President Trump, Please Reach Out

Our country is so polarized right now because everyone relies on their unique feed of cherry-picked news.

There is no easy answer to this because:

1) Social media has flattened the traditional journalistic power hierarchy. Anyone and everyone with an internet connection can be a reporter or a publisher.

2) Corporate interests and political interference lead to bias and censorship.

3) Politicians tend to operate with as much secrecy as possible.

4) When politicians can't work in secrecy they seek to "control the narrative."

One must understand that:

* Politicians act the way they do not only in instances of shadiness but also to avoid disclosing their plans to the "other side."

* Bureaucracies, federal and otherwise, also act to perpetuate themselves and this prevents them from being as forthcoming as they should.

* Businesses act to protect themselves so as to stay in business.

* And of course the wealthy individual in power seeks to keep that money and that power.

When you add national security interests, delicate national and international negotiations, and ongoing investigations to the mix, getting real data is hard.

And so we are left with independent research by reporters and citizens. But the problem is, it's all too easy to make up a story when you just don't have all the facts and so you are stringing together whatever is there.

Unfortunately we lack a shared repository of trusted independent investigative journalism to turn to for relief.

The government could fill in the gaps by focusing much, much more on communicating priorities, sharing status updates and releasing data in an easily digestible way.

My feeling is that President Trump, like Obama before him, is skipping this step. He is not trusting the people to deal with the same facts he sees. And so the choice is either to trust him blindly, attack him blindly, or try to make sense of his actions given very limited information.

He is President now and needs to reach out to the people who did not vote for him, as well as those who did. With more than just platitudes. With reasoned arguments and step by step progress updates.

It is not enough to just say "I'm right and tough luck if you don't agree with me."

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All opinions my own.

10 Success Tips For A New Year

Theme I: Attitude

  1. Take Yourself Seriously. Not seriously like in an egotistical way but seriously like your choices have consequences. If you aren't taking yourself seriously right now, I guarantee it has to do with the logic of depression, meaning that you tell yourself things like this: "I tried before, and I failed." If this is you, understand that your mind isn't functioning right. You're going to have to retrain your brain, even if you have to stand there in front of the bathroom mirror in the morning and make accurate statements to yourself repetitively. Not phony affirmations. Sentences such as this: "I can't control the past. I can control what I do right now."
  2. Stop Being Irrationally Afraid. Sometimes we think, "If X happens, I'm screwed." Sometimes we live our whole lives that way. We don't speak up when we should. We don't leave a bad job or a bad relationship. We don't break ties with toxic friends, or family. Because we have this terrible cloud of fear hanging over us, an all-purpose sense of doom. Of course this isn't to tell you in some magical way that everything will be all right no matter what. It isn't to prescribe unrealistic choices. Sometimes you have to live with things you just don't like. But at the very least, you should say to yourself, "What is the worst thing that can happen if I act?" And then consciously decide to go one way or another. If you find that you are just paralyzed or consumed by fear, or anxious thoughts bubble up constantly, try writing the following sentence down, staring at it, saying it out loud (as above), and even putting it up on your bulletin board: "I am a survivor. I have survived a lot already. I am much stronger than I think."
  3. Surrender. This is for the control freaks who can't prioritize, can't delegate, and can't take anything off their plate because they somehow think the weight of the world rests squarely on their shoulders. Don't believe in God? Just call it the Universe; do your best and then hit the "Let It Go" button. 
  4. Be Generous. There is no rational reason to be nice to other people. Most of the time, they won't pay you back, and it's time you could have spent advancing your own self-interest. But somehow, when you give, the Universe does give back to you. It changes your mood and your attitude; it gives you a sense of purpose. Doesn't mean you should ignore your own needs, but it does mean that selflessness yields intangible dividends.

Theme II: Intention

  1. Adopt A Posture Of Success. Some people have a ton of goals, like their entire life is about crossing off every item on the "bucket list." Others go to the other extreme and insist on "taking life as it comes." If you can pick one thing to focus on, whether professional or personal, and then see that through it will balance you. Remember it doesn't have to be an outcome-based goal (lose 30 pounds); it can be a process-based goal (walk half an hour a day). The point is not really to achieve the goal, but rather to develop a genuine sense of belief in yourself.
  2. Be Accountable. We all know an excuse when other people use one, but it's all too easy to justify our own bad behavior. Another way of putting this is that we "gaslight" ourselves, meaning we avoid seeing things as they are and instead manipulate our own selves into believing that we are right, almost at any cost. How many arguments, how many accidents, how many crimes, how many lawsuits, and how many wars could be avoided if people simply said, "That was a screwup on our end. How can we fix it?"
  3. Pay Attention To Time: l know that in some cultures, including some work cultures, being on time means being late. But make it a habit to be on time. This is not so much about the hands on the clock as it is about demonstrating respect for the other people in the room. It also forces you to be present at the meeting instead of thinking about other things or playing games with your cellphone. Similarly, keep an eye on how much of other people's time you are spending. Respect their need to get things done, and that time is very limited -- it actually is the most valuable commodity on the planet.

Theme III: Presentation

  1. Improve Your Verbal Communication Skills. Last night I was watching a video that has gone "viral." It was amazing to me that the person featured on the video -- essentially a spontaneous street confrontation -- was so incredibly articulate, without any preparation or prompting. Regardless of your profession, regardless of your career level, and regardless of your educational achievements, you can impress people by demonstrating powerful rhetorical skills. If that seems like an overwhelming task, you can join a group like Toastmasters, which is specifically aimed at helping people improve their ability to speak in public. If you don't have the bandwidth or desire to take on yet another activity, a very simple way to start is by practicing with your cellphone. You can record yourself answering a question, and then view the video to see where you did well, and where you tend to mess up.
  2. Dress Better. I know this advice is trite and overused, but read what I'm saying carefully. I did not say to "dress well," or "dress expensively," or "dress in ways that are considered fashionable." Rather, I'm only saying to up your game, or in the words of Chef Emeril Lagasse: "Kick it up a notch." Your focus needs to be on things that are doable and authentic - you, only better. Believe me, people will notice.
  3. Fix Up Your LinkedIn Profile: Here are two simple things you can do. Number one, add 2-3 sentences under each job that explain what you did there. Don't have 0 words and don't have 3 paragraphs. Check for typos etc. Second, you need recommendations. Not just endorsements, but actual words on your profile from people who know you and can say something nice. My personal preference on this is to reciprocate first, meaning to go to a connection's page and recommend them. To do this, click the down arrow next to "Send A Message," then click "Recommend." More directly, you can also ask directly -- in person, by phone or by email. To do this, from your profile page, look underneath and to the right of your photo, where it says "View Profile As." Click the down arrow, then click "Ask To Be Recommended."
Good luck.
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All opinions my own.

10 Tips for Federal Employees on the Personal Use Of Social Media

Introduction


Yesterday, January 23, 2017, the Federal Communicators Network (FCN) Professional Standards Working Group released the 10 tips below. I am part of the steering committee and a volunteer in this effort to promote the development of government-wide standards for professional conduct and quality communication.

Disclaimer


These tips are meant to help clarify some issues that federal employees may not be aware of, or that may be confusing. It is not meant to replace a thorough review of law, policy, and official guidance or to restrict or alter federal employees' rights and responsibilities in any way. When in doubt, please do not use this as a substitute for obtaining reliable direction from an official source.

This document, like all FCN documents, is unofficial in nature and volunteers' opinions, as well as publications, do not represent official guidance, the views of their federal agencies, or the views of the government as a whole.

Reproduction & Distribution


All FCN publications are public domain in nature, so these tips may be freely reproduced and distributed. If you do so, please include the disclaimer so that readers are not misled into thinking that this is an official government document.

The 10 Tips


  1. First Amendment Rights: Your personal social media profiles are your own, and for the most part, the federal government does not intend to control online activities that are purely personal (an example of an exception is the Hatch Act, which contains certain limits on employee free speech). Also, the same principles apply whether your speech occurs over social media or in more traditional ways, e.g. publishing a letter to the editor of a newspaper.
  2. Special Restrictions: Find out from your agency whether there are any special restrictions on your social media activity beyond the general rules that apply to all federal employees. For example, this might apply if you work for a law enforcement agency.
  3. If You Are Aware of Misconduct: Reporting fraud, waste and abuse to the appropriate authorities is lawful, but leaking classified or otherwise confidential information over the internet is not.
  4. Disclaimer: When people know that you work for the government, they are prone to assuming that you speak for the government, even when you’re not. So in discussing your personal views, it helps to be upfront about the fact that you are not speaking in an official capacity. Example: “The content of this communication is entirely my own and does not reflect the opinions of or endorsement by any federal agency or the government as a whole.”
  5. Opinions about Your Agency: You are entitled to discuss, analyze or disagree with your agency about publicly available information. That said, your agency may require you to tell them if you do so. Check your public affairs/public communications policy for more information, and do not hesitate to ask your Office of Public Affairs and/or your ethics officer for guidance.
  6. No “Impersonation”: While you are free to describe your interests, experiences and ideas on unofficial time, do not use unofficial time or personal social media accounts to act as an official representative of your agency without authorization.
  7. Political Activity: Regarding personal political activity, refer to the Hatch Act. (The text is readily available online, along with an extensive set of frequently asked questions.)
  8. No Right to Privacy on Work Devices: Read and follow your agency’s policies on information technology use. Some allow you to use your work computer to access your personal accounts on a limited basis. If you do use your work device, whether desktop computer or mobile phone, to access personal accounts, understand that your activity may be monitored by the agency.
  9. Keep Personal Devices Personal: Don’t use your personal devices or accounts for agency activity, because then it is subject to legal discovery (including FOIA) in the event of litigation. Also, use “smart” passwords (guidance on these is readily available online), and change them frequently.
  10. Targeting by Foreign Spies: Be careful who you “friend” online. Foreign intelligence agents are known to target federal employees specifically, for a variety of reasons.

About This Initiative


In August 2016, the Federal Communicators Network published a research paper demonstrating the urgent need for consistent interagency communication standards. This “cheat sheet” is our first attempt at providing information of a general nature on a federal communication topic of interest. Future issues will address training , career laddering, definitions of common terms, and more. To access the research paper visit http://www.slideshare.net/FCN-Presentations. To provide feedback or get involved, email fedcommnetwork@gmail.com.

About FCN


The Federal Communicators Network (FCN) is a professional community of Federal employees offering communications best practices, training, networking, and other opportunities for Federal government communicators.

Born out of the White House in 1995, FCN brings more than 800 communications professionals from across government to lead and refine communications and marketing strategy in support of agency missions. Working with organizations across the Executive Branch and in state and local governments, international governments, and non-profit and private partners, the FCN aims to sharpen the delivery of the Federal government's mission through digital-savvy communications strategy, branding, messaging, and engagement.

Mission


For nearly 20 years, FCN has helped communicators serve the taxpayer through:

  • Training: live workshops and telephone seminars
  • Networking: provision of live and online networking opportunities
  • Best practices: sharing emerging tools and technologies

Principles


  • All volunteer-led: led and organized by FCN members who offer and have supervisory or agency approval to lead.
  • Always no cost to the individual or agency: events and resources are free to federal communicators.
  • Public service: committed to the highest principles of integrity, professionalism, and public service.
  • Membership: FCN membership is open to U.S. federal government employees and contractors with a government email address. As a courtesy, state, local, and tribal government employees are also welcome. You become a member by signing up for the listserv. (Click here.) If you run into any difficulty, you can also contact FCN at fedcommnetwork@gmail.com.

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This post is written in my personal capacity and all opinions are my own.

Coping With The Emotional Economy

The fact of the matter is that you have to get along with people in order to remain employed.

But you knew this already; you knew that as much as we exist in a knowledge economy we also exist in a collaboration economy, a service economy, an economy where brands are differentiated by the emotional labor geared toward making the customer feel special.

For the sake of efficiency, perhaps we should simply admit that we live in an emotion economy and be done with it.

I was talking to someone the other day who has impeccable credentials. But they were well-aware that credentials are not enough. They needed leadership skills, management skills, but even more than that they needed a mentor and a professional network.

The ability to build and maintain such a network, both at your job and outside of it, is an insurance policy for your professional brand. It is the basis upon which you will get referrals and references. But more importantly, it is the cornerstone of your ability to maintain your employment once hired.

You have to get along with people. But it is more than that. From a psychological point of view, now more than ever it is critical to maintain strong boundaries between your professional self and your personal self. This is because you will be called upon to project friendship with other people only for the sake of your job. This is an inherently unhealthy situation, as you should be able to keep your personal, personal and your job situation purely about the job. But in an emotion economy, that has frankly become impossible.

You will also need to maintain your professionalism even in a work environment where people frequently engage in dating and marital relationships with the same people they work with. This is a tricky situation, first, because you do not want to become a victim of sexual harassment by someone who lacks appropriate boundaries or who uses the workplace -- particularly their power in the workplace -- to serially engage in personal relationships. Second, when you're dealing with a particular individual, you may not understand that the person is emotionally connected with other people at work in ways that have nothing to do with actually getting work done. Navigating those relationships is a very real minefield.

All of this, of course, ignores the very real ethical issues that an emotional economy brings up. Is it really fair of an employer, or of colleagues, to expect you to be their "friends" as the cost of working with you shoulder-to-shoulder? What about the fact that some people prefer to work in this way, while others find it deeply disconcerting? How can we create a profitable, inclusive, moral workplace that is consistently engaged in "building the brand" without impinging on the privacy of its employees?

We live in a day and age where the definition of "work" is rapidly changing. If we are to be maximally productive, we need to understand how that evolution is affecting the psychological health of our employees.

_________________

All opinions my own.

Ending Radical Islamic Terrorism Through The Discipline Of Development

"If you're interested in making sacrifices for Allah, stick around." - Letters to A Young Muslim author Omar Saif Ghobash

"Letters" is not a book about religious prescriptions. It is a quest from within the Islamic religious community to help articulate the Islamic "position on the world" in clear terms. The aim is to help young people find a place in the world that is both productive and spiritual. 

For me as an observer of current events, the importance of the author's perspective is that it offers a practical, doable way to end radical Islamic terrorism in a way that none have conceived of before.
  • What if we could end it without violence?
  • What if we could end it without arrogant, false attempts to change the audience into a mirror image of secular democratic Western society?
  • What if we could end it by encouraging the free development of Muslims themselves?
In the end, what we are talking about is "development," the mission of U.S. foreign assistance agency USAID. The particular goal of this agency is to eliminate extreme poverty, but the agenda is far greater than that - it is really about helping to create the conditions where completely disadvantaged foreign populations can help themselves.

Please be clear. I'm not here to promote USAID, although I did work there for a time, and I'm not disingenuous about the problems and the debates. I know they've been accused of being a vehicle for spying and other nefarious stuff. I watched "Argo." I get it.

But there is no reason to throw out the baby with the bathwater. If they know what they're doing when it comes to empowering local communities, why not enhance their capabilities, add more transparency and oversight, and let them do more? 

As President Trump said in his inaugural address: The past is over. It is time to focus on the future.

Here are just a few key quotes from the author that highlight how important an effective, development-rooted, peace-oriented dialogue is right now.

Theme 1. Key Issues
  • "Brand Islam": "When September 11 took place, I was horrified. I've been thinking about radical Islam from around the age of 14 or 15, the mid-80s. And I thought finally, September 11 has to be a turning point for the global Islamic community, and we really need to be thinking about what has been allowed to be said to our children, to our neighbors, in our mosques. In the mosques that I went to, there was a lot of angry preaching, a lot of politicized preaching. But the reaction was really, we have to change the image of Islam in the West. I have respect for branding. But the product is not clear, it's not clear where we really stand on these things. We can spend a ton of money on glossy adverts and brochures, and TV series, but if when I go back home and I speak to people at the mosque, and we ourselves are wondering, where are we going with all of this. Where are our clerics taking us, that's the problem."
  • "Islamophobia": We need to fight Islamophobia. But even in the context of fighting Islamophobia, we need to think about all the other minority groups, and how we deal with minorities. And I sometimes feel we focus too much on the Islamophobia angle to the exclusion of the internal discussion about extremism. We talk about Islamophobia, but we shouldn't use it as an excuse to hide some of the very serious and critical issues that the Islamic community is facing globally. 
  • Women in Islam: "We have a whole bunch of patriarchal communities in the Middle East in particular. And I worry sometimes that with the spread of Islam, we're exporting some of the local cultures and practices of the Middle East. And I'm not sure that's a great idea, nor do I think it's particularly appropriate. I can speak from the perspective where women are given all kinds of freedoms, equal freedoms to males, and what that means in practice is that women have a chance to prove themselves, and in fact they do a much better job than the males in our society. We are now more worried about where our men are going and what they're doing with their time. They seem to have a set of expectations that are completely unreasonable. Certain societies are pushing forward with women's rights and women's empowerment, really."
Theme 2. Freedom and the Individual
  • Role of the Individual: "It's interesting that we have this focus on the group, and the idea of the individual is threatening to the group. They complement each other. At the moment the focus is too much on the group, it's almost an empty body built of many people with little personality. I want to raise the level of the quality of the group by beefing up the individual in the Muslim world."
  • Censorship: "Muslims in America have the protections of the law. They have an expectation that they can speak freely. This is very different than in many Muslim countries, where there is the idea that we need to put in blasphemy laws. They seem to be structured to end all debate, and you have to make sure that you get on the right side of that blasphemy law. 
  • American Leadership: "I think the Muslims of America should take advantage of the situation here, the academic freedom, the intellectual freedom, to really take a lead on the direction of global Islam, and to contribute to the debate that's taking place in the Middle East and in the Arabic language. Ideas can form here, and be propagated....not reforming or modernizing, providing clarity."
  • Seeking Dialogue: "If this was the start of a set of dialogues across Muslim societies between the clerics who really have a repository of our moral knowledge, and youth who are the ones who are asking the questions...an expression of interest in each other, what each can contribute to the great moral questions."

Theme 3: A Search For Clarity
  • Personal Bias Is Not Religion: "Our humanity is what informs our reading. If you are finding that the Koran permits you to rape, to enslave, to rob, and to kill, then there's something wrong with you. It's just too much of a coincidence that you as a young male thug have found a religion that actually supports your positions and your instincts and passions."
  • Identifying Common Elements: "Where are the common elements that seem to underlie everything from the peaceful spiritual side of Islam all the way to the violent aggressive animalistic ISIS?"
  • "Reform" is the wrong word: "People have asked me, are you calling for reform of Islam. That suggests there is a fixed body we can debate....I'm taking a more modest position. The reality is all I'm asking for is clarity from the religious scholars who traditionally have held the respect in our Islamic societies. We should be asking the clerics to come towards their flock and actually learn about the people they are guiding."
  • Role of the Clerics: "I think the clerics have a very specialized area of expertise. I'm asking them to think more broadly about the moral questions that each of us faces in multicultural societies....It's very dangerous to continue with the categories of believer or nonbeliever, friend or foe."
Maybe you think it's naive to imagine that dialogue can end terrorism. I don't.

For the fact of the matter is, things cannot continue the way they are right now. Violent extremism is a death spiral, the United States needs to end it if only for our own sakes, and the only real way to make it stop is to promote the health and welfare of the very population we too often conceive of as the enemy.

In short, the way out is to go all the way in: Supporting Muslims who promote the value of Muslim life, health and welfare. Who understand that this can only happen through a dialogue within the Islamic community about the future they seek for themselves and their children. 

The future doesn't have to be about blowing people up. It can be a win-win.


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All opinions my own.



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