All posts tagged: Monday Musings

The Importance of Being Interesting

Writer, editor, writing coach, France aficionado, and family friend Janet Hulstrand produced a delightful little book earlier this year entitled Demystifying the French: How to Love Them and Make Them Love You. Having just finished this advice manual for travelers and others interested in living more successfully with the French, I found Janet’s take on how to understand these sometimes curious, somewhat frustrating, occasionally mystifying, but always interesting people to be delightful, informative, and useful all at once. I also found that Janet had—either on purpose or unwittingly, I’m not sure which—captured some wonderful life lessons from her observations about the country she’s now observed and come to love as a visitor and resident for some 40 years. The book is written as if you are sitting by the fireplace with a wonderful French wine and a good friend who is giving you a crash course before you venture out on your first trip to France. Janet’s writing is clear and, as one reviewer put it, “breezy and digestible.” She begins with five essential tips for “even …

Facing Life’s Worries

We all have our phobias and fears. For much of my life, that personal horror was stage fright. I’m surprised when people tell me they have never experienced the sensation of walking to a podium or settling in with their musical instrument and, suddenly, being gripped by a paralyzing fear. That dread just came naturally to me. Stage fright—or performance anxiety, as it is also known—is a condition that affects many people who have to talk for a living or want to perform for others. I’ve experienced it in both speaking publicly—say, for television interviews—and in playing music in any space other than my living room. If you don’t address your fears, the feeling saps your confidence and energy in ways that seem to make poor performance a self-fulfilling prophecy. With work and experience, I overcame at least a part of my anxiety through the years and came to enjoy public speaking and conversation. A little bit of online research will turn up 21.5 million results (I Googled it) around ways to combat stage fright. …

Beyond Identity Politics

We all saw the same thing. Yet, what we saw differs sharply in our mind’s eye, and in our retelling of the story. Over the past two weeks, all Americans had access to the same impeachment inquiry hearings. We all saw the same witnesses testifying. We all heard the same Members of Congress asking the same questions (or making the same speeches). And yet, taken individually, what we saw and heard during those hearings differed widely. Why is there this contradiction if we all saw and heard the same testimony presented to the same Congressional committee? One answer to that conundrum may lie in the increasingly narrow ways in which we identify ourselves. It just so happened that I was reading Francis Fukuyama’s smart and insightful 2018 book Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment during the hearings. A Japanese-American political scientist, Fukuyama’s thoughtful take on how our nation, and how much of the world, came to a place where we are identifying ourselves with a series of smaller and smaller tribes while …

Boldness in Leadership

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Leadership in Turbulent Times, is, as one would expect from the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, a thoughtful analysis that deserves to be taken seriously. At a time when the country has entered the public phase of Donald Trump’s impeachment inquiry and as the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination—and perhaps the soul of the country—escalates during the twelve months before the 2020 election, there are lessons to be learned from the past. This 2018 work is a study of the life of four presidents and the ways in which they addressed major issues in fractured times: Abraham Lincoln (winning the war, ending slavery and saving the union); Theodore Roosevelt (responding to the sharp inequities and unfairness of the industrial revolution); Franklin D. Roosevelt (rebuilding a country out of the Great Depression); and Lyndon B. Johnson (the fight to ensure civil rights for all Americans). Kearns Goodwin observes that we have come through difficult periods before. In a more troubling sense, she also makes it clear that we have always had scoundrels in positions of …

Stop Talking and Listen

Old habits can be very hard to break. Case in point: my difficulty in breaking out of the mold of being a stereotypical male. I’m reminded of this far too often and in many different ways. However, one of the more consistent occurrences involves listening. Or, to be more accurate, not listening. The stereotype is that men are encouraged, and even trained, to be the center of attention. It is a stereotype, in this case, because it is usually true. Studies show that boys are called on more in school, that boys grow up to become men who talk more in meetings, and that we interrupt women more than we interrupt men. Most of the time I fall into this pattern of interruption because I’m not thinking. But a few times I do it knowingly and with the best of intentions. That was the case earlier this year when I found myself talking over a friend to “help her” explain something that I thought might be difficult to articulate. Not because she isn’t a smart, …

Let’s Go 1-0 Today

Saturday’s rally to celebrate the Washington Nationals World Series Championship was—intended or not—a masters class in leadership and team building. The lessons were outlined by speaker after speaker from the stage, and they began with a facing of reality. Before he passed away in 2017, Max DePree was the retired CEO of the furniture and design pacesetter Herman Miller. Through the years I’ve come to appreciate his definition of leadership, and especially his thoughts on the responsibilities of leaders. DePree said that the first duty of a leader is to define reality. On May 24th, with almost a third of their season over, the Nationals record stood at 19-31. Twelve games under .500. Their chance of winning the World Series on that date was a miniscule 1.5%. From the outside, it appeared that the reality wasn’t good. But there were reasons—primarily but not exclusively a rash of injuries to key players—that led to the bad start, and the reality was that those injured players were beginning to return. It was also clear that some elements …

Connecting to Our Best Selves

The Honorable Elijah E. Cummings, who represented Maryland’s 7th Congressional District which included his beloved city of Baltimore, passed away on October 17th. His was an especially difficult death for many of us to process, because he regularly and effectively spoke truth to power at a time when that trait is sorely lacking in our civic conversation. Yesterday’s Washington Post had a Cummings op-ed written in July entitled We Are in a Fight for the Soul of Our Democracy. It began, “As I pen these words, we are living through a time in our nation’s history when powerful forces are seeking to divide us one from another; when the legitimacy of our constitutional institutions is under attack; and when factually supported truth itself has come under relentless challenge. I am among those who have not lost confidence in our ability to right the ship of American democratic life, but I also realize that we are in a fight — a fight for the soul of our democracy. As an American of color, I have been …