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 68 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

Friday, May 22, 2020 – Live to Blog from the Beginning of a “Holiday” Weekend

Keeping Social Separation
Keeping Social Separation Together in the Time of COVID-19

Ah yes! The Memorial Day Weekend! The unofficial beginning of Summer! How shall we celebrate? I’m going to fire up the grill and cook up some bratwurst. Then I’m going to sunbath on our deck – with apologies to all my neighbors. And, once again, I’ll try hitting a few golf balls off the deck. No. Actually, I won’t be doing any of that. I’m going to be at home watching the second season of Homecoming on Netflix.

Instacart Success!

I’m happy to report that my second attempt to grocery shop using Aldi and Instacart was an amazing success. Everything went like clockwork! The delivery window was 10:00 AM to Noon today, and it arrived at 10:07. We had the most delightful delivery person. Her name is Oluwafolakemi but she goes by simply Kemi. She was amazing! She was careful, thorough, fast, and efficient. She got a five star rating and a good tip! I wonder if Instacart allows you to ask for specific delivery people? I’ll have to check into that as I don’t see us going to stores again anytime soon. (P.S. I did not accidently double our order this time.)

COVID-19 Gets Closer

If you’ve been faithfully reading this blog (and, of course, I know you have…who wouldn’t want a daily shot of drivel?), you know that we live in the midst of one of the three biggest COVID-19 hotspots in the U.S. Don’t be jealous…there will be more! Honestly, it is difficult to see the rules relaxed around the country and our state when we see the devastation of the virus all around us.

Today our county, Prince George’s, has over 13,000 cases and nearly 500 deaths. If our county were a state, we’d rank 27th in the number of coronavirus cases, between Mississippi and Alabama.

COVID-19 got close in other ways as well this week. Two days ago I learned that a young colleague in one of my work projects was very ill with COVID-19 for several weeks. Late last night I learned that the mother of a good friend died of complications of the COVID-19. We heard that a woman in the building next to ours tested positive for the virus.

And still…people are being stupid. Look, I’m not talking about the people who have to go out to work. Most of the people I’ve seen doing that are wearing masks, especially if their work means they have to be inside buildings. Today Kemi from Instacart was masked up. Words cannot express how appreciative we are for her not only wearing a mask but also doing the shopping for us. Instacart better be treating her well. We did our part.

No, I’m talking about the people who refuse to make even the smallest concessions to preserve the health and well-being of others. If I could get all those people in a room together (of course, they wouldn’t be wearing masks…but some would probably be carrying guns…go figure), I would say something like this:

Look stupid people. It’s not about you though you think it is. It’s about you and everyone else. Maybe you think you’re immune. Fine, everybody is entitled to any delusion they like. Maybe you don’t believe this is a real thing. Okay, you also have a right to be wrong no matter how right you think you are. Maybe you don’t care if you get sick. Well, fine to that too. Even though I think you are stupid, it doesn’t mean I want you to suffer and die, but it is your choice. I won’t try to save you if you don’t want to be saved. However, remember, this is not about only you.

You have no idea whether you are an asymptomatic carrier and neither do I. That’s the problem with this virus. We actually can’t see it coming. For this reason, you and I both need to wear masks when we are in public and still keep a distance from each other. When we each give up a little bit of freedom by wearing masks, we can all have a lot more freedom to come out of our homes and resume a something-closer-to-normal life.

Is that really too much to ask that you faithfully wear a mask when you are around other people and keep a distance from them? Really? If it is, I pity you. You have not only misunderstood what it means to be free in America, you are clueless about what it is to be a decent human being.

A reader sent me a link to this article in The Atlantic, The Real Reason to Wear a Mask. It is an insightful, thorough, and instructive article. If you already “get it” and understand the most important things masking up does, you can skip the article. However, please forward it to anyone you know who doesn’t seem to get it yet.

A Drivelous Idea?

Here’s a thought…probably half-baked. People are dying and the economy is in shambles. What if we had taken that $3 trillion allocated by Congress and simply divided it equally by the total population of the United States? This would mean every person would get an equal piece of that humongous pie. If my calculations are correct, that would be $9,175 per person ($3 trillion/327 million). This would have enabled the vast, vast majority of people in the U.S. to shelter-in-place for a number of weeks and only the most essential workers would have needed to go out.

Now, if everyone who received that money but didn’t really need it, because they could work from home or were essential workers, refused it, think of the potential. Then the families that really needed it would have that much more money available to shelter-in-place, shop for groceries online, order in food, hire online tutors for the kids, and stay out the stores where they wouldn’t be tempted to buy up all the dang toilet paper. We could have extended shelter-in-place even longer. Instead, the money got sucked up by a lot of organizations and businesses that didn’t need it. They wouldn’t have needed it either, if the money could have been put back into the people’s hands so they could have purchased their goods and services.

I know. I’m not an economist, I should stay in my own lane, and this may be the purest of drivel. I can’t help but wonder, though, what if we really believed in and practiced the Golden Rule or even just a Golden Rule? What if we really believed in helping our neighbors? What if we really lived by an ethic in which others were at least as important as think we are? Just wondering.

This video is required viewing by MBA students in my classes. We have to remember that the possession of money changes people. It is a very thought provoking video. That is why I assign it.

Funny Things from This Week

How tough has the sheltering-in-place been when a frozen pizza tastes like a fresh made, right-out-of the oven pizza?

No, I don’t mean a baked frozen pizza, I mean an actual frozen, frozen pizza.

In a Zoom meeting this week with about 25 people I asked this “icebreaker” question: “What is something you are learning during the pandemic that you hope to take forward and use in the new normal?”

One young woman, who is balancing working from home with homeschooling her children immediately responded, “How to ‘carry the 1’.” I’m guessing there are a lot of parents strengthening their math skills during the pandemic…as well as building their history, science, geography, and social studies knowledge.


The Adventures of Chickenman

Episode 37 – Chickenman is tailing a teddy bear and contending with an obnoxious operator.


To End the Work Week…Some Good News

Well…not really. I was getting ready to run the 8th, and as it turns out, final episode of John Krasinski’s Some Good News. This has been a free YouTube show that relied heavily on contributions from fans – who were not, as far as anyone knows, compensated for their contributions. He sold the show to CBS after a substantial bidding war and, of course, that means a lot of money. At this time, I haven’t been able to find out how much he made on the deal. Krasinski won’t be involved in the show except as an Executive Producer.

When I first heard about this show, I had doubts that a well known couple (his wife is actress Emily Blunt) could actually do something so selfless. Turns out my doubts were well founded.

Many fans, including myself, are not pleased. Of course, Krasinski can still redeem himself. Maybe he can share what he made on the deal with the many people who shared their stories and sent him their own material? Maybe he can donate his profits to organizations providing meals and other relief to families who won’t be selling shows to CBS and may not have incomes anytime soon. I’m a fan of Krasinski’s TV and movie characters, but I’m less a fan of him as a person today. Shame!


Okay, we are closing in on Day 70. Let’s see…OMG, that is ten weeks! How are we going to celebrate? How about this…

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and, this Memorial Day, remember the nearly 100,000 people who were in our collective lives in January but who are no longer here because of the pandemic and it’s horrifically bungled management.

Tom

Day 27 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

As a public service I’m going to discuss a very personal, sensitive subject today. Still, I hope my decision to do so will help reduce the need for many Americans to hoard toilet paper. Buckle up and let’s get to it!

Saturday, April 11, 2020 – Live to Blog from the Therapy of Fun

I’ve been thinking a lot about toilet paper today. (No worry, we have plenty, thanks.) It started with a news segment I heard on NPR this morning which examined the rationale for the current hoarding of TP. Then I was Zooming with my good friends Alonzo and Starlee about an alternative to toilet paper I had never seriously considered…until now.

To Bidet or Not Bidet?

So Alonzo was telling me that he and Starlee had recently ordered two bidets to use when they went camping. In my minds eye I imagined it was something like the Tushy Classic. I just couldn’t envision the two of them lugging their bidets along on their hiking and camping trips. However, they made the case that their portable bidets mean they don’t have to worry about having toilet paper at home in the midst of this pandemic crisis.

“Clever,” I thought to myself. “But I’m not sure I get how this works.” (I still had the Tushy Classic or BidetKing in mind.)

Alonzo and Starlee saw the puzzled look on my face and being the intuitive people they are, immediatly answered my unspoken confusion, “Tom, we’re talking portable bidets…small plastic ones you carry with you…that come in a handy carrying bag.”

“Ohhhhhhhhh…” I said. “I see.” But not really. So I did what I always do when I am trying to hide my ignorance…I Googled “portable bidets.” Thanks to Alonzo, Starlee, and PortableBeasts.com, I’m feeling much more confident in my ability to intelligently discuss bidets. I’m also quite fascinated by the possibility they offer for solving the toilet paper shortage. Good thinking, Alonzo and Starlee!

Alonzo and Starlee are ahead of the curve on this. They actually ordered their bidets weeks before COVID-19 triggered the run on toilet paper. It appears they were even ahead of The Atlantic which ran an article, The Bidet’s Revival, on March 18th, which suggested American’s may be rethinking the bidet. At the risk of causing a bigger run on bidet’s by the millions of people who read this blog, it seems like a good idea. I’m even rethinking the bidet and, honestly, I never even thought about it before talking with Alonzo and Starlee.

There are a plethora of bidet’s out there – both portable and non-portable. However, it is the portable bidet that is fascinating me at the moment. PortableBeasts.com is one of more than a few websites that actually ranks the portable bidets…both manual and electric. On the PortableBeasts.com Top 10 list you’ll find:

  • The Brondell GoSpa Travel Bidet
  • The Palm TP70 by Bio Bidet
  • The Mobile Toilet Shower by Toto
  • The Panasonic Handy de Toilette portable battery-powered bidet
  • The HappyPo Portable Travel Bidet, and, of course,
  • The Happy Bottom Portable Bidet

The product ranked #10 on the PortableBeasts.com list had a most curious name: Cool Knight Travel Bidet. The unique feature which distinguishes it from the other portable bidets is the markings on the outside of the bottle so you can see how much water remains in it. Apparently, it has a capacity of 500 ml. Wow! That’s a lot of water! Despite the name, the Cool Knight looks like it could do the job.

There is one that understandably did not make the PortableBeast.com Top 10 list – both for its name and how it works. But you can find it on Amazon.com! It is the CuloClean 2x Portable Bidet. You’ll need Google Translate or a Spanish speaker to help you make sense of the name. And, apparently, you have to supply your own plastic bottle. I wouldn’t recommend the CuloClean but I would recommend you read the Customer Questions & Answers section on Amazon.com for the CuloClean. It is…well…interesting…somewhat informative…and highly entertaining.

So, the bottom line is this…I did order portable bidets for us today. They won’t arrive until sometime between June 1 and June22. They were inexpensive ($17.98 for 2) and they will quell the fear of running out of toilet paper. Happily, we have enough TP on hand to await their arrival in comfort and confidence. Thank you, Alonzo and Starlee!


For the Starved Sports Fanatics

My friend and colleague Forrest Alton retweeted this first video from an obviously bored BBC sportscaster named Andrew Cotter. Then, make sure to watch the “Breakfast Grand Final” Both will make your day!

Game of Bones

The Dog’s Breakfast Grand Final

Back to Reality…

Today we have a new milestone to acknowledge. We acknowedge it because it is not to be celebrated. We now have a half-million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States. I have been following the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases dashboard and the IHME Covid 19 Projections on a daily basis. The Johns Hopkins site is where I got the half-million number mentioned above. This morning I heard of another site that tracks COVID-19 testing, The COVID Tracking Project. According to this website there have been 2,544,935 Americans tested for COVID-19. That’s a lot of people and it sounds impressive until you realize it is only 8 one thousands (0.008) of the total populaton of the United States (327,200,000 as of the last best estimate in 2018). I know…you are hearing about the great success we are having in testing for COVID-19 now. Not really. We haven’t even scratched the surface.

While I follow these tracking websites, I accept their numbers and projections with caution and so should you. You see, Johns Hopkins, IHME, and local and national journalists (who created The COVID Tracking Project) all stepped up because our Federal Government failed to do this work. I’m not laying the blame on the public health specialists at the Federal level. If they had not been marginalized and muzzled, they would be doing this more completely and with higher accuracy.

In the absence of the surveillence systems typically provided by CDC and others, private organizations had to step into the gap. This is what Johns Hopkins, IHME, and The COVID Tracking Project did. As a result, their data is not always as complete as it could be and their projections are not always correct. But they are the best we have at the moment.

For example…the Johns Hopkins dashboard only deals with confirmed cases of COVID-19. We know already the number of actual cases may be much, much higher than what the dashboard reports. To have more accurate numbers, we need to have testing. Unfortunatley, The COVID Tracking Project is showing us, as best it can based on reports from state, and sometimes local, public health authorities, that we still neeed many, many more tests to get a good handle on the scope of the virus. This data also, of course, impacts the projections from IHME. Note, though, that the IHME already has a significant limitation. It is based on the assumption of “full social distancing through May 2020.” In reality, not even all of the states are requiring full social distancing and where it is mandated, it is being followed and enforced inconsistently. We see that daily on our television and we experience when we have to go out for groceries.

We are still in big trouble.


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

Tom

Day 22 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

Monday, April 6, 2020 – Live to Blog from Under a Funk

Somedays you feel so low you only want to talk to your socks. Fortunately, Bert (left) and Ernie (right) were up for a conversation. Truthfully, though, they really do mumble and I cannot understand a word they say. So, I’m recreating our conversation based on my best guess at what they said.

  • Me: Hey, guys, can we talk for a bit?
  • Ernie: Sure! What’s going on?
  • Me: I dunno. Life is kind of sucky right now.
  • Bert: Well, speaking of sucky, have your ever spent a day wrapped around your foot?
  • Me: No, seriously, Bert. I mean it…
  • Bert: I mean it too, doofus. It ain’t a pleasure…
  • Me: Yeah, yeah. I get it…but you said we could talk…
  • Bert: That was Ernie who agreed, not me!
  • Me: Okay, fine. But would you mind being quiet while I talk to Ernie for a bit then?
  • Bert: Fine! I know when I’m not wanted…I’ll just wait here on your stinkin’ foot!
  • Me: Bert, look…
  • Ernie: Forget about him, Tom. Let’s talk.
  • Me: Thanks, Ernie. Look, this COVID-19 thing is so hard. I feel overwhelmed by it and I’m really nervous about it. Some days I just don’t want to get out of bed and, when I do, I have a hard time focusing on what I need to do.
  • Ernie: So, stay in bed then! It won’t bother me. I’ve got a great little place out on the deck, you know. The extra morning sunshine would do me good..I could work on my tan, man.
  • Me: I can’t do that, Ernie. I really do have work to do. I still have clients that depend on me. I’m trying to do some things to help others that are feeling even more overwhelmed than me. Today, especially, I had a hard time getting going.
  • Ernie: Why’s that? What happened?
  • Me: Well, you know, I’ve been watching the number of confirmed cases and deaths grow here in the U.S., and especially New York City, because our daughter lives there. Today, the number of deaths in the country went over 10,000. I know…it’s just a number but, jeez, that’s getting to be a big number and it was all so unnecessary! When’s it going to stop, Ernie?
  • Ernie: I have no idea, Tom, but I do know one thing for sure.
  • Me: What’s that, Ernie?
  • Ernie: You’re gonna drive me nuts with your whining! Come on! Suck it up and get to work! You can whine or you can do something. I’ve got an idea: DO SOMETHING and stop bothering me and Bert with this. It’s bad enough you haven’t washed us in over three weeks.
  • Bert (chiming in too gleefully): That’s right, Ernie! You tell him! Sock it to him!

Well, I guess that only goes to prove Bert and Ernie are NOT support socks! (Pa dum tss!)


In other news of the day, I’m going to link you to three things I think you will find highly entertaining, painfully inspiring, and a fascinating read…in that order.


Salut Salon

This is a German quartet of classically trained musicians who also do a form of “musical comedy” – no German language skills necessary. This piece is entitled “Competitive Foursome”

Notes from a Working Mom

Cayci Banks is Vice President of Strategy and Communications at 1000 Feathers, one of the organizations I partner with on projects. More importantly to me, she also my friend and colleague. Today Cayci published a blog on the 1000 Feathers website that is worth reading, especially if you are a parent…even more if you are a mom…who is trying to work from home, keep your kids from being bored, home school them, and yourself and everyone else in your household from giving into the anxiety of COVID-19. Her blog, Let’s Get Real: One Working Mom’s Prespective, touched me and also made me think of others I know who, like Cayci, are trying to do the impossible in this moment. Read it and pass it on, please, to someone you know who needs it.


Jon Katz on the COVID-19 Reality TV Shows of Trump and the Cuomo Brothers

Jon Katz is a blogger, former journalist, TV critic, and television producer. He has been watching the daily Coronavirus Task Force Briefings from the White House and the daily briefings from the New York State Governor’s Office. The first is starring Donald Trump and the latter is starring Andrew Cuomo. Katz offers a fascinating analysis of the two briefings. His perspective is not political as much as it is professional, watching the two “shows” through a television producer’s lens. The analysis, featured in his blog titled The Cuomo Brothers Versus the President: What a Show! is a compelling read. Be sure to reserve a few minutes of your day for it.


Earlier today I was describing my blog as one part humor, one part personal, one part truthful, and one part rant. Today you get to decide which is which.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing our mask, and keep away from stupid people without masks, including me if I forget mine at home.

Tom

Inspiration from Saskatechewan

Four years ago I worked with the Prevention Institute of Saskatchewan to help leadership and staff establish a province-wide community of practice. The community of practice was originally set up for people and organizations working in the field of adolescent sexual health.

Of course, adolescent sexual health is one of those issues that is impacted by many other adolescent issues: healthy relationships, substance use, bullying, body image, gender norms, etc. As a result, groups with a secondary or even tertiary focus on adolescent sexual health benefit as well.

Hardly a week passes that I do not receive something new on the list serve from a member of this community of practice. I learn about resources, upcoming training, funding opportunities, and other useful bits of information. Sometimes I even get something that is just downright inspiring.

Recently I got a link to a music video produced by young people who are part of the Kawacatoose First Nation in Saskatchewan. It is a well done video with a powerful message of hope for First Nation youth. Take about 4 minutes and 36 seconds to watch it, listen to it, and feel inspired by these young people.

A community of practice can be done in a way that is so complicated and time intensive that nobody benefits and, eventually, nobody participates. Alternatively, it can done simply and effectively so it will increasingly attract new participants and remain relevant to the needs of the participants. This community of practice from Saskatchewan seems to have evolved into the latter rather than the former. Congratulations to the Prevention Institute of Saskatchewan. Kudos to the Kawacatoose First Nation youth for a powerful, inspiring video.

Be greater. Do good. Everyday. Change forward!

Tom Klaus

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 only deceive ourselves if we think change will not occur simply because we do not want it.

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

The Challenge of Competing Ideas

“Would you have sex with a person whom you knew for certain had AIDS and your only protection was a condom?” That was not a question I had expected, though I had responded to plenty of difficult questions in the preceding three hours of the meeting.

“Would you have sex with a person whom you knew for certain had AIDS and your only protection was a condom?” That was not a question I had expected, though I had responded to plenty of difficult questions in the preceding three hours of the meeting. For two years I had been piloting a sexuality education curriculum to prepare it for wider dissemination and replication in public schools. My visit to the rural Midwestern community on this winter evening was to meet with the curriculum committee of a local school considering adoption of the program. When I arrived at the school, I learned the meeting was to be held in a large multi-purpose room that served as both a theater and cafeteria. This seemed an odd location for a committee that was typically comprised of less than a dozen people. As I walked into the room, I realized it was not a committee meeting after all, but a community meeting and up to 200 people were expected. My mind raced to understand what this could mean.

I took a walk through the empty hallways of the school to center myself, focus my thoughts, and calm my nerves. I had not prepared for 200. I did not have nearly enough handouts. I could not understand why someone at the school had not given me advanced notice. I puzzled why so many people were expected to attend a committee meeting that even the official members probably skipped as often as possible. The knot in my stomach told me this was not going to be a good evening and that I had better remain calm and focused. I resolved to keep my comments and answers short, simple, and embellished with only a touch of gentle humor to convey friendliness. Walking back toward the meeting room I passed a large group of people huddled in the corner of the school’s main lobby, busily taking notes, and listening intently to the instructions of a man who was obviously in charge. He would be, as I would shortly learn, the first inquisitor of the evening.

A single member of the curriculum committee finally greeted me. I never did meet the other members.

By the time my host escorted me to the podium at the front the room had nearly filled to capacity. The leader of the group in the lobby was seated in the middle of the front row, surrounded by his followers, directly in front of the podium. My host briefly introduced me. I delivered a 15-minute opening presentation as requested and then invited questions.

The man from the lobby rose and asked in a booming voice, “Do you believe in moral absolutes?” and then smiled broadly, while his followers murmured their approval. I breathed deeply, remembered to smile, and said quite simply and very succinctly, “Yes.” For half an eternity, we simply looked at one other, smiling. Slowly, his face began to flush and his feet shuffled uneasily. Finally, he nervously turned to his followers for guidance, his confidence and certainty quickly dissipating. He mumbled something and hastily sat down, even as others in his group leapt to their feet and began shouting their questions at me as if to protect and defend their leader. Some of the questions were about the curriculum, some were about me, and many were philosophical and even theological. Thus, the evening began and continued for more than 3 hours until a man in the last row of chairs stood up and asked: “Would you have sex with a person whom you knew for certain had AIDS and your only protection was a condom?”

I smiled, thanked him for his question, and said, with a touch of humor to diffuse a tense situation, “I don’t think my spouse would appreciate me having sex with another person.” The man exploded in rage. He jumped up and screamed, “I asked you a question and I demand an answer! Would you have sex with a person whom you knew for certain had AIDS and your only protection was a condom?!?” All eyes flashed toward him, then shifted back toward me to see what I would do. I stood silent for a moment to quell my fear and compose myself. Finally, I calmly replied, “I’m sorry, I don’t believe that is an appropriate question.” All eyes turned back to him and throughout the room I could hear the whispered pleas from embarrassed community members for him to, “Sit down and shut up.”

Mercifully, the meeting was soon over…but the evening was not.

As the meeting was breaking up I was gathering my wits and materials. A woman strode up, stood in front me, glared into my face, and said, “I cannot believe you were ever a minister of the Gospel.” I was stunned and did not respond, so she moved closer and repeated it louder. I still did not know what to say so she came even closer and yelled it at me. I finally managed to mumble, “Thank you for your comment,” turned quickly, and started walking for the door.

Just before I reached the door, a man ran into me…hard…knocking all the materials out of my hands onto the floor. I was shocked to see he was a priest. I bent down to pick up the materials, keeping one eye on my assailant. To my surprise, the priest bent down and started helping me pick up the material. As we were both bent over, our heads close together in the gathering work, he whispered to me: “I really appreciate what you are doing and support it. I just wanted you to know I can’t say so publicly.” He handed me the last paper he collected, straightened up, and walked out the door.

The drive home was nearly 200 miles in the middle of the night over frozen roads, and I would finally get home at 4:00 AM. I never once feared for falling asleep as I intently watched the road ahead of me, and wondered what kind of place I had been where I would be accosted by a priest, just so he could speak to me. I nervously watched the rear view mirror for fast approaching headlights on the isolated rural highways.

It was months before I would sleep well again, even in the security of my own home.

As I drove home my mind tried to make sense of the evening. I also tried to make sense of my career move barely two years before. I had moved from a career in religious work to social services, where I was put in charge of piloting and replicating a teen pregnancy prevention program. I wondered if I had made the right move and if this kind of thing was going to be a regular part of the job. Even more, I wondered if I should stay with it. I did. Now, more than two decades later, and many similar community meetings, I am still in the field, as are numerous other veterans of the conflict over sexuality education on both, or many, sides. Since that winter evening I have wanted to more fully understand why and how we provide leadership amid such conflict.

This true story was featured in the opening pages of my doctoral dissertation, which was completed in 2013 after years of living the intractable conflict over sexuality education in public schools. It is a battle for public support and funding that still rages today, having originated in Chicago in 1913.

When I completed the study, I promised everyone who participated that I would share a summary with them. If you are interested in reading it, you can find it here and are welcome to download it free of charge.

The study focused on the intractable conflict over sexuality education in public schools. However, the “lessons learned” in the study can be applied wherever competing ideologies keep people from working together for a greater good. Have we not seen this competition in many community change coalitions, collaborations, and collective impact initiatives? Of course, it happens regularly in politics, leading to the infamous gridlock that hobbles any administration and legislature from leading and governing.

I am not offering this summary because it has all the answers. I am offering it because it may have some insights that are timely, especially for those of us who live in the United States. Indeed, it raises some important issues and questions if we are going to find a way to work together – regardless of our cause and despite our differences.

Be greater, do good, everyday.

Tom

A Father’s Day Reflection

I know. Father’s Day is over…but not until next week. Due to my work and volunteer schedule, I was not able to enjoy brunch with my son yesterday as we had planned, so we are doing it next Sunday. Therefore, I still have time to post this essay. I wrote this essay for specific reason, that is explained below, about 10 years ago. I hope you enjoy it.

For most people, Father’s Day is over for 2017. Mine extends into next week. I am privileged and blessed to claim several young adults as my children though I have only one biological son. Due to my work and volunteer schedule, I was not able to enjoy brunch with him yesterday as we had planned, so we are doing it next Sunday. Therefore, I still have time to post this essay, which I originally wrote about 10 years ago. I hope you enjoy it.

First, a brief bit of background on the essay.

I love oatmeal: plain (with a little salt to bring out the flavor); not so plain (with a touch of vanilla and cinnamon); exotic (with walnuts, apples, craisins, lots of cinnamon, more than a touch of vanilla, and freshly ground nutmeg). In fact, I eat the exotic oatmeal everyday for breakfast. I love oatmeal made on the stove too and I love it baked. By the way, I have an incredibly good baked oatmeal recipe. Let me know if you want it.

If I am ever invited to have oatmeal at your house, know that I have at least three oatmeal limitations, or requirements if you will:

  1. I am not a fan of microwaveable faux oatmeal. It contains too many chemicals and I worry that a universe-ending explosion will occur when “nuking” it.
  2. My oatmeal must be made using the “old fashioned” rolled oats, not the ground-to-a-pulp “quick” oats which have no substance, no taste, and no reason for existence.
  3. I will not eat oatmeal without salt. Period. The salt (which is always listed as an optional ingredient on the box) is what makes the flavor “pop.” Warning: Most restaurants and hotels with the complimentary breakfast buffets do not put salt in the oatmeal. Such an inhumane action is probably not yet worthy of a boycott or class action lawsuit but do know you will need to salt you own oatmeal.

However, it should be a criminal offense when anyone (and you know who you are!) try to pass off the faux oatmeal as “homemade” or “freshly made.”

Shortly after moving to the East Coast, I wrote of my passion for oatmeal in an essay I submitted to National Public Radio’sThis I Believe” segment that was a regular feature at that time. Now I believe they did not care much for the essay because it was kindly rejected in that soft-spoken NPR way by someone with a delightfully inimitable NPR-type name like Dharma Chung-Nunberg. Despite the heart-wrenching, soul-shattering rejection, I liked the essay and decided to publish it here anyway. (Ha! Take THAT, Dharma!)

I believe in the magic of oatmeal. My palate prefers the old-fashioned, whole grained oatmeal, but the magic of oatmeal usually transcends its form.

As a child, a steaming bowl of oatmeal, generously trimmed with farm-fresh cream and heaps of sugar, seemed to warm the kitchen of our Iowa farmhouse. On frigid February mornings the oil-burning stove at the end of the kitchen strained against the toe-numbing cold. Still, the oatmeal warmed me inside-out and the warmth seemed to mystically radiate throughout the drafty house. On those mornings of school bus windows frosted-over for the entire ride into town, I still remained warm and satisfied until the noon bell rang. At the bell, fueled by the oatmeal, I would race my best friend down the steps to the basement lunchroom of Morning Sun Elementary School.

As a young man and new father I introduced my baby boy, Jake, to oatmeal’s magic. Having wrestled him into his high chair and locked him into place, I would begin the

File0060
Tom & Jake at their introduction on Christmas Day in 1984. (Photo by doctor)

morning breakfast routine. He would strain against the unyielding high chair and vocalize his hunger. I would mix his oatmeal with just enough water of just the right temperature. As the first spoonful of the oat concoction reached his lips he would begin to emit a low “mmm” sound. He would eat and coo as I would whispered to him with each spoonful of his goodness and strength and my love for him. For the next several minutes we were connected, father and son, by the warmth and satisfaction of oatmeal. These early bonding moments have been built upon through the years as he grew and became a man and I, well, just became an older man.

Today, for the first time in my life, I live far from both the farmhouse and the son. Preparing to move from Des Moines to Washington last December I gave away nearly every food item in my kitchen…except my near new box of oatmeal. Upon arrival in DC, I unpacked it and shelved it in a cabinet where I could not miss it. The following morning it became my first meal in my new home.

Middle age demands I eat oatmeal more for its physical benefits today and, sadly, I now must trim it with skim milk and less generous portions of brown sugar. As the morning’s first spoonful triggers my taste-buds, it also triggers my memory. It takes me back to winter mornings in which I remained warm despite the bitter cold. Even more, it warms me with the memory of being a dad. It transports me back to a series of wonderful mornings when my son and I became a part of each other through the magic of oatmeal. I can close my eyes and recall the sounds, sights, smells, and smiles of those moments. When I open them I realize it is only a wonderful memory that will not happen again.

Or will it? Who knows…in the latter stages of my life I may be the one who coos as my son lovingly feeds me my oatmeal. By then, Jake, cream and sugar really should not be a factor in my longevity…so be generous, my son.

 

 

 

 

              

Grateful Dead? Grateful NOT Dead! (My Five Words of Gratitude for the Thanksgiving Season)

I have a new lease on life as my old lease nearly expired on August 3, 2015…but more about that in a moment. 

This blog runs in the United States on my own website (nonprofitgp.com) and on the Tamarack website (tamarackcci.ca) in Canada. Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving the second Monday of October; in the United States we celebrate it the fourth Thursday of November. To honor both traditions, I decided to publish a blog on gratitude that runs roughly midway between the two holidays.

However, this blog is not the one I envisioned last May when I posted a request for readers to submit five wordsBroken Heart that expressed their deepest sense of appreciation and gratitude. I have received a lot of responses and, in fact, am still receiving them at Five Words of Gratitude. You are welcome to add your own! In May I imagined using them to write a sweet and inspiring blog for this Thanksgiving season. I could not have predicted then I would be writing such a personal piece on gratitude instead.

About 18 months ago, when I turned 60 years old, I had a lot of people say things to me like, “You know, 60 is the new 50!” The real optimists would say it was the “new 40” and the totally clueless would say it was the “new 30.” In fact, it felt like 80, even 90, to me.

By my 60th birthday I was utterly spent. Fatigue was my constant companion. I attributed the exhaustion to my decision to begin a doctoral program at age 55. I went to school full-time and worked full-time, and then pushed myself to finish my research and dissertation before my 60th birthday. For nearly five years I had sworn, “I will NOT still be doing this at age 60!” I achieved the goal in September, 2013, finishing about 7 months before the big birthday.

Shortly after I finished my doctorate, I noticed that not only was I very, very tired; I was also having some other challenges. While walking our dogs I would occasionally lose my balance and stumble forward, nearly falling. My eyes were increasingly sensitive to light and my vision was occasionally blurred. I sometimes had difficulty swallowing when eating. Most frightening of all, my thinking did not always seem very clear to me.

However, none of these symptoms were ever severe enough to warrant calling my doctor. In fact, each had logical but not very urgent explanations: Balance issues? Inner ear out of whack; it will pass. Light sensitivity and blurred vision? New prescription for my glasses at my next check up. Difficulty swallowing? Probably an allergy; just avoid the problem foods. Exhaustion and difficulty thinking clearly? Dude, you are getting older!

Unfortunately, the problems did not go away and only grew incrementally worse. For two or three weeks in June, it seemed I was viewing everything from underwater; you know, where you can see everything but it seems slightly distorted and, if it moves, it seems to move in slow motion? My balance was quite bad enough I was scared to walk our dogs. Then it all seemed to pass and I was doing well…until August 3.

On the morning of Monday, August 3rd I was not feeling very well. My balance was off a bit yet I drove 120 miles to St. Davids, Pennsylvania to teach my final class of the summer at Eastern University. When I reached Eastern University I felt very dizzy and nauseous. I staggered wildly down the sidewalk to the front door of the building where I met a woman going inside whom I recognized as faculty from the nursing school. She recognized I was not feeling well – it was particularly obvious after I demonstrated how unwell I was feeling with the assistance of a nearby trash bin. While I was recomposing myself, she was calling 911.

When the EMT’s arrived, they assessed me for a possible stroke and took me to a nearby hospital which had a special stroke and cardiac trauma center. Once in the ER a myriad of tests were performed. As a result, I can say with high confidence that I have a structurally sound heart, with very little plaque, that has never been physically damaged and I have no indication of brain tumors or cancer. I was seen by an ER physician and a whole host of specialists within only a few hours. The initial assessment led them to believe I was having inner ear problems. A nurse stuck a scopolamine transdermal patch behind my ear to alleviate the dizziness but the team decided to keep me overnight for observation anyway. It made sense – it was getting late, the patch needed time to work, and I would have had to drive 120 miles back home at night. They also seized the opportunity to hook me up to every available type of monitor they could find at that hour in the hospital.

At 1:30 AM everything changed. My heart paused…for four seconds…and my heart rate was abnormally low, between 35 and 45 beats per minute. Only elite athletes, or nearly frozen people, can even have such low heart rates and still be alive. From that point on, every person that came into my room would ask, “What’s your name?” “What is your birthdate?,” and “Are you an elite athlete?” Really…they asked that, albeit with a bit of polite disbelief once they got a better look at me.

At 6:00 AM my heart paused again…also for about four seconds. At six seconds, by the way, a person passes out. By this time they were already preparing me for additional tests and by noon I had a new diagnosis: sick sinus syndrome. It is a relatively uncommon but pretty straightforward problem with the heart’s natural pacemaker. The fix is just as straightforward: a titanium pacemaker implanted in my chest to “pace” the heart properly. It is really pretty cool technology: if the lower chamber of my heart does not beat within a half second of the top chamber, the pacemaker (whom I have named “Jude”) shoots a 2 volt shock to the lower chamber to wake it up. Jude is also set to regulate my heart rate at no less than 60 beats per minute, which is not a bad ballroom dance tempo either. Jude is monitored each night by a small computer that sits next to my bed and sends real-time data to my cardiac electro-physiologist in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. I cannot wait for the version that will “beam me up” to the doctor’s office for my annual appointment.

Of course, living out the story I have just told was not as fun as I have tried to make it here in the re-telling. It was scary and not everything went well. In fact, I had to have two surgeries to finally get Jude to “seed” properly to my heart. The second surgery was done without general anesthetic because I did not do well with anesthetic the first time around. It was a truly surrealistic, but not unpleasant, experience to be awake and talking to the surgeon while he reattached the pacemaker leads to my heart muscle.

Today, though, I am truly grateful not to be dead. It could have happened so easily on August 3rd. I might have passed out while driving to Philadelphia; the woman at the door of the school might not have been a nurse and not known I was in crisis; Bryn Mawr Hospital, nationally recognized for its cardiac care, might not have been the nearest ER and hospital; and, had the ER team at Bryn Mawr not kept me overnight for monitoring, my heart pause might still be undiscovered.

In this Thanksgiving season I have a sense of gratitude unlike any I have ever had before. In part, it is also because I am feeling stronger and better than I have in many years, and all of my symptoms are gone. Wait…maybe 60 really IS the new 30!

Happy Thanksgiving – belated or in the near future!

Be greater. Do good. Everyday.

T.W.K.

Redden Your Nose and Join In or Do Even More?

Today is Red Nose Day and an opportunity to contribute toward ending poverty and social injustice. Lover all things humorous and red nose addict, Tom Klaus, wonders, though, what else we can do…with or without noses.

Today is Red Nose Day. “Say what?” you ask.

Red Nose Day is a big thing in the United Kingdom and it has been for 30 years where it has raised billions of British pounds to end poverty. It is a part of the United Kingdom’s Comic Relief charity. “Oh, I remember Comic Relief,” you say, “but isn’t that OUR (the American’s) thing?” Uh, not really. We stole borrowed the idea from the Brits and now we are borrowing Red Nose Day, too, but this time it only took us three decades. NBC is taking the credit for bringing Red Nose Day to the United States. The television network partnered with Walgreens to sell the red noses that I am modeling in this classy photo of myself. Tonight, May 21, NBC is featuring a 3 hour broadcast (think “mini” telethon but without Jerry Lewis) to raise awareness and money.

Hey! It's Red Nose Day! Where's Yours?
Hey! It’s Red Nose Day! Where’s Yours?

Though my Inner Clown compelled me to buy this $1.00 red nose the last time I was in my local Walgreens, it was never very clear to me if this was more than a marketing ploy for Walgreens and a ratings push for NBC. I am still not sure. Frankly, the promotion on the U.S. version of Red Nose Day has seemed more about NBC, its stars and programs, and Walgreens products and services and far less about the cause. (Look, I do understand cause-related-marketing but you still have to highlight the cause, too.) Until you take the cellophane off the nose and read the odd “cut-out”-like information piece that is attached to it, you might not even know which charities stand to benefit from Red Nose Day. To really learn what your Red Nose purchase supports you have to go to the official Red Nose Day website where I found this explanation:

The funds raised during the Red Nose Day campaign will be given to a variety of nonprofit organizations that transform children’s lives. This year we’ve partnered with twelve amazing organizations working in the US and abroad. The great news is the half the money distributed will be spent right here in the US at projects close to home. The other half will be spent in some of the poorest communities in the world in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

However, for me, the clearest explanation of the purpose of Red Nose Day came from an NBC Entertainment promotional site:

The aim of Red Nose Day is to bring about real and lasting change by tackling the root causes of poverty and social injustice.

Now, THAT’s a cause I can really get behind.

Nonetheless, I had secretly wondered if my mild addiction to collecting red noses had led me to unwittingly add to the profits of two big businesses. My angst was increased when I read that only 50 cents of my $1.00 red nose purchase would actually go to the charities listed as beneficiaries of the effort and the remainder would be invested in nose production. Given the scale of production required to supply so many red noses to Walgreens all across the country, I find it hard to believe they really cost 50 cents each to produce. Five cents seems more realistic. Obviously, I could do far more by simply going to each charity’s website and contributing $1.00 directly to each of them. In fact, I could double my contribution by sending the same $1.00 to them that I spent on the cheap red nose at Walgreens…except I would not have the red nose for my collection.

Ouch! That pricks my conscience. It seems like I am not really different than the many others who need to get something in return for investing in a cause. Some people need their name on a building. I simply need a new red nose for my modest collection.

Last night I attended a celebration of the work of Dr. David Greenhalgh, the Director of the PhD in Organizational Development program at Eastern University where I received my doctorate. David is retiring, in his words, “on August 31 at 11:59 PM” and the PhD Summer Residency dinner included a tribute in which students and alumni were present to participate. It was a great party! The after dinner speaker was Dr. Joanne Ciulla, from the Jepson School of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond. She is known for her work and writing on ethical leadership and she spoke briefly and engagingly on the topic of “The Ethical Peculiarities of Leadership.” She observed that ethical leaders can be ineffective and effective leaders can be unethical. If we wish to be both ethical and effective we need to examine our leadership actions with these four questions:

  • Am I doing the right thing?
  • Am I doing it the right way?
  • Am I doing it for the right reason?
  • Am I using what I have learned?

I applaud the leadership efforts of NBC and Walgreens and the followership efforts of all of us (even if we are just wanting to merely add to our red nose collections) for falling in behind Red Nose Day. I love it that the cause is “tackling the root causes of poverty and social injustice.” I wonder, though, if we might learn from our efforts this year and improve upon them next year by thoughtfully considering the first three questions from Dr. Ciulla. Perhaps NBC and Walgreens can make it more about the cause than about pushing programming, stars, and products. Perhaps I can add a red nose to my collection and still contribute directly to each of the charities.

Indeed, what more can we all do? 

Be Greater. Do Good. Every Day. (with or without a red nose)

Tom