One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Archive for August 2017

“Fear Makes Companions Of Us All”

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When this month’s Blogapalooz-hour challenge arrived in my email box, I was particularly intrigued by the opportunity to write about a past Blogapalooz-Hour, topic…and once I decided on a topic, the above Doctor Who clip popped in my head. (The above citation is a riff from the classic series episode An Unearthly Child). Writing about this in a (rather) timely manner, my chosen Blogapalooz-Hour topic comes from February 2015:

“Write about fear, or lack thereof, and the role it has played in any aspect of your life.”

Fear has always been a driving force in my life. I could blame it on my Eastern European heritage, or some aspect of my childhood…but much of my past has seen many decisions – most of them bad – driven by some form of fear.  Hidden beneath layers of adolescent bravado, flavored by a lack of self-esteem, much of my early life was spent doing things in order to avoid being vulnerable. Never dating or socializing much in high school because let’s face it, people wouldn’t like me if they knew who I really was.  And I saw myself as….well, a mouthy fat guy).

(My former classmates remember me as being quiet, but gregarious. So much for that perception.)

Post-college, fear led me to apply – and promptly quit – from a for-profit graduate school in psychology. (Coming soon to the blog, “I Survived A Year At a Diploma Mill”). But it was starting in graduate school, working as a field researcher for the Harvard School of Public Health, I started to work through my fear. (At the time, some neighborhoods had more of a rough reputation than others). Even when I lived in St. Louis and worked tobacco prevention, although I gained confidence, there was still a slight hint of fear in my decisions. Nothing major or life-threatening, but enough that made me cautious….

And that’s part of the power of fear. Fear can hold someone back, but I often find myself using fear as a way of making sure I take a quick inventory. Check my motives. Do everything to make sure that I’m making a good decision….and fear has also allowed me to connect with people. Sharing my fears with trustedCNow - Skyline friends and finding that we share many fears in common. It was an ironic discovery that helped me gain greater confidence personally and professionally: the realization that fear makes companions of us all.

Although I’ve gotten more courageous in recent times, I have found that fear has made itself a semi-constant companion in my life. Making the decision to move in and care for Mom reacquainted me with some fear, but on a regular basis, I have semi-realistic fears. Fear that I will never acquire enough freelance work to move forward. Fear that I will live in isolation, and become an “elder orphan“. Fear that my friends will never know how I feel about them. Fear that my life has hit a plateau and that I have nothing more to offer. And like many Americans, fear that our country is falling apart.

Handling some of the everyday fears has become easier: putting in the effort to bolster my freelance career, reaching out to others (I still owe someone whom I offered to “adopt” as a sibling), and I’m sure that many of my friends will reach out for the tell-me-how-you-really-feel-Gordon talk. (And yes, I’ll even have the conversa30378605441_efbe153edd_mtion via phone, Skype, or e-mail). And when it comes to having nothing to offer…

Currently, we’re in the midst of a very contentious political time. Many of my female friends, friends of color, and LGBTQIA friends feel positively threatened…and I can offer my support, my empathy, and my (shared) fear about this country. I am not afraid to call out the alt-right/white supremacist/whatever-you-want-to-call-it working against this country, nor am I afraid of losing relationships. (And before those few of you make the “both-sides-are-deplorable” argument, let me remind you that any side that physically assaults people of color, proclaims that “Jews will not replace us”, and runs over peaceful protestors with their automobiles have automatically lost the right – and the privilege – to the moral high ground). Our Chicago community – and communities around the country – have become more inclusive and diverse. That’s never going to change, and we need to start working together to transcend our fear.

Because although fear makes companions of us all…it also strengthens us into allies against a greater evil.  I’m only sorry that those ties are coming at such a high cost.

Please feel free to make your comments below, join the conversation on our Facebook page, or e-mail me privately.

And as always, thanks for reading!



Written by gordondym

August 30, 2017 at 10:00 pm

Meet Your Neighbor: My Block My Hood My City on August 19th

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Every once in awhile, this blog highlights some great organizations that make a positive impact on the city of Chicago and its neighborhoods. In the past, we have highlighted Chicago Cares and its efforts to engage residents and volunteers on improving our community. On August 19th, there is a great opportunity to make an impact…and in times like these, we need opportunities for connection on collaboration.

This Saturday, Chicago Cares will be partnering with My Block My Hood My City and other organizations  and looking for volunteers to serve the Woodlawn community through various beautification service projects. Check-in and kickoff will be held at the Jackson Park Field House, with volunteers then engaging in service throughout the morning. (You’ll be sent to various sites throughout the Woodlawn neighborhood). Projects include community gardens, park and lot clean up sites,  and a mosaic project with Green Star Movement, and all projects will be within walking distance of Jackson Park Field House.

Here are some of the fine details:

It’s a real privilege to focus on great events like this that build collaboration, communication, and community. We’re more than happy to boost the signal, and hope that you can make it.

Please feel free to leave comments below or join the conversation via our Facebook page.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

August 16, 2017 at 3:45 pm

Stand In Solidarity With Charlottesville

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In light of yesterday’s events in Charlottesville, VA….I’m unsure what kind of comfort I could give to readers, friends, and others.

So I’m not even going to try…what I am going to do is list various resources for helping the people of Charlottesville recover. It may not be much – or enough – but at the very least, it’s what I can do via the blog.  (And yes, several of these may be out of date, but I’m including them for completeness’ sake.

If you’re looking around the country, Indivisible has a really good online guide.

You can also check out Beloved Community Charlottesville.

Sara J. Bennicasa has written a guide to Charlottesville-area non-profits, stemming from this Twitter thread:

There are three rallies in support of the people of Charlottesville here, here, and here

Here’s a Twitter list focusing on Charlottesville-area news
Obviously, this is not a comprehensive list….please feel free to list other resources in the comments below. (And comments are moderated)

Written by gordondym

August 13, 2017 at 12:46 pm

Google, Sexism, & When Dudebros Become MAD MEN

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Sometimes, writing about tech provides….interesting challenges. For example: after writing a follow-up post about App Camp For Girls’ pitch event, I wrote a review of Disrupted by Dan Lyons, which emphasized a lack of diversity within the startup world. So the latest news – about how James Damore wrote a memo for Google claiming that women can’t code, and the uproar over his subsequent firing….well, seemed grist for the mill for writing.

(Please note – yes, I am a white male. I’m probably not the best qualified to write about this, and I will warn that there will be plenty of “mansplaining” in this post. I’m also going to be starring out some profane terms out of courtesy to the reader. You’re smart enough to figure out what I’m writing about.)

What’s not surprising is the nature of sexism….after all, I’ve encountered it as a freelance professional. The marketing firm employee who wanted to create an app for a popular chain by calling it, “Buy Me a Sandwich, *****!” Supervisors wondering whether certain clients were “too girly” for me (in all honesty – they weren’t). Even a (now former) landlord making an inappropriate comment about a professional woman of color…but those times, I spoke up to derision. however, there were times when I’ve even encountered it – and never called it out – very early in my career. And it’s not something I’m proud of…just wanting to point out that sexism can crop up where you least expect it.

C Now - BloggingAt the time, I was working for a network of St. Louis-area treatment providers providing substance abuse assessment services for homeless shelters in St. Louis city and county. In a given year (and I don’t have the exact data – that’s in storage, so I’m relying on memory), I might see about 100 – 150 people. Breaking those demographics down:

  • 70 – 80% were women;
  • 65 – 70% were African-American; and
  • 60 – 65% were dealing with addiction in family members, as well as domestic violence issues (and those were referred to another agency).

So when I was asked to create the curriculum for a bid for a female offender diversion court (or “drug court for women”), it made some sense. After all, my boss claimed that it was the kind of “touchy, feely, girly stuff” that fit my expertise. Keep in mind – I’m a heterosexual white male. My boss had a habit of calling my female coworker “sweet cakes”. And white men were driving this effort…meaning that my suggestion that referring to it as a “w**** court” – even casually – wasn’t a good idea. Nor was criticizing my efforts to bring in one of my partners – a female empowerment agency dealing with domestic violence – to provide additional expertise because I wanted to work towards helping the client rather than my ideas about “what’s best” for the client.

We ended up not getting the bid, but I learned some key lessons….one of which was that sexism, racism, and other dysfunctional beliefs are often destructive when unchecked.

In looking at the Google sexism controversy, I’m reminded of how many marketing types idealized Don Draper in Mad Men. “He’s cool, he smokes, he drinks, he has affairs without consequence”….without realizing that Don Draper is a man who is (spoiler alert) pretending to be someone he is not. It’s taking a toll on him psychologically…and quite honestly, Mad Men makes it clear that Draper is no role model. He’s not some great prophet or harbinger of change: he’s the example of what happens when certain beliefs go unchallenged (or more importantly, holding onto those beliefs inhibits growth and…let’s face it, is very unprofessional. (And much of Mad Men‘s narrative is about Draper’s lack of professionalism…and its consequences).

“But Gordon – freedom of speech!” some might argue. But freedom of speech does not mean freedom from criticism or freedom from consequence. This isn’t a seemingly innocent barroom conversation, or even a night out with friends where Damore’s words would have been misconstrued. This was an opinion that was generated as work product, and which was submitted in defiance of Google policy. If James Damore chose to live by this sword, he cannot then complain when he’s asked to die by it. He chose to express his views openly, and that is the consequence. He thought he was being Don Draper….but in reality, he was merely just being obnoxious.

(And yes, I will get criticized for writing this essay…but that’s the trade off for expressing an opinion. A PR agency once Twitter-bombed me – on my birthday – for suggesting that selling Twitter followers was a “false tactic”. I removed that agency’s name from the blog, but it was a powerful lesson: only those on the wrong side of an issue rely on bullying, and that agency’s been blocked from various channels).

So yes, sexism in the tech field is a thing…and there’s a post-script to my St. Louis story. That female coworker I mentioned…you know, the one my then-boss called “sweet cakes”?

Her name was Julie. She and I had worked together on some other projects, and we had a really good working relationship. After my boss’s comment, I jokingly asked if I could call her “sweet cakes”…and she firmly said no. Thankfully, I was able to accept the inappropriate nature of my request…and we moved forward in our jobs. Eventually, she left my employer, but we ended up working together for another nonprofit. (We even collaborated when I worked for another agency focused on prevention)  It was one of the best working relationships I had, not the least of which was because Julie was one of the sharpest, most insightful people I’ve worked with. It’s a relationship that I really miss, and that was very enriching for me.

Especially because, for once, I chose not to be like Don Draper.

Thoughts? Comments? Please feel free to leave them in the section below, or join the conversation via our Facebook page. If you want to reach me privately via e-mail, please use this contact form.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

August 9, 2017 at 11:51 am

Book Review: DISRUPTED by Dan Lyons

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I’ll admit, I went into Disrupted (written by Dan Lyons) with a knowing familiarity; like him, I entered the startup world ten years ago, having just moved back to Chicago. Like many other reviews, I enjoyed the book’s slightly snarky take on startup culture….

But in light of that recent Google memo and various responsesDisrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble by Dan Lyons reads less like a satiric jab at technology, marketing, and startup culture and more of a clarion call for greater diversity and inclusion…as well as a rallying cry against ageism and elitism.

Let’s be clear – Disrupted is a very funny book, and Dan Lyons provides some scathing insights into startup culture. After all, having been involved in journalism for over 25 years, Lyons (then in his early 50s) decides to work for Hubspot.  From there, he receives a very gradual introduction into the more absurd aspects of Hubspot culture: the unusual language of HubSpeak (which requires a wiki to understand), the emphasis on personal politics over accomplishments….after all, Lyons only wanted a job where he could learn marketing, and then more forward in his career. It wasn’t meant to be anything serious…

But things begin to turn for the worse. Granted, Lyons is unsparing in assessing his own behavior (after all, he’s not a writer for HBO’s Silicon Valley for nothing), but he also notices some strange things. Insisting on buying free candy for employees rather than, say, paying them a higher wage. Noticing a preponderance of young, white dudes (in a particularly damning move, Lyons publishes a group photo and asks the reader to point out people of color. SPOILER ALERT…there aren’t any unless you count co-founder Dharmesh Singh). In short, the story continues on a nice, snarky path, but then….

Things begin deteriorating to the point that by the time you read the last chapter of Disrupted, you would swear that Dan Lyons shifted gears and wrote a paranoid techno-thriller. It’s hard to describe without spoiling, but Disrupted manages to make serious points about the nature of technology/startup/marketing culture – a tendency towards homogeneity and lack of diversity, emphasizing “dudebro”-style culture and self-aggrandizement over accomplishment and status. (As well as address blatant sexism, ageism, and other -isms that you can name).

(One particular damning fact: according to Disrupted, HubSpot has never made a profit. In most corporate cultures, that’s a bad thing, but in many startups, that’s considered healthy).

I don’t want to paint all startups with the same broad brush, but having worked with several in my professional endeavors….I’ve found several that have a sincere lack of self-awareness and a belief that they are doing “wonderful things” without justifying why they’re so wonderful. (Yes, I’ve also worked with startups that focus on results). With recent conversations about women were “genetically unsuited” for tech jobs, and with the increased need for more diverse populations in technology….Disrupted ends up making some serious points through a snarky, sarcastic attitude.

As I was planning to write this review, I would have said, “Read Disrupted by Dan Lyons for a fun, satiric look at tech culture.” Now, in light of recent events, Disrupted by Dan Lyons feels more like a call-to-arms….and either way, it’s a great read.

Please feel free to share your thoughts below or via our Facebook page….and as always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

August 6, 2017 at 2:43 pm