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My 6 Wishes for 2014
Jan 1st, 2014 by smwolfe913

Each year on New Year’s Day I reflect on what was good and bad in the past year, and where I hope things go in the next year.  This year is no different, and I thought I would share some of my wishes for 2014.

1. I wish people would formulate their views based on more facts and data rather than pure ideology.  Over the last couple of years there seems to be an increasing trend to utilize people’s religious and other group affiliations to manipulate them into voting for certain candidates or advocating for legislation.  I hope that in 2014 people start to look more deeply at the labels people attach to themselves or their advocacy and determine whether they really fit.  Step away from the rhetoric long enough to take a deeper look. Our nation is becoming more divided across issues each day.  If we all looked at data and made our decisions based on facts, we would probably come much closer to shared views.

2. I wish for an end to racism.  Many people would like to pretend that it no longer exists — after all, we have a Black president.  I am sorry to report that racism is still alive and well, and people of color are still experiencing overt and covert racism daily. Look at how segregated our cities and schools still are. Look at the differential treatment that people of color receive compared with white people in our legal and educational systems.  Affluenza?  Really?

3. I wish for an end to homophobia.  I’m still amazed at how little people understand homosexuality and its origins.  No, it is not a choice someone makes.  Research has found that conversion therapies do not work — you cannot make someone become a heterosexual, and actually do more harm in trying to do so.  So, accept that it is a naturally occurring aspect of humanity, get over your fears –nobody is going to try to recruit you.  Allow another group of people in this world to enjoy the same rights you have.  After all, they have been fulfilling the same responsibilities.

4. I wish for an end to bashing the poor.  It seems that in 2013 poor people were fair game for budget cuts, discriminatory practices, and nasty comments.  Lawmakers worked hard to keep support in place for giant corporations, like Monsanto, and cut food stamps that feed poor children to balance the budget.  They did not take into account that many poor people are full time working people.  But they work for companies like Wal Mart, whose wealthy CEOs and stockholders rake in billions off the backs of workers that we subsidize with food stamps.  Lawmakers are fighting against raising minimum wage to a working wage — again, keeping more money in the pockets of billionaires.  People receiving public assistance in Florida were subjected to drug testing because they are receiving public dollars.  Congressmen receive public dollars, so do federal workers.  Why aren’t we drug testing them too?

5. I wish for an end to the abortion debates.  For the record, I don’t believe in abortion — but I do believe in keeping it legal.  I also believe in prevention.  Does anyone remember that before abortions were legal they were still performed fairly regularly – but back then women died from the back alley abortionists?  A study published last year demonstrated that we can reduce abortion rates dramatically if we provide free and accessible family planning information, reproductive medical care and contraception. Whether we like to admit it or not, young people are sexually active.  We need to start educating them about their bodies and about how to prevent pregnancies. There is ample evidence now that educating them only about abstinence does not work.  Teen pregnancy rates are highest in states where there is abstinence only, rather than comprehensive sex education.  They do this in many European countries and teen pregnancy rates are very low. Another argument I hear is that the pill isn’t very expensive.  No, maybe not for you, but for some women it is the money needed to buy dinner for their children.  Also the medical care needed to get pills and other effective means of contraception is costly.  As more and more Planned Parenthood and other clinics are being shut down, this care is getting less accessible to the women who most need it.  If we keep such services open and available, and make contraception and the associated medical care free and easily accessible, there is another group of women who will prevent unwanted pregnancies. History has taught us that making abortion illegal does not stop it.  Research has shown us that there is a better way.

6. I wish the media would return to ethical and solid journalism and step away from the sensationalism.  One day in a conversation with a detective he disclosed that he has never read or seen a news story that accurately depicted a case he was working on.  Wow.  I once participated in an interview with a New York Times reporter who wanted to report the results of a study I co-led.  It was obvious from the beginning that she had an angle.  She was not interested in all of our findings, only those that would support her personal viewpoint based on her personal experience that she described to us.  The resulting article factually related our findings — but not all of them.  When you read the news always keep in mind that you are probably not getting the full and real story — only the pieces this particular reporter or news outlet has decided they would share.  When you hear the news, remember, you are getting the sound byte chosen by the media outlet, not the full statement of what was said. It would be nice if one media outlet would decide to give us full, unedited stories with all sides of an issue.

This column is about community.  The issues — some of which are inflammatory — are among those that are dividing people in our country and threatening Americans’ sense of community.  Many have been exploited for the financial and political gains of some individuals, corporations, or groups.  Ultimately, if we start basing our opinions and ideologies on data obtained through valid research studies, we will find that we will be much closer in our opinions than we are now.

The Affordable Care Act — AKA Obamacare
Sep 7th, 2013 by smwolfe913

If I see one more posting on Facebook with crazy information about “Obamacare” I will scream.  When I hear someone say “nobody wants Obamacare” I have to wonder how so many people can not want something when they really don’t know what it is.  I have to assume that too many people are going by what they heard — you know, the death squads and other crazy rumors.  Well, here are a few facts from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the State of Texas (which has opted out of the Medicaid expansion).  After reading it, I would love to hear from people whether they still think the Affordable Care Act (it’s real name) is a bad thing.

http://www.hhs.gov/healthcare/facts/bystate/tx.html

  • Nearly 5 million people in Texas are currently uninsured and eligible for insurance. Over half of them are male.
  • Children can stay on their parents insurance until the age of 26, which means over 3 million uninsured young people will gain coverage.
  • Insurers can no longer deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions, like asthma and diabetes. Beginning in 2014 they will no longer be able to charge more for coverage.
  • Health insurers have to spend at least 80% of your premium on health care or improvements to care, or give you a refund.
  • For the first time, health insurance companies will be required to publicly justify their actions if they want to raise rates by 10% or more.
  • Insurance companies will no longer be able to impose lifetime dollar limits on benefits — freeing people like cancer patients from having to worry about going without treatment if they read a limit.
  • People will no longer have co-pays for preventive screenings such as mammograms, colonoscopies, pap smears, well-child visits and flu shots.
  • The National Health Service Corp will expand and provide care to more than 10.4 million people living in places where there are shortages of health care providers.
  • Prescription drugs will be more affordable for seniors who were victimized by that donut hole.

In a nutshell, the Affordable Care Act will provide access to health services with no out of pocket expenses for millions of women.  Why is this important?  Because the United States still has one of the highest rates of infant mortality and low birthweight among developed nations.  Maternal mortality rates are also rising in this country.  Why?  In too many cases it is because women are not healthy when they become pregnant.  They do not have access to healthcare and do not get proper education about what they should be doing to care for themselves during their childbearing years.  Regular preventive screenings (e.g., diabetes, blood pressure, obesity, sexually transmitted infections) and regular visits with health care providers will help them to prepare and result in more healthy birth outcomes for infants and mothers.  It will ultimately reduce costs for everyone too.

Now to dispel some myths:

  • Obamacare is not universal coverage or socialized medicine.  In fact, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that as many as 31 million individuals will not have health insurance even after full implementation (mostly thanks to states not accepting Medicaid expansion).
  • This is not a federal takeover of health insurance.
  • Obamacare is not going to hurt Medicare.  It is just the opposite — it extends Medicare’s period of viability.
  • There will be no “death panels” waiting to deny care to patients.  The Act created an Independent Payment Advisory Board whose function is to recommend cost-saving measures for Medicare. They will not be making any recommendations that are not approved by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and they are prohibited from rationing health care.
  • Obamacare is not going to kill jobs. Estimates of labor reductions are based on workers who will be able to retire or work part time because they will no longer need their jobs for health benefits.
  • That most Americans do not want Obamacare is another myth.  If you ask many people about Obamacare they will say they don’t like it.  If you ask them about individual provisions they are all for it.  The dislike of Obamacare is primarily based on misunderstandings and misinformation.
  • Companies that are threatening to slash employee hours and shorten work weeks to avoid paying for health insurance were trying to do this long before the passage of the Affordable Care Act.  Those companies are using Obamacare as their scapegoat.  The same is true for those companies using it as an excuse to slash spousal benefits.
  • Obamacare will not fund elective abortions.  Individual health plans may offer it, but it will require a separate premium and NOT be covered by the government.
  • The law will not hurt small businesses.  It only requires businesses with 50 or more employees to provide health insurance.  At this time, this applies to 0.2%  of businesses.  It actually provides tax incentives for smaller businesses and they will likely be able to find more affordable options.
  • We will not face higher taxes to pay for reform.  Many people don’t realize that a large part of premiums for health coverage are used to pay for uninsured, who often use expensive emergency rooms for health care.  The burden will fall on those making more than $200,000 per year (married couples more than $250,000) who will pay an increased Medicare payroll tax on wages and investment income.

The bottom line is that the Affordable Care Act holds insurance companies accountable, lowers health care costs, gives Americans more freedom and control in their health care choices, and improves the quality of care.

So, are you still against “Obamacare?”

If not, feel free to contact your Representatives and Senators and tell them to stop fighting against it.  At the same time, if you live in a state where the governor has refused the Medicaid Expansion, let him or her know that they’re wrong.  Otherwise, we will all have to continue paying for those sick infants and adults who are forced to seek care in emergency rooms.

Unpaid Internships — Experience or Exploitation?
Sep 2nd, 2013 by smwolfe913

I have been reading more and more debate about whether unpaid internships are an opportunity, or whether they are merely a way for companies to exploit an opportunity for free labor.  Frankly, I was shocked to learn how many internships are with for-profit corporations and require 40 or more hours per week for an extended time. My conclusion:  Internships can be great opportunities, or they can be exploitation.

During the course of getting my education I was required to complete internships for my undergraduate and graduate degrees.  For my undergraduate degree I completed two different internships — both unpaid.  For my graduate internship I was one of the few lucky students who secured a paid opportunity.  My other four classmates were not. Were we exploited?  I don’t think so, and here is why.

First, our internships were 8 to 10 hours per week.  We were responsible for negotiating the internships and developing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the organizations.  This MOU clearly spelled out (1) the number of hours we would work, what we would do, and what experiences the organization would give us in return.  In other words, we couldn’t be shoved into a copy room and do menial labor.  The organizations had to give us a substantive project.  For my first internship I worked at a nonprofit whose mission was to ensure quality child care and children’s activities.  I helped with implementing training sessions, was tasked with developing and delivering a training project for mothers working to get off AFDC, helped with planning and implementing an event for orphaned children to help find them adoptive parents, and a few other tasks.  Through this experience I learned a lot about the workings of nonprofit agencies, child advocacy, planning and implementing events, and the challenges of parents living in poverty.  This was an incredibly valuable experience.

My second undergraduate internship was at a research department in a public hospital.  Prior to engaging in this internship I had taken my requisite statistics and research methods courses and really liked them.  For this internship I got to go into the field and actually help collect data for real studies.  I videotaped mother-infant interactions, interviews mothers and rated videotapes for real studies about failure to thrive infants and testing a home-visiting model for new mothers.  I helped with interviews for a study of adolescent mothers.  And best of all, I learned about a graduate program that was a perfect fit for me — the Ecological Psychology program at Michigan State University. I also learned that I LOVE doing social research and being engaged in the community.  Not just enjoy it, but it was the only thing I could picture myself doing for a career.  The experience gave me a real leg up for my graduate school application.  After I graduated from college, I was hired into a regular job in the department to coordinate oncology research. After a year of working there I started graduate school.

My graduate program required us to find an internship and work there one day a week.  I was fortunate enough to be able to continue where I was working for my internship and dedicate internship time to a specific project.  My classmates found placements at local organizations where they learned about the settings and populations served, and were able to eventually make arrangements to conduct their Masters Thesis research at those same sites.  They gained the experience and insight, and access to research participants in return for their time and expertise.  As with my undergraduate internship, this one also required writing an MOU that would ensure that both the intern and the organization would derive benefits from the internship. These non-profit organizations had to commit to allowing the interns to do meaningful projects, not just show up.

But now I’m reading about internships students have to complete with for-profit companies.  And internships that require 40 to 45 hours per week, and the interns are used to make copies, answer phones and do absolutely nothing that promotes their experience or education.  They get exposure to the profession and a line on their resume, but everyone in the industry seems to know how meaningless the experience is.  Meanwhile, the corporations are making profits.  Here are the official guidelines from the Department of Labor, but who is enforcing them?  http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs71.htm.  And here is the National Association of Colleges and Employers statement:  http://www.naceweb.org/connections/advocacy/internship_position_paper/.  The internships described really don’t conform to any of these requirements.

So, what is the difference between these internships and my internships, and internships typical in my field?  And when do internships cross the line from experience to exploitation?

  • If the organization is a for-profit that is getting something done for which they might normally have to pay (e.g., free clerical support), that is exploitation.  Internships should be opportunities to benefit the student, not opportunities for companies to increase their profits by replacing paid positions for free labor.
  • If the hours required are more than one day, or the amount of time that would be allocated for a class plus homework and study time, that is exploitation. Students are typically only getting 3 credit hours per semester for this experience.  The hours should be close to the same as those that would be required for any other class.  Sure, maybe there are a few more hours required, and that’s where the internship should be value-added.
  • If the student is not getting an actual hands-on opportunity to do professional level work, that is exploitation. Does this mean that interns should never make copies or stuff envelopes? Of course not.  But it should never be all they do.
  • If the hours required are fulfilling a legal requirement for the profession — then it’s an internship.  These include student nursing hours, student teaching and other professions for which experience is a necessary requirement for licensure.  But when you think about these professions, the interns are also doing internship work that is beneficial to the public, not someone’s personal profit. And, these students are fulfilling a requirement for their profession from which they will benefit.

So what should students do to protect against being exploited?

  • If you are going to do an internship, make sure you receive some form of compensation for the time you spend.  You may not have completed school yet, but you already have valuable expertise to offer.
  • Negotiate an MOU with the organization up front. Ask them to commit in writing to what they will give you.  But remember, you are also committing in writing to give back to the organization.  This means you need to show up as though it is a paid position, and show up on time and dressed and performing professionally. Leave the flip flops and jeans at home, and do not consider a day at the beach with friends to be a valid excuse for calling in sick.
  • Limit the time you volunteer so that it is commensurate with the credit hours or experience you are getting back.  Nobody should work for 40 to 45 hours per week for free unless it’s only for 2 or 3 weeks.

What can organizations do?

  • If you are a for-profit organization, you should be paying anyone who is working there.  Making profit from unpaid labor is slavery, not an internship.
  • Limit unpaid intern time to 15 hours or fewer unless the intern is logging hours necessary for graduation or licensure. If an intern is working full time for an entire summer or semester, the internship should be paid.  Full time internship hours pretty much prevent the intern from being able to hold another job, meaning that only those with financial support (e.g., parents, spouse) can partake of the opportunity, and those who might most benefit from it will not be able to.
  • Negotiate an MOU with the intern so that what each party will get from the experience is clearly spelled out.  Then honor it. Ensure that it includes a true hands-on learning experience for the intern — something they can describe in a job interview that would impress a potential employer. And because this might be a first job experience, make your expectations for attendance, dress, and conduct clear and then enforce them.  Don’t accept unprofessional dress and behaviors because you are not paying this person.  That’s part of their learning.

Recent articles have suggested that perhaps we should outlaw or do away with internships completely.  I know that my internships were extremely valuable opportunities for me and I would hate to see them end altogether because some have learned to exploit them. We should be advocating for tighter enforcement of the laws. Schools should be more closely monitoring internship opportunities. We should be doing all we can to find ways to create meaningful internships that provide real world experience, without exploiting students.

If you have had an internship experience that was either really great, or exploited you, please feel free to comment. I would love to hear about other’s experiences, both good and bad.

Listening to the Dialogue
Aug 31st, 2013 by smwolfe913

In my last post I emphasized the need for groups to listen to one another and consider other viewpoints.  One of the comments to this blog was from my friend the animal advocate.  I must begin by noting that she was NOT one of the people who wrote the responses that saddened me.  She agreed that it would not hurt to engage others in the conversation — but not to hold up the process of saving animals because she feels very strongly that we must save every dog and cat possible.  I have to agree with that.

I should also provide an update. The animal shelter has continued its campaign with the positive spin “Everything Goes Good With Black.”  So, hopefully, they will be euthanizing fewer black animals.

Below you will see excerpts from her comments to the blog.  They provide the perspective of animal advocates. And I’m referring to those individuals who have dedicated some or all of their lives to doing what it takes to save helpless animals.  But first, here is what I learned from this:

1.  Animal advocates who are saving dogs and cats are often exposed to the worst side of people.  They see heinous acts perpetrated against some of the most helpless creatures.  In any profession or volunteer work, if you see enough of such acts on a daily basis, you may to forget how much good most people are doing.   It’s important to balance your exposure to good and bad things so you never forget that there is need for people to help less fortunate animals and people, but don’t forget that most people are good.

2. Animal advocates are passionate and committed to their cause.  If everyone else was this way about issues of social justice — willing to speak out, take action, and dedicate time and energy to a cause — the world would likely be a better place.

3. The amount of effort necessary to save animals, coupled with the excessive number of unadoptable dogs and cats that are euthanized daily — about 2.7 MILLION each year or one every 11 seconds according to the Humane Society — indicates we have a larger, systemic problem.  It’s time to examine our policy, culture, and laws to do something on a larger level to prevent all of these unwanted animals from being born and dumped.  I recognize there are times that people must sacrifice their beloved pets and that’s going to happen.  But my little Mija was adopted from a shelter after she was found wandering the streets at 7 months of age.  Nobody ever came to claim her.  She had no tags, she wasn’t microchipped, and she had not been spayed. And there were no consequences for whoever did not act responsibly to care for her.

Here are some excerpts from my friend Tammie’s comments. I’m sharing them so we can all have some insight into the world of animal advocates and maybe learn something. And maybe someone reading this can think about how we can engage in prevention so the animal advocates won’t have so much work to do and fewer animals will die.

After volunteering in this arena for two years, I have seen a lot that horrifies me about our society and I understand the passion of the animal activists. Between pet owners who won’t be responsible by having their pets spayed/neutered to viewing horrible images of a German Shepherd whose face was sliced multiple times with a machete, collars that are too tight and have embedded into the skin causing open wounds, puppies who have been burned and hanged because they peed on the floor, and another dog who was found in 100 degree weather with its mouth duct taped shut, not to mention, of course, the animals who are being used for fighting, and the horrible conditions of puppy mills, it’s enough to make you sick. Then, there’s the betrayal by people claiming to be rescuers who are only in it for the money. They will post a few pictures of injured animals so that people will donate for medical expenses and then they run off with the money and abandoned the animals in another shelter across town. Oh, and let’s not forget the rescue groups who go into the parts of town you won’t be caught in and actually get out of their cars and talk to people because the neighborhoods are known dog fighting areas. They walk the streets looking for dogs who have been abandoned or left in backyards with heavy chains around their necks and no food or water.

Let’s look into the mindset of an activist. First of all, saving animals is a constant race against the clock. This includes the scheduled opening/closing of the shelters, euthanasia schedules, vet closings, personal restraints, etc. Secondly, they feel as though they can never do enough. The pain and suffering never end and everyday there are new faces to replace the ones who were lost; new faces behind bars. After continually seeing all the suffering these animals endure by the hand of man, I can understand how one can become callous. How else do you expect them to deal with all of this? I’m sure you’re aware of the psychological defense mechanism when dealing with atrocities.

Now, let’s look at how animal activists live. On a daily basis, their homes are full of animals they’ve rescued and they’re fighting with their spouse because they want to take in/save one more. They spend their own money for food, gas to transport, and provide medical care. They’re up at all hours of the night feeding kittens who’ve lost their mother, calming scared animals, providing medical care, or posting pictures. Others volunteer by cleaning kennels at the shelter, bathing and grooming which can take hours with neglected animals, taking pictures, managing the pictures and websites, social media, and transportation. The list goes on and on. Meanwhile, they still have jobs and families to take care of. They have chosen a role for which they will receive NO praise, except by a few others within the community. The only satisfaction they will get is seeing a healthy animal drive away to their new forever home. And then, they get to pray that the new pet owner doesn’t have a change of heart and return the animal because it didn’t work out, they are moving and can’t take the pet with them, they are going through a divorce, the animal didn’t meet their expectations, it got bigger than what they had expected, or the landlord wouldn’t allow a Pit Bull on the property or any other breed that doesn’t look like a 2lb Yorkie.

They know how horribly some of our city shelters are run. Last year the Ft Worth shelter was supposed to make some kind of upgrade that would help the animals (I forgot exactly what it was.) Instead, they decided to spend the money on showers for the employees. The shelters are not cleaned often enough and kennel cough runs rampant. The live release #s for Ft. Worth and Dallas are sickening. There are too few people who care. The system is broken when 20% of the people are doing 80% of the work.

These voiceless animals who cannot tell you how they hurt, are confused, have scars, are black…and the last to be adopted and the first to be euthanized, that will protect you with their own life and give you unconditional love and kisses.

In conclusion, rescue work is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears and there aren’t near enough victories to offset the tragedies. Resources, as usual, are limited. Consequently, emotions often run high, especially when the shelters are full and forced to euthanize for space. Some people start to get into rescue work but then realize that they can’t deal with the deaths. When I first started, I cried every night as I viewed the Rainbow Bridge albums, seeing the faces of the ones who didn’t make it. Rescue advocates have a huge sense of responsibility to protect animals and oftentimes blame themselves when efforts fail. Dealing with death is never easy. Expecting that additional handcuffing on an already grossly compromised system would be taken lightly is unrealistic.

Open the Dialogue
Aug 29th, 2013 by smwolfe913

I have to admit that sometimes my window into local, state, and national events is through Facebook.  Sometimes this leads to interesting dialogue with people that I don’t know.  I recently had one of these experiences that was so disturbing, it left me feeling sad for a very long time.

A friend of mind is an animal advocate.  I don’t mean she loves animals, I mean she posts pictures of dogs to be euthanized at her local shelter and several others daily and posts information about fundraisers and local shelter events.  She recently posted a notice that a local shelter had been forced to discontinue its campaign.  Apparently black dogs and cats are less frequently adopted and more frequently euthanized.  To combat this, the shelter started offering them for half price on “Rolling Black Out Fridays.”

Shortly after it was implemented the special was cancelled as a group of individuals went to City Hall and asked that the promotion be discontinued because it was offensive to them.  The shelter discontinued the promotion immediately, which really made the animal advocates angry.

Some of the comments on the Facebook posting were indicative of just how angry they are.  These are what I found to be disturbing.  They included:

  • “Political correctness has got to go!”
  • “They could run a liberal rainbow hippie equality special and make them all half price”
  • “Someone needs to get over it”
  • “Do people not have a real life and real worries? Since when does a color belong to a group?”
  • “Next campaign try ‘KKK where the Whites are supreme.”

At this point, I decided I had to weigh in on the conversation.  I explained that some words and phrases have negative connotations for some populations and sometimes others don’t understand it.  I suggested that the shelter talk with those who were offended, educate them on the rationale for the campaign, and ask them to help come up with a new name so it could be continued.  In other words, welcome them into the conversation and solution generation.

The response:  ”Unbelievable. I’m not going to donate my time to listening to people whine about being offended…start catering to this nonsense and it will never end.”

I decided to try again.  I explained that whether the issue was the use of the word “Black” was never stated — perhaps it was something else about the presentation.  I also pointed out that it is unfair to call people whiners for speaking out – it is one of our rights as Americans.  I posed the possibility that maybe that group is offended that they consider the animals to be more important than wrongs that have been done to some people in our country, and certain phrases are reminiscent of those wrongs.  I maintained my position that they had the right to be heard and their opinions considered.

The response: “What’s not fair is that only some people get the right to speak out and demand special treatment…while the rest of us are expected to tiptoe around to avoid possibly infringing on their feelings.”  Another respondent stated “I don’t care to know them or their issues, history, background, etc. If I wanted to be involved in civil rights issues, I would invest my time and money into that endeavor.”  And yet another “Those who complained need a reality check, a big dose of common sense, and in this case, humanity and compassion instead of their self-serving agenda to make a political issue out of a worthwhile effort to do good. It’s not all about them.”

So what is so disturbing about this?

  1. The number of responses that suggest that for many people, the rights and lives of animals are more important than those of people — particularly, those of people of color.  Several years ago I took a graduate class on non-profits and found that people in this area donate more money to animal charities than to charities serving people, especially children.
  2. That one respondent claimed that those who spoke out lack humanity and passion.  This same person who doesn’t care how a campaign for animals may affect some persons.  Really?  Is that what humanity and compassion mean?
  3. That people who are offended and speak out are called “whiners.”  These same people pay taxes to support this shelter and are citizens of this city.  That those who support the shelter and volunteer would be so insensitive to them, and think that only their opinions and feelings about the animals matter, horrified me.

I think what really saddens me was that in its haste to respond to those who were offended, the city lost an opportunity to open dialogue and bridge some gaps.  They could have easily brought these two groups together to talk about what was offensive and work together to create a solution that would have helped bridge some gaps and promote adoption of the black animals. Instead, the actions they took resulted in yet more hateful responses from the privileged white population, and black animals continue to die.

I am still deeply disturbed by the callousness of those who enjoy their White Privilege — and yes, I am calling you out — and their unwillingness to learn about the experiences of others in this country. Disturbed that they consider efforts to save dogs more important than issues of justice and civil rights for people.  And I’m not sure what the solution is.  Does anyone else have any ideas?

A Valuable Resource for Change Leaders!
May 11th, 2013 by smwolfe913

In the modern workplace, change is the only constant—an observation that is no less true because of its frequent repetition. As a leader, you are often called upon to lead change. How can you learn to approach change positively yourself, manage change so that it results in proactive benefits, and lead others to accept and even thrive in change?

While most organizations today are highly experienced with change, they are far less experienced with change done right. Why is that? If your organization is facing a major change and you’ve been asked to play a major role in it, you’re probably wondering that too.

As it turns out, we know a lot about organizational transformation. For over two decades, authors have written hundreds of books on change management. We’ve developed multiple models for leading change, spanning from whole-systems approaches to methods like “preferred futuring” and “appreciative inquiry” to name but a few. We’ve conducted studies and found that positive change requires, among other things, a commitment from senior management, a “guiding coalition,” and a “compelling vision.” Experts emphasize the “burning platform”: our workplace must be on fire before instinct kicks in and tells us to jump into the cold sea of change. We also know we have to answer the WIFM question—“What’s in it for me?”—when persuading others to adopt a change. We’ve developed organizational-readiness assessments, leadership-alignment and stakeholder-engagement tools, and communication plans to help us through change.

With all this knowledge and all these methodologies, why do 70 percent or more of major change initiatives fail? It’s not that any of these models or tools are wrong or useless—they’re just incomplete.

Successful transformations require more than book knowledge and theory, regardless of how sage and vetted the advice might be. To lead change, change leaders must know themselves. They must ask and be able to answer questions like these: What are my tendencies in leading change? What do I focus on, and what do I miss? What am I good at, and what can I get better at?

This powerful self-knowledge is the first step in developing change intelligence. And as leaders develop their own CQ, they begin to raise the CQ of their teams and the organization as a whole, dramatically increasing the probability of positive, pervasive change that sticks. Only when change leaders are equipped and empowered with this understanding of their personal working style can they guide others through transformation.

Change intelligence, or CQ, is the awareness of one’s own change leadership style and the ability to adapt one’s style to be optimally effective in leading change across a variety of situations. The idea behind the CQ System is that each of us has a distinctive method of leading through organizational change. Just as we can measure our IQ, our EQ, and any number of our other intelligences, we can also assess our change intelligence. In doing so, we learn a great deal about how we can leverage our personal change leadership style to lead change far more effectively than before.

The CQ System, which my friend and colleague Dr. Barbara Trautlein discusses in her book, Change Intelligence, enables change leaders to diagnose their change intelligence, equips them with applied developmental strategies, and shows them how to be powerful agents of transformation.

Endorsed by some of the leading management gurus such as Marshall Goldsmith, Jim Kouzes, and Rosabeth Moss Kanter as well as C-level executives from industries spanning healthcare to steel to retail, Barbara’s book is full of actionable advice and real-world case studies.

In addition, each book comes with a free online assessment ($97 Value) so you can identify your own personal Change Leader style and immediately take steps improve your CQ!  Along with the assessment, you’ll receive a customized report detailing strengths, potential blindspots, and targeted developmental suggestions.  It also provides insights on leading change at the team and organizational levels.

If you’re serious about making a lasting impact as a leader, I highly recommend you grab a copy of Barbara’s book today:

http://www.ChangeCatalysts.com/Book

Life’s Landscape
Jan 21st, 2013 by smwolfe913

Next time you go somewhere, as you drive back home pay attention to the landscape.  I mean really pay attention.  How does it feel as you get closer and closer to your home?

Changes are, if you live in a nice neighborhood, as you turn into your neighborhood or street you go”ahhhh.”  It’s comforting and restful.  But if you live in a poor part of town you are more likely to drive up your street and see a burned out house, an empty lot where people have decided to throw their trash, and graffiti painted on the sides of buildings.  Does that inspire an “ahhhh?”  Is it energizing or relaxing?  It’s more likely to inspire a “hmmmm.”

Now I know there are some people thinking “if these people don’t like the way their neighborhood looks, they should clean it up or stop messing it up.”  Which one of us has the energy to work all day at a disempowering job, or maybe work two jobs, then come home and take care of children, clean our house, get groceries, make sure the kids’ homework is done, do some laundry…. and the list goes on…. and then go clean up someone else’s yard?  And cleaning up and painting takes resources.  For families struggling to keep their lights on, where would the extra money to buy rakes or work gloves (for safety), paint and other materials come from?  Chances are that the blight includes potholes in the streets and cracked sidewalks — if there are sidewalks at all — and the city has shown that they don’t care.

Last year we moved from a street where people had left their homes and simply abandoned them.  They began falling into disrepair — storms came along and blew off some roof tiles, trees broke and branches were scattered around the yards.  Nobody mowed the grass for weeks and it got tall and weeds began to take over.  This was a beautiful neighborhood when we moved in merely five years earlier, now three houses on our block were unoccupied and no longer cared for.  I had to call the city on several occasions to get someone to at least cut the grass.  It took time out of my day, which was an inconvenience.  If I worked a job where I had to arrive at 8, had no phone access (behind a cash register or counter), and then worked until 5 or 6, I would have been unable to call.  Sure, there are breaks, but should they really have to be spent calling the city because your neighbors won’t mow the lawn?  The street I used to love to drive down coming home and the street that made me say “ahhhh” now made me say “hmmmm.”  The smile I used to have as I drove through the familiar streets was turning into a frown.

We ended up selling the house and moving to a nicer neighborhood.  As I drive into this one, my smile has returned.  It suddenly struck me how important life’s landscape can be for maintaining a positive attitude, for creating a restful feeling, and simply to maintain a peaceful state of mind.  As American’s we are entitled to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.  I think this landscape is part of the Pursuit of Happiness that all American’s are entitled to.

So, what can we do to promote this and to help others to have a pleasant landscape?  Here are some ideas:

1. First, get to know your city codes.  Then as you drive around, when you spot code violations take note and call them in when you get a chance.  Particularly when they are persistent and it is obvious nobody is going to take care of it.

2. Organize the teens at your church or some other group to have a fundraiser to get some money and go clean up a few blocks. Work with people from the neighborhood and make sure that whatever you do is supported by them.  Partner with neighborhood leaders — do things with them, not to them.

3. Call  city council members and the Mayor’s office and let them know which parts of town need sidewalks, sidewalk repairs, or street repairs and pressure them to make it happen.

Coming home to a neat home and neighborhood is uplifting.  For young people, it may provide hope to see positive changes, or at least make them feel like they are also deserving of a nice landscape.  Providing support and advocacy to make things happen for others conveys a sense of caring, and lets them know that they matter too.  Think about what you can do to make that happen in your community, and other communities as well.

Do Not Be Afraid to Think Big
Jan 21st, 2013 by smwolfe913

Thinking big is undoubtedly intimidating.  However, it is sometimes necessary to take big steps to accomplish change at a larger level.  In conducting forums recently I discovered that when you ask people why something is happening, they will first talk about things individuals are doing.  It takes a little work to get them to look closely at what might be going on at the larger level — policies, environment, social norms.  Perhaps it is because whenever we find something is a “problem” in our society, it is so easy to design a program and try to fix the people who are causing it.  To make change at the larger level means kicking dinosaurs, and we are all too often afraid to wake them up.  It is often just easier to take the “blame the victim” approach and assume that we need to fix individuals rather than confront the larger systems.

Let’s look at obesity prevention as an example.  The immediate response is often “let’s teach people how to eat better or exercise.”  So we set up programs and enroll 200 people, and give them a class on how to cook some nutritious foods.  But, then what happens when they take those recipes home and try to use them?  The food may not be available in their neighborhoods, or it may be too costly compared with less expensive foods.  Lean meats are much pricier than sausages and fatty meats.  Fresh vegetables are often not sold at neighborhood convenience stores, and access for some to larger grocery stores may require riding several buses.  How many people want to take two buses with three small children just to get fresh green beans, when there are canned green beans right down the street?  Then let’s look at efforts to change the school menus.  For some schools, evicting the corporate fast food stand might mean lost revenue.  Parents may resist changes for fear that their children won’t eat lunch at all.  Students may throw away the good food because it tastes funny compared with the high fat, high sodium diet they are accustomed to.

Making change in this area is going to take action on the part of civic leaders to bring large grocery stores into neighborhoods that they have shunned.  It will take enduring the push back encountered with school menu changes.  It will take investment in facilities and parks so that children have safe places to engage in active play and sports.  It will take creating access for children of lesser means to sports and activities that are typically enjoyed by those who can afford them. We might even have to address the systems we have created that make fresh food more expensive than food that is processed.  Does it really make sense that food that must go through numerous steps before going to market is less expensive that food coming right from the ground?

This is just one example of some of the changes that can be made to tackle a problem if people are willing to think bigger.  These are much harder to do than simply creating a program and continuing to try to change the people affected.  This “blaming the victim” whack-a-mole approach to intervention will likely make only a small dent in the problem, which may continue to grow despite such efforts.  Should we stop creating such programs?  No.  It’s still important to help people who want to change obtain the tools they need to do so.  Should we support the sustained change by changing the environment around those experiencing them? Absolutely.  But, to do so will mean we must stop being afraid to think and act big.  Let’s support all of those individually focused interventions by mobilizing our communities to take action to change the systems as well.

A Call for Disciplinary Diversity
Apr 4th, 2011 by smwolfe913

So many organizations tend to hire people with specific disiplinary training, usually similar to that of the individual who is doing the hiring.  What this leads to is a bunch of people with the same set of skills, same mind set, and same way of doing  things.  That has its advantages.  For example, if you are hiring someone with your background, you are familiar with what skills they were taught and what  they know.  You also know they will be agreeable to the way you do things, because they were taught the same way.  The drawback of this is that it limits the depth and breadth of thinking.  When challenging situations arise, or changes are in order, you have a limited range of possibilities to draw upon.  It is very difficult to get outside the box.

There are few Community Psychologists in my neighborhood (if any), so I often find myself collaborating with people who were trained in sociology, public policy, social work, public health, nursing, education, program evaluation, business, and a myriad of other disciplines.  These experiences have had their ups and downs, but mostly ups.  The advantages have been that I have learned new ways of thinking and picked up new skills.  My way of looking at problems and solutions has broadened to include multiple perspectives based on what I have learned from my colleagues.  More importantly, they have shared their skills and knowledge.  My education has continued by virtue of my collaborations.

On the down side, it takes time for people to feel comfortable working on teams where team members are suggesting solutions and strategies that are different from the way they were trained.  It’s very difficult after years of doing things one way to suddenly be back on a learning curve and to relinquish control to an unknown process.  It involves a level of trust in ones colleagues and that is challenging if you have not worked together for very long.  Another down side is negotiating which perspective will work best in a given situation.  It means giving in that maybe the discipline you were trained in and embraced does not have the best solution for this particular need. 

After numerous collaborations I have come to the conclusion that interdisciplinary teams are stronger than single discipline teams.  The diversity of ideas, solutions, opinions, methods, and knowledge seems to meld together into something that could never have been created from one perspective.  So, the next time you are hiring or putting together a team, unless there are licensing, credential or other boundaries, try mixing it up a bit.  Then, rather than resisting the influx of new ideas, perspectives and methods, start asking questions and learn something!

Have you examined your hiring practices lately?
Dec 29th, 2010 by smwolfe913

Searching for a job is a frustrating process, especially in times like this where there are few openings and competition is stiff.  Usually people who are searching will be in one of the following categories:

  • Unemployed:  these are people who have either been laid off because of the economy, fired because of poor performance or personality conflict, or simply left a job they did not find tolerable.
  • Underemployed:  these folks are not being paid enough to meet their current needs, or not employed in a position that fully utilizes their education or skills.
  • Not happy in their current job:  people in this situations are either working outside of their field, working at a place that does not match their personal or professional needs, or suffering with an intolerable boss or co-workers.

No matter what category job seekers fall into, most of them are unhappy and highly stressed, at least in their professional lives.  Some may be facing real life crises, such as losing their homes or struggling to feed their children.  The job seekers I’ve talked to lately have told me stories that suggest that not only are they frustrated with the lack of jobs that are available, but the application and interview process at many companies is becoming increasingly impersonal and unpleasant.  During stressful times, do you want to be known as someone who added to the stress?

As a former manager, I’m well aware of how the hiring process places extra demands on time and resources.  However, it is important to keep in mind that your organization’s image is important if you want to attract the best possible candidates.  Even among those candidates that are not qualified, you never know when they will pop up somewhere down the road.  That person who is ill qualified now may be your ideal candidate five years down the road.  If they were not treated well when they applied the first time, what are the odds they will apply again at a later date?  It is entirely possible that some time in the future they may be in a position to hire you and do you want them to associate you with an unpleasant experience?

What are some things organizations could be doing differently?  Here are a few ideas:

  • Even if it is time and resource consuming, let applicants know when they have been eliminated from consideration.  Allow them closure.  The job you advertised may sound like their dream job.  It is easier if they know now that they did not get it rather than keep hoping they will get a phone call.
  • Don’t advertise positions when you already know who you plan to hire or promote.  Giving the illusion that there was a “fair” search is not worth building hopes among job seekers that there is a real opening.  I’ve seen this done time and again when large organizations (such as the Federal government) require departments to go through standard processes.  Over time, good potential candidates stop applying for jobs because they feel that they are wasting their time chasing pseudo openings.
  • Don’t interview “token” candidates when you already know who you plan to hire or promote.  Often candidates need to find a way to take time off from their current job, or spend money on gas and dry cleaning to attend the interview.  It really isn’t fair to put them through the time or expense and build false hope if you don’t mean it.
  • Pay close attention to your selection process to determine whether you are selecting candidates because they are similar to you or your staff and make you comfortable, even if they aren’t the most qualified or enthusiastic.  We all tend to want like-minded people around, but this is not the best practice when you’re building a team.  Diversity of background, discipline, personal characteristics, and education are key to building a team that can innovate and produce a range of solutions to a problem.
  • Think about underlying skills and transferable knowledge rather than seeking only individuals with topical experience.  Anyone can become knowledgeable about a topic, but sometimes learning basic skills and competencies takes more work or training.  For example, a candidate may have worked in your area for years on a technical basis and be seeking a management position because they feel it’s time to move up, or they’ve hit the pay ceiling for their classification.  Does that individual have management skills and competencies or leadership potential?
  • Pay attention to whether the candidate is simply looking for a job and selling themselves to you, or whether something they say suggests that they want “YOUR” job.  Even if someone is less qualified, if they are enthusiastic about the job you are offering, if they have the potential, they can be brought up to speed quickly enough.  Your organization deserves more than to be a stopover for someone who is really looking for something else.
  • Be willing to interview candidates during the off hours.  If job seekers are currently employed it is really difficult for them to take time off from their current job.  If they can interview after work or even on a Saturday you won’t make them risk losing their current job, or put them in the awkward position of asking for time off.  Some candidates may not get paid for time off and will lose money they may not be able to afford to attend the interview.  If you are only interviewing at times that someone is unable to take off you might lose a really good candidate.  Conscientious individuals may not be willing to take time off for an interview if it will inconvenience their employer or make them miss a deadline, so you risk losing them if you are inflexible.
  • Examine whether you are communicating too much with potential candidates by e-mail.  It’s fine to e-mail to let someone know you have selected interviewees or the candidate and they were not chosen.  However, e-mailing to ask them to interview or tell them they were selected for the job is very impersonal.  Pick up the phone and invite the individual to interview so you can discuss the best time for them to come in.  During that time you begin to build the rapport (or at least your administrative staff does).  You can then confirm the appointment by e-mail.

Having fair and friendly hiring practices can go a long way to promote your organization’s image.  Not only that, but during these stressful economic times, they will make the world just a little nicer and more supportive for a very stressed out portion of the population.

These are just a few ideas.  I would be interested in learning more about what some organizations have done to make their hiring practices more “user friendly.”

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