Our Mission is to make it easier to live well and do good.

Sign up to receive Emails with advice about how to live more deliberately in your daily life.

 

 

 

 

Name *
Name

101 Broadway, Suite 301
Oakland, CA 94607
USA

deliberateLIFE engages today's globally-conscious citizen in building a better tomorrow. We believe choices matter – so we vet ideas, products and organizations to make it easier for today's busy professionals to live well and do good.

 

 

 

 

 

blog

Filtering by Category: Magazine Feature

Chocolate Made the Loving Way

Annmarie Rodriguez

IMG_5955.JPG

When one thinks of the most typical Valentine's Day gifts, chocolates immediately come to mind and not just every day chocolates, but boxes of beautifully presented, specialty chocolates that, when given, will communicate love at best, or fulfill cultural expectations at least. According to a 2009 Nielsen report, Americans purchased around 58 million pounds (over $345 million USD) of Valentine's Day chocolates prior to the holiday!

Although chocolate has a long history of notoriety, there is a bitter side to its sweet story. Just as slavery is known to exist in the production of cotton, steel, oriental rugs, diamonds and silk, cocoa production also lends itself to exploitative labor. Child labor and bonded slaves are often used in the harvesting of the cacao pods. According to a US government-funded study, over 1.8 million children work in West Africas cacao industry. Many of these children are subject to unsafe working conditions. This unsavory reality has stirred activists and businesses alike to seek solutions.

Consumers who wish to enjoy guilt-free treats now have many options available to them. Possibly the easiest way to ensure that your chocolate is ethically produced is to buy Fair Trade certified products. The Fair Trade certified label guarantees that the farmers who were involved in growing the raw materials in your chocolate receive fair prices for their crops. It also ensures that slave labor and child labor were not used during the production cycle. You can check out Fair Trade USAs website for a list of chocolate manufacturers.

It is important to note, however, that there are companies making ethically sourced produces that, for financial reasons, choose to forgo the Fair Trade certification process. These companies may choose to develop relationships directly with farmers, monitor their own supply chain and label their products ‘direct trade’ or ‘ethically’ made. The benefit of direct trade, some argue, is that producers can pay higher prices to farmers due to the savings incurred by not going through the certification process.

While we at deliberateLIFE are strongly in favor of producers receiving the best possible price, we do encourage supporting companies that undergo external evaluation of their supply chain to maintain transparency.

Note: Organic products are definitely better for the environment and for one’s health, but it’s important to note that ‘organic’ is not synonymous with ‘slave-free’.

Play: Alternative Learning on the Job

Fay Johnson

By Emily Brooks

You may be comfortably established in your 9 to 5, with school a quickly fading memory, but the need to learn did not cease when you hung that diploma on your wall. Continual learning keeps you competitive and relevant at your job and provides you with the needed resources to make valuable contributions to your community. Many companies facilitate this continued development through training programs, corporate universities, and lunchtime seminars. However, they are also discovering that great learning happens through play. From gaining vital communication skills to increased creativity and team collaboration, companies are turning to play to build their workforce’s potential.  

Significant learning can be accomplished when “hiding really important lessons inside of fun,” said Michelle Honchariw, managing director of The Go Game, a company with a mission to help employees learn and grow through wildly fun, high-tech scavenger hunts in their cities. She is right. Research over the last several years has brought the power of play to the forefront of learning theory. Office environments and professional etiquette suppress the playful, personal way that we tend to build relationships outside of work. Infusing play into the workday, however, enhances our ability to learn about one another and ourselves, fostering the trust and collaboration that provide the basis for corporate thriving.

Companies can create opportunities for employees to explore and hone their abilities and relationships through shared laughter and recreation. These events should be incorporated wisely into work life. Rather than randomly schedule “fun” activities, “It’s important to do it when you feel there’s a need,” said Julie McDougal, senior human resources partner at IBM. Done right, creating space for play can be extremely effective: “That’s when innovation hits, that’s when conversations flow . . . and connections are made,” said Kevin Fraczek, manager of Intel’s corporate Great Place to Work program.

Vulnerability

Relationships and, indeed, learning start with vulnerability. Without taking risks and sharing more deeply, you cannot achieve a greater level of connection and understanding. A relaxed, fun-centered environment facilitates such openness in a way that daily office life cannot. Take a cue from TeamBonding, a teambuilding company, whose Cirque de Team event provides participants an opportunity to enjoy themselves while challenging them to leap and swing outside of their comfort zone. Under the direction of professional performers, participants attempt to master a plethora of circus tricks from juggling to tightrope walking.

Activities like these tricks stretch your abilities, bringing you to a place of vulnerability and encouraging you to depend on others. “If you’re unfamiliar, you kind of need the help,” said TeamBonding COO David Goldstein. Don’t have the funds to hire circus performers to show you their stuff? Choose a skill to learn together from stand-up paddleboarding to orienteering.

 

Collaboration

Working as an effective team requires more than just learning to get along with John in the cube next door. Flexibility, coordination, and honesty: all are key. Activities that get people working together without the pressure of sales quotas or budgets help develop these skills. At F1 Boston, a kart racing facility, cross-departmental teams work together to run NASCAR racecars through full pit stops, mastering tactics that they can apply at the office to maximize productivity, morale, and teamwork. There’s a “lot of yelling, lot of screaming, lot of laughing,” said Glen Ransden, F1 Boston’s marketing director. “But there’s also a lot of learning,” he said. After the first round, teams evaluate their performance, identify personal strengths and weaknesses, and switch team members to positions where they will be most effective, practicing the analysis, strategy and flexibility crucial for productive collaboration. If you don’t happen to have a racecar on hand, you can still enjoy the collaborative benefits of some friendly competition. Get speedy in the kitchen instead for an office cook-off.

 

Communication

Work stalls, projects fall through the cracks, potential clients decide not to call back. The problem? Failed communication. Both workplace productivity and building relationships rely on effective exchange of ideas and thoughts. Casual, relationship-building conversations and persuasive communication skills alike blossom amid fun. During The Go Game’s scavenger hunts, for example, employees practice sensitive conversation and motivation while convincing a “Bawling Bride” to continue with her wedding. “Little do they realize at the time that this is sales training,” The Go Game’s Michelle Honchariw said. If you are short on time, these same principles can be put into practice in your office with some hilarious and stimulating improvisational theater games.

 

Innovation

Old approaches cannot solve the new problems our rapidly changing world presents. We must arrive at fresh, creative answers quickly and effectively. In play, children constantly innovate, experiment, and craft imaginative solutions. From The Go Game’s haiku offs and compliment duels to navigating the uncharted waters of building seaworthy boats in less than three hours, opportunities abound within play to strengthen your innovation skills by responding rapidly to new situations and engaging in environments where they can converse freely. Don’t want to hire professionals? Create your own scavenger hunt full of hilarious challenges that require fast, out-of-the-box thinking.

Empathy

Empathy leads to compassionate action, enables effective compromise and fosters deeper relationships. Your ability to extend empathy expands when you view others as fellow human beings with kids and bucket lists, struggles and sorrows, and perhaps even dirty dishes in the kitchen sink. Unfortunately, this perspective is often lost in the corporate environment as coworkers are seen merely as accountants, marketing managers or CEOs. By “having fun and laughing together” at a Go Game team building event outside the office, Heather White and her team were exposed to a new side of each other, said White, operations support manager at Clorox. They began to see each other as friends rather than coworkers, she explained.

At Intel, employees get to know each other through a variety of activities: going out to the movies, cheering on their favorite sports team or training for annual company races together, said Intel’s Kevin Fraczek. Such bonding times cannot be neglected even when working remotely. The global IBM takes time to relax and get to know each other during video conferences, spending quality time face to face even when separated by miles and perhaps cultures, said IBM’s Julie McDougal. Whether via webcam or in person, take some time to learn who people are, what makes them tick, what you have in common, and what differences you admire.

Seeking Homeostasis

Seth Strickland

Image by Nickolas Nikolic

Image by Nickolas Nikolic

by Travis Vanstaaveren

It was still raining when the sirens woke me. The ground under the Hawthorne Bridge was cold and damp, a far cry from the warm bed that I was accustomed to. I was not technically homeless, but I had decided to spend two months living on the streets of downtown Portland alongside the homeless in order to better understand the needs of the homeless population I serve.

Although its severity has ebbed and flowed, homelessness has existed in our nation since its founding. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 3.5 million people, 23% of whom are children, experience homelessness each year. Exact numbers of those experiencing homelessness at any given point are difficult to quantify, as there is no central system for documenting the number of individuals who have no permanent shelter. In most cases, homelessness is a temporary circumstance and not a permanent condition; however, the resources available to help those in transition are often inadequate.

My decision to sleep on the street for two months came after six years of working with the homeless; it was a decision born out of my desire to better empathize with and meet the needs of those I served. However, I was an imposter. I slept where they slept, ate where they ate, and lived how they lived, but I never felt homeless. I had not yet run out of options, burned every bridge, or used up my last favors with friends and family. I hadn’t couch-surfed for months and then slept in my car until it got impounded (along with everything I owned inside) for expired plates. I hadn’t been less-than-honorably discharged from the Vietnam War with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and unable to get a job or assistance from the Veterans Administration (VA). I certainly wasn’t living with chronic back pain from an accident, hooked on painkillers from time in the hospital, or missing every last possession and dollar after exhausting all resources to try to feel okay again. At the end of two months of living on the streets, I was able to return to my family, a life of perceived stability, and a sense of belonging. This changed how I viewed the problem of homelessness in my city.

image.TKAP6W.png

In my opinion, homelessness is a community problem that only the community can cure. Currently, enormous resources are expended to get the homeless back inside and then address what put them outside. Within this frame of thinking, the opposite of homelessness is permanent shelter, and getting a home cures homelessness. At GiveTokens.org, the organization that I founded, we believe the opposite of homelessness is homeostasis, a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements.

There are many great organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, JOIN and Transition Projects, involved in finding permanent shelter for the homeless. These groups, along with many others, seek to fulfill the day-to-day needs of the homeless, primarily addressing the need for food and shelter. At GiveTokens.org we examine homelessness through the lens of the needs expressed in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and address these in a unique two-dimensional way. Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, developed a hierarchy of human needs that range from physiological needs (air, water, food) and basic safety, to the need for love, belonging, esteem and, ultimately, self-actualization. Recognizing that individuals need more than the basics for survival, GiveTokens.org focuses on the human need to be seen as equal and to be cared for, in addition to providing basic services. 

image.VM2U6W.png

However, our work is also directed toward the needs of the donors who seek appreciation, fulfillment, and purpose: the higher levels of Maslow’s hierarchy. Bringing seemingly disparate community groups together provides a unique opportunity for both parties: the gracious cannot feel gracious without bestowing grace, and homeless people cannot feel cared for without feeling noticed or important. We have chosen to make this connection happen by selling tokens to donors that they can then hand out to community members in need. The tokens can be used at participating businesses to purchase food and other supplies, do laundry, or get inside for the night.

This system allows donors to interact with the homeless community without worrying that their gifts will be spent on drugs or alcohol, while allowing the recipients to retain the dignity of choosing how to spend the resources in their possession. Homeless people, however, do not only need resources, they also need affirmation of their place in society. Although we are not all equipped to provide shelter to those in need, personal engagement is a powerful tool to help someone reach homeostasis. By looking past the why and getting to the who, introducing yourself to the homeless in your area, and finding someone you are compelled to help, you can engage the social issue of homelessness in a new way. You may find people just like you, who have faced similar life circumstances but without your same resources. There are homeless mothers, fathers, veterans, readers, lovers of poetry and art, travelers, writers, brothers and sisters. Like most people who have survived rough times, they have insights to share that are interesting and honest. 

You, not just the local rescue mission, charities or government agencies, can help them move past survival to an equilibrium that allows them to start dreaming again.


Innovative Green Toys

Seth Strickland

Green Toys 1.png

by Jessica Munro

“When you buy one of our products, you’re buying peace of mind,” states Green Toys founder, Robert von Goeben. It’s not just the safety and sustainability of the materials used in the toys— recycled milk jugs—that put parents’ minds at ease, but also the company’s ethos of sustainability employed in their production. Von Goeben and Laurie Hyman are pioneers in a movement of entrepreneurs who weave triple-bottom-line thinking—people, planet, profit—into the very fabric of their organization and recognize the long-term implications of their choices.

The Green Toys idea was inspired by cofounder, Laurie Hyman, as she looked around her children’s playroom and saw the huge need to "find my way out [of] this plastic wasteland to a healthier, safer place for both my children and the planet." 

Green Toys 2.png

Green Toys have forged the category of eco-friendly toys. Far from merely greenwashing their merchandise to ride the environmentally conscious wave, Green Toys products and made from 100% recycled plastic. The recycled mild jugs used in Green Toys are made with high-density polyethylene (or HDPE) that is food-safe and contains no bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), or melamine. But the green story doesn't stop there.  

All Green Toys and Green Eats products are packaged in 100% recyclable corrugated cardboard boxes, which use no plastics, cellophane, or twist-ties and are printed with soy inks. IN addition, they keep the whole supply chain, from raw material to fulfillment, within the same US state to reduce emissions in the transportation of goods. 

Applying thoughtful design to every step of playroom and saw the huge need to “find my way out this plastic wasteland to a healthier, safer place production and distribution is a recent trend that has been advanced by outdoor clothing leaders for both my children and the planet.”

Patagonia and Icebreaker.

Patagonia applies rigorous social and environmental standards for supply guarantees and sustainable farming practices. Consumers want to know the impact their purchasing choices make on people and the planet, and they are beginning to expect radical supply chain transparency. Green Toys chooses to manufacture all their products locally, providing hundreds of jobs to Americans. Having local factories enables the leadership of Green Toys to be present on the factory floor to ensure that production standards are upheld and employees are treated fairly.

Education is part of the very essence of Green Toys, which are ‘de-designed’ to maintain the simplicity that promotes open play and imagination. In addition, Green Toys affords parents an educational moment when explaining how “this milk jug you put in the recycling bin could one day become another toy like your Green Toys Recycling Truck.” Children are empowered by knowing that even their small choices can have an impact. Of the 33.6 million tons of plastic Americans discard each year, only 6.5% of this is recycled. An increase in recycling would provide more affordable post-consumer materials for companies like Green Toys. 

While priced about 20%-30% higher than non-green alternatives, Green Toys believes parents are willing to pay a little more as an investment in a company who anticipates the concerns of tomorrow. Green Toys encourages parents to represent their values through their purchasing choices.

Launched in 2009, the Green Toys Recycling Truck may now be the best-known eco-toy on the planet. The company has received more than 60 awards to date, including Parenting Magazine’s Best Toys of the Year, Dr. Toy’s Green Toy Company of the Year, and several Gold Awards from the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio. The company also received a Greener Packaging Award for best practices in sustainable packaging.

Things we love about Green Toys:

  • You can trust the food-grade quality of the materials for your little ones— no BPA, phthalates, PVC or melamine.
  • Toys are made from 100% post-consumer plastic.
  • Increasing the demand for post-consumer plastic encourages recycling and helps drive down the price to make it an affordable input for other companies
  • Frustration-free packaging taken to the next level—no plastics, cellophane or twist-ties and printed with soy inks.
  • Reduced footprint in local sourcing and manufacturing—no shipping from China
  • Local job creation based on their commitment to keep the supply chain from raw material to fulfillment within the same US state.
  • Promotes learning—children who play with Green Toys know that their choice to recycle can truly make a difference.

Entrepreneurs, take note! This holistic approach to the design of both your product and your organizational infrastructure is the way forward. Consumers demand it and society and the planet benefit.

 **

 This post is a reprint from the inaugural Issue no. 1, which is available in our store  and in the iTunes store. For more excellent, helpful, and thoughtful content like this and so much more, subscribe today. 

 

Tips to Manage Your Finances

Seth Strickland

by Megan Lathrop

623-01222834d.jpg

Although a taboo conversation topic at most dinner parties, money affects all areas of our lives. The pursuit of it, as an end in and of itself, is not to be praised but neither is neglect of the subject.

Debt decreases personal freedom, diminishes opportunity and limits our ability to invest in others and ourselves. Dealing with finances and debt can be daunting, but there are proactive measures that can be taken to actively reduce this stress.

Follow six tips to help you get started.

1. Find out where your money is going. Using credit cards on a regular basis can make it easy to lose track of money. Consider using an online service like Mint.com or Hello Wallet  that allow you to view your spending habits and set financial goals. They also have mobile apps that allow you to track your cash spending, so you won’t lose track of how much you spend buying coffee or feeding the meter.

If you need something more tangible, create a budget and put cash in labeled envelopes. When the envelope is empty, you know you have spent your allotted money for that expense.

2. Review your spending. What areas do you go over budget on regularly? Are there hidden expenses that you haven’t accounted for that are chipping away at your margin? Are there things you can go without? Watch out for bank fees, regular charges from subscriptions that you no longer use and duplicate expenses that can be eliminated.

3. Call each credit card company. Ask them to lower your interest rate. About 50% of the time they will. It is worth asking, as every bit helps when you are paying off debt. Use credit cards that have no annual fees and, when you can, 0% interest rates. When possible, consolidate debt onto the lowest interest-earning card possible.

4. Set up auto pay for your monthly bills. We are emotional beings, so removing subjectivity from these matters will increase our chances of reaching our financial goals. Automate the important items to ensure they get paid on time. If your employer provide direct deposit, set up a rule to have a percentage of your paycheck go automatically into a savings account. If you never see the money, you will be less likely to spend it.

5. Plan ahead for tax season. If you have an accountant, schedule a meeting with him or her to discuss your financial goals for the upcoming year and to discuss your estimated tax payment. Don’t wait until March when tax season is in full swing. If you manage your own finances, set aside a weekend in January to review your 2012 records and estimate your annual tax payment. This will ensure that you are prepared for these expenses come April.

6. Get Professional Assistance. If you don’t have a financial planner, consider seeking one out to assist you with this area of your life. There are many great financial planners across the country. The financial world has many complexities but a professional can help you get control of your spending and plot a course to reach financial goals. Check out www.CFP.net for a Certified financial planner in your area.

Living without debt furnishes us with resources to live a more deliberate and productive life.

** 

 This post is a reprint from the inaugural Issue no. 1 available in our store  and in the iTunes store. For more excellent, helpful, and thoughtful content like this and so much more, subscribe today. 

Time to Give Up on Time Management

Seth Strickland

j.png

 By Adam Klein

One daily resource we all have equal amounts of is time: count the hours ... we each have 24. The curious thing about those 24 hours is that we cannot collect them for later use. There are no time-banks to house unspent hours. There are no unspent hours. Worst of all, we cannot get time back. The inevitably of time is ... it passes—so much for managing and controlling time.

Perhaps this is why there is so much frustration and ‘Sisyphus-syndrome’ around the subject of time management. It is, as they say, a myth. So, if there’s no such thing as ‘time management,’ then what? Take another look at those 24 hours: the only thing that we are able to ‘manage’ in those hours is ... us. We are the controllable element in the passage of time. We are what is spent as the hours roll along. This understanding opens up an empowering question: “How are we going to ‘manage’ ourselves?” Instead of using time, we are investing ourselves (bodies, brains, hearts) and our resources (money, food, homes, etc.) in the context of time. It is a subtle, but important, distinction. Here’s how to get started down this new path of self-management.

1. Name it. We are valuable and we each have 24 hours in which to operate. Therefore, it is important to identify what is important to us: family, health, financial sustainability, ecology, etc. Use this list to prioritize where you’ll invest yourself.

2. Accept it. There are only 24 hours and we are only human beings. These two finite elements are crucial to accept right from the get-go. As a result, we need to accept that everything will not get done. Use your importance list to filter out the unimportant activities and to-dos.

3. Dream it. As humans we are dynamic, constantly changing and full of new ideas. We each have the ability to dream the future we want for ourselves and our families, neighborhoods and world. Mesh these dreams with your importance list, and invest yourself accordingly.

4. Learn it. Learn how to operate with discipline and efficacy. These are two fundamental competencies that enable good use of our selves and our resources. Try color-coding your various priority areas on your calendar. This will give you a quick visual overview of how your time is being allocated. If you struggle with distractions, use the do-not-disturb feature on your phone, or download a website blocker like Self Control, which will block out chosen websites for a set amount of time. 

 It’s important to differentiate between managing time and managing ourselves; doing so reveals the true change agent ... us! We are the cherished resource through which the future is created. The next time we look at our lives and notice gaps in what is happening versus what we would like to see happening, forget Father Time and instead ask yourself: How do I need to manage myself differently?

This post is a reprint from the inaugural Issue no. 1 available in our store  and on in iTunes store. For more excellent, helpful, and thoughtful content like this and so much more, subscribe today.

Save The Rain

Fay Johnson

Page 22.PNG

The Case for Saving the Rain

Have you ever thought about the connection between how neighborhoods and cities are designed and how the rain impacts our environment? The impermeable surfaces that surround us—from vast parking lots to endless roads—can collect billions of gallons of water in just one rainfall. If that water is not redirected for beneficial uses, it can transport pollutants into our waterways. We seldom think of rainwater as a culprit in the pollution problem, but the influx of water into our sewage systems during a big storm carries contaminants from our streets into our waterways and the ecosystems that depend on them. Residents, especially those in single-family homes, can take one simple step that can dramatically change the impact rainfall has on pollution: collecting rainwater.

The Problem

Imagine a parking lot and all that you find on the ground. Car fluids, cigarette butts, litter, and often salt. When rain falls or snow melts on these debris-covered surfaces, it sends thousands of gallons of water and trash straight into the sewer system that ultimately runs into our larger waterways. The average US middle-class home has approximately 2,500 square feet of impermeable surfaces. Depending on the region, approximately 60,500 gallons of rain falls on those surfaces per year. In most cities, wastewater from your home shares the same system as the storm water, so when there is heavy rainfall, the sewer can’t handle the added volume, and it spills into the wastewater system, with both now becoming the runoff into our rivers and streams as Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO). When you add up the effect of all the houses, roadways, and parking lots in a city, they create billions of gallons of polluted water that then travel through our sewer systems and enter our waterways. When this high volume of polluted water leaves the sewer system and enters the rivers and streams, it can contribute to erosion. And when erosion continues over a long period of time, it can lead to flooding in the surrounding areas, which destroys wildlife habitat.

A Viable Solution

Redirecting, storing, and using storm water systems is both simple and cost effective. It can benefit homeowners and the ecosystem by reducing a household’s water bill and lowering the amount of pollutants that enter our waterways. Some household solutions include rain barrels, cisterns, splash blocks, soaker hoses, rain chains, pervious concrete or surfaces, and rain gardens. Other more industrial options include curb cuts, bio- swales, and retention ponds. These solutions are a great way to start addressing the issue of runoff in urban environments.

One of the easiest ways for homeowners to do their part is to install a rain barrel. Rain barrels collect the water from your gutters and save it for you to use around your home. In addition to helping address the issue of runoff, rain barrels save you money by lowering your water bill. As homes require less water from the municipal water facilities, it lowers the demand for treated water. Some sewer providers, especially those managed by municipal or city governments, offer incentives for utilizing rainwater management systems, including discounts or financial incentives to install rain barrels. Your sewer company is a good resource to find out more information on regulations and incentive qualifications.

Estimate your annual collection with this rainwater calculator.

 

Read the full article, with installation instructions, in Issue no. 3 of deliberateLIFE. Available for purchase on iTunes and in our shop.  

Homeless in the US : The Unaccounted-For

Fay Johnson

by Fay Johnson

The number of homeless people in the United States on any given night is difficult to calculate. Most individuals who find themselves homeless are only temporarily without shelter.  The picture of homelessness most commonly presented in the media and on the street corner is one of extreme poverty, mental illness and substance abuse. Although many individuals who live on the homeless individual looks the same. Despite an overall decrease in homelessness nationally, due to a concerted effort by multiple government agencies and their partners, there has been an increase in the number of families reporting temporary or long-term homelessness. The Cheves  were one of these families.

Read More

Filling Potholes

Fay Johnson

Transient

By James Pearson, Kigali Rwanda

“Art can’t fill potholes.” This declaration was spoken from the mouth of an American non-profit worker in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, during a discussion about art’s place in creating social change. Her point was that art doesn’t have a place. Not really.

Screen Shot 2013-06-10 at 9.58.43 PM.png

Another expat, in defense of art, recounted an image she had seen: the deep, well-established potholes in a particularly poor neighborhood planted overnight with tall, fragrant, colorful flowers. It was not immediately clear, however, from the faces in the room, whether this image tipped the scales in art’s direction, or further incriminated it. [An aside: I’m going to hold the term ‘art’ very loosely here, so if you have deep convictions about what art is, or, more so, what it isn’t, this may be a frustrating read for you. Soldier on.]

Art has a fraught relationship with practicality. Any 18-year-old who has told his parents he’s going to be an actor can tell you so. This holds in the realm of social justice as well. There is much practical work to be done – many mouths to feed, slaves to free, paperwork to complete (especially paperwork!) – and rarely does art get its hands dirty, so to speak.

Nonetheless, art that addresses itself to issues of justice abounds. Is this only pretty posing? Are we just, to borrow a different criticism of art’s limitations, dancing about architecture?

Photographer and filmmaker, Adam Sjoberg, uses his art very practically. He works with non-profits and social businesses to tell the stories of their mission and impact, as well as the people and places who turn out better because of them. His clients include Warby Parker and TOMS, and when I spoke with him over email he had just returned from Asia, where he had filmed the story of a refugee for the organization Liberty in North Korea.

“For-profit companies like Warby Parker already recognize the profitability of well-branded, artfully crafted media and story-telling,” Sjoberg says. “It’s the profit that’s the practical part. There’s nothing like a good story well told to win attention and support and, thereby, customers or donors. It’s a tougher sell for non-profits,” he continues, “but in an era where we’re even saturated with the term ‘media-saturation,’ the importance of standout media is becoming ever more self- evident.”

Sjoberg touches on another use for art in the realm of justice, one not nearly so immediate as profit but potentially much more important. “I truly believe artists are prophets,” he says. Prophets (sometimes called shamans) are given an important place in nearly every human society in history. Their role is to retreat from their own society, to step outside of their culture and its dictates, and to intuit or receive some higher law or grander culture. The prophets then bring this revelation back and share it with their people, inviting them into a changed way of living. No matter the geography or the divinity, the pattern of the prophet remains the same: retreat, receive, return.

However, every return is followed by a struggle, because, invariably, the prophet’s new wisdom conflicts with the cultural status quo. It points out dark, pained places in the culture that had been accepted, and therefore rendered invisible, and it asks that they be recognized and removed. The prophet’s wisdom illuminates better ways, but it’s a unique aspect of prophecy that these better ways do not seem entirely new. Rather they can feel as if they had been there all along, waiting for the light.

Art is like prophecy. Art has the ability to get behind our arguments and to point to things in us that had been invisible, both the dark and the light. It can activate every part of our humanity, from quiet rationality to thumping emotion, and, in so doing, it can leave us with the sorts of new understandings that don’t seem entirely new, but rather fated somehow.

It is this prophetic quality of art that might be its most important when it comes to justice. Injustice is built upon humanity’s wrong understandings – our dark, pained, invisible beliefs. Art can point these out to us, thus rendering the invisible roots of injustice visible. It can recommend new ways, better ways.

This, I think, is why Martin Luther King, Jr. was so poetic: why he spoke of dreams and mountaintops and not just marches and laws. He knew America needed not only a leader, but also a prophet: not just rhetoric, but poetry. We needed art to help us to see our own injustice.

This is why the image of the flowers in the potholes was powerful after all. The artist didn’t fix the road, but, without argument, she showed a city its own negligence and offered it a better way.

*Article originally appeared in Issue no. 2 of deliberateLIFE Magazine. For more on Art's role in conflict mitigation and advocacy, download our second issue.