Author: Craig Freshley

Charity first

Each year I give one-percent of gross revenues to nonprofit charities. I like to give what I call the first one-percent to charity, not a percent of what’s left over after expenses.

This is because my company operates in a community where many supports allow me to be successful. A healthy environment and healthy people are foundational for the success of my business, not an afterthought. My community is the ground on which my company stands. I’m happy to take 1% right off the top and give it to charities in my community. I wish every company did that.

All of us are forced to give to our communities through taxes. Most tax money goes to buy stuff to help the government run, but some gets sent back out into communities to help the more needy among us. Think funding for public education, public housing, food assistance, health care, transportation subsidies, and in many other ways.

I actually like paying taxes with the thought that the money is helping my community. I’m one of those weirdos who pays taxes joyfully. It’s a way to help the team.

When I hear people complain against paying taxes the argument sometimes goes something like this. ”I believe in helping people in need, I just don’t think the government should decide where my money goes. I would rather give my money to charities directly.” Okay, anyone who’s ever said that, I hope you are giving your money to charities directly.

If I believe that society should help people in need and if I believe it’s not the government’s responsibility to help people in need, then whose is it?

It used to be that churches took care of the poor and needy. An alternative model was “we take care of our own.” I heard this one a lot in Make Shift Coffee House conversations; legendary stories of extended family pitching in to help someone on hard times, or stories of taking relatives in and caring for them at home.

Today churches are far less prominent in most of American society and far less able to provide social services like they used to. Families don’t take care of their own elderly and sick like they used to. And many government programs are simply inadequate to the task of providing what’s needed.

There is a dire need right now for social services and for environmental protection. I can lobby my government to spend tax dollars on those things but I can also give money myself. Directly. With no government middle man. And when I give to a charity I am making an independent decision and I am participating in a free market. If I think nonprofits should do more and government less, when I give to charity I’m putting my money where my mouth is.

I know, not everyone can write checks so easily and joyfully, no matter how much you might believe in a charitable cause. If you can’t afford shoes you’re not sending money to your local land trust. I’m naming that I’m privileged and that charitable giving isn’t for everyone. Yet a mindset of gratitude for one’s community and one’s environment IS available to everyone; and so is a willingness to give to our communities however we can.

And those of us who can give money to charity, no matter how much, let’s do it.

As good as your word

Four years ago (plus a few months) I was campaigning to elect Hillary Clinton, door to door in Lewiston. I found myself in a conversation with a new Mainer, perhaps his first vote, and he really wanted to know, “What’s the worse thing about Donald Trump? What’s the biggest reason you’re not voting for him?”

I decided pretty quick. “The worse thing is that he lies.” We can never trust what he tells us. He’s like a traitor, to us, the American people.

For me, once someone is a confirmed liar — President Trump or anyone – it’s hard to see the point of debating anything with that person or doing anything of consequence based on what they say. Everything after that is suspect. The value of every word is discounted.

When I meet somebody new it’s like starting across a footbridge that I’m not sure of. I begin my steps carefully, listening and watching for signs that the boards will hold, or that they might break. I am testing your word – the plank that undergirds our relationship – to see how trustworthy it is. And you are testing me; assessing my word.

Your word is really important. It’s how you show people what you’re made of, what comes out of you. Or it’s how you deceive and mask your true fears and desires. It’s how you create things, like agreements and all the benefits thereof. It’s also how you break things, like relationships and all the resulting destruction.

It’s no accident that Be Impeccable with Your Word is the first of Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements. He says it’s the most important one, from which the other three agreements are born. Alcoholics Anonymous allows a lot of leeway in how people recover but one of the few demands is “rigorous honesty.” Without that, other stuff won’t work. Even the Bible’s Gospel of John begins with: “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with god, and the word was god.” Words are kind of a big deal.

I get that politicians lie. Hillary has lied. President Obama has lied. Bush, Clinton. Reagan. Kennedy. All liars. I know this to be true because as a politician it is impossible to not get trapped in lies. The nature of the job requires the holding of secrets. This is because in politics the timing of revealing things is often critical. When you hold a lot of secrets and when opponents are trying to trap you in lies, you’re gonna get caught in lies. It happens to presidents and all public office holders. Comes with the territory.

But this president doesn’t just get trapped in lies, he generates them. He has publicly lied over an estimated 25,000 times. At last look he was at a clip of over 50 false claims on average per day. His repeated lies about the election results are eroding our country.

This article wasn’t supposed to be about Trump’s lies. It was supposed to be about something way bigger than that; the fabric that gets woven when we can trust each other’s words. President Trump is simply too good of a glaring example of how lies tear apart our community fabric.

What I’m trying to write about is YOUR word. And how powerful it is. I’m encouraging you to value your words and not throw them around carelessly. I’m encouraging you to read The First Agreement of Don Miguel Ruiz’s book.

High quality words that people can stand on; that’s how we build trust and knit communities.

Social Media Assistant Wanted

I’m looking for someone to work 2-5 hours/week from your home repurposing content from my newsletter and website for Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

I’m looking for someone who is:

  • Aligned with Good Group Decisions mission and values.
  • Likely to be around for awhile.
  • Competent and enthusiastic about search engine optimization.
  • Competent with graphics software such as Canva or Photoshop.
  • Experienced with Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
  • Able to work a little bit almost every day.
  • Reliable. Efficient. Fun.

Please send me an email confirming if you have these qualities and telling me how much you would want to charge, and anything else you want.

Thank you for considering!

 

Protest

A few months ago while on sabbatical I asked my daughter Dana a question. “I’m worried about so many things that our government is doing or not doing,” I explained. “What’s the best way to help? How should I make a difference? What should I do?”

I was dreaming about maybe getting a job in Washington, or working for a campaign, or using my skills and experience someplace important. Her answer came back swift and decisive. “Dad. Protest!”

Basically, in other words, go be a body in the street and count for something you believe in.

She explained how it’s well documented that if just 3.5% of any population take to the streets, political change results. More than any other means, this is how to get politicians to actually change policies. This is based on research by Erica Chenoweth. Check out this article about her findings.

It applies to countries but also to towns and even companies and other groups. If you can get 3.5% of the people to walk in unity, you can make change.

I’m not talking about violent protest; that’s not me. And in fact, Chenoweth’s research shows that violent protest is significantly less effective than peaceful protest. Here’s her article about that.

Is violent protest ever justified? That was the topic of a Make Shift Coffee House where the guests included a Police Chief, Black Lives Matter protesters, and a Somali immigrant. It was a fascinating discussion. View it here if interested. For whatever it’s worth, in that discussion, a strong case was made that violent protest is sometimes justified.

I’m simply saying that peaceful protest is always okay. And it works.

A broader look, more than just dollars.

Our two leading national indicators of success – the Dow Jones and the GDP – are out of touch with American reality.

Just last month the Dow Jones Industrial Average (a composite index of the stock value of 30 large companies) hit an all-time high, having about doubled in the past 5 years. Yet for most Americans it doesn’t feel like prosperity has doubled in the past 5 years.

And in spite of the recent covid drop, the GDP (Gross Domestic Product: the value of all goods and services sold in a specific time period) has also steadily increased over the past five years.

By the GDP measure, America looks like the biggest and the best in the world. A staggering 24% of the global economy is right here. Yet also right here we have higher poverty rates and higher infant mortality rates than almost any other developed country in the world. And we pollute more per person than in any other country. According to these and other broader measures of quality of life, it doesn’t feel to me like we are better off here than in other places.

Rather than hearing and reading about the Dow Jones and GDP* all the time, I would rather we looked at a broader set of indicators, perhaps rolled into an index (several measures mathematically combined into a single number).

The World Happiness Report combines 33 indicators from the following 9 domains into a single index: Living standards, Education, Health, Ecological diversity and resilience, Good governance, Time use, Cultural diversity and resilience, Community vitality, Psychological well being.

According to the latest index, the United States ranks 18th in the world in terms of happiness.

Instead of focusing so intently on initiatives to boost the economic numbers, I think Americans would be happier if we paid more attention to public health, community building, environmental protection, and other things known to contribute to happiness.

* Whenever news sources talk about economic growth or the size of “the economy,” they are talking about GDP.

Data Sources: GDP History, GDP Comparison, Poverty, Infant Mortality, Pollution.

Measuring What’s Important to Maine: A 25-year Look Back

In this short video Craig tells some history from his front row seat in Augusta, Maine where he once authored Measures of Growth and other indicators reports. He even shows us his first weekly newsletter. He explains how choosing what to measure serves as a foundation for making public policy. Craig also mentions the GDP and describes some national attempts in the 1990s to install alternative measures of national prosperity.

.


This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

 

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody. Hey it’s Craig Freshley here. How do you measure success? Success of a company? Success of a country? Typically we look at a number, probably an economic number like profit or gross domestic product.

A couple weeks ago a report was published called Measures of Growth and this report defines success of the State of Maine using 29 different indicators. This is a report that I know something about. I was the lead researcher and author of the first eight editions. Let’s take a look.

The report is published annually by the Maine Development Foundation where I used to work. In the nineties there was a growing awareness about sustainable development and the need to define success more broadly than just with economic indicators. So this group came up initially with 57 different indicators in 7 different categories, and for each indicator there is a chart as to where we have been and there’s a benchmark for where we want to be.

In 1997 we went a little crazy and produced a 2-page newsletter every week we mailed them to subscribers, and at the end of the year we bound them up in this book. Fifty-two weekly newsletters. Craig’s first weekly.

You might even call it a fad. There was this sense that whatever you measure gets managed and so countries, states, communities, were developing sets of indicators for all sorts of things; basically things that people wanted to improve in the future.

Here in the State of Maine the Maine Development Foundation — the same group that produced Measures of Growth — was commissioned to produce indicators of Livable Communities, indicators of Maine’s Transportation System, indicators of Maine’s Natural Resource-based Industries, indicators of the Health of Children and Communities, and even one just for a county: Indicators of Sustainable Development.

On a national level the United States was working on an Experimental Set of Indicators. I had the pleasure of working on this experimental set of indicators. I was called to Washington DC. This group was commissioned by President Clinton who at the time also commissioned a President’s Council on Sustainable Development.

In the mid-nineties a Genuine Progress Indicator was proposed: a composite index of 25 or so different things. A much better way to measure progress, the authors contended. While Gross Domestic Product has continued to rise in the United States, genuine progress actually began to level off and decline in the early seventies.

What all of these reports try to do is make the case that quality of life is about more than just a healthy economy. It also depends on healthy community (social issues) and of course it depends on a healthy environment. And so we have indicators not just about economic health but also community health and environmental health. This experimental set of indicators for the United States same 3 categories; economic, environmental, social.

The idea behind all of this is the notion that by calling out specific indicators we can influence policy in such a way that influences those indicators, that moves those needles or raises or lowers those graphs. This is a statement as to what is most important to the state of Maine and as citizens and policy makers and businesses it works well if we try to work on these issues.

As you look back at the past year and look forward to the year ahead, either on your own behalf or thinking of a group that you’re part of, consider how you would measure success. You need not be limited to economic indicators.

Thanks for listening everybody. I hope this helps your group make good decisions.

Practical benefits of giving

Giving isn’t just for fun, it can be life-saving.

Giving to others is the bedrock of step 12; the part of all 12-step recovery programs that says you gotta give to others as a strategy to save yourself. It’s a practical matter.

How many movies have we seen where — at death’s door — someone’s will to live comes from their need to give something to someone else?

Stuck in a rut? Find a person or project to give to. At the very least it will be a distraction and might get you out of your own way.

The research is clear. Giving money to another person is more likely to lift your spirits than spending money on yourself. See Money spent on others can buy happiness in the Harvard Gazette.

This New York Times article — Spend More on Society and Get More for Yourself — explains that American individualism has made individuals unhappy and, too frequently, sick. Another social research study finds that when people give to charities it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a “warm glow” effect. See the Jorge Moll and colleagues paper at the National Institutes of Health website.

So fun to give

Daughter Sara and I stayed one night at the Grand Lake Lodge in Colorado; passing through many years ago. The huge log cabin lodge was dead quiet so after dinner I got out my guitar and played by the fire. For my own fun. Sara read her book. There was an older couple listening from 30 feet away.

After a few songs the couple got up to leave. The man handed me a $100 bill and gave me a smile and a nod as he walked out. The woman lingered a bit and then bent closer to fill me in. “He loves doing that,” she said.

Wow. How fun would that be! Handing out hundred-dollar bills!

Actually, I do it with 1s and 5s. I love to give money to anyone who asks for it. I’m that guy who slows traffic while I hand a dollar through my car window to a person with a sign. I get that they might use it for drugs or alcohol or cigarettes or other “bad things.” I get that they might “be able” to work. But you know what? They are asking. A fellow human being is asking for help. Let me treat that person with dignity and give them what they are asking for, without hassle, and not judge what’s best for them.

And you know what else? It’s direct giving. No middleman, no paper work, 100% of my charitable gift hits the street. Handing a bill directly to someone just makes me smile; makes me feel good that my actions are aligned with my principles.

It doesn’t have to get noticed. I notice. I’m watching me. I once heard someone say, “Try to do something nice for someone every day and not get caught.”

For me, I’m giving when I hand out money but also when organize a neighborhood Olympics or haunted barn. When I run Zoom for Quaker Meeting. When I take a call from a friend. When I play guitar for people. When I mentor or advise someone. When I help Carol with dinner. Some of these things get arduous, and expensive, yet if I think of them as “giving gifts to others” then the tasks are more fun and the money less concern.

Am I weird? Do other people get such a kick out of giving?

Oh, but here’s a thing. To get lasting joy from giving it has to be without strings. Otherwise your joy is tied to outcomes. Another thing to keep track of. Another thing that can turn into a resentment. “We’re giving you this check and we would like you to spend it on…..” That’s a gift with strings. More common are gifts with implied return on investment. Lingerie I gave to girlfriends? Good examples of gifts with strings.

Best to feel all the joy at the moment of giving, give 100%, and free the recipient to do whatever the hell they want with it. Frees you both really. You don’t need to pay attention to what happens next. You’re not invested in what happens to the gift. You did your joyful thing. Onward.

It’s like this with speaking in meetings. Ideas without strings are the best! It is so helpful when people contribute ideas without the need for credit or without the need for a specific outcome. Like throwing bills into a hat or a collection plate not noticing or caring who gave what, not noticing or caring how the money gets spent. Contributions like that are most valuable to the group.

Christmas is hard because we feel obligated to give; it’s a sort-of forced joy. Fine. So what. Genuine joy is still always available. Here’s how. Give in ways that you are not obligated. Just because you want to. With no attachment to outcomes. Just for fun.

Good Group Tips and Bob Dylan Lyrics

Since 2004 I have written and emailed 163 Good Group Tips to subscribers. Each one is a page. They are on all aspects of group dynamics. You can read them all here.

Did you know that each Good Group Tip has a Bob Dylan lyric to go with it?

Every Tuesday morning my friend Brian Norris gets my Good Group Tip in his email and fires back a quote from a Bob Dylan song; something related to the Tip. Then I try to guess what song the quote is from. It’s a game we have been playing for years. Brian and I have been friends since UMaine.

For instance, here’s the last Tip I sent out: I Believe in Us. Brian wrote back, “Honey, just allow me one more chance to get along with you!”

Anyone know what Dylan tune that is from? I didn’t either. I usually don’t. I know Dylan pretty well but Brian is a scholar. Not only does he hit me with obscure quotes but he provides YouTube video links, reference citations, and personal stories of when he was in the crowd while that song played. Brian has seen Bob Dylan 150 times. While you have all been getting Good Group Tips, I have been getting a Bob Dylan education.

I stopped sending Good Group Tips a couple months ago; converted to Craig’s Weekly. Yet I just couldn’t lay down the Tips without telling you about Brian and the Dylan thing. Thanks for all the fun, Brian!

If anyone wants to know the Bob Dylan lyric that goes with any Good Group Tip, just let me know and I’ll send it to you.

PS. If you need to know about “Honey, just allow me one more chance to get along with you!” this was Brian’s follow up after my failed attempts at guessing the song title: “That IS the title! Off his Freewheelin’ album (1963), where Bob actually gave credit to Henry Thomas‘ “Fishing Blues” for influencing the song! https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=9pxtFoZH72k

Photo of Brian and his wife Kathryn.
The guy on the left knows more Bob Dylan than anyone I’ve ever known.
The gal on the right is pure sunshine.

My White Privileges

I grew up so white, I didn’t even notice the privileges I had over black people.

At age 15 or so my white friend and I hitchhiked to a music festival and slept in a random farm field. We got woken up by cops in the middle of the night. We got talked to. At age 18 I skidded a car off the highway and into the median at 70 mph. After midnight on my way home from a party. The cops came to the accident. I got talked to. They called my dad to come get me.

How many times have I been pulled over and NOT gotten a ticket. So many times. Honestly, I have actually shook my head and muttered these words to myself about a cop who just gave me a warning: “You should totally be writing me a ticket right now.”

How many times have I drank or smoked or peed in some “technically illegal” place and not worried one bit. The worst that might happen is that I would get talked to.

As a kid and young man – due to my personality – I did risky stuff even as a white person. If “this personality” had been black, I would be in prison or dead by now. No doubt in my mind about that. Given my shenanigans over the years, I’m lucky to avoid prison and death as a white person! I have gotten talked to and given a pass hundreds of times in my life.

Being white didn’t just keep me from getting arrested, it opened doors for me. Like all those times I have walked through a hotel lobby to use the restroom, as if a guest there, and maybe grabbed a cup of complementary coffee if I felt like it. Honestly, I have used hotel lobbies a LOT and once even used their limo service for a ride across town without being a guest. This is what privilege looks like.

And being white has kept me safe from bad white people. If I see a bunch of white people buying beer at a Seven-Eleven, even bad looking drunk-already white people, I got no problem going in there. I was black there would be places I would be scared.

The Black Lives Matter movement has inspired me to scroll back through my life and imagine if I was black. There are so many things I simply could not have done as a black kid, from big things like stealing another guy’s date to little things like asking a harmless question. I would have had to be so much more cautious about all my interactions.

I have been allowed to live large and take risks because of my white privilege. I know that now. Having read and heard so many stories of what happened to black people in situations just like mine and how their stories are so different, I understand better now.

My privilege in a nutshell? Freedom. I have been free to act out and be myself in ways that black people simply aren’t, and haven’t been allowed. Am I afraid that black people are going to rise up and take away my freedoms? Not at all. Not once have I heard black people say, “We want things to be worse for you.” They are saying, “We need things to be better for us.”

Freedom (also known as independence or liberty) is such a core American value, I think every American should have it. Like me. Yet many don’t. What can I do about that? Three things.

(1) I can tell my story and acknowledge my privileges. Just call them out. Name them. It’s called “checking your privilege.” (2) I can pass along and amplify stories of black people. Help get those stories told. Let’s benefit from hearing more black stories and fewer white stories for a change. (3) Stand up to racism when I see it. I am standing ready. And I hope to have the courage to say to a white guy, even if he’s talking to just white guys, that it’s not okay to say or do racist stuff.

Last note: while the focus here has been on white privilege, other privileges are absolutely in play every time I get a pass: my male privilege, my wealth privilege, and many others. Also, my privilege is not just over black people but over all non-white people. I’m just letting you know that I know these things. Calling out my privilege.

Another last note: My go-to books on racism have been How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi and So You Want To Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo.