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Can We Be Optimistic?

Hot-air-balloon clip artwork

Can We Be Optistic?

(*Yes. we can. I took a short break from Past Becomes Present but didn’t do the promo because I didn’t know how long it might be.  Optimistic by nature, I believed it wouldn’t be long. And happily, my positive attitude bore fruit!)

Optimists get a bad rep. People say we’re Pollyanna’s, breezing along believing that everything is wonderful and will continue to be. True, we like to walk on the sunny side, but there’s the other half of the equation—we work to “make it so.”

The recent Delta strain threatens to scale back Americans’ escape from Covid’s 15-month hibernation. Some cities, like Austin, hang a return to level 4 restrictions over our heads (and dim dreams of mini vacations, while increasing infections nationwide).

How do our brains handle the dramatic pendulum swings we encounter now? Well, being optimistic doesn’t come naturally. Martin Seligman, a psychology professor, and director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, says we are “hardwired” to stick to a negative bias. He indicates this goes all the way back to the caveman, preparing us to address the worst-case scenario. It’s why we know not to touch a hot flame after we’ve been burned. Humans are more likely to respond to negative stimuli.

But we are not condemned to be grumps! Humans can learn to protect themselves and bounce back from misfortune—like divorce, unemployment, or health crises. But how? We’re not good at predicting how each of us will react to misfortune, according to Tali Sharot in From the Optimism Bias, A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain.

Imagination Helps!

How is it possible for humans to stimulate and predict the outcome of possible future scenarios? Using imagination can help us create and examine all the possibilities we might face, pulling away the drama that could prevent our success.

Like many others, prior to experiencing hip surgery I feared for a long, painful recovery unable to get around and completing the most basic tasks with great difficulty.

Sharot’s research points to the human mind is flexible enough to find ways to restore balance when facing a challenge. Our brains can change our perceptions of the physical world.

Matt Hampson, a 20-year-old rugby player, experienced a life-changing event that proves the point. In 2005 during practice, he dislocated his neck, paralyzing him. Suddenly this vibrant young man needed round-the-clock care and steers his wheelchair with his chin and breathes through a ventilator.

Rather than dreading his life, Matt has found a purpose. He created the Get Busy Living Centre, a rehab center for those with life-changing injuries in Leicestershire, England. The brain can find the silver lining in seemingly unimaginable circumstances, if only we can use our imagination. The brain is more flexible and adaptable than we imagine.

We don’t need to have a crisis in our lives to take a moment to check in about our own purposes—or to create something that enriches us or others. Putting a couple words together, even just for us, can start the ball rolling. What’s important to you? How could you make a difference in your life and maybe others?

Notice the balloons in the photo above. They are not your garden variety birthday balloons. No, these are Hot Air Balloons. Why this choice? Anyone can manage a single helium balloon but rising a hot air balloon high into the sky and bringing it back to the ground safely requires effort and skill—an optimistic approach paired with knowledge!


Optimism is my vision. Positive brings on more of the same, provided it’s joined by works! So now let’s just try it out and see if it breeds!

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Women’s History Month: Son’s Tribute to a Pioneering Journlist–His Mom

Jay Hamilton with his mother, Nancy Bradsher Hamilton, and his wife, Bonnie, when they received their first Emmy Award.

(Note: For Women’s History Month I’m sharing the story of a pioneering woman journalist, written by her son, Jay Hamilton, a talented writer-producer.) His mother also pioneered multi-tasking, a trait we talked about last week.)

Not a day goes by when I don’t think about my mother, Nancy Bradsher Hamilton, who along with my father were my inspirations. My current company, Hamilton Media DC, is an offshoot of Hamilton Productions, which my mother co-founded in the early 1980s. She was the driving force.

Looking back on her life, it’s hard to believe that a young woman raised by a single mother in the small town of Salisbury, NC, “took her shot” and landed in the “bright lights, big city” TV studios of Manhattan. There, she hosted numerous programs. Her pioneering journalism career included raising me and my sister. Looking back, I now realize that she epitomized the modern multitasker well before that term entered today’s lexicon.

This Women’s History Month you hear numerous women’s stories about their key influencers, also female. But I dare say, for each successful man, there is also a woman who inspired his success, too. Afterall, most men are unabashedly “mama’s boys.” I’m a member of that club.

Nancy Bradshur Hamilton with columnist Jack Kilpatrick

Nancy Bradsher wrote a dairy entry in 1953, when she joined the staff of the women’s department of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “I was a Depression baby born bald September 7, 1929 at Mercy Hospital, Charlotte, North Carolina.” She went on to grow hair and become the Women’s Club Editor. Back then the only jobs for women in journalism were in the “women’s departments.” Journalism was a male dominated world.

Throughout the years, mom worked as a reporter on the Salisbury Post, The New York Journal American and as a correspondent for The New York Times before co-founding Hamilton Productions and stepping in front of the camera. Mom had the “looks” and the smarts for TV and thrived in New York City with her sweet-sounding southern drawl.

Most of this was happening during my formative years. I knew her simply as “mom” and never gave it a thought about how she successfully balanced family and career. One of her favorite playwrights was Shakespeare. This Women’s History Month, I am reminded of one of my mom’s favorite lines from “As You Like It.”

          All the world’s a stage and all the men and women are merely players; they have their   exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts.

So, too, one woman in her time can play many parts. My mom proved it as a pioneering journalist…wife…mother…grandmother. For her to play these many parts vindicates Shakespeare. I am enormously proud of all she accomplished and her contribution to women’s equality.

#internationalwomensday2021 #womensequality #journalist

Jay Hamilton is founder of Hamilton Media DC and Chief Media Strategist of Story Squad.

Note: I met Jay when he wrote and produced a Telly Award-winning safety training video backed by the Department of Transportation with Operation Lifesaver after students were killed at Fox River Grove, IL in a school bus-train crash. Jay led us to Dalton, Georgia, during a very warm summer to work with the city’s school bus drivers. By using actual drivers and students, the video captured the attention of school bus drivers from coast-to-coast, which saved lives.

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Endless Time Creates Endless Stress; Use it to Serve You, Not Abuse You

“Time isn’t the main thing. It’s the only thing.” Jazz Great Miles Davis

Endless time seems to move so slowly as to drip like a leaky faucet, making every moment pregnant with ideas, some alerting our fears to endless possibilities.

Time has taken on new meaning, while simultaneously dropping away into nothingness as we struggle to answer a multitude of WHEN questions.

It has been barely two months since my family flew off to work in London and a month since their dog, my part-time companion, joined them. Sometimes it seems like it’s been six months. Naturally due to the pandemic’s quarantine, I wonder when I might see them again. Even now, a visit this summer is rapidly slipping off the plate, but I am coping by writing, exercising, and appreciating every sunny day.

WHEN? The Universal Question

We’ve all joined in questioning WHEN?  When did life as we knew it screech to a halt? When won’t I depend on Zoom to see colleagues or Facetime for friends and relatives? When can I walk in the woods, go to the library, or gym, or get my hair cut, or leave home to hear any concert in person? When will I enjoy the aroma of cooking not my own? Far more important to more than 36 million Americans: When, if ever, will my job come back, so I can resume living without losing a place to live and be able to feed my family?

No matter where we sit politically, or whether we stand in the unemployment line, the food bank line, or the grocery line, stress rides along daily with each of us.

There are few universal answers to WHEN. Many are being made state by state or county by county. As of mid-May, 90,000 Americans have died from Covid-19 and 1.5 million tested positive, while 260,000 have recovered. This nationwide pandemic has only engendered more stress and fear and seems in some parts of the country to have widened the divide. But in some communities, people from a wide spectrum of political and religious beliefs are working together to feed the hungry unemployed and their children—taking action, which often lessens the feeling of helplessness and anxiety.

Use your stress to propel you forward. By Forgetmenot. Jancene Jennings

Recently I saw an article that sheds some light on this question:

“In Stressful Times, Make Stress Work for You,” by Karl Leibowitz and Alia Crum, which brings down to lay terms a study of the mindset of Navy SEALS, college students, and business leaders experiencing stress. They consider how to harness stress. Here are their three steps:

  1. Acknowledge Your Stress

Seems by taking on stress we move the place it resides in our mind. Normally before we address our fear, it sits in the amygdala, the brain center for emotion. When we begin the acknowledge our stress, our thoughts move to the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This is where executive control and planning take place–where we can be more thoughtful and deliberate in our actions– where we can do something about it.

Have you ever tried to stop thinking less about something and instead your mind returns to it even more often? That is the “ironic mental processing” at work in the brain as we stress over something. According to the scientists, the brain tries to help us out by constantly checking in to see if we continue to think of it. Suppression does not work.

Now is where you need to determine what is at the heart of your personal stress or anxiety.

Are you most concerned about getting sick yourself? Or your mate or partner? Is it your children, their education or health? Are you worried about a loved one who is at high risk? Is your anxiety caused by balancing working from home and family responsibilities?

Once you determine this, then you can examine your reactions to these stressors. What emotions come with this?  Frustration, sadness, anger? What do you notice in your body? Tight neck and shoulders or do you have difficulty sleeping?

  • Own Your Stress

 Why welcome stress into your life during a pandemic? We only stress, really stress, about the things (and people) we really care about. By connecting to the stress, we identify what is at the core of our anxiety. By denying or trying to avoid our stress, we can do the opposite and avoid what is really important to us.

Difficult task? Try completing this sentence, “I am stressed about (list answer you gave in step one) because I deeply care about. . .”

  • Use Your Stress—Make it Work for You!

If you connect to the core values behind your stress, then you set yourself up for the most essential ingredient: using or leveraging stress to achieve your goals and connect more deeply with the things that matter most to you.

Are your typical responses aligned with the values behind your stress? Think how you could adapt your response to this stress to facilitate your goals and your responses. There is a lot happening that we cannot control, but there are also unprecedented opportunities amid the fear. It is a matter of connecting with people and materials at hand. Action will help you overcome your anxiety and begin to tackle fear of the unknown. Addressing the here and now. The trick is to channel your coronavirus stress as energy to make the most of this time. Difficult though it seems, if we fail to embrace our stress and utilize it, it will only grow.  Take baby steps forward to tackle your anxiety.

WHY?

On a personal note, much earlier in my life, I needed to learn coping skills after a difficult period. I developed a calm approach to crisis that helped me professionally and has stood by me for three decades. Sticking to our universal values, working to overcome fear and anxiety, we can develop stable solutions to serve us and the next generation.

Notes:

Daniel Pink, When, the Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, (New York: Riverhead Books, 2018)

Karl Leibowitz and Alia Crum, Stanford University, “In Stressful Times, Make Stress Work for You,” New York Times, April 1, 2020

Alia J. Crum and Peter Salovey, “Rethinking Stress: The Role of Mindsets in Determining the Stress Response,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2013, Vol. 104, No. 4, 716-733

American Psychological Association   www.apa.org/help center/ 800-374-2721

 American Counseling Association   www.aca.org

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Don’t Let Them See You Sweat

“In this temple as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.” The words etched above Lincoln’s head explain why this place is an American shrine, not to be sullied.

A classic tenant of crisis management for savvy leaders. Even if your personal chipmunks are running a marathon in your stomach, when you have a team—whether its four classmates, a room full of colleagues, or all 328 million Americans—a time comes when it hits the fan, you set up your essential goal, put on your game face, hunker down, and pass out the assignments to the most qualified, most tested in the room. That makes it much easier to appear sweat less!

Establishing the Critical Goal

Leading a country and overseeing a military at war requires an intensely capable person. Lincoln wasn’t that person at the beginning of the Civil War, but he made it his business to catch up. Some say it took him until he hired U.S. Grant in March 1864, but Lincoln established his goal at the get-go. He did not waiver in his belief that preserving the Union was his prime responsibility. Everything else came second, was collateral damage, or would be a tool to accomplish this goal.

Lincoln preferred to focus on the essential foe and not push a blanket plan to prohibit slavery as he prepared the Emancipation Proclamation. He battled flames in front of him on the battlefield and saw significant matters smoldering behind him, threatening to ignite the abolitionists and the opposition Copperheads at his rear. This messy political stew revealed the alchemy he brewed while working to weave the nation together and draw his critics apart. Developing the persuasive mixture eluded him as his supporters began to lose faith that Lincoln could manage the broth before the wildfire consumed him.

Jousting with Journalists

Being a writer himself who appreciated a turn of phrase, Lincoln enjoyed mixing it up with journalists. Due to his seemingly “rustic” communications skills and quick mind hidden beneath a slow delivery, he could be waiting for reporters’ questions twenty steps ahead of them and have a fitting quip ready. Today wrangling with the media is a required sport for office holders, particularly if they seek or have achieved higher office. Disarming humor, not used as a spear but as a reminder of shared humanity, seems to have nearly disappeared with an earlier generation (think Ronald Reagan, who often appeared with a smile to friend or foe alike, or Barack Obama, who could flash a smile when he wasn’t preoccupied with a financial implosion).

Lincoln saw journalists as another branch of politics. (At the time 3,000, or three-fourths of the newspapers published in America, were supported by a political party). He worked to establish a mutual understanding with the big three of the day: James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald, Democratic, pro-slavery, against most of Lincoln’s stands; Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune, an abolitionist who had a love-hate relationship with the President, but got special treatment on several stories; and Henry Raymond of the New York Times, a Republican and formerly Greeley’s chief lieutenant, later founder of the New York Times in 1851. 

Greeley, like Bennett. loved his role in journalism, but the two loathed each other, primarily for political reasons; A final Greeley-Raymond final split came when Raymond beat him to become New York’s Lieutenant Governor in 1854. Setting up the perfect storm between the three major newspaper editor’s Lincoln needed to cajole. In 1864 he helped engineer Lincoln’s 1864 re-nomination.

 Disagreeing Without Being Disagreeable or Worse

Bennett came from the pro-Democratic Party, pro-slavery and against pretty much everything Lincoln valued, but Lincoln wooed him rather than pushing him away, most of the time. Lincoln walked a tightrope between Bennett and Greeley when he fed stories and news tips to Greeley, but at times the Tribune bit the hand that fed it, angering Lincoln.

In August 1862, Horace Greeley published “The Prayer of the Twenty Million,” a plea of the “Loyal Millions” requiring a “frank, declared, unqualified, ungrudging execution of the laws of the land.” Greeley wanted Lincoln to enforce the emancipating provisions of the Second Confiscation Act (July 17, 1862) removing slaves from the Confederate states. Greeley believed his readers had carried Lincoln to victory and “now feel that the triumph of the Union is dispensable not only to the existence of our country to the well-being of mankind.” They expected Lincoln to deliver on their request.

 Lincoln responded on August 22, 1862 in the Daily National Intelligencer, a newspaper long a part of the Washington scene, founded by George Washington. Lincoln said he did not argue with what Greeley said, but reaffirmed his own chief goal to “save the Union and not either to save or to destroy slavery.” At the very bottom of the letter, Lincoln affirmed: “I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere be free.”

Concerning the letter, historian David Herbert Donald pointed out Lincoln sought to assure the large majority of Northern people that he did not want to see the war transformed into a crusade for abolition, while offering himself time to contemplate further moves against slavery.

No doubt that Lincoln suffered at the hands of the press, but he also knew how to give as well as he got and used humor as honey to make the message go down a little easier. Yet he chastised a visitor to his office who pestered him for “one of his stories.” Lincoln noted his stories were not a “carnival act but were a useful way of directing discussion.” (Elihu B Washburne Chapter3 note 15)

Lincoln exercised patience, waiting for a victory, or close to it, to bolster his proclamation. He only freed the slaves in the states that were in Rebellion—the Confederacy, holding the freedom of slaves throughout the country for passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.

Who Was the Greater Martyr?                                           

The question came up recently as to whether Lincoln or the current President were the greater “martyr” (poor word choice, given that one made the ultimate sacrifice) to the slings of the press. While the current President has a wide array of broadcast and digital media to pester him, Lincoln could only rely on the telegraph and the vital coast-to-coast postal system to send his lithograph—with his warts, wayward tie knotted under his collar, and an unruly mop of black hair—far and wide. His tired, sympathetic mug became fodder for frequent political cartoons that etched in the brains of the electorate.

Lincoln’s low key personality and friendships helped him take on the darts that were flung his way. He had fewer instruments available to respond, being able to utilize only the overhead wires and the power of his pen. He aimed his words at “the people” of the entire nation—North and South alike. The modern president reacts by email or sends a barrage of Twitter messages laser-focused on those aligned to him, “his base,” not concerned about increasing his support or addressing the entire country.

Seven years ago, Mark Bowen of The Atlantic looked at “How Lincoln Was Dissed in His Day.” He said that the “bile poured on him from every quarter made today’s Internet vitriol seem dainty.” Lincoln seemed caught in a no-win situation, always criticized by those who felt he had gone too far versus those who believed he hadn’t gone far enough.   (Mark Bowen, “How Lincoln Was Dissed in His Day,” June 2013.)

Lincoln’s critics came not just from the South, but from Northern sources, causing him “great pain,” according to his wife, in part because he had thin-skin and felt the thorns others might ignore. Reverend Henry Ward Beecher ‘s attack specially grieved the President, who was sensitive about his lack of formal education. Beecher wrote:

” It would be difficult for a man to be born lower than he (Lincoln) was. He is an unshapely man. He is a man that bears evidence of not having been educated in school or in circles of refinement.”  

After reading such an attack, Lincoln exclaimed: “I would rather be dead than, as President, thus abused in the house of my friends.” Note, he did not take Beecher off his list of friends. When faced with a raft of such statements, Lincoln would wave his hand and say, “Let us speak no more of these things.” (Ibid.)

In 1861, Ohio Republican, Lincoln’s own party, William M. Dickson charged that Lincoln “is universally an admitted failure, has no will, no courage, no executive capacity. . . and his spirit necessarily infuses itself downwards through all departments.” Early in the war, Lincoln was still learning the ropes, but this had to sting. 

Charles Sumner, a Republican from Massachusetts, to whom Lincoln often turned for advice, opposed his re-nomination in 1864, wrote: “There is strong feeling among those who have seen Mr. Lincoln, in the way” of business, that he lacks practical talent for his important place. It is thought that there should be more readiness and also more capacity, for government.” (Bowen)

Could Jealousy Have Framed the Response?

If one looked at Lincoln’s Inaugural Address through a clear, clean lens, would not the words sing?

“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this  road land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

And yet, an editorial writer for the Jersey City American Standard (surely a Democrat) found the speech “involved, coarse, colloquial, devoid of grace, and bristling with obscurities and outrages against the simplest rules of syntax.” Ouch!

The Gettysburg Address Didn’t Fare Much Better

“We pass over the silly remarks of the President. For the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them, and they shall be no more repeated or thought of.” The Harrisonburg Patriot & Union printed a much-belated apology 150 years later. Thank goodness they weren’t, and we have this example of clean, heartfelt writing.

The responses pro and con to the Gettysburg Address no longer sway modern opinions. It’s established that positive responses were from the Republican press, while the negative came from the Democratic. Those in-between might have been caught up in the custom of the times that believed the longer the speech, the better it was. Though the crowd that day, most standing throughout, would appreciate a two-minute speech. Perhaps the true nature of Lincoln’s pared-down speech, using exact, purposeful words and few of them (269 in the original speech) would fit nicely on the front pages of newspapers across the country. His intention: to reach the masses.  

The celebrated orator who spoke for two hours ahead of Lincoln, Edward Everett, knew a good speech when he heard it and gave credit to Lincoln in a note. “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

Inside the Lincoln Shrine             

Since he did not sit for TV interviews, Abe did not require Pancake makeup and likely would not have taken to it, indicating with a quip that not much could improve his physical image. Today the lights in the Lincoln Memorial and the exquisite work by sculptor Daniel Chester French do not require a touchup. Recently the current White House occupant chose a respite in Lincoln’s shine to seat his favorite contemporary news team for a partisan report.

Maybe the 16th President would have equated that with his sit-down with Greeley of the Big Three Newsmen in the 19th century, but maybe he would have preferred the sound of school children instead.  Lincoln, accustomed to working in the White House all but three weeks of the Civil War, might have been surprised that a month sequestered there be such a burden for the current president. Likely Lincoln would see the visit inside as a respite—maybe to catch the draft from the former’s reputation.

The World Sweated After His Final Speech

Once the ink on the Appomattox surrender dried, Washingtonians rushed to the White House portico to hear a response from their President, expecting a grand announcement of victory. They didn’t know Abe, who asked the army band to play “Dixie” on the lawn outside his window, calling it a “good tune.”

Lincoln didn’t gloat, instead moved on mentally to the essential work–bringing the nation together. He called for national thanksgiving. He did not plan vengeance against the South’s leader and agreed with a letter he’d received that said: “The people want no manifestations of a vengeful spirit. They are willing to let the unhappy rebels live, knowing that at the best, their punishment, like Caine (sic), will be greater than they can bear.”

Instead Lincoln talked about the hard task ahead: Reconstruction and bringing the tattered nation back into one. John Wilks Booth, a late entry to the far edge of the audience, did not have to strain to hear the President’s high-pitched voice. His disgust grew into rage as Lincoln advanced the idea of the elective franchise for the colored veteran men.

Lincoln told the crowd that by keeping the vote from these men (now 140,000 strong after the deaths of 40,000 black Union soldiers), were saying:

“This cup of liberty which these, your old masters, hold to your lips, we will dash from you, and leave you to the chances of gathering the spilled and scattered contents in some vague and  undefined when, where, and how.”

The President sealed his fate when he spoke of rewarding those who had sacrificed the most, (see note) extending the vote to any black male veteran. With these words, the anger in Booth’s mind boiled over to rage. His initial plans were to kidnap Lincoln to exchange him for Confederate prisoners of war. In his wrath, Booth heard Lincoln’s words as the ultimate sin and from that moment planned for Lincoln to pay the ultimate price.

Yet the country and the Southern states suffered more because of Booth’s action. Bleeding emotions from those fateful days 155 years ago, misunderstandings and grievances surrounding race shape the national psyche and influence the nation’s divisions today, threatening to bring more destruction to America than a pandemic ever could.

You decide: Who was the greater martyr?

NOTES:

Jennifer Weber, “Lincoln’s Critics: The Copperheads,” University of Michigan Vol. 32, Issue 1, Winter 2011, p. 33-47

Mark Bowden, “How Lincoln Wad Dissed in His Day,” The Atlantic Magazine, June 2013

Mr. Lincoln ‘s White House, Notable Visitors: Henry J. Raymond www.mrlincolnswhitehouse.org/residents-visitors/notable-visitors-henry-j-raymond-1820-1869

David Blanchette, The State Journal-Register, Springfield, IL. “Abraham Lincoln, like Donald Trump had his media enemies, too” February 25, 2017

Horace Greeley’s” Open Letter to President Lincoln,” New York Tribune, August 19, 1862

Abraham Lincoln’s “Letter to Horace Greeley,” Daily National Intelligencer, August 22, 1862

Donald Herbert Donald, Lincoln, (London: Random House, 1995)

Ryan Holiday, “Abraham Lincoln as Media Manipulator-in-Chief: The 150-Year History of Corrupt Press,” Observer, November 5, 2014

National Archives: “Black Soldiers in the U.S. Military During the Civil War,40,000 of the 180,000 negro ground troops died in the Civil War; 10,000 in battle and 30,000 of disease, receiving different treatment than white soldiers. Thus 75% of blacks died of disease vs. 50% of whites.

https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/blacks-civil-war

Louis P Masur, Lincoln’s Last Speech, New York: Oxford University Press, 2014) p. 12

NOTE:   Michael Burlingame’s 1000-page tome, Abraham Lincoln, Vol II (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008) p. 810 The week of the murder Booth was challenged as to what he had done for the Cause. While he had thought of the death of Lincoln, he had not moved on it, instead having put together a group to kidnap the President, planning since the prior fall. But the events including the surrender, pushed him to act.

Poynter.org, “Today in Media History: Reporters describe Lincoln’s 1863 Gettysburg Address,” Nov. 19, 2014

History.com, “The Gettysburg Address,” accessed Sept. 7, 2018

Saturday Night Live YouTube channel, “Weekend Update: Jedediah Atkinson on Great Speeches,” Nov. 17, 2013

Email interview with Eric Foner, historian at Columbia University, Sept. 7, 2018

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Impact the Future as you Live the Present

Favorite view during daytime flight. Fluffy clouds that change from minute to minute represent the future because you never know what you’ll find on the ground. The world has changed while you’ve been in flight.

In conversation, we often talk about the past as if it were the present.

Instead we should live in the present but prepare for a future that improves upon it. You say it’s hard to know whether the future will meet that expectation. Ah, but if you aim low, for a so-so or not-so-good future, it’s harder to envision the possibility of a better one and harder yet to obtain the desired future.

“Past Becomes Present,” is this blog’s title, pulling our combined history into present day for better or worse. Or turning history inside out. That seems legitimate. But in conversation this week, I found myself reliving the past, not so much to sample its lessons, but to examine points of trial and pain that should be soothed and digested by now. I decided to take a look at the role the past and future play in life. One might think my hands and mind would have little bearing on the future as I am over 60, but as long as there is breath in any of us, we can influence tomorrow–whether it is the next time we awaken or even possibly 30 years from now.

If we want to push forward, we need to go far beyond the past, carrying it with us, pay attention to our role in the present, embrace it, but hold in our minds a vision of the future that we will work to achieve.

Cruel realities of 21st century life—extreme fluctuations in temperature and rainfall, political philosophies that whiplash the country left and right, and an economy rising upper incomes but often neglecting the bottom–threaten to cloud our impression of the present and impose fears for the future.

As a grandparent, who frequently looks into the inquiring eyes two generations below, I seek the positives that could provide them a future worth moving into. While the current state of affairs has not reached the conundrum faced by Abe Lincoln in the Civil War and Winston Church in World War II, they exercised hope in bleak worlds when their people needed it most.

Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Message sent to Congress delivered a written review of the nation-(The tradition at the time minus tv cameras to register the clapping, standing, and sitting of the opposing parties). On December 1, 1862, Lincoln seemed to address my concern as he wrote:

“ The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

Abraham Lincoln December 1, 1862

Churchill ventured across the Atlantic Ocean peppered with German U-boats to address the Canadian Parliament on December 30, 1941. He asked for their assistance but also spoke to his countrymen:

Let us address ourselves to our task, not in any way underrating its tremendous difficulties and perils, but in good heart and sober confidence, resolved that, whatever the cost, whatever the suffering, we shall stand by one another, true and faithful comrades, and do our duty, God helping us, to the end.

Winston Churchill December 30, 1941

Each man had the ability to see beyond the current difficulty to believe in their nation’s ability to overcome, not in a Disney-esque fashion, but in a positive reality built out of turmoil.

Few could have predicted what post-war Reconstruction would bring without a fair and steady hand, like Lincoln’s, at the helm. Some might say America still suffers from the missteps after 1865 that resulted in Jim Crow laws in the South that punished blacks and might have been avoided had race relations been handled differently immediately following the Civil War. Fortunately for Europe, Germany, and Japan a more progressive hand administered the Marshall Plan after World War II, yielding strong partners today. But still this did not prevent backward looking nationalist tendencies from cropping up throughout Europe and the U.S. today.

Every country and every era has been divided by serious issues, but without agreement about the need to draw the sides together and ease opposition by finding areas of agreement and common need, stagnation or worse begins to destroy a country and upset global harmony. On so many issues America seems to be at a stalemate, but as Churchill so memorably proclaimed to students at Harrow School on October 29, 1941:

“Never give in. Never give in. Never. Never. Never in nothing great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”

For modern America facing the future this seems to translate: Stick to your guns, don’t give in to petty challenges. If, however, your country is at stake, work like heck to preserve democracy, just like Lincoln worked to preserve the Union, and Churchill sweat blood to protect England from the Nazi horde.

A Courageous Woman with a Vision

Jehan Sadat. former First Lady of Egypt (1970-1981) and professor of International Studies,
University of Maryland

A tribute to a woman who walked in peace within a region of constant turmoil–Jehan Raouf Sadat. She died on July 9 at 87 after living a full life in the Middle East and as an academic in the United States. I did not know her personally but my friends at the University of Maryland had a high regard for her. Through them I gained a particular respect for her vision.

Although she was young at 15 when she married the up-and-coming Egyptian military officer, Anwar Sadat, and he twice her age, it did not muffle her voice. She became a partner in his quest to challenge the British occupation of Egypt in the 1940s.

Rather than be a seen-and-not -heard First Lady in 1970 when he became Egyptian President, Jehan Sadat used her post to become a proponent for women’s rights. She influenced the country’s civil rights legislation and advanced laws, referred to as the “Jehan Laws”, which have given women in Egypt a range of new civil rights, such as the right to child support and custody in the event of divorce.

In 1972 she set up a charitable Rehabilitation Center to assist disabled veterans and other Egyptians inflicted with disabilities. The center also serves visually impaired children and has a music and choir band. known throughout the world. She established The Egyptian Society for Cancer Patients, SOS Children’s Villages in Egypt and headed the national blood drive. She headed the Egyptian delegation to the UN International Women’s Conferences in Mexico City and Copenhagen and founded the Arab-African Women’s League. Five years later she received a bachelor’s degree in Arabian Literature from the University of Cairo.

The First Lady gave her full support to her husband’s attempt to bring peace to the Middle East after several brutal wars had been fought. President Sadat came to Washington, DC in 1979 to sign the Peace Accords with Meacham Begin with President Jimmy Carter. Powerful members of his own military believed the signature represented treason against Egypt. In 1981 Sadat was assassinated by members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad during an annual victory parade in Cairo.

Mrs. Sadat mourned her husband but went on to continue her studies in Arabic literature, in which first completed in 1977 at Cairo University after her four children were grown. She continued to complete a PhD. In Arabic literature at age 52, six years after the death of her husband. She spent time in the Uni ted States as an academic at the University of South Carolina and the University of Maryland. At the latter she served as a senior fellow and a professor of international studies (1993). There she worked to establish the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace & Development there in 1997. Jehan Sadat said she “didn’t want to see starving children or weeping mothers who has lost their sons, so her husband did not die in vain.”

While the days of peace in the Middle East seem now to be a distant memory, if it has been nearly achieved once, the desire described by Mrs. Sadat—to prevent hungry orphans and the mourning of families over their lost sons and daughters—and the hope that the billions of dollars squandered on the instruments of war could be better spent providing for generations to come on both sides—remains alive. Has nothing been learned over the centuries?  It is not the land but the people who hold the value?  The youth now being lost could be the salvation for their countries–and the Middle Eastern region. They hold the ideas to resurrect the future and the ability to move their nations forward. With each volley of missiles, the Middle East dims its future and limits its ability to extinguish the rancor of opponents and shake off the horrendous history of blood. They diminish the opportunity to rise above the mayhem to build a prosperous future—not repeat the sins of the past ad nauseum.  This is what Jahen Sadat hoped to create. Even though she did not live to see it, we cannot abandon her vision.

What Does Freedom Mean?

Kellen Lenz artwork, July 2019

What Does Freedom Mean?

Updated post from what seems a decade past—just a year ago.

My best July 4th? A picnic on the National Mall, red-and-white checkered tablecloth laid out with fried chicken, butter-dripping off the corn-on-the-cob, and large slices of watermelon as we listened to Washington’s Symphony play John Phillip Sousa’s marching tunes. Inevitably my daughter would need a Porta-Potty visit when they broke into my all-time favorite, Aaron Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. We would be back in time for the opening bars of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture complete with cannons—the signal that fireworks would begin.

Not just any fireworks, but the loudest, most colorful display we would ever see. Red, green, blue, yellow, purple bursts high above us that seemed the size of a city-block—one on top of another, then side-to-side, flipping and disappearing, so another could appear to complete with a waterfall of white bursts shimmering nearly to the ground.

Washington’s fireworks are also the smokiest display with the smell of gunpowder descending into the audience, bringing me back to the origin of July 4, 1776. Fifty-six men from the 13 Colonies (it was just men then, but there were strong women, like Abigail Adams, behind them) signed the Declaration of Independence.

By signing they were acting against a powerful British Crown and several of them paid dearly for their bravery. Five men were tortured and killed by the British for treason. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons as Revolutionary soldiers and two other sons were captured.

How are we addressing freedom as we reopen the country following the Pandemic? A year ago, my blog “Celebrating a Nation of Promise and Contradictions” touched on some of the challenges we face. We realize that “freedom” is not doled out equally, neither economically, in the health care we receive, or based on the color of our skin. In the Pandemic we have been fighting a ghost that we cannot see. Months, now over a year, confined to working from home (or finally slowly going back, but much has changed) or still attempting to find work to replace what was lost. Now two million women have left the workforce in part due to the lack of dependable childcare and the need to be at home with children released from school learning online due to the Pandemic. What happens to financial freedom for those still struggling to pull themselves up from economic ruin?

The nation’s been a financial colossus, leading the world in—Gross National Product in January 2020 was over $19.5 trillion, and growing 2.1 percent. Obviously, it dropped in July 2020, to $17.4 trillion, but already has come back to $19.6 even though several million workers are still looking for work. The last few months the unemployed ranks have dropped, giving positive direction to the economy.

As adults we can get bogged down with our responsibilities as we struggle to weave our own safety nets. Freedom has more than one meaning when you are in close quarters with others—you cannot be free yourself if you are endangering others the phrase “what goes around comes around,” seems trite, but we see we are not at the end of this yet. Today we are averaging 2,000 new Covid cases a day nationwide. Much better than the 55,000 cases diagnosed per day a year ago. We cannot move forward without recognizing the 608,741 people lost to the virus as of July 3, 2021. And what over half a million lives lost means to their families and friends, and to the entire nation.

Freedom requires responsibility. We have a new meaning for freedom. It is being part of something greater than yourself. I suspect if we were being invaded by Martians, I hoped we would work together to protect our planet and our families. There would be no red or blue factions.

Enjoy the fried chicken and the tangy barbeque, corn-on-the-cob, and watermelon. Squeeze your family and carefully send up some fireworks, unless you live in drought areas, then have the kids paint some bright-colored facsimiles and appreciate you are not inhaling smoke!  We have got some work to do– we have become painfully aware of that this past year. But we are pulling away from one of the greatest challenges we have faced. Now let us begin to move forward…together.

Opal Never Gave Up–Recognizing a Day of Freedom

Two and a half years after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, a Union General freed 250,000 slaves in Texas, saying they would work for hire from then forward. Juneteenth, 1865

Opal Never Gave UpRecognizing a Day of Freedom

(Juneteenth Recipes for your celebration – see below)

Determination does pay off. . . at last!  Opal Lee, a grandmother from Texas, at 89 walked two and a half miles a day from Fort Worth to Washington. DC, surrounded by a caravan of cars. Opal walked to raise support for designation of Juneteenth (19th) as a federal holiday. Thursday at 94, she received a signing pen from President Biden after he inked legislation creating such a celebration. Vice President Kamala Harris took her hand while praising her determination.

Opal, who had been a teacher before becoming “the grandmother of the movement”, had a personal reason for her crusade. When she was 12, she lived in Marshal, Texas, in a home surrounded by several white homeowners in Sycamore Park. A band of white men came one night and burned her home to the ground. Freedom means more to her than recognizing the end to slave labor, but safety in one’s home and access to quality education.

No doubt President Lincoln would be pleased with Opal’s determination and Congressional efforts in 2021 to celebrate Juneteenth, but he might hope this was not a consolation prize offered instead of insuring the opportunity for all Americans to exercise their constitutional Voting Rights.

Above you see the document that Lincoln wrote and signed after Congress passed the Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect on January 1, 1863, ending slavery in the Confederacy. Governors in Southern states, with economies mainly dependent on cotton, were very slow to pass this information on to the enslaved population, some waited until the end of the Civil War to notify blacks in the South that they were free.

Texans, being the furthest western state in the Confederacy and with an abundance of cotton, were least likely to share this information. And they didn’t. . . until Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, backed up by 1,800 U.S./Union troops, issued General Order Number 3, from his headquarters in Galveston, Texas, June 19, 1865—156 years ago.

Maj. Gen. Granger’s order began: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” Simple. Then: “This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”

This order announced the freedom of 250,000 slaves in Texas. In the two and a half years between the Emancipation and Granger’s arrival nearly 200,000 black men had enlisted, mainly in the Union army. Historians estimate that about 500,000 slaves—out of a total of 3.9 million—liberated themselves by escaping to Union lines between 1863 and the end of the war—the rest remained in slavery, according to Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

More recently, in 1979, Texas State Rep. Al Edwards, “known as the father of the Juneteenth holiday” succeeded in working with the Texas Legislature to make the date an official holiday statewide as a “source of strength” to young people. “Every year we must remind successive generations that this event triggered a series of events that one by one defines the challenges and responsibilities of successive generations,” Rep. Edwards said. These efforts plus others worldwide can be seen at https://juneteenth.com .

Books

The Great Migration helped spread Juneteenth across the country, as Gates says, one person, one family, one carload or train ticket at a time. Isabel Wilkerson’s book, The Warmth of Other Sons: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, tells the story brilliantly, spreading the knowledge Juneteenth to places distant to the South, like Los Angeles, Oakland, and Minnesota. Ralph Emerson’s novel, Juneteenth, said to reflect the “mystical glow of history and lore, memory and myth.”

Unveiling

Juneteenth 2021 will also mark the unveiling of Frederick Douglass’s statue in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, the result of long-term efforts of D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.  

Watermelon salad–Immaculatebites,com

Juneteenth Recipes

In honor of the festivities, perhaps these dining festivities will prepare us for the Fourth of July, red, white and blue creations, while Juneteenth recipes focus on the color red. I’m told that’s for resilience and freedom. So I have one offering and links to several others:

Strawberry Watermelon Juice 

4 cups watermelon       

2 cups strawberries

½-1 tablespoons lemon juice

½-1 cup coconut water or water

Can add syrup or sugar to taste

5 fresh mint to garnish

Dash of cinnamon

Place watermelon and strawberries in blender

Add lemon juice and other ingredients.

May add favorite adult beverage.

www.Immaculatebites.com

(2nd row of recipes:

24 Mouth-Watering Juneteenth Recipes)

www.africanbites.com

African Fish Roll – africanbites.com

African Fish Roll (Fish Pie) Popular West African dish sold by venders.

Peach Cobbler

Red Velvet Cake (or cupcakes)

Red Velvet Cake

 Recipes at https: ImmaculateBites.com

Do you really know what you think you know?

Sometimes are your ideas as tangled as these branches? Photo: K Mitch Hodge

Do you know what you think you know?

What do you know about these topics?

  • What job did Walt Disney have before he drew Mickey Mouse?
  • On which spaceflight humans first laid eyes on the Great Wall of China?
  • Why women were burned at the stake in Salem?
  • Why eating candy affects how kids behave?

Easy enough, right? I got them all wrong. I’ll keep you thinking until the end. Adam Grant set us up. He points out we don’t always KNOW what we think we do. Sometimes it can be dangerous. Or at least put us off our game by leading us to make the wrong decisions or not allowing others to help us make better ones, which he explains in Think Again. He’s an organizational psychologist at Wharton. He’s got some unstuffy ideas about how we make decisions.

Grant points out that if we’re certain we know something, we think there’s no reason to look for gaps in our knowledge. But we all have moments when we overestimate what we know. You can call it overconfidence, which comes easily when we judge our driving or our trivia knowledge.

If there’s something we truly don’t know anything about, say driving a race car, we tend not to exaggerate what we know. But when we’re moving on to amateur status that’s where we can easily cross the line. These are the areas where we might not consider that others could know more than we do. As Grant says, we can easily climb to the top of Mount Stupid. As we gain experience—move from novice to amateur—humility slips, too. Moving us into the “beginner’s bubble” of flawed assumptions. Here we could be ignorant of what we don’t know.

Humility has gotten a bad rap in modern society, being tangled with low self-confidence. Actually. Grant points out it should be linked with its Latin root “from the earth”—being grounded, knowing our fallibility. With a little dash of humility, it’s easier to admit what we don’t know or to draw upon curiosity to learn a bit about what could enlighten our decision-making.

Confident Humility is a sweet spot for us because we don’t tip over into overconfidence , have faith in our ability, but we have just enough doubt that we are willing to re-examine our existing knowledge. Finally, we have enough confidence that we are willing to investigate further.  By the way, the most effective leaders score high in both confidence and humility, according to Grant. They know their strengths, but are aware of their weaknesses.

Life comes complete with biases. Whether we investigate our differences or fall upon a philosophy of  “agreeableness” makes all the difference. Doesn’t matter if we are inside a family, a hospital addressing critical care, a team building an airplane, or creative types trying to create a movie.

On the surface it would seem harmony should rein at the dinner table. Civility might be a better take on the family meal. But “productive disagreement,” where each person voices his or her take on a particular idea, could provide life-lessons about how to address questions not just within the family but in the outside world.

Hospital doctors and staff have been faced with overwhelming challenges that have required each member to call upon their muscle memory to match wits with overwhelming odds. Sometimes medical questions seem impossible to solve or staff are too exhausted to summon critical thinking. If the Pandemic has taught medical centers anything, it is that new ideas can come from any part of the team paying attention to the critical issues and thinking again to develop workarounds with the potential to save lives.

Grant points out that the Wright Brothers were able to be successful not because they agreed with each other about how to get an airplane off the ground. They didn’t. Instead they wrangled for years, grappling with each other’s ideas, which helped bring them forward solutions. But there’s another important aspect that might be forgotten in modern teams. The Wrights respected each other (even flipping a coin to determine that Wilbur would pilot the first flight) and based their work on a collegial foundation, even while they could disagree on the scientific details.

A modern example: Brad Bird, fired from Disney because they thought his ideas were too expensive and unworkable. He went over to Pixar, where his reputation as a pirate, even a black sheep, won him support. He worked to create a team that developed comradery and respect for each other’s talents. This helped because team members were not agreeables—they could be skeptical and critical when their ideas clashed. But they developed productive disagreements that led to creative solutions to complex digital movements. Four years later their Incredibles yielded an Oscar for animation and $631 million worldwide.

I’m not promising you health, wealth and happiness if you check out Adam Grant’s Think Again, but it might start a discussion with your family, colleagues or your fellow creatives that could instigate solutions. Maybe new thinking might stimulate a whole new idea!

Response to the opening questions:

  1. Walt Disney didn’t draw the characters; he hired someone else to draw Mickey
  2. The Great Wall of China is not visible from space.
  3. The women were hung, not burned in Salem, as we think we know.
  4. According to Grant, sugar does not impact the behavior of children. Here I will be the devil’s advocate. Don’t know if he has children, but when the kids return from a birthday party in the late afternoon, bedtime can be challenging! Just saying.

Adam Grant, Think Again, New York: Penguin House, 2021.

Let’s Not Languish!

Andreas Weiland/Unsplash

Let’s not Languish!

A century ago when the planet went through the last global Pandemic, folks that recovered were just joyful if they survived. * Today many of us are moving past survival of the trauma, isolation, and grief of 2020. Now we want a joyous, fulfilling life.

Some of our bodies and our minds say: “Not so fast. You’ve got steps, maybe a little penance for ‘stayin’ alive!”

The Pandemic fog, depression, burnout or blahs, the feeling of not being productive, an aimless, boring, joyless state has fallen upon some survivors. It is more of a valley between depression and burnout. Some might equate it with ruminating—mimicking the senseless, continuous review of a single bite of hay by a country cow.

Adam Grant from the Wharton School of Business, a psychiatrist by trade, says its important to think back to what gave us joy in the Before Times. Actively thinking about when people were moved by what you did—when you had/have an impact. In his interview with Anderson Cooper, the CNN host of Full Circle, admitted he sensed he was “languishing.” He’d binged as many Netflix movies and TV series as he could manage. Because of the Pandemic he wasn’t flying around the world to do newstories and now operates from the office by himself. He enjoys playing with his young son, but usually his child is in bed when Cooper got home. So he was languishing.

Take an active role in your life

Grant noted taking an active role in remembering what had given us joy in the past could begin the process. We could move from ruminating to doing by picking one thing that provides us joy/meaning, then doing it.

Getting to this point is as important as the doing itself. Grant suggested we give ourselves permission to engage in thinking time. Map out two hours a week to read and think about our habits. How could you revamp your day to find time for joy? Refine your week to allow time for energy-creating ideas that stimulate you to rethink old ideas and make them better.

The idea here is to lift yourself onto self-satisfied territory. Then it will be easier to move out from our dreams of the Before Times into the Post-Pandemic Mental Prosperity, which will banish languishing.

Flourishing really is what people are ultimately after,” said Dr. Tyler J. VanderWeele, an epidemiology and biostatistics professor and director of Harvard’s Human Flourishing Program.

The good news is that simple activities can lead to marked improvement in overall well-being.

How to to begin? Simply asking yourself is an effective disagnostic tool, according to Dr. Laurie Santos, a psychology profssor at Yale, who teaches a free 10-week course called “The Science of Well-Being”. They found the little times of joy, simple celebrations and moments offering gratitude to others for their service to you can bring joy as well.

Write it down!

Grant suggests writing down three small accomplishments that gave you joy and purpose. Use that as a launchpad for your next achievement. So you don’t forget the progress you’ve made, keep a journal, keeping a list of the moments of joy, now or at other times in your life. Start with the simple task you start to get yourself off the couch. Just something simple.

“There are lots of American adults that would meet the qualifications of feeling happy but they don’t feel a sense of purpose,” adds Dr. Corey Keyes, a professor of sociaology at Emory University. “Feeling good about life is not enough.”

“Most important for overall well-being,” according to Dr. Keys, “would be a sense of ‘overall well-being’–a sense of satisfaction or happiness.” The Pandemic has prevented us from pursuing many of our interests.”

Flourishing = Finding purpose in life

Each of the experts agreed that finding purpose in everyday life- and beginning to feeling good–comes from seeking out new interests. Suggestions: learning a new skill, reaching out to thank the people you value in your daily life, even the simpliest project–can provide this sense of well-being and accomplishment. Keyes suggests a short 10-minute jog or a walk around the block, volunteering for a nonprofit organization, maybe a 10-minute meditation–simple moments in time.

Maybe your teach your new skill to someone else–to stretch your skill. Then you will begin to create memories. These memories will help build a ladder out of the languishing pit and provide you a joyous landing pad from which you can launch your exploration into a myriad of delightful activities you forgot while you were just ‘stayin’ alive!”

  • (I’ve read the global population in 1910 was 1.5 billion, so to lose between 20 and 50 million people would stymie nearly every community.) In comparison, today the global population is 7.9 billion with 500 million lost to the Pandemic around the globe, 675,000 perished in America.
  • Adam Grant wrote Think Again, part business, part psychology, that we’ll talk about. He also has the Work-Life podcast and appeared on recently on Anderson Cooper’s Full Circle on CNN to talk about “Languishing.”
  • Other professional comments appeared in today, “The other side of languishing is flourishing. Here’s how to get there.” May 12, 2021.
  • https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/04/well/mind/flourishing-languishing.html Dani Blum, New York Times, May 6, 2021

Here Comes the Sun

Free Rainbow. freeimages.

Here Comes the Sun!

I am hoping for sunshine tomorrow because we deserve it after four days of rain, pouring in sheets(not the expected drought), with four more days projected. Why sunshine? Because May 20 is Mental Health Action Day—within a month of awareness many of us could use after the no good, awful news of 2020 and the shadow that follows some who experienced Covid.

But this is not a “downer” blog, but an appreciation for those who are embracing personal well-being and hoping we all invite someone to share an active part of our day. And an encouragement to others to join in the action.

This is a celebration of life as we can look out for our friends and neighbors and enjoy active pleasure—yoga, meditation, Tai Chi, learning again (after a year’s retreat) to share conversation with others. Doing something physical can be the absolute best cure for the blahs. Heating up the body, burning off some calories can be a quantum cure for anything that might ail you. Maybe you are not sure about hitting the gym or its just not your thing. So, find some stretch bands, maybe spare hand weights. Nothing better than stretching the body to rush away the gloom.

I learned about Mental Health Action Day when Anderson Cooper interviewed Talinda Bennington, the window of Lincoln Park’s lead singer this week. She is one of more than 1,000 sponsors of the national awareness event. She scheduled activities for her sons in tribute to her husband, Chester Bennington, lead singer for Linkin Park, who committed suicide in 2017. She encourages her sons to perform personal exercise, like isometrics, as a stress reliever to raise their heart rate as well as their spirits.

Bennington discussed American’s habit of asking, but not expecting a response to: “How are you?” Instead, Cooper mentioned a friend from Israel told him they ask: “How do you feel today?” as a more personal way to avoid a meaningless phrase. And it can yield a more useful response.

Activities can be found on YouTube. Here is an excuse to escape the isolation of the Pandemic at your own pace. Join a friend for a cup of coffee outside a favorite shop. Make an appointment to meet someone you have been missing. Take a half hour or an hour to enjoy conversation over lunch. Invite a friend to take a walk along your favorite path. 

The Day, which fits into Mental Health Awareness month, offers contact information about affordable therapists in your own community. (Check out https://Mental Health ActionDay.org). Learn where to find resources in your home community. A wide variety of mental health-positive organizations took part. Here is just a sampling (check the website for a complete list): MTV Entertainment (general sponsor), Country Music Association, Comedy Central, Athletes for Hope, Wounded Warrior Project, Austin Mindful Counseling, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Healthy Moms Strong Babies, The Art Therapy Project, Crisis Text (Text HOME to 741741), Gen Z for Change, Eating Disorder Coalition, and libraries from around the country.

Make TODAY a special day for yourself, someone you know,or someone you just met!

Future Tangles with the Past

Hourglass on Ocean Beach. Amazon.com

The Future Tangles with our Past

Recently I read that high school students who have lived through the Pandemic mainly choose to live in the Present, letting the Future fend for itself. They are not willing to trust they will be around tomorrow, so why plan for it?

Frightening! 

Some are still willing to slug through calculus or biochemistry or trigonometry to prepare for careers in engineering and medicine. But that is not a large number.

 Those parents who are able are speeding up their plans for retirement, now more aware that life is short. Why not begin to enjoy the benefit of one’s efforts as soon as possible, not knowing what the future may bring?  While others are still struggling to feed and educate their children today.

Many of us vaguely remember the “Before Times,” as some call them, and are not certain that we can return to what now seems to be the distant past. Frankly, the times of being crammed like sardines into stadiums, music venues, and offices are not as appealing as they once were and will require mental and physical retrofitting.

While we are thinking about the future, will we be able to blindly return to following one political party or another out of habit or will we require something more?

“Identity politics” some call it, following along with a particular label because it is what you have always done, blind allegiance to the Dems or the GOP Party. Not because you believe what it stands for. But because you feel a part of the group.

Originally the parties were considered “shortcuts” that provide a range of choice between alternatives of action. “The act of choosing a party is the act of choosing whom we trust to perform our values across a vast range of issues that confront the country,” according to Ezra Klein, who believes the most valuable opportunity to influence the course of public affairs is in their choice of a party. He authored “Why We’re Polarized.

The rub can be traced to 1923 when Idaho Republican Senator William Borah said: “Any man who can carry a GOP primary is a Republican. To Borah it did not matter if the guy (then they were all guys) believed in free trade, states’ rights, or every policy of the Democratic Party.

Move to the 1950s when the positions of the two political parties became muddled as much by regional thinking and historical perspective. Voters could not define the party by the beliefs of their individual candidates. Democrats in Minnesota ran liberal candidate Hubert Humphrey, while in South Carolina the same party put uber-conservative Strom Thurmond on the ballot, both in Senate races.

Without the restraint of party unity, some argued political disagreements escalate. Debate on issues, like health care, motivates supporters and turns them against opponents. But in the end, issues get aired and resolved. Divisions get deeper and angrier.

Think about 1964 or consider this if you were not around for that initial foray into the political ring we encounter today. Republican Presidential Candidate Barry Goldwater promised an election that “would not be an engagement of personalities, but an engagement of principles.” But the conservative wing of the GOP got hung up with purity and worked diligently to “expel the moderate wing” of the party, forgetting they would need them to win the election. Goldwater got creamed by Democrat Lyndon Johnson.

George Romney, then moderate Republican governor of Michigan who would be a candidate for President in 1968, (and the father of Mitt Romney, who ran for President on the GOP ticket in 2008) outlined his disagreement with Goldwater’s “take no prisoners” approach.

After the Goldwater disaster, George Romney wrote his Republican colleagues: “Dogmatic ideological parties tend to splinter the political and social fabric of a nation, leading to government crises and deadlocks, and stymie the compromise so often necessary to preserve freedom and achieve progress.”
Think about that.

Interesting that Mitt felt it necessary to brand himself as “severely conservative” during the 2008 Presidential Campaign. And he went down, not as severely, but lost his bid never-the-less. In 2021, Mitt has taken sides again, more as a moderate, perhaps taking a longer view, sees the impact of following the former President down a purist rabbit hole could have on our democracy.   

Shortly the Republicans in the House will stage another “purity contest.” This one based on whether a House leadership position should be held by a conservative woman (Liz Cheney, daughter of a Republican VP under Bush II) who has been vocal in her opposition to Trump and his continuing cries of “foul” over the final tally of the now fading 2020 Presidential Election. She also objects to the former President’s role instigating the June 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

Fear that Trump would back a Primary challenger against them weakened the knees of many Republican House members who voted against accepting votes cast for Joe Biden. Nevertheless, the election results were approved on a vote of 306-232 at 2:15 am on the long day-into-morning of January 6-7, 2021.

William Faulkner, a writer who I suffered through in college, but respect more with age, wrote: “Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders.” He noted that “the past is never truly past, but it returns through haunting and repetition.”

Ezra Klein, Why We are Polarized. New York: Avid Reader Press, 2020. In November Klein resigned as editor-at-large at VOX to become a New York Times columnist and host of a political podcast.

Stay tuned for interesting thoughts on what percent of the country is fully invested in the political divide (six percent). And how the rest of us can help pull the needle from the far walls. What can be done to give thinking a chance and avoid having the noisiest among us rule.

How Times Change 1981 – 2021

Ronald Reagan’s first Inauguration CBS News

Ronald Reagan wore a gray tie

Ronald Reagan wore a gray tie to his first inaugural. Not red, not blue, not yellow, but gray. the color set out for formal occasions in 1980. See his Vice President, George Bush, wears gray, too. Nancy proudly wore her trademark red coatdress with a red pillbox.

We forget Americans didn’t get caught up in the red is for Republicans and blue is for Democrats until 1992 when NBC selected those colors as an easy way to show TV viewers how voting progressed across the country on election eve. This January Joe Biden carried on the tradition with a pale, powder blue tie with a sheen amplified in his wife Jill’s shiny aqua dress and coat, more a statement of joy than a political marker.

Joe Biden and Joe Biden on Inauguration Day 2021 Win McNamee

Some may forget the phrase “Make America Great Again” came as a near direct swipe from the Reagan’s “Let’s Make America Great Again,” though his version gave the impression we would ALL take part, not just those with red MEGA hats standing in crowds or waving out-sized banners off the back of pickup trucks.

The 40th President’s response to the events of January 6 can never be assured, he being long dead. But he opened his remarks in 1981 by thanking President Carter for “how much he did” to guarantee a smooth transition, continuing in the American tradition.  He noted “in the history of our nation, it is a commonplace occurrence—the orderly transfer of authority, as called for in the Constitution.” Reagan said with some pride that it “routinely takes place as it has for almost two centuries.” He also pointed out that then, in 1981, “few of us stop to think how unique we really are in the eyes of the world—this every four-year ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle.”

Until it wasn’t.

Some who call themselves Republicans, who might think they are traveling along as Ronald Reagan would have wanted—in his path—aren’t. I was in the crowd that cold January day as a slightly idealistic congressional staffer. I didn’t agree with everything Reagan said that day, particularly about government, of which I was a servant. Reagan strongly believed in reducing the size of government (going so far as to fire unionized Air Traffic Controllers, a loss of trained personnel and postponing the replacement of antequated equipment that hampers American’s air safety to this today). I believe government has an important role in providing safe operations for the American public (and still refer to it as National Airport).

But he did believe in We the People, that we were all in this together, for better or worse. He didn’t divide the nation into his Red Coats and the other Blue Coats. Reagan didn’t believe you were either with him or you were against him.

One of his buddies, a fellow Irishman, you can see standing above him in the photo, House Speaker Tip O’Neill, a Democrat. The two men disagreed on many issues, but they could sit down and talk about it. America was a different country then for sure, simpler, if not at times slightly simplistic. But the founding principles of the nation still remain. That’s how Reagan began his Inaugural Address.

He did believe in smaller government and focused in reducing it. To me the health and safety of all Americans is the essential job of government. And cannot be ignored. More than half of the internal divisive battles raging like wildfire in America today address these issues, not the traditional policy issues of the 1980s and before. I have no wand to return the nation to LOGICAL thinkers, focused on problem solving, not finger pointing. This hyperventilation on both sides is leading to the destruction of critical infrastructure and precarious health and safety issues, as critical decisions are pushed off. Many of these issues are reaching a dangerous tipping point.

Will we realize demonizing the “other” has accomplished nothing but a sicker population (and the death of half a million Americans) and a crumbling infrastructure? It seems the resolution so necessary today is impossible to achieve. Could we not tiptoe towards the other side for a moment of silence? There are good minds in both camps. We just cannot hear their thoughts over the roar of selfish megaphones, spouting cultural divisiveness, not solving a single issue. The loudest seem to be the ones who most want to run for President in 2024. Let us solve some problems and try to set out a future for all our children before  we even think about who is up next. Then we’ll talk.

Learning to Lead in Crisis

Leaders also need to breathe–so smell the daffodils and savor the spring before you jump into your next challenge. Now more than ever we all need to appreciate what we’ve accomplished–surviving one awful year when we learned about ourselves first!
Rondale Productions photo

Women’s role in helping the world fly right, progress, and assist in our successes may be too much to bite off this holiday season of spring break, basketball championships, and holy services. But would that stop us?

Two authors of “Making Yourself Indispensable” in HBR October 2011: Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, CEO and President, respectively, of a leadership/development consultancy, refer to the “glass cliff,” something new to me.

The idea behind the “glass cliff” is that when a company is in trouble, a female leader is put in charge to save it, as opposed to a “glass ceiling,” the invisible barrier to advancement that woman often face when they are up for promotion to the highest levels.

The glass cliff comes to mind in thinking of Vice President Harris being sent to visit leaders on our southern borders to impact the record number of immigrants, primarily children and teens, coming across the border. Whew! That is a tall order. She is from California, where similar, but not as pressing problems have occurred for years. But the magnitude and the immediacy of the issue now, in the opening 100 days of her position in the White House, makes it a bit more critical. Operating without a net.

As discussed in an earlier blog, there are just 38 female CEOs at work in America today. Some took on the big job when the company already faced severe challenges. Some gambled that they could resolve whatever mess they inherited. Thirty-eight percent of those women who gambled were forced out.. Just 27% of the men who gambled were forced out.). Often the women are followed by male CEOs. But at Xerox, Ursula Burns, the first African American woman at a Fortune 500 company, seceded Anne Mulcahny, who took the helm when Xerox faced financial challenges during mergers and acquisitions and near bankruptcy.

Marisa Mayer came in at Yahoo when the company had wolves at the door. When Patricia Russo, former CEO of Lucent Technologies, came onboard the company had three years of negative shareholder returns. Board members were drawn to her upbeat nature and her warmth to motivate employees—the “savior effect” is what some call it. Some analysts say women are more willing to accept these long-shot jobs as their “only chance” to break into a CEO position. Others say the challenge to show what they can do in a crisis pulls them into these positions. 

Opportunities lie ahead for women

It is a big shift from 1977 when the Equal Rights Amendment passed Congress.  But the women who stayed at home, some of the homemakers, feared the ERA with an assist from Phyllis Schlafly, the mother of five, trained as a lawyer, and married to a politician. She told them they were losing their “status” as more younger women chose to work first before getting married/having children, or always working, even after marriage and children. In the end, enough men and women in key states voted against the ERA to deep six it when the time limit for ratification by the states ran out.

Ironically, the things these “no-ERA-not-ever” folks feared would rock the country happened without the ERA ever becoming law. A good portion of the change came naturally as more women went to work for economic or career-positive reasons. Others looked at issues like same-sex marriage and decided it was a personal decision.

In the intervening years from 1970s to the 2020s, particularly the last year, a lot of changes have taken place as each of us determine how to maintain our lives in a Pandemic. Those of us who did not know already learned that you do not need to be working in an office along side your colleages or your boss in order to get many jobs done. Many of the jobs that don’t require a computer are blue collar jobs that pay less, some have been at greater risk than before the Pandemic.

Lessons learned—some came hard, and some were easier than we expected.

In December 2020, Zenger and Folkman issued a report about the impact of women as leaders. They used an analysis of 360-degree assessments by people who worked with the women leaders (conducted between March and June 2020). The survey addressed how leaders performed in the crisis that was 2020. The team pulled from the assessments of over 60,000 leaders (22,603 women and 40,187 men) and compared the results. Women were rated more positively on 13 out of 19 areas that comprise overall leadership effectiveness. Men took the lead in technical/professional expertise.

Based on an analysis of 360-degree reviews during the pandemic, competencies in key areas were:

                                                                                                      Women                               Men

            Takes initiative                                                               60                                         50

            Inspires and motivates others                                   59                                         52

            Develops others                                                            58                                         49

            Builds relationships                                                       58                                         51

            Displays high integrity and honesty                         57                                         49

            Communicates powerfully & prolifically                 57                                         52

            Champions change                                                      56                                          51

            Makes decisions                                                           56                                         49

            Innovates                                                                        56                                         53

            Solves problems/analyzes issues                              56                                         53

            Drives for results                                                           55                                         48

            Values diversity                                                             55                                         45

            Establishes stretch goals                                             55                                         50

            Takes risks                                                                      52                                         51

            Source: Zenger-Folkman 2020

Each leader assessed by the group received an employee engagement score based on their direct reports’ responses to questions about how satisfied and committed they felt. The engagement scores for direct reports of female leaders were significantly higher. The overall average for both male and female leaders was the 51st percentile. Respondents put greater importance on interpersonal skills, such as “inspires and motivates,” “collaboration/teamwork,” and “relationship building.”

The survey team believed the most valuable part of the data collected during the crisis is hearing from direct reports about what they value and need from leaders now. Direct reports were looking for leaders able to pivot and learn new skills, who emphasize employee development and understand the stress, anxiety, and frustration that workers feel.

Leadership traits do not know a gender. We all have areas where we thrive and expertise we’ve struggled to acquire. But learning more about the traits that help a team work together can only be beneficial as we move forward, building our way out of the Pandemic.  Many of the traits that were found to be a distraction in the previous world of leadership, now are realized as assets that help build a team, nurturing success.  Breathe!