In Honour of the Prescient Langston Hughes

Today is the anniversary of poet Langston Hughes birth.  I’m sure many of you know him and his works, but there are 3 poems of Mr. Hughes that I have loved for years. The first was introduced to me by my sister when we were in high school. Never a big poetry fan, this poem was short and sweet and to the point, and most important, I got it! In my very literal mind, it was profound AND easy and stuck with me ever since:

DREAMS

Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow.

 

The next two came from a small pamphlet I got in one of my careers/jobs — either while at The White House or at ABC News/Nightline.

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This little book contains 9 poems that, through the years, have meant something different and revealed new truths every time I read them.

In today’s world, this one carries so much meaning:

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These words stick with me: There is a dream in the land\With its back against the wall.\ By muddled names and strange\Sometimes the dream is called.\\There are those who claim\This dream for theirs alone — \A sin for which we know\They must atone.

And further down: The dream knows no frontier or tongue,\The dream no class or race.\The dream cannot be kept secure\In any one looked place.\\This dream today embattled,\With its back against the wall –\\To save the dream for one\It must be saved for ALL –\Our dream of freedom!

I think all people in the United States and the U.K. can appreciate and understand this poem — and its relevance — in today’s world.

But a longer poem he wrote is equally as profound and prescient. Titled “Let America Be America Again”, it was originally published in the July 1936 issues of Esquire magazine. In this poem, Hughes contrasts his hopes for America with the true reality of life amongst social and economic outcasts. As he saw it, there were dominant groups (racial, economic, social, religious) and the wedge between those who were “in” and those who were “out” had only grown to a breaking point. Reading it again brings to mind the civil and economic unrest I see in both the US and UK today.

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A poet worth remembering, whose words seep into you and stay with you as they reach deeper and deeper levels. I leave you with one last poem, a man whose birth, and life, and death, should be honoured.

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DAVOS’ CARBON FOOTPRINT?

I feel like Davos has started to turn into the White House Correspondents Dinner where it becomes — for many — just a place to see and be seen (started? some say it’s been this way for a while).  An opportunity to feel self-important and rub shoulders with world leaders and celebrities alike, all touting their causes.  Don’t get me wrong — if I got an invite of course I’d go. But it is a bit of a bubble, isn’t it? Who’s been invited to whose party? Did you see Bono? What about Justin Trudeau? Is Elton John going to Tina Brown’s party? What about the Clintons or Macron?

Participants would say there is a lot of good being done for the world at the World Economic Forum’s annual meetings nestled in this alpine Swiss ski resort town. Historically, they are right. There have been memorable moments or key policy breakthroughs: in 1992 when Mandela attended with de Klerk, or in 1994 when Arafat and Peres reached an agreement on Gaza and Jericho (which I remember as I was working for Gergen in the Clinton White House at the time and this was ahead of the Peace Treaty Signing on the South Lawn).  And WEF over the decades has contributed to huge policy changes globally.  But now, I get the impression that it’s more pomp and circumstance than real commitments and change.

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A private jet burns as much fuel in one hour as a car does in a year

But what really gets my goat is people not committing personally to causes they ascribe to globally.  Change starts on our own doorsteps. Stop talking about it and do it.  The climate change issue has been a big one with WEF for decades. But that doesn’t stop the 3,000 participants (plus all their entourages this bloats to around 15,000) from taking private jets, helicopters, limousines and SUV’s to get there.  The theme of the week, “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World”, sorta says it all doesn’t it? So fractured that they cannot see how they are adding to the very problems they are discussing.

Grist analysed the estimated carbon footprint of all the participants in 2013 and how much each would have produced to get to Davos.  They used a figure of .21 kilograms per passenger per kilometre for a flight, and 22 kilograms for a three-hour train trip, per person. The total CO2 emissions just for travel by the participants to get there was estimated at 2,520 metric tonnes. Not a huge amount in the scheme of things, but with a global urge to reduce fossil fuels, this doesn’t jibe. And this analysis doesn’t include anyone else (entourage, travelling staff) or anything used outside of plane and train travel.

In 2015, it was reported that there were 1700 private jets flying to/from Zurich (closest airport). To put into perspective, a private jet burns as much fuel in one hour as a car does in a year. This year reports show that number is closer to just over 1,000 which, if true, is a good reduction.  But still the number of private jets arriving at local airports has spiked from an average of 65 flights/day to 218.

I don’t necessarily blame the participants, either.  WEF is as much – if not more so – responsible for changing this irresponsible personal habit (or luxury to the rest of us). Why not move the location to somewhere more easily accessible and not so tiny? They could require participants to carpool (or jet-share, if that’s a term). Hey! Cate Blanchett! Got room in your limo for one more? Prince Turki, President Joko Widodo of Indonesia needs a ride back. Could he hitch a ride on your private plane?

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They could work with Swiss authorities to charter special trains to bring the participants up the mountain en masse. They could ask participants who are renting SUV’s or limos to make sure they are FULL before heading up the mountain (full disclosure: I went to a conference once where the topic was environmental sustainability and everyone was driving their own individual SUV everywhere). They could move the whole event to an enormous field in Devon a la Glastonbury or California a la Coachella. They could do the whole event all online and tout it as the first global online videoconference and get tech geniuses from around the world to make it excellent quality.

We are all to blame for our own excesses, but we have to start somewhere if we are really going to change and save the world. My husband plunges us into darkness with his electricity saving techniques (he’s convinced the secret to financial success is going to be from the money we save as a result of low electric and heating bills).  The thermostat is a constant battle. The brain surgery precision that comes with separating (and washing) the recycling in West London will do anyone’s head in. But I can’t win with any arguments I throw at him and ultimately I’ve caved. He’s right. I’m culpable. We all have to do our little part to help. It’s likely going to inconvenience us all a bit, but these are 1st world problems, not 3rd.  If that means you drive an electric car, or take your canvas bags to the supermarket, great. Whatever it takes.

WEF leaders and participants could learn from Leo DiCaprio’s mistakes. Last July, he got called out for taking a private plane to accept an environmental award and realised the hypocrisy.  He has now ditched the private plane (I know, tragic, right?) and flies commercial. But bravo for starting somewhere. We are so used to having a choice, and these things are all luxuries, relatively speaking. Seriously. We all need to be inconvenienced a little more. Every drop in the bucket helps. And think about it, if you saw several world leaders sharing a ride in a Prius to go to one of these events, the power of the words and policies they deliver will be that much more effective.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT: LET’S SEE THE FOREST FOR THE TREES

We all feared there would be backlash. The pendulum swung too far too quickly.  Many women friends and I discussed the predicted confusion for men in the workplace as all these stories emerged and suspected they would throw their hands up.

I am from the older generation of women that Lucinda Franks wrote about in the New York Times.  We toughed it out to prove ourselves. We needed to be and act like men to get ahead. We were on our own. I’m so in line with what she said that my uncle emailed me saying he thought I could have written it (yes, Dear Uncle, apart from that small detail of she being a Pulitzer-prize winner). Regardless, we all imagined men fleeing to the hills saying “Who needs women in the workplace? Why bother?”

Normal, average people wouldn’t even fathom acting this way so it’s hard for us to comprehend

What we didn’t predict was where the backlash would come from.  “Bad feminists” and “Good feminists” are squabbling amongst themselves as demonstrated, surprisingly, by Margaret Atwood, who I have deep respect for. In her piece this weekend,  Am I a Bad Feminist?, she defensively uses far too much ink on one (1) wrongly accused man, rather than discuss the overwhelming evidence of police reports worldwide that show more often than not, women who come forward are not heard or listened to. Globally, justice does not prevail for women.  Sadly, this was a case of trying to do the right thing and it back-fired. A one-off.  Wish she’d spent a little more time with her power & influence to turn the conversation forward.

In other instances, we are getting bogged down by semantics. We are name-calling. We should not be lumping together any and all complaint — that will muddy the waters.  There are too many accounts that are sidetracking the true issues to name, so here are a few from just the last few days to really confound you: the ultra-feminist website Babe publishing an expose of Aziz Ansari , Liam Neeson bemoaning the “witch hunt”,  France’s pushback against #MeToo.

CALL FOR CLARITY

Let’s try to see the forest for the trees. We need clarity for this movement to work. We must divide the issues into different buckets and address each one separately. We should not confuse assault with an off-colour joke. Dating a direct line-manager gets into unchartered territory that needs defined guidelines. Equal pay and office bullying are side-issues that are absolutely worth discussing, but best to start with narrow, focused goals.

As part of a women’s group dedicated to solving these problems, we are just starting to identify them, and it will take months of study and analysis before we can unlock effective and long-lasting solutions. But let’s start with assuming that we are talking about the workplace, or work-related scenarios (and not some chance encounter of someone famous, as recounted in the NYT retelling of Aziz Ansari’s date that went badly).

Unraveling this piece by piece, we have the obvious:

SEXUAL ASSAULT & SEXUAL HARASSMENT — The jokes regarding certain alleged (and in Louis CK’s case) admitted behaviour have already started. As if it isn’t really real — just something to laugh at now because it’s so absurd.  Let’s be clear: This did happen. There is no scenario where pulling your penis out and rubbing it against a woman or masterbating in front of women or pinning a woman down on a couch while kissing and groping, or grabbing her private parts without warning without consent is acceptable.

Normal, average, everyday people – men and women – wouldn’t even fathom acting in this way so it’s hard for us to comprehend. It’s easier for us to assume the stories are exaggerated rather than realise we are part of a larger societal problem that buried our heads in the sand for years.  I have heard some of the stories and they are horrific and most important, criminal offences.  In some, the women are petite and the men are physically overpowering. In others the women are young and impressionable and the men are Gods in the office, bringing in the big bucks for the networks or film studios.

The Definition of Sexual Harassment:  Here in the UK (and probably similar in the US) sexual harassment is a form of unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act of 2010 and is defined as such:

Sexual harassment is unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which:

  • violates your dignity
  • makes you feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated
  • creates a hostile or offensive environment

You don’t need to have previously objected to someone’s behaviour for it to be considered unwanted.

Again, pretty clear-cut. But I suspect sexual harassment videos, educational and role-playing seminars in workplaces would be helpful. In the past, at all my places of employment, we sat through various HR seminars on discrimination, drug use, and sexual harassment with a sort of giggle and swagger like we were back in 8th grade and the teacher was teaching us how to put a condom on a banana.  Now, I think (I hope) they will be taken more seriously.

THE GREY AREAS

The grey areas are the ones we really need to nail down. Here are some that need delving into more:

DATING A DIRECT SUPERIOR/LINE-MANAGER — Back in the 1950s, my Southern belle mother arrived in NYC at “Manny Hanny” (the investment bank Manufacturer’s Hanover) working her way up to Head Librarian in the Research Department (2018 equivalent might be Head of Research/Duodiligence) by the time she was 26. My Dad was a Cornell grad recently arrived in the bank’s training program.  He was often found in the Research Dept unnecessarily and when their dating became serious and obvious, they knew one of them would have to leave as company policy stated interoffice dating wasn’t allowed.  What they weren’t prepared for was that Manufacturer’s Hanover management asked my Dad to leave, as he was one of many Ivy league trainees, whereas my Mom’s invaluable expertise and management skills over a team of women researchers was indispensable.  Don’t take my word for it, this policy was common practice: In George Clooney’s movie, Good Night and Good Luck, they portray 2 people dating in a 1950s newsroom.

It’s easier to assume the stories are exaggerated than to realise we are part of a societal problem

Of course, we’ve come a long way since then, but interoffice dating is a very tricky, grey area (at least in my mind and various polling). This is where I think research and study will help going forward.  If there is a married older “company” man in the office who is powerful and prominent, and he pursues aggressively a relationship with a younger, impressionable employee who may or may not be directly line-driven by him, but who knows that any move she makes will have huge repercussions for the office, what are the rules or guidelines here? What is her recourse? What if the person is not married but in charge of bonuses and the underling doesn’t want to be punished financially if she doesn’t respond accordingly? What if two people date, break up, and then the underling is in line for a promotion that the superior has a say in?

There are many scenarios that need fleshing out, but clearly defined rules and guidelines are a must.

OFFICE POLITICAL MACHINE — All too often, I heard from various women that they did not know who to turn to. They did not know their rights and were afraid of ruining their careers. At other times, women DID reach out to superior men AND women in the offices and were met with resistance or, shockingly, completely ignored. The change here should be swift: Put into place a sexual harassment ombudsman (for lack of a better term) or ombudswoman. Someone whose sole purpose is to field the various victims who come forward; someone who will investigate claims, work the alleged accusation through a proper system and chain of command. No one is above or beneath the law. Power and prestige in the office is invisible. The time for Non-Disclosure Agreements and pay-offs is over.

Additionally, there should be some set of rules or guidelines in place for AFTER an inquiry — whether it comes to fruition or not. The accuser is not a pariah in the office. She/he should not be sidelined or marginalised.  This is discrimination.  Again, I think more research and outside expertise would be helpful.

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IDENTIFYING SEXUAL PREDATORS — In a previous post I wrote about men as sexual predators (towards children and women and other men). This is a societal issue but as Arthur in the previous piece said “the time is right to do something now. It’s an appropriate moment in society”. He also said that the man who assaulted him as a child was “facilitated by a system that encouraged silence.” And that men like his abuser were “in a position of power and authority and gain/gratification was taking away the power of others.”  Finally, the experts on the program who study sexual predators said “underlings are powerless to do anything and predators know this.” Arthur went to police in 2003 and was ignored. He went back this past year and this time, the police listened. His abuser was sentenced to 4 years in jail last week.

Remember, we are not talking about someone who made an off-colour remark about a woman’s blouse or her lipstick (although that is something to address). We are talking about men who repeatedly, over 20 years in some cases, harassed or assaulted women (or men) in the workplace.  I cannot imagine that this kind of behaviour could have gone on without the knowledge of others around them. We need to identify men who cannot cope with power or who have serious predatory behaviour, however subtle or secretive. Identifying men like this is important to set the tone and morale of the office.  If others knew these men were doing things and getting away with it, what message does that send everyone else?

It’s the very nature of television news and Hollywood that these stories are fascinating to a larger audience and garnering attention. Do you think we’d be having this conversation if Joe Public from the accounting dept. was harassing women? Or if Jim X on the factory floor was assaulting underlings? We should not be fooled. The stories I heard relate to the headlines, but they are happening everywhere.

So, yes, if you see women in news and Hollywood picking up the flag and marching forward its because we have a unique voice and opportunity to change society globally.  We risk shooting ourselves in the foot if we lose focus, bite off more than we can chew, or in-fight. Let us not cripple the momentum.  We must prove that our earlier worries were unwarranted — that this #MeToo movement would harm us in the end.

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PREDATORY MEN & POWER

Listening to the Vanessa Feltz program this morning on BBC Radio London, I heard a very difficult interview with the most calm, decent and eloquent man named Arthur regarding terrible sexual abuse to him as a child by a teacher at Christ Hospital School in Sussex.

Arthur was riveting. Not because of the horrible details of what happened to him, but in the brave, articulate and resolved way with which he discussed it. It was a brilliant, emotional program and worth tuning into.

By talking about it, you are taking back the power the abuser stole from you.

But while I was listening, I was also thinking about the various stories of sexual harassment and abuse in the news recently by powerful and influential men in Hollywood and journalism.  I can’t think of anything more atrocious than being abused as a child – it really is undeniably the most heinous of things.  But hearing him speak about the abuse of power and society and the way he dealt with it, I couldn’t help but draw some similarities to the young women being preyed upon in offices across the globe.

He said so much worth repeating.  I was driving at the time so I might not have the details perfect, but Arthur was abused as a child between the years of 1970 and 1973 by a man named Peter Burr.  As Arthur says, he didn’t have the vocabulary or words to describe what was happening to him but he just knew it was wrong. In 2003, he gathered up his nerve and called the police and spoke to someone there.  They didn’t do anything and he wasn’t taken seriously. He doesn’t blame them.  He said “I bear no resentment.  There was no language in society, no understanding, no compartment to put that information in, and I did as much as I could.”

The abuser was facilitated by a system that encouraged silence

Fast forward to last year and he was listening to the Vanessa Feltz show about Jimmy Saville and abusers and it spurred him to get in touch with the producers.  Paraphrasing: “You store all of this up in a box. You tuck it away. After hearing the BBC London program about abuse and Jimmy Saville, I realized there were other men and girls now who were children who commonly had the same experience. I heard that program and thought more had to be done.”

So he got in touch with Gemma the producer who said perhaps we can help and asked him to go back to the police.  He went on to say “the time is right to do something now. It’s an appropriate moment in society.  For the first time in my life, I had a story to tell, a complaint to make, and the police listened and they acted and society supported that action. At last, justice is done.  I am grateful for that.”  Peter Burr pleaded guilty and last week was convicted on 9 counts and is serving 4 years in prison.

But what really got me is somewhere between 8:15 and 8:30 AM (about 1:15:00 into the program), he said a few things that rang so true to my experience and the experiences of others who were young women working in offices of powerful men.  I’ve been grappling with why I feel guilty about not coming forward earlier. I know the man who tried to attack me ended up harassing and abusing women for 20 years. I feel lucky in that I got away before any real damage was done. I was attacked, I fought him off, I got away. Others weren’t so fortunate. And that makes me cry and makes me very, very angry.

Arthur said the man who abused him and other boys was a man who was “facilitated by a system that encouraged silence”. This couldn’t be more true of the nature of newsrooms and Hollywood and frankly, everywhere else where there were predators.  He also said the man is like many predators who are “exercising their complete power of control over you for their own sexual gratification. Utter power over you.”  The conversation revealed that Peter took gratification by abusing the power of his positionHe was a man in a position of power and authority and his gain was taking away the power of others.  But it was also the culture at the time. Arthur recognizes this.  He said “attitudes of the police have changed so much. From the 1970s, 80s, even 10 years ago. The time is now.”

Later in the program they had experts on to talk about this further.  Power in relationships is the key.  Underlings are powerless to do anything and predators know this.  In this case, it could be young boys abused by teachers, or young women abused or harassed by powerful, influential, sometimes famous men whose authority and power in the office atmosphere is very apparent.  It is very hard to take BACK that power, as the panellists on Vanessa’s show said: “They are very clever and manipulative people who know they can dominate and that’s the reward for them.  The sexual predatory behaviour is the result.”

Arthur said that by talking about it, you’ve taken back that control that people had over you. Talking about it is empowering, he said.  You are not alone and you realize that when you hear other stories.  Even if you can’t go through the court process just sharing it with others brings back control.  You’ve dealt with it.

He said “I know that justice has been served.  I know I’ve done all I can do.”  I agree with him when he says that the time is right. Now, in 2018, wider society says this is wrong. Abuse of power and predatory behaviour is wrong. There is a big sea change.

I have heard from women who are raw. Who were attacked, who were abused, who were harassed, who were taken advantage of.  They were young, they didn’t know how to react, they were paralyzed with fear.  They did not know who to reach out to, how to report, what to report, what the repercussions would be.  Many feared for their jobs or the fallout from being the “problem” person in the office.  Many thought they were the only one harassed (myself included).  Others were so traumatized they left news completely.  They changed careers. How sad a state of affairs that young women journalists starting out in their careers and arriving at the bright, brilliant allure of the all-powerful television news networks ended up fleeing in fear and pain because of the men who abused their trusted power.  Worst still, others did report the problems and little was done.

I agree with Arthur: The time is now. As part of an organisation of women whose mission is to change the newsroom culture, I hope we can pave a smoother path for future generations.  Our culture, our newsrooms, our offices, our police, our superiors, our leaders all recognize that enough is enough. There is a new cultural awareness and a new intolerance.  Change is here. Finally, thankfully.

IF YOU DON’T GET THIS, WE HAVE A PROBLEM

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION: WHOSE SHOES WOULD YOU WALK A MILE IN?

Atticus Finch said in To Kill A Mockingbird “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” He is explaining to his daughter, Scout, that we mustn’t judge another person until we have experienced what they have been through.

I would like to think of myself as the magnanimous, understanding person Atticus was referencing,  but I know I fall short.

He does not mean the people you feel sorry for or empathise with. He is talking about people you — without knowing it — have judged…or misjudged.  The people you would normally find the hardest to relate to, the least likely you can understand. Not someone who is poor or disadvantaged, living in poverty or worse. Although that would be hard to fathom, that is something that most of us would want to do to understand the difficulties that person faces. That is the definition of empathy. This is not an easy path, but I think we assume this is what Atticus is talking about. Whereas the shoes of someone whose values you do not like, whose causes you don’t believe in, whose doctrines are not ones you subscribe to — those are shoes far harder to step into.

For me, it would be very hard to walk a mile in the shoes of an Islamic terrorist. I would not understand them, nor want to understand them. And that’s where I fall short. I would find it very hard to walk in the shoes of a racist. A member of the Ku Klux Clan or even some of the Afrikaners we met while living in South Africa.  I would really bristle to walk in the shoes of a serial sexual harasser. Or worse, someone who abuses and rapes women.  Politically, I do not completely understand Brexiteers. And I find it very difficult understanding Trump voters. I cannot fathom that they see Trump as someone who will save them and the country.  I struggle with all these things.

But, isn’t the point that we do attempt to understand the opposite point of view? That we do try to listen and deconstruct it? You do not – at all – have to agree with it. But I would love to sit with a Trump supporter and really have an explorative, educational exchanging of views. Bridge the gap between us.  If we could discuss where he/she is coming from, how they arrived at this place in time where they felt the only answer was voting for a former TV-celebrity billionaire with no experience in government and no record of helping others, that would be a start.

I want to understand the racists whose views were formed from a young age. How did they arrive to the bias they so clearly have? When living in South Africa, we met Afrikaners who rolled their eyes and said things like “Well, your blacks aren’t like our blacks” as if we were merely discussing the difference in primary schools or bad restaurant service when in reality we were discussing racial tensions in the US and South Africa. I was appalled. I found myself judging. “How can they be so overtly racist?”

My husband pointed out to me that the woman we were speaking to had a completely different background and upbringing to us.  Economically, we were probably similar to her, and around the same age, but that’s where the similarities stopped. We all grew up in the 70s but in South Africa there was state-run media and the government controlled all the information that was fed to the public. She did not see the international news stories about the fatal youth uprising in Soweto or they were told a very different story – one that was far from the truth.  They didn’t have televisions in most of the houses and farms until well into the 70s, Pink Floyd’s The Wall and other outside media was banned countrywide, and they heard about things blacks were doing to whites through the filter and skewed POV of a scared white minority government.  They were 12 or 14 years old at the time whose parents told them the government was right.  My husband pondered were we to be born in South Africa with parents of a certain generation and the government lying to us, with a media machine in place to counter anything we might have heard, would we have turned out any better? I don’t know.

Of course, we would all like to think we would have seen it — would have sussed out the racism and inequalities and known about the apartheid system to keep blacks uneducated and seen the injustices. But would we have? Really? I don’t know. It was then that I realised I had judged them and found them lacking. I had gone to anti-apartheid rallies in the 80s. I bought the single “Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City” by international musicians who took a stand. I followed Mandela’s release and cheered when he won. But wasn’t it me who was lacking? If I couldn’t take away all the freedoms and education and bias that I was brought up with to see what kind of person I might have been had I been born in Pretoria rather than New York, aren’t I close-minded? I am assuming I’d be the better person, but I don’t know that.

I find the art of listening is lost on this narcissistic social media world we live in. So I would love to know whose shoes are the hardest for you to walk in. Whose point of view do you really not understand? If we could all listen to each other, sit for a spell, exchange points of views, come to some sort of understanding – with respect for each other – wouldn’t we be a better world for it? My New Year’s resolution is to do just that: I will try to listen more, judge less. Join me?

 

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BRITS VS YANKS: MERRY CHRISTMAS OR HAPPY HOLIDAYS?

The UK is not only winning this debate, but leading the US in the direction both countries are heading.

This is only the second time in 10 years that we are not going home for the holidays.  I can envision Washington and New York decked out with all the lights and window displays and wreaths. Ice skating in Central Park, the massive tree at 50 Rock, the horse carriage rides, the snow, the smell of chestnuts roasting in the street vendors trolleys.   Near the Washington Cathedral, a little round building that looks perfect for a Hobbit called The Herb Cottage, was a favourite stop for my Mom with my sister and I in tow to get ornaments and wreaths and cards. The whole cottage burst with scents of cinnamon and nutmeg spice and a cozy warmth wrapped you up like a blanket.

Very similar to Oxford Street and Regent Street here in London. It’s a festival of lights, with caroling and music and Christmas markets and an enormous “kissing” tree in Covent Garden. Kew Gardens has their Christmas lights walk, a merry-go-round and Santa’s Grotto (there are loads around the city) that transports you to his workshop at the North Pole. It’s a lovely time of year, despite the grey and dark short days.

The similarities don’t end there: although the majority of both populations is Christian (75% polled in 2015 the US, and 64% in 2010 in the UK), they base their foundations on freedom of religion.  And as we know, the US and the UK have been accepting immigrants from all over for centuries now (lest we forget the US is founded on immigrants fleeing religious persecution). Therefore it’s inevitable that we have become a more diverse society — ethnically, culturally AND religiously.

So naturally, somewhere along the way in both countries, there evolved an understanding that not everyone celebrates Christmas.  However, it’s from this starting point that we diverge dramatically.

War on Christmas

In the US for years now there have been issues with saying “Merry Christmas”. The religious right (and Bill O’Reilly and Trump) have called it a “War on Christmas”.  Which is baloney.  As far as I know, no one is trying to ban Christmas – apart from the Burger Meister Meister Burger (you have to have grown up in the US to understand that) . What did start happening is we realised that people who don’t celebrate Christmas sometimes took offence to the greeting. They would have preferred “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Kwanzaa”, so to make things easier, people just started saying “Happy Holidays”.

A growing share of Americans, 52%, say it does not matter to them how they are greeted during the holiday season

This is in line with the way the US culture is on many levels — to be ultra, overly PC about things. Don’t want to hurt or offend! Some people don’t believe in God? Then we should stop saying the “Pledge of Allegiance” to the flag of America in schools (something I grew up with in the 70s). Don’t celebrate Christmas? Then you cannot have a Nativity plays in schools (also something I grew up with).  The stores, ever worried about the all-American dollar, started putting up “Holiday Trees” instead of Christmas trees.  Over time, some religious folks started a rallying cry, claiming they felt they were being stripped of what they saw as foundations of US culture.  But in reality, the diverse culture with its diverse religions was just upholding and honouring the very laws the country was built on: Separation of Church and State.

Separation of Church and State vs. Christian-faith Based UK

In 1802, Thomas Jefferson addressed the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut in a letter saying “I contemplate…that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an

 Whereas the US put into place clearly defined statutes that separate church and state, the UK is based upon the Christian faith.

establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.” He is referring to the First Amendment of the Constitution (and Article Six) but he was using the language of Roger Williams, the founder of the first Baptist church in America, who said in 1644 “A hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world”.

Thus, the very separate path our two countries have taken over the past 200+ years is quite basic:  whereas the US put into place clearly defined statutes that separate church and state, the UK is based upon the Christian faith. The Crown is a one-man corporation run by God, so to speak. As the brilliant CGP Grey says, “According to British tradition, all power is vested in God and the Monarch is crowned in a Christian ceremony.” The Head of State is the Queen (the Monarch) and the official religion of Great Britain is Anglicanism.

With this in mind, you would think that the UK would be more religious than the US, right? Not at all, just the opposite. The latest poll and survey in 2017 shows that more than half the UK population say they have no religion at all. And this tracks with the 2015 poll that says the UK is among the least religious countries in the world.

Understanding the Brits

In the UK, religion is just not discussed. It is a very private matter.

After seven years here, I could not tell you what the religion is of the hundreds of people I know well and have befriended. Religion is not discussed, it is not worn on your sleeve (likewise with politics too).  Back in the States, I know the religions of all of my friends — they wear it with pride.  Here, like many things, it is personal.  And often forgotten.  I wouldn’t be surprised if most of my friends don’t practice any faith or religion.  But nearly everyone I know do enjoy the Christmas traditions: the family dinner with roast turkey, the tree, Father Christmas and stockings, etc.  Very little is mentioned about the baby Jesus or the three wise men, but goodness me, try to come between a Brit and their Christmas Panto or Boxing Day! They do so love their traditions, regardless of the meaning or origin.

And that’s the key, there is little or no religious attachment to Christmas for the modern-day Brit. It’s a month of festive feeling, of office parties and heavy drinking.  Everyone here commonly says “Happy holidays” in their heads, but it just comes out as “Happy Christmas”. They are not thinking about going to church, but more likely about days off work, time with family.  You might possibly say that Christmas for the Brits is like Thanksgiving to us.  It’s really that simple.

And they’d be absolutely mortified if they thought they were offending anyone! They’re just bumbling through, wouldn’t think to ask one’s religious beliefs, so they fall back on their go-to.  I suspect the giant Menorah in Trafalgar Square (which was centre-stage in a beautiful Hanukkah celebration last night with Muslim mayor Sadiq Khan) is a reaction to someone in the US telling them they might be offending people.

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I’m not trying to be flip, but this is a country with less than 10% of its population going to church. To them, it’s not about faith or religion. Offices still have “Christmas parties” and stores have “Christmas sales” — it’s just an excuse for a drink and a bargain. The underlying meaning is whatever you, personally, put on it.  I have friends who have said “Happy Hanukkah” to me and Muslim family members who put up Christmas trees.  We all can and should celebrate whatever belief we subscribe to, the more the merrier. You are pagan and celebrating the Winter Solstice? Go for it! Atheist and expecting “Happy holidays”? You got it. A Kwanzaa feast? Most excellent. Those winter naked people who jump in freezing cold water? Well, if that’s your thing…The important takeaway is to be inclusive.

When I first arrived here, after years of the Political Correctness in the US,  I was shocked with all the overt Christianity: our daughter’s primary school doing a Nativity play and an Easter bonnet parade. It made me very uncomfortable. But now that I get the lack of religious meaning attached, I find it’s quite nice to retain some fun traditions that I remember growing up. There’s an added bonus as well in today’s inclusive world: in both primary and secondary schools children here have religion classes where they learn about Hinduism and Islam and Judaism – even Zoroastrianism.

And I think the US is following suit.  A Pew study from 2017, reports:

“As the long-simmering debates continue over how American society should commemorate the Christmas holiday,..a survey finds that most U.S. adults believe the religious aspects of Christmas are emphasised less now than in the past – even as relatively few Americans are bothered by the trend. In addition, a declining majority says religious displays such as nativity scenes should be allowed on government property. And compared with five years ago, a growing share of Americans (52%) say it does not matter to them how they are greeted in stores and businesses during the holiday season – whether with “merry Christmas” or a less-religious greeting like “happy holidays”.

So let me end by saying Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Kwanzaa! Whatever you celebrate, may peace and joy be with you this holiday season.

A NEW ERA ON SEXUAL HARASSMENT CULTURE & POLICIES

I couldn’t be happier that Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2017 is The Silence Breakers :

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The time is now to make change in both societal norms and corporate policies. But this is not something only women can do. Far from it, it must be fostered from men just as much — if not more. Together we can all step up to the table to discuss change in the culture and society.  Except for those very brave few, many of us – myself included – were complicit in our actions (or non-actions) regarding sexual harassment. And we are at a moment where the momentum has shifted dramatically so we must take advantage and not lose the drive and focus we rarely get.

Today, I am part of an organisation who made an announcement with the hopes to truly find a better way forward for the news industry.  Here is our website (and the goals we have laid out):

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We are still in nascent stages and will continue to grow and prioritise our goals and adapt to new directions. But beyond the above, and what’s mentioned here in the AP article today, here’s what I see as important to this cause:

  1. STRENGTH IN NUMBERS: We banded together to find concrete solutions and ways to move forward with effectiveness.
  2. STUDY: We hope — through a 6-month comprehensive, transparent, wide-reaching study — to be able to provide a blueprint that will be the foundation moving forward. This study will analyse the sexual harassment policies and culture within various media organisations.
  3. INCLUSIVENESS: We sincerely expect to do this study with the support and access from various titans of the media industry — the networks themselves and the people at the helms. But it’s important that an independent organisation like ourselves, working outside the system  and hierarchy, provide solutions and building blocks.
  4. RESOURCES: We want to provide a one-stop haven for anyone working in the media to be able to come to our website and see what their legal rights are, what support networks are out there, what counselling is available, what each company’s organisational sexual harassment policies are, what each network provides through it’s internal structure and reporting systems.
  5. LEGAL RIGHTS & LAWS: Knowledge and understanding of one’s legal rights is important.  We hope to provide sources or point people in the right direction to understand state and federal laws regarding sexual harassment.
  6. TRUST: Trust has been a big issue with sexual harassment. One of two scenarios happened in the past: either men and women came forward because they TRUSTED their organisations to protect them and TRUSTED them to help seek justice, only to find that their organisations let them down in the worst way.  Not only did they not protect them, they protected the aggressor and the victims were left to defend themselves. Or the second scenario: men and women didn’t trust the system to work for them and, fearing for their careers and advancement and being ostracised, they kept quiet. For far too long. We need to rebuild trust.
  7. DESTIGMATIZE: We must work with all of society and within organisations to destigmatize the role of the victim coming forward in sexual harassment cases.  Police officers countrywide will tell you this is still a problem within the courts as well as on the streets. As we have done on our school yards, so should we do in the workplace. The moment that a child comes forward with a claim of bullying, they are to be believed until the case is investigated. More often than not, school policy is to remove the bully at once, protecting the victim and the environment around them. We must adapt this attitude and policy for our offices.
  8. NEED FOR CLARITY: A majority of men (and women) are the good guys. However, many relationships and marriages are commenced and built within the workplace. We need a better and more clear understanding of the rules and rights within the workplace for dating, for relationships, for male-female co-existence where no one party is feeling uncomfortable. This is a grey area as many in the workplace are either above or below each other within the hierarchy, so there must be some clear policies in how to handle this.
  9. MEN: We absolutely need men to help us in our endeavours and goals for Press Forward. Having their input will be crucial to getting this right!
  10. REPORTABLE/PUBLISHABLE SOLUTIONS: We hope at the end of this we will have a positive outcome to the pain this past year has caused so many.  If, at the end of the day, we can feel part of a concrete solution that will stand as the gold standard by which others can build upon, we will have served a good purpose and fulfilled a need.

 

U.K. Does Remembrance Day Beautifully

Remembrance Day always gets to me here in London. Literally, the whole city (and country) comes to a standstill for 2 minutes of silence on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, and it’s a sight to behold. Today I was in Sainsbury’s doing a quick shop when literally every shopping trolley, every till, nearly every customer, all the employees came to a halt, bowed heads, and remembered. Always gives me the chills.

It’s not just Sainsbury’s. It’s the fact that the whole country, collectively, on a busy Saturday morning, stops its every day activities for 2 minutes and observes, remembers, reflects on those who died fighting for their country and our freedom during World War I. One year I came up out of the Tube at Sloane Square and the the whole square was motionless, like a mass mannekin challenge that had yet to be invented. The busses, the taxis, the people, the movement literally ceased. Engines turned off. Conversations stopped. All was still and silent. Absolutely beautiful.

I don’t think we can do this in the U.S. because of the time-zones, perhaps? Or because just too many people? My thought is that we Americans have a tendency to put weight, focus, thought, energy towards the future a little too much rather than reflecting on the past.  I think the Brits lean just the opposite (I’m sure there’s a happy middle somewhere), but in this case, they are very good at giving due reverence to history — perhaps because it was so close and so tangible and right here on Europe’s doorstep. They also have the poppy lapels out in force for about 2 weeks leading up to November 11th. They sell them for a pound outside grocery stores, at schools, in offices. You see them in all your meetings, on the telly with all the news anchors and presenters. A few years ago, there was a wonderful display of poppies at the Tower of London.  If you ever have a chance to be in England in the beginning of November, don’t miss this moving and emotional commemoration of Armistice Day.2014-11-04_poppies

We’ve Never Had It So Good

Are you sick and tired of bad news 24-7? Is the culture of fear paralysing you? Every time I turn on the news these days, my brain is about to explode. Someone turned the fear factor dial up to 11. Gets me seriously depressed. I start thinking what’s the point?

Facts and perspective. That’s what’s important, right? So, today I’ve compiled a list that will help you, well, just live and not be weighed down by all the gloom and misery. Guess what? We’re not all doomed! Repeat it over and over to yourself and you will start to feel better.

Also, what’s your favourite good news fact or statistic? Feel free to add/comment.

And yes, I have deliberately left out some numbers that are more pessimistic (homocide numbers up in the last few years in the UK and US).  The fear-mongering needs a break every once in a while, and although some things are having a downward trend, we are still living far better than any previous generation in the history of man.  My day job focuses a lot on those dire statistics and how much more we need to do to get things right, to make things better.

But, just for today, let’s set those aside. Let’s put things in perspective. Add some context. Cheer up, it could be worse, and it mostly was. Enjoy the weekend!

The Good News List*

*(List of sources below)

• We are living in what is arguably the best era in all of human history. On a global scale, in terms of economic security, poverty, life expectancy, infant mortality, health, social freedoms, incidents and exposure to war, violence or disease, we – as a planet – are living in a gilded age that is completely unprecedented.

LIFE EXPECTANCY, LITERACY & POVERTY

• In 1900, average world life expectancy was 31 years old; now its 71 years old.
• In the U.K., a new public health report shows life expectancy has risen to its highest level ever in 2016.
• In 1800, 43% of the world’s newborns died before their fifth birthday. In 2015, child mortality was down to 4.3 percent globally.
• By 2030, South Korean women will be the first in the world to have an average life expectancy above 90.
• Across all of Europe, life expectancy keeps increasing for both men and women, with France, Spain, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Iceland and Austria all in the top 20 countries with the highest life expectancy (those born in 2017).
• In the last 25 years, for the first time ever, extreme poverty has dipped below 10 percent of the population, mass famine has been wiped out and mass literacy has become more common than rare.
• In 1981, nine in ten Chinese lived in extreme poverty. In 2016, it’s 1 in 10.
• In 1820, only every 10th person was literate, in 1930 it was every third, and now we are at 85% literacy rate across the globe.
• By 2100, projections show that there will be more than 7 billion people with at least a secondary education.
• For the last 25 years, 285,000 new people gained access to safe water every day.

TERRORISM, VIOLENCE & DEATH

• Numerous studies show the world is becoming a less violent place. Warfare is on the decline. Anyone alive right now is far less likely to die a violent death (from either war or homicide) than in any previous era.
• Globally, the chances of being killed in a terrorist attack are about 1 in 9.3 million. (compared to drowning in a bathtub: 1 in 685,000, or being struck by lightning: 1 in 576,000 or a car accident: 1 in 18,565).
• In the U.S., being killed by a foreign-born terrorist is about 1 in 45,808. But being killed by heart disease (1 in 7), pneumonia (1 in 70), falling (1 in 133), assault by gun (1 in 358), motor vehicle incidents (1 in 113), drowning (1 in 1,183), choking on food (1 in 3,409) are far more likely.
• In Europe, terrorist attacks are up, but we are still far below the numbers we had in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s.
• Terrorism is killing far fewer people in the UK now than in the 1980s. Between 2000 and 2017, 126 people have been killed in the UK in terrorist attacks (as of October 17, 2017). Although not on British soil, another 30 Brits were killed in Tunisia in a terror attack on a hotel. Compare that to 1,094 deaths from the previous 15 years (1985-1999) and a further 2,211 deaths between 1970 and 1984. The worst year for terrorism in the UK was 1988, due to a majority of deaths in the Lockerbie plane disaster when a bomb blew up a Pan Am flight with 270 aboard.
• In the U.S., violence against women and sexual assault is down. Also, violence against children has dropped dramatically from 1990 to 2012.
• Chances of being killed by an asteroid or meteorite globally are about 1 in 75,000. In the US, those numbers go up to 1 in 1.6 million. Compare that to 1 in 8 million death from a shark attack, or 1 in 60,000 from a tornado.

GLOBAL/COUNTRY ECONOMIES

• As of March, 2017, the US economy is the largest in the world, representing 24.3% of the global economy. China is second with 14.8 % of the world economy. Japan is 3rd, Germany 4th, the UK 5th, France is 6th and India is 7th. Brazil is 9th and Canada is 10th.
• As of January 2017, UK remains the fastest growing economy in the western world (“western” being key).
• Globally, in 2017, the fastest growing economy was Ethiopia. Followed by Uzbekistan. Nepal is #3, India is fourth.
• The fastest growing large economies are India and China, one and two.
• In September of this year (2017), Australia broke the record held by the Netherlands for the title of longest economic expansion on record, with 104 quarters of economic growth without recession.
• Indonesia has the largest economy in Southeast Asia, with GDP per capita steadily rising, and they are closing in on Canada for top 10th economy globally.

From The Business Insider: 

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(Courtesy of: The Business Insider. For the full article, click here)

LIST OF SOURCES

https://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2017/09/economist-explains-3

https://www.salon.com/2014/01/15/were_living_through_the_most_peaceful_era_in_human_history_—%C2%A0with_one_big_exception_partner/

https://www.pri.org/stories/2014-10-23/world-actually-safer-ever-and-heres-data-prove

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/foreigners/2014/12/the_world_is_not_falling_apart_the_trend_lines_reveal_an_increasingly_peaceful.html

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/life-expectancy-at-older-ages-is-the-highest-its-ever-been

https://www.statista.com/statistics/274514/life-expectancy-in-europe/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-39040146

https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2016/12/23/14062168/history-global-conditions-charts-life-span-poverty

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/03/worlds-biggest-economies-in-2017/

https://www.statista.com/topics/3788/terrorism-in-europe/

https://www.europol.europa.eu/newsroom/news/2017-eu-terrorism-report-142-failed-foiled-and-completed-attacks-1002-arrests-and-142-victims-died

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/0/many-people-killed-terrorist-attacks-uk/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/world/a-history-of-terrorism-in-europe/

https://qz.com/898207/the-psychology-of-why-americans-are-more-scared-of-terrorism-than-guns-though-guns-are-3210-times-likelier-to-kill-them/

http://uk.businessinsider.com/death-risk-statistics-terrorism-disease-accidents-2017-1

http://www.lifeinsurancequotes.org/additional-resources/deadly-statistics/

https://www.techjuice.pk/a-data-scientist-explains-odds-of-dying-in-a-terrorist-attack/

https://www.vice.com/sv/article/dpkd4m/right-now-is-the-best-time-in-history-to-be-alive

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2017/01/26/uk-remains-fastest-growing-economy-western-world-growing-06pc/