Doma’s First Month in the USA

This was a fun and busy month introducing Doma to life and friends in coastal Maine and helping her prepare for Hampshire College.  Our world and ways here are so different from life in Nepal.  I am not surprised but I am greatly impressed by how calmly and happily she adjusted.  In this post I’ll try to give a sense of what we’ve been doing (you can click on the photos to see more clearly).  At the end are descriptions of  her first semester classes.

The ocean was quite a surprise   2014-07-29 07.00.04

but Doma soon grew accustomed to the ever-changing tides.  2014-07-29 07.00.34

“There is so much jungle,” she said,  2014-07-29 10.15.44

and everything is so clean!”  2014-07-29 10.48.52

Some foods were familiar, like these cakes.  2014-07-29 13.06.46

but lobsters that “look like a scorpion” were not.   2014-07-27 19.26.02

I was ill-prepared for shopping but blessed by friends like Kris  2014-07-31 12.06.25

who provided guidance about both fashion and food.  2014-07-31 13.21.09

Getting the rest of her inoculations was no fun 2014-08-01 14.27.23

but life improved greatly once she got a laptop 2014-07-30 18.51.19

She enjoyed meeting our neighbors, other friends 2014-08-02 15.07.21

and Patty’s delightful dog, Maya. 2014-08-02 15.30.54

Later, Doma renewed her Buddhist vow to live a good life 2014-08-10 12.44.49

and my teacher, Phakchok Rinpoche, led us in happiness 2014-08-15 18.01.05-2

then I took selfies while she checked in to her room at Hampshire College. 2014-08-23 16.51.31

Hampshire is a traditional Liberal Arts college in that students must take a wide variety of classes in their first couple of years but different in that study and reflection lead to action, to projects.  Doma’s classes in her first semester are:

How Things Work: How things work is a first-year Physics course, using easier mathematics (algebra through pre-calculus) to study the full range of its topics. It introduces students to college physics, projects, and science through study of ordinary objects. Principles flow from everyday applications in mechanics, electricity & magnetism, electronics and optics. We steadily build an individualized project, learning stages of research and write-up that are needed for any intellectual investigation. This course covers the five elements of a complete Natural Science experience, including quantitative and verbal skills, the methods of scientific inquiry, and the importance of social context, all as applied to the topic of each student’s choice, thereby addressing crucial first-year program goals.

Dancing Modern I: This beginning level modern dance technique course will introduce students to “modern” and other dance technique practices. By practicing in-class exercises and phrase-studies, students will refine bodily awareness and articulation, hone spatial and rhythmic clarity, develop facility in perceiving and interpreting movement, and practice moving with our dance musicians’ scores. We’ll also consider what movement principles and priorities underlie the techniques we employ, and compare them to those of other dance styles and cultures. How do these influence the dances that result? Going a step further, we’ll examine the final products of dance practice, the dances themselves; students will learn to read and analyze choreography in performances from a range of dance styles and cultures. Students will be expected to grapple with the studio work with commitment and rigor, view performances live in concert, and think in movement, style, and written word.

Global Poverty: Theories and Practices: Poverty action and alleviation are terms that have been used in relation to how we imagine engaging with the so-called “Third World.” This course seeks to analytically engage with poverty practices utilizing different models and paradigms of poverty alleviation around the world. Furthermore, the investigation of poverty alleviation will be situated within a larger historical context of 20th and 21st century international development. While global poverty action and alleviation has been propagated through state-led International development projects, the course also seeks to examine the role of non-governmental organizations, social movements, private corporations, and philanthropic foundations all aimed at tackling and eradicating poverty. The course also examines the ways in which poverty is concentrated in urban settings. While most of the course content is situated in the “Third World,” case studies on poverty and inequality in the “First World” will be examined as well interrogating normative notions of the “Third World” and “First World.”

Introduction to Social Entrepreneurism: Students explore themselves, talents, motivations and dreams to realize new ways to address social needs and change through enterprise development. Grounded in experiential learning, this class is a balance of theory, hands-on learning, best practices and skills building. Students actively engage in creating a social enterprise. Class includes case studies, guest speakers and a possible field trip. No prior entrepreneurship or business experience is necessary. All students will complete and present an enterprise concept plan.

This week Doma and other international students are being introduced to everything Hampshire.    2014-08-23 17.01.06

She is having fun making new friends but eager for start of classes on September 3rd.


Doma is Here in Maine

What an amazing feeling it was to meet Doma at JFK in New York very late on Thursday!  It’s almost a year since we started her college applications.  Now she is here and International Student Orientation at Hampshire College is less than a month away.

Doma Arrival at JFK - 2

Because of holiday traffic, it took a large part of Friday to drive up to Maine.  We stopped, of course, at the Travelers Restaurant, exit 74 off I-84, for good food and three free books each, and Doma caught up with some lost sleep along the way.

The next day, Saturday, there was a parade to celebrate the 200th birthday of Phippsburg where we have our summer cottage and Felicity’s art gallery.  A kindly Mainer offered us her pickup tailgate.


I could not have organized a better introduction to small town America.



Since then we’ve been shopping, something I never imagined I would enjoy…  Our latest purchase was an iPhone, without which college life would not be possible.

Oh, and we’ve been enjoying the excellent food at Shere Punjab restaurant here in downtown Brunswick, Maine whose friendly owners come from Kathmandu.  More news after more  shopping.

By admin Posted in Doma

Let Us Now Complete What We Must Do

Doma has completed  the last thing she must do to study at Hampshire College. 

Getting her student visa was the last hurdle before the next stage of the amazing journey she and her mom have worked for so long and so hard.

Because life in Nepal is very hard, Nepali students must convince our consular staff that they have a specific and worthwhile reason to come here instead of continuing their education in Nepal, and that they have a specific, compelling aspiration for which they will return to Nepal after college.  Doma has that strong reason and aspiration. 

Our consular officer questioned Doma, verified those things and with a big smile told her, ” I am more than happy to grant your visa.  Welcome to the USA!”

Doma can now travel here anytime after July 23rd, thirty days before she starts at Hampshire College.  Her accomplishment, so extraordinary for a young woman from a low-caste poor background, is being celebrated at this moment by150 friends, family and neighbors.

Let us now complete what we must do.

Maybe my previous post made it sound like a done deal, that there’s no need for more donations?  Doma will get those donations, I am committed to that, but I need YOU to make them!

Doma needs only ten more donations of the average size given so far, or just a few more $100 donations from around double that number.

Please don’t wait for someone else.  Please don’t wait until you have a spare moment.  Be the first to take out your credit card and click here right now.  It will take you and just a few others only one minute to enable Doma to transform her entire life.

How Successful Ventures Start

Doma now has almost 90% of the support for her college education!  Did you doubt if I could build $100,000 of funding for Doma?  Did you decide to wait before participating?  There is no longer any need for caution.

This venture is succeeding.  Blessed to have learned from many successes and some failures along the way, I know how ventures succeed.

The iconic hero when I was in school in England was Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott.  The team he led to the South Pole in 1912 found Amundsen had got there first.  Scott and his team all died on the way back.  I recognized Scott’s courage but considered him a dangerous role model.  His weak planning led to such disastrous failure.

That’s why I got interested in how successful ventures start, and when and how to plan.

First, intuition must be fed all the information that could be relevant.   There’s no fixed schedule for this stage — we see the first step to take quite suddenly one day and are confident it’s right.

The next steps are guided by feeding intuition results.  There’s no fixed schedule for this stage either.  Only after enough results have accumulated do we recognize intuition’s plan, which it kept refining based on those results.  That’s when we begin the structured activity we think of as planning.

Establishing support for Doma’s college education has followed this time-honored trajectory.  Perhaps it will seem surprising that only this week have I understood what my intuition was up to.

Intuition’s starting point in this case was Hampshire College’s anticipated “family contribution” of around $100,000 over four years.  Since Doma’s mother can provide none of that and Felicity and I can provide only a about a quarter, it meant I must establish over $75,000 of support from others.

The first question intuition addressed was, what if you and Felicity cannot make that $6,000 contribution in future years?  It decided I must deposit $24,000 in the bank now to cover all four years’ contributions.

It then considered how best to raise the remaining $75,000.  Only the first year’s family contribution, $23,372, need be raised now, it decided, because anyone who contributes for the first year is likely to contribute again in future years when they see what Doma accomplishes.

So the key question was how best to raise $17,372 ($23,372 minus my contribution).  Intuition’s answer was, from as many supporters as possible.  Why?   It mitigates risk.  Some who contribute now may not be able to in future years.  The loss of one or a few contributors would have relatively little impact.

Reflecting on that approach, intuition saw more benefits.  A large pool of financial supporters will include people who can help Doma in ways we cannot yet imagine that will emerge as circumstances change.

The result so far?  Doma has 65 supporters in 50 households (i.e., 15 supporters are couples).  Another 10 or more cannot make a donation now but hope to in future years.  The average donation (excluding mine and Felicity’s) is $259.  Half of all donations by households are $100 or less.

Supporters other than Felicity and me have donated a total of $14,518 so far.  This means only $2,854 more is needed to fund Doma’s first year at Hampshire College.  That is just 11 more supporters at the $259 average, or fewer than 30 who give around $100 each.

Why would these people become Doma’s supporters?  How would they benefit?  For the same reason as those who already gave.

This is not like an annual gift to, say, the local volunteer fire department or a charity whose work for individuals you do not see.  A donation for Doma’s future is financial support that also wishes her great good fortune on her amazing journey.

You will get ongoing written and video updates about Doma’s progress, and she hopes to thank everyone in person for making this extraordinary opportunity possible.

There is no more reason to hesitate before joining the 65 generous souls who are already supporting Doma.

Let’s delight her by completing the funding in the next couple of days!  Click on this link to make a donation via Paypal now.  Thank you!

The Practice of Generosity

Could I do a good enough job asking for donations for Doma’s college education?  I’d never done anything like it before.  I knew she would get some of what she needs because I have such good-hearted friends, but how much?

Doma is amazed that fully four fifths of the total has already been given!  She needs only $5,000 more for her first year at Hampshire College.

But what’s left now is the hard part.

We get so many appeals and we can’t give to them all.  Worse, we’re usually too busy when an appeal arrives to figure out if it’s worthy of support.  Will this appeal really make a difference?

Yes!  Doma, an amazing young low-caste Nepali woman, is transforming her own future.   All she needs from us is 50 more supporters to donate $100.

Most of us could do that very easily.  Five $20 bills don’t buy much any more.  Many of us buy $100 items online without hesitation.

So the fact that Doma still needs those donations means I must do a better job.

Maybe it’s time for crowd-funding, aiming to reach people I don’t know?  Certainly, when Doma is here, she can give traditional Nepali dance performances at fund-raisers.

But how much more powerful for Doma if her education sponsor’s friends support her completely even before they’ve met her.  Let’s raise the rest of what she needs for her first year right now.

I never asked you for anything like this before so you know it’s important even if you don’t have time to read what makes it so.   Is there a $100 meal or some other luxury you could forgo?

If you are blessed in this way, help Doma transform her future by clicking here to donate that $100 now.  It takes only a moment.  Ask your friends to do it, too.

Thank you and bless you!




My Father and Doma’s Education

Doma wrote what she learned from her mother.   I wrote what I learned from mine and what I am learning from Doma.  Now I’ve been reflecting on what I learned from my father.  Why would he have made no contribution for Doma’s college education?

We inherit our parents’ life experiences and the roles they model.  My father was dependable and honest in all his dealings.  Also, he was never violent.  He felt it was as wrong to kill Germans he didn’t know as it would have been to kill his wife.  Like his own father who was jailed for three years for refusing to participate in the madness of WW1, he was jailed in WW2.

I’m not certain what my father believed was the right response to Hitler’s actions.  What he knew was that in the years before WW2 he had made a solemn vow that he would not participate in any war, and he was unshakeable when he made a commitment.  Because of that, I try very hard to think through all the implications before I make one.

Hard work was another example my father set, a lesson I learned too well since my mother did the same and neither of them did much that was not work.  Unlike my father, however, my mother did find one form of work that brought her joy.  She cared for babies whose mothers could not keep them.

I’m blessed that my father role-modeled honesty, non-violence, dependability, discipline and hard work.  However — true as it is that our richest source of lessons is our own mistakes, we can also learn much from our parents’.  How they lived formed us, so by understanding their mistakes, we can see what to change in our own behavior.  What can I learn from my father’s mistakes?

Perhaps I’ll write more another time.  Enough for now is that his mother died before his first birthday.  He lived with his grandparents until his father remarried when he was eight.  They moved that same year from England to Ohio and met a man who had bought a citrus farm in extreme SW Texas.  When my grandfather went to manage it there were no citrus trees, only brush.  He built a shack, cleared the brush and planted vegetables.  This was a happy time for my father but his step-mother could not abide the heat, so after three years they returned to Ohio.  Going to a “real” school was another happy experience but then my grandfather lost his job in the Great Depression and returned to England.  My father stayed to finish High School.

The “citrus farm” owner offered to fund my father’s college education but my grandfather refused and sent him a ticket back to England.  My father considered that rejection a matter of principal but all his life my grandfather resented his own father’s refusal to keep him in school after he turned 13.  A US education had no value in England.  My father found a job dredging waterways — secure, worthwhile and very low paid.  Years later, my mother found him a better paid job selling insurance door to door.  Believing insurance is a good thing, he sold it with conviction and worked longer and longer hours collecting payments on more and more insurance that he sold so people could have less to fear from life’s insecurities.

Perhaps because he worked too hard, he grew increasingly depressed about the upheavals he considered life had inflicted upon him, beginning with his mother’s death before he even knew her.    He continued dutifully selling insurance long after my mother died, afraid to stop because that would change his life yet again.  He was hoping for it years before death came to him at last when he was 90.

If we look deep enough inside ourselves, we can see our parents more clearly as childhood recedes.  My unquestioning admiration for my father became muddied with anger as I grew increasingly frustrated by his passivity.  There is a profound difference between passivity and acceptance.  What we commonly term acceptance implies that we must just endure suffering that comes our way.  That was my father’s understanding.  He felt his number one job was to endure.  Buddhism, however, teaches joyful acceptance, how to recognize that this moment is the only one when we actually are alive, and that this is a moment where anything at all is possible.

We cannot control the winds and seas that our ship encounters.  We can, however, learn skills to captain our ship.  And the greatest lesson is that we alone are captain of our ship.  Then we must learn to respond to that not with fear but with relish for the amazing possibilities.  It is so sad that my father did not look inside where he could have seen that truth.

It would not have occurred to my father to make a donation for Doma’s education because he was so preoccupied with his own suffering.  He simply did not notice charitable appeals.  He was committed to his own family’s support and did not feel selfish, but he was in fact self-absorbed.

What I learned from my father’s fundamental mistake is even more important than what I learned from his virtues.  One reason I help Doma, who I have no obligation to help but who is in a position where I can is, I have slowly come to recognize, to dissolve my own selfishness.

I hope my other posts show why it is so worthwhile to support Doma’s college education.  Many of you already have helped.  Some of us are not able to, but most of us really could.  If you can help but have not yet, please click this Paypal Donate button to make a contribution now.  Thank you!

Fireworks, Doma and Impartial Love

I began journaling when I was traveling extensively on business.  I’d see something and sense the potential for insight that would come, if at all, only after I had time to reflect.  That’s when I began making notes as breadcrumb trails to explore later.

Blogging turns out to be better.  It motivates me to try harder to uncover what I can’t see.  Also, I get help.  Some comments start me on long journeys.

Harold, for example, commented on my post several months ago:  “Buddhism is epitomized by how I treat a grandchild, with a great deal of caring and kindness.   Now for some reason as people grow older we stop treating them like we would treat our young grandchildren.”

The first note I made was:  “Caring and kindness seem to be the expression of our fundamental nature.  It manifests without impediment with young children but is obscured with adults by caution.  They are not so vulnerable and could be a threat.  It is more completely obscured with old people by fear.  They are all too obviously close to what we fear most, death.”

Then came this tangential thought:  “Like many teenagers I sought a purpose for my life.  My mental model was trading.  I imagined having an amount of time I could invest for a return and that I must decide what return I wanted and how much to invest.  Maybe this is why I went into business despite an instinct that it would not by itself offer a sufficient return.”

Presumably I added the next note because the discussion started from Buddhism:  “It is easier to see now the only certainty, a time will come when we can no longer enjoy whatever return we assemble because we will die.  We may not even live long enough to assemble any return.”

But next came a segue I couldn’t account for:  “Every October my mom would buy a few fireworks.  Then she would buy a few more.  We never had much money and my dad felt they were a waste.  That’s why my mom only bought a few.  But she loved fireworks.  That’s why she bought a few more.  Then a few more.  On Guy Fawkes night my dad worried the fireworks would set something on fire.  My mom and I enjoyed them.  My dad was relieved when they were over with no accidents.”

Those memories are happy, mostly, and they led me to search for a video of fireworks.   The unhappy aspect is my father’s worry and that his most positive feeling was relief when it was over.

Presumably, that’s what reminded me of something else:  “My mom also enjoyed putting empty toothpaste tubes in the kitchen coal stove where the air trapped inside them expanded until, after a suspenseful wait, there was a loud explosion.  My dad really hated that.”

This morning when I meandered along this breadcrumb trail once again it struck me at last how toothpaste and firework explosions relate to Buddhism.

Rainbows are used in Buddhist teaching as an example of something that is real in quite a different way from what we see.  Rainbows look almost solid.  That’s because we think things are solid even when we know they are not.  We know if we go toward the end of the rainbow looking for a pot of gold, it will keep moving away but nevertheless, the rainbow seems real.  The way we interpret it is deluded.

Our experience of the light display from fireworks is different.  The rainbow persists long enough to appear solid; the display from the firework changes fast so we don’t tell ourselves a story about its nature.   We see a firework as an experience, not a thing.

An exploding toothpaste tube is different again, long anticipation, then, with no way to know when it will occur, an instantaneous blast.  Surprise!  The whack of a stick by a Zen Buddhist master might startle me into seeing past my fog of concepts.  The recollected toothpaste blast just revealed the fundamental difference between my mother and father — one loved and the other hated surprises.

How does any of this relate to Doma?

At school in England in that time of fireworks we got religious instruction, stories from the Bible that seemed to have no relevance to our situation two thousand years later in a very different world.  Jesus’ Great Commandment to “love thy neighbor as thyself” did penetrate my indifference, though.  In fact, it felt to be the most important principal of all for a good life.  But it puzzled me.  Some of my schoolmates were very cruel, always pouncing on anyone vulnerable.  Should I love them?   And while I had a couple of close friends, it  did not seem worthwhile even talking with most of the boys.

Harold’s comment about Buddhism got me thinking about my practice of prayer to “train in impartial love and compassion.”  I now see what I didn’t see when I was in school, that our actions, good, bad and neutral, are one thing and our fundamental nature is another.  Our impartial love and compassion is obscured by misconceptions and habits that we can train ourselves to discard.

The first love we experience, love for our mother, arises because she nurtures us; it feels good but its root is selfish.  Love for our children is also programmed but is less selfish.  I have no experience as a grandparent but I don’t doubt that it does, as Harold says, tend to manifest more selflessly.  We expect to feel it, so it is programmed, but we feel less need to discipline young grandchildren so we less often trigger their selfishness.  Love for grandchildren comes with fewer expectations.

How this relates to Doma is that my experience as her sponsor was not programmed and it did not accumulate expectations.  We live far apart and she was eleven when we met.  Our interactions developed slowly and grew closer only as she became a young adult.  The feeling I have as a result of that happenstance is something I’d have to call love but it’s a different kind from any other experience I would give the same name.

The feeling that has emerged from my interactions with Doma gives me a sense of how impartial love may feel even though I cannot call what I feel now impartial.  I only help Doma because I judge her to be worthy of help.  I do now have a sense of how it would feel, though, if, instead of first making a judgment about people’s relative worthiness, I had the same powerful desire to help everyone.

What about impartial compassion?  Children love but do not feel compassion for their mother.  They lack any sense that their mother might suffer.  Parents experience compassion for their children — when they’re not feeling impatient, infuriated, disappointed or proud.  But how does impartial compassion feel?  My experience with Doma is instructive here, too.  The way it evolved helps me recognize what she’s feeling without also feeling it myself.

And how does impartial compassion relate to fireworks?  Because Doma is alert, enthusiastic and curious, she will definitely create surprises.  Mostly they will, like fireworks, be happy-making because she has good sense, but surely not all her decisions will be right.   I will need the joyful anticipation of surprises I learned from my mother to maintain impartial compassion no matter what.

Wandering from Harold’s comment about love for grandchildren via my remembrance of fireworks and exploding toothpaste tubes to my experience helping Doma has at last shown me how and why it’s so valuable to train in impartial love and compassion — because I’m not swamped by sharing Doma’s emotions when circumstances spark them, I can more clearly see how to help.

I must continue training in impartiality.  Meantime, please join me in helping Doma’s inspiring journey by clicking the Paypal Donate button to contribute to her education.  Thank you!

A Good Education For All

We like the words of conservatives — they focus on what’s good.  Progressives make us angry because when advocating change, they tell us what’s bad.  Many compound the problem with their tone — they feel, deep down, that what’s wrong never will be fully righted.  Robert Reich is an exception:

“This Saturday, May 17, marks the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling overcoming “separate but equal” school segregation that the Court had approved in 1896.  The Brown decision helped fuel the civil rights movement, but it failed to have a lasting effect on school segregation.  America’s schools today are almost as segregated as were southern schools before Brown.  That’s because the neighborhoods where most black and Latino children now live and attend school are nearly all black and Latino.

We’re segregating geographically by income and race, more dramatically than at any time in the nation’s history.  Entire cities are now mostly poor and black or Latino, even though bordered by cities or counties that are largely middle class and white (consider Detroit and its neighbor, Oakland County, Michigan).  But as was the case in the 1950s, separate is not equal.  In order to integrate our schools we need to integrate our cities and communities.  Housing policy is critical to education.”

In fact, it’s hard to see how the problem Reich describes can be overcome under our Constitution, and the problem is broader than he describes.  His solution falls short but it is a good basis for discussion because his principal focus always is on a better future.

Our schools are indeed segregated by race but the deeper segregation in our society is by wealth.  Schools in poor and affluent white communities look similar because both sets of kids are white.  The quality of education, however, is very different.  That means so also are the outcomes.

Because almost half the funding for US public schools depends on local taxes, there are inevitable large differences in education between wealthy and impoverished communities.  The difference compounds over time because better educated children become higher income adults who choose to live where high property taxes fund good schools for their own children.

Looked at the other way, communities where student poverty is rare have well-funded schools, those where student poverty is rampant get much less funding.

Ours is the only first world nation that funds education based on local wealth.  Other nations equalize funding or provide more for students in need.  Dutch schools, for example, are funded based on the number of pupils and get almost twice as much funding per minority child and 1.25 times as much per low-income child as per middle-class child.  In the US, we do the opposite.  Schools for our lower-income and minority students typically receive less funds than those for middle-class white kids.

When our government structure was established by Constitution in the 18th century, most schools were financed by voluntary contributions.  By the end of the 19th century most schools were funded with local property taxes.  That was OK because people in most communities then had similar standards of living.  But urbanization in the 20th century created ever-growing differences between affluent suburbs and poor inner cities.  Parents in affluent communities could pay for better schools.

Does that differential funding make a difference?  US schools with high funding and few impoverished students got achievement scores comparable to those of Hong Kong, Japan, and other top-scoring countries in a 2001 study by the International Association for the Advancement of Educational Achievement.  US schools with the lowest funding and many poor students got achievement scores similar to the worst-scoring nations, Turkey, Jordan, and Iran.

This severe inequality is not likely to change soon.  Most parents in affluent communities do not want to pay higher taxes to improve education in poorer communities.  They certainly do not want funding to be taken away from their local schools.  And in its 1973 San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez ruling, the US Supreme Court found that our Constitution does not require equal funding among school districts.  Today’s Court would rule the same way.  That decision foreclosed federal remedies for inequitable school funding.

Nevertheless, as pragmatist philosopher and educator John Dewey’s wrote more than a century ago: “What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must be what the community wants for all its children.”

Most people believe better education leads to a better future.  An America where every child and teacher goes to a good school would be better.

I have a dream that we will overcome the obstacles to a better education for all our children.  We will get there faster by ranting less about what’s wrong with our institutions, leaders and neighbors and focusing instead on achieving what is better.



Amazement, Gratitude and Doma’s Funding

Doma is amazed and I am deeply grateful to all who already donated for her college expenses.  When I texted her the results of your generosity in just the three short weeks since I posted A Compelling Story she replied, Your friends are SO generous and made this video.

I’m delighted to tell you that we already have all the funding for Doma’s first semester!  We now need only another $7,820 for her entire first year at Hampshire College.

Two thirds of what Doma needs has been donated — $15,552 of the $23,372 Hampshire College projects as her entire “family contribution” for the first year.  And, commitments for years 2-4 assuming she makes good progress already total $26,850.

I say “only” even though $7,820 is a substantial amount because I am sure more of you will feel comfortable donating now that you know Doma really will be given this opportunity she and her mother worked for so hard.

Here are a few replies I want to highlight:

“I’m tapped out right now with some prior commitments, but would like to contribute all the same.  There’s a feeling of poverty that I carry inside myself, a sense that I never have enough means to offer extra; your letter calls out to that higher self which knows that, in the broader perspective, there is SO much more I could do.  Thank you for offering me this opportunity.  Count me in for $100 annually.  I’ll send the first $50 by July, with the 2nd installment in December. I won’t forget.”  My eyes well up every time I think of these words.

“I thought that perhaps if 10 people like me made small donations, it would all add up.  I also thought about my daughter and how lucky she has been.”  How much or little each of us gives is not important.  The total Doma needs for four years at Hampshire College is large but every dollar donated cuts that total by the same amount, and every gift is equally inspiring.

“I have forwarded the email to some friends who may be able to help or know people who can.”  This is from a Buddhist nun who has no $$$ to give.  Her gift is one we all can give, just as much from the heart as cash.

“I wish I could offer financial support but I am already overextended with all the Afghan students I am helping.”   Appended to all this friend’s emails is:  “Since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special attention to those who, by accidents of time, or place, or circumstance, are brought into closer connection with you. — St. Augustine.”   I agree 100% and do not ask her even to forward my appeal.  Doma is far from the only one who needs and deserves help.  I would urge this friend’s other friends to support her work with Afghan students.

Technical obstacles stopped me from posting this on Mothers’ Day so you could on that occasion salute what Doma’s mother gave, but mothers give so much — we can give in their honor on other days, too!

Join this inspiring journey! Click on the Donate button below to make a one-time or recurring monthly contribution online through Paypal, or mail a check to Bath Savings Institution, PO Box 548, Bath, Maine 04530-0548 for deposit in the Beneficiary Account Doma Ghale 187630. Their ABA for bank-to-bank transfers is 2112 74447. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!


An Unskillful Conversation

Here in Maine the daffodils are up.  There must be more flowers further south where I sat in the spring sun in 1971 designing how a global network of computers would communicate.  The design was good, it worked well for many years, but it was a long job fixing bugs in the engineering.

Communication media are noisy.  We’re used to it with cell phones and in restaurants and such.  We know we won’t always hear what each other says or get their meaning.  Message-sent is not necessarily equal to message-received.  Computer communications work despite that because of error detection and correction protocols.   Human communication uses quizzical expressions, tones of voice, “I’m not sure I understand” and so on.

Difficult as it is to perfect computer communication, human communication is far harder because what we say and hear is distorted by our emotions.

Here’s a conversation I recently had that was prompted by Piketty’s book, Capital, which shows that capital grows faster than the economy in which it is invested.  The book is the subject of much debate at this time because the wealth of those who are already very wealthy is increasing rapidly while the income of everyone else is shrinking.

The implication of Piketty’s research is that owners of capital inevitably get an ever increasing portion of a capitalist economy’s wealth.  In theory, all wealth would end up owned by one individual but in the real world wealth is always redistributed, sometimes as a result of violent revolution, more often in a managed way via a progressive tax system.

A friend asked on Facebook about restoring balance with a wealth tax.  Someone I don’t know responded: “Wealth has always been concentrated in the relatively few wealthy.  But you just can’t take it and redistribute it like pirates taking a ship and dividing the booty.  Some pirates kill the others to get more than their fair share and it starts all over again.”   He went on at length about wasteful Big Government and appeared to be opposed not just to income redistribution, but to taxes in general.

I replied:  “We need some things governments alone can provide.  Governments need revenue.  That means taxes, so one set of questions is about the best tax system.  One element of a better one than we have now is an inheritance tax because those who inherit a lot of money did nothing to earn it — better to tax inheritances and use that to offset some personal income tax.”

His response was:  “One thing many don’t think about when it comes to inheritance tax is all that money was taxed when it was originally made during the deceased individual’s lifetime.  You are taxing it all again.”   He added:  “There’s something else about taxing the rich more than we do presently; they can remove themselves from taxes by moving their wealth or their corporations out of the country.”

I asked:  Why does it matter if inherited money has already been taxed?  Those who inherit the money did nothing to earn it — that’s the big point.” 

And in response to “something else” I wrote:  It’s important to think separately about taxing corporations and individuals.  Corporations are increasingly global entities that can easily relocate aspects of themselves.  They can choose which legal systems the side-effects of their operations will be regulated by, and by which their IP and etc will be protected.  Human people, however, can only be citizens of one nation.  It’s a big step for a wealthy American to give up US citizenship, the only legal way of avoiding US taxes.”

The tone of my reply took the conversation off track.  The response was:  “The real big point is this: Who are YOU to say how anyone else’s money is yours to give away?  There’s no one so generous as someone who is earnestly and self righteously advocating the gifting of someone ELSES money.”

We could have hit “reset” in a face-to-face conversation and gone on to discover what exactly we disagree about but I couldn’t see how to do it on Facebook or any such medium.  I ended up answering the question as phrased, knowing it really wasn’t an answer:  “I’m a citizen of a democracy, which means it is my responsibility to think through and say what policies I believe are best for our society.”

The apology that came for “misusing a figure of speech” gave me the sense that a face-to-face conversation might have led us both to more insight, but I let the conversation fizzle out.

I’ve written and re-written, over and over again, my lessons from this conversation.  First, I convinced myself the problem was the restricted kind of communication inherent in online media.  Eventually, I acknowledged that I was more interested in telling the other fellow what to think than having him show me flaws in what I think.

At last, I recognized the root of the problem.  I let myself feel angry when in his first comment he dismissed Piketty’s research by calling him a fashionable intellectual.  “He’s one of those whose beliefs are impervious to facts,” I said to myself.  That set the tone of my reply. I imagined it to be factual and helpful but that was not the only message I sent.

We can see our logic errors, flaws in our perceptions and what we don’t know by articulating what we think and listening carefully to our words.  That’s what I’ve been working on as I kept rewriting this post.

But it’s quicker if others tell us our errors.  They must listen carefully to be right, of course.  What I just relearned is they only do that if we communicate skilfully, which means not just being clear but also putting ourselves in their shoes.  That’s especially necessary if we imagine their shoes won’t fit.