Bill Clinton / Donald Trump Quiz

Match each statement on the left with the statement on the right that is most consistent with it.

A:   “Bill Clinton’s affairs were just about sex and that’s his private life. I might agree that it’s damaging and wrong, but it has nothing to do with his capabilities to be a good president.”

B: “Bill Clinton used unequal power to score with women and then lied about it. From an HR Legal point of view, using unequal power as a mentor, boss, counselor or master to a protege is a form of assault; Such a man should not have been our President.”

1: “Donald Trump’s lewd statements show a misogyny unbecoming a president; he is crass, low, predatory and he brags about actions that amount to sexual assault; he is unfit for the office.”

2: “Donald Trump’s lewd comments on women are just locker-room talk, his private boys-will-be-boys moment like many have had; it’s just sex-talk, boy-talk, and has nothing to do with his fitness to govern.”

Key:screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-7-40-49-am

Correct match is A-2 and B-1. These are consistent positions. Not that they are morally equivalent (they’re not), but at least you are not changing your view of what you’ll wink at, or completely forgive, simply because you prefer the politics of one and not the other.

Pairing B-2 is the common Republican inconsistency; A-1 is the common Democratic inconsistency. Both involve lengthy explanations for why your guy’s sins are not quite the same thing as the other’s, according to you.

The Republican inconsistency (B-2) engages in the hypocrisy of deriding Clinton’s Oval Office shenanigans while excusing Trump’s lewd locker-room talk. I cannot figure out this inconsistency except by saying that it’s held by someone who likes Donald but not Bill.

“But Bill was President at the time, and lied.” That makes it different? One was president, and one wants to be. Both have sought to score on women, and have. But your guy would be different in office, once there? He with the 7th grade boys locker room braggadocio would not “grab her *****” if he thought he could get away with it?

“But Bill actually did things to women — this thing with Donald is all talk.” No. I’ve read the New Testament too many times not to remember the words about how if it’s in your heart, you’ve as good as done it. The heart is revealed just as much by words as actions.

The Democratic inconsistency (A-1) is that Bill’s was “just sex” but Trump is lecherous and misogynistic. But if you have ever pontificated that “his private life is separate from his ability to lead” then it is hypocritical not to apply the same reasoning to Trump. This might unnerve you, so you protest that you are not inconsistent, that at the time you agreed that Bill was wrong in this.

But you, and the rest of us, have effectively given Bill his pass. His behavior is now viewed as quaint, the stuff of jokes, giving us a snicker just to see him shake hands with Melania at the last debate. We’ve forgiven him so much that it’s cute now. “Time heals,” we say, and this lulls us into thinking we can give Donald some fresh outrage without it pointing to our hypocritical gee-aw-shucks tolerance of Bill’s past. Or maybe it’s just that we do not have Bill on a hot mic talking about his power to grab things.

To say that Donald’s lewdness is different and worse is to say that there is a line demarcating two categories of sexual misconduct carried out against female victims. This side of that line, a man’s offenses are passable for leadership, but not beyond. I want to hear that case made, and to read the guidebook on how that line is drawn. That will be a hoot.

You try to make that case, and I will imagine how to explain to your daughter that in America if a woman is ever described as a target for groping by a grotesque showman, that man is unfit to lead, but if it actually happens with her boss in the Oval Office, it’s no problem.

Of the consistent pairings, I do not recommend A-2 (It was “only sex” for Bill, and only “locker room talk” for Donald). Though in the matching quiz the sentiments are consistent, in terms of a personal position it is low reasoning, at least morally. Two wrongs do not make a right, we say. In fact, what it makes is, well, two wrongs. This is playground whining, crying that “he did it too!” Trump is already going there when he brings up Bill’s behavior.

The moral pairing is B-1. Bill victimized women and so did Donald. And we could consider forgiving them both. You could even consider forgiving one of them, and not the other, (for mysterious reasons of your own) but at least be consistent when comparing the original offenses. On policy positions or temperament it is understandable that we would say that one is (or could be) the better leader, but when invoking their sexual behaviors, they either both qualify for a pass, or neither do.

Whose Life Matters?

Give me a slogan I can act on, a saying so true and clear that I must change myself, one with words that compel and inform my behavior. I want to do my part in changing our bitterly divided culture. I’m looking for a call to action, particularly about how I can assert that people’s lives indeed have value. IMG_0089

“Black Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” show some promise, but out of their contexts they stand as philosophical statements about human value and carry no explicit calls to action. These lives matter, yes, I agree. Now what?

Well, some might say that those slogans have plenty of action to offer. They will say that once set in context of the current national debate, “Black Lives Matter” infers that police practices display systemic racism and that I am called to advocate for this to change. But I am not sure the inferences of systemic racism are true. And even if they are, the call to action is not to me, except as an advocate. The real call to action from these slogans is to those in power, that they must somehow reform the system.

I want a slogan that will call upon me to effect change, not merely advocate that others do. I want to change the culture with actions more effective than marching, protesting, or uselessly arguing on Facebook.

The life I must value first must be a specific person. Referring to a whole class of people is as highly conceptual as it is divisive, and it shirks the responsibility to give immediate help to specific persons. (Lack of specificity about whose lives are named in the slogan is why “all lives matter” provides even less help).

Neighbor, then, is the better term—a specific person, someone (as we shall see) not just near my address, but who has entered my sphere of influence. Yes, black and blue lives matter, but I seek a life that matters that is right in front of me, or that has crossed my path, or in some way entered my world.

Another deficit to the “lives matter” sayings is this verb “to matter.” Again, it does not prevail upon me. It’s rather like insisting that someone has got to be important to other people. It asserts that, by golly, you all better realize how important these lives are to you. Again, this is swell, and I sure do wish that other people would change their ways, but I do not want a slogan about what others must do, but what I must do.

If we really want all these other people to change, it must start first with me, and how I value the people in my life.

I must love. No other word requires my action so deeply. That’s truly how to make someone matter—to love them. And with the words “love” and “neighbor,” we have gone retro, I realize. Go with what you know, I say. The never-worn-out “Love your neighbor” is personal, specific, quiet and effective, not to mention divine. The slogan does not make the news, but if we turn off the news and all start loving our neighbors, imagine how the world would change.

This does not refer only to loving the guy next door, nice as he is. The person who heard Jesus say “love your neighbor” immediately wanted to limit the definition of “neighbor.” This inquirer did not want to be obligated to the wrong kind of people. He asked “who, then, is my neighbor?” Jesus replied with the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

Maybe you know the parable well. A man, an Israelite, was robbed and beaten to within an inch of his life. Religious people from his own faith did not stop to help him, but a foreigner did. That was the Samaritan. He cared for the person in need on his way, and thus defined “neighbor.”

The Samaritan was not the guy next door. He was not even of the same ethnic group, country or religion. Keep in mind that the Jews and Samaritans hated each other; one would hardly call the other a neighbor. Yet Jesus rightly teaches that the Samaritan, the one actively loving another in need, even an enemy, was the neighbor.

And the neighbor is not a class of people. A neighbor is a specific person with needs whom we encounter on our way, as we go. Jesus did speak of groups of people whose lives mattered, yes (“blessed are the poor”), but when he was pressed to classify the group defining “neighbor,” he did not speak of a class of people that mattered, that was to receive our love. He spoke of an individual with needs. The one whom we encounter on our way.

Whose life matters? I could say “my neighbor’s life matters!” but the better saying is the ancient and divine one: Love your neighbor. This is the clerk, the salesperson, the agent, the panhandler, the musician, the refugee, the other driver, the family member, friend, the lady scanning my groceries, the lonely guy in front of me in church, the gay couple across town, the grumpy patriot I know on Facebook whose every opinion is angry. These people enter my world in some way, and when they do I know their names. They become neighbors, no matter where they live.

There, with them, valuing them, listening, and befriending them. That is where my neighbor is, that is the person to value, the one with needs on my way. If I am to be an agent for world change, it will be there that it starts. Unnoticed by news cameras, unheralded except in heaven, it is the neighbor’s life that has value, and this is not proved if I say it, but only if I do it.

2014 Was a Dot Year

Timeline_of_My_Life-596x300This illustration is of someone’s life timeline (not mine). Have you ever been asked to draw one? This exercise allows you to share a quick overview of your life with a zigzagging line. Dots are labeled with a year (or age) at key points where the line bends to a new direction, where key changes occurred: moves and marriages, births and tragedies

2014 was a dot year for us.

There have been other dot years for me: ‘55, ‘64, ‘72, ‘78, ‘82, ‘85, ‘89, ‘90 and ‘97. Some of these represent changes in geography (‘55, ‘78, ‘85, ‘90), others show key changes in family relationships (‘64, ‘72, ‘82, ‘89) and in careers (‘78 and ‘97). Each of these numbers has a story to tell, though not here. Available on request. 🙂

All three of these kinds of change—geography, family and career—occurred last year. We moved to SLO, had engagements and a wedding, and I left Intel to begin consulting and teaching. Somehow it is fitting that the next course I teach at Cal Poly’s College of Business is “Managing Change.” To my list of instructor qualifications I will simply add: “2014.”

In business we love clean, crisp, quick changes. We prefer changes that are compactly described and efficiently implemented. And yet the human adjustments to these changes—the “transitions” we might call them—are often overlooked. These are the messy HR issues, the complicating and (we think) unnecessary distractions to corporate change. “We’re doing this, here’s why. Get over it.”

And yet these transitions are precisely the area where change management efforts often fail. Productivity lags in the wake of many changes. Costs increase to backfill for increased employee turnover and to provide remedial training. To overlook human transitions in a corporate change initiative is to make the change into a cure that is worse than the disease.

Good companies will manage human transitions. They will help employees understand what stays the same (i.e. what is not lost) and what is different (what is gained). They will help employees regain control, refresh their competencies in new settings, and understand the rationale for the change.

So now to take some of my own advice. What is continuous with the past and will never change? And what will I need to celebrate as past, to remember sweetly and to which I bid good-bye? What new shapes will my competencies take and in what new contexts will these old skills find new expression? And what is the narrative that makes sense of this all (why did we do this?)

The deep things at the center cannot change, and do not change. These include: Relationships with God and family, friendships built on affection, service and shared history, and my vocation/purpose as a facilitator for thriving people and teams. I cannot control how any of these change because of others’ decisions, but from my standpoint these are the wire strands at the center of the cable, the ones that do not break.

Yet much around these things is changing. We will worship in a new place; we have a new son-in-law, and very soon will gain another; we will build new family traditions, new geo centers and new memories (Christmas in Roseville has became Christmas on the Central Coast for 2014).

My brothers, cousins, in-laws and all the kin in radiating ancestry boxes linked by marriages and births, these are forever yet also changing. Like form-shifting specters, there’s a different shape at each glance, but the center holds. We still share love and prayers with friends from the years, and then also we meet new neighbors around the corner from our unfinished house in Serra Meadows.

Everything is the same. And different. And that’s OK. The narrative / rationale is that we are closer to kids and in an area where we seek to apply our old selves in new ways. But really, still, how much has changed? The center holds.

What will be the angle of the line that leaps into the future from the 2014 dot? We will get a bit of 2015 under our belt and then let you know.

Must We Even Take Sides at Thanksgiving?

The_First_Thanksgiving_cph.3g04961You would think that Thanksgiving is not a holiday for controversy. The occasion is intended to be warm, its history strong with themes of diversity and acceptance, religious freedom and pluralism, and the sharing of resources in response to need.

But we can argue nevertheless, and I am not referring to the way your Uncle Harry behaved last year.

To view the argument, look up any online article about a traditional aspect of the holiday, like “Mayflower descendants,” and then read the comment blog at the end. Witness there a social-political taking of sides more serious than whether the cranberry sauce at the first Thanksgiving had those ripple marks from the can.

It’s a thing, and you have to be on the right side of it. Didn’t you know that the Pilgrims were actually imperialists and the advance guard of the coming rape of the American landscape? Inside this opinion slung-with-swagger is the implication that with this new information your world is about to crumble. Worse yet, you probably perpetuate this piggish myth ever since you used crayon to color Squanto’s headdress.

This cracks me up. Mainly because it’s hilarious how the correctors of history take a kind of glee in destroying our mythologies. Of course we have myths. Get over it—your sentence beginning with “but did you know” delivers content neither new nor helpful. And any “yeah but” argument from the other side about inter-tribe Native American violence is equally unhelpful. It keeps the argument in the wrong place and just makes me tryptophan-tired.

These are discussions for another time. Just like Uncle Harry’s regrettable remarks, there’s a valid point to be made here, just not at the table. I like the truth too, and there is something good we can do with it.

And what is the truth? The first Thanksgiving came at a time of tremendous hardship for the Plymouth settlers. The local Wampanoag peoples helped the settlers with cultivation practices. A single letter records a feast with no mention of an invitation to the Wampanoag, but in response to the noise of musket practice, a group of them appeared at the meal and the Pilgrims offered them food and they ate with them.

That is all, and that is enough. I do not need the mythologies or revisionist histories from either camp in a debate. Here in bare and simple form is the picture of divergent lifestyles, faiths, races and cultures sitting at table. Some pictures do better without a caption.

Keep your narratives about the sins of the white man or the native. Give thanks for your meal, and invite someone over who you might otherwise have reason not to like. And make that your holiday narrative instead.

2013 Lessons / 2014 Actions

It took most of January 2014 to reflect and wordsmith some lessons learned from 2013. Here are four insights, and some action items for the upcoming year of changes.

6e40e540-c77a-4935-8f99-a04b2ff85d68_20141.  Risk Assessment in my life must improve. My positivity serves me well in so many ways, but it can hinder a full view of reality. Positivity shows up on my StrengthsFinder test. It can help me encourage others, create a brand, set a vision, and inspire a learner. However, positivity can also blind me to risk and rob me of any respect for the possibility of failure.

2014 To-Do Items:
a)     Invite my family and friends to be honest with me. And not with words like “have you considered whether…?” or “is there a chance that…?” No. Please say that you think what I’m about to do is really stupid. If it is, I mean.
b)    Get to know a few pessimists, just for a little balance. I know to hold those people at arm’s length, but that’s still close enough to hear them. I need to.

photo 4-1 2.  Dreams can come true. I refer to the kind of dreams that start with the words “someday I will.” 2013 saw one of these come to life when we camped across the US. Planning really made it possible, along with a generous sabbatical benefit from my employer.(www.crosscountrybycar.wordpress.com).

picstitch42014 To-Do:

a)     Quit thinking that anything is necessarily just not going to happen
b)    Start planning the next childhood dream. Alaska?
c)     When is someone too old to finish the John Muir Trail (half completed in 2002)?

3.  Relationships Matter: It is clearer to me than ever that I married my best friend and that my family means everything to me. And friendships can be too rarely enjoyed, but as we discovered in NY, DC, VA and CO last fall, many can be re-ignited on contact.

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Action items for 2014:
a)     Invest time, resources and attention in doing the best by family
b)    Add family members!
c)     Nurture friendships the old fashioned way. Not what Facebook means with the noun-made-verb friending. I mean, rather, to be a friend…old school, analog style.

4.  Reconciliation, I am convinced, sums up the Christian faith. 2013 was not different for me with respect to this; I’ve believed it for a long time. But reflecting on another 12 months of human activity, of families, nations, lovers, leaders and regular people, I cannot help but revisit that truth. The right and just God reconciled to us at his expense, when it was our entire fault, without waiting for an apology. So I guess it is more important to be close than to be right.

For 2014:
a)     Reconcile
b)    Forgive

We Have Met the Enemy …

The Sandy Hook grief will be raw for quite a while, yet as the days go by more of us find it irresistible to move from empathy to commentary.  Tweets, posts and punditry about guns and God began almost right after the awful shooting—too soon for some, but inevitable for most of us.

Our comments reveal a search for a cause.  Faced with such unthinkable wrong, the heart demands an explanation.  Only a sociopath would calculate this tragedy in Darwinian terms, shrug and move on—the rest of us will construct a cause-effect narrative as a pretext for some kind of action plan.  We will want to fix it.

A root-cause analysis ought to give us a single thing to work on, but it does not.  Most honest analyses of problems show an interconnected web of causes, and Sandy Hook is no exception.  It would be nice, if true. If the cause is access to guns, then we work on that.  Or if the culprit is the absence of God from school curricula, then we focus there.

Having multiple causes makes every pundit partly right, but incomplete when advocating his or her favorite position.  Everyone then has a piece of the truth.   This leads to the talk show shouting matches between biased half-right / half-wrong people who seek to land their points more on decibels than on reason.

Yet there is a cause underlying them all: It is the condition of the human heart.  By this I might be referring to the offender’s heart, that by some possession of illness or evil a human being would be capable of such horror.  But I mean more, much more.  I refer to our own hearts, each of our own individually and together corporately.   And I do not mean to infer that some lack of heart in Connecticut is to blame locally—I am referring only to the wider culture, and our responsibilities in it.

The social fabric is frayed, and each of us is one thread in particular.  And we have become—I have become—insulated and unconcerned for its integrity.  So I blame, when I should look within.

And what do I find within?  If I’m honest I see my comfortable and accepted hatreds, my limited affections, and my consumption of entertainments that distract me from those who might try my patience or exhaust my interest.  I see my supreme self-interest and my unconnected and insulated life (online connections do not count in this assessment).

Now take this narcissism and multiply it over all of us, over the millions of us.  In its full flower we see a kind of moral abdication.  We have turned our cry for independence into the demand to be left alone. We then create huge bureaucracies that will care where I will not, or cannot, and then some of us complain (rightly, I think) that those bureaucracies are too large and costly.

If we saw this abdication, this vacuum, and understood its negative power we would repent.  We would turn from our ways and meet our neighbors, learn the names of their kids and watch for their safety on the streets.  We would bring them meals when their grandparents die, ask to see the pictures of their vacations, pray for their teenage daughters when they run away.  We would volunteer. We would repent of our most insidious judgments, where we have called others wackos or fly-over-people, lefties or hicks, fags or breeders.  We would stop all that and weave a new fabric.

History gives us a few examples of such spiritual and cultural reformation, such as America’s “Great Awakenings” which contributed to public sentiment on slavery.  Or on a smaller scale, and more recently, we can point to a grassroots effort like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers that moved the dial on public perception of drunkenness from a quaint humor to a deadly irresponsibility.  Yes, the force of law came to bear on these examples, outlawing slavery and increasing punishments for drunken driving.  But the foundational re-assessment was at first a matter of the public soul.

I am not saying that we table our attention to the important social questions before us, whether those are the solutions loved from the left or right, whether about guns or prayer.  What I am saying is that all of us, left, center or right, must look to ourselves first, even before we leap to root out the broken systems, the inadequate laws or the wrong-headed interest groups.

The tragedy was even more than an injury to us; it was an affront.  The killer shamed us.  He shamed our community and our humanity.  One of our members spited us; he snuck under our instruction and avoided our scruples.  He defied us, or perhaps ignored us.

We think how could this happen?  Like a fix-it person who’s certain the problem must be out there, like a broken fuse in a circuit, we rush out, brow furrowed and tools in hand, yet fail to look inwardly.  Most of the discussion after Sandy Hook is about blame, and not introspection.  Rather than “shame on us” the messages are shame on the NRA, on the court rulings against prayer, on the Reagan-era disinvestment in community mental health practices, on video gaming or on movies.

However important some of those things are (and some of them are), that is not my point here.  I think we, and the way we live, is more at the heart of the matter than we want to admit.  In the words of the late Pogo cartoonist Walt Kelly, “we have met the enemy and he is us.”