Author Archives: randy

With Such Poverty of Attention, how do you read books with focus?

FocusEconomics is the study of how scarce resources are allocated; whether that is housing, food, or money. However, in an era of endless amounts of information at the hands of our fingertips, what is the scarcity? Unlike the first three examples that can be empirically quantified and measured, our intangible yet extremely valuable attention is the limiting factor: we are in the age of the attention economy.
The term “attention economy” was coined by psychologist, economist, and Nobel Laureate Herbert A. Simon, who posited that attention was the “bottleneck of human thought” that limits both what we can perceive in stimulating environments and what we can do. He also noted that “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention,” suggesting that multitasking is a myth.
Paying Attention: The Attention Economy

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We live in an era of a specific challenge that is only getting worse: a serious shortage of serious attention; a shortage of serious focus, of undivided concentration. And with such a shortage, there is a shortage of genuine learning.

We all know of the value of being a life-long learner.  But if you can’t be a life-long focuser, a life-long concentrator, then you won’t be a very good life-long learner, will you?

Time for a reality check…

How many books do you read, with enough attention and focus, that you actually learn from the books? I mean, with enough focus that you learn the information in the book, that you can remember it well enough that you can think about the book, ponder the teachings of the book, over the days following your reading?  Well enough that you can put the wisdom of the book into practice in your work-life and in the other parts of your life?

distracted-reading-mainMy hunch is that your attention is pretty divided.  We are so bombarded by information – newspapers, magazines, articles, podcasts, broadcasts, books — that shutting everything out except for the one object of focus at this moment is practically a lost skill.

I think about this as I present my book synopses.  People who attend my events tell me that they did not quite understand the value until they experienced the session.

What do I provide?  I help people pay attention!

I choose good books; important books.  And I have developed a synopsis approach – both verbally, and in my synopsis handouts – that helps people hone in on the useful and essential wisdom found in the books I present.

These days, my synopses are delivered over Zoom or Webex.  And, these days, participants have to print out the handouts that I prepare and provide.  But the experience of learning is rich.  And, I think, my synopses help people focus, in order to capture thoughts that stick long after the presentation is completed.

You have to fight to focus. You might need some help to help you do that.  I can help.

If nothing else, attending my events will help you put everything down and away except the one thing of the moment; this particular book synopsis. And you might focus your attention long enough to learn; and remember; and change.

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My synopses handouts are 8-11 pages of content.  They provide a pretty deep dive into the book.  What do I include in my handouts?

  • the point of the book
  • reasons why the book is worth your time
  • the best highlighted passages from the book
  • the stories, principles, and lessons, that make the book so valuable
  • my lessons and takeaways from the book

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Note: the First Friday Book Synopsis always meets on the first Friday of the month.  Our Zoom sessions begin at 7:30am.  And the details, and book selections, of next month’s gathering are always on this blog.   We are in our 22nd year of our monthly gatherings.

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My synopses are available for purchase. Click on the buy synopses tab at the top of the page to search by title. Or, click here for our newest additions.

 

Invisible Women and Uncharted; reading in progress – What books are you reading?

Nov. 6 FFBSInvisible Women is the story of what happens when we forget to account for half of humanity. It is an exposè of how the gender data gap harms women when life proceeds, more or less as normal. In urban planning, politics, the workplace.
Caroline Criado Perez, Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

The future is uncharted because we aren’t there yet.
Margaret Heffernan, Uncharted: How to Navigate the Future

———————-

Let me start with a reminder.  This is a very good time to be reading books.  We are inside more; at home more.  And there are so many good, and important, books to read.  What books do you have on your reading stack right now?

I’m in the midst of reading my two books for the November 6 First Friday Book Synopsis, our monthly gathering that focuses on two books each month.  (Currently on Zoom). These two books are quite different, and both worth our time.

For the books I present, I read every book in full; every page of every chapter.  And, I read these books slowly.  I highlight passages – literally hundreds of passages.  And I do my best to create synopsis handouts that are thorough, and capture the key elements of the books I present.

2019 Business Book of the Year

2019 Business Book of the Year

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez won the 2019 Business Book of the Year award from McKinsey and The Financial Times.  It is a deserving selection.

Though it is a good and comprehensive, thought-provoking book, it is mainly…correct.  Women are invisible in too many ways, in too many arenas:  in their daily life, in their work life, in the architecture and structures that they navigate.  So many of the decisions of the world have been made by men, and only men, while only thinking about men, for too long.  That is the finding of this very good book, and it explains why this was a worthy recipient of the Business Book of the Year award.

(Note:  this is the third such book I have presented.  An earlier Business Book of the Year was Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford; a significant book.  I presented my synopsis of this book at the February, 2016 First Friday Book Synopsis. And, I have also presented my synopsis of Capital by Thomas Pikkety, another recipient of this award, at another book gathering that I speak at: the Urban Engagement Book Club, sponsored by CitySquare).

Here’s the problem with books such as Invisible Women.  First, not enough people read the books, in spite of their popularity.  Second, even though the problem it highlights and addresses is so pervasive, people still cannot quite grasp the breadth of the problem with only an occasional book to remind them of it.  This book needs a very, very big megaphone.

Uncharted: How to Navigate the Future by Margaret Heffernan is my second book selection for November.  Ms. Heffernan is also the author of Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at our Peril, which I presented at the August, 2014 First Friday Book Synopsis. This book states, clearly, that there is so very much about the future that we do not know; cannot really ever know.  And in this Global Pandemic time, this is a good and needed reminder.

I love reading good books.  These are both good books to read.  I think my synopses will be useful.

What will you be reading this month?

——————–Rise of the Robots

Here are my earlier blog posts on a couple of the books that I mentioned:

But Where will the Demand Be? – My Lessons and Takeaways from Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford

Here are My Takeaways from Margaret Heffernan’s Willful Blindness – a Remarkable Book 

 

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land – Here are my Six Lessons and Takeaways

MaidMaid by Stephanie Land is a single mother’s personal, unflinching look at America’s class divide, a description of the tightrope many families walk just to get by, and a reminder of the dignity of all work.
Barack Obama, in his social media post announcing his summer reading list, 2019.

My job offered no sick pay, no vacation days, no foreseeable increase in wage, yet through it all, still I begged to work more. Wages lost from missed work hours could rarely be made up, and if I missed too many, I risked being fired. My car’s reliability was vital, since a broken hose, a faulty thermostat, or even a flat tire could throw us off, knock us backward, send us teetering, falling back, toward homelessness. 
Stephanie Land, Maid

Her book has the needed quality of reversing the direction of the gaze. Some people who employ domestic labor will read her account. Will they see themselves in her descriptions of her clients? Will they offer their employees the meager respect Land fantasizes about? Land survived the hardship of her years as a maid, her body exhausted and her brain filled with bleak arithmetic, to offer her testimony. It’s worth listening to.
From the New York Times Review of this book by Emily Cooke

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It’s been a lot of years since I read the modern-day classic, Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich.  It is an honest look at the work of the people in low-wage jobs.  Barbara Ehrenreich, a woman with a Ph.D., went “undercover,” working as a house cleaner at a motel, a server at a diner-type restaurant, a stocker at a Walmart.  It is a book still very much worth reading.

A more recent book is Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land.  Barbara Ehrenreich, by the way, wrote the forward.  I presented my synopsis of this book at the October Urban Engagement Book Club, for CitySquare. This book is the perfect follow-up read to Nickel and Dimed.

This is a memoir, with plenty of insight about the life and struggles of a single mother who had very, very little money and few resources, working as a “maid’ for a house cleaning company, and a few “private” clients.

At the center of this story is the love Stephanie had/has for her daughter, Mia.

It is a very good book to read.

As always, I ask What is the point? The point is this: listen to the story (stories) of a single mother struggling to make it.  This provides a journey into a class of people struggling daily, in a country of plenty.

And I ask: Why is this book worth our time?  Here are my three reasons for this book:

#1 – This book will help you see, in a graphic way, how someone struggles to work, and juggle benefits, to make it.  To make it pretty much alone; on her own…
#2 – This book will remind you how invisible the everyday worker seems to be.
#3 – This book puts a very human face on the struggles of those invisible among us…

I always include a few dozen Quotes and Excerpts from the book.  Here are the best of my selected highlighted passages:

• Many things I learned from therapists throughout the turmoil Mia and I endured with Jamie said that, in order for children to develop emotional intelligence and be resilient, it’s important, if not vital, for them to have one stable caregiver in their life, one adult person who doesn’t waver in being there when they say they will. …as long as one pinnacle person remained. 
• I had looked under every stone, peered through the window of every government assistance building, and joined the long lines of people who carried haphazard folders of paperwork to prove they didn’t have money. I was overwhelmed by how much work it took to prove I was poor.
• She treated me like a person, tucking her short, copper-red hair behind her ear as she spoke. But my thoughts were stuck on when she called me “lucky.” I didn’t feel lucky. Grateful, yes. Definitely. But having luck, no. Not when I was moving into a place with rules that suggested that I was an addict, dirty, or just so messed up in life that I needed an enforced curfew and pee tests.
• I was grateful for programs that fed my family, but I’d also carry back home a bag of shame, each time mentally wrestling with what the cashier thought of me, a woman with an infant in a sling, purchasing food on public assistance.
• Though I didn’t know it then, the government had worked that year to change the stigma surrounding the twenty-nine million people who used food stamps by giving it a new name: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). But whether you called it SNAP or food stamps, the assumption that the poor stole hardworking Americans’ tax money to buy junk food was unchanged.
• The months of poverty, instability, and insecurity created a panic response that would take years to undo.
• To the government and everyone else, it was inherent they shouldn’t trust me.
• Decisions over what to keep and what to donate or attempt to sell weren’t easy. Things I stored were equally useless and priceless.
• I needed a hug from a mom so badly I could easily see myself choking on a few tears and asking for one.
• I’d been there for Mia, but I’d needed someone to hold my hand, be there for me. Sometimes mothers need to be mothered, too. …If I started crying every time something hard or horrible happened, well, I’d just be crying all the time.
• As the night stretched out before me, I created a vision of a “happy” life. There would be a large yard of freshly cut green grass and a tree with a swing hanging from a branch. …Most of my clients had these things—the things I yearned for in those dark nights sitting up alone—and they did not seem to enjoy life any more than I did.
• I didn’t know what to do. I had no resources, no parents to call, no parenting coach or therapist or even a group of moms I’d connected with.  …How would a stay-at-home mom, whose child had tantrums for normal things, understand my daughter’s anger?  …I couldn’t provide her with a home, or food, and accepted handouts to help with the tiny space we occupied.
• I compartmentalized my life the same way I cleaned every room of every house—left to right, top to bottom. Whether on paper or in my mind, the problems I had to deal with first—the car repair, the court date, the empty cupboards—went at the top, on the left. The next pressing issue went next to it, on the right. I’d focus on one problem at a time, working left to right, top to bottom. …but it also kept me from dreaming. “Plan for five years from now” never made it to that top corner.
• One weekend, I pulled The Alchemist off my shelf to read. The short book took two whole days to get through, since almost every page had a line that I’d underline, read again, and had to stare out the window to think about for a while. …the main character’s journey to find his destiny, only to discover it had been at home all along.

In my synopsis, I included these points and lessons from the book:

  • What you don’t have
  • resources
  • a place to put stuff
  • My lack of living space afforded me room only for things that were useful.
  • stuff
  • money for escape – even to McDonald’s
  • money to bring joy to your daughter
  • a partner; or, anyone to call for help…anyone…
  • I craved a mom, someone I could trust.
  • I wished there was someone I could call to help or even talk to.
  • the ability/freedom to make more money – because, the more money you make, the more they take away from your benefits…
  • More in wages meant I received a smaller amount of food stamps
  • The most frustrating part of being stuck in the system were the penalties it seemed I received for improving my life. …On a couple of occasions, my income pushed me over the limit by a few dollars, I’d lose hundreds of dollars in benefits.
  • a safe place to live – (mainly about physical health; i.e., living with dangerous mold…)
  • You need seven different kinds of assistance to survive:
  • If I had stopped to add it up, the Pell Grant, SNAP, TBRA, LIHEAP, WIC, Medicaid, and childcare would total seven different programs I’d applied for. I needed seven different kinds of government assistance to survive.
  • The work of a maid (house cleaner)
  • when she worked for the “company,” she did not get to know the clients; and she made only slightly better than 1/3 of the money charged by the company
  • Classic Clean charged $25 an hour to have me work in a home, but I still only made nine.
  • she had to clean things “a certain way” — with limited resources.
  • I had to clean the house in a specific way, the exact manner and amount of time as the person before me, to prevent any differences between cleaners being noticed.
  • Here’s a lesson – that other person’s meanness may not be at you, but from within them…
  • I understood now why she’d fired me. It wasn’t my incompetence. She’d fired me because she couldn’t afford the barter anymore, or wanted to do it herself to save money, and tore me down in the process.

And here are my six lessons and takeaways:

#1 – It takes great courage to keep going when times are truly tough. Let’s applaud those with such courage.
#2 – The system is tough to navigate.  You have to make enough money; but not too much.
#3 – People can cause great heartache with their intentional, and unintentional, meanness, and lack of empathy (or even simple sympathy).
#4 – No matter how bleak, one has to have some hint of a dream — a dream of hope — to keep going.
#5 – In the end, you can only rely on yourself.  But one can find help along the way. Welcome it; be grateful for it.  – (Maybe The Alchemist had been right. Maybe if I took the first step toward my own dreams, the Universe would open and guide the way). 
#6 – And, we probably all need to read a few more books like this.  It will do our hearts good.

Here is one thing that comes through in both this book, and in Nickel and Dimed.  These jobs are demanding.  They require serious hard work, and a  good work ethic.  Stephanie Land was praised, by her clients, and her books, for her work ethic.  She was not a lazy worker!

If you are a person with resources, then read this to remind you of those who do not have such plenty.  If you struggle with too few resources, read this to find a fellow traveler; and, maybe, to find a little courage.

If you've never read this, it's time. It is a "classic."

If you’ve never read this, it’s time. It is a “classic.”

This is a good book.  It is worth your time to read it.

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi – My Six Lessons and Takeaways

New Books banner, 2020

 

How to be an Antiracist copyWhat’s the problem with being “not racist”? It is a claim that signifies neutrality: “I am not a racist, but neither am I aggressively against racism.” But there is no neutrality in the racism struggle. The opposite of “racist” isn’t “not racist.” It is “antiracist.” What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an antiracist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an antiracist.
There is no in-between safe space of “not racist.” The claim of “not racist” neutrality is a mask for racism.
Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist

———————-

Our country is so divided.  In so many ways.

Race is one of those ways.

And there are plenty of folks who say, in one way or another, that America suffers from systemic racism.  Others say there is no racism, and certainly no systemic racism.

I come down on the side that says that, alas, racism is still alive, and well, and even openly present and visible, in so many places; in so many ways.

Just recently (as I write), there have been multiple stories of raciest actions, and statements, and images, from the Ft. Worth Police Department, to a legendary advertising firm in Dallas, and many, many more across our land.

For the last four months, I have been presenting one book a month on racial issues at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.  (I normally present two business books a month.  For these months, it was one business book and one book on racial issues).

I am not new to this.  I have been presenting books on poverty, social justice, and racial issues for over 15 years for the Urban Engagement Book Club, sponsored by CitySquare.  In addition, I focused a great deal on the rhetoric of the Civil Rights movement in my graduate work, and my wife and I have taken some history-focused vacations, with emphasis on civil rights history, over the last few years.  We have visited Atlanta, Birmingham, Selma, Montgomery, Little Rock, and Memphis.

All of this is to say that I have done more than just read a book or two.  And I feel like I chose four very good and needed books for this short series on race.

In this post, I will share my lessons and takeaways from the 4th book I presented in my short series at the First Friday Book SynopsisHow to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X.Kendi.

This book is…a true must read; an essential book for this era.

In my synopses, I always begin with:

What is the point? — In addition to the actual harm of (overt) racism, the ongoing danger comes from nonracists who, by their silence and lack of activism, help perpetuate a racist society.

And I ask, why is this book worth our time?  Here are my three reasons for this book:

#1 – This book is another candid, heart-wrenching look at the overt racism in our past as a country; including the racism of our elected, influential officials and leaders. 
#2 – This book is a painful reminder that policies are enacted and protected that perpetuate the racism in our society. 
#3 – This book is a clear call to be an antiracist.  It provides strategies, and a touch of motivation, to keep fighting the antiracist battle.

I always include many (a few pages of) Quotes and Excerpts from the book – the “best of” Randy’s highlighted Passages.  Here are a few that I included in my synopsis handout ( a few more than I usually include in my blog posts):

• Denial is the heartbeat of racism, beating across ideologies, races, and nations.
• And I’ve come to see that the movement from racist to antiracist is always ongoing—it requires understanding and snubbing racism based on biology, ethnicity, body, culture, behavior, color, space, and class. 
• I cannot disconnect my parents’ religious strivings to be Christian from my secular strivings to be an antiracist. And the key act for both of us was defining our terms so that we could begin to describe the world and our place in it. 
• A racist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups. An antiracist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial equity between racial groups. By policy, I mean written and unwritten laws, rules, procedures, processes, regulations, and guidelines that govern people. There is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy. Every policy in every institution in every community in every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or equity between racial groups. 
• Racist policies have been described by other terms: “institutional racism,” “structural racism,” and “systemic racism,” for instance.  “Racist policy” is more tangible and exacting, and more likely to be immediately understood by people, including its victims, who may not have the benefit of extensive fluency in racial terms.  “Institutional racism” and “structural racism” and “systemic racism” are redundant. Racism itself is institutional, structural, and systemic.  …Focusing on “racial discrimination” takes our eyes off the central agents of racism: racist policy and racist policymakers, or what I call racist power.
• So what is a racist idea? A racist idea is any idea that suggests one racial group is inferior or superior to another racial group in any way.  An antiracist idea is any idea that suggests the racial groups are equals in all their apparent differences—that there is nothing right or wrong with any racial group. Antiracist ideas argue that racist policies are the cause of racial inequities.
• We are what we see ourselves as, whether what we see exists or not. We are what people see us as, whether what they see exists or not. 
• If we cannot identify racial inequity, then we will not be able to identify racist policies. If we cannot identify racist policies, then we cannot challenge racist policies. If we cannot challenge racist policies, then racist power’s final solution will be achieved: a world of inequity none of us can see, let alone resist. 
• The history of the United States offers a parade of intra-racial ethnic power relationships: Anglo-Saxons discriminating against Irish Catholics and Jews; Cuban immigrants being privileged over Mexican immigrants; the model-minority construction that includes East Asians and excludes Muslims from South Asia. It’s a history that began with early European colonizers referring to the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole as the “Five Civilized Tribes” of Native Americans, as compared to other “wild” tribes. 
• Unarmed Black bodies—which apparently look armed to fearful officers—are about twice as likely to be killed as unarmed White bodies. 
• Black people are apparently responsible for calming the fears of violent cops in the way women are supposedly responsible for calming the sexual desires of male rapists. 
• A study that used National Longitudinal Survey of Youth data from 1976 to 1989 found that young Black males engaged in more violent crime than young White males. But when the researchers compared only employed young males of both races, the differences in violent behavior vanished. …Another study found that the 2.5 percent decrease in unemployment between 1992 and 1997 resulted in a decrease of 4.3 percent for robbery, 2.5 percent for auto theft, 5 percent for burglary, and 3.7 percent for larceny.
• WHEN THE REACTION to the Nazi Holocaust marginalized biological racism, cultural racism stepped into its place. 
• In 2007, MSNBC’s Don Imus compared Rutgers’s Dark basketball players—“that’s some nappy-headed hos there”—to Tennessee’s Light players—“they all look cute”—after they played in the NCAA women’s championship.
• Blacks were ten times more likely than Whites to have their ballots rejected. …That left one explanation, one that at first I could not readily admit: racism. A total of 179,855 ballots were invalidated by Florida election officials in a race ultimately won by 537 votes.
• White officers are far and away more likely to be racist than Black officers these days.
• Nearly all (92 percent) of White officers surveyed agreed with the post-racial idea that “our country has made the changes needed to give Blacks equal rights with Whites.”
• Only 6 percent of White officers co-signed the antiracist idea that “our country needs to continue making changes to give Blacks equal rights with Whites,” compared to 69 percent of Black officers.
• There were multiple ways of seeing the world, he argued. But too many Black people were “looking out” at the world from a European “center,” which was taken as the only point from which to see the world—through European cultures masquerading as world cultures, European religions masquerading as world religions, European history masquerading as world history. …“The rejection of European particularism as universal is the first stage of our coming intellectual struggle,” Professor Asante wrote.
• Banks remain twice as likely to offer loans to White entrepreneurs than to Black entrepreneurs.
• “For many years it was the theory of most Negro leaders…that white America did not know of or realize the continuing plight of the Negro.”
• They were reacting to the same moderate and liberal and assimilationist forces that all these years later still reduce racism to the individual acts of White Klansmen and Jim Crow politicians and Tea Party Republicans and N-word users and White nationalist shooters… …‘Respectable’ individuals can absolve themselves from individual blame: they would never plant a bomb in a church; they would never stone a black family,” Toure and Hamilton wrote. “But they continue to support political officials and institutions that would and do perpetuate institutionally racist policies. The term “institutionally racist policies” is more concrete than “institutional racism.” (Du Bois). …Today there can be no doubt that Americans know the facts; and yet they remain for the most part indifferent and unmoved.”
• What gives me hope is a simple truism. Once we lose hope, we are guaranteed to lose.

Here are a few of the points and key thoughts from the book, that I included in my synopsis:

  • The options:
  • you can be racist
  • you can (claim to be) nonracist
  • you can be antiracist 
  • A key point — definitions matter:
  • Definitions anchor us in principles. This is not a light point: If we don’t do the basic work of defining the kind of people we want to be in language that is stable and consistent, we can’t work toward stable, consistent goals.
  • Racism is a marriage of racist policies and racist ideas that produces and normalizes racial inequities.
  • Racial Inequity: Racial inequity is when two or more racial groups are not standing on approximately equal footing. …Here’s an example of racial inequity: 71 percent of White families lived in owner-occupied homes in 2014, compared to 45 percent of Latinx families and 41 percent of Black families.
  • We can unknowingly strive to be a racist. We can knowingly strive to be an antiracist.
  • About systemic racism
  • two kinds of racism in Birmingham — In the way investigators can figure out exactly who those church bombers were, investigators can figure out exactly what policies caused five hundred Black babies to die each year and who put those policies in place.
  • Racism has its tentacles everywhere — Do-nothing climate policy is racist policy…    
  • Assimilationist ideas are racist ideas
  • Assimilationist ideas and segregationist ideas are the two types of racist ideas, the duel within racist thought.
  • The centrality of the notion of hierarchy; “my group is above your group…”
  • From the beginning, to make races was to make racial hierarchy.
  • That is the central double standard in ethnic racism: loving one’s position on the ladder above other ethnic groups and hating one’s position below that of other ethnic groups.
  • Whoever makes the cultural standard makes the cultural hierarchy. The act of making a cultural standard and hierarchy is what creates cultural racism.
  • About strategy
  • it all revolves around policy change — Individual behaviors can shape the success of individuals. But policies determine the success of groups.
  • Thus, the call is to be an activist:
  • Changing minds is not a movement. Critiquing racism is not activism. Changing minds is not activism. An activist produces power and policy change, not mental change. …If a person has no record of power or policy change, then that person is not an activist.
  • We use the terms “demonstration” and “protest” interchangeably, at our own peril, like we interchangeably use the terms “mobilizing” and “organizing.” — A protest is organizing people for a prolonged campaign that forces racist power to change a policy. A demonstration is mobilizing people momentarily to publicize a problem.
  • So, what to do?
  • Admit racial inequity is a problem of bad policy, not bad people. Identify racial inequity in all its intersections and manifestations. Investigate and uncover the racist policies causing racial inequity. Invent or find antiracist policy that can eliminate racial inequity. Figure out who or what group has the power to institute antiracist policy. Disseminate and educate about the uncovered racist policy and antiracist policy correctives. Work with sympathetic antiracist policymakers to institute the antiracist policy. Deploy antiracist power to compel or drive from power the unsympathetic racist policymakers in order to institute the antiracist policy. Monitor closely to ensure the antiracist policy reduces and eliminates racial inequity. When policies fail, do not blame the people. Start over and seek out new and more effective antiracist treatments until they work. Monitor closely to prevent new racist policies from being instituted. 

And here are my five lessons and takeaways:

#1 – Quit pretending that racism is not still a problem.  It is.
#2 – Maybe do some serious study.  What you don’t know is probably worth learning, and worth knowing.
#3 – Maybe do some serious self-examination.  How have you contributed to the racism in our society?
#4 – Learn to separate your preference from what is right and wrong.
#5 – Maybe it is time to _________________.  {You fill in the black, with the action(s) you feel like you need to take).

We are all “ignorant” (i.e, uninformed) about many things.  But maybe it is time to get much better informed about issues of race.  If you would read this book, and the earlier book by Mr. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning, you would likely become a more informed person about this crucial subject – this crucial societal and human issue – so important in this critical time on our country.

White Fragility


Here are the four books I presented on racial issues at the First Friday Book Synopsis:
July, 2020 — Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (National Book Award Winner) by Ibram X. Kendi. Bold Type Books; Reprint edition (August 15, 2017).
August, 2020 — White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo, Foreword by Michael Eric Dyson. Beacon Press. 2018.
September, 2020 — The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein.  Liveright. 2017.
October, 2020 — How to Be an Antiracist – August 13, 2019 by Ibram X. Kendi. One World; First Edition (August 13, 2019).

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My synopses are available to purchase.  Each synopsis comes with my full comprehensive, multi-page synopsis handout, and the audio recording of my presentation.  Click here for our newest additions.  This synopsis will be uploaded and available soon.

Download the handout for Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land – For Urban Engagement Book Club, October 15, 2020

Maid coverMaid by Stephanie Land is a single mother’s personal, unflinching look at America’s class divide, a description of the tightrope many families walk just to get by, and a reminder of the dignity of all work.
Barack Obama, in his social media post announcing his summer reading list, 2019.

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Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land is a wonderful book to read.  Maid is also a very difficult book to read.

If I could recommend only two books to read that capture the reality of life among the low pay workers among us, I would first recommend Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting by In America by Barbara Ehrenreich.  The second one would be this book, Maid, by Stephanie Land.  And, by the way, Barbara Ehrenreich wrote the forward to this book.

I am presenting this at the Urban Engagement Book Club, sponsored by CitySquare – on Zoom, Thursday, October 15, 12:30pm, Central Time.

click on image to download handout

click on image to download handout

You will want to print out the synopsis handout; when I speak, I am handout intensive.  Click here to download the handout.

(Note:  I will record this, and put it up on YouTube a day or so after the session).

Here is the Zoom info.  Come join us.

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Randy Mayeux is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: October 15 Urban Engagement Book Club
Time: Oct 15, 2020 12:30 PM Central Time (US and Canada)

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Doesn’t Hurt to Ask by Trey Gowdy – Here are my six lessons and takeaways

I presented this book at the October, 2020 First Friday Book Synopsis

I presented this book at the October, 2020 First Friday Book Synopsis

Do you know what it is you are trying to persuade someone of? Have you studied it thoroughly, examined every aspect of it, and cross-examined it in your own mind?  
In 1650 Oliver Cromwell, imploring the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland to step away from their pledge of allegiance to the royalist cause, said: “I beseech you in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.” In other words, Consider the remote possibility you may be wrong.
The question is: Are you open to something you have not already thought of? …Don’t we have to be willing to do what we are asking others to do, which is to be persuadable?
Trey Gowdy:  Doesn’t Hurt to Ask

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Persuasion is a challenge; a real challenge.  It is not easy to persuade. Anyone. Including yourself. Think about it; how easy would it be to change your mind about something that matters to you?

Trey Gowdy is a former Prosecutor, and former member of Congress.  And, he is honest about the difficult task of trying to persuade people in Congress.

And he has written a book that I found useful, and enjoyable to read.  (Mr. Gowdy is one of those “Southern funny” guys.  I’ve got a brother like that).  His book is: Doesn’t Hurt to Ask: Using the Power of Questions to Communicate, Connect, and PersuadeIt shot straight up on the New York Times list of best-selling business books (#2 in October). 

And, whether you are a Republican (his Party), or a Democrat – or a salesperson, or a leader in your community, or on a work team — you will find this book a true thought exercise, and something of a tutorial, on persuasion.

I presented my synopsis of this book at the October 2, 2020 First Friday Book Synopsis.

In my synopses, I provide comprehensive, multi-page synopses handouts.  Here are some of the key excerpts of my handout for this book.

What is the point? — People hold incomplete, or incorrect, or harmful, or dangerous, ideas and viewpoints. …Learning how to persuade is how we help people move forward in their own lives; and in our own. Learning to ask questions is a key element in our efforts to persuade.

Why is this book worth our time?  Here are my three reasons:

#1 – This book is filled with stories from some very specific arenas of persuasion; the courts, the congress; and life itself.
#2 – This book lays out the steps in the process of persuasion.  It is a thorough tutorial.
#3 – This book reminds us that we need to engage in self-persuasion before we seek to persuade others.

Here are a few of the Quotes and Excerpts from the book that I included in my handout – the “best of”Randy’s highlighted Passages:

• The most effective persuaders listen as much as they talk. The most effective persuaders ask as many questions as they answer. Asking questions, in the right way and at the right time, may well prove to be the most effective tool you have.
• I left the courtroom because the questions were better than the answers. I left Congress because the questions never matter in politics. Almost everyone in Washington, DC, already has his or her mind made up. …I do not recall a single person’s mind ever being changed during a committee or floor debate during the eight years I was in Congress.
• While I may be a cynic, much of persuasion is about idealism. It’s about open-minded people who can have meaningful dialogue about what it is they truly care about. 
• And that should be our objective in persuasion: striving to communicate and to move those with whom we are interacting. To move someone from a yes to a no. To move someone to a maybe. To move someone to see our side. To move someone to get a new angle and new perspective. To move them to feel what you feel, to see what you see, to think what you think. Move them to do what’s worthy, what’s good, and what’s right. Move them to hire you, to give you a chance, to give you more responsibility. Move someone to take a chance on your idea. Move someone to invest as much in what you are trying to do as you have invested.
• The minute you make a false declarative, you lose credibility with the person with whom you are talking or whoever might be listening. 
• There are so few things I fully understand. 
• The person you end up persuading may wind up being yourself, and sometimes that is the toughest jury of all. 
• Debating is science. Persuasion is art.
• First I ask myself, What do I know? Then, How do I know it? Last, What are the limits of my knowledge? 
• Learn how people think. Learn what motivates them. Learn what moves them. Learn what inspires them. Learn what scares them. Learn where they are. How they got there. And what it would take for them to move to something or somewhere else.  What do people want? What do they crave? Where do they derive meaning and worth? Juries are a collection of jurors.
• There is a reason I begin many sentences with “Are you open to…?” No one considers herself or himself to be closed. So of course they want to be “open.”  The burden of persuasion to get me to “consider” something or be “open” to something is much lower than getting me to accept or participate in something. That is true with most of us.
• What happens when we are insulted is that we become simultaneously defensive and aggressive.
In every congressional hearing I participated in, there was something I really hoped did not come up. • I believe in having a plan and I doubly believe in having a plan for the worst-case scenario. What is your plan?
• Silence is the greatest attention grabber in the world.
• When you are talking to a large group, remember that they are not listening as a large group. …But fundamentally people hear on an individual level.

Here are some of the key points from the book:

  • We are all in the persuasion business:
  • the need to competently process and communicate information toward a desired outcome is every bit as essential on your job site as it was on mine.
  • What is persuasion?
  • Persuasion is not about winning arguments—it’s about effectively and efficiently advocating for what it is you believe to be true.
  • Persuasion is about understanding what people believe and why they believe it and using that to either debunk or confirm their position. Persuasion is subtle, incremental, and deliberate. It has the potential to be life changing.
  • Getting someone to do something they were not planning on doing. Convincing someone to buy into something they never knew they were looking for. That is persuasion.
  • Persuasion – the “old way” – (declarative statements)
  • When it comes to the art of persuasion, we have typically been led to think of the following format: opening statement, make a point, state an argument. Then there’s a long stream of declarations, statements, affirmations, presentations, proclamations, pronunciations to slowly build an argument with as few holes as possible and as many powerful assertions as one can fit in a breath. That’s the traditional model. But what if there is a better way?
  • Persuasion – the “new way” – (asking questions)
  • Questions can gather the time, the information, and the interpersonal connectivity to persuade in ways that simply proclaiming what you believe cannot accomplish.
  • Gowdy’s main point:
  • since all persuasion is self-persuasion, then…
  • ask questions – a lot of questions – to help a “jury” arrive at the conclusion the persuader believes is correct. Therefore…
  • therefore, all questions were so that they could arrive at the truth of their own accord. … Most people can attempt to persuade by saying what they believe and why, but can you persuade by asking the right questions, at the right time, in the right order? More important, can you, in essence, have the person with whom you are talking convince themselves?
  • The Persuader and his/her Jury
  • every persuader has to identify, and then seek to persuade, the jury he/she faces
  • the jury has to be open-minded before there can be any hope of persuasion
  • “jurors” need to be people of humility; and open-mindedness THE MOST PERSUASIVE ARE THE PERSUADABLE
  • I’d spent most of my life growing up around similar kinds of people, but if you do not understand all people—people of varying backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, religious beliefs, experiences, and thought processes—you will never be an effective communicator.
  • Persuasion is incremental; step-by-step…
  • If you can remember one thing, remember that the art of persuasion is not about winning people over. It’s about bringing people closer together.
  • Think of persuasion as change. Think of persuasion as movement. Think of persuasion as incremental.
  • The steps of persuasion:
  • identify your objective, your purpose, your end goal.
  • know (or gather) all the relevant facts that undergird your position
  • spend some time considering the other side of the issue or request.
  • have a clear sense of whom, or which group, you are trying to move, persuade, or convince.
  • Now the calibration. (Burden of proof) — How much persuasion is enough to move the person on the point you are trying to make? Call it burden of proof.
  • Some practical disciplines:
  • Practice!!! — Every closing argument ever given in a courtroom was given pushing a lawnmower weeks before. I play it out in my head before it ever happens in real life.
  • Put your argument in the best possible order — One thing almost everyone will tell you is not to bury your best facts or arguments in the middle. …I would tell you to start with your very best fact first.
  • Develop greater empathy. — empathy is powerful. Empathy connects us. …So, sit down. Listen to real people. Know how they think. Know what they think. Know why they think it. And then—if at all possible—feel what they feel.
  • Cultivate sincerity — If you don’t believe what you are saying, no one else will.
  • Real emotion moves. Contrived emotion repels.
  • Be engaged — If you cannot be sincere—if you cannot be authentic—you can, at the very least, be engaged. You make eye contact. Your body language is welcoming, not repelling. You listen.
  • Be likable — Part of being likable is understanding human nature and those characteristics most of us share.
  • Never lie — The number one credibility killer when it comes to communicating your perspective to others is lying. Lying is not simply making a false statement. …The worst is to make an intentionally false statement that is material to a point in question, with the intent to deceive. People can, will, and do forgive almost anything in life. But they are loath to forgive an effort to intentionally mislead them on an important and material point.
  • Learn to use repetition effectively — But redundancy and repetition not only firmly imprint the information in the mind of the listener, they are also code for “This is important so I am going to say it over and over and over again.”

And here are my six lessons and takeaways:

#1 – You could be wrong about some things – even some very important things. (And, so could I).
#2 – You will not change for the better if you are not open-minded.
#3 – You will not change for the better if you are not listening to people who can help you make such moves toward change.
#4 – You will not help others change for the better if you do not help them arrive at their own reasons to shift, and move, and change.
#5 – Questions really matter.  Ask questions.  Many questions. Start with questioning yourself.
#6 – And, in all matters, tell the truth; never lie. This is foundational.

This is a fun book to read.  And it will remind you of the power of asking good questions, from the perspective both of trying to persuade others, and of genuinely wanting to learn.  And, the power of listening.  I encourage you to check out the insights in this useful book.

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And I included this footnote in my handout: revisiting Aristotle, and the ancients —

  • logos – the logical appeal (get the facts right)
  • ethos – the ethical appeal (the credibility of the persuader)
  • pathos – the emotional appeal (the emotion/passion of the persuader; the emotion used to appeal to the audience)
  • {mythos – the narrative appeal}

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You can watch a video of my synopsis presentation, recorded from our event, on YoutubeClick here to access that video.

And, you can purchase my synopsis, with the audio recording of my presentation, and my comprehensive, mutli-page synopsis handout, on this website.  We have many, many synopses to choose from.  Click on “buy synopses” to search through book titles.  Or, click here for our newest additions.  (This synopsis will be uploaded soon).