Initiate kindness

The open hands of a child

Photo by Jyn Meyer

It’s that time of year. Graduates are graduating and dreams are being flung toward the heavens along with those tassled caps.

Probably that’s the reason for a series on Linkedin called #IfIWere22. The likes of Richard Branson and Robert Herjovec appear to be participating.

Came across Herjovec’s recently and it made me think of all the things I wished I knew then that I know now. As most of us know, some things are better left unknown until “that time” in your life when you’re mature enough to handle them.

Glass half-full

But other things, like assuming the best in people – while I wish I’d “had it” earlier, for me, came with time.

Maybe I was jaded from losing my father young — maybe on guard and grieving in my early adult years? Maybe it was a sense of identity loss, since I also married young.

While I don’t feel it’s true now, it does seem like I lived too much of my life with a glass half-empty. Still, that’s what I’d tell myself at 22. Here’s why.

Do unto others…

Funny. I always thought I knew what the “do unto others as you’d have them do unto you” axiom meant, but the more “judgy” our society becomes, the more important I think it is for each of us to just take the initiative to act on that premise – first.

By that, I mean to assume the best in others – that they are more than likely good people, probably will like you, take interest in you as a fellow human, whatever – and act on it. Initiate kindness.

We have the power

A long time ago – while my dad was still alive, in fact, we were at a conference together. This one speaker talked about how the interactions we initiate lead to positive or negative reception by others. In other words, how we treat someone will likely manifest itself in a similar reaction from them.

So why would we wait on the other person to show kindness?

Ghandi said it best: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Just decide to do good, and then do it.

But how about when a situation is hard to read and you’re the new kid on the block? Last one to the party? What then? It can be terrifying (even for this flaming extrovert).

That doesn’t mean the risk isn’t worth the payoff, though. And it doesn’t let us off the hook if we really want to see change.

Being kind first just means you’re extending an open hand that says, “I have nothing to hide or hold back. At this moment, at this time, I’m here … for you.”

Some people won’t feel it. Don’t take it personally. It’s their problem – really. Others will need it. It’ll be like manna from heaven for them. And you’ll know because they’ll light up the moment you show you care. It could make their day and yours.

So what would I tell myself at 22? I’d tell myself to initiate kindness as an act of faith in others.

And I’d finish with a reminder that it’s nearly impossible not to reciprocate in the same, kind way. If someone doesn’t want to engage in a little kindness today…it really is their loss.

Can’t we all just get along?

Rodney King caricature. He speaks into a mic

A little throwback in light of the week’s events in the U.S. Painful then, painful now. No more. Image Cass Anaya via Creative Commons.

To board or not to board? That is the question

Woman dressed in suit talking in meeting

A few years ago, I joined my first board. As a strategist, I looked forward to contributing to the success of a nonprofit.

Like with anything new, I had questions about “how this works” and what I should expect. Most of those surfaced as I served and learned the ropes. Along the way, I asked people I knew whose board experience I could learn from.

Based on their experience and mine, I decided to share a few pointers – especially for people looking to give back to their community and beyond. It’s not an exhaustive list, but good food for thought. I’d love to hear yours, too, in the comments.

Dos and Don’ts of joining a board
If you’re considering joining a board, it’s good to go in with eyes wide open. Because engaging in this kind of work really should come with a clear understanding of commitments and the real needs of the organization from its trustees.

  • DO join a board if the organization’s mission is something close to your heart. It helps if you’re knowledgeable in the space it serves, too.
  • DO join a board if you have specific skills or a network that can be helpful to its advancement. Are you networked with like-minded people? They might be able to support the org or even be committee or board candidates themselves.
  • DO, in most cases, expect to do some fundraising. That means at some point, you’ll need to pound the proverbial pavement with your contacts and others, in hopes of helping your organization reach its revenue* goals. It means asking for money. Lots of folks are very uncomfortable with this, but let me tell you – if you have the right potential donor, they want to be asked. I’m a pastor’s kid, so I grew up hearing calls for offerings. And apparently the “ask” rubbed off on me, so I’m not at all shy about it – especially if I know someone has demonstrated interest in lending financial support before.
  • DON’T join a board without a clear idea of what your time commitment will be. If you only have 2 hours per month that you can devote to it, make sure it will fit into your schedule so you can maximize your time and make the best contribution possible. Nothing breeds resentment like demands that exceed your availability or don’t consider your time.
  • DON’T join a board that has not clearly outlined and agreed to domains and responsibilities of staff and board members.

What would you add to this list if someone asked you whether they should join a board?

*Don’t be fooled by the word “nonprofit.” Like any for-profit, a nonprofit needs income (revenue) to meet expenses like payroll, program administration, marketing and donor development. Many parallels are clear, too: Donors = customers; program development = product development. At a high level, the needs are basically the same.

Photo credit: UN Ebola Task Force meeting on 19 September 2014 via photopin (license). No derivatives.

Let nothing be lost

Wool quilt "Nothing Lost" quilt by Paul Loebach

“Nothing Lost” quilt by Paul Loebach. Image Design*Sponge.

In the last couple of years, I acquired a newfound love for modern quilting. While this beauty here is made of wool, its construction embodies the biblical quote (John 6:12) it comes from.

In the passage, Jesus had just fed a crowd of 5,000 with two loaves of barley bread and five fishes, before asking his disciples to pick up the leftovers, so nothing would go to waste. The barley bread leftovers filled 12 more baskets.

I am so mesmerized by the beauty of this quilt and its existence as a metaphor for that miracle. (I don’t think I want to know how much it costs, however.)

And we thought blogging was risky business

meerkat on yellow backgroundAs if life with social media weren’t real-time enough. I never thought I’d be curious enough to jump into video, let alone real-time video.

For the moment, I’m not. Not personally, anyway. Heck, I hardly take selfies, much less video of any kind. But I am fascinated by emerging technologies and their potential uses.

I’m sure the response to live video tweeting tools is something like it was back when blogs and social media were winding up, especially in corporate environments:

  • Too risky: Who’s gonna control outgoing content?
  • Too raw: Great. Now we need another editor.
  • Too transparent: The execs will never let us do it.

And yet, just like social media, opportunities abound. If your marketing or communication needs call for the immediacy of video, it’s official: the tools are here.

The space is definitely evolving, but between Vine (edited), Meerkat and Periscope (both real-time), a few practical ideas that come to mind are:

  • Conferences, concerts, sporting events: Real-time action & “reporting” (I cringe to use the term, but hey, these tools make citizen reporters of us all, with or without contextual info)
  • Farmers (or any) markets: Stream what’s at market – today only
  • Flash sales: Discounts on new or limited inventory; viewer-only discounts
  • Restaurants/Food Trucks/Food Service/Cooking Classes: Watch it being made; drive instant traffic
  • Disaster response & fundraising: Show what it’s like “on the ground” (depends on availability of communications services, which can be a tall order in a crisis)
  • Oh and of course – law enforcement. Can’t forget that.

The possibilities are really endless and don’t necessarily have to be invasive or high-risk, although for those of us unaccustomed to putting our entire lives out there, this can feel pretty voyeuristic.

Some folks will “go there” and it will be interesting to see how responsible users will be. But I’m more excited to see how this space matures and the good things it has the potential to do. My mind’s wheels are definitely turning.

“I just want her to be somebody.”

Painting of woman in pink dress holding yellow and white flowers

Meet Esperanza*. She’s a wannabe.

Well, kind of. I believe the artist actually wanted her to be like the girl in this Fernando Botero painting. Her proportions are similar to a Botero, but Esperanza appears notably more Caribbean.

I bought her for USD$50 at the foot of the hill where the original Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, used to be perched. (Here’s the Montana today, rebuilt after the massive 7.0 earthquake in 2010, which killed more than 250,000 people and which I still can hardly talk about. Maybe soon.)

Anyway, that trip was my first trip to the developing world – and, surprisingly, my only trip to Haiti (hopefully not my last).

Learning to tell stories
It was where I began learning from the best — like photojournalist Chuck Bigger — things like the composition of a great photo. It’s where I learned how to gather and tell an organization’s story from the point of view of its “customers” — those who benefited from its services.

It’s where my eyes were opened to the many opportunities we take for granted in the United States and developed world. It’s a hard truth, but a truth nonetheless: Most of the world is not born into opportunity like Americans are.

Common ground
But parents everywhere still want the same for their children – to be healthy, to be loved, to belong, to have a better life than they had.

I can’t tell you how many mothers or caregivers I’ve interviewed who only ever wanted their children to grow up to be successful. When we would ask what their dreams were for their child, most replies inevitably included:

“I just want her to be somebody.”

I used to think that meant they thought their children weren’t “somebody” already. But I believe it’s more that the child’s potential hadn’t yet been uncovered. When it was, stories changed. Families changed. Futures changed.

For some families, it may mean a child has completed primary school and can work in the local market selling goods that help the family with income (not an ideal situation but certainly a real one). Or a high school education, which may mean a more technical vocation. A university education means a young person can become “a professional,” with a sustainable income to support even an extended family, including education for siblings and others.

Children are the key
When a child’s potential is developed, they become somebody who can bring health and hope a family hasn’t seen, lifting them out of poverty. And it doesn’t stop there. It ripples out to the community too, and sometimes even nations.

That’s why I call Esperanza a wannabe. Because I believe she wants to be somebody. Maybe somebody like a Botero – only better.

*Esperanza means “hope” in Spanish. This painting was named by my talented friend Kris, who kindly stretched the canvas she’s painted on. The canvas, by the way, is reused upholstery fabric.

So you wanna work in nonprofit?

Woman holds up handmade jewelry for display

This proud mom in Dominican Republic shows off her handmade jewelry – skills she gained through a microenterprise program for single parents implemented by one of Compassion International’s church partners. Her small business helps her sustain her family’s livelihood.

It’s become such a romantic idea to work for a good cause. So romantic, many Americans would probably rather work for a cause than for the Man.

It’s certainly noble.
It’s definitely rewarding.

But don’t be fooled. It is also hard work. And I don’t just mean long hours.

I’m convinced there is an evil in the world that doesn’t want to see good to come of anything – including whatever good things you set out to do.

Whether it’s more red tape than is necessary to get something done to logistical nightmares to communication misunderstandings, it’s good to be prepared for whatever comes your way.

As the saying goes, forewarned is forearmed. Be alert and wary that the good work you do will meet resistance.

That’s when you pull up your big-girl/boy panties, stand up tall and fight your way through. I’m confident you will find reward on the other side. Fatigue too, but it will be the best fatigue you’ve ever felt.