In Honor of Obstinacy

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I’ve been thinking about obstinacy. I’ve been thinking about it in the context of American politics, Middle Eastern politics, and everything else. I’ve been thinking about the stubborn unwillingness to question one’s beliefs, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that those beliefs are incorrect. I’ve been thinking about how it’s common, prevalent, in our world today. Yet, it’s always been with us, hasn’t it?

Is it new for a politician’s followers to assert that the politician won an election, when there is no evidence that they did? No. Is it new for one people to take land from another people and then act like it’s been their land the whole time? No. Is it new for people to ignore all reasonable advice that would keep them safe in the time of a global pandemic? No.

Yet, it’s one thing to know that these are historical truisms of humanity. It’s another thing to live it. It’s another thing to know that people are falling for the same old stuff they’ve always fallen for, and there probably isn’t anything you can do about it. There certainly isn’t anything I can do about it.

You and I, all of us, are subject to the whims of the people in our community. Relatively speaking, we are all just bits of water riding the waves of humanity. Sometimes, those waves take us in the wrong direction. None of this makes me feel better.

Yet, obstinacy serves it’s purpose. I’m sure there are many an entrepreneur who will tell you that they had to keep going in spite of all the evidence otherwise. I’m sure every person has their story of having to persevere in spite of all evidence pointing against them.

Maybe that entrepreneur thing is a myth. Maybe that is something we just tell ourselves, in America. It certainly seems like I’ve heard it everywhere. Part of my thinking on this, is that in America, I think we may have a collective mythology about obstinacy. Our heroes are people who stood up against the masses, who went against the long odds.

The statistical outliers.

So when we’re confronted with things that challenge our beliefs, why can’t we be the heroes to? Can’t we say; I know better than that? Doesn’t it feel good to zig when the rest of the world is zagging? Does it feel good to know that you know better than the masses who are just sheep?

A saying I find very relevant to our times is that; extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Today it feels like a lot of folks are forgetting the evidence part.

Yet again, none of this makes me feel any better. For me, the challenge is forgiveness. The challenge is to forgive people even though they hold fast to beliefs that I find nonsensical. Even if my life is made harder or shortened by their behavior because they hold those beliefs.

How do you forgive someone who reinforces your suffering because they refuse to acknowledge the truths that are readily apparent to you?

Don’t get me wrong, my suffering is minuscule in the grand scheme of things. My suffering is just the suffering of someone who sees the pain of people living on this planet in the year 2021.

But you know what? I’m gonna give it a shot: I forgive you, humanity. I forgive you for hanging onto ideas long past when they’ve outlived their usefulness. I forgive you, for letting people suffer and die to achieve your own selfish ends. I forgive you for messing up. I forgive you for doing, and saying, the wrong thing at the wrong time. I forgive you for making things worse. I forgive you for abusing your power. I forgive you for disrespecting people’s sovereignty over their own lives. I forgive you for ignoring the impact you have on your community and your environment, so you can continue to enrich yourself. I forgive you…

…. now stop it.

🤪

Leadership for 2021 and Beyond

We now have an opening in this country, and this is what I would like to see

Since we are in the waning days of the Trump administration and the Democrats may take the senate as well (we’ll see what happens in Georgia), I’ve been thinking about what sort of opening could exist if those two things come to pass. One thing that I hope for is a retiring of an old form of leadership. A form that Trump embodied, but that certainly didn’t begin with him.

I think that, for most of my life, I’ve been looking for a certain kind of leadership. I’ve found it many times, but never where I wanted to find it. I have wanted to find it in our government leaders, in the leaders of our businesses and organizations, in my community. Instead, in my experience, I’ve found it at random. I cherish the folks that embody what I’m about to describe, and I have found them in the most unexpected places.

So what am I looking for, in leadership, that I am so rarely finding? Wisdom and patience are the first things that come to mind. To speak metaphorically; to be able to guide the ship without over-steering. People who feel the extent to which their employees and customers rely on them, and do their best to honor that commitment at all times. I am looking for people who are honorable. It’s one thing to understand and appreciate that some people get things done by backstabbing people and leaving people out in the cold. It’s another thing to do it. I’m interested in leaders that understand that any business or organization is also a community, and who honors that community. It’s also important that a leader honors the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of other people. If you are a leader, reasonable and respectable people will come to conclusions that are different than yours. Reasonable, respectable people will also make mistakes. The type of leader I’m looking for will respect that and will respect them. I’m looking for grace. In a leader, I want someone who can give others grace. Who can distinguish what someone means to do, and who can lift people up and help them grow when they fall. If I’m an employee, I’m looking for a leader who will protect me. If I’m employing, I’m looking for a leader who will protect the people they work with. I’m looking for leaders who ask questions; of themselves, of their staff, of everyone. People who are curious, and who know to rely on the expertise of the people around them. To extend the boat metaphor, I’m looking for leaders who do just guide. Who don’t get hung up in the color of the lifeboats, or the fuel mixture ratios in the engine. Leaders I’m looking for have delegated those decisions to people that they’ve empowered to make the right decision. I also want a leader to have enough knowledge and wisdom to know when they are being buffaloed. A great leader who otherwise always takes bad advice will inevitably look on blithely as their happy ship full of people sinks to the bottom of the sea. Yet, every leader will take and act on bad advice. I’m looking for leaders that can recognize their mistakes, acknowledge them, apologize to any aggrieved parties, and then correct course quickly.

A leader must also, always, be cultivating other leaders. Why? Because all this doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I know that when I’ve been most effective as a leader, a large part of that formula has been having advisors and mentors of my own. A leader must have and continue to cultivate; people in their lives who give them guidance, help them process their feelings when they are upset, and people who are unattached to their work who can give them unvarnished advice and perspective. A leader needs to be delegating to people nearly all the time. Those people that are being delegated to need to all be on the same page. One day, the leader will have to delegate the entire operation of the organization they are leading. I think it’s important to have people around who can step up to the task, and that doesn’t happen without cultivating leadership.

A leader must want to be held accountable, and must be able to hold others accountable. We all make mistakes, and we all have errors in judgement. We all have impulses occasionally that aren’t the best. A leader that can be held accountable will have their own worst impulses held in check, and a leader that can hold others accountable will do the same for the others around them. For all of us, being held accountable is an opportunity to grow. Accountability is a gift… give that gift.

This is the sort of leader that I have always attempted to be. I cannot say that I have embodied these principles all of the time, but I can say that I have aimed to. What I am hopeful for, that in this new opening we have in our country, is that leaders of this kind can get more space to operate. I am hopeful that we all can see what good can be done from leading this way.

A Conversation to End Homelessness, Part 2

You heard about Part 1, join us for Part 2! We’ll be looking what it will take to actually end homelessness here. Increase shelter space? Navigation centers? Transitional camps? Change building codes? Fund construction of low income housing?

Everything is on the table. Come ready to share your ideas, and to hear new ideas. We have plenty of experts, what we need are regular citizens of the county to give their views.

If you are currently homeless, there will be secure space to store your belongings at this event.

If you weren’t at Part 1, please check out the notes from our first meeting: bit.ly/endhomelessness1

It’s taking place on September 26th, from 6-8pm at the Veterans Memorial Building (846 Front Street in Santa Cruz). It was moved to this location so we would have more room, as we found we quickly ran out of room at the downtown library.

Here is the facebook event

Maybe It Takes Getting to Know One Another

“People aren’t being seen”

For a long time now I have been pointing out to anyone who will listen that community is broken in this country. At least where I live, in California. I think we are seeing the consequences of that brokenness all around us; in our crazy political environment, our high homeless population, the ridiculous numbers of people in prisons and jails, even in the wide wealth disparity. Our rising suicide rate, our daily mass shootings, the mind-boggling amounts of money we spend on health care – the list of symptoms of our broken community just seem to go on and on. Oh, our lowering life expectancy too.

Since I work with people who are homeless, I do a lot of reading specific to the field. Street Roots published an article about the cognitive reasons why housed people struggle to feel empathy for people who are homeless. Not only is the article relevant to homelessness, I think it’s relevant to every aspect of our civic culture today. The italicized portions below are from that article.

“People aren’t being seen,” (Harris) said. “If I’m a busy person, going through a city where there are tons of homeless people, and I have to stop and consider the minds of all of these people, that might make me feel very uncomfortable. Moreover, if I don’t feel like I have the resources to help, there’s nothing I can do to alleviate that suffering. That feeling stays with you. Our brain says, instead, if I take a second to stop and think about your suffering, it’s going to make me feel bad. So, dehumanization becomes a kind of emotion regulation strategy.”

Online, with social media, we have all faced a time where we were forced to consider the mind of someone who clearly has wildly different views than we do. How much easier is it to tune those people out than is it to actually think about what they are saying? How much easier is it to, then, just write off people who share those views and de-friend them or block them out entirely? How hard is it to have your ideas challenged online and to refrain from yelling or letting the conversation devolve into insults?

“We readily help kids and cute animals, in part because we know that whatever trouble they’re in, they can’t really be held accountable,” (Zak) said. “We’re less likely to be so understanding and forgiving when it comes to homeless adults or drug addicts. This tendency to judge rather than help is partly the result of a spot in the prefrontal cortex called the subgenual cortex. It’s full of oxytocin receptors, and it appears to modulate the degree of empathy by regulating the release of dopamine. No dopamine means no reward from engaging with the other person, which makes it less likely that we’ll reach out empathically.”

In America, there seems to be a very strong desire to withhold services from people who don’t “deserve” them. This makes sense if, when we feel powerless, we dehumanize the people in our communities who need help. Since they are still suffering, they are living proof of our failures….

I’ve been wrestling with the idea that humans have an innate desire to help other humans. That commerce is based on contribution. What do people pay for? They pay to be contributed to. Whether it’s food, housing, entertainment, interaction. We pay for other people to contribute to us, and we want to contribute to other people. When we see people who are homeless, most of us see people we can’t contribute to. Most of us see that we have failed to help them.

Is it easier to blame the homeless than to take responsibility, as a community? I would guess that most of us don’t even think in terms of our community. We don’t think about what services we want to be sure that our community members have access to. We don’t think about what we as a community are doing to alleviate suffering in our midst. Is it easy to say “they made their choices,” “they are addicts,” “they are getting what they deserve?” Maybe the people who say those things felt the powerlessness of dealing with someone who’s choices were chaotic and out of control. Maybe they had to detach from a loved one to maintain their sanity and control over their own lives. A real community has each other’s backs. What’s it going to take to start thinking like that?

“If we design interventions to help people meet members of such stigmatized groups and get beyond the stereotype and see the person behind the social category, they tone down their judgments and feelings,” (Hewstone) said.

Hewstone is literally saying that if we get people from different social groups to meet and interact, then we will ratchet down the judgement, the yelling, and the divisiveness.

WHAT A THOUGHT

So then, if we had strong communities, maybe we wouldn’t be having this problem in the first place?

Now I’m going to talk about politics. I think that the level of division in our country is a security threat. It is a threat to our democracy. It appears that multiple foreign countries have figured out how to manipulate our elections and political process for their own gain. Almost exclusively, they are preying on our own divisions to do so.

Is it an incorrect conclusion then, that the best way to fight for and save our democracy is to get to know our neighbors? To meet and get to know people in our community who don’t think or live like us? To talk with the homeless, the middle class, and the rich? To talk with brown, black, white? To talk with young, middle-aged, and old? With men, women, and everyone in between?

That seems like a logical conclusion to me. It seems to me that it is time to do our patriotic duty. It seems like, all it’s going to take to stand up for the principles that our country are founded upon, is for you and I to go out and bridge the gaps in our own lives.

Bridge the gaps, instead of fighting for our point of view. No one is going to do it for us.

‘MERICA!

Let’s Take On Ending Homelessness in Santa Cruz

It can’t happen if we don’t talk about it

Join me, join us, to get this process started. For more info, you can email me here: evan (at) thefreeguide.org

Liam Neeson is doing what we want

Chances are, you do something today that is not going to be socially acceptable in 40 years.

You are going to want to be able to apologize, show remorse, and move on. Lets give him space to do the same. He is not unrepentant, he isn’t saying “you know what? I’m still mad about this. I’m going to get my baton and go out into the streets of Ireland right now…” No. If he was, then go ahead, have at him.

He’s not a fragile man who thinks that you should never apologize. Liam is showing us how to grow. There are some people, who carry the same feelings he carried back when he went looking through Ireland for a black man to kill, who are only going to be open to changing their views when they see that someone else has already changed their views. Who, in the face of social pressure to change, are only going to harden their hearts and buckle down – but who will listen to someone who felt the way they do.

This is how we grow. If we don’t allow space for people to sincerely apologize and atone for their misdeeds, we don’t allow people to move on from the thinking that lead to those misdeeds in the first place. Something about our human brains; owing up to our mistakes allows us to let them go, hiding them doesn’t.

This is made somewhat simpler by the fact that he didn’t actually do anything. He didn’t assault or attempt to kill anyone, even though he meant to for a few moments of his life. This conversation gets more complicated when someone took an action that harmed someone else, but it’s still a conversation to have.

Also, what he wanted to do wasn’t okay then either. But it was significantly more socially acceptable then than it is today.

I, as well as most of you who read this, live in America. I admire a few of the people who founded our country in the late 1700’s, and consider most of them to be good people. Yet many of those men I admire were slave owners and probably misogynists.

Cultures and attitudes change, and in our time they are changing within our lifetimes. If we don’t allow people to raise their hand and say that they were wrong in how they thought, they are sorry and they have grown from thinking that way – then not only do we condemn them for the mistakes and foolishness of the past, but we condemn ourselves. For inevitably, one day we will find ourselves in their shoes.

The Santa Cruz Free Guide (a re-Introduction)

Some of you may know that, for months now, I and a handful of other people have been working on building a truly comprehensive resource guide for people without housing who live in Santa Cruz County. Today we launched the new guide, as well as one of our new services: real time schedules of all the services in Santa Cruz County.

It has truly been serendipitous that this project has come together the way it has, and I am grateful for all the folks who have worked on it.

Also, this truly is just Phase 1 of this website and project. There will be more features and improvements coming in future months.

Here is the announcement email that went out today to service providers throughout the county:

Hello Everyone,
Attached please find easy-print, double-sided, county-wide resource guides to free services serving people experiencing homelessness in Santa Cruz. Please feel free to utilize and print these guides for yourself, your organization, your clients, friends, or neighbors in need.
We are pleased to announce the formation of The Free Guide, a non-profit 501c3 organization dedicated to maintaining a permanent local hub space for hosting this information. We know resources in our county are limited, but information need not be.
We are dedicated to keeping information free and accurate, up-to-date, local, and easily accessible. Feel free to take a look at  www.santacruzfreeguide.org
Check our  More Resources page for downloadable fliers. We’ve got a leaflet on the new Santa Cruz Winter Shelter program, Watsonville Winter Shelter program, Smart Path access points, the Warming Center’s Storage program and more.
Check the new Calendar Resource page for carefully maintained google calendars listing service times and locations. Feel free to upload these to your smart phone or mobile device.
Is your organization, resource, or service listed correctly in the web and/or print versions of the guides? Is there something we’ve left off that you think should be included? Space is limited in the print guides, but we can copy-fit or we may be able to include additional info on the web pages. Do let us know at santacruzfreeguide@gmail.com
And of course if you wish to be removed from our list to receive updates, simply respond with “Remove me” in the subject line.
Thank you,
The Free Guide Team
Evan Morrison
Alec McLeod
Maile McGrew-Fredé
(I’m not actually attaching the files here, so you can go to the website and see what it’s all about)

Why I Endorse Kalen Gallagher for San Jose City Council

And you should encourage anyone who lives in San Jose’s District 9 to vote for him

If the next generation of leadership in America is like Kalen, then we are going to be okay. Sorry if that’s not super enthusiastic – but as someone who is deeply disturbed by current political events – being okay would be a huge win. If Kalen is elected, I’ll literally be able to sleep better at night knowing that, finally, a portion of our country is in good hands. Even if it is just a district in San Jose.

Alright, that may be slightly melodramatic. But it’s also real, so let me get into why I feel that way. I’m not looking at platforms when I evaluate candidates, I’m looking at character. When it comes to character, Kalen is the sort of person I wish would hold office throughout our nation.

Also, I took that photo from his website. I hope he doesn’t mind.

Kalen is fair: If you approach him with a concern, and you mean well, he is going to hear you out. He’s not going to shut you down because of your political views or affiliations. Listening is probably the rarest and most essential skill for our political leaders, and he does it better than most. But, do your homework. Because he has done his. If you are quoting an article, or a piece of research, make sure the research is real and the sources exist. Kalen is sharp, and he will suss out flim-flam pretty quick.

Kalen is honest: He and I met when we were 10 years old (I think. Maybe we were 11? One of the two). We made it through the rocky middle school years, through high school when we were all trying different things, and into adulthood. On many occasions as a kid, I witnessed Kalen stand up for the truth even when a lie would have been more expedient. As an adult, he has learned the wonderful art of addressing what is real without alienating people. If only more people in politics today could do such a thing…

Kalen knows when not to take sides: Partisanship is literally killing our country today. I think that it fills a great need within all of us to not feed into the hyper-partisanship that rules our discourse nationally, and instead work to bridge the gaps between all of us Americans. That Kalen is doing the work to bridge the divides locally is exemplified in this excerpt from this article, that notes that he isn’t conforming to the normal business-labor divide that has defined the San Jose city council in the past:

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Kalen is prepared to hear your feedback: Full disclosure here, I volunteered a bit on his 2012 campaign for the school board of the Campbell Union High School District. I may have donated to that campaign as well (I don’t remember, sorry). What impressed me then, and continues to impress me, is the technical apparatus he has set up to make sure that he is able to hear feedback from his constituents. I don’t know how he’s done it exactly, but Kalen consistently reads and cites the emails and messages he receives through his work as an elected official. As someone who goes through life with 16,000+ unread emails, I find that nearly astounding.

Kalen is not beholden to special interests: And someone is scared about that. I don’t have to tell you how corrupt politics in America have become. This is a well worn truth at this point. Kalen can prove that he is more interested in serving his constituents than any special interests. He has a track record of doing so. As someone who has known him for about 25 years now, since we were both kids, I can tell you that this is a deeply held principle for Kalen. This is nowhere near some sort of political stunt. That being the reality, someone is using special interest funds to smear Kalen. He breaks it down best here. The blatant lies and misrepresentations that are being shared throughout San Jose just for a city council position are both sad and embarrassing.

Kalen is effective: I think Kalen best summarizes how he did as a member of the school board for our old high school here, from his website:

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I included that last sentence on purpose. I truly think that Kalen is finding the path forward in American politics beyond the divisiveness of today. I think we should encourage that, and embark on that path ourselves.

Please folks, if you know anyone who lives in western San Jose – share this with them or tell them about Kalen’s campaign. We need to be putting more good people in office.

I Think Our Leaders are Failing Us

Let me be more specific: People want to feel like the leaders in their life have their back.

I’ve got a hypothesis, but I have no real way to test it out besides testing it on you folks. So here goes: I think that there is a large portion of the population (in this country at least) that does not experience being served by the leadership in their life the way they want to be served.

This article’s incredible image is courtesy of my friend Joshua Coffy. Check out his work here.

Let me be more specific: People want to feel like the leaders in their life have their back.

And for most of us, at least at work, that experience is lacking. The other aspects of leadership are important as well. You need good strategy, tactics, and execution. You need to make sure that money continues to flow into your organization. There is a lot of expertise to accumulate and decisions to navigate as the leader of an organization. If your organizational leadership is highly innovative and pushes their team to innovate as well, that is great.

But how many organizations are going to have your back when the shit hits the fan? How many organizations do the work to make sure you are deployed in a way that inspires you and gets the best work out of you? How many organizations make sure you are getting paid a wage that works for you? How many work with you during organizational changes to make sure that your needs are also met?

Heck, how many organizations listen to feedback from their front line staff – the people who make everything work on a day to day basis? How many actively develop the talents of the folks already working for them, so when greater expertise is needed they can call on people who already have knowledge of the inner workings of the organization?

How many organizations make sure that there is enough institutional knowledge among their staff that there is always someone to train people who are ready to grow? How many organizations are constantly trying to cut labor costs, or cut front line staff costs so they can show a bigger profit and/or give their leadership bigger bonuses?

HOW MANY ORGANIZATIONS EVEN TAKE THE TIME TO TRAIN PEOPLE PROPERLY?!?

My thinking is that this is a big thing that is missing in the development of leadership today. That is, that people who are leading organizations don’t receive training in how to handle the fact that they aren’t just running a company or a non-profit – that they are in a leadership role in a community. That they are responsible for the health of the community, and the health of that community as well as the people inside of it often determines the health of the organization. That if you, as a business or non-profit leader, don’t realize that you are also in charge of nurturing a community you are missing the point.

I know that there is a line of thinking among some capitalists that labor should be interchangeable. But if labor is interchangeable, that means that any one person doesn’t matter. Everyone wants to matter, in their day-to-day life. They want to be treated like they matter.

I myself have seen firsthand what happens when employees feel like their leadership has their back, and it’s a beautiful thing. The things that I’ve seen those teams accomplish have been off the charts. It didn’t take fancy management training, or some whiz-bang consultant. It just took making sure everyone knew that the leadership had their back.

I would argue that political leaders in our country understand this. That they make sure segments of the population believe that they are going to have their back. The issue there is that they are often only playing to certain segments. But that’s another blog for another day…

My experience is only anecdotal. I’m not totally sure how this could be tested on a larger scale, even though I’m sure it could. What I’m looking for, for those of you who have stuck with this post this far, is more anecdotal evidence. Do you feel like leadership having your back is missing for you too, or missing for people around you? Have you experienced what it was like to feel totally supported by the leadership in your organization, and what was it like for you?

 

PS: Don’t take this as any way influenced by my new job. I frickin love my new job (more on that later). But I am at the point where I see this everywhere, when almost everyone opens their mouths to talk about their work. It’s been on my mind quite a bit, so I figure it’s time to put it out there.

This Might Be the Best Sunday of Football Ever

A couple of days ago, a friend of mine asked “What keeps your faith in the world?”

It’s days like today. Seeing, of all things, NFL players taking a knee together during the national anthem today is what keeps my faith. After Trump said anyone who kneels should be fired… as if kneeling is any disrespect to the national anthem.

I don’t remember being so moved by football.

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I honestly don’t remember being so proud to be American. Not about anything that happened in my lifetime. Seeing so many Americans kneeling against divisiveness. Kneeling to remind the country that too many black people are dying at the hands of police.

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Seeing so many people back the kneelers, or at least stand up for their right to kneel.

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I’m proud to see America finally show it’s true colors. It always takes a crisis…