Is it Smart or Stupid to Leave Your Comfort Zone?

January 10, 2015

Many people are out there flogging the “conventional wisdom” about the value of “getting out of your comfort zone.”

At first blush, this kind of advice almost seems smart.

But whether it is smart, or not, really depends on you, your work, and your position on the trajectory of your life and your work.

If you’re failing, or too afraid to accomplish your best work, then yes, it might be valuable to get out of your comfort zone.

But if you’re successful, working hard on projects that are important to you, and “in a groove” that provides solid expression for your innermost values, ideas, dreams, and hopes, then getting out of the “comfort zone” you’re in would probably result in a net loss for yourself, and for humanity.

Once you know what you’re doing, and doing it well, and it’s something good that needs doing, then there’s no reason to “get out of your comfort zone,” any more than there’s a reason to leave a relationship that’s working and a reason to retire when you’re still productive and happy.

Like all advice, “get out of your comfort zone” is a simple-minded trope that makes sense only in certain contexts, and makes no sense in other contexts.

Fortunately, most people who know what they are doing and are doing it well, and are doing something good, are tuned-in enough to recognize poor advice when they hear it, even if it’s dressed up in conventional values that almost seem smart to those not looking deep enough.

What I’d Like To Hear From A Congressional Candidate

March 30, 2014


I understand I would be a “rookie” in Congress. I understand I would be an idealist. I even understand that Congress operates in complex and arcane ways according to convoluted and often contradictory rules. If I were to go to Congress as a conventional “politician,” I’d obviously and almost necessarily be starting from a position of weakness and naivete.

But if you send me to Washington as your Representative, I won’t go as a conventional politican. I have never been a conventional person, and I won’t change my approach or my methods just because they’re not yet commonly accepted in Congress.

I have achieved whatever small success I can point to in this world on the basis of my personal strengths, which include intelligence, heartfelt understanding of the human condition, insight into other people’s drives and lives, clarity of purpose, and an ability to find ways to apply moral principles to achieve practical solutlions. I believe — and I urge you to believe with me — that Congress, and Congresspeople, are as susceptible to these tools and techniques as everyone else I’ve encountered in our great nation.

As your Congressional Representative, I will use my strengths to get to know the other Congressional Representatives, not just on the surface, but at their deepest levels of motivation, values, perceptions, and possibilities. They live and work in a corrupt system, to be sure, but most of them remain decent, honest, patriotic Americans who love our country and want to see it improve in years to come.

That’s where I will reach out to them.

I will use my strengths to make contact with each Congress person’s inner values, inner principles, and inner agenda. I will use my intelligence and experience in accomplishing difficult real-world tasks to help them find practical applications of these values and principles that can successfully address what has gone wrong with our American political, economic, and social systems. I will use my powers of perrsuasion to help them see that there are ways to make our country better, and to help ordinary people lead happier, more fulfilling, more successful lives.

I understand that politics is about compromise, and about achieving what is possible in a complex and difficult, rapidly changing world. And that’s exactly where and how my strengths and abilities will allow me to help other Congress people find common cause with each other, to build on what is great about America, and to open the door to new possibilities.

It is because I understand people so thoroughly, and recognize what drives them to behave as they do, that I can direct my talents toward generating new and greater support among “conventional” politicians for the changes we need to begin repairing what is broken and to set our great country on a better, truer course toward the exciting and positive destiny we were founded to fulfill.

Ongoing Opposition and Alternative Voices

May 6, 2013

Announcing the Green Shadow Cabinet … intended to provide an ongoing opposition and alternative voice to the dysfunctional government in Washington D.C. It includes nearly 100 prominent scientists, community and labor leaders, physicians, cultural workers, veterans, and others. As with shadow cabinets in other countries, the Green Shadow Cabinet of the United States plans to respond to statements and actions of the existing U.S. government, and hopes to demonstrate that another government of these United States is possible, practical, and beneficial. The Cabinet is currently led by the 2012 Green Party presidential nominees: Dr. Jill Stein, and Ms. Cheri Honkala. It is explicitly not a project of any political party, however, and invites participation by all who support sensible government politics and policies.

This may not be the first instance of such an idea, but it’s the first one I’ve ever heard of, and it’s a great one.

Now there stands a real possibility that some or all of the bought-and-paid for, short-sighted, small-minded, self-serving, and wrong-headed statements and decisions by the “official” U.S. government can be seen in the light of smarter, better ideas and policies put forth by experts and specialists who have a larger view and a predilection for helping the vast majority of Americans rather than the wealthy and privileged few.

Here’s a link to a list of current Shadow Cabinet members:

Here’s a link to some early statements by Shadow Cabinet members:

Here’s a link to where you can sign up for the Shadow Cabinet’s electronic newsletter:

Here’s a link to where you can donate to support the Shadow Cabinet:

Fortunately, contributions are not tax-deductible. If they were, and if the Shadow Cabinet were to obey the tax laws, it would be barred from trying to influence government policies or elections. Plenty of right wing organizations and religious organizations claim their tax deductibility, but go right ahead and lobby, advertise, and otherwise try to peddle their influence. At least the Green Shadow Government is starting from a position of honesty.

With thanks to Winston Churchill: This Shadow Cabinet may not be the be-all and end-all of efforts to reform and revitalize our broken U.S. government. It may not even be the beginning of finding the be-all and end-all of such an effort. But it may be the end of the beginning!

You Won This Time But You Can’t Keep It Up Forever

November 17, 2012

You don’t get it, do you?

Yes, David beat Goliath.

Yes, Peter Pan beat Captain Hook.

Yes, Lawrence of Arabia beat the Ottoman Empire.

Yes, Fordham beat UMass (1971).

Yes, Stanford beat USC (2007).

Yes, the Tigers beat the Yankees.

Yes, New York City survived Superstorm Sandy.

Yes, Obama and the Democrats beat Romney and the Republicans and their billionaires’ money.

But don’t be so sure you can do it again.

This is a country that runs on information, and most of that information is transmitted via television, plus some radio. Sure, there’s the internet, but that’s really small potatoes compared with the broadcast media. To understand why, think about the numbers. Most websites, tweets, blogs, and forums on the internet get a few thouand visitors. Maybe a few hundred thousand. A really giant one will get a million visitors a month. A monster “viral” success will get two or three million visitors over its lifetime.

On television, a show that gets two million viewers is quickly canceled. At one point Rush Limbaugh had five million people listening to him every day. Every day! Sixty million people watched each of the pre-election Presidential debates. Sixty million!

TV and radio is where most voters get their information, along with word of mouth from friends, who also get their information from radio and television. If you’re’ not on TV, you’re not a viable candidate for national or even state office. And if your message, or point of view, or facts are not on TV, they literally do not find their way into the minds, hearts, and memory banks of America’s voters.

Of course, it’s easy to get on TV and radio … if you have tens of millions or hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on promotional efforts, message development, and … the bottom line … purchase of advertising time.

If you don’t have the big bucks, you’re not going to get on TV or radio very much. In that case, your ideas and your messages and your facts will wither on the vine. They’ll be highly appreciated by your immediate family, but not by very many more.

So this election cycle, for a variety of reasons, Obama and the Democrats beat Romney and the Republicans and their billionaires’ money. But next election cycle, some of those reasons may not be quite so vibrant and strong as they were this time. And the cycle after that, there may not be a Superstorm to focus voters’ attention of the favorable work that government can sometimes do. And the cycle after that, there may not be screaming yahoos on the Republican side mouthing nonsense and acting like clowns. And the cycle after that, Republican strategists may have learned to spend all that money sweetly wooing voters instead of insensitively pissing them off.

And when that happens the Party of the One Percenters, suitably disguised in working class clothes and skillfully uttering populist slogans and slathering those sophisticated messages all over the TV screens and radio dials of America, may sneak into a big time electoral victory.

After all, most of the time, the odds greatly favor Goliath over David, Captain Hook over Peter Pan, the Ottoman Empire over Lawrence of Arabia, UMass with Julius Erving over Fordham without him, a strong USC team over a weak Stanford team, the Yankees over the Tigers, a monster storm like Sandy over a New York City not designed for two-story high storm surges, and the Republicans’ billionaires’ money over a relatively underfunded Democratic party.

One solution would be to raise as much money as the Republicans. But that normally requires the cooperation of billionaires, and then Democrats would have to offer those billionaires basically the same paybacks as the Republicans do.

A better solution would be to finish the effort to get money out of politics, now, before money entrenches itself into politics so deeply it becomes inseparable, so we can all settle down to watching a fair fight between equally matched, equally clever politicians. And may the better party win!

Whichever party that turns out to be, the nation will be the better for it.

Toward A Free and Accurate Media

December 4, 2011

One of the problems with Freedom of the Press in the U.S. is that, famously, it belongs only to those who own a press. Even in the age of the Internet, Youtube, twitter, and blogging, it’s far easier to put up a chatty site full of opinion, innuendo, ideology, and psuedo-facts than it is to send investigative reporters to find out what newsmakers don’t want you to know, to verify facts, and to write clear and cogent explanations of important situations that work to keep readers informed.

This is the nature of news reporting in a capitalist culture where every organization has to earn its own living, or weaken and ultimately die.

For this reason and others, many have suggested that newspapers and other news gathering organizations should not be part of the capitalist structure at all. Instead, they should be supported by endowments that allow them to spend money without regard to whether or not they generate enough income to pay all their expenses.

But this change alone, while it might free newsgathering organizations from the need to attract mass audiences in order to pay their bills, would not ensure that they focus their energies on reporting what’s really important, or that they report on major stories in a factual, sober, and sensible manner.

What’s also needed, aside from some kind of endowment or stipend system that provides a steady stream of money to meet the admittedly heavy expenses of in-depth reporting, is a system that incentivizes and rewards newsgathering organizations for reporting on the stories that are important for citizens of a democracy to understand and follow.

That function could possibly be performed by a separate Board of Reporting Quality. The BRQ would meet at regular intervals, perhaps monthly or quarterly, and evaluate a newsgathering organization’s work. Is it focusing on the important stories? Is it unearthing the bedrock truth and detailed machinations contained in each of those stories? Is it reporting those stories clearly, concisely, accurately, and understandably? Is it following and reporting on each story not only through its most titillating moments but from its earliest beginnings to its final conclusions and implications?

The BRQ could then use these evaluations to recommend funding levels to the separate Board that controls the newsgathering organization’s funding. The better job it does of reporting, the more money it gets to spend. When the quality of reporting goes down, so does the extra money that pays for perks, extras, frills, and bonuses.

Under a system like this, properly run, salaries for investigative reporting could float to their fair-market level, high enough to attract more of the best and brightest, including some who are presently enticed to enter other professions because the money there is so much better.

The net result, in an ideal world, would be that newsgathering organizations would be funded well enough to cover the really important stories of the day and bring them to the attention of interested citizens. The pressure news publishers now feel to tease, titillate, and go tawdry would be eliminated, or at least offset by incentives aimed more responsibly.

With such institutions in place, interested citizens could feel more assured that we’re being told about issues, problems, and opportunities that are really important to our daily lives and to our future.

Politicians and Dogs

November 7, 2011

Years ago, when I owned some Golden Retrievers (great dogs, by the way), I read a wonderful and simple book about training dogs. I can’t remember the name, now, but I’d recommend it highly if I could.

Basically, the book said that dogs are merely collections of habits that their owners will tolerate. At bottom, dogs are social animals, and they desperately want to learn the rules, fit in, find their place, and be accepted. They just need to be told the limits of acceptable behavior.

An easy way to set those limits, wrote the author, is to use your keys. Keys are great because you (me, at least, and I dare say most men) always carry them in a handy pocket. What’s more, they have a good weight, and they readily make a loud, jangly noise.

The trick, according to this author, is to throw your keys at the dog.

Don’t worry: It’s not harmful. You don’t even have to hit the dog with the keys.

Just the noise of the keys hitting the wall or floor nearby is enough to startle and alarm your faithful companion. When you couple that key toss, and the resulting jangly noise, with a shouted “No!,” your dog gets a very clear message.

And because you can shout “No!” and throw your keys at the very instant your dog is doing something you don’t want him or her to do, that message is very unambiguously tied to the doggie action you’re trying to prevent.

From the dog’s point of view, you have suddenly gained the power to strike instantly from across the room. That’s far more effective that going to find a newspaper, rolling it up, chasing down your dog, and whacking it on the hindquarters. By the time you get all that done, the poor puppy has no idea of the reason for the punishment.

But throwing your keys and shouting “No!” makes you a pretty powerful pack leader. And because the nearby jangly noise and your shouted “No!” come at the same instant, not only are you telling the dog what it is that you don’t want him or her to do, you’re also strongly associating your shouted “No!” with that jangly noise.

Under the laws of behavioral modification, pretty soon you don’t have to throw those keys any more. Your voice alone is enough to convey your displeasure.

And within a very short time of you starting to throw your keys, your dog memorizes a list of things it shouldn’t do, and stops doing them. Now you rarely have to throw your keys or shout. The dog is well behaved, and everyone — including the dog — is very happy.

That’s all well and good, as far as it goes with dogs. But where these principles will really come in handy is in training our politicians.

Like dogs, most politicians are merely a collection habits that voters will tolerate. Like dogs, most politicians desperately want to learn the rules, fit in, find their place, and be accepted — that is, re-elected. They just need to be told the limits of acceptable behavior.

A lax electorate, like a lax master, makes nobody happy.

To reassert our control over our government, we simply have to get in the habit of making a loud noise and shouting “No!” the instant a politician does something unacceptable. All the remains is for us voters to find the political equivalent of throwing our keys.

I just wish that all politicians were as beautiful and well-bred as Golden Retrievers.

How The Rich Are Winning The Class War

August 1, 2011

The rich won the class war by depriving the middle and lower classes of education: history, civics, political education, and training in how to think critically. As a result, their mouthpieces can spout nonsense and the relatively uneducated voters now swallow it clean.

The antidote, until we get a real education system back again, is for those of use whose eyes are open to educate those around us who cannot see what is going on.

We need to develop simple, factually accurate materials we can hand out to people (or point them to on the web); simple, factually accurate arguments that show the folly of voting tax breaks for the rich etc etc rather than services and benefits for the average family; and so forth.

All that’s required for the rich to win the class war is for the middle and lower classes to do nothing.

Obama has the economy he deserves

December 1, 2010

Pundits are everywhere making the point that Obama is being criticized for poor communications, for not accomplishing all that much, and for relatively low popularity mostly because the economy is making voters unhappy. If the economy were in better shape, goes the argument, Obama would be much more popular and would be receiving praise for doing such a good job as President.

True. But the economy would be in better shape today if Obama had taken a “kick ass” attitude toward running things and, for example, pushed through a larger stimulus and insisted on longer and larger unemployment benefits instead of capping them at 99 weeks or less.

In short, Obama’s presidency is unappreciated because the economy is in bad shape, but the economy is in bad shape at least partly because Obama didn’t exercise his powers and his Bully Pulpit in support of programs that would have helped the economy grow stronger.

Obama has the economy he deserves.

Opt Out of National Opt Out Day

November 16, 2010

There’s a movement afoot ( to protest the TSA’s deployment of its new see-through-clothing scanners by having everyone “opt out” of the scanning process on November 24th, the day before Thanksgiving and one of the heaviest travel days of the year.

While I sympathize with the ostensible motivation behind the idea (millions of innocent airline plassengers are being massively inconvenienced and having their rights trampled by the TSA for not much of an increase, if any, in our overall flight safety — from a certain point of view, having so many people suffer through this procedure means the terrorists have won!), I can’t agree with the plan.

For one thing, you’re not likely to find a lot of support for the idea of asking people to protest by delaying their own travel, particularly on a day that’s difficult enough and already prone to delays, and even more especially when their primary concern at that moment will be simply getting home for the holidays. So the protest itself will be weaker than it deserves to be because relatively few will join in, compared to the underlying number of people who would be far more willing to participate in the protest if it were called for a more favorable date.

For another, you’re asking people to protest by disrupting other people’s travel, people who may not think the TSA is infringing on their rights. At first blush, it seems the same as when protesters march in the streets and block some traffic. But within the airline system, it’s different: Delays at one airport not only cascade throughout the entire system, they multiply from early hours to later ones until the whole nation is gridlocked. That’s not going to win the protest a lot of friends. In fact, it could even backfire and cause millions of passengers to dislike the protesters and feel a surprising sympathy for the TSA and its employees, who may well come up looking like the victims here, rather than what they actually are: the perpetrators of massive rights violations on millions of law-abiding, patriotic men, women, and children.

Overall, opting out of scanners on November 24th is just not a smart way to get what we all want, which is an end to “Security Theater” at airports and a redirection of the TSA’s massive budget toward more sensible approaches and methods that will actually make us safer. (You doubt that it’s Security Theater? Then please explain the point of subjecting every passenger to the TSA’s public humiliations while millions of tons of cargo flying on the very same planes gets no screenings at all?)

Here’s a better idea: On November 24th, everyone traveling by air (and interested others) who feels the TSA is overstepping its bounds and not doing the best possible job of keeping America safe should protest by:

a) Wearing a simple, paper sign saying: “Protest the TSA: Opt Out Of Intrusive Screenings On December 10, 2010″, and/or

b) leafletting the passengers around you by handing out the same words on small pieces of paper.

This kind of protest does several things:

1) It calls attention to the same problem, on the same day, as the poorly conceived “Opt Out Day” planned for November 24th

2) It creates no travel delays during a busy holiday crush and engenders no sympathy for the TSA

3) It gives people who are of a mind to protest a couple of weeks to get ready to participate

4) It causes disruptions to TSA procedures and resulting delays to airline flights on a normal flying day, a day that practically every flyer can hear about and prepare for in advance, a day when relatively few flyers are focused primarily on getting home for the holidays.

Are you ready to protest the TSA? Which of these protests are you more likely to join?

(If you’ve got an even better plan, let’s hear about it, in the comments below.)

The Vast Sweep of History Favors Progress

October 25, 2010

In seemingly every conversation about how bad things have become, or are becoming, in this great land of ours, eventually at least one voice pipes up with the notion that we have passed the point of no return. It’s too late to save America. Democracy is over. The good life is behind us. We’re toast.

That’s hooey! It’s pure propaganda. It’s the Big Lie put into the minds and mouths of honest Americans who have grown frustrated with the struggle for national progress and personal improvement. It’s the voice of the weary, the disheartened, those who are understandably sick and tired of fighting the same battles, the most basic battles, over and over again.

But it’s wrong. As wrong as it’s possible for an idea to be.

No, my friend, the country is not doomed. We have weathered storms like this before. One third of Colonists did not want to secede from England. One third of Americans did not want to give up owning slaves. One third of Americans worried about Communists in the entertainment business and the State Department.

It doesn’t matter. The vast sweep of history shows that people will gain more rights, more opportunity, and more support for realizing their full potential. Yes, there are people who’d like history to move backwards, but that doesn’t mean they will prevail. All they have ever been able to do is hold back the tide of progress.That is all they will ever be able to do.

Just keep thinking, talking, marching, voting, and working for a better future. Surrender is not an option. Victory is assured.

Photo credit:   Thorne Enterprises


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