Intentions


“Drug dealers’ worst nightmare” gets a makeover

On Tuesday, March 11, Idealist will launch a new network to help practical dreamers all over the world connect and take action on the issues that concern them. Preparing for the debut of this imaginative new effort has gotten us exploring the many facets of dreams: what are their purposes, their powers, their opposites?

Welcome to Dreams Week on Idealists in Action.

Philadelphia speaks in murals. The city is home to close to 4,000 painted public-facing walls, many of which illustrate people, ideas, and events of import in local history. Venerated West Philly community organizer Herman Wrice has at least two dedicated to him.

But no one is immune from the whims of the real estate market, even the most trailblazing grassroots leaders. Last year, one of Wrice’s wall-side tributes was obscured by a new building; last month, the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program organized community members to repaint its likeness a short distance away.

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The Herman Write mural near N 34th Street and Spring Garden Street gets fenced in.
(image via hiddencityphila.org)

Read this great NewsWorks post for more on Wrice’s impact and legacy, and find out whether one-size-fits-all latex painting gloves live up to their name.

Who do you dream of immortalizing with a mural in your neighborhood?

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Are dreams more important than needs?

On Tuesday, March 11, Idealist will launch a new network to help practical dreamers all over the world connect and take action on the issues that concern them. Preparing for the debut of this imaginative new effort has gotten us exploring the many facets of dreams: what are their purposes, their powers, their opposites?

Welcome to Dreams Week on Idealists in Action.

 

 

We’ve written a couple of times lately about wants superseding needs in a social good context: Sonia Manchanda’s DREAM:IN project asks people from Bangalore to Brazil about their hopes and dreams instead of what they think their community needs, and Anne Koller’s TAPIN art collective asserts that the best social good efforts come from a place of personal passion, not a feeling of obligation.

To be sure, helping people to meet their basic needs will always be a noble goal, but are there times when prioritizing their desires over the bare essentials might be the greater service (ie: buying a homeless girl a doll instead of a toothbrush)? Or, in the grand mix-up of the human condition, are wants and needs really so separate? And if they are different, how do we define them? Is food a need, but love a want?

Turns out this topic is on a lot of people’s minds right now. Here’s a smattering of current conversation:

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Community astronomy project urges Canadians to space out

On Tuesday, March 11, Idealist will launch a new network to help practical dreamers all over the world connect and take action on the issues that concern them. Preparing for the debut of this imaginative new effort has gotten us exploring the many facets of dreams: what are their purposes, their powers, their opposites?

Welcome to Dreams Week on Idealists in Action.

Viva and Michael twinkling with a few stars. Photo credit: CG

Viva and Michael, the stars of #PopScope
(photo credit: CG)

The night sky is one of those amazing human universals: it’s probably safe to say that everyone, everywhere, has at some point looked up at it and said, “Whoa.”

At least, Michael and Viva have. These two “civil servants by day, community enthusiasts by night,” are the creators of #PopScope, a new series of public astronomy nights in Ottawa, Ontario designed to reconnect people to the night sky—and to each other.

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Harness the power of your sleeping brain in your waking life!

On Tuesday, March 11, Idealist will launch a new network to help practical dreamers all over the world connect and take action on the issues that concern them. Preparing for the debut of this imaginative new effort has gotten us exploring the many facets of dreams: what are their purposes, their powers, their opposites?

Welcome to Dreams Week on Idealists in Action.

“Why is it that we seem to come up with solutions to problems or think in a less inhibited way shortly after emerging from sleep?” asks this recent Fast Company article by Jane Porter.

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These habits will help you catch those good ideas before they float away.
(image courtesy Shutterstock)

Read the post to learn about the creative benefits of sleep and some time-tested ways to harness the power of your slumber state after you wake up. It might make you doubt that setting your alarm clock for 30 minutes earlier each morning is the worst possible thing you could do.

Have you experimented with first-thing-in-the-morning creative or problem-solving efforts? Tell us about them.

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Stumble on a bed in a public place, settle in for storytime

On Tuesday, March 11, Idealist will launch a new network to help practical dreamers all over the world connect and take action on the issues that concern them. Preparing for the debut of this imaginative new effort has gotten us exploring the many facets of dreams: what are their purposes, their powers, their opposites?

Welcome to Dreams Week on Idealists in Action.

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Erica Thomas reads to strangers in the park as part of Dreamland.
(image courtesy Dreamland)

What would you think if you were walking through a park and happened upon a bed, a rocking chair, a lamp, and someone reading stories? Would you think you were dreaming? Would you think your dreams had come true?

Welcome to Dreamland.

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Who you gonna call? 3 online tools to connect you with experts

On Idealists in Action, we love to tackle your biggest obstacles to doing good. One we hear a lot is, “I don’t have the skills or knowledge to start something.” This week, we’re taking that behemoth down.

Another way you can defeat the obstacles in your path is by joining the Idealist Network—a new online and on-the-ground platform we’re designing to help people everywhere connect and take action on any issue that concerns them, locally or globally. Sign up to attend our online launch on March 11 and see what it’s all about.

Sometimes you need to bring in the professionals. Image via IMDB.

Sometimes you need to bring in the professionals.
(image via IMDB)

Here at Idealist, we’ve written many times about harnessing the power of community to get things done. We can do more together, and tapping into the skills and knowledge of other people is a big part of why.

While finding collaborators with mad skills can be relatively easy if you’re already integrated into a niche community or have buckets of money, it’s harder when geography, time constraints, or lack of funding eat into your ability to find that special someone you just know is out there.

Fortunately, there are a lot of resources online that can connect you with talented people whether you’re looking for pro bono consultants, mentors, board members, volunteers, or creative partners.

We have to say, Idealist is a good place to start. By searching the profiles of other Idealists like you, you can find and connect with like-minded do-gooders in your area (and around the world).

Here are a few other options we think are especially handy-dandy:

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Book review: What Makes a Hero? The Surprising Science of Selflessness

On Idealists in Action, we love to tackle your biggest obstacles to doing good. One we hear a lot is, “I don’t have the skills or knowledge to start something.” This week, we’re taking that behemoth down.

Another way you can defeat the obstacles in your path is by joining the Idealist Network—a new online and on-the-ground platform we’re designing to help people everywhere connect and take action on any issue that concerns them, locally or globally. Sign up to attend our online launch on March 11 and see what it’s all about.

HERO-REVISEI’m kinda over the hero thing.

In contrast to their ancient origins in epic poetry and lofty myths, heroes and heroism today seem to have gotten wrapped up in our cultural view of altruism.

Although the meaning of “hero” is in that delicious group of highly subjective nouns that people love to debate, I tend to think it’s a bad idea to call those who engage in good and generous acts “heroes.”

Adorable child superheroes aside, when we conflate superhero stories with commonplace altruism, it implies that acts of goodness and giving are somehow extraordinary and outside the range of normal behavior.

In Elizabeth Svoboda’s new book What Makes a Hero? The Surprising Science of Selflessness, the author tries to get to the bottom of whether or not this is true. Is it normal for humans to be generous? What would possess someone to rush into a burning building to save another person? Why would someone who lives in poverty donate money to a charity?

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What can you learn from your parents’ passion project?

We recently learned of a Canadian holiday called Family Day, celebrated in many provinces on the third Monday in February. We second the notion that recognizing the importance of family is, well, important, and are pleased to pay homage this week to clans large and small, given and chosen, with Family Week on Idealists in Action.

The value of parental wisdom is too often underestimated. We got four Idealist staffers to ask their ‘rents for advice on about starting, maintaining, and getting the most out of a passion project.

Don’t be shy.

From Kurt Olson: computer programmer, cub scout leader, skier, maple syrup artisan, fisherman, amateur evolutionary anthropologist, gumbo aficionado, and (what he’s talking about here) folk musician. Also, dad of Idealist Communications Intern Rebecca Olson.

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Kurt and Becky

I started learning to play the accordion when I was 40 years old. I often think about how much better I would have been if I had started earlier. My advice to people who want to start any kind of passion project is to start today! (Although no matter when you start, it’s never too late.)

Another piece of advice is don’t be shy. If you’re lucky enough to meet someone who shares a common interest with you, you should make the effort to get to know them. Someone might say, ‘Hey, you should stop by sometime.’ You should always follow up with them.

I’ve also learned that music really is all about people: making friends jamming, playing, teaching, learning, forming a “band.” It’s all about the community you create when you play and share your music.

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Find strength in empathy.

From Mary Ellen Mooney Hurley: vegetable goddess, empathizer extraordinaire, looks good in a hat, and possibly mother to the world—but definitely mother of Idealist Software Engineer Derek Hurley.

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Mary Ellen

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Derek

I grew up in an upper middle class family that never had to worry about making the choice between eating and paying bills, and I married into a similar lifestyle. But when that ended abruptly, I found myself wondering how I would meet all my financial obligations and still be able to feed myself healthy, nutritious food.

I went back to college to obtain my BS in rural sustainable sociology to better understand the obstacles those in need face daily. When I moved to the island of Kauai to finish my studies, I got involved with a local garden that supplies the main food pantry with produce. I have since taken over the operation, helping to feed over 300 families weekly, for free, with nutritious green vegetables.

My advice is to get out and get involved in local support groups dealing with the underprivileged. See what they face daily and look inside yourself—you’ll find the passion it takes to give unconditionally to others.

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Stay open to possibilities.

From S. Amelia O’Leary: registered nurse, crocheter of comforts, total hottie, and mom of Idealist Community Affairs Manager Megan O’Leary.

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S. Amelia and Megan

My passion project began when I learned to crochet at 20 years old. 30 years later, as a labor and delivery nurse, I was shocked to learn that there was little or no support for families that came into the hospital expecting to deliver healthy babies, but instead experienced neonatal loss.

I wondered what could I do to help in these times, and began crocheting baby blankets that parents could use as keepsakes to remember their lost child. I never knew that what started as a hobby would become a part of my career and provide me with a deeply moving way to connect with others.

My advice for those considering starting a personal project is to keep your eyes and hearts open to the possibilities of where and how your passion could be of service to others.

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Focus on the goal.

From Steve Davidson: former aeronautical engineer, psychologist, and investment consultant; current Ironman, productivity guru, world traveler, and hot tub enthusiast. Also, dad of Idealist Community Manager Kim Davidson.

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Steve’s Ironman tat!

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Kim and Steve

One man’s opinion: You only do a hobby if you enjoy it. You do a passion whether you enjoy it or not.

For me, this has not just been about becoming sufficiently fit to complete an Ironman. I found that all the training and preparation has enhanced my overall well-being. How I feel. How I relate to others. How I accomplish other tasks. My outlook. Everything.

One of the big challenges of triathlon is one that’s true of life in general: you never know what you are going to get on a given day: in this case, it might be wind, rain, heat, etc. But with preparing for the Ironman as with any other big project, I can offer this advice: begin with the end in mind. Have a clear, compelling goal.

Want to ask your passion-project-having parents for their advice and share it with us in the comments? We know you do!

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Do you like to spread good ideas? Do you like connecting dots and people? Join Idealist on March 11 as we launch a new global movement for action and change!

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Real love letters: My mom’s 20+ years of writing to her kids

We recently learned of a Canadian holiday called Family Day, celebrated in many provinces on the third Monday in February. We second the notion that recognizing the importance of family is, well, important, and are pleased to pay homage this week to clans large and small, given and chosen, with Family Week on Idealists in Action.

My mom is an ever-loving maverick.

Septuagenarian bicyclist, landlord of historic homes, singer in the choirs of churches she’s not a member of… The lady has always rocked life with gusto and generosity, and very much to her own beat.

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Me and Mom in Colorado in 2013

This could not be better illustrated than by the over 20 years of letters she’s faithfully written to me and my older brother.

The story goes like this:

My bro went away to college in 1992, and our mom started writing him a letter each week to keep in touch. A single-spaced, front-and-back letter, type-written on a typewriter. (To preempt the question that often comes next: yes the typewriter is electric, but Mom has actually never liked it and would prefer to go back to the even older days of manual!) When I moved cities to start college six years later, she began copying me on the weekly letter—yes, with carbon paper—and mailing a copy to each of us.

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A sampling of letters from throughout the years (all begun with “Hi Miss”—my mom’s salutation for me)

Sometimes the letters are embellished by hand-written notes in the margins, the odd enclosure (newspaper clippings of interest; a piece of fruit leather), or stickers and doodles on the back of the envelope.

The content of the missives, too, is always up for grabs. A weekly edition is never without whatever family news Mom has recently generated or become privy to, but additional discussion topics range from current events to timeless philosophical quandaries to the insight her book club buddy had at last week’s meetup.

I couldn’t commit to combing all 780 letters I have squirreled away in various files and folders in time to write this post, but even a random sampling through the troves turned up gems like this:

RE: The water restrictions placed on Colorado residents during times of drought: “Can only water lawns twice a week now for three hours each. HELP!!! How will this place look without that green carpet? The grass helps hold in moisture for the trees, too, don’t forget. I say: flush your toilets less! Shower less before sacrificing our lawns!” —August 19, 2002

RE: My brother, just before his marriage: “You are a powerful person and have the ability to do wonderful things for your new family. I’m thrilled that you have taken on this responsibility. Though I do have to say that the two of you seem awfully serious to me; Dad and I were far more playful. But your situation is sooooo different, as are the times. I just hope you’ll play together, too. Play is so important.” —May 9, 2004

RE: This and that? “Bonjour! Ah, that word brings back 8th grade memories and a wonderful French teacher. I still remember several French words which come in handy for crossword puzzles. Say, what would you think of a seven-foot guy who makes his living dealing with bail bondsmen, insurance frauders, vehicle stealers and more—living in our backyard cottage? Pretty colorful, you’d say? Even exciting?? He doesn’t like people to know where he lives (of course), and think of the added security we’d feel with him here!” —January 19, 2014

People often have a hard time believing me when I tell them about my mom’s letters. As a younger person, her practice didn’t seem out of the ordinary, but of course as I’ve gotten older, the unusual factors that combined to birth and maintain such a habit have risen to my consciousness: my mom’s great dislike of the telephone and (subsequently) the Internet; her unbending commitment to staying in touch with her far-flung kids—without breathing down our necks; and her drive to write 1,000 words a week—meaningfully and entertainingly—while claiming to be a terrible writer.

Mom’s letters have kept a quiet but enduring lifeline between us, undisturbed by time or space. They’ve allowed me insights into her history and personality that I doubt would have been revealed during phone chats or over email. They’ve certainly given me something to look forward to in my mailbox each and every Thursday—a particularly happy thought during weeks when I’ve been fired, dumped, or sick. Whatever’s been happening, Semper Fi: the letter will always be there.

Of all the reasons to laud these weekly missives, the one I’ve had on my mind the most lately is how grateful they remind me to be of my singular mama. She’s about to be 71 and in kicking-good shape, so I hope to have a couple more decades of letters coming to me. But even if her last letter was the last ever, I’d be set for life with all she’s committed so far.

Mom, if I ever have kids, they’re getting a weekly letter, too. Hopefully snail mail will still be around.

Which of your family’s traditions blows your mind? Share with us in the comments.

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Do you like to spread good ideas? Do you like connecting dots and people? Join Idealist on March 11 as we launch a new global movement for action and change!

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A child psychologist’s tips for encouraging kids to be practical dreamers

We recently learned of a Canadian holiday called Family Day, celebrated in many provinces on the third Monday in February. We second the notion that recognizing the importance of family is, well, important, and are pleased to pay homage this week to clans large and small, given and chosen, with Family Week on Idealists in Action.

You’d be hard pressed to find the parent who says, “I want to squash my kids’ dreams every way I can!”

Every dad and mom worth his or her salt wants their children to grow up creative, stimulated, and dreaming big, and they make every effort to encourage these traits. But at Idealist, we’re all about good things getting even better, so we asked child and family psychologist Aparna Sampat for her tips on encouraging kids to imagine without borders.

Here are three zingers we pulled from our interview, straight from the doc herself:

1) Ask, don’t tell.

When young kids are drawing or coloring, they usually start out with everyday sights: say a tree or a house. But if the tree is round or the house doesn’t have windows or doors, a common reaction from parents is, ‘Oh honey, that’s not how you draw a house/tree. Let me show you,’ and they proceed to draw it the ‘correct’ way. This can really stifle creativity; it makes kids think things have to look a certain way to be ‘right.’

So instead of correcting them, try asking questions. ‘Oh, you drew a tree? Tell me about it. Does it have leaves? No? Okay, cool, a tree without leaves. Would a bird like this tree?’

Provocation will make them imagine more, and having to explain their design will get them to think more about its form and function.

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If you can’t quite tell what’s going on in Junior’s picture, try asking him to explain it.
(image courtesy Shutterstock)

2) Couches are for sitting?

I was in a family’s living room once and their two young boys were wreaking havoc on the couch—pretending it was a pirate ship and jumping on and off. The mom became irritated and concerned that they’d damage the furniture or the floor, so she admonished them: ‘Couches are not for jumping; couches are for sitting.’

While I sympathized with the mother’s concerns, I had to think: are these kid ever going to be able to see things outside the box? Where will they be able to exercise their imaginations? They’re at the age when we develop a sense that multiple perspectives exist and not everyone is thinking what we’re thinking—when a banana can become a phone, etc.

The problem for the mom in this case was not that her boys were being imaginative, but that they might be destructive—yet that wasn’t the problem she addressed when she disciplined them. She could have explained the actual issue and given them a choice between playing more gently on the couch or picking another place to play—without so narrowly defining what household objects are ‘for.’

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There are lots of “right” ways to sit on couches.
(image courtesy Shutterstock)

3) Use your words.

On the street once, I saw a boy who clearly wanted to get a hold of his dad’s cell phone. The dad took a moment to retrieve it from his pocket, and the boy swatted his hand with impatience. In response, the dad swatted the kid’s hand back! The message he sent there was: when you’re frustrated, it’s okay to lash out instead of crafting a productive reply.

To encourage his son to build his powers of creative communication, the dad could have said, ‘Whoa! Are you frustrated? Did you want this phone sooner than I could give it to you? Tell me how you’re feeling.’ Even if the child just nods in reply, that exchange is a good way to demonstrate how clear, calm communication can help solve problems, but that it does take practice.

When we act out physically instead of taking the time to think about and articulate our problems, we blunt our creativity and put up a wall between ourselves and others. The self-expression that kids—and all of us—can cultivate through our words is usually a more useful tool than an open palm.

 

Sampat sums it all up by saying, “Kids’ minds start out boundless. They don’t impose limits, even unintentionally. So all we have to do is not shut them down.”

“Just think: what would my kids be creating right now if they didn’t think they could do wrong?”

How do you encourage the kids in your life to be practical dreamers? Tell us in the comments.

Dr. Aparna Sampat is a licensed psychologist who works with children, adolescents, young adults, and families in New York City. She can be reached at asampatphd@gmail.com.

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Do you like to spread good ideas? Do you like connecting dots and people? Join Idealist on March 11 as we launch a new global movement for action and change!

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