Author: Craig Freshley

Democracy Reforms Being Debated in Washington

Our Congress is currently debating HR 1, For the People Act. Advocates say the bill is the most consequential piece of voting legislation since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. I’m all for it. In my opinion it will strengthen our democracy in critical ways. It will help us get along with each other better, as Americans.

The Act’s stated purpose is to “to expand Americans’ access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and implement other anti-corruption measures for the purpose of fortifying our democracy, and for other purposes.”

Proposed reform measures are three types — voting, campaign finance, and ethics. If passed the bill would, for instance, require automatic voter registration in all states, end partisan gerrymandering, and encourage small-dollar campaign donations, among many reforms. The bill targets ‘big money’ donations and foreign interference as eroding to our democracy’s foundation. Additional overhaul of the Office of Government Ethics is intended to tighten the ethical standard for government officials.

Opponents say that the bill will affect mostly Democratic voters, make it easier for more Democrats to vote than Republicans. I’m fine with that. There are significantly more Democrats in our country than Republicans so anything that affect “most Americans” is going to affect more Democrats than Republicans.

More than that, just on principle, this package of reforms is deigned to level the playing field among all Americans in many ways. It gets us closer to the basic American ideal that I have held up before in these pages: that everyone gets a vote and the majority decides. The bill is not perfect but moves us in the right direction.

Read the bill here.

See here for the sponsor’s statement.

Strategic Planning Basics

Strategic planning means different things to different people. There are some very specific ways of doing it and some very specific formats. Yet to simplify things, I figure that if you have something in writing with these three qualities, you can call it a strategic plan.

First, it’s a long term plan. A strategic plan is more than just the annual work plan, or the annual budget. It’s usually longer than a year. Two years, ten years, twenty years, it’s a longer range plan than is made on a day-to-day, month-to-month basis.

Secondly, it’s comprehensive. It covers all the different aspects of the organization. Not just the programs that you’re going to run, but also the administrative institutional stuff like board development if you have a board, staff development if you have staff. It also includes the financial plans for capital improvements. If you’re a non-profit, it includes the plans for fundraising, where you’re going to get the money, how you’re going to spend the money. How detailed you want to get is a matter of choice — goals, objectives, strategies, performance metrics, etc. — but it’s only strategic if it says at least a little bit about everything that the organization (or division of an organization) does.

Third, it’s not really a strategic plan if the leaders of the organization aren’t bought into it. It’s not okay for someone two levels down to make a plan for the whole organization and call it a strategic plan. A strategic plan needs to be embraced by whoever is in charge of making it happen.

Strategic planning is an opportunity to rise above the day-to-day operations and decision-making and look further to the future. It’s is a chance to take stock of big trends affecting your organization. It’s a chance to evaluate your strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities; and make plans accordingly.

Many organizations invest in strategic planning every few years since the idea is to not wait for a crisis or a big decision that suddenly needs to be made. Even absent an apparent crisis or big decision to be made, taking stock of your situation and your surroundings makes you able to better anticipate the next big decision and prevent the next big crisis.

Strategic plans are useful for many reasons. Groups use their strategic plan to attract employees, investors, and donors. The plan gives potential partners of all types a good picture of where their organization is headed. Groups use the strategic plan as a way to hold key officers/employees responsible and accountable. It’s an excellent tool for both accountability and for celebrating progress. Groups use the strategic planning process to work through and make hard decisions. Also the process is very useful for gathering input from stakeholders and taking a good look at the environment in which you exist. For many, actually, it’s the process that’s most valuable.

Whatever your reason for strategic planning, it’s important to spend the right amount of effort; that is, in right proportion to the amount of benefit you’re going to get from it. Strategic planning has a bad reputation in the world because so often strategic planning efforts are not right-sized. The biggest complaint is that strategic planning is too involved and requires too much effort in proportion to any good that might come from it. Another complaint is that planning is way too vague or based on too many assumptions, to the point of being useless.

To maximize reward for your participants, know at the outset why you want a plan and don’t push people through a process that’s too complicated or too simple to get what you need.

Let your life speak

I know I’m out there. I’m big on Facebook and email and I usually don’t mind being the center of attention. And I love to tell stories. Mostly about me! And what I experienced. And how I see things. Haha. It’s true.

Maybe it’s because I’m straight up self-centered and need attention. Yup. I can own that. I was born an extrovert, over-confident, and as a kid I was encouraged to go first and show off. Yet there are other reasons.

For one thing, I’m amazed at myself! Really. I am honest-to-god tickled-pink at some of the stuff I can do. This is not arrogance, this is me being in awe of my creator. Have you read The Body by Bill Bryson? He describes MY body and it’s amazing. Yours too. I brought a message to my Quaker Meeting about this. Listen here if you want. It’s called Marvel and Gratitude for What’s on Board.

I truly walk around in a daze of marvel at the world around me. When I see a beautiful sunrise or a forest ski trail, or when I pull off a new song or a fence repair, I want to share my awe. What you see on Facebook is “Look at me. Look what I can do.” But what I’m thinking is “Look what a human can do. Even this human!” My marvel and gratitude overflows and spills out in posts.

Secondly, it’s a Quaker thing — let your life speak — one of our core testimonies. It’s about not just saying stuff but doing stuff. Societal change comes about because of how we live our lives, not because of what we say or think or wish for. Quakers do stuff.

Not only that, while doing good things it helps to show others what you’re doing. Demonstrate. Model. “Let your light shine” is a related Quaker tenet. Something worth believing in is worth acting on. Yet I can be of even greater service to my fellows when I demonstrate my beliefs; when I show what they look like in action. Is it bragging to strut your stuff and say here’s who I am and here’s how I do stuff? I think it depends on intention. For what purpose art thou saying look at me?

We are each a blend of reasons for how we are in the world. I am some blend of some of the above, bumbling along in my over-confidence hoping others might learn from my follies.

What I’m really trying to say is that no matter who you are, if you are truly grateful for the miracles within you than it’s okay to shine. Sharing your awe – even about yourself – is a good way to act on your gratitude. Don’t hide your light under a bushel basket. Let your life speak so the rest of us can marvel at what you can do and who you are.

America is great because of slavery

Not saying it’s great we had slavery, but that slavery helped make our economy the greatest in the world. Let’s just say it.

You might think that American ingenuity made us great. Or capitalism. Individualism. Entrepreneurship. Sure, those contributed. And many other things too. Yet during black history month – all the time actually – let’s remember that slavery also made us great. Millions of slaves picked cotton and worked fields to grow American wealth. I believe we are still coasting on that momentum today and we owe a reverent debt of gratitude to the black people who came before us and paved the way for our prosperity.

Did you know that over 30,000 ships came to the Americas with slaves as cargo? Did you know that the United States had nearly 4 million slaves at the time of the Civil War? That’s a lot of free labor.

This graphic depicts a simple four-fact history of how black people contributed to the US economy, and how they have been deprived of it opportunities.

When I worked at the Maine Development Foundation many years ago I was asked to research economies of other states and the world and try to find correlates to economic growth; that we might uncover some secret to apply here in Maine. What I found is that economic growth is often correlated with wealth disparity. The bigger the difference between the rich and the poor, the more likely it is that the economy will grow.

How shall we measure the greatness of a country? What should be our goal? How about a company or a nonprofit or a city or a state or any group at all? What should be the measure of greatness?

Rather than overall economic output, for me the measure of greatness is creativity, sustainability, and overall happiness. Those things are way more important to me than material wealth. I am usually hired by groups not to help them get richer but to get happier. Bosses want their people to get along better and love their jobs more. You might be rich but are you happy? That’s what I think matters most: people’s happiness.*

We could ask this of America today: “America, you seem rich but are you happy?” I’m afraid of the answer.

For me, I love the Mahatma Ghandi quote: “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” I think this applies to all groups.

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* Easy for me to say because I have money. I am privileged. I’m simply naming that for a person who does not have money and you ask, “What’s more important, money or happiness?” they might answer differently than me.

And here’s a time lapse animation of the voyages of 31,166 slave ships over 200 hundred years from 1660 to 1866. It’s backed up by a searchable database.

How to Lead Meetings

If you’re leading a meeting to create something or decide something, here are the Four Essential Functions that I think are most helpful to the group.

Each of these can be done in a variety of ways with a variety of intensities. The best meeting facilitators have many strategies to make sure each of these four functions are done well in every meeting.

If you want a 9-minute crash course, this video is for you. And there’s a companion handout, below on the right.

The Media

I don’t know what someone means when they say “the media.” It’s often a categorical indictment: “It’s the media’s fault.” Or, “I don’t trust the media.” And I don’t get what the fuss is about; the notion that it’s impossible these days to figure out what’s really true. No it isn’t. It’s super easy. NewYorkTimes.com. Even the free version has all the headlines. Those headlines are true.

Sure, trying to figure out what’s true from my Facebook feed or a Reddit thread or the tons of free email coming at me; yeah, it’s hard to figure out what’s true. But if I’m serious about wanting actual facts, I have easy options.

 

 

There is a line on this chart called “Fact Reporting.” Anyone above the line: we can believe what these journalists and broadcasters report to us. These corporations stake their reputation on their integrity; in competition with each other and driven by their paying customers and advertisers to maintain very high standards.

I know that the New York Times is left-leaning. They actually tell us that on their editorial pages. And the Wall Street Journal has right-leaning opinions on their editorial pages. This does not mean they tell lies in their news. The very fact that these papers separate News from Opinion is part of their integrity. And you know what, even among the opinion pages of these publications you will not find intentional mis-statements of fact.

The thing is: we don’t wants facts most of the time. We want entertainment. We process volumes of entertaining media (most of it social) and then, all by ourselves, we decide which of it to believe. It’s an age-old human behavior. We love gossip and speculation and imaging what’s true. We’re very good at it. And it’s very fun.

Yet entertaining as it might be, national governance — as it happens — is really important; maybe more important than anything. The decisions that nations make, and have made before us, determine the life or death fates of us all.

I’m encouraging us to resist the easy way — where we sit passively and get spoon fed pleasant information — even though it’s fun. That leads to actually believing the pleasant information because that’s fun too.

When it comes to something serious like debating a fellow American, take the harder way and know what you are talking about. Get your facts from mainstream credible professional media. Or here’s another idea, ask your local librarian. Did you know that these people are professionally trained to help the general public find facts? Did you know that librarians are the most trusted occupation second only to nurses?

I don’t buy that The Media are to blame or The Media are categorically untrustworthy. All kinds of media are out there filling all kinds of market niches and wanting us to believe all kinds of things. Yet at the same time there really are institutions built for the specific purpose of bringing us facts. Thank God.

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.