Katrina Commemoration – Part II: 2. Plan your Position & Purpose

This is the second installment of our Katrina Commemoration Series.

Now that everyone has read & began to put into practice the Pay Attention Program, let’s move forward towards how to position one’s self to most effectively assume the vital and critical position they hold in the success of the collective. Key to understanding your position and your purpose in our future is paying attention to yourself and your surroundings. Once you are doing/have done that, what’s next? The next piece is using the data, information, knowledge and wisdom gained from this observation to decide how and where you fit into the larger picture.

Perhaps the first responsible thing to do here is to define what the ‘larger picture’ is. Without knowing this, how will you know where you fit? This series is written in honor of the Gulf Coast hurricane survivors, but the ‘larger picture’ encompasses more than natural disaster response. In my view, which I know is not the only one, the ‘larger picture’ actually a fairly simple one. It’s an image whose defining characteristic is the absence of fear. It’s an image where we all understand what is promised to us in II Timothy 1:6-7: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” The overcoming of fear is a fundamental aspect of freedom, of liberation, of equality. Once we are no longer afraid of ourselves and our own potential, our neighbors and our inherent differences, our leadership and their intentions, we can truly work together. A message I got from people in New Orleans that didn’t leave before/during the storm was that they were afraid. There is nuance here though because they were not talking about the [relatively obvious] fear of the storm, but they were more afraid not knowing what to do or being able to live somewhere else. To me, that is a fear of the future, a fear of one’s own wherewithal and ability to thrive anywhere, a fear of the unknown. Freedom from these fears, and fear however it presents itself is what true freedom is.

Now that we know what my picture looks like, let’s deal with how I/you/we can contribute to making that vision a reality. There are two parts, as the title suggests: determining your purpose and planning your position.

Your purpose can only be determined after you start paying attention and analyzing what you observe. This analysis can be completely personal (you thinking about things on your own), or it can be analyzed by talking with people you know/love/trust about such things. I’d argue that the latter is preferred because it errs on the side of using a community approach as opposed to an individual one. We often find that we gain deeper understanding of the things we see around us and in ourselves when we share them with others. Since we [should] want to understand our purpose as deeply as possible, I encourage us to have these conversations.

What do these conversation sound like? How are they structured? Try this. The next time you see/hear/read/experience something that upsets you, instead of internalizing it, call a friend or family member and talk about. Many of you probably already do this, but I’d like you to take a different approach. Instead of doing this simply to get the “stress off your chest,” make the goal of that conversation understanding what specifically about this thing or event bothers you? What about it is contradictory to who you are? What you want? The direction you want things to go? Answering these questions can help paint a more clear picture as to not only what you care about, but, more importantly, why you care about those things. Sometimes it’s easier to define things in terms of their opposites, so why not attempt to do this with finding our purpose? After a few of these conversation, you can begin to get a general idea about what your passion(s) and purpose(s) may be.

Now that we are beginning to formulate our purpose, we need to begin to hold ourselves accountable to our purpose. We need to look at what we think and do and don’t do and measure it against our purpose. Are we in line with it? Are our priorities in the proper order for us to do what we want to do? We can do this by remembering our purposes and burning them into our memories. However, the easiest way to hold one’s self accountable to something is to write it down. For whatever reason, many people (including me at one point) are hesitant to do this, another fear we should seek to eliminate. The question is why? Why are we scared to hold ourselves to a standard that we set and control? It’s not something imposed on you by someone else. We especially have little to fear in because if we don’t get it right the first, second, fifth, or hundredth time, we can alter it! This does not mean that you should change purposes like socks; give what you think your purpose is a fair shot.

Now, since we understand what the end goal is, and we understand what our purpose is, we can now address how we position ourselves in order to be successful in fulfilling our purpose and contributing to the ultimate goal. The idea is simple: if I understand where I want to go and why I want to go there, I can more easily see how I can get there. Your position is just as important as your purpose. We need to ensure we’re not putting round pegs in square holes. A good idea at the wrong time yields the same outcome as a bad idea. Similarly, an improperly timed action can yield the same or worse results than inaction. Likewise, a purpose without position is ineffective. We can make sure we do this by realizing that we do not exist in vacuums, that there are many interested people and parties in the things we think, say, and do. We can make sure we do this by talking with people we love/trust/understand about how we can position ourselves to be most effective, the community approach. Questions to ask here can be along the lines of:

How can my talents allow me to best apply my purpose?
How can my gifts help the march towards the goal(s) move forward?
How can my skills be best utilized by myself and/or others to most benefit the myself and the collective?

Using myself as an example: if I’m a nerd, which I am, and one of my purposes is to be a communicator of ideas and a facilitator of discussions, start a website that attempts to do those things and more. That was my attempt at positioning myself to fulfill my purpose and contribute to the goal eliminating ignorance and fear.

Give it a try. The best way to remember and commemorate hurricane survivors is to commit ourselves to taking care of one another. Pay attention. Decide what’s important. Position yourself to contribute.

One Love. One II.


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About Garlin Gilchrist II

I am the City of Detroit's first ever Deputy Technology Director for Civic Community Engagement. My job is to open up the city's public data and information for the consumption and benefit of all Detroiters. I currently live in Detroit, my hometown, with my beautiful wife Ellen and our twins Garlin III and Emily Grace. I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora, and was formerly the National Campaign Director at MoveOn.org. I also co-hosted The #WinReport on "The Good Fight," a an award winning, nationally syndicated radio show that was one of Apple's Best of 2013. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. I spent two years creating and implementing a strategy for the Center to take it's 40 years of community organizing experience into the digital age. I speak before diverse audiences on effective & responsive government, empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation through emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet. Full bio here.

5 responses to “Katrina Commemoration – Part II: 2. Plan your Position & Purpose”

  1. Ellen says :


    Is being fearful the same thing as having a spirit of fear?

  2. Ellen says :

    Also, is fear always bad? I’d argue no. Living in a constant state of fear is bad but sometimes fear is good, motivating, and can bring about change. At the risk of oversimplifying your point, let me provide an example. If I am afraid of rodents invading my New York City apartment (a reality when living in NYC), taking preventative measures or responsive measure upon seeing them is not negative. Rather, my fear is causing me to be proactive, bring about a peace of mind, and allowing me (and others) to sleep better at night. However, if I sleep with a can of raid and barricade myself in my room at night before sleeping out of fear of the rodents, then fear becomes debilitating and is negative.

  3. Garlin II says :

    Thanks Ellen for your thoughts.

    I don’t think that being fearful and having a ‘spirit of fear’ are quite the same, as you imply in your question. If I was forced to differentiate the two, which I kinda am here, I’d define being fearful as an single act or a set of acts, while having a ‘spirit of fear’ is a mindset.

    In some cases, an individual act out of fear is not a bad thing. Using your example, taking ‘preventative measures’ to ensure you don’t get new roommates is by no means a bad thing. Similarly, one could argue that wearing a seatbelt is a fear-motivated act because we are afraid of what might happen in an auto accident if we didn’t wear one. I personally would argue that these are both examples doing things out of awareness of reality instead of fear. From this perspective, fear has not even entered the picture. For instance, if I live near a wooded area, it makes sense for me to treat my windows and doors that face outside to minimize the number of insects that enter my home. This is actually an example of paying attention to my surroundings, thinking about what I observe, and then taking appropriate action.

    I argue that when one is filled with a ‘spirit of fear,’ they do things that are counter-productive to their goals and purposes. Again using your example, barricading yourself out of fear of these intruders would be completely out of line with your purpose, assuming that your fulfilling your purpose requires you to leave your room.

  4. Ellen says :

    If you are saying that one can be fearful while paying attention, then I would agree with you. Otherwise, I think we still differ in opinion. Perhaps what we are both trying to say is fear becomes negative when it become debilitating.

  5. Garlin II says :


    Your last sentence does a pretty good job of summing up how I feel about fear, and most other things done/felt out of moderation: if these things dominate you to the point where they become paralyzing forces, then they are negative and work should be done to reduce and/or eliminate them.

    Perhaps our opinions don’t differ so much after all.

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