Opening Quotes & Table of Contents
Ch. 1: Business as Religion, Villain and Savior
Ch. 2: The Bison Way
Ch.3: Purpose First
Ch. 4: Culture is a Matter of Life and Death
Ch. 5: Bison @Work
Ch. 6: The Twin Drivers of Flourishing
Ch. 7: Elements and Emergence
Appendix A: Purpose Activation Resources
Appendix B: Social Learning Journeys
“This is our nation,” I said to myself as tears flooded my eyes.
It was a warm summer evening, the kind I fondly remember from my youth in the Midwest- a moment of liminal expanse, of kairos, of being briefly beyond normal time and part of eternity - a place in-between places, a place between playing tag and lightning bugs. Was their scotch and ice in my tumbler that night? Yes. Did I eat a couple mushrooms before I left the house? Youbetcha. The veil, as they say, was thin.
My eyes softened and the sinews of my environs came to view - the diversity, goodwill, connection and creative self-expression. I felt connected and jubilant. I was witness to a nation’s promise - from many, one - all of us created equal - life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Was this the mountaintop Dr. King foresaw? Was this what Maslow experienced among the Blackfoot people?
Fireworks don’t do it for me. The Pledge of Allegiance doesn’t stir my soul. What stirs my soul and evokes national pride is our national parks, justice, equity and people from all walks showing up fully and treating each other with dignity and care. What stirs my soul is compassion, beauty, prosperity and fraternity. It’s creativity and service. It’s coming together around shared values and across differences. That is what seized me that night.
I was at a local festival called “First Friday” in Oakland. On the first Friday of the month, Oakland’s art galleries are open and the street is filled with bands, vendors, fashion shows, stand up comedy, dance troops, drum circles, political movements, spiritual communities, non-profits and DJ booths.
In a sense, First Friday is like any street fair in the United States - folks of all ages, pimples, flirting and summer dresses, laughter and sweat, fried things on sticks. And yet, it is like no other gathering in the nation. Because of Oakland’s diversity and culture of openness, friendships and romance flourished across lines of racial identity. Because of the Bay Area's thriving economy, it's natural beauty, public transportation, affordable healthcare and relatively inexpensive housing, Oakland had the fertile conditions for our nation’s soul to take form.
As technology gained a stronghold in the Bay Area during the late 1990's, rents skyrocketed, sending San Francisco’s diverse artists, activists and intellectuals to the east. Because the East Bay was separated by water and perceived to be far more dangerous than San Francisco, white yuppies largely ignored it. So the East Bay became this little secret - incredible weather, food, music, hiking, culture, diversity, community, bike lanes, great public transit and relatively cheap rent. Perhaps due to the progressive influence of the University of California, Berkeley, we held this Golden Age / place lightly, mindful of the numerous injustices that made it possible, from the genocide of the Ohlone and Miwok to the "Three Strikes" that sent a generation of BIPOC folks to prison for nonviolent offenses.
Of course, now the word is out that Oakland is cool and a relatively safe place for white folks. Rents have doubled since 2012, there are Google buses and startups, Victorians are being cleared for condos, and because of accelerating climate change, the annual fire season turns the Bay Area into an unbreatheable, post-apocalyptic hellscape.
At the time I was there (2012-2018), however, it was magical. It seemed like everybody was up to something. Despite being poor, working or middle class, it felt like most folks had a commitment to something larger than themselves. Some were involved in racial, economic and environmental justice efforts, some were deepening their cultural traditions, some were developing their art, some were leading their Burning Man camps, some were experimenting with novel sexual endeavors and relationship statuses, some were devoted to personal and spiritual development, and some were launching community gardens, fashion brands, religions, maker spaces, intentional communities and political movements, and some folks were like me, who tried to experience all of it.
I became present to all of this that night. The magic of human creativity, flourishing and connection, of purpose, empathy and inclusion, of freedom, interracial romance, and a sense that nothing stands in the way of our dreams.
I was grabbed by two kinds of liberation. The first is the freedom from want and oppression, to be oneself wholly and completely, to claim one’s destiny and to dream impossible futures. Of course, BIPOC folks are still regularly terrorized by Oakland Police, however on that night, the police seemed to be nowhere in sight. This first freedom is one that arises when an economy and culture:
A. values diversity,
B. ensures that basic needs are secure and/or guaranteed as a right, e.g., affordable housing, healthy food, public transit, Obamacare / Covered California, and
C. makes people from all backgrounds feel safe, wanted and empowers them to flourish.
I was also grabbed by the freedom to - a freedom that comes with the power of purpose. This isn’t the freedom to be anything you want to be. It certain isn’t the freedom to ignite explosives at a gender-reveal party, or “murder out” your car, or move to Puerto Rico to avoid paying taxes. This kind of freedom is bound to your unique soul. This freedom is antithetical to the neck-up / eagle / Cartesian delusion of tabula rasa. It is the deep self-knowledge that you absolutely cannot and should not be anything you want. Rather it is the freedom to be you - TO be the fullest expression of your unique purpose. This freedom comes from connection - to your soul, your craft, your people, your earth, and the future for which you stand.
It is a freedom arising from clarity about who you are, the commitment society has to you, and your commitment to others, to family, community, nation and planet. It is being willing to die on the sword of your soul. It is the liberation of knowing what you are for and to whom you belong. It is the permission to care for and contribute to others, knowing that others will care for and contribute to you. It is the freedom to be yourself, freak flag and all, loving each and every one of your imperfections.
These two freedoms are broadly embraced In the East Bay. It is common for folks to have done inner work and have a sense of who they are. They are cared for and are connected to each other. They get wild, experiment, make mistakes, clean them up and learn to do it better the next time.
In my time in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco among the professional classes, I didn’t observe these freedoms. I witnessed and participated in the false freedoms of detachment (“not my problem”), depersonalization (“it’s just business”), and dehumanization (“the world needs ditch diggers too”). We lived from the neck up as eagles, working the angles, trading gossip on hot startups, unicorn stocks, cheap real estate, and other forms of Machiavellian comeuppance.
My experience of the East Bay was different. There was rootedness, attachment and connection. Folks were in their heart, connected to what broke it and what world they are creating. In retrospect, this night gave me one of my first tastes of bison medicine, of feeling connected to my community, of marveling in the creativity, uniqueness, universality, fraternity and abundant spirit that only arises when these twin liberations -the freedom from and freedom to - are present.
This is what it takes to activate our national purpose. Everyone has what they need to flourish, to discover and activate their purpose at work, build community with their diverse peers, and feel safe, wanted and connected to a larger mission. They unlock a sense of legacy, fulfillment and belonging that they then bring home to their families and communities. In so far as business is the sandbox for the activation of purpose and belonging, it is a force for the greater economic, social, environmental, cultural and national good. In so far as it isn’t, it continues to desecrate it. Let us choose the bright, connected, creative and abundant path. Let us ignite purpose and belonging at scale.
Imagine the 20 largest employers in your area activating purpose and belonging in their workforce. Imagine the increase in productivity (+$20k/pp/yr), fulfillment (+64%), leadership effectiveness (+63%), innovation (+30%) and tenure (+7.4 months). Imagine the decrease in anxiety in diverse environments (4x). Imagine the resulting prosperity and tax revenues that would flow into our diverse community. Imagine the quality of our public schools, clean energy, mass transit and healthcare now available because of the expanded tax base and enhanced ability to issue municipal bonds and invest in public works. Imagine police not murdering anyone ever again, but safely enforcing the laws through de-escalation and conflict resolution.
Imagine a deep regard and respect for all life. Imagine soulful camaraderie, creativity, curiosity and celebration as the foundation of our public life. Imagine intellectually sober, civil and empathetic political discourse. Imagine healing our twin genocides and ending our apartheid. Imagine sleeping well. Imagine your kids and grandkids respecting what you do for a living and who you are for the world. Imagine all the fun possibilities now at our fingertips.
All this and more is available to you, your company, your community and your country.
When we activate PURPOSE and belonging at WORK, we become a NATION.
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