“Animated by a hope…”

Back in the Sixties –yes, I was there – I wrote about the list of American institutions that were being seriously questioned: the church, the press, the police, the armed forces, Congress. At the time, because of rapid social change, a struggle between the counter-culture and the establishment and the decade-long Vietnam War, everything was being challenged.

Some days it seemed as if the very institutions we had built and depended on were being tossed up in the air and we didn’t know where they would land. Who could you trust? Who was in charge? What was the church’s role in our lives? How could effective change come about without violence? Why were we continually at war? Could you believe what you saw and read in the media?

Sound familiar? You bet, right down the line.

The focus this week (and I say that conscious of how quickly the issue changes) is on law enforcement and race. Can we trust the police?

Broader than that, can we believe in and depend on the justice system to deliver justice when a community achingly cries out for it?

Many people—now as then— take these questions personally. I know I do. Back then, the war at home over the war in Vietnam ate at me every day as I watched friends fight amongst themselves and read the headlines quoting daily casualties. I watched as my country seemed to be splitting itself apart, right down the middle.

Today I sit in sadness and disgust as I read about police shooting a 12-year-old in Cleveland and see a community burn itself down in Missouri. I’m angry that we can’t control our use of firearms. I’m fed up with the people we have elected to Congress, men and women who are supposed to be our finest representatives. I resent it that we apparently believe that we have to be the guardians of the world and continue to sacrifice human beings and resources on wars in other countries. I shake my head in amazement that people still fight and kill over who God is and how he or she should be worshipped. I am ashamed for this country when I hear that one third of those eligible to vote did so. And the mass media; there is such a proliferation of news reports now that we have thousands of versions of the truth. I guess we simply choose the one that fits our beliefs.

This is not an idle, personal rant from a cranky old geezer. These are serious, ongoing issues that thrash the body of a whole society. One could say that the public display of all this turmoil is a healthy sign of an open society, where the freedom to express yourself is paramount. Yes, openness is a plus, but it is not problem solving.

On these somber days we seem to have lost several important things: leadership (at many levels), trust in each other and an over-riding sense of unity that carried us, for instance, through World War II.

As in any relationship, individual or social, when trust goes, when that sense that we’re in this together slips away, the relationship itself — the community — is doomed. Please don’t picture me holding up a “The-end-is-near” sign on a street corner. But you have to admit, we’re a mess.

When Congress does nothing, when people don’t care enough to vote, when women are being raped on college campuses, when police are shooting people they are supposed to be protecting, when we don’t know what to do with a few million immigrants, when you don’t know who to believe and when neighbors burn down neighbors’ businesses, it ought to get our attention.

We should be outraged. We are losing something.

Neighbors forced to live together will end up as enemies unless they act and live animated by a hope one day to become friends.

         Dag Hammarskjold wrote this a long time ago and he was not the first to point out that we human beings need to believe that we can be together in peace and build something worthwhile together or we will be at each others throats.

The violence and abuse that we seem to witness daily are the result of our failure to communicate, the misuse of power and the absence of compassion. We don’t want to deeply listen to those ‘others’ in our world, one-on-one, one group to one group so that real understanding and empathy can happen. These are things we are capable of. It begins with each of us as individuals.

Is it too much to ask, one more time: Peace on earth?

 

John Thomas Wood

LEADING THROUGH A SEA OF CHANGE

Inspired leadership is more critical now than ever. It should be painfully apparent to all of us that dynamic leaders in touch with the values and spirit of the people they serve are needed at all levels of the public and private sectors.

We are going through a sea change in this country, not just a change in our financial institutions, but a change in how we think of ourselves, what we believe, how we will survive and what the future holds for our children.

Change always shifts priorities in a society or an organization. Change, imposed from the outside or chosen from the inside, will change the needs of group members, as we have seen in the last year. People’s priorities and what they expect for themselves have changed dramatically. The emotional value of our homes, what we want from work, how we spend our money, our image of ourselves as breadwinners and parents – all these are shifting.

Since change is a given and fully upon us, the question is how effectively will we adapt to it? Flexibility in our society and in our institutions and organizations is critical. This is not the time for rigidity and adherence to the practices and behaviors that led us into this crisis.

One of the most important functions of any leader is how he or she will navigate through this monumental change.

If you see yourself as a leader in any way, watch how the individuals you work and live with change when the environment changes. Watch how relationships change when change is imposed on them. Become a student of how your organization adapts to change.

Here are several things leaders in our government and businesses can do:

Let go of the past. We cannot change what has happened.

Open your eyes. Take a new look at the people who work with you and see the value, creativity and possibilities they hold. Stay alert to what your people need as their life changes.

Include others. Don’t try to steer your ship through this storm hanging on to the tiller by yourself. There is power in numbers and participation.

Don’t give in to fear. Fear is only a prediction of what may happen and it paralyses you and your creativity.

Be bold. Big challenges call for heroic responses. Can you be a hero(ine)?

Collective learning should be one of your top priorities as you navigate this period in our history. Adopt a stance of continually learning from what happens in your organization. Don’t give up on training.

Just as species that fail to adapt to a changed environment perish, so will we, and our institutions, if we don’t respond to what’s in front of us with power, grace and compassion.

 

John Thomas Wood is an artist and author of seven books on human behavior and three novels.

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Image and Substance

We are captivated by images, so much so that we allow images to govern our behavior instead of substance.

The National Football League and the National Basketball Association provide the latest and perhaps most egregious examples. One of the reasons they are current whipping boys is they are extremely concerned with protecting their image. Given the fact that the teams in these businesses are made up of men who have grown up largely unconcerned with how they appear to others, this presents an ongoing problem. Drugs, aberrant social behavior, alcohol use, sexual behavior, domestic abuse and remarks that offend racial minorities regularly rear their heads.

The recent shoddy and criminal behavior by (former) Baltimore running back Ray Rice provides, among other things, an excellent example of concern with image up against substance. As almost everyone in America now knows, there are two videotapes that show Rice abusing his then-fiancé in an elevator. The first tape, made public some days ago, shows Rice dragging an unconscious woman out of the elevator and adjusting her body in various ways. Eventually a passerby helps her sit up.

The image – of Rice dragging the limp female body—earned the Raven running back a suspension from the game for two weeks. The NFL hierarchy and Roger Goodell (“the most powerful man in sports”) took some heat for that. “A slap on the wrist” was widely spoken, but the incident was regarded by most of the public as over and Rice made himself ready to play again. (The American public is famous for being outraged and then moving on.)

But then a second video surfaced, one that may or may not have been available all along. This was from inside the elevator and showed the muscular young man throwing a punch that knocked this woman out. It was quick and it was ugly. His fiancé went down in a heap, hitting her head on a railing on the way.

This second image, in the words of Raven’s coach John Harbaugh, “changed everything.” Here is the image-substance split. Dragging an unconscious woman out of an elevator in which they were the only two occupants is worth a two-game suspension. Having the punch inside the elevator shown to the American public leads to Rice’s dismissal, probably ending his career.

The image, revealed to the public, turned the screw. The substance – domestic abuse, violence against women, assault and battery—was disregarded.

Here are my questions: what did the NFL think went on in the elevator? What did they do to find out? How committed is the league to transparency?

Was there some agreement that the woman just passed out? Was Rice innocent of any wrong doing? Did the league pursue the truth or just do enough to protect the image of the Ravens and the league?

Something clearly wrong went on inside that little box and the people who should have been most concerned with discovery apparently turned a blind eye to substance. This is the first any of us have seen of this videotape – that’s the official line. (In fact, Harbaugh publicly supported Ray Rice, dragging his fiancé out of an elevator, until the second set of images surfaced.)

It appears that the NFL, like so many other corporations is more devoted to protecting its brand, its image, than it is to discovering and revealing the truth. Apparently the recent examples of General Motors, Penn State and many other athletes are not enough to change the drive to preserve the image at all costs. It means millions of dollars.

There is such an emphasis on individual players acting to be role models, that the league itself fails to see that it can provide one of strongest messages of all: when the going gets tough, the tough get open. Openness, truth telling and self-responsibility are all virtues that we need to learn and embrace over and over again.

You think this is not important?

One third of all women in this country suffer some kind of physical and/or sexual abuse during their lifetime. This is a national disgrace. If 55 million people were suffering from some disease, we would all be shocked, scared and outraged. It would be –and is—an epidemic.

To the extent that ANY institution takes part in, allows, supports or ignores that epidemic, it needs to be held accountable. Now.

 

John Thomas Wood

“Keeping Seattle Up” – the new book

Here are some responses to the new novel, “Keeping Seattle Up.” You can get the book as an ebook or in print, on Amazon and B&N. Read on:

“Love the book!!”  Laura

 

“Your book is rich indeed. Your writing is beautiful, feelings expressed so poignantly and poetically, perceptions a philosophical tapestry.” Ganga

 

“One of the best books I’ve ever read.”   Arlene

 

“I am loving your book!!! It has totally engaged me. I have laughed out loud, I have smiled a lot, teared up with tenderness (to read what you write about) intimacy, your beliefs and all you are bringing people through your courageous, funny and graceful writing. I am honored to be reading your wise, witty and articulate writing and I so believe people will enjoy and benefit from reading your book!” KLW

 

“Just received this book and I can hardly put it down. John writes with so much humanity and searches such deep meaningful questions that so many of us share. The characters are so real and their feelings expressed so exquisitely I am delighted that at the end of each chapter he briefly tells of something he has learned. I can envision myself writing all those learnings down on a paper when I have finished the book. This is such a wonderful book I recommend it wholeheartedly.” Joyce, Amazon review

 

“I have never before read a novel that’s thrilling, sexy, funny, sad and scary – sometimes all on the one page! I have never seen as much sex packed into two hundred and a bit pages as I’ve seen in this book. Yet there is so much more than sex. (One chapter) is less than two pages long and is as sensitive and haunting as anything I’ve ever read. And then bang! it turns into a thriller. This writer, John Thomas Wood, ratchets up the tension in a way that Stephen King would be proud of.” Colm Herron, on Amazon

 

Rex is a widower with a sixteen-year-old daughter, a former girlfriend he can’t stop thinking about and a radio show on which he answers questions about relationships, sexual relationships. Meanwhile his daughter starts to question why she can’t have sex with her eighteen year old boyfriend putting Rex is a difficult position. Beautifully written, set in Seattle (which the author is clearly in love with), each chapter ends with an epiphany over love, spirituality, dealing with children, grief, loss – just about the entire spectrum of human emotions. Take time to slowly read and savor this book, as I did.

Jan, on Amazon

“Keeping Seattle Up”

Following is a chapter from my brand new novel, available now on Amazon and B&N. This is an on-air conversation between Rex, the man character, and one of his nighttime callers. :

“Hi Rex, my name is Emily and it’s very difficult for me to call you.”

“Hello Emily. I’m glad you called. Maybe we can do something that will make it easy for both of us.”

“That’s fine, I think the best way for me is to just launch right into it,” she said, hardly taking a breath.

“Take your time Emily. There’s no rush.” I sat back in my chair and dropped my shoulders to relax.

“I’m 56 and my husband is 71. We’ve been together for more than 20 years and we’ve had a great time together. But now, at this stage of our lives, something has come up. I don’t have any friends I can talk to about this, but I heard your show the other night and thought I’d take the chance.”

“Well, I like you already and I hope we can say something that will help. You have my complete attention.”

“You see, I’m kind of out of my prime, you might say. I’ve gone through menopause, my hormones have changed, I’ve lost some pep and—this is the real burr under the saddle—I’ve lost interest in sex.”

“Uh-huh, that can happen,” I said. “And is that an issue for you, for your husband or for you both?”  There were a few seconds of silence.

“Well, I’d have to say all of the above. He still wants to have sex. I don’t. He gets hurt and mad, takes it out on me. I like him less and grow more distant. It’s a problem for both of us.”

“Seems like it’s a bigger issue for him. He wants you, can’t get what he wants, gets angry. But it might be OK for you if the whole thing never came up –is that right?”

“That sounds about right. I guess. I mean I’d like to know more about what’s going on with me and if it really is ‘the end’ for that part of my life.”

I heard the voice drop and the tears come in.

“Yeah,” I was nodding. “I get that.” I paused, then said: “Sounds like you don’t really want it to be the end of your sexual life.”

“I don’t. I don’t. I miss it.” Another long pause. I hear a big inhalation. “Rex, what can I do?”

“First you can tell me a little about what your husband wants and what is point of view is like.”

“OK, to be fair, my husband, bless his heart, does appreciate the fact that I’ve gone through some changes, so he doesn’t really mean to blame me. He’s just frustrated. So he says to me, something like: ‘look honey we can still be amorous and affectionate. We don’t have to have intercourse just because I start rubbing your breasts. We can do what we want to do, we can stop in the middle, we can go on, it’s up to us’. I think he really misses being touched.”

“Yeah, and what do you think of that?”

“I like the free choice part. Then he says: ‘You can put me in your mouth. I can put you in mine. We can rub each other’s genitals. It doesn’t have to be exactly like it used. Maybe orgasm isn’t so important. Maybe we can do lots of things that don’t lead to the big bang.’”

“I have to say Emily, that I understand him so far and I kind of agree with him. He’s asking for what he wants and what he wants is not that unusual. And I heard you say he misses being touched.”

“He’s told me that. He just says openly to me: ‘Can’t you touch me a little more than you do, rub my shoulders, hold the back of my neck the way you used to, pat me on the butt?’”

“How’s that feel to you?”
“Sad. And guilty. I’m sad that he’s sad. But I don’t seem to be able to change anything.”

I leaned into the mike and lowered my voice. “Since I’m talking to you and not your husband, I want you to look at the question we voiced a moment ago: Do you want this to be the end of your sexual life?”

“No,” she nearly shouted. “But Rex, I don’t know how to want something I don’t want.

“Oh I hear you. It’s what happens to that want that I’m intrigued by. We both know that a piece of this is physical and chemical and it’s something I strongly urge you to ask you doctor for help with. But you and I put that aside and look at the relationship part is.” I was getting enthused.

“OK.”

“Stick with me a minute Emily. I believe that energy, the life spark or the attraction we feel for someone comes out of close contact. Life happens because of two forces contacting each other. It’s like a couple of magnets with polarity –if they’re far away from each other, nothing is happening. As they come closer to each other, it becomes important whether they’re going to repel each other or be drawn closer. Do you get that picture?”

“Sure, though I don’t know what it means to me and my husband yet.”

“Right, I’m just getting warmed up. What happens over time is that the magnets drift away from each other so they don’t exert the same pull they did when they first hooked up. It may not be dramatic, this distancing, but ever so gradually they lose their influence on one another and they lose energy because of it.”

“OK,” Emily said, hesitated and let out a breath. “So what we need to do is get back in touch with each other?”

“I think you do. I’m hesitant to tell people what they need to do. I would just like it if you heard me and did what you wanted to with what you heard.”

“I respect that. But give me just a little more road map here. Give me a suggestion or two.”

I liked Emily even more. Over the past 10 minutes she had softened and become more open. Her energy was different, more receptive and somehow more feminine.

“OK. First, the energy in the personal relationship matches the energy in the sexual relationship. If there’s not personal contact, there’s no sexual contact. And in this case I think it’s vice versa, at least for your husband.”

“Gotcha. I can see that.”

“So you can pull those magnets closer together, come into the border of contact and liven things up. And how do you do that, he said, anticipating her question? You do that by being completely who you are in the moment, by being completely open, by listening better than you’ve ever listened in your life and by staying with the other’s experience as well as your own.”

“Wow, sounds like a lot of work. It also sounds exciting.”

“There you go. It is exciting. It’s exciting because you are facing each other at close range. And Emily, the same thing is true physically. I urge you to try some new things and try some old things in new ways. Listen to some of your husband’s suggestions and see if you can try them. They might just be fun.”

“I hear you Rex. I guess I’ve gotten a little complacent, I guess.”

“It happens to all of us, believe me. And I want to say one more thing:

If you or your husband were going to die tomorrow, wouldn’t you want to touch him?”

“A lot more than that, Rex, lot more.”

“Emily, thanks for calling. Be good to yourself.”

I sat back with a grin on my face, feeling good about the call. I caught Stan waving to me out of the corner of my eye. He got my attention then pointed to the phone. There was one more call and he wanted me to take it.

I punched the flashing light.

“Hello, Rex, this is Peter and you were just talking to my wife.”

“Well, hello Peter. How can I help you?”
“You don’t need to help me. I just wanted to add to and clarify my position. I liked your conversation with Emily and I’d just like to say a little more.”

“Great. Shoot.” I was relieved he didn’t call with a complaint and rebuttal.

“I think we’re missing something, Emily and I. We’re missing the chance to be amorous with each other. That’s my favorite word for it. It’s sexual without necessarily being genital. It’s a reflection of deep love for each other expressed physically. Are you with me?”

“Absolutely,” I said and meant it.

“I think everyone needs to be touched. It’s a matter of health to me. As I’ve gotten older I’ve appreciated all kinds of touch on different parts of my body. With my wife, I have the chance for that touching to be erotic and somehow connecting for us. And I don’t want to give that up.”

“Peter, you heard the conversation. Maybe now she’s ready to try. Maybe she didn’t completely understand what you needed.”

“That’s possible Rex, though I’ve said it many times. I’m going to try again; she’s in the next room.”
“Go for it Peter. And I’ll be thinking of you.”