Are you an intellectual?

kendi_fall_commencement-7297If you answered “no,” I ask you to reconsider.

At his commencement address to newly-graduated doctoral students at the University of Florida, National Book Award Winner and History Professor Ibram X Kendi asks us to look at intelligence differently.

If you have a desire to know, if you’re open-minded, if you have a tremendous capacity to change your mind, if you are self-reflective and self-critical, and above all, if you’re always willing to face reality, then you’re an intellectual, according to Kendi.

At his December 16, 2016 address to the University of Florida’s newly-minted Ph.Ds., Kendi challenges traditional notions of who is considered smart and who is not: “This is an inclusive academy with all types of people with all types of backgrounds. There are people with only a GED in this intellectual academy. There are incarcerated people in this intellectual academy. There are homeless people in this intellectual academy. There are poor people in this intellectual academy,” says Kendi.

Here’s the really startling piece: you can have a Ph.D., know a lot, and actually be an anti-intellectual.

How do you recognize if you’re an anti-intellectual?  “Anti-intellectuals plant themselves so deeply in a position that no hurricane of truth could uproot them,” says Kendi. “They develop convincing lies that ensure pseudoscience is well funded, corrupt politicians are elected, harmful products are sold,  facts are discredited, and bigots are exonerated for their crimes against humanity.”

Kendi’s award-winning Stamped from the Beginning explains how and why the history of racist ideas in America is really the history of anti-intellectualism. “I show in Stamped from the Beginning that ignorance and hate did not lead to racist ideas as we have been commonly told, but the production and circulation of racist ideas led to ignorance and hate,” says Kendi. “We hate because we are ignorant about other groups. Our nation is a racially divided because we attack groups of people instead of the policies that harms us all.”

How To Navigate The Newsphere

imagesWe long for connection, a hunger for awareness of the other. We are evolving through our connections with each other, which are becoming more complex, powerful and sophisticated. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin defined this as the noosphere, the glue that binds us together in a cosmic sense. It is an integral consciousness—the understanding that the human is the “axis and arrow of evolution.” This web of connections is a source of often untapped energy. It is how we grow and change both individually and collectively. Technology helps us grow this global network of complex connections in dynamic and powerful ways.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin defined this as the noosphere, the glue that binds us together in a cosmic sense. It is an integral consciousness—the understanding that the human is the “axis and arrow of evolution.” This web of connections is a source of often untapped energy. It is how we grow and change both individually and collectively. Technology helps us grow this global network of complex connections in dynamic and powerful ways.

However, despite our “hunger for awareness,” the primary motivation to send and receive news, we are often deluded and unaware. “What stares us in the face is often the most difficult to perceive,” wrote Teilhard. We must wake up, break through the illusory world of news that deludes us, and take responsibility for our own power and the deep dialogue that is possible. The role of perception is critical in the news environment. Teilhard believed that the whole of life lies in seeing—in learning to focus on what is essential and important and to see with more perfect eyes.

Teilhard believed that the whole of life lies in seeing—in learning to focus on what is essential and important and to see with more perfect eyes. See or perish: this is the human condition. “The history of the living world can be summarized as the elaboration of ever more perfect eyes within a cosmos in which there is always something more to be seen,” says Teilhard We must focus our eyes correctly and recognize patterns.[i]

Here are some rules for navigating the newsphere:

  1. We are all connected.
  2. We evolve through our interconnectedness.
  3. We satisfy our innate hunger for awareness when we consciously consume and create news and information. .
  4. We use technology to help us build and maintain connections.
  5. We are often not aware of our interconnectedness.
  6. We must “see or perish.”
  7. We can design news networks that sustain and support our interdependence.
  8. We are called to build an integral form of journalism with ourselves at the center.
  9. We are more powerful than we know.
  10. We evolve the newsphere when we take action and balance action and acceptance, an integral worldview.


Trust In The Slow Work Of God

images3– Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. (1881-1955)

We are quite naturally impatient in everything

to reach the end without delay

We should like to skip the intermediate stages.

We are impatient of being on the way to something

unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress

that it is made by passing through

some stages of instability and

that it may take a very long time. And so I think it is with you.

your ideas mature gradually – let them grow,

let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on,

as though you could be today what time

(that is to say, grace and circumstances

acting on your own good will)

will make of you tomorrow. Only God could say what this new spirit

gradually forming within you will be. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing

that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself

in suspense and incomplete.

People See Through A Racial Lens: Young People Today Are Engaged and Fearless Says ‘60s Activist and SDS Pioneer Tom Hayden

imgres.jpgBy Christine M. Tracy

I interviewed Tom Hayden in March of 2015 when he returned to his home state of Michigan and his alma mater, The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the First Teach-In To End The Vietnam War. Hayden died Sunday at the age of 76.

“In the ‘60s, there was a common reaction to local abuses,” says Tom Hayden, a founder of the SDS and principal author of their political manifesto, the Port Huron Statement. “There was an outbreak of sit-ins at lunch counters that escalated from one town to multiple towns to a point where (in about three months) as many as 70,000 people had been arrested,” says Hayden. “It really didn’t have that much organization or money behind it. The traditional organizations got in line and helped along, but it was all young people who basically were acting as if they’d had enough, and were willing to stand up at some risk,” he says.

            Hayden cautions against seeing one generation through the mindset of another. He believes young people today are very engaged and fearless. “For example, they are definitely leading the fight against the extreme effects of climate change,” says Hayden. “It’s their future that is being destroyed by the negligence of those who came before. So if it’s an issue that affects them very personally, you’ll see them in action.”

In similar ways, the widespread street protests and political action against police shootings of unarmed young black men are getting more reaction from young people, according to Hayden. “You’ve got a new generation of young people who are quite fearless in the face of violence, the hazard of violence, and the danger of violence,” says Hayden.

            “The racial divide is still there. That’s quite unfortunate and also quite revealing. We have to remember that despite all the emphasis on nothing but the facts, people see through their own racial or social experience. They see reality differently. And that’s a different kind of racism. I wouldn’t even condemn it as racism; I would say it’s a racial lens. It’s an unconscious bias that’s built in. And now that it’s out, it’s worth talking about and finding constructive ways to engage.”

Hayden and other former SDS founders and Teach-In organizers gathered on the Ann Arbor campus in late March of 2015 to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of the first Teach-In. Held in Ann Arbor on March 24, 1965, the first Teach-In was a critical step in the formation of the ant-war movement. Thousands filled Angell Hall in 1965 to learn about the far-away country of Vietnam from professors, as well as those who lived and worked in Vietnam.

images-1“As professors, we had to do something more than walk in circles. We had to do more politically,” said Frithjof Bergmann, a Michigan philosophy professor who led a torch light protest on the library stairs at the first Teach-In. “It became obvious that night that one could make a difference—in one night.”


Ride The Wave Of Change Advises International Affairs Expert Robin Wright

Seasoned war reporter rejects images.jpgthe ‘mean world syndrome’ 

You’ve probably seen Robin Wright on the PBS Newshour, Charlie Rose, or CBS’s Face The Nation. She’s spent most of her life reporting on wars and conflicts: her column, ISIS On The Run, was in the October 17, 2016 New Yorker.  

The world-traveling reporter recently returned to her hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she was warmly welcomed by a large audience at her alma mater, the University of Michigan.

A true Michigander,  Wright paid homage to ‘the maize and the blue’ and told tales from her career-launching job at at the Michigan Daily before sharing her ten big ideas of the 21st century:


The world is in perpetual disruption and undergoing change much faster than at any time in human history, says Wright, a Woodrow Wilson distinguished fellow . This change will play out as a fundamental re-ordering of nations and states, according to the seasoned reporter, who nearly died in a Cuban raid on Angola.

This ‘end of empires’ means the world will get smaller, according to Wright, and she predicted that people around the world will cling to clans as they uncomfortably become “part of something bigger.”

This huge, messy transition is redefining power, too. In the past, power and force were measured by the strength of military arsenals. Connectivity, access to information, instantaneous delivery, and data security are the new measures of strength.

War is changing, too, says Wright. It is now a battle between states and non-state actors. While nuclear armament is still an ominous threat, suicide bombers are the most feared weapons. She predicts that wars will be fought over natural resources, such as water rights: victory now requires foresight and flexibility to adapt to change.

However, change is never a straight line, according to Wright. She believes progress takes a long time and is not easy because there is always an urge to look for stability. How do we manage all this change? Education is everything, according to Wright, who received an honorary doctorate from her alma mater last year.

Dismissing the ‘mean world syndrome,’ a skewed perspective acquired from too much television-watching, the celebrated journalist believes we are truly better off. There is less warring,  life expectancy has doubled and overall poverty is in decline. More and more people ‘now get the bigger picture,’ says Wright. There is much to celebrate.








“You shouldn’t have to try to balance your work with your life. To me, it’s all life.”

Michigan Football Hero and tech entrepreneur succeeds by  ‘failing forward.’dsc01455

2002 was one of the best years of Phil Brabbs’ life. On a hot Saturday in August the University of Michigan kicker, a walk-on from Midland, attempted a critical 44-yard field goal. The Wolverines were trailing Washington by one point. Brabbs had missed both 36- and 42-yard attempts earlier in the game. “If he hits it, he’ll be a hero for years to come,” predicted an ABC Sports commentator. With five seconds left, Brabbs set up for the kick, and as time expired he put the ball between the posts for a big Michigan win. Overcome with joy, Brabbs started doing circles around the field before his teammates buried him in a big heap of bodies.

After graduating in 2004, Brabbs moved to Charlotte, N.C., to work for Accenture, a technology consulting firm. Like many Michigan grads, Brabbs and his wife Cassie missed home and wanted to get back to Michigan. Not long after, Brabbs was back in Ann Arbor unpacking a moving truck on a 15-degree-below-zero February day. As he settled back into life and winters in Michigan in 2007, he was dreaming big dreams, not only for himself, but for the state.


The son of a Dow senior construction manager, Brabbs believed manufacturing was hurting, not helping, desperate cities like Detroit. “The state needs information technology to rebuild,” he mused, and he began imagining how to make that happen. Every morning for almost three months the ambitious young engineer got up at 6 a.m. to compose his manifesto, “Brabbs.Inc.,” a 50-page business plan that was “life-giving not soul-sucking.”

Brabbs dreamed of implementing his plan and launching his own business, but his wife became pregnant with their second child. So when Iris was born in fall 2007, he chose the stability of a corporate position and started work as a product manager for Thompson Reuters, an international information management company just a mile from his home.

The financial security of a corporate job and its perks — life and health insurance — soon became crucial to Brabbs and his growing family. He had survived a near-fatal pulmonary embolism a year earlier, which was followed by a series of blood clots. The initial diagnosis was a “clotting disorder.” Brabbs’ doctors wanted him to stay on Coumadin, a blood-thinner, for the rest of his life, but a friend urged him to get a second opinion.

Brabbs saw oncologists at the University of Michigan Health System, and in 2008 the Michigan football hero who delivered “The Kick” in front of 108,000 fans faced personal challenges much more daunting than the Washington defensive line. One day after his 28th birthday, Brabbs was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood with a survival estimate of three to five years.

Instead of withdrawing or slipping into depression, the cancer diagnosis motivated Brabbs to double-down on life. He vowed to fight the staggering odds and to avidly pursue his dreams, and for a while, he did just that. He underwent highly aggressive cancer treatment — 13 cycles of chemotherapy within 15 months and two bone-marrow transplants. He made a deal with God to give him 10 years to get his young family settled.

Brabbs felt his clock ticking and launched headlong into life. “The cancer accelerated my desire to make a startup a success,” says Brabbs, and in December 2009 he launched Scoutforce, a recruiting tool for college coaches that connects them with student-athletes and parents.

Ruby, Phil and Cassie’s third child, was born in spring 2010. That same year he started the Cancer Kicker Foundation to raise awareness for myeloma research and continued to work as product manager for Thompson Reuters.

To make it all work, Brabbs got up at 6 a.m. daily and fell into bed at midnight. The 18-hour, coffee-fueled days eventually took their toll on the football hero, whose 200-pound frame shrunk to 170.


If 2002 was one of the best years in Brabbs’ life, 2012 was one of the worst. In January, Brabbs was hospitalized and his life unraveled. “I crashed. I was trying to win at too many aspects of my life. Physically my body couldn’t take it. I had taken on the world and was about to lose everything, especially my family,” he said. Early angel investors in his startup demanded the loan used to start the business be paid back, instead of converting it to ownership or equity in the business. This is something which they almost never do, said Brabbs: “We didn’t have the money to pay them so they took control of the company.”

To make sense of it all, and to survive, Brabbs developed a philosophy he calls “failing forward.”

“Failure is actually not a bad thing. Growth comes from failure, but you can either fail forward or fail backward. Failing backward is when we start to get pulled down. If we fail forward, we’ll move forward and make progress,” he said. As Brabbs envisions it, to “fail forward” in life requires managing stress and developing reliable mentors. Just as in weightlifting, these mentors act as spotters who stand next to you, tell you the truth and make sure you don’t take on too much weight.

In addition to his wife Cassie, one of Brabbs’ mentors is his friend, Daniel McCollum. The two met in 2005 when they both worked for Accenture. “He’s been my ‘spotter’ for 12 years now. He’s the one who says, ‘Phil, you have your cancer cure foundation, you have your day job, and you just had a third kid. I think we need to pull back some of those things. This is too much for you.’”

With the help and advice of his spotters, and to pay the bills and support his family, Brabbs continued to work for Thompson Reuters, transitioned control of Scoutforce to its investors, and pared down his life — except for that half-marathon he ran in October 2012 in Chicago “to set a health-related goal.”

At the same time he was getting his bearings and healing, his friend and mentor “took the big jump.” McCollum quit his job at Apparo, a nonprofit management organization, to launch Torrent Consulting. Within a year, Brabbs left Thompson Reuters, and his life and health insurance, to become Torrent’s second employee.


Torrent now has 56 employees who work to help more than 150 clients implement Salesforce, a private, cloud-based platform used to streamline and automate sales, marketing and customer service. In just four years, the company has experienced phenomenal growth and is high on the list of Inc.’s fastest-growing companies.

Brabbs and McCollum sounded like proud but philosophical parents when Torrent’s employees met via  video streaming to celebrate the company’s fourth anniversary on June 28. As her co-workers munched on birthday cake and brownies, Torrent’s people and culture manager, Kendra Miller, asked Brabbs and McCollum to reflect on the founding of the company. “I knew my fate rested on my own efforts,” said McCollum. ”We didn’t want to take the same path as most companies. We’re not just building the company to sell it.”

“We knew we had to become the case study because we’re in a position to see what other companies are doing and not doing,” said Brabbs. “Most startups fail. I didn’t think we’d be this big this fast. The only way we’ve been able to go from two people in two different states to 56 people in nine different states and a different country is because of the way we innovated our communicating and connecting. We’re onto something bigger than customer life cycles. We’re building a new way to do business that other people want.”

General Motors will soon tour the company’s offices to find out how to successfully hire talent without relying solely on resumes. “The Torrent Way” is to hire based on values and fit, according to Brabbs. “We want people in our company that we would trust with our children,” he says. Torrent interviewers want to know what motivates a prospective employee and what he or she is passionate about. “If I know the type of person you are, and I know that you have our values, then you’ll fit here,” said Brabbs.

Instead of staring at computer screens, sitting at dedicated desks and spending time reading, composing and responding to email, Torrent employees communicate via a real-time video stream, wear FitBits and bring their children to work where they play with Legos and learn how to write computer code.

“Corporate America is trying to push the whole idea of work-life balance, and I think that’s wrong,” said Brabbs. “You shouldn’t have to try to balance your work with your life. To me, it’s all life.”

A Basket Out Of Time

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” I texted Brendan minutes before the start of the 2016 NCAA Finals in Houston.

“It’s weird. It’s surreal. ” Brendan’s answer was a perfect description for both the collective energy in the arena that night and the special magic that brought him to that precise moment in time. The basketball angels worked overtime to turn a life-long dream to go to the NCAA Finals into something transcendent;  Brendan was not only witnessing basketball history but realizing a personal dream. Underneath all the plans was a deep desire to see our team, Villanova, win the tournament. And that’s precisely what happened when Villanova Guard Kris Jenkins lifted his hands in the air to shoot the 2016 NCAA Championship-winning basket.

Kairos by Francesco Salivata

Some call it luck, magic, or ‘the stars’ when everything falls into place and life flows with indescribable grace. While these are fitting descriptions for the powerful yet invisible life forces, I think a better description is  ‘kairos,’ a stepping out of the world of chronological time into a dramatically different reality.

Kairos is an ancient Greek word that means ‘the supreme moment.’ The Greeks had two words for time: chronos and kairos. Chronos is the quantiative dimension of time, and kairos is qualitative, ”a moment of indeterminate time in which everything happens.”

If you watched the game, you know exactly what I mean. We stepped out of time when the ball left Jenkins hands until the moment when it went through the hoop. In that moment, time stood still and waited for us.