one for one for one

x to the power of 0 equals one. That little mathematical quirk forms the basis for the title of my book and I figure that if you write a book that is basically called “one” you’ve got to love a movement called “one for one“. This past week I became acquainted with Tom’s Shoes and their policy of giving a new pair of shoes to a child in need every time a customer buys a pair of shoes. In other words, you aren’t just buying yourself a pair, you are buying one for yourself and one for a child. Thus, the “one for one” movement.

Tom’s has a similar program with eyeglasses, and they also hold a drawing every week to send one customer off with Tom’s employees to deliver that week’s shoes. Both very cool. But what intrigued me most about this company is its rather phenomenal attempt to achieve empathy for those who have no shoes by hosting an annual “One day without shoes” movement. Check out their website for a fun video showing folks from 50 countries trying get through a normal day without shoes. Talk about learning to walk a mile in anothers footsteps…

One of the themes of x0 was to explore the idea of how telepathy would affect our ability to be cruel, or even just indifferent to each others suffering. I’m in awe of this company for trying to achieve that same awareness of the thoughts and feelings of others through a simple act of identifying with them physically for a day. Will a day without shoes bring us closer to world peace? It seems like such a simple idea, but like any act that fosters empathy, it has to help.

And check out my great new shoes in the photo above.

Empathy lessons from Nigeria

When I started writing a book about a telepathic link developing between two strangers, I wanted the second woman to lead a life that was very different from my protagonist. There were a lot of good reasons to make her Nigerian. For one, I’ve gotten to work with and know a variety of Nigerians in my day job, and I had both information on and appreciation for Nigeria’s cultures. Secondly, I recognized that few nations have as poor a reputation here in the US, largely due, I think, to the ongoing rash of Nigerian internet scams.

But I also knew that Nigeria has lessons to teach the rest of the world about learning to get along. As a nation born out of a forced union of tribes which sometimes held a deep hatred for each other, modern Nigeria has endured internal fighting and atrocities beyond belief. Years ago when I was involved in recruiting geoscientists, I learned about Nigeria’s National Youth Service Core.  Set up in response to Nigeria’s civil war in the early 1970’s, it requires that all Nigerian college graduates spend a year of public service while placed within other ethnic groups. In other words, they are sent off to live with the very people whom their own families may have hated.  The goal is to foster communication, compassion and empathy by exposing young Nigerians to the day to day lives of these “others’ .

As one might guess, such a scheme is plagued by problems.  It targets only the educated youth, and arguably they are already the more open-minded and least likely to perpetuate old hatreds. University graduates are not evenly distributed throughout the regions, and so some areas contribute considerably more to the workforce while other regions benefit more. Sadly, several brutal attacks on young corp members in recent years have tarnished its reputation and left families fearful. And finally, all the problems found in a large bureaucracy can be found here as well. For all it’s failings, however, Nigerians themselves ask the question “What would our nation be like if we hadn’t set up such a program?”

Which brings me to going to college here in the United States. Thanks to the bargain of in-state tuition and the relative ease of moving a teenager a few hundred miles instead of a few thousand, most parents I know strongly encourage their children to go to college nearby. When my three children left Texas to attend schools in far-flung New England, Chicago and the West Coast, we got asked what it was we had against Texas. The answer was that we had something for seeing our nation from different points of view. The U.S. of 2012 is not plagued by civil war, thankfully, but regional animosity and cultural dislike seem to be only growing, and in the end I think that fact can only serve to hurt us all, no matter where our home is or what our beliefs are.

So I personally think that there is lesson to be learned from Nigeria.  If we want our next generation to act and live as one coherent nation working together in spite of differences of opinion, then we need to encourage our youth to get out and see our country through the eyes of people we too often belittle. Nigeria may not be executing this plan perfectly, but they have an idea worth emulating. How would our nation change if a year of college far out of state was encouraged whenever practical? The result could well be that our children end up befriending the very people that we think that do not like, and we find ourselves in the awkward position of having to like more people.

Come take a Journey to Light

Fellow indie author and kindred spirit Bob Craton has written a fascinating trilogy about four pacifists who must join forces to save their world from a brutal empire. I enjoyed the first novel in his series recently, and below I share the synopsis and Bob’s bio with you.

Journey to Light: Part I of The High Duties of Pàçia: Imagine a world populated with the entire spectrum of humanity. Good people, ordinary citizens of small cities, fear attack from brutal and powerful men called the Zafiri. Great Cities are divided between the decadence and splendor of the wealthy and the deprivation and squalor of the poor. An organization of women known as the Sistéria is widely known but little understood. Its members have the talent to use ‘effect,’ the ability the read and control the emotions of others, and sometimes to have prescient visions of the future. And people in Pàçia, a land with an ancient history set apart from the rest of the world, were once gentle, kind and peaceful. Their leaders did not have the power to rule or command; instead they had duties to fulfill – High Duties which for millennia helped make the world a better place. That is, until twelve years earlier when the Zafiri invaded Pàçia with a massive army, capturing the beautiful city Abbelôn and crushing the gentle people. Now the rest of the world is threatened by more war and destruction.

Then an extraordinary young woman named Sistére Graice crosses paths with a man unlike any she has met before. Her ‘effect,’ which has always worked on everyone else, has no power over him. Known only as Holder, the man has no memory and doesn’t know his own identity. Graice’s mentor Sybille hires him as a guide for a journey she and Graice must make, partly so they can keep him close until they discover his secret. As they travel, Graice tries to help Holder recover his memory. While he is in a drugged sleep, she ‘sees’ into his mind and discovers small fragments of past events, all involving a beautiful golden-haired woman. When he wakes, Holder still does not remember these scenes but Graice gains clues about his identity. The women now know who he is (or was) but do not tell him. He must remember on his own for the recovery to succeed.

In the backwaters of the land meanwhile, a boy age thirteen travels with his aunt (his sole surviving relative) hiding from enemy spies by moving constantly and using false names and disguises. When he complains that he knows nothing about his parents, she reveals his family name and bits of its history. It’s and old and honored lineage. Later, she gives him an amulet and implies he will wear it someday. It’s an Emblem of High Duty, she says. His grandfather and mother had held two of the three High Duties before they died.

A girl named Caelia, also thirteen, hides from the same enemy. She lives with her parents and many other refugees in a cavern where her father searches for secrets of the Anziên people, a civilization which collapsed 3,500 years earlier. Named after a legendary heroine from antiquity, Caelia is unusually bright and mature for her age and her shining red-gold hair sets her apart. Girls with that hair color are born once in a millennium, people say, and everyone in the community loves Caelia. At this point, however, even the girl herself does not know why they do. When she wants to leave the cave on an adventure, everybody objects but no one can say no to her. She gets her way and departs with a trading expedition.

Along their separate paths, Graice and Holder are attacked by a monstrous creature; outlaws kidnap Caelia and drag her into a forest wilderness; and enemy soldiers close in on the boy, causing him to flee for his life. Not only do all survive but the encounters also reveal hidden secrets. The story continues in Return of the High Protector: Part II of the High Duties of Pàçia.

Biography of the Author

When he was a child, Bob Craton’s teachers often remarked (not always favorably) about his day-dreaming. He spent much of his time lost in his own imagination, often creating elaborate elementary school tall-tales, and the habit never went away as he grew up. Coming of age in the 1960s filled his head with dreams of saving the world and having a career in academia. Then the real world closed in. With a family to support, he took a job at the corporate grindstone, just temporarily until he could get back to grad school and earn the PhD he desired. Somehow ‘temporarily’ turned into thirty-three years of stress and boredom but he kept entertaining himself by creating stories inside his head. Interestingly (well, he hopes it’s interesting anyway), his best ideas came to him while he was stuck in rush-hour traffic during his daily commute.

At age fifty-seven, he retired early (a euphemism for ‘got laid off) and had time to put his tales on ‘paper’ (an ancient product now replaced by digital electronics). The ideas in his head were all visual, like scenes from a movie, and as began writing, he learned to translate visual into verbal and improve his skills. Or at least, that’s what he says. He admits that sometimes minor characters – or some who weren’t included in the original plan at all – demand attention. Frequently, he agrees with them and expands their roles. Many people believe he is bonkers for believing that fictional characters talk to him, but he calls it creativity and remains unrepentant.

If you are interested in reading this book it can be found here at Smashwords and here at Amazon.