March 30, 2010

Two Rooms

If you had two rooms in your living space that you could do absolutely anything with, what would you want? Money and space don't matter. It can be as big or small as you want and have anything inside it.

I love asking my friends questions like these, to see what their dreams are and what is really important to them. One of my friends told me they would want a "soft room you can dive into with bed that comes down out of a mural painted wall" and a second room that was a "study room with an apple tree and a peach tree growing up through the floor with a hammock in between with ropes that pull you up in the air when a button is pressed and a garden of fresh lettuce." Nice!

Another of my friends would want a "simple glass nature room with seating in the middle and a guitar, the second room would be a guest room designed entirely by my girlfriend," while yet another friend wanted a "music studio and coffee/game/theater room."

So I ask you, if you could create any two rooms, what would you want?

March 25, 2010

Our Story of Human Rights

Human Rights have a long history right up until our present day, as is beautiful demonstrated in these two videos. The first is the I Have A Dream speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This was a TEDTalk video chosen by Chase and an incredibly powerful reminder of where America has been walking from for over four decades. The second is an incredible video by the United Nations, passed along to me by Greg, which sums up the history of human rights as a powerful and striking story.

The story of human rights - universal, inalienable human rights - is still being written by each of us. We put pen to paper every time we buy fair trade products or look the other way not caring where the products come from or who made them. We add another sentence to the chapter when we say we love all people but we treat our family and friends better than we treat our neighbors and brothers and sisters around the world. We tell the story to our children when they watch how we act and see what we do to live out our beliefs. Human rights are up to us. As soon as you finish reading this sentence, you have the pen in your hand. What are you writing?

March 22, 2010


Nelson Mandela is an inspiration, a Nobel Peace Prize winning politician, a writer and an activist who helped bring South Africa from a bitter apartheid past into a strong democratic future. Before serving as South Africa's first democratically-elected President from 1994 to 1999, Madiba (the honorary title given to him by the elders of his tribe) served 27 years in prison for political activism, spending many of these years on Robben Island. It was the attitude that he emerged from prison with in 1990, famously supporting reconciliation and negotiation, that helped lead his country toward a multi-racial democracy in South Africa. In 2009, the United Nations General Assembly announced that Mandela's birthday, July 18th, is to be known as 'Mandela Day' to mark his contribution to world freedom. Nelson 'Madiba' Mandela is an inspiration to the world because he has shown us that the path of love and forgiveness requires strength, determination and a very strong heart. For years he changed himself and when he was ready he truly changed the world forever.

March 21, 2010

Preparing Ahead

As you may have noticed, I am in the capital city preparing for an upcoming conference which starts tomorrow morning. I have posted a little bit of information about it here on the Advance Humanity website if you would like to read more, but I thought I'd make a quick clarification before I leave in our Peace Corps Landcruiser to start setting things up tonight together with Zorigoo, Tunga, Siilegmaa and Julie.

I won't have access to the internet for the next week, but blog posts will continue to go up and twitters will continue to tweet while I am gone. This is because I am using schedulers to post things even when I am not around to post them myself. I wrote about Nelson Mandela about two weeks ago, for instance, and you will be seeing quotes from him all week. You will also see a blog post about him tomorrow. As I said to Matt, this is because I am pretending to be a professional blogger. Some posts (like this one) were written right when I posted it, but others were written weeks or even months prior to the time they go up. It's an interesting tactic to use, but one I have been enjoying for several weeks now (without anyone even noticing). Anyway, I'm gonna head out the door now and I'll post up some pictures about the conference when I get back this weekend. Have a great week!

March 20, 2010

Yes. Very.

If something frustrates you do you just accept it? No. Something needs to change. Either with your own mindset or the situation. It's important to know which needs to change and sometimes it's hard to know.

Sometimes I think this system is broken. People do their time and they punch the clock. They get in trouble, they get told what to do and they do it. They play games and look busy. They fill out reports. They feed their families. Why? What's the point? I ask why. They don't know. Why do I care? Because I don't want to waste my life. I don't care to be around people who don't care about life.

Tunga asks me what's wrong. What I'm writing. I stare out the window and think about how to sum it all up. Why am I frustrated? Because I want to help the Mongolian people be happy. I want to help them. I want to fix them.

"Are you happy?" I ask her.

"Yes. Very."

Most of the time I don't bring an open, loving, secure, peaceful person to my interactions. I bring a closed, selfish, insecure, unhappy person to others. I would not normally be friends with a person like this but here I am introducing him to everyone I know and letting him speak for me. Deep down I want to help others, but often what I do is hand them my baggage and problems like presents.

When I ask her if she's happy and she says yes and means it, I realize why she is my teacher and I am her student.

March 17, 2010

The Worst Day of My Peace Corps Service

Be gentle with people, you never know what they’re going through inside. Take for instance, diarrhea.

The worst day of my Peace Corps service was also the worst day of stomach problems I have ever had in my life. It was over a year ago, so I think I have given enough time to certify those statements as fact. I will relay the tale in the spirit of that day: short bursts of unbelievably horrific experiences with intermittent humorous pauses.

Two days before leaving for a conference in the capital. Up all night. Every hour. I hadn’t thrown up in 5 years. I threw up. Three times. Bad sink. Clogs. Tried everything. Epic fail. Had to take apart pipes. Knew it would be bad. It was worst. Completely drained and exhausted.

One day before leaving for conference. All better, feel great, all day. I even eat dinner with all my buddies at our favorite restaurant to celebrate. Slept like a baby.

Time to leave for the worst day ever. Six AM. -30 degrees Celsius. December. Beyond cold. I meet my fellow PCV Alex on the street. We walk together to the bus. Almost to bus. See the bus. Pause. Oh no. I say, “I need a bathroom.” She says, “We can’t. The bus is leaving.” I waddle to my seat. We wait. We leave. Stomach tightens. One hour. Stomach cramps. Two hours. Curled over, all I can see is my frozen feet. Three hours. Break. Can’t get up. Four hours. Bouncing doesn’t help. Five hours. Bathroom. Finally. I made it. The heavens open up. My stomach is empty. Six hours. Not empty. Seven hours. Much worse than ever before. Either hours. Break. Bathroom. Everything goes into frozen outhouse. Including a glove. Back in the bus. Nine hours. Bright idea: I can’t poop in my sleep. Ten hours. I can’t sleep. Eleven hours. She shouldn’t be sitting next to me. This is going to ruin our friendship. And this seat. Twelve hours. I tell her I can’t make it. We make it. Bathroom. Taxi. Walking. Stairs. Six flights. Friend’s apartment. Friend wants to give me a hug, “How was your trip?” Bathroom.

March 15, 2010

Living To Be 100

I hope to live a long time and I am trying to create a lifestyle that will help me do that. It is estimated 90% of how long we will live is determined by things we control every day. Central to that are the obvious elements like diet and exercise, but less obvious (and far more important it turns out) are other elements like spirituality, friends and our mental outlook.

I really enjoyed this TEDTalk by Dan Buettner who, together with National Geographic and Blue Zones, studied different lifestyles around the world in an effort to better understand how people live long and happy lives. I have included the 20-minute Talk below and this image to the left which is one of my favorite parts of the video.

We all have a thousand and one choices on how we are going to live and why we want to get up in the morning. Sometimes, honestly, it's a bit too much. Everyone is telling us the newest, fanciest packaged choice and we feel the need to buy a different vision a month: Atkins, Oprah, Blue Zones, 7Habits, Dr. Phil, and on and on. They try to sell us happiness, even with the best intentions, and often we end up with several dozen different books sitting on our shelves half-read while we end up on the couch with a confused look on our face. We just want one answer, not fifty. I hear ya.

My thoughts (not neatly packaged and not even for sale as a matter of fact) are to take a step back and simplify our lives. We don't need to get more stuff, we need to give away more and get more deeply involved in what we already have. We need to be deeper friends,  deeper family members and deeper partners. It doesn't cost money to be a better person or develop the 9 areas in that triangle above. I don't even have to tell you what those 9 areas are, you intuitively know by looking at the pictures and they are easier than you think. Move naturally and more often, be clear about your purpose, take time to refocus your life and your mind, eat less and more variety, drink a little, create a strong support community around you, be stronger in your beliefs and love others more deeply. Our lives and happiness are simpler than we think.

March 13, 2010

Self Actualization

Briefly Abraham Maslow's 19 Characteristics of a Self-Actualized Person

Compliments of Brian Johnson's PhilosophersNotes

  1. Perception of Reality: These individuals tend to have a “superior relationship with reality” and are “generally unthreatened and unfrightened by the unknown.” In fact, “They accept it, are comfortable with it, and, often are even more attracted by it than by the known. They not only tolerate the ambiguous and unstructured--they like it.”
  2. Acceptance: “Even the normal member of our culture feels unnecessarily guilty or ashamed about too many things and has anxiety in too many situations. Our healthy individuals find it possible to accept themselves and their own nature without chagrin or complaint or, for that matter, without even thinking about the matter that much.”
  3. Spontaneity: The behavior of the self-actualizing individual is “marked by simplicity and naturalness, and by lack of artificiality or straining for effect.”
  4. Problem Centering: Self-actualizers customarily have some “mission in life.”
  5. Solitude: Self-actualizing individuals “positively like solitude and privacy to a definitely greater degree than the average person.”
  6. Autonomy: “They have become strong enough to be independent of the good opinion of other people, or even of their affection. The honors, the status, the rewards, the popularity, the prestige, and the love they can bestow must have become less important than self-development and inner growth.”
  7. Fresh Appreciation: “Self-actualizing people have the wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder and even ecstasy, however stale these experiences may have become to others.”
  8. Peak Experiences: It’s been called “flow” or “being in the zone.” Whatever you want to call it, self-actualizers tend to experience it more often than average.
  9. Human Kinship: “Self-actualizing people have a deep feeling of identification, sympathy, and affection for human beings in general. They feel kinship and connection, as if all people were members of a single family.” “Self-actualizing individuals have a genuine desire to help the human race.”
  10. Humility and Respect: All of Maslow’s subjects “may be said to be democratic people in the deepest sense...they can be friendly with anyone of suitable character, regardless of class, education, political belief, race or color. As a matter of fact it often seems as if they are not aware of these differences, which are for the average person so obvious and so important.”
  11. Interpersonal Relationships: “Self-actualizing people have these especially deep ties with rather few individuals. Their circle of friends is rather small. The ones that they love profoundly are few in number.”
  12. Ethics: “They do right and do not do wrong. Needless to say, their notions of right and wrong and of good and evil are often not the conventional ones.”
  13. Means and Ends: “They are fixed on ends rather than on means, and means are quite definitely subordinated to these ends.”
  14. Humor: “They do not consider funny what the average person considers to be funny. Thus they do not laugh at hostile humor (making people laugh by hurting someone) or superiority humor (laughing at someone else’s inferiority) or authority-rebellion humor (the unfunny, Oedipal, or smutty joke).”
  15. Creativity: “This is a universal characteristic of all the people studied or observed. There is no exception.”
  16. Resistance to Enculturation: “Of all of them it may be said that in a certain profound and meaningful sense they resist enculturation and maintain a certain inner detachment from the culture in which they are immersed.”
  17. Imperfections: Actualizers “show many of the lesser human failings. They too are equipped with silly, wasteful, or thoughtless habits. They can be boring, stubborn, irritating. They are by no means free from a rather superficial vanity, pride, partiality to their own productions, family, friends, and children. Temper outbursts are not rare.”
  18. Values: “A firm foundation for a value system is automatically furnished to self-actualizers by their philosophic acceptance of the nature of self, of human nature, of much of social life, and of nature and physical reality.”
  19. Resolution of Dichotomies: “The dichotomy between selfishness and unselfishness disappears altogether in healthy people because in principle every act is both selfish and unselfish.”

March 10, 2010

Compassion and Enlightenment

I really enjoy watching Bob Thurman speak on Buddha in this very fun and inspiring TEDTalk. He has such a great attitude and a wonderful ability to get laughs between very serious topics.

I agree with him that TED is like a modern form of enlightenment, bringing together people from all places and fields to understand reality and become more compassionate human beings. I also think we can find happiness when we escape from the "I, Me, Me, Mine" and realize that our own pains and pleasures are too small a theater for our intelligence.

March 7, 2010

Your Gig Line

Back in Boy Scouts my friend and fellow Eagle Scout Bryan Mack told a story that I really liked. One day at camp one of the Scouting executives was criticizing a Scout about their work at camp and Bryan said to him, "Sir, your gig line isn't straight." The executive immediately lost the train of thought that he was in and looked down to see if what he said was true. The gig line is the imaginary line that runs from your buttons to your belt to your pants. If all three are in line you look nice, but if they are a little off it's easy to notice. If they are way off, you look ridiculous. The executive looked ridiculous.

I'm not sure why, but I think about this story a lot even though I heard Bryan tell it about ten years ago. Bryan is a respectful and kind person who I have always admired and he was merely pointing out something that most of us often forget, we should really take care of ourselves before we start criticizing others. That could mean being kind before you tell others to be kind, or in some cases making sure your pants are on right.

"To straighten the crooked. You must first do a harder thing - straighten yourself." Buddha

March 4, 2010

In Dreams Awake

We can deny a lot of things, but I don’t think we can deny the fact that we can all become better. We can do a better job of living up to our ideals, living out our beliefs and being the kind of people we want other people to be. This is the central idea behind advancing humanity. It’s about all of us, collectively, being the best that we can be. We are already capable of it, we have everything we need to do it. It involves taking a breath, listening to something deep inside us, what we believe is most important in life, and then acting on that. It could be an idea you’ve always been afraid to turn into a reality, a dream that won’t go away, or maybe a feeling that what you spend most of our day doing just isn’t that important. Love and live without fear, live in your dreams awake, simply your life to only doing what you really believe is valuable. If you believe that serving other people is important, make that a priority in your job. Change your perspective. If you believe that kindness and love are important, be more helpful and give more easily. If you believe that integrity is valuable, be honest about who you are and what you think, especially when it’s difficult.

"Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.Henry David Thoreau

March 1, 2010

Free Handbook Release

We have released the Unofficial Peace Corps Volunteer Handbook this week for open review in the Peace Corps community. It has been shared with close friends and Volunteers for several weeks, but we are very excited to see the thoughts of all our friends from around the world. As mentioned in the opening pages it is the purpose of this handbook to be physically in the hands of Volunteers around the world so we can all work together, write in it and make future editions even better. For the next month we will offer it as a PDF so we can make final improvements before it moves to paperback on this summer. Check it out and let us know what you think!

Very fun promotional video designed by