what frightens me about donald trump

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:15 pm by Administrator

I think that there’s a good chance that Donald will take not only the Republican nomination but also the presidency. he’s built for the national stage in a way that Hilary Clinton simply isn’t. and he connects with the basic sentiments of many americans in a way that Hilary just can’t. a Trump presidency isn’t merely a lurking specter to me; it’s a probable reality that I have to consider now.

I’ve spent some time thinking about what the real effects of a Trump presidency would be. in the end, I think his impact will be a lot less dramatic than many people are fearing. I do not believe that Trump will significantly scale up our military involvement in Syria. nor do I believe that Trump will be able to repeal Obamacare, as there are too many political and legal obstacles in the way. and as primitive and incendiary as his rhetoric may be on matters of race and immigration, I don’t believe that Trump will press for a radical revision of our approach to immigration and naturalization, as he’s a moderate pragmatist at heart. Trump is not ideological on most things; whatever his posturing may suggest, his ardent stances reflect his beliefs in plain logic and the business imperative.

but there is one area that he may impact significantly—federal funding for public schools. on this issue, I have no doubt that he will press his agenda, and I think he can get enough backing from the public and from the Congress to follow through with major federal budget cuts. Donald hates the common core, and he has nothing but disdain for the government’s track record of federal educational initiatives. his commitment to extricating the federal government from public educational funding may end up being the closest thing to a personal crusade for Trump—and I think it may prove to be the most worrisome aspect of a Trump presidency.

given the vast disparities in wealth that exist across counties both urban and rural across the U.S., it’s federal funding for public schools that assures some equalization of opportunity for American kids from all walks of life. moreover, it’s still education and all the earning opportunities linked to it that drive social mobility—the ability of Americans to “come from nothing” and to “make something of themselves”. it’s this promise of opportunity that makes America different from every other country in the world. i would argue that it’s this general expectation of social mobility that prevents socioeconomic class from being a cross-cutting and predominant identifier in the United States. but the more generational and inevitable the restriction of educational opportunities becomes, the more essential class becomes as a mode of identity.

my friend Andrew and i debated this aspect of the conservative stance vigorously a couple of months ago. while he pointed to evidence of expanding awareness at the university level and the emergence of scholarship programs for disadvantaged youth, i pointed to growing class sizes, falling teacher salaries, and rising dropout rates in inner city public school systems such as LAUSD. scholarship programs may offer terrific opportunities for the kids who have the resourcefulness and family support to make it to high school and produce academic results at that level; but so many of our most talented and promising children are falling through the cracks at a much earlier stage in their education. season 4 of “The Wire” is not an exaggeration of what is happening in many cities in America. three of my closest friends currently are or have been teachers for many years in the city school districts of L.A. and Philadelphia, and they’re witnessing generations of children disengage from society and its institutions for lack of resources at home and in the schools. social mobility is significantly less possible for the poor and undeserved than it was twenty years ago; and a decrease in federal funding could make social mobility all but an impossibility in twenty years from now.

i think that what conservatives and libertarians alike have to recognize is that the possibility of improving one’s condition, however slim it may be, is what precludes overt class struggle in this country. the more “classist” we become, as generations replicate inherited patterns of wealth and privilege, the greater risk we run of being defined by class struggle. every citizen that has a stake in law, order, and the preservation of their wealth should be legitimately afraid of this development. in fact, i would challenge the wealthy in this country to recognize that the price they must be willing to pay for the durability of their wealth and their way of life is a higher tax—and specifically the tax devoted to building up the school systems most responsible for addressing America’s vast inequalities in resources and economic opportunities. short-sighted and reactionary political leaders dismiss the importance of these schools at the country’s peril. this may sound like hyperbole, but i’ll insist on this point regardless: if, in twenty years, the picture of poverty in this country is still a young person of color living in the inner city, then we will be ripe for a revolution—disruptive and transformational upheaval—within a generation.

we all have a stake in considering how we can make equality of opportunity a reality in america. it’s in our DNA. it’s a moral responsibility. and it’s ultimately a practical responsibility as well. oppression and injustice manifested in the restriction of educational opportunities for the poor constitute aristocratic tyranny in america, and it is leadership like that of Donald Trump that threatens the most basic of American values. i don’t fear Donald Trump the bully; i fear Donald Trump the man who blithely ignores the critical importance of public education in America, the man who puts us all at risk of losing everything that centuries of prosperity and innovation have created for our society


agonizing over football

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:51 pm by Administrator

NFL executive jeff miller’s recent admission that there is a link between football and CTE evoked two simultaneous reactions from me. relief, first of all, at the possibility that perhaps the NFL and the public can begin working together to address this troubling issue. but my second reaction was anxiety: anxiety about how many more football players at every level of the game—pop warner, high school, college, and the pros—will suffer repeated head traumas before the game changes enough to prevent these.

over the last few weeks, my essential question about football has evolved. months ago, my question was simple and stark: how can i invest myself in a game that disables and kills its players? with time, i’ve come to recognize that it’s not just the game that does this to its players; the coaches, the sponsors, the fans, and the players themselves feed a culture that propels young men into dangerous situations. i’ve been exploring the idea of “informed consent” in particular—whether it would make a difference if young players and their families were formally and extensively made aware of the long-term neurological risks posed by the game of football, as a precondition for participation. i think that informed consent at every level of the game is absolutely necessary, and for me it would perhaps mitigate some of the legal and moral matters at hand when it comes to CTE. but it still wouldn’t settle the real question: how and why we delight in a sport because of (and not in spite of) the physical punishment it produces on the field.

i’m a mixed martial arts fan, and occasionally i’m a boxing fan as well. i’ll admit that i’m similarly of two minds when i watch these sports. it’s never a happy thing for me to see a man get knocked out or suffer a joint dislocation in the octagon; but at the same time, i do so delight in that vicarious experience of seeing a man enter the ring with the courage to take on the risk of an absolute beating at another man’s hands. the MMA to me is about training, skill, technique, and above all bravery. and the thing that perhaps allows me to support that sport despite the long-term physical toll it exacts on its sportsmen is that the risk of pain is what makes the victory real. the risk of death and disability is inherent to the spirit of mixed martial arts.

because i did not grow up believing football to be gladiatorial in its essence, i have a hard time transitioning to this kind of philosophy when it comes to the NFL. sure, i’ve always understood that football is grueling, and pain is part of the game. but before a few years ago, i would not have told you that i believe that the beauty of football resides in the risk of early-onset dementia that its players knowingly take on every time they tackle a player. a jarring punch to the head is integral to the MMA experience; but should five or six sub-concussive head traumas per game really be the essence of a football experience that is played by ten year old boys? is the risk of death or neurological disability for every player part of what makes Sunday Night Football thrilling for me? no, it isn’t. and because i’m unwilling to change my perception of the game in that regard, i now find myself in a strange position: feeling challenged to give up every connection i have to this sport i once loved. that means giving up my allegiance to the Eagles; giving up the fantasy football league that i started ten years ago; giving up the social gatherings where i traditionally connected with other men and their families.

the game may change its culture to acknowledge the risks that young men take when they hit, tackle, and fall to the ground. the players may change their attitudes in order to account for the long-term health risks associated with the game that pays them, often very well. but even if these changes happen around the facts, that does not mean that the game is okay. to me, football shouldn’t be gladiatorial; the game that i grew up with isn’t one that should cause suicidality, depression, dementia, and premature death in the men who play it. i realize that this beautiful game—the game that i thought football was—is gone now. and the game we are left with now is not a game anymore. it’s life and death. that is not something i can watch on tv. it is not something that should inspire fantasy games or gambling ventures. it’s something different and terribly sad now, and it’s something i cannot love, not anymore


The Intern, football, and connection

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:06 pm by Administrator

my wife and i watched the movie “The Intern” last week. it started promisingly and ended bafflingly. i think that if it had simply been poorly conceived or directed, then i wouldn’t be writing about it. but we were disturbed by the movie because its conclusions were nonsensical. a leader with serious managerial deficiencies is led to believe that she can still do it all on her own. a wife of a cheating husband is convinced to forgive him without qualification. a woman being stretched to self-destruction is encouraged by her mentor to believe that she can “have it all”. in truth, the main character of the movie is a disorganized and overwhelmed chief executive who is undermining her team; she (or her board) should be handing the company over to someone who can actually run it properly. and her marriage has already fallen apart; the tearful reconciliation offered by the movie can only be a veneer.

“The Intern” posits itself as an optimistic feminist film, but instead it comes across as ingenuous and even subtly inimical. in this way, it reminds me a bit of “Black Swan”, a movie i still loathe for its pointless excess. both movies work better as black comedy than as serious commentary—but both fail on account of a facile and self-defeating agenda.

for me, the movie did raise one interesting question. is an emotionally intimate and mutually understanding love relationship necessarily ideal for all married couples? it seems that most americans assume this, but in a lot of other cultures that is certainly not a proper assumption. perhaps we could all agree that marriage at minimum should ideally be a highly functional relationship, in which the spouses are mutually supportive rather than competitive or at odds with each other. beyond this, i think that the shape of a marriage relationship has to be determined by the emotional makeup of the individuals involved. i have many friends who are simply not capable of an emotionally intimate love relationship; and that is not because they are unhealthy or fundamentally injured. the fact is that some people are built to desire partnership above and beyond empathy or emotional resonance; for them, an alignment around core beliefs as well as support in achieving their individual goals are more important to them than the joys of a romantic experience. to this point, perhaps Anne Hathaway’s character in “The Intern” recognizes that she does not need her partner’s loyalty or love; she just needs him to do the work in the house that she doesn’t have time for. if that’s the conclusion of “The Intern”, then i have perhaps misjudged the film; quite possibly, it is daringly avant garde.

in any case, i’ve recognized over the years that the quality of my life will always hinge on the emotional depth and intensity of the relationship i have with my wife. most every other relationship i maintain is decidedly secondary in importance—whether it is a relationship with a broader community or even a relationship with my own child. if and when my career restricts my relationship with my wife, my choice should be clear. if that choice isn’t clear, then i might very well be in a bad place—or worse, i may have lost the thing that should have been most important to me.

i’m in a difficult place when it comes to football… after many years of thinking about it, i’m struggling more than ever with the possibility that tackle football is simply unethical. i actually can’t understand why the CTE phenomenon hasn’t already shut down the NFL or at least forced a dramatic change in the game. concussion protocols are cosmetic; the real issue is that the rules of the game directly contribute to the repetitive head trauma that eventually disables and kills its athletes. will smith’s “concussion” only deepened my prior anxieties about the sport that i once loved.

the Eagles have done so many interesting things this off-season, and there is so much that i want to say about their trades, moves, and possibilities. but when it comes down to it, the Eagles are an organization that is paying young men to sacrifice their lives for short-term glory. the question to me is whether these young men, many of whom have no financial fall-back options, can realistically make an informed decision based on the medical risks posed by their profession. i believe that the answer is no. despite the national media attention around CTE, the average NFL player is still insulated from the knowledge that could save his life; and the incentives around him are aligned to force him onto the field, where the money is real and the health risks—dementia, depression, suicidality, joint disease, paralysis, and chronic pain, among others—seem remote, if not utterly improbable.

i want to stay connected to my society, and i want to stay relevant in every way i can. i feel that my future happiness and fulfillment depend on it. but the pattern i see in my life is one of progressive disconnection, and i don’t know how i feel about it. six years ago i took television out of our household and i deactivated my facebook account. three years ago i stopped following pro sports other than football. last year, i stopped eating refined starches, which means i don’t go to any of the restaurants i used to frequent. and now i’m thinking of leaving the fantasy league i started and totally severing my emotional and intellectual connections with the Eagles. i’m turning into a cultural hermit. maybe the only things that keep me connected on some level are the occasional bestseller i read, Netflix, and pro Starcraft replays on youtube. yes, it’s probably ridiculous to a lot of people. and i’m past the point of actually being proud of my marginality. it troubles me a bit that i’m not willing to move forward with society on a lot of things—but at the same time, i feel that i can’t be authentic if i accede.

all the money in the world can buy a better life but not the best life. if there’s one thing worth buying, it would be the truth—the truth about life and death. but the religions of our day suggest that such a truth cannot be purchased, and in fact the consequences of wealth could be misleading. only the seeking heart is rewarded in the search for truth, and even then, a seeking heart is no guarantee that such truth will be discovered. i have learned that the seeking heart requires two things: profound humility and a commitment to being changed. as with all things, i imagine that my position within my society’s culture must continue to evolve. my beliefs must change. i must change. i don’t know how that change must happen; but i have to want it, nonetheless


the strong feelings

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:57 pm by Administrator

for every strong feeling I experience, there is the prolonged and sometimes tortured reflection that follows.

yesterday, an acquaintance of my wife won a major international award. I have no reason to begrudge the man. but I felt affronted by his success. why? it took me a few minutes to regard that feeling and understand what it meant. here’s what I came up with: it is three feelings in one. it is, on the one hand, envy. I am frequently envious of the success of others. I am particularly envious of those who gain recognition for artistry, because I consider myself an artist, for arbitrary reasons. the second feeling is indignation. it is indignation because I have experienced the work that earned this man the prize, and I have found it wanting. in defense of artistry, I felt the work was unworthy, and that made me feel indignation. the third feeling is restlessness. even in the midst of the reaction, my unconscious mind reacted to my reaction with a shame that compelled me to move beyond myself. out of sheer embarrassment, I sought a change of state or even a transformation.

three feelings in one: envy, indignation, and acute restlessness. there is no word for this feeling. and I have many such feelings—feelings that are the merging of feelings. feelings that emerge from the synergy and simultaneity of other more basic feelings.

years ago I would not have admitted these kinds of feelings. but I see them now, and they are neither ugly nor justifiable to me. they are the things that pass through me, like wind through the trees. the trees take on movement and character because they are moved by the wind, but the wind does not define what they are. in the same way, I am known to myself through these shiftings and unsettlings.

I am reading Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicle, and it is the best thing I have read since Kazuo Ishiguro. though i love his books, i have no strong feelings about Rothfuss and his artistry. he does justice to his art, and it is beautiful to behold. i can’t hope to imitate him; and there is great comfort in the simple conclusion i come to as i approach the end of “The Wise Man’s Fear”: my life is better for what he has written


Understanding Baldrige

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:26 pm by Administrator

it’s interesting that this blog is turning into a Baldrige/Enneagram blog. these are the two most interesting things in my life right now, and i feel such an intertwining of those concepts, but i’m sure it will take me years to unpack the connections.

in any case, i spent last week at a conference of Baldrige winners, listening to how they do business and how they serve customers in exceptional ways. they were outstanding organizations, very much modeling the listening, learning, and servant leadership that are typically foundational to Baldrige excellence. of these companies, the one which proved to be most impressive was from an industry i know nothing about: internet gun retailing. i sat in almost all of their presentations, absorbing their culture and learning about their mission, vision, and values.

but perhaps the most memorable talk i heard at the conference was the one given by the daughter of Malcolm Baldrige. she talked about Baldrige the man—the roper, the rodeo man, the terse, no-nonsense, deeply competitive business leader who did not suffer fools or complacency. by her account, he was an “8″—the challenger—one who instinctively resists authority and invariably becomes an authority himself. this was a man who prided himself in taking on the beast, whether literal or figurative, and in overcoming his own fears and doubts in the process of conquering his enemy.

the Baldrige criteria, i’ve come to realize, were derived from the spirit of a man who refused to be outdone. in business as well as in his personal life, he refused to accept excuses, ignorance, and laziness. when it came to American business, his judgments were pronounced if not frankly caustic; he blamed management—not labor, not government, not the context—for the declining global competitiveness of American industries in the 1980s. the criteria were modeled after the management principles that he ardently exemplified in his life and philosophy.

it has been difficult to bring focus to my feelings and thoughts given the blur of activities i’ve gone through over the past two weeks (not to mention the sheer physical exhaustion that i’ve been enduring). today, it strikes me that the essence of Baldrige does not reside in some philosophical penchant for greatness or excellence; rather, the Baldrige criteria represent the indomitable will to survive against all odds. and all that the criteria prescribe about listening, learning, calculation, and self-knowledge are in the interests of conquest. a Baldrige organization, in other words, takes no prisoners. it is out to dominate and to win, and it is willing to undergo painful change and even transformation if that is what is required to prevail. Malcolm Baldrige’s own company, Scoville, which he managed and led for 19 years, was a brass button maker on the fast path to irrelevance until Baldrige and his leadership team radically retooled the company and converted its competencies; it not only survived market changes but emerged as a successful, diversified organization for decades before it was eventually acquired.

my own company is on a Baldrige journey, and while i believe that the process can be helpful to any organization, i wonder if my company needs to tap deeper into its unique motivations in order to fully invest itself in the Baldrige approach. we took on the criteria to go from “good to great”; perhaps we embarked on our journey at a time when we believed we had little at risk and only much to gain. for us, the language and prescriptions of Baldrige were a manual for attaining sophistication, rather than serving as an internal declaration of war. because of this, i think we’ve viewed the criteria as a guideline or a point of reference rather than as a code of culture and conduct; we saw them as “biblical commentary” rather than as the Bible itself. if i learned anything from the conference i was at, Baldrige companies have Baldrige leaders; they have people at the top who are believers, and their belief goes to a visceral level. that visceral belief is deep enough, desperate enough, and urgent enough to shatter personal ego in the interests of transcendent excellence.

all of these ruminations on Baldrige have given me a new ability to focus on something that has been troubling me for a while. families are a lot like companies in many ways. sustainability matters for both, and it cannot be taken for granted. companies live and die with the times; families, while traceable by genealogies, can effectively rise and fall within a generation based on the quality of their relationships. for both companies and families, a common sense of felt mission and vision are critical to success, however that success might be defined.

i think that if a family isn’t acutely aware of the social forces that threaten its sustainability, then it stands to grow apart and potentially lose relevance to its individual members. as with large, successful organizations, the leaders of a family have to understand the context of its family, the needs of its individual members, and the culture of the times within which the family must define itself. these are not straightforward things to accomplish. when the leaders of a family fail to do these things intentionally and with care, all kinds of typical rifts begin to occur—between siblings, when a parent gets ill; between spouses, when children don’t do well; between generations, when people (particularly elders) refuse to adapt to the times. listening, learning, and servant leadership can be the difference between a family that splinters apart after one generation and another that coheres meaningfully even four generations down the line.

i think upon these things, because my wife and i are at a point where we must think about the futures of our respective families. with my parents, perhaps things are more straightforward. i’m an only child, and i feel that i have a close and mutually understanding relationship with my mother, the matriarch of the family. in Baldrige terms, i believe that we’re aligned, when it comes to our vision and basic values. with my wife’s family, things are not straightforward. she has multiple siblings and a fairly large extended family, and in our relationships with this family there are evident cultural differences and resultant ambiguities in mutual expectations, some of which have been revealed in recent years due to deaths and other changes within the family. on a basic level, we have to ask ourselves what is expected of us within this family. on a more fundamental level, we have to ask ourselves even more probing questions: what is the importance of this family to us and to our children, and what are we willing to do to sustain it?

these are hard questions to face, around which there are some hard feelings to reckon with. at this delicate juncture in my life, i look to the Criteria, which have been unfailing to me, and i ask myself what Malcolm would have me consider? and the echo i sense is the question of questions, a simple thing really, and it comes from P.1a2: what are your stated mission, vision, and values? what are your family’s core competencies, and what is their relationship to your mission?

the elders might say that our mission is “together, no matter what”. their vision would be “unity, through mutual sacrifice”. their values would be “loyalty, respect, and obedience”. for us, the generation in between, the answers might be different. our mission: “to live fully”; our vision: “unconditional acceptance”; our values: “tolerance, freedom, and understanding”. our core competencies align respectively, in ways that clash across generations and family units. while the differences are not irreconcilable, they’re considerable.

this entry has gone on too long and has demanded too much of me. but there’s something here that i’ve wanted to dig into for a long, long time, and this here is just a beginning. the Criteria for me are spiritual; they’re no less true for me than the biblical scriptures themselves, and in fact i think that they express their truth more patently. they teach me now, here at this critical point of departure, that i can choose; i can choose to define my family however which way i want to, and family can never be defined for me. it’s the privilege and the responsibility of every member to define what family means for him or herself, and the only way it lasts is if a family can create that conversation—safe, meaningful, and enduring—time and time again, across the generations.



Posted in Uncategorized at 1:56 am by Administrator

i’m visiting with my parents. this afternoon i went with my mom to her gym, which is a massive spectacle of a place. i ran on a spongy treadmill that made me feel like i was on pogo sticks; there were so many unfamiliar machines, and i had trouble figuring out how to sit/lie on them properly. i bench-pressed for the first time in more than a decade. with the cafe, childcare facility, spa, and lounge rooms all around, i realized that i could actually live in this place. it was a revelation.

on the way out, we happened to run into one of my mom’s friends, a korean lady. it turns out that my mom had lent this woman the enneagram 4 CD by don riso that i had sent my dad for his birthday, so we ended up talking about the enneagram for almost half an hour. my mom sat there amazed as her friend and i commiserated about all the heartaches and idiosyncrasies that plague the life of the 4. for that half an hour, it was as if there was no age, gender, or culture of origin to separate us; we were simply two individuals seeing the world in the same, complicated way.

i told her that one thing i have learned about being a “4″ is the crucial importance of forgiveness. some people have to forgive only when they experience the true malice of another. in contrast, a “4″ like me has to forgive not only the big things but also innumerable little things, every single day. i have to forgive drivers on the 710 freeway; i have to forgive the sky for bad weather; i have to forgive my son for not saying hello to me when i come home; i have to forgive the computer in my exam room for slowing me down. with all of the hundreds of things i have to forgive every day, i know that none of these things—living, inanimate, or otherwise—are actually trying to hurt me. nevertheless, i have to forgive them all the same, because without true forgiveness, all those unaccounted for feelings accumulate, fester, and eventually beg to be directed at some undeserving victim. 90% of the time, that victim is me. about 5% of the time, it’s my wife. sometimes, that unlucky victim is the wall of my office.

fairly recently, a senior leader at my company unloaded some email nastiness on me when i declined this person’s Microsoft Outlook invitation to a meeting. i had to read the email several times over a 24 hour period just to make sure i’d read this person’s response accurately. it was indeed stunning. it was unnecessarily personal, it made illogical connections to past events, and it actually contained a threat of reprisal. the other guy cc’d on the email couldn’t help but poke fun at the communication, shooting me a separate reply with a little derisive humor. yes, the email begged to be laughed off, and i wanted to move on, but i couldn’t. i’d been misjudged and attacked. i had been threatened by someone with power and authority over me.

years ago, i would have dealt with the situation by telling myself it was no big deal, pretending that i was unaffected, containing my embarrassment, and privately holding a grudge. but this time, i processed the way i was processing; i observed my own sequence of reactions, and i evaluated those reactions. i progressed from my initial reaction (”fix this before it blows up”) to an emerging fear of the worst-case scenario (”it’s him or me now; i’m probably going to get fired!”) to a pessimistic fatalism (”everyone in this world is either against me or a pain in the ass”) to a joyless resignation (”this is just part of the job”). it took me a full day to move through these four stages, and it was emotionally exhausting. but i learned something interesting in the process: in the face of conflict, it’s okay to be tough—but it’s always better, in the end, to truly understand.

all my life, people have told me in my sensitive moments to be tough. “don’t let it bother you!” “he didn’t mean it!” “that guy’s an asshole!” i knew where all that advice was coming from; but i also knew that this kind of advice never works for me. when someone hurts me, i don’t get over it by toughing it out. i get through it by fighting my way to perspective. sometimes that dogged hunt for perspective takes a long, long time. sometimes i have to keep learning more and more about the person that injured me until i am finally able to put myself in his or her shoes. but when i make it there, to real understanding, i conquer not only my pain but also my underlying feelings toward the person who pained me. and that inner reconciliation gives me the capacity for something greater than self-control; it enables me to love and to lead.

as i struggle daily to forgive people, places, and things, i hear God tell me that forgiveness is not the means to an end. it is the end. and as leadership roles force me again and again into that position where i am groveling for the faith and support of others, i hear God tell me that my efforts to win trust are not simply a requirement for leadership; they are the very substance of leadership. to forgive, to submit, to win over an enemy, and to forgive yet again—this is the life of anyone called to advocate for others. and for one who might fashion himself “a lion for his people”, toughing out conflicts can only go so far; pain must become the source of one’s power, and the battles one fights must ultimately be in the interests of reconciliation and genuine understanding.

and so i remind myself of these lessons, because the power of them is every bit as real as the pains that yielded them. and thus i commit myself to these truths: i forgive, because i need community; i forgive, because responsibility redeems me; i forgive, so that i will not be enslaved by my feelings; i forgive because i have to