Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Newfoundland–Problem Solving and Accepting Basic Realities

Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced. - Soren Kierkegaard

Fortune falls heavily on those for whom she's unexpected. The one always on the lookout easily endures. - Seneca

When my grandfather was alive, he was once asked by a local merchant to build a chimney for him.  The local merchant had a reputation for ripping people off and many people warned my grandfather that if he built the chimney, the merchant would likely find a way to not pay him.

Undeterred, my grandfather built the chimney but when the merchant inspected the work, he created reasons why he wouldn’t pay for my grandfather’s efforts..

When the merchant lit his first fire in the fireplace, the smoke, instead of rising up the chimney, billowed back into the room.  A visual inspection of the chimney revealed nothing obvious that would cause this and the merchant called upon my grandfather to fix the defective chimney.

“Pay me first”, insisted my grandfather, “And I will fix it.”

The merchant reluctantly paid for the chimney, my grandfather climbed up onto the roof and dropped a large beach rock down the flue, breaking the pane of glass he had strategically placed across the chimney about half way down.

Some years later ….

One day when I was young, my uncle’s car battery had died and needed a boost.  My father and my uncle had a single piece of wire (not a set of boosting cables) but as his father before him, my father was not without a solution.

They connected the positive terminals of my uncle’s car and my father’s, pushed the bumpers of the two cars together (they were chrome in those days) and the dead battery was brought back to Life.

How did this work?  Because my father knew that the two vehicles were negatively grounded to the chassis (as they are now) and that pushing the two electricity-conducting chrome bumpers together would provide enough of a connection to accomplish the desired effect of boosting the dead battery.

Two hard-working, honest men, my father and my grandfather, who looked at the problem at-hand, accepted the realities of the situation and then solved the problem in classic, creative Newfoundlander style (Bell Islander style, to be precise).

I try to bring the same level of pragmatic, evidence-based, reality-accepting, problem-solving approach to everything I do.

And that’s why when I look at the current situation of my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador, I wonder whether any kind of hope is warranted.

The evidence at first blush says no.  Running massive deficits year-over-year is not a recipe for success and difficult decisions, always punishing one or more groups, are often “talked around” during election time since bad news doesn’t buy votes.

Providing schools to a sparse population spread around the coastline of the 11th largest island in the world seems impossible to do well.  With little money spread over a large area, it not only diminishes equal accessibility of education but potentially the quality of it as compared to other jurisdictions.

Maintaining infrastructure in an environment with so many harsh elements and long distances to cover seems as hope-filled as the dog who hopes to catch its tail.

With the Province at or near the top in nasty health statistics such as heart attack, stroke and diabetes rates, the healthcare system is also strained since, like education, it is difficult to offer high quality services to a few people spread across such a large area.

On top of that, layer on one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, diminished revenue from its primary source of revenue (oil) and have one of the smallest tax bases in the country demand the same level of services as found anywhere in the country and you have a problem.

And that’s just for starters.

Such things are exacerbated by the complexities that politicians and bureaucrats bring to the situation.

Politicians and bureaucrats, typical of any human being, bring a mix of intention and competence to their role.

They range from the intelligent to the idiot …

.... from the public-serving to the self-serving ….

.... from the servant leader to the purely selfish ….

.... from the informed to the misinformed to the uninformed ….

.... from the innocent to the conniving ….

.... from the strategic to the hapless dreamer ….

.... from the tactically astute to the random executor ….

.... from the evidenced-based to the “instinct is better than data” crowd.

And on top of all that, there is another grim reality.

Human beings (voters) are not inspired by reality and in fact, will often avoid anyone who reminds them of it.

Reality rarely buys votes unless it is good news and that is often hard to come by in economies of places such as Newfoundland and Labrador.

However, in such situations, votes can be generated by sharing unsubstantiated dreams of gold-paved streets or pegging bad news (real or perceived) on the other candidate.

We are inspired by hope of a better future, the promise of great things and the belief that all things can be overcome and we run from people who can’t give us this.

And based upon this, politicians sell hope and bright futures without having the foggiest idea of how they will accomplish anything or even if anything can be accomplished at all (and some have no intention of trying to accomplish anything, running for office for their own selfish needs).

Would you vote for someone who told you that we faced gloom and doom with the possibility that our problems can’t be solved at all but if they can be solved, will require phenomenal sacrifice on our part?

Most would not. 

Would you vote for someone who indicates “I have no idea what needs to be fixed or how I would fix it but give me a chance”?

Unlikely.

And so we accept the promises of politicians in blind faith and without evidence and get frustrated when the next round of politicians produces the same result as the last lot that we just threw out.

Meanwhile, politicians discover a few things (or knew them all along):

  1. Things like economies pretty much run themselves and cannot be turned on a dime as claimed during elections
  2. Economies are not easily turned in a positive direction because of human interaction or desire
  3. Economies can be easily turned in a negative direction because of human interaction
  4. Reality doesn’t care what you think, especially when evidence is intentionally ignored
  5. Things we don’t like have reasons for existing which we unfortunately discover once we are exposed to the history of them
  6. Regardless of the state left behind by a departing politician and regardless (mostly) of the competence or incompetence of departing politicians, most find lucrative careers that far exceed the career potential that existed before their political career was launched.

The final point reminds me of the old cartoon showing a doctor and patient having a serious conversation in the doctor’s office.

“I have good news and bad news”, says the doctor.

“What’s the bad news?”, asks the patient nervously.

“You have one month to live”, replies the doctor tersely.

Shocked, the patient exclaims, “If that’s the bad news, what is the good news?”

The doctor smiles.

“See that cute receptionist out front?”, the doctor asks, “I’m having sex with her twice a week.”

News, good and bad, is entirely perspective-based in its definition and impact.

The Bottom Line

I have not found in the last 20+ years, a single politician anywhere, including in Newfoundland and Labrador, who can use an evidence-based position that the Province’s current and future situations are things to be feel comfortable about (with the exception of those who use politics to substantively grow their personal interests).

I have also not found a single politician who even likes to be asked for such things.

Fortunately for politicians, there are very few of us who demand evidenced-based answers and so we can be easily ignored.

I hear lots of rhetoric and shouting about having the answers while becoming angry with people who ask for evidence.

I see lots of finger pointing at the previous administration or the opposite side of the Legislature as the real reason why things are not working well.

I watch politicians who point at those of us who demand data and decry our “negativity” as a means of deflecting questions that are difficult or impossible to answer.  That’s like a car driver suddenly exclaiming to a passenger in a car, “Hang on, the brakes just failed” and having the passenger respond with, “Why do you always have to be so dramatic?”

As my father and grandfather before me, I try to look at the situation at hand, the realities and complexities of the situation and the evidence that describes my reality before coming up with a solution.

If I don’t honestly acknowledge my reality, I have no way of creating a meaningful path to a solution or a better future.

I wish the electorate would do the same because if they did, we might actually start electing politicians who aren’t afraid to campaign on reality instead of fantasy.

Meanwhile, Seneca’s words come back from thousands of years ago in timeless poignancy and appropriateness:  Fortune falls heavily on those for whom she's unexpected. The one always on the lookout easily endures.

I wonder if any politician could refute what I just wrote using evidence and deliver such a refutation in a thoughtful, respectful, evidence-based, solution-focused way.

Because any politician who can do that is the type of politician we need in larger quantities before we reach the tipping point where it won’t matter who we elect.

I think such people are out there (and there are a small minority who have already been elected) but the dirty, muck-raking, being on-call 24/7, thankless world of politics keeps most good people away.

I think we must do more than merely fret and complain about our reality and our future.

I think we must accept realities and demand that politicians speak to us in the language of informed realities and the language of evidenced-based solutions.

I think we must demand that politicians serve us and not their own needs.

There are many things that I think about but what I am more interested in is this.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Monday, November 20, 2017

News Alerts and the Complexity of #FakeNews

When you're young, you look at television and think, there's a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, you realize that's not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. - Steve Jobs

Incompetence is a better explanation than conspiracy in most human activity. - Peter Bergen

A lot of people who are quick to share opinions and slices of their genius have pointed out that the easy way to avoid fake news is to avoid websites like Alex Jones’ with his conspiracy rants, be careful of news feeds from Twitter and Facebook and do other similar “intelligent” things.

It’s simple, they say …. don’t go to the websites in question and you won’t be deluged with fake news.

So imagine my surprise this morning when my Android phone received an alert that the US Marine Corps had invaded CIA Headquarters with the intention of preventing the CIA from overthrowing President Trump.

I don’t hang out on conspiracy websites and I don’t give them the tiniest slice of my brain so my phone wasn’t offering me a snippet of data from some feed that I frequent or subscribe to.

But somewhere, a Google bot that gathers my news alerts was fooled by the disturbing rant of a seriously misguided individual and sent me a conspiracy-laden piece of trash as an important news alert.

Normal, balanced, healthy people will look at such an alert and either calmly disregard it or casually saunter over to CNN to see if it is really happening.

Unfortunately, we are not all like that.

There are many who struggle with mental illness, many who fill their head with conspiracist garbage, many who are filled with hatred because of various inadequacies in their own Life and many who live in more than one of these scenarios simultaneously.

A certain percentage of these people are on a hair-trigger, literally, and their first reaction is to reach for whatever is in their gun locker. 

React first, think later.

Some of those people would have Googled the headline and received a lot of hits, thus confirming some internal bias that this must be true, failing to recognize that it was a bunch of conspiracy websites all cross-posting the same article.

If some misguided individual this morning reacted to the alert, confirmed it with a quick Google search (or didn’t bother), grabbed his guns (or hers, but statistically more likely to be his) and went to his equivalent of DEFCON 1, the media would be having a field day analyzing the trigger that started the whole thing.

Of course, a conspiracist might tell me the story was planted by the CIA as a means of dulling our minds to the truth, that a constant “crying wolf” feed will eventually be used against us in some way that only they understand.

I guess we can make anything fit our circumstance, need and beliefs, can’t we?

And while I am not a fan of censorship and I recognize the slippery slope that comes when we censor the obviously wrong stuff (how that is defined is a slippery slope in itself), I wonder how we can do better to prevent such information from being passed off as an alert of legitimate concern.

The Bottom Line

While I don’t believe in censorship in general, I believe there are certain things that shouldn’t be published, including things that promote abuse of children, violence against women, intentional spread of hatred, etc.

Most fake news are opinions cast off as news with an intent to send our brains in specific directions.  Such information and intent to use information in devious ways has been around long before Facebook, Twitter and the like.  On a side note, can you imagine PT Barnum with a Twitter account?

In such cases, the onus is on us to make sure our brain receives and interprets such information and intention correctly. 

However, when emergency preparedness people tell us that we should have mobile phones handy as part of our emergency preparedness strategy and that same device alerts us to something that is potentially problematic (but which isn’t true), then we need better vetting of what our devices receive and push in our direction ….

…. before someone reacts poorly to garbage alerts and creates their own genuine alert or we all refuse to react to something important because we don’t believe it or because CNN hasn’t gotten around to analyzing it because they are too busy running for cover

In service and servanthood,

Harry

PS I have friends who work at CIA HQ.  They report that all is well there and that it’s just another day of “getting things done”.  I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing but I will leave that with the conspiracy crowd to figure out.

The real irony here is that if an emergency were really occurring, the mobile phone network would be too overloaded to be used as a means of obtaining important information, as I noted in posts such as Statistics: The Mathematical Theory of Ignorance, but alas I digress.

Friday, November 17, 2017

#MeToo–An Incomplete and Inauthentic Dialog

No one man can, for any considerable time, wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which is the true one. - Nathaniel Hawthorne

Authenticity means erasing the gap between what you firmly believe inside and what you reveal to the outside world. - Adam Grant

Authenticity is a virtue. But just as you can have too little authenticity, you can also have too much. - Adam Grant

I’ve been struggling with the #MeToo dialog since the Weinstein explosion first erupted.

It’s not that the conversation is not important in the wake of revelations of predatorial actions by people with deviant beliefs or supersized egos fueled by their need for unnecessary exploitation of power.  Such miscreants must be revealed.

It’s more that I find the conversation to be lacking or out of balance in some ways, expressed inappropriately in others and to be completely hypocritical in others.

There are the obvious public sources of confusion for me.

For example, people have questioned the morals of President Trump with his “grab her by the p___y comment” and yet welcome former President Clinton as a desired speaker despite credible accusations of rape against him and a long history of using his position of authority to exert inappropriate influence over women.

Clinton is, after all, much more affable than Trump – you’d be surprised how much this influences people’s perspectives about someone.

Senator Al Franken, who once expressed his concern over President Trump’s comment, now finds that he needs to defend himself against serious allegations that may be worse than a “mere phrase” (if you can call it that).  I wonder how many other Trump haters are lying in the wings, petrified of their own behavior being revealed.

I am also concerned about the potential of some accusers destroying the careers of others before allegations are proven true or relevant.  It seems that merely saying something can destroy a career without due process.

But as I examine my own career and experiences, greater sources of confusion arise for me regarding how long such issues have been incubating “in silence”.

Dave, a male client of mine at a Wall St. bank years ago, was notorious for belittling women and gay men and women.  One time he, a Senior Vice President of the Bank, called a female VP into a meeting.  When she arrived, he held out a sheet of paper and said “Here – I need 5 copies of this.”  After she complied, he told her she was excused.

Stop being hyper-sensitive, some might say – it’s just photocopying.

Perhaps.

One day, Dave looked down the boardroom table and seeing Gary, a gay man with a ponytail sitting at the other end of the table, said, “I didn’t know we invited f*ing faggots to this meeting.”

We were stunned.

Am I still being hyper-sensitive?

When people reported Dave to HR, they discovered that he was more powerful than HR and that HR lived in fear that he might fire them.

He and his abusive, untouchable ways continued at the Bank for years until his retirement.

Meanwhile at another Wall St. client a couple of years later, I was consistently sexually harassed by my client, an alcoholic lush who seemed to need to sleep with every man in her presence.  I was to learn that there was a method to her madness.

When I got tired of it, I reported it to HR.  They first dismissed my concern, indicating that most men would feel flattered that a woman of such power and influence would want to sleep with them (a double standard for men facing harassment?).  When I persisted, they indicated that a review process could only be initiated if her manager agreed to bring disciplinary action against her.

Requesting such an action would have been tricky – she had had an extramarital affair with every manager she ever had at the Bank, including her current one, and so there would be no action taken against her for fear of personal retribution (the method to her madness is revealed).

She had slept her way to the top or as one fellow VP told me, she had “sucked her way to the top”.  Who was being more disrespectful, her or the VP with such an observation?

One time she brought in chocolate chip cookies on a Friday afternoon and distributed them to specific team members.  I fortunately declined.  I say fortunately because one of my colleagues called me from Washington DC the next day, totally freaked out and with no recollection of how he had gotten there.

It turned out that the cookies had been laced with hash and “other stuff” but it was “just in fun”.

Discipline against this woman was impossible.

She held sexual leverage over the only man authorized to do anything in the Bank and the police would do nothing without evidence.

Meanwhile …

I knew a bitter, man-hating member of NOW (the National Organization of Women) years ago who claimed that equality would only be achieved when women were in charge of everything.  She based this assertion on the general level of disrespect that apparently all men dished out to all women.

Then one day, as a group of us were walking down the street and passed a man walking towards us in track pants, she turned to a colleague and said “Wow – did you see the one-eyed trouser snake on that guy?  Look how he hangs in those pants – who wouldn’t want a piece of that?”

I called her on her inconsistency, that she demanded respect from the opposite gender while making remarks like that, and an argument ensued.

We never spoke again (by her choice).

Meanwhile in the media world ….

I’ve noticed over the last few years, a growing number of commercials that poke at the failure of men.

Examples include such things as handyman commercials promoting services to women to repair the incompetent work of husbands (or to do what their lazy husbands won’t do), alarm system companies describing wives complaining about the totally worthless system their incompetent husband insisted on installing, etc.

While some people may find such commercials amusing, as a man, I find them insulting.

How would women’s groups react if we ran commercials from the other side, describing lazy, stupid women who kept letting men down?

What would happen if we introduced racial or gender slurs into such commercials?

A windshield company in my area runs a commercial on the radio that ends with the catchy line “come in and show us your crack”, an obvious, intentional double-entendre.

If I went to that establishment, walked up to the woman behind the counter and said to her, “I came here to show you my crack”, she might call the police, depending on how I delivered the message.  It’s fun to say it but not so much fun to receive it.

Watching a national network TV program the other night, four women were having a discussion about the post-Weinstein world and agreed that it was time for all men to feel the sting and shame of disrespect.

Do they really believe that an eye for an eye will solve anything or that punishing all men for the disrespectful behavior of a minority of men is fair?

They concluded by saying that we need laws in place to prevent problems in the future.

We do which leads me to my next concern.

I remember a few years ago as salacious stories leaked out of the Alberta Legislature of highly inappropriate behavior by elected officials that included affairs between elected officials, elected officials and staff and elected officials and outsiders. I was shocked as the details made Fifty Shades of Grey look like a Dr. Seuss book.  Interesting romps around the world on the taxpayer dime, oral sex in men’s rooms performed by elected officials at official functions while their spouses waited outside and the like were astonishing and disturbing.

When I spoke to my elected representative about my concerns regarding how people could be compromised into doing the wrong things against the best interest of the people if these secrets were used as leverage, he replied that he understood where I was coming from but that sometimes values and ethics needed to be put aside for the greater good of the Party.

Not to be outdone, rumors of everything salacious under the sun occurring in the Newfoundland and Labrador Legislature are common knowledge, with the same mix of affairs between elected officials, elected officials and staff and elected officials and outsiders (including lobbyists).

It’s such common knowledge that no one cares.  In discussing it up with one elected official, I was told that you need to look past that and see the good in the person.  I argued that I wasn’t seeing the bad in the person but I was concerned about the impact on innocent families and the potential for a secret to be used against an official in some form of extortion.  My argument was rejected. 

Another elected official complained to me (why me, I can’t do anything about it) incessantly about elected officials sleeping with each other, sleeping with lobbyists and even using sex in exchange for legislative support but when I pointed out that they could do something to put an end to it, the response was that this could compromise their position in the Party or impact future election possibilities and so it wasn't a realistic option.

A third elected official told me that the elected individual having an affair with a staff member was really the victim and that outing the individual would hurt their family unnecessarily and unfairly.

I’m sorry – that person has already hurt their family unnecessarily and unfairly.

The family just don’t know …. yet.

Two of the three elected officials I mentioned are women.

Recourse is difficult.

Bring such news out in the light of day and you face SLAPP lawsuits, libel suits, etc.

Bring it to the press or some oversight group and you have to hope that they haven’t been compromised or you face the other possibility that the news is so common, that it’s a yawner of no interest to them.  One reporter to whom such stories were reported to did nothing because he was having an affair with communications personnel working for the person facing some of the allegations.  In another situation, an individual in an oversight group that protects women is best friends with many of the people being accused so justice won’t come from that corner either.

Meanwhile, the people on the inside who aren’t participating turn a blind eye towards such behavior, often for personal, selfish interests or perhaps they face the reality that someone has something on them also.

I wonder what those people would think if they were on the receiving end, if their husband or wife participated in such things (or were extorted as a result) or if their mother, wife, daughter or sister got caught up with someone of influence exerting unnecessary power with their influence.

I wonder what the legal system would think if a private corporation had such things going on and where such activity was encouraged or ignored.

And so the conversation is not as easy or one-sided as #MeToo would imply.

My point with all of this is that this is not just a “women being disrespected by men” issue.

We have some serious underlying societal issues that, while surfacing because of Weinstein, go much deeper and broader than one gender being disrespected by another.

We have been overrun by a lack of respect for ourselves and for each other, regardless of which gender we represent, and a need to exploit others for personal or professional gain.

And until we get back to respect for each other, regardless of gender, race, religion, financial status, skin color, etc., events like the Weinstein moment, while media worthy, are only the tip of the iceberg.

The Bottom Line

The sad part of all of this is that as people observe the #MeToo conversation explode, many can relate to stories much worse.

It’s easy for Hollywood types or other public figures to come out and admit they’ve been assaulted, they have considered suicide, they have faced gender bias, they suffer from depression, etc.  They are worshipped and admired for their strength and courage.

The average citizen, unfairly and unfortunately, faces a much more difficult personal and professional battle making the same assertions.

Many people have observed such evil acts themselves and done nothing, either because they felt it wasn’t their business, someone had dirt on them, they didn’t want to compromise some potential gain for themselves or they were afraid of the repercussions of being vocal against ignorance.  Many of those who reach out to me with observations or complaints, having the power to fix it and doing nothing with that power, get little time or respect from me.

The more painful stories for me are from the people who have been hurt by the evil or indifference of others and could not find a way to bring justice and peace into their lives.

Many have reached out to me in recent months and shared their stories.

They are staggering stories of abuse, mistreatment and abuse of power by people who should be in jail.

However, they are helpless, either for fear of their job, for fear of their Life or because, as in my HR stories, the people in authority could or would not take action.

We don’t need revenge and anger in these conversations – this doesn’t solve much and will likely make problems worse.

We don’t need apathy and indifference, either because we are lazy or because standing up doesn’t serve our own personal interests.

We shouldn’t accept that people need to hide in fear while others use or abuse them.

We don’t need more legislation to prevent abuse – we have plenty of it already.

We do need an environment where victims, men and women, can feel safe reporting their pain, regardless of the nature of their concern. 

We need an environment where people are not forced into waiting for someone else to come forward first, creating a d├ętente that produces silence.

We need an environment where observers can safely report pain when they observe it and where no one else within the environment will do anything about it (including the victim).

We need an environment where an individual’s power and authority, in business or government, doesn’t become a hammer under which people cower and refuse to stand up to them.

We need to acknowledge that not all men are to blame for all women’s problems, contrary to the point that one woman tried to make to me.  When she told me this and I countered with all of the work I have done with battered women’s shelters and the like for years, she said that denial was proof that I was more to blame than I realized or that I did so because of a private guilt I was struggling with.

Hatred has no logic or reasoning and must be approached with caution since ulterior or misguided motives may be in play.

I know of many situations where women have contributed to women’s issues, either being the protagonist in a situation or doing nothing when another woman was in trouble.  While this is the exception and not the rule, it happens more than we want to admit and must also be part of the dialog.

We need men and women of strong character, morals and values to stand together and out all poor behavior, whether it is perpetrated by their gender or the opposite side.

We need to listen more and be more aware of the plight of others around us.

We need to stop being hypocrites, accepting the hurt of others but only becoming angry if such activity ends up in our own world and affects us directly.  Whether we realize it or not, all abuse affects all of us directly … always.

We need to respect ourselves and stand by our values more often and with unwavering courage, because if our foundational values are poor or we are afraid to defend them, then we won’t see the problems developing around us (or our contribution to those problems).

We need to recognize that seeing the good in people is not the same as turning a blind eye to the bad or evil in them.

And until we have these things, Weinstein will just be the tip of iceberg.  Many will continue to suffer in silence while miscreants practice their twisted arts, relying on this silence to exploit others.

Meanwhile, others will take advantage of the noise and anger that has erupted for their own misguided reasons that have nothing to do with defending victims.

There are a lot of voices that are silent that shouldn't be and a lot of hypocrite voices that should put up or shut up.

Otherwise, we need to stop acting surprised, disappointed or angry when this stuff explodes or when we are directly impacted by it.

Because we will have been be part of the problem all along and not part of the solution.

Are you a part of the problem or part of the solution?

Are you sure?

Can you prove it?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

PS:  Readers who are quick to respond in anger regarding the notion that the majority of abuse is perpetrated by men against women are missing the point, should recognize that statistics aren't the point and that people who are in a statistical minority while experiencing abuse don't care that they are a minority.  The point is that we need a healthier world for everyone.

If we can't get to an agreement on that fundamental fact, then we will never solve the problems facing us because someone will always be facing oppression or abuse.

On a side note, I have a personal belief that we are karmically responsible for actions that we take and actions that we don't take that were within our reach.  For this reason, I believe that people who choose not to take action in the defense of others karmically owns the result.


Addendum - The Overreaction / Inappropriate Reaction Camp - November 20, 2017

In Sweden, women are reacting to the assaults committed recently by primarily immigrant males by announcing concerts where only women, trans-people and non-binary people only will be allowed.  This will allow them (so they claim) to guarantee that no sexual assaults will take place during the concerts.  I guess this also implies that gay men may be on the radar to assault women since they are also excluded from the concerts.

Such over-reaction would be akin to having a male-only concert where we would exclude women so that the "sluts and whores" present would not tempt us or a concert that excludes all immigrant males because we "just know they are all inherently evil".  The outcry would be significant (and warranted).

It goes to show that hastily embraced labels and generalizations that originate from overreaction or poor data create more divisiveness and problems than solutions.

But when has that stopped some people in the past?

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Pitfalls of Poor Choice Selection

Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. - William Jennings Bryan

We are the creative force of our life, and through our own decisions rather than our conditions, if we carefully learn to do certain things, we can accomplish those goals. - Stephen Covey

Choices are the hinges of destiny. - Edwin Markham

The #1206 “fiction” series continues …


Abigail sighed as she climbed into bed and slid under the inviting bed comforter.  She had been straining for years to make some choices about her future and never quite seemed to make them.  Her Life was sliding away and she knew it and yet she still didn’t make the choices that she knew her Life depended on.

She reached over to her nightstand, turned the light off and buried her head under the sheets.

“What’s wrong with me?”, she thought, anticipating another long, sleepless night and yet, despite the restlessness of her mind, sleep came quickly.

Or so she thought, waking with a start.

“Trouble sleeping?”, a voice to her left asked her.

She turned towards the voice and a man was smiling at her, his eyes twinkling.

“My apologies”, he said, offering a hand, “That was rude.  My name is Gabriel.”

She shook his hand and replied, “My name is …..”

“Abigail”, Gabriel said with a smile, “Yes.  I know.”

Abigail frowned and started to ask him how he knew who she was when she was interrupted by the sound of children.

She turned to her right and realized she and the stranger were standing in a parking lot in front of a candy store.

A group of kids were running out of the store, chatting back and forth as the store owner locked the door, turned off the “open” sign and disappeared inside the store.

“Ahhhhhh, kids”, Gabriel said, chuckling.

“They are always a great source of wisdom, don’t you think?”, he asked.

She turned towards him and noticed that he was staring at her, still with a big smile on his face.

“I don’t know”, she replied, “I’ve never really thought about it before.”

Gabriel pointed to the kids.

“Take a look at these kids”, he continued, “What do you think you can learn from them?”

Abigail shrugged as she looked at the children in front of her.

Gabriel pointed at the first one.  “Take Tommy, for example”, he said, “He went into the candy store and not realizing he could choose anything he wanted, limited himself to something he didn’t like because he thought it was the only choice available to him.  He suffers from choice by limitation.”

“Or”, he said, pointing to the little girl beside Tommy, “Jenny, who got so caught up in the process of evaluating her choices became a victim of choice by indirectness and ended up being left with choosing something from what little was left after all the other kids had already made their choices.”

“Then there’s young Gerald over there”, Gabriel continued as he pointed, “who was so focused on choice by elimination, weeding out each choice by criteria that only he understands, was left with something he doesn’t like because he had accidentally rejected the better options with his excessive and unnecessary criteria.”

“I don’t understand”, Abigail said quietly as she watched the children.

“Sure you do”, replied Gabriel, “You’re choosing not to understand.  Observe.”

“Young Joel over there”, Gabriel continued, pointing to the smallest child, “didn’t make a choice at all and ended up with the last candy in the store even though he doesn’t like it, something I call the choice by default.”

“Little Vicky standing beside him had so many preconditions on what her choice should look like, something we call excessive conditional choice, that she ended up with a candy that she would gladly trade away for almost anything.  The only problem is that she has too many conditions on any trade and so she won’t find anyone who would want to trade with her.”

“Meanwhile”, continued Gabriel, “Bobby embraces choice by reaction, where he worked so hard not to choose something that someone else wanted or that would upset someone, that he chose a candy that he hated but at least he took comfort in the fact that he didn’t upset anyone.  Susan, on the other hand, using choice by consensus, asked everyone else which candy was best and ended up with a recommendation that she hated, fearing to act on her own needs and interests.”

“All of this from candy?”, Abigail, asked, “I don’t understand ….”

Gabriel silenced her by raising his hand.

“Patience”, he said, “I’m almost done.”

“Let’s see”, he said, scanning the crowd, “Who is left?”

“Ah yes”, he said with satisfaction, “Young William over there believes that orange gumdrops have magic powers and so he chose a large orange one using a process we call choice by adverse possession.  Data, while important, is ignored and thus he consistently produces poor results based on choices that don’t even make sense.”

He paused for a moment before continuing.

“And then we have one child left”, Gabriel observed quietly.

Abigail looked over the crowd of children and saw a young girl sitting on the step, sobbing with her head in her hands.

“Why is she crying?”, Abigail asked.

“She suffers from choice by excessive permutation”, Gabriel said quietly, “Otherwise known as choice by over-processing.  She is learning that when we spend too much time looking over every option incessantly or because we fear making the wrong choice, we often end up having all of our options removed from us for different reasons. In her case, she waited so long to make a choice that the store closed before she could make one and all of her options were suddenly removed.  Many times in these situations, we end up having choices made for us or as in Abigail’s case, we end up with nothing at all.”

Abigail gasped, startled by the mention of her name and as she looked more closely at the child, she gasped again.

She was looking at herself as a child.

She started to speak when she suddenly realized that Gabriel was walking towards the little girl.

He knelt down beside her, hugged her and then opened his hand to reveal a bright red gumball.

The little girl looked at him hesitatingly and he smiled back at her, nodding his head approvingly.

She took the gumball from his palm quickly, expressed a quick “thank you, mister” and ran off to join her friends.

Gabriel stood up and watched the kids run off with their candy.

Abigail walked over to Gabriel and as she reached his side, he looked at her, the smile never leaving his face.

“Not everyone gets a second chance when they make the wrong choices or in this case, no choice at all”, he said, his dark glittering eyes staring into hers.

“Do you understand what I’m telling you?”, Gabriel asked her.

“I think so”, began Abigail but she was interrupted by Gabriel’s raised hand.

“You’re thinking too much”, he said, “I can tell by the look in your eye that you’re about to embark on a deep analysis when the answer offered here is closer to the surface than you realize.  Act on it.”

Gabriel paused for a moment.

“Act on it”, he repeated, “No choice is a choice.  Delayed choices often end up becoming no choice.  No choice or an improper way of making choices will not produce the results you seek or deserve.”

Abigail said nothing for a moment, started to speak and then was interrupted by an unusual sound from behind her.

She turned towards the sound ….

…. and awoke with a start when she realized it was her alarm, beckoning her to return from the world of dreams.

She rubbed her eyes blearily, confused by her dream, and she reached over to turn off the alarm.

And then she saw it.

A shiny, bright, red gumball lay on the night table beside her cell phone.

To be continued.


© 2017 – Harry Tucker – All Rights Reserved

Background

This post came to mind after a series of meetings this morning and listening to explanations from different team members as to why they were doing what they were doing.

It is also a long-distance dedication to V. and others who hesitate to make the choices they are called to make to maximize their potential.

Many of us avoid making the choices that really matter through one or more of the following processes (borrowed from The Path of Least Resistance and expanded upon):

  1. Choice by limitation - choosing only what seems possible or reasonable
  2. Choice by indirectness – focusing on the process instead of the result
  3. Choice by elimination - eliminating possibilities until only one one exists
  4. Choice by default - choosing to not make a choice, forcing a choice to occur by default
  5. Conditional choice - imposing preconditions on choices
  6. Choice by reaction – making choices designed to overcome / prevent conflict
  7. Choice by consensus - following the result of an informal poll that determines what everyone else wants or recommends
  8. Choice by adverse possession – choices based on a hazy metaphysical notion about the nature of the Universe
  9. No choice by excessive permutation – choices limited by sensory overload, causing no choice or a choice by default
  10. No choice by over-processing - taking too long to choose, devolving into choice by default (or none) – similar to no choice by excessive permutation.

Few people are direct and purposeful with their choices, whether it be in selection, execution and follow-through.

Are you one of them?

Are you sure?

How do you know?

Series Origin

This series, a departure from my usual musings, is inspired as a result of conversations with former senior advisors to multiple Presidents of the United States, senior officers in the US Military and other interesting folks as well as my own professional background as a Wall St. / Fortune 25 strategy advisor and large-scale technology architect.

While this musing is just “fiction” (note the quotes) and a departure from my musings on technology, strategy, politics and society, as a strategy guy, I do everything for a reason and with a measurable outcome in mind. :-)

This “fictional” musing is a continuation of the #1206 series noted here and is part of the Abigail / Gabriel series noted here.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Clarity and the 12 Sins of Poorly Defined Outcomes

It is still not enough for language to have clarity and content... it must also have a goal and an imperative. Otherwise from language we descend to chatter, from chatter to babble and from babble to confusion. - Rene Daumal

At some point, a flash of sustained clarity reveals the difference between what someone would have you believe is true, and what you know from the depths of your own heart to the peaks of your soul to be true. What happens after that is up to you. – Aberjhani

A couple of weeks ago, in the middle of some intense frustration over some  business intentions that have refused to cross the finish line no matter how much nudging and force was applied, I stepped away from social media.

I put my 25 million connections across different platforms on hold, exchanging the useful and the useless (read: mundane or inane) chatter for quiet and replacing the incessant online chatting with people I’ve never met with more high-quality, in-person time.  An observation I made to CBC Sunday Edition regarding this was read (in part) on their show last week.  It is at 43:43 of hour 1 and was in response to this interesting piece - The anti-democratic reign of Facebook, Apple, Google and Amazon.

I also went on a diet from mainstream media.  With President Trump dominating most conversation channels any, I didn’t think I would be missing much.

And in the blessed quiet that ensued, I applied a technique not often used in my industry to explore the delays plaguing my project.

As an uber-left-brained, ultra Type A personality, it is sometimes difficult for me to get the analytical side of my brain to just shut up, stop analyzing everything around it and allow the creative right side of my brain to have a go at something that intense logic alone can’t figure out.

Using a process that borrows from techniques that artists use to maximize their potential, I set about exploring the dilemma that plagued my teams.

The process goes like this, utilizing key strengths of each side of the brain in a structured, strategic way:

  1. First Insight - Back away from deep analysis of the problem and explore key insights with the right side of the brain (non problem-solving mode), allowing the brain to wander “aimlessly” around the problem.
  2. Saturation - Overload the left side of the brain with the background data, context, rules, constraints and other things associated with the issue but but do not try to solve the problem.
  3. Incubation - Wander away from the problem and work on anything BUT the problem, allowing the right side of the brain to creatively wander through the space, unimpeded by the analytical, logical side of the brain that insists it has the solution (an assertion unproven to this point).
  4. Illumination – AHA moments arrive suddenly and out of nowhere as the issue that has been bothering you suddenly has solutions presented from the creative side of the brain.
  5. Verification – Bring the left side of the brain back into play and verify that the AHA solution is appropriate, relevant, viable and actionable and use the left side of the brain to create a new strategy, guided by the creativity from the right side of the brain.

For a deeper explanation of how this process works, I recommend Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: The Definitive, 4th Edition.

In the clarity and grey-matter wandering that ensued, I came up with 12 sins regarding outcomes that were being committed by all parties involved in my current project and armed with the list, I presented them to inside and outside teams this morning.

Here are the 12 sins – how many are you or your organization(s) guilty of?

  1. Unknown Outcomes – they have been defined but for a variety of reasons, are unknown to some key individuals or have been forgotten by them.
  2. Hidden / Obfuscated Outcomes – an outcome important to one or more people has been intentionally hidden from some people for reasons that benefit the owners of those outcomes.
  3. Poorly Defined Outcomes – almost better than having no outcomes but potentially also more dangerous than having no defined outcomes as they are missing key elements of evidenced-based assumptions, specific measurable components and date-sensitive completion targets.
  4. Undefined Outcomes – some people didn’t even bother to define them for their team(s).
  5. Conflicting Outcomes – outcomes from different individuals / teams are running at odds with each other because of execution or interpretation.
  6. Competing Outcomes – poor prioritization or focus has allowed outcomes to compete within the brains of a single person or team.
  7. Fluid Outcomes – outcomes that constantly change based on observation, perspective and the current weather forecast
  8. Rigid Outcomes – outcomes that should be redefined when data, context and situation call for an intelligent adjustment but people get locked on course, even if they are heading for an open pit.
  9. Immeasurable Outcomes – outcomes based on fuzzy things, emotions or feelings instead of being evidenced-based.
  10. Passive Outcomes – from the “I hope this happens / works” camp even when the data screams otherwise (if there is any data at all).
  11. Aggressive Outcomes – the steam roller approach, ignoring the negative impact on people, organizations and anyone / anything else touched by the results of such outcomes.
  12. Timid Outcomes – leaving important things on the table, unexplored and unleveraged, because a lack of assertiveness, confidence or information.

In my early morning presentations this morning, I could have hammered and insulted everyone involved by actually pointing out who was guilty of one or more of these sins (myself included).

But great teams don’t need to be lectured – they know how to solve their own problems once they are pointed out.  The book Are Your Lights On?: How to Figure Out What the Problem Really Is, written over 20 years ago but still relevant, has some useful information on how to encourage intelligent people to solve their own problems.

Having set my team back on course towards a successful completion of the tasks at hand, I took a look at what is trending on mainstream and social media this morning based on social media’s “what’s trending” links.

Let’s see … in the midst of the Harvey Weinstein debacle, I see that Ellen DeGeneres lit up social media with this item.

@TheEllenShow: Happy birthday, @KatyPerry! It’s time to bring out the big balloons!

Sure it’s only in jest and we are hypersensitive about everything these days.  However, if a privileged Caucasian male (a certain President comes to mind) said this, Twitter would burn to the ground in indignation.

Consistency and fairness are important when we are addressing issues in our world, are they not?

Meanwhile, HBO severed ties with Mark Halperin over his own indiscretions and yet defended a comedy that they ran a few years ago that showed a child drinking from a penis-shaped water bottle. 

Apologies for the offensive picture but it is offered to make a point.

I also explored this in the post Duck Dynasty, Phil Robertson and Ignorance Run Rampant.

I see also that Hillary’s “The Election Was Stolen from Me” tour continues to trend highly and is either a form of therapy for her  (Hillary Clinton’s Book Tour Is a Dose of Much-Needed Therapy for Her Fans) or a source of anger (Fear and loathing on Hillary Clinton's grievance tour).

And finally, I see that the US Intelligence community continues to control the nation as President Trump acquiesces and allows certain JFK assassination reports to remain classified.

Not to be outdone, President Trump continues to stoke fears in many that we are all about to be wiped out in a mushroom cloud.  Whether that cloud is nuclear or ego-based is still being debated.

On the social media side, I see a lot of conspiracy rants and an invitation to determine what my porn star name would be or if an algorithm can guess my age based on my song interests.

There are many useful and important conversations happening in social media but items similar to the ones shown above are the things being fed to many people who consume what is put in front of them rather than choosing to selectively digest that which improves their lives and the lives of others.

It’s too bad that irrelevant and nonsensical drivel drown important things out and that such noise prevents many people from seeing clarity in their own personal or professional situations.

It would be entertaining to reexamine measurable outcomes of society-at-large as it pertains to social and mainstream media, politicians, business and the like.

I would but I have accepted the caveat that such analysis will unlikely move the masses who prefer to deflect attention away from their own worries, laziness, ignorance, apathy or sense of inadequacy (the latter often being untrue or unwarranted) by filling their mind with such distractions.

The Bottom Line

Clarity matters and often to obtain it, we need to create a gap between ourselves and the noise that prevents us from acquiring it.  Unfortunately, too many people are afraid of quiet, solitude and the chatter within their minds.

That’s too bad, because many people have great things aching to be revealed that could make a tremendous, positive difference on this planet.

Measurable outcomes matter and those who refuse to define and communicate them appropriately often bore and irritate others who get tired of hearing them moan about results desired but not assertively, appropriately created.

Consistency in addressing our world problems matters – we can’t be offended by what people say or do if we say or do similar things, somehow holding people to a higher standard that we refuse to hold ourselves to.

And what we fill our brain with matters in regards to the results we create for ourselves and others.

What do you fill your brain with?

I wonder if your answer and your actions express the same thing.

Does it even matter?

In service and servanthood – create a great day because merely having one is too passive an experience.

Harry

Monday, August 14, 2017

Divide and Conquer (Revisited)

Terrorism is a psychological warfare. Terrorists (and politicians) try to manipulate us and change our behavior by creating fear, uncertainty, and division in society. - Patrick J. Kennedy (politician reference added)

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it. - Martin Luther King, Jr.

The #1206 “fiction” series continues (a variant on an earlier post) …


The coffee shop was busy as it always was, with its typical mix of soccer moms, businessmen and little kids doing what they liked to do in coffee shops.

In a private corner of the coffee shop, two men, overdressed for the hot weather in dark suits and white shirts, quietly observed the activity all around them.

Finally one of them cleared his throat and said tersely but quietly, “It was a lot easier than we anticipated, wasn’t it?”

The other looked at his companion and nodded, saying nothing.

“After all”, the first man continued, “Who would have thought that they could have been manipulated this easily?  It was almost like playing a game.”

The second man looked at him with a frown.  “Do you think it was that easy?”, he asked gruffly.  “Coming up with a list of topics that we knew would resonate with different elements of society was not easy”.

Still, as he thought about it, it was pretty easy. 

Things like creating the United Nations, charge it with maintaining peace and well-being on the planet and then encouraging it to do nothing while having it incessantly make announcements about what they intended to do.

Things like feeding different nations with the knowledge to create weapons of mass destruction and then feeding other countries with enough knowledge to be suspicious of them.

Things like getting everyone wound up about climate change and then introducing enough evidence on both sides of the argument to confuse everyone.

Things like creating structured religion to guide people morally and then have the leadership of some of the same organizations become the largest violators of those principles.

Then there was the idea of terrorism, keeping everyone unsteady on their feet, leading to the brilliant wars in the Middle East and the subsequent economic strain around the world.

The pro gay / anti gay / gender identity debate was tossed in for fun at the last minute at the suggestion of a team member who wanted to see how easily people could be manipulated in light of all the other events already occurring all around them.

Social media was also having its effect, enabling a small minority of people, including their own agents of misinformation, to convey strong messages and evoke strong, polarizing emotions in large groups of followers while lowering the mental resistance of the majority.

There were more things in play to confuse the people than he could even keep up with.

And now people were divided, not just on one issue but each on a multitude of issues, strongly agreeing with some people on some issues while vehemently opposing the same people on others.

A 2000-year plan was nearing its climatic end and the people were almost ready.

One pillar of strength remained that had to be neutralized.

As he thought about the final stages of their plan, he had a momentary thought that perhaps things were going a little too easily.

“We are sure that the divisiveness over politics in the United States was not created by us?”, he asked his colleague.

The first man chuckled and replied, “Don’t I wish?  They are so confused now that they created this one on their own without any help on our part.  Although I have to admit that I would have been proud if it had been my idea.”

The second man grunted and was silent again.  He didn’t like things happening that they hadn’t specifically orchestrated.

The first man, sensing that his partner was over analyzing again, continued his thought.

“The laws we need are in place.  People are confused and fighting for survival.  The separation by class, race, gender identity, financial standing and religious belief is complete.  The Department of Homeland Security ordered 450 million rounds of armor piercing ammunition a few years ago for domestic use and military rehearsals demonstrate that they are in the final preparation stages to combat domestic unrest.  Citizens believe that their President has checked out, is inept, is a racist or is unfeeling towards their plight.  I think this demonstrates that the leadership and the people are in the final place of confusion and imbalance that we need them to be in.”

The second nodded, pursing his lips.

“It is curious”, he said to no one in particular, “that the people of this planet who excel in the concept of divide and conquer to oppress others don’t notice when the same principles are being used against them.”

“Curious indeed”, replied the first, “but useful.”

The second man nodded again as they both resumed their observation of the coffee shop in silence.

To be continued.


© 2017 – Harry Tucker – All Rights Reserved

Blog Post Background / Supporting Data

Watching two African-American men tear each other apart today over who was “more black” as they argued over President Trump’s reaction to the act of hatred in Charlottesville broke my heart and reminded me of an older blog post which I repost here with some minor modifications.

Instead of being united against racism, they were allowing the evil tool of racism to divide them, keeping the attention on them and not on the people where the energetic conversations should be directed.

United we stand.

Divided we fall.

Are we focused on uniting against that which undermines us or are we so distracted by other things that we allow divisions and the architects of those divisions to tear us apart?

Someone stands to benefit from such division.

Who do you think that is?

How important is it to find out and neutralize their intentions before they neutralize a nation … or a planet?

How important is it that we relearn how to talk (even passionately) and even more, to listen?

How important is it that we focus more on what unites us instead of what separates us?

I guess it depends on what kind of future you want for you, your children, your partner, your loved ones, your friends, your country and the world.

What kind of future do you want?

It doesn’t create itself, you know.

The world is waiting for you.

What are you waiting for?

Series Origin

This series, a departure from my usual musings, is inspired as a result of conversations with former senior advisors to multiple Presidents of the United States, senior officers in the US Military and other interesting folks as well as my own professional background as a Wall St. / Fortune 25 strategy advisor and large-scale technology architect.

While this musing is just “fiction” (note the quotes) and a departure from my musings on technology, strategy, politics and society, as a strategy guy, I do everything for a reason and with a measurable outcome in mind. :-)

This “fictional” musing is a continuation of the #1206 series noted here.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Kim Jong-Trump

There is a fine balance between paranoia and preparedness.  Understanding the difference can make all the difference. – Harry Tucker

A guest post by Gwynne Dyer, author, historian and independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.


“I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed, Mr President, but I do say not more than ten or twenty million dead, depending on the breaks.” So said General ‘Buck’ Turgidson, urging the US president to carry out a nuclear first strike, in Stanley Kubrick’s 1963 film ‘Dr Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.’

But nobody in Kubrick’s movie talked like Kim Jong-un (“American bastards would be not very happy with this gift sent on the July 4 anniversary,” he crowed, celebrating North Korea’s first successful test of an ICBM). They didn’t talk like Donald Trump either (“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”)

Kubrick’s film came out the year after the Cuban missile crisis, when the world went to the brink of nuclear war after the Soviet Union put nuclear missiles into Cuba to deter an American invasion. It was a terrifying time, but neither US President John F. Kennedy nor the Soviet leaders used violent language. They stayed calm, and carefully backed away from the brink.

So Kubrick’s fictional leaders had to stay sane too; only his generals and civilian strategic ‘experts’ were crazy. Anything else would have been too implausible even for a wild satire like ‘Strangelove’. Whereas now we live in different times.

Trump may not understand what his own words mean, but he is threatening to attack North Korea if it makes any more threats to the United States. That’s certainly how it will be translated into Korean. And Pyongyang will assume that the US attack will be nuclear, since it would be even crazier to attack a nuclear-armed country like North Korea using only conventional weapons.

Maybe the American and North Korean leaders are just two playground bullies yelling at each other, but even in their more grown-up advisers it sets up the the train of thought best described by strategic theorist Thomas Schelling: “He thinks we think he’ll attack; so he thinks we shall; so he will, so we must.” This is how people can talk themselves into launching a ‘pre-emptive’ or ‘preventive’ nuclear attack.

Is this where the world finds itself at the moment? ‘Fraid so. And although a nuclear war with North Korea at this point wouldn’t even muss America’s hair – the few North Korean ICBMs would probably go astray or be shot down before they reached the US – it could kill many millions of Koreans on both sides of the border.

A million or so Japanese might die as well (that would depend on the fallout), and a few tens of thousands of US soldiers in western Pacific bases (from targeted strikes). Indeed, as the scale of the potential disaster comes home to North Korean strategists, you can see them start to play with the idea of a “limited nuclear war.”

North Korean planners have announced that they are “carefully examining” a plan for a missile attack on the big US base on Guam. In that way they could “signal their resolve” in a crisis by only hitting one isolated American military target. Their hope would be that such a limited attack would not unleash an all-out US nuclear counter-attack that would level North Korea.

‘Limited’ nuclear war typically becomes a favourite topic whenever strategists realise that using their cherished nuclear weapons any other way means unimaginable levels of death and destruction. It has never been credible, because it assumes that people will remain severely rational and unemotional while under attack by nuclear weapons.

Thinking about limited nuclear war, while unrealistic, is evidence that the planners are starting to get really scared about an all-out nuclear war, which is just what you want them to be. Nevertheless, we are entering a particularly dangerous phase of the process, not least because the other two major nuclear powers in the world, China and Russia, both have land borders with North Korea. And neither of them loves or trusts the United States.

What “process” are we talking about here? The process of coming to an accommodation that lets North Korea keep a nuclear deterrent, while reassuring it that it will never have to use those weapons. Because that’s what these North Korean missiles and nuclear warheads are about: deterring an American attack aimed at changing the regime.

They couldn’t be about anything else. North Korea can never have enough missiles to attack the US or its local allies and survive: it would be national suicide. But it can have enough of them to carry out a “revenge from the grave” and impose unacceptable losses on the US if it attacks North Korea. Deterrence, as usual, is the name of the game.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson briefly said that the US was not seeking to change the North Korean regime last week, although he was almost immediately contradicted by President Trump. In the long run, however, that is the unpalatable but acceptable way out of this crisis. In fact, there is no other way out.


A guest post by Gwynne Dyer, author, historian and independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.  Reproduced with permission from the author.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Feeling the Sting of Discrimination

Too small is our world to allow discrimination, bigotry and intolerance to thrive in any corner of it, let alone in the United States of America. - Eliot Engel

Discrimination is not done by villains. It's done by us. - Vivienne Ming

Today I experienced my first real discrimination that was directed towards me.

As a Caucasian, heterosexual male, standing 6’3”, with an athletic build, with all aspects of my body working as originally designed and with reasonable personal and professional success behind me, I hardly fit the bill of someone who might experience discrimination.

Of course, there is always the ignorance of people who happily tell me “Newfie” jokes when they “discover” my Newfoundland and Labrador heritage but the combination of a person very comfortable in my own skin and my Life track record allows me to not get upset over the ignorance of those who have not been as blessed as I have been.

This is why the events of today surprised me a little … or maybe a lot.

A couple of days ago in my blog post Stop Being Offended and Do Something, I made some observations about people who live in fear of taking action or who run around being offended by the actions of others but who choose not to take any action themselves to address that which offends them.

The blog made reference to a little experiment at our office this week.  In a meeting with my business partner, he happened to notice that I had vivid, pink nail polish on one thumb.  While I was trying to conduct a business meeting, he was quite distracted by my thumbnail.  Here is what ensued.

He looked at it several times with a light smile but said nothing although he was clearly distracted by it.

“You want to ask, don’t you?”, I said to him as I observed him.

“I do”, he said, smiling.

“Then ask”, I replied.

“Ok”, he said, “Why does the President of our company have a pink thumbnail?”

“Great question”, I replied, “Perhaps it is nice to be in touch with a softer side once in a while as we spend inordinate amounts of time being aggressive, assertive, Alpha males pretending to be kings of the universe as we make plans for our next conquest.  What do you think?”

He paused for a moment and then he smiled.

“I like it”, he replied.

“Me too”, I replied, “And besides, since when did I care what others think of what I say or do as long as what I do gets the job done and honors others?”

“I really like it”, he said.

An hour later, my small action was greeted with applause in the boardroom.

And then one of the guys at the office went out to buy a bottle of vivid, bright blue nail polish to give it a try.

After all, blue is our corporate color.

We agreed that we would leave our little experiment in play until the end of the week.

Meanwhile, the public reaction to my thumbnail, as noted in the other blog post, was also interesting.

Some examples:

  • It’s hot (or very hot)
  • It’s cool
  • I wonder how kinky he is
  • It’s neat that he’s in touch with his feminine self
  • It’s weird
  • Normal men don’t do that
  • **stare** / avert eyes when noticed / repeat (the cowardly passive-aggressive model)
  • **stare** / freeze in place (as I held out money to pay for something)
  • He’s probably a pedophile or some other type of sickie (from one mother to another as she moved her child closer to her in a coffee shop)
  • He’s gay
  • He’s “whipped”
  • **snickers / laughter**

That’s a lot of character analysis derived from a single, pink thumbnail.

So when I went to donate blood today (whole blood donation # 136), imagine my surprise when a member of the Canadian Blood Services team looked at my pink thumbnail, frowned, shook her head and said, “I prefer my men to be real men.”

I was shocked.

First of all, I was not “her” man nor do I appreciate being evaluated as a candidate to be one as implied by the comment.

Secondly, there is nothing about the color of a thumbnail that defines the nature of any person, regardless of whether we are measuring character, ethics, morals, values, contribution to society, beliefs, gender or anything else.

However, wearing that one pink thumbnail somehow meant that I had fallen beneath some standard defined by this individual.

I wonder where not being a woman (obviously) but being less than a “real man” left me.

The conversation that ensued is not worth repeating.

However, when it was observed that my blood pressure was a little elevated, I couldn’t help but think, “You are surprised after that conversation?”

Ironically, I was experiencing diminishing, insulting discrimination at the hands of a visible minority.

I could have reminded her that nail polish has been worn by male cultural, religious, business and government leaders for many millennia, including Pharaohs and other people.

I could have reminded her that “male polish” is now an in-thing, worn by business and political leaders, celebrities and many other heterosexual men.

I could have reminded her that at a time when Canadian Blood Services is actively trying to bring more people in to donate blood, insulting dedicated donors like me could cause me to stand up and walk out (possibly never returning).

I could have reminded her that walking out could cause any other donors there with me to walk out as well.

I could have reminded her that as a visible minority herself, receiving respect as a minority includes giving respect to other people.

I could have reminded her that a place to give blood is not the place to have your religious, political or cultural views imparted upon others.  I’m sure if I decided to tell her that I didn’t like her culture or race, I would have been thrown out (as I should have been).

But I was there to give blood, not go toe-to-toe with ignorant people.

I choose when and where to pick my fights and her ignorance will not go unnoticed.

Will going toe-to-toe with her or having her boss read a reprimand to her fix this person’s outlook?

Unlikely.

But if we choose to not step up and respectfully but forcefully defend against discrimination, then we allow it to continue.

And if we allow it to continue in silence, we could be accused of condoning it, supporting it or even spreading it.  Our defense against such accusations would be weak since we didn’t take a stand when we could have.

The Bottom Line

Discrimination in the 21st century, where humanity has allegedly reached the pinnacle of knowledge and insight, is a reflection of ignorance.

If we don’t step up and do something about it when we witness it or receive it, we are part of the problem and not part of the solution.  If we accept that people can be discriminated against, then we also accept that discrimination can be applied against us at some point if someone chooses to use it against us.

To think the world works any other way is a reflection of ignorance and is the ultimate in hypocrisy.

Are you willing to take a real stand against discrimination in any form it arrives?

If so, well done.

If not, you will have to accept it if it ever comes your way - you will have earned the ignorance that is being reflected karmically back in your direction.

Be a force for good and a positive role model for others.

Anything else qualifies you as a member of a group of people described by Lieutenant General David Morrison who noted, “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.”

What do you choose to accept?

In service and servanthood – create a great day, because merely having one is too passive an experience.

Harry

Addendum: What If It Were Someone Else?

I have been reminded by quite a few people that what I experienced could be interpreted as a violation of the hate crime act in Canada.  I don't know the intricate workings of the act but the feedback caused me to wonder what would happen if someone else had been on the receiving end of the comments that I received.  It could create quite a bit of complexity for a lot of people.

At the end of the day, I was there to save lives and I will continue to be a proud blood donor and to collaborate with the great folks at the Blood Center.

I won't allow the ignorance of one miscreant to change my actions moving forward or change my perception of a great bunch of dedicated, professional, friendly staff.


Addendum 2 - A Followup - August 8, 2017

A colleague and friend of mine posted some questions (see comment section) that I believe are worthy of a response in the form of an addendum.  Here are the questions and my response.

The Question:

Thanks for the insightful post, Harry.  I was interested in your experiment from reading about it in your previous post.  You mentioned what other people's negative reactions were.  Were there any positive reactions (other than the one's from your team)? Also, do you think the nail polish had the intended effect of being a counter balance to your "alpha maleness"? Was this beneficial to decisions you made and interactions you had with others? Did your team members have any interesting experiences with it themselves?

My Response:

Thanks for your thoughtful questions, Nathan.  There were some positive reactions from many people although the gender divide was interesting (notwithstanding the fact that my data sample is small).

The majority of men seemed offended by it or rejected it although one praised it and said I should have done both hands completely and I was agressively solicited by a gay male.  While some women seemed offended by it, the vast majority seemed intrigued (even tittilated) by it and many praised it.

I was surprised by the reaction from men because we generally don't care if another man is heavily tattooed, pierced or has unusual hair / beard color but a man with a painted nail created a source of irritation or offense for many of them when it should have been irrelevant to them in their lives.

As for a counterbalance to my alpha maleness, I will offer this observation.  I have often claimed (and believed) that I don't care what people say and think about what I believe and do.  I learned through this experience that I needed to resynch this belief.  Men who do things like "walk a mile in her shoes" (where they wear women's shoes in a walk to raise awareness for women's abuse) do so with like-minded colleagues and so there is comfort in doing something "out of the norm" in the safety of numbers.  Doing it with a small team where one is often alone in public requires a different type of courage that REALLY struck me.

I became aware of people watching me / looking at me / trying to figure me out and I knew it was because of the nail.

I felt firsthand what it was like to be judged and categorized by others who had little if any data about who I was, what I do, how I do it, who I do it for and why I do it.

I actually wondered what they were thinking and as described in this post, I felt the sting of disapproval (which surprised me).

And there is the reality of the scale of such categorization with such an insignificant piece of data.

The sting also opened my eyes to something.  As I noted in my post, I am not a typical demographic for discrimination (although I was bullied in my youth) and while we can claim to defend those who feel discriminated against, we can't really understand it until we have felt it for ourselves.  This experience has humbled me and taught me a valuable lesson in what it feels like to be on the receiving end of something less than positive.

My team members have expressed similar experiences "in the wild" and one was even drawn into a loud, aggressive argument with someone.  He felt embarrassed afterwards that he allowed himself to be drawn into such an argument over something so unimportant but he felt that he needed to meet an aggressive evaluation with an equally aggressive response (which he acknowledged in hindsight as being incorrect).

We as a team and myself as an individual are still experiencing the lessons of humility and courage that developed out of this experiment.  As colleagues who study human motivation and behavior, this has provided some interesting insight that we may continue to experiment with - that remains to be seen.

I can't say that the experience has altered my alpha maleness in terms of diminishment of assertiveness and the like (which some people might assume from doing something associated with women).  However, it has heightened my sense of humility and courage to the point of needing to re-explore it.  Some of this humility also stems from an awareness of potential vulnerability, something easily lost amongst a group of men "conquering the universe".

It was also a learning experience for people who made comments to me about it.  As I explained to people who commented on it, for 5000 years, MEN of power painted their nails - emperors, pharaohs and the like.  Men in the Roman legion painted their nails red before battle.  Women were surprised to hear that this was a common male activity until recent history and so they learned something also.

This experience has given me some new insight that I will carry with me into my next venture which you are familiar with.

More thoughts to follow as they become coherent and useful.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Stop Being Offended and Do Something

Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world. - Joel A. Barker

Do you want to know who you are? Don't ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you. - Thomas Jefferson

Action expresses priorities. - Mahatma Gandhi

At 6am this morning, my local Starbucks was busier than normal.  My Quiet Hour had ended and I was gearing up for another day of orchestrated chaos and the test of mettle that strains under the pressure of closing a complex business deal.

It was a typical day in any major city – people coming and going in haste, on the way to wherever, focused on whatever, as they stared straight ahead with expressionless or strained faces.

There were a couple of women passionately discussing Scripture.

And there was a homeless guy, keeping a watchful eye on his shopping cart outside.

It contains everything he has.

I hadn’t noticed him at first.  What drew my attention to him were the two women discussing Scripture.  Drinking their $5 lattes that stood beside their Michael Kors bags, they discussed how they were glad that being homeless wasn’t something that they needed to worry about.  After discussing it for a few minutes, one followed the lead of the other, bowed her head and they both said a prayer for the homeless guy before returning to their idle chatter, complaining about the lousy nail salon in the area.

Seeing him sitting there, I got up, asked him if I could buy him breakfast (to which he said yes), I asked him what he wanted and brought it back to him.  He said thank-you and proceeded to enjoy it.

It may be the only food he eats today.

As I walked past the two obviously affluent ladies, I stopped, politely interrupted them and said “Did it ever occur to either of you that perhaps instead of praying for him, that you were in fact the answer to someone else’s prayer for him?”

I don’t think they knew what to make of me and stared at me with nothing to say.

In the same coffee shop the day before (yes, my Life revolves mostly in my office, my lawyer’s office and the coffee shop these days with whatever is left over for family), I noticed a guy repairing the coffee machine.  By a strange twist of fate, whether I am in the coffee shop at 6 in the morning or 6 in the evening, he is often there at the same time and he has seen me many times.

I was joking with the barista about being too hard on the machine (to which she laughed) when he turned to me and snapped, “I see you here all the time.  Why don’t you get a job like a real man?”

He had taken an opportunity to speak his truth or what he perceived as his truth, based on the assumption that if I am there when he is there, I must be a “lazy sod” (albeit a well-dressed one) idly passing time there.

And so I took an opportunity to respectfully speak my truth back to him and when I was done, I received a mumbled apology as he stared at the floor.

My colleague was shocked by the repairman’s rude audacity but not at my response – most people get used to me over time.

The same colleague had been with me a few weeks before when two people sitting next to us spilled coffee on their table.  They concluded their business, stood up and started to walk away.

“Excuse me, sir”, I sang out, “Are you going to leave a mess like that?”

One continued out the door without looking back but the other guy looked at me, said “I thought my partner was going to do it” (even though his partner was already ahead of him and out the door), cleaned it up and thanked me for calling him on it.

It was only fair – he was, in fact, the guy who had spilled the coffee in the first place.

Meanwhile, my colleague was shocked that I had spoken up.

“Was it wrong that he was leaving a mess behind?”, I asked.

“Of course it was”, came the reply.

“Were you upset that he was leaving a mess behind?”, I asked.

“I was”, came the reply.

“So why didn’t you speak up instead of merely choosing to be offended?”, I asked.

The light came on.

People in need don’t need your prayers alone.

They also don’t need passive-aggressive discomfort with a situation.

By the same token, problems at-hand or things that bother us are not solved if we just sit there being offended or bothered by them.

If you want to fix your world, then you must be the change you wish to see.

It reminds me of the time I became aware of a woman who had been compromised by a guy who, with his twisted interest in child pornography and other bizarre needs, had managed to secure some compromising photos of her.  He used the photos and the threat of releasing them on the Web to deepen his control over her and it appeared that damaging her family or her company were next on the agenda for him.

I could have offered to say a prayer for her.

I could have given her a hug, whispering encouraging words about how I knew she would overcome this.

I could have done nothing but used it as a conversation topic with friends, waxing on about the scumbags in the world.

There are many things I could have offered or done of little value to her.

Instead, I fixed the problem as I described in the post Answering the Cry For Help.

Deeds and results, unlike words, do not lie nor do they pass the buck, allowing someone else to fix a problem (hopefully) while we focus on how offended we are.

The Bottom Line

When we choose to be offended or surprised and carry that feeling around all day without addressing it, we waste an opportunity to make a difference.  Too many of us spend time wasting brain cycles that could have been used for something else more important, more impactful or more productive.

And then there is the problem of wasting time wondering what the answers / results should be for unasked questions and actions not taken.

This morning, my business partner was surprised to see one of my thumbnails with bright, pink nail polish on it.

He looked at it several times with a light smile but said nothing although he was clearly distracted by it.

“You want to ask, don’t you?”, I said to him as I observed him.

“I do”, he said, smiling.

“Then ask”, I replied.

“Ok”, he said, “Why does the President of our company have a pink thumbnail?”

“Great question”, I replied, “Perhaps it is nice to be in touch with a softer side once in a while as we spend inordinate amounts of time being aggressive, assertive, Alpha males pretending to be kings of the universe as we make plans for our next conquest.  What do you think?”

He paused for a moment and then he smiled.

“I like it”, he replied.

“Me too”, I replied, “And besides, since when did I care what others think of what I say or do as long as what I do gets the job done and honors others?”

“I really like it”, he said.

An hour later, my small action was greeted with applause in the boardroom.

And then one of the guys at the office went out to buy a bottle of vivid, bright blue nail polish to give it a try. 

After all, blue is our corporate color.

I wonder what people on the street will think.

I don’t care.

Neither should you.

Stop being offended by the world, wasting time and energy being upset by the actions (or lack thereof) of others.

Stop leaving questions unanswered, incessantly turning them over in your mind when you could be using the gift of your intellect to solve problems for you, your family, your friends, your colleagues, your country and your planet.

Speak your truth ….

…. dare to defend it …

…. and dare to live it.

The world is waiting for you to take action.

What are you waiting for?

In service and servanthood – create a great day because merely having one is too passive an experience.

Harry

PS As I wrote this today, a great friend of mine by the name of Leonard Szymczak came to mind.  In powerful books such as The Roadmap Home: Your GPS to Inner Peace, Leonard reminds us all about the importance of living our truth – forcefully and directly but always delivered with peace, love and respect.

If only more people had the courage to do so.

Imagine what a world we could create.

Don’t wait to be asked.

Don’t spin on being offended.

Don’t waste time pondering the answers to unasked questions.

Perhaps consider the following questions I ask myself every day during my Quiet Hour?

  • What do I do?
  • Where do I go?
  • What do I say?
  • …. and to whom?
  • What quality do I seek?
  • What quality do I create?
  • Who should I be?
  • Who am I being?

Do something.

Anything.

Addendum – A Memory From a Friend

A friend contacted me after reading this post and asked if I remembered the time we were in a coffee shop where a table of women were howling with laughter - loudly and rudely.  Everyone around them stared at them, shaking their head and muttering and one person who asked them to quiet down out of respect for others was ignored.

My friend and I went over and sat at the table next to them and howled and laughed louder than they did (over nothing in particular).

The key jester at the other table addressed us sharply and told us that we were being rude.

I told her that I thought that they were being rude in drowning out everyone else in the coffee shop.  She replied that she wasn’t being rude and that she was trying to make an important point to everyone at the table.

I replied, “So am I.”

She got the message.

Oh the memories - I guess I’ve been a nuisance in public longer than I remembered.

Closing Thoughts – Some Reactions to my Thumbnail

After wearing my pink thumbnail for a day, I was intrigued and amused by people’s reactions, either communicated directly to me or from one person to another.

Some examples (with my thoughts in italics):

  • It’s hot (or very hot) – ahem - thanks
  • It’s cool – sounds good to me
  • I wonder how kinky he is – define kinky
  • He’s in touch with his feminine self – nothing wrong with that
  • It’s weird – by whose definition?
  • Normal men don’t do that – see previous question
  • **stare** / avert eyes when noticed / repeat – passive aggressive behavior never solves anything – be assertive
  • **stare** / freeze in place (as I held out money to pay for something) – is there something wrong?
  • He’s probably a pedophile or some other type of sickie (from one mother to another as she moved her child closer to her) – really?
  • He’s gay – wearing pink nail polish is insufficient qualification criteria
  • He’s “whipped” – you clearly don’t know me very well
  • **snickers / laughter** – courageous and mature

That’s a lot of character analysis derived from a single, pink thumbnail.

No one asked me anything but they came to some interesting conclusions in absence of data.

Some were titillated.

Some were impressed.

Some were frightened.

Some were insulted or offended.

And some questioned my sense of normality based on their standard.

When I see how poorly informed and easily influenced they were, based entirely on insufficient, incomplete and irrelevant data, it’s easy to see why so many people are lost personally, professionally, intellectually, emotionally, financially and relationally.

How do we fix this?

Should we?

Can we?

What happens if we don’t?