Radical Humanism: Where's The ROI?

The following is a transcript of my talk, "Radical Humanism: Where's The ROI?" for #RebelJam15, organized by Rebels at Work and sponsored by Relevents. Video here. Slides here
Thank you so much. Good morning. It is such a pleasure to be here. I am thrilled to be able to talk about a subject that is near and dear to my heart, and has been for many years.
It's one that I believe stands at the intersection of brand, and management, and operations, which is I think the wave of the future really. To think about how all the different aspects of the workplace converge, and how the way we treat one another within the workplace affects the way our customers perceive us outside the workplace. And it directly affects the bottom line.
So this talk was initially titled "Radical Humanism: Where's the ROI?" And I took off the ROI part because I really feel like it's about more than money. But something to keep in mind is that doing well means doing good, but it also does have a return on investment that is actually quite palpable.
The key question, right? We all want to be good people; we all want to make things better. What can we actually do? What will we do?
And really it's very simple. At the core of the modern workplace is an assumption that money creates a power relationship wherein the supervisor, or the management team, controls the employee. It's that assumption that lies at the heart of the disconnected, disengaged, uninspiring, checked-out workplace that many of us experience every single day.
Work doesn't have to be like that. We can smash it. We can make it better. And we can make money at the same time. We will destroy all oppression, including oppression at work.
And then the question comes, right, why should we? Who cares? Why bother?
I was reading an interesting book by the editors at Life Magazine. And I found this quote, I thought it was actually funny, but it does capture the way a lot of people think, unfortunately. It's from a taxi driver. And they said, "What is the meaning of life?"
And he said, "We are here to die. We are here to just live and die. Nobody gives a damn. We're going to destroy ourselves and there's nothing we can do about it. Life is nothing."
No one should ever go through life feeling that way, but unfortunately too many people do.
Let's try it again.
I really like this quote from George Lucas, the producer and director most famous for "Star Wars." Where he said, "We share a collective spirit. It encompasses and it goes beyond our individual life forms."
Right? Sometimes we can feel that. There is something more. And whether you do or don't believe in G-d, there is a connection between people that is more than physical. It's metaphysical. And it's very real.
A couple of other nice quotes. That "our essence, really, is perfect love." And this is from someone who investigates near-death experiences. People come back and that is what they consistently say. They feel this kind of encompassing great love around them.
Another great quote is, "What gives life meaning is sharing." Right? It's very simple. It's not esoteric. It's not complicated.
Finally a bookeeper said, "We must be there for those in despair."
I was really amazed and touched at the depth of the comments that people had across the board, no matter who they were, no matter where they worked, and no matter what kind of work they did. If your work is meaningful, that is what life is really all about.
To love and to work.
To do work that has meaning to you.
You can't feel that meaning if someone has got their foot on your back.
OK, and so obviously some people don't believe, don't care, and say, "It's just a load of nonsense. I don't want to hear it."
But I think there are more people who do want to hear it.
And I looked for some evidence of this intuition that I had.
I found it no further than a movie theater. Went to "Mad Max: Fury Road." $346 million in box office as of May 15th. I'm sure the number is quite higher now. It's a powerhouse movie.
In the movie, one of the characters says, because she's been held captive and the women are held captive:
"We are not things. We are not things."
And I think that's a really good slogan for anybody in the modern workplace.
We are not interchangeable. We are unique, and we are all valuable. We should be valued and respected as such.
Here's a video by an artist named Helly Luv. It's called Revolution. And it's about fighting ISIS.
It's a very vivid and visual image of people who have had their lives destroyed by these, basically, invaders. Who have the courage to stand up to these murderous killers.
It's a very powerful video. It's had at least a million views thus far, and it's yet another example of the ordinary person doing extraordinary things.
Even though they may feel they don't have power, this artist did stand up and proclaim, we're not going to put up with ISIS and its murderous philosophy and its murderous activities.
Here's a great photo of Pope Francis, who, I just love him. He's the most inspiring figure to me. He's truly a man of the people, and he absolutely refused to be inside the "Popemobile," so to speak, I know he doesn't like that term, behind bulletproof glass.
When they asked him, "Aren't you afraid?" he said, "My life is in the hands of G-d. I'm really here for the people."
Three million people turned out for Mass on Copacabana Beach in Brazil. So it really shows the connection between him and humanity, and the connection between humanity and one another.
This is really what we strive for. This is what's in our hearts.
Another event, very briefly, the protest against the shooting of Freddie Gray. Police brutality in Baltimore is a well-acknowledged problem, and Black people, White people, Jewish people, people from all faiths gathered to say, it's enough.
It doesn't matter who's being targeted.
When someone is targeted, it's an offense against everyone.
Protests across the United States on that day.
So then arises the question of again, really Dannielle, what's new about this? People have protested since the beginning of time. Masses of people have turned out to see the Pope.
In Hebrew we would say, "What's the 'chidush?' What's the new idea here?"
But there is something new. I think that new thing is that more and more, people in authority are joining the rest of us, and they're sort of shedding that public/private distinction to embrace community.
This is really Mark Zuckerberg's, to his credit, that Facebook sort of started this. And where it's going is something quite amazing.
Here's a picture of Tyra Banks, the famous supermodel. She posts a selfie and says, here I am. You know, look at me (without makeup).
Right after that she posts another photo of herself looking quite glamorous.
The message is, "I'm the same person whether I have the makeup or don't have the makeup. I'm myself and I love myself and I love you."
Because why would she share this with the rest of us if she didn't feel that kind of connection?
That's really what radical humanism is all about. It's feeling connected to every other person on the planet, no matter who they are, no matter what their station. We are all really one.
In turn we, the people, are placing a greater demand on those in authority. Whether it's our boss, whether it's the President, whether it's any leader. We want to see the real person behind the so-called "mask." The legendary historical masks are coming down.
And so this is a still from a great video that United States President Barack Obama shot for Buzzfeed. It was really to promote healthcare. But in the process, it was kind of like, what do famous people do that the rest of us do that we don't ordinarily show?
This is him with a selfie stick. It's a really funny video, Google it, and he just kind of comes out and says, I'm one of you.
In the process, he satisfies a demand that we haven't exactly articulated. But it's very fulfilling, and very funny.
Related is that in the past we might have said, certain topics are off-limits. We don't really want to hear about that. It's TMI, too much information.
But today we say, tell us. We want to know. We want to be there for you even if we don't even know you.
This is the video of Selena Gomez, "The Heart Wants What It Wants." She took something that could have been tabloid fodder, and she shared it with the world in the form of art, her heartbreak over Justin Bieber. It's actually a very touching video.
And we honor those who take the risk of being human. That's really the key. We don't shame them anymore, we don't say "stand aside"or "keep it to yourself."
We stand in awe of the courage it takes to do that.
And that's part of radical humanism. Is honoring those who take the risk.
This is Bruce Jenner, now Caitlyn, and it's not a joke. It's something that we all sort of stand back and say, what did it take for him to do that?
In a sense, (it's) more important than anything the Kardashians have ever done, with a more lasting, positive impact.
We are feeling empowered now to really take to task those who claim to be good but aren't necessarily. This is the Hozier video, "Take Me To Church." Where he really calls into question notions of traditional gender identity, and sexuality, in a very matter-of-fact way.
He forces the question, "Who is good? Who is really good?"
Very powerful video.
We are drawn to those who tell us, "Look. It's not only about you and your Starbucks coffee. Your fancy lifestyle, your little bubble. Think about those who aren't as fortunate."
This goes way back, I'm an 80's kid, USA for Africa, a very beautiful song. "We Are The World."
I think what's different now is that everybody feels that they can do something.
More than that, feel that they must do something.
In the past one might have said, I need to be earning a living, I need to stay on the sidelines, I need to be sort of neutral, indifferent.
We can't afford that anymore.
The time has come for all of us to stand up and to be heard, in whatever way we can be heard. And we are taking up that challenge.
Here's another song, if you have a moment, that really captures the sentiment. It's called "What About Now?" By Daughtry. He shows ordinary people doing extraordinary things to tear down the walls.
We all do care, we all want to make a difference. We will make a difference whether it's at work or not at work.
This is Thorn, founded by Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, getting together with dozens of high-tech companies to stop online child exploitation.
Look at the results: 1.2 million interceptions to date. 17,000 instances of someone going on to get further help.
These are lives that are saved, and saved every single day.
But most of us aren't globetrotting public figures. Most of us are just ordinary. Going to work. And I say we start at work.
This is a photo of someone at work. We held a farewell party for her. And spontaneously, everybody gathered around her and clapped. She just stood in the middle of this circle while we clapped for her.
It was a moment that I will never forget.
Very meaningful to watch, for all of us.
Google. #1 place to work in America, #3 most valuable brand in the world, $65.6 billion in brand value.
There is a return on investment for being, Jewish people call it being a "mensch." Being a decent human being.
And what makes the workplace great. Simple. You trust the people you work for, you have pride in what you do, and you enjoy the people you work with. (Source: Great Places To Work; see slideshow link at bottom for full citation and all references in this presentation.)
Notice how much it's really about people.
Another one, Starbucks. Brand #52 in the world, $10.5 billion worth, giving four years full tuition for its baristas. Unheard of. Hiring 10,000 disprivileged youth. And there's more on their website about the return on investment of that.
Again, I have to ask, what is the alternative?
These are famous photos by Jacob Riis, turn of the 20th century, photographing street children. Is this what we want?
Obviously not. We have to get in there and make it better.
Do we want this scenario? (scene of rioting)
Nuclear war, where it's game over.
"Wealth is a great thing to have, and it's a great thing to share." (This is a quote from billionaire business owner Harold Honickman.) And that's the truth.
Be human.
That's it.
Thank you very much.
Photo by Patrick Marione via Flickr Creative Commons. All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. No endorsement expressed or implied. Not sponsored by any organization. No compensation was provided for this speech or for this blog post, or for any communication related to this event.

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