On Missing My Father 10/2/2016

This is beautiful for the emotions it evokes. Billy, an intellectual man, takes time to just be honestly emotional in writing. Leaves the reader not thinking too much and feeling a lot. Very well done.

Billy Glidden

I’m in the bathroom when the grief descends. I am caught defenseless. One minute, I’m thinking about a blog post, feeling annoyed by a phone call; the next, an old memory comes to me, one I haven’t replayed in months, if not years, and I find myself lying on my bathroom and sobbing.

It has been six years since my dad died. It’s a fact as much a part of my reality as the rain or sun. It simply is. Thus it is something I can go many days without fully noticing. When there is occasion for me to talk about him, or his absence, I draw from my repository of well-worn dad anecdotes, and can usually get through them with the ease one feels recounting the outcome of a sports game or describing the weather.

Not so on this night. It could be fatigue; I really haven’t been sleeping…

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To my friends blasting Muslims for the Paris attacks

This post was inspired by a particular exchange with a friend online, but is intended for every one of my friends who is tempted to respond to the violence in Paris by blocking all Syrian refugees from coming to the US, screening immigrants by religion, or painting all Muslims with the same brush.


Dear Friend,

We recently had a spirited exchange online about Syrian refugees and Islam. It started with me seeing a few anti-Muslim posts you shared. Then I shared this video with you and the conversation really got started:


I suspect the following exchange mirrors many that have taken place over the last few days.

You brought up some quotes from the Quran that incite violence. I pointed out that the Bible has similar verses, and a mutual friend of ours chimed in with some of these Bible quotes. We went back and forth. You questioned whether the refugees fleeing violence in Syria are really in need, using photo memes of what are apparently healthy-looking male refugees. Do these memes accurately represent the situation? Do a Google image search for “Syrian refugees” and you’ll find your answer. Include the words “boat”, “drown”, or “boy” and you’ll really have your heart broken.


You’ve only known me for a few years, so you don’t know much about the time I spent in the Muslim world in 2009 and 2011.

In 2009 I traveled to northwest India on a study abroad program with Principia College. We each designed our own ethnographic research project, and I chose to study Hindu-Muslim relations. India, the world’s largest democracy, is a Hindu-majority country, but also houses the world’s second largest Muslim population, approximately tying Pakistan and trailing only Indonesia. I got to interview many different people as I assembled a representative sample of Indians young and old, rich and poor, rural and urban, educated and uneducated, Brahmin and lower class, female and male, Hindu and Muslim. Two people stood out.

Siraj was a thirty-year-old family man who hosted me and another American student for a short homestay. He was a Muslim living in Udaipur, a predominantly Hindu city. He was tremendously kind, warm, and talkative. We sat on his rooftop at night and he would philosophize in English about Gandhi, peace, love, his dreams for his children, and his hopes for India.

Kamil was a Muslim that a group of us met in the middle of the bustle of the Delhi train station. He was an impressive, inspiring, spiritual man who deeply affected all of us after just a short conversation. And he had no legs. Our encounter with him inspired the most thoughtful of my blog posts from that trip: Dignity On Two Arms.

In 2011 I got my second experience in Muslim society. I spent three months in Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and Jordan, and traveled through a range of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities. I was fed by Muslim cave-dwellers in the deserts of the West Bank, housed by Israeli Jews in several kibbutz (intentional communities), and educated in non-violent activism by Palestinian Christian leaders.

Together these experiences make it impossible for me to judge and condemn an entire religion of over 1 billion people because of the violence of a few.


Though I think some of what you’re sharing is misinformation and/or hateful propaganda, I don’t blame you for sharing it. I just wanted to explain the life experience I’m coming from. I also think I understand, at least in part, where you’re coming from.

I know when you come home at the end of a long day, you’re physically exhausted and emotionally drained, you’ve been dealing with other people’s problems, and you don’t have time to become an expert in both foreign policy and religion. The world is a vast, overwhelming place (for me, too), and your life is stressful enough as it is. For the few minutes you spend on the internet in the evening, you just want to enjoy a video of a puppy cuddling with a lion cub, a nice landscape scenery shot taken by an old high school buddy, and maybe a post with a minion in it. You want to laugh and be inspired. You want a diversion from the craziness of daily life. We probably all feel this way sometimes.

However, I also know that you’re a person, like me, with a full range of emotions, and sometimes the emotional outlet you need is not just a cat video but a channel for your more aggressive feelings. Sometimes you’re angry and BuzzFeed just isn’t enough to brighten your day. This is where the Islamophobic messages come in. They satisfy that little part of you that wants to feel outrage. It seems that most of us experience moments when it’s comforting to find an evil in the world and indulge in pure, uncomplicated anger. There are plenty of people, acts, and even countries worthy of outrage, after all. But in these meme-ified moments, complexity and compassion go by the wayside, and that’s where we go wrong.

The way I see it, when you indulge in a simplistic message of hate, you’re being taken advantage of. Maybe by someone with a political agenda. Maybe by someone else who needs an emotional outlet. Maybe by someone trying to generate clicks and impressions for their “news” blog. They’re playing on your fatigue and your emotion and encouraging you to react in a simple, thoughtless way.

The need to express emotion
+ information overload
+ fatigue
= inadvertent bigotry.

Don’t be taken advantage of. You can’t be blamed for the hateful messages, cherry-picked facts, circumstantial evidence, and photo-memes that fire up so many passionate Facebookers. You can’t really be blamed for believing it, either. It’s a problem much bigger than you and me. But you are at fault if you close your eyes and ears and resist reason and new information. Or if you refuse to let compassion into your outlook.


Your friend Adrian


An aside:

I climbed to the top of Mt Tom in Holyoke, MA and found a rearranged French flag.


The Constant Internal Battle…Love or Success?

This is me right now. A daily internal conflict. Inside there are forces “constantly at war with one another…external success and internal value”. I know that the most important things are friendship, family, forgiveness, warmth, solidarity, selflessness, love. I recall a time when these qualities primarily occupied my mind and how, as a result, they radiated from me. But my days now are filled with thoughts of the future. My current job, next job, dream jobs. Startup ideas, behavioral economics, law school. Power, politics, progress. The war wages. Can they both win? I cross my fingers, hoping they couldn’t possibly both lose. I sleep, and awake to fight the same battles, a predictable result never slowing the march. I’ve never been one to focus on happiness, but Einstein had a point: “A happy man is too satisfied with the present to dwell too much on the future.”

An open Cover Letter for Google

I sent in an application to Google Sustainability tonight! And believe it or not, 2.5 years after finishing college, it’s my first real job application! I can’t wait to hear back from them. This was a fun letter to write, whatever they decide:

Dear Googler,

Let me present my first ever formal job application. At age 25, I have hired and fired, managed employees, secured investments, spoken at conferences, made mistakes, enjoyed successes, changed lives, befriended a Mayor, and helped run a summer camp, but I haven’t applied for a job.

I sent in an application to Google Sustainability tonight! And believe it or not, 2.5 years after finishing college, it’s my first real job application! I can’t wait to hear back from them. This was a fun letter to write, whatever they decide:

Screen Shot 2013-08-03 at 11.13.34 PM

Dear Googler,

Let me present my first ever formal job application. At age 25, I have hired and fired, managed employees, secured investments, spoken at conferences, made mistakes, enjoyed successes, changed lives, worked in local government, and helped run a summer camp, but I haven’t applied for a job. When I graduated from college, a $30k fellowship initially delayed the need for a job search. When this fellowship led to the founding of an LLC and two years of startup craziness, that pivotal career moment was postponed further.

Now I come to this point: my career has passed from nascent to fledgling, I’m looking for an awesome job, and I must communicate on paper how an upbringing, an education, world travels, and three years of entrepreneurship have given me a wealth of experience worthy of my generation’s sexiest employer: the one and only Google.

My case for myself? I am a perpetual student with an advanced degree from the school of TED and Audible. I am a thoughtful explorer who asks great questions, constantly seeks understanding, and loves problem-solving.

I hope I’ve inspired in you enough questions to warrant a trip to Mountain View. I’d love to tell you more about Tufts, the Beelzebubs, biodigesters in the West Bank, Rising Green LLC, Holyoke, Camp Owatonna, and a few adventure stories from India and the Middle East. Or we could talk about energy efficiency, food security, clean tech, aquaponics, carbon accounting, resource conservation, gardening, waste management, corporate social responsibility, workforce development, holistic sustainability, and environmental economics.

If you want someone in the Google Sustainability office who has started two businesses, sang in a world-class a cappella group, loves kids, and can dunk a basketball, let’s talk. You’d also get to know a man who’s ready to help Google take the lead on sustainability and communicate its vision to the world.


Adrian Dahlin

Why the Electoral College is Bad for America

Tomorrow America will stop by its local polling station and cast a ballot for the next President of the United States. Millions of engaged citizens will remind their friends, families and neighbors, “even your vote matters”. I’m one of them; on Saturday I canvassed in my small Massachusetts city and made this plea to dozens of people. But still, in a dark little corner of my mind, I know this isn’t true, because across America tomorrow, more than half of the ballots won’t matter.

Of course each ballot matters to the person who casts it, and people who care deeply about democratic participation will continue to urge others to vote, but in the eyes of the two major Presidential campaigns, more than half of the ballots don’t matter.

Over the last several weeks, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama have spent most of their time focused on seven states: Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Iowa, Colorado, Wisconsin and New Hampshire. These seven states saw the heaviest activity on the ground, and they hosted the greatest number of rallies for Romney and Obama. They had the greatest number of canvassers going door-to-door and talking with voters about issues. Polling numbers from these seven states got the most attention. Issues affecting these states were discussed most in the national media. Seven states out of fifty. Is it okay that presidential politics in the electoral system makes only the Significant Seven matter?


Over the weekend Chris Hayes complained that “no presidential candidate cares about what people there think,” referring to the Bronx, home to that MSNBC host and almost 1.4 million other people. If presidential candidates did care about the Bronx, he argued, “they would find an issue landscape very different from the one we’ve been talking about nationally.” This is the problem.

The electoral college narrows the national political discourse to cover a tight, convenient list of issues that affect seven states. It works like this:
1) The importance of the electoral votes belonging to the Significant Seven forces presidential campaigns to focus there;
2) canvassers cover the Seven, taking polls, asking questions and urging voters to think about what matters to them;
3) pollsters learn that voters in the Seven care about a, b and c;
4) the candidates develop opinions and then talk a lot about a, b and c;
5) the national media follow the candidates;
6) national talking heads discuss a, b and c;
7) Joe and Jane Doe watch the national news from State #46 and hear about a, b and c. They meet no canvassers. No one asks them what they think. On election day, they cast a vote for the man whose opinions about a, b and c they prefer.

So what do a, b and c not include? There’s at least one elephant of planetary proportions: climate change. We also didn’t hear about immigration, poverty, civil rights, campaign finance or foreign policy other than soundbites about Iran, Libya and China. Oh, and there are probably a whole bunch of other important things that I can’t even think of, because I’m from Massachusetts, not Mississippi.

Here’s my point: pluralism is not just about a range of opinions on an issue; it’s about a range of issues. The “melting pot” self-image we glorify amounts to a pretty, many-colored facade unless each ingredient in that pot affects the flavor. Mixed metaphors (and puns) aside, our political culture can’t be called “pluralistic” unless it includes a big mess of different issues, arguments and perspectives. We won’t get that big, beautiful mess unless every state, every issue, every social group and every individual gets a voice. Every individual won’t get a voice until civic engagement knocks on every door. Civic engagement won’t exist in forty-three states (at the presidential level) until the candidates turn their gaze in fifty directions at once. I admit, that’s asking a lot. You better f*cking believe it’s asking a lot.

I’m not pissed that Mitt Romney and Barack Obama didn’t bother to come to Holyoke, MA (I mean, it’d be nice), but I’m disappointed they hardly came to my state (Michelle Obama did make a visit to Springfield, and Mitt probably stopped by his Massachusetts home on his way to Maine’s Congressional District #2). I’m disappointed that my neighbors won’t be asked to participate beyond an obedient vote on one fall day. I wish every Masshole were challenged to think about the wide range of tough questions facing our country. I’m an Obama voter, but I wish his party’s dominance in Massachusetts were questioned more often. I wish all of the Other Forty-Three were shown the love Obama gives to his Ohio auto workers. I wish more citizens felt the rush of knocking on a stranger’s door and the peculiar reward of stepping back down the driveway thirty unexpected minutes later.

Last Year’s Letter

I hold it in my hands, feeling it, weighing it, thumbing the seal.
The light blue, greeting card-sized envelope bears no stamp and no return address, only
“Adrian Dahlin, 22 Keefe Avenue, Holyoke, MA 01040”.
I lived there last year, with my family.

I’ve had the envelope for ten days
And haven’t figured out how to open it.
When they gave it to me I immediately stored it away,
Not ready to venture inside.
Now I imagine the contents,
Trying to see through their still-sealed, paper enclosure.
Already I begin to roll my eyes,
Anticipating the words waiting within.
“No doubt it will be full of cliches,” I assure myself,
“Things we’ve all heard and some of us have said
So many times they lose their meaning.”
Sometimes I wish the Author would do more living and less preaching.
Sometimes wisdom is silent.

I wander back and shake my head
At how naive the Author was twelve months ago.
He was a different man, then, when they told him to write it.
Twelve months ago, when I wrote it.

I have more courage now.
Sometimes wisdom is silent,
But when it speaks you have to listen,
Regardless of its source.


Dear Adrian, June 2012 Edition,

This is the time. This is your time. A tremendous opportunity was given to you, and you made the most of it. From now on, however, you have to earn it; you have to earn everything. You must expect that nothing will come easy, and act as if this is the case even if great opportunities come up in the future. You must be grateful for the good received, and more grateful for the good you will be able to do.

As you embark on the “real world” journey, if there is such a thing, do not forget the most important things. When you see an opportunity to make a difference, you will fill that niche, for this is who you are. But do not forget to BE your whole self. Do not let the whole suffer as a part develops. Remember Angela’s injunction to give yourself time and space to BE. Remember Mackenzie’s advice to give yourself breaks. Remember how important it was for Cameron to fly home from Guatemala over Christmas to see his family. Remember to learn from other people’s lessons–for as much as you grow, the world grows more around you.

Remember to write, Adrian of 2012, because your self of 2011 learned much simply by writing you this letter.

Write poems,

Sing songs.

Tell stories,

Eat wisdom.


And in the doing,


It’s a pleasure to know you.


    Adrian of 2011

Lessons from “The Lean Startup”

For Christmas my sister gave me Eric RiesThe Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneur’s Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. It was a timely gift, because I started a business in September 2011 and began to learn about Lean Startup theory during the fall at networking events in Boston. This week I dove into the book, and lo and behold, it is a gold mine. Ries’ first 30 pages – rife with succinct advice and relevant case studies – have already provided new inspiration and validated aspects of my business strategy. The rest of this blog will chronicle lessons I learn from The Lean Startup as I venture through its pages. Follow me on Twitter @RedTuftedGiant to get updates about each new lesson learned, and check back in on this blog often.

Lesson #1: A strong brand image just needs to be recognizable, not necessarily relevant. I recognized the Lean Startup the second I removed the paper my sister had wrapped around it. I had never seen the book in person before, but I had seen it online once or twice. Its cover conveys nothing related to business, entrepreneurship or innovation. It has simply a blue jacket with the title, author’s name and a large, white, circular paintbrush stroke. That’s all it takes. As soon as you’ve seen this book cover once, you’ll recognize it forever.