Posts

Walking Out of Scaling Up and Walking On to Localism

I am starting a new project. It is another learning journey, one that I’ve been poking around the edges of for a few years now. This time, I’ll be exploring the U.S. and Canada, instead of the Global South. But it’s still about Walk Outs who Walk On.

Let me start with a preview and explain the rest after. Here is a photo-film that I created with my dear friend and colleague, photographer Dan Séguin. The narrator is Paul Saginaw, the iconoclastic co-founder of Zingerman’s, a popular deli and community of food-related businesses in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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Flexing our muscles of discernment

It’s been one year and two weeks since Walk Out Walk On was launched into the world.  I just returned home from Denver and Boulder, Colorado, the final two stops on the book tour, and now is a good time to reflect on what I’ve learned over these last twelve months. And here it is:

The United States has lost its sense of subtlety.

Or maybe it was never there to begin with. After all, we’ve always known that when it comes to humor, the Brits have far greater mastery of nuance and irony than we Americans with our screwball and slapstick appetites. But this inclination toward the obvious and unambiguous extends beyond humor. It is part of our daily experience, shaped and amplified by politics and the media. As small differences and distinctions pass through the public lens, they transform into grand polarities, blocking each other out of the light. We find ourselves perpetually choosing sides, picking winners, condemning losers and generally orienting around good-bad, right-wrong, on-off, in-out and anything else we can reduce into simple and opposing parts.

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America broke the rules of living systems

“Without ethics, politics has no limits. America broke the rules of living systems, and lost its balance. All the oxygen flowed to a smaller and smaller section of the body politic. The history is brief and unquestionable: close to toppling, the society momentarily pulled itself upright, and then became even less ethical, less balanced, more endangered than ever as a lawless financial system came back from death, and like a foolish patient after a heart bypass operation, continued in its old ways.”

I read this last week in an essay by Earl Shorris about America’s latest pathology, published in the December 2011 issue of Harper’s Magazine. For several years now, I’ve been in conversations with people about the nature of our society’s failing systems—be those schools, healthcare, food, energy, economy, and so on. For better or worse, I’ve had a chance to be in rooms where each and every one of these systems that our society depends upon has been criticized, mourned and raged against. We’ve wrestled with what to do. Read more

Something is wrong with the global financial system. Duh.

“Something is wrong with the global financial system. International financial crises or near-crises have become regular events… The question is not whether there will be another crisis, but where it will be.”

—Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, 2003

It couldn’t be better timing. I’m reading New Money for a New World, a forthcoming book by economist Bernard Lietaer and co-author Stefan Belgin that examines the systemic failures of our current money system. Meantime, U.S. politicians are offering up drama, paradox, contradiction and befuddlement as we tumble toward the prospect of defaulting on our nation’s debt.

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Walking Out isn’t about abandoning institutions. It’s about abandoning beliefs.

In my May 21st blog, I bemoaned the decision to shut down more than a dozen schools in the Boston public school system—most of which serve low-income neighborhoods. I wondered what “walking out” of this system might look like, and went as far as suggesting “…that might mean pulling our children out of the school system and turning to one another to create neighborhood learning spaces which replace schooling with discovery.”

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