Author Archives: Raina

Keeping community focused

I just came across a post from Seth Godin titled The worst voice of the brand is the brand. He says:

When a doctor rips off Medicare, all doctors are seen as less trustworthy.

When a fundamentalist advocates destruction of outsiders, all members of that organization are seen as intolerant.

When a soldier commits freelance violence, all citizens of his nation are seen as violent.

When a car rental franchise rips off a customer, all outlets of the franchise suffer.

Seems obvious, no? I wonder, then, why loyal and earnest members of the tribe hesitate to discipline, ostracize or expel the negative outliers.

“You’re hurting us, this is wrong, we are expelling you.”

I’ve seen this phenomenon many times: a group of talented, enthusiastic, passionate people (Linchpins) get together, form a group dedicated to a purpose…. and then rip it apart with politics, infighting, and backstabbing. I wrote about the phenomenon in Working with multiple linchpins: in most cases, the problem is not that you can’t get people to work, but that you can’t get people to stop working… or to agree on which direction the work should go.

This centrifugal tendency of linchpin-y groups is often used as evidence that a flat, democratic organization full of strong-minded individuals cannot compete with a hierarchical autocratic organization full of obedient sheep. But in fact, I believe the problem is a single misconception held by many communities:

“Equal and democratic” does NOT mean you have the right to act in ways that damage the community

It means that no one person has the right to tell others what to do. It means that every person must submit to the agreed-upon decision-making process. But if someone in the group is acting in a way that is detrimental to the purpose and process of the group as a whole, then the others in the community have not only the right, but the obligation to oppose those actions.

How to stop your worst voices

Set clear expectations

I discussed this in Working with multiple linchpins also: it’s almost impossible to get a bunch of linchpins working together unless you’ve all agreed ahead of time on what you’re trying to do, and how you’re going to get there. So make it clear what the group goals are, and make sure everyone knows that they’re expected to contribute to those goals.

Step in early

Maybe it’s just me, but I always have a hard time figuring out where to draw lines. If someone makes a comment that’s only a little offensive, do you say anything? If so, how do you justify slamming down hard on someone who’s only a little out of line? But if not, then how do you justify slamming down on the next comment, that’s only a little more offensive? Or the one after that, or the one after that?

The best solution I’ve found is to try to react in direct proportion to the offence. Instead of attacking all-out (“HOW DARE YOU SAY SUCH A THING! HAVE YOU NO RESPECT!”), I might respond to a mild insult with “Wow, that was harsh.” In most cases, mild reprimands will communicate your concern, and the other person will change their behavior. But in cases where it’s not enough, you’ve established a precedent for a more severe reprimand when the behavior continues.

Plan for negative outliers

When you set out the goals of the group, and work out a decision-making process, also decide how to handle someone who doesn’t comply with those decisions. Who will decide whether the accused is indeed in violation of the agreements, and how? How should group members handle someone they believe to be in violation of the agreements? What consequences will result from violating the agreements, and who will decide on them? As with all other decisions, these questions can be answered with a trial and jury, by a single executive, by group vote, or whatever other method fits your group and your circumstances. But having these agreements made ahead of time can prevent a lot of standing around, shuffling feet, glancing sideways at each other and wishing someone else would take care of it.

What else have you found helpful in keeping a community healthy and productive?

The most important thing I do

No posts next week. I’ll be incommunicado, doing the most important thing I ever do.

I’m working as “responsible adult” (or as I like to tag myself, an “allegedly responsible adult), chaperoning a church trip. 23 ninth graders will be going to the Hopi and Navajo reservations in New Mexico and Arizona.

They’ll learn how other cultures live… ‘cuz it’s one thing to be taught that some people lead their lives differently, and another to actually be there and see it.

They’ll learn how to live on a bus for 10 days without killing each other.

They’ll learn how strong a community can grow when people accept each other for who they are.

They’ll learn that they can show others who they truly are, and be accepted and loved for that.

They’ll learn that their greatest value and beauty comes not from fitting in, but from the things that make them unique.

The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few

The first year I did this, I was amazed at the creativity, strength, intelligence, and beauty of the ninth graders on that trip. I’ve since learned that every group of ninth graders is equally creative, strong, intelligent, and beautiful. I’m amazed every year at the potential and capacity in our youth.

I must conclude, by extension, that this same potential exists in everyone. That every person has an amazing soul with amazing capacity for beauty and contribution. The harvest of our future society is plentiful indeed.

But the workers are few. A huge portion of that potential is being squandered or outright squashed, simply because there’s no effort to develop their unique gifts. Our teachers are poorly paid, and working in a system that allows very little individualization. Our schools are aimed more towards eliminating creativity, initiative, and courage than developing them. Parents don’t have time — between making a living and recovering from making a living — to help their kids grow, explore, and learn. And no one’s even telling them that they have options other than soul-destroying 40-hour-a-week jobs.

I want to make a world in which these kids don’t have to trample their own inner beauty in order to make a living. I want to make a world where more people can afford to take the time to help them grow. I hope someday that this blog will contribute to that, but for now, I’m helping ninth graders, one 10-day trip at a time.

May your next 10 days be equally important.

Resources: How to Fail

Seth Godin recently posted a fantastic article on why and how to fail.

Favorite line: “There are some significant misunderstandings about failure. A common one, similar to one we seem to have about death, is that if you don’t plan for it, it won’t happen.”

If you’re going to fail, wouldn’t you like to fail correctly?

Can we all be rich?

I want you to be rich.

That’s why I’m writing this blog; in hopes that I can help you stop trying to make money from a dead-end soul-killing job, and figure out how to instead make money in a way that puts your income, schedule, and activities under your control. From there, you can use that capability to set your own goals, and change the world.

“But Raina”, I hear you cry, “We can’t all be rich!”

Ahh… but I think we can. And here’s why.

We are all rich

As the global standard of living creeps up, it’s easy to forget that it is creeping up. But if you go back far enough, it becomes obvious that it has. Let’s go back to 17th century Germany….

  • In most households, somewhere between 70% and 100% of the family income goes towards food
  • Most houses have one room. Maybe 2.
  • Dental care, antibiotics, and the germ theory of disease are all unknown (translation: doctors don’t wash their hands before operating on you.)
  • Water must be fetched from the well.

All of the following were luxuries available only to the rich:

  • Individual beds for family members and multi-room houses
  • A diet that varies from day to day
  • Glass in your windows
  • Water that doesn’t kill you
  • Chocolate
  • Multiple sets of clothing
  • Travel beyond, say, 10 miles
  • A means of transportation besides walking

And these weren’t available to anyone, no matter how rich:

  • Water at the twist of a handle
  • Indoor toilets
  • Double-paned storm windows
  • Insulated walls
  • Air conditioning / Central heating
  • Advil
  • Penicillin
  • Sudafed
  • Transportation that goes faster than 25 miles/hour

So it’s pretty obvious that in actuality, we are all rich. Every single person in the US and Europe, and many people in South America, Africa, and Asia.

But that doesn’t count… I mean someone has to be poor relative to others

Sure, but let’s take a step back here. Why would you even want to be rich?

Some people are competitive, and care about being richest. Fine; feel free — doesn’t bother me. But for most of us, being rich is not a goal in and of itself. We want to be rich in order to have the time and money to pursue what we really care about… whether that’s time with our family, deeper spiritual development, or saving the [insert disadvantaged lifeform here]s.

In fact, we’ve seen a transition over the last century towards a more equitable and level distribution of wealth: in terms of buying power, there’s no one as rich as Rockefeller and Carnegie were at the end of the 19th century, but there are a lot fewer people who are as poor as people were at the end of the 19th century. Some people think we’ve seen the end of the super-rich, and that the wealth distribution of the future will be between those with enough, and those with more than enough.

No, we can’t all be the richest person in the world. But we can all be rich enough.

But there’s just not that much money floating around

Not necessarily true, but let’s ignore that for the moment.

Maybe you won’t ever have a trillion dollars in your bank account. But again, take a step back and look at the reasons you want to be rich. I suspect you’ll find that Robert Kiyosaki’s approach is a better definition for you than any arbitrary net-worth figure:

“Rich” is not measured in money. It’s measured in time. How long could you go without working? That’s how rich you are

By this definition Thoreau, with his $0/year income, was rich, because he didn’t spend any time earning income. He could do whatever he wanted with his day, because he had no outside obligations.

Note that there’s no guarantee you’ll get to laze about all day: Thoreau actually had time constraints in growing the vegetables on which he lived and maintaining his house, and so on. But he was happy with the work he had to do, and could schedule his time however he liked, and so he was rich.

That’s what I want for you: to spend the day doing what you’d like; either because doing what you like makes you money, or because your earning money is independent of what you do all day. (Or some combination thereof). If you can earn your living by doing what you want, then I’m calling it “rich.”

We can all be rich

So yes, we can all be rich. There’s nothing unsustainable about it.

Resources for Further Reading
Is it evil to make money?
Eat Pancakes and Change the World
Forget the Lexus; Buy an Olive Tree
Homework: What do you care about?

My Story

I’ve been doing some introspective thinking lately, about why I’m writing this blog, and what I want to accomplish here. And I thought it was only fair to share what I’ve found.

I’m pissed off. I was betrayed, at many different levels, and in many different ways.

My preparation…

I always did well in school; my dad was a schoolteacher, and he knew how to make learning fun. I have a high IQ, which is supposed to correlate with academic success, and it did.

I was always shy; I have to think through before I say anything, which makes it hard to have a casual conversation, which makes it hard to make friends. In elementary school, my total number of friends could be counted on one hand; in middle school, 2 hands; when I graduated high school I had a couple dozen signatures in my yearbook. No one ever tried to help me with that, and it never affected my ability to succeed in school.

I was always temperamental: I have a tendency to get angry if people don’t rearrange their schedules and their lives to suit me, whether the expectation is reasonable or absurd; I also tend to assume malice in cases where stupidity or negligence would be completely adequate explanation. This rarely came up in school — except for exacerbating my social problems — so it was also ignored.

I went on to college, also did well, and set out to find a job. Since I had been successful in school, I expected to be successful in life.

….and the result

Instead, I learned:

  1. Academic achievements feel awesome for a couple of weeks, and then you go back to feeling empty and listless.
  2. Except in academia, the skills you learned in school — how to memorize large amounts of information, and write 3-page papers analysing that information — don’t help you in any jobs.
  3. Although what you know is important, who you know is also important — people with a bunch of friends, and who are able to make friends, are at a significant advantage.
  4. You can’t accomplish any important goals if you lose your temper dozens of times a day.
  5. There are lots of ways to make money that don’t involve crappy jobs, if only you’re prepared to take advantage of them.

So I’ve spent the last 8 years trying to make up for these deficiencies, and I’m still not done.

Why I’m writing this blog

That’s not even what pisses me off. What pisses me off is that it’s still happening. People are still being sent into the world with these expectations; they’re being “prepared for the real world” in ways that are detrimental to their ability to thrive in the real world.

So that’s why I’m writing this. I hope, that by outlining what I’ve learned, I can save some people some time. Maybe help them make better decisions before they go the wrong way and have to turn back. And ultimately, I’d like to change the system so that people get the education and training they need to succeed in this new “real world” that globalization and automation are creating.

I hope you’ll help me.