Feb 242010

Note: This entry is reprinted with permission from the soon-to-be-released March/April edition of Neighbors of Batavia Magazine.

Many things were ignited in Batavia on February 26, 1991. Creative ideas…bold projects… effective relationships…deep friendships. It is easy to pin the origins of some of those to a hotel ballroom in Oakbrook where hundreds of Batavians gathered. Several, like the beautiful Riverwalk that embraces City Hall took many years to fully manifest. Others, I am sure, were powerful and changed the course of Batavia’s future, but were so subtle in their revelation, that we may never realize they began that day.

We were invited to bring our ideas…our experience…our wisdom to that great hall. We were encouraged to share with one another. We were asked to commit something of ourselves. And when the day ended, the call went out to the entire community to participate in the creation of a new Batavia.

Had it not been for that February day, and the Riverwalk that arose from it, we would never have had the venue to light 3000 luminaries on September 11, 2002 to remember and honor those who died a year earlier.

It was at that event I met Ted Schuster. He became my mentor and changed my life. He taught me what it means to love a community so deeply that nothing is too much to give. We lost Ted many years ago, but his influence will live in my heart till the day I die, and will live on in Batavia forever. He shifted the world in ways that will never be undone.

On March 26, a coalition of community organizations is sponsoring “Ignite…A new future for Batavia”. The Chamber, City, School District, MainStreet, Park District and Library have come together to open a space where the community can gather to identify and build on Batavia’s unique assets and capacities. The future grows from the fertility of the soil in which we plant our ideas. On this day, we hope to till soil enriched by what is good and positive.

We will begin the day by identifying the hundreds of assets and capacities in Batavia and the Fox Valley. For things that on the surface appear troublesome—as did the muddy parking lots and embankments around City Hall in 1991 that were transformed into the jewel we enjoy today—let us focus on the potential for greatness hidden within the challenges we foresee.

Once we have identified the rich soil into which we can plant our ideas, passions and wisdom, we will gather in small groups to plan, vision and dream. We will invite participants to create work groups and task forces to begin the process of building…to plant the seeds and determine what must be done to help them blossom. As we end the day and begin the re-creation of the future, we will invite participants and the community to join us.

Are we asking a lot? Absolutely! To give an entire day to anything is difficult—perhaps far more difficult than it was in 1991. But we are talking about place…we are talking about home…we are talking about the environment that has or will shape who our children become. Is eight hours too much to ask if the unique idea or passionate vision you have to share makes Batavia a better place for our children and grandchildren? Is eight hours too great an investment, when the future itself is waiting for us to nudge it into manifesting itself?

For me, this day is dedicated to Ted Schuster, because one of the most meaningful aspects of my life is the love he instilled in me for this beautiful enclave we call Batavia.

If you would like to join us on March 26, please let us know by signing up on the Batavia Chamber Community Calendar.

Feb 202010

When Andrew asked the question, it didn’t appear to meet the philosophical dictates of our Socrates Café—a place where we explore the questions of our life by “remaining in the question.” The way Andrew posed it—what is life?—seemed to beg for an answer. I have read a fair amount about how science defines life, and those definitions are complex, technical and nearly endless. I felt totally incompetent to add to the conversation now firmly planted on the table in front of us.

But then we recalled the Native American traditions that taught us to think of everything as infused with life and giving all things the respect a living being deserves. Each rock, river, tree and animal added to their life and so was treated as part of that life.

Then Jean reminded us of James Lovelock’s Gaia theory in which he proposed the Earth itself is alive, and that each of us is a portion of that life force—elements of a much larger and more complex living system. Like the mitochondria that exist in our cells and enable cellular life to exist, everything is simply an essential part of the larger living being the indigenous people of the Andes reverently refer to as Pachamama—Mother Earth.

The conversation migrated to Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil believes computers will ultimately become more intelligent than humans, enabling them to create other machines more intelligent still. Taken to its extreme, Kurzweil talks about a technological singularity in which progress becomes so rapid the future becomes infinitely more unpredictable than it is even today. I have heard it said that Kurzweil hopes to live until such a time that computers have the capacity to reproduce the neural synapses from his brain, enabling him to “live” virtually forever. Do we call it life if a machine infused with the memories, intelligence, wisdom—and perhaps even the consciousness—of Ray Kurzweil? And if we do, and such a machine is unplugged, is it murder?

That led us to cybernetic organisms—cyborgs—that combine the natural with the man-made. At what point do humans relying on massive support from machines cease to be alive?

We even touched on the philosophical questions posed by our rapidly increasing understanding of genetics, including the possibility of eliminating disease and creating designer babies. What happens to the variety of human experiences when we can genetically engineer beauty, happiness and an end to suffering? What horrors will we rain down upon ourselves as we begin to forget the wisdom we can only realize through misery and suffering? Will we somehow forget the very meaning of generosity and humanitarianism? At what point do we transgress from being good to being God?

Today, a week after the Socrates Café, I am still animated by the conversation. I recalled the book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn in which he suggested we are arrogant to think evolution continued unabated until Homo sapiens arrived…and there it came to an inglorious end. Is it possible that evolution continues and that we, by our invention of artificial intelligence, are now in some way its handmaiden?

So was “what is life?” an appropriate question for our philosophical inquiry? More than I ever imagined. We ended up uncovering some of the deeply philosophical questions the next couple of generations of humans must face and answer. They make our current debate over healthcare and taxes seem almost trivial by comparison.

Feb 132010
Once again, my ego is doing battle with the world and the skirmishes leave me confused and sad. I am, unfortunately, not yet enlightened, so my ego still cries out to discover its place…its value. As I move through life, my ego remains fascinated by the way others witness me in the world. As it sees me reflected in others, it often seems as if the mirror is cracked and the reflection distorted and incomplete.
A Chamber member caught me one morning not long ago and said, “You’re too deep…too philosophical. Just tell people what to do!” I stood in the door of his shop with emotions dueling for control of the future into which I was about to wander. I don’t take criticism well. From somewhere in my past, even helpful suggestions feel like a critique of who I am. A little voice shows up that seems to scream, “I told you you were doing your life incorrectly!”
Am I doing my life incorrectly? There is an inner voice that wonders if it is possible to do life wrong. All we can do is be in the world…and notice. Even if what I do hurts another, life offers ways to turn the wound into a moment of reconciliation, redemption and healing.
As I reflected on the suggestion I am too philosophical, I wondered if the things I say…the things I commit to writing…are too abstract for others to turn into action. Is it possible I am in the world invisible to many because what I have to say has no impact? Do the ideological boulders I heave into the pond slip through the surface without so much as a ripple?
How is it I decide who I am in the world? How much should I listen to others? When do their exhortations have value, and when are they simply demanding I become who they want me to be…not who I am?
When I can fight off the voice of insecurity—listen instead to that voice that loves me—I can hear what is true. If I listen carefully to my heart, I can avoid being swayed by the insecurities of others that want me to be something other because who I am scares, intimidates them, or simply confuses them.
When we listen with love for self, the community names our gifts. Too often we take our gifts for granted since they seem easy, obvious and readily available to everyone. It is only by seeing who we are reflected in others that we come to know who we truly are in this world. There is a time to listen to those who love us and care about us when they say “This I see in you.” Then we simply need to accept it with love and humility.
So as I reflect on the “critique” I received that morning a few weeks ago, I choose to listen to the voice that honors my ability to see the depth of the world. I choose to be grateful for those moments when I can ask others to see in a very different way and ask “Is it possible the world really is that way?” They may not know how to turn that new thinking into concrete action in the very next moment, but when people begin to think differently, it is simply impossible to continue to act from the old paradigm.
I am thankful for the moments I have been granted to think about who I am in the world, and yes…to sooth my fragile ego. I am in a search, in my own simple way, for the meaning of life…or at least the meaning of my life. If I give up the deep search for meaning, it feels, as Dee Hock once said, like something in me will die.