Sunday, 24 February 2013

It's built but they ain't coming: wellness and safety in a siloed community

Ever had an idea kind of keep bouncing back into your head time and again?  Something you've never really thought of before, but then suddenly it seem like it's everywhere, and you can't believe you've never seen it before?  I had one of those.

So, I was sitting in a community meeting the other day, and we were discussing something fancy like, "how do you encourage community engagement in a winter city where it's hard to get outside for four to six months of the year?" Outdoor play areas are great, as are indoor areas, and they all got discussed.  But then someone made an interesting observation that you can build as many amenities as you'd like - it really doesn't mean ANYTHING if people don't go out and use them.

Building an indoor playground does not make community members engage. Making programs does not encourage citizens to connect.  Dr. Frankenstein would never have made the news if he hadn't found that magic ingredient, and it's the same thing that is too often missing from our municipal planning.  You can stitch the body parts together - build the whole thing - but the true challenge is that elusive 'breath of life'.

I sit on another committee - part of a 'task force' to end homelessness.  One of the biggest things we've identified that's missing is a FORUM.  A place where the stakeholders can go and exchange information.  Builders don't have to guess what the community needs for housing.  Service providers can go and share their stories and needs.  Funding providers make know what they have available to solve the problem.

We lack a place.  But it's not a physical space. We could build a room just for this to happen and it still wouldn't happen.  What we're missing is that elusive thing - that thing that draws people out.  That thing that invites the discussion to happen.  We lack, well, hosting.  The "breath of life," so to speak is getting people to show up.

Imagine that it's Christmas time and I'm throwing a party.  What is it that makes the party?  It's not my house - the physical space.  There's an effort that goes into it.  I try and attract the people I desire to be there by making that place feel appealing.  I decorate, I prepare food.  I plan fun activites.  I invite other people who would make the party enjoyable - who will add to the atmosphere.  At the end of the day, the location is the smallest part of the equation.  My party will be amazing because the RIGHT people are there, talking about the RIGHT things, in the RIGHT atmosphere.  RIGHT?

THIS is what our municipal planners need to be trying to foster!  Indoor space? Outdoor space?  Sure, you need gathering places to attract people to.  But whether it's a summer festival or a discussion on ending homelessness that you're trying to accomplish, you need to consider how you're HOSTING the event.  Who's coming?  Is it a context they'll feel welcome in?  Does everyone gain more from attending than they're giving? Is it likely to be effective?

Create the right 'space' (mental space), and you will have the right people arrive.  Fail to create the right place, and they'll stay in their silos.

Ever wondered why it is that the world feels so unsafe?  20 years ago, parents kicked their kids out the door to go find the park.  They'd play all day and come back when the street lights turned on.  Not so today.  I heard someone the other day tell a story that he asked a woman if she let her kids walk the 2 or 3 blocks to their neighbourhood school.  Her answer was no, and when he asked why, her response was something to the effect of, "The pedophiles."

Neighbourhoods haven't changed in 20 years.  We have.  WE don't feel safe.  And I think it's the same thing.  We can double the amount of police, but if we don't know our neighbours, we still aren't going to feel safe.  Heck, if I knew who lived around me, maybe I'd know who the kids were who rifled through my car.  One quick call to their parents, and I'd feel MORE safe in my neighbourhood, not less!

So how can I create that community - draw my neighbours out?  Well, maybe I could haul my barbecue into the middle of the close and put some flyers in the mailboxes?  Shake some hands and introduce myself.  If I feel like there are more sets of eyes on Silas than just my own, maybe I wouldn't be so scared to let him pedal out of my sight on his own.

Building places, adding programs - it's not going to work.  And it's going to make us go broke.  What is going to make the difference?  Find ways to make mental spaces that draw people together.  Where the right conversations can happen.  THEN we'll feel safe in our neighbourhoods.  THEN we can get down to the business of ending homelessness!  THEN we can have communities that are HEALTHY.  It comes down to people.  Finding out what draws them out.  And doing that.

Any ideas?  I'd love to hear them.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Auto Pilot

When life gets stressful, the first thing that goes out the window is our creativity, our appetite for new initiatives.  Our brains want to hunker down.  Enough things are out of our control.  Why would we chase after something we aren't able to predict?

As life goes on, this is how we get set in our ways.  And each time it happens, a little scar tissue grows on top of the scar tissue we already had from before.

Our routines and habits?  At their best, they provide structure and foundation.  They are the skeleton, and our creativity and initiative are the muscles - we need them both.  But when we get shell-shocked from stress, hurt, and day after day of being a little bit hurt, a little bit unhappy, a little bit dissatisified, those habits and routines become overpowering.  We stop allowing people access to our deepest parts.  In fact, we just lock the door and don't even wander down there ourselves.  It's just easier. 

Maybe you've lost someone very dear to you.  Was your experience like mine?  When my mom passed away 7 years ago, at the same time as the pain and stress was overwhelming, there was a side of me that felt some relief, some satisfaction, that I was able to just feel something so strongly.  To cry with impunity and feel like I didn't need to suck it up.  I was allowed to let my heart break.  And in those moments, while my heart was torn apart, the ground was fertile.  I learned who my real friends were, and those relationships deepened, while others fell off.  I developed coping mechanisms (not all good). 

Like all emotional experiences, I healed.  Like a flesh wound, first I scabbed over, then I healed, albeit with a permanent scar.  Those scars come in the form of coping mechanisms I developed, assumptions I made about the world (my mom, who never smoked or drank, and LOVED everyone, was taken early, while the drunk who passed the bakery she worked at daily outlived her.  Try not to grow cynical with THAT in your story).

I collect scars as I go through life.  Some big, some smaller. But they accumulate.  And they kill my sensitivity.  And I have a theory about that.

If you're a regular coffee drinker, you might wake up one morning after a lousy sleep, and think, "I'm gonna need something with a little extra kick today."  And so you buy an energy drink.  You've been numbed to the effect of coffee.  You need to step it up.  People who drink need to drink more.  People who do drugs keep upping the dose so they can get closer to that rush they first experienced.

In the absence of sensitivity, we pursue sensuality.  When I'm not engaged, I don't hear my wife's hints that she had a rough day.  So I say something dismissive, and hurt her feelings.  And then I don't have to talk to her for the night.  And it perpetuates the problem.  Relationships take work.  But when I'm tired and a little hurt, it's easier for me to invest my emotion into a sports game.  Maybe for you it's the bachelor, or social media.  Or other friends who you can laugh with superficially but don't have to worry about hard stuff with.  You can have the quick benefits with none of the hard work.  It's like deciding that, rather than exercising to get an endorphin rush, maybe you'll try cocaine instead...

How do we avoid the scar tissue?  How do we keep the sensitivity?  I think one way is to try and recognize the sensuality in our lives.  Are there any areas where you're avoiding hard work to do something easier and more fun?  You might think yogurt with blueberries is a really lame snack.  Especially if you're used to black forest cake.  But give up the sugar, and you'll start to realize how many other flavours there are out there other than sweet. 

Try sitting in silence for 5 minutes - turn off the electronics and listen.  You'll be surprised how many sounds exist in what you called silence just a minute ago.  That's what we need to shoot for.  Look at the people in your life, and see if you've REALLY listened.  Listened to their silence.  Look at the struggles in your life - are you avoiding the hard work?  What about that tough situation have you been ignoring, avoiding?  Because I think we end up going through WAY too much of our lives in auto-pilot, because we just never stop to listen for what's really going on around us.  And if we can shut off the auto-pilot, even for an extra half-hour or hour a day, I think we'd be in an absolutely different place in as little as 6 months to a year.

What do you think?  Do we numb?  How DO you shut off auto-pilot?  It's hard to untrain yourself. What is the first step?  Because recognizing the problem really isn't that constructive.  Help me find the solution!  I welcome your comments below.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Passion part 2. If money didn't matter.

Ok.  I'll try not to become one of those bloggers who's like, "THE SIX ONLY WAYS YOU CAN BE HAPPY IN LIFE."  As though I'm trying to get published on the landing page you land on when you log out of... uh, hotmail.... Sorry.  I forgot I was the only one left with a hotmail account.

A couple astute comments and questions since my last post led me to consider that maybe your passion is more than the flip side of the coin of what gets you riled up in life.

So, I'm scrolling through facebook, and one of my friends posted this:
It seems like the kind of question that you've been asked or asked yourself a thousand times before.  But then one time, the concept sperm finds its way through and impregnates your idea brain.  A hundred times before I heard that and didn't care.  But today it snapped my head back like a right jab.

If I knew I'd always have a place to live, my family would be fed, and I'd have the care I need when I reach my twilight years, what the heck would I do with my time?  That question got me a lot closer to finding my passion than thinking about what ticked me off, which mostly just, well, ticked me off.

My gut response kind of surprised me.  I would befriend people.  And I would help them.  Not capital H Help.  I'm not trying to 'fix' people.  But if someone needed a painter, and I had a friend who paints, bam! Double win!  If someone had a really cool business idea, and I knew the perfect person to help them to the next step, I'd connect them.  I'd help people move furniture.  I'd help them with relationships.  I'd help them make the next professional move.  I'd help people.  Because people need friends.  And they need people who are willing to help. 

And that's what I want to do.  When I am doing that, I feel alive. I think they call that networking.  But I kind of hate that word.  Because it's usually said with a smug undertone, as if people mean, "schmoozing", a slimy word for something greasy salespeople do to make sales at any cost.

So, then, as my friend Justin puts it, "how do you make that pay your mortgage?"  Well, good question.  But if I identify befriending people and helping people as key motivators for me, maybe it will just permeate my approach to my current work, and guide my professional decisions as they need to be made.

But more importantly, if I know this about myself, I am that much closer to springing out of bed every morning with purpose.

Befriending people.  Helping people.  It's so simple it almost sounds silly.  And maybe it sounds stupid to you.  That's okay.  It doesn't have to be your 'thing.'  In fact, I hope yours is different and complimentary.  Because if we can get a bunch of people who are really excited to do complimentary things, that helps me accomplish what I'm excited about!  I'll send people your way if they need what you're offering.

So, imagine that your family is taken care of for good.  As are you.  What would you spend As Much Time As Possible on?  Maybe it's a little embarassing.  That's fine - a lot of the things that are close to your heart are - because you REALLY don't want someone speaking flippantly about things that are so important to you.

I hope you find something.  If you do, and you've got the guts, post it below.  I'd love to hear it.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

One Step to Finding Your Passion

I often count myself among the lucky ones that actually look forward to work in the mornings.

I work at a flooring store.  And while it's hard to be passionate about flooring, I work with a company that does their best to find your strengths and then tailor your job to them.  Happy, productive employee - happy productive business.  I enjoy the challenges and subsequent rewards of my job.  And a challenging, rewarding job is a close second to a job you're passionate about, right?

Challenge and reward are different than passion.  Picture water in a dam.  Challenge and reward are the gates that let the water through.  You can open them up a little or a lot.  Passion is the water behind the dam.  And there comes a point where, if the water reservoir is dried up, it just doesn't matter how wide you open the gates.

Without passion, there's simply no reason to get up in the morning.  But there are so many people out there who have kind of given up on it.  It doesn't really fit into their career.  Family demands can be really demanding.  Who has time to figure out something to be passionate about?  Passion is for artists and lazy people.  Hard working business people (men feel this way a lot, I think), don't have time for passion.  Or emotion. How long can you be soft-hearted when it's your job to be the guy who fires people?

Au contraire.  The most successful people in ANY field - business, humanitarianism, parenting, you name it - are FIRED UP about what they do.

But passion?  How do you just come up with a reason to get up in the morning?

So here it is - the one step program to finding out what your passion is: what makes you more angry than anything else in the world?  Identify that.  Now find the most positive expression of it.  Use that righteous rage to power you to find ways to make a difference on that problem.  Maybe it's irresponsible young men (douchebags).  Maybe they bug you so much because you feel like it's important for men to be MEN - to take responsibility for their actions and be people of integrity - strength of character.  Maybe you need to be a mentor...  That might be a little more proactive than tailgating the next set of truck nuts you see.

Passion is kind of like a magnetic force. Stay close to the things that fire you up.  Let that indignation stay on fire in your heart.  Life is hard, and the repetition of it can be enough to dry up your passion.  Keeping your heart soft in this world is an extremely hard thing.  If you're a guy, it's downright frowned upon!  But if you are willing to do it, it will guide you - influence your decisions, and lead you to the right places. It'll put a little extra spring in your mattress in the mornings.

If you have a job that maximizes your skills and abilities, good on you.  But, if you are willing to do the hard work and find your PASSION?  Nothing can stop you.  And who knows?  You might stay right where you are, but with different priorities.  But maybe you'll change everything, as it changes you right back.

So, who's with me?  Anyone out there know what their passion is?  Tell us - what is it?  How did you find it?

Monday, 4 February 2013

Get Over Your Rights!

Know what's funny?

If you live anywhere similar to where I do, we live in one of the most blessed, prosperous times human history has ever seen!  Is it cold?  Meh, turn up the heat.  Did you food go bad even though you have a refrigerator that makes it last 3 times longer?  Ah, who cares?  Climb into the motorized transportation you personally own and drive 3 minutes to the store that has stock of pretty much anything you could imagine! Seasonal Availability? SHMEASONAL availability!

We are people of PRIVILEGE.  Truly, we are lucky to live where we do, when we do.  And yet so often, our conversations don't circle around what we've been GIVEN, and our fortuitous circumstances; rather, we focus on our RIGHTS. 

Now, let me be absolutely clear about something.  I'm not bashing people's rights.  When you are born with human DNA, there is a level of dignity that is due you.  If you want to do some reading, you could start here or here.  These are absolutely important, and I wish we could just agree on them and move forward, instead of always having to go back and reclaim lost territory.

But now, when we start getting into the territory of your inalienable human right to farm chickens in your postage stamp downtown backyard, I think we're starting to lose track of what's important.  Nothing against urban chickens.  Just, is this really a "RIGHTS" thing?

Here's my thing: I think we're looking at it all wrong.  Rights are rights.  We need to defend each other's rights.  But when I get so concerned that my rights are being stepped on, I'm dealing in scarcity, not abundance.  When I'm concerned about getting what's DUE me, I have a hard time making sure that the people around me are taken care of.  Maybe if we all spent a little less time worrying about getting what's ours and a little more time sharing our unbelievable abundance with others who need a lift, rights wouldn't be so threatened anyway.

Unless you found a way to get yourself born into the family and circumstance you're in, what you have is a gift.  Be thankful for it, but realize that, however blessed you feel before you share it, you'll feel doubly blessed after.

That's the step AFTER rights.  Privilege.  That leads to responsibility.  That compels us to care for others out of gratitude.

 Try and be that person, who gives generously, and treats what's theirs as a loan or gift to share. I bet, if you ever find your rights under attack, you'll have a lot of people in your corner, ready to return the favour.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Significance, Part 2

Can I talk a little longer about significance?  The word has been stuck in my head for, like, a week now.

Last time I compared it to popularity and importance.  I'm just going to take that a little further. One of Merriam-Webster's definitions of significance is, "Having or likely to have influence or effect." 

How can I put this?  If popularity is wide and shallow (you influence a lot of people, a little bit - think, Justin Bieber taking a stance on abortion), then significance is narrow and deep.  I like the idea of significance, because it's less concerned with who's watching, and more concerned with making a difference.  Single moms, for example, may not touch a lot of people outside their family due to the demands of raising kids.  But the ones I know have sacrificed so much on behalf of their kids that they've had a SIGNIFICANT impact on them, because of their commitment and willingness to give whatever they had.

When I think about significance, I think about people who don't care about fame or fortune.  I think about people who look at the people they love, the things they care about, and then give AS MUCH AS THEY CAN to make things better in those small circles.  And, though they may not receive state funerals, they will will be deeply remembered, loved, and appreciated by the people they interacted with.  They change the lives of the people around them.

The world isn't always a great place.  But when it is, it's usually thanks to these 'no name' people who are willing to silently give kindness to others, be an example of goodness, and give deeply to those who mean something to them.  It's not the pastor at church or the politician, or the lady at the spa who makes life better for us. It's all of us.  Looking after the ones around us.

Start looking around at the people you know.  You'll realize that some of them have a significant impact on their surroundings.  Tell those people how much you appreciate them.  They probably don't ever hear it.  Those silent givers are the ones who make our world go round.

Attention is fun, and addictive.  Popularity will give you a lot of attention.  But when you set out to be significant, you get something way better in return.  You actually mean a whole lot to the people closest to you - the ones you're giving yourself to.  That's a pretty rewarding way to live your life.