Sponsored by the Chicago Headline Club, the Gridiron Show skewered local politics and media from 1987 to 1997. A labor of love by a kooky bunch of journalists, pr peeps and politicians, it was also a benefit for student scholarships. This bit between Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert is laughing out loud funny. Writing is attributed to Adam Ritt, with tweaks by the critics themselves. The video is out of synch but listen to the audience response.
Ringmaster David Cohn challenged us to a carnival of #fail. What follows is my total cop out.
In life and in entrepreneurship, I don’t believe in “failure,” “failing” or “fail.” I believe instead that we make mistakes. One minute, I am absolutely right and the next I discover I am absolutely wrong.
It is at these “ooops!” moments when the outlook becomes bleak and I see my project, my ambition, my plan as a failure. My life in entrepreneurship becomes a spectacular succession of risk-taking and disappointed aspirations beginning in awkward childhood, continuing through painful adolescence, blossoming in adulthood and now coming to fullness in middle age.
This is when I have to say “Stop!” Risk-taking self asks responsible self: “Can we still be friends?”
The essence of this lesson is contained completely in Todd Rungren’s brilliant and wise song.
LaLaLa LaLaLa LaLaLa LaLaLa LaLaLa LaLaLa LaLaLa LaLaLa LaLaLa LaLaLa LaLaLa
We shake hands and make up. This friendship with myself means I will see the experience as a learning not a failure. To judge a life experience as a failure is to invite a mindworm into your life, one that will swell to monstrous proportions with every inevitable misstep and block your path forward. Banish the mindworm!
This doesn’t mean I shove my less-than-successes under the rug, but it does mean that I accept them fully. Indeed, in private and with special friends, I honor my failures. This is part of entrepreneurship. It also answers my personal question: What is success?
I won’t bore you with a personal story because I believe that no matter what our material success, disappointment in ourselves is too often the human condition. And after long practice I have learned that self flagellation is the root of more disappointment. So although I might fail to change the world’s view so that it no longer condemns “failure,” I can at minimum adjust my own point of view to be friends with myself, and view my seemingly endless capacity to make monumental mistakes with compassion and acceptance.
“To err is human, to forgive divine,” said Alexander Pope. My goal is to extend this divinity of forgiveness to myself and others as much as I can day by day.
“Make no mistake, Let’s end quickly. But can we still be friends?”
The would-be entrepreneurs among us must nurture self love, because it is with passion and self confidence that we beat back the dark times and shake the feeling of being a total doofus. I know this from personal experience and from interviewing dozens of entrepreneurs about their failures and successes.
What I learned from these interviews is that the key to “failing” well is to understand when to quit. You’ve made a mistake, you’re digging a hole and it is getting deeper. Stop digging — now! Honor the work you’ve done and move on. It’s a new day and a new game.
“Fail” with grace. Be delicate with your fragile self. It’s not about being tough. It’s about being real.
“I try to live my life where I end up at a point where I have no regrets. So I try to choose the road that I have the most passion on because then you can never really blame yourself for making the wrong choices. You can always say you’re following your passion. “ Darren Aronofsky
Easy for Aronofsky to say – look at all his success. But look at all his wackiness too. His first movie, “Pi” was about Hasidic Jews, the Torah and the stock market. Sound like a blockbuster to you?
Life really is about following your passion, because life without passion is empty. But don’t kid yourself and think there is only one passion. There are many, as Silicon Valley’s Randy Komisar told me in an interview nearly a decade ago.
And one very important passion for everyone is family and friends.
“Grains of sand one by one, before you know it – all gone.”
Part of being friends with yourself is being there for your friends and family. With their welfare in mind, recheck your professional passion alignment regularly. The entrepreneurship direction that makes sense at 20 years old might not make sense at 30, 40, 50 and beyond.
To add some grist to the mill, and to fortify what might seem a specious argument, I’ve included a syllabus of sorts and some favorite teaching moments.
Yippie! Another failure!
If you are on the entrepreneurial path, I’d suggest visiting the website of my friend, Barry Moltz. Barry’s books and his website are a treasure of insights on entrepreneurship. I coached Barry through his first book and wrote the stories about start-ups in it. It’s safe to say that our work together on “You Need to be a Little Crazy,” was a humble breakthrough in discussing the reality of failure.
Kathryn Schulz is a Wrongologist, and she says:
1,200 years before Descartes said his famous thing about “I think therefore I am,” this guy, St. Augustine, sat down and wrote “Fallor ergo sum” — “I err therefore I am.” Augustine understood that our capacity to screw up, it’s not some kind of embarrassing defect in the human system, something we can eradicate or overcome. It’s totally fundamental to who we are. Because, unlike God, we don’t really know what’s going on out there. And unlike all of the other animals, we are obsessed with trying to figure it out. To me, this obsession is the source and root of all of our productivity and creativity.—Schulz from her TED talk “On being wrong” | Video on TED.com
And if you are feeling down, it’s always fun to cheer up with your friends, families and neighbors and don’t forget your online friends. I like to Twitter “You’ve gotta have heart” from the musical Damn Yankees when the Knight Foundation is pruning through its proposals and some are learning that their first volley at entrepreneurship didn’t make it. I especially like Peggy Lee’s version.
Here’s the original assignment from DigiDave.
What: A failure in your life (personal or professional) that has lessons. It must be your failure and you must take responsibility. But this will be a safe space to discuss our failings and what we can learn from them.
We talk about ‘failure’ a lot in the online journalism community. It can be a bit of a buzzword. “Let’s fail early and fail often” is a motto I personally have adopted. But the true value of failing is if we can share the lessons learned. We probably do this all the time without knowing it – but rather than try to condense our lessons into 140 characters, let’s create a safe space this month to discuss a failure that others can learn from.
I interviewed Stedman Graham when he was the keynote for ChicWIT’s celebration of International Women’s Day, March 2, 2004. In this interview, Graham discusses his methods and his passions and how they helped him develop a personal brand platform. He also discussed how his famous life partner, Oprah Winfrey, inspired his own personal development.
Q: What is your nine-step process about?
Stedman Graham: Most of us don’t focus on personal development because we are so programmed to buy into labels and titles in our daily lives. Then we do the same thing every single day. We become so busy doing stuff that really has nothing to do with who we are
Real freedom is about being able to take information and make it relevant to the 24 hours you have every day.
I have developed a process to use the world’s resources to build your own life. It is a nine-step process of understanding and discovering who you are. And second, developing who you are. My process has been well received in the United States, Canada, South Africa. Corporations like it, and I have spoken at Harvard and Wharton about it.
Even at Harvard and Wharton, students wind up, when they are done, simply sitting in a room somewhere. They might get paid more but still they’ve learned little about how to leverage their own intellectual worth.
Most of us are never engaged in the world because we wind up doing the same thing every day. We can work at a job and after 30 years look back and see that we have no more than we had in the beginning. That’s Ok if that’s what you want.
This process (of building a personal brand platform) is for people who want a better life.
Q: Do you see a trend in time of life or gender related to when individuals become earnest about connecting with their authentic cores?
Stedman Graham: Women are in special need of the process because they are defined so much by the external world. They live in such a small box, and it is so programmed. They have such an expectation of what they should do. Their programming is very difficult to break out of without any help. It is very difficult for anyone to break out of if you don’t have the network, if you don’t have the information, if you don’t have the good old boys club, if you don’t have the ability to exchange information with other people who really know how to do it.
Unless there is an alignment of your talent, your skills and your passion with a process for developing them, you are not going anywhere. It doesn’t matter what you want to become, how determined you are, how smart you are. It is impossible to do it unless you come from a core competency that will allow you to grow.
It is a problem of self-empowerment and how to take responsibility for your own actions – which is really centered around personal excellence, results and performance.
You can’t possibly brand yourself unless you have a personal understanding of who you are.
I know that there is nothing that you can’t do. It doesn’t make any difference what your background is, whether your parents had money, etc, you can become equal to anybody following my process. Q: What was it like for you growing up?
This belief system that I could do it is different from how I grew up. I grew up in a small town, part black and part Native American in New Jersey. I grew up believing that it was all about white America, race and government control. I did not understand my own potential as a human being.
It took me 30-something years to understand that my potential was
predicated on my skills and talent. I did not know how to self-actualize. My parents told me to go to school and go to work, that was it.
This (blindness) is about not knowing how to process or how to think. It is not centered around other people.
This is about taking responsibility and being able to transcend bias. It is about all those things that will allow you to look at yourself and learn what you need to know about yourself to become more of a leader.
You have to align yourself with the resources of the world.
You have to create a platform that will create some opportunities in the market that you are residing in.
It is a process that blows me away every single day. It closes the achievement gap.
Q: Was there a specific aha! moment for you?
Stedman Graham: It was a combination of things.
I was in a relationship with a very powerful woman, Oprah, so I had pressure every single day to prove myself.
Most people don’t have that kind of pressure so they become comfortable where they are.
Because of the pressure I had to define myself under an umbrella that was bigger than life. That was one influence, and so was understanding business, and how business worked. Having a lot of different mentors was an influence too. I also am a person who is organized and I like that. It helped me come up with a program that I think all successful people have.
I did a comparative analysis of where I came from and where these people were going. And I saw a huge difference. I put that difference into my nine-step program.
It was like this… You’re a man in a relationship with a very powerful woman who reaches 20 million people every single day. You don’t get any respect for that. So the idea of having to find that was part of the catalyst. Being in that circumstance allowed me to look within to survive in that setting. From there I discovered that it is all internal. .
Q: What is your favorite part of your work?
Working with companies and working with business is something I do very well. I really enjoy being able to work with people who are smart. People who are a-plus folks and who are trying to maximize their potential in all spheres. That is what I enjoy most.
Q: What will you be talking about at ChicWIT’s International Women’s Day?
Stedman Graham: I will be talking about the nine steps, and internal and external branding.
I do this work with Merrill Lynch working with small businesses and high worth individuals. We change the trajectory of people’s lives.
We go into the idea of success circles. We teach them how to organize their lives based on three areas: education, career development and community development. As a core base of organizing their lives, we want them to be branded as an expert; we want them to make as much money as possible; we want them to be able to give back.
We organize their lives around their passion – what we call their life theme.
It really does change the entire financial landscape when you are able to understand what legacy they want to leave and what kind of brand they want in the marketplace.
Lots of people have financial tools. But a lot do not have alignment. That’s what I bring to the table. We give them the process for owning their world.
Q: Many people talk about this kind of personal development. One of the most interesting aspects of your work must be seeing the switch go off when people finally get it… Can you give me a good example of having seen that?
Stedman Graham: There are a number of switches and everybody’s different. Some women may have been held back by their lack of understanding that they can be anything they want. That’s the first switch. Once that switch gets turned on then there is another switch that needs to be turned on and that is “how do you do it”?
Then there are the switches of discovery, planning, being able to integrate that with financial tools, and further alignment.
The idea of being able to change the way you think about your possibilities and about yourself, that is the big switch.
That’s the key to owning your world.
For my own personal life, I wasn’t a great student in school because I never turned it on. Once I did, I realized that I could do as well as everyone. There was unlimited opportunity for me.
Q: Has your relationship with Oprah changed since your switch went off?
Stedman Graham: It doesn’t make any difference about anyone else. It just makes a difference about what you want to do in your own personal life to develop your own potential. The thing that you bring to any relationship is the fact that you are able to be your own man, to be your own person. That is the greatest gift.
You don’t ever have to rely on anyone else because you know how to make things happen, end of story. You can share, and you can talk and you can advise and you can help each other. But you stand alone. That is the greatest gift. Wherever you go you stand alone. And you can hold your own.
You never have to apologize anywhere, anytime for who you are. And you understand how to build and to grow and every day you become better than yesterday. If you get that, that’s freedom.
Regardless of how the world might define you or how other people might see you that’s not the real world you. That’s an illusion.
Q: What do you say to nay-sayers, to those who focus on circumstance?
I say it is harder at the top than at the bottom. It is harder when you have to think. It is more difficult when your life is in the limelight.
Leaders do not have it easy. People at the top know that. Success is not an easy thing to deal with. It is difficult to deal with from the family aspect of it. People change. It is much easier when you are playing softball at the lake.
The naysayers don’t understand what it’s like to be in the limelight. How the media can destroy you.
So it’s not what happens to you. It’scan you handle it. Do you have the capacity to deal with it every single day?
Q: How do you deal with questions of perceived scarcity vs. abundance? How do you counsel or help a kid in the projects recognize the resources around him when he sees pain and disappointment?
Stedman Graham: It’s a process that takes a long time.
You have to have the capacity – what it has taken me to get to this point. Serving in the US army, playing ball all over Europe. It’s taken me graduate school. It’s taken me four years in undergraduate school. It’s taken me working five years in the prison system. It’s taken me working in public relations. It’staken traveling around the world, traveling to South Africa. It’s taken me seeing Winnie Mandela’shouse being burnt down and being right there. It’s taken me almost losing my life in a couple of situations.
You are not here (at this level of awareness) because you have just arrived. You are here because you deserve to be here, not because someone gave you anything. For example, I can tell that your life as a journalist is based on countless hours of writing and developing and reading and working on your craft —- otherwise you couldn’t do it.
You are where you are because you deserve to be there. People might look at you and say, “Oh yeah, you have it easy because you work for this newspaper or that newspaper.” They don’t realize what it took to get there. And you can lose that in one second. Or in one week or two weeks, your life could change.
Q: Many women attending ChicWIT’s International Women’s Day have experienced the tiny little box you described at the beginning, and they have also been through repeated loss related to their careers. How would you counsel them to handle those ups and downs?
Stedman Graham: You have to have gone through that to be the success that you are. You had to have had failures. If you don’t know what it’s like to worry about missing payroll then you can’t appreciate when the money comes.
You are not at the top because you are given anything. You are at the top because you have processed your way through. Most people don’t see the process. They see “A to Z” and think that you have gotten there because of such and such.
What they don’t know is that it is impossible to do (get to the top by maneuvering or circumstance). You can’t maintain the posture. You won’t last. People who are experienced, and people who have gone through the process, and people who have earned the right to be where they are understand that.
Because the determination, the work and the perseverance that it takes to make it – you’ve got to have that. Otherwise you won’t make it.
It’s the never quit and never give-up syndrome. If you don’t have that, no matter what you get involved in, you will never make it.
Q: Many of us fare well at the small victories, but these days sometimes it feels as though you have to be heroic – any advice for that?
Stedman Graham: You have to keep going. You have to have the determination and keep going and not have your spirit broken or give in because it’s hard.
Consultant, Editor, Writer and Member of WorldWIT Steering Committee
An interview with
International Women’s Day
June 25, 2004
BY SALLY DUROS
Originally published on www.worldwit.org — Liz Ryan’s social network
By SALLY DUROS
So we are caroling to the animals at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, and it’s quite a family affair with Santa Claus and humans disguised as reindeers and penguins, and earnest people singing holiday songs. There’s even free hot chocolate and cookies for everyone. But I am feeling disoriented because Santa Claus is being interviewed and he is talking about ‘time management.”
Time management? Give us a break! Whatever happened to holiday spirit? You know spirit like in sacred books and all the spiritual traditions of the world. NOT spirit like the car, the movie, or the gun. Santa, please say it isn’t so!
Some would say that spirit has been lost in the supermarket for a long time, and that Santa himself is one of those common signs of its impending extinction.
But I would counter that Santa originates from many great spiritual traditions of gift giving, and that spirit is actually ubiquitous. You’ll see it everywhere if you look for it. Even in business.
Like the cover story for Business 2.0 in November. In case you missed it, the topic was, “The Art of the Brilliant Hunch. Science is starting to understand why the best decisions come from the gut. Here’s how to make tough calls under pressure. ”
Boy, did I glom onto that headline. That’s because I know and you know that following the gut is always the best, but not necessarily the easiest, policy. When we ignore those gut feelings to do something one way, and we do it the other way and everything goes wrong and away from the direction of our intentions, we know the real bellyache is sure to follow. And our pain is amplified by the fact that we knew better!
The Business 2.0 article cites some interesting research on intuition. The bottom line, according to the article, is that emotions start the decision-making process, people are superb pattern makers, and we excel at abduction (rather than induction or deduction. Thank goodness for that because I never could keep those two straight.) The informed gut rules, the article said, in complex, complicated and chaotic situations, rather than in situations where formal rules can be applied.
Readers were also treated to several worthwhile capsules of how hunches work in business including advertising, publishing and broadcasting. My favorite factoid was that Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, shook uncontrollably when he came up with the idea of Starbucks. (My hypothesis is that the shakes came not from the power of the idea but from psychically connecting with the future caffeine overload of a nation of office workers.)
It was s good piece of journalism, bearing good news and befitting a fine publication like Business 2.0. The argument was based on scientific fact and expertise, and I applaud Editorial Director Thomas A. Stewart for his persuasive case.
Seems to me, though, Stewart missed pinning the tail on the hunch by about a foot and half. That’s because so much of his argument was draped against that common worldview of business, where relations are assumed to be contentious, competitive and warlike. Yeah, business is like that sometimes, but does it have to be?
It’s in my nature to shift perspective and ask: What happens when we change the worldview from one of scarcity and conflict to one of plenty and affinity?
Then the real mystery becomes less about how we make decisions in chaos and complexity, and more about how we become attracted to and then passionate about an idea. And sometimes that idea – like Starbucks – has multi-billion dollar legs.
I say the beauty of the hunch is expressed most brilliantly in the creative act of bringing something new into the world.
It’s like that hunch I have that the Business 2.0 writer was picking up some energy from the cultural stew when he decided to research this article because, well, he had a hunch! Still, where did that genesis spark come from? How was he attracted to the story idea and how was it attracted to him? Pattern played a part, paycheck played a part and editors played a part, but none of these constitute the Velcro that sealed the deal.
I believe the answer is spirit, the spirit unique to each of us that brings specific gifts into the world. And, yes, the kind of spirit that has to do with looking at the world wide open, and asking,” I wonder ..? And yes, that holiday spirit that celebrates all that is good in life, and the way we are all, each and every one of us, connected with each other.
So, here’s a holiday invitation offered in the spirit of peace and new beginnings. It’s adapted from the writings of Sonia Choquette, a well-known spiritual counselor in Chicago.
The next time you are called into a meeting with parties holding close cards and disparate interests, ask yourself this question: “How are we alike?” And look for what is true and what is real. Most of all, trust what you discover.
Radical, I know.
And if you are feeling really brave, check your assumptions at the door. Even if you have worked with these people for 20 years, walk into the meeting with this one directive: Never assume that you know anyone. And during your meeting, listen to what your intuition is telling you. Really listen – deeply. And trust it.
And most of all, here’s an invitation to a different kind of time management.
Let’s stretch the time period for holiday spirit to 365 days of the year.
And make each day a celebration of what is unique in each of us.
Let’s start the New Year off right.
By SALLY DUROS
I am here to announce that the business suit for women is alive and well and sitting stylishly (minus the shoulder pads, thank goodness) on the shoulders and hips of businesswomen the land over! That’s proof that I’ve been hanging round the tech world a long time with its casual dress everyday and its designer tennies and its quirky habits of eating and talking – artfully – at the same time. Don’t get me wrong – I love that quirkiness, but I have forgotten the feel of a DK jacket and a Dana Buchman silk – jeeze louise, I don’t even know if those brands exist any more and whether their equity has held up.
The fact that women in business still get dressed up and wear beautiful clothes that resemble those worn by Cokie Roberts rather than those worn by Madonna hit me like a Perry Ellis camel-hair topcoat when I attended a recent breakfast meeting of the University of Chicago Women in Business Alumnae Network her in Chicago. I breathed a sigh of relief that I had left my tattered backpack at home and brought my Tumi bag instead.
I had correctly anticipated the formal atmosphere. It was an event put on by The Executives’ Club of Chicago as part of their New Women’s Leadership Breakfast Series. The title was “Perspectives from Women Shaping the Future” and “The Challenge of Leading Change. ” It was great! We heard the scoop from Linda Bammann, Executive Vice President, and Chief Risk Management Officer of Bank One. We heard from Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s Chief of Staff, Sheila O’Grady. And we got the viewpoint of Judith Sprieser, Chief Executive Officer of Transora. Then we had an excellent moderator in Elizabeth Brackett, Correspondent for WTTW and “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.”
They said a lot of insightful things. But the bottom line was the usual “Managing change is difficult.” It was my turn to be incredulous – well “Yes!” I guess I thought the rock was a bit higher up the hill and the conversation might have advanced to a deeper level. But a panel discussion is limited in what it can deliver, and it’s a whole different story when you’re talking about light as a feather early stage start-ups vs. large organizations like our panel was discussing. I started recollecting a conversation I had a while back with a fellow who knows a lot about cultures and change – in both start-up businesses and Fortune 100 companies – Bob Okabe, principal of Illinois Partners and co-founder of Chicago’s Prairie Angels Capital partners LLC., the manager of the first organized angel fund in the Midwest. Bob has a grey suit pedigree in investment banking and corporate finance, holding senior leadership positions at Lehman Brothers, Kidder Peabody, and General Electric, among others.
Sally:How do you get to the authentic core of what your values are, so that you can build a business that will give you what you want it to give you? Obviously, you don’t want it to just be successful. You want to also have a business that you want to go to every day.
Bob: I think a lot of entrepreneurs just say, “It’s my business and I’m doing it my way, and therefore it’s something I want to come to every day,” but they don’t realize it’s not necessarily something other people want to come to. … Too many people hire for skills, not for culture.”
Sally: Can you talk about culture a bit more? About how it’s manifested in business?
Bob: Yes, I think culture is expressed consistently in one of two ways. One is by leadership, and the other is, you institutionalize it. I think it can be institutionalized. There are companies like SAS that clearly institutionalize it, and they foster a very particular culture or an attitude, and they build systems to make sure it stays consistent as the company grows.
“Then, there are companies that do it just by leadership. I mean, at GE Jack Welch had to do it by force of will, because the organization already existed. He had to fire people at this very senior level who were probably good at their jobs but didn’t fit the culture. He had to reward people who fit the culture but weren’t successful. And he had to stick by people whose performance was mixed. I think he basically did it by force of will and leadership; so you can do it in either way. The question is, what is easiest for you.
“I think in a small company, by its nature, it is going to be done by force of will, by leadership.”
Sally: Well, yes; you would say, “This is what I want.”
Bob: “But you know what? A lot of entrepreneurs – a lot of raw startups put together their team by who’s convenient and who’s willing, not by who’s right. …I see lots of teams where it’s a bunch of guys who knew each other. ”
Sally: Do people hire from skills versus culture because it’s easier to quantify skills than culture?
Bob: I think first of all that people hire in the following order: skills, personality, and then culture last. Really, what they should hire for is culture first, skills second, and personality last. Because the boat moves as fast as the slowest rower, so if there’s somebody who’s not motivated and not interested, I don’t care how physically able he is; he’s not going to row well.”
Sally: Have you gained any insight into office politics and how that affects an organization?
Bob:Office politics are a reflection of the culture in an office. People politic within an office if they feel they have to, or if they feel it will gain them a significant advantage over others. So people who are known as brown-nosers have learned and believe that office politicking helps them. And a culture that accepts that is a culture that breeds it.
But the reality is that if you’re working together, then it doesn’t matter. A consistent culture reduces the amount of office politics. I would argue that the more consistent an organizational culture is, the less onerous the office politics are.
Sally: That would actually make sense. Because if people understand the rules of how you work together, and they have enough guidance and understanding of that, then they won’t be bringing personal – you like me, you don’t like me, I like you, I don’t like you – into the mix so much.
Sally: You have to have some kind of good radar working to understand culture so well.
Bob: I think good entrepreneurs do.
The bottom line of our conversation was that Bob and I agreed that you can tell a lot about the culture of an organization by the way it talks about itself.
From my viewpoint, that talking comes in many forms. In dress codes, and hours kept. In lunch etiquette, and coffee time and water cooler gatherings. In please’s and thank you’s or growls and purrs. In office spaces and public gathering places. In email formats, and cc’s and bc’s and subject lines. In golf outings and take your kid to work days and family leave. In how you celebrate holidays and birthdays and days of important business events. In how you hire and promote and celebrate. In the stories the business tells about itself in the hallways, the executive offices, in the mailroom and in the media.
And all of these things will contribute to whether you’re wearing high-tops or floral pattern pumps to the office. As the old saying goes, “If the shoe fits, wear it.” Any type of shoe is fine as long as it fits you.
NarTube – Watch Video
Sally’s World, August 2003
By SALLY DUROS
Leadership. We talk about it all the time. But what is it?
I’ve worked in places where leadership is measured by office configuration and size of paycheck, by number of phone calls placed and appointments made, by the urgency, authority and volume of voice with which one gives orders, by the minutes one arrives late at a meeting, or by the number of minutes of face time one has with the boss.
You know and I know that none of this is leadership, but sometimes it passes for the real thing when there is lack of an authentic leader.
Oddly, it was a photograph of an event in a far off place that got me to thinking about how we define leadership.
It was a news photo in the Sunday New York Times. Black and white, running over three columns at the top of the page, the photo was of about two dozen women – dressed casually in slacks, skirts and blouses -tossing handfuls of soil on what looked like a mound of dirt and rocks. The caption said: “Women in Dyararnakir, Turkey, performed a task customarily done by men when they threw soil on the grave of Cemse Allak, a stoning victim.” The headline on the article read, “Honor Killings defy Turkish Efforts to End them.”
The women throwing the dirt are members of KAMER, a women’s rights association. The woman in the grave had lain semi-conscious in a hospital for seven months after her skull had been crushed. The man who had made her pregnant lies in a grave of his own. This is the way honor is upheld in a culture that believes that an unmarried pregnant woman, even if brought to that state through rape, has brought shame upon her family and merits a death sentence.
It appears Turkey has been trying to win its way into the European Union, and to do so it has passed human rights legislation that lawmakers hope will squelch the tradition of murdering in the name of “family honor.” As many as 5,000 women and girls are murdered by family members each year in so-called “honor killings” around the world, according to The United Nations Population Fund.
Turkey’s legislation is necessary, but it won’t mean squat without grassroots leadership like that provided by the KAMER women who visited the stoning victim in the hospital, claimed her body, and saw to it that she had a coffin and a burial. They supported her when her family wouldn’t. Research on “honor killings” has shown that females in the family – mothers, mothers-in-law, sisters and cousins are commonly complicit in the violence and support attacks and “honor killings.”
Given Turkey’s cultural context, the actions taken by the women of KAMER is clearly an act of leadership.
Given the “Western” cultural context, what I see in this news story is that time is right for each of us to take personal action to disarm the weapon that enables ancient practices like “honor killings.”
That weapon is gossip.
Women value connection to others more dearly than anything else, research over the past three decades has found. And because of that, gossip hits hard as a stone and fells even the strongest among us.
Women attack each other constantly, covertly and vigorously, indirectly through gossip, slander, shunning and bullying. Still, that isn’t as aggressive as what men do – or is it?
The ways in which women attack – dubbed indirect aggression by psychologists – are devastating to individuals. Women mostly target each other, and in some cultures the attacks are deadly.
Yes, men’s typical aggressive choices – fighting, guns, bombs, weapons of mass destruction – are designed to kill and maim. This kind of aggression is open and endemic. We discuss it and actively take sides on its presence in the world. But woman’s way of attacking indirectly allows us to trivialize, minimize, and hide the way we hurt each other.
Indirect aggression has a profound affect on the status of women in the world. It is the main expression of women’s sexist beliefs about ourselves.
I can almost see the eyes rolling here – NOT another call for political correctness! This is a bit of a mind twister so please bear with me. This is absolutely not political correctness. There is no code of behavior. No checklist of approved attitudes and behaviors. Nor should we consider taking the short cut by imitating men’s worst behaviors.
No. We have to find a new way.
There is instead only the requirement that we be real and respectful and speak our minds, that we learn to let go of our anger and envy, that we refuse to participate in mutual downgrading.
Women are sexist. We are programmed to work against and undervalue ourselves. Indirect aggression is the method we use to keep each other in line and maintain the status quo. And the status quo does not serve our goals. The status quo seeks to keep us less visible.
This is a dirty old secret that was never really a secret and that has finally been thoroughly addressed in Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman by Phyllis Chesler, a groundbreaking feminist psychologist and author. Chesler says that the book took her 21 years to write, and during most of those years other women begged her not to write it.
In the Introduction, Chesler says: “As feminist women, we knew that we were doomed without sisterhood so we proclaimed it, even in its absence. We wanted to will it into existence, verbally, without wrestling it into being.”
Those of you tempted to browse to the next page because of the word “Feminist” – please don’t! This book helps us – it helped me at least – to understand and recognize the attitudes that I have internalized and how they are hobbling my power in the world.
The book is exhaustively researched. Chesler provides evidence from primate and anthropological research, workplace studies, sociological data, original interviews, memoir and more to make the case for woman’s inhumanity to woman. She discusses indirect aggression among girls and teenagers, between mothers and daughters, sisters and best friends, women in the workplace, women in groups, as well as personal examples from the women’s movement.
And yes, Chesler offers examples from research that demonstrate how women’s gossip creates the climate in which “honor killing” of a woman can become inevitable.
Although women in the West are leading the way on many fronts our advancement is hobbled by these dynamics.
“Women in the family face life and death battles, and we transfer those into our worklife,” Chesler says in a telephone interview. “It would be better if women could learn to take things less personally. … keep our eyes on the prize.”
“Women are the chief enforcers of this (aggression),” she says. “Men do not notice it.”
There’s a lot of information in this book, and it’s tempting to make it an intellectual exercise. We shouldn’t let that happen. The bottom line is personal and in our hearts. It takes us beyond rhetoric and thought and to a place where we each, as individuals, can recognize our everyday sexist assumptions about ourselves and other women.
I encourage you to read Chesler’s book to fully experience the passion and clarity of her argument. As Chesler writes, “I no longer share as an article of faith the belief in the power of political-social programming to improve human nature. … I am suggesting that the human spirit has the power to learn from adversity in remarkable ways.”
The spirit does. To push back and expand our personal edge in the world causes discomfort. But it also forces learning. And that learning can bring change around the world.
In Turkey, the change is under way at the legislative front and at the personal front. That Turkey even cares how it looks to the European Union and the “Western” world is the result of the personal work of millions of individuals and, in turn, institutional response to that work, during the past several decades.
Those of us in WorldWIT can help write the headlines of the next decades by taking leadership and fine-tuning our ear and our actions so that we are acting openly and authentically as woman and as individuals.
Each of us can heighten our awareness and then, before you know it, we’ve jointly created a critical mass of consciousness that will take us to the next level. That’s social change.
It is in that spirit that I offer Chesler’s 9 suggestions for how women and daughters can accept, sense and be with ourselves and one another to create a fresh perspective.
1. “Humbly accept that change is a process.”
It can’t be rushed.
2. “Acknowledge, do not deny the truth.”
Women are normally aggressive, oppressed women are angry; be realistic about what to expect from other women.
3. “Become strong.”
Develop a strong sense of self and of your uniqueness.
4. “Become strong enough to take criticism.”
Hear respectfully. Opposing views are not a personal betrayal.
5. “Learn to express your anger: rules of engagement.”
Perhaps here we can learn from men, who comfortably occupy a psychological middle distance from each other.
6. “Learn to ask for what you want: Learn to move on if you don’t get what you want.”
Put it into words and ask for it directly.
7. “Do not gossip. ”
Do not initiate it and do not pass it on.
8. “No woman is perfect: apologize when you’ve made a mistake and then move on.”
If you are the saboteur, cut yourself some slack. If you are slandered or sabotaged, deal with it directly.
9. “Treat women respectfully.”
Cultivate the concept of an honorable opponent.
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 and your praise. Email me!