Ze Frank, Kony 2012 and Don Quixote

When I was a little girl, my bed was tall enough for me to sit under. My sister and I had gotten on our own rooms for the first time in our lives. Our dad had cut in half the bunk bed he had made for us to share. Kerry got the bottom half, and I got the top half. It was my space, under my bed. I had pillows, a lamp and a record player. I read, dreamed and listened to music.

It was under my bed that I discovered Man of la Mancha. I was so swept away by Don Quixote, Sancho and Dulcinea that I had the words of the story album memorized. To this day, I can still recite most of it from memory. It has been strong in my mind this morning.

In the past few months, I have found myself drawn to people in positions of anguish who are failing to fall prostrate to their despair…choosing instead to not only create hope in the midst of pain, but to share it publicly. I am inspired by the vulnerability in it. I am inspired by the strength in it. I am drawn to the humanity and imperfection of them. Through their bravery, I see the path to my own courage light up before me…and I push forward.

In every instance, however, I find encounters with another character in Man of la Mancha, the Great Enchanter. For those unfamiliar with the story, the Great Enchanter defeats Don Quixote in battle by presenting him with his own reflection in a circle of mirrors. Don Quixote’s faith in his mission is overcome by the “reality” of his circumstances and limitations. He falls, never to return to the field.

Cynicism is a tempting version of reality. The reality of our fallible humanity is a truth that is hard to argue with. We are imperfect. We make mistakes. We break down. We do stupid things. And, as the windows into each other’s worlds increase as our online lives become increasingly visible, becoming the ‘voice of reason” amidst a groundswell of enthusiasm over anything is an addictive position to take. It arms up against the possibility of dashed hopes. It puts us into a position of “see? I told you so.” In the instance that someone’s imperfection shows. We did not fall for it.

The Joseph Kony 2012 campaign drew criticism from the moment it was launched, and then the criticism grew sharper and more pointed after the man who made the video had a very public breakdown as a result of the public scrutiny.

Ze Frank became an online sensation six years ago with his quirky breakthrough video blog. You can see the fear in his latest video as he screws up the courage to launch his next endeavor. He seems to be braced for impact. And, unfortunately, he is likely to get it as people will come out of the woodwork to offer up their commentary, good and bad.

The world is rotten and god doesn’t even know we’re living on it.
Aldonza
Man of la Mancha

I have loved this quote for most of my life and repeated it often. Cynicism has been my “go-to” forever. I wanted to be at the front of the “I-saw-right-through-it” queue. But I find that this kind of thinking has left me wanting. I want to be inspired. I want to hope. I want to believe. I want to find people’s bravery inspiring, especially if they are imperfectly human, like me. It gives me hope that all of us crazy, hot-headed, weepy, impractical, baggage-carrying misfits can do something beautiful. That maybe all our efforts will meld together, in ways we cannot even anticipate, to bring our broken culture into something beyond our ability to imagine alone.

So, to everyone out there who is thinking of putting yourself on the line and bringing your imperfection out for the rest of us to see – remember that what you see in the enchanter’s mirrors is only a very shallow aspect of reality, and that there are always going to be those who can’t see past that. Please don’t let that stop you.

To those of you who feel a little fire kindle whenever you see, hear or read something brave and human…comment, share, follow. Be bold in your hope. Set yourself up to be ridiculed for being naïve or misled. Don’t be afraid to be inspired.

And, to all of you, from a little girl, under her bed with a record player…

xo,
Kimberley

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Why Kony 2012 Matters

It almost doesn’t matter what the “cause” is for the Kony 2012 campaign.

Almost.

At least for me.

I am coming at this from a particular vantage point. And I am writing this today, because I think I am not alone.

The glut of information of all that is wrong in the world has been overwhelming me for years. There is only so much I can follow, only so much I can research, before I begin feeling inadequate and unprepared for the task of doing anything about much of anything at all.

I only have so much in the way of resources…time…energy…money. Every choice I make to support a cause is also a choice to not support another, just as worthwhile, cause. And what is the tiny bit of money I can give against a tidal wave of need that rises into my world every day through the multiple media channels that surround me? Every effort I make seems consumed by even greater need, until I become paralyzed and block it all from my view.

Every day I learn more about how this government, that is supposed to be representing me, doesn’t. And that knowledge pushes me further into paralysis, because how can I possibly make my voice heard in the sea of lobbyists with bankrolls and party invitations? Can I really expect issues most important to me and my kids to be prioritized above the issues of those who have underwritten the campaigns of those in office?

Then, along comes Kony 2012 and I am transfixed. In the space of two days, my Facebook, Google+ and Twitter feed are all filled with posts about this viral video. It is what I always wanted the Internet to be, but what it has not been to this point…a vehicle for amplifying the voices of the many so that they could be heard above the cash that controls the government officials. The message has been distilled and simplified to the point that it is easy to deliver, easy to understand, easy to follow and easy to support. Someone has taken what is possible with social networking and turned it into something probable.

When we join this legion of voices, we are not only amplifying a call to the government to bring Joseph Kony to justice, we are becoming a community. With this campaign, we are sensing our power as a people. We are feeling what it means to be a government of the people, by the people and for the people…as the founders intended.

I have for years agreed that the government has gotten out of hand. I have not, however, been able to get behind those who would abolish the government or lessen its power. I have worked in the oil and gas industry too long to believe that self-regulation has any possibility of keeping us, as human beings, safe and that is just the tip of the iceberg. No, we need government. But I feel pretty confident that, if the founding fathers could see what this government has turned into, they would be horrified. And, if not, it is enough for me that I am. This government does not represent me or my kids. It is easy enough to see, in the decisions made by governing bodies every day, whose interests are being protected.

Kony 2012 is imperfect in its goals. I have done the reading and read the reports and comments on those reports until I am swimming in them. At no point do they outline explicitly HOW justice be served, but that it remain a highly visible priority until it is….but the critics have much in the way of material to work with in their criticisms. However, at the end of the day, three important truths remain:

  1. Joseph Kony is a brutal war criminal with a trail of brutal abductions, heinous rapes, atrocious murders and maimings using children as his army.
  2. He is still at large.
  3. We have had 26 years to bring him to justice and have not.

So, it is well past time for this to become a matter of large-scale public concern.

But this…this viral campaign…is more than that. It is opening doors to the possibility that we can, as a people, demand to be part of the conversation. That we can share information more easily than ever before and discover the truths that lie outside of the tightly controlled messaging being fed to us on any given issue. That we can find a way to join our voices of concern together in a way that makes it impossible for those in power, the ones with the ability to actually represent us in a tangible way, to ignore us.

That is worth supporting. That is worth fighting for. That is worth our energy.

 

Kony 2012, Charity Navigator and the Critics

My heart aches today and it has become too heavy for me to not respond to what I am seeing happening online with regard to the 2012 campaign. I have seen the criticisms. I have taken them very seriously. I read the blogs and articles. I read the comments on those blogs and articles. I looked at the financials and at Charity Navigator’s facts figures as well as the reviews posted by others on that site in the comments. I have done my due diligence, and I am continuing to do it.

I have lived as an aid worker in a developing country, which is something many of the people weighing in on this issue have not done. I also have a background in global communications (over 20 years in advertising/marketing and corporate communications). The combination of these two things…along with my emotional connection to the world and the problems in it, has made it impossible for me to sit silent in the face of the criticisms I have read. The critics, while sometimes making strong arguments, are dangerously and irresponsibly incorrect when looking the issue as a whole.

We live in a time where we are all bombarded with wild amounts of information and detail. We, as a culture, have begun to distrust all corporate media and for good reasons. We are aware that their job is to make money and to report things to get us to watch. We are clear that our government is controlled by lobbyists and have seen our elected officials fail, time and again, to live up to the promises made by them as they campaigned for our votes. And we are all keenly aware that injustice in this world is rampant and we feel completely powerless to do anything about it. Which causes are the most important and what can we, as voiceless and powerless citizens, do to change anything at all…anywhere?

So, there are two parts of this Kony 2012 mission…the one that is directly spoken about and the one that is hinted at. And the one that is hinted at is so important to us as a culture that it could change everything forever.

I want to address the overt mission first…the mission to stop Joseph Kony. I have read the academic arguments on why the Kony 2012 campaign is ill-conceived. One at a time:

“It is late/it is more peaceful now/he has moved and lost power already” Yep. This one is true. We should have done something 26 years ago. But we didn’t. And, while it is true that he does not have the power he once wielded and has gone into hiding, I can’t imagine how this is a good argument to just throw up our hands and walk away. His history is so virulent that it MUST be addressed…now. And to the children and families still living in fear in the vicinity of this horrible madman, and the ones who are still captive…it is not too late. If we do not find him now and bring him to justice, what are we saying to the children whose lives have been lost in service to him? What are we saying to the families who have lost children to him? What are we saying to those who would step into his place when he is weakened and gone?

“He is using children as a human shield and they would be in danger.” Yes again. This is true. But they are in danger now. They have been in danger. And, if we do not do something, they will continue to be in danger. Additionally, the Kony 2012 campaign is not advocating a specific military or diplomatic strategy for finding Kony and bringing him to justice. So to argue that because we are hanging up posters, we are telling Obama to send in troops is inaccurate and silly. They are asking us to keep this effort in our consciousness and to continue to advocate with our government.

“This is an African problem, not a US one.’ Not going to spend much time on this one, other than to say…we are a global community now more than we have ever been in the history of the world. The fact that this could happen, did happen, is a crime against humanity. Those children are our children. Those families are our families. Those dead are our dead.

We should be focused on empowering the people with education/jobs/clean water/etc. Oh, I love this one. We absolutely should be doing what we can to give these children a better shot at a healthy, educated and strong future. No question about that. However, that this even comes into the argument demonstrates an incredible “first world” bias. If families are terrified that their children will be abducted in the middle of the night…if children are afraid of going to sleep because they have seen their siblings and friends brutally murdered…education and medical care are an almost laughable approach. Maslow’s hierarchy of need, people. If I don’t feel physically safe, don’t talk to me about recycling. This should not be an either/or situation. And, while it is certainly true that the Ugandan people now need these things desperately, there are organizations already dedicated to this mission…and it is not the mission of Invisible Children, who have been dedicated to the cause of arresting Kony for nine years.

The Invisible Children foundation is spending too much money on film-making and media. As a Communications professional, I am always stunned at how completely clueless people are about what goes in to staging an effective campaign. The organization CLEARLY stated that their goal is to elevate this so solidly in the public eye, and insinuate it into so much of the social media, that those who have the power to impact change…will, if only because they will look bad to their constituencies if they don’t. This requires money and staff…good staff. People who know how to deliver a message in a powerful and compelling way across generations/economic divides/political divides/geography/etc. And those people who have this knowledge and these skills have families and lives to support. If you operate on a shoestring, you get a shoestring response. It is that simple. We would not even be having this discussion on this scale if the people running this campaign did not know what they were doing.

The film is centered on the little blond haired boy. Decades ago, leading international neurologist, Antonio Dimassio proved that it was physiological impossible for humans to make a decision, any decision at all, without engaging the emotion center of the brain. Facts, charts, figures…none of that does it for us. Ever. This horrible atrocity is occurring well outside of our Monkey Sphere (another study done that basically asserts that we can not hold attention for any person or issue that falls too far outside of our local experience of the world). What this means in terms of communication is that the event must be connected to us directly somehow in order for us to maintain the attention span for it. The film does an outstanding job of not only doing this, but also giving us an entry point into a story that most of us have not been following very closely as he explains it to his small child. His child is a perfect bridging element for us.

This is not simple. Nothing is ever as simple as we make it out to be. I realize that the campaign oversimplifies the issue. But 26 years to sit around debating what should be done is too long. It is past time to do something. Anything would have been better than 26 years of what these people had to endure, and endure still.

Tomorrow I will be blogging on the second factor in this Kony 2012 issue that, I believe, is FAR more important than the original objective and, if it succeeds, may change the way everything is done forever.

Here’s the 30 minute movie, if you haven’t seen it yet.

I Quit My Job

That looks funny even written on the page like that. It’s all big up there in the headline and all. But there it is in black and white. And its true.

Thing is, I had a great job. I made pretty good money, good benefits. I had a lot of flexibility in my schedule. We officed in a sweet, funky house in a cool area of town. I worked in jeans unless I had a client meeting (and I even wore my pajamas to one of those…different story). My peers and clients respected me and appreciated what I did. I was valued as a crucial part of the work we did. AND I write this knowing that my two past bosses will be reading this (Hi, Shelly and Monica! Um, just kidding about the pajamas). So, unless my check to them has not quite made it in the mail, you will not even hear any rebuttal from them in the comments.

But I quit anyway. And it was a LOT harder than I thought. And it still is.

I am a writer and have always wanted to write more than the copy I was producing for our clients. But at the end of the day, and on the weekends, my writing muscles were totally burnt. I had no more juice for my own writing. I could not for the life of me figure out how to solve this problem. A series of events last year made quitting the only logical solution. Since then, I have seen and written about things that blow my mind. Traveling has given me perspective on my own culture that I feel I understand more about it and can write to that. I was offered an incredible contract opportunity, working for an NGO in Haiti that I would not have been available to only months before. And I am in the middle of writing a book that is burning through me faster than I can write it down.

But every time someone offers me a job…every time someone asks me what I am going to be doing now that I am back from Haiti…and even when people offer me contract copywriting gigs, I stumble over myself trying to decide, all over again, if I have made the right decision. I usually end up asking my partner Tina to answer the question for me. Seriously…I ask someone else to answer the question for me. I can’t believe I’m telling you that.

So, this baffled me until I read an article yesterday in the Harvard Business Review (cause I am smart like that…and also someone linked to it on Twitter). You can click on the picture to get to it your own self…

 

I read the Harvard Business Review...

Oh yes, Daniel Gulati. Strumming my pain with your finger, singing my life with your words…

It is a quick and enjoyable read, so I encourage you to pop on over for a few minutes. But if that just feels exhausting…all that clicking around, here are the high points, with notes about exactly how perfectly they fit me…just for fun.

  1. We have been conditioned, like rats in the famous Skinner experiment, with variable scheduled “recognition and reward” pellets. Check – I not only lived for these, I helped my managers tell me what I needed to hear “Aw, don’t say ‘hey, you did great!’ say something like ‘Your writing really made that cheese sandwich sound more delectable than humanly possible! How ever did you do that?'” Then I would return, happy, to my corner of the cage to gnaw on my paws.
  2. Social media has made your successes and failures more visible than ever. Which is apparently scary. Oh yeah, baby. So easy to say you are a writer…if only you were not so busy with work and kids and housework and Facebook. Telling people I am taking time off to write means I have to produce something. And if I don’t produce something worth reading, everyone will know. Oh god, I’m freaking myself out.
  3. We suffer from premature optimization (come on…who named that?). This means that, instead of looking for the biggest mountain possible, we just climb the closest one to us…usually at work. “I will totally get to writing that Great American Novel after I finish this wicked client project on how to make employees work harder with fewer resources. I am going to make those instructional videos sing!” Yeah, enough said on that.

The thing is that I LOVED that job while I loved it. When it stretched me and kept me learning and growing. I have friends there now that love it and I can’t blame them. It was and is a great place to grow. But I stayed a lot longer than I should have. Long past I was done.

I have had a lot of support in making the decisions I have made over the past year. And, sometimes that support has looked like “Don’t be an idiot. Go for it.” But the whole path toward doing the unthinkable started because a part of me started to want to do something really big and a little scary, and I allowed myself to consider it.

I’d love to hear what the big and scary thing is that you want to do and if any of this resonates for you. Don’t worry. No one is sending this to your boss.

Xo,

Kim

What You Don’t See

This is a picture I took on a beach in Haiti.

Just out of frame and to my left, is a man trying to sell cheap, plastic souvenirs to tourists. The only non-white people on the beach are the people who are serving drinks or selling things. The beach is attached to a hotel and from the lobby blares loud club music mixed with the sounds of an announcer for a soccer game playing on TV. The tree in front of me is hiding a dock where workers from a small island just off the coast are transported back and forth to their jobs on the mainland. The boats are always full to groaning with day workers who are terrified of the ocean waters.

Words Fail Me

“Are these from Africa?

The woman in the frame store jolted me out of my own little world with that question. I had gone back to Haiti and a little tented art shop near the top of the IDP camp. My hands ran over the framed pictures marveling at how different they looked in frames. In the artist’s tent the pictures on raw canvas are pinned to rope and wood wherever there is space. I had chosen the ones I wanted to buy more than a month before I made the purchase. I finally bought two, one folk art painting of kids playing in the camp, and a larger black and white one, a loose interpretation of Fet Gede (a voodoo celebration I had witnessed). I was wondering if I had made a mistake in framing them after all. Did the frames box in the life of them? Did I like them better frayed around the edges and hung with small wires from rope?

“Pardon?”

“Your pictures. Are they from Africa?”

“Oh. No. They’re from Haiti. I knew the artists.”

“Why were you in Haiti?” (Always the next question.)

But my mind had stopped again on “I knew the artists.” I did know them. They made me a gift of a third painting before I left as a thank you for always bringing people by to see their shop. It seems my mind is always overloaded when the subject of my past three months comes up. Like every conversation opens a tiny hole through which tidal waves of words push to move through.

“I was working with a nonprofit down there for three months.”

“Wow. I have a friend who just got back from Columbia. She said it is awful down there. Truly awful. I imagine Haiti is the same way, with all the earthquakes and hurricanes they have experienced.” And I start to nod my head in agreement. These are such simple quick conversations, I never really want to go into it with people I meet like this. I never feel able to go into it anyway. Besides, she is actually very sweet and is not really looking for deeper information, just being friendly. But then she says the thing that cuts me so deep I have no idea how to respond.

“What is happening down in Haiti is not the work of our Lord; it is the work of the devil for sure. Makes me wonder what is going on down there for them to deserve that.” And, I know she is not really wondering at all. I know she has decided that this nation has brought this upon themselves with their “ungodly” behavior. I have heard this before, unfortunately.

I stumble through some bits of information about slave debt and the monumental task of financing infrastructure under the burden of those conditions. I tell her that the entire world was appalled by their revolt at the time so finding support was impossible. But this rings as hollow in my ears as it must ring in hers.

The truth is closer to a conversation I had with a well-studied international aid worker and friend in Haiti soon after I arrived. He told me there were so many versions of the “truth” in Haiti that there was no sense in placing much stock in any of them, that all we can do is move forward.  But, when I am in back in the car, I cry. My failure to illuminate even a single aspect of Haiti’s worthiness and beauty to this misguided woman is becoming too familiar. And this time the failure comes too close on heels of seeing the faces of friends in the paintings and the memory of sitting on a small hill above the artist’s makeshift gallery watching them paint. I have failed my artist friends and Haiti. I sink into a funk that has become familiar to me ever since I returned home. I just don’t have the words, and that stings.

I met a woman once while working on a documentary shoot above the camp who told me about the days after the earthquake. She told me story after story. She told them to me as if they came unbidden. Like she had to tell them over and over. As if the telling would bring some sense to the world. As I drove home I remembered her story of the singing.

The dust had not even settled in Port au Prince. Aftershocks and trembles were still so common that people refused to sleep inside the buildings, afraid they too would become trapped or worse. Wails punctuated the shouting of people who were finding bodies. Unstable buildings still crashed along every street and in every neighborhood, keeping people wary of even the slightest crack around them. And there was weeping…always weeping. As she became accustomed to those noises, she began to hear singing. She followed the sound, looking for the source of the music. Eventually, she realized that it surrounded her. The people were singing. They were singing hymns. Pouring love, faith and prayers into valleys and hills surrounding Port au Prince. Thousands of voices, singing together. That moment gave her peace and hope. These people were not overcome. They still loved. They still believed. They still had faith.

Maybe I should have told her that story, instead of bringing up slave debts and old policies from governments long ago. That story does not contain the whole truth of Haiti, not by a long shot, but I have yet to find anything that comes as close as one simple story at a time.

Was I Ever Really There?

I didn’t want a going away party when I left Haiti. I got sick the day before I left and used that as an excuse to avoid the fuss-making over my leaving. I ended up going out for a drink with some friends and then catching the tail end of a larger party that was apparently also meant to be a farewell to me.

The next day I crammed my morning so full that my office goodbye was nothing more than a fly by of waving arms, air kisses and brief hugs. I am not even entirely sure that everyone there knew I was actually flying home that day and not returning.

And I did this all as if I were the only one to consider.

I did not give the friends I had made there a chance to really look me in the eye and tell me goodbye. I did not let it settle in to the people I worked with that I would no longer be a part of their work lives. I did not give anyone a real chance to have closure with me. It felt clean and tidy at the time. Today it feels selfish.

Working on a three-month assignment in a country as intense as Haiti is really such a strange beast, after all. It is such a short time, as it turns out. Enough time to learn that what you had originally thought you would do was not doable after all. Enough time to determine the best path forward, which is always a looser, more organic-to-the-culture approach. But not enough time to get anything like that going. Not enough time to see anything more than the flickering of success somewhere far on the horizon. Not enough time to have something to hold in your hands to show what your time meant there.

But the hardest thing about three months in that kind of situation is about relationships. I lived in close quarters with some great people there. Every day we would either be in each other’s rooms or we’d have only our tarped walls separating us, which encouraged constant conversation. I had many more friends to whom I sent demanding emails all the time for them to “Get on Skype” so we could chat…or “don’t even think about going somewhere without me this weekend.” I knew more about the habits and needs of everyone there than I know about any of my very close friends here. And every day, we’d share the frustrations of the day, the weirdness everything going on around us and whine about stuff that would not be worth whining about back home, but which gave us something safe to bitch about in a place where none of us really felt we had the right.

I have been home now for a month and a half, and I have been completely disappeared from that place in a way you can only understand if you have been there to see it happen. No one emails me. No one asks me questions or looks for counsel on what I know. Short term volunteers must flow through there now who have never and will never hear of me. The international staff that was there when I was closed the gap around the void I left, before I even got back home. To a newcomer there, I never was.

And I know this with certainty, because I was part of that gap closing in the past. My hands too drew the curtains behind those departing for home. It becomes so routine that the day someone has left, it is as if they were never there. There are occasional mentions in the context of conversations, but nothing much more than that. I never called or wrote either. And I understood it then every bit as much as I understand it now, which is to say…not at all.

Except to say that, in an environment like that, it is hard to become attached and lose people all the time. And it is not just the mushy and emotionally expressive ones who suffer those losses. Even the solid ones who do not show it feel the chipping away until they cloister themselves away to avoid as much of the attachment as possible.

The strange and unfamiliar sadness I feel over this is so complex that it is difficult to explain and I don’t process emotional things as clearly as I used to before Haiti. But, if I were to try, it might look like peering through a foggy train window toward a spot on the horizon that you can’t quite see, but know is there all the same.

xo,

Kimberley