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Posts In the Values Category

How You Can Prevent Another Charleston Massacre

This week, a white man killed a bunch of black people because he said they were rapists and taking over the country. Wow. I think that certain people are being pushed over the edge because we have a black President. Obamacare is working, his popularity is going up, and those of the racist bent are beside themselves. What are we to do?
As a Jew and practitioner of Mussar, it is insufficient to simply avoid doing bad things – we are called upon to proactively do good things, including standing up for the powerless, and standing against injustice.
When Rabbi Sidney Akselrod, the first Rabbi at my synagogue,  arrived for his first week of work in 1965, he told the board “I’m sorry, I have to go to Selma.” He jumped on a plane, and marched with Dr. King. Few of us would do that, which is why R. Akselrod is so highly revered as a great person. While I’m not jumping on a plane, I will dedicate this letter to speaking out in  hopes that together we can change the climate that fosters hatred and intolerance.
The statement that “blacks are taking over the country” does not come in a vacuum. Rudi Giuliani’s recent comments that President Obama is not “one of us” is a softer way of saying the same thing. In addition, I was puzzled about Donald Trumps’s fixation on where President Obama was born. He seemed to go on and on about the birth certificate. Why? Now, with Trump’s diatribe that Mexico is sending rapists and drug dealers to the US, I understand. Trump is a racist. Giuliani is a racist too.
Do you know any racists? Not the white supremacist kind, but the gentler kind who make disparaging comments. When I was kid in summer camp, the instructor was scolding the class, and out of the blue he said “and this includes you too, Greg.” I was astounded – what had I done wrong? It must have been something. Some gentle racist out there needs you to remind them that what they are saying is not ok.
When it comes to racism, it is not enough to not do anything wrong; we need to look for opportunities to do something right. You will have a chance to do something to prevent another Charleston Massacre. For example, you could:
•    Demand that the confederate flag come down in S. Carolina. If you think it is a matter of heritage not racism, you are rationalizing. Sign a petition.
•    Don’t click or share any stories about Trump – less attention and they’ll s top covering him in the media
•    Speak up if you hear something intolerant.
The Talmud teaches that words are more powerful than knives, because they can kill at a distance. While we can’t control many things, we can control what we say, and what we don’t say.
It’s clear to me that electing a black President does not mean that we are beyond racism, merely that there are not enough racists to prevent a black man from becoming President. When the people of South Carolina and other states choose to stop displaying the Stars and Bars, then we’ll know that hearts are truly changing.
How do you think we can use words to end racism? Of course words along won’t do the job. Some people are beyond changing, and all we can do is to keep them from having power. But words are a good place to start.

Are You Paid Fairly?

This morning I read an encouraging and thought provoking article in the San Jose Mercury news about two local companies working to address the pay gap between male and female employees in Silicon Valley. Women only earn $.84 for every dollar a man earns, which equates to $214 a month. Reddit will no longer negotiate with new hires. Men tend to negotiate better than women, which is one source of inequality. Salesforce.com is doing a study of their pay scales, and will give women raises to wipe out the pay inequality. What I particularly like is the ACTION. It is easy to talk and wring hands, and the article nitpicks a bit about the weaknesses about the approaches. However, the key is that neither approach is particularly hard, and will go a long way to making it right.
It got me to thinking – what is fair pay? “Are you paid fairly?” is not an easy question to answer
  • A friend of mine wants to start a dance company, but won’t because she wants to pay her dancers. Right now there is a culture of people dancing for free. She doesn’t think this is right, and doesn’t want to perpetuate that culture.
  • I work pretty much full time these days on my book, and planning an event. I don’t get paid very much for doing so. I am adamant that I won’t work for free, yet I don’t hesitate to invest this time, or to volunteer many hours at my synagogue. Many stay at home moms I know work almost full time jobs as volunteers.
  • Don’t get me started on college athletes, who bring in billions of dollars to their schools and the NCAA and are not paid for it. Yes, they get a free education, but if they are hurt they lose the scholarship. Given the amount of $$ the schools are making, free tuition does not seem sufficient any more.
Don King, the shady boxing promoter, once said that you don’t get paid what you are worth, you get paid what you negotiate for. This bit of reality was his justification for taking advantage of many young boxers who didn’t know any better, or have any leverage to negotiate a better deal. Nothing about the corporate world is set up to be fair. In fact, few things in life are fair.
At the same time, it is hard for me to think it is good for business to systematically underpay a significant portion of the workforce. Doesn’t a company want to foster a shared sense of mission?
What do you think? Let me know. I answer all emails and comments promptly.
PS Special kudos to the HR person who went to the CEO asking if they could find a way to address the inequality issue at Salesforce, and kudos to Mark Benioff for pushing it forward. And kudos to Ellen Pao, acting CEO at Reddit for leading change on multiple fronts.

Do Looks Matter For Success?

Busting Your Corporate Idol - the new cover

Busting Your Corporate Idol – the new cover

Do Looks Matter for Success? When it comes to my book, I think they do.

I’m excited because for the first time, my book has hit the top ten on Amazon in the Work-Life Balance category. What has changed? The cover and the keywords.
I’m putting my money on the cover as making the big difference. At a writers workshop last year, Jack Canfield, author of Chicken Soup for the Soul, did an exercise where he showed that people were having a negative emotional reaction to my old cover. Everyone loves my author picture, so I decided to create a cover with that picture. And BOOM – I’ve sold many more books in March than I did for much of last year.
It’s just one more indication that looks matter – a lot. Jack Canfield did something called muscle testing. He had someone hold their arm out, and he pushed down on it with them resisting. Then he showed them the cover, and it became easier to push down the arm. Why? When the subconscious is disturbed, our muscles get weaker. The theory is that people saw the cover, and just didn’t feel right in some way, which made it less likely for them to buy.
This is another flavor of unconscious bias, the phenomenon where we are biased against something and we don’t realize it. Unconscious bias has been shown in attitudes towards women and minorities. For example, when auditions for symphony orchestras are conducted where the musician is behind a screen, more women are hired, showing that there was an unconscious bias against female musicians.
So what are we to do to counteract our own unconscious bias? Mussar teaches us to look for the Soul Trait that is out of balance, and then to find an action to move back towards balance. Currently, I am practicing Honor, and I suspect that could help. Honor is about how we treat other people. Some of the traditional practices for cultivating Honor include:
  • Greeting everyone you meet before they greet you.
  • Holding doors for others
  • Smiling at everyone you pass
These small steps each make an imprint on the Soul. When it comes to unconscious bias, the key is to focus on consistently executing the practice with everyone. In a diverse environment, I will be honoring people from many backgrounds. I’ll be on the lookout for any hesitation on my part with particular people that could indicate some unconscious bias. With the heightened awareness, I can act to override the hesitation, which will actually begin to eliminate the bias from the subconscious.
Whether or not you believe in unconscious bias, give one of these practices a try for a week. You’ll may be surprised at how it will make you feel.
What do you think? Do you believe in unconscious bias?
See the latest ranking of Busting Your Corporate Idol on Amazon.

White Collar Workers More Dishonest On Survivor

Survivor Worlds ApartAre White Collar Workers Inherently Dishonest?

The new season of Survivor says Yes

This season a new gimmick – there are three tribes – white collar, blue collar, and no-collar. I’ve done all three, although mostly white and no-collar. I can relate to the business process types who make the rules, and the artsy types who break the rules. I was fascinated at how the tribes functioned differently. Right off the bat, 2 people from each tribe were given a choice between getting a big bag of food for the tribe, or a small bag of food and a personal advantage. Blue and no collar took the big bag, but the white collar took the small bag of food to get the personal advantage. In other words, the white collar workers were more dishonest.
It turned out to be a disaster to make the selfish decision. Everyone back at camp white collar knew they were lying, which hurt team unity going into the challenges against the other groups. One of the two ended up being the first person voted off, in large part because she was such an obvious lier.
Fascinating turn, to offer a choice like that to the contestants right away. The pairs from all three groups talked about it, but it wasn’t particularly close for the other two. We all have these choice points every day, where we can do what is best for ourselves or for the group. For example:
  • Do I let another driver merge ahead of me, or do I pull up so they can’t get in? Small personal advantage vs slightly better traffic flow for everyone else.
  • Do I smile at the person I’m walking past, or do I remain wrapped up in my own thoughts?
  • Do I take the time to write a Yelp review for the local business that gave exemplary service, to do I get on Facebook?
Few of these tests will have the type of dramatic consequences we saw on Survivor. However, they are part of our spiritual curriculum. There are always small consequences to our inner world, and if we don’t pass a test we will get it again and again until we pass it. I feel grateful that Mussar has taught me how to recognize these tests, and given me a means to get better spiritual grades.
Are you a Survivor fan? Let me know what you thought of this weeks episode.
PS – you can listen to an exit interview with So, voted off this week here.

Why Getting an Agent is Like Losing the Superbowl

164-pack13-021514-tmI now have an agent to represent my forthcoming book about Mussar, the 1000-year-old Jewish Spiritual practice of personal ethics. As I write, he is pitching it to publishers. Should I celebrate now?
On the one hand, it is an important milestone. I was unable to find an agent for my first book, and having an agent makes it possible that a traditional publisher will purchase the rights to the book. On the flip side, having an agent in and of itself doesn’t mean anything. What counts is having a publisher. So perhaps I should save the celebration until a publisher makes an offer. Then again, having a publisher is but a step in the book publishing process. Perhaps I should wait until the book is published? Or perhaps I should wait until the first sale, or appearing on the best seller lists, Fresh Air…
It is so easy to get caught up in what hasn’t happened yet. If only we have a promotion,  a managerial position, a raise, a new house… The list of things that we don’t have is infinite, and if we need something to happen in order to celebrate, we are missing out. As an alternative, we can cultivate Gratitude as a means to appreciate what we have right now. In that spirit, it is super cool to have an agent. I am grateful to have such a seasoned professional see something in my work. What happens next is out of my hands.
I fear that Seattle fans were celebrating a little too early in the Superbowl. Amazed that the vitriol that is going towards Pete Carol, the Seattle head coach for the last call. Second guessing is one thing, but calling for his job? Really? Even if he made the wrong call, do we really want to make it so that no one can make a mistake without getting fired? He has an amazing track record of success, and the fans would do well to cultivate Gratitude for making it to the Superbowl. The hard part is finding a way for being Grateful about losing in such a painful fashion. Maybe the loss has humanized Seattle fans, and prevented them from becoming arrogant jerks. I admit it – I don’t like Seattle. Now however, I can relate to the Seattle fan. I still feel the pain from the loss Syracuse basketball suffered at the hands of Keith Smart in the the 1987 basketball championship.
The Gratitude practice I suggest is hard, and we can’t start the day we suffer a loss. We need to start practicing Gratitude now. A gratitude journal is a great way to start. Every night, write down three things that you are grateful for. Be sure to include being grateful for the bad and the ordinary.  Then, when life takes a turn for the worse, we’ll have a healthy practice to help us get through.