Author Krista Tibbs

Archive for the ‘Integrity & Freedom’ Category

Thinking Independently and Colorful Liquids

In Commentary, Integrity & Freedom on February 1, 2013 at 4:02 pm
Florida Citrus Commission, 1951    artist Pete Hawley

Florida Citrus Commission, 1951 artist Pete Hawley

It occurs to me on  occasion that most of the obstacles, judgments, frustrations, disappointments, and embarrassments in my life could have been avoided if I had only drunk the kool-aid of the moment. However, then I realize that everything meaningful I have ever done was a result of not drinking the kool-aid.

This thought is, of course, no reflection on Kraft Kool-Aid®, which is a rainbow-flavored beverage enjoyed by millions since 1927, as chronicled in this  History of Kool-Aid at The Hastings Museum in Nebraska.

Speaking of history, the phrase “drinking the kool-aid” has a rather dark origin .

Ray Bradbury, Bullying in Politics, and the Potential Kindness of Kids

In Being Human, Commentary, Integrity & Freedom on June 6, 2012 at 12:47 pm

I read today that Ray Bradbury died. He was 91, so I suppose it wasn’t a surprise, but it is always sad when a light of insight is extinguished.

I remember the story “All Summer in a Day” that we read in junior high school. I have probably mentioned it before, but only because it twists my heart whenever I think of it. It was essentially about bullying, and maybe that’s why the teacher chose it, although I don’t remember any aha’s at the time. Kids already know other kids can be cruel. It was true in 1954 when the story was written, and it is true today.

The means of spreading cruelty are different, and faster, and other writers have explored these phenomena more deeply than I. All I want to say is that kids don’t come pre-wired. There are ringleaders, and maybe they have stronger propensities, but ganging up can’t happen without followers, and followers usually walk the best paved path. The way I see it, the path to cruelty is paved by adults. They bait and anger each other online, they gossip and form cliques even in church, and they bully each other in politics. I mean, what greater ringleader is there than a President himself when he uses ridicule to belittle his opponents?

But kids can just as easily follow kindness, especially when the leader is one of their own. I saw this demonstrated in the following video this week. Sure, kids can be cruel, but they can also try pretty hard to be great.

“I think the sun is a flower, that blooms for just one hour.” – All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury

Politically Untenable Suggestions

In Commentary, Integrity & Freedom on May 20, 2012 at 11:06 am
On the 360-degree feedback for my annual evaluation at work, one person commented that sometimes I make “politically untenable” suggestions. I have been trying to figure out how to interpret that. Fifteen people provided feedback for the evaluation, and I don’t know which one said it, nor does it matter. What matters is why it was categorized as a criticism.

In my mind, “politically untenable” means that the opposing political powers-that-be or public have a stronger voice and more influence. My suggestions are always what I understand to be the right thing to do for the people we serve given the data available. So the opposition is either a legitimate difference of opinion about the right thing to do or different priorities and constituents and/or lack of information (willful or otherwise).

I think in all these situations, it’s not a bad thing to have the discourse and to get all the information and motives into the open. I have said before that I believe two people can have the same data and legitimately reach different conclusions. Sometimes you just have to pick one and get behind it. But if you never make sure that both sides have all the information, then I don’t think there can be a legitimate conclusion. And if no one ever speaks up because they’ll get shot down, then the bullies win.

My job is currently funded through a grant, so maybe I’ll have a job next year and maybe I won’t. I’m prepared for either situation. I’m not a political appointee or an elected official, so I don’t have to worry about getting votes. There is no more perfect position from which to make “politically untenable” suggestions.

So if I don’t say what needs to be said, then who will?

I think there is only one answer to this criticism on my evaluation. It’s the same one I gave when I was falsely accused of plagiarism in high school: Thank you.

Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes, Statistics, and Stereotypes

In Commentary, Integrity & Freedom, Science on March 17, 2012 at 11:51 pm
I ran across this video today about a teacher in the 1960s who separated her third grade class into blue-eyed students and brown-eyed students and told them that one group was better than the other just because of these characteristics. It was uncomfortable to see how the kids treated each other differently and how it measurably affected their academic performance — in just one day. Equally disturbing was the reaction of adults who underwent the same exercise twenty years later. Although the impetus for the blue-eyed/brown-eyed experiment was the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., it has relevance today for many issues from physical discrimination and achievement gaps to religious affiliations and political parties.

When academic programs are targeted to students with a certain color of skin or when the First Lady puts the spotlight on childhood obesity and uses it as a warning against eating fast food, it says to other kids that it’s okay to separate people and make judgments about their behavior and capabilities based on what they look like. In other words, it’s okay to assume all black kids need remedial preschool and it’s okay to call out the fat kids when it’s for their own good. These two things have bothered me for a long time, but I had never put them together this way before.

Maybe right now you’re defending the obesity crusade because of its intention or thinking that statistics show obesity is on the rise among children and that it’s a health problem. Okay, but statistics also show a rise in asthma and allergies among children, yet few people would suggest shaming asthmatics into breathing fresher air. I think solving a problem requires being honest about what is driving the selection of the problem to solve. Part of the overwhelming campaign against childhood obesity is driven by the pure discomfort at seeing fat kids. You want them to be healthy, but you also want to look away. If it were only a health issue, then a more comprehensive view of the data would show that kids are less healthy than they used to be in many ways, so the solution is for all kids to learn about living a healthy life, not just so they won’t get too fat or too thin or always have a snotty nose, but so they’ll feel good inside even if they don’t look like anything is “wrong” with them at all. Overall health and internal well-being aren’t measured by body fat calipers and a weight scale.

Statistics also show significant academic achievement gaps between racial groups and socioeconomic groups, which highlights an important problem that wasn’t acknowledged before it was measured. However, there is a high risk of exacerbating the problem if you treat individuals like the groups into which they fall. I believe this is one of several reasons why academic achievement gaps are widening. For example, Asian American kids typically do better on academic achievement tests than other racial or ethnic subgroups. A lot of people react to that with a nod, thinking yes, that makes sense. Ask yourself why. Then consider that for the same reasons, teachers might expect more, consciously or subconsciously, from the Asian kids in their class. If people assume you’re smart and competent, don’t you tend to want to prove them right, and mightn’t you learn faster as a result?

If that makes sense, then mightn’t it work the opposite way for Latino or African American students, who for years have been shown to perform lower on achievement tests than Asian students, on average? This is the danger of statistics; correlation does not mean causation. Just because a child has the same skin color as a lot of kids who are struggling academically, it doesn’t mean she will have trouble, too. But the reality is that she might be still be treated from the beginning as though she needs a boost just in case, so she might get simpler questions in class or more partial credit or more praise for easier tasks compared to her peers, not only depriving her of the challenges that will actually help her learn, but also creating in her an identity of someone who is not supposed to be good at school or meet high standards or solve hard problems. This is the soft bigotry of low expectations.

The video shows in gut-wrenching clarity how being the object of negative or positive discrimination can change even adults’ behavior and perceptions. To me, the frustration that was produced in just this short experiment goes beyond physical stereotyping to group stereotyping, especially religious or political. Organized religions and political parties are designed to provide a platform with which people can affiliate themselves, but just like statistics, what is true on average in a group is not necessarily true for an individual. So when you are viewed through the lens of your affiliation, and people treat you like the worst qualities of your group, and you can’t even explain your differing views because everything you say is interpreted against you, that’s a recipe for anger.

The video also highlights how easily people in authority can influence kids and adults to accept distinctions that originally seemed unfair. So I think it is particularly heinous when people in a position of influence use division by broad characterization (or mischaracterization) to further their own ends — even when, or maybe especially when, those ends are seemingly altruistic.

It’s a long video, but I hope you’ll watch it. (Thanks to Kelly Bliss for bringing this up.)

Men and Women and the Top of the Corporate Ladder

In Commentary, Integrity & Freedom on February 16, 2012 at 4:36 am

I recently read an article about how few women there are in top positions at some grand old companies, and the string of comments below it ranged from conspiracy theories to sentiments like working with women is like getting pecked to death in a henhouse to exaltation like all women are great managers and should rule the world. These opinions were voiced by both men and women, and of course, everyone had a personal example to prove the point. So, as a single, rational, professional female, I got to thinkin’…

Say you drove around a dark corner once and ended up in a ditch. If you turn back the next time you see a potentially dangerous corner, you’re going to think you avoided disaster. So you’ll avoid the next dark corner, and the next, assuming all dark corners end in danger. You will shun dark roads for the rest of your life and cite that first one as proof of your good judgment.

For women, the first dark corner is often a gaggle of other women who brought cattiness and drama to the office and made it harder for all women there to be taken seriously. For men, maybe it was that female colleague who got pregnant and left him in the lurch on a project. These are the ways that women in power end up wary of other women and men in power end up wary of any person of child-bearing potential. They also put a double whammy on a single, career-minded woman, through no fault of her own. These dark corners create higher attrition rates in the very women who are the would-be executives, because they have to work twice as hard to make up for the sins of females past, and not everyone is a glutton for that kind of punishment.

Those would-be female executives will either go to a younger company or choose a different field or just go have a family like everyone expects us to. So in companies that have been around a long time, there are fewer women at the top. It’s not a conspiracy and not even conscious discrimination; it is just a part of human nature that will keep reinforcing itself as long as people are oblivious to their subconscious presumptions. And even if there are companies that have no interest in having women at the top, then why should women want to be at the top at those companies?

My point is that whether you are someone who always prefers to work with men or who is tempted to stand up for the value of all women, it’s time to check your assumptions. (I’m checking mine as well!) There are 150 million women in America and they don’t all match the pattern that past bad, or good, experiences have primed us to seek — no more than the 150 million men are all straight shooters with good business acumen who leave their grudges on the field.

To Potential Employers on Behalf of Part-time Writers

In Being Human, Commentary, Integrity & Freedom, Original Fiction on February 27, 2011 at 11:30 pm

If you’ve ever agonized about telling a significant other those three big little words, then you know what it feels like every time a writer pulls words from her heart and sends them out into the world — deciding whether or not to say it and imagining all possible reactions, the sickening wait while your confession travels on a sound wave, and the obsessive rehashing of the moment in your mind, analyzing the details of the response.  Except for a writer, instead of confessing to one person, publishing an essay or story means forwarding her I Love You e-mail to all of the friends on her contact list, her judgmental Uncle Bob, and a variety of strangers.

It also means exposing her soul-bearing thoughts to potential employers and clients in the non-writing world. Because for the vast majority of authors, writing is necessarily just a part-time gig. It’s no wonder so many authors choose to write under a pseudonym. (However, as this article about blogger teachers indicates, anonymous is not synonymous with unidentifiable.)

I made a conscious choice to write this blog under my own name, because I think very hard before I speak, in person and on paper. But I can’t say that I realized all of the ramifications before I began. No matter how carefully you word an essay, if it is worth thinking about, there are going to be people out there with a different opinion — and those people may judge you professionally based on their personal interpretations without ever talking with you. That’s the risk you take when you write.

I never write anything I wouldn’t show to my mother. But while I don’t mind my mother thinking about me in a fictional conversation with my boyfriend, do I necessarily want a recruiter, my boss, or human resources to think about me in that context? No. But that’s the risk you take when you write. 

A web search is a fact of the professional background check these days. So beyond rehashing what was said in an interview, a part-time writer also has to wonder what effect his or her public writing will have on his or her “real-world” career. So below are a few things I’d like to share with the people whose job is to judge my professional (non-writing) capabilities, to keep them from jumping to the wrong conclusions:

  • When I write about the voices in my head, it’s okay; I’m just referring to my characters. I can tell fiction from reality.
  • My cats write my blog sometimes, but don’t worry; they refuse to go to meetings in my place.
  • The characters’ actions in my stories do not necessarily represent what I would do in the same situation. In fact, they are often exactly the opposite; I think of something I would never do or say in real life and let my characters try it and see what happens.
  • Just because my character advocates it, it doesn’t mean I advocate it. I write fiction from inside their heads, not my own. (Refer to first bullet.)
  • My essays are just one perspective at a point in time, a snippet designed to provoke thought and conversation; they are not my entire world view set in stone. 
  • Just because I say it on this blog doesn’t mean I will say it in the boardroom. Politics and religion aren’t appropriate subjects for the dinner table, either.
  • If you disagree with the viewpoints or beliefs in my essays, it doesn’t mean we can’t work together. Likely half of your best teammates share my point of view; they have just never said it out loud in your presence.
  • I write under my real name so that I am accountable to everything I say. So you can rest assured I will also conduct myself with accountability and integrity in your organization or on your project.
  • If you ask me in an interview what is the biggest risk I have taken, I will tell you it is publishing my book and exposing my words to the public. Was it worth it? Yes.

Spreading the Wealth

In Commentary, Integrity & Freedom on August 21, 2010 at 5:44 pm
A man is standing on his rotting porch looking across the street to his neighbor’s immaculate three-story home with the security system. The man’s car has almost 200,000 miles on it; his neighbor has a new SUV. The man has a wife and four kids but no health insurance. His neighbor is unmarried and has a pure Alaskan Husky that she pays someone to groom. The man’s job is hourly, and he’s constantly worried that he will lose it. They’ve never been on a family vacation. His neighbor works from home or from the motor home that she frequently takes out for a week at a time. The man knows she has at least $250,000 in her safe.

He envies her. He thinks it isn’t fair that she has so much and he has so little. He thinks she shouldn’t be sitting on so much money when he can’t scrounge together enough to pay his mortgage. He considers his options:

– It is against the law to go to his neighbor’s house and take money from her safe.
– It is against the law to hold a gun to his neighbor’s head while she takes money from her safe and gives it to him.
– It is against the law to threaten to embarrass her with some real or made-up secret if she doesn’t give him money.
– It is against the law to hire someone or a group of people to do any of the above for him.
– It is against the law to accept money that has been obtained by doing any of the above.

Unless the extorted money is laundered through the IRS.

Because it is legal for a group of people to decide that this man’s neighbor has more than enough money and to threaten her with jail time if she doesn’t give over a certain percentage so that it can be used to help her neighbor refinance his mortgage or trade in his clunker car. This group is called Congress. Policies designed to distribute the wealth are instituted under the auspices of the Constitution and “the common good”. It’s unfortunate if your life is uncommon.

It doesn’t matter to this woman’s neighbor that her dog groomer will lose his job because it is a luxury that she will forgo after higher taxes. It doesn’t matter that the top two stories of her house have to be secured and immaculate because they are used as storage space for the art she buys and sells. It doesn’t matter that she needs the SUV to transport the art, or that she spent twice as much for a hybrid because she cares about the environment, or that she drives her motor home to art shows so that she can save money on hotel costs. It doesn’t matter that although she could make $10,000 on a single sale, she can also go for months with no sales at all, but because she is self-employed, she pays twice as much in social security taxes and isn’t eligible for unemployment benefits. Her neighbor doesn’t care that the $250,000 in her safe is a nest egg she has been building for years toward the dream of hiring two assistants with health benefits to run the business, focusing only on helping new artists achieve their dreams, while she sculpts full time to achieve her own.

So when the wealth gets redistributed through the government, her neighbor sees rich people just getting fewer luxuries like expensive art. She sees dreams withering on the vine.

Financial Security or Freedom ?

In Commentary, Integrity & Freedom on February 7, 2010 at 2:15 am

I was reading The Creed Room, and on the subject of poverty came this question: “Assume you don’t know where you’ll be born or how rich you’ll be. Would you be prepared to give up the chance to live like a king for the security of knowing you won’t live like a dog?”

The author immediately says, “Merely to ask this question is to answer it.” Yet there are instances throughout history when reasonable people have answered No.

Living like a dog is having to scrounge for the basics of food and shelter. Living like a king is never having to worry about the basics, and it is about being the ruler of your own life. It is, essentially, the ultimate freedom.

There are people who would not trade the chance at freedom for even the most basic security.

Imagine you were a slave who was never mistreated, had 3 meals a day and a roof over your head, were given medical care, and were able to be with your family and gather with your community on your day off every Sunday. If someone told you that you could either remain a slave for the rest of your live or be free, which also meant taking the chance that your life could get truly worse, which would you choose?

The passengers on the Mayflower risked a dog’s life or even death, and some were on board just for the chance at great wealth.

Every day there are people who experience financial ruin and exchange the roofs over their heads for the dream of wealth or freedom. They’re called starving artists. They’re called political refugees. They’re called entrepreneurs.

These risk-takers make the case that for some people, there are fates worse than poverty.

Cyber Disinhibition

In Commentary, Integrity & Freedom, Science on January 9, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Today is the last day of my first year of blogging! Of course, when I included kittens in the title of the first post, I didn’t foresee that by the end of the year the kittens would actually be writing the posts.

The reason Spunk and Teddy have taken over recently is that months ago, a stranger left a drive-by comment that was judgmental and personal, and it has bothered me ever since. As my mother so wisely, if not sympathetically, said: If you’re going to put your thoughts out to the world, you have to be prepared for any response. So I guess all this time I have been trying to figure out if I am – or even want to be – sufficiently insensitive.

It wasn’t until someone else left a hateful post yesterday under Spunk’s Christmas pictures that I realized it may not be my problem. Call me judgmental, too, but surely there is something wrong with people who feel the need to treat the world like their own personal litterbox and leave droppings of meanness wherever they go.  I mean, what’s to hate about a kitten at Christmas?

Imagine my excitement when I found out it is a neuroscience issue! The technical term is cyber disinhibition, which is basically when people say things online that they would never say in person. The neuropsychological explanation is summarized in this great post by Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence.

The impact of cyber disinhibition is illustrated in a poem written by James W.  Foley, something I copied into my journal 20 years ago, before I ever heard of the Internet. Below is an excerpt; the full poem can be found at http://www.ripplemaker.com/pebbles.htm

Drop a pebble in the water:
just a splash, and it is gone;
But there’s half-a-hundred ripples
Circling on and on and on,

Drop an unkind word, or careless:
in a minute it is gone; 
But there’s half-a-hundred ripples   
circling on and on and on.     
They keep spreading, spreading, spreading       
from the center as they go,         
And there is no way to stop them,            
once you’ve started them to flow.              

Drop an unkind word, or careless:
in a minute you forget;
But there’s little waves a-flowing,
and there’s ripples circling yet,
And perhaps in some sad heart
a mighty wave of tears you’ve stirred,
And disturbed a life twas happy
ere you dropped that unkind word.

 

So, I’ve decided that from this point forward, disagreement and a good debate are welcome as always, but I will delete nasty pointless commentary, because it’s a waste of emotion and there is no need for that kind of thing to be out in the world.  And I will also try to remember:

  Drop a word of cheer and kindness:
just a flash and it is gone;
But there’s half-a-hundred ripples
circling on and on and on…

Example of Excellence: Firecrackers Jump Rope

In Being Human, Commentary, Integrity & Freedom on October 24, 2009 at 3:19 pm

A friend of mine forwarded me the video below of a team of 4th-8th graders who do amazing things with jumpropes.  It’s worth watching all the way to the end, evidenced by the increasing amazement on the faces of the audience at the Naval Academy, who are no strangers to precision.  

In order for these 9-13 year-olds to perform their jaw-dropping show, every single one of them has to excel individually while also being a tight-knit team, and they have to put in a lot of work to do it. According to their website,  these Firecrackers from Kings Local School District in Ohio practice 2 hours a day, 5-6 days a week. That’s an inspiring example of commitment, but what’s even better is that their performance is infused with fun and pride, the greatest symptoms of excellence.

Kudos to these kids and to their coach, Lynn Kelley.

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