As the Bells Ring Out

As I write this, bells are ringing across Massachusetts to honor the lives lost and broken as a result of the violence in Boston last week.  I share this native American folktale in the hope that we find ways to nurture the good in ourselves and one another.

Two Wolves

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.

“One is Evil – It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

“The other is Good – It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

two wolves


We can no longer say we did not know

The U.S. continues to wrestle with its collective conscience in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy.  Conversations are becoming more urgent about how to make our cities, schools, and country safer.  The discussions are involving a diverse range of people, from police officers to video game makers, victims of gun violence, and gun advocates.  In all of the dialogue, though, there is one group it seems we are neglecting: young people.  I’d like for us to actively engage children in the national conversation and listen to their views on how to create a world worthy of their futures.  At our dinner table the other night, I asked my two children (ages 12 and 14) what they thought about gun violence.  My kids were unequivocal about their desires: they want a world with less violence and more nature.

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee is holding hearings on gun control.  And perhaps we can make things better by adjusting laws and placing more restrictions on gun ownership.  Yet it seems to me that it’s also about changing social mores.  YMCA summer camps for kids offer riflery as an activity option.  Guns are sold along with toilet paper and shampoo at Wal-Mart.  Children as young as four have received BB guns for Christmas.  So what I wonder is this: how can we make being a “gun enthusiast” as bizarre and socially unacceptable as being a guillotine collector?  Collecting guillotines would be weird and morbid and kind of creepy.  Guillotines are instruments of death.  How are guns different?

Major social shifts and the resulting legal reform are always preceded by a groundswell of citizens who press for an elevated level of consciousness.  In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery.  William Wilberforce and his colleagues (spanning  both liberals and conservative evangelicals) meticulously documented the horrors of slave transport and life.  Wilberforce said “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”  The weight of evidence ultimately made it impossible for men and women of conscience to ignore or dismiss.  We too, can no longer say we did not know:  we have mounting evidence each day of what the implications are of normalizing guns.

Now is the time for a new level of consciousness– for moving beyond mute acceptance of viewing guns, like slavery, as an inevitable but regrettable part of life.  I’ll close with a quote from Half The Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

“Slavery was once widely viewed by many decent Europeans and Americans as a regrettable but ineluctable feature of human life.  It was just one more horror that had existed for thousands of years.  But then in the 1780s a few indignant Britons, led by William Wilberforce, decided that slavery was so offensive that they had to abolish it.  And they did.”

When will we decide that gun violence is so offensive that we must abolish it?  And have the courage to pursue the future that our children long for?

We can no longer say we did not know.

MLK and the Power of Song

Every year, the Music Institute of Chicago pays tribute to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a concert by the Brotherhood Chorale, a 180-member all-male choir from the Apostolic Church of God in Woodlawn.  Their voices joined together are pure power—enough to make you believe that song alone might be able to vanquish all evil from the planet.  Who’s to say that it can’t?  Music certainly played a pivotal role in civil right movement, both in its ability to build unity and strength amongst those rising up and to appeal to the conscience of fellow citizens.  I’d like to share a portion of a speech given by Dr. Mark George, President and CEO of the Music Institute of Chicago in January 2011.

“In the past few weeks, I have been asked several times why the Music Institute of Chicago places so much emphasis in its annual tribute to Martin Luther King.  Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired us to be better as a nation, better as a community and better as individuals.  It occurs to me that, in a small way, striving to be a little better each day, each time you try something, is also what musicians do.  Musicians practice and refine their art every day so that they can express through music what is too powerful or too beautiful for words alone.

This is why I find it no accident that Martin Luther King, Jr. married a musician. Coretta Scott King used her musical talents to support the struggle for social justice.  She wrote and performed many “Freedom Concerts” that raised awareness and raised money for the cause.  Mrs. Coretta Scott King understood the power of music – music that praises the glory of God, music that is an integral part of our most solemn and most joyous rituals, music that raises our awareness, music that can be a vehicle to uplift every individual and every community.

Martin Luther King understood this and musicians everywhere are inspired by his accomplishments.  Dr. King only lived to be thirty-nine years old.  But you know, you can do a lot in thirty-nine years.  You can:

Earn a Bachelor Degree in Sociology

Go on to attain a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology

Preach the Word of God

Speak out against injustice

Author six books

Be arrested thirty times

Win the Nobel Prize

Inspire a nation live out its creed

Inspire us today to serve our fellow man.

It is, of course, appropriate that we honor a great American leader, a great humanitarian, and someone who had such a close connection to the City of Chicago.  We are as inspired by this in the world of music as in any other part of society.”

So here’s to Rev. Dr, Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy.  Long may it live.  And here is to the musicians, the artists, the children, the leaders, the people from every walk of life in every place and time who inspire us to unite against injustices, to be our better selves, and to accomplish all ends without hatred or violence.

* * *

Special thanks to Dr. Mark George for his gracious permission to publish these words, and to the Brotherhood Chorale for their tremendous gift of song.  You can listen to them here. 

The Art of Facilitating

Good facilitating is an art.  A skilled, well-prepared facilitator will bring the best out of a crowd of people and lead the way to dynamic and interesting dialogue. From what I have seen, the common pitfalls of poor facilitators tend to fall in one of two camps.  The first is the mousy facilitator who just sort of stands there and never intervenes– yammering people go on too long, the conversation drifts way off topic, and the facilitator is a wallflower who just watches it happen.  At the other end of the spectrum is the facilitator who has way too much to say and acts as a super-participant, chiming in and adding his or her opinion as a flavoring to anything which is said.  Neither is appropriate.  What is?  I’m so glad you asked.  Here are my tips on effective facilitating.

fa·cil·i·tate /fəˈsiliˌtāt/

to make easier or less difficult; help forward (an action, a process, etc.)

The work of a facilitator is to guide a group’s conversation forward.  This involves balancing the voices in the room—drawing out the more reluctant participants and preventing outspoken people from dominating the dialogue .  It also typically includes having a prepared list of thought-starter questions and/or exercises to engage the participants and gently re-centering on the topic when things go off course.  Effective facilitators are not generally participants in the conversation; they are the hosts who strive to get the most productive conversation to happen.

[room preparation]

Round tables are always better for conversation than rectangular ones if they are available.  Having markers and folded card stock on the tables for people to create name cards can be helpful.  It may be useful to have large easels with paper to summarize key points as people contribute.  A visual record of the conversation helps people feel they have been heard and allows dialog to move forward once a point has been made.


Welcome participants to the room.  Invite people to sit down and write their names on folded card stock so it is visible to others.  Once everyone is gathered, introduce yourself and invite others to do the same.  You may choose to ask people to share a fun or interesting fact about themselves (which may or may not be related to topic of conversation) to get people warmed up. Use names whenever possible throughout the session.


Here are a few useful phrases for managing the conversation.

“Tell me more about that” // the essential facilitator phrase to encourage dialog without introducing any judgment.  (often effective with teenage kids too—try it!)

“What did you notice (about the film, exercise, etc.)?” // way to get people to respond to something without getting stuck on likes/dislikes

“Good discussion.  Let’s refocus.” // a way to redirect dialog from a tangent to main topic

“Who haven’t we heard from yet?” // elegant way to invite new voices into the conversation and quiet the dominators

“One more comment on this, then we have to move on.” // respectfully keeps things moving

“Great question.  Let’s talk about that.”  // a way to shift topic

“It seems like X and Y have two different opinions on this.  Let’s capture them both.”  // validates opposing views and ensures both feel heard

“OK, let’s talk about this as a larger group.”  or “Let me gather you back in if I could.” // way to quiet side conversations and draw them back into the group dialog.  Most effective if you walk over to where the side conversation is taking place in the room.

“I appreciate that feedback.  Others have found this useful so let’s give it a try.” // a great alternative to apologizing if a participant is less-than-enthusiastic about any of your approaches or exercises.


“We have about ten more minutes for conversation.  Are there any final areas we should explore together today/tonight?”  // As the closing time nears, let people know that you are aware of the time so people don’t get anxious about being delayed past the stated end time.

“There has been a lot of great participation today.  Thank you for coming.” // gracious hosting 101 and a signal to your participants that you are wrapping up

 “We encourage you to…” OR “You can engage more with this issue at [next event].” // Consider closing with a call to action.  Are you hoping people will take next steps?  What are they?

“I’d invite you to share contact information with one another so you can continue to work on these issues together.” //  If you are hoping people will stay in contact with one another to take action, invite participants to trade contact information with one another.

“Thanks again everyone.”  //  pat yourself on the back and smile– well done!

{click to download PDF of Effective Facilitating Tips}

© October 2012 by Pam Daniels. All rights reserved.

Reflections on “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”

Anne-Marie Slaughter, a professor at Princeton University, mom, and former Director of Policy at the U.S. State Department, recently wrote a powerful piece in The Atlantic entitled Why Women Still Can’t Have It All (click link to read the article).  Many of my friends shared the article with me, and it has struck such a chord that it is being brought up in my circles of conversation as simply The Atlantic article.   As in: have you seen the Atlantic article?  What do you think?  So here, dear reader, is what I think.  I think I am lucky to have had my two children while I was in my late twenties.  I had enough professional experience to be considered an asset at work, and was not so well paid that I had much to lose in asking for what I wanted, which was a three-day work week.  At that age, I was still naïve enough to think the world would have an interest in bending to my needs and had the nerve to ask for what I wanted, and not apologetically either. Conventional wisdom at the company at that time was that you could work a reduced schedule if you were willing to step back in responsibility (i.e. give up a management role).  I approached the department head, said I didn’t think that the policy made a lot of sense since the company probably wants people to contribute to the highest levels of their ability, and to continue to develop that ability over time.  Why would you want people who are good at leading to stop leading?  And with that, I asked for what I wanted, which was this:  A three-day workweek.  Compensation in line with work schedule (60% time = 60% pay).  Full benefits.  Retention of current title and role (with a narrowed client list).  Consideration for future promotions.  Full eligibility for annual bonus.  And guess what?  I got it.  It made total sense to me then, as it does now.  Except that now I know how utterly unusual it is for such a proposal to be accepted.  But it was accepted, and not by a touchy-feely leader, either.  He was the kind of guy who had the ability to distill everything down to its raw essence– a person who inspired admiration and fear in equal measure.  His reply to my request was this: “You’re telling me I have a choice between three days a week and zero?  [to which I sheepishly nodded yes] Then I’ll take three.”  It was clear-cut and simple, as he later explained at an all-company meeting.  Given a choice between losing a strong performer and retaining one, he would choose keeping one.  An easy decision to make.

I worked a three-day schedule for a dozen years, and quite often, people outside the organization would comment on how lucky I was.  I was always quick to point out that the company was lucky too:  I was a bargain at 60% salary, and the arrangement benefitted us both.  What pleased me greatly was that my work arrangement did not remain a one-off special case.  Though I pioneered the concept which became known as “part-time professional,” many others, men and women, also opted for reduced schedules.  Some devoted time to raising children, others to graduate school or other pursuits.  It became possible to continue to perform a challenging role at work and to participate significantly in life outside of the office too.

Making work a part of my life portfolio but not my whole pie gave me time to invest in my community.  I participated in boards and committees, got to know my neighbors, and spent long hours seeing the world anew through the eyes of my young children.  Often this involved examining small rocks and marveling at them like treasured jewels or watching highways of ants busily marching from one side of the sidewalk to another.  Later it became answering awkward questions about “family living” (our town’s euphemism for sex ed) while driving the kids to activities after school.   The ability to be engaged in so many ways with so much of life made me show up joyfully wherever I was.  I would like to think that this was ultimately a very good thing for everyone involved: happy woman, happy work team, happy family.

But as I have gotten older and experienced other workplaces, I have been less likely to ask for what I want.  I wonder how much our demons of self-doubt as women get in the way of us standing up for ourselves.  George Bernard Shaw said that the unreasonable man “persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.  Therefore, all progress depends upon the unreasonable man.”   I think I was more brash in my twenties and figured the world should bend to my needs when I suggested a three day schedule and got it.  I was more comfortable being “unreasonable.”  As I have gotten more seasoned, I have a better sense of the long odds and risks associated with bucking convention.  Plus as I have advanced in salary and title, the stakes have gotten higher.  I have much more to lose.  So despite the expansion of my influence and status, I am less apt to use it. How unfortunate.

It seems to me that the question we should really be asking in the perennial debate about “having it all” is how we might make it easier for each of us to contribute to the very best of our abilities, and in a measure appropriate for the portfolio of activities which compose our life.  We seem to be mired in institutionalized systems and structures which fail dismally at meeting the needs of people.  If we are to change that, articulating our needs and having the nerve to be unreasonable might be precisely what is call for.  And even better if we do so with the head-held-high confidence that doing so will be a gift for everyone.

What art really teaches

My local school district, like so many others, is struggling with difficult budget choices.  As is typical, the arts become an easy target for financial cuts because we do not understand how or why they matter.  The arts somehow seem superfluous.  I wish that were not so.  Here is a letter I composed and shared with school board members; perhaps others might find it helpful too.

Dear Board of Education member:

As you grapple with budget choices and curriculum trade-offs related to the arts, I’d like to share a quote from Larry Rosenstock who leads High Tech High, a San Diego school started by a group of local tech executives frustrated by a lack of skilled workers.  “There is no test for the future that we can teach to.  What we do know, however, is that being able to make new things is still going to be the way to succeed.  Creativity is a skill that never goes out of style.”   As school environments get ever more rigid and test oriented, arts is the area which advances the traits needed for the future—how to cope with complexity and connect ideas, how to develop grit and determination, how to find your voice and say something– whether with music, words, dance or art.  I can think of nothing more essential for the children of our community.  Please preserve the arts as a critical element of education.

Parent Report Card

In the great dice game of life, I won the parent lottery.  I had audaciously awesome parents who told me every day that they loved me, that I was beautiful, and capable of anything I put my mind to.  Like most kids, I thought my parents were crazy.  But I also thought that if they could be fooled, it was possible that someday I might find one other person capable of similar delusions.  Lucky for me, I found just the man: a wonderfully supportive and loving spouse.  Now we are raising two kids together, and of course the expectations I have for my own parenting are impossibly high.  I’m measuring against the standard of audaciously awesome.  But here’s the thing: my only audience is my kids.  So it really doesn’t matter what the world’s standard is, or what the grandparents or neighbors or people at the park think.  What matters is what my kids think, measured against the standard that I set.

A few years ago, when my children were nine and twelve, I developed a parent report card.  Here’s my daughter’s review from last year.

Offering this report card to my kids in effect told them what I think my job description is.  And it gave them a chance to say how they think I’m doing.  Clearly I have some things to work on– no surprise there.  Now I know where to focus my efforts.   What do you want to be measured on?  And by whom?

Here’s a blank version to use as a starter for crafting your own report card. Please consider sharing what you create so we can continue to learn from each other.   Create your own parent report card

© May 2012 by Pam Daniels.  All rights reserved.