Learning from the Boss

I’m sitting here paying my bills and just kicking myself.  Not over money spent but on money not.

Before sitting down, I went to Spotify and stumbled on Springsteen Live on Broadway. When it came out, the reviews were stupendous as were the first hand accounts from friends who had shelled out significant money to see it. 

Within five minutes of listening, I could tell that this would have been money well spent.

Most would say Springsteen’s music speaks for itself.  It is storytelling at its finest. But his introductions to each song, stripped of musical accompaniment, are a special gift.

He shares his life story with raw intimacy, bravery, nuance, humor, strength, vulnerability, affection and love. This list of adjectives could go on and on. 

Of particular note is his introduction to “My Hometown.” Here he paints a picture familiar to anyone whose connection to his or her hometown is conflicted. It is a messy mixture of fond memories and familiar struggles told through the prism of a thousand eyes.  They belong to the boy he was, the man he is and the many characters that shared his life – chief among them his father. 

Through his songs and stories, Springsteen accomplishes something that is critical for anyone who has ever had a childhood marked by struggle. He finds meaning.

It is hard to listen to Springsteen on Broadway and not reflect on your own life – regardless of your circumstances.

So with that said, whether you have 10 minutes now to just sample this experience or two hours and twenty eight minutes later to listen to it in its entirety, I hope you listen to Springsteen on Broadway

He’ll show you why he is the best Boss one can imagine. One who inspires and teaches without you even realizing it.  

Plus with Spotify, it will not be money you’ll be spending well – it will be time.

Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up. 

What Kind of Neighbor are You?

Consider these three stories:
A couple in Newton Massachusetts give birth to a daughter who is deaf.  In response, twenty of their neighbors learn sign language and have been speaking to that child regularly for the last two years.  Rather than having to travel hours away to learn how to sign at a school for the deaf, the little girl is able to stay in her community and learn by signing with her family and friends.
In my town, Hastings-on-Hudson, the high school wanted to put on a production of Hairspray. The play is homage to diversity, acceptance and integration.  Because the student body isn’t itself diverse racially, they invited students from nearby towns Yonkers, Stamford and the Bronx to join their cast.  The show is a hit – on every imaginable level.
In the recent documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighborthere is a scene recounting when Mr. Rogers invited the postman, Mr. McFeely, to come soak his feet in his pool.  This is a response to the resistance at the time to allowing African Americans to swim in the same public pools as their white neighbors.  This decent man in a small public television studio in Pittsburgh transmitted a powerful signal to the country.
The origin of the word neighbor comes from combining an old English word “neah” meaning “near” and the Germanic word “bheue” meaning “to be, exist, grow.”
Together they suggest something so elemental to our existence – the importance of connecting with those around us in order to grow or add meaning to our lives.
There is an oft-cited phrase that fences make good neighbors.  Some today might extend that to include walls.
These three stories demonstrate how short-sited that aphorism is – as these barriers limit our ability to truly see other people.
Whether the neighbor is next door in Newton, the next town over from Hastings or spanning across the airwaves and state lines as in Mr. Rogers.  It is the lack of fences, walls, and boundaries – both literal and psychological – that allow us to fulfill this most fundamental part of being alive and growing.

Being a good neighbor asks us to see everyone – not just those next door or in our town – but across all borders – as someone with whom we share our planet and humanity.  Someone with whom if we gave the time to be welcoming, we might both grow from that experience.

What kind of neighbor are you?

Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up. 

This Is Me vs. This Is Us

This devastating article details the lengths to which a private school went to drive their students into college. It included allegations of abuse, falsifying transcripts and encouraging students to exaggerate the challenges in their life in their admissions essays. 

The idea was to “manufacture up-from-hardship tales that it sold to Ivy League schools hungry for diversity.”

In the fictional world of the TV show “This is Us”, a recent episode also focused on a character’s inspirational admissions essay.  Here young Randall resists the temptation to answer the question of naming “one” person who has made the greatest impact in his life.  Instead suggesting that it was a small army of people who made his journey possible. Watch him read his essay here. 

Both of these stories put a spotlight on the increasingly high stakes game of college applications and their signature component, the admissions essay. 

The first exposes the system’s bias toward “pull yourself up from your bootstraps stories.”  The higher the climb the more worthy the student appears to be. 

The second also funnels the student down a narrow narrative that tries to pin success, if not on your own effort, then that of a single other person.

We all love a good success story.  We root for the underdog and are moved – even to tears – when they make it. 

But our attraction to these stories can inadvertently drive young people to only see their journeys through this narrow lens at a time when we should be teaching them to see their lives more completely.  

We are telling them that we value stories that scream “This is Me” instead of asking them to make the connection that says “This is Us.”

Thanks to all of those who donated to our #givingTuesday campaign. Your generosity will go directly young designers/interns who have struggled to move up in life. They in turn will help us create moving content that helps more people reflect on their lives. 

Thank The Forgotten

This Thursday most of us in America will find ourselves surrounded by family and friends celebrating Thanksgiving.

Perhaps during prayer or a quiet moment in our mind, we will offer silent thanks for those whose presence in our life has made us who we are.  Our parents, partners, children, family or close friends will top most lists. 

Hopefully more than a few will go the extra steps and give voice to those silent thoughts in ways that go beyond a cursory thanks but offer a level of specificity of why we are so grateful for their presence in our lives.
Doing this alone would honor the spirit of Thanksgiving and the effort of others on our behalf.   We could all use more open exchanges of gratitude and appreciation.
But what if we also took the few days leading up to Thanksgiving to reflect on and reach out to those whose role in our lives we might have forgotten?
Here are a few prompts, if you need them:

  • A teacher who inspired you
  • A friend who was there when you were down
  • A work colleague who made a connection to help you land a job
  • Anyone who through an act of faith, kindness or trust supported you when you needed it most.

If you’d like a little more inspiration, here is a link to a video I shared previously but earns repeated viewing. It’s Kevin Durant’s acceptance speech as Most Valuable Player in the National Basketball Players Association.

Take note of both the breadth and depth of the gratitude and appreciation he is sharing for the world to hear.

Take ten minutes today, another ten tomorrow and a third ten on Wednesday. Use each to track down someone whose impact in your life you now remember.  It will make your Thanksgiving and theirs.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

The Child or The Road?

Uncertain times raise the stakes for raising a child.  We project our own fears upon their future and our anxiety seeps into our actions and ultimately theirs. 

This manifests itself in ways big and small, many of which are chronicled in the new book, The Coddling of the American Mind:  How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.  (Ironically, the title itself may unwittingly add to this anxiety.)  The book is challenging and tough to read as you reflect on your own actions and life, but it is valuable for that very reason.

It opens with a quote from a folk tale that says, “Prepare your child for the road, not the road for the child.”  Let that idea sink in.

We have leaders who we hope will prepare the road well through policy and practice. When they don’t we should do our part to hold them accountable. But the reality is that our control over the road pales in comparison to our ability to prepare our children for whatever that road may hold.  The film Captain Fantastic is a perfect example of how families can do just that – albeit perhaps to an extreme.

In an example closer to home, we’ve been giving much thought to the newfound freedom of our fifth grader who now must walk to school each day. It is a ten-minute journey that includes crossing multiple streets, navigating one five way intersection and walking through a hidden path.

Preparing the road means that we have street lights and stop signs, penalties in place for breaking traffic rules and crossing guards to facilitate crossing the road. Increasingly, some children are given phones so parents can receive updates on their progress or even track it themselves via GPS.  All of these seem reasonable ways to prepare the road for a smooth journey. 

At the same time, what does the child do when the crossing guard is not there, or the lights are not working, or the phone battery dies?  It is then when the test will come as to whether we have prepared them for this road.  Do they know to look both ways?  Can they use their judgment to determine when to cross un-assisted?  Will they know which adult it is ok to ask for help, if they need to reach their parents?

It is natural for any parent to want every road – present or future – to made free from danger.  But the reality is that is an impossible and exhausting ask.

Instead, our only hope is that we have prepared them to deal with the uncertainty that can make life both scary and thrilling.

Question The Single Story

Nine years ago novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave what remains one of the most viewed TED talks of all time. Her topic was the danger of a single story.  The single story refers to a dominant narrative we tell about a group of people or a place. Using examples from her own life and in popular culture, the talk it is both comic and tragic, simple and profound.
Most likely, each of us has fallen victim to promulgating the single story. It is not, a left/right phenomenon, but a human one. 

As a test, have you ever used a phrase that followed this construction?
 (A group of people or a place)  is/are ________.  Topical examples might include:

  • Trump voters are _____. 
  • Politicians are _______.
  • Immigrants are _______.
  • The Middle East is _______.
  • The media is _______
  • Russia is _____.
  • America/Americans are _____.
  • The 1% are _____.
  • Poor people are ______.

Chances are if you consciously or subconsciously filled in any of those blanks with just a few words, you’re telling a single story.

If these phrases contain an air of familiarity it is because the “single story”, despite Adichie’s warnings, seems to dominate our culture now more than ever. 

In our news, politics, music, movements, social media, art, dinner conversations, it has become easier to tell “the single story” than embrace the idea put forth by the poet Walt Whitman – “Very well then, I contradict myself, I contain multitudes.”
And therein lies the issue with “the single story.” As Adichie says, “it is not that stereotypes are wrong, it is that they are incomplete.”
When we tell the single story, we flatten the lives and experiences of entire peoples and places. In making them easier to digest, they lose their rich taste and texture. In this flattening, we lose opportunities to see the connections between these stories and our own.
The next time you catch yourself telling a single story or hearing one – I hope you pause and question it.  Perhaps instead searching for the multitudes and connections it contains.

Watch This Twice

A few weeks ago, someone suggested that I watch the video, This Is America, from Childish Gambino (aka Donald Glover)

A better recommendations would have been to watch it twice.

My first viewing left me mesmerized, but also wondering, “What the hell was that about?”

My inclination was to google that very question.  The results were revealing. Countless articles broke down the multiple layers of the video, pointing out important things I had clearly missed in my initial viewing.
So I watched it again. This time, instead of watching the action taking place in the foreground, I focused exclusively on what was going on in the background.

Like the peeling of an onion, each layer was stronger than the one before.

Demands on our time and distractions to our attention make for superficial viewing. And as supply follows demand, eventually superficial content.

Yet beneath the surface of every story, including our own, should be depth worth examining.

Find the time to watch something twice. First follow the action right in front of you, then watch again to see what’s happening in the background. 

It could be this video.  Or try it with a sporting event (watch a portion of the game following the ball, then spend 10 minutes focused on one player without the ball.)  Re-read a great book or listen closely to the verses of a song multiple times to get past the hook.

Finally, try to view your own story differently. Take your eyes off of yourself and look to see everything that is happening all around you – what meaning and depth do the people, places and events in your background add to your story? 

When you take the time to look twice at something, you won’t have to worry about what you’re missing. 

Three Belated Mother’s Day Gifts

Yesterday, mothers around the country were rightfully treated to breakfasts in bed, flowers, and hand made and hallmark cards alike.  All expressing a well-deserved sentiment – you are appreciated.

In case you’re still feeling that you’d like to do something special for mom.  Consider the following three stories and the gifts they inspire.

One.  In last week’s episode of the HBO series, Being Serena, we were given a front row seat to the birth of Serena’s William’s first child, Olympia.  Complications necessitated a c-section.  Once delivered – like most babies, she cried and clamored for the warmth of her mother’s skin.  Upon being laid on Serena’s chest, calmness prevailed upon the first embrace of mother and child. 

Two. Earlier in the week, I was walking our dog through the woods when we stumbled upon a bird on the ground.  At first I assumed the bird had an injured wing. Why else would it not fly away when a curious dog approached?  Upon closer inspection, I spotted a single egg adjacent to the bird. A mother’s instinct to protect in full force.

Three. Last week, one of our Parson’s students presented her final project, which was an exploration to better understand the roles our mother’s play in our lives.  One question in this interview series where adult children were asked about their mothers stood out — “When was the first time you realized your mom was human?”

What do these three stories have to do with mother’s day gifts?

The first is a reminder of the importance of intimacy and physical touch with our moms.  Each time I see my mom there is the perfunctory hug and kiss.  But it made me wonder, when was the last time, I gave my mom a real and meaningful hug.  The kind where you can feel each other’s heart – literally and figuratively.

The second compels us to remember all the times and ways, our moms protected us, kept us safe from harm and allowed us to grow into where we are today. Again it made me wonder, the last time I had fully expressed this gratitude.

And the third story asks us to see our mom’s more fully – to appreciate them as so much more than our mother.  When we recognize all of their struggles, dreams, achievements and disappointments, we see them in an even more beautiful light.

Hugs, gratitude, appreciation aren’t new ideas for mother’s day.  But the depth that we give them may be.