Reconstructing the Great Speeches – Martin Luther: “Here I Stand”

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I have attended over 35 Jesuit retreats at Demontreville Retreat Center.  Every year at the end of each retreat, I have received a Plenary Indulgence bestowed by the Pope on people who complete a retreat.  Unlike in the day of Martin Luther, I do not have to pay for these indulgences.  My understanding is these indulgences will knock some of the time off that I have to spend in purgatory as reparations for my less than mortal sins.  You still cannot get time off for mortal sins without going to confession.

I am not sure how much time will be knocked off and since I am an atheist or sometimes an agnostic, I am not sure whether or not they will be valid.  I once wondered if I could put them up on eBay and maybe get some money from them.  This would be more in line with the uses that were associated with these plenary indulgences in the time of Martin Luther (1483 to 1546).

Reformation.crop_528x396_2,0.preview (1)There are many who would consider Martin Luther the father of the Protestant Reformation.  Growing up Catholic, we regarded Protestants as heretics.  We all knew that the one true religion was Catholic, and Protestants did not know what they really wanted.  What does the name Protestant even mean?  Taking it at face value, it would seem to mean to protest against.  The dictionary defines a Protestant as someone who has broken from the Roman Catholic church.  If you are a Protestant you practice a form of Christianity in protest to the Catholic form.  There are over 200 major Protestant denominations in the USA and over 35,000 independent or non-denominational Christian churches which are ostensibly Protestant.  During the past few decade, we have seen numerous splits in Protestant churches over such issues as gay marriages, gay clergy, women ministers.  Even though I am a non-Catholic myself, I can’t help but be amazed at the dissension and disunity among Protestants.  I wonder what Martin Luther would have thought if he were alive today.

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In any case, Luther protested against the selling of Indulgences by the Catholic Church and the Pope.  He published his famous 95 Theses (which were polemics primarily against the monetary abuses of the Church) by nailing the theses on the door of All Saints’ Church and other churches in Wittenberg, Germany.  An extremely dramatic way to advance his opposition.  The theses were quickly reprinted and spread like wildfire throughout Europe.  And thus, began what is known as the Protestant Reformation (1517 – 1648).  It actually started even earlier but Luther’s theses were the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

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Martin Luther’s position and actions were quite bold, even audacious.  Luther’s ecclesiastical superiors had him tried for heresy, which culminated in his excommunication in 1521.  This retaliation on the part of the Catholic Church was quite serious.  Luther risked life and limb with his attack on the Church.  The following is a list of people executed for challenging Catholicism during the period from 1500-1600 CE.

  • Ipswich Martyrs († 1515–1558)
  • Jean Vallière († 1523)
  • Jan de Bakker († 1525), 1st martyr in the Northern Netherland
  • Wendelmoet Claesdochter († 1527), 1st Dutch woman charged and burned for the accusation of heresy
  • Michael Sattler († 1527), Rottenburg am Neckar, Germany
  • Patrick Hamilton († 1528), St Andrews, Scotland
  • Balthasar Hubmaier (1485–1528), Vienna, Austria
  • George Blaurock (1491–1529), Klausen, Tyrol
  • Thomas Hitton († 1530), Maidstone, England
  • Richard Bayfield († 1531), Smithfield, England
  • Thomas Benet († 1531), Exeter, England
  • Thomas Bilney († 1531), Norwich, England
  • Joan Bocher († 1531), Smithfield, England
  • Solomon Molcho († 1532), Mantua
  • Thomas Harding († 1532), Chesham, England
  • James Bainham († 1532), Smithfield, England
  • John Frith (1503–1533), Smithfield, England
  • William Tyndale (1490–1536), Belgium
  • Jakob Hutter († 1536), Innsbruck, Tyrol
  • Aefgen Listincx († 1538), Münster, Germany
  • John Forest († 1538), Smithfield, England
  • Katarzyna Weiglowa († 1538), Poland
  • Francisco de San Roman († 1540), Spain
  • Étienne Dolet (1509–1546), Paris, France
  • Henry Filmer († 1543), Windsor, England
  • Robert Testwood († 1543), Windsor, England
  • Anthony Pearson († 1543), Windsor, England
  • Maria van Beckum († 1544)
  • Ursula van Beckum († 1544)
  • Colchester Martyrs († 1545 to 1558), 26 people, Colchester, England
  • George Wishart (1513–1546), St Andrews, Scotland
  • John Hooper († 1555), Gloucester, England
  • John Rogers († 1555), London, England
  • Canterbury Martyrs († 1555–1558), c.40 people, Canterbury, England
  • Laurence Saunders, (1519–1555), Coventry, England
  • Rowland Taylor († 1555), Hadleigh, Suffolk, England
  • Cornelius Bongey, († 1555), Coventry, England
  • Dirick Carver, († 1555), Lewes, England
  • Robert Ferrar († 1555), Carmarthen, Wales
  • William Flower († 1555), Westminster, England
  • Patrick Pakingham († 1555), Uxbridge, England
  • Hugh Latimer (1485–1555), Oxford, England
  • Robert Samuel († 1555), Ipswich, England
  • Burning of Latimer and Ridley, Oxford, 1555
  • Nicholas Ridley (1500–1555), Oxford, England
  • John Bradford († 1555), London, England
  • John Cardmaker († 1555), Smithfield, London, England
  • Robert Glover († 1555), Hertford, England
  • Thomas Hawkes († 1555), Coggeshall, England
  • Thomas Tomkins († 1555), Smithfield, London, England
  • Thomas Cranmer (1489–1556), Oxford, England
  • Stratford Martyrs († 1556), 11 men and 2 women, Stratford, London, England
  • Guernsey Martyrs († 1556), 3 women, Guernsey, Channel Islands
  • Joan Waste († 1556), Derby, England
  • Bartlet Green († 1556), Smithfield, London, England
  • John Hullier († 1556), Cambridge, England
  • John Forman († 1556), East Grinstead, England
  • Pomponio Algerio († 1556) Boiled in oil, Rome
  • Alexander Gooch and Alice Driver († 1558), Ipswich, England
  • Augustino de Cazalla († 1559), Valladolid, Spain
  • Carlos de Seso († 1559), Valladolid, Spain
  • María de Bohórquez († 1559)
  • Pietro Carnesecchi († 1567) Florence, Italy
  • Leonor de Cisneros († 1568), Valladolid, Spain
  • Dirk Willems († 1569), Netherlands
  • Giordano Bruno (1548–1600), Rome, Italy

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The famous scientist Galileo was forced to recant his idea that the earth revolved around the sun.  This was widely known among many scientists, but it was opposed by the Catholic Church which held to the view that the sun revolved around the earth.  Thus, in 1521 Galileo was charged with heresy.  After a rather lengthy trial, Galileo retracted his theory preferring to live rather than to be right.  Nevertheless, he spent the rest of his life under house arrest.  Publication of any of his works was forbidden, including any future works.

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Martin Luther’s Speech at the Imperial Diet in Worms (18 April 1521)

On 18 April 1521 Luther stood before the presiding officer, Johann von Eck at the ongoing Diet in Worms.  Luther was called before the political authorities rather than before the Pope or a council of the Roman Catholic Church.  Eck acting on behalf of the Catholic Church informed Luther that he was acting like a heretic.  Pope Leo X had demanded that Luther retract 41 sentences included in his original 95 Theses.  Luther had been questioned the day before, but he had requested time to think about his response to the charges.  Thus, began Luther’s short but famous speech.   His life depended on his response.

“I this day appear before you in all humility, according to your command, and I implore your majesty and your august highnesses, by the mercies of God, to listen with favor to the defense of a cause which I am well assured is just and right.  I ask pardon, if by reason of my ignorance, I am wanting in the manners that befit a court; for I have not been brought up in king’s palaces, but in the seclusion of a cloister; and I claim no other merit than that of having spoken and written with the simplicity of mind which regards nothing but the glory of God and the pure instruction of the people of Christ.”

Luther begins his speech with humility and with apologies for any lack of etiquette or procedure, but no apologies for his actions.  He is certain that he is right.

“I have composed, secondly, certain works against the papacy, wherein I have attacked such as by false doctrines, irregular lives, and scandalous examples, afflict the Christian world, and ruin the bodies and souls of men. And is not this confirmed by the grief of all who fear God?  Is it not manifest that the laws and human doctrines of the popes entangle, vex, and distress the consciences of the faithful, while the crying and endless extortions of Rome engulf the property and wealth of Christendom, and more particularly of this illustrious nation? Yet it is a perpetual statute that the laws and doctrines of the pope be held erroneous and reprobate when they are contrary to the Gospel and the opinions of the church fathers.”

Luther’s words could not be stronger here.  He accuses the Pope of offense that are scandalous, immoral, and perhaps even criminal.  He softens his words here not one bit.  He is not on the defense but on the offense.  Here is a man not dissembling or hedging his words.  If he is afraid for his life, his words show no fear or caution.  He is doing no political two step or making effort to appease the Pope.  Perhaps Luther knew that he was in little danger of being executed but the fact that he spent the next nine months of his life in hiding would suggest differently.

“In the third and last place, I have written some books against private individuals, who had undertaken to defend the tyranny of Rome by destroying the faith.  I freely confess that I may have attacked such persons with more violence than was consistent with my profession as an ecclesiastic: I do not think of myself as a saint; but neither can I retract these books.  Because I should, by so doing, sanction the impieties of my opponents, and they would thence take occasion to crush God’s people with still more cruelty.”

Luther does not back down one bit.  He confesses to more passion than might have been required but he will not retract anything he has written.  I am no saint he says but I will not be a hypocrite.  Just think of the people surrounding President Trump and contrast their lies, obfuscations, and baffling oratory with the quite clear words of Martin Luther: “What, then, should I be doing if I were now to retract these writings?”  “What if I said my president was lying?  What if I said my president was engaging in double speak?  What if I admitted that my president actually said the words which he claimed that he did not say?  Would I be subject to trial by fire or would I be burned at the stake?”

What makes someone lie on behalf of someone else?

The ending of Luther’s defense was epic.  Perhaps no more forceful words have ever been spoken in history.

“I neither can nor will retract anything; for it cannot be either safe or honest for a Christian to speak against his conscience.  Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me!  Amen.”

Emperor Charles V passed the Edict of Worms, which banned Luther’s writings and declared him a heretic and an enemy of the state.  Luther fled and although the Edict mandated that Luther should be captured and turned over to the emperor, it was never enforced.  Bear in mind the list of heretics who came after Luther and was executed.

Luther was a German professor of theology a composer and a priest.  He was no warrior or fighter.  In many ways, he was average, except in one especially important way that mattered and would make him a hero for all time.  He was not afraid to stand up to tyranny and to stand up for his beliefs and to speak out on behalf of what he believed.

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Imagine if more citizens were courageous enough to stand up for what they believed and to speak out forcefully and not meekly on behalf of these same beliefs.  It has been said that “Evil triumphs when good people do nothing.”  Doing nothing or saying nothing are one of the same cloth.  If you want to allow a dictator, bully, or tyrant to take power, simply stay quiet and bemoan the fact that you can do nothing.  Or you can write, speak, march, protest and organize against injustice wherever it can be found.  Any less makes us guilty of a conspiracy of silence.

“A conspiracy of silence, or culture of silence, describes the behavior of a group of people of some size, as large as an entire national group or profession or as small as a group of colleagues, that by unspoken consensus does not mention, discuss, or acknowledge a given subject.  The practice may be motivated by positive interest in group solidarity or by such negative impulses as fear of political repercussion or social ostracism.”  —  Wikipedia

Reconstructing the Great Speeches – Socrates: “The Defense Speech”

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It was said that Socrates was the “Wisest Man” in the world.  Actually, Socrates was not that smart.  If he had been smart, he would have realized that teaching people to question authority was not such a good idea.  Socrates was the epitome of Greek philosophy.  He was born in 470 BCE and died in 399 BCE at the age of 71.  He died or rather was executed by taking the poison hemlock after being found guilty of “corrupting” the youth of Athens.  Corrupting should be thought of as a euphemism for actually getting the youth to “think for themselves.”  A characteristic no more desired two thousand and five hundred years ago than it is today.  (See my blog “Are Americans Brainwashed.”)

Hundreds of years later and schools are still not able to teach critical thinking skills to students.  I have been in education for over 45 years and I can testify to fact that rote learning is valued ten times more than critical thinking in any school in America.  True, there are many educators who will tell you how important critical thinking skills are.  However, when push comes to shove standardized tests, SAT tests, ACT tests, GRE tests, GMAT tests, LSAT tests, MCAT tests, diploma requirements and graduation exams all demand facts and data.  The quest for the holy grail of critical thinking goes down the toilet.

Socrates might not have actually been the smartest man or even the smartest philosopher, but he certainly knew the value of critical thinking.  The Socratic Method is still widely revered as perhaps the best method for teaching critical thinking.  Socrates did not leave a large body of writings or principles or admonitions for success and greatness.  Socrates simply left us the art of investigating or discussing the truth of opinions, also known as a dialectic.  The Socratic method accomplished this by questioning everything.  Wikipedia defines the method as follows:

“The Socratic method (also known as method of Elenchus, elenctic method, or Socratic debate), is a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions.” —- Wikipedia

If I am sounding critical of Socrates, this is not my intent.  If any man in history was my hero, it would be Socrates.  Not only did Socrates value critical thinking and actually practice it with his pupils, but he had the audacity and courage to stick to his guns right up to the end.  To understand the integrity of the man, you must read and understand his Defense Speech given at his trial.

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The Trial of Socrates and His Defense Speech:

The fathers of Athens and the Athenian leaders had finally had enough of Socrates.  Socrates had created many enemies along the way.  Other philosophers resented his methods and his denigration of their supposed wisdom.  Prominent leaders thought he challenged democracy because Socrates believed that democratic decision making did not always result in the best decisions.  When it came to their children questioning them and their authority, this was the final straw.

Socrates was hauled into an Athenian court and charged with two counts.  Corrupting the youth of Athens and impious acts.  His impious acts involved questioning the Greek gods.  The Athenians did not have a strict separation of church and state.  Socrates really pissed them off by failing to respect their gods.  Even today, such disrespect will get you killed in many countries across the globe.

Now of course, no one has an exact transcript of Socrates trial.  It has also been generally acknowledged that despite Socrates being found guilty by five hundred Athenian jurors of both charges and sentenced to death, they were willing to let him escape to another country or face a voluntary exile.  This is where it gets really interesting and where you see the courage and integrity of Socrates.  His speech is a defense of everything Socrates finds important in life including his self-respect.

Most of what we know about Socrates and his Defense Speech is found in the following documents:

download“Primary-source accounts of the trial and execution of Socrates are the Apology of Socrates by Plato and the Apology of Socrates to the Jury by Xenophon of Athens, who had been his student; contemporary interpretations include The Trial of Socrates (1988) by the journalist I. F. Stone, and Why Socrates Died: Dispelling the Myths (2009) by the Classics scholar Robin Waterfield.”  —- Wikipedia

I highly recommend the “Apology of Socrates” by Plato and “The Trial of Socrates” by I.F. Stone.  The following speech excerpts are taken from “The Apology” by Plato.  The Translation is by Benjamin Jowett.

“Someone will say: And are you not ashamed, Socrates, of a course of life which is likely to bring you to an untimely end? To him I may fairly answer: There you are mistaken: a man who is good for anything ought not to calculate the chance of living or dying; he ought only to consider whether in doing anything he is doing right or wrong – acting the part of a good man or of a bad.”

Socrates is declaring that virtue in life comes not from living or dying but from doing what you think is right or wrong.  Virtue does not come from living a long life but from living a good life.  If you suffer ill consequences from doing the right thing, it should not matter.  Your conscience is more important than your body.  Imagine for a second if the US Congress was full of men and women who adhered to this belief.

“They in their fear (of death) apprehend to be the greatest evil, may not be the greatest good. Is there not here conceit of knowledge, which is a disgraceful sort of ignorance? And this is the point in which, as I think, I am superior to men in general, and in which I might perhaps fancy myself wiser than other men, – that whereas I know but little of the world below, I do not suppose that I know: but I do know that injustice and disobedience to a better, whether God or man, is evil and dishonorable, and I will never fear or avoid a possible good rather than a certain evil.”

Years before Caesar noted that “Cowards die many deaths and heroes die only once”, Socrates was admonishing the Athenians to not fear death but to fear ignorance and to fear a hubris that was overly proud of knowledge and wisdom.  Socrates asserted that if he was wise, it was because he did not try to act as though the knew everything.  He was humble in the face of his own ignorance of the world.

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Consider today the experts that surround us and try to act like they are miniature gods.  Doctors, lawyers, engineers, military planners, intelligence experts and of course academicians all like to parade their wisdom and knowledge that in actuality is far surpassed by what they do not know.  Nevertheless, advice is rendered, fees collected and the sheep among us march passively towards a perhaps ignominious fate buoyed by a firm belief in whatever nostrum has been sold to them.

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“O my friend, why do you who are a citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of Athens, care so much about laying up the greatest amount of money and honor and reputation, and so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, which you never regard or heed at all? Are you not ashamed of this?”

Socrates knew that money, honor, and fame often had little to do with wisdom and truth and the improvement of the soul.  Several centuries later, and we have a populace that has elected a leader because many of the voters believed that “A rich man was a wise man.”  Socrates knew this was false and so has every major prophet quoted in both the Old Testament and the New Testament and every holy book every written in history from the Hindu Vedas to the writings of   Abdu’l-Bahá.

“He who hath knowledge and power will rather seek out the glory of heaven, and spiritual distinction, and the life that dieth not. And such a one longeth to approach the sacred Threshold of God; for in the tavern of this swiftly-passing world the man of God will not lie drunken, nor will he even for a moment take his ease, nor stain himself with any fondness for this earthly life.”  — Abdu’l-Bahá

It is amazing to me that the greatest works in history all tell us the same thing.  We must seek out the truth.  We must live a virtuous and moral life.  We must take success with a grain of salt.  We must not be seduced by greed and fame.  We must not judge others by how much they own or do not own.  Jesus said we must feed the hungry and take care of the sick.  Major religions all over the world are predicated on these basic ideas.  Yet, everywhere we look, we see adherents to these same religions practicing the very opposite of what their prophets have espoused.

“If this was the condition on which you let me go, I should reply: Men of Athens, I honor and love you; but I shall obey God rather than you, and while I have life and strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy.”

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Socrates was more afraid of being a hypocrite than he was of dying.  He would not forfeit his integrity for his life.  Contrast that with the cowards and sycophants we see every day in the news, on TV, in the Congress and in the White House willing to forfeit their soul and anything they say they believe in to support lies, misinformation, disinformation and immoral intrigues that surpass anything imaginable.  People with more money than they can ever spend but still willing to accept bribes for power and position and more money rather than look for the truth or support a goal of knowledge driven leadership.

Socrates did not leave Athens even when his supporters offered to spirit him away.  Socrates saw such flight as cowardice and a repudiation of everything he believed in. Socrates was a martyr to integrity.  Fame for Socrates was not a fifteen-minute exercise in tweeting or attacking someone with less power than he had.  Socrates attacked the very heart and soul of all evil.  He attacked ignorance and offered a search for truth instead.

Reconstructing the Great Speeches

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One of my hobbies over the years has been listening to, reading, and collecting the great speeches of history.  From Socrates’s speech at his trial to Pericles’s Funeral Oration speech to Napoleon’s speech to his Old Guard to Martin Luther King’s Dream speech, I have always been fascinated by oratory that mesmerizes, galvanizes and exhorts people to goals and endeavors that they would never have believed possible.  The list of great speeches is exhaustive.  It would take an encyclopedia to catalog all the wonderful speeches of history.  I am sure that there are blogs dedicated to this effort.  For the next few weeks, I am going to present my humble attempt to look at a few of these magnificent oratorical achievements.  Few things in life are more beautiful that a well worded speech.

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One of the most interesting things about a great speech is that you can find yourself being moved by it even when you disagree with the arguments or premises of the speaker.  For instance, General Douglas MacArthur delivered his “farewell speech” to a joint session of Congress on April 19, 1951.  This speech is sometimes referred to by its most famous line “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.”  MacArthur spoke to defend his militaristic war policy in Asia after being rebuked by President Truman for his resistance to Truman’s position.

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I have listened to MacArthur’s speech dozens of time.  I disagree with everything he says in his speech.  Nevertheless, I find myself oddly moved and thinking “Right On!  Let’s go in and blast those guys.”  I catch myself getting ready to sign up with the Marines and remember that MacArthur would probably have started WW III if not for Truman.  But great speeches are like that.  They move us, they hypnotize us, they motivate us to efforts that were not for the speech, we would never have thought possible.

I have this habit in my blog of doing things or writing about ideas and issues in groups of seven.  I think this is the limit to my attention span on any one topic or issue.  Thus, I wrote about capitalism, medicine, immigration, education, prophets, and several other issues in groups of seven or sometimes less when my focus ran out even sooner than seven.  In respect to talking about great speeches, I could write about one great speech each day and not live enough lives to cover all the great speeches of history.  Thus, in keeping with my limited attention to seven of any particular subject, I will spend the next seven blogs “reconstructing” some of my (perhaps not the greatest) favorite speeches.

Now, I carefully chose the word “reconstruct.”  If I had said that I was going to “deconstruct” several great speeches, then these next blogs would be quite a bit different.  To deconstruct can be defined as:

“A method of critical analysis of philosophical and literary language which emphasizes the internal workings of language and conceptual systems, the relational quality of meaning, and the assumptions implicit in forms of expression.” —Dictionary.Com. 

I have no desire or the skill level to “deconstruct” historic speeches.  Instead, I would like to “reconstruct” several of these speeches by reinterpreting what the original speakers wanted to achieve.  To understand this, we must understand the relationship of the speech to the context that the speech was given in.  Too often you hear a speech, but the context of the speech is often left out of the speech.  This is a major failing of listening to any speech since the context in which the speech occurs is essential to fully understanding and appreciating the speech.  I will also try to reconstruct the meaning that these speakers had by updating and rephrasing some of their vocabulary for a modern audience.  This will probably horrify some purists out there who believe that things once said should never be rephrased.

Let me give you an example from one of Napoleon’s famous speeches.  First, though we need to establish the context for his speech.

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History teaches us today that either Napoleon was a great military leader or that he was a megalomaniac bent on world domination.  If we journey back to the times right after the French Revolution (1789- 1794) we find Europe in turmoil.  The French people have not only overthrown their King and Queen, they have beheaded them.  Monarchies all over Europe are still in power.  Spain, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Germany, Russia, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, and others all have their reigning rulers ordained by God.  Imagine their horror at seeing the French get rid of their royalty.  Imagine, if we suddenly took all our politicians and drowned them in the Potomac.  Or what if instead of storming the Bastille as the French Peasants did, we would storm Hollywood and throw out all the actors and actresses.  “Off with their lovely gorgeous heads!”

9781640306547_p0_v1_s550x406France is in chaos.  Heads are rolling faster than you can say “jack rabbit.”  No one knows whose head will be on the guillotine next.  In the middle of this pandemonium, the Monarchs surrounding France decide to put a stop to the changes going on in France.  They plan to reestablish the French royalty and bring things back to where they were.  European royalty marshal their armies to attack France.  In steps Napoleon.  A young French solider with extraordinary military skills.  Napoleon galvanizes the French People and singing the Marseillaise they fight back and defeat all of the opposing enemies.  The Following is an excerpt from a speech given by Napoleon to his army in Italy delivered on May 15, 1796:

“SOLDIERS! You have precipitated yourselves like a torrent from the Apennines. You have overwhelmed or swept before you all that opposed your march.  Piedmont, delivered from Austrian oppression, has returned to her natural sentiments of peace and friendship toward France.  Milan is yours, and over all Lombardy floats the flag of the Republic.

Basically, Napoleon is congratulating his army on their spectacular victories over the combined armies that attacked France: “You guys did great.  You really rocked. You kicked some real butt out there today.” 

But, and this is a big BUTT, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Napoleon’s victories and the rewards from these victories soon went to his head.  It was not enough to simply defend France; Napoleon then decides that there are more wars to win and more power to obtain.  He plans to establish a Grande Paix Française, wherein France will rule most of Europe with himself as emperor.  From the same speech in Italy:

“Yes, soldiers, you have done much; but much still remains for you to do.  Shall it be said of us that we knew how to conquer, but not to profit by victory?  Shall posterity reproach us with having found a Capfia in Lombardy?  Nay, fellow soldiers!  I see you already eager to cry ‘To arms!’  Inaction fatigues you! and days lost to glory are to you days lost to happiness.”

“Okay Guys, we kicked butt.  Wasn’t it fun?  But look, we can kick more butt and have more fun.  I guarantee glory and fame awaits us.  As we sing the Marseillaise:

To arms, citizens!

Form your battalions,

Let us march, let us march!

That their impure blood

Should water our fields.

Sacred love of the fatherland,

Guide and support our vengeful arms.

Liberty, beloved liberty.

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Over the course of my next seven blogs, with interludes as needed, I will “reconstruct” seven of my favorites speeches.  The speeches that I want to look at will include the following:

  • The Defense Speech – Socrates
  • Here I stand – Martin Luther
  • Tilbury speech – Queen Elizabeth
  • Dare, Dare Again, Always Dare – Danton
  • If There is No Struggle, there is No Progress – Frederick Douglas
  • Give Me Blood and I Will Give You Freedom – Subhas Chandra Bose
  • Police Brutality Speech – Malcolm X

There are thousands of great speeches and dozens of “The Greatest Speeches in History” lists.  For my reconstructions, I wanted to take some of my favorite speeches that are less well known, and which were very controversial at the time.  It is one thing to get up and say something that everyone will agree with (Trump Speech), it is another thing entirely to give a speech that threatens the status quo and which may leave the audience hating you.  Each one of the above speeches is challenging and provocative.  The speakers were not afraid to generate animosity and hostility towards themselves.  I think this fearlessness in the face of adversity is truly one of the characteristics of a great speech.

“Persuasion is achieved by the speaker’s personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible. We believe good men more fully and more readily than others: this is true generally whatever the question is, and absolutely true where exact certainty is impossible and opinions are divided.” — Aristotle

 

 

A Day in the Life of a Hummingbird

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I am a hummingbird.  My name is Archilochus Colubris, but you can call me Josh.  I am also known as a Ruby Throated Hummingbird to distinguish me from other members of my family.  We have over 330 different species in my family.  Much like humans have ethnic groups, we hummingbirds have species.  My family has the distinction of being the smallest members of the bird class known as Aves.

I listen to humans all the time talking about how tough their lives are.  Buddy, you don’t know what tough is.  Humans think they live life in the fast lane.   Did you know I flap my wings at 60 times per second?  That is 3600 times per minute.  Speedy Gonzales can run a mile in 4 minutes, in that time I could go nearly 4 miles.  I can fly upwards of 50 miles per hour.  My heart beats at over 1200 beats per minute.

Human beings, even the busiest ones take breaks several times a day.  Not me.  I almost never stop moving.  My life is constantly in motion.  I don’t have time for breaks.  My life span is only about 4 years.  During that time, I have lots to do.  Humans are always in a hurry and multi-task because they think have lots to do.  I can do in one year what it takes a human twenty years to do.  The cycle of life is the same for all of us.  We are born, grow up, age, and die.  Along the way, we make friends, have babies, eat many meals, sleep every day, and see some of the world.

60395581Did you know that if I am in Wisconsin this summer, I will migrate down to southern Mexico and northern Panama each winter?  I go by myself because hummingbirds tend to be loners.  No flocks or “birds of a feather” for us.  I enjoy the trip down each year by myself.  It takes me about a week to reach my final destination area.  The most remarkable part of my voyage is crossing the Gulf of Mexico.  I will fly non-stop up to 500 miles to reach Central America. It takes approximately 18-22 hours to complete my solitary flight.  I do this each year of my life.  I think even Charles Lindbergh would be impressed with my journey.

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b44b45903b38d29898c4e956efe12218Now I know you are all wondering about my sex life.  I have observed that this is an especially important part of a human being’s life.  So, you are probably asking how often does a hummingbird have sex and how many kids do we have in our short lives.  I probably find a female about three or four times a year to mate with.  I spend a great deal of time trying to impress a suitable mate.  I make the Blue Angels look like novices with the aerobatics I perform to attract a female of my species.  Compared to the time spent attracting a female, our mating goes pretty rapidly.  In about 4 seconds we are both done.  I have heard that some human males are even faster.

Unlike some humans and much like some others, I do not have a big role in the lives of my progeny.  I do not mate for life and I do not help my mate in any way to build her nest or care for her chicks.  In a human, this would be the height of irresponsibility, but it is just not in our DNA to take a patriarchal role with our off spring.  Of course, some human males will identify with my position.  I have observed many human males who take even less of a role than I do with their kids.

6258550c130c5ce0edb04526038302adNow as far as friends and enemies go, I do not have much of either one.  There is good and bad in this.  Humans have many friends and they tend to come and go like the weather.  I don’t have to deal with “fair weather” friends because I never make any friends.  If I miss out on the companionship, it never bothers me.

As for enemies, many birds fear hawks but I do not.  I tend to worry more about cats and praying mantis.  Both of these predators are surprisingly stealthy and have caught many a hummingbird by surprise.  Sometimes wasps, spiders, frogs, and an occasional snake will get lucky and make a meal of us.  Generally, I am speedy enough to avoid any potential predator who sees me as a tasty snack.  Being as small as I am, I cannot make much of a meal.

RubyThroatedHummerMaleAtFlowersNow we come to the biggest and most important part of my day.  Since I expend so much energy just moving and staying alive, I have an enormous appetite.  I love to eat.  My life is one constant search for food.  My favorite meals are nectar and insects.  Because of my high metabolism, I must eat all day long just to survive.  I consume about half my body weight in bugs and nectar each day.  To do this I must feed about every 10-15 minutes and visit 1,000-2,000 flowers throughout the day.  I will eat a few dozen to several hundred or even a thousand or more insects in one day, depending on the availability of insects, the type of insects, and my dietary needs. Imagine a 200-pound human eating about every 15 minutes a day and consuming 100 lbs. a day of meat.  Judging by some of the humans I see, I think some have this as a goal.  It might work for them if they were as energetic as I am, but this seldom seems to be the case with humans.

Eventually, death comes to us all.  We live fast and we die fast.  In only four years (on an average) I will be equal to an eighty-year-old human.  Like humans, hummingbirds die from many causes.  Predators eat us, we fly into stationary objects (especially windows and buildings), we get hit by vehicles, we encounter problems during migration or bad weather, we succumb to disease or other physical maladies, or we just plain get old and die.

The average heart rate of a human is about 70 beats per minute.  Assuming 80 years as an average age for most humans, than a human can expect to have about 100,800 heart beats per day x 365 days in a year x 80 years for a total of 2,943,360,000 heart beats in a lifetime.  Now my heart beats at about 1200 beats per minute or 1,728,000 per day x 365 days in a year x 4 years.  I can expect to have about 2,522,880,000 heart beats in my lifetime.  Given the range in my average age versus the average age of a human, I find it interesting that I have about the same amount of heart beats as a human does before I die.  I think there is a message here.  Maybe we all have the same amount of time on the earth, but we live it at different speeds.  Maybe we should all live each heart beat to the maximum.

I think I gave you more than a day in my life.  But since things move so fast for me, I could not help but give you a lifetime in a day.  Please watch the following video that some friends of mine made.  I am featured prominently in this film.  My one chance for stardom.

“I always loved those little creatures [hummingbird], always feel blessed when they appear nearby. There’s a magical quality to them. I finally put one in a song.” — Leonard Cohen

 

Autobiographies from the Dead – George Floyd

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This series of “Autobiographies” started out as seven stories to commemorate some very special people.  They have one thing in common.  They are all dead.  Some have a burial place, and some were simply discarded like pieces of trash.  Their stories are told by the deceased themselves.  Their voices cry out from the fields, alleys, streets, rivers, and graveyards to speak.  I hear their cries.  They are channeling me to tell their stories to you.  They want you to know what their living and dying was for.  This week, George Floyd will tell you in his own words about his life, loves, dreams and death.  He is deceased now, talking from the great beyond where he has gone to meet his maker.

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George Floyd

My name is George Floyd.  My full name is George Perry Floyd Jr.  The name George is derived from the Greek word γεωργός (georgos) meaning “farmer and earth worker.”  I suppose it means that I am or was the “salt “of the earth.  Many kings, authors and great people have been named George.  The most famous for Americans being George Washington.  My family name was Floyd.  Floyd could have been my first name and people used to kid me and call me Floyd instead of George and tell me that my name was backwards.  Floyd is or was a slave name being derived from English or Irish heritage.

I was proud of my name.  Many Black folk get rid of their slave names and change them to Muhammad or Mustafa or some other Muslim name.  Others simply find a “non” slave name to adopt.  I was not ashamed of my name and I was always proud to be an American.  I was never one to say that all White people are devils or that White people are all the enemy.  I had many White friends as well as Black friends.  You can grow up in America being White and having no Black friends but if you are Black, you will more than likely have many White friends.  I got along with everyone.

Floyd_George3I was born on October 14, 1973 in Fayetteville, North Carolina.  I grew up in Houston Texas.  I was always big for my age and I loved sports where I excelled.  I also loved music and was part of a hip-hop group called “Screwed Up Click”.  My stage name was “Big Floyd.”  I was or thought I was headed for greatness.  Somehow though greatness never came.  I did not make any major league teams and I never got any big breaks on the music scene.  Like many young Black men with no foreseeable future, I stumbled into drugs.

Drugs will do three things for you.  1st. Destroy any will to achieve or drive for excellence.  The drug becomes a substitute for greatness.  2nd.  Destroy your finances.  You can never make enough money to support a drug habit.  3rd.  Lead to crime.  In order to support a drug habit, you must either deal or steal.  I chose to do both.

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I see the millions of people marching now in my name.  They are marching for peace and justice.  I spent several years in jail and was a criminal five times over.  I was arrested for an armed home invasion and sentenced to prison for five years.  I was a bad guy.  I was no saint.  I had five children out of wedlock, some of whom I abandoned.  If you had killed me back then, it would have been no great loss to humanity or my family.

In 2013, after leaving prison, I started to turn my life around.  I had kicked my drug addiction and I decided to devote my life to helping others.  I wanted to lead a more Christian life and help other young men do the same.  In 2014, I moved to Minneapolis to find work and new opportunities for my new life.  People called me the “Gentle Giant” because I would not hurt a flea.  I could easily have hurt at least two of those cops who grabbed me if I had wanted to.  I went down without a struggle.  I was 46 years old and things were looking up when I died.

8:08 PM – 14 Minutes to Live

It was May 25th, 2020.  It started off much as any day might.  Like many Americans, I had lost my job due to the Covid-19 Virus.  I was thinking about where I might find some other job opportunities.  I spent some time talking to my girlfriend and took some pain killers for a low back ache problem that I had.  I watched some sports on TV.  Later that day, I decided to take a drive with a couple of friends to a nearby market to get some cigarettes.  The weather was clear.  It was around 8 PM and the local temperature was 76 degrees.

I went into the market.  I picked out my favorite brand of cigarettes and paid the store clerk with a twenty-dollar bill.  I walked out to my car, got in and was sitting in the car talking to my friends when the store clerk and another guy comes running up to my car and starts demanding that I give him his cigarettes back.  He is also telling me to give him my phone.  He is hard to understand, and I do not know why he is demanding that the cigarettes be returned.  I decided to just ignore him and hope he will go away.

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The next thing I know is that two cops are banging on my car window and telling me to put my hands on the steering wheel.  One cop has his gun drawn and is pointing it at me. The rest of the events happened so fast that they are hard to describe.  I am trying to ask, “What have I done?”  I do not want to seem resistant and I am trying to comply with the demands that the police are making while I am also trying to find out what I have done.  Next, I am told that I am under arrest.  What is happening?  What did I do?  What am I being arrested for?  I am then handcuffed and pushed to the police car.  I am as compliant as I can be, but the handcuffs hurt and my whole world is one big confusion.

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Then things go from bad to worse.  One officer pushes me to the ground and kneels on my neck.  “I can’t breathe.  I can’t breathe.”  I scream this out several times.  I plead for him to take his knee off of my neck.  “Please don’t kill me.”  My pleas are ignored.  “I can’t breathe.”  I think I am dying.  “Mama.”  I know that I am dying.  “Mama.”

I died at 8:22 PM but the officer did not take his knee off my neck until 8:27 PM.  He had kept his knee on my neck for 8 minutes and 24 seconds.  What did I do?  Why did they murder me?  I was only 46 years old and my life was just beginning to come together.  What did I do to deserve such a fate?  Did God not forgive me for my former transgressions?  Was it because I was a Black man?  Do White people really hate and despise all Black people?

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They buried me on June 9, 2020 in Houston Texas where I grew up.  I am amazed at all the people that attended my funeral.  Life sure is funny.  Thirty years ago, I had a dream.  I was 16 years old and when a friend asked me what I wanted to do with my life, I said “I want to touch the world.”  Now I see that I have touched the world.  I did not think I would have to die to do it though, but in one sense it is a cheap price to pay.

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The life of a Black person in America is never easy.  Institutionalized racism, personal racism, prejudice, and discrimination are woven into the very fabric of our daily lives.  From the economic sphere to the social sphere it is difficult for a Black person to rise above the hatred and bigotry that surrounds them.  Few if any White people understand what it is like to be loathed because of the color of your skin.

I go now to find God.  I want to know if it will ever end.  I want to know why God allows it to happen.  Will there ever be a day in America when a Black person can walk down a street and not be judged by the color of his or her skin?

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What do those Black People Want Anyway?

Wrote this five years ago. More relevant now than ever before.

Aging Capriciously

Two White men overheard talking at a coffee shop (Read while listening to Glory from Selma)

Ron:  You know it seems all we hear about are Black problems these days.   What do they want?  Christ’s sake, we abolished slavery over 150 years ago now.

Jack:  Yeah, then they got to join the military in WWI and even fight in WW II.

Black-unemploymentRon:  Yep, then all they did was complain even more.  Selma and Bama marches!

Jack:  Right, so we gave them the Civil Rights amendment.  Thought that would make them happy!

Ron:  Nope, they just complained even more.  Watts riots and all.  So what did we do?

Jack:  Created Martin Luther King Day.

Ron:  Just so.  Did that make them happy?

Jack:  Course not.  They just whined even more.  Especially after that white guy shot MLK.

Ron:  So what…

View original post 883 more words

A One Act Play in Memory of Our Good Friend: Dr. Hana Tomasek – D- 05-25-2020  

Dr. Hana Tomasek:  A Most Remarkable Woman

I am reposting this blog in memory of my good friend Dr. Hana Tomasek who died at 10:45 AM this Memorial day morning (May 25, 2020) from the Coronavirus.  Dr. Tomasek led a life that most of us can only dream about.  She was 85 years old.  Every year on July 4th, Hana would have a wonderful Independence Day Party to celebrate the country that she felt gave her everything that she could possibly want.

We would have a band, dancing, lots of good food and a series of roasts to poke good natured fun at Dr. Tomasek.  She had a great sense of humor and enjoyed the gags.  The highlight of the day though was the speech that Hana always gave to remind us all of her love for America and what a great country she lived in.  Five years ago, I wrote this play for our July 4th party in 2015.  Seems like just yesterday, that we were all sitting on her deck overlooking her beloved lake and drinking Becherovka.

Introduction to the Original Blog Written on June 1, 2015

Once upon a time there was a very remarkable young woman and young man who decided to flee communism and come to the United States of America in hopes of finding a better life.  Leaving their families and at great risk to their own lives they managed to elude the authorities in their home country and find their way to America.  With hardly anything except the clothes on their backs and speaking no English Hana and her spouse found asylum in the USA.  With the help of some good spirited people, they began to construct a new life based on their dreams and abilities and not simply by adhering to the “party” line. 

Hana became a good friend of ours in the late 80’s when we met at Process Management Institute, where Hana was now an esteemed consultant as well as educator at the University of Minnesota. Over the years, we shared many thoughts and ideas together.  Hana was one of the most competent consultants I have ever worked with.  She was wonderful at combining both “high tech” and “high touch” in working with her clients.  She was very capable of applying TQM technology but equally capable of compelling the leaders in the organizations she worked with to make the needed psychological changes to adopt a “new philosophy” as Dr. Deming called it.  TQM was ultimately more a change in attitudes then a change in technology.  A point that Hana was quick to recognize. 

Hana will be 80 years old this July and she had a birthday party this past weekend in honor of the occasion.  I was invited to say a few words about Hana at the party.  A picture of her as a young girl inspired my thinking about what I would say.  I thought of how Hana must have been when she was young. With this in mind, I decided to write the following fictional account of an interview with her as a young girl.  I decided to compose it as a short one act play.  At the party, I asked a good friend Nancy Hoy to play the part of Hana, while I narrated and played the part of the young reporter from Prague. 

A One Act-Play:  The Little Girl with Big Dreams.

The Background and Setting:

The 1948 Czechoslovak coup d’état (often simply the Czech coup) –  was an event in February 1948 in which the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, with Soviet backing, assumed undisputed control over the government of Czechoslovakia, marking the onset of four decades of Communist dictatorship in the country. Czechoslovakia remained as a Communist dictatorship until the Velvet Revolution of 1989.  More immediately, the coup became synonymous with the Cold War. The loss of the last remaining democracy in Eastern Europe came as a profound shock to millions.  For the second time in a decade, Western eyes saw Czechoslovak independence and democracy snuffed out by a totalitarian dictatorship intent on dominating a small country

The play takes place in Prague, 1948.  The Daily Prague newspaper has become a part of the Communist means of controlling the population and is looking for human interest stories.  It has heard of a young precocious girl who is the highest rated student at her school and they have decided to do an interview with her to help show the masses how wonderful life in a communist system can be.

Hana has been notified to expect a reporter from the Daily Prague.  Hana lives in clean 2 bedroom apartment with her mother, father and brother Jan.  Hana sits in a small chair near a larger sofa reading a book and waiting for the reporter to arrive.  It is a small but comfortable and very neat living room with a few pictures of relatives and friends on the mantle.

A One Act-Play:  The Little Girl with Big Dreams.

John:  (Knocking at the door. He is a young man of 25.  Medium height, blond hair. He has been very nervous lately and constantly has the feeling that someone is looking over his shoulder.  He has been warned to stay away from “compromising” subjects.

John:  May I come in?

Hana:  (An attractive looking young girl just turning 13.  Well-proportioned with short brown hair.  Her friends would describe her as elegant and very sophisticated.)

Hana:  Yes, please do.

John:  Hi, I am from the Daily Prague and I am here to conduct the interview with you.

Hana:  Wonderful, let’s get started.  Please sit down.

John:  Thank you. Well, Hana, I will begin by asking you a few questions.

Hana:  It’s Ms. Hana, if you don’t mind.

John:  Sure, Ms Hana.   Well, Ms. Hana, what would you like to be when you grow up?

Hana:  I would like to be President of the United States of America.

John:   (Nervous chuckle noticed by Hana) But you don’t live in the United States of America and even if you did, you could not be president because you were not born there.

Hana:  (Quite composed)  I am going to move to the United States of America and then change the law when I live there.

John:  Well, let’s just say that this might not work out; do you have a backup plan?

Hana:  Of course, I will become a rich and famous management consultant.

John:  But in Czechoslovakia system, only communists can become rich and even they are not allowed to become famous.

Hana:  Then I will go to the United States of America and become a rich and famous management consultant there.

John:  Why do you want to become a management consultant?

Hana:  So I can tell people what to do.

John:  Are there any other reasons?

Hana:  Well, so many companies are so poorly run and they need lots of help.

John:  How are you going to learn about business when you live in a communist system? Wait, I know, you are going to move to the United States of America.

Hana:  Right.  I will learn all about how to become rich and famous when I get to America.

John:  (More nervous now and deciding to change the subject) Could you tell our readers what your hobbies are and what you like to do for fun?

Hana:  I like to study, read and learn about new and interesting things.

John:  Yes, but what do you do for fun?

Hana:  I just answered you.  Maybe I did not understand your question.

John:  Well, like do you jump rope, play doll house or do dress up?

Hana:  What are those things?

John:  (Uncertain where to proceed) Well, I understand you are a very smart young student.  Do you like school?

Hana:    Yes, but recently they changed all the textbooks and they took out all the good stuff about the United States of America

John:  I have not heard about that but maybe it was because they thought it might be lies.

Hana:  Well, I don’t think that people should rewrite history just because they change their minds.  What about facts?

John:  (Quite nervous again)  I think you have a very inquiring mind.  You would make a good management consultant.

Hana:  (Very Serious) Do you know where I could find a good textbook on Management Consulting?

John:  I don’t think we have any of those in the library anymore.

Hana:  Why not?

John:  Well, in a communist system, nobody worries about how the system runs since it is up to the government to decide how things should be run.

Hana:  That does not sound like a very good idea. I don’t think they do it like that in the United States of America.

John:  Well, Ms. Hana, it has been wonderful talking to you.  Our readers will be quite pleased to see how happy and great life in Czechoslovakia is for you.

Hana:  (Very skeptical) May I review your notes?

John:  (Ignoring Hana’s request)  Well,  Ms. Hana, we always like to send our contributors a token of our appreciation.  Would you like a framed picture of General Secretary Joseph Stalin or Defense Minister Ludvík Svoboda?

Hana:  Could you send me a picture of Mickey Mouse?

The END: 

Time for Questions:

What would you do if you lived in a total dictatorship?  Would you risk your lives and those of your family to flee? Would you simply go along as best you could? How would you get started in a strange country where you could not speak the language?  How much courage does it take to start a new life?

Life is just beginning.

Mentors, Muses, Role Models, and Shooting Stars – Part 2 of 2

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Why do some people achieve success and happiness while other people flounder on the shoals?  One man/woman becomes Prime Minister or President and their brother/sister becomes a drug addict.  I suppose there are many reasons and many that we can probably do nothing about.  Some things are beyond our power to change.  However, there is one reason that contributes to success and it is in our power to modify or amplify.  I speak specifically of the ideas or concepts in the title of this blog:  Mentors, Muses, Role Models, and Shooting Stars.  In Part 1, I talked about the importance of Mentors and Muses.  In Part 2, I will discuss the importance of Role Models and Shooting Stars.

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Role Models:

A Role Model is anyone either real or imagined who provides inspiration to another person that will allow that person to dream about doing things that they never would have thought possible.  A role model allows a child to think about being greater than anyone they have ever known.  Role models lift people up to help them aspire towards being more than they are.  Parker Posey, the little Black girl whose mom brought her to the National Art Museum in Washington D.C. saw a picture of Michele Obama on the wall and thought “I want to be just like her.”  Later on Parker said in an interview that she would rather be president than first lady.  The great English scientist Isaac Newton said in 1675, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”

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A role model is in a sense a giant.  I asked Dr. Deming one night when we were coming back from dinner what he wanted to be when he was in college.  He immediately replied, “I wanted to be just like Walter Shewhart.”  Few people outside of quality control have probably ever heard of Dr. Walter Shewhart but the name of Dr. W. E. Deming is known the world over.  Dr. Deming had stood on the shoulder of a great man and reached even higher than Dr. Shewhart.

I was once asked why I did not go to Harvard since I grew up in Rhode Island and Harvard was only 45 miles away.  I laughed with some mild regret.  Truth be told, I never would have thought I could go to Harvard.  No one in my family had ever gone to college.  We had no money.  I did not know a single person who ever want to college.  Years have gone by and I have met many Harvard graduates.  I have no regrets now about not attending Harvard.  My regrets come from never having thought that it was possible that I could ATTEND college.

mandelaI teach part-time as a substitute teacher in two high schools in Casa Grande, Arizona.  Both public schools have a large minority population of Latino’s, African Americans, and Native Americans.  I talk to many of these students when they are seniors about what their plans are after they graduate.  Many of them remind me of myself when I graduated high school.  I had no clue about what I could do or be.  My father wanted me to become a postman like he was, and my mother did not really have any idea or inclinations about careers.  I looked around and in 1964, thought “Well I will join the military and see what happens.”  I had no dreams or goals for my future.  I had no role models when I was growing up.

I think every child should have a role model.  I have heard the arguments against.  Role models always end up being tarnished.  Role models may not present realistic possibilities.  Role models will stereotype kids into traditional channels.  Role models may pose negative characteristics rather than positive.  For instance, if your role model is Billy the Kid or Adolph Hitler, it might not suggest a desirable future.

“All the role models are being exposed and this is good because role models are shit. The quicker we exposed them the better. The whole concept of role models is frightful! You gotta make your own role.”  — William S. Burroughs

But I am not talking about negative role models.  I am talking about positive role models.  A positive role model is anyone with some desirable characteristics or values.  Furthermore, I think we need to educate our children by presenting a variety of role models and not trying to hold up any one role model as perfect or god-like.  We can never imitate or copy anyone else.

I could have taken Dr. Deming as my role model.  Dr. Deming was loved and admired by many, but he was also criticized by many.  A friend of mine from Nigeria told me this old African folk tale:

“Once upon a time there was a father, his son and a donkey.  They decided to go to market one day and purchase some food.  All three set out with the father riding the donkey and the son walking along side.  They soon came to a village and as they passed through the town, the father heard villagers saying, “What a cruel old man, he rides while the poor son walks.”  Whereupon, the father got off the donkey and put his son up to ride.  They next came to another village and as they passed through, again came voices.  This time they heard “What a stupid old man, he walks while his young healthy son rides.” 

downloadThe father decided he would join his son on the donkey.  As they passed through the next village, people shouted “Look at that.  Two people on one donkey.  How cruel and mean.’’  The father deliberated and made the following decision.  He and his son came down off the donkey and picked the donkey up.  They carried the donkey all the way to their final destination and as they entered the village, they heard uproarious laughter and saw everyone in the market place pointing at them and saying “Have you ever seen two more stupid people in your life.  They are carrying a donkey that could be carrying them.”

I will bet that you know the moral of the previous story.  It applies to role models.  There are no perfect people.  We are all defective in one way or another.  You cannot please everyone.  But think about the value that a role model can have.  If you Google role models, you will find lots of lists of the “top” role models for children.  Perusing these lists as I have done, you will admire many people, but you may also be appalled at some of the role models.  For instance, I have found Marilyn Monroe, Justin Bieber and Lance Armstrong.  These are people that I find objectionable for a number of reasons.  Now I have no doubt that if I put my top ten list of role models up, there are some that you would find objectional.  I repeat that there are no perfect role models.  This fact should remind you not to throw the baby out with the bath water.

“We look at the way some kids behave and instantly blame the parents, and more often than not we’re correct. The school bully is often a sign of poor parenting. That’s the immediate cause, but if we search for the root cause we have to dig much deeper than that. What on earth in that kid’s head makes it seem okay to bully people? Why are the parents doing such a poor job of bringing up their children? Probably because they didn’t have very effective role models themselves when they were growing up. It could go back generations.”   ― Karl Wiggins, You Really Are Full of Shit, Aren’t You?

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Shooting Stars:

A shooting star or a rising star is someone whom you hitch your wagon to.  It is someone that you recognize is going places and doing things that you admire.  If you knew someone was taking a trip that you wanted to be on, you would join that person and take the trip together.  A rising star or shooting star will take you to places that you might never have dreamed of going yourself.  You will find many great military leaders, business leaders and scientists who hitched their wagon to a shooting star and later achieved greatness themselves.

12-disciplesPerhaps the most famous example is in the spiritual arena.  Twelve men chosen somewhat randomly hitched their wagons to a shooting star and achieved fame and glory far beyond anything they could have dreamed of.  Today we remember the shooting star and his 12 apostles.  Each of the apostles later went on to their own fame and glory spreading the word of their lord and master.  Sometimes, it is the shooting star that gets forgotten but, in this case, through the efforts of his 12 followers, the name of Jesus Christ rings throughout the centuries in every corner of the globe.

Conclusions:

How do you find a shooting star or a role model?  I will leave you with some advice:

1.  Most important, you must believe that success and greatness is not simply dependent on your own resources and energy. As the Beatles said, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

2.  Nevertheless, as a pundit once said, “Pray to the lord but row for the shore.” You can get all the help you need, but you are ultimately responsible for your own destiny.

3.  Look for role-models that have the values you would like to have. If you are going to select anyone, you must first know what are the key values that you want more of in your life.

4.  List seven of the most important values that you admire in your role model. Put them on a piece of paper that you can review every day.  Each day start by reviewing one value and asking yourself “What can I do today that would help me better exemplify this value?”  At the end of each evening, do a review of your day’s activities.  Ask yourself “How well did I do today on this value?”

5.  Do not be afraid to imitate your role model. You must learn the basics in any activity before you can improvise.  Deming was not ashamed to say that he wanted to be “Just like Dr. Shewhart.”  Great people are never ashamed to admit that they admire other great people.  It is only weak and insecure people who are narcissistic to the point that no one else counts.

6.  As pertains to shooting stars, ask yourself “Who do you know in your career or profession who you think is a shooting star?” In every field that I can think of, you will surely find someone who is better than you are or who has more skills than you have.

7.  Get to know this person.  Remember the saying “Birds of a feather flock together.”  This can be a good thing when you flock with highly intelligent, skilled, ethical, and motivated people.

“Hang On To People That Inspire You. Do Work That Energizes You.” ― Wesam Fawzi

 

 

 

 

Mentors, Muses, Role Models, and Shooting Stars – Part 1 of 2

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Why do some people achieve success and happiness while other people flounder on the shoals?  One man/woman becomes Prime Minister or President and their brother/sister becomes a drug addict.  I suppose there are many reasons and many that we can probably do nothing about.  Some things are beyond our power to change.  However, there is one reason that contributes to success and it is in our power to modify or amplify.  I speak specifically of the ideas or concepts in the title of this blog:  Mentors, Muses, Role Models, and Shooting Stars.

In 1983, I joined the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD).  I was still in graduate school working on my degree in Organization Development and it seemed useful to join a professional organization that represented my career goals.  As a member of the ASTD, I attended monthly meetings and eventually submitted several articles to their magazine for publication.  One of the most interesting projects I volunteered for was to help establish a “Mentoring Program” for young upcoming professionals in the field of Training and Organization Development.  This project together with a Human Resource Development organization that I started for students at the University of Minnesota were some of the high points of my academic career.  Grades did not count for much to me except to get credits that were needed to graduate.  Helping people was truly gratifying.

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Mentors:

A “Mentor” can be defined as: “A trusted advisor.”  Someone with more experience who knows the ropes and takes a less experienced person under their wings to help guide them through the Scylla and Charybdis that are lurking in most organizations.  This can make the difference between success and failure.  I have found myself over my head several times because of not properly understanding a new boss or company politics.  downloadOnce, as a new employee, I was attending my first department meeting with my co-workers and supervisor.  I deemed it prudent to keep my mouth shut and observe.  At the end of the meeting, my supervisor turned to me and noted, “Well, John, you haven’t said a word.  What do you think?  Give me your honest opinion.”  I took her at her word and gave her my honest uncensored opinion.  Big mistake, as I am sure you knew.  Turns out my boss only liked “Honest Opinions” when they agreed with her opinions.  A good mentor would have warned me of this peril before I put my foot in my mouth.

A good mentor can do a great deal more than simply alert you to pitfalls.  A mentor may share information about his or her own career path and what helped him/her to become successful.  A mentor can provide guidance, motivation, emotional support, and coaching.  A mentor may help with setting goals, developing contacts, and identifying resources that will help you to get ahead.  I personally believe everyone should have a mentor.  In addition to career mentors, there are mentors who may help you with your hobbies or any other activities that add value to your life.  Having a mentor is not all about careers and jobs.

How does one find a mentor?  Some organizations have mentoring programs and match up new employees with seasoned veterans.  A friend of mine at the ASTD and I worked together on the aforementioned mentoring program.  We put together guidelines to help companies establish their own in-house mentoring programs.  I was quite surprised and pleased when at an ASTD awards banquet, we were acknowledged for the mentoring program that we had developed.

Mentors can be formal or informal.  In 1998, I was “adopted’ by an older gentleman named Gordon Backlund when I started working at the Metropolitan Council in Minnesota.  He came up to me after a meeting and announced “I see you know nothing about politics in a government organization.  I am going to teach you.”  I was grateful for his offer.  Gordy taught me a bunch about how to survive and we became good friends in the process.  He was an informal mentor since the organization did not have a formal mentoring program.  It would be great if every organization had a program, but most do not.  In the latter case, it is up to you to find a mentor.  If you care about your success in life as well as in business, you will find a mentor or mentors.  The following is a particularly good video with some tips on “how to find a mentor.”  There are many other good videos on the subject and even some good TED talks on the topic.

Here is a great video on how to find a mentor by Marie Forleo

 

Muses:

A muse in ancient Greece was the name for the nine goddesses who presided over the arts and science.   A muse for me is someone who inspires me.  Since I think of myself as a writer, a muse is someone who can inspire my writing.  A muse indirectly motivates imagesme by giving me support and stimulation to be creative.  I was thinking back over the years that I have been writing.  My first paid article was in 1983.  It was published in a San Francisco Men’s Journal.  My piece was called “The Three Types of Male Intimacy.”  I was paid about 25 dollars.  It was not much but it felt like a start.  I have since published about 40 journal articles, three books and over 600 blogs.  It is a good thing that I never quit my day job since I could barely pay my monthly entertainment bill with the proceeds from my writing.

In 2010, I met Dr. Carolyn Wedin.  She was a retired English Professor Emeritus from the University of Wisconsin.  She had started a writing class in Frederic, Wisconsin.  I joined the class and thus began my honest efforts to become a writer.  I say honest, because until then I had not engaged in professional efforts to improve my writing skills.  Anyone who says that they are a writer, artist, singer, sculptor, musician, or chef and does not engage in some form of professional development is in my humble opinion, not serious about their craft.

My partner Karen has played the piano since she was a little girl.  She plays well enough to be asked to play both piano and organ at church when the regular pianist is out sick or on vacation.  About 15 years ago, we were visiting in Mountain View, Arkansas when Karen noticed someone on the “Pickin Parlor Green” playing a small acoustic wooden lap instrument.  She enjoyed the sound and also thought how easy it would be to pack up and carry such an instrument.  Pianos and organs do not lend themselves to easy carry or transport.  She inquired as to what the instrument was and was told that it was a Mountain Dulcimer, also known as an Appalachian Dulcimer.  Deciding to try one out, she purchased an inexpensive dulcimer on eBay for about 100 dollars.

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Karen tried playing it for a while on her own.  She purchased some instruction books and starting plinking away.  Not having much success, she came to the conclusion that she needed instruction.  She found a good instructor and continued with her until we retired.  We then moved to Wisconsin and Arizona.  Nevertheless, other dulcimer lessons have continued for many years.  We go to at least two music camps each year.  One is in Mountain View, Arkansas and the other is in Bardstown, Kentucky.  We often attend the Minnesota Blue Grass and Old Time Music Association (MBOTMA) summer festival where they offer classes and practice in a variety of instruments.  There is also lots of practice time in what are known as music jams.  These jams are events where musicians self-organize into groups with many different skill levels.  There will be people playing guitars, violins, mandolins, banjos, dulcimers, harps, and numerous other string instruments.

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For several years, Karen was tentative before venturing out into her first music jams.  There is a definite etiquette that one must learn before joining a jam session.  Karen soon found a group of women in Tucson who were called “The Tucson Dulcimer Ensemble (TDE).”  They practice every two weeks and do a few performances each year.  The sessions they hold are both training and practice with a good dose of inspiration thrown in.  Karen has become more confident since playing with the TDE and is now a good enough player to be asked to do solo performances.  Where once she dreaded the thought of playing solo, she now looks forward to the challenge and I suspect, the applause.

But what of a muse?  Do we really need one?  Who was or is my muse for writing?  This past year Dr. Wedin had a series of illnesses and accidents rendering her unable to continue the “Write Right Now” classes that she had started.  Some of her students who have attended them for many years volunteered to take over, but it was not the same.  It is hard to describe Carolyn’s style of encouragement and critique, but I venture to say it is unique.  She inspires without criticizing.  She encourages without demoralizing.  She suggests without demanding.  When you have finished a session with Dr. Wedin, you have new ideas and a renewed motivation to go home and write.

Perspiration or Inspiration: Which is more Important to the Writer? —-A blog I wrote a while ago

 

Missing Carolyn and her inspiration, I went into a downward spiral.  I considered giving up writing.  I had said it all.  There was nothing else left to write about.  I had exhausted all my ideas and creativity.  I was finished.  I was kaput.  My writing days were over.  That was when I realized that Carolyn had been my muse.  She was my inspiration for what I think of as my writing in Creative Non-Fiction.  Part of me knew that Carolyn could not continue teaching.  No one lives forever and all things eventually change.  The Covid-19 Virus will probably put the finishing touches on the writer’s class for this summer: “Oh, what will I do?”

MV5BOWIzZGUxZmItOThkMS00Y2QxLTg0MTYtMDdhMjRlNTNlYTI3L2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjc1NTYyMjg@._V1_“I do not know what writing awaits me,

I only know I must be brave,

And I must face a life that dates me,

Or lie a coward, a craven coward,

Or lie a coward in my grave.” 

 (A slight modification from “High Noon” by Frankie Laine)

Taking advice from this old Frankie Laine song, I must find a new muse.  We all need a “little help from our friends” or someone who can guide and inspire us.  They say that the truth will set you free.  I know not about the truth, but I do know that when we understand something it gives us the freedom to make good decisions and choices.  Since I realize how important a muse is to my writing, I must decide how to find my next muse.

Looking at an obvious source for a muse, i.e., the Internet, one finds that most topics treat the subject as an exercise in finding your personal creativity either by looking inward or by researching a range of resources including classes and educational activities.  Searching Google for help in finding an actual real person as a muse, I did not find anything especially useful.  I did find numerous articles like:

  • How to Awaken Your Muse to Spark Your Creativity
  • Learning how to find your inner muse
  • 7 Tips to Awaken Your Creative Muse – Can-do-ideas

By the way, I got the same results on “YouTube” but I did find an interesting song by Them Coulee Boys called “Find Your Muse.”

I don’t want to find my “inner” creativity.  I want to find a real person like Dr. Wedin, who can inspire and challenge me.  Telling me to find my inner muse is similar to telling an athlete to find their “inner coach.”  This is a great idea up to a point, but I am sure that most musicians, athletes, and other artists would much rather find another human being as a coach or mentor.  It is wonderful to be able to talk to someone who has a different perspective and who can talk back.

The search for a muse does not have a single starting point or a definite ending point.  Much like mentors, muses will come and go in the life of an artist. The quest for a muse is like looking for the love of your life.  They may be just around the corner or they may be on another continent.  The one thing I am sure of is that unless you are seeking, you will probably not find one.  There is a Zen saying that goes like this, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I have a feeling that the same is true for finding a muse.  When you are ready, your muse will appear.  But being ready means having your eyes and ears and heart open.  That is what seeking is all about.

In Part 2, I will describe how a Role Model and a Shooting Star can help you in life as well as in your career. 

It’s the Economy Stupid! The Five Myths of Capitalism – Part 5 of 5

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I stated in parts 1-4, that unless we change our attitudes and policies regarding Corporate Capitalism, it will destroy our country, our way of life, our freedoms, and our environment.  Furthermore, we will undoubtedly take some of the rest of the world along with us.  This is a serious accusation and one I do not take lightly.

I have already described four of the five myths that are largely responsible for the mistaken policies and laws that have allowed Corporate Capitalism to become a dangerous disease.  A disease that is infecting our government and policies in myriad ways and causing untold damage to our country and the world.

In this blog, I will describe Myth #5 and how it contributes to the problems we are now facing.  Myth #5 is:

What’s Good for Corporate America is Good for the USA:

shanghai-gm-monoply-guy-720x340 (1)A version of this myth is the “Too big too fail idea” widely heard during the “Great Recession” and now during the Coronavirus epidemic.  General Motors was one of the first giant corporations in America and even as late as 2019, it was ranked 13th on the Fortune 500 rankings of the largest United States corporations by total revenue.  In 1952 during his nomination hearing for Secretary of Defense, Charles Wilson (former CEO of General Motors) was asked if he could make a decision as Secretary of Defense that ran contrary to the interests of his former company.  He replied with the now infamous remark YES but that he could not conceive of such a situation: “because for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.” — Wikipedia

220px-23_Things_They_Don't_Tell_You_About_Capitalism_cover_artThe foregoing belief in the common interests that corporations shared with America came to epitomize the ideology of Corporate America.  American corporations then used the media and astute public relations to convince the majority of US citizens that they are indispensable, and that the welfare of the average person depended on the welfare of the corporation.  To put it another way, the interests of a giant corporation are claimed to be synonymous with the interests of the average person. “What is good for America’s Corporations is good for You.”  “What is good for Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Exxon, Facebook and Pfizer is good for you.

This belief system, that corporate welfare is synonymous with our country’s welfare, is inevitably betrayed by at least two major factors.  These include: Externalities and Short-Term Thinking.

  1. Externalities (Lack of responsibility)

imagesWhen a company makes and sells a product, it is no longer responsible for the effects of that product on either the buyer or the environment.  Unless evidence can be shown that somehow the corporation either lied or had some kind of criminal intent in the sales process, the consumer and society are responsible for the negative effects that a product or service might have.  For instance, oil companies sell gasoline but are not responsible for the effects of polluting the atmosphere by burning gasoline.  Another example is the packaging that many companies use for their products.  Amazon is notorious for over boxing even the smallest products.  The boxes must then be thrown away or recycled in a landfill.  However, the cost of this recycling is not born by Amazon but ultimately by the taxpayer who must pay for the recycling through taxes or direct payments.  Meanwhile, Amazon makes a great profit by being able to take advantage of tax loopholes and escaping any costs.  These costs are called in economic terms: “Externalities.”

“In economics, an externality is the cost or benefit that affects a third party who did not choose to incur that cost or benefit.”  Wikipedia

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  1. Short-term thinking

Corporations will tell you that consumers benefit from the aforementioned transfers of costs.  The consumer pays a cheaper price for the product than he/she would if the total costs to the environment were factored in.  However, this is only considering short-term costs.  In the long term, the consumer/taxpayer pays a much greater cost.  For instance, the pollution in the atmosphere has caused the overall temperature of the earth to rise resulting in global warming.  This warming has destabilized weather patterns all over the earth resulting in extremes of weather:  more frequent tornadoes, stronger hurricanes, longer droughts, greater rain in many areas resulting in flooding.

The impacts of these weather changes have already cost the world billions of dollars.  One study found that: “Climate change could directly cost the world economy $7.9 trillion by mid-century as increased drought, flooding and crop failures hamper growth and threaten infrastructure.”Climate impacts ‘to cost world $7.9 trillion’ by 2050.  This study does not measure the misery to human beings all over the earth in terms of famine, pestilence and the impact of more and more “natural” disasters.

So, what we have here is the typical example of “Short-Term” thinking on the part of our Corporate Capitalistic economic system.  From worrying about the daily price of their stocks, the quarterly dividend, the monthly financial statements and the quarterly financial reports, corporations are guided by short-term thinking.  They will compete for short-term profits at the cost of destroying our environment, our way of living and ultimately our world.  This is the nature of the beast as it is bred and chartered.

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When I was a store manager at the now defunct W.T. Grant Company, we used to get a report each month which showed us our store ranking in relation to the 200 or so other stores in our division.  Our regional management would send these out every month to motivate us to raise our ranking.  Thus, if we were ranked 76th out of 200 in sales and profits, it would behoove us to try to improve.  However, these rankings were more or less random since some stores would always be in the top rank because of their size or other demographics.  Even without changing a single factor in our operation, the next month might see our ranking go up to 50th.  This could simply mean that our seasonal sales had kicked in before some other store areas.  The following month we might drop to 125th out of 200.

Each month brought a great deal of shifting between stores.  One soon learned that these reports were worthless.  We regarded them as a big joke.  They told us nothing except that management was focused on the short-term and that it could not look longer ahead than a month.  I worked for W.T. Grant for two years and left 4 years before they went bankrupt.  At the time of their bankruptcy, they were the largest American corporation to ever declare bankruptcy.

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A number of years ago, the average lifespan of an American corporation was 60 years.  The first list of Fortune 100 companies published in 1954 showed that less than fifty years later more than ½ of these companies no longer existed.  A corporation which is regarded as a person by such ridiculous decisions as “Citizens United” lives considerably less than the lifespan of an average person.  Even that limited a lifespan for a corporation has dropped.  The average age of an S&P 500 company is now under 20 years, down from 60 years in the 1950s, according to Credit Suisse.

Why? You may well ask.  The answer is simple.  For two reasons:  Greed and Stupidity.  Hardly a corporation in America does not create a “strategic plan.”  I have helped formulate and facilitate many a strategic planning session.  The most difficult part of planning is to get companies to think long-term.  Partially, this is due to the extremely volatile nature of business and the competition that companies face.  An even bigger part of the problem is the nature of management thinking.  There are some notable exceptions to this prevalent thinking:

“In Warren Buffett’s 2010 annual letter to shareholders he mentions the advantage Berkshire Hathaway has because it doesn’t focus on short term results”:

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“At GEICO, for example, we enthusiastically spent $900 million last year on advertising to obtain policyholders who deliver us no immediate profits.  If we could spend twice that amount productively, we would happily do so though short-term results would be further penalized. Many large investments at our railroad and utility operations are also made with an eye to payoffs well down the road.  At Berkshire, managers can focus on running their businesses: They are not subjected to meetings at headquarters nor financing worries nor Wall Street harassment. They simply get a letter from me every two years and call me when they wish.”  — Dr. Deming’s 7 deadly diseases by John Hunter

downloadDr. Deming wrote reams about the failure of management to balance what he called the “Problems of Today” with the “Problems of Tomorrow.”  I would typically hear when beginning a consulting engagement numerous reasons why “it could not be done.”  One of the most common excuses was expressed colloquially as “We are up to our ass in alligators.”  Another excuse was “We have too many fires to put out.”  I was fond of reciting Dr. Deming’s comment that, “Putting out fires is not improvement.  Finding a point out of control, finding the special cause and removing it, is only putting the process back to where it was in the first place. It is not improvement of the process.” — Out of the Crisis,  W. E. Deming

I have already mentioned in Part 2 on the Efficiency Myth that most corporations never really understood the idea of continuous improvement.  The focus of management is for the most part, a focus on quick fixes and short-term thinking that can bring quick profits regardless of the hidden costs and externalities.  Thus, the belief that what is good for a corporation is good for its citizens is not just false but dangerous.  To hold this belief is like trusting a rattlesnake not to bite you.  You might think that the rattlesnake is your friend until the day it bites you.  You are no more a friend to an American corporation than you are a friend to a rattlesnake.

41bf5SeawKL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I have sat in many boardrooms for many planning meetings, and seldom did I ever hear an executive worrying about the environment or the hidden costs of externalities.  The oft assumed legal mandate of a corporation is to make a profit.  However, corporate law states that a company does not have to pursue profit maximization at all costs.  This is idealistic though since the tendency in the marketplace and short-term thinking push corporations to ignore other considerations and pursue profits at all costs.  It is also much easier to measure profits than it is to measure a “good” to the environment or a “good” to the social system.  Thus, generally profits will trump other considerations in running an effective business.

Conclusion:

What is to be done?  How do we restore the proper balance of power to ensure that Corporations serve the country and not that the country serve the corporations?

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I think it will require the following major actions:

  1. We must overturn the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United
  2. We must change corporate law to do the following:
    1. Place size limits on corporations
    2. Place limits on the number of companies a corporation may acquire
    3. Regain citizen control by changing the corporate charter
  3. We must place limits on the exercise of lobbying
  4. We must stop corporate donations to political candidates
  5. We must place limits on the hiring of corporate executives to manage and oversee the government agencies that regulate their industry

There are many other things that can be done if we as citizens recognize that we have the power to take control of corporations.  We have the power to insure that they are acting in the public interest and not the other way around.  Madison Avenue has convinced Americans that what is good for Corporate America is good for the USA.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It is time we take back our power.

“Corporate social responsibility is measured in terms of businesses improving conditions for their employees, shareholders, communities, and environment. But moral responsibility goes further, reflecting the need for corporations to address fundamental ethical issues such as inclusion, dignity, and equality.”Klaus Schwab

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