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Lead, Follow or Get Out Of The Way

Once I worked with a career counselor, who remains a professional contact to this day. She gave me some great advice, considering that I am an academic at heart: “Try to think of work as an anthropology experiment,” she said to me. “Observe the people like you’ve embarked on a field trip, and write down what you see.”
It was the best advice anybody ever gave me, not just about coping with an unpredictable and stressful work environment, but generally about coping with life. If you can observe yourself and write down what you are feeling, or capture it in some other way (for example, drawing or photography or music) then despite your actual lack of control over many things, you perceive yourself as empowered because at the very least your experiences matter, you’re telling your story, and it is your story to tell.
There is a reason they call work “work,” and that is the fact that normally it is stressful. When I first started working in government, at a different agency than I work at right now, I participated in a significant reorganization. Naturally, people were upset about it.
But we had a gifted Chief of Staff. In response to concerns that people would lose out professionally because of the “reorg,” he said, “Do not worry about dividing the pie. The pie gets bigger when you share.”
Supporting the chief of staff was my boss’s boss, the director of communications. He was talking to us in a staff meeting one day, and as I recall he was talking about organizational change. “The train is leaving the station,” he said. “You’ve got to get on the train.”
Now I am the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, my grandmother (may she rest in peace) was at Auschwitz, and so when I hear about “the train leaving the station” some terrible intergenerational trauma is unleashed. So I don’t like that phrase.
But I can relate to “get on the bus,” as in, “the organization is moving in a certain direction, and you can express your views all you want before the decision is made, but once it is made you either have to join up and execute or find another place to work.”
Which brings me to the present day. A few weeks ago, I took an excellent training course where we learned what it means to be a great staff officer. One of the most fundamental things I took away from this course was the importance of supporting a decision once it has been made — whether or not you agree with it. This isn’t to say that you can’t have your opinions, and even share them, but there is a time and a place and limit for everything.
I am the most skeptical, questioning person in the world. But at the end of the day, the team cannot support endless griping and negativity.
“Say what you have to say,” my mother used to say, “and then let’s get on with business.” (OK. What she really says is “cut the s — t.”)
Copyright 2018 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are the author’s own. This post is hereby released into the public domain. Photo via Wikipedia.

The Alliance To End All Bulls — t

So somebody posted this quote on Twitter about the false divisions we are currently experiencing in American culture. I don’t know who wrote it, but whoever took a picture of it had screen-shotted the words from Facebook.

In a world where people are now afraid to go on social media and share their views for fear of being blackballed by family and/or friends, blacklisted from work, and possibly even spied on by their television sets, I thought this wish for unity was very well-said. It reflected exactly my own sentiments.
“I’ll lose people by saying it but I believe we all want pretty much the same things. Liberals and conservatives all want a safe and prosperous America. We all want to restore our former greatness. We all want the homeless housed. We all want these nightmare (sic) called mass shootings to stop. We all want to remain free. We all want the world to be a better place. We all want a brighter future. We all want to love and be loved. We all want less hate and anger. ALL WE DISAGREE ON IS HOW TO MAKE THOSE THINGS HAPPEN.”
Below is the screenshot as it appeared on social media.

As it happens I saw another really great sentiment on Twitter today, about the common enemy we do face. The problem is not Republicans or Democrats, but rather it is tyranny, by a group of people who wish to substitute their version of right, wrong and reality for the self-expression of those they simply disagree with:
"The new army to fight against tyranny will be a cross section of humanity lined up to defend free speech & freedom of thought. This army will fight to the death as they realise that without freedom you are already dead. #FreedomOfSpeech"
Again, here is a screenshot of that quote, by @BigBroHeavy.

All profiles can be faked, but here is the person’s self-description, which obviously took some personal effort: “Free speech & Anti hypocrisy advocate. Believer in supremacy of argument but never in supremacy based on colour. Hates false politicians.Free speech & Anti hypocrisy advocate. Believer in supremacy of argument but never in supremacy based on colour. Hates false politicians.”

Their location? “Planet Earth.”

Before I saw these sentiments, over the past few days, I had been feeling somewhat gloomy and hopeless. When will the trials actually begin? What of the corrupt people in power, who always, always, always seem to get away with it?

Why has Washington, D.C. become such a sad place? Why has the world gone quiet?

Sometimes it does truly feel like “the calm before the storm,” almost like a really big war actually is going to break out.

But then I see that people, like flowers, are standing straight and tall and blooming this springtime. They are starting to express their views, maybe anonymously at first, but there is a trend toward putting one’s name out there.

And it isn’t always politically correct, either.

Don’t get me wrong: Most of my friends are progressives. They are D.C. area policy wonks, they have an advanced education, they are reserved and circumspect in forming their views, and they are wedded to the kind of tangible evidence you cannot get when studying deep corruption.

Yet something has changed. Where the very articulation of “gut feeling” was once discarded as inherently ignorant, there is a greater and greater willingness to trust what one senses as some version of the facts — if only because there’s so much fake news around.

It seems to me that we are living through a kind of social wake-up call, that we aren’t getting the news we need to get, and that what was fed to us as fact may just as easily be disinformation.

I believe we have reached a tipping point now. People want some answers, not just because having the answers will be a satisfying thing but also because we are a democracy. One way or another, even if it’s difficult to talk about, we must get those hidden crimes on the table; we must have justice.

The national cry for unity is getting louder and louder.

So too are my prayers, every day.

May God bless and protect our great Nation. May he shelter us from harm and make us turn toward His will. May He give us the strength and courage that we need, the intellectual fortitude and the persistence, to repair what has gone wrong and build on what is right.

May He especially protect the most vulnerable among us, with a fixed gaze upon the children.

Amen, Amen, Amen.

Copyright 2018 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. This post is hereby released into the public domain. CC0 Creative Commons photo by Alexas_Fotos via Pixabay.

If We Really Cared About Women

Just before I gave birth to my daughters, people would ask me the Big Question: "What do you plan to do when they are born?" 

The implicit meaning of this question was, if I didn't get it the first time, was: "Are you planning to go back to work?" 

Sentence construction frames reality, and in the days of the nascent modern feminist movement, "work" was what we were supposed to want to do, as opposed to "standing around pushing a baby carriage." Of course, "go back to" signified that the the office is our natural place, it's where we came from and where we return to, and home is nothing "real" or valuable.

As a young mother I made the difficult decision to stay at home with the kids, a decision I was fortunate to be able to make. In the park, I was surrounded by nannies of color. It was a rich White neighborhood, and the other mothers were doctors and lawyers; they outsourced the mothering function and everybody told them that this was okay -- even normal. 

Fast forward to a few years ago, and that morning when I woke up from a terrible dream. I called my mother, sweating, and said: "I had a terrible dream that I was standing in a crib, crying hysterically, for the longest time, and nobody showed up to help me."

"Oh, that wasn't a dream," my mother said. "That was a memory."

“What are you talking about?" I said to her, shocked and upset.

"Doctor Spock," she said. "We were supposed to let you cry it out in the crib. Everybody knew that."

Motherhood is socially constructed, but not always in ways that benefit the kids.

I was in Panera yesterday, blankly looking out the window and enjoying my usual cup of coffee, hazelnut with extra half and half. A woman sat next to me with an infant and a toddler, and though I tried not to eavesdrop or even look at them, I couldn't help but enjoy listening to their interaction. "Do you want some soupie?" she kept on saying. "Do you know what we're going to do later today?" Pitter-patter, pitter-patter.

Finally I looked down and to my left and one of her kids was crawling under the table next to me. She looked up and smiled at me happily. This was a mother who loved to be with her kids, and their calm and happy demeanor showed it.

If you get a moment, watch the movie I, Tonya. It's a biographical movie about the skater Tonya Harding, best known for her rivalry with fellow Olympian Nancy Kerrigan. But the movie is not about skating, really; the focus is on Harding: how she was poor, and her mother smacked her upside the head, and how she went on to a boyfriend who did the same, and who ultimately tanked her career. 

All the time she did this, all the time she suffered, the mother refused to express a single bit of emotion for Harding, instead telling her that pushing her, pushing her endlessly to climb out of poverty through a skating career was the equivalent of loving her.

Or see the less-well-known movie Lady Bird, about a teenage girl whose mother says, "my mother was an abusive alcoholic," and as a result the mother can't express any warmth or love for her, only criticize the girl over and over in the hope that she will be motivated to make a real future.

If you want to know why children seem to suddenly go mad, I encourage you to consider the simplest of all explanations: We as a society, as a planet, do not take care of their mothers. We do not encourage staying at home and caring for one's children personally at least through the age of three. We do not talk about the devastating personality disorders that arise from a lack of secure attachment between mother and infant. We do not prioritize, as we used to, the breastfeeding of infants rather than finding ways to circumvent it.

We could find ways, but we don't, to allow women to stay home and be with their children without having the fear that they will end up without a roof over their heads. 

We could find ways, but don't, to ensure that mothers of color are not pulled away from their own children to serve the needs of other, wealthier women.

We do not talk about the sexist attitude that motherhood is essentially replaceable, worthless, and nothing, and that "real success" is represented by rising to become the wealthy CEO of a major corporation, a doctor, a Supreme Court justice, an inventor, etc. etc. etc.

Please don't get me wrong; I am "all in" when it comes to women having the very same encouragement and opportunities as men. But children are more important than adults, we owe them a proper upbringing to the greatest extent possible.

Children belong with their mothers, at least through the tenderest of years. And when we prioritize the self-interest of adults over the legitimate needs of children, what we get is a bunch of psychopaths.

Psychopaths who seemingly cannot stop themselves from getting their hands on guns, and murdering their classmates at random. 
Copyright 2018 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are the author's own. Photo by the author.