For the last year, I have been doing pro bono consulting for several NGOs and UN agencies, with the primary focus on bringing private sector strategies and mentalities to these aid organizations. The biggest project so far has been with the IRC, which manages 7 Thai refugee camps (one of which we visited recently) that are home to more than 100,000 people (most of them from Myanmar). Our various initiatives are designed to sustainably upskill refugees, preparing them for both... the future and the present, while also generating vital income to support these impoverished families. This improves their lives in the camp while also lowering the risk of them leaving these protected areas, which often leads to exploitation, human trafficking, and other atrocities. They are also learning all they need to succeed in life once they are resettled or when the camps close. We are creating social enterprises, public-private partnerships, and other initiatives that all leverage market forces. Again, sustainability is key, which is why we are avoiding the charity model. That being said, they do need working capital to get their weaving co-op started (which will sell goods through an online outlet we created). So we are crowdfunding initial donations just to get things off the ground. But from that moment forward, it will be 100% self-sustaining, while also teaching them social media, marketing, logistics, communication, and every other aspect of running their own enterprises. The long-term impact of this is huge, and all anyone needs to do is donate $25-$50. Our team of volunteers (Thais and Westerners) is managing all the training and development, and we will keep everyone posted on the progress. The items should be for sale very soon, and you will have a chance to see what amazing things these people can do – all from the confines of a refugee camp most of them have never left. Please share and donate, and let me know if you have any questions about the process or the people you’ll be helping. Thanks in advance for your kindness.
Language is the means by which we explore and understand the human experience. In English, everything is open to me. Casual conversations, existential crises, and all that has ever been or ever will be. Spanish, on the other hand, forces me to live in the present. Actually, it's my inability to conjugate in the future or past tense, but still, when I'm speaking Spanish, I'm totally in the now.
Growing up in El Paso, I should probably be fluent, but I chalk it up to...
Remember after 9/11 when some people were all, “We should put locks on the cockpit doors” and the rest of us were like, “Naw, let’s just pray until there’s no more hate in people’s hearts.”
Your relationship with your country is like your relationship with your God: personal and unique. I can’t pretend to know what you’re thinking about while standing for the national anthem or sitting in prayer. That moment is yours. And for any of us to decide that someone else’s actions are a specific and direct affront to our personal experiences is unfair and unreasonable. Yes, sometimes I’m thinking about my grandfather who fought in World War II. But others I’m thinking a...bout my grandfather who picked cotton in Oklahoma. One helped make the uniform that the other wore. Obviously, they both have value. But I may also be thinking about immigrants who built the railroads or civil rights leaders who led marches, building our country literally and figuratively into the nation we all benefit from today. The anthem is more than the War of 1812. It’s about more than bombs bursting in air. It’s about more than any one person can say because it is about a nation with hundreds of millions of people spanning hundreds of years. And there is a lot in that history worth standing for. And most of the time, most of the people choose to do that. But we must recognize that there are social injustices worth kneeling for. There are people with experiences utterly different from ours, living lives or suffering deaths that we simply cannot imagine. They grew up in the same country but in a different world, and what’s on their mind in that stadium or that church or their community is likely very different from what’s on ours. And we must let them be. Because beyond the rockets and bombs and ramparts, the United States is – of course – the home of the free. Respect that.
Tom Brady sucks. I know this to be true. I feel this to be true. And most importantly, I want it to be true. So it is. Tom Brady is terrible at playing football. Unfortunately, he keeps winning Super Bowls, that bastard, which makes my life significantly harder. The good news is that I have some pretty powerful tools at my disposal that will help me maintain my view regardless of what the Patriots achieve. 1) Confirmation Bias. When I read or hear something that discusses Bra...
Today isn’t a good day. And a lot of us are acknowledging that. But we should keep in mind that six months ago wasn’t great either. Or a year ago. Because those 63 million Trump voters existed then too. So did a lot of people who stayed home and didn’t participate, either out of indifference or marginalization. Both are problematic. So is checking the Dem box without thoughtful consideration. But the biggest issue we face as a country is not a matter of voting, it’s a matter ...of thinking. The manifestation is recent, but the problem is systemic. A lot of people, from all along the political spectrum, look at the world with blinders on. Either a) only their issue matters, to the exclusion of all others, or b) flawed logic has closed way too many avenues. Our biggest focus as a nation (through conversation, education, and cooperation) should be eliminating these restrictions. We must care about people we will never meet. We must recognize complexity by accepting that no single issue exists in a vacuum. And we must try to be better thinkers, which is definitely achievable. We head to the gym to get stronger or the doctor to get healthier. Understanding fallacies and heuristics is how we become more strategic thinkers and open ourselves up to opposing viewpoints. We have to know what confirmation bias is, and accept that we’re biologically and psychologically programmed to maintain our opinions - even in the face of contradictory information. We have to study false dichotomies to ensure we don’t fall prey to them. We have to reject personal attacks and demand fact-based debates. While we may not enjoy hearing it, the fact is that we are all flawed thinkers. Our minds are the tools we use the most and understand the least. And because we are members of a community, we have to throw our hearts into the mix as well. It takes a lot of work. And it’s a constant process. I struggle with it every day. But I do find that these tools can lead to more productive conversations and more accurate conclusions. And that’s where it all starts. Voting is the last step in a very long intellectual and emotional process. So our next action isn’t four years from now. It’s today, and every day in between. And we can only demand more of others if we’re also demanding more of ourselves. So we all have to get to work. I know I do.
A lot of us are still struggling. It’s been three weeks since the election, but it feels longer. Suffering slows down time. And yet, the wounds are somehow still fresh. It’s the worst of both worlds. Fortunately, the upside of all this is that many of us have come together, to commiserate, to plan, to hope. We’ve had 2 a.m. messaging sessions, long distraught email exchanges, and even a few phone calls. The need to connect has been more powerful than it has been in a very lon...g time. And I think that will continue to be the case. But what will need to change, what we’ve all wanted to change, is that we find a positive outlet for our anxieties and disappointments. The most common words echoed again and again are: “What now?” Well, I still don’t have many answers to that. But I do have one outlet. I suggest we join a group on Kiva. Most of you are familiar with Kiva, but maybe you haven’t participated. I had not. UNICEF, Red Cross, UNHCR had been easier and faster. But one of the cool things about Kiva is that it’s participative. It’s micro-lending, which means you get to pick the project you want to support. Want to lend $50 a woman in Uganda trying to buy a fruit tree? You can do that. School in Peru? Start-up in Detroit? Those are on there too. In fact, you can pick any country and any industry to support. For as little as $25, you can feel very connected to the people we are so worried about being marginalized and left behind by recent events. And when the loan is repaid (97% are), you can lend the money to another person in need. It can continue to be a positive place to put our energy. And to further create a sense of community, I created a group called Positive Outlet. So when you sign up or sign in, you click on groups, search for Positive Outlet, and then join. You can also give Kiva gift cards as holiday presents. I’m doing it for all my nieces and nephews. It’ll stand out in a way that another toy would not, and it promotes social awareness, which will be the foundation for the next generation of voters. So we still have plenty of things to be upset about and nervous about. But we can at least start taking some positive steps. I hope to see you (and anyone else you'd like to invite) on Kiva. The link is below.
Racists are like recovering alcoholics. And this election, they fell off the wagon. The reality is, racists don’t stop being racist. But they can learn to suppress it. And a lot of people had. They started by taking it behind closed doors. Eventually, the N word dropped from their vocabulary, even among other recovering racists. Then the mass generalizations and occasional snide comments were made only under their breath. After a while (like a few decades), maybe they had eve...n stopped consciously thinking hateful and sweeping things – about blacks, Hispanics, Asians. Perhaps even other bigotries – against women, homosexuals, non-Christians – began subsiding. But then they had a sip again. They saw a racist or sexist meme, and they laughed a little. They probably even looked over their shoulder to see if anyone was watching. Because they had grown a conscience. But then they saw that no backlash came, online or otherwise. And it emboldened them. Others had their drinks too, and during a card game or at a bar, somebody made a black joke. Somebody said "Mescans" with a sneer. Somebody remembered the word queer exists. And like all addicts, they found themselves on a slippery slope…as a drink turned to ten turned to regression. Then, in the final and most destructive moment of all, a bigot got elected president of the United States. Other bigots got cabinet positions and roles of influence. They now get to sell the stuff they’ve been drinking, and we are all caught up in the devastation. So, it’s time for an intervention. We have to say it’s not okay. We have to announce, without hesitance or restraint, that we refuse to allow decades of social progress to be undone. We have to call them exactly what they are so we can begin to undo this mess. They’re racists. Bigots. Misogynists. This is not PC speak. These are the facts. And once we have collectively announced it will not be tolerated and that these people WILL be held accountable…we can get back to becoming the better version of ourselves. Because that’s what recovery is all about.
Dear Teachers: Thank you for doing the most important job in America. The battle for the soul of our nation will be won in the hearts and minds of our youth. While it may never be on the syllabus, you will continue to teach them justice, empathy, kindness, color blindness, and the responsibilities of an informed citizenry. And we need you now more than ever.
“Be nice. Take defeat with grace. Move on.” To this I respond: Fuck That. The Left has consistently remained civil and reasonable throughout this election process. Why? One, we are inherently kind people. It’s why we care about social issues and human rights and global progress. But the main reason was that we thought your ideology of hate was a fringe movement. A few loud people making a lot of vile noise. It never occurred to us that you might represent anything approaching... a majority. But now you’ve elected someone who is despicable. He has disrespected every group imaginable: women, Hispanics, Muslims, intellectuals, the disabled, the impoverished, and members of the LGBT community. And on Nov 8, you said that was okay. In fact, you said it was great. You said you wanted a hateful and inequitable ideology to become policy. And it will. Our economic and social progress as a nation will be eroded, and irreparable damage will be done to lives at home and abroad. So no, I will not be nice. I will not just shrug my shoulders and say, “Oh well.” And why? Because I care. A lot. Enough that it hurts. Enough that when I saw these results, my first feeling was not anger (which is easy to deal with); it was heartbreak (which takes time to heal). So I will grieve. And I will do so at my own pace, as will millions of people who voted for reason and decency, who won the popular vote, but who lost an election. Because we lost something much, much more. We lost the piece of ourselves who believed there was absolutely no way someone as awful as Trump and beliefs as awful as his could represent our country. We never really believed that the caricature of Americans as boastful, racist, anti-science, fundamentalist bullies could actually be true. But apparently it is. And it will take a very long time to come to terms with it. And I for one no longer feel the need to be civil during that process. I maintained civility in the face of idiocy for a year leading up to this, because I thought our high road would lead us somewhere better. But it’s led us here. So I will no longer pretend that your worldview is acceptable. It is not. I will no longer pretend that this is just a difference of opinion. It is infinitely deeper than that. And I will definitely no longer pretend that I can be close to people who can have worldviews so counter to human decency. So instead of me getting over it, I invite you to go away. You are not my friends, and I don’t want you as acquaintances. You supported a policy of isolationism as a nation. I will pursue isolationism of decency. I will choose to surround myself with people who rejected all the atrocities that will come in the next four years. And our commiseration will likely be the only thing that gets me through that process. And that’s my right. And I’m taking it.
In light of Skittles and apathy and misinformation, here's a story I don't like to tell. Over the last several years, I've consulted on projects assisting the UNHCR, the organization responsible for vetting asylum seekers around the world. Through this work, I have seen the specificity and stringency of this process, which is currently massively misunderstood and underappreciated in America.
Case in point: last year, a woman was preparing for her UNHCR interview, the moment t...
In the wake of recent tragedies, I have seen many people posting the words of Dr. King (promoting peace, compassion, and understanding), regardless of the obstacles we face. And that's great. That's the ideal. Those sentiments represent the people we all aspire to be. But as we deal with the aftershocks of a heinous series of events, I believe the words of Langston Hughes are equally important. He warns us of the costs of a dream deferred, of inequality. And while violence is... never justified, and of course a single psychopath in Dallas does not represent a people or a movement, we as a nation must address a problem that has gone unresolved for much too long. Because what happens if we just keep setting it aside? As Hughes warns: "What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up, like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore--and then run?...Maybe it just sags, like a heavy load. Or......does it explode?" We never want it to be the latter, and peaceful protests involving tens of thousands of people continue all over the country. And our police continue to peacefully handle those protests, commendable on all sides. But it would be naive to expect that indefinitely. Time is not our ally if progress is not made. And I know we all ache for the lives lost in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Dallas, but we owe the victims much more than our sympathies. We owe them our effort. We owe them an absolute admission that the problem is real. We owe them a universal demand - regardless of our color, our politics, or our vocation - that we all be treated equally. Because this problem has festered. It has weighed on us. And if we allow it to yet again go deferred - there are only so many possible outcomes left.
The Room (a 3-minute read)
Imagine a room. It has a Fahrenheit 451 layout: four tall walls, a nondescript floor, and large monitors on every vertical surface. And once per day, a monitor plays a news story. A real story. It might be a race riot, a mass killing, or a single act of injustice. But each day, a single narrative permeates The Room.
When you're done watching, you look up and notice you are not alone in this room. A number of people are staggered throughout, keeping...