My Personal Values from the OTI Field Team Retreat

The Open Technology Initiative’s field team, whose colors I fly, took a day-long retreat at Bloombars in Columbia Heights a couple weeks ago. We discussed our shared values as a team, building towards a values and mission statement for our work at OTI. We’ll bring this statement into the full OTI retreat in February, as will the policy and tech teams. Our goal there is to construct a vision, mission and values statement for OTI from each team’s own work.

One exercise had us jot down our personal values that we bring to our work. I haven’t done this since my AIESEC days, so it was great to take stock of my values at this point in my life. The values I wrote down are as follows:

What I believe about my work:
– Collaboration is better than competition.
– Competition is better than conflict.
– All relationships are based on trust and communication.
– I am working on transforming human communication.
– I like working with cutting edge open source technology developed with values.
– I have things to teach and I have a lot to learn.
– I want to be a force that changes trajectories.
– I like minimal, but clear, definitions.
– My true joy is expressing myself and sharing in others’ expressions of themselves in their way.
– I believe in platforms, not processes.
– Changes aren’t permanent, but change is.

Repost: “Full Circle”

A few nights ago I was staying up way too late stumbling down the rabbit hole that is the Internet. On a whim I searched for a post I’d written at the beginning of 2009, just after AIESEC United States’ Winter National Conference 08-09, where my term as Local Committee President of AIESEC at Georgia Tech ended. Unfortunately the old AIESEC GT blog, where I’d written the post, was lost in Google’s scorching of all FTP blogs on Blogger. However, that particular post had been copied in full and re-posted on a range voting Yahoo! Group. Since I have just become online services director of AIESEC Life, the AIESEC US alumni association, I have decided to re-post that old bit of euphoric writing in full, for posterity. And maybe for the lulz too.

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On the night of December 29, 2008, I was in a Zen state.

My former teammate and one of the greatest people I have been blessed to know, Tiffany Curtiss, was elected Member Committee President of AIESEC United States in the first free and fair MCP elections in twelve years.

I haven’t cried in a long time, but I came pretty damn close as Missy poured the water on her head and everyone cheered for Tiffany. What was clear to me, though, is that as much as we were cheering for her, we were cheering for the process, for student ownership, for having a voice. For having come so far just shy of six months after the July 4 letter.

The only thought that had space in my head after the bucket fell was back to the weekend of May 12-14, 2006, when I was told “you have no future in AIESEC US” by the top leadership after trying to bring people together and think for themselves. Instead of doing whatever college students do on the weekend, Tiffany and my AIESEC mentor and former LCP of AIESEC LC Cornell, Arthur Maas, spent the entire weekend on the phone with the key players in New York, and when they were talking about “next steps,” Tiffany was talking about right and wrong. Tiffany, of course, was right, and despite being right, her hours and hours on the phone that weekend got me back into AIESEC US. How incredibly appropriate, how it fits in with the music of the Universe. How justice was served and how progress was lifted up!

I turned off my video camera and I walked up to my room, alone. I could barely even shut the door before the immensity of what had just happened washed over me like a tidal wave. I gripped the table and I put my head against the wall. I closed my eyes and let the reality of it flow through every bit of my being. How years and even months ago, this moment was an unthinkable fairy tale – regardless of the winner of the election. I felt like I have not felt in an incredibly long time, and to the powers that put the breath in my lungs, I let forth in an exhale, “thank you.”

Words cannot express the pride I feel that Tiffany was elected MCP.

And finally, mere hours before my term as LCP ended, I was able to participate as a proxy for Milwaukee (Amira taking the seat for GT) in our legislation, where we established our first compendium in twelve years – and I am proud that I was a key part of writing it. I skipped sessions and I stayed up late to work on the constitution and accountability with Jason, and I personally spent the entire day after the election tweaking and perfecting the range voting process, which was one of the final motions we passed – by acclamation. Though it was hard work and it kept me from hanging out nearly as much as I wanted to with the people who matter to me and friends I haven’t met yet, I realized at the end of the conference how much more valuable it was that we spent our time on things that mattered. We did work together, we built the foundations of a new AIESEC US together. That was far better than anything else I’ve experienced at a US conference before, and I hope for the future members that it only grows and does not stop.

While banging the table to close legislation, we heard loud sounds from above – and through the skylights we saw the fireworks heralding a new year. We did it! And the fireworks let everyone know it.

Poetry upon poetry, the formal New Years Eve dinner that night took place in the exact same room as the plenary of the last Winter Conference in St. Louis. My LCP term ended in the exact same room in which it began. A year ago in that room, as we finished singing “Auld Lang Syne,” I thought to myself: “This is either the year AIESEC US will save itself, or the year in which it will be lost forever.”

I could never have pictured us in that same room one year later, triumphant. The truth is stranger than fiction.

A sincere thanks to all of the people who are a part of the fabric that has been my AIESEC Experience thus far. There are many of you to name, and rest assured you will hear it from me soon. But other than Tiffany, the person I must thank most of all is Missy Shields, outgoing MCP and former LCP of AIESEC at Georgia Tech. Without her AIESEC US would not be here today, and I would not be the person I am, plain and simple. She deserves adulation for years and years, and she will be a golden legend for as long as the word “AIESEC” spurs the heartbeats of people looking for a better future.

To you both: because you have changed me, you have changed the world. Hold me to that.

— http://atlanta.nomadlife.org/2009/01/full-circle.aspx

Year End Self-Analysis 2010

In the spirit of former endeavors, I think it’s a good idea to take another look at myself.

Accomplishments

Failures

  • Did not start learning Chinese as early as I had planned
  • Did not land a paying job in DC by the end of the year
  • Didn’t get to cooking enough on my return to the US
  • Gained back some of the weight I lost in China
  • Didn’t get a solid workout schedule going yet in DC
  • Did not couchsurf as much as I would have liked
  • Fell off the BrainCanvas wagon for a while
  • Did not move forward with Entropy after receiving scathing reviews from the business plan analysts
  • Have not picked music back up yet
  • Did not stay out longer to contemplate the Universe at Nam Tso
  • Didn’t take enough risks

Five Pictures to Sum Up 2010

  1. _mg_0933
  2. img_0300
  3. Trippy Buddhist Art
  4. All You Ever Need in China
  5. Walking the Path in Inner Mongolia

Status of NYE 2011 Vision

  1. Making Waves in Washington, DC: I am in DC and I have an excellent internship.  I’ve only just started getting involved in the community though and I don’t yet have a permanent position.  At least I’m here; not sure that I’m making too many waves.
  2. Working Out my Mind, Body and Soul: My mind is getting a serious workout at the Open Technology Initiative.  I have failed to keep my body in shape recently, something I will correct imminently.  And in the rush of getting settled in a new place, I have neglected specific soul-nurturing.  However, being in the same place as Kelsey has improved my general mood and optimism tenfold.
  3. Learned Conversational Chinese: Done.  However, it’s slowly rotting away sans practice.
  4. My Writing is Referenced in Influential Publications: I was hoping this would happen for BrainCanvas, but I did write two pieces for OTI which have been retweeted nearly a hundred times by some focus-specific thought leaders.
  5. Making Music Regularly: Total failure.  Disappointed in myself.

Looking Forward to NYE 2012

  1. Self-Actualization, or rapidly approaching it
  2. Active participation in creative communities – especially musical
  3. Reaching “Authority” Status on a Useful Topic
  4. Have started something influential
  5. Traveled somewhere new and amazing with Kelsey

Joe Walker, the Myth of the American West and Its Modern Consequences

Westering Man: The Life of Joseph Walker
Westering Man: The Life of Joseph Walker

Last week I finished reading an engaging historical work titled Westering Man: The Life of Joseph Walker by Bil Gilbert.

I came to know of this book during my adventures in genealogy, which I undertook in October whilst resting in Alabama after returning from my year in China.  In the course of my research I found the location of my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather’s land, in modern-day Zack, Virginia.  Archibald Rhea was my first paternal ancestor to come to America, and his story is wound up with that of all the original Scotch-Irish migrants to America.  He came over in the late 1720s, settled first in Pennsylvania (around what I believe is now Norristown or Eagleville) and eventually went south and west through the Appalachian Valley to settle that land.  He was a founding trustee of New Providence Presbyterian Church in Raphine, only a few miles from the site of his home.  His family had to flee the area, along with most of its residents, after the threat from Native Americans intensified during the French and Indian War in 1755.

I learned all of this while also preparing to move up to my current residence in Washington, DC.  It so happened that I would be traveling, in reverse, the path my paternal ancestors took from that first foothold down into what is now Etowah County, Alabama.  After seeing the site of my great-great-great-great-grandfather’s land and grave in what is now Happy Valley, TN, I continued up the Great Valley alone and drove near the site of his father’s land in Wythe County, VA.  The next day I came to Zack, where the only thing I knew for identification was the bit about founding the church and that the “Kennedy-McCray” mill is on the site of what was once Archibald’s land.  I happened to meet a man named McCray there, who said he currently owns the land, and he talked to me for a while about the history of the area and I told him what I knew from my research.  He told me that the creek on which my ancestor’s land stood is called Walker’s Creek, named after the first white man to settle this far west in the Colonies, John Walker.  His reconstructed cabin was just a couple of miles down the stream.

John’s grandson Joseph Walker was an even more ambitious mountain man, being the first to lead a white party of significant size to California over the Sierra Nevada.  Joe is the subject of the book that Mr. McCray strongly recommended to me, Westering Man.  Mr. McCray mentioned that the book’s early pages delved into the social and economic reasons for the Scotch-Irish migration to Appalachia, before focusing on the Walker family.

Two things struck me about this book before I was halfway through reading it: Joseph Walker and his family were at once superlative characters, and yet exemplary of the white pioneers who made the white American journey west the singular cultural remembrance in American society.  That story – “How the West was ‘Won’” – is very different than the one I was told in school.

Gilbert leaves no stone unturned in his literary quest to animate this amazing man.  He masterfully segues each paragraph into the next, and progressively fleshes out the details in a highly informative and fascinating way. I stole any five-minute interval I could to read this amazing work, which combines the history of the Scotch-Irish in Appalachia, the economic and social realities of life on the “old frontier” before the American Revolutionary War, and the circumstances of an extraordinary man whose legacy sheds a new light on the things we consider “American” to this day.

The most poignant character contrast is that of Walker with his contemporary and sometime employer, “The Pathfinder” John C. Frémont. Frémont (or the stories Frémont tells about himself) characterizes the common archetype of the of the Western frontiersman: an ambitious white man running roughshod over unseen lands, then standing nobly atop high peaks and declaring the glory of the Republic and Manifest Destiny, all interspersed with violent episodes with the native peoples. He was (mostly) the total opposite of Walker, who held a deep fascination with exploring but not “civilizing” new lands and had a real respect and camaraderie with Native Americans. Walker was generally kind to those he guided, heavily favored diplomacy over guns, and made it a point to not tell tall tales about himself.

This book, though a historical work, makes me ponder the kinds of imagery and justifications our leaders today take when they authorize gunship diplomacy, unilateral intervention and a conflict-based “survival of the fittest” mantra. What Gilbert makes clear through Walker’s pioneering and leading of the Westering movement is that violence did not win the West. Of course, neither was the process completed via some kind of idealistic peace-waging with the natives.  Nevertheless, Joe Walker was a man the likes of which we miss in our characters today; a respectful, understanding, and eager explorer, not a conqueror.

Choosing Three Wishes

It crossed my mind today: if a higher being with the power to grant requests asked me what three things I would like to receive, what would I choose?

Given this is probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I would not be mentally prepared to know what to ask for if the offer came suddenly.  Supernatural beings who can give you anything you want don’t seem to be the type to patiently wait while you study text, myths, triumphs and failures to discern how to best maximize your gains.

There are different ways to approach answering the question.  The two most basic I can identify are deciding what will best benefit your interests and situation by providing you with the necessary keys and environment to achieve your goals, or alternatively determining how a supernatural being thinks and makes choices so the things you ask for will be granted in such a way as to maximize your interests.  A major component of the granting is how the deity interprets your wishes.  In a simplistic example you could say “I want to be the richest man in the world” and receive an amount of money in your bank account and some kind of inheritance and that’s it.  But in the legends and fairy tales we hear of people who receive supernatural gifts, whether earned or not; such statements are always counterbalanced with disasters.  Your inheritance could be disputed by a powerful criminal cartel, you could come under immediate IRS investigation, or you could be overcome by selfish greed and fulfill the adage of “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.”

Thus, if you subscribe to the more simple granting scheme it would probably be better to ask for the means to solve a specific problem.  “Get me out of poverty” or “make my family financially secure” may be looked upon more favorably because it is not asking to put you on the level of the god granting you the wish.  The life of a human is limited; this is our gift, and knocking that out of balance with something so absolute would be disastrous.

I would approach it from the other perspective: the deity will in some way make a judgment about your wishes and that will affect the granting.  For this reason I think it would be unwise to ask for “absolute power” because power is fleeting, power corrupts, and the deity knows all of this.  The deity will be disappointed and likely you will become its slave as a result of the granting.  Even as the billions cry for mercy in the grip of your fingers, how much more your own throat will be clutched by the vise of the god to whom you owe your power.

Thus I reject completely selfish gains and would seek instead to receive divine gifts, not take divine powers. Yet the division between selfishness and selflessness still ought to be considered.  Would the deity mock you if you only wished for “world peace?”  Or would it consider you small-minded if you only wished for things for yourself?  Should you choose one personal skill, one personal pleasure and one let’s-benefit-everyone or some other combination?

I would try to play the role of the hero who receives the gifts of the father / heaven and takes them back to make the world better.  I would try to make one of the wishes give me pleasure as well as responsibility, but the others would purely empower me to solve problems or help improve the world.  What they would be, though, I am not sure.

If I had asked myself this question a year and a half ago I think I would know at least half the answer.  That I don’t know it right now says something.

Finish Line Ahead

I will blog more about Spain later, when I have my photos all nice and loaded up.

The other night I was at Trader Joe’s, just getting some milk. I noticed there were several long-ish lines (for Trader Joe’s anyway) at the checkout counters, but the one at the left end of the occupied counters had one person who was about to be done, so I went to it. As soon as I settled there, a man’s voice to the left asked, “Are you a philosopher?”

I looked and where I thought there was an unmanned counter there was a worker, with no line in front of him. I walked and I said, “Not yet anyway.” He replied while looking me in the eye and taking my groceries, “I hope not. Because if you can’t find the free check-out counter in the grocery store, you’ll never find the truth.”

He continued as he rang me up, “And you know, most people think that the truth, it’s like rays of light that shine down from above.” He paused as he looked at me deeper, not really leaning in but pulling me somewhat closer with his eyes. “But you will not find the truth as revelation. If you want to find the truth, you have to walk through the darkness. In the depths of the darkness where no one likes to tread is where the truth lies.” He bagged my last item and I walked out the door.

I think that statement is profoundly true. When I was still a Christian, one of the aspects of Jesus that I most sought to replicate and admire (and admittedly I still do) was the part where he “ate with sinners.” This had a true effect on my understanding and interpretation of the faith and the way of life, but many of the authority figures around me often dismissed this aspect somewhat when I would try to explain it, or at the least they rarely encouraged it.

At this point it should be noted that this entry has been written over three separate periods, each time with me meaning to finish it, but always getting interrupted before my thoughts finished. Here’s some more:

I’ve been working on getting the sort of ideal traineeship in China: a year in a fundamentally non-Western country, a place where I can learn a major world language, working in renewable energy and utilizing somewhat, but not overwhelmingly, engineering. I have been in talks with a company but it’s slowing down, so I’m not sure how that’s going to work out. So I am expanding my traineeship search. I’m probably going to apply to MindValley, which would be so off the chain, and a couple of other places. We’ll see – main thing is to get out into a worthwhile thing for my own interests and development, and to wait out this economic thing. I like to read fivethirtyeight a lot because Nate Silver does a good job of making statistically interesting projections and analyses of the economic situation, which is hard to understand, at least as much as I would like to understand it – which is profoundly deeply.

Very soon I’ll be done with GT and then I think people will see someone return who hasn’t been here in a while – a calmer, more amicable me. My own mother tells me how much less happy I seem now than I did before college, and with an awesome trip to be taken in May with people I really want to be with and the prospect of a year of new developments, I think my mind will sufficiently rest and recharge itself, along with my soul.

The Burden of Leadership

I watched the election returns last night with some AIESEC friends and others at my place. Yuengling, that first American beer so new to Georgia, and Maker’s Mark, my personal favorite go-to bourbon, were on hand for the long haul. Of course it wasn’t a long haul; he was declared the winner at 11 PM.

We were watching CNN, continually checking out fivethirtyeight, people’s blogs, etc. When Wolf Blitzer said that CNN was projecting the West Coast was going for Obama and he had won the presidency, I immediately called to mind the opening scene of the pilot episode of Firefly, when Mal is fighting in the Battle of Serenity Valley for the Browncoats. As vicious fighting rages on and the Alliance is decimating his battallion, he grinningly and assuredly yells at his soldiers that soon “our birds will be in the air,” to clear out the valley for them. But then they receive a call saying “They’re not coming. Command says it’s too hot.” And Mal looks, in empty disbelief, as the Alliance ships come down to occupy the valley and the remainder of his battallion, save himself and his second-in-command (a female!) are massacred.

That must be how John McCain and Sarah Palin, in some twisted way, felt as the nation fell to Obamamania.

Or, from the victor’s account, a nation stood up “in hope,” and spoke very loudly about both the direction the country must go in and about their final word on the intensely racist past of this country.

Or from my account, an extremely gifted politician demonstrated shrewd political and organizational forethought and leadership to build up the gigantic machine atop which he was able to sincerely convince a majority across many states that his was the way of engaged peace, turning the wheels of the country to production and prosperity, and he would lead all Americans and not cast any single aspect of his own identity onto his administration.

Fireworks started going off in Atlanta and horns were honking. I received phone calls from friends, and texted to one person who was at Obama’s Grant Park jubilee. McCain’s speech came on, and the man was as respectable, gracious, and honorable as any to have given a speech of victory or conciliation, but the harsh venom and anger of his supporters sprayed upon him one lsat time, even in his singular opportunity to close the wounds of a long campaign. I felt, and continue to feel, genuinely bad for McCain as it is clear he tried to act with the utmost integrity and cooperation, ensuring angry people at his rallies that Obama was not a Muslim and was “a family man,” among being his friend and other things. But the evil of the institution of the political party – his just happens to be Republican, but it’s not about being a Republican, it’s about the Party – found its voice with Sarah Palin, who will chill the hearts and minds of Americans as a fresh new avatar of Dick Cheney.

The Facebook status was last night the soapbox of anti-democratic (notice the little “d”) anger. Beyond even that, it was an art exhibit of sheer ignorance and amazing misinformation, along with the expected racism. One person had “That’s it! I’m moving to Iraq!”, Christians of the right put their pitiful prayers up, like “It’s okay, it is all in God’s plans” on one end, but on the other were such statements as “…God help us.” or to the one who most horribly represents the right-wing of the Institute, “praying for our country… and reminding everyone that ‘God is still God, and Jesus is still coming back!'” Even more confusing, because I don’t expect the aforementioned to utilize any semblance of the reason they had been given at birth, were the statements about Obama’s “socialism” and that “we’re screwed, my paycheck is going to the government.” Since when _wasn’t_ your paycheck going to the government? It was Ben Franklin (a Deist!) who said that there are only two certainties, death and taxes. We have not entered anything even suggesting a “requisition-bracket.” It is easy for me to dismiss the religious swooning, but those arguments just make me scratch my head; it’s really beyond me how such a large part of the American population, especially young people, seriously believe that Obama is a socialist, a Muslim, or both. LBJ and FDR were both far more “socialist,” and not even that, than Obama ever will be. Socialism makes up a significant part of my own political belief system, and I did not vote for Obama mostly because he is not nearly far enough left for me. If that’s the case, how can he be a socialist?

That aside, we looked forward to Obama’s victory speech at midnight. I prepared us all a shot of Maker’s and we watched as he gave his speech. We were all silent, understanding just how important this moment was. Not because of Obamamania, but because America had just executed one of those bloodless revolutions like the one that occurred in 1800, and because we were a part of the election that saw the resurgence of young people as a major political force and that elected the first Black president. That was a pretty cool thing to be a part of.

The real significance of the day didn’t truly hit me until today, however. I was pretty excited to think of the road ahead of the country, and the world as a result. The ecstatic welcome of the whole world to Obama should be enough to prove how important that is. I should note here that I still stand by my vote for Nader. A friend called and asked me last night, as she was reveling in Ohio, if I would have still voted for Nader had this been a serious 2000-style election and I was in a battleground state; I answered yes. The only thing I have is my choice, and if I give it up, I give up everything.

I am looking forward to engaging in constructive dialogue with even the “sinners” at the table, like North Korea and Iran and Venezuela. I am looking forward to a resurgence of feeling good about the country because of our standard of living, which we should be thankful. I am looking forward to the way Obama will probably bring about a more direct form of democracy through his personal interest and enthusiasm in things like social networks and open source software. Most of all I am looking forward to his announcement of a project to make the nation energy independent in ten years, our very own modern-day Apollo project, which will also form the powerful new engine for the economy which those neocons have failed to understand.

Which reminds me, ever noticed how the Great Depression was preceded by a decade of Republican rule in the executive branch and legislative branch, and this current crisis has been preceded by Republican rule in the legislature since 1994, save the last two years, and a Republican in the White House since 2001?

I did a lot of reading up over the last couple of weeks on Obama’s victory machine and how it occurred, and I learned that it came from Dean‘s strategy in 2004, which he has now translated to the DNC as his “fifty-state strategy.” I began to take some inspiration from this, noting how Dean insisted that Democrats engage all Americans in all States, not just their largely outdated vanguard of labor unions, immigrants and other minorities, “big-city” liberals and working-class whites. Obama has perfected that vision, engaging with all Americans on their own terms as the direction of this country has been washed out by Hurricane Bush. It’s much like lessons of leadership I’ve learned on my own journey in AIESEC – if you are not open and don’t let people come to terms with their own decisions, then the integrity of your organization is doomed to fail. Forcing beliefs and decisions down people’s throats is a ticket to retribution – or as we saw this July, revolution.

Which leads me to finally discuss much of my feelings about my term at Local Committee President of AIESEC at Georgia Tech.

Everyone tells you that being LCP is the best year of your life – and indeed, they are right. It is the coolest job in AIESEC. You are truly a leader, no one to catch you, no one to tell you what to do. You have to manage a business and make sure it is sustainable, and grows, and produces your product in high volume – quality AIESEC Experiences.

They’re right!

But I came into this role amist a dark and worsening cloud over AIESEC US. When elected, LC motivation was approaching an all-time low from when I was a part of restarting it. Students had been stripped of the last “real” exercise of power we had, producing traineeships, against our will. The entire MoTxCoKs region released a letter of grievances to the nation directed at the national staff – none of them were answered. I woke up in St. Louis on January 1 knowing that if AIESEC US was not saved in this year, it would never be saved.

It was not only the daunting national situation, but also my semester of unprecedented academic difficulty, which beat me hard. My high hopes for making my team an extremely tight unit, vanguard for AIESEC GT, were eventually put down by both my own inability to motivate people and also my inability to abandon my classes to F’s (although I almost failed two classes that semester). This was de-motivation number one. That followed up with things I was learning that were happening to AIESEC US – namely that we were losing our full member status, and my knowledge that the national staff was not too interested in doing anything about it.

On the local front meanwhile, I had seriously alienated the team that left me the office, the EB of 2007 – and this was in the end all my fault. I wanted to wipe away the demotivation of the fall, but I handled it too poorly and it cost me dearly, and in turn it cost the LC dearly. To those of you who came before us: I apologize. I was wrong to not seek your counsel more deliberately, and to not consider what words you did offer more seriously.

I went to EUROXPROS in St. Petersburg, Russia, for Spring Break, knowing that in the last days of that meeting the national staff would be meeting in the US to determine what to do about our membership status in the global network. This weighed so heavily on me, and my conversations with Naoufel there were both a buoy to my sanity and a confirmation to my fears. One day during the conference when we worked with the Balanced ScoreCard, I realized fully how much AIESEC US was not AIESEC at a fundamental level (to use the words of the Senator from Illinois). I became visibly upset – I kind of hyperventilated and kept shaking my head. People asked me if I was alright; I was not. My mind was breaking, as was my heart, in the middle of Russia by the sea.

I managed to have a very useful and important conversation with some pertinent people on the AI team there about the situation, and their counsel was seriously important to the events that followed. It was, essentially, necessary that I went there to Russia, even if I did not go to meet them in the first place.

A national Leadership Team meeting took place in NYC in late April, where Missy was not present. I could guess why; no one else knew except two national staffers. Besides being a predictably unproductive meeting, they claimed that the memership criteria did not require us to do anything more than write down what we already do. My own independent investigation and counsel with Missy had already made me know that those were untrue statements.

When Missy quit as MCP, I took open action, an action of opening: I made the uneducated LCPs of AIESEC US aware of the freely-available and binding literature on the member country situation, such that everyone could read for themselves the truth. It did require some coordinating however, such that I had to email AI to request one document, but the document was freely available to anyone who asked for it. I sent it out on a Friday to prevent quick retaliation by the Thought Police.

I got a call from the person who would later be installed as Missy’s replacement, without any democratic process. He said that what I had done was seriously damaging, and if I did anything like it again, “we cannot work together.” I’d heard that one before. I simply responded “I understand.” I was in the car on the way from Gadsden to Atlanta to leave for Canada’s national conference that night when I got this call. I had made my decision about my role in AIESEC US.

As if by fate, the same person I talked to in Russia was the chair of the conference. I managed to get some time with him, and there the foundations were laid for what I had to do, to be a responsible leader, someone who would stand up and give a damn about AIESEC in the US. It was all up to me, but the first keys had been handed to me.

The national organization in turmoil and anger already from Missy’s departure and her unwarranted replacement, I set about using the global network I had built over my nearly three-year tenure in AIESEC. They proved totally necessary in building what eventually became the plan: to produce a letter written by and signed by as many LCPs as possible, to be placed on myAIESEC.net so as to not only be publicly visible, but also to be required to be used as “evidence” by the Global Plenary of AIESEC. I had to keep identities secret when I talked to LCPs to protect people, but we managed to organize it right under the natstaff’s nose.

The major error came at this point, however: there were a couple of LCs, namely Michigan and Baruch, which we feared may alert the national staff if we invited them to talk about the letter. That would be unacceptable; most LCPs were not knowledgeable enough about the bad reality of AIESEC US as I was (from a tell-all by a former natstaffer) to firmly stand by their signature in the face of natstaff retaliation before the letter was released. Thus, the very difficult decision had to be made by those people who were responsible for those regions (the letter writing and organization had one leader per region involved). In the end, they were not approached. There were a few other LCs which we tried to approach but we did not manage to have a conversation with before July 4; this proved to be the dividing line in the days afterwards, especially in Madison.

I learned my lesson about openness from that – if people do not take ownership over something, no matter how much of a “fellow traveler” they are, if they are not a part of the process that creates a decision or product, then invariably they will not be as “on-board” as those who did create it, and will probably even wind up standing in opposition to it. It is the nature of organization and allegiance and is unbeatable. One of the people we did not reach, whom most say would have been for the letter, wound up being one of its most vocal opponents.

Then came July 4; then came the dissolution of the LC, then came the story we all know. Then came August 5, then came the resignation of the national staff, then came the night we said “we are the most powerful people on earth.” Sure it was just euphoria, sure it was – but we did not expect that one month and one day after the letter was released this clean sweep would occur. We didn’t want it to happen that way, mind you, but it did, and here we are.

And while I was galavanting with national and global figures, fighting the fight which I had to to preserve AIESEC US and by association my own LC, there nonetheless sat my beloved family in Atlanta, not cared for as it should have been. I was like the senator who spent all his time in Washington. I did not care for my constituents, I did not care for my family.

I think that during my tenure, I have been too dogmatic about AIESEC. I have done no small amount of philosophizing around our product and our identity, the nature of AIESEC as a student organization, and the like. It has led me to identify those things which make for a great AIESEC Experience. It was utterly invaluable in the revolution. But the students of Georgia Tech are not all like that, and by failing to accomodate that, I did not live up to my own expectations in terms of the quality of results I wanted, and I did not live up to the expectations of the office of Local Committee President in terms of the dynamic of the LC. I became too harsh sometimes to my EB, and that only drove them away, and disrepair continued.

I have a hard time connecting with people who haven’t “gotten” AIESEC yet. I want so badly for the people who come in as newies to have their minds blown like I and the veterans of the LC have, to realize how magnificent it is that such an organization really does exist and we are a part of it, and more recently how beautiful it feels to give so much to save it, and finally, finally see the day come where the road is lit again by the light of openness. I’m just not that kind of guy. Luckily my successor is that kind of gal.

We are called “Local” Committee President for a reason. It is my belief that I did not live up to my own expectations, nor that of my team, nor that of my LC, nor that of my predecessors, and probably not that of my colleagues here or around the world, in that local capacity. AIESEC happens on a local level, and no matter how much I did on the national level, I can’t change that I failed to be an effective leader where it matters most to our product.

That being said, the events of July 4 and Madison in early August, as well as finally National Presidents Meeting in Chicago, were transforming to my life. The night of August 5 confirmed in my heart what my life-quest must be: to wage openness on the world. I must swing the sword of truth to destroy corruption and the closed nature of parts of our society and allow facts to kill lies. It is this quest to which I am dedicating my entire life. How I will do it, I’m not entirely sure yet, but I will say one possible path is being inspired by George Soros (former honorary Chairman of the Board of AIESEC US!) and his Open Society Institute.

Something more I have been thinking about from that time, something which has plagued me since I entered university, is that my skills shine there, on the national and global stage. That’s where I have achieved the most, and it is explicitly through my talents and practice. My talent for that sort of thing, I guess we’ll call it “statesmanship,” was first prominently exhibited when I was whisked from being a cynical and angry young liberal at what I percieved as a corrupt and overly religious Alabama YMCA Youth in Government summit in 2004, to being declared as one of the 20 delegates (out of about 400) from Alabama to the 2004 Youth Conference on National Affairs – and I didn’t even know such a damn thing existed. My experience there was also pretty important. And though my skills were in places like that, as well as writing and music in high school, I chose to go into electrical engineering specifically because I didn’t have a knack for it and it would be challenging. In my research on how Obama’s political machine has brought him to such a victory, I was reading Bill Clinton’s Wikipedia entry. This passage spoke directly to me, my feelings, my experience, and my future:

In Hot Springs, Clinton attended St. John’s Catholic Elementary School, Ramble Elementary School, and Hot Springs High School – where he was an active student leader, avid reader, and musician.[citation needed] He was in the chorus and played the tenor saxophone, winning first chair in the state band’s saxophone section. He briefly considered dedicating his life to music, but as he noted in his autobiography My Life:

(…) Sometime in my sixteenth year I decided I wanted to be in public life as an elected official. I loved music and thought I could be very good, but I knew I would never be John Coltrane or Stan Getz. I was interested in medicine and thought I could be a fine doctor, but I knew I would never be Michael DeBakey. But I knew I could be great in public service.[13]

And that is where I find myself. I love music and was considering how I could do it for serious money in college, but I knew I would never be Chuck Leavell. Now I am getting my ass kicked by, but seriously taking an interest in, electrical engineering but I will never be anything like Nikola Tesla. But I can be a great leader of my community, and we all know that geographical lines don’t mean anything any more with communities. That is where my talents lie, and I have to come to terms with that. I have to stop denying it. But I cannot sell out either; I must combine my talents with my quest and become a Hero.

Separation, Initiation, and Return.

After sitting down and writing this, I realize that is why I am really so interested in Obama now. I’m not an Obama-maniac, mind you; I always question everything and I won’t stop, and so I have to be skeptical of the pageant of his campaign promises. Nevertheless, here is a man who came from a world totally unlike the one he gained the key to Tuesday night. Obama is what the Shepherd called “a Believer:”

SHEPHERD BOOK: Only one thing is gonna walk you through this, Mal. Belief.

MAL: Sermons make me sleepy, Shepherd. I ain’ t looking for help from on high. That’s a long wait for a train don’t come.

BOOK: When I talk about belief, why do you always assume I’m talking about God?

It’s time for me to believe too. Not in Obama. In my talents and in my quest.

Voodoo Chile (Well I Stand Up Next To A Mountain)

Although it may take me forever to pinpoint just where this hero’s journey began, the place I can most conclusively locate it was when I was on the Youth Council of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church. At the time, although I was certainly into something more like liberation theology than the complacent orthodoxy of most of my peers (and indeed that preached by the establishment of the religion itself), I was an eager and willing participant in this, my first serious foray into organizational responsibility. It did of course circle in no throwaway relation to the society and politics surrounding Camp Sumatanga, where the meetings were held and where the NAC held its summer camps – at which I had been both a repeat camper and a repeat counselor.

But we always discussed the circles – inner circles, outer circles, establishment. I recognized that I was on the very fringes of the inner circle, but even this placed me (at the most inclusive) somewhere in the “fifth” circle (where first is the centroid) of the society of the NAC youth, and of Camp Sumatanga. I enjoyed the experiences I had there, and the things I learned, and the friends I made. But I always recognized that there was just plain something wrong about those circles. And I could only talk honestly about that to a few people without being replied to with hurt and confusion. Inside jokes, experiences I couldn’t share in or wouldn’t be included in (and hardly just me), stories and legends that formed around individuals. I was out.

Maybe too by choice. I always kept my focus out of being a part of those circles, and rather on focusing on either what I had to do as a part of the youth council or simply on spreading liberation, deepening my challenges into my own spiritual beliefs and those of others, doing thankless good in the world. I wasn’t playing any of those political or social games, I was just trying to do what I believed was the right thing to do.

As I grew older, neared high school graduation, and learned more about how to deal both in my own life and as a leader in other organizations, I came to recognize that my time there was over, and I began to recognize that the problem there was two-fold. One of the problems had to do with piety and organized religion, and I think no further explanation needs to go in there. I recognize that time now as a key initial point of my eventual rejection of organized religion.

The other problem had to do with the way the thing in itself was organized. The implicit allowance of politics to seep in. Some people staying longer than others, and some personalities being lifted up and preserved and others being ignored and pushed out, even involuntarily. Maybe that is what the youth council needs, but it took that experience for me to recognize the problems produced therein.

In life, my chosen path as I see it now is to be a flattener of hierarchies and an exposer of truth – even a forcer of environments where, simply put, facts kill lies and plurality prevents dynasties. When those environments exist, I don’t have to take it upon myself to expose the truth or force in the rays of light from the other side of the fence. It happens already because there will be enough people to uphold that. What is key in any of those environments is for people to appreciate the open and free environment they are in so they can take their own hero’s journey, for the only real truth is the truth that one learns of his own accord. See it here:

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The same holds true for anything in our lives, anything worth knowing and holding dear, or worth fighting against, or worth protecting or changing or growing or leaving.

That is why I am doing my part for AIESEC in the United States. We have already tried, as generations before us have tried, to restore pluralism and real open dialogue within the stystem. But it took those failures for people to know something in their hearts, including even me, that we should have known all along: you don’t end dynasties by talking them out of the throne.

But I hope that talking is all we have left to do.

The Hero in P. Rhea

CAMPBELL: Myths inspire the realization of the possibility of your perfection, the fullness of your strength, and the bringing of solar light into the world. Slaying monsters is slaying the dark things. Myths grab you somewhere down inside. As a boy, you go at it one way, as I did reading my Indian stories. Later on, myths tell you more, and more, and still more. I think that anyone who has ever dealt seriously with religious or mythic ideas will tell you that we learn them as a child on one level, but then many different levels are revealed. Myths are infinite in their revelation.

MOYERS: How do I slay that dragon in me? What’s the journey each of us has to make, what you call “the soul’s high adventure”?

CAMPBELL: My general formula for my students is “Follow your bliss.” Find where it is, and don’t be afraid to follow it.

The Power of Myth, “The Hero’s Adventure”

When I read this passage in The Power of Myth, they struck me down. It hit me as if begging me to let it be my John 3:16, my Preamble, and the foundation of my Mantra. It is exactly what I have been seeking, the description of what I have been trying to metaphorically relate to my friends about what I am searching for – I used the term “lifequest.” But here it is the soul’s high adventure. My heart beat about as fast as it can without making me pass out as I read over it again.

Live the Dream. Follow your Bliss. Solar light. Slaying the dark things. All of these threads are coming together at the perfect time – when in less than two weeks I will be back “on track,” even though I never left the Path. I just got off the train for a while.

It was especially pertinent because this was the first Christmas in which I voluntarily did not participate in communion. I knew I was not going to, having concretely decided to pick up my sentiments and organize them months ago when I read that there was no record of George Washington ever taking communion, and even having denied it on occasion. Of course, although I believe in the Author – Newton’s “clockmaster” – this book, along with inklings in the Ishmael trilogy, has made me think significantly about the importance of a kind of ritual and mythic understanding in my life in a serious way. While my own currents were coalescing around me, I thought of two distinct and important parts of my life that have been described by others, for others, as religion – Alabama football and live concerts.

Football is so popular in the South, not solely for this one reason, but certainly most directly and mythically – the Alabama vs. Washington Rose Bowl game of 1926. Ever since Reconstruction, the South was (and has been) maligned by the economically and influentially dominant North, which was really just fanning whatever flames were left from the Civil War – and prejudice against Southern culture smarted extra-badly when the poverty and ruined infrastructure of the South after Reconstruction was taken into effect. The underdog of Alabama upsetting Washington for the Rose Bowl championship united the entire South in this one thing that they could manage pride for, and the SouthEastern Conference of the NCAA continues that pride to this day. It was that foundation of pride and myth that spawned great import and figures, most notably the coach Bear Bryant and as his symbol the immediately recognizable houndstooth hat he wore, which has become to Alabama fans what red is to Socialists. (Crimson is also like that to Alabama fans). There are ritualistic qualities in a football game, especially one which you attend on a regular basis: it is split into quarters, with music coming at halftime, and the cheers you repeat are designed to get everyone on the same page. “BAMA” shouted by 80,000 people sounds like “Amen” chanted by 100 if you are in the right state of mind. You always hold four fingers up at fourth quarter, because “the fourth quarter is ours.” If you come often enough, you hold season tickets and always sit in the same place – just like sitting in the same pew at church. And as with any established religion, orthodoxy, heterodoxy, and all kinds of arcanities and submyths are built up – legends like the Van Tiffen kick are retold side by side with factions of agreement or anger over the administration’s banning of the Rammer Jammer cheer, which can either be compared to the Council of Nicaea’s state-enforced declaration of the homoousia of Jesus and the Father or the decisions and fallout after the Second Vatican Council. Finally (though not exhaustively), if you switch your allegiance to Auburn not just in heart but in practice, your family and friends will literally undergo the same kind of feelings and actions that are undertaken when a tribe or sect “shuns” its members for heresy or breaking the law of the land. I like Alabama football and Georgia Tech football, but I always thought – and think – my mom screams too loud when we are just watching on TV.

Concerts – shows – gave me more serious thought. Duane Allman once said “Music is my religion, and it never hurt nobody.” Butch Trucks, in defense of his former bandmate, described the Skydog as “Messianic” in his effect on those around him. People wouldn’t make fun of heads for talking about seeing God and the universes colliding while seeing a Grateful Dead show if they didn’t mean it in the first place, psychoatively aided or not. I was raised on the Allman Brothers Band by my mother, which also drove me pretty deeply into the blues I have come to share with Atlanta when I was the host of the Friday Night Fish Fry on WREK. I also, thankfully, had a musical mind that was probably first molded by singing in church, as is the case with many Southerners, Methodists especially. But my true consciousness was not awakened until I saw my first Widespread Panic show at Oak Mountain Amphitheater in the destroyed Medina of Panic shows: Pelham, Alabama. Like the Dead, thousands of young people disillusioned of what their parents had in store for them and empowered by (if not drugs) the sense of freedom they had on the road with their fellow Spreadheads would dance and “worship” at the shrine of Havin’ a Good Time. In fact I do not even know why I put worship in quotation marks. It was worship, of the same type that most any congregation that does not bow before idols participates in around the world in any manner of toungues, names, traditions, and divine aims. It was different every time. The ritual was most founded in the reliable structure of a good show versus the way many acts play their concerts. A Panic show is an hour-long first set, followed by twenty to thirty minutes of setbreak to get your beer on, and then a second set that lasts anywhere between an hour and two hours, followed by the requisite exit before the encore, and always (in those days) at least two encore songs, if not three to cap off a heady three-night run. As in any “respectable” society of worship, what you wore mattered – don’t get caught with official swag, get Shakedown Street T-shirt gear. My favorite was my “Action Man” T-shirt. If you are in tune as you should be, then your emotion will sway with the quality the band is producing. I had seen someone on a message board describe going to shows as their own worship service, but until I read The Power of Myth I never considered it potentially valid. I definitely found something there for me, but not everything I need.

Then, there are finally the ideas that have come to me as a result of the incredible people in AIESEC around the world. These are the ideas that are beating away the faulty parts of me and most effectively encouraging me to reexamine myself and my Mantra. I never knew people consciously and presently living as heroes and legends until I met AIESECers and AIESEC alumni, and now here I am, drawing out the hero in me. Time and trial will bring about my ritual and my own relation to the Myth, and I am confident in my honesty to myself. I will never stop following my Bliss so I can live the ultimate Dream.

Also, I am kind of proud of my picture of my girlfriend enjoying the Hobohookah on Christmas Eve being a part of the Hobohookah holiday greeting.