The Whole of Us

When I was growing up in Morning Sun, Iowa (population always less than 1,000) my family attended the United Methodist Church. In my childhood I was a regular attender at Sunday School. The Sunday School hour began each week with singing. We would all sit on chairs in a semi-circle around the song leader and piano, then sing our lungs out. Really. Singing loud was the most important thing at that age. My friends and I would engage in weekly competitions to “out sing” one another. 

One of the songs that has stayed in my memory all these years speaks to an ethic which is more important than ever: 

astronomy atmosphere earth exploration
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in his sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world

Yes, I know. The words are simplistic, they do not cover the full breadth of diversity recognized today and are not adequate to express that breadth. Still, they embedded in me as a child an ethical idea of inclusion which remains today.

My work focuses on helping organizations and communities make meaningful change on important issues for the whole organization or community which “stick,” which is to say, are sustainable. It is not easy nor is it simple and it is not fast. This kind of change takes a while, but the result is usually very satisfying and tends to create a positive spirit and culture in the organization or community. 

An important factor in getting to this place is the inclusion of the “whole,” as in everyone, in the process

Theoretically we all are likely to agree with this statement or some version of it. It is turning that theory into practice where we run into difficulty. It often comes down to who we include in our understanding of the “whole” of the group. If we follow the criteria of the children’s song above, we use a limited view of race to define the whole. 

The point is this: our criteria for membership determines who is included in the “whole” of a group, whether it is an organization, a community, a club, or a team. If we really wish to include the “whole” then we need an expanded definition of membership in the group. 

In fact, the criteria, or boundaries, we commonly use to define the “whole” of a group can be quite limiting even though our language sounds inclusive. For example:

  • Geography: “Everyone who lives within two miles.” 
  • Ownership: “Everyone who is a homeowner.”   
  • Language: “Everyone who speaks English” or “Everyone who speaks Spanish.”  
  • Ethnicity: “Everyone who is Caribbean” or “Everyone who is Irish.” 
  • Religion: “All must be Christians.” 
  • Income: “Every family that has at least $50,000 per year income.”
  • Education: “Everyone with a college degree.”  
  • Life experience: “Everyone who has been a teen father” or “Everyone who has overcome poverty to become successful.”  
  • Ability: “All must be able to lift 50 pounds.” 
  • Gender: “Everyone must be a natural-man” or “Everyone who is LGBTQ.”  
  • Organizational role: “All must be supervisors.”  
  • Age: “Everyone must be at least 19 years old but not older than 50.” 

The list can go on, and on, and on, and it often does though we are rarely conscious of all the criteria we use to determine who is considered “in” and who is “out” of the “whole” group. As you can see, just using the words “all” or “everyone” does not mean we are including the whole. There is a tendency in humans to think in terms of exclusion rather than inclusion, so we employ our criteria quite unconsciously to decide who is part of the “whole” group. 

One of the first challenges in working with the whole community is to become aware of this tendency toward exclusion and to teach ourselves to think in terms of inclusion. One simple technique for doing this is to substitute the word “and” for those times when we would typically use the word “but” when defining the whole group. For example, a tendency might be to say something like, “We need to include everyone who lives in our community but not renters or homeless people.” Instead we could begin changing our thinking by saying, “We need to include everyone who lives in our community such as homeowners and renters and the homeless.” Really, sometimes a small tweak in our language can make a big difference.

A core principle to organization and community change is that the more people who have meaningful involvement in the change the more likely the change will occur and “stick.” For this reason, it is important for us to shift our thinking from exclusion to inclusion. We may prefer exclusion because fewer people participating often means greater efficiency, less cost, and less time. Who can argue with these goals, right?  Unfortunately, it also means it is easier to get limited, even wrong, perspectives at the table, draw incorrect conclusions, and make decisions which benefit the few rather than the whole. 

Let us be completely realistic: can we include the whole group or community in the change by simply becoming more intentional about including and reaching out to everyone? No, because inclusion is a two-way street. All the members of the “whole” organization or community must be willing to be included.

However, when we are trying to work with the whole of a group, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to include everyone. 

  • We work to define the whole as broadly and inclusively as we can. 
  • We invite everyone to participate. 
  • We do everything we can to make it possible for everyone to participate. 
  • We are welcoming of all who show up. 
  • We continuously attend to the participation of everyone to ensure each voice is raised and each voice is heard. 
  • And when we inadvertently still exclude someone, which is likely because we are still fallible humans, we apologize, make the amends we can, and extend a genuine invitation to participate. 

Involving the whole organization or community in change is hard work but it is the kind of work that tends to pay off in the long run. We just must be willing to do the work of expanding our understanding of inclusion and the “whole” and then, take the time needed to engage everyone.  


Stupid People Come In All Ages and With All Ideologies

The Washington Post ran a disturbing story about a group of protesters harassing diners who were seated in an outdoor section of a restaurant in Washington. The protesters were mostly young and White. Kudos to them for joining in the protests in support of Black Lives Matter. However, their tactics were inappropriate to the point of deplorable. You will see what I mean when you read the article and watch the video. I understand youthful enthusiasm and I generally appreciate it. However I cannot applaud it, for any cause no matter how good, when it tries to coerce compliance. That was really, really stupid if the intent was to win support for the cause.


More Than a Movie Hero

This morning I learned that actor Chadwick Boseman died at age 43 after a four-year battle with colon cancer. I was shocked because I did not know he was ill. I was saddened because Boseman was an outstanding performer and had become one of my favorite actors. Boseman’s performance as the iconic Marvel superhero Black Panther in the 2018 movie is even more impressive now, knowing the film was shot even as he was dealing with the cancer.

Black Panther is a moving film with a powerful story unlike any other super hero movie I have ever seen, and I have seen a lot of super hero movies. However, there is another performance featuring Chadwick Boseman that touched me deeply. It was a stunt planned by Jimmy Fallon for The Tonight Show which, originally, might have been intended to have comedic impact. Instead, it was incredibly moving as Black men and women spoke of the meaning Boseman’s role and performance had meant to them in this time. Rest in peace, Mr. Boseman. You are the King of Wakanda…forever.


Looking Back Over the Past Week

Heather Cox Richardson, writing on August 27th in her daily column Letters from An American, offered her assessment of the Republican National Convention. Please take a few minutes to read it. It does start a bit dark, then she weaves in some history, and finally ends with a bit of assurance and optimism.


The View from Jeff

I am not sure if I have mentioned recently how much I appreciate Jeff Logan letting me use his sketches in this blog. I know he is incredibly busy in his life already and, add to that, he is finishing writing his dissertation (I think). Jeff, thank you so much! I love your sketches and I find them all too relatable to my life. For example, this morning, I had a bit of an accident with a cup of coffee…

The other day I was trying to get an early start on the day and I was texted, emailed and called simultaneously from three different projects. I ended up dumping my cup of coffee all over my self. Coffee is really good at waking you up when externally applied as much or more than the traditional internal application!! Luckily our couch is leather (ironically it’s colour is espresso).

Chickenman – The Final Episode…Maybe

This last episode is odder than usual. It seems there may be a few “lost” episodes after this one and between this episode (#97) and the previous one (#96). I am not sure how Chickenman and crew got to the Himalayan mountains for this episode. Nonetheless, that is where we find them in this last episode. Apparently the Commissioner, Miss Helfinger, and the Winged Warrior have been in conversation with infinitely wise Fernando Lama, not to be confused with the great Argentinian leading man.

This is the 97th and last episode of Chickenman I have available to me. To be honest, I am not sure if there are more episodes or not. To be even more honest, Chickenman was much funnier when I was in junior high and high school. Still it was a weird and wonderful journey down memory lane that still gave me an occasional chuckle.

Chickenman was created and voiced by Dick Orton for a Chicago radio station. It aired from 1966 to 1969. It is not clear to me how many episodes were made but I believe these 97 I have shared here were the majority of those produced. Today Chickenman can still be heard on satellite radio and on radio stations throughout the world.

In 1971 Orton created a new series, The Secret Adventures of the Tooth Fairy. There were over 300 episodes of Tooth Fairy and, like Chickenman, they aired throughout the world. Fortunately for you, dear reader, I could not find these episodes. However, at the previous link you will be able hear three of them.

Thanks for indulging my unusual comedic tastes over the past several months. And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…


A Little More Normalcy

Not that anything in the world is very normal. Honestly, on the whole, I am not sure that is a bad thing. Change is hard anytime it happens. When the change is sudden and large, it is even more difficult. Change is another word for opportunity, if we will look forward rather than back.

Recently I was talking with colleagues (by Zoom, of course) and we were discussing the changes the pandemic has brought to how work happens. For example, even when people can return to the workplace, many businesses may decide to sanction remote work because they have found their employees are more productive, less stressed, and happier working remotely. Of course, that is not true for everyone and not every employee or company will find the changes to be positive. I do believe we are more likely to seize the opportunity and benefits of change if we can look forward to how we can do things better than if we keep wishing and hoping we can just go back to “normal.”

Today I’m running piece on teamwork I hope you find useful. It addresses the challenge of integrating new members into a team, including some adaptation for our current state of pandemic living and working virtually.


Welcoming and Integrating New Team Members

My first job was at a local newspaper and print shop. It was in the same very small town I grew up in and I already knew the three other people who worked there. However, that did not make it any easier. I did not know them in the context of their professional work…only as acquaintances in the community. When I arrived on my first day of work, I was nervous, unsure of myself, and just a little scared. 

  • What if I could not learn how to use a light board or operate a printing press? 
  • What if I made a mistake, how would the boss react? 
  • What if I did not understand something, who would I ask and would it even be okay that I asked? 
  • What if I did not fit in?
  • What if…what if…what it…

Later in my career I would often experience the “new hire” experience from the perspective of an existing team member, except the “what if” questions were a little different. 

  • What if the new person cannot learn their job? 
  • What if they make a serious mistake? 
  • What if the new hire does not understand the work we do? 
  • What if the new person does not fit in? 

When a new person joins a team, there are always “what ifs” and everyone has them. For this reason it is important we do everything we can to make the process of change in our teams smooth and easy for everyone. 

Teams change. Promotions, different opportunities, retirements and other individual changes means our team will need to change as well. Team growth also means team changes. That’s just how it is in organizational life. 

In the 1960’s a researcher named Bruce Tuckman came up with a simple way to describe team development. It has been around a while but it is still widely regarded as very useful for helping us understand team behavior. It is known as Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development and you may have heard of it already. The four original stages are forming, storming, norming, and performing. 

Performing is the stage every team aspires to reach. Performing is when teams are working together like a well rehearsed dance troupe. However, when team membership changes at this stage, the team will revert back to the earliest stage of development – forming – when the new team member arrives. The forming stage is when the “what ifs” appear again for everyone – the new team member and the existing team members, too. 

To successfully move through the forming stage toward performing it is important for team leaders and their teams to have a plan for integrating new members.

The plan can be built around three phases in the hiring and on-boarding process. 

  • The first is the period of recruiting and interviewing. 
  • The second is after hiring and before the new team member begins. 
  • The third is from the first day the new team member joins the team and beyond. 

I want to take a closer look at making a plan with you but, first, I need to offer this caveat. Organizations have specific policies and protocols they must follow when hiring new people, or promoting and moving people within, to comply with the law. Therefore, the suggestions I am going to offer here should be considered within the scope of the required law. Whenever and wherever possible, I hope these suggestions will be considered and then implemented. 

Recruiting and Interviewing Phase

First, let’s take a look at a couple of ways to successfully integrate new team members during the recruiting and interview phase. 

Whenever possible, invite team members to recommend people to interview for the open position. Recommendations could include people who are outside of the organization or within the organization. Current team members are already invested in the success of their team. They know better than anyone what it will take to be a successful team member. They are more likely to recommend people who they believe will be a contributing, successful member of the team. 

Especially when the field of candidates have been narrowed to the finalists, have an informal team interview. This can be done by bringing the whole team together with the candidate or having the candidate meet one-on-one with each current team member. Several positive things are accomplished by having a team interview. One is that it will deepen a sense of responsibility toward and ownership of the team by current members. Another is that it will help the team form a consensus agreement on which candidate will be a better fit. Finally, should the candidate be hired, it will have already started the process of relationship building which is so important during the forming stage of a new team. 

The team interview is also important for the candidate. By meeting with the team the candidate gets a glimpse of its culture in action. Just as the team can assess whether the candidate is a good fit, the candidate can assess fit for themselves. 

I remember a time when I was a candidate for a position in which I would be an associate director working with the executive director and as a member of the leadership team. Everything went very well in the process and I really liked the organization and was eager to say yes if the offer was made. Then I met with the team I would be working with. Midway through the team interview I realized I would not be a good fit with them. I was deeply disappointed but knew it would be a mistake if I were to join them. Despite the attraction I felt toward the organization, I knew it would not be long before I would regret joining them and I knew they would soon come to regret it, too. 

Preparing for the First Day

The second phase in the hiring process, between the hiring and the new hires first day, offers another opportunity to integrate the new team member. Here are four things you can do to prepare your team to welcome the new member.

  1. Make Some Noise! Let everyone on the team and in your organization know about the new addition. Share a photo of the team member and a short bio (no, not a resume, a bio) with the team. I also recommend you share it with the whole organization. Give people a face to connect with the name, let them know the person’s start date, the location they will be working, and encourage them to “surprise” them by greeting and welcoming them by name. Of course the surprise greeting may have to be by email and that is okay.
  2. Prepare to connect them virtually to their team from day one. This is particularly important during times, like the COVID-19 pandemic, when people may not be working in office environments face-to-face. Typically, it is the first day when new hires receive their email and log-in information. Still plan to do that but make sure the new team member really DOES have their email ready on the first day. However, distribute their email in advance to other team members and encourage them to prepare an introductory email (e.g., their own photo and bio and a word of welcome) that they can send to the new team member on Day 1. 
  3. Put together a welcome package. A terrific team activity is to put together a welcome package for the new team member. Make it practical (e.g., pens, notebook, Kleenex, hand sanitizer, etc.), make it fun (e.g., candy, gum, a toy), and make it light (e.g., a clown nose, a silly hat, or something “funny” you think they will “need” in their new position). More than anything else, the welcome package needs to be the team’s personal expression of excitement about and appreciation of the new team member. Make sure the welcome package is on the new team members desk the first day. Of course, if the person is working remotely, make sure it is dropped off or received on their first day. 
  4. Be ready for the new team member before their first day. Nothing feels more inclusive than feeling like you were expected. I remember my first day in a new position that I was very excited to be filling. I could not wait to get started! My first day was a let down though. I was assigned an office and a computer that had not been cleaned. The prior occupant liked to eat at the desk and the computer keyboard and desktop were covered in crumbs. Even the office chair had food stains and crumbs on it. I did not feel comfortable starting my day without giving everything a thorough cleaning. Though someone had hung a welcome sign on my door, I really wondered if anyone really cared that I was there. Whether the person is working on site or remotely, it is important to make sure everything is ready for the new team member on Day 1. 

From the First Day 

The third phase begins on the new team member’s first day. The ideas here not only help integrate the new team member but also help build and maintain a sense of teamwork and team identity. 

  • Have a team social to welcome new members (while social distancing): COVID-19 makes it challenging to socialize physically in the same space. However social interaction among team members is still important to integrating new team members. Until you can physically meet up in a social setting again, set up a virtual team meet up for the purpose of introducing and getting to know new team members and each other better. Occasional but regular virtual social gatherings will help maintain a sense of team identity and strengthen teamwork. Just make sure you keep the social meet ups social, and the work meetings work. 
  • Decode the team and organizational language. When you join a team or organization that uses jargon or lots of acronyms it can feel like you need to learn another language just to communicate. Give new team members a head start by familiarizing them with terms, language, jargon, inside jokes, and acronyms the team or organization frequently uses. It could even be a fun team-building activity to work together to create a “dictionary” of such “coded” communication for new team members. 
  • Pair them up with a colleague for support, insight, and learning. This could be a mentor or another team member they need to “shadow” to learn the job. However, it could also be a friendly presence on the team who will help and support the new team member through the process of joining with the team. At a time such as this, in the midst of a pandemic, pairing up will need to happen intentionally but virtually. In a virtual environment it will wise for the veteran team member to make the first move to engage the new team member to start the supporting relationship.
  • Acquaint them with your system and its leaders. More than giving the new team member an organizational chart, help them understand how things are supposed to work (the formal system) and how things actually work (the culture). Personally introduce them to the system leaders. Avoid telling them to “Just go talk to Carlos” or “See the IT coordinator.” Remember, they may not know who Carlos or the IT coordinator is and what they should talk to them about…even if Carlos is the IT coordinator. Acquainting them with your system means teaching them how to get copies made and where to find supplies. It also means introducing them to the Executive Director or CEO and other leaders. While working remotely an email introduction can be used to connect new team members with system leaders.
  • Have serious fun. Integrating a new team member can and should be fun for everyone. Having fun while doing serious work is important for bonding, camaraderie, and moving back to high performance as a team. Whenever and however possible, make welcoming and integrating a new team member an enjoyable experience. 

One last thing. Through all three phases it is important for team leaders to communicate openness to feedback and a willingness to improve the process. One way to do this is to simply ask team members, including the new team member, to suggest ways to improve the process. My own preference is to ask people to tell me how to make something better rather than to tell me about its problems. This appreciative approach ensures the ideas and suggestions I receive are actionable.

Remember, teams change. A change in team membership requires us to step back to an earlier forming stage. It may be tempting to feel discouraged by this slight step back. However, it also presents an opportunity to welcome and integrate a new team member who can help the team attain an even higher level of performance in the future. 


Chickenman – Episode 96 – Only 1 Episode Remaining!

Illogically, Chickenman wreaks havoc on a movie set.


M.I.A. and at the 19th Hole

A BLM Protester & KKK Member went to a BBQ…

No, that’s actually NOT the opening line of a weird joke. It almost happened this past weekend in Zinc, Arkansas. A group of Black Lives Matter protesters showed up in Zinc to protest near the home of Thomas Robb, the National Director of the Ku Klux Klan. The protesters were met by locals with guns. Police, however, were present to ensure protesters and locals kept the peace and, apparently, they did. This link to an article at Daily Mail.co.uk features a number of photos taken during the encounter in Zinc.

The BLM protesters said they wanted to open a dialogue with local people and, as the photos show, there was some success. The protesters also brought BBQ and all the trimmings with them. They invited everyone and anyone to lunch but it is not clear that any of the locals did.

I liked what the BLM protesters were trying to do and I hope they continue these kinds of tactics throughout the country. Some of my research has focused on the issue of intractable ideological conflict on highly sensitive issues.

Copyright 2013 by Thomas W. Klaus – LEADING IN CONFLICT: INSTITUTIONALIZING CONFLICT THOUGH LEANING RELUCTANTLY INTO THE FIGHT

The model above comes out my research into intractable conflict and represents how some conflict tends to become never ending. In an intractable conflict we may feel so worn out from previous battles that we don’t feel we can fight any more and, in fact, we don’t want to fight anymore. Then a new battle in the conflict emerges and at some point we feel we’ve got to enter the fight. Soon enough, the “gloves come off” and we are in it to win it. However, as happens in intractable conflict, the combatants exhaust one another and both eventually get to their corners only to vow again, “I can’t fight anymore.”

Racism is one of many ideological conflicts we see in American culture and society that is seemingly intractable and never ending. Just as the infinity loop indicates above, it is an iterative conflict until we find the courage to break the cycle. The ability to engage in genuine dialogue is key to getting us out of the loop. Dialogue is not discussion, debate, chatting, or negotiating common ground. It is suspending our words and first impressions, listening, hearing, and finally speaking with respect and understanding.

Kudos to those BLM protesters and Zinc locals who were able to engage in dialogue! Keep going!


POTUS M.I.A.

One of the most disturbing pieces of news over the weekend came from a surprising source – Dr. Deborah Birx. She is the woman with the scarves who would stand with Dr. Anthony Fauci behind Trump during the infamous Coronavirus Updates. She was often thought to be grimacing at the mis-information being provided by Trump yet she rarely contradicted him.

This weekend Dr. Birx told CNN the virus was now “extraordinarily widespread.” With these two words Dr. Birx confirmed the same thing Dr. Fauci has been trying to tell us for quite sometime and something we’ve known instinctively but did not want to admit: we are in deep, deep doo doo.

Trump did not like this very much. In fact, he Tweeted that he thought Birx had been influenced by criticism of her from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

So what is the President of the United States (POTUS) doing about the pandemic? Fortunately, he is on the front lines of protecting America’s golf courses, especially those that bear his name.

Trump Golf Count is a website that tracks whenever Trump takes time to play golf since his inauguration. So far, including those few times when he went to a golf course but might not have played, it is 268 as of August 2, 2020. In fact, this past weekend, he played on both Saturday and Sunday at his course in Potomac Falls, Virginia.

Now, I’m a golfer and I love to play, so I do not fault any golfer for taking any opportunity he or she can to hit the links, including Trump. However, 268 times in the approximately 1,277 days he’s been in office? Seriously, that means nearly 21% of those days have been spent on the golf course. Doesn’t that seem a bit excessive…given:

  1. Trump was so critical of President Obama for golfing too much (it is estimated that Trump plays, on average, 91 rounds per year as president while Obama’s average was less than half that at 42 rounds per year);
  2. It has cost American taxpayers more or less than $138,000,000 at a time when our economy is, at best, struggling; many people have lost or are losing their jobs; and a growing number of people have to scramble just to have enough to eat;
  3. Trumps latest golf outings both came on the same days that Congressional representatives and “White House officials” (which suggests to me one of them might actually be Trump, but nope, it isn’t) were in negotiations on a new pandemic relief package that has stalemated; and,
  4. Worst of all, we are in the midst of a pandemic that has now killed more 150,000 Americans and is likely to kill more than 200,000 by the election in November.

Fortunately, Mr. Trump’s heel spurs have not prevented him from fighting the good fight on our behalf on America’s…well, HIS…golf courses. Thank you, Mr. President! Have another Diet Coke, on us as always, at the 19th Hole, please.

Why is Donald Trump M.I.A. on COVID-19? After reading Mary Trump’s book I have a theory and it is quite simple: It is because Trump never developed the competencies he claims and he is in way over his head. Look, I didn’t say it was going to be an earth-shattering, innovative theory, only a simple one.

Trump’s father, Fred Trump, had those competencies, but Donald Trump does not. Donald Trump became expert at spending money, making bad business decisions, going bankrupt, and getting his father to bail him out and cover up his missteps. Add to these that Trump never really worked for anyone but his father and we can begin to understand why Trump prefers to hide out on a golf course than face the responsibilities of the office he holds. Fred Trump knew the “art of the deal” but Donald only knew the art of getting bailed out of trouble. Like Nero, infamous for fiddling while Rome burned, Trump is puttering about in luxury, enriching his own golf courses with Americans’ taxes, while those same Americans die.


For Your Consideration

If you’ve ever wondered how the myth of Donald Trump came to be, you’ll find this 18-minute segment from The New Yorker Radio Hour to be quite informative. It describes how the guy who gave us “Survivor” also gave us “The Apprentice” and made Donald Trump appear far more competent than he has proven to be, especially under pressure. Listen to An Insider from “The Apprentice” on How the Show Made Donald Trump.

Trump, Inc. is a podcast from WNYC and ProPublica which has been doing in-depth, investigative reporting on Trump, his family, and members of his administration. The project began in 2018 and I listened through what I thought was the full series as I found the episodes very informative and very interesting. In revisiting the website today I learned the podcast has continued up to the present time. Time to put in my earbuds!


chickenman – episode 87

Chickenman finally confronts the Very Diabolical.


Let’s All Get into Good Trouble

Last Sunday I had intended to join Meeting for Worship via Zoom at our Quaker Meeting. Prior to connecting though I was watching Face the Nation on CBS. Just as I was about to “tune in” to our Quaker meeting, Face the Nation moderator, Margaret Brennan, announced the show would be moving to a special report on John Lewis’ final crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. I kept the television tuned to CBS.

For the next 75 minutes I watched as John Lewis made his final crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. It began this past Sunday at Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma, just as it did on “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965. This time, though, John Lewis’ body rode in a casket on a caisson pulled by two horses. After brief remarks from a legislator and a minister and a song, his casket was loaded onto the caisson by a U.S. military honor guard – which seemed odd for Lewis, a man who stood for nonviolence. Then the caisson made its way the 10 blocks to the Edmond Pettus Bridge. As it crossed the bridge the driver stopped the caisson at several points, stood, and kept silence in honor of John Lewis and the meaning of his walk across the bridge in 1965.

On the other side of the bridge, the casket carrying John Lewis was met by members of the Alabama State Police, just as it was on March 7, 1965. This time, though, they stood at attention and saluted Mr. Lewis. In 1965 it was members of the Alabama State Police that beat him so badly that he suffered a concussion. His casket was transferred from the caisson and placed in a hearse. From there the Alabama State Police provided safe passage and an honor guard to Montgomery where Mr. Lewis is to lie in state before having the same honor at the U.S. Capitol yesterday and today.

On March 7, 1965 I was 10 years, soon to turn 11. I still remember seeing the news reports featuring film of the marchers being attacked. I did not fully understand what it was all about at that age. Still, as I watched the film, I got the kind of knot in my stomach and sick feeling that comes from seeing something you know instinctively is so horrible and so wrong. It’s the same knot and feeling I got as I watched the video of George Floyd being murdered.

I didn’t realize how much the film of Bloody Sunday impacted me until many years later when I was working in Montgomery, Alabama. I remember driving out of the Montgomery Regional Airport on to Selma Highway (U.S. Route 80). To visit the scene of Bloody Sunday, all I had to do was turn left toward Selma. I had the time, opportunity, and inclination to visit the site. In the end, though, I remembered that film, the horror it triggered in me, and the traumatic memories of my 10-year-old’s fear won out. It is something I still regret.

Let’s get in good trouble

Earlier this month, on July 3rd, John Lewis: Good Trouble, was released. It is a documentary of his life and his work. It focuses on a core philosophy of Mr. Lewis, the idea of getting into “good trouble,” the kind of trouble that brings about change for the greater good.

On July 23 The Brookings Institution published a piece by Rashawn Ray that reminds us of the last time John Lewis led a commemorative walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 1, 2020. At that time, Lewis said in a speech: “Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and redeem the soul of America.”

Ray’s article articulates five ways we can get in “good trouble.” This seems to be the time to cause a bit of “good trouble.” In fact, since 1965, I’m not sure there has been a better time. Here are Ray’s five lessons from John Lewis, with just a bit of commentary from me.

  1. Vote, always. In a pandemic or not, in primary or a general election, in local races or national races, whether you “love” the choices or not.
  2. You are never too young to make a difference. I‘m guessing John Lewis would also say that you are never too old to make a difference, too.
  3. Speak truth to power. Power doesn’t usually want to hear the truth, so don’t expect the powerful to come to you to hear your truth. Take it to them…again, and again, and again until they hear it.
  4. Become a racial equity broker. It isn’t enough to not be racist or even be anti-racists. Both of those things can be accomplished within oneself. To be a racial equity broker is to go beyond advocacy to take on the work of changing policies, practices, and protocols that inhibit racial equity.
  5. Never give up. Change at any level – personal, family, community, and societal – requires tenacity. Only the most tenacious will bring about change. They may not always live to see it, but it would not happen without them.

So, what do you say? Wanna get into some trouble…some “good trouble”? We’ve got time between now and November 3rd to find some and do it.


chickenman – Episode 84

Chickenman is finally contacted in his flight across the Atlantic but a debate ensues with Ms. Helfinger about who will pay for the collect charges.


June 17, 2020 – Dave Chappelle’s 8:46

Today is Wednesday, June 17, and today is Eat Your Vegetables Day. You’ll remember, of course, yesterday was Fresh Veggies Day, so it only seems fitting. I’m happy to report that I am eating my veggies. Clemencia and I love homemade soup and she made a wonderful batch of fresh veggies soup this morning. Tasty indeed!


Chickenman – episode 61

Chickenman – whom we assume is still enroute to see his grandmother with a basket of food and copy of TV Guide – is being called upon to deal with The Hummer.


Dave chappelle – 8:46

I’m going to do something very different with today’s Daily Drivel. I’m going to rescue you from reading but ask that you take a few minutes to watch the video below.

Dave Chappelle is a comedian who is known for comedy which is also commentary on the current moment. His language can be offensive and very rough, so please be advised. His observations, though, are often spot on. He also has a gift for helping people see more clearly, which I believe he is exercising in this performance.

If you are unfamiliar with Chappelle and watch this video, you will see a very raw and brief show (under 30 minutes). You may, therefore, be surprised to know that he has made at least one decision on the basis of his personal ethics and principles. It was a decision that cost him in excess of $50 million dollars per year and also put his career at risk. In this video, you get a sense of the risks he takes with his material and the power of his commentary. You also learn in this video who it is that might have informed his moral and ethical compass.

Before you watch the video, though, I recommend you read this brief New York Times article about it. As the article points out, there are three key references in the video that it will be useful to have in advance for context.

This video was released on June 12, 2020 – five days ago. Already it has nearly 23 million views. It is going to have a whole lot more.

June 7, 2020 – On Being an Ally

Today is June 7, 2020 and VCR (Video Cassette Recorder) Day. My source for this information has no explanation for why or how this became VCR day. Maybe it is for all those VCR’s that bit the dust because they “ate the tape” and it could never be removed? Aaargh! Still a frustrating experience even now when I think about it!

on being an ally

The Washington Post this morning relayed an incident from yesterday’s protests that caught my eye. It was not a headline but a story related within a larger story about the protests. Here’s what happened:

Outside the Treasury Department, a white man approached a tall metal fence and shouted at a black Secret Service agent, demanding to know why he didn’t quit his job. The black agent had remained silent and stoic as the crowd yelled, but now, he stepped forward and looked directly at the white man.

“Be sure to remember this,” he said in a low, level voice that carried, quieting the crowd. “Me putting on this uniform does nothing to take away from being black, and the consequences of being black.”

The white protester stared. The agent took another step toward the fence.

“So, before you ask me that again,” he said, “let me ask you this: What does your white privilege taste like?”

The protester gave an angry shrug. “I’m out here protesting for black people who are getting killed by cops!” he shouted.

“Did you find yourself at a voting booth last election?” the black agent asked in the same low voice. “Have you read Malcolm X?”

The white man stepped back.

He had not.

Washington Post, Sunday, June 7, 2020

This exchange should give all of us pause to think carefully about how to be allies to others. The story and case in point is about a white man who appears to believe he was somehow blacker than the black man he was confronting. The black Secret Service agent got that right away and called him out on it. Good for him!

It is really easy to confuse being an ally with appropriating that which rightfully belongs to another, including their experience whether good or bad. This is an aspect of “cultural appropriation” which is “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.”

Here’s a video from the Canadian Broadcast Corporation that explains and illustrates cultural appropriation in a little more than three minutes.

I appreciate that the white guy in the Washington Post story was trying to be an ally. Many, many more white people need to be allies with Black Lives Matter and other groups advocating for the rights of minorities and other marginalized people. I’m a white guy who also tries to be an ally. Sometimes I get it right; sometimes I get it wrong. I can empathize with the white guy in the story.

I can also empathize with the black Secret Service agent. How challenging it must be for him to be standing on one side of the fence doing his sworn duty with his head while his heart is standing on the other side of the fence with the protesters.

I can’t say that know everything there is to know about being a good ally. Here’s what I’ve learned so far and I’m opening to learning much more. When I am an ally:

  • I take time to learn and understand the issues that are facing the people or person to whom I am an ally.
  • When I don’t understand, I ask questions, even if I think it makes me sound ignorant or, even more, actually betrays my ignorance.
  • I support but do not lead.
  • I stand in relation to the person or group I’m supporting wherever they need me to stand: behind, beside, and even in front, but only when and if requested.
  • I do not presume to speak for them or in place of them, unless I am asked to do so and, even then, I am very careful not to put my words into their mouths.

I have made some progress but I still have a lot to learn about being an ally.

One of the things I learned years ago in my training as a therapist still helps me today. Sometimes a client needs to feel all that they feel in order to make the changes which are necessary in their lives. If I take on their feelings, it could have the unintended consequence of disempowering and demotivating them.

As allies we may feel deeply for the people for whom we are standing in support. However, we are not being allies if we feel so much that we end up displacing, and even disrespecting, those we are striving to support.

Figuring out how to be an ally without appropriation isn’t easy. It is important, though, that we figure it out and get it right.


Chickenman – Episode 51

Benton Harbor takes a weekend off of crime fighting to attend his high school reunion where he tries to impress two former classmates, Randolph and Gladys, with terrifying results.


spanish class seats still available

Mi esposa y mi jefa (my spouse and my boss) Clemencia tells me that her ¡Charlemos con Clemencia! Spanish classes have been filling up nicely, especially in Level 2 and Level 3 Spanish. She still has openings in Level 1 (beginners) and in the Conversation level at 4:30 PM Eastern on Thursday.

A unique feature of her classes is that they are intended to improve communication between people who are not fluent in Spanish with people who are not fluent in English. This is not your parent’s high school Spanish class, or even yours. It is all about simply communicating. As students progress through the first three levels to the Conversation level, they become increasingly fluent and more profient with the language. They learn grammar and syntax as they go, through praxis, without the worry of memorization to pass a test.

If you or someone you know would like to take the first steps in learning communicative Spanish, Level 1 is a great opportunity. If you already speak some Spanish and want to strengthen your skills, the Conversation level is a perfect place for you.

To learn more and to register for classes, which begin Monday, June 15th, visit ¡Charlemos con Clemencia!


Tom

June 3, 2020 – Other Voices

Today is Wednesday, June 3 and this is Repeat Day. Today is Wednesday, June 3 and this is Repeat Day.

other voices

Today I’m bringing other voices into The Daily Drivel. However, what they have to say is not drivelous. I appreciate their thinking, the clarity of their speech, the beauty of their voices, and their prespectives.

The first voice is that of my son, Jake. Yesterday, at exactly the same time I was writing my blog about him, he was writing in Facebook. I reached out to him early yesterday evening to review my blog before I posted it. He approved of what I had written and, as you will see below, it was aligned with what he also had written. I have also asked and received his permission to share his posting to Facebook. Here’s what he wrote:

The second voice is that of Stephen Colbert, the host of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on CBS. Colbert stands in the long, honored tradition of the court jester who could deliver bad news to the king with impunity. The mantle of the jester rests today on the shoulders of many stand up comedians, including Colbert. Colbert’s monologue on Monday, June 1st was speaking truth to power in a more serious way than is typical for him. It is 12 minutes worth watching if you haven’t seen it.

The next voices are musical. I have selected them because they are songs that I have always associated with healing, compassion, love, and unity. All are in short supply at the moment, but we can’t blame the pandemic on that.

I will forever appreciate the performance delivered by John Legend in the Easter 2018 live performance of Jesus Christ Superstar. It was one of the most powerful and beautiful performances on any stage I’ve ever seen. If you’ve not seen it before, take time to find it and watch it now. It is relevant to these times. However, the voice of John Legend comes with a different message today. His rendition of the Simon & Garfunkel song Bridge Over Troubled Water is like a healing balm. You hear it in his voice and in the voices of the audience who join him on the chorus.

At the risk of redundancy, the next voice is Chris Mann singing the same tune. Mann’s COVID-19 song parodies have been featured here already but this is no parody. It is a beautiful a capella version which appears to have been posted just today by Mann. Don’t be distracted by the (too many) images of Mann in this video because the music is incredible. Just listen, you don’t have to watch.

The day after Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States I was at Dulles International Airport to catch a flight. There were throngs of people there who were going back home after having attended that historic event.

I joined a long line of people trying to buy coffee and so did a small woman who was right behind me. I knew it was going to be a while so I decided to do what I always do: strike up a conversation. The two people ahead of me were friends and already chatting. I didn’t want to interrupt. The woman behind me appeared to be alone and she smiled back when I smiled at her. I remember it seemed to me she was dressed too casually for an older woman – sweat pants, sweatshirt, and a baseball cap – who exuded a certain fine dignity and style. Still, she seemed a likely candidate so I started a conversation with her.

We talked for about five minutes and then I realized something was familiar about her. When she realized that I was recognizing her she stopped the conversation. She leaned toward me, fixed her eyes on mine, and said, “Yes, you know me.” I leaned toward her and said, in barely a whisper (in case I was wrong), “Dionne Warwick?” She nodded. For the next 25 minutes we had the most wonderful conversation.

The next musical voice is that of Ms. Dionne Warwick. This video was filmed in March 29, 2019, ten years after that serendipitous conversation at Dulles. She is older now but her music is timeless. This is one of my favorites from her songbook. When the song was written in the early 60’s it was first offered to her by the songwriters, but she turned it down. Eventually she did record it twice though. First on an album. Then, in 1996, she recorded it as a single.

It is also a timely song. Some may feel the sentiment may be a little sappy but remember that it was originally recorded in the midst of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. Those were not sappy times.

Marvin Gaye‘s is the next voice singing Abraham, Martin, & John, a song that was made famous by Dion in 1968. It is a tribute to the memory and work of Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, and Bobby Kennedy and Gaye’s rendition is powerful. These men had a powerful impact on our country. They were each imperfect people – a fact which Mr. Trump should take comfort in – but they usually were still able to put the country and the greater good before themselves – a fact Mr. Trump should allow to convict to his soul.

The final voice belongs to that of Pete Seeger, the legendary folk singer. Though Seeger did not write This Land is Your Land (it was written by his contemporary Woody Guthrie) he probably did as much to popularize it. A little known fact about Seeger, except in Quaker circles, is that he was good friends with Friends and we, therefore, lay a bit of claim to him.

There are two things I really like about this song. First, it’s origin story. Guthrie wrote it as a critical response to Irving Berlin’s nationalistic anthem, God Bless America. You’ve got to wonder what he might have written had he had to endure endless renditions of God Bless the U.S.A.

Second, its possibilities. Frankly, I am not a fan of the musicality of our national anthem. It is hard to sing and the music is lousy. Seriously, can you ever think of any rendition of the Star Spangled Banner that didn’t make you want to check your phone or go to the kitchen for more salsa? I didn’t think so. Me neither. (Do you know how risky it is to hold this view and live so close to Baltimore where it was penned?) However, This Land is Your Land is a wonderful candidate to be our national anthem. The music is fun and it is immensely singable, right? Maybe that is why it is one of the first songs taught in grade school music class. The only thing standing in the song’s way of being our national anthem is it’s aspirational message of unity and inclusion. Uh oh. That could be a problem, huh?

This Land is Your Land is also in the long, proud tradition of protest songs. Maybe it is a good option for today’s protesters who still want to raise their voices. Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie would be proud!

(P.S. If you aren’t really sure this is a protest song, be sure to read Woody Guthrie’s original 1940 lyrics in Wikipedia. Actually, this version incorporate a number of those original lyrics. Listen carefully to Seeger’s call and response, you didn’t learn this version in grade school!

Chickenman – Episode 47

The final voice belongs to Chickenman but not because he has anything important to say. Besides, today he has amnesia and can’t remember what to say. It’s because we still need to find reasons to smile and laugh in the midst of everything else that is happening.

Take time and care to laugh as well as cry; pray for hope as well as justice; speak in whispers as well as shouts; listen to music as well as speeches; and sit in peace as well as march for peace. All are okay. The balance keeps us healthy, it keeps us sane in an insane world.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep remembering to stay in balance.

Tom

June 2, 2020 – I Could Never Imagine It

Today is National Rocky Road Day in celebration of that wonderful ice cream treat. If you don’t have any of the tasty treat you can make your own. Just add almonds or pecans, mini marshmallows, and chunks of semi-sweet chocolate to your favorite ice cream. Enjoy!


Chickenman – Episode 46

Benton Harbor is forced to reveal his secret identity as Chickenman when his shoe store is robbed. Thanks to a stuck zipper, he is kept out of harms way, but he is still missing some change.


Advice your mom gave you for a pandemic

On Mother’s Day I posted some advice that a mom would give her children when they were young that would still be good advice in a pandemic. I asked people to share some of their ideas. This one came in just the other day from a reader in Hawai`i but with a slightly different slant: Advice from your mother that you shouldn’t follow during the COVID-19 pandemic:

See a penny, pick it up; All the day you’ll have good luck.

See a pennny let it lay; You’ll have bad luck all through the day.

I thought of it when I was at a bus stop the other day and saw a penny on the ground. All my life, I’ve picked up those pennies. But that day, I left it.

Judith, Kaneohe, HI

I could never imagine it

My son and I meet for the first time. We couldn’t talk so we just stared at each other.

When I first met my son, I could not imagine what life would bring to us or bring us to. In the first moments of our first meeting we were both speechless. For his part, he hadn’t yet learned to talk. For my part, I was overwhelmed.

As he grew I introduced him to many of life’s greatest pleasures for an infant and toddler – oatmeal, piggy back rides, pancakes of various varieties, and “All Star Baby Wrestling” which always found him on top of my chest pinning me to the mat. He would giggle hysterically.

Later, as he went off to pre-school then “real” school, we would play more sophisticated games and I would read to him. In fact we made it through all seven books in the Chronicles of Narnia series. He has since read them for himself a few times over.

We had the usual father-son run in’s, complete with temper tantrums. Mine didn’t last quite as long as his, usually. The Famous Tantrum, that still gets told – with only a little embellishment – at family gatherings or other events where we “tell tales” on each other, is the one that occurred in Target.

As he grew into a teen, it was obvious already that he was going to be a pretty good guy. He was fun, funny, caring, and curious. School was never easy for him but he was an extremely smart, disciplined student, and he persevered with wonderful success.

I got to see him fall deeply in twice. The first time it was with the woman he married last September.

In all the time my son was growing up I could never imagine it would be necessary to tell him how to act if he was ever stopped by the police. In fact, I didn’t…because I didn’t have to. He has always been, like me, generally quite polite, respectful of authority, and very white.

That brings me to the second time he fell in love. He is a social worker and he was working in child welfare. He got three very young black children assigned to his caseload. From the moment he became their caseworker, he was smitten. I knew because he couldn’t stop talking about them. We’d meet for dinner and all he could talk about were the three children – the diapers he had changed in Wendy’s, the ice cream he bought and which got dropped in his car, and the funny things they would say to him. His tiny car was outfitted with car seats and he transported them throughout the area to their appointments, supervised visits with their birth-mother, and back to their foster parents.

The first victory he had with them was finding a foster home placement where all three could be together. If you are familiar with child welfare social work, you know that sometimes children have to be split up into foster homes due to no fault of theirs. My son worked extra hard to find a family that would take all three, and he did.

When it was determined that their birth-mother was no longer able to safely care for them, assure their well-being, or help them grow and develop normally, parental rights were terminated and the three were adopted.

My son’s second victory, and theirs, was that the children were all adopted by that same foster family. For a social worker, this was hitting the trifecta of child welfare work: three kids saved from a dangerous situation; placed in the same foster home; and adopted into the same forever family.

What the children didn’t realize at that time, though, is that they got far more than just that family. They got my son and his future wife. Since that adoption my son and, now, daughter-in-law have continued to stay in touch with the children and their family. They visit on holidays and birthdays, with gifts in tow.

Last September, when my son and his wife got married, the three children were at the wedding. Besides the bride and the groom, they had the most important roles in the wedding. They were the flower girl and ring bearers.

We had not actually met them until the wedding rehearsal last September. We understand how he was smitten now because we were smitten by the children and their parents. My son and his spouse do not have biological children, but they are not childless. And, of course, that means we have grandchildren!

Unfortunately, the parents of these three beautiful children will have to do what I could never imagine doing with my son. They will have to teach them how to be black while playing, walking, shopping, running, driving, and simply living.

It is not something my son, his spouse, or I can ever teach them because we do not know the experience of living while black in America. Even more, we could never imagine it.

And that’s the problem isn’t?

We can never imagine it but we can care more. We can care more and watch the horrific videos on the news of black, Latino, Native American, Asian, and other minority and marginalized people experiencing that which we can never imagine. Onto their faces we can transpose the faces of people we know and care about and then ask, “What if that person were my son, my daughter, my mother, my father, my friend…how would I feel? How would I react? What would I want to do?”

When I saw the video of George Floyd under the knee of the Minneapolis cop, I saw the father of these three children. As I continued to look, I could see the face of my friend Kevin. As I looked even closer I could see the faces of those three children who are now a part of our lives. I could never imagine my son in that position, but I can imagine them.

Our limited imagination continues to make us white folks sick. And that means the pandemic of racism continues to infect the America we have created for our benefit…for our privilege…for our white privilege. Our recovery depends on our ability to see more clearly. It depends on our ability to imagine the unimaginable in other’s lives.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your masks, and keep trying to imagine the unimaginable.

Tom