“I am fearless now….”

th-2There are different kinds of memories. Events and happenings. Climactic moments. Hallmark days, such as a wedding, a funeral, a graduation. There are other memories that run deeper.  Memories of…scents…sounds…sight. Memories of emotion and feeling are perhaps the strongest.  The overwhelming moment when something happened inside of you; it changed the way you thought or felt about something. Like you could almost feel your brain morphing. The light bulb went on. The “aha” moment. The door shutting – for good this time – on a path of the past, a path that had been worn down and was going nowhere, and you struggled to get out of its rut, and now you can. These moments are, as they say, more ’emblazoned in our memories’ – because they go to our core – our heart and soul – they become more memorable because we were changed in that moment, that moment that we’ll always remember. We are different going forth.

This week the President gave an interview on radio which was somewhat controversial – but he stood rock solid, with a smile to his critics.  Something had changed in him.  A light bulb moment. An “aha” moment. A door shutting, or perhaps opening.  He put it simply when he said it: “I’m fearless now.” With that familiar jaunty full-faced smile we see more of these days.

This week I listened to a speech made by our new “fearless” President, this new Barack Obama.  And as he was expected to do, but no one could have truly anticipated, he gave a rousing one. But he went beyond rousing. He made a substantive one. He used high emotion, tragedy and deliverance to talk about issues that our country has yet to solve – poverty, poor educational systems, unfair housing, gun control, mass incarceration, jobs, racism, subtle prejudice – and he couched it all in the word “grace”.  Not “hope”, but “grace”.

And as natural as the gently waving program books in that church of 5,400 people – and in our homes and offices as we listened – our President began to sing. Low and deep he began. With the words, “Amazing grace. How sweet the sound…”.

Amazing-GraceI closed my eyes. I wanted to remember this day. Friday, June 26, 2015.  I wanted to emblazon its memory into my mind. I wanted it to change me. I wanted to call my children to gather and listen, but I was frozen watching this all transpire.  And as I thought of my children, grown and working now, I remembered Tuesday, January 20th, 2009.  My daughters were 20 and 22. Just coming of age in this adult world. We sat in the living room with snacks. Dip and chips, Guacamole, Nachos, and fruit. We wore our baseball caps of red, white and blue – one for each of us – with the word “HOPE” stitched right on them. And we watched our President take the oath of office. He delivered another speech that day – and it was a rousing great one, too.

getPartI remember thinking back to another day – September 11th, 2001.  The day when hope died. When ‘future’ seemed grim and hard to imagine. My daughters were 12 and 14. I knew on that day as I watched them come home from school, that their lives had changed. Forever. 2001 began a time of war and fear in our country – faded only somewhat into the hope and change promised to us in 2009.  Things seemed so bright. There was hope again.

Six years we have walked this path with the first black president in our country’s history.  We have seen polarization and stagnation – and yes, we have seen change, and progress. Healthcare. Immigration. Employment. Yesterday we watched as same-sex marriage become the law of the land – and in a moment of glory and grace it became – just – “Marriage”.

We have watched our President age and turn grey. The memory of that promised hope has tinged grey, too.  But he has moved beyond hope. As legacy looms in his mind and for history, he has moved the conversation along and called upon ‘grace’.  He says he’s fearless now. He carries this new state of being with him, as he carries forth with a song from deep inside. He’s making new memories. With new words. Grace. Fearless. Legacy. He says he would have been a better president – today – than he was. Self-awareness is not lacking here.

520976963_295x166But what can we learn? Have we learned that “hope and change” is not a plan? Do we need to conjure up some grace to lead ourselves along? And, if we can conjure up being fearless…think what we might do? Legacy looms closer at my age. The older-agers that 20 year olds grow weary of having around, are so important to moving hope and change along. The young-invincibles with a lifetime ahead of them, with things we need in this country – spark, energy, new ideas, and yes, hope.  But fear stalks the young. It limits them. It holds them back. Fear of speaking out. Of repercussions. Of loss of friends, colleagues, or opportunities. Of career short-circuiting. Of brass-ring missing.

But with the legacy years comes a sense of fearlessness. And that is power. Yes, it’s time to perfect the chocolate chip cookies – to be remembered forever for.  And to try for that hole in one.  But let’s not drift away too far. Together, wrapped in hope, wrapped by grace, together, think what memories we could make. Think what legacies there could be, not just for us as people, but for these United States.

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“We” are not amused…

It is almost a knee jerk reaction.  I hear a politician tell us “I need you to…” or “I will be asking for this in my budget…” and I’ve already had a gut reaction to the start of the sentence, such that I really don’t hear what comes after that.  I imagine myself on that podium, saying that sentence.  And I realize that the word I would be so hard for me to utter.  In writing, yes, I can use it.  But in speaking?  To a group?  No, I just sticks in my throat.  But why?

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Linguistically, there is the use of the royal “we”.  First, made famous by Queen Victoria when a vulgar joke was told in her presence. When she replied, “we are not amused”, she “clearly intended to speak on behalf of the other ladies whom she knew were equally offended.” Later, used by royalty to note the collective body of a politically organized nation – most commonly used as a term of separation – them and those – we and they – the intelligentsia and the peasants.

The use of pronouns such as I and we are called functional words.  When used by politicians, the choice can mean the difference between claiming authority and creating community.

There are even studies done about one’s mental state and the use of these functional words.  More people who are suffering from depression use I as opposed to we or they.  Kind of fascinating.

Having spent almost an entire career in the world of nonprofits, I learned quickly that the use of we was, indeed, to build community. And not at all spoken like the “royal we”.  What seemed so odd, at first, became rote.  “We hope you will…we ask you…we thank you.”  Sometimes I felt almost like turning around to see who else was standing there with me.  Never the bolder use of I.  Never as though the individual, the staff member, even existed, except as a title of function, certainly not a separate person. What mattered was the greater good, the cause.

I would like you to donate a major gift towards research.” Imagine! “I would like you to?”  “We need you to donate a major gift towards research.”  OK, but who is the we?  The we is you – and me – and collectively, all of us.

So, staff were in the background, writing the words, designing the photo opp, poised with conductor’s baton, or wind up key, if you will.  It was an adjustment – to deny one’s self – personality – personae – to become invisible.  But soon I came to understand the benefit of this group-being. So, for 20 years I was on behalf of and quite content in that role.  It was deemed to be a best practice of success for a nonprofit.

Today, the role of staff in a nonprofit is quite different.  Today the staff member is often front and center.  Someone whose life has never been touched by the disease du jour is speaking at a podium about the tragedies of some type of cancer they’ve never had.  Often, the volunteers or ‘survivors’ are right there, and willing to speak, but they are not invited to do so.  It is the staff member’s job now.  One they may truly love and be dedicated to.  But one with distance built all around it. Between community – and cause.

All this goes through my mind when I hear the word I spoken by an elected official, over and over again.  What is the purpose?  It must be to reinforce one’s role of power, surely not to build a sense of community – not to sing kumbaya with the people at all.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vo9AH4vG2wA

I think about the organization I worked for and how the tagline, or slogan, it used, changed over the years, reflecting part of this new word order. “We’re fighting for your life.”  Outwardly focused. Inclusive. Involving. Engaging.  “I’M not fighting for your life.  YOU are not fighting…WE are fighting.”  Kumbaya. Exponential engagement!

Today, that slogan has morphed to several others, with degrees of warm and fuzzy. “Learn and Live”  (don’t listen to me and you’ll find out for yourself);  “Your Life is in Your Hands” (it’s up to you, do what you want, you know what you need to do)’ and, today, “Life is Why”. (we’re tired of giving you all the reasons why – you should know why by now).

We have made today’s politicians into caricatures of themselves.  The media has done that.  And we expect it now.  We tweet about the color of the Governor’s jacket and how her hair looked on any one day.  Our obsessiveness would lead one to believe that we have relegated them to use the “royal we”, yet we have created a new level beyond that. Today politicians ask us to do things, to support things, in first person.  I need you to do this.  There is leadership in that, and a sense of authority, but I suggest there is no sense of community or coalition building.

If I were the speech writer I would reserve the authoritarian use of “I” for select moments of crisis.  Rather, I would bring back the royal we, the friendlier we.  For, “it’s all in our backyard”, isn’t it?  It’s not your backyard, or my backyard, it’s ours.  How might we all better respond if we brought back the use of the plural personal pronoun?  Just as your mother saved the use of your middle name for “those times” when obedience meant right now, and no discussion, politicians might command a more communal sense of engagement with the use of we, forgoing the assertive first person singular pronoun for crisis and woe, for that time when “we are not amused”.

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50 years ago it was Kitty Genovese who couldn’t breathe…

As the tragedy of the death of Eric Garner and the call for action and justice, has played out nightly with demonstrations coast to coast, and cries of “Black Matters” and “I Can’t Breathe” have entered into our cocktail chatter and business conversations, I can’t get the thought of Kitty Genovese out of my mind.

Do you remember Kitty? 

Kitty was a 28 year old woman. She worked as a waitress. One night, around 2am, she was murdered – stabbed and raped – right outside of her own apartment – by a 29 year old man who said he simply went looking for a woman to kill “because they didn’t fight back”, he later revealed. Kitty fought. She screamed. It was a loud, disruptive incident. Yet – no one called or came to help Kitty. Over 37 people later said that they were aware she was being attacked. They had heard her screaming for help.  Each person believed someone else was doing something. Calling for help. Rushing to her aid.  Yet, no one did.

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The social psychological phenomenon became known as the “bystander effect”, and, Kitty had her immortality, in the study of the “Genovese syndrome”, which continues to this day in colleges all across the country.  Literally, books have been written about Kitty – and the syndrome that bears her name.

While a student at Providence College, I studied social psychology.  I became rather fascinated by the development of group consciousness, group mentality, and “diffusion of responsibility”, and the “bystander effect”.  How could it be that one or two people would have more probability, individually, of helping someone than a group would?  How does the instinct to act become dissipated when they see themselves as members of a group?

We see this demonstrated with Kitty, yes.  We also see this on our college campuses when we talk about rape and sexual assault.  Often, the worst take place in fraternities or at parties, where society’s boundaries morph to the new society of the moment.  Where actions one person would never think about, much less act on, become the group’s behavior, and the individual becomes but one cog in the wheel that has been set in motion, with its own outlying concepts of right and wrong, its own shady sense of rules. As but one cell of the whole, the power to pull away is exponentially difficult.

The collective brain often rules.

The study of this has led to some good things.  It only took 25 years or so for CPR training groups to realize that there was a fatal flaw in step #1 – “call for help”.  How many of us were first taught to shout at the downed person, “are you all right” and then to shout out into the air or the group gathered, “call 911”!   Groups that were forever tweaking their CPR compressions, breaths, etc, heard about this, studied it and realized it was true that sometimes no one called for help – each thinking another member of this newly identified group had done so.  New instructions were written that when you called for help you should specifically select one or two people – looking at them directly and address them with a powerful order.  “You! Get help – Call 911 – now!”  What did this do?  It charged the specific person with a specific action.  The burden to do something – to move – was extremely powerful – and effective.  Some others in the group may act, too, but assuring that one person carried the full weight of that charge is now known to be crucial in a successful “chain of survival”.

How can this study – these concepts – help us better understand what happened to Eric Gardner – and offer critical retraining to our police officers?

We know his name.

Daniel Pantaleo. He is the police officer who put Eric Gardner in a fatal choke hold. But do you know who Justin Damico is? He’s one of the other officers. There were four others, too. There were also four EMTs/paramedics.  All told there were 10 “first responders” engaged with Eric that day.  And a score of others watching. The five police officers were given immunity to testify about the choke hold actions of Daniel Pantaleo.  The EMTs were suspended for their lack of lifesaving efforts at the scene, though they were later put back into duty.

Yes, Daniel Pantaleo was the officer who performed the fatal choke hold.  But there were four other officers there in that heap on top of Eric.  Did anyone say, “hey, back off a little, I think you’re killing this guy?”  Was that even a whisper? Or did the “diffusion of responsibility” have a powerful effect to have five officers believing that their actions were justified – there was no individual cry-out because there was no individual any longer – just ‘one of the five’.  Add onto this the layer of Eric being black. Add on to this the layer of poverty – all of this was happening in a poor section of the community.

What questions and answers can the study of group phenomena bring to retraining? Another group has used this information to help stop wrong side surgeries. Collective conscious thinking has been responsible for operating room errors when there was an assumption that the surgeon was cutting into the right appendage of his or her patient – even in the face of serious doubt or question.  It is a strong phenomena that makes an individual, maybe someone low on the hierarchy in the room, frozen from questioning, from saying, “wait, let’s check this again”. It is hoped that by retraining, and allowing all members of the group to have equal voice, this can change. To be effective, there must be a real promise of no repercussion, even if the person is incorrect, and all members of the group must believe that, to be so empowered.

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Did those officers, did Justin, and the four others, and David – approach Eric – with individual decisions that they were going to make this day one Eric would never forget – they were going to take this guy into custody – and if he resisted, they were going to kill him.  Right there, on the street, in front of groups of people, and while being film?

The overlay of race and poverty.

Did race – and bigotry – and fear – and poverty overlay these dynamics making the situation beyond salvation? Of course.  Exponentially so. So, yes, we need to do our cultural education and racial education, and our retraining.  We need to also restore the power of the individual to question tactics, protocols, and moments when common sense has gone haywire. Shoot to kill? Arming our police force like they were at war? Match our law enforcement to the diversity of the community? Teach individual responsibility and empowerment?

“I can’t breathe!”

There were lots of people around Eric.  Lots of people cried out.  But the most important ones who could have stopped it – the officers, themselves – didn’t hear.  They were bonded by a powerful magnet creating one new entity, made even stronger by fear. Each, by their silence to the others, reinforced the actions – the holds, the knee into the back, the smashing of Eric’s face into the cement – the fatal choke hold growing tighter and tighter.  They could no longer see with their own eyes, or hear their own thoughts – and they certainly did not the 11 cries from Eric – “I can’t breathe! – I can’t breathe! – I can’t breathe! – I can’t breathe! – I can’t breathe! – I can’t breathe! – I can’t breathe! – I can’t breathe! – I can’t breathe! – I can’t breathe! – I can’t breathe!

Ice buckets and broken hallelujahs…

Is there a coincidence that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has played out in such a dramatically successful way – literally all over the world – at the same time we have been victimized by some of the worst news stories in recent memory?  Piling up on us so rapidly, it seems surreal.

Beheadings!  Good Lord…the thought.  And threats to our world, right here, in the USA.  Threats this time that aren’t about bombing buildings; threats that look quite different indeed. Evil does walk on this earth. And it tapes itself and goes on YouTube for the world to see. And – we – watch.

Ebola!  Spreading wildly and uncontrollably – watch the maps, watch the countries turn “red” with notations of new outbreaks.  No known cure.  A doctor and a nurse in full white and plastic protective bubbles.  Will they live or will they die?  And when – but not if – will it be that someone flies to our shores on a jet plane and infects thousands. And they will. And will this potential drug work? And if it doesn’t, will this be the plague to wipe out millions? And so on….

Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!  Almost in the dead center of our country – Ferguson, Missouri. A young black man, perhaps guilty of shoplifting a few cigars, maybe shoving someone, or having a scuffle with law enforcement, maybe even a little high, gets shot dead with 6 bullets riddling his right side, starting with 2 in his head, and down his right arm that witnesses have said was raised in the universal “Hands UP! Don’t Shoot” symbol. And his body lays in the street for 4 hours; with his parents watching the flesh of their flesh, and the blood of their blood oozing into the hot pavement.  No white sheet gently shrouding him.  No priest saying words and drawing crosses.  He just lay there, getting stiff and cold, in the heat.  And the world in Ferguson ignited like a match carelessly flicked onto anxious, hot embers of a community who has had enough – a world which now sings back “We are Michael Brown”.  And how did we get here?  I think back to the race riots in the 70s, when white girls were afraid to walk on the very white East Side of Providence.  When flames of anger made it unsafe.  When young black people tossed rocks out of cars, and more, at sheer desperation of their lot.  Of their life.  Not a lot of guns and knives back then…but rioting and fighting and fear were weapons enough.

Israel and Gaza in their non-holy war, blowing each other up in the sacrilegious name of religion.  Picking up pieces of dead children, men, women for quick funerals, ‘as required’.  Then calling for “ceasefire” so all can cleanup.  But at halftime, someone launches a rocket, and we’re off again. Like some insane WWW fighting match, but there are, and will be, no winners here.

Putan-esque horrors in Russia & the Ukraine, reminding me of the ominous music in elementary school, when we would watch those videos, in our dark classroom, of the Red Dragon and the spread of Communism, surely “coming to a country near you”.

Deport them!  Illegal children rushing over barbed wire and fences, wading through streams, and now just walking in and over to law enforcement saying – here we are, arrest us, give us a court date, and my God, we’re home free…we’re home now, we’re in A-me-ri-ca.  And they disappear into our states on hot buses and trains. Wide eyed they go to the light of their cold and broken Hallelujah.

We’ve pretty much lost sight of the children.  And the Ukraine is bubbling in our minds.  Israel & Gaza, for this week, nowhere near the front page. What has captured us in this time of such woe?  What has given us joy at this hot and humid summer’s end?

The Ice Bucket Challenge. A moment in time. A silly, personal action that we share with millions on social media, inspiring laughs all across computer tops, iPads and iPhones – in a nanosecond.  The Ice Bucket Challenge existed before this summer.  It has popped up every once in awhile for different charities and causes.  But this year.  This year was so different.  An obscure disease – actually called an orphan disease – afflicting “only” 30,000 people in these United States.  Maybe the small numbers reminded us of how we feel against the global times we live in and the hopelessness we carry around with us to effect any change at all.  In a time when we surely feel like pulling up our drawbridges and watching out very carefully for just our own.  A time when for some inexplicable reason purchasing four cans of Dinty Moore beef stew to put in the basement next to the two cases of Poland Spring water seemed, well, proactionary.

But there was this thing you could do.  This cold bucket of ice thing.  And you could dump it over your own head.  Shock your own self.  And take a video of it.  And share it.  On YouTube.  And all the rest. And call out your friends – and your not so friendly friends – hey, I’m making you do this, too.  Ha!  And then go to your computer and donate money – lots of money – to this writing, over $70 million dollars, nationally.  Approaching $1 million in the state of Massachusetts, alone. And it’s spreading around the world.  Israel, Gaza, the Ukraine, probably not.

And for two or three weeks the little worlds we live in threw buckets of ice water over our heads.  A personal moment of control over this bombardment of grief in our world.  Have you done it?  Even on a really hot day, it jolts you.  It’s as if the memories of a beheading, of a boy lying in the street oozing blood into the pavement, of dirty, homeless children flooding this land of made-up dreams, of rockets red glare, red dragons, and bleeding eyes, were put out of our minds and our hearts for just a little while.  We took control over our mental anguish and turned it positive, and joyful, and helpful, and hopeful.

A bucket of ice.  Who knew?  Who knows the power it will have on inroads to a cure?  But in each of our small worlds, magnified on the screen of social media, we took control, we chose to laugh, we chose to do something rather dramatic, rather beautiful – we chose to be the essence of who we can be, each one of us.  We chose peace for a moment or two, or maybe because we shared it in those nanoseconds, the peace lasted a little longer. And in our gigging, shivering, wetness, how beautiful are we!

And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: Rev:19:6

 

Swimmingly Disruptive

Heat. Water. Poverty. Children. Bureaucracy. Politics. Convening like a perfect storm in the summer of 2013. A community pool was empty. In the heart of the inner city of Providence. More than empty, it was riddled with damage. Rusted and old and hot, the sun reflecting off its chipped and peeling white paint. A pool shouldn’t be hot. It should be an oasis. This one had a history of being more than an oasis. It was a lifesaver. A veritable lifesaver to children who had nowhere to go in the heat of the summer. Adults remembered learning the lifelong, lifesaving, skill of swimming. For others it was a diving board out to a pretty cool life of success.

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Last summer, in the throes of heat and humidity, the absurdity of the situation steamed to a flashpoint. Open the pool. Fix the pool. When would it be done?  A poor neighborhood with small children who wanted to swim in the heat of the summer waited. And then the answer came – it would not be opened. It would be destroyed by a city administration hellbent to make a “cement pond” (to paraphrase Ellie Mae Clampett) out of the whole thing.  Maybe make a water “park”, with little fountains spraying up out of concrete. Or, as one radio talk show host said – let’s watch the kids get their crotches spritzed instead of learning how to swim.

It seemed like an outrageous injustice that would bring so such negative press that surely the administration would see the error of their ways and reverse themselves – maybe even throw a pool party to prove their mea culpas – and ‘what were we thinkings’.  But alas, the wingtips of a politician, and maybe more than one, who all should have known better started to grind into the sand. The more the people asked ‘why’, the louder the silence from the brick office space became. A grinding, seething silence that grew deeper each day. The incredulity of it all was shocking – almost to a one.

Figuring out the ‘why’ is usually what happens next.  But there was no time – there was no time.  Cement trucks were hovering in the dark people thought.  They might have been.

What happened next happened without plan, yet it was exquisitely executed.  It did not involve parading young sweating children out to beg for their pool.  The tactic was a classic disruptive model for change.  For those visual learners, here is a graphic to illustrate the paradigm.  (Credit here to Ted Santos, CEO of Turnaround Investment Partners).  What happened could have been planned out but it wasn’t. It happened by instinct, and was fueled by expediency – and the injustice of it all.leadership_disruptive_model_ts

People began to talk – each coming from their own perspectives and interests. There were advocates for the black community, one coming with a historical perspective who began to organize under the banner of Swim Empowerment.  He even put his own money towards a comprehensive study of why many African-American children and adults do not know how to swim as compared to their white neighbors. He held a community meeting. More people came and talked. The director of the department of health attended and shook his head. Local legislators came. Swim professionals from the “Y” and coaches got involved.  All establishing the bottom of an effective disruptive change pyramid – people with integrity, responsibility and accountability.

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Social media began to flicker as social media does. The conversations rose to a din. The din rose to outrage. People felt passionate and didn’t hesitate to say it.  A “Save the Pool” page on Facebook was born and hashtags developed.  A solid core of people were “in” – they were a committed core, giving this life. The next tier – commitment.

The engagement of a local talk show host quickly won an ally to the cause. Daily he raged on and on, and was joined by others – demanding the official who was ultimately responsible return his calls. No return calls. Silence. More talk show chatter. Support came as a gushing splash, spurred on by the silence from the hot brick building downtown. The community had taken its stand. (see tier 3 of our pyramid).

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Compromises began to be discussed.  “How about filling in part of the pool so it wasn’t deep enough to dive in?” No, the group said. You can’t learn how to swim in a wading pool. “No money to fix the pool.”  Legislators and contractors and community leaders rose up and said – we’ll fix it for free.  “We need to study this whole thing.” “And, oh, by the way, we’re going to fill in the other pools in the city.” By now it was clear the short summer season was passing by. Don’t touch the other pools, the group said, not to everyone’s agreement – but if you don’t touch them, we’ll agree to a [dreaded] commission to “study this”. The goal was clear – the only purpose of the commission was to get the pool open for 2014. We will “study” how we will do this, but we WILL do it. A declaration was made.

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Early in the process – the action step – began. The pool would reopen. Not to be fooled again – and recognizing the devilish details, questions were asked – when, where, how, who. Pressure. More pressure.  July 1st. The pool will be repaired and it will open on July 1st.

Construction began this June, and it was watched diligently, for any possible delays. In the last week of June, the repairs were completed. The water flowed into the pool. And it waits now – warming up – for its debut as this community’s oasis.

It will open tomorrow with a press conference. This year, the talk of making more water parks or cementing in of deep ends is gone – the whole crazy no-pools issue has had a complete breakdown.  There is talk of swim lessons. Around the city. And BBQs for families around the pool. There have been no apologies or explanations – still silence. There will be a lot of people to thank, but for fear of omitting, perhaps it’s best to say this: the story is about the kids smiling, happy to be swimming in the pool, not about the politicos who will want to claim victory or credit in a big splash. Not about any one person really.

This spontaneous, informal, beautifully executed disruptive model – one where people risked possible retaliation, their jobs and votes – bolstered by historical data and facts – spurred on by the urgency of it all and permanency of any failure – with its effective use of the raising of voices and the disruptive media of talk radio and digital news – what can we learn from this stunning success? I don’t propose an answer, but I do pose the question – and I think we should pose it more often.

It is said – “The Disruptive Leadership Model™ empowers organizations to purposefully reach that point which is outside of the business as usual current instead of depending on hope and luck. It is a very effective model for empowering people and organizations to responsibly come out of a comfort zone and produce results that would have never occurred in the paradigm of business as usual. In fact, most breakthroughs change the future of the person or company [or organization] forever,” – Ted Santos.

In this year that has witnessed the loss of Maya Angelou and before that, of Nelson Mandela – what causes speak to you?  What change do you want to see? Make a little noise. Tweet a louder tweet. There are great tools today to bring disruption into very staid systems. Think less about the same ol’ way of doing things if you want to see big change in this, your, lifetime.

Try being more disruptive.  Once you dive into that pool and you learn how to swim – you might very well have changed your own future – and society will be the better for it.

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The Stalling Time…

Another treatise on women lacking confidence has come out and met with the usual national PR splash.  Put it in on the shelf next to the one that says we aren’t leaning in.  The lacking confidence one is by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman in The Atlantic’s May 2014 cover story, called “The Confidence Gap”.  Kay and Shipman write that, despite being just as qualified as men, women often hold themselves back.

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Well, let’s look at that for a moment, as a truth.  Why would that be?  Is there a reason we would hold ourselves back?  Back from the tippy-top positions.  The ones that require you to be super-glued to your job, working 12 hour days, being a bit ruthless to succeed, and for a time, putting everything – family, spouse, and self – on the back burner.

A colleague of mine who is, by any measure, at the very top of her field, has written a book – “Sweet as Pie, Tough as Nails”.  She has had personal sacrifice to be there, at the top, some of which I wouldn’t write about, but which would not settle well in my sense of success, balance, life.

In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg examines why women’s progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled.  Stalled!  Now that is an interesting word choice.  And I would agree.  We have “stalled”.  But I believe it is a deliberate and intentional stall. And a healthy one. Men should try it.

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When men tell women what they lack or how they should change or do something differently, it comes with a certain “oh, well, they don’t really know us” – but when women receive accolades and get interviewed on national talk shows because they are “eating their own”, telling other women that yes, we don’t lean in enough; we don’t reach for the very top, we aren’t equal, we lack confidence, women perhaps rush to buy the book, rush to be better, to work harder, to read advice columns on how to ask for a raise, or how to lead, or how to get less sleep, and fit more hours in the day.

We

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As we sit here in our “stalling time”, let’s think about our success.  I won’t attempt to define it here.  Because that would be as wrong as telling us what we need to do.  For each one of us it will be different. For some it will be family, children, and being there for a period of time to fully participate in it all.  For others it will be years and years of education and then – a role as a doctor or researcher who will quietly save lives every single day, without time to think if she’s leaned in or not.

As the pendulum of home – work – home – work continues to sway, we seek equilibrium, most of us.  We seek balance and energy.  To walk through our lives energized, and not exhausted.  To not need Ambien to sleep and drown ourselves in coffee, or worse, to get on with our day.

As I look back at my 50-something advice to my 20-something daughters I say, go ahead and stall.  Now’s a good time.  You’ve got the education and the path is before you.  Stall, just for a while.  Watch your path.  Measure your life.  Lean in one way – or lean in the other way. Or lean a little bit in both.  Think of your tombstone and read the obituaries.  How would you like yours to read?  Think of, gulp, me.  Where do I fall short – and why?  What choices did I not have freedom to make?  What would the choices have been if I was free to make them?

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Stall.  Define yourself.  Lean in for no one. Have the confidence to stand still and think. When you put your foot forward on your path, you might know more about where you want it to go, rather than jumping on for a ride you may not want to go on.

Think about balance.  Think about pendulums.  Think about standing still.  Being quiet.  Look at the ocean.  Write your 5 year plan.  Write your obituary.  Write mine.  Stall as long as you want.  And remember, you can always come back and stall – again.

Dogs and Wolves – Reconnecting with my professor…

Dogs and Wolves.

This, above, is the blog of Dr. Elaine Chaika. Check it out!

Elaine was my professor of linguistics tens of years ago when I was a freshman at Providence College in Rhode Island.  An elective, at the time, Linguistics, soon became a weekly fascinating class for me.  This was a unique time to attend Providence College.  I was in the first full class of women.  Elaine was also a rarity in that year – one of the first female lay professors – much less a person of Jewish faith in a campus of Catholic priests and nuns.  PC was stretching and straining at the time – and all these years later it has done well for it and by it. A few incredible glitches recently, but that is a story for another day.

I lived on campus and had two roommates who were both from New Haven, CT.  We had friends on either side of us also from Connecticut.  PC drew quite a few Connecticut girls in that first year.  Sometime in January, sitting in our rooms getting ready to go out and having a few cocktails ahead of time, we all seemed to have gotten quite sick of each other, or at least noodgey with each other.

That very well may have come from living in such tight quarters.  In addition to our space issues we also had issues that came from the educating of the Dominicans on campus.  Such as, no, padres, women do not shower in one big shower room (they having just moved us into what before were male dorms).  And, no, it is unsafe to put metal bars on our picture windows on the 1st floor to protect us from boys who may have thrown caution out the window in favor of raging hormones and decided to leap in and fetch us) – because, well, dear Fathers, suppose there was a fire.  How would we get out in an emergency?

I digress.  After having a few drinks, we were picking on each other, and I was trying to play peace keeper.  Then someone said – “you know, none of us can understand anything you say – we never have”.  You blab on and on and we laugh at you because you speak so “funny”.  I couldn’t wait to bring this up in class – with Dr. Chaika.  And I did.

We talked about dialects and there being no “right and wrong” about speech.  I felt better.  But yet, I found I became acutely aware and self-conscious, as I equated sounding “funny” with sounding “dumb”.  Soon, meticulously articulated “r’s” came into my vocabulary.  And enunciation of familiar RI words became rote.

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I went home in the spring and had dinner with my extended family – 6/7ths of them Portuguese.  My mother said – “I don’t understand anything you are saying.  You are talking ‘funny'”.  And so it went.  I now sounded “funny” wherever I was.  I’d only hoped I didn’t also sound “dumb”!

I remembered Dr. Chaika’s easy ways, common sense approach, and I recall thinking she was truly one of the most intellectual professors I had ever had.  Not merely teaching out of textbooks, but philosophizing about life; putting lessons into context of society and history.  She was a favorite memory of a strained and odd time at this college.

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Tens of years later, Dr. Chaika is my client!  We re-met on Facebook.  She is a woman of high technology, and at our first meeting she taught me things about computers and the technology of writing using resources that are “right there, dear!” that I didn’t know. She is an author, reviewer, collector, but mostly a scholar. 79 years old wearing tight corduroys and 3 inch mules, running up and down the stairs to share things with me, with her two Maltese dogs scurrying around to catch up with her.  With Nooks and iPads and laptops scattered in every room – and her office with a four foot graphic designer-type computer screen – what a treat.

Today I am happy to share her blog.  That is the link you see, above, Dogs and Wolves.  Elaine is writing a new book about dogs and communication, perhaps to be titled, “How Dogs Civilized Humans”.  She will talk about the interconnection of dog and wolf.  And so much more.  It is my pleasure to support her in growing her social media strategy and her brand as her book grows and develops. The little ones you see, below, are Skeezix and Scamp – one hesitant and a little worrisome – the other – ok, let’s do it!  They say we all have our yin and yang inside of us…

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If you would like to follow Elaine, she has a plethora of ways to do that:

Her blog:  http://dogsandwolves-smartoldlady.blogspot.com/

Her other blog:  http://smarthotoldlady.blogspot.com/

Her website:  http://elainechaika.com/

Her FB page:  https://www.facebook.com/AmazingDogsYoursAndMine

Her Twitter:  @OurAmazingDogs – https://twitter.com/OurAmazingDogs

Are YOU the story?

ImageIn the last few weeks of 2013, there were several stories involving the media that were not about the issues they were covering or the content they were seeking to cover.  Instead, the story became about the ‘journalist’ or media personality.  The story became lost in an inopportune use of a word or phrase, an open microphone, a misguided Tweet, or an on-air gaffe, that when judged in a short time frame decidedly came out all wrong.  And in a nano-second of social media the ‘journalist/personality’ BECAME the news.  The cause, the issue, the rich content, was lost, and all cameras turned inward on the reporter.

The traditional definition of a “journalist” is:  “a person who writes for newspapers or magazines or prepares news to be broadcast on radio or television”, while the traditional definition of a “reporter” is similar:  “a person who reports, esp. one employed to report news or conduct interviews for newspapers or broadcasts.”.  Also, a “commentator” is defined as “a person who discusses news, sports, or other topics on TV or radio”.

However, we are living in a time of citizen journalism, and definitions are changing rapidly.  We are also living in a time of incredible speed pressures on reporters, journalists, etc. to get the news out there – “social it” while you are still finishing the last line of copy, in some cases.  No time to go back and check accuracies or choice of words – do that later.  “Say it” – becomes the mantra designed to target ratings, sweeps, or simply radio phones to ring.  Or to be first.  Always, to be first. And in all of this – a question:  ‘where did the news go’?  What happened to the point of the story? 

Did the reporter – or spokesperson – say something that I refer to as “red flag words”?  We all know what those are.  Those of us who work in the field of public relations and crisis communication know it far too well.  An example:  Vice President Biden leans in to President Obama and comments on signing of a major healthcare bill.  Straight into his open mic go the words, “this is a big fucking deal”.  Healthcare got lost in a hushed rush to dissect the line, get it on ‘the news’ – and there it goes….out to the masses. (PR people the world over simply closed their eyes, in a thought of solidarity – ‘oh, Joe…’).  Another example:  The Pope recently issues a statement that talks about the importance of training men in the clergy.  And he remarks that failure to do this and make the right choices creates “little monsters”.  Really?  Can you write the lead headline? 

Using these examples as well as one recently by Melissa Harris-Perry where she made humorous remarks about a photo of Mitt Romney’s huge white family, complete with a single African-American grandchild placed on his knee, went very bad.  This reporter/commentator was raised in an interracial family – as a matter of fact, she relating to being that single black child in a large white family, herself.  In moments, moments!, the story was lost in an ever thundering query of a poorly placed racial joke.  Made by a black reporter.

ImageClick here:  http://youtu.be/fleGFsjmC_8

So, while it can be an average person who makes these gaffes, it is particularly troublesome to see the media do so.  It seems altogether out of professionalism to see the reporter not standing behind the story, but come out in front of it and become the story. 

This usually happens quite by accident, but with increasing frequency.  And what do you do when it happens?  In the world of crisis communications, most professionals abide by a “never say ‘no comment'” advice line to clients who find themselves in situations with a demand for comment from the media.  You can say nothing, but you must say something, is the way I’d prefer to advise.  But ‘no comment’ is a lightning rod.  It implies you have something to hide.  Or you doubly agree with your gaffe.  Or something worse is happening behind you.  And the media (once your friends) – and the public – dig in.  The story festers.  History, if there is history, gets dragged out, and the story reinvents itself over and over and develops, what we call “legs”. 

People, be careful of your words.  Don’t let a word become a story, or take your story and stomp on it. 

Image CLICK HERE:    http://youtu.be/VMkx2ZDJFjU 

Here is Toronto Mayor Rob Ford dancing to Bob Marley’s “One Love” – does anyone know why he was dancing?  (To celebrate jazz in Toronto, which was being recognized in congress that day).  This came after Ironically, a response Ford gave to the speaker of congress who had asked him for an apology:  Ford said, “How about, ‘I am so sorry’? Is that as good as I apologize? Or, ‘So sorry?’ Which one do you want, Madam Speaker? Like, ‘Super, super, super, super, super, super, super sorry? So sorry?’ Do you want me to dance around?”

Oh, well…..

“You don’t have to die today…”

Those were her words.  The words of Antoinette Tuff, an elementary school bookkeeper, who found herself the only thing between a 19 year old shooter and hundreds of children.  Her actions or inaction were critical.  But how many of us think we could come even close to being an Antoinette?  Some say a higher power was acting that day.  Antoinette says, “I’m no hero – I just give it all up to God.”

Interviews have been happening with negotiation experts, people who have trained all their lives for incidents no where near what Antoinette faced that day.  Experts who get tears in their eyes and stumble in the interviews because with no training at all, Antoinette displayed everything necessary, and then some, to be that hero on that day.

I must admit to being fairly mesmerized by this story…I’ve listened to the audio tapes.  I heard her say, “I love you, I’m proud of you.”  I heard her retell his explanation that he should have gone to a hospital; that he was off his medication, and more details that would be helpful to the 911 operator she was talking to.  But I also heard her say something else.  That last year her husband of 30 something years left her and she tried to commit suicide.  A little later I heard her talk about her child with multiple physical challenges.  You could literally feel the space between this young man and Antoinette disappear.  Now they were eye to eye, figuratively.   And their hearts were on the same plane.

Years from now hostage negotiators and conflict resolutors will diagram and dissect what Antoinette did this day.  They will attempt, and fail, to teach how to do what she did.  You can’t teach that.  You can make someone a better negotiator but to do what Antoinette did, well, you’d have to be a special person – you’d have to be Antoinette!

I think about two things.  One is how we educate people.  How we test them and evaluate them, but how little we know about personality and inner strength.  How we need more information to match people with sensitive jobs.  Doctors.  Therapists.  Lawyers.  Who will be those who excel, and why?  Also, what does this say about how we hire people for almost any job – what foolish questions we ask (i.e., tell me something you handled poorly at work, and why, and how you should have handled it better) – when we should be asking questions to reveal personality – trustworthiness, loyalty, honesty, strength, character, courage.  It makes me wonder what questions we should ask – (i.e., what in your life gives you strength, or who are your heroes, and why?).

This also makes me think about the power of our own stories.  The power to reach out to someone to help by revealing something about ourselves.  Find a common plane.  Be bold enough to share.  What do we really know about a lot of the people we spend time with?  What significant interaction do we have where we work, at networking meetings, on social media?  We live in a fast paced, and every increasingly so, environment.  Social media has even trained our eye to make it difficult to read long form media, multi-page articles in magazines.  Our commercials are now 30 seconds, because 1 full minute is just too long.  And I think about how the world slowed down for Antoinette and this young man.  How time stopped, there, in the school office – just the two of them, and a listener on the other end of the phone – and now we are the listener, the world is listening.

“You don’t have to die today…”

“I love you.”

“I’m proud of you for giving up.”

“We all have things that happen to us.”

“I’m not a hero…I just give it up to God.”

Every Picture Tells A Story, Don’t It?

No Words

This image was captured from a website of a law firm.  Rather than click around for the information I was looking for, it stopped me right there on the opening page.  What was the message?  Why did the web designer AND the company choose to take a very bland and corporate site and feature this artwork – these TWO pieces of art, in a contrast of bright color and provocative imaging.  The message might have been termed subliminal if it was a small image, but the creativity of this messaging and utilization of it on a website gives one – pause.  Reasons for accolades – kudos – smiles.

How often are we met with obvious signage – in obvious formats – in obvious and expected colors and shapes.  Go Slow.  Detour.  Caution.  Sale.  Enter.  Welcome.  Exit.  Watch Step.

Our minds may pick up on them if we are especially attuned for some reason – bad weather, unfamiliar road, new building.  But more often than not the simple messages fly right over our first degree awareness – surely our brains pick up on the message, but we may not hear or see or take their advice or caution.

When I was a child I was stymied by the yellow triangular sign – “Go Children Slow” – my brain stopped every time to ‘cifer this – what is “children slow” – or “go slow, [children]” – whatever the concept it still stops me as my brain ponders the multiple meanings.  We’ve probably seen the viral video of the woman who thought it was awful to have “Deer Crossing” on a highway – why would we lead deer to a dangerous road and then tell them to cross?  Oh, well…..

Are there more creative ways to communicate simple messages – yet, as in the case of this law firm, exquisitely unique and important concepts?  Left brain.  Right brain.  Left brain.  Right brain.  THAT gets our attention.

Art.  Music.  Color.  Appeal to the senses.

I walked into an elevator the other day in a very modern office building and was greeted by a sexy female voice which said, “you are go..ing….up”.  I immediately thought of a female “Hal”.  I smiled, but also knew that after 3 or 4 or 5 times in this elevator, people who frequent it will no longer smile at “She-Hal” – they will just ignore her.  I wondered if she has a vocabulary of sentences for various situations – “the elevator has encountered a problem  –  we are not moving – have no fear – we will be moving again soon” or “would the last person on please step off – our weight limit has been reached” or “that is a handsome suit you are wearing, sir”…think of the possibilities.

Next time you need to communicate an important message but once that is rather obvious or common – think about alternative messaging – right brain, let brain – and how, in one delightful moment you can capture the conscious moment of the person and not only communicate the concept, of say, “shhh”, but also, “this firm values your privacy highly in all ways and at all times – you are safe with us”.

http://youtu.be/6iqoBN6Rw78