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"Blue Jasmine" As A Meditation On Good Vs. Evil

When it comes to "Blue Jasmine," most people focus on either one of two actors: Cate Blanchett or Andrew Dice Clay.

Blanchett (whose character, to me, was about Allen's ex-wife Mia Farrow) has most of the airtime. 

She is hard to watch. Shaky, talking to herself. Self-absorbed. Beautiful. Shallow. Cold. Pained. Condescending. Unaware. Narcissistic. Mean. Selfish. Blithely amoral.

Her husband buys her diamond bracelets, and cheats on her.

Andrew Dice Clay was her brother-in-law. Until he wasn't, because Cate Blanchett's husband (Alex Baldwin) soaked him out of two hundred grand. 

He never pretends to be what he's not. He only wants his own business and his wife.

Baldwin, a Wall Street crook, gets the money because Clay is pressured by his insecure wife, Blanchett's adopted sister. She feels "genetically" inferior -- but maybe she too can buy self-esteem by investing with a Park Avenue money man who eats lunch every day at Le Cirque.

As a lying, cheating crook, Baldwin is completely unashamed of what he does. In his book greed is your problem, if it makes you willing to invest in his shifty schemes.

Blanchett loses her son altogether in the movie. He was so proud of Dad once. And now "I can't show my face at Harvard after what he's done to all those people."

There are other characters in "Blue Jasmine." Not one of them is simple, or finds unbroken happiness. 

But they can achieve transcendence. In the movie that is tied with finding moral clarity. 

Not the kind that comes from a book. The kind that comes from being honest. 

Moral clarity is what gives meaning to life. No matter what you are going through, it makes you shine from the inside.

Meanwhile, people who are bad are forever confused, like Blanchett. Talking to themselves and everyone else about how great they are and how much they deserve, and how they're the ones who got screwed. 

Sucking the life from the planet.

* All opinions my own. Photo by me.

Are You Training Your Team To Be Incompetent?

We build statues to the knight in shining armor. Everybody wants to be one. 

Implying that the rest of us are there to be rescued.

I met a woman in class today. We exchanged pleasantries. She used to be a manager, she said. And volunteered this:

"One thing I learned is always to ask people what THEIR process is -- before changing anything. They love that."

Gee, I need to do that more, I thought.

All my life I have hated micromanagers.  But when I became a manager myself, I inadvertently fell into the trap:
  • No matter how well-meaning you are --
  • No matter how accurate your conclusions --
  • Even if the staff are asking you to do it -- can't adopt the posture of a savior.  People have to find the way for themselves.

The issue goes back to ownership. The old "teach a person to fish." 
  • In the short term you can dominate the team and sure you will drive results.
  • But long term you may be cutting yourself off at the knees. Because you cannot do all the work alone -- cannot anticipate the issues or resolve them as well as a distributed force of "trained killers."
When your value comes from being a "hero," the staff necessarily adopts a helpless pose. What else should they do?

So there they sit, like long-ago Chinese princesses with their feet bound so tightly they cannot walk. 

And they do try to work where they can. But all they know how to do is react -- sewing pretty things by hand, but not building sewing machines.

So what if you are not the rescuer, the turnaround king, the genius?
Where is your value then?

I think it goes back to 5 things, executed consistently (e.g., operationalize the brand):
  • Strategy - have a plan for getting things where they need to go
  • Communication - tell everyone the plan, update it, work through issues
  • Staff Development - take time to make sure people are doing what they're good at, and growing
  • Technology - fight for the equipment to work as fast as possible 
  • Relationships - network as much as possible to find ways you can achieve mutual goals while sharing the burden
In real life success is gained through the team. Heroes are a lucrative fantasy for Hollywood.

* All opinions my own. (Photo by me.)

What Rebels See In The Football Game

Photo by iam_photography via Flickr

Being a change agent is not a convenient way to live. It's risky, because there is no recipe. You think about it a lot - it becomes a kind of life goal, even though you know the situation is only temporary.

So why bother? Because I don't feel alive unless I've taken a side. I always think about victory. What would it be like to carry that football, outrun the other team, and hit the pigskin to the other side?

I think I would be bored if everything were calm at work. I have this inner need - to make order out of the chaos.

Clearly it's psychological. It's me. Which is why it's silly that pop management culture tends to lionize change agents as somehow better than everyone else.

It is true that doing change well takes a lot of skill. You face resistance no matter what. You often feel like you've had the s**t kicked out of you, frankly.

Because at the end of the day there's this double bind: 

Make things better - but don't make people upset in the process.

Oh sure!

I have seen some creative solutions to that. 
  • One is to simply implement the change on the ground and not tell people that it's happening until it's nearly over. It's a pretty neat trick, if you can get away with it.
  • Others put the policy through and count on the fact that most people don't take much time to read anything when it's their turn to do a review. This goes over a little nastier - but people tend to get over most things that don't directly affect their lives.
  • Another way is to have a leader proselytize for change through intensive communication. This can work well, but you've got to use an army of people to carry it out, and you must have support from the opposing camp. Because the opposition is always steep.
Often thinking about how to move things forward, I check my Blackberry first thing in the morning. 

But who knows, maybe I am just a statistic.

* All opinions my own.

Letter To A Young Woman Who Wants To Be Orthodox

Photo by Quinn Anya via Flickr. 
Title: "Day 68: What Do You Wear to an Orthodox Jewish Funeral?
Description: The first thing I had to google this morning. It was a very sad day. Rest in peace, Tzali"

The other day I wrote a raving endorsement of Leah Vincent's knock-down, drag-out phenomenal book, Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood. 

This is a marketing blog, it's true. But I am Jewish and occasionally I write stuff about Judaism here. There was the time I took Pearl Perry Reich to task. That post included a blip about Deborah Feldman, whose memoir Unorthodox was also very well-written.

I wrote about the agonizing torture of a young girl by ultra-Orthodox "counselor" Nechemya Weberman. The community -- from the Grand Rabbi down -- took Weberman's side. 

He was just sentenced to 103 years in jail.

You might think that I would be anti-Orthodox. I'm not. As the Dalai Lama wrote (I believe in Becoming Enlightened), "Every religion has its troublemakers." Most Orthodox people aren't child molesters. They're just people.

On the other hand, I'm not Orthodox either - even though I believe in G-d and the Torah pretty much the way I got it in high school. Even though I know there is a very wide spectrum of Orthodox, and I'm probably close to it anyway. 

I walked away because I had to be honest with myself, and with the outside world. I can't do it. I can't distort Orthodoxy to be what I want it to be - that is worse. 

To follow the faith, you have to accept Jewish Law in its totality - the halacha. That is, religion is not a democracy. There is right and there is wrong outside what I myself believe. It is not situational logic. And I cannot trade my conscience for a set of rules that someone else is giving to me.

Sometimes I wish that I would have been a rabbi. I can't be a rabbi of course, because I'm not a man. But I could have studied the Talmud. I could have learned a lot more - educated myself about the legal principles upon which the halacha is based. If you know those principles, you are able to make decisions more freely and still remain within the fold.

Which brings me to the other problem. Orthodox Judaism has certain proscribed rules for men and women. It is a gender-segregated version of the religion. To an extent I think this functions well. It helps people to form a clear sense of identity, and stabilizes them. It prevents them from getting hurt, especially during the pivotal teenage years. 

But gender norms also hurt people. For example, I am a wife and mother but not in the traditional sense. I love working and hate doing housework or home decor. I have little patience for emotional talks. Basically I just love my husband and my kids. And I think of myself as an equal counterpart, not different in any way.

Here is another example. There is no room for a gay person in Orthodox Judaism - not really. And being gay (or lesbian) is in my view normal and often biological. Even if halacha can find a way (and I think that it can, but that's a discussion for another day) - the concept of gender normativeness is critical. And I believe that people should be who they are, never forced into a mold.

In my circles, it would be easier to be Orthodox, for sure. I was raised Orthodox. I live among the yeshivish community. It's a pretty small world. Everybody knows who is and isn't part of the fold.

Plus I've had my share of pressure. The subtle kind. Jokingly - "apikorais" (heretic). The attempt at kindness - "You really are a spiritual person, really." 

Occasionally someone will come right out and say it: "What happened to you?"

But what about the person reading this, a young woman who wants to be Orthodox? Let's say she is not sure she should join such a community, with all its failings. Let's say she worries about being confined, after hearing my self-justifications.

{No matter how good my intentions, I am responsible for the effects of my words, and faith is a delicate thing.}

What I want to say is: Do it. 

Become as religious as you want. 

But not in an ignorant way - know what it is you're getting into. Because part of religion is eternal - from G-d. The other part is most definitely made up by humans, and they say that it's what G-d wanted all the time.

Do your homework. Study the principles on which the faith is based. Don't accept that you can't learn like a man, just because you're a woman. Get into the parts that jazz you. Walk away from those that seem wrong. They probably are, even if you can't prove it.

I haven't been on this Earth very long. But over that time I've seen a lot of variations on Judaism. Some of them struck me as just the right thing. Others, way over the top. Some of the people have been good. Others truly evil, despite the religious garb.

In the end, no matter what I do for a living, no matter what workaholic advice I share, I know those things are just money. Survival. You've got to play the game.

What really matters is what I write about much less often. What is really meaningful in life, to do? What have I done for other people? How do you heal your own pain and become a better human being?

One of the things that has meaning is Judaism. Whatever I have left of it, I treasure. I do remember the good times. And they weren't just good - they were great. 

If you find meaning and connection in Orthodox Judaism, please do go for it. Don't let anyone get in your way. You know who they are - the bitter ones. The ones who try to convince you that you're brainwashed. The ones who tell you that a watered-down, nonsensical version is really what G-d meant in the first place. 

Bullshit. Trust your gut. Be honest - your conscience. My mother always told me: 

"Never forget who you are and where you came from." 

She must have meant this, from Ethics of the Fathers, which I used to read all the time:

"Know from where you came, where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give a judgement and accounting." 

There's only one G-d, and you have a straight connection to Her.

I respect you if you want to be Orthodox. All people have the right to be respected. No matter where they are at any given moment in time.

* All opinions my own.