Lower Your Guard?

Fighting is the easy way out. It saves us from the humility of seeking forgiveness. It saves us from accepting any responsibility. It saves us from the modesty required of accountability and reconciliation. It saves us from the difficult, bruising work of finding a way forward together despite our differences. Isn’t it time to lower our guard?

It is easier to define ourselves by what and who we are against. This is what I find is saddening, and maddening, about these times.

It is too easy to define ourselves by what and who we are against.

Here’s a silly but illustrative example: I’m an Iowa native who grew up about 45 miles from Iowa City, the home of the University of Iowa and Iowa Hawkeye sports. I am a lifelong fan of the Haweyes and the Big 10 conference (though I now live in Maryland and my sport’s soul is trapped in Terrapin (Terps…”Fear the Turtle” country). Despite the team rivalries in the conference there is one thing that unites fans of all Big 10 teams, save one: We hate any Ohio State Buckeyes team. I have no rational explanation for this. I just know it makes our day brighter when the Buckeye’s lose in any sport. This is not to say Ohio State isn’t a good school where people get a very good education…probably. 🙂

It’s only sports, right? Those of us who are not Ohio State fans have a little more fun following our teams because we are united as one against the Buckeyes. There are many things in life where we square off against one another for fun based on preferences that don’t actually matter to the universe, regardless of how passionate we may be: Starbucks v. Dunkin; McDonald’s v. Burger King; Netflix v. Prime Video; pilates v. yoga; Samsung v. iPhone; Subaru v. any other car on the road, but especially BMWs; etc.

Squaring off does matter on those things that have an impact on others. Take, for example, the public health debate about vaccination; gun rights v. gun violence; inclusion v. exclusion of others who are not just like us; freedom of the press v. suppression of “fake news;” death with dignity v. “death panels,” just to name a few. Once we take a position, we tend to hang out, in person and online, exclusively with those who fuel and justify our opinions, ideologies, and perspectives. We believe we have a clear view of the world. We have certainty because, hey, we all agree in this group don’t we? In fact, within our groups we have squared off against any “other” who does not fit with us.

Can we find the courage to lower our guard enough to engage one another again?

Therein lies the problem. We rarely try to engage with the “other” who holds an opposing idea or position. Well, unless it is to try to win them over or, at least, to give ’em a good ideological whoopin’. It is easier to stay inside our group and fight the enemy outside our walls than to meet our opposition and risk having a change of perspective.

Several years ago I undertook a research project for my doctoral dissertation on a sensitive ideological issue (sex education) within American society. My research required me to find and interview people who passionately held opposing positions on the issue. Of course, I would have to personally engage with people who held views very different from my own. It became one of the most fascinating and rewarding experiences of my life.

The research did earn me my doctorate. What I discovered in doing the research was even better. I discovered the power of genuine engagement and authenticity. When I approached people with humility and a true desire to hear from them and dialogue with them, we established a baseline of trust, and we heard and learned from each other.

This research experience taught me several important things about controversy management and conflict transformation. In 2014 I used the research to create a training event designed to help opposing sides in an ideological conflict engage one another more productively. Now, in 2019, we are even more polarized than we were then. We struggle to speak to one another and, even more, to hear one another from opposite sides of our ideological divides, including (especially?) on political issues. Recently, even on Facebook where personal debate on difficult issues had been common, it seems people have given up and retreated to the comfort and safety of their groups. To be clear, I’m not recommending Facebook, or social media more generally, for any kind of meaningful discussion; I’m only calling out the change.

Over the Winter I dusted off that training event, updated it, and am making it available again, but with a difference. To support the restoration of civil discourse and dialogue in American society, I’m making it available to organizations at a reduced price that includes my travel costs. I know this is a very small effort in such a large country. Nonetheless, I’m hoping people will use the event in their organizations or communities to accelerate dialogue on the issues that are most divisive for them.

To learn more about Strategic Controversy Management: Managing Controversy and Transforming Conflict in Organizational and Community Change, download this flyer. Take a look and if you think it could help people in your organization or community take their gloves off and reconnect as colleagues and neighbors again, send me an email at twklaus@tenaciouschange.us or text me at 240-319-8525. I’ll be in touch to set up a time to talk.

Be Greater, Do Good, Everyday, and remember to lower your guard as you Change Forward,

Tom Klaus

Noses On!

It’s that time again! May 24th is the day! To be exact, it is Red Nose Day, one of my favorite charity events! For this one day a lot of media and public attention is given to the cause of ending childhood poverty. Since it was launched in 2015, Red Nose Day has raised more than $100 million dollars to impact the lives of nearly 9 million children.

Here’s what I love about Red Nose Day…

HOPE Buffalo is a movement in Buffalo, NY in support of adolescent health and wellness. HOPE stands for health, opportunity, prevention, and the three “E’s” of education, equity, and empowerment. The staff and volunteers see the impact of poverty everyday on the lives of young people. Last year they joined the call to don the Red Nose. They look great, don’t they?

First, it attacks a root cause – poverty. I’ve been working in human services, public health, and social change for my entire career. Within these domains there are many issues that adversely affect children which can be traced back to a common factor – children and their families living at or near chronic poverty. Red Nose Day is an attempt to address poverty by supporting programs and initiatives that keep children safe, healthy, and educated. These efforts do more than simply meet an immediate need for children. The myriad acts of kindness associated with helping also address the poverty of hope that children and families living in chronic poverty experience. You can make a difference by spending as little as $1 to buy a Red Nose at Walgreens or Duane Reade stores. If you would like to do more and give more, become a member of my fundraising team at A Nose for Tenacious Change.

Okay, isn’t this the cutest Red Noser you’ve ever seen? A couple of years ago a colleague got a nose for herself and for her son. You can just see this photo being featured in a graduation montage in a few years, right?

Secondly, it animates important ethical and spiritual values in my life. For me these are informed, with neither apology nor arrogance, by Christian Quaker spirituality. They come specifically from the teaching of the disciple Matthew, chapter 25, verses 31 to 46, a selection the Common English Bible calls “Judgment of the nations,” an intriguing title during these times. Most people already know this passage because one small phrase – “the least of these” – is frequently quoted in the context of explaining why we should care about others. If you have never read the whole section to get the full context and story, you may wish to do so. Though you may not share my faith, you may find we share the ethic.

Howard Macy’s “Red Nose Training Manual.” Download it today and get started!

Thirdly, wearing a red nose is fun and a great way to brighten the day of others! Don’t forget…to celebrate Red Nose Day you need, of course, a red nose. May 24th is just around the corner and you don’t want to be the only one with a naked nose do you? Okay, I understand the doubt and I can hear that voice in your head right now asking, “Yeah, but…what do I do once I put the nose on?” Good news! My friend Howard Macy (professor emeritus, philosopher, theologian, a wicked trumpet player, and a fellow Red Nose aficionado) is the author of the Red-Nose Manifesto which you will find in his Red Nose Training Manual, a masterpiece which might have won the Nobel Prize in literature if the Swedes had not cancelled it this year. (Sorry Howard.) To get started, simply download Howard’s brief, easy-to-read book (lots of illustrations) and follow the instructions. From Training Phase Moves to Intermediate Moves to Advanced Moves, Howard will lead you by the Red Nose to the point where you will be proudly sporting it wherever you can. Here is one of his Advanced Moves that I have used before, “When teaching or leading a group, slip the nose on subtly while looking away, then turn around and continue to lead.” If that seems too daunting, how about this Intermediate Move: “Slip on the nose when you’re stuck in traffic. Smile broadly, sing with the radio.” If you are Red Nose virgin and even a semi-public appearance seems way too much to you, try this Training Phase Move by yourself: “Slip the nose on when you’re tempted to feel disrespected or seriously important.” Personally, I have no less than eight red noses – including one in my backpack for Red Nose emergencies when I travel. (Fair warning: I’ll be working in San Luis Obispo, California this year on Red Nose Day. Ha!)

As much fun as I have with my array of red noses, especially on Red Nose Day, the cause is a serious one and the need is great. I do not often ask people to contribute to something, but I am making that ask today. My life’s work has been to try to make this world a better place for all – including “the least of these.” The mission of Tenacious Change is to animate and equip people, organizations, and communities to lead change for the greater good. Participating in Red Nose Day is one small thing each of us can do for the greater good. I would be honored to have you on my Red Nose Day team at A Nose for Tenacious Change. Thanks!

Remember…Be Greater, Do Good, Everyday. Put on a Red Nose and Change Forward!

Tom

Click here to join A Nose for Tenacious Change at Red Nose Day. And thank you!

 

The (Mostly) Certitudes of Change

All things considered, I prefer sameness in my personal life. Okay, actually I more than prefer it. I really like the comfort of my personal routine when I am at home. 

I get up and go to bed at the same times everyday; I eat the same breakfast each morning (baked oatmeal – be sure to ask me for my recipe); I have used the same bar soap, shampoo, and other personal products for years; I have had the same haircut for years (of course, having little hair poses certain limitations); I walk our dogs at the same times every day; when my clothes wear out, I replace them with the same brands in as close to the same style as I can find; and my work day follows the same pattern as much as possible when I’m not traveling for work – I do research and writing in the morning, meetings and calls in the afternoon.

Despite this love of routine, I have come to appreciate there are many facets of change, whether it is personal or group change.

Both have been and continue to be areas of focus in my work – from developing leaders, to organizational change to community development. In recent months I found myself thinking nearly nonstop about change as I was coming up with a name for a new initiative I started piloting and rolling out at the first of this year – Tenacious Change Approach℠.

One mostly certitude of change is that even when we say “yes” to change with our mouths and bests intentions, we can say “no” to it with our hearts. We outwardly go along with it and yet we may inwardly resist the change. At the personal level, even when we know a change would be good and we decide to do it, the change does not automatically happen. For many years I weighed at least 75 pounds more than was healthy for me. I knew I needed to lose weight and made several decisions to do so. However, it was not until I had a crisis with weight induced sleep apnea that my internal “no” became a “yes” and I made the change.

In a group setting, whether it is a team, organization, or community-wide change initiative, we outwardly comply with the change – maybe even enthusiastically support it – but, then, we can work quietly behind the scenes to slow the change or even prevent it. We can even be unaware of our own passive resistance.

Resistance to change, whether merely passive or passive aggressive, is frustrating though it is not a form of evil. It is a characteristic of humanity.

Let’s be honest…what do we humans really love about change? That’s right, pretty much nothing. I know…we act like we love it, especially in our professional worlds. Why? Because we want to appear innovative, original, experimental, inventive, cutting-edge, forward-looking, state-of-the-art, trend-setting, pioneering, Bohemian, groundbreaking, trailblazing, revolutionary, unorthodox, unconventional, offbeat, cool, avant garde…yada, yada, yada. Yet, when we peel away all of that feigned love of change we are human creatures of habit. This is another one of the mostly certitudes of change.

Change is inevitable, regardless of how we feel about it. This is beyond being a mostly certitude of change…it is a certitude. We cannot stop change or, as one of my favorite musicals puts it, “you can’t stop the beat.” We only deceive ourselves if we think change will not occur simply because we do not want it.


If change is inevitable, what choices remain? We can choose to do nothing and let the change unfold without our participation. In that case, we will likely be swept along in whatever direction the change moves things – for good or for ill. If we do not like the change, we can complain about it but that will be too little, too late, and quite annoying to everyone around us.

We can choose to respond pro-actively to change. This choice opens other choices to us. First, we can choose the type of change we want. Our basic choices are evolution (gradual developmental advancement) or devolution (gradual degeneration of advances). Then, we can choose to anticipate it, facilitate it, manage it, and prepare for it to happen again.

To anticipate change is to do some forecasting to imagine what the future holds and then decide what change is most needed. To facilitate it is to take an active role, often in collaboration with others, in deciding the strategies and tactics that will initiate change and move it forward. To manage it is to institutionalize the change which occurs to prevent things from slipping back to the way they were before the change. To prepare for it to happen again is to begin the process all over again. Why? Because change is continuous, which is a another certitude of change.  

Change is inevitable and it is constant, regardless of how strongly we resist it. Our role lies in choosing the type of change that occurs and in how we assist it.

To be a Change Agent is to be an active participant in change. Even though I like routine in my daily life, my spirituality and ethic compels me to be a Change Agent to make our world a better place for all. As we close out 2017 and prepare to boldly begin a new year, I have a wish for all of us. I wish for us to be active participants in changing our worlds – whether neighborhoods, communities, states, or whole countries – to be places where everyone, can feel welcome, accepted, heard, respected, cared for, and loved. 

Be greater. Do Good. Everyday. Change Forward!

Tom