Last week while in DC for a work assignment, I took time to connect with a brother-colleague and former professor of mine, Dr. Shaun Casey, who teaches Christian Ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary, and served as Senior Advisor for Religious Affairs for the Obama Campaign. As he is gearing up for another semester, he is also in he throes of promoting his new book, The Making of a Catholic President: Kennedy v. Nixon 1960 and finds himself well suited to speak to the transformative historical moment and opportunity that is the Obama presidency. As we caught up, shared stories from the campaign trail, and spoke of our common passion for public theology, transformative policy making and ushering in social change informed and fueled by the grassroots, he shared of his enthusiasm for the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, and for the work of Senior Advisor for Social Innovation for the White House Domestic Policy Council, Michele Jolin.
Mentioning her work as Vice President of Ashoka, and with the Center for American Progress, Casey shared how he was hopeful that office’s ability to appreciate the role of harnessing the thinking and experience of community-based, faith-based, and other grassroots located change agents to build policy and enact solutions for some of our most intractable national issues. He recommended that I contact her directly (which I will, so stay locked in to this blog site), and also that I check out a book she co-edited, Change for America. In the book, Casey makes this claim in an article he authored, and which collectively sets forth a blue print of recommendations to the Obama Administration for real…change. I recommend you check it out as well, so that we may continue our blog conversations with it in mind. Read the rest of this entry »
There seems to be no doubt that we have to shift our understanding of the problems that confront us, not just so that we understand what they require as solutions in the traditional sense, but so that we can comprehend what they require of us.
Psychologist Carol Dweck’s work shows that many of us have been educated to have what she calls a “fixed mindset,” one that can become concerned first and foremost with our own standing and status. She goes on to show how this is a sure fire recipe for disaster with respect to long-term results, whether one is a professional athlete, a CEO, a teacher, or a parent. If one is considering sustainable (and shared) benefit, then it behooves us to embrace a “growth mindset,” one that entails the ability, humility, and enthusiasm to learn from our mistakes and to help others to do so as well.
That is one of my biggest take-aways from being in DC last week. So many people are caught up in the game that plays out inside the Beltway where you have to make a name for yourself in order to have an impact. Fixed mindsets rein. But just when are you done proving yourself in such an environment? And what impact do we cheat ourselves of under such conditions in the long run?
Tomorrow is the 18th anniversary of my friend Scott Lago’s death.? Scott was as much a brother to me as a friend and we worked together bringing the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt around the country in the late 1980s, setting up and managing displays of the quilt, a memorial for those who’ve died of AIDS. He affected my life in many ways, many of them very funny – but the one I’m remembering today is that when we’d be working with a group of people on setting up a display of the quilt, if someone started getting into what seemed like endless details about things he felt were unnecessary, preventing the group from moving forward, you’d notice Scott quietly tapping his watch face with his index finger. He was saying to those of us who knew him, “Can’t we get on with it? We don’t have a lot of time here.” While Scott knew on a cellular level that he didn’t have a lot of time here, I find myself sometimes looking around to see whether anyone else might be tapping their watch face.
And so it is this fine balance we seek to find in social change work – between not wasting what is, truly, precious time with endless details and at the same time, “going slow to go fast” – making sure we build solid agreements and cover enough to set things up for success. Might we sometimes spend a little too much time planning? None of us really have a lot of time here – the world is waiting!
And wherever Scott is, he’s watching what’s happening in the world and quietly tapping the face of his watch.
I recently finished reading “Lust for Life” by Irving Stone, and it really stirred my soul! The historical novel about the life of Vincent Van Gogh is one of those big books that invite you deep into the artistic psyche. I became overwhelmed by Vincent’s struggle, his compulsive drive, personal sacrifice and willingness to let go of so many conventions. But it’s not until we are three quarters into the book and six years into Vincent’s quest that we come to what is one of the most amazing scenes I’ve ever read.
Vincent finally makes it to Paris and he sees the impressionists for the first time. The scene is one of total awe, the beauty is like nothing he had ever seen before, like nothing he imagined, these were paintings that broke every rule, 300 hundred years of tradition suddenly gone bright with light and color, it was something absolutely beautiful and new. Vincent had worked day and night on his art, he had gone hungry for his art, he had been rejected by artists and non-artists alike, and suddenly here he was, for the first time seeing his burning desires manifest before him, he was awed, he was emboldened and he was inspired. Read the rest of this entry »
Many of us are familiar with the concept of the Hedgehog and the Fox originally sited in an essay by British philosopher, Isaiah Berlin where he divided the world into hedgehogs and foxes based on their ways of thinking and being in the world. The hedgehog knows one big thing as compared to the fox who darts from idea to idea. This concept was most recently brought into strategic planning and nonprofit management circles by Jim Collins through his well read monograph, “Good to Great and the Social Sectors“. There he talks about discovering your “hedgehog” by asking three fundamental questions: What are you most passionate about? What are you best in the world at? And what drives your resource engine? The theory of the case is that your hedgehog, your one big idea, your strategic direction, lies in the answers to these questions. Read the rest of this entry »