Peace is

Peace is being able to take genuine action in and from a place of love.

This includes taking genuine action to surface, embrace, and transform conflict. It also includes the ability to simply be in and from a place of love.

Peacemaking happens when we take action in and from a place of love–and sometimes, it’s up to us to make that place first.
Peace keeping happens when we maintain genuine action and places with love.
Peace building happens when genuine action and places create love.

Thanks to Jimmy Tomczak for asking me to tidy up my pondering with the prompt: “Peace is … ____”

On embracing and transforming conflict, these are core internal principles in the martial art, Aikido. The martial art’s classical forms in combat/sudden situations are often under dispute–the common critique being that many practitioners are taught motions that aren’t feasible or practiced in environments which let them become reflexive when someone gets hit in the face or in very close quarters. That said the origins of the martial art and discipline stem from a combative art (older forms of jitsu/basic combat martial arts used among samurai), and the heart of its long-term power comes from emphasizing that the [experienced] practitioner can reach a point where they’re in a position for choosing to create humane outcomes–i.e. disarming, pinning, disabling the assailant.

I’ve been contemplating how to engage a kind of uprising that’s underway in one of the professional/fellowship networks I’m a part of. In a nutshell, one of the fellows raised her grievance that the organization’s criteria for selecting mentors isn’t inclusive to people whose gifts for mentoring and communication may differ or be shut out by written methods and other biases.

The organization is understaffed, under-resourced, and tasked with stewarding a large (around 2700 person) “community” with members/fellows worldwide in addition to being charged to live up to a relatively tall mission which is to turn “high potential indivdiuals into high performance leaders” or something of that narrative. As a rough cross-section of the ideal membership profile circa 2013-2014 it’s a blend between MBAs who rock at business but want to do meaningful work, and activists who want to find ways to make ends meet while still doing the work that matters most.

On one hand, I’m keenly aware of the grievances and frustrations a lot of minority/people of color expressed in the organization.

I’m also familiar with the nuance that’s embedded in why many justice advocates often say that individuals of a wronged population shouldn’t have to explain themselves for voicing their dissent and discontent.

The next barrier we face comes from whether explaining further trespasses into what constitutes work–and whether people, especially those who were most affected by the issues raised, can or will be compensated for their work.

The tension in the environment is enough that I can see several people (and at least one has) asserting a business proposition in what’s likely a retributive transactional manner–basically charging the offenders with a service for the sake of taking their money. Having been frustrated enough to imagine that scenario myself, it’s an item that at least now looks a tad discomforting.

In my opinion, the answer is yes: people should be able to earn compensation. And it can be done, so long as they take a generative approach to partnering with the people who are best suited to leading or contributing to solving and changing the problems at hand.

Yet when we see lengthy comments pouring in from others, and even someone like me who at the moment can read, reflect, and write in relative comfort without severely risking my own ability to live–there’s an opportunity to do something with that capacity which also exists in a moment of potential urgency.

In revisiting my writings from 2014 to figure out what I might do, I found that I wrote:

“Sometimes the only solution to oblivion and apathy is empathy.

Empathy and patience for education take a lot of energy to educate someone who could have cared less about what they do or say. It’s an odd paradox–more work for the people who need to be heard and heeded than the people who make the problem.
Yet it’s your responsibility to tell them else it keeps happening.”
That excerpt came from an experience and quote that I can roughly paraphrase here:
fair isn’t a choice in your life, eliminate that consideration from the possibilities you might face and you’ll adjust to situations faster.” As in, it’s unlikely you as an individual will come across situations that are fair, “but fairness is a choice that can be made together in our lives” As in: you boost the odds of creating fairness among other people who care and can take action.

The distinction between choices at an individual level versus choices that can emerge from a collective perspective resonates with some of the stories we hear about “astroturf” (AKA fake charities/non-profits set up as front groups for a corporation) as opposed to grassroots) organizations–whether it’s about stopping litter, pollution, or global warming/climate change, the common narrative you hear in the media and among most organizations involves what individuals need/fail to do, rather than how we can engage, create, and activate better systemic changes as neighborhoods, communities, cities, states, or as a nation.

It also reminds me a bit about the narratives about voting as individuals doing their part–getting out the vote is important. And it’s also susceptible to having to choose the least-bad of a false choice: who determines what policy items or people are going to be decided? If you have a lousy pool of candidates to choose from, it’s not a great place to be in. The best you can do is figure out which one you and your community might have a higher likelihood of holding accountable and being able to persuade.

Especially when gerrymandering skews or suppresses voter representation. The parallel systemic action might be to look at the role of city clerks for making voter and civic engagement a more visceral endeavor (i.e. Garlin Gilchrist the III’s brilliant Detroit campaign), look to how citizens were able to organize statewide ballot proposals that would eliminate gerrymandering, or even educate constituents about how to effectively advocate to legislators, government agencies, and at public hearings/comment periods.

In 2018 I’m also learning:
“Sometimes the initial solution to oblivion and apathy is open conflict.”

I attribute this lesson to two people, one is Mayor Rice of Geronimo in Oklahoma, and the other to Ulysses Newkirk, who recently remarked that “Apathy is worse than open conflict.”

In looping back to a deep ingredient for what inspired this post and my conversation with Jimmy, conflict is essential to peace–so long as it can be genuinely engaged and transformed, or maybe at the least neutralized, into positive outcomes.

About the origins of astroturf organizations and how the campaign against litter was parented by the company that’s (still) lobbying in legislature against recycling:

Other related writings on love in other iterations:


Sinclair is “extremely dangerous to our democracy”

“This is extremely dangerous to our democracy” when we rely on only a handful of sources for verifiable (and unverifiable) information without considering where the language we tend to hear and use really comes from and why it might be surfacing now after every domestic, national, or international event.

A few recent phrases like

​”Fake News”
“Personal vendetta”
trace back to the Sinclair broadcasting company, which owns about 1/3 of the local television media attention​ we see across the U.S.

In a nutshell, see above.

In depth 8 minute report from PBS:

In the news, the popularity of phrases like “death tax” “climate change” are the product of former GOP strategist and Fox News pundit Frank Luntz’s work, whom I often point to.

Today we can look to phrases used in memes and even major organizational PR and advertising like the NRA’s ongoing campaign which claims “liberals want the government to confiscate guns” and intentionally avoids the phrase “Gun Violence” while leaning into the phrase “Gun Control” and pairing it with 2nd amendment rights for defending against tyranny.
If you study classical soviet propaganda techniques, dating even back to days of the Russian revolution, you’ll find similar patterns in the way other media and memes are used to stir doubt, discord, and mistrust. The same approaches were used to prey on illiterate, struggling and barely literate Vietnamese people before and during the Vietnam war as well.
The stereotype of “lazy, entitled [welfare recipients, ___ people, etc.]” originally came from the Reconstruction era just after the Civil War coined by the ongoing Southern resistance and likely popularized by the planters and KKK. We still hear the stereotype used today in the U.S. over a hundred years later any time low-income populations and public welfare comes into discussion.
Local stations may have a significant portion of their content controlled by the Sinclair organization, but if you know how to play with the odds,

While it’s important to pay attention to the news and recognize there’s often a seed (or more) of reality, we don’t need to react to every moment of national crisis for the sake of protesting to show your frustration to other frustrated people. We have better ways.
Know where and who shapes most of the media. Make your own, find ways to put it in the existing media infrastructure too. Intervene with the language that exists in the “public” dialogue and PR phrase books by calling it out and taking ownership of what we really need.

Your Value Beyond Branding

The real value beneath “Branding” comes from coherency and the invitations it can create toward a unified entity. Not necessarily ownership and what happens once it’s been obtained or implemented.

My friend Bryce occasionally speaks about his own development using terms heavily influenced by business operations–finance, branding, etc.–and today he mentioned something about how he self-brands and promotes himself in a way that works at odds with what I suspect we both fundamentally want to do: ensure people know us for the good work and experience, cohere our body of experiences in a pithy manner, and create invitations that bring people to our work without commodifying ourselves and who we are as a product to be used.

Historically, and unfortunately even still today, people “branded” animals, and other people. It’s challenging to refer to branding in business without recognizing that the phrase comes from a place of ownership and control before we can reconnect it with its older etymoligical roots as a method for crafting: to mark.

Word Origin and History for brand

Old English brand, brond “fire, flame; firebrand, piece of burning wood,torch,” and (poetic) “sword,” from Proto-Germanic *brandaz (cf. Old NorsebrandrOld High German brantOld Frisian brond “firebrand, blade of asword,” German brand “fire”), from root *bran-/*bren- (see burn (v.)).Meaning “identifying mark made by a hot iron” (1550s) broadened by1827 to “a particular make of goods.” Brand name is from 1922.


c.1400, “to brand, cauterize; stigmatize,” originally of criminal marks orcauterized wounds, from brand (n.). As a means of marking property,1580s; figuratively from c.1600, often in a bad sense, with the criminal marking in mind. Related: Branded branding.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Ownership often implies control and retention, not necessarily relationship, invitation, contribution, and greater sense of purpose. Yet an identifying mark entails distinction, potential for invitation, and relationship.

When business scholars and brand strategists speak to “brand philosophy”, they see how it develops a path for cohering all elements of a business’s activities, past, and identity into opportunities for creating something new.

The magic comes from trusting those engagements align with a trajectory of stories and experiences past and yet to come.





This post was inspired by a conversation with Bryce Detroit who mentioned personal brand.


Humanity for Hypocrites

There’s a particular concept for empathy I call “humanity for hypocrites.” It’s about understanding how someone who probably knows better might fail to act on what they normally (even genuinely) believe in.

It’s a useful balance for humility and, to me, important in ensuring that someone’s growing pains are indeed a byproduct of their growth as a better person.

Of course, this doesn’t excuse a person from responsibility and accountability. It’s instead a useful supplement for balancing out our natural (unfortunately often punitive rather than disciplinary) inclinations to understand how behaviors come about in the first place.

Politics is the articulation of desired action. Not necessarily action itself, just how to articulate it–elected officials, voting, messaging, approval ratings, political platforms–every component that brings the phrase “politics is theater” to life embodies how and why we regard politics in the U.S. the way we do.

Leadership coheres appropriate action with variables that make desired outcomes more favorable. There’s a fine line between silence with substance vs. vocalization with vision.

Making effective opinions can signal that one’s emotionally in touch with their self to identify and express it, sans understanding around the issue itself. i.e. “That doesn’t sit well with me…no further comment.” AKA “that’s whack [but I don’t know much about the issue]”

It can signal knowledge and familiarity with a topic to the point that you have a sense of vision for what really should exist. And if your opinion’s really useful, it empowers people with paths forward for taking relevant and significant action.

There’s a graphic floating through the internet showing differences which characterize a charlatan, martyr, and a hustler as they relate to talk and work (what you say and what you do):


The graphic is often shared with egoistic and judgmental implications, but it’s a helpful visual aid when we consider someone’s working tendencies and the professions they come from.

A scientist, some scholars, and even some government officials–the ones who are deeply aware of their responsibilities to the public–tend to lean on verifiable truths, and hesitate to speak in resolute statements that public audiences would readily latch onto in a tweet.  According to the graphic, they’d be labeled as the martyrs. In my background I’d likely be lumped into that same group by training for environmental science.

Ask any disciplined scientist, public health professional/epidemiologist, doctor, or security professional to make a provoking statement about their research findings and they’ll likely give you an answer that sounds watered down or uninspiring with phrases designed to dance around risks.

Phrases like:
“could contribute to” and “may influence” or “correlates but does not prove. Further research may be needed” rather than saying “this will definitely cure you from _____.”

In practice, some government agencies won’t even make a statement about possible public risks until an event goes past something like a 90% threshold of certainty. I remember in analytical chemistry, we wouldn’t even count results unless the substances we were testing met a certain threshold of purity. Sometimes a 3% difference in accuracy was the difference between passing or failing the lab because one sample did not meet statistical standards for analytical and quantitative chemistry.

If your work as a scientist does make the cut as a professional, very few people will ever know unless your expertise gets called upon for a public decision.
i.e. on a grand scale, scientists may get called forth for expert testimony in a congressional hearing, or referenced in moving journalism forward as seen in the Flint Water crisis. Even then, those cases more often then not rely on authority and platform from politicians and journalists (the talkers) to be seen.

Academia simply doesn’t set most scientists up for doing genuine scientific outreach. It’s rare to find them in touch with a neighborhood that knows who they are, why their work matters, and how to navigate the literature and methods before a crisis happens.

Only the bold with a heart for the public interest and room in their teaching/research schedule tend to do that, and it’s often at their own expense and risk to the traditional structures in place for an academic career (tenure ship, grant funding, publish or perish, etc.). If you’re lucky, you might get a Carl Sagan, David Suzuki, Bill Nye*, or Neil Degrasse Tyson once every two generations.

We can see its effects in the public discourse today by looking at how a topic like basic atmospheric and climate science suddenly became a deeply entrenched political issue. That’s a significant risk: you can do science to the highest standards of scientific practice and no one might ever know why it matters, that they stand to benefit from it, or worse yet advocate against something that exists in service of fulfilling their best interests.

And the celebrity-status scientists (*or in Bill Nye’s case, engineer-turned science advocate) aren’t enough when the masses come around with skeptical questions about the chemistry of vaccines and health, or why airplanes were able to make skyscrapers collapse.

I speak from knowing enough about the scientific community firsthand, but can assure you issues like human public health and cyber crime/warfare operate with similar constraints and underlying concerns. And for some people, professionals in those fields stake their lives in those career fields as it’s the first “safe” opportunity and pathway their family (or even generation if we consider immigrant refugees) might have known.

Meanwhile on the other side of the spectrum in the land of charlatans:
A major news network’s political pundit probably falls to the far opposite side of this spectrum. Indeed, it’s possible to get paid just for talking (or maybe shouting and yelling too).

Former GOP Strategist, pundit, and PR/Government Relations media mogul Frank Luntz, for example, gained his fortune by testing and exploiting the emotions of public audiences with phrases crafted to create the most reaction in the media.

In other words, he often spoke and advised others to use words he chose so that they would make people of the U.S. angry. Not to help people find ways to navigate or solve worthwhile problems together as a country or civilized public, but simply to ensure there’s more (mostly toxic) visibility about an issue in the media.

Too much on one side or the other of the talk-work spectrum means you either need to work in close context with others as part of a team, or risk discredit.

For organizations, this is true–a good founder probably needs some capacity to reliably follow through while communicating their vision. The effective CEO does too, yet a marketer or technical expert might be able to function as part of an organizational team. i.e. note how many collegiate entrepreneurial programs (R.I. School of Design, Stanford, University of Michigan, etc.) tend to encourage designer + engineer teams.

The same holds true when communicating in communities or other public spheres too.

Like most people, I certainly haven’t used online platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook to good effect for communicating what works and vice versa (following through on all communicated intentions) consistently.

In the past it was easy to reserve communication efforts for in-person encounters–conversations or public speaking and performances. But as I’ve come to encounter more people, and maybe even as a friend to more people from around the world, there’s a point when you realize or periodically find reminders that people eventually look to you for perspective.

People want to understand what can be done about domestic, international, or systemic issues. They also sometimes want to better know who they are through the words and actions you share with them. And as you grow as a person, the boundaries for broadcasting ideas independent from exploitative social media platforms like facebook grow tenuous.

One thing I’ve learned (or at least been reminded of) from learning about issues that influence human trafficking is that it’s sometimes necessary to share static information–where an immediate solution or even meaningful first step isn’t apparent.

i.e. how can one person in the U.S. meaningfully intervene with or prevent the slave trade in Libya?

In fact, those issues are exactly the kind that require focused dialogue for tangible and relevant actions to emerge.

So let’s return to the ethical exercise for extending humanity for hypocrites with the piece of political commentary that inspired this post:

Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry made a poignant critique about Gretchen Whitmer’s silence over the Larry Nassar case.

Gretchen Whitmer is the prosecutor who will compete for our state office of Michigan’s Attorney General. Taking a hypothetical walk in Gretchen Whitmer’s shoes, perhaps she’s a risk-averse individual who prefers to speak when actions have manifested what she believes are necessary a and commensurate to the issue at hand. She already works in a legal field where the phrase “innocent until proven guilty” supposedly reigns. Maybe she even feels a call for resignation is insufficient in the face of the harm and number of people affected by Nassar’s abuses. I can understand the possibility of her silence on those factors alone.

And considering the CDC statistics about sexual harassment and other abuses women face in the U.S. (83% [8 of every 10] girls aged 12 to 16 in the U.S. experienced some sort of sexual harassment in public school according to the CDC [2]), it’s also possible that the Nassar case could speak to a personal experience in ways she’s unprepared to confront or at the least uncomfortable with choosing to face in the political spotlight.

Yet in the public eye, those possibilities don’t necessarily dismiss her from an opportunity to speak out on the case–and she’s held to an especially visible standard as she steps into candidacy for a major political office of U.S. government when Nassar also allegedly violated hundreds of women, including those who represented the nation at the Olympics. The possibility of personal experiences with harassment also point us to a double standard too. Statistically speaking, men are less likely to encounter that experience. Empathetically speaking, the possibility remains real.

That’s a challenge for some people, and any time you (and/or I) commit to leadership, or even find ourselves in a position that requires initiative, it’s a similar issue. The best you can do is find ways to be present with your reality, and discern whether the broader reality merits action, even if it means disclosing that you’re still making sense of an issue on multiple levels.

To me, the most important things to find out from any political candidate are:

1) do they listen carefully?
2) can they be reasoned with?
3) do they take relevant and significant action?

Bonus points if the action actually yields the desired and necessary results.

If you’re able to interact with them or their campaign at that level, experience and aspirations are important but secondary considerations especially in elections where voters must triage to find the better of choices. For our election system and government to have a better chance at properly functioning, I also believe that’s how elections and peoples’ work/life/citizen balance ideally should work–people engage candidates to listen, reason, and develop a trajectory of qualified action that yields the desired outcomes.

The challenge when stepping into leadership comes from two directions: 1) to internalize the truth that timely simple statements and observations do matter,
2) to trust that your statements consistently align with the desired vision over time.

Do you accept the challenge?



Jack Lessenberry’s critique on Gretchen Whitmer’s silence:

On Sexual violence/harassment and rape (I’m lazy-pasting sources and lines from a different note I wrote to a friend, pardon the citations within a reference section…):
20% (that’s 1 of every 5) U.S. women reported being raped in their lifetime [1]
83% (8 of every 10) girls aged 12 to 16 in the U.S. experienced some sort of sexual harassment in public school [2]

[1] Even the Center for Disease Control has studies on rape (because widespread sexual violence happens as an epidemic):


About Frank Luntz, who as I’ve mentioned before could be considered on equal footing with war criminals for creating the polarized media and political environment we see today:

What he does (the phrase “death panel/tax” is another one of his products, but you can see his climate memo to GOP representatives):

How he did his wordsmith work with focus groups in the NHL when players threatened to strike:

Community Change: Capable and Complicit Church(es)

[in open draft]

A late-night note on underexamined places for change thanks to a conversation with a warrior monk friend, I’m writing my reflection here with new/naive changemaker-type people in mind, especially for those unfamiliar with the paradigm who are looking:

There’s a different way to think about churches when considering them as institutions for measureable community development.

It’s one thing to think of social impact in terms of social, economic (bottom line, localization/etc.), and environmental/health for new/existing businesses. In Detroit, it’s also one thing to hear/read/mention/think “faith-based institutions are important players for facilitating social change” and dismiss them as a means for mobilizing volunteers, and offering basic services for community stabilization to varying degrees of efficacy.

But if you’re working in fragmented communities with million dollar mega-churches and a plethora of dilapidated or abandoned buildings nearby, someone–likely you before anyone starts engaging the churches–may need to adjust how social impact, inclusive wealth co-creation and distribution tends to happen in a city (or suburb, or rural area for that matter).
“I invite you to drive down 7 mile and count how many million-dollar churches there are with dilapidated buildings right next to them in the neighborhood!” – the warrior monk friend of Detroit
The nuances behind land ownership, employment, and real estate might lead us to hold the above statement suspect as a straw-man argument, but when we consider how some megachurches operate and what they claim to provide, a similar degree of scrutiny for impact is merited that most “social innovators” tend not to expose themselves to beyond typical corporate, government, and non-profit contexts.
Religious institutions–even considering those with traditions for tithing a percentage and charitable acts–are often complicit in if not susceptible to perpetuating the kind of business models that become a detriment to the long-term success of a place, its people and other inhabitants.
This is akin to examining businesses with long records of philanthropy and CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) service days. Just because they donate money, build a library (i.e. Carnegie Libraries in Pittsburgh), or claim to serve a community, it doesn’t necessarily mean that their actions and operations are exempt from scrutiny over verifiable (perhaps ideally replicable) outcomes and legacy impacts.
It’s the point of fallacy behind Effective Altruism’s flagship cost/benefit assessment: getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars at a law firm and then donating thousands to a charity to prevent malaria doesn’t matter if the law firm you happen to work for protects clients who price gauge medicines for malaria treatment, are responsible for destroying clean drinking water sources, or usurp and sabotage public infrastructure for unscrupulous privatized interests. And note that on that caliber of operation, it’s very easy and sensible for a company to get tax write-off for supporting an “astroturf” shell-charity (i.e. Make America Beautiful, known best for the Crying Indian litter ad was created by the aluminum company, Alcoa) or shell-lobbying firm masquerading as an educational 501c3 (i.e. ALEC, AKA American Legislative Exchange Council) at the same time. For those unfamiliar with this phenomenon, it’s part of what many call the Non-profit Industrial Complex.

So what does meaningful change look like among faith based institutions?
I imagine it’s applying many of the same metrics for impact that we often consider for benefit corporations or other purpose-driven organizations. Imagine the GRI (Global Reporting Initiative, basically an index for reporting good/bad social, economic, and environmental impacts for companies) for faith-based institutions, and/or Charity Navigator (discloses salaries and budgets among charities).

Granted, intra-congregational and interfaith collaboration are not to be dismissed. Interfaith initiatives represent a lot of potential for action in Southeast Michigan, and it’s likely a necessary early step for a lot of folks to engage these institutions. That said, as you progress through the later stages of collaboration and organizational development/institution/community building, having the mind to use the kind of tools we see in for-profit and non-profit impact assessment that verifies and encourages replicable impact seems very important. So far, I’m not familiar with–or unaware–of anyone who’s really focused on doing it beyond some interfaith groups with very specific causes like energy efficiency, or broader coalition-driven priorities (important in its own right).

Of course, plenty of churches and other faith-based institutions are also doing noteworthy positive work. While certainly not to the same scale as a nearly-mega-million-dollar church, it’s important to remember that mutually beneficial relationships do form between many faith-based institutions and their immediate communities that can (or already do) create visceral economic impact and advance community development.

Perhaps with leadership coming from community-oriented organizations, one of the most memorable examples I’ve seen firsthand comes from an initiative via Foodlab Detroit, where the dynamic Devita Davison showed visitors how to make use of the commercial-grade kitchens often found in neighborhood churches so that they also become business incubators for emerging food entrepreneurs.

[Pictured above: Devita Davison in red leads a tour through a community church and commercial kitchen in Detroit’s neighborhoods which serves as an incubator for new food businesses during the summer of 2014]

. . .

On paradigms for charity and caveats on language concerning support and saviors:

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.
-Words used by Lilla Watson

Charity is a concept loaded with transactional bias. Transactional language often leads to extractive and exploitative relationships when not checked. Charity has an important role, but one we must make conscientious decisions that speak to the roots of general human behavior: Hidden within “help” is a power dynamic that assumes the people being helped lack any agency in themselves, or that by offering help they are obliged to validate the provider in ways bound to expectations that turns an offer for support into a transaction in one’s agency. Conveniently, this notion ties neatly into what many advocates describe as “the savior complex”–how people, organizations, and even governments, often rush to a community with the expectation they will “save” a place, sans any commitment to letting the people already leading change or capable of doing it to do their work.

Featured image:
Church and State, photographed by Ian D. Tran (C) 2015 all rights reserved
Photos from a summer FoodLab Detroit tour, photographed by Ian D. Tran (C) 2014 all rights reserved

The Crying Indian, Astroturf Non-Profits and Alcoa
ALEC, United States of Alec serves as a shell 501c3 for closed-door lobbying and legislative production in service to major Multinational Corporations
Benefit Corporation:
The Global Reporting Initiative:
Charity Navigator:
FoodLab Detroit:
Effective Altruism’s flagship essay:


Poverty, Politics, and Pointed Language

[Inquiring post, from a professional support discussion thread]
Struggling with writer’s block and thought maybe someone would have some ideas for me! In writing up something about my organization’s work, we’re struggling with using the term “poverty-ridden” to describe a neighborhood we work with. The community is underserved for sure, and some pockets do struggle with poverty, but the “poverty-ridden” doesn’t sit right as a way to describe it. Another colleague feels that “underserved community” feels a little “lefty-speak”.

Curious if anyone has any magical language they might share? Thanks for your thoughts!


[responder #1]
How about
Opportunity Area
About to thrive
Culturally rich but financially under resourced
[Responder #2]
Great question! I don’t have any magic answers, but your question reminded me of this blog post I read a while ago. I think both the blog post and the comments are very thought provoking and along the lines of what you and your team are struggling with. Many good points and no clear answer – poverty is indeed ugly and wrenching and something we shouldn’t feel comfortable and happy trying to describe.

Hi [inquiring+responding folks],I think it depends on the context and history of that community and how you present the context in your writing, as much as it does on what you intend to convey. To me, the truth with proper context is always good.

For major cities operating under the legacy of institutionalized racism–redlining, historically discriminatory zoning, etc. (almost every major city in the U.S.), a term like “economically oppressed” might be apt if you’re able to explain how the community got to where it is today.

Terms like “Opportunity Area” and “Culturally rich but financially under resourced” often signal exploitation and transactional work rather than ongoing co-creative/long-term development, and some communities are very wary about it at least where I tend to work.Low-income/under/unemployed might work for a population.
“Poor” can sometimes touch a nerve too because it imbues assumptions about people whose reality doesn’t match with the label. Be sure to discern between impoverished (zero social/economic capital) and what people might label as poor (people who make ends meet through relationships, alternative economics, etc.).

Working in Detroit, I’ve used “underinvested”–with context that neighborhoods are already doing innovative and important work out of necessity, but are being outright ignored while media and financial attention continues to stay in the downtown/business corridors.

A friend and I used “priority engagement youth” which could apply to communities, etc. too rather than impoverished or at risk. This maintains the agency of the people in focus, without casting them under a lens of victim status and gets delivered through an active but politically neutral phrase.

In other contexts, if I’m articulating a case for broader systemic intervention to specific private funders, “economically oppressed” can make sense given the history and ongoing momentum of the city’s development patterns. Of course, anything about oppression is likely to stray into the “left”, but again I think what matters is who you’re communicating to, what your intentions are, and the context of the place/people that you can bring to light.

For the present, there’s “economically afflicted”, perhaps to articulate a current problem or challenge.

Building on [responder #2]’s comment and links, I think of a quote from the introduction in Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed:

During our discussion, [Dr. Martin Luther] King’s friend remarked, “Donaldo, you are right. We are using euphemisms such as Economically marginal’ and avoid more pointed terms like ‘oppression'”

Of course that might carry leftist implications by bringing out the term oppression, but again it can depend on context. If the necessary changes are genuine and you can communicate it well, it doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum the language comes from, people should come to conclude the right thing to do.


Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Friere

A “Poor vs. Low-Income etc.” blog post via oxfam:
Essentially asks: why not describe a situation for what it is using the word “poor’? The bias that’s not noted by the writer is the label for poverty/poor (at least in the English language) rests in the language–it implies that the people have zero resources/ability and completely need help as victims.This ties into what many justice advocates call “savior complex” and valid critiques about how charity gets things wrong–it assumes a power dynamic where one will receive help, the other issues/awards “help” even if the people at attention are already working and capable but really just need supplemental support to what they’re already doing.

it sets the reader and workers up with a way of thinking that the people they work with are completely powerless and reliant on support from a privileged agency/non-profit that can rescue them.

I mention transaction/relational economic development here recently:

Choices: life on dignity or terror

Choices: Dignity in Life, Choices over Terror and Death

There’s duality in fear for living and embracing death. For samurai, choosing a worthy cause to die for is a means of embracing the presence of life and inevitable reality of death. The result: life is fleeting, live in the present as if you will die today.

Choice is fundamental for human dignity, yes. Terror happens when one’s in a situation that makes severe irreparable harm or death seem imminent and you’re unable to find or create any other choices for living.

-A fragmented note to myself from 11/3/14 found in my draft box

Back to the present:

Approaching life from grasping death first can be a very severe, spiritually violent, and overall dark approach.

Even for me today, the opening sentence was a little unclear. I think I was also touching on moments when someone is genuinely afraid of stepping into living their life fully — because with all the joys it can bring, you’re also choosing to accept and embrace the consequences of failures too.

A caveat on foolhardy failure: In my experience, the slogan “fail faster” that gets hyped in silicon valley/startup circles glorifies the downside and understates the resources necessary for recovery. Failing faster also requires proportionate tools and support to respond or rebound quickly. For people living in severe situations where balancing life and death, genuine poverty, etc. are at stake it’s a naive and misleading attitude.

We need to set parameters for failure. It doesn’t need to intrude on the sum of your existence, find ways to contain, govern, or facilitate it. Failure isn’t always bad, if you learn and grow from it. But what we’re really supposed to focus on are controlled or informed risks that we can successfully navigate. Where possible, fail forward — choose to fail in a direction of your preference so you can learn from it and still know how to stay on track. Immersing yourself in failures that go beyond your capacity to move on or focus on what’s worth failing for however, becomes a detriment one’s existence.

But this idea, really deciding to commit to living your moments fully, genuinely overwhelmed me into nihilism at times. The most overwhelming moments looked like shutting down, or believing it was important to stay with any accessible pain because that seemed like an essential part of living fully.

When some aspect of the idea made less sense to use as guidance for life, it also manifested into isolating myself in existential angst and numbness for months at a time. Of course, I still sought to show up online in minor ways and at work to keep me up to date with the rest of reality on topics I knew were important, but bridging the gap between what you think and what you believe can be quite the challenge.

The connection to choice: Life, Death; Dignity, Terror

Understanding the link between choice and dignity matters as much or even more than understanding how terror works. Terror is designed to happen when it deprives people from their sense of choice. Choice is fundamental to dignity. It requires a degree of consciousness to discern and make a genuine choice. Paraphrasing my mom: “Even into death, you have choices.” The trick is to see what they are, choose from the best, or create better ones.

Dignity and terror reflect life and death in their simplest forms. They hinge on your ability to discern, and choose with some sense whether active or intuitive.

The best practical tools for overcoming the designs of terrorism I know of boils down to three things: Joy, Truth, and Love.

It sounds unrealistically naive and Utopian at first — especially when considering that I came across them listed in a song written by my friend, Markita Moore. But the more I thought about those three around the time the Orlando shootings took place, the more I realized each element has clear, practical components that allow most of the public to deal with reality in a way that doesn’t make them beholden to reactions spurred by fear from terrorist acts.

Of course, counter-terrorism work still has an important place in the world, but for the general public in the long-term, I think this goes a long way to prevent or overcome terror:

Joy can be shared, draws people together, and builds cohesion. It inspires curiosity and deeper understanding on a voluntary basis. People are often drawn to humorous and positive moments. It can soften entry to challenging dialogues and conversations through assurance that comes from sharing a common experience — so long as it’s not used divisively at someone’s expense. It’s a significant topic in research for effective education.

Truth, upholding it and understanding it, shows us that we have more choices than what terror wants us to believe. It reminds you that a supremacist ideology is flawed putting your beliefs into proper scope with additional realities. Presenting or facilitating the truth also holds people accountable.

Love revolves around manifesting the best in and with people, which includes celebrating them as they are and the effort, history, and legacy that surrounds them in its most humane light. You can look at it in subtle forms like the discipline it takes to prepare meals for your kids even when you’re dead tired, care for the state of society, or consider the camaraderie and solidarity earned from common hardship and purpose.

Love is one of the most powerful motives used for framing purpose. Military boot camps in part are designed to cultivate an iteration of love — in terms of camaraderie — among service members and for the country. Simon Sinek, an anthropologist focused on leadership, cites similar examples in several of his talks. If you spend time speaking with service members, veterans, or yourself served you probably hear this too.

Coincidentally, scientists notice love and hate share many neurological pathways in common. What distinguishes a lively hate group from a healthy successful organization is the way they force dependent relationships and control information. But they start out and often frame their cause in terms of loving an identity, or protecting who they are. The rest of the hallmarks of their process actually mirror characteristics you’d see in healthy organizations that would appear in a Zappos/Delivering Happiness case study.

As a nation, the same applies: beyond taking care of the basics, don’t react to terrorism out of fear — else you play into someone else’s game by doing so. Focus on the things people would do in the first place when combat isn’t imminent: joy, truth, and love. It draws people to the righteous reality from their own volition, or asserts the truth without necessarily escalating violence.

But I keep returning to the general concept that making choices for death and life presents us. Major turning points basically revolved around thinking: “what’s something worthy of dying for/living for?” there’s more to say about the question itself, but that was a big starting point for my life in 2012.

Last year I met a wonderful woman who demonstrated the same idea but with an opposite (in my opinion, much healthier) approach — I’m still working on going about it from a joyous angle but it’s the same goal as far as living fully is concerned.


On “fail faster”
Example of common narratives around “fail faster” — I may or may not have a tendency to attempt living ideas to straw-man proportions, if you must try in that fashion too, don’t do it the way I did. Resilience comes from the ability to rebound instead:

What would have been nice to hear more often with “fail fast” 

I especially wish this was something I read in 2014 to affirm some of my own questions about the slogan, but it’s nice to see today now that I’m reading up on how other people looked at it. Also note that someone created an entire company/consulting practice around “fail forward” — focused on dissecting failures. I guess it was bound to happen:

Three Chords: Joy, Truth, and Love (song excerpt by Markita Moore)
[side note for those following our band’s progress: we’ve finalized the recording, moving to fundraise for filming a video with the students who sang in the song and coordinate its release with the video, ideally around October]

Humor in education (need to follow embedded links within this article for the research):

Humor in Education via the APA, learning — it seems mostly focused on higher education, I’ve yet to read in-depth for source articles, etc.:

Other iterations of love, many Latin rather than Greek, a good framework, I think Ubuntu should be considered too though it’s of African origin:

Military — trust, co-operation as interpreted by Simon Sinek in his research referenced multiple times in his talks:

Simon Sinek speaking on “Why Leaders Eat Last”:

First-hand story on service leadership from Lt. Col. Drowley (the A-10 pilot mentioned in Simon Sinek’s book and talk, “Why Leaders Eat Last”):

Recovering from hate: how hate groups function and the neurological wiring behind love/hate 

Delivering Happiness, p. 173 Happiness Framework 1: 

On choosing worthy reason(s) to die. Also contains practical instruction for one-strike swordsmanship (iaido) in addition to the philosophical context that informed/s the martial art: Flashing Steel, Second Edition: Mastering Eishin-Ryu Swordsmanship by Masayuki Shimabukuro (Author), Leonard Pellman (Author)
[seek out the second edition, supposedly a worthy improvement from an already excellent first edition]

This post originally appeared at:

Privileges in planning; relational and transactional economies

Planning is often a habit of privilege, and hard-earned for many in ways that others can hardly fathom.

I’ve been mulling over the strategies we tend to see in relational economies versus those in traditional transacitonal ones.
i.e. the economy most people know about is transactional and runs solely on money.
Relational economies however, display patterns in the Solidarity Economy/New Economics or as the writer for Bloomberg calls it, “Detroit’s Survival Economy” are all premised on trust and relationships created/earned between people.

There’s truth to calling it the survival economy–though I take issue with calling the people who use it poor. Poor people often don’t have the wealth of access to many of the workarounds, organizations, and networks that are meant to meet their needs. However, some have a wealth of relationships in their families, friendships, and community who do help make living doable.

And personally, it saddens me to realize the depth of how much these approaches are necessary for many people, and a source of baseless excitement over what will likely be “discovered” as “innovation” by a select few who don’t understand and will not experience poverty. The distinction between innovation from genuine necessity or survival and innovation as an exercise for self-congratulation comes from the assumptions behind them and the luxuries for rebounding to failure.

Reading an article from 2015 by Jessi Streib in the Atlantic hammers in the paradigm

“Isabelle, for example, is the daughter of a farmer and a bartender. (All the survey participants have been given pseudonyms.) Her family did not know how much money each year’s crops or tips would bring in. They did not know when a debt collector would call. Thinking about money could not change the fact that it came in unpredictably and that sometimes there wasn’t enough. With little she could do to change the situation, Isabelle learned to go with the flow. She would not think too much about money, but spend as she needed to get by.

People who grew up with parents who had more money, job security, and power grow up with more stable lives. In these conditions, they learn that managing their resources makes sense—both because their lives are predictable enough that they can plan and because their resources are plentiful enough that they can make meaningful choices. Spouses with middle-class backgrounds wanted to manage their resources by planning.

This difference—taking a hands-off approach or a hands-on one—followed individuals from their pasts and into their marriages.

It shaped nearly every aspect of their adult lives. In regards to money, work, housework, leisure, time, parenting, and emotions, people with working-class roots wanted to go with the flow and see what happened, while their spouses with middle-class backgrounds wanted to manage their resources by planning, monitoring, and organizing.”

I’ll need to read the actual study(ies?). It’s reasonable to suspect the study already draws from a strong bias in the groups it reports–if the couple is already made it as a couple, the study will draw from a sample of participants who were already thinned out. That said, nice to see reports of a happy ending at the end of the article.

And of course, never let the words of another person condemn your own future.

Healthy Anger in Action (HAA!!!)

What’s the healthiest expression of anger you’ve ever seen?

Bonus points if it didn’t devolve into petty tit for tat/bickering.
Also for anyone interested in diving further:
How did it allow you/the people involved to take care of their needs?
Did it allow both parties to do so or only one? Why?
Was forgiveness involved in resolving, reconciling, or embracing the underlying causes for anger?

Context: I think a lot of us lack good examples. People are often afraid to talk about it, and by the time we’re close to it, it’s definitely challenging to navigate. Most of the time people are even afraid to walk the line between acknowledging and declaring their own boundaries and proceeding to do something with the experience(s). Even Bruce Lee acknowledges that “Ultimately martial arts means, honestly expressing yourself. Now, it is very difficult to do.” And yet, it’s being done.
At this point, I ponder the line between trolling and anger. Not too long ago, this protest sign, quoting Edgar D. Mitchell crossed the news:

“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.” ― Edgar D. Mitchell

The more I think about it, some of my favorite examples of righteous mischief or frustration might be an example of that. The quote I opened with from astronaut Edgar D. Mitchell came to mind because part of it was used by a group that created the first protest (protesting the current president) from outer space (see article from the Hill).

Thinking of a similar statement that always stood out to me:
“You get to the point where you evolve in your life where everything isn’t black and white, good and bad, and you try to do the right thing…You might not like that. You might be very cynical about that. Well, fuck it, I don’t care what you think. I’m trying to do the right thing. I’m tired of Republican-Democrat politics. They can take the job and shove it. I come from a blue-collar background. I’m trying to do the right thing, and that’s where I’m going with this.” – The Honorable State Senator Roy McDonald (speaking on his decision to vote for legalizing gay marriage. It takes a certain degree of gravitas for a statement of plain and profane words like that to work.)

A woman chooses to show up to work dressed up in Cosplay every day since her boss thinks her headscarf and any cultural cloths covering her hair are “unprofessional” even though the company had zero dress code. I know a few cosplayers and I think this is quality trolling.

The California man who drove in the high occupancy vehicle lane with papers for a business is another example. He was protesting the Citizens United supreme court ruling by carrying a filing cabinet of business papers in his car, and using the “corporations are people” argument to demonstrate how he legally is permitted to drive in the carpool lane (requires more than one “person”).

Huh, wow–so there we have it.



Some tools I’ve used, created, or adopted for anger–including a framework that’s normally used for intervening with bias (mostly racism/sexism) developed by Cook-Ross:

Creating parameters for signaling anger in ways that people might better understand what’s going on:

For anyone wondering what happened to the legal case concerning the man using a traffic ticket to challenge Citizen’s United this was the latest I could find from a very brief search:




Country Music across (1/5th of) the Country

If you drive, you can learn a lot about the U.S. as you travel through it by listening to its radio stations from state to state, and a bit about yourself if you’re honest about how you’re looking at an experience too.

Note, I’m making up the following percentages as rough estimates, and I certainly don’t feel like I know enough about country music in whatever its many iterations may exist to give an accurate summary about it so consider with grains of salt:

A good 40-70% of the stations are various Christian religion stations or country music depending on where you are. Maybe about 3-12% are public radio depending on where you are.

8-13% rock
10-30% pop
3-5% contain rap or actual hip hop

A few (extrapolated) observations: there are some interesting parallels between (again, I suspect it’s only a representation of today’s popular commercialized) country music and a lot of the rap.

The “boom clap” pattern has been adopted into [pop?] country music. The stereotypical subject matter—the stuff you tend to hear singers singing about or people complaining—can be similar too: in commercial radio-station country music trucks, women, guns, alcohol, maybe smoking a cigarette too. Similarly with rap: cars, women, guns, alcohol and smoking cannabis.

Yes, I know there are good country musicians and rap writers today too. Many–in fact, I like to believe most–listeners appreciate the genre often for the wisdom that’s communicated through the storytelling. A friend literally sent me a song by the rapper Nas to teach about loyalty and friendship for example. You’ll certainly find eras, good songwriting goes in and out, and performances often reflect upon the times too.

So it’s here, dear reader, where we’ll enter the domain of country music that I can find plenty to appreciate.

I’m learning some songs requested by a student which in my opinion points to some of the not too-distant roots of today’s [mostly commercial] country music.

For example, this one–Yes Ma’am, He Found Me in a Honky Tonk sung by Leona Williams

If you think about it, it’s a sad song—a woman is getting judged by another woman and…
(concedes/relegates/regards, relegates, remiss, acquiesce, resorts, ? [super edit: I’ve been missing the word I wanted to use–it’s *resigns*! thanks, Adam!])
…resigns herself to accept and agree with what the woman judging her says.

You can imagine that the admonisher says she’s not really worthy of the man she loves, and that he deserves someone better than her.

If you know the mechanisms to verbal abuse, it takes a lot of exposure for sense of self-worth to wear down to that point. Critical violence, even in one’s attitude toward their self like what we hear, is more often than not a learned behavior.

This means that the woman in the story, and whoever wrote the song, had to have seen and heard a lot of disparagement, or at least enough to write a song about it and in order to write from that point of view.

Signs+symptoms of verbal abuse