The nation waits eagerly for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to face off on Monday night. Of course one of the major topics of conversation is who will win the debate. How is each preparing, and whose tactics will be more effective?
We know of course that Hillary is a wonk. What that means is that she is reading and reading, brushing up on her facts, rehearsing scenario after scenario, likely with someone standing in for Trump as her opponent.
On the other hand, Trump is sitting around eating cheeseburgers with his staff, basically tossing around ideas and trying not to over-prepare.
In war, you underestimate your opponent at your peril. Hillary knows this. She says it outright: Trump is "unpredictable."
Trump, for his part, is psyching her out from the get-go, telling Bill O'Reilly on Fox News that he will treat her with the same "respect" that she offers him.
Just from this pre-debate banter, we learn that Trump is by far the superior communicator. While Hillary focuses on superficial back-and-forthing, Trump goes in for the kill, keeping her off-balance from the beginning all the way through.
In communication, nobody cares if you've "done the best you can," "played by the rules," or "followed the documented process."
All that matters is whether people understand what you're saying, and agree.
It's a lesson that Hillary Clinton somehow hasn't learned yet.
All opinions my own.
“Hello, is the Rabbi there?”
Rabbi Aaron Krinsky rubbed his forehead with his hands, debating whether to say Modeh Ani. It was 3:00 in the morning.
“Rabbi, I’m so sorry to bother you so late at night (pause) I mean early in the morning. I had nobody else to talk to.”
“No, that’s alright, that’s alright,” said the rabbi soothingly. “Just give me a second to wash my hands. Can you wait a second? Who is this, by the way?”
“It’s Yitz. Yitz Kramer.”
“Oh Yitz, sure. Okay. Hold on.”
The rabbi walked the few short steps it took to get to his bathroom and washed Netilas Yadayim. He left the bathroom and said the blessing quickly, being mindful not to walk and pray at the same time.
“Baruch atah Adonay Elokainu Melech Haolam asher kidshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu al netilas yadayim.
He hated to keep people waiting when they wanted to talk.
“Hey, Yitz, I’m here.” The rabbi switched on his bedside lamp.
It smelled. He scanned the room and saw the cigarette he’d almost forgotten to stub out before bed.
Quickly he took a drag from it, even though it was dead. Like many of his congregants, the rabbi had an oral fixation.
“OK, Yitz, I’m up now. Tell me about it.”
“It’s really been on my mind a lot,” said Yitz. He’d been going to the rabbi’s shul for about two years now, starting out non-observant and eventually taking on Shabbos and kosher observance.
“I don’t think I want to be religious anymore.”
The rabbi tried to remain calm. It had taken him more than twelve months to find a girl for Yitz to marry. They’d settled down in a small apartment near the synagogue, not more than two blocks away.
Yitz was always there for a minyan.
“I just can’t do it,” Yitz said. “It’s too hard for me.”
“Tell me about it,” said the rabbi, trying to sound nonjudgmental.
There was something else happening in his mind as well. Yitz had tripped off one of his own secret wires. He tried to remain calm.
“It’s just like, every minute of my life is regulated,” said Yitz. “I liked it better before, when I could…I don’t know, just be.”
“You said that you felt life was pretty meaningless before,” said the rabbi.
“Well that’s true,” admitted Yitz. “It sort of was. But at least I could relax in my own home.”
“What’s not to relax?” said the rabbi. “Judaism isn’t supposed to be so oppressive. Halacha is for living — vechai bahem.”
The rabbi realized he was in trouble when he started quoting these types of sayings, but somehow he couldn’t stop himself.
There, there was the whiskey. On the bedside table. The rabbi took a long, deep drink. Ohhhhhhh that burns, he thought to himself. In a good way.
“C’mon, Yitz, you know what I always say. Just follow the basics. You should enjoy your life, not be miserable.”
“Well I want to, rabbi, but that’s the thing. Shayna is always on me.”
“She’s always reading stuff, and taking those classes with the ladies. She checks the broccoli for Chrissake, oh I’m sorry rabbi, I shouldn’t have said that.”
“No, it’s fine.”
The rabbi looked down at his disheveled body. He hadn’t had sex in more than three years. He could barely even remember what sex felt like.
“It can be difficult with the wife,” he said to Yitz.
And the rabbi remembered when he had had a wife. What excuse did she give when she left — she had to “find herself,” or something. It was yesterday and forever ago.
The rabbi took another drink and was relieved to find that he could barely remember anything.
Where’s the weed?
Yitz went on, and on, and on about his marital problems, which in his view stemmed from his overly stringent wife.
Meanwhile the rabbi couldn’t find the weed.
He put Yitz on speaker.
“Yes, I know! It’s awful!” he threw in every now and then.
At some point the rabbi looked in the mirror. Baggy eyes, a sad little beard. Why had he gone in for semicha in the first place?
“…mostly the thing that drives me crazy is this mikvah shit, you know? Oh, sorry rabbi.”
“Don’t worry about it,” said the rabbi.
I found the weed.
It occurred to the rabbi that he was no longer functional unless he was either drunk, or high, or some combination thereof.
He wondered if anybody noticed that he walked around completely off the ground half the time.
Probably not, he reassured himself. Probably not.
After all, he didn’t make any trouble. He didn’t say controversial things. He was extremely careful, also, to hide any doubts from the community.
If he wasn’t as religious behind closed doors as he seemed to be at the Shabbos table, well then who would be the wiser?
The main thing he worried about was being good to them. And also, because a man certainly has to eat, trying to avoid pissing off the Chairman of the Board and potentially losing his job.
“Thank you so very much, Rabbi,” Yitz was saying. “You have no idea what this means to me.”
“Anytime, Yitz. You know that,” said the rabbi. “Go back to your wife and work it out.”
Yitz hung up the phone and so did the rabbi. Again, he looked up and into the mirror. But this time he looked behind him.
Piles and piles of paper covered every surface of the room, from ceiling to floor to windowsill. Medieval Jewish history, Romantic literature, the migration of Jews from Russia to Israel in the pre-Zionist days, all of it, mushed together in piles that he didn’t even bother to examine anymore.
The rabbi had a computer, but he liked paper better. Paper made him feel safe.
When Chaya left, he decided that he would indulge his diverse interests. They were safe enough, for sure, that he could talk about them. And he always seemed to be in the middle of writing a manuscript on one thing or another.
But as the months went by, the rabbi only seemed to pile up more topics, while she had settled down and entered a graduate program.
The clock turned from 3:59 to 4:00 a.m. and all in a moment, in a moment, the rabbi felt suddenly like he was suffocating.
“Oh no! NO!”
The rabbi ran into the bathroom.
“Something is wrong!”
Without Chaya, the rabbi’s world had collapsed. For a few months people invited him to dinner, including Shabbos dinner, and of course the obligatory Shabbos lunch.
And then the calls stopped coming.
“I’m fine,” he would say, when they acted concerned. “Don’t worry.”
He turned and looked at all his papers.
He’d been hiding.
“I’ve been hiding! I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE!”
To him it sounded like a scream. Like a burst of emotion had exploded from his gut. He actually felt his body shattering, a thousand points of light.
“I have to get out of here. I HAVE TO!”
The rabbi logged on to the computer.
Three hours later, at 7:00 a.m. sharp, he was sitting on an Amtrak train.
It dumped him into Penn Station, which proved to be about an hour’s walk from the Village.
“Okay. Okay.” The rabbi breathed shallowly as he walked. Yes, he was anxious. He had to let that go.
He was choking. It felt like death.
The rabbi breathed again, hold for eight seconds then release for four seconds then in and then release and then out and then again, doing the mindfulness exercises that the therapist had taught him when Chaya left.
He felt no better.
Somehow he landed in a coffee shop with books. Real paper, not the Barnes and Noble kind but classy paper and the books were a lot of money apiece.
He got a coffee and said the Shehakol.
There, in the corner, he had peace.
What happened to me?
He couldn’t answer his own question.
What happened to Chaya? I don’t understand how she didn’t love me.
His eyes welled up with tears, the tears that a man is not allowed to cry.
I don’t understand. I will never understand.
He sat there in the corner, crying.
“Let it out, baby,” someone was saying. “That’s right, let it all out.”
A strange man was sitting next to him. A strange man in a skirt, wearing makeup, all dolled up with long blonde hair and waxed eyebrows.
“Get away from me!” yelled the rabbi, and with that he scrambled up and out and ran onto the street.
“Baruch atah Adonay Elokainu Melech Haolam borai nefashos rabos vechesronam al kol mah shebarasa lahachayos bahem nefesh kol chai baruch chai haolamim.”
The rabbi made sure not to move as he said the prayer after concluding a minor snack. He wanted to move, because that crazy man lady had really creeped him out. But HaShem said not to walk when you make a brocha. Would you walk around if you were talking to a king?
Chaya had beautiful eyes. Everybody told her so, as he recalled.
But she hadn’t chosen the life of a rabbi’s wife. She hated entertaining.
“Can’t we just go away for the weekend?”
She wasn’t religious, if the truth be told. It pained him to admit it.
Then why did you marry her?
His father had asked him the same question. But not in a nice way.
“How could you be so stupid?” he had said. “Now you’re stuck!”
The rabbi walked and walked through Lower Manhattan.
He passed some bad blocks where he had to put his hands over his wallet. Shma Yisrael, he prayed to himself. Oh G-d please tell them to leave me alone.
“Hey Jew,” yelled one guy, pretty loudly, somewhere in the vicinity of Little Italy.
At that the rabbi turned to look. He was scared, but he looked.
“YEAH, YOU! HAHAHAHA.”
The rabbi looked around at the streets, considering his options for escaping.
“DON’T WORRY, RABBI. WE’RE GONNA PUT YOU IN THOSE OVENS AGAIN, BET ON IT!”
He just started running.
Eventually he saw the lights of South Street Seaport.
It was dark outside now, and the lights at the Seaport twinkled in that very beautiful way that they only do in New York City.
Gratefully he clambered onto the deck and sat down.
The bums sit there, he instantly chided himself.
I know, I know, now shut up, he retorted, to his own head.
He felt empty inside. Like life was meaningless. Like that alone feeling you get when you will never be with another human being again who can really and truly understand you. Or at least, that’s what you think.
He looked over the railing and contemplated suicide. It would be a relief, he thought to himself, gazing into the black, swirling waters. Really, it would be such a goddamn relief.”
Bad language, Aaron, he could hear his first year teacher saying at yeshiva. It seems like nothing, but it’s a something that matters.
“NOTHING MATTERS!” There was nobody else around, and so the rabbi felt free to scream.
WRONG! EVERYTHING MATTERS! The rabbi could hear the words of his teacher loudly now. They were literally ringing in his head.
“It matters,” the rabbi said softly, aloud.
Suddenly, then, the rabbi felt his cellphone going off, vibrating in his pocket.
“Who is this?” he said. He had come to New York to escape, not to pick up the phone.
“It’s Yitz,” said the person on the other end of the line. “I need someone to talk to, and I didn’t have anybody else to call.”
Copyright 2016 by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. This is a work of fiction. All opinions are the author’s own. Photo credit: Leo Hidalgo / Flickr Creative Commons
In my nuclear family we never talked about controversial stuff. Basically, we handled conflict either by my mother saying "shhh" or my grandmother saying "shhh."
If unfortunately it would happen that a fight broke out, we simply didn't talk to one another. Three days was the minimum, a few months was the max. It was never clear how we would start talking again, because nobody believed in apologizing. But just as it began, it would be over and talking about whatever the fight was about was simply not allowed.
Joining the government more than a decade ago, I rapidly felt right at home.
"There is a problem with this program that the public should know about."
"Someone is selling a service we provide for free, and charging $250."
"Our technology is on eBay."
"I have a Tweet I would like you to consider for your approval."
"I don't know what that is. Let me see the briefing book."
Once a boss once even warned me that "they might even question your loyalty if you continue to push them to talk."
I programmed the electronic newsletter so that readers could give articles 1-5 star ratings.
They made me take it down.
Elsewhere, I said to the boss: "I still have no idea how your business model works, and if you can't explain it to me how can I possibly explain it to the world?"
Maybe its' me. Maybe Gen Xers make everything into too big of a deal.
For Millennials and Generation Z are totally online, all the time. In fact they don't seem to have any concept of personal privacy, taboo topics, or whatever. For them, it's all part of the same newsfeed.
And so I have to believe that for those who seek information from the government going forward, there will be this kind of attitude like "of course you owe me all the information."
It won't be deferential like in the past. The public won't be saying, "Oh, it's okay, I heard you before when you said 'shhh.'"
Information is expected. The kids, and more and more their parents, demand nothing less.
This is nothing short of a revolution.
We will see the public insist that government provide the highest levels of customer service, transparency, and yes, return on investment based on metrics.
It will be common for us to answer questions by Tweet, text, chat, customer service, email, telephone call, and even those little avatars that jump around the screen and anticipate what is wanted.
Times have changed. There is no such thing as avoiding the public because we don't like the questions or the expectations they are bringing us.
In a world where Google is a verb and not a noun, "shhh" just doesn't work anymore as a default answer from the government.
Photo via Wikipedia. All opinions my own.
I've been a government communicator for a long time. In 13 years of doing this job at half a dozen federal agencies, I see the same problems over and over again. They lead people to think that the government can't be trusted, when the problem really is that we allow a bunch of messed-up ideas to govern the way we talk to people.
- Messed up idea #1: Make them look for it: Typically the government keeps its mouth shut about things unless it absolutely has to communicate. The faulty reasoning behind this notion is that communicating with the public will inevitably lead to misunderstanding at best and public opposition at worst. As any journalist will tell you, just the opposite is true. The more you keep the public informed of your activities and the output of your operations, the greater their trust in you. The policy should be to overcommunicate, overcommunicate, overcommunicate, and overcommunicate some more. (In very plain and accessible English, which by the way is also the law.)
- Messed up idea #2: People read paragraphs. The year now is 2016. You can barely get people to read a Tweet. Why would you continue to offer them any written communication where the words are bunched up like a legal contract? Do you know what happens when people read legal contracts? They call their lawyers, because it looks like someone is trying to fool them. The more you write for comprehension, the greater your audience's trust in you. Aim for short, 2-3 sentence paragraphs, with lists broken up into bullets, and offer a link to more detailed information should the person desire it.
- Messed up idea #3: We're talking to a bunch of Ph.Ds. Let's be honest, in Washington we tend to have our heads in our intestines quite a bit when it comes to writing things for the public. Do you know how hard it is to qualify for a government job, how many degrees people have over here? It's not uncommon for someone to have two master's degrees and a Ph.D., or a Ph.D. and a J.D., or even a J.D. and an M.D. You might think this is great news since you've got a lot of "smart" people running the country, but the problem is that most people don't have multiple advanced degrees. It is not our job to pass judgment on what people should understand. It is our job to talk to people in a way that makes sense to them. We tend to forget that they are the ones that pay the bills.
- Messed up idea #4: Less is more in a crisis. As a private citizen I watch the news of bombs in New York City with horror. I see bomb threats at my local public school and shudder. And I look for information from the government. Where is it? Nowhere! Because the government is much too conservative about sharing information with the public. Even if there is nothing to say, the government should put a point person in charge of crisis communication and that person should provide constant updates, meaning literally every half an hour. If this doesn't happen, the public automatically believes everybody else and is prone to assume that there is a coverup.
- Messed up idea #5: Your opinion is as good as mine. This cognitive bias is nothing new to government communicators or even communicators in the private sector. The fact of the matter is that telling people things in a way that informs and engages is extremely difficult. You can be in communication your whole career and never figure it out, not just because it's a difficult skillset but also because the nature of your audience and their information environment is constantly changing over time. So when amateurs think that they know better than a communicator how to get the words out, that is frankly nothing less than shocking. If you're paying someone to deliver words, trust them to do their job and take their advice unless you have a good reason not to.
All opinions my own. Photo by JJ via Flickr (Creative Commons).
You can find the full interview here, at NoDon'tDie.com.
As always, all opinions are my own.
As always, all opinions are my own.
On September 13, 2016 I presented a webinar for the Federal Communicators Network called "Advancing Federal Government Communications." The audio is now available here (includes slide presentation). You'll need to have Java enabled to see and hear it.
Note: as always, all opinions are my own.
Note: as always, all opinions are my own.
If I had a list of Top 10 topics that people like to talk about in life, this one would undoubtedly be on it. In his book of the same name, Harold Kushner asked Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People and this is sort of the same thing.
How is it that jerks always seem to get ahead while "nice guys finish last?"
Based on my observations of evil, awful, corrupt leaders over the past fifteen years or so, here are a few suggestions:
1) They have infinite ambition. You and I want to go home at the end of the day. We want to have a life, go to the movies, make art. We feel bad when our work commitments cut into our family time. But to a corrupt leader, the only thing that matters is getting the position they're after.
2) They lack emotional intelligence. You and I feel bad when we see somebody crying. But the corrupt leader either doesn't notice or doesn't know why they should care. They don't relate to other people.
3) They feel fundamentally deprived of something they perceive as owed to them. You and I say to ourselves, we have to work for stuff in order to get it. And when we work hard and bad things happen, we maybe don't understand it, but we don't feel entitled either. But the corrupt leader perceives differently. They've worked for it, or they should have had it all along, and if they don't get it the nice way then they're just going to take it.
4) They have no conscience. You and I feel bad when we do something wrong. But to a corrupt leader, the only thing that is "wrong" is something or someone that gets in their way.
5) They don't believe in universal justice. This is by no means a potshot at atheists, although I know it's going to sound like it. But the opposite of corruption is the belief that some sort of system of justice exists well outside of yourself. It doesn't mean that you "feel" a sense of right or wrong (this is conscience) but rather that you intellectually comprehend and appreciate even the possibility that everything we do has a consequence. Corrupt leaders don't believe in this type of logic at all, not faith-based and not any rational argument that makes the case for karma. Rather, they see the world as essentially meaningless: They make the law, and if you don't like it, then you'll have to come and pry their winnings away yourself and prove it.
If you think about this for any length of time, you might come to the conclusion that natural law favors the corrupt. However true this may be, it also appears that social norms are taking us in the opposite direction, to favor "prosocial" behavior. This is because we have more and more metrics showing that helpfulness is not only a predictor of success later in life, but also demonstrably increases team productivity.
You've heard the saying "every dog has his day." Well I think this is true when it comes to corruption as well. It may seem like we live in an era where justice is unobtainable. But I like to think that a new day is dawning, and soon.
All opinions my own. Photo by Lisbokt via Flickr (Creative Commons).
This is a picture of a certificate I got in the Hebrew year תשׁמא, or 5741 (1980) when I was 9 years old. My father found it in the attic. Apparently as a kid I dragged the family to 770 Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights to get a blessing from the Lubavitcher Rebbe and at that time my father purchased a letter in a Torah on my behalf.
This certificate might not seem very significant to you but it matters to me a whole lot. It says that even if I am not religious (or observant, call it whatever you want) like my family raised me to be, that I still have a place in the Torah. The Torah, mind you, not just the Jewish community but the actual body of law that describes our contract with G-d.
Someone posted an excerpt on Facebook the other day with violent language from the parsha. At that time I wrote that we can't possibly even try to understand what the literal words mean anymore. I say this not with any authority whatsoever, not as a rabbi and not as a scholar and not even as a man, for it is only men who are commanded to learn the Torah.
Rather I speak as a Jew who learned the principles of right living from my family and from Yeshiva and from whatever books and articles I may have picked up in my life. It's just wrong to take excerpts from the hoy texts and use them to justify hating on religion.
That said, I cannot be considered a religious person. As I was telling my daughter the other day, religion means that you go along with the community. You may not agree with everything they do but you have to be a part of it, even if technically you could do something different.
The classic example we debate about is skirts versus pants for women. I'm sure you can bring me a thousand proofs that pants are halachically allowed. Having just spent 24 hours in Passaic, New Jersey, quite the hotbed of Orthodox Jewish living, I am telling you that if you want to be part of the Orthodox community you've got to live with wearing skirts. And not just any skirts, but skirts that cover the knee in a way that would be considered modest.
I had a good time with my family yesterday. My sister remarked half-jokingly that I was storing it all up so that I could write my blog today. I guess so, although that sounds very cold. Because this is what writers do, we sort of half-live life and half-watch ourselves living it so that we can turn around and tell you a story.
So mostly I was observing things, and also trying to come to terms with things, because one of the most painful aspects of my life right now is the feeling of being a "failure" when it comes to religion. If you weren't raised Orthodox you can't understand it, but it is a process akin to brainwashing. Every minute of every day is spent acculturating you to the group, convincing you that the group is right, teaching you how to be in the group, debating what the group says.
If you don't want to be a part of it, then "something went wrong" and your family must have failed you.
But I am pretty sure now, as I leave my parents' home, that my feelings about religion have nothing to do with any person or experience or failure on their functioning as indoctrinators into the system. I feel a little bit like Asher Lev in Chaim Potok's book The Chosen, which if you haven't read it, is about a Hasidic kid who is blessed with artistic talent.
In the book Asher Lev, who is quite devout, struggles with the fact that this demon, really, is inside of him and trying to get out, and it will take him away from religion. I think that writing is much the same thing. It's like when you see the world from the perspective of the writing, you just can't make the same judgment calls that religion does. The meaning of morality is whether your writing passes the litmus test of artistic truth. It isn't what is written in the Chumash. And if you want to be religious, you cannot be an artist at the same time.
In Passaic I remarked that the streets seemed somehow smaller than I remembered. My parents' house was smaller, though everything was placed just the same as the last time I was there. I can't explain why my perception shifted.
I walked through this house inhabited by these people, really complete strangers to me in a way. I almost couldn't recognize them as the same figures who had raised me as a child...in fact my memories of childhood are almost completely gone.
What I saw were two nice, well-intentioned people in a suburban neighborhood way too religiously suffocating for me to be there. There is a bond in the family that is a little hard to describe; I think all of us suffer from the same sense of dislocation, to varying degrees. But we don't have the words to articulate it.
I literally dread going to shul this Rosh HaShanah, but I know that I will anyway. I will pay my respects to G-d. Not because I am part of the Orthodox community, or any community that I can explain with any meaning.
I will go because it's Rosh HaShanah, and once a year, families go.
In my heart I know that G-d is a just and merciful originator of love for all of His creations. I have to believe that the way I was made is not an accident.
Doesn't make it hurt any less when I ponder what a failure I am, what a true disappointment to my yeshiva teachers.
All opinions my own. Photo by me.
One of the things people worry about, when it comes to their behavior on social media, is how much of their personal opinion can be shared.
And they should worry. Putting the legal discussion of rights and responsibilities aside, we exist in a social context. People judge us by what we say, and also how we say it.
For my part I think that you should be yourself online, just like in real life. If other people don't like it then you probably shouldn't associate with them.
But there is a problem with my position. And it has to do with the continuum along which "being yourself" turns into "sharing my views that are very offensive to you."
At work, in person, we know to keep strong opinions to ourselves. But online, we are becoming more and more conditioned to say exactly what we think, and the reaction of others be damned. And unless you're expressing your views in a way that is fully anonymous, someone can easily take offense to you -- someone you work with, someone you love, someone or some group you associate with on a regular if casual basis.
So a lot of people go out there and comment anonymously -- or, at least they try. The problem is that many times these people make mistakes as they do so. In an effort to help these people protect their personal brands, I thought I would list some typical mistakes that let me know who you are, even if you think you're shielding your identity:
- Using your name, or a portion thereof, as your handle. You may not realize that your name is very unique, and that your online activities can be traced to you if you provide other distinct identifying information as part of your commentary.
- Visiting multiple forums under the same handle. It has been my observation that people who do this tend to reveal some sort of identifying information. It is also my observation that people who do this tend to make very extreme comments.
- Complaining about your job, either generally or with reference to a particular person. You may keep your name offline, but if you make comments so specific that they can be traced back to you, you aren't really anonymous.
- Providing your telephone number or address. You may not realize that many discussion forums that seem private are actually public, and that "conversations" you're having online are open to casual readers who can trace your number back to you.
- Focusing your comments on your own involvement in an activity. If you provide enough of a description, your anonymity becomes less assured.
Again, I want to stress that there are many legal issues involved here, and that this is not a substitute for legal advice. Rather, it is a cautionary note. If you're going "the safe route" and venting anonymously online, understand somewhere in the back of your head that your anonymity is never truly assured -- especially if some hacker decides to release all the usernames and emails associated with the sites you visit and make use of.
All opinions my own. Photo by Richard King via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Did you know that September 8, 2016 marked exactly 50 years since the first episode of Star Trek was aired? In my world this is a very big deal, not just because I'm a fan but also because Captain Jean-Luc Picard is one of my leadership "gurus."
In honor of this momentous occasion, here are some of the Captain's most well-known and inspiring lines about leadership, humanity and life:
- "The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity."
- "What we leave behind is not as important as how we have lived."
- "It is possible to commit no errors and still lose. That is not a weakness...that is life."
- "If we're going to be damned, let's be damned for what we really are."
- "The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably."
- "There are times, Sir, when men of good conscience cannot blindly follow orders."
- "There can be no justice so long as laws are absolute."
- "I have never subscribed to the theory that political power flows from the barrel of a gun."
- "Villains who twirl their mustaches are easy to spot. Those who clothe themselves in good deeds are well-camouflaged."
- "I will have as much tea as I damn well please."
All opinions my own. Photo via Wikipedia.
The Washington Post has an article out about the pompous nature of over-workers. Yes, Silicon Valley startups, the lot of you are awesome. But the rest of us need to shower and sleep without buying an app to tell us how.
The truth is, it's good to be somewhat aimless half the time. As a kid I was always encouraged to be creative, and that "undiscipline" came precisely from wandering strange roads, exploring the county courthouse on the weekend, invading the library, constructing makeshift tents out of dining room chairs, stuffing swaths of old fabric with cotton, cutting off the hair of my dolls, running away from home and running back, and writing, writing, writing.
At summer camp nobody knew from insurance and liability. We had a schedule, sure, but the truth of it was that we were basically free to do drama club and Color War and tetherball and pottery. Of course, I ran around, broke my fingers one after the other, got dirty and ate blueberries right off the bushes they had growing wild by the woods.
It was heaven.
As an adult, and I don't know exactly how or when this happened, the downtime got less and less, and the requirement to account for every second of every moment of every day increased accordingly.
On a job interview for a pretty good job the guy said to me, "What's your favorite book?"
And I answered without thinking, "I don't read books."
We both realized how bad that sounded.
I beat myself up all the way home, but the truth was I knew I couldn't lay claim to that kind of uninterrupted time anymore. That time was over.
As my mind wanders back in time I really miss the good old days before the Internet in particular. We had one book and one book report to do at a pretty slow pace every month, so you had enough time to absorb it. The teacher would grade you briefly and insightfully, not with a mechanical rubric that drilled down to the littlest and frankly most irrelevant detail: "B-. You can do better - argument is superficial."
I feel pretty spoiled nowadays, too, by this idea that every weekend has to be entertaining. As a kid we didn't do anything. I mean by this that we slept late, read the cartoons and clipped coupons from the Sunday paper, went to visit the family, and maybe went to the mall.
It was considered your business and your problem what you did with your own time, and this was true from the youngest age. As an eight year old I got into a huge fight with this girl named George (!) on the playground. She punched me right in the face and knocked me out.
Somehow my father appeared and dragged me home, but after wiping the blood off and the snot I was left to go out there once again. That wasn't news.
Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to romanticize child neglect or to ignore the risks of minimal structure. But I do feel confident in saying that today we have definitely gone too far the other way. Because now, there is a bias against being alone at all - and without solitude your mind cannot develop properly.
- In the work environment, many are expected to function totally out in the open - to concentrate with many other people around, with their noise. I don't know about you, but it is absolutely impossible for me to think under these circumstances unless my brains are covered in white noise.
- As a parent, you are expected to engage your children constantly in some form of social play or learning activity. This pressure starts in the womb as the doctors tell you to play classical music, and continues and continues even into the college years.
- You go to college to learn things, but the roster of campus activities is expected to be overflowing, and you as the student are supposed to be partying every Friday night and Saturday night (let alone dorming) or else you're somehow "isolated from the experience."
- Outside of work, Facebook-worthy shares basically consist of social moments -- anything that looks good when anywhere between two and six happy people are smiling into a camera.
Which reminds me of a moment just before last weekend. It was Friday afternoon.
"Any plans for the weekend?" I asked my colleague in the elevator.
The gentleman, about two generations older than myself, answered slowly.
"I'm going to sit on my porch with my dog," he said. "In my chair. I am going to do nothing."
Message delivered. This guy knew how to take a chill pill, and he knew that he could be ridiculed for saying so openly.
But I wasn't ridiculing him in my mind. The truth is, I was jealous.
So this is what I'm thinking, after a week of feeling blocked and then re-starting the creative process after some floundering. That "doing nothing" can in fact be a deliberate act of creativity.
For watering the soil doesn't make a flower show up right away. But it does set the stage for a rosebud to appear.
Later on, suddenly.
Later on, suddenly.
Almost as if by magic.
All opinions my own. Clip art by Jonathan357 via OpenClipArt.org
In an essay written for Glamour, "This is What A Feminist Looks Like," President Obama shares his views on women, gender and feminism. Long story short, we've come a long way baby, but we sure as heck aren't there yet:
"When you’re the father of two daughters, you become even more aware of how gender stereotypes pervade our society. You see the subtle and not-so-subtle social cues transmitted through culture. You feel the enormous pressure girls are under to look and behave and even think a certain way."And though I disagree with the President about a lot of things, I will always admire his personal family values. As Yoda said in Star Wars, "do or do not, there is no try" and it is obvious to me how much work the President and the First Lady have put into raising two beautiful, high-achieving, hardworking and empowered young women.
Our President is a male, and he is a male who is deeply feminist.
A few years ago one of my daughters interviewed my mother for a school project.
Did she consider herself a feminist growing up? "Not really," you could hear her reply on the tape. "Everyone just did what they had to do. But the men made all the major decisions."
Growing up I remember that feminism was one of the topics we debated quite a bit. We talked about it almost like a visitor from another planet, one with some interesting but also frightening ideas that felt almost scalding when we really thought about them.
- The idea that women don't have to settle for "just anyone" in order to get married, or might not want to marry at all.
- The idea that women don't have to be mothers in order to be fulfilled.
- The idea that women are entitled to pursue higher education and a high-powered career.
- The idea that women don't have to be pretty or thin in order to be socially acceptable.
- The idea that a woman might be better off partnering with or marrying another woman than a man.
As a graduate student I remember spending a lot of time studying feminist theory, and this was also the subject of my dissertation, Women and Soap Opera. The research emphasized that women feel empowered when culturally feminine behaviors are valued. But over time my understanding matured a bit, and I more fully grasped that "empowerment" can mean a lot of different things, depending on who you're talking to. We can all relate to the example of clothing; the point is not what women wear but the fact that the choices are ours to make.
As my kids got older, I went back to work in various government office settings in Washington, D.C. and its environs. The federal workplace is pretty strongly conscious of diversity in all its forms, and I've been fortunate to mostly escape sexist talk and treatment. Of course on leaving the area this is not necessarily true; it's pretty awful to visit Florid and see taxis with stripper ads on the top and T-shirt shops with degrading sayings that are supposed to be funny.
But on the whole, things are better. And now my girls are grown up, and going out in to the world themselves. It's a weird stage, the twenty-somethings; partly it's about holding on and giving advice and partly about learning to let go.
What's been amazing, interesting, enlightening and hopeful to me at this time is how much feminist support they are getting from men.
As a girl I remember my grandmother whispering to me, "Never rely on a man for your money." It was a given that the women had to sort of teach each other what to do to survive. But today I see men across the spectrum stepping up to the plate and advocating for the rights of women -- not as an extraordinary thing, but as a given.
- My husband insists that the girls go to the best schools possible, get advanced degrees, learn to manage their money, and generally be able to stand on their own.
- My dad quietly advises that I make sure the girls are respected and not oppressed in marriage, particularly by religious demands that will be too much for their comfort level.
- Rabbis now draw up a prenuptial agreement as a standard part of marriage procedure, as a legal Jewish means of managing marriage laws that give the advantage to men.
- Male executives, both industry opinion leaders and individuals I've witnessed at work, not only respect female employees but advocate for womens' advancement.
- In the media and on social media alike, I watch as men are often the strongest advocates for the rights of women, particularly when it comes to the right to be free of sexual abuse.
It is my personal belief, though, from a spiritual point of view, that the consciousness of humanity is changing -- it's growing. It's sort of like the Wizard of Oz, what we need to do is click our heels three times and declare that "there is no place like home, there's no place like home, there's no place like home."
What we're seeing, in this spiritual shift, is that people are increasingly able to see past themselves and agree on the principles of equal rights, freedom and giving a helping hand to people who otherwise are too oppressed to do it for themselves. It's like a rustling in our collective souls is taking place, a drive toward universal justice and justice in the Universe.
When I read about the nature and extent of women's continuing oppression in less fortunate places in this world, the mass rapes and the beatings and the "honor killings," all of it, I sometimes imagine that I can hear their collective screams.
No, we're not there yet. It's going to take the whole world to save the women. But I believe that we will do it. And that when we do, we will think of this time as a time when ordinary people joined hands to accomplish an extraordinary feat: the day when the enslavement of one-half the world's population becomes such a distant memory that when the subject is brought up, we shake our heads at when we lived in such primitive times.
Photo by Vladimir Pustovit via Flickr (Creative Commons)