The Architecture of Life: December 2008

The Architecture of Life - Christopher K. Travis

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Revelatory Christmas – New Vision of Economic Value

This is the first post in a series called "Transformational Economics".

I no longer live in a world with a collapsing economy. I am creating a new one.

This Christmas our family decided to give non-material gifts to the adults in our family.

The week before the big day, I sat down at my computer and wrote letters to everyone in my family.

I have a big family and by the time I was done, I had worked fourteen hours crafting the words that would truly express why I love the people I love, who they are for me and why I find them special.

When I was done, I found a new and unexpected peace. This struck me as strange at first because I am a man who acknowledges those he loves. After some thought, I realized I had never once spent that much time in one sitting, thinking about the people I care about. I saw my new found peace had always been available to me. My obsession with my "agenda" in life had merely obscured it.

I had enrolled my family in a "new kind of gift giving" in advance. When we gathered to celebrate it was like no Christmas in our past. My family is an intimate and loving group. We have had many wonderful times together in the past, but by removing ourselves from commercial culture and expressing our love directly instead of by purchasing (let’s be honest) unwanted gifts, we discovered a new and profound intimacy.

The experience changed me and helped me create a new conversation I had been crafting, a conversation designed to be shared.

The Myth of the Collapsing Global Economy:

Falling down is not always a bad thing. Waterfalls do it with abandon and are one of the most beautiful phenomena on earth.

Like almost everyone on the planet, I wasted a lot of energy in the Fall of 2008 locked in fear about the financial markets and how their collapse would impact me, my family, my businesses and my life. Every day the news reports seemed to add to my internal experience of failure and helplessness.

But I found a way out of that morass. I realized in early December that the “collapsing global economy” is just a story; a repetitive, debilitating conversation that lives in fear and insufficiency. It is a "created reality" like all other realities.

I am not saying it is a myth without power. That disturbing drama has its impact on the real world. Self-destructive conversations have consequences not only for individuals, but also for nations and economic systems. People are hurting and afraid.

But though its effects are real, the sad and pitiable tale we are telling about the global economy is also a self-fulfilling prophesy. At its core is a commonly held bad attitude, an anxiety-addicted belief in scarcity.

At our house, our finances are stretched. We have had to give up things we care about…but really, we are just fine. We are healthy. Our children and grandchildren are well and happy. We are not starving. The sun rises every morning. Most of us in this country have what I often refer to as “rich people’s problems.”

Billions of people in the world – and some here in the U. S. - really live on the edge of survival. They would laugh at our self-pity. They face much worse every day and have dealt with it their entire lives.

So I am no longer going to play that game. On Christmas day I made my stand. I will no longer meekly engage in that economic melodrama like a sheep being led to slaughter. I choose not to live like I am powerless. Living in fear, buying the spin so eagerly promoted by Fox and CNN is not putting money in my pocket, supporting my family, making me more effective or enhancing my life in any way.

To the contrary, it has exactly the opposite effect.

A New Conversation:

In 2009 I am creating a conversation that is more powerful, more fulfilling and more workable. I am creating hope and abundance. I am creating a world in which anything is possible, a world in which people all over this planet make the impossible possible every day. I am creating a life for me and my family in the new paradigm I see building all around me.

You may think I am a pie in the sky idealist, but I argue I am a pragmatist. Think about it. How is that negative story working for you? How do you feel when you wake up in the morning? How do you feel after you finish watching the news? Is something good happening in your life because you are sure things are bad?

I doubt it. Why don’t you give a new story a try?

The tale I am telling is that the changes going on in our world are the collapse of a tired old way of being and the genesis of a new one that will transform our lives for the better. I am creating a conversation about a new "bottom up" economy in which all are included, one already being built all over the planet by the young and the visionary.

I am creating a system of exchange and value that recognizes our interdependence and is endlessly innovative. I am building an economy of infinite possibility, of sufficiency and abundance…an economy that works for everyone.

The conversation I am having is that the old is falling away and the new is born. I am telling the story of a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, its wings unfolding…a story of the glory of flight.

The tale I am creating is not one of soft-hearted idealism. It lives in the material, in the brains and words of human beings. It is a story of hard science, corporate and political realities, a pragmatic evolution forged in technology and human cultural evolution that has been growing for many years. It is a new interpretation of reality that is available to everyone all the time. Real people can act on it in their lives at any moment. It is a conversation that makes things work where they do not, like all new technologies that have value.

We are going home, home to our better selves, home to new relationships, new systems of behavior, new technologies and new societal and economic structures. Given the state of the world we have had in the past, that is a good thing.

But before we can move forward, we have to see the debilitating conversation that prevails around us for what it is. We must turn negativity into possibility. We must make our stands for a world that works and act upon them. We must quiet the cruel wind of fear that fills the tattered sails of the sinking ship of excess, failure, scarcity, corruption, partisanship, self-interest and greed that has plagued our country and our world.

Sounds too big and too hard? It’s not. All we have to do is change the subject. All we have to do is notice the "glass half full" rather than the "glass half empty" and share what we see with those we meet. After all, positive interpretations are no less real than negative ones. There is ample evidence for both and I would assert that positivism is more practical and effective.

Perhaps you are convinced the world really is going to Hell in a handbasket and there is nothing you can do about it. Well think about this.

Throughout your life, neurons and other nerve tissues in your brain grow in response to your environment. The process is called neurogenesis. New synapses and whole new neurons are actually being added into the circuitry of your brain in response to the world around you. Metaphorically, they grow a lot like muscle tissue. If you use your muscles, they grow and get stronger. If you sit on the couch all day and watch TV, they atrophy.

Something (roughly) similar happens in your brain. Everything you think, feel and experience is a result how those nerve tissues respond to your experience. Experience grows new neurons and creates new neural networks.

The more often a particular neural pathway is reinforced by environmental cues, the stronger it gets and the more embedded in your memory. So the behavior, attitudes and values with which you approach life – and the nature and context of your relationships with others – are built into your nervous system. They are not just ethereal ideas or attitudes. They are aspects of your physiology.

How you see the world and how the world sees you is built into your brain. But because your brain is constantly changing and growing, over time you can change that hard wiring simply by altering your thoughts, actions or your environment. Attitudes and values are not casual things. They are physical and the source of your everyday experience of life.

That means your words have power. Speaking is an act of creation. Over time, the way you describe the world creates your world. If you want a "better world," all you have to do is "cast your vote" each day for the world that is already working.

Ever notice who is always around when your life doesn’t work? You are. You can blame it on your circumstances if you want to, but all that does is make it persist. You can blame others, but all that does is make you suffer. Maybe you should consider an alternative.

I invite you to join me in a new conversation. We can create it together in the days and months to come…and before you know it, a new and vibrant economy will emerge.

GO TO SECOND POST - Transformational Economics II

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

His and Hers Homes - Designing Relationships

Creighton Welch of the San Antonio Express News wrote another article a few days ago that used me as a primary source.

This one talks about the stress on relationship that can be caused by taking on a change in your living space. Creighton's last article - on choosing the right remodeling contractor - is here.

At Truehome, a full third of our exercises relate to this important part of creating a healing home. The Express News article hits on the subject lightly, but there is much more possible than what is included in that article.

If you want to know more about how you can create a successful team with your housemate or spouse when taking on a project, and even about using your home to empower your most important relationships, see the "Remodeling Your Relationships" pages on our website or sign up for one of my upcoming seminars.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Truehome Workshop Seminars

I am excited to announce that starting early in 2009, I will be offering both consulting services and weekend seminars in Austin, Houston and San Antonio, Texas based upon demand.

Ever since my techniques for designing homes that "fit who people are" were the subject of a major article in the New York Times last July, people have asked when I might offer the Truehome Workshop in a seminar format.

In the last several months, between my architecture firm and the work that was going on at, I could not see how I could pull that off. But the international media attention our project has received has convinced me there is a demand.

Go Magazine, the Texas A & M architecture school, the San Antonio Express News, Hommes Magazine in Athens, Greece and the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia have all run stories on me and our approach to design.

The last chapter of Sam Gosling's popular book Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You lauds our project. Sam is a brilliant University of Texas behavioral psychologist who just won the APA's "2008 Distinguished Scientific Early Career Contribution to Psychology" award, so to have his endorsement is quite a feather in my cap.

Blogs have lauded my efforts to "disrupt the way in which people think about architecture". It's been a fun ride and all indications are that it will continue. As a result we decided the time to develop a seminar program is now. We hope to have our first event scheduled in Austin by March of 2009.

I will also make myself available for speaking engagements and for group consulting about how to effectively create a home that fits. We use the Truehome methods on institutional projects too, particularly non-profit and religious institutions.

By special arrangement, I will also entertain speaking engagements at other locations outside the geographic market in which my architecture firm operates.

The seminars will be open to both consumers and professionals - like architects and interior designers - who want to be trained to use the Truehome Workshop or to develop their own methods of applying psychology and human factors to their design practices.

If you have an interest in attending a seminar or arranging a speaking engagement, contact me via e-mail at; or by phone at either our Austin office at 512-444-0777 or in my office in Round Top at 979-249-5961.

I look forward to meeting you and spreading the gospel of designing "homes that fit the lives of real people."

Loving Jim Crow To Death

In my "real life," in addition to running an architecture firm, I am the publisher of a rural quarterly called the Round Top Register based in a rural Central Texas with a population of 77. My neighbors are mostly nice people, but very conservative. They are finding it hard to change.

Many of them - black, white and Hispanic - like me have strong feelings about the state of race in this country and we are not always on the same side of the fence. My county voted over 70% Republican in the last election. I printed this story in the first issue after Barack Obama became the president elect of the United States.

by Christopher K. Travis

I got a call November 13th, nine days after the election of America’s first African-American President.

The caller – whose voice had the characteristic twang of my fellow rural Texans - asked me “...why none of the papers were reporting that Klan incident that happened at the Dairy Queen in Bellville.”

According to the man on the phone, he met a guy he knew “at the lumber yard” and his buddy had seen the whole thing. There had been a ruckus at the Dairy Queen in Bellville (a small community about 50 miles outside Houston) when some black people “got served before some white people.”

Next thing you know, he claimed, the Ku Klux Klan was swarming all over the place in hoods and sheets. They were blocking traffic and asking people in passing cars what they thought about black people. Before long police were all over the place. He wanted to know why the event didn’t get any media coverage.

I wondered how such a controversial event could occur so close to my home and I not hear about it. After all, we are the largest circulation per issue editorial publication in the region and we try to keep up. I began questioning the caller about his ‘friend’, telling him I needed an eye witness if I was going to write a story about the confrontation.

I said I would look into it, but he wouldn’t let me off the phone. He began to recite a litany of things he thought were going wrong with our country - the national debt, entrenched special interests in Washington, and more. He really got warmed up about the subject of border security. He claimed all the illegal aliens had voted and swayed the presidential election, then proceeded to tell me a racist joke.

I got off the phone and called the Austin County Sherriff’s department. Just as I suspected, no such event occurred. It was an attempt to create controversy where there was none, and to intimidate those who had taken hope at the election of Barack Obama.

I didn’t get the caller’s name but I knew who he was. His name is Jim Crow.

I know Jim. We grew up in the same neighborhood. He was practically a member of my family, though we never got alone.

Upset and angry, I told my wife about the conversation and she related a story she heard that same day. Apparently a friend’s insurance man had arrived that morning on a sales call. He wanted to know if she had heard they were tearing out the Rose Garden at the White House now that Obama was elected.

Confused, she said she had not heard about that. “It’s true,” said her agent. “They’re replacing it with a watermelon patch.” Apparently Jim Crow sells insurance, too.

Two weeks before the election, a national polls reported that 30% of my fellow Texans still believed Barack Obama is a Moslem. All of us had been buried in election coverage for two years. There is not the remotest possibility anyone who has a television or reads a newspaper lacked the opportunity to expose that obvious lie.

However, you see, ‘Moslem’ is a pseudonym. Jim Crow likes to use pseudonyms. When used to refer to Barack Obama, ‘Moslem’ really means ‘black and untrustworthy’. People who believe lies in the face of all evidence want to believe those lies. Jim Crow has a lot of relatives down here.

Hate dies hard. It is the child of fear and as old as mankind. The fact that we have elected an African-American as our President does not mean it has gone away - or will go away any time soon. What this landmark change in our politics may do is flush it from the shadows. Let us hope that is all it does, because if hate has its way it will tear this nation apart.

I have lived with this darkness all of my life. My own family owned over 100 slaves when Texas was a Republic. They raised cotton and cattle, corn and grain, and their field hands were black before and after the emancipation proclamation. Jim Crow cooked up a way to turn political slaves into economic slaves. He’s a clever guy.

Most of the people who loved and cared for me when I was a little Texas boy openly called black people “niggers” and expected them to “stay in their place.” Everyone in my family knew old Jim Crow. He was welcome in our house.

I was raised in Waco, Texas. The Klan was particularly active in my home town in the first twenty-five years of the last century. The disturbing image on the right is the charred corpse of Jesse Washington after a lynching that took place there on May 15, 1916.

As far back as I can remember I felt ashamed of my ancestors because of these facts. I loved my family, but I hated old Jim.

I am not sure when I decided Jim had it wrong, but by the time I was in the sixth grade, at the time of John F. Kennedy’s election, I began to stand up to my parents about the issue.

My mother, a well-educated and sophisticated southern woman, smiled to see my idealism. In those days she was an idealist herself, and though deep down she harbored the attitudes of her parents, considered it uncouth to use racial slurs. It was something done by white trash.

Our family, like many fallen upper-class Southern families, was taught to give back to the disadvantaged. So the women in our clan tried to be kind to ‘colored people’. It was expected of people of their station. However, I had seen that gentility turn to hate in their eyes too many times not to see through the charade.

My step-father was not so covert. He was a close friend of Jim Crow’s and I never got along with him. When he found out hate speech offended me, he often used it to taunt me - sometimes to tears.

I remember how lonely and confused I felt when my grandparents and great-grandparents, people who loved me with a passion and always showed me the greatest kindness, began to commiserate about the failings of the ‘colored race’. It marked me.

In the last few years I realized I have been trying to make up for it ever since. To an outsider, it is obvious. The Queen and I have only caucused in two elections in the last thirty-five years. The first time was for Jesse Jackson. The second time was for Barack Obama.

My vote was not about the issues. It was about my own issues with Jim Crow.

Jim was a very successful politician for many years here in Texas. Twenty-seven ‘Jim Crow’ laws were passed in the Lone Star state from 1866 to 1958. Texas was among the South's most lynch-prone states. At least 355 people, most of them blacks, died in Texas mob violence between 1889 and 1918.

That official statistic most likely underestimates the actual death toll and the race of the victims. Orientals, Hispanics, Jews, gays and Native Americans were also killed by mobs and much was hidden. Jim Crow had a lot of friends in law enforcement in those days.

Truth is he still does.

When I first started The Round Top Register in 1995, I interviewed an old boy in his late seventies, a German-American man who had lived in the area since birth. He told me a story which haunts me still. I have no idea if it was true or not, but he swore by it.

He claimed that back in the “teens or twenties” a rumor started that a black man in a town eight miles from my home called Burton had raped a white woman in another close town named Carmine. Perhaps the woman really was raped. However, often ‘raped’ was a word like ‘Moslem’. It could mean a black man had sex with a white woman, or sometimes was simply seen in the company of a white woman.

This old boy claimed a posse of vigilantes from Carmine got their guns and broke down doors in Burton until they found the ‘guilty’ party. They then took him out in the woods, chained him to a tree and set him on fire. According to the story, they went to a local bar, got drunk and started bragging about what they had done. The tale got around and county sheriff at that time drove to Carmine and found the perpetrators.

According to the man I interviewed, he walked up to them, shook their hands, thanked them for saving the county money, then drove back to La Grange.

That story may be completely fictitious, but when Jim Crow was running Texas, that kind of thing happened over and over.

The Civil Rights Act of 1968 did not put old Jim out of business. Not even close. Some people think they have heard enough about racism in this country. Some people think the fact that we have elected Barack Obama president means we have finally arrived in the “dream” world of Martin Luther King, Jr.

If you believe that, I’ll bet you are not African-American, Hispanic, gay, Jewish, Asian-American, Moslem or Native American. Those folks know King’s dream has not become a reality. Some of them find out almost every day.

If you moved to a country whose majority was not of European descent, the same thing would happen to you. Jim Crow is not particular. It’s ironic, but hate doesn’t discriminate. You don’t have to be African-American to get his attention.

All you have to be is different. That’s why we use the word “alien”. It’s also a pseudonym. Even worse is ‘illegal alien’.

Aliens are scary. Think Roswell and War of the Worlds. Imagine a Hispanic with huge pointed teeth bursting out of your chest on a space ship in another galaxy. You get the idea.

Jim Crow and his buddies have always twisted words and worked in darkness like cowards. They do their business in dark rooms on dark nights with dark metaphors.

They rely on our unwillingness to confront them openly. They rely on the fact that most of us will not tell the insurance salesman who makes a racist joke he just lost a customer. Jim knows we will just smile uncomfortably and let it go…because after all, we southerners are "nice" people.

Last February, when I was still the Editor of the Round Top Register, I passionately endorsed the candidacy of Barack Obama. Given that Fayette County voted over 70% Republican, that was not a popular decision where I live. Our current editor – also a Republican – has pointed this out. He is probably right.

In that endorsement I pointed out the following: “No one wants to talk about race and gender. The media dances around it. The campaigns duck the subject as though it were an illicit affair or a charge of corruption. But isn’t the fact we have come to the point in our history that a black man or a woman could become President what is most exciting about this race?

“Isn’t that a powerful signal to the world that we are still the most vibrant, egalitarian, compassionate and politically advanced nation on earth!

“Think what it will mean, if and when it happens, about who we are!”

There is one reason I bring up this admittedly uncomfortable subject now – right after we have accomplished this great leap in race relations in our nation.

The truth is the last election did proved that America is, exactly as I predicted, “…the most vibrant, egalitarian, compassionate and politically advanced nation on earth.”

So if that is the case, why am I on this high horse? Let me answer with a question. If we cannot extinguish racism and other forms of discrimination in this country, then where on Earth will it end?

If you watched the faces of people from all over the world on the day after, you know by making that choice we gave new hope to people all over this planet. They need hope, because Jim Crow and his cousins live in every nation and, in most of them, he still has a lot of political and economic power.

His relatives in Iraq kill children simply because they are Shiite or Sunni or Kurd. His drinking buddies in Europe make sure the fix is in. Racial and cultural minorities are quietly excluded from a fair shake.

Ethnic, religious, racial, and cultural minorities experience discrimination everywhere. Millions have died from it.

In 1994, over the course of roughly 100 days, hundreds of thousands of Rwanda’s Tutsis were exterminated by Hutu militia because they were different. Most estimates indicate the death toll was between 800,000 and 1,000,000 people.

That is chicken feed. Just in the last century you can barely count the genocides on two hands.

The numbers are in dispute, but here is a summary of the mass killings in the last century.

Mao in China – 20-73 million; Stalin in Russia – 4-60 million; Hitler in Germany – 15-50 million; Japan’s Tojo– 6-30 million in China; Pol Pot in Cambodia – 2-3 million; Kim II-sung in North Korea – 1.6 million; Mengistu Haile Mariam in Ethiopia – 1.5 million; Ismail Enver in Turkey – 1.2-1.5 million; Ykubu Gowon in Nigeria – Over a million; and Brezhnev in Armenia – 900,000.

Why the carnage? Because the victims were seen as alien.

So that’s why I am bringing this up in the first Round Top Register since the election. I want to ask you to open your eyes and look into your heart. I want you to see we have just taken a big step, but the journey is long and we have far to go.

For those who are fighting this good fight, I want to point out there are only two things that disarm Jim Crow. Anger and violence only make him stronger. They are his stock in trade.

The first weapon against Jim is the truth. The second weapon is absolutely lethal. It was taught to us by Jesus Christ and preached by Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is the practice of loving your enemy. In the war against racism and hate, the most deadly weapons we have are love, compassion, understanding, patience, and forgiveness.

Old Jim Crow. What a guy. I just love him to death!
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Friday, December 5, 2008

A Boost from "Topranked Wellness Sites"

Andreas Guibeb, the author of two popular blogs - Top Ranked Wellness Sites and Top Ranked Local Business Blog - posted a very positive review of Architecture of Life and our approach to design.

Andreas is a self-described "
Passionate evangelist for the promotion of all things in tune with our holistic (whole) mind, body and spirit wellness."

But he obviously knows a thing or two about blog promotion and SEO too. An interesting guy.

Here's a quote from his review:

"Christopher K. Travis, the Managing Partner of Sentient Architecture LLC, a Texas based full architecture services company reminds me of George Bernard Shaw’s tailor.

"George Bernard Shaw said that 'the only man who behaves sensibly is my tailor. He takes measurements anew, each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.'"

The whole article can be read here. Thanks for the shout out, Andreas!