On Keeping Up With Friends

shreddin the gnar

Friends don’t let friends shred gnar alone.*

Moments ago, I hung up the phone after a long chat with an old friend. By “hung up”, of course, I mean pressed “End” on my iPhone. I’ve known this friend for years. I’ve traveled overseas with her. We even lived together for a time in Illinois. She was an awesome roommate, if you were wondering.

This long chat has itself been a long time coming. Our last in-person meeting was almost accidental – her vehicle broke down near Denver in early 2011 and we spent most of a day hanging out while it was repaired – and I’d missed other opportunities to see her upon my semi-regular returns to Illinois. A few days ago, though, it occurred to me that, for the entirety of 2012, all 366 days, I hadn’t heard the sound of her voice. That was a stunning realization. It’s one thing to be incapable of sharing a meal with someone very close to you, but it’s another thing entirely to be incapable of picking up the phone and hearing “home” vocalized for you.

We talked about that lack of vocal contact during 2012, and agreed that we were both complicit to varying degrees. But what was behind it? Why was it so hard to check in – even a quick “HOWDY! OK BYE!”

She experienced the same phenomenon with some of her family and friends last year. 2012 was not a perfect year for either of us. There was stress, sure, but it seemed to be the special kind that drives you to bring it up when someone on the other end of a line said, “So, how are things with you?”

The idea that we formulated was that perhaps the lack of contact is an unwillingness to burden others, especially when no unburdening happens on your own end. It’s an anti-catharsis: You hang up the phone and think “Damn, that got really dark. Now I feel bad for having unloaded like that.”

I put on my popular psychology hat and suggested that perhaps it was our compassionate humanist natures that prevented us from making the calls-in-question. “It’s OK. We want to be nice to people so we’ll leave them alone. We’re helping by not hurting!” This prompted some laughter, of course. I don’t think that negation in the case of friendships is healthy or useful.

So we ended our call with a vow to be more connected to family and friends in the coming year. Since I’ve been slow to choose Resolutions for 2013, I think I may have found an easy one. Time to make some calls…

*The caption of this picture doesn’t really suit the reality of the photo’s backstory. It was taken at the end of our second day of skiing at Winter Park. And by “our”, I mean “her”. I’d cracked a few ribs on the first day, so I sat it out. She did shred the gnar alone. My bad. Even though I look pretty boss in this photo, I was in a great deal of pain, which actually makes me even more boss. 


“The Good Side of Social Media”: article from Pubblicita Italia magazine, featuring Tim Brauhn

In case you missed the other posts in the series, I traveled to Italy in June at the behest of the United States Department of State to present a series of lectures about interreligious dialogue, social media, and immigration/integration on the Italian peninsula. It was an incredible tour. The kind fellows at Televisionet.TV even produced a short video (pretty groovy) at one of my stops. I sat down for a quick interview with Andrew Crocioni from Pubblicita Italia magazine. Little did I know, my bearded mug would soon grace the glossy pages of a major Italian publication. Here’s a shot of the spread (only a few pages away from the cover story about Edward Norton):

tim brauhn in pubblicita italia magazine

They even used my crazy beardo pic. Awesome.

I asked Mr. Crocioni for a transcript, which arrived promptly (in Italian), so what follows is the best translation that I could muster. My thanks go out to Andrea and the great crew at Pubblicita Italia for putting this together and making me feel like a really glamorous international star. Read on, friends:


The good side of social [media]

by: Andrea Crocioni

Summary: An interfaith activist and expert on American digital networks, for years Tim Brauhn has been committed to promoting social use of the Internet, convinced that a multiethnic and multicultural society functions only if a dialogue is established between its various components. But can this process really be accelerated thanks to the ‘shortcut’ technology of social media? We talked with him as a guest of the Milan Italo-Moroccan Youth Group.

Blue call-out box: “You have to build a narrative about something shared, a common theme, regardless of the personal past of each person/community.”

Blue call-out box: “Young people can play a crucial role as a bridge between different cultures.”

“Today, social integration also occurs through the intelligent use of technology,” says Tim Brauhn, interfaith activist and expert on American digital networks. He is in Italy as a guest of the Milan Italo-Moroccan Youth Group (CGIM) and the U.S. Embassy in Italy for a number of seminars. A vegetarian, cyclist, big tea drinker, Tim looks like a tireless globetrotter and promoter of the social use of digital networks. He’s an expert in interreligious dialogue and is the Director of Operations for The 1010 Project, a humanitarian agency in Denver, Colorado.

He spoke of recognizing the way that the Catholic minority in the United States was treated (poorly) by the Protestant majority in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Brauhn (himself a Catholic) recognized the discrimination against Muslim communities and other religious minorities in his country, the same ‘ghettoization’ that had happened to his community in the early decades of the last century. It must be remembered, in fact, that some anti-immigrant movements, such as the Know Nothings and the Ku Klux Klan, were also deeply anti-Catholic. Hence his commitment to promoting dialogue and peaceful coexistence between members of different religious faiths. “The most important thing,” says Tim Brauhn, “is to connect people around an idea ‘typical’ of the community, in the broadest sense of the term. You have to build a narrative about something shared, a common theme, regardless of the personal past of each person/community. Also, I think it is import to bring your message to the people wherever they are located, and not vice versa so that both people to come to you.”

According to the American aid worker, therefore, you need to put things on the ‘table’ that can unite, rather than focusing on the differences. “Dialogue can take a variety of forms: questions related to shared values ​​which I mentioned earlier, the cultural elements that are present in the country for a long time, but also on other topical issues that unite us, such as the debt crisis or themes that we know well: environmentalism, road safety … topics on which we all want to have our say, as part of a community. In this context, young people can play a crucial role as a bridge between different cultures.” said Brauhn. In all this technology proves to be not only an amplifier, but an accelerator of the messages. Just think of the Arab Spring that saw the network become the protagonist of the political revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East. Seems more complex, however, to be able to use social networks to build a constructive dialogue between different cultural and religious communities on a daily basis. “We must all become the storyteller,” says Brauhn. “Today we have new tools, just think of how they have changed our lives, like Twitter or Facebook, but behind it all there are always stories. We have news, events, feelings, to communicate with new media, but at the center is the narrative, the real driving force able to mobilize the people.”

From this activist American, then, comes a message of hope for the future, even if behind the incredible flow of information that pass through the web and social networks are hidden also many pitfalls. Online we can move virtually without filters, including hundreds of millions of blogs and multimedia content of all sorts are uploaded constantly. YouTube adds over 60 hours of new video every minute, for instance.

“The social networking tools at our disposal facilitate relations between individuals, but in parallel make it easier to transmit negative messages, racist or xenophobic – precisely – for this to be used with a sense of responsibility. Today it is easy to tell a lie, but sooner or later the lie is bound to be discovered, because the network has its own antibodies. The web is a space where you can verify the information in a few minutes. So I say that there can not be limited to passive users, but please be scrupulous in their search for information and checking them.” But in this process of democratization the benefits are still above the critical issues. “Social media has transformed the way journalists network, for instance.” says Brauhn “We went from monologue to dialogue. So when we come to the digital world it is essential to be honest and tell the truth, the only way to establish oneself and become a credible voice. Those who speak the truth will prevail over those who are purveyors of negative messages and discriminatory attitudes. The important thing is to never let these voices prevail, and to take steps to ensure that they remain ‘strangled’ in the great chorus of integration and civil society.”



My State Department Lectures in Italy: Activism and Change

oraReblogged with permission from IFYC.org

On my recent speaking tour in Italy, I presented six lectures in eight days to NGO representatives, ethnic media journalists, and minority community leaders to discuss best practices for social web tools and movement-building in general. In an earlier post I wrote about some of the big conversations that I had with Italians, but now that I’m removed from the tour by a few weeks, I’ve ferreted out a few more reflections about what I saw and heard.

1. The extensive history/proliferation of civil society organizations (NGOs, regional/city nonprofits, etc.) in the United States is not mirrored in Italy, with the exception of faith-based institutions. The Catholic Church has done that heavy lifting for a while, apparently. American social sector development as of late has revolved around the buzzword “collaboration,” and this movement is gaining traction in Italy, too. Italian nonprofits are finding each other and working together. Organizations promoting dialogue and/or action with the “other” will have to struggle at first, but there is plenty of room to grow.

2. At times during Q&A sessions, my audiences were quite vocally frustrated with the glacial pace of reform in Italy. They described cases of personal and community discrimination. They heaped scorn upon Italian media for its complicity in promoting xenophobia, and wondered why other Italians weren’t interested in having simple dialogue with them. These conversations could just as easily have taken place in America. I felt that frustration, which seems a dominant undercurrent in young people globally. We’ve got all these tools and all of this intelligence and the capacity to network across vast distances to solve huge problems, but we’re held back by old (and generally white) men.

3. The Arab Spring offered a glimpse of these frustrated young people employing social media to organize, share, and connect. Let’s not forget the other examples of the powerful nexus of protest movements, youth, and social media: Russia, Belarus, Moldova, Colombia, England, China, and Occupy. The increase of social web density across the world will have an incredibly powerful impact on how we run future mass information campaigns. This is not only about “flattening” and democratizing media; I think that the real change zone will be bringing people together around issues of common concern. I spoke about this in a web video filmed during my last lecture in Milan. In a place like Egypt, for instance, which has clear minority and majority populations in terms of religion, class, and education, social tools allow people to promote a common cause (in this case, revolution) without having to agree personally on everything else. Digital coalitions, perhaps?

It’s like an analogy of interfaith work: We may not all have the same idea of what happens when we die, but we can certainly work together on the important things before then.

I was stunned at the readiness of the young Italians that I met. They won’t stop agitating for full representation and civil rights. They may have Moroccan or Senegalese or Romanian ancestry, but they are Italian through and through. I especially sensed (and observed firsthand) young Catholics’ eagerness to work with their fellow Italians across faith lines. The country’s de facto gerontocracy, and the frustration that young people feel as a result of it, has brought them together just as much as issues of civil rights. There is change in Italy’s future, and it will come from the second-generation children of immigrants.

My State Department Lectures in Italy: Immigration and Faith Identity in Catholic Italy

duomo milanI have a newfound appreciation for how easy it is to promote and “do” interfaith and social justice work in America. Our lengthy and diverse experience with immigration, our relatively equal access to civic rights, and the penetration and thickness of social networks (online and offline) have created the perfect storm for bringing people together around shared values. This is not the case in Italy, where I am nearing the end of an incredibly busy week of presentations, lectures, and meetings with civic and religious leaders, students, NGO representatives, and a variety of other activists (and proto-activists). Each audience has been vastly different, so I’ve really gotten a 360-degree view of the situation here.

Italy has only had to “deal with” extensive immigration in the past two decades. Sudden waves of immigrants (many from North Africa and the Levant) have made themselves a huge part of the Italian population. By some counts, there are between three and five million immigrants in the country. Many of them are Muslims from various countries. They don’t look like “proper” Italians, and they certainly aren’t filling the churches on Sunday. Italy’s history as a Catholic nation-state is a weight that I feel every time I walk past an impressive cathedral – of which there are many.

My lectures and workshops have centered around a few key issues:

  • Immigrants and their path to citizenship – Italian law doesn’t allow children born here to immigrant parents to gain citizenship-by-birth, and the regular procedures for attaining citizenship are terribly convoluted and difficult, not to mention expensive.
  • Interreligious (or inter-confessionale, as it’s said in Italian) dialogue and understanding. Consider that until recently, most Italians were Catholic. There haven’t been many large-scale attempts at bringing diverse communities together.
  • The use of social networks and the social web to promote and explain the above two points – Facebook, Twitter, and their kin are used more for personal interest here than as professional organizing and publishing tools.

I’ve gotten into some deep conversations with groups here. I’m talking sweeping cultural and political change stuff. This is a place where open discrimination against a population that comprises something north of 10% of GDP is still widely accepted. The immigrants and children of immigrants (2Gs – second generation) that I’ve met with are Italian through and through, if not Catholic. They speak Italian and follow AC Milan. But they can’t vote for those who would represent their communities.

This isn’t to say that Italy is a bad place, or that the government(s) refuses to fix things. The Democratic Party, and perhaps some other regional parties, actively work to engage these issues head-on. Furthermore, Italy is still taking its first steps in the immigration debate. They haven’t had to deal with these issues until now.

For all the problems that immigrants face here, and the irreducibly important issues that my conversations with second generation Italians center around, one thing remains constant: The people who I’ve met are all very optimistic about change in the near future. They are active, educated, and committed to bringing about a new era in the history of Italy. It’s quite exciting to partner with them as we look for useful solutions and novel approaches to these issues. Watch their space.

secret agent man

My State Department Lectures in Italy: Social Networks and Social Narratives In the Digital Era

Update: You can see some photos of me looking terrifying during the talk here, courtesy of Paolo Ricotti of Giornale dei Lavoratori.

I usually finish public presentations with a bit of an endorphin rush and energy for some hours afterward. It would appear that I’ve found a way to extend that feeling: consecutive translation from English to a foreign language.

I’m in Milan in northern Italy traveling as a Speaker and Specialist Grantee on behalf of the United States Department of State’s Bureau of International Information. Whew. I was summoned through my involvement with the Interfaith Youth Core‘s Alumni Speakers Bureau, and sure enough, I’ve already found myself talking quite a bit about interreligious dialogue.

My inaugural presentation on my inaugural day in Italy was held at the headquarters of ACLI (Christian Associations of Italian Workers), a network of organizations committed to work and social development like peacebuilding and entrepreneurship. My handlers from the US Consulate met me and walked me out to a local trattoria for a wonderful lunch. ACLI’s training department head was there, as well as a local imam (the funniest imam in Milan, as he was introduced to me), representatives from Yalla Italia, and some other consular staff. My recommendation: Check out Yalla Italia (with Google Translate installed). They are doing amazing work to publicize and connect the various immigrant communities in Italy. YI and its people totally rock.

I had some wonderful conversations at lunch (so much food) and on the walk to ACLI. As it was told to me, 12.5% of Italy’s GDP comes from businesses run by immigrants. That’s incredible. All the more incredible is Italy’s lack of useful or comprehensive immigration laws. Most immigrants aren’t citizens, which means that they can’t vote, which means that they can’t “elect their own”, which means that their representation stays nonexistent in the Parliament, which means that the immigration laws don’t change. Some of my meetings on this journey will focus on immigration reform and the messaging that goes along with it.

My presentation at ACLI was well-attended, with a wildly diverse audience: NGO folk, independent journalists, young and old people, and civic leaders. I talked a lot about storytelling and social narrative, pausing after every few sentences to wait for my amazing translator to catch up with me. The Q&A was twice as long as the presentation, which I view as a win. It felt that they “got it”.

I faced some tough questions, though, many about the frustration that organizations and individuals feel when using social networks and not seeing immediate return on their time investment. The density and penetration of the social tools that I take for granted in the US are different here. I had a blast, and as I mentioned earlier, I found that consecutive translation, aside from giving me a pause to gather my next (brilliant?) thought also extends the “speaker’s rush”  that I feel. Part of my positivity comes from knowing that I’ve also learned a lot in a short period about the ways that the social web organizes people here. I’ll apply those learnings at my next meeting.

I leave in the morning for Rome and a non-stop schedule that will take me from there to Florence then back to Milan. Hopefully I will be able to check in like this after each meeting. Until then, ciao!

RIP Adam Yauch (MCA) – A public death

mca adam yauch
(Getty Images / Bryan Bedder)

Sendin’ out love to all corners of the land…


Adam Yauch, known by his rap moniker MCA, has died. MCA was one of the three Jewish kids from New York who changed the face of music (and often, their own music) forever. I haven’t had any experiences with public deaths that caused a soulful reaction in me until today.

I was conversing with one of my interns when I saw the tweet: “RIP MCA” I didn’t have to guess at who or what “MCA” was – my mind connected his protracted illness to his current age and figured that it was Adam Yauch. Sharp intake of breath, both hands to my mouth, a softly-whispered “Oh no”, that weird wet tickle behind my nose and between my eyes that signals the lacrimal glands to start shedding fluid, a pause. Naturally, my first post-pause action was to retweet the news with a “Speechless…” attached to it – I am human, aren’t I?

My tummy hurt. I thought back to that day in 1995 (probably) when, while wandering through our local Wal-Mart, I picked up “Ill Communication”* and bought it with my mother’s money. I don’t know what attracted me to the disc. The cover art certainly doesn’t say anything about the Beastie Boys, a name that up until that point I had associated only with rap music, about which I knew precious little.

But I popped that Grand Royal-branded green thing into my RCA CD player and grooved out. I had no idea what I was listening to, but I loved it. It was the first album that I purchased.

I’ve bought every album and b-side collection and documentary that the Beastie Boys created. Between awesome lyrics – occasionally sick, occasionally something that was clearly created to rhyme but made no sense – and a solid “in sound from way out”, the Beastie Boys encapsulated what is great about music, namely that it can (and should) change from time to time. Instrumental jams, punk rock, hip-hop, rap, gospel, acapella, chanting, experimental – they did it all.

These were guys that spoke out about urban America, poverty, Tibet, Islamophobia, and other social issues before it was vogue for bands to do so. They didn’t do it to attract attention; they did it because they deeply believed it.

MCA was my favorite B-Boy. Dignified, intelligent, and gruff in a friendly way, his voice was the experience. Mike D and Ad Rock both had high-pitched and rapid rhymes, but MCA hit like a sledgehammer when he grabbed the mic. This day has been great for reminiscing – the tweets with his best lyrics remind me of why I liked him in the first place. As an interfaith activist, I’ve also found solace in his embrace of Tibetan Buddhism. It informed his rhymes, his medicine, and his activism.

Adam Yauch was a humanitarian and a peacemaker, a documentarian and a true musician. Like all of the Beastie Boys, he was a person who made wonderful music that cut across all genres. He rhymed as if his life depended on it. But perhaps that last point bears a deeper look. The thing that I loved the most about the Beastie Boys was that for as serious as they could make their music, they were never a serious phenomenon to themselves. They took the piss out of themselves more often than their critics. That took balls and it created longevity and fierce loyalty.

We have lost 33% of what, for me and many others, is one of the most amazing musical experiences that this world has had. It’s not a good feeling. It’s a public death that has finally forced me to understand how the general public reacts to such things. I think of the weeping crowds after Michael Jackson or Whitney Houston or Levon Helm and realize that I’m just like them.

I was on the phone with my fiancee a moment ago. She’s driving to the other side of the state tonight and asked, “What are you up to right now?”

My reply was, “Oh, just writing a blog post about…the Beastie Boys…” *sob* “and MCA and how he’s gone now.” *sniffle* *sob*

I didn’t expect to feel this way, but it’s been a great ride. Thanks for all the memories and rhymin’ and stealin’, MCA. You will be missed.


*Since I bought the CD at Wal-Mart, all of the curse words or “bad things” had been replaced with record scratches of blank space. Not knowing any better, I sang the songs in this fashion until half-way through college a decade later when I heard the unedited versions. Talk about a stunning realization. The music is way better with the curse words. :)

Reverb 2011 – What did you discover?

I found amazing camping spots out and about with Jackie. Really, really cool places.

I discovered an entrepreneur’s spirit in me, and it wasn’t just because of the lifestyle design books that I enjoy. There’s some kind of DARK POWER that guides me through this world now. By “dark”, of course, I mean “light”. America!

I discovered (again) that I really do love Jackie – she is so swell and tiny and cute.

I noticed that all one has to do is be active and make a decision to have life happen at 1000 miles per hour.