Good News Day 10: 8 Photos That Inspired Action

We’re one-quarter of the way through 40 Days of Good News! It’s not hard to find heartwarming posts, pictures, short news clips, but I do find it a little bit of a challenge to find something with a little more content, a little more “meat on its bones” that inspires and gives hope.I hope you’re finding hope and inspiration in these posts as much as I am!

Here is another one that shows the positive power of art. ~Tricia

National Geographic Photo Blog

Source: 8 Photos That Inspired Action


The Tribes of Man

I recall once having a discussion with someone about how hard it would be to bring Democracy to the Middle East because of the region’s tribal nature.

IMG_6733According to Carl Salzman, professor of anthropology at McGill University and author of the book Culture and Conflict in the Middle East, tribes are the descendants of a common ancestor on the male line which combine their resources with other closely related relatives against more distant ones, and the whole tribe will then stand together against outsiders. This tribal framework renders it nearly impossible to have a constitution or a regime of law and order, thereby “generating a society where all groups are on an equal basis.” (excerpt from Wikipedia).

In his report, The Middle East’s Tribal DNA, Salzman also states that “These groups are vested with responsibility for the defense of each member and responsible for harm any member does to outsiders. If there is a confrontation, families face families, lineage faces lineage, clan faces clan, tribe faces tribe, confederacy faces confederacy, sect faces sect, and the Islamic community faces the infidels.” (I do recommend reading this report, it’s a great overview of how the tribal system works, if you’re curious.) While the Middle East does have established states and governance, it’s not hard to imagine what kind of impact centuries and centuries of tribal rule and culture have on their modern society.

While it may seem like a lot of useless technical cultural information, it made IMG_7994me think; are we really all so different that we’re the same? Is the Middle East just one magnified view of the tribal nature of the world in general? While a country is not necessarily the product of a single male line, you could take into consideration the US’s reverence of the Founding Fathers. Each country of the globe is a bit like its own tribe. Some tribes prefer to live in quiet isolation and avoid conflict and turmoil with the tribes around them. Others would be the ruling tribes, establishing laws, policing the rest of the tribes, acting as the Big Brother, be it benevolent or otherwise.

Some tribes are just fine with the way things are. They don’t want to lose themselves, their culture or their identity in what they see as getting all merged and run together with the rest of the world’s tribes. (AKA Globalization). Meanwhile the Big Brother tribes feel pretty certain that they know what is best, try to police the world, resolve disputes and instill order.

Beyond a sense of tribal place, there are centuries of built up assumptions, prejudices and mistrust. Some of these global ‘tribes’ have a reputation for being aggressive and warlike, others not sophisticated enough, or strong enough. One tribe finds it difficult to trust another tribe so different from their own. Old conflicts and grievances are revisited over and over again.

IMG_7741Cultural beliefs can be one of the strongest forces against unification or globalization in this tribal world. Fears of losing a cultural identity, or of having other belief systems forced upon them. Religious differences are certainly paramount. If my tribe accepts your religious beliefs, does that lessen the power of my own beliefs?

Whether you are part of the “tribe” of the United States or Canada,  the tribe of France or Germany, the tribe of Iraq, England, Mexico or China, there is a fear that keeps us from achieving peace. How does each country retain its identity, it’s culture and embrace the idea of united global tribe? How do I accept what you believe while holding on to my own, how do we not lose our culture, what makes us the country we are, some of whom have had nearly as many centuries to develop as those in the Middle East?

Another thing that got me thinking about this was a talk given at the Hudson Institute called Identity, Democracy and the Nation-State which discussed the debate within the academic community about whether a strong national core identity is necessary to democracy, or whether it is ultimately subversive. They discuss the role that immigrants play in defining a culture and the role of globalism and multiculturalism versus religious virtues and traditional Western values in the survival of democracy.

IMG_7785Like the basic steps of self-awareness and personal growth, communities and countries as a whole need to realize (or decide) that it is possible to accept, even embrace, the ideals of others and still keep a sense of identity. Instead of conflicting over who’s ideals are better, focus on healing and true balance.

In The Middle East’s Tribal DNA, Salzman comments that “The tribal notion of balanced opposition has profound implications on modern conflict. The Arab-Israeli debate is polarized and almost every “fact” contested by the other side.” Okay, not only a global tribal mindset, but something you can see happen in our very own government. Fact and counter fact, pro and con, plan and better plan.

IMG_7700Perhaps this is an exceptionally “thinky” post for my typically feel-good blog. But, it was something that I felt warranted consideration. From a neighborhood to a community, from a tribe to a country and extending on outward to a global scale, there is a need to realize that while our cultures, religious ideals and national heritage may differ, we are all driven by the same basic fears. And more often than not it’s fear and misunderstanding that lead to the destruction of peace.

Communication is a Four Lane Superhighway

Photo by Tricia GriffithFor a few years now, more so since we moved to another state, I have had my moments of guilt over not calling or writing (emailing) family and friends more.  While it doesn’t  necessarily excuse the gap in communication on my part, my little mantra of self-comfort has been “communication is a two way street”.  Meaning yeah okay I’m out of touch with a lot of people, but they are also out of touch with me. Just as my outbox collects dust except for business communications, so does my inbox collect little more than spam.  Well good.  Guilt eased. Right?

I recently had the realization however, that a two-way street does not NEARLY encompass all that communication is.  Then I cracked myself up with the analogy that in reality, communication is a four lane superhighway.  Though that may even be simplifying it a little too much too, unless you say it’s one of those superhighways with the super confusing “can o’ worms” type interchanges.  Yeah, that’s it!

Even the information superhighway has nothing over the human communication superhighway.  There are twists and turns, merging traffic and do not enter signs everywhere! People talk before they think, react in anger or frustration; others sit and stew on something they should have said ages ago until it becomes a huge source of inner anger and frustration.  Family feuds, wars and lawsuits are born because of a bad choice of words or a lack of communication.  A point well illustrated in Michael Brewer’s recent blog post Finding Sarah Woodward about one ancestor who was nearly forgotten due to distance and the infrequency of communication that was inherent to her time.

Photo by Tricia GriffithCommunication between humans is more than just I called you, you called me, he said, she said.  It’s a delicate balance of what to say, when to say it, forethought and afterthought.  Miscommunication has been the downfall of empires, businesses and personal relationships since probably the dawn of man.

The Little White Lie

I was just trying to imagine what it would be like if the people who asked me how I am doing today REALLY wanted to know the gory details.  While I often DO genuinely want to know how a friend is doing when I say “How are you doing?”, I’m kind of glad that the average person I might say that to in order to be polite simply says “Not too bad!” or “I’m doing well, thanks!” rather than launch into a full description of the corn they had removed, their menstrual cycle or that strange itchy rash they’ve had.

Photo by Tricia GriffithIf you do some research on the idea of little white lies, you’ll see that it’s a controversial subject.  Like many things, how you look at it hinges on your upbringing, your belief system and perhaps your own empathy towards the feelings of others. 

I would personally prefer to hear “You look like you’ve lost some weight!” even it’s not true that have someone point out that I look a bit bloated today.  Call me sensitive.

Communication Overload:

Some of us are born communicators.  They’ll tell you anything you want to know and probably many things you didn’t want to know!  While there is generally nothing negative intended, you may not necessarily care to know the history of every house you drive past, the origin of that street name or the six degrees of separation that author has from Kevin Bacon.

Road Closed for Maintenance:

Photo by Tricia GriffithCommunication is also a matter of not making assumptions in either direction.  Don’t assume a loved one knows how you feel, or that your neighbor knows why you’re not speaking to him.  And conversely, just because someone has been quiet and non-communicative, don’t automatically presume it’s because of something you did, or didn’t do.

What you don’t say can speak volumes, whether you mean it to or not.  Maybe you don’t tell a friend or a family member that you love them, because you just assume that they know how you feel.  Meanwhile, that person wonders what the heck is going on. Sometimes communication is simply explaining that you don’t feel like communicating today.

Yield Ahead

The modern age of communication lacks a certain degree of inflection that can occasionally make the meaning of what we’re saying murky at best.  Instant message, texting, emails and social networks provide a whole range of ways to keep in touch with friends, family and acquaintances, yet at the same time present endless opportunity for miscommunication, misunderstand and itchy send button fingers.

While in person you know that your friend has a penchant for being a smart aleck, in a text only conversation, a single smart remark misinterpreted can lead to disastrous ends.  On the opposite end of the spectrum what one person thinks is just friendly, charming banter can get misinterpreted by the other as a come on or personal feelings that don’t really exist.

Photo by Tricia GriffithRapid fire, heated conversations and short tempers don’t mix well in an instant reply world.  Harsh remarks and things send in anger or frustration don’t have an undo button and can result in a lot of back pedaling, apologies and regrets.

Be aware, whether on the sending or receiving end, what this lack of inflection and instant response atmosphere means.  Think before you hit the send button, and take what you read with a grain of salt before you allow yourself to feel insulted or injured by it.

Don’t Blame the Navigator

While I am sure there are countless other highway analogies and communication faux pas that I could carry on about for another several hundred words, I’ll close with this.  With so many ways to communicate and express ourselves, it’s easy to find a way to lay blame on the bad directions or outdated map.  If you choose not to communicate at all about what you want or what upsets you, then you really can’t blame others when you don’t get what you want or they upset you.  And remember before you ask, do you REALLY want to know the answer?

Photo by Tricia GriffithIs the miscommunication worth destroying a relationship or starting a war over?  Are you itching to reply to someone with a smart remark or witty retort even though you KNOW it could be misconstrued or blown entirely out of proportion?   Maybe that bridge out ahead sign was totally meant for someone else!

At any rate, we live in an age where communication is both unavoidable and essential. Maybe it’s a good time to remember not to drive angry on the communication superhighway, and take a deep breath before you get behind the wheel or click that send button.

Safe travels!

Virtual Worlds: Not Just for Sex Anymore.

For the longest time the virtual world of Second Life received a lot of bad press; mostly as a place to go if you wanted have virtual sex and live out your darkest fantasies. 

It is true that if you log into Second Life, or any of the assortment of virtual worlds now available, with the intent to find sex toys, fetishes and overtly sexual avatars, you’ll have no problem finding them. Sex is a part of cultures across the world and when you bring people from across the world together into a virtual space with countless ways to express yourself, it would be more surprising if there was not a virtual sex culture.

That is such a small part of what virtual communities bring to the world that those who focus solely on its vices are missing an expansive cultural phenomenon. These are communities of people for whom country of origin means almost nothing. Friendships, businesses, education, foundations, charities and even marriages happen with minimal regard for political or geophysical boundaries. The virtual platform has become a cultural mecca, launching music careers and giving audience to artists who had not had the courage to share their work before.

IThe Docks - Immersive Art Installation by Scottius Polke (RL Scott Rolfe)t’s a virtual website for artists, with the ability to go beyond the flat page and showcase their art in a three dimensional gallery to people around the world. The website created by Sasun Steinbeck, Art Galleries of SL, features more the 500 virtual galleries. Not only does Second Life boast a huge range of paintings, drawings, photography and graphics, but has given birth to its own form of virtual art, created from elements within Second Life and often not possible to recreate in the physical world.

Hundreds of live music performances happen daily, giving true meaning to the term world music. Performers range from pop/rock, folk and blues singers to jazz and classical musicians, the virtual world giving them a means to expand their fan base, earn a living and even support causes they believe in. Singer/songwriters like Craig Lyons view Second Life as a green alternative to road tours.Izabela Jaworower (RL Izabela Spiewak) performs live at The Labyrinth Theater Duo Appassionato, comprised of virtuoso violinists Izabela Jaworower (RL Izabela Spiewak) & Young Zeid (RL Xi Yang) are regular performers; and SL Musician Joaquin Gustav from Buenos Aires, Argentina brings a blend of Latin American guitar to the scene, enabling people around the world to hear music that they may never have otherwise.

Aside from the bountiful cultural possibilities of Second Life, there is a seemingly endless supply of compassion, warmth and encouragement in the form of virtual philanthropy. From the smallest event fundraising for a local organization, to national and international organizations, to spontaneous support of countries across the world in times of disaster, the world suddenly seems a whole lot smaller.

Japan Tsunami Relief

After the devastating tsunami struck Japan a vast majority Second Life residents immediately turned their thoughts and prayers to their friends in Japan. Relief fundraisers sprang up almost immediately. Funds were raised through individual events and went to the Japan Red Cross, UNICEF, Save the Children, International Medical Corps and more. Linden Labs participated on the Second Life Marketplace, selling special virtual teddy bears called Japan Relief Bears. Content Creators and Designers created special lines of items to directly benefit Japanese relief organizations. A new online organization was created, Project FUR Japan, taking into account the animals affected by the tsunami’s deadly toll. The organization has donated its funds raised to JEARS (Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support); an awe inspiring amount totaling nearly $30,000 USD.

Garden for the Missing

Just a few of the Missing featured in Garden for the MissingFounded by Second Life resident Ronnie Rhode, this virtual building features four levels and 200 posters of missing persons. Rows and rows of posters of lost children, adults and the elderly, some missing for years and years, remind us that there are families out there still waiting for their return. The Garden for the Missing has been an effort on the part of Ronnie to raise awareness about the plight of well over 100,000 missing persons across the US. She now estimates that about 350,000 people who had no idea the magnitude of the cause now do, because of Second Life.

Relay for Life of Second Life

The "track" at Relay for Life of Second LifeWith the arrival of virtual communities, a new opportunity arose. On July 16th, 2011 more than 3,000 individual cancer survivors, caregivers, family members and compassionate supporters from 95 countries joined together for the 7th annual Relay For Life of Second Life. For several months leading up to the Relay, 140 teams formed and began events within Second Life to fundraise for ACS; by the halfway point, the event reached the $1 Million U.S. dollars raised landmark for its cumulative total since the first virtual Relay in 2005.

The fundraising culminated in the most technologically advanced Relay in the world. Consider the sheer number of personal computers combined with the technology required to create and operate Second Life. Not to mention DJs from around the world streaming music for 24 hours, in-world TV stations joining together to host 24 telethon coverage of the event and the virtual campsites of the teams themselves, featuring stunning design and scripting skills. It was truly an incredible experience.

After the last campfire was packed up and the sites put away for another year, the grand total funds raised for Relay for Life of Second Life reached $373,098 USD and the most funds raised in a single relay season in Second Life.

Portrayal of how scholars feel that Stonehenge may have been used for funereal purposes (Heritage Key grid)All this really just touches a small fraction of all of amazing cultural connections going on within the virtual worlds. And it’s not just Second Life; the virtual world called Heritage Key is a remarkable place to explore the history of the ancient world, from ancient Egypt to Stonehenge and the Terra Cotta Warriors. With the technology created by Linden Labs becoming open source, many virtual worlds have come into existence, each with their own share of art, culture and innovation from InWorldz, to Reaction Grid and more.

While the physical world struggles to maintain peace and decide whose rules are the right rules, the virtual world is a step or two ahead, embracing cultures and the uniqueness of individuals while bridging the gap between continents.

In Memorial: Of Life and Death

Maybe it’s because I turned 40 this last year, or maybe it’s because I find myself far from the familiar observances of Memorial Day and the cemeteries that hold my family’s history, but today I found myself particularly compelled to appreciate those past. So after a few failed attempts to do some productive work, I took myself on a little side trip to a place I had been meaning to explore for more than two years.

overlooking the garden cemetery - Bangor, ME

Mt. Hope Cemetery, Bangor, ME

The Mt.Hope Cemetery in Bangor turned 175 years old in 2009, and is America’s second garden cemetery, encompassing approximately 300 acres. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in August, 1974. The garden cemetery concept reflects the rural cemetery movement that began in Massachusetts in 1831. Before then, according to Mt. Hope’s website, “urban cemeteries had been in the midst of towns and cities and were often crowded and virtually grassless. With increasing urbanization, city dwellers began to be concerned about the need for natural beauty. A romantic type landscape was sought as a counterbalance to the disturbing aspects of the city landscape.”

a lone headstone with a beautiful view, Mt. Hope Cemetery, ME

A lone headstone overlooking the garden cemetery

The Mt. Hope Cemeteryand prior to that, the Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA, sought to create a landscape that was consciously designed for the living as well as the dead. Having driven past it for two years and lived near it for a few months, I had come to respect this vision, because the cemetery truly is beautiful, in any season.

It was here that I decided to honor the memory of those who went before us. In this time of war and conflict, we honor the soldiers who have served our country and often paid the ultimate sacrifice for the ground that we stand on today. We honor our fathers and grandfathers who fought for our freedom and came home to raise families and build the America we live in today.

Young - Headstone at Mt. Hope Cemetery, Bangor

A familiar name amongst the stones...

I went to Mt. Hope Cemeterywith the desire to honor them, to remember my grandfathers and to reflect on a bit of the past. As I wandered just a fraction of the history in this garden of life and death, I was struck by a whole lot more. I considered the lives of the more than 30,000 individuals laid to rest in those acres. People remembered, people forgotten; headstones honoring mothers, fathers, grandparents and children, some shiny and new, some crumbling with age. Many of them people who maybe died wondering what they really contributed to the world.

Sarah - headstone at Mt. Hope Cemetery, ME

Sarah's simple, yet beautiful, stone

I thought about the monument that simply said “My Husband” and wondered about the life of the person who placed it there. I wondered at the simple slabs and the elaborate monuments; were they signs of fortune, or the lack thereof? There are carefully enclosed and tended lots dedicated to an entire family alongside the lone marker of a solitary individual.

I wax a bit melancholy, perhaps, but the thing that I walked away with today is the idea that each one of those 30,000 individuals contributed in some way to the world as we know it today. Call it the butterfly effect, maybe, or six degrees of separation. But, each one of those people was a parent, a child, a teacher, a friend.

fallen headstone, Mt. Hope Cemetery, ME

Fallen, but not gone

They may have simply said an encouraging word to someone they passed on the street. That person may have then had the courage to make a positive change in their life, pass on the kind word or continue what they worried was an unwinnable fight. They might be someone who simple did they best they could to raise a child, who in turn did the best they could to raise a child and onward until their great, great-grandchild developed a life saving medical procedure or fought for the rights of those less fortunate.

And so, the lesson I share with all of you on this day of memories is to honor all of our ancestors, cherish those who gave their lives for us, love the ones you’re with and have faith that the life you are leading has purpose. Allow yourself a little smile as you think about what wonders your family members, or the lives you’ve touched, will be a part of 175 years from now…