Listening Slowly

Isn’t this a gorgeous audio clip?  (2 seconds is enough time to know what I mean)

It’s the sound of crickets at normal speed, plus the sound of crickets slowed down to the point that they sound like a choir, and one soprano opera singer accompanying. From what I hear, I conclude that all kinds of otherwise inaudible-to-us pitches entered our range of attention when the speed was diminished, and the ‘silence’ we normally hear between chirrups turns out to be brimming with notes outside our normal range of hearing.


I like to think that our brief utterances of hopes and dreams, needs and wishes are like crickets’ seemingly intermittent, otherwise silent-sounding chirps; perhaps words are the lowest-frequency, farthest-carrying sound that our life-force can make without becoming actions.  One who listens at the right pace can hear and accompany the lovely harmonics between our exclamations, mumbling, and chatter, so that we make more sense together than we do apart.  One who sees at the right pace can observe and join us in our never-ending dance.  


There are ways to develop an eye and an ear for the music between comments, and hear community’s song, hear what beauty we call one another forth with.  I aspire to learn to listen at the speed of Earth, starting with that of a small patch.  This is the mission of everything we do at Neighbors on Purpose.

Dunbar’s Neighborhood

I think it’s great that we can and do depend on, trust, and communicate with people, animals, and things all over the globe every day while we use the Internet,

Internet connectivity as lines

navigate traffic, or explore in nature.  For me, it’s fascinating and important to remember that these connections existed before the Internet did, and continue to do so when I turn off my machines.  It’s fun to enjoy these connections in more and more ways…  And… it can be even more fun to experience them in the ways that have captured the human imagination since time immemorial, such as through conversations in which we think about/’feel out’ our part in this amazing & vast universe.


In my previous post I commented on appropriate trust, and left off on Dunbar’s number.  Here I’d like to ask you what size your Dunbar-honoring neighborhood is.  That is: if you subtracted the number of connections you make in traffic, at work, and in any other necessary (‘survival’) parts of your life — if you subtracted that from 230 (Dunbar’s estimated upper limit for stable relationships with people we ‘know’), how many slots are there in your “Dunbar’s neighborhood?”  How much social real-estate do you have to offer, really?


There’s an additional parameter to keep in mind, too:  How well do your friends, family, and other contacts know each other?  If your answer is ‘not so well,’ you might want to replace 230 with 100, because connections that don’t interconnect (people who don’t also know one another) are harder to upkeep.  If your answer is ‘not at all,’ you might find some scientific basis for what you thought was a weakness: a capacity to keep up with only a handful of connections to a degree that is personally meaningful.


When I formulated that question for myself a few years ago, it became very easy to forgive myself my overwhelm, understand why I am not excited to surf Facebook (too many ‘friends’), and why, as a preschool teacher to just a few students, I was constantly imagining their parents, and wanting them to connect with each other (and with the teachers) more.  Their children/I were a bottle-neck, a hub, a focus of connections… and a weakness in Indra’s net.


Not long after, I asked myself:  Do I want to foster friendships rooted in interest-based communities, brought together by a goal… or shall I focus energy on fostering a personal village for good times and bad times, who are there when I need a hug?  I clearly want interconnected community; people whom I can travel to and support with my whole being without it costing a dime/travel time/our planet sublime.


I choose neighbors.

My capacity will be defined by how well/poorly they are interconnected… but that can grow over time.

I choose neighbors.

“Do You Trust Me?” “With What?”

I had a physics teacher who taught us to always ask “relative to what?” about everything.

  • The sun rises.  “relative to what?”
  • John was late.  “relative to what?”
  • I trust the babysitter.  “relative to what?”


So I ask myself “relative to what?” regarding statements like “I trust you” as well.

Sure, trust is about that classic willingness to share responsibility, and – to me – it’s just as much about accuracy of information.


If I knew you really, really, REALLY well,
I’d trust you with some things more than I can trust others…
and I would just NOT be able to trust you that much with *certain* other things  🙂


It’s okay.  You shouldn’t trust me to juggle.  Or paint your likeness in oil on canvas.  I’d do my best, have fun at it, and try, but we’ll need context to agree on/verify the degree of trust we can warrant having in each other (relative to others) before making serious agreements.  Which brings me to my next point:  I wonder whether knowing each other through multiple long-lasting connections gives us more trust in our own judgment calls.  I think it does.  A last thought on that:


Dunbar’s number is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships.


“stable social relationships”

…relative to what?

These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person.  This number was first proposed by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who found a correlation between primate brain size and average social group size.”

Wikipedia, Dunbar’s number



knows who each person isand then some…

Do we even know who we are… unless we ask ourselves “relative to what?”

Or as the case may be: “relative to whom?”

Is Your Data Public Property?

There are arguments to be made that trusting the world at large is best, and not to let fear dominate us or hamper us in exercising our rights to free speech.  There are counter-arguments that say we must not be foolish and tempt abusers, or forget that some of us are not free to share, will be oppressed or discriminated against based on outdated biases, gossip, stories and police records that shouldn’t matter anymore and things that should be forgiven or forgotten after a period of grace.  Basically, the latter argument states that we are not all free to exercise free speech, due to fear from each other, future employers, or, in some cases, (potential) government(s).  Which is absolutely the case, when ‘we’ is international.


With that question as backdrop, and not arguing one way or the other for or against Big Data, I recommend reading this article regarding the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for her decades of research on the Commons.  The article explains the word ‘Commons’ and the misunderstanding known as ‘the Tragedy of the Commons.’


What technological abilities do you wish you had, that would enable you to offer your data as part of the commons, yet put you in a position to help make the rules?

When All You Have is a Hammer…

“When all you have is a hammer,” the saying goes, “…everything looks like a nail.”


So far, this blog looks like a discombobulated series of advertisements for Agency.  In reality, I must curb my enthusiasm, and focus on the one thing I need Agency to do for me.

What’s that?


Well, for a while, my neighbor-interviewing has been on hold.  I have this fantastic, tiny handful of open-ended questions that, in my experience, result in profound trust-building between myself and each neighbor, and a shared awareness of what treasure troves of meaningful connection-points we each and all are.  I come out of these appointments knowing who I want to connect that neighbor to, why, what they will get out of it…  I even know that no computer would ever make the connections my heart is able to make, and if it could, that it wouldn’t have the sense of timing and feel for appropriateness that you or I do.  After these interviews, I feel physically grateful to be alive, here, now.


But I’m afraid to betray their trust by not being able to connect often enough myself to foster the lost community I see.  I’m afraid that I’m not able to afford the time to connect with enough people to connect each of us to enough others to enthuse us all to keep in touch.  I’m afraid that, if I do a half-good job, I’ll get neighbors connected, but not connected enough to trust each other enough or to save each other enough time, to make my efforts redundant/obsolete.  I’m afraid to have an online community of any kind, because ‘open’ ones spread the energy and attention of the enthused too thin and too far, while closed ones put us in boxes that “the community builder” defines –  be they profile questions or ‘neighborhood’ boundaries.  I’m afraid, also, that any central database with the intimate information I get in interviews would be a vulnerability I’m unable to be sufficiently responsible for.


More than afraid, I’ve been frustrated.  These interviews are magical.  Neighbors say things that, when I immediately repeat back their own sentence, surprise them.  I’m bringing up old dreams.  I’m fostering new relationships.  I’m practicing an old art while asking new questions, pointing out wise ways of being in our world — by reflecting my neighbors’ own words.  I needed a medium in which to neutrally capture and through which to gently remind neighbors of their answers, their desires, their perfectly possible dreams.  I want to remind them of themselves as human resources surrounded by human resources, and support the development of our ideas, one-on-one, and – later – with other neighbors.  I know that a regular check-in from someone who truly cares does wonders, and I’ve been frustrated that I had no support-medium that could make this avocation sustainable.


But more than frustrated, I’m determined.  This process is teachable.  If I can reach a critical mass (I’ve done the math; it would be a part-time/full-time job for 1 year, preferably 2) a critical mass of neighbors will spontaneously interview one another and, of those, a critical mass (minimum estimate 2-5) will be as passionate about this as I am, wanting to do it as a part-time/full-time job for a while…  And I’m determined to – even if I don’t get paid during my pilot years – support my apprentice-colleagues, and their apprentice-colleagues, and theirs, and theirs – at least with healthcare, but, in order to not select for previously-privileged persons, preferably with an income.  That’s right: I’m determined to make Purposeful Neighborliness a temp job.  It might be like taking a vow of poverty (though no less than it takes to stay living where one lives) for 2 years.  It might be best to only allow people to do this for a ‘term’ of 2 years.  But this way at least all of us who want to, can give 2 years of our lives to this without fearing we might have to move, or stop doing our rounds due to self-sacrifice that borders on martyrdom.  Therefore, this profession needs to earn money, or justify funds being donated.


The profession of ‘listener’ needs to validate its existence, show its impact, qualify its practitioners.  Even if NOP becomes a non-profit – even if alumni eventually sponsor the whole thing – to fund growth at the rate I think the practice will, we have to do more than pull heartstrings: no racism-perpetuating images of ‘underserved’ populations being ‘served.’  And I will not grow it ‘strategically’ – grassroots only: no debates with socially-impoverished NIMBY-donors justifying a focus on some neighborhoods over others: this is a systemic healing for a systemic ailment that cannot be blamed on anything or anyone in particular.  This kind of Listening can help us all, but only if it’s done with the heart, voluntarily, by someone who is actually a neighbor… who is not suffering in the process.  THEN it has results – far-reaching results in realms like depression medication consumption, caring enough to compost, and the obvious, like caring for the elderly and making us all safer.  I’m determined to prove this, and earn the funding, versus beg.  Therefore, we need testimonials – lots of them.  We need evidence of the far-reaching results – lots of it.  We need data – lots of it.


I’m not only determined, I’m excited.  Although I see less meaningful, tender, psychologically and physically vulnerable data being harvested (see Big Data) and used, sometimes for our education, sometimes to scare us, sometimes to benefit the already-privileged and widen gaps, or to benefit organizations, but not the individuals whose data it is… Although I see that happening, I am excited to have found a way of storing – and sharing access to – data, that keeps the ownership of the data in the hands of the individual it belongs to, so that the person whose data it is, consciences the choice to share/withhold, and creates the terms and conditions that will benefit humanity, in order to allow anyone access.  Neighbor-wise, it protects those of us with an unreasonable ex, with family members of vulnerable age or capacity, and those of us who don’t usually speak for fear of unwanted attention… without making us 100% anonymous, or irresponsible for our words.


So I see a medium with which to paint our success, fellow neighbor-listeners.  I see a medium that honors the tender privacy in which our and our neighbors’ insights first blossom.  I see a medium with which to document, celebrate, and facilitate OFFLINE successes without making them public/naked.  I see a medium that allows our neighbors to share intimate wishes with us, with others, in the safety of relevant anonymity, yet be personally approachable for support from those with complimentary needs (people we Listeners know and connect them to, but also by others) directly.  All because of the ways that Agency works, making this, and many other unprecedented things, possible.  So it’s only natural I’d be tempted to point out other use cases on my blog.  But I’ll try to curb my wayward enthusiasm – which might actually just be wayward anxiety, nerves that my application has to wait on other, more profitable applications.  That I must dream longer, wait longer, or do something meanwhile, work harder, prove more, to deserve investment that an application solving HIPAA-problems would get in a heartbeat.  Hmm…


I’m in it for the long-run: I’m in it for the Now.  I’m in it for the dream, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s, the dream of the beloved community, all standing strong together, not against an enemy, but through light and darkness nevertheless.  And I’m blogging to help the dream of Agency become reality.  Investors, donors, programmers, designers, journalists… welcome.  The world needs all kinds, and so does Agency.

Local Sustainability Fair features Neighbors On Purpose

What does sustainability have to do with the life-balance of people who live, for example, your block – and the next block over?  That’s the question we asked during Seattle Central Community College’s ‘Sustainability and Earth Week’ April 29 – May 3, 2013, in a workshop called “Planting Our Power – Firmly – in the World We Wish to See.”

Sustainability includes recognizing and promoting the healthy interdependence of neighbors who may or may not feel like a community (yet).  The movement for ‘local living economies’ is one that comes from a place deeper than our pockets.  It’s a set of values – a heartfelt mindset – we can apply in every moment.  I teach a process that engenders a ‘place-based’ mindset, and connects people who would normally not take part in the same ‘interest-based’ groups. Continue reading

My Blog vs. My Heart

Kristian Hammerstad
Kristian Hammerstad

My friends and closest neighbors say “Good to see you!”

and laugh when I insist:  “Good to squeeze you!”

They know.

We really enjoy communicating with the whole body present, and my conscious statement affirms our appreciation of that simple, high-quality interaction made possible by physical presence.

It’s why I started the Neighbors On Purpose project.


Tonight I’m excited to share this short NYTimes article: “Your Phone vs. Your Heart.”  It’s about the effects of seeing people in real life vs. seeing them through a medium, and I value how much useful science comes from asking good questions.  I am very psyched at the idea of meeting this researcher someday (soon?!).  I would really love to dive deep with her – we might have a lot to share. Continue reading

A Day in the Life

…of a Village Nut

After starting to dig a vegetable garden with help from Justin-down-the-street,
I celebrate an afternoon of bumping into neighbors on purpose by telling a friend.
As I step out of the house to bump into Cassandra on purpose, you can feel my joy.


Joy is the new fuel”
~Briana Barrett-Squirrel


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Playing with Feelings III

Commentary on the ‘correctness’ of the Enteleos video
(linked to in my blog post Playing with Feelings I.  (My blog posts can be enjoyed in any order, independently.))

A response to the words “when we change the image, the feeling sensation changes along with it.”


We are not ‘shifting images’ here!  We are allowing ourselves the innocence of play. Playing with our feelings.


Continue reading

Playing with Feelings II

It’s one day later, and I woke up knowing I’d like to replace yesterday’s whole post by saying:

1) Enteleos is a self-empathy practice, taking consciousness as deep as it can go, to free us from patterned behaviors…
2) NVC is a way to do self-empathy (I love Holly Eckert’s tools for that) when there’s no self-perpetuating pattern, just a need to practice self-awareness…
3) NVC is a way to bring empathy more tangibly to relationship (whether patterned – aka needing healing – or relatively dynamic & healthy) that is both practical and clear for others to understand.
4) The No Fault Zone Game is an attractive, entry-level, dogma-free, profoundly effective way to do empathy with others.
5) Enteleos & NVC tools compliment & reinforce each other nicely at a practical level (and probably theoretically, as well, but at this time it’s not clear how, and as long as they interact well, theory is not very important, relatively, is it?)

That’s my summary and I’m sticking to it.