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.

Women blow whistle on conflict and cause growth

GREGORY HEISLER FOR TIME THE WHISTLE-BLOWERS: Cynthia Cooper, WorldCom; (left to right), Coleen Rowley, the FBI; and Sherron Watkins, Enron

Sally’s World, January 10, 2003
Did you see that TIME Magazine chose three women as their persons of the year? Sharing the honor are Cynthia Cooper of Worldcom, Coleen Rowley of the FBI and Sherron Watkins of Enron.

On its cover TIME dubbed them “The Whisltleblowers.” In the photo, the three women look at the camera straight on, stern-faced, arms crossed, silhouettes dramatically lit, their hair framing their faces like haloes. They look annoyed, a bit like moms who’ve caught their 10-year olds throwing firecrackers at each other in the basement.

The photo portrait of this triumvirate doesn’t exactly fit the formula of what we think of as “out of the box” thinkers, but that is precisely what they are. To think out of the box is to be truly radical. It’s not simply to zig when you see a sign that says “zag,” but to blaze with a light that signals a whole new direction. It’s a risk and it’s a signal of what’s to come.

And in stepping out of the box, what did these three expose? Conflict, pure and simple. The conflict between what their organizations said they were doing and what they were REALLY doing.

I understand why TIME called them whistleblowers, but the term can be seen as, well, negative. It brings to mind other words like snitch and disgruntled. None of these women went to the press. The press went to them when their internal memos were leaked. None of them had an ax to grind. They all loved their jobs and believed in their organizations. As TIME says in its report, they are more like “the truest of the true believers.”

If not whistleblowers, then what to call them? These three “Persons of the Year” wriggled just as uncomfortably with being called heroes or role models.
Here’s a proposal: Let’s call them a harbinger.

And here’s why. Like the first robins of spring, our “Persons of the Year” are a signal of new growth to come in the cultures of our organizations.

If you read the TIME reports about what they did and why they did it, you will see that they were motivated by a desire to help their organizations to succeed and grow.
If this succeed and grow motivation sounds like a “chick” thing to you, well it has for a long time considered to be so. But since these women are a harbinger, it won’t be a “chick” thing for long.

The fact that they stood up could be a sign of an opening in our business organizations of benefit to all of us – men and women and future generations of employees. If we look beyond the headlines and read the subtext, this story is about how people – men and women alike – are driven to connect with each other in mutually enhancing relationships – inside and outside of organization.

It’s an opening that’s been a long time coming and was effectively advanced by Jean Baker Miller in her book, Toward a New Psychology of Women. Penned in 1976 at a time of dramatic change for women, this work is, in my layperson’s opinion, a work of remarkable clarity and brilliance.

Baker-Miller recognized that, socially, women through their activities carry human essentials that are not valued. Of these, the most important woman’s life activity is participating in growth fostering relationships – the process of acting in relationship with another person so that person can develop and grow.

This is the everyday stuff of rising children, and it is often described as nurturing or mothering. But these are gender-based words that negate the fact that all people – men and women alike -want to participate in growth-fostering relationships. Baker-Miller and her colleagues call this mutual psychological development and they say that it is essential to all of life and functioning.

So where do our whistleblowers/harbingers fit into this?

These three were so driven to foster growth within their organizations that they risked the conflict to make the growth happen.

Because women are usually subordinates, they do not actively engage in conflict with their dominants – their bosses. When the conflict is forced underground, it becomes covert, distorted and saturated with “destructive force.” But conflict doesn’t have to be that way, and by it’s nature it is not.

Conflict is actually good for us. Entered into with integrity, respect, confidence and hope, conflict is the source of all growth. “The infant would never grow if it interacted with a mirror image of itself,” Baker-Miller writes. “Growth requires engagement with difference and with people embodying the difference.”

28 years ago in her book, Baker-Miller called on women to reclaim conflict.

That is exactly what the ladies of the harbinger have done.

Their actions show that we have learned at least that much – that some conflict is necessary if we are to grow. Twenty years ago, these three would have had neither the position nor the means to even ponder a conflict. The fact that they stepped forward is a very good sign.

It’s not the end of the road but a beginning. For a long time, many of us have questioned the values of our institutions. We have looked for evolution to a more responsive organization that is more tolerant of authenticity. There’s been a lot of dissatisfaction but few guideposts to the next destination. Many of us have wondered how we have gotten into this mess and how we will get out of it.

“One adopts measures in keeping with his past training–and the very soundness of this training may lead him to adopt the wrong measures. People may be unfitted by being fit in an unfit fitness,” said the noted theorist of rhetoric, Kenneth Burke, who Baker-Miller quotes in her book.

That’s good for a giggle and it’s also true. Our three harbingers have pushed back against the “unfit fitness.”

With a little luck, they have cleared a path and planted a tiny seed for a new type of organization, one that is geared toward engendering authenticity and relationships of mutual growth.

And one that will allow us to have a good, clean fight when we need to.

What Business Bestsellers tell us

Sally’s World, October 2002

I like to walk around in a bookstore and look at the new books and the bestsellers and browse the various sections. I like to see how and where the various types of books are shelved and what the latest trends are in size and design and color.

I’ll often just grab a bunch of books with intriguing titles and sit down. Thumbing through them, I’ll jot down any new catch phrases that I spot in a little notepad I obsessively carry with me at all times. Yes, I am the one who hogs the table at your Borders Books Cafe sipping one cup of coffee for hours, although as a good citizen I do return the books to their shelving section. People who work in bookstores don’t get paid enough to have to pick up after me. I am also hedging a bet with the fates in case some day a bookstore café becomes my place of employment.

This bookstore ritual of mine is one way in which I take the temperature of the times. From these visits, I can tell a lot about our collective mental health, about what is worrying us and about how we intend to fix whatever ails us.

On my last visit, one thing I noticed is that Michael Moore’s book Stupid White Men about George Bush and his business associates has for some time now been topping the New York Times Best Sellers Chart for Business Books. The release of Moore’s book was delayed last year around 9/11, and Moore was circulating an angry email at that time charging censorship. Whatever you think of Moore’s politics, he sure knows how to push his thumb into the center of the bruise and maintain pressure with great deliberation and zeal. This one has impeccable timing. Shipping this book as the Enron scandal unfolded was serendipitous genius.

Perhaps because of my somewhat checkered, on and off illustrious career, and perhaps because I am a business writer, I am often drawn to business self-help books. These books are a kind of guilty pleasure. I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I actually READ them.

You know the type. There’s usually a man or woman pictured on the red glossy dust jacket, body language denoting power, arms crossed, head tilted in challenge. The title promises to solve your burning career question of the day. You know, something like: “HOW TO AVOID BECOMING THE MAIN COURSE: Power lunching tips from 50
prosecuting attorneys.”

I am happy to report that my latest visit to this section cheered me right up. Usually these books are sold by some kind of game metaphor, or hunting metaphor or crushing-the-beer-can metaphor. You know, “You – snake, Me -crocodile – UGGH!” For a long time, there was a “Be Bad, Break the Rules and Get Ahead” metaphor. And this was especially popular among books geared toward women.

I really dislike these books because they discount the importance of culture, promote image above true values, and urge women to ignore their gut instincts. The 90s gave rise to corporate cultures of corruption and greed where office politics ruled, where so many of the behaviors urged in “Be Bad and Break the Rules” would actually maintain the status quo. I believe we have to hold true to what is right, push back and be heard if we are going to build businesses that are good workplaces for all of us.
I was cheered this last visit to the self help section because although one or two of these titles seem to sell into perpetuity, the wellspring for new books on this theme is drying up. Once again, it is Enron and the ensuing corporate scandals that have slain the “Be Bad” cliché.

All I can say is “Thank You, Sherron Watkins!” The Enron VP didn’t exactly leap, but rather was pushed, into the public spotlight. But still, she did a great favor for all people in business, but especially women. She was Brave and she told the Truth.
To fly so high at Enron, Watkins had to possess political savvy, superior intelligence and a tough gut. She knew what rules to break and what rules to bend. But in the end, what is remarkable is what she didn’t do: She did not remain silent. She spoke up – quietly – in a culture that above all valued glad-handing and backslapping and the rogue mentality (wink! wink!). The CEO and Chairman and top management team at the Crooked E didn’t listen. But the world did.

I also took the time for a second cup of coffee and to read “The Greed Cycle,” an article by John Cassidy in the Sept. 23 New Yorker that talks about how the “shareholder value movement” encouraged our corporations to go crazy. It seems we were so busy building shareholder value that we lost sight of what was valuable in our businesses and what was valuable in our selves.

So “Ta! Ta!” to books with titles that pair “Bad” and “Business.” And so long to business philosophy books that endorse image over substance. Instead I see an upward trend in titles using the words “brave” and “authentic” and gasp! “honest.”
Maybe we will all start learning things worth knowing again. Like how to develop products that meet a real need. How to sell these products to customers. And how to make those customers so happy that we ALL make a profit! Maybe we will get focused
on making an honest living again!

So my visit to the bookstore tells me that we still need time to recover, but I am optimistic. The business bestsellers tell us we are well on our way.

Sally Duros is a writer, editor, producer and communications consultant.