike’s Rules are a reminder of criticism done right, and apply broadly to life in general.

To these concrete five might be added a vaguer sixth, having to do with maintaining a chemical purity in the reaction between product and appraiser. Do not accept for review a book you are predisposed to dislike, or committed by friendship to like. Do not imagine yourself a caretaker of any tradition, an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in any ideological battle, a corrections officer of any kind. Never, never… try to put the author “in his place,” making of him a pawn in a contest with other reviewers. Review the book, not the reputation. Submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast. Better to praise and share than blame and ban. The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys of reading, and all our discriminations should curve toward that end.


Barrier

“Your task is not to seek for love,

but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself

that you have built against it.”

– Rumi

“If in thirst you drink water from a cup,

you see God in it.

Those who are not in love with God

will see only their own faces in it”

– Sufi saying, attributed to Rumi

 


Back From TED

Just back from the TED Conference in Long Beach. I went with an agenda this time – to find professional filmmakers who could be my mentors. We’re producing a film on the Ethiopian tribal practice of child sacrifice called mingi. Did I find mentors? Hey, it’s TED. When you put out a little energy, an enormous amount of similar energy comes back to you. In years past, I seem to have helped a number of people with their dreams and ventures. This year, the TED community rallied around our fledgling film project. Thanks to everyone for joining us on this journey.

A lady I met at TED blogged about her experience. I love the way she expresses this. It captures what many have expressed about our annual gathering:

“Being at Ted was like sitting on the edge of the coast and out of nowhere “ a whale jumps out of the water right in front of you. The encounter takes your breath away. Everything about that animal is magnificent. And then two minutes later a hawk flies close enough that you hear its wings flap and then a pack of pelicans and life just keeps happening – one breathtaking sight, sound, movement and essence after another… The encounters at Ted were like seeing human beings at their most beautiful and free. I’m not a jaded person. The experience of being there went in deep. Their eye contact, thoughts and presence forced growth in me and like much growth “ it was painful. My heart, my lungs, my eyes, my ears and even the inside of my head felt swollen and tender. At the end of five days I was demolished. I also realized there are lots of brilliant people everywhere.”

Demolished!! Veteran TED’sters describe something called the “TED Crash” which is a mildly depressive state that sets in about 24 hours after returning home, and lasts for a few days. I’m just coming out of the crash myself. See, when you’re there time is frozen, thoughts and senses are profoundly energized, exceptional ideas are the norm and fly around the conference at light speed. There is almost no way you will be standing or sitting next to someone without striking up what invariably becomes a life-altering conversation. A TED gathering releases the equivalent of intellectual and spiritual adrenaline. From early in the morning to late into the wee hours, there is nothing like a TED Conference.

I stay across the harbor at the Marriott, so every morning I can take the 1.5 mi walk to the conference. On my walk, I cross over the Queens Bridge and pass the Long Beach Aquarium. One day, as I approached a pigeon perched at the bridge’s apex, it swooped down gracefully, almost to the water below, and then flew back up over my head. Five minutes later, I passed a field trip of mentally challenged children outside the aquarium. They were cleaning up papers and debris – all of them grinning from ear to ear and having the time of their life, in the moment. Normally, I wouldn’t feel too strongly about the bird, or the kids. But that day, the moment went very deep and caused me to weep with joy and gratitude. Within 10 minutes, I had typed a poem into my Blackberry (I’ve never written a poem in my life!). It’s a little embarrassing, but I’ll share it:

Soaring bird.
They are speaking to you.
The challenged children,
Happy to be,
Soaring, swooping. In language
you may not understand.

They will help you
to listen. to hear.
with their Wings fully extended
Soaring.
in the moment you have forgotten
Both old and new
Together, in the ageless dance,
conspire and subvert.
As a reminder, of
timeless harmony
and symmetry

as certain as old
must become New
Until both arise, soaring
in the sacred unknowing
of their difference.


Non-Violent Resistance

Perhaps no single living person was more influential in the recent non-violent toppling of Egypt’s regime than Nobel Peace Prize nominee Gene Sharp. His 900 page classic The Politics of Non-Violent Action was condensed into a 100 page manifesto a few years ago, and was used by the leaders of Egypt’s resistance. I’ve just finished reading this tiny manifesto. Every page is a gem of collective wisdom.

“When people refuse their cooperation, they are denying their opponent the basic human assistance and which any hierarchical system requires. If they do this in sufficient numbers for long enough, that hierarchical system will no longer have power. This is the basic political assumption of non-violent action.”

“The people who are always pushing for violence and acts of sabotage need to be isolated, for they may well be the agent of your opponent. Don’t fall for this. The non-violent struggle must be continued on a non-violent basis otherwise you erode and destroy your own power capacity, and with that the power to achieve your objectives.” -Gene Sharp, The Politics of Non-Violent Action, Part One