Are We Listening?

Perhaps you have seen the intentionally provocative video circulating on the Internet of a young woman complaining about an aching pain in her head.  If you would like to watch for yourself, just Google “It’s NOT about the nail!”  As the scene plays out, it is obvious she has a large nail in her forehead.  Listening to her complain about her debilitating headaches and how her sweaters snag when she pulls them over her head conjures up images that make it painful to listen.  Trying to help, her boyfriend offers, “I think I see the problem, there is a nail sticking out of your head.” She immediately jumps down his throat angrily shouting, “It’s NOT about the nail!”

While obviously contrived, it points out that people desperately want to and need to be heard and validated.  It is so hard to listen to a person complain when we know what they should do.  Here in the South, I have come to learn we use the expression “well bless your heart” to affirm the person.  I have grown to understand that the underlying thought, not spoken, is “you idiot!”

Let’s face it, friends.  It is so hard to sit quietly and listen to another person complain when it is so clear to us what the problem is and how it should be solved.  Sadly today, too often, dialogue is not accepted on important issues.  Debate is no longer welcome.

As just one illustration, consider the reaction to a tweet from Harald Uhlig, a University of Chicago professor, indicating that the Black Lives Matter movement “torpedoed itself, with its full-fledged support of #defundthepolice.” Instead of defunding, Uhlig suggested, “train them better.”

Hundreds of people then signed a petition demanding that Uhlig resign. Even prominent economists like Janet Yellen and Paul Krugman joined the mob. Krugman called Uhlig, “another privileged white man who evidently cannot control his urge to belittle the concerns of those less fortunate.”

Today’s racial tensions are a lot like the “It’s not about the nail!” dramatization.  It no longer matters that we care and try our best to help fix the problem.  Correcting those complaining only heightens their anger.  They want to be heard above all else and we have heard this so many times before it is very hard to listen to it and not try to just confront and solve the issue.

So, how do we heal a polarized nation where kneeling during our National Anthem greatly offends some but not all and protests against police turn somehow into justified burning and looting of innocent store owners?  We seem to be at war fueled by a militant insistence on self-worth.  Dialogue is no longer acceptable: former President Obama’s term “woke” meaning we have a new awareness, has now devolved to “cancel culture.”

I know it’s hard, but maybe we need to restart with Stephen Covey’s Habit No. 5:  Seek first to understand before we ask to be understood.”  My wife Susan has taught me that the skill of listening is one of the most important life skills we can all learn, but it’s a hard skill to master.  We tend to stop listening once we think we have the right answer to the problem.  After all, we are superior to those we are listening too, right?  Nope.  That is the problem.   The ability to hear is a gift.  The willingness to listen is a choice…a very difficult choice.


COVID: “we must all hang together, or … we shall all hang separately,”

Most historians give credit to Benjamin Franklin for saying this, but all will agree that the signing of the Declaration of Independence put their lives at risk.  There was no question at that point that our nation was going to fight a war with Great Britain.

We seem to all be facing another war right now with another invader: COVID.  Perhaps then it is good to dust off this famous phrase and look at it’s intent… getting everyone on the same page.  It is a well-established fact that our politicians then were not on the same page.  That was the problem then, and it once again is our problem now.

We are all in this together whether we like it or not.  COVID is a common enemy to us all, regardless of political persuasion, race, creed, or gender identity.  Wearing a mask should not be in question, yet it still is.  Social distancing is not just a good idea, it is essential.  Hopefully, we will soon hear of a vaccine, but immunization of the country is a long way off even then.

Our society seems to have lost its commitment to each other.  We are not dedicated to mutual wellbeing.  We have become terribly self-focused. Sure, I don’t like our restrictions, but we have proof that loosening restrictions quickly results in more rapid infection statistics.

Perhaps the reason we have become this dysfunctional is because there is so much misinformation out there on terribly important issues: faulty test data reporting, diagnosis bias (hospitals making more money in the mortuary with that rather than whatever else might have been the cause), and whether this or that existing medication alternatives work or are at least helpful.

I have become suspicious of everyone because almost everything I read seems to be politically motivated.  COVID is not about any one perspective being right.  We all have to be “on the same page” or we are all victims.  COVID Is our enemy and defeating it requires that we hang together.

Click to Listen to Mercy Mercy Mercy by Cannonball Adderley

A song comes to mind that needs to be brought back.  It was made famous by Cannonball Adderley in his song: Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.  Here is the introduction to that song by Adderley:

“You know, sometimes we’re not prepared for adversity. When it happens sometimes, we’re caught short. We don’t know exactly how to handle it when it comes up. Sometimes, we don’t know just what to do when adversity takes over. (chuckle). And I have advice for all of us, I got it from my pianist Joe Zawinul who wrote this tune. And it sounds like what you’re supposed to say when you have that kind of problem. It’s called mercy, mercy, mercy.”

That seems like part of the answer for sure.  I hope you enjoy it. Listen here. 

From a Distance

Bette Midler Singing From a Distance

Maybe you remember Bette Midler’s beautiful rendition of this song.  It rose to the top of the charts in 1990 and even received a Grammy.  The reason I picked this is that I was alerting a friend that I meet them tonight at a spot … with the admonition that we would keep our distance.

Here are the lyrics to that song:

From a distance the world looks blue and green
And the snow-capped mountains white
From a distance, the ocean meets the stream
And the eagle takes to flight

From a distance there is harmony
And it echoes through the land
It’s the voice of hope
It’s the voice of peace
It’s the voice of every man

From a distance, we all have enough
And no one is in need
And there are no guns, no bombs and no disease
No hungry mouths to feed

From a distance we are instruments
Marching in a common band
Playing songs of hope
Playing songs of peace
They are the songs of every man

God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us from a distance

From a distance you look like my friend
Even though we are at war
From a distance, I just cannot comprehend
What all this fightings for

From a distance there is harmony
And it echoes through the land
And it’s the hope of hopes
It’s the love of loves
It’s the heart of every man
It’s the hope of hopes
It’s the love of loves
This is the song for every man

God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us from a distance

I really don’t think I need to say anything else.  And, if you want to listen to this here’s the link: FzxtdE


Brooks Brothers and Suits

Courtesy: USA Today – Brooks Brothers

I hope you would agree we have seen a huge transition over the last 50 years in clothing style. It was once the required battle dress for up and coming business executives. I remember one instance like it was yesterday when I attended a meeting with my client wearing a camel hair sports jacket, beautiful tie, dress slacks, and appropriate wingtip shoes. You would have thought I showed up in my gym shorts and sneakers… the sneering and disapproval was palpable.

While it may still be the appropriate attire for near formal situations like funerals, I seldom see suits in business settings. Oh sure, we still see world leaders in suits if they dress in European or American styles, and our politicians still seem adorned in this fashion statement. But, how long will it be that we deem business casual the new normal? You no doubt have noticed that we have gradually and persistently moved towards a new style of business leadership attire: personified by Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and others. Yep, turtlenecks and T-shirts have replaced the jacket and tie. 

Well, another shoe dropped this week that reflects this. Brooks Brothers filed for bankruptcy protection: Read the USA Today article.

Brooks Brothers survived the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War II, and the Great Recession, but now joins a rapidly growing list of retailers that have stumbled into bankruptcy in the midst of the wreckage of COVID-19, which temporarily shuttered stores due to health concerns. Others recently filing for bankruptcy have included J.C. Penney, Neiman Marcus, and J. Crew. No other suit maker has the legacy and brand recognition, however. They are the Harley Davidson of motorcycles within the male executive wardrobe providers. 

There is a lot to be learned from all this. But we probably will not.

Nasty News Narratives

I guess it is natural for any local newspaper to want to criticize the local electric utility… if nothing else to draw in readers. But, I am truly disgusted by the tone and misrepresentation of the facts they present… if indeed they even are facts.

Here is the headline just a few days ago claiming Orlando Utilities was disconnecting customers again: Read the article in the Orlando Sentinel

Today’s soundbite culture reads this and naturally concludes this heartless utility is more interested in its well-being than its customers. However, I would suggest you read this article completely to see that the utility is devoted to helping customers at this time seek assistance. There is nothing heartless or uncaring about it at all.

Wouldn’t it have been more accurate to have these headlines:

OUC pleads with customers to seek the financial assistance they deserve.

OUC will not disconnect any customer who seeks assistance from …

Nah… that wouldn’t get the reader attention they seek.

If you did read the article, this should also make you think more carefully about any lead story on the news.