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Sample letter for TRC #43

Sent to: david.lametti @ parl.gc.ca (retype it without the spaces)

Hi there Mr. Lametti (with my MP, Kelowna Lake Country MP Tracy Gray, cc’d),

I’m a lifelong Canadian citizen and resident of BC. This week I spent time, for the first time in my life, actively diving into the material available to me about Canada’s treatment of indigenous peoples.

I read through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report. I began reading the report from the MMIWG inquiry. I discovered the places where residential schools operated, in BC communities where I spent time in as a child.

And since then. every waking moment has been consumed by these new lessons and new questions. How can Canada have gotten so much wrong, for so long? How much longer will we avoid putting right what has been desperately wrong for so many years?

It’s past time to act. We have to orient our systems so that next 150+ years will see thriving and healing for all. Unless all of us are “glorious and free,” none of us are.

What can we do do at least get Canada to recognize the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People? It’s TRC Call to Action #43. Are you able to play a role in helping keep these conversations active?

Thank you for your work and leadership. A more just, equitable, reconciled Canada awaits.

Sincerely,
Kevan Gilbert

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Watershed moments

The learning I’m doing about anti-racism this week is bringing me a lot of American history. It’s heartbreaking, tragic and inspiring:

  • I’m reading The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander. It walks through the approach America took from slavery onwards towards its former slave populations, and how that morphed into a justice system that continues in the same spirit.
  • I read The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates, a tragic and powerful tour-de-force through the hateful biases that are now built-in to many American policies and laws, the generations of pain it caused, and the work that remains ahead to undo. (A long read, but worthwhile)
  • If we only have 17 minutes, Phil Vischer (creator of Veggie Tales) recently shared a rapid walkthrough called Race in America, that covers a lot of the same main points as the above pieces.
  • I listened to Ibrim X. Kendi and Brené Brown talk about How to Be An Anti-Racist. It’s not enough to believe that you’re personally ‘not racist.’ We need to move it into action that actively pursues equality.

Through all of this, it has left me pained and inspired: where do I start the work? America is not the home I live in, where my voting, petitioning, learning and advocacy might make a difference. Canada is.

In Canada, our own history has more to do with the displacement and disenfranchisement of Indigenous Peoples.

So tonight I spent a couple hours researching, looking to learn what actions I can begin to take to live out anti-racism in a Canadian context.

I took the time to read through the entirety of the report from 2015’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission. It is just 20 pages. It contains 94 calls to action.

I found that there’s a Government of Canada website that tracks what is happening with those 94 recommendations, so we as Canadians can keep the government accountable.

The government is not the lead on all recommendations. Some of them are for us as citizens to do. Senator Murray Sinclair challenges us to read through all 94 actions, and “think about how you can affect change in your own life to make this country stronger.”

I could see some overlap in how my work in the corporate sector could connect more intentionally. Like number 92:

“Provide education for management and staff on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations. This will require skills based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.”

There is also overlap in how churches can show up.

One of the calls is for churches to apologize — even churches that didn’t actively operate residential schools.

I found the United Church of Canada’s response here, the Anglican response here

…and I also found my own church denomination’s response, here, from 2014.

An excerpt:

We regret that, at times, the Christian faith was used, wrongly, as an instrument of power, not as an invitation to see how God was already at work before we came.

 

We acknowledge the paternalism and racism of the past…
We acknowledge that we have work to do in addressing paternalism and racism both within our communities and in the broader public.

 

We repent of our denominational encounters with Indigenous Peoples that at times may have been motivated more by cultural biases than by the unconditional love of Jesus Christ.

 

We repent of our failure to advocate for marginalized Indigenous Peoples as our faith would instruct us to.

 

We are aware that we have a long path to walk. We hope to build relationships with First Nations communities so that we can continue this learning journey and walk this path together.

It’s a heartbreaking, humble, hopeful orientation for the learning and working ahead.

There is much to learn, and much listening to do.

Tonight I learned that a residential school operated 190 kilometres away from my childhood home. It had been closed 15 years before I was born, and had been operating since 1890, affecting more than 5000 children.

I didn’t learn about it in school, at church, or at home. I learned about it when I used this interactive tool.

I also couldn’t have learned about it on Wikipedia.
It wasn’t on Wikipedia.
It is now, because I added it.
I added the page, but I also edited the city page where the school was located (Cranbrook, in this case) so that future folks will learn this sooner than I did.

* * *

Last year, a friend asked me recently if I had ever taken the time to research my own watershed. To learn the names and locations of streams,  mountain slopes and terrain that become part of where our water actually comes from, to gain an intimate familiarity with the hyper-local reality of our ecosystem.

He explained that once he knew it…it situated him better in his exact time and place, geographically. It changed how he understood his context.

It’s that kind of personalized knowing that awaits us. There are stories that haven’t been told to us, histories that haven’t been shared with us, but which pertain to the pasts of our precise communities and neighbourhoods. There are ways our ignorance has contributed to harm. There are ways our systems benefit us, at the expense of another.

This is a watershed moment — a historic turning point, and also the invitation for turning towards, a new noticing of our exact context and ecosystem, so we can be more conscious participants in the work of anti-racism.

Once we explore our watersheds, we’ll understand what roles we can play in helping acknowledge the pain, and becoming partners in healing.

To answer my friend’s question, though: No, I’ve never explored my own watershed. This is a late start.

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The last patch of white

In March, I wanted to step up on my platform and broadcast loudly and enthusiastically about the “opportunities” the pandemic was showing us. Look at what we’re capable of! I wanted to shout. We’ve transformed entire industries in mere days! Imagine what else we can create together!

But as I saw my close friends struggling to manage work-from-home situations with small children and both parents working, as case numbers and death counts grew worldwide, I realized my own sunny optimism was merely privilege, not positivity. Preaching about “possibility” in the midst of a pandemic was purely problematic. 

So I gave myself the snow as a timer.

In mid-March in Kelowna there were still patches of snow on the ground. It could be seen in struggling huddles and almost-puddles in our backyard, camping out in the shade of the trees beyond us, on the hills in the near distance, and in the mountains on the far horizon. I said to myself, until the snow has completely disappeared, I will share nothing about the “hopeful, possible future” I was seeing. Perhaps the timing would align with a shift in the pandemic’s pace, and we would all be more ready to engage in these topics at that later time. 

I used that time instead to listen, to learn, to wonder, and to pay attention. What experiences are happening that are different from mine? What perspectives are here that I need to hear? 

I’ve been watching the mountains every day, straining in my heart to share with you my hopefulness, restraining my fingers from typing. The whiteness on the hills, every morning, became what I looked for, like a reverse sign of Christmas. Has the snow gone yet? Can I share yet? 

Today, the mountain I can see from my house that has been the most persistent peak to preserve its precipitation, finally released its last patch of white. 

I’m free to speak and share now. 

I was going to tell about my vision for a world made better. You’ve heard bits of it before. I wanted you to see how if we cooperate on a mass scale, as we’ve just proven that we can, we can co-create a prosperous planet that truly prioritizes human well-being. 

I used to think the only thing stopping us from pursuing that future was a lack of a shared imagination.

I’m starting to see it differently. 

For some of us, it’s not a lack of imagination that stops us from pursuing a more abundant future, but the presence of…something else entirely. 

* * * 

A couple years ago, I participated in a session called When Cultures Meet. It’s a workshop that intends to help participants understand what happens when two different cultures, with different traditions and norms, come together.

The workshop divides the learning group up into two groups: most people stay in the main room, but a small minority are sent off to a separate room. In their own spaces, the two groups discover their own “cultural traditions” — the values and practices and stories that define their own groups. A simple piece of paper listing these traditions is handed out, and the groups are given the task of constructing a somewhat-silly paper-craft “monument to their culture,” while living out those same values.  Pretty straightforward, and maybe a little hokey, but we were good sports. 

I was part of the minority group. My values, according to the script, included clear communication, a preference for physical contact, and default of group collaboration — and so our small group worked together (in a very friendly manner) to create our monument. It was going well, until an announcement was made: our group had been acquired by the other group. We left our monument where it was and were told to help the other, larger group, build their structures instead. 

We realized as we joined the main room that they had all been given much higher quality materials than us, though we were still proud of our structure. It was clear they were working in a very different style from us, which appeared to be quite competitive.  I moved to a table to join in, but sensed a strange rebuff.

At first it was subtle. I saw the looks on their faces. They would wince. They would look away from me. They’d step back when I came too close. I asked how I could help, and they wouldn’t meet my gaze. 

It grew more apparent as the session progressed. People began to make jokes about my mannerisms, about how much I talked, or how touchy I was — or people would take wide circles away from me to stand at the other side of the table if I got too close. 

I didn’t know this at the time, but it turns out the majority group held the values of minimal communication, minimal touch, and personal autonomy. As I attempted to live out my own group’s values in the presence of the majority, I was met with continued resistance. 

I worked hard to make myself useful. I tried to observe this majority culture’s patterns and did my best to play along, though I could tell I wasn’t getting it right. I asked everybody how I could help, which, it turns out, just annoyed them more.

Eventually, somebody said to me, “I know how you can help. You can hold this right here.” He brought my finger over to hold up a party streamer in the middle of the room. And then he taped my finger to the streamer.

I was livid. He had literally reduced my potential contribution to the most menial job he could imagine, as a way to get me out of the way. And he did it with a smirk, while everybody laughed and went back to work. 

“Don’t they know what I could contribute?” I thought. “Don’t they know I’m valuable? I know I’m valuable. And yet they have eliminated, overlooked me, uninvited me, tied me up and kept me aside because I’m not conforming to the unspoken rules of the majority culture.”

I began to wonder if maybe I wasn’t valuable after all. If I should just do what they all clearly wanted, and disappear. 

But I had bigger hopes. I removed my finger from the streamer and chose relentless insistence on my own worth. I called to my other teammates around the room. I gathered them together and I rallied them with a chant, clear words to unite us, eight of us in a sea of eighty, bound together, making our presence and significance known to the majority.

But afterwards, in the debrief, I couldn’t find things funny. My jaw was tight and I couldn’t smile. I was annoyed, intense and unforgiving towards the person who had taped my hand, though it was all in service of learning. To this day, I can bring myself back to the unfunny reality of that room: the small aggressions of the majority, being bound (even lightly, by tape) by an aggressor, being forced to assert my own worth, by force.

* * *

Before the snow melt, I wanted to tell you about how “anything was possible,” but now I realize that’s only true for those in the main room. For everybody else, they will continue to have their value overlooked, their resources removed, their contribution ignored and their selves held back. 

I am no longer held back by the self-imposed timer that restrained me.

But a minority of Canadians will remain held back by the white-imposed restraints that time alone will not release.

The snow has melted, but the whiteness is still here.

Until we gain a consciousness of our role as the majority in causing the continued oppression, reduction and removal of the minority, we are missing incredibly valuable contributions, and losing our humanity in the process.

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The way forward

I was leading a (virtual) workshop this week, and one element involved mapping out a timeline of the past 30 years, to help us imagine the future ahead. What headlines and events shaped us? How did it impact our daily life? What institutional changes occurred? How did that change our values?

The storm of digital post-it notes overtook the screen within the first 10 minutes, and 10 minutes later we had constructed our working timeline.

As the dust settled, what emerged was this: we could see a blizzard of globally connecting technology in 2005-2008 hitting the world. Facebook opened up, YouTube was launched, the iPhone appeared, the web went mobile. And in the years that followed, what we saw was an intense increase in polarized opinions.

It continues today. You and I are both in it. We’ve felt it over the past four years, sharply. We may be feeling it more acutely these days, as perspectives swirl and clash. It’s the divide, the difference, the debate. We seem to hold vastly different opinions from each other now, and we all tend to believe we’re the right ones. Every side believes they are the Resistance.

But what is the way forward?

One of the most valuable talks I’ve ever encountered on this topic is from the early pioneer on studying online communities, danah boyd (the lowercase name is not an error, it’s her intentional styling. I enjoy that.) As an academic who specialized early on studying the impact of social media on young people, she is now employed in Microsoft’s research division to continue studying the ways humans connect and discuss online.

I was privileged to be in the front row of the audience when she delivered this talk at the South-by-Southwest Education conference in Austin, Texas in 2018. The intensity, intelligence and passion of her speech blew me back into my seat. I highly recommend you watch this talk in its entirety. It’s never been more relevant.

The reason I resonated so deeply with her talk is the case she builds for something she never quite says: the answer is community. The answer is care. The answer is love.

The act of fact-checking and debating only creates stronger divides. While it may make us feel superior or intelligent when we engage in arguments, here’s the result: the person feels further alienated from you, and more closely bonded with the community that shares their viewpoint.

The way to interact with opposing points of view is not to get sucked into debate, or into attacks on character. Instead, the way out is to choose inclusion. Radical inclusion. To choose love, and offer deep, real, actual connection.

There is no other way forward.

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A Mattering Manifesto

Your participation matters. Your ideas and contributions and co-creation helps bring creativity and life to the world. You are an active, awake force on this earth, and you are invited to contribute.  (You are not a passive consumer, waiting to receive the wisdom and words and services of other “more important” participants.)

Your closest relationships matter. You are officially invited to hold closely and intimately your loved ones and provide for them. (You are not “missing out” on a distant, vague calling towards “mission” that somehow diminishes the worth of the people in front of you. You are invited to bring love and generosity to the immediate humans in your care and vicinity.)

Your needs matter. You are not meant to blend into anonymity in a crowd where your needs go unnoticed. You are meant to be known and seen and understood. It is valuable and necessary to voice your own needs vulnerably and request help.

You are not judged. You are a human being. Physical, emotional and biological. You have feelings, and those are part of you. You have instincts, intuitions, ideas. You don’t need to judge your feelings. You don’t need to judge your body. You definitely don’t need to judge yourself.

You are not better than, separate than, different from — anybody. You are not invited to judge others in any capacity, but are instead invited to hold with compassion the thought of the other. We are not separate from one another.

You are part of a story. Histories and texts we read are not locked-in museum pieces behind plexiglass displays. They are journal entries and letters recording stories of people who wondered, wandered, wrestled with ideas and movements. You, wrestle too. You, wander too. You, wonder too.

You are connected to the divine. There is no conduit at all required. In the silence and in the noise, in the kitchen and in the mountains, you are deeply connected to this. Be still, and know.

Your senses matter. You don’t need to wait for the approval of a leadership figure to affirm or confirm you. The exact mind you possess, the body you are planted within, the senses you employ, those are the senses you get to activate to hear, notice, discern and connect with this.

Do you find yourself ignoring, diminishing, reducing the value of your own senses, thoughts, observations and ideas?

Do you find yourself feeling disconnected from the divine?

Do you find yourself viewing old stories as only past-tense, instead of invitations to live out?

Do you find yourself slipping into those othering thoughts or actions?

Do you find yourself judging yourself?

Do you find yourself blunting and dulling your own needs, instead of sharing them with others?

Do you find yourself minimizing your closest relationships, pursuing an impact that is external to you?

Do you find yourself disempowered, viewing yourself as unqualified?

Come awake.

Come away from these patterns of dulling your own humanity.

Begin instead to see yourself as an active, qualified, valuable participant in this life. To see the beauty and depth of those right in front of you, and ascribe value to them. To notice your needs and ask for help. To let go of judging yourself. To see that nobody is separate from you. To see that you are an alive character in a living story.  To experience your connection to the divine, and embrace it. You are invited to value and cherish and express the ideas and thoughts you carry, and act with the certainty of your own mattering.

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Peacock Puke

The kids and I were just finishing up editing a video in my office when Kendra entered to say: “We…need your help.”

The cat had gotten into the garage, and knocked over a prized memento. It had fallen onto the concrete floor, the glass had shattered.

Tears were shed — this item had belonged to Ben. It was handmade craft from a community fair last year that had been living on a shelf: a jar of multi-coloured sand with a golf tee glued on as a nose, and feathers for hair.

But the breakage pattern was unexpectedly gorgeous — “like a peacock puked!” exclaimed Kendra.A breakage pattern from multi-coloured sand shows a gradated rainbow in the shape of a flame

To protect little feet from shards of glass, I got to work right away, while Kendra and the kids spilled into the outdoors and onto the trampoline.

It was a chain reaction of tasks: To sweep the glass, I had to move the shoes. But in doing so, I had to sort and tidy them, and take out the entryway mat. Which helped us see the glass was in more places: it was scattered throughout the whole garage — around our bikes, under the workbench, under the van. I ended up driving the van out of the garage, sorting out all the mess on and under our workbench, reorganizing the bikes, the boots, the coats. By the end of the experience, we hadn’t just cleaned up the glass mess, we had completely transformed the garage.

But this didn’t all happen in one continuous burst of work.

Partway through, my friend Colin came to pick up some eggs. I paused the work and we chatted at a safe physical distance, about work, family, the Covid craziness, and life in general — and for those few minutes, while his son napped in the car seat and a chilly wind blew on us, we got to just be there, two people, actually connecting for a moment, in the midst of a crisis.

Returning to the jobsite, I completed the task, and drove the van back into the garage, which had been now been returned to normal.

But it wasn’t back to normal at all.

The craft was still broken.The tragic destruction of the prized craft had resulted in urgent work. The urgent work had resulted in a transformed garage — but the transformation itself had been put on pause for a moment of human connection.

And so it is with us now, in the time of Covid. Life is shattering  around us, an unscheduled, unwanted explosion. And in it, the result will be a major transformation — our societies won’t look the same after this. Yet even within that, there is the invitation to pause long enough to stop, see, value, notice and connect with human beings who are here alongside us. We are beautiful in this breakage. We are the peacock puke.

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Easter eggs

With our chickens now fully grown, our little egg business is now and up running. A couple weeks back, one humble post on an online marketplace instantly gained us enough repeat customers to sell out of the approximately 315 eggs that our little hens produce each week.

It was my job this morning to keep the kids out of the house while Kendra executed an easter hunt throughout our house, so I piled the kids into the van and headed out for our own kind of easter egg delivery.

Today’s egg drop was for a customer we’ve still never met. Kendra interacts with him via text. We drop the eggs on his doorstep. The money is waiting in his mailbox. Today, he wasn’t home at all, so the money will come later as an e-transfer (we hope).

The next stop was the local credit union, to their drive-thru bank machine. I wiped down the screen and the pin-paid with a Wet Wipe and deposited the cash we’d been collecting from our egg sales over the past couple weeks.

I still had a little more time to kill. In our current quarantine reality, though, there are not many places to go, especially with kids.  As I slid my wallet back into my pocket, I remembered that Addie’s watch needed a new battery, from a speciality battery store, and that I’d already tried three separate occasions to get there, but the adjusted crisis hours kept blocking us.

I drove over to the store, pulled into the deserted parking lot, and stepped inside while the kids kept watching a DVD in the van.

Inside the store, caution tape prevented me from reaching the counter. Two cautious clerks stepped out, one for Speaking, and one for Standing. I explained my needs.

“We’re not doing watch battery replacements or installs right now,” said the Speaking Clerk.

“Oh,” I replied. “Can I at least purchase the battery and install it myself?”

“Yes,” said the Speaking Clerk. “What type of battery is it?”

I looked down at the device, held together with tiny screws. I looked back at the battery experts standing beside a wall of watch batteries.

“The kind that fits this,” I said, gesturing at the watch. “What battery would you guess belongs in this?”

The Standing Clerk selected three from the rack and placed them on the counter, the stepped away. Taking my turn, I stepped forward to analyze three packages. All three were circular, flat watch batteries, indistinguishable except for tiny variations in size and markings. There was no indication which would fit.

I didn’t fault the cautious battery salespeople for following reasonable physical distancing guidelines. I just sorta expected them to have an answer for the battery question.

“I’ll come back once I unscrew this at home, I guess?” I said. They nodded, and I turned to leave the store, saying “Thanks for your help” as I left. (I hadn’t meant the thank-you to be sarcastic, but it may have come across that way.)

I went back to the van, where the kids were anachronously ingesting a Halloween episode of Curious George on disc. I found my Swiss army knife in the glovebox, and fiddled with various settings and contraptions to see if I could unscrew the tiny screws. Nothing fit.

With a lip-fluttering dejected sigh, I sat back in the driver’s seat, van still pointed towards the battery store’s glass frontage just a step away.

I noticed the QR code on the back of the watch, the model number right beside it. I grabbed my phone, googled “what battery for a….” and had my answer in 0.445 seconds.

I hopped back out of the van, opened the store’s door with my jacket sleeve.

The bell jingled, and the two cautious clerks emerged from the back room.

“I forgot the internet existed,” I announced, waving my phone and my watch.

“Oh yeah,” said the Speaking Clerk. “Why do we always forget about that?”

“I need the CR1632 battery,” I said, and completed our physically-distant transaction with a tap of my credit card, and headed back home for our family’s easter surprise.

As I left the parking lot, I passed a restaurant advertising their new digital ordering system, one previously only ever known for its in-restaurant dining service — and another, and another.

“I forget the internet existed,” might as well be the slogan of every lagging organization from the past decade, who have been sleep-walking through digitization as if it were optional, or a hindrance.

This isn’t the time for a rant about digital transformation, and it’s not my point, but I’ll indulge in a brief aside. In our current coronavirus shock, every industry is now discovering the possibilities and limitations of how technology can or cannot help their core businesses. We’re becoming more aware of these capabilities, and we’re testing them: from online education to store deliveries. For most of the world, we now remember the internet exists.

This morning, I was reading Gabor Maté’s insanely brilliant and heartbreaking book, In The Realm Of The Hungry Ghosts. (I didn’t think I’d have the opportunity to read it, but I already had it checked out when our libraries froze check-outs and returns due to Covid-19.) It’s a seminal work chronicling the impact and sources of addiction, written from this working doctor’s lived experience on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

In one passage, he describes the maddening inefficiency of how a certain Canadian system works to get people the resources they need. He wonders in passing if there might be a better way, and says something like this:

“An alternate system might well be possible…and it would certainly take imagination, compassion and flexibility.”

Like the internet for battery store clerks — if only there was a way that humans could see we have had those three characteristics in abundance all along.

To be clear, I am not talking about the internet itself.

The human capacity for creativity, for love, for responsiveness is being remembered now. We are all being jangled out of the back store rooms into the reality that all along, we have been fully empowered and enabled to live awake, alert lives of connectedness and ingenuity, of sensitivity and care.

Imagination, compassion and flexibility are all we would need in order to imagine an alternate system were people’s fundamentals needs are met in a life-giving way?

Then what’s stopping us?

These wonderful, powerful, explosively colourful gifts and characteristics have been present all along, hidden like easter eggs amongst our households and throughout our world. It’s time to return home to hunt for them.

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Kevan’s working from home tips

Recently, the shift to “everybody working from home” has left some folks scrambling. I realized I had pre-written a Google Doc about working from home that I’ve shared with people over the years, and that I could adapt it into a shareable post, to see if it helps!

Office & Technology Setup

  • If you’re planning to be on video a lot, orient your desk so the webcam points towards a simple, clean, attractive background. If you’re working a bedroom, flip your desk so your back is to the wall, not the bed. Be attentive to the decor and setting.
  • Invest in some key pieces of equipment:
    • An external monitor, if you don’t already have one. Helps with posture, and also gives you something to put your webcam on. (What webcam?)
    • A better webcam, one that is external, like this. Keep it at eye-level, not pointing up at your face from under your chin
    • Consider some additional lighting. I ended up getting a set of studio softbox lights (the kind used in video shoots), because, look, if I’m a lead facilitator on a multi-person, multi-hour video call, multiple times a week, this is a video shoot. Participants need to see me well-lit.
    • If you can’t get lights, consider:
      • Using natural light to your advantage by having your desk parallel to a window. (Your camera should never point at a window. That leaves you backlit, so people can’t see your face.)
      • Settings: I use a Mac app called Webcam Settings, that lets me control camera brightness, zoom, depth of field.
  • Starting using web-based tools as your default. Get a collaborative, cloud-based suite for you and your teammates right away. I recommend the G-Suite by Google, or at least just using Google Drive yourself.
  • If you’re going to be working from home for a while, consider a few more upgrades:
    • Call your internet service provider and seeing what options are available for upgrading the speed of your local internet connection. If a fibre connection is available, upgrade!
    • Consider upgrading your home wifi equipment, too. The Google Wifi Mesh Network creates stable connectivity for homes.
    • Yes, a standing desk is something you should have, and a good, proper office chair.

Etiquette & Courtesy 

    • If you share the home with family members, consider sharing your work calendar with them so they can see when you will be on meetings and calls. This will help you be respectful and aware of each other’s rhythms.
    • When on video calls, always, always, always use headphones with a microphone. Never, ever, ever use the default built-in computer microphone and speaker.
    • Always mute when you’re not speaking.
    • Meet your colleagues’ and clients’ expectations for availability via email and tools like Slack, and make it clear how and when you can be reached. For me, I have Slack notifications on my phone (during work hours), but have email notifications removed from all devices. My calendar is shared and up-to-date with meetings, and chunks blocked off when I’m unavailable.
    • Consider making yourself unavailable strategically. For example, I block off Tuesday mornings so I can take care of the kids while my partner does a fitness class, then I shift those hours into the evening. What might you creatively reclaim in order to give joy to yourself or your household?

Mental Health

  • I try to give myself 10 minutes of quiet time before the day starts. It’s just me, alone. It’s not time for email checking or web browsing. It’s silent, and it’s reflective. It’s journalling, and reading.
  • I try to do the same as the day wraps up, a short period of reflection (though this frequently gets skipped, as I’m moving rapidly to go help with the family).
  • Mid-day, I go for a walk, at least 20 minutes. Time outside, moving, vastly improves my energy and mood. (Though often, I’m choosing to spend time making lunch for the family.)
  • Beginning to pay attention to your own energy preferences will help you see when you have energy boosts, and energy drops. Working from home is no longer about time management, it’s energy management. The moment you find yourself zoning out or reading the news, just leave your desk. Better to clean the house than have your time wasted on non-productive screen time.
  • Never, ever, ever, multi-task on a video-call. The wilful choice to zone out secretly insults your meeting participants, cheapens your work day,  removes your reason from being in the meeting — and gives you a zoned-out, clueless face that everybody can see right through. Worse, though, it eats your soul. You’re better than that. You have a voice, a mind, and a contribution to make. Listen well, and contribute well.
  • I have a Chrome extension called “Block Sites” that lets me block sites I find unproductive and distracting. Sometimes I’ll block all news and social media, sometimes I’ll re-allow, depending on my focus.

Relationships

  • I have regular digital one-on-ones schedules with my closest colleagues, recurring weekly. These half-hour or hour-long connects are largely agenda free, or a small list gets generated just before the meeting. The primary objective is to connect with each other.
    • These sessions, which I sometimes take as phone-call walks for an hour, are incredibly valuable. They shape my understanding of the company’s health, help me connect personally with people, help explore new ideas, and come back tenfold in terms of company engagement.
    • Remember: as a remote worker, a one-on-one creates the possibility for a rich, deep connection that office environments often can’t give you. On a regular call, you have each other’s undivided attention. Nobody is eavesdropping. Remotely, you can achieve a candor and intimacy that is truly safe, which is a key ingredient for high-performing teams.

An acknowledgement

I realize many of these suggestions are only made possible with some resources and realities that are a product of privilege. Investing in new tools and equipment takes money and time, and isn’t necessarily possible during a quick shift to working from home unexpectedly. The freedom to focus on work tasks, especially during a crisis, with kids and family heavily in the picture, is not accounted for here. Even a luxury like separate office, with a door that shuts, is often not a reality. Some of the suggestions are more idealistic and long-term, and aren’t meant to be seen as quick-fixes.

More questions?

I’ve been working from home for 7 years now. Over those years, we left the city, moved to a rural setting, built a house, and my wife’s parents now live in our basement suite. We raise chickens, and have four kids! Ask me anything, and I’ll update this post with the answers.

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A Quarantine Song

As the urgent work remains of urging people to stay home, and as those staying home encounter true obstacles, I’ve been looking for ways I can contribute positively. I thought: I could at least write a song?

I decided to adapt/parody an existing song, one I wrote a year or so ago for work, called Cold Feet. In the original song, our characters are voluntarily self-isolating during a holiday season, and trying to make the best of it. I figured it would save me production costs, and still be quite thematically apt, to repurpose my own song!

I drafted 3 completely different lyrical directions, and finally landed on this one. The vocals were recorded in one take, at night after the kids were in bed, but rather than over-doing it, I’m embracing the low production quality and hoping it reveals the real-ness of our moment.

Maybe somebody in your life isn’t staying home enough, and you want to passive-aggressively send them this song, hoping to inspire them. Or maybe as a nurse, doctor or frontline worker, you need an appreciation anthem. Or perhaps you’re just working hard to socially isolate and physically distance, and you’re a little bit done with it all — this song might encourage you to keep going.

Lyrics:

Isolate
True that you gotta hide away
We’re in quarantine
Cause of COVID-19

Stay at home instead of heading out
Stop the virus spreading out
So the curve is flattening
Gotta keep that happening

If this quarantine
Makes your life a little awkward
Don’t break quarantine
Think of the nurses and the doctors!

Staying at home tonight
Is saving the world tonight
Do your part staying far apart from everyone
Singing a quarantine song
Hoping you sing along
And that peace will have increased when this is done

Suddenly
Here in quarantine
Yes, your body’s home
Baby, your soul is free

Maybe while we’re all confined
In the quietness we can find
Human kindness
Right there inside of us

Though this quarantine
Makes your life a little awkward
May this quarantine
Turn into an unlocked door

Staying at home tonight
Is saving the world tonight
Do your part staying far apart from everyone
Singing a quarantine song
Hoping you sing along
And that peace will have increased when this is done
(Repeat x 2)

____

Adapted from the song “Cold Feet,” written by Kevan Gilbert, original production by Isaac Karns.

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Designing love-based systems

I was in Vancouver’s Railtown Cafe a couple months ago, in town to help facilitate a design sprint for a non-profit. 

Powering up for the day with a breakfast sandwich, as smells of fresh baking and coffee wafted over the counter, I encountered this article from Jesse Weaver: “Human-Centered Design Dies at Launch.” 

The perspective goes like this: we say we’re doing “human-centered design,” but inevitably, business goals trump the user’s needs. Every time. 

In the comment section, one user washes the criticism away as being misguided: “Of course it does,” they say. “Human-centered design is a business tool. And a business exists to make money. You want change, go work in the non-profit sector.”

On that very day, where I was running a design sprint for a non-profit, it included an executive leader who was dead-focused on questions about return-on-investment, without a thought towards his team’s health, his non-profit’s impact or sense of purpose. I will assure you that he felt no freer to measure well-being and human thriving than a leader in a conventional business setting. 

The non-profit sector cannot and will not solve this: and even if it could, are we really going to take any notion of humanity’s well-being and shove off the responsibility to a whole other sector? If today’s organizations see themselves as having no responsibility for humanity’s well-being, then it’s time to redesign these systems.

Are we not ready for this — to change the nature of business? Are we not ready to optimize for something healthier and more long-lasting? Are we not ready to push beyond this scarcity-minded behaviour? 

Some say an alternative is on its way: from human-centered design to life-centered design, says Katharina Clasen. “The Future is Life-Centered” says Jane Fulton Suri, of IDEO.

These are healthy and humble evolutions — it shows a tremendous humility on the part of designers to suggest that it’s the designers or the design process that needs to change. But as much as this ever-evolving field might healthily and humbly disagree, design doesn’t need to change. Design is fine. Design is available any time of the day to help you pay attention to needs and patterns and realities, build empathy, imagine the future, create possibility and make plans to make it happen. It’s the systems that abuse design or ignore it entirely that are killing us. And it’s those systems themselves that must be reimagined and redesigned. 

I have a new norm for us to build towards: love-based systems. Develop a metric to measure the presence of love in your system, and optimize for that.

You don’t have to call it that.

Oh, we don’t have to call it love — we can call it social connectedness, belonging, community strengthening, empathy, or your favourite synonym that makes you feel less uncomfortable. But it’s there, waiting for us, as the hoped-for outcome of every human in every system, the punchline at the end of every research report, the unstated inference in each of our interactions, the one thing that would change our world if we would let it. 

In other settings, the “love” conclusion shows up under different names.

danah boyd calls it belonging, in her keynote and article about media literacy. She explains when we see false information spreading, our temptation is to correct people who spread it. We fact-check our friends. But the information-seeker accessing that false information is actually having a need met through it: to have a viewpoint affirmed, to have a perspective validated, to feel part of something. To feel a sense of belonging. When we ‘fact-check’ it, we signal to them that they are not part of our community. They don’t belong. In effect, we exile them, causing them to move further into the community that issued the false information. The way to successfully respond to false information is by extending belonging and connection to the seeker. Love.

Johann Hari calls it social connection. Though addiction and depression are multi-faceted issues, one of the key elements in both is social isolation — a lack of connection. Not universally, not all the time, and not without additional complicating elements — but social isolation plays a role. Love, then, is the starting point.

The City of Vancouver calls it social connectedness, or simply, community. When a community is able to recover well from a disaster, showing true resilience, it is when community ties are strong. So as a way of being prepared for its own inevitable disasters that may come in the form of anticipated earthquakes, Vancouver invests in a strategy that aims to increase the social connectedness between neighbours on street blocks and apartment buildings. They recognize that socially strong communities are stronger and more resilient. Love, you could say.

Speaking of Vancouver, Dr. Gabor Mate in his own research into trauma, addiction, stress and childhood development, lands also on the need to build strong relational bonds as a pathway through these negatives.

I heard Lance Priebe talk on a similar topic. He pioneered early tools for internet community moderation, helping identify ways to protect children online from toxic culture and predatory luring, as an element of building Disney’s Club Penguin. In his current work, he’s been exploring the world of eSports; competitive online gaming. Child luring remains a problem, as kids who are hungry for affirmation and fame respond to YouTube commenters and Twitch accounts powered by people reaching out to compliment them on their skills, only to gradually discover more nefarious aims. Lance was encouraging parents about how to counter this reality: be the one to pay attention to their gaming in the first place. Treat it like you would their dance practice or soccer games. Show up, support them, get them into healthy habits, cheer for them, pay for their equipment, and be the person that is already paying them enough attention that they need not seek it elsewhere. Love.

Tim Leberecht echoes a sentiment like this in his work, The Business Romantic.

Frederich LaLoux in Reinventing Organizations explores this with his idea of Teal Organizations.

Ram Dass, passing away last year in Maui at 88, would get to this in a heartbeat.

Buckminster Fuller, renowned futurist and author, equates love with gravity, as one of the only constantly-in-play forces in the universe, referring to it “metaphysical gravity.” He called love, “omni-inclusive and progressively exquisite,” and envisioned elaborate scenarios for world-betterment based on this sense.

Barry Oshry calls it “partnership.” His conclusion after anthropologically studying human systems over the course of his entire career was that humans inevitably stratify into social systems that cause alienation, and the only way through this are deliberate stances of partnership and co-creation. Later in his career, he began to shift to a more direct use of the word “love.”

And don’t make me quote Brené Brown at you. Because I don’t want to reduce the work of her amazing books and talks into just one tidy quote. I might suggest that any of our work combatting shame, choosing vulnerability, is not just towards helping businesses ship more products, helping leaders Get Things Done — rather, it’s towards creating a planet where we see and experience love in abundance, as a fundamental measure of our quality of connection. 

“Where is it on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?” you might ask. “Why isn’t it the bottom of the pyramid, if it’s so fundamental, instead of at number three?” 

Besides the fact that love is clearly on the pyramid is this less-known fact: before his death, Maslow revised his hierarchy to place “self-transcendence” on the top, not “self-actualization.” Self-transcendence is described as “a shift in focus from the self to others.” The forgotten pinnacle, the missing apex, is this: centering on the needs of others. 

I offer these synonyms because I expect not all of us will be comfortable introducing “love” into the contexts where we work and live. Know that other names exist, but so does adequate research and data, showing that the whatever-you-call-it is foundational for health and thriving.

If we want to invest in social innovation, systems change, business success, economic thriving, health and well-being, invest in one thing: invest in love. It’s a worthy pursuit, a noble ambition, a viable product, a valuable metric, the key performance indicator.