Archive | August 2006

Katrina Commemoration – Part I: It’s Past Time to Pay Attention

This is the first installment of our Katrina Commemoration Series.

1. Pay Attention

The way I see it, the main reason that people don’t act on things is because they are not paying attention to them. Think about it: the reason I don’t volunteer to mentor young people is because I ignore the need; the reason my woman is frustrated with me is because I am ignoring or not paying attention to her; the reason I don’t vote is because “I don’t pay attention to politics.”

The common thread here is ignorance. People hear or read the word ignorance and react to it like it’s a dirty word or an insult. What it is is a state of mind that presents an opportunity to share and to learn. The issue is not ignorance in and of itself, it is the apathy that is often coupled with it: not wanting or caring to know. It follows then that if we don’t want or care to know, we won’t pay attention.

We should seek to defeat apathy & ignorance at all costs, wherever we see it manifest itself. How can we do this? How can we become more collectively aware? It starts for most people as a reactionary choice, a reaction to something that someone said or did/did not do. In the cases of Katrina and Rita, the [lack of a] response to people’s needs from the government could inspire some to start caring, to start paying attention, to want to take such matters (e.g. responding to a disaster) into their own hands.

There is nothing wrong with this, it’s actually a good thing. However, this cannot be the only way we can be driven to pay attention. To paraphrase an earlier SuperSpade piece, “Successful collective action is not created from hatred, anger, or being “fed up,” or reacting, It is created out of love for and knowledge of self…” What that means is we need to pay attention before something goes down in order for our attitudes and actions to be sustainable. To use closer-to-home example, many of us (myself included) have a pretty reactionary approach to our own health: we don’t watch our diet until we get sick or gain weight, we don’t stretch before exercising until we pull a muscle, etc. In the same way that this has dangerous consequences in our personal health, the reaction-only approach to collective action also has dangerous consequences, the worst being the fact that we can forget what we were reacting to in the first place. Continuing with my analogy, most dieters end up gaining back the weight they [temporarily] lost because after they hit their ‘goal,’ they stop dieting or eating healthily. After a year, many people have literally forgotten about the travesty that ensued following the Gulf Coast hurricanes. The ignorance and apathy that we thought had been eliminated was simply on vacation.

Going forward, how do we avoid this from happening with regard to the hurricanes, or anything else? We can start be doing some homework. Instead of simply looking at what happened, look at how and why what happened happened. This will be effective on two levels. For those who insist in only acting in reaction to something, the more you investigate, the more likely you are to find things that lead you to want to act. On a second, more substantive level, the level of ignorance is lessened to the point of non-existence in the presence of exposure and knowledge. We can start by asking each other questions. You’d be surprised how much you can learn about a situation or a person by asking, “What do you think about X?” If you notice someone is passionate about something, ask them why they care so much. Even the lazy and apathetic talk. We can use this talk for educational purposes instead of using it kill brain cells. Let’s talk about what’s going on in our lives and in this world. Ask people what they are doing, what they are reading (The SuperSpade I hope!), what they are involved in. You may be surprised. Seeing and talking with other people caring about things that you care about is a great way to help you get over the hump and get involved (for my friends that “don’t pay attention to politics” from above, understand that politics is simply action-based conversation, and who hates that?). It can help you identify things that you are passionate about if you are unsure or unclear. Let’s talk with one another. Let’s listen to one another. Let’s share with one another. Let’s educate one another. Let’s uplift one another. Let’s pay attention to one another. That’s how it starts.

Awareness is critical to action. To be active, we must be aware. To be aware, care about our collective experience. To care, we must pay attention.

One Love. One II.

Katrina Commemoration – 3 Steps to Make a Change

Everyone should be well aware that today, tonight, marks the 1 year commemoration of one of the greatest, most catastrophic, most revealing natural disasters in the history of the state of Louisiana, the history of the United States, the history of the Planet Earth. It was great in size because the amount of people, land, and property both directly and indirectly effected. It was catastrophic because of the damage done to people’s lives, minds, and possessions. It was revealing because it caused people to revisit some of the harsh realities that exist in neighborhoods across this nation’s cities, cities across this nation’s states, and states that are nation’s members. This event has a name that will forever be burned into our memories: Hurricane Katrina.

Throughout the last few weeks, many people have been pondering this tragedy. The SuperSpade has looked at this from many different angles since its occurrence last August. As people reflect on everything that happened before 29 August 2006 and everything that has happened since, I’d like to ask people to use this as a motivation to become more active participants in our communities so that in times of need, we can rely on one another, help one another, and be present for one another.

It’s no secret what I think about the local, state, and federal government’s response to the storm. Instead of continuing to frame such an attitude as a platform for more complaining, I look at it as a platform for action. With that said, here is the SuperSpade’s 3 Point Plan for Community Action:

1. Pay Attention
2. Plan your Position & Purpose
3. Proceed to Act

We’ll be dealing with these in detail for the rest of the week. I encourage your participation in this discussion and in how we can effect positive change on our future.

One Love. One II.

Enter the Dreamer

It has been a long time coming, and now it’s finally happened. Steven M Devougas, of Weekly Dream fame, is now officially a SuperSpade contributor. He has been contributing to the site since December, and he quickly became the favorite author of many SuperSpade readers.

Brandon and I are happy to welcome him to the squad and are excited about how he will help us, and you, bring about positive change in this world.

One Love. One II.

The Weekly Dream: The Right to Privacy

Whatever you have spoken in the darkness shall be heard and listened to in the light, and what you have whispered in [people’s] ears and behind closed doors will be proclaimed upon the housetops.
-Luke 12:3

This semester, I am taking a class called “The Law of Privacy.” It is an interesting class dealing with how far should the government and intrude into the lives and rights of individuals. I was surprised to learn that there are two types of privacy: Informational and decisional privacy. Informational deals with information about you released to the public (e.g. credit bureaus). Decisional privacy deals with those hot button issues like abortion, sexual orientation, etc. As one could imagine, technology plays a central role in privacy law. With the advent of the internet, Blogs, Profile sites, Smartphones, GPS, reality television and the like, it seems that you have to go to the moon to get some privacy.

In this Information Age, we are constantly bombarded with information. And it is a constant race to stay current. However, a large part of this is sifting through the ruff to get to the diamonds. When I turn on my computer, I come across numerous things I do not care about, mainly gossip. I do not care who is dating whom, who is cheating on whom, He said/She said. I have enough problems. However, the gossip and reality shows are a thriving industry. What is the preoccupation with sensationalism? Is it because the lives of these people are boring or are they trying to escape a dry, crusty reality? However, this will not help the situation. The result is that people know a lot of things that do not matter, instead of what they need to know. In addition to the voyeurism forced down our throats by the media, the government, under the auspices of National Security, has made it easy for any one to find out anything about you (read: wiretaps, credit reports, identity theft). Indeed, privacy is a scarce and undervalued commodity.

Why is Privacy Important?

Privacy, by definition, necessitates selective exclusion. In this exclusion, relationships are fostered and intimacy develops because there is a comfort and a safe place. Social theorists have claimed that there is a correlation between privacy and individuality. More privacy fosters more individuality and diversity. Less breeds a bland mainstream. Why? Because in the absence of privacy, there is the threat of disapproval, ostracism and rejection if you do not uphold “acceptable behaviors and values”.

In a family, when the sphere of privacy shrinks to the point where parents and children can no longer occupy the same space, then the children leave home-often to make decisions and mistakes without the criticism and stricture of the family. This can cause tension, but this is when parents should learn to “let go”, respect the privacy of their grown children and trust they will make good decisions.

The greatest thinkers and religious figures treasured being alone with their thoughts and their intimates. Henry David Thoreau wrote “Civil Disobedience” in seclusion. Jesus would often leave the multitudes and His disciples to pray and gain insight. Moses would went up the mountain and came back with the Ten Commandments. The Israelites, alone in the wilderness emerged as a cohesive nation. Privacy in the form of the retreat is at its essence spiritual. When you are alone, you can reflect and truly define yourself. In the presence of others, you can contrast what you are not.

To me, privacy means the absence of distraction. It is placing a restriction on how much outsiders have access to. When there are no distractions, then there is intense focus. In Kung-fu movies, the hero always goes into seclusion to train and then he faces his foe. Why? Because he must conquer himself before he can achieve his mission. Privacy is not an end unto itself, but it is to recharge so that we can come back and function at a higher level. Privacy is essential to the realization of potential.

These days, people willingly surrender their privacy. A constant debate I have is whether websites like the Facebook or MySpace is an invasion of privacy. I feel it is, but others say that it is a consensual invasion. And true, these sites are consensual, but perhaps these individuals do not know any better. Perhaps people do not examine the ramifications of providing an internet all-access pass. Especially since employers have begun to background check these sites to monitor potential hires and employees.

Privacy can be imposed on individuals. For example, we cannot appear in public nude. So where do we draw the line?

Is Anything Sacred?

In this age of “All-access”, nothing is sacred and it is hurting our relationships. Privacy is the highest respect one can be paid in society. It fosters the self and imagination. As Garlin, Dumi and Brandon have artfully expressed, technology is a tool and should be used to amplify good, not stupidity ( i.e. Vh1’s Flavor of Love). It is hard enough to find truth in the world, and the presence of noisome voices do not make it any easier. Let’s set boundaries as to how far we will let people, technology, and the government encroach upon our lives.

In the Bible, it says seek first the Kingdom of God. And the Kingdom of God is within each of us. However, how can we find the Kingdom on the inside with all the noise on the outside?

Make time to reflect, to build intimacy with the Creator and loved ones, with no distractions.

Respect the privacy of others.

Hold fast to the truth, and let go of the ruff.

Truth and Peace,
Steven M. DeVougas

Question of the Week: What are the ramifications of decreased privacy?

Technology’s Potential

Thank you Dumi for gracing our site with your presence. It’s always tight when the smartest person you know shows support. This started out as a comment, but grew to it’s own post for a couple of reasons: 1) it got kind of lengthy, and 2) I have been MIA for a while due to some other things going on and felt this would be a good topic to get back into the mix with. Big ups to Brandon & Steve for holding down The SuperSpade during my absence.

I think the Cyber Leashes piece is an interesting one for a number of reasons, but it mainly boils down to an issue of two main things: what are our motivations for doing anything that we do, and how/why do we use technology.

Anyone that has ever seen me knows I’m a nerd. I’m definitely the guy Dumi was talking about who cares a lot about gadgets and technology: about how they work, when they’re released, why one’s better than the other, all of that. Why do I care about these things? Maybe because I’m genuinely passionate about such things. Maybe because it makes me feel good and intelligent and current. Maybe because I’m good at it. Dumi’s post asks us what our motivations in having “information all the time at the fingertips” is. I believe that this is a question we need to ask ourselves about everything that we do and think about, including and beyond technology.

Let’s go further. What’s the difference between obsessing over a set of rims and a chocolate phone? Not a whole lot (well, perhaps I’d be perpetuating more negatives stereotypes with the former than the latter, but I digress). Neither will put you one step closer to “things that will improve your life” or “liberate our people.” So why do we think about these things? Because they make us feel good and we think they make us better. This consumer insecurity, the idea that we need to buy/have things to validate ourselves, pervades pretty much all parts of society and is especially damaging in poorer communities where being a consumer has similar absolute but much higher relative costs. The problem with having our vision tainted by this consumer insecurity is that it has damaged priorities that our people, that all people, used to have and hold dear: the idea of common identity, of shared vision, of collective action. What we lost was the notion that feeling good was a concept that went beyond the individual. What we lost was the notion that taking care of one another is important and should be a priority over selfish indulgence (Before I get jumped on, I’m well-aware of the “secure your own mask before assisting others” philosophy, however, I think most people use that to justify their own self-centeredness by omitting the “assisting others” part). Dumi’s questions should cause us not only to think about how we consume technology and if it serves a greater purpose, but also about how we consume any/everything else and if it serves a greater purpose. Let’s get back to the basics, back to what’s important. Let’s make what’s important to the individual beneficial to the collective, and vice versa.

I do not want to confuse people by any means into having them think that technology is neither useful nor important. In fact, the exact opposite is true. In my view, the issue is not the technology itself, but how we approach and use it. In general, technologically under-exposed individuals will see technology as a toy, a game, a form of entertainment. This is because it makes it less intimidating to think about it in terms of fun and only fun. The issue is that too many of our people never graduate out of that mindset and way of viewing technology to a more mature vantage point: one that sees technology as a tool, as an enabler, as a method of getting goals accomplished. This is what Dumi is calling for and what I wish to re-iterate here. The reason I started The SuperSpade with Brandon was to show our people how technology could be used for what I feel are more substantive things. I envision a day when people go online for more than celebrity gossip and sports scores. I envision a world where people do more online than watch videos of people lip-syncing pop music and make sorry-a$s MySpace pages. I envision a world where we use technology to reach each other to talk about how & where we can organize a meeting to work towards liberation. I envision a reality where we use the internet for what it was intended: a network to connect people and share information. This site will soon become a place where people can share ideas that will better society, where they can trade tips on how best to start mentorship programs in places across the world, where people can come give and receive social, political, and economic empowerment.

I want all of us to begin to see technology for what it can be and not what so many people think it is. In college, I often wondered how people communicated without email or cell phones. I wondered how peopled scheduled study sessions and “study” sessions without text messaging. After thinking about it, I determined that people simply found ways to do what they needed to do. Well, I submit to you that since it is now so much easier to communicate and easier to stay in touch, that we take that ease of use and use it for big things, not BS. Technology is aimed at simplifying things, not complicating them. At making things easier, not more difficult. How successful it is at making thing simple or easy is debatable, but I see it as something we can use it to achieve our big goals freedom & liberation, of unity & peace, and of a community with a shared vision. Do you see what I see?

One Love. One II.

Cyber Leashes

What’s up fam,

My friend Dumi was inspired by my friendship series to help us expand the discussion beyond Black men to talk about how friendship is undermined by what he describes as “Cyber Leashes.” I couldn’t agree with him more and as life becomes increasingly hectic and complex, we must always remember to get back to basics.

Dumi is the author of the critically acclaimed, Black at Michigan blog and I encourage you to check it out.


Cyber Leashes

I know you’ve seen them. In fact you’re likely in close proximity to one or multiple of them at this very moment. Some call them smart phones, blackberries, treos, sidekicks, whatever you call it, it’s likely too damn big and still attached to your hip or ear (if it’s not on your ear you’re probably wearing your Spock ear piece). Now I admit, I’m an addict, I’m addicted to my phone, I’m addicted to my Bluetooth headset, I’m addicted to the ability to check email, but I’m really not sure why.

I know that you’ve probably read the numerous articles that cite Americans are over exposed to work and under exposed to leisure, but I can’t help but notice we have almost all subscribed to the cyber leashes of technology. I remember the first time I saw a blackberry it was years ago and my aunt who worked for the Pentagon had one, I remember thinking, “I’ll never get one of those, it just means you can always be answering people” fast forward six years or so and I’m gleefully checking my email while sipping an overpriced latte. So you may ask, “Why are you so concerned with the idea that many have opted for access to information all the time at the fingertips?” The simple answer is if you’re like me, nine times out of ten, you’re not getting things that will improve your life, liberate our people, or are even necessary. You’re just checking email to check it, just visiting that blog to see if somebody in cyberspace responded to your last comment, trying to see if that email giving you more work that will make someone else rich has come across, or you’re just plain bored. That’s right, I said it, Americans are bored and we’ve opted for cyber leashes to compensate.

My brother Brandon has been breaking down the connections between friendships and Black men, but I think it goes well beyond just that group. Let’s be real, how many myspace, friendster, orkut, facebook, dodgeball, etc. associates do you have? Now how many of them do you talk to? It’s much easier to pretend to interact with them via the occasional message and seeing who else they’re talking to then talking to them and finding out what is really going on in their life. Just like it’s easier to wade through spam on my treo than work on my damn dissertation. We as a people have become bored in part because we’re too accessible but also in part because we’re easily distracted. We have enabled this boredom with technology.

For months I’ve been thinking about our obsessions with technology. Thinking what life was like before the cell phone and the internet, and it’s getting really hard to remember! As we step forward into the digital age and get more and more access to the world at our fingertips I only hope we don’t leave behind what “makes the world go round” … people. Next time you grab your hip to check that text message, to look up that movie time, to just look at your phone cause you’re deathly bored, think about doing something that is going to better the condition of the folks around you, just not fatten the pockets of cell phone companies.

The Weekly Dream: Balance and Options

“The essence of strategy is not to carry out a brilliant plan that proceeds in steps; it is to put yourself in situations where you have more options than the enemy.”
-Strategy 6, 33 Strategies of War, by Robert Greene

I have always been known as a planner. Growing up, my parents always stressed “have a Plan B, because the only surething is death and Jesus.” I was one of those people who had to have all of the information, formulate contigency plans and a main plan. Because I always hedged my bets (“hoped for the best, but planned for the worse”), I was able to maintain cool and calm in the face of unforeseen circumstances. I only ran into trouble when I had no options and no room to maneuver. I hated the boxed in/caged animal feeling that comes from facing “checkmate” in a particular situation. I also realized that I hate dealing with individuals who had no skills in planning and execution. How does on develop the skill of flexibility in planning and execution?

Potential Force

Lately, I have been obsessed with all things dealing with strategy. This summer, a good friend of mine and I rediscovered the classic game of chess. Every Tuesday, we would meet and play a game, while discussing the business of the week. The first time we sat down, he beat me in three moves. Now as embarassing as this is to admit, I learned an important strategic lesson. Whereas my strategy was to decimate him piece by piece, he focused more on controlling certains squares on the board to limit my options. He had his “strikers” in places where I could not even think of moving.

The Chessboard of Life

Few people realize that life is, at some points, a chess game. We are all implicitly strategists. When the use of force is not an option, then strategy is the fallback. From the child who tries to convince his parents to get him that new toy, to the teenager who wants a new car or curfew, to the adult who wants a promotion, we all have plans of attack for attaining access to scarce resources. It is human nature. It is not evil unless your objective is evil. Hard work is only part of the battle. Mailmen, teachers, waitresses and immigrants all work hard, and often work harder than the majority of people in society. To truly attain our dreams, it is imperative that we work harder and smarter.

There are some basic tenets to being a strategic thinker. The first thing is to know what your objective is and your timeline. Nothing has meaning outside of time. Second, take inventory of your resources. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What are your constraints? Third, who and what are your enemies? Fourth, how can you use what you have in your possessions to surmount the enemies/obstacles you face? Fifth, take wise counsel. As a man who believes in God, prayer is extremely important to me in my strategic process, because if my plan is not in line with God’s, there is no way it is going to work. A lot of people consult God last, if they consult Him at all, but they ignore a tremendous resource. I also, have my “roundtable” discussions with my committee to cover all of my bases.

Accuracy of information is paramount. Also, It is essential to have more than one approach. Begin to think of various situations and variables that could occur and build that flexibility into your plan and time line. When you do this, you will maintain the presence of mind necessary to focus and execute in the face of opposition.

A favorite and essential technique is what author Harvey McKay calls “digging your well before you are thirsty.” If you ultimately know the process necessary to meet your objective, you lay the groundwork and accumulate the tools before the need arises. You take the initiative before instead of constantly reacting to situations. For example, when looking for a job, there are people who blindly mass mail resumes to employers and pray for a response. The more strategic approach would be to keep your options open and make contacts with people at other companies that may be able to get your resume in front of the right people.

Be Water, Be Wind

Strategic thinking, planning and execution is the highest level of human reasoning because it requires you to act instead of react. We analyze everything else, but seldom do individuals implicitly analyze situations in their daily life. Thinking this way requires a great deal of discipline, diligence and patience-three things most people are extremely short on. However, the rewards are astronomical. Take the military approach. In the military, before the troops take the field, they send out reconnaissance teams to get the lay of the land. From these scouts findings, the commanding officers develop their strategy. After the mission, the officers analyze what happened and debrief. Taking this approach is a great introduction to approaching life. Do your homework, collect the data, analyze, execute and debrief.

But beware of the danger of falling in love with your strategy. Strategy and tactics must adapt as situations unfold. The whole idea is to develop your personal chessboard so that you control the key portions of the board and have any number of options.

I know I have only really glossed over this topic, but you get the idea. Look at your life and objectives with more of a critical eye, and be willing to be strategic about your life. People without options are powerless. Anyway, have fun, before you lies the oportunity to match wits against life, and with the right mindset, you can win.

Truth and Peace,
Steven M DeVougas

Question of the Week: Is the life you live a result of a plan or the result of happenstance?