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You Don't Have to Reinvent the Wheel, Just Everything Else

A bike can be an instrument change, but we must be the fuel.

Bicycles are a design wonder. They are the most efficient human-powered means of transportation and fill me with joy when I ride. I live in two cities: LA and Amsterdam. There are many differences, but one of the most striking is the mode of transportation. In LA, the percentage of people who bike daily is less than 1 percent. In Amsterdam, over 50 percent of all trips are done by bike.

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Participation, Not Marginalization: Using People's Stories for Social Good

Filmmakers capitalize on the stories of the underprivileged, but the subjects make no profit. A solution: help them to tell their own stories.

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Foster Care Doesn't End at Age 18

I’ve seen the magic that happens when a teen in foster care knows someone believes in her or him.

Each year about 30,000 young people who have been in foster care age out of the system, usually at age 18. While the number of children in foster care overall has declined in the past decade, the number leaving the system without a single safe and caring adult in their lives has skyrocketed. More than half leave foster care without their high school diplomas or GED. More than half experience homelessness in the first year of aging out. Less than 3 percent go on to higher education and of that number only 3 percent graduate with a four-year degree. More than 70 percent of the people in our prisons report having been in either foster care or homeless shelters. Young people who have formerly been in foster care have the highest rate of unemployment in the nation other than people with disabilities. This cycle of despair must be stopped now. We cannot afford to turn our backs on teens who have been through more than most people can imagine and expect them to create a productive, joyful life.

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Turning Awareness into Action

In order to design an effective intervention, involving and understanding the people you’re trying to help is critical.

We know what we should be doing to stay healthy. We should exercise regularly, avoid too much sugar, eat more fruits and vegetables, drink water. We should get a flu shot, a pap smear, enough sleep. We know all these things and more. And yet, awareness of these facts is often not enough to get us to take action.

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How We Can All Be Better Anthropologists

The advantage of being a better anthropologist is that we get better at being social and cultural, and a little more human.

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We are all anthropologists. Strangers in our own increasingly strange land. We are constantly noticing things, looking for patterns, detecting changes, and playing things back.
The advantage of being a better anthropologist is that we get better at being social and cultural, and a little more human. Now we can see where other people are "coming from." Now we can see "where they are going with that."
These metaphors are locational, because being a better anthropologist is about getting up out of what we thinking and relocating ourselves in the way others think. We call this "empathy," but too often this is only feeling someone's pain. What we also want to do is to see how they see the world.
And this is the key to being a better anthropologist: always asking ourselves what would I have to think to think that, what else would I have to believe about myself and the world?
We are inclined to dismiss what other people say and do as the expression of their limitations, irrationality, or essential flaws. These feel good, but it is also a very good way of making ourselves prisoner of our own limitations. Now we can't learn anything new. Because we know it all. The key then, is always struggling to get out of what we know into other worlds.
As I say, do this often and well, and every conversation, interaction, and project gets easier. Oh, and there's that other small advantage: becoming more human.
Further reading on the noticing anthropologist:

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Stories Are the Engine That Drives Culture—and Changes It

Story is the engine that drives culture. That means that changing any aspect of culture requires telling new stories.

Stories are the truths a society believes in: Love conquers all. Honesty is the best policy. The good guys always win. We know these aren't universally true; the real world is much more complicated. But the stories we see and hear influence how we see the world. Story is the engine that drives culture.

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