Democracy: “The mustard on the hot dog"* 2021

Posted by jlubans on August 29, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

20130918-hot dog.jpeg
This post dates back to SEPTEMBER 18, 2013.
It’s worth a repeat appearance in these viral times in which some leaders have clearly overreached, they’ve shown their totalitarian “cloven hoof”.
What do I mean by “cloven hoof”?
PG Wodehouse, afflicted with dozens of aunts in his childhood, elaborated: “It is no use telling me there are bad aunts and good aunts. At the core, they are all alike. Sooner or later, out pops the cloven hoof. ”
It’s visible when leaders demand obedience (at gunpoint) without convincing explanations as to why: it’s on display when leaders fail but do not admit to bad decisions; and, it’s particularly grating when there is little or no involvement of the governed in decisions affecting their lives.
A few “good or humble aunts” of our governing class try to achieve a balance between what’s good for public health and what’s good for normal life. They avoid lock-step decision making; they weigh costs and benefits, and above all, they respect individual rights.
Here begins the re-post, slightly edited from its initial appearance in 2013:
I’ve been going on - in this blog - about the democratic workplace, as if I knew what democracy is.
E. B. White – in wartime England – was asked to write a statement on “the meaning of democracy.” His entertaining response appears in full below*. For my immediate purposes, I have separated out and annotated those defining points I think especially relevant to the democratic workplace in hopes of illuminating some of the concept’s nooks and crannies.
The Meaning of Democracy:
“It is the line that forms on the right.”
Egalitarian, democracy is. If you break into line, someone will mention it to you, probably not in the kindest of words.
“It is the ‘don't’ in don't shove.”
Mind your manners; say please, thank you, and would you mind? As a boss you have no inherent right to push people around. In stressful times, keep a sense of humor.
20130918-Stuffed Shirt.jpg
Caption: Finishing touches, “Ain’t I something!”

“It is the hole in the stuffed shirt through which sawdust slowly trickles.”
Ahhh, probably my favorite. Democracy anchors the easily inflatable, like a boss, down to earth. The boss who claims full personal credit for the people doing the day-to-day and making the wheels of industry hum, does so at his own ego-tripping risk. The stockholders will believe the stuffed shirt in good times, but the workers – no sycophants, they - know better, much better. Some omniscient experts have, over 18 months, worn several holes in their shirts, and the sawdust has all but trickled out.
“It is the dent in the high hat.”
20130918-dent hat.jpeg
Caption: Dent caused by hat colliding with Brazil nut followed by much jeering.

You bet; enjoy your high hat; just don’t expect everyone to think you are somehow above the rest of us, the hoi polloi. If you do, your hat – in a democracy - becomes a magnet (and target) for the stray slingshot walnut or biscuit.
“Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time.”
In the workplace, the best boss knows her idea can only get better if she shares and builds on it with ideas from the staff – the people doing the work.
Experts have their place, but the notion of being ruled by an elite galls many people.
“It is … the feeling of communion in the libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere.”
Libraries have changed but when you go into one and think about it, yes, there is a communion in the hallowed purpose and tradition of the “people’s university”. As for vitality, that’s in scarce supply these days as many libraries have chosen to close, declaring themselves, nonessential!
However, I did observe plenty of vitality (and a surfeit of communion), at a recent Vermont town hall meeting, a walking, talking, breathing example of democratic decision-making.
“It is an idea which hasn't been disproved yet.”
Lincoln’s unfinished work at Gettysburg comes to mind: “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”
Remember? Our “great task”, ensuring “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”Democracy in the office is also unfinished work.
“It's the mustard on the hot dog.”
That’s the piquant sense when people feel equal and effective, when they stress “We” over “Me”, and mean it. It’s when the group achieves what no individual can and everyone concludes, “Wow, we did it!”

*SOURCE: E. B. White as quoted by ROBERT KRULWICH in his essay
Democracy, My Mother And Toast” on National Public Radio on July 02, 2013:
“Surely the Board knows what democracy is. It is the line that forms on the right. It is the "don't" in don't shove. It is the hole in the stuffed shirt through which sawdust slowly trickles; it is the dent in the high hat. Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time. It is the feeling of privacy in the voting booths, the feeling of communion in the libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere.
Democracy is the letter to the editor. Democracy is the score at the beginning of the ninth. It is an idea which hasn't been disproved yet, a song the words of which have not gone bad. It's the mustard on the hot dog, and the cream in the rationed coffee. Democracy is a request from a War Board, in the middle of a morning in the middle of a war, wanting to know what democracy is.”

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© Copyright all original text by John Lubans 2021

“We’ll be fair.”

Posted by jlubans on August 24, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

That’s (“We’ll be fair”) what I heard when I asked a Developmental Disabilities staffer about Oregon’s financial policy on a certain kind of welfare for people with disabilities.
In North Carolina, 3000 miles east, the policy was just the opposite. When I asked legislators from both parties about removing the policy’s punitive aspects, the answer was “It can’t be done”.
How, then, did one state* practice a very fair policy (assuring that a person could retain some assets) while another state practiced fiscal confiscation that led to impoverishment and dependency.
Without going into details, my question is about how the political or other leadership establish the principle of fairness (a corporate value) while another leadership decides on punitive policies for clients.
Now, Oregon has long claimed there is an “Oregon Way” – a philosophy deriving from its earliest settlers, a philosophy of fairness and of helping others.
Another example is Oregon’s “People’s Coast”. Unlike many coastal states, Oregon decided long ago that the ravishingly beautiful coast could not be developed and restricted only for those with the big bucks or other influence.
As a result, Oregon has hundreds of miles of open access beaches and parks.
Is it politics? Some of my East Coast liberal friends assure me that Oregon is on the Left Coast and hence guided by leftist leaning policies.
It may be that way now, but at the time of the beaches and the health care policies, Oregon was conservative, not liberal.
In any case, Oregon’s policy makers were either more intelligent or had a value system that stressed fairness.
When I challenged the unfair policy in North Carolina, I met with legislators of both parties. Regardless of politics, every one of the pols was of the “I feel your pain” persuasion, and would do nothing to reverse the punitive practice.
I recall one bright-eyed legislative assistant explaining to me that any change was fiscally impossible. She was almost gleeful about having a budgetary justification to do nothing. According to her, it would cost millions which the state did not have (of course!).
Her reasoning was that any policy change had to encompass everyone not just the people with disabilities. In other words, the state was fiscally incapable of making one life better without a fiscal obligation to make all lives better.
The former is doable. The latter is impossible. So, “Sorry, but our hands are tied.”
Have you ever used that kind of lame excuse? I have.
Where does leadership enter? The leaders of these two states obviously influenced the legislation and how that legislation would be put into practice.
One state chose fairness, while the other chose unfairness.
What then is the leader’s role in changing bad practices in any organization? Even if the leader (say a state’s governor) would like to make changes, how do they persuade others. If your followers are unpersuaded, you will have an uphill battle.
My two-week lobbying effort with state legislators in person went nowhere. Most figuratively patted me on my head and sent me on my way.
One legislator, probably a Southern conservative, was angered by my pitch. He roared at me that I should be grateful for what the state was doing, and that was that. I remain mystified to this day about what set off the fireworks.
Was it something I said or was it something in this man’s background?
So, there is a culture one has to deal with.
I came to believe that while people with disabilities come in all colors and creeds, the North Carolina legislation may have been racially influenced because of the state’s Southern (slavery) history and significant black population. Yet, I am aware that many northern states (supposedly enlightened) with tiny black populations have policies that emulate the harsh one in North Carolina.
How would you, as a leader, change the unfair to fair? What would it take for your organization to say sincerely to clients, without hesitation, “We’ll be fair”?

*For my Latvian readers, America’s 50 states have much autonomy over how things are done. There’s state law and there’s federal law. For example, in Oregon you cannot pump your own gas. In 48 other states, you can pump it. Some states have sales taxes, a few states have none.
Just about on every issue, states vary and most like it that way.
Of course, those who know best and thrill at telling everyone what to do, prefer a centralized approach, like in Soviet times.
There are strong subsidiarity arguments to let American states have control. However there is constant tension between the states and the federal government, just like with member states of the European Union and the unelected officials in Brussels. Of course, subsidiarity applies to any organization and the decision-making freedom it permits (or not) for local units.

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© Copyright text by John Lubans 2021


Posted by jlubans on August 12, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: “It has been determined” - Bureaucratese

Here follows a miscellany of odds and ends of blog ideas, ones that never matured into something on which I could write 500 or 750 words - the usual length of one of my essays.
So, here is the first installment of “Shorts”. I could have titled it “miscellany”, “potpourri”, or “grab bag”, but I decided on Shorts, like the short movies in the olden days of movie theaters when the main feature was preceded by short films.

It has been determined.
The above photo is of a notice stuck onto a tree giving advance notice of removal. Why do you think who made the determination is kept anonymous? Why not say who made the decision?
Sounds like CYA to me.
Who’s hiding?
Perhaps no one, but why do bureaucracies prefer stilted, if rotund, speech?
How about: “This tree is to be cut and removed.” Etc. Or, “Salem’s Parks Operations Division has decided, after due consideration, to remove this tree.”
Party Hearty
At one university where I worked we had a library advisory board of alums. They gave us good ideas and were influential, as well-to-do alums, in making our case to the administration.
Twice a year, the board would travel to campus and we would wine and dine them.
At my table was a proud parent whose daughter was soon to attend the university.
Over copious amounts of wine, a half dozen of us were conversing about the excesses of student drinking and how reform was long past due.
The proud parent would have none of it . For her, the incoming freshman class was composed of “people I want my daughter to get drunk with.”
Pretty shocking? Well, not really. She recognized – perhaps from her own undergraduate days - what goes on for many students when they get to campus. It’s party time! And, partying is a good way to make connections for the future. Networking starts at the kegger!
Better the daughter have her fling on campus then in some urban bar. If the daughter was going to sleep with dogs than it was best they be coequals with a higher class of flea.
Dreams of the Spanish Inquisition:
The brilliant and fearless George Orwell, life-long socialist, author of Animal Farm and infantry soldier in Spain’s civil war offered up this all too realistic view of what can happen when idealist socialists and anarchists come to power:
“It cannot be said too often—at any rate it is not being said nearly often enough—that collectivism is not inherently democratic, but, on the contrary, gives to a tyrannical minority such powers as the Spanish Inquisitors never dreamed of. ” He added: “Collectivism leads to concentration camps, leader worship, and war.”
No focus groups for Henry (Ford):
“If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said ‘a faster horse’.”
Elon Musk’s colossal ego would’ve met its match in Henry and then some.

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© Copyright text and photo John Lubans 2021

A Runner’s Reminiscence

Posted by jlubans on August 05, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: from left Andy Steele, John Lubans, George Davis, Mike Glynn, Bruce Grigsby and Coach Jim Morrow

The Tokyo Olympics have prompted memories of days gone by, when I was an aspiring runner. The photo takes me back to 1960, however misty my recollection.
There I am, a callow youth, posing with my relay teammates with the winner’s trophy, a Thanksgiving turkey-size platter!
We’d won the prep school one mile relay at the Penn Relay Carnival in Philadelphia.
I was the alternate for the race; happily along for the van trip from Boston to Philadelphia. When George Davis pulled a muscle, I got the nod to take his place.
The Penn Relays at Franklin Field (yes, named after that Franklin) has been around since 1895 and on the day of the race many thousands were in the stands. Probably not near the capacity of 52,000 but more spectators than I had ever seen at a track meet.
I was to run the second leg of the race; somehow I managed to focus, ignore the crowd noise and chatter from the other runners, and wait for the baton to arrive.
We’d practiced and practiced handing off without looking back.
Would I start too soon, would I exceed the passing zone, would I drop the baton?
Some of the Tokyo relay races show what happens when things go wrong at the baton pass: disaster.
Amazingly, the baton slapped into my hand and I high-tailed it down the track for 440 yards. Whatever our position at the time, I did not give up any ground to other runners.
I handed off to Mike Glynn (much to my relief, Mike and I didn’t bumble the exchange) and he handed off to our anchor, the team’s best runner, Bruce Grigsby. Bruce lived up to his billing and sprinted away to glory.
In a way, how I ran that race in 1960 defined my leadership into the future. I did my best (my time was the second fastest of the four) and supported my team mates.
In short, I was an effective follower and a good team player. To put it musically, never a conductor but I’d be a pretty good first violin.
Once I left Huntington School, only Bruce Grigsby would reconnect with me. All of us went our separate ways to different colleges; I regret not staying in touch. Even without the Internet, we could have been in contact, but that’s what happens with too many guys like me – we don’t network very well.
It took me 50 years to reach out to another former running friend from my high school days. I am glad I did.
There’s probably a moral in there; for me, don’t let your friends slip away, especially if you are a guy.

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© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021