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Leaving Utopia: A Glimpse of How the World Could Be

A little over a year ago, I made my first visit to Järna, Sweden, home of the Youth Initiative Program (YIP), a one-year social entrepreneur learning program for 18-25 year olds. As I was preparing to depart, one of the YIPpies stopped by my room to ask me how I felt about my visit. It was then that I spoke the lyrics to what would become the first song I ever wrote when I said, “I feel like I’m packing to leave utopia.”

That was foreshadowing. It wasn’t until my third visit, two weeks ago, that I would really encounter utopia, a glimpse of how the world could be.

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Restoring the flow of abundance at Kufunda Village

Last week, I spent a few days at Kufunda Learning Village in Zimbabwe. Here are just a few of the many activities that were going on:

In the herb lab, Patricia and Enock are blending tincture of Artemisia with lemon juice and raw honey to help a neighbor who is suffering from chronic asthma. They will provide a month’s supply of this remedy for free. Patricia dreams of opening an herbal clinic in town where she would work four days a week so she could spend the fifth at the Kufunda clinic and keep it free.

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Walking On to Gifting: Shop of the Open Heart

It’s 9 AM on Black Friday (for those of you outside the U.S., explanation here), and I’m hiding out in my parents’ home on the North Shore of Boston. My uncle invited me to join him in bringing coffee to nearby Walmart strikers, but I can’t bear the thought of going out there long enough to accept his invitation. When did the conspicuous consumption of our culture become so crushing that some of us choose to cower in our homes?

A few weeks ago, as the holiday season was threatening to cast its glittery shadow, my Walk Out Walk On colleague Aerin Dunford and I had a conversation about how to navigate the transactional culture that dominates the six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. We asked our usual question, “What would Walk Outs do?”, which shifted our attention from what’s wrong with this time of year to what’s possible. My learning from witnessing Walk Outs is that they tend to waste very little energy in trying to transform old systems—it’s debilitating and there’s minimal return on the effort. Instead, Walk Outs turn their attention toward the future—designing and experimenting with how the world could be. Read more


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More Evidence That We Walk Outs Need Each Other

Last week, I participated in my first Tweet Chat. This was a four-hour, pre-arranged Twitter session using the hashtag #wowochat to link tweets together in a virtual conversation. Fellow Walk Out Walk On-er Aerin Dunford and I decided to co-host an inquiry among Walk Outs involved in learning and education. Our invitation was this:

Many educators unsatisfied with our current school systems are walking out of institutions and limiting beliefs about what’s possible. These brave folks are walking on to create new learning spaces outside of formal educational infrastructure; to challenge attachment to grades, diplomas and degrees; and to convene breakthrough conversations.

During this Tweet Chat, we’ll explore questions like:

  • What has compelled you to walk out of mainstream education?
  • How do you integrate your fears as you step into the unknown?
  • What are you called to walk on to now in your life?
  • Is it possible to create the new without engaging dominant institutions?

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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


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Playing to change the world: the time of the Jester

Just after midnight last night, I found myself in Boston’s financial district, following in the footsteps of a New Orleans-style brass band that marched along Atlantic Avenue. More than a thousand Occupiers and supporters were dancing in the streets as the city prepared to evict the Dewey Square encampment. The Mayor’s midnight deadline had passed, and the square and surrounding streets were overflowing with people singing and chanting and dancing.

A few hours earlier at the evening’s General Assembly, a proposal was made to meet the City of Boston’s eviction demand with a dance party. The proposal’s champion called for protesters to “clean up our mess entirely” and “be the first Occupy to just ‘poof!’ and be gone like a gypsy squad.”

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The restoration of citizenship: Is Occupy our opportunity?

Last night, I attended a forum at MIT to reflect on the significance of the Occupy movement. Pete, one of the Boston Occupiers who coordinates the medical team, was sharing stories about the challenges of daily life in Dewey Square, which alongside activists and protesters, has attracted drug dealers, sex workers and the homeless. According to Pete, the Boston police have essentially handed Dewey Square over to the Occupiers, requiring that they police themselves.

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The criminalization of friendship: Have we gone so far?

I’m sitting in a café in Copenhagen thinking about friendship. I’m here because a dear friend of mine asked me to show up, and I said yes. It has been three years since my last visit, and during that time, her father passed away. So I’m here now despite being in the middle of a book tour that has me away from home through to Thanksgiving. Even so, this was a good decision.

I’ve been learning quite a bit about friendship lately. In the last few Walk Out Walk On workshops, the Intervention to Friendship distinction has been the most provocative and revelatory, and it’s got me wondering what it is that makes friendship—the dearest nourishment to our hearts and souls—so threatening to our professional lives.

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