Preserving Friendships Takes Effort

In the Internet era of Facebook and Twitter, some of us may be deluded into thinking that we have hundreds or even thousands of friends based simply on highly superficial electronic relationships. But real friendship involves more than liking someone’s Facebook post. Real friendships provide support during life’s difficult moments and shared joy when celebration is in order.

Preserving friendships in our highly mobile world has become increasingly difficult as we all have busy lives and many of us relocate periodically requiring extra effort to sustain friendships with those who may live hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

I recently had the good fortune to gather with former college housemates who joined together for a long weekend in Tucson from as far away as New York and Alaska and many points in between. As we are all in our 50s, some of our adult children even chose to join us.

Back in 1977, a group of University of Michigan college students, some of whom I knew from high school, and others who met each other freshman year, found a large 9 bedroom house to rent located on 300 E. Jefferson St, in Ann Arbor. Little did we know, that an ever widening group of friends would cycle through that house for the next 4 years, and build friendships that for some of us have lasted over 40 years. One of those friends, was my dear friend Rick Radner, who inspired me to write Treasure Each Dayafter his sudden unexpected death from a heart attack just over a year ago.

After Rick died, I contacted many of my 300 E. Jefferson friends to let them know of this tragic loss. We had periodically joined together for reunions, but had not done so since 2010, and with Rick’s passing, it became clear that it was time to gather again. I called Jane Stein Kerr to discuss planning a reunion, and she contacted Ron Borkan, who agreed to handle the logistics of setting up a time and place and contacting everyone. My gratitude runs deep for the effort that Jane and Ron made to bring us together once again.

Ron has lived on and off in Arizona for many years, so he agreed to plan some lovely excursions. On our first full day together, we traveled to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum outside of Tucson providing an opportunity to view some beautiful desert scenery and wildlife. Towards the end of our visit there, we viewed a raptor flight demonstration and as this Harris’s Hawk swooped and soared above us, I had the definite sense that Rick had joined our gathering, reminding me that true friendships never really die.


Of course, not everyone could make it, and that led to a discussion during at our last dinner together, about what caused us all to remain in touch and make the effort to gather in Tucson, many of us from thousands of miles away. What we realized is that true friendship is intentional and sustaining such friendships takes real effort. That includes periodically making room in our busy lives to travel and join together not only to reminisce about our college days, but to update each other on the many developments that have made up our varied lives over these many years, including new marriages, children graduating college and going on to work, getting pregnant and coping with illnesses and injuries. Our shared commitment to each other inspired us to make plans to gather again in a couple of years.

I have worked hard to preserve a number of groups of friends both near and far. None of them can be taken for granted. Nor can I assume that without sustained effort to preserve these friendships, will they always remain there when I need them as life presents its inevitable challenges.

Just before I headed to the airport to return home from Tucson, I spent the morning and then had lunch with 2 of my closest friends, Jim and Susan Cantor, who live in Alaska, so we don’t get to see each other very often. Jim and I met and became friends in high school. We became housemates in 300 E. Jefferson during college, and then spent 2 months exploring Europe and Morocco together in 1979. Jim met Susan during college and after I returned from Europe in 1980, the 3 of us shared a rented farmhouse outside of Ann Arbor. Although we do not have the chance to see each other very often, we keep in touch and support each other when we need the support of old and dear friends. As Jim & Susan’s warm smiles indicate, their marriage and our friendship remains strong.


It is probably no coincidence that although there were 2 friends who brought relatively new wives from a second marriage, 5 other couples were still in their first marriage. Those marriages have all lasted over 25 years, with my marriage to my wife Sheryl being the longest, going strong for over 33 years. It is no coincidence because these friends who make such regular and significant efforts to preserve our friendships are the kind of people who understand that a successful marriage is a unique kind of friendship that requires effort to preserve as well.

The fact that we have committed to support each other and reunite periodically over many decades leaves me confident that we will continue to do so as long as we live. In our often difficult world, friendships such as these are well worth the effort to preserve.


For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems contact him through his web site: Systems Change Consulting.


Powerball: the Power of Fantasy Thinking

During the recent frenzy surrounding the $1.5+ billion Powerball jackpot, I wondered why so many people are willing to give their money to the government for the slimmest chance of winning a prize, but will vehemently oppose any form of tax increase to redistribute wealth in this country. The odds of winning the grand prize are 1 in 292 million. The highest chance Powerball ticket purchasers have of winning the lowest prize of $4 is 1 in 92, still pretty slim. The money that is not given away in prizes is simply a form of voluntary taxation which, depending on the state, goes to fund schools or other government programs. Empirical studies have shown that:

increased levels of lottery play are linked with certain subgroups in the U.S. population – males, blacks, Native Americans, and those who live in disadvantaged neighborhoods.


Indeed, despite a well documented increase in income inequality, groups who have suffered the most as wealth disparity has accelerated, including African-Americans and the elderly increasingly oppose income redistribution through taxes. This can be explained by how people perceive their chances of getting ahead as opposed to whether or not they are really succeeding in doing so.

In  my work on grassroots systems change, I frequently encounter perceptions that do not always fit with reality. While I could spend a lot of time trying to convince people that they are voting against their self interest, I achieve greater success when I explore their perceptions of reality and meet them where they are at. In doing so, it is important that systems change advocates get to know those outside of their own socio-economic demographic to understand how their perceptions of reality truly play out.

One of the ways I have gotten to know many people outside of my own social circle, is through my son’s athletic teams. This was particularly true when his teams traveled to out of town tournaments, putting families who came from all walks of life together in a hotel for a long weekend. I vividly remember a conversation with one working class parent who worked on a factory assembly line, when we discussed my view that our public schools were inadequately funded. He admitted that before he had children in school, he opposed increased funding for schools because he believed his taxes were too high and that his money was being wasted.

However, he conceded that once his children entered school, he saw the value of his taxes at work. This self-interested view of reality caused him to shift his view  to support increased funding for schools.

What this conversation taught me is that there is nothing like real-life experience to change one’s views of how government works. If you experience government as a wasteful bureaucracy when you stand in line waiting too long to get your driver’s license, your views on taxes will generally be unsupportive. However, if you experience government as helping to provide your children a high quality education, you will support increased taxes  that you experience as helping your children.

Whether you are shopping for an appliance or paying taxes, in general, people want to feel like they are getting value for their money. Of course, this does not explain the likely scenario of throwing one’s money away when playing the lottery. This conundrum can be explained by fantasy thinking, which also explains why so many poor people oppose increased taxation on the rich even if it will fund programs to help them. Under fantasy thinking, millions of people play the lottery for the slimmest of chances of becoming wealthy. Through  that same psychological dynamic, lower income people oppose taxing the rich under the fantasy that they invest in the American Dream so fully that they believe they may one day become rich, and do not want to be taxed at a higher rate if their fantasy comes true.

For progressive systems change advocates, deftly using genuine self-interest through real life examples of helpful government programs, while acknowledging the reality of fantasy thinking, may be the winning combination to convince people to support policies that will help improve the lives of the greatest number of people who need the most assistance. A fantasy thinking lottery I could support, would be to give a free lottery ticket to every voter, with the winning ticket holder/voter receiving $1 million. I guarantee that would increase voter turnout more than any other method that has been tried.


For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact him by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.


Discipline them ’til they drop out

The U.S. Department of Education recently released the latest data which provides a lot of information about students in special education. Unfortunately, in critical areas, including discipline and drop-outs, in addition to overall high rates of excessive discipline and drop-outs, racial disparities persist. The data varies significantly between states, and readers can check their own states’ data, as well as gender disparities and those of other racial or ethnic groups, on the Dept. of Education’s website linked above, but to illustrate the problem, I will use my home state of Wisconsin’s data for Black, Hispanic and White students, and compare that to the national average.


The national data for special education eligibility is:

  • White:                                          49.7%
  • Hispanic/Latino:                      24.75%
  • Black or African American : 18.47%

The Wisconsin special education eligibility rates are:

  • White:                                        66.26%
  • Hispanic/Latino:                     11.33%
  • Black or African American: 15.28%

Since we know that school success can only happen if students remain in school, the data for suspensions and drop outs is deeply disturbing:

The percent of students with disabilities suspended or expelled 10 or more days is as follows:

US suspension/expulsions 10+days:

  • White:                                         30.43%
  • Hispanic/Latino:                      16.55%
  • Black or African American : 47.16%

Wisconsin suspension/expulsions 10+days:

  • White:                                         25.53%
  • Hispanic/Latino:                        9.31%
  • Black or African American : 62.14%

That’s right. Despite the fact that Black students make up less than 20% of students with disabilities nationally and in Wisconsin, they comprise nearly half of US students with disabilities suspended or expelled more than 10 days and nearly 2/3 of Wisconsin students with disabilities

If that does not shock you, it is even more disturbing when one examines the actual number of students with disabilities suspended or expelled out of school.

  • US total students with disabilities suspended/expelled 10+ days: 52,848
  • US total students with disabilities suspended/expelled <10 days: 487,847
  • US total Hispanic/Latino students with disabilities suspended/expelled 10+ days: 8,713
  • US total Hispanic/Latino students with disabilities suspended/expelled <10 days: 90,779
  • US total Black or African American students with disabilities suspended/expelled 10+ days: 24,827
  • US total Black or African American students with disabilities suspended/expelled <10 days: 182,116

The Wisconsin numbers are equally disturbing.

  • Wisconsin total students with disabilities suspended/expelled 10+ days: 795
  • Wisconsin total students with disabilities suspended/expelled <10 days: 10,907
  • Wisconsin total Hispanic/Latino students with disabilities suspended/expelled 10+ days: 74
  • Wisconsin total Hispanic/Latino students with disabilities suspended/expelled <10 days: 1,111
  • Wisconsin total Black or African American students with disabilities suspended/expelled 10+ days: 494
  • Wisconsin total Black or African American students with disabilities suspended/expelled <10 days: 4,332

Of course, when students are disciplined out of school, many of them end up dropping out.

US students with disabilities ages 14-21 dropping out in 2013-14

  • White: 9.49%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 14.55%
  • Black or African American: 14.3%

Wisconsin students with disabilities ages 14-21 dropping out in 2013-14

  • White: 7.95%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 16.73%
  • Black: 29.38%

Once again, to make clear that these are not just percentages, but real live children, here are the actual numbers of drop outs in these categories.

US students with disabilities ages 14-21 dropping out in 2013-14

  • White: 29,876
  • Hispanic/Latino: 18,812
  • Black or African American: 19,452

Wisconsin students with disabilities ages 14-21 dropping out in 2013-14

  • White: 536
  • Hispanic/Latino: 164
  • Black: 639

These numbers are a tragic indication of a failed education  system that metes out excessive discipline ultimately driving tens of thousands of our most vulnerable students to drop out of school, many of whom will commit crimes and fuel the school to prison pipeline.

However, we need to stop admiring this problem. It is not a new problem. Rather, it is a persistent problem. It persists because those who are responsible for underfunding our schools and permitting local school officials to remove students from school excessively are not held accountable. The numbers are only evidence of a deeply rooted problem. With tragic and transparent evidence of such widespread failure, who will accept responsibility and solve this ongoing nightmare? Who will we hold accountable for this failure?


For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact him by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.





Skating on Thin Ice

I have lived in a 4 season climate my entire life except for one winter when I worked on a kibbutz in Israel. While winter weather certainly has its challenges, it also provides many opportunities to participate in outdoor sports that are simply unavailable without sufficient cold and snow.

For the past 30 winters, I have lived within walking distance of Tenney Park in Madison, Wisconsin. This beautiful park was originally marshland on the outskirts of Madison, when the land was purchased by a local attorney, Daniel Tenney in 1899 for $4,000, in order to build a park, which now includes a beach on Lake Mendota, and a lagoon which is groomed for skating in the winter.

Grooming the lagoon must wait until the ice is thick enough for the Madison Parks’ staff to put heavy equipment on it. During most winters, however, the lagoon freezes without any snow on it and is thick enough for skaters before it is thick enough for heavy equipment.

Such is the case right now, and this weekend, I had the good fortune to enjoy a wonderful skate along with about 100 others.


Marston Street bridge over the Tenney Park lagoon.

However, skating on thin ice carries its risks. Many years ago, I skated too close to this bridge early in the winter season when no one besides my wife was with me and I broke through the ice. Fortunately, I was able to pull myself out, but I have since learned to wait for others to skate before I do and to avoid skating too close to bridges early in the season as the ice under bridges is not as thick.

Yesterday, I had hoped that my work to remove a dilapidated bridge and boardwalk on Goose Lake, in Adams County, Wisconsin was finally going to come to fruition. As I have written previously, in my role as Chair of the Goose Lake Watershed District, we have contracted to have this work completed this winter. On Monday, our contractor contacted me to let me know that he intended to start work yesterday. However, as I was driving up to meet him, he let me know that the ice was too thin and that his equipment had crashed through the ice, so he would have to wait until the ice was thicker to proceed with the work. Fortunately, he was able to remove his equipment and no one was injured.


Broken ice near boardwalk on Goose Lake

As I wanted to see what happened, I put on my cross country skis to examine the site as you can see above.

It was a beautiful winter day, so I continued to ski with my dog Luna running along and thought about the lessons learned from skating  on thin ice and how they apply to systems change.

Skating on thin ice and systems change are both risky. They involve pushing the limits of what nature (in the case of ice) or large institutions (e.g., government, corporations) will safely allow. As with any risky ventures, one must exercise sufficient caution to remain safe. However, that does not mean that one cannot take any risks. Rather, one must observe if others have tested the ice or systems first and determine the results. In some cases, one may fall through the ice or get pushed back by the systems. That, however, does not mean giving up. It just means pulling out and waiting until the ice is thick enough or the systems are ready to be changed.

I look forward to many more winters of skating, ice thick enough to complete the demolition and removal of the dilapidated bridge and boardwalk on Goose Lake, and many more ventures changing antiquated systems that are not providing equal rights for all.


For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact him by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.