The Time That Is Given to Us: A Eulogy

My brother Mark’s riding boots and trademark “fancy hat.”

In JRR Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, there was a beautiful scene in which a conversation takes place between Gandalf the Gray and Frodo the Hobbit. Frodo was entrusted with the One Ring of Power, the source of all evil in Middle Earth, and tasked with destroying it by casting it into Mount Doom. This was far more than a dangerous journey. It was likely near impossible for ordinary men, much less a Hobbit. In the scene Fordo lamented to Gandalf that the task came to him. He grieved that all the chaos and destruction was happening around him.

Frodo said: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.

To which Gandalf relied: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

“The time that is given to us.” I thought about that scene a lot this week. How many things happen in our lives that we wish do not happen? I feel as Gandalf does. Thinking about what should have happened, what could have happened is a waste, for all we have is the here and the now, and we decide what to do with that here and now. And the time that is given to us is short by any standards.

Mark Duane LaLonde was born on March 30, 1988. 33 years was the time that was given to him. Brief for some, long for others, but those 33 years were Mark’s, and he used every minute of his time here.

The third of four brothers, one of the earliest memories I have of Mark is forged in the crucible of what made Millennials so durable… the latchkey. Our mom, a new single mother trying to figure out our new reality, didn’t have many options for childcare. So, I found myself the man of the house often watching after three younger brothers who did not so much as pretend, I had an ounce of authority.

One day, the brothers were being particularly randy. I don’t recall exactly what Mark did, but I had reached my limit. I found a yard stick and with all 36 inches, I wound it up like Barry Bonds freshly injected with the latest BALCO substance and WHACK! I gave him some much-needed corporal punishment.

I’m not saying that was the best response, but needless to say from that day forward, my brothers gave me very little problems. I remember our mom coming home from Dominick’s (remember those?), and she was amazed at such a clean house and all the boys sitting on the floor behaving!

She didn’t find out about the yard stick until several years ago when Mark ratted me out. She tried scolding me, but couldn’t argue with the results.

Throughout history, the number four holds much symbolic meaning. Almost from prehistoric times, the number four was employed to signify what was solid, what could be touched and felt. Its relationship to the cross (four points) made it an outstanding symbol of wholeness and universality, a symbol which drew all to itself.

In the Bible,

  • Ezekiel has a vision of four living creatures: a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle.
  • The four Matriarchs (foremothers) of Judaism are Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, and Rachel.
  • The four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. (Christianity)
  • The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

In philosophy, mathematics, and science,

  • Four basic parts of arithmetic: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division.
  • Greek classical elements (fire, air, water, earth).
  • The four cardinal virtues: Justice, courage, moderation, and wisdom.
  • Four seasons: spring, summer, autumn, winter.
  • Four cardinal directions: north, south, east, west.

More modern examples,

  • The Big Four heavy metal thrash bands: Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax.
  • And probably, the most important foursome of all – The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo.

The number four has long been important in the LaLonde household because there were four boys, four sons, four grandsons. Paul, Peter, Mark, and Duane – apparently by the fourth one, all the Biblical names were taken.

As the oldest of the four sons, there are barely any memories in my mind of a time when there were not four of us. I am sure none of us remembers a time without the others.

Now, all new memories will be incomplete. Like a baseball game rained out, or a painting that was never finished.

Memories – that’s all that we have left of Mark, yet, those are the most important possessions we can hold on to.

While it’s tragic to think about Mark leaving us, he left behind a lifetime of memories that we can celebrate. Mark was always ready for a fun day with family and friends – a lover of music, he would have been the one showing up today with the perfect playlist for the event.

He’d probably suggest we throw on some Led Zeppelin so he could air guitar the solo from Stairway to Heaven. He’d then want us to play Metallica so he could jam to Master of Puppets. But he’d also likely want to hear some Elvis and Sinatra because Mark was an old soul.

Incredibly calculated and thoughtful, Mark would find you the perfect gift and then likely pay for it in cash counted out in exact change including the penny he just picked up on the curb as he walked inside the store. I’d often jest that he was so cheap that his wallet was a bank bag with the money sign on it. He once said he was thinking about getting a pool. I asked if it was for his money so he could dive into it like Scrooge McDuck.

But I cannot really joke about that because he did purchase a house when he was 22. When I was 22 I was probably passed out in some random cornfield in college. I think he was a little more mature than I was at that age. Mark embodied the timeless virtues of respect, politeness, and deference. He was a man of God and tried to live his life as devoutly as he could. He carried a Bible with him, and his handshake was textbook right down to the firm grip and eye contact. He made sure to represent the values our parents and grandparents instilled in us – and he didn’t let them down.

Mark was a busy body. He wasn’t content unless he was on the move. This is likely one of the reasons he didn’t have cable – not because he had all the streaming services, but because he didn’t watch TV! And he was too cheap to pay for it. He’d much rather be playing his guitar, working on a woodwork project in the garage, or riding his Harley to Sturgis.

Remember in Forest Gump when the titular character ran from coast to coast? That was Mark, only on his motorcycle – wearing his trademark bandana, leather boots, and leather Harley vest our dad gave him because, in our dad’s words, it mysteriously “shrank.”

Even though my brother was several years younger than me, I always wanted to include Mark in my adventures with friends. We went paintballing together at our grandparent’s farm. I gave him a welt on the back of his head, and he returned the favor with a shot so precise that it ensured I couldn’t walk straight for a few hours. I’ll leave it up to your imaginations as to where that shot landed. We turned our mom’s backyard into a huge WWE wrestling ring complete with ladders, steel chairs, and cooking sheets from her kitchen. One time during a makeshift WrestleMania, the neighbors thought there was a gang fight in our backyard, and police surrounded us from all sides – not making that up. I’m not sure which gangs use pizza pans and ladders, but either way, the police laughed at us and let us off with a warning.

Even though we did so many different activities together, some of my fondest memories are of all the times we went to concerts together.

As big time metalheads, we’d thrash around in the mosh pits and bang our heads to some wicked riffs. He always had more hair than me, and his stamina was always so much better than mine – it was as if the concert veteran was him showing ME how it was done, not the other way around. A friend recently remarked to me that he was in always in awe of this barely five-foot maniac running around in the mosh pit with endless energy, holding his own where lesser men dare to tread.

How do you distill a lifetime of memories and experiences into a 15-minute eulogy?

You don’t. You just do the best you can to let others know what you saw in someone, and maybe, while reminiscing, they are reminded about what they saw in them, too.

Mark was more than a friend. He was a son, a grandson, a brother, and an uncle. We were bonded by blood – four brothers all sharing a sacred relationship, and it cannot be explained, only felt by those who lived it.

But now, that once solid number of four is shattered – forever altered by the untimely passing of a family pillar. Three brothers doesn’t sound the same, and I can’t imagine what life is going to be like without Mark sending us funny Arnold Schwarzenegger memes in a group text. Never again will we hear his Arnold impressions, his motorcycle approaching down the street, or his belly laugh when he tells a lame uncle joke.

Western culture doesn’t talk enough about death. It’s something many of us avoid discussing, thinking about. We’d rather be doing anything but contemplating the shortness of life, or ensuring we are using our time to the fullest.

In Stoic philosophical tradition, there is a Latin phrase memento mori – remember that you will die. It’s not meant to be morbid, or pessimistic. It’s a phrase of deep meaning and positivity.

It’s easy to see death as this event that lies off in the distant future. Even those of us who choose not to live in denial of our mortality can be guilty of this. We think of dying as something that happens to us. It’s stationary date we’re moving towards, slowly or quickly, depending on our age and health.

Seneca, the Roman statesman and Stoic philosopher, felt that this was the wrong way to think about death, that it was a mistaken view that enabled many bad habits and wasted living. Instead, Seneca said, death was a process—it was happening to us right now. We are dying every day, he said. Right now, time is passing that you will never get back. That time, Seneca said, belongs to death.

This is the power of memento mori. For it is death that gives life meaning. Because one day we will not be here, and many of our days have already come and gone, we should do all that is within our power to make this moment count for all its worth. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow is not promised. All we have is the time that is given to us. So, let’s live there, and focus on that.

This is how Mark lived when he was riding his Harley. This is how Mark lived when he was strumming his guitar or banging the drums. This is how Mark lived when he was working on his lawn or his home renovations or his woodworking. This is how Mark lived when he was with his family and friends.

Mark focused on the time that was given to him. This will be the most cherished lesson that he taught me. I just wish I paid attention to it prior to him being gone.

Our mom always told us boys that “family is forever.” She did so as a way of instilling a deep-rooted connection between her sons, the four brothers. On one hand she got it partially wrong. Nothing is forever. Life is fragile, ephemeral. However, she succeeded beyond her wildest dreams, as the four brothers will remain four – even if one is no longer with us. We remain bonded, strong through a love that extends parallels and plains. Right now, I feel Mark presence – mostly because I am hearing a faint Arnold Schwarzenegger voice yelling at me to “Come on, get to the finish! Do it! Do it now!” He may be gone physically, but he remains metaphysically. So long as his memory stays alive, he is alive.

“That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die.” – H.P. Lovecraft

“…and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4

Black Rebels

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” – Fredrick Douglass

I have a rebellious streak in me at times. I don’t like to suffer fools. If something isn’t right, I have a very hard time going with it quietly. This streak has gotten me in trouble here and there. I’ve always hoped it was “good trouble.”

Rebellion shouldn’t only be cast in the terms of violence. Rebels stand against the status quo. They refuse to accept “what is” because of dishonesty, injustice, or evil norms. One of the greatest and simplest acts of rebellion can be to smile when the world tells you to frown.

Rebels inspire me. It’s likely why I enjoy the anti-hero. Batman has always been more interesting than Superman. It’s likely why I love heavy metal music – thrash in particular with its raw emotion, sonic tempos, and harsh lyrics – often attacking societal norms. Rebels don’t fit neatly into any space or box or label. I think it’s something I try to aspire to.

More importantly, however, rebels educate me. They get me to think differently. I learn new things, facts, stories.

Few folks have been more rebellious in American history than Black Americans. On the fringes of society since day one, I’m not sure it could have turned out any other way, frankly.

Though, I’m not here to write anything about Juneteenth, or anything else about the Black experience. People far more qualified than me have already done so if one hits the Google search.

No, I am here to share some quotes from powerful Black rebels. Each of these individuals has in some way leant their powerful words to our society in an effort to illicit change – powerful change.

I wanted to keep this short and simple. Please research history. True American history has escaped Americans for too long. For instance, I remarked with a friend recently that neither of us knew that in Tennessee the slaves were not freed by the Emancipation Proclamation because its capital city of Nashville was under Union control in early 1862. The Proclamation, issued in January 1863, freed slaves in states under active rebellion against the United States. Tennessee was not considered such.

Both of us were history majors in college and have a stark interest in the Civil War. It’s criminal we didn’t know this, but it’s better late than never.

There’s more to this story of course, like the influence of then Union loyalist Senator (and Union imposed Governor of Tennessee) Andrew Johnson, as well as the fact that there were still legal slaves in New Jersey in the 1860s. But that’s the point…. We’ve failed to learn. What good is history if we don’t? It’s just facts to win points on Jeopardy!

Read. Read. Read. Read. Please, read. Read anything and everything. Remain intellectually curious.

It’s what these Black rebels did (and do). They are rebels because they’ve succeeded in a society that often times told them they cannot succeed – or put barriers in their way to ensure they don’t succeed.

Successful rebels pull triumph from the jaws of indifference, or worse, forced intolerance. These folks inspire me, educate me – and I hope others do the same for you as well.

  • “Good communication is the bridge between confusion and clarity.” – Nat Turner
  • “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.” – Frederick Douglass
  • “If women want any rights more than they’s got, why don’t they just take them, and not be talking about it.” – Sojourner Truth
  • “How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these.” – George Washington Carver
  • “You’re not to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it.” – Malcom X
  • “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” – James Baldwin
  • “Without courage we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.” – Maya Angelou

  • “Drag says ‘I’m a shapeshifter, I do whatever the hell I want at any given time’.” – RuPaul
    • “The good news is that racist and antiracist are not fixed identities. We can be a racist one minute and an antiracist the next. What we say about race, what we do about race, in each moment, determines what — not who — we are.” ― Ibram X. Kendi
    • “We need to be on the front lines of our own issues.” ― Minda Harts

    Americans at Work: The God That We Worship

    “When you don’t have much and you need to be at work, there’s no such thing as being sick.” – Scott Brooks

    I hate masks. There I said it. I hate wearing them. They’re uncomfortable, hot, fog up my glasses, and they mess up my beard! They suck.

    I am not, however, an anti-masker. I wore it through the entire pandemic (and continue doing so when required). It’s the right thing to do. Wearing them not only helps battle COVID, but it also shows empathy and concern for others. Wearing a mask also had some unintended positive consequences.

    The BEST positive consequence? I hadn’t had a cold in over a year and a half! It was glorious! That all ended about a week and a half ago. I felt the all too familiar feelings slowly emerge – tickle in my throat, tiredness, and cotton in my ears.

    Then it hit, like a ton of bricks! The Common Cold was back with a vengeance like vintage 1970s Ahnold at the gym.

    Years ago, I probably would have gone to work sick. It’s as American as Apple Pie, no? In fact, it was reported in December of 2019 (the month COVID-19 emerged in our collective Zeitgeist) that 90% of Americans go to work sick! Yet, I decided this time I needed to put my money where my mouth was because since COVID-19 altered our world, I had preached to anyone who’d listen that people needed to STAY HOME when they were ill. I didn’t want to be a hypocrite, so I called into work sick!*

    *Note: I work for an “essential service” employer, so many of our employees never worked remote, or worked remote in a hybrid situation. I felt it important that I also went to work as a show of support.

    So, while I called into work, I wasn’t happy about it. And I was fighting the urge to check emails, do some work at home, and answer calls – despite my energy being low, my throat and lungs being on fire, and my head pounding.

    I asked myself why???? WHY???? No one was missing me. My boss was legitimately fine with me being home (and was leaving me alone). My staff were leaving me be to recoup. So, why was I feeling horrible about missing work?

    I think this is something many Americans go through. It’s deeply American to go to work even when sick.

    But why is this? One reason, I feel, is a belief that work is holy. This belief is deeply rooted in American culture. The Puritan (or Protestant) Work Ethic – the concept that labor, diligence, discipline, and frugality connect one to God – is alive and well. American Puritans believed that hard work showed God you were dedicated to Him and espoused your faith well. This has been passed on through the American consciousness ever since the Puritans arrived in the New World.

    I want to make it clear that having a strong work ethic is not the issue. Hard work absolutely can produce a moral benefit and strengthen one’s character and individual abilities. The issue is treating work as if it were a deity.

    Last time I checked, Billy Corrigan told me cleanliness was godliness, not working oneself to death. And what isn’t cleanliness? Working while sick. Sick is literally the opposite of cleanliness!

    Work can be a virtue, but so can be leisure. A healthy person needs both. Aristotle, one of history’s greatest philosophers, agreed. It might be surprising to you, but he actually argued that focusing too much on work makes people worse human beings! He wrote in his Politics:

    “But at present we are studying the best constitution, and this is the constitution under which the state would be most happy, and it has been stated before that happiness cannot be forthcoming without virtue; it is therefore clear from these considerations that in the most nobly constituted state, and the one that possesses men that are absolutely just, not merely just relatively to the principle that is the basis of the constitution, the citizens must not live a mechanic or a mercantile life (for such a life is ignoble and inimical to virtue), nor yet must those who are to be citizens in the best state be tillers of the soil (for leisure is needed both for the development of virtue and for active participation in politics.)”

    Essentially, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Work is important but it’s not the be all end all. If we focus only on work, then we cannot partake in our essential duties, such as participating in the political system and leisure! YES! Leisure is important! Taking time for YOU and YOURS is more important to Aristotle than work!

    This may be all well and good, but I want to return to the quote that started off this post.

    “When you don’t have much and you need to be at work, there’s no such thing as being sick.” – Scott Brooks

    Yes, America has a deeply rooted cultural attachment to working. Work is God. However, I feel equally important to this discussion is the opinion that America has historically valued the work, not the worker. America has historically valued capital over labor – so much so that Haymarket and Pullman are etched into our collective memories.  

    Again, I want to make a point. I am not pro-labor at the expense of business. Capital needs labor, and labor needs capital. They are Yingying. However, when one is out of balance or valued more than the other, nature is out of whack and both suffer. And American (and Americans) have valued the end result of work more than the person behind it for far too long.

    How do I know? Look at our policies. Look at our actions.

    • Ample paid sick leave is a pipe dream for many workers;
    • The USA is the only industrialized nation without a paid parental leave laws;
    • Conjecturally, I’ve heard many stories of employees still showing up to work with COVID symptoms when told to stay home (related to the absence of paid sick leave and managers pressuring them to come to work);
    • Also conjecturally, and it’s happened to me countless times, job candidates tell an interviewer “I never call in sick” to show how employers can depend on them are as an employee;
    • Leaders praise those who “burn the midnight oil” or work 50/60 hour weeks – “they’re so dedicated!;”
    • Americans refuse to take earned vacation time, letting it go to waste!

    Want to know what people value? Look to their behaviors and decisions. Period. Americans overvalue work to the point of self-ruin.

    America needs a Fifth Great Awakening. We need to ditch the God of Work, and embrace a balanced approach as taught by Aristotle. This isn’t something that will or can happen overnight. Hell, I’m a believer in a balanced approach, and I was pained for having to call into work when I was literally in pain!!! The only way this can happen is for leaders to advocate.

    Leaders need to advocate for PTO and then be OK when their staff use that PTO – or better yet, ENCOURAGE your staff to use it! Leaders need to advocate for wellness and self-care policies. And leaders need to model the behavior. Don’t work until midnight and then question why your staff were working so late themselves!

    While this is the humane, empathetic thing to do, it is also good for business, and employee development.

    “Well-being is closely linked with health and productivity. Research shows that employees who are in good physical, mental, and emotional health are more likely to deliver optimal performance in the workplace than employees who are not.”

    Ultimately, calling in sick was tough, but I did it. And I am happy to report I only checked email until 9:00 a.m. I answered a few high priority items, and then realized… I was the priority. I turned off the work laptop. I put my work cell out of reach. And I took a nap. It felt great.

    My Great Awakening has begun… and I plan on modeling this behavior no matter how difficult it feels to me. Advocating for the American worker to have access to wellness and health is no small thing.

    The Power of Mantras

    Meditating human in lotus pose. Yoga illustration. Colorful 9 chakras and aura glow. Mandala background.

    “What we think, we become.” – Buddha

    It’s likely you’ve heard the word “mantra” before, but have you ever given the time to think about what a mantra is, what it truly is?

    I’m a HUGE language nerd. I am so enthralled with the history of words and where they come from – entomology, or the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.

    The word “mantra” has its roots in ancient Sanskrit, an Indo-European language that is to India what Latin is to much of Europe.

    The history of the word mantra, at least according to Wikipedia, is derived from the root man- “to think.” Literally translated is means “instrument of thought.” Another translation and it means “sacred utterance.”

    And while there is some debate on the exact meaning of the word, the dictionary defines it as “a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation,” and/or “a statement or slogan repeated frequently.”

    Regardless of the word’s origin, there’s something special about a mantra – it calls one to sit and take notice, to pay attention, because a phrase or word has something to teach us.

    And the science can back that up! In an article titled The Science Behind Finding Your Mantra and How to Practice It Daily, states:

    “Neuroscientists, equipped with advanced brain-imaging tools, are beginning to quantify and confirm some of the health benefits of this ancient practice, such as its ability to help free your mind of background chatter and calm your nervous system. In one study recently published in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, researchers from Linköping University, in Sweden, measured activity in a region of the brain called the default mode network—the area that’s active during self-reflection and mind wandering—to determine how practicing mantra meditation affects the brain. From a mental health perspective, an overactive default mode network can mean that the brain is distracted—not calmed or centered.”

    This spoke to me.

    Mantras have helped play a huge part in my life personally. As someone who has been working through various mental health challenges, mantras are a reminder to center oneself. They remind one to focus on the only thing that matters, the here and the now – the only time and place that truly exists. There is no past. There is no future. There is only the present.

    Over the past several years, I’ve taken a philosophical approach to my work, in case you couldn’t tell by the name of the blog, and mantras have been a huge part of this for me. Being a professional of any kind is hard work. Being an HR professional (especially over the past year and a half) has been crushing to many.

    I wanted to share mantras that have helped guide me, remind me, center me, and challenge me. My hope is that you have your mantas that do the same. If so, please share them! A simple phrase or word can help someone through the most confusing of messes. Who knows that better than you!? So, here are the top mantras that have helped me through the fog.

    The Stoic Mantras:

    • The obstacle is the way.

    The phrase that changed my entire life. It teaches you the only way to overcome your problems is to face them, to go through them, to use them as your advantage rather than as your downfall. Obstacles teach us lessons, and until you learn that lesson by embracing the obstacle, it won’t go away.

    • Memento mori.

    Latin for “remember you will die.” It’s not to be taken as a gloomy warning, but as an encouraging thought! Our lives are short, so don’t waste time. Once it’s gone, you can’t get it back, so use what you have every single day. Do what needs to be done before it’s over.

    • Ego is the enemy.

    The one thing that will keep us from obtaining true peace and happiness is that little voice inside us that says “you deserve more,” “you are more important than this,” and “you deserve to be comfortable.” Truly, ego is the beast that many cannot tame and has brought down giants. Concur your innate tendencies to think you’re more important than you are, or else you won’t get to where you want to be.

    The Eastern Mantras:

    • Be water.

    I wrote an entire post about why this phrase is so important.

    • No mud, no lotus.

    Thich Naht Hanh is one of my favorite philosophers to read. His ability to take complex Buddhist traditions and turn them into simple, beautiful prose has helped millions. The simple phrase means without the gross disgusting mud, a beautiful lotus flower cannot bloom. Without challenges, you will not grow or develop.

    The Yoda Mantras:

    • You must unlearn what you have learned.

    Yoda is the wisest Muppet this side of Degobah. I have learned much from him. By this mantra, what he is teaching us is similar to an old Buddhist story. A Zen master fills her student’s cup with water until it overflows causing the student to exclaim in surprise. The master tells the student, I cannot fill your cup when it is full. Like the mind, a cup must be empty to be filled. Don’t hold too fast to beliefs. They cause one’s cup to runneth over.

    • Do, or do not. There is no try.

    Harder said than done, but essential to grow, to learn, to become a better version of oneself.

    • Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.

    This one it tied to ego. Fear, anger, hate all come from ego. These emotions all come from us wanting something to be different than what is. Sometimes, what is is unavoidable. Sometimes what is is changeable. It’s not passive acceptance, but an acknowledgement that some things are outside our control. Focus on what is in our control to build the world that we all deserve. In the end, pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.

    The Daily Grind Mantras:

    • There is no movement without friction.

    A scientific fact, objects require friction to move. So why do we complain when presented with situations that cause us friction? To move forward requires heat. So, if you can’t stand it, then call Isaac Newton, or Albert Einstein, or Sheldon Cooper. Prepare yourself for the friction if you want to make progress.

    One of my favorite lyrics from one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite bands. It’s a constant reminder that mental health is to be taken seriously. Work can wait. It will always be there. Your health cannot, nor is it guaranteed to be there. The philosophy behind this statement can also be applied to anything. “This too shall pass.” The good. The bad. The ugly. Nothing is permanent. Enjoy the moment.

    What are some of your mantras? What helps you get through your days, weeks, months, years? I’d love if you shared.

    The Tao of HR

    “He who clings to his work will create nothing that endures. To live in the Tao, do your job, then let go.” – Lao Tzu, from Tao Te Ching

    One of my favorite blog pieces was a discussion on how HR can be like Winnie the Pooh. The main concepts and ideas were inspired by the book The Tao of Pooh.

    Taoism (sometimes spelled Daoism) is a philosophical tradition from China. Taoism emphasizes living in harmony with the Tao (translated as “the Way”), which is the source of everything that exists. The main focus is to seek betterment by becoming one with the Tao, or “unplanned rhythms of the universe,” the spontaneousness of life.

    As with all philosophies, the teachings differ depending on the teacher or the school, but overall, Taoism generally stresses “wu wei” (action without intention). Attempting to control the universe results in chaos, so allow the natural order to flow forth through non-action. Other key elements of Taoism include simple living in harmony with nature, cultivating self-knowledge, and the Three Treasures: Compassion, frugality, and humility.

    Many in the West will recognize the Yin Yang, which isn’t “opposite” in the Western sense of being contradictory. The Yin and the Yang are opposites of the same, meaning, one cannot exist without the other. There is no light without darkness. There is no happiness without sadness. There is no masculine without feminine. There is not payroll without HR! The Yin Yang is important to Taoist philosophy, (though not exclusive to it).

    Ying and Yang

    While this blog post is not about Taoism in particular, this background is info helps set some context.

    There is a passage in The Tao of Pooh that was particularly striking to me. The author discusses a “desiccated scholar.” The book describes a desiccated scholar as “one who studies Knowledge for the sake of Knowledge, and who keeps what he learns to himself or to his own small group, writing pompous and pretentious papers that no one else can understand, rather than working for the enlightenment of others.”

    I admit, when I first read that passage, I needed to look up what the word desiccated meant! According to the dictionary, “desiccated” literally means “having had all moisture removed; dried out.”

    Without water, nothing grows. Being dry and baron means death. No water, no life. Dry, stuffy, unfriendly, unapproachable, beyond reproach.

    In the context of Human Resources, I thought, what would this mean? To me, a Desiccated HR is what Lars Schmidt calls Legacy HR – centralized bureaucrats, gatekeeper mentalities, cultivators of complex policies and mechanisms no one can understand, refusal to adapt, grow, or alter perspective.

    “It’s what we’ve always done!”

    “I can’t approve that move until you sign this form!”

    “According to the policy…” (HR practitioner proceeds to read the policy word for word to the employee)

    Desiccated HR is the stereotype image that plagues our profession. It is the opposite of what I discuss in my post HR, Be Water. No one likes this HR professional. This HR pro sucks all the life and happiness out of the room – much like a desert sucks the water out of the air.

    Taoism teaches, in part, that if something hampers life or happiness, then those institutions should be reduced or abolished. Things must be kept simple. There is no need for grand bureaucracy.

    I am not suggesting HR be abolished, except maybe Legacy HR. Contrary! I advocate that HR needs to be ENHANCED! HR pros need to evolve to a place where we don’t feel we’re as self-important as Legacy HR pretends we are.

    This is about letting go of control. It’s about building systems that can function without us. It’s not about abdicating responsibility or ownership. It’s about building systems for people, not for HR.

    Build systems with policies and rules that can be easily understood! The true genius of a leader is being able to get the hell out of people’s way! It’s not building infrastructure that can only function when HR is pulling all the strings. True leadership is about building a system that functions without you. This is a true HR legacy. It takes an egoless person to do this, but the best leaders kill their ego, or at least put it to rest.

    As Lao Tzu, the traditional founder of Taoism, said, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

    “But,” some may be saying, “I am too important not to be involved! I need to be there to make sure it’s going right!”

    No, sorry. You’re not that important. No one is. That’s ego talking. Marcus Aurelius wrote that “everything has always been the same, and keeps recurring….” Marriage, childbirth, sickness, death, war, holidays, traffic, agriculture, flatterers, enemies, pridefulness, plotting, newsmongers, lovers, misers, greed, power brokers… all of it has happened since the dawn of time, and all of it will continue until humans cease being human or the sun expands and swallows the earth.

    This includes work! The HR department existed prior to us, and it will exist after us. Focus on making it better, not on controlling it to retain power! Control is about ego. Remember that trying to control what happens has the opposite effect. The more we try to control, the more we fail to control. “Everything that happens,” Marcus Aurelius wrote, “happens as it should, and if you observe carefully, you will find this to be so… Frightened of change? But what can exist without it? What’s closer to nature’s heart?”

    So, embrace change. Embrace building a system that doesn’t need us to function. Build one that helps provide power back to the employees – one focused on the Taoist tradition of compassion, prudence, and humility. Build a system that helps lift others up, not yourself.

    The ironic thing about that. When we lift up others, we also become lifted. Thus is the Tao.

    HR, Be Water

    “Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.” – Lao Tzu

    Ever since I was a little kid, I have had a fascination with water. I would fantasize about visiting the ocean to witness the experience – watch the waves, listen to them crashing on the sand, smell and taste the salty sea air, and feel the breeze on my face. I always wanted to just sit on the beach and bear witness to one of nature’s more beautiful experiences.

    Rivers, streams, lakes, oceans, ponds, puddles, rain… all of it fascinates me. I’ve thought much as to why this element so intrigued me, but only recently did I discover why.

    A few weeks ago, I lamented that I only recently discovered the philosophical brilliance of Bruce Lee.

    Many may not realize, but Bruce Lee was more than an iconic martial artist and action film star. He was also an accomplished and profund philosophers. Overshadowed by the Dragon persona, his philosophy is overlooked by the mainstream despite it being central to him becoming the Dragon. Without Bruce Lee’s philosophy, his mastery of martial arts would have been nothing.

    Lee was a warrior, and as importantly, he was a philosopher. Particularly striking to me was this interview:

    “Empty your mind.

    Be formless, shapeless, like water.

    You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup.

    You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle.

    You put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot.

    Now water can flow, or it can crash.

    Be water, my friend.”

    This poetry – based on ancient Chinese Taoist philosophy – is the balance I needed to hear. It’s the Yin and the Yang I was looking for. I recall in high school science classes that water flows from a higher concentration to a lower concentration and few things can stop water whether it’s a slow trickle or a heavy flow. Water is adaptable. It flows wherever it is supposed to flow in exactly the way it was meant to flow.

    This wisdom from Bruce Lee was my own epiphany into why I’ve always had an attraction to water. The universe was trying to tell me something. For much of my early adult life, I was rigid and inflexible. If something was out of place in my life or didn’t go exactly according to plan, I would get anxious or crumble. I’d sulk and become intolerable.

    The universe was trying to tell me to be like water. Be flexible, soft, graceful. Be yielding. Be understanding. Flow or crash depending on what is needed. Adapt or die.

    The universe is complicated. Nature is complex, probably far more so than our minds can comprehend. So, too, are our lives, since we are part of nature and not separate. How do people cope with this complexity that we do not understand? We form boxes, categories. We then put ideas and thoughts into these superficial spaces, which is limiting and constricting. It’s a great coping mechanism for hunter-gathers trying to survive on the ice fields of Eurasia; but humans have long since moved past our primitive surroundings, and it’s time our thought patterns move along with it. The sabretooth cat isn’t going to jump out and eat us anymore. Let go of the notion that there’s something scary hiding behind the bush.

    Dear HR professionals, be like water, my friends.

    Much like nature, work life is incredibly complicated. I won’t waste words by rehashing the stats and stories here, but a quick Google search, and most will see what I mean. HR work is destructive to those unwilling to bend. It was lonely, isolating work prior to the COVID pandemic. Now, many good folks are being crushed under the uncompromising weight of a microbe.

    As the world of work is ever-changing, and workplaces are more complex than our minds can comprehend, a more helpful approach to work life is one that is flexible or adaptable. One that enables us to flow along. You know… kinda like water.

    Depending on its environmental constructs, water changes. When it’s cold, water becomes ice to fit the situation. When it’s hot, water evaporates to fill that need. When it’s in a glass, it becomes the glass, as the Dragon so eloquently spoke. And so on. Water doesn’t resist. It just keeps being water regardless of what comes its way.

    What does this mean for the HR professional?

    It means learning to be adaptive and flexible to the environment around us. Do not cling to your views on or approaches to the HR profession. Be open to receiving new information about old ways of doing things. Changing one’s mind is not weakness. Much like a river redirecting itself after an earthquake, water finds a new path to tread so that it can continue to reach the ocean.

    It also means learning to listen to the environment around us and being non-judgmental about it. I want to be ice. Well, it’s 72 degrees outside, so I need to be water. I will move forward as needed. I’d rather be doing my monthly professional development with my team, but I’m needed on this investigation right now. It’s not fun, but it’s where I need to flow!

    Being water means going to new places without hesitation. Lao Tzu said in the Tao Te Ching, “That which offers no resistance, overcomes the hardest substances. That which offers no resistance can enter where there is no space.” It’s been written about and discussed hundreds, if not thousands, of times. HR needs to be a TRUE unabashed leader in the DEI+ Belonging space. HR needs to challenge racism and bigotry head on. HR needs to back up employees when they have legitimate grievances. Yet, many in the HR profession don’t do these things. Why? Water doesn’t refuse to go where it has to. It goes wherever it is needed however it can. HR needs to be able to find the space to go where there is seemingly no space.

    Bruce Lee said “empty your cup so that it may be filled.” Or as Yoda told Luke Skywalker, “No. No different. Only different in your mind. You must unlearn what you have learned.”

    If one remains rigid and unbending, they will eventually break.

    Be water, my HR friends.

    Street Level Influencer – Meet Shenise Cook

    Shenise Cook is a DYNAMIC person, professional, and an all around badass! Get to know her, and then go connect with her!

    The Street Level Influencer continues into 2021. Now more than ever, we need reminders from those individuals at the ground level making an impact in our daily lives – many times without us knowing it – that life is overwhelmingly good, even when it’s “bad.”

    Street level influencers provide that for us.

    COVID, social unrest, systemic racism, insurrections, hatred from seemingly all over. These things have caused cracks in even the most tempered of personality foundations. Concrete, eventually, will crack under the weight of the burden.

    When I began my idea of the Street Level Influencer, I had no idea how positive people would respond to it! I’m excited that it struck a chord with people. Remember, the Street Level Influencer is a reminder that everyone has the ability to radiate positive light in the world around them, and light is brighter when surrounded by shadows.

    So far in the series, I have introduced you to:

    1. Kirk Hamsher
    2. Kristy Freewalt
    3. Sue Oswalt
    4. Okie Smith
    5. John Newton
    6. Olga Piehler
    7. Blake Quinlan
    8. James Woods
    9. Anthony Eaton
    10. Jane Murtaugh
    11. Rhonda Owens
    12. Dan Huber

    This next individual I spoke with is incredibly awesome. I had followed Shenise on social media for a while, but I was inspired to reach out to her after seeing a Tweet from Claire Petrie:

    I was in a little rut, and Claire’s Tweet came at the perfect time. COVID was starting to finally take its toll on me. Continued work pressures, family turmoil, and societal problems – all that came ahead one year into the pandemic, social injustice, and societal instability. I was feeling it, like so many others.

    After seeing Claire’s tweet, however, I thought, I need to talk to Shenise – that smile from Claire is too awesome, meaning Providence is telling me that Shenise is someone I need to chat with.

    So, I reached out to her, and she graciously said “let’s do it!” We set up a Zoom chat, and after a few reschedules, we connected. It was such an amazing conversation. Shenise’s energy is infectious. I felt such a vibe from her, that I wanted to spread it to the HR Community and beyond!

    I cannot thank Shenise enough. She likely doesn’t know what that conversation meant to me. To connect with someone so real, uninhibited, positive – it reenergized me. She is a sweet person, who deserves all the great things that come her way!

    So, without further ado, here is Shenise’s story!

    1. So, you’re a well experienced HR pro! Why do you do HR?

    Despite sometimes thankless roles and efforts, HR combines some things that I innately enjoy – people, business, efficiency, and evolution.  As a teenager, I did not know exactly what I would do, but I knew it would be business. And before it was common phrasing, I knew nothing worked without people.  And yet most important for me is that I enjoy supporting people in being their best selves. In HR, it allows me to work in that space. Whether I am helping leaders figure out their workforce and succession plans for better strategic alignment, assisting an employee with a career development path, discussing sometimes overlooked/forgotten benefits options, or providing system updates/integrations to make work easier, I like to see people succeed.

    2. Currently, you are in career transition. What are you looking for in your next role? How will you know the next role is right for you? 

    First, let me highlight that I am blessed to have worked in a variety of areas within HR. I point that out because there are a few directions that I would enjoy taking, so I won’t narrow it to a title. What’s important to me regardless of the role is the ability to use a variety of my skills (talent management, organizational development, etc.), as well as working in partnership. How will I know? Do we ever really know? What I hope is that there will be good communication, a team-orientation, alignment and partnership between HR and leadership across the organization, and an aim towards work-life balance. All of this must be accompanied by a culture that believes in and invests in its people as a measure of success.

    3. A lot of what you just discuss hit home. Along those lines, how would you define being a “good HR leader?”

    In my humble opinion, a good HR leader understands the need to function in multiple roles. Sometimes you direct, other times you mediate, and sometimes you coach. There are others, but this is a short interview [smile]. Good HR leaders also attempt to learn their business. We often follow best practices, but the applicability, implementation, impact can be so varied. What is done at a software company may not be a good fit in banking. And what is done in a global product company may not work for a service company serving a small city. Then there’s agility.  Anyone that has worked in HR knows that no two days are exactly the same. So the ability to somehow pivot and maintain focus in sometimes a matter of hours is critical.  None of this is really important, unless its someone with integrity, that communicates, values people, supports opportunity, and allows some grace, so that people want to follow.

    4. Agility and applicability are such overlooked words at times, or people use them and don’t apply (pun intended). So glad you brought that up! HR is a challenging profession, in that, we likely get too much blame and not enough credit when things go wrong or well, respectively. Have you had a particular story that you’re comfortable sharing to describe how you overcame a challenging situation?

    I’ve done payroll, change management and been responsible for various approvals…I have tons of stories (laugh).  My experience in general is that most reasonable people are less upset when they are informed. “Ma’am, I understand you’re upset, unfortunately, you did not get paid because we have not received any paperwork to know you’re working.”  “Sir, we do not think you are racist.  We are committed to creating equal opportunities for employment so we will need to advertise in some additional places, which may take more time.”  “Yes, this is an additional item on your already full plate.  I know that your success is important and this is a way to make sure we gather your input on behalf of your department.  I’d be happy to provide some suggestions or act a sounding board so that you can work through it most efficiently.”  When people are upset, I always remember its not really about me, I am transparent as the opportunity allows, and I offer what I can to make sure they know they are not alone.

    5. Great point about not taking things personal. People’s behaviors are more often than not about them and not about you or me. As a Black woman in the HR profession, what do you feel HR professionals can do better to promote BIPOC professionals in the workplace?

    First, let me say that I am not a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) expert.  What I can say is that no component of the trifecta has true long-term positive impact without the other.  As HR professionals, we have to look at our organizations and identify where the experience and opportunities are different and ask why.  And after digging into the causes ask the questions that find the solutions.  Why aren’t our applicant pools diverse? Why do we only have one minority or veteran or person with a disability in last quarter’s hires?  What do the social activities for onboarding look like?  Are they really professional or do they demonstrate some cultural or socioeconomic preference?  Might they be contrary to someone’s religious beliefs? What assumptions, conversations, resources are there that may impact performance for better or for worse?  When are professionally beneficial collaborations really happening? Who’s there? Who is interacting just before and after meetings? Why? Who is listening? Ultimately, we have to become comfortable with initiating uncomfortable conversations and really delving into why leaders are making decisions that may cause disparate impact.  We have to be proactive in learning about experiences that may be different from ours. Those from underrepresented groups need allies that challenge people to consider them and the value of what they contribute when decision makers are simply relying on what worked last time. And allies in less than diverse populations should seek these opportunities out.  If an organization is genuinely aiming to build a diverse, equitable and inclusive work place, people have to feel comfortable discussing their challenges with us as HR professionals and we have to be courageous enough to highlight things even if the person impeding this progress is a “really a good person.”  This is by no means an all-inclusive list.  It’s the cliff’s notes of the short list. But let’s at least get started and ask for support along the way. 

    6. You ask A LOT of great hard hitting questions all HR professionals must be mindful of. Have you seen progress towards more meaningful inclusion efforts over your career, last several years, last several months? How much further is left to go in your mind for HR professionals to be true advocates for workplace equality?

    Collectively, I do not sense much progress has been made, but I don’t know the numbers. I do know that I’ve talked with HR people that see the challenges, but don’t have leadership that support corrective action. I also know HR people in organizations that are so understaffed that they probably miss things that are not blatantly overt or highlighted by collective complaint. While there are many HR professionals that are proactively making change, there are still so many not empowered.  With that said, I am encouraged when I interact with people such as yourself, that care and push for progress through voice, decision and action.

    7. That’s a tough pill to swallow, and society in America has A LONG way to go. Thank you for being so open and honest. We need that more than ever, and we need to normalize it. On a more lighter note, who’s one person in your network that readers should know about?

    I have a variety of people in my network with all types of talents and wisdom. I would say that who readers should know is all about where they are on their professional evolution. So they’re all valuable.

    8. All the more reason to connect with you and see who is in your network! What do you feel is HR’s biggest challenge going to be over the next six months?

    Oh the challenges will be many. Organizations are navigating (or choosing by inaction) differently, so I think within the near future it will generally be addressing the long-term impacts of the pandemic. The ability to be agile, will definitely determine how quickly organizations can move beyond survival mode. For those in industries that require on-site workers, the next phase of challenge will likely be the implementation and enforcement of safety protocols. In the United States, there were generally some mass restrictions and requirements. But as states remove mandates and vaccinations become available to more individuals, organizations will have to create legally enforceable policies that both protect workers’ safety and freedoms.  Given the varied opinions on the pandemic, vaccinations and liberties, I imagine this will be an arduous task for many. 

    What I will be most interested to see is the how the employment market plays out. Traditionally, we would say, unemployment is high – it’s an employers’ market. But is it really the traditional landscape? Pre-pandemic, it was highlighted that there were jobs that could not be filled by the unemployed because the jobs didn’t match their skillsets. Now, we have both employees and employers that have performed better using remote or hybrid working models. And you have some of those groups that have no intention of returning to the previous model. Then you have those out of necessity, preference, or lack of agility that will be eagerly returning to organizational sites. What happens when the employer path and employee path don’t match? How hard will it be to keep or hire employees to come to site when your employment competitors allow remote work? Or, the reverse if they prefer on-site? One could suggest that employees will make changes based on preference and it will appear as a swap. But that assumes that the jobs and skill set are a similar match. If not, we could potentially see the pre-pandemic challenge exacerbated.  In addition to policy changes, new vacancies, larger candidate pools, and increased competition for top talent, HR should likely prepare for changes to onboarding and training. This is not just for individual contributors, but also for managers who may need more development in managing remote and/or hybrid teams.

    9.  Your answers are so insightful and thoughtful. I appreciate you taking the time to share your perspective. This has been wonderful! How can people connect with you?

    The quickest way to reach me is via Twitter @HRShenise.

    10.  Last question, but, much like Captain America, I could do this all day! What’s one thing you think the world should know about you – personal or professional? Have fun with this one!

    I am dynamic. I really think that all people are, but there are some of us that are more comfortable not fitting into the box. I understand that initially people mentally create “boxes” to classify, to understand what we perceive. But we should never really presume that what we see is all there is or even that our perception is accurate. I can’t tell you how many times people said, “I thought you…”, “Well, I know you…”, or “You’re probably thinking…” and were wrong about me. I question and politely correct, but how often are the assumptions unvoiced? When we engage with people from a space that doesn’t put any of our restrictions on who they should/could be, (of course in my realm they have to be respectful) it allows them to engage authentically. Some of my best friends and most beneficial connections have evolved from this space. A space that allows both of us and our realities to evolve.  And we see that no one really fits the little boxes…and I have no desire to squeeze in.

    That is so incredibly Stoic of you, Shenise! Dear reads, please go and connect with her now! You won’t regret it!

    HR Philosopher – Street Level Influencer: Dan Huber

    Dan Huber, Co-Founder of the HR Hot Seat, Milwaukee Chapter.

    Many of us have people in our lives, who, when introducing us to their network, we proclaim “Any friend of _____ is a friend of mine!” For me, that person is Erich Kurschat. He seems to attract such a diverse set of individuals to his networking circle.

    Recently, I got text from Erich asking if he could introduce me to Dan Huber. He said Dan was looking to expand his horizons, so I told Erich – “Any friend of Erich is a friend of mine” and said please make the introduction!

    So, Dan and I hopped on a Zoom call and got to talking! I was instantly drawn to Dan’s warm personality. We discussed growing up in the Chicagoland area, and his job at Breakthru Beverage Group, which distributes liquor and beer in the region. We discussed Binny’s Beverage Depot, which is a Chicagoland staple for craft beer lovers!

    What really drew me to Dan, however, was his passion for the Human Resources profession despite never having been in HR! He told me that prior to relocating, he became active in Erich’s endeavor the HR Hot Seat.

    The HR Hot Seat was designed “to move the human resources discipline forward” through a network of active and diverse HR professionals as a safe space to gather and discuss issues in a “collaborative environment of trust, support, honesty, integrity, and respect.”

    The HR Host Seat has grown over the last several years from a small Chicago based group to include over ten chapters in five states.

    This is where Dan comes in. He started the newest HR Hot Seat Chapter in Milwaukee, WI earlier this month!

    Actually, it’s pronounced “mill-e-wah-que” which is Algonquin for “the good land.”

    But… I digress…

    As Dan and I discussed his venture, I was impressed by his zeal for promoting the HR profession and building a support system for those struggling in transition. I was especially wide-eyed when he said they plan on setting up a special fund to allow HR professionals in transition to apply for funding to take certification or education courses to brush up on their skills.

    This is truly a selfless effort, and it’s one I wanted to share with my own network. SO, without further ado, let me introduce you to Dan Huber!

    So, Dan, please tell me about the organization you currently work at and what your role is.

    I work for zizzl-Benefits consulting and payroll firm in Milwaukee. I am a Sales Executive with the company. It’s a family business and our mission is to help companies manage their healthcare and/or payroll costs. My uncle tapped me for this role. I feel very strongly in what the company stands for and how we can help our clients better provide for their employees.

    Tell me why you wanted to start an HR Hot Seat chapter in the Milwaukee Area.

    I felt that the pandemic made it nearly impossible for HR Pro’s to network. There is such a void currently in the area, and I talked to many who were looking for a networking group that offered more. So, I felt a mastermind group where we could have tangible conversations with tangible tactical advice was necessary. I just wanted to help support HR professionals with the resources they need and connect those looking for jobs with the right opportunities.

    As a non-HR professional, why do you feel it’s so important to support HR pros? What draws you to doing what you do to encourage the profession?

    In my profession I work with HR professionals every day. I have found so many professionals struggling during the pandemic that I finally had enough and wanted to create a resource where they can get real tactical advice.

    As a son who grew up with a single parent (mother) who supported 2 sons and put them through college as a Kindergarten teacher, I can’t help but feel the same about some HR professionals, who have a lack of resources. I am drawn to help them and create this group so I can give back and leave things better than I found it for others.

    HR is a challenging profession, in that, we likely get too much blame and not enough credit when things go wrong or well, respectively. Have you had a particular experience with HR that had you become a supporter of the profession?

    I have always been a supporter for HR professionals but feel that today’s environment has really accelerated my support with the challenges it has provided many of your and our peers. What really made me turn to action was when I spoke with an HR professional in the beginning of the pandemic. I asked her how she was doing personally and how I could help. She replied “If I were a drinker, I would be at the end of a bottle right now.” That response was telling, so it gave me more urgency to make the HR Hot Seat happen.

    Please elaborate on your vision for the HR Hot Seat. I am especially impressed by your idea to create a “grant program” for HR pros in transition, so they can obtain certification or other continuing educational opportunities.

    Really, I am looking to build off the success of the Chicago chapter I knew more intimately. The goal of the HR Hot Seat is to “establish a community of HR pros who are committed to helping one another grow, build, innovate, achieve, and serve.” I saw firsthand the benefits of this promise, so felt it was time to move on it. As far as the grant program, we’re proud of this imitative. We will be looking to raise money for a scholarship funds for those who do not have the means to obtain important HR certifications for career growth. Members will also have access to a wide network of HR pros to ask for advice and for future career opportunities in our community.

    Who’s one person in your network that readers should know about?

    Folks need to connect with Dan Freschi, who is co-founder of our Milwaukee HR Hot Seat chapter. He’s an awesome dude with tons of HR knowledge and experience.

    Who is one person — historic, famous, or personal — who inspires you to be better? Why and how?

    Tim Ferris. His podcast allows me the opportunity to learn from those who have made a positive impact in their industry and community. I am a BIG fan and never miss an episode.

    What do you feel is HR’s biggest challenge going to be over the next six months?

    I’m see two distinct yet interconnected things, and neither should be a surprise to any seasoned HR professional. It’s the rising cost of healthcare and other benefits and trying to retain your best talent. I think the pandemic has exasperated some of the underlaying problems, but my clients keep voicing the challenge trying to offering quality health insurance and creating attractive benefit packages for obtaining and retaining talent. I have some ideas on how to fix it, but that’s for another interview.

    How can people connect with you?

    The best ways to get ahold of me are through my email at Dan@zizzl.com any my personal  LinkedIn account.

    What’s one thing you think the world should know about you – personal or professional? Have fun with this one!

    That I am a husband to my beautiful wife Jackie and father to 2-year-old son Sammy. Oh, and we’re expecting baby number two soon! Hope she doesn’t mind this article being our reveal! Our family and friends already know, but we were going to make a general announcement soon anyway! 😊

    Black History Lessons: Why HR Needs to Study the Past

    “You must unlearn what you have learned.” – Yoda

    “Truth is powerful and it prevails.” – Sojourner Truth

    “History is philosophy teaching by example.” – Thucydides

    Some of my earliest memories of my Grandpa Bob are of me sitting with him watching the History Channel – back when it actually showed history. We would watch any World War II documentary we could. As we watched, he told me about his experiences as a young boy in Chicago during WWII. His brother, my great uncle Pete, moved to Portland, Oregon, to help build ships for the war effort. My grandpa, being far too young to enlist or build war machines, stayed home to endure food rationing, citywide raid blackouts, and news of family and friends perishing in faraway lands fighting fascism, imperialism, and racism.

    My love of history grew from these earliest memories. So did my love affair with American history and all the traits that came with it. Exceptionalism, manifest destiny, rugged individualism, self-made millionaires, patriotism. As all American schoolchildren are taught from day one of kindergarten – America is the greatest country in the history of mankind with liberty ad justice for all. We’re better because of these aforementioned traits. Wear the red, white, and blue proudly for nothing can be better.

    Except, those traits, while indeed making America what is is today, are certainly a type of baggage, and they are at best an exaggeration and at worst outright lies.

    History is a funny thing. It is written by the winners, as the saying goes, and who are the ultimate winners of American history? Anglo-Saxons from England. The same Anglo-Saxons who simultaneously fought fascism, imperialism, and racism while committing the same crimes behind the very thin veil of feigned superiority – sometimes ironic, always ignored.

    Perfection is a double-edged sword. It is negative, yet it adds value in a world that is not perfect. Nothing is perfect, and yet perfectionism is a standard we have to keep in front of us to let us know what we could be if we aspire to be better – if only little by little every day. (Yes, I know it’s more complicated than that).

    However, this is America. An imperfect model of perfectionism. Fascism? Not in America! That’s Italy! Imperialism? Not in America! That’s Japan! Racism? Not in America! That’s Germany!

    Never mind that many of FDR’s policies were the pure definition of fascism – much more Zeitgeist in the 1930s than we care to admit. Don’t pay attention to Manifest Destiny! That’s not the same thing as imperialism. Ignore Slavery, Jim Crowe, and Separate but Equal – oh and while we’re at it, ignore the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese Internment Camps, and the Indian Removal Act.

    I’ve been trying to find words that are meaningful in a small attempt to honor Black History Month and how it can influence the HR profession in a reflective way. I’ve stated on social media platforms multiple times that Black History is American history. There is no “White” history without “Black” history in these United States, and most certainly vice versa. They are linked, and the textbooks and classrooms have done their best to hide that from students.

    As part of my history library, I have a book called Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen. It’s a classic originally published in 1995 with several reedits in 2008 and 2019. This past week I scoured over two chapters in particular to remind myself of history that was kept from almost every American school child.

    “Gone With the Wind:” The Invisibility of Racism in American History Textbooks and John Brown and Abraham Lincoln: The Invisibility of Antiracism in American History Textbooks were incredibly powerful chapters detailing how American history is mostly unknown to Americans – Whites and Blacks alike and everyone in between.

    This next passage in particular jolted me. I believe the times we are currently living in helped grant me better context and understanding I otherwise never could have seen. Loewen recalls a story when he was presenting Reconstruction to his mostly Black students at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. He was amazed at how many students thought Blacks failed in local government after slavery was abolished because they were Black, not because of the interference from racist former Confederates (and complicit northerners tired of Reconstruction policy).

    “For young African Americans to believe such a hurtful myth about their past seemed tragic. It invited them to doubt their own capability, since their race had ‘messed up’ in its one appearance on American history’s center stage. It also invited them to conclude that it is only right that whites be always in control. Yet my students had merely learned what their textbooks had taught them. Like almost all Americans who finished high school before the 1970s, they had encountered the Confederate myth of Reconstruction in their American history classes.” (pg. 157, 2008 edition)

    Loewen continues by explaining the “Nadir of American Race Relations,” the period between roughly 1890 and 1940 when Blacks were re-relegated to second class citizenship and American race relations were at an all time low. Racism was not hidden or veiled. Racism was unabashedly open for all to see.

    And the world did seeAmerican racism influenced Hitler, and apartheid was influenced by segregation. These facts are not as well-known as they should be in America, or if they are, Americans pretend to not know.

    The nadir, in part, came about once White northerners abandoned Reconstruction efforts in the decades following the Civil War. Whether they were tired of the fight, worried about other things like economic struggles, or caved to racism, matters not. Whites in the north had an opportunity to do the right thing, and ultimately, their inability to do so caused one of the great shames in American history that continues to negatively affect society today.

    “The nadir left African Americans in a dilemma,” Loewen writes. “An ‘exodus’ to form new black communities in the West did not lead to real reform. Migration north led only to segregated urban ghettoes. … Many African Americans lost hope; family instability and crime increased. This period of American life, not slavery, marked the beginning of what some social scientists have called the ‘tangle of pathology’ in African American society.” (pg. 161-167)

    Tangle of Pathology” is a phrase from the famed Moynihan Report that helped launch many of the War on Poverty Initiatives during the Johnson Administration in the 1960s. The report remains controversial to this day, but it’s well worth a read.

    Low Black morale, low self-worth, family structures damaged, no hope, high crime – Loewen was talking about these things that came about during the nadir, but if you read that today, wouldn’t you think it was written about contemporary America in some way?

    This is one reason why modern day “Black Pride” posts on social media are so powerful and in many ways necessary. For years, Blacks have been taught in American classrooms that their race had nothing to be prideful about – no accomplishments worth celebrating. Blacks had no special skills, were not as smart as Whites, and needed Whites to protect and guide them. As we continue down our own national reckoning, many are learning this isn’t the case and never has been the case. Blacks have contributed positively to this Country in so many ways in spite of the racism that hung over their head like Damocles’ sword.

    What does this have to do with HR? Everything. The latest trend in HR is to recognize (finally?) that HR is people work. Workplaces are a direct reflection of society. They mirror one another. That’s why it’s so important to see posts about Black doctors, Black inventors, Black CEOs, and Black superheroes. For our entire history, Americans have been taught that Blacks couldn’t be any of those things! HR can be the voice in the room that helps push workplace systems towards equity and belonging. HR is an ally that can push cultural and policy initiatives to allow structures for Black success – not to be a reason for their success because many Blacks don’t need that help, per say. They just need what everyone else needs – structural support. HR needs to fight to create the workplace structures necessary for success, ensure that all have access to those structures, and then get out of the way. Many Black professionals have succeeded in the past and present despite overwhelming systemic roadblocks. HR has a sacred duty to help remove those roadblocks and move aside.

    If society and work reflect one another, then the Black experience in every day American life is part of the Black experience in everyday work. Loewen discusses how racism kept Blacks out of unions, stripped them of their federal jobs (like post deliverers or patent office workers), and relegated many to the fringes of employability. While today is undeniably better, this doesn’t mean Black Americans have it great at work.

    A simple Google search for “black americans bias at work” yields about 72,900,000 results in 0.49 seconds. Workplace biasdiscrimination, and hostility are all very real and happen daily despite White denial of such acts. While Black slaves were emancipated 158 years ago, their lives were daily battles for life, liberty, and happiness. Many were forcefully kept from those basic tenants of the American ideal. Today, the Black community STILL deals with this daily battle, even if the terms and conditions look somewhat different. It’s no wonder that Black self-esteem and self-worth have been eroded for decades upon decades. It is why Blacks showcase Black success with so much pride and zeal. Blacks have been told for generations by their history textbooks that their race is too stupid, too backwards to become doctors, or engineers, or successful. That myth continues to be devastating, yet it’s being chipped away piece by piece. Follow any Black professional on LinkedIn, and you’ll see how wrong that lie has been.

    Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius once thanked his teacher, Rusticus, for instilling in him the notion that reading to “get the gist” of something isn’t enough. It’s lazy and patronizing. We must read carefully, deeply, and attentively to truly understand. This is why a deeper reading of American history is so important – not just for HR practitioners – but for all Americans.

    HR practitioners NEED to know history to be better at our jobs. Until I began to dive into the Mariana Trench of lost racist American history, it didn’t click. HR pros NEED to understand why Title VII exists, why the EEOC exists, why ERGs exist, why DEI principles exist. Not a high-level understanding to get the gist that “diversity is good and leads to better numbers!” That’s true but shallow. These policies and programs exist because throughout American history policies and programs existed for the exact opposite reasons – to keep Blacks OUT of American life – specifically White American life.

    This is why Black History Month exists. To celebrate the incredible contributions Blacks have made to this country and our society. It also exists to remind us that many Whites did all they could to keep them from contributing. Separate but equal was NEVER about the latter and always about the former.

    The overall point of this post is to present a different perspective to HR professionals (and hopefully anyone else curious enough to read it) about how history can make use better at our jobs, more understanding of our roles. It wasn’t to necessarily present a “how-to.” I am not necessarily the expert on that. I can tell you what I do and have done over my years as an HR professional, but Google is a powerful tool. Typing “psychological safety for blacks at work” yielded over 4 million hits. If anything, Google, learn, implement. Do what is right NOW because so many before us did not.

    So, HR professionals, pick up a book and read deeply about true American history. It will make you better, and just as importantly it will make work better for so many, especially Black colleagues, if you implement the wisdom gained into tangible action.

    I want to finish this by saying we have a long way to go unfortunately. Racism is so deeply engrained in the American psyche, and Lies My Teacher Told Me only reinforced that with me.

    In a prior professional life, part of my job was designing bus routes. Public transit is vital to low income, elderly, and disabled persons. After designing a new route that would lead to better access for disadvantaged groups, the “bus stop” signs began going up. A few days later an official called me to discuss a complaint they received. A woman called to complain that a bus stop was placed in front of her house. She expressed her displeasure about the usual public transit complaint nonsense – property taxes, noise, traffic, etc. None of this is true. But what made her complaint anger me the most was when she told the official that she didn’t want “those people” getting on and off in front of her house near her children. “Those people?” We both knew what that meant. “Those people” only meant one thing – “criminal” Blacks that lived on the undesirable part of town. In this racist’s mind, the public transit system was only used by “those people” so they could get to the good parts of town to cause trouble. “Those people” certainly didn’t need access to jobs or the supermarket. They needed to remain on their side of town, which, not coincidentally, had no employment centers or food centers. I asked the official if they called her out on that comment, and regrettably, but predictably, they said “no” claiming it wouldn’t have helped the situation. I was disappointed in that response, but not surprised.

    The lesson of this story is deep – the official didn’t call out racism so racism was allowed to proceed unchecked. I personally learned a hard lesson, that silence is acceptance, but it changed me. It might not be outright transparent racist policy anymore, like making undesirables ride the back of the bus, but it’s still racism when someone fights to ensure opportunities exist for some and not all.

    I love my Grandpa Bob. He’s a funny, smart, well rounded Southside Chicagoan at heart. (Quick aside, Chicago – a northern city – is one of the most segregated cities in all the US). He taught me many things, one of the most important being that history is important. It’s just not treated as such. Learn history, become uncomfortable. Learning the true history of America doesn’t negate the inspiration that America has been. It helps us better move towards embodying those ideals laid out in the Grand Experiment that we’ve failed to embody up to this point. The only way to become what we can be is to let go of what we truly are.

    It’s long past time that White America acknowledges and accepts our racist history. Only then can we adapt. Acknowledging doesn’t make us bad people. It makes us good people. In America, the sins of the Father or Mother aren’t passed down to the Son or the Daughter – with the caveat that the Children recognizes those sins and takes steps to correct them. We may not have caused the Great Sins of the past, but we MUST take action to correct their long term outcomes. We must continue to aspire – everyday. Even if it’s little by little. Eventually, America can realize the promise it set out to achieve – life, liberty, happiness for all people.

    HR professionals can be leaders in this space by doing the right thing. Acknowledge. Accept. And act.

    Panel Preview: Why Discuss The Obstacle Is the Way?

    “The only reason to study philosophy is to become a better person.” – Ryan Holiday

    On Thursday February 25th, my friends and colleagues Olga Piehler, Carlos Escobar, Erich Kurschat, and I are putting on a FREE Pop-Up Roundtable to discuss the book The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday. I hope you join us! It will turn a traditional roundtable on its head!

    We are all GEEKED about this event, and we know it will be valuable to those who read and have not read the book! Registration link is at the end of this blog post.

    That’s what this blog is about.

    In the 6th grade, I had a teacher named Mr. Brabbits. He was a purposeful man, who enjoyed teaching. He had a habit of giving his students nicknames – mine being “Professor.” At the time I liked it but had no idea how consequential that name would be on my life!

    Isn’t that usually the case? How we are treated and talked to by those around us has a profound impact on our futures far beyond what we see and what those who talk to us see. A young Black boy, for example, is told that he’s incredible talented at biology, and is nicknamed Doc. And so he decides he CAN be a doctor! But I digress….

    Professor. It’s something that has stuck with me, at least internally, since the 6th grade. That name to me meant I was smart. It meant I was academic. It meant I could learn, and that people wanted to learn from me! Professors have something to say and something to teach. It meant someone else saw those things in me.

    That’s a lot of positivity coming from one little word. Other people believing in you can be a catalyst for believing in yourself.

    Briefly, I did ultimately get the title of “Professor” when I was an adjunct at a local community college, but other than that, I never became a “professor” in the traditional sense. I do believe; however, I achieved a more important title due to my continued interest in learning and growing, which was sparked by that nickname. I believe that title is Philosopher!

    Why is that important? Because unlike a professor, anyone can be a philosopher. Philosophy is about becoming a better person, not just a smarter one. Studying wisdom is an action. Philosophers take words from pages and put them into practice in their daily lives for the goal of changing oneself – and by extension, the world – for the better.

    So, in essence, any time someone tries to be a better person, they are a philosopher. You reading this now are likely trying to find some sense of new information, a sense of new wisdom, or idea. YOU are a philosopher, whether you know it or not.

    Wisdom isn’t always lofty, complicated, or extravagant. Wisdom is often times simple – deceptively simple.

    This is The Obstacle Is the Way. The title comes from a passage in Marcus Aurelius’ private journal, which is known to posterity as The Meditations – a cornerstone of Stoic philosophical study.

    “That which is an impediment to action is turned to advance the action. The obstacle on the path becomes the way.”

    The theory is that every obstacle contains the necessary components for us to ultimately overcome and triumph. Our greatest challenges can be turned into our greatest successes!

    Here are my five favorite passages form the book.

    • Practice Objectivity. “It’s so much better to see things as they truly, actually are, not as we’ve made them in our minds.” – page 34
    • Live in the Present Moment. “Remember that this moment is not your life; it’s just a moment in your life.” – page 48
    • Do Your Job, Do It Right. “Everything we do matters…. How you do anything is how you can do everything.” – Page 97
    • Love Everything That Happens: Amor Fati. “To do great things, we need to be able to endure tragedy and setbacks. We’ve got to love what we do and all that it entails, good and bad. We have to learn to find joy in every single thing that happens.” – page 151
    • Postscript: You’re Now a Philosopher. Congratulations! “You may not see yourself as a philosopher… [but] you are a person of action…. The essence of philosophy is action – in making good on the ability to turn the obstacle upside down with our minds. Understanding our problems for what’s within them and the greater context. To see things philosophically and act accordingly.” – page 184

    The philosophy – wisdom – presented within is timeless, borderless, and profound. It is so profound that it deeply affects millions of people who read the book, including Olga, Carlos, and Erich. In fact, it affected us so much, we’ve often discussed this book one on one, but then thought, why not bring it to our wider network, who may or may not have read the book and want to discuss more!

    So, we decided to grow our small discussions into a larger interactive one for an audience. We bring to life the spirit of the Plaka and Stoa Poikile of Ancient Athens, the Forum of Ancient Rome, or the philosophical discussions during the Hundred Schools of Thought period!

    Know that YOU are a philosopher. Battle whatever preconceived biases you have about what it means to be a philosopher. Philosophy is NOT about being a gray bearded man sitting in a classroom pondering the greatest mysteries known to man.

    Being a philosopher is about becoming a better person. It’s studying wisdom in ALL its forms from ALL its sources and turning those words into action. Are you working to be a better person? You are a philosopher.

    So, please, join us to hear and discuss new ideas, old ideas – the key being ideas.

    Register for FREE at: bit.ly/obstaclepanel