Saturday, June 24, 2017

Care to Join Me?

For the last several years, I have been exploring race, prejudice, privilege, bias, and my role and assumptions in all of that. My reading list has included Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow, Jim Wallis' America's Original Sin, Reverend Dr. William Barber's The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of the New Justice Movement, Bill Bishop's The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart, and Robert Jone's The End of White Christian America. But of all my reading, no book has touched me more personally or more deeply than Debby Irving's Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race

OMG! Let me say it again, OMG!

Born in 1960, the youngest of five children, Debby Irving grew up in an upper middle class home in New England. 

Irving began unpacking her white upbringing in 2009 when she took the class, "Racial and Cultural Identity" at Wheelock College, Boston, MA for her master's degree in special education. Rather than being given tips on how to teach "other" races and cultures, she writes, "the course asked me to turn the lens on myself ... and what I found shocked me." (page 30)

As a fellow baby boomer, I can relate to her story, growing up in a white home, in white suburbia, attending predominately white schools including a predominately white college. Even though the city I grew up in was 52% white, at the downtown church we regularly attended, everyone looked like us. Going into a restaurant, we'd see other patrons who matched our skin. We belonged to a summer swim club whose members were all fair skinned. Phil and Jerry's Foodarama grocery store was as white as the vanilla ice cream they sold. The closest black friend I had growing up was Clarence Bowman with whom I worked at Boy Scout camp two summers.

I, like Irving, was gifted with "tailwinds" which is something the "other" had a major shortage. My father had a friend who got me a college summer job. My father knew the banker who made getting my college loans a snap. Buying my first new car wasn't a hassle due to "tailwinds." My first home mortgage was easy peasy due to connections. Irving's culture, as well as mine, was made up of "distorted beliefs, filtering, missing information and selective inattention which fueled self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating cycle of outcomes." (page 63)

Irving, like me and perhaps you, may wonder, if the cards are stacked against those who can't get into the "melting pot" including Blacks, Chinese, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and gays, how do you explain Tiger Woods, Oprah, I.M. Pei, Yo-Yo Ma, Ricky Martin, George Lopez and Ellen Degeneres? The invisible belief system doesn't make achievement impossible but it does make it exponentially harder. Averages, not outliers tell the story. (page 60) Here are some facts that begin to peel the onion on the divide in our country causing the "other" to have had it harder to live the American dream. It has not been a level playing field.

Did you know that over one million black GI's who served in WWII were excluded from the GI Bill? (page 33) The GI Bill paid for my father's college education allowing him to get a good paying corporate job after college.

Did you know that between 1934 and 1962, the Federal Government underwrote $120 billion in new housing and that less than 2% went to people of color? (page 35) In 1959, FHA allowed my family of four to move into a nice 3 bedroom, 2 bath ranch home with a nice big yard in a wonderful neighborhood within easy walking distance of my elementary school and an easy work commute for my father.

There are 45 short chapters to Waking Up White in which Irving focuses or shares a personal discovery related to the "other." At the end of each chapter, she asks a powerful question about how you relate to what she has written. It is an invitation for you to explore your own "wake-up call" and look at yourself in the mirror. 

How would you answer the question at the end of chapter 9, White Superiority - How white people decided white people were the best people of all: Prior to reading this chapter, what did you know about the history of naming the races? How do you feel about the term "Caucasian"? (page 45)

How would you answer the question at the end of chapter 15, The Whole Story - The effect of swallowing one-sided stories: Think of a historical event in American history, perhaps the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the arrival of the Statue of Liberty or any one of the wars Americans have fought. Where have you learned what you know about this event? Whose perspective did you learn? If you went in search of a fuller story, whose viewpoint would you seek? (page 85)

How would you answer the question at the end of chapter 17, My Good People - How it was possible that I was both a "good-person" and utterly clueless: How would you complete this sentence? I never thought I could perpetuate racism because I am _______________________, and I believe _________________. (page 99)

This is a hard, revealing, informative book for this white baby boomer male to read. It is was a gift to discover this book and use it for my own personal growth and development. If you go to Irving's website, you will find resources to help you discuss this book and its topics with others.

Lynn Watts
Irving points out, that white people tend to engage black people with an attitude of "I don't see race." Turns out that is about as racist as it gets. One of the most important women in my life besides my wife, daughter and sister is Lynn Watts. After reading Waking Up White, I spoke with Lynn and I apologized! Irving brought to my attention we white people tend to engage black people and ask them to teach us about their alternative universe. I know I've asked Lynn to explain my aversion and social discomfort rather than do the heavy lifting. I know I've asked Lynn to help me see what I not only could not see, but maybe what I didn't want to see. I recognize that as much as I say I embrace the Golden Rule, I haven't always walked my talk with the "other." Since our friendship began back in 2003, Lynn has been patient and given me grace in my "awaking."

If you are willing to own your ignorance of the "other," the final chapter, Tell Me What To Do! offers ideas and behaviors on how each of us can turn the tide against racism including: learn, engage, donate, spur racial awareness and education, take a course.

The one thing I know I will not do is to feel guilt or shame for being a white baby boomer male. Those feelings and behaviors do nothing to change course and get in the way of being a better human being. I know I need to use my white, male, Christian, heterosexual privilege to help those who do not have these privileges. Care to join me?

Friday, June 9, 2017

Are You Too Busy to Take a Vacation?

A Facebook friend posted a short video clip of himself and his young daughter sharing where they would be vacationing with their family this summer. Then they asked Facebook friends to share where they would be vacationing this summer. At last count, there were1,300 views of the video, 90+ "likes" and 65 comments!

The comments were good to great and interesting until I read the comment, "What's a vacation? It's been so long, I've forgotten."

Really!? That comment made me sad.

We seem to lift up and honor "busyness" as sign of strength, a sign of endurance, a sign of competitiveness, a sign of "they" can't do without me, I'm indispensable.

When I read a comment like that, I begin to think this person is a workaholic and perhaps a micro-manager. I wonder what its like to work with or for this individual.

Taking a vacation is as essential as getting enough sleep every night, eating a balance diet, getting exercise, being relational with others and learning as part of one's continuous improvement. 

I fall into bad habits and ruts. It's the way I've always done it. It's working, don't mess with it. That's not me. Faster is better. And... "I don't have time for that!" Vacations challenge this thinking.

Here is what I know for sure about taking vacations:

Vacations improve my health and well being. It usually takes me two or three days to unwind, but stress subsides, heart rate slows down, sleep becomes longer and deeper! Studies show taking vacations actually increase longevity and quality of life! 

Vacations improve relationships including marriages, family members and work cohorts! I know I can stand to make better connections with those I love and care about.

Vacations inspire my creativity and jump start my productivity. Vacations remove me from my ruts and offer new vistas and stimulation for ideas. The world gets a little smaller when I travel and experience new cultures and meet new people. My ignorance takes a hit!

All of this only works if I leave work behind including the office laptop and office smartphone! I unplug from my work world.

Planning a vacation and creating anticipation of going someplace new is part of the vacation experience! I begin to imagine what it will be like to experience the unfamiliar. 

When I travel, one of the things I do to keep a vacation alive after I return is to take a small blank journal along to jot down notes, thoughts, experiences, sketches and rubbings of what I saw and did as well as the people I met. With a glue stick, I paste ticket stubs and maps I used into these journals. I leave blank spaces so I can print out photos and insert them. I reference these travel journals and relive the moments. I find looking at these journals to be healthy and stress-reducing. They spark creativity and bring joy! These journals inspire me to dream of our next vacation! I don't leave home without it!

"The ant is knowing and wise, but doesn't know enough to take a vacation."                                            - Clarence Day

Friday, May 26, 2017

What Makes You Happy?

Mo Gawket, author of Solve for Happy: Engineer Your Path to Joy and CBO at Google X, realized for all his success, he wasn't happy. In fact, increased wealth seemed to contribute to more unhappiness. After a lot of research, he came up with a mathematical formula for permanent happiness! Thirteen years later, he got to apply the formula with the unexpected death of his son.

Happiness is greater than or equal to your perceptions of events in your life minus your expectations of how life should be.

His algorithm seems accurate. I guess if you don't know how to be happy, or if you're not clear on what makes you happy, then Gawket's book might be worth a read. 

Without reading his book, here is what I know for sure about my happiness. First, a couple of self-discipline practices I have to contribute to my happiness:

The practice of being honest with myself. I continuously try to be aware and work on overcoming my self-deception. I ask for feedback from others beginning with, "How am I doing?"

The practice of avoiding comparing myself to others. I recognize I am one of a kind. I practice loving myself just as I am, but I don't stop practicing on improving! I celebrate my uniqueness and victories and overcoming my failures.

The practice of being mindful of the ordinary and finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. Running water out of the kitchen faucet is incredible! Duct tape, pocket knives and dryer sheets are life changing!

The practice of being mindful in the company of others. I try to be interested rather than interesting. I avoid judging others, especially if they have different beliefs, ideas or opinions.

I practice simplifying. Letting go of things and not owning means more living. I pay attention to how stuff impacts me. More stuff—more time I have to spend paying attention to it and its upkeep. More living space—more cleaning, bigger carbon footprint. More clothes—more closets. My one exception ... more books, more bookshelves!

The practice of Carrpe Diem! is gratitude. There is so much I have, so little I need. I practice being mindful of who and what is in my life. Being grateful for what I have brings me joy and happiness. 

The practice of Carrpe Diem! is also about forgiveness and asking for forgiveness. I am an imperfect, scarred, mistake-prone human being. I step on landmines of others and cause pain. To ask and receive forgiveness, is another start to happiness.
What makes me happy? 

- Waking up before sunrise, before the birds are singing and celebrating a new day of possibilities! 
- Watching my glass fill with water from the kitchen faucet and then drinking it! 
- Taking Jackson for a walk before the sun rises.
- Wrapping both hands around that first mug of delicious coffee, smelling its aroma, and taking that first sip. 
- Seeing people smile after I have smiled at them. 
- Hearing someone say or receiving a note telling me I made a difference in their life.                                                                       
Marion's Piazza
- Handwriting a note to someone (usually four per day!) and thinking about how our lives have intersected and the relationship we have. 
- Seeing a V formation in the sky. This reminds me of my father.                        - Watching a butterfly move from flower to flower. This reminds me of my mother.
- Coming home from work and being greeted by an always excited, unconditionally loving Jackson!
- Holding hands with Terri in a movie or watching television.  
- Long, delicious dinners with family and friends.
- Reaching over in bed at night to touch Terri and thinking how blessed I am to be with this woman.
- Living in Asheville, NC. The surrounding mountains take my breath away!
Carrpe Diem!
- Living in our home. It's a sanctuary of goodness. It offers sacred space.
- Penatonix, Vivaldi, James Taylor, Allison Krauss, The Piano Guys, Mozart, Diana Krall, Sting, Indigo Girls, Yo-Yo Ma, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Playing for Change
- Old hardware stores where the scent of linseed oil, turpentine and fertilizer mix with the bins of nails and and loose sheets of sand paper.
- Art by Monet, VanGogh, Degas, Rodin, Corbin, McNulty, Welker, Koch and Southerland.
- Rainy Saturday or Sunday afternoons, especially at the beach.
- Sitting in front of a campfire or our living room fireplace.
- The scent of the air after a thunderstorm. 
- The scent of Dial soap.
- Visiting the Carr family memorial in Charlotte, NC and the Privette memorial in Princess Anne, MD.
- Eating Cabot Vanilla Bean Greek Yogurt.
- Hosting Final Fridays.
- Eating pan fried okra.
The Nubian Princess and Dr. Steel
- Eating Marion's Piazza with family and friends!
- Drinking Sierra Nevada's Torpedo Extra IPA with family and friends.
Breaking bread with family
- Sipping Stranahan's Colorado whiskey with family and friends, especially in front of a fire.
- Early Friday morning phone calls with Dr. Steel and the Nubian Princess. 
- Sailing. 
- The feeling after swimming a good distance.
- Hearing Terri say her "pet" name for me and "I love you."
- Hearing my children end a phone call with, "I love you, Dad." 

What do I do when I feel unhappy? 

I begin by moving my body. I focus on my breath. I close my eyes and meditate. I am especially fond of meditating on 1 Thessalonians 5:18. I journal my thoughts and feelings as well as for what I am grateful. I look at photo albums and recall how blessed I am, how much good is in my life. I look at PostSecret cards I have saved in a file on my computer. I get away from technology and go outdoors for a long walk or a hike. I hug my wife. I ask Jackson to sit in my lap. I look for something that is broken and repair it including a relationship. Ask for forgiveness. I go to Haywood Street Congregation. I give a panhandler a gift. I call a mentor. I call a friend and ask if we can meet for coffee. I go exercise. 

Part of living into Carrpe Diem! is the daily challenge of, can I be content with my present situation and optimistic about the future? ... 98% of the time ... YES!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Have You Got Great Questions?

My first adventure out of college was in sales, which lead to becoming a sales manager. One of the things I quickly picked up on was that great sales people were not great talkers, they were great listeners. Great listening sales people asked great, thoughtful questions and listened to the responses of their customers and followed up with more questions. Great questions lead to building trust which became the foundation of a good business relationship and increased sales!

Asking great questions has served me well.

When I left sales and became a facilitator of experience-based learning for adults, asking great, attentive, thoughtful questions became the foundation of my work. When people ask me what I do for a living, I tell them I put people in unfamiliar situations and ask questions!

Great financial planners begin by asking great questions. Great architects ask great questions. Great teachers are all about great questions. Asking great questions is the foundation of great lawyering! Great mentors know how to ask great questions of their proteges. Great leaders ask great questions. Their go-to question is "Why?"

Great questions are more important than the answers. In fact a great question is more important than a 1,000 great answers! Great questions lead to more great questions. Great questions challenge existing answers.

Great questions cause the recipient(s) of the question to pause, think, consider, ponder and wonder. Great questions can't be answered immediately. I've learned that when I ask an individual or a group a great question during a coaching session or a debrief, not to worry if there is not a quick or immediate response. I've learned to embrace pregnant pauses. I've learned to respect the silence and know marination is taking place. Thoughtful, unexpected, unpredicted answers will come!

The worst thing you can do after you've asked a great question and received a response is to tell your story, your truth, your opinion. The response to someone sharing their answer should be another question or "say more!" 

Great questions demonstrate humility. Asking great questions says, "I don't have all the answers! I need to connect with you." Great questions are at the heart of St. Francis' prayer, especially the line, "To be understood as to understand."

The opposite of great questions is certainty. Certainty thinks it knows THE answer and always gives the same answer, the right answer. Certainty is locked into black and white. Certainty fosters ruts, creates tunnel vision, stifles wonder and turns off curiosity. Certainty stunts growth and learning. Certainty is the sign of an uneducated mind.

Great questions lead to transformation. Great questions create new ways of thinking and foster possibility thinking. Great questions are at the root of science as well as spirituality. For me, the most important quality of the Bible is not answers, but the questions it generates! For me, the Bible does not end with a period, but with a comma or a question mark. Questions are the fuel for the journey called life.

While it may seem technology and artificial intelligence are taking over our lives, the one fail of technology and AI is the ability to ask to great questions. That is our work!

The root of being human is questions. If you are not asking great questions then you are a human doing!

Monday, May 1, 2017

To the Graduating Class of 2017 : Got Character?

Congratulations to the Class of 2017! Take a breath, but please, don't stop learning! If you do, you will become irrelevant! 

Besides your graduation, take a walk back down memory lane from this past year: 
- the United States changed presidents with what appears to be help from Russia, while Brazil and South Korea impeached their presidents; 
- Merriam-Webster added 1,000 new words to its dictionary including humblebrag and jiggery-pokery
- the Syrian civil war continues with over 500,000 killed and 11,000,000 people were forced from their homes; 
- North Korea, the proposed increase in US military spending and the hottest year on record has moved the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight; 
- the Panama Papers showed how the wealthy hide their money; 
- the Zika virus emerged as a global threat;
- terrorism abounds while we fuss over a wall to keep "bad" people out of our country.

Count your graduation as one of the bright moments of the year! 

Dorothy and Toto in the Wizard of Oz faced lions and tigers and bears ... oh my! You are faced with digital and wireless and downsize ... oh pfft! Neither I nor your parents worried about algorithms, artificial intelligence and robots impacting our work, but you need to understand how these forces are impacting your future. Futurists are forecasting the fourth industrial revolution. The core of this revolution is disruptive business models. Look at what Lyft is doing to the taxi industry. Look at what Airbnb is doing to the hotel/motel industry. Look at what crowdsourcing is doing to the lending industry. Look at what solar and wind energy industries are doing to the fossil fuel industries.

Consider taking stock of what is coming by reading Kevin Kelly's The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future.

Whatever you do, learn to create memorable, positive, desired experiences. Learn to be THE memorable, positive, desired, experience. This will help you avoid becoming a commodity. In today's world, best experience wins. When you go for those job interviews, how can you be experienced in such a way that you get a callback over the other applicants? What is your overt benefit, reason to believe, unique difference compared to your competition?

I'd recommend you study David Brooks', The Road to Character, which I believe will help you navigate the future. It addresses something that is lacking bigly in today's world. It can contribute to your overt benefit, unique difference and reason to believe. I doubt if you took a class on this subject.

Spoiler alert, this is THE book I will be giving as a graduation present this year. If you want to get some idea of what this book is about, watch Brook's 2013 Baccalaureate address at Sewanee

IMHO, we have a lot of political characters like former Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock, religious characters like Steve Drain, Westboro Baptist Church, tech characters like Ross William Ulbricht, pseudonym "Dread Pirate Roberts", sports characters like Johnny Manziel, and television host characters like Bill O'Reilly. What all of these "characters" have in common is that they lack character. 

There are many self-help books that offer a formula to successful moral living. Brooks shares with the reader the struggle to grow one’s character through the lives of Francis Perkins, Dwight D. Eisenhower, George Marshall, A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, Dorothy Day, George Eliot, Augustine, Samuel Johnson, and Montaigne. All of these people grew their emotional intelligence through suffering and giving their lives to a higher calling. Brooks explores the formation of their souls.

The formation of one's soul is rooted in humility. Humility is also one of the outstanding characteristics of a fifth-level leader according to Jim Collins, author of the best-selling Good to Great. “A person is a product of cultivation. The true self, in this view, is what you have built from your nature, not just what you started out with.” page 147. 

What does character look like? According to Brooks, people with character "...answer softly when challenged harshly. They are silent when unfairly abused. They are dignified when others try to humiliate them, restrained when others try to provoke them. But they get things done.” Tough situations do not mold or create character, tough situations reveal character. 

Former President Franklin Roosevelt, a self-centered, rich, womanizer, learned character by contracting polio. Polio humbled FDR and made him more compassionate. Polio contributed to FDR becoming a better President.

Brooks' writing may help you discover the will to do right, the will to do what needs to be done, the will to be accountable and take responsibility, the will to suspend your ego and put yourself in the "other's" shoes, and the will to create a nurturing, sustainable world for tomorrow's child.

As you venture out into the next chapter of your life, consider a key question posed by Brooks. Are you living your resume or your eulogy? Do you recognize the difference? Your resume is about what you accomplished, the titles you got, the awards you received, the honors for which you were recognized. Your resume is about you.

Your eulogy speaks to your legacy, the difference you made in people's lives, the hearts you touched, what you gave, the connections you made, the "bridges" you built, your compassion, your kindness. Your eulogy is about the difference you made in other people's lives.

Grab a piece of paper and a pen.

Name the MVP of the MLB World Series last year. Name someone who won a Nobel Peace Prize last year. Name the person who won the Oscar for best actress last year. Name the a recent Pulitzer Prize winner. How did you do with the answers?

Let me change the challenge.

Name someone who made a difference in your life. Name someone who was there for you when you were down. Name a teacher who made a difference in your life. Name the person who makes you laugh. Name the person you enjoy holding hands with on a walk. I'll bet you didn't miss a name! Would you be named in someone else's answers?

My advice, focus on your eulogy rather than your resume.

Those characters I mentioned earlier, they all had good intentions, but "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." Choose wisely, thoughtfully and carefully.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Can You Truly Give a Gift?

The Ricketts family, owners of the Chicago Cubs franchise, gave 1,908 World Series rings to everyone associated with helping the Cubs win the 2016 World Series. In order to discourage selling their World Series rings, Cub ownership asked non-players to sign an agreement giving the team the right to buy back the ring for $1.

Personally, if I had been a part of the 2016 World Series Cubs organization and received a commemorative ring, I'd find a nice glass case to put it in and place it on the fireplace mantel! I'd cherish the emotion and the passion of a great, long-awaited winning season. But then, not everyone is like me! (I can hear it now,"Thank God!")

Do you remember O. Henry's short Christmas story, The Gift of the Magi? It is a sentimental story with a moral lesson about gift-giving. It is a story about a young married couple and the gifts they give each other that neither can use. The story reveals how priceless love is. It is also a story about the paradox and lesson in ownership: do you own something or does something own you? If you truly give someone something, you let go of it. You don't own it. The gift becomes theirs to do with as they wish. If you give a gift with expectations, then the gift, the object owns you.

A gift given with an expectation, with control, is not a gift. If you cannot give a gift and let go, then do not give it. I know I have given gifts to people and discovered the gift was re-gifted, returned to the store for credit or exchange or was even thrown out. Maybe I was disappointed, but it was the receiver's choice of how they chose to use or not use my gift, not mine.

It does not matter how much the gift cost. (The Cub World Series ring is estimated to be worth at least $30,000.) A gift is a gift is a gift with no strings attached, or it is not a gift.

I know people who have received large sums of money as a gift for college or investment, who did not use it the way the giver intended. People fail all the time to meet our expectations. Let it go or don't give it in the first place.

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer equated the gift of the ring to winning a Heisman and Oscar. "If you get a Heisman Trophy, they put that stipulation on it," he said. "If you win an Oscar, they put that stipulation on it." 

I disagree with Mr. Hoyer. The Heisman and Oscar are on par with the World Series trophy the Cubs now own. The World Series trophy is one of a kind, not one of 1,908. The Cub World Series ring was a gift, a token, a remembrance of a victory season from the Ricketts family. The ring was not a part of the trophy from MLB. 

Give the people a ring if you choose. Hope that they show gratitude in return by simply saying, thank you! That is their gift back to you!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Holy Week Reveals My Unholiness, My Humanness.

You don’t have to be Christian to acknowledge the challenges of Holy Week are at the core of whether it’s all about me or is about the community of which I am a part.

I realize I could have been a part of that crowd that cheered Christ riding into Jerusalem on that donkey. After all, I am attracted to successful underdogs. 

I realize I could be Judas. I, too, might judge someone as just too good for his or her own good and needs to be taken down. That's why we institute laws, rules and policy. 

I realize I could be like Christ’s disciples at Gethsemane and fail to support someone in need, falling asleep when someone needs me to be there for them.

I realize I could be like Peter and deny being associated with someone who was threatening the system, offering a better way of living together, creating community. I like my comfort zones.

I realize I could be gaslighted and follow the crowd yelling, “Crucify Him!”

I realize I could be like the Roman soldiers, wanting a piece of His clothing, nurturing my greed.

Good Friday is where I face my contribution to evil. It exposes the hatred I am capable of. It exposes my self-interest, my failure to love my neighbor, especially the neighbor who is different from me in so many ways. How God is willing to put up with me for my failures and short comings is beyond me. Yet, love gets the last word. Love wins. The message of Holy week is a call to act upon my faith, to walk-my-faith.