Are You a Person of Depth? – A Reflection on our “Shallow” Tendencies (with insight from Neil Postman and Nicholas Carr)
“When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.”
― Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
A medium’s content matters less than the medium itself in influencing how we think and act.
…Not even McLuhan could have foreseen the feast that the Internet has laid before us: one course after another, each juicier than the last, with hardly a moment to catch our breath between bites.
Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains
of little depth
What do people want? One thing they don’t want is to be shallow. But…
I keep thinking…
We’ve got a problem. It’s not a small problem — it’s a great big problem.
I’ve never met anyone who says:
“my goal is to be a shallow person.”
We like, we praise, we respect people with depth. We say good things about them:
“he is a person of substance; she is a person of great depth.”
When we say the opposite – “she is so shallow; he is such a shallow person” – we never, ever mean it as a compliment.
But, there are some pretty shallow people around us, aren’t there?
(I suspect there is plenty about me that is on the shallow end of the spectrum).
So that’s part of the problem: there are shallow people. And we all have our own shallow tendencies.
Yet, we all want to aim for depth, and we wish we could become people of greater substance.
Now, back to the problem: we value depth, but increasingly, we are confronted with short, sound-bite, tiny morsels of content. We read too many short items on our daily feeds… We don’t take time to read, or think, or plan, or ponder, in depth.
We are, in the words of Neil Postman, “amusing ourselves to death.” I think he was writing about our tendency to embrace the shallow.
It’s more than just a tendency. It’s kind of our default position. We default to…shallow.
It takes no work to be shallow. Shallowness comes naturally.
Now, one does not have to read books, or ponder philosophy, to develop depth and substance. But, I do think this is true…
It takes work — some form of internal, comprehensive work — to become a person of depth.
A lot of consistent, disciplined work.
Over the long haul.
I’ve got some depth-building work to do… How are you doing?
The first steps of a creative act are like groping in the dark: random and chaotic, feverish and fearful, a lot of busy-ness with no apparent or definable end in sight. There is nothing yet to research. For me, these moments are not pretty. I look like a desperate woman, tortured by the simple message thumping away in my head: “You need an idea.”
You need a tangible idea to get you going. The idea, however miniscule, is what turns the verb into a noun – paint into a painting, sculpt into sculpture, write into writing, dance into a dance.
Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit
So, I’ve had some experience with this.
And, I’ve heard others describe their agony over this.
You don’t quite know what to do – what to work on. Maybe you’re depressed. Maybe you’re stuck – you need to market, or make sales calls, but you don’t know where to start.
For the work life, there may be nothing more debilitating than not knowing what to do; thus not having something to do.
You’ve got to find something to do, so that you will have something to do.
And, for that to happen, sometimes you.need.an.IDEA.
When the idea hits, it is… energizing. “Now, I know what I’m going to do.”
But, getting that idea is no easy task.
For Twyla Tharp, she has created rituals to find that next idea. From her book:
Even though I look desperate, I don’t feel desperate, because I have a habitual routine to keep me going. I call it scratching. You know how you scratch away at a lottery ticket to see if you’ve won. That’s what I’m doing when I begin a piece. I’m digging through everything to find something. It’s like clawing at the side of a mountain to get a toehold, a grip, some sort of traction to keep moving upward and onward
The unshakeable rule: you don’t have a really good idea until you combine two little ideas.
When you’re in scratching mode, the tiniest microcell of an idea will get you going. Musicians know this because compositions rarely come to them whole and complete. They call their morsels of inspiration lines or riffs or hooks or licks. That’s what they look for when they scratch for an idea.
So, when you’re stuck, just go through stuff – lots of stuff – and look for some tiny morsels, and combine a couple of ideas, until the energizing IDEA hits.
And when it hits, get to work. Don’t waste another moment. Let it energize you! You’ve got your IDEA, now go for it.
“There is no Permanent Fix” – A Tough Reality to Face, and Lesson to Learn, from General Stanley McChrystal (from Team of Teams)
…the constantly changing, entirely unforgiving environment in which we all now operate denies the satisfaction of any permanent fix. The second was that the organization we crafted, the processes we refined, and the relationships we forged and nurtured are no more enduring than the physical conditioning that kept our soldiers fit: an organization must be constantly led or, if necessary, pushed uphill toward what it must be. Stop pushing and it doesn’t continue, or even rest in place; it rolls backward.
General Stanley McChrystal (with David Silverman, Tantum Collins, and Chris Fussell), Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World
Oh, how we wish there was a permanent fix.
In Team of Teams, General McChrystal and his team of writers described the never-ending disintegration of the work that has just been finished by the finest of the finest. Yesterday’s successes were being swept away.
It’s a humbling reminder. It reminds me of a scripture that I think of often:
Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on…
(The Apostle Paul, Philippians 3:13-14).
What happened yesterday is gone. Truly, gone.
Oh, the failures of yesterday can have lingering ripple effects. Yes, they can. But, the only real option is to pick back up, and get going again.
And the successes of yesterday? Well, they can disappear in a split second.
That’s what General McChrystal was writing about. Listen to the agony behind these words (coming, in the book, just before the quote above):
Veterans of our war watched from afar in sullen frustration as ground we’d taken foot by foot, and yard by bloody yard, fell to yet another extremist movement that advanced with seeming ease despite being outmanned and outgunned by government forces.
He claims, “what we’d done had been real…” But, the victory, the win, the fix had not lasted. A new challenge, a new “competitor” (a new “enemy”) had come along, and yesterday’s successes are now simply memories. There’s a new battle to fight, a new enemy to vanquish, a new challenge to tackle.
Yesterday’s fix was not permanent. It did not last. It cannot last. Today’s challenge awaits today’s fix.
And then, after today’s fix, it will start all over again.
There is seemingly never the satisfaction of a permanent fix. That’s the lesson, in war, in business, today and for all the coming days.
And there’s nothing we can do about it except accept it, and get right back to it.
(I will present my synopsis of Team of Teams next Friday, August 7, at the First Friday Book Synopsis).
This is not a post about speaking. But, let me start with this:
A good speaker, an effective speaker, has to get the attention of the audience at the get-go. To fail at this is to…fail. Dr. Tom Hollihan, Professor at the University of Southern California, reduces effective speaking down to this formula: arouse, then, fulfill. (see this blog post” Arouse and Fulfill, Formula for Effective Presentations).
This wisdom is transferable. It has other vocabulary in other arenas, but it boils down to this:
Get the attention
Work toward the solution/next step.
There are a lot of folks out there in the “solutions providing” business. But before the need, the problem, the issue is identified, the solution is not all that important, is it?
Well, here’s a problem that everybody has – every person, every organization. We “know” this, but we don’t quite fully acknowledge it.
The problem: we are all adopters of, and then champions of, the status quo.
It happens so very fast. We get a new job, we settle in, our routines become set. We get very good at doing things the “old” way very, very quickly. We know that we are supposed to be continually innovative, looking for different, better ways to do things…
But we are so quick to settle in to the status quo.
And, when someone comes along with their new “solutions,” we reject them so easily, because “we don’t need solutions around here – things are just fine!”
I read a lot of books about innovators and their innovations. Every time I read one, I think – I need to get more serous about this personally.
And then, the next morning, I go right back to my set routines.
There is no power at work as powerful as the status quo!
So, I’ve created a new seminar. For me, and for you. I can bring it into a group of three, or a group of 300. It is designed for one thing, and one thing only: to get your attention. To raise your consciousness. To remind you that you, and your organization, are over-committed to the status quo. And that it’s time to shake free and break free of that over-commitment.
The title of this seminar is simple:
Shock Therapy for the Status Quo
I draw from a number of my book synopses – from the best books about innovators and their innovations.
And the books cover a lot of innovation terrain: dancing and choreography (Twyla Tharpe); baseball (Billy Beane, via Michael Lewis); and of course, the expected ones – Steve Jobs, Ed Catmull (Pixar), Elon Musk, the full list from Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators.
Take a look at the flier (below). Think about how this seminar could “get your attention” about your own over-commitment to the status quo.
And, give me a call (my contact info is on the flier, below). Let’s talk about how this could help you shake free and break free from the status quo, in your work life, and in your organization.
There is so much good advice, good counsel, good advice out there in so many places. But, it is tough to beat a good book for the best “where do I go to learn about” counsel.
You know the old wisdom — “readers are leaders.”
Maybe it is better to say that leaders do plenty of reading. And so do aspiring leaders.
I’ve written a new White Paper about the value of book clubs — specifically, Business-Books Book Clubs — within organizations. This is worth reading as you consider your own leadership development, and your own “keep-current” efforts.
It is free, ready to download. I’ve titled the white paper:
I think the white paper is filled with useful information, and a workable plan, or two. Please give it a read.
The Equalizer (Denzel Washington) Reading Through the “Top 100 Books You Should Read Before You Die”
In the old days, I would go to movie theaters. Not so much anymore. Now, I mostly watch movies through some form of streaming or premium or on-demand access. So, I’m a little “late” on my movie comments.
This past weekend, I watched The Equalizer. If you haven’t seen it, Denzel Washington plays a former CIA killing machine, who is now living a quiet life working at a big Home Depot style superstore. He’s kind of a … how do I word this… “one-to-one coach, defender, savior” to some folks in trouble.
Yes, it gets violent. But the soft, quiet touches are so very engaging.
So, why write about this on this blog. Apparently, his character, Robert McCall, lost his wife sometime before this story. She had read the 100 books a person should read before they die (see the link below). Now, maybe in her memory, he was working thorough the list. We learn this as he is reading The Old Man and the Sea in a diner.
A couple of observations:
#1 – His reading followed a ritual.
He went to a diner; sat at the same table each night; arranged his silverware, stirred his tea (brought his own tea bag, by the way), and read his current book.
He kept his books in an old-fashioned book case in his apartment – all hardback, in very carefully-kept rows…
#2 – He read hardback editions of the books.
Watching his reading ritual, pondering it, felt kind of… peaceful.
I know this. He was not working through the list of 100 web sites to read before you die, or the “Greatest 100 Tweets of the Year.” He was reading books – “classics” – books that have held up over time.
I recently read a list of summer reading assignments from top prep schools. Yep, The Old Man and the Sea was on one of the lists.
Confession time: I read “for a living.” I now read nearly all of the books I read on my Kindle App on my iPad. It is… work. Oh, I enjoy it. I love reading. But, reading books on my iPad is something I do to work/for work.
But, after I watched the movie, I pulled down on of my old hardbacks, a Graham Greene novel. I put it by my (sadly, seldom-used) reading chair. And I set my timer, and read a set number of minutes. It’s too early to tell if I will keep this up. But I know I will finish the Graham Greene novel. And, who knows, I might tackle the books on that list I have never read. If I do, I will buy hardback versions, put them by my reading chair, and follow my own ritual of reading.
Who would have expected an action movie to beckon us toward a great life-time reading list?
I searched, and it seems this might be the list of 100 books. It at least includes the three books mentioned in the movie: The top 100 books of all time– Take a look at a list of the top 100 books of all time, nominated by writers from around the world, from Things Fall Apart to Mrs Dalloway, and from Pride and Prejudice to Don Quixote.
And, here’s the full list of books, from the article:
1984 by George Orwell, England, (1903-1950)
A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen, Norway (1828-1906)
A Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert, France, (1821-1880)
Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner, United States, (1897-1962)
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, United States, (1835-1910)
The Aeneid by Virgil, Italy, (70-19 BC)
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, Russia, (1828-1910)
Beloved by Toni Morrison, United States, (b. 1931)
Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Doblin, Germany, (1878-1957)
Blindness by Jose Saramago, Portugal, (1922-2010)
The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa, Portugal, (1888-1935)
The Book of Job, Israel. (600-400 BC)
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor M Dostoyevsky, Russia, (1821-1881)
Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann, Germany, (1875-1955)
Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, England, (1340-1400)
The Castle by Franz Kafka, Bohemia, (1883-1924)
Children of Gebelawi by Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt, (b. 1911)
Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges, Argentina, (1899-1986)
Complete Poems by Giacomo Leopardi, Italy, (1798-1837)
The Complete Stories by Franz Kafka, Bohemia, (1883-1924)
The Complete Tales by Edgar Allan Poe, United States, (1809-1849)
Confessions of Zeno by Italo Svevo, Italy, (1861-1928)
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor M Dostoyevsky, Russia, (1821-1881)
Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol, Russia, (1809-1852)
The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories by Leo Tolstoy, Russia, (1828-1910)
Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, Italy, (1313-1375)
The Devil to Pay in the Backlands by Joao Guimaraes Rosa, Brazil, (1880-1967)
Diary of a Madman and Other Stories by Lu Xun, China, (1881-1936)
The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, Italy, (1265-1321)
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Spain, (1547-1616)
Essays by Michel de Montaigne, France, (1533-1592)
Fairy Tales and Stories by Hans Christian Andersen, Denmark, (1805-1875)
Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Germany, (1749-1832)
Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais, France, (1495-1553)
Gilgamesh Mesopotamia, (c 1800 BC)
The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, England, (b.1919)
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, England, (1812-1870)
Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, Ireland, (1667-1745)
Gypsy Ballads by Federico Garcia Lorca, Spain, (1898-1936)
Hamlet by William Shakespeare, England, (1564-1616)
History by Elsa Morante, Italy, (1918-1985)
Hunger by Knut Hamsun, Norway, (1859-1952)
The Idiot by Fyodor M Dostoyevsky, Russia, (1821-1881)
The Iliad by Homer, Greece, (c 700 BC)
Independent People by Halldor K Laxness, Iceland, (1902-1998)
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, United States, (1914-1994)
Jacques the Fatalist and His Master by Denis Diderot, France, (1713-1784)
Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Celine, France, (1894-1961)
King Lear by William Shakespeare, England, (1564-1616)
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, United States, (1819-1892)
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne, Ireland, (1713-1768)
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Russia/United States, (1899-1977)
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombia, (b. 1928)
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, France, (1821-1880)
The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, Germany, (1875-1955)
Mahabharata, India, (c 500 BC)
The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil, Austria, (1880-1942)
The Mathnawi by Jalal ad-din Rumi, Afghanistan, (1207-1273)
Medea by Euripides, Greece, (c 480-406 BC)
Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar, France, (1903-1987)
Metamorphoses by Ovid, Italy, (c 43 BC)
Middlemarch by George Eliot, England, (1819-1880)
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, India/Britain, (b. 1947)
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, United States, (1819-1891)
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, England, (1882-1941)
Njaals Saga, Iceland, (c 1300)
Nostromo by Joseph Conrad, England,(1857-1924)
The Odyssey by Homer, Greece, (c 700 BC)
Oedipus the King Sophocles, Greece, (496-406 BC)
Old Goriot by Honore de Balzac, France, (1799-1850)
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, United States, (1899-1961)
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombia, (b. 1928)
The Orchard by Sheikh Musharrif ud-din Sadi, Iran, (c 1200-1292)
Othello by William Shakespeare, England, (1564-1616)
Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo Juan Rulfo, Mexico, (1918-1986)
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, Sweden, (1907-2002)
Poems by Paul Celan, Romania/France, (1920-1970)
The Possessed by Fyodor M Dostoyevsky, Russia, (1821-1881)
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, England, (1775-1817)
The Ramayana by Valmiki, India, (c 300 BC)
The Recognition of Sakuntala by Kalidasa, India, (c. 400)
The Red and the Black by Stendhal, France, (1783-1842)
Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust, France, (1871-1922)
Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih, Sudan, (b. 1929)
Selected Stories by Anton P Chekhov, Russia, (1860-1904)
Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence, England, (1885-1930)
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, United States, (1897-1962)
The Sound of the Mountain by Yasunari Kawabata, Japan, (1899-1972)
The Stranger by Albert Camus, France, (1913-1960)
The Tale of Genji by Shikibu Murasaki, Japan, (c 1000)
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, Nigeria, (b. 1930)
Thousand and One Nights, India/Iran/Iraq/Egypt, (700-1500)
The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass, Germany, (b.1927)
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, England, (1882-1941)
The Trial by Franz Kafka, Bohemia, (1883-1924)
Trilogy: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett, Ireland, (1906-1989)
Ulysses by James Joyce, Ireland, (1882-1941)
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Russia, (1828-1910)
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, England, (1818-1848)
Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis, Greece, (1883-1957)
This list of the 100 best books of all time was prepared by Norwegian Book Clubs. They asked 100 authors from 54 countries around the world to nominate the ten books which have had the most decisive impact on the cultural history of the world, and left a mark on the authors’ own thinking. Don Quixote was named as the top book in history but otherwise no ranking was provided.
Being your own manager is only half the battle.
In the old days, as you learned a trade (a skill), you would work under a journeyman (it was pretty much always a journeyMAN), until you became a journeyman yourself. (And then, if you made it to the pinnacle, you would become a master).
Today, so much of our work is more “internal,” (“i.e., “information worker” work), and more and more people, even if they work within an organization, have to be ever-more self-directed. (See Zappos’ move to Holacracy: No more managers at Zappos).
Recently the always helpful Laura Vanderkam wrote How To Be Your Own Manager: Developing An External, Strategic Perspective On Your Career, Just Like A Talent Manager Would, Keeps You Moving Forward. She wrote:
…as people move in and out of roles more frequently, we’re starting to have as many jobs on our résumés as an actor might have gigs. If you want to be a rock star at what you do, here’s how to be your own manager.
She has five recommendations. They are all good, but I especially like #s 4 & 5:
#4 – Coach Your Performance
#5 – Promote Yourself
But… here’s what I think. After you manage yourself, you now have the next, maybe tougher assignment. And that is to “Supervise Yourself.”
Remember the distinction:
a person responsible for controlling or administering all or part of a company or similar organization.
Person in the first-line management who monitors and regulates employees in their performance of assigned or delegated tasks.
Maybe, consider it this way: a manager makes sure the company is going in the right direction. The supervisors are making sure that the individuals are getting the job done; the right work done, and done well.
So, after you manage yourself, you then have to make sure the work is getting done—you have to supervise yourself, to get the work done.
And, if you have trouble here, then you have to up the game even further, and define your role as that of being a “taskmaster” to yourself.
a person who supervises rigorously the work of others.
I’ve got a hunch that this task is as important, and sometimes maybe more difficult, than it seems.
In other words, once the “right” work is planned out, then making sure the work is actually done is pretty much the whole ballgame.
Since our focus at the First Friday Book Synopsis is on business, we have covered very few books of interest to general society. However, a great friend of mine encouraged me to investigate domestic violence against women and sexual abuse. I have made several FB posts about this, and am preparing a formal persuasive presentation on this subject.
Complacency; Loss of Focus – Lessons from Elon Musk and a SpaceX Catastrophe, and a Prison Escape in New York State
marked by self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies
The good news on attention comes from neuroscience labs and school classrooms, where the findings point to ways we can strengthen this vital muscle of the mind. Attention works much like a muscle—use it poorly and it can wither; work it well and it grows.
It’s not the chatter of people around us that is the most powerful distractor, but rather the chatter of our own minds. Utter concentration demands these inner voices be stilled.
A reader’s mind typically wanders anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of the time while perusing a text.
Daniel Goleman, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence
It’s not easy.
It’s not easy to be fully focused, fully present, at your job, every minute, of every hour, of every day, of every week…
The ways we lose focus are unending.
You do not “keep your head down,” (golf); you do not “follow the ball all the way into the glove,” (baseball); you do not “focus eyeball-to-eyeball one audience member at a time” (speaking)…
I think of bad restaurant experiences. We sit down at the table, waiting for someone to serve us; waiting; waiting… Oh, there are people whose job it is to serve customers, but they stand around, seemingly giving no attention to focusing on the customers. They are at their job, but they are not doing their job.
Now multiply that in company after company, job after job…
In other words, for things to work right, the people at work have to give their undivided focus to doing their job, every minute they are at work…
I’m not sure why it is so easy to lose focus. But it is easy. And I do it, and you do it, and… people in jobs where losing focus really matters do it.
Recently, a SpaceX rocket blew up. It was the first such catastrophe after a string of 18 successful launches.
Here’s what Elon Musk had to say:
The head of SpaceX says one of the reasons his company’s Falcon 9 rocket blew up following takeoff last month was because his people have been sitting on their laurels. In a post-mortem conference call about the explosion, Musk said:
“This is the first time we’ve had a failure in seven years so, I think to some degree, the company as a whole became maybe a little bit complacent.”
from Bill McColl, Elon Musk’s ‘complacency’ problem
Elon Musk understands that there is no room for mistakes, any mistakes, in a rocket launch. Call this Six Sigma (eliminating defects) practiced perfectly.
Or, consider the escape from Clinton Correctional Facility in New York State recently. From the New York Times article by William K. Rashbaum, New York Prisoner’s Keys to Escape: Lapsed Rules, Tools and Luck:
But it is also a story of neglect by those who were supposed to keep Mr. Sweat behind bars; of rules and procedures ignored; and of a culture of complacency among some prison guards, employees and their supervisors, whose laziness and apparent inaction — and, in at least one instance, complicity — made the escape possible.
I think we can assume that the (non-complicit) workers at the prison did not want any inmates, certainly not these particularly dangerous inmates, to escape.
And, it is certainly true that no one at SpaceX wanted the rocket to explode.
But in both of these instances, there truly was no margin for error. When guarding dangerous prisoners, when building rockets headed to the space station, you have to get every detail right, you have to do everything right, every day and every time. Again from the article about Musk:
“He pointed out with this failure that a rocket launch is either 100% or nothing,” Newman says. “There’s no such thing as 99% successful because if something goes wrong you have a catastrophic failure such as what we saw.”
Maybe complacency is a cause of loss of focus. Maybe complacency and loss of focus are cousins, somehow connected to each other. But here’s what I know for sure – when I am all in, in the midst of work, (frequently under a demanding deadline), I get my work done. And when it is especially important work, I try to do it as thoroughly as I can, getting everything as right as I possibly can.
What if we all guarded against every hint of complacency, and focused — with full focus — every minute of every day.
I think it is safe to say that everything we do would be done more thoroughly, more correctly… the way it should be done.
Rising Inequality; Rising Levels of Poverty (still!) – Let’s At Least Have Some Meaningful Conversations About This
News item: the number of children below the poverty line is now greater than it was in the great recession of 2008.
cf., More US children living in poverty than before recession: report
Indeed, the distribution of wealth is too important an issue to be left to economists, sociologists, historians, and philosophers. It is of interest to everyone, and that is a good thing.
Refusing to deal with numbers rarely serves the interests of the least well-off.
Thomas Piketty: Capital in the Twenty-First Century
You can put it into any wording, and/or any category you choose: the working poor; rising inequality; poverty; food insecurity… The fact is that we are living in a nation (a world) with a widening divide between the haves and the have-nots. And this continues the divide between the “in group” and those not in “in group.”
The haves lobby the politicians, support the candidates, and get much of what they want in policies and laws. The world works the way they shape it to work.
The have-nots don’t get much… sometimes, not even common courtesy in a police stop. (And this can lead to deadly ripple effects).
I speak monthly at CitySquare’s Urban Engagement Book Club in Dallas. Like I do at the First Friday Book Synopsis, I present synopses of books. But instead of business books, at this event these books are on issues of poverty, social justice, racism. CitySquare is at the forefront of the struggle to help lift people out of poverty. (Larry James, the CEO of CitySquare, served as the Chair of the Poverty Task Force, appointed by Mayor Mike Rawlings of Dallas; he is now focusing on a South Dallas initiative, growSouth, again at the Mayor’s request).
From the Dallas Morning News:
Even though we’ve investigated and written extensively about these gaps since 2007, it’s still stunning to read a national report that concludes neighborhood inequality is greater in Dallas than anywhere else in the country.
It sometimes feels like a losing battle. You know, one step forward – one genuine, terrific, step forward – but, about three-four steps back…
I think about this problem – growing inequality, poverty — a lot. And I read books, and watch the trends.
Recently, one city council candidate was asked “what is the one thing you would do to turn things around?” His answer was exactly right: “there is no one thing to do to turn things around.”
For practically every family, the ingredients of poverty are part financial and part psychological, part personal and part societal, part past and part present. Every problem magnifies the impact of the others, and all are so tightly interlocked that one reversal can produce a chain reaction with results far distant from the original cause.
If problems are interlocking, then so must solutions be. A job alone is not enough. Medical insurance alone is not enough. Good housing alone is not enough. Reliable transportation, careful family budgeting, effective parenting, effective schooling are not enough when each is achieved in isolation from the rest. There is no single variable that can be altered to help working people move away from the edge of poverty. Only where the full array of factors is attacked can America fulfill its promise.
The first step is to see the problems, and the first problem is the failure to see the people.
There has always been some sense that the business sector is going to have to step up in a bigger way to help with this. But the challenge requires more than charity – it is bigger than charity.
And, I think, one piece of the puzzle – a big piece — is connected to the disappearance of jobs, to outsourcing, to globalization, to technology. This loss of jobs from these factors is just gutting the jobs sector for the less-than-well-educated. And this is a big factor in the growing inequality.
To put it another way, there to be more decent paying jobs for the lesser educated. Those are the jobs that are most disappearing.
These are just a few thoughts about this problem… We need more thinking, more reading, more conversations, and ultimately much more work, to tackle these challenges.
(One way that might help you think about these challenges: if you are in the Dallas area, come join us at the Urban Engagement Book Club. We meet at noon on the third Thursday of each month.
CitySquare Opportunity Center
1610 South Malcolm X Boulevard
Here’s the line-up of books for the rest of the year:
August 20 – Race and Politics
Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class — Ian Haney Lopez
Campaigning for president in 1980, Ronald Reagan told stories of Cadillac-driving “welfare queens” and “strapping young bucks” buying T-bone steaks with food stamps. In trumpeting these tales of welfare run amok, Reagan never needed to mention race, because he was blowing a dog whistle: sending a message about racial minorities inaudible on one level, but clearly heard on another. In doing so, he tapped into a long political tradition that started with George Wallace and Richard Nixon, and is more relevant than ever in the age of the Tea Party and the first black president.
In Dog Whistle Politics, Ian Haney López offers a sweeping account of how politicians and plutocrats deploy veiled racial appeals to persuade white voters to support policies that favor the extremely rich yet threaten their own interests. Dog whistle appeals generate middle-class enthusiasm for political candidates who promise to crack down on crime, curb undocumented immigration, and protect the heartland against Islamic infiltration, but ultimately vote to slash taxes for the rich, give corporations regulatory control over industry and financial markets, and aggressively curtail social services. White voters, convinced by powerful interests that minorities are their true enemies, fail to see the connection between the political agendas they support and the surging wealth inequality that takes an increasing toll on their lives. The tactic continues at full force, with the Republican Party using racial provocations to drum up enthusiasm for weakening unions and public pensions, defunding public schools, and opposing health care reform.
Rejecting any simple story of malevolent and obvious racism, Haney López links as never before the two central themes that dominate American politics today: the decline of the middle class and the Republican Party’s increasing reliance on white voters. Dog Whistle Politics will generate a lively and much-needed debate about how racial politics has destabilized the American middle class — white and nonwhite members alike.
September 17- Education
The Road Out: A Teacher’s Odyssey in Poor America — Deborah Hicks
Can one teacher truly make a difference in her students’ lives when everything is working against them? Can a love for literature and learning save the most vulnerable of youth from a life of poverty? The Road Out is a gripping account of one teacher’s journey of hope and discovery with her students—girls growing up poor in a neighborhood that was once home to white Appalachian workers, and is now a ghetto. Deborah Hicks set out to give one group of girls something she never had: a first-rate education, and a chance to live their dreams. A contemporary tragedy is brought to life as she leads us deep into the worlds of Adriana, Blair, Mariah, Elizabeth, Shannon, Jessica, and Alicia? Seven girls coming of age in poverty.
This is a moving story about girls who have lost their childhoods, but who face the street’s torments with courage and resiliency. “I want out,” says 10-year-old Blair, a tiny but tough girl who is extremely poor and yet deeply imaginative and precocious. Hicks try to convey to her students a sense of the power of fiction and of sisterhood to get them through the toughest years of adolescence. But by the time they’re sixteen, eight years after the start of the class, the girls are experiencing the collision of their youthful dreams with the pitfalls of growing up in chaotic single-parent families amid the deteriorating cityscape. Yet even as they face disappointments and sometimes despair, these girls cling to their desire for a better future. The author’s own life story—from a poorly educated girl in a small mountain town to a Harvard-educated writer, teacher, and social advocate—infuses this chronicle with a message of hope.
October 15- Race
Racism Without Racist: Colorblind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality — Eduardo Bonilla-Silva
Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s acclaimed Racism without Racists documents how beneath our contemporary conversation about race lies a full-blown arsenal of arguments, phrases, and stories that whites use to account for—and ultimately justify—racial inequalities. This provocative book explodes the belief that America is now a color-blind society. The fourth edition adds a chapter on what Bonilla-Silva calls “the new racism,” which provides the essential foundation to explore issues of race and ethnicity in more depth. This edition also updates Bonilla-Silva’s assessment of race in America after President Barack Obama’s re-election. Obama’s presidency, Bonilla-Silva argues, does not represent a sea change in race relations, but rather embodies disturbing racial trends of the past. In this fourth edition, Racism without Racists will continue to challenge readers and stimulate discussion about the state of race in America today.
November 19- Hispanic Culture and Immigration Issues
Border Insecurity: Why Big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren’t Making Us Safer — Sylvia Longmire
When confronted with the challenges of border security and illegal immigration, government officials are fond of saying that our borders have never been as safe and secure as they are now. But ranchers in the borderlands of Arizona and Texas fear for their lands, their cattle, their homes, and sometimes their lives due to the human and drug smuggling traffic that regularly crosses their property. Who is right? What does a secure border actually look like? More importantly, is a secure border a realistic goal for the United States? Border Insecurity examines all the aspects of the challenge—and thriving industry—of trying to keep terrorists, drug smugglers, and illegal immigrants from entering the United States across our land borders. It looks at on-the-ground issues and controversies like the border fence, the usefulness of technology, and shifts in the connection between illegal immigration and drug smuggling, and the potential for terrorists and drug cartels to work together. Border Insecurity also delves into how the border debate itself is part of why the government has failed to improve information sharing and why this is necessary to establish a clear and comprehensive border security strategy.
December 17- Poverty
The Rich and The Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto — Tavis Smiley and Cornel West
Record unemployment and rampant corporate avarice, empty houses but homeless families, dwindling opportunities in an increasingly paralyzed nation-these are the realities of 21st-century America, land of the free and home of the new middle class poor. Award-winning broadcaster Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West, one of the nation’s leading democratic intellectuals, co-hosts of Public Radio’s Smiley & West, now take on the “P” word-poverty. The Rich and the Rest of Us is the next step in the journey that began with “The Poverty Tour: A Call to Conscience” Smiley and West’s 18-city bus tour gave voice to the plight of impoverished Americans of all races, colors, and creeds. With 150 million Americans persistently poor or near poor, the highest numbers in over five decades, Smiley and West argue that now is the time to confront the underlying conditions of systemic poverty in America before it’s too late. By placing the eradication of poverty in the context of the nation’s greatest moments of social transformation- such as the abolition of slavery, woman’s suffrage, and the labor and civil rights movements-ending poverty is sure to emerge as America’s 21st -century civil rights struggle. As the middle class disappears and the safety net is shredded, Smiley and West, building on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. ask us to confront our fear and complacency with 12 poverty changing ideas. They challenge us to re-examine our assumptions about poverty in America-what it really is and how to eliminate it now.