#82 July/August 2005

In this Issue:
How Green is Your Schoolyard?

Getting Going Growing

Optimism of Uncertainty

Toward Sanity in a Time of Chaos

Donella Meadows

Power of New Ideas

Everything Has a Deep Dream

(To read past issues click here >>)

    How Green Is Your Schoolyard?
By Susan Stansbury

There is a revolution growing right outside our school classrooms. Green schoolyards, in the form of outdoor classrooms, vegetable gardens, and quiet natural oases, are offering promising results ranging from children delighting in the taste of fresh, vitamin-rich vegetables, to beautifying our public spaces. For those afraid this revolution might detract from the students’ test scores, there’s good news again! Green schoolyards are aiding children’s ability to learn everything from critical thinking skills, to working on a team, to concepts related directly to the very standards by which they are being tested.

There’s no violence in this revolution, either—just the opposite. Children are responding to the shift from dreary, asphalt-covered schoolyards to those full of life with less fighting, more cooperative behavior, and a greater sense of inclusiveness among children of different backgrounds and abilities. Environmental awareness, which some would argue is of utmost importance to teach our children these days, is no longer an “add-on” to a litany of things kids need to know, but an integral part of the child’s learning experience. In fact, nature becomes the teacher. The list of benefits goes on and, like the green schoolyards themselves, it is truly awe-inspiring for those folks who are paying attention.

Fortunately the number of those paying attention is growing. Canada has a nationwide effort to improve the environment while restoring school grounds. The Toronto District School Board in Ontario has been actively involved in this endeavor as part of the Toyota Evergreen Learning Grounds Program, a corporate nonprofit partnership working in collaboration with school districts. A three-year-long study of the effects of green schoolyards on children’s learning and behavior in Toronto came up with overwhelmingly positive results.

In the United States, there are also many positive efforts underway. One example is Boston, where the city is working with a group of funders to beautify school grounds and create outdoor learning environments. The school district has allocated $2 million a year from its capital fund towards this goal. At Haley Elementary School in the greater Boston area, there is a new path meandering through a strawberry patch, a wetland area where kids can study micro-climates, and a Scholar’s Garden with a fence covered with literary quotes. These do not replace play areas such as the basketball court and soccer field, but replace the more unsightly wastelands of dirt and weeds. Jean Dorcus, Haley’s principal, stated, “The new schoolyard made the biggest difference in the world. Our outdoor learning areas, in particular, have inspired teachers to address directly many of our core curricular goals and objectives.” A similar effort is taking place in Chicago, with a focus on school gardens.

So who’s in charge of this revolution, anyway? Though some who champion the cause do sit in important seats, most of the energy comes from the grassroots. Parents, teachers, principals, and community members are all taking a lead. While some are passionate to share their love of nature with children, others are deeply concerned about what the fast-food culture is doing to our youngsters’ health, and want kids to experience the thrill of a fresh tomato pulled from a vine.

The San Francisco Bay Area, blessed with a mild climate and a remarkable natural beauty to inspire the vision, hosts a number of unique schoolyard transformation processes. In the City of San Francisco, where many children have spent their entire life on asphalt and are afraid of dirt, bugs, or anything “wild,” there is a big change in the midst. The San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance, which formed in March 2001 out of an array of folks wanting more environmental education in the schools, recently achieved a remarkable boon in funding. Through persistent lobbying of the Board of Education, they were able to get $2 million from a $295 million bond measure for school upgrades allocated to greening projects for 17 elementary schools. They now have a healthy funding base to help realize their vision of replacing portions of the asphalt with native plants, food gardens, and creative, natural play areas.

Even before the $2 million was available, the Green Schoolyard Alliance organized their first Green School Grounds Conference in 2002 on a shoestring budget. Some 200 parents, teachers, and community members attended workshops at three school sites on how to teach in an outdoor setting and to participate in hands-on projects to green the school grounds. The proceeds from the conference were then turned into mini-grants for ongoing efforts. At a second event in 2004, participants created native gardens, willow wand tunnels, and tile mosaics for the children to discover the following Monday morning.

Meanwhile, another model of support for greening schoolyards is underway south of San Francisco extending from Burlingame to San Jose. The Getting Going Growing collaborative [see the interview on the following page] also started in 2001 when three nonprofit groups realized that they were all trying to help schools start or sustain their garden projects. They decided to share what they could offer, which included curriculum, school contacts, horticultural skills, and grant-writing experience.

As Getting Going Growing itself grew over the past four years, it undertook a significant step by including the landscape industry as well as the nonprofit sector. Landscape contractors, designers, nurseries, and wholesalers were invited to pledge time and materials to help school gardens, and many enthusiastically signed up. As one contractor stated, “I don’t mind giving back to an industry that has been so good to me.” Though this model of partnering with the landscape industry seems to be unique, it has the potential to expand to other regions.

There are many other collaborative partnerships around the Bay Area. In Sonoma County, just north of San Francisco, the School Garden Network recently sent out their first newsletter announcing their goals, which ranged from raising funds in order to support garden coordinators, to forming alliances “to promote environmental stewardship, sustainable food systems, and wellness in our schools and for the people of Sonoma County.”

In nearby Marin County, there is a similar effort through the Marin Food Systems Project. Across the Bay, the city of Berkeley is partnering with the Chez Panisse Foundation to develop a curriculum around food, including planting and tending organic gardens at each school.

Despite the momentum toward greening schoolyards, there are challenges to overcome. Many teachers still don’t feel comfortable taking their classes outdoors, and the funding for such programs is often not within a school’s budget. In order to make green schoolyards integral to the schools, teachers, parents, and administrators need more exposure to the benefits of outdoor classrooms, and training in how to teach curriculum in a green schoolyard. However, as the case studies grow and the evidence mounts showing how virtually every aspect of our society will benefit, the barriers will disappear, and the “walls” of the classroom structure will come down. Green schoolyard is an idea whose time has come.

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Getting “Getting Going Growing” Going

Susan Stansbury talks about how it all started.

Q. How did you get the idea to start Getting Going Growing?

Susan: At the Foundation for Global Community, I’ve been in charge of the Valley of Heart’s Delight project. Our name comes from an historic reference to the Santa Clara Valley, often referred to these days as the “Silicon Valley.” Before the technology boom and subsequent development, this valley was world famous for all the fruit trees flowering in the spring, and was called the Valley of Heart’s Delight. When founding the Valley of Heart’s Delight project, we realized that for our region to be sustainable, we need a local source of food. However, we also recognized that we can’t go backwards and turn this valley back into an agricultural heartland. Instead we can support the remaining farmers in our region and find creative places to grow additional food, such as home gardens, corporate campuses, and schoolyards.

At the same time, there were intriguing cases locally in which schools had converted asphalt-covered areas to gardens. In these schools, the children planted vegetables like beans, squash, and tomatoes, took responsibility for their growth, then picked, cooked, and ate the fresh produce. The programs turned out to be great for the kids. We decided to make that effort part of our Valley of Heart’s Delight project.

When we looked into the possibilities, we found two other local nonprofits who had the same idea, and decided to meet together to share our motivations and expertise. Along with the Gamble Garden in Palo Alto, that manages a fabulous garden given to city by the Gamble family, and Youth Community Service, another nonprofit that gets students involved with community service, we formed the Getting Going Growing collaboration.

Q. How has the program evolved over time?

Susan: In our first year, six schools participated in school gardening workshops, culminating in a celebration of Cesar Chavez Day, where students learned about the values Chavez promoted while they participated in garden projects. Getting Going Growing divided funding received from the Cesar E. Chavez Foundation amongst the participating schools to further their school garden efforts.

We felt our effort was successful and mirrored the results other groups had reported, such as the seminal study done over a 20-year period by Herb Wong and Robin Moore around the environmental schoolyard at Washington School in Berkeley. One volunteer for Cesar Chavez Day noted: “In each school, rich and poor, the children looked genuinely happy and alive.” Another said, “I’ve never seen kids so excited about vegetables!” From one school to the next, something was going on—tough kids were gently handling little plants, and kids were eating broccoli and enjoying it!

Over the next two years, Getting Going Growing expanded to 10 schools and held regular workshop and networking events for the participants, including a year-end school garden tour. But two problems arose. First, we weren’t happy with the number of participants at our workshops and meetings. Second, the school garden volunteers were stressed out from having to put on events like the garden tour, running a garden, and attending meetings while holding jobs and caring for their children.

After honestly assessing our situation, a new and improved model for Getting Going Growing emerged. Instead of having school gardeners come to meetings, Getting Going Growing spent its energy getting resources out to the schools. Instead of planning its own events and dividing up limited funds, we sent funding opportunities and workshop announcements out by e-mail. Perhaps more significant was the decision to extend our partnership model to include the commercial landscaping community, as mentioned in the previous article.

Since this shift in strategy, the number of schools Getting Going Growing supports has grown to over 30, and as the word about the program spreads, more and more calls come in from new schools. When schools sign up—and they can do this online—a representative from Getting Going Growing goes to the school to do a needs assessment, a presentation, or a brainstorming session. That way we can help find the in-kind support the school needs.


1. A Child’s Garden of Standards: Linking School Gardens to California Education Standards; California Dept. of Education, Sacramento, 2002

2. Gaining Ground: The Power and Potential of School Ground Greening in the Toronto District School Board; Dyment, J., Ph.D., Evergreen Publication, Toronto, Canada, 2005 (available online at www.evergreen.ca)

3. Boston Schoolyard Initiative,

4. “After the Asphalt”; Danks, S.; Orion Magazine, July/August 2004

5. The San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance, www.sfgreenschools.org

6. Getting Going Growing, www.globalcommunity.org/ggg

7. The Life History of an Environmental Schoolyard: Natural Learning; Moore, R. and Wong, H., MIG Communications, Berkeley, California, 1997

8. Sonoma School Garden Network, www.schoolgardens.org

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The Optimism of Uncertainty
by Howard Zinn

In this awful world where the efforts of caring people often pale in comparison to what is done by those who have power, how do I manage to stay involved and seemingly happy?

Some quick lessons: Don’t let “those who have power” intimidate you. No matter how much power they have, they cannot prevent you from living your life, thinking independently, speaking your mind.

Find people to be with who share your values and commitments, and who also have a sense of humor.

Understand that the major media will not tell you of all the acts of resistance taking place every day in the society—the strikes, protests, individual acts of courage in the face of authority. Look around (and you will certainly find it) for the evidence of these unreported acts. And for the little you find, extrapolate from that and assume there must be a thousand times as much as you’ve found.

Note that throughout history people have felt powerless before authority, but that at certain times these powerless people, by organizing, acting, risking, persisting, have created enough power to change the world around them, even if a little. That is the history of the labor movement, the women’s movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, the disabled persons’ movement, the gay and lesbian movement, the movement of black people in the South.

Remember that those who have power and seem invulnerable are in fact quite vulnerable. Their power depends on the obedience of others, and when those others begin withholding that obedience, begin defying authority, that power at the top turns out to be very fragile. Generals become powerless when their soldiers refuse to fight, industrialists become powerless when their workers leave their jobs or occupy the factories.

When we forget the fragility of that power at the top we become astounded when it crumbles in the face of rebellion. We have had many such surprises in our time, both in the United States and in other countries.

Don’t look for a moment of total triumph. See engagement as an ongoing struggle, with victories and defeats, but in the long run slow progress. So you need patience and persistence. Understand that even when you don’t “win,” there is fun and fulfillment in the fact that you have been involved, with other good people, in something worthwhile. You need hope.

Is an optimist necessarily a blithe, slightly sappy whistler in the dark of our time? I am totally confident not that the world will get better, but that only confidence can prevent people from giving up the game before all the cards have been played. The metaphor is deliberate; life is a gamble. Not to play is to foreclose any chance of winning. To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing the world.

What leaps out from the history of the past hundred years is its utter unpredictability. This confounds us, because we are talking about exactly the period when human beings became so ingenious technologically that they could plan and predict the exact time of someone landing on the moon, or walk down the street talking to someone halfway around the Earth.

Who foresaw that, on that day in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, when Rosa Parks refused to move from the front of the bus, this would lead to a mass protest of black working people, and a chain of events that would shake the nation, startle the world, and transform the South?

Let’s go back to the turn of the century. A revolution to overthrow the tsar of Russia, in that most sluggish of semi-feudal empires, not only startled the most advanced imperial powers, but took Lenin himself by surprise and sent him rushing by train to Petrograd. Given the Russian Revolution, who could have predicted Stalin’s deformation of it, or Khrushchev’s astounding exposure of Stalin, or Gorbachev’s succession of surprises?

Who would have predicted the bizarre shifts of World War II—the Nazi-Soviet pact (those embarrassing photos of von Ribbentrop and Molotov shaking hands), and the German army rolling through Russia, apparently invincible, causing colossal casualties, being turned back at the gates of Leningrad, on the western edge of Moscow, in the streets of Stalingrad, followed by the defeat of the German army, with Hitler huddled in his Berlin bunker, waiting to die?

And then the post-war world, taking a shape no one could have drawn in advance: the Chinese Communist revolution, which Stalin himself had given little chance. And then the break with the Soviet Union, the tumultuous and violent Cultural Revolution, and then another turnabout, with post-Mao China renouncing its most fervently held ideas and institutions, making overtures to the West, cuddling up to capitalist enterprise, perplexing everyone.

No one foresaw the disintegration of the old Western empires happening so quickly after the war, or the odd array of societies that would be created in the newly independent nations, from the benign village socialism of Nyerere’s Tanzania to the madness of Idi Amin’s adjacent Uganda.

Spain became an astonishment. A million died in the civil war, which ended in victory for the Fascist Franco, backed by Hitler and Mussolini. I recall a veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade telling me that he could not imagine Spanish Fascism being overthrown without another bloody war. But after Franco was gone, a parliamentary democracy came into being, open to Socialists, Communists, anarchists, everyone.

In other places, too, deeply entrenched dictatorships seemed suddenly to disintegrate—in Portugal, Argentina, the Philippines, Iran.

The end of World War II left two superpowers with their respective spheres of influence and control, vying for military and political power. The United States and the Soviet Union soon each had enough thermonuclear bombs to devastate the Earth several times over. The international scene was dominated by their rivalry, and it was supposed that all affairs, in every nation, were affected by their looming presence.

Yet the most striking fact about these superpowers was that, despite their size, their wealth, their overwhelming accumulation of nuclear weapons, they were unable to control events, even in those parts of the world considered to be their respective spheres of influence.

The failure of the Soviet Union to have its way in Afghanistan, its decision to withdraw after almost a decade of ugly intervention, was the most striking evidence that even the possession of thermonuclear weapons does not guarantee domination over a determined population.

The United States has faced the same reality. It could send an army into Korea but could not win, and was forced to sign a compromise peace. It waged a full-scale war in Indochina, conducted the most brutal bombardment of a tiny peninsula in world history, and yet was forced to withdraw. And in Latin America, after a long history of U.S. military intervention having its way again and again, this superpower, with all its wealth and weapons, found itself frustrated. It was unable to prevent a revolution in Cuba, and the Latin American dictatorships that the United States supported from Chile to Argentina to El Salvador have fallen. In the headlines every day we see other instances of the failure of the presumably powerful over the presumably powerless, as in Brazil, where a grassroots movement of workers and the poor elected a new president pledged to fight destructive corporate power.

Looking at this catalog of huge surprises, it’s clear that the struggle for justice should never be abandoned because of the apparent overwhelming power of those who have the guns and the money and who seem invincible in their determination to hold on to it. That apparent power has, again and again, proved vulnerable to human qualities less measurable than bombs and dollars: moral fervor, determination, unity, organization, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage, patience—whether by blacks in Alabama and South Africa, peasants in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Vietnam, or workers and intellectuals in Poland, Hungary, and the Soviet Union itself. No cold calculation of the balance of power need deter people who are persuaded that their cause is just.

I think also of my students at Boston University and people all over the country who, anguished about the war in Vietnam, resisted in some way, facing police clubs and arrests. And brave high school students like Mary Beth Tinker and her classmates in Des Moines, Iowa, who insisted on wearing black armbands to protest the war and when suspended from school, took their case to the Supreme Court and won.

Of course, some would say, that was the Sixties. But throughout the period since, despite widespread head shaking over the “apathy” of successive student generations, an impressive number of students continued to act.

I think of the determined little group at Boston University who, emulating groups at a hundred other schools, set up a “shantytown” on campus to represent apartheid in South Africa. The police tore it down, but the students refused to move and were arrested.

Since I’ve stopped teaching, I’ve spent much of my time responding to invitations to speak. What I’ve discovered is heartening. In whatever town, large or small, in whatever state of the Union, there is always a cluster of men and women who care about the sick, the hungry, the victims of racism, the casualties of war, and who are doing something, however small, in the hope that the world will change.

Wherever I go—whether San Diego, Philadelphia, or Dallas; Ada, Oklahoma, or Shreveport, Louisiana; Presque Isle, Maine, or Manhattan, Kansas—I find such people. And beyond the handful of activists there seem to be hundreds, thousands more who are open to unorthodox ideas.

But they tend not to know of each other’s existence, and so, while they persist, they do so with the desperate patience of Sisyphus endlessly pushing that boulder up the mountain. I try to tell each group that it is not alone, and that the very people who are disheartened by the absence of a national movement are themselves proof of the potential for such a movement. I suppose I’m trying to persuade myself as well as them.

Arriving at Morehead State University in rural eastern Kentucky, in the midst of the 2003 Iraq War, I found the lecture room crowded with fifteen hundred students (out of a total enrollment of six thousand). I spoke against the war and received an overwhelming reception. Earlier, when I’d been picked up at the airport by a group of faculty peace activists, one of them had brought their fourteen-year-old daughter, who’d defied her high school principal by wearing an anti-war T-shirt to school. I have found such people in all parts of the country, more and more, as evidence that the truth makes its way slowly but surely.

It is this change in consciousness that encourages me. Granted, racial hatred and sex discrimination are still with us, war and violence still poison our culture, we have a large underclass of poor, desperate people, and there is a hard core of the population content with the way things are, afraid of change.

But if we see only that, we have lost historical perspective, and then it is as if we were born yesterday and we know only the depressing stories in this morning’s newspapers, this evening’s television reports.

Consider the remarkable transformation, in just a few decades, in people’s consciousness of racism, in the bold presence of women demanding their rightful place, in a growing public awareness that gays are not curiosities but sensate human beings, in the long-term growing skepticism about military intervention despite brief surges of military madness.

It is that long-term change that I think we must see if we are not to lose hope. Pessimism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; it reproduces itself by crippling our willingness to act.

There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment will continue. We forget how often in this century we have been astonished by the sudden crumbling of institutions, by extraordinary changes in people’s thoughts, by unexpected eruptions of rebellion against tyrannies, by the quick collapse of systems of power that seemed invincible.

The bad things that happen are repetitions of bad things that have always happened—war, racism, maltreatment of women, religious and nationalist fanaticism, starvation. The good things that happen are unexpected. Unexpected, and yet explainable by certain truths that spring at us from time to time, but which we tend to forget.

Political power, however formidable, is more fragile than we think. (Note how nervous are those who hold it.)

Ordinary people can be intimidated for a time, can be fooled for a time, but they have a down-deep common sense, and sooner or later they find a way to challenge the power that oppresses them.

People are not naturally violent or cruel or greedy, although they can be made so. Human beings everywhere want the same things: They are moved by the sight of abandoned children, homeless families, the casualties of war; they long for peace, for friendship and affection across lines of race and nationality.

One semester, when I was teaching, I learned that there were several classical musicians signed up in my course. For the last class of the semester I stood aside while they sat in chairs up front and played a Mozart quartet. Not a customary finale to a class in political theory, but I wanted the class to understand that politics is pointless if it does nothing to enhance the beauty of our lives. Political discussion can sour you. We needed music.
Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment (beware of such moments!) but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zigzag toward a more decent society.

We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.

To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

Howard Zinn is a prolific author, perhaps best known for his 1980 book, A People’s History of the United States. He has taught at Spelman College and Boston University, and has been a visiting professor at the University of Paris and the University of Bologna.

This article appears in the book, The Impossible Will Take a Little While. Copyright © 2004 by Paul Rogat Loeb. Reprinted by permission of Basic Books, a member of Perseus Books, L.L.C.

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Toward Sanity in a Time of Chaos
An Interview with Margaret Wheatley

Margaret Wheatley is well known in the fields of organization, management development, and systems thinking. She is president emerita of The Berkana Institute, a charitable global leadership foundation serving life-affirming leaders. Her newest book is Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time. In an earlier book, Turning To One Another: Simple Conversations To Restore Hope To The Future, she promotes the idea that real social change comes from the ageless process of people thinking together in conversation.

Last Spring, Margaret Wheatley was the featured speaker at one of a series of “Conversations That Matter,” held at the Foundation offices in Palo Alto and sponsored by the Foundation’s Global MindShift team. Wheatley incorporated into her talk the four principles the MindShift team has adopted as helpful concepts for a positive change in world thinking: be present, be authentic, be inclusive, be responsible. The following is a condensation of her talk.

I think these four skills are all about creating conditions for effective relationship. And for me that is the absolute basis, the bottom line, the foundation of all human activity. So if we’re present, if we’re authentic, if we’re inclusive, and if we’re responsible, there is no doubt that we would be in very high relationships. We would be creating the conditions by which all of life advances and organizes.

We have a great burden in America, a great problem that actually paralyzes us. It is the belief that you can get through life alone, and if you have to rely on other people there is something wrong with you. We are the most extreme example of Social Darwinism, which was a really terrible thought to begin with: Only the strong survive. You see it in our social policies, in our welfare system, in our legislation. Those who survive are better than everyone else who is failing, and society does not have a responsibility to its weakest and poorest. This is what we have come to believe in America because we would be destroying evolution if we supported the weak, since only the strong will give us the future.

One way this crazy ethos shows up in our daily lives is that we think we are the only one who is failing. Or we think that we are the only one who feels fear or rage, or we are the only one who isn’t getting it. And when we fail we think it’s our fault, a belief reinforced by our bosses and congressional leaders and legislators who tell us it’s not their fault, it’s our fault.

This burden of being an individual and thinking that you can go through life by yourself, that you will make it if you are good and that you will fail if you are bad—and good riddance to you because you are only bringing down the species anyway—only exists in America. Yet it is a doctrine that we are now succeeding in promulgating around the world with consumerism and materialism and the effects of globalization.

I don’t imagine that a group of my colleagues in Zimbabwe or India or Brazil would be talking this way, but here we really need to. Were we in a different culture we would be in a different conversation. For me the most liberating thing I can do these days is go and live in another culture and get out of this insanity for awhile, and realize that it is still possible for people to love each other, to enjoy working together, to not be focused on materialism.

I had a startling experience recently when I was in Senegal. Senegal is a third-world country. It is very poor, but they have very high levels of education, which is an anomaly. They have a hundred thousand college graduates, some with doctorate degrees, but they don’t have jobs for them. So part of the work of The Berkana Institute is to support younger leaders who are trying to develop social entrepreneurs from this very well-educated but jobless segment.

Senegal is not a comfortable place to be because of the pollution and the aggression and the poverty. But Senegal has no suicide, which is incomprehensible since high adolescent suicide rates are common and rising in many more well-off nations. But in Senegal there is no suicide, there is no hunger, and there is no homelessness. In a very poor nation, people have each other.

This is, for me, the great loss that we suffer in America. We don’t realize that we are all that we need, that we are the solution. Instead, we in this culture face a growing uncertainty and increasing fear, which I think is being fueled deliberately. So it is important to be reminded that what we need is each other and that the greatest problem we face is our fear of each other, our fragmenting from each other, our polarizing from each other. One of my friends said recently, “You know, America is falling apart in front of our eyes and we have to make a choice: Are we going to come back together or are we going to disintegrate?”

When I was doing the book Turning To One Another on conversations, what I was so struck by is how healing environments are created just by one person being willing to be present to another. Not to fix the other, but just to listen to their story. In the video we saw, Marshall Rosenberg was doing exactly that. He kept asking questions and he was willing to just be there and let the other person speak. He wasn’t arguing, he wasn’t defending, he wasn’t saying, “Well, you don’t quite understand.” To be fully present and just listen is a gift that we can give to each other. From it, the most outrageous healing occurs. It’s as if the Universe is set up to make life easy to be in relationship with each other because the Universe is all about relationships. Nothing living lives alone—except we Americans.

Being present to another person is an aspect of inclusivity. We are each now so enmeshed in our own interpretation of events, that we—at least most of us— really don’t want to get inside another person’s head. It’s clear that we are not really interested. We watch the news programs that support our world view. It is terrifying, but true: we are not even dealing with the same information anymore. So it is important to sit down with someone and just say, “I’d really like to know what you are thinking. I’d really like to know how you see the world.” This is how we get inclusive: when we are curious about how another person sees things. But this is not a great time for curiosity in America. We are all so certain that we are right, and we actually know that they are wrong.

Another thing we suffer from at an over-arching level in western society—and more so in America than in any place else—is that we believe we can make up the rules that govern the Universe. We play God. We don’t have to follow the basic rules of life. Evolution doesn’t apply to us. So we discard and ignore the rules by which the planet runs, the rules that sustain life. Nature says that in a healthy ecosystem there is no waste; every species has its little niche and doesn’t rob other species. If predatory species destroy their habitat, they ultimately die. Because we believe we can create our own set of rules, we are an endangered species today. I heard one of the discoverers of the double helix talk about all the things that could be accomplished by genetic engineering, and he said quite casually, “If we don’t play God, who will?” We are going to rewrite the book on science, on life; we’re going to make the planet work the way we think it should work. No death, no obesity, no mental illness, because we’ll just figure out how to stop nature and take over.

We’re also going in the wrong direction in America on the idea of effective leadership and how to motivate people. The current idea of an effective leader is the person who is the strongest, the most commanding, the most controlling. The “Trust me, I will save you” rhetoric that you hear at the highest levels is everywhere, not just in the president’s office. It’s in corporations, it’s in schools, it’s in legislatures—the belief that the leader has to take charge and tell people what to do and then we will all do it.

Along with that is another dominant trend now: The belief that we are best motivated by fear and punishment. So that if you put a strong command-and-control leader who beats people up, you’ll get what you need. You can see this trend in the way we are treated at work these days, and in such legislation as “No Child Left Behind,” which threatens teachers with the loss of their schools if they don’t comply within three years.

I know that there are many of us in America who are unhappy with what is going on, who want to see change, who want to make a difference. But too often we are scared to death that if we step forward we’re going to lose something. It’s a dilemma for our society: Are we going to stand up for what we believe, and are we willing to pay the price? I listened to a national educator talk about the silence that has come over the people in his field for fear of losing grants, for fear of getting on lists, for fear of losing their jobs. These fears are real, so for us to really step up and act responsibly is becoming a bigger and bigger issue. Since I work in a lot of other cultures where people have stood up, I realize that they are not imprisoned by their material comforts. When you have nothing to lose it is much easier to get out on the streets.

I define a leader in a very different way than most people do. I define a leader and work with this definition throughout—this is infused in The Berkana Institute’s work—that a leader is anyone who is willing to help. It’s not a position, it’s not a role, it’s not some-thing that you are born with or not born with. It’s what happens to you as an individual or as a community when you see something that must be changed and you suddenly find yourself active, having stepped out and said, “I can’t stand the way this person treats employees,” or, “I don’t like what is going on in my child’s school,” or, “I think there is a problem with this billboard,” or, “This water is polluted.” Suddenly you find yourself willing to help on some issue.

I think that’s when you become a leader: by simply being willing to step forward, take a stand, and get engaged. It’s not because you’ve come up with the perfect solution. One of the statements I just hate is: “Don’t give me the problem, don’t make the complaint, unless you’ve got a solution.” I don’t think anyone has solutions at the beginning of anything. All we need to do is notice the things that are truly bothering us, those issues that affect our heart.

That’s when we find courage. “Courage” comes from the old French word for heart. You don’t think yourself into courageous action. You can only feel the necessity to act, and out of that comes courage. Courage is linked to our hearts, not to our heads.

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Grasping for Solutions to Life’s Unsolvable Problems
An Article by Donella Meadows

Long-time Timeline readers will recall that we ran a piece by the late Donella Meadows in every issue until her death four years ago. Her wisdom and the elegance and personal nature of her writing made her columns special. Here is one that appeared in our November/December issue of 1994.

A few weeks before he was assassinated, Gandhi the Mahatma had a conversation with his grandson Arun. He handed Arun a talisman upon which were engraved “Seven Blunders,” out of which, said Gandhi, grows the violence that plagues the world. The blunders were:

• Wealth without work.

• Pleasure without conscience.

• Knowledge without character.

• Commerce without morality.

• Science without humanity.

• Worship without sacrifice.

• Politics without principles.

Gandhi called these disbalances “passive violence,” which fuels the active violence of crime, rebellion, and war. He said, “We could work ‘til doomsday to achieve peace and would get nowhere as long as we ignore passive violence in our world.”

To his grandfather’s list of seven blunders Arun later added an eighth:

• Rights without responsibilities.

Gandhi gave the list to Arun in 1947. Almost fifty years later the blunders have been institutionalized, built into our corporations, our governments, our very culture. Not only are we no longer embarrassed by them; we actively practice them. In some of them we even take pride.

From Wall Street to state lotteries, we entice ourselves with the promise of wealth without work. Whole sectors of the economy offer pleasure without conscience.

Many scientists believe their greatest strength is their ability to separate their knowledge from their character and their science from their souls.

Advocate serious morality in a commercial context (away from the PR department) and you will be laughed out of a job. Morality? It might be nice to take the high road, but our competitors won’t. So forget it!

Insiders in Washington and other capitals speak openly of their ability to cut political deals in a world totally without principle. That’s how it works in this town, they say, and they’re not apologizing or regretting; they’re boasting.

Religious movements calling themselves Christian have somehow been derailed into picking and choosing among the gospels, grasping at Biblical snippets that seem to support possessiveness and self-righteousness, never noticing the passages that urge sacrifice, sharing, compassion, humility, forgiveness.

Conservatives raise high some of Gandhi’s blunders (pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character) to bash over the heads of liberals. Liberals hit back with their own select list (wealth without work, commerce without morality). Everyone scrambles for rights without responsibility.

Somehow our public discussion has become dominated by either-or simplicities. If you complain about commerce without morality, you are accused of being against commerce. Suggest bringing humanity back into science, and you’re anti-scientific. Say there’s something wrong with wealth without work, and you’re class-jealous, a hater of rich people, an underminer of capitalism. Murmur that worship might require sacrifice, that faith might entail service to the unfortunate, and you are suddenly an enemy of religion.

This simplistic thinking seems incapable of embracing the idea of BALANCE, which was Gandhi’s central point. He wasn’t calling for work without wealth or humanity without science, he was calling for work AND wealth. Science AND humanity. Commerce AND morality. Pleasure AND conscience.

A latter-day Gandhian, E.F. Schumacher, made a careful distinction between two kinds of problems, solvable and unsolvable. Solvable problems—like measuring the distance from the earth to the moon, or figuring out how to make a two-wheeled, human-powered means of transportation—depend on understanding the physical laws of the universe. Those laws are stable. Solutions to that kind of problem endure. Once you have an answer, it will remain valid. You can give it to others and it will work for them too.

Unsolvable problems occur in the realm not of physics but of morality. They often take the form of reconciling opposites, each of which is profound and necessary. “How shall we raise our children, with freedom or with discipline?” is an example Schumacher gives. The answer has got to be not freedom without discipline, not discipline without freedom, but both, in a shifting balance, dynamic, not engraveable in stone, not the same for every parent, every child, or even the same child over time.

Life is bigger than logic, says Schumacher. There is no Final Solution to child-raising, except that “You must LOVE the little horrors. Love, empathy, understanding, compassion—these are faculties of a higher order than those required for the implementation of any policy of discipline or of freedom.”

Life is full of unsolvable problems. Pretending to have solved them by choosing just one or another of profound opposites can generate even more blunders than the ones Gandhi listed. Justice without mercy. Order without freedom. Talking without listening. Individuality without community. Stability without change. Private interest without public interest. Liberty without equality. Or, in every case, vice versa.

Listen to our public debates about health care, crime, taxation, regulation. You will hear the Gandhian blunders, the frantic search for a permanent simplicity, the passive violence that leads to active violence. There’s no point in taking sides in these debates. There’s only an opportunity to point out that balance, discovered through love, is what we should be seeking—and what we will always have to be seeking.

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Power of New Ideas
Book Review by Walt Hays

A quote by Martin Luther King at the beginning of this book gives a preview of its theme:

“True compassion is more than flipping a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

Everyone has an image of what it means to be an entrepreneur in a business context, but what in the world is a “social” entrepreneur? This book answers that question. It does so first by tracing the founding and development of the nonprofit Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, whose mission is to choose and support such people. Second, it offers inspiring examples of the work of some who have been chosen. Finally, it analyzes in detail the qualities that define a social entrepreneur. In the process, it leaves the reader with renewed hope for the future.

The author notes at the outset that while the term social entrepreneur has gained popularity in recent years (an Internet search found six stories in 1991 and 433 in 2001), most attention is devoted to how business methods can help nonprofits. Instead, Bornstein’s goal is to look at how certain individuals become “transformative forces: people with new ideas to address major problems who are relentless in pursuit of their visions, people who simply will not take ‘no’ for an answer, who will not give up until they have spread their ideas as far as they can.”

While social entrepreneurship has existed throughout the ages (the author gives Saint Francis as an example), it is now the leading edge of the development over the last 30 years of millions of new citizens organizations. While these have traditionally been referred to as the nonprofit or nongovernmental field, Bronstein prefers to use the positive term “citizen sector.” In analyzing why this sector has emerged, he lists many factors, including the development of democracy, increased wealth and giving, longer life-spans, more widespread education, and less gender and racial discrimination.

In dealing with the topic, the book traces the evolution of Ashoka and a few of the “fellows” it has chosen to award with recognition and stipends. The founder of Ashoka was an American named Bill Drayton. In 1978, at the age of 35, while working as the assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) he conceived of the idea of an organization that would seek out people with the capacity to leave their “scratch on history.” He took the name Ashoka from an Indian emperor who unified much of South Asia in the third century B.C. and pioneered innovation in economic development and social welfare. Starting with nothing but that idea and the determination to explore it, Drayton and the people he recruited developed Ashoka into an organization that as of 2004, when the book was published, operated in 43 countries and had selected 1,400 social entrepreneurs and supported them with a total of $40 million in funding.
During their Christmas vacations in 1978 and 1979, Drayton and a few able colleagues he recruited took exploratory trips around the world, analyzing how to design a program to spot potential social entrepreneurs and predict which would be most likely to achieve a major impact. In those forays they would ask who had a reputation for doing something innovative for the public good, meet with 60 or 70 people, and record their impressions on 3-by-5 cards.

They eventually chose India as the first country in which to work, and with hundreds of cards and $50,000 in funding from friends, including some with private foundations, Drayton hired a representative and enlisted a committee of volunteers to nominate and select “fellows” to whom support would be given.

With that introduction, the book devotes alternate chapters to further analysis of Ashoka’s methods and descriptions of the lives and work of other typical fellows. The fellows portrayed are Gloria de Souza of India, who pioneered the concept of extending the learning process beyond the classroom to the broader cultural and natural environment; Fábio Rosa of Brazil, who found a way to use cheap electricity to help small farmers use wells to irrigate their crops, and overcame enormous obstacles to get his methods accepted; Jeroo Billimoria of India, who founded Childline, a 24-hour emergency response system for helping millions of street children; Erzsébet Szerkeres of Hungary, who transformed difficult experiences with her own mentally disabled son into 13 humane and progressive assisted living and working centers; Vera Cordeiro of Brazil, who established facilities across the country where volunteers assist children after discharge from hospitals, to help avoid their slipping back into conditions that require readmission; J. B. Schramm of the U.S., who organizes workshops (124 as of 2003) to help talented poor and minority students learn what is needed to be admitted to college, including writing effective essays about their accomplishments beyond academics; Veronica Khosa of South Africa, who, in response to the AIDS crisis, established an organization that between 1995 and 1999 had made 224,000 home visits, trained 2,100 family members to care for sick people at home, provided home care orientation to 980 nurses, 176 teachers and 66 social workers, and presented AIDS workshops that reached thousands of youth; and Javid Abidi of India, who, himself confined to a wheelchair by spina bifida, mobilized other disabled persons to successfully lobby for passage of India’s first law protecting such persons, and insist on its full implementation.

The book further illustrates the qualities of social entrepreneurship by devoting chapters to similar descriptions of the life and work of two pioneers who achieved systemic change independent of Ashoka: Florence Nightingale of Britain, who revolutionized hospital construction and established nursing as a respectable profession, and James Grant of the U.S., who, appointed head of Unicef in 1980, through personal magnetism and tireless effort persuaded that organization to adopt and substantially implement the goal of reducing disease and disability in children by half.

Each chapter gives the reader a feeling of intimacy with the people being described, and of the total commitment, flexibility and refusal to give up that made it possible for them to overcome monumental institutional resistance and achieve sea change in responsiveness to human needs. The book also shows how being selected as an Ashoka fellow helped each entrepreneur at a critical stage.
One chapter focuses on what Ashoka looks for in choosing its fellows. While written applications are helpful, the most important factors are the intangible ones of vision, passion, determination, and ethics. Bornstein cites the record of Muhammad Yunis in developing the Grameen Bank, and how he had to make major adjustments in order to move from his first small loan to a program that now has 2.8 million borrowers in 42,000 villages. Another critical test, as the author quotes from Drayton’s briefing of a selection panel, is whether applicants are “really possessed” by an idea, to the point that they are willing to “devote 10 or 20 years to it if necessary and it doesn’t cross their minds not to do that.”

As Ashoka gained experience, Drayton called “mosaic meetings” of fellows to identify patterns in how they solved problems. The book describes several examples of the patterns discovered, of which a few are illustrative. One key insight that emerged was that since projects rarely had much money, they found ways to involve youth, which not only proved their often underestimated capability but also imbued them with the vision, confidence and skills that would make them even more effective as adults.

Another insight was the recognition that since the services of professionals are so expensive, volunteers, or “barefoot” professionals as Bornstein calls them, can be trained to be competent providers of services like education and healthcare. Still another was establishing new legal frameworks that align economic interests with environmental stewardship. For example, instead of attempting to exclude all economic activity from environmental preserves, which invites violation, it is more effective to give indigenous people economic incentives to maintain the preserve, by allowing and teaching them to extract resources sustainably.

In his study of the subject, Bornstein himself identifies qualities that believes are vital to success. One that he believes is vital is “willingness to work quietly.” He notes, for example, that through hundreds of thousands of quiet interviews over the years, many by Drayton himself, Ashoka has created a “groundswell in support of social entrepeneurship.” Recognition is not their goal. As Jean Monnet noted, people of ambition fall into two groups—those who want to “do” something (and receive credit for it) and those who want to “be” something (and don’t care about the limelight).

Bornstein also observes that despite the relentless and difficult work involved in their projects, social entrepreneurs do not feel a sense of sacrifice. On the contrary they love their work, and in so doing achieve every human’s deepest desire—personal fulfillment. For that reason he envisions that the next few years will witness an “explosion” of social entrepreneurs, and believes they will be a “perfect antithesis” to terrorism, because they deal with the underlying causes of instability and “demonstrate the power of building things instead of destroying them.”

How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas by David Bornstein Oxford University Press, 2004.$28.00

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Everything Has a Deep Dream

I’ve spent many years learning
how to fix life, only to discover
at the end of the day
that life is not broken.

There is a hidden seed of greater wholeness
in everyone and everything.
We serve life best
when we water it and befriend it.
When we listen before we act

In befriending life,
we do not make things happen
according to our own design.
We uncover something that is already happening
in us and around us and
create conditions that enable it

Everything is moving toward its place of wholeness,
always struggling against odds

Everything has a deep dream of itself and its fulfillment

Rachel Naomi Remen

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TIMELINE (ISSN 1061-2734) is published bimonthly by the Foundation for Global Community 222 High Street, Palo Alto, CA 94301-1097

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Managing Editors: Kay Hays, Mac Lawrence
Editorial Board: : Jim Burch, Don Burns, Diane Gordon, Walter Hays,Sandra Mardigian, Jackie Mathes, Susan Stansbury.
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Desktop Publishing: Diane Gordon
Electronic Edition: Timeline Team

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November 2003


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