Monday, January 17, 2011

Racism 43 Years After Martin

On April 4, 1968, a voice of the ages was silenced during a trip to Memphis. 
Rather than adding my voice to the thousands who are writing today and pontificating on the monumental influence of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I would like to ask a question:

Where are we, in 2011, in the struggle to end racism?

In my soon-to-be-launched podcast, I intend to do a series on racism in the US and elsewhere; in the meantime, I welcome your comments  and perspective -- the more comments, the better idea we'll have of our own collective assessment.

How do you think we're doing? 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Haiti: One Year Later

It was one year ago today that a 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated an already devastated nation in the Caribbean. Long known as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti is still on its knees. Only 5 to 10% of the rubble from the quake has been cleared, making it impossible to rebuild the thousands of houses -- even temporary -- that are needed by the 1.2 million Haitians still subsisting in 1,277 tent camps and makeshift shelters of corrugated tin and cardboard. Unemployment still hovers at as much as 80%, by some estimates.
Haiti is perhaps the most challenging study in the area of disaster relief. The causes for the slow progress have been pinned on outside donors' not following through with their pledges to an already corrupt government now almost completely incapacitated. Indeed, 30% of Haiti's public servants perished in the January 12 earthquake. But one has to ask how it is that over 900 NGO's working in the country -- many of whom were already there -- have not been able to make faster progress. It appears to be a classic example of a vicious circle -- the greatest need is shelter, but rebuilding can't happen until the rubble is cleared; but that can't happen until more trucks and other equipment are available, but in many parts of Port-au-Prince, there isn't even room between the buildings for a truck. One worker estimated that it would take a fleet of 500 trucks seven years to clear the rubble; no such fleet exists.
But this is Haiti. Having been there three times, I am continually reminded of Africa when I think of the nation that shares the island of Hispaniola with its vastly different neighbor, the Dominican Republic. The difference is visible and palpable when crossing the border, as my wife and I have done by bus. 

Just why IS Haiti so different? What are the invisible forces that have held it hostage for generations? Why is hope for Haiti so elusive?

I am not an expert on Haiti and do not pretend to understand all the complexities of the situation. But I do have a hunch or two: at the risk of sounding harsh, uncaring and imperialistic, I have to ask if the Haitians themselves are willing to take responsibility for lasting change. Because of all that has befallen the island, it is easy to understand why the victim mentality could settle in. But I believe it goes back earlier, to the founding of the first nation in the world to have gained independence as the result of a slave rebellion. The African slaves whom the French populated the island with were treated so cruelly by the French that it is little wonder that, for many of them, their new-found freedom (in 1804) meant freedom from the curse of slave labor, and well, work in general. I am not saying all Haitians are averse to work; I am asking out loud whether there are vestiges of this pendulum reaction still at work today. What would it take for the Haitians themselves to take ownership and leadership in the recovery effort? What it would it take for the political circus to stop long enough to focus on getting the nation back on its feet? 
Fortunately, at least a few of the NGO's at work there have a long-term vision of raising up Haitian leadership to grapple with the staggering challenges. Then, and only then -- just as is the case in Africa -- will this Caribbean pearl with a very rough exterior be able to move into its destiny.

Some of those NGO's:
Youth With a Mission
Compassion International
World Vision

Friday, January 7, 2011

Museums: To Go or Not to Go

What is your conception of an ideal stay in a world class city? Does it include visits to museums? Some of you will say, "Of course, that's a no-brainer," while others may want to avoid museums altogether. This puts a tour host such as myself in a precarious position: how much time should we spend wandering the halls of great museums such as the Louvre in Paris (pictured), the Victoria and Albert in London, or the Uffizi in Florence? Here's where we land: 
Our approach, as you know by now if you're a regular reader, is to look at a culture from a holistic perspective. What makes up a culture? History, geography, language, religion, politics, leisure, and yes, art in all its forms. So what do I personally take an interest in? The answer is yes. One cannot fully understand and appreciate a given culture without taking all of the above factors and more into account. And it happens that many of these things are best captured and assembled in museums. What we do want to avoid is going into a museum with no orientation to its contents -- believe me, we've made that mistake; a museum can indeed be boring if one has no appreciation of the significance of the museum's treasures. That is why we now make an effort to prepare our travelers so they can take in as fully as possible the reason we're bothering with a given museum. We also try to take into account the particular interests of our travelers, realizing, of course, that we cannot customize each tour completely for every individual. 
There is much to be discovered about culture, however, outside the museums -- on the streets, in the churches, the homes, the restaurants, cafes and gathering places -- and especially in the people themselves. After all, if culture is about anything, it is about people -- their shared values, their past, their present and their future.
For my part, an ideal experience contains as many of the above as possible. We can't guarantee that you'll come home with lifelong friendships, but we do promise you'll be impacted in a way that will cause you to look at life and the world differently. For information on our two tours in 2011, click here.

Monday, January 3, 2011

On Goal Setting

One of my mentors in this season of my life is Dan Miller, a life coach with a very integrated way of looking at life. Although he is widely regarded as a business and career coach, I refer to Dan as a life coach because he recognizes that your career is only one part of a much bigger picture called life. This has been my approach for many years now -- life is one whole, where everything is somehow connected.
Dan talks about 7 areas where we should be making what he calls "deposits of success" on a regular basis in order to have a full, productive and meaningful life. In no certain order, they are:

Personal development

You will notice that financial and career are intentionally separated; career is how we make money, financial is how we manage it. I could say a lot more about these different areas, but I'll refer you instead to Dan Miller's website. In any case, the New Year is always a good time to reassess and take stock. While it is true that the concept of setting measurable goals is a fairly Western concept, all of us will agree that positive change usually happens because certain goals were set.

What does this have to do with World to the Wise? If we were to choose one of Miller's seven areas where we concentrate most of our efforts, it would be that of personal development. One of our foundational values is that we should all be life-long learners -- no matter what our career, vocation or avocation. Whether through this blog, our upcoming podcasts, or our hosted cultural tours, it is our mission to enrich your life by expanding your horizons. No matter where you find yourself on life's road, there is always much to be learned, and even better, savored, by discovering other perspectives. Discovery is the spice of life, and I'm grateful to be a fellow discoverer with you.
As you consider the area of personal development in your own life, why not consider enriching your life by joining one of our two cultural tours planned for 2011? It will make for an entire set of unforgettable experiences that you'll treasure for a lifetime.

In the meantime,

Happy New Year
   Bonne année
      Feliz año nuevo
         Frohes neues Jahr
            Gelukkig Niewjaar
               Buon anno
                  Feliz ano novo