Choices

“What are you watching? Those are pretty dresses!” My niece has entered the room with her nose in my business.
“RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
“Rude Paul?”
“RuPaul”
“RuPaul sings!”
“Yup, you remember”
“But why is he in girls clothes?”
‘Because he is playing pretend. He likes the pretty dresses and hair”
“Boys can do that?”
“Yup, and so can girls. Anyone can play pretend”
And that was all it took for my five year old niece to understand Drag Queens.

Now, I fully understand her understanding is contextual: she loves to dress up too. She seemed very satisfied that adults can still dress up and pretend. BUT the nimbleness of her mind is evidence that the rigid social lines of the past were mostly constructed and imposed rather than inherent and natural. I grew up thinking sex and gender were basically the same thing. Girls had vaginas and that meant they were different. Since the difference was clear, it made sense that other differences must exist between the sexes.

It was not until college that I began to learn how little I knew. Apparently what is taught in grade school is not the full truth, and it requires sophisticated nuance to understand the science behind sex and gender. It turns out sex isn’t just male/female either– the spectrum is quite vast! Chromosomal diversity helps us see the realities beyond XX and XY.

So, if we have more than XX and XY, that must mean our social evolution is on a spectrum. Today, many young people are like my niece: anyone can be anyone they want. If I want to wear a dress, nothing about me changes. If I want wear a blazer, nothing about me changes.

AND perhaps we see the breakdown of arbitrary gender orientations because our parents raised us to think we could do anything.

If I can do anything, how could it be possible that my gender has some inherent restriction on possibility.

Now, some will say that men are stronger than women. Sure, that is generally true. BUT I also know we socialize women to avoid activities that build strength. So, is it the chicken or the egg?

And even if men are stronger than women, there is no reason to deny a woman anything without giving her an equal try– she should fail on her own merits, not that of an arbitrarily delineated grouping. I recently saw that the Navy Seals had their first female qualify. This is a good thing, and shows that gender means little.

 

And it should mean little.

We should be who we are at our cores.

BUT tradition dies hard. Some scholars argue the “gender gap” began with the move from hunter/gatherer to agrarian civilizations. Women played an equal role while tribes were mobile. Once tribes settled permanently, brute strength became more necessary leading to male dominance and patriarchy.

This makes tremendous sense. It is further supported by the “crisis of masculinity” occurring today. Civilization has shifted from the brute strength of men to the finesse of women. The rigid gender binary has swung sides: traditionally feminine skills are in demand.

And so now men are suffering (and growing beards).

But millennials are bucking that trend. Younger men are starting to reject the toxic masculinity that demands so much from them.

Younger women are blossoming and taking over.

What I see is a messy process where men and women are starting to view themselves on a spectrum– where you are not masculine or feminine, but rather just …a person with interests. And our parents aren’t sure how to handle it all the time. But they do love us. And they want us to love ourselves.

 

Cause, if you can’t love yourself how in the hell are you gonna love someone else?

Nothing you can say will change my mind.

Ignorance is bliss.

When you hold onto what you believe, you can dismiss anything comfortably. This comfort is the heart of ignorance.

But it is that comfort that stagnates life.

Climate Change? Discomfort, therefore it isn’t real.
Globalization? Discomfort, therefore it must be stopped.
Privilege? Nah, if that were true then I did not earn my space in life, and that is discomforting.
Systemic Inequity? The Constitution says we are equal, so I don’t have to feel guilty when outcomes are not equal. It’s pretty uncomfortable winning a rigged game, but winning is good, so the game can’t be rigged. I mean, who wants to feel bad? I’m a good person, therefore what I do must be from a good place.

Perhaps this explains why so many people enjoy ignorance: they would prefer to hold their beliefs rather than be correct. More specifically, they would prefer to think of themselves as correct than to actually be correct.

And for a while, information was contextualized by environment. You likely knew the same things your neighbors did, and few things beyond that. A sort of “common sense” that unfortunately still pervades our culture.

Yet now we live in a world where information has few ideological gatekeepers. The Internet has allowed younger generations to question the beliefs forced on them.

Millennials embrace many of the taboos of the past because they have engaged in a form of life-long learning not available to previous generations. Today, children can question their upbringing and surroundings by checking the super computer in their pockets. My father relied on the collective beliefs of his community. His information was funneled through his community. It was easy to have a simple life with simple things: a predictable life. You knew what you knew and it would always be what you knew. But now? You have to prove it. You have to answer “why?” And many non-millennials struggle to answer that question, especially managers and executives. “That’s just how we do it” doesn’t hold up in a learning-driven world with open sourced information.

Learning helps us to answer why. It gives us the opportunity to check our starting points. See what we think of the world and our place in it.

As I reflect on my recent graduation from Graduate School, I realize how powerful learning is, and how necessary it will be for our culture to embrace learning over beliefs and truth over opinion.

Unfortunately it can take a lifetime of learning to figure out the difference.

What’s the speed limit again?

It is beautiful. Clear, crisp, and blue. The sky is reminding me the world I occupy is beautiful. I can hear the birds sing. The cars that pass by push warm air around my body. I can feel the moisture in the air evaporate as the sun gains strength.

buzzzzz buzzzzzz

I can feel the vibrations.

beep ding boop

I can hear the sounds.

I know each’s meaning the way I know the difference between a nauseated gurgle and a ravenous growl.

I adjust my pocket to silence the sounds. I put on sunglasses to block the rising sun.

As I walk down the hill, a multigenerational family enters my field of vision. A 30-something and his wife are engaged in conversation with an older set of adults, who I surmise are his parents. Shortly behind them follow four pitter-pattering feet attached to four skinny legs belonging to two adolescents. Clearly annoyed, their eyes lift only enough to ensure physical equanimity: heads lost in a digital cloud.

“…why don’t you take out YOUR phone and tells us what direction IT says to go, because MINE says we should keep going straight….”, I catch the son saying to his mother, as he gesticulates up the hill, phone in hand. The mother looks annoyed, the way your mom does when you suggest she doesn’t know how to use something. You know that look. The dawdling adolescents exchange knowing giggles.

Until the smartphone arrived in the 2000s, this performance was the province of fantasy. Prior, humans had long envisioned the world of tomorrow and its technological delights: robots, personal assistants, and sensory integrated appliances (I’m not sure Smell-o-Vision will EVER be a good idea). Now, these interactions are normative representations of intergenerational reliance and community.

The Information Superhighway has revolutionized human life, has undeniably upended human existence, and radically accelerated human potential. Our Internet of Things puts us closer to the Jetsons than we might imagine.

But, this revolution has its costs.

Like any highway, the cars are not all the same. Some clunk along while others zip along, engines humming a soft purr. Some people are able to go out and purchase a more fitting vehicle; many a senior citizen adeptly navigates cyberspace. But most people are living on a fixed income; many seniors rely on the generosity of younger family and friends, a fact constantly portrayed in the media. I mean, you KNOW that look.

We are all connected, but we are not on the same page. This revolution has its bloody and dark underbelly: billions of people have cars that cannot get on the highway. These old cars were designed for byways and throughways, but not super highways. These old cars are made for local routes, hidden trails, and off-road beauty; they lack the sophisticated sensors and mechanisms to make sense of the revolution’s new language. For some, what was up is now down. What was right is now wrong. That the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s occurrence coincides with a potentially fatal contraction for Globalization is telling. That we are more connected than ever while facing the rise of nationalistic government is foreboding.

I wonder what other unintended consequences lurk around the bend.

THOSE people are weird.

Culture is powerful and pervasive. Culture can be hard to see. It is like oxygen: it gives us life but also has the power to take it away.

The word “family” is a cultural one.  For some, it is series of parent-children relationships connected by common ancestors. For others, it is anyone they choose, the people who breathe life-oxygen into their days.

Now, the notion of family has waxed and waned throughout western culture. Interestingly, today’s families are more like previous generations than we might like to admit. We are seeing an increase in multigenerational homes throughout areas where single generation homes had formerly dominated. In America especially, there is a trend of young adults returning to the nest with their grandparents not too far behind. Our culture has come to accept this as truth rather than anathema. Yet, at the same time, more and more people are choosing to live in ways traditionally contrary to our culture. Studies suggest that the younger generations are skeptical of the sexual, gender, and normative considerations that their parents held. For example, I know a great number of people in relationships that my parents would not understand: polyamorous, monogamous, and asexual committed relationships, “truples,” multi-parental units, and everything in between. All of it is capable of health and success so long as there is love present.

Perhaps this familial gray area is the natural process of cultural shifts. Unlike the sexual and gender revolutions of the past, the familial revolution seems to be a natural response to the releasing of cultural taboos. But in another sense, this revolution is like every other shift in our history: people are sharing their truths with the world. As more people share, more still are learning to open their minds to new and useful conceptualizations of culture.
Another consideration may be that our understanding of family is reflected in the society in which we live. Previous generations subsisted on the patriarchal paradigm in which one man supported a family. This economic reality influenced cultural signals and shaped the larger culture around the single family economic unit. We can see this in past generations’ veneration of a “nuclear family” and the cultural denigration of outliers. The family unit was the engine of the American economy. As globalization has shifted our economy and as the ability for one breadwinner to support a family fades, we are witnessing a shift in what is deemed culturally acceptable. Now, we are beginning to welcome a buffet of relationships and contexts to promote an adaptive, flexible, modern economic family unit. This modern family unit fits the modern economic imperative: it is changeable, personal, and user-friendly. This modern family reflects the people it comprises and should be understood and celebrated as such.

For some, that is scary. Much like with globalization, there is a fear of losing something essential. That such a shift would bury and suffocate the traditional family.

However, the future is bright and full of love from where I’m standing. I want to breathe deeply.

well, let them eat cake!

Free Markets and Market Economies. Capitalism. Wealth. Taxation. Spending. Growth. Growth. Growth.

Most of us do not really think about these things. We think about our families. We try to protect them, and ourselves, from uncertainty. We strive for food on the table, a roof overhead, and clothes on backs. Our localized realities drive our choices.

Bootstraps. Hard Work. Self-Reliance. Freedom and Liberty.

These are the Americanisms informing prevailing economic beliefs. The Marshall Plan spread many of these principles throughout post-WWII Europe. In exchange for reconstruction aid, Europe underwent massive change and became the precursor of today’s European Union. Europe largely deregulated, removed interstate borders, and adopted prevailing US trends. Europe saw a huge increase in labor union membership, productivity, and the adoption of “modern” business procedures. Well, perhaps not modern. Perhaps just American.

I wonder if the growing inequity across OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries is the result of American self-interest run amok. I wonder if America’s inequity (the 4th highest among the OECD countries) is driving global inequity. Could the practices adopted under the Marshall Plan be responsible for global inequity today? Perhaps. Many people will find holes in this line of questioning. Some with posit the lack of union membership is driving inequity: In the US, states with Right-to-Work laws have higher job growth rates, but lower wages, insurance rates, and pensions. People have jobs, but those jobs might provide less return for labor. Some will posit the embrace of neoliberal structures is the root of inequity. A paper published in the June 2016 issue of the International Monetary Fund’s Finance and Development warned that forty years of neoliberalism has “increased inequality, in turn jeopardizing durable expansion”.

So, we get jobs, but we only take home crumbs? Sounds eerily like the conversations surrounding Brexit and Donald J Trump’s America.

Some will say the cause is simply capitalism, which inherently produces inequity. As you expand equality of opportunity, you likely increase inequity in wealth as opportunity and access are different from actually owning capital. In America, we speak of equality in opportunity but not of equality in capital. In fact, equity of capital is anathema to America.

I venture to connect the dots: Brexit, Trump, Global inequity. What do these have in common? A rejection of the prevailing established norms. Brexit rejected UK dependence on the EU while advocating for economic self-determination. Trump’s victory rejected institutional trends of the past thirty years. Every critique of Trump is rooted in his rejection of norms. Inequity is contributing to this reality. Many Trump supporters expressed exasperation at the establishment, such that anything different would be better. Bernie Sanders supporters made a similar case. And while both the Clinton and Trump campaigns fought bitterly about the best direction forward, both acknowledged the current system is untenable. I fully understand we might never know exactly what caused Trump to win or Brexit to pass. I do not intend to suggest I have the answer, but I do know inequity contributed to each.

I also want to be clear that I am not referring to the idiosyncrasies of Brexit or Trump’s win (there are many factors beyond inequity), but it is important to frame each in a larger context: across the planet people are rejecting the prevailing “normal”.

What happens as we move forward? I fear a future of discontent as the globe sorts this new normal. Climate Change and the broad automatization of labor are major challenges we face. What lessons can be learned today to attenuate future discord?

We know that Climate Change is impacting the globe, even if the politics are controversial (the science is not). We know that robots are replacing workers across economies. We know that profits go to owners. It would be easy to envision a future where capital and profits are derived from robots (in a similar fashion to chattel slavery in the Americas) and healthy air exists for the highest bidder. What will happen to the billions of people living on less than $1 USD? How could they possibly participate in such an economy, let alone survive in it?

We must begin to address these concerns now, or we will find ourselves living in a foreign world whose normal few are prepared to handle.

Though, considering the dire reality billions face today, I am not sure it could be called a new normal.

Perhaps it is just normal.

And that is our problem.

Eh, it won’t count anyways**

*

THIS POST HAS BEEN UPDATED TO REFLECT IMPROVED VOTING DATA 12/13/16. My point does not change. At all.

There will be endless thought pieces on the election and its consequences. I will not delve into that space, though my perspective on Brexit remains illustrative.

I am raw.

I am writing.

I am not sure where I will end. I will refrain from discussing the existential ramifications of our collective decision. My words would be self-serving, their validity inconsequential.

40% of eligible voters elected not to vote.  40%. These people made deliberate choices. Why is this so? I know some were structurally discouraged, but I’d wager the majority simply did not vote.

Some will contend it was the despicable candidates or the deplorable pitch of this particular election that kept voters home. Yet, we have a historical trend of nonvoting, even during more congenial contests. Simply put, Americans tend not to vote. How ironic. How painful.

What the ghosts of our heroes must think! It is as if our collective consciousness considers itself special, acting as if history does not apply. Perhaps this is an example of a greater human flaw: a powerlessness to elude perilous historical propagations.

Yet, we must move forward.

How do we engender an encouraging structure for voters while venerating their birthright to abstain? I am electing to expend energy in this constructive project. If 40% of eligible voters choose not to vote, can we stamp this American experiment democratic? Have we fashioned an organization that denigrates its articulated mission and vision? Has this organization’s structure ever been congruent with its expressed principles? What do we need to change? Is there a way to increase participation without being partisan?

I do not pretend to imply I have the answers. I do know this paradigm is untenable. We cannot continue functioning as a legitimately democratic republic while so many eligible voters abstain from voting. One could argue the results of the election support this: in the past five presidential cycles, our system has twice awarded the presidency to the candidate receiving fewer votes. If nothing else, I find that discouraging, and perhaps nonvoters agree. I find it equally disconcerting that we no longer trust our institutions. I am not sure I can even trust the polling suggesting the distrust.

Do we possess a government representative of its people, or a government of the few imposing itself on the many?

With so few voters voting, we might never truly know.

“I’d love to hear all about your idea!”

“Well, that is a great idea, but we should table that for a time when we can fully devote tangible resources for optimal execution.”

I am shocked by how little time adults spend “doing.” It seems like we spend all day preparing to do, or managing those who are supposed to do, or persuading to do. We rush to meetings, only to end up needing to meet again to go over what happened in the previous meeting. We review emails. We listen to others pontificate. We enable and endure the bureaucratic processes of organizations filled with people pursuing their own interests.

And when we do have those rare moments of productivity, we are critiqued–not for our growth but for the political gain of another. Our hardiness is tested. Our capacity to overcome failing is tried.

“That’s just how it is here.”

Students have long been told that a variety of coursework across several disciplines is the best preparation for the myriad challenges of entering into the “real world.” We teach students that though they may not ever employ their knowledge of photosynthesis, understanding this phenomenon of botany will engender new synaptic connections and general neuroplasticity. We challenge students so they can develop and create a scaffolding for living amongst their peers. Yet, it would seem, that in today’s modern reality this preparation may not be enough.

“No really, that is the way it is here.”

Secondary (and to an extent, primary) schooling has changed little over the last fifty years. While types of schools and their curricula have expanded, the essential schooling model has remained all while the employment market has utterly transformed. One must ask, are we preparing students for a post-graduation world that doesn’t exist?

“I like your idea, but there isn’t any funding.”

Long gone are the jobs of a lifetime (and the pensions they came with). Long gone is the loyalty between employer and employee. Instead, the mutual utility threshold is such that employees jump ship, and employers run their workers ragged.

In the past, employees could reasonably assume that if they sacrificed for their company, they would be rewarded in increased pay and opportunity. While this may exist for some today, for many it is a long-forgotten phenomenon.

Today we live amongst brands: big brands, small brands, personal brands. And, like any organizational construct, there are conflicts. Today we spend our time jockeying for the advancement of our own brand while attempting to maintain the needs of our companies’ brands. Schools need to address this dialectic by generating spaces in which students can learn about this process, but most importantly, schools must allow students to fail. Miserably. Completely.

Students need to learn the sting of failure, but particularly how to deal with it and how to grow from it. I see many young people slaying the world, but I do not see schools designing spaces that optimize each student’s full, distinctive potential. We learn the most when our faces are in the dirt, when our brains hurt and our bodies are shattered. We grow best under the gravity of discovery and the weight of new perspectives. Too often students are denied the opportunity to engage in a world where they are fully imperfect beings. We protect them from the world and from themselves. Students are disallowed the perspectives necessary to traverse a harsh world where one’s triumph is another’s defeat. When we fail, we are given the opportunity to build our resiliency, and today’s reality demands strength through this type of exercised fortitude. Schools need to prepare students to fail and to learn from those failures.

“I’ll have to take that to my boss, I’ll let you know what I hear.”

High school teaches us everything we need to learn about people, and it should also teach us to channel those learned realities into the world as it is. Entrepreneurship should be a cornerstone of the education process as it teaches many of the skills the market is demanding of new employees: shrewd attention to detail, savvy use of personal marketing, brand-oriented and data-driven decision making, risk taking, and human capital management.

“We really appreciate everything you’ve done for us, but you just haven’t been here long enough.”

Many of my ideas have been turned down with sweetly phrased rejection, and often I struggled to understand why the content of my idea was not sufficient. In time, I grew to understand that it was often not about my idea, but rather the political realities of the space my ideas would inhabit if implemented. I learned to continue pushing my ideas while refining and reforming their narrative.

“Maybe in a few years.”

As I work on my graduate degree, I have been reminded of the importance of failure. It is through failure that some of the greatest contributions to mankind have surfaced (penicillin comes to mind). I feel confident that many of the masters of science, philosophy, and art had series of failures. The wunderkinder of Silicon Valley are sitting on a heap of failed products, betas, and launches.

Yet, those failures taught lessons and those lessons endowed value.

As globalization brings us closer together, schools need to better prepare students to live in a world that demands failure in exchange for the keys to success.