It’s Time for Some Extreme Ownership

Thanks to the nuttiness that is the 2016 campaign for President the citizens of the United States have entered a zone of extreme divisiveness. We’ve always had disagreements and ideological divides, but over the past 2o-ish years it’s gotten progressively worse and what we’re experiencing now feels, to me, like the apex (or nadir) of our division. Our discourse is largely toxic, our rhetoric biting and our empathy almost non-existent. When the topic turns to politics people look like they could literally spit on each other’s shoes. It’s really bad.

By now we’ve all heard the arguments and justifications for each of the candidates, and we’ve either largely accepted them or dismissed them. Now that we’re in the final stages of the campaign we’re starting with the, “Well if my guy/gal loses then whatever bad happens is all the other side’s fault. I didn’t vote for that a-hole so you can’t hold me responsible for the result.” Of course that’s bullshit, and here’s why.

If you’re a supporter of Hillary Clinton and she loses to Donald Trump then you can’t just wash your hands of it. Your side lost because your candidate wasn’t strong enough to beat Trump. He ran a dirty and contemptible campaign you say? So what? If she were a good enough candidate she’d have overcome it. Of course the reverse is true too. The long and the short of it is this: no matter who gets elected we are all partly responsible for the result.

If you want to understand why this is so I highly recommend listening to this interview of former Navy Seal Jocko Willink. He is a proponent of something he calls “extreme ownership” which could also be called “quit whining and pointing fingers, and accept responsibility.” I truly believe that our biggest problem right now is not that we disagree, it’s that all-too-often we don’t accept responsibility for our role. It is our resistance to accepting our responsibility and choosing instead to point our fingers at those who disagree with us to say it’s their fault. We have to stop that.

So, to put it simply let me say this: no matter who gets elected I accept that I’m partly responsible for it, and I also accept that as a citizen of this country I’m also responsible for figuring out how to improve it no matter who gets elected. I hope you’ll do the same.

He Made Me Hit Him!

When I was a kid I had a terrible habit of slugging my younger brother. Granted it usually followed him tormenting me and me warning him that if he didn’t stop I was going to hit him. Despite my warnings he would continue to needle and annoy me until I passed the boiling point and slugged him; then he’d crumble to the ground in agony and scream for my mother. Sometimes I knew I’d truly hurt him, but many times he definitely hit the emote button to maximize the punishment he knew I was going to get.

When my Mom arrived on the scene a couple of things happened. First she’d ask, “What happened.” Then, as soon as I started explaining with, “I hit him, but he started it…” she’d cut me off and say something to the effect of, “I don’t care what he said or did, there’s no excuse for hitting him. You’re older and bigger than he is, so there’s just no excuse.” Later, after doling out my punishment, she’d ask me why I continued to let him sucker me in like that and why I couldn’t learn to just ignore him? I didn’t have an easy answer, but deep down I knew she was right.

Why this trip down memory lane? Well, I was reading about the NC’s republican leadership saying they’d entertain the idea of repealing HB2 if Charlotte would repeal it’s bathroom ordinance, and it reminded me of me and my brother. They’re claiming that Charlotte passing its bathroom ordinance forced them to pass a law that not only negated the ordinance, but also removed the ability for municipalities to enact employment bias protections more stringent than the state’s, or for employees to sue employers in state court for wrongful termination. In other words the legislature, and governor, did the equivalent of beating the snot out of Charlotte because the city council stuck its tongue out at them.

Here’s what’s being floated by the republicans:

North Carolina’s two top legislative leaders put their weight behind a proposed repeal of House Bill 2 Sunday night, but only if the Charlotte City Council repeals its own transgender nondiscrimination ordinance first…

The joint statement issued on behalf of House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger is both the clearest sign yet that the General Assembly could backtrack on the controversial law and an effort to pressure the Charlotte City Council in accepting at least some of the responsibility for a months-long fracas over the measure…

“If the Charlotte City Council had not passed its ordinance in the first place, the North Carolina General Assembly would not have called itself back into session to pass HB 2 in response,” the legislative leaders’ statement reads. “Consequently, although our respective caucuses have not met or taken an official position, we believe that, if the Charlotte City Council rescinds its ordinance, there would be support in our caucuses to return state law to where it was pre-HB 2.”

Simply put I think the Charlotte city council would be nuts to cave on this. First, because they don’t gain anything by conceding and second, because the legislature has yet to explain why they can’t repeal the parts of the bill that had nothing to do with the bathroom ordinance.

What the republicans don’t want anyone to pay attention to is Part IV of HB2. Here’s what it says:

PART IV. SEVERABILITY 31 SECTION 4. If any provision of this act or its application is held invalid, the invalidity does not affect other provisions or applications of this act that can be given effect without the invalid provisions or application, and to this end the provisions of this act are severable. If any provision of this act is temporarily or permanently restrained or enjoined by judicial order, this act shall be enforced as though such restrained or enjoined provisions had not been adopted, provided that whenever such temporary or permanent restraining order or injunction is stayed, dissolved, or otherwise ceases to have effect, such provisions shall have full force and effect.

So, if I’m Charlotte my reply is that at a minimum the legislature needs to repeal parts II and III of HB2 before we’ll discuss anything. Even then I think Charlotte’s city council would be dumb to even entertain the idea of repealing the ordinance – after all it’s the legislature and governor who are over a barrel right now – but at least the conversation would be about the specific bathroom bill and not the constraints on local municipalities to provide added employment protections for the LGBT community if they so desired.

How do the legislators and governor not get that to everyone else in the world who isn’t from their camp they look like how I did to my Mom way back when. Even if Charlotte passed the ordinance with the specific intention of provoking them, how could they be so stupid as to get suckered into overreacting and getting themselves sent into economic timeout?

My excuse is that I was 12, but what’s theirs?

A Big L On My Forehead

While the “L” on my forehead would normally mean “loser”, today it has a different meaning. It is the Roman numeral representing 50 which happens to be the birthday I’m celebrating today. Yep, it’s a landmark and I’m enjoying it – full confession, I LOVE all the “happy birthdays” I’m getting Facebook and LinkedIn, and the emails and texts from my brother, kids and other family members wishing me the same – beginning with some wonderfully thoughtful gifts from my (much) better half this morning and an edible basket she had delivered today at work.

I’m also very lucky in that I’m the son of a writer and as such I get my very own “origin story.” I haven’t asked her permission to share it, but I figure she sent it as a gift so I don’t really need to. Mom’s a helluva writer and this is something I’ll cherish forever.

It was Monday, still a bit warmer than is the norm in southern Germany in mid-September, but not so hot as it had been in August, when little droplets scurried down the sides of a belly that no longer fit inside the maternity blouses unless they were unbuttoned at the bottom.

This was day 21 – a full three weeks after the due date.  But then the due date was known to be less than dependable.  This child had been conceived after the last birth control pill and before the first menstrual cycle.  It was not supposed to happen that way, but if mothers have any sixth sense at all about such things, this mother had a pretty reliable read on what occurred.

They’d been in Garmisch, “skiing.”  When one owns no equipment and has no experience, one “rents” from the military.  In that, as in so many things, one size fits all – that is, all of the non-elite.  Boots came unstrapped, poles and skis were all the same no matter what height the supposed skiier.  He, of course, went right down the slope first time out.  She tried and fell, tried and fell, tried and fell.  Gave up.  There was no ski lift working, because there had been an avalanche.  The ski area is essentially a bowl on the top of the mountain, so they walked back, falling against the side of the mountain when they met anyone coming the other way.  One such traveler looked at her and said, “Ma’am, if you feel anything like you look, you should get back to the lodge NOW.”

A variety of effluents – tears, snot, saliva – created a small grotto on her face.  Her hands and feet had no feeling.  The thawing out that happened in the lodge was (though she had no way of knowing it) training for pain tolerance that would be needed in the Heidelberg hospital 10 months hence.  Later they got warm.  Nice and warm.

They determined she was, indeed, pregnant the same day that he had hernia surgery in Heidelberg.  He had no real reaction to the news, but then he’d been shaved (The hair on his chest looked like the tree line on a mountaintop.) and cut open.  Reason enough.

The months that followed were full of new experiences.  All pregnant women went to the clinic on Thursday.  The waiting room had all the appeal of a cattle barn – no mooing, but there could have been, given the size, shape and gender of those assembled.  

There was no obstetrician in evidence.  She never really knew what the specialties were of the three who saw her on any given Thursday.  About all she learned was the baby seemed normal, she should eat correctly and take vitamins, and if she allowed her weight gain to exceed 20 pounds she would be put in the hospital and fed whatever way was necessary to take it back down to below 20 pounds.  That meant each visit was preceded by a half-hour or so in the bathroom trying on all possible combinations of ugly tent-sized garments to see which was the lightest.  Pre-electronic scales, in that bathroom and at the clinic, praise be.

Even with the restricted weight gain, she had to master the art of waddling.  Somewhere there is a Super 8 tape that is embarrassing testimony to just how inept she was.  It’s a video taken from behind as she stumbled more than strolled through the gardens near Lake Constanz.

All in all, though having no baseline to which to compare her experience she didn’t know it, the pregnancy was uneventful, even comparatively comfortable.  No morning sickness, no swollen ankles.  The only real issues were that many body parts seem to have ballooned in the most graphic sense of the word.  The bra size went from 34 A to 36 C. (No complaints from the prospective paternal corner.) All 18.5 pounds stuck straight out front.

When the due date passed, and then a week elapsed, they literally spent one Sunday driving the back roads, looking for bumps.  The second week, he as building captain was supposed to paint the fence out front.  He had issues at work, so she painted – belly facing parallel, shoulders turned, white paint on her elbows.   Lots of energy.  “Maybe, oh maybe,” she thought, “this is what Aunt May called ‘lightening,’ that surge of energy just before labor.”

At the beginning of the third week, the Stars and Stripes carried a story of a woman who delivered a child without waking up from her afternoon nap.  She got calls and more calls.  “That’s how you should do it!”

Then on Sunday she began bleeding.  They went to the clinic, where the doc on call insisted he could not examine her because there were no grey ladies (volunteer nurses’ aides) available.  She insisted that the father would suffice.  It became clear, then, that the doc didn’t know what he was looking for.  He was an ophthalmologist.  He said he thought she had twins – he heard two heartbeats.  Back home they went.

Monday brought a bridge game, and at the table the first slight pains began. By the time the about-to-be dad got home from work, the pains had become regular.  He showered, and they left, leaving behind the grilled steaks that should have been dinner.  She rode the 30 kilometers to the hospital in an ambulance, while he followed in he car.  The two medics in the ambulance had no experience with monitoring expectant mothers or delivering babies.  They pleaded, “Why not lie down?  That way, maybe the pains won’t be coming faster.”

Less than nine hours later, a healthy baby with a deep, deep voice made his appearance.  Clearly, he had attended a lecture in preparation.  The rules he knew and followed were:

You eat regularly, every four hours.

Before the first month is out, you learn to skip that feeding in the middle of the night.

You can decide what you like to eat, within limits.  Carrots are great.  Spinach is not.

Pooping is a wonderful instrument of revenge.  She will put a “poop pad” on her lap, so the drama may be limited there.  He will not, so you can make a real mess.  (Big enough, as it turned out, that he threw away his slacks, lest the dry cleaner think the mess had been his.)

She really knows absolutely nothing about breast-feeding, so you can take charge.  Be careful, though, because someone has taught her to put a safety pin on the bra strap on the side she starts with, to make sure she starts on the other side the next time.  The pin can scratch your nose.

Laugh a lot.  Chortling is even better.

He made an “A.”  Then and forever after.

Did Anyone Notice or Care?

A couple of noteworthy and related things happened this weekend:

  1. The Winston-Salem Journal endorsed Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson for President.
  2. No one really gave a s&*%.

Now the Winston-Salem Journal isn’t what you’d call a widely read newspaper, but it is the major daily for a city of about 230,000 and in the past this decision would have been notable. The muted reaction could be because the Richmond Times-Dispatch did it first, but honestly I don’t think anyone cares what the editorial boards of any of the papers think. If that’s not a sign of how little influence local dailies have these days I don’t know what is.


You Can’t Find the Truth

Remember Jack Nicholson’s infamous dialogue from A Few Good Men? You know when Tom Cruise is grilling him on the witness stand and says, “I want the truth” and Nicholson’s reply is, “You can’t handle the truth!” That’s what pops to mind when reading this article titled The rise of the American conspiracy theory at The Week, expect instead of “You can’t handle the truth” it’s “You can’t find the truth.”

The article is basically about modern politics and how over the past generation there’s been a concerted effort by political conservatives to destroy the credibility of liberal institutions that were the gatekeepers of what we can call capital-t “Truth.” You know, institutions like the liberal media, the liberal government, the liberal faculty at fill-in-the-blank university, etc. Unfortunately instead of acting as a counterbalance to the liberal biases of those institutions – and yes they often were biased – or insisting on more objectivity, they simply cut them off at the knees. In essence they threw the objective baby out with the liberal bathwater.  Let’s let the article’s author describe what’s resulted:

Now how about this: We know that greenhouse gases are producing destabilizing changes in the Earth’s climate. And that human beings evolved from other species over millions of years. And that Barack Obama is a Christian. And that Hillary Clinton had nothing to do with the death of Vince Foster.

Large numbers of Americans deny those and many other assertions. Why? Because the trustworthiness of the authorities that make the claims has been under direct and continuous attack for the past several decades — and because the internet has given a voice to every kook who makes a contrary assertion. What we’re left with is a chaos of competing claims, none of which has the authority to dispel the others as untrue.

That sounds like a recipe for relativism — and it is, but only (metaphorically speaking) for a moment, as a preparatory stage toward a new form of absolutism. Confronted by the destabilizing swirl of contradictory assertions, many people end up latching onto whichever source of information confirms the beliefs they held before opening their web browser. Instead of relativistic skepticism they’re left with some of the most impenetrable dogmas ever affirmed.

One of the reasons it’s been so troubling to see traditional media implode the way it has is that we’ve lost the whole concept of the Fourth Estate. Of course there was always bias in the media, but there was also a great deal of effort put into trying to be as objective as possible. There was pride taken in holding the powers-that-be accountable no matter which party they belonged to. Unfortunately in order for a media outlet to be successful these days it has to pick a side, to be affiliated with one of the teams, and thus lose any chance of being considered an objective source of information.

And that’s just the media. When all institutions are undermined, when facts are successfully slain by articles of faith, we lose a most critical element of a functioning society – the belief that our institutions, as flawed as they might be, are in place to promote the common good. That in general our institutions can be trusted to eventually do what is right and best for our society.  Unfortunately our current political environment has killed that belief. As the author says:

This is what happens when the principle of democratic egalitarianism is applied to questions of knowledge and truth — when instead of working to reform institutions devoted to upholding norms of objectivity and verifiable evidence, critics turn them into a target for destruction altogether, transforming public life into an epistemological free-for-all in the process.

That things have degraded so badly is troubling. But it’s nowhere near as troubling as the realization that we haven’t got the foggiest clue how to reverse the damage.



Flying Tips

Normally I just ignore and delete messages from the various companies who have my email address, including American Airlines. I get quite a bit of email from them because I’m a frequent flyer and I’m too lazy to bother opting out of their email campaigns so 99% of the time I just hit “delete” for anything I get from them that’s not related to a trip I’m taking. Then this morning I received an email asking me to share a travel tip and in exchange 250 miles would be donated to one of six charities – I would get to pick which – and I’d be entered into a contest with a chance to win something which I can’t even remember. I was eating lunch at my desk so I decided, “Ah, what the hell” and clicked on the link and I’m glad I did because there are a ton of travel tips shared by others that are kind of fun and informative to read. Here’s a couple:

easy snack (shared by maryt) – I pack single serve instant oatmeal packets and a plastic spoon. Just ask for a cup of hot water and voila, an easy breakfast

Empty Water Bottle (shared by StacyB) – Bring an empty water bottle and fill it up after security. Save money, stay hydrated, be environmentally friendly. Help reduce the significant amount of water bottle waste created by air travel.

Pack a carabiner (shared by Kdro) – I pack a small locking carabiner. Attached to my carry on, it holds a small LED flashlight and it can fix a broken strap; it holds my hat, on my small shoulder purse it keeps track of my sunglass case, my umbrella and sometimes my water bottle. In a pinch, it can even be a belt extender.

maps (shared by Wal) – A few days before you depart download an offline version of Google Maps of the places you are visiting. Helps you around town even if you don’t have roaming data service.

Pre-Load Phone Numbers (shared by Gregg) – Load all of the phone numbers you might need to dial in advance so you don’t wast time searching if something goes wrong.

There were literally thousands of tips shared and I’m betting the airline is mining them for customer experience data as I type this. There was most definitely a lot of overlap, with scores of people recommending that you roll your clothes when you pack, make sure you have a change of clothes in your carry on bag, the empty water bottle thing, etc., but given enough time I think even the most seasoned traveler could find a useful tip in there somewhere.

I’ll end with one of my own tips, based on hard-earned experience. If you’re on a flight that ends up being cancelled at the gate then call the customer service number for the airline immediately to try and re-book your flight. I’ve done it several times while standing in the customer service line at the airport and invariably I get it done on the phone before I get to the head of the line. And if you know you’re going to be stuck in the airport overnight, and especially if it’s weather related and the airline isn’t providing a room, then find the closest airport hotels and make a reservation, either by phone or mobile app, ASAP. If you don’t you might find all the rooms booked and you’ll end up sleeping on the terminal floor.

The Discipline of Listening Well

Harvard Business Review has a great article on good listening and it doesn’t involve keeping your mouth shut:

We analyzed data describing the behavior of 3,492 participants in a development program designed to help managers become better coaches. As part of this program, their coaching skills were assessed by others in 360-degree assessments. We identified those who were perceived as being the most effective listeners (the top 5%). We then compared the best listeners to the average of all other people in the data set and identified the 20 items showing the largest significant difference.  With those results in hand we identified the differences between great and average listeners and analyzed the data to determine what characteristics their colleagues identified as the behaviors that made them outstanding listeners.

We found some surprising conclusions, along with some qualities we expected to hear. We grouped them into four main findings:

Good listening is much more than being silent while the other person talks…

Good listening included interactions that build a person’s self-esteem

Good listening was seen as a cooperative conversation…

Good listeners tended to make suggestions.

The article has much more detail, but these main points give you an idea of where they’re headed with their findings. In a nutshell it’s not about just sitting there, nodding your head and saying “Uh huh,” and more about actively listening, asking questions at the appropriate time and even providing feedback.

In this day and age of constant interruption and distraction it’s becoming increasingly rare to find those moments when you truly engage with another human being. Your phone rings in mid-conversation and you feel compelled to answer, email and text “pings” chime and you glance down to read them while someone is talking to you, your to-do list hovers in the background of your mind and draws your attention away from the conversation, etc. All of this gets in the way of effective, concentrated listening.

Sadly, the people with whom we allow the most interruptions are those who are most important to us; spouses, kids and co-workers are often cut off while we answer the call from the boss, client or prospect. Why is that? Is it because we know they aren’t going anywhere and thus can talk to us any time? Maybe, but that means we’re devaluing the minutes we spend with them because of a perceived wealth of future minutes and that’s a fool’s trade because those future minutes tend to have a way of never materializing.

I’m a terrible offender when it comes to this bad habit of not actively and effectively listening, but I’m making a concerted effort to change that. To that end I’ve developed some rules for myself that I’m hoping to get better at following. This isn’t a particularly extensive, or comprehensive list, but it’s a start:

  1. Never, ever answer the phone when someone is in front of you having a conversation. (I’m actually pretty good at this, likely because I hate talking on the phone). The only exceptions would be if not answering could lead to very serious consequences like losing your job, sleeping on the couch for a week or getting the cold shoulder from your kid for a month. If those are possibilities then you’re likely expecting that call so that leads to rule 1-A: If you’re expecting a call you should tell whoever you’re talking to that you’re expecting an important call before you even start the conversation. That way they can decide if they want to risk being interrupted or wait for a more opportune time to talk.
  2. Mute your mobile so that you don’t even see/hear alerts for email, texts, etc. while you’re talking to someone. (I’m okay at this, but I need to get better).
  3. At home, leave your phone on your bed stand or in a drawer so you pay attention to your spouse, kids, roommates, etc. (I go through stages with this one and want to get better at it).
  4. At work, leave your desk and talk while standing in the hall or meeting in the conference room or on other neutral ground, and while you’re at it leave your mobile on your desk. Your almost guaranteed to have a shorter, more effective conversation that’s beneficial to all parties involved.
  5. Pay attention. I don’t think I’m alone in struggling with this one. My mind wanders – it goes off into la-la-land and returns via To-Do List road – so I’m trying to trick myself by pretending that I’m going to be tested on what’s being talked about. Results are mixed so far, but I think I’m getting better.
  6. Do what my wife does. She’s a WONDERFUL listener. She remembers everything, offers feedback and opinions and is empathetic, almost to a fault. If I can channel just 20% of her ability I’ll be on the right track.

I wish I could offer up some simple, listicle-like solutions to better listening, but I think it’s a lot like losing weight – you just have to work on developing good habits and stick to the program. Before you know it you’re skinnier and more attentive, which I think most of us would agree is a good thing.