Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Suggestions Wanted for "Can Capitalism Survive?" Debate

Capitalism as a philosophy is based on the incorrect idea that people make decisions to improve their lives by rationally choosing how to best allocate their labor, land, and capital. The underlying assumption is that humans make these decision dispassionately. Recent research reveals, however, that while the human brain has some capacity for rational decision-making, it is mostly emotional in how it processes cognitive information. Thus, the assumption of rational decision making, or maximizing utility, is simply false. We can see this by looking at the recent abuses of capitalism in which some people are making emotional investment or purchase decisions (for example, investing in Madoff schemes that promise unrealistic returns on investment or purchasing a home without a sufficient income) and other people are exploiting those decisions (e.g., Madoff and lenders). Thus, the role of government should be to restrain the excesses caused by emotional brain processing without choking the innovation and weatlh creation that capitalism produces. Fundamentally, however, we must as a society acknowledge that human brains are 98% emotional and only 2% rational and adjust our norms, regulations, and laws accordingly.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Work-Life Tip Sheet: 10 Steps to a Successful Workplace

Work life balance gives a lot of leaders headaches and creates conflicts when actual values are not consistent with stated values. On the one hand, companies want employees to work hard, be productive, and contribute to financial profitability. Since success is still measured by shareholder value and return on investment, bottom line results dominate corporate values. On the other hand, employees want freedom, flexibility, respect, autonomy, and dignity so that they can manage their lives and maximize their happiness. And, there are that percentage of employees who want to do as little as possible for the maximum paycheck. How is this conundrum solved? I suggest that the solution lies with enlightened leadership and human resources professionals who are not so obsessed with compliance and rules. Great leaders will lead with integrity and humility. They will inspire their workforce by setting clear goals through achievable methods. They will create a loyal, devoted workforce, not an adversarial workforce. As trust is developed between leaders and employees, a certain amount of flexibility and tolerance will slowly grow. The leaders know they will not be betrayed by slovenly, lazy, unproductive habits. The employees know they will be treated as responsible adults. 250 words is not enough to get into this detail. The basic concept is to focus on strong, inspirational, high-integrity leadership. Everything else will follow.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Causing Peace: A Nobel 'Call To Action'

I have found as a professional peacemaker that peace is much harder than conflict. Peace takes inner courage--the ability to look at one's self, deal with anxiety, overcome fear reactions, work around belief structures, separate out and identify emotions, and understand cognitive biases. That's just the inner work we each have to do. Then we have to turn to the person, group, or nation we have a conflict with and help them deal with anxiety, fears, belief structures, feelings and emotions, and cognitive biases. We have to create a deep empathic connection with someone we may at first hate or despise. If we get that far, we have to learn to engage in interest-based negotiation. We have to learn how to make good decisions on incomplete and uncertain information. We have to build mechanisms of trust through accountability, using cooperation as a model, not coercion. If all of this happens, then peace can occur. What is amazing, however, is that this happens every day. Whether I am working on a victim-offender mediation, or a half billion dollar commercial dispute or an intense family business conflict or a dysfunctional organizational conflict, peace happens. Would a Department of Peace make a difference? Maybe. But maybe a Department of Peace would give us each a personal excuse not to look in then reach out to make peace everyday to those we disagree with. After all, it's the government's job to make peace, not mine.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Prison Programs Take Innovative Approach To Reducing Recidivism

The ignored conversation is not about prison programs that can rehabilitate and reintegrate offenders back into society; it is about why state governments, especially California, are not acting. There are hundreds of ideas, programs, and policies known to save lives and families, reduce recidvisim, increase community safety, and reduce the enormous taxpayer burdens of the prison system ($250,000 per inmate per year in California). Like so many other important public policy issues, prison reform and rethinking the entire criminal justice system has become politicized and polarized. Too many jobs are now at stake to think about reducing prisoner populations. Too many politicians are dependent upon "Tough on Crime" or "Endorsed by the Deputy Sheriffs' Association" for re-election. As a result, anyone who questions the current policies and asks for a civil public conversation is marginalized as a left wing liberal wacko with no common sense. Ad hominem attack, rather than considered discourse, is the preferred method of dealing with intelligent, thoughtful discourse.

The solution is education and awareness. How long do even the most conservative anti-tax partisans want to fund a failed system that trades off education dollars for children for imagined safety, "justice," and "vengeance?" When will the media step up and stop using crime as cheap news fillers on the 5:00 pm news and the metro section of the local paper? When these shifts start, perhaps we will see the ignored conversation become the important conversation of social change.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Monday, October 19, 2009

Was "Ardi" a Liberal?

Interjecting politics by using bonobos and chimpanzees, or ancient predecessors such as Ardi, as symbols of ideological preference (bonobos being generally peaceful and chimpanzees demonstrating capacity for brutal violence against each other--read liberal and neocon respectively) seems to be a an exercise in reductionistic thinking. Humans are not bonobos or chimpanzees. Humans have the capacity for peace and for violence, with a tendency for violence to be a default mode under the right conditions. While ethology, the study of animal behavior, is important and useful research, drawing conclusions one way or the other from animal behavior about human nature is inexact at best and delusional at worst. Somehow, we apparently have not learned the lessons from the Konrad Lorenz (On Aggression)--Ashley Montagu (Man and Aggression) debate 45 years ago--that using animals as symbols for explaining peace, war, love, and violence in human culture and history, is not illuminating or culture changing. What is more useful is a deeper understanding of human behaviors in peaceful and in conflict situations through interdisciplinary studies of anthropology, sociology, social psychology, and neuroscience. As we slowly untangle the mysteries of the human brain, we are finding insights that refute long-held beliefs and challenge the fundamental philosophies upon which western law and culture are built. This is where the discussion should be centered as it will likely bear fruit in better informed education, law, public policy, and foreign relations policies.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Diversity: Why Do We Have Such A Hard Time Walking Our Talk?

Who wouldn’t want to work for a sexy, politically aware, spiritually evolved employer with great values? Sadly, the fear of lawsuits drives so many employers to attempt to repress all expressions of diversity such as sexuality, politics, and religion at work. The legal rules intended to protect people can create the very conflict they are intended to prevent. The unintended result of over-zealous regulation and repression of our essential humanness reliably creates a sterile, inhospitable, conflict-laden, and unprofitable workplace. Consequently, sexy, powerful, value-driven companies are hard to come by. Does it have to be this way?

Employers are compelled to follow a merciless number of (at times conflicting) employment laws. These laws have the unintended consequence of stripping the very essence of what it means to be truly human from every corner of the office. Authentic human relationships are crushed. We are expected to eradicate all hints of sexuality, political process and religion from the very fabric of our company for fear of a damaging, costly and paralyzing law suit.

The core problem lies in the diverse values that we bring to the office and workplace. Diversity is a function of value differences, not simply ethnicity, religious affiliation or gender. However, when inappropriate freedom of expression of sex, politics, and religion occurs, we run afoul of the law. Thus, understanding and leading diversity of values is the key.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Friday, October 16, 2009

Our Ambivalence With the Arts Makes Bad Education and Economic Policy

Arts education is, I would argue, critical to a peaceful society, and its absence in the school curriculum creates a serious social problem. Math and science train minds in logical and critical thinking. What is missed by policymakers is the importance of developing emotional awareness. Arts and the aesthetics do just that-develop a rich awareness of our emotional world. If children are not trained in the arts, their emotional awareness and intelligence develops ad hoc. Some will grow into healthy emotional beings; many others will be stunted, unhappy beings. The purpose of arts training is not to create artists, musicians, and poets. It is to open up children to the feelings and emotions they experience when observing, creating, and interacting with expressions of emotion created by others. We know that mirror neurons in our brains are the substrate for empathy and need to be exposed to emotions. Arts training is therefore just as important for the developing brain as is problem-solving for we cannot solve social and personal problems just with critical thinking skills. So what is the payoff. As a lawyer turned peacemaker, I think the benefit is less crime, less conflict, fewer lawsuits as people learn to navigate and express their emotional experiences in healthy, robust ways. What better way to learn how to do that than through the arts? The way to peace must include a path through the arts.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Peacemaking Demands Peacemakers

The Israeli-Palestinian problem is more complex than a failure of leadership, although that is part of the complexity. From my perspective as a professional peacemaker, the heart of the problem lies in the identity conflicts existing within both the Israeli and the Palestinian camps. Essentially, the fundamentalists on both sides have seized the ideological high ground, They have staked out extremist positions in terms of sacred values from which no compromise is possible. I believe that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians seek and hope for peace. They are hijacked by those in their midst who claim that honor, duty, and death come before a pragmatic settlement of all disputes. If there is a failure of leadership, it is here: leaders on both sides have failed to stand into the ideologues, denounce their fundamentalist and extremist views, and courageously stand for peace. Until such time as the extremists in both camps are marginalized by popular opinion, the crisis and conflict will continue. In the meantime, there are ways to engage the extremists which will require engaging with patience and tact.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

California Constitutional Convention - No Politicians Please

Gavin Newsom, among others and including California Forward, are calling for a constitutional convention to rewrite, simplify, and change the way California government operates. In principle, this is a good idea and long overdue. The devil is in the details. For the past 20 years, California governors have been unable to govern and the legislature has been in effective deadlock. As a result of term limits, special interests dominate decision making. Gerrymandering legislative districts has insured highly partisan ideologies to dominate in public debate. State and local employees (prison guards and teachers in particular) diligently and rabidly protect their own at the expense of everyone else. Fiat by initiative funded by special interests or narrow political groups is the order of the day. In the face of this mess, all of it protected by the First Amendment right to free speech and the freedom to petition government, one wonders how a constitutional convention could possibly succeed.

Although the convention process is far from being decided or even outlined, it seems to me a few fundamental ground rules ought to be in place. First, no elected officials past or present should be part of the constitutional convention. There are plenty of really intelligent people in California not in politics who could be drafted as delegates. Politics should be as absent from the convention as possible. Second, every delegate should be trained in collaborative decision making, interest-based negotiation, conflict resolution, and fundamental principles of emotional intelligence. These classes should be mandatory to teach people the social and negotiation skills necessary to deal with sharply devisive issues. Third, the regions of the state should be represented by more than population size. Two thirds of California is rural and looks more like the midwest and, of course, is under represented in the political structure. The interior portions of California hold all of the natural resources, especially water, and therefore should have a pretty hefty say in the process. Fourth, there should be some advisory process in place to legally test constitutional provisions provisionally. Even if a constitutional convention creates a new document that is approved by the people and the legislature, it faces decades of challenges by interest groups unhappy with the inevitable loss of power, protection, and privilege.

I am sure that there are other fundamental procedures and ground rules that will be thought about and debated. I would like politicians like Mayor Newsom to elaborate on how they see the process developing and unfolding so we can judge whether their ideas of a convention make sense. The cry for a California constitutional convention will be come louder in the next year. Let's ask for details early and not let the process be decided in a cloakroom out of the public eye.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Zero Tolerance Teaches The Wrong Stuff

Here's a story making the news today:

A six-year-old American boy has been ordered to spend 45 days at a school for troublemakers after he brought his favorite Cub Scout camping cutlery to school.

Zachary Christie took out the combination knife, fork and spoon at lunch, in violation of the school policy of not bringing in knives.The Delaware school officials immediately suspended him and sent him off to reform school for 45 days. His mother, having better sense, withdrew him and will home school him.

As a mediator and peacemaker, I see the results of school zero-tolerance policies destroy relationships, children, and people. It is a concept born of fear and bereft of common sense. More dangerously, it does not teach children how to deal with conflict or violations constructively. Instead, zero tolerance polices teach kids that he or she who has the most power wins--exactly the wrong lesson we need to teach our future leaders if we want our species to survive another generation or so on this planet.

The solution is to invest in relationships and create the space, time, and resources to deal with conflicts and offenses appropriately. Can we teach school leaders not to be fearful of children? As a Cub Scout, I am sure Zachary is proud of his camp utensil and has great memories. Why wouldn't he want to bring it to school? An enlightened leadership at the school and in the school district would see this very obvious motivation of a six year old and respond appropriately. Imagine what the results would be if instead of investing in fear-based, one-size fits all policies that spectacularly blow up in the adminstrators' faces, the same energy were devoted to problem-solving, collaborative thinking and teaching, and compassion, even for six year olds?

Get rid of zero-tolerance policies. Invest in leadership and peacemaking skills. Model these behaviors. Our students and schools will be much better places because of it.

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Obama and Realpolitik- A Peacemaker's Perspective

The challenge we face in being outside the confidential circle of President Obama is that it seems difficult to discern what is happening privately and quietly and what is for public consumption. Middle East historian Mark Levine seems to suggest that we measure the effect of the Nobel Peace Prize on President Obama's observable actions and policies. I think Obama will be smarter and more nuanced in his approach. I doubt we will see huge policy shifts overnight as Levine suggests would be consistent with the Peace Prize and inconsistent with American domestic and foreign policy. Instead, over the months and years of the Obama administration, I suspect we will subtle changes, adjustments, and policies that can influence and steer rather than dictate and control. Obama will face his ethical dilemmas of being a Nobel Peace Laureate and being president of the United States. Those dilemmas will be challenging, and I suspect he will manage them quietly and deftly. Mostly, we will not know about them or how they are resolved. I think historians will have a lot more to say in ten years than they can say today.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Obama's Coming Ethical Dilemmas

As a professional peacemaker, I found the Nobel Peace Prize  to be an interesting and perhaps strategic move by the Nobel committee. President Obama will be invested as a Nobel Laureate. That award carries a high moral and ethical obligation to advocate for peace throughout the world. In addition, for the time that he is president of the United States, he is under a moral, ethical, and legal obligation to make decisions that serve the best interests of the United States. I can foresee many decisions in which the moral and ethical demands of a Nobel Peace Laureate may conflict with the moral and ethical demands of being president of the United States. The Nobel Peace committee, by making this award, could be said to be influencing U.S. domestic and foreign policy in a subtle, nuanced, yet powerful way. Since President Obama is a principled man, I think the ethical dilemmas he is bound to confront will be even more difficult and stressful as he fits the crown of Nobel Peace Prize winner on himself. Personally, I don't think I would want that burden as a sitting president and would be inclined, despite the honor, to politely refuse it. I will be interested to see if President Obama accepts the award and, if so, how his future decision making in tough situations will be affected by his status as a Nobel Laureate.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Leadership as Service and Giving

You don't have to be a corporate CEO to be a love leader. Once in a leadership training class for middle managers, I went around the room asking the leaders to assess their power and resources. One middle aged women had what appeared to be a boring clerical job. After she talked about what she did, I asked how many of the other leaders would be affected by her if she did not do her job accurately and quickly. All hands shot up. People were amazed to understand that she had more power and influence in that room than anyone else. I learned right there that leadership is everywhere and even the most inconsequential, mundane jobs have hidden power, resources, and authority to lead.

So I would take John Hope Bryant's ideas about love leadership and pass them on to everyone. Every person can serve; every person can give without expecting a payback; every person can lead. Those who feel powerless, victimized, and downtrodden may have huge obstacles. Still, the power of service and giving generates leadership everywhere. Since so few people engage with others from a place of service and love, they will be noticed. Opportunities will open for them in magical ways that will allow them to serve, give, and lead others in even greater ways.

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