Helping Samwel and George help us and our principles
- I am thinking about our research fellows, Samwel Kongere (Kenya) and
George Christian Jeyaraj (Lithuania). For about half a year we have
provided Samwel with a small stipend, about $60 per month (including
fees). His participation has meant great progress for our lab as we
build connections with those working on-the-ground in Kenya. He has
been very sick and although I have made no further commitment to him,
yet I am concerned how we might not abandon him. Indeed, this is an
every day example of the kind of situation that we might all be in if we
face a global emergency such as a bird flu pandemic. I need four things:
* money - about $60 per month (including fees) - which I personally
don't have (but would if I had more work)
* rationale - Samwel can help with all manner of projects if he is well,
but even if he is sick, we can still leverage his extensive network
which he has documented - I will ask George to put up this information -
and thereby pay for his care
* leadership - we need a researcher who might work with Samwel or his
counterpart because this takes a bit of energy and time and I am lacking
and need help
* verification - Henry Migingo has met with Samwel and so I am not too
worried about oversight as we can arrange for some modest degree and in
fact leverage the social network he himself has documented.
Meanwhile, I have made a personal commitment to George Christian Jeyaraj
so that he could cut back his work as a high school security guard from
60 hours per week to 40 hours per week. I am providing him about $80
per month (including taxes). George is a Tamil refugee who has lived
here now seven years and speaks also English and Lithuanian. His key
concept is "helping others". He is able to help in many useful ways
including web programming, data entry and some organizing. However, it
is also very time intensive and so I need help both here in Lithuania
and also beyond, so that he could be serving particular projects for
people in our lab.
So you see, we have enormous assets - investigators who can make real
our efforts to make a difference on-the-ground, as well as online
investigators with thoughtful projects who can provide direction. We
have real costs. We also need real leadership - somebody who can
contribute focus as they link the costs and assets and benefits. I
invite us to consider what we might make of this opportunity! There is
a lot of room for triangulation - for example, somebody could hire
George for help on a project, and then that would free up my money to go
to Samwel, etc.
This is also a real life example where I (and perhaps not only I) have
an obligation to care about others. In fact, we have behaved so as to
have such an opportunity. And so this is a learning experience of the
most valuable kind.
These last few weeks I spoke with John Rogers, Geoff Thomas, Jeff
Buderer, Miguel Yasuyuki Hirota and others about their principles in
life. My idea was to document our principles, illustrate them with
examples from our lives, and then study those examples to show the
underlying patterns that make them work. I assumed that there would be
patterns that resolve tensions between principles. (This is for our
Online Learning Environments for designing community currency.)
All of that may be true, but I am realizing that there's often a
disconnect between principles and examples. (I add that all who I spoke
with are more principled and self-aware than I imagine most people
are.) Here are some examples:
- Miguel told me about his principle "Close contact among actors" as the
reason why he started an eight language community currency discussion
group (he knows this many languages!) to help people exchange ideas
beyond language barriers. ( More about Miguel at:
http://www3.plala.or.jp/mig/ ) The French, for example, know about
community currency in Quebec and Algeria but not in Germany or the UK.
So he acted on his principle, and yet it's hard for me to say that he
succeeded in illustrating it, because at this point there may not have
been any "actors" who have actually had "close contact" because of his work.
- Another of his principles is "Improve my surroundings". He therefore
volunteered for an NGO for crosscultural relationships and suggested
some ideas. At that time he tried to help them and himself. However,
again, it's not clear that he thereby actually improved his surroundings.
- Geoff told me "If we thank people for the work they are doing, then we
will accustom people to giving." I don't think we came up with examples
of that in real life (although I think we planned to come back to that
- Jeff told me "We should talk honestly about our feelings and not be
ashamed and keep them inside". He related this as a story in his life
when he lived and worked at Arcosanti. He and Neutopia spoke out about
issues that they thought needed to be addressed openly through the
website, but others thought would be airing dirty laundry. They were
overruled and the website was taken down. What was the outcome? Jeff
took the chance to stand up for what he believed in. He was able to
transcend his fears, do what he felt was the right thing, and live
closer to his ideals of living in a just world. He got his feelings off
his chest and they were all able to debate in a civil way in their
community. Is there an underlying pattern at work? Perhaps that if we
talk honestly with others about our feelings, then we are living them
out in society, and even if others do not share our feelings, but still
they get included in the shaping of our shared world.
- I gave a principle "Live where its convenient to be with the
disadvantaged". This is one reason behind my moves to live in Marquette
Park with my grandmother, or in Englewood with David Ellison-Bey, or at
the Folk Creativity Club "Atzalynas". An outcome of that principle is
that I got involved in all kinds of experiences that exposed me to what
other people deal with and helped me grow: engaging gangs, organizing
block clubs in conditions where there is a lack of leaders or even
dependable people, racism (white on black, black on black, black on
white, white on white), poverty, the pros and cons of police, and what
David calls "the caste system". I can point to the outcomes (my
naturally getting involved, my meeting other people, my taking action
and my subsequent growth). I can look at concrete examples where that
happened (getting attacked on my way home from work lead me to respond
by organizing block clubs so I would feel safe). Or going jogging in my
neighborhood (and more dangerous ones) helped me transcend my fears and
also gave me opportunities to engage violent or angry people while
contributing to a sense of security (and even a "hi, officer"). A
related principle is "have a little slack in your schedule for the
unexpected chance to do good" and that meant I could fit in all kinds of
instructive adventures. All of this without having to dedicate or
manage time to "volunteer". So there seems to be an underlying pattern
which says that you eliminate the psychic overhead of managing your
conscious efforts to help by simply positioning yourself where you can
be directly responding to all that comes your way.
My conclusion so far is that it's harder for us than I thought to find
connections between our principles and real life consequences. I
started to doubt if people follow principles and even if they should.
Do principles simply constrain us for no good purpose?
However, Jeff talked about "transcending my fears" and that phrase came
to my mind now, too. Principles enable us to act - they are constraints
that we choose instead of those that fear would have us heed.
Also, it is clear that often we live by principles and yet we can't
explain what we have to show for them. We're not used to thinking about
them in terms of their outcomes. And the outcomes may not be related to
the principles. I am looking at a diagram which I made a few years ago
of the principles that helped shape our laboratory:
For example, my principle "Do not depend on others for providing for
myself" has arguably caused me to overextend myself and ultimately
depend on others more than I would have otherwise. Or my principle "Be
open to falling in love, marrying, having children" is actually a
constraint (helps keep me from being a priest!) but it hasn't lead to
any outcome in that regard, except perhaps to open up channels of my
personal creativity, which may not be very relevant.
What I did notice was that four kinds of statements are relevant in this
* Personal principles. Those are reasonings that might not apply to
other people, but seem to be fixed in my life, they are the defintion of
who I am. I'm morally bound to be true to them, to the extent that they
express my person.
* Personal opinions (or "outcomes"). They are the conclusions I have
drawn from my own experiences in my own situation. They might actually
be wrong, but I live with them as the best that I can draw from my real
life experience so far. They are practical observations about the world
I live in.
* Personal decisions (or "patterns"). They are the choices that I have
made to try to solve the pressures and conflicts of my principles and
opinions. Usually it's the only positive choice that I can think of. But
it's a choice that is optional, it's a step that I could have simply not
* Personal inspirations. They are the extra ideas that weren't necessary
but I wanted to throw into my life. They are the ideas that represent
the most freedom that I exercise.
Somehow this logic comes out in "stories". I'm thinking that we might
ask for stories where we dealt with personal challenges and "transcended
our fears". These are stories that will have "morals", which is to say,
"principles" which they illustrate through "outcomes" that are results
of "decisions" (which represent "patterns") with an "inspiration" thrown
in here and there to keep things interesting.
These "stories" are the kinds of personal "legends" that we build
John is a story-teller and so I'm happy we might turn in this
direction. Indeed, it is one that he has suggested.
I propose that we write letters about the personal challenges that we
have faced or are facing, especially with regards to making a living and
anything related to our "money mind" (this will help us build our Online
Learning Environment for community currency design). Then we can make
diagrams as I have for my own experience. This helps us share our
knowledge and apply it thoughtfully.
I think that we can learn the value of "inspirations" - creative
constraints that we introduce which allow for fresh solutions. Here are
some that shaped our laboratory:
* My business can serve independent thinkers like myself.
* My business can harness the value of the Public Domain.
* Challenges around the world are resources.
* My business is a vehicle for bringing my ideas to life in society.
* I can have my base in Lithuania, and work in other countries, too.
These are indeed the kinds of "inspirations" that will change the kinds
of "decisions" (=patterns) that we can make. Let's consider what
creative constraints might help us (or me) respond to Samwel's and
George's struggles to get by and contribute.
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