The first time I experienced gun violence I was 14 years old. It was November 1992. On Friday, November 13th, my sixth grade *crush* Tony stopped by my locker after the last bell. Tony was a fleeting crush at the end of sixth grade where we shared a dance at someones *graduation party* and even exchanged phone numbers (lol!). It was our freshman year now, and we hadn't seen each other for a while.  Over the course of the three years, our 20-something sixth-grade class grew to be about 500 kids in high school. He tapped me on my shoulder, and I turned around surprised to see his smile and as always, his good Kid 'n Play haircut. He was just saying hi, excited for the weekend. It was poised to be a big night as it was the fall-sports introduction. The Basketball team, the Pom squad, and I think the Colorguard (count me in) would be introduced. I believe Tony was playing freshman basketball. We wished each other a good weekend, said we should talk more often, and then went on to catch our respective buses home.

But that night, after the festivities, tragedy would strike and Tony would be murdered, the victim of gang violence. I woke up on Saturday morning and read about it in the local paper when I sat down to have my Cheerios. It was life-shattering. I'd go to his funeral with my classmates and I found myself weeping for months after unable to reconcile in my mind how this could possibly happen to someone who was so good.

And I was reminded of this tender feeling last week when the shooting took place on the Brooklyn subway. That was my subway route and the stop for my office space. Pre-covid, I would have been on that train likely at that time. But what I found myself thinking about that day was the young people who were in the surrounding schools, holding signs up to the windows pleading to make NYC safe again. I thought about what it meant to experience that violence at that age, how it changes your worldview, and how you ever reconcile that type of sorrow with the joy of life. 


Just that morning, I personally felt I had gotten to a stable mindset with the invasion of Ukraine. My brother, an Intelligence Officer in the Navy, had been called to active duty in February at the beginning of the conflict. His participation added an extra layer of stress to what was already an intense situation. I never considered us a military family, though he was also called to duty in the War in Afghanistan. But this time felt different. I worried about his stress and the stress my mom feels for him. But there's no one more clear-headed and grounded than my brother and I decided I could take solace knowing he's present. 

So that day, when the shooting happened, I felt myself dip my toe into the spiral of despair wondering when will we ever find psychic relief? The practice I came back to was Trabian Shorter's Asset Framing.

I first heard of Trabian's work on On Being (unedited is best!) and have since found it to be key to reframing situations allowing me to open my mind and find expansive possibilities and opportunities in the face of the ongoing turbulence in the world. Asset Framing is a philosophy & process Trabian created to serve as an approach to social equity and impact. His original conception was to apply asset framing to groups of people whom we tend to identify with their deficits over their aspirations. 

Asset framing is the opposite of deficit framing. Deficit framing is defined by fear, cynicism, and loss of hope. And Trabian points out that it is a default mode. Asset framing is about leading with aspirations and hope. Asset framing is not about ignoring or denying, but it's about what we lead with and how we present the problems that need to be solved. 

I have found that his ideas can be beneficial beyond the scope of social justice into the realm of everyday work, from creating, to goal setting, to just living. It can feel easy and intoxicating to slip into a deficit mindset and it takes work and personal accountability to shift into an asset mindset. 


In my last newsletter, I wrote about the responsibilities of a leader, and the first, and most important, is to stay inspired. Cultivating inspiration is not a practice to be taken lightly. It's a discipline to staying fulfilled and open. It is work, just like asset framing. Because our default is to a deficit frame, we must hold ourselves responsible for the shift.

When we experience burnout, when we're out of creative ways to market our business and fall back on extractive practices, when we're unable to marry our vision to the current economic reality, when we're not having the experience of our business we know is possible, we're likely coming from a space of deficit framing and we need a practice of inspiration to step into asset framing.

Last week, when I felt myself on the precipice of that spiral and thought back to my teenage self, I wish I would have had someone like Trabian as a guide. And I thought about a Joseph Cambell quote that came from Michele Quan's always-thoughtful newsletter: to participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. That to me is the essence of asset framing. 


This May we're having a rescheduled meeting of Consumed by Aja Barber. We will meet on Tuesday, May 3 at 7pmEST via Zoom. This is a free event, please email me to register.


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