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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Thursday 19 November 2015

Muhammad's Stork

“We need not deplore the renunciation of historical truth when we put forward rational grounds for the precepts of civilization. The truths contained in religious doctrines are after all so distorted and systematically disguised that the mass of humanity cannot recognize them as truth. The case is similar to what happens when we tell a child that new-born babies are brought by the stork. Here, too, we are telling the truth in symbolic clothing, for we know what the large bird signifies . But the child does not know it. He hears only the distorted part of what we say, and feels that he has been deceived; and we know how often his distrust of the grown-ups and his refractoriness actually take their start from this impression. We have become convinced that it is better to avoid such symbolic disguisings of the truth in what we tell children and not to withhold from them a knowledge of the true state of affairs commensurate with their intellectual level.”

Do you know what the stork symbolizes?  I didn't have a clue and had to look it up.  In so doing, I saw that there are several layers of meaning, but that there's something pan-cultural about the stork itself as a symbol associated with the bringing and taking of life.

A couple threads lead me to think about symbols, intent and interpretation this morning.  

Two nights ago, I was in a room with some amazing thought-leaders and change-makers (including Al Etmanski, who's book Impact is all about changemaking).  Al in particular focused on the concept of patter-recognition and the sorts of people who are good at recognizing big-picture patterns.  Is there a connection between what a person eats, how much exercise they get and how healthy they are?  How about their mood - is that impacted by physical health?  How about environment?  

To scale up - is there a correlation between government social policy and the radicalization of terrorists?  Or climate change and diet?  Or climate change and terrorism?

The answer is yes, but if you're looking for quick A-to-B critical paths or low hanging fruit or your next meal, does any of this stuff feel relevant?  Isn't this grasping at straws?  What's climate change got to do with the price of rice?

Everything, but it's a multi-step process to make the connections.  While everyone can do this, it's hard mental work.  Not everyone wants to train their body to an Olympic-competitive state, nor sees the value.  The same holds true with doing painful mental crunches and lunges on a daily basis.

A question I put to Al - how do you explain and prove the relevance of pattern recognition and complexity theory in simple terms?  How do you communicate systems in sound-bites?


ISIS believes the apocalypse is coming.  I'm sure not everyone at the highest ranks does (it's a convenient message, more on that later), though if they get boxed in they'll become true converts quickly enough.  

They aren't the first to predict the end of the world, and yet the world keeps on ticking.  Change is real, even cataclysmic change, but survival comes from adaptation, not divine intervention.  There's no good-vs-evil battle in evolution, just a natural process.

Having said that, endings are always used as motivators, aren't they?  YOLO, so enjoy this life.  If you don't get the project done on time, the client is gone and will never come back.  If you don't study really really hard and pass that test you'll fail, and then you won't get a job.  ALWAYS BE CLOSING.

In politics, it's almost always an apocalyptic battle between the forces of goodness and either stability or change vs the four horsemen/opposing parties who will rain fire and brimstone on all that is good. Look at any fundraising drive - it's always pressure, big stakes, tight timelines - you must act now!!

And isn't it in the waning days of a campaign that the dirty tricks come out?  The win, after all, is what matters - and as time runs out, it becomes increasingly acceptable to do whatever it takes to get that win.

Could ISIS be so barbaric if they didn't have an end in sight?  Where does this end come from?


What was whispered to the rose

To break it open

Last night
Was whispered to my heart.

The poet Rumi was an ecstatic Sufi.  Sufism is a branch of Islamic mysticism.  Reading Rumi is like reading Buddha, or Lao Tzu, or Yoda.  Their words are transcendent, laden with symbols and meaning, intentionally challenging because the concepts of which they speak are broader than words.  More often than not the quote is a lesson we're meant to unravel ourselves.

For Rumi, the Rose isn't a flower that you smell, but a symbol for the love of the Beloved, which itself is a symbol for Allah in his loving aspect (Allah has a lot of aspects).

If you read Rumi at a surface level, you're lost.  It can't be done, because the words become gobbledy-gook.

You don't need to consciously know what the symbols refer to, though, as they tend to speak to the individual in ways less conceptual and more emotional.


And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.

And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion; and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority.

And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast.

And they worshiped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped they beast, saying Who is like unto the beast? Who is able to make war with him?

It goes on and on like that - you're free to read it yourselves.  That's the Christian apocalypse; the one from the Koran has a ton of minor and major signs, but refers to very specific stuff like the moon splitting and one-eyed men and Jews making fashion statements with Persian shawls.

So, if those Jews showed up wearing Louis Vuitton shawls instead of Persian ones, it wouldn't count, right?  What about the Romans being the majority?  'Cause the Roman empire is long gone and frankly, Italians, or even Europeans aren't a global majority.  If the sun doesn't rise in the West, do you ignore that and cherry-pick the signs that work in your favour?

You can read the Bible, or the Koran, or any Book as literal - but you can't do that without coming across countless contradictions.  You can confabulate around this cognitive dissonance, but then you're inserting yourself into the text and again, focusing on the narrative that feels right for you whether it was intended that way or not.

Here, too, we are telling the truth in symbolic clothing, for weknow what the large bird signifies . But the child does not know it.


Last point, which brings in the title.

Mohammed reject idolatry because he recognized people had a problem confusing symbols with the thing that symbol is supposed to represent.  He felt Jesus, a prophet in Islam, had become idolized by Christians when it was the good rabbi's message that was meant to be important.

Much the same way money is a conduit, not a prize, but we don't see it that way.

The banning of idolatry was done with rational cause, but the results have gone screwy.  How could Muhammed be proud of the Charlie Hebdo attack when he believed to overcome evil with good is good, to resist evil by evil is evil and if you show mercy to those who are in the earth, He Who is in heaven will show mercy to you?

Symbols are critical to how people understand and communicate.  Letters are symbols, words are symbols, metaphors are symbols.  We cannot communicate the World - we can only communicate about the World.

Most symbols are contextual, too.  They are rooted in time and place.  To try and understand them in the context of the now tends to involve trying to make the now conform to the symbol, rather than adapting the symbol to the present.

The opposite of adaptation, the height of human arrogance.

Yet the human mind can only process so much, on its own.  Particularly in times of adversity, we look to symbols for simplicity, not philosophy, for direction, not for lessons.

Humanity isn't mature enough for that.

So we either insist on taking the word of the parent at face value, demonize the parent for being a deceiver or ignore them entirely, and play by our rules as history's actors until we get caught and reigned in, punished, or written out by the forces of nature we chose to ignore/sought to control.

What maturity looks like is self-regulation, empathy, mindfulness.  Maturity allows us to expand beyond our own interests and simple, black-and-white framing to see the world a bit more clearly, and live in it a bit more responsibly.

The goal is not to control the perceived child nor to cast off or become keepers of the rules, but to become the parent, and help the children spread their wings and fly.

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Tuesday 17 November 2015

In My Name

Great little SM campaign on how acts of terrorism are #NotInMyName.

Of course, the terrorists themselves don't care about that, and don't care about you.  They believe they are acting in the interest of a higher calling - either god, or themselves, or a mythologised world of the past where things were fine before sociology started happening.

There is value in campaigns against, there is also value in providing alternatives.  In politics, repeating the negative is often discouraged as giving airtime to the arguments of the other guy.  You want to throw the other guy off his message and stay on your message, which doesn't happen if you're chasing the narrative.

So what does that look like here?

Easy - it's a message as old and as universal as civilization:

              No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.

God is not the sword, but the stone.

The stone isn't the saviour - it's just the hook (or book).

It's not external - it's integral.  Yet it is nothing more than the hub of the wheel.

When we find our way to the stone, we become the soup, the salad, the whole that is more than the sum of its parts.  Not because of what it is - but because of what we are.

Stone soup.  Community.  Two names for the same thing, the thing that is all of us, that is what we are part of.

So, help me here - how might we hashtag that?

SyrianRefufees: Roadmap to Community

Image of Poverty Reduction Strategy roadmap

Taken from the Toronto Strong Neighourhood Strategy.

What would a process map like this look like in relation to the settlement of Syrian Refugees in Canada?  How could it be part of a package they get before coming here or upon arrival?  How about a similar map/package for communities being settled in for what to expect?

What about something similar that identifies the needs of settlers?  IE, if we know that a mother and two kids (none with English) is settling in community X, they would need:

BASIC NEEDS - shelter, access, grocery stores, transit access to schools, translation services, perhaps work, etc. 

COMMUNITY NEEDS - after-school space, extracurricular, community educational programming, what else?

Maybe all this is being done and done well already.  If it were, though, so many engaged partners wouldn't be looking for it (or looking to create it), would they?

Sales, Terrorism and A Place to Belong

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"Do you have a second?  I'd love to get to know you!"

Not something you'd expect to hear from a stranger on a sidewalk as the dark and chill of a fall evening settles upon the town.

The voice belonged to a bright-eyed, brilliantly smiled young woman, beautiful in a wholesome way. How could you say no?  How could you reject that extended beam of warmth and light as the cold lonely shadows of winter creep around you?

I offered her a light smile and shook my head no.  "I'm late for a meeting", I said.

"No worries!" came the cheery reply.  "Maybe when you come back."

The young woman in question was one of the amazing street marketers collecting donations and direct-withdrawal partners for Because I Am A Girl.  The agency they work for is a model anyone looking to hustle for donations should look to - from hiring to scripting to training to presentation, their team knows exactly how to hook in their targets.

My event was a Why Should I Care chat about Syrian Refugees.  How many should come to Canada? What concerns should we have about screening and whatnot?  What's really happening on the ground there - and what is the process involved for settling a New Canadian from a completely different cultural context?

Part and parcel of this conversation - especially in light of the Paris attacks - is the threat of terrorists sneaking in with a mandate to terrorize our society and destroy the fundamental freedoms that make us Canadian.  

And you can't talk about terrorism without touching on radicalization.


While our economy runs on money and we in the West tend to look at the world as a series of accounts rather than a societal system, the best salespeople will tell you that value is a personal thing that must be thoroughly understood if you want to close a deal.  Facts tell stories sell.  Don't tell me why I should care about a service, or product, or cause - tell me about why it matters to me.

Largely, this comes down to two things - a sense of empowerment and a sense of belonging.

Yes, there's the stuff you need - shelter, food, some comfort to make the days pass a bit more easily - but beyond all this, there's the need for that something more.

Powerful wealthy people don't keep doing what they do so they can afford another car or beach condo in the Bahamas - they could retire and, if they manage their money well, have all the good stuff others only aspire to and be content to the end of their days.  

They do what they do because the status that comes with their actions matters.

Likewise, people don't join and stick with political parties for the policy - policy positions shift over time and, as have been widely commented, all parties tend to act within the same narrow policy window that appeals to non-base voters.  You need to throw some meat to the base now and again, clearly, but by and large they're there because being a conservative, a liberal or a NDPer is part of their personal identity.  

Same holds true for Leaf fans or band followers or any other social tribe - brand, the empowerment that comes with that brand and of course, the basic of being part of a community matters.

Whether it's at the top of the power totem pole or in the pages of history or on the 50 under 50 to watch list or a church group or a terrorist group, what matters most is a place to belong.

"Do you have a second?  I'd love to get to know you!"

You matter to me - I give you status.  I could be your conduit to the place where you belong.

Belonging - that sense of being a welcomed and desired part of a community - isn't a key part of how we do things in Canada.  We're all about the hustle, means-of-production style; I've got the place, you gotta prove to me you deserve access.  And it's all transactional.

Yet we recognize that status and belonging matter when it comes to sales; if we want to make a sale, the key frame and cues will be about that, not the product or service or cause.


Part of the Centre for Social Innovation's secret sauce - the thing that has propelled it to the top of the co-working space paradigm and made it a model that is being copied around the world, with even government exploring its potential - is community, a place to belong.  What was Trudeau's winning line?  You can be part of the change through hope and hard work.  

Read anything about radicalization - it could be They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children or Friction or whatever.  At the base of the process are those two same things things that drive any sale - a sense of status and a place to belong.

A question raised at last night's WSIC chat - "what about the risk of these people bringing their culture in and taking over?"  It's a common undercurrent among anti-immigration arguments; they aren't part of this community and whatever they bring, be it bombs or barbaric practices, they are a threat.

They don't belong.

Imagine you are a first-generation Syrian Canadian.  Your parents, lacking Canadian Experience, have trouble finding work.  They start a business of some kind, but business itself fluctuates based on what's in the headlines.  On the news and in media, the only people who look like you are either bad guys or victims, but almost always rural and technologically backwards.  You have trouble finding work, but peers with the same (or less) education and experience than you do get ahead; none of them look like you.

The politicians say "terrorist" and speak of radicalization, and they know they're talking about you. On the subway, you feel the eyes of strangers assessing you as a threat.  

Your whole life, you've felt like you don't belong.  That you're unwanted, a cancer on society.  

Then a confident, clean-looking young man approaches you on the street.

"Do you have a second?  I'd love to get to know you!"  You matter to me - I give you status.  I could be your conduit to the place where you belong.

That's how it starts.  It could be a gang, it could be a recruiter for a terrorist group - but it doesn't have to be.


Last week, I attended a chat with Dr. Curt Rhodes of Questscope.  He's a white American man who has lived and worked with disadvantaged people in Syria for more than 30 years.  Both his daughters have "Muslim" names.  During the conversation, I asked about the soft element of community integration - status and belonging. Rhodes painted a picture with words of a young family arriving on Canadian soil for the first time, confronted with a whole new world of sights, sounds, people and colours that simply aren't present where they come from. 

As someone who's spent some time as a stranger in strange lands, I knew the feeling.

Then, Rhodes asked us to imagine (taking into consideration cultural differences) that someone was there to meet you, embraced you like a neighbour and kissed you on the cheek, then picked up your children and did the same.

Imagine, in other words, that Syrian refugees fleeing the homeland that is a place of belonging no longer touched down in a strange place and were given status as welcomed neighbour right from the beginning.

"It's like we're old friends.  They want to hear about me, they value me - I could belong here."

We talked a bit about how digital tools could facilitate the integration process, how Apps like could help find familiar foods and doctors who speak native languages.  I through out the idea of Jane's Walks of welcome and community barbeques.

All these things - they can happen, if we organize, I said.

"Inshallah", Curt said.


Friends of mine - a married couple - are expecting their first child, a girl.  They are understandably excited.  They're going through the ritual of all expectant parents - getting bombarded with advice by family and friends, planning baby showers and visits and going through all the things they need to properly welcome their baby girl into the world.  

Part of that process is picking a name - conveying a form of status.  Who will their daughter be? What will be her name to the world, the thing that identifies both who she is and what her parents want her to represent?

Both parents are insistent on including a First Nations name, either as first or middle.  They have a lot of research to do and want to be respectful, but for them it's critical that their daughter reflect Canada's roots.  In some way, this is a way of giving status to a people who have consistently been devalued, stripped of status (in truly Orwellian status) and have been made to feel as outsiders on their traditional lands.

My friends are both New Canadians - he comes from Algeria, she from France.  Both embody, to me, what Canada is all about; the creation of community, a place of belonging.


I don't have to ask if you're busy.  I know the answer to that one already.  Busy is our default these days - it's why we don't have time for each other.  We're too busy for friends, too busy to communicate with our employees, too busy to give time (especially unpaid time) to causes.  

A customer service rep in a store, smiling and chatty when you just want to browse.

A stranger on the street, struggling with English, stops to ask directions - sorry, no time.

A cold-call asking for help - or even someone we asked for help, but turns out not to have what we want (or in the way we want it).

The homeless man on the street.  

"I don't have a second.  I could care less who you are."  You don't matter.  You don't belong here.

Our social model has steadily become an unsocial model.  Transactions have edged out relationships. Sales has taken over from engagement, messaging has replaced communication and empathy - reaching out - has given way to selfishness.  It's Objectivism - the exact opposite of community.

Yet in times of tragedy, we still turn to community.  In times of optimism, we still turn to community.

When it matters, we still long for community, above all else.  We want to be recognized; we want to belong.

Those who are most susceptible to radicalization aren't poor, or uneducated - they are those who feel excluded.


To me, Canada is an idea; at its best, this country is a social garden with space for everyone. Difference doesn't provide a threat to some standardized, impregnable Canada - that entity never existed.  Canada is ever-evolving, ever-adapting, ever adding new ingredients to the mix and becoming something greater as a result.

The idea of a wave of New Canadians settling on this soil with all the challenges and opportunities they bring is a gift that we can be prepared to accept.  

If we can find the time to get to know these New Canadians, they can get to know us.  Instead of risking apathy and radicalization, the furthering of silos, we can show the world a better way - a community of engagement.

It's not my Canada - it belongs to all of us.  We all grow it together.  In so doing, we create something stronger and more appealing than terrorist calls to burn the earth and live like kings on the ashes.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and get to know me a little better.

I'd love to hear from you, too.

How might we make this place to belong, together?