Sunday, May 30, 2010

Happy Birthday, Prairie!

On Memorial Day weekend 2009, I planted a prairie.  It's custom to give presents to the one having the birthday, but in this case, the gifts I see as I celebrate my prairie's first full year have all come to me.  Gifts like patience, time with nature, and an understanding of who's in charge.

Crab grass abounded last year. I attempted to control it. To no avail. In spite of all that crab grass, prairie plants are everywhere this year. My anxiety about what was or was not growing mattered not in the least. My efforts to identify each plant gave me something to occupy the time while I waited and watched, but for a novice like me, truly identifying a plant will have to wait until I can see the flowers. Maybe this year. Maybe next.

Go away and come back in three years.  This was the advice of a prairie veteran.  As spring unfolded this year and I watched the prairie emerge, I have thought often of the wisdom of his words. A prairie takes time. A prairie can look pretty messy in the process. A prairie may arrive in a way we don't expect. Just like people. Just like me.

Some of the plants are getting ready to blossom. Some are still very small; they may or may not blossom this year. Where are my seven-foot prairie grasses? I haven't a clue. 

Ultimately, the prairie is going to do what it is going to do. And I can be patient, watch and learn. Or if that's not possible, I can go away and come back in three years.  Even though in year one, the prairie revealed my tendency to obsessive-compulsive disorder, I'm going to enjoy year two. The gifts my prairie is giving me are just too good to pass up.

Friday, May 21, 2010

It's up to you

Is happiness within your grasp? According to the Dalai Lama, it is the goal of life to achieve happiness and whether we do or not is up to each of us. The perspective we take on what happens to us and around us. Whether we hang on to hurts and anger and grief or take steps to move forward.

In preparation for hearing His Holiness speak this week, I read his book "The Art of Happiness."  A practical look into the Dalai Lama's views on happiness, this book offers useful insights for all of us on our own personal role in achieving happiness.

Particularly interesting to me was how he re-framed the enemy. Be grateful for an enemy, he urges. An enemy is a great teacher and a true blessing. Only with an enemy do we face someone who can truly teach us patience and tolerance.

This book is useful because it not only offers what to do, but also steps for how to do it. 

In the interests of full disclosure, this book is written by a psychologist based on interviews with the Dalai Lama.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Educating the heart

The Dalai Lama brought his message of compassion, loving kindness, and non-violence to Iowa yesterday, and I was privileged to be in Cedar Falls, with my son to hear him.

The theme of his day on campus was "Learning, Understanding, Wisdom," a hopeful progression His Holiness promotes to end violence. Though he was also realistic, acknowledging that humans can acquire knowledge and then use it to violent ends, throughout, he laid out challenging concepts that are inclusive rather than divisive and inspire further discussion.

For instance, he proposed a secular approach to moral teaching. But he expanded the definition of 'secularism' to include religious teaching. Not either/or, but both. The Character Counts! in Iowa program offers one approach to instilling values in school children. Would it be possible to bring that program together with religious moral teaching?

At another point, he responded to a panelist question about dealing with the problem of black men who are disenfranchised, respond with violence, and are incarcerated. The Dalia Lama's thought was to include these men in the solution, giving them value, and hope.  What would happen if we posed the question as "How do we involve these men in the solution?" - Not 'We can't,' or 'It won't work,' or 'It's impossible,' but 'How do we make it happen?'

Even to have an open discussion of these topics requires educating the heart as well as the brain. A challenging endeavor in today's very divisive environment, but wouldn't it be sweet?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Making social media work

I'm a real neophyte when it comes to social media. I stumble around to discover paths that others have traversed easily for ages.  So I was surprised that American and former colleague Drew McLellan welcomed me as one of the authors for Age of Conversation 3, the third edition of a book he and Australian Gavin Heaton planned to produce.

Just released, Age of Conversation 3 ( involves 171 marketing blog authors from 15 countries who bring the online marketing conversation to print. The blog-length (only 400 words each) essays in the book address aspects of social media as a staple in the modern marketing toolbox.

My own essay The Social Networking Super Highway joins others in the section on Getting to Work. I draw an analogy between learning to drive and speaking a new language. Social media has been a new language for me. Learning to drive and speaking a new language both require practice. The more practice, the more adapt you become. Much of the social media learning comes from watching what others do and learning from them.

Even those of us who've been around the block more than once can learn the language of social media. I would argue that we not only can, we must. Age of Conversation 3 lets you listen in on voices worldwide as we discuss the what, where, and how of social media. I invite you to grab a cup of coffee and join us!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Prairie friends - old and new

What a delight to see Partridge Peas in my prairie this week!  Partridge Peas were the first plant to bloom in my prairie last summer - the only one, really, if we forget the one sunflower that bloomed late in the season.  Partridge Peas were the only plant I could, without any doubt, name.

Seeing the fern-like leaves of Partridge Peas this spring is like seeing an old friend after a long absence.  I am excited to renew the acquaintance, eager to learn how things have gone since we last met, keen to see what is new.

Compared to some of the other forbs that  populate the prairie this spring, some standing more than a foot tall, I am surprised the Partridge Pea is so tiny. Apparently, Partridge Peas start anew each year. But, plants - like people - can be surprising. Though it looks delicate, I know the Partridge pea will persist against pervasive crab grass. It will flower throughout the season. It will grow tall and strong in a single season. It will hold its own. Plus, this little plant alone gave me hope last summer, hope that my prairie would take hold, would become something.

It is important to me to be able to call the plants by name. To recognize them for who they are, with their unique attributes. I imagine they like it when I do.  Just like people. It is an honor to be called by name. It shows respect to remember and call others by their names.

As the summer progresses, I trust I'll learn the names of other plants in the prairie (like these plants - what are they?!). And they'll become friends I welcome back year after year.