June 5, 2020

Today, June 5th, is National Doughnut Day. However, it’s not really about the doughnut. It is a day that honors the women from the Salvation Army who served on the front lines of World War I. The Salvation Army “lassies” made home cooked meals, including doughnuts, for the soldiers fighting in Europe. The doughnuts were made in hot oil inside the metal helmets of the soldiers. The “lassies” were the only women who served on the front lines except for military personnel. So, as you run to Dunkin’ for that celebratory doughnut today, remember it’s not really about the doughnut.


Working together apart

Recently I helped out a friend who is a columnist on workplace management issues in a business journal. She had received a question from a reader about how to maintain esprit de corps on a team that pre-COVID-19 worked together face-to-face in the same space. Now, of course, post-COVID-19, they are trying to figure out how to work together apart. The question asked how to restore the sense of esprit de corps that now seemed missing. It was a really good question. I decided to share my response to it here because it applies to a wide variety of businesses and organizations facing similar issues at this time. I hope it is useful to you as well.

The “esprit de corps” of a team is an intangible part of team culture. It is, like so many other effective work processes and elements of culture, dependent on the relationships between team members. In the good ol’ “normal times” (pre-COVID-19) those relationships were established and tended to on a daily basis through real-time, in-person, same shared space interaction. Therefore, when you got into team meetings, there was not a need to do as much relationship building because it was being handled outside the meetings. The strengths of Zoom, WebEx, Google Meet, Skype, and the other virtual meeting utilities is that we can still have real-time, in person interactions. However, what is missing is the same sense of shared space and physical presence, as well as the opportunity and time to build and tend to relationships outside the meeting space. 

So, what can you do about that since the virtual work environment is likely here to stay for quite some time?

  1. Slow down – allow extra time in your meetings for people to simply hang and chat if they wish. For example, start meetings 15 minutes early for people to gather and chat and/or keep the virtual room open for 15 minutes after the meeting. My spouse, who teaches online Spanish courses to groups of adults, has found it amazingly effective to allow her students this time to connect with one another. She has seen friendships continue to grow and a clear sense of group cohesion emerge. Alternatively, build into your meeting schedule some semi-structured interaction (see items #3 and #4 below). 
  2. At the same time, be sensitive to the length of the actual work portion of the meeting and remain open to the possibility of disruptions. Remember that you may have employees working at home but now they are also childcare providers and substitute teachers. If children do intrude in the meeting, keep a sense of humor and be gentle. Avoid shaming anyone with comments, eyerolls, or body language. Make your actual business meetings as long as they need to be. Generally, I do not have meetings longer than 2 hours in length. I prefer to keep them much shorter if possible. If you can make the meetings easier and friendlier to attend for those employees who are managing caregiving or teaching at home, it will benefit the whole team. 
  3. Introduce a “conversation starter” for use in the hang out times, until people begin to feel comfortable connecting on their own in the virtual space. For example, I facilitate a weekly group comprised of people from Hawai`i to New York, Ontario to Southern California, who did not know one another until I brought them together. In the first meeting of the group I introduced this conversation starter, taken from the conversation game Vertellis: What was the best compliment you ever received? During the first two or three weeks I introduced the question, but then participants began to offer conversation starters. Now, we don’t really need them, but people still like to do them, so we have one each week. It is a simple way of getting to know one another better. 
  4. Release your inner silly person. These are extraordinary times. Everyone knows that everyone else on the video conference is sitting there in their pajama bottoms, golf shorts, and, god forbid, underwear anyway, right? In this small way, everyone has already released their inner silly person in secret. Let’s take it up a notch by doing something silly together: for example, have everyone wear the same colors on a call; have everyone show up wearing their favorite hat and briefly explain why it is; set aside time for people to share “knock knock” jokes in the chat area; have everyone bring their favorite coffee or tea mug and explain why it is their favorite; and, have everyone use an alias on the video conference – the name of a famous person they admire, an actor, a well-known person in your field, etc. Here’s one I have used in at least two different groups. I ask members go to the website Public Radio Name Generator and generate their own favorite public radio name. Once in the Zoom conference (which is my preferred platform) they change their names to their public radio names. We go by them for the duration of that meeting.

COVID-19 has been an unprecedented disruption to how we do business and work together. I do not believe it will be easy to move into the emerging new normal. We have to dare to be different. Several of my clients are reporting to me that they are actually beginning to feel energized as a result of the lockdowns. They are creating, innovating, and learning new ways of doing their pre-COVID-19 work that they never would have or could have considered before. Frankly, we will be sleepwalking into disaster if we simply try to apply the “best practices” and “the way we do things around here” from the past in the new normal to come. I hope these suggestions will help you not only create a greater sense of “esprit de corps” among your team but also create an upgraded culture of innovation.


devin stone commentary

I stumbled across this guy, Devin Stone, earlier today. I found myself fascinated by his YouTube commentary on the events that took place earlier this week at Lafayette Square in Washington, DC. After listening to it, I did some research. He is a trial attorney in DC and also has a company, Legal Eagle, that helps people survive law school. The commentary that caught my attention is below. It is about 18 minutes long but I found it really interesting and I hope you will as well.


for your reflection

With appreciation to Hope Crenshaw of Teen Health Mississippi for drawing my attention to this bit of poetry of hope. Learn more here about the poem and its the author, Leslie Dwight.


spanish classes filling up…but there is still space!

Clemencia Vargas, my spouse, is still receiving registrations for ¡Charlemos con Clemencia!, Spanish classes taught in the communicative style. Classes begin for the Summer session on June 15. About half the available seats filled up in less than a week but there is still room now. If you’ve been following this blog even sporadically over the past three months you’ve probably met Clemencia here already. Her website now includes some testimonials so you can get a sense of how her students feel about her classes. The Summer session will include students from Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, and, of course, Maryland. If you have a couple of extra minutes today, we invite you to watch this video about the benefits of learning Spanish.


Follow up…

Yesterday I encouraged you to consider a contribution to Teen Health Mississippi to help with the organization’s COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund for youth. However, I did not include information on how to donate. Doh! Here now is a link to Teen Health Mississippi’s donation page. You can use the comment box to designate your gift to the Emergency Relief Fund for youth. Thanks!


Chickenman – Episode 49

The Wonderful Weekend White Winged Warrior is still suffering from amnesia and the delusion that he is, in fact, a real chicken. His efforts to lay an egg in the Policie Commissioner’s office have, so far, been unproductive…thankfully!


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep working for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

June 4, 2020

Today is June 4, National Cheese Day, an homage to fromage all day long! (So…I guess…that means…you know…it is also a day to cut the fromage?)

Tianemen Square to Lafayette Square

Today is also the 31st anniversary of what is known in China as the June Fourth Incident. Here in the U.S. we know it as the Tianamen Square Massacre.

At this moment we have a stand off between Federal forces and protesters in LaFayette Square in Washington, DC. Frankly, it is a bit difficult to tell the two apart. Take a look at the two pictures below. The first is Tianamen Square. Your clue is that this is now an iconic photo from that standoff which you’ve likely seen before. Of course, if more mature leadership doesn’t prevail in the White House, the second, from just outside LaFayette Square, could also become iconic.

Source: Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/126732527; Photo by Jeff Widener
Source: Retrieved from Bloomberg.com, June 4, 2020

As the protests at Tianamen Square were building in the Spring of 1989 I was getting ready for summer camp. In June I was at camp. No, not as a camper but as the director of the summer youth camping program. It was a Quaker camp and, as Quakers tend to be, we were very conscious of what was happening in the world, even while we were retreating from it at summer camp. Of course, in 1989 we didn’t have Smartphones nor did we have much access to the internet so we couldn’t stay connected 24/7/365. We did, however, have access to the daily news. We followed the protests and standoff in China with grave interest. Our interest turned to horror as the massacre began on June 4th.

It touched all of us – directors, counselors, staff, and youth. To process what we had witnessed, we decided to have an activity in which counselors and youth together would create posters and artwork to symbolized our care and concern for the protesters and solidarity with them.

I wonder…would any of us then ever have believed we’d be at a place today, in 2020, when we are holding our breath and hoping we don’t have our own LaFayette Square massacre? I wonder, too, what will we remember and memoralize about this day on future June Fourths?


View the Webinar: Tenacity, Humility, and Collaborative Leadership

On June 2nd I joined Liz Weaver for a conversation in a Tamarack Institute webinar. If you were not able to be a part of the webinar live (it was over subscribed!), you can still view it here. Be sure to check out the other webinar resources from Tamarack Institute. Co-CEOs Liz Weaver, Paul Born, and their staff have been terrific partners with Tenacious Change LLC over the past few years and I feel honored to have been able to do this webinar with them. I love their work and their thinking! If you haven’t met them before, now is the time!


stories of covid-19

Hope Crenshaw, PhD leads Teen Health Mississippi in Jackson. On March 13 & 14, as the country was beginning to go into “lockdown” because of COVID-19, I was with Hope, her Board of Directors, and staff in Jackson and we were working on a new strategy plan for the organization. As we met we had no idea how severely COVID-19 would impact everyone and everything.

One of the things that leaders do in the midst in crisis is consider how their mission fits with the need of the moment. As Hope and her team saw COVID-19 roll into Mississippi they began to think about the needs of the youth they serve and develop a plan to help.

They quickly recognized that the impact of the pandemic on youth was not a priority for planners. Yet they knew that closures would mean that many youth would lose their seasonal and part-time jobs. For these young people the jobs meant they could save for college, help out their family, or even just simply eat. Though Teen Health Mississippi is an organization with the mission to provide youth with full, complete, and honest sex education, they knew the lack of income might also put some young people at sexual risk.

In response Teen Health Mississippi started the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund for youth. Their goal is to award at least $100,000 in emergency relief to Mississippi youth. To date they have received nearly 4,000 applications for help and they’ve awarded over $7,000 in assistance to 125 of the neediest youth. As they consider the applications, here is what they are learning about the youth who are applying:

  • 63% are experiencing food insecurty
  • 41% are experiencing homelessess
  • 32% lack the proper technology for distance learning to stay in school

I know the needs are great at this time everywhere. You may already be doing a lot in your community to help meet the needs created by COVID-19 and to help right the wrongs of racial injustice. Still, I ask that you consider helping Teen Health Mississippi if you are able. In 2020 the State of Mississippi remains the poorest of these United States. For this reason, their need may be even greater than the rest of the country.

I have had the honor of working with Hope, her staff, and her board for over 2 years now. I know them very well. I can recommend them and this cause to you without reservation. Clemencia and I are planning to make a contribution to this fund to help them get to their $100,000 goal. It won’t be as much as we’d like to do, but it will be something and it will help. Thank you for your consideration.

To learn more about Teen Health Mississippi, visit its website, of course, but also learn more about the fund:


A clarification

A few weeks back I invited you and other readers to this blog with the promise that it would not be a partisan space. It may not always seem that way because I have been pretty outspoken, especially in the midst of the protests, against the presidency of Donald Trump. Let me explain: I do not consider criticizing Trump to be a partisan act, even though he identifies as a Republican (well, at least right now…he has changed his party affiliation five times since 1987).

There is a big difference in speaking out against the presidency of Trump and against or for any political party. History is going to report that Trump was not a Republican but a self-absorbed demogogue who would align himself with any party so long as he thought there was a personal benefit. He’d be a Democrat today if he thought it would have a greater benefit to him.

The realization that Trump is not a Republican is a fact that many Republicans are coming to, such as those in the Lincoln Project and Republicans Voters Against Trump, which launched its first national ad last week.

Why do I speak harshly about Trump at all? Why not just ignore him? Well, I’ve tried doing that. Unfortunately my conscience won’t let me. The line I use to describe my consultancy, Tenacious Change LLC, is this: Animating people, organizations, and communities to lead change for the greater good. This is a mission anchored in a clear ethical and moral understanding of our purpose in this world. It is to work for the greater good of all and that also requires us to stand for the greater good. To do anything less is to live an incongruent, divided life. Therefore, when I see the lawlessness of the president and the harm that is being done to so many by Trump, it is no longer ethical or moral for me to remain silent.

I mentioned in a blog last week that I have a diverse group of friends and, yes, that means politically as well. In my circle of friends, colleagues, clients, and collaborators most identify as either Republicans or Democrats but some have different political leanings from these. I hold ideas and viewpoints in common with each of them and I care about each person. I must confess though that I care a bit more for my Republican friends at this moment because I believe many of them are suffering deeply over Trump.

To be clear, when I write about Trump, I’m not writing about all Republicans. I know the differences among the Republicans. I know there are those who are just as appalled and disgusted by Trump as I am. I know there are those who follow him because he is an accomplished liar and they’ve been truly deceived into following. I know there are those who mistakenly yet truly believe he represents Republican values. I know there are those which are merely his “toadies” and who are following him to get whatever promises he has made to them. I know there are those who feign followership because they know they can use his inexperience and incompetence to their advantage.

I also know all of this may seem like splitting hairs to some of my readers. However, I can see a clear distinction and will do my best to continue to make that distinction in this space.


Chickenman – Episode 48

Uh, oh, Chickenman struggles to regain his memory after a big bump on the head. Even worse, the Police Commissioner is trying to help him. If it seems that only Ms. Helfinger has a clue about anyting in this series, you are right.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing you mask, and keep justice, peace, and health in your heart.

Tom

June 3, 2020

Today is Wednesday, June 3 and this is Repeat Day. Today is Wednesday, June 3 and this is Repeat Day.

other voices

Today I’m bringing other voices into The Daily Drivel. However, what they have to say is not drivelous. I appreciate their thinking, the clarity of their speech, the beauty of their voices, and their prespectives.

The first voice is that of my son, Jake. Yesterday, at exactly the same time I was writing my blog about him, he was writing in Facebook. I reached out to him early yesterday evening to review my blog before I posted it. He approved of what I had written and, as you will see below, it was aligned with what he also had written. I have also asked and received his permission to share his posting to Facebook. Here’s what he wrote:

The second voice is that of Stephen Colbert, the host of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on CBS. Colbert stands in the long, honored tradition of the court jester who could deliver bad news to the king with impunity. The mantle of the jester rests today on the shoulders of many stand up comedians, including Colbert. Colbert’s monologue on Monday, June 1st was speaking truth to power in a more serious way than is typical for him. It is 12 minutes worth watching if you haven’t seen it.

The next voices are musical. I have selected them because they are songs that I have always associated with healing, compassion, love, and unity. All are in short supply at the moment, but we can’t blame the pandemic on that.

I will forever appreciate the performance delivered by John Legend in the Easter 2018 live performance of Jesus Christ Superstar. It was one of the most powerful and beautiful performances on any stage I’ve ever seen. If you’ve not seen it before, take time to find it and watch it now. It is relevant to these times. However, the voice of John Legend comes with a different message today. His rendition of the Simon & Garfunkel song Bridge Over Troubled Water is like a healing balm. You hear it in his voice and in the voices of the audience who join him on the chorus.

At the risk of redundancy, the next voice is Chris Mann singing the same tune. Mann’s COVID-19 song parodies have been featured here already but this is no parody. It is a beautiful a capella version which appears to have been posted just today by Mann. Don’t be distracted by the (too many) images of Mann in this video because the music is incredible. Just listen, you don’t have to watch.

The day after Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States I was at Dulles International Airport to catch a flight. There were throngs of people there who were going back home after having attended that historic event.

I joined a long line of people trying to buy coffee and so did a small woman who was right behind me. I knew it was going to be a while so I decided to do what I always do: strike up a conversation. The two people ahead of me were friends and already chatting. I didn’t want to interrupt. The woman behind me appeared to be alone and she smiled back when I smiled at her. I remember it seemed to me she was dressed too casually for an older woman – sweat pants, sweatshirt, and a baseball cap – who exuded a certain fine dignity and style. Still, she seemed a likely candidate so I started a conversation with her.

We talked for about five minutes and then I realized something was familiar about her. When she realized that I was recognizing her she stopped the conversation. She leaned toward me, fixed her eyes on mine, and said, “Yes, you know me.” I leaned toward her and said, in barely a whisper (in case I was wrong), “Dionne Warwick?” She nodded. For the next 25 minutes we had the most wonderful conversation.

The next musical voice is that of Ms. Dionne Warwick. This video was filmed in March 29, 2019, ten years after that serendipitous conversation at Dulles. She is older now but her music is timeless. This is one of my favorites from her songbook. When the song was written in the early 60’s it was first offered to her by the songwriters, but she turned it down. Eventually she did record it twice though. First on an album. Then, in 1996, she recorded it as a single.

It is also a timely song. Some may feel the sentiment may be a little sappy but remember that it was originally recorded in the midst of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. Those were not sappy times.

Marvin Gaye‘s is the next voice singing Abraham, Martin, & John, a song that was made famous by Dion in 1968. It is a tribute to the memory and work of Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, and Bobby Kennedy and Gaye’s rendition is powerful. These men had a powerful impact on our country. They were each imperfect people – a fact which Mr. Trump should take comfort in – but they usually were still able to put the country and the greater good before themselves – a fact Mr. Trump should allow to convict to his soul.

The final voice belongs to that of Pete Seeger, the legendary folk singer. Though Seeger did not write This Land is Your Land (it was written by his contemporary Woody Guthrie) he probably did as much to popularize it. A little known fact about Seeger, except in Quaker circles, is that he was good friends with Friends and we, therefore, lay a bit of claim to him.

There are two things I really like about this song. First, it’s origin story. Guthrie wrote it as a critical response to Irving Berlin’s nationalistic anthem, God Bless America. You’ve got to wonder what he might have written had he had to endure endless renditions of God Bless the U.S.A.

Second, its possibilities. Frankly, I am not a fan of the musicality of our national anthem. It is hard to sing and the music is lousy. Seriously, can you ever think of any rendition of the Star Spangled Banner that didn’t make you want to check your phone or go to the kitchen for more salsa? I didn’t think so. Me neither. (Do you know how risky it is to hold this view and live so close to Baltimore where it was penned?) However, This Land is Your Land is a wonderful candidate to be our national anthem. The music is fun and it is immensely singable, right? Maybe that is why it is one of the first songs taught in grade school music class. The only thing standing in the song’s way of being our national anthem is it’s aspirational message of unity and inclusion. Uh oh. That could be a problem, huh?

This Land is Your Land is also in the long, proud tradition of protest songs. Maybe it is a good option for today’s protesters who still want to raise their voices. Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie would be proud!

(P.S. If you aren’t really sure this is a protest song, be sure to read Woody Guthrie’s original 1940 lyrics in Wikipedia. Actually, this version incorporate a number of those original lyrics. Listen carefully to Seeger’s call and response, you didn’t learn this version in grade school!

Chickenman – Episode 47

The final voice belongs to Chickenman but not because he has anything important to say. Besides, today he has amnesia and can’t remember what to say. It’s because we still need to find reasons to smile and laugh in the midst of everything else that is happening.

Take time and care to laugh as well as cry; pray for hope as well as justice; speak in whispers as well as shouts; listen to music as well as speeches; and sit in peace as well as march for peace. All are okay. The balance keeps us healthy, it keeps us sane in an insane world.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep remembering to stay in balance.

Tom

June 2, 2020

Today is National Rocky Road Day in celebration of that wonderful ice cream treat. If you don’t have any of the tasty treat you can make your own. Just add almonds or pecans, mini marshmallows, and chunks of semi-sweet chocolate to your favorite ice cream. Enjoy!


Chickenman – Episode 46

Benton Harbor is forced to reveal his secret identity as Chickenman when his shoe store is robbed. Thanks to a stuck zipper, he is kept out of harms way, but he is still missing some change.


Advice your mom gave you for a pandemic

On Mother’s Day I posted some advice that a mom would give her children when they were young that would still be good advice in a pandemic. I asked people to share some of their ideas. This one came in just the other day from a reader in Hawai`i but with a slightly different slant: Advice from your mother that you shouldn’t follow during the COVID-19 pandemic:

See a penny, pick it up; All the day you’ll have good luck.

See a pennny let it lay; You’ll have bad luck all through the day.

I thought of it when I was at a bus stop the other day and saw a penny on the ground. All my life, I’ve picked up those pennies. But that day, I left it.

Judith, Kaneohe, HI

I could never imagine it

My son and I meet for the first time. We couldn’t talk so we just stared at each other.

When I first met my son, I could not imagine what life would bring to us or bring us to. In the first moments of our first meeting we were both speechless. For his part, he hadn’t yet learned to talk. For my part, I was overwhelmed.

As he grew I introduced him to many of life’s greatest pleasures for an infant and toddler – oatmeal, piggy back rides, pancakes of various varieties, and “All Star Baby Wrestling” which always found him on top of my chest pinning me to the mat. He would giggle hysterically.

Later, as he went off to pre-school then “real” school, we would play more sophisticated games and I would read to him. In fact we made it through all seven books in the Chronicles of Narnia series. He has since read them for himself a few times over.

We had the usual father-son run in’s, complete with temper tantrums. Mine didn’t last quite as long as his, usually. The Famous Tantrum, that still gets told – with only a little embellishment – at family gatherings or other events where we “tell tales” on each other, is the one that occurred in Target.

As he grew into a teen, it was obvious already that he was going to be a pretty good guy. He was fun, funny, caring, and curious. School was never easy for him but he was an extremely smart, disciplined student, and he persevered with wonderful success.

I got to see him fall deeply in twice. The first time it was with the woman he married last September.

In all the time my son was growing up I could never imagine it would be necessary to tell him how to act if he was ever stopped by the police. In fact, I didn’t…because I didn’t have to. He has always been, like me, generally quite polite, respectful of authority, and very white.

That brings me to the second time he fell in love. He is a social worker and he was working in child welfare. He got three very young black children assigned to his caseload. From the moment he became their caseworker, he was smitten. I knew because he couldn’t stop talking about them. We’d meet for dinner and all he could talk about were the three children – the diapers he had changed in Wendy’s, the ice cream he bought and which got dropped in his car, and the funny things they would say to him. His tiny car was outfitted with car seats and he transported them throughout the area to their appointments, supervised visits with their birth-mother, and back to their foster parents.

The first victory he had with them was finding a foster home placement where all three could be together. If you are familiar with child welfare social work, you know that sometimes children have to be split up into foster homes due to no fault of theirs. My son worked extra hard to find a family that would take all three, and he did.

When it was determined that their birth-mother was no longer able to safely care for them, assure their well-being, or help them grow and develop normally, parental rights were terminated and the three were adopted.

My son’s second victory, and theirs, was that the children were all adopted by that same foster family. For a social worker, this was hitting the trifecta of child welfare work: three kids saved from a dangerous situation; placed in the same foster home; and adopted into the same forever family.

What the children didn’t realize at that time, though, is that they got far more than just that family. They got my son and his future wife. Since that adoption my son and, now, daughter-in-law have continued to stay in touch with the children and their family. They visit on holidays and birthdays, with gifts in tow.

Last September, when my son and his wife got married, the three children were at the wedding. Besides the bride and the groom, they had the most important roles in the wedding. They were the flower girl and ring bearers.

We had not actually met them until the wedding rehearsal last September. We understand how he was smitten now because we were smitten by the children and their parents. My son and his spouse do not have biological children, but they are not childless. And, of course, that means we have grandchildren!

Unfortunately, the parents of these three beautiful children will have to do what I could never imagine doing with my son. They will have to teach them how to be black while playing, walking, shopping, running, driving, and simply living.

It is not something my son, his spouse, or I can ever teach them because we do not know the experience of living while black in America. Even more, we could never imagine it.

And that’s the problem isn’t?

We can never imagine it but we can care more. We can care more and watch the horrific videos on the news of black, Latino, Native American, Asian, and other minority and marginalized people experiencing that which we can never imagine. Onto their faces we can transpose the faces of people we know and care about and then ask, “What if that person were my son, my daughter, my mother, my father, my friend…how would I feel? How would I react? What would I want to do?”

When I saw the video of George Floyd under the knee of the Minneapolis cop, I saw the father of these three children. As I continued to look, I could see the face of my friend Kevin. As I looked even closer I could see the faces of those three children who are now a part of our lives. I could never imagine my son in that position, but I can imagine them.

Our limited imagination continues to make us white folks sick. And that means the pandemic of racism continues to infect the America we have created for our benefit…for our privilege…for our white privilege. Our recovery depends on our ability to see more clearly. It depends on our ability to imagine the unimaginable in other’s lives.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your masks, and keep trying to imagine the unimaginable.

Tom

June 1, 2020

Welcome to The Daily Drivel!

Today is not only June 1st, it is Dare Day! Here’s a fun and interesting dare for any day – I dare you to think about somebody you’d like to know better and then ask them this question: “Tell me one story from your life that helps me understand better who you are today and how you got here.”


another leadership moment lost

We all need to be ready for those moments when our leadership is on the line and the fate or fortune of others depends on what we do.

…I take leadership to signify the act of making a difference.

Michael Useem, The Leadership Moment (1998)

Last night we watched another leadership moment come…and go…again. We were watching our local 11:00 PM news as it covered the protests and riots outside the White House, barely 20 miles from our home. We saw protesters and police, fires and rioters in an area of Washington we know well, only blocks from where I used to commute into work each day.

Posted on Facebook by MKW

The protests in Washington, as those in New York City, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Los Angelese, Miami, and a many other cities were against the brutal inhumanity that murdered George Floyd (be sure to watch this video of the timeline of Mr. Floyd’s death compiled from security and cell phone video). George Floyd died on May 25th – one week ago – at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Early that same day, the day Mr. Floyd died, I wrote an open letter to the President of the United States. In that letter, with reference to the pandemic, I asked him to be his best self for the sake of the country. It would not be fair to say he ignored me because I’m quite sure he never saw my letter. I would have been pleased if he had but I my expectations are realistic. However, sometimes things just need to be said.

At the same time, I did not expect the brutal death of Mr. Floyd and the extraordinary crisis upon extraordinary crisis in which we are now living. If any President were ever a real leader, these crises were leadership moments which could not be allowed to pass. But they did pass the current President of the United States.

The President has not only ignored or been unhelpful in healing the country wracked with the deaths of over 100,000+ people from COVID-19, he has done the same in the death of George Floyd. He has played golf on one of his golf courses, traveled to Florida to watch a rocket launch, and he has hidden in his underground bunker, he has berated governors for not “dominating” the protesters, and he has preened for a photo opportunity in front of a church he rarely attends, holding up a Bible so new looking one wonders if it has ever been opened or read. The church, a block from the White House, had to be cleared of protesters by Federal authories usings rubber bullets and tear gas to make a path for the President to have his photo op. However, he has not tried bringing people together, he has not tried comforting the grieving, he has not tried binding the wounds, and he has not tried to put out the fires of the pandemic and the racism he has fueled. He has missed, again and again, the leadership moment. He has failed and he continues to fail.


What’s Your Message Now?

CBS Sunday Morning had a very interesting segment on advertising this last Sunday. Many nonprofits do not actually “advertise” but they do “promote” their services. This segment looked at the ways advertising has changed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. I found this to be a relevant and thought-provoking segment to recommend to nonprofit leaders and their organizations. Give it a look!


truth be told with winthrop dykstra-Baum

Winthrop Dykstra-Baum here with “Truth Be Told.” Today I’m interviewing, again, Tom Klaus.

  • Me: Could you move away from me just a bit, Winthrop? When I agreed to do this interview with you, you said you’d be wearing a mask and keeping at least six feet from me.
  • Winthrop: Yes, but that was before I started taking hydroxycholriquine and now there is no danger.
  • Me: Um, that’s not true, Winthrop. You could still be a carrier and, besides, the best science says that hydroxycholoriquine could be dangerous for you.
  • Winthrop: Well, this is my show and I can do what I like.
  • Me: It might be your show, Winthrop, but if you aren’t going to mask up and keep a safe distance, I’m going to ask you to leave.
  • Winthrop: Fine! (Frustratedly putting on a mask). Happy now?
  • Me: Yes, now if you’ll take about two steps back, please.
  • Winthrop (stepping back): Satisfied?
  • Me: Yes, much better. Now, go ahead.
  • Winthrop: I’ll try but I can hardly breathe under this ridiculous mask. (Pause) I understand you are no longer writing “Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place.” Is that right?
  • Me: Yes, that is true, Winnie.
  • Winthrop: That would be, “Winthrop,” please.
  • Me: My apologies…yes, that is true Winthrop. I’ll still be including some stories of COVID-19 but I’m changing the focus a bit of the new blog, The Daily Drivel.
  • Winthrop: The Daily Drivel?” Already it sounds more realistic and accurate.
  • Me: I’m not sure how you mean that, Winthrop.
  • Winthrop: I mean that “Stories of COVID-19,” frankly, from a journalistic perspective, was pretty lousy. At least this blog says that right up front. What guarantee do we have that this new blog is going to uphold the highest journalistic standards, like I do?
  • Me: It isn’t journalism, Winthrop. It is more like a personal journal and you and others are invited to read it. I don’t make any claims to be a journalist. I like to write, I have a sense of humor, I have a life, I have opinions, and I like to write about them in this blog.
  • Winthrop: So it isn’t journalism, yet you still expect people to take it seriously?
  • Me: Well, you claim to be a journalist, Winthrop, but not everybody takes you seriously. I mean, seriously, any decent journalist knows you don’t take hyroxycholoriquine to prevent COVID-19. There is just no science to back it up.
  • Winthrop: This isn’t about me, you are the interview subject. You can stop dodging my question anytime you like.
  • Me: I’m not dodging your question. In fact I’ll answer it right now. I expect people to take The Daily Drivel for what it is…a place to begin or end the day, to hang out, get a smile, read a rant or two, and, on occasion, even learn something new.
  • Winthrop: “Even learn something new.” There it is, Truth Be Told! You expect people to learn something new hence you are covertly trying to pass this off as real journalism!
  • Me: Really, Winthrop, is that what you think? I’m making no claims of real journalism – just real drivel. You see things when they aren’t there, Winthrop, just to be able to shout “Truth Be Told!” in people’s faces. Are you sure the hydroxychoriquine isn’t getting to you?
  • Winthrop: No, I’m fine, but, wait…I need to wrap this…it is time for my next dose.

Chickenman – episode 45

Chickenman enjoys a dinner at one of his favorite Midland City restaurants.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, and keep wearing your mask.

Tom

Day 77 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

I have learned that I am full of drivel – enough to fill 77 daily blogs. In this period I have written more blogs than I did in the previous seven years. Since March 16th I’ve written nearly 90,000 words for this blog. By comparison, my doctoral dissertation was a mere 65,000 words.

Sunday, May 31, 2020 – Live to Blog with No Regrets and a New Focus

I can’t believe I’ve made it! No, not that we are still sheltering-in-place for 77 days. Frankly, I expected that. My personal epidemiologist (Clemencia) has repeatedly warned me this was going to be bad – really bad – and that we needed to get ourselves prepared mentally and physically for the long haul. What I can’t believe is that I made it through 77 consecutive blogs.


Looking Back…

When I started writing this blog series, I thought it was going to be for 14 days. That’s how long we thought the sheltering-in-place was going to last. I don’t know what the reality of being locked down has to do with quantum theory but it does seem to have messed with my sense of time. On the one hand, it doesn’t actually seem like it has been 77 days. On the other hand, it sometimes feels like it has been an eternity. All in all, the evidence around me, provided by the changing of the season, tells me it has been a significant period of time.

So what have I learned along the way?

I have learned that I am full of drivel – enough to fill 77 daily blogs. In this period I have written more blogs than I did in the previous seven years. Since March 16th I’ve written nearly 90,000 words for this blog. By comparison, my doctoral dissertation was a mere 65,000 words.

I’ve redisovered my love of writing. All of my life I’ve had to write – curriculum, reports, proposals, papers, dissertations, more proposals, more reports, blah-blah-blah, yada yada, ad nauseam. When I wrote my dissertation it felt like I had nothing else left to give. Ever since then writing has been even more onerous. In writing this daily drivel blog I’ve found joy again in the word play, creativity, and silliness that comes with writing what I want.

It’s been a great exercise for my brain. It has pushed me to creative experimentaion, especially when I have seemed to be running low. There were many days when I didn’t think I had anything in me to write. On those days, I’d just start writing, stream of consciousness, to see what came out. Sometimes it was weird as heck, but it made me smile, giggle, and sometimes laugh. So I’d just go with it. I have come to love the challenge of creating something out of nothing every single day.

My writing is more interesting and at its best when I don’t try to write for others. Truly, I started this COVID-19 blog because I needed to do something to manage my own pandemic anxiety. I decided to write for myself – as in a journal – whatever was coming up for me. I was surprised to find people reading the blog and responding to it. Some people tell me it is the first thing they read when they get up in the morning (it is automatically sent each day at 8:00 AM Eastern). Some people come to my website to read it, others just read it in the format in which it appears in email. I’m stunned and humbled to realize how many people are actually reading this drivel blog.

I can sometimes put into words what others think and feel but cannot articulate. I did not fully appreciate until now what an important thing that is. I’m honored to be able to do that. I’m even more honored when my voice has given permission to or empowered others to use their voices.

I’ve learned much more about how to use Word Press, which is where my blog and the Tenacious Change LLC website are housed. I would not say that I’ve been expert at it but I can do most things now without first watching a tutorial or Googling it.

I don’t want to stop. I really don’t. I’m having too much fun. I’ve realized that I could be immensely happy doing nothing but writing a daily blog and then calling it a day. Unfortunately, I can’t do it that way. I still have to work for a living…a lot…but…

Looking Forward…

Still, I’m not going to stop, though it will be a little bit different than it has been. Here’s what to expect.

First, here is a sneak peek at the new name and new masthead you will see at the top of tomorrow’s blog:

Second, I am going to do my best to write a daily blog, even if it is just a few lines. Since I will continue working from home for the foreseeable future, it will be easier to carve out a few minutes to tap out a posting. However, if I miss a day here or there, be sure to check back.

Third, the The Daily Drivel will retain some things I think are important and that I enjoy. For example:

  • The blog will continue to be a retrospective, like a journal. No breaking news here. The news will have already been broken, but I may have opinions about it.
  • Stories of COVID-19, under this or a new title, will now become a section of the blog that I will write as needed.
  • Chickenman will continue. There were approximately 100 original episodes of Chickenman and we are only about halfway through.
  • Winthrop Dykstra-Baum will appear occasionally because I just can’t rid of him. I expect he and I will continue to irritate one another occasionally.
  • Bert Left and Ernie Right…well, they may reconstitute themselves if I decide to do another experiment in non-stop sock wearting.
  • For better or worse, my occasional rants will continue because, more than anything else, this blog is still a means for me to stay sane in the midst of an increasingly insane world. Letting off steam here helps me maintain some perspective.
  • Stories of my life – past and present – will appear because the process of writing tends to remind me of stories and then I just tell them. I really can’t help myself, actually.
  • Cartoons and drawings from my friend Jeff Logan will also continue for as long as he is willing to let me publish them. (Hint, hint, Jeff.)

What will be new in The Daily Drivel will be occasional essays (which, of course, are just calmer rants), a little more integration of my professional life and work, and odd bits of trivia. Trivia has always fascinated me but not the kind of useful trivia you’d want to know for a game like Trivial Pursuit or trivia night at your local pub. I really enjoy totally useless, weird trivia which, when you throw it into a conversation, people look at you funny and say, “Huh?!?” Then they go silent because they really don’t know what to say or maybe they are just wondering if it is safe to be near you.

I would also like The Daily Drivel to be a place where we can have some open, honest dialogue about things that are important but not easy to discuss. I’m not exactly sure how to make this happen, but it is something I am going to work on. I may not always get it right, but I’m going to try. I am open to your suggestions.

In the end, what I want this blog to be is a place to have a dual purpose. I want it to be a place where people can come each day to have some fun to start their day or to end it. And I also want people to learn, to grow, and to feel motivated and encouraged to join me in making this world we share a better place for ALL of us. What greater good can we do together than this?

See you tomorrow!


Chickenman – Episode 44

Chickenman is hot on the trail of the Mayor’s favorite kite – the one with the rocket ship on it. Along the way, Chickenman is mistaken for an elephant.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and please keep meeting me here.

Tom

Day 76 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

Tomorrow will be my last in the series “Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place.” In it I’m going to reflect on this 77 day journey and give you a sneak preview of what happens next. I hope you will join me.

Saturday, May 30, 2020 – Live to Blog…Humbled by Beauty and Love

We had coffee again this morning with Alonzo and Starlee. They were camping in one of the most beautiful spots in the world this weekend and we connected on Zoom via their cell phone. The connection was remarkably good! Many people wouldn’t think the place they are camping is so beautiful. There were no mountains, no waterfalls, no beach nothing at all very exotic. However, there were no signs of human existence in their line of sight or within earshot, the stars glow and dance in an endless night sky, and they are serenaded by a symphony of nature sounds we could hear and enjoy even over Zoom. The Great Plains is a place of extaordinary beauty that too many people simply fly over. It has a kind of beauty that is so humbling. In a thousand ways it points to something so much greater and more significant than us. Thank you, Alonzo and Starlee, for sharing the sights and the sounds of where you are sheltering-in-place this weekend.


A Follow-Up on the Day 74 Blog

On Day 74 of this blog I wrote a posting about my own ongoing journey out of racist conditioning. In that posting I told the story of my friend Kevin and his role in my journey. I don’t believe Kevin knew he actually had a role until he and his spouse, Julie, read the post. He was simply being a friend and colleague to me. Actually, that was probably more powerful than any intervention he could have dreamed up.

My follow up to that blog is to share, with their permission, Kevin and Julie’s responses to it. Each sent me notes via Facebook messenger shortly after reading it. I asked if I might share these with you because I realize the blog leaves people to wonder, “What of Kevin?”

As you will see, Kevin is less expressive than Julie but he is thoughtful and makes his words count. Julie is eloquent and heartfelt in her response. However, what each wrote to me touched me deeply and, frankly, reduced me to tears.

From Kevin:
Nicely said. Being aware is good. Living your life with the works of caring to make a difference is another. You are living your life with the works that prove you are and have made a difference. I still have work to do in this area myself. Blessing to you Tom! And thank you!

From Julie:
Tom, I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciated the article you shared with Kevin this morning. In 28 years with my beautiful black husband there have been so many occasions when I have witnessed racism and white privilege.

I have experienced emotions that range from anger, to frustration, to sadness, to pity for such ignorance. I am about as closely related to the black experience as a person can be. And yet, at the end of the day, Kevin’s skin is still black, and mine is still white. Friends who I love say things like, “I don’t see color,” which, to me says one of two things: The person is blind – or they absolutely DO see color! Otherwise why make the statement? I love you, Tom, for being in the struggle. Recent events shine a bright light on the fact that racism is alive and well and on the rise. I am so grateful for your honesty and your willingness to admit your struggle. It brings me to tears to hear a voice that speaks to the reality of the struggle. We hear these voices so seldom.

A book that has enlightened my mind and encouraged me to stay in the good fight is Tears We Cannot Stop (a sermon to white America) by Michael Eric Dyson. Perhaps you have already read it. If not, I highly recommend it. I have offered to lend my copy to several of my white friends. To date, not a single one has taken the offer. Not one.

Thank you again, Tom. You have given me hope today…I confess that I often feel pretty hopeless in the current environment. I have said more than once in the past 3+ years: I would not be surprised to see a burning cross in our yard. I would be terrified, mortified…but not surprised.

Sending love to you and Clemencia.

Thank you, Kevin and Julie, for being our friends, for being so congruent in your lives, for your humbling love, and for letting me share it here.


A Couple of Nudges

Nudge #1: In just a couple of days I’ll be doing a Tamarack Institute webinar with my friend and colleague, Liz Weaver, who is Co-CEO of Tamarack. The webinar is titled Tenacity, Humility, and Collaborative Leadership and it will feature a conversation between Liz and me exploring these topics, with an opportunity for you to be a part of the conversation as well. The webinar is happening on Tuesday, June 2 from 1:00 to 2:00 PM Eastern via Zoom and it is FREE! Please act today to register for it. You sign up here. When last I heard, over 400 webinar seats have been filled, but there are still plenty available.

Nudge #2: ¡Charlemos con Clemencia! is now receiving registrations for the Summer Session, June 15-September 4. This is Clemencia’s website and teaching Spanish to adults is her baby. I admit that I’m a bit biased when it comes to how I view her skills. Still, I’ve spent a good portion of my life in front of audiences as a trainer, workshop leader, and public speaker and I know what it takes to do it well. (That is not to say I have always done it well, just that I know good when I see it.) Clemencia is good! She is one of the best I’ve seen in front of an audience. Learning Spanish with Clemencia is an experience.

I hope you will check out the website, watch the other two brief videos in which Clemencia explains how the classes work. We invite you to consider whether you, or someone you know, is ready for an experience in learning Spanish.

The Adventures of Chickenman

Episode 43 – The Winged Warrior is called upon to help the Mayor of Midland City retrieve a valuable possession which has been lost…is that stolen?

The View from Jeff

Jeff explains: I’m not sure if the shields are 100% germ proof, but they are at 65% sound proof. As a result I find myself unintentionally talking over them (at 6’3” I am tallish enough to not have stuff designed for my height).

Tomorrow – Day 77

Tomorrow will be my last in the series “Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place.” In it I’m going to reflect on this 77 day journey and give you a sneak preview of what happens next. I hope you will join me.


Stay safe. Be well. Keep calm. Keep washing your hands. Keep wearing your mask. And keep coming back, especially tomorrow to learn what is next.

Tom

Day 75 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

We are fighting two pandemics simultaneously. One is COVID-19 and one is racism. Through science and medicine there is a light at the end of the tunnel for the former. There appears to be no light but a deep, dank, never ending tunnel for the latter.

Friday, May 29, 2020 – Live to Blog with A Little Good News

Keeping Social Separation
Keeping Social Separation in the Time of COVID-19 – #alonetogether

Today we learned two things. First, overnight there were no new COVID-19 deaths in Prince George’s County where we live. Second, the County Executive is going to move our county into Stage 1 opening on Monday, June 1. Both are good news…but only “kind of” thanks to my doctor. 🙁


On Doctor’s Orders

This has been a week full of telemedicine visits! First, it was my opthamologist on the 26th. Then, it was my primary care physician today. I’m rather enjoying seeing the natural habitats of my physicians. In one case I watched a partner/husband/grown child come and go through a door behind the doctor several times. Finally, the doctor went to a different room. In the other case I could hear small children in the background. It is nice to see that all these folks who command such respect and who are often so aloof in their professional settings are also moms and dads with dogs, cats, and kids, who some sometimes “bomb” into Zoom.

My opthamologist has been monitoring a situation in my left eye that will eventually require surgery. Actually, it is time for surgery – but because of COVID-19 they are using their surgery suite only for emergencies. Bummer! Instead I have to go to an optometrist to get a new prescription that should allow me to see a bit better until I can have the surgery. The opthamologist typically does refraction (testing) but isn’t right now because the office doesn’t easily accommodate physical distancing. That is true. The exam rooms are tiny.

My primary care physician was following up on my annual exam (which is in October or November) and to order a follow up blood test just to make sure I still have blood. We also had a good conversation about how safe it is for me and Clemencia to go out, since our age puts us at risk and we both also have underlying conditions (Stupidity is not one of our underlying conditions, just to be clear.) Unfortunately, it was in this conversation that she broke the not so good news…because of our risk factors, neither Clemencia nor I should go out immediately once we enter Stage 1 of reopening on Monday. We should wait two weeks until about June 15th.

Her rationale was actually quite sound and I wanted to pass it on here. COVID-19 can be carried for days by people who are infected but do have not symptoms. It takes about two weeks from the point of exposure for symptoms to occur. Therefore, by waiting two weeks after reopening before venturing out, we will have a much better idea of how safe it is. If the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths spike within two weeks of reopening, then going out is not a wise choice. So, there you have it. Prince George’s County will re-open on June 1, but the Vargas Klaus House re-opening will not be until June 15. Of course, these re-opening dates are contigent on whether Stupid People decide to follow the rules and guidelines set out by the County Executive.


Tenacity, Humility, and Collaborative Leadership…There Still Time to Sign Up!

Next week I’ll be joining my good friend and colleague, Liz Weaver, on a Tamarack Institute webinar titled Tenacity, Humility, and Collaborative Leadership. The webinar will be on Tuesday, June 2 from 1:00 to 2:00 PM Eastern via Zoom and it is FREE! All you need to do is sign up here.


Registration is Open – ¡Charlemos con Clemencia!

Are you ready to learn Spanish? Not Spanish to pass an exam, but functional communicative Spanish. Communicative Spanish is the Spanish most English speakers need to be able to simply chat with the people in their communities whose first language is Spanish. It is great for teachers, social workers and public health professionals, and anyone who wants to connect more easily and better with their Spanish-speaking neighbors.

Clemencia of ¡Charlemos con Clemencia! is, of course, my spouse whom you’ve gotten to know through this blog. Be sure to ask about the special bonus lesson in Colombian Lip Pointing! To register for the Summer Session (June 15-September 4) visit www.charlemos.net. Cost is $85 per person for the whole summer session of 12 classes. Multiple class times are available.


The Adventures of Chickenman

Episode 42 – A youth organization representative attempts to recruit Benton Harbor (aka Chickenman) as a youth leader. Until he has to look for Benton in the Chicken Cave.


What’s Next?

Our days of sheltering-in-place are coming to an end this weekend. My Monday, June 1 posting of Stories of Covid-19 and Sheltering-In-Place will be my last. Well, unless, of course, things turn for the worse over the weekend and we get locked down again.

However, I have something in mind and I will debut it on Tuesday, June 2nd. I knew this lockdown would have to end sometime so I’ve been preparing for it. I hope you like what’s next! Stay tuned!


In Reality…and Thank You.

First, thank you. I’ve had some very sweet and kind responses to yesterday’s (Day 74) blog. I had two responses that were especially powerful to me and I will be sharing them soon. I have secured permission from the writers. They are currently reviewing the piece I have written to introduce them both to you. When they have given me the go ahead, they will appear in the blog. If you read yesterday’s blog, I think you will find these quite interesting.

Now, in reality. We are fighting two pandemics simultaneously. One is COVID-19 and one is racism. Through science and medicine there is a light at the end of the tunnel for the former. There appears to be no light but a deep, dank, never ending tunnel for the latter. The pandemic of racism in the U.S. is hundreds of years old and today it is even more obvious than ever. In 2016 Will Smith, an interview with Steven Colbert said, “Racism is not getting worse, it’s getting filmed.” Today the filming continues to confirm the reality of racism. While both pandemics are blazing away in our country – quite literally in some cities – the President is AWOL. There has been no comment about the 100,000+ dead of COVID-19, there has been only withdrawal today from the World Health Organization. In the midst of a pandemic? Really? There has been no comment about the protests and fires in Minneapolis (and other cities as well) except for threats of greater violence on Twitter, which Twitter had to sanction.

Mr. President, like I wrote earlier this week, we need you NOW to be the best version of yourself. Is this it?

Is this all you’ve got?


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and, please, do everything YOU can to keep yourself and others safe in both pandemics.

Tom

Day 74 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

At one point, he laughed and said, “Tom, you are the whitest white boy I’ve ever known!” We both laughed, because some truth makes us laugh when it slaps us upside the head.

Thursday, May 28, 2020 – Live to Blog from Under Cover of Shame

Keeping Social Separation
Keeping Social Separation in the Time of COVID-19 – #alonetogether

Given all that is happening this week in Minneapolis, New York City, and, recently, in Brunswick, Georgia, I need to write about race – specifically the dynamics of white racism toward black people. I have never felt fully competent to offer a meaningful opinion on race. Even more, as a white male I wonder if I even have standing to offer an opinion given the horrific history of white male oppression of minorities and specifically black people which continues even to this very day. Let’s face, white men, we’ve blown it…again…and again…and again and we keep blowing it. Still, to remain silent is to ignore the racism in our country and to become complicit in it. While I often refer to this blog as being full of “drivel,” race is not a drivelous matter. For this reason I will move forward with this blog on race, but carefully, thoughtfully, and respectfully. I will save drivel for tomorrow.

A Little Context

My father figure gave me my first education about race. I vividly remember him often saying this: “I don’t so much mind the n****** and s****, but its the g**** that really get to me.” Unfortunately, that racist perspective defined or informed my view of nonwhite people and race for many years. Growing up in very rural Iowa, inhabited and surrounded by white, Anglo, Northern European people like myself, I had little life experience to challenge that understanding.

Only one time did I ever see black people in my hometown. In fact, they visited our home. It was a woman my mother worked with at a department store in a city about 20 miles away and her husband. They were out on a drive that Sunday afternoon and decided to drop in on us. My parents were wholly unprepared and I thought one or both were going to have strokes. They quickly ushered the couple into our house, all the time looking about to make sure the neighbors hadn’t noticed. We had a very awkward visit which I very much enjoyed. I was, after all, just at that age when teens enjoy seeing their parents suffer.

An Awakening

There was a time in my life when I was like Amy Cooper. Not long after I left my hometown I was working for a religious youth organization in a larger city in Iowa. I was meeting with a group of white youth in a park and we were playing volleyball together. A group of young black men came up and asked to join the game. My conditioning told me they were probably dangerous to the white youth, so I ended the game early and segregated my group from them by moving on to a Bible study activity for just them…the white kids. How ironic, eh? I have always felt embarrassed and ashamed of my actions that afternoon.

Though my social conditioning told me one thing, my conscience told me another. I began to wonder why I acted that way toward those young black men and, over time, the lingering shame I felt opened me to exploring it. At just the right moment of my life and career, two people helped me with my growth. One was Kevin, a black man who worked with me at a nonprofit organization in Iowa. Kevin was on my staff and by getting to know him, I got to know myself better.

A Transformation Begins

Both Kevin and I attended a diversity training sponsored by the local YWCA, but at different times. He attended it first. I attended it the next time it was offered. When I finished it, I came back to the office and was telling him all about my experience and what I had learned. At one point, he laughed and said, “Tom, you are the whitest white boy I’ve ever known!” We both laughed, because some truth makes us laugh when it slaps us upside the head. Even as I remember this and write about it today, I still smile with appreciation because his candor was so genuine, so refreshing, and so right on.

This week I saw this video going around on Facebook and it reminded me of Kevin. If you haven’t seen it, please take a moment to watch it. If you click on the image below, it should take you to a Facebook page where the video appears.

The other person who helped with my growth was Al Vivien. Al’s father is C.T. Vivien, a close associate of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, a Presidential Medal of Freedom Honoree by President Obama, and the creator and founder of the diversity work and organization Al leads today. Al was the facilitator of that diversity training I attended.

It would take many blogs to describe that experience as it was one of the most momentous and transformative of my life – hence my rush to share it with Kevin. I will only report now that I gained a lot of content but knowledge alone was not enough. The knowledge only provided context for me to understand what I experienced. It was the experience that Al facilitated – the experience of being skillfully transported, for a few hours, into a black man’s life – that impacted me.

Still, it was my friendship with Kevin that actually prepared me for what Al would teach me about the common humanity of blacks and whites. The stories we shared about our lives, the conversations we had, and the experiences we shared as co-workers prepared a place in my soul where Al’s message could be received and embraced. I have not been the same since.

The Need to Keep Moving Forward

Today it would be easy for me to pull a muscle patting myself on my back for how far I have come. I have a diverse group of clients – white, black, Hispanic, Latino and Asian. I live in a black majority county in a very diverse neighborhood. I have a very diverse group of acquaintances and friends. My Colombian spouse does not self-identify as a white woman.

However, I know my early racist conditioning was continuous and strong. I cannot and should not ever forget that that is how I learned to be. If I do, then I risk falling back because the racism of our culture today rivals that in which I came of age. Yes, we have a pandemic of COVID-19 that is stressing everyone and makes all things seem worse. It still cannot hide the pandemic of racism in the United States that has silently infected the souls of us white people througout my lifetime.

One reason I decided to tell this part of my story is so that people who care about me will hold me accountable when I fail to do it myself. You see, I’m a pretty nice guy. The “me” most people know today is very different from the “me” of years ago. They probably don’t know this racist past of mine because they have never seen it. At least I don’t think they have, except Kevin who is incredibly insightful and authentic, and was brave enough to call it out.

I know I’m responsible for my own life and for being the person I am. In asking others to hold me accountable I’m not asking them to be responsible. I’m just saying that I’m human. I can make mistakes. I can fail. When I do, I want people who care to snap me back on track. That’s all.

I do not want to be Amy Cooper, or the cop who strangled George Floyd, or the cops who watched him die, or the man who shot Ahmaud Arbery, or the man who instigated the shooting. I do not want to be a person who inflicts any level of pain on another person because they are black or a member of any other minority in this country.

As much I do not want to be that kind of person, I have to live daily in the knowledge that I am not so far away from it. My social conditioning, combined with our current racist environment, can call forth aspects of my still unconscious racism in the Unknown region of my Johari Window.

There are two kinds of deadly racists in our country. The first are those who know they are racist and are proud of it. They are the ones who show up in places like Charlottesville. They are dangerous but, frankly, not as dangerous as the second kind. The second kind are the socially conscienced unconcious racists. They are the people who think they are not racist and tend to deny its existence today, preferring to believe “we are better than that.” They are the ones who stand by and do nothing while racism kills people. However, afterward, they do stand around with friends like themselves and lament how bad things must be for “those” poor people. I do not believe I will ever be the first kind, but I am never far enough away from being the second.

If white folks were being honest, I think my reality is close to theirs. This, I believe, is what Don Lemon was trying to school Chris Cuomo on last night on CNN. This is a 9+ minute video clip from the start of Don Lemon’s show, as Chris Cuomo was “passing off” to him. It is a powerful, honest dialogue between two men who claim to be, and who I believe, are friends. Take the time to watch it now, and I’ll pick this up on the other side with a couple of questions.

Okay, thanks for watching the video. May I ask you a question: If you are a white person, did Don Lemon’s comments get under your skin? Did you feel for Chris Cuomo who was squirming just a bit? Did you squirm just a bit yourself? Did you feel even a little offended by Lemon’s comments? If you are a white person and answered yes to any of these questions, then you still have work to do.

You are not alone, though. I’m there with you. I still have work to do because I don’t like the alternative if I don’t remain attentive. In fact, all of us white people have work to do…lots of work…continously. The roots of racism – especially white racism toward blacks – run very deep in our country. We cannot allow ourselves to believe it isn’t there. We cannot delude ourselves into thinking we have, or can, iradicate it from our beings. These beliefs and delusions continue to kill black people and others who do not look, or sound, like us.

It is past time for us to wake up into the reality of our delusion.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and, if you are white, keep searching your soul for the unconscious racism that lies within. We only become better when we are willing to confront the problem and heal the illness.

Tom

Day 73 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

For every Stupid Person who ignores the rules that keep all of us safe, another person cannot enjoy the freedom that Stupid Person feels they alone are entitled.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020 – Live to Blog from Under a Sunny Cloud of Disappointment

Keeping Social Separation
Keeping Social Separation in the Time of COVID-19 – #alonetogether

Clemencia threw me out of the house today. Well, it wasn’t THAT dramatic! Actually, she invited me out of the house to go golfing. The golf course I play has been open since May 15th but I’ve been reluctant to venture out because of our risk level and the incredible spread of the pandemic in our community. However, with her encouragement I decided go play golf.


Join Liz Weaver and Me for Tenacity, Humility, and Collaborative Leadership on June 2nd

I’m honored to be joining my good friend and colleague, Liz Weaver, on a Tamarack Institute webinar titled Tenacity, Humility, and Collaborative Leadership. The webinar will be on Tuesday, June 2 from 1:00 to 2:00 PM Eastern via Zoom and it is FREE! All you need to do is sign up here.

Liz is the Co-CEO of the Tamarack Institute, an amazing social and community change organization based in Waterloo, Ontario. Their work on poverty reduction in Canada is extraordinary and if you don’t know them, you need to know them. Liz and I have collaborated on articles and projects in the recent past, but this is the first time we’ve done a webinar together. Anytime I get with Liz by phone or on Zoom, I always learn something new and come away with a stronger “can do” spirit. I’m honored and excited to be doing this webinar with her. Please check it out and please plan to join us. (P.S. Liz told me today that there are currently over 400 signed up. Come on in! The more the merrier!)


The Golf Outing That Wasn’t

When the golf course reopened on the 15th of this month I drove over to see how they were handling the re-opening. I was really impressed. No one was allowed in the club house. Golfers with memberships checked in on one side through a window and those who paid by the round signed in and paid at a window on the opposite side of the building. Everyone was required to wear a mask and everyone did. Distancing was practiced quite well by everyone. You could share a cart only if the person you were sharing with was someone who lived with you (e.g., spouse, child, family guinea pig, etc.). They were carefully following the protocols established by the state and the county. Remember, the golf course is in Prince George’s County which is the hottest COVID-19 hotspot in the hotspot that is all of the Metro DC area. Ironically, it is located less than a half-mile from the state’s COVID-19 temporary morgue, which you’d think would be a powerful reminder.

From that experience I decided it would be okay for me to try to play when the weather was warmer and I had a free day. That day was today. Early this morning Clemencia asked if I planned to go golfing. I was a bit non-committal because even though I did, I have been concerned about the risk and, even worse, bringing the virus home to her. When I got dressed, though, it was in golf shorts and shirt. By noon I was strongly leaning toward giving it a try. By 1:30 PM, after I had finished the “must do” work items for the day, I was actually anxious to go. Sensing that (well, actually, she caught me wearing my golf shoes in the house), Clemencia invited me to get out of the house. After I asked her “But are you sure?” about seven times, I finally left.

The parking was nearly full at the golf course, which was surprising for a Wednesday afternoon when most people are working. But, then, I realized many people were not yet back to work. In all, I was glad the golf course was getting the business.

However, as I got my equipment out of the car and started walking to the club house I began to notice the absence of masks, the absence of distancing, and the abundance of really Stupid People. I saw people whom I strongly suspected were not related sharing golf carts. I saw people standing and sitting around the club house in groups and without masks. To get to the check-in window I would have had be in the midst of them.

Then there was the straw – you know, the one that broke the camel’s back? One of the golf course maintenance workers was disinfecting the cars (which was good) but his mask was at or under his chin. It made for a lovely decoration but it was non-functional as a mask.

Without hesitation, I walked back to my car, loaded my golf bag, and drove back home. It was a deeply disappointing experience. I’m happy to report, I didn’t cry like a baby and pitch a tantrum. But a tear did trickle silently down my cheek.

What’s really amazing and which really infuriates me about this time we are in is not just that there are Stupid People – but that many are also selfish, self-centered, and seemingly entitled. For every Stupid Person who ignores the rules that keep all of us safe, another person cannot enjoy the freedom that Stupid People feel is their entitlement alone. Golf is not the only sport with Stupid People though. Tennis, pickleball, and basketball all have people who find ways around the rules to get on the court and play their games. This makes the also prime candidates for the Stupid People Hall of Fame.

Meanwhile, while Stupid People think only of themselves…

Today, at about 5:00 PM Eastern, the death toll in the United States from COVID-19 hit 100,000.

After all the Stupid People I saw last weekend in the news who were on the beaches and at parties, after all the Stupid People I saw at the golf course today, and after all the Stupid People I heard about this week, I am losing hope that we will get out of this without a death toll rivaling the Spanish Flu in 1918-1919 (which was 675,000 by the way).

God help us? Maybe. But maybe we could help God out by being less stupid.


The Adventures of Chickenman

Episode 41 – Join Chickenman as he christens the new Midland City Hall…kind of.


Song Parody Wednesday!

Cheryl from Pennsylvania, and avid reader of this blog (or so she says…oh, wait, maybe I paid her to say that?) wrote me to say how much she likes the song parodies. So, Cheryl, this is for you and everyone else that likes these as much as you and I do.

Let’s kick it off kids with Chris Mann, whose song parodies I’ve featured before, a singer and musician who came in 4th in the 2012 season of “The Voice” (another reality TV show I’ve never watched). Mann is originally from Wichita, Kansas where he turned down a really great offer to be a lineman.

This is a first time in the Fabulous Five for the Holderness Family. They are, well, a family that specializes in making music and music parodies and a bunch of other stuff. Strangely, they seem to make a living at it. More power to ’em!

The Kiffness, from South Africa, is no stranger to this blog though he does seem to be a little “stranger” than some of the other performers featured here. But then, they are all just a bit strange in their own way. This a fun one gang!

Whoa, look at that, the Holderness Family has another in this week’s Fabulous Five. I’m not really a fan of Disney music but this was fun to watch. I loved the costume changes midsong!

Finally, rounding out our Fabulous Five for this week is Raúl Irabién, from Mexico, who does one of the best COVID-19 parodies of Bohemian Rhapsody (my favorite song) that I’ve seen. Irabién has a terrific acapella group Invoca you can check out as well.

Why stop at five? Here’s a bonus parody from Randy Rainbow, perhaps the most prolific and political of the song parody-ists. (Is that a word?) And remember, DO NOT ingest household chemicals!

Stay safe, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep an eye on the numbers as they go up. They aren’t stopping anytime soon.

Tom