Do something you care about, and risk getting caught


Lots can get in the way of doing things we care about: time, interest, and the fear of getting caught, for starters. We know from experience (first-hand or not) that if we declare a point of view, we risk being ostracized by neighbors, friends, and family. My friend Mary put up her first lawn sign (“Don’t Limit the Freedom to Marry“) just before the November election and found an irate neighbor on her doorstep; sharing an opinion can mean inviting confrontation. Even Mary and her “bring it on” attitude would agree that’s not always a good thing.

It’s easy for me to put up a sign in my South Minneapolis neighborhood; I’m reasonably confident that most of my neighbors share my views. But it’s harder — and likely dumber — to share my views at work. I drive a Subaru and I eat as much local food as I can, but these imply points of view, they don’t declare them. If you saw me in my boss’s office having a conversation about fracking, you’d see me sweating profusely, looking for an excuse to leave before I said anything I might regret.

Which is to say that there are times for sharing, and times for keeping our mouths shut. But I keep looking at the boy in the picture above, and I think he’s on to something. He’s probably unaware of the heaps of money that major food companies have invested in his state, and he’s not concerned that his boss will disagree with his perspective. He’s not afraid that his friends won’t want to play ball with him anymore, or that his grandma will stop sending him checks for his birthday. He just knows what he thinks is right, and he’s holding up a big ole chalkboard to let the world know.

So at the risk of making things too simple, here’s what I’m thinking: let’s do something we think is important, and risk getting caught. Do it in your free time, do it on Facebook, do it alone or with friends. But do it.

Support the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence


In light of last week’s terrible shooting in Connecticut, many of us are wondering what we can do to make sure nothing like it ever happens again. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has been working on this for more than 30 years. Here’s what it says on their About page:

We should make it harder for convicted felons, the dangerously mentally ill, and others like them to get guns in the first place.

We can do this by passing laws such as requiring Brady criminal background checks on all gun salesbanning military-style assault weapons; and strengthening law enforcement’s efforts to stop the illegal gun market, likelimiting the number of guns that can be bought at one time.

Please be a part of our efforts. There are quick and easy ways to sign up to be part of our e-action network, to become involved if you are a victim of gun violence, to become an activist, and to donate.

Thousands upon thousands of people will continue to die and be injured needlessly each year without stronger, sensible gun laws. The Brady Campaign fights for sensible gun laws to protect you, your family and your community.

Please visit the website, read the information, and consider making a donation now.

Pray first if you want, then take action


I was tempted to call this post “don’t just pray, do.” It’s been just a few days since the horrific Connecticut elementary school massacre, and I’ve been struck by the number of people telling each other to pray for the victims of this tragedy. Pray for the children who lost their lives, pray for their families, and pray for the entire community that was affected by this senseless violence. Then pray that nothing like this ever happens again, to us or to anyone.

My first reaction to all the people praying in the aftermath of this tragedy was impatience. We don’t need prayer, I thought, we need action. Don’t just pray. Do.

I’m not someone who prays, but if praying helps you wrap your head around the unknowable, go for it. For goodness sake, though, don’t stop there. Ask yourself how we mere mortals help the families that were affected by this tragedy. How do we prevent this from happening again? How do we live with the knowledge that something like this can happen again, and that it affects us all? How do we ensure that we’re doing everything we possibly can to prevent this kind of thing from happening again? Not through prayer, through action.

Gun control people will tell us that the NRA is the problem, that we need tougher laws so to make semi-automatic rifles harder to come by. The NRA will tell us that guns don’t kill people, people do. Many people will tell us that the problem is the way we romanticize violence as a society, and the way we equate muscle with power.

Here’s what I say: it doesn’t matter what each of us believes. Our job is to prevent this from happening again, to be able to tell our kids that we did everything we possibly could to keep them safe, to make sure they have a chance at the same future we did. Regardless of what we think the answer is, we need to take action.

If you think guns are the problem and we need more restrictive laws, work on that. If you don’t think guns are the problem then figure out what is and work on that. If you want to try to change the way society thinks about manhood — or power, or violence — work on that. If you think legislation will help, or sending letters, or making phone calls — work on those things. Prayer is not enough. Not everything happens for a reason; we know that. So get to work.

The power of prayer is real for many people, but even for the most devout, it’s just a beginning. Talk with God first if you want. Then talk with your Senators, Representatives, school board members, neighbors, friends, and children. Figure out what you can do to help realize the world you want to live in, and do it.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

My friend Mike Doherty in Seattle has put together some thoughts on what we can do to help. I like them so much I did them immediately and am re-posting them here:

If you want to move towards legislative actions to help prevent more gun massacres please contact your Congressman and Senators with your concerns. Below you will find links to how to contact them. I have also added my proposals for preventing similar massacres. You are welcome to borrow/steal/modify. Please do not sit on the fence though.

Here’s how to web contact your Senators (you may have to click around a little, it’s not as easy as the Congressional link):

Here’s how to web contact your Congressional representative:

Here is the body of my text, cut and paste, fix grammar and wording issues, modify if you want and fill in the parentheses…

Dear Senator (insert),

I am deeply saddened and disturbed by the recent gun massacres in Portland, OR and Newtown, CT. I am particularly disillusioned by the lack of political action to curb recurrent gun massacres. I have listed proposals for action below and I hope you and your staff work towards meaningful legislation that helps address the many problems here. Chief among them remain the ubiquity of guns and the lack of mental health care.

1- Fund and begin gun buyback programs for those that no longer need or want their guns. Call it the firearm stimulus plan… it worked in Australia with > 50% reduction in firearm related suicides and assault deaths.

2- Fund and begin teaching high school kids psychology, particularly how to recognize and initiate help for those suffering from paranoia, delusions, personality disorders, abusive behaviors and actions, dementia and depression.

Understanding psychology/psychopathology can help sharpen approaches to family, friends, life partners and work environments. This should be part of a required high school curriculum right there with reading, writing, mathematics and physical education.

3- Institute mandatory licensing for gun owners including passing regular courses on gun safety. Ammunition and casing purchases would require a display of that updated license.

4- Ban the sale of semiautomatic or automatic firearms.

5- Adequately fund care for the mentally ill, including through coverage requirements for private insurance plans. Direct NIH efforts to fund research into defining and helping “the shooter” before tragedies occur, and then move to fund and implement those findings.

With thanks for your consideration,

(insert your name and full address)

Nobody wants to hang out with a loser


Mitt Romney lost the election, and just like that, nearly a billion dollars went down the drain, with nothing at all to show for it. The favors have been called in, the TV commercials have been used up, and — aside from a stack of paper plates and the world’s last box of Hostess Twinkies – there ain’t nothin’ left. (Okay, I made that last part up, but you get the idea.) Here’s how the The Daily Beast put it:

On Wednesday morning, Mitt Romney woke up to the realization that he will not be spending the next four years in the Oval Office. Those plans for the transition? Throw them in the trash. That protective security bubble that has kept watch over you night and day and ferried you from city to city will be punctured. And a campaign that has been years in the making—a seemingly endless stream of hotel rooms, charter planes, handshakes, rubber-chicken fundraising dinners, and convention centers—will suddenly look like a big fat waste of time.

What happens to all the people who spent the last year dedicating their time and money to Mitt’s campaign for the Presidency? Was it a complete waste of time? What did they get for their troubles, and what will they do now?

People like to spend their time and energy on winners

At work, we’re not set up to do continuous improvement the way we’d like to. As a result, we tend to do one or two (or three or four) big tests a year, pitting some new way of doing things against the old champion, calling winners and losers each time. If the new approach defeats the champion, we say our time was well spent. If the champion wins, we’re back to the drawing board. We’ll tell ourselves that we learned something either way, and that even defeat is worthwhile, but inside we feel like we just spent a lot of time on a loser. And nobody likes to spend a lot of time on a loser.

In researching this Don’t Just Like project, we’ve spoken with people who choose to spend time on causes based on a lot of different things, like:

  • how strongly they feel about a cause,
  • what causes their friends support, and
  • whether they know anyone personally affected by something related to the cause.

McKibbenOne of the most interesting things I’ve heard is that people want to support a cause they think has a chance to succeed. This makes sense, of course — if you’re going to invest a lot of time and energy, you want to feel as though you can make a difference — but it’s also kind of scary. What if the good people like Bill McKibben who’ve taken on climate change decided that it was too hard and the chances of winning were too slim to invest their time and energy? Would they have spent their time on something else?

Of course, winning can be a relative term (just ask Charlie Sheen). Depending on who you are, what you represent, and when you’re involved, what once looked like winning may now look like hardly anything at all. Gay rights supporters like me might have considered the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” a win in 2011, but in 2013, winning means nothing less than the right to marry. I’m guessing that Bill McKibben has a different view of winning in 2012 than he did in 2008 too.

If it’s true that people like to be with winners, then it’s critical to every cause that they figure out what winning means to them, and what gives them the best chance at success. Otherwise, good luck getting volunteers, money, or support.

Is winning something we can will to happen?

Which brings us back to Mitt. Regardless of your political leanings, it’s undeniable that Romney lost by an enormous margin. And yet many, many Republican pundits predicted that he’d win in a landslide. Why? Because they’re optimists?

I think it’s more likely that they’re pragmatists, people who understood that believing their man could win was a significant part of the battle — that if they communicated (against all reasonable poll data) that donating time and money and voting for Romney was the winningest choice, it might actually happen. So what now?

When you’re running for President in our current, terribly divided system, winning can only be defined in the most black and white terms: if you don’t win, you’re a loser.

But I don’t buy that. For many months, lots and lots of people — winners and losers alike — spent their time, money, and energy on something they believed in. They cashed in favors, traveled to rallies, and risked offending their in-laws and Facebook friends because they cared.

That, my friends, is winning.

Has the election taught us anything at all?

I’m convinced that the reason Election Day is the first Tuesday in November is so that families can enjoy a peaceful Thanksgiving without getting into a fight with their in-laws. Bring on the stuffing, booze, and tryptophan coma — I’m ready for it!

I’ve never bought into the idea that people with a different perspective than my own are dumb, although this seems to be the prevailing thinking these days. I’m also not one to spend a lot of time convincing other people they should think like I do. That said, this whole “don’t just like” thing forces me to think about what it means to better align my time with my values — am I required to choose sides, share my opinions, and risk pissing people off all the time? Does action equal argument?

Maybe it was possible, back in the good old days, to have an opinion that wasn’t considered political; sadly, it’s not possible anymore. Lots of the things that make good non-partisan sense to me — like eating food that doesn’t make us sick, exercising the right to vote, providing equal pay for women, and having the right to go to school without being bullied — are, in this crazy-ass age we live in, indisputable signs of my flaming liberalism (if not outright socialism). This is both pathetically stupid, and extremely unfortunate.

Is it possible to do something that’s not political?

Let’s get a few things straight:

  • Animals lovers are not required to join PETA
  • Many gay couples are conservative
  • Not all vegetarians are liberal
  • Not all republicans are pro-life
  • Taxation does not equal socialism
  • Many hunters are democrats

The insanity of our electoral process — and our two party system — suggests that we can draw distinct lines between parties, and that everyone who votes one way supports one thing. This is not only untrue, it’s also extremely dangerous.

Me, helping to get out the vote

Side note: getting out the vote

On Monday, I blogged about encouraging people to vote. I hoped it would be a non-partisan statement, but who the heck knows? This year, in an effort to better align my time with my values, I did something that made me very uncomfortable — I volunteered to help get out the vote, making phone calls for three hours the weekend before the election. I had a good time, met some interesting people, spoke with a lot of voters, and generally felt good. “Do you know where you’re going to vote?” I asked the people on the other end of the line. “Do you have a way to get there?”

I did not try to talk anyone into agreeing with me. I did not make anyone feel as though their opinions were less valid than mine. I did not keep people on the phone who wanted to get off. I did not sell anyone to anything.

Sometimes helping out is just helping out.

Don’t Just “Like.” Vote.

Election day is tomorrow, and for most of us, it can’t come too soon. Win or lose, we’ll all get a break from annoying campaign ads, requests for money, Facebook feuds, blatant lies, polls, and the like. After tomorrow, we’ll get back to the hard work of trying to find common ground, working with the people and laws we’ve got to continue shaping the country into what we think it ought to be. Hopefully.

But that’s tomorrow. Today we’re still focused on a great American tradition that’s just as important as elections — winning. Today is about squashing the competition, making our opponents look and feel like idiots, and cursing the names of our opponents. If tomorrow is about something else, it’ll be out of necessity. Plus, it’s tomorrow, for crying out loud. To the victor go the spoils, or something like that.

Go out and vote, damn it!

I don’t know who’s reading this. I don’t know who you’re going to vote for or why. I don’t know if our opinions are the same, or if we plan to vote for the same things. I don’t care. I just want you to vote. I promise you it will feel good. And I promise that — win or lose — you’ll be glad you weighed in.

A coworker likes to say “an opinion is worth 30 IQ points — it’s good to have one.” I agree. Maybe you haven’t changed your Facebook photo, signed a petition, told your friends who you support, or put up a lawn sign. It doesn’t matter — tomorrow’s your big chance. Please vote.

Suffering from Hurricane Sandy fatigue? So are the people living with it.

By now you’ve seen the pictures and heard the news. The east coast was nearly washed away in a storm right out of the Old Testament. Somehow the good people of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania will survive and thrive. One day they may even get their power back.

In the meantime, don’t let fatigue from the news cloud your judgement about what to do. The folks at the Red Cross have posted a request for additional funds to help those in need. If you’re wondering what you can do to help, this is it:

The Red Cross has provided more than 23,000 overnight shelter stays since Saturday to those communities in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast suffering from widespread power outages, wind damage and significant flooding from Superstorm Sandy. Please donate today.

Tuesday night, more than 9,000 people stayed in 171 Red Cross shelters across 13 states. More than 100,800 meals and snacks have been served.

Financial donations help the Red Cross provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance to those affected by disasters like Hurricane Sandy, as well as countless crises at home and around the world.