New Borgerlyst book: Conversation salons

Even though I formally stepped down from my role as co-instigator at Borgerlyst back in June and left the reins to Nadja, we still collaborate from time to time. And now, we’ve just finished our second book together: A small hands-on manual on how to design and host your own conversation salons:

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The book is called Samtalesaloner – små skub, der får folk til at falde i snak, which is a Danish play on words that translates roughly as “Conversation salons – small prompts to start better conversations.”

The book is similar in look and feel to our first book, and it’s full of stories, tips and tricks on how to develop your own conversation salons, questions and exercises.

We haven’t really written a lot about conversation salons in English, but it’s a method inspired by the 19th century coffee salons, the conversation dinners of Theodore Zeldin and the Oxford Muse, the questions of Max Frisch, the ideas of the School of Life and many others.

We’ve been wanting to publish this book for a long while, as it brings together a lot of the thoughts and methods that we’ve developed together over the past 5 years.

The official release date will be the 15th of January, but as a sneak preview for old and new friends of Borgerlyst, you can order the book now and receive it in time for Christmas – if we have your order before the 15th of December.

If you’re in or near Copenhagen, you can also drop by at Klub, Linnésgade 25 close to Nørreport Station on Thursday December 17th and buy a copy or two at Klub’s great Christmas Bazaar.

Otherwise, you’ll have to wait until January. And who knows? Maybe we’ll celebrate the book release with an extra-special conversation salon…

Medborgerne – a platform for community organising in Denmark

Bio update: Since I left Borgerlyst in June, I’ve been working on a new community organising initiative, focusing on building a local broad-based citizens’ alliance in Copenhagen.

After some months in stealth mode with the working title “Civilsamfundsalliancen”, we’ve now made ourselves known to the world by our official name:

medborgerne

Medborgerne is Danish, and can be translated as “citizens” – but with the added connotation of being an active member of a community, not just a set of rights. Medborgerne is a platform for broad-based community organising in Denmark. Inspired by Industrial Areas Foundation in the US, Citizens UK in the UK, and DICO in Germany, we hope to take similar role in Denmark, helping local communities build power for social justice and the common good.

I’ve co-founded the initiative with Ruth Gøjsen and Michael Wulff, and we’re currently looking to raise the funding necessary to build a local broad-based citizens’ alliance in Copenhagen. In the long term, our goal is to build a network of local citizens’ alliances to have an influence on national politics in Denmark.

We’ve just launched our website (in Danish, obviously), and I’ve already had my first media appearance as co-founder of Medborgerne in an interview in the Danish online magazine Altinget.

Refugees welcome

Vi forstår ikke hvad det vil sige at være på flugt, før vi møder det. Det er ikke nok at se det i fjernsynsbilleder fra fjerne lande. Det går først op for os, når det kommer tæt på – når vi møder mennesker på flugt i vores eget land.

Det er først, når vi ser disse mennesker i rammer vi kan genkende – på motorveje, banegårde og rastepladser – at vi forstår, hvor forfærdelig og skræmmende en oplevelse det må være. At forlade sit land. At kæmpe for at holde sammen på sin familie. At være bange for, hvad der venter én.

På et abstrakt plan vidste vi det godt. Gennem de sidste år har vi set flere og flere konflikter flamme op og tvinge flere og flere på flugt. Vi har hørt tallene af døde, sårede og flygtende stige og stige. Men det var bare tal. Vi forstod ikke rigtigt, at der bag tallene var skæbner, historier og håb.

Så længe det var abstrakt, var det blot endnu et politisk spørgsmål. En sag, man kunne være uenig i og ryste på hovedet af. Hvor man kunne synes tonen var for skinger. Men nu ser vi det. Nu forstår vi det. Og nu reagerer vi.

Vi hjælper, hvor vi kan. Som under krigen hjælper vi folk til Sverige. Men hvor de dengang flygtede fra en fremmed besættelsesmagt, flygter de i dag fra os. Fra den politik og de vilkår vores land stiller dem i udsigt.

Netop som vi forstår, hvad det vil sige at være på flugt, forstår vi også konsekvenserne af de politiske valg, der bliver truffet i vores land. Vi lever i et land, der aktivt søger at skræmme folk væk. Som lukker sig om sig selv i en sådan grad, at folk, der intet har, hellere vil gå 200 kilometer end at søge tilflugt her.

En stor gruppe flygtninge og migranter, der søndag aften ankom til Rødby på Lolland, er mandag den 7. september 2015 begyndt at gå mod nord - angiveligt med et ønske om at søge asyl i Sverige. (Foto: Bax Lindhardt/Scanpix 2015)
(Foto: Bax Lindhardt/Scanpix 2015)

Det giver ikke bare en dårlig smag i munden. Det vækker skam. Og vrede. Og med denne vrede følger et stort behov for at handle. Et behov for at vise, at sådan er Danmark ikke. At folk på flugt er velkomne her.

Denne vrede er vigtig. Husk den. Ikke kun nu, hvor der er masser af opmærksomhed og gejst. Men også om en måned eller tre, når det ikke længere er nyt, og ikke længere føles akut.

Husk denne vrede i det lange seje træk, der kommer. For at ændre den politik, der bliver ført. For at møde og hjælpe de mennesker, der er kommet hertil, og som har brug for vores støtte til at kunne opbygge en ny tilværelse i dette fremmede land. For at vise, at i Danmark er flygtninge velkomne.

A new project

For the past five years, two projects have been a constant presence in my life: The Copenhagen Food Co-op and Borgerlyst – the laboratory for civic agency that I co-founded with Nadja Pass in 2010. Both projects have been the source of a lot of learning, good experiences and good friends.

But over the past few months, I’ve been preparing to step down from my responsibilities in both of these projects to make room for something new.

In April, I stepped down from the board of the food co-op. I gave a status report at the annual General Assembly, describing how the community has grown and developed over the past five years. It’s been quite a journey, with lots of ups and downs. And I’m very happy to pass on the reins to the new board. They’re all good people with lots of drive, hope and vision. And I’m certain they will help the food co-op become an even better community for organic veggie enthusiasts all over Copenhagen.

And on June 5th, on Borgerlyst’s fifth anniversary, I stepped down from Borgerlyst. We had a big party to celebrate and look back on all that we have achieved together. Nadja will continue to develop the project in a new direction, and I will focus on working on a new project that has been in the works for a while now.

The project focuses on working with community organising as a method and approach to develop the power and agency of ordinary citizens and create new trustful relationships in the local communities where they work and live. This short film gives a good introduction to community organising:

The project’s working title is “the civil society alliance” – because the goal is to build a broad-based community organisation that brings together many of the diverse communities and institutions of Danish civil society – from churches, mosques and synagogues to labour unions, schools and student organisations. Bringing all of these communities together to build their political power and ability to work for the common good – not in spite of but through their diversity.

One of my main sources of inspiration for this work is the UK-based community organising charity Citizens UK. I attended their six-day training in Cardiff last autumn, and I’ve been very impressed with the efficacy and professionalism of their organisation. In my view, their approach is exactly the kind of thing we need to revitalise Danish politics and participatory democracy. As one organiser at the Citizens UK General Election Accountability Assembly on May 3rd put it: “This is how politics used to be done, and we wish it could be done like this more.”

I’m really excited to be able to focus on this work. And I’m fortunate to be working together with a group of excellent and dedicated people from across Danish civil society. In the coming months, we will be writing grant proposals for a pilot project, meeting people, listening to their needs, interests and worries and get people engaged.

More to come …

Being a force of nature

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake.

Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is sort of a splendid torch which I have a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it over to future generations.

– George Bernard Shaw

Organisational permaculture design

I’ve just received my copy of the latest issue of the Danish permaculture magazine Tidsskriftet Permakultur. And it’s a little special because it includes an essay I’ve written on what I call organisational permaculture:

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The essay included in the magazine is an abbreviated version of a somewhat longer essay that goes into a lot more detail. For completeness’ sake, I’ve put up the unabbreviated and uncut version of the essay here on the web for all to read (it is in Danish, obviously).

You can read the full, uncut version of the essay here.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Back in September, I attended the Economy, People & Planet conference at the Copenhagen Business School. It was an intense experience with lots of good people, interesting talks and workshops. The talk that I enjoyed the most was CBS professor Ole Bjerg who talked about The Inconvenient Truth of the Post-Growth Economy

He started out with the image of the Earth seen from space that we greens often show to express that we’re all in it together on this Spaceship Earth. But his point was that there are four errors with that image:

1) The Earth is round
Seeing the Earth from space doesn’t match with the perspective of life on Earth that we experience everyday. Nothing in our day-to-day activities give us that sense of connection to something as huge as the entire planet. There’s no direct feedback.

2) There are no people
Seeing such images of the whole planet is an ecologist’s dream: It’s a whole system without any visible interference. For the uninitiated, seeing such an image will make them feel unwelcome. The indirect conclusion being that they – people – are the problem. That without any people on it, the planet would be in balance. That the planet would be better off without us.

3) There are no borders
You can’t see borders and countries from space, yet they are very much there. We can’t ignore them. No matter how much we want it, there is no global “we”. It is an abstract and unreal ideal. Simply because we don’t all feel that we’re in it together. Very few refugees and migrants are welcomed across borders. Zooming out doesn’t make them go away.

4) Who’s looking at this image?
This is not a human perspective. Sure, it might be an astronaut. But it will a tiny minority of the Earth’s population who will have the opportunity to see the Earth from space. So maybe it’s God? Maybe it’s a postcard from God? If so, it merely takes our agency. It just shows that we’re out of our league. And what is God doing? Either he sent the postcard because he’s left us behind. Or maybe he can’t help us. Or maybe he just likes to watch…

For someone like me who have been known to use the image of Earth seen from space as a macroscope to show how we’re interconnected and interdependent, Bjerg’s points are both provocative and insightful. It is very much true that zooming out like this makes us lose our human everyday perspective of the people and politics that our lives consist of. The image asks us to leave that behind for a bigger, more abstract cause. The planet itself.

And having thought about this, I tend to agree. As Wendell Berry says, “it all turns on affection.” It won’t be appreciation that saves us, it will be affection. Affection to specific places. To specific people. To specific needs.

And that leads to Ole Bjerg’s conclusion. Instead of focusing on the image of the planet as a whole, we should focus on this instead:

Our money offers a much more direct, close and immediate connection between the health of the planet and our own everyday life. It’s a leverage point, as Donella Meadows would say. If we can change the way our money works, we can change the way we relate to the planet.

Bjerg offered a few examples, including local money and full reserve banking. He is working with the initiative Gode Penge – a Danish equivalent to the British think tank Positive Money that lobbies for money reform as a way to create not only a more sustainable economy, but also a more sustainable planet.

I encourage you to check it out if you’re not already familiar with it. I think you’ll be surprised by what you’ll find …

More on the distraction-free smartphone

Recently, I came across a blog post by Jake Knapp who also experienced the distractions caused by having a smart phone. So he decided to try and tweak his iPhone to make it distraction-free. And now, more than a year later, he’s still using it – without a web browser, without email, without social stream apps such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. As he says, “I want a sensible phone, not a smart phone.”

It sounds quite similar to my mock-up for a zenphone – but without all the hassle of having to hack the operating system of the phone to make it distraction-free. If you’re interested, you can find Jake’s tips on how to make your iPhone distraction-free here.

 

 

Knowing when to stop

Happiness, I think, is all about knowing when to stop. When to stop accumulating and throw things out or store them. When to stop working and take a few months off. When to stop eating and stop drinking. When to travel, and when to stop travelling and stay in one place for awhile.

– Nick Currie, Apartamento #7

(via Ali Withers)