The language of silence

Sandy Hook, silence, languageWe often look to language to help us make sense of the world.

When something like Sandy Hook happens, language fails us.

There are no words that can express the shock, the grief, the fear, the anger, the sadness that washes over us, for each of us in a different order and at a different frequency.

I invite you–as a fellow human being witnessing and experiencing this tragedy in your own way–to take a little time to simply be silent. I invite you to notice all that you feel, wish for and dream of–for yourself, for your loved ones and for this world–when you allow yourself to stop looking for words to make sense of it all.

In that silence we can all–hopefully and in our own time–reconnect with our belief that it’s possible to make the world a better place. And that it’s up to us to make it so.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi


Dreaming of words

A few weeks ago, I wrote about dreaming in action, about how ‘dream’ is both a noun and a verb. I encouraged us all to live our dreams every day. It was lofty, existential stuff.

This week, I’ve been dreaming about words. That’s right. Words. More precisely, I’ve dreaming about a day when the English language would catch up with the awesomeness that is the work being done every day to make the world a better place.

As readers of this blog know, I’ve long dreamed of a day when we in the non-profit world would define ourselves by what we are versus what we are not. That dream turned into an experiment in crowdsourcing an alternative to the word ‘non-profit. (Non-profit meaning non-progress, after all. Ew!)

But I’m also dreaming about other words. We talk about mission and cause and impact and inspiration and that’s all important. The problem is they’ve all been used so much that they’re losing their meaning. They might, gulp, end up on Big Duck’s Words to Avoid List!

It’s not that they’re bad words. It’s that they’ve become blah. Sort of like ‘innovative technology solution’. (What is that anyway?! As opposed to, what, an un-innovative technology solution?) I’m dreaming of infusing those words with vim and vigor so they get your blood pumping and your heart racing. They need to be resuscitated or replaced.

Am I whining? Yeah, a little bit. I admit it. (And as I say to my kids, “I don’t speak whine.”)

So instead of whining, I’ll redirect my energy toward something more positive and productive–scouring the globe for words that do justice to the work of  all the hard-working people who are making the world a better place.

So tell us: what words do your work justice?


Cause & Mission: Big Diff

You often see ’cause’ and ‘mission’ used interchangeably. Not sure why. They’re quite different.

Here’s what I mean:



Causes can be broad (example: improving public education) or specific (example: music education in elementary schools in East Vancouver). Importantly, multiple organizations share a cause. This makes sense. We’re tackling big problems and it’s going to take lots of people-power to make progress on them. One organization isn’t going to single-handedly improve public education, right?

Mission is about your WHAT/WHO/HOW. This should speak to how you are advancing your cause, whether you’re an individual or an organization.

WHAT do you do?

WHO are you helping?

HOW are you doing it?

Each of these questions need a specific answer that, as a whole, is unique to your organization. And I mean ‘unique’ in the true sense of the word: something of which there is only one.

Share your cause. Own your mission.

Does this make sense? Do you know the difference between your cause and your mission?


The Story of Lance

When you tell your story, or the story of your organization, your believers see themselves as part of it. Honor that because you might just be someone’s story of hope.

Here’s what I mean.

In July 2000, my mum was bald. She had just gone through chemo for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. She now has all her hair and is happy and healthy–thank goodness!

At the time, however, we didn’t know if the chemo would be successful. I was training for a marathon with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team-in-Training. I needed a little hope to keep me going.

And so, when we found ourselves a few kilometres away from the Tour de France that summer, we trekked to see it. I didn’t know the first thing about cycling. That didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to see the peloton. I was going to see what cancer could look like on the other side of chemo. I was going to see hope on a bike. I was going to see Lance Armstrong.

Ever since that fated day, I have been one of Lance’s biggest fans. He is wowerful to watch on a bike and he has created an awareness about cancer that is rivaled only by Komen. His name has become synonymous with cancer, hope and living strong.

Lance’s story of hope became my story of hope. It was a story about being able to not just survive cancer, but to thrive in its wake.  It was a story about coming back from cancer and conquering mountains–both literally and figuratively–on sheer will, hard work and determination.

Then came last night’s 60 Minutes with its allegations and testimonials about doping. This is not the first time Lance has been accused of doping. Not by a long shot. (Skewering Lance has practically become a national sport in France.) The allegations have always been part of the story. As a believer, however, I simply convinced myself that the allegations couldn’t possible be true. There was no room for doping in a story whose power was predicated on its epic nature.

Now it seems undeniable that the story of Lance includes doping, drugs and EPO. It may still be a story of hope, but it is no longer my story of hope.

How Lance handles these latest accusations will determine his legacy because they will be some of the most critical chapters in his story. Lance is a masterful marketer. Can he be an honest storyteller?

With the Greg Mortenson scandal in full swing, Lance would not be alone in the “fallen philanthropic hero” category. What will that do for the cancer community? If he hadn’t done the drugs, would he have won anyway? If he hadn’t won, would he have been able to raise as much awareness and money for the cause? Impossible to know.

What I know is that I probably need to start looking for another story of hope. If you have one, please let me know. You’ll make my day… and probably the day of a lot of folks whose story of hope was the story of Lance.

Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?