Sep 1 Young Leaders from Middle East ask for a say in peace

Dear President Abbas, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and Secretary of State Clinton:

We are Liel Maghen, an Israeli from Tel Aviv, and Mariam Ashour, a Palestinian from Gaza, two voices from a generation of over 3 million young Israelis and Palestinians. We write to you with a sense of urgency, because we believe our future rests in your hands as you renew the peace talks this week.

We have just graduated, along with four other Palestinians and four other Israelis, from a new program called New Story Leadership. The Washington Post, Fox News, and National Public Radio have all recently carried stories of our summer in Washington, where we lived and worked together.

As part of our program we participated in many panels, conferences and roundtable discussions about the Middle East, and we found that people who lacked our experience and perspective were trying to tell our story. They emphasized only the points of disagreement and none of the opportunities for compromise.  Thus, we felt compelled to speak up, to ask to be heard, to attempt to educate listeners about how desperate our generation is, on both sides, for a peaceful and lasting resolution.

Liel’s life changed forever when a close friend and fellow Israeli soldier was killed in Lebanon. This friend was a hero of war.  But this loss motivated Liel into a quest to look for different kinds of heroes, heroes of peace. He found them in co existence meetings, where people faced their fear and tried to overcome their hatred by creating personal connection with the other side. Mariam’s perspective changed this summer when, having never met an Israeli before, she lived and worked with them for the first time. Coming from Gaza, she had seen  family members and friends killed in the conflict. She herself had even been blocked at check points for over a year from taking up a Hope Fund scholarship in the USA. So  she had ample reason to feel the way she did. But this summer, living and working with Israelis, against all expectations, she developed a deep trust and hope that a better future is indeed possible.  The other program participants have even more compelling stories, but we all arrived at the same conclusion: good faith political negotiations depend on trust and understanding that can only come from personal connection and friendships.

We urge you to understand that you cannot, and need not, achieve a peace agreement alone. Young people are those who are most able to bridge the conflict. Thus, we must be a part of the peace process as well. We, as a generation, have the capacity to change the course of history with fresh ideas, new energy, and most of all, hope. Our generation brings new messages of compromise, reconciliation, and willingness to work together. We cannot sit idly by while others, even our own leaders, meet and discuss our future without including our voice. Now that peace talks are about to resume, this is the time for you to engage us in developing a new, and more inclusive, process for finding a resolution. We ask the negotiation team to meet, as soon as possible, with a representative body of young people in order to develop a process, which will include us.

Although the peace negotiations will inevitably meet great challenges, we want to assure you that we are gathering a chorus of young voices from around the world who expect you to be the heroes of change. We expect you to make all reasonable efforts to finally bring peace to our region. You would become the heroes we would tell our children about, those who by making difficult decisions ensured a better future for them. History will show that when the critical moment came, you listened to the young generation and you found a way to protect our shared future.

Our prayers go with you as you embrace this historic quest.

Liel Maghen   NSL Graduate 2010 The Arava Institute
Mariam Ashour NSL Graduate 2010 Columbia College


  • Marvin H. Shaub, Ph.D. Said on September 2nd, 2010 at 10:23 am:

    I am a college professor and will teach international negotiation in the coming school year. I would be interested in following your activities relating to the Middle Eastern Peace Process.

    Best regards.


  • Marjorie Roberts, Ph.D Said on September 3rd, 2010 at 9:04 pm:

    I am a psychologist and a co-founder of a training center for psychotherapists. Much of my work is in creating new dialogues and giving voice to those who have not been included in the dialogues previously. You and your colleagues have contributed to this process. Please continue your efforts. Your work is encouraging.

Oct 20 It’s the Theology, Stupid!

A natural disaster like a hurricane rolls in from the ocean and destroys a town, a city, floods a whole region. It used to be called an ‘Act of God’ because no one could prevent it-but nowadays, its called Disaster Relief and FEMA are called in with the expectation that the Government can make right what God has wrought. If that fails, we blame George Bush rather than God the Father. But George Bush didn’t create the storm.

A man made disaster like the BP Oil Spill spreads a murky slick across the Gulf of Mexico, and kills natural life and ruins the local bay industries. It used to be put down to Human Fallibility because humans who meddle with nature are always overstepping the limits of their knowledge or pushing natures’ tolerance. Nowadays, its called crisis management, and the expectation is that humans are not allowed to make mistakes this catastrophic anymore. The company must do public confession and penance,  and together with the Government, we believers expect, no- we demand, that they make right what human pride and greed have made wrong.

A new President is elected on the promise of changing America. He pledged bi-partisanship and reform in energy, health and education, and sounded determined to overhaul the economy and turn it around.  Enough Americans believed in the promise then, but now, two years in, the mood is that Obama is not the Messiah after all, because even though he has reformed health, education and finances, he has not saved the country. We still wait for the miracle, for the epiphanic moment when angels will write in clouds across the northern sky for all to see, “Mission Accomplished. Hallelujah.”

The ‘Glen Beck- Come back to God’  Tea Party are raging about Government invading every aspect of our private lives, but what might surprise them is that what has gone wrong is not the economy-stupid, but the theology. Once we believed in Providence, what George Washington called that ‘all powerful and inscrutable dispensation.” Now we expect the Government to play God, to provide, to be the final rainbow of hope after the flood, the drought, the fire and storm, the eternal  evangelist of Good News when jobs die and houses are repossessed. We don’t blame God or ourselves anymore, we blame the Government. And hence, our politics has become drenched in a heresy that used to be called Pelagianism, that man is able to do it all without God.

Meanwhile, the  mainstream Churches seems to have abdicated the field of common concern-no voices are raised or if they are, none are heard that say that perhaps our crisis is less of debt and inflation, and more of greed and hubris, where like the original Babel, we thought we could build our towers  and condo’s to populate the heavens. And then, when it all seems to come crashing down, instead of Jonah convincing Niniveh to repent, we are all gearing up to vote these fakers out of office and demand they repay us what we lost. It was all their fault.

They did it for the banks and for the car companies, paid them our taxes to make up for their sins so that their debts could be  forgiven, and it should be  for us, just as we pray, “forgive us our debts as you forgave those who were indebted to us.”  Though we don’t want to start another witch hunt, Christine O’Donnell not withstanding, someone needs to get on a pulpit here and there and start thundering that “Judgement is near.” We are trapped in the heresy of thinking God’s emissary on earth is not the Pope but the Government, and that Providence is now a matter of  public  policy, and being full of  grace is when the GDP goes up by 4%.  Where is Saint Augustine when you need him.

When November 2nd rolls around, we should all be praying: ‘lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’, and realise that its God we are talking to, not the Government. Amen.

Oct 26 On the Disillusioning of America

Perhaps its my Irish sensibility, or  my own mood about the way the world is going, or I am becoming a grumpy old man, but does anyone else out there feel something is radically wrong? I would love to know, to compare notes.

Do you share an increasing sense that something might be slipping from our grasp, that something is not only not right, but there is a sea change happening. We are watching a tide  slowly recede, a tide of optimism and resilience that used to buoy up America in its severest times of testing and trouble?


A few weeks back, a friend and I attended the documentary  The Tillman Story, about the famous and tragic football star, Pat Tillman, killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan, and falsely memorialized as a Silver Star Medal Winner. It was a cover up, all for the sake of recruitment.   We came away with a sense of utter respect for the Tillman family and their quest for the truth, and an utter disgust for the leaders in the Military and their superiors who, even when they had to finally confront the facts of their heartless deception, retreated to denials and platitudes. And, they got away with it.

If the military is the last institution in which Americans feel a deep and abiding trust,  then this documentary challenges that faith.  Add the controversial Wikileaks files released about American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, add the bungling at Arlington Cemetery and the scandal of Walter Reed Hospital,  and the inane “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” reform that a government supports by challenging!!!! ;. Is it any wonder we feel a growing story of disenchantment.  Semper Fi???-Phooey!


This week, the documentary everyone was seeing was  Inside Job , the story of Wall Street before and after the collapse. This time, there were no heroes, only villains, and villains who instead of being caught and punished, walked away with millions in bonuses, and even got themselves appointed to the President’s Cabinet, without having to pay taxes on their ill-gained profits.

The crooks are running the show. How we long for the days of the good old honest bank robber because banks are now robbing us, the taxpayers, and laughing all the way to their Caribbean hideaways.  Just to hear the groans and gasps of the people in that theater was enough to show how painful and disturbing this story was and still is. The villains got away with it. This week, more disturbing stories circulate  of foreclosures being rushed through summarily, and you wonder when will the bad news stop? What other evils can the banks possibly conceive to defraud their customers?  Safe as a bank? Bunkum.


I am not sure what movie to go and see next week. A friend recommended Casino Jack and the United States of Money about Jack Abramoff and the lobbying scandal. However,  since the Supreme Court’s decision on election funding by anonymous corporations, one wonders if even Abramoff’s crimes now look ordinary.  In principle, any company with money from anywhere, can pay for attack ads to discredit any candidate, and not have to be held accountable. How can a democracy work with such secrecy? The electoral reform that even a conservative like Senator McCain once championed has been overturned.


Who can we trust then? The Church? No, it’s  still recovering from cover-ups and scandal. The Media?  NPR and Oberman on the Left and Fox and Beck on the Right?  You have to be kidding me. We would rather go hear Jon Stewart than trust any of them.  The Academy?-surely, the pursuit of knowledge hasn’t been tainted? But then you find a recent book called  Higher Education? which indicts the University sector for  selling out. So who is left?

At the end of Inside Job, the narrator tells us solemnly that 2010 is the first time that most Americans believe that their children will grow up with less opportunity than their parents enjoyed.  In other words, the American Dream is stuck in reverse. As time goes on, things will go from bad to worse. That might not be true, but it is the anxious feeling growing among us.


If democracy is supposed to privilege the power of the people, then next week, Americans have the chance to throw out the bums, to demand changes. But the Catch 22 is that once people lose faith in government, or think that the game is rigged anyway, that the good guys get screwed while the bad guys get promotions, then, even voting is an exercise in fulitility. One Hispanic group even dared to put out an ad, “Don’t Vote.” it said. “What’s the point?”


The people  may have given up on government but that does not mean they have given up. What it means is that local initiatives will have to become the site of reform.  If Lincoln saved the Union by a war against the states, the Union might also be saved by a state’s war against Federal powers. State’s Attorney Generals are looking at indictments over the bank crisis.  States are cutting budgets, States like Colarado are pursuing innovative energy policies. If Washington won’t, many States will.

Local citizens will step up and lead,  and challenge the government for its corruption.  It happened in the 1960′s  Civil Rights movement, and it can happen again in a modern day Citizen’s Rights movement. If that sounds too much like the Tea Party, then maybe it isn’t as crazy as people make it out to be.  Much of it is good old grassroots activism, searching for another way to change things.

Whatever their influence on November 2nd, one wonders, even hopes that this might be the humble start of a third American Revolution, where if the politicians won’t reform and rebuild a stalled government,  a bankrupted economy and a discredited military, the people will.  If that is the case, the election is more of a sideshow, or barely useful for the Late Night Comedy Shows.  The real change, one that once a President promised and has not yet delivered, is going to happen, with or without him.  It is sad that the American Dream has come to this, but once the people realise that the government is no longer working for them, but for the corporations, their anger might be the healthiest weapon our democracy has.

Nov 1 Rally on the Mall-The People’s Laugh-In: 50 best signs

What a weekend to be in Washington DC. A balmy Autumn day,  welcoming Halloween and Elections with a free Comedy Show on the Mall to restore sanity or fear.

Perhaps more than anything else, it restored a sense of humor, given the signs that proliferated. And maybe that is what the nation is lacking most, not jobs or faith, but the right to laugh at ourselves and not be so serious or so damn precious.  Maybe that should be added to the Bill of Rights.

Here are 50  of the people’s  signs that might make you smile, and give you a sense of the amazing day we all had.

  • If your Beliefs fit on a sign, think harder
  • I already regret carrying a sign around all day
  • My arms are tired
  • Hyperbole is the greatest threat of all time
  • Jesus says Relax
  • Can’t we all just get a bong
  • I am acting suspicious,
  • I’m mad as hell but in a passive aggressive way
  • I want a sandwich
  • What do we want, moderation, when do we want it, in a reasonable time frame
  • Since when did my ability to spell make me a socialist
  • If you are not with us, we may still have things in common, do you like toast?
  • I support the sign I am holding
  • It’s a sad day when the politicians are comical and I have to take our comedians seriously
  • Homophobia is so gay
  • Give death panels a chance,
  • Down with Zippers
  • Socialists have feelings too,
  • Moderation or Death or…. Cake?
  • On the whole I am rather gruntled
  • Elect Aunt Kathy, she’s very reasonable
  • Too much pluribus, not enough Unum
  • I am you, Wait, who are you?
  • There is nothing to fear but fear, and spiders
  • I don’t have a  dream so much as a mild preference
  • Mispelers untie
  • What do we want, patience, when do we want it, now
  • We’re mad as hell and we are not going to take anymore than is reasonably tolerable
  • Support our Soups
  • This statement is false
  • When making a sign, be sure to leave enough sp
  • Wisconsin is a myth
  • Anyone for scrabble later
  • We should do this more often
  • Plate Tectonics is only a theory
  • So many gray areas, so little gray matter
  • Jews control the synogogues
  • If your erection or your anger lasts more than 4 hours, seek medical attention
  • Modrats mispell to
  • God hates nags
  • Stark raving reasonable
  • Don’t believe everything you think
  • Eschew Obfuscation
  • Ruly mob
  • Down with tautologies
  • My wife is Muslim and is not a terrorist, but I am still afraid of her
  • God Hates Signs
  • The Sky is Falling
  • (Picture of Hitler) Nazi  (Picture of Stalin) Communist (Picture of Obama) Hawaiian
  • I am not afraid of Muslims, Christians,  Jews, Socialists, Liberals, Conservatives, Tea Parties, Gun Owners, Gays, but I am afraid of snakes

As one of the signs, said, we should do this more often.

Nov 4 Election Results as Obama’s Hermeneutical challenge

What do they mean, these election results?

The GOP took back the House-Clearly, the voters were rejecting outright the Obama agenda. Oh yeah?

The Democrats held on to the Senate-Clearly, the voters were repudiating the Tea Party agenda.  What?

The recent elections in the UK and Australia left both electorates in the quandary of a hung Parliament-and as one commentator said, the voters have spoken, we just still don’t know what they said. It took a while to shake down.

In the UK, it finally meant a coalition between the Conservatives and Progressives, and a bold program of reform and budget cuts. In Australia, the Labor Government barely hung on with three Independents, and has taken the warning, now seriously treading water.

Here in the USA, the mid-terms are a bit of an anomaly, asking people to go back and redo what they thought they did only 2 years before. No wonder so many don’t vote. Too much already.  Giving people every two years to change their mind is like asking your kids every five minutes are they having  fun yet. You learn not to ask.

The anti-Obama crowd were at pains to tell us that this was a referendum on the President.  If so, it’s one he can’t lose since his name was not on the ballot. Funny that.  To make an election about someone we are NOT voting for, rather than about those we are.  Must be magical.

If you thought that was a little bizarre, think of the voters in Denver who voted down Prop 300 which wanted to set up a City Commission to study extra-terrestials.  Even ET (Phone home) didn’t vote for it, and it failed, despite a huge anonymous donation that some suspected came from the Martian Chamber of Commerce.

Kathleen Parker’s Washington Post Op Ed today, (page positioned right of center of page A19) boldly  opines, “Narrative schmarrative,” the results happened not because Obama was a bad communicator but a lousy listener.  That’s something you’d expect Michelle to be saying, not a pundit.

George Will (on the far right of A19)  says, the results show the nation recoiling against liberalism, a repudiation of progressivism. OK George.

On the far left of page A19, David Broder weighs in: Obama needs to go back to Plan A of a broad bi-partisan outreach, since he has now thrown off the shackles of Pelosi and Reid.

Obama held a press conference to get ahead of the bad news to call it a “shellacking” which is a great word if nothing else. The results, he said, show his programs are not working fast enough.  It was the pace of progress, not the programs, and people’s lack of patience.

So there you have it, folks.  We get to choose our meanings. It reminds me of a story of a friend who went to the doctors with a sniffle only to be told, you either have a bad flu or leukemia-take your pick.  I’ll take the flu please.

The election results are the results. Bad news? Good News? No News that is new? Or perhaps the people have had a chance to refocus, to revisit some of the choices of 2008, to send their State and Congress Reps a message of sorts, which was- some of you are doing a good enough job, some of you are fired.  Simple as that.

Of course, a hermeneutic of suspicion says, nothing is simple, there is always bad news and bad intent, all you have to do is look hard enough to find a conspiracy. But  Occam’s razor says, the simpler and more elegantly economic the explanation is, the better our minds work.

Applied to the Mid Terms, it boils down to the people voting. Some candidates won. Some Lost.  And the President is still in the White House. And we may have earned 6 months grace before the 2012 campaign becomes the media obsession. Here’s hoping.

Meanwhile, we have to work out what our own lives mean, what our wife means when she says you are ‘too tough on the kids’, or what your teenager means when he says, ‘ Don’t be too cool, Dad.”

If Obama revives his hermeneutic of hope, he will know he”s got two more years to rescue the economy, and reconnect his hope to the nation’s hurting heartland.  But he knew that long before Tuesday.  It’s called leadership, a quality that wins in the end, but in the middle passage, doesn’t complain or explain,  because when did any of us not have to risk being wrong in order to end up right?

Feb 7 Rumsfeld and our Morally Hazardous World

“Known and Unknown” is the title of the long awaited Donald  Rumsfeld book coming to a book shop near you.  At 815 pages, it seems like no one goes unmentioned, no story  untold. President Bush’s book only went to 512 pages, and Condoleeza Rice’s 352 pages. It still lags behind President Clinton’s 1024 pages, but he was President, after all.  To be fair,  Rumsfeld has quite the career to chronicle, going back to Nixon and Ford. But the reviews are all saying the same thing-Rummy is settling scores big time, and no one escapes.

Maureen Down writes in the New York Times that Rummy blames General Tommy Franks for not nailing Osama in Tora Bora,  The Geneva Convention  for the torture fiasco,  Condoleeza Rice for meddling, The National Security Council for being inept, Jerry Bremer for the post-war mess, and even President Bush for not refereeing the internal squabbles.   Dana Milbank writes in the Washington Post that Rummy’s tome joins the growing library of “Everyone Else is to Blame but Me” genre  pioneered by other members of the Bush-Cheney Gang, aka Tenet, Bremer, McClellan, Rove, etc etc.

Here is what confuses me and let me state it as a simple syllogism.

  1. If things went from good to  bad on your watch, and
  2. you were in charge of keeping things good but they went bad, then,
  3. aren’t you to blame???? at least even in part
  4. presuming that you really had that power.

Things in the economy right now and on the war font in Iraq/Afghanistan have somehow gone horribly wrong, not achieved what we set out to achieve, even made things worse. And the economy and the military are under the control of leaders who have real power to act to change things. They used that power to make these  decisions.  It didn’t just happen by accident, as if one day Rumsfeld woke up to find stray marines invading Baghdad of all places,  or Bernanke woke to discover  Wall Street collapsing for no reason.

The Fed were in charge of the economy. They determined that it did not need to regulate mortgages, nor banks trading as investment brokers.  The Pentagon were in charge of the military. They determined not to send more troops to invade Iraq. They determined they didn’t need a plan  after the battle was won.  People in charge took charge, as we expect them to. They  made the calls. You win some and you lose some, but that’s life. You live and learn. Even the infallible Pope has to fess up to being human sometimes. Declaring a failure is crucial to future success.

But no, we don’t live and learn anymore. We live to blame.  Our own innocence must be protected at all costs.

To read any of these post-Bush era biographies is to be asked to believe that a team of saints somehow conspired to create an economic and military hell. Looking back, they still don’t know how it happened. Must have been the other guys.  How could so many smart people suddenly  become so clueless?

Their stories makes leadership into a nonsense.  Leaders take responsibility. That’s their job.  Perhaps that is what we are learning now-these were not leaders at all because they lacked the courage to face the consequences of their choices, then and now.  Then a better title of Rumsfeld’s book might  be “Hey, Shit Happens. Alright? Don’t blame me and Get over it.” But this “no fault” insanity is stalking the land.

Even now, the new Congress is redoubling its efforts to cut through all the regulations that they say ” kill jobs.”  No one wants to admit that it was the criminally irresponsible  lapses in regulation that killed countless jobs, killed Lehman Brothers, almost killed Wall Street and the Auto Industry, almost killed New Orleans, killed  the Gulf of Mexico, polluted the air, and allows guns to be bought by crazies who kill, etc etc No rules, no mistakes.

If no one has to admit to any wrongdoing, and no one is charged or fired or forced to resign, and the banks and bankers who actually gambled the economy within an inch of total collapse get rewarded with Cabinet posts and bonuses,  (see the Documentary  Inside Job) then we all now live in a morally hazardous world.  Every malefactor wearing a suit and not named Madoff gets rewarded, and vice has become the new virtue.

That is surely the way to make us all crazy and reduce public leadership to a farce.   But then, I may be the one at fault, and I at least am willing to admit it. Pity I feel so alone in saying that. Maybe its all your fault!

Feb 11 Being a little too certain about Maybe!

Why does the Washington Post sound so certain about “maybe?”

This week, it gave us a  story with the blaring  headline “Terrorist threat may be at new high.” (February 10 2011 A-6)  By the same logic, it may not be at a new high, so take a guess.

This essay may be something worth reading, or it may not, but once I use the word “MAY”, I am simply opening the portals of possibility, not much more.

It may rain tomorrow, but then again, it may not. So what? It  hardly rises to the level of significance, unless my wedding is tomorrow and its in the back yard. But even then, I will want to look at the weather reports, not rely on hearsay.

In the same Post edition this week, we read  “Pakistan may be building 4th plutonium reactor, nuclear experts say.” (A-8)   OK, this is at least quoting someone else’s guess. But the opening paragraph goes on…

” Pakistan has begun work on what independent experts say appears to be a fourth …reactor …a move that could signal a further escalation in Pakistan’s arms race with …India.”

When something ‘may be’ and ‘appears to be’ and ‘could be’, how on earth does that constitute news? Speculation, conjecture, hypothesizing, all have their place, but surely in the Opinion pages, not  in a Hard News Section called “THE WORLD.”

To get a sense of how irresponsible such faux journalism is,  lets unpack the narrative logic.  Someone sees someone do something, and the experts-”independent experts” mind you, ( are there dependent experts?)   say that this could appear to be something else that could then mean something else.  We are building solid conclusions on pure speculation, which is based on a suggestion. Lets test that out.

Say someone said they saw you at the pub, and independent experts said that could indicate you have a drinking problem, which would then suggest that you are having marital problems.  But you could be running a Quiz night to raise funds for the local Boy Scouts Club. If when asked, you decline to comment, you will be adding to the intrigue, because now you are hiding something, which is of course what all good  alcoholics do!

When the topic is nuclear weapons and terrorism, we are all narratively vulnerable (Chapter 13, The Presidential Plot) the implication being DANGER, BE CAREFUL, but it’s as legitimate in this form as your Mother telling you not to talk to strangers who have red beards because they could be bad guys and they could kidnap you and hold you for ransom and demand 5 million dollars.  The story runs away with itself.  You are scared because you are already at the dreadful end of the story, when in fact, there is hardly a basis for a beginning, save for some vague hint of concern.

Beware of any headline or news story that uses the subjunctive, “may, might, could, appears to be, suggests that,”  as in “New pill may cure cancer” or “Peace Talks might take a while” or “Palin may run for President.”  We are getting the certainty of a maybe,  a story that is not a story at all, but a piece of eye candy, a phantasm because translated, it simply means, “Something is possible.”  And any item that throws in “independent  experts”  together with the principals  “decline to comment”  you know this is probably an  overworked, under-resourced  journalist with a deadline to meet.

One could suspect one reason these “maybe’s”  get paraded as news is that someone is trying to scare us into action. but that is pure speculation, not news.  Life is scary enough from real threats and challenges, without loading  us down with such speculative nonsense. Journalists used to be taught-Back it up, ground it in some evidence, name the so called experts, show us the thinking behind the thinking and be clear, opinions are not facts.  Just because someone guesses at something-no matter how drastic, doesn’t mean it rises to the level of  Page A-6 news. Or  even better,  create a special section called Speculations and Hunches  and put it all there.

One hopes The Washington Post will realize how often it makes certainties of its maybes, but it may not too. But  as I say, that is pure conjecture not worthy of a  headline, even if I am an independent expert, and even if I say so myself.

Feb 21 We have to become the new Magellans for a New World

As we  scan recent headlines, I am sure many of us are getting that feeling that the world is moving way too fast, that we aren’t sure what is happening anymore. Where are we now? How do we fit into this picture emerging from a worldwide communications revolution?

If we feel lost,  maybe it is because our world has grown too big and our stories have grown too small.  We think of race and nation,  economy and culture, faith and place  as singularities, all  existing within clearly differentiated narratives, but somehow, the world has made scrambled eggs of all our distinct identities.  Everything seems connected to everything, everybody is connected to everyone else, and any one can potentially play a part in any one elses’  story.  The world is being desegregated.  How can this be, and how did it come about?

Facebook began in 2004 with a few thousand Harvard students. For the first few years, it grew slowly. Then in 2007, something happened and it rapidly reached a critical mass of 50 million. That was amazing then, but in the last three years,  it has  multiplied by twelve to over 600 million, and there are only 750+ million on the Internet.  That means a personally connected world like we have never experienced before. Add Twitter and Google, LinkedIn and Cloud computing, and whatever the next big thing is, and we are in uncharted territory.  We have no precedent for this, no story to tell us what it is all going to mean.

It’s time to stop thinking we can just keep doing what we have always done, relying on the old maps of a familiar world that once worked in 2005 but  no longer  accurately reflect the context of our lives or the future of our businesses. We are in a new world. We sorely need to find new stories and new maps, and most of all, new leaders because we are living in a new age of discovery.

When explorers exploded the known world beyond the confines of a familiar Europe and the Mediterranean,  the Magellans of the world were the ones leading the way. What we need to become now are new Magellans, to revive our spirit of exploration and discovery, to  reclaim a new story of adventure. What is going to help us more than ever is embracing our ignorance over our expertise, because what is out there is marked terra incognita. This is not just about Twitter Revolutions in far away places, this is about how we in America have reached a “hinge of history” moment.  It’s more than our politics or our economy.  It’s more than finding a new Sputnik moment or reviving our competitive edge. They are the old story still. We have as much to unlearn as to learn, and to learn above all, that new leaders can no longer lead with old maps and old  stories. Lincoln knew as much when he said in 1862

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.

We need to remap the world in  order to understand why some of our most cherished stories no longer make sense, the stories about being super competitive to be successful, the privileging stories about faith and patriotism and national identity, the comforting illusions about  infinite energy and  unchangeable climate.  Aldous Huxley once wrote a book called, “Brave New World” and that’s an apt title for what we are witnessing.

Our brave new world needs new maps and new stories and above all, it calls for new leaders who are adventurers and explorers. Are you  the new Magellan? If you are, come join this ship we are building at The Republic of Stories and hang on for the ride of your life.  There is much work to do.

word map of Brave_New_World

Sep 29 Time for New Voices, New Stories of Peace


There is a time for old voices and old stories, and
There is a time for new voices and new stories.
NPR 2010 n13100820-36758

There is a time for the past and all its glories, and
There is a time for the future and all its dreams.

There is a time for fighting and holding true to the tradition, and
There is a time for peace, for betraying all that stands in the way of what could be.

There is a time for being right, for being true, and
There is a time when being right is to be irrelevant, and
When being true is to be a liar.

There is a time, and
then, and
there is no more “time”

And then, and
There is no more “there is.”

The solitary “a” that remains
accuses us, as if to say
Too late,
Too little, and
Too bad.

Ariel  Phoenix  1943 Dresden

22 What is the story of the story-That is the question!


Image result for that is the question

It always helps to have a good question.

Hamlet’s “to be or not to be”  is a pretty good question. It opens up not only his dilemma but ours too, as to the fundamental why of our existence. The Special Prosecutor’s ” How much did he know and when did he know it?” was the question that helped unlock Watergate and implicate President Nixon.  And “Truth? What is Truth? is the one Jesus gets asked, and one we still struggle to answer.

A good question is a wonderful tool in focusing our attention, as much as it is a means to get a right answer. It tells us to pay attention here, notice that, or it warns us where not to get sidetracked or hoodwinked. Stay with the question, we tell ourselves, even when the answer we get is a total disconnect.

When it comes to narrative analysis, the incisive question that opens it all up is not  the obvious”What is the story?” but “What is the story of the story?” It is a question that gives us narrative room to step back from the immediacy of the story experience and to declare some space, invite some light. It declares a moratorium in the in-between of what was offered for consumption and how it was cooked. Or to shift metaphors, it makes us get curious as to where and how this story has moved  to get from where it was first witnessed or assembled or imagined,  to where we are hearing or reading it. What is the story of that in-between? Or Who moved my story-not my cheese?

We normally think of a story as a noun, as a thing, a piece of content, but when we think of it as a dynamic system of meaning-making, we open up a richer description of the process. It turns “story” into a verb.  How are they storying this? Not ‘What is the story of Obama’s UN visit?’ but ‘Why are they storying the visit this way?’ Not “What is the story of Obama and race?” but ‘How does race get storied into these issues? ‘ What is the story of the story? Once story becomes a verb, it becomes a much more powerful tool for analysis.

What are we on about here? Another great question. In other words, what is the story of our story? (Get used to asking that question.)

We  want to create a way by which we as citizens can more consciously give consent to the stories we allow to shape our public conversations and seep into our private lives.  And we seek to empower citizens  to more consciously refuse to give some BIG stories any power if they feel they are distorting our sense of what is important .

The stories in the public forum set an agenda of issues that we are supposed to care about, and sometimes too easily drown out the personal and local stories which are just as important to us. With the demise of the local radio and the local newspaper, media empires now dominate the local scene, and they manufacture and  distribute their stories like General Motors sells cars. We as a nation are in danger of being homogenized and pasteurized into talking always about the same thing, only taking our cues from this story industrial complex (SIC) that is selling their story, rather than telling ours. They can all appear in their ads to reassure us,”We are on your side,” but we know that’s hokum. Our purpose is to wise up, to wake up, and for us all to become storywise.

The anti-war movement used to have a great saying-What if the government declared war but no one came.  Well, what if the media or the government told us their BIG huge story-about Afghanistan or about Terrorism, or about Health Reform, or about financial regulation, and we didn’t listen, because  that wasn’t our story at all. When you are out of work, or when your kids are struggling at school, or when your mother is ill, these are your stories because this is your life. Another surge in Afghanistan? That can wait.

And if we did get a chance to tell our story, our story might remind people that Hamlet’s question sometimes jumps out of the scene in a play and into our lives in a way that the media or our politicians never seem to grasp.