Being a Good Samaritan

April 28, 2010

What ever happened to being a Good Samaritan? Last week in New York, Hugo Tale-Yax, a homeless Guatemalan immigrant, was stabbed repeatedly in the chest while saving a woman from a knife-wielding attacker. Then he fell to the sidewalk, bleeding to death as dozens of people walked past. While some turned their heads to catch a glimpse, others actually stopped to gawk and talk. One guy stopped, rolled Tale-Yax onto his side, saw the puddle of blood, and then kept walking. Another person actually took a photo before moving on!

“HOW CAN PEOPLE WALK BY A DYING PERSON AND NOT HELP?” outraged citizens ask in utter disbelief. “WHAT’S THE WORLD COMING TO?” dismayed talking TV heads ask… acting as if this were something new.

According to social psychologists, Mr. Tale-Yax was the victim of a psychological phenomenon called “the bystander effect.” I first learned about this in a college sociology class. Back then it was called the “Genovese syndrome” named after the infamous 1964 rape and murder of Kitty Genovese in Queens. Dozens of people witnessed her attack and heard her screams but did nothing to stop it… let alone report it.

It seems the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help a person in need. Research shows that individual bystanders monitor fellow bystanders to try and determine if it’s necessary to intervene. When no one takes action, they all conclude their help isn’t needed. Some individuals assume that another bystander will intervene… and as a result, no one intervenes. Many individuals assume that another bystander is more qualified, so they don’t bother getting involved. Certain bystanders are concerned about “losing face” in the eyes of the others… while some fear legal consequences should they offer their assistance. Read more

Happy bEARTHday!

April 20, 2010

Years ago I met a guy named Noel. Noel was his first name—and he hated it. “Since I was born on Christmas, my parents thought it was an appropriate name,” Noel told me. What he hated more than his name was his birth date. “We can never celebrate ‘my day,’ it’s always overshadowed by Christmas,” he explained. Noel wasn’t a very happy person. It was rare to see him smile. I don’t know if it was his name, his birth date or something else… but his attitude did seem to worsen during December.

My birthday falls on April 22—Earth Day. Because I was in 6th grade when the first Earth Day was celebrated, my parents weren’t tempted to name me Eartha, Fern, Gaia, Ocean, Zoe… or some other Earth-related name. But if they had, I don’t think I would have minded. What’s in a name—right? Unlike Noel, I’m glad my birthday falls on an important date—especially this one. I love the concept of Earth Day and feel honored to share “my day” celebrating it. I consider it my bEARTHday, so to speak.

We have no control over where and when we are born, or what we’re named, for that matter. While we don’t control the circumstances we are born into, we do choose our responses, attitudes and actions. In other words, our choices create our lives. Our choices also affect the Earth. Hopefully as we’re creating our lives, we are also creating a better world. Think about it—without Earth, we have no place to live. We couldn’t exist. Recognizing this fact, can you think of anything more important than caring for our planet? I can’t. That’s why I’m committed to being a responsible Earth citizen.

For me, this commitment is easy. Not only is it logical, it’s natural, too. It resonates with my soul. I realized long ago when something resonates with your soul, it’s important to embrace it. That’s why I speak out against corporations that pollute our planet, deplete our resources and mistreat people, animals… and nature. Yes, I believe in capitalism… but not at the expense of our earth and its inhabitants. That’s why I support “green” businesses.

Doing what’s right and challenging the status quo takes courage… but when we don’t make good choices and don’t challenge those who pollute and mistreat our planet, we become part of the problem.

REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE… but mostly… RESPECT our planet. “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” I agree with Einstein… and the time is NOW. We need to start thinking differently and creating new sustainable Earth-friendly solutions. The status quo has lost its status. Let’s make certain future generations can experience this miraculous living planet filled with its endless beauty and wonder. Together, WE can make this world a better place. Happy Earth Day!

Beach Balls, Truth and Innovation

April 16, 2010

Have you ever tried holding a small beach ball under water? It’s not too difficult at first… but the longer you try to hold it down, the harder it becomes. At some point, the upward force (buoyant force) wins and the beach ball surfaces. Back in 200 BC, Archimedes, the brilliant Greek scientist, discovered the deeper you hold a buoyant object underwater, the higher it shoots above the surface once it’s released. Buoyancy = weight of displaced fluid. Archimedes’ principle seems to apply to truth as well. Try as you may to keep it hidden, eventually it surfaces.

One technique I’ve used to hide a ball in the pool is to sit on it. This seems clever at first, but it’s a bit risky… one wrong move and the ball shoots right out from underneath you and flies out of the water for all to see. This is what happened to Bernie Madoff… he made some bad moves, lost his balance, and the truth surfaced in a flash. Sometimes, if you’re careful and have enough power, you can let the ball up slowly. This is what the tobacco industry did regarding the dangers of smoking. They realized the truth was going to surface sooner than later… so they let it up slowly. Whether it’s a beach ball or the truth, it’s not a matter of if or how it will surface, but when. At some point, even master beach ball hiders need to leave the pool and take a break. Read more

Being Present

April 8, 2010

A mother and her two children were seated a few tables away from my wife and me last night at dinner. The mom looked to be in her late 30s, her son around 14, and her daughter a few years younger than him. Perhaps it was because we were sitting in the corner or maybe it was just an acoustical phenomenon of sorts, but despite the relatively loud music, we could hear their conversation—perfectly.

The mom’s remarks were short, but she seemed very focused on proper protocol… sit up straight, shut your mouth, sit still, leave your sister alone, use your fork, be quiet, ignore him, don’t speak that way… and so on. Then I glanced over to discover her real focus—a mobile phone. She was texting and didn’t want to be disturbed. Sadly, she continued doing so throughout the entire dinner. Try as they might, neither kid could get her to join them in their world—the real world. Both were vying (unsuccessfully) for her attention.

I tried ignoring them, but it was difficult. She was oblivious… unaware that some day she would look up and they’d be gone. I felt compelled to go over and explain to her that whatever it was she was texting about would almost certainly pale in comparison to spending this special time with her two offspring. But I didn’t. “Maybe it takes grown children to be aware of these things,” Anne suggested. She’s probably right.

Even so, this mom seemed blind to the fact that precious moments only appear once—then they’re gone—forever. That’s how moments work. Each one is uniquely special… and then it’s gone. Life happens with or without us. Our kids grow up, our peers and loved ones move on and eventually we all die… that’s reality. Life exists within each moment… and when we aren’t present, we miss it.

We can’t travel back in time and do it again. In life there are no “do-overs”… this is it. The past and future exist only in our minds… the present is our only reality. Whether it’s business, family or a random encounter with a stranger… don’t waste your precious moments not being present. Reality is right now… this moment. For both the giver and receiver, being present is the greatest present of all… a real gift.

Sacred Cows and Innovation

April 6, 2010

Without all the pieces, it’s hard to solve a puzzle… and developing innovative solutions is no different. I’ve always considered the creative process a search for truth. That’s what I love about creativity… it has no “sacred cows*”… everything is fair game and anything is possible. When you consider that creativity fuels innovation, the notion of truth (the whole truth and nothing but) can’t be taken lightly—especially if you’re really serious about innovation.

The number of “sacred cows” that dwell within organizations always intrigues me. You can see them in government, education, business and religious institutions. They can even be found in your own home! Contrary to popular belief, everyone has “sacred cows,” existing at every level and in many forms. Once you start looking for them, they’re relatively easy to spot. How? Start by asking some basic questions or suggesting some alternative ideas and watch how people respond. The more honest and logical your questions are, the better. You’ll soon realize that sacred cows are immune from questions or criticism, so doing either makes people defend them. Expect to hear these kinds of responses:
“That won’t work.”
“That violates the rules.”
“We shouldn’t be discussing this.”
“You don’t understand…”
“I can’t believe you asked such a question.”
“You’re missing the point.”
“That could get you fired.”
“It’s too complicated.”
“That’s outside our process.”
“You’re being irreverent.”
“That’s too radical.”
“That’s not the way we do things here.”
“You don’t have the authority.”

In addition, these kinds of responses are often cloaked in argot to make them appear more complicated, important or official-sounding than what they really are. Read more