strangers

Accidental Racism

I am a racist. You are a racist. We are all racists.

We all harbor covert thoughts about people, communities, religions, and disabilities.

  • So you are following a Hummer with a Scientology bumper sticker
  • Or a car full of dark complected youth who have a woofer which is vibrating your dental work
  • Men with turbans are boarding your plane
  • Or you see a gay couple publicly expressing their affections

Yeah, whatever pushes your buttons—you think bad thoughts—admit it!

You would never say anything, but “those people  should_________!” Apples and oranges

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the Ku Klux Klanner but the moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. Excerpts from MLK’s Birmingham Jail Letter

Please do not be one of those people who say they are colorblind. That all people are equal in your eyes. Even if that were true, your blindness would mean you do not care about difference. And difference is everything.

Our greatest vulnerability is that we do not see our fates tied to others. That we believe that our comfort, safety and success can be achieved independently from other people different from us and our families.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.

The brutal truth is we have minimized our direct experiences with difference. Economic diversity in our lives is from the news. We have little tolerance for difference. The last time we had truly diverse friends was in college.

The consequences of these subtle, multiplied, and layered decisions are the increasing inability to relate to the world outside of our bubbles. Our networks are sanitized, pasteurized and free of “unwanted” elements. 

We struggle with relating to the I Can’t Breathe campaigns, Immigration Reform, Muslim hate crimes, Minimum wage protests…... 

We don't discriminate.

We are not prejudiced.

We care about all of our fellow human beings.

We have lost touch with reality.

We are accidental racists.

There are so many studies that show how prevalent our discriminatory inclinations are. 

Step one is to own our racism.

Now before you launch into your well-rehearsed denial speeches, listen to yourself and look around yourself. “Some of your best friends…..Really! Now why is it that your church, your kids’ schools, your place of employment, your golf club, your circle of friends do not reflect the communities we live in?

Admit it we have not done enough.

Our kids grow up in segregation and despite our best intentions they become accidental racists.

Susan Fiske’s extensive research at Princeton shows that as income rises we see poor people as objects and not as humans—mostly because they are a foreign and unknown population.

We watch as the world turns on Muslims again. -Treating a giant diverse population as a monolithic group. A group we do not know. Racism at its best.

Conjures up Nazi Germany or WWII with the internment of Japanese Americans…

This has been going on for a long time--too long.

In 1946 (Martin Luther King Jr. was about 17 and 18 years before Civil Rights), Albert Einstein was frustrated and angry and gave a speech at Lincoln University called, The Negro Question-- Here are some excerpts:

Many a sincere person will answer: "Our attitude towards Negroes is the result of unfavorable experiences which we have had by living side by side with Negroes in this country. They are not our equals in intelligence, sense of responsibility, reliability."

The modern prejudice against Negroes is the result of the desire to maintain this unworthy condition.

What, however, can the man of good will do to combat this deeply rooted prejudice? He must have the courage to set an example by word and deed, and must watch lest his children become influenced by this racial bias.

I do not believe there is a way in which this deeply entrenched evil can be quickly healed. But until this goal is reached there is no greater satisfaction for a just and well-meaning person than the knowledge that he has devoted his best energies to the service of the good cause.

Sadly, these words ring true today. And “Negroes” could be replaced with many communities which combat our racism today.

It is well established that diversity is not a nice to have but a necessity to compete, survive, and evolve. Mother Nature knows this well! Investment portfolios require it. The American Medical Association studies prove that life expectancy is extended as much as 9 years for those that cultivate diverse social networks. But to attain and then maintain diversity professionally and socially takes courage, work, and vigilance.

Evaluate your network. Not talking just about ethnicity, but religious, economic, ability, sexual preference diversity. How will you reach out and build a diverse network?

What example by word and deed are we setting, for our children?

If the tables you sit at just look like you, I do not care how smart, witty you are, it is limited table of opportunities. 

So what are you going to do honor the legacy of Dr. King? More important, what are you going to do to make sure your kids and all of our kids don’t end up to be racists like us?

Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Einstein

 Thanks for reading. John

 


What's New? and Making Something from Nothing

Without the salutation of "Happy New Year", we return to our old rote greetings or conversation starters. "What's new?" is one of the most popular.

How we answer this question could change our life and the lives of others.  But instead we all tend to perpetuate an empty robotic exchange of nothingness. 

I know we are "busy" and short cuts and auto-responses expedite, streamline, and generally make our lives more efficient.

But what about the unintended consequences? What is lost in the these meaningless transactions?

A lot.

Everyday, we enter into many micro transactional conversations that involve these queries. Our brains are not engaged, we blurt out things in this short attention span edition of our ADDHD lives. 

So someone you know or don't know innocently and probably automatically says, "What's new?"

My unscientific survey reveals these most popular and ineffective answers:

  • Nothing
  • Not much
  • Keeping my head above water
  • Busy. Very busy
  • Same ole same ole
  • Nothing to complain about
  • Nada mucho, how about you?

You say you want conversations. You want want less "small talk" and more substance. And yet, your answers to this question often leads to a laughable script for the least substantive conversation possible.

What's new?

Nothing. Really busy.

Yeah me too. Nothing-to-say

Wow. Weird to be able to mouth the conversation as it happens, like a movie you have seen too many times. You know what the next line is so your interest and attention fall off.

Are you a network node that leads to other people, ideas and places or are you a predictable dead end street?

We have to stop these robotic meaningless, missed opportunities to connect! And it is not just the hollow responses. It is also the duty of the initiator to follow-up. A "nothing" response can't be accepted. The lack of sincerity and veracity have to be called on the carpet.

"Nothing!" And then you launch into a list of the things you have monitored and tracked because you are a master networker. You ask about their kids, their pets, their hobbies, their charities. You are following the updates of your network. And you know from FB, Linked-in, blog posts, and the media that--"Nothing" is simply not true.

So YOU ask about the new things that your colleague is too busy or lazy to mention, to resurrect their attention and the conversation.

Do you believe in the Law of Attraction?  You attract to yourself what you give your time, attention and words to---Negative or positive. 

So when you have nothing to say you attract nothing. 

So now change the setting to an interview.  Are your answers different? Of course.

How about when your boss' boss sees you in the elevator?

How about when you meet someone you do not know who will be your next boss?

How about to a head hunter? Or a prospective new client? 

The point is you may never know who you are talking to until you do. 

The challenge is your brain and your mouth get into bad habits. They start talking before you think.

Pause before you answer any question? Think then speak. Listen then respond. Awaken in the moment! 

Never say "nothing" or that "I'm busy". We are all busy!

Start by bragging or complaining? No way! Start with something positive.

Personal or professional? Yes! Talk about what is new that is on your mind. Work, your kids, your hobby, the book you are reading--anything and everything is available to mention.

I try to put myself in the mindset of an ambassador. How am I representing my country, my people? Who am I trying to help? How can I be authentic but also diplomatic? How can I assert my ideas without offending? How can I engage people in my work in a mutually beneficial way?

You can't win with just defense. Responding to all inquiries is good but what do you think? What will you assert or advance? Who are you trying to help--besides yourself?!

Your reputation is built on your impressions. Listen to yourself. How are you doing? 

I have always asked my external teams, my sales reps, my fundraisers--anyone who interacts with the public as part of their jobs--How do you answer the question: "What's new?"

This is a softball pitch, right down the middle. You have to be ready to hit it out of the park.

I coach my teams to use this wonderful question to discuss something that is personally exciting to them about our organization. Something that is new, fresh and interesting. Something they know about. Not the elvevator pitch. Not the company line, or that last press release necessarily. Their genuine energy and enthusiasm will be contagious.

Nothing is never interesting or engaging. Nothing is worse than boring. Nothing is a lie. Nothing is not even possible.

What's new? A great question that deserves an answer. A fantastic conversation starter. Let's not waste it.

Adopting a lifestyle of mentoring and networking requires us to be the ones who put a stop to these meaningless conversations and help others make something from nothing.

Thanks for reading. John


Suffering Indifference

Total humility comes from when you have nothing. When you are without your status, your stuff, and your pretentions, you are reduced to the real you. Not just being devoid of your material things. But when you have lost your self-confidence, your self-esteem, your hope for the future.  I know I protect myself with many trappings, devices, and artificial comforts. Some of you have been there and know the truth about this basic suffering. I can only imagine this scenario—which means I know really nothing about it. Most of us are fortunate to live far from this level of humility. Far from the bottom or middle of Maslow’s. We take for granted what we have need and want. As a result,  our ability to be compassionate---literally--with suffering—disappears. We are numb to what separates us from the real and genuine feelings of others—especially those in need.

Like me, I am sure you appreciate the opportunities you have been given and the good fortune that has smiled on us. We all know that a few fine twists in our storyline and things would be much different.

It is a brutal world filled with heartbreaking images and ideas. We have to cloak ourselves in emotional Teflon so that we can function, right?

Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike. - J.K. Rowling

So we become very adept at faking our emotions. We are skilled at pretending to care. Our compassion banks only can dispense so much otherwise we will be bankrupt. We have to use our emotional outlays sparingly—reserve it for the people close to us. Isn’t that right?

Some people say, "I know what you are going through?" “I can only imagine how you are feeling?" “I know what you mean.”

Not sure most people do. We mean well but we are not well meaning. We say these things in the transaction oriented speed of life. We do not have time to care. Few of us have the capacity to engage ourselves emotionally in every tragedy, every hardship, so we get very adroit at feigning sympathy, empathy, and compassion.

Zen Buddhist monks in training have a ritual called takahatsu. These young monks must beg for food on the street to learn their role, to understand who they are, and to learn humility.

So we build our defenses and protect ourselves. We even get uncomfortable when we and/or others show their emotions. We find it hard to look at people who are suffering. We avert our eyes when we see nameless homeless people. As if our eye contact will hurt us. We know in our hearts, that indifference will hurt us more. Blessings

I was struck by this blog by Optimus Outcast, an anonymous film exec who sat on a freeway onramp for a day—his takahatsu. Here is an excerpt from his observations:

Why is it so hard to make eye contact with someone in less fortunate circumstances? Why is it so scary just to look? We lock ourselves away in our fortresses with the openings sealed tight. A you-can-sleep-peacefully-at-night guarantee that the outer edges will be kept safely at bay. We will never be required to be uncomfortable. Our cars, our houses, our offices all offer these qualities. But, then if you think about, so does a coffin.

Maybe the scary part isn’t just to look. The scary part is to look and then look away.  A reminder that, in all of our professed capabilities, sometimes we are still helpless to change things. If we look away, is this our own cardboard sign that reads, “I have given up.”?

I am a born sucker. I take some pride that I have not lost all, but I have lost a lot, of my trust in strangers.  I give time and money to almost anyone. I have incredible and disastrous stories of my unsuccessful attempts to help others. I was regaling some colleagues about how I have been duped by panhandlers.  This resulted in a spirited discussion with a colleague who said, "There is no doubt what happens when you give a panhandler money. No doubt." She won't give panhandlers money because she is convinced that ALL panhandlers are addicts of some type. The money goes straight to drugs or alcohol.

I understand this logic. And I know that it is mostly true. But this logic becomes part of the thickness of our Teflon coating. We begin to make generalizations about “those people”. But don’t we need as much pathos as we do logos? I also believe that we cannot dismiss an entire group because of a theory, even a “factual theory”.  Because we are wrong too many times. I have seen and continue to seek out the people who have beat the odds. They renew my faith in the great potential of all people. The hundreds of death row inmates who have been exonerated through the Innocence Project. The countless kids from the ghetto who have succeeded in school and life. The online teacher I met who typed with her toes because she has no hands.

But how much effort should we expend to save the few? Remember the old story about saving the starfish? It does make a difference to the one.  StarfishBoy

Sometimes it is easier for us to give up on each other than a product. How many times has a product or service not lived up to the hype or advertising? I know. Yet we still buy. Maybe a bit more warily and carefully. But we buy.

How much of our humanity dies when we come to these conclusions that ALL of somebody is not good or able to be helped or have ulterior motives? 

We lose a little of ourselves every time we think and act this way.

We must have the ability to understand the suffering of both sides.  Thich Nhat Hanh

In my professional world of philanthropy, we talk about those who need our help. We rarely talk to those we want to help. It's crazy. Our ideas become so sterilized from reality. So intellectual. So safe from the truth. 

How do we renew our sense of reality by visiting the suffering we are trying to address or lessen? How do we truly get into the shoes of our colleagues, neighbors, brothers and sisters? How do we help our network by allowing ourselves to suffer with them---to have compassion? To listen, to learn and to love. To have the vulnerability and humility to know.

I write this not to preach but to confess. I write this not to inflict guilt but to remind. I write this to help me suffer with you.

Thanks for reading. John


The darkside of reciprocity

When I first got into the networking game and tried to define what I was doing and why--I was drawn to the research on reciprocity. That reciprocity and mutual obligation are the most powerful sources of influence in the world. I was very influenced by Robert Cialdini's body of work, his lectures and my conversations with him.

The idea that networking and later mentoring revolved around creating mutual obligation. In fact I used to tell a long and very popular story about how we do favors for others--favors we don't want to do, but we don't know how to say "no".  When you are thanked for a favor you did not want to do, I counseled people to say, "I know you would do the same for me." And like you did the favor against your better instincts, the person who received your generosity will unwittingly say how they "owe" you. This gimmick "proved" our inner desire to help one another. That's what I thought and that's what I taught.

Expectations are the ruination of the individual.  Tomi D. Kobara

Iou

What I have learned since is that auto-reciprocity syndrome (I made this up), the robotic, sub-conscious process of responding to one another and owing one another is not a reflection of our true selves. 

The idea of expecting a return for our generosity is the darkside of reciprocity. That giving that is conditional, is really not giving. Once you plant the seed of obligation, the main growth comes through your selfishness. 

This conclusion generates all sorts of questions:

  • Giving for the tax deduction?
  • Giving for recognition?
  • Giving for personal gain?
  • Giving to create obligation?

Not saying that these forms of gifts are not good or needed. I think we would all admit that unconditional giving is different. Is any giving unconditional?

Yes! I have seen it. People who give freely and quickly. You have witnessed it too. Now do these people give to feel good and to feel good about themselves--isn't that a selfish need?

I am not counting this as reciprocity.

I love Steven Levine's distinctions about three types of giving. 

  • Beggarly Giving:  When we give with only one hand, still holding onto what we give.  In this kind of giving we give the least of what we have and afterward wonder whether we should have given at all.
  • Friendly Giving:  When we give openhandedly.  We take what we have and share it, because it seems appropriate.  It's a clear giving.
  • Kingly Giving: That's when we give the best of what we have, even if none remains for ourself.  We give the best we have instinctively with graciousness.  We think of ourselves only as temporary caretakers of whatever has been provided, as owning nothing.  

Are you a beggarly, friendly or kingly networker?

I mentally and intellectually made this shift from reciprocity in my giving awhile ago. I truly try to give unconditionally especially in my networking and mentoring. I have found it is so much less complicated when you don't keep score. Give first, give often, give without expectation. That is my goal.

Like everything in life the more often you do it the easier it becomes. 

Some people say give first and then get. I am going much further here. Just Give. Give because it reflects who we are and what we want to be. Give because it makes us feel good. Give anonymously. Give because we care. 

So in networking and mentoring, you give time, connections, and knowledge unconditionally. Generosity

I know I am not the only one who is thinking this way. I know that each of you is giving a lot of yourselves. And I truly appreciate how generous you are with your time and your resources. I am writing this as a confession about what I have learned about networking and mentoring over these decades. I am writing to remind me and anyone else that the greatest ROI is to the preservation of your authentic self. Becoming a "kingly" giver and networker is our goal.

People who view life as a zero sum game, they believe that every gift must be replaced. That every commitment generates a commitment. This is pure reciprocity.

Generosity is unlimited. You always have something to give. You have more to give.

I have had the great pleasure to hear Muhammad Yunus speak and he reminds me of this goal. He speaks in absolutes and I think purely about what we need to do as fellow human beings. His mission in life is "When poverty is in the museum". I love the vision of visiting a museum in the future with a comprehensive display on poverty! But he also talks about social business. Business that has no profit and gives its returns to the community and the customers. He was asked why a business that limits its profits would not qualify as a social business. He said, "When you get 1% in profits, it is human nature to try and make it 2%. Not having profits you focus 100% on the business of helping people." 

Likewise, when you think about what you get first or what you are owed, you put yourself before the gift. It compromises your generosity, your networking and your mentoring. 

How can we all give more freely because we are merely temporary custodians of possessions, connections and knowledge?

Life is not about trades and transactions. Not about IOUs. I have traded reciprocity for generosity.

Life is about being the best you can be and helping others be the same.

Thanks for reading. John

 


Ground Truth and Economic Diversity

Reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with it.  ― Jane Wagner

I have learned the hard way that the further you get from, what a colleague of mine calls "ground truth", the less capable you are to make decisions that are relevant and meaningful. This is pretty intuitive. Yet all of us consciously and unconsciously remove ourselves from the "ground" of our businesses, our neighborhoods and our communities. The consequences present us as individuals and our society with serious challenges. 

And among all of the disconnects from ground truth, money and success can separate us from reality more than anything else. The more money we make and can remove us from the worlds of needs and realities of the people and families "below" us. We tend to reside in a band of commonality that surrounds us with people more like us than not. Again, not driven by conscious choices, but by the centrifugal forces of life. Our economic profile will largely determine where we go to school, where we live, who we meet, who are friends become, and shape the worldview of our kids.  Velvet rope

Michael Sandel  in his book, What Money Can't Buy, discusses how these centrifugal forces are powered. Sandel says, "Democracy does not require perfect equality, but it does require that citizens share a common lifeWhat matters is that people of different backgrounds and social positions encounter one another, and bump up against one another, in the course of ordinary life." But what he calls the "skyboxification" of our lives is minimizing if not eliminating the chances people of very different economic means interact. If you can afford it, you don't stand in lines any more or have a special line based on your customer status or premium payment. Fast passes at Disneyland. exclusive floors at hotels, American Express ticket perks...... This is becoming the exception rather than the rule.

I wrote a piece for LA Magazine online a few years ago about the Brentwood Triangle. About the bubbles we live in the protect us from seeing and experiencing the needs in our communities. 

Our ability to govern, to solve problems, meet customer needs, and run successful organizations is increasingly dependent in understanding the totality of our society--from top to bottom. Nearly impossible to do anything relevant from an ivory tower or a Brentwood Triangle.

How Diverse Is Your Network?

Well established that people with more open minds and with networks with more diverse perspectives live longer--up to 9 years! Maybe the most important attribute to diversity is economic. Clearly people with very different net worths and income have different realities. The collision of these realities is where truth emerges.

Ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation and religion can provide different perspectives. However, I believe economic diversity is the most potent and the most insightful of perspectives. Why do universities spend so much money on financial aid? Because they believe that diversity and especially economic diversity is essential for a complete education. Education happens in the hallways and corridors of life. Who you meet, disagree with, compare life experiences with, matters at school and for the rest of our lives.

But we intentionally and unintentionally limit or eliminate diversity. The "best" neighborhoods, schools are rarely  chosen for their economic diversity. Hanging out with, living near people "below" our standard of living is perceived by many as unimportant and to others dangerous. Generally, it is not a priority. 

Therefore you have to make efforts and take conscious steps to stay in touch. You have to build and nurture a diverse network. It rarely just happens. In fact the opposite is more true. We keep and maintain networks even when they are ineffective and unfulfilling. Habits are hard to break. 

Evaluating and constructing your network is neither an "affirmative action" process or akin to the selection of Noah's ark passengers. You gravitate to people through your worlds of contacts and don't reject people who "don't make as much as you." People's economic status in life should not exclude them from your network---People you meet through your kids, at church, at work, on the golf course, and through others. 

I can hear some you getting defensive. I don't doubt your compassion or your intention to be open to meet and embrace others. But take a hard look at your network, your neighbors, your kids' closest friends, and your own close friends. How diverse is it? Economically? How insulated are you from reality? Is it good, good enough? 

I remember when my aunt told me about when she pulled her kids out of an exclusive private school with great academics and little ethnic and economic diversity. Like all middle class parents they made sacrifices to provide the best for their mixed race children. In the sixth grade, my cousins were asked repeatedly about their "stock portfolios." No one in their family had equity investments! But at this school it was part of the casual playground conversation. Then my cousins came home singing, "Ching Chong Chinaman!" They never heard what they thought was a catchy song before and did not know it was directed at them. They left that school and my uncle and aunt got more involved in the selection of the next school choice.

Your network reflects you, where you are and where you are going. Stay grounded to the truth.

Thanks for reading. John


Standing for the silent

If we don't stand for something we will fall for anything. anonymous

It's interesting to consider for whom and for what we stand! I meet people who can't answer this question. But we ALL stand for others whether we like or know it. Our ancestors, our families, our heritage, our organizations. Our brands, our trajectories, our futures and our destinies are grounded in the histories and values of the past. All of us have silent partners, silent beneficiaries, silent supporters, and silent investors. But do we remember and represent them?

I was reminded of new and different silent groups who we benignly ignore or forget. People who we know about but don't understand. In our defense, there are just too many "less fortunate" and "victims", and "people in need." It overloads our capacity for emotions and empathy. And frankly, exceeds our guilt bandwidth.

I met the silent this week. People who literally can not speak and or advocate for themselves. People who need help or their memory triggers our human desire to help.

I visited an extraordinary special education school called College View Elementary. It is a comprehensive treatment program for 4 to 22 year olds who cope with and live through serious physical and mental challenges. When we think of special education, we might think about a student with learning disabilities, possibly autism, or a physical impairment who are being mainstreamed. The vast majority of these students can not communicate verbally and most will never be mainstreamed. They were and are silent, and very much alive. Young people trapped in a bodies and minds that restricts their ability to express themselves. The parents of these students, the staff of the school, and their community of friends have to stand for the silent everyday.

Then I met a couple of orphans from the Japanese tsunami. 2000 children and young people lost at least one parent on 3.11.11. One of the young people described his new commitment to become a search and rescue team member to help find people in the sea that took his dad. He will be standing for the silent.

Lastly, I went to an inner city elementary school and saw a presentation made by Kyle Smalley. It was one of the most powerful presentations I have ever seen. It began with 7 students standing behind enlarged photos of 7 smiling youth. Each student read a brief story of bullying where the young person in the photo was driven to suicide. Kyle then mesmerized and engaged the several hundred 8-12 year-olds in the audience with his authenticity and his folksy style. He told the heart breaking story about his 11 year old son Ty, who was bullied for two years. Ty could not take it anymore and retaliated and was suspended from school. His mother Laura took Ty home that day and Ty tragically took his life that afternoon.

With the help of friends they formed Stand for the Silent. Kyle and Laura have devoted their lives to Stand for the Silent in memory of their son Ty and to make sure that "no other babies suffer Ty's fate." Stand for the Silent aims to help us respect one another, to love one another, and to stand up and make a difference for those that have been silenced.

A new documentary film which comes out later this month, Bully, features the Smalleys and their work. SFTS PledgeSee it! It will move you to act and to act differently.

All of us stand for the silent, either wittingly or unwittingly. The "silent" are the vulnerable  without voices to advocate for themselves. The silent are those we have lost who inspire our work and our dreams. The silent are those we represent on a daily basis in the values we embrace and the good we attempt to do. If we don't stand for them, who does?

All that is needed for the forces of evil to succeed is for enough good people to remain silent. (inspired by Edmund Burke)

Standing for the silent also means we can not remain silent. We tolerate too much bigotry, prejudice, hazing, hatred, bullying and mean-spiritedness. Not talking about political correctness. Nobody means to hurt another, except the socio-pathic. But we each see, hear and witness things that need to be stopped--where a teaching moment can possibly save a life. We can not remain silent if we are going to live our values. Easy to say, but necessary to assert.

What silence will we break to advocate for another?

Which silent will we stand for?

Let's all take the pledge to help one another. To keep the silent populations who need us in our hearts, our minds and in our daily work. To stand and speak for the silent.

Thanks for reading. John


Wonder, Wander and Speak to your Dream

Had the opportunity to hear Eric Saperston speak the other day. He was a breath of fresh and inspiring air. He is a free spirit who went on a quest to discover the secret of success. All of this was the focus of a documentary film call The Journey. Eric is such a cool and down to earth guy who walks the talk.

 

He literally followed this Chinese proverb:

To know the road ahead ask those coming back.

Here's the essence I gleaned from his talk.

  1. Live a Life of Wonder---Seek experiences, people that test your limits that make you think, that define your dreams. Live in awe by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Find and then pursue the "what" you want to do.
  2. Live an Open Life---Do you have the courage and confidence to ask for help? To know when you don't know and seek assistance. Eric says too many people think they can "fake it til the make it." He met John Portman, a famous architect, on his journey. Mr Portman said, "An open life is yours if you have the courage to ask for help."
  3. Speak your Possibility---Clearly articulate the "what". Your dream, your goals, your aspirations. Talk about what you want and engage others in your quest. Ask for help, advice, for role models. Tell your story and where it is going.

Succinct and relevant words to live by. Can't be successful doing just one or two of these. You need all three.

Eric learned and confirmed that total strangers would share with you great truths. The fact is many people will share their truths with you--if you ask. I remember when I shared the stage with Jack Canter of Chicken Soup fame. He discussed the lessons he learned from pro-athletes, movie stars, and famous leaders. Yes, well-known persons have very compelling points of view. But I argued that day that the "average" people I knew had equally if not more powerful words of wisdom. That the people you interact with on a daily basis are the real stars and will give you more value and mentorship than a far away icon. As a society, we place too much value on celebrity, but I digress...

The people you know or have access to have amazing insights and secrets they would love to share with you if they had the opportunity. They can help you understand how to get you on a path that has more fulfillment, reward and meaning. Find them.

Once you realize what you don't know, you seek help. And if you ask for help, you will learn, progress, and get closer to your goals. But you gotta ask.

Most people say they are team players and that they collaborate well. But most do not know how to engage others to learn. Knowing who to ask, I have found is the biggest key to success and effective leadership. The old Jersey joke, "I know a guy who knows a guy....." Find people who know what you don't know.

Driven by wonder, you wander. You look for advice and answers and encounter the awe. And because you live an open life, your journey to seek help gets shifts and changes. And you can arrive at destinations you never planned.

We adopt a lifestyle of mentoring and networking and "speak our possibility," and seek the possibilities of others. We encounter others on our journey that we help and they help us. This is a life that defines the dream.

Thanks for reading. John

 


Innocence of the Bystander

Witnesses to tragedies, crimes, and unethical behavior are never innocent. They are changed by what they see even if they avert their eyes, minds, and consciences. Seeing and hearing bad things alters you, especially if you don't do something to stop, mitigate or report the event or behavior. Each time we "allow" something to pass as acceptable when we are offended, makes us a little more tolerant of such things. Over time a little callous can start to build up on our heart and our moral compass and we let more things pass without intervention. Initially we ask ourselves, "Should I have done something?"  or "What else could I have done?" Later, we can rationalize, "Maybe its me." "I don't want to be the only one who complains." Innocent bystander


Psychologists have tried to explain this phenomena:

1. The diffusion of responsibility: a bystander assumes that someone else has or will take action.
2. Pluralistic Ignorance: an individual looks around the group and because no one is doing anything to help, they assume that no one else perceives there to be an issue

In other words, "someone ELSE will or should do something."

"If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other."  Mother Teresa

The Penn State allegations remind us all about our duties as a bystander. No one has been found guilty but heads are rolling. People allegedly saw horrific things and nothing was done. Children may have been seriously harmed. (the average pedophile molests 100-200 children, so the 8 victims may be the tip of the iceberg) An entire community will suffer and a university will be tarnished for years because of the inaction of a few. All in the name of football. Schoolroom teachers and medical personnel are obligated to report abuse if the suspect it. Military academies and other educational institutions uphold a code of ethics where if you witness cheating, you are a cheater--unless you come forward. We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does. And not coming forward can be grounds for dismissal. But coaches, executives, priests, and others can view themselves as above the law.

Selfishness and self preservation prevent us from taking chances, from making changes, and from ruffling feathers/rocking the boat. When we place ourselves above the welfare of others, that's when the conflict occurs. It is a survival instinct. However, when that instinct interferes with the rationalization of crimes, especially crimes that physically harm others--children--all innocence is lost!

What would it take for you to step in and get involved? What level of harm, potential harm, suspected harm will make you act?

Tattle tales, snitches, stool pigeons have always been vilified. Upholding the honor amongst thieves seems to be a powerful moral prophylactic. But this is not about just whistle blowing, this about how we act upon our human instinct to assist an other.

As Americans we think that we are the most generous people on earth. We are quick to judge other cultures, China most recently, who appear less sensitive or even do things we find violating our sense of decency. Regrettably, we Americans do not have a corner on the market of "Thy Neighbor's Keeper." While we invented Neighborhood Watch, the Welcome Wagon and even foundation philanthropy, Penn State is an example that we are not always responsive or respectful of the needs of others.

I love these Liberty Mutual ads. The idea that we should help strangers. That helping others is contagious and sets off a chain reaction of good deeds. One thing is certain, when you see good being done it creates a model of behavior. Everyone wants to help others. Seeing is believing. That is the power of role modeling and mentoring.

After the children who may have been injured, the assasination of the moral example and leadership of Penn State coaches and executives may be the second biggest victim on the Happy Valley campus. When leaders and mentors fall from grace, who or what fills that void? Communities of all sizes and shapes thrive when they have mentors and role models. In Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point, he discusses the studies that have shown that a community stabilizes when it has 5% of its population as role models. Just 5%. The point is, you don't need nor will you ever have everyone as role models. But without them the community de-stabilizes and deteriorates. What happens when some of our top role models fall from grace? Will this void increase or decrease people's desire to help one another and get involved to right wrongs?  

Everyday we are bystanders to the good, the bad, and the ugly. Our innocence will be determined by what we do and how we role model the treatment of others by standing up for what is right and just.

Thanks for reading. John


Connecting the Dots

Steve Jobs lived a life of great trials and tribulations, great victories and achievements.

He pursued his passions and his curiosities, not because it was part of a plan. Because it fascinated him. He found work he loved which he never considered work. He met people, had ideas, and pursued thoughts, not in an effort to reach a goal. He connected dots that made sense only in hindsight.Dots

Here's what he said: "You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life."

  

Even if you have watched this before, watch it again! It is so inspirational particularly that we have lost him.

Steve Jobs has been likened to Thomas Edison, but I have always thought of him as a combination of Bill Gates and Steven Spielberg. He was no angel, few geniuses are. But a true visionary. Never had the opportunity to meet him but like most of us I admired his insatiable creativity and pursuit of excellence.

Think for a second that his seemingly innocuous logo symbol –Apple with a bite missing—is the forbidden fruit. He always pushed himself beyond the garden of eden. After all one of his daughters was named Eve!

His story is an American fairy tale of the emergence of greatness from humble and “average” beginnings. Those of us who have been around lots of kids, if you look carefully, you can see the genius in each one of them. The genius of uniqueness and of their unfettered spirit of the possibilities. The DNA cocktail is powerful and if it is allowed to take root and grow, amazing happens. But all too often we try to conform and guide our kids to follow a formula, often the parents vicarious recipe, for success. We want the kids to fit in. Yet we simultaneously hold a contradictory thought---we believe each individual is unique and special. Why then do we try and smooth out all of the wrinkles, remove all of the weird, and push and pull our young ones into a regimented line?

I contend we lose a Steve Jobs like kid everyday to our well intentioned desire to make all of the unique birds fly in formation.

I am an addict for vision. For the people who can lift their sights from their footsteps, up to the horizon and beyond. It is not that I do not value the past or the present, but I have long understood that being satisfied with the status quo is foolhardy. That life is an endless journey about improving our lot and the lots of those that follow. In that vein, people who are restless and unsettled about the current world, yearn for the next iterations. Steve Jobs was relentless and never satisfied—that’s the way visionaries are.

We each have visions for our future, for our families future and for our sociiety. We need those visions.

One of his greatest lessons is his view of life as connecting dots. Life is the pursuit of things and people that fascinate you, that capture your imagination, that drive your curiosity and passion--with no guarantees. These are the dots that you should connect. But instead of myopically accumulating dots with a plan. Like a bad scavenger hunt, you collect interesting dots that connect you to new ideas about yourself and the possibilities.

If you can not make sense of the people and experiences you encounter except through hindsight, then how do you know if you are doing it “right”? A better question is, how can you reject the opportunity to meet someone or to experience something if you won’t know the value until later?

Actually that is what this little blog is about. Trusting yourself to take chances and to make leaps of faith. A lifestyle of connections not driven by selfish needs but a lifestyle of making connections to help people and to discover the world. A world that will teach us about ourselves by trusting our guts and our hearts to become the best of who we were meant to be.

Thanks for reading. John

 


The Small World of Trash Talking

Thanks for sharing your small world stories. All of us are witnessing how we are interconnected to one another. Basically, if we make the effort then we will discover  connections that we share with people we just met or people we get to know better.

If you play basketball or any competitive sport, then you are familiar with "trash talking." It is the banter that happens during the competition to unnerve your opponent. It runs the gamut from irritating to plain rude to profane. The classic is uttered right when you are going to shoot the ball, your defender yells and taunts you, "WHAT YOU GOT?! "YOU GOT NOTHING!" I have played basketball off and on for 40 years. I have stories of great shots, broken noses, and memorable verbal exchanges--some of them just too obscene to print here!Kobe_kg_trash_talk-150x150

One early morning I was going to my regular pick up game at UCLA's venerable Men's Gym upstairs courts upstairs. Bunch of has beens, athletic department weekend warriors, a few coaches, and an occasional former player would join us. Ususally we would start with the first 8-10 guys who showed up, pick teams and start playing. It was a civil game that could get physical with plenty of verbal exchanges. One morning seven of us we were warming up shooting and stretching waiting for the next player to start our game. There was this young Latino kid shooting across the way, struggling to dribble and shoot. He was using a rubber ball that had Union 76 emblazoned on it. He was not a serious player nor familiar to us so we ignored him. A few minutes passed and we were still looking for the eighth fman so we could go full court instead of 3 on 3 half court. One of my court colleagues, a feisty and chatty African American Muslim named Mandala, pokes me on the shoulder and sticks his face into mine and mockingly says, "Hey why don't you ask your Cuz'n to play!" as he points to the rubber ball boy across the gym. "Then we will have 8! Yeah ask your Cuz'n!" Several others laughed and looked at me for a response. "That's not my cousin, I don't know him", I meekly replied. A bunch of them pointed at the young Latino brother in the other corner who had missed several layups in a row. So I called over to him and asked if he wanted to join us. He nodded and clumsily bounced his promotional excuse for a basketball toward us but we had enough for a game. Basketball%2076%20ball%20large  

I introduced myself to the newcomer, his name was David, but he pronounced it Daveed with what appeared to be a Mexican accent. We started playing and Mandala on more than one occasion said,"How's your Cuz'n?!!" David started to get his game together and was a bit better than any of us expected. 10 minutes into the game David tripped and twisted his ankle and had to sit out. I asked if he was okay but he said he was done for the day and would watch. A few were waiting for the next game by now and we continued on. David watched on the sidelines until the very end. I walked by David to pick up my towel and sweatshirt. David stood up and limped over to me and said, "You don't remember me, do you?" I hate that question because it puts me in a defensive position. "Do I know you?" David nodded and said we met at our family reunion 8 years earlier! Then my mind was awash with memories of the 80 family members and their children who had gathered for the first time in Santa Cruz. I did remember a David Baldonado and his little brother and sisters. One of my cousins through marriage married a Latino man and I noticed these beautiful mixed Japanese Mexican youths--one of whom was apprarently David when he was 13.

I shook David's hand, we embraced and we promised to get together.

I went into the lockerroom and my head was swirling with this odd moment of reconnecting with a distant relative like this.

Then I spotted Mandala and I said, "Hey, he is my cousin!" Mandala yelled back, "I told you! I WAS TRYING TO TELL YOU HE WAS YOUR CUZ"N!" We laughed. Mandala knew all along David was my real cousin.

You just never know when you might run into a cousin. Or when trash talk really is a serious conversation. :) The world is tiny and getting smaller. No matter if you believe we started in the Garden of Eden or evolved from a place in Africa. We are all related. We are all "cousins". (geneticists believe we are least 50th cousins) Even my trash talking friend Mandala and I are cousins. :) If you add that we are 3-6 degrees apart, the world is not only small it is US. What would the world be like if we all started as "cousins" and learned about our commonalities and our connections? That is the power of WE.

Thanks for reading. John

 


The world shrinks if you don't

How many meetings do you attend and later think about the question you did not ask? Do you attend events or social outings where you avoided meeting people who you share a warm and common connection? When is the last time you reached out to "friends",  acquaintances, or your boss's boss without a request or an agenda?

We are all so busy. Sometimes inattentive to the people and opportunities around us. Each of us experiences these small world moments. Moments when we discover a connection between people we meet that surprises us. These moments arise when we pay attention, when we listen, and when we get to know each other beyond our superficial and often selfish interests.

 So are these moments luck or fate?Small world

Neither. We are connected to each other in ways that we will never know without making an effort to have a conversation that wanders, explores and learns about one another.

You probably have heard of Moore's Law--which essentially states that computing power/speed doubles every 2 years. This has been true for more than 46 years since Gordon Moore, founder of Intel, made this prediction in 1965.

I believe that our interconnectedness, our degrees of separation, or the smallness of the world, if you will, is also increasing at exponential rates. Much has been studied and written about our connections. In the late 60's Stanley Milgram conducted legendary experiments that remain the foundation of the theory of six degrees of separation--the idea that every person on the planet is no more than 6 people apart. Other research from the 70's, showed that Americans were 3 degrees apart. This was all before the internet, email, cell phones and of course social networks. We are so much more connected. I think in the last 5 years, we have doubled our interconnectedness. So what does that make people in the US--1.5 degrees of separation?!! So the world IS getting smaller.

One of the things I like about Linked-in is the way that you see how you are connected to people, the levels of the connections and the proximity of the relationship. It facilitates ways to check up on people and to request introductions. You can quickly see the people who are well connected and those who are not. Of course sheer numbers do not tell the complete story, as much as the quality of the people in it.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his seminal book, The Tipping Point about the Law of the Few. That a small group of people are better Connectors who have a much stronger ability to develop and maintain relationships. The Connectors are network hubs and can accelerate connections.

How many Connectors do you know?

Every time I make the extra effort, it always pays off. One of the most amusing moments happened a couple of weeks ago. I was at a large meeting of my national foundation colleagues and I took note of several I wanted to meet to compare notes. I saw an open seat next to one of them at dinner and introduced myself. His name was Sean from Chicago and about 25 years my junior. So there were no apparent connections. I resisted talking too much or grilling him like an aspiring 60 Minutes reporter. Instead I asked, "What are you working on now?" He launched into an energetic and engaging description of his work on a new strategic plan. That's when we had our "small world" moment. He mentioned one of my closest friends Nat Irvin, who lives in Louisville Kentucky, as a great source of "out-of-the box" ideas. My eyes opened up wide and I realized that Nat's assistant emailed the day before to introduce me to Sean. I agreed to be connected to Sean. Early this morning I received an e-mail from my dinner mate to schedule a long distant conference call. Clearly, he had not put 2 and 2 together either! I looked at him with a smile, "You e-mailed me this morning!" He looked at me with real surprise and he blurted out, "Who are you?!!" It was so funny. Nat referred him to me to also assist with his strategic planning. That morning we were planning an inconvenient telephone call, and now we were having a robust face to face meeting. Now thats a small world.

As I have said, you don't know who you are sitting next to.

We all have these stories. I am telling you they are not luck or coincidence. The world is small and shrinking. The world will remain a daunting, vast and mysterious place, unless we look for, listen for, and reveal the amazing connections we share.

Thanks for reading. John


Seeing "Invisible" Networks through Inclusivity

All of us think we are open minded, free of prejudice, and sensitive to differences. We also know that trying to uphold these values is a struggle. Often our sensitivity and compassion are limited by what we know and see. Our eyes can be opened to new dimensions, attributes, and new understandings by a shift in perspective that reveals new truths.

I have given a number of talks about diversity and networking in Canada. Canadians talk about "visible minorities", a more politically correct colored people. Diversity is very different in Canada for obvious and not so obvious historical reasons. Nevertheless, they differentiate between the visible and the invisible.

Invisible man I remember when I was working at UCLA and was responsible for recruiting its top undergrad scholars. We formed this UCLA Ambassador group as the creme de la creme to represent UCLA and recruit more scholars. The Ambassadors were presented to a very diverse group of leaders and a prominent African American leader expressed her disappointment at the lack of diversity of this student group. We had the Ambassadors introduce themselves and the audience was treated to a United Nations set of multi-racial, religious, immigrant, sexual preference, and economically diverse biographies that made everyone proud. Diversity is not visible and is most often not skin deep. Often we only talk and think about the visible. Many populations are invisible to the naked eye. Populations with wonderful histories, unmet needs, and under represented potential.

This week my perspective of my fellow humankind was forever changed. This shift tested my comfort and sense of how inclusive I am. How open minded I am. How accepting I am of differences. I saw something right in front of me for the first time.

I had the great fortune of attending an intimate meeting with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. Been around a lot of leader types over my varied career. Admiral Mullen is one of the most genuine, compassionate, and competent leaders I have ever encountered. He speaks from the heart, he listens, and he discloses his weaknesses. Pretty amazing for a command and control 4 star general!Mullen

His focus was on the fate of the veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 2,000,000 men and women have been deployed to these wars and their return back to civilian life has been very rough. A few facts that made me think and view things differently:

  1. 25% have traumatic brain injuries(tbi)
  2. 25% have post traumatic stress disorder(ptsd)
  3. Homelessness is 4x bigger, 4x faster, and 4x more severe than Vietnam Vets

He discussed in great detail the challenges that the government has had to make sure that returning soldiers have a successful transition into civilian life. He admitted that these two systems are separate bureaucracies that are not well coordinated. The system has many holes and many soldiers and their families fall through those gaps and the consequences can be brutal. Admiral Mullen is on a tour of the country to raise the visibility of the needs of veterans and the role of local communities to provide assistance. He admitted that government could not do it alone. He asserted that local communities will be an important third component.

There are many organizations that support veterans, and he is grateful for the groups that recognize veterans and put on parades, but he wants to help grow and invest in organizations that are involved in the long term treatment and education of veterans.

During the meeting, many examples where veterans are not being included in the services, programs, and outreach for homeless, mentally ill, substance abuse etc. Veterans are not turned away, but they are not being included or recruited.

Hopefully your perspective may shift a bit and when you encounter a vet or a family, engage them and if they need help, guide them. Here is a couple of great resources for veterans and their families:

Warrior Gateway

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

Inclusion is not a passive act, It is a proactive act. Inclusion is not just an open door or an open mind. It is a process of engaging and understanding. It is building bridges. Inclusion requires awareness, education, and targeted approaches. After listening to Admiral Mullen I realized that serving veterans would require this mindset. That serving veterans and their families will require great intention and effort. That veterans are not a "visible minority" they are hidden and not easily identified. Veterans, like immigrants, or the undocumented, or other groups need encouragement and doors opened. They need sensitive and proactive processes.

For example, I am going to pursue adding the population of veterans and their families as a evaluation criterion for the grants my employer the California Community Foundation makes. Just adding those words and a little help in understanding why, will shift the perspectives and outreach of all of our grantees.

When we realize that all members of our communities are connected and that our fates are tied together. We support diversity, by understanding differences, by actively reaching out to learn about and include visible and invisible peoples, including out veterans. Then will we be more inclusive.

Thanks for reading. John


The amazing networks of strangers

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. 
Margaret Mead 

First a shout out to my friends and colleagues of APEX, the premiere Asian American professional networking group here in SoCal. APEX celebrated its sweet 16 birthday last night. For the last two years, APEX has been under the fantastic leadership of Hogan Lee who has taken founder Stephen Liu's vision to new heights. There are many things I like about APEX. I have watched it grow and mature. Today it enables thousands of youngish Asian Americans (I am too old :) and new immigrant Asians to develop their confidence through mentoring, networking, leadership and service. 

Topbar_apexlogo

 Apex has grown well beyond the typical networking and mingling orgs that connect young people for business and pleasure and evolved into a formidable community resource for new leaders. I have always advised joining organizations that have purpose and meaning to network v.s. joining a networking org that has no other purpose.  Some people are still critical of ethnic oriented groups because they segregate. What those critics don't understand is groups, especially immigrant and under-represented groups, need to build bridges of commonality to integrate the tremendous ambitions and talents of the very diverse Asian American community into the greater society. To be honest we need more APEX-like orgs. Congrats to Hogan and his leadership team for their accomplishments. 

This last week I was reminded of the power of strangers networking. Previously unconnected people coming together for a common purpose, driven by self interest resulting in collective benefit. Howard Rheingold said in his book , "Smart mobs emerge when communication and computing technologies amplify human talents for cooperation."  

Group idea

James Surowieki in his book the Wisdom of Crowds asserted how valuable the informed perspectives of the many are to see the whole and to derive more effective solutions. 

Open source organizations have led the way using smart mobs and wise crowds for many years. Open source, some say open architecture, allows for contributions and improvements to come from diverse peer-based sources v.s. a closed controlled and hierarchical system. You have undoubtedly heard of or used many open source products/services. WikipediaFirefox, and Moodle come to mind. Linux pioneered open source development where volunteers and peers update and improve the software or service driven by their own professional development AND contributing to the common good. Most often these products and services are free to use as well. 

Beyond open source, there are numerous examples where smart crowds are gathering. I just joined Groupon. (a commercial enterprise) Have you seen this? Bulk buying with strangers. A deal is offered in your home city (24 now) and a minimum number of purchasers to get the deal is announced. The deal is not good until that number is reached within a set time. Sort of an eBay bid for a Buy it Now with a minimum number of buyers. Brilliant. 

One of the hottest trends in philanthropy are giving circles.  Giving circles are groups of like minded people who gather offline and online to use the wisdom of the group to find worthy recipients of their collective charity. Smaller groups are more enjoyable and more effective.Today giving circles account for $100mm of gifts annually.

J0439587

J0439587

I have been a huge fan of Donorschoose.org. They have led the way in making small project donations delightful and easy. Donorchoose enables tens of thousands of teachers (250,000 so far) to post their requests for supplies, special class projects, and field trips. A donor can contribute as little as $1. Here's the great part: Donorchoose receives the donations, delivers the purchases, including the field trips to the teachers AND thanks the donors. If you give $100 or more your get a report on how the donation was used and the impact it had. What has been a pleasant surprise is that donors are not just geographically focused, but also funding ideas and subjects across the nation. For example, donors who love Shakespeare, search and fund those projects locally and across the country. Donorschoose calls it Citizen Philanthropy and they have set a standard that all fundraising orgs should follow.

J0382995

Patientslikeme
 is another incredible site where you can connect with other people and their networks who have similar medical challenges. And get the benefit of wise and smart crowds.

I have learned how to rely on strangers on the net, I am trying to translate that to my face-to-face life! How much wiser would we be? How much smarter would our decisions be?-- if we would work and think together in an open source way. 

Thanks for reading. John