WARNING: This is a political post. I know not all of my friends are the bleeding heart liberal as I identify. I know there are Trump supporters in my list. I know there are Johnson supporters. I know there are people who support Jill Stein and not Hillary.
I am called to cheer this election though. I am so thrilled to be casting my ballot for Hillary Clinton. I first became aware of Hillary when I was a freshman in high school. She was the wife of the saxophone playing, democratic presidential candidate, another white man in a long list of white men along side and before him. I remember thinking how different she was than Nancy Reagan, who I thought of as proper and a proponent of the DARE program that visited my school in 6th grade. But, Hillary, she was a LAWYER. Law is a profession I have long admired. And she was a woman lawyer, something that felt rare and unattainable.
Then came the scandals, and I felt horrified for this graceful woman who stood there, and watched as the scandals lit fires around. I remember her being graceful above it all.
I have since learned that Hillary has been a long time proponent of issues affecting women and children. Issues affecting women and children are central to my life then and now. And she is one that has stood tall to defend and strengthen and empower. Women, children, and healthcare. Issues she has now worked on for DECADES.
Today, I am voting. Today, I am voting in a state that does “vote by mail”, so I can get my ballot in early. It’s not electronic, it’s paper, and it will be counted by hand and aided by machine. And, today, I am proudly casting my vote for a slew of women candidates. Hillary, Chloe, and Teressa.
I had the opportunity to view a special showing of Cottonwood in the Flood, Saturday, June 11 at the International Firehouse Cultural Center (IFCC). Bottom line: two thumbs up, beautiful exploration of history through the lens of one family.
I graduated from Portland State University in 2008 (unbeknownst to me, it started as Vanport College). In my studies, which focused on urban planning, community development, and geography, Vanport was mentioned a few times. It can be summarized thus: ship building, segregation, and a big flood. The conversation was sometimes the start of tracking a history of Portland race relations where, often, poor and black found themselves the object of eminent domain (Memorial Coliseum, Legacy-Emmanuel Hospital, I-5 corridor), and most recently the increase of gentrification in North Portland. What was never clear to me was where Vanport was, who it really affected, and how we could have let something like this happen with the flood.
A friend in housing-social justice recommended I see Cottonwood in the Flood, so when the opportunity presented itself, I had to say yes.
Cottonwood in the Flood, written by local playwright Rich Rubin and directed by local artist Damaris (rhymes with “glamorous”) Webb, was a beautiful collage of local headlines, radio reports, and relevant history, knit together through the story of one family. The companion piece is the exhibit IFCC hosted on their second floor gallery, where you can see maps, local headlines, and other stories about what happened in Vanport.
What happened in Vanport – it has ended with a muddled history and retelling, until now. For example, to give a nod to the suffering, there is a display on one of the transit stops giving space for the history where it happened. It would be like taking all the suffering of Hurricane Katrina and siphoning it to one train stop. A train stop that has a particular audience, is off the beaten bath, and you have to be in the know to know it’s even there.
Thanks to people like Damaris Webb and Rich Rubin, along with the actors in the play and their community partners, we can explore this complex history more fully. Rich Rubin’s play, Cottonwood in the Flood, explores the allure of hope and a better way for a family under the cloud of war. His play explains the changing tensions, the unfairness, the subtle racisms, the overt racisms, the government double speak, while telling it through a family you easily fall in love with. Grandpa, mom, dad, and two brothers, who all they want is a better life where they can achieve their own human potential. It’s their story of how they navigate the social constraints, how it affects their moods, their livelihoods, and how they overcome … or don’t.
I spent four years at Portland State, and I never got a comprehensive story of what Vanport was. Two hours plus a 30 minute discussion, and I finally have a working understanding of the hope, the devastation, and the work we have to do to never forget.
According to Renner, we are. In his piece, he gives a surface glance at a solution of preventable care. So, imagine my surprise when I skim over to The Atlantic, to find what I had been reading in hard copy, and I come across Andy Hinds article describing the necessary ridiculousness of exercise (“Your Workout Looks Ridiculous“). Do you exercise? What is your favorite version? For my part, I always hope to do better at (as in restart the routines even) swimming, walking, and biking.
These are all well and good – surface discussions into how we can create a more sustainable society by encouraging fitness on every level. But, I was really reading about labels. I was reading about the DSMMD downgraded Asperger’s – no longer making it a certifiable thing (“Letting Go of Asperger’s“).
On the book side, I am finishing (or working on) The Defining Decade, The 12 Tribes of Hattie, Confessions of a Shopaholic, The Enneagram: Understanding yourself and others in your life, What Type of Leader Are You? Using the Enneagram System to Identify and Grow your Leadership Strengths and Achieve Maximum Success, and Your Seven-year-old: Life in A Minor Key. Recently, I finished K Is for Killer: A Kinsey Millhone Mystery. On the shelf, waiting to be read include The Story of My Assassins and Bad Religion: How We Became A Nation of Heretics.
Sometimes I think I’m addicted to books. I have to have a steady stream coming in from the library and from Amazon. I need to smell them, touch them, feel them. I need to absorb their words and ideas within. So, the above mentioned ideas are on the continued quest for understanding myself and the world in which I live – compared to and along with those around me. Coupled with the fiction to take me away from this world and understand a time or a place not generally known to me. The never ending expansion of ideas that make our world interesting, rich with content, and enable us to grow.
Writing prompts are a godsend when one doesn’t want to divulge too much about their day-to-day, yet exercise the thought connections – words, texts, paragraphs, brain synopses, how it all flows together. I’ve used Plinky previously, but their topics don’t always resonate. So, happily, I checked out WordPress’s Daily Post, Writing Prompt, and yesterday, this is what I discover.
Every city and town contains people of different classes: rich, poor, and somewhere in between. What’s it like where you live? If it’s difficult for you to discern and describe the different types of classes in your locale, describe what it was like where you grew up — was it swimming pools and movie stars, industrial and working class, somewhere in between or something completely different (See more here.)
I followed a boy here, but he was just the catalyst. I had always dreamed about living in the Pacific Northwest. After watching Singles, I had this idea of perpetual fall – my favorite season – and if Michigan wasn’t doing it for me, then where else could I go? This boy afforded me the reason to move – we were in love. Well, the relationship didn’t last, but my love affair with Portland has.
I moved here in 2003. I was told I didn’t need a car because the bus service was amazing. I heard stories of a hippies paradise, and what I found was that I no longer had to argue about recycling. There were interesting things on every corner – Portlandia adorned a building that looks like a present, it rained blossoms in the springtime, there was art in the parks like Washington DC, and people even painted the streets to slow down traffic. The bus came, frequently, so I didn’t even own a car for the first 3 years I was here – relying on my feet, my seat (on a bike), the bus, or ZipCar (then FlexCar) to get me where I needed to go. I was in my twenties, and it was a dream. The independence I felt was triumphant, as I continued to go to school and work a full-time job, then about a mile from each place.
When I moved to Portland, I lived in three neighborhoods over the course of three years. I started in southeast, moved across the river to southwest (Corbett / Lair Hill), and finally have made North Portland my home, with my husband, who I met here.
In 2008, I started looking at my neighborhood in more depth. We had lived in Arbor Lodge since 2005, and in that short time, we saw many changes. The Yellow Line Max finished and started running, local favorite health store (New Seasons Markets) opened a store, and the development soured. The boy who brought me here liked to repeat that wherever MAX goes stores turn to gold. And the amount of development that continues to blossom is astonishing.
In 2008, when I was examining the changes in the neighborhood, the rose-colored glasses came off. No longer was I a 20-something who only cared about an organic garden and getting along with my housemates. Now, I was married with a baby. Now, our income reduced because of situations beyond our control. Now, we had to look at things in a leaner light. And, we were surprised. In 2008, we made less than half of the median family income for the area, and we qualified for many services offered in the social safety net. Our housing related costs were 70% of our family budget, well over the HUD recommended for a stable family. But, what could we do? We had a house with a garage and a yard. If we moved we’d be getting a slightly less expensive apartment. So, we stayed, and we got by, and things got better. We stayed in our walkable neighborhood, where we would frequent King Burrito and Walgreens. We stayed in our neighborhood where I could still take the 35 to work, and as our income increased, we started to get more interested in buying a house.
The shock we found. We assessed our income and figured we could afford a $150,000 in 2009. So, began our real estate search. 3 agents later and a month of flea bites to torture my sensitive legs, we decided that buying a house wasn’t in the cards for us. Clearly, we are being priced out of the market since staying on budget was so important to us. The only thing we could afford wouldn’t qualify for a loan!
We waited, and the market changed. Circumstances adjusted so that in 2012, we started our search again. We found a compatible agent who walked us through house after house after house, over the course of about 10 months. We cringed. We looked beyond our price range. And we bemoaned the low inventory. Finally, all the puzzle pieces fell into place, and we found a modest home with sturdy bones, without fleas, that was in our price range. We haggled, we negotiated, we inspected, and we waited. And, on the day before Thanksgiving, we closed on what is now our first house. I know we got a good value for our home, based on the market, the walkability, the neighborhood, and the type.
What I don’t get is why collectively, we let it all get out of hand. We have known we live on a fine line between making it and not making it. We try to plan and budget to make sure we stay on the “make it” side of the line, but like many American families, we’re only a few paychecks away from needing to go back to that social safety net if something bad were to happen. In fact, Kaiser Health News released a report documenting how close we are to being eligible for premium benefits compared to the federal property rate. And, I had thought that we’d been moving forward over the last few years! Now, it seems we’re taking a few steps backwards.
The pundits have talked, since Mitt ran for president, about the growing divide between haves and have nots, and it seems that Portland is one of those key examples of how that divide is working. After considering this writing prompt, I’ve been digging through the census data and collecting some things that have been percolating in my brain for the last few months. And, this is what I found out.
Oh! How Portland has changed over the years! In my first observation, I considered that I moved here in 2003, into the home of a friend who bought her house the year before with her husband. They live in a modest neighborhood, that in the 70s earned the nickname “Felony Flats”. Their modest, 1,200 square foot, 3 bedroom home, with a tiny backyard, and intriguing shared garage increased in value by 35% over the last 10 years. A 35% increase in value seems outrageous to me. The US Inflation Calculator figures that there is a 26% cumulative rise in inflation from 2003 to 2014. So, my friends’ home increased in value 10% over the rise in inflation. Our new home increased 82% from the value of the home in 2003 and the value of the home in 2014 – over 50% higher than the cumulative rise in inflation!
Thinking about housing prices, made me consider income and who holds the wealth in the city. I was able to find a comparison between 1999 and 2012. In 1999, it looks like the wealth was distributed in a fair bell curve, with a bulk of the city’s wealth being held in the middle. In looking at the 2012 data, though, it looks like it’s beginning to distribute up, as if we’re on the beginning of a J curve, giving the haves more resources than the have nots.
That is Portland in a nutshell. You have neighborhoods that appear primarily working class, but the desirability factor continues to price existing residents out. The incomes are distributing away from the lower and middle class towards the upper class. Housing affordability matches the higher incomes. Houses are being torn down and developed into McMansions. The sustainability factor of Portland is decreasing because all the kitschy amenities that make this place great are disappearing.
So, a day in the life of PDX is interesting, because it is in the midst of this change – and I, for one, am not sure where the change will lie when it’s all over.
In my consensus training, we were reminded the importance of stopping and not doing anything. This is in many regards the complete opposite of how we are trained. We are trained to do. We are trained to act. We are trained to keep in motion. We are not trained to stop, to not do anything, and to listen. This takes practice, lots and lots of practice, and it’s hard.
And, unfairly, I expect this trait of the leaders I am to look up to.
I want the blog words of my site to be centered around balance. How do we find the time for our families, for our work, for our volunteering, and for our dreams. Do we? Do I? Is it successful? Ever? When are those successes and how do we celebrate vs. all those times that we chide ourselves for not doing enough?
Action vs. thinking. It’s hard, and it’s hard to stop momentum of action and give the needed time to think. I was reminded the other day of how important, though, this sentiment is to me. I was reminded when I was asked to give up a small unimportant thing that was crucial to my job. I understood the reasoning for it, but the way the thing was, for so long, was good enough, and there was no problem. No complaints. It wasn’t a perfect system, but because it wasn’t wholly broken, the need to fix it, I thought was less important. Giving up the thing adds logistics to an already packed day.
What shocked me was the response. Why it was being acted on, in day four, meeting 1. Why this small thing suddenly, after over a year of not being addressed, it suddenly came to the forefront. Why was this small thing told to be acted upon? She asked me, “You don’t think it’s because I think you’re doing anything wrong do you?” I restated the logistic challenge. I don’t think she was doing anything except responding to what she was told to do.
What I was disappointed in, and I did not have the frame of mind to think of the coherent thoughts that would have put this in a diplomatic way, was to question, “Why, after a year of it being this way, are we acting on it now? Where is the transparency? What don’t you want us to see? Is this a power play by the other whom I already told you was difficult to work with? This feels more like a, ‘I’m putting you in your place,’ rather than doing best for the organization.”
Balancing action vs. thinking is hard. When you have the loud voice, the squeaky wheel declaring that a thing must be done, especially when you are new to a thing, it’s hard to stop. It’s hard to say, “Okay, I hear what you are saying, and I share your concern, but I want to find out why the thing is done the way it is before I go through with your suggestion.” It’s hard because in part it’s confrontational. No one likes confrontation. In fact, many people ask others to do the confronting so they don’t have to when they have to discuss what they decide to be a hard thing! Excuses will be made like, “It’s his/her job,” instead of putting our grown up pants on and saying, “This makes me feel uncomfortable. I don’t understand why the thing is done this way, could you try to explain it to me?”
And, now I am worried. I assumed, perhaps incorrectly, that a trait commonly held over the years was an indicator of stopping and listening. Now, I am worried that similar mistakes of the past are going to be repeated. There is so much potential, so much hope, we need to think about it and envision it before we fully move forward.
We work on, “Don’t just stand there do something.” We need to find ways to incorporate, “Don’t just do something stand there.”
And, now I suppose is my turn to share the lessons of the past. It is my turn to say, “I am worried and this makes me uncomfortable. Can we talk?” I, too, like so many others, dislike confrontation. It makes my stomach knot. It makes me feel worried and distracted. But, I fear for the not-listening, so much. Hoping this will clarify my thoughts.
Following up with yesterday’s post, I want to speak towards managing relationships. We need relationships, we need people in our lives. We need people to laugh with, cry with, eat with, and share life with. Even if it’s because we need a paycheck to get by – someone will be writing that paycheck for you.
So, how do we value those relationships in an honest way? I think there are two rules that guide honesty in relationships. The two most important rules are:
Do onto others as you would have them do onto you (the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31), and
Love thy neighbor as thyself (the second commandment (Mark 12:31, Matthew 22:36-40).
From Christian theology – we are called to love and respect through compassion. I was taught that first we love, and then we do as my mother encouraged, walk in another man’s shoes (for a mile) before we begin to judge. When we walk in another’s shoes, we suffer with them, which means we are called to compassion.
We are all works in progress, but if relationships are driven by love and compassion, their authenticity would rise and our call to make the world a better place would make enormous strides.
So, those are the rules, and here are five examples: three where the rules go wrong and two where they go right.
Example 1: I can’t hear you
They complained to each other. The complained about the conditions, the compensation, the lack of understanding. They didn’t feel respected. They didn’t feel like their experience was honored. They didn’t feel like they were truly given ownership of projects they were tasked with executing. They felt like they were being treated as puppets with multiple masters. And, they didn’t like it. There were various bosses who floated through, even though some had only been there a few months.
The bottom line for these people were their complaints weren’t being heard. They had tried to go through all the proper channels, but they kept getting back to square one. Finally, they were told to just put up or shut up.
The other perspective, for the newcomer was that they were all petulant children. They were throwing tantrums in the work place, and that’s just not how things were done.
In another instance, the employees who tried to make their concerns heard found themselves looking for other work!
The result: the newcomers failed to listen. And, in the other instance, management chose to replace employees, rather than fix issues.
Example 2: I’m smarter than you
He had turned to her for advice. She had been in an important role longer than he, and he needed to hear her story. He was amazed at how much she did, how much she controlled, and with such few resources. The first few months of their relationship, he was in awe of her expertise.
Something changed, and he realized that maybe he grasped things better. Maybe he had more training around their shared interests. Maybe he really did have more experience than he gave himself credit for. The bottom line was that he no longer needed, nor did he want, her advice. The irony was that he was now in a position to influence others whether or not she still had a job.
The result: because he no longer needed her advice, he diminished her expertise and worth and saw her as a disposable employee.
Example 3: Teammate not pulling their weight
She wouldn’t pick up her things. She didn’t attend mandatory work parties. She didn’t communicate with the other members that she had a need. The bottom line was that she was a part of the team, but she was not pulling her weight. They had all agreed to do a certain amount of work, and that work wasn’t forthcoming from her, for months. To the point that her lack of work was becoming a burden on other members.
Another member said, “Someone needs to have an uncomfortable conversation with her, and I’m not sure how that should happen.” To which the reply was, “With compassion.”
The result: shock at the suggestion of yielding to compassion to lead a conversation. The summation: compassion is so far from our thinking that we jump to quitting relationships, and not suffering with someone and building stronger relationships.
Example 4: Compassion in coaching
As a parent, we have a lot of kids DVDs floating through our house, on loan from the library. A recent trend was a slew of Bob the Builder videos. In one video, Lofty the crane’s fear of heights yield crippling results. Instead of switching him out for a better crane, Bob compassionately works through Lofty’s fears to help him be better.
The result: Lofty learned how to overcome his fears, and Bob strengthened his team through compassion. The summation: Bob chose to make a “good employee” out of Lofty by working with him. This helped Bob have a stronger, more loyal team.
Example 5: Listen, please
Last month I read that empathy careers are on the rise. The article summarized that with our emphasis on digital communication, we are losing our face-to-face connections. As such, we are supplementing with therapists of all shapes (massage, physical, psychological) to bartenders and fitness coaches. So much so that these “empathy careers” are expected to be 20% of the jobs by 2020.
The result: We aren’t being listened to so we’re creating a market of listening.
The disheartening realization from examples one through three is that they happen daily. We are so caught up in our daily lives that we forget as leaders we have the power to make tough relationships, great; or turn sour, good relationships. In the busy-ness of it all, we are relegated to low hanging fruit. And, that means the low-hanging fruit of relationships – relationships that are easy, and without conflict. Relationships, leading with compassion and love take time, and we don’t budget that necessary time into our task lists. So, relationships suffer, and then we wonder why we don’t succeed in our goals.
I would like to challenge you, dear reader, to listen more and lead with compassion when giving advice – especially if it’s how to manage a project. We would all be served to lead with curiosity instead of simply reminding people of where they went wrong, how we’re smarter than them, and more mature – which means we don’t have to listen.
I stood in a foot of snow, more than ankle-deep, waiting for the bus. It was late. In fact, two buses could have come and gone in the time it took one to get to me. Bussing was my only mode of transit. I lived over two miles away from work. I budgeted on the bus getting me to work ten minutes early. Living in a snowy climate, I didn’t consider that the bus would be running late, we were in the middle of winter, so this snow storm should have been part of the norm on the transit agency’s planning part. For all intents and purposes, I had planned ahead, done my due diligence, but life happened. And, I was late for work.
My darling supervisor, who was at least three years younger than me, did what she thought best, “Well, you know it’s your responsibility to make sure you get here on time.”
You could see the internal struggle in her eyes.
She wanted to tug at the compassionate side and say, “Oh my! Yes, that snow storm last night really bogged things down! You don’t have a history of being late, so don’t worry about it. I know you tried your hardest to get here. I bet you will not plan on the transit agency being on time next time, eh?”
But, she deferred to what she thought she ought to say. She decided to reprimand me for weather and my inability to control the uncontrollables.
Here, this younger girl, was attempting to give me life lessons on planning. I think I took it in stride, but this situation shaped my continued thoughts around management and what managers really do. In all my varied experience, my experience with managers has had a slim look. All the managers I’ve dealt with have been more task managers instead of coaches.
I want to meet the coaches. I want to meet the ones who are, as Apple likes to brag, people leaders. People who have their own shit together enough that they can lead by example compassionately.
Sure, we have metrics we need to meet, but we need to balance that with life happening. And, when we are focused on the tasks, and not the people, we relegate our relationships to Boss vs. Employee we might as well say it’s Subordinate and Insubordinate.
I see this play out in ways where managers, instead of complimenting one on all the tasks they have completed, they focus on the incomplete tasks. I see it play out when managers can’t figure out how to straddle the line between boss and wanting to get to know an employee on a deeper level. That is, they find the best practice is to distance themselves from their subordinates to make any possible firing of them easier. You are left with shallow work relationships, which makes any team building exercise futile. By fostering shallow relationships, managers distance themselves from any substantive conversations, which means tackling issues is harder because they haven’t done the work to build trust among their colleagues – only focusing on the trust they have with each other (fellow managers) rather than those they manage. This makes promoting employees to managers even more difficult, because you are asking an employee to change the nature of their relationship with other now former employees. Suddenly, someone who might have asked how your weekend went, and meant it, will only do it shallowly.
An interesting irony is that a few groups, around the town I now call home, have engaged in worker collectives. The idea being that everyone is a manager, because really we are peer-to-peer groups bringing a variety of skills and experience united around a common goal. A few of these collectives have split off, though, and they are left with two teams in the workplace: the original worker collective managing a group of subordinates. Something happened, and they couldn’t support the consensus momentum that got them started. So, they chose to defer to the model we know so well: Boss vs. Employee (Parent vs. Child, Teacher vs. Student).
How do these models, assuming an upper and lower hand, reflect any win-win situations? Playing towards our strengths and having a few people manage the big picture makes sense. But, should they get paid more? How is their job keeping a few people united around a common goal more important than one of their employees engaging directly with the clientele the organization needs to keep business going? Both sets need each other. A manager can’t manage without employees. Employees can be more focused with the right leadership. You don’t become a leader overnight. Leaders need followers. And followers want good examples.