Binders full of women

Do you remember that phrase?

People in the U.S. probably do.

But just in case your history is foggy, it was a phrase used in a debate on October 16, 2012 by Mitt Romney when responding to a question on how he sought to create a gender-balanced cabinet. It was not so much about whether or not he did try to recruit women. It became about the objectifying women to “figures” that could be put into binders.

Perhaps that had an effect on his prospects for election. I’m not sure. He didn’t win. For a variety of reasons. President Obama had been doing a good job, and the economy had turned around since 2008. So there were myriad reasons Mitt Romney did not succeed.

And yet: 4 years after that, we elected a man who openly bragged about grabbing women by the pussy.

Trump ugly face
Photo credit link

Shocking, really.

I know and realize that Hillary made a lot of mistakes in her campaign. I also believe that her “like-ability” was in question, and I believe that a lot of misogyny, both real and internalized, affected her odds of election. As I have already written, all candidates running for office are deeply flawed.

However, there are a record number of women running for office in 2018 who have been galvanized by the obvious misogyny of the current administration. Our sense of decency and fairness has been violated. Some might say “binders full of women” are stepping forward.

The recent result of the Supreme Court appointment of Justice Kavanaugh just rubbed salt into the wound for so many of us. I hope that voters keep in mind the flawed nature of our power structure as they go to the polls on Tuesday. Electing different people sends a message to our misogynist President and the party that still supports him.

I understand that some people do not plan to vote at all on Tuesday. I have already talked with an individual who believes the 2-party system is broken so he does not plan to vote. I feel very sad about that. And I believe this is the reason we have ended up with the leadership we have right now.

Rock the Vote
Link to Rock the Vote

Please make a plan to vote on Tuesday, if you have not already voted absentee, or in early voting as some states allow. I am not going to tell you how to cast your vote. That is up to you. But when 40% or more of the country is not voting, it is much easier to ignore “we the people.”

That is a dangerous state for our democracy. Even if you think some candidates are flawed, show up and be counted. We need you. All of you. Do not drop out of your duty as a citizen.

Stepping down off my soapbox now.

Class is not about money

I realized recently that I grew up on the poor side of town. I did not grow up poor, mind you. I grew up with lots of love, a wonderful family and in a safe neighborhood in a small town. But I always thought of our lifestyle as “middle class.”

My family always had enough to eat, we never went without any basic necessities, clothing, health care or even luxuries like television and eventually a microwave. My sis and I shared a bedroom until I moved to the basement in high school so I could wake up earlier to run in the early pre-dawn hours.

But social class and income class are not the same thing. Both my parents had college degrees. Mom chose to stay home and raise her daughters until we were in middle and high school, when she went back to work part-time, as a substitute teacher. I just assumed that meant we were middle class.

My Dad was a teacher and a leader in the local community. All of the parents of the students he taught in the bilingual program treated him as a respected professional in our small town. Of course, some administrators and teachers were not as respectful. He had his share of good principals and a few racist.

middle class
CNN money: what is middle class anyway?

Recently my mother-in-law called herself “working class.” I was shocked. She has a master’s degree and she and her husband bought and sold homes together a few times during their history. So I always considered her middle class. But she considered herself working class. Probably it was more about her upbringing (to her) than any type of income category.

In contrast, my parents never bought a home. Not quite enough income from a teacher’s salary. We had the advantage of summers at Grandma’s house in Bemidji. So we did not go without space to enjoy ourselves in the summer, on a lake in Minnesota, no less. It was a long drive from Southern Wisconsin, but we had the picnic lunches that my Mom made, and there were rest areas for potty breaks. It was a blessing for us. We read books all, swam in the lake nearly every day, and there was plenty of introvert re-charge time.

bucky badger.JPG
Bucky Badger

By income standards, we probably would have been considered working class, or perhaps slightly less. In comparison to families with two working parents, mine were certainly not as well-off financially. But I always had what I needed. I always had a couple of new school outfits to start the year. There were a lot of farm kids in my school, so all of us had pretty similar income, or so I imagined.



Juarez, Mexico’s Murder Valley

I relied heavily on need-based financial aid for a private college, but being 2nd in my class in high school, I qualified for it. I won’t say I didn’t work hard for that.  It may have helped that my name belied my half-Mexican origin. But I was born in Wisconsin, not Juarez. Therein, by the grace of god, lies the difference. 

Why was I born here? Because my Mom fell in love with her guitar teacher when she studied in Mexico. And he fell in love with a Minnesotan woman, despite her mother serving as a chaperone on most of their dates. Why did I have the opportunities I have today? Because my family worked hard, and made sacrifices for me, so I could grow up healthy and happy.

I started thinking about people who use racism and class-ism to divide people. Take ahem… our Harasser-in-Chief. No matter how much money he makes, or pretends to make, he will always have NO class.

You know why? Because class, true class, is about how you treat people. It is about your character.

love and money
Photo credit link – Boston Globe

My father always treated the cooks and the janitors in his school as respectfully as he treated the other teachers. I learned to treat people as equals, not as superior or inferior due to their education or social status. I am really proud that both my Mom and Dad taught me that the measure of a good person is in how kindly you treat others.

To be a classy person is to realize that it is not about what you have, or what you do. There is honor in ALL work, and there is compassion for those who may not have work right now. There is a belief that ALL people are worthy of human dignity, no matter their skin color, creed, religion, or national origin. America was founded on these principles, that all people were created equal, which is why I am still proud to call this home.




Stop Feeding the Troll

When it comes to internet trolls, and we might define “the Donald” as one of them, I keep wondering why we continue to pay attention to them. They use their outrageous statements to get a “rise’ out of people and sadly, it so often succeeds. I ran across a funny story yesterday regarding the temporary disappearance of a certain twitter account and I could not help but be amazed by our addiction to the tweet stream.

I tend to avoid most news media these days (except in carefully measured doses, to be an informed citizen). I do not follow the daily tweets of the president. To me, giving any attention at all to his declarations is the way we give our power away. What if we ignored what he had to say, and just focused on solving problems that need our collective attention?

My prediction is that, by ignoring the troll and not feeding him with attention, his power will wither eventually and die. Paradoxically, regular public outcry over his Twitter feed is what allows it to gain momentum. That seems exactly the wrong strategy to me. My suggestion is that people resist being drawn into that vortex. It is not a dialogue, it is merely declarative in nature, and it only serves one purpose: to upset people and to gain attention.


Instead let us engage in planning for the midterm elections and finding leaders that can speak for us, that can represent us. Let us engage in active dialogue about the values that matter to us, and in creative pursuit of how to achieve those goals. Let us turn away from the perpetual distraction of these inflammatory remarks, and go back to the more productive work of following leaders who actually make a difference. We may need to do more research on these folks.

They are the ones doing the diligent work of making change in the world, and not always tooting their own horns, and bragging about their achievements. But they are out there, and though they may not actively use Twitter to broadcast their every thought, they are among us. I gave it up Twitter years ago when I realized it distracted this already ADD-oid person far too much, and would interrupt my work unnecessarily. In some ways I wonder: why is Twitter still a thing? Why have we not outgrown it? Some of us have, I suppose, but the attention span we cultivate in this culture is the one of 140 characters, sadly. I do not actually believe we are this small, as a culture.

Here is my suggestion and maybe a challenge to you: notice what happens when you ignore the latest tweet by a notable person. Here’s what I notice: absolutely nothing. There is peace, there is tranquility, there is energy for me to pursue the things that matter to me. May you, my dear readers, ignore the internet Trolls, live your lives and spend your time in ways that nourish and sustain you.

The Medici Effect

Today I will get to hear a keynote speech from Frans Johansson, author of The Medici Effect: What Elephants and Epidemics can Teach Us About Innovation. This is part of our our company’s annual Science and Technology conference, a three-day event that brings together our scientists and technical experts to share their work with each other. I am excited because I read the book only a year ago at the recommendation of our VP for Corporate Science and Technology (my director’s boss). It is about how the best, most ground-breaking ideas come from people working at the “intersection” of diverse fields. He presents some compelling examples of cases where new knowledge or new inventions or new concepts were born based on combining frameworks from different disciplines.

Medici Effect

Yesterday I gave a presentation at a “Lunch and Learn” session on Meaningful Innovation. A colleague and I had worked together to design and organize an “Innovation Jam” for our clinical research colleagues around the globe in order to solve problems in geographies outside the U.S. We had perceived a disconnect between a very Minnesota-centric and top-down approach to our global evidence summit, and really wanted to turn that on its head. All of that effort culminated into a 1.5 day event a year ago just after Labor Day, when we pulled together this Medici-like gathering of people from 7 different geographies and many disciplines across the company. We applied the Design Thinking methodology in order to get some of the best ideas and best thinking around solving problem identified by our geography customers.

That turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences in my professional career. We had received sponsorship and support from the VP for Clinical and Technical Communications, along with my Director. By the end of the event, we had come up with 7 different solutions to problems faced by our geographies, along with some simple prototypes for how to design those solutions. In the months that followed, we narrowed down to one project to work on, with limited budget available. Employees that were passionate about the idea rallied around it, we recruited a project leader, and in only 5 months from the idea selection, we had a “product” in beta testing in India, the geography that prompted the solution.

What we did was an example of the Medici Effect – taking advantage of that intersection of geographies, disciplines, diverse fields and ideas. There were about 55 very smart people involved in the 1.5 day event, and they had an intense but rewarding experience of coming together to address needs that had previously been neglected. This is what people mean when they say “Diversity drives innovation.” It is true – if we all stayed in our same, homogeneous groups, without talking with people different from us, we might never conceive of that new idea, that new inspiration that moves us forward technologically. This is why Trump’s notion of the “good old days” by which I understand he means white dominance, will never be the key to keeping America economically vital.

It is through uniting diverse voices, experiences and backgrounds that we are strong as a nation. While it is true that sometimes this is challenging, and creates discomfort, we are better for it. Neuroscience has shown that people produce the best results and make the best decisions not when they are in an atmosphere of total comfort, but rather when they are slightly outside their comfort zone. I will write more about this phenomenon in a future post, because there is great research I would love to delve into further.

I think this is one reason that blogs and the internet provide the next great intersection of ideas, and have already generated a sort of Medici Effect in terms of innovation. By interacting, sharing ideas, different “takes” on what we read and observe and think about we bring the best out of each other. We also can inflame the worst intentions. But it is a matter of selection, and I believe those great ideas will continue to bubble to the top, because that is what we ultimately seek as humans: better solutions to our problems. We know we are in this together, on this small planet. So let’s get together and bring our best thinking to whatever we are most passionate to solve. Thanks for reading, and for contributing in your own way to this ongoing conversation about what is most meaningful to us.

Trump as mirror

This is a piece I have been contemplating for some time and the concept has been cycling through in my mind to consider its implications. But I also realize that I have been holding back on posting this, not really sure that I am ready to “step into the arena” as Brene Brown challenges us all to do.

Trump smug

But for me to write is to truly understand something better, and so for my own sake, I want to explain the idea and I want you to challenge me on it, dear reader. Certainly dialogue helps us all understand our own thoughts and ideas better, and connections that may form during these debates may help us know ourselves and others better. This idea has been discussed with family members and people close to me. I daresay it was a result of my needing to make sense of what happened last November, and develop an ability to understand what to do next in terms of my own activism and commitment to my beliefs.

When I was choosing a photo for this post, I thought about what images convey, and what our points of view can do to alter how we see the world. I remember being shocked when a coworker told me that she “hated Hillary” and told me that she thought an outsider to politics may be able to create some much-needed change in this country. It took all my wherewithal not to explode into anger but instead get really curious and ask some questions to find out where this was coming from. As a Latina “feminista” I simply could not believe or comprehend what had happened. As we talked further I began to understand that my “echo chambers” which tended toward liberal and progressive were not the same as her echo chambers. We both had them, it seemed, and they simply were not talking about the same things, or putting the world into the same frameworks.

George Lakoff talks about this in his work and I think understanding this linguistic understanding of how we make sense of the world. I used his work rather extensively when I wrote my 2006 masters’ thesis (All Aboard the Green Bus: Mythical Condensation in Electoral Politics). I use one of his quotes here, because I think it does so much to account for what we see happening in the misunderstandings between people in so many of our debates:

“Neuroscience tells us that each of the concepts we have – the long-term concepts that structure how we think – is instantiated in the synapses of our brains. Concepts are not things than can be changed by someone just telling us a fact. We may be presented with facts, but to make sense of them, they have to fit what is already in the synapses of our brain. Otherwise, facts go in and then they come right back out. They are not heard, or they are not accepted as facts, or they mystify us. (p 17 of Don’t think of an Elephant). “

This is so important and helps me understand why there is such a wide gap in the understandings we seem to have in our world. Not only is it the reality we live that shapes our identity and our values, but it is the stories we tell around those realities to make sense of them that shape our identity. These stories influence how we think and feel about what happens in the world, and what actions we take as a result. So some of us go back to our echo chambers, feeling stricken and incredulous, needing to confirm there are others in our “news feed” that are as shocked and saddened as we are. To some extent, this is human nature: we all want to connect with others that form our “tribe” and the people we want to surround ourselves with in safety and in community.

There is nothing wrong with that, and I encourage people to reach out to other like-minded people especially during times of trauma when we need support. Feeling less alone is comforting, and is certainly one way human beings evolved to keep ourselves safe, connecting with others who can provide networks of mutual support. We are surprisingly good at preparing for battle, and I have to admit this was my first instinct when I heard the news – “oh my god, what will we have to do now in order to fight this womanizing, race-baiting, hateful monster when he is the leader of our country.” These are categories I felt completely comfortable and justified in using in asking myself what I want to do or contribute, as I believe I must, in speaking up about issues that are important to me.

But then I realized that the echo chambers had already gone to work in creating more disconnection between people, pushing open more distance. I started thinking that I had some very important internal work to do before I was to take my concerns “out there” and to react to the situation rather than to act from a place of strength and mindfulness. I had to learn more, to do research, to talk with people with views very much unlike my own, and to be willing to listen, with great compassion to the pain so many people in this nation are feeling. I have to be willing to admit that my white and middle-class privilege is something I have taken for granted, that is not available to so many people, and that neither political party was actively addressing these concerns.

Perhaps the election of 2016 was a wake-up call for all the things that are wrong with our nation, for all the ways in which we fall short in caring for our common home. Perhaps making just small, incremental changes to a system that no longer works for the vast majority of people will not work anymore. Perhaps we must now look in the mirror and acknowledge the imperfections and blemishes we have developed as part of our national identity. Would it benefit us to take a good, hard look at what we brag about to others?

When I heard so many democratic speeches at the convention about the U.S., touting our nation as the best nation on earth, it made me shudder a bit. By what measure are we the best? We are the fifth highest on the list of OECD countries in terms of infant mortality for children under five. In terms of political empowerment of women, we rank #72 out of 145 nations compared in a 2015 Global Gender Gap report authored by World Economic Forum. We are far behind many European countries in terms of educational achievement, many measures of income inequality and general quality of life and personal security.

I am proud of much of the progress this nation has made throughout history, and I certainly do appreciate many benefits and privileges we are able to enjoy as a result of democracy and shared power. However, we can be patriotic and loyal to our country, and still question if we are doing the best for all of our people. We can ask how we might build a better nation, how we might strive to take an honest and compassionate look at our faults and flaws, and then strive to become better.

Indeed, I believe some of our best leaders have done this, have challenged us to look inward, and not to accept the status quo as “good enough.” When we consider how to put Trump into context, I find it ironic that some have called him a narcissist and use that mythical framing to explain his behavior. But have we not also done that as a nation, fallen in love with our image in the mirror, waved our flags proudly and refused to see the stains that are showing through, the blood that is leaking out of the places we refuse to see and examine closely?

What if we consider how the ego-driven, materialistic, self-centered urge for power, admiration and accolades reflects not just the person elected to office, but our nation as a whole? Might this help us understand why so much pain exists right now for so many people, and why entering into combat with this character simply allows us to deny that reality? In what ways might we use this frank self-examination to admit the ways in which we have bought into our American ideal without considering its effect on the overall planet, or on other people in the world? Can we use this period in history to delve deeply into our consciousness and get very truthful about our role in hurting others and perpetuating injustice in small ways that later become magnified?

Obviously, I have a lot more to say on this topic, but this post has already gotten very long, and I will return to the theme again in the future, I will leave things here for now. I would be very interested in your thoughts, if you care to leave a comment. Thank you.