A House Divided

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”—Abraham Lincoln.

I was thinking of Lincoln last week as I watched news coverage of the historic House vote on impeachment.

As member after member rose and went on record for or against, we saw the stark and dark divisions in our country laid bare for all to see. Of course, it was nothing new. We see it every single day and have seen it for years.

And I thought of Lincoln. And whether our better angels have departed for good.

Presidential historian Jon Meacham reminds us that we have been through worse and have always come back and for sure we have. But I have this nagging feeling that somehow what we’re seeing is different.

And I thought of Lincoln.

I went to the Internet to re-read his “House Divided” speech. I hadn’t read it in decades, since I was in school.

The House Divided Speech was delivered on June 16, 1858, at what was then the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, after Lincoln had accepted the Illinois Republican Party’s nomination to run for the U.S. Senate.

The speech became the launching point for his unsuccessful campaign for the seat, held by Stephen A. Douglas; the campaign would climax with the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858.

At the time, even Lincoln’s friends regarded his speech as too radical for the occasion.

But when you read it, you can’t help but feel that it is tame by today’s standards. The language is almost poetic, the writing is outstanding and while he argues passionately against slavery it is devoid of personal attacks. Instead it is full of ideas and optimism.

It concludes with the following line: “We shall not fail — if we stand firm, we shall not fail.”

It is vintage Lincoln, acknowledging the high stakes and the possibility of failure, but ultimately ending on an optimistic note.

I don’t see that optimism today. That belief that things are going to get better, that problems are going to be solved and divisions will be repaired.

Not on the international stage where a teenager chastises the world’s leaders for doing nothing to save the environment and not on the national stage where we see a constant barrage of attacks, lies and accusations. Even locally, we see a ton of negativity especially on social media which can be a cesspool.

In such a world, is there a place for our better angels to make a stand?
Are people willing to put the world, nation and their own community ahead of their tribe?

What will it take for good people to rise up and say enough is enough?
Do we sit idly by as standards and rules that seemed to work for so long get obliterated?

Or will we continue to bicker and watch the heat and anger rise and take us to ever more dangerous places?

It’s a fundamental choice to make, but the path to something better is not clear.

As a hyperlocal blog, I invite you to cruise some local Facebook pages and see what you find.

It seems like almost every post that has to do with local government attracts a large share of cynicism and snark.

Pebb Capital, a fine firm with a deep track record of success in real estate, ponies up a whopping $40 million to buy the Sundy House and the first comment you see is a cynical prediction that the historic structures will be bulldozed and the historic neighborhood trashed. Followed by comments such as “Delray is shot,” no longer charming or in the least appealing. Really? Is that true?

Should we be concerned about historic properties? Of course. But there doesn’t seem to be any trust in the process or in the officials responsible for enforcing the city’s codes and land development rules.

In reality, with Pebb Capital in town, we will actually see the long-awaited investment promised. We won’t ever see 10 story buildings downtown and if you want to see real traffic try navigating Glades Road after 4 p.m.

To be sure, there is plenty to be concerned about in Delray and I have written extensively on those topics. I will note that you only spend time on the things you care about. So when we see columns on instability at City Hall, poor leadership, a lack of long term thinking, incivility, the lack of talent attracted to public service and rising rents downtown it’s not coming from a nasty place but from a love of this community and a desire to see it thrive and be a happy place. I hope the other comments I referenced on Facebook come from that place too. Sometimes I have my doubts.

While fixing the national scene may be a bridge too far, we can always start at home.

Groups like WiseTribe offer a great template for building community.

Another suggestion is to go back to the old playbook.

Delray made significant strides beginning in the late 80s when the city began to offer a slew of ways for citizens to get engaged. From citizen police academies and resident academies to visioning charrettes and neighborhood dinners, there was a concerted effort to find, recruit and bring citizens to the public square so they could work together and building a better city.

It worked.

As important as those initiatives were, they may be even more important today. We cannot let social media be the only or even the primary way for citizens to engage. For sure, there is a place for Facebook. But it is a poor replacement for face to face meetings and social media does not provide a meaningful way to facilitate important conversations.

It’s hard to demonize someone sitting across a table from you, but very easy to do so on Facebook, especially since the platform allows for the use of fake identities.

Sometimes the old fashioned ways are best; face to face conversations still have a place in our hyper connected world. If we lose the ability to relate to our neighbors we will lose the common ground that builds community and with it our sense of belonging.

 

Those Great, Good Places

Found this shot of Ken and Hazel’s on Newspaper.com

I’m a member of my hometown page on Facebook.

It’s a combination of great photos, obituaries, current news and nostalgia.

It’s a great way to stay in touch and reminisce.

Recently, someone created a hugely popular post listing old businesses.

The post went viral and has attracted scores of responses as the list of “great old places” keeps growing; old pizza places that we loved, long shuttered department stores, delis, record stores (remember those?), grocers, movie theaters (when one screen was the rule and a triplex was a big deal), bowling alleys, florists and sub shops (or were they hero, grinder or sandwich shops?)I can’t remember.

The post was a great walk through the past. And it’s still going on.

Which got me thinking of some great old businesses that once inhabited this place.

Now admittedly, my history only dates to the summer of ‘87 but that’s 30 plus years— enough to have seen a few things come and go.
So here’s my list. Feel free to add.

Burger Chin, the Arcade Tap Room, Ken and Hazel’s, the Patio Delray, Costin’s Florist, Mercer Wenzel, AE George and Sons, Clay and Hy’s Boutique, Damianos, Splendid Blendeds, Bob Miller State Farm Insurance, Sefa, The Phoenix, Sopra, Delray TV, Pierce Tire, The Rod and Gun, Dirty Moe’s, Liberties, Louie Louie’s, Tryst, Sal’s Sporting Goods, The Trellis Shop, the Seagull Shop, Tom’s Ribs, Club Boca, Taco Viva, the Delray Mall, Webster’s, Jefferson’s, the Boca Mall, Mervyn’s, Pete’s, D Train, Locos Only, Elwood’s, Las Hadas, Pineapple Grill, Hoot, Toot & Whistle, Gillis & Sons and The Annex. Whew.
You get the drift…
Great places all..at least as I remember them.

 

Failure Versus Success

“The only ones who fear failure are those who have never tasted it.” – Simon Sinek

Bessemer Ventures is a terrific Venture Capital firm.

They’ve had a lot of hits (Yelp, Pinterest, Linked In) and quite a few misses.

Such as not investing in Facebook.

Here’s how Bessemer explains its failure to see the potential in founders Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin:

“Jeremy Levine (a Bessemer partner) spent a weekend at a corporate retreat in the summer of 2004 dodging persistent Harvard undergrad Eduardo Saverin’s rabid pitch. Finally, cornered in a lunch line, Jeremy delivered some sage advice. ‘Kid, haven’t you heard of Friendster? Move on. It’s over!’”

This week, Facebook’s market cap was approaching $606 billion—that’s billion with a B ($$$$).

I don’t know how many of us are prepared to reckon so openly (and humorously) with mistakes or let alone share them with the world.

But the truth is, if we are honest, we all miss from time to time.

I recently read an article by Bill Taylor, a founder of Fast Company magazine, who suggests that to be a better leader we ought to put together a “failure resume.”

It sounds a little odd, but the point is we often learn more from our failures than our successes.

I think that’s true, but only if we are self-aware and take the time to delve into why something didn’t work. Sometimes it’s hard to examine a failure, because failing can be painful and costly both emotionally and financially.

But if we remember that success is never final and failure is hardly ever fatal, we may be encouraged to take a deeper look at ventures that didn’t quite pan out.

As an entrepreneur, I have had some hits (admittedly minor, but I’m still swinging) and many misses.

As someone who works with a phenomenally successful entrepreneur, we have also had our share of hits (some really good ones) and some misses (it happens).

As a civic entrepreneur (aka a former elected official), there are a few votes I regret but many more (fortunately) that I’m proud of. I say fortunate because unlike business, where you can usually come back to fight another day, in politics once you’ve cast your vote, you can’t get it back.

So anyway, because I like and respect Bill Taylor and have read him for years, I thought I would sit on the couch one night and take his advice. I did my “failure resume” while watching “The Bachelorette”, which some would say should be added to my failure list. So here goes…

We failed to save the old Boca News—(although we did manage keep it alive long enough to sell it).

This was a high degree of difficulty mission since the paper struggled when Knight Ridder owned it and really struggled when they sold it, leaving us without a deep pocketed corporate parent. It was a painful exercise to keep afloat until it sold, because we had to let a lot of really good people go and those faces are forever etched in my mind.

For four years, I had some successes and some misses with a brand consultancy that helped companies bring their product to market.

We got a few clients shelf space nationally, but the amount of work we were doing (relative to the fees we were generating didn’t add up). What I failed to consider was that each start-up considered their product their baby (as they should). As a result, there was never enough attention we could pay to any one client that matched their expectations. We made some money, but we pulled the plug.

My first two entrepreneurial ventures also failed despite enjoying some early success.

As a young journalist, my colleagues and I approached my parent company with an idea—could we start a sports publication that would cover everything from youth sports to adult rec leagues?

Our corporate parent, called us “intrapreneurs” because they partnered with us on our effort, providing sales,  if we produced, designed and distributed the paper which we called “Boca Raton Sportscene.”

I still think it was a good idea and readers loved it but….we were charged expenses (printing $$$) and being less than sophisticated negotiators we got killed. It was only when I eventually left to start my own—successful publishing company (finally! a win)—did I realize that we were being charged how should I say it…aggressively.

But I learned a lesson and I relished the opportunity I was given. It also stoked my desires to give it a go on my own. And so I did. But before I left, I also ghost wrote books for clients, including custom biographies—again we were profitable but if you added the time versus the compensation well let’s just say I’d be better off doing just about anything else.

Since then, there have been real estate deals, hot sauce, beverages, more newspapers, events, consulting gigs, my own book, race horses, investments in other ventures, a magazine etc. etc.

Luckily, a few ideas worked. But they were all really challenging.

That’s why I admire entrepreneurs and creatives—because it’s hard work and it’s always uncertain.

I’ve been under capitalized and well capitalized, I’ve worked with experienced people and some.. ahem… others. I’ve seen great ideas crash and burn and some ideas I thought were questionable break through. In my mind, that’s the fun of it all.

So consider a failure resume, because once you lay it out there you might realize that those failures actually led to your successes.

 

#TroubleBrewing

Seems mighty tempting at times.

There’s a growing sentiment that tech companies are spiraling out of control these days.
There’s even a hashtag expressing the sentiment: #techlash.

Facebook is being questioned around the world for its role in sowing electoral discontent and losing control of  its user’s personal data. As a result, its stock has tumbled this week.
Twitter has been assailed for bullying and misogyny and Google and YouTube have had to answer questions about questionable search results and ads from less than savory groups populating it’s platforms.
It’s enough to make you want to live off the grid like my old commission teammate and dear friend Bob Costin.

At way over 6 feet tall we called Bob the “high commissioner” and often joked that he violated Delray’s strict height limits.
Bob was a wonderful commissioner with a terrific sense of humor but he and the Internet weren’t acquainted.

He didn’t have email, didn’t read documents online and if you wanted to talk to him you had to do it the old fashioned way: call him or visit his table at the old Green Owl.
He was there most mornings by 10 a.m.
Ahh..the good old days.
But my point is during my time in office 2000-07, if you wanted to vent you had to email, call or make an appointment.

Prior commissions—pre email—would eagerly await snail mail from their neighbors; so if you wanted to opine you had to write a letter, find an envelope, buy a stamp and look up an address before you could put your thoughts in front your mayor or commissioner.

Today, we have Facebook and other social media platforms where a robust debate rages 24-7 and city politics are a hot topic.

There’s no filter. No fact checkers. No obligation at all to be civil– short of threatening bodily harm which may get you booted—eventually.
It’s changed the game.

As  a result, lots of people don’t want to subject themselves to the abuse, bullying, misinformation and vitriol shelled out by a wide variety of charmers and so they don’t participate in local politics.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have rarely if ever visited most local Facebook pages devoted to Delray politics and recently opted out of one page I was a “member” of. I won’t judge those who indulge, I just don’t want to.

If the platforms featured intelligent debate, I might feel differently.

But what I saw during the recent election cycle was something less than intelligent or interesting.

What did I see?  Anger, division, polarization, innuendo, lies, attacks, hatred.
We should be better than this.
We need to be better than this.
Truth be told, I saw some kindness too. But the ratio of mean to nice is not even close.
And so I’m out.

I will continue to enjoy Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linked In for other things such as sharing pictures of my dogs and birds, promoting local causes and businesses that I like, reading and sharing interesting articles and staying in touch with old friends, favorite teachers and distant relatives.

As for my old friend Bob Costin: he called me in the days leading up to the election blissfully unaware of the toxicity on the Internet.
He’s still not online. He still doesn’t have email.

And he still uses his favorite line when asked why: “my modem is down” before breaking into a laugh I’ve grown to love and cherish.
But despite Bob’s conscious decision to keep his modem on ice, he’s very much rooted in modern life. He’s up on the news (through newspapers), embraces change and is always fun and interesting to talk to.
He was a progressive commissioner back in the day, open to new ideas and had a few of his own as well.

He told me no candidate contacted him before the election. He wasn’t complaining just stating a fact.

But I thought to myself ‘what a shame’ because Bob has so much to share.
And it made me think that at least locally, we ought to make an effort to connect face to face.

We used to have town hall meetings, charettes, neighborhood dinners, community visioning sessions, citizen goal setting workshops and even roasts.
These are the things that build community.

This is why efforts such as WiseTribe, Creative Mornings, Old School Square, Chambers of Commerce, festivals, green markets and pet parades are so important.
It’s harder to demonize someone standing in front of you. It’s easy to do so online.

And if you can’t demonize someone you may find that there is common ground amidst the very real differences. Or at the very least, we may realize that those differences are heartfelt and honest –rooted in beliefs  sincerely held.

Social media has its place. But when it starts to erode community and humanity, count me out.
I think I will stick to pictures of my dogs sleeping and videos of my birds singing.
It feels a whole lot safer this way.

Finding the Signal in the Noise

It can get noisy out there.

It can get noisy out there.

Like many things, social media has its pluses and minuses.

I suspect I’m like many when I say I enjoy Facebook for the convenience of being able to stay in touch with a wide variety of friends and family that I wouldn’t have been able to without the ease of social media.

From former work colleagues and classmates to neighbors and far flung family, Facebook enables me to catch glimpses of their lives and to share snippets of mine (mostly dog pics). It makes me feel at least nominally connected to people I care about but in all honesty would never have time to call, take to lunch or visit. (It also enabled me to discover a fantastic song called “Debris” by the Faces, thanks to music guru Steve Martel).

But there’s also a dark side to social media—where trolls, cyber bullies, rumors and outright lies thrive.

On balance, I’ll take the bad because I think the upside and potential of social media far outweighs the negative.

The good, bad and ugly of social media is being debated loudly these days in the wake of the strangest and most divisive election most of us have ever seen. I assiduously avoid national politics on my Facebook page but many of my friends on both sides of the gaping divide had a field day this cycle.

I watched in real time long standing relationships blow up over posts and comments and it saddened me.

I suspect a few Thanksgiving celebrations may have different rosters as a result of social media posts.

And it’s not just national elections that get us overheated. Local politics is also rife with anger and recrimination.

I keep an eye on this page in Boca that can get lively. I’ll shield the names to protect the innocent, but this was an exchange last week regarding a luxury hotel coming to town.

It follows a typical pattern.

Someone expresses happiness that a project is coming.

Someone else quickly replies that the project stinks, will ruin the city forever and create traffic jams.

The person, who was happy a second ago, replies that his neighbor should move if they don’t like what’s happening. This is a pattern and usually it’s not a polite: “why don’t you consider a locale where you might find bliss” suggestion; nope it’s typically a variation of “shut up and move if you don’t like it.”

And now we are off to the races: fighting words like whining, greed and moron are exchanged and we descend from there until it finally burns out only to be rekindled when someone else joins in and expresses an opinion about how things “used to be” or the need for one thing or another. It’s exhausting and I’m not sure what it all adds up to.

Did we learn something?

Did we solve anything?

I think there’s some value in expression, but this kind of stuff hardly qualifies as dialogue.

I just finished an interesting book: “I’m right and you’re an Idiot” which explains why people get dug in and offers some insights into how to bridge divides and achieve some measure of civility and compromise.

One giant takeaway is that “facts” hardly matter—oh sure some people will change their mind if presented with evidence, but many won’t regardless of how much you throw at them. People do respond to stories and emotion, but typically once they adopt a narrative and a world view it’s hard to budge them. Social media only amplifies that human trait.

I think social media is an amazing tool for a public official or anyone in a leadership position. I think if you are in office you should be using social media to connect to constituents and to explain your positions and also solicit input. But it is NOT a substitute for face to face human interaction and real life interaction.

A lot is lost online—we’ve all been burned by email, text messages and social media posts—because we can’t see body language or ask for clarification like we can when we are face to face.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, as I’ve seen families fight and friends “defriend” and “block” each other.

Social media platforms have had an odd response to this difficult and complex environment.

Twitter has suspended accounts and has been blasted for doing so. The service says it is ridding the platform of hate speech; those who have been booted are crying censorship.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has argued that “false news” (like the Pope endorsing Trump which was shared, liked and cited thousands of times) didn’t have an impact—in the next breath he’s selling advertising on his site because of its ability to influence decisions. Sorry, you can’t have it both ways. And yes, Facebook ads work. I can personally attest because I have sold a few books with Facebook ads and we have sold a bunch of hot sauce and beverages by promoting our brands on the site. Like it or not, Facebook is our water cooler these days. It matters.

I would just caution that we don’t limit all of our interactions to social media—there’s still room for meet ups, coffee with friends, group discussions etc. With augmented and virtual reality coming fast, we better leave room for face to face old-fashioned conversation.

We may not ever agree on whether a Mandarin Hotel is the right thing—but it’s not as easy to call someone a moron when he or she is sitting right in front of you.

 

 

 

 

A Woman Of Grace

Julia Kadel

Julia Kadel

I believe in serendipity.

So I was having a sad Tuesday—nothing fatal or even particularly meaningful—just the blah’s when I got a Facebook notification from my friend and neighbor Julia Kadel.

Julia and Jeff live around the block from us and their oldest son is best friends with one of our boys. They grew up together. He’s family and we love him.

So just as I was taking a break and reading more bad news about the Middle East over a boring sandwich, I clicked on the Facebook link and saw a link to a video that you can see in this post.

Take a few minutes and watch. I promise you it’s worth it.

Ok, pretty moving wasn’t it? And impressive too.

Julia and Jeff are the founders of The Miracle League, which last year celebrated a decade of ensuring that all children can play baseball regardless of their ability. For over 10 years, the Miracle League Association has made it possible for children all over the country with physical and mental disabilities to achieve the same dream as their healthy peers – to play ball.

The kids play on a cushioned synthetic turf to help prevent injuries, and the league has wheelchair accessible dugouts and a completely flat surface to eliminate any barriers to the wheelchair bound or visually impaired. Thanks to the Kadel family, all kids in our community can play the great game of baseball.

A decade ago, the Kadel’s approached the City Commission with a heartfelt and passionate plea to help them create a Miracle League field in Delray Beach. I was mayor at the time and all of us had tears in our eyes when Julia got done speaking. We gave them some seed money and told them we would love to see the Miracle League build a field at Miller Park. Within months I was throwing out the first pitch. The league has been going strong ever since.

With help from private donors, scores of volunteers and assistance from the county and other groups Julia, Jeff, their kids and others have made it happen and brought joy to children and families that simply cannot be measured.

At the heart of the effort is Julia…always Julia.

She’s filled with passion, boundless energy and goodness. She’s just a beautiful person.

A woman of grace.

I stole that term from the Bethesda Hospital Foundation which recently awarded Julia that coveted honor. How fitting– because she epitomizes the word.

Whenever the chips are down or there is need in this community or beyond, the Kadel’s are there to volunteer. When Tropical Storm Sandy devastated Julia’s native New Jersey, she and her family packed the SUV and drove off to help for weeks at a time. Her giving isn’t passive and it’s not for show. It’s from the heart and she’s an example for all of us.

We talk a lot about being a “village” in Delray but frankly sometimes I open my Facebook app with apprehension because parts of the social media landscape can be a sewer full of lies, garbage, petty complaints, threats and various forms of adult bullying. I ignore it. You should too. But social media more to offer;  it’s filled with good stuff too.

I can connect with my cousin in California, my sister in law in Pittsburgh, my high school friends, my favorite elementary school teacher and people that I have worked with throughout my career and it’s a joy to have even a tenuous connection—to see their kids, their dogs, their vacations etc.

And sometimes on a blah Tuesday, a beautiful soul such as Julia can “tag” you and share a video that will make your heart swell because there are people like her in the world doing really good things for other people. Lord knows there’s enough people doing harm in the world.

Watch the video. Give to the Miracle League. Brighten someone else’s day. It’s easy to make it rain in someone else’s life, but it’s also easy to make others smile and much more meaningful to roll up your sleeves and help those who need you.

Thanks, Julia. You are goodness personified and a community treasure.

Visit http://miracleleaguepalmbeachcounty.com/ for more information or to get involved.