Posts tagged “Authenticity

Our certain future

I am constantly amazed.  Not only that.  I seem to be constantly amazed at things that happen … well …  constantly.  You’d think that seeing something over and over and over would eventually wear you down and erode wonder, awe and amazement.  Not for simple minded people like me.  I sit back and watch people do the same silly thing over and over.  And I say to myself, “wow!” … “that is amazing!”

What the heck am I talking about?

It is the audacious certainty with which people predict the future.

toy2r-emilio-garcia-jumping-brain-toyAnd I’m not talking the simple stuff.  Things like, “if you don’t brush your teeth will rot.”  Or, “if you constantly lie eventually people won’t trust you.”  Or, “if you’re disciplined and sacrifice today you can reap the benefits tomorrow.”  That is the simple stuff … the natural and predictable consequences to simple actions.

No, I’m talking about situations that are hopelessly complex, that have multivariate and fast changing events, that computers the size of Big Blue could never figure out.

But here we are with our little 3 lb brains and not only have we figured it all out (and well into the next decade no less!) … but we do so with  absolute, unapologetic and unqualified certainty.

This is more than just the “half full vs. half empty” syndrome.    It is not a question of style, character, or even slant.  It is the ability of people to see the same data, the same information, the same images, the same facts and draw opposite conclusions with the certainty of the sun coming up tomorrow.

Welcome to the health care debate.

  • It will decrease the deficit.   And it will raise the deficit.
  • It will increase abortions.  It will decrease abortions.
  • It will help business.  It will hurt business.

The Wall Street Journal says that health care reform is leading to the “wholesale destruction of wealth and capital.”  The White House says it simply is closing a loophole.  According to one Congressman the health care reform will lead to more aborted babies.  According to Bart Stupak nothing changes.  According to columnist and commentator Fred Hiatt health care reform is a ‘fiscal catastrophe.’  According to a former official of the Congressional  Budget Office, Mr. DeWater, it will reduce the deficit.

No wonder the media reports that the average American is confused.  The so-called ‘experts’ are not only disagreeing.  They are violently disagreeing with even more violent confidence and conviction.

I suspect that the average American isn’t as much confused as he or she is simply recognizing the simple fact that all the “experts” ignore.  We just don’t know exactly what is going to happen.  There’s some good.  There’s some bad.  There’s some risk.  There’s some opportunity.

But we just don’t know.  None of us do.

In many ways the health care reform package is a lot like life.  It is hard to know what the future holds.

So what do you do?  You go back to those simple, historically proven, reliable things you can depend on.

Like brushing (and flossing!) so your teeth don’t rot.  And telling the truth so you can earn someone’s trust and confidence.  And working hard and sacrificing today so you and your family can benefit some day down the road.

As for the other stuff, it would be refreshing if someone said what everyone else has already figured out:

“Who knows?”

More human and political insight from my therapist

Let me be clear.  I’m not in therapy.

Maybe I should be.  Nothing wrong with it.  Just not for me right now.

By “my therapist” I refer to my beloved and longsuffering wife the social worker and therapist who explained to me and for all of us the real story behind the Tiger Woods ‘apology’.

obama-carex-inset-communityRecently she enlightened me on another recent event – the President’s health care reform summit.

Did you see it?  Any of it?  I found it fascinating and apparently others did as well.  There was so much interest that it crashed some of the sites that were carrying it live.

If you did see it you may remember the opening by President Obama and his desire to focus on the positive things they can agree on.

Focus on the positive.  Talk about things upon which we all can agree.

It went down hill from there.  Apparently the one thing they couldn’t agree on was to focus on what they agreed on.  What they did seem to agree on was sniping, digs, invectives, and occasional ad hominems – typical political talking points.

As my wife explained it, this was (like the Tiger episode) therapy in motion.  Again, let me paraphrase:

It looked like some of the first sessions you have when you are working with dysfunctional families, spouses, or parents with their children.  You always start with asking them to identify positive things about each other.  It never works.  Never.   Every time they come back with criticisms.   You’re not five minutes into the session and people are screaming at each other, letting loose f-bombs and a host of  “asshole”, “jerk”, “bitch” commentary.  They just have all this pent up anger and hate for each other.  They want — no, they need — to get all that stuff off their chests and on the table for everyone — at least the ‘independent’ therapist — to see.  They can’t help it.  They just have to go negative before they can begin getting to the positive.

The problem with the President is that he didn’t do this sooner and didn’t do it long enough.  You can’t do therapy in one session.  You only get people to move over time, little by little.  You have to wear them down.  If the President had done this twice a week for six months, I bet he’d have gotten folks to open up and talk about those positives.

But like therapy, this stuff takes time.

My therapist!  She’s not only beautiful but absolutely brilliant!

Tiger Woods: Making Amends, Not an Apology

The problem with most people’s view of the Tiger Woods apology is they view it as making an apology — not as making amends.

There have been no shortage of critics of the Tiger Woods’ televised apology.

George Will said of it on ABC News, “if your problem is that your behavior has revealed your public persona to be a fake, you shouldn’t stage this grotesquely fake press conference.”  The folks at the industry publication “PR Junkie” had a field day.

It was awkward, and it felt like one of those hostage videos when someone is forced, at gunpoint, to read a statement damning his or her nation and culture.

Even gold medal skier Lindsay Von got into the act.

alg_tiger_woods_pressNot only do we have a plethora of experts on public apologies, it seems that a good portion of those experts have about as much compassion and forgiveness in them as Nurse Ratched.

Clearly there’s a good portion of the public out there who never think along the lines of “there but for the grace of God go I.”

Tiger Woods is a dog that is down and there sure seems to be a lot of kicking going on.

Good for him?  Not really.  Good for us?  Absolutely not.

I look at it very differently and have my wife to thank for that.  Yes, my wife feels bad for Tiger Woods.   You might think that wives would be the first to cast a stone at Woods.  But you see my wife is a social worker.  She sees stuff like Tiger Woods all the time.  Much worse, actually.  She not only works with people that have addiction problems, she works with their victims as well.  She’s no softie when it comes to this stuff but I’d argue that she has more real world experience — and perhaps even more moral standing — to comment on this type of behavior than do Mr. Will or Mrs. Von.

Her reaction to this video was (and I’m paraphrasing):

This is a man in therapy.

His apology is not an apology, it is an effort to make amends.  Go read the twelve step process.  He is on the middle steps.  He went through each group of people that he hurt.  One by one.  Apologized to each.  Said it would be actions not words.  He’s doing exactly what he is supposed to do.

Let me tell you how awful the type of therapy is that he is going through.  It is humiliating.  It is degrading.  You have to accept that you’re a pervert.  A predator.  A sicko.  It isn’t pretty.  He’s not apologizing in the sense that people know it.  He’s trying to make amends to those he hurt.  He’s doing what he’s supposed to do.

I Feel for him.

That, my friends, is the attitude of compassion.

Criticize the apology and Woods all you want.  What was most interesting to me was that his focus WAS NOT golf, the Masters, getting back to the game. His timetable appeared to be in function of his ability to climb the twelve steps of recovery.  And I saw Friday’s televised event as him working on steps 8 and 9:

“make a list of all persons we had harmed, and be willing to make amends them all; and make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”

Can’t fault a man for that.

In fact, isn’t that something everyone should consider?

A social media lament … Jaron Lanier’s “You Are Not a Gadget”

I’d like to introduce you to an important book.  It is Jaron Lanier’s “You Are Not a Gadget:  A Manifesto.”

But first, a few questions.

How are you?  Everything good?

How about your life on social media?  How is that going?

jaron_lanierHave you updated your blog? Gotten any comments lately?  Any trackbacks?  And your Facebook page?  What is your friend count?  Who’s writing on your wall?  How about your Twitter feed?  Have you checked in with your Google account?  Gone through your Google alerts?  Charted your progress with Google Analytics?   Have you checked in with Foursquare?  Did you get a new badge?  How are your Twitter client numbers?  Is your following getting bigger?  Are your “retweets” growing?

Is this you?  Is this what social media is doing to your life?

For those who are regular visitors to the JuiceBar you’ll know that I’ve a love/hate relationship with social media.  I think a lot of us do.  And the irony of me taking on social media through social media is certainly not lost on me.

Enter Jaron Lanier, the father of virtual reality.  He is an admitted computer genius and geek but also a musician and artists.  And as he looks around at what social media has done, he’s none too happy.  His recent book “You Are Not a Gadget:  A Manifesto” is a great read.  Yesterday’s Washington Post review had a good summary paragraph up front.

A self-confessed “humanistic softie,” Lanier is fighting to wrest control of technology from the “ascendant tribe” of technologists who believe that wisdom emerges from vast crowds, rather than from distinct, individual human beings. According to Lanier, the Internet designs made by that “winning subculture” degrade the very definition of humanness. The saddest example comes from young people who brag of their thousands of friends on Facebook. To them, Lanier replies that this “can only be true if the idea of friendship is reduced.”

If you think that’s good, try this.  Here are a couple of excerpts from an interview on Amazon’s site.

Here Lanier talks about how Web 2.0 actually works against the average Joe …

The problem is not inherent in the Internet or the Web. Deterioration only began around the turn of the century with the rise of so-called “Web 2.0” designs. These designs valued the information content of the web over individuals. It became fashionable to aggregate the expressions of people into dehumanized data. There are so many things wrong with this that it takes a whole book to summarize them. Here’s just one problem: It screws the middle class. Only the aggregator (like Google, for instance) gets rich, while the actual producers of content get poor.

And the big problem according to Lanier is this crazy idea of the “liberation” of information — as if what we’re doing on the social media front is akin to the storming of the Bastille.  Lanier writes:

The original turn of phrase was “Information wants to be free.” And the problem with that is that it anthropomorphizes information. Information doesn’t deserve to be free. It is an abstract tool; a useful fantasy, a nothing. It is nonexistent until and unless a person experiences it in a useful way. What we have done in the last decade is give information more rights than are given to people.

Think about that.

With the whole huffing and puffing of social media claiming that “Content is King” … are we in turn making ourselves slaves?

Familiarty Breeds Contempt … The True Nature of Trust

There’s a buzz around a recent report by the public relations firm Edleman.  For ten long years they have invested in something they have called the “trust barometer.”  Think of it like a trust weather vane.  Where is trust going?  How strong is that wind?  Who becoming more trustworthy?  Who is becoming less?

trust1Now I’ll admit that I’m skeptical about all such research.  One reason is that I do that for a living.  I know how tricky it is to measure ANYTHING related to public opinion, much less values and beliefs.  Measuring trust is right up there with predicting the path of nanoparticles.  In fact — to carry the quantum physics analogy further — you can spend a lot of time just defining what you mean by the word trust.

But I digress.

The most recent report by the Edelman Trust Barometer is a juicy “man bites dog” story.

Amidst the growth of social networking and consumer generated content, people are trusting their friends LESS, not MORE.

Yes, you read that right.  All that money and time we spend on peer-to-peer communication has resulted in people thinking less and less of each other.

Seems that the more and better I get to know you, the more I realize that you’re not smarter than me.  You’re just another Joe.  Warts and all.

Perhaps even worse.  With all your tweets, and posts and streams I come to the startling realization that you are even MORE screwed up than I AM.  And I’m a really screwed up person!  I should know.

Because I know myself only too well, I don’t trust myself with a lot of things.  Now I’ve read your blog, your Facebook page, your Twitter stream and I’m not impressed.  I thought you had it all together.  But you sound a lot like me.  Why the hell should I trust you?

I write all this knowing people who read this blog are saying the same thing about me.  They read this and say — “who the hell is this guy?”  Why the hell am I listening to him?  I’m perfectly fine with that.

And that’s the lesson of social media.  We knew it before blogs and MySpace pages.  Familiarity can indeed breed contempt.

And that was the mistake all along.  The big myth in social media was that peer-to-peer communication would elevate everyone.  That there would be wisdom created in crowds.  That trust would emerge as we all got to know each other.

But something different happened along with way.  We didn’t change.  We remained ourselves, just with a lot more avenues to express that.  And we exposed the true nature of trust.

I don’t trust the shallow frat boy.  I don’t trust the occasional remark.  I don’t trust just any old joe just because he or she is my age and looks like me.   I don’t trust folks shilling for that latest cause.

I trust people who don’t look at me as a customer, a potential sale, or a Linked In connection.

I trust people who look at me as a person, a human being, and a friend.

The rise of the “NO TWEETING” zone

According to the New York Times, casting directors are now Tweeting as they audition for talent.  The main culprit in the Times story was Daryl Eisenberg.  In anticipation of criticism, Eisenberg issued a “free speech” defense … specifically “There is NO rule/guideline against Twitter/Facebook/MySpace/Friendster. Freedom of speech. Ever heard of it?”

6a00d835466f3a53ef0115711bfbf9970b-800wiI wonder if Eisenberg would be so charitable if someone else was Tweeting about him every time he, say, applied for a job or pitched a show idea.

And if I use Eisenberg’s logic, does it mean I can Tweet while I interview candidates at Brodeur Partners?  How would that work?  Something like …

“Hold on, you just said something really stupid, funny, incipient, lame, insightful [pick one].  My folks got to hear about this one.  Just a second while I grab my BlackBerry. ”

… or …

“I know I’m not looking at you but I’m listening … really I am.  You have no idea how focused I am on you and your well being right now.   And to prove it I’m tweeting to my 5,000 followers on Twitter — most of whom I don’t know and, to be frank really don’t care to know —  about what you just said.  Can you repeat that again, a bit slowly?  BTW, your mannerisms also crack me up.  Can you do that thing with your hands again?  I may need some time to figure out how to text that in 140 characters.”

To me, the offense is not one of publicity.  Eisenberg didn’t name names.  The offense is one of civility.

There are limits to multitasking — or at least there should be.  Besides, the same NewYorkTimes a week later confirmed what we all have known for awhile — multitasking makes you mediocre.

Mediocre.  That’s worse that being stupid.

Are there places where people should simply not tweet?

Apparently the folks at the U.S. Open tennis tournament think so.  The sad part is that the reasons they give have more to do with commerce than decorum and civility.  (There’s a fear is that it would screw up tennis gambling)

Where are your no tweet zones?

Why Senator Kennedy is a role model for us all

Senator Kennedy a role model?  Sure you’d have to have been living under a rock over the past few days not to hear or read about the public service accolades, the interest in the poor, the legislative accomplishments.  But what about the getting kicked out of Harvard part?  The carousing and cavorting?  Chappaquiddick?  What about all the bad stuff and the personal flaws — many if not most of which were on display?

Well yes.  There was all that.  And perhaps even some more.  But reflecting on Senator Kennedy’s life — and life in general — I suggest we all reflect on our own short-comings.  They may not be as big or as egregious or as oversized as what we saw in the youngest Kennedy son.  But if we’re honest with ourselves we’ll find our own blind spots, our own severe missteps, our own poor judgement — ours  just didn’t get all the attention that Senator Kennedy’s did.

ted_kennedySome may focus on the flaws of Ted Kennedy.  But whether you are right or left, conservative or liberal, religious or secular, what should him a role model for us all was his unique combination of two things:  genuine personal compassion combined with a strong work ethic.

I live in Washington DC.  In this town you often find one absent the other.  People who overflow with words of caring and love but are too lazy to act on that compassion.   They say the right words and perhaps even have the right motivation.  They just don’t do much.  Then you have the workaholics who lose themselves in their jobs and their causes.  They are so wrapped up in their own little world that they forget that there’s real people, real individuals, real folk out there who just need some help.

Mr. Kennedy was not a lazy man.  He was by all accounts, tireless, indefatigable, unstoppable.  And he found a way to put that energy to help real people with real life problems.  I’ve been stunned by the sheer number of stories that people have shared with me about Senator Kennedy’s personal compassion.  Everyone seems to have a Joe Biden story.  A story where Ted Kennedy took an extra step or lent an extra hand when he found out a person was dealing with tragedy.  Recently a friend and colleague shared with me the following story:

You know the connection I have to both 9/11 and the Senator so I took note of this story I saw about Senator Kennedy and the families from Massachusetts – it was reported for the first time shortly after his illness was disclosed.

Within a couple of days after the 9/11, Senator Kennedy had called every Massachusetts family that had lost a someone.  There were 176.  Even by the standards of exceptional elected officials, you and I know that’s a lot of calls.

A few weeks later one widow, Cindy McGinty, was informed by the Navy that because she could not locate her husband’s discharge papers, an honor guard would not be sent to his funeral.  Michael McGinty was a insurance executive in one of the towers and a Naval Academy graduate.  She called Senator Kennedy.  The next day someone from the Navy called and said a Navy honor guard would be sent to the funeral of Michael McGinty, USN, Rtd.

As David Frum reports, Sen. Kennedy wrote a personal note to every family that lost somebody.  He also wrote a letter to every family every year after that because as he said, the memory doesn’t go away.

A few months after 9/11, he pulled all the federal agencies together in Massachusetts to meet with the Massachusetts 9/11 families to make sure everything was being done that could be done.  At that meeting, Cindy McGinty, who had two pre-teen boys, said she was overwhelmed and was having trouble putting one foot in front of the other.  Kennedy made sure each family in Massachusetts was assigned an advocate who would do as much or as little as the families needed.

A year later McGinty said she didn’t know how Kennedy found out, but one of her sons was having trouble adjusting.  Kennedy invited her and her two boys out to Hyannis Port for a sail one Saturday and they sailed from 11 to 4 (absolutely no press was to be told).  He was to meet with presidential candidate, John Kerry, that afternoon and reportedly kept him waiting.  Later he sent to Mrs. McGinty and her boys photographs and a picture — one he painted — of the day sailing with inscriptions saluting them for their courage.

Senator Kennedy’s life and death is a reminder of those compassionate acts we’ve left undone … those people we’ve forgotten to care for.

Senator Kennedy has passed.  But we’ve still got some time left.

Democracy and Social Media

I’m trying to connect the dots on a couple of stories that appeared today in the Washington Post.

jokerThe first was about the wolf shirt phenomenon on Amazon. Mike Musgrove writes about how and bloggers gamed the system to make an otherwise hideous t-shirt one of the top purchases on Amazon.

This type of online rabble-rousing appears to be catching on more than ever over the past year, said Tim Hwang, the organizer of ROFLCon, a convention dedicated to celebrating Internet memes. After all, another Web-based prank crossed over into the real world just last month when a 21-year-old college student, known by the online moniker “m00t,” sailed to the top of Time’s “most influential person” list in an online poll, beating out the likes of President Obama and Oprah Winfrey. Gathering nearly 17 million votes, the world’s “most influential” person is the founder of another jokey Web culture site,, whose proprietor is known offline by the name Christopher Poole.

So we know that the social media stuff can be gamed.  No big deal.  Just like in the old days!  Back then it was Hearst and yellow journalism.  Now it is some folks getting a good laugh.

Parenthetically, I’ll take the latter over the former.

Then – later in the A section – which is pretty much the entire serious news part of the Washington Post these days — there’s a story about how the Obama Administration is remaking the U.S. government’s online presence. meet

Don’t tell the folks.  We all might be trading tax dollars for wolf t-shirts.

Government meets social media.  This is a good thing, right?

Toxic Assets and Economic Schizophrenia

Anybody else find the phrase “toxic assets” strange?

Asset is a good thing.  Right?  You’re supposed to accumulate them.  They are a point of pride.  You show them off.  You can take them to the bank.  People require them for loans — ok, for a while they didn’t  — which leads us to the “toxic” part.

Toxic.  Not good.  Don’t drink.  Stay away.  Will kill.  Or if not kill, at least send to the emergency room.  And you’ll have some disease that only Dr. House can cure.

So how can there be toxic assets?

This, I believe, is the topic of the iceberg of economic schizophrenia that has begun to bleed its way through American society.

Things are awful.  But they’re also ok.  You need to conserve, scrimp and save.  But not too much.  This is all terrible.  But it is all good.  We’re going broke.  But we’re going back to old fashioned values.

We’re losing hundreds of thousands of jobs every month, home values continue to drop with no end in site.  Meanwhile the President’s approval rating is high and there’s been a sharp increase in consumer confidence.

I remember a quote that a cultural anthropologist friend of mine used to cite from an interview he did with a housewife during the recession of the early 1980s …

“Things are getting better … sometimes for the worse!”

Now people are saying the same thing in reverse.

“Things are getting worse … sometimes for the better!”

Money for nothing – CEO compensation

In John, chapter twelve, verse eight, we have the famous quote from Jesus:

“You will always have the poor with you.”

Jesus was rebuking Judas and his criticism of Mary for wasting costly perfume in the washing of Jesus feet.  (For those interested, I suggest Proseorprophet‘s analysis of the text.)   But today Jesus may just as likely have have said the same about the rich.  Specifically, about rich CEOs.  Even more specifically about rich, overpaid CEOs

“You will always have the obscenely overpaid CEOs with you.”

Yup.  Hard to argue with that one.  And in today’s bailout, bankrupt economy the CEO compensation issue is getting a lot more attention.  So it is interesting to read a spate of stories this week about CEO pay.  First, there are the stories about CEOs passing up their “bonuses.” This, reported in the Associated Press:

The chief executives of Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch & Co. are going without bonuses for a year that has seen Wall Street ravaged by staggering losses, mass layoffs and the collapse of storied firms.

Morgan Stanley’s CEO John J. Mack is giving up a bonus for the second straight year, while Merrill Lynch & Co. said its CEO John Thain also asked to go without the extra compensation for 2008 after reports surfaced he had sought as much as $10 million.

Notice anything?  They are passing up BONUSES!!  That is what you get when you do something really, really, really super good, right?  Their regular compensation?  $800k and $700k per year respectively plus perks of about half that.  Oh, and they got signing bonuses when they were hired and tens of millions of dollars in earlier bonuses along the way while managing the companies into the ground.

Still not bad for people presiding over failed institutions that nearly killed the global economy and had to be bailed out with billions American taxpayers’ money, much of which will be paid by people now in elementary school who don’t even get an allowance.

Which leads to the auto bailout and CEO compensation of the auto manufacturers.  Jonathan Macey in the Wall Street Journal, writes:

The failure of the General Motors board of directors to fire CEO Richard Wagoner provides a rare glimpse into the inner-workings of big-time corporate boards of directors. The sight is not pretty.

When Mr. Wagoner took the helm eight years ago the stock was trading at around $60 per share. The stock had fallen to around $11 per share before the current financial crisis. It’s now below $5 per share.

In 2007, Mr. Wagoner’s compensation rose 64% to almost $16 million in a year when the company lost billions. The board has been a staunch backer of Mr. Wagoner despite consistent erosion of market share and losses of $10.4 billion in 2005 and $2 billion in 2006. In 2007 GM posted a loss of $68.45 a share, or $38.7 billion — the biggest ever for any auto maker anywhere.

Ouch.  Today there’s a flurry of such chatter.  Check it out.  Go to Google News and type in “executive compensation”.  No shortage of reading material there.

I’m in the spin business.  But I’m hard pressed to see how best to spin this one.   Here’s the Juice Bar’s summary of the executive compensation pro / con argument:

  • If we don’t pay them an outrageous amount of money, they’ll leave.  To that, critics say “Great!”
  • If we don’t pay them millions, we’ll get substandard candidates.  To that, critics say “You can’t do much worse that you’ve already done!”
  • It is a ‘free market’ system and millions is the going rate for executives.  To that, critics say “If it is a free market then don’t ask the government for bailout money.  Fire the management!”

Case closed.