Tag Archives: Society

All Work and No Play, Per Gray

MUST read this piece first to play along: Instead of “Job Creation,” How About Less Work? Increased automation has not reduced our workload. Why not? What if it did? Posted Nov 26, 2016 Peter Gray

This is such a utopian view of a “what if” future perfect that most sane and logical people immediately pooh-pooh it. That’s why I like it. Most of the “we can’t because” boo-birds bring up are excuses, not reasons. But it does take some incredibly visionary thinking to see the possibilities. And it will take some serious work toward big changes to seize the big opportunities.
Gray traces our devolution from hunter-gatherers to beasts of burden serving the 20th century economic model, through the ever-evolving current reality and re-birth where a hunter-gatherer society of child-like play may make sense again.

So, what’s wrong with work?

Start with the disappearing concept of “adding value”. Value to what? Value used to be defined as a product or service that someone would be willing to pay for. But “stuff of value” is more and more produced with high-efficiency automation and very little human labor. What good are we if we aren’t kept busy making or doing value-adding “stuff”?

People must still work for a paycheck to support their families, right? A new generation of work has come along—IT, bottom feeder leisure industry (computer-based games, home entertainment… most folks can’t afford high-end diversions), service jobs (root word: “serve” as in subservient). Financial and insurance sectors have huge numbers of people doing administrivial work—collecting and analyzing mountains of data, creating and issuing all kinds of reports for unknown “users” who immediately delete the work, pushing all kinds of non value-adding info that is intended to help manage something somewhere that actually has “value”. But what value does money and information by itself have? It’s the use of those things that adds value. Armies of other administrators’ existence is somewhat justified because it takes an army to make sense of inefficiencies, disorganization and an overkill of rules and regulations, and it takes a badgillion customer service reps working 24 / 7 trying to keep customers from becoming mass murderers because of those inefficiencies. (why am I thinking “Idiocracy”?)

Huge corporate law firms with huge staffs help huge corporations get away with working huge loopholes in the system to make huge profits so they can pay huge legal fees. The whole loop exists to enable generating non-product with no value. Another army—hired hitmen, lobbyists whose purpose is to grease gears and palms so all that artificial non-value is easier to generate and hoard. A famous longhaired progressive activist once chased money-changers out of the temple. We need another. Oh, just one more army: market researchers, the advertising industry and feet-on-the-street (and cyberspace) sales folks hell-bent on manipulating markets (people!) and packaging and selling non-value stuff.

One of the fads of the process improvement world was “customer focus”–identify customers and what was important to them—their expectations, needs and wants. Then do what’s needed to meet those criteria. The idea was that it would make workers more conscious of what they were doing if there was a real person at the end of their process chain. But what if there was no real person at the end of the chain? Or what if the customer really didn’t care about what you produced, but they had simply been conditioned to buy, buy, buy anyway?

Too many working adults are stuck in a job they can clearly see has no real value in furthering the greater social good, or impacting the grand scheme of things in any way. Work with no purpose. But humans need purpose, need meaning, need to feel they’re making a difference. When there is no purpose, it’s natural for people to get jaded, cynical, uncaring, worn down, worn out, quit, die. We’re dying. What if those stuck in no-value, no-purpose work were redirected toward providing something the world wants and needs? Their individual mojo would be rejuvenated, as would the world’s.

If the Goal is Less Work and More Play, Then What Needs To Change?
Not Much–Just a Few Silly Attitudes and Minor System Tweaks

A few thoughts for starters….

  • Redefine “work” as something with real purpose that adds real value for others and / or improves the condition of the world and / or society. As technological advances and automation takes care of the menial stuff, working on further technological advances adds value because it frees up humanity’s time!
  • No more “I am my job, I am nothing without my job” thinking. Work is a means to a greater end unless a person’s work is something they enjoy that happens to make the world, society, others better. (remember the old Venn diagram on “job happiness”?) My life’s work is to eliminate violence and bullying by championing social-emotional development.
  • Rethink and expand the meaning of “value” from being only a thing / material $$$ transaction-driven concept. Social value and artistic / aesthetic value, environmental and ecological value!
  • Redesign the monetary distribution model of “work 40 hours (or more) to earn your paycheck”. Why does 40+ hours of “work” constitute “full-time employment” anyway?
    There’s not enough meaningful work to go around, because our priority and our passion is profit-generating work. But there’s tons of meaningful “work” opportunities– community, social, environmental, infrastructure things needing attention. Engage people in doing good things, and pay them accordingly. While we’re at it, reinvent “pay”. Money has no value on its own but we literally kill ourselves and others over it. Broader: “currency” is something that is used as a medium of exchange. Exchange of what, for what?
  • Redefine “affluence” from having a lot of stuff for its own sake, to having what you need to be happy…how about “sufficience?” Move past the mindless pursuit of a high standard of living and focus on quality of life instead, starting with defining the individual’s values-based vision of “fulfilled” then right-sizing needs accordingly. Prerequisite: redefine what level of “success” is socially acceptable. So it comes down to an individual values and social perception shift;
  • Rethink brick-in-the wall forced education and the standard curriculum that makes school labor –tedious, compulsory work. Learning should be fun, should come naturally. Same with work;
  • Ditch crass capitalism and profit for its own sake. Demote the 1% and elevate the 99%.
    Scrap our material and transaction-based economy and the norms that go with it, norms like “work hard, get paid, get lots of stuff, support family, be a prolific provider”. Break the trance-the marketing / advertising-driven thirst for conspicuous consumption, material affluence, accumulating stuff that has no real value (see Jagger Consulting’s “Satisfaction” piece);
  • Re-invent corporate entities with the sole purpose of generating profit for investors, corporations with no value-adding meaning justifying their existence! OOPS, need to re-think investors and the investments industry, and making money playing “the market”. There’s those money-changers again! Thinking out loud: how about a reinvestment tax credit, investing in and diverting corporate profits to an approved fund to be used for the greater good?
  • Reinvent government by the people, for the people with people and planet as top priorities;
    Bring back the institutions of Santa Claus and the tooth fairy…

This sound like capitalism must go. I agree, partially—capitalism in its current form is destructive. Money is OK, money does no evil. What people do or don’t do with it is the issue. Let’s get our really smart business people and economists busy reinventing capitalism!)

Gray closes with a challenge: So, instead of trying so hard to preserve work, why don’t we solve the distribution problem (getting paid for a 40hr week as the only way to do things), cut way back on work, and allow ourselves to play?
Good question.


“Solving the distribution problem” isn’t a cakewalk and there’s lots of other stuff that needs to happen too. I’ve shared my quick take of what needs to change just for starters. What’s missing? And how in the world are we going to do all that? Think about these bullets as goal statements then brainstorm: “what’s it gonna take?” And remember, one of the ground rules of brainstorming is “never say it can’t be done.”

(BONUS) Sneak Peek at Klitgaard: a look at basically the same thinking, slightly different angle.

Many people, affluent and poor, lead hectic and harried lives, struggling at jobs devoid of meaning and often socially and environmentally counterproductive (such as weapons manufacture, hydraulic fracturing, or financial speculation) in order to command a paycheck. In a sustainable society, work should be meaningful as well as steady and productive. Meaningful work allows people to unite their heads, their hands, and their hearts. People should have a say in the design of what they make or do, a variety of challenging tasks, and the opportunity for self-direction.
Unfortunately, the logic of capital accumulation has created work that is much the opposite—routine, without mental exercise, let alone purpose or joy—all in the name of producing more goods and services at ever-lower cost.
The Struggle for Meaningful Work

UPDATE: Johan sent a graphic with his reply (below). Since pics cannot be included in replies here it is! I’d like to suggest that on the “Child” side “work” and “play” are more overlapping and very possibly concurrent!

Johan Work and Play



Live Long and Prosper-A Vulcan History Lesson

Logic is the cement of our civilization, with which we ascend from chaos using reason as our guide.” – T’Plana-Hath, Matron of Vulcan Philosophy

Vulcan history is a long journey from ancient civil wars that nearly destroyed Vulcan, to their embracing of logic through the teachings of Surak. Why did Spock’s home planet Vulcan turn its back on emotions in deference to logic?

Vulcans were once barbaric, war-like and “nearly killing themselves off with their own passions“. As half-human Spock put it “Vulcan, like Earth, had its aggressive, colonizing period; savage even by Earth standards. There was a time in the past when we were an extremely violent race. We nearly destroyed ourselves. Paranoia and homicidal rage were common.” A small group of early Vulcans, reported to be liberals, began to mentally train themselves to suppress their emotions.

None too soon. Vulcan was tearing itself apart. Rampant emotions and a hostile warrior culture led to many widespread wars using terrible weapons like atomic bombs and the Stone of Gol. But the philosopher Surak made a radical proposition: lead a life governed by logic rather than emotion. His teachings showed Vulcans a path towards peace and they quickly spread. Spock reflected on the shift to logic: “We were once wildly emotional, committed to irrationally opposing points of view, leading, of course, to death and destruction. Only the discipline of logic saved my planet from extinction.

Vulcans are not natural paragons of emotionless logic. They are actually far too emotional for their own good. Their natural disposition is quite earthly human: erratic, volatile and quick to anger. So they go to great lengths to suppress their natural feelings with disciplined mind control. The Vulcan embracing of logic includes an iron discipline about feelings – an almost Buddhist extermination of the ego, freeing the person from illogical emotional impulses.

Spock was only half-Vulcan, the offspring of a human schoolteacher and a Vulcan father. This created a deep, ongoing and powerful conflict between logic and emotion, described by Earth counterpart Leonard Nimoy as … “struggling to maintain a Vulcan attitude, a Vulcan philosophical posture and a Vulcan logic, opposing what was fighting him internally, which was human emotion.”

Of my friend, I can only say this: of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most… human. (Kirk’s eulogy for Spock)

The Vulcan culture survived and thrived. End of history lesson.

(Two sources for Vulcan history: http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Vulcan_history  and http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/the-vulcan-way-how-to-live-long-and-prosper-1672660.html

Is There a Lesson?

Earth is embroiled in civilization-threatening conflict. The dark side of our emotional human nature is becoming more and more dominant with greed, power-grabbing, corruption, indifference to others, brutal killings, senseless wars that are somehow always logically or morally justified.

But the Vulcan civilization survived a similar crisis and thrived. What can we learn from our distant homo sapiens cousins? Must we also banish emotions in deference to logic?

Earth’s humans face a dual threat: 1) rampant emotions and whacked out values fueling phobias and paranoia, hatred, bigotry, “me first” nationalism; and 2) blunt-force logic: cold, calculating, it’s-only-business, inhuman disregard for others in deference to profit, possessions  and power.

There’s a significant difference between Earth’s and Vulcan’s strain of homo sapiens. Our issue is more complex than Vulcans faced. Earth’s science community has determined that social-emotional attributes are what makes Earth humans human. Our emotional, impulsive, intuitive side is our redeeming quality, but it may also become our downfall.

Human emotion is as essential to our survival as the physical environment. We thrive on intangibles like sense of purpose, living by our values, healthy personal relationships, belonging / being part of a strong community. As social well-being has been found to intertwine with physical well-being these are critical to sustaining the species. It’s also been verified that social-emotional well-being drives achievement and success, as well as physical health and longevity.

But there’s a down side to strong emotions rooted in the way the brain and body interact.

Emotional input or negative experiences trigger a highly sensitized involuntary fear response that is so strong it can block out logical thought. These negative external stimuli can trigger brain trauma which causes the involuntary reactions due to our “fight or flee” instinct.  A traumatized brain can be a tired, hungry, worried, rejected, or detached brain which causes a person to have feelings of isolation, worry, angst, and fear.

When a threat, either real or perceived, is felt the brain and body both prioritize survival. Both go through changes to enable rapid scanning for physical warning signs and emotional signals of unsafe conditions.  We react to signals physiologically, our irritated limbic system increases blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration with an excessive secretion of stimuli—cortisol and adrenaline—pumping through our bodies.

We’ve long known about the potential physical damage from stress responses. Chronic activation of this fear response can damage parts of the brain as well as the body due to elevated stress levels. While humans are naturally social creatures that thrive on and crave social connection and attachment to others, if we encounter physical or emotional danger problem solving, reflection, and emotional regulation are compromised and diminished.

(Brain theory information is from Brains in Pain Cannot Learn! )

So, What’s a Human To Do?

For humans, our emotions are a good thing. We cannot survive without them. But an over-leveraged strength can become a weakness. So, how do we embrace our emotional strengths while keeping them in check? Mindfulness and meditation, even at a very basic level, can do wonders. So can rediscovering our true selves (purpose values, norms, belonging…). But body and mind are one system. So don’t forget the bean sprouts. And sensible exercise too. It’s not all esoteric pixie dust.

Humanity’s struggle to harness our emotions is a matter of species survival. Thankfully, there is a broad and potentially powerful awakening underway. Live long and prosper ….indeed! As Spock would exclaim, with one pointed eyebrow raised for added emphasis…. “Fascinating!”

We’re All On (or off!) the Same Bus (updated 8-11)

Experience and environment shapes our attitudes, beliefs and knowledge base. So I need to share a wee bit about my background as it has everything to do with the following.

     I’m a private sector / education hybrid, and I’ve been in diverse roles in both worlds. “People and process improvement practitioner” is a fitting byline. While I love playing around with cool theories, I’m proud that I’ve earned that last “p” in the eyes of my peers. And I’ve had a blast on this journey of many winding paths that have somehow merged into one big superhighway.

    I died and went to heaven when Senge came out with the Fifth Discipline, especially Vol. II, the Fieldbook for practitioners. It expanded my world view as well as my personal purpose and goals. It’s been one gigantic “AHA” moment that I’ve tried to break down into digestible chunks here.      

     The AHA’s that follow are universally relevant Indisputable Truths. At least I think so.

     After I finished writing this, another “AHA” came along…I make a big deal out of personal values—each of our non-negotiable beliefs. These AHA’s should be an important part of my personal beliefs system. Going back through them, that’s a correct assessment.

    Learning new stuff is one of my long-time core values. I hope it’s not a personality disorder, but I am into a whole lot of different things. Thankfully, by finally understanding the systems view they are all part of one big story.  I’ve been writing lately about education and social improvement, but the essays still have manufacturing roots. Sometimes I’ll call out those connections, but other times they must be discovered by you. But they’re there. Best practices come from unlikely sources. Benchmark everything and shamelessly steal what you can put to good use (another Universal Truth?)

Are You On the Bus, or Off the Bus?

On the Bus2

This “on the bus” thing is not in the same context as Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters and their infamous adventures on Further the Magic Bus. Our bus has left the bus stop and those who are on board are having a ball. Others were just a little late, they’re running behind the bus trying desperately to catch the driver’s attention but to no avail. Still others are sitting patiently on the bus stop bench, waiting for another bus that may or may not come. A few folks are clueless there’s even a bus, they’re nose-down searching for Pokemon. Right off the cliff….

A Few of My Indisputable Truths—What Are Yours?

What’s the priority order? Not sure, because they’re part of one big system. Each impacts the others and point of entry is beside the point. Dig into the relationships and feel free to make up your own connections and add your own Indisputable Truths—that’s half the fun.

Profound Knowledge and Systems Thinking.  From the Deming Institute: Dr. Deming ….defined a system as a network of interdependent components that work together to try to accomplish the aim of the system. The aim for any system should be that everybody gains, not one part of the system at the expense of any other. In a business context this includes shareholders, customers, suppliers, employees, the community and the environment. (Google “Deming Institute profound knowledge” for the Tolstoy version)

I was already a long-time Deming fan, but his System of Profound Knowledge struck a nerve with me.  Then Peter Senge really got me going with his popularization of systems thinking in the Fifth Discipline. What really hooked me was that all that was so contrary to operations managers’ obsession over production-first starting with Taylor’s scientific management, which broke down a process into the most basic repetitive, mind-numbing tasks possible, all in the interest of high volume mass production.

The reinforcing loop diagram below is one example of a system where everything is connected, and all the seemingly isolated components impact one another. We must better understand the interrelationships and the nature of often-hidden impacts if we are to truly resolve our issues.

Process is Process– they all run (or don’t run) by the same basic rules and constraints. My output is someone’s input–my customer. Customer expectations rule. Customers reward suppliers that meet their needs and expectations, and punish those that do not. Basic market-driven economics.

Continuous Improvement is not an option. If you don’t continuously get better customers…and life…pass you by and doesn’t look back. No growth leads to stagnation > atrophy > death. This applies to work processes, meeting expectations, personal growth and lifelong learning.

To Understand It Break It Down, Put It Back Together. Soldiers’ lives depend on knowing their weapon. They learn very early to break it down and put it back together to understand each little component in the context of the entire weapon, and understand the larger, interrelated system. But that’s too much work, right? You have more important stuff to do, right?

If you don’t reach that deep level of understanding, you’ll be continuously putting out the same fires. You may think they’re out, but the embers will smolder and eventually burst back into flames.

Address Root Cause. My favorite “duh” expression: “I know how to fix this. I’ve dealt with it bunches of times before.” Really? You evidently haven’t really accomplished much, have you?

People are People. Young and old, we’re driven by the same basic needs and hold the same human values…at least we all start out at the same place until our unique environments start messing with our humanity. It stands to reason that since we’re all driven by the same things….

“People are People” Applies Globally. No religion, race, ethnicity or nationality is different enough that it’s worth shunning, hurting or killing each other. One race: Humanity. One citizenship: Planet Earth.

Engagement is Engagement. Engagement addresses human needs and appeals to basic human values, with a tweak: what engages me is driven by those values that are most important to me and by my purpose in life, whether I’m aware of them or they’re lurking in the shadows. So engagement works for those who have not been totally led astray from the basic needs and values package. Here’s the payback:  emotional well-being -> reduced stress levels -> physical well-being -> a healthier, longer, more satisfying life. Solid enough WIIFM for you?

Have you taken the time and effort to identify and really understand your personal values? Do you have a clear purpose in life? What you don’t know can kill you before your time is up.

Engagement Theory is Universally Relevant. Why do we suboptimize its potential by limiting engagement to the workplace? Except for a few minor cultural differences, Rules of Engagement cross all geographic and demographic boundaries. See Time to Re-think Engagement especially the Universal Attributes section.

People Before Process. Well-adjusted, satisfied people perform better–young learners, adults, citizens. Ignore personal needs and you’ll never realize the highest possible achievement levels or resolve process issues and achieve those precious desired results. Not long-term. Well-adjusted young people and parents have stronger family relationships.

Well-adjusted students achieve higher academic goals. Well-adjusted workers give their employers maximum effort and deliver maximum results. Well-adjusted citizens freely give their all to community betterment.

Still, we’re obsessed with demanding that people do their stuff as efficiently as possible with little concern for the human issues. We’re really missing the boat on this one….

I Determine Social Norms, Shape Culture. Our individual values and beliefs systems are shaped by our environment and experiences. And social norms emerge from the collective of individual beliefs systems and individual values when they are shared by enough people. Notice the loop?

This means norms can be intentionally shaped, if a large enough group of individuals has common values and beliefs taught to them and continuously reinforced. Manipulative? Yes, if the wrong norms are promoted for the wrong reasons. Safeguard: people will resist a mismatch!

Current State: politely, our social norms, collective values and beliefs are anemic. We’ve had a systemic diluting of the influence held by the institutions that once drove norms: education, religion, family. Without some kind of central direction there is moral chaos and anarchy, with the strongest-willed person or power cartel taking control. We’re there right now.

Bullying is Bullying whether kids or adults, power corporations and governments. Grabbing all the power they can, picking on other allegedly weaker or inferior players…bullying is a finely honed weapon, a slimy art form, a highly destructive force. We will never effectively address bullying at any level until we attack the anemic norms and non-values that make it “OK” to bully.

Stewardship is Serious Business. “As a human being I acknowledge that my well-being depends on others, and caring for others’ well-being is a moral responsibility I take seriously.” If the Dalai Llama buys it, stewardship is good enough for me….

Stewardship used to be all that, the hippest of the hip leadership trends. But it’s faded from view. Stewardship must become a shared human value, and not just a trait owned by leaders. We must all be stewards first and foremost, taking guardianship of our future seriously.

I pledge allegiance to the earth and all the life which it supports. One planet, in our care, irreplaceable With sustenance and respect for all.

Stewardship of others and stewardship of this planet that is (so far) allowing us to exist is a survival issue of the highest order. Humanity is unsustainable without stewardship NOW. If we don’t kill each other off first, Mother Earth will eventually get tired of our crap and evict us. And it won’t be homelessness but extinction. Argue the point, please. It may help me feel better about our chances if we don’t take a radical course of action. But I doubt it.

A Few To-Do’s

Based on my values, beliefs system and these indisputable truths, here are a few things I am focused on. It’s tempting to stretch for that one silver bullet that encompasses all. My one all-consuming project right now is promising in that respect. But the hugeness is daunting, so I need to break it down and put it back together again, to understand all the moving parts. Then, find the engagement levers that will recruit champions to the cause. Working on it!

  1. Educators: understand and meet the needs of customers in the marketplace. Employers, communities, students, parents: what are their expectations? Don’t treat them like they are captive consumers of your product—graduates—just because they are.
  2. Flip priority from process / doing stuff to people. Proven over and over, if you don’t tend to people issues first, you’ll never achieve maximum performance and results. It starts with kids in school, continues to the workplace and community—all ages, all stakeholders.
  3. Leverage the power of engagement systemically. Engagement boosts performance. Piecemeal efforts suboptimize engagement’s potential. Applications: young students and adult employees—and not just in school and the workplace, but social and community engagement as well. And don’t forget seniors. This is a universal, global opportunity!
  4. We need systems thinkers. Understand process–what’s upstream and downstream, not just what you do. Understand how your process interacts with others (the diagram is an example). Systems thinking makes sense even for young learners.
  5. Rediscover Our Humanity. Stewardship, acceptance and inclusion, purpose and values must be ingrained across the board. It’s not so difficult because it’s human nature, the way it’s supposed to be. We must reconnect with our selves, others, our planet.

If you’re not familiar with NCIS Agent Gibbs’ Rules, here’s Rule #1: “there’s always more rules”. And Rule #2: “every rule has exceptions.” Enough for now, except for those you add.

Here’s an example of a reinforcing loop, one of the building blocks of systems thinking.

5-5 Coalition Loop

Remove “Young” from the top box to supercharge the loop



I wish I didn’t even think about these things. It gets me nothing but a splitting headache short-term, and long-term it frustrates and terrifies me. But I’m a fairly well-informed, caring human being, not an ostrich. Really, really need some help figuring this out.

The message here is grass roots…plant seeds! Start small, network and grow. Tiny pebbles that will create ripples in the pond. All that is fine and good, but my greatest fear is that the progress that has been made will be slowly strangled by the powers that be. WE need to keep it alive. How? A little help, please?

It’s been a natural evolution: information flow via the internet; transportation; global trade and economic interdependencies; mobile populations. The world has shrunk. We cannot avoid or stop globalization. Sure, there are issues-big ones. But we can’t retreat, can’t hide from them. Yet, there’s a huge groundswell of nationalist reaction, notably Trump and Brexit. Supporters of neither appear to really understand what and who they are supporting.

Two opposing world-wide camps—for lack of better terms, global thinkers vs. nationalists. “Nationalist” doesn’t reference a country allegiance in this respect, nationalist allegiance is to power, control, $$$. “Vs” because it truly is a monumental battle. Now in power: the nationalist establishment elites. Big business and unfettered capitalism, politicians, the filthy rich. Splinter religious groups, including radical Islamist terrorists are “our way or off with their heads”. Me-first, short-term view, instant gratification, work the system for political / personal / corporate gain. No concern for people or planet, only profit and more power.

Then there are global thinkers…We the People of the Planet. Grass roots, a growing consciousness of no-borders connectedness among the masses. Sustainability of humanity, and the environment. Social AND economic well-being and prosperity for all. Long-term view.

It would be interesting-no, scary-to compare the occurrence of mental health / emotional problems, maybe even the suicide rate between….

  1. Global thinkers who can’t save the world or even impact positive change; and
  2. Nationalists who don’t have the money, bombs or other clout to get their way.

Just my opinion, the nationalist perspective will force us into a non-traditional world war three. What am I saying?! We’re already fighting WWIII….

Just one tiny piece of the puzzle was noted in a recent Forbes article Unless It Changes, Capitalism Will Starve Humanity By 2050

“Fund managers at global financial institutions own the majority (70%) of the public stock exchange. These absent owners have no stake in the communities in which the companies operate. Furthermore, management-controlled equity is concentrated in the hands of a select few: the CEO and other senior executives.”

The problem: the only focus is a relentless drive toward profit, short-term at that. If a company doesn’t “perform”…aka make insane quarterly profits…fund managers move investors’ money to another entity that doesn’t mind selling humanity down the river for Big Bucks NOW. And the CEO doesn’t get a fat bonus. No thought of sustaining the company much less humanity or the planet.

Democracies around the world are failing and the masses are beginning to notice. From an insane level of corporate media influence over current affairs to science denial and rigged political elections both driven by deep-pocket special interests….control lies with the nationalist elite power brokers. People are more aware and are flat-out fed up. Is all-out class warfare next? If so, we’re David with a slingshot going up against a regiment of Goliaths.

Yes, it’s a battle. Bitter, winner-take-all, the future of the world and humanity are on the table.

A global thinker feels a deep sense of moral responsibility. If there is a crisis in one corner of the world it must be addressed with a concerted effort from the rest of the world. We have an abundance of resources and ingenuity yet the refugee crisis, genocide, epidemics, widespread famine, climate change are allowed to go unchecked.


On a localized scale the US is (allegedly) the most prosperous, powerful, affluent country in the world. Yet poverty, hunger, medical and mental health care, homelessness are major domestic issues. Why can’t just some of our abundance of resources and ingenuity be dedicated to at least partially alleviating those problems?

Because we’re in the grips of a nationalist / me-first mindset. And that nationalist perspective is a global force. And the nationalist keeps the suffering many conveniently out of sight.

We’re not talking Robin Hood or embracing socialism or some weird spirituality. We need a shift in perspective. But unfortunately that requires a shift in power from the nationalist establishment elite to a broad base of global collaboration, cooperation and above all….consciousness. HOW can we tip the scales?

Two major areas we must exert influence over–the education and communication systems: what we learn and what is constantly reinforced. Big problem. “They” control both. “We” need to start impacting even little slivers of what we can in these two systems for starters.

  • Education reform: push for curriculum enhancements, adding coursework that builds environmental and civic savvy and global citizenship; human values-based attributes like acceptance and inclusion and other social-emotional competencies. DANGER: the establishment powers are dead-set against it, obsessing over STEM which only prepares cannon fodder for the establishment machine;
  • Challenge mainstream media disinformation with social media. Don’t discount the power of starting local, growing scope and a network of support. Awareness fed by real, credible information is an incredibly empowering thing. But again, establishment media rules supreme. So we need to dredge out alternative channels. Less reach means more “little” effort needed.

Just my thoughts on the fly. Need yours—how can WE change the world?

Plant Seeds! Grass Roots, Critical Mass

Bernie’s social revolution mobilized and somewhat organized millions of people around the world. Imagine if only some of those people were to continue following…better yet, leading… the call?

If the movement continues, what will it look like? Bigger is not necessarily better. My most active, passionate FB friend complained that it’s impossible for contributions to be recognized on Bernie’s official FB page. You need connections, need to “be somebody”. “Big” cannot survive in anarchy. Big requires some sort of structure, a hierarchy of organizers and decision-makers. Structure calls for defined roles and rules. Individuals easily get lost in the bigness,  and there is a danger of a grass roots organization becoming what it despises….the establishment.

It’s probably a bad correlation, but look at how terrorist networks are organized. Or if you prefer, consider the CIA or your favorite clandestine operation that engages in black ops stuff. Typically small cells of operatives connected by a common vision and shared values that carry out their mission independently, often even without awareness of other cells’ specifics.

The only chance we have of taking our world back is to become the irresistible force that may stand a chance going up against the immovable object. It’s a Herculean task, the Nationalist elite establishment has a tight grip and is scary bad powerful. We don’t even know the extent.

The older you get the less time you have to piss away. I’m impatient as hell, I want change yesterday. But just one perspective at a time can do wonders. I love Humans of New York. This came from one of HONY’s global excursions, to Hunza Valley, Pakistan.

Before education, we knew only how to work. It was always very quiet in our home. My grandfather was a laborer, but he paid to send my father to a tutor so that he could learn to read. He told my father that, if nothing else, he should begin by learning how to read and write his name.

When I was born, my father taught me how to read. I started with local newspapers. I learned that our village was part of a country. Then I moved on to books. And I learned that there was an entire world around this mountain. I learned about human rights. Now I’m studying political science at the local university. I want to be a teacher.

The first of many great reader comments: “Imagine what he will pass on to his own children.” Imagine, indeed.


The Business Case for Engagement and Social-Emotional Learning

(LONG! Lots of ground to cover!)

It’s usually not easy to irrefutably link soft stuff like leadership, values and engagement to the bottom line. But a significant body of research from the past 20 years establishes a clear connection between level of engagement and performance improvement, in a broad range of businesses.  And there are more and more actionable tactics validated as effective in enabling people to fully engage.

In Time to Supercharge Our Engagement Thinking  the case was made that character development and social-emotional learning can logically be considered in the same big bucket as engagement. The attributes are the same. Social-emotional factors and high-engagement enablers are equally relevant in the private sector, community, and classroom. The findings and impact data that follow are mostly from the private sector. It stands to reason that impacts should be equally impressive regardless of demographic.

The Standard

Research conducted in 1998 by the Gallup organization set out to quantify the relationship between responses to twelve statements (Q12), and productivity, profitability, and retention specifically. The sample was large: 2,500 business units, 105,000 employees. The findings: business units scoring higher on five Power Statements realized 50% higher productivity; 44% more profit; 13% higher retention

 The Power Statements:

  • I know what is expected of me at work.
  • The mission / purpose of my company make me feel my job is important.
  • I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
  • Someone at work cares about me as a person.
  • There is someone at work who encourages my development.

While Gallup’s Q12 is the recognized engagement benchmark, later studies validate those early findings:

  • The Global Workforce Study by Towers-Perrin (2007) showed that companies with high engagement levels had an Earnings Per Share growth rate of 28% opposed to low engagement companies which showed an 11.2% decline in EPS in the same period.
  • Further Gallup research found that companies with engagement scores in the top 25% had an EPS growth rate of 2.6 times greater than those companies that scored below average.
  • The Gallup Management Journal’s 2005 Q3 survey found that 23.3 million of US workers 18 and older (roughly 17%) are actively disengaged. Gallup estimated that lower productivity of these workers costs the US economy about $370bil a year.
  • BlessingWhite’s The State of Employee Engagement 2008 found that 29% of the North American workforce is fully engaged, while 19% are actively disengaged. The study also shows a strong correlation between engagement levels and retention: 85% of engaged employees indicated they planned to stick with their employer, compared to only 27% of disengaged employees.  The report for 2010 showed little change, same for 2013. Why have we hit a plateau?


How important is retention? The study by BlessingWhite noted above and others all propose that employees are more and more peeking their heads out of the foxhole they’ve been hunkered down in due to tough economic conditions over the past several years. Even high performing, highly engaged people that a company can least afford to lose are getting braver about looking around.

Will they stay or will they go? And in both cases, why? The message is clear: If you manage to land good talent, you’d better do whatever it takes to hold on to it.

Replacing an employee can cost as much as 50-60% of his annual salary, but total costs of turnover can range from 90-200%, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. This is a 2008 report; it’s safe to say the cost has gone up, along with the complexity of replacing personnel. (http://www.shrm.org/about/foundation/research/documents/retaining%20talent-%20final.pdf)


Right Management, the talent and career consulting branch of employment services giant Manpower, conducted a survey the winter of 2009 to identify top actions companies were taking to help manage their workforce through the economic crisis. The top two most important leadership practices for tough times identified by senior leader respondents:

  • Engaging employees to ensure organizational alignment and commitment (51%); and
  • Clearly defining roles and expectations (21%). (one of the top levers of engagement)

Numerous later studies also validate the importance of engagement. The Right study is significant because of its origin-a top employment service. They know the business of recruiting and retention.

In 2006, 23.7% of American workers voluntarily quit their jobs. (US Bureau of Labor Statistics). Keep in mind the job market has shifted, from a decidedly employer-driven market to talent-driven.  Employers are begging for talent and there’s just not enough to go around. Retention is critical, as is recruiting. An employer with a highly engaging work environment is way ahead of their competition.

There are irrefutable numbers everywhere you look. Here’s a little more number crunching….

Revenue:  A typical company with $5 billion in revenues in an industry with average revenue growth of eight percent would see revenues increase by $400 million. A company with top quartile levels of employee engagement could expect an increase of $1 billion. And a company in the top quartile on both engagement and enablement could anticipate an increase of a full $1.8 billion.

Turnover: For an organization with 20,000 employees and an annual voluntary turnover rate of eight percent, the cost of turnover is approximately $56 million (assuming an average salary of $35,000). Reducing the voluntary turnover rate by 40 percent would yield annual savings of $22.4 million. But reductions in turnover through high levels of engagement and enablement would yield savings of over $30 million annually, a difference of more than $7.5 million.

Employee performance: For an organization producing $10 billion of product with 20 percent of employees exceeding performance expectations, increasing the percentage of high performers by 1.5 times (by transforming average performers into superior performers) would increase output by $350 million (ie, if 10 percent of population improves performance by 35 percent, overall performance improvement across entire population is 3.5 percent. (The Hay Group: Employee engagement and enablement critical.)

Engagement is good business. Since it is such a good thing, how do you “do” engagement? What things promote an environment of high engagement? What gets in the way?

It’s not possible to provide a Cliff Notes version of an answer to those questions.  But here’s couple of teasers: (1) as it is values-based engagement is highly personal. And, (2) engagement drivers are split between process / things and people / relationships. You must address the people issues before you can expect people to fully engage in fixing process issues.

 WIIFM Intangibles in the Private Sector

Forward-thinking employers who are deeply involved with and committed to their workforce’s and the community’s success will earn significant payback in return:

  • A more highly engaged workforce=bottom-line payback in every area that matters;
  • High regard among community members, impacting image and branding;
  • Employer-of-choice status: recruiting and retention are both greatly enhanced. Current employees stay, new applicants stand in line to get in;
  • Sense of community and a company culture that lasts anchored by social consciousness and a feeling of being a part of something that is truly worthwhile;
  • A well-stocked, continuously replenished talent pool—highly skilled and eager job candidates.

Barring economic meltdown or gross mismanagement, investing in people and the community is more than “corporate social responsibility” (CSR). It’s a high-powered strategy that ensures the company’s sustainability.


 Kids are People Too: Student Engagement

Gallup and America’s Promise

In 2009 Gallup and America’s Promise defined, measured and implemented a model of student engagement. “The primary application of the Gallup Student Poll is as a measure of non-cognitive metrics that predicts student success in academic and other youth development settings. Gallup’s research (identified three) key factors that drive students’ grades, achievement scores, retention, and future employment.” Follow-up studies and reports noted high-impact, specific improvement opportunities.

CASEL: Benefits of Character Development

CASEL’s meta-analysis (“study of studies”) used statistical techniques to summarize the findings of over 700 studies and found a broad range of benefits for students:

  • 9% decrease in conduct problems, such as classroom misbehavior and aggression
  • 10% decrease in emotional distress, such as anxiety and depression
  • 9% improvement in attitudes about self, others, and school
  • 23% improvement in social and emotional skills
  • 9% improvement in school and classroom behavior
  • 11 % improvement in achievement test scores

…while these SEL programs took time out of the school day, they did not detract from student academic performance. In fact, as noted above, on average, students receiving school-based SEL scored 11 percentile points higher on academic achievement tests than their peers who did not receive SEL, and they also attained higher grades. And even as grades and achievement test scores were improving, classroom behavior, feelings about self, and emotional problems were improving as well.

AJPH Report: Benefits of SE Development

The level of pro-social behaviors in kindergarten, such as cooperating with peers, being helpful to others, understanding others’ feelings, and resolving problems on their own predicted their education and job prospects, criminal activity, likelihood of substance abuse, and mental health in adulthood. Students with higher levels of P-S behaviors did better in all of those areas….they were more likely to have graduated from high school on time, to have finished college, and to have stable employment; less likely to have been in special education or repeated a grade; less likely to need public housing or receive public assistance; less likely to have been arrested or in jail; less likely to abuse alcohol or drugs; and less likely to have been on medication for mental health problems.

  • There is a strong relationship between pro-social skills and positive outcomes later in life, regardless of the student’s gender, race, or socioeconomic status, the quality of their neighborhood, their early academic skills, or several other factors.
  • The level of aggression that a student showed in kindergarten couldn’t predict whether the student would have a run-in with the law later in life—but his level of pro-social behavior could.
  • Feeling socially connected as a kid is more strongly associated with happiness in adulthood than academic achievement is;
  • Children who participate in programs designed to strengthen their social and emotional skills simply do undeniably better academically, and in life.

Reference Links


Newton — A ‘Community of Excellence’

(updated July 2nd 2016)

Press Release May 21, 2020

Workplace, education, economy, society — all evolving. So are the concepts of organizations, learning, motivation and employment. In response to these changes and especially driven by crisis, Newton set off on a journey, not with the goal of winning a “Community of Excellence” award. Rather, Newton set out to become a community of excellence.

From Crisis to Prosperity

Fifteen years ago Newton had lost a Fortune 300 employer. The company was bought out by a competitor who shut down corporate headquarters and a major manufacturing facility that had provided nearly 3,000 jobs in its heyday. Newton is a small town, and the company was by far the largest employer for several surrounding counties. The loss was economically and emotionally crippling to the proud and once-thriving “Home of the Dependability People”.

Fast forward. Population has grown, young families continue to move to Newton due to the school district’s innovative education system and the exceptional community environment. The impact of that growth trickled down. The housing market is booming, and merchants are thriving. New, high-quality employers are relocating to the area and existing businesses are expanding, both supported by a deep, stable and highly skilled labor pool. Students are fully engaged in their education, achievement and attainment levels have skyrocketed. The talent pool continues to grow deeper and stronger.

Young people stay in town after they graduate, and workers are once again finding a lasting, highly satisfying career with world-class employers. There’s no longer a need to search elsewhere for meaningful employment, so people have packed away their traveling shoes. Families are once again more stable and more deeply rooted, as is the entire community.

A socially and economically healthy population is productive, its citizens and businesses are more successful. Newton’s prosperity is soaring and poverty, crime rates and other social issues are decreasing. Citizens are highly involved in and supportive of community projects. They participate in local government and take pride in staying well-informed in national politics. Disagreements are handled with skill, people respect and value each other’s opinions. Newton has even become a popular town hall site for policy makers who have learned to respect the community’s savvy and level-headed openness.

People Development Was the Catalyst

Schools of Character is a national program that recognizes individual schools for excellence in character development. While an honor, the program only triggered a grander aspiration for Newton. Why not a community of character? And why stop at “character”? A good deal of economic and social repair work was needed to bring Newton back and take it even further. The Community Excellence design team explored three areas of improvement:

  1. Physical: community infrastructure, facilities, services;
  2. Workforce development to support increased levels of  private sector productivity;
  3. Social and emotional community well-being.

Newton’s infrastructure improvements had been well under way, guided by a comprehensive plan drafted by a citizen team. But more than a physical facelift was needed. Research by the team showed there was significant potential in the second and third areas. It was clear from the research that people development promotes community prosperity.

From coalition champion George McBig: “A 1918 quote from the Carnegie Institute of Technology got us to thinking and digging deeper. It’s a variation of the 85/15 rule: ‘85% of your financial success is due to your personality and ability to communicate, negotiate and lead. Only 15% is due to technical knowledge.’

The team found more recent research that painted a larger 85/15 picture. A competitor can buy any technology. So the only real differentiation is in mostly intangibles like people, culture, values, ethics. But more often than not, those 85% higher-impacting elements are not  likely to get the attention they deserve. “What a waste!” McBig exclaimed. “Here (in Newton) we’ve kicked our addiction to process at the expense of people. For those who choose to change, it can be a life-changing experience.” Newton is on the leading edge of that charge.

People development—both social and emotional competencies and workplace skills—became the catalyst that kicked Newton’s transformation into gear. The design team agreed on goals and held a series of well-attended information-sharing meetings. The small team of champions grew into a broad coalition committed to the goals:

  1. Develop people with strong character and ethics. Inspire people to do well…and do good;
  2. Create an exceptional social environment built on a foundation of shared values and respectful, positive relationships;
  3. Promote social, emotional, ethical and intellectual development. Through shared  commitment, help people become responsible, caring, and contributing citizens;
  4. Leverage social-emotional competencies to create safe and supportive school, family, and community environments in which young people feel cared for, respected, connected to school, and engaged in learning;
  5. Provide social-emotional and skills development for all ages, all sectors—education and the workplace, young students and adults, family and the community itself;
  6. Build a highly talented, skilled and committed talent pool to support economic growth.

“Our big picture goal” said McBig “is to help people become maximum contributors in what they do, to help them succeed and be highly satisfied with their lives.” When asked why skills and economic growth were so far down the list of goals, McBig explained “the evidence is too clear. Get people emotionally healthy first. Only then will they really dive into learning skills and be really motivated to improve their capacity to perform.”

As it is critical to start young in building a strong foundation of social / emotional health, the Coalition focused first on children. Social-emotional classes were already provided in Newton’s elementary schools.  But that’s where it stopped. And that end point is where the coalition kicked into high gear. Remember the 85/15 rule and that emotional alignment comes before maximum skills development is possible.

Education Issues, Teen Cool and the Talent Pool

Nationally, academic achievement and attainment is dropping. High school grads aren’t ready for college and it’s far out of reach for too many anyway. The relevance of a college education to work is under fire, the value of over-priced degrees is being challenged. Employers get woefully unprepared workers and blame education for it. Parents and guidance counselors continue to obsess over pushing young people toward college-or-bust.  Newton was a microcosm of that national landscape.

Emotional development is mostly nonexistent after elementary school; it’s not considered important for teens even though they have a particularly tough road to navigate. Social issues, uncertain futures, peer pressure, raging hormones… teens are high-risk emotionally and physically. Common sense said there must be more attention given to their emotional needs.

Teens’ needs are complex, but most teens are too “cool’ for social-emotional stuff. So the trick became how to sell an uncool topic to fickle teen consumers. The solution: a subtle shift in emphasis. Says McBig: “high school is relevant if kids feel they are being prepared for life after high school. We have a 7-12 ‘Real-World Prep School’ series. Our goal is to maximize employability and after-high school preparedness, and to ensure learners’ potential for a successful, satisfying, and values-driven future.”  Social and emotional development plays a role but it is more integrated than featured. So teen cool remains intact.

But there’s more. “Beyond developing children and teens, there’s a solid business case for employer involvement and for reaching adults with the same message.” McBig said Newton’s experience validated what the studies reported. “Because of the Carnegie Institute’s 85/15 rule we looked at tons of studies on ‘engagement’. This isn’t just feel-good pixie dust! There’s some serious bottom-line return from doing this soft stuff, and not just in the workplace.”

All Hands On Deck

The Coalition team learned that making a real difference would require broad involvement. Research by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) showed the only way to achieve long-term, lasting social impact would be through “a well-planned, well-executed and lasting strategy with common goals that ensure shared focus among all stakeholders.”

Patchwork activities and programs wouldn’t cut it. Classes in schools wouldn’t be enough. A broad community effort was needed with private sector, government, civic and religious groups all involved.

McBig explained why all-stakeholder commitment is essential. “Learning isn’t just for kids in school. We can’t expect them to get all pumped up with character and values and new skills only to run headlong into an uncaring, business-as-usual world. The new mindset needs continuous reinforcement, mentoring and support outside of school. It’s a cliché, but it really does have to become ‘the way we do things’ here in Newton.”

How Much Can Emotion Possibly Matter?

A study by UC Berkeley found that children who participate in social and emotional programs do better academically. Feeling socially connected as a kid is more strongly associated with happiness in adulthood than academic achievement. The data showed that students who are more socially and emotionally developed are more likely to graduate from high school on time, finish college and have stable employment. They are less likely to need special education or have to repeat a grade; less likely to need public assistance; less likely to be arrested or spend time in jail. They are less likely to be on medication or have mental health problems and less likely to suffer from substance abuse.

Further expert studies validated the UCB findings. It’s well-known that emotional health directly impacts stress levels, therefore overall physical health. And when a population’s health increases productivity rises and the economic drain and emotional strain of health issues decreases. It’s undeniable-this soft stuff delivers impressive hard results.

What’s Next?

There was no national or state legislation needed to get the ball rolling. A coalition of education, government and private sector leaders and everyday community members reshaped Newton’s terrain.

It’s no secret, any community can follow the same path. “We’re not competing, we’re glad to share” says McBig. “There’s plenty of success to go around. The more communities with social and economic vitality, the better off we’ll all be. We’ve actually set out to improve the human condition locally, nationally, globally… and that’s a worthy goal for all of us.”

“Besides” McBig smiled…“Newton isn’t following a trail blazed by someone else. We’ll keep forging ahead. By the time others catch on to what we’re doing, we’ll be somewhere different doing bigger and better things.”

Kids Epiphany–for Brielle and Sean

Lately I’ve been hit with several stories that need to be told. Not a Newtown, Paris or Brussels level of mega tragedies, these are more personal. Like most people, Newtown CT hit me hard. But it’s distant enough now that while I remember continuously, Newtown is not the ceaseless gut-punch like it was the first year. But that hollow feeling is creeping back, and it has finally rekindled my resolution to do what I can to make things “better”. Two stories in particular pushed me past the tipping point, Brielle and Sean are saved for last.

This is a triple-purpose post. First, to help me process the emotions. I need to verbalize these stories at some point but I’m not confident I’ll keep my emotions under control. Through these words maybe I’ll get my heart around the emotions. Second purpose, more importantly, is to trigger thinking and action.  Third, to fight the risk of numbness. We cannot stop feeling.

Self-made Man

Adam struggled in elementary school. He had stomach problems and regularly soiled his pants. And he struggled to learn. Of course, kids made brutal fun of him and the emotional issues piled up. Adam’s family moved from town to town, hoping to find a school where his problems wouldn’t be noticed and he would fit in. But his problems remained and the dream fit didn’t happen.

He finally outgrew his stomach problems, but the learning issues remained. In high school Adam made a series of “bad decisions”. He came to the realization on his own he had two possible paths. One would lead to prison, the other held some promise. He convinced his mother to help and she agreed, on the condition he was sincere and stayed the course.

They finally found out he was autistic, high-functioning but still challenged by the regular learning process. Adjustments were made, and Adam graduated. He’s been on his own since and has a decent job. Adam is committed to helping other people avoid the pain he endured.

We’re better at diagnosis and special needs now, but we don’t have bullying under control. We haven’t touched the root cause: values, ethics…anemic norms that allow bullying to take place. Identification and corrective action is too late-we need to be proactive!

     Did Adam have all the support he needed? He was just a kid. Why did he have to ask for help? Why did he have to seek out the right path on his own? Adam will tell you it made him a stronger person. But how many kids would not have had the strength to make it? How many need help now and aren’t getting it, and may not be strong enough to make it through?

The Reluctant Dropout

I was working with students at the alternative high school, with young people who for whatever reason have issues with traditional education and are high risk for leaving school. Behind my desk was a life-sized poster of John Wayne with the caption “Don’t much like quitters, son.” When the Duke talks you listen up, Pilgrim…except most teenagers don’t know who he was.

“Ashley” is a 17 year old student. In the morning meeting, a teacher reported that she had asked him if he knew anything about getting paycheck loan advances. That was a big red flag, so he spent some time talking with her.

Ashley’s father had been helping her make ends meet but he left the country with his girlfriend. Her mother had been sharing the apartment and expenses but moved out, she’s no longer in the picture. Ashley’s two teenage roommates have no job, no income. She has no food, no money for car insurance or rent. She said “I don’t want to quit school, but I need to work more hours.”

True story. 17. Ashley is a good kid needing a break, her story is too close to home. Students leaving their education and their future behind is not just a big city issue, it’s right here in my small community of 15,000. This is something we can impact, and even “little” things matter.

     What if we had solid personal relationships and kept in closer touch with our young people, enabling us to take proactive early action when an at-risk situation looms? Not just risk of dropping out, but worse situations. When we do come across a struggler, there must be rapid response intervention by well-trained people.

Miracle in 4th Grade

I taught Guidance for 4th-6th graders, a social and emotional development program that was usually very enjoyable and productive. But one 4th grade class in particular seemed somehow to be home to every misfit in the school regardless of grade. They were my problem children and shame on me but I honestly dreaded every day I was scheduled to be in their class.

I was to read a book on bullying to them, so they all gathered around on the floor with my chair at the head of a semi-circle. I cannot even remember what triggered the lightning strike. A few of the students offered their personal experiences with bullying and handling tough situations. Then Madison raised her hand. She is particularly disruptive and I sighed to myself thinking “here we go…” and called on her.

“I don’t talk about this much” she began, then choked up. She was new to the school that year and had few friends and I could tell she was having a hard time getting started. But then the flood gates opened and out came her short life’s story, extremely emotional because it was from the heart and you could tell she was reliving a lot of pain. So could her class mates.

Madison’s mother died when she was five. Her father was a “piece of ____” (she said the ‘bad’ word but I let it go, so did her classmates). He was never around and didn’t care about her, didn’t take care of her. She was on her own anyway so she ran away in second grade, and got a beating when she was caught. She was in and out of foster homes, none worked out, and ended up with her grandmother who didn’t care about her, was only in it for the money she got from the state.

Many of Madison’s class mates were crying by this time. I was. They took turns going to her to give her a hug, and it turned into a giant group hug. We all needed it.

I was witnessing a miracle and it had just begun.  Another girl spoke up “I would have never had the guts to talk about this, but you helped me Madison—thank you!” She told her story. And another student, and another. I have never been so drained in my whole life. But it was an incredibly good feeling.

This is a somewhat happy tale, but just this chapter. There are so many failure modes in the system, and by the alleged adults in her life. Madison’s story is still being written.

     The Guidance classes are intended to help kids handle deep and powerful emotions. They emphasize the importance of empathy and strong relationships. Kids want and need to really connect with their classmate peers. They need to feel safe enough to unload their deepest emotions and empathetically support each other, especially if the support is not coming from elsewhere. We’re all just walking each other home.

     I’ll guarantee Madison now has twenty classmates and friends who have her back, and those problem children took a giant step toward coming together. But I realize we were lucky that day—it truly was a magical moment, sure wasn’t a light switch I flipped on. We need to develop ways to promote more genuine full-disclosure experiences like that.

Who is to ensure the progress those 4th graders made isn’t just a flash-in-the-pan? And… why don’t we offer social / emotional learning beyond elementary school? It’s needed!  For Brielle….

The First Dagger…for Brielle

A little 14 year old girl took her own life last week in in my home town. This tribute was published, with Brielle’s picture: “… due to bullying and depression. Although I do not personally know her, this affects me greatly as it should any parent. She could be my child, she could be your child. She had a loving family and extended family. But, her grief from being bullied was just too strong. Words hurt. Actions hurt. Let’s all stand up for our children when enough is enough. Brielle was an organ donor and her heart went to a 10 year old little girl. What a precious gift she gave to others.”

Brielle was a beautiful young girl who had the warmest, most genuine smile you could imagine. Even in her picture, you can see the glow and spark in her eyes. This young lady was a good person, and she was so full of life. Snuffed out. Why?

Too many kids carry an unreal amount of baggage around, some of adult origin but also peer-driven. Either way, it takes a long time to break a beautiful child’s spirit. There is no responsibility more important. Why aren’t we paying attention? That we don’t take seriously our stewardship of their fragile spirits is a moral abomination, a tragedy— no other words.

Children’s physical safety, and a lifetime’s worth of mental well-being is at-risk. Even their lives can be at risk. This is small-town Iowa, the whole state leads pretty much a sheltered lifestyle. Yet, the frequency of young people committing suicide is appalling. One is too many, right?

We’re beyond “just one”.

These aren’t just anywhere examples—these are real kids in our own back yard!

Brielle Christina April 25, 2001 – March 9, 2016


April 4th, not even a month later…another child. As fate would have it I’m getting ready right now to go work with 12yo’s…a friend sent me a picture of a smiling boy that age, and his kitten. He lived and died half way across the country, so I didn’t know him. But yet I do.

Another child with such a bright smile, such a vision of hope in his eyes. How long will it be before this little boy’s picture fades away? How long will we moan about “tragedy” before going back to business as usual? I can’t let it go. Can’t.

NEED: starting at a very young age, address the faulty norms that enable any level of bullying. Rekindle tolerance, acceptance…human love they were born with…in every child. Adults need it too. We must have ZERO…not “tolerance” but capability for any kind of bullying behavior. There is lots of lip service in schools and their staff, parents, kids. Oh, we don’t allow bullying. But then we do.

Above all, we need to connect with kids—be their safety net—and connect with each other. How can we be too busy doing ‘stuff’ to pay attention when another human being, especially a child, is crying out for help, possibly for the last time?

We have time to obsess over STEM subjects to make sure there will always be enough semi-skilled workers to keep producing stuff. But we pay lip service to emotional development.

That is the tragedy. That is my greatest frustration with society and especially with education—our priorities are backwards. Brielle, Sean and every young person trying to make it home safely are why I am so consumed by this mission.

Memorial Day Update: in Colorado Springs, three teens took their own lives in one school in one week. The school had recently conducted “suicide prevention training” for kids, parents, educators. But it takes more than awareness, an occasional training event, and posters. We need to give kids and adults a reason to feel they are worth something, at a very early age and continuously after that. We need to give them (all of us) the spiritual strength to cope with what lies ahead. We need it a whole lot more than teaching how to cipher numbers and become scientists and engineers.


Most of you already know how passionate I am about young peoples’ emotional well-being. I’ve written too many times already about youth suicide and bullying. It’s something I deeply care about, and I’ve been searching for a way to make an impact. But they were always far away kids I didn’t really know. Readers are respectfully sad for a while, then we all move on. I’ll admit sometimes that’s true for myself too. All in all, young people’s emotional health in our little community appeared to be in good shape. But I’ll be in a class room tomorrow where there will be one crushingly empty desk. Knowing why it’s empty is really gonna hurt.

Sean’s Song

These are real-time reactions as Sean’s story unfolded. Some of it is from my personal journal, some was shared on a limited-access private Facebook page.

(day one) Please, thoughts and prayers for a 13yo here in my home town who is clinging to life after hanging himself. This is a young man I know somewhat, my grand daughter partners with him in science. I have taught him. This is personal, it’s up-close and it’s very, very tough.

If you have kids hug them, let them know they are loved and are very special. And speak out, lend a hand where you can.

(later, same evening) Key words and kind thoughts (in lots of friend responses) spell out a partial answer to what WE must resolve. Mostly we just need the resolve to make it a priority. Because it IS tragic, it IS an epidemic. This one hurts a lot. Not sure Sean will make it.

(day two) Not unexpected. Sean was declared brain dead last night and he was kept on life support until his organs could be harvested. Find peace.

(day three) And now, for the beginning of the rest of the story…I was at the middle school today where Sean went, a subdued day. They had a basketball game that night, Sean’s best friend wore his jersey. Sean’s dad and sister came, they were out in the hallway talking to a bunch of Sean’s friends in private, my grand daughter included. She came into the gym sobbing, the others soon followed. Sean’s family had shared some “good” news…like Brielle’s gift, a dying little girl had already received Sean’s heart.

I did not know this young man very well, just enough to make his death personal. The survivors—Sean’s family and classmates –are my concern, my grand daughter being one of the latter. We cannot resign ourselves to the notion that this just can’t be helped.

WHAT and HOW, anyone? 

Why is social-emotional learning and development not our highest priority? Things like compassion and caring for each other and self, acceptance of differences, being better equipped to deal with tough emotions and on and on. It doesn’t come from lectures, it can’t be taught from a book but can only come from open, caring, close relationships and strong community. And there isn’t a standard test to measure competency. Only one measure matters—personal well-being, a good person leading a happy, satisfied, fulfilling and full life.

Whether or not it’s overtly stated, this is Mission Critical for the Collaborative initiative… we’ve got to find a way to give kids the emotional, or spiritual if you must, resiliency and strength to withstand the pressure of growing up, then of life in general.

The cornerstone to guiding kids toward maturity is social-emotional. The home environment is a good place to start, but we all need a broader inner circle that has our six any time, every time. We need a community of friends, class mates, peers, and adjunct mentors like teachers.

We need to re-connect with our humanity and we need to connect with each other too. And we CAN make an impact in our schools, if that’s the risky place we must continue to send our kids.

Where to address the “problem” is tough to know because we haven’t accurately famed the real problems. We’ve only been fixing symptoms. It’s not that people commit suicide, it’s not whatever reason drove them to the act. The real issue is “how can we help people, especially young people, become better grounded, more connected to themselves and their self-worth and self-awareness? How can we better prepare them to work their way through the tough emotions that will be bombarding them, whatever the source of those emotions?

Kids need an emotional buffer zone, not just toughness but self-confidence and self-worth. That’s partially where the strength must come from. More than anything, they need to know someone is there for them, no matter what and why. What kind of support networks, communities are lacking and how could we somehow nurture and develop them?

I Got Your Six (https://gotyour6.org/about/faqs)

In the military, “got your six” means “I’ve got your back.” The saying originated with World War I fighter pilots referencing the rear of an airplane as the six o’clock position. If you picture yourself at the center of a clock face, the area directly in front of you is twelve o’clock. Six o’clock is what lies behind you. On a battlefield, your “six” is the most vulnerable. So, when someone tells you that they’ve “got your six,” it means they’re watching your back. By extension, that person expects you to have their back as well.

Kids (and big people too!) need to know they matter, that they make a difference in the world. They need purpose, vision, need a strong community. Frankly, we suck at that.

If there were some sort of magical intervention, should it even mention suicide prevention or bullying? These are outcomes, they are in the past and they can be major distractions and even counter-productive to dwell on. There’s no denying what’s driving the Collaborative effort: well-being, happiness, surviving and thriving. Should we dwell on deviant behaviors, flaws. Focus on the good—it’s human nature, we crave it. There’s bunches of social-emotional development stuff out there. What is the best way to get the right message introduced the right way, where it needs to be? And, how can we reach more than just young people?


Mainstream / traditional education has tried and pretty much failed on the S-E front. No fault: education’s priorities have been set in concrete–STEM curriculum, common core, standard test performance, academic rigor that produces measurable, standard, hard results. But our kids need help, and education needs help to give it—mostly time, resources and expertise.


We need change. Given the current state of education, employers’ need for qualified candidates with the right skills and attributes, given the fragile nature of young peoples’ emotional state, and given our social environment in general, we need change.

Social and civic issues are tearing us apart, our moral and ethical fabric is being torn to shreds. Apathy and disengagement at one extreme, modern stressed-out lifestyle and related mental and social issues at the other. We are disconnected from each other, from our environment, from our selves. We’re in desperate need of social healing and personal realignment.

We can grab hold of self-directed learning as a promising way to help save the younger generation. But the way society is imploding we can’t guarantee we’ll be able to survive for young people to reach the point where they have matured and can make a difference. Enter whole-life learning, social-emotional—human—development. To me, it’s a survival issue—survival of our way of life, survival of the race on this planet.

The ultimate quest

Critical international policy decisions and everyday exchanges between people alike are driven more by profit and power rather than finding common ground as human beings and determining what’s right for the survival of society and of the species. Government and private sector leaders…the same profit and power decision criteria. You may hear a little lip service / casual nod toward that “greater good” thing but when push comes to shove it’s all about profit and power. We don’t elect officials for their values system or their deep love for humanity, we elect (with special interest backing and clout) based on who can deliver profit.

But it all comes back to the huge need for humanity to get back in touch with our soft side, for us to reconnect as human beings with each other, to allow ourselves to get up-close and personal once again, to get back in touch with our own spiritual self. Technology has numbed us. We’re desensitized, more callous, calculating, cold.

Humans are naturally social creatures. We’re tribal, we need community, we need each other. Yet, the further we scratch and claw our way up the techno ladder the further it seems we backslide down the evolutionary chain. Most of the animal world shows more compassion than we do, even compassion to other species.

We need a world where people share core human values, where all are driven by a common purpose. Stupid me, this is my chosen passion. And I’m well aware that I need serious advice on right-sizing this mission.