Saturday, December 12, 2015

#149 Fine and well

Dear all,
    An unexpected pleasure in November was taking advantage of the later sunrise and mild weather to get outside and greet the day, and get a more intimate sense of the varieties of early morning color and light.  As we settle in, here in our part of the northern hemisphere, to await the shortest and darkest days of the year, i am reminded of all the different ways we have found to bring other kinds of light into the world.
    In a holiday season that can be full of extra stress and expectation/disappointment, I wish you small joys of connection, perhaps in unexpected places.

Fine and well

When I was growing up, everything was fine.  That was the non-negotiable way of the world.  I was fine.  My family was fine.  Life was fine.  We were told that we were a big happy family and, with no hard evidence to disprove it—and much to support it—we accepted this worldview as truth.

Since I was fine and my life was fine, and my mother was very busy working to keep it that way, there seemed to be no place for complaints.  So I never complained.  I settled into the job of having a happy childhood, and more or less succeeded.

What a shock to discover as an adult that this wasn’t the whole story!  My childhood hadn’t been as happy as I had been taught.  It turned out that my father was harsh and judgmental, my mother was emotionally needy, and in a family that prized education I secretly (even to myself) hated school.  All in all, it had been quite a chore to be the hard-working non-complaining responsible team member that my big happy family required.

It was a huge relief to realize that everything had NOT been fine. I took some time luxuriating in outrage at what I’d had to put up with, and the idea of complaining, while still seeming totally taboo, began to hold some attraction. Yet I was constrained by awareness of how relatively good my life had been.  To increase my confusion, the life I was living in the present was markedly better than my childhood, and as my perspective on the world widened, my own little problems seemed more and more petty and insignificant.  At the same time, I fought against being pushed back into that familiar position where the needs of the larger whole always and inevitably trumped mine.

Did I, or did I not, have a right to complain?  I started experimenting:  complain about this, complain about that.  In a way it was a relief to be able to notice and say out loud that some things did not feel fine.  But when I really got into it, I started to get confused about reality.  Were my complaints real?  Were they from the past or the present?  Was I really not fine?  I liked the possibility that there could be space in the world for my complaints, but did I want them to define my emotional state?

On the other hand, was the only alternative to be “fine”? I couldn’t buy that one either.  Things had not been fine in my family, and they are certainly not fine in the world. The attempt to believe or pretend that they are requires walling off great pieces of reality and agreeing to a small and defended life.  While I was born into relative comfort and have more than enough in the present, it’s not hard to notice that I’m in a minority.  Our peoples and our planet are in great and growing distress, and I ignore that reality at peril to my soul.

In a real way, “fine” has no substance.  Used as a response when people ask how you are, it’s clearly just code for “I’m choosing at this moment, for any number of reasons, not to complain.” It’s no more than an opaque brush-off.

I’m reaching for a response that captures more truth.  Currently this is how it sounds.  “I have a few complaints.”  There is space in this world for me to experience life as I experience it, and things will not all be sunshine.  “There is a lot to grieve and fear.”  I am connected to the larger picture, and I would choose to engage with all that is not fine rather than turn away.  And, finally, “I am well.”  I have found my way to a life of connection, joy and meaning, even in the midst of great suffering, and will not be rocked from that place.

In my experience, being fine calls for a cover-up, as completely as possible, of all that is wrong, and a commitment to construct a life on top of that cover-up.  Being well is the opposite—a commitment to connecting to the solid ground that lies underneath, and engaging with all that is wrong, and all that is right, from that place. I am happy to consign “fine” to the dustbin of history, and have great faith that “well” will see me forward.

Bathing in wood air

We all know that a walk in the woods refreshes--
great trees, bird calls and breezes
pungent scents of earth and pine.

Yet our senses fail to name the greater forces
here at work.

Mushroom threads—mycelia—
weave a network underground
sharing nutrients at the root
helping those great trees to thrive.

And all those trees give out
not just the oxygen
that we forget to thank them for
but other subtle essences
(named now by scientists, thus real)
that nourish us.

We are bathing in wood air
as they say in Japan
deep in the molecular life of the trees
breathing in the benefits of
living in an interspecies web.

Imagine:  A new economy is possible!
Economic conversion

As we look for precedents for transitioning an economy away from fossil fuels, there's an obvious on in our country's recent history.  During the Second World War, the U.S. government took strong measures to increase its control over the economy.  The War Production Board, established by Roosevelt by executive order, converted and expanded peacetime industries to meet war needs, allocated scarce materials vital to war production, established priorities in the distribution of materials and services, and prohibited nonessential production. It rationed such things as gasoline, heating oil, metals, rubber, paper, and plastics.

The auto industry, which had been producing three million cars a year, was turned to war production; from early 1942 through the end of 1944 essentially no cars were produced in the United States.  In addition to the ban on the production and sale of cars for private use, residential and highway construction was halted, and driving for pleasure was banned. Strategic goods—including tires, gasoline, fuel oil, and sugar—were rationed. Reducing private consumption of these goods freed up material resources that were vital to the war effort.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

If you liked--or missed--the film, The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil, here's a trailer about the upcoming sequel:  Earth Island: Cuba, Community and Climate Change:

The Sustaining All Life delegation at the Paris climate talks, how they harnessed the power of listening and weren't afraid to look at the hard issues at the root of climate injustice.

A project initiated by George Lakey at Swarthmore College, that has gathered hundreds of stories of successful nonviolent action from around the world.

And have I mentioned Pope Francis recently?  I find him an ongoing source of hope.

More resources

Resource from my friend Daniel Hunter, Building a Movement to End the New Jim Crow; An Organizing Guide.

Recent posts on other web/blog sites:

In, Pamela Haines locates her family's homey DIY celebrations on a class spectrum of different connections to upward mobility.


Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years.  NOTE THE NEW URL. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at

Pamela Haines

To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

#148 Risk management

Dear all,
The ripples from our trip to Africa continue to spread in my life and my mind, as can be seen in this month's post.  I'll keep looking for more ways to share that experience.
An on-going joy at home is a near-by grandchild, who reminds us on a regular basis of the incredible buoyancy, keen observation and intelligence, flexibility and love of life that is our birthright.  May we rejoice in it in others, and reclaim it more and more for ourselves!

Risk management

As I was biking into a poorer neighborhood just west of mine to get to my local YMCA, I noticed how the number of bikers without helmets grew, and couldn’t help but think of my recent time in Africa, the tons of bike riders there, and the total non-existence of helmets.  I think most of us would identify an arc of progress here: Africa in the rear, many in the US ahead of them, my helmet-conscious neighborhood in the vanguard.

There’s certainly logic in this line of reasoning.  Historically, prosperity has created the conditions for risk mitigation, with generally good results. It’s great, for example, to ensure that water is safe to drink, require people to follow traffic laws, and encourage vaccination against deadly and contagious diseases.

As we extend beyond these overall public protections, however, there are some troubling trends. We seem to be focusing more and more on consumption of safety.  In a society with great income inequality, such risk mitigation comes at a price that is often paid individually. The more affluent can drive the biggest and safest cars, consume the best health care, and buy protection from violence in gated communities. People with fewer resources have fewer options about the risks they are exposed to, from the environmental contaminants in their neighborhoods to the lack of spending money for “extras” like bike helmets.

We have identified many more things as risky than our parents or grandparents ever did, and prohibitions against individual behavior that is deemed risky are steadily growing. Yet, as we pour our resources and well-developed risk management capacity into a crusade to eliminate risk, the expense of additional protection yields less and less additional well-being.  I would go farther, and suggest that we may have reached the point where our risk aversion is putting us in greater danger.

Childhood asthma, for example, has now been linked with the reduction in gut bacteria that comes with use of antibiotics in the first years of life.  I have to wonder:  are those parents who are trying hardest to protect their young children from bacterial infections actually putting them at greater risk?  The early childhood education field struggles with a similar paradox.  Regulations around sanitizing, that are getting increasingly stringent in an effort to create germ-free environments for our little ones, are creating their own unintentional hazards—both in the dangers of inhaling/ingesting the sanitizing agents, and in the decreased opportunities for children to acquire their own antibodies to fight off infection.

Shifting to look through the widest possible lens, by far the greatest risk we are facing as a species is the threat to life on earth that comes from global warming.  From that perspective, our focus for risk mitigation is seriously misplaced.  Those of us with the largest carbon footprint—driving cars, heating and cooling big houses, eating food that’s traveled thousands of miles, mindlessly consuming products that depend on scarce natural resources—are engaging in the most risky behavior of all. Riding without a bike helmet entails risk.  Pursuing consumption and economic growth at the cost of the planet’s integrity, however, is risk of a whole different order.

I wonder if part of our obsession with fighting germs and pursuing bike safety is a manifestation of this paradox. In a world with enormous risks and dangers all around, we focus on the little ones that are at hand.  While taking antibiotics and wearing bike helmets can’t protect us from climate change, at least it’s something that we as individuals can do to feel safer.

I’m not advocating that we stop taking basic safety precautions or that we intentionally put our loved ones in danger.  But what if, whenever we spent time, attention, money or energy in order to feel safer ourselves, we committed to spending an equal amount of time, attention, money or energy to reduce the risk that our cumulative individual and societal decisions are bringing to others in distant places or future generations?

As I think about this whole issue, a couple of lessons stand out.  First, it always helps to step back and take a look at the big picture.  Second, when we think about risk management, it may be time to look beyond traditional technical, regulatory and product safety solutions—to mass movements for changed priorities, perhaps.  Finally, a little humility may be in order.  Those countries in Africa that have lots of helmet-less bike riders and few cars to hit them—that seem so backward to us—may be engaging in much less risky behavior overall than our own rich industrialized fossil-fueled hyper-risk-averse societies.

First light

First light, I learn
can give relief to those who struggle
with the darkness of the winter.

I choose first light of summer for the cool,
before it is a penance
not a joy
to work outside.

But I have marveled at
the beauty of the sky when day is new
and searched for words.

Soft?  Delicate?
These only hint at what envelops me.
But now I know.

This light is new.  Not settled yet
it fills the sky with possibility
and draws us in.

Imagine:  A new economy is possible!
Eliminating homelessness

In the past nine years, Utah has decreased the number of homeless by 72 percent—largely by finding and building apartments where they can live, permanently, with no strings attached.

Nationwide, the chronically homeless fill up the shelters night after night and spend a lot of time in emergency rooms and jails. This is expensive—costing up to $50,000 per person per year according to the Interagency Council on Homelessness.

Traditionally in social service sectors, homeless people are required to get a job, deal with substance abuse or treat mental health issues first before they can even be considered for housing. But in 2005, Utah adopted a policy called “Housing First” which calls for putting the homeless in housing before addressing the issues that caused their homelessness in the first place.

Nine years into the 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness, officials estimates that Utah's Housing First program cost between $10,000 and $12,000 per person, about half of the $20,000 it cost them to treat and care for homeless people on the street.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

An 84 year old Chinese woman who shared the 2015 Nobel Prize in medicine for her discovery (in 1977) of the cure for malaria, based on a reference in a text from 400 A.D.

Brazil’s pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions 37% by 2025 from 2005 levels, the first major developing country to pledge an absolute reduction.

The September win by California prisoners of an historic settlement ending long-term solitary confinement.

A summer ruling by the Hague District Court that the Dutch government must ensure that Dutch greenhouse gas emissions in the year 2020 be at least 25% lower than those in 1990—a precedent that could be used by courts in other countries. 

More resources

Resource from my friend Daniel Hunter, Building a Movement to End the New Jim Crow; An Organizing Guide.

Recent posts on other web/blog sites:

In, Pamela Haines locates her family's homey DIY celebrations on a class spectrum of different connections to upward mobility.


Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years.  NOTE THE NEW URL. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at

Monday, September 21, 2015

#147: The heart of the story

Dear all,
It's been a struggle to talk about my experience in Northern Uganda, because there is so much to say, and it's hard to even know where to start.  I've tried to include the heart of the story below.  If you would like to hear more, please let me know.
How strange to arrive back from worlds away, not only in a different time zone, but a different season.  It's taken a while to get adjusted, but I'm getting back on my feet , picking up the threads of life at home, glad to be back to these loved ones, this work, these opportunities.

The heart of the story

Our three weeks in Northern Uganda were full: we supported a dear friend and the large primary school that she runs, took her on a brief trip to a game park, led a five-day peer counseling workshop, and consulted widely about youth employment.  Of course I’ve written tons in the process:  twenty vignettes of people and situations I came across there, a whole series of Haiku on a trip through the countryside, interviews with ten people who were at our workshop, a concept for a new crafts/trade program at the school, reports on what we did.  But what is the heart of my story?

This is a question that has particular resonance for me from our time in Africa.  Many of the people we met were master storytellers.  They could go on for a very long time describing the intricacies of a family conflict or a land dispute, and I would listen as best I could, all the while struggling, in the midst of all that vivid detail, to find the heart of the story.  One of the themes of my workshop experience was helping people get to that heart.
As I reflect, I believe mine has to do with honoring human connection and resilience.  I could tell stories of poverty and horror, but they are not at my story’s heart.  I think of Charles, who is so kind and playful with the shy pre-teen girls even as he worries about school fees for his own; of the old guard at the school who borrowed my glasses to read his Bible; of Felix and his three boys, and how we played and laughed in a living room so small there was barely room for our legs between the couch and chair; of Robin, recently graduated and pursuing a dream of an NGO to support farmers; of Alfred and Naume and the beautiful duets they sang; of Omona, a young man with deep knowledge and pride in his clan’s stories and traditions; of how everyone knows the local tribal dances and loves the opportunity to dance them together.

I think of the quiet motorcycle taxi driver who turned out to know six languages; of Oloya who has been disappointed by people many times, but loves caring for the animals; of Christopher, burdened with tragedy but enormously kind, whose skills as a counselor grew so much in the course of a week; of Emmanuel, damaged as a child soldier, who is now planting flowers at the edge of his farm plots; of Jenefer, a feisty feminist and now young mother, who gathers groups to listen to each other wherever she goes; of shy little Sheila, and how she confided in me about her nightmares; of Agnes, who started a wedding and funeral catering business in her farmers cooperative; of Achen and her irrepressible spirit, undaunted by a hard new marriage; of Abitimo, getting the worried test-takers and their parents to laugh and relax a little.

The heart of my story also has to do with the advice of theologian Walter Wink:  to attend to listening for what is ours to do in this world, then to do just that—no less and no more—and wait in modest confidence for a miracle.
The obstacles can seem insurmountable.  What about privilege?  How do you show yourself fully in a relationship where you carry all the privilege of wealth, power and opportunity without burdening the other person with the weight of your discomfort? 

What about energy? I have grieved to see the tall bags of charcoal standing by the roadside waiting to be picked up and trucked south to the big city, knowing that with each bag of charcoal there are fewer trees.  But when someone suggested that ethanol imported from Brazil to Kampala would be a cleaner fuel, I wondered at the cost/benefits, and grieved for the potential loss of livelihood in the north.

What about education?  Trying to pay school fees, in a country where public education is so under-resourced as to be almost valueless, and where most people survive on subsistence agriculture and the informal economy, is a constant struggle.  Worse, with so many people pinning their hopes for the future on education in a country with so few jobs, those degrees, which are won at such cost and sacrifice, keep declining in value.

Some problems are not mine to solve.  I can’t fix the lives of other people or other countries.  But I can do my share.  I can grieve.  I can love.  I can pay attention, be as present as I know how, and be alert for my best role in each new moment—as both giver and receiver, in ways both large and small.  When I do this, I can be sure that there will be ripples I won’t see, and I can steadfastly expect a miracle.

Somehow being in an environment so very different from where I usually spend my days helped me focus on this intention. Yet, as I reflect on it, this is the way I would choose to live all the time.

Imagine:  A new economy is possible!

Control of corporate influence

In 2005 the World Health Organization (WHO) passed the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, commonly called the Tobacco Treaty. It is the first-ever public health and corporate accountability treaty. The treaty creates an internationally coordinated response to the tobacco epidemic, encouraging governments to raise taxes or prices to discourage tobacco use, put prominent warnings on tobacco packages, ban tobacco advertising and sponsorship and more.

Article 5.3 of the Tobacco Treaty enshrines in international law the principle that the tobacco industry has no role in public policy: “In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, [governments] shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law.”

The article has allowed dozens of countries to implement much stricter policies than would have been possible with the presence of Big Tobacco in policy debates. Imagine if the international climate talks were able to take place without the heavy presence of fossil fuel corporations, or if health care policy could be created without Big Pharma.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently (in addition to all the people we met in Northern Uganda):

A law passed this spring, requiring new buildings in the commercial zones of France to have either solar panels or green roofs.  Similar green-roof bylaws exist in various cities around the world, including Tokyo, Toronto, Copenhagen, and Zurich.

The Mayors National Climate Action Agenda, which includes 28 U.S. cities, including Philadelphia Los Angeles and Houston, and is complemented at the international level by the Compact of Mayors, all committed to reducing local greenhouse gas emissions, and enhancing resilience to climate change.

More resources

Resource from my friend Daniel Hunter, Building a Movement to End the New Jim Crow; An Organizing Guide.

Recent posts on other web/blog sites:

In, Pamela Haines locates her family's homey DIY celebrations on a class spectrum of different connections to upward mobility.


Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years.  NOTE THE NEW URL. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at

Sunday, August 23, 2015

#146 Claiming economics

Dear all,
    Well, we're delighted to welcome a new grandchild, Sebastian, born on August 7, and glad to be in a position to hang out with his big brother as they all get adjusted to their family's new size--everyone is well.  And Chuck and I are about to set off on an adventure--three weeks in Northern Uganda doing counseling and trauma healing work with our dear friend Abitimo Odongkara.
    Part of me wishes for the kind of vacation that involves doing nothing for an extended period of time, but I think I'd prefer to have a life full of adventures, with deep rest tucked in here and there.
    I'm loving the early morning light--more about that another time.

Claiming economics

When I was nine or ten my father, who taught college economics, would get my help creating the multiple choice questions for his exams.  He would ask a question, I would come up with an answer that made sense to me in the absence of any text-book knowledge, and that became one of the choices.  As a teenager, I witnessed his growing disillusionment with classical economics theory and its dismissal of whole fields— including human generosity, community and the environment.  An accumulation of such childhood experiences left me feeling that I had a right to think about economics, and a right to expect it to make sense.

Leading an intensive week-long series of morning sessions on faith and economics at a conference this summer, I had one overall goal—for people to come out of it believing that they too had a right to bring their thinking and values to the realm of economic thought.

The barriers are significant.  Although the original economic philosophers saw the field as infused with moral implications, economists of later years were eager to transform it into a hard science, where accurate measurements and tested formulas could lead to unassailable conclusions.  (I’ve heard this impulse described as “physics envy”.)  Though not all economists fit this mold, many are satisfied to be masters of a complex field; it leaves one able to dismiss the general public as dense and incompetent, and relieved of responsibility to address the common good.  In the face of such unwelcome, it’s not surprising that many people just give up and cede the whole territory to the “experts”.

This is a problem.  Now more than ever, the field of economics needs the public to wade in with our values intact, yet it can be hard to notice how they relate to such a complex and abstract system.  It helped to start our workshop series with the reminder that the word economics comes from Greek roots meaning management of the home.  (Ecology is “knowledge of home”.)  Well, we all know something about the home.

So we made a list of principles involved in good home management.  These included promoting safety; knowing your capabilities and limitations; keeping the future in mind; creating a place of rest and spiritual refreshment; not taking more than your share, and giving back when you have extra; having a budget—knowing what’s coming in and going out; seeing that everybody has a role; taking care of the little and vulnerable ones; giving up on things that aren’t working; knowing where things belong; gathering together to do larger projects; looking beyond the strictly functional; cleaning and taking out the trash—and knowing where the trash ends up; being kind.

Such principals are intensely relevant to our larger home management process, but the economy has strayed far from them.  There was a time when we at least had language about promoting the common good.  From Roosevelt’s New Deal and the start of Social Security, through the social planning of World War II, the GI Bill and grants for higher education, Medicare and Johnson’s War against Poverty, there was an assumption that the government had a duty to mitigate the grossest inequities of a market-based system for the benefit of the citizenry at large.  (How many people know that the federal income tax rate in the 1950’s for income over $250,000 was 91%?)

Since the 1970’s, however, a significant shift has taken place, very much under the radar of general public awareness.  A “neo-liberal” economic ideology has gained ascendancy, grounded in the belief that an unrestricted market will best serve our overall economic interests.  Taxes have been adjusted to benefit those with more wealth, restrictions on the financial sector have been rolled back, corporate power and influence have grown.  In consequence, the public sector has been squeezed, inequality has ballooned, credit card and student debt have mushroomed, and economic insecurity has gripped more and more of the population.

Equally troubling, underlying both the socially-conscious economic policies of the 1950’s and 1960’s and the greed-based neo-liberalism of the last 40 years, lies an assumption that our well-being depends on continued economic growth—which is setting us on a collision course with our finite planet’s resources and ability to sustain life.

These are not times to tinker with formulas and rates.  These are times to step in boldly with our values intact and ask the big questions:  Who is the economy for?  What increases well-being?  What makes up our common wealth? When is more better than less?  What motivates people?  What is our responsibility to the future? Who should decide?

We are all needed here:  the innocents, like the child who saw that the emperor had no clothes; the people of conscience who can say that things are just not right; the farsighted ones who can offer the perspective of those who come after us; those who stand on their faith values; the people in my workshop—and everyone else—who claim their right to have a voice in the management of our home.


This vacant lot is vast
a gap once filled by two great houses
now hemmed in by poverty.
A lovely family tends it
for the children in their center
and the neighbors
who need beauty and good food.

Overflowing with abundance
our community garden’s flowers
spread and spread.
I long to share the bounty
with these new friends.

One great carload
and a morning’s work
fill the few raised beds,
the soil hauled in
from far away
by this good man,
each hard-earned shovelful
a kiss, a promise
of more nourishment
to come.

I would fill this lot with flowers
growing so abundantly
crying out to share.
Yet in this packed debris
a shovel cannot penetrate.
What’s needed first is soil.

My little compost pile
even if I gave it all away
would be a speck
in this vast lot—
and I have need of it.

My easy generosity
has foundered
on the hard slow work
of building up the soil.

Imagine--A new economy is possible!
The financial transaction tax
A financial transaction tax is a very small excise tax on trades of stocks, bonds, derivatives and other securities. A tax of just one-hundredth of a percentage point would raise $185 billion over 10 years, according to new estimates by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.  Such a tax would also reduce the amount of high-frequency automated trading that is used to make windfall profits by taking advantage of small differences in price in milliseconds.

Transaction taxes of one type or another have long been in place in countries with thriving financial markets, including Britain, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Africa, India and Switzerland.  Eleven countries of the European Union agreed to implement such a tax, in 2013, though pressure from opponents caused the introduction to be postponed until next year.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently

The recent presidential decree of the Costa Rican government—based on the research of a small non-profit—to protect workers in the agricultural industry from heat stress and dehydration, a major cause of kidney disease in that population.

The relative freedom that President Obama is feeling these days to say and do what he thinks is right.

All the urban farming and gardening initiatives all over the country, and the positive impact they have on everyone involved.

A doctor in Indonesia who created a system for rural people to trade in recyclable trash for health insurance.

More resources

Recent posts on other web/blog sites:

In, Pamela Haines locates her family's homey DIY celebrations on a class spectrum of different connections to upward mobility.


Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years.  NOTE THE NEW URL. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at

Sunday, July 19, 2015

#145 Seeing the bones

Dear all,
       What a rich away time we've had--a week at a Quaker gathering in North Carolina, where I had the privilege and challenge of leading a five morning workshop series on faith and economics, followed by three days with our wonderful west coast family who had come east for the same gathering (just what the doctored ordered!), bookended by stunning drives through the southern mountains, volunteer fire-company home cooking in Virginia, and an amazing fossil dig/display of big mammals in Tennessee.
       One of the many gifts of the gathering was hearing from an elderly couple from Oklahoma who have persisted steadily over the years in raising the evils of mass incarceration, and are beginning to see some changes in their state.  I'm reminded of the power we all have...

Seeing the bones

It was the third time I found myself meditating on the importance of being able to see the bones of a situation—and in three totally different contexts.  Clearly there was something here to understand.

The first was about trees.  I always used to think that trees in winter were a sorry sight.  The green fullness of summer, and the bright colors of fall were gone.  Nothing of beauty or use was left.  With all my attention on what was missing, I couldn’t even notice what was there.  Then one day, on a long winter car trip, I started really paying attention.  I could see how the shape of each kind of tree was different.  I could notice their structure, and form a question in my mind about how the branches knew which way to grow and when to stop.  It felt like I could see and think about trees in a new way because I had access to their bones.

The next experience came from reading a book about the melting glaciers, framed by the author’s experience with a tiny village high in the Himalayas.  Since glacial melt was no longer reaching their village, they had made a collective decision to relocate—to land that was now barren but could get water by constructing a long canal to a more reliable source.

They could see the shape of their survival.  Its bones were laid bare in those mountains—water for their crops, yak dung to burn for fuel, and neighbors to help in times of need.  They could see clearly that they were the ones to take responsibility, and then, how to take focused, patient strategic action.  In the west, our vision of what is required for survival has become clouded, and our vistas are cluttered with the accumulated stuff of wealth.  Neither what we need nor what we might lose is in focus for us, and we face the prospect of climate change as individuals, with a combination of denial, arrogance and fear.

I was reminded of the third in a recent conversation with a friend.  We have both followed the amazing work of a small group of passionate and dedicated peacemakers in East Africa—home of genocide in Rwanda and Burundi, war in the Congo, and deep tribal conflicts in Kenya.  They hold workshops called Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities, bringing together people from both sides of the conflict for two or three days of very personal peace-building.

People come out of these workshops with a new understanding of the trauma they have experienced, and a new ability to forgive.  Not only do they often experience what appears to be complete and transformative forgiveness of individuals whom they may have seen kill their loved ones, they go on to rebuild lasting neighbor relationships together.

How could they do this?  We speculated that it had to do with seeing the bones of the conflict.  They knew it as immediate and ugly, as a festering wound that kept one from sleeping at night, or being truly alive during the day.  Their hunger for peace was immediate and pressing, and those who had offended were close at hand.  It was worth it to them to forgive.

For many of us, particularly in the west, the bones of conflict are not so clear.  Actual warfare is far away in time and space.  Much of our social conflict is handled by big impersonal institutions, and we have so many personal options for avoiding what remains—distracting consumption, medication, losing ourselves in cyberspace, leaving and finding new real-time communities—that we rarely have to face it directly.

While the goal can’t be to hold up leafless trees, or the economic conditions of struggling Himalayan villages, or the conflict conditions of East Africa as an ultimate model, we ignore what they have to teach us at our peril.

What are the lessons?  One has to do with clutter.  If our eye is distracted or our sightlines are blocked, we lose our ability to see the shape of things.  Another involves the importance of grasping whole systems and being able to identify our part in feedback loops.  Western industrialized society has become so enormously complex that this is hard to do, but if we don’t see our place in the system, and see how our actions—or lack thereof—impact others, how can we know what to do?  Ultimately it’s about being neighbors.  Setting aside the trees for a moment, who are not confused, and whose dependence on their neighbors happens to a large extent underground, we’re in danger of losing the critical understanding that we need each other.

Cherry blossoms

Pink petals fall.
The stuff of poetry:
delicate beauty
soft caress
drifts and clouds
and gentle intimations
of mortality.

But this is no poem.
It’s a squall
a wall of pink
blowing sideways
fierce and full.

Don’t be fooled
those flying
blossoms say.
Nature at its heart
is rarely

Imagine -- A new economy is possible!
Creating money in the public interest
In 1938 the Canadian government, recognizing that money should be created in the public interest, turned the Bank of Canada into a public institution. The bank was harnessed to finance Canada's war effort, plus infrastructure projects across the country. Mandated to lend not only to the federal government but to provinces and municipalities, this public credit was used to fund social programs like the Old Age Security Act and vocational training for veterans. Repayment on loans simply went back into government coffers.

In 1974, however, under the influence of neo-liberal economic philosophy, the government of Canada stopped borrowing from the Bank of Canada, and started borrowing through private banks, which then charged and kept the interest. Since 1974 the federal government has paid out over $1.5 trillion in interest to private banks that previously would have been available for public programs.

A current lawsuit seeks to restore the Bank of Canada to its original role, arguing that not only may it lend interest-free to the government, it is obliged to do so.  Two courts have now refused to throw the case out, which means that the Bank has to justify charging interest on such loans.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

How the practice in Finland of giving student 15 minutes of free play after every 45 minutes of class helps keep them focused.

An art teacher in Chechnya who used time when children were confined for long hours to wartime shelters to teach them art--resulting in powerful illustrations for a book of stories on non-violent action in the region.

All the honest conversations on race that are happening throughout our country, and the good soil they are finding to grow in.

Pope Francis and his papal encyclical on climate change.

More resources

Recent posts on other web/blog sites:

In, Pamela Haines locates her family's homey DIY celebrations on a class spectrum of different connections to upward mobility.


Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years.  NOTE THE NEW URL. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at

Sunday, June 14, 2015

#144 Turning the collar

Dear all,
    Looking work with the weather in this current heat wave, I've been getting out to do gardening in the very early morning, and spending more time in our coolest downstairs room under the fan (where I am now as I write).
    It's been a pleasure to hang out with my grandchild in the garden, noticing the sure progression of many plants from bud to flower to fruit, and to watch fruits get steadily bigger, learning to wait with patience for them to ripen.  While other change activities we engage in may require our more active participation and have less certain outcomes, it's lovely to have and share this sure place where we can soak up goodness and rest in confidence.  I wish you the same.

Turning the collar

This was a favorite shirt.  When the elbows wore though years ago, I cut them off and transformed it to short sleeves with minimal fuss.  (And then I had the pleasure of using the sturdy fabric from the lower arm and cuffs for quilt squares.)

But when the collar began to fray, it wasn’t so simple.  If I didn’t do something it would soon be suitable only for wearing around the house.  But if I put a patch over that frayed spot, I still couldn’t wear it to work in an office downtown.

Then I remembered the possibility of turning the collar.  People used to do it all the time.  After all, back then, how could you imagine abandoning a perfectly good shirt if just one side of the collar was showing some wear?  Surely I had the skills to pull this off?

Once the idea entered my mind, it took root.  I waited impatiently for a time when I could justify turning away from “more important work” to engage in such a luxury.  After all, I do have other shirts.  I looked at it many times lying there on the worktable between the computer and sewing machine, and itched to see what could be done.

Finally a window opened.  I found my scissors with the tiny sharp blades, perfect for cutting thread, and got to work, carefully snipping the collar loose from the rest of the shirt.  It wasn’t hard at all.  Later I stole a few minutes at the machine to sew it back on the other way, with the frayed part now invisible underneath.  I could have left it at that, but the hidden frayed spot on that good shirt called out for better treatment.  So I found a bit of bias tape, and once again waited till I could justify taking the time to make a neat little patch.

The mend was now complete.  The shirt could be worn to work again without apology.  And I was pleased.  In fact, I was extremely pleased—more pleased than a simple mend should warrant.  I kept looking at it, folding that fine new collar down, running my finger over the unfrayed fold, turning the collar up to see the patch that would be visible to no one but me.

Why such inordinate pleasure?  As I sat with this question, it came to me that it has something to do with claiming my connections in space and time.  That collar connects me to our ancestors who knew the value of a well-made garment.  They turned collars as a matter of course, turned dresses, mended cleverly and invisibly if possible, and neatly if not.

It connects me to our neighbors as well, to those who have less means in the present, and know the value of a good mend.  I remember seeing carefully mended dress shirts in Africa, and being touched by the attention that people took to looking neat in the midst of poverty.  And some of my most satisfying excursions when visiting our son in Nicaragua have involved shoe repair.  More than once I brought down old shoes that would be discarded as worthless in this country.  At the market, however, we always found men who saw the value of those shoes and were glad to use their skills to make a sturdy and serviceable mend.

It also connects me to our descendants.  The time will arrive when we finally come to our senses and realize that we are living beyond our ecological means, when—willingly or unwillingly—we in the wealthier nations adjust our life-styles to a level that the planet can support.  When that time comes, a good shirt will have a value that may be hard to imagine in our present-day orgy of consumption and waste.  Looking down that tunnel of time, I can see our descendants turning the collars of their shirts once again—and I will be with them in spirit.  I just hope it might give them a fraction of the satisfaction and pleasure that it has given me.

Expressway after a storm

Crawling along
the expressway
in rush hour

with nothing but—


Imagine -- A new economy is possible!

Complementary currencies

Curitaba, Brazil was an impoverished city in 1971.  But new initiatives by Mayor Jaime Lerner leveraged some of its strengths--access to fresh food and an underutilized bus system--to address pressing urban issues.

Garbage trucks couldn't get into the narrow favela streets, but anyone who deposited a bag full of pre-sorted garbage received a bus token which they wouldn't have had access to previously, or chits exchangeable for fresh fruits and vegetables. Recycled materials at schools were exchanged for notebooks, a boon to many poor children. Many initiatives—environmental cleanup, city restoration, job creation, improved education, disease intervention, hunger prevention—were tackled in this way without having to raise taxes, redistribute wealth, issue bonds, rely on charity or obtain loans from the federal government or organizations such as the World Bank.  In the process, the average Curitaban came to earn more than three times the country's minimum wage.

Curitiba discovered a means by which to match unmet needs with unused resources to provide much needed improvements to the local economy, and vastly improve their economic condition. They did so by making use of complementary currencies—monetary initiatives that supplemented the national currency system. 

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

A new law in France that requires supermarkets to donate or recycle unused food rather than destroying it.

The Norwegian parliament's approval of a measure calling for the Norwegian Government Pension Fund—the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world with holdings of approximately $890 billion—to begin divesting from companies heavily involved with the mining, transportation, or burning of coal.

A village in India that plants 111 trees every time a girl is born.

Boulder, Colorado’s innovative carbon tax, which levies a tax on energy use and used the proceeds to pay for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.

More resources

Recent posts on other web/blog sites:

In, Pamela Haines locates her family's homey DIY celebrations on a class spectrum of different connections to upward mobility.


Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years.  NOTE THE NEW URL. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at

Friday, May 15, 2015

#143 The Golden Rule

Dear all,
    Our two-year-old grandson has learned to say complete sentences that start with the words "I want".  He's very clear, passionate, and direct about what he wants--and, despite all the inconvenience and the tears, I would wish that for all of us. 
    I also wish that we could all get better at noticing the tiny and subtle beauties around us, as well as the striking and obvious ones.  I've been trying to take in the amazing process of leaves opening up day by day--it's an endless source of joy if only I can pay close enough attention.

The golden rule

I was busily treating a dear friend the way I would like to be treated.  But we were in closer quarters than usual, and I kept getting messages that this was not working.  My attempt to calm ruffled feelings was irritating her.  How could this be?  I was being so diligent in following the Golden Rule of my childhood.  Could this rule, one that I had lived by all my life, be wrong?

As I thought about it, I realized that there are at least five possible rules on how to treat other people, with the one I knew best right in the middle.

“Treat others in a way that maximizes your advantage.”  Use them.  I imagine that few of us aspire to this first rule, though the behavior is not uncommon. I know that I often end up following the second rule: “Treat others in a way that minimizes your disadvantage.” It seems more like an unaware fall-back position. Try not to get them angry or upset, or otherwise set them up to cause you trouble.  Protect yourself.

Then there’s the rule of my childhood: “Treat others the way you would like to be treated.” This rule is a great advance, setting us up to be active, thoughtful and positive in our relations with others.  I’m discovering, however, that it has a serious flaw.  People have different experiences and preferences.  Think of the child who wants to give a parent the gift that he or she would be excited about receiving.  Giving what you want for yourself often just doesn’t work. This was what I was running up against with my friend.  I like to get my ruffled feathers calmed.  I like reassurance.  She, on the other hand, would prefer to be joined in her upset.  The smoothing makes her feel patronized and unseen.

So we arrive at the next rule: “Treat others the way they indicate they would like to be treated.”  This seems pretty advanced.  I’m taking myself out of the center and trying to really think about the other person.  I have to acknowledge our differences in culture and experience.  I have to consider the power dynamic between us, and maybe between our people.  This is an exciting possibility, and I stretch toward it with my friend, stepping way outside my comfort zone, and trying out behaviors that are counterintuitive at best, and risk humiliation at worst.  Yet things go better!  I’m happy to claim this new rule as my own.

Even as I do, I can glimpse another one far out on the horizon: “Treat others in a way that allows them to flourish.” I’m not rushing to get there.  I still need plenty of time to practice with the fourth rule.  But this one calls for seeing beyond what people say to who they really are and what they really need; it calls for recognizing that their words and attitudes may not tell the whole story.  It involves being willing to challenge what they say they want. I’ve done this a few times with small children, putting my arms around a beloved child who has been taken over by distress and saying, "No, I’m not going to let you do that. You may not like it, and I'm glad to listen to you be upset, but I'm just not going to let you do it."

For this to work, we have to by crystal clear about the other person’s goodness.  We have to be so solid in the relationship that we can dare steer it into uncharted waters (and humble enough to know when we’re going out of our depth).  We have to take complete responsibility for holding onto our own goodness, so we can take the brunt of their upset without getting rocked or hurt.

This is aspirational to be sure—maybe too much so to be called a rule.  But who wouldn’t want to build those muscles—in all our relationships?  It certainly makes the rule I grew up with seem like just the beginning rather than the end in our journey toward treating others well. 

Oak cycle

Through fall
when other leaves turn red and gold
then, knowing that their time is done
gently disengage and float away
oak leaves fade to brown and hold on tight.

Through winter cold when other trees
reveal their splendid bones
in graceful silhouettes against the sky
oaks keep their clumpy ugliness
of rumpled brown.

Even in early spring
when all the world is new
and mists of green are spreading everywhere
those tired old leaves hold tight.

Only when new growth
deep inside the tree
starts to clamor for its turn,
only then do they cede their place
release their hold
and fall.

Branches are bare now
for a short few days
then buds begin to swell
and tiny perfect oak leaf babes
peek out, uncurl,
join the glory of the spring
and start the journey of another year.

Imagine -- A new economy is possible!

Challenging corporate personhood

Over a decade ago, to protect small and family farms from industrial factory farming, a handful of Pennsylvania townships took the unprecedented step of banning corporate farming within their borders.  Communities in eight states have followed their lead, banning corporate “fracking” for shale gas, factory farming, sludge dumping, large-scale water withdrawals, and industrial-scale energy projects.

These actions challenge an edifice of corporate legal doctrines – like corporate ‘personhood’ – that has been built over the past century to protect corporate prerogatives.  The goal is to reclaim a legal structure that allows for the building of economically and environmentally sustainable communities free from corporate interference.

Recently, a Pennsylvania county court gave this new movement a boost.  The judge ruled that corporations cannot elevate their “private rights” above the rights of people.  The Pennsylvania Constitution, she declared, only protects the rights of people, not business entities; the article of the state Constitution which reads, “All men are born equally free and independent,” cannot apply to business entities because they were not born at all.

While some state governments are trying to limit these local initiatives, this ruling represents a significant crack in the judicial armor that has been so systematically welded together by major corporations, and affirms that change occurs only when people begin to openly question and challenge such legal doctrines.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

The leadership that Pope Francis is taking on climate change.

The entry into the US presidential race of Bernie Sanders, bringing a fresh and progressive voice--and one unbeholden to current power holders--into the Democratic primary.

The growth of opposition to the hugely anti-democratic Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which seemed unstoppable just a few months ago (to learn more and take action:

All the farmers who know, respect, love and care for the land that supports them (and all of us).

More resources

Recent posts on other web/blog sites:

In, Pamela Haines locates her family's homey DIY celebrations on a class spectrum of different connections to upward mobility.


Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years.  NOTE THE NEW URL. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at

Thursday, April 2, 2015

#142 Is life sacred?

Dear all,
    I can't express how excited I am to be witnessing the early signs of spring.  And what with the garden calling, and our son Tim and his partner and toddler back from Nicaragua and staying in our house, it's hard to remember to pay attention to the rest of my life!
    I'm also excited about  the possibilities of doing scary things together.  What could be more human than banding together to try things that test our skills and courage?  I'd just love to see that energy directed toward the really big and real challenges in our world, rather than made-up ones.  On that note, what I'm trying in this essay seems a little scarier than usual--but I'm on the lookout for other things as well, and other people to do them with.  I wish you the same!

Is life sacred?

One of our proudest accomplishments as an advanced technological society is our ever-advancing ability to save human lives.  When an individual life is at stake, especially in a medical situation, our willingness and our capacity to harness enormous resource to save that life is incredible.  There is much here to value.  Yet some distortions have crept into our attitude about life that have disturbing consequences in the long term.

As a species, we are under a delusion that we’ve broken free of the web that constrained all life before us.  We think we have changed the rules of the game, with a powerful new card that we can play forever.  In reality, what has enabled us to get to this point of technological and biomedical sophistication has been the ability to link advances in human knowledge with the abundant energy of fossil fuels. Our distant plant relatives, millions of years ago, were unknowingly creating with their dead bodies a legacy for the future, and our species discovered the buried treasure.

It was this legacy that has allowed us the luxury to take on our current attitudes. We have the knowledge and technological capacity to save damaged human lives and prolong fragile and old ones beyond what those who came before could dream of. In the process, we have come to see death as a defeat, as the ultimate affront in our quest to master our environment.  With such an attitude, life becomes a test: the longer we can prolong it, the greater our success.

It seems critical to acknowledge that such assumptions about life are supported by this one-time legacy, and that our free turns are running out.  Among our best gifts to the future may be a sturdier and more lasting vision of what is sacred about life, less fragility in the face of loss, and more willingness to ascribe sacredness to other life forms.

Families who have undergone terrible losses and found their way forward to a place of resilience can be models for a new normal.  Their strength and courage are our birthright. They have learned something that our overall culture is desperately in need of:  beloved life is lost, and we have the capacity to come out stronger for it.  Death is not a defeat.  Loss is something than can enrich the whole if we’re willing to love all out, and face the suffering head on.  Rather than being dependent on—or feeling entitled to—outside forces to fix or avoid hard things, we need to build up the courage to face them.

What if the frontiers of our evolution lie not in technical advances to prolong fragile human lives more successfully, but in better maintaining the health of the whole biosphere, in claiming all life as sacred?  And if all life is sacred, then death is part of what makes it possible. I think of the ancient trees that fall and nurture life on the forest floor.  I think of how we human beings are all made of recycled materials, all part of that same miraculous whole.

I believe there will have to come a time when we are more willing to let an individual human life go. What this means for decisions about prolonging any one life I can’t see clearly, but I would rather start having these hard conversations than pretend they’ll never have to happen.  Otherwise, it will continue to be the poor and the powerless—both human and non-human—whose lives become expendable by default.

With a shift away from a single-minded goal of prolonging human lives, we may find our concept of the sacred both expanded out to include the whole web of life and honed in to those moments when we are most fully alive. After all, what could be more sacred than the opportunity to connect, the opportunity to love and be loved, the opportunity to serve, the opportunity to appreciate the joys of life while we are here?

Imagine -- A new economy is possible!

Rolling Jubilee and Strike Debt

Strike Debt was launched on the one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street’s eviction from Zuccotti Park—with a fundraising effort for a new Rolling Jubilee.  Through accumulated donations of $700,000, they have now cancelled almost $32 million in debt.  Starting with medical debt, they moved on to student debt, using $100,000 to buy $4 million in privately-owned debt owed by more than 2,700 Everest College students.  Purchasing this debt from secondary markets for pennies on the dollar—just the way collection agencies do—they then simply canceled it.

Moving on from Rolling Jubilee, Strike Debt’s latest project is the Debt Collective, which aims to build collective power in the face of personal debt.  As we learn where our money goes, who is profiting from those payments, and who stands to lose when we don’t pay, we can work together to renegotiate our payments or even demand the cancellation of illegitimate debts.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

Prince Charles of England, whose recent speech in Kentucky raised penetrating questions about the economic and philosophical assumptions that have brought human civilization to our current showdown with the earth.

The capacity of cities to demonstrate pragmatism and lead the way in solving critical social problems, i.e., with immigration IDs, and increases in the minimum wage.

Rajendra Singh, who has been working to reestablish traditional water catchment systems in an arid state of northwestern India, and has brought an eco-system—and whole villages with it—back to life.

How my decision to say hello to everyone I sit next to on the trolley—and be open to more—has challenged my perception of myself, and opened up new connections and possibilities.

More resources

Recent posts on other web/blog sites:

In, Pamela Haines locates her family's homey DIY celebrations on a class spectrum of different connections to upward mobility.


Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years.  NOTE THE NEW URL. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at

Monday, March 9, 2015

#141 Pioneers

Dear loved ones.
In reflecting on the past month, I have three offerings.  First, I'm proud to have contributed my editing skills to a new booklet, Building a Movement to End the New Jim Crow, by my friend Daniel Hunter.  Check it out at Amazon.  Second, I'm excited about how an understanding of the connections between racism, justice and environmental threats seems to be exploding these days.  Finally, I've been noticing how scarcity holds the seeds of thankfulness:  a bad cold has made me more than usually appreciative of returning health; bitter weather makes above freezing temperatures seem downright balmy; having family far away makes every contact more sweet.  I wish you all healthy doses of scarcity and thankfulness.


I’ve always struggled when the conversation turned to ethnic identity.  My family has been in this country so long that it’s hard to name anything outside of some generic connection to the British Isles.  I remember the surprise of visiting my husband’s Pennsylvania Dutch relatives and discovering that they, and the whole community around them, had distinctive foods, expressions, art forms, and customs—something that seemed totally lacking in mine.

I’ve had a similar struggle around reclaiming language.  I love language, and would love to reclaim one but, so far as I know, my family has always spoken English.  Yet there’s a big idea here that resonates with me:  in order to think well about people from other countries, and about the larger environment, it helps to have some emotional connection to “home” and “people” ourselves.
I had the opportunity in a small group recently to explore this issue of claiming our people.  My grandparents grow up on dirt farms in the Midwest, and I’ve always felt a connection with the pioneers.  I particularly love pioneer women, with all their strength, resilience, creativity, versatility and capacity to work hard.  My grandmother is the one I knew who was closest to that experience.

I thought of the loom that my great uncle built for her, that she used for making rag rugs.  I remember how she taught us as children to weave those rugs, using long balls of rag strips and working the simple but serviceable loom that my great uncle had figured out how to make.  What a great lesson in competence, thrift and agency!  What a heritage to treasure!

As I thought of my great-grandparents settling in Kansas and Oklahoma, suddenly, and for the first time, I made the connection with my history lessons.  I remembered the image of covered wagons lining up on the Oklahoma border, ready to stake a claim to the newly-available Indian land.  These good people, my people, were taking land that was available because the Indians were being removed.

The earliest story that’s told of my family, probably from the mid-1800’s, is of a premature baby who was bundled into a feather comforter and put in the wagon heading west and, amazingly, survived.  It’s a story of resilience.  So now I’m thinking, they were living in Ohio or Indiana, which used to be where Indians lived, and they’re heading west, to another place where Indians lived.
In an effort earlier this fall to try to breathe some life into who my people were, I found a book in the library of letters from a Quaker woman who moved from Maryland to eastern Ohio in the 1820’s.  She talks about how hard her husband worked grubbing stumps out of the earth, so they could plant their crops.  And now I’m thinking, those were the eastern woodlands that some group of Indians loved and called home.

It grieves my heart. While they may never have personally killed Indians, there they were, right in the middle of a genocidal movement across the country.  I can’t give up on the goodness of my people.  Those qualities that I have cherished, and that were significant in shaping who I am—strength, resilience, love of good work, an ability to put hand and mind together to create something new, an appreciation for the gifts of the land—can still be cherished.  But the story of my people, working to create good lives as they moved west, cannot be separated from the unbearable losses suffered by the natives of this land as a result of that movement.  Somehow I have to hold them both.

I’ve known for a long time that we need to do a better job of coming to terms with our nation’s history of genocide, but it’s been a theoretical understanding.  Now, as I reach to claim my people more fully, suddenly it has become real.

The knock

My eye was caught
by the women’s stillness.
Why would she just stand there
in our little city park
gazing up
in the bitter cold?

I passed
and then my ear picked up
the hollow knocking
of a woodpecker.

I turned back to join her
looking up
into the tall tall trees.

We never saw that woodpecker
but together
we were witnesses
to life abundant
in a city park
in winter.

Imagine -- A new economy is possible!
Anchors and coops

An "anchor institution" is a large non-profit institution, classically a university or hospital, that is bound by place--unlike a corporation which has a lot of resources, but can easily move. Anchor institutions have more job creation potential and stability than most corporations, which local governments are always trying to lure away from their neighbors with sweeter tax deals.  Supporting the community economy can come to be seen as a basic part of being such an institution.

In Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood—which is a poor, mostly black neighborhood with high unemployment and an average income of about $20,000—there now exists a complex of worker-owned and environmentally conscious companies called the Evergreen Cooperatives.  The greenhouse, the laundry and the solar installation company employ over 80 community members, and all serve the three anchor institutions in the neighborhood—two major hospitals and a university. Those anchor institutions, which together purchase about $3 billion in goods and services a year, did their purchasing until recently almost entirely outside the community. 

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

President Obama's veto of the Keystone XL pipeline.  Also the victory of a local group, Earth Quaker Action Team, in their five-year campaign to get PNC Bank to stop investing in Appalachian mountaintop removal.

Chile's decision, following three years of nationwide student protests, to make college tuition-free and to prohibit for-profit school from receiving public funds.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission's vote to classify the Internet in such a way that it can be regulated like a public utility with protection for all users (Net Neutrality), despite extreme opposition from the wealthy telecom industry, but with enormous grassroots support.

The word that Norway's sovereign wealth fund -- at $850 billion, the world's largest -- is divesting from coal and tar sands companies on climate grounds.

The expansion to Nigeria of an enormously effective Quaker-based grassroots peace-building effort in East Africa, in cooperation with Brethren and Mennonites.

More resources

Recent posts on other web/blog sites:

In, Pamela Haines locates her family's homey DIY celebrations on a class spectrum of different connections to upward mobility.


Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years.  NOTE THE NEW URL. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at

Sunday, February 1, 2015

#140 Love and mastery

Dear all,
    We are freshly home from a rich ten days with our son Tim and his family in Nicaragua, thankful, as always, for the role of loved ones in helping us find our way more deeply into the hearts of local communities than we could ever do on our own.  Coming home to cold and wealth, it was the wealth that was harder to adjust to.
    It took me hardly any time this month to think of four things that made me hopeful.  In the face of challenges that seem overwhelming, change may be afoot in this world.

Love and mastery

The conversation had turned to trauma and healing, and a pastor of an urban church was asked how he approached the perpetrators of trauma.  “That’s a hard one”, he said, and he paused.  “I just try to love them, right where they’re at.”  He took a deep breath and leaned back.  “Just love them, love them, love them, love them.”  He paused again.  “I can’t heal them.  God is the one who does the healing.  But if I can do my part, and love them just the way they are, then maybe they will be more open to God’s healing work.”

On the way home, my friend, another pastor who knew this man, said, “You know, that’s really what he does.  His theology is pretty conservative.  He has a struggle with my work of welcoming GLBTQ folks.  But he keeps reaching out in love.”

As I soaked up the simplicity of the model this man had offered, my thoughts turned to mastery.  I can’t imagine many other career helpers responding with such humility.  How many more would have jumped right in and explained their particular methodology or fix?  How did we come to be so committed to—and seduced by—the vision of mastery?

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising. We seem to have a built-in drive toward mastery when we are born—to master mobility, to master language and communication, to master an understanding of our environment, and then to bend that environment to our will to the extent that we can.

Yet we have ended up with delusions of grandeur.  With all the expanded knowledge of the scientific revolution, and all the added power of the industrial revolution, we’ve come to believe that we can bend the most complex systems to our will, that we can gain mastery over anything.  The things we are able to do are incredible—and scary.  The misjudgments we have made as a species on the basis of an assumption of mastery are coming back to haunt us more and more.

Perhaps our ultimate challenge is to understand what is not ours to master, and where our role may be to simply build our connections and our love.  I think of our children and what they most need from us.  I think of our earth and what will allow it to flourish.  I think of those around us who do things beyond our understanding and how they might heal.  I think of this good man taking a deep breath, leaning back, and deciding just to love.


Almost home from the park
recycling our holiday greens
I met a pair with a Christmas tree
told them where the pile was growing
then, looking down
saw a tiny pinecone.

Our branches had been festooned
with ones just such as this.
I could see another a little way beyond
and then another.

I followed the pinecones
as they led me surely, surely
to the steps of a house—
our house—
covered in a generous layer
of needles and pinecones.
It was a sure sign
I had found my way home.

Imagine--A new economy is possible!
Fair Food

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has pressured Florida’s tomato growers, through enlisting the might of major restaurant chains and retailers, to increase wages for their 30,000 workers, and to follow strict standards that mandate rest breaks and forbid sexual harassment and verbal abuse.

The Coalition started with a four-year boycott of Taco Bell, which agreed in 2005 to pay an extra penny a pound for tomatoes to help increase workers’ wages. Through their expanded Fair Food Program, the big companies have pledged to buy only from growers who follow the new standards, paying them an extra penny a pound, which goes to the pickers, and to drop any suppliers that violate the standards.  Since the program’s inception, its system of inspections and decisions issued by a former judge has resulted in suspensions for several growers, including one that failed to adopt a payroll system to ensure pickers were paid for all the time they worked.

“When I first visited Immokalee, I heard appalling stories of abuse and modern slavery,” said Susan L. Marquis, dean of the Pardee RAND Graduate School, a public policy institution in Santa Monica, Calif. “But now the tomato fields in Immokalee are probably the best working environment in American agriculture.”

Some things that have made me hopeful recently

A Nicaraguan fisherman who knows and loves the mangrove swamp ecosystem that supports his livelihood.

The election in Greece that successfully harnessed a popular desire for the government to serve the welfare of the people rather than the interests of financial institutions.

An initiative near Albany, New York that combines black farmers, teen restitution, prison visiting and healthy foods.

The continued growth of the fossil fuel divestment campaign, with around 200 institutions globally, with a combined asset size of well over $50 billion, having now committed to divest., and

More resources

Recent posts on other web/blog sites:

In, Pamela Haines locates her family's homey DIY celebrations on a class spectrum of different connections to upward mobility.


Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years.  NOTE THE NEW URL. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at

Sunday, January 4, 2015

#139 Carrying our load

Dear all,
    One of my highlights of this past month was living with an almost-two-year-old whose language growth is exploding--in both English and Spanish!  Watching how totally relaxed and unworried he was about learning and communicating in two languages simultaneously was an amazing reminder of how we're hard-wired from the beginning to learn and enjoy learning, and how our smallest children are reminders to us of what is possible.
    In the Resources section below, there is a link to a new blog post, and a new URL for my parenting website, Our Children Ourselves.  Enjoy!

Carrying our load

Living in this world, it’s easy to feel overburdened.  There’s so much to be done.  How do we find our way amid all the temptations to blame, take on too much, and avoid things that seem just too hard?

I’ve come to the conclusion that blame is a pretty useless concept.  Putting attention on what should have been done in the past just doesn’t encourage powerful thinking about the present and the future.  If unmet responsibilities continue to impact our lives, then there is a whole spectrum of options for moving forward:  live with it, offer a direct challenge, take on a project of changing the conditions for the future, work on opening the space for apologies and/or reparation, gather help to make the change, do it ourselves.

That said, it’s hard to discern what is fine to carry on my shoulders, and what is unrealistic, or unfair, or too much, or just not my responsibility.  Recently, after completing years of hard work in a leadership position in a group, everyone just assumed that I would pick up leadership in another place that had need—because they knew I was capable.  It made me mad.  After several months of stubborn resistance, I realized that I actually had a vision for how to accomplish that piece of work, very different from how it had been done in the past.  Seeing that I could give a gift that had value to me, I offered to take leadership if the group would join in my vision—which they did.  Having found a way to freely choose that responsibility, from a position of power, my whole attitude about the work involved was transformed.

There’s a lesson here about choice, about taking off of our shoulders the responsibilities that don’t belong there (put on us by others when we were young, or assumed because there seemed to be no other option), and taking on what we choose in the present, based on our best thinking, our abilities, our love, and our vision for the future.

Then there are situations where we find ourselves with too much on our shoulders in the present and no way to refuse to handle it—the result of forces totally outside our control.  In these situations, the big lesson for me is about getting help (a key missing ingredient when I was young).  I would guess that one of the biggest difficulties many of us have with taking on responsibility is in imagining the possibility of getting the help we need.

I’ve recently realized that my feelings from childhood of being totally alone with tasks that seem too hard can get me into trouble.  At times I feel so overwhelmed by a challenging demand that I try to avoid it altogether—like not even opening a letter from some intimidating bureaucracy.  I’m trying to remember now, as soon as I recognize that familiar sinking feeling, to reach out and break the isolation, then do what needs to be done.

Maybe we all need to check what we’re carrying, dump out some of that heavy weight that doesn’t belong to us (like trying to make our parents happy), and pick up some of the pieces that lie waiting to be done.  If we can remember that we have the power to make adult choices and get help in the present, everything looks more possible.  I do believe that we all can find our way to carrying our piece of the world’s responsibility gladly, and without chafing at the load.


Airport run for my sweetie:

Not yet out of the neighborhood
someone walking toward me
a block away
catches my eye.

Something is so familiar
in the way he moves.
There’s time to wonder
Had I mistaken the time?
Did he tire of waiting, find a ride in?

As I approach
I see a man of quite a different age
and color.

I pass on reassured
by the mistake I didn’t make, about the time—
and the one I did.

Imagine:  A new economy is possible!
Artisanal Energy

In just a dozen years, industrial-powerhouse Germany has replaced around 31 percent of its nuclear and fossil fuel generated electricity with a dynamic, decentralized patchwork of more than two million small and medium-scale renewables producers — businesses, villages and towns, co-ops, individuals, green investment funds, and farmers — whose numbers grow by the month.  Their output is distributed through a tightly-knit smart grid. The composition of supply changes from minute to minute depending on weather, demand, and other factors from one corner of the country to the other. 

The evolution began in 1998, when the EU mandated the liberalization of Europe’s energy markets.  Forced to unbundle production and distribution, the four dominant utilities relinquished control of the grid, and opened the market to a wave of new entrants.  Then German legislation in 2000 guaranteed renewables a fixed, higher-than-market price for 20 years, and stipulated that grid operators buy green energy from producers as small as a Bavarian dairy farmer with a PV panel on his cow shed.  With the phase-out of Germany’s nuclear reactors, it is (dirty) coal--and not (cleaner) natural gas--that has helped renewables cover supply. 

Though a master plan never existed, this plan is working,  Germany has one of the lowest rates of blackouts in the world, and is exporting more electricity than ever before. Thinking small might have cracked the renewable energy puzzle.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently

The support by Catholic Relief Services in the Central African Republic of a two-year program of Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities, a dynamic grassroots peacebuilding effort that has brought together perpetrators and victims in Rwanda, Burundi, Congo and Kenya—with transformative results.

Governor Cuomo’s announcement on December 17, of a ban on fracking in New York State.

A new collaborative venture, Fresh Start Foods West Philadelphia, which will provide fresh and healthy prepared meals for local schools while offering culinary apprenticeship jobs that provide living wages with benefits to out-of-work young adults.

The Netherlands has joined Tasmania, Mexico and Russia in saying no to Monsanto and banning herbicides like RoundUp.

More resources

Recent posts on other web/blog sites:

In, Pamela Haines locates her family's homey DIY celebrations on a class spectrum of different connections to upward mobility.


Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years.  NOTE THE NEW URL. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at