We’re back from a lovely quiet time at the cabin we share in the woods. I spent a couple of hours every morning on the pond—being present to the dawn and growing light of a new day, and pulling out great quantities of algae while composing articles and poetry in my head. What a delicious combination! It was like a little writing workshop folded into a deeply restful vacation.
This column/blog/newsletter may come to you in a different form next month. I’m moving my system to a new platform that provides a link for signing up—which will hopefully make it easier for new folks to find and access. I may continue sending it in this form as well, but don’t be surprised if there’s a change.
Looking forward to my book and birthday celebration on the 19th—please be in touch if you want the link. And I hope you catch sight of our beautiful moon!
I was going to write about how trying is always worth doing, because it moves you forward whether you succeed or not. I had my examples lined up. There was the time my attempt to propagate larch trees failed, but acting on my caring for the forest jumpstarted a process that led to what could be a lasting solution for our threatened hemlock trees. There was a more recent experience with the exciting new prospect of blueberry propagation; initial failure motivated me to research the process, add a new rooting ingredient, and try again.
I just needed a few examples outside this rather narrow realm. Maybe trying a recipe that didn’t quite work out and being motivated to change it up a little? Or I could use the example of small children and their incredible determination to keep trying, whether for mobility or language, regardless of innumerable failures. But my goal was to encourage adults to try new and hard things, and when I put my mind to that realm I wasn’t coming up with much.
In reality, when we try and don’t succeed, I think many of us are not so much inspired to try harder as convinced that the safer alternative is to give up. Or if we’re not humiliated into passivity, we may just keep doing the same thing we’re familiar with, louder and more insistently perhaps, with equally little chance of success.
I hold to the core of my original proposition—that trying is always better than not trying, and that learning from our mistakes can propel us forward. But what are the factors in a failed try that put us in a stronger position to try again? Alternatively, what are the factors that flatten us, leaving us certain that any new attempt would only be a waste of time and effort?
The difference between trying and not succeeding and being shown up as a failure seems to be a critical one. Part of moving forward in the face of failed tries involves doing the emotional work of recognizing how we’ve been set up by experiences from our childhood to protect ourselves from failure and humiliation. Though the reasons to give up may seem present and overwhelming, it helps to recognize them as voices from the past—poor guides for our grown-up selves—and to find ways of removing their tentacles from our attitudes and decisions in the present.
Another part of not being rocked by failure is planning in advance for obstacles, so they don’t take us by surprise. In a training series on leadership and advocacy that I’ve done with childcare workers, we imagine planning a big Thanksgiving dinner, a leadership challenge that everyone can relate to. After thinking through the goals, the work required, the skills and resources that are needed, we consider the obstacles we can anticipate. After brainstorming what could be a terminally discouraging list of potential obstacles, we imagine possible ways of handling each one.
It is also helpful to surround ourselves in the present with example of hope and possibility. Though not an easy task these days, with crises looming on all fronts and media that seems to concentrate and relentlessly broadcast the worst news, we can be intentional here as well.
Perhaps most important, we can make it our business to not try hard things alone. This could mean joining groups with similar passions and goals. It could mean finding one person with whom we can share our dreams and struggles, knowing they will remember how good and capable we are. It could mean identifying a little accountability group—people who care about what we are trying, and with whom we can share both successes and discouragement, humiliation and failure, and strategize about how to move on.
Since I started drafting this article, my second attempt at blueberry propagation has failed. But I learned in the process that I had started late in the season, so I will try again in the winter. And I’m soaking up the benefits of my own advice—with a little group gathered round to back me as I find my way through the minefield of self-doubt and fear of humiliation and failure that comes as I try for bigger goals. In the embrace of their support, I gather courage to try again.
Accident on the turnpike
The car in front of me
slows suddenly, dramatically
I slam on the breaks—
accident right in front of us
car bent in, people
starting to walk about.
Immobilized, I wait.
A semi rolls in on the shoulder
immense and improbable.
How can he possibly hope
to get through this?
Door opens, driver rushes out
heads straight for the crash
to help. Then more and more men
open the doors of cars ahead
come hurrying from behind
ready to offer what they can.
I wait and witness
deeply shaken, deeply reassured.
Dare to imagine: A new economy is possible!
A Philadelphia couple, working with a coalition of community businesses and organizations, launched Common Market in 2008 to rebuild the infrastructure and relationships that once linked local farms to local communities.
Today, Common Market connects more than 200 mid-Atlantic institutions, businesses and community organizations to 75 family farmers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. Sales have grown from $600,000 in 2010 to $1.7 million in 2013, with 25 percent of it reaching institutions serving low-income communities and communities of color.
Supplying institutions such as schools and hospitals has been the key to Common Market’s uncommon success at reaching large numbers of low-income children and families. Common Market serves retail grocers, runs a thriving farm share program and has its own brand, “Delaware Valley Grown,” but working with large institutions also has enabled this social enterprise to grow to operational scale.
Some things that have made me hopeful recently:
Hawaii, the first state in the US to make a net zero pledge, has received its final shipment of coal.
The Onondaga Nation has regained 1,023 acres of land from New York State, including the headwaters of Onondaga Creek, a ground-breaking opportunity to restore the land, preserve Onondaga culture, and address historic and ongoing land injustices.
Three oil companies have canceled their leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a 19.5-million-acre wilderness area.
Columbia has sworn in leftist Gustavo Petro as president, and Francia Márquez as their first Black vice president, bringing his long history of equity-focused public service and her human rights and environmental activism to the country’s leadership.
Alive in this World
A book of poetry in three parts: A Home with the Trees, Commuter Encounters, and A Home with the Earth
That Clear and Certain Sound; Finding Solid Ground in Perilous Times
A book of essays from this blog.
Get Down to the Rock; Addressing the Economic Roots of the Climate Emergency
Public Banking Has the Potential to Truly Revolutionize Our Economy
An article on my experience with the public banking movement as revolutionary reform.
Envision or Perish; Why we must start imagining the world we want to live in
An article I co-authored with George Lakey
The Financial Roots of the Climate Crisis
Link to a talk I gave at a church in Houston
Money and Soul; Quaker Faith and Practice and the Economy
If money troubles your soul, try this down-to-earth Quaker perspective on economies large and small.
Money, Debt and Liberation
A video of a talk I gave at Pendle Hill in January, 2019
Toward a Right Relationship with Finance; Debt, Interest, Growth and Security.
https://bookshop.org/books/toward-a-right-relationship-with-finance-debt-interest-growth-and-security/9789768142887A book that I co-authored on Debt, Interest, Growth and Security.
The growth economy is failing to provide equitable well-being for humanity and a life-sustaining future for Earth. However our institutional endowments and individual retirement are dependent on that same growth economy. This book:
• offers background on our current economic system--how it is based on unearned income on the one hand and debt on the other, with a built-in momentum toward economy inequality and ecological overshoot;
• frames the conversation within the context of our deepest values and beliefs;
• suggests plausible and historically grounded alternatives to the current system, particularly with regard to financing retirement; and
• invites everyone to imagine new forms of durable economic and social security, and to help create the relationships and institutions that will make them a reality.
With many people now counting as never before on the performance of Wall Street for retirement security, how can this system be challenged with integrity and effectiveness? Can we break with our dependence on financial speculation and build up new structures of security in a transformed, life-centered economy?
To read it on line, go to http://www.quakerinstitute.org/?page_id=5 and scroll down.
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: New link: https://www.peaceworkersus.org/docs/muscle_building_for_peace_and_justice.pdf (or just google the title)
Finding Steady Ground
If you need reminding of some simple ways to stay grounded in challenging times, I recommend this website, which I helped a friend develop following the last presidential election.
Other resources from my friend Daniel Hunter
Building a Movement to End the New Jim Crow; An Organizing Guide. http://www.danielhunter.org/books/building-movement-end-new-jim-crow-organizing-guide
Climate Resistance Handbook, or I was part of a climate action. Now what? https://commonslibrary.org/climate-resistance-handbook-or-i-was-part-of-a-climate-action-now-what/
Leading Groups On-Line. https://www.trainingforchange.org/training_tools/leading-groups-online-book/
Posts on other web/blog sites:
In http://www.classism.org/gifts-american-dream/, Pamela Haines locates her family's homey DIY celebrations on a class spectrum of different connections to upward mobility.