Living History A Great Day Love Won

I cannot even begin to describe what the past few days have been like for me.  There are so many ways I could talk about this.  I’m still not sure how or even if I want to yet.  But, I feel compelled to say something.  It is too historic not to.

Imagine being in the world and being able to appreciate and understand what was going on when George Washington was elected first president of the U.S. Or slavery ended.  Or when Brown v. Board of Education was handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Or the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.  Or when women were finally given the right to vote.

Except for the Brown decision and the Civil Rights Act, you see how few and notable (what an understatement!) and far between these things are.

Come to think of it, I could add to that list, or when the first black president was elected.

There are some things that when they happen, you just know they are historic and that it is going to create a sea-change.  Friday June 26, 2015 was such a day for me.

I LOVE LIVING  HISTORY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And I am blessed to have been living at a time when many, many things have happened that have profoundly changed history in some way, shape or form.  Some come creeping in.  Some come in with a bang, but you don’t know the significance of them at the time.  And some…well…you just know when it’s happening that it’s one for the books.

When personal computers first came in, especially portable ones (hah! Portable?!  In 1982 my Osborne weighed at least 30 pounds!), I knew they would be big.  But, I was the only one I knew who both had one and thought so.  I work in a male-dominated field and when I lugged my portable computer into the office, everyone gathered around my door.  No one could imagine what I would ever want with a computer.  But, I did.  I dreamed of ditching the infernal drudgery of having to write an article by hand, give it to a secretary, complete with incessant interlineations and time lags, getting it back in typed form, physically cutting and pasting my changes as I read over it, giving it back for re-typing, then proofreading the typed version, making more cut and paste changes, and doing so ad nauseum.  I immediately saw the value of being able to type my paper, electronically cutting and pasting as I went.

For my male colleagues, typing was women’s work since all secretaries were women, so they could not imagine a time when a computer would be of any value to them.  I remember laughing to myself as computers became more and more popular and replaced typewriters, males sitting at their desks pecking away at a foreign keyboard.  Since I was female (and thus presumed to one day be making a living as a secretary or clerical), at 15, I had typing in my high school curriculum—a factor for which I will be forever grateful. It was especially helpful in law school.  ;-) But, when personal computers that we cannot now imagine life without first showed up, no one had a clue that they would one day be omnipresent.  My male colleagues had no idea that they were looking at history as they crowded around my door.  To them, it was just Dawn being the outlier she was regularly perceived to be.

Hah!  I got the last laugh on that one, fellas!  ;-)

I can also remember the first time I saw a laptop.  I absolutely could not believe it would do what the store clerk told me it would do.  By then I had moved on to a desktop with a larger screen.  There was no way that entire desktop could be contained in this little thing I was looking at.  The store clerk laughed at my reaction and actually allowed me to take it home over the weekend so that I could see it for myself and believe him.  Enthralled that he was indeed telling the truth, I came back on Monday and bought two—–one for me and one for my partner.  I had no idea that they would one day pretty much replace PCs.  Again, history had crept in.

I’ve always loved electronics, so my kids were also the first ones to have these cute little things I found that turned out to be early versions of MP3 players.  Awesome.  Who knew we would one day all be carrying iPhones that would contain all of our favorite music in their version of MP3s?  Or before that, a WalkMan?  Or before that, a cassette player?

Having a man on the moon was one of those things that came in with a bang, and it was historic and interesting, and you knew it would change things in some way, but I didn’t perceive it as having any personal impact on my life.

Watching the election returns in 2008 and realizing around 11 p.m. that our next president would be black was a day you knew you lived history, but you weren’t quite sure what it would mean other than he had gotten elected.  But, in the days to come, it was clear that even the folks who hadn’t voted for him or weren’t sure of what his presidency would be like appreciated that history had surely been made when we lived in a country that could go from slavery to a black president in 143 years.

Attending the March on Washington on August 28, 1963 as a 12-year-old was hugely historic, and you could say it went on with a bang, but I don’t think anyone there thought it would have the kind of lasting historical impact that it did.  Nowadays when  I mention to my students that I was there, it is as if something magic just happened.  Like they saw Abraham Lincoln, or something.  Even though it was big, we had no idea at the time that it would be the historic occasion it turned out to be.

But, Friday June 26, 2015?  The day LOVE WON at the U.S. Supreme Court?  The day my first black president sang “Amazing Grace” and told white America that racism didn’t have to be big, but could be deciding to call back Johnny for that interview rather than Jamal as he delivered the eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney who was killed on June 17 when a 21-year-old white man who had sat in Bible Study with black Mother Emmanuel AME Church members for an hour opened fire and killed 9 church members because he said he wanted to start a race war?  That was one for the books.  That was one you knew right then and there would make history.  You knew that was a turning point for society.  It is now Sunday and I am still processing it all.

It was a great day.

It was a great day to be alive.  It was a great day to be an American.  It was a great day to be black.

My epitaph, whether it is on a slab of marble or simply in the minds of those who knew me, will most assuredly say, “It’s ALL about LOVE…”  I have one tattoo on my body.  In the middle of my chest I have a Maori-styled heart that I got in Maui.  Actually, after Friday, I’m thinking of getting another that says “Love wins.”  For me, life is all about Love.  Notice I capitalize it.

I am talking about universal love, not just romantic love.  I’m talking about the way you go through the world and conduct each and every interaction you have.  You do it with the knowledge that we are all human and we matter, even in the smallest ways. I’m talking about caring enough about others that you give them a smile rather than a frown, even if you don’t know them.  I’m talking about Love that takes you through the world choosing to believe the best rather than assuming the worst, but being prepared for it to be otherwise.  I’m talking about Love that makes it so that just today I spoke with each of my two former husbands and my former female partner (couldn’t get married then) and each of them was a warm, wonderful conversation, even tho our romantic relationships ended 35, 9 and 22 years ago, respectively.  I mean a Love that lets me view people as spiritual creatures whose spirit matters most, rather than physical creatures whose hair, clothing or car I focus on. I have lived that truth all of my life and tried to get the message across by example.

In the end, it is Love that rules.  Regardless of wars.  Regardless of politics.  Regardless of differences.  In the end, it’s truly ALL about Love.

In its Obergefell v. Hodges ruling the Supreme Court of the United States realized this too.

As a lawyer, I am totally comfortable with its reasoning.  I have the ability to be able to separate myself from what I want, and if the reasoning was not sound, then even though I might like the outcome, I would not be OK with it.  But, it is.  You will hear people say otherwise, but it is a legally sound decision.  That matters to me a great deal.  We live in a democracy.  We all have to take turns winning and losing.  I don’t like the idea of running roughshod over others to get where I want to go.  This was not that.  This was legally sound and imminently reasoned and reasonable.

And as someone whose longest relationship was with someone of the same gender and we raised three daughters together, for me the outcome was a good one.   Especially when, upon hearing about the Supreme Court’s decision one  daughter texted “Whooo Hoooo!!”.  The second, “Holy f*** shit!!!!!” with emoticons of hearts, kisses and all variations of couples. And the third, “It must be so wonderful to see of your hard work pay off. Knowing you have come so far and no longer have to hide….how wonderful.  F*** the closet.  Now that’s where we can put the haters.”

Friday June 26, 2015 was a good day.

Whatcha’ doin’?

I hate it when people who call me up ask me what I’m doing.

The other day a long-time friend, who I’d already asked not to do it, did it, I’m sure without thinking, then was offended when I reminded her that it is a question I’d asked her not to ask me.  When I’d told her that a few days before when she’d asked the question, and she had readily agreed not to ask, she didn’t even remember that we’d had this conversation before and she’d agreed then as well.  Yet, there she was, mindlessly asking it yet again. It seems like an innocent enough inquiry. Folks always ask it.  Most people answer without even thinking about it.  But, most people don’t care about, or attach as much significance as I do, to words.

I always knew it made me feel uncomfortable, but I didn’t really think about why. When she became offended I started thinking about it.  I realized that I am a pretty honest, straightforward person and when someone asks me a question I answer it truthfully, without even thinking.  But I realized I don’t like the idea of accounting for my activities to people and being judged about it.

Why does someone need to know what you’re doing when they call?  For me, the only reason I can think of is to make sure I’m not interrupting them by calling at an inconvenient time.  So, that’s what I ask.  “Did I catch you at a bad time?  Can you talk now?”  The simple yes or no answer is all I need.  If they want to add more and tell me what they are doing, that’s up to them and that’s fine with me.  But, they are not telling me because I asked.  What they were doing is none of my business. Why do I need to know?  Even between the best of friends, everyone has a part of their lives for public consumption and a part that is private—hopefully.  If I am engaged in a private part, and I answer truthfully, I’m divulging more than I care to.  If I don’t, I’m forced to lie.  Why should I be put in that position?

In my experience, telling someone what I’m doing usually results in them responding by commenting upon it.  That comment is usually a value judgment about it.  If I say I’m twiddling my thumbs, I get a lecture on what a ridiculous waste of time twiddling one’s thumbs is. But twiddling my thumbs may make perfect sense in light of the rest of what I’ve been doing or am getting ready to do.  Why do I need to be judged for that?  Why are we even having a conversation about it?  What does it have to do with why you called me?  I may be happy to hear your voice, but then we are waylaid by your first question about what I’m doing.  It’s not that I am trying to hide what I’m doing, it is simply irrelevant to why you called.  And if I care to share, I will.

Or, I may simply be doing something that isn’t worth talking about and I don’t feel the need to do so, but also don’t feel like having to lie to get out of talking about it.

So, save us the trouble and don’t ask.

Going with what we know


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The Huffington Post recently ran a story about unconscious bias in the workplace and how it impacts women in something as seemingly simple as the language used in job postings.   I loved the piece and thought they did a good job of addressing some of the subtleties that make outcomes for women in the workplace —or even in the job hunt—so different than that of men.

Then I read the comments posted at the bottom in response to the article.

How depressing.

Most of them were about how stupid the research was because it meant it was saying that women weren’t capable of being the things the article said were words more likely to discourage women from applying because they understood them to mean the employer was looking for a man to fill the position. One commenter even accused academics of being the reason for this foolishness.  Disturbed, I sent the link to the head of Women’s Studies and our Vice President for Institutional Diversity and reminded them that we had so much work to do, though I know they are already intensely aware.

So much of what was said in the comments was based on misinformation that after I gave myself some time to cool down, I began writing a comment myself in order to try to bring some understanding to the issue.  As is often the case, I felt like we take our own personal reality as the entire picture and run with it.  But, what we don’t know can make a huge difference in our position.  It was clear that the commenters did not have the full picture.  But, since these are not simple issues, I found that in order to do it any justice, it would take more space than a comment should.  So, I decided to blog about it and cut and pasted it here.

I had had the same reaction earlier in the week when I read the comments in the NY Times and Fortune magazine stories about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch, finding for the employee against A&F clothing stores after the applicant sued A&F when A&F refused to hire her because she wore a hijab. The hijab was in conflict with A&F’s policy of not wearing hats, regardless of whether it was for religious reasons.  They argued they shouldn’t be held responsible if she did not tell them of the religious conflict.  But no one ever asked her about it and it was clear that the interviewer suspected it was worn for religious reasons. When the interviewer’s district manager told her the rule about conflicting with their policy and she said she thought the scarf was for religious reasons, he said it didn’t matter, it violated their policy and not to hire her.  This is illegal.

In announcing the very-rare-these-days 8-1 decision, even the Supreme Court said, “This is an easy one.” Clarence Thomas was the only hold out on the decision (it pains me to even put the world “Justice” before his name—-don’t get me started on that man…).  Let me just say that in the past 20 years he’s been on the bench, I have had reason to re-think the saying I use about there always being a bright side, “even a broken watch is right twice a day.”

Easy. As well it was. The decision totally upheld the law, as well it should. If you want to change the law, have at it but that’s another issue. In its present state, this is covered by the law and the Court was right in its conclusion (I have some issue with the way it got there and the concurrences, but that’s legal stuff).

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, and gender (including pregnancy, sexual harassment and gender identity).  Other statutes have added the categories of age, genetic predisposition and disabilities to that list.  Religious conflicts in the workplace must be accommodated by an employer unless to do so would cause the employer undue hardship.  If the employer can demonstrate that it causes undue hardship based on factors set out for determining that, the employer has no duty to accommodate.

When Title VII was enacted 51 years ago, and in the ensuing regulations set out by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) the agency responsible for enforcing the law, it was clear that if  the law was to be effective then employers would not be able to use as a defense to discrimination claims reasons such as customer preference (“No one will come to our store unless we discriminate.”—sound familiar?  It should.  It’s much like the present RFRA – Religious Freedom Restoration Act laws presently sweeping the country) or marketing schemes (“We only hire females as flight attendants because we have mostly male business travelers and that’s what attracts them to us.”).  Of course, you can easily understand why.  Since Jim Crow segregation was the law of the land at the time Title VII was passed, either formally or informally, de facto or de jure, though just as ironclad, if such defenses for employers’ discrimination had been allowed, we’d still be seeing segregated facilities today.

Religious discrimination includes not only a stated preference for one religious group  or another (fairly rare), but also conflicts in workplace policies based on religion (the usual basis).  Here, it was a policy not allowing the wearing of head gear even when it was for religious purposes.  If A&F could show that trying to accommodate the wearing of the scarf caused A&F an undue hardship, it would be able to keep its rule intact.  If not, the rule has to go.  A&F could, of course, show no undue hardship since there isn’t one as required by law.  It is simply part of a marketing scheme it prefers.  Since marketing schemes that violate Title VII are not protected by law, it had no legal basis for its refusal to hire.  Simple as that. Clear as a bell.

Or so I thought.

It was clear from the 500+  comments I read between the two pieces that very few people understand Title VII and how it operates.  They took for granted that a business’s marketing schemes and policies are somehow sacrosanct and above the law.  Once they are there, that’s it.  They must be obeyed.  That is so not true. There is no legal protection for marketing schemes or workplace policies and certainly not when they violate the law. Owning a business does not give a business owner the inalienable right to do whatever they want as many apparently thought.  They also did not realize that Title VII applies to both private as well as public employers.  And let’s not even get into their belief that religion has no place in the workplace equation at all, totally ignoring the fact that it was Congress that included the category in the law on employment discrimination i the first place—for reasons that I would hope we could all agree with.

Oh, it was ugly.

It scared me to think about this being a democracy based on people’s informed input about issues and that they could be so wrong about such a basic law that has been on the books for 51 years this July 2015.  This year is the 50th anniversary of its effective date (it was passed in July of 1964 and became effective in July 1965).   Think about what happens when people vote in a referendum or vote for candidates with such little understanding of what it is they are doing—thinking they absolutely know all there is to know.  These comments were forceful and solid and stated as fact, not opinion.

And absolutely wrong.

They were based on the commenters’ total lack of knowledge of, or misunderstanding of, the law.

The emails between my co-author and I were really spirited and interesting since we author the best-selling Employment Law text in the country.  But neither of us is eggheads up in some academic tower somewhere.  We both teach and do consulting in workplaces, so we are very much in touch with those who do not know.  We get that all the time.  That’s why we do what we do.  But the difference may be that these folks making comments not only didn’t even know they didn’t know, but they were imperious about it.  They absolutely thought they had it right.  And there were so very many of them.

So, I was still reeling from that little fiasco when when I read the comments in the Huffington Post story about the job ad language.  I think that adding to my distress was that I thought I would be reading the reactions of a group of what I would have thought would have been fairly informed, discerning, in-the-know readers, given what I perceived to be the readership of all three of those outlets.  But, there I was, hit with this latest reaction to a good and accurate piece about impediments to employment for all based on the laws on the books and it too was being lambasted.

As an “academic” accused of being responsible for attention to things that impact the workplace like the unconscious bias represented by this article, I feel the need to say something. Most of us walk around in our lives experiencing our own realities and we often don’t really think an awful lot about much outside of that. Our reality is made up of our experiences and those of our friends or others we are connected to or exposed to and it is that reality that shapes our experience and our lives. Not only do each of us have different realities, but there is also operating outside of all of this, another, greater reality made up of pretty much all of it.

It’s sort of like those pictures you’ve probably seen made up of tiny little pictures that you don’t realize are separate little photos until you get up close and see it. Each “pixel” of the photo is actually a photo itself, but they all come together to make the single photo we originally see. I think we would all agree that once we see what’s going on, we now know that there are actually two versions of what we initially thought was only one.

Most of us deal with our pixel and those around us. Academics deal with those also, but they also deal with the big picture. I think we can also agree that seeing our own pixel and even those close around us gives us one version of reality, but, as it turns out, that is not the only one. The big picture exists also. If you’re in your own pixel, it makes sense that you may not be able to see all the others that make up the entire photo—until it is brought to your attention. Much like going up in a plane gives you a very different view of where you may have been located than just walking around your neighborhood.

Again, both are accurate realities, but just different ones. We have to make sure that we understand we are operating with both. What people have said makes perfect sense in the little pixel sense. They simply don’t deal with the bigger picture that academics do. Nothing whatsoever wrong with that. But, we need to recognize the difference and also that it can impact what we know.

Those of us who study these issues understand the impact of implicit bias and how adversely it impacts women’s ability to move up in organizations the way their talents, experience and performance would otherwise have them do. Because we are teaching those about to go into this world, it pains us greatly to find what we do.  For most of us there is no negative and nefarious “agenda” that shapes what we go looking for. It’s more like the other way around, in that what we find makes us want to have an agenda so we can fix it.

Having students means we have real live people who are about to experience for themselves what we discover in our research and that hurts. We know these people.  We know how hard they’ve worked over the years to position themselves in the market, what they bring to a workplace and how much they have to offer. But, we also know the overall reality of how they will often be received.

Also, as someone who does consulting in the workplace on these issues, I also get to see it from the other side.

I listen to the managers and business owners who tell me they didn’t give a raise to the next in line who is qualified for it because it’s a woman and she’s married, so she doesn’t need the money. Or that a promotion would mean she’d have to travel and if it was his wife “he wouldn’t want her schlepping around in strange airports at all times of the night.”

At the same time, I’ve had a graduating MBA student tell me she received an offer from the place she’d been interning for a year and they told her they loved her work so much that had she been a man, they would have offered to pay her 50% more. They actually told her that.  Or the one who, at the end of the post-internship offer meeting had the owner tell her that one of the things she now needed to do as an employee is to find an apartment to rent out for them to have sex. When, confused, she said she had a house and a husband, he said “Me too. What’s your point?” Let’s not even talk about the one who arrived at work the first day, only to be told by her boss that one of her responsibilities would be to let him smell her underwear every morning.

So, for us academics to discover these things through research like that which served as the basis for the piece, or whatever other ways we discover our subject matter, and to try to do what we can to make things better, including bringing it to light, then be castigated for it by the public, is, under these circumstances, simply unknowing.  That is about as charitable as I can be.

Think about that the next time you get ready to vote on an issue or even comment on something in the public sphere.  Do you really know what you need to know in order to  have the opinion you do, or are you just using anecdotal evidence that may not be the whole story?  Or repeating what you friends or family told you as if it’s fact? And certainly before you vote on something that may deprive others of a much-needed service or take away something they need, do you really have all you need to know to vote or are you just winging it, thinking you know it all based on what your friends have said about it, or that it won’t matter in the end?  If you are mistaken in something you pass off as fact,  please remain open to the idea that someone who may know more may be able to correct you.  That’s fine.  Being corrected by someone who may know more is all part of the process of public discussion of issues of the day. Lord knows, I learn from my students and everybody else in the world every single day. And I am glad to do so. But thinking your opinion is absolutely correct and not subject to correction degrades the whole process.

It is our responsibility as participants in a democracy to base our public decisions (including comments in the public sphere) on good information and analysis.  It’s the price you pay for living in a democracy.  A dictatorship makes it nice and easy.  You don’t have to do any thinking because it’s all done for you.  But, that’s not what we do in America.  We vote on issues.  Part of that is knowing what they are in the first place and engaging in public discourse.  One of the ways to get that is to be willing to put yourself out there, then be willing to change your views as you learn additional credible information that could impact your view.

Giving both your opinion as well as the corrective information should be done in a kind, helpful, non-judgmenta, and certainly non-condescending way.  It’s just providing information.  Why are so many people so negative and nasty when they do it in these public forums?  I don’t get it.  What does it cost to be respectful to someone?  Why in the world wouldn’t you do that? Why wouldn’t we want to live in a world that treats people that way?  Why wouldn’t we ourselves do it?

If we can’t use these public forums for places of a pleasant gathering of knowledge of public information and discourse, then at the very least, don’t nastily pass off what you know as absolute, irrefutable fact.

Snow Mountains….Difference….Change….Adjustment…..Comfort

What is it about snow mountains that gets me so?

I am blessed to be teaching a Study Abroad in Verona, Italy for a few weeks this summer.  Each morning, before the clouds set in over them as the day goes on, I have a wonderfully clear, unobstructed view of the panorama of the snow-covered Dolomite mountains in the distance as the backdrop out my entire window wall.  As I sit at my computer working, I just look up and there they are.  A wall of Italian hills and mountains.


When I first arrived and looked out the window, it looked like exactly what you’d expect an Italian scenery to look like: gentle rolling green hills dotted with occasional villas, the swift-moving Adige River running right there below me,  red clay tiled roofs (it’s required) and neat rows of vegetation that clearly must be vineyards. (This is one of the most popular wine-growing regions in Italy, with the winery we visited last week having over 1200 vineyards in its cooperative, alone).

This scene of rolling hills and vineyards and red-tiled roofs was charming enough.  But even moreso when I awoke the next morning and saw the mountains right where I had looked the day before and without my realizing it, they had been covered by clouds.  It just looked like the green mountains ended naturally.  Turns out there was an entirely different, much richer scene behind them: The snow-covered Dolomites!

Seeing the mountains helped with adjusting to the idea that I sort of never get over when I’m in Europe that apartments are the rule and houses are the exception.  Seeing houses in most European cities is a rarity.  For the most part, virtually everyone lives in an apartment.  Coming from the US, it takes getting used to to process that.  We think of apartments so differently.  Unless, maybe, you live in New York.  Since many of the immigrants who populated New York came from Europe, it doesn’t surprise me that the concept carried over to these shores.  But, when we think of life in the US, we generally think of houses rather than apartments.  Even though I have been to Europe and even lived here for weeks at a time, I didn’t realize how much that was in my head until I felt a distinct sense of unease as I walked along the street my first day and finally realized I was waiting to see houses in order to get a sense of judging where I was and being grounded and in my own element.  I finally realized that I wasn’t going to get that.  All there were going to be were apartments.  Much to my surprise, I had to do a mental readjustment and put that in my head with all I understood it would mean. The good news is that virtually every apartment has a balcony and virtually every balcony has flower pots hanging on the railing.  It made me miss my own garden even more.  What a delight it was to find a few days later that the windy rainstorm had left little pieces of the overhanging plants and flowers all over the street.  I picked them up, brought them home, bought some dirt and a planter and voila! I felt more at home with my little pieced-together garden!  :-)

I believe there is a reason that cafes do well in this part of the world.  In recent months I’ve read a few articles saying that they are trying to get us to that point in the US with there being a move to have us enjoy sitting at cafes and enjoying a coffee house experience.  But, I think we’re working with different realities than the cafe/coffee house societies. I think that aside from the difference in the way societies view time, family, relationships, food, and other things in different parts of the world, there is also the issue of apartment living.  In my view (and I realize I’m saying this as someone who has grown up with a house being the ‘norm’ and only having occasionally lived in apartments), if you live in an apartment, you’re more likely to not mind going out to a cafe and hanging out.  Most cafes here don’t mind, and, in fact, expect you to stay for long periods of time without buying anything more than your cup of coffee.  They even post signs saying “Aperto.”  It’s the same sign for parking your car in parking lots.  I get the hanging out.  At home, in my spacious house and grounds, with my gardens and hot tub and the gardening, hobbies and general piddling I can do, it wouldn’t bother me to stay home for a few days.  Here, I go out every day.  Just to get out of my apartment.  Of course, because they are more used to apartment living and they are surrounded by their familiar things, they may not feel the same way.  But, I certainly think there is an element of that somewhere in that mix.  I walk at least 10,000 steps every day, and sometimes do it all at home, without going out.  Here, I do it outside, even, as has been the case for the past two days, it is rainy and cool and all I have is a shawl.  I could have used the long apartment hall corridors.  But, I wanted to get out.

The snow mountains, however, help.  Just looking at them has always given me a sense of peace while at the same time being totally awesome and overwhelming.  I thought I would go into apoplexy the first time I flew over the Rockies, then landed  and saw Mount Rainier, Shasta and Hood.  It was even more intense when I took a gondola ride up the mountains in Switzerland and as we came through the clouds, saw the Swiss Alps and the Matterhorn.  O    M    G  I thought I’d have a heart attack.  I was nearly completely undone.  On my desk at work I keep a photo we took there at the top of the mountains (who pays attention to the warnings in the camera instructions about the temperature below which you can’t take a camera? Turns out, we should.  Our Nikon never worked after that.).  In the other side of the double frame is a photo of my toes on the railing of a cruise ship as I relaxed looking out at the intensely blue and beautiful Carribbean water.  For me, obth of the photos are about the enormity of nature, how insignificant we are in comparison, our existence here on earth, the vastness of the world we live in and how absolutely awesome God is.

Staring at the snow-covered Dolomites as I sip a nice cup of tea and glance over at the 15 beautiful new hearts that I managed to find in a tiny shop on a side street that I wandered into, I’m sure, in the cosmic scheme of things, just to find them to add to my collection, I am about as comfortable as I can be in a strange place where few speak my language and the customs, and even the food we think we know, are all so different.

When I asked my students what the one thing is they noticed about how different it is here, I knew precisely what the answer would be—and I was right.  The people don’t speak to you on the street.  Coming from Georgia, that is very strange for them.   I guess even though I grew up in DC, since I’ve been in the south for 33 years, it’s strange for me too.  You don’t realize how much it means until you don’t have it.  It is very strange not to speak to folks you pass by on the street, or have them speak to you or to smile or even acknowledge you in any way.  Italians are perfectly fine with it, apparently.

It is also strange to order my favorite Italian dessert, Tiramisu, and have it come with peaches and a sort of runny pudding and totally soggy coffee-soaked ladyfingers. Peaches?!  In Tiramisu?!!  Soggy rather than firm?! Turns out for them, what makes a Tiramisu is not the Amaretto and coffee flavoring, as much as the pudding and ladyfingers, so it can be anything and they call it Tiramisu the server said.  It’s also strange realizing that true Italian salad dressing is not what we call Italian dressing but instead the server sitting on your table a bottle of vinegar and a bottle of extra virgin olive oil. Period. I haven’t even seen salad dressing, as we know it, in the grocery store, where we’re used to row upon row of choices.

I still haven’t figured out what they expect you to do with that basket of slices of Italian bread they serve at every meal without them serving any butter with it.  Hmmmm…. :-)

I promise you, I am NOT one of those people who goes to visit other countries and gets pissed off because they do not speak English or act, dress, eat, etc. the way we do. It’s just that enjoying it for what it is doesn’t mean I can’t note the differences. Like, better make sure you have your shopping done by Saturday, because unlike the US, stores are closed here on Sunday.  :-)

So, the mountains, the tea, the hearts, all become a comfort in adjusting to being in such a different place that, even if you enjoy it, is so different.

Ciao!  :-)

“Welcome to dealing with the press”….

Lee Shearer, Athens Banner Herald

Dawn Bennett-Alexander, who teaches employment law in UGA’s Terry College of Business, argued in favor of tolerance, not just for those who are different, but those who may seem bigoted to us.
“We all walk around with those things (unconscious prejudices) in our head,” she said.
It’s important to find those prejudices within ourselves, she said.
“How can you deal with them if you don’t know they are there?”

Rachel Eubanks, Broad Collective

We must take our mission statements off the paper and into reality if we expect to embrace diversity in corporate culture.
As legal studies professor Dawn Bennett-Alexander teaches, issues with diversity in the workplace are completely avoidable. Through mutual respect, and ultimately love, we can create communities that embrace personal differences as tools for our unique life purposes.

These are both quotes about my TEDxUGA Talk I gave on Friday 3/27/15 at the university of Georgia’s 4th annual TEDx UGA program.  Rachel’s is the closer one in describing my talk.

The main newspaper used words I never use to describe what I did, or to quote me.  I am VERY intentional about my language.  I NEVER use terms like “biased,” “prejudiced,” or “bigoted,” and I didn’t “argue” anything.  As the TED Talk tag line says, I simply presented to the sold-out audience “an idea worth sharing.”

I was pretty upset about it. When I complained to a friend who is often in the press about the difference between the characterizations of my Talk,  his comment was “Welcome to dealing with the press.”

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t much care, but a big part of what I consider my life’s work to be is contributing tools to enable us to have the difficult conversations that need to be held around issues of workplace discrimination.  Thirty years of doing this work, training and consulting in workplaces, speaking with thousands and thousands of people and analyzing zillions of cases, convinces me that there are some ways that are more effective at doing that than others.

Experience has shown me that using terms like “tolerance,” “bias,” and “prejudice” are words that carry lots of negative baggage.  Negative baggage has a way of shutting down communication rather than facilitating it. No one wants to be lectured to about these issues (whether they need to be or not).

I want real change.  I believe that a good deal of why people make the choices they make in the workplace is because they don’t always realize what they are actually doing.  Of course there are certainly those who do, and are hell-bent on discriminating.  But my work with thousands of people over three decades convinces me that this is not the majority.

The things managers and supervisors have said to me completely openly in training sessions without realizing it, would make your hair stand on end.  As hard as it can be to believe, they are often completely clueless.  They would never have told me if they weren’t.  We are social creatures and we do what we believe to be acceptable. Dealing with someone who is clueless is different than dealing with someone who knows and is simply bound and determined to do what they want to anyway, whether it is illegal or not as a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and related legislation that outlaws workplace discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, age, disability, genetics, and to some extent, sexual orientation and gender identity.  They should not all be treated the same.

My graduate student who interned at an accounting firm for a year was called in and praised to high heaven and given an offer of permanent employment with a good salary quote.  In fact, they told her, she was so good that if she had been a man, they would have offered her 50% more. Her boss had no clue how illegal this was.

Last semester one of my students told me his employer told him to throw away all applications with ethnic names.  It wasn’t the first time a student had told me that.  It bears out research that shows that the same resume with non-ethnic names like Emily and Brad receive 50% more call backs than those with “ethnic” names like Jamal or Lakeisha.

I was conducting a gender session for a group of bank managers when one of the males said he wouldn’t promote a female because it would mean more travel and if it was his wife, he wouldn’t want her shlepping around in strange airports at all times of the night.  All of a sudden, marshmallows began flying across the room from all directions toward him.  I had no idea what was going on.  They finally told me that they had earlier established a working rule that if someone said something with which they disagreed, rather than say anything, they would throw marshmallows.  This is how the manager found out his genuine concern for his female employees was inappropriate as a basis for decision-making about females in the workplace.  He wasn’t trying to be mean.  In fact, the exact opposite.  He simply hadn’t realized the real impact of his decision.

The same thing happened to me with a supervisor who gave me an unsatisfactory rating during an evaluation.  I had no idea why.  When I asked, he told me that he had assigned me less to do because I was pregnant and if I was his wife, he wouldn’t want me to be doing a lot of work while I was pregnant.  I had never once asked for a lighter load.  I was an attorney looking at documents, not a package handler at UPS.  I had no idea he had done this.  I told him I appreciated his concern, but I wasn’t his wife and I did not ask for a lighter load and should not be penalized on a permanent federal job evaluation because of his personal ideas about pregnancy.  He changed the evaluation.

Teaching people how to view the workplace decisions they make, then making it clear that if that is not what they intended, and giving them options for how to do what they may more likely reflect their intent, allows them the space to come to it on their own.  Experience has taught me that this is more likely to create lasting change rather than them feeling like I’m foisting my views off on them externally and they don’t get to create the change on their own.  If I’m shaming them into it or accusing them of it with those words, they are more likely to feel resentful and reject the change—even when it may be needed.

While some may say I am soft-pedaling the idea of discrimination, I assure you I am not.  I am, however, keeping my eyes on the prize. What I want is change that comes from within because people have their eyes opened and see for themselves the impact of what they may have been doing and realize they need to change their ways.  And yes, it really can—and does—happen. If using more positive and realistic language accomplishes that, then I am willing to use it.

The reason the mischaracterization upset me is because someone reading the newspaper who did not see my TED Talk, who may benefit by it, may be less likely to view it after seeing that language.  My own would be more likely to drive them to view the Talk video online and benefit by it, if for no other reason than I am dealing with the concept of using love in the context of avoiding workplace discrimination claims.  That’s a big difference.

I wrote the author of the mischaracterized piece, and without accusing him of mischaracterizing it (because to do so would likely be useless since, of course, he’d likely say he didn’t) I simply told him how different his word usage made my message and how disappointing it was to have those whose job it is to bring us the news, and in that capacity, knowing how important words are, would do what was done with my piece.  I did not hear back from him.

Like my friend said, “Welcome to dealing with the press…”

Update: Within an hour after posting this, I was at a program and Shearer walks up to me and apologizes for his mischaracterization and says he’d never gotten anything so wrong in his life and wanted to do a story on my work to correct it. When I thanked him, he couldn’t understand why I would do that when he was the one who screwed up. I told him I was thanking him because what he did was gracious and I appreciated it. He didn’t have to do it despite what happened. He seemed confused. But, the tagline for my life is “It’s All about Love…” and my reaction was love in action. You never know what life has in store for you. I was floored by what he said and did. Neat.

Selma at 50. O M G


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In a previous blog post, I said that I was “Going to Selma” for the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Bloody Sunday March with a former student, Randy Gold who I had gone with 15 years before, in 2000, and his 8-year-old, son Natanel and my 8 year-old granddaughter, Makayla.

As you know, Bloody Sunday is the name given to the events of March 7, 1965, when 600 non-violent protesters began a march from Selma to Montgomery, AL, the state capitol, to protest blacks not being allowed to vote simply because they were black. As they reached the bottom of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, they were met by state troopers who proceeded to tear gas them, beat them with clubs, fists, and barbed-wire wrapped clubs, and ride over them with horses. Two weeks later after a call was sent out by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  for people of good will to join in the march, 25,000 marched across the bridge with the protection of troops federalized by President Lyndon Baines Johnson. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law a few months later by President Johnson.

So, this year is the 50th anniversary of the historical event and we went.

OMG.  I am so glad we did.

Makayla and I drove the hour from Athens to Randy’s in Atlanta, and from there we had the three hour drive to Selma.  It was worth very mile.  Along the way, maybe near Montgomery, we saw a two-bus and one short van convoy with a front and back police escort.  Even though we could not see through the darkened glass of the vehicles to see who it was, we had no doubt where they were headed. We felt even more excitement as we passed by the Viola Liuzzo memorial along the highway.  You may recall that she is the white Detroit mother who responded to the Bloody Sunday violence she saw on TV by coming down to Selma when the call when out to the nation to join them for another attempted march for voting rights.  She was shot to death by the KKK as she ferried marchers to the Montgomery airport.  There is a tombstone memorial on the route between Selma and Montgomery, which is quite noticeable because it is right there on a rise beside the highway and is surrounded by a wrought iron fence to protect it from continually being defaced.  Even though we were driving on the very stretch that the marchers used from Selma to Montgomery 50 years ago, it made it even more real to see her very sad memorial there, and to remind us of why it was important of us to take time out of our busy schedules to be there.

When we got to Selma, we were lucky enough to find a parking space right behind the housing subdivision that sits just across the street from the Brown Chapel AME Church that served as the gathering point for the March 50 years ago and was where people were gathered when we arrived.  We had no real idea of what was what. Online details were pretty sketchy, but it didn’t matter.  We knew that we’d find out when we got there.  If you show up in a town like Selma, AL for something like this, you really don’t have to worry about finding your way or other details.  Everyone is there for the same thing, so information won’t be hard to find.

As it turned out, there was a jumbotron video screen set up outside the church, as it was filled to capacity inside and there were zillions of people outside. That was probably the first really big difference Randy and I noticed from when we had come 15 years ago, to what, I think, may have been the first big commemoration, when President Bill Clinton came in 2000.  That time, we were inside the church.  In fact, I think pretty much anyone who wanted to could come in.  There were lots of people there, but not like this time.

So, we found a spot close to the church and stood by the barricades blocking off the street, watching the speakers as they took their turns at the pulpit in the church.  Rev. Al Sharpton was on when we came.  Then there was Rev. Jesse Jackson.  We saw seated there Martin Luther King, Jr’s son, Martin, III, and former UN Ambassador Andrew Young. As the speaking service ended, we were well placed to see the the attendees as they left.  Radio personality Tom Joyner walked by.  Several of the luminaries got right into their cars with dark windows before we even realized who they were.  We got great pictures of Jesse Jackson working the crowd.

Unlike 2000 when the folks came out of the church and lined up to begin the march, this time, age had become a factor and a lot of the historical figures had to drive to the foot of the Edmund Pettus bridge.  There was also the logistical matter of the crowds.  Not everyone had amassed in front of the church.  As the program was going on, there were also people who skipped that part and went directly to the bridge.  It meant that the streets were not totally clear for cars because the crowds were massive.  We finally fell in and began to walk with the crowds headed toward the bridge.  As we neared it, the crowd grew.  By the time we got to where we could see the bridge, the bridge was a solid mass of people.  It was unbelievable.  It was incredible that that many people had come to show their support for the idea of freedom, justice, and equality.

Where Randy and I had been able to simply walk over the bridge in 2000, though with many others, this time we could barely move. While we easily managed a photo with Ambassador Andrew Young in 2000, it would have been more difficult this time. We inched along, tightly holding on to the hands of our 8-year-olds, lest they be quickly swallowed by the crowd.  However, the mass of people did not take away from the impact and significance of what it was we were doing.  There was still an incredible sense of occasion.  All of these people, many with matching T-shirts from their organizations touting the 50th anniversary and their organization’s support, had taken the time, energy, effort, and expense to come be here in this place at this time to show their respect and honor for those who were brave enough 50 years ago to walk in the very place we were walking, all so that they could help America live up to its promise that “All men are created equal…”

Though they were so much shorter than most of the people in the crowd, and did not know all the famous people who had been such civil rights pioneers (though we told them as we saw them), the children with us understood the import of the occasion.  On the drive home when Randy asked how it made them feel to be a part of this and to walk over the bridge, Makayla said it made her feel famous to know she walked where she had seen the people in the video marching for their rights.

It is not always convenient to be at an event like this.  Most of us go through our lives pretty much just doing what we need to do day to day.  But there are times when you have to step back and look at things from a different perspective.  Sometimes you have to live life with a sense of the history and import of the moment.  As president and CEO of an accounting firm, and an incredibly busy civic activist and father of three, Randy is as busy as a one-arm paper hanger.  As someone in the throes of working and advocating and preparing for an upcoming TED Talk that made me cancel spring break plans, I, too, am busy.  Even Makayla was leaving town the next morning with her Mom and brother for spring break in Florida.  Everyone had perfectly valid reasons not to interrupt the normal flow of their lives by going.  But Randy and I understood not only the historical significance of the event, but also our own personal historical significance since we had been at the commemoration 15 years before.  It also held special significance for me because I had been at the 1963 March on Washington as a 12-year-old, and my life’s work is in dealing with issues of social justice and diversity and inclusion.  We understood that no matter how busy we were, this was important.  Makayla, having had many, many discussions with me about these issues in her 8 short years on earth, was as excited as I was to go.

Sometimes, the significance of the event is as much—or even more—about creating the memory and aftermath as it is about the event itself.  As a 12-year-old at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, who was just thinking it was awfully hot, there were more people than I’d ever seen in my life, and trying to figure out what the “SNCC” and “CORE” meant on the paper hats I saw people wearing, I had no idea of the profound effect that the 1963 March would have on me and my life.  Listening to Dr. King’s Dream Speech, I had no clue that 48 years later I would receive my University’s highest award, the MLK, Jr. Fulfilling the Dream Award, for building bridges to understanding.  Even Randy and I having the memory of having gone 15 years before in 2000, at what Randy says was the first official commemoration event, is an incredible memory, especially thinking about all that has happened in our lives in that 15-year span.  But, with his son and my granddaughter, there is no telling what this memory will mean for them and how it will resonate for them in the years to some.  Even if it is just as a pleasant thought, it will be worth it.  They will never again see the footage of what occurred at the Edmund Pettus Bridge that day in 1965 and not be again connected to the memory of walking over that bridge in a sea of humanity with their Dad and Nana.  That is worth what it took to make that happen.

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Going to Selma


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I’m going to Selma tomorrow (3/8/2015).  This weekend is the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday March from Selma, AL to the state capital in Montgomery.  All the black folks wanted to do was let their state government know that it was not right —not even constitutional—to prohibit them from voting simply because they were black.  The march ended when the 600 or so peaceful marchers who were simply walking along crossed the Edmund Pettus bridge and were met with state troopers who gassed them, beat them, and rode horses over them.  Thank goodness it was all caught on film.  When the scene hit the evening news, or worse, interrupted the prime-time showing of “Judgment at Nuremberg” on television, the country was appalled.  Of course, all of this should sound familiar because it is the basis for the excellent Oprah Winfrey movie, “Selma,” that a few weeks ago won an academy award for its title song, “Glory.” As you know, two weeks later, the march took place once again, only this time, thousands had responded to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call to come and offer support.  The state troopers were federalized by President Lyndon B. Johnson and the marchers were able to successfully march to Montgomery.  The Voting Rights Act was signed into law by President Johnson a few months later.

I’m taking my 8-year-old granddaughter.  She is so excited to be able to see some small part of the struggle of the history of black folks that I have been feeding her since the minute she was born.  I love it that she feels that way.  Maybe it skips a generation.  And while I think they now appreciate it, I always had to drag her mother and aunts with me to things like this.  Maybe at some point I’ll have to drag her too.  But, for now, she is just as excited as I am to be going.

President Barack Obama will be in Selma this weekend with his family.  The vice president will be there.  Virtually everyone with any connection to the movie will be there, as will dozens of members of Congress, virtually any civil rights leader of any ilk, and thousands of interested folks from around the world who care about freedom and justice and equality.  Fifty years later, we still need people to care.  These things are not a done deal.  Just because the “colored” and “white” signs are off the water fountains and blacks, by and large can now safely vote, does not mean the issue is over.  Among other things, recent attempts to weaken black voting power through seemingly “objective” measures such as re-districting and voter ID laws, as well as the recent demonstrations over the all-too-frequent killing of unarmed young black men by police and others in some way connected to law enforcement have shown us this.  Our work as a country is not done.

One of the things that deepens the occasion for me is that my granddaughter and I are going with one of my former students, Randy Gold, and his 8-year-old son, Natanel.  That would be good enough, but it gets even better.  Randy and I went before.  Fifteen years ago in 2000.  In fact, Randy was the one who introduced me to the event.  The year we went for the 35th anniversary, President Bill Clinton was there.  We have a photo of us with Ambassador Andrew Young, as well as a photo of us at the Edmund Pettus bridge (see below).  I love it that Randy knew me well enough to know I would be interested.  His synagogue sponsored a bus and we were on it.  What an incredible experience.

So, you can imagine what a delight it was to receive a text from him a couple of weeks ago asking if I wanted to go again this year.  In the interim, among other things, Randy has married, had three children, become the president and chairman of the board of a prestigious AGH accounting firm in Atlanta and established a foundation for the disease, ML4, that their precious daughter Eden was born with, for screening Jews for previously generally un-screened for genetic predispositions that can have adverse effects on childbearing among Jews. His foundation has been featured by Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN at least four times.

I met Randy, who graduated in 1994, when he took my Legal Environment of Business class years ago.  My classes always begin with relevant current events students bring in as a way of me being able to connect what they are learning to what is actually happening with these issues in the world.  This gives them a deeper appreciation of the subject matter and takes us out of them just thinking this is some dull, dry stuff in a textbook they have to learn for a test, that has no connection to real life. So, we discuss a wide range of topics before it is all said and done.

One of the reasons I remembered Randy so well was because he rarely said anything in class, but totally surprised me when at the bottom of his final exam, he had written me a note.  To this day, I don’t know why I even saw it.  I generally have no occasion to look at students’ exams because their answers are on a separate sheet of paper called a scantron and those  are graded electronically.  With all I have to do calculating grades and winding up a semester, I don’t have time to do unnecessary, extraneous things of absolutely no value.  Students do not write answers on the exam, so there is no reason for me to look at them.  But, for some reason, I did and Randy had left me a note which I can probably still put my hands on today.  In the note, he thanked me because said that he had learned so much in the class not only about the subject matter, but about life.  As an example, he said that he didn’t think he would have characterized himself as homophobic before the class, but after taking my class, he realized how stupid some of his thoughts were.  I couldn’t even recall our class conversation about this issue, but I was truly touched by his comment.  It made me realize even more the importance of what I do each and every day when I walk into a classroom.  Helping people see the world in a different, more expansive way that moves us forward as a people.

We kept in touch over the years as he crafted his life.  He was so serious about getting it right.  Though he and his brother Jeffrey, who also graduated from the University were always bunches of fun, I was always struck by Randy’s dedication to his religion and to his commitment to being a decent human being. I marveled at his involvement in his community and to causes he cared about, freely investing his time, energy and money as seriously as if it were his job.  He certainly considered it his duty.  That is so unusual for someone so young.  I listened to his escapades in his attempt to find the right fit for a job and for a wife. I was ecstatic for him when he finally found the one he believed to be the right one for both. He was right to take it so seriously, because it paid off.  He got it right.  I attended his wedding (his wife Caroline is incredible) and over the years have rejoiced at his professional climb and his growing family.  A couple of years ago he emailed me a video of his son, then 6, doing a book report on Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player to play in the professional leagues.  He told me the teacher allowed the students to choose whatever book they wanted.  His son loved baseball and could not understand why someone who played great baseball would be prevented from playing professional ball and when he finally was able to do so, why he would have been treated so poorly by others who supposedly loved baseball.  So, his son decided to do his book report on Jackie Robinson.  His speech and drawings shown in the video were precious.  But, Randy had sent it to me, he said, because he wanted me to know that the lessons he’d learned were now being passed down to the next generation.  His sentiment brought tears to my eyes.

So, for me to be going to Selma for the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Bloody Sunday march would be significant enough.  Honoring the sacrifices of those brave souls who stood up to discrimination, oppression and injustice with their bodies so that i could have the right to vote as an African American is the very least I can do. To be going with my former student Randy again after 15 years, with his son Natanel and my granddaughter Makayla, is nothing less than absolutely and extraordinarily awesome.

My student, Ambassador Andrew Young and I at the 35-year Selma commemoration in 2000.

Randy, Ambassador Andrew Young and I at the 35-year Selma commemoration in 2000.


Musings on creating a TED Talk…


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I was introduced to TED Talks by one of my students several years ago (thanks, McCoy!).  I instantly fell in love with them and have been viewing them ever since.  You can, then, imagine how happy I was to discover last year (March 2014) that my own university had become a licensed TEDx site and was holding its second annual TEDx program (TED talks are out of New York and Canada, but TED licenses other locations to conduct TED Talks and those are called TEDx). Nirvana!  I don’t know how I managed to miss the first one, but I was certainly going to jump on that train as quickly as possible.  In order to get tickets, you have to commit to going for the entire program since it is done with an audience.  We’re talking about from something like 10-6.  I couldn’t imagine how that worked, but we were willing to try.   I went with my daughter, AnneAlexis.

We were totally blown away.  From the very first speaker, a student who spoke on the issue of the importance of debate societies, to the very last, it was simply mind-blowing.  The TED Talk tagline is “ideas worth sharing,” and each and every one of the dozen or so speakers absolutely fit that.  The ideas were incredible, the delivery of them incredible, and the overall way the audience experience was handled by the organizers was incredible.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  What seemed like an extraordinarily long time for a program, flew by.  You were so interested in the speakers until time did not matter.  We were given two breaks over the span of the event, we were fed, we played games and had time to speak to perfect strangers, it was awesome.

I recall walking away discussing the program with my daughter and saying, “I could NEVER do a TED talk!!!”  Since public speaking of one kind or another is my life, my daughter couldn’t understand why I would say that.  I told her that I was more of an extemporaneous speaker.  Though always well prepared, I bring my audience into whatever I am presenting and use their energy and ideas to give them what they came for.  They matter to me and they are an integral part of what I deliver.  I HATE the idea of simply delivering a speech.  Even when I do a keynote address for something like a graduation, I bring the audience into it.  Just standing and speaking?  No way.  Using notes or having a prepared text memorized?  Not me.

Then I was asked by the TEDx folks to allow them to nominate me to do a TEDx talk.  Wow.  Wonderful to be asked, but I declined.  “Sorry.  I don’t do that sort of speaking,” I said. “But, we’ve asked all around and your name keeps coming up!  Of course you can.  And we will support you the whole way.  You’ll have a team assigned to you whose only job is to help you make your talk conform to the TED format.”  We went back and forth about it and she finally convinced me to at least go online and fill out the nomination form before the deadline so I could be considered and I could always decline the nomination if it came.  I was so hesitant until I emailed her just before pressing the “send” button.  “Are you sure about this?, I asked.  “Push the send button,” she said.

Well, I did, and days later I received the news that I had been chosen.  Of course, once that happened, it was hard to decline.  They sent a team to interview me to make sure I would agree to do it, was available for the event and surrounding commitments, and was amenable to having a team of students help me.  The students take a class in how to do TED Talks and in addition to doing one themselves for the class, they teach presenters what they’ve learned about how this is done.  As it turns out, part of why the interview is necessary is that some people are not at all comfortable with the idea of taking instruction from students.  Well, that wasn’t a problem for me.  I teach students every day and deal with them in extracurricular activities and I know how incredibly competent and committed our students are.  Plus, they’ve had the class and I haven’t.  So I agreed.  More than giving the talk itself, I was intrigued by taking what was in my head and letting the students help me create a TED Talk that would be something that would look like—actually be— a TED Talk.  Much like when I write, I did it because I wanted to see the final product.  What would a TED Talk by me look like?  How would I actually say the idea that I had that was worth sharing?  What would the process of getting there look like?

The process has been all I could have hoped for.   I have LOVED it!!!!!!! The entire process! Today is March 1st and the program is March 27th.  The dress rehearsal is March 26. The 500 tickets were sold out within the first hour they went online.  It has created enormous buzz.  I hadn’t told my classes I was doing it, but I happened to have in my class a student I had had the semester before when I was chosen and I had told his class.  I happened to have him in class the day and time that tickets went on sale and at the end of class he came up and excitedly told me that he’d secured a ticket.  I didn’t have the heart to scold him for being online in class.  :-)  He told me I really should tell my classes.  The truth is, I really hadn’t told a lot of people about it.  Mostly, I told people as it came up in terms of dates.  That is, when we were seeking dates for meetings, I would tell them I wasn’t available because I was doing a TED Talk.  They always instantly registered awe.  Actually, it’s rather embarrassing.  I’m just giving information, but I forget how it will be taken.  But the truth is, I would have reacted the same way if someone had told me they were doing a TED Talk!

After the website was posted announcing the presenters and because of my student (thank you, George!  :-)  ), I decided to tell my classes and to put it on my Facebook page.  I was not prepared for the reaction.  The students seemed to look at me with new eyes.  My students tend to love me already, but this was different.  It was as if the idea that I could actually be asked to do a TED Talk that could be seen by the entire world made me somehow elevated to a new position in their minds.

I don’t do an awful lot on Facebook.  I tend to go on only if I receive an email notice that makes me want to congratulate someone for something or I click on “share on Facebook” if an idea regarding equality issues and civic engagement comes up.  It is rare for me to actually go on and post something.  But, I posted that I was doing a TED talk.  I was amazed at the response.  People from as far back as law school (I graduated in 1975!) left comments for me saying incredibly complimentary things.  The list of names in the comments and over 100 “likes” was like reading a review of my life.  People I had been involved with in ways large and small reached out.  We touch so many people in our lives that it is easy to forget how much of an impact we have—and it doesn’t help if you tend to slough off the thanks and just move on to the next item on the agenda.  With me being a professor, I touch even more people than most and sometimes do so at crucial times in their lives.  Seeing the names and immediately remembering them, even from decades ago, was like getting to listen in at my own funeral.   Unbelievable. Incredible. Truly, truly touching.

While that has been a part of the process I had not realized would be there, the part of the process that has been what I looked forward to —choosing a topic, honing it down and shaping it into an actual TED talk, has been amazing.  I asked lots of people what I should speak on, including my students I told when I was chosen.  I read a poem at the beginning of each class, and several suggested I do that because it was so impactful.  My 8-year-old granddaughter looked at me with a “Duh..” look and said, “Nana, you have to talk about what you ALWAYS talk about!  Love and the Law!  One of the people I asked was the president of my university.  We had been colleagues for 25 years before he was appointed and he knew me and my work, especially with students, well enough to know issues of interest to me. His suggestion was what immediately gave me my first draft of 18 pages.  Of all the things everyone had said to me, his was the one that set my mind in a swirl.  Not the topic he actually suggested, but instead, what it made me think of.  Getting out that first draft was ENORMOUSLY helpful.  If I was going to be confident about doing this, I knew I needed time.  The sooner I could nail down a topic, the longer I had to be able to think about it.  I am more of an appellate lawyer than a courtroom lawyer, though I am capable of both.  Appellate lawyers get plenty of time to think about their topic, research it, try this and that, and craft their final product.  Courtroom attorneys have to battle it out minute by minute on the spot.  I am more of the former.  I need time to think and re-think and craft my words and ideas.  I realize that I get some of my best thoughts when I am working out at the gym each morning, or walking my 10,000 steps a day, or even drifting off to sleep.  I need that time.  So, although I had not yet even had the first meeting with my team, I had a complete first draft.  When we met, they were astonished.

By the way, I am not revealing anything about my topic before I give my talk.  Of course, it is always the first thing people ask as soon as they know I am doing one.

My first timed draft in October was 22 pages and was 30 minutes long.  I was told it had to be no longer than 18.  I honed it down to that and was told the time had changed to no longer than 12 minutes.  I got there.  But, the process of doing so has been phenomenal and will stay with me forever.  Doing a TED Talk makes you have to think about the true clarity of your message.  Everything I have said in every draft is worth saying, but in the end, if I have to cut something out for time, what can go, yet still leave my message totally intact?  That clarifies my thinking in ways I am not sure I have ever done.  It is totally different than, say, preparing for a 20-minute presentation to an audience for Black History Month, as I have to do for tomorrow, or even meandering around at will as I do here in a blog.

As a textbook author whose texts are used worldwide, as a professor who speaks to classes with students from all over the world, I am used to the idea of taking my audience into account (rather than saying what it is I might want to say with no regard for how it is received) and trying to make sure my message can be understood by all, not just people “just like me.”  But, doing a TED Talk takes that to a new level.  I am used to expressing my ideas, but I generally do so in a way that is a one-shot deal.  With a TED Talk, you have to think about people all over the world watching your talk over and over.  Some things that are fine on a fly-by basis, do not stand up the same way to close examination. The good thing is that my message is a familiar one to me and is absolutely what I would tell the entire world if I had the chance.  That is comforting because it means I will not be struggling with something unfamiliar that I am trying to do just for TED Talk purposes.  My message is my life, so it is not foreign to me, and that means I don’t have to worry about spending precious energy being uncomfortable on that score.

I have pretty much left this month free to deal with my TED Talk.  Where I could, I have not scheduled things because I know that it helps me to be centered, comfortable, and laser-focused, which gives me the confidence I will need to go out onto that stage and face 500 people in the audience and potentially millions around the world.  I’m not quite sure what people who are not used to public speaking do.  That would be so daunting.  One of the speakers from last year told me she had had, I think, an operation on her Achilles tendon the week before.  I can’t imagine.  And she was drop-dead phenomenal. I tell myself that if she can do that, then certainly, I should be able to speak my truth and do it well if I am in good health and centered.   My team has been absolutely wonderful.  They know their stuff and give great helpful suggestions and insights.

Even as I say this, I continue to hone and preen and craft and massage my message so that it meets the standards of the incredible TED Talk presenters that I know and love. Speaking of which, I’d better get back to it!  :-)

By the way, our TEDx program will be live streamed on March 27.  To find out how to get it, visit the website at

UPDATE:  This is the link to my talk!:

This is one of the photos they took.  It’s my favorite because it so captures what the whole experience was for me and how much I enjoyed it.

Me finishing up my talk.

Me finishing up my talk.

Close up of my face because that's how I feel.

Close up of my face because that’s how I feel.

Can we all just get along?

At the post-funeral shiva (the Jewish version much like a gathering to eat and visit together after a funeral) of my 18-year-old goddaughter recently, I had the occasion to truly think about racial and cultural differences and the world we live in.  My goddaughter was African American.  She was adopted at birth by my dear friend who is Jewish.  Literally, it was at birth, as the adoption was an open one and my friend cut the umbilical cord of the baby she did not birth, but would take home with her.  She was the only mother her daughter would ever know.   In the Jewish faith, children take on the status of the mother, so my goddaughter was Jewish as well.  Not long after the birth, my friend married a Catholic teddy bear of a human being who adopted her daughter and truly took her on as his own.  They also had a biological daughter  a short while later.  They divorced after several years, but remain close and my goddaughter and her dad were as if joined at the hip.

Over the years, whenever I attended events such as their wedding or the bris bat (sort of like a Jewish baby christening ceremony) or even her bat mitzvah, the events have been a mix of Jewish tradition and Christian concepts, and a gathering of people of all races and faiths.

I thought about this the other day as I sat at the repast looking both at the scores of varied people in attendance at the marking of this sad occasion, and past them out the window at vast Lake Michigan far below, across the street.  I watched old friends reconnecting over the death of a beloved family member of their dear friend, children laughing and playing with the resilience that only youth can bring, young adults and college students I’d known since the day they were born sharing a cautious laugh, much aware of the seriousness of the occasion and the terrible sudden loss of someone in their age group, perhaps their first rude awakening to the reality that youth does not equal invincibility.

But, what I really found myself thinking about was how there were so many different kinds of people, and even though the event was a Jewish shiva, people still found common ground to come together and share grief and laughter.

I thought about this because as I had googled for the news article on my goddaughter’s death earlier that day, I came across  the most unabashedly racist posting imaginable about it.  The posting had taken the family photo used in a newspaper article, showing my goddaughter with her white parents and sister, and paired it with a headline about her dying because she was “driving while black” by painting her nails, listening to loud rap music and texting, all (except the possible texting) total racist fiction.  The author and the on-line posters who responded,  used this horrendously sad event as an occasion to negatively comment on her race, as well as her being adopted by a white family, and the decision to do so.  On-line posters said vicious things like the truck driver who hit her did the world a favor, and that the whole family of liberal democrats should have been in the car with her, and on and on.

Part of me wants to, as my daughter posited, ignore this and give it no more life or energy than it deserves as a mean-spirited racist rant.  Part of me wants to address it because it is so shocking.  Part of me wants to address it because it is part of what we need to know exists and is still with us, even as we try to pat ourselves on the back and talk about being a “post-racial society” (whatever that is…).

The latter two parts won out.  I think they did so because I don’t want us to forget that this element still exists in our society.  That is, someone who would take the sad occasion of the death of an 18-year-old in a tragic car accident to put out there for the world to see, their vile, mean-spirited opinions about African Americans and the idea of races coming together in love.

“Racist” is a word I rarely use.  It is not a conclusion I jump to.  It is one I crawl to and only then if I have to.  I understand that racism and racists exist, but with there being so much ignorance of each other in the world and so many who would rush to characterize that ignorance as racism, I prefer to be more conscious in my choice of words.  If someone tells me they are racist, of course, I am willing to believe them.  Otherwise, I don’t necessarily assume that certain questionable acts are so motivated. But, given the nature of these comments, I am quite comfortable in concluding that they are, in fact, racist, and intentionally so.

I am a lawyer and a professor, so logic is important to me.  I guess that trying to bring logic to this situation is pretty useless.  When people feel as negatively as this toward a perfect stranger who belongs to a group they dislike, I don’t think it is based on logic.  After all, they did not know her and she did nothing to them to earn their ire.

I thought about how my goddaughter’s parents, upon meeting, had refused to relegate themselves to simply being in a category (Jewish and Catholic) and instead dealt with each other as human beings and allowed their feelings for each other to grow and blossom rather than deny they could do so because they were of different religions and cultures.  I thought about being an African American and Baptist minister’s kid never once got in the way of my and my friend’s nearly 30-year friendship.  I thought about how different all the people gathered in this North Lakeshore Drive condo high above Lake Michigan were, yet how much they all enjoyed this event despite it being such a sad occasion.

As I looked at the people interacting, I found myself wondering why it is that we can’t all just get along.  Why is it we don’t try harder to find common ground, to feel less threatened by difference, to be more willing to understand that all each of us wants to do is be loved, respected and find some measure of personal comfort as we journey through this world? If we don’t make the effort to do it, one encounter at a time, how will it ever get done?

On-line commenting-be kind


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I recently had the very unfortunate experience of attending the funeral of my 18-year-old goddaughter who died in a car accident.  According to the Chicago Tribune article about it, a cell phone with an unfinished text message was found in her lap, so the thought was that the accident may have occurred because she was texting while driving.

I think (or at least, I hope) that we all know that texting while driving is an incredibly bad idea that not only puts the texter at an unnecessary high-level risk, but also anyone else in the vicinity.  It simply shouldn’t be done. Period.

However, what struck me and saddened me when reading the on-line comments about the article was the extent to which people so carelessly made comments castigating her.  She had lived on this earth for 18 years, but in the media it was as if the only thing that mattered and that she left as the legacy of her all-too-short life was the decision she may have made in the last few seconds of it.  People carelessly commented on how stupid and thoughtless it was for her to have texted while driving.  How many comments do we need about it before we get the message that people thought it was not an ok thing to do?  The effect was akin to a dog pile.  The comments just went on and on and were so negative.  You’d think she was the first person who ever (possibly) texted while driving.

Among other things, this was someone’s daughter, sister, grandchild, niece, cousin, friend, schoolmate, student, and goddaughter. She had a brilliant smile, a very soft spot for animals, loved her family and also struggled with lifelong issues.  She wasn’t just her final possible decision.  On-line posters should remember that while their point may have some measure of validity, and they are certainly entitled to their opinion, that is not a license to be unkind.  The posts are there for anyone to see, including her grieving friends and family.  It costs us nothing whatsoever to make cogent comments in a kind way, and to refrain from doing so once we see that there are already many that have voiced our view.  I can think of no legitimate, productive reason for vitriol, negativity and unkindness at such a time.

I think on-line comment posting is a tremendous tool in a vibrant democracy.  It gives us a much easier way to provide public comment on issues of interest.  But, with that, I believe, comes responsibility.  Being firm in your opinion does not mean you cannot be kind and compassionate.  Refraining from piling on once your position has already been posted by someone else does not add to the discourse.  It simply reflects that the poster is more interested in being seen and heard than in adding anything new or more insightful to a productive dialogue.

I think that for on-line posting to be most productive and effective, which it certainly can be, each of us should do our posting in a kind and thoughtful way.

I’ll leave the incredibly racist posting that showed up for another blog entry.


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