Saturday, November 18, 2006

Who will change the world?

If you're hopeful about the world's prospects, are you a positivist? Or naive? If you're negative, are you a cynic? Or does that perspective come from the wisdom of experience? I've been asking myself these questions, because I'm not a spring chicken, but still tend to see the world in terms of what can happen, what can be achieved, what things could be like. I tend to see the rest of humanity as having wants and desires and, in many ways, similar values to mine. We want safety, opportunity, good health, basic resources and a fair bit of freedom. We'll make some sacrifices in some areas in exchange for gains in other areas. We would like our children to have good lives, better than ours if possible, but certainly not worse.

Well, I'm lucky to have most of the things I want. The future, where my children will live, is harder to assess, of course, and there are certainly causes for concern. I would like to improve their prospects, if I can. And then there's the 5.5 billion or so folks whose situations are much worse than mine, and whose children are in desperate need. I would like to do something to make their lives better as well. I've wanted that at some level for years, but haven't done much about it. More recently, I've become a little more active. The tricky bit is that, coming from an engineering background, I have a strong bias toward the real world. And yet, it's often very hard to see any clear, quantitative benefit from the efforts I make. Have I gone off the deep end? Am I now a hopelessly hopeful idealist?

Well, I had to think about this. Here's the thing: If you've got a positive attitude, does that make you unrealistic? Are you a realist if you think we're doomed? If that's the case, then maybe we are doomed!

So I thought about those that had a positive impact on the world. I'm talking about people in the blog logo in the upper right. Lincoln, King, Gandhi. Toss in JFK and Roosevelt and maybe Mother Teresa and Albert Schweizer. Even Jesus and Buddha. Where do they fall in the spectrum?

After chewing on this for, well, weeks actually, at some point it clicked for me that there are two dimensions involved: outlook and experience. Most of us start out with a positive outlook and no experience. We're optimistic and idealistic, though someone in our lives may step in to save us from being too gullible. As we grow in experience, we tend to become less positive, even pessimistic, jaded, or cynical over time. It's sad, but some of us actually start out negative and doubtful, and that's definitely a bummer, because I don't think experience will tend to make most people a lot more positive. But let's go back to who makes a difference.

So, going back to the worldchangers: I see them all as positive. But not in a weak way. Instead, I see these folks as being faithful. They had or have faith in humanity's ability to overcome our own weaknesses. And we have people like that still. We have Jimmy Carter, Paul Farmer and Jeffrey Sachs. And hundreds more who are savvy, experience, been through the trenches and yet continue to advocate for positive change. They fit into the upper right of the chart I included. That's where you've got to be if you expect to make positive change!

There are also numerous celebreties, like Bono, Madonna, Angenlina Jolie, etc, who advocate for change, but who may not have the pedigree of experience and who therefore tend to be dismissed as idealists. Funny, isn't it, how a weathered and tested soul can express an opinion and be respected and lauded, but when a young and idealistic person expresses a similar view, they're naive and idealistic? I'm in a similar boat: Older than Angelina, but about the same age as Madonna and Bono, I don't really have much experience in a third world life style, though my mother raised 5 kids solo with the help of AFDC checks. So, if I have positive thoughts about where the world can go, am I a space cadet? Or a visionary?

Who are you?

I believe that each of us can change the world. After all, hundreds of millions of us have changed the world in a small way called "global climate change", so I know that we can have an impact. But who are we?

If you ask me, I say we're visionaries! To hell with the naysayers. Let's work together and, slowly perhaps, change the world for the better. It's our choice, and I'm making mine.

Drop a note. I bet if you've read this far that you've been working on something. Tell us what it's about!

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

It's all about the content

I have once again disappeared into the Vortex, this time spending most of my web moments porting an excellent document by Elizabeth Brink of IRN (and AR?) called "Beyond Dams" to (yep) Appropedia.

Beyond Dams talks briefly about the various undesirable impacts of dams, especially large ones, on the ecosystems (including humans) related to rivers. (Tracy Kidder repeatedly mentions such a "bad dam" in Mountains Beyond Mountains. The all time biggy must be China's Three Gorge Dam, which was completed after "Beyond Dams" was written.) The doc goes on to talk extensively about alternatives solutions to many of the problems that have motivated dams in the past. Many of the solutions are very valuable and interesting independent of dams. For example, rainwater harvesting diminishes the need for dams in a couple of ways, but is useful technology even if dams are not in the picture.

Porting this doc has been seriously educational, getting me pointed to a remarkable couple, the Erssons, in Portland. Most of us live lives of such large resource impact ("ecological footprint") that if even a modest fraction of the world lived in the same style we'd all be toast in short order. (Check yours here.) But the Erssons demonstrate that a tiny footprint is achievable in an urban environment, and their achievements are inspirational. I highly recommend that you drop by for a visit. It's a delightful site!

So, anyway, I haven't totally disappeared. But you can tell I'm swamped when I miss an easy opportunity to post about Appropedia's new logo. Check it out; I find it totally cool. It's been up for over a week now, I think, and barely seems newsworthy any more, so only rated this brief mention.

But perhaps I can poke around and get some "web buttons" (or whatever they're called) put together for Appropedia, and we can offer them to other sites (like Resolution) for help with promotion.

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Grass roots world peace

I've gotten so involved with Appropedia that I sometimes lose track of the bigger picture, why I got engaged in the first place. I'll take this opportunity to remind myself.

My first humanitarian passion, world peace, is not so purely humanitarian as it might seem. It's pretty easy to see the self-interest in world peace; I want to help build a better world for my kids. Sure, I want it for everyone's kids, but since I'm thinking of mine, there is some pretty straightforward self-interest in the neighborhood.

My troubles in trying to get involved with world peace was that much of the focus seemed to be on government and policitical leaders and demonstrations. Not all, of course, but a lot. I wanted to get more personally involved. What can an individual do? How can I live differently in support of world peace? If millions of us take that approach, we will make an impact, and at the same time we will alter the electoral dynamics, which will lead to changes in many of our political leaders. Fifty years ago, political leaders in America didn't discuss environmental issues. Now it is at least a part of the discussion. There is little talk of world peace today, but we can influence whether it is part of the platforms in 20 or 30 or 50 years.

As I dug a little deeper, fortunately, I found more ways to engage in world peace. A key path is education coupled with improving intercultural understanding. Another is the reduction of inequity. Somewhere in this path of discovery I got the "wiki idea" and started my proto wiki, WinWinWiki. A couple of weeks into that effort and I discoved Appropedia and shifted focus to that worthy site.

And there is the circle. Even though Appropedia is more focused on sustainable development (and WinWinWiki was going to aim a bit larger, to include policy discussions and world peace teaching materials, etc), I can still very easily see the connection between the visions of Appropedia folks, and the path to world peace.

It's so great today to see travel sites including humanitarian vacations. Rotary is deeply involved worldwide. Pop stars in various media are raising awareness. But still it's early days. The efforts are diverse and uncoordinated. That's fine, and yet I see some advantages of having a smaller number of sites (dozens instead of thousands?) where people can go to get the information they need. My own investigative efforts were quite frustrating. How many gave up before learning what they were interested in? How many more will engage if they can see how easy it is to get involved?

Thats were infrastructure efforts like Appropedia are aimed. By themselves, they don't do much. But if they help all the other efforts be more effect, and raise awareness in the masses, well then there are ways to improve quality of life for developing countries, and for the children of people, like me, in developed countries as well.

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