A number of readers contacted us yesterday to suggest that we emphasize for all of you some aspects of my letter in the “Editor’s Notes” send out yesterday so we are republishing it here with emphases underlined. Also if you do not already receive my weekly letter, now may be the time to sign up. It will be the place where I, as the editor in chief, note on an informal basis some of the trends and connections we see to the world around us. Rick Cohen, our other senior editor has his own weekly policy send-out in the Cohen Report for which you can also sign up.
The key phrase that readers wanted me to emphasize is “unless nonprofits and philanthropy see themselves as part and parcel of a profound era change and even as informed leaders in that shift, we will lose the whole ball game.”
I have a friend from another country who is fond of harassing me about my use of idiom. I think he is barking up the wrong tree.
Of course, we all talk from frameworks that are constructed from some fact, a pinch of values, belief systems, and the limitations and freedoms of our languages and culture and sense of history. Maybe in a quest for some sense of mastery or stability, we too often bind ourselves to echo chambers, where others speak the way we do and information builds within the confines of a particular discipline. And then we may not give ourselves the time to observe something new deeply enough to wonder at it and make connections that might be useful to all. But sometimes, if we just wander a bit, we will happen onto something that excites us in a new way—even if it’s something very old.
So here is my story: yesterday a new friend from California sent me a few articles about the work she does at a place with the intriguing name, Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations. I put them aside for my commute home, and went on to my day’s work, which, yesterday, included writing a few newswires. And, while perusing the news that I thought might help to inform your work, I came across and wrote a newswire on an item about NASA and its recent initiative to crowdsource ideas for exploring Mars via robots to look, in part, for signs of life—now or previous.
Why should you care about such stuff? Well, for me it raised any number of thoughts and questions. How do you deal fairly with scientists who freely share ideas with a big agency? Will the ideas be mixed and matched? Are the idea-people to remain engaged somehow? But, in general, it was just another indicator of the direction in which we are all headed, and how very much we have to do to ensure we ask the right questions relative to emerging strategies, so that the unintended consequences are to some extent sought out as we try new approaches.
So about information coincidences: after work I took the commuter boat home and read the articles my new friend had sent. They had to do with the exploration of the “deep biosphere”—the underbelly of the ocean, where microbes exist in extreme conditions. This work, said one of the articles, might “help NASA and other space agencies in their hunt for life elsewhere in the solar system.”1 The other article said, “Further insights into life’s ability to survive harsh conditions will guide our search for extraterrestrial life,” and it then went on to talk specifically about Mars, where new evidence indicates that it once had water. “The same tools and techniques we devise to search for life within and beneath Earth’s volcanic oceans will prove useful there.”2
So what is my point?
I guess this note to you helps me to describe what we here at NPQ are trying to do right now with the newswire. Readers sometimes write notes to me protesting that we are not sticking to our knitting because we are not tracking only news about nonprofits and philanthropy—we are wandering into the realm of politics, business, and public attitudes. But I guess our feeling is that unless nonprofits and philanthropy see themselves as part and parcel of a profound era change and even as informed leaders in that shift, we will lose the whole ball game.
Finally, I do appreciate that you read these missives but I would be much happier if each of you would consider writing for us, too—as a newswire writer or a contributor to our Voices from the Field section. Because we need to mix it up with the observations, insights and analysis of you all to make some real sense of this extraordinary moment.
And I happen to love a good idiom, a linguistic affection passed along to me by my grandmother with whom I shared a room growing up.
- Alexandra Witze, “Deep Life,” Science News (Feb. 11, 2012): 18–21.
- Carl Wirsen, “Is Life Thriving Deep Beneath the Seafloor?,” Oceanus (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Vol. 42, No. 2, 2004): 1–5