There Are No Secrets

Reuven Anati, the Blacksmith

I presented last weekend at The Wild Goose Festival, and it went really well. Afterwards, I spoke to a guy who told me about this passion he had, but he was having a hard time getting any traction because, “I’m just not a good storyteller like you are, Hugh.”

Please. Give me a break.

I am a good storyteller. I admit it, and I am proud of it. And I work really, really hard at it.

In the last ten years, I have read more than 100 books on storytelling, salesmanship and presentations. I have taken classes on presenting, I have invested thousands of dollars to learn how to tell stories better. I have a shelf of books in my library 5 feet long, packed with those books, which are all dog-eared and marked up. I write thousands of words a week of stories, and publish less than 10% of them.

I am a good storyteller because I decided to be good at it.

It’s not as if storytelling and speaking well in public was something innate, like red hair, parceled out at birth by a benevolent deity. It isn’t. It isn’t art. It’s craft.

And craft can be learned.

I failed writing classes – whole classes – in college. I once had an English teacher suggest I would be better suited for a vocational career, such as the building trades. And yet most of my income can be directly attributed to my words. It’s a skill. And thus can be learned.

Once you realize that most of life is composed of crafts – skills that can be learned and even mastered by nearly anyone willing to learn and practice – life seems a lot less scary, and much more manageable.

It also means you have a lot more control over your life than you thought you did. And have fewer excuses.

Because the guy who got the promotion instead of you because he is better at presentations wasn’t born with the presentation gene. He learned how to do that. The person who got the big book deal because they submitted a great book proposal wasn’t born with spontaneous book proposal knowledge. They learned how to do that.

And thus, so can you.

I think this is both self-evident,and alarmingly rare.

Go on any web forum for writers, and on the first page is someone asking how to get published. It isn’t a secret. There is a wall – a literal wall – of books at any chain bookstore on the subject.

It isn’t hidden in the ancient scrolls, guarded by the wise old man at the top of the mountain. How to find a market, do your research, write a proposal, submit it in keeping with the publisher’s guidelines – all of that is easily findable.  And that is how you get published.

But that isn’t what we imagine happens. We aren’t really sure what does happen, exactly, but it must have to do with art and secrets.

There are no secrets. There is only work, and craft, and skill.

Six Things Straight Christians Can Do After Orlando


I don’t normally blog about current events – that is what Facebook and Twitter are for – but I wrote a version of the following on my Facebook page late last night, and people are finding it helpful. And while it was written for straight Christian allies, it is pretty much good for everyone. -HH

I was out of town, with my phone turned off, this weekend, and when I turned it back on Sunday afternoon, discovered the horrors that happened Saturday night in Orlando. On the drive back home, I tried to process it all, and I spoke to some wise friends about what we white straight Christian allies can do to help.

I have come up with six things.

Check in

Sunday was an incredibly hard day for the LGBT community AND the Muslim community – today won’t be much better. If you have friends who are Muslim or who identify as LGBT, check in with them. Tell them you love them, and that they matter. If you don’t have any Muslim or LGBT friends, well, you should fix that. In the meantime, go by the Islamic Center and the LGBT Center in your town and offer to help and listen.

Speak out

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Silence is violence. Please speak out in favor of your LGBT relationships, express your love for your LGBT friends, be vocal about your position of inclusion and affirmation, be vocal in your support of Islam and our Muslim brothers and sisters. To not speak out is to do active violence against the LGBT and Muslim communities.

Curate and Amplify

Over the next few days, there will be many voices who will use this tragedy to push their harmful agendas of hatred and violence. We have an obligation to curate those voices and to refuse to amplify them. Do not share their posts, do not link to them, do not acknowledge them. They thrive on the attention – we can starve them out.

Conversely, please share, retweet, repost and otherwise amplify LGBT and Muslim voices.

Step Back

The Muslim and LGBT communities do not need our leadership or our input– they are quite capable on their own. Instead, they need our support, our love and our solidarity. Please, don’t make this about you. Be quiet, show up, and listen.

Pray with your voice, with your feet, and with your vote

By all means, pray. But then get off your knees and work for justice, build relationships, bug the crap out of your elected representatives and set about the hard, banal work of building the better world we all dream is possible – a world built by countless small decisions, each which is individually insignificant, but that collectively moves us toward a more just world.

Don’t be afraid.

And lastly – the world can seem a scary place on days like today. And while the reality is that the world is actually safer than it has ever been, the media cannot sell that story – so they sell you a story based on fear. They literally make money by making you afraid. Don’t listen to those people.

And please remember – that contrary to what the media is telling you, despite the rumors you hear and the things you see – Love does, in fact, win in the end. And if Love has not yet won, it is because it is not yet the end.

Much love,



Six Rules to Avoid Election Fights on Facebook

~ The argument

For a lot of us, Facebook is an excruciating place to be right now. It feels like everyone has lost their minds, and everyone is angry. Virtually any comment on the election is going to stir up anger and discontent, and don’t even think about polite disagreement!

I am really active on social media, and have developed a principle and, out of that principle, six rules for my interactions on Facebook around politics (or, in fact, any controversial topic). They seem to work for me, so I thought I would share them with you.

The principle is this: There is no such thing as online relationships. There are only relationships.

So, I ask myself how I would handle this if we were face to face. We have had elections for generations – how would we handle this if there was no Facebook? If instead of a meme on your Facebook wall, you put a Sander’s sign in your yard – How would I deal with that?

And that principle has led me to developing six rules for how I strive to interact on Facebook. I don’t always get it right, but I am trying really hard.

* * *

Rule #1: Own your space

On Facebook, we all have our own profile page. When we post things, that is where they end up. I find it helpful to think of that wall as someone’s front yard.

In our front yard, we self-express. In my front yard, I have rose bushes, peach trees and wild flowers. My neighbor has mulch and rocks, and another neighbor has a broken down car. Our front yards are the “us” that we present to the world, and we decorate them in ways that tell the world who we are.

So, decorate your yard. If you support Trump, put a sign up in your front yard – it’s your right. Heck, put up 50 signs and a Trump flag. Likewise, if you love some Bernie, then post away about him – on your wall. But don’t put signs up in my yard – which leads us to…

Rule #2: Respect other people’s space.

Actually, that’s pretty good advice anytime, online or off. If Hillary is your person, there is nothing wrong with putting a Hillary sign in your yard, or a meme on your Facebook wall. But don’t put a sign in my yard, or post a meme on my wall.

And just like you wouldn’t (I hope) put graffiti all over a sign I had put on my yard, don’t go on my wall and start attacking things I post there. Because remember – the goal of posting things is self-expression. Not argument.

If we were having a cookout in my yard, grilling hotdogs and hamburgers, most of us recognize that it would be rude of you to come in my yard and start telling me all the awful things that happen to animals in the industrial food system. Because I wasn’t inviting debate – I was trying to have fun with my friends.

If I did want to educate people about the harm their eating habits cause, by far the most effective way to do that would to do it with people I have developed trust and relationship with, and who have invited me into their space. In other words, people with whom I have a relationship. So always…

Rule #3 Respect relationships

It might be my most consistent, longest held position, but people matter. Relationships matter.

Whoever get elected this fall, we are going to need each other to survive. Not because the candidates are so bad, but because we are humans, who need each other in order to survive.

So, privilege relationships. Whose yard do you feel comfortable walking into in the real world? Whose yard do you feel comfortable critiquing? People we have a relationship with.

So, if you and I don’t know each other, and you post a sign in your yard I disagree with, I am not going to jump your fence and tear it down. If I am trying to understand your position, I might ask you about it if I see you in the yard, but I seriously doubt I would put up a counter-sign in your yard. So if I don’t know you, and you post something to your wall I disagree with, I am going to just walk on by. Or if I am curious, I might ask what you meant. But I won’t start dueling memes with you.

Likewise, if we have a good relationship, and you post something to your wall that I disagree with, I might say that in the comments. But I won’t say you are a jerk, or call you a baby killer – any more than I would say that to your face, standing in your front yard if you had a bumper sticker on your car I disagreed with.

Rule #4: Ask non-judgemental questions, and listen to understand, not to respond

Any hope we have of positive change in this world is going to come about because we listen to each other. And we cannot listen to each other if we are talking.

So, if your relationship permits, or if they invite comment, ask serious, nonjudgmental questions, and really listen to the answers. There is a world of difference between telling someone Senator Clinton’s stance on Syria factored into your deciding to not support her and calling her “Killary” and saying she is a murderer on a massive scale.

Would you say that to this person if they were really in their yard? Would you say it in that tone, and ask it that way? If not, reframe it, and then listen to the answers. And thank them for sharing their thoughts. Explain yours, without attacking theirs. If they seem open to it, offer critique of ideas, without attacking people.

If they ask to not continue this, disengage. This often looks like, “I don’t want to argue about this” or “We will have to agree to disagree”. When people say they do not desire to debate you, listen to them, and step out.

And recognize you are probably not going to change their mind. And that is OK. Because it was on their wall, and you are going to respect their space. Right?

Rule #5: Remember that Facebook is an opt-in medium

If your route to work included going past a house with an ugly yard, you can always choose another route to work. In the same way

That means you get to decide what you see on Facebook. If your brother-in-law’s annoying pro-Bernie meme’s bother you, then unfollow him until after the election. If your friend from high-school you haven’t had a voice conversation with in 32 years freaks you out with her conspiracy theories, then feel free to unfriend her, or perhaps just unfollow her.

You can control your privacy settings so only your friends can see what you post. You can set it so only your friends can comment on your posts. You can delete comments on your posts that offend you.

You are in control of your experience on Facebook. If you don’t like what you are seeing there, it is up to you to change it.

Rule #6: Understand that this is what democracy looks like.

In a democracy, we each get a vote and an opinion. We get to own them, for better or worse. And we all have the right to our own. And the only way to make sure we get to exercise our right to our own opinion is to fight for the rights of others to express theirs. If they don’t have the right to express their beliefs, it isn’t democracy.

Debating ideas with people who want to debate them is good. So is leaving people alone who want to post their sign in their yard to express their support of a candidate. Both are necessary parts of the process, and both are worthwhile. By respecting the process, and by respecting each other, we make this country better.

* * *

So those are my six rules, and overall, they work for me. I get in very few Facebook arguments, and when I have, it’s because I have violated one of my rules.

How about you? How are you navigating Facebook this election season?


Education of an Oppressor

One of the foundational principles in my ethical system says:

When there are two groups of people, and one group has more than the other group, the moral responsibility for fixing the disparity lies with the group with more.

More what? More of almost anything. Money. Rights. Property. Privilege. Snickers bars.

If I have food, and you do not, the right thing to do is share my food with you. It isn’t your responsibility to demand I share. If you find yourself on top, the responsibility for lifting the others up is yours.

To point out that this seldom happens and, as Fredrick Douglas tells us, power concedes nothing without demand is to point out moral failure.

It is the responsibility of the group with more to change things, including ourselves. Especially ourselves.

* * *

In the notes to this post last week, I wrote the following:

The oppressed never have an obligation to educate the oppressor, but I am grateful to those people who have been patient with me, who have taught me, who have educated me and who teach me still. Every single time, it has been a gift. 

Every single time I say that first clause (The oppressed never have an obligation to educate the oppressor) anywhere, I get push-back. It generally takes one of two forms, and almost always from people who do not fall into groups that have historically been oppressed. In other words, people who have big problems with that concept seem to be white, cisgender and usually, male.

The first form of push back is to say, “But how am I supposed to know, if they won’t explain it to me?”

It is a sign of privilege that you think that, by virtue of your asking, people you do not know have an obligation to explain their life to you. That doesn’t negate the fact that there are people who have been oppressed who desire to educate. It is the job of the oppressor to shut up and listen to them.

If you are cisgender, and you call someone “trangendered”, and they ask you to not do use that term, it isn’t your job to argue with them – it is your job to find out why that is objectionable. Say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know. Thank you for telling me.” And then move along, and fire up Google and educate yourself.

It may well be that they will want to explain why that was offensive. If they do, it is a gift, and you should thank them profusely. But it is not fair to expect them to tell you a list of books you should read, or explain queer theory to you. And is not fair at all to expect them to be willing to argue about it.

After all, you don’t get to decide what is offensive to other people. And if you learn something is offensive to someone, and you insist on continuing to do it, you are just being a jerk.

The second form of push-back is to say, “I’m not an oppressor.”

Ok, I will try to take this slow.

There is active oppression – like calling a Black man the N word, or catcalling women. Then there is passive oppression – like benefiting from being white when you are pulled over by the police, or that people tend to trust male-bodied people more when they are in positions of leadership.

Active oppression is mostly obvious, and while it happens, it is the easiest form to call out. But passive oppression is harder to recognize, and the form people like me – male-bodied, white, and educated – are most complicit in.

No, we didn’t create the system that puts us in the group with more – but if we do nothing to tear it down, we are just as guilty as those who built it. Perhaps even more so.

The most effective way I have found to battle systemic oppression is what I call “Downward Bias”. It is one of our core values at Love Wins Ministries, and here is what we say about it on our website:

History has taught us that when there are two groups of people, policies and decisions tend to bias upward, benefiting the group in power. The people we work among have often been on the wrong end of this power dynamic, so we seek to bias downward whenever possible. Asking ourselves, “Does this benefit the people in our community, or just the people in power?” is a useful decision-making filter.

It requires that you be alert, that you be introspective and ask yourself hard questions and, yes, that you listen to other people’s voices – specifically the voices of people in the group with less than you.

No one expects you to apologize for being white, or being educated or being male-bodied. But they do expect you to educate yourself, to listen and to change the disparities you find out about. Because you are the people group with more, and it’s your responsibility to fix that shit.

* * *

Helpful reading: Sister Outsider, by Audre Lorde