Letting go to make room for more
I always become contemplative at this time of year, considering the year just past and the year to come. I list my successes, achievements, and wins for the past twelve months, and also my failures, breakdowns, and disappointments. Usually, I make discoveries. What I learn from this process leads me to set goals, design projects, and make commitments for the new year that will hopefully result in more wins and fewer breakdowns.
One of my significant discoveries in reviewing 2009 was that many of this year's accomplishments had to do with letting go. I let go of possessions I no longer needed, got rid of some emotional baggage, put to rest projects that were not serving me, reduced my financial overhead, and ended a few client relationships. Simultaneously, many of the year's disappointments resulted from activities and opportunities I wanted to pursue, but couldn't find time for.
Hmm, it seems that there is an equation to be deduced here. In order to make room for more, I need to let go of more.
Like many humans, I often behave as if time were infinitely expandable, adding more and more activities, projects, and relationships to my life until it is bursting at the seams. The upside is that I get a lot done and have the pleasure of playing in many different arenas. The downside is that with my days already so full, there is little room for anything new. And one of the activities I love most is starting new things!
If one is always starting new projects, and none of them ever end, the eventual result is a mathematically predictable state of impasse. So I have determined that my first resolution for 2010 is to let go of projects that are not essential for the present
. Every activity and relationship I'm engaged in served me at some point in the past. Many will serve me again in the future. But it is what fills my life in the present that determines both my own happiness and my capacity to serve others.
Since 2003, I've been posting to this blog, sometimes frequently, at other times not so often. It has been a rewarding activity to engage in, and has opened the door to many fulfilling relationships. But... I have concluded that at this point in time, it is no longer essential that I continue it. This will be the last new post here, for the present
I hope you have enjoyed being one of my readers. The How to Become a Hero
site will remain up, so past entries will still be available. If you would like to stay connected, please link to me on Facebook
, or LinkedIn
, or stop by CJHayden.com
to see what else I'm up to.
I wish you all the best for your own hero's journey in 2010 and beyond.
Labels: announcements, life purpose
Are you a positive deviant?
Some people are just different. And sometimes, it's exactly those differences that make them succeed where others fail. This "positive deviance" can be a clue to finding solutions for intractable social problems. At the Positive Deviance Initiative
, sponsored by Tufts University, they are studying the impact of positive outliers -- people who stand out because their behavior differs from others in their community, causing improvements in health, education, living conditions, and more. The Positive Deviance (PD) approach identifies the behaviors that have helped these rebels produce positive results, and then tries to teach these behaviors to others.
For example, a PD study discovered that in hospitals with low infection rates, staff members were regularly using hand sanitizers. In hospitals with high infection rates, they were not. By spreading this behavior to other hospitals, infection rates have been lowered significantly. A simple behavior change with dramatic results.
In Vietnam, the PD approach has been used by Save the Children
to combat widespread child malnutrition. At a time when 65% of Vietnamese children were malnourished, a team of PD researchers and volunteers discovered that some children of the very poorest families were not
malnourished. These "deviant" children had something in common. Their caretakers were supplementing the children's rice with small shrimp or crabs collected from rice paddies and the green tops cut from sweet potatoes -- nutritious foods available for free. They were also feeding the children at least 3 times per day instead of just twice, and washing their hands before meals. These behaviors, when taught to others in the community, rehabilitated 80% of the children whose families participated.
A PD project currently being funded by the Rockefeller Foundation
is seeking ways to decrease corruption in the developing world. The project is identifying the behaviors of the most ethical public officials and how they go about eliminating waste, fraud, and corruption, then trying to generalize and teach those behaviors. They believe that this type of abuse often results from lacking the skills to behave ethically, rather than a deliberate intent to hurt people.
What these inspiring examples highlight is that solving difficult problems often requires seeking out the rebels, dissenters, and independent thinkers in a community. For example, in Vietnam, many believed that the foods some families were using for additional nourishment were "inappropriate," because these foods were not traditionally fed to children. But the PD researchers showed that these deviants from normal behavior were producing results that those behaving traditionally couldn't achieve.
What the PD approach also suggests is that if you want to make an impact on solving challenging social problems, you may just need to become a rebel yourself. The key is to be not merely a dissenter, but a "positive deviant." Identify the people, places, and practices that are producing better results, determine what's being done that is outside the norm, and then copy it. If you can replicate the improved results simply by adopting the non-standard behaviors, you'll have discovered a new, unexpected solution. And even better,by teaching others to adopt the same deviant behavior, you can multiply your results on a grand scale.
Labels: social action, social entrepreneurs
Remembering the peace heroes
Memorial Day is set aside for remembering our fallen soldiers. We hear much about war heroes on this day. The television schedule is filled with movies and speeches that glorify the sacrifices of war
But what of the peace heroes
? Why is there not a day set aside to remember those who were lost while fighting for peace? Heroes like:Mahatma Gandhi
- He led India to independence from England with a massive campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience, then fought to end religious strife within his country. He was killed while leading a public prayer meeting.Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Inspired by Gandhi’s legacy of nonviolent resistance, King led the American civil rights movement to some of its greatest victories, and spoke powerfully against the Vietnam War. Shortly before his assassination at age 39, he wrote, “Thou shalt not believe that the generals know best.”Yitzhak Rabin
- As prime minister of Israel, he negotiated for peace with Egypt, Jordan, and Palestine. He was assassinated while leaving a peace rally.Peace Pilgrim
- During the height of McCarthyism and the Korean War, she traveled 25,000 miles on foot, with no money or possessions, spreading her message of peace. “Overcome evil with good and falsehood with truth and hatred with love,” she said. She died in a car crash while being driven to a speaking engagement.Oscar Romero
- As Archbishop of El Salvador, he told the world about the citizens of his country who were being abducted, tortured, and killed by government death squads. He was shot while performing mass.
This Memorial Day, let us remember also those whose heroic contributions were not in battle, but in leading us to a more peaceful world.
Labels: hero stories, heroism, social action
A generation moves from me to we
Baby Boomers have often been characterized as the "Me Generation," self-centered, self-indulgent, and focused only on their own happiness. Not so, according to a report released by the AARP
. In reality, 70% of Boomers feel a responsibility to make the world a better place, 57% try to buy from companies that give back to their communities, and 24% recently volunteered for a charitable cause.
I wonder, though, if a survey of Boomer attitudes would have shown the same results two decades ago, during the materialistic 80's. As a Boomer myself, I suspect my personal experience mirrors that of my generation. I spent much of the 80's trying to establish myself in a career and build some assets. By the early 90's, I had acquired a decent education, some marketable skills, and a healthy bank account.
What happened next was that I started to look around for ways to make the world a better place, give back to my community, and volunteer time for causes I cared about, just as the report indicates.
The sheer weight of our numbers in the Boomer generation has swept the rest of society along with us as we have grown and matured. When we were busy finding ourselves in the 70's, the human potential movement blossomed. As we focused on establishing ourselves in the world of work in the 80's, we created a booming economy. The 90's, a decade that has yet to be labeled with one defining characteristic, is when we began to take stock of ourselves once again. And we concluded that the answer to "is that all there is?" was no, that there had to be something more to life than making money and raising families.
So now in 2009, what is the prevailing set of Boomer attitudes? In Maslow's classic hierarchy of human needs
, when people are able to satisfy their basic needs for food, shelter, and safety, they first strive for belonging, then for esteem, and finally for self-actualization
. This top-of-the-pyramid state includes a focus on others, desire for a mission in life, and kinship with all of mankind.
This is where the most influential generation of the modern era now finds itself -- in a state of mind, and of our own personal development, where making the world a better place is not just a nice thing to do, but our primary goal. And if this Boomer imperative is anything like the others that have gone before it, there's a good chance that the rest of society will follow our lead.
Labels: life purpose, social action, volunteering
A new hope
In President Obama's inaugural speech today, he declared, "On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear." Yes we did. Because this is the stand that heroes take.
There's no question that these are scary times. As Americans, we are confronted by two wars, an economic crisis, and a failing health care system. As humans, we are facing a warming planet, terrorism, ethnic violence, an HIV epidemic, and widespread hunger. The challenges arrayed against us seem daunting. But impossible odds are the hero's stock in trade.
I speak of heroes because a hero took office today. America's new leader is a man who chooses hope over fear, taking responsibility over placing blame, and unified action over partisan argument. These are heroic choices.
But our new leader is not the only hero this day. We who elected him made these choices also. We rejected fear, and blame, and partisanship. We chose to elect a man who many said could not be elected, who promised us he would shake up the status quo, who called on us for hard work and personal responsibility.
We chose this path, we elected this man at this time, not because it was easy, but because it was needed. Because we believed, like our new president, "that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task." We made this choice because we, too, have the stuff of heroes.
We are the ones we've been waiting for. We're here.
Labels: heroism, social action
The world's a mess – so what else is new?
In 8th century India, the prince Shantideva renounced worldly life and composed the Buddhist teachings known as The Way of the Bodhisattva
. Shantideva acknowledged the vast suffering that pervaded his world. People everywhere were afflicted by war, hunger, poverty, disease, and sorrow. As if life itself weren't harsh enough, humans were causing harm to each other daily through aggression, ignorance, and greed. Sound familiar?
Shantideva named just one source as the cause of all this suffering: "All the harm with which this world is rife, all fear and suffering that there is, clinging to the ‘I' has caused it! What am I to do with this great demon?" His solution was simple, although not easy. In The Way of the Bodhisattva
, he advocates a way of life dedicated to serving not ourselves, but our fellow humans.
Writing about Shantideva and the bodhisattva path, Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron says, "When I look at the state of the world today, I know his message could not possibly be more timely." In Chodron's book No Time to Lose
, a modern commentary on Shantideva's text, she defines bodhisattvas as spiritual warriors who long to alleviate not just their own suffering, but that of others. Opening with a chapter titled "People Like Us Can Make a Difference," Chodron writes, "Martin Luther King Jr. exemplified this kind of longing. He knew that happiness depended on healing the whole situation. Taking sides -- black or white, abusers or abused -- only perpetuates the suffering. For me to be healed, everyone has to be healed."
On Monday, January 19, 2009, president-elect Obama has asked that we once again honor the memory of Dr. King with a national Day of Service
. This year's King Day of Service is expected to be the largest ever, and it's not too late to get involved. Visit USAService.org
to find a service event near you.
A day of service is a generous act, and we should all feel proud to participate. But what King, Chodron, and Shantideva propose is a life
of service. Shantideva asks us, "Since I and other beings both, in fleeing suffering are equal and alike, what difference is there to distinguish us, that I should save myself and not the other?"
This is the bodhisattva ideal. The world is a mess. The world has always
been a mess. But there is something we can do to lessen our suffering, and that is to strive to alleviate the suffering of others, whenever and wherever we can. And there's no time to lose. In the words of Dr. King, "Life's most urgent question is: what are you doing for others?"
Labels: buddhism, life purpose, social action, volunteering
Conscious shopper's 2008 holiday guide
It's time once again for my annual guide to conscious holiday shopping. In past years, I've suggested buying gift items from fair trade organizations, social enterprises, and cooperatives that support social causes. This year, I'm taking a different approach.
I love the holiday custom of exchanging gifts, but in a year when economic crisis and environmental degradation dominate the world news, it seems to me that nothing should be wasted. If you give someone a gift they will never use, precious resources are depleted. Money spent on unwanted tchotchkes could have gone to support a worthwhile cause. Shipping goods from across the country or around the world consumes fossil fuels. Many presents and their packaging quickly end up in landfills.
With those thoughts in mind, here are my suggestions for giving gifts this season that will make everyone happy, including Mother Earth.Consider consumables.
Food and beverages are often welcome and affordable gifts, especially if they will keep past the holidays when we are often surrounded by too much. Fair trade
coffee, tea, and chocolate are good choices, as are soup and chili mixes, or jams and jellies. Avoid fruit baskets containing perishable products and excessive packaging. Make your purchase count even more by buying food gifts from projects like Global Exchange
, SERRV International
, and Greyston Bakery
that support economic development in the developing world and inner cities.Buy local.
Shopping online is convenient and can save fuel when it replaces driving from store to store, but shipping your purchases adds to emissions also, and consumes more packaging. Buying gifts as close to the source as possible is an eco-friendly choice, especially for presents you'll be giving in person. Plan a trip to your local farmer's market, flea market, or crafts fair to find locally produced, inexpensive food and gift items. To find a farmer's market near you, visit Local Harvest
Or, buy from local merchants that support your community instead of from national chains and big-box stores. For example, in San Francisco, Cole Hardware
will donate 10% of your purchase to a local school or nonprofit of your choice, offers recycling for batteries, paint, and printer cartridges, and provides many other community services. They carry plenty of truly useful gift choices, including green selections like SIGG water bottles
, the Garden Gourmet composter
, and Goodwood® firelogs
.Give a gift that gives to others.
Many of the recipients on your list may have more than enough of everything already. Consider planting a tree in their honor through Trees for the Future
, adopting a marine mammal on their behalf through The Marine Mammal Center
, or purchasing a dairy cow or goat in their name for a needy family in the developing world through Heifer International
.Ask people what they want.
Most of us do this with our children, but we rarely ask adult relatives or business associates what they would like. If you don't know someone's preferences enough to know what sort of present would be welcome, gift cards are an environmentally friendly choice, and don't even require gift wrapping. If you purchase gift cards for major retailers through iGive
, many merchants will donate a percentage of your purchase to a charity of your choice. (BTW, if you are planning to give me
a gift this holiday, check my Amazon wish list
, or just send chocolate.)Donate unwanted gifts yourself.
Unless you forward a copy of this article to everyone who will give you a present this season, you'll almost certainly receive some gifts you don't want. You might be pleasantly surprised at how many items can be donated. In addition to national charities like Goodwill Industries
, many local churches, animal shelters, and hospital auxiliaries operate thrift shops that accept clothing and housewares. Libraries, schools, and community centers need books. Homeless shelters, children's hospitals, and day care centers can use toys and games. Women's shelters and recovery homes always need unopened bath and beauty products. Even gift cards can be donated through GiftCardDonor
With a bit of planning and care, you and everyone on your gift list can enjoy the holiday season without depleting the earth or your pocketbook.
Labels: social action, social entrepreneurs
, the wife of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, died last year, leaving an estimated $16.4 billion to charity. Walton was at one point the richest woman in the world, but one of her favorite sayings was, "It's not what you gather in life, but what you scatter in life that tells the kind of life you have lived."
Since I ran across this quote, "stop gathering and start scattering" has become a mantra around my home and office. The first place I've decided it applies is my physical environment. I'll be the first to admit that I am a magnet for clutter. I have far too many interests for one person, and each of them attracts quantities of, well, stuff.
Stuff like books, flyers, brochures, business cards, magazines, newspapers, more books, needlework and crafts projects, scrapbooking materials, souvenirs from my travels, more books, music and home study courses on LP's, audiocassettes, and CD's (thank heaven for the iPod), videos on DVD's and videotapes, more books... I'm sure you get the picture.
In this physical realm, what "stop gathering and start scattering" means to me is gathering up the things that no longer hold as much interest as they once did, and scattering them out in the world where someone else can get value from them. Recently, I filled two large boxes with materials from the era when I was interested in planetary exploration and space travel. I donated my collection of books, maps, posters, slides, models, and research reports to a local science teacher who was thrilled to have them for his middle school class. Scattering felt very satisfying.
The next level of applying this mantra for me is with my writing. I write a lot of material that isn't published anywhere, or perhaps only to a small circulation. Some of it is good, useful stuff. As with the items cluttering my shelves, drawers, and closets, more people should have a chance to make use of what I've written. After all, once I write it, I'm pretty much done with it myself.
To that end, I've been working lately on publishing and reprinting more of what I've written for a wider audience. For example, I have a chapter in the book Guerrilla Marketing on the Front Lines
, released this month, and one of my articles was the lead feature in the August issue of Home Business
. More scattering, with positive results.
The third plane where this mantra applies is in the world of ideas. And this, I think, is where it could become a helpful bit of guidance for any would-be hero. If I have a useful idea, and I don't share it, no one else can benefit from it. In an average week, the new ideas running through my head might range from a profitable new line of business for a colleague who produces newsletters, to a design for a training/coaching program to help people launch social change ventures, to the outline of platform points for an international movement to use business models as a tool for making the world a better place.
If ideas like these just stay in my head (or yours), what good are they doing anyone? Perhaps it's personally rewarding to think them up, but then what? Can continuing to gather ideas, without scattering them out in the world, possibly benefit anyone but the gatherer?
And so, chanting my new mantra, I find myself looking now for the best ways to begin scattering more of my ideas. It's not quite as simple as collecting them in a box and posting a notice on Craigslist: "ideas, free to a good home." Nor can they really be published, like writing can, when they are not yet fully formed.
No, an idea that is represented nowhere other than a cryptic note on an envelope back or a bar napkin has little value. Ideas need to be developed in order to become useful. And herein lies one of the hero's biggest challenges. Developing an idea takes time and energy. Spending time on one means that others will suffer. Many ideas have potential value; how do you choose between them? And if you keep having new ideas, when is there ever time to go back to the old ones?
Perhaps I will never be able to develop and share a fraction of the ideas I have gathered. But I have a renewed commitment now to scattering as many as I can. After all, they're just collecting dust around here.
If you're looking for a few new ideas and could give them a good home, please let me know.
Labels: life purpose, social action
Is it time to wake up?
In his Confessions
, the 4th century philosopher and theologian St. Augustine of Hippo
writes of being "held down pleasantly, as in sleep," instead of rising to answer the call to an enlightened state. We all know the place between sleeping and waking, when you wake and drowsily wonder, "Should I get up and start my day, or should I luxuriate here in my warm, comfortable bed?" It feels so good just to lie there and ignore the rest of the world, at least for a time. You know you should get up, but perhaps it wouldn't hurt to doze, just for a few minutes more...
Augustine's point was how pleasurable it can be to avoid becoming enlightened, and delay taking action on what you know to be true. Even when you know there is more to life than lying abed, that there are important things to be done, and you should be doing them, it's so much more pleasant to snuggle deeper under the covers and keep your eyes closed a little while longer.
On an average morning in daily life, of course, we do get up, although sometimes a bit later than we should. Usually, someone is expecting us to be somewhere – a spouse, a boss, a child, a client. And so we rise, protestingly, sometimes grumpily, because duty calls.
But answering the call to enlightenment doesn't work quite that way. There is typically no one waiting for you to become enlightened, no expectation that you will be arriving at enlightenment by 9:00 AM, no consequences if you choose not to become enlightened today.
And so the choice is yours alone, and it comes upon you at the most inopportune time – when you are half asleep. How can you be expected, you might protest, to make such a brave choice when you aren't even fully awake? Exactly so. This is why most of us spend as much of our lives as possible in a half asleep state. It's so pleasant here resting between the oblivion of sleep and the responsibilities of waking life. Who wouldn't want to stay here as long as he or she could?
By the very nature of this particular choice, it only comes upon you when you are at your lowest ebb, defenseless, yearning to retain the lusciousness of staying half asleep, even after you know that a more enlightened state awaits you.
The choice is yours to make – sleep or wake, luxuriate in selfish pleasure or rise and meet the day, burrow deeper into your cocoon or open your eyes to what the world needs of you.
Half asleep, your world can be no larger than your bedroom. Wide awake, from your bedroom you can begin to change the world.
Labels: heroism, life purpose
Can capitalism become conscious?
On August 7 in San Francisco, I'll be co-facilitating a discussion about Conscious Capitalism®
. John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, is the champion of this project, and for the past few months, groups in San Francisco, Austin, and New York have been actively discussing the concepts behind it, sponsored by FLOW: Liberating the Entrepreneurial Spirit for Good
Capitalism, the process whereby capital is mobilized to produce goods and services for people, can be practiced either consciously or unconsciously. The proponents of Conscious Capitalism believe that capital should be mobilized on behalf of making the world a better place, and work to support those who aspire to do so.
According to Mackey, "Businesses and corporations are seen as greedy, selfish, and evil... Business needs to become holistic and integral with deeper, more comprehensive purposes... If business owners/entrepreneurs begin to... manage their business more consciously for the well-being of all their major stakeholders while fulfilling their highest business purpose, then I believe that we would begin to see the hostility towards capitalism and business disappear."
In Mackey's white paper on Conscious Capitalism
, he points out that the purpose of business is not just to maximize profits for the investors, as the economists would tell us. The entrepreneurs who found a business determine its purpose, not investors or lawyers or politicians. In Mackey's experience -- and mine -- maximizing profits is not the primary reason any entrepreneur builds a business. In fact, many of us start businesses with the express purpose of improving the world we live in. It is not only possible, but more common than you might think, to operate a business that makes the world better while earning a reasonable profit for its owners.
The key to being a fully conscious entrepreneur, according to Mackey, is to honor all the stakeholders in a business equally: owners, investors, employees, customers, suppliers, the community, and the environment. It might seem that the impact of such a holistic approach would be to depress profits, but in fact, this isn't necessarily true. Mackey cites a fascinating study of 30 publicly-traded companies managed according to this conscious, holistic paradigm. Over a period of ten years, these companies outperformed the S&P 500 by a ratio of nine to one.
The San Francisco Conscious Capitalism group
this month will be discussing the topic "The Conscious Capitalism Business Plan: What is it? What goes into it? How is it different?" If you join us, expect a lively small group discussion, with plenty of time for your own contributions and questions.
Can capitalism become conscious? Here's what Mackey says: "...businesses have endless opportunities to attempt to do good in the world... if done consciously, on an ongoing basis by individuals and corporations around the world, would help push humanity into an era of accelerated progress that would be unprecedented in world history. That is what...Conscious Capitalism really means."
Labels: social action, social entrepreneurs