I Have a Dream

Dreams by Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams                                                                                                                          For if dreams die                                                                                                                                Life is a broken-winged bird                                                                                                        That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams                                                                                                                          For when dreams go                                                                                                                        Life is a barren field                                                                                                                      Frozen with snow.

My dream is that in my lifetime, the right to keep and bear Arms will be limited to “a well regulated Militia”. But maybe my future just holds broken-winged birds and barren fields frozen with snow.

Left to Their Own Devices, People Will Not Get Along

Somehow I got elected to Church Council. After agreeing to serve on the Nominating Committee, I was told people thought I’d be perfect for Council. Damn, upsold by my own church. There should be a law.

“Okay,” I said in a weak moment, “As long as everyone knows going in that I’m skeptical of a lot that people accept as the status quo.” “That’s great, that’s exactly what we’re looking for.”

Add that to the Good Shepherd Lutheran things of which I’m skeptical. In large part because at the first (monthly) meeting in early June there was no opportunity to pose questions let alone offer alternative viewpoints about anything of substance. It was, in essence, a long business meeting.

Even more concerning than that though was how the meeting began—with quick approval of the previous minutes and summary reports from some subcommittees. I only knew half the people, and even the less introverted* didn’t know everyone, still there were no introductions, not even names. In 36 meetings over the next three years** we’re going to have to work together to make some difficult decisions on behalf of the larger community. Like a farmer mindlessly heaving seeds on the ground, the working assumption seems to be that everything will be okay because everyone will get along fine. Like that’s the natural order of things.

I know the opposite to be true because I’ve worked in an intensely interpersonal field for three decades and The Good Wife served on Council during a particularly tumultuous time in the church’s recent past. When two people or organizations with two hundred plus people do not build in mechanisms for preventive problem solving and the cultivating of mutual respect, dissension will be the default. Family members won’t speak, married couples will divorce, work teams will fragment, and antipathy will rule the day.

So I wrote the Council President and tactfully suggested that if we don’t have time for any team building, we at least introduce ourselves at the start of tomorrow night’s meeting. He said it was a good idea and then asked if I’d lead a 15-20 minute team building activity, which translates into 1m per person after this planned intro:

One thing I’ve learned as an educator who emphasizes small group cooperating learning is that when it comes to effectively teaming with others in families, in schools, in the workforce, or in other contexts like church councils, many adults have more negative than positive frames of reference. Put differently, when they think about all the teams they’ve been a part of, it’s easier for them to identify what went wrong with them than it is to explain what went right. That’s because we’re not nearly intentional enough about the ultimate litmus test of a team’s effectiveness, which is whether the sum is greater than the individual parts. Meaning, at the end of the team’s time together, do the individual members have a sense that by themselves they never could’ve accomplished anything close to what the team did.

Then I’m going to ask them to think for a minute about a positive team experience, where the team they were a part of clearly accomplished more than they would have left to their own devices. And then to briefly summarize one thing that contributed to the team’s success.

How would you answer that? How easy or difficult was it to come up with a list of positive team experiences? And the single most positive team experience? And the key take-away that partially explains the team’s success?

In thinking about what I’m going to contribute I thought of a five faculty Guilford College team I worked on in the mid 1990s to help the college redesign it’s general education program. I was the junior faculty representative and was blown away by my older colleagues smarts and interpersonal savvy. I had fun riding their coattails as we lead the 100 person faculty through the difficult process of updating the college’s course requirements***.

Then I thought of the cycling team I am a part of most Tuesday and Thursday nights. Or take Saturday’s 94-miler around Capitol Forest. Left to my own devices I would’ve averaged 18mph not the 20mph that five of us managed. But aerodynamics are more physical than interpersonal, so I kept exploring the hidden recesses of my pea brain.

Eventually, my positive team experience that most clearly embodies the “sum being greater than the individual parts” bubbled up. “Team Lynn and Ron Byrnes” whose primary project the last 25 years has been to raise two children, now young adults. In all honesty, a quarter of the time I wish The Gal Pal was more like me, meaning a quarter of the time her differences drive me cray cray. Three-fourths of the time though I know for a fact that we parented much better together than I ever could’ve myself. Her different ways of thinking and being made us way more thoughtful as we did our best to find our way absent any Parenting Manual.

Sometimes we’ve been more intentional about teaming effectively than others. When we don’t schedule time to talk and purposely work through simmering resentments, both of us end up racing to have OUR feelings understood, which is another way of saying we argue. When we’re intentional, meaning we take turns listening to, and empathizing with one another, we’re a pretty darn good team as I hope our daughters would attest.

Tuesday is the second Council meeting, but also Lynn’s and my thirtieth anniversary. I’m not just a better parent, but a way better person because of her. I look forward to teaming with her for as long as possible.

* Since I’ve kept a really low profile at church, I agreed to serve in large part to get to know a few people better. The thinking being that I’ll like it more if I have more friends.

** After five of us were elected together, we learned that to create a proper balance of term lengths, only four of us would be able to serve the whole three years. In my first act of amazing selflessness, I kinda quickly volunteered to serve only two years.

*** The one exception to the fun being when one of my noon basketball acquaintances, a Religion professor in desperate need of mindfulness training, lit into me for something our group had proposed. If memory serves me correctly, I felt better after dunking over him during that day’s pickup game.

Addendum: Turns out some regular readers of the humble blog are questioning my dunking ability. Calling it fake news.

cropped-p10001563.jpg

I Saw the Future of the Democratic Party

When will Hillary Clinton stop trying to explain away her 2016 election loss? Peggy Noonan’s hard hitting editorial, “Hillary Lacks Remorse of Conscience” is in my view, fair. Of Hillary’s long list of external reasons why she lost, the Pulitzer Prize winning writer concludes, “It is a tribute to the power of human denial.”

Noonan adds:

“It is insisting on alternative facts so that journalists and historians will have to take them into account. It is a monotonous repetition of a certain version of events, which will be amplified, picked up and repeated into the future.

And it’s not true.

The truth is Bernie Sanders destroyed Mrs. Clinton’s chance of winning by almost knocking her off, and in the process revealing her party’s base had changed. Her plodding, charmless, insincere style of campaigning defeated her. Bad decisions in her campaign approach to the battleground states did it; a long history of personal scandals did it; fat Wall Street speeches did it; the Clinton Foundation’s bloat and chicanery did it—and most of all the sense that she ultimately stands for nothing but Hillary did it.”

Immediately post election, political analysts told us Hillary’s public life was over. Something about long walks in Westchester County, yoga, and grandchildren. Now she seems intent on re-reinventing herself. She’ll be 73 in 2020. The oldest president ever elected is Donald Trump, who is 70. To succeed in future elections, the Democratic Party desperately needs an infusion of younger women to take the mantle of national leadership from Hillary Clinton.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cizzilla by way of Amy Davidson at the New Yorker recommends eleven:

1. Elizabeth Warren

2. Kirstin Gillibrand

3. Kamala Harris

4. Amy Klobuchar

5. Tulsi Gabbard

6. (tie) Tammy Baldwin and Claire McCaskill

8. Maggie Hassan

9. Tammy Duckworth

10. Val Demings

11. Sheryl Sandberg

To me, Warren appears cut from very similar cloth as HRC, smart, always serious, and to borrow from Noonan, “plodding and charmless”. In extremely stark contrast, there is one particular “top eleven” woman I would want to have a few beers with, Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar, who was the commencement speaker at my daughter’s college graduation last Sunday.

Klobuchar’s talk was amazingly refreshing. It was not a generic speech that she could’ve given previously. Her daughter graduated college the weekend before and she wove in stories from her perspective as a parent. She was funny in making fun of the press’s overwrought criticisms of Millenials. And she was challenging and inspiring in talking about the struggles of a Somali-American family to gain genuine acceptance in Minneapolis. And the harder the wind blew her hair sideways, the more she smiled. She was clearly enjoying herself, not just campaigning. Don’t take my word for it, decide for yourself. Watch it in its entirely here (starts at 34:00).

I hope I get a chance to vote for her sometime soon.