Interesting quote about church going

Sometimes quotes come at you from surprising sources. The following quote comes from a good movie called “Burning Bodhi” about old friends grieving the sudden death of one of their own from an aneurysm. The character was from a God-fearing community in West Virginia with a number of churches. When asked if she went to church, her reply was priceless.

“Going to church does not make you a Christian any more than hopping into a garage makes you a car.”

The profound simplicity of that statement floored me. It also reveals the act of going to church is not as altruistic for everyone as it is for a group of truly devout people. Having grown up going to not only church, but Sunday school as well, I saw all kinds of people there. Just like in general society it was a collection of imperfect people with biases, faults, and sins.

There were good lessons to be learned as well as some that were not so good. This church had an excellent youth program called “Tell it like it is,” where young people could get excited about their faith. Yet, on the flip side the church eventually split in half over an argument regarding the overt nepotism of the pastor in hiring practices. I have seen churches and synagogues have active outreach programs even starting charities to help people in need, while I have also seen churches led by ministers whose ego and greed got the best them.

Having worked with church and synagogue leaders on outreach programs to help those in need, I have witnessed both sides of the coin as well. I have met the most wonderful and kindest people who want to help, but I have also witnessed some who were there for themselves, not the people in need. The charity has to be about helping people help themselves, not doing something that makes you feel good about yourself.

I am no longer a church going Christian, so many would not even call me such. I am imperfect just like everyone else, but I do feel we should walk the talk. I do feel it is more important to help people climb a ladder out of the hole they find themselves in. I do feel we should treat people like we want to be treated with no caveats. And, if a church leader does not espouse those things, I would suggest finding a different place to worship.

Friday foibles and follies

On yet another Friday the 13th, be safe and be smart. And, watch out for black cats crossing in front of you. In the spirit of the day, let me offer a few foibles and follies for your contemplation.

Per our friend Scottie’s post, it always makes sense do your homework and be prepared for whatever comes your way. Please take about two minutes to watch the video of White House secretary’s Jen Psaki’s response to a reporter question on the claim of GOP support for Senator Rick Scott’s economic plan. Trust me, it is worth the watch. See below for the link to Scottie’s post.

I apologize for a little bit of morbid humor, but it is Friday the 13th. I once read the true story of man who is about my age now being diagnosed with prostate cancer. Being married for many years, he objected to the doctor’s insistent recommendation of a more invasive surgery that would leave him impotent. He said making love with his wife was the greatest joy in his life and he pursued other procedures. After being cured for twelve years and enjoying his love life, he read the doctor passed away. The man saw the obit and smiled that he had outlived his doctor, noting to his bride, the doctor makes whoopie no more.

There is another true story I read about an older New Jersey woman who refused to sell her coastal property to a famous developer who would later become a notorious former US president. The developer wanted her property as it was next the casino he wanted to build. To his chagrin, she denied every advance to buy her property, even the threat of lawsuit and he exhibited his famous temper. A few years later, as the casino went bankrupt, her property was still standing. And, she smiled that she had outlasted the investment.

In a news report following the housing crisis in 2007-08, one of the investment banks that went under was Bear Stearns. About a year before this occurred, a financial analyst got a meeting with the CFO of the organization as he wanted to forewarn them. The analyst saw the banks and finance companies selling mortgages to people who could “fog a mirror” as their only review. These mortgages were packaged together (called Collateralized Debt Obligations) and stamped as good risk and sold to investors by folks like Bear Stearns. The analyst told the CFO he had a model which showed Bear Stearns would go under as a result. The CFO thanked him and asked him to leave. The first fallacy was the CDOs being stamped as good risk as a lot of bad risk together does not make it good. The second fallacy is the Bear Stearns folks assumed the market would always go up, which is not a realistic assumption.

These stories may seem unrelated, but at the heart of them is to two underlying themes

– do your homework and be prepared

-if you know what you want and know the options, stand firm in your mission.

The Bear Stearns story is not an outlier as several entities either went under or had to merge during the Housing crisis. The movie called “The Big Short” based on Michael Lewis’ book and starring Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Steve Carell, et al, defines what happens when supposedly smart people don’t know what they are investing in. See link below to a summary of the movie.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Big_Short_(film)

Comedians and Congress

The very astute and funny comedian Sarah Silverman said yesterday on a segment of The View, “Why is it we hold our comedians to a higher standard than our Congressional representatives?” She was responding to the trend for comedians to come under physical attack on stage and verbal abuse online. I want you to re-read the emboldened sentence of hers and let it sink in. Why, indeed?

If that is not enough to stew on, I want you to think of recent and not so recent comments by several members of Congress with names like Taylor-Greene, Cawthorn, Jordan, Gosar, Breitbart, Gohmer, Brooks, Gaetz et al. If that were not enough, fold in comments from folks like Senators Cruz, Paul. etc. Then we have the former president’s comments which take it to an even lower level.

These comedians make their living making fun of uncomfortable topics. Do they cross the line on occasion? Absolutely. Yet, we seem to vilify them more than we do for people who are supposed to represent our better angels as elected officials. I can disagree with a policy position of an elected official and that is OK. Yet, I want them to be respectful of the office they hold.

I disagree with Democrats and Republicans on various issues. I think some Democrats tend to forget we need to pay for things, e.g. But, the names I mention above are all Republican for a reason. They have a strident manner in dealing with opposing arguments. Name calling is not an argument. Parroting conspiracy theories is not an argument. Saying truly inane things does not make you more credible.

It is not ironic that the most touted leader in the world is a former comedian. President Zelenskyy of Ukraine has stood up against the invasion of Russian troops and rallied his country against the onslaught. To be frank, Vladimir Putin did not count on that stance thinking he could steam roll Ukraine in three days. He could not have been more wrong.

When I watch shows that are news centered comedy discussions, the more astute guests tend to be comedians. To be able to make fun of something, you tend to have to know what it is and why it could be funny. In this same vein, one of the best news shows on TV is actually a comedy show – John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight.” Invariably, his writers will have an in-depth discussion on issues that do not get air time elsewhere such as predatory tele-evangelists, predatory lending, predatory court fees, et al. Other new sources have actually complimented their efforts.

Since comedians seem to be more knowledgeable, maybe we should do like sports teams do. When an elected official is obviously not up to the challenge, like in a sporting event, let’s just replace him or her with a comedian. In my view, we will be far better off.

A New Palindrome

Many moons ago, I had a colleague named Ada, who I called my favorite “palindrome.” Ada was a delight to work with and knew precisely what it meant, so she gave me a novel to read called “Palindrome” that she thought I might like. For those who may not know, a palindrome is a word that has the same spelling backwards and forwards.*

The most famous English palindrome is “Madam I’m Adam” which can be read forward or backwards sans the punctuation. Yet, many names are good palindromes. Ada, Anna, Elle, Eve, Hannah, Sis, e.g. fit the bill. And, Mom and Dad are the most popular palindromes. The most recent numerical palindrome is the year 2002, but we had one eleven years before in 1991. Before then, we would need to go back to 1881.

Yet, palindromes can also refer to identical twins. They are as close to mirror images as we can get in nature. Not to spoil the novel by this name, but identical twins factor into the storyline. 

I bring this up as my wife and I have a new favorite palindrome. Ada will have to step aside as the old favorite, as we have a new niece named Hannah. Hannah is a great name to begin with, but the fact it is a palindrome makes it even more worthwhile. Welcome to the world Hannah. I know your parents are glad you were not identical twins

*palindromic number (also known as a numeral palindrome or a numeric palindrome) is a number (such as 16461) that remains the same when its digits are reversed. In other words, it has reflectional symmetry across a vertical axis. The term palindromic is derived from palindrome, which refers to a word (such as rotor or racecar) whose spelling is unchanged when its letters are reversed. The first 30 palindromic numbers (in decimal) are:0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 22, 33, 44, 55, 66, 77, 88, 99, 101, 111, 121, 131, 141, 151, 161, 171, 181, 191, 202, … (sequence A002113 in the OEIS).

The response to an inane remark

Having been in consulting for over thirty years before I retired, clients would on occasion say things that were not the most vetted of ideas. Sometimes the ideas would be too costly, sometimes too administratively burdensome, sometimes too hard to communicate and sometimes the idea may be stretching or breaking the law.

I had a colleague who had a disarming way of digging deeper, putting the onus on himself. This would prevent the client from being too offended by questioning. They may not be right, but they are still the client. My colleague would say “Help me understand….” as he asked why the client thought this was a good idea.

I mention this today as people have been writing about how to push back on people who are parroting untruthful information or conspiracy stories. Depending on the audience, one action is to simply vote with your feet and walk away. Or some version of “I do not believe that to be true” might suffice. Yet, those do not qualify as good rebuttal.

If you choose to rebut, you must get into a dialogue. This is the reason for my recent post on the Chicago song of that name. You do not want a shouting match, if you want to get heard. So, take my friend’s suggestion as a lead in – “Help me understand.” This will allow further conversation to delve further without being too offensive. Remember, people just want to be heard. So, hear them out and maybe they will do the same. This is how Daryl Davis talked over 200 members of the KKK into quitting.

Our blogging friend Clay used as an example yesterday about the North Carolina man who went to jail for four years for believing the conspiracy story that Hillary Clinton was running a child pornography ring from a pizza parlor in Washington, DC and acting on it, by storming the place armed with a weapon. Clinton is not perfect and has been made out to be a bogeyman, but really, a child pornography ring?

If he told a friend this plan in advance, the friend might have said, “help me understand…” and saved this person from himself. After hearing the story, a few simple questions may have diffused the situation. The friend could have said something like “I don’t like her either, but c’mon, a child pornography ring? There is no way that can be true.”

I am not naive to think that this will solve our problems and it may be less effective with the most strident. Yet, if Davis can get KKK members to shed their robes, then it must have some validity. One thing is for certain, returning fire with fire by yelling and name calling, will not get you heard. Just watch any talk show with people of divergent opinions. Those folks are not listening to each other, because you cannot listen when shouting.

Let me leave one final thought. As a father of three adult children now, if you really want your children to listen to you, do one key thing. Lower your voice, even to a whisper. That will get their attention.

The limits of sequential thinking – a reprise

The following post was written a few years ago, but I stumbled upon it today. It stands the test of time regardless of how one tracks progress.

What does sequential thinking mean, you might be asking? Many of us think in a sequential order. Basically, it means I cannot think about a certain thing, because it comes after what I need to do next. Sequential thinking is at odds with a working or living environment that demands a multi-tasking mindset.

When I say multi-tasking, I am not referring to doing more than one thing at one time, although that is its most common description. What I mean is having a list of multiple things to do and balancing the priority and times of when you plan to do them. It is akin to walking while juggling balls in the air. The key is to not drop any balls while you keep walking.

Let me use a few examples to emphasize my point. I may have a list of ten or twenty things to do. I receive information to do one of the items, but that item is not needed for a week. Sequential thinking would push doing that project until later in the week. But, what if you have a hard deadline and the information provided might be incomplete?

The military doctors and nurses coined an apt term called “triage.” So, a multi-tasking way to think of this would be to triage the information for the later project as an earlier step. Then, if it is incomplete, you could ask the sender to clarify or send additional input. Then, you can move onto other things while you wait.

Another example is moving forward with pieces of a project before having all the needed steps complete. One of the best project managers I have ever worked with would apportion a large report out in pieces for earlier completion. She would have folks working on producing the Appendix, Sections 5, 8, 11 and 14, e.g., while the analysis was being done to complete the key findings and recommendations. So, the supporting sections could be completed, so as to reduce the time crunch at the end once the analysis was done.

Although the last paragraph makes so much sense, it is not as widely practiced as you would think. Neither is the triaging concept, except in medical emergency settings. The other thing these two approaches avoid is the bottle-neck created by other projects and demands. And, in so doing, it enables deadlines to be better fulfilled.

As I write this, I recall a very demanding client. She could be a hard-ass on staff, but at the heart of her criticisms often was a legitimate one. If you told her a deadline, she expected you to meet it. The key was to give her a deadline that could be met, not in a vacuum, but in recognition that you had other things to do.

People like to please and hate telling people no. But, having been a consultant and client manager for ages, I would rather someone tell me they were too busy to help, forcing me to find another source, or avoid giving me too aggressive a deadline. This may not surprise people, but many deadlines that are not met are set by the person doing the work, not the client. Managing expectations is vital.

A favorite author, Malcolm Gladwell, confessed in an interview that he writes in an unusual way that works for him. He said he does not do all his research up front, so he outlines the idea, does some research, writes some, does more research, writes some more and so on. Why? Two reasons – he said he would get bored doing all the research, then writing. Plus, the research is fresher in his mind when he writes soon thereafter. He portions out the work in smaller more manageable segments.

Sequential thinking can get in the way of moving forward. I am not suggesting everyone will think like Gladwell or the best project manager I mention above, but think in terms of smaller, earlier steps to move things along.

Workshops designed to reduce the we/ they polarization

Yesterday, I heard on NPR a report about a group workshop held in Lagrange, Texas. The workshop consists of eight Republican and Democrat voters each with a purpose to reduce the temperature on polarization. In the piece called “Red/Blue Workshops try to bridge the political divide. Do they really work?” by John Burnett of NPR’s “All things considered,” we learned more about this and other sessions.

Here are a few excerpts with a link to an article at the below.

“‘I just see our country being torn apart with polarization. And so anything that we can do to work together as Americans and depolarize our conversations is important,’ retired tax lawyer Karl Schmalz tells the group before they get started. He’s serving as a co-moderator for the workshop.”

“Betsy Harwood, retired family therapist, Democrat: ‘I think that what we see here in this room is the true America. It’s a group of people who can get together and talk politely with each other and understand each other. It’s not what we see on the news or what we see in social media. That’s not the real America.'”

“Doherty is a Minneapolis family therapist and professor who modeled the workshops on his counseling experience: get antagonists to meet face to face. A recent paper by a group of political scientists concluded that the Red/Blue Workshops ‘significantly reduced polarization’ among undergraduate students at four universities, though the results dissipated over time.”

These sessions will not be panaceas, but they head us in the right direction. They are climbing a large mountain that has been built rock by rock by public relations strategists advising politicians to “fear the other.” It is their fault the PR people tell us. They are the enemy. They will destroy our country if we let them. My purpose is not to debate the veracity of claims, but instead to say we must be better at understanding the real issues, not what we are spoon fed by opinion hosts, conspiracy parrots or politicians whose currency is not consistently truthful.

So, what can we do? Be more informed by considering multiple sources of news. Recognize opinion hosts are not news people. One news network in court said in a defamation lawsuit do not misconstrue their most popular opinion host as one of their news people. And, some opinion hosts are less inclined to be truthful to garner ratings. My suggestion is to either not watch or listen to them, or just understand better what you are hearing.

Do not get your news from social media. As Bill Maher said in an ad for a comedy tour, do not argue about Brett Kavanaugh with someone on Facebook that you knew in the fourth grade. More than a few of these opinions recorded on social media are gleaned from questionable sources. Just because someone is smug when they argue with you does not make them right, it just means they are being smug.

Demand our politicians to be more truthful. To ask them to be always truthful is a bridge too far, as politicians like to pat themselves on the back and give more credit to themselves than is due. Yet, do not let them get away with overt untruthfulness or name-calling. The blame game and name-calling is now standard fare in the lexicon of most politicians. And, we need them to work together to solve problems and serve our needs. One sided legislation will not stand the test of time as most of our problems require time to be resolved or mitigated.

We need our politicians to be among our better angels, not our worse demons. If they cannot more consistently tell the truth, then they need to step aside and let someone who can take on the role. We deserve better than this.

https://www.npr.org/2022/04/06/1090910863/red-blue-workshops-try-to-bridge-the-political-divide-do-they-really-work

Wednesday wanderings, April showers and falling

My hiking might get cut short today, if it occurs at all, with the gully washer we got yesterday and one more expected today. If I do walk, it will likely be on streets which will be less muddy. I don’t want to see this old body slipping on a wet hiking trail.

Being a tall person, when I fall it can be quite theatrical. My wife still laughs at me when I walked out of a restaurant in “slippery bottom” shoes I had packed for a trip and started to slide backwards saying “I am going down.” Fortunately, I avoided my prophesy and caught myself on the door rails, but it was funny. Apparently, I had forgotten why I did not wear those shoes anymore.

Each of us are at risk of falling, whether it is the Lucille Ball type fall or a metaphorical one. The key is to get back up, dust yourself off, make sure you are not hurt and keep going. One of the more memorable “I Love Lucy” shows for me is when Lucy took a tumble at a gala with several dignitaries. After washing herself off, she reluctantly went back out to the event. A Spanish diplomat asked her to dance and when she asked why, he responded she had the courage to walk back out here after falling. That was profound for a little boy to hear.

My father fell once in a noticeable way. One of the things I inherited from him is a fondness for alcohol, which I do not imbibe anymore. After rising to a senior position in his firm, my father let his drinking get in the way of being where he needed to be. Something happened in his absence and he was demoted. He had to go into work the next day as a peer not a boss. Now my father never put on airs when in charge, but still that had to be humbling. He eventually worked his way back up and before he retired he was asked to be on the Board of Directors of the parent company.

I have fallen as well. My father’s lesson is a good one. When you fall, the key question to ask yourself is what am I going to do about it? I have shared the lesson before about being demoted to the second team on my high school basketball team. So, I worked even harder in practice and eventually was asked to rejoin the first team. I have also passed many professional exams, but I failed three along the way. The key is to study harder and learn from my mistakes. Eventually, I passed them all and was accredited, but it still hurt to not pass, a feeling I will never forget.

Whether it is Lucille Ball, my father or me, everyone falls. So, don’t forget the answer to that key question and do something about it. You may end up with a skinned knee or bruised feelings, but if those are the worst things, you will survive.

“Dialogue” by Chicago – a reprise of a much needed conversation

Robert Lamm, of the wonderful band Chicago, penned a song about fifty years ago called “Dialogue” that could still ring true today. The song resonates with me and is one of my personal favorites of the band because of its theme and musicality, but also the fact Lamm and lead singer Peter Cetera sang it as a dialogue. Two guys talking about the problems in the world. Here are the words:

Are you optimistic ’bout the way things are going?
No, I never ever think of it at all
Don’t you ever worry
When you see what’s going down?
No, I try to mind my business, that is, no business at all
When it’s time to function as a feeling human being
Will your bachelor of arts help you get by?
I hope to study further, a few more years or so
I also hope to keep a steady high
Will you try to change things
Use the power that you have, the power of a million new ideas?
What is this power you speak of and this need for things to change?

I always thought that everything was fine
Don’t you feel repression just closing in around?
No, the campus here is very, very free
Don’t it make you angry the way war is dragging on?
Well, I hope the president knows what he’s into, I don’t know
Don’t you ever see the starvation in the city where you live
All the needless hunger all the needless pain?
I haven’t been there lately, the country is so fine
But my neighbors don’t seem hungry ’cause they haven’t got the time

Thank you for the talk, you know you really eased my mind
I was troubled by the shapes of things to come
Well, if you had my outlook your feelings would be numb
You’d always think that everything was fine

We can make it happen
We can change the world now
We can save the children
We can make it better
We can make it happen
We can save the children
We can make it happen

I heard this song the other day on the radio for the first time in a long while and listened with my daughter as we drove to school. I found myself pointing out how the song is sung and called a dialogue. She thought that was cool. But, it got me thinking about the words. The problems then still exist today. The more things change, the more they stay the same. We have a national and global poverty problem. I am glad Pope Francis is bringing attention to this more.

We have a national and global problem with how we treat women and girls. Former President Jimmy Carter’s said his new book “A Call to Action” on this issue is the most important mission of his life. Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book “Half the Sky” speaks to these issues as well. I would add global poverty and how we treat women are linked, as woman hold up “half the sky” per the Chinese proverb used by Kristof and WuDunn. If you treat women poorly, in addition to their maltreatment, you are impacting half of your intellectual capital and economic value as a community.

Per my blogging friend George Dowdell, through his vast experience on a mission to help the impoverished, global poverty is also directly traceable to violence and corruption. Corruption takes the money that could be used to help others and violence is the mechanism to keep control and keep others down. These two seem to go hand in hand. Deposed leader Hosni Mubarak of Egypt had a net worth of $81 Billion, while his constituents got by on less than $2 a day, e.g.

Throughout history, the “haves” have taken advantage of the “have-nots.” The “have-nots” do not have a voice or when they have, it has taken a huge effort over time to change the paradigm. It is only with this groundswell of effort that will help change the world. Per Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

So, back to Chicago’s song “Dialogue.” Re-read the final chorus that closes the song. It is repeated as a mantra over and over again. The influence of the “haves” is huge and, in the US has been made easier with recent Supreme Court rulings. The “have-nots” need that voice. They need those committed citizens that Mead and Chicago talked about.

How do we do this? One step, one block, one community, one city at a time. Find your passions and reach out to help others. But, don’t just band-aid a problem. Look to find ways to improve people’s lots in life. Become better informed through reputable news sources. Speak out against injustice or just start asking more “why” questions of leaders and people with strident views that seem harmful. Why do you think that? Why should we do that? Write letters, write emails, make phone calls. Go to events to educate yourself on an issue. Go to protest injustice.

Many of the leaders of efforts to help did not listen to naysayers and blockers who said they could not accomplish change. There is an old line about change. Get people on the bus that will help you make change, not hinder it. We are more powerful than me. So, enlist or join your efforts with others. The operative word is “we” – “we can make it happen.” But, it starts with me.

My friend Carol who “leaned in” – a reprise

Although we are two days removed from Women’s History Month, I stumbled onto an old post of eight years ago that tells the true and still ongoing story of my friend Carol, whose decision to change her path forward is an example for us all.

For those of you who follow the wonderful blog called “The Bookshelf of Emily J”  you know that she recently highlighted Sheryl Sandberg’s book called “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.” The post can be found with the attached link: http://emilyjanuary.wordpress.com/2014/05/07/women-at-work-leaning-in/. After reflecting more on Emily’s post, I decided to tell a story about my friend Carol who during the early part of her career realized she was not doing what she wanted to do and did something about it.

The fact that she realized she was not fulfilling her dream is not the story, as many come to this realization. The story is she did something about it and took a leap of faith back into her dream. Carol had always wanted to be a social worker, but she listened to the counsel of her father and studied something more practical in college that would gain her a better paying career. Unfortunately, he was focused on the economic value of the career and not the psychic value of helping those in need.

So, she got a great education from a wonderful college and embarked on a career with a major electric utility. She was doing very well, but something was missing. She did not know what until she began volunteering with a crisis assistance organization that helped people who were about to be evicted from the homes or have their power shut off. Through this community service, she rediscovered her social worker mindset and calling. So, she sought and discovered opportunity with this agency.

Since she also had the business mindset from her schooling, she was able to leverage her heartfelt desire to help those in need. Eventually, she became the Executive Director of this organization and has successfully led them for many years. Because of her solid reputation, she is also a go-to person for many community efforts or to be a spokesperson on the plight of those in need. She lends her voice to those whose voice cannot be heard.

I like many things about Carol. But, in my dealings with her, she listens to what others have to say and she is comfortable enough in her own skin to change her opinion if you present good arguments. Yet, she is also confident enough to stick to her guns when she feels she is in the right. And, she can sway those who may disagree with her through her intellect and conviction. Many new ideas have been piloted through her involvement, whether directly or indirectly. She is a wonderful partner. There is an old saying about change. When you are looking to have change, make sure you have people on the bus that will help move it forward. You want Carol on that bus.

Carol leaned in early on. She changed the arc of her career to do something she loved. She rediscovered her passion. Yet, she is also someone who you want to work with. That is one of her true gifts. Together, with Carol on board, we can solve many more problems than without her involvement. She is one those “lights” that President George H.W. Bush spoke of so many years ago. Thanks Carol. You are more than one of the lights – you are a gem.