Leadership Modeled by RBG

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is an inspiration to many young girls and women of all ages. She has achieved icon status in a way that none of the other Supreme Court Justices. Her popularity has come late in her life and correlates with her role as “dissenter in chief.” She eloquently expresses the values of a great many people, based on national election results, one can say a majority.

Ginsberg with hubbyI was conscious of her role and opinions on the Supreme Court but largely unfamiliar with her history as a litigator for women’s rights. So much of the freedom I enjoy is thanks to her work as a lawyer. Watching the documentary, RBG, with my mother (who is almost the same age as Ginsberg) was enlightening. My mom (and other older women in the theater) loudly whispered her agreement with something Ginsberg said or to tell her own story. Afterward we discussed how well she married, as her husband Marty loved her for her brain not in spite of it, and supported her ambition in ways that expressed her love–getting her to stop working and eat, keeping her laughing. RBG also works harder than anyone we know at any age bracket.

In the book Notorious RBG by Erin Carnon and Shana Knizhnik lay out in the Appendix how you can be like RBG:notorious RBG

  • Work for what you believe in
  • But pick your battles
  • And don’t burn your bridges
  • Don’t be afraid to take charge
  • Think about what you want, then do the work
  • But then enjoy what makes you happy
  • Bring along your crew
  • Have a sense of humor

She is a worthy role model for all leaders.

Open Letter to Women Who Rule the World

Jennifer Palmieri

Looking for a last minute gift for that graduate in your life? Consider Jennifer Palmieri’s Dear Madam President. While the audience is ostensibly the next woman who will run for President of the United States, the advice is useful to all leaders. It will especially resonate with women

Each chapter begins with a maxim that is worth remembering, for example:

When the unimaginable happens, imagine what else may be possible.

Brace yourself. Nothing draws fire like a woman moving forward.

Show us what you’ve been through. It tells us what we can survive.

You can read this book in an evening or a summer afternoon in your hammock. I gave away my first copy and immediately ordered 2 more.

 

Examining Assumptions, Part II

I shared in the last blog post that I was examining two assumptions:

  1. You must work hard, suffer even, for “real” progress in health, understanding or enlightenment.
  2. There is an afterlife.

IMG_4411The first assumption is re-enforced every time I get a prescription for antibiotics: you must take every pill even long after you are feeling better. It is the idea of counseling or therapy: you must work through every issue–there are no shortcuts. I have “done the work” in my life. No liquid diet fasts for me. Just exercise and lots-of-work diets.

Then Michael Pollan shared that in the clinical trials treating depressed cancer patients with psychedelic medicines experienced real measurable improvement 80% of the time. This is well beyond the 30% rates of anti-depressants and without the considerable side effects of drugs like Prozac. Only terminal cancer patients were allowed in the studies so it is impossible to know how long the benefits might have lasted or if later side effects might appear. Still, it is remarkable for its potential.

Rather than making me want to take a guided trip, I found it encouraging with regards to my reliance on acupuncture to resolve my chronic pain. I do not understand how acupuncture works but it is dealing with the underlying causes and it manages energy. To me though, it seems relatively easy compared to other therapies, especially ones that require me to relive childhood trauma. Reconsidering my assumption around the requirements of a lasting cure helped me put my faith in the possibility of good to great outcomes from acupuncture.

It also helped me look at the role prayer plays in my healing. I’ve been shy about asking for prayer. I’ve always said I believe the creator of the universe can miraculously heal people if S/He chooses and I pray for this kind of healing for others, and yet I’m reluctant to ask for it for myself. I consider myself one of the undeserving, or that I can only ask after I’ve tried to make every other remedy work. I’m ready to revise my assumptions regarding spiritual healing.

What about the afterlife? Michael Pollan and Ezra Klein both called themselves materialists and as such they believe our brains generate consciousness, thus our selves cease when our body dies. Pollan admitted that some scientists suggest consciousness exists outside of our selves and therefore, it might be possible that subject’s in the clinical trials really did experience mystical or spiritual epiphanies. As a person of faith I do not have much trouble reconciling this.

IMG_4409My qualms about the afterlife is the American Christian culture’s complete fixation with it to the exclusion of asking “how should we live today?” I have been reading Rob Bell‘s What is the Bible? as a kind of devotional. And his chapter on the Good Samaritan rocked my world in a number of ways. And one of those is that when the lawyer asks Jesus, how do we get eternal life? He wasn’t asking about the afterlife. We have somehow twisted “eternal life” from the abundant life God’s people should be experiencing every day while we live here now in relationship with the Divine, to a cushy deal after we die. So much of our faith experience is now simplified to “accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior” and then going back to a judgey, non-loving attitude about our neighbor.

At the suggestion of my friend Rebekah I listened to the Liturgists podcast interview with Rob Bell, when Michael Gungor and the other podcast host who goes by Science Mike ask questions about this book. I’m listening to an intelligent and uplifting conversation when I realize that this men are part of a growing club of people tossed out of Club Evangelical for questioning assumptions about our faith. And yet the gospels are stories after story of Jesus asking and answering questions, sometimes with more questions. These three and others also tossed out are postmodernists, whereas, the older, grayer leaders of the E. movement, such as it is today, are traditionalists or modernists. Don’t question the relatively recent constructs of what it means to be born again and who God loves and doesn’t love or risk being ostracized.

I am realizing that I believe in a consciousness outside of myself and God, and I believe that my soul or conscious goes on in some way beyond death; however, it doesn’t matter so much to me anymore. It pales in importance to the prime directive which is to be a vessel for God’s love in the world–to be living the abundant, spirit-filled life that God offers me. I’m so far from that right now and I’d rather get after that and let the after death question take care of itself.

 

Honoring Commitments to Me, Myself and I

IMG_4148It has taken me a long time to shake off the socialization of my first 3 decades of life and begin to keep commitments to myself. Until my forties (and still it is a struggle), I put others first. Before I ate, I fed my family. Before I had time to read or relax, I made sure the laundry was whirring and the fridge was stocked. Now that I have fewer demands on my time from children, I can still find myself taking care of friends, or parents or co-workers’ needs before my own.

My bout of hives and subsequent journey to reclaim my health and vigor resulted in one aha! new experience: I am keeping lots of different commitments to myself.

I am resting more. I am doing less. I am seeking out professional help from a nutritionist and acupuncturist. I am shopping at the Sacramento Food Coop and cooking at home. I am making my lunch to take to work. These are all things that in the past I would have made different choices around and justified it by placing greater value on other people’s needs.

It also gave me permission to eat what I wanted and drink lots of diet coke to stay awake. Now I drink alkaline water by the quart. I am imbibing in kombucha instead of soda. It is a huge change. And I’ve kept it up for 6 weeks.

My resolve is reinforced by hives that recur anytime I try to reintroduce food like eggs, soy, or cheese. I am still eating on the elimination diet and it’s become relatively easy and has many side benefits, including weight loss (about 10 pounds so far).

My hives reoccur less often. My morning body pain a 5 or 6 instead of a 7 or 8. It is not a miracle cure. Last week when sciatica nearly crushed me, I added in acupuncture. My practitioner did her evaluation and just about everything is wrong with me. As a result, I will be going for treatments twice a week for at least 8 weeks, and then it will taper off gradually.

Natalie, my nutritionist, is amazingly supportive and continue to find new things for me to try. Her latest suggestion is to give my tummy a rest for 12 hours each night by not eating or drinking anything except water from the last minute I finish dinner until breakfast 12 hours later.

Brie, my massage therapist, is a huge supporter of my new choices. She is teaching me that short term pain will pay dividends in the long run. I can remember when massage was mainly relaxing and the main challenge to getting up from a chair was a cat in my lap. My goal is to return to that status while maintaining the healthier lifestyle.

Leadership takes a lot of energy and mine is taking an uptick thanks to all of the ways I am taking care of myself. I am soaking my feet in an herbal concoction as I write this.  Unlike other journeys I have taken, I don’t know how long this one will be or when I will have reached the end. Stay tuned.

Aha! Moment in the Culture Wars

bullshitJournalists and commentators covering the 2016 presidential election seemed at a loss to explain how Trump’s supporters could jeer at “Lyin'” Hillary Clinton and cheer a man a man whose speeches were filled with easy to recognize falsehoods. I scratched my head until I read Brene Brown‘s newest book, Braving the Wilderness.

On page 90, Brown begins to describe bullshit. (I am not going to pull any punches with language here.) In her research in how people struggle to maintain their authenticity and integrity when engaging in debates and discussions driven by emotion rather than shared understanding of facts, she found that we all rely on bullshitting from time to time. We bullshit ourselves and we bullshit others, sometimes simultaneously. In our “need to fit in culture” we often jump into an argument and start arguing even when we don’t really know anything about the matter.

Also people are increasingly cynical and growing tired of having to sort through information to figure out “how things truly are.” So we say whatever and we put up bullshit and stop asking questions. This quickly devolves into you’re either with us or agin’ us.

Brene Brown also found her research participants made a distinction between lying and bullshitting. I found this intriguing enough to go to the source. Brown leaned heavily on the scholarly work of Harry G. Frankfurt, an emeritus Princeton professor who wrote On Bullshit in 2005.  I downloaded the short book and struggled through the first part, then hit pay dirt.

The liar makes his/her statement with the intention to deceive. Generally it is perceived that this person generally cares about the truth and facts, but practices deception on occasion. Ms. Clinton’s lawyerly parsing of the truth probably “feels” like a purposeful deception to many people, whereas, I imagine she sees it as walking finely along the boundary of truth.

The bullshitter, on the other hand, has a more distant relationship with the truth. He/she may not know what the facts actually are–as when we bullshit our way through a college essay exam. Or they may not have much interest in becoming informed but find themselves quizzed on their opinion. Bullshit can rely mostly on an emotional argument, and if the facts are false, they only have to fit with the bullshit narrative.

The bullshitter and the liar are both trying to get away with something. But the bullshitter is trying to make a connection, get us to like him/her, bluff, or other motive. His/her “statement is grounded neither in a belief that it is true nor, as a lie must be, in a belief that it is not true. It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth–this indifference to how things really are–that I regard as the essence of bullshit.” (Frankfurt, p. 33)

We also have much more forgiveness for a bullshitter than a liar. “We may seek to distance ourselves from bullshit, but we are more likely to turn away from it with an impatient or irritated shrug than with the sense of violation or outrage that lies often inspire.” (Frankfurt, p. 48) Trump supporters saw Trump bullshitting, but with much greater consequence, perceived Clinton as a liar. Furthermore:

The LIAR is concerned with truth values. “In order to invent a lie at all, he must think he knows what is true. And in order to invent an effective lie, he must design his falsehood under the guidance of that truth.” (p. 50)

Whereas, the BULLSHITTER has much more freedom. “His focus is panoramic rather than particular. He does not limit himself to inserting a certain falsehood at a specific point, and thus he is not constrained by the truths surrounding that point or intersecting it. He is prepared…to fake the context as well… What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise…he misrepresents what he is up to.” (p. 53)

It seemed strange at first that Frankfurt calls the bullshitter the greater enemy of the truth than the liar. The liar still has a nodding acquaintance with the authority of truth. The bullshitter pays no attention to truth at all.

It is not clear that there is more bullshit in the world today than in previous times; however, bullshit can do more damage, because as our access to correct information proliferates, there is more skepticism about what actually makes up objective reality. This loss of confidence cascades into a retreat from the disciplines of acquiring knowledge and instead we value sincerity or authenticity.

With minds dulled by entertainment and gossip, how do we discern between what is sincere and what is bullshit? Especially when people prize their own opinions so highly.

More to the point of leadership, what is to be done in our own conversations when we encounter speakers who use “us vs them” and look askance at facts in favor of emotion? Brene Brown encourages two behaviors (besides avoiding bullshit): get curious and stay civil. This is also good advice when you are triggered. Hmm, I doubt it’s a coincidence that someone else’s bullshit can easily trigger me. “Generosity, empathy, and curiosity (e.g., Where did you read this or hear this?) can go a long way in our efforts to question what we’re hearing and introduce fact.” (Brown, p. 95) And civility is treating others as you’d like to be treated or caring for one’s identity without degrading someone else’s in the process.

Get curious. Stay civil.

 

Author’s note:  Growing up around horses, I have always found the word bullshit to be non-offensive and an accurate description of what happens when someone piles the nonsense higher and higher. Frankfurt mentions that in Britain, it is more likely to be called humbug. Does humbug have the same meaning? And does it carry the same “slightly dirty word taint”?

 

 

 

 

We Need #CharacterDay More Than Ever

The creative folks at Let It Ripple created Character Day and it is today September 13th. I mark the day on this blog. Last night I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Atlantic article “The First White President.” As Hillary Clinton has said in several recent interviews, Trump is a real and present danger (to our democracy).

I want to build up the community of people who value character and celebrate Character Day. With an acknowledgement to the times we live in, I offer an example of character worth celebrating:  Persistence.

LKM#ShePersisted became a viral hashtag when Senators shushed their colleagues.  My hero is Laura King Moon. She persisted her entire career, most persistently at the California Department of Water Resources seeking solutions to intractable problems. It took cancer to take her out. Even then she persisted to the end.

Jane’s Playhouse

IMG_2056My inspiration for this artwork began with an article from City Lab by Richard Florida about Jane Jacobs. (12/20/2016) Jacobs wrote about her pessimism for the United States’ experiment with democracy. Her main question is “how and why can a people so totally discard a formerly vital culture that it becomes literally lost?” How do we dissolve to a place where facts have no meaning?

The election of #45 prompted Richard Florida to remember this particular Jacobs book, Dark Age Ahead, her last book written in 2005. This is not about Trump. It’s about all the things we’ve done collectively and individually to create the conditions where a populist backlash could succeed in electing an incompetent to the most important leadership role in our country. Of course, aided by the Russians—hence the spy—but we served up our country on a silver platter even before Putin let loose his computer hackers.

IMG_2054

She named the five pillars of society that if we allow to decay or fail to protect from assault will lead to a new dark age. The first is family and community. The replacement of nuclear families from extended families makes housing unaffordable for many people or upset work/life balance. Materialism, market pressures and a brand culture erode community. She takes issues with automobiles as enabling self-interest over community interest.

The denigration of education into something of value only as a means of getting a better job weakens the second pillar. After desegregation, we began defunding public education throughout the United States. At about the same time, fundamental zealots separated themselves through homeschooling and religious schools that applaud an ignorance of science and post-modern ideas. It is also the failure of schools to adapt. Reforms resulted in testing instead of using the new brain science to create better learning environments. Higher education has lost complete touch with their mission by pricing themselves so high as to create an educated class of young people loaded with a debt burden that is becoming a drag on the entire economy.

IMG_2053

Science is the third pillar and Jacobs was concerned about science becoming dogma. I find it more like a two-headed dog biting itself. The one head barks to leave it alone to do it’s work without the burden of moral principles or ethics and no accountability for their impact—especially pollution to our planet. All while the other head measures discovery, technology, and the increasing peril to our every existence due to climate change.

The next to last pillar is the “dumbing down of taxes.” The political chant began “no new taxes” then it became “tax cuts,” which mainly benefited the wealthiest people and corporations. Then we are surprised that such selfishness results in the greatest divide between rich and poor since World War II. Our infrastructure is crumbling, our transit systems inadequate, and schools and prisons crowded because the majority of the population no longer understands “public goods.” Anything for the community is seen as waste.

The fifth and final pillar is professionalism and ethics. Jacobs calls it “learned professions,” and includes medicine, law, architecture, engineering and journalism. These professions give us our ethics and professional standards that set behavioral boundaries. These are under attack by “frauds, brutes, and psychopaths.” Not coincidentally immigrants often hold up these values more than other Americans and aspire to these professions, so newcomers also come under attack by native barbarians.

Pick up the roof and look inside. Our citizen is watching tv and he and his daughter are connected to wifi and distracting themselves from the reality of the house falling down around them. In high school history I learned that the Roman Empire fell apart because of the rot from within, and then the barbarians were able to swiftly conquer. It is more complicated but these stories ring true today.

What then shall be done? Jacobs saw cities are bulwarks against the darkness. And she believed in protest. It’s up to those of us who understand the reality, that we are all interconnected and we all benefit from a vital culture, to shore up the pillars of society. We should do it for ourselves, and for humankind.

Art and photos by Julie Pieper.