Friday, December 26

A somewhat depressing reflection on the world

If you choose to read this, thank you. If you choose to read all of it, kudos to you. This is not a rant, but a rather weary reflection on the state of what we seem to be becoming.

The Start of It All
I started to write a blog post about The Interview, the Seth Rogen film that garnered tremendous attention after a hack at Sony that was somehow blamed on the North Koreans because the North Korean government was allegedly displeased with the premise of The Interview. But the more I started thinking about that incident, the more I realized my reaction to the situation was symptomatic of something more as I began thinking about the juxtaposition of reported stories—I can’t really even call it “news” any more—and what seems to happen in the world.

I’m old enough to remember when the news anchors were more than news readers. I grew up on Walter Kronkite. He had the most amazing voice. The old news guard were journalists who were often out in the field—embedded, if you will—chasing the story, living the story. There are names that might be familiar to some: Eric Sevareid, Edward Murrow, Douglas Edwards, even Dan Rather. But then news was different when these men first started. With the advent of sound bites, snappy jump cuts between stories, and the need for commercial breaks and rankings, the “news” became info snippets. I can’t be sure that those trusted voices actually reported the “news” any more objectively than whatever we get today that we call the news. I do know we have less depth and more concern about ratings than objectivity and I know we struggle with objectivity.

As I was writing the blog post, I started to think about The Year of Outrage posted by Slate. I started thinking about how inured we have become to the less sensational and how we rise up with righteous indignation over and over and over again until we can no longer know what caused our indignation and outrage, but we feel the need to be indignant and outraged.
Over the past decade or so, outrage has become the default mode for politicians, pundits, critics and, with the rise of social media, the rest of us. When something outrageous happens—when a posh London block installs anti-homeless spikes, or when Khloé Kardashian wears a Native American headdress, or, for that matter, when we read the horrifying details in the Senate’s torture report—it’s easy to anticipate the cycle that follows: anger, sarcasm, recrimination, piling on; defenses and counterattacks; anger at the anger, disdain for the outraged; sometimes, an apology … and on to the next. Twitter and Facebook make it easier than ever to participate from home. And the same cycle occurs regardless of the gravity of the offense, which can make each outrage feel forgettable, replaceable. The bottomlessness of our rage has a numbing effect.
It’s worth taking the time to read the whole story on Slate. Especially before the start of the New Year. And perhaps it’s worth making a resolution you’ll try to stop being so outraged over trifles and without any information. Of course you’ll break the resolution in the first week of the new year like the rest of the world, but maybe, just maybe, you’ll recall the resolution often enough throughout the year to rein in the outrage.

The Original Blog Post
Was there really a Sony hack? I can't tell any more, though based on some of the news I suspect there was an actual hack. And who did it? Even the experts on such things can't tell. Even they are a bit suspicious. A story on CNN suggests the hack could have been done by a disgruntled employee.

The cancellation of the showing of The Interview became national news and fodder for conversations and tweeting around the world. I am enough of a cynic and TV watcher to imagine Frank Underwood-like machinations behind the scenes trying to figure out how to take advantage of the situation. Then the Eli Gold-like plan to latch onto the idea and put it into play by making it seem like the North Koreans were behind it, maneuvering to create a national conversation, then doing a reverse to allow limited release, which guaranteed ticket sales would be off the charts, and also making it available to stream.


I wasn't going to see the movie anyway. I think the premise is absurd, I'm not a big fan of James Franco, and have limited appreciation for Seth Rogen's humor. But I'm not his target audience anyway so he doesn't care that I don't care about his movies.

But I'm willing to bet there were hundreds if not thousands of people who weren't going to see his movie. There were some big deal movies opening on Christmas Day (and I have issues with that, but whatever): Into the Woods, Big Eyes, The Imitation Game, and Unbroken were some of them with big press and, for some of them, with big names in the films. And yet, The Interview garnered tons of media attention.

Well, I guess if you can't sell tickets best on the quality and merit of your work, finding ways to bamboozle people into promoting your film for you and then buying tickets is a trick as old as humanity.

Early reviewers have panned Unbroken. If you've read the book, you know it's a big story to try to tell. I haven't seen the film, but I'm sure I'll be somewhat disappointed because of the story I think I want the movie to tell. The title of the book and the film speaks volumes. I'll see it. I may wait until it's in the second run theaters or on DVD, but I will see it. I mention Unbroken because the essence of the story is so different from the gimmicky, adolescent humor that seems prevalent in Seth Rogen films and seems to be a part of The Interview

There's nothing wrong with humor, even adolescent humor, but part of me really wants the whole world to stop for a few minutes, shake itself, and gather up its wits to realize how completely out of control we all are.

And that’s when I started thinking about the news, about social media, about outrage. It was at this point I started thinking about the stories in The Year of Outrage, about how we take the smallest things and they become enormously out of proportion when someone inadvertently or deliberately misreads something on Twitter or some other social media format, though Twitter seems to be the best breeding ground for the absurdity of our judgmental outrage.

The Maniacal Twitter Spiral
There are numerous examples to cite of this absurdity and how quickly something potentially benign spirals out of control. Then what seems to be a jubilant moment of intolerant judging becomes a horrible moment that has the potential to ruin a life.

We can harken back only a short while to Elan Gale and his live tweeting of what was deemed an “epic battle” between himself and another passenger. As he was tweeting, people were responding. Many were cheering him on and piling on the individual who was completely unknown to them except through the perspective of Mr. Gale.

In the alleged live-tweet event, Mr. Gale didn’t relent. Though the woman in 7A was upset, Mr. Gale seemed to feel the need to prod and provoke, sending her alcohol and notes. It was as though he didn’t want the episodic event to end.

And then the world learned that the event was faked. There was no such passenger in 7A; the epic battle never occurred. Mr. Gale fabricated the whole thing. At some level you have to give him some credit for working so hard to have the right kind of props to support his story.

But the world wasn’t paying attention any more. The Twitterverse had moved on to other more important attacks. Sure there were stories posted and some of us knew about them; some of us even read them. But that kind of thing just doesn’t attract the kind of attention on social media. Who cares about that kind of mea culpa? Come on, give us a better kind of apology. One that’s attached to a possibly real scandal of some sort.

In an interview Gale did with ABC, he wondered why no one did any fact checking and seemed surprised anyone took him seriously. Seriously? That is ponderously disingenuous. Claiming not to be a liar but a storyteller, Gale stated
I didn't see how this was news. I was telling a story, I didn't feel a particular responsibility to address what other people were making of it. I never claimed it to be true. I never said, "this is news, please read it." And I honestly I liked the message.

I wasn't trying to paint myself as a hero. I said horrible things in those notes that I would never say to a human being. That nobody would ever say. In fact, in all of my live tweets, I try and portray my character as an anti-hero -- as kind of a jerk with good intentions.

Nice spin, but impossible to believe. Gale is an experienced social media user so he knows exactly how Twitter works. He was trying to make a name for himself and everyone who has any sense knows that.

At one point in the interview, Gale said he didn’t know the whole thing went viral until late that night. But in the interview he also says When I realized people were paying attention, I tried to think, "Wow, I can really say something here."

The interviewer did not hold him accountable for that rather insincere two-step, but that’s another problem we have today. We want others to be held accountable for their actions, especially those we deem unacceptable, but we do not want to be held accountable or have the responsibility of demanding accountability.

Another example is of Justine Sacco. Her nightmare started on December 20, 2013, when she posted this tweet: “Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!”

Out of context, anyone might think this Sacco chick is an insensitive idiot. And that, my friends, is one of the inherent dangers of 140 characters. That and it is really hard to convey humor or sarcasm effectively in writing; that’s a different conversation and I’ll resist the temptation to follow that particular diversion for now. I will say, however, that when writing with only 140 characters, it is crucially important to consider your intent but also to think about how those who don’t really know you might read that tweet. Justine Sacco didn’t think and paid for it.

What’s interesting and terrifying to note is that Sacco had fewer than 500 followers when she posted that tweet. That single tweet was picked up and created an irreparable situation for Sacco. It was bad enough that she posted the tweet, but what happened after that could have been prevented.

Individuals started poking through earlier tweets and, as a result of that and their own tendencies towards castigating complete strangers, Sacco was characterized in the most malodorous terms. After reading some of her other tweets, it’s easy to see why complete strangers would think badly of her. Ill-tuned pot shots of an entire culture is just bad form.

Sacco lost her job. Rightly so.  She was a communications director for a company and should have known better than to post something that could so easily be taken out of context and become its own meme.

While Sacco has had to work hard to recover her reputation and to rebuild any kind of life, this incident will follow her for a while. She chose to speak of it with Jon Ronson for his book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. In the book, Sacco states
They’ve taken my name and my picture, and have created this Justine Sacco thats [sic] not me and have labeled this person a racist. I have this fear that if I were in a car accident tomorrow and lost my memory and came back and googled myself, that would be my new reality.
She has a point, and in a later quote seems to realize that if she had not posted that ill-conceived tweet, none of the subsequent events would have happened.

What we see is that social media opens our lives. Period. Whatever we post lives forever. Even if we delete a post or an account as Sacco did, there is a trail somewhere. Forever.

What we also see is that there are those who will take potshots, who will be judgmental, who will be cruel, and who will think it is great fun to make jokes at the expense of someone else. Without their permission. Without their knowledge.

Making fun at the expense of someone else isn’t new. Rodney Dangerfield might best known for his complaint about not getting respect, but much of his schtik was about his wife. A lot of comedy is because someone is making fun of a family member. But when we hear it in stand-up or we see it on television, we know it is comedy. We can see it and we can hear it. None of that timing nor that voicing is possible with mere words written in a post. And typing “JK” at the end the post seems more a reflexive safeguard than a truth.

The World is Out of Control
“Peace on earth, good will to men.” Those words have been sung over the past several days, probably weeks if your town is like mine and the Christmas decorations were up and the music playing long before Thanksgiving.

The movies about Christmas are warm and fuzzy. It’s a Wonderful Life tries to remind us that every single person has value and that the good, well-meaning, and tender-hearted will overcome the avariciously cold-hearted meanie. Holiday Inn. Miracle on 34th Street. The list goes on and on, and the message is generally the same: that good will win out, that kindness matters, that it’s important to have faith and hope.

But every day it gets harder to have any faith in humanity or any hope that it will be able to “shake it off.” We cannot seem to get beyond our need for self-righteous indignation that explodes into outrage and clamors for “justice” and that “someone has to pay.” We cannot seem to get past the need to be right, to insist on tolerance even as we are intolerant, to reject the possibility that the other person’s opinion or position or even their thoughts have value. We have become selfish and ugly individuals.

It’s easy to try to mend that for a short stint this time of year. Everyone can be kind and thoughtful for a few hours. And we have to hope our kids will be reasonably satisfied with whatever gifts we’ve gotten them; I fear being grateful for what they’ve gotten might be too much to ask.

We worry about cyberbullying and how cruel kids can be to each other. I wonder why we wonder where they learn that. They don’t have to pay attention to politics to see adults behaving impossibly badly—blaming someone else, pointing fingers, playing one upmanship, refusing to listen, calling someone else names, trying to make themselves look better than someone else. It happens everywhere and because our public figures seem to get away with it, it should be no surprise that everyone else begins to think that’s acceptable behavior.

And so far too many of us have stopped being nice, being considerate, being kind. Far too many of us do not listen to others’ opinions with an open mind or with any respect. Far too many of us refuse to take responsibility for our own actions. Far too many of us refuse to expect our children or our families to take responsibility for their actions. Far too many of us are worried about our appearances and our reputations with little concern for our self-respect.

We seem to be afraid of being nice, being considerate, or being kind because somehow being rude, selfish, and ruthless have become much more acceptable, perhaps even admirable. And how horribly pathetic is that?

Sure, plenty of us are still nice, considerate, and kind even as others make fun of us for being nice, considerate, and kind. And how horribly pathetic is that?

So yes, I think the world is out of control. Just trace the trajectory of the kind of programming that’s become acceptable on television and that will tell you something of the world we’ve become. We excuse it because we claim that’s “real life.”

I admit that I’m both fascinated and repulsed by House of Cards. Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright are brilliant, but I hope those roles exhaust them. I understand we need to know wrong to understand right. I get that, and I don’t pretend to have an easy solution for any of what ails us.

I don’t want moralistic pablum on television or in film any more than anyone else does, but I also wonder why we’re so willing to accept that which clearly crosses all kinds of moral boundaries unless it is to excuse our own behaviors or give us permission to behave in such ways.

I worry that we are careening down a steep and slippery slope, but that we think it’s all great fun and that we’re cackling and chortling on this ride, imagining it’s going to end well. And I don’t think it will.

I worry that if we don’t stop behaving badly and excusing it, that what we imagine is the remnant of some great society will be in unrecognizable tatters far sooner than anyone might believe possible. Yes, I know it requires some balance, but we seem to have lost so much of our capabilities to behave in ways that aren’t mocked or that, incredibly, are deemed heroic because they are so exceptional.

The fact that everyday kindness, politeness, and consideration are often considered exceptional should be sounding the most extreme of alarms.

I worry that if we don’t start attempting to pull ourselves from this precipice, that if we don’t start attempting to reverse some of the characteristics of bullying that have become commonplace in our society and our lifestyles, that many of those societies so grimly characterized in post-apocalyptic films will become reality. After all, it’s not as though humanity hasn’t been capable of such behaviors in the past, so why should we be surprised if we devolve to those kinds of behaviors in our hyper-progressive and technology-tuned society in which we can be crueler bullies faster and with anonymity?

It really doesn’t take much effort to police ourselves individually, to think before we speak, to be kind. It really doesn’t take much effort to remember that others matter.

Unfortunately, that kind of behavior is mundane, even banal. It doesn’t sell magazines or pictures; it doesn’t get attention on social media and jack up hits or followers; it doesn’t get it’s time in the news cycle. Instead too many chase the chimera of a social media following, too often they abandon relationships that are meaningful and have value.

Unfortunately, I have little hope that many will care enough to try to make any changes in the way they think or they behave. What I see in the media leads me to think our society continues to become more rapacious and more intolerant. 

I hope I'm wrong.

Wednesday, November 26

Figuring It Out

In education, we talk a lot about hands-on learning, productive struggle, critical thinking and problem solving. Come to think of it, we speak of many of the same things in the corporate world even if we don't use exactly the same terms. We are, in general, speaking of being able to work through a problem or situation to figure out the best possible or most reasonable solution.

Eons ago, when Prodigy Services was Trintex, we were just figuring it out, including what we could possibly be if the company survived start-up. The online world was still emerging. AOL was green letters blinking on a black background. Graphic interfaces were clunky and limited. Graphic designers were morphing into an entirely new field.

I remember my director returning to the office and talking about how he had been exploring the system we had when he did something that bumped his mouse and something unexpected occurred. A good something, but an unexpected something nonetheless.

I remember working with one of our two largest retail customers that wanted potential customers to be able to purchase online from their print catalog. Of course they wanted their current process--mail, in person, and phone--replicated as much as possible. We had to figure out how our system could talk to their system and we could replicate that customer experience, and maybe even improve upon it.

I remember having meetings with a large grocery chain that was curious about the possibility of online grocery shopping. We eventually were stumped by picking and packing process as well as the warehouse process. It was harder than they imagined to try to replicate the typical grocery shopping experience and we all struggled to imagine how that might work any differently. The real challenge for us was produce because one person's perfect banana might not be the same for someone else.

Figuring it out. Sometimes it's hard work. Sometimes it's a lot of fun and filled with opportunities for random and unexpected surprises. But it's what we've been doing since someone figured out how to make fire or create the wheel or solve whatever problem or manage whatever situation.

Figuring it out seems to be intrinsic to human nature so it should be commonplace to the learning experience just as it so often is simply part of what people do in the work place. In the work place, figuring it out becomes a new or revised process; figuring it out becomes a better or safer or less expensive or more efficient way of doing something. Figuring it out means that the new method or process or way of thinking becomes part of the culture which, in turn, influences more experimentation and thinking to figure out something else that could be better.

Figuring it out isn't just about constructing knowledge for further learning, though that is invaluable. Figuring it out is also an opportunity to explore an individual's capacity for ingenuity, creativity, and perseverance. And who knows what great things might come of individuals learning to figure out just how far they might be able to go?

Tuesday, November 18

2.5 million children homeless. In America. Shame on us.

There is no single nor easy answer to homelessness. Last night I watched the news and learned that 2.5 million children are homeless in America. That's about 1 in 30 children. If you have a child who is in school and in a classroom of at least 30 kids, just imagine that one of those kids could be homeless. Homeless.

Because of the American Institutes for Research America's Youngest Outcasts: A Report Card on Child Homelessness, we know where most of the homeless children live and, to a certain extent, why they're there.

I've long thought athletes are overpaid. I like to watch sports. I love football and truly enjoy collegiate basketball. I like to watch baseball. I know that sports makes a lot of money for a lot of people and those people wouldn't make a lot of money if millions of people like me didn't watch sports and weren't willing to cough up ridiculous amounts of money to attend a game in person. Even so, athletes are overpaid. They've chosen to play a game for their careers so they have to know going in that their careers will last as long as their bodies permit.

What does that have to do with homelessness? Nothing, except in the very same news cycle in which it was reported that a shameful 2.5 million children are homeless in America, we learned that Giancarlo Stanton has inked a deal for $325 million over 13 years. That's $154,321 per game. I wonder how much playing time the average player actually gets during an average game because I think we'd be even more horrified by how much he gets paid for this time on the field. Sure, he's got practice and whatever else he does to get back in shape before spring training. Sure, baseball is a really long season but he pays for practically nothing during the season because all of his travel expenses (planes, buses, hotels, meals) are paid for by the team. Playing gear is paid for by the team. I pretty certain players have to buy his own underwear unless they have a deal with a manufacturer. So not only can athletes get paid absurd amounts of money but they can make even more money through promotional deals. Yea, yea I know they have shorter careers but, again, they know that going in. Playing a sport puts a lot of wear and tear on a player's body. Sure a lot of players go bankrupt but that's on them for hiring terrible business managers or thinking the money will never end. Plenty of non-athletes go bankrupt for the same bad decision-making.

I just find it hard to reconcile that we have 2.5 million children homeless in America and that we are willing to support in a wide range of ways the extravagant salaries of athletes.

Just another stark example of how we seem to value escapist entertain more than we value the well-being of our children, of our fellow citizens. I'm guilty of it, too.

There are many ways to help the homeless--and not just at the holidays because they are homeless year-round.
  • offers 35 different ways to help the homeless
  • focuses on feeding the children of America. While 2.5 million are homeless, nearly 16 million go hungry
  • The homeless shelter directory will help you find one of the 3,572 homeless shelters in the US
  • This SpareSomeChange search engine offers help in locating food banks, soup kitchens, shelters, and more for the homeless and needy
  • Habitat for Humanity has long been known for its work to provide housing for those in need
  • Any charity will welcome your contributions, so use CharityNavigator to find one you believe in and that you believe makes a difference
Whether your state is first or worst in whatever category, don't "blame" child homelessness on anything. Kids could be homeless for all kinds of reasons, including parental ineptitude. But that's not the kid's fault.

Every one of us can help in large and small ways. We don't need to humble brag about the good we might do in the world. We just need to do it. As often as we can.

Thursday, October 2

National Letter Writing Day. . .for that personal touch?

I love to get letters. Real letters in actual envelopes on actual paper. It's wonderful when they're handwritten, but they're fun even when typed. So an article about 100K students participating in a National Letter Writing Day really caught my attention. All of the kids are writing a letter on the same theme to a friend, family member, teacher, or someone special.

And then I learned that October 9 is World Post Day. The cynic in me whispers that World Post Day is plot by the Universal Postal Union (yes, it's a real organization and since 1874!) to sell more postal products and services.

On the other hand, well, I like letters. I like the alternative to junk mail, beg mail, and bills (oh my!). There is something compelling about a personal letter, even a typed one because it conveys a thoughtfulness and a willingness to invest time. Sure, the same information can be conveyed via email, but there's something about an actual letter.

I try to write my mother a letter every week. I type the letter because I type faster than I write and, well, it's easier for her to read. But once the letter is printed, I can make notes in the margins, add color and other stuff to make it more fun and friendlier. My mother has access to email, but her dementia makes it difficult for her to remember how to access her email. So a letter is more present for her. And it reminds her someone is thinking about her.

The Director-General of the Universal Postal Union has a quote on the organization's web site: "With more than 600,000 post offices globally, postal services are inclusive and accessible; no one gets turned away. The Post is truly a public service for every citizen, irrespective of one's position in society."

It may take longer for a letter to get to someone than an email, but the Director-General is correct that postal services are [generally] accessible. Yes, I hear that cynic whispering about lackadaisical postal workers and all the things that can go wrong. Sure. Lots of things can go wrong, but most of us get our mail.

There is no official creed for the United States Postal Service (USPS), but most of us are familiar with "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds" as inscribed on the John Farley Post Office in New York City.

In 2001, in the wake of 9/11, the USPS published its Comprehensive Statement of Postal Operations and with its statement of its Fundamental Services to the People. Maybe snail mail is increasingly passé except for junk mail and beg mail, and those of us who prefer to get some publications in print. But for some situations and for some people, actual letters through the actual postal service can be a gift. And that's why the USPS modified its unofficial creed to be:
The Postal Service recognizes its responsibility in continue to provide this fundamental service. Neither snow, nor rain, nor heart, nor gloom of night, nor the winds of change, nor a nation challenged will stay us from the swift completion of our appointed rounds. Ever.
I think this is a great activity for students, especially in elementary school, to practice a different form of writing. And to learn something about the postal system, which could easily connect to history and social studies which could easily connect to technology as we think about communications have changed and why that matters.

So on October 9, write letters to some friends, family members, colleagues, and/or someone special. Tell them that you're thinking about them and why you appreciate them. It doesn't have to be long. A notecard, even a postcard. Just write.

Tuesday, September 30

Of work place trends and work place readiness
In 2011, US News & World Report published an article titled 6 Ways the World of Work is Changing: flexibility, entrepreneurship, job-hopping, work-life balance as a priority, personal branding, and long-term employment.

Many of the changes were driven by the employed. We can blame or celebrate the Millennials, though they weren't the first to start some of these trends. But it's not really the trends themselves that interest me. It's how we respond to them. I've been thinking a lot about the world of work--what we really mean by "career readiness," how the work place has been influenced by Google and the open space proponents, how the global economy impacts how we think about doing business and being in business, and even how dress codes have changed and continue to change.

I read an article this morning about how social media is transforming how we work and not just because of the way social media is influencing how we think and behave. So that prompted me to do a bit more reflecting because I'm old enough to remember the world before smartphones. Heck, I'm old enough to remember the work place before personal computers and business casual.

My generation was deeply influenced by the 70s and those "long-haired hippie freaks." And as my compeers grew older and became a part of the work force, they conceded that resistance was futile and adapted to the expectations of the Establishment. Mostly. Sort of. Somewhat. After all, many of the changes we see in the work place, such as business casual, are because of my generation. And I suppose if I were to do a longitudinal study of shifts in work place habits and behaviors, I would discover that work place behaviors and dress have shifted because of the incoming generation as well as changes in technology.

It's not just millennials who are addicted to their smartphones. The inability to look away from the digital device and the fear of being disconnected quite possibly started with our fascination with the pager, early phones, and the BlackBerry. Mid-90s. (The first iPhone wasn't introduced until 2007).

I watch kids in high school now and the way they get to learn, and some of them get to learn using a cool array of resources, many of which are digital. And then I think about kids entering college and wonder if they'll still get to learn that way or if attending college will feel like a step backwards. And then I think about the expectations organizations will have of them: that they will have excellent if not outstanding spoken and written communication skills, that they will be able to work well with others, that they will be self-directed and able to demonstrate appropriate initiative, that they will know how to dress and behave appropriately on business phone calls and meetings and with customers, that they will have the technical skills to develop and succeed. And I wonder how much all of that will have changed by the time they graduate from college, and I wonder how we will know what has changed and what is changing.

I think of a friend's son who is talented at what he does and could probably go into management if he wanted to, and I wonder if his hair, beard, and style of dress might hold him back and how much he might be willing to compromise and change if it meant he might move up. On the other hand, I'm not sure he's that ambitious in that I think he might be looking for more responsibility but he doesn't crave the corner office some day. Even so, if he wants to move up a level, how much are others who evaluate influenced by his hair, his beard, and his style of dress? And who will tell him he has a shot of something more if only. . . he trimmed his hair and his beard, and if he dressed a little differently. And at what point, in any office situation, does it matter about dress and personal style if an individual is competent and capable and never sees a customer, or is capable of dressing "appropriately" if the need to see and meet with a customer arises?

On the other hand, because of Skype and Google Hangout as well as a host of other online conferencing tools, we can have meetings with customers at any time and from any place. If I'm having the conversation from my kitchen or home office, how much do I really have to dress up for a customer conference? Or do we instinctively understand that dressing in a particular way and representing in a certain way is a sign of respect for the other? And will even that change over time as the Millennials come further into their and perhaps redefine what it means to demonstrate respect?

There was a time when tattoos and piercings were verboten in the work place. In some places that's still true and it others not so much. I think, though, that the criteria on which we begin to build trust and we use for those impressions is somehow deeply embedded in our thinking.

The interview or initial meeting rituals seem to have a different set of expectations and rules which can be relaxed once an individual is trusted or on-board, part of the organizational culture. Then some of the rigidity of what is "appropriate" might be relaxed and individuals might be more able to show their true colors.

I muddle all of this as I continue to think about the future of work and what that means--the ways we work and if those ways differ depending on the industry in which we work and those with whom we work. I contemplate all of this as I continue to think about how we prepare anyone for the work place--students graduating from college or adults who are entering or re-entering the work place.

It's clear that much of what was true even five years ago is no longer true today even as some work place expectations are considerably more rooted.

So every time we talk with some sort of breathlessness about the current shiny thing that will change the way we work and how we behave at work, I think it's reasonable to acknowledge it may have some relatively immediate impact, but that real change in work place behaviors and mores will take much longer.

Sunday, September 28

Stupid experiment about being unplugged

Situation: college kids have their digital devices confiscated for an hour.

On the face of it, that doesn't seem so bad. The idea is to see how kids fare when they cannot check their devices every two seconds.

But that wasn't the experiment. The experiment required that students give up their smartphones or silence them and put them away, then sit in a room with nothing to do, nothing to listen to, and nothing to look at for an hour. Every 20 minutes the students were given an anxiety assessment. Guess what? Hold on to your socks. . .they were increasingly anxious. I know, right? Shocking.

What a stupid experiment.

How about if we ask kids to surrender their smartphones or silence them and put them away, then have them sit in a room in which there is engaging conversation and discussion, in which there are videos or posters or even PowerPoint to look at and which spark some of the conversation in which they participate or to which they listen? Let's see if college kids get anxious about not being able to check their smartphones if they are engaged, even in learning.

Or, even better, let's see what happen when kids are asked to silence their phone and put them on the table so they are accessible, but reminded that they must use the phones only for the tasks at hand. So if there is a question they can't answer using the other resources in the room, perhaps they will use their phone to research the answer. The question then might be how well they can resist temptation to check on their Twitter feed or their Facebook page.

Here is my hypothesis. As long as the students--or anyone else on the planet for that matter--is engaged in whatever is at hand, they will be okay with being "unplugged" because they won't really notice they're "unplugged." However, I also believe that when the students--or anyone else on that planet--gets excited about something they've learned or discovered, then yes, they'll want to share it online. And how horrible they want to share a learning experience online!

Will it increase student disconnection anxiety if they are asked to wait until the end of class (or the meeting or whatever) to post something about their learning? Will it increase student disconnection anxiety if they are asked to wait until the end of the class and then to write a blog post that reflects their learning, even their questions that day?

I get the looooong reach of trying to say that wearable technology will increase digital attachment and, therefore, increase the probability of digital separation anxiety. But if we're going to test digital separation anxiety, let's do so in an environment that gives the brain an option.

If I were left in a room for an hour without anything to read or look at, without any noise whatsoever, well, I'd fall asleep. Who am I kidding? And then I'd grumble when someone woke me up every 20 minutes to test my anxiety level.

I've no doubt that there are those who are addicted to their devices, but if we're going to test separation anxiety for college students, let's put them at a student union with a bunch other people, or at a sports event, or in a classroom with a great professor with a lively, engaging class experience, and then let's see to what extent there is anxiety for the high, medium, and low user. As with any assessment, let's make sure it's realistic and relevant.

Thursday, September 25

Rape is not funny

I dare you not to be angered, frustrated, and perplexed--all at the same time--after reading just the first line of this message.

The story behind this ludicrous "we didn't know this was a bad idea" statement is of a store that had to pull a T-shirt emblazoned with the words "It's not rape. It's a snuggle with a struggle." I'll give you a few minutes to get your blood pressure under control. Stop screaming at the screen. Seriously. The neighbors are getting nervous. But also seriously, you have good reason to be screaming.

First, what idiot thought the phrase was clever, funny, a goof, a prank, or anything remotely close to the territory of a good idea? Second, what colluding idiot thought it was an even better idea to make T-shirts with this phrase? Third, what imbecilic, vacuous bonehead thought it was a good idea to buy the T-shirts to sell in a store?

I don't care if the store is on Mars. I don't care if the manufacturer and the socially tone-deaf cretin (or, heaven forbid, cretins) who designed the phrase live in the outer reaches of tje Delphic Expanse.  This. Is. Not. Acceptable. Not in any culture. Not in any store in the world.

I laughed out loud when I read the first sentence of the second paragraph: " We do not tolerate such action." The grammar snark in me noted that that particular sentence could easily refer to the preceding paragraph because that's the only "such action" so far referenced. So they do not tolerate being informed by social media that they'd demonstrated a colossal error in judgment?

And now to the second sentence of that same paragraph: "SM does not support such irresponsible and malicious acts. . . " and yet the T-shirt was unpacked from the shipment and no one--not a sales person not a manager--seemed to think it was a bad idea to put them out for purchase.

The inanity continues: ". . . we are investigating why it was included in our delivery of assorted t-shirts." The key word there is "assorted" because by that the store can claim they ordered an assortment of T-shirts and left it to the consignor to make the decision of what to send. Right.

So it's not the store's fault--even though they could have chosen not to put the stock out for the buying public. Even though they could have been outraged when they saw the T-shirts and returned them, demanding something more appropriate sent and lodging their own concern by a clear lack of judgment and perhaps a lack of incipient, or any, rectitude.

What is even more alarming, revolting, and nauseating is that there seems to be a whole line of these kinds of T-shirts. That these kinds of shirts have been sold online through Amazon, and are still available through some online shops. [NOTE: The T-shirts referenced in this story are no longer available at the stores mentioned in the story.] [WARNING: Do not visit unless you are looking to be further alarmed, revolted, and nauseated.]

And so to the final statement. I offer it here with my own subtext: "Thank you for informing us. .  of our moral and offensive blunder, of our ineptitude in making good decisions about how we represent our cultural and social responsibilities, of how we represent what we think of women--our mothers, our sisters, and our daughters, of our inability to admit our mistakes and try to pass blame on some other apparently callously indifferent numskull."

I cannot help think of my post from yesterday and my contemplation of doing good for the world, trying to do something to repair the world. In spite of this, I KNOW there is good in the world.

I can't imagine what motivates anyone to create such content and to find it amusing or okay on any level. Simply banning it won't work, I know. But maybe trying to countermand it in some way can be effective.

Maybe simply trying to do effect positive change in our individual spheres of influence can matter more than we think or imagine.

Maybe we just have to keep trying to do good in the world, every day.

Maybe we have to encourage each other to do good in the world, every day.

Maybe by expressing outrage by such things rather than just shrugging and letting it be someone else's problem, we can take small steps to repair the world.

Wednesday, September 24

Believe There is Good in the World

L'Shanah Tovah. This is the traditional New Year's greeting on Rosh Hashanah. This is not at all like the New Year's celebrations that mark the transition from December 31 to January 1. Yes, there is introspection, but on a much deeper and profound level. But the purpose of this post is not to talk about the Jewish New Year compared to any other New Year, or the Jewish holidays. Still, of the holidays, this one is a fascinating gateway.

In this morning's (Sep 24) Chicago Tribune was an article about a school that began its life as a Jewish school and is now a Muslim school and, more importantly, how former parents and teachers of the Jewish school welcomed the students and educators of the Muslim school.

Any familiar with Chicago neighborhoods know that Skokie was for years a predominantly Jewish enclave. As is the case with so many neighborhoods, demographics changed. The Muslim community outgrew its own school and needed a second one.

Potential drama? Absolutely. Risk of rejection, even violence? In the times of these particular troubles? No doubt. But that's not what happened. And this is what else I "heard" as I read this story. First, the students and teachers at the school greeted their guests with the words Salaam aleikum, which means "Greetings of peace and peace be upon you."

I also learned about tikkum olam, a phrase that means "repairing the world" or "healing the world." It isn't, of course, that simple. As I started reading about it, recognizing the way rabbinical commentaries work, I realized I could spend hours tracking down the phrase. But most seem to agree that it carries a message of social justice and action. Of being able to ask, "What have I done today to repair the world?"

This reminded me of the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. In Chapter IX, Franklin articulates his "Plan for Attaining Moral Perfection." Not a bad goal, that, and most of what prescribes himself could be attainable if we didn't insist on having our personal and political agendas, if we really did want to try to abide by the Golden Rule. But we are selfish creatures, so we struggle with being consistently thoughtful of others. Yes, Franklin struggled in his habitude of his virtues, and with good reason. Even so, as I thought about Franklin and I considered tikkum olam, I remembered that Franklin also wrote he would ask two questions of himself each day. In the morning he would ask, "What good shall I do today?" and at the end of the day, as part of his self-reflection, he would ask, "What good have I done today?".

And the thinking isn't for a whole year, but just one day at a time. Which is all we can really hope to try to manage. Even if this is not your New Year, there's no reason you can't start thinking in terms of the good you can bring to the world. Oh, I know it's naive to think that simply asking people to truly strive to be kind and do righteous deeds is going to change the world. I know that the word "righteous" means different things to different people of different faiths, and that's partially because we're so busy insisting on our own religious agendas, and I'm a bit suspicious of many of them being linked to any actual theology ascribed by one's faith rather than some hodge podge of selected verses that satisfy someone's need for superiority.

Even so, perhaps it wouldn't hurt if each of us took a challenge to ask these questions each morning and each evening. And let's just see.
     What will I do today to repair the world, to be kinder and more thoughtful, to do well by doing good?     What have I done today to repair the world, to be kinder and more thoughtful, to do well by being good?

Find someone who will hold you accountable and try this for a week. Then try it for another week. Then try it for another two weeks and before you know it you will have been thinking about being kind and doing well by doing good for a month.

Thursday, September 18

The Power of Interest

When I was in school all those eons ago, I figured I was good at English-related things because I liked to read and seemed good at writing. I figured I wasn't good at math because my mother wasn't good at math and didn't seem very interested in math. Now I also want to say that my mom was a good cook, but, like her mother before her, she rarely measured. I mention that because there could be an obvious correlation between enjoying cooking and math. But I didn't learn to cook that way. I learned to measure important stuff like baking soda and baking powder, but that never felt like math.

Many moons later, having graduated as an English major with a rudimentary inclination to go to law school, I started working as a temp for a software engineering firm. That led to my getting a job as a bookkeeper for a small software company. Yes, a bookkeeper. Hey! I could balance my checkbook, but that, again, didn't feel like math. (Just go with it).

Now while at the software company, I discovered this thing called programming and found this quite fascinating. So fascinating I went to the local community college to take a few classes. None of this felt like math nor like science. It feel like solving a really challenging puzzle. Even when elements of mathematics were required to calculate memory management, this did not feel like math.

Fast forward many more years: lo and behold! I'm teaching a Basic Math class. This is side-splittingly humorous. I made a D in Foundations of Math 101 and managed a C in Foundations of Math 102 because of the incredible dedication and focus on a graduate student. But I did not like math. It was not interesting to me. Not then. Was it relevant? Pffft. I don't know.

But I didn't like it because I didn't think I was supposed to like it and because I assumed I would be bad at it because my mom, supposedly, wasn't good at math. Now there are other family dynamics in the mix here, I should add, all of which could yield terrific fodder, I imagine, for some of my therapist friends. 

In retrospect, a view of life that has profound advantages, it's possible that I could have been interested in math and I could have found it relevant had there not be other forces or influences of which I wasn't aware or which I accepted as a norm for me.

As with math, science didn't hold much interest for me. Until 7th grade. That's when my teacher, Mrs. Moen, introduced science in a whole new way. And she saw me differently than some of my other teachers. Science was "interesting" to me in 7th grade. Less so in 8th grade.

From my own experience, I can extrapolate that some of my interest was informed by whatever I felt towards and from and because of the teacher. I can also extrapolate that some of my interest was informed by whatever kind of success I had in the course. I got an F on a project with Mrs. Moen. She talked to me about it and I was able to resubmit that project, and after that I worked hard for her and discovered some interest in the course.

As you will discover in "How the Power of Interest Drives Learning" and based on your own experiences in wanting to learn and having to learn something new, interest is only one element of the learning experience. Relationships (many of which are complex), past experiences (about which the learner may have little awareness), and more inform our interests.

I know that many of my interests are informed by what I shared with and learned from my mother. I also know that my curiosity directs many of my interests, some of which are more short-lived than others. And I know that some of my interests are because of what my friends have introduced me to or because of the interests of those I admire.

There are teachers and coaches who work extraordinarily hard to make something "interesting" and "relevant." Maybe they work too hard because they present that which is interesting and relevant from their own perspectives which means that their students don't get the pleasure of that moment of discovery of something that piques something they might not yet be able to define that starts that bit of flutter that forces them to lean forward just to see a little bit more or a little more closely. I don't think there are surefire ways to plan for that. But I do believe that the astute teacher and coach look for the moments of opportunity for learner discovery of the power of interest.

Thursday, August 28

Liberal arts major? Excellent!

The liberal arts have been trampled as people pile on to the STEM/CTE bandwagons. That's science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and career and technical education (CTE) for those of you who have been blithely ignoring the stampede. You're probably English majors, like me. I know of this stuff because of my work in education and the necessity of being alert to sudden movement to the next shiny thing.

On the one hand, I applaud the STEM and CTE movements, especially the latter. I think the STEM activists, I mean, advocates too often see STEM too narrowly just as I think those who are promoting the need for kids to learn too code see its applications too narrowly. But then, I'm a liberal arts major.

I've been known to ponder the future value of the liberal arts degree, fearing it would be swallowed up in the technology free-for-all. Still, I've always believed in the value of thoughtful communication, research, synthesis of ideas and concepts, and critical thinking, which are traditionally strong skills of a liberal arts major.

Lo and behold! Apparently tech CEOs are pretty keen on liberal arts majors, too. Yep, tech CEOs. In fact, the vanguard of creative technology himself, Steve Jobs, once said that "for technology to be truly brilliant, it must be coupled with artistry."
It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.
 According to Stephen Yi, CEO of Media Alpha, "liberal arts train students to thrive in subjectivity and ambiguity, a necessary skill in the tech world where few things are black and white."

With our current focus on tinkering, invention, and MakerSpace, well, liberal arts majors are pretty good at tinkering with ideas, and most of us are not afraid to examine ideas, even products, pretty closely. One of the features of programming that attracted me to it was how much it is like a puzzle. Solving a particular problem using a coding language is a puzzle and requires the ability to see multiple possibilities and to wonder "what if?". Engineers are not alone in that. Artists, architects, writers, and musicians constantly tinker with the rudiments of the crafts and many experiment with the "what if?" when they try something different, maybe even unexpected.

Liberal arts majors are also challenged by the way they might be viewed by HR personnel, now often known as Talent Management personnel. I find that somewhat amusing in this context because HR personnel have to try the hiring manager knows what he or she is looking for, and have to trust the protocols of their processes. If an online system is used, a suitable candidate may be overlooked and rejected because the coding system is looking for specific words and phrases. No small irony there that a liberal arts major who might be an excellent fit for a tech company is rejected because of technology.

Georgia Nugent, former president of Kenyon College, is a senior fellow at the Council of Independent Colleges, an organization whose focus is independent, liberal arts colleges and universities. She is concerned about
this trend because she thinks that training students for very specific tasks seems shortsighted when technology and business is evolving at such a fast rate. “It’s a horrible irony that at the very moment the world has become more complex, we’re encouraging our young people to be highly specialized in one task,” she says. “We are doing a disservice to young people by telling them that life is a straight path. The liberal arts are still relevant because they prepare students to be flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances.”
This observation is a perfect segue to another Fast Company article: "Jobs of the Future: Where They Are, How to Get Them." Where are the new jobs? Good question. It's entirely possible they don't yet exist. [I've done presentations on this stuff and there's GREAT, fun research out there about the future of work.]

A liberal arts major, by the way, isn't just a bookworm. Perhaps the ease with which people misinterpret or misunderstand the liberal arts major is one of the roadblocks. Liberal arts majors aren't just English, humanities, language, arts, philosophy, and religion majors. Liberal arts majors have the liberty of being able to create programs that suit their interests and their passions, so liberal arts majors often combine something of those more traditional liberal arts with, yes, something from STEM.

Those who are liberal arts majors often have a balance of knowledge in the the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. Some may be shocked by the amount of science and social science in the average 19th century novel. Because of the kind of work anyone in liberal arts must do, such majors have to have analytical, problem-solving skills, must be able to learn independently, and must be adaptable as they continue to learn and discover.

Liberal arts majors should not be dissuaded from their interests, especially because a liberal arts path may provide them otherwise inaccessible opportunities in a range of learning possibilities. Choosing a major should not be a matter of STEM vs. liberal arts, but an approach to academic and personal discovery.

Near the end of the "Jobs of the Future" article is this paragraph:
Donna Svei, executive search consultant believes the real key is to hone the skill of reinvention if they want to be a success. “Companies aren't explicitly shopping for that skill, but if they're part of inventing jobs that didn't exist five years ago, they're hiring people who know how to reinvent themselves,” she says.
In the process of academic and personal discovery, there are intersections, steps, missteps, switchbacks, and the occasional pause for breath and direction. Liberal arts majors may not be the only ones who can reinvent themselves for their work at hand, but they may be best suited to think imaginatively and critically about the "what if?" of reinvention.

Tuesday, August 26

"Breaking Bad" star of Emmys: What's that all about?

Disclaimer: I've never watched Breaking Bad. The show's premise was a complete turn-off for me: chemistry teacher learns he has inoperable cancer and decides to make the best possible meth to provide for his family. What can go wrong with that?

I know some people see this as a "morality show" akin to The Sopranos. Whatever. That's bogus rationalization to me.

Just reading the episode summaries tells me this guy Walter, who became some sort of cult hero, is making bad decision after bad decision. Okay, maybe it was good acting, but the message of the show? Seriously?? And all of these accolades from celebrities, many of whom are about to do this big televised event for Stand Up To Cancer.

Here's what's horrible to me about the Breaking Bad premise and why I never watched the show:

First, classroom teacher decides to make meth to provide for his family.
Messages: 1) Kids, just because I say drugs are bad doesn't mean I really believe drugs are bad. After all, 2) now I'm hooking up with known bad guys, drug lords, to distribute drugs to your friends. And 3) some of your friends or other kids we don't even know might die because of these amazing drugs I make with 4) one of my former students who I should have discouraged from making meth but instead decided to make a partner.

Okay, that's pretty much it. Sure, I get the guy is supposed to be desperate and the show is probably supposed to be about the consequences of his really bad decisions. So here's my other fear: some people will see that Bryan Cranston and others are getting awards for this show and won't differentiate that he's getting rewarded for his acting, for his portrayal of this character. It's entirely possible that more than a few goofballs will think he's getting rewarded for the behavior of the character and then use this show as a blueprint for being successful in making meth.

I read in Wikipedia how the show ended:
Skyler and Walter Jr. are distraught over Hank's death and hold Walter accountable. They refuse to leave Albuquerque with Walter and instead contact the police. Walter spends the next several months hiding in a cabin in New Hampshire while struggling with cancer. He returns to New Mexico in order to visit his family one final time and seek revenge against Jack. Later that night, Walter executes all of the gang's members and frees Jesse, who escapes from the compound before the police arrive. Walter realizes he is mortally wounded from a gunshot and slowly succumbs to his injury as the police search the compound.
So Walter, the former chemistry teacher, isn't ever really held accountable. He becomes a completely sympathetic character because he rescues his friend and, apparently, he cannot help that he continues to sink into this morass of questionable behavior and terrible decisions.

A review of the second season of this show:
The second season saw critical acclaim. Entertainment Weekly critic Ken Tucker stated "Bad is a superlatively fresh metaphor for a middle-age crisis: It took cancer and lawbreaking to jolt Walt out of his suburban stupor, to experience life again—to take chances, risk danger, do things he didn't think himself capable of doing. None of this would work, of course, without Emmy winner Cranston's ferocious, funny selflessness as an actor. For all its bleakness and darkness, there's a glowing exhilaration about this series: It's a feel-good show about feeling really bad.
Unbelievable. These are the options for the "suburban stupor"? Making meth and being responsible for contributing to the on-going drug problem of America's youth (and probably others) is a good way to "take chances, risk danger, do things he didn't think himself capable of doing"? Like murder. Nice. What about bungy jumping? Sky diving? What absurd world do entertainment critics live in? And don't get me started on the condescension expressed in the phrase "suburban stupor." Who do you think goes to the movies and watches your TV shows, you nincompoop. Mostly those people in their suburban stupors, which also says something about those of us who live in the suburbs. We spend too much time in a stupor and watch TV. Careful now.

The chapter after the story ends: Skyler and Walter, Jr. are left with nothing because that remaining $11 million dollars Walter thought he had is going to be confiscated by law enforcement officers because it is drug money and possibly evidence in other cases. They have to leave Albuquerque and change their names because otherwise they're always going to be known as the former wife and kid of that chemistry teacher who murdered people, partnered with drug lords, and helped more kids get addicted to meth. Great legacy. Great way to "provide for your family."

Maybe the acting was great and worth celebrating, but the message of this show--and far too many others--just demonstrates the paltry sense of consequences, especially unintended consequence, our society has managed to grasp.

Monday, August 25

The 7, no 12, maybe 15 things about something

Have you noticed how most titles are the 5, 6, 7, 8, 12 or whatever number of things that will change your life in some way? It's not just in education, but in just about every area of writing.

"Top 10 Superior Tech Products You'll Never Go Back From" (awkard that, with dangling preposition)

Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools

"Six Things I Learned from Teaching That I Still Use in Everyday Life"

"50 Things Cortana Can Do Right Now (Compared to Siri and Google Now)"

"7 Things We Learned from David Rees"

"10 Disney Sidekicks That Got the Axe"

"Jack Kerouac's 30 Beliefs and Techniques for Writing Modern Prose"

"38 Ideas to Use Google Drive in Class"

I don't quite understand the trend. Well, I kind of understand the trend because the numbers in a headline or title are eye-catching. But they also offer a false hope that if I can only master the 10 writing tips, I'll be the Best Writer Ever. Or if I can only do the five things the most successful people do every morning I'll be successful, too.

Over the course of a couple of weeks I kept approximate track of the number of iPad applications any teacher had to have for the classroom. It was something like 157. Based on titles of the articles, I could surmise I could be the worst teacher ever if I didn't have every one of those iPad applications. And, of course, having the applications and knowing what to do with them are two potentially tragically different things.

This reductionist approach is somewhat alarming to me. It seems we're trying to reduce essentially everything to a magic number. The top 100 of influential people, restaurants, songs in a given year, things I have to do (have to do?!?!? or what?) before I die.

I can't help but think of Stephen Covey and his 7, no 8, habits of highly effective people. Or Howard Gardner's 8, no 9, multiple intelligences.

That's the problem with lists of a definitive number of things that solves, manage, explains, develops, defines, transforms, or in some other way will The Difference.

There's always (at least) one more thing that matters.

Friday, August 22

Thinking more about expectations

I was thinking more about expectations because of all of the connotations that can to mind, but also because of all of the interesting images I discovered related to peoples' thinking of "expectations."

In performance reviews, managers are often asked to rate their subordinates using a scale with "exceeds expectations" as the highest.

Most of us know how hard it can be to meet expectations never mind exceed them. We also know that one person's interpretation of those expectations can different from someone else's.

In my experience, having lowered expectations is often key. Sure, we want events to go well. We have certain visions of how conversations might go and events might play out. That's what we hope will happen.

Sure I know there's a whole movement of people visualizing success or whatever they visualize, but they visualize that for themselves. They have zip control over anyone else, how anyone else is coming to the party. We forget that others have their own expectations of how an event might play out. The conflict of the visualizations!

I can't even imagine the millions of hours spent with therapists as patients have discussed unmet expectations, and how those unmet expectations have come to inform far too much of how individuals view themselves, their work, their lives. But I have to wonder how many of those unmet expectations are also unrealistic.

Here's another way to look at expectations and outcomes. If our expectations are too high, we will experience disappointment. Someone did say or do the "right" thing: what we thought we needed or wanted to happen. If our expectations are low, we just might experience a pleasant surprise. I'm not a therapist (and do not play one on TV), but it seems to me that this is a far better option. What might be even better is if the lowered expectations that yield a pleasant surprise or two also leads to a bit more introspection about those expectations.

In my case, lowered expectations were learned over a period of time. In a particular situation, I knew not to have high expectations because time and time and time and yes, time again, high expectations had lead only to disappointment. With much lower expectations, I returned from that encounter with less anger, less resentment, and even the occasional pleasant surprise. Yes, I could have avoided that situation over the years, but that would have led to guilt, which could have been a different reason for spending thousands of dollars in therapy.

I know that managers have to have a way to measure how well their employees are doing. I think the scale of measurement has to be revisited, or there has to be a discussion of what the organization means by "exceeds expectations." Even then, managers and their respective employees need to discuss what "exceeds expectations" means for that individual in that role for that period of time.

The same could be true for anyone who works within a framework of expectations. When I go into a meeting or do a presentation or workshop, I can have expectations only of myself. I cannot impose my expectations on anyone else.

When things don't go as I expect, it's often because I'm trying to force others to conform to my preconceived notions. Of course, they don't know anything of my preconceived notions so they can't possibly conform even if they wanted to.

When I have expectations only of myself, I can adjust my expectations based on how others are behaving, the questions they ask, the responses they have to whatever we're doing. Because, to me, my expectations have to be about me--how well I answer questions, how well I present information, how well I listen, how well I interact with others.

In any instance in which I have expectations, I do so much better when I can acknowledge things might not being going as I expect and even better when I can appreciate the good things that happen instead. I'm not one to spend a lot of time visualizing anyway, but it's entirely possible that my imagination isn't sufficient for the possibilities of what could really happen. Good or bad.

Years and years ago I was working for a small software company. One of the women with whom I worked told me over lunch one day that she didn't think I was a very good friend. I should point out that she was about 15 years older than I. She told me she'd done an experiment with me and that I'd failed because I didn't respond to certain things she said or did the way she expected me to and, as a result, we could be only work colleagues. Which we were. It's not as though we hung out after work or anything. I was flabbergasted, and a little wigged out. I've never forgotten it either.

There are those who will disappoint us. We need to try to understand why we're disappointed: because our expectations, about which they might know nothing, were not met? If so, then what?

An expectation is a strong belief that something will or should happen, or that an individual should or will achieve something. Having expectations isn't right or wrong, good or bad. I don't think we can avoid having expectations, but I can hope I limit my expectations to myself and not impose them on others.