Author: Craig Freshley

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.

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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.

Talk or Text

Older people like phone calls and younger people don’t. In general. Maybe the line is around 40 give or take a few years.

It’s well documented that millennials (age 25–40 or so) think phone calls are inefficient. The younger you are, the more you think phone calls are dumb. If you have a question for someone you bang out a text message – sent – done. Probably the answer comes back in seconds. How easy was that? Phone calls are so tedious and a waste of time.

“And if you want to talk on the phone with me,” the under-40 is thinking, “schedule it. Calling someone without warning is so rude.” The idea is that a text or email allows the recipient to respond at their convenience. A phone call is an instant demand for attention.

A phone call is an instant show of respect, thinks the over-40. I want to focus exclusively on you. And if I miss you I will leave a message and you will call me back; another show of respect. Without even talking yet, we are building a trust relationship! And when we do talk I will get my questions answered, get more questions answered instantly, and clarify anything I’m unsure of. Doing business in real time is so efficient.

Here’s the problem: when one generation puts expectations on another that they didn’t volunteer for or consent to. What seems respectful and efficient to one person is not the same for all people. And different communication styles are more pronounced now than ever before in human history. This is because some of us grew up with texting and some of us didn’t.

It’s like some of us grew up in a foreign country and some of us didn’t. Over-40’s are the immigrants. We grew up in a different world of communications technology; with a different native language and a different culture than the world we are in today.

If you are a text native (under-40, grew up with texting), take pity on the immigrant and help them adapt and thrive in the new world. Don’t take it as “disrespect” when you get approached in weird ways or talked to in broken English.

If you are a text immigrant (over 40) try your best to adapt to ways of the new world. If you are in a boss/parent role you get to prescribe if/when/how people call or text you. But if you need to get along with natives you don’t supervise, best to conform to their customs as best as you can even if clumsy.

As a text-world immigrant, it’s hard to let go of my old world cultural norms. I want to insist on phone calls and returned calls. Yet new world inhabitants never agreed to take phone calls or return my phone calls. And it’s not fair for me to expect them too.

Some practical tips? (1) If in a work relationship, establish norms for when you will talk and when you will text. (2) In any kind of intergenerational relationship, mention that you grew up with different ways. Just naming the differences is a huge start to bridging the differences. (3) Don’t judge that your way is best or that you know what’s best for someone else. (4) Get a mentor. Or a translator. Or at least ask people different from you how best to say things or send things. Ask, “If I were to launch this, how might it land?”

As a practical matter, if I want something from someone it’s best to approach them however works best for them. And it never works well to project my expectations on others without their consent. Yup, it looks like I’m being asked to be open-minded and considerate of others, again!

I don’t know what’s best

“So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great, good fortune.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that, Supreme Court Justice.

“You don’t know what’s best for you.” Rick said that, guy I once knew trying to teach me something.

Here’s me in my head: “I know what that person should do and what that person should say. I know how things should be, and shouldn’t be, and how everyone should just chill out and listen to me.” Or something happens that I’m sure is a terrible thing. “I told you this was gonna be terrible,” I can hear myself saying. And then it isn’t.

Always thinking that I know best gets in the way of stuff. Getting along with each other is a lot easier when we are humble. Innovation and creativity happen when we are humble. When I let go of my righteousness and trust my fellow humans, things tend to work out. Often, things work out better than I could have imagined.

Mad as hell AND want to talk

I am furious at President Trump. In my opinion he has done tremendous damage to our country. He urges Americans to be mean to other Americans. I think he is unpatriotic and has put our national security at risk. I’m furious that he is further compromising our national security by resisting a peaceful transfer of power.

And at the same time I am willing to talk with and show respect to a Trump supporter. I know you have your reasons for supporting him. I want to learn about that. I bet we have stuff in common. I want us to at least talk.

It’s okay to not approve of someone’s behavior yet not walk away. It’s like two people living together, mad as hell at each other, and still come to the same kitchen table. And at least try to get along.

Here’s an NBC News article: Post-election calls for unity are toxic positivity that ignores damage Trump’s done. Author Tonya Russell breaks down the Trump damage to people like her and she’s angry at people like me who want us all to get along with each other.

“You have no idea,” she basically says to a guy like me. “Me and my people are kicked and dying because of this Trump guy and his supporters. You want me to what? Don’t you dare try to get me to be nice to them.” The quotes are my paraphrases. I hope I got it right. Please read her own words and stories here. This is a great article.

I think Tonya Russell is rightfully furious. I get that people are done with talking. I get that people want to be warriors right now. And that’s all okay with me. It’s not for me to say that anyone shouldn’t follow their heart.

But those whose hearts are torn or those who have not yet enlisted in the fight; let’s talk in spite of our differences. Let’s stay at the table even if it’s hard.

Some are called to aggression and some are called to diplomacy. Some are being peacemakers and some are being warriors. And it’s okay to be both; sometimes one and sometimes the other. Both are needed, and every kind of effort in between. It’s okay to be mad as hell AND want to talk.

I just have to say one more thing and that is to check my privilege. Tonya Russell also writes, “These sentiments [like mine calling for harmony] are clearly coming from people whose ability to live comfortably in the United States doesn’t hinge on the outcome.” That’s an actual quote and I believe she’s right about that too. Things like this are easy for me to say.

History brought to life through stories

The books I love to read are historical fiction. Historical because I get to learn stuff about my ancestors, things that happened to humans long ago, historical events like wars and discoveries. Fiction because more than dates and accounts of “what actually happened,” I get pulled into “what could have actually happened.” I get to meet actual people with real life dramas. They just happen to have lived long ago.

The fiction part turns history into stories. That makes history come alive for me. The drama, the betrayal, the loyalty, the tragedy, the triumph, the secrets, the life-changing decisions that people make. This makes it really fun for me, and relatable. I can see myself in the stories. It’s hard for me to see myself in dates and facts. But I can see how a person in a story is facing the same kinds of things that I am, although in a different age.

The history part of historical fiction reminds me that humans have been through this before, and worse. Of course Americans have not gone through the same things as the Chinese or Romans or other empires, but certainly the same types of things. Always with different settings and different players, yet many societies have faced dramatic political uncertainty much like America today. Many societies have feared scarcity of resources. Many societies have endured pandemics.

As a younger man I toured the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. I stumbled out onto the sidewalk afterwards and cried uncontrollably. If you don’t know, Anne Frank was a Jewish girl hiding with her family during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam. You think our lockdowns are bad? For 761 days Anne and her family lived in a secret part of house behind a bookcase. It’s a remarkable story that shows me how things could be. Check out her story here.

And this is just one story. One. There are millions of such stories in other times and places. And these stories are happening today. They are even happening in America right among us. People are trapped in their houses or apartments. People are prisoners in abusive relationships. People are in hiding. People are desperately hungry. People fear for their lives.

Reading such stories – even tragic stories – gives me strange comfort. I think it’s because I get to see I’m not alone. I’m not the only one who has been through stuff like this. I get to see what it means to be human. I feel a sense of belonging.

And I get to see that actually, things aren’t so different today. Or so bad. And I get to see how my ancestors handled the tragedies they were handed. I learn coping skills.

And I learn that today’s tragedies are not my fault. The historical characters in the stories before me didn’t ask for their tragedies either. History is just human nature over and over again.

I am in awe of authors who can bring me history though stories. Thank you.

A nation divided by the stories we believe

How could so many people vote for President Trump? He’s so bad. It’s infuriating! The explanation must be that Trump supporters are getting different news than I am. Not only that, the news they are getting is false.

But wait a minute. Haven’t I also received false news? As a white child, I was taught that Christopher Columbus discovered America. I don’t think this is how Native American’s tell that story. As a white child I heard the joke about George Washington being “the father of our country” – wink, wink – condoning that he fathered children among his black slaves. I don’t think black people spread this joke with a wink.

As a Democrat I can point my finger at Republicans for voting based on false news, yet I have received and believed lots and lots of false news in my lifetime. We are all guilty of believing what we want to justify our moral supremacy.

I suppose this is how it’s always been; different people holding different versions of what’s true. And then all of a sudden, as if by surprise, we wake up and realize that not everyone in the country sees things the same. We become instantly angry. We accuse each other of believing false news. We are all forced to question what we thought was true.

For me, my country doesn’t seem to be the one that I thought I was living in. Based on, you know, what I’ve heard, I have always thought of my country as a place that welcomes and respects immigrants. Not true. I have always thought of my country as a place of equal opportunity. Not true. I have always thought of my country as a place where the government protects the people from bad corporations and bad people. Not true.

Actually, none of these things about my country have ever been true. I have carried false stories for years. I didn’t realize that racism, classism, sexism, and other isms were so alive in my country. I’m figuring out that these divides aren’t new; they’ve just been glossed over in the stories that I have been fed.

The street-level stories that would otherwise demonstrate our true divisions haven’t been showing up in my news feed. I haven’t been getting the complete picture. My parents’ TV news and my grandparents’ daily papers also committed crimes of omission. Those news feeds highlighted stories that appealed to my parents and grandparents, news that reinforced what they wanted to believe. Mainstream history books and text books have also hidden the truth of our nation’s divisions and have exalted false myths for generations.

As a white American of European descent, mainstream news has worked well for me and for people like me before me. But the glorified narratives about America being open to immigrants or about America as the land of opportunity simply aren’t working for a lot of people right now. For many Americans these myths just aren’t true. These myths are being exposed before our very eyes.

Today myths and false news are being spread, and targeted, like never before. Without election results in front of me, it’s easy to believe that my view is correct. No matter what you believe you can find “news” on the internet to support your belief. That’s what I do. It’s infuriating that the election results don’t support what I want to believe!

My country is divided. I can’t help that. We were born that way. Two books by Maine’s own Colin Woodard’s – “American Nations” and “American Character” – explain these divisions very well. Being divided is part of our fabric. It’s in our blood. The different modern-day tribes of America are telling and believing very different stories. Just like we always have. So why am I so surprised that the election shows us so split? Again!

I don’t know the best path forward. But I’m pretty sure it’s about accepting that we’re a divided country. And I’m pretty sure it’s not about hating each other for believing different stories. Different stories is who we are.