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A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit. By Rep. Tim Ryan


To understand how unique and important a work Congressman Ryan has completed, some brief background is necessary. While I am certainly nowehre near the foremost scholar on political memoirs, of the  several hundred that I have read, I don’t recall anything quite like this. For one, its focus isn’t on assigning blame or tarnishing the opposition or recounting the ‘inside’ story of campaign shenanigans.

In short, the focus of this book is almost entirely on how to cultivate and improve mindfulness on an individual as well as a collective national basis. To illustrate the concept of mindfulness and its applications, Rep. Ryan includes anecdotes from his professional experience as a politician and his personal influences.  However while most of his examples are from leaders in the Democratic party, the examples he cites are illustrative rather than argumentative.

Like a fine wine or an extended set from your favorite jazz musician, this is a book to be absorbed slowly and deliberately. As a student of the philosophical foundations and practices of Buddhism,  many of these passages have resonated very strongly with me, and I highly recommend this work to anyone looking for practical and effective ways to manage life’s inevitable stresses. I am about 40% of the way through now and look forward to reading, and re-reading this book on a regular basis.

“Mindfulness means being relaxed and aware of what’s going on in our own minds. It means calmly paying attention to what we are doing, without being pulled into regrets about the past or fantasies of the future. It’s our capacity simply to fully focus on what we’re doing. This innate human ability is the essence of composure and the source of high performance.”

“Have you ever woken up thinking about someone you’re going to deal with that day and set off a chain reaction of thoughts about past encounters, slights, and irritations? By the time you see them that day, you are not meeting them with an open mind. Your thinking is predetermining the outcome. And before you know it, you’re arguing. A little bit of awareness, I was discovering, helps us to see that process and to understand that we have a choice. We can respond with conscious choices to life’s challenges, rather than simply react and overreact based on habitual (and often negative) thought patterns.”

Online Politics 101: The Tools and Tactics of Online Advocacy, By Colin Delany

I don’t recall how I first came across the original 2008 edition, but these works are the most articulate and concise playbooks your will find anywhere. Whether your a newbie or a jaded experienced veteran, the structured framework Colin provides is worth several thousand times more than the $2 you don’t think twice about spending on a bad cup coffee from Starbucks.  Plus the Kindle edition is especially helpful for something you will want to highlight early and often.

Not only is this manual valuable for your own professional development, you would also be wise to send this to all of your coworkers and especially your clients. While the profession of online communications / new media / social media consulting is finally starting to get the respect it deserves, there are many who (understandably) do not entirely understand the depth and complexity of the various components that need to be in place, and working together in order to have a successful online advocacy campaign. To wit:

 I can’t tell you how many times a client has come to me and said, “we want to hire you to build X,” when a few minutes’ reflection about the goals of their campaign shows that they really need Y and perhaps a dash of Z for flavor. Maybe X is all they’ve ever heard of doing, or perhaps it’s something their executive director’s cousin is really keen on, or maybe another organization did and it looked cool. But is it what they really need?



Chris Gossett- A Veteran’s Death, My Shame

On April 15, 2012, in About Me, by Tyler Gray

In response to Nick Kristof’s 4/14 piece in the NYT “A Veteran’s Death, the Nation’s Shame” I was finally (2 years overdue) motivated to write something about Chris’s death. Immediately bellow is the original version of what I cut down to 150 words to meet the NYT guidelines for letters to the editor. In terms of why it has taken me so long to do something positive for someone who did a lot for me, I can only one answer- shame.

Due to the fact I schedule almost every minute of my personal and professional on my Google, I was able to go back to the summer of 2010 and see what I was doing in the months before Chris took his life. In short, aside from a few Facebook messages and failed attempts to get together, I never made the effort I should have to see Chris in the months since he got back from his tour and the sad day in July he took his life.

I miss you brother… Chris’ Facebook profile is still active with comments. Chris Gossett ‘s obituary.

On June 30th, 2010 I was shocked to learn (through Facebook) that my old fraternity brother and roommate, Chris Gossette had taken his own life. For anyone lucky enough to know and benefit from Chris’s friendship, this was shocking on a number of levels, but what really hurt the most was that despite a deep personal connection and knowledge of the typical “warning signs,” of PTSD, this wonderful person still took his own life.

At Chris’s funeral and wake, there was a shared sense of shock because in one way or another, we all assumed that “Chris isn’t like that and would never do something like that.” In addition to his civilian friends, Chris had a broad network of classmates who served with him in the Virginia National Guard and who were also very aware of the stresses our veterans face. None of us saw it coming. Although I will forever believe this was an accidental suicide, no longer should it be acceptable to simply be on watch for the warning signs.

In our politics today there is a lot of talk about the role of government in our lives. Rather than debating the arcane points of constitutional law, why aren’t we talking about what it means to be a citizen? The more “hands off” our local, state and national government is, the more that we, as citizens must be engaged. In a government by the people, if the government isn’t performing, regardless of who we voted for, we are all to blame. No matter how much funding the Veterans Administration receives, no government program will ever be as effective as a phone call from a friend, coworker or neighbor expressing a personal interest in a veterans welfare. If only we (as I wish I had done) all took 15 minutes out of our lives a few times a week to check on a friend or even a friend of a friend that just spent  a year defending our freedoms, we could have an immediate impact on PTSD. Trying and failing is one thing, never trying at all is quite another.

This is my abbreviated NYT letter to the editor. If you knew Chris, please do consider sending something in.You can leave a comment on Nick Kristof’s blog, Facebook profile and send his an @ reply on Twitter. Most importantly, send an email to the NYT  (print still matters).

I have never been motivated to actually write a letter to the editor before, but Nick Kristof’s 4/14 piece really struck a chord. While he is correct that more funding for the VA is needed, there are things we could do right now to reduce the number of suicides:

On July 30th 2010 I was shocked to learn that my old fraternity brother and roommate, Chris Gossette had taken his own life. For anyone lucky enough to know and benefit from Chris’s friendship, this was shocking on a number of levels, but despite the personal connection and knowledge  his friends and fellow veterans of the typical “warning signs,” this wonderful person still took his own life.

Although I will forever believe this was an accidental suicide, no longer should it be acceptable to simply be on watch for the warning signs.

No matter how much funding the Veterans Administration receives, no government program will ever be as effective as a phone call from a friend, coworker or neighbor expressing a personal interest in a veterans welfare. If only we (as I wish I had done) took 15 minutes to check in on a veteran, we could have an immediate impact on PTSD.

Chris’ Facebook profile is still active with comments:






Suntrust 401ks Are Terrible

On April 11, 2012, in Politics, Social Media, by Tyler Gray

UPDATE: April 12th, 11:20 AM EST: About 30 minutes ago I got a call from the VP of Customer Service of ePlan Services, the agency that administers at least the online portion of my former Suntrust 401k. I am pleased to report she was very kind and I am now getting a refund of check for the $75 processing fee!

In yet another one of those signs that “I’m getting old,” I recently had the displeasure of rolling over a 401k from a former employer into my existing USAA (best bank ever) IRA account.

This was not an enjoyable process.  Aside from it taking almost two weeks, when I thought the end was finally near I still had the unpleasant surprise of a  $75.00 “Processing Fee.”

For a process that is almost entirely automated, you would at least think one would get good, prompt customer service. Continue reading »


Cross posted from the official Social Media Club DC Blog

On March 31st, undergraduates from American University’s Social Media Club celebrated their second annual Social Learning Summit (#sls12) with two days of insightful panels featuring thought leaders from an impressive variety of backgrounds, several of whom also happened to be SMCDC chapter leaders!

Continue reading »


In the early days of the fight against the Stop Online Piracy Act (#SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (#PIPA) a couple things were becoming clear to me:

  1. Once people learn what is in these bills and where they came from, this is going to be “kind of a big deal.”
  2. Even without much coverage by the main/lame-stream media, people were talking about #SOPA and #PIPA.

One of the many things I love about Twitter is that it provides an uncensored look into what people are thinking about ‘in the moment.’  Moreover with recent advancements in data visualization and sentiment analysis, this data is actually much more interesting and reliable than traditional opinion polling.

From April of 2010 until August of 2011 I had the privilege of working with some very skilled developers at a local website development and social media consulting firm here in DC called The Brick Factory (@BrickFactory). There I lead the continued development of a tool we called Slurp140 to become a tool that we could deploy internally or for customers at a moments notice. After a quick email to @DanielKnisley we now had our own version of Slurp140 tracking mentions of #sopa.

At PK, I was connected to Fred Benson, a Data Engineer at Kickstarter who had the advanced knowledge we needed to start to make sense of the data. While we never had the chance to really dig into sentiment analysis, the sheer beauty and complexity of what we say was astounding.

If there is anything I have learned about social media and media outreach, its that having  irrefutable data on your side is hard to argue with. While there was a good amount of  buzz created by releasing the blog post on the data and visualization to the public, we will never know if simply seeing this influenced (or scared) anyone into taking this issue a little more seriously.


For more images, check out Fred’s blog post or fire up your widescreen and see the 32,000 by 32,000 pixel version here.

Its the closest you will get (for now) to flying a spaceship through the virtual space of the Internet.

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