Spotlight or Area light?

We have been doing “Spotlight on the Art of…” for 3 books now, We have 3 in the works: 2 that are not Spotlight books and one that spotlights Fear, and we’re in the conception phase of another one. You have been to plays and concerts where they had a follow spot on the main players. In using a spotlight you are illuminating a “spot” on the stage.

If you are running the light, you really HOPE that your artist is Standing in that light. My friend, Ruth, was an expert in follow spot, and her favorite saying was, “If there’s a dark spot on the stage, my guy will find it.” The problem with using a follow spot is that performers and actors especially tend to move about the set. The director does the blocking saying, “You must be at This spot at This point in the scene.” Now how the actor gets to that spot is somewhat an adventure. Ideally, the follow spot operator is in on the rehearsal and has the notes on the blocking. Why? Because if you FOLLOW the actor, you MISS the actor. You have to anticipate his moves so you’re not trying to catch up to him.

What does this have to do with writing? When you set your theme for your book, and choose the main point, you are effectively putting a spotlight on it. You add the characters or the information you want to include to bring your readers’ attention to the thing standing in the spotlight.

Area Lighting

You do NOT spread out the spotlight so it’s an area light in order to include everything you’re writing. There are some things in your book that are interesting but not vital. There are things that are not essential that may pull your audience’s attention away from the spotlight. This may be useful in a mystery. If you do not want the readers to guess the ending, you do not put too much foreshadowing or too many hints in. You don’t want them to solve the mystery before they’re half way into the book! But if you’re trying to guide people to a conclusion and make a point, you need to keep that spotlight small and evident.

Maintaining focus

In the International Speech contest for Toastmasters, one of the techniques the winners use is a “tag line” that keeps pointing to the spotlight of their speeches. You can do that in your book as well. You must have a purpose in your book. It can be to simply entertain, or to make a point, or to discover another level of awareness in the reader. If you have your purpose firmly in mind, figure out a reminding device that keeps people’s focus on what you’re spotlighting.

A reminding device can be as simple as a recurring phrase, “I had never noted his shifty eyes before.”  It can be a location or description, “Nothing ever good came of a new moon, and tonight was no exception.”  It could be a recurring character, “When I was low, Bob, you were there.  When I broke my leg, you were there.  When my dog died, you were there.  Bob?  You’re a jinx!”  Remember, you’re always trying to focus your readers’ attention to the main point of your book.

When you have written your first draft, take a look at how many times people can see the focus of your story.  Are you getting to the point?  Do they know it?!  Then you’re off to a great start!


Thoughts on Persistence

Have you ever watched a child who is learning to walk?

She first pulls herself up using the couch or a table leg, then turns and takes a step. Or two.

BAM! Down she goes.

What occurs next is a minor miracle – she pulls herself up and tries again!

Eventually, she succeeds! (and the peace of the household is forever gone.)

What’s happening here?

The baby shows resilience, the ability to get back up after she falls.

She also shows persistence, the ability to keep going after the fall.

You may have heard that insanity is repeating the same actions while expecting different results.

Clearly our baby is doing something that allows her to, ultimately, succeed!

I believe she is learning from her experience and applying what she learns to do better the next time.

That, in a nutshell, is the theme of my chapter in Resilience.

If you want to be resilient, you need two things: persistence and planning. Persistence to help you regain your feet when you lose balance and planning to help you move forward toward your goal.

— Presented at the Bookworm in Omaha, Nebraska, August 19, 2017

Where Ideas Are Born

We were sitting at the local Panera and discussing the idea of writing a BOOK! (I was there for the food and because my spouse wants to move into professional speaking. Personally, I like where I am. I’m a computer programmer; I sit is a cubical most of the day and interact with my computer. The computer dutifully does as I tell it; most of the time it even does what I want it to do! My interest in professional speaking is oriented toward helping others, including my spouse, in their quest.)

At one point, our editor looked straight at me and asked “Mark, what’s your chapter about?” Up to that point, I hadn’t given the idea any thought, so I mumbled something along the line of “I’ve heard several people speaking recently and I can’t compare.” (One speech was by a rape survivor; a second speaker had recovered from a serious automobile accident. You get the idea.) “My best story is about the time my pine wood derby car not only lost the race, it failed to start!” In response, our editor asked “What did you learn from that?”

Thus was born the idea for my chapter in Spotlight on the Art of Grace: “Turning Life Experiences into Learning Experiences.”

There is, of course, a chasm between an idea, an experience, and a title to an actual chapter!

What should an aspiring author do to get started?

You can do what I did; pick a topic from your experience, find a group of writers who can offer mutual support, and , above all else, start writing. Don’t worry about selling the book! Pick a story, write a chapter, finish the book. All else will be taken care of.


When writing a book, a speech, a song, or blog or any type of communication to members of the community, the presentation can make or break your message.  Picture a Lobster dinner with pasta and a lovely green vegetable.  Can you see it on the plate?  Are you starting to drool?  What happens when you take the lobster meat, the butter, the pasta and the lovely green vegetable and throw it in a blender 1st.  Is this something you want to eat?  YIKES NO!!!!  The presentation of the food is what opens up our senses of smell and sight and gets our salivary glands working and our tummies prepared for a marvelous feast.

You first have to capture the imagination.  You have to make people curious enough to take the next step…take a bite, turn the page, get out the notebooks, get out the checkbooks.  In Toastmasters master speeches, they say something loud or shocking, or present a question to the audience; then they introduce their topic with a few tantalizing statements and finally say, “Mister Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters and honored guests…”  The writer has an opening line, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…”  The song writer starts with an introduction.  Even if you are writing a text book, your tester needs to be captivated on opening the book.  If you bore the teacher, the class will fall asleep.

I went to a seminar on mentorship.  What catchy opening were we, the audience, expecting?  I don’t know.  Some were expecting a story about how the speaker met his mentor.  Some were expecting a statement or a story about why mentoring is important to seek out.  Some were thinking they might get some how-to tips on how to mentor other people.  The expectations were all over the field.  We were surprised.  He opened up with his background, where he lived and where he grew up.  It didn’t serve any purpose except give us information about him that was not germane to the topic.  That lasted nearly 5 min and it was supposed to give us some insight into his background so we could connect.  At this point, some of us were not sure we wanted to connect with this guy.  He hadn’t said anything that would make us want to turn the page.

He then spent a good 10 minutes on the first section of his hand out.  He was using the 6 human needs that Tony Robbins teaches in his seminars.  He had them divided into 2 columns, and he had 1 word and its “mystery” companion on each row.  The companion word just had a first letter followed by a set of blanks and he spent a good deal of time trying to get us to guess the word he was thinking.  “Think of a word of 7 letters that starts with V and is the opposite of Certainty.”  He was in a room full of Toastmasters.  We know a plethora of ‘V’ words that could be used as opposites for Certainty.  So after a minute of so of guessing, he finally gave us the word. He then did the same thing with Connection.  The last word, Growth, he wanted a word starting with C that would enhance the meaning of the word.  He did the same exercise in the Toastmasters meeting he was invited to the next day.  One person actually guessed the V word because she was a crossword enthusiast.  He was surprised.  This tells me that NOBODY guesses the words.  What was the point of the guessing game?  Was it to improve our vocabulary?  Was it to change our perspective?  Was it to bring out a point in mentoring? It did none of those things.  In fact, 2 days later, people who’d gone to the seminar did not remember the words.

The second part of his presentation had to do with actions teams should be able to do to be successful.  The most interesting thing about one of his points, trust, was in the 5 levels of trust.  That wasn’t on his worksheet.  He then did an exercise in edification. He played the part of the intermediate manager and had a new low level manager that was just learning the ropes and had questions and the top manager who’d been in the business for a long time.  The first conversation was between him and the low level manager where he edified the top manager.  He then introduced the low level manager to the top level manager and then said, “Go.”  What is the point of introducing a low level manager to the upper level manager?

  1. It gives the low level manager the feeling of being valued
  2. It breaks down the wall between the low and high level manager so they see it’s a team effort
  3. It gives the high level manager a feeling for the newest member.

What he didn’t do is give these objectives to the upper level manager.  She didn’t know what the ultimate goal of the introduction was.

  1. You want to take in the qualities of the newest manager.
  2. You want them to go to their immediate manager instead of bypassing them to get the best information and clogging your day with things that could be handled further down the line.
  3. You want the intermediate manager to take a leading role in teaching and mentoring this new manager.

When he introduced the lower manager to the upper manager, she thought she was supposed to answer all the questions of the lower manager.  She didn’t, therefore, edify the middle manager and actually did the opposite.  The assumption of the lower manager was then that the middle manager didn’t know anything and just passed questions up to the top dog and was a middle manager because he didn’t qualify to do anything else.  Would this lower manager be more or less likely to go to the middle manager for wisdom and knowledge?  As far as the presenter was concerned, this upper level manager completely failed in the exercise.

He ran out of time on the third part of his presentation.  We never did get the connection between what he presented and mentoring.  He did not make clear the use of the worksheet in mentoring.  There were no examples or stories about how this information applied to mentoring.  Did I take notes?  Certainly.  Will I use this information?  I have to fix it first.


Practicing your story

I love to tell stories!  Things that happen to me, things that happen to my friends and family, things that amuse me, and things that come to me in my sleep are all fodder for my stories.  I have a story about room service.  I have all sorts of stories about my travels and adventures.

I was recently at a big event in Orlando where I got certified as a John Maxwell teacher/trainer/coach, and one of the activities was standing up and introducing myself to my table mates in a 5 minute speech.  I had told this story to my family, then to my toastmaster club, and eventually to all of my friends.  I published this story on FaceBook.  I had to tell it that many times to refine it.  I found areas of description that did not advance the story and cut them out.  I found conversations and streamlined them to make them an integral part of the story.  I looked for ways to hold off the end of the story so it would come as a surprise.  I crafted the words for the most impact.  Mark Twain once said, “If it is a ten-minute speech it takes me all of two weeks to prepare it; if it is a half-hour speech it takes me a week; if I can talk as long as I want to it requires no preparation at all. I am ready now.”  Once I have my story just the way I like it, I rarely change my delivery.  My choice for this project was “Don’t worry, I’m a Professional!” and it was a humorous look at my adventures at the last Big Event where I broke my hip.  It came in at 4:47 and I got all kinds of good reviews.

You have to listen to where people laugh.  You have to listen to your delivery.  You have to watch the people in your audience to see when you need to slow down or speed up.  Are they getting the point of the story?  This is a 5 minute speech.  A book is a 5 minute speech stretched out to 3-5 days.  Craft each scene carefully–each character, the setting, the dialog.  You cannot be careless lest you run yourself into a rabbit hole you cannot escape.  Write down your inspirations and expand on them.  Write down your stories and then look at them with a critical eye.  Does it conform to your plot?  Does it get a good reaction from the reader?  What do you want to accomplish with this paragraph?

Craft your stories as you would a vase.  Don’t leave anything to chance, and do not assume you can just wing it and get it right.

What’s on your mind? Write it down!

What IS on your mind?  You have a story you just have to write because you cannot share it one on one with everyone fast enough. You have an issue that needs to be in the forefront of everyone’s mind. You have a ground breaking idea. You have a hero you want to write about. There is something on your mind that you cannot share unless you write it!

Then you sit down to your blank page and write the 1st sentence. Then you erase it. Then you try again, and again, and again. How do you start?  How do you get what’s on your mind on paper?

Every writer goes through a different process. There are some that have not only the 1st sentence but the whole 7-book series blocked out in their heads! There are some that are stream-of-consciousness and just sit down and write, and later organize it. In between those extremes, there are a plethora of different processes. You cannot assume everyone writes the same way. But you have to start somewhere.

The first thing many do is get down on paper the main reason they need to write this story.  Is it to explore a character?  Is it to change someone’s mind?  Is it to place beings into a new and alien setting?  Is it to instruct?  I know one writer that uses this model exactly, and then writes an outline and keeps adding detail until his book is done.  Then he erases the I’s and the II’s and the A,B, and C’s of his outline.  Another author writes down what’s on his mind: the subject of his book.  Then he goes off on bunny trails and collects his stories and illustrations.  He next eliminates or at least puts aside the parts that are irrelevant to his subject, organizes and reorganizes these pieces until he has what he wants.

“That Guy” is a cute little fellow in bright yellow Hawaiian shorts and an unmatching shirt that stands on his front lawn watering his flowers and waving at everyone that drives by.  We will take him through several scenarios and see that in the end, he is a very wise man.

So you think you’re a leader because you are the one with the whip?  After reading this book, people will take a new approach to leadership.  We take a look at who real leaders are and why they command their followers so well.

It was just hours before the second sun would rise and it was already hot.  What kind of challenges would humans face on an extraterrestrial planet with two suns?  We will explore different challenges and aspects of life in a non Earth environment.

Which end do you blow into?  We will explore the first steps in learning to play guitar and be delighted that we don’t have to blow into anything!

Try coming up with some things you’d like to write about on a legal pad and why you want to write them.  See what happens!

Resilience vs. Persistence

This was an interesting conversation:  Can you have Resilience without Persistence?  Can you have Persistence without Resilience?  Are they interdependent?

Let’s assume that you are reading this because you are or want to become a leader.  Does an organization or a corporation need resilience?  It would be difficult to be successful without having faced and conquered some setbacks.  When would you need resilience?  Financial challenges?  Staffing challenges?  Economics of the area?  Time commitment problems?  Let us look at some of these.

Let’s say that you have a good organization going.  You have committed people, a great vision, and goals you can reach…until a financial fiasco happens.  Your treasurer suspiciously takes a trip to the Bahamas and isn’t planning to come back.  You are not ever going to get that money back.  Do you throw up your hands?  Some do.

What if you have a great product and all the resources you need to produce it, and cannot get anyone willing to work for commission to sell it.  How do you recruit people to commit themselves and their time to working for your company?  What if, after many months of success, your best sales person is lured to another company for a more stable income?  How do you fill that hole?!

What happens if you have a great group of people that love getting together and learning some skills and performing, and the national organization raises its dues?  Will your membership shrink because of the economics?  What if you sell luxury items and the bottom drops out of the local economy?  How do people afford your products?

If you want your group to survive, it must be persistent, and it must be resilient.  To be resilient, the goal has to be worth something to the people who pursue it.  When a ball bounces, it flattens when it hits the ground and then, in regaining its shape, it ALMOST returns to its starting position.  In regaining its shape, the energy moves it back up.  If it doesn’t regain its shape, it is splattered all over the sidewalk.  The resilience comes 1st.  But in order to get back to its starting position, it has to continue to add energy when it comes to the apex of its trajectory.  Something has to keep boosting the ball or it never gets all the way back up.  That would be persistence.

The resilience of the organization with the missing treasurer begins when the group decides it will replace the money by raising funds in some way:  soliciting donations, garage/bake sales, performing a service of some kind would slowly bring up the treasury of the group.  Do the vision and the goals expressed by the group move them to act on these suggestions?  Only if they mean enough.  If the group decides it is worth the effort, persistence kicks in to help them continue even if it looks improbable that their projects will ever succeed.

In the scenario involving staffing after the best salesman quits, the resilience comes in when you bring the matter before the other members of the team.  They must be convinced that the effort involved in doing commission work will be worth it.  What are the rewards of getting paid directly for your efforts?  Can you earn more than someone that relies on a salary?  YES!  Can you earn less?  yes. Can you work your own schedule?  YES!  Can you not work your own schedule?  yes.  Can you work your own schedule on a salary?  No.  Can you not work the schedule you’re handed on a salary?  Definitely Not.  Do you have the choice here?  YES!  Do you have the choice there? NO!  Then you give the same speech to your prospective employees.  The ones that opt for safety will not be good at commission work.  You must restore the faith in the group to regain the “shape” of your group, and then be persistent in recognition of your current crew and in hiring and training new people.  Resilience first, followed by persistence.

If you cannot affect the economics of your area, you have to be resilient enough to handle setbacks such as rising dues or a diminishing market, and creative enough to find solutions that will keep the spirit of your people up.  Once the resilience kicks in, the persistence keeps it going.

He could have quit.  He should have quit.  The resilience inside him got him to a standing position, and he hopped and limped down the track.  His hamstring was torn.  The recovery time for a torn hamstring is 3-6 months and surgery.  He’d be lucky to get back to a condition where he could run competitively again.  He knew he couldn’t win, but winning at that point was not the goal.  Crossing the finish line was the goal.  Finishing the race to the best of his ability was the goal.  But as you can see, he had support.  His dad gave him the courage and the will to persist to the finish line despite excruciating pain.

People will persist if they can see the goal is worth it.  They will be resilient if they know they have the support of those around them.  They will work to succeed because what gets them into the group or the corporation is what keeps them working toward the goal.  The desire to help someone, the need to be appreciated for work well done, and the compensation and the rewards/bonuses have an effect on their families.

Resilience and Persistence go hand in hand.  You can be resilient, bouncing back time after time from setbacks, but without persistence, you just get tired and quit.  You can be persistent and continue to work for a goal, but every setback will put you further behind, and unable to regain your “shape”–your goal and your desire to reach it, it will be easier and easier to quit.  To Truly be successful, you must have both resilience and persistence working together.

Business Essentials: Know Your Value!

Know your value The Story

I’d like to share with you a quick story about your business and why you need to know your value.  It is my hope that by reading this, you may be more willing to understand and demand what you are worth.

A colleague and I were sitting down with a potential client not long ago.  This person had heard that we had recently written a book and wanted our help in writing one.  Of course, we are happy to help people to write a book, but we also consider it a service to the client to ensure that what we do is actually going to benefit the client.  In accordance with good practice, we had a long conversation to try and isolate the desired outcomes for the planned book project.

After some discussion, we began to realize that the client has developed a highly specialized skill set in a very close knit industry.  There are generally only a few dozen practitioners of this particular service.  The client’s boss had carefully crafted a set of processes that could be employed for tremendous value in uncommon but critical moments.  The boss was widely known and respected and, consequently, had great demands upon his time.  Our prospective client had approached the boss about capturing these skills in a book.  The boss had indicated that the idea had merit, but indicated that due to the demands on his time, he couldn’t write the book himself, and he challenged our prospective client to write the book.

And that is how we came to have this conversation.  Our client wanted to create a book describing how the firm did what they did.  It was at this point that my colleague and I both started recognizing some real concerns about the business case for the book project.  We found it unwise to provide detailed descriptions of the “secret sauce” of their corporate expertise.  I was trying to draw the client’s attention to the value proposition of book idea.  In any business, it is important to know your value.  But after raising our concerns, our client didn’t seem to understand the basis of our concerns.

Undeterred, I tried to illustrate our concern in the following way:

I asked, “How long has your boss been performing this service?”

“Ten years.”

I then asked for the boss’s hourly rate.

“$175 an hour.”

“So, assuming a conservative workload of 40 hours a week for 50 weeks a year, we can estimate your boss works at least 2000 hours a year.  He’s been doing this for 10 years and at an hourly rate of $175 an hour, this means that your boss’s experience and expertise could be fairly valued at least $3.5 million dollars—and here you want to give away that much value for the cost of a paperback.

After that comment, our client’s face looked confused—struggling to grasp the significance of the comment.

I continued, “Listen, I think it is a great thing that you want to pass on useful and specialized skills to others in your industry.  It’s obvious that this will benefit them.  All we’re saying that it should work for you, too.  Don’t you think that the value you offer is worth more than the cost of a book?”  We then went on to talk about creating educational content for participants at a more favorable price point.


The point of the lesson is that it is vitally important to appropriately value your offering.  Not only is this a function of one’s realization of the economic value of what you have to offer, but also to have the self-esteem necessary to demand appropriate compensation for that value.

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.


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