The Audacity to Govern

Damali Vidot-Rosa is the kind of person you fall in love with the minute that you meet her. She exudes the sort of authenticity that is defined by love. She is President of the Chelsea City Council and part of the Evolutionary Leadership Cohort of 2017.

I want to highlight Damali’s work because she embodies what becomes possible when women of color from poor communities become the people that represent us.

When people like Damali step into positions of power everything begins to change. When I asked her what she is up to she told me that Chelsea’s City Charter is what’s on the table right now.

The City Charter. That’s a local constitution. What do you think becomes possible when someone who describes herself as a “Hip Hop lovin’, afro-caribeña, frizzy-hair wearing, sneaker wearing, big hoop earring spoken word artist and activist” decides it’s time to challenge the very ways in which we govern ourselves?

Damali knows that these charters were written by the hands of power, they were not meant for her to hold. She speaks of knowing what it’s like to be disenfranchised. She speaks about the school of hard knocks, run-ins with the law, and what it was like to be “in the game.” This is the lived experience that Damali is bringing forward. This is the knowledge held in her body. She knows her people because she is them.

And she does not want to pretend to be playing any other game.

There is a spiritual wisdom that Damali holds. It is made all the more obvious by the brilliantly strategic ways in which she holds her position.

She does not fit the image of a politician. She still gets looked up and down as she walks the halls of power. Her size, her gait, her wear, none of it fits expectation. Its her quality of presence, her groundedness, and her authenticity that gives permission for others to be themselves. This is what opens the door to the sort of co-evolution that we are committed to in this space.

Damali is the president of a city’s legislative body. But it is her wakefulness that helps me feel awake when I’m around her. I can see and feel the way others resonate with her, the way folks feel seen, heard and loved when they are around her. This is the key to her power. She looks at you like you are human. She looks at you like you are worthy and you belong.

When I asked her what she wants, she told me that she wants people to have the freedom to just be. It is how she will use her every platform. And it works. It works because she is also in the process. She is not outside of it. She is also seeking the freedom to be.

“Because it is in the process of allowing others to be that I keep learning the lesson that it’s ok for me to to be too.”

Adult Friendships

Adult Friendships

Four years ago David Brooks wrote a column that stuck with me. Startling Adult Friendships]. I saved it.


In it he fantasized about what he would do with $500 million dollars. He said that he would try to set up places that would cultivate friendships. He would take the sort of networking programs that seem to transform people’s lives and make them less career oriented and more profound.

That’s what I do.

(Minus the 500 million)


What About Kindness

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Here we believe: Love is Love. No Human is Illegal. Black Lives Matter. Science is Real. Women’s Rights are Human Rights. Water is Life. Kindness is Everything.

I love seeing this lawn sign. What a beautifully concise articulation of what we stand for, of the world we want to see. It stands in sharp contrast to the fear and hate of the reactionary backlash defining the world today.

As I spend my days in progressive circles, privileged to spend time with people committed to a movement that can redeem our country and help save the world, it is crystal clear to me that this sign names the core platform that we are fighting for. Queer and trans liberation. The liberation of migrant people. The liberation of Black people. Governance grounded in reason. The liberation of women. The end of an extraction economy and right relationships with the planet. These are evidently true.

But what about kindness?

I see less kindness.

I feel less kindness.

But it is only kindness that can hold it all together. The world that we want to bring into being will not be a series of public policy abstractions. It is a world that can only become real in the ways that we live our relationships with one another.

We are not kind to each other. And we dehumanize the other. We might have tiny pockets of folk that are deemed worthy of our care and kindness, but that circle tends to be too small.

Movement spaces are fraught with the possibility of the “call out.” The energy is paralyzing. We all want to belong. So we are scared. We are scared to say the wrong thing. We toe an ever more narrow ideological line, we make dissent impossible, and adherence to our “truth” is the only way to be good.

I defined movement fundamentalism in a recent post. But here is Wikipedia’s take on Fundamentalism’s broader form:

Fundamentalism usually has a religious connotation that indicates unwavering attachment to a set of irreducible beliefs. However, fundamentalism has come to be applied to a tendency among certain groups—mainly, though not exclusively, in religion—that is characterized by a markedly strict literalism as it is applied to certain specific scriptures, dogmas, or ideologies, and a strong sense of the importance of maintaining ingroup and outgroup distinctions... Rejection of diversity of opinion as applied to these established "fundamentals" and their accepted interpretation within the group is often the result of this tendency.

I spend a lot of time grappling with this. When I read the words on the lawn sign I find them undebatable. I do not want to give an inch. These are my strongly held beliefs. They are what I teach my son to be true. I am working towards a day when these words no longer articulate a dream or wish, but they name what our country actually is.

This is why kindness is important. Because kindness is not the same as negotiating away our values. Kindness is a way, kindness is the way, to live our way into them.

Communities defined by kindness are communities that attract and inspire, they are communities that grow and that learn. In communities defined by kindness people are not afraid to explore ideas that might initially feel out of place. A community that is defined by kindness is not a place that pretends to carry justice in the form of social media mobs, accountability is not confused with the destruction and erasure of the people who are said to have done wrong.

“My religion is kindness,” is what the Dalai Lama says. And it is the compassionate kindness of so many Catholic nuns that will always rise in protest each time the state kills a human in the mockery of justice that is capital punishment.

But ours is not a culture that lifts up the grace of these virtues. We each have our megaphone, we’ve each become desktop pundits. Our religion is being right. Our religion is not kind. We will reduce, we will oversimplify, we will judge, we will scream from our keyboards, and we continue to poison the world as we forge our bonds of outrage.

Kindness is the way though. We must practice it at home. We must practice it as we encounter each other. We must practice kindness in our meetings, gatherings and actions. We must practice it when someone says something that does not fit the dogma. We must practice it when we encounter someone that does not yet know what we think they should have learned a long time ago, We must practice it with those who are blinded by privilege. And we must practice it when someone has done harm and must be held accountable.

We must practice kindness with the other side, even in the face of fear, hate and vitriol. We must learn that most folks are just too scared, that they are deeply culturally conditioned, bred to see things in a warped way since they were children, that they were taught a terrible lie about what our country is and must be.

Our screams will not change them. Our hate will make them to hold on stronger and tighter to the lie that they’ve bought into. It is only our kindness that will change them.

I’m not just talking about reciprocal kindness. I’m also talking about kindness towards those who are not kind. I’m not inviting anyone to let go of healthy boundaries, or to put themselves in harm’s way absent a political aim. I’m speaking of a kindness that wells up within the heart, that is nurtured, practiced and cultivated.

I’m speaking of a kindness that holds true even when we are tired, or we’ve been hurt too many times, or our emotional labor feels like too much. It holds true even then, because it is only this kindness that can drown out our own hate. And we have all seen enough to be tempted to justify hate. This hate knows its place within us and it can blind us at any time.

Kindness is a practice. It is something to get better at. It is our protection from hate and its poison.  It is a way to look at the world, and a way to walk in it. It is an experience that those around us can have when they come near. It is what makes human relations real.

The political arena is an over simplified field. Government and policy can turn on a single vote. It has to be as clear as “yes or no.” When the space is black and white vote for freedom every time. Fight for freedom every time.

But democracy is more than the sporadic episode of the vote. We are more. So much more.

We are more than armchair pundits. We are more than the self-righteous inquisitors of the church of social justice. We are more than our idea of an impossible perfection.

We are human beings walking this earth with each other, and kindness is what gets us through.

Guided Meditation

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Sixty of us have been harnessing our collective energy to keep a daily meditation practice this month of March. I know I have benefitted from feeling into this connection as I meditate, and I as I remember that we are together when I go about my day.

Let’s sit together. 

I’m inviting you to a guided meditation this Sunday, May 25 at 9:30AM East. We’ll come together for thirty minutes on a zoom video conference call, so that we can see each others faces. We will be grateful for our 25 days of practice and we will harness our collective energy to feel right into the experience of what is actually present.

We will be using zoom to connect:

 

Join from PC, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android: https://zoom.us/j/8999713380

Or iPhone one-tap : US: +16465588656,,8999713380# or +16699006833,,8999713380#

Or Telephone: Dial(for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location): US: +1 646 558 8656 or +1 669 900 6833 Meeting ID: 899 971 3380 International numbers available: https://zoom.us/zoomconference?m=Snchwn2ZoX8-L100HioripUF9636FTQ2

The Audacity to Imagine

“You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming.”

― Pablo Neruda

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Meet Kendra Rosalie-Hicks, Co-Director of Radical Philanthropy at Resist, and part of the Evolutionary Leadership Workshop cohort of 2017. I asked her to share where she is with her project, and she blew my mind.

Her aim is to nurture the radical imagination and to cultivate audacity to re-imagine the world. Kendra is looking at the apocalyptic conditions that lie just below the surface of what is the most affluent society that has ever walked the earth. She holds awareness of the lives and the bodies upon which it has been built. And she believes that it is from here, from the throes of despair, that a new world can be built.

Kendra draws her inspiration from the work of the Combahee River Collective, the Black feminist queer organization from our own city of Boston that articulated ideas that today shape our thinking on intersectionality.

Kendra posits that the women of the collective dared to articulate the bold clarity of their thought, their vision for liberation, precisely because they did not know how long they would live. She speaks of the twelve young Black girls who were murdered within the span three months in Roxbury in 1979, and of the impact that this reality had on the women of the collective.

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Kendra is working with Luana Morales, a Boston based medicine woman and part of the Evolutionary Leadership Workshop cohort of 2016, to visit each of the sites of the twelve murders, to build altars and practice rituals honoring each of their deaths. This work of the heart will also become an installation of socially engaged art.

There is so much power here.

The name of the collective commemorates an action at the Combahee River planned and led by Harriet Tubman on June 2, 1863. The action freed more than 750 slaves and is the only military campaign in American history planned and led by a woman. Kendra reminds us that those who have been born into slavery may not always be able to imagine their freedom. It takes women like Harriet Tubman, who had attained the liberation of her mind and soul, to show others the way to freedom.

Our work is a forward facing remembering. Freedom can be born from here, imagination can burst from here, the future can be crafted here, we can move forward from here. But only if we are able to remember. There is a thread that has been held, and loved, and fought for, by each generation. It is our turn to pull on that thread.

The women of the collective looked back to Harriet Tubman, Kendra Rosalie-Hicks looks back to the Combahee River Collective, she builds altars for the dead, she is among those who will not forget. She is among those who will imagine and among those who will create.

We are living at the end of days, in the most privileged, affluent society that has ever walked this earth. We are our ancestors’ wildest dreams, we are the answer to their prayers and we are also ancestors in training. It behooves to remember so that our descendants can live.


Here is a look into the magic of the Evolutionary Leadership Workshop:

Cultural Appropriation

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When my son Darshan was in nursery school I remember walking him there on one of those gorgeous days of Boston’s long-awaited spring. The hood was bumping and the hot cars blaring. I said “Darshan, can you hear that?” “Is that Puerto Rican music?” he asked. It was Hip Hop, so I said “no, but we were there from the beginning.” Today I wonder if I should have said yes, and if it was a mistake to limit Puerto Rican music to salsa and other Caribbean beats. (Don’t forget where reggaeton is from either).

This post isn’t really about cultural appropriation, which is real. And my friend Malia Lazu does a much better job of looking at colorism here - The Bruno Mars real controversy? Race is make believe. I’m still regretting all the grief I gave her about whether she was Black or Puerto Rican in the immature understanding of identity politics of my early twenties. 

The post really is about movement fundamentalism, which I recently explained as:

A way of holding the cause for justice very much like a religious fundamentalist would. It is a growing trend in the spaces that I’m in. It comes with self-righteousness and policing of each other and each other’s language. It leaves little room for curiosity or dissent. It silences people and makes folks really afraid to say or do the wrong thing. It is highly judgmental, overly certain and intensely declarative. It is also how we signal “belonging” in these spaces, who is in and who is out, it comes with very specific signaling and a sort of competition for purity of thought.

You see, I grew up in an intentional religious community that exhibited fundamentalist tendencies. When I see the way social discourse is expressed and practiced today, I definitely know that it looks the same, smells the same, tastes the same and feels the same. This ridiculously offensive Bruno Mars controversy would not even be an issue without this turn towards fundamentalism. 

There is a deep seated, perhaps primal, human angst that longs for something that is pure and good. This drive for purity inevitably leads to exclude, and then exclude again, and then one more time, until there is just a few who hold the truth. We forget that in any conflict the tendency is to become the mirror image of your opponent. May the heavens protect us when these few come into power, because it always means blood.

When I’m facilitating I will invite participants to clench their fist tightly (try it now, as tight as you can). I will invite them to feel their body, their mind and their spirit when this fist is clenched. I will then invite them to keep their fist closed, but to loosen the grip (go ahead, let go, just a bit). How does that feel?

That thing that we are holding on to will not fall from the looser grip of our hands. But by holding it more loosely, we become more flexible, more adaptive, more aware of what surrounds, more capable of meeting whatever comes. It might become necessary to clench our fist again. But it’s not wise to live that way. It is too narrow, too contracted, it will waste our energy and diminish our life force.

Most of the things that movement fundamentalists are holding are actually true. These are truths that should be held, propagated and defended. But to hold them tightly is to keep them small, and it makes us small, and the next thing we know, we are coming at a young Puerto Rican man for making the music that our ancestors have long made our own.
 

The Souls of Men

The Souls of Men

If I’ve been taught to derive value, status and belonging from how much sex I can get and  how much dominance I can wield, then it will make sense to let my soul’s longing recede.

But if I’m taught to listen to my soul, if I can learn to take my masculine drive and place it at the service of something that is truly good, something much bigger than just me or you, then freedom becomes possible. It is from here that a conscious masculinity can be born, that the work of atonement can flow, that we will cease to be a danger and remember what is good.  

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43

It’s my birthday! I’m already tearing up with all the love coming my way via text and social media. What a miracle it has been to be born into this Flow of Grace. I believe in seven year cycles, and I stepped into my 42nd year with great intention (and intensity!). It has been quite a year. A year of deep, inner, personal transformation. 

Why The Evolutionary Leadership Workshop?

Why The Evolutionary Leadership Workshop?

The impulse to develop the Evolutionary Leadership Workshop was the desire for creative freedom. I work for institutional clients, the client is the convener and I’m invited in to design and facilitate the experience. It is beautiful work and I am privileged to do it. But it is work that demands compromise. The client has their own goals, their sense of what is possible and their own set of constraints.

I set out to create a space that was free of such compromise. I decided to try being the convener. And I developed a workshop where I could apply the very best of what I have learned in service of what I see as our highest purpose.

Intention. Connection. Experimentation. These are the tenets of the Evolutionary Leadership Workshop.

A New Economy

A New Economy

We live in a suicide economy. We are caught in a system of extraction that is decimating the planet and has the species on the fast track to an evolutionary crash.

We have a crisis of the imagination. In the words of Fredric Jameson, “it has become easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of [globalized, unbridled] capitalism.”

But ours is not a dark story. Ours is the story of evolution. And everywhere around the world people are daring to imagine something new. Everywhere we find people who hold the wisdom we were taught had been lost. Everywhere there are folks who are practicing, inventing, remembering, experimenting with better ways of being human together. And isn’t that what an economy is for?