Friday, June 21, 2013


Happy Solstice! Just want to tell you I'm moving and you can now find me over at WordPress.
I'm trying something a little different for my blog this summer--a little lighter, a little shorter (mostly, anyway), and a little sunnier. Just passing on some of my summer reading...Let me know what you think!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Why shareholders might want to petition Forbes NOT to write puff pieces on their CEOs….

The Heath Bros. new book, Decisive, is in line with the great stuff they’ve been putting out for several years now: based on sound research, easy to read, full of great stories, and relevant to just about everybody, their new book is subtitled “How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work.” They have a mnemonic for remembering their 4-step process for implemented their strategies: WRAP [Widen your options; Reality-test your assumptions; Attain distance before deciding, and Prepare to be wrong].
Jump-starting their discussion of “reality testing your assumptions,” (pages 92-94) they tell the story of two business school professors (Hayward and Hambrick) who were puzzled by the number of CEOs who make expensive acquisitions that rarely pay off.  Buying another company is a risky business, but the number of managers who did it suggested otherwise. Their theory? “…[A]cquiring CEOs were being led astray by their own hubris.”  Looks like they were right: they tested three factors to see if managers’ overconfidence was leading them to overpay.

They were [here I quote directly]:

1.       Praise by the media.
2.       Strong recent corporate performance (which the CEO could interpret as evidence of his/her genius
3.       A sense of self-importance (which was measured, cleverly, by looking at the gap between the CEO’s compensation package and the next-highest-paid officer—a CEO must think a lot of himself if he’s paid quadruple the salary of anyone else).

And they were right on all counts. They discovered a decided correlation between CEO ego (thus measured) and the acquisition premium.
This may not be so surprising (at least if you’re not a CEO). But it’s a bias that emerges for all of us non-CEOs as well when we think we know something. The antidote is surprisingly simple—and effective. Disagreement—and encouraging it in the people around you. Don’t believe it? Go ask your spouse.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Progressive or Regressive Technology? Parallel Play and Interactive Play

                                        From Here…………………………………

.........................Back to Here? 

I heard a great interview yesterday about Netiquette with Daniel Post (descendent of the famous Emily Post). He stressed a couple of critical points: 1) That etiquette is really about the relationship(s) it serves, which should be the guiding force behind the choices we make (useful since it can be hard to make hard and fast rules about whether phones should or should not be used in certain contexts)           2) That all generations have something to learn from the others about appropriate use of technology: Millennials can benefit from Boomers’ awareness of tradition and greater life experience, but Boomers can also learn from Millennials some of the ways in which people value and use their time differently, which suggests different communication choices (including a strong preference for texts over voicemails and always sending a text with directions when possible). This is useful, since it's easy to praise technology for all its done for us or bemoan how bad social interaction has gotten without learning much.

During the interview, Daniel made commented on the now-frequent occurrence of people, in a social or business gathering, all simultaneously using their hand-held devices. He said that it reminds him of the stage in child development where children engage in parallel play. Parallel play is the point in development where kids play next to each other, and tend to be interested in what the other is doing without actually interacting. He was in favor of the use of technology in fostering relationships but noted that, while parallel play is good, there is a sophistication involved in interactive play that should not be lost.

It’s worth noting that we adults have gotten to that sophisticated level. So when we “opt out” of interactive play in favor of parallel activities, we’re regressing. Which isn’t always a bad thing….but it’s good to be aware of what we’re doing, and what relationships we’re serving in the process. Do we actually want to be parallel playing when we could be playing interactively? Or are we just slaves to technology? 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Holding a Bedroom Open House (no, it’s not what you think!)

My oldest daughter has her own room. My husband (who, as the third child, is more comfortable allotting privileges to his eldest daughter than his oldest-child wife is) decided this about a year ago and so far, so good. It gives her a sense of independence and ownership that is a good thing. The downside is that she can be downright possessive and nasty regarding her personal space (a bit trying in a child who still barges into adult rooms’ unannounced and leaves her things lying around regularly).  If an errant sibling finds his way into her room and, say, decides to jump on her bed, the Wrath will be swiftly inflicted upon him (or, more likely, her). 

What to do? I’ve tried my usual punishing, cajoling, “try to put yourself in his shoes” discussions…Plus threats to take away the bedroom. (But of course, that would be a big hassle for me, too.)

So—burst of insight—I am trying a new technique. I have instituted the “Open House.” I asked my eldest to make invitations to her siblings inviting them to her room. During one hour, on Sundays, said  daughter invites her siblings into her room. She provides refreshments for them (usually not allowed in carpeted personal spaces in our home) and allows them to be comfortable in her space, inviting them to recline on her bed and peruse her books if they like (!!!). The thinking behind this is that if she learns (even for just an hour a week) to welcome her sisters and brother into her room, that some of those good vibration will rub off on them and that she’ll also get more comfortable welcoming them than banning them from the premises.

The verdict is still out on the success of this technique but I’m hopeful. The first one went off well, and all seemed to enjoy it...I'm hoping it's a sign of good things to come.Will the polar ice cap truly melt or is this just a temporary warming? To be continued!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

How far have you come, baby?

In our current anti-smoking culture, it’s funny to think back on Virginia Slims’ old cigarette ads, celebrating women’s progress and encouraging smoking at the same time. There are definite dark ironies there….It makes me think of other dark ironies of our progressive age. I read Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique about a gazillion years ago in high school and I found it very interesting. I depart from her perspective on many levels, but she’s worth a read. One very dark irony of her book is her cataloguing of the triviality of women’s magazines of her era. She goes through many of the popular rags and supplies their titles--trivial to say the least. But I thought then—and even more now, “Has Betty checked out Cosmo or Marie Claire or anything else lately?” Trivial is demeaning, but I’ll take trivial over the demeaning, hyper-sexualized and expensive stuff I see in most women’s magazines today

She makes some interesting historical points as well, and one that stuck with me was her analysis of female domesticity in her era and her comment (which I paraphrase, since my google search didn’t bear fruit), “Never had so many been prepared so well to do so little.” This was a comment on a) the (high) level of education of women in her era and b) the relatively little work they had to do, thanks to technological advances that made housework a lot easier and the smaller families that women had also started to have (relative, at least, to their mothers and grandmothers). I don’t know about you, but I haven’t heard too many women of my acquaintance comment on how little they have to do. Why is that, exactly? What has changed to make women (assuming Friedan is right, at least, on this point) of my era feel overwhelmed while Friedan felt decidedly underwhelmed?

It’s not an easy question to answer, but I’d like to offer one, admittedly very partial, answer, (avoiding all attempts at deep, serious, analysis for the moment). Laundry. Seems crazy, maybe, but I’m going to hazard that we do far too much of it. We all seem to be constantly doing a load. A small thing, perhaps, but bigger than you might intially believe. Because that simple load of laundry isn’t just a simple load. It’s collecting it, sorting it (though you may have help on this front of the warm-blooded or inanimate variety), washing it, drying it, folding it, and putting it away. Adds up to a lot in my book. While I’m no spokeswoman for Cleaning Properly (more on that later...), I did grow up in a home where laundry was an elevator ride away and where quarters were necessary. With six kids. So I know a thing or two about how tedious laundry can be. Having five kids myself, I know that some kids get things really dirty really fast. But not every kid. And machine-washing things too often messes with elastic, fades colors prematurely,  and encourages pilling.

And if it helps convince you, Europeans do much less laundry than we do.  As an example, I have a (very clean) Western European girl living with me and she’s done 3 loads of laundry total since she got here a month ago.
So let’s lighten the load, ladies, and see if we can’t limit our laundry a little! Raise your glasses  to liberation!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Into the tunnel (of love?!)

Last night I watched a BBC version of 4:50 from Paddington—one of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple stories.  One of the key elements prodding the murderer to his heinous acts was the desire to marry another woman and the fact that his first wife (“being a very good Catholic”) would not accept divorce, despite a long-term separation. Being quite familiar with Agatha Christie’s work—since I read FAR too many of them in my youth and became convinced (well, sort of) that my mother was trying to kill me--  I am always interested in the different spins that different directors give.  In the original story, Miss Marple had been quite harsh on the murderer (suggesting she was sorry that the death penalty had been abolished since he deserved to hang). But in this version, Miss Marple expresses her condolences to the intended second-wife, telling her that his crime was one motivated by love. A curious and significant difference.
                I couldn’t help but think, though, about our understanding of love and divorce—particularly as it affects the children of a marriage (which were not a factor in this case). Recently, a friend remarked that in our national discussion regarding new approaches to parenting, we had not really taken stock of the effects of divorce on children. There was a lot of talk, 50 years ago, about how what was best for adults was also best for kids. But that same consensus no longer holds. These days, there’s general confusion on what’s best. It seems impossible to deny that divorce is really hard on kids. At the same time, we don’t want to ostracize or condemn divorc├ęs, especially those who may be experiencing very difficult and challenging circumstances and struggling through them.
Nevertheless, I think we do a disservice to everyone when we sugar-coat things or try to pretend that they will be good because we want them to be. On this note, one of the most fascinating, heart-wrenching, honest, poignant, painful memoirs I’ve ever read is Susan Gregory Thomas’ In Spite of Everything. I think she overstates some of her points, but, overall, it’s a beautiful and amazing account of the hazards of divorce, told from an intelligent, sensitive, and open point of view.  Coincidentally, a review of the literature on divorce I stumbled on about a year ago begins with a review of this book:
Wherever we go from here—and however we get there, I think we need to take stock of where we’ve been, and where we are. We owe it to ourselves and to our kids. We need to take some good, long, hard looks at our divorce culture. And if we don’t all agree on what we see, at least we can begin by talking about something real.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Stars (and Moon) Have Aligned: Passover, Easter, and Non-Original Thoughts

I remember years ago, a Jewish friend saying that she was always happy to welcome strangers at her Seder table but that it would be a little awkward if they were Egyptian. I suppose it might be tough to celebrate your victory over your oppressors with the descendents of those oppressors, but I would hope that after millennia, modern-day Egyptians could just let bygones be bygones. At any rate, I know that my school district (and many others!) were happy that Passover and Easter coincided this year. I don’t know all the calculations in regards to lunar calendars, but for whatever reason I know they don’t always overlap. But questions from my children and the readings on Holy Thursday brought me to the question of their original, biblical, convergence. In explaining why the Passover meal was supposed to be eaten under such specific conditions, certain things really stood out to me, worth remembering for both myself and my family. I claim no original thoughts here, but the service of memory is always worthwhile.

First, the idea that you need to remember, decisively and collectively, the history of your people in order to maintain your identity. In speaking casually to a friend the other day, he remarked on how we are culturally bereft on this point. While close and happy families may reminisce on their “special  memories” we do not engage in this  on a more public or cultural level (or not much, anyway).  And yet, it is this awareness of our past that reminds of who we are, and prevents external forces from unsettling or uprooting us too easily. That recalling of history is such an elementary and essential part of the Seder meal and such a beautiful and useful thing. 

Second, the tradition within Judaism to ask questions regarding the history of Passover and answer them, with particular regard to educating children in their faith. Different strains of Jewish tradition handle this a little differently, but many have a child answer questions: understanding what and why everyone is doing what they are is an essential part of the celebration.  This natural incorporation of education into an aesthetically beautiful and meaningful meal is striking; I wish it came more naturally to us Christians.

Third, I was struck this year by the (rather obvious, I confess) connection between Christ and the Passover meal. While the Passover meal is in commemoration and celebration of the liberation out of  Egypt, Abraham is a clear reference point as the first patriarch of the Jewish faith.  It’s impossible to think of Abraham and eat lamb without thinking of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac.  But while Isaac was spared, Jesus was not. And while the first-born sons of the Hebrew people were spared, Jesus was not. Thus, Christ takes part in both the liberation of the Hebrew people and the (necessary) suffering of the Egyptians. There is no people’s suffering that He doesn’t, mysteriously, take part of.  So too, I was struck by God’s insisting that the Jewish people remember annually their being freed by their Lord—that it was not their own doing that got them out of Egypt. And God knows we Christians certainly didn’t do anything to release ourselves from our slavery to sin. (Some people may kid themselves, but I know I would have been asleep before even the other apostles…)

So Happy Easter! Consider yourself liberated—wherever you’re from!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Lowest-Common-Denominator Culture? Hypocrisy, Parenting, and Hope

Your dad caught you smokin’ and he said “No way”
But that hypocrite smokes two packs a day
Beastie Boys “Fight For Your Right (To Party)”

Hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue

[Jane confronts Nick upon  discovering that Nick has slept with a girl  he previously referred to as a slut)
Nick: Yes,  but a very attractive slut.
Jane: So, you're just another hypocrite.
Nick: That's not hypocrisy. It's sin.
Metropolitan (film)

       Not so long ago, a young friend with a baby girl lamented some of the limitations on the way she was raising her daughter. She wanted to raise her with a better morality and spirituality than she felt capable of. I understand that concern, and I often share it. I think it’s one of the most inspiring parts of parenthood, honestly. It makes you want to be a better man/woman/what have you. And it can really lead you down a better path, as was the case for my own parents many others.  But I worry sometimes that people occasionally forgo that path because they are afraid of being called hypocrites.

      Seems like I’m always hearing a lot about hypocrisy. Sure hypocrisy is bad, and I don’t advocate it (as they say, do what I say, not what I do….) But that’s just it—all too often, the accusation of hypocrisy is just a cover. Back when I was teaching and this would come up (as it almost inevitably did) I would point out that the easiest way to avoid the charge of hypocrisy is to lower your standards. If you don’t think anything is wrong (or claim that anyway, ‘cause it’s always just a line), then no one can accuse you of hypocrisy. But is that really better for anyone? All too often, we use the charge of hypocrite to annihilate any standards—especially standards we don’t share. You say you believe in kindness? But you’re not kind. Hypocrite. Buh-bye kindness. But is this the world we want to live in? There is a big difference between hypocrisy and frailty.  I’ll take a world of so-called hypocrites who are really just fallen people failing the standards they truly believe in any day. Just please don’t give me a world of people who are oh-so-consistent with the utter degradation they preach.

      Let’s go ahead and face our fear of hypocrisy--which is really just a fear of failure—a failure which our enemies will insist on using against us. Hypocrisy is real. But it isn’t cured by lowering standards, but by true compassion. For others and ourselves.