The Great Unlearning

Over the last few years I’ve experienced loss in a way that’s felt different. The death of a good friend from my first job. The death of an acquaintance. The death our family dog.

One main difference between these deaths and those I experienced in the past is that these took place in my peer group. Not grandparents or distant memories. People in my circle who I knew and, I imagine, had the same big dreams, aspirations, life plans as I did. And my dog, well. Being there as we put him to sleep, feeling the weight of his body — that was a new reckoning of sorts.

These experiences got me thinking about life, and expectations. The expectations of having a career, having a family, seeing my kids grow up. What they’ve helped me remember is that all of my expectations are just that — what I expect. Me. Not what is given, or written.

Through the wisdom of others, and my own experience – life, I’ve come to learn, has very few actual rules. The communities of which I’ve been a part have done an amazing job of creating structures. Weekdays, zip codes, parking laws, dress codes, titles at work. Structures on structures on structures. And yet in their very essence — they’re just that. A set of human-created ways to tackle this hugely blank thing called existence. A large paper castle floating precariously on an ocean that’s happy to swallow it up at any minute. Or not. Having lived in these structures my entire life, I guess I forgot who put them in place.

For me this knowing is both terrifying, and liberating.

Terrifying in that if life has no rules, it can slip away at any minute, without so much as an inkling. One moment it’s here, another it’s not. No meaning to either mode. No court of law, no presiding judge to sort out the facts and provide an explanation.

Liberating in that wow — what limit is there to what’s possible? I’ve sprouted on this rock floating through a space infinitely bigger than I can imagine. Of what consequence is anything I do? What use is there in worrying about what others think, what boundaries exist, to not carve whatever path through life that I like? The options.

Of course, no matter what path I do carve, at the end of the day I do live within a social system with well-defined rules. Some of which, if broken, can lead to a pretty uncomfortable day-to-day. But within that frame, and even outside it (what if we changed the rules?) there’s that endless sea of possibility. That blank canvas to be explored. And what better tribute to those who passed too soon, than to explore it with abandon.

NYC Service Jam 2015: Coach Notes

The Global Service Jam is an annual, worldwide event focused on helping folks practice service design through a collaborative, hands-on workshop style format.

Recently I was lucky to join a team of folks who helped stage, and coach the event in NYC. As I reflect on the experience, a few thoughts on approaching a service design project.

Experiments in Story and Dialogue

Over the last few months I’ve been working on an experiment: at a time when the national discourse in America seems polarized, how can we bring together people from across the political spectrum and spark deeper dialogue?

My main tool for sparking deeper dialogue has been storytelling, i.e. using the process of story coaching to surface values, and story telling to help others, with different perspectives, to see and hold them.

In August I held my first event, featuring five activists from Boston-Area Tea Party groups who volunteered to step up and share stories focused not on their politics, but rather their values and the life experiences that helped shape them. This Thursday we’re holding our second event and will be bringing together, on one stage, supporters of Occupy Boston, the Tea Party, and the GOP.

At this stage our events are less of a fixed process and more of an experimental laboratory of dialogue and story. I’m still in the process of understanding what it is that we’re creating, and what value it creates and for whom. And I’m hopeful that this will be a good learning opportunity for me and those involved, and if we’re lucky contribute to the intention of bringing together communities at a time when they seem to be divided.

For info on Thursday’s event, check out our Facebook event page. For updates / future announcements / blog posts specifically related to this initiative (The Mantle Project), please sign up for the mailing list at Thanks.

PI: “The “Occupy” Movement: Insights from Tunisia”

A post I wrote for the Presencing Insitute on how my experience in Tunisia informs my view of the “Occupy” movement. Click through to read:

The “Occupy” Movement: Insights from Tunisia

Like many Tunisians I’ve watched with amazement as the poignant act of Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit vendor who set himself on fire in protest against unemployment and corruption, lit a flame that devoured the Tunisian dictatorship and spread through Egypt, Libya, Spain, Chile and beyond. And like many Americans I’ve watched with intrigue as this energy appears to have arrived on America’s shores, springing up in cities across the country as the 99% or “Occupy” movement. So what, if anything, do all of these movements have in common? And what, if anything, can America learn from the movements that preceded ours?


Tunisia’s Road to Democracy

As Tunisia celebrates a historic democratic election, its emerging political parties have learned that overcoming decades of authoritarian rule requires starting small, and slowly building trust. This summer we followed one of Tunisia’s emerging political parties – Afek Tounes – as it journeyed into the city that sparked the Arab Spring, and learned this lesson first-hand. Created in collaboration with Jonathan Schienberg and Rabiî Kalboussi.

TunisiaLive: “Snapshots of the Tunisian Revolution”

A post I wrote on TunisiaLive on my experience in Tunisia in the wake of the Arab Spring protests that brought down the Ben Ali regime. Click through to read:

Snapshots of the Tunisian Revolution – Tunisia Live

This summer I, like many Tunisians living abroad, returned home to experience the revolution for which our fellow Tunisians fought eight months ago. In my time as a journalist, a citizen, and a tourist, here is what I observed: Tunisians are reconnecting The former regime forced many Tunisians into permanent exile.