Today Civil Rights leader C.T. Vivian will be laid to rest. The minister of the movement, he passed just hours before John Lewis, albeit having lived 15 years longer. For over 60 years, the two of them fought side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder, in the same direction toward equality.
The example of their lives is a blueprint for us now in this great moment of change. This Civil Rights Movement was strategically and meticulously planned with an end goal and the steps to get there. The leaders and activists were committed, not just for a day or a month or a year, but for a lifetime. Rosa Parks didn’t just decide in the moment to sit down on a bus. Rosa Parks was trained in resistance. She had picked, planned, and was prepared for that moment, and a lifetime of backlash for it. The Montgomery Bus Boycott didn’t just happen because of her courageous action. They studied their opponent. They had a goal, and were dedicated and determined to reach it.
This is true for the Civil Rights Movement. It’s also true for suffrage and for social changes like reforms in the mental healthcare system driven by people such as Nellie Bly. They were purposeful and plotted step-by-step. Systemic change needs a plan. It takes unwavering commitment on many fronts by many people. Do we have the commitment for it?
None of these movements were perfect. Not by a long shot. The Civil Rights Movement often marginalized women; Rosa Parks was one of the few people in the room when that planning was happening and she was given the role of secretary because that was women’s work. Suffrage marginalized women of color to a terrible degree. In recent years, this has been written about more often but not enough. Even John Lewis’s speech at the March on Washington was changed at the last minute, not because he wanted to change it but because the other senior leaders of the March asked him to change it for fear that the anger in his words would upset President Kennedy and decrease their chances of success. Congressman Lewis wouldn’t publicly discuss these changes and his feelings about it until many years later. You can read the initial draft and the final, and hear him discuss his feelings about it, at this link.
History will often wash over the details of these movements. I’m not sure why. Maybe because in the details we lose a bit of the romance, serendipity, and drama of it all. Or maybe it’s because we don’t have the patience to really study and understand them. Their lessons take resolve to learn, embody, and put into practice.
Lasting change is difficult, painfully and sadly slow at a times, and expensive in terms of time, energy, and real dollars. We can best honor and continue the bravery and thoughtful actions of our elders now by wrestling with and answering the difficult questions before us:
Who and what needs to change? How and at what cost? And who pays? Do we have the lifetime commitment for it? Do we have the resolve and decisiveness that C.T. Vivian, John Lewis, and so many others had? Are we willing to come together and collaborate rather than divide our energies and efforts? Will we embrace one another and lift up each other in this work?
Because without that, nothing and no one changes. Systemic change takes systemic solutions, and it needs many hands, hearts, and minds. Change doesn’t happen by accident; it’s made by design. We must now be those designers as the torch passes to us. What will we do with it?
“I have a healthy relationship w/ the future. The future hasn’t been written yet…Remember we can do something. People need to show up. You feel terrible about climate change? Then do something about climate change.”
Have anxiety about the future? I’ve got something for you that will help. Listen to this Ologies Podcast episode about futurology with Rose Eveleth of the Flash Forward podcast. She is realistic and optimistic, and I love her message of empowerment and action. You will feel better after listening to this episode. Given the state of the world right now, we have to do everything we can to pick up ourselves and pick up others so we can all keep working together toward a brighter future.
Link to the podcast episode: https://www.alieward.com/ologies/futurology
Are you in the messy middle, at the gateway of contemplation (which is my tattoo!), in the space between “no more” and “not yet”? Then listen to my brilliant and inspiring friend and writing mentor, John Bucher, on the Story Gatherings podcast. Link to podcast episode here: http://storygathering.libsyn.com/a-conversation-with-john-bucher-on-liminal-space
This summer wasn’t the one I expected or wanted, though it was absolutely the one I needed. The adversity and disappointments made me stronger and more compassionate, and for that I’m very grateful. Welcome, Fall. I’m so happy to see you. I’m ready for whatever you bring.
If you want to really know me, listen to this interview. The big question for me in this lifetime is, “Does everything matter or does nothing matter?” A few months ago, I gave the most personal interview I’ve ever done. My friend, mentor, and storytelling hero, John Bucher, introduced me to Josh Chambers and Leiv Parton, hosts and producer of the podcast, How Humans Change. My interview is now live. our wide-ranging conversation includes career, science, sustainability, the health of the planet, biomimicry, dinosaurs, product development, therapy, curiosity, change, the economy and capitalism, time, technology, work, culture, implicit bias, life-changing moments, storytelling, writing, poverty, trauma, writing, my book, mental health, strength, resilience, therapy, fear, courage, my apartment building fire, how my plane got struck by lightning, and so much more. Despite these dark topics, there is a lot of light, fun, laughter, and healing in this interview. It’s the most personal interview I’ve ever given, and some of the details I reveal about my personal path and past I have never discussed publicly before now. I hope you enjoy the podcast episode and that it inspires you to live the best life you can imagine.
“Love, or the lack of it, is the root of everything.” ~Mister Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor
Fred Rogers was a life-long Republican. He saved PBS by testifying before Congress. He accepted all people. He cared about the arts, education, and feelings. Imagine the world today if he ran the GOP.
“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.” ~Gilda Rader
The older I get, the more I’ve learned to love the imperfections of life and of people. The crooked path, the flaws, the messiness. Those things are what I remember. Those are the things that taught me what I needed to learn. Perfect hasn’t given me anything except anxiety and fear. Imperfect has given me possibility, opportunity, empathy, and compassion. Which would you prefer?
Yesterday, I did an interview for a podcast called How Humans Change. I spoke with hosts Josh Chambers and Leiv Parton about change, transformation, death, trauma, writing, mental health, choices, poverty, technology, career, the passage of time, therapy, science, dinosaurs, biomimicry, super powers, and how healing, while difficult, is the best motivator of all. It’s my most personal interview to-date.
Some people who hear it will be surprised, and others will have answers to some long outstanding questions that I have rarely discussed in the past. I’m making a more concerted effort to address these topics thoughtfully, authentically, and often.
I always love meeting members of my tribe and these guys are definitely part of it. Thank you to my amazing friend and mentor, John Bucher, for connecting me to them. I’ll share the episode link when it’s live. Until then, give their first season a listen by clicking here.
I submitted a proposal to speak at SXSW in March. The session is called The Dramatic Structure of Change, and is now available for your vote at http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/82875
The dramatic structure of literature is well-laid track that has proven time and time again to be a valuable way to think of about storytelling in a wide variety of mediums. It’s also a priceless and underutilized tool in the workplace, particularly when we think about leadership from every chair and change management from every vantage point and every level of an organization. As an author, business leader, journalist, and storyteller, I’ll walk the audience members through this valuable paradigm so that you finish this session ready to immediately use it in your work life and with your teams.
The only upside I can see to terrible times is that they can open the door for good people to make big ideas for positive change a reality. I sent some big ideas to potential partners yesterday. I shot the moon. Let’s see if I land in the stars. My hope for better days for all persists. I hope you’re hanging in there, and finding the light where and when you can. If you need help, let me know.