All posts by Dan Lococo, PhD

I am a whole person called to engage with others as they realize their own wholeness. Service is the act of engaging with others on their journey to realizing their own wholeness. (December, 2013)

National coming out day 2022

October 11 is the day we celebrate national LGBT Coming Out day. At a time when members of the LGBT community, particularly children who identify as LGBTQ and/or transgender, seem to be under attack it is important for those of us who can, to step up and speak out.

I have been celebrating national LGBT Coming Out day publicly for many years because I feel it is important to own who I am, a bisexual male. As someone who presents as cis-gender, I could hide behind the assumptions made by others. I find a dishonesty in taking that road.

I have the privilege, and the honor, to regularly be in the presence of a group of young people who are members of the LGBTQIA community. I refer to them as my queer peers. We have made a safe space for ourselves where we show up as we are. I consider these people and that space to be a precious gift in my life. We have shared the most personal of details of our lives, the most boring of chatter, and everything in between. Conversations on the intersection of biology, sexuality, and gender take place without the clutter of judgmental voices. Our standard is, “If you do not know, ask.”

I am open about who I am. I am open about sharing who I am. I am not open to being attacked for who I am. I am not open to being told how I should be in the world. I take no responsibility for a lack of empathy in others.

I identify as queer, and I am proud of who I am. There was a time when people, often referred to as “conservatives,” stood for individual rights, less government regulation, and freedom of expression. I not only hold these values, but I also believe in celebrating the right of individuals to be who we are every day.

Reference:

Equity is a function of leadership

This essay was written for National Disability Employment Awareness (NDEA) month, celebrated each October. The piece is based on my own research. All references to individual experiences are from direct conversations I have had with employers or persons with disabilities (PWD).

Comments and sharing are always welcome.

In this post:

 

Essay: Equity and Disability Employment Awareness: A Function of Leadership
By Dan Lococo, PhD

The U.S. Department of Labor celebrates October as National Disability Employment Awareness month (NDEA). The theme for 2022 is, “Disability: Part of the Equity Equation.” This year’s theme calls on employers to reflect on how persons with disabilities (PWD) inclusion is (or is not) a part of the equity equation.

It is estimated that less than 20% of employers include persons with disabilities as part of their labor force. A major reason 72.6% of employers cite for not including PWD is the belief that we are unable to perform the work of the company. In contrast, the primary reason 82.6% of employers contact the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is to retain or hire a valued employee with a disability. JAN reports that 75% of disability accommodations cost less than $500, with 56% costing nothing. The disparity between the 82.6% of employers who reach out for assistance in retaining employees and the 20% of employers who include PWD is an opportunity for awareness and a focus on equity.

Disability accommodations take the form of such things as: making facilities accessible, job restructuring, and modifying policies. A key factor in the inclusion of PWD in professional settings is an organizational infrastructure that allows a PWD to be productive in the workplace. The nature of accommodations requires that organizational infrastructure align with the organization’s commitment to equity and inclusion. This can be done through intentionality or through positional authority.

Speaking with employers and persons with disabilities (PWD) provides insights into some of the ways organizational infrastructure impacts the inclusion of PWD in professional settings. Some examples of PWD inclusion:

  • A sales executive is told by the CEO that his multiple sclerosis (MS) will not be a barrier to his continued employment, followed by various accommodations including workspace and job redesign
  • An educator makes career choices based on the accessibility of various school buildings
  • A local municipality re-assigns workers to lighter duties, sometimes in other departments, rather than sending them home to collect disability compensation.
  • An employee seeks employment elsewhere after learning his supervisor does not see a path to inclusion through the organization’s bureaucracy
  • A supervisor does not offer a job to a qualified candidate after realizing he does not have the authority to adapt the current position description.

An important part of this equation is an understanding of the alignment between organizational infrastructure and the commitment to the inclusion of persons with disabilities. In the case of the CEO’s support of the sales executive, the CEO had the authority to ensure the appropriate accommodations would be made on a timely basis. In the case of the supervisor who did not feel he could extend an offer to a qualified job applicant, the Director of the organization’s Bureau of Equity & Inclusion noted that the organization’s employees are spread across several relatively independent divisions. Making an exception to a position description in one unit within a division could have problematic implications across the organization. In both cases, the organization’s commitment to equity and inclusion was a function of the ability of organizational infrastructure to respond to a call for inclusion.

Inclusion of persons with disabilities (PWD) involves an understanding of who has the authority to make appropriate decisions regarding the inclusion of PWD and ensuring that hiring authorities have access to those decision makers on a timely basis. Celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness (NDEA) month takes place each year in October. This year’s focus on disability as part of the equity equation calls on organizational leaders and hiring authorities to be aware of the intersection of organizational infrastructure and disability employment. This year’s theme for NDEA is a reminder that awareness can come from anywhere, equity is a function of leadership.

References

Dan Lococo is a facilitator and researcher focusing on the inclusion of persons with disabilities (PWD) in professional settings. His work is informed by the principles of Servant Leadership. You can learn more about him through his web page, DanLococo.com and his work through Mainstreaming on Main Street® (MoMS).

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Wondering towards empathy

I recently found myself behind schedule and just a bit lost. The unexpected support of a stranger got me back on track. Was I the beneficiary of empathy, sympathy, or compassion? I leave that to the reader. The story is a quick read, with a little food for thought. Comments and sharing are always welcome.

In this post:

 

Story: Running into empathy

I recently went to Columbia/St. Mary’s hospital to bring my wife home after having her gallbladder removed. After getting off the bus at a busy intersection and crossing the street, I missed the turn that would lead me to the hospital entrance. The hospital complex takes up the majority of a city block and I found the many driveways surrounding the complex to be confusing. I was getting a bit anxious about losing my orientation and delaying Helen’s return home. As I walked, I was asked by a person who identified himself as being homeless if I had some money I could spare. I ignored his question and asked if he could help me find the entrance to the hospital. As we walked together I learned that Aaron’s relationship with a woman who was involved with drugs and sex work left him in a precarious housing situation. I also learned that Aaron didn’t really know where the main entrance to the hospital was. After an explore that took a few twists and turns, Aaron got me where I needed to go. Aaron laughed when I told the person at the front desk that Aaron was my body guard. I don’t think the person at the desk was impressed. Before we parted I gave Aaron the $5 I had in my pocket. I felt it was the least I could do for a person who stepped up to make a difference without question of the commitment being made or the benefit to be gained.

I could reason that our engagement was transactional rather than empathetic but that doesn’t speak to the subtlety of the encounter. I ignored Aaron’s request for money. Aaron responded to my request for help without question. Maybe he understood what it feels like to be lost. Maybe the fact that I was going to a hospital led Aaron to infer a sense of urgency in my request. He may have been sympathetic to an old, blind, guy who had lost his way. I don’t know. Conversely, I don’t usually give money to people on the street. Aaron had helped me out when I needed help. The $5 was just sitting around doing nothing. I easily imagined Aaron would find a good use for $5 sooner than I would.

Lessons learned

My initial engagement with Aaron was an exchange of needs we had at the moment. We didn’t spend any time evaluating who’s needs were greater or lesser. My need was more urgent but not necessary more important than Aaron’s. Aaron deferred to my need without knowing if his need would be addressed.

Emotion researchers generally define empathy as, “The ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.” Based on this definition it seems that Aaron was practicing empathy while my engagement had a transactional odor to it. I like to think I was just sharing with a fellow traveller along the way.

Applying the lessons

Empathy or sympathy or compassion are often exhibited in response to a situation that serves as a trigger. Here are a few questions that came to me as I composed this essay:

  • What triggers me to engage with others in a selfless manner?
  • How do I empathetically engage while maintaining the dignity of others?
  • When am I acting out of empathy versus sympathy or simply engaging in transactional exchange?

References

 

 

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Listening to the story I’m telling myself

Listening includes both verbal and non-verbal queues. Listening also involves building a story about what we are hearing and who we are hearing from. This story frames the August 2022 Mainstreaming on Main Street® (MoMS) Connecters Table and the Servant-Leader roundtables. The story is a quick read, with a little food for thought. Comments and sharing are always welcome.

In this post:

 

Story: Listening to the story I’m telling myself

As someone who does not see, listening is very important to me. Listening is how I ingest written materials (with text to speech technologies), maintain directional orientation while traveling, interpret the mood/feelings of those around me, regulate cooking temperatures, and so on.

Reflecting on my listening and interpretation practices is not new to me. In September 2016 I posted an essay on, “Listening to far away.” The essay focused on the layers of information I hear and how I make meaning of that information. When I listen to the layers of sound/information I receive, I make decisions about how many layers deep to focus. I know I can’t pay attention to everything. At some point, I must just let go and assume that what I’m hearing is out of scope. That is a practice that has saved me from chasing endless shiny things. It has also led me to overlook some great opportunities.

In that essay, I was looking through the lens of one-way communication. I didn’t really address the dynamic role of listening as an active engagement with others. Interactive listening is a component of communication. The definition of communication I have found most useful is: communication happens when a sender and a receiver agree on the message being shared. This definition might also be interpreted as listening takes place when the speaker is heard.

In more recent years I have found Brene Brown’s idea of “the story I’m telling myself” a touch point for making meaning, which involves many more moving parts than just listening. The story I build in my head involves listening, but it also includes conclusions I have made about the person/people I’m listening to, why they are talking to me, why I’m listening to them, what I think they want from me, and what I think I will learn from them.

Recently, my wife and I were walking, hand-in-hand, through a local park and came across a person sitting at one of the picnic tables. After exchanging greetings, the person said, “Can I ask you a question?” We have come to expect this question as an opening to a request for money. The person recognized my discomfort and said, “I’m not going to ask you for money. I was wondering how long you two have been together?” The person was very happy to see a couple who still holds hands after 33 years of marriage. I was ashamed that my default response was that the person wanted something from me that I was not willing to share. I had clearly told myself a story about stepping over boundaries. There is great potential for the stories I tell myself to stray a long way from the intended message.

I sometimes qualify a question with the phrase, “I’m asking because I want to know”. This is particularly useful when I am engaged in a topic that might be seen as controversial. The statement is a recognition of the fact that I have made assumptions about the person I am speaking to. It is also an acknowledgement that the person I’m speaking to may have made assumptions about me. It is another way of saying, “I am really interested in what you have to say.” It is also a commitment to listening thoughtfully, rather than to focus on an opportunity to share my position on the topic.

I regularly meet with a group at the intersection of disability and LGBTQ. The group is premised on the principles: come as you are, be who you are. One of the norms we have agreed upon is to make sure we are clear on the purpose of our conversation. Sometimes we are sharing our experiences, sometimes we are problem-solving, sometimes we are asking for advice, sometimes we are giving advice, and sometimes we’re just venting. All of these are legitimate forms of communication, and all are welcome in our conversations. We have gotten into the habit of asking before offering advice. The transparency of intentions has led us to more open, deeper, conversations.

Questions:

Here are some of the questions I asked myself in the process of developing this essay:

  • How do I determine what to pay attention to when engaging with others?
  • How do I know I am really listening?
  • How do I know I am being heard?
  • How do I recognize the assumptions I make about the people I engage with?
  • How do I validate the story I am telling myself?
  • How do I let others know I am genuinely interested in listening?
  • How do we know we are really understanding each other?
  • How do I know what feedback to share with those I am conversing with?

Reference:

Brene Brown’s web page provides a wide variety of resources. I found it after reading several of her books. Her writing is quite accessible. I especially enjoy the audio books she has read herself.

www.brenebrown.com

 

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It’s OK to not be OK, or is it?

“How are you?”
“OK. You?””
“OK.”

There are many reasons “OK” has become a default response. Its meaning ranges from “My life is as good as it could be.” to “I’m in the middle of a personal/physical/mental health crisis.” Finding space and making space to genuinely share how we are can be challenging. Here is an essay that explores the many ways being “OK,” or not, has an impact on our personal and professional lives. It includes a number of reflections from my experiences of the past three weeks.

In this post:

Story: It’s OK to not be OK, or is it?

On Friday, July 1 my daughter, Rachel, and I attended the SummerFest music festival. In our explore of the grounds before our 8:00 pm concert, we came across the Hope For The Day (HFTD) booth. The group addresses mental health issues with the goal of bringing the topic of mental health challenges into the light of day. Among the many resources the group had to share were silicon wrist bands with the statement, “It’s OK to not be OK.” While talking with Becca Milligan, Marketing & Events Director of HFTD, we discussed the meaning of the wrist bands. They serve to remind the wearer that they are OK, even on bad days. They also serve to be a symbol of ally ship to others, as well as a reminder that not everyone is “OK.” Both Rachel and I took a wrist band.

On Sunday, July 3 we attended Milwaukee’s Lakefront fireworks.

We found a place up front at the edge of the sidewalk along the water. The spot did everything we needed. While settling in, we were surprised by the detonation of a single firecracker. It wasn’t a big firecracker, but it clearly triggered something in the patriarch of the family next to us. He was clearly agitated by the sound. It was not clear if the gentleman had experienced a dangerous situation involving fireworks near children or if he was having a flashback to an experience involving firearms. The situation passed but it was a reminder of how little I knew how to deal with an individual experiencing post-traumatic stress in a public setting. While adopting the attitude, “Not my problem” is convenient, it seems strange to apply at a gathering celebrating who we are as a nation.

In the following days we had the opportunity to spend time with a kaleidoscope of people and the experiences they bring to our time together. On Tuesday, we had lunch with a couple of old friends. They are, understandably, still affected by the murder of their daughter and grandchildren in 2020. On Wednesday we gathered for dinner with friends. As I looked around the table, I realized that all of us had been immediately affected by the loss of family members to murder or suicide. For some of us these losses are very present. For others, they are a background element of who we are.

One of the group mentioned that they are still getting over the trauma associated with the memorial service for their mother a month ago: she had died last year. While the feelings of sadness were associated with the memorial service, I suspect the service was also a trigger for the grief of losing their child to suicide a few years ago. There would have been no benefit to point out my speculation. Our purpose in gathering was not to act as a therapy session but to be open to acknowledging each other. We have made a practice of showing up as whole persons being present to each other as whole persons.

While developing this piece, I tested positive for the Covid-19 virus. The viral infection has required me to both face not being OK and to let others know I am not OK. I had to let my research partner know I have an infection that might keep me from the commitments I have made to him and the project. In reflecting on the graciousness of my research partner I recalled times when things in his personal life required us to adjust our research plan. It is not that my partner owes me the courtesy they have extended, it is a recognition of the complexity of the lives we bring to the table and our willingness to acknowledge those complexities.

I am fortunate to be able to engage with people who I can share with at a level beyond the surface. This includes the commitment to ask of each other deep questions and to be aware of when to refrain from doing so. These are the relationships that energize me. They are also the relationships where I am challenged to learn about myself. I am gifted with the opportunity to be with people who are open to experiencing me as I am. I am honored to be with people who trust me enough to allow me to experience them as they are.

I am aware of places and relationships where showing up as a whole person is not valued. Pete Seeger reminded us, there is a season…” Those of us who cannot hide who we are do not have the luxury of compartmentalizing who we are from what we do. Hiding who we are generates physical and emotional costs which are a deduction from being our best selves. In contrast, listening to people like Toto Wolff, head of the Mercedes Formula One racing team, suggests that one of the features of high performing teams is they support and celebrate team members bringing their whole selves to the team. The culture of such organizations holds that the team does not have the luxury of compartmentalizing who we are from what we do. Avoiding, or ignoring, the wholeness of others is a clear sign of wasted capacity.

Food for thought:

  • How do you know when it’s OK to not be OK?
  • For you, where are the places where it’s OK to not be OK?
  • What messages do you receive (through policies, procedures/practices, behavior of peers, etc.) regarding when it’s OK to not be OK within your community/organizational life?
  • How do you check in to truly know if others are OK?
  • As a Servant-Leader, how do you influence what it means to be “OK” in the places where you serve?
  • How do we evaluate the systems we engage with to ensure they account for the realities of human existence?

Make a difference/Be the difference

  • “Should the cabin lose pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead area. Please place the mask over your own mouth and nose before assisting others.” This is not an invitation to be selfish, it is a reminder to make sure we have the capacity to support others.
  • Self-care is a critical part of our capacity to serve others. For me, diet, exercise, talking with good people, and writing are my medicines. Know yours.
  • Hope For The Day (HFTD) is a resource for individuals and organizations who wish to learn more about mental health services. If you are someone who facilitates the delivery of educational services within your organization, please consider HFTD as a resource for raising the level of conversation within your organization.
  • The national mental health hotline (988) is available as of Saturday, July 16, 2022. Share this resource whenever you can.
  • Listening is serving.

References

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Dan Lococo, PhD Barrier Knocker Downer Contact me: (Message Twitter: @danlococo LinkedIn profile

Mainstreaming on Main Street Supporting organizational environments inclusive of persons with disabilities in professional/skilled settings Copyright 2022, Dan Lococo, All rights reserved

Autonomy can make for hard decisions

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide on a women’s right to a medical abortion in June, 2022. This essay is a reflection on the pregnancies I have been a part of. One was expected, two were not. Trigger warning: This essay describes real situations, considerations, and consequences. It may not be suitable for all readers.

The story is a quick read, with a little food for thought. Comments and sharing are always welcome.

In this post:

 

Story: Autonomy can make for hard decisions

When Helen and I got married I was not fully committed to having children. We had discussed how we wanted our life together to unfold and children were not the first thing on the list. When Helen shared that her self-diagnosis of an angry gallbladder might be an indicator of an unintended pregnancy, we were both a bit surprised. We planned to have children as part of our marriage, just not right now.

The marriage vows we made include the statement, “Encompassing all joys and sorrows, all good times and bad, all of the experiences of life.” I soon accepted the idea of parenthood, and we were off to the races. My employer’s family friendly policies allowed me to attend Helen’s prenatal visits. The obstetrician/gynecologist (OB/GYN) Helen had been going to was an old-school doctor. His waiting room was often filled. We regularly waited a long time before being seen, followed by a rushed visit with the doctor. We ended up finding a different OB/GYN, one who was communicative and open to my involvement.

I took family leave when Jessica Renee Lococo came into this world on April 9, 1990. The family leave was especially helpful as Helen’s doctor advised her to refrain from lifting more than 10 pounds after delivering a 10-pound nine-ounce baby. Full disclosure: I clearly remember asking our three-week-old daughter, “When are your parents coming to take you home?” Ten months of marriage had not fully prepared us for this dramatic change in our lives. Seventeen months later Rachel Michelle Lococo came into the world, and we followed a similar pattern of prenatal preparation and post-delivery family leave. I do not regret that we became pregnant so early in our marriage. We have raised two lovely children who are now lovely adults.

In a previous relationship things turned out quite differently. Years earlier, I was romantically involved with a woman who had two children and a dissolving marriage. Our relationship made for more complication in her life. Like my later relationship with Helen, we found ourselves unexpectedly pregnant. Unlike my relationship with Helen, we had not talked about having children together. The complexity of her life and the simplicity of my life were not conducive to bringing a child into the world. We thoughtfully made the decision that carrying the pregnancy to its full term was not a wise decision. Like the pregnancies Helen and I participated in, we walked together to the termination of that pregnancy: in this case through a medical abortion. It was not an easy decision, but it was the best decision I believe we could have made at the time.

It has been decades since that relationship ended. The relationship, like the terminated pregnancy that was a part of it, were not meant to be. I do not spend a great deal of time pondering why the relationship was not viable. It may have been God’s will. It may have been the luck of the draw. Nothing that I have experienced has led me to the conclusion that the world would be a better place if circumstances had played out differently. I can only conclude that if things were different things would be different.

Reflecting back, the original OB/GYN Helen had been seeing told us to see a genetic counselor, due to our ages and the fact that I have a hereditary eye disease. The counselor didn’t have much to tell us that we did not already know. A point of contention during the appointment was our resistance to the counselor’s recommendation to perform an Amniocentesis diagnostic screening. She stressed that we would want to know about potential birth defects, such as Down syndrome. It was clear that we were being walked down the path to abortion counselling. The counselor did not appear to be satisfied to learn that we were not considering having an abortion, so the information was not useful to us. We declined the amniocentesis. This was the point where we decided to find another OB/GYN.

I have been a part of two unexpected pregnancies in my life. In both cases, we had the autonomy to make important decisions by and for ourselves. Having autonomy is one of the markers of privilege. As we anticipate the removal of women’s health care decisions as a Constitutional right, A better descriptor seems to be that we were fortunate to have the privilege of autonomy. For those with privilege, basing women’s rights on local politics will have no impact on their health care decisions. Autonomy is a privilege shared among those who are fortunate to have it. As for the rest? That, apparently, will be just too bad.

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Safe spaces are not comfortable spaces

While Spring has officially begun, Winter continues to exert its presence in the form of cold winds. The story in this issue of the Affinity News talks about the paradox of emotional and intellectual ‘safe spaces.’ I would greatly appreciate your input through a brief survey that supplements the essay.

This essay will serve as background for the Mainstreaming on Main Street® (MoMS) Connecters Table on April 21 and the Servant-Leader roundtable on April 28. I hope you will participate in one or both of these conversations, as appropriate.

As always, your feedback and sharing of these posts with others is encouraged.

In this issue:

Story: Safe spaces are not comfortable spaces

As the television series “This is Us” comes to its end, I ponder why I am so attracted to the show. The writers have used the memory loss of the family matriarch as a tool for the characters reflections on their pasts and making meaning through the events of their lives. A consistent theme throughout the run of the show has been the meaning the Pearson clan makes of the events of their lives. What is so striking to me is the fact that, despite their internal (and external) struggles, the characters consistently make time to have important conversations with their loved ones. The show demonstrates the power of conversations that are the building blocks of making meaning from relationships and events.

I use these essays as background for the roundtable conversations I facilitate each month. I have adopted the practice of having one topic for two parallel groups: the Servant-Leader roundtable, and the Mainstreaming on Main Street® (MoMS) Connectors Table. The Servant-Leader roundtable started in 2011. When I started, we were five individuals. Ten years later there are at least five Servant-Leader roundtables in Southeast Wisconsin. The roundtable I facilitate on the fourth Thursday of the month is focused on the intersection of Servant-Leadership and equity. The MoMS Connectors table is a gathering of persons with disabilities (PWD) who participate in professional/skilled settings. Sometimes the conversations are closely parallel, other times, not at all. When the two conversations diverge significantly I become aware of how little understanding is present.

One of the challenges in gathering people together is making a space for people to be themselves. In the 1990’s, my wife and I started facilitating conversations between couples preparing for marriage. The conversations included family traditions, handling money, religious beliefs, and sexual relationships. Part of the work was creating an atmosphere where couples were comfortable exploring (sometimes) uncomfortable topics. Years later the term for the atmosphere we supported would come to be known as a “safe space.”

The term safe space is one that is a recent addition to popular culture. Unfortunately, the phrase, “safe space” has become a culture war code word. A justifiable reason for the controversy is the fact that an intellectual safe space is likely to be disturbing and an emotional safe space avoids intellectual challenge. Safe spaces, like intellect and emotion, are not binary concepts. Individuals engaged in deep conversations in safe spaces are challenged both intellectually and emotionally. One of the most rewarding things a facilitator can hear after a deep, sometimes uncomfortable, conversation is, “I have a new understanding after seeing the topic from a different perspective.”

Lessons learned:

A problem with gathering people to make meaning from the many challenges we face in our culture seems to be fear of going beyond our comfort zone.

When I started the Mainstreaming on Main Street® (MoMS) Connectors Table, I intended it to be a gathering space for persons with disabilities (PWD) in professional settings and persons who value diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). I quickly found it a challenge to connect with people for whom DEI was as closely intertwined with their identity as disability is intertwined with the professional lives of persons with disabilities (PWD). It was more efficient to conduct the Connectors Tables for professionals with disabilities outside of the umbrella of DEI. Similarly, as the topics of the Servant-Leader (S-L) roundtable focus more directly on the intersection of Servant Leadership and equity, I find it more challenging to attract individuals who are open to sitting in this (sometimes) uncomfortable space.

I recently reached out to the Program Directer of the Ziedler Group to do some brainstorming on how we could be both more effective and collaborative in our public conversations. I had attended a Public Conversations Training: in November, 2011 with the founders of what would become the Ziedler Group. I didn’t get a response from Ms. McMurray, but I received a message through the Ziedler Group mailing list that they were suspending operations while they examined how they could be more effective in the community. There is no comfort in knowing others are also finding it challenging to gather people together to have meaningful conversations.

As I have developed my facilitation practice I have found two useful guiding principles:

  1. When we speak for ourselves, from our own experiences it is always a meaningful conversation
  2. The wisdom is in the room

These principles serve to remind participants that speculating on what others think is not useful and that the assembled group represents a unique combination of beliefs and experiences. Click the link for the simple, but comprehensive Operating agreements.

Like the Ziedler Group, I am curious about how I can engage more people in important conversations. I find the principles of Servant Leadership a useful set of guidelines for exploring topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

These things I know are true:

  • Inequity is a real thing
  • Injustice is a real thing
  • The impact of climate change is a real thing
  • The guy at the end of the bar who says, “All’s what you got to do is…” Probably doesn’t have a clear understanding of the whole picture
  • We are, most likely, the leaders we were hoping to find

 

A call for your feedback

I recently read an essay by Arthur C. Brooks called A Gentler, Better Way to Change Minds. Brooks talks about the futility of judging others based on their positions and encourages readers to explore their own values and the values of people we don’t agree with. He points out the research that supports his assertion. I always appreciate a case statement that is supported by verifiable research. The essay was a welcome find as I was developing this piece.

I have the luxury of facilitating the Servant-Leader roundtable and MoMS Connecters Table as passion projects. I have very little overhead expenses and what I learn from engaging with wise people more than makes up for the time I commit to coordinating the conversations. At this point I would like to hear from you about attracts you, and what challenges you, in engaging in deep conversations with people you don’t necessarily know.

Here are a few questions that have raised my curiosity. I believe I would learn a great deal if you would be willing to share your thoughts. You can respond through an anonymous survey, by clicking here.  .

 

  • Is the celebration of the diversity of ideas and people a part of your organizational life?
  • The organizations I am most closely associated with, have diverse leadership teams – Is this true for you?
  • What do you need to feel safe in a conversation?
  • What do you need from a group to be willing to take a risk in what you say?
  • What are people avoiding that they don’t think they’re avoiding?

 

References

Brooks, Arthur C. (APRIL 7, 2022). A Gentler, Better Way to Change Minds. The Atlantic. Retrieved from: https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2022/04/arguing-with-someone-different-values/629495/

 

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Is this the mountain you want to die on?

March is a time of renewal. My ski equipment is ready for storage and Spring is around the corner. This month’s story, “The mountain you want to die on?” is about planting a stake and standing by it. The story lays the foundation for this month’s Mainstreaming on Main Street® (MoMS) Connecters Table and Servant-Leader roundtable conversations.

The story is a quick read, with a little food for thought. Comments and sharing are always welcome.

In this post:

 

Story: The mountain you want to die on?

The story of Professor Elizabeth Bearden is about the University of Wisconsin Madison digging their heels in based on questionable motives. Dr. Bearden has requested to teach on-line courses during the Covid-19 pandemic because she does not see and does not feel she can take responsibility for her own health safety while teaching in-person classes. The university administration has determined that allowing Prof. Bearden to be one of many professors to teach an on-line course during the pandemic would be an undue hardship on the university. The case raises the question, “When is it time to dig in our heels and stand up for ourselves?”

The information on this situation comes from an article by Devi Shastri, published in the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel on December 20, 2021. According to the article, the Chair of Bearden’s (English) department is supportive of her request. The UW-Madison administration bases the undue hardship claim on their decision that classes that had been taught in person in the past should be taught in person starting in September 2021.

The article provides a variety of perspectives on the case. The situation has moved from being a reasonable request made of a (presumably) reasonable administration into a case to be adjudicated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Members of the UW-Madison administration chose not to respond to questions related to an on-going case.

The English department, like much of the university, is offering both on-line and in-person classes. The University Administration has suggested that Bearden could teach other on-line classes, as an alternative to those most closely aligned with her academic interests/experience. I am reminded of the old saying, “Is this the mountain you want to die on?” The article suggests that question was posed and met with an enthusiastic, “Hell yes” by the UW–Madison administration..

Lessons learned:

The UW-Madison administration’s justification, “Classes taught in person in the past should be taught in person” is logically equivalent to a parent’s, “Because I said so.” The fact that the EEOC case is unresolved does not eliminate it from having consequence. In this case, there are consequences to the administration’s actions that suggest clear messages even if the intent is unclear. Among the inferences available through Shastri’s article:

  • The University Administration appears to be comfortable with their position, even though it may appear arbitrary and irrational
  • Over-ruling the judgement of the department Chair makes a clear statement that her authority is advisory, at best
  • Suggesting Bearden could just teach another (on-line) course, sends the message academic excellence is not the highest priority of the UW-Madison Administration
  • The university’s statement, “Our goals: To promote shared values of diversity and inclusion, to engage campus leadership in this endeavor, and to improve institutional access and success through effective retention policies.” (Regents, 2022) appears to not be the case

Full disclosure: 1) as a person who is blind, I share Professor Bearden’s concerns; and 2) I am currently taking a course at UW-Milwaukee. I have no idea why the course is only offered on-line. I took it because I was interested in the subject first and delivery method second.

Applying the lessons

The UW-Madison administration has argued that allowing additional on-line courses would pose an undue hardship. Rather than to compromise the position it has taken; it is willing to appear arbitrary, controlling, soft on academic excellence, and indifferent to its stated values. Professor Bearden has taken the position that her personal safety is important enough to take her case to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The stakes are high for both parties.

The university administration appears to have started with a position with little regard for the consequences of that position. For those who identify as Servant-Leaders, this approach may not be optimal. The UW-Madison administration could have explored other options before planting their stake on the mountainside. Some ideas:

  • Walk-through likely scenarios. In this case, it wasn’t hard to foresee the path from denial of accommodation to litigation and news coverage.
  • Examine the organizational principles/values supporting the position. In this case, the university holds values in support of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Their position, not so much.
  • Ask, “How does this decision build community and how does the decision demonstrate stewardship of that community?”
  • Ask, “Is the undue hardship claim an excuse to avoid dealing with an uncomfortable/’slippery slope’ situation?”

As a person who regularly encounters functional/environmental barriers, I have had to advocate for myself as well as speaking on behalf of persons with disabilities (PWD). This experience has allowed me to examine my own motivations, as well as those of the people I have represented and those of the people/organizations I engage with. Some of the skills I find useful:

  • Start with the premise: I am a whole person, even if I am not like someone else.
  • Begin with the end in mind: In this case, Professor Bearden sought to ensure her personal safety considering a visual disability.
  • Collaborate with allies: Enlisting the support of peers/allies serves to validate reasonable requests and illuminate weaknesses in unjustified requests.
  • Ask: “Is this the mountain I want to die on?” If yes, let your principles/values be your guide.

 

References

 

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Beyond the price of beer and equity

When I was drafting this post, I wasn’t thinking of how much beer is consumed around the Super Bowl, nor did I realize the bright light the NFL would shine on the topic of equity. And yet, here we are. The story is about going beyond the top-line of the price of beer and of equity. Making space for equity is also the topic in February for both the Mainstreaming on Main Street® (MoMS) Connecters Table and Servant-Leader roundtable. Learn how to be a part of the conversation below.

Comments and sharing are always welcome.

In this post:

 

Story: Going beyond the top-line

I have been drinking nonalcoholic (NA) beers for almost 18 years. Since then, the market has changed and so have the offerings. My current beer of choice is Riverwest Stein NA, after drinking Heineken Zero for a while. Heineken is a company based in Amsterdam, with operations around the world. Riverwest Stein NA is brewed by Lakefront Brewery, located within walking distance of my home.

I recently compared the prices of the two brands. I had known that the Riverwest Stein was more expensive than Heineken, but I had not known by how much. It turned out that a six-pack of Riverwest cost $8.99, compared to $7.99 for the Heineken. That’s a difference of $1.00 or 12.5%. For an old guy who remembers when a gallon of gas cost $0.21, that seems a dramatic difference. In reality: 1) I can afford to pay an extra $1.00 for my preferred brand of beer, and 2) there is more to my choice of beer than the price.

The top-line difference between the two beers seems significant but that is not necessarily true. In economics textbooks most problems are premised with the statement, “Assume perfect information.” All I know is that the price of Riverwest is more than the Heineken. The costs of producing the beer and putting it on the grocery shelf are not known. You can see Heineken Zero advertised at many of the Formula One races broadcast around the world. Lakefront Brewery has a more homespun approach to marketing. I suspect the advertising budget of Heineken Zero is comparable to the total value of Lakefront Brewery. The lower price of Heineken Zero may yield a higher profit margin than Lakefront Brewery is able to achieve. If this were the case, Lakefront Brewery puts a higher percent of my purchase into putting the product on the grocery shelf. Since I care where my money goes when it leaves my hand, this is important to me.

One of the down sides of having an MBA and engaging with diverse people, is an innate discomfort with simply looking at the top-line differences between two choices. Where I grew up there was a sense that the simplest way of looking at things was the best way. I characterize this perspective as, “All’s what you have to do is…” If the question is what is the cheapest beer I’m willing to drink, Heineken might be my choice. If the question is, “What is the best use of my money when buying beer?” I’ll take the Riverwest Stein, thank you. Full disclosure: I think Riverwest Stein NA is a good tasting beer and I’m happy to pay the extra $0.17/can to drink it.

The seeds for this piece were grounded in the December 2021 Servant-Leader Roundtable. Our conversation centered on building community in the midst of inequity. The conversation focused on the challenge of community rather than a definition of equity. As the roundtable progressed, I found myself drawn to the relationship between community and equity. I recognized my concept of equity is interdependent with community. By the time the roundtable closed I had the seeds of my own understanding of equity and its relationship to community.

Diving deeper brought me to more meaningful definitions. Most of the statements I found approached equity through an institutional lens. A useful definition of equity comes by way of the Stanford Social Innovation Review: “Equity is fairness and justice achieved through systematically assessing disparities in opportunities, outcomes, and representation and redressing [those] disparities through targeted actions.” Urban Strategies Council (Kania, et. al., 2021).

This definition includes an explanation of what equity is (fairness and justice) and it addresses a path to the achievement of equity. I like it but wanted to go beyond the top-line definition.

In my experience developing and facilitating topics of race, relationships, and inclusion; the most effective programs have planted seeds and focused on understanding the small steps that have a big impact in the long-term. This definition was informative but did not lend itself to the cultivation of seeds that sprout the growth of equity. My thoughts went back to my choice of beers. Yes, sooner or later it always comes back to beer.

My role as a Barrier Knocker Downer calls on me to go beyond the top-line to get to the heart of issues. In this case, to where the action takes place. For me, a working definition of equity is: Equity is the ability to engage as an equal participant with those holding authority and power in addressing barriers to resources and outcomes . (Lococo, 2022).

Both statements are definitions, not solutions. Both statements plant seeds: one for policy guidance and one for engagement. Neither are prescriptive in how, when, and where those seeds are likely to sprout and grow.

Join the conversation

I facilitate two gatherings each month for change makers. The topic for February, 2022 is “Making space for equity.” The Mainstreaming on Main Street® (MoMS) Connecters Table will take place on Thursday, February 17 from 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm (CST). The Servant-Leader roundtable will take place on Thursday, February 24 from 8:00 am to 9:15 am (CST). The roundtables are first-person conversations driven by the wisdom of the people in the room.

For more information:

  • TheMainstreaming on Main Street® (MoMS) Connecters Table is a community of practice by/and for persons with disabilities (PWD) who engage in professional/skilled settings. The MoMS Connectors Table is a forum for PWD to explore topics related to the dance of being a professional and having a disability.
  • The Servant-Leader roundtable taking place on the fourth Thursday of the month is an opportunity for diverse people to gather to explore the intersection of Servant Leadership and systemic disenfranchisement. These roundtables are founded in the Servant Leadership principles articulated by Robert K. Greenleaf.

To join the MoMS Connecters Table, contact me directly. To receive notices and links to the Servant-Leader roundtables, click here to join the mailing list.

References

 

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It’s all about those systems

Seeing the remake of “West Side Story” proved to be much harder than expected. I thought the focus of this post was going to be about excluding persons with disabilities (PWD). Instead, it turned out to be a story of the impact of lackadaisical business processes on everyone, including PWD. We finally saw the movie (it was very good) but not until after frustrating the patrons in the theater, the staff, the General Manager of the theater, and me. The worst thing – the problem had been thoroughly addressed years ago.

I hope you enjoy the read. Please reach out with questions/comments.
In this post:

Story: All about those processes

We had been anticipating the re-make of the movie, “West Side Story” since learning about it in September 2019. The movie was being shown at the AMC Theater complex near our home. I only go to movie theaters that provide Descriptive Video Service (DVS). DVS provides a narrative description of the action taking place on the screen. It allows persons who don’t see the ability to follow non-verbal action without disturbing other patrons in a movie theater. We have found the DVS at this theater unreliable in the past but decided to pay our money and take our chances.

I requested a headset for accessing the Descriptive Video Service (DVS) as soon as we entered the theater. It took a few tries to persuade the Assistant Manager that DVS is different from what AMC calls “Assistive Listening” for persons with hearing difficulties. The Assistant Manager mentioned to one of his co-workers that he had only been shown once how-to setup the accessibility service. We received a set up headphones and a receiver and were told we were all set to enjoy the movie.

After an endless stream of previews, which did not include Descriptive Video Service, the movie finally started. It quickly became clear that the receiver I was given did not support DVS. My wife, Helen, left the theater to find someone who could provide the proper equipment. After a long while, Helen returned with a staff member who offered another device for assisted listening. We confirmed that a device for persons with hearing difficulties does not provide DVS. After disappearing for a while two staff members returned, one carrying a device that displayed closed captioning for persons who are hearing impaired. Helen pointed out that this was not of value to someone who does not see. The staff member then suggested the assistive listening receiver as a solution. I finally asked the staff member to put on the headphones while facing me and tell me what was happening on the movie screen. When we confirmed that the staff member was not able to tell me what was happening, a point of clarity was achieved. After another trip out to the lobby a staff member returned with a device that provided DVS. At this point I was ready to start watching the movie and my fellow audience members could be done with the parade of staff members running through the theater.

We spoke to a manager about our experience after the movie. I let the manager know I found it unacceptable to miss part of the movie while the staff scrambled around to figure out how to deliver the Descriptive Video Service (DVS). I noted the problem was not a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the staff. The manager told us about having many customers and few staff members. He offered us a set of complimentary tickets as a consolation for missing the start of the movie. When I suggested this is a problem that should be addressed at a level beyond the front-line staff, the manager identified himself as the General Manager and said there was no-one else to talk to. I did not bring up the fact that this is not the first time we’ve been through this drama. I accepted the comp tickets.

Lessons learned

The General Manager’s response prompted me to want to contact someone at the corporate offices. I thought I would write a persuasive statement making the business case for persons with disabilities (PWD) as members of the movie-going public. It was ironic that one of the first things I found when I did an internet search using the phrase, “AMC descriptive video service for patrons” was a court case against AMC Theaters that was settled in April of 2017. In the settlement, AMC agreed to do all the things I would have suggested in a letter to the company. AMC has already been down this road and apparently ignored the terms of the court settlement, and now what?

Denying access to persons with disabilities (PWD) to the movie-going experience is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A side consequence of the GM’s apparent inability to support the descriptive video service on a timely basis is that having staff members scrambling to figure out how to do their jobs is just not an efficient use of staff time. In this case, a 30 second transaction turned into a half-hour circus of three staff members running around to provide a well-advertised service to one patron. The GM’s claim of being short-staffed does not seem to be well supported here. There seems to be great opportunity for increasing customer service, employee satisfaction and overall profitability of the theater. The problem itself is one of organizational development: business processes, contingency planning, and staff education.

Applying the lessons

On its face this is a story about disability accommodations in a specific setting. While the connection to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is clear, the solution to the problem can be most directly addressed through tools found in organizational development and business systems analysis. Among the take-aways from the experience:

  • The theater does not appear to have a process to verify they can deliver on advertised features (such as Descriptive Video Service)
  • Staff was trained but did not have confidence in their ability to provide the DVS service. At a time when good employees are hard to find and retain, hoping employees will remember the details of a one-time training in a high-stress situation seems an invitation for frustration and job dissatisfaction
  • The cost of failure was high -three staff members over a half hour
  • There was no process for testing the equipment: by the time a problem was detected, it was urgent. Note: this was addressed in the Court settlement AMC entered into in 2017
  • The lack of proper prior preparation supports the notion that a person with a disability caused a disruption of the theater viewing experience for other patrons
  • The General Manager expressed helplessness to address the problem. As a nation-wide corporation, AMC could provide each movie center with a standard set of procedures that would provide a consistent customer experience. This does not appear to be the case

    Alternatively, overturning the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 would allow the organization to exclude persons with disabilities from the meaning of “open to the public.” The problem disappears, but it doesn’t.

Be a part of the conversation

I facilitate two roundtable conversations through two social media channels:

  • Mainstreaming on Main Street® (MoMS) is focused on the intersection of persons with disabilities (PWD) and professional/skilled settings
  • Servant-Leader engages people at the intersection of Servant Leadership and institutional disenfranchisement

References

 

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Dan Lococo, PhD
Barrier Knocker Downer
Twitter: @danlococo
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Mainstreaming on Main Street
Supporting organizational environments inclusive of persons with disabilities in professional/skilled settings

Copyright 2022, Dan Lococo, All rights reserved