In my last newsletter, I wrote about the notion of “spring cleaning for the mind”: tossing out the old, worn ideas that have been holding us back, and welcoming in some fresh perspectives to invigorate our spirit, as well as our businesses. Of course, the key to cleaning out our mental closet is to actually do it. We have to sit down and write out one list of ideas we need to throw out and another list of those we want to keep, perhaps with some revisions.
For me, the process was immensely energizing; it helped sort out my priorities and clarified my long-standing core values. Most of the items on my “to toss list” were not ideas or behaviors I could eliminate from society overall. Still, they are things that I will not accept as part of my value system. It’s important to be clear about that, both for myself and those I work with. And it’s equally important to affirm the “to keep list,” ideas that exemplify my values, keep me healthy and balanced, and guide my personal and corporate vision.
So, here’s a sampling of items on both my “to toss” and “to keep” list. Let me know what you think. I’d welcome your comments and would love to hear some of the items that made your lists.
‘To Toss’ List
The Erosion of Personal Liberty. This insidious phenomenon that has been creeping up bit by bit—the result of our country becoming The Land of the Lawsuit. We can’t do anything for fear of getting sued. We can’t say anything, kiss anyone or touch anyone for fear of being accused of some form of harassment, discrimination, insult or defamation. Certainly, it’s important to be respectful of the rights of others. But we’ve gone too far as a culture of the protected. We’ve lost our individual voices, our ability
to connect and communicate without the threat of reprisal.
Dressing Down for Success. No matter where I look, every day seems like Dress-Down Day—and I mean Way Down. More and more people seem to be dressing without the slightest respect for others (or themselves). How a person dresses not only makes a statement about their professionalism, it may affect their work performance. One study by the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University found that subjects dressed in lab coats (typically associated with care and attentiveness) made about half as many errors on a test as did subjects without the coats. So yes, dressing up, not down, makes a difference.
Entitlement Thinking. About 60 percent of the U.S. population is now getting checks from the government on a regular basis. There seems to be no sense of shame in many people, taking money without any thought of actually working for it. In my experience, that’s what’s known as shanda—Yiddish for a shame or scandal. There’s a place for government to provide necessary services and emergency assistance, but it should not take the place of our responsibility as family and community members to take care of our own.
The Self-Esteem Thing. These days, a lot of children’s programs and competitions are concluding with the same disturbing outcome: Every kid gets a trophy. Really? There seems to be so much hand-wringing over children’s “self-esteem” issues that organizers are afraid to be honest about evaluating performance. Recognition is important. But when everyone gets trophies for participation, it doesn’t build self-esteem; it builds apathy.
The ‘Norming’ of Semi-Nudity. I am not (nor have I ever been) against women being attractive and sexy. But I’m not OK with “the porning of America.” On virtually every pop-culture front, I find myself encountering what is essentially soft-core pornography. Prime-time TV shows display a panorama of cleavage and long legs with stiletto heels—Victoria’s Secret gone wild. Restaurant chains like Hooters (dubbed “breastaurants”) are increasingly popular. Featuring scantily clad waitresses, these places not only serve voyeuristic men, but, astonishingly, families with young children. Terrible! They over-stimulate boys and men, while simultaneously denigrating women, who lose credibility as well as the opportunity for meaningful advancement at work.
Single Adults Raising Kids. It’s not easy sustaining long-term marriages these, days, given the myriad societal pressures. But it’s still staggering to me that four in ten American women are not married when they have children, according to researchers, and more than half of births to women younger than 30 are outside marriage. Many non-marital births occur among couples living together, but two-thirds of them split up by the time their child turns 10. This is often possible because both parents work, but it puts tremendous pressure on people in the workforce. And it’s a bad model for kids and adults alike. Too often, the message is: Relationships don’t have to be taken seriously.
The Rise of ‘Secular Fanaticism.’ One of our nation’s founding principles was the separation of church and state, but I think we’ve gone over the top in our protests over religion in the public arena. I’m not offended when people say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.” On the other hand, I am annoyed when institutions decide to stay open for the traditional Christmas holidays for fear of offending non-Christians. And I’m angered that our government bureaucrats feel compelled to remove “In God We Trust” from our coins. While honoring our history, it’s important to acknowledge that an integral part of America is the spiritual life of its people.
‘To Keep’ List
The Reduction in Racism. Granted, the recent killing of an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin, by a neighborhood watch group member in Florida has sparked widespread public protests over the continuing problem of racial profiling. Nevertheless, I’m gratified to see significant progress in the nation’s attitudes toward race and ethnicity over the years: greater openness and inclusion of all peoples; the appreciation of cultural differences; the increased acceptance of interracial relationships. Sometimes there are backlashes and inevitably, progress is uneven. But it’s still remarkable that the growing diversity of our culture will likely become a non-issue for my grandchildren.
The Power of Women. It’s good that both Democrats and Republicans finally recognize the importance of women voters in deciding the future of this country. After all, it’s been 92 years since women were granted the right to vote, more than seven decades after the women’s suffrage movement began. At any rate, the major political parties today are courting the “women’s vote”—a vaguely absurd strategy, as if all women want the same thing. Surely, women do share some goals, like equal pay for equal work and the ability to spend time with their families as well as at work. Perhaps the time has come for women to decide the rest of their agenda and answer the age-old question for themselves and the country: “What do women really want?” There is no better time to speak up, since the powers that be (or want to be) are listening.
Wondrous Advances in Technology. Like many people, I continue to be challenged by the relentless march of technology. It has forced us to speed up our lives, sometimes spinning us out of control—oops, that goes on the not-so-good list! But we can also do amazing things, unimaginable just a few years ago: Attend a seminar while riding an exercise bike; record our favorite TV program to watch whenever we like; read e-mails on the beach (although maybe we shouldn’t); talk to people all over the world, while sitting in our pajamas. I Skype with clients in Australia and my grandkids in Albany—all in the same day.
Living Longer, Healthier Lives. Despite significant problems with obesity and substance abuse, Americans are more health-conscious than ever before, and generally, we’re doing better at taking care of ourselves. We’re living longer, more active lives. (My 85-year-old friend is still playing tennis.) I’m grateful for the medical advances during my lifetime and the opportunities to make healthier eating choices. And I appreciate that there is much more research about complicated and confounding challenges, such as autism. While autism spectrum disorders have still reached epidemic proportions—now affecting 1 in 88 children—at least we’ve begun to acknowledge the seriousness of the situation, no longer trying to deny or marginalize it.
The Information Explosion. We live in an Internet age when we can literally find out about anything—if we really want to. If I want to locate a group of people to talk to about my favorite subjects (Ayn Rand’s philosophy, for example), I can do that.
I can learn about virtually any subject from university professors to top business experts online—for free. Through social networking, I can connect with friends around the world. I can even identify the bug crawling around outside my window right now, almost instantly, with a few clicks on my computer screen.
The Opportunity to Travel the World. Despite the hassles of dealing with airport security (another candidate for the “to toss” list), most of us can travel around the world and to practically any place in it. When I was a kid in Brooklyn, if you went to Long Island, that was a journey. And when my grandmother flew in from California, she was treated like she came from another planet—far, far away. Today, middle school students go to Europe. And when I travel, I can choose from the most vibrant U.S. cities to the most rural African villages–where nobody knows my name.
The Privilege of Living in America. Yes, this is still the place with the most liberty, religious freedom and social tolerance—and opportunity to get rich and live an amazing life! So as we cleanout the mental closets and decide what to keep and what to throw away, let’s be grateful for what’s good and guard against bringing in any more of what’s bad. Instead of complaining, it might help to realize that in many ways we are living in the most blessed time, in the most blessed place.