There really is green grass under the snow

No matter how many feet deep you have to dig to find it.

Not just metaphorically. Actual green grass, just waiting there for the spring.

Helps to remember that every now and again.

Extremist for Love

Monday was Martin Luther King Day in the United States, an opportunity to celebrate the life and leadership of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.  One of the many great pieces he wrote was the Letter from a Birmingham JailKing wrote this piece in the margins of a newspaper and on scraps of paper while imprisoned for nonviolent protests on April 10th, 1963 in Montgomery, Alabama.

The letter is a response to a statement made by eight Alabama clergymen condemning the Montgomery protests, describing those leading the protests as outsiders and rabble-rousers, and positioning themselves as reasonable men wanting “honest and open negotiations of racial issues in our area.”  Most of all, these clergy argued that they “do not believe…that extreme measures are justified in Birmingham.”

King’s letter is a clear, measured, but also deeply powerful response to these clergy.   His language, his eloquence, his clarity of thought and his refusal to compromise on issues of morality, rights and dignity inform the conversations we are having today about inequality and social justice.  King writes:

The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations.  He has to get them out.  So let him march sometime; let him have his prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; understand why he must have sit-ins and freedom rides.  If his repressed emotions do not come out in these non-violent ways, they will come out in ominous expressions of violence.  This is not a threat; it is a fact of history.  So I have not said to my people “get rid of your discontent.”  But I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channelized through the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action.  Now this approach is being dismissed as extremist.  I must admit that I was initially disappointed in being so categorized.

But as I continued to think about the matter I gradually grained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist.  Was not Jesus an extremist in love – “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.”  Was not Amos an extremist for justice – “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”  Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ – “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”  Was not Martin Luther an extremist – “Here I stand; I can do none other so help me God.” Was not John Bunyan an extremist – “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.”  Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist – “this nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” So the question Is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be.  Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love?

We discuss this passage at length with the Acumen Fellows, pushing one another on what it means to be an “extremist for love” and asking one another if, where and when we are willing to be extremists for causes we believe in.

Are you an “extremist for love?”  Do you aspire to be one?

Mega Millions Jackpot Hits $586 Million

And 70 percent of the hundreds of millions of possible number combinations will be purchased.

Did you ever need more proof that what you’re selling is hope and possibility and not facts and figures?

Meet Marlon

Marlon was driving his truck down West 19th street on Monday morning, when he saw something in the middle of street that made him slam on the brakes. To the protests of the other driver in the cab, he stopped his truck and got out to pick up the wallet that was just sitting there.

My wallet. The wallet I’d dropped out of my bag on the way to work, ruining my day and causing me all sorts of headache.Marlon

Marlon called me a bunch of times over the course of the day, to no avail. He kept at it until finally, at 7:30pm, we finally connected on the phone and spoke for a while. He told me what had happened, how he’d been trying to get a hold of me, how his friend thought he was crazy for stopping, and how I had a “really big wallet!!” (I carry around too many cards). We laughed about that. And then he asked me when we could meet so he could give me my wallet back – with (of course) every last dollar and card intact. His only disappointment was that he hadn’t gotten to me soon enough to avoid my cancelling all my credit cards.

What strikes me is how easy it is to do the right thing and how clear it is what the right thing is. I think that what happens is that, at the initial moment when we have a decision to make, we obfuscate and justify and tell ourselves and others all sorts of stories that get in the way of what we know: the simple, clear, right thing to do.

Marlon, you’re a model to me and a model to us all. You make me wonder why something that was so simple and easy for you is not simple and easy for everyone. And you give me hope.

Thank you.

Man’s search for meaning

Based on last week’s post, Jeff kindly sent me to a wonderful four-minute lecture excerpt by Viktor Frankl.  Even through the grainy recording you can see the twinkle in Frankl’s eye and his passion for humanity, with all its flaws and all of its potential.

The core of the video is Frankl relating a story of what he recently learned in his flying lessons, about crosswinds and where you have to aim when searching for your destination.

In Frankl’s words, from the video, “If you don’t recognize man’s search for meaning you make him worse, you make him dull, you make him frustrated, you add and contribute to his frustrations…”  Rather, borrowing the words of Goethe, let us aim high, for “if we take man as he is, we make him worse, but if we take man as he should be we make him capable of what he can be.”

Summed up even more simply by Frankl, “We have to be idealists in a way, because then we end up as true realists.”  Indeed.

Here’s the rare clip, a 4 minute video of Frankl himself.

Landfill Harmonic

In Cateura, Paraguay, in a slum build on a landfill, a community has come together to make classical musical instruments out of old oil barrels, meat cleavers, even forks.  From trash they have made cellos, violins, violas, clarinets.  And they play them beautifully.

If ever you doubted even for a second the power of dignity or the grace of every human being, everywhere, this trailer is for you.

I promise it will light a fire in you, will fill you with joy and hope and holiday spirit.  It will help remind you how easy it is to take things for granted.  It will, I bet, make you smile and maybe even shed a tear.

If you’d like to learn more about the upcoming documentary, check out the Landfill Harmonic Movie Facebook page.  They’re even starting to accepted donated musical instruments.

Another face of Pakistan

I had the chance to spend last week in Karachi for the final round selection for the inaugural class of Acumen’s new Pakistan Fellows program.  From more than 500 applicants from all corners of this country of 175 million people, we had winnowed the group down to just 40 finalists and had, in the course of a day, to select 20 people as our first Acumen Pakistan Fellows.  The program begins in early 2013.

The images the world (and Americans in particular) sees of Pakistan are difficult ones.  Just yesterday a very troubling article came out in the New York Times about Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, where there have been increasing numbers of open attacks on members of the Hazara community.  The article suggests that the police and security forces are at best ambivalent about stemming the violence that has resulted in the deaths of 100 Hazaras this year alone.

This is one reality in Pakistan, and it is daunting to say the least.

Last week I saw another story, perhaps a quieter one and one that doesn’t scream for headlines.  These are the stories of the applicants to our Pakistan Fellows program: a woman from rural Punjab, the first in her family to get a formal education, who is working on extending credit and education to those who are still excluded from all formal systems; a woman with a Masters in Economics who left her teaching job at Fatima Jinnah Women University in Rawalpindi and is now creating a speed English literacy program for kids in the slums; another young man, a born entrepreneur from a very humble background, who somehow found his way to a quiet section of the library and began reading Harvard Business Review articles and then watching TED talks, and whose startup business Hometown (the website will blow you away) aims to have local artisans and leather-workers provide world-class quality shoes to the world; and finally, a man with a Master’s in Computer Science who is working in Quetta, Balochistan – the same city profiled in the NY Times piece – who is helping build a university from scratch to bring education to some of the most tough-to-reach, downtrodden populations, and is paying for it by creating small businesses ranging from biomass power generation to cut flowers.

These were just four of the 40 amazing people I met last Friday, each one with a story of hope, each one committing themselves fully to making positive change from the bottom up in Pakistan, each one leaving our panelists – all prominent business and social sector leaders – humbled at their spirit of service and commitment.

These are just four stories that never make the front pages – but they should.