Keeping Creativity Alive

“The world is but a canvas to the imagination.”—Henry David Thoreau

Imagination springs from nowhere and brings something new to the world—games, art, inventions, stories, solutions. Childhood is particularly identified with this state, perhaps because creativity in adults is considered to be a trait possessed only by the artistic few.

Nurturing creativity in all its forms recognizes that humans are by nature generative beings. We need to create. The best approach may be to get out of one another’s way and welcome creativity as a life force.

If we are familiar with the process that takes us from vision to expression, we have the tools to use creativity throughout our lives. When we welcome the exuberance young children demonstrate as they dance around the room, talk to invisible friends, sing in the bathtub, and play made-up games we validate the importance of imagination.

When we encourage teens to leave room in their schedules for music or game design or skateboarding or whatever calls to them, we honor their need for self-expression. Young people who are comfortable with creativity can apply the same innovative mindset to their adult lives.

Creativity is necessary when dealing with an architectural dilemma, new recipe, marketing campaign, environmental solution, or personal relationship. In fact, it’s essential.

Imagination and inspiration have fueled human progress throughout time. Creative powers have brought us marvels and continue to expand the boundaries. The energy underlying the creative act is life-sustaining and honors the work of others.

But there’s a caveat. Creativity isn’t always positive, visionaries aren’t always compassionate, and progress isn’t always beneficial. After all, a clever mind is required to craft a conspiracy as well as to negotiate a peace accord.

Creativity is a life force when it arises as a healing impulse, as a truth-telling impulse, as an impulse to approach mystery.

Tomorrow’s possibilities call out to our inventive, imaginative selves. Let’s answer.

Portions of this post were excerpted from Free Range Learning.

ANNA-RF: Beautiful Proofs of Mankind’s Similarity


Mid-Eastern new music, Israeli musicians play globally,

I first heard of ANNA-RF when a friend shared “Jump,” a playful video with lyrics that resound in our fractured world.

For all of us love is the flame
The fire that burns the hate
Helps us dream and create.
I can’t see the different between
And I know that the answer’s within.
Humanity is one big tribe
So why can’t we live side by side?


The very next video of theirs I clicked on was a stirringly beautiful rendition of a folk song from Azerbaijan.

Intrigued, I found out all I could about the group.

Musicians Roy Smila and Ofir J.Rock met in the small desert village of Shaharut, Israel back in 2011. They quickly forged a musical connection that evolved into the band ANNA-RF, which they named after an Arabic-Hebrew expression that means both “I know” and “I don’t know.” They play what they call electro-ethnic-reggae, although that term doesn’t stretch as far as their music which is highly versatile, in part thanks to collaboration with musicians from all over the world. Their compositions are original and often spontaneous, mixing new sounds with ancient traditions. Instruments they use include the kamancha, lafta, sazbush, flute, guitar, and didgeridoo.

A little rummaging around YouTube makes it obvious that visual art is an integral part of what they do. They create videos for each song, filming in mountains, deserts, and busy markets. They can be found dancing in desert rain

and playing Celtic reggae with musicians in Switzerland.

Last year the band added a new member, Or Rave. I reached out to them for an interview and they kindly made time to email me back from a concert date in London.


Despite our complicated political times, your lyrics are mostly celebratory. What message does your music convey?  

We find no truth in borders or other fictive ideas of separation. We enjoy the beauty of everyone and we find inspiration in every culture and every place. Our music is based on this point of view, therefore it is positive and open.


What’s your songwriting process like?

Our home and studio is in a tiny village in the desert. The emptiness of the desert is what inspires us to fill it with creation.

A song can start from anything. A line on the kamancha (the Persian violin), a riff on the guitar, a sentence someone throws to the air.

We also tour a lot and in our journeys we meet amazing people and artists who we collaborate with. In many cases that connection is an inspiration for a new song.


How does travel influence your music?

When you are traveling your life is highly dynamic and flexible. From that we get a variety of new points of view and inspiration. By traveling we meet a lot of amazing people and artists that influence us and broaden our horizons.


Tell us a little about collaborating with other musicians and who you’ve played with so far.

For us one of the most beautiful proofs of the similarity of mankind can be found in music. When you play with other musicians from around the globe you understand that all over this planet people get the same feeling from music and you can find similarity right in the musical scales.

We’ve played with:

  • Imamyar Hasanov, the great kamancha master from Azerbaijan
  • Yair Dalal, the well-known Oud master
  • The Turbans, the great Gypsy band from England
  • Farafi, beautiful African music from France and California
  • Daniel Waples, famous hang player from England
  • Davide Swarup, the hang and SPB pioneer from Italy
  • Tom Bertschy and Thom Freiburghaus, the medieval musicians from Switzerland

And many, many more amazing artists from all over this planet.


These videos are mostly filmed in evocative natural settings. What are some complications of filming in the sand, on a mountainside, or roadside?

In most of those beautiful locations there is no water or electricity there so we have to prepare in advance. We have to have food and water supply and to be very precise. We have to carry on our backs all the props and all the equipment.


Any interesting stories about mishaps in filming?

In the “Weeping Eyes” video we had to hike for nine hours to the location in the Himalayas. The energy that we spent there was way too much and we could not stay, so we had to climb down all the way back to our guesthouse. All of us were so worn out.



Can you tell us the story of how one song evolved?

Our last song is a collaboration with a great composer and musician called Eran Zamir. He came for a weekend of creation. A tradition we like to do on the first day—we played together and he played some of his own compositions and after a while we chose a line that all of us especially liked. With this line, Or the beat master added his own rhythm and we wrote the lyrics and created the structure of the song. Roy added a kamancha solo (that we connected to a guitar amp for the special sound of the over-drive) and Ofir recorded the vocals. On the next day we wrote the script and shot the video in the desert. The video is a result of our creative connection.



What are you listening to these days?

We listen to a lot of Azeric, Turkish, and Persian music as well reggae, pop and new electro and dubstep acts. We are inspired by many different styles and find beauty in all of them.


Your videos tend to include repeat props like a stuffed monkey and a variety of hats, and repeat themes like hitchhiking. What’s up with that?

The symbols are there for any person to see them as they will.


Fans can buy ANNA-RF music here


This interview originally appeared in First Day Press.

We Have Room


refugee children, host border children, welcome the stranger, angels unaware,

All images thanks to wikimedia commons.

There may be no more powerful image in art, no more important message in scripture, than open arms. Welcoming the stranger is a basis of civilization, especially if that stranger is a refugee and always if that stranger is a child.

“You shall love the stranger, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.” Christianity, Deuteronomy 10: 19

“Charity—to be moved at the sight of the thirsty, the hungry, and the miserable and to offer relief to them out of pity—is the spring of virtue.” Jainsim/Kundakunda, Pancastikaya 137

“When the Holy One loves a man, He sends him a present in the shape of a poor man, so that he should perform some good deed to him, through the merit of which he may draw a cord of grace.” Judaism. Zohar, Genesis 104a

“One should give even from a scanty store to him who asks.” Buddhism. Dhammapada 224

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Christianity. Hebrews 13.1

“Serve Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good – to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (ye meet) and what your right hands possess: For Allah loveth not the arrogant, the vainglorious.”  Islam. Quran 4:36

“A traveler through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu.” Nelson Mandela, discussing the southern Africa tradition of Ubuntu

“See to it that whoever enters your house obtains something to eat, however little you may have. Such food will be a source of death to you if you withhold it.” Native American religions. A Winnebago Father’s Precepts

“`0 Ke aloha Ke Kuleana o kahi malihini. Love is the host in strange lands.”  Hawaiian saying

Relieve people in distress as speedily as you must release a fish from a dry rill [lest he die]. Deliver people from danger as quickly as you must free a sparrow from a tight noose. Be compassionate to orphans and relieve widows. Respect the old and help the poor. Taoism. Tract of the Quiet Way


child 2

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Whether scripture or statue inscription, we all know it’s easier to state our principles than adhere to them. I’m as weak as the next person in actually living up to what I believe.

I’ve vowed to keep politics out of this site, so I won’t be talking about lies fostered by divisive media or shockingly cruel attitudes toward refugees of any age. I’ll only say that it takes an extraordinary act of love to scrape together the coyote fees to send one’s child away in hopes of a safe haven. It takes inestimable courage for that child to walk through deserts, ride the tops of trains, and face down thieves along the way in hopes of real freedom.

My husband and I did some soul-searching. We talked to our kids. And we decided we cannot stand by while refugee children turn themselves in at the border only to be treated like criminals. We have room to host refugee children.

We applied to the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. We were told placements might be for a few months or they might be permanent. So we re-imagined our lives. Now that our kids are college students and young adults we thought we were done raising children, but we can go back to homemade popsicles and toys on the floor and books read aloud. We have our own problems with unemployment and a not-remotely-profitable small farm, but what we have can always stretch. There’s a place in our home and our hearts.

That doesn’t mean we have a greeting card view of this. These children will be traumatized, experience culture shock, and face learning a new language. We’ll have plenty of adapting to do as well.

Lately before falling asleep, I look ahead to rows of family pictures stretching into the future. Those pictures seem to hold two dark-haired faces newly dear to me, and eventually, more of their relatives joining them and becoming part of our extended family, on for generations, with babies in arms growing to stand tall, my husband and me fading into old age and beyond. It’s a good vision.

Right now it looks like that vision won’t come true. I just got an email from Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. It said, in part, 

After exploring the nationwide LIRS foster care program network, I am sorry to share with you that LIRS does not have a foster care program in the geographic area that you are located. If at a future time an opportunity arises, we will reach out to you at that time.

I wrote back, asking if there was some way I could help set up a program in our area. Apparently the only option is applying for a grant through the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement, which I admit is probably past me. So now I’m applying to other agencies.

I only mention our quest in hopes that someone out there may qualify even if we don’t. Here are resources to investigate.

Office of Refugee Resettlement

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Bethany Refugee Care

Texas Interfaith Center
refugees, host border children,


Raising Media Aware & Current Events Savvy Kids: 21 Resources

critical thinking for kids, current events for kids, think for yourself,

Critical thinking without media overload. It’s possible. (image: Kids in America)

We want to raise kids to be informed and active citizens without subjecting them to an information overload or current events-related despair. Here some activities and resources to make that easier.

1. Let current events become a regular topic. Just as you’d bring up any other subject that interests you, talk about topical issues in front of your kids. This is easy to do informally while driving or sitting around the dinner table.

2. Welcome their interests and opinions without trying to push your point of view. As they get older, help them see that using facts to bolster their talking points helps to convince others.

3. Model civil discourse. When people who disagree can engage in conversations with respect and integrity, they’re on the way to creating solutions. This is true in backyard squabbles, regional disputes, and diplomatic negotiations. A key is finding common ground. That happens after every person involved has access to the same information and feels that their input is understood. This is a critical skill to practice. Make it a part of your daily life for smaller issues so you can more easily use it when harder issues arise. Notice it in use by individuals and groups around the world.

4. Emphasize accurate and varied information sources so kids are equipped to think for themselves rather than led by popular opinion.

5. Hang a laminated world map on the wall. Notice where news happens and where friends travel. Mark places you’d like to go. Whiteboard markers wipe off this surface, so it’s easy to write directly on oceans and continents. This is also a subversive way to advance geographical knowledge.

6. Make timelines of your lives. Once kids have added details to their timelines such as when they lost the first tooth, got a dog, and moved into a new neighborhood help them go back to add events and discoveries that happened the same time. Continue the timeline on toward the future, speculating where you will live, what you will do, and what will be happening in the world around you. Getting kids to predict the future gives a lot of insight into their worldview.  You can also make a timeline for a grandparent, filling in newsworthy events, particularly those impacting the person’s life.

7. Get to know logical fallacies like guilt by association, appeal to fear, or red herring. By avoiding fallacies you can craft well-reasoned opinions while pointing out fallacies to deconstruct faulty arguments. Write some of the most common fallacies on place mats you use everyday or hang a list on the refrigerator to defuse squabbles. Get everyone involved by playing Logic Shrink, an entirely free game you can enjoy as you choose (basically everyone shouts out logical fallacies as they notice them committed by politicians, pundits, and others). Enjoy Ali Almossawi’s wonderful book An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments, free online and also available hardcover or audio format.

8. Pay attention to positive news. Don’t let the family news diet center heavily on the negative. Subscribe to high quality children’s magazines such as MuseSkipping StonesOdyssey, and New Moon Girls. Get updates from KarmaTube and Good News Network. Talk about what kids have seen or heard that makes them feel optimistic.

9. Find age-appropriate news sources. Try Scholastic NewsDoGo News, and the similarly named GoGo NewsKid’s Post (offered by The Washington Post), National Geographic KidsNews-o-Matic, and Time for Kids. Teens are likely to enjoy the news-based wit of The Daily Show  and Last Week Tonight.

10. Understand media input. There’s a heavy emphasis on celebrity worship, superficial attractiveness, material possessions, and violent use of power. As much as possible, counteract this through wise use family policies and a regular technology sabbath. There are excellent sources of information on media literacy including Campaign for a Commercial Free ChildhoodMedia SmartsCenter for Media Literacy, and National Association for Media Literacy Education.

11.Talk about the impact of marketing on daily decision-making. Point out product placements in movies, video games, and television shows. Notice how ads are targeted to specific markets. Talk about the way attractiveness is portrayed and the effect on self-image. Find out how marketing information is gathered on potential customers. Read Made You Look: How Advertising Works and Why You Should Know by Shari Graydon (for kids) and Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel by Jean Kilbourne.

12. Analyze the news. Check out the same story from different information outlets, maybe a major television station, a major newspaper, an alternative newspaper or site, social media, or blog commentary.  Notice what angles are reflected differently and what’s missing from a single news source. Is the media the message? Is there a commercial slant? Find out what’s behind the reporting with Source Watch which tracks the people and organizations shaping our public agenda and PR Watch which exposes public relations spin and propaganda.

13. Open up to reporting and commentary from other countriesPEARL World Youth News is an online international news service managed by students from around the world. OneWorld is a global information network designed to link people who see and share the news. Survival International and Cultural Survival are organizations sharing news about and advocating for the rights of indigenous peoples around the world. And check out links to dozens of links to far-flung news sources.

14. Play video games. Socially responsible games combine challenges with real life lessons about current situations. (Some are pretty heavy on the message.) Check out listings at Games for Change.

15. Report your own news. Capture the sights and sounds of your family, neighborhood, or travels in a family newspaper, blog, or video diary.

16. Consider the source. Watch the same topics covered in different news shows, such as conservative Fox and Friends versus liberal Rachel Maddow. Weigh assertions made by leaders in politics or business against historical example. Look up what a politician or pundit said on the topic years ago compared to now.

17. Look at coverage. Why are some stories headliners, others barely covered, and still others never reported? You might consider immediacy, negative impact (“bad” sells better than good), celebrity connection, and surprise factor.  What about stories Project Censored claims aren’t covered by mainstream outlets?

18.Think globally. Notice where toys, clothing and other household purchases are made, perhaps locating the country of origin on a map. Focus your interest on an area in the world, paying attention to the news, weather, and celebrations taking place there.  Put into place suggestions found in Growing Up Global: Raising Children to Be At Home in the World by Homa Sabet Tavangar and consider changes suggested in The New Global Student by Maya Frost. Check out the information shared by the United Nations Cyber School Bus.

19. Connect with people around the world.  Talk about issues with people on forums and social media. Pose and answer questions on Dropping Knowledge, an incredible resource where there are dozens of current discussions such as, “Why don’t schools teach us to form our own opinions?” and “Would a universal language help us get along?”

20. Compete. Student Cam is C-SPAN’s annual documentary competition for young people. We The People hosts competitions for middle school and high school students. Do Something honors young volunteers. Academic WorldQuest is a team game testing competitors’ knowledge of international affairs, geography, history, and culture.

21. Host an international visitor. (Here’s what happened when we did just that.) You might welcome an exchange student through well-established programs such as American Field ServiceYouth for UnderstandingRotary Youth Exchange, or World Exchange. A short-term stay by a visiting professional might be more convenient, through Fulbright Scholar Program or National Council for International Visitors.

This is an excerpt from Free Range Learning

current events kids, teach critical thinking, teach media awareness,

Look beyond. (image: Valley Magnification)

I Heckle, You Heckle, Let’s All Heckle

heckle, roots of word heckle, change the world,

I just got back from a workshop teaching us how to research injection wells for a citizen’s audit project. It’s boring and difficult. I’m appalled when I look closely at the data. I don’t want to do it, although I will because we’re currently mired in a struggle over fracking.

That may not be your issue but of course there are plenty of others that jab at our consciences. Drone strikes, refugees, melting polar regions and burning rainforests, poisons in our food, toxic tactics wielded by the powerful. The list goes on and on. We feel like screaming in the streets, but there are bills to pay and meals to make.

I haven’t thrown open my window to yell, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.” But I want to affirm the heckling all of us do. These days the word “heckle” has entirely negative connotations. It conjures up images of rude people who interrupt performers and ruin the experience for everyone. Instead, lets hop on a wagon to the past where this word meant much more (as explained by Mark Forsyth in The Etymologicon).

Heckling originally referred to the process of combing sticks, burrs, and knots from sheep’s wool so it could be spun into usable fibers. Sheep tend to ramble around without any concern for fleece-related loveliness, so this is quite a task.  People who did the combing were naturally called hecklers.

Back in the eighteenth century, the wool trade flourished in the town of Dundee, Scotland. Hecklers worked long hours together. In the morning as they set to work heckling, one of their fellow hecklers read aloud from the day’s news.  There was plenty to read, since this was an era when all sorts of publishers put out lots of newspapers, broadsheets, and handbills. The hecklers were thus well-informed in many subjects.

When politicians and power brokers of the day addressed the public, the hecklers combed over their speeches as thoroughly as they combed wool. They raised objections, pointed out contradictory facts, called people to account for their behavior. In other words, they heckled. These hecklers formed what would now be called trade unions, using their collective efforts to bargain for better pay and perks. They also stirred up awareness of worker’s rights while empowering ordinary people to speak up against injustice.

Hecklers were people who were knowledgeable and alert to hypocrisy. They were aware how easily something nasty can snag what’s useful into uselessness until it’s pulled free, no matter how arduous and smelly the process.

Heckling is a potent way to question the powerful. Over the centuries the term implied thoughtful questions from the audience which a speaker would answer before going on. In parliamentary proceedings it remains a method of engaging in open discourse with a speaker by someone who isn’t entitled to the floor.

Nearly everyone I know is actually a heckler. We’re well-informed. We care. We lean toward positive change, willing it into being by our words and thoughts as well as our actions.

The poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti joins other writers and thinkers who claim the masses are sheep, as he does in this evocative poem.

(After Khalil Gibran)

Pity the nation whose people are sheep
and whose shepherds mislead them.
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars,
whose sages are silenced
and whose bigots haunt the airwaves.
Pity the nation that raises not its voice
except  to praise conquerors
and acclaim the bully as hero
and aims to rule the world
by force and by torture.
Pity the nation that knows
no other language but its own
and no other culture but its own.
Pity the nation whose breath is money
and sleeps the sleep of the too well fed.
Pity the nation—oh pity the people
who allow their rights to  erode
and their freedoms to be washed away.
My country, tears of thee
Sweet land of liberty!

With respect to Mr. Ferlinghetti, I disagree. His poem is packed with truth but it doesn’t acknowledge how these exact circumstances also propel people to deeper understanding and stronger commitment to change.

I see eyes opening. I see loving hearts broken by Earth’s sorrows, knitted back together with hope. I see the sort of consciousness rising that wakens more and more people.

We aren’t the sheep. We’re the hecklers.

social change, heckler,

Heckling combs. Image:

100 Companies Selling U.S. Made Products Only

no-sweatshop shopping, US only shopping, US company links, eco-friendly shopping,

The cart stops here.

Shopping is cheaper and more convenient at big box stores. And on that giant site that shares its name with South America’s longest river. But we know more all the time about the environmental and economic impact of our spending choices. Our wallets really do change the marketplace.

Yes, it’s more complicated than making an effort to buy what’s produced in our own country. We live in a globally interdependent world. What we use to communicate, fuel, and enhance our lives is a combination of innovation and resources from around the globe. Yes, I’ve read convincing articles about why people in the developing world need factory jobs to pull their families toward greater prosperity. I just have trouble reconciling that concept with the millions of child laborers still at work today, the grim details about sweatshops turning out electronics and shoes, the conditions at garment factories like those in Bangladesh where over 800 workers recently died in a building fire just one day after owners refused to evacuate when told it was unsafe. Know how much it would cost to afford decent working conditions? About ten cents more per item of clothing.

Besides, that gotta-have outfit on sale doesn’t feel like a great bargain when we look at wages. Most clothes coming to the US are made in China where the minimum wage is 93 cents an hour. Second largest importer is Vietnam, where wages are 52 cents an hour. Third largest is Bangladesh, where it’s 21 cents an hour. Ouch. Gotta have more fairness.

I’m not a fanatic, heck, I buy wonderful imports on purpose, but I’ve also walked out of Bed, Bath, and Beyond when I couldn’t find a single thing on a wedding registry that wasn’t imported from places in the world where working conditions and environmental standards are appalling. And I admit to a personal bias. My husband was unemployed for nearly three and a half years, his job loss related to outsourcing. He’s lucky to be back at work, considering the the US trade deficit set a new record.

In my house, we make our own or repurpose whenever possible. When we can’t, we do our best to buy from artists, craftspeople, and from ethical companies.  We also try to search for products locally as well as in our home country. Buying quality items means we need to purchase fewer goods. It’s a simple effort, really.

Here’s a list of goods made entirely in the U.S. Please add your own links in the comment section. And don’t forget to bookmark this list!  Continue reading

Changing The World One Choice At A Time


small steps big change, history is small decisions, change world through love, daily choices change world,

ArtbyJude CC by 3.0


When I was growing up I was told I could be anything I wanted to be if I worked hard enough. The examples I was given at school and church were daunting. Heroes who did no wrong and martyrs who suffered for a cause without wavering. The media showed me examples too. People who were celebrities because of their talent for acting or playing games or for their appearance alone. All these people seemed larger than life.

I didn’t want fame but I did want to accomplish important things. I wanted to find the source of sorrow, injustice, and suffering so that it could be alleviated. The urge to do this was constantly with me and often overpowering. When I was very small I wanted to bring peace to every caged puppy or crying baby I encountered. I couldn’t, although I did absorb the misery I perceived, turning it into questions that the adults around me couldn’t answer. As I approached my teen years I searched for my own answers. I learned all I could about the world’s wrongs, hoping to find out why greed and cruelty happened. I committed myself to do something important. An ordinary life that did nothing to turn the world around seemed unthinkable. Whatever I did, it had to be big. My time on earth had to make a difference.

My quest to understand all that was wrong turned me in the opposite direction from hope. It showed me the worst of humanity. Slowly I came to realize that building on what’s positive brings greater possibilities into being. My days as an adult have proceeded without accomplishing anything Big. But I’ve come to think it’s the countless small actions, even thoughts, that truly have significance. We’re faced with these choices every day.

  • Do I wave to my neighbor, the one who condemns me?
  • Do I give the cash in my pocket to a street person or do I look away?
  • Will I cook tonight’s dinner from scratch, perhaps making enough to bring some to a friend recovering from an illness?
  • Do I turn from what I’m doing to truly look and listen when someone talks to me?
  • Should I go to yet another activist meeting, surrounded by often despairing people? Would it be better to write an article about the issue or simply to focus my energy on new possibilities that make the issue obsolete?
  • Do I fritter away time on tasks that feel like “shoulds” even though time seems to be slipping away like escalator stairs?
  • Do I read too much, blotting out my own experiences, or is it fine to indulge this obsession of mine?
  • Do I believe that humanity is becoming more aware, more kindly, more open?
  • And because my answer is yes, do I live that yes?

None of these are major challenges, but how I answer such questions is how I live my life. They have to do with how I conduct myself and how I see the world around me. The questions aren’t clear-cut, so it’s not always easy to discern where on the scale my answer falls. Leaning toward loving attention or apathy? Joy or bitterness? Eagerness or weary resignation? Considering larger implications or thinking only of my whims?

I’m undisciplined and prone to stubbornness, so I make plenty of choices that wouldn’t pass an ethical stink test. Still, each one matters.

We’ve been taught that only Big people with “real” influence make a difference. That makes us feel powerless. Chances are, that’s what Big money and those who control it want us to think. If we feel powerless we give up before we try. After all, the advertisements surrounding us insist our major choices have to do with what we wear, the cell phones we use, the cars we drive, the vacations we take. Oh and having teeth so white they shine like LED lights each time we smile. Larger social, environmental, and political concerns may keep us in a state of anxiety but are nothing we have any control over. Or so we’re told. Hush about unemployment and income disparity. Hush about erosion of Constitutional rights, climate change, drone strikes. Just stimulate the economy like a nice shopper. As soon as the Big experts are done distracting us with their divisiveness they’ll handle it.

That’s true only if we agree with the idea that Big matters. Because all around us is the present, which appears little and inconsequential, but isn’t. Acting in the present may mean choosing to slow down, to meet our neighbors, to take a deep breath and be grateful, to speak up against a wrong, to step outside and look at the sky, to turn off all devices and spend time with someone, to eat while savoring each bite, to do something difficult with no assured outcome. It doesn’t mean ignoring injustice or wastefulness.

A response in the present is corrective. Even fixing the largest problems requires small steps. Incremental progress, both in attitude and action, is behind great social and environmental change.  In fact, the idea that only Big change can fix problems is part of the problem. When bureaucrats or corporations institute top-down changes they often make situations worse. Real progress happens when the same people who are affected by a problem take power over the choices and act on that power. This rises from small choices, values elevated to action.

We’ve all heard of the butterfly effect. A butterfly flaps its wings in the rainforest, as a consequence weeks later there are tornadoes in Texas instead of clear skies. The effect, coined by mathematician Edward Lorenz, basically says that small change in one place can result in large differences later. It’s a fascinating look at chaos theory, but it also means nothing we or anyone (even a butterfly) does is without consequence. Just as a butterfly in Brazil has no way of knowing it may affect weather patterns a continent away, we often can’t predict the consequences of our choices let alone understand the long term impact. Our choices are those butterfly wings. Who I am today might be a disappointment to the determined child I once was, but I know now that worthwhile doesn’t have to mean big. How I fill a day is how I fill a life.

Right Now You Are Activating Change

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My mother tried throughout her pregnancies to get hospitals and doctors to change their rules. She wanted a natural birth, she wanted her husband with her, she wanted to hold her babies after they were born. Instead regulations were followed— every decision excluding her. That meant her labors were induced, she was given painkillers, my father had to stay in the waiting room, and except for standard in-room hours her babies were kept apart from her in the hospital nursery. Such procedures made it easier for the institution and less trouble for doctors.

By the time I had babies her futile requests were standard policy. Every woman was encouraged to have one or more support people with her, to room in with her baby, and to give birth naturally. It took change-makers to turn those policies around. Those change-makers were ordinary people who had a vision of something better. Some of them actively worked to see those changes happen but I suspect most of them simply talked, read, wrote, and otherwise carried on with what looked like everyday lives while activating awareness in people around them.

This is how real progress happens. Yes, there’s the much cited quote by Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” And yes, there are torchbearers for our big changes who are often misunderstood, even persecuted, while they lead the way. But lets not assume that we don’t qualify as “thoughtful, committed citizens” if we aren’t at the front of any movement. It’s about action but it’s also about attitude. Those attitudes make justice, ecological harmony, and peace possible.

Those “in charge” are often well behind the consciousness of the people they supposedly lead. Many in authority impose the same order, same rules, same limited thinking on people who have opened themselves to bigger possibilities. That’s true when we look at mainstream medicine, education, organized religion, finance and banking, government, science for hire, and multinational corporations. Such established institutions tend to become more rigid in response to vital change shaking their structures loose. The lower levels of moral reasoning that often hold those structures so restrictively in place (might makes right, or an eye for an eye, or conformity to norms) have less relevance when more and more people are in touch with deeper wisdom.

You may be activating change right now by the content of your conversations, the ideas you see taking hold around you, the way you stay informed, the way you raise your children and treat your friends, how you choose to spend your money and not spend your money, the way you make a living, the causes you advocate and believe in, and how you interact with our living planet. You, like so many change-makers, may already be living through deeply felt, personally lived ethics. That itself causes rippling change. Torchbearers of the last century who brought about so much good could do so because awareness shifted and deepened.

It may seem that small personal efforts make little difference when the problems facing the world are so huge. But bemoaning what’s wrong usually doesn’t effect much positive change. It may very well just entrench the feeling that we’re victims of all that’s Big and Bad. Instead we can see how truly interconnected everything is. Mind and matter, internal and external, thought and deed–all are aspects of the same essential aliveness in a universe where nothing is really separate.

My mother didn’t go looking for causes but when they were in front of her, she stood up for what was right. This happened often when she was a young registered nurse working in a large Chicago hospital. She defied rules requiring nurses to stop laboring women from delivering until a physician was present (perhaps to collect higher fees?). Nurses were expected to keep women from pushing, and in extreme cases, to hold back the head of the emerging baby. As you might imagine, some infants were deprived of oxygen or worse. My mother refused to follow the policy, more than once delivering a baby herself if the doctor didn’t arrive in time. She also refused to follow the policy that restricted incubators to private pay patients. When necessary she simply went to another ward, took an incubator, and faced the consequences. She got in trouble over and over. She did it anyway.

Once she had children of her own, my mother spent much of her life as what she’d call a homemaker. She did all sorts of good on a small level. She herself been a lonely child, perhaps as a result she was remarkably skilled at staying closely connected with and supportive of people. She functioned as a sort of informal Wikipedia for her wide network of friends, always putting her hands on an article she’d clipped so she could advance knowledge to help others. I often didn’t agree with her political opinions but I saw from her example that activating change often has more to do with living as if compassion is not just necessary, it is essential.

Who or what in your life reminds you that progress is happening, even on a small personal level? 

Raising Aspiring Emigrants

Kids are their own people. Any of us can see this is an underlying theme in drama (in books, on the screen, and in real life dramas).  It’s obvious from a quick look at how much our friends differ from their own parents. Years ago I joked that my anti-establishment neighbor’s son might just grow up to be a conservative stockbroker and that my frantically risk-averse friend could end up with a thrill-seeking daughter. I learned pretty quickly such jokes are not appreciated.

But I thought I understood that kids go their own way reasonably well. I’ve managed to celebrate the unique passions my own kids pursue, even though their interests are nothing like mine. I’m glad to see that we’re largely in sync on bigger issues. My kids and I tend to agree on politics and religion, we share a disinterest in most sports, and we’re all somewhat introverted. What we don’t share? A desire to stay close to our roots, geographically speaking. I’ve tried to raise them to be global citizens. Is it possible to take that too far? I’ve always lived close to my hometown and extended family. One or two of my four kids may not have that gene.

One of my sons is entranced by Finland. I think it started while chatting with online Finnish friends. Hankering to drive, he told me that kids in Finland are encouraged to get driving experience starting at a very young age and given training to handle slippery and hazardous road conditions (ice + moose, for example). The licensing requirements are some of the strictest in the world, he explained, a pointed contrast to the jerk on the road in front of us at the time who was cutting off cars and weaving across lanes.

My son also has a thing for Finnish music, starting with the now iconic band Apocalyptica formed by classically trained cellists.

Finnish musicians offer plenty of diversity, including partially submerged folk singers

and dancing puffballs.

And he is inspired by the Finnish spirit. He sees it in their traditions and history (I never thought I’d hear so much about the Winter War). Finnish character is said to have a lot to do with the term sisu. This doesn’t translate easily. It’s related to inner will and the determination to persist despite the odds. This spirit, as my son sees it, also has to do with the Finnish way of doing things. That includes summer competitions that Finns call “world championships” in swamp soccer, mobile phone throwing, and wife carrying. Or a recent proposal in Parliament to extend the annual four-week paid holiday by another week, for a “love holiday.”

Browsing around the web, I can see the allure. The country has stunning beauty and cultural richness. Newsweek ranked Finland the world’s best country in 2010 based on high life expectancy, high literacy rates, minimal income gap, excellent access to health care, and a good work-leisure balance. In The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World it was noted that people in Finland are remarkably content. Of course we’ve all heard about Finland’s world-class school system. Their educational approach says quite a bit about the country. Schools there don’t rely on standardized tests or a heavy homework load but instead emphasize balance, giving kids plenty of time for outdoor play, art, and music. That seems to reflect a general emphasis on living at a slower pace and enjoying life’s simpler pleasures. I may have to adjust to having one of my beloved offspring emigrate some day. (sob)

But another of my kids is talking up New Zealand. Land of fascinating spider species, amazing diversity, and gorgeous vistas.

Also home to the compelling Haka, traditional ancestral war cry of the Maori people, now performed by the All Blacks, NZ’s rugby team, before their matches.

Serves me right for joking about other people’s children. Come to think of it, my attempts at humor weren’t all that far off. My anti-establishment neighbor’s son is now in college getting a degree in business, hoping to work in investment banking. The daughter of my risk-averse friend is into barefoot climbing.

Guess I’d better make sure my passport is in order.

Global Village Construction Set

It’s possible to plant 50 trees in one afternoon.

To press 5,000 bricks from the dirt beneath your feet in one day.

To build an affordable tractor in six days.

It’s possible thanks to the members of Open Source Ecology (OSE). They aren’t armchair visionaries. These engineers, farmers, and developers are dedicated to making communities sustainable and self-reliant. They’re taking on scarcity and inequality with open source enthusiasm

OSE got its start when Marcin Jakubowski’s tractor broke.  Well, lets back up a little. After Jakubowski earned a PhD in the physics of fusion energy, he bought a farm in Missouri where he grew fruit trees and raised goats. One day his tractor broke. He didn’t have the hands-on experience to fix it himself. But he hauled out some can-do attitude along with his welder and torch. He realized a tractor is simply a box with wheels, each powered by hydraulic motors.  So he bolted together square steel tubing to make one from scratch. It worked.

This inspired him to look beyond pricey, commercially made machines. He began to come up with versions that were hardy, low cost, and constructed out of locally sourced or repurposed materials. His posted designs generated lots of enthusiasm and input. Participants began showing up to help build prototyles on project days, becoming OSE collaborators.

The idea evolved. They considered what it takes to build independent, sustainable communities that support farming, construction, small manufacturing,  and power generation. They came up with a list of the 50 machines most important for modern life including a hay baler, bakery oven, laser cutter, drill press, solar concentrator, and truck.  Low cost, industrial strength, DIY versions of these machines became known as the Global Village Construction Set.  The motors, parts, and other fittings of these machines are designed to be interchangeable. All the 3D designs, schematics, and instructional videos are posted on the OSE Wiki.

On average, constructing these machines costs about eight times less than comparable machines made by industrial manufacturers. As Jakubowski explained in his recent TED talk, “Our goal is a repository of published design so clear, so complete, that a single burned DVD is effectively a civilization starter kit. ..The implications are significant: a greater distribution of the means of production, environmentally sound supply chains, and a newly relevant DIY Maker culture can hope to transcend artificial scarcity.”

So often hope seems abstract.  This is tangible hope, made of steel. It puts independence and equality in reach for people in both the developed and developing world.  Welding never seemed so inspiring.