Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tools of Empowerment

The Dali Lama, Tibet’s exiled Spiritual leader was rebuffed in his efforts to attend the first peace lecture put on by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in South Africa due to an official reason of a still-pending visa application, though many suspect the South African government has other motivations for keeping him out. Safe to say, the Dali Lama wasn’t able to physically attend, so big brother wins right? They strong-arm the vocal minority with big brother like tactics, such as, well, never approving a visa application by the Dali Lama for entry.

Home-jailed world-renowned Chinese artist and human rights activist Ai Weiwei, fresh off a several-month real-jail detainment is forbidden from leaving the country due to supposed tax evasion. Popular fashion imprint W magazine wants Weiwei to art direct their annual issue dedicated to art, a role traditionally performed on set for obvious reasons. The Chinese government wins right? Game over, Ai Weiwei’s art direction would be impossible without his presence, surely the establishment wins again, correct?

Twenty years ago, yes, today, no.

We live in an age where technology transcends boundaries once thought impenetrable.

The Dali Lama met Desmond Tutu in a Google+ Hangout (video conversation) that was broadcast to anyone in the world with an internet connection that cared to join.

Via Skype and a laptop Mr. Ai directed a striking photo essay virtually from his home in China set at Rikers island jail, a symbolic location for the assignment.

Is the world better for the meeting of the Dali Lama, and by virtue of the forum, being able to watch it live, and the Ai Weiwei photo essay? Time will tell, but certainly at first glance simply allowing people to participate peacefully in acts that aim to shed light on issues plaguing people today is, to understate here, important.

Our world now has tools, communicative and otherwise, that can be harnessed to achieve the once impossible. The kicker here, the really funny bit of all this, are the tools used in both cases above are readily available to anyone with a laptop and the internet. The days of governments using big bankrolls to defeat vocal outliers are numbered in large part by the affordability and accessibility of such tools. For a few dollars you could feasibly use Skype in every capacity for a year, and Google+ is entirely free. In other words, the tools that empower movements the most are readily available to nearly anyone with a computer and the internet, which at last blush includes the majority of Americans.

In the information age the arms race is no longer Scud missiles or WMD’s, but control of Twitter feeds and Facebook accounts. As powerful as the truth is, as high of a standard as democracy in the U.S and other first world nations have set, no second-rate government of oppression is acceptable to the world’s people. Somebody in North Korea watched Real Housewives of New York, and asked why they couldn’t one day drive a Bentley or become part of a societal elite, or at least make enough to have running water, a reliable power grid, and fresh food to eat. The answer to the question in their head haunts them, they know it’s possible, they know democracy is a living growing organism, and they are starting to figure out that via social networks and the internet the days of oppression-focused regimes are numbered.

A wonderful quote from an organizer of the Arab Spring revolutions went something like this, we use Facebook for organizing our protest, and Twitter to tell the world about it. These revolutionaries didn’t need to ask the FCC for permission, or beg NBC or CBS for airtime, they simply used the same social media websites we all do, and brought cause and call to action to the message.

I wonder what bright minds around the world might be able to do if they thought more about the tools we have at our disposal for circumventing once dominate oppressors? Can you imagine the Berlin Wall being up today? Would someone not think to share information online, organize, and protest until it was torn down, the regime with it? Surely they would, and now comes the question, what Berlin Walls remain? What revolutions are bubbling to the surface, and if important to you, knowing the incredible power of the tools available, how can you be part of them?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Convenience as an Elixir

Shave ten minutes off the morning commute by taking the highway over the scenic route some might suggest. Toss that bag of frozen vegetables in the microwave instead of plucking them fresh from your backyard garden others might advise. Forget the book, just watch the movie version instead a friend opines.

What if a silver fox stood atop a tree stump, waiting to run from your eyes as you passed it in your Honda?

What if blood rushing to your sore back after picking peppers from the ground led to a humbling reflection on how your forefathers survived famine, war, and poverty?

What if a line in the book never made it to the movie, but inspired you to change the course of your career?

We live in a world taught to march to the beat of convenience at a tempo measured by time saved. Heartache is taboo.

Why is convenience synonymous with good? Do we really get as much out of being on time as we think we do? Should we stuff our daily schedule fat as a Thanksgiving turkey in an effort simply to ignore our deepest pains and sorrows? Is reflection worthless?

They say great art is often conceived from pain, the little I know about art seems to justify this. The dramatic arc, a foundation for today’s mellow dramas, has as much to do with pain and suffering as it does with chipper happy endings filled with resolute characters hugging and dancing in joyful poses.

For whatever reason, call it intuition, it seems as if generations of old are much more acutely aware of the healthy process of grieving, of taking the longer road, of walking when they could drive. The younger generations, X, Y, Millennials, and whatever we’ll call the ten year olds touting cell phones have little understanding of this. It’s the instant gratification crowd, where songs are achieved in a push of a button instead of a visit to the record store, food is delivered in minutes not hours, and the latest and greatest place is hosted online somewhere, but physically available nowhere. Convenience is paramount, and the slow down movement doesn’t seem to even exist, I checked Facebook before writing this.

The intoxicating effects of living a convenience-centered life, where reflection and introspection take a back seat to the next thrill is gender ambiguous, with young men choosing to binge drink in the name of masculinity and young women replacing the pain of an old boyfriend with a new one.

By age alone I’m in this generation, though I’d like to think I’ve lived on both sides of the fence, and deeply believe the lows in life are much greater lesson teachers than the highs. A few suggestions for taking a step away from convenience, and the traps that come with it follow.

Allow Pain

In bodybuilding pain is a sign of progress. When the muscles tear, and the fluids start rushing through them, the body is showing progress through pain. Unfortunately for those not in the hunt for the World Fitness Champion belt pain can be perceived as having the opposite effect. Often it’s like acknowledging and allowing pain to exist is in some fashion a sign of regression. Nothing can be further from the truth. Allowing pain to exist, being open about it with people you trust and professionals, can help nurture recovery.

Everyone feels pain, and when you have the courage to allow for it in your life flowers blossom from ugly dirt. By being honest about your pain, and seeking professional advice in books, from friends and family, or from a professional sense can be made of the pain, paths to recovery can be formed, and above all else your authentic self can emerge.

The process is slow, it won’t update as fast as your Twitter account, nor will it refresh as quick as your browser on the Urban Outfitters website, it’ll take time to sort this thing out, and that’s the best part about it.

Allow Failure

In sports we love to congratulate the winners, some even make it to the White House to meet the president. Winning is absolutely important, but what makes it so special is that on any given day just as many teams, players, and contest entrants are losing. Where there is a winner a loser must exist. Understanding that statistically we’ll all be losers as much as winners allows for the mind to open up to the idea of losing. You can, and should, shoot for high goals, but do so understanding that the higher the goal the higher the likelihood of failure.

Living with failure can be difficult, because everyone wants to congratulate the winner. It’s easy to envy the winner, to look at the winner and think there is something more special about them than you. Don’t buy into that trap, as a loser you hold the key to learning what went wrong, and you have a perfect tool to center your mind into a state of true humbleness. Allow for the hurt of failure to exist, and the analysis of what went wrong and why to happen before jumping into the next game, it’s our best tool for becoming the winner that we know we are capable of being in the end.

Allow Soul Searching

It is alright to ask questions about who you really are, no matter who you think your friends, family, and coworkers perceive you as being. Chances are they are so wrapped up in their own lives that they won’t even think twice about accepting a changed you, so don’t feel like you are locked into whoever you are perceived to be. Soul searching is not only helpful, it’s therapeutic. Allow your mind to dig deep into who you are, who you want to be, and where you want to go. If you aren’t asking these questions about yourself, chances are nobody else will.

Allow Love

Let the guards down for a minute, if you don’t call Bob who will? If you aren’t emailing Susan to see how she is, will she likely email you? Allowing love to exist in this world isn’t easy. People want to be courted, and often dislike being the courter. They’d rather be called upon, than do the calling. What is stopping you from being the caller? The connector? The person that knows they might get hurt by reaching out but does it anyway, because they consciously allowed love to exist?

Convenience tells us to hide from the above like boy in a heated game of tag. It shows us small rewards in exchange for our utmost loyalty. It give us bragging rights to the meaningless things in life, empty as a plastic bottle protruding from a garbage can at the gas station. We allow for convenience to be our master by proxy of engagement, we say it’s ok to be this way because everyone else is, and then, sometimes years later, we wonder what the hell went wrong.