Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Man Over Time...

By Jill Blair

Thanks to Hallmark and all the other companies that generate tools to bring good cheer into our lives, the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas now flow into one another seamlessly. This was not always true. When I was growing up there were much more clearly defined distinctions between Halloween – when goblins and candy ruled; Thanksgiving, when turkey, pumpkin pie and crazy families were the main events; and Christmas (in our house Chanukah), when trees, candy canes and too much gift-giving left people tired and abundant. In these modern days, we have managed to change the nature and pace of time and create one long holiday season that starts almost when our kids go back to school and doesn’t end until days after the New Year.

In the Jewish tradition we have two holy days that our sages, not our business partners, have inextricably linked and we are instructed during that period between (the tween days), to give time to reflection and reconciliation. These are the ten days between our New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and Yom Kippur (a day of fasting and forgiveness) – and we call this time, “the days of awe.” Our custom is to reflect during this period and to reconcile, with ourselves, and others. We seek and offer forgiveness for the ways in which we have violated our own sense of purpose and the values and ethics of our social bonds and expectations. Not because I am deeply religious, though I have my moments, but because I am concerned about what I see as our evolving relationship with and need to rule over time, I am thinking that there is significant human and social value to the this tradition and it may be worth adopting more broadly. It is a tradition that honors the human spirit but importantly, it honors time itself.

When we rush from one event or meeting to the next – when we schedule our own lives and the lives of those we love from task to task – when we confuse accomplishment (something done) with achievement (sometime done well), we have designated time to be our enemy. We are gluttons for more of it and desperate to conquer it.

But what if…

What if this holiday season we accept the limits of time, and instead of filling it up with action, we save some for reflection?

What if we honor ourselves and those we care about by setting aside the time that is needed to complete our conversations and share our greatest hopes and uncertainties and…

What if we measure the meaning of this season by how well we listen to one another?
By the questions we consider and the conversations in which we engage?

What if we measure the value of this time not by what we do but how deeply we feel when we do it?

December is my birthday month. It is also the birthday month for a friend of the same considerable age. She recently wrote to me about what it feels to be turning 55 this year – it seems like a number that not long ago was completely out of reach – a distant and foreign destination of little concern in her common world. But here we are. And my friend noted, “at least with this age I have found some answers to long lingering questions.”

Which takes me to my conclusion…it is time that answers our questions. But we must be listening.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: Is the Medium as Important as the Message?

By Matt Leighninger & Bruce L. Mallory

As practitioners and students of deliberative democracy for more than a decade, we are intrigued by the tactics of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and by the contrast between these methods and the traditional ways in which governments try to engage citizens. Media commentators speculate on whether the Occupiers will achieve their policy goals; maybe we should all be more focused on the equitable, participatory, ways in which those goals are being developed.

Whether one agrees with the ideological content of the OWS movement or not, this unfolding example of civil discourse, respectful exchange of ideas, small-group facilitated dialogue, and listening rather than speechifying is a welcome alternative to the prevailing, alienating polemic of talk radio and much of the blogosphere. The use of direct democracy, expressed through the highly structured “general assembly” as the means to engage participants in the drafting of manifestos and hour-by-hour decision making, is remarkable to witness. Most of the core principles that have guided deliberative democracy practices are readily evident in the OWS movement. These include a commitment to small-group, facilitated dialogue; equal participation and full respect for every member of the group; an emphasis on deep and careful listening as well as thoughtful expression of ideas; the engagement of diverse participants who bring divergent experiences, identities, and ideologies into the conversation; and the importance of sustained exchanges meant to inform and transform rather than one-off, one-way testimonies that neither inform nor transform.

These core principles, applied across deliberation models, settings, and topics, are being utilized in a dynamic, passionate, uncertain context in the OWS movement. In fact, it is the application of these deliberative principles that is allowing the inchoate structures of OWS to generate common ground, maintain community, and avoid either internal or external confrontations (so far).

Some of these tactics have been used in recent years, primarily by city officials and other local leaders, to engage their constituents productively in public decision-making and problem-solving. These methods for democratic governance are promoted and supported by associations for local officials like the National League of Cities. This work has gone largely unnoticed, particularly by state and federal officials; OWS has brought principles of democratic governance out of doors and into the spotlight.

The “human mic” phenomenon is particularly appealing. This completely low-tech, innovative work-around to restrictions on sound equipment has created a powerful bonding mechanism. The necessary concern for whether others have heard a speaker’s message requires participants to suspend their own immediate responses or judgments and place the needs of other community members first. Thus, the first question is not, do you agree with what you are hearing, but rather, did you hear it? This requires that individuals focus on listening first, only then forming an opinion about what is said. The frustratingly slow process of the human mic mirrors the slow, messy, unpredictable nature of direct democracy itself. At the same time, the process creates social capital within a group of people who have only been together a matter of weeks, days, or hours. It produces the sense of attachment to a community, a feeling that one of our founding fathers, John Adams, would have called “public happiness.”

While the general assembly strategy appeared to be a spontaneous invention, it was influenced significantly by experiments in democratic governance and popular protest in other countries. Veterans and careful observers of the recent protests in Greece, Spain, and Egypt were among the early organizers of the occupation. Democratic innovations from Madagascar, relayed to the organizers by anthropologist David Graeber, seem to have been particularly important. Graeber spent extended time in villages in Madagascar that had been abandoned by the government for some years; his field work focused on the use of consensus decision-making in which the local residents managed their own affairs in the absence of formal government structures. He described what he saw as “democracy without government,” and subsequently applied these lessons to his participation in anti-globalization protests in the 1990’s. The use of tactics from other countries – and the implied recognition that the United States is not the only laboratory for innovation in democracy – has invigorated OWS in much the same way as Brazilian methods for participatory budgeting are helping local officials in Chicago, New York, and several California cities involve their constituents effectively in key budget decisions. Where OWS will end up, we can’t predict. But we do hope that the example being set of small ‘d’ democracy will live on, indoors and out, whatever the issue or context.

Bruce L. Mallory

Professor of Education, University of New Hampshire

Director, Carsey Institute and NH Listens

Matt Leighninger

Director, Deliberative Democracy Consortium

Friday, November 25, 2011

Story Telling for Good

By Pia Infante

What better time of year than now, and what better time in human history than now, is there to highlight and focus on stories of good? It's been an intense year politically, financially, socially for many - and, as we bring the year to a close, I'm led to look for what's "good in the hood" as a recent Storytellers for Good piece highlighted.

Actually, it was while flipping through TWI grantee Spot Us' unfunded stories that I found this smiling example of a great story. Spot.Us is an open source project to pioneer “community powered reporting.” Through Spot.Us the public can commission and participate with journalists to do reporting on important and perhaps overlooked topics. Contributions are tax deductible and we partner with news organizations to distribute content under appropriate licenses.

I found that a consistent partner in this endeavor for Spot Us is another outfit aptly named Storytellers for Good which is a team of passionate journalists and photographers who seek to use their skills to inspire optimism and change. This group aims to tell and promote stories of people and organizations making a positive difference. With stories that span from Sub-Saharan Africa to the Mandela Marketplace in West Oakland, CA - there are certainly some gems that are guaranteed to inspire hope and re-instill an unshakable faith in the human spirit.

For me, the winding down of one year and slow spiral into the next always brings me home to myself. I find myself drawn to an expansive table near a window, a journal, and a good pen and the dark, quiet, pregnant pause of reflection and dreaming. I appreciate the opportunity to look for the good in myself, for the good I'm honored to witness in others on daily basis, and the good that can always be found in the larger world around me. I was glad to have dallied a bit with Spot.Us and Storytellers for Good today, to re-affirm my own unshakable (though often shaken!) faith in the human spirit and to connect with the truth that we can make the world our own, again and again.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Story of Story

By Pia Infante

There were several key messages John shared from the Conversation with Van Jones hosted by NCG yesterday. One, lifted from a comparison of the 99% movement to the rise of the Tea Party, is that the 99% movement will only succeed if it seeks the best for the 100%, not by propelling another divisive "Us vs. Them" narrative.

Another is that the power of story to capture imagination, to educate, and to catalyze action continues to demonstrate time over time that data does not instigate change, and people's stories do.

A compelling example of the power (and story) of Story is Annie Leanard's work. Her piece called The Story of Stuff has gone viral with millions of viewers world wide.

Perhaps in some response to the Occupy movement, Annie has recently released The Story of Broke, a heart-breakingly hilarious and sobering piece that takes us step by step through a visual narrative about where our tax dollars do (and don't) go. Incidentally, Annie participated in a dialogue with The New School at Commonweal's Micheal Lerner, a grantee and friend of The Whitman Institute. The New School demonstrates often the ability of stories to stick with us through weekly podcasts and community gatherings around ecology, culture, and the inner life.

We highlight Annie and Micheal's work here to emphasize the power of story, of inquiry, and how both learning and civic action can be engendered by the elegant and smart use of the ancient ritual of storytelling - particularly when paired with the nimbleness and instant sharing capabilities of modern technology.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Some Among Us

By Pia Infante

This week we wanted to highlight a few of our colleagues as a sample of the profoundly rich contributions of the TWI community's efforts to promote a more just and sustainable world.

On The Move's Executive Director Leslie Medine was recently recognized in the Napa Register, spotlighting her tireless efforts to support and empower young people.

Spark celebrated its 9th Annual Black and Pink Ball in October, an event that regularly attracts over 800 guests who are part of Spark's community of young global citizens invested in changing patterns of global inequality.

Our friends at the Center for Courage and Renewal recently launched a video series called Stories of Authenticity. The first video features Parker Palmer speaking on how to live a "divided life no more."

Lastly, Eboo Patel of the Interfaith Youth Corps was featured in the Clinton Global Initiative's Stories, highlighting the finer points of a vision to catalyze a generation of young interfaith youth ambassadors to promote peace through dialogue.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Politics of the Broken Hearted

By Pia Infante

When I first read Parker Palmer's description of "the politics of the broken hearted" in his new book, Healing the Heart of Democracy, my heart expanded and contracted in resonance. I have a patched together heart full of despair, resilience, and ferocious hope about the time and world we live in.

As I track the impact on the public imagination and consciousness of the Occupy Wall Street movement, I experience a similar sense of expansion and contraction. Stories from the streets have been inspiring (encampments have grown in over 1000 cities) and terrifying (Oakland police raiding a camp of 70 sleeping occupiers with 500 policemen).

I particularly appreciate the General Assemblies that are a core part of how "leaderless" decisions are being made. I also appreciate the quality of listening that is elevated by the common practice at the General Assemblies that the speaker and audience do a call and response where the speaker talks in short chunks that are immediately repeated by the whole group. It's powerful. And interesting. And happening in many, many cities in our country and beyond.

I don't mean, at all, to idealize this effort, which has seen critique on all sides of the fence. It's un-contestable, though, that Occupy has sparked the interest and engagement of millions in a global conversation about the distribution of wealth in our time. It seems, too, that there are a million opportunities to engender the kinds of thoughtful, cross-perspective dialogue that TWI supports. I've no data on whether or not this is happening, but do shore up an immense hope and wish that it is.

I've been musing about the kinds of across the divide types of conversations that are likely occurring, however fruitful, on the streets and in all matter of venue. Rich Harwood recently blogged (and actually helped facilitate) about a dialogue between tea party members and Occupy organizers - with an intention to raise up the shared values and beliefs and possibly even solutions that could be located between the two grassroots movements. As with most dialogues between people who's identifications often divide them, he suggests it starts with listening into commonality. We talk often at TWI about the conditions that scaffold difficult conversations. A short list includes:

  • Start with sharing story, before talking about issues.
  • Show up as a demonstration of your values, not your positions.
  • Build relationship.
  • Perhaps put aside known topics of difference, at least at first.
  • Listen. (cannot be overstated)
  • Lead with inquiry.
  • Be willing to listen, and, even more so, be willing to be changed by this relationship/experience.
Not an exhaustive list. I'm sure you can think of 10 more elements that would be required to truly succeed at dialoging across difference.

I've written before that this kind of conversation takes practice and so much willingness. With ferocious hope, I envision that in and about Occupy encampments and in all of the ways that we are participating in the greater conversation about our common welfare, that we take this moment in history as an opportunity to talk between silos and across divides - into the collaboration it will take to make real the promises of our democracy.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Relationship Building As A Measure of Impact

By John Esterle

(The following can also be found on Beth Kanter's blog, as a guest post from John.)

One of the themes raised up as the GEO/Monitor Institute conference came to an end was the importance of trust and relationship building in networks. Indeed, that was my theme for the day given that I facilitated a couple of morning conversations on that topic and then in the afternoon heard Ify Mora from the Barr Foundation ( talk about how they use social network mapping to capture the relationships that have been built through their innovative Fellows Program.

So, as I leave the conference I’m wondering how storytelling might be combined with social network mapping to make the broader case within philanthropy that relationship building — and the spaces and processes that support it — matter. It’s an important challenge to meet because I think that unless relationship building is broadly recognized as a key measure of impact, it will continue to be under-resourced (to the detriment of achieving the larger goals and outcomes people are working toward).

The philanthropic exploration of networks potentially offers a new platform or frame to talk about the need to explicitly value process and relationship-based work. And that opportunity links to the other top two network themes raised up in today’s final session: the value of values (naming what’s important) and the need for funders to see themselves as changemakers within networks rather than just funders. In short, what might be gained by funders taking off their organizational hats and bringing our whole selves into the equation?

I think if more funders do step outside of their traditional roles it will be through different kinds of relationships with both grantees and other funders. And, as was apparent throughout various conference discussions, those relationships will blossom if they are built on trust, humility, and a willingness to be both vulnerable and generous with each other.

So, a percolating question for me going forward, both individually and organizationally, is:

How do we walk our talk when it comes to operating with a network mindset where process and relationships truly matter?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mindful Media

By John Esterle

Recently, I was fortunate to attend Images and Voices of Hope's annual Summit. The people, the setting, and what transpired left me feeling, in a word, hopeful! Corny, I know, but there it is.

I'm honored IVOH has posted some closing reflections I shared at the end of the summit, which can also be read below. I hope they, and Lois Fiore's thoughtful summary, capture some of the flavor of this rich, distinctive event.

John Esterle's remarks at the end of Images & Voices of Hope Summit

September 18, 2011

I want to thank the Brahma Kumaris for hosting us here. I think place is really important in terms of the kinds of dialogues we are able to have, and Peace Village is certainly a wonderful place and space for this dialogue to happen. I want to process the time we had together at the Summit. I am really appreciating all the different paths into our dialogue from panels, to speakers, to small group conversations -- poetry, music, and story. I think all of these things are really important to providing multiple pathways into our inquiry into “how are we doing with all this and how do we move forward?”

The issue of time is a little on my mind, because I did get up early enough this morning for meditation with Sister Gayatri on “ time.” So thinking about our time here, time is always present in different ways. It manifested here in several ways. For example you showed adaptability in changing the program because of time. There‘s always a tension around time, how much we can fit into the limited time we have together. There’s tension about how much we can pack in and to what degree we can be expansive.

So I have appreciated your ability to adapt and change, while also appreciating holding firm to the “traffic control” (the music that plays for 1 minute on the hour to signal a pause for reflection). I think polarities are a theme and a paradox that has been present in the room. These times are calling us to be adaptive and responsive, while also asking us what we stand for -- what are the things around which we won’t adapt or compromise, but will hold true to. This shows up in the discipline of stopping every hour for reflection. This discipline also shows up in different ways like with Sonali when she recounted her story and said, “this is what I stand for now. I’m not going to stand down. This is what I stand for.”

I think we‘re in times that call us to do both of these things. That both were modeled here in different ways is important. It is also important that this is such an eclectic group. It brings together both journalists, who we think of as coming from a more objective evidence-based place, and also very expansive thinkers talking about consciousness.

One thing that stuck out for me is how much we talked about mind or thinking. We talked about changing patterns in thinking and behavior and in critical thinking as it applies to how we are looking at the world. We talked about the importance of stepping back and reflecting on our minds and our thoughts. This theme of “we are thinking about our thinking,” is called meta-cognition.

I think there is more awareness coming from both spiritual inquires and secular inquires into the importance of thinking about our thinking and thinking about our biases. So it’s a hopeful thing that there is more thinking about our thinking and how it relates to how we are with each other. At the same time, there’s a polarity that we talked about: that we are moving away from being a fact based society. We seem to have a public that is more uninformed in many ways all the time. To me it is the best of times and the worst of times.

So where do we go with that? We talked about cognitive dissonance. Why is it that when people are presented with evidence that runs contrary to what they’re saying, that they don’t let that evidence in? I think that’s a really important question as we think about story and how we craft our stories.

We talked about “heart” a lot and the broken heartedness of the times, asking how do we live with our hearts broken open? How do we live in the place of that vulnerability? Mark (Nepo) talked about heart as the place where we hold paradox. So words like “passion” were very prevalent throughout our time together.

Both the mind and the heart pieces lead us to the story piece. How do we tell different stories that engage both our hearts and minds? I was struck by several things around our stories. Often when we talk about telling stories, we talk about the telling part. When we are entrepreneurial, we ask how do we reach a broader audience? A key part of this is listening. How do we listen in a way that creates compelling stories?

We saw evidence of that with Phillip (Martin) and Kael (Alford), James (Lerager) and Daniel (Heimpel), when they were really going deep with their reporting and journalism on specific issue. So I think a really important inquiry for us is, “How do we become better listeners?” The foundational piece of dialogue in my mind is learning to listen. How do we exercise that muscle, and how do we call attention to that?

Within the element of story there was also a lot of talk about transparency and trust. Transparency came up in different ways, about our biases, our aims. How do we make our thinking and our reasoning about things more visible? I think we all have our biases and part of the wonder of dialogue is that it’s a great way, if it’s constructed right, for us to surface our biases and explore them in different ways.

The part that I thought about a lot in the context of cognitive dissonance, was what Mark said about the king who was cutting off peoples’ heads. In Mark’s story he described how year after year, the one guy was making his argument over and over to the King – that he shouldn’t continue to cut people’s heads off-- but he wasn’t getting anywhere. What eventually changed the king’s mind was that they had been in relationship.

I think the importance of relationship in going forward can’t be overstated. That’s my own bias; I’m very relational. I think we need to explicitly raise the value of relationships. I was noticing when people explained how they came to the summit they said, “well a friend invited me or a friend of a friend invited me.” As we think about how we broaden the hope we’ve talked about here, I think we do this in relationship. That’s very important for me. This summit is about images and voice of hope and I kept thinking, “It’s people of hope."

We are in dark times in many ways. We’ve talked in some conversations about resilience. When we think about how we are going to move through this time, our relationships are huge; they are our anchors in pretty stormy waters. But I think it’s also though relationships that we are able to move to different places with people and maybe move to a place where they’re looking at things in a different way.

In Liz Heron’s piece what stood out for me was what she’s seeing as next steps, and what she’s seeing as a trend on the horizon. She said it was the movement from online to offline engagement, which we heard about from many. We are still in the beginning stages of this; we are still figuring out the social media landscape and our own personal relationships. There are problems there, but it is good to remember that we are kind of new and in the early stages of this process.

So with that I want to read one short piece. I just started reading a book called Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit, published in 2004, and it resonates a lot with the impetus behind Images & Voices of Hope. Solnit suggests that we can take a different frame and perspective on where we are at this time, one that gives us hope in the dark. I’d like to share this one passage:

“Cause and effect assumes history marches forward. But history is not an army. It is a crab scuttling sideways, a drip of soft water wearing away stone, an earthquake breaking centuries of tension. Sometimes one person inspires a movement, or her words do decades later. Sometimes a few passionate people change the world, sometimes they start a mass movement and millions do. Sometimes those millions are stirred by the same outrage or the same ideal and change comes upon us like a change of weather. All that these transformations have in common is that they begin in the imagination and hope. To hope is to gamble. It’s to bet the future on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty is better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous, and yet, it is the opposite of fear. For to live is to risk.”

I think for me to live is to risk, to love is to risk and I can risk those things when I am hand-in-hand literally and figuratively with other people. So, this is why I think this summit and gatherings like this are so important. If we move forward with intention around process and relationship, about how we are thinking, about how we are empathizing with others, then in the midst of what do seem like dark times, we’re going to be ok. And I think we’ll be more than okay, in the words of Kemy Joseph and of Sekou Andrews, “we’ll be awesome!”

Sunday, September 25, 2011

System Failure, System Frozen

By Edd Conboy

Note: This is the follow up segment to Edd's previous post System Failure, System Reboot. In these powerful stories, Edd humanizes the ways that our mental health and criminal justices systems often fall short - for precisely the people in the most critical need.

Update on Roxanne: Since the posting of the first installment, the hospital official, who intervened on Roxanne’s behalf to ensure that there would be an effective treatment plan for her going forward, was able to schedule a hearing before a judge to name a guardian for Roxanne. An attorney was engaged by the hospital to represent her. Subsequently, the judge appointed a guardian, and now he is in the process of finding a suitable nursing home for her that can manage her medications and other needs. Just to give you an indication of how far Roxanne has come: She has HIV. A high viral load count is usually measured in the thousands. 10,000 copies/mL is considered high. Roxanne’s viral load was 23,000,000 copies/mL. Her white blood cell count was negligible. Today with medication her viral load count is negligible, and her white blood cell count is near normal.

* * *

The writer, Christopher Hitchens, once said that one of his highest aspirations was to, at least one time, write or talk about the North Korean regime, and the culture it has spawned, without using the descriptor “Kafkaesque”. He failed continually. So, it appears that, when I describe some of the systems failures in our prison system, I will probably suffer the same fate.

As with the previous posting involving Roxanne’s experiences with the health system here in Philadelphia, I will attempt to crystalize the implications of “systems thinking” as it pertains to the prison/mental health system here in Philadelphia (and perhaps nationally) with the experiences of one individual.

In this case let’s call her Tiffany.

Tiffany is a homeless, transgendered person in the early stages of transitioning. This means that, although she is anatomically male (for the most part), she identifies herself as female, and has been living as a female for a number of years. Like many people in her situation, she has had the unshakeable felt sense for most of her life that she is in “the wrong body”, but for a number of reasons – mostly financial – she was unable to change that significantly. Tiffany is also diagnosed with Bi-polar Disorder, and needs medication to control that condition. She has been living outdoors in Philadelphia for several years.

A year and a half ago Tiffany was in the ER at a local hospital trying to get medication to control her mood swings when she was involved in what appeared to be a mild altercation with the security guards. Since she has no medical insurance, Tiffany is a regular visitor to that hospital, and well known to the staff there. For reasons still unclear, this time the security officials decided to have her arrested and charged with felony assault, even though there were no significant injuries to anyone during the altercation.

Since Tiffany was unable to post the $4,000 bail, she was remanded into custody and taken to the county jail.

When most of us hear “county jail”, what do we think of? Perhaps a several story building downtown near the courthouse. Few of us would envision a 25-acre complex comprising six separate “major correctional facilities” in the farthest corner of the city limits. A facility that is extremely inaccessible by public transportation, meaning extremely inaccessible to poor people. This may be the first questionable “systems thought” in this scenario: Why so inaccessible? What are the implications of this decision? Who made it in the first place?

At this point in the narrative the specter of Franz Kafka may begin to emerge. Since Tiffany is in possession of a penis, she is considered male by the correctional authorities. Fair enough. However, since she identifies as a female, if assigned to the general population, she is at risk of being sexually assaulted by other inmates. The solution to this problem is clear to the officials: “administrative segregation” for her own protection. This is, of course, a euphemism for solitary confinement.

So for several months Tiffany was held in solitary confinement without proper medication before she was scheduled for her first court appearance. Once she was in court the judge found her not competent to stand trial. She was returned to administrative segregation. Her condition began to deteriorate markedly.

It is well documented in the research that one of the most powerful coercive tools available to the state is its capacity to confine an individual for varying lengths of time with virtually no human contact. Many modern societies consider it a form of torture. Tiffany was in this situation for the better part of a year.

So, now “the system” is faced with another dilemma: they have an inmate who is charged with, but not convicted of, a serious crime. She is unable to stand trial, and no small reason for that is due to her isolation within that very system. The solution that the decision-maker made was to house Tiffany in a psychiatric prison facility outside the city. In this facility she is given medication to sedate her, but very little else. Since she no longer has access to hormone therapy, her beard has returned, and of course she is not allowed to have razor blades. In addition the staff (including social workers) continue to refer to her with male pronouns further alienating her. She receives no therapy or medication for her Bi-polar disorder. And every sixty days there is a competency hearing. Every sixty days she is found not competent to stand trial.

Finally, in a large part because of the decision to isolate Tiffany, her mental state has deteriorated to such an extent that, even if she were released, and she were able to afford surgery, she would not do well enough in a psychiatric assessment to be cleared for any such surgery. This means that the most likely outcome is that Tiffany will spend the rest of her life trapped in a body that is alien to her psyche.

At every turn in this narrative – from the decision to charge her with a felony, to isolating her in the county prison facility rather than housing her with other transgendered inmates, to transferring her to a psychiatric prison hospital ­– “decision were made”. Yet, it is difficult to determine who made them, what was the thinking behind them, and if there were other alternatives available. At every turn, unlike the previous scenario with Roxanne, the system appeared to do the thinking without any discernable human intervention.

From my perspective (and perhaps this is one shared by other members of the Whitman community) the key factor missing in this scenario that showed up just in time in the previous installment is the emotional one. At one crucial moment a human being literally “felt for Roxanne” and made a different decision. That health professional’s critical thinking changed dramatically when that interplay between emotional clarity and critical thinking was able to lead her to effective action.

So far, perhaps because of the different context of the penal system from the health system, no such individual with similar authority to intervene has spoken up on behalf of Tiffany.

But at times even Kafka wasn’t all that Kafkaesque.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

PEAK Philanthropy: A Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid for Foundation Giving

By CJ Callen

Abraham Maslow has hit the big time in the world of business – whether you are talking about the industries of articulate, design or hospitality. Recently, I was moved to read Chip Conley’s PEAK: How Great Companies Get their Mojo from Maslow.

This is a great and heartfelt exploration of how Conley translated Maslow into his business context: building and running a hotel business called JDV Hospitality. The book is a powerful reminder of the primacy of relationships. In it, Conley introduces the concept of the “relationship truths” and creates pyramids for each of his company’s key stakeholders (employee, customer, investor) that surface motivations on the three tiers of the “transformation pyramid: survival, success and transformation.

The book was inspiring; Maslow is not without his critics but still there is something in his theory that demands attention. Reading Conley’s book sparked my own playful inquiry into the implications of Maslow theory. I began to wonder: although the title mention “companies” can we substitute “nonprofits” or “foundations”?

I think so.

What might that look like for a foundation? What might it look like for The Whitman Institute with our decidedly different take on the work, i.e., our focus on process and explicit investment in relationship building?

It sounded like a challenging and fun task to try to build a relationship pyramid for a foundation in general and TWI specifically. Granted, all foundations are not alike but there are some common characteristics that are inherent in the nature of the beast that I can use as guides. With that disclaimer, I quickly moved on.

To start, I decided to sort foundation stakeholders into three primary categories: (1) donor or donor proxy (trustee or board member), (2) NGOs (grantees and grant seekers), and (3) the community served. This single pyramid is designed to capture the hierarchy of needs of foundations’ core relationships. As for developing the distinct pyramids for each of the three primary stakeholders, that will be even more challenging (and enlightening) and will need to come later.

Here is how I see the “foundation way” -

As you can see from the diagrams, there is much that we at TWI have in common with our foundation colleagues in terms of the primary relationships that drive our success. However, if you probe deeper into the “why” and “how” of each tier you will find some notable differences. For instance, if I were to draw a pyramid of the TWI tier one, you will find mention of the cooperative way that board and staff members work together, our primacy on creating trust between the board and staff and on lifting multiple and diverse voices in service to our mission. Each time I drill down into the different tiers, I gain greater insight into what lies at the heart of our foundation. What is the interplay between its different primary stakeholders that drives us forward and helps us serve with grace, humility and integrity? I enjoy the opportunity afforded by TWI’s particular application of the hierarchy to model a different way of serving as a foundation trustee.

I invite all my foundation colleagues to join me into this playful inquiry: identify your primary stakeholders and create relationship pyramids for each that captures their baseline motivation for each, need for recognition of their talents and dreams and the “top of the pyramid” inspiration that helps them find deeper meaning in their work. Is this the beginning of some kind of relationships audit? Not quite. All I know is that as I struggle to work on each stakeholder pyramid, I am uncovering basic relationship truths about our work and basic truths about TWI.