What I like most about what I do is the finding of ways to captivate an audience with a story they believe that they already know…to engage them in Rediscovery.
Rediscovery, as I define and strive to create it, is an experience more subtly profound, nuanced; running deeper than recall or remembering. Most simply; Rediscovery is created through sublime Evocation, while memory is stirred by Articulate Reminder: two very different things.
This is why I so eagerly embrace opportunities that come my way for writing, staging and telling of oft-told stories: taking cultural legends, myths, traditional folk tales that are multiple generations old and weaving them into ceremonies, theatrical shows or presentations for multigenerational audiences. Finding ways to give an Old Story new resonance with today’s aspirational, global citizens while maintaining the integrity sought by the elder parts of a given audience is the welcome creative challenge for the entire team.
Burnishing the patina of an old story and helping it evolve to emerge in unexpected ways, taking a more circuitous path toward denouement such that the reward of recognition takes on greater, more expansive power and release: these are the challenges that, as they become realized, excite and empower the creative teams long before audiences get to experience them.
That is the process that compels and fulfills me.
Gathering a creative production team of artists, designers, technicians, engineers, composers, choreographers, logisticians, cultural experts and anthropologists, even the occasional dramaturg, and studying the kernel of the story is where this energy begins for me.
Exploring together the possibilities of a story; creating a backstory or peripheral bit that can be obliquely expressed, deepening the connection by subtly opening an emotional door in the heart of each audience member…these are the little mysteries that, as solved, become the compelling beats of a well-told story.
This is how I’ve come to create terms such as Successive Revelation, Subliminal Engagement, Comfortable Disorientation… Give the story to the audience in such a way that it becomes personal to each individual member out there; evoking imagery and motivation, hinting at possibility, crafting the unfolding of the story in such a way that each person is psychically seeking, virtually leaning forward and reaching out for the next revelation, the next step, with breathless, sotto-voce gasps of recognition as conclusion nears…
This has to be Built with a team that is willing to go there with me; willing to not know how we’re going to tell this story when we first gather. As I share for the first time the vision I have for a given show, spectacle or experience; what gives me the most pleasure is to see professional eyes around the table light up with inspiration as the initial concept is shared. Seeds of ideas are planted in those who will ultimately create dimension and bring the story to life. Personal investment is made on the part of each player and the dynamic that begins at the front will yield idea after passionately collaborative idea as the process unfolds.
Essentially, every story I tell has had to become personal to me, or I cannot make it personal to the audience.
So, yes; sometimes there may be a bit of weeping.
This is me, after all.
After all these years at the Fair, I’m glad to know that I have not (yet?) become jaded. I consider myself lucky to have this healthy, compassionate inner child; to carry within me this unfiltered heart…as it is this heart through which I find each disparate Pathway to Story.
Simply put: when I can move myself, I can move you. Thus, that’s my method.
For this wet-eyed trait, I do take no small ration of good-natured ribbing from colleagues and crew who work often with me; though, when the voice shakes a bit in the telling of the tale and tears hint at appearance, we know we’re on track.
It’s a dependable barometer.
IMHO; We can show people images of something happy and make them smile or even cheer at the recognized, remembered event or moment. We can show people pictures of very sad things and give them a sense of sadness.
We can show them images of places they’ve been, things they’ve done, people they’ve known and elicit fond, happy or wistful memories…creating an excellent and memorable show experience.
Yet we can ease all the way into their heads, plumb the protected or even forgotten depths such that they are no longer seeing through their eyes but are rediscovering something precious and wonderful within themselves.
We can take them to another plane of experience…and when that is accomplished, as this shared experience becomes uniquely personal, the House, Arena or Stadium becomes filled with a different sort of silence.
Palpable silence, almost velvet-like, as each person in the audience privately experiences this thing that belongs only to themselves.
Just for a moment. A shared, intimate Moment all the more powerful in that throughout the space each are having their own, unique experience, en masse.
Taking an audience to that place keeps my own heart alive, my muse nimble, myself fulfilled. It is the pursuit and sharing of that Moment that keeps me inspired…and keeps me working!
Anecdote: Some years ago, I created and delivered a 13-city tour of a full theatrical production for a well known University development campaign. Believe me, this alumni body knows everything about their school and could call it up and quote it at will. Crafting an Experience that took these men and women all the way back to Discovery was no small feat.
As I characterize it, “…we raised over $1 billion and left rooms full of weeping millionaires in our wake…” An apt enough description (though they weren’t actually all millionaires nor did all of them weep).
For our closing celebration, before the team disbanded and went on to other projects, I wrote an epic poem of commemoration; the final stanza of which strives to articulate that Moment when we truly have a trusting audience in our intimate grasp. I think it may apply to any and all of us who do what we do.
“But there was a moment, in every city
When what we did went to profound from pretty.
When guests became silent, when hearts skipped a beat,
When each person settled more into the seat.
The air in the room became quieter, still;
And breath was abated as hearts took the thrill.
That’s when we touched them, that’s when we knew
We’d delivered completely on our Mission, true.
No one will ever accomplish again
What we have given to those where we’ve been…”
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In my Experience, one of the best ways to get the best work out of the best people is to engage early. A journey of a thousand ideas begins with a single conversation. The time to begin to involve one’s Team – even one’s prospective Team – is at the very beginning…IMHO.
I know that my own Muse lives deep within me and works in mysterious ways; sharing inspiration and ideas on her schedule and with her unique styles. (Mine is definitely a She: I don’t know how I know but I just know.) With that, when I have the first meeting with a prospective client or on a possible project; I listen with focus as the vision is expressed.
The idea machine kicks right into gear.
I take that knowledge and virtually hand it off to her. Sometimes, she comes right back – even during that meeting – with concept possibilities; sometimes it takes a few days or even weeks…which can be indulged, given enough time before deadline. Ideas start dropping into my creative inbox, I examine and explore them and a concept begins to come together for me.
Most often, as I’m “looking the other way,” and working on something else; in my subconscious, the Other Thing percolates. Simmering there, it becomes a repository of possibility, a subtle filter through which I see and experience day-to-day without the pressure to apply or do anything with the oblique input.
Then, one day, boom. There it is!
Concurrent with the coming together of my first senses of the overall experience I will seek to create, I also often recognize just whom among the vast constellation of creative and technical professionals I’ve come to know are likely to be most well-suited or of greatest potential for contribution to and collaboration on this particular project.
So, I call ‘em and share where I am.
Long before the time comes when we’ll be needing to gather and work, I find that planting the seeds of concept early offers that same, subliminal dynamic for the other professional craft and tech people I’ll be wanting to have join me in making this happen. A brief conversation at this very early outset of a project or show, simply planting seeds of ideas, offers a subtle and profound power to the interim time before the work actually starts.
The seeds planted each grow in disparate ways; nurtured and affected by the mind in which they’ve been planted. I suppose it’s similar to planting flowers in a row. Each bloom is just that much different; having had a little different light, a little different water, been pollinated differently or having had a chrysalis attached at some point…and it’s not ’til all the blooms have been gathered that the facets and textures of the bouquet are able to be grasped and appreciated as more than the sum total of the parts.
N’est-çe pas? (Is this metaphor too flowery?)
Just as these planted Seeds of Concept grow differently within the composer, the set and lighting designers, the costumer, the choreographer…any of the concomitant participants…sometimes the concept itself evolves through outside influence; calendar, budget, client relationships, whatever.
The point is that when we gather to flesh out the actual Experience, everyone at the table has differently generated ideas to share; ideas about which each are excited, ideas grown peacefully and under far less pressure than might otherwise exist were I to have waited ’til it was Time to Start to brief and begin.
Knowing where an idea began and seeing where it may have arrived by the time we meet offers myriad new possibilities for where it can be taken. History informs trajectory; and I believe the projects and shows I’ve managed in this way have reflected The Work of the Muses in unforeseeable ways.
Early conversation with each of one’s prospective, principal team members pays way off at showtime. While I am familiar with many a producer who resists taking such time at the outset; in my own experience, it takes less time overall and can yield far more interesting and compelling results when the Muse is treated with due respect.
So, I’m just sayin’, taking the time up front to share my own ideas of where a vision can be taken has, in my experience, come back to me and to the project tenfold.
Don’t wait til the answers and solutions are defined and needed; spread the inspiration wide and have so much more to work with when it comes back.
It works for me…IMHO.
There is a political organization by the name of EMILY’s List. “EMILY” stands for Early Money Is Like Yeast. In the currency of creativity and ideas; I would liken this methodology to the philosophy of that group.
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Well, first of all, I found that I suddenly had a lot more time on my hands and noticed that I was clearing my ToDo list magnificently faster.
So, there’s that.
More to the point, though, are the many offline conversations that my announced and executed departure inspired. Positive, congenial conversations with friends and colleagues ensued; exploring the ramifications and net effects of eschewing (I just wanted to use that word) FaceBook were born of the stepping away.
So here’s The Thing.
FB remains the Town Square; where one of the largest conversations is happening. The effect of leaving is, as acknowledged in my post on the subject, minimal to the point of nonexistence.
I abhor the Politics of Zuckerberg and the blatant disregard for – indeed, the veritable undermining of – the Truth this man represents and practices with his platform. Departure from FB doesn’t affect that. What it does do is silence one’s own voice.
Boycotting Chick-fil-A, for example, can make a difference; raising the issues and enlightening the enlighten-able. Spreading the word and sharing information in support of such causes and campaigns is done with powerful effectiveness on FB. That’s where the vast majority of conversations are happening.
In fact, one can even campaign for regulation of FaceBook on FaceBook. I want to see FB evolve and take responsibility for the information with which it profits by sharing.
I want to see FB assure the veracity of posters and to Flag the Bots, so that people know they are reading propaganda generated by non-humans. I want FB to authenticate.
FB charges that they are not publishers, this is not journalism. But, IMHO, that is precisely and effectively what it is. We’re in a new world since the revolution of the printing press, and FB is a de facto news source of vast numbers of citizens. Responsibility is inherent in that.
So, wherefore return to FB?
What comes to mind is a conversation I had with a colleague of mine in Dubai, shortly after her arrival from having worked on the Sochi Olympic Ceremonies. This was during the horrific wave of Putin’s Thugs ambushing, kidnapping, torturing and often videotaping gays in Russia, then distributing those videos online; all under the tacit approval and turned-away eye of the Putin regime.
At the time, I was all about walking off the job in protest. What my colleague shared with me was the transformational effect that simply working side-by-side with the regular citizens of Russia; the surprised response to simple anecdotes shared about Life in America of which the Russian citizenry had no idea.
“You mean, one can just put all his belongings in a car and drive from New York to Los Angeles and live there; moving house without a permit from the government…?”
Yes. This was news. Startling news to them.
More recently, similar personal and professional anecdotes shed light on effective transformations, personal-experience-by-personal-experience, in places such as Saudi Arabia.
Women in KSA didn’t obtain the right to drive cars because people refused to work in Saudi Arabia or the United Nations intervened. No, they won this right because they knew that women drive cars all over the world. How did they know? Social Media; YouTube, Twitter, FaceBook: they met women who drive.
Perhaps, then, I can support the engendering of the difference I seek to make by simply and calmly Being Present. The Zen of this, what can render it most effective, is the tone and intent of the participation.
How might I do that?
I can commit to speaking my truth and listening, by not engaging in diss, ridicule, calling out or attacking those with whom I don’t agree (even if I think they might be idiots; that’s for me to process and relinquish. Cue: “Let it Go!”).
Living by example. Engaging with Presence. Speaking my truth, my rationale, my Point of View without denigrating those who may not agree. Letting my truth stand, articulate, to be embraced or not on its own merits.
That seems a potentially effective way to nurture change and evolution.
Besides…I missed the puppy videos. A man needs what a man needs.
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In a speech on Friday night at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen attacked Facebook and other social media platforms for enabling the proliferation of hate speech and misinformation. Link to Speech Video
The speech was striking in its sincerity – Baron Cohen appeared as himself, rather than “in character” as one of his satirical personas – and its blistering tone.
Describing Facebook as “the greatest propaganda machine in history”, Baron Cohen argued that the company, which does not vet political ads for truthfulness, would have allowed Hitler to run propaganda on its platform.
“Thank you, ADL, for this recognition and your work in fighting racism, hate and bigotry. And to be clear, when I say “racism, hate and bigotry” I’m not referring to the names of Stephen Miller’s Labradoodles.
Now, I realize that some of you may be thinking, what the hell is a comedian doing speaking at a conference like this! I certainly am. I’ve spent most of the past two decades in character. In fact, this is the first time that I have ever stood up and given a speech as my least popular character, Sacha Baron Cohen. And I have to confess, it is terrifying.
I realize that my presence here may also be unexpected for another reason. At times, some critics have said my comedy risks reinforcing old stereotypes.
The truth is, I’ve been passionate about challenging bigotry and intolerance throughout my life. As a teenager in the UK, I marched against the fascist National Front and to abolish apartheid. As an undergraduate, I traveled around America and wrote my thesis about the civil rights movement, with the help of the archives of the ADL. And as a comedian, I’ve tried to use my characters to get people to let down their guard and reveal what they actually believe, including their own prejudice.
Now, I’m not going to claim that everything I’ve done has been for a higher purpose.
Yes, some of my comedy, OK probably half my comedy, has been absolutely juvenile and the other half completely puerile. I admit, there was nothing particularly enlightening about me – as Borat from Kazakhstan, the first fake news journalist – running through a conference of mortgage brokers when I was completely naked.
But when Borat was able to get an entire bar in Arizona to sing “Throw the Jew down the well,” it did reveal people’s indifference to antisemitism. When – as Bruno, the gay fashion reporter from Austria – I started kissing a man in a cage fight in Arkansas, nearly starting a riot, it showed the violent potential of homophobia. And when – disguised as an ultra-woke developer – I proposed building a mosque in one rural community, prompting a resident to proudly admit, “I am racist, against Muslims” – it showed the acceptance of Islamophobia.
That’s why I appreciate the opportunity to be here with you. Today around the world, demagogues appeal to our worst instincts. Conspiracy theories once confined to the fringe are going mainstream. It’s as if the Age of Reason – the era of evidential argument – is ending, and now knowledge is delegitimized and scientific consensus is dismissed. Democracy, which depends on shared truths, is in retreat, and autocracy, which depends on shared lies, is on the march. Hate crimes are surging, as are murderous attacks on religious and ethnic minorities.
What do all these dangerous trends have in common? I’m just a comedian and an actor, not a scholar. But one thing is pretty clear to me. All this hate and violence is being facilitated by a handful of internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history.
The greatest propaganda machine in history.
Think about it. Facebook, YouTube and Google, Twitter and others – they reach billions of people. The algorithms these platforms depend on deliberately amplify the type of content that keeps users engaged – stories that appeal to our baser instincts and that trigger outrage and fear. It’s why YouTube recommended videos by the conspiracist Alex Jones billions of times.
It’s why fake news outperforms real news, because studies show that lies spread faster than truth. And it’s no surprise that the greatest propaganda machine in history has spread the oldest conspiracy theory in history – the lie that Jews are somehow dangerous.
As one headline put it, “Just Think What Goebbels Could Have Done with Facebook.”
On the internet, everything can appear equally legitimate. Breitbart resembles the BBC. The fictitious Protocols of the Elders of Zion look as valid as an ADL report. And the rantings of a lunatic seem as credible as the findings of a Nobel prize winner. We have lost, it seems, a shared sense of the basic facts upon which democracy depends.
When I, as the wannabe gangsta Ali G, asked the astronaut Buzz Aldrin “what woz it like to walk on de sun?” the joke worked, because we, the audience, shared the same facts. If you believe the moon landing was a hoax, the joke was not funny.
When Borat got that bar in Arizona to agree that “Jews control everybody’s money and never give it back,” the joke worked because the audience shared the fact that the depiction of Jews as miserly is a conspiracy theory originating in the Middle Ages.
But when, thanks to social media, conspiracies take hold, it’s easier for hate groups to recruit, easier for foreign intelligence agencies to interfere in our elections, and easier for a country like Myanmar to commit genocide against the Rohingya.
It’s actually quite shocking how easy it is to turn conspiracy thinking into violence. In my last show Who is America?, I found an educated, normal guy who had held down a good job, but who, on social media, repeated many of the conspiracy theories that President Trump, using Twitter, has spread more than 1,700 times to his 67 million followers. The president even tweeted that he was considering designating Antifa – anti-fascists who march against the far right – as a terror organization.
So, disguised as an Israel anti-terrorism expert, Colonel Erran Morad, I told my interviewee that, at the Women’s March in San Francisco, Antifa were plotting to put hormones into babies’ diapers in order to “make them transgender”. And he believed it.
I instructed him to plant small devices on three innocent people at the march and explained that when he pushed a button, he’d trigger an explosion that would kill them all. They weren’t real explosives, of course, but he thought they were. I wanted to see – would he actually do it?
The answer was yes. He pushed the button and thought he had actually killed three human beings.
Voltaire was right: “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” And social media lets authoritarians push absurdities to billions of people.
In their defense, these social media companies have taken some steps to reduce hate and conspiracies on their platforms, but these steps have been mostly superficial.
I’m speaking up today because I believe that our pluralistic democracies are on a precipice and that the next 12 months, and the role of social media, could be determinant. British voters will go to the polls while online conspiracists promote the despicable theory of “great replacement” that white Christians are being deliberately replaced by Muslim immigrants. Americans will vote for president while trolls and bots perpetuate the disgusting lie of a “Hispanic invasion”. And after years of YouTube videos calling climate change a “hoax”, the United States is on track, a year from now, to formally withdraw from the Paris accords. A sewer of bigotry and vile conspiracy theories that threatens democracy and our planet – this cannot possibly be what the creators of the internet had in mind.
I believe it’s time for a fundamental rethink of social media and how it spreads hate, conspiracies and lies. Last month, however, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook delivered a major speech that, not surprisingly, warned against new laws and regulations on companies like his. Well, some of these arguments are simply absurd. Let’s count the ways.
First, Zuckerberg tried to portray this whole issue as “choices … around free expression”. That is ludicrous. This is not about limiting anyone’s free speech. This is about giving people, including some of the most reprehensible people on earth, the biggest platform in history to reach a third of the planet. Freedom of speech is not freedom of reach. Sadly, there will always be racists, misogynists, antisemites and child abusers.
But I think we could all agree that we should not be giving bigots and pedophiles a free platform to amplify their views and target their victims.
Second, Zuckerberg claimed that new limits on what’s posted on social media would be to “pull back on free expression”. This is utter nonsense. The first amendment says that “Congress shall make no law” abridging freedom of speech, however, this does not apply to private businesses like Facebook. We’re not asking these companies to determine the boundaries of free speech across society. We just want them to be responsible on their platforms.
If a neo-Nazi comes goose-stepping into a restaurant and starts threatening other customers and saying he wants kill Jews, would the owner of the restaurant be required to serve him an elegant eight-course meal? Of course not! The restaurant owner has every legal right and a moral obligation to kick the Nazi out, and so do these internet companies.
Third, Zuckerberg seemed to equate regulation of companies like his to the actions of “the most repressive societies”. Incredible. This, from one of the six people who decide what information so much of the world sees. Zuckerberg at Facebook, SundarPichai at Google, at its parent company Alphabet, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Brin’s ex-sister-in-law, Susan Wojcicki at YouTube and Jack Dorsey at Twitter.
The Silicon Six – all billionaires, all Americans – who care more about boosting their share price than about protecting democracy. This is ideological imperialism – six unelected individuals in Silicon Valley imposing their vision on the rest of the world, unaccountable to any government and acting like they’re above the reach of law. It’s like we’re living in the Roman Empire, and Mark Zuckerberg is Caesar. At least that would explain his haircut.
Here’s an idea. Instead of letting the Silicon Six decide the fate of the world, let our elected representatives, voted for by the people, of every democracy in the world, have at least some say.
Fourth, Zuckerberg speaks of welcoming a “diversity of ideas”, and last year he gave us an example. He said that he found posts denying the Holocaust “deeply offensive”, but he didn’t think Facebook should take them down “because I think there are things that different people get wrong”. At this very moment, there are still Holocaust deniers on Facebook, and Google still takes you to the most repulsive Holocaust denial sites with a simple click. One of the heads of Google once told me, incredibly, that these sites just show “both sides” of the issue. This is madness.
To quote Edward R Murrow, one “cannot accept that there are, on every story, two equal and logical sides to an argument”. We have millions of pieces of evidence for the Holocaust – it is an historical fact. And denying it is not some random opinion. Those who deny the Holocaust aim to encourage another one.
Still, Zuckerberg says that “people should decide what is credible, not tech companies.” But at a time when two-thirds of millennials say they haven’t even heard of Auschwitz, how are they supposed to know what’s “credible”? How are they supposed to know that the lie is a lie?
There is such a thing as objective truth. Facts do exist. And if these internet companies really want to make a difference, they should hire enough monitors to actually monitor, work closely with groups like the ADL, insist on facts and purge these lies and conspiracies from their platforms.
Fifth, when discussing the difficulty of removing content, Zuckerberg asked “where do you draw the line?” Yes, drawing the line can be difficult. But here’s what he’s really saying: removing more of these lies and conspiracies is just too expensive.
These are the richest companies in the world, and they have the best engineers in the world. They could fix these problems if they wanted to. Twitter could deploy an algorithm to remove more white supremacist hate speech, but they reportedly haven’t because it would eject some very prominent politicians from their platform. Maybe that’s not a bad thing! The truth is, these companies won’t fundamentally change because their entire business model relies on generating more engagement, and nothing generates more engagement than lies, fear and outrage.
It’s time to finally call these companies what they really are – the largest publishers in history. And here’s an idea for them: abide by basic standards and practices just like newspapers, magazines and TV news do every day. We have standards and practices in television and the movies; there are certain things we cannot say or do. In England, I was told that Ali G could not curse when he appeared before 9pm.
Here in the US, the Motion Picture Association of America regulates and rates what we see. I’ve had scenes in my movies cut or reduced to abide by those standards. If there are standards and practices for what cinemas and television channels can show, then surely companies that publish material to billions of people should have to abide by basic standards and practices too.
Take the issue of political ads. Fortunately, Twitter finally banned them, and Google is making changes, too. But if you pay them, Facebook will run any “political” ad you want, even if it’s a lie. And they’ll even help you micro-target those lies to their users for maximum effect. Under this twisted logic, if Facebook were around in the 1930s, it would have allowed Hitler to post 30-second ads on his “solution” to the “Jewish problem”. So here’s a good standard and practice: Facebook, start factchecking political ads before you run them, stop micro-targeted lies immediately, and when the ads are false, give back the money and don’t publish them.
Here’s another good practice: slow down. Every single post doesn’t need to be published immediately. Oscar Wilde once said that “we live in an age when unnecessary things are our only necessities.” But is having every thought or video posted instantly online, even if it is racist or criminal or murderous, really a necessity? Of course not!
The shooter who massacred Muslims in New Zealand live-streamed his atrocity on Facebook where it then spread across the internet and was viewed likely millions of times. It was a snuff film, brought to you by social media. Why can’t we have more of a delay so this trauma-inducing filth can be caught and stopped before it’s posted in the first place?
Finally, Zuckerberg said that social media companies should “live up to their responsibilities”, but he’s totally silent about what should happen when they don’t. By now it’s pretty clear, they cannot be trusted to regulate themselves. As with the Industrial Revolution, it’s time for regulation and legislation to curb the greed of these hi-tech robber barons.
In every other industry, a company can be held liable when their product is defective. When engines explode or seatbelts malfunction, car companies recall tens of thousands of vehicles, at a cost of billions of dollars. It only seems fair to say to Facebook, YouTube and Twitter: your product is defective, you are obliged to fix it, no matter how much it costs and no matter how many moderators you need to employ.
In every other industry, you can be sued for the harm you cause. Publishers can be sued for libel, people can be sued for defamation. I’ve been sued many times! I’m being sued right now by someone whose name I won’t mention because he might sue me again! But social media companies are largely protected from liability for the content their users post – no matter how indecent it is – by Section 230 of, get ready for it, the Communications Decency Act. Absurd!
Fortunately, internet companies can now be held responsible for pedophiles who use their sites to target children. I say, let’s also hold these companies responsible for those who use their sites to advocate for the mass murder of children because of their race or religion. And maybe fines are not enough. Maybe it’s time to tell Mark Zuckerberg and the CEOs of these companies: you already allowed one foreign power to interfere in our elections, you already facilitated one genocide in Myanmar, do it again and you go to jail.
In the end, it all comes down to what kind of world we want. In his speech, Zuckerberg said that one of his main goals is to “uphold as wide a definition of freedom of expression as possible”. Yet our freedoms are not only an end in themselves, they’re also the means to another end – as you say here in the US, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But today these rights are threatened by hate, conspiracies and lies.
Allow me to leave you with a suggestion for a different aim for society. The ultimate aim of society should be to make sure that people are not targeted, not harassed and not murdered because of who they are, where they come from, who they love or how they pray.
If we make that our aim – if we prioritize truth over lies, tolerance over prejudice, empathy over indifference and experts over ignoramuses – then maybe, just maybe, we can stop the greatest propaganda machine in history, we can save democracy, we can still have a place for free speech and free expression, and, most importantly, my jokes will still work.
I believe that Now is the time for us, as American Citizens – as Global Citizens, to see that action is taken to regulate, curb and cease the wanton proliferation of culture-corrupting propaganda on and of these social media platforms. Accountability must be applied, integrity must be restored and a world of fact-based journalism must be newly-created.
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I’ve seen this coming for quite some time, and have been marginally successful at deluding myself that I can ignore this one thing and it’ll go away.
This is the challenge with integrity and the ongoing focus on the keeping of it.
As discovery and revelation of the role of this globally popular forum – this amazing and amazingly far-reaching communications tool that has…
reconnected so many,
deepened understanding between cultures,
opened minds, and
enlightened the curious to so much,
increased communication between and among institutions, constituents, colleagues
and even facilitated the launch and growth of of a spectacular number of movements, organizations, businesses, collaborations and relationships
– in the aggressive undermining of the democratic process and the sabotage of our very way of life has come to light; we are presented with a virtual ultimatum.
We are in the midst of a practical referendum on whether to pursue, revive and rescue the aspirational vision that inspired the formation of this country. Anything less than Everything is not enough. We are obligated to take this on, fully.
We may justify participation in this forum and platform in the name of all the Good it may facilitate: yet as we do so, we progressively excuse or overlook the insidious, dark, undermining forces we allow into the space, the dialogue, the culture…undermining our country, our future, the future of the planet.
As the realization of Facebook’s complicity in the Russian interference in our 2016 elections came to light; I held onto the fantasy that with revelation would come commitment to correction on the part of Zuckerberg, et al. Surely this was not intentional.
Surely, now that we are aware of the sophistication of Putin’s manipulation of Facebook platforms and the perceptions and opinions (and votes ) of the American public, officers of the plundered platforms would take action to eliminate this subversion of the democratic process; and the aggressive undermining of what we’ve accepted as universally American Values.
Revelation by revelation, documentary by documentary, study by study and report by report; we see, progressively revealed before us, the ominously gleaming specter of Complicity in return for Profit. No longer can we define it as plundering. They got paid for this…that makes it prostitution, does it not?
We’re being sold out.
Zuckerberg’s breathtaking arrogance before the legislative bodies of the West is beyond the pale. His and his company’s complete disregard for what were once seen as American Values held dear are abdicated in return for profit. What has become his embracing of Privilege and White Supremacy, of Far Right philosophy to the subordination and ultimate elimination of all others stands presented in full view for what it is, This must be recognized for what it is or it will continue to increasingly affect our lives until it has become irreversible and ineradicable.
It’s easy to boycott when there are alternatives. It’s a far different thing to stand up for one’s values when there are alternative avenues to the maintenance of one’s perceived quality of life, of amenities and “freedoms.” We can boycott Uber in favor of Lyft or Zipcar; Rideshare alternatives abound. We can easily eschew this peanut butter or that coffee or this airline and choose alternatives that fall in line with our philosophies.
But, now the question is truly being called. When taking a stand of integrity means giving up something we find valuable, almost critical, to the navigation and management of our own lives and businesses…that’s when our spine and resolve are tested, our principles are challenged, the real commitment to our expressed and embraced beliefs are called-out.
Zuckerberg and Crew have made their intentions and philosophies clear. Their very public support of individuals, politicians, foreign administrations and internal socio-political movements that are committed to America’s demise should be terrifying to us all. These currents in our own country are eroding freedoms for all but the privileged few, and they continue to grow in public presence and volume, repeatedly expressed from hearing room to gala fundraising dinner.
Facebook’s embracing and acceptance of these forces, factors and factions is telling us all we need to know. This is not benign.
I don’t want to go.
But, as long as Zuckerberg and and his cabal continue to stonewall Congress and Parliament, to persist in the acceptance of such things as Dara Khosrowshahi’s dismissal of Saudi Arabia’s execution of Jamal Khashoggi and to lionize such despicable beings as Brett Kavanaugh – all the while making vast amounts of money off the use of our personal data, censoring criticism from members (with the rationale that fees are not charged us so they can do anything they want without being answerable to us) and to refuse to do everything possible to protect America and her elections from the insidious influence of foreign powers (something I assert is the duty of every US Citizen, individual being or corporate entity) – as long as these things continue to be SOP on this platform and of this company; I cannot stay.
For remaining present in this room does imply complicit acceptance of what is being done to us.
The real test of integrity comes at times such as this. The stakes do not get any higher; nor does our responsibility to take a stand become any more important than right now.
It’s been fun. It IS fun. It has become a central thread of organization and opportunity in personal and professional parts of my life and of the organizations and groups in which I find value.
My disappearance from the FB platform won’t cause even a ripple. No single departure will. Every such decision, though, is critically imperative. History is being written in our time. The future is being forged, and we are obligated to take action on every front to protect ourselves, our culture, our country.
So. Until Zuckerberg comes clean and corrects this (not “takes steps to correct…,” but actually Corrects), I must go; as I would just feel dirty were I to stay. .
As this IMHO is published on Facebook, it will be my last post on that platform until such time as the above, and all concomitant trends, syndromes, dynamics, policies and actions have been eradicated or corrected. Just my little protest; and as much as I know I will miss it, it’s the only way I can feel good about myself in this context.
Bread and Circuses.
Still popular throughout the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxies, “IMHO : Creating Compelling Experience” remains a free download from the Apple bookstore and iTunes.
“OK, Boomer” is, IMHO, yet another symptom of the divisive dynamics that continue to pervade our culture and our communications; ultimately undermining the very goal for which we all ought best to be striving, collectively.
This is, effectively, another smugly dismissive response between disparate groups, contributing to the not-so-gradual extinction of common ground…common ground that we all need to fertilize, nurture and stand.
This ageism on the part of youth seems just as egregious and just as negative as that same dismissiveness on the part of the Boomer-pluses that more or less catalyzed this bridge-burning in the first place.
NOT that they don’t have reason to feel the way they do. They do. Boomers as a generation have blown it. That responsibility does not, though, apply to every, individual Boomer any more than any generalization applies to any group being generalized.
There is a lot of talk and a lot of writing taking place that addresses the differences and cites the powerful potential inherent in respectful communication between and collaboration among all of The Labeled. Standouts on stages and platforms are Simon Sinek, Chip Conley, and the eminently insightful Brené Brown.
These three accomplished individuals represent to me three of the most important pillars of The Way Forward From Here. Their writing, speaking and the sharing of their philosophies hold, I think, the crux of an answer to an effective destination point of this Age of Disruption.
(Which isn’t to say that Disruption is “bad” or should stop; but at the other end of any disruptive process might best be sought an evolved, enlightened and productive resolution. N’est-çe pas?)
Sinek, in his conversation on “Millennials in the Workplace”, articulates and shares a generous, authentic and, I think, accurate perspective on how this demographic came to be perceived as it is. He does this in a way that has visibly moved audiences of Millennials, simply from hearing themselves accurately and empathetically perceived.
Conley, with his concept of the Modern Elder, makes a salient point in this talks of the potential multilateral learning and vastly enhanced productivity and revelation possible when the disparately-wired brains of aspirational younger minds engage in collaboration with experienced perspectives offered by the open minded Elder.
(…and, btw, that “open minded” thing is essential in all cases; or it just…won’t…work.)
Brown, one of my personal Heroes, is about self-awareness, listening to and examining and knowing oneself as an ongoing process and a perspective through which to perceive others. It’s virtually impossible for me to choose just one link for her; as I learn or recognize something of myself almost every time I hear or watch her. This piece, on “Blame”, and this, on “The Power of Vulnerability”, are two that illustrate her insight and relevance.
Then, of course, my all-time favorite one on “Empathy”; this one kills. You will relate.
All across the web and on convention and conference stages, everywhere; intelligent and enlightened people are talking and sharing and pitching the inherent value in the concept of multigenerational collaboration and urging corporate leaders, HR experts, entrepreneurs and visionaries to reassess the the value to their specific and particular vision, businesses or quests that lives in the minds, hearts and Experience of Those Living Under the Grey.
Yet. I sense that so much of this perspective-sharing is being intellectualized rather than actualized; that audiences hear and agree but don’t have the tools or networks to access, familiarize and appreciate those of the other demo’s… And, in most cases, I think that the concepts are embraced, academically, without a practical avenue for realization.
Thus, it doesn’t happen. It’s not happening. Progress is slow. Bots and HR parameters (in general) still tend to filter out individuals of vast potential value with SOP and old tools already in place.
What I see missing (and I could be wrong, but I ain’t seen it) is the proactive facilitation of bringing these minds together in physical space where free-form conversation can be had in the context of discovery.
So that’s what I am throwing out there for consideration, for discussion, for Action.
Could a Next Step not be the creation of informal forums for the mixing of the disparately categorized with one another? Speed-Familiarizing? (Get it? Speed-dating reference.)
I believe that this would, of necessity, need to be curated by the credible in order to be perceived as and actually BE credible.
How to enable actual, fruitful cross-generational discovery; to make Pheromonal Connections and discovery of like minds in unforeseen packages: to allow the divided to experience among themselves the energy and power that is possible in the very collaborations that such understanding can foster.
I don’t actually know how this would look. It calls, I think, for personal engagement in the curation of the mixed group by leaders with acuity recognized within given contexts – national, local, whatever. A more directed inspiration for the shared conversations that helps to open windows into the personae of one another beyond business; yet not at all a set of “exercises” or a structured formality.
In fact; one of the tenets of such informal conversational gatherings might be a restriction on talking business and suggesting that life lessons, anecdotes and discoveries be shared, one-to-one. Individuals interviewing one another and gaining a sense of the person facing them and let the qualifications and perspectives shine through.
AND, it calls for open examination and eradication of preconception on the part of all.
Someone want to take this on? Chip? 😉
Still popular throughout the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxies, “IMHO : Creating Compelling Experience” remains a free download from the Apple bookstore and iTunes.
You are a political party the leadership of which is having a hard time accepting that the game has completely changed. You’re hanging onto and playing by old rules, old methods and strategies, dismissed precedents, evaporated courtesies and respect for laws and policies that are no longer being acknowledged, recognized or heeded by your competition.
He’s changed the game on you, leaving the lot of you still fighting battles that he’s already winning.
You’re becoming a collective laughingstock as you continue to squabble and bumble about, being chided, teased and egged-on by the Game Show Host Press who are with few exceptions far more interested in ratings than in Truth. [Let us not forget that it was largely through the embraced corporate avarice of the Press that Trump was able to “win” the 2016 election cycle.]
“It May Not Be Good for America, but It’s Damn Good for CBS”
“I’ve never seen anything like this, and this going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.”
– Leslie Moonves on Donald Trump
February 29, 2016
Never forget that, all in all; The Press Does Not Care About You…or Us.
So maybe change the game, yourselves.
Here’s how I think you can do it.
Enough with “Family Feud” debates. Y’all’re looking ridiculous. There is far too much brilliant, insightful and sorely-needed brainpower being misrepresented and chastised on that Debate Circus stage.
First, take the dialogue back from the Press. Most of them are too eager to seem “balanced,” far too afraid to have a spine and call out, time after time, the lies and misleading narratives that constantly pour forth from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Here comes the audacious part.
Then: this is what I’d like to see this party do…
It’s going to take the setting-aside of personal ego in the name of Democracy and Freedom in America. You’re going to have to really want to evict the current resident of the White House, and you’re going to have to put the country before the political ambitions you have held so dear for so long that those long-treasured ambitions may already have become the filter through which you perceive everything.
Gotta clean up that shite.
You won’t have to throw them out; but you will have to embrace the spirit of them as motivation over aspiration. Politics can no longer be personal for you, though you will have to become personally committed to them in the name and for the true benefit of the USA.
Ready to know what it is; what this secret, audacious, rule- and groundbreaking plan entails?
Here it is.
Everyone stop running.
For a minute. Just stop running.
Every candidate, just shut down and shut up for a week or so: then get together in order to get it together.
And, by “get together;” I mean every one of you 20+ presidential candidates from the Democratic Party should go away together to a place by the sea for a week.
Together. In Private. With Party leadership; from the venerated to the liberated. You guys, the Big Guys and the New Guys; from Pelosi and Schumer to Ocasio-Cortez and the Squad – gather, talk, and make some hard decisions.
Radio silence. No press. No press releases.
Let ‘em wonder. Let us wonder. Let everyone wonder.
While you all have your fights, clear the air, say what you want to say, say what you need to say, blame, apologize, explain, ask your questions, listen to one another and get clear on what’s important: right here, right now, of dire importance to us all.
(Hint: the answer is ending this presidency and cleaning up this magnificent, malignant mess into which we’ve gotten.
When you return from this Week by the Sea – which is what it will be called in the History Books, “The Week By The Sea (that Saved the World)” – come out as an Administration.
And then RUN FOR OFFICE AS AN ADMINISTRATION.
Come out of that process with ONE candidate for President and all other erstwhile candidates positioned for specific positions or jobs: Cabinet members, Department Heads, Special Prosecutors…
Come out of that space, each of you knowing and sharing your coordinated and mutually embraced plan of action with your populace that is desperate-for-leadership-and-security. Show the country and the world that you are together and you are for the citizens and principals of the United States of America.
Spread out and head out across the country not as One Voice (that’s not even American!) but as One, Nationwide Cohort; bound and committed to assuring the country that you are on OUR side…then prove it.
Screw the Primaries; they’ve become a circus, and few actually believe they’ll be fair. Don’t wait for the convention to build a platform; come out with your platform, already intact, supported, done. Right now.
The old ways are over and you need to get off your traditional asses and challenge – and eliminate – this malevolent maelstrom of hate and disorder that is taking this country down faster than you can say “quorum.”
You can exit that space as partners in getting that one person elected, replacing this entire Administration and defeating Trump. Show the country that you can and will work together, that every citizen will hear a voice they support in this administration and show us that you can think differently.
Take away the doubt; jettison the decrepit and ineffective processes of the past and show generations of voters that you are not irrelevant.
Show that you get it: that the old ways are dead and that the American Election Process in in critical need of revitalization.
The world has changed and it’s not going to change back.
You have to change in order to stop this tsunami of hate and divisiveness in which you are now irretrievably a part. (That last debate was a ridiculous example of what a joke the Party System has become.)
You do this and you will win.
All of you campaigning for ONE person.
There will be NO sore losers from the Primaries, nothing to clean up, no bad behavior of demonstrated enmity to rationalize or diminish. Imagine: a Civil Primary! No fallout from the battle for nomination. No attacks on each other. Rather, a willingness to form and present to your constituents a very public coalition, READY to evolve government and protect all citizens.
Can you imagine: knowing, on election day, who will be each of these officers, who will run each of these departments, who will be filling offices – some of which will have been effectively empty for the past four years? Imagine the security and confidence this will bring to the patriotic and committed staffs of Washington; knowing months in advance who’s going to run things and having time to gather, present and brief the Incomings.
They will see you coming and they will know who you are and you will be welcomed and embraced; over and above party lines and philosophies. The transition can begin immediately on election.
An efficient and responsive government seems eminently possible. Certainly more possible than recent history would suggest.
It’s going to take some serious ego-shedding. You’ve all got to go in with the idea that It Might Not Be Me; please get over that and seek the best combination of the best, most qualified and experienced talent in the right positions to clean up this mess and move into this damn century.
I believe that this will pave the way for a massively successful, revitalized Party.
Think you guys can do that?
Great. Here’s the list. Don’t come out until you have a name next to each title.
List of Jobs to be Filled for 2021 Democratic Administration
Secretary of State
Secretary of the Treasury
Secretary of Defense
Secretary of Justice
Secretary of Interior
Secretary of Agriculture
Secretary of Commerce
Secretary of Labor
Secretary of Health and Human Services
Secretary of HUD
Secretary of Transportation
Secretary of Energy
Secretary of Education
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Secretary of Homeland Security
Chief of Staff / White House
Secretary of EPA
Secretary of OMB
US Trade Rep
Leader of the Mission to the United Nations
The entire Council of Economic Advisors
Secretary of SBA
See? There’s room for everyone to have a VERY IMPORTANT JOB! (I’ll bet there is even a good spot for Marianne! Every. Single. One. Of. You. Is. Needed.)
“Vote for US!”
Do this, and you will win. I guarantee it. Keep on as you’re currently doing, and Trump will be “elected.” Do not fall victim to the mirage of traditional procedures and processes. We all know they don’t work, anymore; you might note that.
Play nice. Play Hard. Win.
It’s up to you.
The eyes of Your Nation are Upon You.
Popular throughout the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxies,
Increasingly…appropriately…”Mentorship” is showing up as a subject of discussion, aspiration and recommendation as well as, I think, becoming newly seen as a critical resource in the equation of a healthy, growing and evolving business culture.
Back in the day, “…find a good mentor…” was more or less standard advice given to young people as we entered the World of Business. Find a mentor to guide one through the hallowed halls of corporations and commerce; that’s how one learns, that’s how one navigates, that’s how one wins.
Once every two or three weeks, the Mentor would take the Protégé (I don’t remember ever hearing “Mentee” before the ’00’s; though Merriam-Webster says 1965) to an expensive lunch; the conversation during which might include anecdotes, bits of information on the best way to approach a task or job, recommendations for research and reading, offers of introduction to Key Contacts in the (mostly Good Old Boy) network, where to buy suits, advice in response to questions asked and – all in all – pretty much a top-down Bestowing of Knowledge. That’s how it worked.
Things have changed a bit.
Here’s where I’m going:
The definition and perception of “Mentor” and “Mentorship” must change.
[For purposes of this hypothesis, btw, I’m defining “generation” as about 5 years.]
To truly be effective and relevant; the process and the practice of Mentoring has to evolve, exponentially, as generation after generation has and continues to emerge and merge with the workforce – each of which generation brings new knowledge and experience onto the field with them that those even just preceding them require in order to navigate and remain proficient.
This does not, though, negate or supersede the need for knowledge gained from time put-in; from having been a part of and navigating successfully in the workforce. The past remains prologue, notwithstanding.
Generations: of people, certainly; but also of technology, the shrinking of the globe and the mixing of cultures and how these things affect individuals, interaction and communication among them.
The perception of who is or can be a Mentor must be redefined.
Even now; Mentorship seems, when considered and discussed, for the most part still seen as linear and top-down. It’s an old-fashioned mindset that seems often to remain the filter through which people consider and perceive it.
No longer. The archetypal mindset of Mentoring must be deconstructed, broken into its elements, repurposed and repositioned for a new world.
Mentorship in this century can be neither linear nor top-down.
Mentorship is not “Teaching.”
A Mentor does not lecture.
There can no longer be a hierarchy of knowledge possession.
The definition of who is or can be a Mentor must be redrawn, evolved (there’s that word, again!).
Knowledge and Experience are renewable resources that call for sharing; and they grow stronger the more broadly and openly shared they become.
Anyone who knows more than another about a Specific Thing – or has more experience in said Thing – is, at and in that moment, a potential Mentor for the Other(s). Right then.
As new demographics – new generations who have learned to think and interact with the world in ways completely foreign to those who’ve been around for a few years (“few” being subjective) – join the workforce, the ways successive groups perceive one another need to open up. The latter cannot supplant the former; as the former don’t plan to leave the force, anytime soon.
Entitlement meets defensiveness and resentment and we all fall short of what’s possible.
In his book, Wisdom @ Work, Chip Conley discusses the powerful synchronicity between the ways that Younger Minds work in relationship to the minds of the Elder Generations. That being; one is quick, reactive and nimble while the other takes a more studied, responsive approach of consideration. The outcome of work produced by mixed-generation groups in collaboration, then, tends to be the most successful.
He also cites the example of the culture of the world’s largest accommodations provider (that owns no real estate) in illustrating the fluidity of what can constitute a potential Mentor, given context. In the bubble of that culture, the 28- and 29-year olds are the practical “elders” as the predominant rank-and-file employees are closer to 25. With that, institutional knowledge resides, still, in people under-30.
He was 52 when he joined that culture. Short story: he mentored and was mentored, to success in all directions.
Every place is different.
I’ve cited, before, my experience of recalibration when working and teaching at Apple SoHo. I walked into that store on my first day to 300+ fresh-faced and energetic 20-somethings and felt and saw myself as the Walmart Greeter. I would never fit in.
In a Manhattan Moment, in the days that followed as I joined the team on the floor and in the theatre, I experienced an atmosphere of curiosity, respect and engagement; of information sharing and seeking as age became irrelevant and – in some cases – a source of curiosity. Learning who we all were “before-“ or “outside-Apple” was ongoingly revelatory…and a source for the regular talent shows on staff meeting nights.
Community was born and grown, effortlessly.
Call to Action : Create a Culture of Mentorship
Many young people or people entering new fields sense a need for a welcoming, enlightened and enlightening, guiding voice.
Many elders with decades of experience find fulfillment in the sharing of knowledge gained over the course of those years in support of new minds, new visions, new businesses and careers.
It is incumbent in and beyond this century that we create a Culture of Mentorship; wherein everyone can be both mentor and mentee, everyone can guide, everyone can learn at any given moment and everyone is respected from the get-go for what s/he brings to the table.
“How we’ve always done it…” as a response is way out of date, but in the answer to why it was done a certain way we may find the door or pathway to the answer to how something might best be done, now.
This can transform “how we’ve done it…” into an answer, a precursor, a process of history rather than a defensive sword to be wielded. Here’s how, here’s why, here’s what we got… Now, what do you see as a different solution…one that may perhaps be better, given the Now?
In the hallway, in the cafeteria, over coffee or at the water cooler as well as in a board room. Any encounter with another might be an opportunity for mentoring. If a company or institution creates a Culture of Mentorship wherein anyone with a question or questioning look on the face can be met with “got a question?” or “what’s on your mind?” – if any staff member, in particular a new one, is always and unfailingly met with openness and welcome and the intent to help indoctrinate and incorporate that person into the fold / onto the team: the job is well on the way to being done.
This is going to require a lot of ego-relinquishing…from all parties interested in succeeding in the realization of personal or professional vision.
It is also going to require a practice of Assumption Exploration and ongoing relinquishing of said Assumption. That “kid” across the table might actually know some stuff; as, conversely, might that white-haired person with the limp who might at first glance look like someone ready to retire.
An awareness of our ingrown habit of Assuming from what we think we see and the jettisoning of presupposition will serve us all, across the board.
Open with the desire to learn who has preceded and fresh precedents will be set.
It’s a new conversation and a new way of thinking when all the chips in the room are for dipping rather than the adorning of shoulders. N’est-çe pas?
Mentorship as currents in the ocean might be an apt metaphor; information swirling in all directions, depending on need and source. I believe that this is where we need to go as businesses, as cultures, as people: seeing one another as beings of myriad, disparate experience; each of us with value and perspective to share.
Community. A Culture of Mentorship.
Can we do that?
Popular throughout the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxies,
Forty years ago, my Republican political career was going strong.
Coming off the National Staff of the President Ford Campaign, I’d been managing programs for Young Political Leaders with the Department of State, then building and running a Political Action Committee for a Small Petroleum Refiners Association when I was asked to go to Colorado to run the campaign for a Republican candidate for State office…
I was deep in it and had visions of a powerful, political future in the Party.
Though with the gently relentless and increasing intensity of a festering carbuncle, I was discovering a growing unease within me. Not only was I finding myself uncomfortable with some of the perspectives of colleagues, friends and coworkers with respect to race, class, level of economic status and the Earth…I was also discovering something about myself that I knew I had to keep deeply buried in order to continue sitting at that table.
Dropping off my dates at 11:30 or midnight, then parking my car on dark streets and slipping through dark doorways off nondescript streets and into festive bars and clubs where another entire life was underway – a life of which I’d barely begun to be aware – and discovering the level of comfort and welcome I felt in those places was one of the most threatening experiences I’d had, to date. I had plans for my life that all of this threatened.
It’s a phase; It will pass; I can submerge it; can ignore it: all delusions I tested and failed to prevail.
So, when the offer came to move to Colorado, away from DC and all the temptation, I took it.
And there, I met Don; and what had been essentially physical and objective became immediately sensual and emotional. The power of love between like beings, between two men, overwhelmed me and terrified me.
The year I spent in Denver and Colorado (great stories for other times) showed me, taught me the incredible Lightness of Being true to myself; of recognizing who I truly am and embracing that Truth. This truth, this realization, meant I had to relinquish all I had thought lay before me and seek a new path and a new life.
Politics was out. I sought and interviewed for work in Los Angeles, Dallas, New York and came to San Francisco to visit a former love of mine from years previous, Sue. Sitting in a cafe on Pier 39, I came out to her. In that conversation, we re-bonded and caught up; and she asked me where I was going to live. I shared the frustration of trying to work that out and where I’d looked and the jobs for which I’d interviewed and…she put her hand on my knee and looked out the window…
The sun was shining bright on the Bay, I remember no clouds in the sky as sailboats and sailboards were whipping past, gulls flying overhead, happy people laughing here in the cafe… Sue looked at me with a “…seriously, what are you thinking?” look on her face and the decision was made.
On April 15th, 1979, I crossed the Bay Bridge into San Francisco in a U-Drive-It and moved me and a few suitcases into the basement of Sue and her husband; and started doing temp jobs.
In no time, it was June and Pride in San Francisco. I didn’t really know anyone, yet, and though I could maybe meet some people and get involved by becoming a Monitor for the Gay Freedom Day Parade. So, I did.
Being Gay in Broad Daylight is far different than being in a dark bar or festive nightclub, or even sitting quietly in a cafe. Being GIBD means that there are A LOT of other people around.
So. There I was, at the corner of Spear and Market Street, with the Hyatt Regency on my right and market street stretching up the hill toward the Castro, flanked with thousand of people; six, seven, twelve deep on either side.
Wearing my Monitor’s sash, I was clearly A Part of It. Gay…. Gay, gay, gay. No hiding. Public.
The day was heavily overcast, a cool-ish grey with not much of a breeze and it was time for the parade to begin. Everyone was happy and smiling as things rolled toward the start; then there it was…Time.
About eight million Dykes on Bikes zoomed past me and up the street, many with their biker chick partners, all of them looking just a tad scary to this country boy. But it was thrilling…the power of the machines an instant metaphor for the power of what was taking place. These dykes in all their uber-confident glory, racing up the hill to screams and cheers and flags and the pounding explosions of their battalion of exhaust pipes…
I was beyond whelmed.
Next, standing at the ready, was the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Marching Band. I hadn’t seen a marching band since High School – and these men and women in rank and file looked to grand, so regal, so happy as they stood there…
Suddenly, the clouds broke and the sun shone a sparkling brilliance on the band and all their lovingly, proudly-polished brass…I’m sure it was the brightness of the shimmer that made my eyes water as they struck up the Starting Tune, “If They Could See Me, Now!”
If they could see me, now.
Immediately, a cavalcade of colorful imagery from my past raced through my mind in a heartbeat. If they could see me, now; what would they think? What would they see?
Friends from high school, friends from college, teachers, teammates, traveling companions, colleagues…all of whom knew something of me; none of whom knew this deepest part of me that I was just discovering for myself, just coming to grips with, just barely beginning to accept and perhaps even embrace.
In the coming years; some of those would continue to love me, some would be bewildered and uneasy, many would reject me and depart my life. I would, one-by-one, conquer fear and come out; then rejoice or grieve the loss…and move on.
At that moment, standing there in all my authenticity in the bright light of day, tears streaming down my face; immersed in the lush sounds of the band playing and the crowd cheering and the welcoming, celebratory throngs of people lining the boulevard into the distance…I felt unequivocally good about what the future might hold.
Just as they began to march, a young couple from inside the Hyatt pushed through the crowd. They looked at me…”What parade is this?!” She demanded, excitedly. (Omigod, I’m going to have to tell them! I thought to myself.)
I swallowed my fear of this Truth and how it might shock these strangers and said, “This is the Gay Freedom Day Parade…”
It just seemed that everything that came out of her mouth was just a little more negative than it needed to be.
From the first Sharing Circle on the first day of this week-long retreat; Camille stood out. A little too much backstory, a little too much detail, a little too much self-pity… Even through casual comments made in off-hand conversations during exercises or casual time; there always seemed a dissonant nuance, an extra note of Negative.
It was bugging me; distracting me. I did not like this, I was not liking her. Though she presented as brilliant and professionally adult as any of our intimate group of 15, this relentless soupçon of negativity was becoming like a splinter in my finger; a constant irritant. I needed to find some sort of spiritual tweezer and remove it.
On the way to meditation, the second morning – after another brief, antipathetic encounter, I was thinking that perhaps I’d just sit down with her and ask her if she even realized how much negativity she was projecting. Maybe help her see and process it.
As I walked, I played a scenario in my head. How might this plan play out? How would she take it? Would it be productive or come off as confrontational, condescending?
As the meditation commenced, high on a deck overlooking the sea, I wasn’t really listening to the shaman. Rather, I was watching the waves and wondered to myself, “What would Greg do?”
What would Greg do?
Greg is a dear, longtime friend of mine who lives his life such that he embodies all the spiritual and personal qualities to which I aspire. He is a driven, focused, unsurpassably accomplished athlete; he loves and actively cares for animals; he possesses a will of iron while being easily the most gentle and loving, fully authentic person I’ve known; and he embraces his spirituality so fully, so completely in the way he lives and moves through this life that it is sometimes simply breathtaking.
He’s a damn good guy.
And the man Forgives. He forgives before being asked. He forgives without being asked. He has forgiven a lot.
None of his accomplishments have come easy; the things, events and treatments, the circumstances, negativity and actions with which he’s had to deal through life and career can be overwhelming simply to hear; not to mention actually experience or with which to deal.
Yet. In the face of and having come through all that he has, he forgives and releases and moves forward; truly having forgiven and even given love back to those who may have hurt him. He is the most Namaste person I’ve ever encountered.
I aspire to have that equanimity, that strength, that commitment to generosity, truth and love.
So, as I sat there, not listening to the Shaman, I thought about Camille and I thought about Greg.
Examining my experience with Camille, it came to me that negativity and anger are so often the outgrowth or manifestation of fear and unhappiness. Depression is so often rooted in Rage, and all of this comes from sadness, frustration, fear…
The times in my life when I’ve made my most egregious mistakes in treating others poorly have been when I’ve been struggling with the deepest of sadnesses or most paralyzing of my own fears…
What would Greg do? He would love her.
That’s all he would do. Love her.
I can do that.
Afterward, during breakfast, as we were all randomly seated outdoors, I glanced into the kitchen and saw Camille with two others, baking bread. The body language among the three telegraphed to me that Camille wasn’t fitting-in, in there, either…
Next thing I knew, I saw her walking from the kitchen, face down and heading past us into the compound. I saw my chance.
Getting up from my table, I took a course to intersect with her. I had no idea, yet, what I would say; but there she was.
She did not see me coming. As I approached, I called, “Camille! Don’t take another step; I have something for you…”
As I opened my arms to offer her a hug, she turned to face me and I was stunned. Her visage was a knot, so tightly screwed together so as to seem of stone. I saw pain, I saw worry, I saw anger and sadness, all of it raw and intense. Had I seen that before getting so close, I’d have asked permission to approach but it was too late! I had momentum and she’d already stopped and before I knew it…
“May I …?” was all I got out before she and I embraced.
…and she began to weep.
I held her, fully embracing her as she wept openly, uncontrollably, sobs coming from deep, deep inside her.
And I held her. Feeling her sobs against my chest, feeling her fragile soul opening up and pouring forth.
I put a hand on her head and told her I wasn’t going anywhere, that I’m right here and I have her.
And she wept.
And I held her.
And she wept.
And I held her.
When she caught her breath, she asked, “…you don’t even know what this is about, do you?” I have no idea.
And she shared with me a diagnosis she had recently received; one that had seemed negotiable when in familiar surroundings; but the extent and effects of which had become alarmingly pronounced and defined now, in her first foray into new geography. She was appreciating the reality of her life and she was terrified. And I got it.
“You know…” I said, “ …if you’re willing to share this with the group, I’ll bet we’ll all have your back…”
And over the next hour, in the next sharing circle, Camille shared it all and found a cohort of comrades ready to stand by her and to share love with her as the week unfolded.
What had been so heavy within moments became so light!
Camille’s face over the coming days grew smoother and smoother, the smile more and more present and fresh. She felt safe and we, as a unit, each and all became closer to her – and to one another, for that matter.
That resonant moment, I believe, speeded the catalysis of our group in coming together and digging into the work we had come to do for this week. It was a powerful experience for all, I suppose, individually and collectively, to be such an active part of catching the fall of another.
For me, it was simple and profound.
He would just love.
I can do that.
Thank you, Greg.
The lesson, through all of it, is to keep an eye on myself for perception through mindset or, as I term it in my own Tenets, Exploration of Assumption. (…or, in instances such as this; Seeing through One’s Own Sh*t.)
We know no one’s backstory, we have no idea what may have happened to that passerby this morning, we know no one’s makeup, experience, state of mind or why.
If we…if I…can keep in mind what I don’t know when confronted with something negative or uncomfortable; chances are I can keep if from affecting me negatively and possibly even contribute in some small way to something more positive for the bearer.
From smiling at a stranger on the street to embracing what looks from the outside like a Problem.
One never knows, until…
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