News Cycle Trivialization

News Cycle Trivialization

The twenty-four hour news cycle initiated by cable television, has tended to trivialize the notion of “history in the making.” But these last two weeks have truly brought life to the concept. Both in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as here in the U.S., history is being made.

The fall of brutal, dictatorial regimes in the Arab world is certainly significant, but it is nothing more than the tip of the cultural iceberg. What is going on is the two-fold beginning of the most fundamental changes in Arab society and Islam, in hundreds of years. What we are witnessing is the dismantling and rejection of tribalism (and its political counterpart), and the long-postponed reformation of Islam. This is not a groundswell, from the populace of these countries, for democracy, Western style, or otherwise. The biggest mistake we can make is to expect some magical transformation, or even transition, to an open, truly free political playing field. What we will undoubtedly see, is a succession of less brutal, less autocratic rulers. Arleah and I saw this when we were in Russia as the Soviet Union ended. Everyone we talked with had the same answer to the question we asked them, about their expectations of the next political system. No one, and I mean absolutely no one, had any interest in a democracy. Everyone we talked with was glad to be through with Communism. What they wanted, without exception, was a Czar. A “nice Czar,’ but a Czar for sure.

The participation, and in some cases, the prominent role played by women, in the various rebellions, is the clearest sign that Orthodox Islam is under assault and is beginning to be dismembered. From my perspective, this is the most optimistic and encouraging aspect of the revolutions underway in the Middle East and North Africa. Islam is the last major religion to undergo a reformation, and it can’t happen fast enough. Unreformed Islam has fed (and continues to feed) our contemporary worldwide reign of terror, and no military or political interventions will quell it. A reformation of Islam has the only true chance.

At home, the tumult in a number of state legislatures signals the beginning of the end of the entitlement state. The bizarre wage inflation, the nutty pension benefits, and the tyranny of low-risk unions, is seeing its sunset. Beginning in the 1960’s we started paying people obscene amounts of money for doing pedestrian work; providing them with equally obscene sinecures for doing nothing (often while they were in their 50’s); and bowed to state-endorsed extortion in “labor negotiations.” To use the popular phrase of the day – “the chickens have come home to roost.” All but two states are financially untenable, and a bunch of those are teetering on bankruptcy. Our state legislators have made drunken sailors look like responsible citizens. Every state may not win this round, but you can take it to the bank, that the old deal is over. The New, New Deal will realign relationships between “labor” and “management” and reinstitute the role of risk-takers in rebuilding the economy.

Business Tips: “High Accountability or Micromanagement”

With superheated competition and a comprehensive examination of everyone and everything in business, these days, the question often asked me is: “How do I know when I’m being a high accountability, very effective manager; or being a micromanaging harasser?” In fact, I just had a conversation about this today, with a good friend and client, Jim Tierney.

Let me answer it this way. Everything of any importance deserves to be monitored. The only question, is how? The high accountability manager, in concert with direct reports, sets specific dates and times for assessing progress on work toward the accomplishment of certain goals. In addition, it is made quite clear, that it is the responsibility of the worker being held accountable, to notify the manager, immediately, of any circumstance that has occurred, that could interfere with the timelines that have been established. It is not the manager’s job to be poking around in anticipation of a failure to achieve results. This poking around, and “checking up,” outside of previously established monitoring meetings, is what I define as micromanagement. (Another good friend and client – Damon Shelly – introduced me to the term “pester management,” which really captures the essence of micromanagement.) It is low trust, disabling, and depreciating. It is assumed, also, that clear consequences for the achievement, or lack of such, have been articulated and understood, by both parties.

Micromanagers do unto others, what was done to them. As soon as the possibility of failing at something looms on the horizon, they are drawn to pestering and harassing, like addicts to meth. The low trust they grew up with kicks in, and it becomes next to impossible to let others struggle, fail, and ultimately, learn. It is important to realize, that micromanagement is the purest form of unlearning. If you want to avoid it, look hard at how you view failing at something, and see what it means to you. Is it an opportunity to learn something new (albeit not a fun experience); or a complete condemnation of who you are as a person? Discovering the answer to this, will prove a lot more fruitful than applying some hackneyed tactics.

Political and Cultural Observations: “The Limits of Tolerance: Somali Pirates”

There is no doubt that our society (and most of Western Europe) has become, over the last four to five decades, exceedingly more tolerant of a myriad of differences within our population. Most institutional racial, ethnic, and religious barriers have fallen, and we seem to be well on our way to diluting, if not eliminating, the hysteria surrounding our reactions to gay folks. I’m old enough to remember when the only shows (and commercials) on television, featured white guys with close-cropped hair, and white women who all looked like they just won the bake-off at the county fair. I now work regularly with Black executives and senior managers, women entrepreneurs and business owners, and management teams that look like a general session of the U.N. I have worked with, in the last few years, senior leadership teams in which white American males represent under 10% of the team.

Unfortunately, as in most cultural shifts, we have bounced from one extreme to the other. Tolerance has slid into license. We now have whole organizations, as well as media outlets, seemingly devoted to justifying anti-social, overtly hostile, and clearly criminal behavior, on the grounds of tolerance and inclusiveness. Any attempts to criticize formerly unacceptable behavior, is immediately met with accusations of racism, bigotry, or xenophobia. We have almost completely lost our ability to set limits and boundaries for acceptable social, political, or economic interactions, and we put up with rude, obnoxious and assaultive behavior that no civilized society should tolerate. We have, interestingly, reached the point, where the Chancellor of the arguably most successful country in Europe, and the Prime Minister of Great Britain, have pronounced multi cultural-ism an abject failure.

This slide into license and this acceptance of the unacceptable, has reached its zenith, for me, in the worldwide tolerance of Somali piracy. A few nights ago, on one of the news channels we watch, we saw an interview with an international “expert” of some sort. About halfway through his interview, he made reference to the “business proposition” of the pirates (a weird term to be using in the 21st century – makes it sound like they’re just a group of refugees from Disney World out for a good time). The “business proposition” he was referring to, was of course, the seizing of ships and the holding of hostages for millions of dollars in ransom. Arleah and I looked at each other in disbelief. Did he actually just characterize extortion and kidnapping as a “business proposition?” Yep, he did.

Our government, and every civilized society on this planet, should be ashamed of itself. Currently, these vermin hold thirty vessels and 700 people hostage, under threat of death, and have now murdered four innocent people. And our response has been tepid, State Department whining.

So what should we do? We should issue the following ultimatum to the pirate leaders:

“You have forty-eight hours within which to release every vessel you occupy. If you fail to do so, or you harm or kill any hostages, you will be hunted down and killed; the villages you come from will be obliterated; and the people who launder your ransom money will be tried as terrorists and war criminals.”

This may seem rather harsh. I have had this debate with people who view this option as lowering ourselves to the same level as the pirates. I categorically reject this analogy. This is what civilized, humane societies have done, and better be prepared to do, to uncivilized, inhumane societies. We did not end the Holocaust by negotiating with the Gestapo.

Personal Notes: “Me and ‘The King’s Speech’”

“The King’s Speech” moved me in a way that few movies have. Other than “The Notebook” and “Sophie’s Choice,” I have not been as deeply touched by a motion picture.

A lot of people who have seen the picture, talk about the courage and struggle of the King George character. And he undoubtedly conquered much – primarily his own fears and pride – and exhibited, ultimately, an extraordinary bravery. But for me, the King’s “speech therapist,” struck the most resonant chord, and triggered the most powerful feelings.

I was not trained as a psychiatrist, and, consequently, I do not have an M.D. I went through an M.S.W. program and was lucky enough to study with two exceptional psychotherapists – James Forkeotas and Ord Matek – both of whom were geniuses in understanding and practicing psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Also, by that time, I had been in my own therapy for a couple of years, with Robert Mungerson, an M.S.W. himself. I have mentioned Mungerson before. He had an extra-human intuition that, at first, scared the hell out of me, but that ultimately taught me to trust my own, and clearly laid the foundation for the success I’ve had over the past thirty years. Mungerson knew what you were struggling with, where the struggles came from, where you were stuck, and what you needed to deal with; all, in seconds. The only other person I know, who has that finely tuned intuitive ability, is Arleah. She doesn’t “read” people – she locks in on them, merges with their innermost feelings, and gives them a reading on their emotional life that is unerringly accurate, unexpected, and a bit stunning. She is so good at it, that she now does it over the phone and through the internet.

So, by the time I finished my M.S.W., I was ready to practice psychotherapy. I had been a college teacher for five years, in my former field (cultural history and literature) and I already had worked with some private clients in my last year of schooling (which got some faculty in the program near hysteria).

Unfortunately, in 1972, the private practice of psychotherapy was tightly controlled by a coalition of psychiatrists (M.D.’s) and traditional social workers (with some participation by Ph.D. psychologists, who were fighting their own battles with insurance companies), and they had set up a system which required new graduates (and experienced practitioners) to be “supervised” by experienced social workers, in institutional settings, for a number of years. In addition, if you could put up with this arrangement – demeaning and pointless as it was – and you still wanted to go into private practice, you could only do so, with the profession’s imprimatur, by having an “experienced” social worker, or a psychiatrist, regularly “consult” with you (at, of course, their regular professional fees).

As I write about this, I’m struck by how medieval it sounds, particularly in light of the thousands of M.S.W.’s (and other non-medical therapists) now in private practice. It was nothing more than indentured servitude and a way for professional toadies to keep control of the profession and feed their impaired self-esteem by continuing to suck-up to the psychiatric establishment. (In some kind of irony, later in my career, I trained psychiatrists in psychotherapy, since that’s the weakest part of their education.)

As you can imagine, I rejected this path, and set up my practice as soon as I graduated. Numerous attempts were made to try and put me out of business, including the profession’s lobbying of the Illinois legislature to get title protection and licensing of social workers. None of them succeeded; I always found a way around them. The most bizarre thing of all was the effort, on the part of two faculty members, to try and prevent me from being hired by a community mental health center. They were so threatened by what I was doing, that they wrote unsolicited, negative letters to the director, strongly advising her not to hire me.

This was a truly strange time. Part of me was energized by the battle; part of me was getting a bit too much out of the neurotic struggle with rigid, scared people (something I knew well from my early life), and part of me was deeply hurt and puzzled. I was good at what I was doing; I had people who wanted to work with me; and yet, there were others who wanted to take it all away.

I had some allies during this period. One in particular, Gene Trager, was a rebellious psychiatrist who was unimpressed by credentials and formal education (including his own). Gene had studied under Thomas Szasz, the father of radical psychiatry in the U.S. Gene believed in me, valued my clinical skills, and shared my disdain for psychiatric labels and the patronizing attitude of the mental health bureaucracy toward both non-medical therapists and their clients. (If one of our patients in the hospital wanted to be medicated, Gene would sit down with them, hand them the PDR, and ask them to read through the relevant section, and then tell him what medication they thought would be most helpful, and have the least deleterious side-effects. It always caused uproar amongst our colleagues. Gene and I had a saying – “You may be crazy, but you aren’t stupid.”)

Gene’s help in nurturing my career was invaluable, and he went so far as to convince a well-known private psychiatric hospital to extend admitting privileges to me – something that had never happened before.

You can see why King George’s faith and belief in Lionel, touched me so deeply.

One other aspect of their relationship profoundly impacted me. I made a decision, very early in my career (probably very early in my life) that I owed it to my client to always tell them the truth – to tell them what they needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear. Part of this commitment was to make it absolutely clear that working with me would involve very hard, sometimes painful, and occasionally gut-wrenching work; and that if that was not something they were willing to do, they should work with someone else.

During the course of my professional life, as therapist and consultant, I have told some very powerful, very wealthy, and very influential people, things about themselves that they did not like to hear. Most found it helpful, hung in there, and developed very gratifying and mutually enlightening relationships with me. A few told me to buzz off and not come back.

When I saw Lionel confronting the King of England, I was moved to tears. I know what that feels like, and I know how scary that is, and what courage that takes.

When I have those moments of doubt about how much I’ve accomplished, it’s going to be comforting to think about that ballsy Aussie and the King of England.


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