Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Help My Pal Beth Win $50,000 for Cambodian Orphans

My friend Beth Kanter, of Beth's Blog, is working hard to win $50,000 for the Sharing Foundation by January 31, 2008 as part of the Case Foundation's America's Giving Challenge. She asked me to ask you to help.

The Sharing Foundation's mission is to help meet the physical, emotional, educational and medical needs of orphaned and seriously disadvantaged children in Cambodia. Beth is on the Board of the Foundation, and she and her husband have two children, Harry and Sara, who were adopted as orphans from Cambodia.

The way America's Giving Challenge works is that the 8 individual online fundraisers who inspire the most people to donate, will receive $50,000 for their charity.

Beth's friend, Michele Martin, set up a page through Global Giving where you can donate as little as $10 to the Sharing Foundation. You can also help by spreading the word. Beth has set up a wiki with information, photos and a fundraising widget that you can include in an email or blog post.

Right now the campaign is in first place with 812 donations (you can see the leaderboard here), but it has to keep up its momentum though January 31st 'cause the other campaigns aren't far behind them.

Thanks for giving and/or spreading the word!

Photo Credit: Literacy Students by Beth Kanter.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Spirituality and Social Justice: Is It What We've Been Waiting For?

I watched an interesting interview on The Daily Show this week with Jim Wallis, the Editor-in-Chief/CEO of Sojourners. You can watch it here. During the interview Wallis said,
"The two great hungers in the world today are the hunger for spirituality and the hunger for social justice. And the connection between the two is the one the new generation is just waiting for."
This isn't a new topic for Wallis. Kathy Pozos posted this quote by Wallis on her blog post, Spirituality and Social Justice - Quote of the Day:
“The connection the world’s waiting for is to connect the hunger for spirituality with passion for social change. Because spirituality, when it isn’t disciplined by social justice, in an affluent society, becomes narcissistic. We buy the books, we buy the tapes. We hear the guru speaker. Barnes & Noble has a whole wall of how to be spiritual, balanced, healed, whole. Spirituality becomes a commodity to be bought and sold. So spirituality has to be disciplined by social justice."
Wallis was on the show to promote his new book, The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith and Politics in a Post-Religious Right America. In his January 18th blog post, Why I Wrote the Great Awakening, he explains:
The Great Awakening explores the new broader and deeper faith agenda and shows how a new spiritual 'revival' could spark real social and political change. Already, in the early primaries the clear victor is 'change,' revealing the deep hunger in America for a new direction in politics, which many on both sides of the spectrum believe to be badly broken. All the candidates are now competing to convince voters that they are the best change agents. . . .

. . . I am not just saying that another Great Awakening may be coming. I'm convinced that it has already begun, and the book begins to tell its stories. As I've often said, this could be a revival that calls us to find common ground by moving to higher ground. It could transcend traditional divisions and bring people together across the theological and political spectrum on the major moral issues of our time. It asserts that religion should not be a wedge to divide us, but a bridge to bring us together."
What Wallis said resonates with me. I think that as the world gets "smaller" people are becoming more aware of how interconnected they are.

Martin Luther King, Jr. described it well in a speech he gave that Joan posted on her GlobalGiving blog.
"All of life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied to a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly."
The Dalai Lama echoes this sentiment in a quote posted on Mary Ann Testagrossa's Wire Jewelry Blog.
"Today, more than ever before, life must be characterized by a sense of universal responsibilities, not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to other forms of life."
During the interview, Wallis also said that a "whole new denomination" is growing across the country, people who identify themselves as, "spiritual, but not religious."

It makes sense to me, that if through whatever belief system, more people believe in our interconnectedness, that can produce greater compassion, which provides the fire to take action for social justice.

What do you think?

Photo Credit: Prayers by Giulio Bernardi.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Op-Ed Project: Writing to Change the World

I've never written an Op-Ed piece, have you? Seems like a good skill to have these days, especially for nonprofits trying to get the word out about their cause.

Unfortunately, if you are a woman, you are less likely to share your opinion on the Op-Ed pages. According to the New York Times article, Stop the Presses, Boys! Women Claim Space on Op-Ed Pages, "Many opinion page editors at major newspapers across the country say that 65 or 75 percent of unsolicited manuscripts, or more, come from men." The article profiles The Op-Ed Project, a training created by writer Catherine Orenstein to teach people how to write for the Op-Ed pages.

Here's what MojoMom had to say about taking the course:
"I was blown away by my recent experience taking Katie's day-long seminar. Even strong and accomplished women may have never thought of publishing an opinion piece before. Feminine socialization is a factor. 'Nice girls' don't make a fuss, and even powerful women can have difficulty claiming their authority. Katie teaches her students how to push beyond that feeling so that we get our ideas out there. When she asks students, 'What are you an expert in?' she has never met a man who says he isn't an expert in anything, but women regularly answer this way."
Staff from nonprofits like Human Rights Watch, the Global Fund for Women, Women’s Funding Network and SheSource.org have taken the training.

If you live in New York, Lindsey Pollak has posted a special code on her blog that gives you 10% off registration for the February 23rd Op-Ed Project class in NYC. Pollak reports, "I have taken this class and it's really excellent."

If you want to get a better idea of what the training entails, the Urban Unrest blog has posted the curriculum from the 4-session teleseminar Orenstein taught for The SPIN Project last fall.

For more information about attending a class, check out the upcoming classes being hosted by the Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership, or contact Catherine to schedule a training for your organization.

Photo Credit: Perspective II by Editor B/Bart.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Preventing Human Trafficking: An Interview with Christina Arnold

"I think a lot of people perhaps have gotten a one-sided understanding of this issue of trafficking. They see it as coercive prostitution, or just see prostitution as synonymous with trafficking, which is really not the case.

More than anything else in my 10 plus years of experience working on this issue, and living in Southeast Asia, my colleagues and I have seen that trafficking really is about a lack of economic opportunity, and it's not so much about sexual slavery or forced prostitution."
--Christina Arnold, Prevent Human Trafficking

Christina Arnold is the Founder of Prevent Human Trafficking, a DC-based nonprofit working to prevent human trafficking, particularly in Southeast Asia. I interviewed Christina for the Big Vision Podcast last month. Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Christina Arnold: My name is Christina Arnold, and I'm the founder of Prevent Human Trafficking, formerly Project Hope International. We work primarily in the Washington, DC area and in Southeast Asia to promote programs that are addressing the root causes of human trafficking, and to provide sustainable alternatives to trafficking.

We have financed many micro-credit loans for women and men who want to start their own businesses as an alternative way to make a living for their families so that they're not circumstantially forced to take work that would be degrading or demeaning to them.

We do a lot of education here in the Washington, DC area, actually all over the United States. We lecture, and we're also trainers with the US Attorney's Office, so we've given trainings to police on how to identify victims of trafficking.

We have an annual study tour that we do every year to Southeast Asia for scholars, researchers, academics, students, funders, you name it, who would like to get outside of the bubble of the United States and see firsthand the circumstances that people endure, and where people are at, and what this looks like on the ground, especially in some of the very at risk areas along the Thai-Burma border, the border with Laos, and also in Vietnam and Cambodia.

Britt Bravo: On your website, you have several videos and on one of them you said that the reason that Prevent Human Trafficking exists is to help people come to terms with the real facts on trafficking and the larger, bigger issues around this issue.

CA: Right.

BB: What are the real facts?

CA: I think a lot of people perhaps have gotten a one-sided understanding of this issue of trafficking. They see it as coercive prostitution, or just see prostitution as synonymous with trafficking, which is really not the case.

More than anything else in my 10 plus years of experience working on this issue, and living in Southeast Asia, my colleagues and I have seen that trafficking really is about a lack of economic opportunity, and it's not so much about sexual slavery or forced prostitution.

I would say that the majority of the cases are people who've been displaced by war or political conflict, especially in Southeast Asia, and they were forced to get into a kind of work. Many times they arrange their own transport. They agreed to be smuggled. They pay a smuggler to take them across the border to get them work, and then are tricked along the way and wind up in the fishing industry, wind up in very exploitative situations as domestic workers in people's homes, or factories, things like that.

A lot more airtime has been given to sex slavery, especially here in the United States, and researchers have found that a lot of this talk is unsubstantiated by research. There is actually a great piece by a professor at George Washington University, Ronald Weitzer. He wrote a brilliant piece about the moral crusade of this issue, and that's not to say that it's not to be taken seriously. I think that we need to look at the root causes for why people wind up in exploitative situations, no matter what they are, and to say that someone who is a victim of labor exploitation and trafficking deserves equal voice with someone who has had a different experience.

I think now more research is being done to point to some of the assumptions that have been made about the human trafficking "industry", if you will, to separate out the myths from the facts, and to give people a clearer idea of what we're really looking at, especially when we talk about numbers of trafficking victims.

There was also a fantastic article from the Washington Post about this very issue of numbers. They said that it's very hard to communicate to people the gravity of the situation with human trafficking unless you can put numbers around it. But they haven't found that the numbers have added up here.

If you put them next to what the Department of Justice and the Department of State put out as the official numbers, they've not been confirmed or substantiated, so people are starting to take a more nuanced, critical view of this issue of trafficking, especially if we're looking at outcomes, and what has been done in the last 10 years to really change the situation of trafficking. Have the programs that have been funded done enough to make a difference on this issue? Where is the research funding being given? People care deeply about this issue, but I think asking the hard questions, and looking for outcomes, and looking at root causes is something now that's being considered a lot more seriously.

Britt Bravo: Since what you're saying is that he definition of human trafficking is much different than what many people think of, can you tell a story of an actual person and what that means, or what that looks like, or what their experience is, and if it's a success story, even better, of how they survived? I think that helps people to understand what something is really about if it can be placed in the context of a story of a real person.

CA: Without giving names, along the Thai-Burma border there is a project that we're funding with a fantastic former Thai Senator, Mechai Viravaidya, who is also the Chairman and Founder of the Population Community Development Association of Thailand. They have an incredible grassroots network in some of the hardest to reach villages where people are most at risk, for all sorts of reasons.

We've partnered with the Partnership for Trafficking Prevention to provide micro-credit loans and education in these border towns. We've received news back that in one village, before the program was started, they had more than 17 families that had relatives or family members go into the sex industry, and other forms of exploitative labor, because they said that they just had no options, and people were desperate. They believed these talent scouts that said that they would find them good work in the city. Since this collaborative project has been in place, only one person has left the village. In a year, that's pretty outstanding.

People will tell you pretty straightforwardly, "The reason that I sent my son or my daughter, (or my whoever family member) to go and work in a big city is because we're completely out of options here. Our rice crops have failed, and we don't know what to do. We keep having more and more people come across the Thai-Burma border. We need work that can sustain the village community."

There was a woman I met a couple of years ago who said that all she ever wanted was to build her own noodle shop. When I asked her how much money that was and how she was trying to save for it, she was in a shelter at the time. She said that first she started out as a domestic worker, and then wound up in sex trafficking. She said that two hundred dollars was the amount of money that she was trying to save up.

After working for more than seven years, she hadn't even been able to save a fraction of that money that was needed to fund her dream. That's the most exciting thing for us is to be able to say, here is a real problem that exists, people know where these vulnerable populations are, and we can fund these enterprises that allow, not just that person, but their whole family and the whole community to be able to sustain themselves. That's a pretty powerful thing, and it's proof that it is possible to prevent human trafficking before it begins. That's probably the clearest example I can give you of how these programs work when the villagers themselves say, "Oh, yeah, a year ago this many people went missing from our village and this year only one person."

BB: In the same video you talked about how a lot of the solutions that you're working to support, the people in the community come up with them and they are the ones implementing them. What are the solutions that the communities have come up with, and also, it sounds like micro-loans are one way to prevent trafficking. Are there other tools? What are other ways to prevent it?

CA: Lack of education about people that are in search of people in desperate situations that can be lured into these exploitative jobs is a big part of it. Many people, especially in the up country areas of Thailand, along the Burma border, are not necessarily talking to each other and getting the information about what happens to people's family members especially, when they came home sick, or didn't come home at all.

We found out, after having a consultation with the village leaders, that they said that if they could have forums, or if they could have a play, a street drama, where people could do a retelling of some of these stories, without putting attention on one particular family, then this would raise the awareness of everyone in the village to the tricks and the ploys of some of these traffickers.

For example, one family had somebody who had a really fancy rented car, borrowed fancy jewelry, and nice clothes on show up at the door of a poor rice farming family, who was in a little shack without running water or electricity, and say, "We've heard that your family is very hard working, and we're here to offer you a job. We're starting a new restaurant in Bangkok or whatever," It's very hard, I think, for some of these people to see, "Oh, that's one ploy of traffickers."

Putting together those stories and experiences, and then being able to have a community put on a theater of sorts, like street theater, or sit and discuss it. One of the ideas that they came up with, which they started years ago with the Population Community Development Association of Thailand, was to have village banks. What would happen is that many times someone in the village -- say, for example, their rice crop didn't yield, or they ran into some other trouble, or a family member died and they needed to borrow money for the funeral-- would wind up getting very deeply into debt with some of these loan sharks because they didn't have access to credit, and they had no extended family to borrow money from.

They set up a village bank where everyone in the village invests money in the village bank, and then once a month they have a meeting and decide who in the community is in an emergency situation. They vote to let them borrow from this village bank, and that's a community solution that's worked very, very well for them.

Again, asking the question, at what point did people fall into debt? What happened to get them into the situation where they were so desperate that they wound up in these exploitative situations?

BB: What brought you to this work? Why do you do this work?

CA: I guess my whole life has been preparing me to do this work. I was born in India, in Bombay, and I have four brothers and sisters. There were five of us that were born in South and Southeast Asia, and I lived there until I was 21.

When I was growing up, I was very aware of the class differences, and the different ways that people would treat children who were from lower class families. I also lived in Sri Lanka right about the time that sex tourism became a big deal, and saw it firsthand. I spent a lot of time thinking about why these things happened to people that are just poor. They don't have the resources to be able to do better by their family, and you see that it goes on through generations. Wanting to do something to help change that has been a long journey.

I came to the States for the first time when I was 21 to live and brought with me this idea that started in Thailand, when I was working in some of the orphanages there, hearing stories that sounded very similar to stories that I'd heard in other countries in Southeast Asia.

At that point we didn't have a name for it. Human trafficking hadn't been institutionalized, and the U.S. didn't have the Trafficking Victims Protection Act yet, that was passed in 2000. I found a really amazing group of people here in the States that really wanted to do something to help change circumstances for people in these situations.

It started out small. It started out actually with a Rockefeller Grant to do a study trip back to Thailand, and the area, to find out what was being done for at risk populations. That's grown into an every-year trip back to that part of the world to continue doing research, meeting with community members, and keeping those ties strong with the grassroots networks that we built over the last eight years.

It's a pretty neat thing to be able to link the experiences that people are having in South and Southeast Asia with what we're seeing here in the U.S. There are trafficking situations. People are looking at this issue now, taking it seriously. I just think more focus needs to be put on root causes, and put on prevention. The State Department actually has within its mandate prevention. They have the three P's, as they call them - prosecution, protection and prevention. Prevention has not been given much funding, and I think that we can see now after almost 10 years of work on this issue that some things are definitely being understood better, like the whole debt bondage situation. That's mostly why people wind up trafficked, and that was just highlighted in this year's Trafficking in Persons Report from the State Department, which was encouraging as well, because it is now giving more attention to the plight of people who have been trafficked into exploitative labor situations as well.

BB: And if you had unlimited resources and funding, what would be your dream project or program?

CA: I actually have a dream project that we are trying to figure out how to get funding for. It is an observatory to study human trafficking in Southeast Asia, and it is a group of academics and researchers and activists from all over the world. I'd say we have got more than 15 people on-board now for this idea, which is to put all the research that has been done on this issue into one place where people can access it. We can do more on both ends to figure out how to be most helpful to the organizations that are providing services and dealing with this issue on the frontlines by asking, "Is the grant funding going where it should go," and "what are the effective practices that we can promote." I think a lot more attention could be put on that. We are just looking for funding for it now.

It is pretty amazing the person that is heading up this initiative is actually going to be coming to the U.S. in April, and we will be doing a lecture and documentary screening tour with him. His name is Pierre Le Roux and he has researched in that area for 25 years, speaks five languages, and has a very strong, more than a feeling, he has a very strong opinion that human trafficking can be stopped.

He has real numbers, and he says that people tend to get very depressed about it, because it seems so overwhelming, but with this observatory, the idea would be to get all of the intelligence that we have on trafficking, and things like, where trafficking victims are coming from, what are the top reasons that they are winding up in these situations, and get some of the best minds involved to come up with substantive information that can actually make a difference to the lives of people who are being affected.

BB: For people who are listening, who are feeling like, "I want to do something about this, either I want to support to Prevent Human Trafficking, or just help some way overall, " what can they do?

CA: Anything that you can imagine. We need all kinds of help, anything from donations to getting involved with helping to fundraise for this observatory, to going overseas. If it is a donor, or somebody who wants to get involved in funding sustainable solutions, we take people every year in the summer to visit the projects first hand and see what is being done over there. In kind donations of all kinds, office supplies, donating miles that people can go and work with some of our partner organizations in Thailand.

Every year we send all kinds of volunteers who would like to spend three months or more volunteering their time with partner organizations. That is something that has really been meaningful on both ends for the people that go, and then also for the organizations that are grateful for their help.

We have a scholarship fund that gives scholarships to at-risk children along the Thai-Burma border; that is something else that can be gifted in honor of family members. A lot of people like that. Someone donated a yacht to our organization this year! That was probably the most interesting donation we have gotten. Computers, anything you can think of, we will find a way to use it to advance the cause.

BB: Is there anything else you want people to know about the issue of human trafficking?

I think that something that is very important, especially for the second generation of human rights activists that are interested in this issue, is that the desire to get out there and do something, to help stop human trafficking, is something that is felt by a lot of people now that they have seen the Lifetime series on human trafficking, and different documentaries that have been circulating.

It solicits a very emotional response from people, people who want to go on their spring break and go and free victims of trafficking in various parts of the world where they may not speak the language. I think they need to take an optimistic view first off that yes, everyone can do something to stop human trafficking, but then think about how their skills can be best used, or how they can be most effective in that goal that they have of wanting to ameliorate human suffering.

I think that we hold tremendous power in our hands. I think everyone whether it's volunteering a couple hours of their time or helping to translate documents, or doing something that contributes in a serious way to an organization's effort is more useful than, I think, hopping on a plane and going out with the aim of rescuing victims of trafficking from various parts of the world.

I think that working here in the United States is important too because a lot of the organizations that we are honored to work with in that part of the world have told us that it's the access that we are able to provide them to organizations and caring individuals here that allows their work to continue.

For example, Dining for Women is a fantastic organization that promotes the idea that chapters all over the country can donate the money that they might have spent on a meal out to an organization that is working to promote human rights, women's education and sustainable programs such as the ones we run. They actually raised over $13,000 for a project of ours along the Thai-Burma border, which was phenomenal, and that is something that anybody could do. Anybody could join their effort and start a chapter in their own neck of the woods. I think that approach, funding sustainable work that is being done, maybe people can't travel all the way over to Thailand, but in their own backyards, they can do a lot to change the lives of people that otherwise would not have any options.

Related Blog Posts:
Dining for Women's post about raising money for Prevent Human Trafficking.
Jay Dedman's post about spending 3 weeks in Southeast Asia with Ryanne Hodson videoblogging for Prevent Human Trafficking.
Prevent Human Trafficking's video blog.

Photo used with permission from Prevent Human Trafficking. Christina is in the pink shirt.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Wanna Have Fun and Raise Money? Why Not Host a House Party?

In a time when fundraising widgets, Causes on Facebook and other forms of web-based giving are rising in popularity, it's important to not forget the power of people connecting face-to-face.

If you are looking for a way to support an organization or cause you care about while having a good time socializing, why not host a house party? House parties can be used for fundraising, or if you are uncomfortable asking for money, "friendraising."

Morrie Warshawski, author of Shaking the Money Tree: How to Get Grants for Film and Video, recently sent me a copy of the 2nd edition of his book, The Fundraising Houseparty. This 58-page book provides all of the information you need to host a house party including a pre-party checklist, a sample fundraising "ask" script, and sample thank you notes and invitations.

One of the tips I found the most interesting was that it is important that the person who asks the group for donations is a peer. Warshawski says,
"It is a mistake to have the ask made by an expert on the subject, one of your close friends or anyone else who is not a peer of the group. The most effective ask will come when peers ask their own peers for support."
Monica Williams' post, The first-person donation request works, at least it does on me, supports Warshawski's theory (even though she was asked to donate by email). She writes:
"How else would NMSS [National Multiple Sclerosis Society] have gotten my money? Direct mail? An ad in the paper? A flyer in the breakroom? I don't think any of those strategies has ever worked on me. But here was Bruce, the boyfriend of one of the people I like the most who also happens to have MS, personally asking me to donate money to this cause . . ."
Many nonprofits like TransFair, the Global Fund for Women, Genocide Intervention Network and Women for Women International have house party guides, specific to their organization, on their web sites.

Right now, of course, there are a lot of house parties going on in the US for presidential candidates. Kelly Nuxoll describes her amusing experience at a house party for Giuliani in San Francisco in her post, Killing with Kindness: House Parties Hope to Pluck Voters One at a Time. My Urban Report's post, Atlantans Party for Obama, includes video footage from an Obama house party and an interview with one of the attendees.

Whether you want to host a house party for a presidential candidate, a nonprofit, or a friend's do-good venture, The Fundraising Houseparty has all the information you'll need to get started. It also has an order form in the back of the book with bulk purchase rates (25+ copies for $15.95 each) if you want to mobilize a group of people to host house parties.

Have you ever hosted a house party? What are your house party hosting tips?

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Favorite Do-Good Books of 2007

I didn't get a chance to post my Favorite Do-Good Book list for 2007 before the year ended, so here it is. Many of them were listed in my answer to the Meaningful Book Meme last October.

Here are links to my Favorite Do-Good Books of 2006 and Favorite Do-Good Books of 2005. What were your favorite do-good reads last year?

Animal, Vegetable Mineral by Barbara Kingslover

A Problem From Hell by Samantha Power

A Mighty Heart by Mariane Pearl

Be Bold by Echoing Green

A Cafecito Story by Julia Alvarez

In Search of Hope by Mariane Pearl

Not On Our Watch by John Prendergast and Don Cheadle

Women Who Light the Dark by Paola Gianturco

Writing for Change by Mary Pipher

All book cover images are from
Powells Books, except for Animal, Vegetable Mineral which is from HarperCollins and Be Bold from Echoing Green.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Keeping a Gratitude Journal: Fuel for the Activist Life

An activist friend of mine recently asked, "How do you get over it when life is unfair in a really big way?" I told her, "Keep a gratitude journal." I can't remember where I first saw this idea. Maybe Oprah? It certainly isn't mine, but it definitely works.

One of the things I've come to realize is that in order to create positive social change, you have to create positive personal change at the same time. Our personal challenges, in combination with the world's challenges, can feel overwhelming and paralyze us. To have the energy to help others, we have to keep ourselves balanced and happy too.

One tool to help keep life in perspective is a gratitude journal where you write down a few things each day that you are thankful for. They can be big things, like I'm thankful that I have a warm, dry place to live in the midst of this crazy California rainstorm, or small things, like I had a really yummy hot chocolate the other day.

Thethirtydayyear kept a gratitude journal when her mom was dying:

"I have recently resurrected my earlier habit of keeping a gratitude journal. I did this after I came across an old entry I did before my mom died, about how thankful I was that she had come through her surgery, and how grateful I was for having her here as my mother.

There were so many things going on in my life back then, and if not for that journal, I likely would have had a very different, very negative view of everything. I was losing my mom, and I knew it, but rather than focusing on that loss, the journal helped me stay focused on how fortunate I had been that she had been there for me for forty four years. I wrote in that book first thing in the morning, then again before I went to bed at night."

Corrie Haffly describes what she does when she doesn't feel grateful for anything:

"Usually my list involves many things from the previous day that I’m thankful for, but sometimes a couple items are things I’m thankful for in general; “the best hubby ever” and “Nutmeg the very cute cat” are ones that frequently turn up on my lists.

There are some days when I really don’t feel very grateful about much. In that case, I don’t force myself to write down five things, but I write down what I can. Usually, however, I’m able to find five things that I’m truly thankful for!"

Philippa Kennealy of The Entrepreneurial MD shares the story of how one of her clients, a doctor, used a gratitude journal to move through depression in her post, Can a Gratitude Journal Be An Effective Business Tool? She also links to a New York Times article, Let Us Give Thanks. In Writing which has a quote from the author of Happier, that speaks to why I think a gratitude journal can be effective:
"“If we’re not aware of the good things in our lives, then as far as we’re concerned they don’t exist.”
Have you ever used a gratitude journal? If so, what was your experience while using it?

Photo Credit: January First by Crystal.

Yaayyyy! Obama Won in Iowa!

[I]t's only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you will realize your true potential - and become full-grown.
--Barack Obama

I'm very excited!!!!

You can get an Obama shirt, like the one I'm wearing, at the Obama Store.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Can Compassion Be Cool?

"[T]hat quality of reverence, that is really the gateway through which we can begin to rediscover our capacity to do good."
-- Interview with Van Jones, President, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

"Only by establishing peace in yourself can you be helpful in contributing to peace . . . being peace is the basis for doing peace, making peace."
-- Thich Nhat Hanh quoted in Great Peacemakers.
I recently received a review copy of Great Peacemakers by husband and wife team, Ken Beller and Heather Chase. The book is a collection of 20 short profiles of well known, and not so well known peacemakers who the authors divided into five categories: choosing nonviolence, living peace, honoring diversity, valuing all life, and caring for the planet. Some of the peacemakers profiled include Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Thich Nhat Hanh, Riane Eisler, Jane Goodall, Rachel Carson, Wangari Maathai, David Suzuki and The Dalai Lama. Although it won the 2007 OMNI PeaceWriting Award for Writing for Young People, Great Peacemakers' short profiles make for inspiring morning or bedtime reading for adults as well.

The three ideas that stuck out for me among the peacemakers' profiles and quotes were the importance of having compassion, getting things done through collaboration, and recognizing that all people need love. We live in a time when talking about things like love, peace and compassion are considered to be either religious (and consequently offensive to the non-religious), or New Age (oh, Dennis Kucinich, why did you have to mention the UFOs?). As Van Jones, the President of the Ella Baker for Human Rights said when I interviewed him last year, "[T]he idea of protection and nurturance and cooperation and solidarity, and really believing that there is something precious about everything and everyone, that is not too fashionable right now."

Perhaps we're at a time in history, when we need to feel comfortable talking about things like love, compassion and interconnectedness in our daily lives, not because we are religious or "woo-woo," but because we are human. As Samantha Power, author of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, said in her 2006 Commencement address to the University of Santa Clara Law School, "[I]f the shapers of U.S. foreign policy looked out for the human consequences of their decisions, the world and the United States would be far better off."

Celebrities like Bono, Angelina Jolie and George Clooney have made it hip to "do good." Perhaps the next thing is to make it cool to talk about kindness and compassion.

Related links:
TheCommunity.com: A Network for Peace and Human Rights
The Peace Alliance: A Campaign to Establish a US Department of Peace