“And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.”
– RM Rilke
White space and gratitude – two themes that keep popping up this year, whether in this great article on downtime or this TED talk from Brother David Steindl-Rast. For me these concepts are also deeply, not-quite-consciously embedded in my own new year’s reflection process, which focuses on reinvesting in joy. I described this process in my very first blog post last year, reprinted below.
Brother David notes, “we cannot be grateful for everything, but we can be grateful in every moment.” My wish for all of you – for all of us – is a year full of such moments.
Like many people, my year end used to be shadowed by “should’ves”. I would reflect on resolutions from years past, and instead of feeling great about all of the good things, I’d end up focusing on the things leftover on the list – work un-done, trips un-taken, pounds un-lost.
Then, a few years ago, I tried flipping this process around. I spent an hour at the end of the year reviewing my calendar from the past twelve months, noting all of the things I was glad to have done. Where had I invested my time, and where were the rewards the greatest? Some entries – family reunions, long-anticipated vacations, big professional events – naturally were already top of mind. But what surprised me were the smaller moments that jumped out – afternoon tea with a long-lost friend, a great movie, a blissful day that appeared almost empty on the calendar but was filled in my mind with vivid detail of a long autumn hike. After reviewing all of these wonderful elements, the un-done items on my to-do list suddenly seemed unimportant.
Then I looked at the calendar for the coming year, with all of its promising white space. And I started gleefully filling it up, based on my joyful list from the year before. I wanted to reinvest in all that had proven to bring great rewards, so I added placeholders for some big things, like those trips and family events… and then I stopped. Because I also wanted to be sure to protect the ability to have that tea, or see that movie, or visit that friend. I wanted to intentionally leave a bit more blank space for them.
Starting with the joys of the prior year was so much better than starting with its shortcomings! And focusing on reinvestment, on building up that joy from year to year, in whatever form it takes – it’s been revolutionary.
In this new year, I wish you joy.
Or, as Brother David says,
Hello Honeybees and Happy Solstice!
I never thought much about this day, coming mid-holiday-buzz as it does, until I was studying at Divinity School. One of the greatest things about Div School is that worship is reintegrated into the normal course of things – there are midweek services, blessings at all sorts of gatherings, and a wonderful intermingling of the sacred and the everyday. And my favorite service of the whole year was held in the pitch dark of December, a multifaith celebration of light. Did you know that light holds significance in every spiritual tradition? I suppose it’s no surprise, but it is also a wonderful reminder that the pattern of natural seasons on earth is one thing that all of our planet’s inhabitants share.
I could go on and on, but darkness and light have been such enduring themes for human beings that there are many others who have already said all I could ever want to say. Here then, are my favorite reflections on the darkness and the light.
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing. – T.S. Eliot
Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself. – Erasmus
There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in. – Leonard Cohen
As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being. – Karl Jung
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. – Martin Luther King, Jr.
In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe, and enough shadow to blind those who don’t. – Blaise Pascal
And if the night runs over
And if the day won’t last
And if our way should falter
Along this stony pass
It’s just a moment
This time will pass
Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness. – Desmond Tutu
Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark. – Rabindranath Tagore
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. – Marianne Williamson
Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift. – Mary Oliver
What is to give light must endure burning. – Viktor Frankl
Every moment of light and dark is a miracle. – Walt Whitman
The sun is gone, but I have a light. – Kurt Cobain
Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. – Anton Chekhov
Here comes the sun, and I say / It’s all right – The Beatles
It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. – Eleanor Roosevelt
Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher. – William Wordsworth
Dear friends, as we pause here on the edge of the seasons, on this darkest day of the year, I wish you peace, joy, and light.
Today my second post for Daily Worth was published, focused on “Giving that Gives Back”. Like many of you, I’ve been trying to find ways to celebrate generously without just giving “more stuff” at the holidays – and this article highlights some ways to do just that. (For those who are new to Daily Worth, it’s a terrific site focused on financial and career advice for women – think “Glamour meets Barron’s”).
I’m delighted that this post includes insights from my brilliant colleagues Cynthia Strauss of Fidelity’s Charitable Gift Fund and Chris Letts of Harvard’s Kennedy School, and it also mentions some of my favorite organizations, like Kiva, DonorsChoose, Oxfam Unwrapped, Heifer International, Habitat for Humanity, Last Mile Health, SlowColor, Prosperity Candle, Made by Survivors, MassArt, Berkshire Grown, Etsy, and The Grommet.
To read the full post, please click here: http://www.dailyworth.com/posts/2298-7-charitable-alternatives-to-traditional-holiday-gifts
Investing is power. Where we choose to focus our resources – it matters. That’s why I’m always interested in where our leaders are investing their own resources – their time, attention, energy, finances, and material resources. Last week Pope Francis released his first long publication, the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), and it is a doozy. Even if you have no interest whatsoever in the Catholic Church, this is worth reading, I promise.
Full text of the document can be found here: http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=10390
It is a long document, and yes, the Pope is still Catholic, so any given reader is likely to find a few passages with which she disagrees. Still, a message of joy and connection and caring and service, from the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion people? This is deeply encouraging, and inspiring.
Here are just a few highlights I took from the exhortation:
A recurring theme of JOY. I don’t know about you, but I have been part of too many sermons (both in and out of church) that have been completely devoid of joy. Apparently, the Pope has, too.
There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter… The biggest threat of all gradually takes shape: the gray pragmatism of the daily life of the Church, in which all appears to proceed normally, while in reality faith is wearing down and degenerating into small-mindedness. A tomb psychology thus develops and slowly transforms Christians into mummies in a museum. Disillusioned with reality, with the Church and with themselves, they experience a constant temptation to cling to a faint melancholy, lacking in hope, which seizes the heart like “the most precious of the devil’s potions”. Called to radiate light and communicate life, in the end they are caught up in things that generate only darkness and inner weariness, and slowly consume all zeal.
An intense connection to the world – the real world, not the closed-off halls of the Vatican. This aligns with the Pope’s decision to live in the Vatican guesthouse instead of the papal apartments, and to take meals in the common dining room instead of in seclusion. This (re)connection of church and life is also reflected in the Pope’s writing, including an extended examination of the links between our economy and our society.
More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us, ‘Give them something to eat.’
We are in an age of knowledge and information, which has led to new and often anonymous kinds of power…. Today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “disposable” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”… A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules… Ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision. It is seen as counterproductive, too human, because it makes money and power relative. It is felt to be a threat, since it condemns the manipulation and debasement of the person. Money must serve, not rule! I exhort you to generous solidarity and a return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favors human beings.
A proactive, positive path forward. Lest the commentary on our current world prove too bleak, the Pope outlines four specific principles that form the basis of reconciliation for some of the central conflicts of our time.
- Time over space:
Here we see a first principle for progress: time is greater than space. This principle enables us to work slowly but surely, without being obsessed with immediate results. It helps us patiently to endure difficult and adverse situations, or inevitable changes in our plans. It invites us to accept the tension between fullness and limitation, and to give a priority to time. One of the faults which we occasionally observe in sociopolitical activity is that spaces and power are preferred to time and processes. Giving priority to space means madly attempting to keep everything together in the present, trying to possess all the spaces of power and of self-assertion; it is to crystallize processes and presume to hold them back. Giving priority to time means being concerned about initiating processes rather than possessing spaces. Time governs spaces, illumines them and makes them links in a constantly expanding chain, with no possibility of return. What we need, then, is to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society and engage other persons and groups who can develop them to the point where they bear fruit in significant historical events. Without anxiety, but with clear convictions and tenacity.
- Unity over conflict:
Conflict cannot be ignored or concealed. It has to be faced. But if we remain trapped in conflict, we lose our perspective, our horizons shrink and reality itself begins to fall apart. In the midst of conflict, we lose our sense of the profound unity of reality. In this way it becomes possible to build communion amid disagreement, but this can only be achieved by those great persons who are willing to go beyond the surface of the conflict and to see others in their deepest dignity. This requires acknowledging a principle indispensable to the building of friendship in society: namely, that unity is greater than conflict. Solidarity, in its deepest and most challenging sense, thus becomes a way of making history in a life setting where conflicts, tensions and oppositions can achieve a diversified and life-giving unity. This is not to opt for a kind of syncretism, or for the absorption of one into the other, but rather for a resolution which takes place on higher plane and preserves what is valid and useful on both sides. Peace in society cannot be understood as pacification or the mere absence of violence resulting from the domination of one part of society over others. Nor does true peace act as a pretext for justifying a social structure which silences or appeases the poor, so that the more affluent can placidly support their lifestyle while others have to make do as they can.
- Reality over ideas:
There also exists a constant tension between ideas and realities. Realities simply are, whereas ideas are worked out. There has to be continuous dialogue between the two, lest ideas become detached from realities. It is dangerous to dwell in the realm of words alone, of images and rhetoric. So a third principle comes into play: realities are greater than ideas. This calls for rejecting the various means of masking reality: angelic forms of purity, dictatorships of relativism, empty rhetoric, objectives more ideal than real, brands of ahistorical fundamentalism, ethical systems bereft of kindness, intellectual discourse bereft of wisdom. This principle impels us to put the word into practice, to perform works of justice and charity which make that word fruitful. Not to put the word into practice, not to make it reality, is to build on sand, to remain in the realm of pure ideas and to end up in a lifeless and unfruitful self-centredness and gnosticism.
- Whole over parts:
The whole is greater than the part, but it is also greater than the sum of its parts. There is no need, then, to be overly obsessed with limited and particular questions. We constantly have to broaden our horizons and see the greater good which will benefit us all. But this has to be done without evasion or uprooting. We need to sink our roots deeper into the fertile soil and history of our native place…There are other weak and defenseless beings who are frequently at the mercy of economic interests or indiscriminate exploitation. I am speaking of creation as a whole. We human beings are not only the beneficiaries but also the stewards of other creatures. Thanks to our bodies, God has joined us so closely to the world around us that we can feel the desertification of the soil almost as a physical ailment, and the extinction of a species as a painful disfigurement. Let us not leave in our wake a swath of destruction and death which will affect our own lives and those of future generations.
In years to come I hope Pope Francis and his work will be seen as just one example of a broader re-valuing, an elevation of humble, authentic moral leadership, true servant-leadership. The kind of leadership that can redirect and reconnect our investments – in all of their forms – towards truly profitable outcomes for all.
I’m thrilled to report my first post for Daily Worth, a terrific site focused on financial and career advice for women – think “Glamour meets Barron’s”. This post focuses on the many ways that our investments intertwine with the world, and the many forms that investing can take. We can invest – with our time, with our energy, with our consumer dollars, and with our investment dollars. It is exciting that DW wants to focus on content that is beyond “box-checking”, and I’m delighted to have a chance to highlight some of my favorite organizations like the Trust for Public Land, Slow Money/Sprout Lenders, and Green America along the way.
To read the full post, please click here: http://www.dailyworth.com/posts/2276-invest-your-time-and-money-in-what-s-important-to-you
Some Honeybee readers will know that I’ve devoted a great deal of time over the years to empathy – trying (often in vain) to practice it, and trying to study it too. This is not so uncommon these days, even in business and finance circles, where there is more and more discussion of “EQ” in management and leadership conversations. However, I see a big difference between learned empathy (the kind that comes from a required course in business school) and mastered empathy (the kind that comes from years of genuine and consistent practice). It’s like the difference between a foxtrot where you’re counting steps to yourself at your cousin’s wedding, versus watching the pros on Dancing with the Stars. Technically it’s the same dance, but the effects are not at all similar.
This past weekend I attended the Omega Institute’s Center for Sustainable Living conference, “Where Do We Go From Here?” (see details and webcast info here). The gathering was tremendous, featuring wisdom from Janine Benyus, Majora Carter, Jeremy Rifkin, and many others, and I will surely be writing more about their remarks in future publications.
These sustainability speakers are leaders in all sorts of endeavors, but one common theme that ran throughout the discussions was that of translation, of bridging – being able to bring different parts of communities together, being able to (sometimes literally) speak different languages. And even beyond that basic communication, being able to recognize and understand the thoughts and needs and lives of communities outside of our own little pods. Empathy.
This is where the President comes in. Bill Clinton was the keynote speaker on Friday, and his remarks were memorable and far-ranging in substance, touching on everything from clean cookstoves to the ivory trade to our current governmental woes. But the two moments that made the biggest impression on me were among the quietest. First, I had the chance to say hello to him – obviously a very brief chance, and I must admit I was so overwhelmed that I was just grinning in silence, unable to speak. As we shook hands, he just looked me right in the eye and said, “tell me your name”. Suddenly un-mute, I squeaked out my name and we had a very brief exchange about Liberia, where I am engaged through board work with the amazing Last Mile Health and where President Clinton has done so much through the Clinton Global Initiative.
I can practically see some of you eye-rolling, telling me that I am so naïve, that all politicians are masters of this sort of chit-chat. But I have met a lot of politicians, and very rarely has anyone bothered to even look at me in a crowded greeting line, let alone say a personal word, or put me at ease. And this leads to the second moment: after the President’s remarks at the podium, he was interviewed by Skip Backus, Omega’s visionary CEO. Skip noted that this was his first interview ever – with a President! So naturally, he was nervous. Pres. Clinton made a small joke, but then he realized that Skip meant it – he was really nervous! So the President told a story about his mother spending so much time with people from all different parts of their community when he was growing up, and her advice to him, “everyone has a story to tell, if you just listen”. By the time he was done with this anecdote, everyone was relaxed and the conversation easily proceeded. This was a Friday night, just after the CGI meetings, and it was getting pretty late. Far lesser luminaries would have been visibly weary, or impatient, or just unaware, but here was a man who took the time to notice the state of others around him, and to help.
As for the content of President Clinton’s remarks, here are my top 3 quotes from the evening:
- “You can complain, but it’s not empowering.”
- “Sometimes you need to let your eyes overcome your ideology.”
- “We are genetically 99.5% alike. But we spend 99.5% of our time focused on that 0.5% that is different.”
Say what you will about politics, or politicians, or even this particular politician. For my part, I will take these moments as a lesson in gracious power, and recognized common humanity – a combination that seems all too rare.
This weekend I was delighted to attend The Nantucket Project, built around the theme “Seek the Truth – Endure the Consequences”.
When we think of Truth, it’s often with a capital T, as something that is indisputable – and so it was pleasantly surprising to find much of the conversation focused on nuance and subtlety. Speaker after speaker reflected on qualities like honor, fairness, truth, and respect. Chris Matthews discussed highlights from his new book, Tip and the Gipper, and contrasted the relationship between Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan with the current environment in Washington. Greg LeMond discussed honor and integrity in cycling with startling candor. Phil Donahue and Vladimir Pozner reflected on their famous “space bridge” conversations in the 80’s, an attempt to cross divides instead of digging deeper trenches.
I see these same themes constantly echoing in the investment world – more more more, the drive for faster and faster trading, bigger and bigger assets, for mastering “big data”, for scoring a big win. Each of these might be fine in and of itself, but without reflection on how these sorts of goals connect to the real world, they are useless. That’s the tricky thing about extremes – often at the edges, there is less substance, not more. If these varied sorts of “more” fail to add some sort of value to our world, they are extreme yet empty pursuits.
This mega-theme begs the question, can we ever express moderate views with the same fervor and passion as any given wack-a-doo on the edge? Can we make an extreme case for moderation?
At the conference, the best case for this sort of courageous connection was made by filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg. His films are quiet, not shouting – yet they carry the weight of a thousand blaring media outlets. My personal favorites are his short clip, Gratitude, plus any footage whatsoever from his awesome pollinator film, Wings of Life.
Watch. Listen. Think. Act.
“What can you uniquely do?”
– Gloria Steinem
Last week I was fortunate to attend the fantastic Women Moving Millions Summit, where Gloria Steinem posed this question to attendees: “What can you uniquely do?” This is a vital consideration for all impact investors – which is to say, all of us, since we all invest (whether time, money, or energy), and since every sort of investment has impact. What is it that we each can uniquely do in the world? Where can we have the most positive impact?
Much as we all seek clarity, assessing impact can be a serious challenge. Luckily, the WMM gathering also featured highlights from the recent report, “What Are We Talking About When We Talk About Impact?” The full report, a partnership between WMM and The Center for High Impact Philanthropy at U. Penn, is well worth a look, and can be found here. (http://www.impact.upenn.edu/about/aboutimpact).
Hot on the heels of the SoCap conference, the questions surrounding thoughtful, helpful impact measurement have been top of mind for me – so I especially perked up when authors Katherine Hovde and Cecily Wallman-Stokes highlighted “Four Myths about Impact Measurement”:
Myth #1: Impact is always positive. Not true! Even with the best intentions, sometimes impact is negative, and it may be even more vital to recognize this possibility than the positive.
Myth #2: If there is no change, there is no impact. Not true! It’s hard to know what might have been – sometimes “no change” is a major victory (or a major disappointment).
Myth #3: If there is impact, you must have caused it. Not true! Almost anything worth measuring has complex inputs, not to mention a constantly shifting environmental backdrop. Leaping from correlation to causality is a huge temptation, and a dangerous one.
Myth #4: Some things cannot be measured. Not true! With enough time, resources, and creativity, almost anything can be measured. Though if the measurement is very long, very expensive, or low on insights, it may not be worth pursuing.
TRANSLATION TO TOMATOES
If you’re not a metrics and measurement wonk, these points might seem highly theoretical, so let’s test ‘em with a simple example. Here are the facts:
In May you gave me a tomato plant. In September I have 3 quarts of tomato sauce.
From these two facts it would be easy to compile the following Tomato Impact Report:
Recipients generated 3 quarts of tomato sauce from each plant, an economic benefit of $6 ($2/quart x 3 quarts). With an initial plant cost of 50c, the project produced a TROI (Tomato Return on Investment) of 12x ($6 end value versus 50c initial cost).
Myth #1: What if I hate tomatoes? What if I’m allergic? What if I already have too much sauce? Even with all that sauce, the impact might not be positive.
Myth #2: What if, in September, I still just had a tomato plant? The TROI would be zero, but maybe I gained hours of enjoyment tending it. Maybe I gave the tomatoes to my sister and she kept the sauce instead. Maybe “no change” in sauce value does not equate to no impact.
Myth #3: What if the sauce had nothing to do with the plant? What if I bought it? What if I made it from totally un-related tomatoes? What if my neighbor gave it to me? Just because there is impact, doesn’t mean it’s yours to claim.
Myth #4: What if that tomato plant changed my life, inspiring me to launch my own hugely profitable KC Sauce Company that employed hundreds of people and supported dozens of local biodynamic farms? Stranger things have happened. You could certainly measure all that… but maybe not in dollars, or quarts of sauce.
Next time you crack open an impact report, or invest in a new venture, or assess your own endeavors, try translating to tomatoes, including all of these “what if’s”. You might find some myths just waiting to be busted – and possibly even some answers to the question, “what can you uniquely do?”.
The SoCap conference is arguably the highest-energy gathering of the year for anyone interested in social entrepreneurship, impact investing, engaged philanthropy… any elements of the “good economy”. I’ve attended for about five years and must admit that at first, I found the very idea of SoCap daunting: the audience was so broad, the agenda was so flexible, the setting was so – well, so California. For someone who had just left a very traditional perch in a very traditional East Coast investment setting, the sheer amount of zeal and creativity and intellect that was gathered in one spot was dizzying.
I still feel a bit dizzy at SoCap, but that is a great compliment. From the large keynote settings to the thousands of smaller meet-ups and conversations, this is a place where new connections are made, new ideas are born, and ongoing endeavors are strengthened and nourished. Here are the two concepts that struck me most strongly from this year’s conference:
- The alignment of mission and mechanics. Several speakers such as Paul Hudnut and Steve Wright put a fantastic spotlight on one central reason that impact investing and social investing seem so hard: we are using tools from extractive, transactional financial models to support regenerative, relational business models. This means that our “good economy” investing and financing efforts run the constant risk of being mis-matched with generation of meaningful social impact. For me, the principles of biomimicry have helped to illuminate this tension, and to highlight potential for more alignment. For example, in early-stage investing, we talk a lot about “exits”, but nature – our best model for regenerative enterprise – has no exits. Nature has recycling, repurposing, decay, development… but not exits. Similarly, we talk a lot about “scaling”, and indeed the world needs growth in these regenerative enterprises – but nature does not scale. She grows and replicates, and that growth is always predicated on appropriate development of supporting systems. The need to connect mission and mechanics is acute, and vital.
- The power of inclusion. I am often skeptical of “big tent” approaches, due to the potential for content at such gatherings to be an inch deep and a mile wide. But SoCap’s (literal) big tent has cured my skepticism: this crowd has the potential to be both deep and wide. Here is an example of the stunning breadth I’m talking about: on the first night of the conference I went to a reception of women who focus on investing that supports other women, an approach near and dear to my heart. Then in walked one of the best investors I know, who works at a large financial institution. Then came two friends from the Ohana group I belong to – a conscious investing, spiritually-centered group. Then came two others who work with entrepreneurs and biomimicry. Then several other colleagues who work on rural health care in Africa. My mentors Hazel Henderson and Susan Davis always say, to start a revolution, throw a better party. Now, THIS is a party! To have all of these perspectives and wisdom – and differences! – gathered together is a powerful, stellar combination.
Thank you to all of the SoCap organizers, and thank you to all of the colleagues who were there, both met and un-met. I look forward to “making paths by walking” …together.