How do you think of Haiti?

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As today is the two-year anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti, you’re going to hear a lot about how much progress has been made rebuilding the country. From both the media and non-profits alike, they’ll be plenty of stories about “how many tons of rubble are left”, or “how many buildings have yet to be rebuilt.”

Those are the same questions that I asked the first couple times I visited Haiti in 2010, and my friends and family did the same after each trip. But after visiting Haiti on several occasions since the earthquake, I thought I’d share how my has perspective evolved since then. My thoughts progressed a little something like this:

  • Visit #1: I spend a week witnessing the impact of an earthquake on an already impoverished country. “This place is a wasteland,” I thought.
  • Visit #2: Still awed by the destruction and the poverty, I began to appreciate the fact that people were able to survive at all. I didn’t know how they did it.
  • Visit #3: It dawned on me that while the earthquake was awful, Haiti had been a terrible place to live for a very long time. This led to frustration of not knowing how a country could remain in dire straits for so long.
  • Visit #4: I finally stopped seeing general bleakness and began to notice hope and happiness – a taxi driver who wanted to go to college in Wisconsin (and later did), and an old lady teaching dance classes in a rural town. Incredible geography. Smiling kids and proud mothers. Soccer games.
  • Visit #5: First thinking that I had Haiti figured out, and later realizing that I actually knew very little. I stopped trying to figure out “solutions” and learned to take things as they were. Only then could I start to appreciate the people and the places I visited.

After all those experiences, all I can say is that life is complicated in Haiti. Smiles, death, dust, friends, sewage, hope, beauty, and chaos blend together to form a place of paradoxes that defies simplification. Situations are often both tragic and cheerful, hopeful and pitiful. How can people smile (and stay sane) when death, lack of opportunity, chaos, and poor circumstance are pressed upon them? The Haitian people have something we lack, but I don’t know exactly what it is. Some type of hope that most of us don’t have to tap into, I suppose. But even if I lived in Haiti for a year, I doubt I’d really be able to understand.

I’m saying all of this because I want you to appreciate Haiti. I don’t want you to see it as a wasteland, like I did during my first couple visits. I don’t want you to think that it’s hopeless and forgettable. And I don’t want you to believe that just because things don’t look much different a couple years later, that Haiti is just a lost cause. Instead, I want you to know that the country and the people have joy, they have beauty, and they have hope. And I want you to think of those things, not of an earthquake, when you think of Haiti.

 

Pinterest is just a bunch of bumper stickers

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Pinterest is mainly a site for (mainly) women to share things they love. Recipes, fashion, and furniture abound. But that didn’t stop me from trying it out. After all, Pinterest has been experiencing massive growth, so it must be doing something right. In this post, we’re going to take a look one thing it’s doing particularly well, and what this means for causes.

Pinterest has done a great job of allowing users to curate their own identify, by giving them simple, visually appealing ways to “pin” content available for other users to see. It’s a new concept for the web, but it’s merely a new take on something we already see all the time – the heavily bumper-stickered car, shouting to the world a hundred brief messages about the kind of person who’s behind the wheel.

Here are couple stereotypical classics: first, the eco-liberal Prius (driving 10 miles under the speed limit), with the mandatory Coexist, Free Tibet, and “Topless Mountains are Obscene” bumper stickers, accompanied by a tasteful arrangement of anti-war and local farmer’s market decals. It’s arch-enemy is the “we’ll never run out of oil, I’m not compensating for anything” gun-rack equipped Dodge Ram with 40″ tires. At minimum, a full array of George W. Bush, NRA, and Support Our Troops decals are present, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see the classy image of Calvin taking a leak on the Ford logo.

They seem like polar opposites, but what do these two vehicles have in common? Owners who feel strongly about their identify and want to express it to the world. They’ve simply chosen their vehicles as a medium for doing so, by prominently displaying organizations, attitudes, and movements they associate themselves with.

While most of us don’t drive cars like either of those, we still want to be seen as unique individuals with defined interests. That’s where Pinterest comes in. Users can easily “pin” images of things they love and display them to the world. Visit any Pinterest user’s profile, and it doesn’t take long to see what they’re into. From there, you can probably begin to deduce a little bit about their personality, their beliefs, values, and so on. It’s a quick, lightweight, and addicting.

Essentially, Pinterest has created a virtual version of the bumper sticker-clad car. The difference is that the content is much less tacky, it’s easy to share and “repin”, and there’s no messy glue to remove when you want to move on to something new.

So why should the world of causes care about all of this? Again, most people have a strong desire to tell the world about who they are. And a person’s giving choices are no less a part of their identity than the other ephemera that Pinterest users share. In fact, I’d argue that the manner in which someone supports causes is one of the most revealing characteristics about who they are. Every philanthropic person has a unique “cause identity” that’s made up of the donations they’ve made, the hours they’ve volunteered, and any other talent they’ve shared towards the greater good. So why can’t we just as easily share those actions like we do with recipes and pictures of shoes? It would be a hugely revealing statement about one’s values.

Unfortunately, most of our cause-related activity is private, forgotten, or simply not available on the web. Our “cause identity” is separate from the rest of our identify, but I don’t had a good explanation as to why. But I guarantee that this will change, and I plan to be a part of it!

What do you think – how can causes be better incorporated into one’s identity on the web? What other things can we learn from Pinterest that can be applied to causes?