The spontaneous Performance of a Beatles Hit on a NYC Subway one Sunday

Image result for Help Me“Help!” he cried out, with full throated appeal.”Help Me!” “Help Me! I need somebody!” “Please.” I am homeless and starving and all I need is some money to get something to eat.”

Then, he ramped it up even further, with a piercing scream that translated into a  full helpless man cry,”P L E A S E…. HELP me.” It felt so pathetic, a grown man crying so hard in public. For me,  a little over done. “Completely over the top,” my son said.

Ahmed and I turned away, not sure what to do. The subway experience is an adventure in itself, of trying to pretend you have private space when the crowds jostle and sway, elbow to chest in a human ballet, like seaweed caught in a current. To have someone invade that space and break the illusion that we were not alone but a pressing fleshing crowd of humanity en route to somewhere else was infringing on our private fantasy.

One lady across from us was touched enough to reach in her purse and give him a dollar. He said little and moved on, trying to get more customers. But the performance of HELP was too overwhelming for most of us to feel moved to respond. The man shuffled to the end of the carriage and before moving on to new targets, decided to take one last look, to assess our performance. He sensed we deserved this because, in our silence, we had assuredly assessed his.

“Good God People- What are you? What are you? You have no humanity- None of you. You know what you are? You are all garbage!  Garbage. ” Then, to make sure we understood the respect he was paying us, he screamed a final obscenity,” Here’s what you can all do. Suck my d..k.” Image result for Help the beatles

Everyone looked stunned, as if Jeckyl had turned to Hyde. The lady, the generous one said,”I want my dollar back!” But he was gone.

His performance of “Help”  over, and the evaluation delivered in  even more memorable style than his demonstrative begging, Ahmed and I could not contain our amazement.  We had failed him- yes, and that felt unnerving. But were we Garbage? Had we lost our humanity? Perhaps.

Perhaps he had failed us. Begging on the NYC Subway is an art too. it has a protocol that says- Don’t embarrass people into an unwilling generosity. And most of all, don’t leave in rage, which only lets us all off the hook for our hardened hearts. If you start  your act with pathos, end with pathos, not with threats and extreme expressions of contempt.

For the rest of the day, we recounted the scene, as we always do because New York unfailingly gives us stories.  One day, we said Ahmed might use this scene in a movie, or in a novel. It captured the alchemy of how, when you fail to induce generosity by guilt, you lapse to blaming and shaming.

Perhaps it also said something about the Victim story. Did we fail if we refused to accept his alibi of  someone being so utterly helpless. Does one have to accept another’s self diminishment as the price of being able to help them?

Or  did we misread it all? This was NYC after all, where the subway is a mobile theater space. What if this was performance art, and this was the Beatles hit, in another form. He could have been a student from the Acting Studio. He had the lyrics almost down.

Help, I need somebody,
Help, not just anybody,
Help, you know I need someone,

He did have long hair and he had a tenor voice. And the new Beatles movie has everyone talking. Next time, he might try “A Hard Day’s night” or even “All you need is love.” I would give him a dollar for that, for sure and not want it back. Perhaps I should have known better.

Image result for All you need is love


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From 9-11 to 11-9- How did we get here? A new York journey

Image result for 9-11NO MORE NATION BUILDING!
I have a distinct memory of the 2000 Bush-Gore debates when future President George Bush made it clear that there was no room for “nation building” in any future republican foreign policy. The USA would be much more humble, much less adventurous. His Presidency would be one of compassionate conservatism.

9-11 happened and the world turned upside down. Bush’s two terms were consumed with nation building on a grand scale, in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Experts predict that the final costs could blow out to 6 trillion. Billions went into rebuilding Baghdad and securing Kabul,  but Detroit and Buffalo and Baltimore and Flint, and the inner Cities of Brooklyn and Chicago and LA, iconic American cities, war zones in their own way,  were left to languish.

Image result for on the roof of KatrinaNEW ORLEANS
Katrina put an end to the belief that the Government cared for the plight of the ordinary citizen. Images of desperate families stranded on New Orleans rooftops, begging to be rescued were seared into the American psyche. Compassionate Conservatism? Citizens got the message loud and clear, that their Government did not care, or only cared from 500 feet, as the President on Air Force One hovered over the Lower 9th Ward on the way back from a Fund raiser in California.

Image result for 2008 financial crisisMELTDOWN
The Bush administration started with a crisis, and as if history wanted a Palladio symmetry, that was the way it ended with  the 2008 meltdown of Wall Street.  Many ordinary citizens who had used their houses as cash cows went broke, and the banks were on the brink. What did the Government do? It bailed out the banks, too big to fail.  Ordinary folks were too little to save, and felt left behind once again. Bush left office with the lowest ratings in modern times.

Image result for yes we canYES WE CAN
By the time Obama ran for office, the nation was tired of wars and scared of another depression. He offered “Yes We Can- Change.” The country started over, and the Obama administration  promised to clean up the mess. The myth was that the ordinary voter had funded Obama, not special interests. But a quick look at the list of Silicon Valley’s donors would disabuse one of that myth.  Obama’s government began with the best intentions, but created nothing radically different to the usual Washington game of insider trading. He appointed lobbyists to run his departments as readily as the Republicans had.

What changed? What was different? How was Brooklyn and Baltimore transformed? How was LA and Detroit and the Rust Belt? How was Chicago, where the President  claimed his home and his future library?  What difference did it make having a black president, when police violence and urban terror reappeared on the streets? When Chicago registered the highest number of homicides ever, what did the President do? As local  East New York councilor Charles Barron said on the eve of the elections, President Obama made no difference to their lives at all. Except that things had got worse.

Clinton wrapping herself in the mantle of Obama success was supposed to be the ticket to a winning a third term for Democrats. What kind of decision was that? Where were  the Clintons these last 15 years? What parallel universe did they inhabit?

Image result for trump wins11-9
3am November 9th, NYC, Trump declares victory, and  11-9 happens.  The liberals are still in shock. It feels like a 9-11 redux. But even the Republicans can’t believe their luck. No one seems sure exactly what happened. Yet when you trace the journey from WTC Downtown to Mid Town, from those  Towers that  fell through terror, to the Gold Tower Trump  built in triumph, you see how far we have traveled- not so far it seems,  the space of about 50 NYC blocks.

People did not distrust Hillary so much as come to distrust government. Period. It has taken us 15 years to get here but this is where we have ended up. As Ronald Reagan once joked, the most frightening words anyone can hear are ” We are here from the Government and we are here to help.”


Image result for trump towerIt makes perfect sense in this telling for America to hand over the reins to someone who is a rank outsider, someone who has proven he can get things done. So what that he might not have been the most virtuous businessman? So what that he lied and was a bit short on the resume for this role?  At least he did not try to hide it. He let it all hang out, bankruptcies and marriage affairs and even defied releasing  his tax returns. What did the American citizen have to lose?

Image result for the art of the dealFROM TERROR TO TRUMP
Perhaps America will tell the history this way, how we came from 9-11 to 11-9, how we came from crashing Towers to the king of building Towers, from Terror to Trump,  How, out of frustration or desperation,  we handed the nation over to someone who knows something about how to build cities, and make deals. Perhaps Bush was half right, that we are not meant to be nation building- meaning building nations abroad, if we cannot rebuild our own at home.

Put your hard hats on, roll up your sleeves. Perhaps we are  about to build a nation again. A lot of people remain unconvinced but here’s hoping.

Posted in Contemporary Stories, Election, Ethics, Narrative Method, stories, Storywise | Leave a comment


When combatants decide to share a personal story, one that comes out of the authority of their own experience, not paroTting some tribal or religious orthodoxy, they begin to dismantle the wall of separation. They turn a wall into a window.

Brick by brick, story by story, light comes through. Underneath all the disagreements and bitterness, a shared human story gradually emerges. Because the stories of war and propaganda work by stripping the “other” of their humanity, sharing a story from the heart becomes a profound act of resistance.

NSL creates a Listening culture where stories are treated as gifts, and where through a narrative way, people can reclaim the capacity that war has stolen from them, the power to give people their humanity back.

To hear these stories, go to our Story Wall and make it into a window.

Posted in Middle East, narrative ethics, Narrative Method, Stories of Violence and War, Storywise | Leave a comment

TIME FOR US ALL TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY – Speech by NSL 2016 Fellow Anna Garber

Image result for i will take responsibilityA few days ago, all of us got the incredible opportunity to speak to members of Congress and their staff. To be honest, I am still shocked that I had the chance to talk to these talented and important people. This was an amazing opportunity for me to hear more about what you, the American people, think of the Israeli Palestinian Conflict. I heard that you want it to be resolved, although you live miles away. I heard you say again and again, you want us to find a solution, but not to impose it on us. I heard you say, that you want us to choose our own path.

The only thing that was missing in your inspiring statements was the recognition of the inequality in this conflict. Once again, I belong to the more powerful side, and once again, I can feel the pain of the other because in a different circumstance, I could have been the one who would feel the injustice on her skin.

I am here tonight to take responsibility – but also to invite you to take responsibility with me. It seems to me that you have not forgotten the role of the American nation – being so powerful and influential. Your power entails the ability, and the responsibility to aid in shifting and shaping ideas and policies around the globe.

Tonight, I need your help. I need you to be the voice that recognizes the great injustice that has been happening for many years, and that you have the ability to contribute, as one of the most powerful nations on earth and in history, to make the necessary changes in the reality of two suffering peoples. ”

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BREATHE EASY GAZA- Speech from NSL 2016 Fellow Karam Swidam

I found that In Gaza Strip, about 20 % of children’s deaths are due to lung diseases (asthma) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The causes of these diseases are majorly congenital. Treatment for these diseases here in the USA is simple and not expensive. You can get inhalers at a pharmacy for a few dollars. But not in Gaza. It is too expensive, They are virtually not affordable and/or inaccessible for the average Gazan family. If a patient with such lung diseases does not get the right and needed treatment, it might be a serious cause of death.

If you know anything about Gaza, you know about the wars and the siege. You can imagine the challenges we face but tonight,  what I want you to know about is about these children. I am determined to do something not because it is hard but the opposite, because it is so simple. 25 dollars can save a life. I am working at John Snow International and they have promised to help me but I need your help too.

I am dedicated to make this project happen. At the end of my Project For Change- PFC, we will be able to save 50 children with chronic lung disease, help them get better and live a healthier life. Imagine that 5o kids who will play football, swim on Gaza Beach, and whose mothers will be able to sleep at night and not lay awake fearing that they will hear their child struggling for breath.

That child and that little baby sum up the resilience of my people, that as hard as it is, we will never give up our struggle to breathe the air of freedom that every human being is born to, and heir to. Breathe Easy Gaza is for the kids, but its larger message is clear. We have a right to life too, and the world must hear us, just as you have heard me. And for this, I thank you.”

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THE RIGHTS OF CHILDREN- speech by NSL 2016 Fellow Halah Atterah

….”You can hardly imagine the physiological and mental consequences the children suffer during and after the detention. What does it do to Palestinian families, friends and communities. The effect of these misguided Israel policies ripple down through four generations and are the guarantee that there can never be a better future. These kids will carry In their hearts and soul fear, sorrow and more than that, they grow into angry young men and women fueled with the desire to restore their dignity by any means necessary. As the saying goes, if you sin against children, you destroy hope and create a kingdom of despair.

NSL gives us all a chance to share our passion for what we want to see change in the world, But it also expects us to act on it, to become the change that we want to see in the world, as Gandhi said. For me, the rights of children are so fundamental, that any other discussion about occupation, or checkpoints, or freedom of movement are all part of the one cloth. If you treat children like this, where will it end?

For a people who have suffered so much, who have seen successive Jewish generations wiped out, I want to ask the hard questions:

How can you sleep when a child is crying?
How can you sleep when a child is dying?
How can you sleep if a child who is born to be free is strip searched, humiliated, and intimidated?
How can we doom our children to be the victims of a military that acts out of fear, and yet tells us it is the most ethical in the world?

I don’t want anyone else to live through what my Dad had to endure, the loss of a son, and for no reason. I want you to join us in this campaign to save the children, to free the children, to rescue the children,from treatment that steals their innocence.
If the plight of these children does not move us, Israelis, Palestinians, Americans, all men and women of conscience, then I have to ask where is our humanity gone? We must speak truth to power, we must speak for those who have no voice, and if we fail them, we fail the final test of our lives, which is to ensure that those who come after us bless us for the future we helped create, not curse us. ”

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If the Church or Party or Club you believe in does not believe in you, why are you a member?

If the faith or ideology or sect you subscribe to does not really have any faith in you, why stay affiliated?

When we give meaning to something, we give it power. Sometimes it gives meaning back to us and makes us powerful in return. “We the people” endows our government with power, so it can protect our power to be citizens. We believe in a God that -we believe- made us in her image, She believes in us like we believe in her. We are little less than gods. That works. Power is created by being shared.

We vote for a workers party that will go out and vote for and advocate for us, raise the minimum wage, cut the taxes. Let Workers of the world unite. Give power to the Labor movement that will make us powerful. That works.

But Sometimes it does not.

We end up giving our power away by giving meaning to something that does not give meaning back- Women join a church that does not allow them equal rights. Gays join a community that thinks they are sick. Workers vote for a party that connects to their anger but will do nothing to further their cause, raise wages, create jobs, offer maternity leave.  Rage is not a tactic.

The transaction between meaning and power is interdependent. If I give something meaning, that means it gives meaning back to me, meaning from which I can draw purpose or direction or inspiration. If I give meaning or significance to that which demeans, belittles, lies or humiliates me, then I am giving my power away. I am handing my fate into the hands of someone who will use me.

I can take my power back when I decide to make meaning for myself, and not have someone else use cliches and horror headlines that pretend to speak for me, but only incite without insight.

Posted in Discernment, Ethics, narrative ethics, Narrative Method | Leave a comment


Image result for wars and storiesNSL Alums at American University- THEY STARTED A WAR !!!!

We set the class an activity which was to spontaneously enact a war, in the land of Blumfenstan- between North and South, and when Channel 2 reporter Daniel asked them why, they said it was because the North had nuclear weapons and the South said, they did not, that they were only defending themselves and resisting the South stealing their oil.

The State Department condemned the violence and said please play nice, and the UN team quoted proposition 237A from the Security Council that ruled against any nation whose name ended in -stan.

The exercise demonstrated that:

Stories Cause Wars and
Wars Cause Stories that then
Cause more Wars
that cause more Stories
that cause more Wars.
There is a cycle.


Stories Cause Peace and
Peace causes Stories that then
Cause more Peace
that cause more Stories
that Cause more Peace
There is a cycle.

NSL is about seeking to interrupt the first cycle and begin to create the second cycle. Having NSL Alums, Karam from Gaza and former Israeli soldier Daniel stand together and respect each others stories, and not hear blame or provocation is an example of the second cycle. I think the class got it.

Thank you Professor Dan Whitman, you are a legend.

Posted in Ethics, Middle East, The Middle East | Leave a comment


Image result for FEELINGS TURN INTO FACTSWhen the feelings are so strong and the facts are so thin, we tend to fill in the gaps to fit the feelings, not the facts. Fast brain recruits slow brain to get lazy -referencing Daniel Kahneman.

Using leaps of the imagination to fit a story logic..”.I feel so threatened, so you must be threatening me. ” ” I feel so paranoid, so people must hate me.” We fill in the gaps with feelings.

The feelings move in a milli mico second while reason is that delayed train that is always late to arrive so we are always looking for an alibi after the crime.

These reflections??? They arise after mediating…trying to..noise complaints in our condo community. The noise was the evidence… they said… of deep hatred!!!!But the parties know nothing about each other save she is African American and older and she is Latina and young. Two lovely people.

How inventive our brains are…long on feelings. short on facts, We recruit our imaginations to make us look good even when we know we are being bad or not as pure as our stories make us out to be. The first sign of guilt, as any cop knows, is the claim to be immaculately innocent. ” Me? With a gun? I thought it was a pencil. I wasn’t pointing at you officer I was drawing. That’s why they call me a quick draw.!!!!

Posted in Contemporary Stories, narrative, narrative ethics | Leave a comment


Just had an amazing board meeting tonight, I am treasurer so fact check me if I say that the photo below shows you the level of excitement board meetings usually ignite among members. Its all talk, nothing moves because nothing matters or because everything matters.

Except that tonight, we tamed the usual time theft and kept the tangent tourists from jumping on every band wagon. It was amazing- what usually takes a torturous 90 minutes was over in less than 30. Here is the trick and maybe others learned it before, and can share more: Why did I not think of this before, because its a BME model.

Reverse the time pyramid, don’t discuss and then decide, NO Decide and Discuss later.

1- BEGINNING Decide all that needs to be Decided, first up, Use Prime Time for your Prime Decision Energy. Only then

2- MIDDLE Move to what is Maturing to Decision and still needs Due Consideration. Determine at the end of 2, the time scale for when it will appear in 1 or if it is relegated back to 3- that way you make a plan for future meetings. You can track how a decision matures, goes from cold to hot or back to cold. from 3 to 2 to 1. You are plotting a story that moves.

3-, ENDING Only then move to Discussion, ( its the last not the first) where you can go off like a cracker, let off steam, provide therapy, tell jokes, say how bad the Board is, etc if you have time, the business is done. At the end of 3, assess whether any of it needs to be elevated to 2 or to 1 for the next meeting or if it was mostly froth that will blow away.

4- EPILOGUE Summarize the dynamic of the meeting, what moved, as in what from 3 might need to go to 2 and what in 2 might need to go into 1 and what did we decide in 1 and if any decision made formerly in 1 needs more 3 next time Discussion or more 2 due consideration- ( in case the decision is not working out or needs more information.)

The steps are:

1-Decide what needs deciding and decide on it…Part One
2-Consider what needs due consideration and consider it duly…Part Two
3-Discuss what needs discussion and discuss …part Three
4-Track what moved in the meeting.between 1 and 2 and 3 and plot the next meeting.

This creates a PLOT, and means Boards are not just Characters who are Audiences to their own Verbiage, it keep issues moving between levels and between meetings, so one can track progress, and you get a much more orderly, effective and efficient meeting.

Try it anyone…. and let me know how it goes. Maybe we just fluked it!

Posted in Contemporary Stories, Resilience, Training | Leave a comment