I’m Good Enough to be Better

While struggling with my mother’s “you will be a great man” programming (see “On Being ‘Great,’”) my therapist, Rebecca Crabb, Ph.D., suggested I check out a TED Talk on vulnerability. Weeks later, a Google search led me to “The Power of Vulnerability”  by Brene Brown. When I noted that it had received 21 million views since it was posted in June 2010 (the fourth most popular TED Talk of all time), my hopes increased. While reading the transcript, I sensed my timing was fortuitous.

I had one or two disagreements with some of her statements, including “Connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.” Connection is not our only purpose. It’s also a means to other, deeper ends.

But overall the talk rang true. While reading it, I copied the following excerpts:

• Shame is really easily understood as the fear of disconnection: Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection?
• What underpinned this shame, this “I’m not good enough…”?
• In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.
• The people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging.
• Whole-hearted people, living from this deep sense of worthiness.
• What they had in common was a sense of courage.
• The courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others.
• And the last was they had connection, and — this was the hard part — as a result of authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were.
• The other thing that they had in common was this: They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful.
• They’re willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out.
• Stop controlling and predicting.
• We numb vulnerability.
• You cannot selectively numb emotion.
• The other thing we do is we make everything that’s uncertain certain.
• To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee.
• And the last, which I think is probably the most important, is to believe that we’re enough.

The next day I posted to Facebook:

I went to sleep saying to myself, “I am good enough,” and woke up after a good eight-hour sleep with the same thought on my mind. If I can maintain that attitude, I will be like a new person, transformed, evolved to a higher level. As I argued in “On Being ‘Great,” I’ve concluded that we cannot rank people in terms of how good they are, because we can’t totally put ourselves in others’ shoes, read their minds, or see their souls. I can only say, “I am a good person, and I can be a better person.” (None of us are perfect.) Also, I cannot rank people because I grew up in a dysfunctional family and tend to circulate with others who did as well. Undoing, partially, the damage that my family and our society inflicted on me has required great effort. How much more progress I can achieve remains to be seen.

In my taxi, I’ve encountered many families and couples who appear to be remarkably healthy. My impression is that people who’ve been raised in healthy families associate with others who’ve had the same experience. This segregation makes it even harder to compare and rank people in terms of how evolved they are.

But the bottom line is that any such differences, even if we could measure them, would be relatively insignificant, for what we have in common, our humanity, is much more important.

That post received 17 “likes” (many times more than my posts normally receive), one share (which is unusual), and comments from Steven Pak, “Wow! What’ a great thought with great impression and admiration…,” and Justice St Rain, “I’m a big fan of affirmations. Paraphrasing the sacred text is a good way to super-charge an affirmation. For example ‘I was created Noble.’”

Later, I posted:

If I am “good enough,” I need not worry about what others think about me. I can trust that I will act compassionately, doing the best I can, for good reasons…. I may want others to do something and ask them to do it, in which case I will be careful about what I say and try to be effective. But I need not NEED them to do what I want for the sake of my own self-validation. So if they say no, I need not take it personally and feel hurt. I can trust they are doing what they need to do…. And if they have something to say to me, I will try to listen and respond compassionately and learn from their feedback how to be more effective. But if they are silent, I need not pull their comments out of them in order to reassure myself. I can relax and trust myself…. And if I end up without a soulful face-to-face connection, then I will be alone but not lonely.

Several days later, I reported on these reflections to a friend who resonated with them and told me that when she was growing up, her mother often told her, “What others think of you is none of your business.”

When I posted that comment, one friend commented, “True, unless one is being a total jerk. Then it SHOULD be your business. Saw this first-hand on a Muni bus the other night.”

I replied, “If another is violating the rights of another, an intervention to stop it is justified. Whether that requires trying to analyze why they are doing it or what they think about me is another matter. I tend to think not.”

Another friend responded, “Sounds like words of great wisdom to me. Do you think she was talking about psychiatrists?” Thinking that therapy tends to involve trying to read others’ minds (it’s hard enough to know my own), I replied, “It may well undermine the typical therapy dynamic.”

It’s only been a week, but the “I am good enough” insight prompted by that TED Talk seems to be holding. My mood has been more consistently positive, and I do seek constancy. Feeling less pressure to prove myself (to myself and others) and worrying less what others think about me has been liberating.

I still believe in personal growth, however, and see no contradiction between the two perspectives. So, believing it’s possible to hold both at the same time, I’ve modified the maxim to read, “I’m good enough to be better.”

Raising a Moral Child

Moral ChildBy Adam Grant

What does it take to be a good parent? We know some of the tricks for teaching kids to become high achievers. For example, research suggests that when parents praise effort rather than ability, children develop a stronger work ethic and become more motivated.

Yet although some parents live vicariously through their children’s accomplishments, success is not the No. 1 priority for most parents. We’re much more concerned about our children becoming kind, compassionate and helpful. Surveys reveal that in the United States, parents from European, Asian, Hispanic and African ethnic groups all place far greater importance on caring than achievement. These patterns hold around the world: When people in 50 countries were asked to report their guiding principles in life, the value that mattered most was not achievement, but caring.

Are some children simply good-natured — or not? For the past decade, I’ve been studying the surprising success of people who frequently help others without any strings attached. As the father of two daughters and a son, I’ve become increasingly curious about how these generous tendencies develop.

Genetic twin studies suggest that anywhere from a quarter to more than half of our propensity to be giving and caring is inherited. That leaves a lot of room for nurture, and the evidence on how parents raise kind and compassionate children flies in the face of what many of even the most well-intentioned parents do in praising good behavior, responding to bad behavior, and communicating their values.

By age 2, children experience some moral emotions — feelings triggered by right and wrong. To reinforce caring as the right behavior, research indicates, praise is more effective than rewards. Rewards run the risk of leading children to be kind only when a carrot is offered, whereas praise communicates that sharing is intrinsically worthwhile for its own sake. But what kind of praise should we give when our children show early signs of generosity?

Many parents believe it’s important to compliment the behavior, not the child — that way, the child learns to repeat the behavior. Indeed, I know one couple who are careful to say, “That was such a helpful thing to do,” instead of, “You’re a helpful person.”

But is that the right approach? In a clever experiment, the researchers Joan E. Grusec and Erica Redler set out to investigate what happens when we commend generous behavior versus generous character. After 7- and 8-year-olds won marbles and donated some to poor children, the experimenter remarked, “Gee, you shared quite a bit.”

The researchers randomly assigned the children to receive different types of praise. For some of the children, they praised the action: “It was good that you gave some of your marbles to those poor children. Yes, that was a nice and helpful thing to do.” For others, they praised the character behind the action: “I guess you’re the kind of person who likes to help others whenever you can. Yes, you are a very nice and helpful person.”

A couple of weeks later, when faced with more opportunities to give and share, the children were much more generous after their character had been praised than after their actions had been. Praising their character helped them internalize it as part of their identities. The children learned who they were from observing their own actions: I am a helpful person. This dovetails with new research led by the psychologist Christopher J. Bryan, who finds that for moral behaviors, nouns work better than verbs. To get 3- to 6-year-olds to help with a task, rather than inviting them “to help,” it was 22 to 29 percent more effective to encourage them to “be a helper.” Cheating was cut in halfwhen instead of, “Please don’t cheat,” participants were told, “Please don’t be a cheater.” When our actions become a reflection of our character, we lean more heavily toward the moral and generous choices. Over time it can become part of us.

Praise appears to be particularly influential in the critical periods when children develop a stronger sense of identity. When the researchers Joan E. Grusec and Erica Redler praised the character of 5-year-olds, any benefits that may have emerged didn’t have a lasting impact: They may have been too young to internalize moral character as part of a stable sense of self. And by the time children turned 10, the differences between praising character and praising actions vanished: Both were effective. Tying generosity to character appears to matter most around age 8, when children may be starting to crystallize notions of identity.

Praise in response to good behavior may be half the battle, but our responses to bad behavior have consequences, too. When children cause harm, they typically feel one of two moral emotions: shame or guilt. Despite the common belief that these emotions are interchangeable, research led by the psychologist June Price Tangneyreveals that they have very different causes and consequences.

Shame is the feeling that I am a bad person, whereas guilt is the feeling that I have done a bad thing. Shame is a negative judgment about the core self, which is devastating: Shame makes children feel small and worthless, and they respond either by lashing out at the target or escaping the situation altogether. In contrast, guilt is a negative judgment about an action, which can be repaired by good behavior. When children feel guilt, they tend to experience remorse and regret, empathize with the person they have harmed, and aim to make it right.

In one study spearheaded by the psychologist Karen Caplovitz Barrett, parents rated their toddlers’ tendencies to experience shame and guilt at home. The toddlers received a rag doll, and the leg fell off while they were playing with it alone. The shame-prone toddlers avoided the researcher and did not volunteer that they broke the doll. The guilt-prone toddlers were more likely to fix the doll, approach the experimenter, and explain what happened. The ashamed toddlers were avoiders; the guilty toddlers were amenders.

If we want our children to care about others, we need to teach them to feel guilt rather than shame when they misbehave. In a review of research on emotions and moral development, the psychologist Nancy Eisenberg suggests that shame emerges when parents express anger, withdraw their love, or try to assert their power through threats of punishment: Children may begin to believe that they are bad people. Fearing this effect, some parents fail to exercise discipline at all, which can hinder the development of strong moral standards.

The most effective response to bad behavior is to express disappointment. According to independent reviews by ProfessorEisenberg and David R. Shaffer, parents raise caring children by expressing disappointment and explaining why the behavior was wrong, how it affected others, and how they can rectify the situation. This enables children to develop standards for judging their actions, feelings of empathy and responsibility for others, and a sense of moral identity, which are conducive to becoming a helpful person. The beauty of expressing disappointment is that it communicates disapproval of the bad behavior, coupled with high expectations and the potential for improvement: “You’re a good person, even if you did a bad thing, and I know you can do better.”

As powerful as it is to criticize bad behavior and praise good character, raising a generous child involves more than waiting for opportunities to react to the actions of our children. As parents, we want to be proactive in communicating our values to our children. Yet many of us do this the wrong way.

In a classic experiment, the psychologist J. Philippe Rushton gave 140 elementary- and middle-school-age children tokens for winning a game, which they could keep entirely or donate some to a child in poverty. They first watched a teacher figure play the game either selfishly or generously, and then preach to them the value of taking, giving or neither. The adult’s influence was significant: Actions spoke louder than words. When the adult behaved selfishly, children followed suit. The words didn’t make much difference — children gave fewer tokens after observing the adult’s selfish actions, regardless of whether the adult verbally advocated selfishness or generosity. When the adult acted generously, students gave the same amount whether generosity was preached or not — they donated 85 percent more than the norm in both cases. When the adult preached selfishness, even after the adult acted generously, the students still gave 49 percent more than the norm. Children learn generosity not by listening to what their role models say, but by observing what they do.

To test whether these role-modeling effects persisted over time, two months later researchers observed the children playing the game again. Would the modeling or the preaching influence whether the children gave — and would they even remember it from two months earlier?

The most generous children were those who watched the teacher give but not say anything. Two months later, these children were 31 percent more generous than those who observed the same behavior but also heard it preached. The message from this research is loud and clear: If you don’t model generosity, preaching it may not help in the short run, and in the long run, preaching is less effective than giving while saying nothing at all.

People often believe that character causes action, but when it comes to producing moral children, we need to remember that action also shapes character. As the psychologist Karl Weick is fond of asking, “How can I know who I am until I see what I do? How can I know what I value until I see where I walk?”


Adam Grant is a professor of management and psychology at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the author of “Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success.”

Originally published by The New York Times on April 11, 2014. On April 14, it was #1 on the list of most emailed articles.

Why Compassionate Politics

Self GiantsBy Wade Lee Hudson

From time to time I ask total strangers about their impressions of the progressive movement. Thus far, without exception, their concerns about certain weaknesses in that movement echo my own.

Last week a young woman got into my taxi and asked what had just happened with the weekly Monday-night protest about the recent killing of a man at a BART subway station by a police officer. I reported that the organizers of the protests had decided to stop disrupting BART service and instead simply distribute leaflets. She replied with a comment about how such disruptions are no way to gain public support.

I said, “Yes. You wonder why it took them so long to figure that out. But when I was young and stupid I took that approach myself.”

She responded, “So did I when I was in college.”

“What issues did you work on?”

“Issues related to education.”

“Are you still engaged in activism?”

“No. I’m not.”

“Do you wish you were?”

“Yes, I definitely do.”

“What might prompt you or encourage you to get engaged?”

“I’m not sure. That’s a good question.”

Then after a long silence during which she seemed to reflect on that question, I asked, “Is there something about the approach taken by activists that discourages you?”

With strong feeling she immediately responded, “Yes. Self-righteousness. Seeing everything in black and white. Taking the hard line.”

I then told her about my own work on these issues and she thanked me profusely for asking her those questions. She then talked about having volunteered in a program for homeless children but having got burned out after devoting several hours a week to that stressful project.

As she left my taxi, she thanked me again for my questions and said she’d be thinking about them.

Two nights later, another passenger initiated a conversation about the Sixties. She commented on how there is less activism today and people seem more “self-protective.” She said she was still somewhat active.

When I asked her if there is something about how activists operate that discourages non-activists from becoming active, she quickly said, “Adopting a very angry and antagonistic stance, rather than one that is positive and proactive.”

Those interactions reveal real problems with traditional activism and touch on tensions that are difficult to resolve. On the one hand, passionate true believers with a hard line can recruit enough people to launch a project and get media attention. Soon, however, they reach a plateau and find they need more support from the mainstream in order to change public policy, but their militant methods alienate the mainstream, whose support is critical.

My interest is with encouraging the development of new strategies that could attract disaffected concerned individuals like my taxi passengers and greatly increase the number of people engaged in activism. My goal is not to persuade militants to change. They have a role to play. Liberals and radicals need each other.

Recently I’ve focused on “compassionate politics” with an emphasis on achieving long-term systemic transformation through steady short-term incremental reforms. To my mind, to transform our social system, we must simultaneously change our institutions, our cultures, and ourselves. This process therefore necessarily involves ongoing personal growth, which many consider spiritual.

One form of self-improvement that seems critical to address is the arrogance to which my taxi passengers referred.

It is my belief that activist organizations need to consciously foster the growth of supportive communities that are clearly, explicitly dedicated to self-development as well as political action.

But finding progressive-minded people with whom I can collaborate on these issues is not easy. With their focus on the outer world of public policy, progressive political activists largely ignore the inner world of spirit and feelings and build organizations that are impersonal machines. They seem to think that their passion and their ideas will suffice.

And individuals who are engaged in personal or spiritual development shy away from politics.

So I’m beginning to seriously wonder if I should shift my methodology somehow. I’m definitely open to new ideas.

Many political activists are becoming more open about their dedication to personal/spiritual growth. Perhaps some day these seeds will bloom and caring progressive communities dedicated to both personal growth and political action will flourish.


I published a slightly different version of this essay on Wade’s Weekly on September 4, 2011.

Inequality, Compassion, and Teamwork

Participation Inequality 90 9 1Does Rising Inequality Make Us Hardhearted?

This bifurcation – conservative in theory, liberal in practice – suggests that by using broad terms with liberal ideological connotations like “inequality,” “more widely shared” growth and “decreased mobility,” Obama risks activating voters’ “theoretical” conservatism, as opposed to a strategy that stresses specifics in non-ideological terms, a kind of practical liberalism: raising the minimum wage, raising tax rates on unearned income, job training, early education…. A switch to an ideology founded on redistribution, with economic justice as its core principle, would require a major upheaval, the likes of which we have not seen for some time.


New G.M. Chief Is Company Woman, Born to It

…Ms. Barra is hardly a flamboyant figure at the company. She is known inside G.M. as a consensus builder who calls her staff together on a moment’s notice to brainstorm on pressing issues….

In a commencement speech last summer to students at her alma mater, the G.M.-sponsored Kettering University in Flint, Mich., she summarized her inclusive management style. “Problems don’t go away when you ignore them — they get bigger,” she said. “In my experience, it is much better to get the right people together, to make a plan, and to address every challenge head on.”…

Excerpts from “The Joy of the Gospel,” by Pope Francis I

Pope Francis - CaricatureFollowing are excerpts from “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pople Francis I’s first apostolic exhortation, 26 November 2013:

In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed…. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.


Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?


Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.


While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.


Money must serve, not rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and a return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favors human beings.


The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings


The dignity of the human person and the common good rank higher than the comfort of those who refuse to renounce their privileges. When these values are threatened, a prophetic voice must be raised.


Trust in the unseen can cause us to feel disoriented. It is like being plunged into the deep and not knowing what we will find. I myself have frequently experienced this. Yet there is no greater freedom than that of allowing oneself to be guided by the Holy Spirit, renouncing the attempt to plan and control everything to the last detail, and instead letting him enlighten, guide and direct us, leading us wherever he wills.

Report: Half of U.S. Families Live on the Edge of ‘Economic Chaos’ (plus more)

cashregister-thumb-640xauto-9805Report: Half of U.S. Families Live on the Edge of ‘Economic Chaos’ 
by Imara Jones

Half of all families in the United States are poor, near poor or face economic insecurity where “one major setback in income could push them into poverty.” That’s the shocking conclusion of a report released today by The Hamilton Project.


Is Pope Francis Leaving Vatican At Night To Minister To Homeless?

…A knowledgable source in Rome told The Huffington Post that “Swiss guards confirmed that the pope has ventured out at night, dressed as a regular priest, to meet with homeless men and women.”


Is Wall Street Too Giddy?
The stock market reaches record highs as incomes stagnate. Tech companies with no revenue are valued in the billions of dollars. More analysts are seeing something unpleasantly familiar.

Are we in a stock market bubble that could soon burst?


‘TipsForJesus’ Is Leaving Thousands Of Dollars For Servers
By Mark Memmot

…TipsForJesus has been chronicling its good deeds on Instagram, saying its mission is “doing the Lords [sic] work, one tip at a time.” Gawker estimates about $54,000 has been handed out in the past several months.


Third Way’s Anti-Populist, Anti-Warren and Deceptive “Dead End”
By Richard Eskow

An almost palpable air of desperation clings to the anti-“populist,” anti-Elizabeth Warren editorial by Jonathan Cowan and Jim Kessler of the corporate-funded Third Way organization. If they’re worried, they’re right to worry. The world is changing.


Rumsfeld’s War and Its Consequences Now
By Mark Danner

A review of:

The Unknown Known
a film directed by Errol Morris

Known and Unknown: A Memoir
by Donald Rumsfeld
Sentinel, 815 pp., $36.00

By His Own Rules: The Ambitions, Successes, and Ultimate Failures of Donald Rumsfeld
by Bradley Graham
PublicAffairs, 803 pp., $18.95 (paper)


’Tis the Season to Be Food-Insecure

It is a strange and ironic truth that in the world’s richest democracy, many Americans are going to work in the morning, but they and their families are going to bed hungry at night.


Homage to the Idols of Idleness

…What could be gained from a single day set free from the clock’s tyranny, one spent wandering or daydreaming the hours away?


The Stem and the Flower

…How much emotional and psychic space should politics take up in a normal healthy brain?… politics should take up maybe a tenth corner of a good citizen’s mind. The rest should be philosophy, friendship, romance, family, culture and fun. I wish our talk-show culture reflected that balance, and that the emotional register around politics were more in keeping with its low but steady nature.


The Families We Invent

…As good as we humans are at division, we’re better still at connection.


The Pope and the Right

…This Catholic case for limited government, however, is not a case for the Ayn Randian temptation inherent to a capitalism-friendly politics. There is no Catholic warrant for valorizing entrepreneurs at the expense of ordinary workers, or for dismissing all regulation as unnecessary and all redistribution as immoral.