One Way Team Sports Are Gendered

In the U.S., team sports are a metaphor for real life. Amazon is a team. Lucas Films is a team. Even our presidential administration is a team. Each has its star players. Everyone on the team has a part to play. That’s one part of the metaphor.

The other part is the competition. Team sports require a head-on battle with another human for a ball or a pitch. In real life, it’s looking someone in the eye and making a pitch for money. Or votes. Or some other high-stakes thing.

We project these ideas onto our kids all the time. And football is the ultimate expression of the team sports metaphor. But people are slowly becoming more open-minded; boys don’t have to learn to hit and take a hit playing football, and girls are not limited to dance or cheer.

Keep going. Use sports to teach resilience, toughness, and teamwork. Play to kids’ strengths and work on areas for improvement regardless of gender. Every kid needs to learn how to be part of a team.

Respect Your Domestic Help

In Colombia, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, if you were middle-class, you probably had live-in domestic help, and you probably called her La Muchacha. She might be an adult. She might be a kid. She definitely came from the countryside.

The topic came up at lunch a month or so ago. My mom remembered the Muchacha from her household, a young girl the same age as my mom was at the time. But unlike my mom, the Muchacha did not get to spend time with her mother and family and did not go to school. She was invisible to Bogotá society. She did not rate.

Today things are a bit different in Colombia. But everywhere, including the U.S., a similar problem persists, where disadvantaged people perform domestic work within an informal economy for less than minimum wage, and the like.

If you want to do right by the people who do paid work in your home, treat them with respect. Meaning, treat them the way any kind, fair boss would treat an employee. I suggest the following:

Provide expectations. Tell her how you want the floor cleaned. Tell him how you want the grass cut.

Provide clarity. Tell her that you plan to stay with her for at least six months at two visits per month, for example. Mean it.

Pay people reliably and on time. Duh. 

Pay people at least minimum wage. Come on. 

Talk about how to handle reschedulings and cancelations. They will happen.

Offer a “Thank You” gift at Christmas time. This is a nice thing to do.

Respect is not about going above and beyond. Respect is about treating people the way anyone deserves to be treated.

Just because you can’t measure it, doesn’t mean it’s not important

John Boyd said that. But they say the opposite in science fields. They say, if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist. 

Of course, we know this isn’t true. Still, people get in a lot of trouble this way because a heuristic unfolds. It goes something like this: if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t matter, and if it doesn’t matter, it can be ignored. 

If you can’t measure it —> Ignore it

Feelings, emotions, ideas, and other abstractions are hard to measure. Activities, dollars, and things are easy. Don’t ignore the abstract, the hard to quantify and measure. Pay attention to it. It might be important. This short piece in The Atlantic says it best.

My Thoughts on Netflix Movie, “Hostiles”

I haven’t watched many movies lately. I’m still happily slogging away through the Breaking Bad Universe (I’m on Season 2 of Better Call Saul) and pretty content about it. There’s a theory floating around that people are more interested in long-form narratives than stand-alone movies these days, hence the popularity of Game of Thrones, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the like. Recently I watched The Greatest Showman and came away disappointed because I thought it felt rushed. Perhaps it’s also my expectation that stories are better when writers build characters and narratives throughout several movies or seasons. Maybe movies just won’t cut it for me anymore? Google tells me the Marvel Cinematic Universe run time is 23 hours and 48 minutes. With that kind of mileage, how can I possibly care about P.T. Barnum like I did Tony Stark?

But Hostiles blew me away. The creators made the most of their two hours and 13 minutes to make me care about the story and the characters in a well-trodden genre (Western), and in a way that I hadn’t seen before. In short, Hostiles is a story about traumatized people and how some people overcome their trauma, and others don’t. It’s a tough theme, but the writers do it with subtlety, even tenderness, despite its superbly tragic scenes (like the one in the opening).

Here is the Netflix synopsis: After a long career battling the Cheyenne, a U.S. Army captain is ordered to safely escort the tribe’s most influential chief to his Montana homeland. The movie starts with a tormented Christian Bale playing captain Joseph Blocker who, after years of violent fighting, hates the Cheyenne. Yet throughout his duty escorting the tribe’s leader and his family he finds humanity with his former enemy, and is ultimately willing to give his life for the tribe leader and his family. I want to point out a two scenes where I think the writers were especially novel in telling this story.

Early in the movie, there’s the obligatory scene in which Captain Blocker is brought before his commanding officer to receive his orders. It smacks as familiar, almost cliche, when Captain Blocker begins his diatribe against the Cheyenne leader and why he refuses to take the order, that is until his commanding officer interrupts Captain Blocker. “I don’t give a damn how you feel personally,” he says to Blocker. The commanding officer (and the writers) short circuit our expectations about how this interaction is going to happen, and rather than convey Captain Blocker’s disdain for the “savage” Cheyenne leader, we learn that Captain Blocker is “no angel” himself when it comes to violence against Native Americans. Captain Blocker has no audience for his reasons and grievances against the Cheyenne leader. He leaves in turmoil, speechlessly contemplates suicide, and returns the following morning to execute his orders.

The next scene that comes to mind is the one between Captain Blocker and one of his men, who is in a hospital bed recovering from a gunshot wound. It’s a quiet scene, just Captain Blocker and his sergeant, and its reminiscent of other familiar scenes featuring an emotional goodbye between soldiers, with the minor character offering his dying words of gratitude or contemplation before passing on. Think Forest Gump and Bubba (a great scene, by the way). But this is not what we get. Henry (the sergeant) is not dying, and has survived the fighting when others on the detail did not. Still, he expresses disappointment in himself for being unable to “finish what we’ve started.” To this, Captain Blocker responds, “you never let me down…you’re always centered. Focused. Without you on my flank, I likely would have met my end a long time ago.” The two exchange words of affection and sob quietly. Captain Blocker leaves saying, “with any luck we’ll meet down the road.” It’s not a scene about dying or saying goodbye forever. Instead it’s a scene about loyalty, and parting ways. It’s a scene about recognizing that being part of a unit is special, and they each mourn the loss of their dissolved partnership.

Other narrative decisions make Hostiles refreshing and moving, which you’ll have to see for yourself. While the outcome is mostly tragic for many of the characters, Captain Blocker’s end feels so satisfying, so redemptive, that it seems to make up for all the pain and bloodshed along the way. At the VERY end, the writers make Captain Blocker whole when he chooses joy over pain. We don’t know what happens next, but it doesn’t matter. Two hours and 13 minutes are all the writers needed to show us that Captain Blocker is going to make it, and going to be okay.

Quiet Persistence and Force in Leadership

I’ve been reading this book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, so that I can once and for all address what to do about this problem I have of, well, being quiet. Fortunately, this problem is common, if not weird, and in Quiet, Susan Cain is on a mission to prove that being introverted is not inherently weak or odd but instead can wield power.

I’ve arrived at the part in the book where she introduces the idea of Quiet Persistence, which she describes as a soft power that involves day-to-day, person-to-person persistence in interactions that eventually builds up a team. For example, she sites Mother Teresa, the Buddha, and Gandhi. I thought about this the other day as I watched Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett. During the cross-examination, Judge Barrett came across as extremely competent and composed, as you would expect of anyone nominated to the Supreme Court. Of particular interest to me were her feminine characteristics—her dress, her looks, her facial expressions, her soft-spoken manner—none of which undermined or distracted from her position or message at all. And at that point, I thought, here is a great role model for women on how to be in a position of influence.

Except for one problem. In certain lines of work, like the military or law enforcement, it’s not about the quality of your ideas, presentation skills, or brainpower. Instead there’s an added criteria on which leaders are based which I will loosely describe as Force. This makes sense since the nature of military or law enforcement work is conflict based. As a result, the team-sport jock archetype and the military leader mold often appear to be the one and the same. For example, when I used to sit on a service academy nomination board, we’d pour over applications and student essays while evaluating candidates. If you were captain of the football offensive line, great! If you were first chair clarinet in the orchestra, hmm. Our reluctance had nothing to do with an inherent bias for football over band, but I realize now that it had everything to do with accounting for Force. Orchestra and other soft extracurriculars told board members little about whether a candidate had it in him or her to exert and withstand Force.

In the military, at least, this has left us non-jocks, and non-jock women and minorities, with few role models on how to be. And in such a situation, there’s only one place I can think to turn to: Game of Thrones, and I’m lookin’ at the likes of Yara Greyjoy and Brianne of Tarth, for a little inspiration. I only wish they were real people.