Author Archives: Jennifer

Yes, Virginia, People Hurt Each Other

I was sitting in my high school Sociology class. I was right in front of one of my crushes and that certainly helped make the already fascinating class one I looked forward to. We were learning so many aspects of how people are when they are in community, how we evolve (or not) socially when we aggregate. How sometimes when we organize ourselves there are disparities and differences. I learned about “socio-economic status,” a concept otherwise shielded from my consciousness in my homogeneous middle class suburban town of 5,000 including the cows. I learned about crime, recidivism and “social deviance.” All these new concepts. Not many pictures in the textbook but fascinating concepts and it didn’t take me long to wonder, so where are these crimes? Where are these deviances (at the time I’m guessing they referred to different lifestyle choices or aberrent behaviors, “criminology”)? Where are the black people? I lived near a metropolitan steel town and I knew that there were folks of color there and I had no idea what that meant though my dad had some opinions about that and they were not flattering. He was from Gary, Indiana and it wasn’t where we were right now. Eventually I wasn’t getting any answers about the seeming disconnect between the Sociology textbook and my day to day world. I wondered if the world was bigger, perhaps a little more like the black and white t.v. images I was seeing. Surely.
In the spring of my sophomore year I decided I needed to see the world in some constructive way and I competed for an international exchange student program through Rotary. I remember that there were 5 of us and only 2 were going to be picked and one of the applicants was a Freshman who was a good friend of mine. It was exciting thinking of going to France or Italy. When I got the news I was shocked. I didn’t get picked. I was mad but moreso sad. I wasn’t going to take this sitting down.
I mulled it over with my mom and finally we both came up with an idea, perhaps there was a way to stay in the country and go for a half year instead of a full one? How could I do that? Then we thought about who we knew in more urban areas of the country: I had an aunt in Houston and one in Sacramento. No brainer. In 4 weeks we worked out a plan and wrote a letter to my prinicipal, connected with the principal at the Sacramento school serving my aunt’s neighborhood and ta da! I was going to spend the first semester of my Junior year in Sacramento, California! My Sociology experiment was about to ensue!!
Flash forward to the chapter pertaining to my post today. I’m sitting in my American History class, not sure what the topic was but I think it was World War II, and two black girls in my class started yelling at each other and hurling intense swear words at each other and in seconds they are escalating to the point where desks are being pushed around and before I know it they are on the ground, kicking, hitting, scratching and screaming at each other. I had never seen anyone that wasn’t on t.v. actually fight each other in my life. I looked away and buried my head in my arms and started to cry. The teacher broke them up and called the school security (not something I had been exposed to either) and had them hauled out. I can’t remember how soon until class was over but what I do remember is I couldn’t move. I was hiding my tears from view, embarrassed at how it had impacted me. What happened next was so touching as my teacher, Mr. C, walked to his bookshelf, took a book off it and held it to his chest. He said something like “First fight? I bet that’s not something you see everyday.” And I said, “No, it isn’t.” And then he said, “You know, people can do some crazy things to each other; it’s happened many times in our history. Here, I want you to read this story, this account of something that happened to people who were thought to be outsiders and some stories about how they handled it.” He handed me a thick book with the title “Neisi” in big letters and I forget the subtitle. I had no idea what it was about, but I trusted my kind teacher and went home and started to read it. I read all about how the government of our country and this state participated in setting up internment camps to put Japanese families in to keep them away from the rest of the population. They saw the Japanese people as enemies, as threats to our safety and livelihood and thousands of miles away in Poland and several other countries another government and another leader was shuttling away millions upon millions of Jews in concentration camps. I’d heard about the Jews and could not make sense of it and I felt like someone had lied to me by not telling me about this before my teacher decided to come up to me and place a book in my lap to taste the bitter disappointment of man vs. man (in the broadest sense). That humans were capable of doing these awful things to each other. My eyes and heart were both opened but not exactly “resolved” about this. I felt the cognitive dissonance between learning about something and then attempting to process it. Do you know I still haven’t quite done that. I’ve watched films and attended lectures about both the Japanese internment and the Holocaust, visited museums for each, attended lectures for each, still look for information about each because at 16 and to the present, I have tried to make sense of the world. Of cruelty. Of fear. And it bombards my being to the core. The miracle of that pain, I think, is that from that exposure, from that experience on, I have had a deeper conviction around the importance of shared humanity. That I am at first a spiritual person having a human dress rehearsal; second I am a human in the anthropology of things and humans were given hearts that connect to minds that connect to souls and back again and with those special tools it’s imperative that we use those gifts to co-exist, to share our stories and seek first to understand before we start picking up any sticks or stones. I can’t possibly know the story of another across from me merely in isolation or even if I read a ton of things about them. I will only really know their story if I dare to connect. First. Understand them, first. The only interment and concentration camps we need are ones where we park our misunderstandings, untested assumptions and myths that have no direct, visceral, human experience to back them up. Humans create oppression, humans can un-create it and that would be a great use of our hearts, minds and souls.

What’s Really True Here?

I sent a note to a friend…ok, technically it was an email. “Notes,” I guess, are archaic and our grandchildren are going to think it is only music. Well, it is. It’s music of the highest order, the notes of our soul. I had a tag line on my email, (also known as “signature”) which is this quote:

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive–and then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who come alive! H. Whitman

My lovely friend said “Nice tagline!” (which is apparently another way to refer to it in case you are not speaking English as your first language and wanted more confusion). And without thinking or missing a beat I wrote back: “Inspiring people in every nook and cranny I can possibly find! Some day, I’ll impact this world!“

And I began to weep quietly within myself. My heart was touched by the fact that I wrote down the words “some day.” Oh dear. For one claiming to be a lover of all things compassionate, I effortlessly rode right over myself and missed an opportunity to acknowledge who I am in the world. Thank goodness for my desire to capture these moments in writing so if nothing else I will not so automatically go there next time! And thank goodness I can ritualize, in the dearest way,  a path back to what my real truth is here; this is one of those times I can exist in conscious connection with my core and shout out to the hallows of my room “I AM impacting the world already!” And rather than being seduced into the lair of judgment about how much, lo, I will instead stick with the words and repeat them again:


I’m even positively impacting it! Hey, if I’m going to judge, it’s going to be on the favorable side. Clearly I am writing all the rules here and it’s great fun. So beats the alternative of the darker side. Life would not be rich without the lessons and contrasts of the shadow, but that is not the topic for this day. Today I am touched by how important, how resonant it is to me and for me to impact the world. I confess, I want to spend a bunch of hours dropping deposits, (thank you Dr. Covey) in the emotional bank accounts of any living thing I encounter today. And forever. And you bet I will receive deposits in mine as well! My account is open for deposits, thank you. I believe this short time spent slowing myself down long enough to listen to what I was saying and course-correct to what is really true (thank you, Byron Katie) better positions me to take on my day’s main thrust: creating my very own model for life and leadership. The view is so much better from here!  Thanks for being here with me.


There is always treasure buried in the unasked for. Whether it’s something that gets taken away or some direct infliction of mental or physical pain, unanticipated roadblocks, uninvited anger or shocking, revealed truths—God/the Universe has carefully placed a gift, a treasure inside that could only have been discovered through that veneer, that cleverly disguised wrapping paper, that camouflaged bramble of adversity. When we understand this, it helps us navigate our lives. Storms come and they always end. Perhaps we were prepared, perhaps not, and after they are over we do know something we didn’t know before. Without the storms, what would we truly know or calmness? Radiant sunlight on our face? The perseverance of our souls which stand there with us, in tact after the storm is over, stand pleading with us to remember both. Invitations surround us constantly; invitations to look at all the obstacles, real or imagined, and welcome them with the knowing that they bear gifts. Peacefully we release rather than resist them and with our soul’s confidence, we treasure hunt once again.

Creating a Third Language



I love something I call the power of a third language. I made this concept up when I realized it was something I was missing in many of my relationships. In a relationship, there is a language one partner speaks, a language the other partner speaks and the opportunity for there to be a third language that both create and speak together. In an organization, there is the language an individual speaks, there is a suggested language that the global culture speaks and then there is the opportunity for groups within the culture or even the global culture to speak which can be their third language. This language is created with the intention to cross-over and bridge people throughout the organization with some constructs that are common and shared; not a “cult” language, deeply steeped in “insider” energy, no, a transparent, open language for anything from how we are going to treat one another to how work flow needs to happen. Speaking of language, the operative words here are “intention” and “shared.”

A recent application of this I used utilizes Steven Covey’s “4 Quadrants” tool. This construct has you look at life within the context of urgency and importance. When you are spending your energy on life, there are events and experiences that come along that fall into one of 4 combinations: that which is not urgent and not important; that which is not important but urgent; that which is important and urgent and that which is important and not urgent. When a group visits each of these combinations of experiences, it doesn’t take long before they are adept at figuring out where they spend most of their time AND where they would like to spend more time. The details of this are not as significant as the language of it. Through this construct, all the people who have learned it have at their “tongue tips” words to convey where they are at in any given moment. For example, someone is working on their to-do list at their desk and someone comes bursting into their space saying “I need the data on that project before the end of the day or I won’t be able to get my prototype out!!!” Here is someone who is coming in with something they feel is important and urgent. The person being confronted has the opportunity to assess where they are at in terms of the urgency and importance of their to-do list and this new demand for time/energy. To play this out, let’s pretend that the person on the receiving end can assist the requestor yet not in the exact moment. They might respond like so: “I know this is important and urgent for you. I have several important and urgent items on my list today as well. What I can do is touch bases with my manager and see about bumping one of my items below the line for the day so that I can make time later this afternoon to address your need.”   That is one response. One more might be: “I am very clear that I have no room to meet your important and urgent need for that data today; what I can do is address it tomorrow before 10:00 a.m. If that doesn’t work for you, we may both have to work with our manager’s on what the bigger picture might reveal is most important for all of us.” Another response: “I see this is urgent and important for you. I am working on some less urgent items this afternoon and will intentionally put those aside to help you with this.” Finally, and not exhaustive, “I cannot do this at this time. Everything on my list today is on fire—urgent and important. I need to ask you to wait or reconsider the urgency of your request.” Once again what’s important here is that the people in this conversation are sharing a common language and frame work to discuss work and the sharing of information. Absent that language, we can find ourselves running around making demands, people stepping on each other’s work and values, frustration and most of all resentment flying all over the place because the culture has not set up a conscious framework for how requests are going to be made.   While this is only a small fragment of a larger conversation around creating culture, I hope it stimulates some thoughts for you around creating a similar “bridge” that will connect well-intending people looking for a

Celebrating What is Going Well

I feel like celebrating around a delightful experience I had with a client the last few months. The very notion of celebration was one that my co-leader and I brought to them. I had used it with a small software company a few months ago and they had so much fun with it I wanted to see if it would have the same impact. It did. No need to keep a great thing a secret: we asked people to share 6 things in 5 minutes with 6 different people (a la “speed dating”) that had gone well for them at work in the last 6 months (wanted to keep the math simple). Yes, they could say the same thing to 6 different people or they could say 6 different things, the point was to share what had been going well.
Huge energy shifter. What we learned is that it is still pretty common for organizations to emphasize what results they want, what has been achieved, and yes, what isn’t working. Spending time on what is working or what has been great, well, not so much time on that. What was fantastic here was that in the debrief for that day’s work, the manager of the group shared that she was going to make a behavioral shift as a result of that exercise: from now on there would be a set time on the staff meeting agenda for celebrations around what is going well. I have this fantasy that such things harken to that infamous small tab on the bow of the Titanic; a small shift makes for a pervasive change in the course of the team’s direction and journey.
This also brings up for me the observation that people, in their real, human essence, do want to feel good about how work or life is going. It’s not soft. It’s not woo woo. We all share a real need for acknowledging that there are things going well and we are on the path. It’s an opportunity to realize some balance in a world that is so focused on go, go, go, drive, drive, drive. It’s a place of shifting into neutral for a second to feel the effects of the wind on your face with the top down.