Finding the Right Dynamic

We in ABC are so happy on the publishing of our 1st book!  It’s not because it flew off the shelves, and not because it made the NY Times Best Seller list.  It is because the dynamic of the group has propelled us into sequels!  We already have titles for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th installment on the Grace series and are deep into our second book:  Spotlight on the art of Resilience.  As you may have heard from other leadership books, the physical/mental/spiritual goals that we set for ourselves are not the end of the quest.  It is what we become to achieve them that is important.  I personally have seen amazing changes in each participant of this writing collaboration.  We have all grown in many ways by writing this book.

What changes did we see?

Our wall flower grew by learning new skills such as formatting, proof reading, editing, moderating and project management!  What was her reward?  The book is listed as Spotlight on the Art of Grace by JONES.  Yes, she got her name in capital letters on the binding of the book!  Her husband learned how to stretch his thoughts from 600-700 word sound bites to thoughts going deeper and more descriptive requiring 5000 words to communicate.  One learned the art of organizing her thoughts into coherent, understandable, and cohesive progressions to best get her point across instead of through-composing and letting her thoughts develop as she writes.  I learned to concentrate my efforts into making a single point at a time to support a general idea.  Regardless of what we did to grow, it was How we accomplished the growth that launched the thoughts of sequels and bigger projects.

What was different about this dynamic

The dynamic of this group, the ABC, is quite unique.  I have been a member of many groups:  sorority, musical groups large and small, Toastmaster clubs and leadership teams, my team at my place of business, my church, and my bible study.  The only group that has come close to this was my bible study and then not on this scale.  What is different with this group?

First of all, we had a common goal: to becoming accomplished professional speakers.  Are you surprised?  We went to seminar after seminar, and we had numerous one on one conversations with successful speakers…the kinds of people we wanted to emulate.  The one thing they all said was, “Write a book!”  That shot a lot of us down.  We soldiered on trying to find ways to get to our goal by sharing information we each had.  One had expertise in technology and publishing.  One had expertise in marketing and promotion.  Another had expertise in entrepreneurship and business with emphasis in law and finance.  Each member had a unique gift to share with the others.  The dynamic held us together.

Secondly, we had common experiences.  We were all Toastmasters and had participated in many different aspects of the program.  Nearly all of the members of this have attained the designation of Distinguished Toastmaster.  All of us have served the district in leadership positions.  We had experienced the dynamics of leadership for ourselves, and saw positive and negative dynamics in the organizations we were serving.

Thirdly, we had a desire that focused our emotions into one laser beam of thought:  we did not want to be anonymous or conform to what was around us.  We knew we could not rise above our current situations to become professional speakers if we didn’t stand out.  The dynamics of a group of people striving for a common goal with feeling and desire that could not be denied kept us coming back to our meetings.  There were times that we felt we were going through withdrawal when we didn’t meet!

We had declared our enemy:  conformity and anonymity!  We declared war on average.  One of the events we all participated in became the spark that set ablaze the dynamic of this particular group.

I believe that this dynamic is unique to any group that doesn’t have these three things: common goals, experiences, and emotions.  And it will not move us to action unless we have a declared enemy:  one that is equal in power and strength and intelligence.

Because IN this dynamic group of people are engineers, musicians, philosophers, psychological thinkers, politicians, young and old.  But we all have this spark within us that tells us we can accomplish anything now.  We have written a book TOGETHER, a task we were not likely to have taken on had we not had the dynamics in this group.

Is this dynamic reproducible?  I don’t know.  Will it grow to something much bigger?  Who knows?   Get on board though, it’s going to be quite a ride!


I’m Sorry: The Art of the Apology

NOTE: This is the text of a speech I will be delivering to my Toastmasters Club this evening, but I wrote it with all of you in mind.  (SPOILER ALERT for those who would rather hear it first this evening.)

The thoughts expressed below are my own and should be not be seen as representing the thoughts of the Alternative Book Club or its members.

Pain, Fear and Bile

Fellow Toastmasters.  I have honestly struggled with what to say in this this evening.  Never in my adult lifetime have I seen such a need for people to know how to make peace.  This has been a rough week for us all, but I’ve been tortured what I have seen erupt between people I care for over the course of the past seven days.  This week has laid bare the deep emotional wounds of people all across this nation.  From the streets of Baltimore to the hills of West Virginia, from the maelstrom of the college campus in Oregon to the dark and deserted factory floor in Michigan, people are hurting.  The pain out there is palpable.  Fear is all over my Facebook feed.  There is bile between my best of friends.

If there is anything that Toastmasters has taught me, it’s that, words are powerful.  And few things are more powerful than the words that bring about healing and reconciliation.

Healing and Reconciliation

One of the things my chapter talks about is the concept of unfinished business—those raw emotional wounds that we have yet to heal with our brothers.  Sadly, I think much of the unfinished business in our nation cannot achieve closure, because the truly evil perpetrators of American atrocities have long since passed away.  Whether it is the abomination of slavery, the brutality of manifest destiny, the waging of war upon our own citizens, the United States, like every nation, has dark elements of its history.

There simply is no way for the villains of the past to apologize for the crimes perpetrated against others.  There will be no closure, no healing, no reconciliation.  That chance for redemption is past.  But, another item I talk about in my chapter is the concept of apologizing on behalf of who you represent and apologize to the extent of your responsibility.  So I ask that you allow me to do that.  To black Americans, on behalf of my country, which once gave legitimacy of holding people in bondage and subsequently treated them brutally, I’m sorry.  To my native American brothers, I’m sorry for the lack of trustworthiness and brutality that my government has shown you over more than two centuries.  To my friends in the LGBTQ community, I’m sorry for the centuries of shame and silence that you have had to endure.  To my lady friends, on behalf of the line of men going back millennia, I’m sorry it took so long to fully integrate you in public life.

Monsters of Today and Yesteryear

As I’ve said, I teach in my chapter that it is important to apologize up to the extent of your responsibility, but no further.  I acknowledge the sins of my ancestors, but I do not accept the guilt of their crimes.  Their sins are not my sins.  People who pretend that they are will invite backlash, as we have seen.  Today’s monsters should be rightfully condemned and I join with you in their condemnation.  However, it’s sometimes easy to forget that the reason we recognize monsters for what they are is because they are so rare, and that’s a very comforting thought.


Our politicians and our pundits like to talk about issues—women’s issues, minority issues, class issues.  In this petty bickering about who’s issues need to be addressed and in what order, it’s easy to forget that we all have challenges and that we will continue to fail to come together to face those challenges if we don’t take the time to listen to each other or pretend that “their problems” aren’t really problems.  I admit that I have not been subjected to frequent harassment from neighbors, but I have been in places that had me looking over my shoulder and I have been physically attacked on neighborhood streets.  I admit that I’ve never been pulled over for “driving while black”, but I have been pulled over for “driving while young and male,” which is also a thing.  I admit that I haven’t been the victim of systemic racial inequality or sexism, but I have been in interviews, where it was clear that my race and sex were a dis-qualifier for the position I was seeking.  Twenty years ago, in a world history class, a large majority of students chose to give oral reports on the patriarchy and systemic misogyny.  No one seemed concerned when I said I was dropping the class “because of the irony”.  The environment for people who look like me on many college campuses is more hostile than 20 years ago. I’ve been victim of a layoff 4 times.  I’ve had to deal with times of personal trial.  I’ve had to deal with personal loss that no decent person in the world should ever have to.  Yet, the message from many out there is that the problems of people who look like me aren’t real.   And that is unfortunate.

I share these stories, not because I want to gain sympathy points with you, but rather to engage with you, to show that I can empathize with you, and to perhaps break bread with you as we discover ways to tackle the challenges that plague us both.  The sooner we discover that our interests are much closer than many of us expect or others want us to believe, the better.

A Better Future

I’ll close with a bit of foreshadowing.  In our next collaboration, a key part of my chapter will be centered on the topic of optimism.  No matter if you liked or disliked the outcome of last Tuesday’s election, we all should be happy that we live in the times that we do.  Despite hysterical claims to the contrary, we don’t live in the 1860s, 1930s, or the 1960s, we are blessed to be living in the 20-teens.  Not that we don’t still have some deep problems that need to be addressed, but we should look back and see how far we have come.  Look at the faces in this room!  Just in the past few months, we’ve been able to collaborate on things in ways that would have been unthinkable 100 years ago.  So long as we can continue to do that—to work together despite our differences, physical, philosophical, and ideological, we can still be proud of our nation.

For those of you who are scared or hurting out there, I’m sorry.  But the sun comes out.  Never forget that the good people in this world far outnumber the bad.

For those out there who feel they have been silenced or made to think their problems aren’t real, I’m sorry.  I will continue to do what I can to help you to find your voice and make sure it’s heard.

And for the haters out there who think America’s best days are behind her, I’m sorry, but this nation will continue to surprise and inspire the world, even if the world doesn’t understand the meaning of events in the short term.

This nation is a wonder and I’m happy to be in it.   No apologies.


If you are interested in hearing more about The Art of the Apology, you’ll find more in Spotlight on the Art of Grace.


Where do you go from here?

The deeper question is where is “here?”  It can be a location or a state of mind.  Sometimes “here” is both a location and a state of mind.  Are you where you want to be in your life?  Have you lost your way to the place you wanted to be at this point in your life?  Are you in Schenectady?  When we look at our location based on visual or mental cues, we can get confused.

I was on my way to church Sunday and along side of the road, there was the most magnificent display of fall color trees!  I quickly got out my camera and snapped a picture then uploaded it and sent it to my kids.  No one knew where I took the picture.  They asked me if I was on a road trip.  Each of my children has grown up and lived quite a while in this town, yet they didn’t recognize the area where I took the picture.  How does that work in the life journey?  Where is “here?”

If you look around and see your friends and your equipment and your office and feel happy, then “here” is not a bad place to be.  What if you fear for your job?  What if you are working in a career that has nothing to do with your field of study?  What if you dread going to your office, and you watch the clock thinking, “If only I hadn’t given up on my dream to be a…” You are definitely off track.  Does that mean you are broken?  Do you need to be fixed?

What is real change?

People fear change and often stay in the “here” even if they hate it.  What would happen if people saw the word “change” and it meant strengthening some attribute you already have in abundance? What attitude would people adopt if they knew they had the creativity, the resourcefulness, and the adventure within them to go as far as high and as fast as they wanted?  If you are in a position where you are looking to find a mentor or a coach, and you have the presupposition that whomever you choose is going to throw out the old you and rebuild you in their image, no Wonder you don’t want to start!  What you want is a coach.

What is the difference?  A mentor shows you how he/she did what they did.  The assumption there is that you have come to this “here” by the same path they did, had the same education, the same experiences, the same failures and successes.  This is most unlikely.  You have come to where you are by YOUR education.  Even if you took the same classes and read the same books, you have not had the same education your mentor has had.  Two people can read a book and get completely different lessons.  Even if you had the same teacher, if you had this class years apart from your mentor, the teacher has changed with age, the material has changed, and you may have been at a different place in your personal development than your mentor.

It is not possible for anyone to have the same experiences in their lives.  You don’t have the same parents, the same schools, the same activities as anyone else.  Your failures and successes will be dependent on how much risk you took on, how you responded to the situations, and how, based on your experiences and education, you proceeded through these trials to ultimately fail or succeed.  Working with a mentor is very helpful as long as you can recognize the short-comings.

A coach’s first task is to help you find out where your “here” is.  What do you like?  What do you need?  Why do you like and need these things?  How can you get to your goal?  Is it a physical place, mental place, or spiritual place?  Is it a relationship?  What kind of strengths do you already have?  How can those help you?  Eventually you find out where you are!  Then you need to figure out where you want to be.  This is within you, not to be gleaned from anyone around you.

Figuring out your “There”

It is to be implicit that once you know where “here” is, then “there” can be fixed in your head.  What do you want to be in the next few years?  You choose a goal not to set an end point, but because of what it will make of you to achieve it.  You must be worthy of the goal, and the goal must be worthy of you.  In the process of your coaching experience, “here” will progress along a set of action steps you take to get you closer to your goal.  It will not be a straight line, but the journey will be amazing.  Your coach will act as your radar.  Are you on task?  Are you heading the right direction?  Have you come across a situation you didn’t anticipate?  Your coach will help you by asking questions so that you can determine what your next step is.  If you determine it, wouldn’t you be more likely to go after it?  Of course!

The answer, then, to “Where do you go from here?” is obviously…”There!”  Take the first step in your journey!