We say…”Don’t judge a book by its cover.” And yet….we do. Why?

We claim, most especially in this nation, to value the diversity of people and the uniqueness of each individual. On a personal level, I think most people do this but as we raise higher and higher in vantage point, we begin to blur those lines of distinction until people are no longer seen as unique and varied humans but rather as belonging to one group or another.

Today, we see this rather starkly in politics. Those “republicans” – The “democrats” – who are these people? When I see on social media someone refer to a party name, I often wonder, to whom are they specifically referring? Do they mean the leader of the party? The leader in the house or senate? The leader in their hometown? Do they mean the loudest person on social media or in the news that claims to be from that party? Do they mean the farthest left- or farthest right-winged archetype they can imagine? To whom is it exactly that they are referring?

Because the answer to this question matters…considerably. The country is divided into roughly a 50/50 split and so for a nation that values diversity of beliefs and positions, it is difficult to see how either side is valuing members of either party as unique people who have similar or opposing views – who perhaps agree with a position such as believing all people should have access to healthcare but who may disagree with the design of the system to provide that access. And as we insult an entire party as a whole – are we really saying we hate half of the nation? Have we really become this angry at our own national family? It’s a dangerous thing to create an us-and-them mentality….and I would argue, it undermines the entire foundation of our country which was built on the belief that having diversity of thoughts, ideas, and experiences makes us a stronger nation.

Sometimes I wonder how many people have read the DNC and GOP platforms. Do they know that there is a 76% overlap of goals? The two parties differ in the details sure but at the highest level – we all want a safe and prosperous nation. The platforms deviate in only a few areas: voters’ rights and family structure/personal choice. Beyond on those two points, the platforms line up and there is much agreement. Further, the executive branch is non-partisan with 2.4 million workers and 2.1 million active or reserve duty military personnel while the legislative branch boasts only 535 members. Yet…it is the smaller of the two branches on which we focus. Why? This is a question I think much of the nation is asking because so many are tired. We are tired of the fighting, we are tired of the insults, we are tired of being accused of things we haven’t done.

Ironically, the “we” is all of us – from both parties, third parties, and no parties. We, the people of the United States – need to come together, connect, respect, appreciate, and recognize – that people don’t always agree in our country and that this the very reality we wish to have. We just need to have it without anger attached but rather, appreciation.  

Christmas spirit…

In an effort to be inclusive of all our people and various religious beliefs, we have changed many terms across our nation from exclusively saying Merry Christmas to instead we say Happy Holidays. In many ways, I embrace this change….we are, after all, a country literally founded based on the belief that people should be free to practice any religion they wish. Naturally, it seems reasonable to acknowledge all religions and also respect those that don’t follow any particular religion. But we also see on social media many people saying that they feel like they can’t say Merry Christmas anymore.

I think that as a diverse nation we can find a way to both honor the personal beliefs of each American and recognize with respect the differences we have. Diversity is a hallmark and one of the biggest strengths of our country. To be offended that with that mix comes a need to be generic in public settings feels misplaced. I say Merry Christmas to all my Christian friends today but on other days, I say Happy Hanukkah (Dec 2-10), Happy Zwanzaa (Dec 26-Jan1), and at work, I say, Happy Holidays! If the biggest problem we have is that we have many happy events and celebrations that bring families together and children to smile – then I think we can weather these differences with grace.

May the happiness of today and the spirit that comes with whatever you celebrate carry you through the year!

Much love,

Coordinate – Collaborate – Co-create

The power of our nation lies in our people, not our politicians.

In my last post, I talk about the power of volunteering and how it not only helps others but it has intrinsic personal health benefits as well. It also connects us across communities, systems,beliefs, backgrounds, and circumstances. Everyone has something to gain when we work as a team helping others and helping ourselves because we learn every day,from everyone and everything. The challenge is to incorporate what we learn into what we do next. It requires us to listen, really attend to what those around us are saying and doing and connect their ideas, experiences, and beliefs with ours and others to create synergistic outcomes.

When we expand this idea to the national scale, it can be naturally overwhelming. Partly, there is the fact that the number of people in our country is so high that no single human could possibly incorporate all their ideas. Further, we have a political system that necessarily requires our politicians to acquire and in some cases, maintain votes in order to keep their jobs. It is not surprising then that they spend inordinate amounts of time and money to spread their message and do so in a way that just enough people will vote for them. If they are not provocative, attention wains. Effectiveness is rarely measured and so the cycle continues.

But I would argue there is an opportunity in this chaos to press forward and find a lighted pathway to supporting our nation – even at the highest level of scale. When my daughter was in the hospital for months, I used to say to the doctor – you are an expert in medicine but I am an expert in my child; if we work together, we’ll make far better decisions than if either of us works independently. I believe this is true too for our nation.

I am frequently asked – what is the formula for national-level success? How do we change the narrative in our country from one of animosity to one of, not just co-existence, but of connected readiness – readiness for life, for work, for family, for military, for our adversaries? We have become focused on winners and losers and the collective frustrations that are being vented fuel our energy, provide group-catharsis, but fall short of resulting in positive movement toward our collective goal. Why?

Several reasons come to mind but I believe it boils down to people wanting to feel valued – they want to be heard, supported, and involved. There is oftentimes a mis-assumption that if we listen to or follow one, we must necessarily exclude others but the greatest strength of our nation is our diversity and creativity. It is the very act of disagreement that allows the best answer to rise to the top and it is the gestalt of the system that optimizes that solution.  So what are the steps we need to take to steer this ship in a new direction?

1. Coordinate– we need to define the vision for our country for 20 years from now when our newest citizens will be adults and we need to architect the connections across our people – to include experts in all areas by formal education,informal education, and experience.  When we coordinate our efforts, we have not only power in collective numbers but we have the greatest level of diversity in background, ideas, experiences, and knowledge present.

2. Collaborate– we need to work together to understand how our individual abilities,experiences, and knowledge can complement the work of others. We need to respect and value these individual differences but more importantly, recognize we are part of a team with the ultimate goal of joining our collective capabilities.

3. Co-create– we need to work together to inspire,create, and disseminate ideas. The greatest opportunities for success require both the input of multiple communities to co-create methodologies and interventions but also the sharing of that information with others as a collective – a distributed set of multi-influencers.

When we, as a nation, can clarify a vision for 2040, architect the pathways of information across and between our citizens, work together to capitalize on the brilliance diversity brings, and design solutions together – we will transform our nation from one focused on intra-fighting to one inspired to collective success!

National Volunteering

If I watch the news, I see a never-ending stream of negativity, hyperbole, and political arguing. When I talk to people, I hear how tired they are of all the fighting…and yet, the question inevitably comes, “What can we do about it? Where do we even start?”

I think the American people are fed up – perhaps not everyone – but a large majority have had enough of all the intra-fighting but at the same time just can’t seem to find a foothold of where to start improving.

As a scientist, I look at the goals and then the data and from my perspective, the goal is to improve the overall mental health of the country. If we drill that down, then we start asking how can one create widespread improved mental health across such a diverse population? What are some of the most impactful ways we can improve mental health individually.

As a psychologist, I can name a few key goals that have the biggest impact on individuals. As a strategic psychologist, I think about the large impact tasks that can create significant outcomes across a large number of people – and ones that promote not only personal mental health improvement but also cross-human mental health improvement. When we begin to redefine the goal, we improve our chances of hitting the target.

For many, marching was seen as a great way to bring people together. In a way, it is. It provides energy, activity, a joint experience, and a platform to be heard. Strength in numbers is felt in a moment like that. But through my eyes, I have a few concerns – 1) it creates an us-them situation, 2) it is a great start for creating energy but it is not directive or actionable in and of itself, and 3) commonly, marches are a form of protest – yes, they often too support a movement but at the least, also imply a rejection, reaction, or protest of something else. So the question is – what can we do either in addition or instead?

My recommendation is to think holistically.

In other words, we should consider multiple activities that promote personal, cross-person, cross-community, cross-beliefs AND that also contain directionality (an actionable outcome that supports the nation). Volunteering has been proven to promote mental health, physical health, and happiness while lowering depression, psychological distress, and mortality. Volunteering not only helps the individual serving, it helps the person receiving – but it also helps people connect across communities, age, beliefs, backgrounds, and more. I don’t just believe volunteering is good for the soul – the data says it’s good for the nation.

Now the question is….can we quantify and convert the impact to our country if we more effectively and intentionally promoted volunteering efforts? Can we create a national volunteering strategic plan with the goal of promoting connectivity across diversity? More ideas to consider….

Photo by Perry Grone  rawpixel  Robert Baker  Vlad Tchompalov  Vlad Tchompalov

International Relations

What is the purpose of global relations? What is it that the U.S. is trying to achieve? Are we trying to create a peaceful world? Are we trying to support other nations? Are we trying to protect our financial assets? protect the environment? Resist revisionist regimes?

Well, as I’m sure readers will assume, we are trying to achieve them all. The issue I have is that we often try to achieve them separately. We have one department that deals with political connections and another that deals in humanitarian issues and another that deals in defense and yet another that deals in education. But the best solutions typically involve looking at the gestalt – the whole, over-arching goal, rather than a set of sub-goals. Further, we often make the myopic mistake of assuming we can, and should, operate alone – as a single nation.

If we define ‘mission success’ as keeping our people safe, growing our financial assets, and helping the world interests – to include human and environmental safety, then one of the most important aspects of the leadership within our country is to convey to the world that we are partners in innovation, defense capabilities and strategy, in protecting the environment, and reacting to humanitarian issues. We would have a strategic message that tells the world in word and deed, that we are part of the global team and can be trusted to be involved, supportive, and inclusive.

The best teams create scenarios and opportunities for all entities to operate at their best and the same is true at the international level. When we work together most effectively, all nations are optimally empowered to be self-sufficient, unique in their contributions to the world efforts, and respected and appreciated for the value each of us can provide to the global scene.

But what would this look like in the United States?

It would be a synergistic strategy across our nation that would cross the civilian-military divide and bring us together to act as a cohesive unit. We would optimize our capabilities and financial strategies so that we could also share knowledge with others and in turn, learn from them. Many of our citizens worry that sharing resources, information, or capabilities with others is a one-way or unfair situation. Rather, what we share is returned in many different ways – whether that be through shared defense capabilities, environmental impacts, or technology innovations. I think in some ways, we may be hindered by our lack of world exposure and involvement. With only about 20% of our nation traveling abroad, the size of our nation, and the geographic disconnect we have from others, it is easy to slip into being inward focused. But it can bias us to look only at what we give and undervalue what others share. Moreover, is not a sustainable position economically, defensively, or environmentally.

Rather, a true global partner-nation operates with respect and cooperation in a manner that recognizes our world and the human race as an interconnected planet where we can all learn something from others and where we can also share something for the greater good.

Photo by TK Hammonds on Unsplash Photo by NASA on Unsplash


 Perspective is what brings to life a set of data points that on their own lack clear meaning.

But like all things, perspective can be a double edged sword: in the best of moments it gives us a deeper understanding of the gestalt of a system and in the worst, fills our minds with a skewed belief of a situation that paints a negative view. Some might more commonly refer to this as the half full/half empty phenomenon.

What’s interesting is that these tendencies in perspective are a choice. When I used to see patients I would oftentimes share two points on this subject. One was, “Don’t compare your real life to everyone else’s Christmas card.” And the other was “Give yourself permission to live in fantasy because reality is a depressing place.” Why did I say these things? Well, first, I never had a client come in and say, I’m doing great so I signed up for therapy even though I don’t need it. So certainly, by definition, everyone that came in had an issue they wanted to solve. There were some that had axis 1 disorders like bipolar or major depression but by and large the people I saw suffered merely from a perspective problem followed by failing attempts to make the world make sense.

The irony is that the world isn’t fair, doesn’t make sense, and can’t be controlled. Studies show that people who are perpetually happy are simply born that way and those that see the world as a happy place see not reality, but rather, their positive interpretation of it. So what does any of this after to do with politics and national readiness?

The nation as a whole that uses the power of positivity to be mindful, present, energized, and inspired is the country that will capitalize on a joint movement of power and leadership.

Today we focus more on being reactive to issues in our country. We are experiencing and expressing a joint cathartic sharing of worries that is bringing with it a cloud of anger and discomfort to our people. In therapy, we used to have a saying, “Up to 25 you’re a victim, after 25, you’re a volunteer.” It was never meant to be harsh but rather to help someone gain a new perspective – one that focused on recognizing that no matter what has happened to you or is happening to you – you have a choice in how you react to it.

We can’t ignore or sweep under the rug the problems in our nation but we can approach them and both parties with a view of hope and a plan of action rather than despair and worry. We can choose a pathway that elevates and a national position built on inclusion rather than separation or hierarchy.

We can choose these perspectives….but will we?

Photo by Anika Huizinga on Unsplash Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

Consolidation of Power: Efficiency or Control?

There is always a frustration when politics seems laborious, filled with bureaucracy, and frankly, just slow. Additionally, there are expenditures that are confusing and seem inflated. And then there is an attempt to change the system. At the surface, it seems logical and in line with general business practices. Who doesn’t want to achieve more at a lower cost?

But on the other hand, there is a challenge in politics that is absent in the rest of the business world. This isn’t the place where we are trying to make a buck but rather, we are trying to run a nation, protect our people, and maintain functional states. In short, we have competing goals. And more than that, we have no clear deliverables.

What are we selling?

Saying that we want to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence (defense), promote the general welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity sounds great…until you ask the question, “How?” and then when you require others to pay for it while not necessarily clarifying what they are buying…it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that people will be upset – for one reason or another. Our nation is too diverse in beliefs not to expect such differences of opinions.

Yet, as it is said in the military, what is our mission goal? What does mission success look like? And how do we come together to achieve that goal faster, better, and as a group, rather than based on one individual belief?

If it were easy, it wouldn’t be politics 🙂

This is why our founding fathers displayed such brilliance (my perspective). They had no knowledge or understanding of what would come in the future. The internet, the world wide data ocean, the concept of space flight were all inconceivable. But the recognition that life would be different, that the world would advance, that part was predictable. So they had only to design a flexible but stable set of parameters that would allow us to both maintain structure while also evolving as needed. This is the basis of the balance of power concept. With three branches and checks across them, we have a strong system….until….

The catch in this system is the ability to find holes in the fabric, the chain of connections. There are rules about how the congress represents each state. When it’s functional, the state representatives find win-win situations across the nation. When it’s dysfunctional, the required distribution of power results in gridlock and while this means little happens, it also means less fails. In and of itself, the messiness of politics that frustrates us also helps maintain stability.

But what happens when there is control from one branch to another? What happens when there is a consolidation of departments and people within and across the state and federal levels – across the three departments at the federal level? The word efficiency is used….but if we see the forest instead of the trees, the impact of power consolidation can be better seen and understood. In business, this can create a very brittle system because it relies on only a single viewpoint. In politics, it can result in a ruling class – controlled by a single entity. Regardless of personal beliefs, the greatest asset in our nation is diversity because it ensures and protects the strength and flexibility of our system. Consolidation of power negates this global asset and jeopardizes our future stability.

Of paramount concern should be the protection of equity because the nation that optimizes all its assets is the nation that will maintain its global leadership status.

Photo by Rhett Wesley on Unsplash Photo by Kelsey Knight on Unsplash Photo by Analia Baggiano on Unsplash

Science, Technology, and the Media

A recent video ( elucidated a very concerning, yet common phenomenon – scientific misuse. In the segment, the commentator suggests that technology is poisoning children and the guest discusses how tablets being brought into the classroom are not magically making education better, that depression and anxiety are on the rise, and that technology is the underlying culprit because it is destroying brains.

When we make accurate statements mixed with inaccurate attributions, we confuse reality by misusing information.

It is true that depression and anxiety are the on the rise – but for many, many reasons that have nothing to do with technology.

It is true that technology has created access to information all the time, from everywhere, to include social media.

It is also true that overloading the mind with data, especially emotionally-laden data, can shut down the reasoning centers of the brain and be detrimental to development and functioning.

HOWEVER, and it’s a big however, technology is the tool, not the culprit. To say that technology should be banned because it gives you access to both good and harmful material is like saying we should never drive cars because although they provide us with transportation we need, they also put out emissions into the air and some people are hurt physically or financially in accidents. Some people even die. Can you imagine an ad campaign that strung together a series of deadly accidents and concluded one should never drive again?

This is an interesting analogy though because we do make these kinds of ads but they most often fall into two categories: 1) Don’t drink and drive and 2) Don’t text and drive. Why? Because it isn’t the car that’s evil, it’s the misuse of it that causes the accidents.

Getting the right diagnosis of any problem is imperative. Otherwise, when you give everyone with a headache Tylenol…boy will the family of the guy who had an aneurysm be upset when he dies.

Technology is a tool, not a teacher. It provides access to information we can’t reach in a book like talking to an astronaut or creating a schematic drawing of a building we can imagine but can’t yet draw. But overuse or misuse of technology can be harmful just as too many strawberries or too much exercise or too much relaxation can be harmful as well.

We need to remember that the rule of moderation has merit, that the goal of science is to diagnose and treat with clarity, and that face-validity (when something sounds real but might not be) is a dangerous use of science.

If we don’t respect these rules, it is nearly impossible to separate fact from fiction and eventually it will undermine the truth across communities, topics, and the nation. Decisions based on fear should be made with extreme caution and any time a recommendation involves all or nothing ideas, it is rarely the wisest choice.  As a nation, we need to be good consumers of information and question sources, ideas, and others often.

Photo by Samuel Zeller  Samuele Errico Piccarini  Cody Davis on Unsplash

Racism and the Sheltered Life

Many years ago, when I was in college, I was talking with an acquaintance. I wouldn’t have exactly called us friends because we had nearly nothing in common except that we attended the same school. But she intrigued me. She grew up in a very wealthy world and lived lavishly in a way I had only seen on TV. It’s not like she was wearing ball gowns or anything; in a picture she’d look like a normal preppy college kid. But it was the way she carried herself, the sense of simply believing, entirely, in her own self-worth that struck me. I wondered – how does someone have that? Is it confidence? Is it arrogance? Is it ignorance? But it was when it turned ugly that I realized the individual and widespread implications – She explained to me once while she was boarding a bus, “I won’t ever have to deal with those people so I don’t have to learn about them.” She was referring to people of color.

If there was one thing I learned in my college years, it was this: The rich kids were as ignorant to the ways of the world as I was. The only difference between us was that I expected to be ignorant and they didn’t.

The privilege of being born into a society space that exposes you to great things is that you are aware of what you can see, do, accomplish, achieve, and who you can meet if you have the funds to allow you entre. This exposure can unwittingly, however, give one the false impression that you’ve somehow earned it. In reality, a child is simply born into it or not.

Conversely, the privilege (though I didn’t see it at the time) of being born into a society space where your resources are constraint forces you to be creative, determined, and resilient. It can, however, unwittingly, also make you angry and frustrated that some people send their resumes to their parents’ friends and get jobs right away while the rest of us send ours into the great abyss of thousands of others.

It’s unfair. It’s also reality. But I think the lesson I learned as I graduated was that we are all ignorant of others’ experiences unless we connect by happenstance and then take the time to understand. So the question is: What right do we have to live in our own bubbles and what expectation do we have to learn about the diverse country in which we live?

The answer is both. We live in a free country where one can be friends with anyone they like or live as a recluse and avoid people altogether. However, the point at which that seclusion of thought, belief, or action allows us to demonstratively personalize superiority over others is the point at which we have an obligation to better educate ourselves on the world around us.

Ignorance is not an excuse for insensitive behavior – it’s a self-comforting state of being, perpetuated by fear.

We must learn to open our minds and hearts to the diverse nation around us, recognize that racism and other forms of discrimination exist, and educate ourselves on both the underlying reasons as well as the ways we can promote harmony and respect. The nation that values diversity will be the nation that attains the most exceptional and effective state of action and thought. The nation that ignores the divide will see a power differential that favors a small group of people for a period of time but that crumbles once the have-nots organize and defeat.

Photo by Matteo Paganelli on Unsplash

Political Control – Being in the ‘in’ crowd

Can you run for office if you’ve never run before? Do you need to start with a local office? How much money do you really need? $1B is the estimate to run for president. So how do we change the system if the barrier to entry is this high?

The only way to change a system that has run this long and that has so many people vested in it staying the same is to 1) change the infrastructure, 2) change the parameters, 3) change the stakeholders, and 4)  find a daring person or group that is willing to lead the charge. Let’s review them in order.

Changing the infrastructure in this case means figuring out how the money is spent because if it’s the money that’s creating the barrier, the apprehension to run, and giving control to only those in the ‘club’ then it’s an important point. In this case, the money is primarily spent on advertising and salaries. TV ads are the most costly and salaries and contracts to big marketing and research companies can add up. So basically, the internet and social media have enormously affected this space. There are templates for making marketing materials. Sure, custom is generally better but the templates are very low cost or free and get you 90% of the way there. You tube allows for free ads – yes, you’ll have to be interesting enough for people to share them but if you’re not, then why are you running? And social media outlets allow one’s message to be shared for free. These advancements in infrastructure are game changers for politics. They create the opportunity for anyone to run – regardless of the amount of money raised.

Changing the parameters basically means changing the way the game is played. In this case, it means changing the way one approaches the problem set. So typically, the way the candidates run is to give speeches that are all essentially the same and say short phrases that reflect the party’s general platform. There is an assumption that people vote not based on whether or not you can do the job but instead based on whether or not you are familiar to them or in their party. It would be necessary for someone to convince the public to vote based on content and capability rather than name recognition and party affiliation. In the upcoming 2020 election, there is much discussion surrounding the way politicians message and questions about whether or not they know how to do this job beyond the campaign. In truth, when we primarily hire people whose skills involve raising money and giving speeches but who have never worked in the executive branch, have never represented the U.S. internationally, and have never worked with the military – it is a tall order for them to learn all of that in a short amount of time and execute effectively.

Next you have to change the stakeholders – these are the people who want someone to run. For the longest time, it’s been only those with large pocketbooks that controlled the messaging and therefore control the votes. But with increased access by everyone, and the ability to raise money online – there is a significant chance that the ‘stakeholder’ controlling group has widen substantially. This also opens the door to someone competent at the job, versus a skilled politician.

Finally, you have to find a daring individual or group to take action. I think this is actually the hardest part. The changes to the system are already in place. But you still have to find someone willing to take on the media, quit their job and travel the country, and get on TV every chance they can.

Our nation needs the individuals who have experiences needed to lead, rather than the skills needed to argue, to take the leap and rise to the top. Win or lose, they will succeed in helping evolve our system of leadership and that is a significant benefit to our country in the long run.