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Paul Rogat Loeb

      . . . activist. An associated scholar at Seattle's Center for Ethical Leadership, Mr. Loeb's several books include Soul of a Citizen: Living with Conviction in a Cynical Time, and Hope in Hard Times. Mr. Loeb was educated at Stanford and New York's New School for Social Research. For years, he was editor of "Liberation" Magazine and has written for a wide range of publications including "The New York Times," "Washington Post,"and the "Los Angeles Times." Mr. Loeb regularly appears on national and international television and radio, lectures and leads workshops on social responsibility.

Excerpts3:06 secs

      How do you change the world? One citizen at a time, making choices, acting from the passion for the truths that we all hold in own hearts, says Paul Rogat Loeb. In more than 30 years as an activist, Mr. Loeb has experienced the importance of rebuilding community, convinced that the act itself has a profound effect.

      Where to start, when there are so many burning issues? It matters little, as long as one DOES start, he believes. Whether committed to change on the grand scale, for which one will never see the fruits of one's labor, or to a neighborhood challenge which can be improved by simply paying attention, Mr. Loeb champions the act of engagement itself.

      Engagement, he believes, is required for a people committed to governing itself. Participation matters. Citizens participate in public life. There is no place there for the contempt that goes with the cynical smirk. Cynicism, jaded distance, perfectionism -- all enemies of democracy, Mr. Loeb insists. His are the stories of real people making hard choices in real time, people grappling with tough issues others think intractable. His tales are many, exemplars of seemingly powerless people, effecting significant changes, in decidedly improbable places.

      Mr. Loeb thinks people's real connections have become blurred by a present-day idolatry -- idolizing position, status and stuff. Our connections, he maintains, are to each other and to the Earth. They are what allow us to get out of our small, isolated, hunkered-down selves, he says, out of what he calls our little gated communities of the heart. First, we have to open the gates.

      Mr. Loeb is part of a long tradition which he honors, people who witness in the public square -- whether serving in soup kitchens or cleaning up littered parks, working for major policy changes which improve the lives of millions or helping a condo association get along. If his work is about one thing, he says, it's an embodied argument against neutrality, the sort of attitude that gives people permission to stand on the sidelines of life and watch it all go by.

      Yes, vote. Then go out and be heard, he urges. Speak from your own experience, whatever it is. Don't be shy. Bring what you know to the village square, however humble your experience may seem. It's the only way the larger world will hear from the people most directly affected by all the decisions, small and large, that shape our lives together.

      Mr. Loeb spends much of his time on college campuses, inspiring young people across the political spectrum to get involved in something bigger than themselves. His goal? To challenge the cynicism and intimidation many feel in the face of Big Everything. Don't proceed blindly, he cautions. Be prepared to learn, to be open-minded, to change one's mind, even to ask forgiveness. But do proceed.

[This program was recoreded May 14, 1999, in Atlanta, Georgia, US.]

Conversation 1

Paul Loeb assures Paula Gordon and Bill Russell that our actions DO make a difference. He gives examples of the powerful benefits associated with getting involved in one's community, as opposed to blindly accumulating stuff.

Conversation 1 RealAudio5:57 secs

Conversation 2

Stories link courageous people and the excitement of civic engagement for Mr. Loeb. He tells one about a minimally educated woman from the barrio whose education came from her involvement with her community. He explains how activism makes our deepest, private values public, as demonstrated in large social movements of the 20th century. He recalls the early days of the American Civil Rights Movement to make his point, then turns to the woman's suffrage movement of the 19th century and to Susan B. Anthony who never saw the fruits of her labor.

Conversation 1 RealAudio11:19 secs

Conversation 3

Reminding us that there is no perfect time to get involved, Mr. Loeb gives an example of the inspiration one young woman took from a simple story about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Gandhi's "experiments in truth" are considered. Mr. Loeb describes the importance of timing, persistence and "being there." A person can make history, he says, but not history's timetable. He talks about creating meaning in one's life and gives a vivid example of one person unknowingly have a huge impact on multitudes of others. Mr. Loeb recalls his own experiences engaging with large issues and the importance both of being open to learning and of being willing to change one's mind. In an anecdote coming out of the Watergate political scandal, Mr. Loeb suggests the importance of asking for forgiveness.

Conversation 1 RealAudio10:04 secs

Conversation 4

The corrosiveness of cynicism is discussed. Mr. Loeb vehemently objects to an ad for a magazine which bragged its attitude had a "smirk." He rejects the contempt that implies and shows how such a cynical attitude diminishes us all. Acknowledging concern that people do not vote, Mr. Loeb goes on to show how much broader the requirement is for citizens to participate in a democracy. People need to act on what they believe, he reminds us, even people with whom he disagrees. He describes when and how it is good to be angry. Wondering what kind of world we want for our children, Mr. Loeb tells the story of a nurse who recognized enormous ramifications of children with untreated ear infections. He suggests how to avoid being overloaded by too many issues. The interdependence of volunteering and public policy is explored.

Conversation 1 RealAudio11:26 secs

Conversation 5

The idea of bearing witness is considered from a variety of perspectives, as Mr. Loeb calls people to witness in the public square. He tells stories to explain his ideas about speaking what one believes to be the truth, from one's heart. He relates passion to effectiveness. Objecting to corporate manipulation he has seen used to lobby Congress, Mr. Loeb give examples. He offers alternatives to "burnout," through more stories, eager for people to embrace a variable sense of time and to take breaks when they need them. Aware that at different times in our lives, accomplishments will vary, Mr. Loeb urges us to take a long-term view and offers examples.

Conversation 1 RealAudio10:52 secs

Conversation 6

Acknowledging America's historical amnesia, Mr. Loeb contrasts the relatively small amount of power isolated individuals have to the great tasks citizens have accomplished when working together. He brings this into the present, and reiterates the deep importance of acting on one's beliefs.

Conversation 1 RealAudio5:07 secs

Related Links:
Soul of a Citizen is published by St. Martin's Press.
Mr. Loeb offers more insights at his website.

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