Zero Tolerance? Disruption, Change and Policy

“You will feel a little discomfort.” A little discomfort is squinting in bright sunlight. A little discomfort is your underwear wedged in your butt crack. This feels like my teeth are being flossed with a very slender wire, this feels like a sharp object is being shoved into my gums. This is not discomfort, this is pain. I am not numb and I feel every part of this gum surgery. On Thursday, I took a phrase at its basic value and distorted reality to make it true. I thought myself  weak, or maybe I didn’t have a good idea of discomfort.  I missed the obvious, the anesthesia had worn off.

What about the words, slogans and branding that you hear, what do they mean? In the wake of #metoo and #timesup, companies have stated they have a zero tolerance policy. What does that really mean? Is it “feel good” public relations? In schools, zero tolerance policy mandate automatic punishment, such as suspension or expulsion, for infractions of a stated rule. While sounding good ideologically, what does it mean in practice? Results and studies over the last decade show these types of policies are ineffective. In companies with “zero tolerance” around discrimination and harassment, what does it mean, especially if these organizations offer no training?

Decidedly there is a difference between an inappropriate comment, inappropriate touch, inappropriate behavior and assault. I ask again, what is zero tolerance. It’s illogical to treat these four instances the same yet none have are acceptable in the workplace. As we make the transition to respect and dignity, when does the conversation start? Many companies have released “statements.” Change is more than a decision; issuing a statement is not a cultural shift; a start does not mean a finish. As a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in the 80’s, I received a well thought our letter with the recommendations we adapt gender inclusive language. The letter was addressed Dear Sirs. We were a progressive idea trapped in a default setting. David Foster Wallace said the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about and used the fish parable to illustrate.

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

We’re at a point of disruption with a broad spectrum of sexism. This present two challenges. One is to acknowledge a repressive construct is in place, the default setting. The other is, disruption requires construction; if you break down an existing paradigm, what comes next? This is policy and this is the tricky part. Effective policy is somewhat like a recipe. To reach a desired outcome, there are ingredients and an environment that makes it a success. A recipe can be tested and tweak. It can evolve over time to meet the current needs. At any time, you can test it to see if the results meet the intent. As we emerge from #metoo and #timesup, what’s the construct, what’s next. For companies heralding zero tolerance, what’s the policy? Is it working? On a personal level, what is your policy? When something seems to be wrong, do you speak up, engage, educate or tolerate?

I stood stunned and simply replied, “that is inappropriate.”  In the vortex of sexual harassment, here was a man saying something indisputably awful to me. Substantiating, just because there is a heightened awareness of an issue, a hashtag and movement, there is not an immediate behavior change. It was my role to set a boundary and accept an apology when offered later. There is no change unless we all change.

If you’d ask me last Wednesday, would you do gum surgery without anesthesia, I would have given you a withering look and disdainfully said no; yet in the moment, there I felt everything.  The reality was different; I mentally tried to rationalize pain as discomfort. I’ve done a far better job with responses for the spectrum of sexual misconduct. What are your policies?  As a woman, do you have your policy? As a man, if you were standing beside me and heard the offending comment, would you have spoken? Be more than a hashtag; be disruption, change and policy in the making.




Sweet Home Alabama: King, Wallace, Trump & Racist Adjacent

Because people were bombing black churches and he preached

Because blacks had the right to vote in 1870 and Jim Crow laws kept them from voting and he marched

Because he protested the Viet Nam, a war in which McNamara admitted we couldn’t win and he spoke out

Because his message and actions were nonviolent

Because this Martin Luther King birthday, I pay homage to the man and the legacy. It is a day I sit in amazement of the strength, belief and fortitude it took to be the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr.

On January 14, 1963, King’s contemporary, George Wallace took the oath of office as governor of the state of Alabama. In his speech, the line that stood out was:

In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.

In September of 1963, Wallace attempted to block 4 black students from enrolling in 4 different elementary schools in Huntsville. After federal intervention, they were allowed to enroll on September 9, 1963 to which Wallace responded “The President (John F. Kennedy) wants us to surrender this state to Martin Luther King and his group of pro-communists who have instituted these demonstrations.” On Sunday, September 15, 1963, when four members of the Ku Klux Klan planted at least 15 sticks of dynamite attached to a timing device beneath the steps located on the east side of the church; four dead and twenty two injured. These acts of violence did not deter King or weaken Wallace.

From March 7 – March 25 of 1965, King led the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabamawas for voter rights The march started with 600 and ended with about 25,000 people for the end of discriminatory practices barring blacks the right to vote such as poll taxes, literacy tests which were applied subjectively. After Bloody Sunday were marchers were beaten and bloodied by state troopers as they approached the Edmund Pettis Bridge, President Johnson in a speech said,

“Every man should have the right to vote and that the civil rights problems challenge the entire country, not one region or group. “ and the President asked Congress “to help him pass legislation that dictates clear, uniform guidelines for voting regardless of race or ethnicity and that allows all citizens to register to vote free from harassment.” 

 Johnson went on to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that August it was a step forward, but by no means a fait accompli in race relations. On April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King Junior was assassinated in Memphis Tennessee. In 1970, in a run for his second term as governor, Wallace ran what has been called the most racist campaign ever. Wallace aired television advertising with slogans such as “Do you want the black bloc electing your governor?” and circulated an ad showing a white girl surrounded by seven black boys, with the slogan “Wake Up Alabama! Blacks vow to take over Alabama” It’s worth noting that Wallace stated, “I’ve never made a racist speech in my life.” It seems fitting to end the story on Wallace here and cast him as a villain; but I can’t.

It gets more interesting. During his third run for US president as a democratic candidate, in 1972, Wallace was shot in an assassination attempt. He tried for a fourth run at the presidency in 1979. Then in the early 80’s, he contacted civil rights leaders he’d opposed in the 60’s and 70’s including now Congressman John Lewis who suffered a fractured skull during Bloody Sunday. He made phone calls. He gained the support of the African-American electorate and in 1983, became governor of Alabama for the third time AND made more African-American political appointments than anyone else in Alabama history. The Johnson tapes describe George Wallace is described as someone who does not listen and does not trust anybody.  One of his three wives said, “I don’t believe George needs a family. He just needs an audience. The family as audience wasn’t enough for his ego.” What caused the reversal? Is it possible once shot and confined to a wheelchair, he had to trust and take counsel in his recovery and everyday life. Is it possible, the vulnerability changed the ego?

NPR aired an interview Recy Taylor from a few years ago as a follow-up to a speech by Oprah Winfrey last week during her Golden Globe acceptance speech. In 1944, 6 men kidnapped and raped her as she was walking home from church. Despite being told to keep quiet, Mrs. Taylor reported crime. The first trial ended after 5 minutes of deliberation by a jury of all white men ad dismissed. The second trial, the defendants admitted to the rape,but the all male, all white jury refused to indict. Her home was firebombed. There were some who said, well it was consensual, that Mrs Taylor was a prostitute. She received death threats from white supremacist for 25 years until moving to Florida. The state of Alabama apologized in 2011. The sentiment was, well that was the time, that’s how we were raised, everyone did it. Is this a legacy we want to embrace? Because Alabama is all of us and it’s happening again.

In the recent Alabama Senate race is the story of Judge Roy Moore. A man who was removed from the Supreme Court of Alabama for refusing to obey a federal court order. A man banned from the mall in Gadsden, Alabama because of his predatory behavior toward young girls. When accusations of sexual assaults came forth from women who were 14 and 16 at the time, his supporters said, well it was different back then, we don’t know if it’s true. An exasperated Charles Barkley finally said to Alabamians, “We’ve got to stop looking like idiots, do not vote for Roy Moore.” It was a win for Doug Jones.

Because he refused to shake the hand of Angela Merkel

Because he said to Billy Bush, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything; Grab them by the p****. You can do anything,”¹

Because after Charlottesville he said “violence on both side”

Because he said ofMexicans, “They are not our friend, believe me. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Because he said of Carly Fiorina in a Rolling Stone interview “Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that? Can you

imagine that, the face of our next President? I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not supposed to say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?”

Because 19 women have accused him of sexual misconduct including assault

Because he said Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here


Some media outlets have spun his last statement, “well he said what we were all thinking.” Oh as he himself said, “I used strong language” His supporters when interviewed said, they don’t believe he said it, but if he did it’s not good. Today, he said, “I am not a racist, I’m the least racist person you have ever interviewed.” Yes, and as noted before, George Wallace said “I’ve never made a racist speech in my life.” How do we want to go down in history. Is this another time when racism, sexism and assault go unchecked because, it is the time and we can’t be sure?

How many times will we flunk this test?  How will time treat your views and opinions? Will you say, well that was the time or will you say, that was the time, but I did?  We don’t have to be perfect, but we have to be. On this Martin Luther King day, what will you be? What do you stand for?

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Pain and Exhaustion on an Ordinary Day

“The doctors say it’s never going to get better. A nap won’t help. She’s not lazy. She struggles with pain and fatigue every single day. She has lupus, fibromyalgia or arthritis and it’s not the same as your cold or body pain. The most frustrating part is people look at her and say “you look good,” while her body is being attached inside.” My brother posted this on Facebook this week; he quoted something he’d seen that describes my sister-in-law’s. By the time she was diagnosed I had some familiarity with the autoimmune disorders and fibromyalgia other friends.

Everyone is shocked when the cancer diagnosis comes. But cancer is visible, there is a before a during and after. When we say, you look good, it’s after a battle with chemo or radiation, hair loss, weakness or bed stricken. With cancer, we can process what is going on. We can cheer the journey to recovery or mourn defeat. But how do you support, autoimmune disorders if there is no recovery?

My friend with lupus was relieved when diagnosed, but frustrated. ”I tell people what’s wrong, I have lupus and  I’m in pain. But,  they say, well you look good. Well, how am I suppose to look? Do you think I”m not going to comb my hair,  wear makeup, or get dressed?” Busted. I know I have said similar things. Many of the comments on my brother’s Facebook post, were things I have said in the past.

Those comments are about me. My brain is trying to process how I would cope. Well of course, I’d get a second opinion, I’d try diet, exercise and I have heard many people have hidden food allergies that mimic diseases. The truth is, I can’t handle ” it won’t get better.” My comments are all about me and what I would do, for me. I  forget I am having a conversation with someone who is in constant pain.

What would you like people to know, what’s the most biggest conception about autoimmune disorders, what therapies have you found useful, etc. There are many ways to have a conversation without “try,”because if you have a conversation, you often find your “try” has been “tried.” Maybe it’s not the person with an autoimmune disorder that needs to try, maybe it’s you who need to try? Try to listen, to learn about the disorder, even go outside your comfort zone and correct people who dismiss autoimmune as all in someone’s head. Sure, some of these conversations may be uncomfortable, but think about the constant discomfort and pain this group is in. I found Chronic Mom to be a good start to get an idea of the autoimmune world and struggles.




Five Minutes, Probability and the New Year

Five minutes; I watched a movie this weekend and the last 5 minutes changed everything. Stories have an arc, the conflict, the climax and the resolution. What I thought was the resolution changed 3 times in the last 5 minutes. The Pacers versus the Knicks. It was 105 Knicks and 99 Pacers with 11 seconds left. Seems safe to leave? Reggie Miller scored 8 points for the Pacers in 9 seconds, giving the win to the Pacers. Those who left early, not only had the wrong winners, but missed a great moment in basketball.

So much can change in just a moment. My calm, sunny afternoon on the pier was suddenly interrupted when a couple in front of me started fighting. I saw the man put the woman in a headlock and then he roughly pushed her away.  Yelling at her to stay away, he hurled her purse as far away as he could. I was alarmed, but my two friends with me explained, whilst I was checking my phone, she had struck the child and he had protected the child. It was then I noticed the small child holding the man’s hand. How often have you either come late or leave early and miss the story?

This is the conundrum. You don’t know if you have the whole story or not. It happens a few times in movies, things change dramatically in the last few moments, but typically waiting is only going to give you the credits and a few outtakes. TV dramas, it’s pretty likely something will happen in the last minute, the cliffhanger, designed to keep you coming back. Sports events, if one team has been leading significantly, most likely the last 2 or 3 minutes is not going to change the outcome. If you think about it, you probably use probability to determine if you have the whole story.

The calendar flips over to a new year this week. For many, this is a reset. What about the new year being not so much of a new year, but a probability? If things stay on their current course, what’s the probability you’ll be happy with the outcome? What do you want your story to be next year at this time? Are coming to late or leaving too early in your own life? Things can change in a moment, timing is everything, what’s your everything 2018?

Homeless for the Holidays

She is a mini me. This little brown girl with wide eyes sporting a leopard print hat that matched mine. We locked eyes for a moment; both of us break into a smile. A few moments later, it all made sense. The last tent on the right. There are 4 tents pitched under the highway behind the guard rail. I pass this location 8 times a week. In September, I noticed a white board with a very neat display of small stuffed animals. I never thought of the obvious.  I never considered the possibility of a homeless child. Yet, there she was, a little girl peering out of the last tent on the right. 

I have always struggled with the holiday juxtaposition of  bright, shiny, beautiful decorations, wonderful smells, joy and excitement versus scenes of cold stark despair, hunger and need. Spoiler alert, the despair wins. People know, I’m not a big fan of the holiday, I have no tree or decorations, can we just fast forward through the season to be jolly? In my overwhelmed headspace, I mentioned the homeless shelters charge a fee. My friend Julian commented “… you know, you give them a $20 bill and if they make smart choices, they can have shelter for a week, but you know things happen. We do what we can do.” All of us in the conversation, at some point in time given someone “the twenty.” My perspective shifted.

I write about balancing on unstable surfaces and this instability caught me by surprise. Sadly, over the years, I’ve not given my community credit for caring. People really do. That is the balance. It’s not we have to be all sad, or all happy. If I think I have to solve this problem alone, I will be depressed and overwhelmed. As a community, we make a difference. My neighbors, the Ellington residents and I donated $10,000 to the Alameda County virtual food bank. People care. Just like me, the hungry, the homeless and the destitute concern us, but we rarely talk about it. That doesn’t mean there is an absence of caring, it’s evidence of a sense of balance. You do what you can do. You give and donate and you balance that with great moment, so you celebrate what’s merry and bright. Just like my moment with my mini me.




The view from the corner. The tents are barely visible to drivers. People have said they are afraid to walk this stretch of Broadway at night; but the little girl in her leopard print hat lives there at night.  I think of my mini me, I hope she is safe, happy and smiling.

The Big Picture

Off the Grid: The Lot 12th & Broadway Oakland CA

Is it that obvious? I’ve walked by this fence more than 150 times. I took pictures of artwork in October. Yet, it wasn’t until last Friday night, when my friend Audrey was driving me home that I realized, there were letters, there was a name, “The Lot.” How did miss it? When I took the photo, I was too close. When I walked by, I was in motion. Stopped at a traffic light, marveling at the city nightscape, the writing was clear. We often hear, look at the big picture. What does that really mean? Step back, relax and take a different approach. Look for the patterns, look for the disruptions.  What does it tell you? This makes me wonder, what things have I missed that were glaringly obvious that I missed because I was either too close, or that I didn’t stop to notice? This week, what can you stop and observe. Pause and ponder a stance diametrically opposed to yours. It doesn’t mean your view changes, it means you see something you haven’t seen before; you see the big picture.


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