Bobbing for bits on the media streams

Sally’s World, July 2003


Lately, those who make a living as pundits have been busy clicking and clucking and clattering keyboards and uttering bellicose profundities about one, single-syllable word: Facts. The questions about fact morphing into fiction float and bob about like so many balloons buoyed by the media winds.

Me – I’m not chasing any balloons because I take as fact very little of what I read or see broadcast in any of the media streams. I am one of those people who thought the Barry Levinson film, “Wag the Dog,” was a thinly veiled documentary.

Instead I ride the media currents to see what is bobbing on the horizon of the public mind. What’s happening today is a simple matter: The media soufflé has flattened and with the collapse of the puffery – within corporations, government, and media outlets – we are rushing to fill the void. I’m enjoying the “whooshing sound,” and looking forward to seeing what kind of omelets we’re left with.

Label me wacky or label me a cynic (perhaps both!), but for me a fact begins with that which I can personally touch, see, smell, taste, and hear. I then apply the gut test – my intuitive sense – to create an impression aligned with my value system, cultural wants and spiritual beliefs. Some of my criteria are tangible and some are intangible. And then, when I’m done I still don’t have a fact. I have my belief. One of my core beliefs is that we are all – each of us – a spinmeister of sorts.

I liked the tale that was being spun by master storyteller Judy Wicks, owner of Philadelphia-based White Dog Cafe, co-chair of the National Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), and chair of the Social Venture Network (SVN). She was speaking at a kickoff meeting for a new organization here called Sustainable Chicago.

Wicks says that upon waking every day, she looks in the mirror and says: “Good Morning Beautiful Business.” You have to like a woman who has two cabins in the woods, one named “Happy House,” and the other named “Fart Freely.” What began as a home-based coffee shop in 1983 is now a restaurant that seats 200 and grosses $5 million a year, with a commitment to fun, food and social activism.

What was most persuasive about Wicks was that her tale came right from her heart. I could tell because I had heard it before – from entrepreneurs of all political stripes and others involved in building local economies. That is, that business is really about relationships, relationships with certifiable, verifiable, living, breathing real people.

“A large factor in our success is that we are a real community-based business,” Wicks said. “We share values with our customers.”

“Living and working in the same community has given me a great sense of place, which is really important for building local, living economies,” Wicks said. “When you work and you live in the same place there is a very short distance between decision makers and the person who is affected by your decisions because every day you see your customers that you serve, every day you see your employees that you work with. And you live in the community and you see your neighbors (and the impact of your decisions.)”

That’s the kind of real world fact-checking that resonates for me, and helps me spin my personal vision of a perfect world. It also occurred to me that that’s the kind of fact-checking you get, and you can create through your local WorldWIT email discussions and real world events.

WorldWIT was ahead of the game in understanding that the strength of the new email tools of the web could help women with a friendly point of view, women from the same work/life integration tribe, women in the same cities and regions, share information with each other, and then create real world networks.

When you post a question to a local discussion list, like ChicWIT, you can receive a dozen or more replies. You can pick and choose what information to follow up on based on your own criteria. Even better yet, you can attend a networking event and meet the helpful individuals who communicate with you through the lists. And if something happens and you have to change jobs and move to another city, you can use the same WorldWIT resource to check out your new hometown.

Before the rush to make the Web a commercial force, there was a web that was a community of people. Hobbyists and techies and those who were simply curious built the web by putting up special interest sites, basically as communications tools that said, ” Hi, there – look what I’ve done!” That was about it. If you were on the web around 1995, you will remember when Yahoo was just a page of favorite links, a daily record of what was new on the web, put up by a couple of guys who thought the information-sharing was really neat. It was a community, and the sites were places where like attracted like, where you could find your tribe.

During the days of the dotcom gold rush, some of us lost site of the tribal energy because some financial wizards got the idea that there was money in huge global markets and numbers of eyeballs. Perhaps there is. But in my opinion, that is not the richest or deepest well.

The under tapped frontier is the landscape occupied by WorldWIT, where the locals knock on each other’s doors to find the answers to the burning questions of the day, the answers that simplify our everyday lives.

When we send our request to the WorldWIT universe, we are inviting friendship and collegial exchange. We are building trust and creating relationships. We – friends, neighbors and colleagues – are finding and becoming trusted sources for each other. And that is a great way – and the only way – to do business with each other. And that – to me – is a fact that I count on.

Choosing Otherhood over Motherhood

Sally’s World, May 2003


New research in the United Kingdom has found that among women born between 1954 and 1958, college graduates were 50% more likely than non-graduates to remain childless throughout their lives. Studies conducted in the United States and Germany had similar findings.

These trends register as true for my generation of college-educated women, but I am betting that findings might be different for women younger than I am.

I have seen three circles of friends choose motherhood at different phases of their lives. When I was in my early 20s, many of my neighborhood friends from grade school were married and had their first children shortly afterward. When I was in my late 20s and early 30s another circle – these women my college friends – married and had kids a few years into their careers. And finally during my late 30s and early 40s, during the 90s, another circle – this time high-level executive women – decided that to follow their hearts, they would put corporate America behind and have families.

I made a different choice. When I was 13, I decided that I would not marry and that I would not have children. My youthful decision, arrived at so easily, emerged organically from the political, social and economic climate of the time. It was my personal hard line against what I saw as an erosive devaluing of women’s contribution to the world.

Sometimes we doubt the powers of our intentions, our ability to do what we intend to do. But this youthful commitment was something that I accomplished with little difficulty. Throughout my adult life, as time passed, with considerable reflection and equal doses of gladness and sadness, I have stayed that initial course.

At times, I have felt as though my head intended one thing, but my heart expected another. There is a way, I think, that women of my generation, no matter how well-developed our desires, still believe at some gut level that a knight on a white horse will ride in to save us from ourselves.

When I told a client of mine recently that the main reason I didn’t have children was because I had chosen a career over home-making, he said he didn’t believe it. I suspect many people just a squeak younger than me don’t believe it. But it’s true.

The way I perceived things as a teenager, the role of wife and mother was limited, especially financially. I really didn’t like the idea of not having my own source of income. My mother worked hard creating a loving home environment, raising four children and being wife to my energetic, responsible and loving father. Still some inner voice urged her out into the world, and in 1971, like so many women in their 40s at the time, she headed off to do office work. It was a point of, well, umm, discussion in our family’s household, and it met with a little resistance (I love you, Dad!)

But in the end my mother won. She took deep pride in the work she did, the money she earned, and the substantial contribution her income made to the well-being of our family. My mother loved working outside the home. As a result, she was always very supportive of my life choices – no matter how hare-brained they seemed to others – and she always urged me to aim for personal happiness.

At the time I made my youthful decision, there were few visible and positive examples of the myriad ways to be a woman, raise a family and have a career. After watching my mother’s happiness with her work, I took the road most natural to me. It seemed that to have two full-time jobs, and to try to do them both well – was not an option for me.

Since that time, many women have taken creative plunges into unknown seas of work and motherhood. Their powerful excursions – into business, politics, family and community – have opened doors for women and men alike. The most fortunate of us now have full freedom to choose our roles in accordance with our unique desires as individuals rather than by rules of gender and conformity.

For Mother’s Day, I offer them deep gratitude for their courage in finding their own way, clearing the path and making transparent and accessible for all of us what was once invisible: our unique hearts and our unique paths.

Recommended reading for this Mother’s Day: Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh; The Price of Motherhood: Why the most Important Job in the World Is Still the Least valued by Anne Crittenden; Bold Women, Big Ideas by Kay Koplovitz; and Toward a New Psychology of Women by Jean baker Miller.

By the way, the opinions presented in Sally’s World are mine and do not in any way represent those of WorldWIT. I invite your rage, your praise and your suggested readings. Email me!

Passion – it’s on the ceiling!

Sally’s World, April 2003


In the 80s, we worked hard. In the early 90s, we worked smart. In the late 90s, we worked fast. But now, firmly established in the first decade of the new millennium, we are working all three, but most of all we are working passion.

Today many of us have switched careers or spun out of traditional organizations into smaller more intimate ones – maybe even our own. It’s a realignment of values – we are giving up what doesn’t matter for what does matter. In seeking to live from our hearts in our work and personal lives, we are responding to the irresistible tug of passion.
When passion is present, we don’t stop simply because something goes wrong. We feel the pain, yet we keep going. Having passion doesn’t mean that we will succeed. It simply means that our endurance and resilience are boosted by the power of our authentic presence. Working from passion might improve the likelihood of our success, while most certainly changing our definition of success.
But don’t mistake drive for passion. Drive is a push, not a pull. It takes us away from, not into our hearts.

Sometimes I can’t believe what a wonderful life I have because as a writer and a journalist, I often get to experience mind meld with fascinating and insightful people. Because of a book project that I am working on, I had one of those conversations the other day with
Randy Komisar, author of The Monk and the Riddle: The Art of Creating a Life While Making a Living.

Komisar, who is a long-time practitioner of Buddhism, integrates his life and his work with a powerful core belief: Time is short. Don’t squander any of it. Invest your time in only those things that are important.

We were talking about passion and its role in start-up business. Komisar believes that women are better at recognizing and following passion than men are.

I agree.

To live from passion, you have to listen to your intuition and be open to hearing the beat of your personal drummer. Komisar says that women are more open-minded than men in this way, in part because men are slotted into the breadwinner role that women have traditionally been excluded from.

“Women – it’s the other side of the curse, the curse being that they’ve not had the opportunities,” Komisar says.” Women because of that are open-minded about finding what matters. They are empowered because they are disempowered in the traditional sense. Women are much more creative, I think, and much more courageous in terms of looking for those things that really matter.”

“If you think about it, (passion is at the core) of the traditional dilemma of being the super mom,” Komisar says. “You have your family and you have your career. What you see (in the struggle) is balancing two passions.”

“Most of the women involved in the dialogue about balance of life and career are involved because they care about both, because they have passion.”

Men are suffering more than women in this equation, Komisar says.
“Talk to a 50-year old man about what he wants to do next, and he looks at you (lost) … I”ll play golf. There’s no dimensionality. Their whole identity is in one thing.

Komisar, who teaches classes in entrepreneurship at Stanford, says he has learned much from students pushing against his ideas. He now more fully understands the multiplicity of passion. You may have many passions, and you will follow different passions at different times in your life.

Personally, I have been giving passion free rein in my work for a while now. I can attest that it’s difficult, financial lunacy, and often lonely. But I can also attest to the breathless creative flow that occurs when I and my passion are working side by side. There’ s nothing like it.
Except maybe this.

When I was a 10-year-old kid, I and my best friend of the week would do shoulder stands on my living room couch and imagine that we were walking from room to room on the ceiling. We would step over the tops of door frames, whose structures formed little barriers between the rooms, creating an archipelago of ceiling space, and walk from island to island, checking the treasure that laid in the bowls of the glass light fixtures.

Maybe it was the blood rushing to my head, but I used to wonder if my friend were seeing the same thing I was seeing as we explored the upside down world. I would fantasize that I was inside her brain, looking out from behind her eyes, walking on the ceiling from room to room, until it was time to go and I walked down the walls and out the door and across the street to eat dinner with her family. I would be me, but inside her head for just an hour or two, just long enough to understand what it was like to be her.

I haven’t learned yet how to get inside the mind of another, but I have found the next best thing – the wisdom I am exposed to in a great interview and the fact that I can pass it on to you. What could be better? That’s passion!

Slicing the pie of public opinion on peace

Some 2,000 antiwar protesters with torches form a peace symbol at Heroes Square in Budapest, Hungary, in 2005. The event marked the second anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Photograph by Zsolt Szigetvary/epa/ CORBIS
Sally’s World, March 2003


I heard a conservative commentator on the radio a week or so ago, using the dirty word “peace,” coupling it with its usual complements of “loonies” and “fringe” and talking about how “stupid” the advocates for peace were because they had announced where their rallies were going to be held. His reasoning was that anyone opposed to unilateral action against Iraq would want to hold secret meetings – perhaps in catacombs lit by candlelight?

This assumption reflects a reality: For quite a while now to publicly say that you are not in support of any action taken by the United states in the “war on terrorism” is a bit like tossing up your hands and saying, “Throw me to the lions!

I am perplexed. I thought this was America and that unlike many other places in the world we had the right to assemble and to speak our opinions freely. And that indeed if we had a point of view we wanted to express that it was well within our rights and the parameters of common sense to express that POV in a visible way (as long as our actions are legal and law abiding).

I was thinking about this when I was eating $1 burgers with my friends Brook and Iva at Laurie’s Polka Inn in Bridgman, Michigan, and we were talking about the State of the Union, not the speech that President George W. Bush gave in January, but the actual state of the union.

Brook’s 7 year old daughter was falling asleep cuddled in her mom’s lap, and Brook says:” I wonder what my daughter will say to me when she looks back at this time, when she looks at the way my generation has led this country…”

“I was so angry at my parents when I learned that Marshall Tito was a dictator and did horrible things to people,” says Iva. Iva’s a bit younger than Brook and me. Her family moved to the United States in 1996 after trudging from one country to the next fleeing their war-ravaged home of Sarajevo. “My mother and father told me that Tito was the great one and that everything was peace and harmony, and I grew up believing in these myths because nobody would speak the truth. So war, I couldn’t believe it when it broke out!”

“When I think of the war it was like yesterday. And I know war, when it happens it happens overnight.”

And that’s how families are feeling in war-torn places around the globe – horrified at their bad luck and frightened for their lives. That’s what war and intense conflict does to people – it creates unbearable uncertainty. That’s what the incomprehensible acts of Sept. 11, 2001, did to us. The people of the United States are on edge and rightly so – we must protect ourselves and those we love.

The complexities of this situation are mind numbing.

What isn’t complex is that in the United States we have the right to speak our personal truths – whether well-reasoned or directly transmitted into our cerebral cortex from Pluto.

In the United Sates, we are not ruled by Tito. We are a Democracy. Silence does not rule the day.

In a macabre twist, the terrorists of September 11 used our freedom and our wealth as a weapon against us. The things that make this such a great country — the way we welcome people from other lands, the way we move about freely, the technology that allows us to access our money, the trust most of us have that people will follow the rules — enabled this action.

Despite our deep hurt, and this cruel turn on our freedoms and good will, we shouldn’t forget our core value of political freedom.

And that’s why I bring up that dirty word “peace.” A single syllable that some of us have been muttering under our breath worried that someone might hear and label us “loony” or worse. For a long time, the media – newspapers, broadcast outlets and others in the mainstream – have characterized anyone willing to stand with a different opinion that way.

In part, the reason for this is coalition politics. Those who stood up first were those with unequivocal moral opposition to any war – like the American Friends Service Committee – or those political groups with an axe to grind and little to lose – like the Communist Party.

The bottom line is that the early coalition couldn’t agree on a common message. Combine this with the universal horror of the terrorist action and the well-coordinated communication effort coming from the White House and you have a powerful wall of thought impenetrable by multiple points of communication and multiple points of view. All messages – from President Bush’s administration to the grassroots – are tried in the press. The message of those opposing war appeared to be a big mish-mosh, and it simply did not look credible enough to support the mainstream population. And the numbers simply were not out there.

But that is changing.

I believe the Web as a tool for global communication is deeply affecting our current state of the union. Now anyone with Internet access can sample many, many different points of view – from CNN to the BBC to their equivalents in countries around the world and to hundreds of independent media outlets ranging in perspective from so-far-right to so-far-left that they actually meet at the backend.
It is easier now than it has ever been to get the information you need to form your own opinion.

The new tool of the internet, combined with the mish-mosh coalition message and my own inherent skepticism inspired me to create a personal litmus test for developing my opinion related to any action related to controlling terrorism in the world. I ask myself: Does this action by my government make me feel safer?

Evidence is mounting that others have developed similar tests, and when the answer is “no,” they are taking to the streets. Even the New York Times in a January 20th editorial says that recent demonstrations in Washington displayed concern from America’s mainstream, not the fringe, about the United State’s proposed intervention in Iraq.
Still, the magnitude of the numbers of protestors is a point of dispute in Manhattan where the City has refused to issue a parade and rally permit for more than 10,000 people, and the coalition holding the rally, United for Peace and Justice, is seeking a permit for 100,000. At this writing in early February, the issue is unresolved, but Peace and Justice is urging supporters to continue their plans to come to New York.

Public opinion is always divided – the size of each slice of the pie is decided by who’s serving the pieces. And there are always several pies on the table to be tasted.

These rallies are a sign that our Democracy is healthy. By freely speaking our personal truth, we can keep it that way.