I will never forget Bowling Alone (Simon & Schuster, 2001). It remains the most depressing book we have presented at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.
It contained chart after chart, page after page, of the demise of civic, social, religious, and fraternal groups in America. All of it was true. If you were a fan of those groups, you hated seeing reality in your face.
That book was written by Robert Putnam. He receives high praise from his employer, the Department of Government at Harvard University: “Robert D. Putnam is the Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard, where he teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses, and is the 2013-14 Distinguished Visiting Professor at Aarhus University (Denmark). Professor Putnam is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a Fellow of the British Academy, and past president of the American Political Science Association. In 2006, Putnam received the Skytte Prize, the world’s highest accolade for a political scientist, and in 2012, he received the National Humanities Medal, the nation’s highest honor for contributions to the humanities. Raised in a small town in the Midwest and educated at Swarthmore, Oxford, and Yale, he has served as Dean of the Kennedy School of Government. The London Sunday Times has called him “the most influential academic in the world today.”
Since that one, he has authored two other books that did not enjoy the same imprint:
Better Together: Restoring the American Community – co-authored with Lewis Feldstein (Simon & Schuster, 2004)
American Grace: How Religion Unites and Divides Us – co-authored with David Campbell (Simon & Schuster, 2012)
- #24 in Books
- #1 in Books > History > Americas > United States
- #1 in Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Politics & Government > Public Affairs & Policy > Social Policy
- #1 in Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Politics & Government > Public Affairs & Policy > Economic Policy
What is this one about? Classes in America do exist. And, they have an impact in many areas of our lives. Members of lower classes have great difficulty competing with members of classes above them. This book does not simply give that idea – it develops and documents it.
You can read a full review of the book by Jason DeParle published in the New York Times on March 4, 2015 by clicking here. A key phrase from that review gives a clue: “…the state of upward mobility. Widening income gaps, he argues, have brought profound but underappreciated changes to family life, neighborhoods and schools in ways that give big advantages to children at the top and make it ever harder for those below to work their way up.”
As with his previous best-seller, reality may not be pretty. It is not fun to recognize what is actually true.
I don’t know what month we will present this one, or who will deliver it. But, we have waited for a blockbuster by Putnam for quite some time.
Here it is. Look for an announcement about it in our advertising in the months to come.
Let’s begin with the obvious. It is possible to treat someone in a belittling manner. Let’s acknowledge that we can speak with a tone, and words, of ridicule.
And let’s acknowledge this: there is nothing positive about these practices. Nothing. It does not build anyone up, it does not bring out the best in people, it does not enhance productivity, it does not nurture community.
And since it is possible to belittle, to ridicule, then we all know someone who is an expert at such practices. In fact, you – yes, you, the one reading this blog post – might be practicing the slimy art of belittling and ridicule yourself.
Those are my thoughts prompted by a short, simple, to the point tweet from Tom Peters. Here is his tweet:
Consultant called in for exec retreat. Enters, goes to white board, writes “DON’T BELITTLE;” turns and walks out. (YES!!!)
Now, I do not know why this slimy art seems to be on the rise (but I think it is). I might point to our toxic attack environment seen especially in talk radio, and overall lack of civility. I do know that some people who are very good at belittling and ridicule are making a lot of money practicing their craft.
In a Slate.com article It’s Not the Job Market: The three real reasons why Americans are more anxious than ever before by Taylor Clark, we find a reminder that we are increasingly more isolated than ever before:
America’s increasing loss of community, what we might call the “Bowling Alone” effect. Human contact and kinship help alleviate anxiety (our evolutionary ancestors, of course, were always safer in numbers), yet as we leave family behind to migrate all over the country, often settling in insular suburbs where our closest pal is our plasma-screen TV, we miss out on this all-important element of in-person connection.
Maybe this isolation makes us more willing to just treat people badly.
But, I think this really does need to be addressed, attacked, stopped. Or, as the management consultant quoted by Peters put it, “DON’T’ BELITTLE!,” maybe we all need to just start walking out of the room, start walking away from the people who do it, until they stop.
Remember this simple and powerful reminder from Kouzes and Pozner:
Honored and not diminished. That’s how we all want to feel.
James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Pozner: Encouraging the Heart: A Leaders Guide to Rewarding and Encouraging Others.
Here is the article, up to the list of the top seven. The article lists many others, by decade. Admittedly it is, as all lists, subjective. Kevin Kelly posted it on his CoolTools blog. I have not read all of these seven, and they are definitely going into my “to read” stack.
The Best Magazine Articles Ever
The following are suggestions for the best magazine articles (in English) ever. Stars denote how many times a correspondent has suggested it. Submitter comments are in italics.
This is a work in progress. It is an on-going list of suggestions collectively made by readers of this post. At this point the list has not been vetted or selected by me. In fact, other than the original five items I suggested, all of the articles mentioned here have been recommended by someone other than me. (Although I used to edit Wired magazine none of the articles from Wired were suggested by me or anyone who worked at Wired. I also did not suggest my own pieces.)
This list is incomplete though it is getting quite long. You may notice that your favorite author or piece is missing. This is easy to fix. Simply recommend your favorite magazine articles to me via email: . Or if your favorite article is already listed, use the same form to recommend it in order to elevate it to the “top”. At some point in a few weeks I’ll close the nominations.
The Top Seven Articles Based on the number of times an article is recommended
****** David Foster Wallace, “Federer As Religious Experience.” The New York Times, Play Magazine, August 20, 2006.
***** David Foster Wallace, “Consider the Lobster.” Gourmet Magazine, Aug 2004.
***** Neal Stephenson, “Mother Earth, Mother Board: Wiring the Planet.” Wired, December 1996. On laying trans-oceanic fiber optic cable.
****** Gay Talese, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.” Esquire, April 1966.
**** Ron Rosenbaum, “Secrets of the Little Blue Box.” Esquire, October 1971. The first and best account of telephone hackers, more amazing than you might believe.
**** Jon Krakauer, “Death of an Innocent: How Christopher McCandless Lost His Way in the Wilds.” Outside Magazine, January 1993. Article that became Into the Wild.
**** Edward Jay Epstein, “Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?” Atlantic Magazine, February 1982. Diamonds, De Beers, monopoly & marketing.
Andrew Sullivan recommended this article, As We May Think by Vannevar Bush from the July 1945 issue of the Atlantic, and included this quote:
Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and, to coin one at random, “memex” will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.
And I would include the original articles (both led to books) The Long Tail by Chris Anderson and Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam. And, of course, I would remind our readers that we link to the Malcom Gladwell and Atul Gawande archives, which you can find always on the right side of our blog.
And I would also recommend the David Halberstam article from the July, 1969 Harper’s, The Very Expensive Education of McGeorge Bundy.
Now, here is something strange.
When people need to find work, which a whole lot of people need to find right now, they need to absolutely become world-class net-workers. They need to be the networking energizer bunny. They need to “Never Eat Alone” (Keith Ferrazzi’s book), they need to meet new people every week, and go to as many events as possible.
And they do – for a while. But there comes this moment, this horrible moment, when they simply can no longer face having to utter the words: “no progress yet.”
Thus, they withdraw – just when they need to keep engaging.
I’ve seen this. I think of someone who is so very gifted, talented, skilled. Well educated, with so much to offer. His department was shut down. His company cut workers, including him. And after a long while, he said (I’m paraphrasing): “I just don’t want to be around those people who are successful, having to admit, or really even to face the fact, that I have not gotten back to the top.”
This story (and I suspect many of us know others with similar stories) is now being written about. Here are paragraphs from a recent column by Doyle McManus, Great Recession’s Psychological Fallout — From lower birthrates to decreased civic participation and volunteerism, economic downturns have many non-economic effects:
But here’s something more surprising: As the recession deepens, participation in civic activities — community organizations, volunteer groups, even church attendance and social clubs — is likely to drop. Sociologists once assumed that during hard times people would naturally band together, if only to protest their plight or to give each other solace. It turns out that the opposite is true: Economic distress causes people to withdraw.
“Rather than get together and hold community meetings or march in protest, the effect of unemployment in the Great Depression was to cause people to hunker down,” said Robert D. Putnam, the Harvard sociologist whose book, “Bowling Alone,” examines Americans’ civic engagement in the 20th century. “We found exactly the same thing in the recessions of the 1970s and 1980s … and I’m pretty confident we’ll see the same pattern in this recession too.”
And according to the experts cited in this column, the really disturbing part of this may be that many of the people who withdraw never fully re-engage. The disengagement may be permanent – it may last a lifetime. Maybe they have “learned,” or simply think that, “what’s the use, it’s going to collapse again soon anyway.”
By the way, this is a problem for middle-aged folks “in transition,” and for current graduates from top universities and graduate schools. For example, one nationally regarded Law School has implemented a new “long career launch” program, in which they provide recent graduates “salaries” (small salaries) to work in jobs for a few months. In other words, they have jobs, but the law school is providing the salaries through the company/agency that “hires” the law school graduates. This is a help to the graduates; this gives them something to do. But it also keeps the law school from dropping in the rankings (the rankings are based, partly, on percentage of graduates who do find work). And here is a note about the “mood:” on that campus, the most feared question is this: “Do you know what you will be doing?”
I have no simple solution to this problem. But if you are struggling during this downturn, and you find yourself disengaging, try your best to fight it. It really is ok to say, “nope, no progress yet. But I’ll keep trying.” Because, I assure you, you really are not alone. There are a whole lot of people in the same boat that you are in.
And we realize, ever more clearly, that a long bout of trying to get back on your feet can lead to real self-esteem issues. (Duh!). I have written about a related part of this struggle in my post A Jobless Recovery and a Slip Down Maslow’s Hierarchy.
I do not presume to give advice to anyone. But I have read and heard that one key is to be sure to “go to work everyday,” even if going to work is just sending our more resumes for the umpteenth time, and going to that next gathering for networking purposes.
When Paul Harvey went back to work after one of his bouts of serious illness, he remarked to his engineer in his studio, which was at his home, that things just did not feel right yet. His engineer said something like this: “Mr. Harvey, you’re not dressing for work. You’re recording your programs in your pajamas and robe. I think if you dressed for work, you’d feel better about things.” So he did – and he did.
Maybe working in your pajamas on a regular basis is not such a smart idea after all. Just a thought… And, if your need is to keep your name out there, and network like the energizer bunny, then you may have to dress and show up for work, even if you don’t want to. Remember the brilliant advice from Dr. J:
“Being a professional is doing the things you love to do on the days you don’t feel like doing them.” (Julius Erving).
Change it a little: “being a professional is doing the things you need to do on the days you don’t feel like doing them.”