An Open Letter to The President

Published January 21, 2015 by wanderingthroughnothingness

Dear Mr. President,

My name is Molly Barker.

I am the founder of an organization called Girls on the Run.  You may have heard of it.  I believe your daughters’ school has a team.

I am writing you after having just seen your State of the Union Address.  Regardless of where Americans land on politics, policy and economics, you articulated beautifully the frustrations a large majority of us feel about the highly polarized and dysfunctional gridlock that now paralyzes, not just our government but our lives.

You spoke from the heart.  I believe this to be true.

This fall, I founded a program entitled the Red Boot Coalition.  (www.theredbootcoalition.org)  Our mission is to get beneath the labels, ideologies, anger and fear, by creating safe spaces for people to engage as human beings…to see the humanity of ourselves in the humanity of another.  One hour in length, the meetings are easy to facilitate (there is a very disciplined script utilized at every meeting) and are based on the Eleven Red Boot Steps.  Here is a copy.  http://theredbootcoalition.org/the-eleven-steps-some-background

The content for the Eleven Steps came from insight I gained last summer.  So distressed by what I had seen and experienced with a failed attempt to address the polarization issue by engaging Members of Congress in dialogue about it,  I decided to get to the heart of the matter.   I took the entire month of August and drove from one coast to the other (and back) interviewing hundreds of Americans about “what’s underneath all the vitriol, anger and highly polarized dialogue.”

The results were just as you suggested in your State of the Union Address. We do not know each other anymore.  Face to face encounters have become fewer.  24/7 news stations, our smart phones, technology, decreasing spheres of connectedness…we are a nation of stereotypes, sound bytes, labels and ideologies.  This “us versus them” mentality is, as we have witnessed across the nation (and world) not just a political issue, but one that impacts us at a deep and often painful level.  Whether it’s race, religion, economics, sexuality, gender or politics the “us versus them” mindset is tearing us apart.

And yet…while on my month-long journey I experienced quite the opposite.  I was able to engage with people from all walks of life about these typically volatile topics because we engaged in a way that got beneath the surface…got down to our shared humanity.  We mattered to each other.  The Eleven Red Boot Steps are, in essence, the eleven “rules of engagement” I used in each of these dialogues. Red Boot meetings utilize these same “rules of engagement’ to get to know each other again…to bring down the walls of indifference, anger and demonization and lift us up to what really matters…people.

Red Boot Meetings are now being held in several communities across the nation.  People from all walks of life are gathering together “to matter” to one another.  I am humbled by the response and even more humbled by the willingness of people, within those rooms, to share their true selves with one another.

The ripple effect from these meetings is only now beginning, but it is beginning.  Attendees walk away with a new understanding of those who are different or who have opposing views.  Once you engage at this deep human level, it becomes virtually impossible to demonize or minimize the “other.”

Based on the remarks in your State of the Union Address tonight, I believe that you and many others on Capitol Hill, long for a new way to engage.  I believe, because I am living it, that the vision of which you spoke tonight (and that others have called idealistic) is achievable using the Red Boot Program.

I smile as I write this. I can only imagine what I will be labeled in writing this letter to you!  Crazy!  Idealistic! Unrealistically optimistic! And to the cynics and naysayers I shout joyfully and unabashedly, “Yes!  Yes I am!”

And so Mr. President, you and I know the current model of engagement is not working.  I have a tangible, doable, achievable “solution.”  I would be immensely honored and infinitely grateful to sit down over coffee, face to face, and tell you all about it.

Sincerely,

Molly Barker

Near Death

Published January 13, 2015 by wanderingthroughnothingness

Several weeks ago I experienced something that has taken me until now to figure out…to talk about.

Returning from an event in Hartford, CT, I was on board an airplane that experienced depressurization.  What does that mean exactly?

First…the mechanics.  Airplanes are pressurized to accommodate the humans on board.  At extreme altitudes, earth’s air pressure is much lower.  This means that oxygen molecules are further apart.  Each breath in, brings in less oxygen than is necessary to function.  If air pressure remains low for any period of time, humans will pass out.  Airplanes are pressurized so that when the airplane is at high altitudes, the folks on board continue to breath normally and feel no ill effects from the diluted oxygenated air that is outside the plane.

When a plane becomes depressurized, it is not a good thing for the passengers, but really not a good thing for the pilots.  The pilots are, after all, responsible for guiding the airplane.  Should they become unconscious…well…the outcome is obvious, I think.

We had just reached a cruising altitude of 38,000 feet, when my ears began to pop…rapidly and uncomfortably.  Like small jackhammers or repeated pop guns…not like the tell tale one or two pops you experience on board a plane as it rises or lowers, but a repeated kind of pop, pop, pop.  I reached my hand up to “adjust” my ear when the oxygen masks fell from the ceiling.

Quietly…they descended.  As if in slow motion and with little urgency they just dropped.  Not like the dramatic scenes I had seen in countless scary movies when the plane is tilting to and fro and people begin screaming…they just dropped, with a  kind of gentle clicking sound.  I think if they had been able to talk they might have quietly said, “Oh, here I am.”

I looked to the passenger next to me and we did as had been instructed on all those videos that I had never really paid attention to…reached up and placed them on our faces.  She looked at me…her eyes wide above the plastic mask and said, with little fear or panic…”Are we crashing?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

And then the plane began to descend dramatically.  The nose dropped and the plane shook as it headed “south.”  The metal rattled and the items in the overhead shifted with the angle now taken as the plane rapidly headed down. The flight attendants came on for one brief minute and instructed everyone to be sure to put their oxygen mask on.

Now if this sounds awful and scary and you are wondering why I would possibly be sharing any of this with you…well…hang on…because it actually gets kinda beautiful.

I had been using the internet on my cell phone to check messages and so, as the plane rattled and shook I very calmly group Imessaged my kids.  “The plane is experiencing mechanical difficulties.  I don’t know what’s happening, but I do know that I love you both with all of my heart.”

The reality, folks, without being overly dramatic, was…I thought I was falling to my death.

Now grim as this may sound, let me tell you.  After I had settled the “love message” to my kids and been sure to communicate that to them…I settled in for my end.  For several minutes, (truth be told, it could have been three or ten…time lost all meaning) I surrendered to the fact that in moments I would be dead.

And unlike the movies where people are crying, screaming and holding on to one another, there was a peace like none I had ever experienced.  I’m not kidding.  Like NONE I had ever experienced.  I was present in a way that I had never known really.  And to try to give this experience words, simply is impossible.  Just know that when I was facing, what I perceived as my only moments left before death, I knew peace, surrender and contentment in a way like I had never known.  It was magical, mysterious and beautiful.  There were no tears.  No regrets.  Just complete and utter surrender…to It. Peace.  Breath.  Presence.

At 9,000 meters, the pilot let us know that we were going to make an emergency landing in Charlotte.  We could now take our masks off and he briefly explained what had happened and that in fact, the plane had done exactly the right thing in descending dramatically as it had done.  We had to get below 10,000 meters so we could breath….so HE could breathe.  And as odd as this might sound…for one very brief second, I felt sorrow.  Weird, right?

Assimilating this experience back into my life has taken a while.  That night I went to dinner with a friend.  We talked about the trip…little about the incident.   But in hindsight, I remember nothing about our conversation.  I was stumbling through our meal, in a weird kind of suspended state of shock.

For some time after the incident, I had a hard time focusing.  Scattered doesn’t come close to what I was experiencing day in and day out.  I was having a difficult time deciphering what really matters.  I mean, after all, as the plane is going down (my perception of course) all I’ve got is the moment I’m in.  That’s it.

That’s all. This moment.

For a couple of months after the incident, I was dealing with an intense amount of anger and depression.  All the things I’ve ever fought over, argued over, had to have and had to accomplish, simply lost their power…because as I was swirling to my end…I realized I couldn’t take any of that with me.  All I’ve got is this…whatever this is.

But now…here I am…in a new place.  I am experiencing this new, joyful and faithful kind of surrender to the swirling chaos of this beautiful thing called life.  Whether on an airplane or living until I’m 90, I am swirling to my death.  This is not to sound pessimistic, morbid or dramatic.  It’s simply the truth.  We are all falling or rising to our eventual end.  I think now that I’ve seen it, come to peace with it and understand that there is really nothing to fear (even  the process of it) has made each day something to behold…each minute actually.  This is it.  This is all I’ve got.  All the things that mattered have simply moved into grayscale, the background, the backseat.

And so…I think I will bring love to each moment and be at peace with what each moment brings to me…because that’s all I’ve got.  It’s really pretty simple.

 

the feather

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Own Hypocrisy

Published December 21, 2014 by wanderingthroughnothingness

This will be short and sweet.  I am often intolerant of intolerant people.  I often judge judgmental people.

And this is why the world is in the mess it’s in.

Today I will make the effort to listen for that hypocrisy in my own thinking and question it.

Why is it there?  Why do I have to be right?  What do I gain by thinking like this?

We have to begin somewhere.  I figure starting with me, is as good a place as any.

disturbed

Going Crazy

Published December 19, 2014 by wanderingthroughnothingness

Oh my Gosh…does it feel like the world is just going crazy?  What’s happening?  At some point we have just got to sit back, take a look and say what’s this all about?

I don’t think it’s really all that complicated. The way I see it there are two things at work here:

1.) Ego. Part of being human means struggling with ego. Ego slips in and out of our lives. What fueled my ego when I was young, is not what fuels my ego now. The older I get the more aware I am of my ego. Managing ego requires high levels of self-awareness and internal dialogue. Egos, in order to sustain themselves, need to make themselves feel better than someone else. It’s just how they work. And so…the Ego picks on people. Makes fun of people. Demeans people. Separates people. Egos surround themselves with like-minded egos so they can feel more right…more justified in what they believe. Egos fuel themselves by “othering” people. Ego is fired up by other egos. Egos enjoy when other egos want to duel. Egos like to fight. Egos need to be right. Egos use comparison as a means to fulfillment. Being better than, richer than, more powerful than, stronger than, prettier than, more religious than, more educated than, more than matters to the ego. Inevitably, Unbridled ego hurts people.  Even kills them.

2.) The virtual world is really screwing us up. We don’t know how to engage with each other anymore. Small talk, a hi, how’s the weather, what’s up, how’s your day…these simple acts of “I see you” while standing in line at the convenience store have been replaced by engaging with our smartphones. News is no longer real. It’s entertainment. Entertainment is no longer entertainment, its reality shows. World leaders are no longer people, they are characters in a movie or comedians on Saturday Night Live. Violence is no longer frightening, it is gaming-fun. We’ve lost sight of what is real and what isn’t. We have forgotten that we exist. We no longer interact, engage, see the essence of a person. We see their persona, their avatar, their celebrity, their box, their facebook post, their instagram photograph, their comment, their car, their ass. We see these things because these are what come across our computer screen. We see these things instead of seeing the person standing next to us in line at the convenience store…the woman crying because her son was killed…the blood of those injured in school shootings, car accidents or war zones…the child dancing with the street performer. And inevitably We hurt people when we do not see them because they do not exist anymore. The image of them is all we see. We cannot touch their tears, their blood, their pain.

I am human. I have an ego. I have a smartphone. I am not perfect…and I do not claim to be.

For many years I struggled with an unbridled ego. (Heck…I’m human. I still struggle with it, but I try to keep tabs on it’s impact on my behavior and thoughts.) I measured my worth to this world through the eyes of my ego…appearance, education, achievements, relationships…there was always one better, one more, one additional thing I needed. No matter how much I tried to satisfy the insatiable ego, I could not. On July 6, 1993, at the age of 32, I hit bottom. It was messy. It was dark. It was scary.

And it changed my life forever.

Three years later, I started Girls on the Run. Girls on the Run was and continues to be, a safe place for girls and the people who love them, to come together; to laugh at ourselves; to be present with each other; to see, listen and love another; to get outside the ego’s need to box in by gender, race, economics or nation. Girls on the Run is a safe space for people to live into something richer, more meaningful, more real than our egos and the separation they create and to connect instead in that real, authentic, physical space. Since founding the program, nearly a million children have experienced the program. Clearly there is a yearning for what the program provides.

In January of 2014, I retired from Girls on the Run. After nine months of listening, researching, collecting data and writing I have founded “The Red Boot Coalition.”

The Red Boot Coalition addresses our unbridled ego, advanced technology use and the unwanted consequences of each, by gathering real, living, human beings together once a week in a variety of locations, to discuss and practice the Eleven Red Boot Steps of engagement. (See below.) The Eleven Steps serve as the framework and the context for our Red Boot Coalition meetings. These steps appeared one morning when a few of us were gathered at a local bagel and coffee shop. These steps have been taught and implemented by many of our world’s most effective and revered leaders. We’ve been practicing these steps for a while now and we can’t say enough about how a new way of seeing has cracked open for us. We are at peace.

We then take the positivity and skillsets we’ve obtained as a result of practicing these steps with each other, into all aspects of our lives; and by doing so create communities where people and leaders engage with respect, joy and compassion.

If you want to break the hold ego and the virtual world have on our culture, please consider joining me. This isn’t funny anymore. I’m not sure it was ever funny. People are getting hurt. The meek shall inherit the earth, but first, we’ve got to be meek in a loud and “it’s time for change” kind of way. Things are getting a little desperate here.

Start a meeting and let’s get to know each other again. If you are interested please visit the website http://www.theredbootcoalition.org.

red boot 11 steps

The Overview Effect

Published December 17, 2014 by wanderingthroughnothingness

This morning in one of our Red Boot Meetings, we were discussing The first Step…”We Matter.”  One of our attendees brought up something many of us had never heard of:  The overview effect.

The Overview Effect is a cognitive shift in awareness reported by some astronauts and cosmonauts during spaceflight, often while viewing the Earth from orbit or from the lunar surface.

It refers to the experience of seeing firsthand the reality of the Earth in space, which is immediately understood to be a tiny, fragile ball of life, “hanging in the void”, shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere.

From space, astronauts claim.national boundaries vanish, the conflicts that divide people become less important, and the need to create a planetary society with the united will to protect this “pale blue dot” becomes both obvious and imperative.

Pretty cool stuff.

earth

It’s Really Not That Complicated

Published December 17, 2014 by wanderingthroughnothingness

Many of you who find yourselves HERE…as in at http://www.mollybarker.com got here because of your connection to or interest in Girls on the Run. I started that organization nearly 19 years ago! WOW. To many of the girls in our program, 1996 was back “when the dinosaurs roamed.” As a matter of fact, many of the girls are surprised to learn that the founder (inventor in their words) of Girls on the Run is still alive!

Well…I’m here to report that I am still very much alive and thrilled to be working on a new initiative called “The Red Boot Coalition.”

Every once in a while, I will be reposting something I (or others) may have posted on the http://www.theredbootcoalition.org website OR on our Red Boot Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/RedBootCoalition?ref=hl

How I ended up with the Red Boot Coalition is a very twisty-turning kind of journey. My original interest was in “figuring out” a way we could address the hyperpolarized state of American Politics. I couldn’t understand why leaders would be encouraging, creating and sustaining a “conquer and divide” kind of climate in our “United” states…a climate that was, in my opinion, the complete opposite of what leadership is about.

What I discovered after nearly a year of research, was what has become obvious now more than ever…the “conquer and divide”, “us versus them” isn’t just in American politics, but exists within and is supported by many of our largest systems. The demonizing of “the other” exist in all facets of not just American culture, but in communities across the globe.

Today, I posted what follows, on our  Red Boot Webpage and Red Boot Facebook page and thought I would repost here…I think it sums up pretty well…the Red Boot perspective and the deep down raison d’etre of the organization. Heck I think it pretty much sums up MY perspective and the deep down reason I am here. :)

“Fear. It’s pretty much everywhere. Anger and Blame. Us versus Them. Conquer and Divide. They are not like us. They need to be different. They are evil.

They. Them. THOSE people.

Just reading and saying those words feels scary. The world feels like it’s toppling over, violent, spinning out of control.

Well, there is a group of us…who think we can do something about that. We are you. We are bankers, housekeepers, truck drivers, politicians, teenagers, black, white , Latina, Asian, African, American, Canadian, Russian, Ukrainian, Syrian, men, women, rich, poor, gay, straight, married, single, welfare recipients and CEO’s. We are Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Atheists, Agnostics, Teachers, Union Members, government administrators, children, pastors, rabbis, convenience store workers, pharmaceutical sales associates, hospitality staff, Las Vegas gamblers and parents. We are Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Libertarians, pro-lifers, pro-choicers, elected leaders and those running for office. Whatever way, shape, form, name exists…we are us.

We are Red Booters.

We live our lives with curiosity, open-minds, humility and courage. We see differences with a kind of child-like curiosity rather than a fearful “they aren’t like us.” We aren’t afraid to look fear in the face and in our courageous, loving kind of wide-eyes and curious ways say…”Tell me more. I want to understand.”

Jesus, Gandhi, Mandela, King, Jefferson, and all of our greatest leaders spoke eloquently of and lived fully into the power of love…and by doing so literally changed the course of human events.

This is really what the Red Boot Coalition is about…to fearlessly and with humility, apply loves’ power in all that we do.

It’s really not that complicated.”

village

I’m Back!

Published December 16, 2014 by wanderingthroughnothingness

In 1996 I started an organization called Girls on the Run. The program was originally designed to address the Girl Box…an imaginary place many girls go around middle school. The messages of the girl box vary, but the overarching theme comes from a cultural belief that girls and women must conform to a set of stereotypes in order to be “good enough.”

Delivered to just 13 girls in its first year, Girls on the Run was and continues to be deeply rooted in the belief that human interaction is the key to transformation. This year the program will directly serve nearly 180,000 girls! This direct contact is not through social media, newsletters, or webcasts…but actually through living, breathing human beings who talk to, run with and experience each other in the safe physical and emotional space created by the Girls on the Run curriculum and the amazing volunteers who deliver it.

I have personally seen, lived and come to know the power and transformation that comes from this deep and soulful human connection.

I’m currently working on a new project (www.theredbootcoalition.org) that brings that same kind of real-life human connection and safe dialogue to communities …the goal being to explore and break free from many of our culture’s other polarizing boxes…politics, race, religion and economics…so that we can all live fully into our greatest human potential.

The Red Boot Coalition is made up of courageous, joyful and heart-driven people who yearn for a richer and more compassionate approach in how we engage as a nation. Red Booters are action takers. We gather together, in person, once a week in a variety of locations to discuss and practice the Eleven Red Boot Steps. We then carry the positivity and skillsets we’ve obtained as a result of practicing these steps with each other, into all aspects of our lives; and by doing so create communities where real people and real leaders engage with respect, joy and compassion.

Ironically, since working on this project over the last couple of years, I find that I have been pulled more and more deeply into the social media frenzy.   Every morning, I wake up and before my feet have hit the floor, I’m checking to see what’s going on with my latest post, what’s trending in the world and how any of this might relate to the work that I do.

I’ve also noticed an increasing sense of both anxiety and helplessness. I am a feeler, an empath, someone who is highly sensitized to my surroundings. All the tweets, posts, breaking news stories and celebrity gossip mags –particularly those that fuel fear, mean-spiritedness, violence and a kind of hurry-up-we-better-do-something-or-else urgency– that slam into my life during what feels like every waking moment have me feeling strapped onto an emotional roller coaster that has become harder and harder to stomach.

I’m not sure I know what’s real and what isn’t anymore. Facts, opinions, stories, news and entertainment seem to be streaming together in a kind of sordid reality show that has me no longer living my life, but rather unsuccessfully and painfully trying to engage in a chaotic world that is very much outside of my control.

And so it is with a sense of relief, absolute certainty and an overwhelming abundance of joy that I’ve made a decision to put all my energy into what I believe the world desperately needs right now…human connection…face to face…real people talking with real people…listening to each other…finding that shared moment that can only come when we look each other in the eye.

So… I’ve decided to go dark, for a time anyway, on my Facebook and Twitter accounts and move my energies back to what I do best.  Writing and Connecting.  . I just know that the amount of time and energy I am currently putting into interacting with my computer screen, as well as managing the anxiety, frustration and sense of urgency associated with it, will better serve THIS woman and the world I want to live in, by getting out, reaching out and actually living in it.

My daughter wrote a paper yesterday that really hit me and is one of several factors that has brought me to this decision.

She writes, “How different would our world be if we lessened our reliance on Google and social media and instead read books, lived life and talked to people. How ironic that we know more but no longer know each other? How much bigger would our lives be if we joyfully and curiously exposed ourselves to a variety of people, places and perspectives? What might happen if we formulated opinions based on our own life experiences instead of cruising briefly on the internet for an opinion to validate the one we already have? Instead of relying on someone else to write our stories and perspectives, we should write them live them, BE them!

I’ll be silent from my Facebook pages and twitter account starting Friday, for an undisclosed period of time.

I would, however, really like a continued dialogue with you but one that is more intentional and directed so please feel free to email me anytime at mollybarker1960@gmail.com.

I mean it. Email me anytime. I want to know your joy, your fears, your hopes. Maybe we’ll even share a cup of coffee sometime. I might rather like that.

I will also be writing more in depth wanderings and telling more stories over here. I will continue to keep the http://www.theredbootcoalition.org website and Red Boot Coalition Facebook page up to date.

So Ciao ya’ll. I’m going in…or out…depending on how you look at it. Can’t wait to find each other HERE again.

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