Welcome

When I dream alone, it is just a dream. When we dream together, it is the beginning of reality.” –Brazilian proverb

We are all muses. Through our intentions and interactions, we have the power to inspire personal and political change.

The purpose of The Activist’s Muse is to:

  • Encapsulate the various ideas that have infiltrated my heart and my mind
  • Explore my ideas through writing and share them with the progressive community
  • Examine my personal experience through a social and political lens
  • Enhance critical thought with curiosity, creativity, and compassion
  • Expand our individual and collective understanding of progressive ideas
  • Connect progressives around the world to provoke conversations and promote community

This blog is my playground and laboratory. Everything that I write is intended to be the beginning of a conversation, not an ending. I invite you to play and to explore with me.

Every sentence I utter must be understood not as an affirmation, but as a question.” — Niels Bohr

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How will we heal?

Silence is not necessarily complicity. An important part of demonstrating my commitment to an equitable society includes resisting the temptation to control the narrative, to fill up space with my ideas when there are so many voices to be heard. Silence also creates space for reflection to ground our actions.

Yet, silence that is based on avoidance or lack of conviction speaks volumes. During challenging times, we have an opportunity to demonstrate care for others and our communities by offering hope, direction, comfort, and inspiration. We can use our voice and whatever formal or informal influence we have to contribute to positive change.

But whatever we say, it needs to be linked to meaningful, sustained action.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve asked myself questions like how could so many people not be aware or not care enough to get involved – in whatever way is meaningful to them – before now? How can companies conscionably use their platform to pander with trite sentiment when we all know their motives are questionable? Maybe you have had similar thoughts. These questions reveal my rage linked to systemic injustice and serve as a distraction from the most pressing questions. Which are:

How is it possible for four people to commit such abominable violence in front of a crowd of people and walk away perhaps thinking that they did nothing wrong, or that they did the right thing or what was expected of them; and why is it possible for police to remain accountable only to certain people?

And, secondly, how do we make sure this never, ever happens again?

I have a lot of possible answers to both of these questions, and I’m sure you do too. I believe there are many right answers. My head has been swimming with thoughts as you can probably tell from the scattered nature of this message, which I’m sharing with great vulnerability.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can heal. By healing, I do not mean complacency or retreating into the safety of what seems familiar. I mean putting in hard emotional and intellectual work and committing to consistent awareness and action to create a world that is ruled by love and compassion. I’m thinking about how we, all of us, can:

  • Lay down our arms and lift up our ideals
  • Value our connections more than our investment in the way things are
  • Ensure that all mothers can sleep soundly at night, each and every night
  • Enjoy our (non-consumer, non-militant) freedoms without becoming complacent or complicit
  • Allow or create space for others to flourish
  • Resist retreating into authoritarianism and remain curious about nuance and complexity
  • Create a world where it is no longer necessary to accommodate hate
  • Have hearts heavy with hope rather than despair
  • Gently challenge each other to keep learning and unlearning
  • Acknowledge anger and despair as openings to transformation
  • Safely and freely move in a world where connection to place is not based on a political or monetary system
  • Show up for each other when our people are hurting without competition or judgment
  • Be consistently engaged and committed to the creation of a more just, equitable, and loving world

I would love to hear from you. We need to be there for each other. What have you been thinking about? What actions are you involved in? What helpful resources have you come across? Is there anything I can do to support your involvement in this and other movements for human rights and dignity?

Leadership Should be Messy

Leaders have historically been portrayed as polished to perfection. As a result, we sometimes unfairly expect leaders to be superhuman. We ridicule and shame when they make mistakes and reel in disappointment when they don’t live up to our ideals. 

That concept of leadership is dying. People are increasingly recognizing leadership as complex, emergent, and shared regardless of formal position. In other words, messy. 

Some people resist messiness. To them, such disorder reflects a lack of discipline, healthy habits, and quantifiable results. It goes against how we have been programmed for decades. Others, like me, are open to messiness because it creates possibilities for challenge, engagement, and transformational results. 

So unstraighten the surely minimal piles on your desk, misspeak and offend someone, let someone make a mistake, and try something that seems daunting if not impossible. Heck, throw up a bunch of papers in the air. Give up the seductive illusion of control. Let go and see what happens. 

Changing the Culture of Leadership

A striking headline recently caught my eye: 

Masculine Traits are Still Linked to Leadership 

The researchers created a list of stereotypically masculine and feminine words associated with leadership – both those with positive and negative connotations (though I don’t necessarily agree with the binary assignment to categories, for example, ambitious to masculine). They found that traits associated with women were seen as luxurious – valuable, but superfluous, to leadership. Nice, but not necessary. 

Steering our priorities toward the austere, I would argue, is a masculine trait – if one must choose at all (perhaps forced choice can also be thought of as a masculine approach). And one that makes our world more bleak, divided, unnecessary tumultuous, short sighted, and wasteful. So making this choice to veer toward the masculine, regardless of our gender, reinforces these stereotypes and creates the type of world described above. Artful integration of masculine and feminine (and uncategorizable) approaches to leadership, I think, is a more interesting and helpful way to realize the world we dream of living in. 

Why I Don’t Have (or Want) a Mindset

If you’re a self help junkie like me (and even if you’re not), you’ve probably been repeatedly exposed to the word mindset. We should shift our mindset, we’re told (with nothing but good and honorable intentions), if we want to create and achieve the wonderful life that we deserve. 

I don’t have a mindset. Nor do I want one. 

To me, a mindset is a fixed place in our emotional-cognitive space. The theory suggests that we ought to move from one fixed place, where we are apparently stuck, to another predetermined fixed place. 

But what about the rest of our emotional and intellectual capacity? 

From my perspective, we should instead practice mind elasticity, or mind resilience — the ability to freely move around in our mind in response to internal and external stimuli. Rather than simply move from Point A to Point B, we should recognize the infinite points of wisdom within and joyfully explore them from moment to moment. 

Not another Wall

One of the more offensive stories in Fall 2018 had this headline: 

Florida residents demand border wall around Habitat for Humanity Housing 

And guess what? They got what they demanded. An eight-foot-tall, concrete, no less.

I don’t know where to being in describing how I feel about this situation. It is tied – philosophically and materially – to so many other forms of systematic exclusion, practices that are kinda illegal but apparently not completely. 

These are the kind of mistakes that, 50 years from now, communities will be struggling to fix. It won’t be easy and it will be super expensive. One day, all of that concrete will be choking mother nature in a landfill. And then someone will figure out another way to make segregation (whether racial or economic) not only legal but desirable. 

Unless we change our culture. We need to recognize our interdependence, create more openness and cooperation, and make decisions that are inclusive. For everyone. 

Which Type of Activist Are You?

When you think of the word activist, what image pops into your head? Do you think of a person who takes immense physical and emotional risks in defense of a noble cause? Or do you think of a person who combines eloquent speech with vitriolic enthusiasm and extreme tactics? These descriptions reflect our society’s ingrained thoughts about activists. Like our thinking about leaders, they are seen as the people out front and in your face. Activist movements are understood to a great extent through the lens of the people who are leading them. But in reality, activism — like leadership — is about the collective. 

Unfortunately, many activists themselves buy into this myth that only the contributions of activists who are the most visible, and most vocal, are truly legitimate and valuable. This leaves a lot of people, and their talent, in the margins of activist movements. It also makes for too much posturing, hypocrisy, and abuse of power. 

We need to move toward more inclusive movements where all people have the opportunity to participate according to their ability and will without fear of judgment and exclusion. 

If you care about our world, you don’t need to wait for an invitation to get involved. While there are some people who take up a lot of space in the acti- verse, there are a lot of opportunities for you to make a difference. 

When making the claim, I am an activist, you are stating that your intellect and emotion has been activated in response to an injustice (or multiple injustices). ‘Activist’ is not a title merely for the elusive and exclusive few. At the same time, the title of activist should not be used lightly. With it comes the responsibility to make a meaningful and significant contribution to the best of our ability. 

The pathways through which we are able to express our activated response and take aligned action can be very narrow and, at times, nebulous. The purpose of this essay is to create new pathways so that activists of all flavors can visualize and actualize possibilities for participation. To do this, I will describe some archetypes of activism. You may see yourself in one or several of these types. By identifying your type or types, you can deepen and expand your contributions to progressive activist work. 

The Visionary: You see a better world that others cannot yet comprehend or think is out of reach. You inspire people with your ability to conceptualize and describe possibilities, even if you don’t quite know how to make it all happen. 

The Mastermind: You are a master planner who knows how all of the moving parts fit together. Your understanding of how people and systems interact fuels your ability to develop strategy. 

The Evangelist: You like to spread the word. A social media aficionado, you have the ability to engage people through posts, likes, shares, and forwards. This passion for sharing ideas and information may also carry over into the ‘real world’ through phone calls and conversations. 

The Artist: You have a deep appreciation for aesthetics and you use these values to challenge perceptions of reality. You are able to share new ways of understanding the world through creative movement and visualization. 

The Mobilizer: You like to make new friends and build your network. Your action orientation compels you to connect people to each other and to ideals and activities that result in significant experiences. 

The Harmonizer: You just want everyone to get along peacefully. Because you are always seeking new ways to integrate ideas and to be more inclusive, you ensure that activist work reflects its own ideals. 

The Catalyst: You question why everything is done the way it is done and are always seeking to change both the process and outcome. You spark change through both ideas and actions. 

All of these archetypes are important in progressive social movements — and there are others as well. Regardless of your skills and personality, you can be an activist and make a difference. Today. Right Now. 

The Idea Life Cycle

If you have any background in marketing at all, you have probably heard of the product life cycle. This theory is unfortunately not really applicable for those of us who live in the world of ideas. 

Great ideas come into the world through a variety of means including divine inspiration, observation, and conversation. Regardless of their origin, ideas follow a path from the time they are born, their genesis, until they are ultimately either accepted by the general public or just fade away due to lack of acceptance. 

The timing of the idea life cycle is nebulous; each phase takes an indeterminate amount of time relative to the uniqueness of the idea and the receptivity of others beyond the person or people who introduce the idea. In addition, this cycle is not necessarily linear. Ideas can go from one phase to another without any logical explanation. It is difficult if not impossible to predict how an idea will flow through this cycle. 

Nonetheless, understanding how the idea life cycle works can help those of us who thrive on innovation determine the trajectory of new ideas that we generate and share with others. 

There are four phases in the idea life cycle: emergence; vetting; legitimacy; and, finally, either assimilation or psychic death. 

Emergence: The idea is shared beyond its originators. The idea may spread quickly, at a snail’s pace, or at the speed of frozen molasses pouring out of a jar. 

Vetting: Other people are starting to notice the idea and gauge its validity in alignment with their pre-existing ideas about the world. People react to the idea in a variety of ways from curiosity to animosity and everything in-between. There may be a few aha moments. 

Legitimacy: The idea is tested as people start to integrate it with their existing perceptions and worldviews. These testers encounter reactions to this integration and decide whether to adopt or reject the idea based on both the ease with which they can integrate the idea into their lives and the reactions of their peers. 

Assimilation or Psychic Death: The idea becomes adopted by a mass of people, and therefore it likely also becomes tainted in multiple ways by the people who feel close to this idea; or, it dies because people so vehemently reject it that there is no way it can survive. Ideas that live on or die can enter any phase of the idea life cycle as people, and their views, continue to evolve 

Poof! We Start Again

I recently downgraded this WordPress site because I didn’t really need the full functionality of the plan I was on.

When I did that, all of my posts since mid-2014 disappeared.

Over the next few months, I’ll be reposting some of those articles as well as some new material.

Enjoy!

The Submissive Side of Leadership

Submissiveness and leadership may seem like an oxymoron. Effective leadership requires a strong vision, decisiveness, determination, and tenacity — and I certainly can’t argue with that. But at the same time, leaders need to allow themselves the opportunity to listen to others as well as environmental cues so that we can strategically — and creatively — respond to the world in which we live — and make that world a better place.

Collaborative creative leadership is the process of gathering, integrating, cultivating, and cyclically enhancing the ideas and dreams of others, resulting in possibilities that we alone could not imagine or realize. Ideas can be gathered both formally and informally, through dialogue and multilogue, intentionally and haphazardly, as well as verbally and nonverbally. Ideas are everywhere — in words spoken and unspoken, cloud formations, passive sighs, and the distinctive colors of each evening’s sunset. Intuitive leaders are always paying attention, and are continually analyzing and making sense of their observations.

The ideas that emerge can be woven together, creating a unique tapestry of possibility — one where the colors and textures become more deep, complex, and alive with every passing moment. Each careful, delicate stitch expands and enhances the leader’s vision for provocation and transformation. As that vision is enacted and becomes experience, new threads are spun and woven into the cloth. The tapestry is not just a spectacle for followers to gawk at, it is a living thing to which they can contribute. It reflects something inside of them and something that inspires them; yet, it is much more beautiful and expansive than what they originally intended. The cloth was created by the leader, yet the image it projects was derived from a much broader source.

Being submissive isn’t about being soft, it is about being confident enough in ourselves and our strengths to listen, respond, and create. Submission in leadership is not an all-or-nothing proposition; it is a moment-to-moment process from which we can exit at any moment. It is also not about obedience and conformity; leaning into our submissive side as leaders actually challenges and provokes the world as it exists. Leaders are expected to be in the front, to be the point of light that everyone else seeks out and follows. When that leader instead ignites the light within each person in the crowd, the ambient but energizing glow of new possibilities ensues. Being submissive doesn’t require us to give up anything in ourselves, it provides an opportunity to receive and employ the individual and collective wisdom of others.

Fear keeps leaders from allowing ourselves to be submissive – fear of losing control, appearing incompetent, having someone else get ahead, or being perceived as unleader-like. By letting go of fear in leadership, we can creatively collaborate to not only reimagine our world, but to make tangible and sustainable changes.