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Tuesday
Oct012019

Driving Miss Daisy ... and Mr. Rose ... and Mrs Tulip

 

Over the past month or two, I have been volunteering as a driver for an organization that provides rides for people who cannot drive, usually a couple times a week. Mostly elderly, often with serious health or mobility issues, I pick them up in my car at their homes and drive them to clinics, hairstylists, grocery stores, or other places they might need to go. And drive them back home.

While I know they appreciate the ride, I believe they enjoy the conversation and company just as much. I hear about their aches and pains, of course, but also about their families, their careers, and their opinions about a lot of things. One lady was very happy with the street we took, comparing to being driven through a national park (this was in suburban Minneapolis.) Another slyly asked if the service would take her to a casino. And yet another firmly admonished me to "stay the hell away from" her while grocery shopping since she didn't need advice on what to buy. Believe me, I honored her request.

My other volunteer work has lately been with the ForeverWell program at a nearby YMCA, helping do physical health assessments of seniors and co-leading hikes in the area. Ages range from mid 70s to upper 80s. Again, socialization is a huge motivator for these folks to be a part of the program.

I worry about the amount of isolation and loneliness in our country. Remaining independent and staying in one's home instead of an assisted living facility is seen as the greatest good. Yet, I wonder if it is? How much depression and fragility and even dementia is caused by conditions where there is little to do and few others with whom to converse? I don't think isolation and loneliness does not impact the elderly alone - as an educator, I sensed a lack of connection in kids and young adults as well.

Oh, just so you know, my volunteer efforts are by no means altruistic. Since I am no longer working a 40 hour week, I need opportunities to interact with other human beings as well. After 40+ years in the "giving" field of education, it feels good at the end of the day knowing one can still give to others and have not just spent a day sucking up oxygen that could have been put to better use. One gets as much or more as one gives in volunteer efforts where you can actually see the people your efforts benefit.

Nice to have something to do that keeps me off the streets and out of the bars. 

Saturday
Sep282019

BFTP: Do you lead with your head or your heart?

Edmund Burke once wrote, “The true lawgiver ought to have a heart full of sensibility. He ought to love and respect his kind, and to fear himself.” Burke was emphasizing that leadership is a passionate activity. It begins with a warm gratitude toward that which you have inherited and a fervent wish to steward it well. It is propelled by an ardent moral imagination, a vision of a good society that can’t be realized in one lifetime. It is informed by seasoned affections, a love of the way certain people concretely are and a desire to give all a chance to live at their highest level.

This kind of leader is warm-blooded and leads with full humanity. In every White House, and in many private offices, there seems to be a tug of war between those who want to express this messy amateur humanism and those calculators who emphasize message discipline, preventing leaks and maximum control. In most of the offices, there’s a fear of natural messiness, a fear of uncertainty, a distrust of that which is not scientific. The calculators are given too much control.

The leadership emotions, which should propel things, get amputated. The shrewd tacticians end up timidly and defensively running the expedition. David Brooks "The Leadership Emotions," NYT, April 21, 2014

It's rare in day-to-day school operations when you see an adult speak with passion about a deeply-held belief.

Yes, emotions are often seen in schools - but too often they are fear, sadness, or anger. And we certainly discourage kids expressing these emotions and behave as good little robots whenever possible. Teachers are expected to model this. Acting from the heart gets a bad rap.

And I would say that the higher up the leadership level in a school, the less likely leadership from the heart occurs - at least visibly.  I often come away from meetings feeling somewhat embarrassed because I get passionate about ideas and philosophies and policies - either yea or nay - and showed this through public comment. With most of the administration in the district being more my children's age than my own, I'm quite sure I'm written off a senile crank. And I recognize that being eligible for retirement without enormous personal financial risk and not having to worry anymore about climbing any professional ladders allows me to be brave. 

Dispassionate decision-making is a dangerous virtue, as Brooks suggests. Especially so in education. 

At your next meeting speak out, just once, from the heart. The feeling embarrassment passes.

Eventually.

Original post 4/22/14

Thursday
Sep262019

Has what you've read on Facebook ever changed your vote?

 

Harvard Professor Gary King at a recent Humphrey School of Public Affairs program asked an interesting question about how much influence social media really has on election outcomes during a discussion on the whole Facebook/Cambridge Analytics brouhaha.

How many times did your vote change during the last election period as a result of something you read on Facebook?

I know mine didn't. Russia could propagandize its little heart out, and I seriously doubt my views on most political issues would change one iota. So why, if I know I am more or less immune to propaganda, fake news, spin, and other forms of influence, am I worried about others being manipulated politically?

Is it because I just assume that I am smarter than the rest of the great unwashed public?

Here are a few uncomfortable truths I try to remember:

  • Equally smart people can have very different political views. Politics are about values not intelligence.
  • Both sides of the political divide use suspect tools of influence in attempting to sway opinion.
  • We rarely seek unbiased information about controversial topics - we look for and read those opinions which support our values.
  • No one makes completely rational decisions.
  • Nearly everyone is a lot smarter and less-susceptible to manipulation than we give them credit for.
  • We probably don't know when we ourselves are being manipulated.
  • We are more likely to listen to defensively respond than to listen to actually learn.
  • People enjoy stirring the pot with outrageous political statements and satirical humor. The bigger the reaction, the bigger the rush. People like attention.
  • No issue can be explained in 140 characters or less.
  • All communication has inherent bias.

As a life-long writer and speaker, I find how people attempt to influence others as or more interesting than why they want to change others beliefs.

What an interesting time to be alive! Or at least that's what I read on Facebook.