How to Become a Hero c.j. hayden
   How to Become a Hero
   You Are the Champion the World Is Waiting For

   C.J. Hayden, MCC

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Are you a positive deviant? 

postive devianceSome 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.

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Remembering the peace heroes 

thou shalt not believe the generalsMemorial 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.

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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.

maslow's pyramidI 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.

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A new hope 

barack obamaIn 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.

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The world's a mess – so what else is new? 

the world's a messIn 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 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?"

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Conscious shopper's 2008 holiday guide 

gifts for a greener worldIt'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.

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Start scattering 

ideas, free to a good homeHelen Walton, 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.

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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."

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Going the long way around 

Many years ago, at a challenging time in my life, I had a dream of accomplishing an important goal in San Francisco. At the time I envisioned that goal, I was stranded in Indianapolis with no job and no money. I eventually got to San Francisco, and accomplished my goal. But I had to get there by way of Toronto.

Now a quick glance at any map will tell you that Toronto is not on the way from Indianapolis to San Francisco. Since this chain of events took place in the middle of winter, going to Toronto was certainly not going to bring me any better weather. I didn't have a permit to work in Canada at the time I went there, so it wasn't going to be any easier to find a job, either.

But what did exist in Toronto was one person who I believed cared about me, and another person who I thought would give me some money. It turned out I was right on both counts. I got enough money to rent a room; with a place to stay, I found an under-the-table job; with someone nearby who cared about me, I stuck out the lousy job for six weeks and saved up enough money for a bus ticket to San Francisco.

Sometimes the only way to accomplish what you think is important is by going the long way around.

A friend of mine is stuck in his own personal Indianapolis right now. He has an important goal, one that could possibly impact the lives of many people for the better. And he's determined to reach his own version of San Francisco to get it done. But the problem is that he's afraid to leave his Indianapolis until he has the entire journey mapped out, paid for, and planned every step of the way. You see, he doesn't want to end up in Toronto by mistake.

I understand my friend's fear. None of us wants to make a mistake. It seems like it would be so much safer to plan and prepare for every little contingency before setting out. That way you can avoid making any mistakes, right? Ah, if only that were true!

In reality, leaving Indianapolis before he is completely ready might not be such a bad idea for my friend at all. At least he'll be on the road and moving. He'll learn some things; he'll meet some people; he'll find out what it's like to begin pursuing his goal instead of just dreaming about it. He'll work the bugs out of his plan with some road testing in the real world. He might even discover that some of his goal can be achieved before he ever gets to San Francisco.

When the only way you can figure out how to get from Indianapolis to San Francisco is by way of Toronto, then I say, go that way. If you go the long way around, you are still going. If you insist on staying put until you've planned every detail, you're not going anywhere.

The distance from Indianapolis to San Francisco is 2,272 miles. The distance traveled if you have to go by way of Toronto would be 3,193 miles instead. But the distance traveled if you don't go at all is zero. That doesn't sound like a journey worth planning to me.

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Being the change 

March 24-30, 2008 has been designated as Conversation Week by Conversation Café and Global MindShift. This annual event is an opportunity for people around the world to gather in small groups and have meaningful conversations.

I love having deep, purposeful conversations and enjoy being in environments where they can be had. I used to think I was shy because I felt so uncomfortable in many social situations, but then I realized that it was simply because I had never learned to enjoy small talk. What interests me is large talk.

The most important questions for Conversation Week dialogues this year were voted on by 1500 people in 39 countries. Here they are:
  1. How can we best prepare our children for the future?
  2. What does sustainability look like to you? How do we get there?
  3. How do humans need to adapt to survive the changes predicted for this century?
  4. How do we shift from "Me" to "We" on both the local and global levels?
  5. How can you, as Gandhi said, be the change that you want to see in the world?
  6. What kind of economic structures can best support a shift to sustainable living?
  7. How should we re-invent the political process so that people feel that they have a voice?
  8. What kind of leadership does the world need now?
  9. How can we balance our personal needs with the most pressing needs of our community and the larger world?
  10. What can we do to reduce or eliminate violence in the world?

It's a compelling list of topics. I was most taken by #5, "How can you, as Gandhi said, be the change that you want to see in the world?" Conversation Week organizers provided some additional conversational doorways into each topic, and for this one they asked: "What gaps do you notice between your 'walk' and 'talk' and what steps can you take towards 'being the change'?"

"What steps can you take?" What a crucial element this question is for a dialogue about change. Perhaps it is my training and experience as a coach (or perhaps this is what drew me to coaching in the first place), but I often feel driven to end conversations by asking, "And what is your next step?" To me, this is how conversations can be not only meaningful, but impactful.

Being in dialogue with others is an essential tool for raising our awareness. Sometimes it is the only way we ever find out what we really think. We make a declaration aloud in response to a question or challenge, and find ourselves thinking, "Yes, of course! That's what I believe to be true."

But as significant as that awareness may be, what often happens is that the moment of enlightenment passes, and we go on with our lives as before. We have a momentous realization, but then don't connect any action to it. And then we forget about it until the next time something or someone prods us into awareness again.

Perhaps one move we can all make toward "being the change" is to add this one simple question to our conversations about how the world should be different: "And what is your next step?" Perhaps if we keep asking this of others, they will also start asking it of us.

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Got hope? 

During Barack Obama's victory speech after winning the South Carolina primary last night, among the signs waving in the audience was one that read: "Got hope?" Hope has been a strong theme in the Obama campaign: "choosing hope over fear" and "the power of hope to imagine, and then work for, what had seemed impossible before." Obama's focus on hope as a catalyst for action is what first drew me to him as a candidate.

I've been thinking a lot about hope lately as a result of reading Martin Seligman's Learned Optimism. One of the book's self-assessments allows you to determine your personal "hope score." Not too surprising to me, my own hope score was fairly high.

According to Dr. Seligman, no other single score is as important as your hope score in determining your level of achievement and happiness in life. Simply put, people with a high level of hopefulness believe that their actions can make a difference, and therefore, they act. But people who feel hopeless also feel helpless. Since they believe that nothing they do matters, they choose to do nothing.

Seligman has been studying hopefulness and helplessness in the laboratory since 1964, and what his experiments indicate is that both are learned behaviors. Whether the lab subjects are rats, dogs, or humans, if they experience too much powerlessness in a particular area, they become hopeless and stop trying. But the good news is that the reverse is also true. When people or animals believe that their actions do make a difference, they become more hopeful, and try even harder.

Seligman's experiments also suggest that hopelessness and helplessness coincide with severe depression. Hopeless, helpless people become depressed. Depressed people become hopeless and helpless. And again, the reverse is true. People who regain hope are no longer depressed. If Seligman is right (and he has many years of statistical studies backing up his theories), hope is not only an antidote for depression, it's a vaccination that can prevent it from occurring.

The key to developing hope, according to Seligman, is changing your "explanatory style." Finding temporary and specific causes for adversity and disappointment is the art of hope; believing in permanent and universal causes is the practice of despair. His experiments show that if you can learn to change the way you explain negative events and conditions, you can become more hopeful.

A hopeless person says, "my candidate never wins" (permanent), so he stays away from the polls. A hopeful person says, "my candidate lost the last election" (temporary), but campaigns for his candidate this time. A hopeless person tells herself, "the whole country is a mess" (universal), so she thinks there is nothing she can do to change it. A hopeful person tells herself, "our health care system is a mess" (specific), so she advocates for health care reform.

People become hopeful because they tell themselves they can make a difference. And hopeful people take action. Hope is the stuff that positive change is made of.

In Obama's words: "...hope is not blind optimism. It's not ignoring the enormity of the task ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. It's not sitting on the sidelines or shirking from a fight. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and to work for it, and to fight for it."

How about you? Got hope?


One hero's report card 

Last January, I issued a challenge to readers of this blog and myself to commit one heroic act in 2007. And I made a commitment to my own heroic act: to launch or join a project in support of educating girls in the developing world, and contribute enough of my time and energy to send 30 girls -- a classroom full -- to school. I'm proud to say that I achieved this goal.

In June, I founded the Send Girls to School Project to spread the word about the amazing impact girls' education has on global poverty, supporting five different nonprofits that help girls attend school around the world. As a result of this project, enough donations were made to Educate Girls Globally, Room to Grow Girls' Scholarships, and Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED) to send approximately 40 girls to school for one year in India, Southeast Asia, and Africa. (If you made a contribution after hearing about this project, please stop by the Report Card page to let me know.)

A totally unexpected result of this project is that it inspired a song! Singer-songwriter Lisa Safran wrote They Just Need School after learning about the project, and you can listen to it on the Send Girls to School website.

If you made your own resolution to be more heroic last year, how did you do? In my steps to becoming a hero, "take action" is #3, so it's okay if you didn't get quite that far. Perhaps you made progress on step #1, "develop your heroic qualities." That, too, is a heroic act.

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The hero's holiday shopping guide for 2007 

This holiday season, consider using your gift-shopping dollars to help make the world a better place. By purchasing gifts from fair trade organizations, social enterprises, nonprofit cooperatives, and other worthy causes, you can give a gift to the people on your list and to the global community at the same time. In what has become an annual feature in this blog, here are some suggested ways you can make a difference with your holiday shopping.

Ten Thousand Villages - Purchase fair trade housewares, jewelry, accessories, and other gifts from artisans in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. For the women on your list, check out the Vintage Appeal collection. For men, see the ideas on their Gifts for Him page.

Handmade Expressions - Choose from socially and environmentally responsible products from artisan cooperatives, including eco-friendly journals, shopping bags, tote bags, and purses from recycled materials, cloth dolls made from scraps, and jewelry created from locally sourced materials.

BuyChange - Select gifts from four different social enterprises that sustain worthy causes: Arghand Hand-milled Soap from Afghanistan, Food from the Hood Salad Dressing from South Central Los Angeles, Mr. Elliepooh Elephant Pooh Paper Products from Sri Lanka, and Hagar Handbags and Accessories from Cambodia.

A Greater Gift - This program of SERRV International provides development assistance to low-income micropreneurs and helps them market their products. In their online store, you can purchase jams and jellies from Swaziland, olive oil from Palestine, wild rice from the Native American Ojibwe tribe, tea from Nepal packaged in a satin brocade bag, and much more.

Palestine Children's Welfare Fund - You can purchase beautiful handmade embroidery crafted by Palestinian women in refugee camps. Your purchases help to support these women and their families, who have very few options for earning a living. Stop by the ConnectHer project to find out how your shopping dollars will help more women micro-entrepreneurs get started.

Heavenly Treasures - Help people break the cycle of poverty by purchasing handicrafts from livelihood projects in 11 countries around the world. Check out the banana bark holiday ornaments from Kenya, wool slippers from Kyrgyzstan, and silk scarves from Laos. If you're in the Los Angeles area, visit their retail store in Glendora.

Aid to Artisans - Buy jewelry, accessories, home decor, and crafts from this project to help artisans in the developing world learn business skills and find markets for their products. You can also find some ATA products at stores like Crate & Barrel and Pier 1 Imports.

iGive - If the wish lists of your loved ones include items from name brand merchants like Apple, Best Buy, Gap, or Harry & David, you can make these purchases and still make a contribution by shopping through iGive. Participating merchants will donate an average of 1-5% of your purchase to the cause of your choice. Since 1997, iGive has raised almost $3 million for charity.

JustGive - For the person who has everything, you can make a gift in their honor with a charity gift basket that donates the amount of your choice to a selection of charities in support of a single cause. Choose from causes like Support Women of the World, Create Peace for All, Plant Trees, or Provide Shelter for Animals.

For even more suggestions, check out my 2006 guide or 2005 guide to find sources for gift baskets, baby clothes, organic cotton clothing, bath salts, pet gifts, soup mixes, chocolate, and much more. Build a better world with your purchases this holiday.

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You don't have to do it alone 

The hero's journey can be a lonely one. But does it have to be? Or in fact, do the heroes who ultimately succeed in their quests do so because they were willing to seek out -- and accept -- a considerable amount of help?

In Joseph Campbell's writings about the hero's journey, he describes numerous helpers the hero may require along the way, including mentors, spirit guides, allies, and rescuers. In stories about heroes from mythology, fiction, and real life, the role of these helpers is significant.

King Arthur had his mentor Merlin and the aid of the Knights of the Round Table. Luke Skywalker had the guidance of Obi-Wan Kenobi and the companionship of Han Solo and Princess Leia. Lance Armstrong became a champion cyclist because he was mentored by Chris Carmichael, survived cancer with the assistance of Dr. Steven Wolff and cancer nurse Latrice Haney, and built his cancer research foundation with the help of Kristen Richard, who became his wife. Successful heroes have help.

If you are setting out on a quest of your own, you may already know that you need guidance and support, but where can you find it? One approach I always suggest to fledgling heroes pondering this question is immersion. If you stand outside the new world you want to enter, it always appears mysterious, and usually frightening. You don't know where to go or who to talk to, and because you aren't talking to anyone, you think you are alone with your goals and dreams. But once you take one small step into that world, you immediately make contact with like-minded people. The trick is to be willing to step in before you have it all figured out.

When I first decided to help entrepreneurs become more successful in 1992, I had no idea how to go about it. I didn't know anyone else who did that kind of work, I had no mentors or guides, and no one to help me. If I had stayed in that isolated state, I wouldn't have lasted 15 weeks in my new venture. Instead, it's been 15 years. The reason I've ultimately been able to help so many people with my work is because I've had a lot of help myself. And I found that help by immersing myself in the world I wanted to enter -- before I felt ready to be there.

What this means on a practical level can be any number of activities, for example, attending meetings of like-minded people, reading books about related people and projects, surfing the web to find out who is doing what, taking classes related to your goal or dream, and asking others for ideas, resources, and connections.

One of the most helpful steps to me personally turned out to be getting on mailing lists. Receiving newsletters and announcements from the people and organizations already in the world I wanted to enter introduced me to new possibilities, suggested places I could go and people I could meet, and made me feel as if I was a part of something.

If you are looking for mentors and allies for a social action or advocacy project of your own, the organization FLOW has developed some effective models for connecting people with similar ideas. In San Francisco, New York, and Austin, they've been holding regular "Activation Circle" gatherings to bring together people with a shared vision of "liberating the entrepreneurial spirit for good." And on Nov. 30 in Austin, and Dec. 7 in San Rafael, they are hosting daylong events for that purpose.

I'll be attending the San Rafael event, where the morning will be focused on a particular theme: supporting women entrepreneurs in the developing world. In the afternoon session, attendees will have a chance to interact with each other about the topic of their choice related to any social enterprise, in an open space setting. After attending a session like this in October, I walked away with a tall stack of new contacts and possibilities for my own projects.

One of the fastest ways to end your quest to make a difference before it starts is to believe that you're the only one on that particular journey. If you want to have a successful mission, start looking around for who else should be on your team.

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Discovering the real world 

Recently, I've been exploring the issue of the necessary conditions for people to become entrepreneurs. For me, this is one aspect of a larger question -- what enables people to take action on the change they wish to see in the world?

At an Empowering Women Entrepreneurs event last weekend, I learned that in the developing world, one of the obstacles to successful entrepreneurship is the expense and difficulty of legally starting a business. In Honduras, for example, to open a legal sole proprietorship requires 169 steps, 270 days, and $3,765 U.S.

The interesting fact is that all this doesn't stop entrepreneurs from getting started in Honduras. Instead, they go underground. Up to 89% of all businesses in Honduras operate extralegally. Doing business in this underground economy has many problems. Entrepreneurs have no access to capital, so they can't expand. Businesses can be shut down arbitrarily by the law or local bosses. But despite these difficulties, new underground businesses get started every day.

This phenomenon isn't limited to the developing world. In the urban centers of North America, underground economies thrive. In Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor, Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh describes how conventional business owners -- not just drug dealers and prostitutes -- operate in the economic underground. Self-employed mechanics, food vendors, painters, hairdressers, and more are all operating outside the law and without participating in the tax system.

When people are unable to participate in the legal economy because the cost of entry is too high or their path is blocked due to racial, class, religious, or gender barriers, it doesn't stop them from entering the economy. They just create their own.

When I was a street kid in the 70's, I lived in this twilight economy. Money changed hands, products and services were obtained, people worked in exchange for compensation, but no one I knew had a paycheck or a business license or paid taxes. I used to look at the straight world -- the one where people had jobs and stores and checking accounts -- and think that was the real world. People like me, without an education or the right connections or respectable resumes, didn't have the price of admission to that world, so we stayed in our own.

But in an environment where more money changes hands under the counter than over it, isn't that where the "real world" truly lies? In an economy like that of Honduras, there are clearly more people participating in the shadow economy than in the legal one. In the U.S., no one knows how many people make a living in the underground economy, although the number of illegal immigrants alone has been estimated as high as 20 million. Estimates of the monetary size of the U.S. underground economy suggest that it is equivalent to 9% of the legitimate economy, which would make it about $1 trillion per year. That amount seems pretty real to me.

In the 1999 film The Matrix, the transformative moment for the central character, Neo, is when he discovers that the world he has been living in -- where residents have homes and jobs and businesses -- is all an illusion perpetrated by evil machines. The real world is one where a ragtag band of dropouts struggle for survival, fighting against the machines that dominate the planet. This real world exists, quite literally, underground.

In the surface world, Neo is a person of no importance, and feels lost and alone. But in the underground world, Neo becomes a hero and a leader to his people. For Neo to make the transition from the false surface world to the real world underground, he first must be able to see through "the matrix" projecting the false images. But once he does see the real world, the false one no longer deceives him. He can (literally) see right through it.

So what do underground economies and The Matrix have to do with taking action to change the world? Simply this. If you look around you at the world you believe you live in and think you don't fit in, or feel excluded from participating, or you don't have the price of admission, find another world. It's probably already operating right under your nose.

There is a back door into almost every line of endeavor you can name. If you believe that door exists, and are willing to knock on enough doors to find the right one, you can gain admittance. You can start a business with no capital, operate a nonprofit without registering one, or get a job as a researcher without credentials. I mention these three examples because they are all things I have personally done at one time, but many more examples exist.

To set up the necessary conditions for you to take action, perhaps you need to forget about whatever you have been led to believe the real world looks like. Instead, seek out people who are already doing what you want to do, connect with others who themselves have felt disenfranchised or excluded, locate the community where at last you feel welcome. Wherever that is, for you, that is the real world.

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Even a rat can be a hero 

In the latest edition of Heifer International's World Ark magazine, I first learned about HeroRat, a project launched by the Belgian research organization APOPO. HeroRat trains rats how to detect buried landmines.

Even if this isn't an issue that would normally attract your attention, you should pay a visit to the HeroRat site. With photos, videos, cartoons, really cute graphics, and even a video game, it's one of the best fundraising websites I've ever seen.

Why landmine-detecting rats? Here's the story in a nutshell. Every 20 minutes, a civilian is hurt or killed by a buried landmine in war zones around the world. Metal detectors are slow and tedious, bulldozers don't work on uneven terrain, and mine-detecting dogs can set off the mines.

Rats, on the other hand, have a great sense of smell, are easily trained to do repetitive tasks, are inexpensive to breed, feed, and transport, and they are too light to trigger the mines. One trained rat can clear 100 square meters of land in 30 minutes. At the HeroRat training center in Tanzania, hundreds of rats are being trained to detect mines, then sent where they are needed around the world.

Of course, the real heroes here are the people that came up with this brilliant concept: Bart Weetjens, Christophe Cox, and Mic Billet, now APOPO's chairman. They first began exploring the problem of land mines in Africa in 1995, and persevered for many years to find funding and a solution. The first team of HeroRats completed their training in 2004. You can read the full story here.

If you adopt a HeroRat for as little as 5 euros per month (about $7 USD), you'll receive emails from your rat, pictures of your rat in action, and an official adoption certificate, all of which I'll bet are every bit as cute as the website.

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We are the champions 

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed a slight but significant shift in its theme over this past year. When I first began writing on the topic How to Become a Hero four years ago, I described the theme of these reflections as "stepping into your own greatness to be of service to others." Later on, this became "finding your right livelihood on the path of service." But recently I made the decision to declare a new theme for these entries: "you are the champion the world is waiting for."

I first began thinking about the need for more heroes in our modern world after the 9/11 attacks. There were many people who became heroes on that day, called forth by the urgent need of others. But so many aspects of this catastrophe could have been prevented if there were more people called to heroic acts before it began. "Why do the heroes appear only after the tragedy," I wondered. "We should be taking steps just as bold to prevent the causes of terrorism, not just responding after it occurs."

Then the U.S. invaded Iraq, and the news was again filled with stories about heroes. But this time many of those profiled weren't just saving lives – they were also responsible for taking them. "What about the warriors for peace and justice?" I asked. "Where are their stories? Aren't they also heroes?" I launched this blog three months after the war began.

And then came Hurricane Katrina. I watched helplessly from San Francisco as people in New Orleans suffered and died. Days passed, and it seemed that news cameras could reach every area of the flooded city while rescuers and supplies could not.

There were many heroes on the ground, doing what they could under desperate conditions with limited resources. But with very few exceptions, those in charge failed to show leadership, courage, or even a sense of responsibility. Instead, rescue efforts moved forward at a snail's pace as government agencies and elected officials protected their turf, pointed fingers at each other, and delayed critical decisions. Meanwhile, supplies, volunteers, and vehicles sent from outside the area were refused admittance to the city.

It was during that awful week that I realized three compelling truths about becoming a hero:

1. We cannot wait for a hero to come and rescue us.
Like the people of New Orleans, we may be waiting for a rescuer to help our community or cause, but it just may be that no one is coming. The most likely place to look for leadership is not out in the world, but within ourselves.

2. We cannot wait to figure out the best possible course of action. Seeking our ultimate life purpose is a worthwhile endeavor, but meanwhile, we should take action to make a difference where and how we can. We will develop our heroic qualities more by exercising them than by contemplating possibilities.

3. We cannot wait for a disaster to hear the call to heroism. If the only time we are compelled to act is when a disaster is at our door, many options are already closed to us. We can make much more of a difference in the world around us by working steadily to address chronic problems and prevent major disasters from occurring.

There is no one better qualified, smarter, braver, or more talented than you and I to redress the ills we see in the world. There are no grownups to tell us what we should do. There are no leaders we can count on to do what must be done. In the words of Freddie Mercury, we are the champions of the world. It's you that the world is waiting for.

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Mid-year's resolutions 

With the year half gone, I decided it was the perfect time to check in on my New Year's resolutions. Why wait until December to see what I didn't do this year?

This January, I wrote about the idea of including one heroic act in your New Year's resolutions and made a commitment to take on one of my own -- to launch or join a project in support of educating girls in the developing world. I'm pleased to report that last month I launched the Send Girls to School Project.

I've written previously about the important role of girls' education in eradicating global poverty. Lawrence Summers, former Chief Economist of the World Bank, puts it simply: "Educating girls yields a higher rate of return than any other investment in the developing world."

Send Girls to School is an education and advocacy project dedicated to improving education for girls in the developing world by compiling and sharing research, publicizing girls' education projects and supporting their fundraising efforts, publishing original writings about the impact of girls' education, and more. If this issue speaks to you, please consider getting involved.

What important resolutions of yours have gotten lost in the hustle of your daily existence since January? Take a look now and see what you still have time to accomplish in 2007.

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A poverty of ambition 

Listening to Barack Obama's podcast recently, I heard a talk and Q and A session he gave for Partnership for Public Service interns last July, where he referred to a "poverty of ambition."

It's not the first time Obama has used this compelling phrase. Here's a quote from his commencement address to Knox College in 2005: "Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. You need to take up the challenges that we face as a nation and make them your own. Not because you have a debt to those who helped you get here, although you do have that debt. Not because you have an obligation to those who are less fortunate than you, although I do think you do have that obligation. It's primarily because you have an obligation to yourself. Because individual salvation has always depended on collective salvation. Because it's only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential."

It seems to me that a poverty of ambition in our modern world afflicts much more than young people making career decisions. We each must choose -- not just once, but many times throughout our lives -- whether to act purely on our own behalf, or to raise our ambition to something higher than our immediate wants and needs. Too often, we choose simply what serves us in the moment. I'm not talking about just you and me making decisions that affect our own lives and those of our families. Our political leaders, business leaders, and community leaders, more often than not, are limiting their ambition to choices that are poor in every sense of the word. And we're letting them get away with it.

When we raise our ambition to seek out solutions that benefit everyone instead of settling for those that help only a few, we call forth the amazing richness of our human potential. By expecting more -- of ourselves, our leaders, and our communities -- we raise the bar for what is acceptable. A raised bar causes us to stretch our capacity, to explore new ways of doing things, to sometimes simply leap, and by leaping, set a new record for what is possible. In this rich territory of stretching and exploring and leaping, we not only discover what we were already capable of, we make ourselves more capable than we ever could have been without the challenge.

Realizing our true potential as people, as leaders, as a nation, and as a global community requires a higher ambition. It is by growing ourselves that we can truly grow rich.

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A life's work or a day's work? 

It's hard to set out on your hero's journey when you aren't sure where you are going. If I had to name the one thing that prevents more bright, talented people from making a difference in the world than any other, I'd say it was not knowing what the difference is they truly want to make.

It seems that most of us would-be heroes are listening very hard for The Call -- the inspired message that will tell us once and for all what we are supposed to do with our lives -- but we aren't quite sure how to recognize the real thing. One morning you feel unusually determined to do something about global warming and you wonder, "Is this it? Have I heard The Call now?"

But when you find yourself the next day strongly pulled toward a project to help teenage runaways, you think, "I guess that global warming idea wasn't the real thing. Maybe this is it." And your plans to take action about global warming go out the window. But you're still not sure about helping those teenage runaways. After all, you were wrong before about hearing The Call. Maybe you had better wait and see how you feel tomorrow.

As someone who has heard and acted on more than one inspired message in the course of a lifetime, here's my experience with the "how to be sure" question. You can only ever know what is right for you today... or maybe this hour, or this minute.

There is a moment on each journey when we take the step that sets things in motion which prevent our easy retreat. And I think that often it is the mood we are in at the very moment we take that step that determines the journey we go on.

There is probably no single mission in life that will hold your attention forever. There may not be just one mission that will satisfy you completely for even a short time. But one thing is sure -- if you wait until you know without a doubt what that mission is, you will also be waiting to do what good you can in the world in the meantime.

I say if there is a mess in front of you and your hand lights upon a broom, pick it up and start sweeping. Perhaps ultimately a mop might do a better job, or even a shovel. But the longer you wait to decide what tool to use, the longer the mess will be there.

I don't mean to suggest you should just throw a dart at a random list of ways to help the world. But you have probably already done a lot of studying and thinking and listening about what your mission in life should be. Most people I talk to are seriously considering no more than a handful of different ideas at any one time.

What I am suggesting, though, is that you should allow yourself to be moved in the direction of action regarding one of these ways to be of service the next time some useful action presents itself to you.

There will be a moment when that action will turn into a commitment and then there will be another point when you can decide if the direction you are going feels right. Even after you commit, most commitments are negotiable. Once you have set upon a course, you can usually still change it, although it becomes harder to do the further along you go.

But since it's likely that no decision you make will be permanent anyway, why not simply choose to make one based on what is calling to you most in that moment? Then you will act, and in acting, you will learn more. After deciding, you will feel differently than before you decided, and that too, you will learn from. When you decide and act, you will tell people about your choice, and from their reactions (and from your own when you tell them), you will learn still more.

And while you are learning these things, you will simultaneously be contributing your unique talents in the direction of cleaning up a mess that is much in need of cleaning.

In many ways, I think there is little effort in acting to clean up the world's messes that is truly wasted. If you decide to work helping runaways for a time and then decide it is not for you, the runaways and you will still benefit. In fact, if you were to work or volunteer on a different path of service every month for the rest of your life, you and the world would still benefit.

In the aftermath of the South Asian tsunami, I read a news report that created a subtle but profound shift in my thinking on this issue of waiting to be sure about the best way to be of service.

A village leader in the Aceh province of Indonesia was interviewed by a journalist two weeks after the tsunami. "How much foreign aid is reaching your village?" the journalist asked.

"We can't understand it," the elder replied. "All we see are journalists and aid agency workers making studies. People come with cameras and clipboards and ask many questions. Then they leave and never come back. We need food, we need water. People are dying. Please stop sending people with questions about what we need and send us some help."

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A day on, not a day off 

On Monday, Jan 15, the U.S. will celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. with a national holiday. But what many Americans don't realize is that in 1994, Congress designated the King Holiday as a national day of volunteer service. Instead of just taking a day off from work or school, Americans of all backgrounds and ages are encouraged to honor Dr. King's memory by turning their concerns into positive action.

Each year on the King Day of Service, hundreds of thousands of Americans volunteer in their communities, building homes, painting schools, delivering meals, and teaching children about Dr. King's life. Many projects started on King Day continue to involve volunteers long after the holiday and benefit their communities year-round.

It's not too late to find a volunteer opportunity for yourself this coming Monday. You can find local organizations sponsoring King Day projects on the King Day of Service website, or through the USA Freedom Corps or the Corporation for National and Community Service, which sponsors projects such as AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, Get Involved! and Learn and Serve America.

In the words of this year's presidential proclamation of the holiday, this can be a day for us all to "...recommit ourselves to the dream to which Dr. King devoted his life -- an America where the dignity of every person is respected; where people are judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character; and where the hope of a better tomorrow is in every neighborhood."

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One heroic act 

Did you make any resolutions this New Year? According to an A.C. Nielsen survey, over half of all the people in the world did in 2007. The most popular resolutions worldwide were to get more exercise and have a better work/life balance. Other top choices were to go on a diet, quit smoking, avoid bad relationships, and change jobs.

There's nothing wrong with resolutions like these. If we all paid more attention to our physical and emotional health as well as our job satisfaction, the world would be a happier place. But I'd like to see another sort of resolution make the top ten. What if we were all to resolve to do just one thing this year to make the world a better place?

Imagine the positive impact on a global scale if each of us took on just one significant task to better the lives of others or the state of our planet. We all have the capacity to be heroes if we allow ourselves to claim our own greatness. Could this be the year that you take a giant step forward on that path?

Here's my invitation -- choose one heroic act that you are willing to perform in 2007. Look outside yourself and your circle of family and friends to the wider world that is so in need of your skills and talents. What's just one thing that you could do to be of greater service?

I've pondered this question for myself, and decided that my heroic act this year will be to launch or join a project in support of educating girls in the developing world. There are several organizations already doing great work in this area, so my commitment is to forge an alliance with one of them and contribute enough of my time and energy to send at least 30 girls -- a classroom full -- to school this year in a developing country.

That's my heroic act for 2007 – what will be yours?

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The call to heroism in the howl of a dog 

In a recent issue of Inquiring Mind, I encountered the story of Pali Boucher, the founder of Rocket Dog Rescue in San Francisco. I'm always looking for what motivates people to step out of their ordinary lives and into a heroic role. In Boucher's case, it was a howling dog.

Boucher was the child of a homeless, drug-addicted mother who died when she was ten. After a short time in a foster home, she ended up on the street herself. For many years, she was in and out of jail, became addicted to drugs, and contracted HIV. But she always loved animals. As a child, she took care of pigeons, feral cats, and junkyard dogs. As a homeless adult, she visited animal shelters to spend time with the dogs there.

At the SPCA, Boucher fell in love with Leadbelly, a hound who no one wanted to adopt because he howled all the time. Learning that Leadbelly was in danger of being euthanized, she scrounged up some money, faked an address, and adopted him. After almost losing her beloved hound when she went back to jail, she checked herself into a detox program. "It was the first time in my life I realized that I wasn't just affecting myself by going out and getting loaded, that I was directly responsible for the pain of somebody else," Boucher recalls.

Ultimately, Boucher and Leadbelly rescued each other. Boucher says, "He helped me learn to take care of myself by taking care of him." After getting clean and sober, Boucher founded Rocket Dog Rescue, which saves dogs scheduled for euthanasia throughout California. Rocket Dog rescues about 150 dogs per year, and runs completely on donations with no paid staff. Boucher is a recipient of the Points of Light Award for outstanding volunteerism.

There's just no telling where a hero might encounter the call to inspired action. So keep listening -- yours is out there.

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The hero's holiday shopping guide 

The holiday shopping season is upon us, so it's time once again for what has become an annual feature in this blog – suggestions for how your gift-buying dollars can help to make the world a better place. By making your purchases from fair trade organizations, nonprofit collectives, social enterprises, and other worthy causes, you can give a gift to the people on your list and the global community at the same time. Here are some ideas:

The Culture Shop - Buy jewelry, accessories, textiles, and home decor created by indigenous craftspeople around the world. Everything in their catalog has been purchased according to Fair Trade Federation standards

Global Girlfriend - Organic cotton clothing, recycled plastic accessories, and natural bath products are available online from this Fair Trade boutique. Their goods are made by women's non-profit programs, women's cooperatives worldwide and products that benefit women's human rights.

Greyston Bakery - Order brownies and blondies for shipping nationwide from this social enterprise in Yonkers, NY that gives jobs and job training to the chronically unemployed. Greyston is the sole supplier of brownies to Ben & Jerry's, and profits from the bakery support community development initiatives, including low-income housing, childcare, health services, and technology education.

Humane Society - For the pet or pet-lover on your list, shop at the Humane Domain, where you can buy dog sweaters in team colors, kitty hammocks, dog or cat pajamas, and lots more. Proceeds benefit the Humane Society's animal welfare programs.

Rosie's Place - Purchase jewelry and accessories made from unique and vintage buttons, made by the Women's Craft Cooperative. Rosie's place serves poor and homeless women in Boston, providing emergency and long-term assistance with housing, food, health care, and education.

Shop New Orleans - You can help with Gulf Coast recovery by purchasing gifts from the artists, craftspeople, and nonprofits struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina. The Carnival of Hurricane Relief has assembled this collection, which includes designs from the New Orleans Craft Mafia, Christmas note cards from Southern Creations, and prints of paintings salvaged from the destroyed Biloxi Maritime Museum.

Sweet Earth Organic Chocolates - Buy organic Fair Trade chocolate bars, caramels, truffles, cocoa mix, and more at wholesale prices. Orders from individuals are welcome on Sweet Earth's website.

Trails to Bridges - Beautiful handbags, baskets, pottery, scarves, jewelry, and more are available from this faith-based venture that supports disadvantaged artisans worldwide with Fair Trade practices.

Global Giving Gift Certificates - Allow the people on your gift list to donate to the cause of their choice by giving them a donation gift certificate. With Global Giving, you can buy a certificate in any amount of $10 or more, and the recipient can choose what project or organization your gift will be donated to by browsing a project catalog indexed by theme and global region.

For even more suggestions, check out last year's guide for where to buy gift baskets, baby clothes, bath salts, soup mixes, and much more. Make a difference with your dollars this holiday season.

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To make a difference, be bold 

In the Skoll Foundation’s Social Edge newsletter this week, I discovered the book Be Bold by Cheryl L. Dorsey and Lara Galinsky. “The urge to live a life of meaning,” the authors say, “is one of our most elemental desires as human beings. We want to make a difference in the world; we need to leave our footprint in the sands of time to mark our existence. By honoring the beliefs and values we hold dear, we allow ourselves to live lives that matter.”

In less than 100 pages, Dorsey and Galinsky share powerful concepts like having the “gall to think big” and choosing to be “bold as a career choice.” They remind us: “Never forget that doing nothing is as much a choice as doing something. Choosing to get engaged in a cause that you deeply care about or launching a career in the nonprofit sector are not only courageous acts of service, but also the most powerful weapon against the horrors and injustices of the world that require indifference, inaction, and silence to thrive.”

You can download at no charge the preface and introduction to the book, as well as a Be Bold personal journal, from the Be Bold website if you join their free virtual community of readers and social change advocates. Be Bold carries a valuable and timely message to would-be heroes everywhere.

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Heroes brought women the right to vote 

Alice Paul and Lucy Burns should fit anyone's definition of a hero. In 1913, they formed the Congressional Union for Women Suffrage and three years later, the National Woman's Party, to bring women the right to vote. They first received national attention for their efforts when they organized a parade of 8,000 women suffragists -- the largest parade ever seen at that time -- on the eve of President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration. In 1917, they staged the first-ever political protest to picket the White House. They pioneered the use of nonviolent civil disobedience in the U.S.

During their twelve-year struggle for women's suffrage, Paul and Burns were imprisoned, beaten, cruelly mistreated, and tortured by prison guards. Their arrests were for no worse crimes than picketing and "obstructing sidewalks." They were feared and despised by many men of their time, and were opposed by not only conservative women but also by other suffragettes who preferred less militant tactics. Prison officials attempted to have Paul declared insane, claiming she suffered from a "mania of persecution." But despite every attempt to stop them, Paul and Burns kept up the fight. In 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was finally passed, and U.S. women voted for the first time in that November's presidential election.

Today on the 86th anniversary of that historic vote, whether you are a man or a woman, please join me in honoring the victory of these two heroes by casting your own precious vote for the candidates and issues of your choice.

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It takes a girl to raise a village 

I mentioned in my last post that I had come to a decision to focus on just one cause for all of my personal volunteer efforts and donations. By funneling my charitable energy into a single channel, I believe I can make more of a difference. I'd like to share with you what that cause is, and why I picked it.

One of my criteria for supporting a charitable project has always been that it has an aspect of teaching people how to fish. Over the past few years, I've been drawn to support organizations like Heifer International, who gives farm animals to villagers instead of food, and requires that each recipient of an animal give its first offspring to another family. Or Kiva, where you can make microloans to entrepreneur in the developing world to them build a business to support their family and create local jobs.

I love this sort of social trim-tabbing. Trim tabs are the small surfaces on the rudders and ailerons of boats and planes that can steer the whole vehicle with tiny movements. Buckminster Fuller used the term to describe people who seek to achieve major social change with minimum effort, by choosing carefully where to apply pressure.

A second yardstick I've used to choose my causes has been that I must feel a visceral connection to the people being helped and the specific way in which help is being delivered. Entrepreneurship projects gain my attention because I'm an entrepreneur who had to struggle to be successful myself. I worked on several Katrina relief projects because I empathized so deeply with the feelings of abandonment experienced by hurricane survivors when the help they were counting on didn't arrive.

My third rule has been that I must be able to connect what I give to an impact I can measure. In looking for a place to make contributions after the Asian tsunami, I chose to donate to a group delivering buckets of supplies to the Indonesian coast in small boats, instead of giving my money to the Red Cross. The Indonesian group was able to tell me exactly how many people my contribution would help, and how it would get to them.

So here's the cause I've found that meets all three of these personal standards of mine, and more -- send girls to school.

In many countries in the developing world, education isn't free. Families must pay school fees to local governments, buy uniforms, books, and supplies, and do without the income of a child who isn't working. Faced with tough decisions about how to spend scarce resources, many families choose to send boys to school, but keep girls at home and put them to work.

However, when girls do get an education, the impact on the family, village, and entire nation can be dramatic. Consider these facts:
o For every year a girl remains in school, her wages increase by 20%, and she has 10% fewer children
o A child whose mother attends five years of school has a 40% lower mortality risk
o For every two years a girl stays in school, the children she raises stay in school another year
o You can send a girl to school for an entire year with a donation as small as $75

According to UNICEF, educating girls is the best vehicle available for eradicating global poverty. The World Bank says: "Educating girls yields a higher rate of return than any other investment in the developing world." If you're interested in learning more about this topic, I've set up a Squidoo lens about it at launched a project to support this cause at

I'm sure you can see how this cause passes my tests for trim-tabbing and measurability. And as for the personal connection test, well... I'm a high school dropout who eventually worked my way through college with no help from my family. Helping girls get an education feels pretty personal to me.

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Karma = action 

Watching a video course on Buddhism from The Teaching Company the other day, I learned something fascinating about the word "karma." I had always thought this term represented a sort of cosmic bank account where our good deeds counted as credits and our bad ones as debits. But it turns out what the word actually means is "action" or "the result of action."

The Wikipedia says "Karma is not about retribution, vengeance, punishment or reward. Karma simply deals with what is. The effects of all deeds actively create past, present and future experiences, thus making one responsible for one's own life, and the pain and joy brought to others." So, karma is simply what you do... or what you don't do.

I've been thinking and talking a lot about taking positive action over the past year. Ever since Hurricane Katrina struck last August, it has seemed more and more important to me that those who want to help others and make the world a better place need to go beyond conversation and good intentions, and do something about it. I've been taking action of my own in a few different ways -- working on several different Katrina relief projects, serving on the board of a nonprofit, starting work in earnest on the How to Become a Hero book, and hosting a discussion group for readers of this blog for the first eight months of this year. But I feel called to do more, and I want what I do to encourage others to do more, too.

To that end, I'm organizing a one-day retreat on Oct. 21st, called How to Become a Hero: Your Call to Action. I'm inviting a small group of like-minded people to gather in Marin County to explore their calling to serve others, deepen their commitment to this mission, and discover the course of action that will bring it to life. If you are in the Bay Area and this agenda speaks to you, please join us. I've kept the cost very low so it won't be a barrier to attending.

I've also decided that instead of spreading my volunteer efforts and donations among a variety of causes, I'm going to focus on just one cause. After much consideration, I believe I have found one that honors my values, satisfies my requirements, and that I feel a deep connection to. By choosing a solid anchor for my charitable work, I feel I can make more of an impact. I'll be sharing more about this cause in future posts.

So those are the actions I have chosen, or should I say, this is the karma I am choosing to create. What karma are you creating today?

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Heroism in shopping 

The little choices we make on a daily basis can have a huge impact on our society and environment. Take shopping, for example. Every day, we vote with our wallets to support one company and not another. Often, we make our shopping choices based on price, convenience, and habit, paying little attention to the long-term consequences of our decisions. Without knowing it, we may be giving our money to companies whose practices we strongly oppose.

If you'd like to put more of your money where your values are, pay a visit to Responsible Shopper, Co-Op America's site for socially-conscious shopping. One of the many valuable features you'll find there is the ability to search for a company you currently do business with and find out about their track record with human rights, social justice, and environmental sustainability. Let's say you've been buying outdoor gear from Eddie Bauer. When you view their profile, you'll discover that numerous sources have accused the company of using sweatshop labor in Indonesia and the Phillippines, and denying to workers pay they have already earned. Their competitor Patagonia, on the other hand, shows no record of violations like these, and according to their listing in the National Green Pages, donates 1% of their sales to grassroots environmental organizations.

You may also discover that some of the well-meaning decisions you have already made to alter your shopping habits are perhaps not as wise as you thought. For example, I have for some time refused to shop at Wal-Mart, due (among other reasons) to their use of sweatshop labor in other countries and poor treatment of workers in the U.S. As a result, from time to time I have made purchases from Target. But according to the Co-Op America Quarterly, "Target has been tied to sweatshops in China and Guatemala" and "Target isn't any better than Wal-Mart in terms of worker rights." Starting wages for Target employees are no higher than Wal-Mart's, and Target's benefit packages are often harder to qualify for and less comprehensive than Wal-Mart's dismal benefits. Yikes!

So where should I purchase the housewares I have sometimes bought at Target? In Responsible Shopper's Green Shift section, they suggest several ideas, including "shop locally," and "buy second-hand." I could probably buy almost any household item I might shop for at Target from my local chain Cole Hardware, who not only commits to matching any other store's advertised low price, but also gives me a 5% rebate on my annual purchases to spend at their store. And I have many sources nearby for second-hand shopping, including a Goodwill store, numerous garage sales, and the many offers on Craigslist.

Check out Responsible Shopper for yourself and see if there's even one small change you could make to start having your shopping dollars make a positive difference in the world.


You don't need to be a billionaire to be a benefactor 

The recent news that Warren Buffet plans to give 85% of his $44 billion fortune to charity got me thinking. Buffet is the world's second richest man, and his planned donation is the largest philanthropic gift in history. While his act of generosity is certainly inspirational, Buffet is not exactly an ordinary citizen. When his charitable gift is complete, he'll still have over $6 billion in assets left.

I often hear from people the sentiment that they would give more to charity if only they earned more. But does this actually occur? Statistics show that charitable giving by the richest Americans is falling while donations from the rest of us are on the rise. From 1995 to 2003, donations from those earning more than $1 million per year fell by 12%. Over the same time period, donations from those earning less than $1 million per year rose by 25%. The result? Americans who earn less than $1 million per year now give to charity almost the exact same share of their income (3.5%) as those earning more (3.6%).

It appears that earning more isn't a prerequisite for giving more after all. So if you've been delaying your giving while you focus on earning, perhaps it's time to make a change. As with many other steps a would-be hero could take to make the world a better place, there may be no reason to wait any longer before taking action.


Help kids learn about the Hero's Journey 

If you have discovered the benefits to your life and career of exploring your heroic side, here's a chance to share that experience with some kids. Donors Choose recently contacted me and asked if I'd be willing to post a challenge to my blog readers. This wonderful organization provides a convenient channel for donors to contribute directly to low-cost classroom projects at underfunded public schools.

Currently, there are two teachers in their network seeking funding to teach the Hero's Journey in their classrooms. A 9th grade English teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina wants to teach the Hero's Journey to students using Lord of the Rings. The cost of 30 copies of Fellowship of the Ring is $309, and this teacher needs another $86 to make the purchase. Another 9th grade English teacher in Sonoma, California has been teaching the Hero's Journey for nine years, using Homer's Odyssey. This teacher has discovered a much more accessible new translation of the Odyssey that students are excited about reading, and needs $682 to buy 46 copies of it.

Please consider making a contribution to one of these valuable projects, and help kids learn to make heroic choices early in life. Read more about the projects and view my challenge here.

And if you write your own blog, consider posting a challenge to your readers related to the topic of your blog by visiting Bloggers Choose.

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One person can be more than enough 

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I was searching for stories about ordinary people who became heroes by taking action to help hurricane victims. Instead of echoing criticism about the official response, I wanted to provide some positive examples of people who did what they could with whatever they had. One of the people I wrote about then was Sidney Ray, a Southern California woman who in just six days organized a group of volunteers to fill twelve semi trailers with donations for Katrina survivors.

Recently, Sidney wrote me with an update: "Since September 8th, we have sent out 60 trucks (a combination of 53' semi trailers and 24' box trucks) loaded with 900 pallets of goods -- food, water, baby supplies, clothing, dog food, etc. to families all over Louisiana and Mississippi." Wow.

Sidney's spontaneous effort has grown into a national mutual aid network called Relief Spark. It's an amazing example of what one motivated person can create. Here's a bit of the story in Sidney's own words: 'After reading the newspapers and watching the news on TV, I had this overwhelming feeling that I had to do something! I couldn't just sit around and watch this go by. After making a donation to the Red Cross and going out that evening; my mind was made up: I would go online and find volunteers willing to help me. Within 30 minutes I located my first volunteer in San Diego. 12 hours later I had my first donation drive set up and ready to go... By Sunday we had filled up 3 - 24 foot trucks that were trucked to our Van Nuys donation site. By Monday... 80 volunteers came out to help that evening (that was on Labor Day!) to prepare our boxes for 11 semi's that were supposed to be arriving on Tuesday... we continued to accept donated goods and volunteers showed up to help us out from all over California! By that evening, we had over 350 pallets of goods... and we had taken over the entire street!"

Right now Sidney is on the ground in New Orleans, helping families gut and rebuild their homes. Her goal for the month of March is to have 1000 volunteers come to Louisiana to work on rebuilding projects... and she already has 650 lined up. If you've ever wondered if one person could really make a difference, Sidney is one to remember.

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New Year's revolution 

Every January, many of us spend a few moments thinking about what we want to do differently in the year to come. Typically, these resolutions focus on improving our lives. We resolve to exercise more, eat less, earn more, spend less, find a better job, or improve our health.

So here's a revolutionary idea -- what if this time around, you made a New Year's resolution to improve the lives of others? Look around you at whatever conditions in the world most often make you mad, sad, or frustrated. Are you fed up with our political leaders? Touched by the plight of earthquake victims in Pakistan? Angry that the world's poorest people are suffering while corporate greed seems at an all time high? These are all issues where one person can make a difference.

My first revolutionary resolution this year is to find ways of making my aid to others direct and personal. I notice that when I think about problems on a global scale, I often feel overwhelmed and hopeless. But if I see something I can do to help one small group of people directly, I feel energized and can take positive action.

Here's an example of that principle at work. I recently found out about Kiva, a microlending program that allows individuals to loan funds directly to entrepreneurs in the developing world. With the investment of tiny amounts of capital, these small businesses can provide a means of earning a living to their owners, the owner's family, and others in the community. When you visit Kiva's web site, you'll see a list of businesses that need microloans to get started or grow. Most businesses need amounts as small as $300-500, and you can loan as little as $25. These are loans, not grants or donated aid, and the funds go directly to the entrepreneur described on the site.

I decided to loan money to Agnes Ochieng, operator of a restaurant called Good Feeding in Tororo, Uganda. Agnes needed $300 to buy equipment for her restaurant, which employs five people in her village. And I feel a whole lot better about having loaned $300 to Agnes than if I had written a check to an aid agency so they could send food to Africa.

What will be your revolutionary idea in 2006? One person's resolution can make a significant difference in the lives of others. Is that one person you?

P.S. My "How to Become a Hero" teleconference discussion forum starts Jan. 10. We'll begin by discussing Step 1: Develop your heroic qualities. My story above is an example of how to put yourself in situations that evoke your higher self, an important aspect of this step. Please join us!

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Take the pledge in 2006 

Shel Horowitz wants to change the world. Shel is the author of Principled Profit: Marketing that Puts People First, and he's started a campaign to get 25,000 people to sign his Ethical Business Pledge. Shel believes that businesses should "look at the triple bottom line: financial, environmental, and social" in all their business practices.

In the pledge, business owners and their employees are asked to support this bottom line, to not tolerate crooked practices on the part of anyone their business deals with, and to share this message with others. Also in the pledge is the request to treat all stakeholders "with compassion, and with a commitment to service."

Compassion and service are two of the hallmarks of the hero, who when faced with a choice, puts the needs of others -- and the best interests of the community -- first. Shel envisions a world where a corporate culture built on strong ethics not only refuses to tolerate unprincipled behavior, but directly addresses issues that arise out of seeking only to maximize profit: unfair labor practices, the degradation of natural resources, damage to the environment, and the propping up of repressive governments.

If you'd like to support Shel's campaign, you can sign the pledge online. Note that Shel asks you to share his message with 100 other people in business when you do. Even if you don't decide to sign, Shel's 12 ways to reach 100 people are worth studying as an excellent model for getting your message across for any issue you care about.

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The hero's holiday gift giving guide 

Here in the first week of December, the thoughts of many are turning to holiday gift-giving. Why not use your holiday gifts to make the world a better place? By making your purchases from nonprofit collectives, social enterprises, and fair trade organizations, you can give a gift to the people on your list and the global community at the same time. Here are some sources for holiday gifts that will help to make the world a better place:

Global Exchange - At their Fair Trade Online Store, you can purchase crafts, clothing, jewelry, gift baskets, and more from importers and producers around the world who adhere to fair trade guidelines, providing their workers with a living wage and safe working conditions, and following environmentally sustainable practices. (I ordered several items for my gift list from them, which arrived within days and were as beautiful as they looked in the catalog.)

Marketplace India - Support economic development for disadvantaged women in India by purchasing beautiful clothing and linens manufactured by local cooperatives. Gift certificates are also available.

Appalachian Baby Design - If there are babies on your gift list, shop for clothing and blankets from this nonprofit, which has devoted itself to making machine knitting a sustainable, home-based industry for women in rural Appalachia.

Southwest Indian Foundation - Shop from a huge catalog of jewelry, clothing, ceramics, housewares, food gifts, and much more to support community development, affordable housing, and alcohol counseling for Native American families in the Navajo, Zuni and Hopi tribes.

Make Piece - Purchase one-of-a-kind, handmade jewelry made by low-income women in the Washington DC area.

The Enterprising Kitchen - These soaps, bath salts and other spa products are made by low-income Chicago women recovering from substance abuse and homelessness.

Women's Bean Project - Help Denver women break the cycle of poverty and unemployment by purchasing these delicious soup, bread, sauce, and beverage mixes.

Fair Trade Certified - Coffee, tea and chocolate are marvelous presents for the hard-to-buy-for names on your list, and make excellent client gifts. Look at your local health food store or progressive market for products that carry the fair trade certified labels from TransFair USA or Fair Trade Federation.

Heifer International - For the person who has everything, give them a cow... or a goat, llama, or water buffalo. Make a donation to Heifer and they will purchase farm animals to help needy families around the world earn their own livelihood. You will receive a beautiful "honor card" to give the recipient explaining the donation you made in their honor. For the last-minute giftgiver, honor cards are also available by email.

Most online stores will guarantee holiday delivery if you order by Dec. 10, so pull out your credit card this week and start saving the world.

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Management by social objective 

Peter Drucker died Nov. 11 at the age of 95. Known as the "father of modern management," Drucker was the author of more than 30 books, including the classic study Concept of the Corporation. As a former management consultant myself, I've known about Drucker for years. Although I've read the work of many people quoting Drucker, I had never read any of his books. But on the day he died, sitting on my coffee table was a copy of The World According to Peter Drucker by Jack Beatty, which arrived there purely by chance after someone discarded it at my neighborhood recycling center. It seems the universe wanted me to know a bit more about Drucker.

Concept of the Corporation began as an internal study commissioned by General Motors. When Drucker discovered that GM employees considered him a management spy and wouldn't talk to him, he asked GM to let him write a book instead because "everybody in this country will do anything for a writer." But when the book was published in 1945, GM denounced it as an attack on the company. Drucker was calling for major changes in how GM was managed.

It wasn't just GM that Drucker was talking about. According to Beatty, "Concept of the Corporation is a book about business as Moby-Dick is a book about whaling." Drucker used GM as an example of the sweeping changes he saw needed in corporations as social institutions. He argued that corporate life was our new social reality, and as such "has to carry the burden of our dreams... of equality of opportunity and personal achievement." The promise of an industrial society was that more people would be allowed to realize their personal dreams than ever before in history. But the corporation wasn't doing its job.

Scores of new opportunities for advancement and personal fulfillment were being created by the industrial system, but it appeared they were being given to the "already advanced." The focus on purely economic criteria for success was an affront to dignity and destroyed self-respect. And the assembly-line style of corporate work with its monotony and rigid specialization was in opposition to natural human strengths.

Drucker was the first to insist that corporations were "affected with the public interest" and should show "social responsibility." He continued to sound that theme until his death. In his 1999 book Leading Beyond the Walls, Drucker said, "Social responsibility is usually defined as doing no harm to others in the pursuit of one's own interest or of one's own task." But what we need today is "what might be called civic responsibility: giving to the community in the pursuit of one's own interest or of one's own task."

It's not quite what you would expect from the world's best known business guru. I wonder how many of those management experts citing Drucker's work have also never read it.


Heroes must choose 

The past ten months have seen more than their share of calls to heroes. Beginning with the tsunami in South Asia last December, we have seen a wave of natural disasters leaving behind widespread destruction and despair: Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma in the U.S., Hurricane Stan in Guatemala and El Salvador, and the recent earthquake in Pakistan and India. There are so many people homeless, jobless, and suffering around the world that we may be tempted to throw up our hands in despair. How can we help so many people at once? With so much help needed in so many places, what can one person do?

I have had my moments of wanting to turn off the news and pretend none of this is happening. Hearing so many calls for help, a natural response is to defend ourselves by shutting down our compassion. By turning a deaf ear and hardening our hearts, perhaps we can avoid being overwhelmed, and therefore perhaps remain of some use. But I believe there is a more purposeful solution.

Loren Eiseley, in his book The Star Thrower, wrote a parable that has been widely repeated as the "starfish story." If you aren't familiar with it, here's a synopsis. This story serves as a guidepost to me whenever I begin to feel overcome by donor fatigue, volunteer burnout, or just too much bad news. If my personal contribution can make a significant difference in the life of just one person who is suffering, than it is a worthwhile thing to do.

For heroes to truly be "star throwers," we must choose where our efforts will go. When there are so many places we could be volunteering, donating money, or heading up a relief project, almost any choice will do. If you have read either of my books, you already know my stance that "it doesn't matter so much what you choose as that you choose." By making a choice, you make action possible. And in these challenging times, your heroic action is desperately needed, wherever you choose to take it.

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Don't give until it hurts; give until it makes you feel good 

For the past month, I've been deeply involved in four different Katrina relief projects: the directory on the "Hero" site of corporate and celebrity donors who will match your aid donations, the Get Hired Now! project to provide free job club kits to relief agencies serving unemployed Katrina survivors, the Volunteers for Careers project to offer free career coaching and resume writing to Katrina survivors, and the beginnings of a fourth project to aid economic recovery in New Orleans.

What I'm finding remarkable about this turn of events is that before Hurricane Katrina struck, I would have told you I was much too busy to take on any additional projects. And yet, somehow, I found the time for four.

At first, I found myself feeling quite overwhelmed. How could I possibly take on all this and still find time to work, eat, sleep, and squeeze in a little down time? But gradually, I began to adjust. Some things slid down the priority list and didn't get done (laundry, for example). Others got done more quickly and less thoroughly than usual (like reading the mail). I also found myself delegating more. As media chair for Volunteers for Careers, I sent out over 700 press releases, and made about 300 phone calls to media outlets. Only I didn't do it. Instead, because I didn't have anywhere near enough time to do all that, I found myself recruiting a team of five people to send the releases and make the calls. So it got done in two days, instead of taking two weeks and all of my time.

As a result of all this high-speed activity focused on making a difference quickly, I notice that instead of feeling exhausted, I feel energized. This increased volume of work and added responsibility isn't making me suffer; it's making me feel good. I can see that my efforts are contributing something valuable to the lives of others, and that in turn is contributing to my own wellbeing. So what might my experience suggest to you about some of the good works you have been putting off doing?

My thanks to everyone who contributed to hurricane relief through one of the matching donors I have been promoting. It's because of you that most of these offers have been fully funded, doubling the level of contributions available for aid to Katrina survivors. If you have a few more dollars available to give, there are some offers still available where you can have your relief contribution matched by someone with deeper pockets. For example, Barry Manilow is still accepting contributions on his foundation's web site, and promising to do additional fundraising if necessary to continue matching every dollar you give.

Thanks also to everyone who has signed up to volunteer for the Volunteers for Careers project. We have well over 700 career coach volunteers now, and while more are always welcome, our more pressing need is for help with letting people know that this wonderful service exists. If you are a PR or web marketing professional with a couple of hours to spare, please email me if you would like to help.

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Volunteers for Careers need your help 

Career coaches, counselors, resume writers, and PR professionals, your help is needed. More than houses and lives were swept away by Hurricane Katrina. Thousands of jobs -- impacting people’s livelihood and sense of purpose -- were also destroyed in Katrina’s wake. Last week alone, new unemployment claims jumped by 78,000. Thousands of men and women (white-collar and blue-collar alike) are now dealing with the reality of unexpected job loss.

Volunteers For Careers was originated by leaders of Professional Resume Writing & Research Association, National Resume Writers’ Association, and Career Masters Institute following the tragedy of 9/11. Now this volunteer coalition has been re-launched with the support of leaders of additional career organizations across the country, including the Association of Career Professionals International, the Association of Online Career and Resume Professionals, the National Career Development Association, and Parachute Associates.

Here’s what you can do to help:

1. Register with us to offer your expertise to those in need. Go to and click "Become a Volunteer." You can register to help in one or more of these areas: resume writing, job search strategy, and/or career transition. We helped several thousand job seekers in response to 9/11. Let’s see if we can top those numbers this time, so that we can meet our goal of assisting more than 10,000!

2. Share your expertise and network with those coordinating this initiative. After you've registered as a volunteer, please visit where you can contribute to a committee (media, public agency outreach, volunteer liaison, etc.), as well as post ideas, contacts, resources, and other information that will help us to get the word out and build momentum.

3. PR professionals, we need your help in spreading the word about this no-cost offer to people in need. We have media tools prepared and spokespeople ready, but need some pinpoint assistance in identifying and contacting specific media outlets. Please email me if you can help, even if only for an hour or two.

4. Forward this email to your career or PR colleagues who might not have received it.

5. If you have contacts at any organizations that are helping Katrina victims and think they might be willing to add Volunteers For Careers to their resource list, please send them a quick email asking for their assistance and directing them to

Volunteers can register to serve only one client or as many clients as you like. (After registering, you can also request additional job-seekers at a later date if you find that your schedule will accommodate more Katrina clients.) Once a client match has been made by the Volunteers for Careers system, you will receive an email providing contact information so that you can get in touch with your client. In most cases, services will be provided long-distance.

Because of the extensive scope of need, this is CAREER TRIAGE! You are not expected to provide long-term, in-depth services. Our goal is to help people get back to work as fast as possible!

Thank you for giving of your time and talents to make a difference in the lives of individuals who have experienced job loss as a result of Hurricane Katrina. We look forward to hearing the success stories of how our efforts made a difference and impacted the lives of our fellow citizens!

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." -- Margaret Mead

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Imagine all the people living life in peace 

On today's fourth anniversary of the Sept 11th tragedy, the first song I heard on the radio was John Lennon's Imagine. Singing along alone in my car, I heard the lyrics as if for the first time instead of the thousandth. It felt as if I were singing a hymn in remembrance of the lives taken by both the Sept 11th attack and by Hurricane Katrina. "Imagine all the people living life in peace...Imagine all the people sharing all the world."

As the World Trade Center attacks exposed to us the deep conflicts that still exist between nations, Hurricane Katrina has revealed some of the profound social divisions within our own nation.

Remembering my personal commitment during these difficult days to positive action and hope, as opposed to criticism and despair, I sang out Lennon's last verse -- no longer as a memorial hymn, but an anthem for would-be heroes everywhere. "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope some day you'll join us, and the world will live as one." Just imagine.

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An invitation to heroism 

In author Debbie Ford's latest newsletter, she shares these thoughts about aiding victims of Hurricane Katrina: "Many people give so much to so many, already. Perhaps you're one of them. It may not be appropriate for you to do more than you already have done in this situation. But if you too feel that ache, keep looking. Maybe there is more to give - and in ways that may surprise you... today I will search until I find a time and place to donate my skills so that I can join forces with the heroes who are giving of themselves so selflessly in this hour of need. There is a hero alive in each one of us. Heroes focus on what can be done rather than what wasn't done. Heroes take themselves out of their comfort zone in order to make someone else comfortable. Heroes open up their homes and their hearts to those in need... Today one small choice, one action, can make you someone else's hero."

There's no requirement that you do more. We all have our own lives, concerns, and challenges, which may already be great. But Debbie's words are an invitation to look one more time and see what else and where else you may be able to contribute. You may have already given money (and if not, please see my list of organizations which are matching donations made for flood aid). But if you have a little time, check with VolunteerMatch, the "volunteers" section of your local Craigslist, your favorite local charity, your professional association, or your church to see where just a few hours could make a difference.

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What one person can do 

First, thanks to everyone who has sent me updates to my list of organizations who are matching donations made by individuals to Hurricane Katrina flood aid. The list is growing daily, and your efforts are helping to encourage more people to donate cash and making sure each of these generous corporate offers is fully used. Keep 'em coming.

Many heroes are emerging in the relief effort, and I've been finding inspiration in stories about people who are finding a place they can make a difference, and just doing it.

On CNN last night, I watched an interview with three Duke University students who couldn't stand to watch so many people suffering, so they drove to New Orleans and evacuated seven survivors in their car.

In Southern California, Sidney Ray organized a group of people in just six days to fill twelve semi trailers with donations for Katrina victims. Her idea is now being duplicated in Washington DC, West Palm Beach, FL, and Chicago.

A six-year-old boy looked after a group of six other children aged five months to three years who had all been stranded in downtown New Orleans after they were separated from their parents during evacuation.

Four youngsters in Norwalk, CT raised $11,000 for relief with a bake sale where they sold chocolate chip cookies for as much as $250.

Twenty-year-old Jabbar Gibson commandeered a New Orleans school bus and drove 60 or so survivors to Houston, picking up stranded people along the way.

Let these stories inspire you, too, to find something that one person can do, and make it happen.

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Heroes in the wake of Katrina 

The magnitude of the human disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina begs for the emergence of heroes. The anguish of over a million people displaced from their homes and grieving is calling to us to step into our own heroism and do what we can. There are many conversations taking place in the media and in our homes and workplaces about what went wrong with the relief effort and who is responsible. While I, too, am both sad and angry about this, where I am choosing to focus my energy now is to how we can help those who are still suffering.

For every story of personal tragedy and government incompetence, there is a story of inspiration like this one. Across the country and around the world, individuals are finding ways to take positive action. As I wrote recently on the topic of optimism in bad times, this is the direction I would invite all would-be heroes to look in the coming days and weeks.

As my own contribution to relief efforts, I will continue to update my list of organizations matching donations made to Katrina flood aid, so people who wish to contribute funds to this massive effort can double their gift. If you have a relief project you would like to publicize or a inspirational story about those who are helping, please post a comment.

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Double your aid to hurricane victims 

Watching the news over the last few days about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I have been shocked, saddened, frustrated and angry about the slowness of relief efforts to reach thousands of people who are in danger and suffering. Everyone I talk to seems to feel the same. One of the best remedies I know for this type of righteous anger is taking action. By doing what you personally can to change the situation, you can channel your frustration in a productive direction.

** UPDATED SEPT. 29 **

The primary need right now is for cash donations. The devastated area of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama is approximately the size of Great Britain. Over half a million one million people are currently refugees displaced citizens. They have lost not only their homes, possessions, and jobs, but friends and family members. The communities they lived in no longer exist. It's not just the buildings that are gone, but roads, water lines, sewer systems, electricity, and phone service. Rebuilding this infrastructure will take billions of dollars and many, many months. And meanwhile, all these people will need housing, food, clothing, and resettlement assistance.

Many sources have been urging us to donate what we can to flood aid for the Gulf Coast, and reminding us that many employers are willing to match our contributions. If you work for an organization that will be matching donations, be sure to take advantage of this opportunity to double your contribution. But what about those of us who are self-employed or work for companies without matching gift programs? How can we get our donations matched by a corporate donor?

Please spread the word to your self-employed friends and others that many corporations are extending their donation matching programs for Katrina relief to customers and members as well as their employees. Be sure to watch your email and media ads for offers like this from companies that you do business with. Here are a few many matching programs I've been able to discover. If you know of more groups that are matching donations, please post a comment here with the details.

*UPDATED* McDonald's will match donations made to to the Ronald McDonald House Charities canisters in their restaurants and to McDonald’s Family Charity up to $2 million and dedicate all funds to relief efforts. This offer ends Oct. 2.

*UPDATED* Best Buy will match donations to the Red Cross made in-store or online via their site up to a total of $2 million. This offer ends Sept. 30. has met their matching goal.

*UPDATED* Lowe's stores will match in-store customer donations to the Red Cross up to a total of $2 million. have met their matching goal, although they will continue to accept donations through Sept. 30.

*UPDATED* Thrivent Financial for Lutherans will make a 50% match of all member donations to Lutheran Disaster Response, ELCA Domestic Disaster Response, LCMS World Relief/Human Care and WELS Committee on Relief up to $2 million.

*UPDATED* McCormick Tribune Foundation will make a 50% match of donations made through them to a group of local aid agencies up to $2 million. has met its matching goal, although they are still accepting donations.

*UPDATED* Macy's , Federated, and May Department Stores will match customer donations made at their stores or over the phone up to a total of $1.5 million for customer and employee donations combined. Donations will be split between the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. have met their matching goal, although they are still accepting donations.

*UPDATED* Whole Foods Market will match in-store donations to the Red Cross up to $1 million. has reached their matching goal.

*UPDATED* Financial services firm Edward Jones will match customer donations made to the Red Cross up to a total of $1 million for customer and employee donations combined. is not matching donations as previously reported. The company donated $1 million directly.

Albertson's stores, including Acme, Shaw's, Jewel-Osco, Sav-on Drugs, Osco Drug, Star Market, Super Saver, and Bristol Farms will match customer donations made in stores to the Red Cross up to a total of $1 million for customer and employee donations combined.

Colorado Gay and Lesbian Fund will match donations made by any Colorado resident to the Red Cross via their website up to $1 million.

*UPDATED* The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Warner Bros. Entertainment will match contributions to the Red Cross made via the show's web site up to $500,000. has met its matching goal, although they are still accepting donations.

*NEW* Advanta business credit card customers can have their donations matched to the Red Cross, Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, Alabama Governor's Emergency Relief Fund, Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation, or Mississippi Hurricane Recovery Fund up to a total of $500,000 through Nov 30, 2005.

*UPDATED* Sears and Kmart will match customer donations to the Red Cross made at Sears and Kmart stores up to $500,000. have met their matching goal.

*UPDATED* Dave Biggers, founder of A La Mode, will personally match $250,000 of donations made to the Red Cross at their site. has met his matching goal.

Quixtar will match $250,000 of donations to the Red Cross made at their site.

Big Y Foods in MA and CT will match contributions to the Red Cross made at their stores up to $100,000.

*UPDATED* Barry Manilow will double-match contributions made to the Red Cross through the Manilow Fund both online and by check. Barry will personally match contributions up to $50,000 and the fund will also match up to $50,000, so your donation will be tripled. has already double-matched $100,000 in contributions, and will now single-match additional contributions made to hurricane relief through the Manilow Fund, online or by check, until their funds run out.

Fresh Market stores in the Southeast U.S. will match in-store donations to the Red Cross up to $50,000.

Boost Mobile will match donations to the Red Cross made by their wireless phone customers up to $50,000.

Wawa stores in DE, MD, PA, NJ, and VA will match in-store donations to the Red Cross up to $50,000.

*UPDATED* Sovereign Bank in the Mid-Atlantic and NewEngland regions will match donations to the Red Cross made at its banking offices up to $50,000. $100,000.

Commerce Bank in Philadelphia, New York, and DC will match contributions to the Red Cross up to $50,000 for users of its Penny Arcade coin-counting machines.

Price Chopper stores in NY, PA, VT, CT, MA, and NH will match customer donations to the Red Cross up to $50,000.

BI-LO, Bruno's, Food World and Food Max stores in Alabama, the Carolinas, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee will match customer donations made to the Red Cross at checkout up to $25,000.

Scott's Food & Pharmacy in Fort Wayne, IN will match in-store donations to the Red Cross up to $20,000.

Quilters Comfort America will match donations made by quilters to the Red Cross via any method up to $10,000. has met their matching goal.

*UPDATED* Reseller Ratings will match contributions made to the Red Cross via their web site up to $10,000. has met its matching goal.

Hollywood Super Markets in Detroit will match donations made to the Salvation Army at their stores up to $10,000.

*UPDATED* Strengthen the Good will match all donations made to the Red Cross at their web site up to $3,200 $4,550 $5,000. This total is increasing as individuals contribute their own matching funds here. has met their matching goal.

Hornbacher's stores in Fargo, ND will match customer donations to the Red Cross up to an unspecified limit.

Daybreak Lavender Farm will make a 200% match of donations to the Red Cross by web site customers at checkout. No limit was specified.

Panera Bread in New Hampshire will match donations to the Salvation Army made at their stores. No limit was specified.

Television without Pity will match donations made through their web site for Classroom Care Packages being organized by DonorsChoose. No limit was specified. has ended their matching campaign after raising $30,000.

Try to take advantage of one of these offers to double the amount of your donation. But regardless of how you donate, please give what you can.

My thanks to N.Z. Bear's The Truth Laid Bear for encouraging all bloggers to focus their efforts this weekend on Katrina relief. If you make a contribution as a result of reading this post, please add your contribution to his log of donations made by blog readers.

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Optimism in bad times 

Historian Howard Zinn gave me a compelling take recently on the role of optimism in keeping a heroic outlook despite overwhelming odds. Zinn is the author of A People's History of the United States, which turns traditional history texts upside down by presenting the viewpoints of African Americans, women, Native Americans, war resisters, and poor laborers about historical events.

In his memoir, You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train, Zinn writes: "To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic... If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places -- and there are so many -- where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction."

Zinn reminds us that we cannot predict the future. There is no reason to expect that present conditions will continue. In fact: "...the struggle for justice should never be abandoned because of the apparent overwhelming power of those who have the guns and the money and who seem invincible in their determination to hold on to it. That apparent power has, again and again, proved vulnerable to human qualities less measurable than bombs and dollars: moral fervor, determination, unity, organization, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage, patience -- whether by blacks in Alabama and South Africa, peasants in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Vietnam, or workers and intellectuals in Poland, Hungary and the Soviet Union." For more on this topic, read Zinn’s essay, The Optimism of Uncertainty.

It may seem that one person cannot make a difference, but this is where great ideas and unstoppable movements begin. By raising your voice, you give others the courage to raise theirs. By taking one small step, you make others believe it is possible to take steps of their own. If there is something about the world you wish to change -- no matter how permanent and immovable it may seem -- with enough people pulling in the same direction, change can occur.

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Beyond philanthropy 

In the July issue of Colorado Company, the cover article is The New Face of Philanthropy, featuring Jessica Biel's Make the Difference Network. Jessica's project is an innovative example of how to take action to solve social problems in a way that is self-sustaining. The concept of MTDN is to serve as a clearinghouse for nonprofits in need of support. Nonprofits become members and post "wishes" for projects in need of funding, each one categorized by an issue it addresses. When visitors come to the MTDN site, they can search for their favorite cause and locate nonprofits they can support to make a difference. They can contact the nonprofit directly about volunteering or contributing goods, or make a monetary donation via the MTDN site. MTDN takes no percentage of these donations.

A unique feature of MTDN is its use of celebrities. A celebrity member of MTDN can sponsor their favorite nonprofit causes. If you visit the site and search for wishes supporting entrepreneurship, you'll see that I am a celebrity sponsor of Global Inititative to Advance Entrepreneurship. The idea is that Jessica and the other celebrities involved will drive traffic to MTDN by including it in PR activities they are already engaged in to promote their work.

MTDN supports itself using an earned income model; it operates as a business. Instead of requiring grants and donations or taking a portion of the funds they collect, they charge a reasonable membership fee to the nonprofits who participate, and also sell fundraising items in their online store. (There is no charge for an individual to be a member.) In this way, the project can be self-sustaining without the need for fundraising.

This brand of social entrepreneurship is an answer to the high cost of fundraising for nonprofits trying to create positive change in the world. It is not at all unusual for a nonprofit to spend 50% or more of its budget on fundraising activities. Some organizations spend as much as 85% of their revenue on raising funds, leaving only 15% of what is collected going to help the intended beneficiaries. By forming an organization that pays its own way with membership fees, product sales and other sources of revenue, everyone involved can receive more direct benefit.

Forming a business like Jessica's can be an answer to the essential question would-be heroes often ask: "How can I make a living at changing the world?" If you have been contemplating this dilemma, think beyond working for a traditional nonprofit, or earning more at some other profession so you can spend more time volunteering. Is there instead a business model that might work to implement your idea of how the world most needs to be served?

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True grit 

Watching The New Heroes on PBS the past two weeks, I was struck by the incredible determination of the people featured on the series. Faced with overwhelming social problems, governmental inertia, political opposition, lack of funds, and even threats of violence, the social entrepreneurs who were profiled took action instead of waiting for help. All of the stories were striking, and if you didn't get a chance to watch the series, I would highly recommend buying the DVD for only $29.95.

One particularly compelling episode profiled Albina Ruiz, who is rescuing hundreds of people from an unimaginably miserable existence living in the garbage dumps of Peru. Poverty-stricken families from the countryside have built shacks in the middle of the city dumps in order to live off the garbage. The segment shows unforgettable footage of people crowding around a dump truck as it empties its contents, sorting through the garbage with their bare hands to find anything they can eat, use or sell.

Ruiz's brilliant idea was to form small businesses to process the garbage under controlled and sanitary conditions, and hire the people who were living in the dump to work there. The businesses earn enough to pay their workers by recycling usable items, making compost to use for fertilizer, and charging small service fees from local residents who never had garbage collection before and used to throw it in the river. Ruiz started doing this work alone nearly 20 years ago. Now she oversees projects in 20 cities across Peru, employs more than 150 people and serves over 3 million residents.

Beginning her work in an environment so unpleasant that most of us would never even go there, Ruiz has implemented a solution that simultaneously addresses poverty, unemployment, unhealthy living conditions, sustainable agriculture, and the quality of life for entire neighborhoods. It's an amazing story of dedication and commitment to finding a solution.

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Social Entrepreneurs as Heroes 

A new miniseries debuts on PBS this week titled The New Heroes. Hosted by Robert Redford, this four-part series profiles 14 social entrepreneurs who are addressing societal problems with entrepreneurial solutions. The program will first air on Tuesday, June 28 and Tuesday, July 5 and will be repeated several times, so be sure to check your local listings to find it.

Social entrepreneurship has been gaining momentum over the last two decades as so many people realize that the world's major problems require innovative solutions. Small organizations run by a tightly-knit management team often have a better chance of implementing new and radical ideas than government agencies, large nonprofits and major corporations. Most social entrepreneurship projects begin as the idea of just one person with a vision and the desire to make a difference.

David Bornstein's 2003 book How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas called international attention to this growing trend, and to the efforts of organizations like Ashoka who support and nurture entrepreneurial approaches to fixing global problems.

In my work as a business coach, I have had the privilege of helping numerous clients get socially-oriented businesses off the ground. My clients have included an author who used her publishing expertise to found a unique nonprofit helping low-income girls learn business skills, a mother-daughter film production team who formed a company dedicated to changing the role of women in the entertainment industry, a trainer who introduced sexual harassment awareness programs into elementary schools, and many more.

What all these social entrepreneurs have in common is a fierce determination to change business as usual to make the world a better place. In the words of Ashoka founder Bill Drayton, "Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry. "

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When heroes fail 

The tsunami recovery project I've been involved with lately suffered a serious setback when the aid vessel we were raising funds for sank off the coast of Indonesia. The Endless Sun, with 20 volunteers and crew aboard, struck an uncharted coral reef and went down fully loaded with relief supplies.

Everyone on the boat survived, but one of the volunteers tells a tragic story of how no one helped them to shore, but instead scrambled for a share of the supplies floating in the water. Imagine this happened to you -- you're a lawyer from Australia volunteering your time and travelling to Aceh at your own expense to aid tsunami and earthquake victims, your ship sinks, and the people you are there to help leave you to drown and rescue bags of rice instead.

What would be the impact on you of this experience? Would you return to your own country, shaken, and decide you had better look after yourself in the future instead of trying to help others? Or would you reflect on how desperate those villagers must have been to value rice over their fellow humans, and redouble your efforts to be of service to them?

Winston Churchill once said, "Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." Perhaps that attitude is one of the hero's secrets.

P.S. Due to the loss of the Endless Sun and a variety of other factors, the tsunami recovery fundraiser I mentioned in my last post is being postponed to a later date.

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Aid tsunami recovery and get "slightly famous" 

Beginning April 19th, I'll be participating in a virtual fundraiser for tsunami recovery and the Global Initiative to Advance Entrepreneurship. Hundreds of thousands in Indonesia are still without permanent homes, and last week's earthquake has caused even more hardship. You can help tsunami victims regain their livelihood while helping yourself or your business become famous! Please pass the word to others in your network about this important cause.

Get Slightly Famous (tm) - Online
A 12-Part Teleseminar Series Featuring Jay Conrad Levinson, Joe Vitale, Steven Van Yoder, C.J. Hayden, and 8 Other Marketing Experts
Virtual Fundraiser for Tsunami Recovery and the Global Initiative to Advance Entrepreneurship (GIVE)
Starts April 19th, 2005

This is the age of the virtual customer. All businesses, regardless of size, industry or location, are finding that the online world affects their business. Your prospects now "Google around" and expect to see your name. And there’s a good chance that prospects find you in the first place through an Internet search engine.

Prospects expect you to make a virtual case for yourself. If you don’t pass the test, make a bad impression, or appear lackluster in relation to your competitors, you lose potential business you never knew about.

No business today should operate without an up-to-date, integrated Internet marketing strategy. From April 19 through May 25, 2005, Get Slightly Famous - Online, a 12-Part Teleseminar Series hosted by Steven Van Yoder, will bring you the most effective online marketing strategies available for today’s business owner.

In this groundbreaking series, Jay Conrad Levinson, Joe Vitale, and many other online marketing experts will share online marketing strategies that really work in today’s economy. You will learn strategies applicable to any business owner or independent professional.

What You’ll Learn

o How to create an integrated online marketing strategy using publicity, e-mail marketing, and a prospect-attracting web site
o Seven ways to increase the effectiveness of your web site
o How to transform your expertise into information products such as ebooks, audios, and learning programs
o How placing your articles on other people's web sites can drive thousands of new paying customers to your web site
o How to use an E-Newsletter to hypercharge your web presence
o 12 steps to leverage online networking sites and blogs to become a virtual guru
o How virtual action groups and mentor programs can extend your reach and maximize your income

Help Tsunami Victims In Indonesia Help Themselves

Get Slightly Famous - Online is a virtual fundraiser for the Global Initiative to Advance Entrepreneurship (GIVE), a nonprofit foundation supporting tsunami recovery efforts in Indonesia. GIVE provides a new approach to global philanthropy through its Marketers Without Borders (tm) program. Your participation in this series will help rebuild the hardest hit regions of Indonesia.

For less than the price of one hour with any one of these online marketing experts, you can learn from all twelve in 18 hours of powerful teleseminars beginning April 19.

For full details or to register now, go to .


What makes someone a hero? 

When I spoke about becoming a hero in Southern California last week, a question that arose from the audience was why I was suggesting that heroes had to be people who changed the world. After all, wasn't the daily struggle of caring for one's family sometimes heroic in its scope? Didn't a hero sometimes save only one person instead of hundreds or thousands?

I think both of these statements are true. They are simply not the type of heroism I'm talking about. The purpose of holding up as role models people who have made a difference on a global scale is to inspire us to look beyond our daily lives and immediate surroundings. If we are to truly step into our own greatness in order to be of greater service, we need to think bigger than we ever have before. That's why the people I am suggesting we emulate appear to be larger than life.

Is this an expectation? Am I saying that everyone should try to be an international hero? Think of it rather as an invitation. The opportunity exists for you to make more of a contribution than you currently are and to better the lives of more people. In order to do that, you will need to get past your own self-imposed limitations. Learning the stories of larger-than-life heroes can help inspire you to do the hard work this requires. So, if this mission calls to you, then it is you I am speaking to.

Here are some of the heroes I mentioned in my talk:

Jane Addams (1860-1935) was an American social worker and reformer. In 1889 she co-founded Hull House in Chicago, which was one of the first settlement houses in the United States. Settlement houses were a type of welfare housing for the neighborhood poor and a center for social reform. She was a member of the American Anti-Imperialist League, and a founder of both the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP. She was also a leader in women's suffrage and pacifist movements. She received the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize.

The Dalai Lama (1935-present) was ruler of Tibet and its head of state until 1959, when he fled to India following the Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet. He is the most respected and venerated Tibetan Buddhist religious leader. The Dalai Lama is still recognized as the head of the Tibetan government in exile, except by supporters of Chinese communism. He is the leader of the Tibetan independence movement.

Joan of Arc (1412-1431) is a national heroine of France and saint of the Catholic Church. During the Hundred Years' War she led French forces against the English. Against all odds, she defeated the English at the siege of Orléans as well as in a series of subsequent battles, enabling the coronation of the King Charles VII in Rheims. Captured by the Burgundians, she was delivered to the English, who had a selected group of pro-English clergy condemn her for heresy. She was executed by burning at the stake in Rouen.

I'll be mentioning more international heroes like these in future posts.

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Questions of peace in times of war 

During World War II, the actions of many individuals might be considered heroic. If you asked the average American to name a Second World War hero, you might hear names like the generals George Patton or Douglas MacArthur, the young president-to-be John F. Kennedy, or America's most decorated soldier Audie Murphy. But there were many individuals who showed their heroism during this turbulent era who never fought in the war as soldiers. Some were political leaders, others were writers and teachers, many were pacifists. One intriguing figure I learned of recently was Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor in Germany who opposed the Nazis and called for resistance by the Christian church to Hitler's treatment of the Jews. He was banned by the Gestapo from preaching and eventually from teaching and all public speaking. He was arrested for funding the escape of Jews to Switzerland, and later implicated in the July 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler, for which he was executed.

What caught my attention about Bonhoeffer was that he began as a pacifist, but he became convinced of the need to plan Hitler's assassination. How does a pacifist preacher become a murderer? In a review of the documentary film Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace, the Christian Broadcasting Network asks: "What does a Christian do when faced with the choice of following an immoral law or adhering to God's law?... The actions of Bonhoeffer raise questions about justice, service, sacrifice and moral responsibility."

Bonhoeffer finally came to the conclusion that he must choose the lesser of two evils. He reportedly declared, "I believe it is worse to be evil than to do evil."

When is it ever appropriate to take violent action in the pursuit of peace and justice? No less an authority on pacifism than Martin Luther King once said, "If your opponent has a conscience, then follow Ghandi and non-violence. But if your enemy has no conscience like Hitler, then follow Bonhoeffer." Nelson Mandela was also committed to peace, but turned to violence when all other avenues seemed blocked.

There are no easy answers to these difficult questions. Perhaps we can find some guidance in the words of South African theologian Dr. John De Gruchy, who has studied both Bonhoeffer and Mandela. De Gruchy suggests: "Only those committed to peacemaking have the moral authority to move to violent resistance. Only those who risk their own lives for the good of others deserve our acclaim, even if in our own struggle we do not agree with them."

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A little cash or a little time can make you a hero 

The tsunami disaster in South Asia is already starting to disappear from the headlines. The drama of the early rescues and heartbreaks has faded, so the media are turning their attention elsewhere. Meanwhile, in Indonesia, the death toll is still climbing, and as many as one million people are still homeless.

Indonesia was the country hardest hit by the tsunami, with over 100,000 dead so far. But the tragedy is far from over. Entire villages were swept from the earth, and the people who survived were left with no food, shelter, or clean water. Relief organizations from around the globe are helping with their immediate needs, but the long-term view is bleak. These survivors have lost their entire means of livelihood.

The environmental devastation caused by the tsunami has wiped out the rice fields and much of the fishing industry, in a country where most people live on rice and fish. It may take years for the land and sea to recover. The small businesses and cottage industries that used to supply jobs for people outside of farming and fishing are all gone. Their shops, inventory, and equipment are destroyed, and they have no source of funds to rebuild. It's going to take a lot more than emergency aid for this country to survive.

What the people of Indonesia need now is to regain a way to support themselves. Instead of gathering in refugee camps and lining up for handouts, they want to return home and go back to work. But what paying work is there for them to do?

Here's where you get to be a hero. I serve on the board of a nonprofit called Global Initiative for Entrepreneurship. Before the tsunami struck, we had begun a pilot project in Indonesia to help address global poverty through the vehicle of microenterprise. By helping people in developing countries start and expand small businesses, we create jobs where none exist. And we need your help.

One way you can help us is by donating by check or credit card. No donation is too small. I know you have seen many requests for tsunami relief donations over the last two weeks, but our goal is not just relief; it's recovery.

We also need volunteers. If you have skills in any of the following areas and can spare just a few hours, please email Global Initiative to find out how you can help us with: proposal writing, fundraising, graphic design, web design, copywriting, editing, financial analysis, business planning, import/export, product sales, or program management. Any nonprofit experience is a real plus.

I know many of you reading this are coaches and trainers, and soon we'll have a role for you to play, too, so stay tuned. This is a project where just a small contribution of time or money can make a big difference, so please pass the word about it to others you think may be interested.

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Be a holiday hero 

I love giving gifts, and at holiday time each year I buy many small presents for clients and business associates. It occurred to me this year that I could use this practice to do some good for the world at the same time. I decided to buy all my business gifts from companies and organizations that give back to the global community. Here are some of the sources for world-friendly gifts I chose:

Southwest Indian Foundation - This nonprofit group provides food, housing, and education to Native Americans of the Navajo, Zuni, and other tribes in the Four Corners area of the U.S. Their catalog offers a wide variety of gift choices, many handmade, including jewelry, pottery, dolls, music, and tea.

Xiao Ping Silk Collection - These beautiful silk brocade cosmetic bags, jewelry cases, purses, and tote bags are a fair trade product handmade in Shanghai.

Gecko Traders - Their hand-dyed hand-woven silk change purses, key cases, handbags, and accessories are made by a group of Cambodian women, many of them victims of land mines or polio, who are typically their families’ sole breadwinners.

Pharmaca - You can buy Xiao Ping and Gecko products at Pharmaca holistic pharmacies, along with Acholi Beads jewelry, handmade from recycled magazines by Ugandan women displaced from their homes by civil war.

Green & Black’s Chocolate - Delicious organic chocolate bars are made in several yummy flavors by this company that supports fair trade, organic farming, and biodiversity.

Heifer International - When you’re not sure what to buy, just send money. Only in this case, the money goes directly to this self-sustaining charity that feeds hungry people throughout the world by providing livestock so they can raise their own food. Make a gift in someone else’s name, and you can get a color fold-out "honor card" to send the recipient. Or for last-minute shoppers, print one online.

If you’d like to be a holiday hero this year, consider choosing some gifts like these that help to make the world a better place.

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Doing well by doing good 

Recently, a member of the Get Clients NOW! online community posed the group a question. There were some social issues she cared very much about and she wanted to address them somehow in her professional work. I hear this desire often from self-employed professionals. Having already taken the first step toward choosing how they spend more of their time by opting to work for themselves, now they wonder, "Can I make a living by doing what I really want to do and also give back?

I think this is a real possibility for professionals who work for themselves. Here is how I answered the member's question.

There are many ways of incorporating issues you are passionate about into your business enterprise. Some of them involve earning money directly from working on the issues and others do not. For example:

o Offering your professional services to nonprofit organizations pro bono, at a reduced fee (paid for by the agency but free to the recipients), or at full fee (paid for by a grant to the sponsoring agency). A hypnotherapist concerned about social conditions in the country she emigrated from could offer her services to victims of trauma arriving in the U.S. as refugees.

o Speaking or writing about the issues that concern you either on a paid basis or in return for promotional opportunities for you and your business. You can talk about the issues and promote your business at the same time to those who read your articles or hear you speak. This weblog allows me to talk about non-business issues that interest me while still receiving promotional benefit by gaining more visibility with new readers.

o Starting a project of your own to help others that emphasizes your professional skills and gains visibility for your business. Often this can involve partnering with an existing nonprofit or a business who can provide some financing. Steven Van Yoder's Global Initiative for Entrepreneurship is a great example of this strategy.

o Using the programs or events of your business as fundraisers to benefit a cause that concerns you. I've done this frequently for causes like Heifer International or coaching legislation in Colorado.

o Offering resources your business has to groups who need them, e.g. a page on your website or meeting space in your office.

o Concentrating on making your business profitable with the goal of being able to volunteer more of your time and money to important causes.

These are just a few ideas for business owners to begin incorporating the concerns they have about the larger world into their existing enterprise. If you want to move in this direction, pick just one idea to start with so you can begin making a difference right away. It really is possible to make a good living and make a valuable contribution at the same time.

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Altruism or co-dependency? 

I just returned from the International Coach Federation conference in Denver. A colleague of mine who specializes in personality assessment was attending for the first time and wrote me afterward. "I never saw so many altruists in the same room together in my life," he said. No wonder attending that conference feels like coming home to me.

As a confessed altruist, it seems to me that altruism often gets a bad rap. The word itself means "unselfish concern for the welfare of others," according to the dictionary. But there's a secondary meaning that dictionaries attribute only to zoology: "cooperative behavior by an animal that may be harmful to itself but that benefits others of its species." In practice, I find that many apply this definition to human altruism as well. The perception seems to be that to unselfishly devote oneself to the welfare of others is in some way harmful to the altruist. In other words, we altruists are dangerously co-dependent.

I think it's telling that this secondary definition originates in the world of science rather than that of the spirit. Biology suggests to us that survival is a matter of competition, while spirituality points instead to furthering the species through cooperation. But is there a spiritual doctrine supporting the view that a devotion to helping others must necessarily be harmful to oneself?

In Buddhism, compassionate service of others is given as a path away from suffering and toward joy, not the other way around. In Catholicism, Pope Benedict XIV, who literally wrote the book on determining sainthood, required of the saints that they perform virtuous acts easily and with pleasure and "sweetness." Nowhere does he suggest that they must suffer and struggle to be considered saintly. So is it Puritan Protestantism that's to blame for the glorification of suffering?

While there is no question that the enduring Puritan ethic calls for the denial of worldly pleasures, a close reading of Reformation leader John Calvin indicates that he viewed suffering as necessary not because one should seek it out, but because it is an inevitable part of human existence. He believed that suffering could contain learning; it developed one's compassion and humility and compelled one to look for spiritual answers. He was a humanist who strongly supported active and compassionate service of others in an effort to remedy the evils of his own time. His writings and sermons exhort his followers to serve God "with a joyful heart." What the pragmatic Calvin actually taught about suffering and struggle was not that it should be sought out as an honor, but that it can't be avoided, so one should find some use in it.

Seems to me that these three divergent spiritual sources are all telling us the same thing -- help others not because it makes you feel bad, but because it makes you feel good. Perhaps that's how one can tell the difference between altruism and co-dependency.

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Unpopular heroes 

I heard Alice Walker speak at yesterday's Green Festival in San Francisco on the topic of activism. At one point, Walker said, "If horrible laws are made, we must disobey the laws." Walker grew up in the segregated South, and married a white man at a time when interracial marriage was illegal in her state. Earlier this year, she was arrested for refusing to disperse in front of the White House while protesting U.S. actions in Iraq.

Becoming a hero doesn't always make one popular. We picture heroes receiving public acclaim, but this is only the case when there is a public who approves of the hero's actions. Yesterday at the Green Festival, Walker received two standing ovations. But there are many who support the war in Iraq, and sadly, many who still oppose interracial marriage. By opposing the war, Walker risks denunciation by its supporters and arrest for civil disobedience. By marrying a man of a different color in segregated Mississippi, she risked violence and even death.

The hero must follow his or her own conscience in choosing the path of right action, regardless of the consequences. Seeking approval and acclaim from others may lead to stardom, but there is no guarantee that route will lead one to heroism.

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Do not wait for leaders 

Mother Teresa was beatified by Pope John Paul today, the first step to officially recognizing her as a saint. Mother Teresa ranks high on my personal list of enlightened heroes, not only because of her unfailing display of heroic virtue, but because of the path she followed to heroism.

At the age of 12, she decided she wanted to help the poor, and began training for missionary work. At 18, she left her home in Macedonia to join an Irish community of nuns working in Calcutta. She taught in a convent high school there for 20 years, but as she approached midlife, she wanted to do more to relieve the suffering she saw all around her.

With no funding of any kind, she started an open-air school for homeless children. She was joined by volunteers and eventually obtained financial support from the church and local government. From these simple beginnings, she founded a new religious order, The Missionaries of Charity. The order today provides food for the needy and operates hospitals, schools, orphanages, youth centers, and shelters in 50 Indian cities and 30 other countries.

Mother Teresa's advice to heroes-in-training was: "Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person."

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World Food Day 

The latest issue of Heifer International's magazine World Ark alerted me to the celebration of World Food Day on Thursday, Oct. 16. World Food Day is a worldwide event designed to increase awareness, understanding, and informed year-round action to alleviate hunger. In addition to numerous local community events, there will be a teleconference on the current critical food shortage in sub-Saharan Africa, beginning at noon Eastern time.


Who gets to be a hero? 

My colleague Timo Navsky hosted a discussion group based on How to Become a Hero at her beautiful home in San Geronimo last Sunday. Timo first heard me speak on the topic at the Marin Coaches Alliance, and was intrigued enough to want to continue the conversation. Our group of eight had a wide-ranging discussion about my steps for becoming a hero, and as always I learned a great deal from hearing the perspectives of others.

An intriguing question that came up was that of how to define a hero. I've given my take on this in these entries by naming as a hero anyone who steps into their own greatness to be of service to others. If you have overcome obstacles -- external or internal -- in order to help other people, in my eyes you have become a hero. I've also suggested that to do this intentionally requires a certain level of enlightenment, and held up as the ideal the bodhisattva, who strives to become enlightened in order to work toward alleviating the suffering of all sentient beings.

But the question was raised: "Who decides what 'being of service' is?" Imagine, for example, that someone selflessly dedicates themselves to a cause you not only do not believe in, but vehemently oppose. If you are pro-choice, can you honor the heroism of someone who serves the right-to-life cause? If you believe homosexuality is a sin, can you respect someone who heroically works for gay rights? My, what thorny questions!

I considered this question while watching HBO's And Starring Pancho Villa As Himself this week. Pancho Villa was unquestionably a hero to the disenfranchised people of Mexico who he fought for and who fought for him. But to the wealthy class of his own and other countries, he was a villain who robbed and murdered innocent people. After the revolution he fought so hard for, Villa was assassinated, perhaps by old enemies, or perhaps by the new government who considered his legendary status a threat.

Was Villa a hero or a villain? And who gets to decide?

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The source of happiness 

"If we really want happiness, we must acknowledge that it comes about by taking care of other people."
    -- The Dalai Lama

It often seems that all of Western culture is dedicated to the pursuit of happiness. In the U.S. Declaration of Independence, we claim it as an unalienable right. But for many, this pursuit seems to be about their own happiness, with little heed for the greater good. I'm not accusing an entire hemisphere of behaving selfishly (although perhaps I should), but rather of being self-absorbed. I see a difference.

If the happiness you pursue is limited to your own enjoyment of life, achieving your goals rarely produces lasting joy. When all of your needs and most of your wants are satisfied, then what? The result is the existential emptiness described by so many who have achieved material success, but are lacking a deeper meaning for their lives.

What if the answer were as simple as working for the happiness of others instead of your own? A simple beginning is devoting yourself to the happiness of those closest to you. By focusing on people you already know and love, you can develop your spirit of compassion. The stronger your compassion becomes, the further it can stretch. Ultimately, you will develop the capacity to work for the benefit of not only strangers, but even enemies.

The Dalai Lama says, "If each of us, from the depth of our hearts, were to cultivate a mind wishing to benefit other people... then we would gain a strong sense of confidence that would put our minds at ease. When we have that kind of calmness within our minds, even if the whole external environment appears to turn against us... it will not disturb our mental calm." Sounds like happiness to me.

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Helping entrepreneurs around the globe 

My friend and colleague Steven Van Yoder has launched a fascinating project to help micro-entrepreneurs in the developing world get started. Steve is the author of Get Slightly Famous, and he's using the principles in his book to assist new entrepreneurs in India and Bali.

"This project is my book brought to life," says Steve. "As a long-time journalist, I've traveled and seen the human costs of poverty and economic hardships brought on by a rapidly changing global economy, especially to people in the developing world."

Steve is posting periodic reports during his current trip, detailing his efforts to mentor a Balinese cab driver and Indian virtual assistant. This is just the sort of heroic project I love to hear about, showing what one person can do to make a difference in the world.

P.S. If you've been missing your email updates from "How to Become a Hero," it's because the Bloglet subscription service has been down since Aug. 10. It appears to be working again now. Please visit the site to see what you have missed.

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Conference for heroes 

Coming to Berkeley Sept. 26-28 will be the 2nd annual Wisdom and Action Conference. Presented by the California Institute of Integral Studies, this three-day conference is "dedicated to the positive relationship between wisdom and action... this conference honors the person, work, ideals, and influence of Joanna Macy, a wise activist in the tradition of Thomas Berry, Thich Nhat Hanh, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. All of the presenters at this conference are in this same tradition. In similar yet diverse ways, they espouse and exemplify the ideals of peace, justice, and environmental health."

Other presenters at the conference include Marianne Williamson, Daniel Ellsberg, Matthew Fox, Starhawk, and Brian Swimme.

I will be out of the country at the time of the conference and won't be able to attend, so please check it out for me and report back.


Sharing the wealth 

From time to time in these posts, I hope to share stories of modern day enlightened heroes. One that I have admired for some time is Dan West, founder of the charitable organization Heifer International. Dan founded Heifer in 1944 based on a remarkably simple idea. Instead of giving food to hungry families, Dan convinced Midwestern farmers to donate young dairy cows. The gifts were given with one condition attached: each family who received a heifer had to give one of its offspring to another hungry family in their village. Today, the Heifer organization provides farm animals for food, wool, or draft power to needy areas in 115 countries and trains the recipients in sustainable agriculture. Each donation is tailored to the environment and culture of the area, and may include cows, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits, guinea pigs, bees, camels, donkeys, oxen, water buffalo, or llamas. The requirement for "passing on the gift" continues, and families who receive animals say that one of the most rewarding parts of the program for them is being able to help another local family feed themselves.

In a recent issue of Heifer's World Ark magazine, West's daughter Jan West Schrock talks about her father's belief that we should all "live simply so that others may simply live." He often said, "If a person has more than three pairs of shoes in their closet, someone is doing without." Instead of working hard to accumulate more, we should let go of what we don't really need and give it away. Dan West's courage to share his simple idea has directly helped 4.5 million families around the world, and improved the lives of millions of others through pass-on animals.

If you know of modern-day heroes like Dan West who exemplify stepping into one's own greatness to be of service to others, I'd love to hear about them. Please post a comment on the "Hero" web site or email me.

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Everyday heroes in Tibet 

I had the honor last night of meeting Karma Senge Rinpoche and Damcho Tenphel Rinpoche, Tibetan lamas who are visiting the US for the first time to raise money for the Weyching Gompa nunnery. Karma Senge Rinpoche spoke to us through an interpreter on the topic of "Practicing in Difficult Times." He made the topic personal -- about us, his American hosts, and our difficult times since Sept. 11 and its aftermath. Never once did he mention the incredible difficulties of his own daily existence as a religious leader in Chinese-occupied Tibet.

Karma Senge described simply how they are providing shelter, food, clothing, and education for the nuns, most of whom are orphans. Housing for most of them does not yet exist in the sacred site where they have gathered, which is accessible only by foot or on horseback. Regardless of the conditions, they study and meditate for 8 hours per day... and work 6 hours daily to keep themselves fed, clothed, and build the nunnery around them. When housing construction is complete, they plan to next build a medical clinic to provide health care to the surrounding area.

Under conditions where we might think we could accomplish nothing more than survive, the nuns are making their study a higher priority than having a roof. Instead of waiting for a road to be built, they are planning a medical clinic. What a difference in perspective this is on what might be considered "difficult."

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Good, bad & different 

One of my favorite quotes from Thoreau's Walden is the following: "If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life..."

Caught by the enthusiasm of our desire to be of service, sometimes we forget that the path we have chosen is uniquely ours, and may not be right for everyone. I find that most true callings are a strong reflection of our personal values -- those beliefs that we hold so strongly they seem absolute. Coaches Training Institute founder Laura Whitworth compares them to "the freckles on your face," invisible to you because they have always been there, but to others, part of what makes you distinctive.

When we attempt to serve others according to our own values, even with the best intentions in mind, we can become overbearing proselytizers who insist that only we know the right way to live. Think of the devastation that Christian missionaries caused to Native American cultures, and yet many of them truly believed they had the best interests of those civilizations in mind.

Perhaps it is my years of training and experience as a coach that make me ask first about the other person's agenda when I want to help. (And this is of course my own bias, ultimately stemming from my own values.) What I find is that help offered in an unwanted direction rarely has a positive effect. How well do we listen to even our closest friends when they offer us advice we didn't ask for?

If we want our service to have the greatest possible impact, perhaps the best place to begin is simply asking, "What do you need?"

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Taking it to the street 

I wrote yesterday about the importance of turning insight into action. This is a critical step for the enlightened hero. Joseph Campbell said that rather than focus on the meaning of life, we should focus on the experience of being alive.

It's all too easy to become absorbed in the big questions of who we are, where we are going, and why we are here. Not that these aren't important questions, but at some point, we must put into action what we are discovering. Without that action, we may become personally enlightened, but we are not yet being of much service to others.

Once we begin to create an outward expression of the insights, inspiration, or spiritual guidance we receive, they can begin to have a positive impact on those we touch. And this is true even when we begin only by applying our discoveries to our own lives.

So whatever you feel inspired by, bring it out into the open. Share it with another person, or find a way to act upon it. Begin to experience the meaning of it instead if just contemplating it. Your courage in doing so will immediately inspire others to let their light shine also.

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Power to the people 

In Awaken the Giant Within, Tony Robbins gives his definition of a hero: "A hero is a person who courageously contributes under even the most trying circumstances; a hero is an individual who acts unselfishly and who demands more from himself or herself than others would expect; a hero is a man or woman who defies adversity by doing what he or she believes is right in spite of fear."

In the chapter where this quote appears, Robbins describes what one person can do to change the world. It's a valuable addition to his book on developing personal power. His message is that once you gain control of your own destiny, you can help others to change theirs.

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What if it were easy? 

The 8th century Indian monk Shantideva describes a simple path to being of service:
"All the joy the world contains
has come through wishing happiness for others.
All the misery the world contains
Has come through wanting pleasure for oneself."

To the modern ear, this could sound hopelessly co-dependent. Perhaps the trick here is to be joyful yourself. If in working toward the happiness of others, you make yourself miserable, how can that contribute to the overall well-being of the planet? But if you experience your service to the greater good as a cause of joy in your own life, then misery is lessened everywhere.

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True courage is in facing danger... 

"...when you are afraid." Pema Chodron in her Way of the Bodhisattva class last year described three levels of courage -- that of the monarch, the ferryman, and the shepherd. The monarch develops his own strength to be able to help others, the ferryman works in the company of others to help everyone, and the shepherd puts the welfare of others before his own.

Pema used the metaphor of eating to teach more about this. The monarch eats to gain strength, and so be better able to serve his people. The ferryman shares his food with others in the same boat. The shepherd feeds the others first.

Often we think that heroes must be shepherds and sacrifice all for those they serve, but this is not so. Monarchs and ferrymen can also be heroic when their intentions and actions are to be of service.

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Guards, guides & bridges 

I am steeped in The Way of the Bodhisattva this week, preparing to begin this year's class on the subject with Pema Chodron on Saturday. Listening to the tapes of last year's class, one verse from the chapter on "Commitment" stood out: "May I be a guard for those who are protectorless, a guide for those who journey on the road. For those who wish to go across the water, may I be a boat, a raft, a bridge."

The three examples in this verse illustrate different models for heroism -- the guards who protect their charges from harm and fight on their behalf (Thich Nhat Hanh); the guides who lead people to safety, better fortune, or enlightenment (Carl Jung); and the bridges who carry those they serve on their backs by working directly to keep them fed, healthy, and free (Mother Teresa).

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Heroes are made, not born 

My third theme here, and the central one, is heroism. Heroes are those who have allowed themselves -- or been forced by circumstances -- to step into their own greatness. And here is where my definition of a hero may differ from others. I believe that the essence of heroism is being of service.

Sports stars or actors are often named as heroes, and I am skeptical of this practice. Is the act of entertaining one of serving? Perhaps it comes down to the motivation of the hero. If one plays a game or acts a part for the purpose of inspiring others, making them think, or just making them feel better, that might fit. But if the reason the star performs is for the applause, to hear the roar of the crowd, to get the fan mail, can that be considered heroic? I say not.

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Service vs. servitude 

The second of what I see as the three main themes of this blog is service. Being of service to others, to me, is one of the main reasons for being alive. Perhaps it is the reason for being here -- to care for each other.

I think service is sometimes confused with servitude. The latter I might define as involuntary service, stemming from duty and obligation. Voluntary service, on the other hand, can be a calling, based in empathy, compassion, and a desire to contribute. Where servitude often leads to suffering, service can lead to satisfaction, a sense of belonging, even joy.

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The way of the hero 

One of my many influences on the subject of heroism and service has been the classic Buddhist text The Way of the Bodhisattva by the 8th century Indian monk Shantideva. This summer, I will have the incredible privilege of studying this work with Pema Chodron. Pema is an American-born Tibetan Buddhist, now living in Nova Scotia, Canada, who teaches each summer in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The focus of The Way of the Bodhisattva is on attaining enlightenment for the sake of the deliverance from suffering of all beings. Powerful stuff, and the very essence of accepting the mantle of heroism.

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