The Need to Connect

A few days ago, I was reading an interesting article entitled Separated at Birth in which the author seeks out adults who were born on the same day in the same hospital as he was in 1949. He describes a variety of common themes that he has with his fellow baby boom generation members, but one particular quote from one of his birth mates struck a chord. He suggested that the reason the author, Daniel Asa Rose, was on this quest was that,

You’re interested in what connects Homo sapiens. You grasp the plain, astronomical truth that we’re on a microscopic pebble hurtling through space at sixty-seven thousand miles an hour–and in a very real sense, connecting with one another is the only thing that matters.

handshake

Since November’s election, I have received daily inquiries about how to respond. My usual quick response is to advise people to act locally and give hugs. While this may seem simple, what I am really suggesting is that the more we connect with each other, the harder it will be for those who seek to divide and conquer us to succeed.

Ever since he started his campaign, and throughout his first few months in office, the President has utilized classic demagoguery to disconnect us from each other. He and his allies actively encourage hatred, arrest and deportation of those who do not look like him. That is why so many of us have such an unsettled feeling. Since a healthy society requires that people connect with each other, living under the leadership of an administration that seeks to destroy that state of connection raises our anxiety level to unprecedented societal heights.

While I support those who seek to change the leadership in Washington, this task truly starts by digging deep community building roots at the local level. For me, it includes;

  • making eye contact as I walk down the street, thereby acknowledging the humanity of every stranger I encounter;
  • living in a neighborhood with sidewalks where neighbors and strangers regularly encounter each other on a daily basis;
  • mentoring youth who face daily struggles with poverty and discrimination;
  • supporting those released from incarceration to succeed upon entering our community;
  • leading my religious community in a manner that helps our community connect with disenfranchised communities in order to combat racism and xenophobia;
  • providing support to friends and family both near and far to maintain connections and offer help when needed;
  • leading a local lake district to work together to protect the environment;
  • engaging in genuine dialogue to build consensus to solve problems rather than sow divisiveness; and
  • providing unique legal and consulting services to disenfranchised clients who likely would not find the help they need elsewhere.

These paths of connection are simply the ones that I choose. Everyone can choose their own path to connect with friends, family, neighbors and strangers, but connect we must. Through a web of connection, we can build hope. Failure to do so will allow demagoguery to prevail.

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

Let’s Stop Admiring Our Problems & Start Solving them

Last night, Madison Alder Shiva Bidar issued a public advocacy challenge on her Facebook page when she posted the following message:

Tired of people who are against everything. How about focus on things you can be for and change? Don’t throw stones, build a house.

Her challenge to our community was well stated. We live in a data driven world fueled by social media. For many people, this results in posting complaints about what is wrong with the world on Facebook or Twitter, without offering or providing actual solutions.

Powerful-Quran-Dua-For-All-Problems

In my hometown, 2 major problems that we spend more time admiring and insufficient effort solving, are our insufficient housing and services for people who are homeless, and the longstanding racial disparities in employment, criminal justice and education. These problems have been analyzed and displayed for our community over and over again, and yet, the problems persist because too many people spend too much time admiring the problem instead of rolling up their sleeves to solve it.

Certainly, none of us has the capacity to solve every problem which we face. There are many obstacles which we all encounter: insufficient time, resources and expertise are just a few.

However, the daunting challenge of confronting large societal problems with real solutions cannot excuse the far too frequent lapse into ranting about our problems without actually doing anything to solve them. Despite each of our own personal challenges, every person has the capacity to be a problem solver. For some, solving problems may be at a very local level, helping build community in one’s neighborhood, or volunteering to help struggling children at your local school. It only takes a few minutes to write a letter or e-mail to your local officials to propose common sense solutions to community problems.

Last week, the media trumpeted the fact that 47% of Wisconsin’s registered voters actually voted during the recent Presidential primary and Supreme Court election because that was the highest turnout for a Wisconsin Presidential primary since 1972. That a minority of registered voters turning out is considered high is a tragedy. If you cannot do anything else to solve our community’s problems, the least you can do is show up to vote!

I am fortunate to have spent a 30+ year career working to improve our world. Not everyone has the time, privilege or resources to work on solving society’s problems every day. But there is a wide range between engaging in full time systems change advocacy and carving out a little time to solve one problem that truly troubles you.

Want to help solve the homeless problem? Get involved in the discussion over opening a permanent homeless day resource center.

Overwhelmed by the daily violence brought upon us by guns? Write your elected representatives about passing a bullet tax.

It is true that big problems like racism often require big systems change solutions. But each of us can start at the personal level with an honestly friendly smile greeting those who look different from us.

Systems change requires truth, education, organization, & persistence. Ultimately, the most effective systems change happens through real problem solving

Real change to real problems can be daunting, which is why so many people either opt out and do not even bother to vote and resort to merely complaining about problems without rolling up their sleeves to lend a hand to solving them. When faced with daunting problems remember this: nobody can solve society’s problems alone, however, if each one of us lends a hand, through one effort at a time, we can and will solve our problems instead of admiring them.

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

Flexible Thinking=Better Problem Solving

Earlier this week, I was faced with a problem I have never encountered before in my 30+ years as an attorney. After meeting with my client on Sunday night in my hotel room to prepare her for a 4 day hearing that was scheduled to start the next morning, I woke up to see an e-mail from the judge that she was sick with a high fever and could not preside over the hearing that day. She hoped we could start the next day.

Of course, I notified my client right away, and then proceeded to notify all our witnesses of the postponement. As it approached Noon, the judge notified us that she still had a high fever and was not sure if she could start on Tuesday. I asked her if she could let us know by 2 PM if we were going to start the hearing the next day, as after that time, I would have to pay for another night’s stay in the hotel. Shortly before 2:00, she notified us that she did not think she would be well enough to start the hearing the next day, and would notify us later whether or not we would start on what would have been the 3rd day of the originally scheduled hearing. I notified my client and the witnesses and returned home.

Just before Noon on Tuesday, the judge notified us that she was feeling better and believed that she could preside over the hearing on Wednesday. I informed her that I would check on my witness availability, and as it turned out, some of my witnesses were no longer available. By late afternoon, I informed her that I did not believe we could proceed in a fair and just manner to my client, given the unavailability of some of our witnesses and the judge agreed to postpone the hearing until later in the month. I am now working on rescheduling the witnesses for the new hearing dates.

While this story has its own unique elements, in truth, we all encounter unexpected changes in our personal and work lives periodically. Although it is certainly easier to live our lives in a routine manner without unexpected changes, frequently life simply does not work out so simply. In order to successfully solve problems that unexpected changes present, having a flexible mind leads to better problem solving, less panic, and ultimately better results.

The good news is that flexible thinking can be taught to parents and children. Flexibility exercises can help teach resilience.

The Sloan Center on Aging and Work produced an excellent paper that demonstrates how flexible thinking and flexible options improve workplace engagement and thereby produce better results for employees and businesses. The authors studied workplaces in 4 developed market economies, including the United States, and 6 emerging market economies, and among other things found that,

Employees’ assessments of their own flexible thinking, supervisors’ flexible thinking, and access to flexible options were all positively related to work engagement and organizational commitment.

Ultimately, many situations require thinking outside of the box.

outside the boxHaving a flexible mind allows for such outside the box thinking and can solve problems leading to personal, professional and systems change.

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

Problem Solving=Effective Systems Change

Wherever one looks, problems confront us.  We face serious problems as individuals, in our local communities, our nation & worldwide.  While lawyers are often accused of creating problems, the best lawyers know that that real success for their clients means solving their problems.  This is true in my work as an attorney and systems change consultant.  Clients come to me with problems.  My job is to solve their problems.

Of course, saying this is easier said than done, and part of my job is to help clients set realistic expectations as some problems are beyond my ability to solve.  Frequently, clients approach me with so much anger and frustration that they are unable to focus on actual problem solving.  That means that my initial work is to help them keep their eyes on the prize by helping them strip their anger away to see how solving their problem will provide a much better long term solution than simply providing fuel to their anger.

Current events in Ferguson, with ripple effects nationwide, reveal genuine anger.  Anger at police; anger at rioters; anger at institutionalized racism and all that comes with it: poverty, inadequate education and health care, excessive incarceration and the list goes on.  But, where our leaders have failed the people of Ferguson and all the rest of us who struggle to overcome these longstanding problems, is that while they cite statistics justifying anger, or try to calm legitimate anger through calming words, our leaders are failing to engage in systemic problem solving.

Problem solving certainly requires clear identification of the problem.  But that is merely a first step as problem identification alone will never solve the problem.  In fact, identifying a problem without solving it is more likely to fuel anger than solve the problem.

Once the problem is identified, the next steps which must be taken to solve the problem include:

  1. Finding workable solutions, ideally a solution that has demonstrated efficacy, as Kalamazoo has done for our public schools.
  2. Set realistic goals for solving the problem, track progress, and hold those responsible for reaching those goals accountable for the success or failure.
  3. Provide inspiration to those struggling to solve the problem, as it can be a long, hard, frustrating endeavor that without inspiration, will only fuel frustration and despair.
  4. Sustain hope for those seeking solutions, as without it, many will fail to engage in the struggle to solve big problems.

Struggling to overcome problems, large and small, is part of the human condition.  The question is whether we stay mired in complaining about our problems or engage in genuine problem solving.  I have devoted my career and much of my private life to problem solving.  If more of us do the same, we will succeed in solving more problems, sooner rather than later.

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