This Is How Real Change Starts

Our problems seem intractable. Opposing sides become so entrenched in their world view that any prospect of progress seems bleak.

So we spend our energy either demonizing the “other side” or trying to persuade them to “see the light” and come over to our side. 

New research out of Stanford that examined one of the most intractable of all issues offers us hope that real change starts at a more basic level – showing people that ANY change is possible.

Researchers found that teaching Israeli and Palestinian teenagers that groups are generally capable of change—without ever mentioning a specific adversary—can significantly improve their ability to cooperate.

In fact in one experiment, two mixed groups were asked to build a tower out of spaghetti, marshmallows and tape (sounds like fun, right?). One was taught about people’s ability to change while the other was taught about ways to cope with stress. The “people are capable of change” students built towers 59% higher and had more positive feelings towards each other than the control group.

The simple idea that people are capable of change makes us more cooperative and increases our likelihood to compromise to make progress. 

Yet in our lives and certainly in our politics we rarely start with this basic belief. Our nation’s history IS the story of change – of millions of individuals who have changed their minds and beliefs so progress could be made.
We often tell tales from those leading the struggle but rarely from the perspective of the converted. We write volumes on conflicts but not on compromises.

While the turning of the calendar typically brings hope and resolve for a better year. Some may be feeling a bit more pessimistic this time around. I encourage us all to take the long view of how far we have come as people and as a country. To think of how many minds have been changed so we could live in a world all the better for it.

Then let us all go out and tell those stories. You never know who is listening.

Can You Afford This?

Recently I was in a pinch and had to quickly buy some pasta sauce to make dinner for my family. I could have gone to the local grocery store where I normally shop but it was just a little out of my way. Instead I stopped by the gourmet store in town and picked up sauce that cost a ridiculous $10. For the convenience of saving 5 minutes I paid double of what I would normally.

Later that same weekend, my mother happened to be in the same local grocery store above and saw a “great deal” on family packs of pork chops. She decided she would stop there on the way home to Pennsylvania, purchase three packs of 6 chops, put them on ice for a 5 hour car ride and freeze them for the winter.

In my situation, I could afford to pay a premium for my time. In my mother’s, she saw a deal she literally couldn’t afford to pass up.

And there is the relativity of what is affordable in a nutshell.

Check out this new online platform that will show you what purchasing something would feel like to you if you were near the poverty line. 

For example, if you made $75,000 a year, you might not blink at spending $9 on a bottle of cough syrup but for mother at the poverty line, that same bottle will feel like $24.

If you made $100,000 and you wanted to live in a place with great school districts, like a suburb of New York, your average rent would be a $3,440. Pretty stiff. But if you were a low income family who also wanted to live in those areas with the same great schools, the cost of rent would feel like almost $12,000 a month.  

The simple fact is that when we use the term affordable, we typically think of it relative to what we can afford and not what others can’t.

What does this mean when it comes to helping more Americans move up?
Consider this:

A Gallup poll shows that 1/3 Americans put off health care treatment because they can’t afford the copay or deductible.
Half of all high school students who take college prep classes don’t go on to attend college. The number one reason – they can’t afford to.

As a country, WE can’t afford to have significant portions of our citizens not living up to their god-given potential because of they can’t afford basic things like staying healthy or becoming more educated.

It is too easy for us to judge others for the choices they make with limited financial resources without truly appreciating how difficult those choice really are.

(In fact as Sendhil Mullanthain points out in his important book, Scarcity, in general people with fewer resources are often more resourceful.)

So the next time you judge someone who doesn’t seem to “value” education like you do, consider that to them the simple act of buying college text books for four years ($2200 to you) could feel like $24,000 to them.

How Do You Get Out Of A Jam?

I’m writing this fresh off an eight-hour stint in a minivan with my wife, three little girls and our new four month old puppy named Scout.  Jealous?

Three hours in things could not have been better. Only one pitstop whose efficiency would have made any Nascar driver proud.

Around hour five, the estimated time of arrival in our GPS began to go backwards. Instead of counting down, it began going up. First five minutes, then ten, then thirty. A sure sign of traffic ahead.

As we began moving slower, tensions ran proportionally higher. One daughter frustrated because we were out of gold fish, another vehemently insisting that 2x2x2 equals six. Shortly after, she asked us to define religion. Our answer was unsatisfactory.  

Then the puppy became restless – trying to chew his way out of his travel case. Settling down only when he was able to begin gnawing on my hand instead. More snapping ensued –  between children, between parents, between children and parents and of course, between Scout and his travel case.

During this time, my wife checked online and discovered that there was indeed an accident ten miles ahead.

And then came the calming grace of perspective.

Years ago, I saw a picture of a billboard that read, “You are not IN traffic. You ARE traffic.”

Often times we have a tendency to diminish our role in the problems surrounding us. Sociologists call this a form of “self-serving bias.” When someone else is late to our party it is because they weren’t disciplined enough to give themselves enough travel time. When we are late to their party, we just hit traffic.

All around us there are problems that frustrate us – from the personal to the political. In every single one of them, there is a contribution that has our name on it. It could be apathy or ignorance, close-mindedness or self-righteousness or any other self-serving bias that makes us feel good about pointing the finger at someone else.  In traffic vs. being part of the traffic.

As we approached the accident site, we could see the crushed vehicles, the flares, a fire truck, and the ambulances. But we also saw the unforgettable faces of the people, freshly loaded on their gurneys. Their look was unmistakably one of shock – wondering what the hell just happened.

After all just moments earlier, they were just one of us – presumably fellow Thanksgiving travelers trying to get back home. 

There is no way of knowing what caused the accident, that caused our traffic, but in all probability it is something that we have done one time or another –  traveling too fast, cutting someone off, stopping short, being temporarily distracted by a child or a puppy or a text. 

So the next time you’re in a jam – traffic or otherwise. Try this. Instead of a pointing a finger, think hard about what role in that jam could be yours AND take a close look to see who is really hurt by what happened.  

It’s amazing how quickly frustration and anger can turn into humility and compassion.

What My Daughter Taught Me About Giving Thanks

Each Thanksgiving is an annual rite of passage to think about those things for which we are thankful.

In our home, like I suspect in many others, it’s usually a cursory reflection lasting just a few minutes before we dig into the turkey and stuffing.

But shouldn’t real gratitude be a little more expansive than this?

Do me a favor – take this two-minute quiz to see how grateful you really are?  

Just the act of taking this quiz will make you feel more thankful.  Why?  Because it forces us to reflect on the many things we have to be grateful for but forget in our day-to-day lives.

Case in point:

Every night at bedtime, I sing “Hush Little Baby” to my three little girls. It’s undoubtedly off key and I always make up different lyrics to the song. Let’s just say some nights the performance is better than others.  

But every night, when finished, my oldest daughter, says the exact same thing, “Good night daddy, I love you. Thank you for singing Hush Little Baby.”

Even when tired, sick or upset, she always, I mean always, says thank you.  

This simple, repetitive act of gratitude makes me feel like a million bucks when I leave her room. It simultaneously reminds me that we’re raising a sweet little girl AND motivates me to sing that song the next night and strive to be a better parent in general. 

All out of one little thank you said night after night. 

You see, feeling gratitude is a far cry from being grateful. “Being” requires taking action.

So how often do you act grateful?

Go back and think of those things for which you are truly thankful?  Your parents, your partner or spouse, your job, coworkers, boss, friends. It goes on and on – a childhood friend, an influential teacher, a song or movie that lifted you up when you were down, a government program that allowed you to go to college (see Claiborne Pell), or get food assistance for your kids (see Isabelle Kelley), the person who introduced you to your wife or helped you get a new job, the doctor who delivered your kids or provided them care when they were sick.  

In this mad, mad world, it is easy to get caught up in our daily stress or overwhelmed by the issues that loom over our country and the world. Being bombarded by the bad can cloud our ability to see what should make us glad all around us.

Our gratitude, regardless of our circumstance, has the potential to be endless, yet how often do we truly feel grateful, let alone practice it?

So this Thanksgiving, after you pass the turkey around the table, make a plan to pass some gratitude around your life. Each day find someone or something to be grateful for – and act to make sure they know exactly how you feel.  

To get things started on my end, thank you Carlin for teaching Daddy an important lesson about giving thanks.

Now What?

Regardless of the outcome of last week’s election, the morning after would produce two irrefutable facts: 

  • Half of all Americans would be disappointed, despaired or even disgusted with the results.
  • Each one of us would still go on with our lives, trying to do what is best for our family, our friends and ourselves.

The first point cuts to the unfortunate and growing divide in our country – a by- product of a society segregated in far too many ways.

The second speaks to what has always unified us – the belief that we can make a better life for ourselves and those around us, regardless of the challenges we face.

Which brings us to the central question:  Now what?
 Do we continue to stay segregated in our respective bubbles, fostering resentment and hoping to take pleasure in the failure of others? Or do we reach out, seeking understanding, and new ways to help each other succeed? 

Fred Rogers (aka Mr. Rogers) once said,  “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Let’s do one better and be the helper when we see something scary.

A friend of mine, Rich Greif of Big Brothers Big Sisters, embodied this with his Facebook post:

“You want real change? Since last night, 40 people signed up to be a Big Brother or Big Sister with our agency. Those 40 people will have a more life-changing impact on those 40 kids than any President will. So get out and volunteer, donate and advocate and make your community and country a better place.”

Well said, Rich.  

So ask yourself again, now what? 

ANNOUNCEMENT: Webinar on the Science Behind Moving Up – July 27th @ 2pm

Tomorrow, July 27th, I am excited to be teaming up with The Communications Network to lead an online discussion about the interesting research behind Moving Up.

During this one-hour webinar, we will examine how social sciences are transforming our understanding about how and why people engage with their world and the issues we face as a society. I’ll share stories on how Moving Up has engaged individuals from all walks of life, and notably how it has engaged academics in new research surrounding the narrative of opportunity and inequality.

I will be joined by researchers Mary Beth Oliver from Penn State University and Rachel Lise Ruttan from Northwestern University, both of whom will share key findings from their latest studies, including answers to questions like: Are people who have overcome a struggle more compassionate to those who are currently struggling? Can music alone reduce stigma?
The Communications Network is a nonprofit organization comprised of social sector leaders from foundations, nonprofits and consulting firms across the globe who share the belief that smart, strategic communications have the power to transform society and improve lives. The Network is the premier leadership organization for nonprofit communications professionals. While this webinar might be of special interest to people who work on issues and causes, I think many of you will find it both informative and helpful.

I hope you can join us.

Announcing an Exciting New Opportunity with Fast Company

Beginning this month, Fast Company will be serializing Moving Up: The Truth About Getting Ahead in America on Fast Co.Exist.

Fast Company is inspiring its readers to think beyond traditional boundaries and lead conversations that will propel the future of business. Fast Co.Exist is their daily exploration of the latest world changing ideas and innovations, focusing on projects that can change the way people live in the next year — and the next 100 years.

This is a perfect environment to extend our conversation about what it really takes to move up in America and we are excited that hundreds of thousands of people online will now have the chance to read and engage with our content.

Each week, Fast Company will post a new installment of Moving Up on their website and share it across their social media platforms.

If you’re not already a Fast Company reader, we recommend checking them out now. And please consider signing up for free updates to Fast Co.Exist.

We’d like to thank our friends at Fast Company for giving us this incredible platform to share Moving Up with their readers and followers.
Stay tuned for more exciting announcements for what’s next with Moving Up. Thank you again for all your support. Keep #MovingUpUSA.


What is Your American Dream?

In his book, The Epic of America, James Truslow Adams became the first to coin the term “American Dream” and define it.

“The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

Moving up is at the heart of the American Dream, yet ironically we rank below most other developed countries in class mobility. If you’re born poor in America, you are very likely to stay poor.

When someone does “make it,” it is ascribed to hard work alone. But the reality is that there is always an invisible network of people, organizations, institutions, policies and services that create opportunities for that person to get ahead. In other words, we can work hard to climb the ladder, but someone has to build that ladder in the first place.

What did your ladder look like? Take 5 minutes to draw it now. What rungs did you climb to get you where you are?

Learn more about what others think is essential for achieving THE AMERICAN DREAM.

Who Would You Thank In Your Oscar Speech?

Imagine you are giving an acceptance speech for a major award, like the Oscars. Who would you thank? God? Your Mom? Your agent? Would the press write articles about how your hard work allowed you to overcome some struggle in your life to reach this pinnacle?

If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is. It is a familiar script on how we tell our stories about becoming successful (hard work) and who, if anyone, we have to thank for it (the usual suspects).

Now check out Kevin Durant’s MVP speech. You’ll be tempted to think that you don’t have time to watch it right now. Avoid that temptation. You’ll be happy you watched the whole thing.

He says towards the end, “I don’t know about you, but when something good happens…I tend to look back at what brought me here.”

You don’t need a national stage to tell those in your world that you’re thankful for them.

Take a few minutes today to think of five people who “brought you here.” Give them a call, send a text or an email, walk across the hall. And say thanks.

As a bonus, research shows that when we express gratitude to others, we feel better about ourselves too.
Read more about the power of SAYING THANKS.

Are You a Bear or a Salmon?

In Alaska, salmon swim up to 31 miles upstream to spawn, while bears fresh from hibernation will take their young cubs on an equally incredible journey. The bears begin by walking two weeks without eating while avoiding predators and battling the elements until they get to the same final destination as the salmon.

The reward for the bear’s hard work: feasting on salmon. The reward for the salmon’s 31-mile swim: the chance to avoid being eaten by very hungry bears.

The lessons? One, as a species or as individuals, we don’t own the corner on hard work. Two, at least for many salmon, hard work is hardly sufficient. And three, the best and perhaps ultimate reward for working hard is giving our offspring a chance in life.

Look around you today and notice the people working hard in all walks of life — the taxi driver, the construction worker, the waitress. Look also at the things you’re using today — your laptop, your phone, your car — and imagine the workers behind them.

Do you think they are working for the same or different things as you? And who is the salmon and who is the bear?

Read more about the role of HARD WORK in our lives.