Activism, Equality, Freedom, Human dignity, Justice, Minority Rights, Stories from life, Uncategorized

Beware of GoNGOs!

Today I attended two workshops. The workshops were for NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations working in the ASEAN region to promote Human Rights and good governance.

Unfortunately, along with the NGOs, there were GoNGOs also attending the workshops. A GoNGO is a Government Organized, Non-Governmental Organization. Sounds like a paradox doesn’t it? But they do exist! A government that has a poor record in the area of Human Rights sometimes creates an NGO, or infiltrates, an existing one in order to gain access to information about real them and their activities. They look like NGOs and, to some extent, talk like NGOs, but inside they are deceivers intent on harming those working for good. For example, the GoNGOs I met today took close up pictures and videos of participants from the countries where the NGOs work and operate. One even went so far as to take a picture of the registration from with names and email addresses of the participants.

This information will then be passed on to government officials back in the home country so that they can monitor the activities of the NGOs. In a number of cases individuals from NGOs have returned home to waiting security police for interrogation and sometimes imprisonment and torture. In the last few days I’ve met people several people who have suffered this fate.

Looks are certainly deceiving. So I say, “Beware of GoNGOs!

Cultural diversity, Human dignity, Personal Development, Perspective, Uncategorized

Cultural Antennae redux

Tomorrow I will be travelling to a new country. New in the sense that I have never been there and new in the sense that it is one of the world’s newest countries. Timor-Leste (also called East Timor) became the first new country of the 21st century, gaining independence in 2002. I’ll be visiting the capital, Dili for a conference and promoting Freedom of Religion or Belief in South Asia followed by the ASEAN People’s Forum. On the way to and fro Dili I’ll briefly visit one of Asia’s “miracles”, Singapore. In preparation for trips like this I find it can be useful to remind myself to be culturally sensitive. To do this I’ve re-read a post I made a few weeks ago entitled Cultivating Cultural Antennae. For those who remember that post you can skip today’s. For those of you who have forgotten or not read that one, here it is now J:


Any readers living in Timor-Leste or Singapore who’d like to chat, I’d be happy to sit down over a cup of tea or hot chocolate. Send me an e-mail – J.


Leadership, Personal Development, Strategic planning, Uncategorized

Tips to leaders – Thinking gray and free

What should a leader do when faced with difficult decisions? I think many people would agree that a good leader should appear to be decisive and quick in her decision-making. Nevertheless, I’d like to offer two counter-intuitive suggestions. I believe that excellent leaders should learn to cultivate the skills of thinking Gray and Free when making decisions.

Thinking Gray

In thinking gray a leader should be able to withhold judgment when faced with two or more points of view or alternatives. She should practice what I have referred to in a previous blog as having two (or more) thoughts in her head at the same time ( ). A leader should not approach decision-making with skepticism; placing everything in the “not true” box, but rather withhold judgment. Similarly, she shouldn’t immediately play into a binary, yes or no, right or wrong system. Too many people jump quickly to a decision before getting all the facts or flip flop between positions because of hearing one side of the argument and then the other and then back again and so forth. A good leader should be as open to accepting new ideas as true as she is to accepting them as untrue.


Thinking free

An exceptional leader needs to be free from prior constraints, not conforming to custom or habits; both personal and communal. He shouldn’t be overly influenced by the decisions of others or fall prey to groupthink. He ought to entertain outrageous ideas; even those that are clearly stupid, wrong, impractical, ridiculous or even immoral/illegal. Please note: I am not suggesting that a leader should enact or even pursue immoral or illegal ideas, but rather by entertaining such ideas a leader may be able to discover or generate new ideas (that are, of course, moral and legal) that may be innovative, beneficial and valuable; ideas that he would otherwise not have created.

Extraordinary leaders seem to be able to practice both gray thinking and free thinking. What about you J?


This post was inspired by the book, “The Contrarians Guide to Leadership”, by Steven B. Sample.


You experience what you focus on

Yesterday’s post was a bit heavy. Today’s is much more on the lighter side :-).

Here is a story that I think I picked up, a few years back, in one of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books.


Little Timmy was a little different than other children. He just didn’t quite fit in. He was a bit slower than his playmates and had trouble remembering things. At school he was rarely included by the other children in their play. No invitations came to classmates’ birthday parties. Nevertheless, Timmy was, by and large, a very content and happy child.

Shortly before Valentine’s Day one year, Timmy asked his parents if he could buy and give Valentine’s cards to each of his classmates. They agreed and helped him pick out the cards. At home Timmy painstakingly took time to write a short, positive message in each card.

When Valentine’s Day finally came, Timmy was very excited and woke up before usual so that he could arrive early enough at school to deliver the cards to everyone.

Timmy’s parents were concerned about how things would go with Timmy at school that day. They knew that on previous Valentine’s days, Timmy had received very few Valentine’s Day cards himself. They were worried if this were the caser this year, he might be very disappointed. Therefore, they decided to come home early from work that day and make one of Timmy’s favorite treats.

They stood at the window at around the time Timmy usually came home and could hear him talking to himself as he approached the house. “Not one. Not a single one.” Timmy’s parent’s hearts broke. They looked at each other, smiled weakly and braced themselves for a crushed little boy. Instead, Timmy burst into the house with a huge smile on his face. He happily reported to them, “Not a single one. I didn’t forget a single one!


Timmy’s focus was not on what he received that Valentine’s Day, but rather, on what he gave to others. When he accomplished that task he was ecstatic. By focusing on others he experienced joy. Had he only focused on himself, I’m not sure he would have experienced the same thing.

It helps me to think of little Timmy at times when I’m feeling sorry for myself when I haven’t gotten all the good things I feel that I deserve. By turning my focus away from myself and onto what I can contribute to others, I notice that my attitude often improves.

Remember little Timmy :-).


Lovers in a dangerous time

I’m not sure when I first heard this song. I know it was during my first summer in Alaska in 1986. My imagination wants me to believe that I first heard it somewhere along the highway leading from Fairbanks to Skagway; most likely between Beaver Creek and Whitehorse. Or perhaps it was somewhere near North Pole or maybe Carcross, in the area where the movie Never Cry Wolf, based on the Farley Mowat book of the same name, was filmed.

I guess it doesn’t really matter. Regardless of where I heard it first it struck a chord. It really resonated with me. Here are the lyrics:

Don’t the hours grow shorter as the days go by
You never get to stop and open your eyes
One day you’re waiting for the sky to fall
The next you’re dazzled by the beauty of it all
When you’re lovers in a dangerous time
Lovers in a dangerous time
These fragile bodies of touch and taste
This vibrant skin — this hair like lace
Spirits open to the thrust of grace
Never a breath you can afford to waste
When you’re lovers in a dangerous time
When you’re lovers in a dangerous time
Sometimes you’re made to feel as if your love’s a crime —
But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight —
Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight
When you’re lovers in a dangerous time
Lovers in a dangerous time
And we’re lovers in a dangerous time
Lovers in a dangerous time
From that time on I became a Bruce Cockburn fan; a great Canadian artist. This particular song first appeared on Bruce’s 1983 album, Stealing Fire. It was written after a visit to Latin America where Bruce encountered the tens of thousands of refugees from Guatemala.

The song has been covered by a number of artists including Barenaked Ladies, Dan Fogelberg and the Killers.

While the whole song spoke to me I remember one particular line that made a particular impact; Got to kick at the darkness ‘til it bleeds daylight. And I’m not the only one inspired by this particular phrase. One of my other favorite artists, Bono of U” fame, borrowed this text for U2’s Rattle and Hum album and the song God Part II. Now and then I feel like kicking at the darkness is all we can do. In the early 80’s when this song was written, the Cold war was still a very real part of all of our lives and the nuclear doomsday clock read a couple of minutes till midnight. Darkness seemed to be all around us; it was a dangerous time. But by choosing to love instead of hate, choosing to take the hand of our loved ones and moving forward instead of becoming passive and giving in to hopelessness we were all, in a way, kicking at the darkness.

Perhaps this text also has some relevance for us today in the 20 teens. So join me in kicking at the darkness ‘til it bleeds daylight J.