Vedran performs again in Sarajevo

April 6, 2012

Vedran Smailovic had not performed in his hometown of Sarajevo for twenty years.

Yesterday, April 5, marked the 20th anniversary of the shelling of that city and Vedran returned to play his cello again.

Cellist of Sarajevo, Vedran Smailović from Marcel van der Steen on Vimeo.

Here’s a news article about the event.–spt.html

I have always viewed Vedran’s actions during the siege as an example of the power of the arts to give people hope. It’s about picking up the pieces and rebuilding and it’s a perfect message to think of once again at Easter. Springtime is a new beginning.

(Above is a video of me reading my book about Vedran Smailovic: “Echoes from the Square” with artwork by my husband, Deryk Houston)

Porcelain Unicorn

February 13, 2012

My friend Sheila from Boston sent me a link to this video, which, almost without words, speaks volumes about compassion. It’s about two individuals, and it fits with things I’ve been thinking about lately (and blogging about, in recent posts) regarding the beautiful ways we could relate to each other as individuals if we could just strip away our preconceptions based on nationalities, religions, etc.

It’s a three-minute long prize-winner called “Porcelain Unicorn” from American director Keegan Wilcox.

Our view is much different when see the two children in this video as simple, vulnerable individuals than if we label them as “a Nazi boy” and “a Jewish girl”. I love how this short video expresses how the vulnerability can last a lifetime.

Peace, protective force, compassion

February 11, 2012

Douglas Dolstad, someone Deryk and I found via the nonviolent communication (NVC) network of support, (Douglas is involved in the NVC family camp ) has been sharing ideas with us related to our concerns about the situation of Iran and Israel — our fears that missiles might soon be launched. In part, we were looking for a deeper understanding of the NVC concept of the protective use of force.

Douglas wrote:

What happens when I imagine this violence – even, or especially, if cloaked in the garb of “protective use of force”?  What happens when I think that thought?   Am I willing to go into that depth that has no bottom and needs none to define itself?    Through the halls of rage, and fear and sorrow  to a place where the names drop away and…. there is … a… fire burning?       NVC encourages us to be Alive in every moment as framed by what we’re feeling and needing.  What happens if I go there first – not just briefly as in a mean spirited road house but to linger as in a nest in which I am deeply held?
I know that if I steep in that place, whatever I do next will happen from a different energy.  

Right now, because I’ve been thinking about this in other conversations (like the one I’ve had with Miki Kashtan), when Douglas mentioned “the names dropping away” it seemed to mean the point at which there is no “us” and “them” — no “this side” or “that side” but only individuals. I asked him if that was what he meant and it did indeed seem to resonate with him.    

He asked: What goes on in you when you think these thoughts?  Is there a fierce love present?  A resting place full of power?  It may be that there aren’t individuals either, just needs.      

and part of my answer revolves around whether wanting to change the world is, in itself, a form of violence. because the assertion of wanting to change the world seems to imply an imposed solution. It can feel like a “do it my way”, rather than a “find information, think critically, act for yourself” (which is the view of education and the role of information technology that inspires me, personally).

Here is an addition to my original post (this block of text is an update as of Feb 12) based on a reply from Douglas, who said:

If I want to change the world and do not care of the effects of my actions on others, then I would agree that violence is a likely outcome. If, on the other hand, I want to change the world and extend care to the well being of others as I act to upon the changes I want to see, then the path of nonviolence is of great value. Ahimsa will guide the actions. The action might be minimal or quite major. Depends on circumstances and what evolves. In either case, there is a choice to come from a nonviolent place.

As I see it, what Douglas says requires dimensions of both intent (you mean to change the world in a positive way) and of attention (to ensure that your actions truly do extend care and are not harmful). These ideas could help guide the concept of protective use of force as well.

So what does go on in me when I think about there being no “this side” or “that side” and the “fierce love/resting place full of power” question that Douglas asks. I have felt fierce love at some of the strangest times…. watching an infinitely patient cellphone rep cross a barrier of language and culture to build a plan for my new-to-Canada homestay student, a stranger scrambling to keep a hat from blowing off on a windy day or the expression of joy on the face of a marimba player in an outdoor market (I mention these because they are examples of when a level of love jumps out that is almost completely unexpected — of course fierce love is there for family and friends but it doesn’t contain the same element of surprise.) And yes, though not always consciously, I do feel fierce love for any person doing something to meet a simple (or complex), individual need. And that resting place full of power that Douglas asks about? I’m less certain. It seems more like a resting place of letting go, temporarily. At least for me 🙂

Is there a difference between wanting to change the world and wanting to help individuals change (or wanting them to see/experience new things that might change them?)

Another addition to my original post (again as of Feb 12) — the reply from Douglas:

The moment you, me, anyone changes, the world is changed.

It might just be as simple as that, for better or for worse.

And how does protective force fit with this? The Dalai Lama talks about this and says that a harsh action might sometimes be compassionate — if it is motivated for maximum benefit. Sort of “when all else fails” or like Marshall Rosenberg’s NVC concept of needing to use force to restrain “when the child runs into the street”. See 3/4 of the way down this page for the Dalai Lama answer to an interview question on this topic, noting that he later points to the strategy of solving large problems (like Mandela’s leadership of South Africa towards independence) without “touching the gun”, so the harsh actions are clearly not intended to be the norm.

Marshall Rosenberg talks about it here:

These are my thoughts/questions for today.

And a public thank you to Douglas for pointing us to the film “Fierce Light”

Non Violent Communication

February 8, 2012

Nonviolent Communication/NVC (sometimes also known as compassionate communication) is a huge and deep topic. I have been talking to people about it in an attempt to feel less overwhelmed by current world crisis situations, including the tensions between Iran and Israel.

Miki Kashtan’s Fearless Heart blog is on my reading list and I have been particularly moved by some of her thoughts about the occupy movements. What she says seems to apply in a very global sense. An important theme that emerges is that when we define people as “us” and “them” (or any two categories) it is a form of violence. To focus on individual needs is much more complicated, but it could be the transformational strategy the world needs.

And as I think about it, it seems that social media may well be a communication form that allows more of this to happen, and I do feel optimism when I put those thoughts together. 1. We need to hear individual voices in order to find an answer to world problem. 2. New technologies are allowing us to do so more than ever before.

Miki says (in an email) “when people don’t have direct access to power and resources, it would take many more of them to create change through nonviolent resistance or dialogue — much more difficult to make happen, and more sustainable when done well.” Social media, in my opinion, is on its way to taking us to that sustainable place.

Why this blog?

March 29, 2009

Twitter seems to require an underlying blog so you can TinyUrl to a more complete explanation of What You Really Think. I must say that it’s a useful, thought clarifying challenge to condense big thoughts down to the 140 character tweet. And a release to then be able to have the details gushing out in another place 🙂

AND… the reason I started on Twitter at all was to see if I could follow folks who are involved in the big theme-y things that seem to define my life (of course my goal is see whether/how these might be pulled together — and to contribute to that if possible):

  • education
  • education as impacted by technology (social change, critical thinking, information literacy)
  • the participatory web and roles of the citizen (e.g. sharing our cognitive surplus)
  • peace/conflict resolution
  • creativity over destructiveness
  • civic responsibility/resisting unwanted influences
  • the role of culture and the arts in all of the above

Some of the key thinkers are Phil Zimbardo, Clay Shirky, Charles Leadbeater, Michael Wesch, Matt Langdon, etc. (ooh, where are the women here — I guess that’s another topic — I do follow Yoko Ono and a few female educators – but they offer something different). It’s very cool who’s out there, what they’re saying, who will actually answer you back, etc.

Another place where I am having conversations along these lines is the Ning site I’ve put together with my children’s book (“Echoes from the Square”) as a central organizer. But the conversations at that site are intended to be mainly on the education-for-kids side, so this blog is required for when I drift into other things.