One Woman’s March

“There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to be in harmony with its surroundings. The town lay in the midst of a checkerboard of prosperous farms, with fields of grain and hillsides of orchards, where white clouds of bloom drifted above the green land. In autumn, oak and maple and birch set up a blaze of color that flamed and flickered across a backdrop of pines.”

These are the opening lines of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. A book often credited with starting the modern environmental movement, as it called into question not just the unchecked mass use of pesticides but man’s increasingly fractured relationship to nature.

Upon publication over 50 years ago, it sparked a public uprising, a well-orchestrated industry response replete with “alternative facts”, congressional hearings and eventually regulations that not only curbed the use of pesticides, but also laid the framework for all the environmental battles and progress that would follow.

Before Silent SpringCarson was already a best selling author whose simple and beautiful prose created a sense of wonder about nature – specifically the ocean. Much like the opening lines of Silent Spring, she painted pictures of a world in which we wanted to live in harmony with all that was around us – thinking that we would protect that which we appreciated, understood and loved.

She chose her words carefully and while her message was alarming – she was by no means an alarmist. In fact, the passion and anger that burned deep within her was channeled into a warm illuminating light that added credibility and converts.

In her lifetime, her march was a slow and sometimes lonely one. Her legacy is the millions who have since picked up her baton.

The lessons of Carson’s life were unknown to me until I stumbled upon a PBS documentary last week.

Just days later, I found myself in my daughter’s classroom dissecting an owl’s pellet – essentially a giant fur ball they regurgitate after eating their prey.

We all went into this exercise with trepidation, children saying, “This is gross”, we parents thinking the exact same thing.

But as I watched these 9 year-olds delicately extract the bones from matted fur and proudly catalogue their discoveries, it was hard not to notice the look of awe and wonder in their faces and the unbridled amazement in their voices. 

This was education – a moment that connects them to the world around them. Perhaps for one or two, this would be their first step in a long march. One that started with fear and unease, but now grows with respect and love.

We are all marching in our own way. Every step measured by what we buy, how we spend our time, or how we talk to each other. Is this march for something or against someone?  Are we burning things down or shining light for others to see? And will our children or those that follow pick up our baton because we have marched well?

Now, More Than Ever?

Now more than ever, I’ve been hearing and reading the phrase “Now more than ever.”
 
When you google that phrase, you will be bombarded by hundreds of thousands of results from election day to today.
 
Most are calls to arms from organizations and individuals who understandably feel threatened by the changes they anticipate. Their intention is to create a sense of urgency that will translate into more support – both financially and otherwise.
 
That anticipation of negative outcomes has some obvious merit.  But as psychologist Amos Tversky, said the problem with pessimism is that “you live the horror twice.” (He himself was a Jewish refugee during World War II.)
 
The reality is that in a macro sense, worrying about the future is a natural reflex. Yet on the micro level, it is energy that could be channeled to make a meaningful difference in someone’s life instead.  
 
The child who suffers in poverty needed a mentor as much on the day before the election as she needed it today.
The struggling worker in Pennsylvania needed a job with living wage as much in 2016 as he does in 2017.
Our environment needed you to conserve natural resources in October and much as it does in January.

When we throw the phrase “Now more than ever” around too lightly, our attention gets misplaced on the collective circumstances of our political system and away from the individual circumstances of the people who need help moving up.
 
“Now more than ever” can show a lack of appreciation not only to the plight of people who are struggling but also of our own history and how much we have accomplished. For a little context, please take two minutes to read:

  • some good news about how much progress the world has made in the last several years and
  • an article that will blow your mind to learn how some of the phrases we throw around today are literal descriptions of the poor living conditions experienced by our not so distant ancestors.

The best antidotes to worry are being grateful for what we have NOW (not fear of what we might lose later) and using the positive feeling to fuel action NOW to support someone who has an immediate need.
 
“More than ever” is hollow.  “Now” is full of promise.
 
So, what are you doing now?

This Is How Real Change Starts

Our problems seem intractable. Opposing sides become so entrenched in their world view that any prospect of progress seems bleak.

So we spend our energy either demonizing the “other side” or trying to persuade them to “see the light” and come over to our side. 

New research out of Stanford that examined one of the most intractable of all issues offers us hope that real change starts at a more basic level – showing people that ANY change is possible.

Researchers found that teaching Israeli and Palestinian teenagers that groups are generally capable of change—without ever mentioning a specific adversary—can significantly improve their ability to cooperate.

In fact in one experiment, two mixed groups were asked to build a tower out of spaghetti, marshmallows and tape (sounds like fun, right?). One was taught about people’s ability to change while the other was taught about ways to cope with stress. The “people are capable of change” students built towers 59% higher and had more positive feelings towards each other than the control group.

The simple idea that people are capable of change makes us more cooperative and increases our likelihood to compromise to make progress. 

Yet in our lives and certainly in our politics we rarely start with this basic belief. Our nation’s history IS the story of change – of millions of individuals who have changed their minds and beliefs so progress could be made.
We often tell tales from those leading the struggle but rarely from the perspective of the converted. We write volumes on conflicts but not on compromises.

While the turning of the calendar typically brings hope and resolve for a better year. Some may be feeling a bit more pessimistic this time around. I encourage us all to take the long view of how far we have come as people and as a country. To think of how many minds have been changed so we could live in a world all the better for it.

Then let us all go out and tell those stories. You never know who is listening.

Can You Value What You Don’t See?

When asked in a national survey, Americans will tell you that the role of government is pretty far down the list of what is necessary to achieve the American Dream. Yet education, which is third on the list (behind hard work and a strong family) is largely financed and run by local, state and federal government.

During the recent debate over health care, many Americans expressed concern that the new Affordable Care Act would result in government-run health care. Ironically, some of the most concerned were those who were already happily receiving Medicaid or Medicare (i.e., “government-run healthcare”).

These are both examples of what Suzanne Mettler refers to in her book, Submerged State, of what happens when we can’t see the help we’re getting—we don’t value it.

Think about it: Has our government ever helped you? We traditionally think of social services such as food stamps or Medicare when we think of government assistance. But have you ever attended a public school, taken out student loans, applied for unemployment, filed for a mortgage tax credit, used a public road, or checked out a book at the library? When government works, it works—although we can barely see it.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a D or an R or an I. If you’re American, chances are your government has done something to help you get to where you are.

So the next time someone is bad mouthing your government, share what it’s done for you. Or better yet, share it on social media right now. Just click one of the icons below to post it on Facebook or tweet it to the world.

Learn more about our mixed views of GOVERNMENT and the American Dream.

Are You Writing a Resume or a Eulogy?

This is a terrific question raised in a TED Talk by columnist David Brooks. Are more of your actions something to talk about on your resume or for others to talk about at your eulogy?

In Linda Ellis’ poem, The Dash, she asks readers to reflect on that “dash” on your tombstone; your life’s actions between birth and death.

So, when your eulogy is being read,

with your life’s actions to rehash…

would you be proud of the things they say

about how you spent YOUR dash?

Take a minute and think about your recent actions. How you approached your day, week, month, or past year. How you spent your time and energy.

Was it to get the job done and score short-term points? Or was it to plant seeds for a long-term legacy?Read more about WHAT WE LEAVE BEHIND.

Look Up…

Researchers project that 50% of the world’s population will be short-sighted by the end of 2050. The result of spending so much time focused on little screens in our hands and on our laps, and not enough time outside. As disturbing as that may sound, it is just the latest example of our growing short-sightedness.

Increasingly, we seem to focus most of our energy thinking about how our actions will affect us in the short term versus how they may affect others over the long haul. Perhaps there is a Darwinian element to this.

We are wired to be on the lookout for threats and opportunities that will impact our immediate ability to eat, stay safe and survive. But shouldn’t we have evolved to better weigh short-term gains versus long-term opportunities — for ourselves, our family, our community and country?

Instead…

  • Business leaders look to maximize quarterly earnings instead of realizing when their workers earn a decent living, it’s good for long-term business.
  • Politicians are in perpetual election cycles focusing on who will vote for them next instead of how their vote will affect others down the road.
  • And we treat our water, air and our environment like it is an unlimited resource with little consideration for future generations.

Nicholas Kristof recently wrote a provocative piece about how we have evolved to “systematically misjudge risks.”

As we think about climbing the ladder, it is natural to focus on making sure our hands and feet grasp the next rung. But that doesn’t mean we can’t pause to enjoy the view and make sure we haven’t been stepping on anyone else’s fingers or toes along the way.

So many great things are achieved when we look beyond ourselves and see how things are achieved together — whether that’s traveling across the universe or just climbing over a common obstacle.

Imagine how far we could all go if we approached more challenges in our life like this:

What Do You Need In Your Bowl?

Wherever you are on the ladder in life, it’s natural to compare your lot to those on the rungs above and below you. But as the comic-philosopher Louis C.K. pointed out to his daughter in an episode of his show, this almost always ends badly.

He pointedly tells her, “The only time you look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have as much as them.” (See the full clip below.)

In Harry Frankfurt’s persuasive book, On Inequality, he suggests that the real debate we should be having is not about equality but about “sufficiency.” In other words, “What do we all need for a good life?” To make his point, he says that if tomorrow each person in America suddenly had an equal amount of money, but everyone was at the poverty line, we would have technically solved the problem of inequality. But nobody would be better off for it.

When we talk about inequality, it tends to pit one person against another — in essence, asking everyone to look at each other’s buckets. Judgements, conflicts and defensiveness ensue.

We know why inequality is such a critical topic. After all, there is a finite amount of resources to go around.

But perhaps a better conversation might focus on shared values and how to make sure we all have what we need in our bowls for a good and happy life.

To learn more about Moving Up, go to movingupusa.com.