What’s happened to us in today’s techno-driven time that has changed  how we now choose political leaders?

Take the Sarah Palin story. Think about it. It’s really quite an amazing tale.

Ambitious beauty queen from Nowhere, Alaska. Lives the typical life we’re all familiar with – shoots game from a helicopter, pulls in fish nets in freezing waters, looks out her kitchen window on moose and bears, becomes Governor of a state. Just another American housewife. Did you ever hear of her before last year? I didn’t. Feel her force as an American leader? Uh uh.

So how come she explodes on the national scene in one shot – POW- a candidate for Vice-President of these United States? And continues to stay so visible, even when she lost? Becomes a TV pundit on politics when she flunked the nationally- broadcast current events quiz in Katie Couric’s class. And needs to use crib notes to remind herself of what she believes in.

How come? What happened? We’ve all heard and seen the ridicule. But she’s still here! Why the staying power? What’s she got that still makes her such a viable commodity?

It’s because she’s come in looking so different from your basic politician. It’s because she has none of the usual qualifications we expect that makes some people think she’s come to save them. No law degree, no years playing the game, running for office, climbing the power ladder, making the right connections. Result?

“Gee, she must be pure! Untouched! A clean slate with good intentions!”

“Listen to her language! She even talks like us! ‘Gotcha!’; ‘ ‘How ya doin’ with that hopey, changey thing?’ ”

She “calls out” whole sections of the population for blame and ridicule– sections the rest of us live in and recognize. How satisfying to those who feel left out, disenfranchised, confused and angered by the current scene. Who aren’t part of the visible circles representing us in Washington. What do they care that she really doesn’t even understand government. She’s on TV, talking loudly, with angry accusatory words, about stuff those outsiders are seething about. “She’s our girl!” they think. “She’s even voicing some basic prejudices we weren’t supposed to say out loud any more. And she’s got a load of kids, even a teenage unwed mother and a special needs kid!! Handling it all the good old fashioned way — just sucking it up, like plain folks. Like us. And she’s pretty! Sure I’ll listen to her. My kinda people…”

So what does this tell us about us and how we’re now choosing our leaders and elected officials?  What do we now look for when we decide “this is the one for me?” Since personally experiencing our candidates has radically changed from the live speeches and handshakes of yesteryear to  watching them and their ads on television or on line, we get such a well-coiffed, carefully rehearsed, edited version these days. So how do we know what we’re really getting now? What landmarks do we look for as we short- cut the old process of actually experiencing a real person and making our intuitive as well as our cognitive decisions?

A leader needs to make people feel two things: 1. He/she knows and understands our problems, even from personal experience. And 2. This person is strong enough, passionate enough, driven enough to fight for the solutions. But with our sanitized electronic versions, we now rely on shorthand clues — quick symbols we identify with — to tell us that all the above is true. Obama voters saw those not only in his evocative and eloquent language and thusly assumed intelligence. They assumed what else he knew and felt because he grew up black with its attendant hardships and  overcame them to achieve so much that he wants to give himself to furthering our future. His speech, like Sarah Palin’s, and his family relationship, like hers, jibed with what those voters believe in, reassuring them about what he knows and cares about, how he thinks and what they should expect.

So it’s no surprise that Sarah’s constituents feel they’ve got enough from just her shorthand signals to forego any analysis of what else they should think about in order to call her leader. “ Do you realize her husband was part of the secessionist movement for Alaska? He saw what a mess our government was in. Never heard her say she was against it. So she’s sure gonna fix and change all that stuff I’m so mad about!”




The biggest problem about criticism is that it can deliver pain. We all hate that (I think we all hate that) so we either avoid criticizing by letting things slide or we lie or else we’re so irate that we do it full guns a-blazin’ and accomplish only hurt or anger, disbelief or denial. That’s absolutely counter to what criticism is supposed to do.

  • The Main Purpose of Criticism is to FIX SOMETHING
  • It’s meant to be constructive- not destructive
  • It should end with a positive result


What We do Wrong

1. The YOU word. Don’t start with blame- “Look how badly you did that!” “This work (or whatever) you did looks terrible”. Splat goes the self-confidence. Being so judgmental removes step one in fixing anything—the idea that we possibly could fix it.
2. Blaming indulges the critic. But it provokes anger and defensiveness in the “blamee”                                                                                                                                                          3. Blaming derails constructive problem-solving, since you’ve already said you have no faith in this person.

Criticizing Creatively

1. First- reassure your listener that he/she can surely fix whatever by talking about what went RIGHT! What did you like? What worked? That gets you off on the right “I know you can do it” foot.
2. Focus on the facts, never on the person. “Can’t understand how this job went through without X being checked.”. Name what went wrong—not who did it wrong.
3. Ask before you accuse. Easy, non-accusatory questions to discover the roots of the problem, what processes were involved., what didn’t work for you. Then you can start fixing what and who went wrong.
4. Adopt a no-fault policy. Make your criticism a fact-finding mission. Focus on the problem and how to prevent it’s happening again.
5. Be specific. Not ”I didn’t like that report” or ‘The party was terrible”. What exactly went wrong and needs fixing? How can folks fix what they don’t understand or didn’t even recognize?
6. Ask for a creative solution. Don’t solve and dictate on your own—that won’t work or last very long. Engage the other person in helping solve what you didn’t like— then they’ll know what to do and why and also feel empowered. And that you have faith in
7. Build in a fail-safe check-in . If it’s a report, ask them to show you the first draft. A party? Go over the menu and decorations in the planning stage. Engage in what went wrong by helping solve the issue along the way.


What We Do Wrong

1. Don’t react at once, jumping to your own defense. That sets up a competition about who’s right and if it’s the boss or an elder or a person in power, you lose.
2. Defensiveness is a weak and hostile position. It means you’re notready to listen or correct something and cuts off possible constructive dialogue.
3. Denying what went wrong or arguing that it’s not important or telling how others reacted to the issue is another no-no. If this person needs you to fix something, it needs fixing!

Creative Listening

1. Listen first. Concentrate on two things: What is being said and how it’s being said. This gives you a heads-up on how the other person feels and will create more appropriate reactions.
2. Ask questions. Get clear about exactly what you need to fix.  What has made this person so unhappy/mad/critical.
3. Say that you’re so sorry to hear this since you knew how important the report etc. was and that you worked really hard on it.
4. Get specific answers about what else was needed. Ask about the goals, which demographic needs the most focus, what aspect specifically was not working.
5. If you feel there’s more the boss needs to know about what processes didn’t work, add this now, as a helpful , constructive  suggestion, not an excuse.
6. Ask for a progress check. To be sure you’re both on the same page, check in along the way in your next effort.

Special Way to End and Leave

1. Say “Thanks for Telling Me.” What? Here you are, you’ve just been criticized. It may have been done badly, or cruelly, or  whatever and you may still feel angry or hurt and you should do  what? Yes, say “Thanks for being so straight with me. It gives
me a chance to fix what went wrong and tells me that you have  faith in me, in my handling the truth and in my ability to fix this.
I like to do good work and this helps me understand more of  what you want.”
2. Walk out with a smile and your head up high. No hangdog slinking  0ut of the room. This also helps the boss feel better, seeing that you could take it in and not fold. Since no one likes to criticize, this helps.


For all you Readers

Two new books I’ve just read and loved. Coming from utterly different parts of the worlds, and of our history, each of them is full of insights into aspects of our worlds’ societies that we don’t normally touch or think about.

The first is City of Thieves by David Benioff. It takes you back to the German’s siege of Leningrad (for 4 years !) during World War II due to which over one million people died. The people trapped inside the blockade were desperate, starving and dying, trying to survive with whatever creative solutions their human spirit and will was still capable of. This is an adventure story of what happens to two intrepid survivors, the unlikely duo of a 15 year old Jewish boy and an AWOL Russian soldier. With amazing glimpses into the pervasive Soviet mindset as well as the foibles of war and those who fight it, how the boy and the AWOL soldier (both in grave danger of being captured and killed by either side) manage to outwit and survive various hair-raising, steamy, often wacky escapades makes it a real page-turner (with me up until 3 A.M. as I had to finish it!). What touched me was what we didn’t know about that horrible siege and what reinforcement there is seeing how our indomitable human spirit – no matter who or where we are and what we experience- keeps pulling us through amazing feats of endurance with our built-in will to live. Filled with humor, great glimpses of life and culture on another side of our world and heavy- breathing suspense, it’s a helluva read.

The other one I strongly recommend is The Help by Katherine Stockett. Another page turner. It’s set right in the good ole USA in the early 60’s in Mississippi (did you learn to spell that with a tune, like I did – MIS-SIS-SIPPI? ). It’s an intimate, behind-the-scenes view of the lives and accepted attitudes and beliefs of both the Junior League (read establishment) ladies in Jackson, MI and of their help. Played against the background of the inherited Southern life style, it’s about a brave, secret project launched amid tremendous hostility by a white and black woman. It’s insightful, thoughtful, but most of all revealing to any Northerner who didn’t live that life or truly feel that entrenched heritage or its effects and tacit acceptance by both sides. It’s such a compelling read to us who only knew about the civil rights struggle in more general and emotional terms—who maybe understood the principles but never lived and breathed the reality daily. So well-done and provocative, it pushes you to see what happens next. Don’t miss it.

Why Hawaii Means AAAH

Why Hawaii Means AAAH
(written the day before the tsunami scare)

To all you urban dwellers—let alone northeast urban dwellers: why, at this time of year, when people say ”I’m going to Hawaii” do you all think “AAH! If only…?”

I’m on a plane back from Hawaii and I think I know something now that I’d like to share.

“AAH” isn’t about the weather- (although that helps). It’s about being able to see the horizon…

Just think. In our urban environment, what we look at daily is verticality. Our urban landscape is in a continuous active battle —with gravity. What we see is an energized landscape, forever fighting to stay upright. Sure, we don’t think about it consciously. That’s for the architects and contractors and city overseers to worry about. But implicit in what we look at every day is a death-defying fight. We accept it but it affects us deeply, since we too are fighting that same overwhelming force daily, throughout our lives. So we’re not only doing it, we’re surrounded by it. And we’re doing it in throngs — people and buildings.—full to bursting with it. How exhausting!

Now —Hawaii. What does one see there? Not only spaces where the world is at rest. But no one and nothing is fighting anything. The landscape and the ocean are simply there. And the horizon? It lays there- peacefully, simply marking the end of the sea we can see. It’s horizontal—far off but so definite and reassuring. It’s just laying there, giving us the gift of the ocean and its waves. Letting them roll onto the shore. Letting us experience its power, but so gently. And – no effort. The moon does it all. No work, no struggle. Just rhythmic. Even. Regular. Dependable.

What great words to say to any city dweller. Contrast our lives with those words. That landscape. All you need to do in Hawaii is sit. Watch. And breathe… There’s the AAH.