When you ask a question

I have written about this before, but am consistently reminded of it watching a variety of talk shows, including news and news-opinion shows. A pet peeve of mine is someone asking a question and not letting the person answer it. This is followed closely by people who interrupt another person asking a question.

Watching the Showtime mini-series “The Loudest Voice,” about Roger Ailes leading the creation of Fox News, he valued his talk show hosts talking over guests who were making fact-based arguments that countered the mission of the station. That mission was to tell conservative viewers what they wanted to hear.

But, it is not just on Fox, as it occurs on CBS Morning News, Real Time with Bill Maher, The View, etc. I appreciate many of Bill Maher’s opinions as he is well-informed, but I see him often derail good conversation from his guests. Let them talk I say to the TV screen.

The same goes for Joy Behar on The View and Gayle King on CBS Morning News. They both have strong opinions, many I may agree with, but all too frequently they derail good conversation or speak over the guest. Let them talk I say to the screen.

My best example is a Fox host had a guest who had written a well-researched book about the life of Jesus. When he was asked to come on Fox, it was obvious he was there to be verbally beat-up by the host. It was so overt, he asked if it was OK for him to talk. His opinion did not matter.

Two other practices stand in the way of good discussion. The first is the side-by-side talking heads, which make a very unequal issue look like a 50/50 debate. John Oliver once addressed this by having 97 scientists come out to debate three over climate change. Often the 50/50 debate pits an extreme view against a normative one; so if the extreme view wins the debate, viewers feel that makes the good talker’s position correct. It just means they are a better talker over two minutes. Again, with climate change, a glib marketer would often win short debates with scientists who found it difficult to boil points down to short sound bytes.

The second is the interviewer asking the question with the answer in it. This is prevalent on 60 Minutes, where too often the interviewee repeats what the interviewer said. That is force feeding in my mind – let them frame their answer.

This is a key reason I watch PBS Newshour. They have informed guests, who act civilly toward each other and the host. When they are not civil, they tend not to be invited back. The host lets each have time to talk and counter the other. Often, there is mutual agreement on many points, which makes you think more when they differ.

So, interviewers, ask your question, then let people talk. You might learn something.

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Sometimes you have to go for it

Yesterday, golfer Gary Woodland won the US Open at Pebble Beach. For non-golf fans, I will be brief on the golf part. What was most memorable, Woodland decided on a key moment to not play it safe, but be aggressive and play to win. He hit an absolutely brilliant shot that led to a birdie on a par five and put him two shots ahead of the two-time defending champion.

As a former athlete who was limited in talent to playing on high school teams, the act of “going for it,” is an act of courage. You may fall on your face, but by taking a risk, even if it is a measured one, it may make all the difference. Why does the best basketball player usually take the key final shot when the other team is expecting him to do so? Because if you don’t and fail, you may regret not going with your best.

And, as one star basketball player said, I try to take the last shot because I can handle failure better than others. That last statement is vital. Taking a risk is a lot easier if you know you can handle a negative outcome.

There is a great line from the movie “We bought a zoo,” with Matt Damon. His older brother taught him “all you need is twenty seconds of courage.” I think that is priceless advice. In the movie Damon’s character summoned the courage to speak with an enchanting woman he had never met. And, she eventually became his wife. What if we don’t take that chance?

Again, the risk need not be foolish, but sometimes it is more than OK to go for broke. A measured risk is worth the chance. Yet, we often overstate the risk and perceived embarassment of failure, when the actual risk is more measured. As I told my kids, “What if the person says no? No, is just an answer, but it at least it is one.” Without asking, you will never know if there is interest in your company, your resume, your idea, etc.?

So, find that twenty seconds of courage and go for it. The answer may be no, but at least you gave it a shot.

 

A lot of stress balls are needed

Dr. Tara Narula on CBS Morning News cited a statistic today from Workforce Initiative that 64% of people feel stressed at work. In an earlier survey, the American Psychological Association noted the following about stress:

“63% – The percentage of Americans who say the future of the nation is a significant source of stress. That’s higher than the percentage who are stressed about money (62 percent), work (61 percent), or violence and crime (51 percent).”

We are a stressed out nation. I actually think these numbers understate the extensiveness of stress, it just may be some folks have been able to put lids on the simmering pots.

I believe stress levels have increased by the divisiveness in our country and a highly contentious president where too many things become issues, when they need not be. He did not create division, but he exploits and perpetuates it on a regular basis. He truly wears me out.

So, what can we do about it? First, we need to disconnect more from our social and work media. On the latter, companies like you working off the clock on their behalf. If you cannot quit cold turkey, manage your activity in set pockets of time. As I told a colleague, it does not impress me that you sent an email at 10:30 pm. Disconnect and take some down time.

As for social media, please recognize when you look at Facebook, Instagram, etc., you are seeing the Sunday dressed version of a person’s life. They tend to post the polished versions of what is happening. They tend not to share the warts that they hide from the public. I recognize some folks over share, but I don’t want to be that aware of another’s life, as you may overreact when it is not wanted or needed.

Second, we need to better govern our news sources. I am guilty of this, but need reduce the hours of watching and reading and focus on reputable sources. I do focus on better sources, but often over-indulge. Watching so-called experts shout at each other is not news. Watch shows that let people talk civilly. Watching night time talk show hosts or high-volume online hosts is not news, it is opinion disguised as news. And, read and watch news that state when they get it wrong.

Third, here are two additional rules of thumb. Be careful of getting news from public figures. Before 24×7 segmented news sources, politicians used to campaign off rhetoric and govern off facts. Now, far too many govern off rhetoric. And, take anything the president says or tweets with a grain of salt. Not only is he noted to be very untruthful by several data sources and former associates, he self-professes a preference not to study issues, bragging on his gut instinct. So, he is not a very good source of news.

Fourth, find healthy, sustainable outlets for stress management and avoidance. The word sustainable is as important as healthy. We are creatures of habits, so we should replace a stress causing habit with a stress reducing one. Doing a walk, jog, yoga, pilates, workout or meditation need not be too time intrusive to help. Or, it could be reading a book or magazine or watching a favorite show.

Stress abounds and there are not enough stress balls. But, before we succumb to that stress, remember the words of advice from Mister Rogers – you do not have to be sensational to be loved.

Stop in Nevada

“And she doesn’t know what’s comin’ but she’s sure of what she’s leaving behind,” sings Billy Joel in “Stop in Nevada.” This lyric is pertinent as a stop in Nevada would reveal the only state with a female majority in the stafe legislature.

And, it works well. Nevada has far more bipartisan legislation than any other state. The women legislators find common ground and show men the path forward. As 49% of the state house consists of men, their votes are needed to pass legislation.

The women represent both parties. They socialize and do community service and events together. Republican Assemblywoman Melissa Hardy and Democrat Selena Torres sat for an interview on CBS Saturday Morning News. These two have worked across the aisle to push a bill to improve education.

Hardy said. “I think it has been the most incredible experience of my life,” Torres noted, “I know we have over 90% bipartisanship on the bills passed so far.”

This is what our country needs more of. We need representation that looks like America. Two states I won’t mention have only 15% and 17% female membership in their legislatures. It is important to increase those percentages as women tend to be the primary healthcare giver of the family and make up a higher percentage of teachers. So, dinner table issues of medical bills and education will get more weight.

I also believe women will help us break through zero-sum politicking (I must win and you must lose). It should be noted it took ten female US Senators to avoid the US defaulting on its debts in October 2013 after the government was shut down. This last minute effort was highly commendable and a relief to the male leaders who could not stop their posturing long enough to keep us from driving off a cliff.

We must work together to solve problems. We must demand our politicians do the same, otherwise they are shouting at the wind or come up with extreme versions of laws. I am enthused by the new majority in Nevada as well as the wave of women who won US House seats last fall.

I hope they can break down barriers. The US Congress removed an area where legislators socialized across party lines. Now, about 40% of their time is doing fundraising phone calls, per a retired Congressman. It is hard to work on anything, much less biparisan laws, when you don’t take the time figure out how to pass laws together. Maybe, just maybe, these women will change that paradigm.

Religious freedom laws give me concern

As a Christian and American citizen, I have concerns over the religious freedom laws and movement. Why? There is a subtle, but important difference between being given the freedom to discriminate and those seeking protection from discrimination.

While our forefathers purposefully included the separation of church and state in our constitution, religious mantras have caused troubling discriminatory practices in our country as well as others. During the unfortunate Jim Crow era, too many ministers preached exclusion and segregation, with some even speaking of white supremacy, using the bible as a weapon not as an invitation.

The following example happened in the UK, but is germane to the US as it easily could have happened here. Alan Turing is a key figure in the creation of computer analytics. During WWII. Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower said Turing led a group of people who shortened rhe war by two years and probably saved 750,000 lives. They broke the Nazi Enigma code. Yet, Turing had to hide the fact he was gay and was even arrested after the war. If he had been arrested before breaking the code, we may be speaking German as a second language.

Vivien Thomas was a black carpenter who was quite skilled with his hands. This led him to wanting to be a surgeon, but his efforts were frowned on, he was denied access and was grossly under paid due to the Jim Crow south, even at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Thomas was not allowed into operating rooms, until a white doctor (he partnered with) said he needed Thomas there. Thomas’ delicate hands and sharp mind helped pioneer the repair of hearts of the “blue babies” in a way that the repair grew up with them. Before, these babies turned blue due to poor citculation and died early on in their lives.

The Vivien Thomas story is captured in the movie “Something the Lord Made” given the groundbreaking nature of the heart surgery. I cite this title, as contrary to ministers who faclitated Jim Crow, a black man was the messenger of a miraculous technique. Overcoming Jim Crow discrimination is also the theme of the movie “Hidden Figures,” as three black women helped NASA land on the moon with their mathematical, engineering and leadership skills.

Along these same lines, a significant amount of groundbreaking mathematical ideas evolved out of predominantly Muslim countries. And, after European Jews escaped fascism before WWII and fueled a piece goods industry in New York city, a high percentage of their offspring became professionals – doctors, lawyers, etc.

Religious freedom laws permit and have permitted unhealthy discrimination in our country. Lately, these laws are permitting discrimination against LGBTQ and Muslim, Jewish and Hispanic Americans. My mantra is when religious leaders promote exclusion, religion is at its absolute worst. When they preach inclusion, religion is at its finest. Jesus said to treat people like you want to be treated – he did not list any caveats. We should not add any to this beautifully succinct golden rule.

This must stop

I hope everyone enjoyed their weekend, yet we had another event which we cannot let define us. The tragedy in Sri Lanka sheds a spotlight on what must stop. The three recent Black church bombings in Louisiana do the same; this must stop. The many shootings at churches, synagogues, and mosques must stop.

The victims do not deserve this, no matter where they worship. The perpetrators have some warped view of extremism. They are terrorists irrespective of what religious master they serve. They are hate mongers and murderers. They will not build a stairway to some perverted view of righteousness. Their names should not be mentioned, as they do not deserve recognition.

These actions of hate must stop. The underlying hate must stop. If someone’s view of religion inspires them to hate or kill others, that is not God or Allah talking. That is a narrow-minded form of extremism. These folks are murderers,

We need these actions strongly condemned by all leaders. We need religious leaders to promote a message of inclusion. A ministry of exclusion is religion at its worst. One person’s exclusion becomes another person’s hate. And, to a small subset, the words inspire violence. This also holds true with political leaders,

What can we do? If your spiritual or political leader speaks of exclusion, ask them to stop. If they don’t stop, vote with your feet and leave. Our leaders need to be our better angels – if they are not, find another leader and call them on the carpet.

If you see some followers who are echoing or speaking of violent acts, tell the authorities or more even-tempered religious leaders. Zealotry can lead to violence. If you hear unproductive words, push back or tell someone. This is even more true if they come from leaders.

But, most importantly, we must be civil to one another. We must demand civility from our leaders. Fear sells, but is an unsustainable governing approach. We deserve better from our leaders. We must also demand peace. We need more diplomats, not fewer. We need to value the mavens and dot connectors. Relationships are to be courted and nurtured.

This has to stop. Stop the words of exclusion. Stop the words of hate. And, let’s do what we can to stop the violence.

Let me close with one of the greatest examples of faith I have witnessed. After the Charleston AME Zion church shooting, the surviving family members forgave the shooter. That is powerful. Let’s be like them. But, let’s stop it from happening the next time.

 

I remember when

As I dressed for a long walk this morning, I was reminded of an old dressing habit. This prompted a reflective post (you can hum Nat King Cole’s “I remember you” as you read with me):

I remember when we used to cut the tops off athletic socks to make footies, as they did not make those when I was growing up, at least for boys and men.

I remember when phones were dialed and not keyed; if you did not complete the dial, the phone might call the wrong number.

I remember when there were three serious US news anchors whose words were gospel; Nixon once said when he lost Walter Cronkite, he lost the country.

I remember a time when we lived in blissful ignorance that all priests, pastors and evangelists were above board and not participating in criminal behavior.

I remember when both parties cared that the US President was exactly what he said he was not; Nixon said “I am not a crook,” but that was a lie.

I remember when Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assasinated, but was too young to remember JFK’s,

I remember the moon landing and Neil Armstrong’s words of “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Sadly, I remember the Challenger blowing up with citizen astronauts aboard. It showed how difficult it is to leave and return to our planet.

I remember when the US celebrated its bicentennial and when we prepared for computers programmed in Cobol to recognize the new millennium.

On this last comment, my wife and I hosted a New Millennium Eve party. We got so interested in shooting fireworks with the kids, we forgot to put the lamb in the oven. That was the only time we cooked lamb, and almost did not then. We were eating at midnight when the year 2000 rolled in.

I hope I spawned some memories. Please share a few of yours. I remember when…