The Mess Men Have Made

Everyday another revelation. Yesterday, Matt Lauer and Garrison Kellior were felled by accusations of misconduct and harassment. Both of these men are icons in their respective realms. Surely today will bring more revelations. As I write this at 11am on 11/30/17 we now have Russell Simmons resigning from businesses over sexual misconduct. And it doesn’t appear to be letting up soon. Sometimes these revelations can feel like a never-ending, disheartening onslaught of male failure. And, in reality, that’s pretty much what it is. Men are being called to the carpet in record numbers. As a man, I feel ashamed for my gender but proud of the women who are standing up and calling these men out on their behavior. The reckoning has arrived.

But ask almost any woman and they will tell you, this is nothing new. Women have been enduring this behavior for millennia. At home, at the office, on the street, everywhere.  And when women have come forward in the past the tables were often turned against them which only further enables predatory men. It’s a sick, messed up dynamic and change is overdue. 

In many ways, as a man, I’ve been oblivious to just how systemic the abuse is. I don’t knowingly associate with many men that behave this way. Although I have addressed egregious examples when they are in front of my face, I’ve also been guilty of not calling out friends and associates when they treat women in a derogatory or sexist way. As I’ve woken up to the real situation I’ve also felt called to take a more active role in advocating for and defending women. I won’t deny that living with 4 women has influenced this. I hate to think of my daughters entering a world that offers them less opportunity than it has me.

Some might argue that Weinstein was the tipping point. But I think it was Trump. The fact that Trump succeeded in being elected despite pretty clear evidence that he thought of women as little more than objects to be groped was a huge blow to the cause of equality. Perhaps the most pissed off group was professional women. These are women working in the white collar world where male dominance and abuse has run amok for decades. I think they are officially done tolerating the advances, harassment and out-right assaults by their male colleagues, often their “superiors". The dam was ready to break. If they had to put up with Trump in the White House they weren't going to tolerate that grope-y jerk in the corner office.

So here we are, wading through a national reckoning that is both cleansing and depressing. As a man, I struggle to find my place in it. I cannot claim to understand the experiences that women have had but as a husband, father of three girls, employer and friend to many women, I consider myself an ally in their struggle for true equality.

It would be tempting to stop at sexual offenses but the issue runs much deeper. I’ve been in enough business meetings to know that many men tend to talk to the other men, often leaving women as observers regardless of their title or role. Then we have that horrid “Billy Graham” rule where men (aka Mike Pence) refrain from even having one-on-one meetings with women because they fear losing control, or something. This kind of thinking has quietly held back the careers of countless women. My concern is that this mindset is only going to spread among certain male populations out of the perverse fear that they will be accused wrongly of sexual misconduct after being alone with a woman. Add to this all the ancient biases and beliefs that still exist and you start to see that the deck is heavily stacked against women in almost all situations. 

I believe we are in the middle of a massive transfer of power. Women are finally beginning to demand and receive a seat at the table. But to do that men need to step up as their allies as well as step aside to make room. And the male ego is not historically inclined towards this behavior. It might not be pretty but it needs to happen and, from what we can see, it's well underway.

I believe a female future is a better one for the human race. Whether it’s nature or nurture, I don’t really know, but when you have women in the mix empathy spikes and aggression declines. These are two things we need badly across all sectors of society, business, and government. Giving women an equal seat at the table is critical to our survival as a species. The current one-sided dynamic is not working. Our planet is sick and our nations are constantly at war with each other. We are out of balance and I believe that giving women an equal seat at the table can bring that balance. 

The death of the patriarchy is going to be messy. Men, including myself, will need to stand down at times to make room for women. Transparency and accountability, like we are seeing now, will need to spread like a disinfectant. We need to bring sunlight to bad behavior that has been quietly holding back women’s lives and careers which outputs as suppressing their access to leadership and wealth. More money in the hands of more women would be a very good thing. I can’t imagine a future where money and power aren’t intermingled, even a more women-lead future. So we need women to hold more of the wealth to wield the influence it carries. 

What do we do with all these offending men? Do we put them on an island with no women and let them rot? I think the best option is to go case by case. If they are on the Weinstein side of the scale they probably need to go to jail, if they are on the Franken side of things they probably need to get counseling and treatment. In time, most of these men will need to find their way back into society. And we will need to find a way to welcome them back while holding them accountable for a new standard of behavior. That will require some grace from the women they offended. But I am confident that if men put in the legitimate effort to grow and change then that grace will be extended. Maybe not for Harvey, that guy should go rot on an island.

Remembering My Dad

Jim Banner as a young man

Jim Banner as a young man

My father passed away June 22nd after a long battle with Parkinson's. He was 78. Here's a written version of what I said at his visitation. 

Losing someone to Parkinson’s is a very long goodbye. So when the end finally came I felt relief as much as sorrow. I think many of us did. And I think that’s ok, I know that’s what my Dad would say. He would want us to be relieved, to be happy, to celebrate his great escape! He never wanted to be a burden on anyone, most of all my mom. But accepting that reality was the hardest thing he ever did. Jim Banner was a proud, independent, active and strong man. To be robbed of that in his prime was devastating to him and to everyone that knew and loved him. It was devastating to me. But in the end, Parkinson’s was a gift in many ways to my father. He became a better man because of it. He was proud and it taught him humility. He was a leader who learned to follow. He lead conversations and then had to learn how to listen. The transformation wasn’t easy on the physical body but it did wonders for his soul. Parkinson’s made my father a better person. 

I share this with you because I know my Dad would not want me to get up here and spout any watered down BS. He was, on the whole, a very honest person. His email signature for years was “truth over harmony”. Although the tone might have been off I can’t deny the logic. If we value harmony over truth we whitewash reality and eventually reality always comes to back to bite us. My father once said something to me after he caught me in a lie, he said “you can lie to me, but don’t lie to yourself, once you start lying to yourself there is no-one left and you lose touch with reality”. That really stuck with me and I am challenged by it daily. Telling yourself the truth might be the hardest thing to do. But dad was great at calling BS when he saw it, even when he had to call it on himself. 

Dad had a temper, especially when he was younger. That was another unexpected gift that Parkinson’s gave him, and us. It mellowed him out. But when he was younger, during my time at home, he could really unload on us kids. It could be scary. This was something handed down from his father who had a horrible temper. Dad battled that all his life and shared with me that he struggled with that more than anything else as a parent.

One time he really gave me a tongue lashing for something dumb I’d done. Probably left his tools in a state of disarray after working on a go kart or something. But he knew he’d gone too far. After I’d slunk away to my room I saw a piece of paper slide under the door. He wrote me a sweet note apologizing for his outbreak and asking for forgiveness. He did that, in different forms, a few times.

One of the things I will miss most about my dad is our long conversations. They really started in high school. I have memories of sitting in his home office, talking well past bed time. He would talk about anything- girls, marriage, school, politics, etc. Once he told me that he was still processing experiences he had as a child. That really stuck with me. Most of all he made it safe to open up and talk about myself.  He showed a genuine interest in my life. I didn’t feel talked down to or judged. He wanted to know what I was doing, what I found interesting. I felt understood, accepted and loved. 

As some of you know, I’ve played music since I was about 12. My dad didn’t really understand my music making in high school, and who can blame him, we were terrible, but he always encouraged me. If I wanted a new guitar or amplifier he would match me on funding it. If it cost $200, I had to come up with $100. This taught me the value of work and saving money but didn’t put things too far out of reach. 

I can still see him walking down into the basement of our house with a decibel meter during one of my high school band practices. He would point at the needle shouting “120 decibels!”. But my parents would let me throw parties with hoards of high schoolers running amok all over the house and yard. Mom and Dad would lock themselves in their rooms praying for daylight. Later he gave me a space at his business to play and record music. Now that I look back I can see that maybe he’d just finally had enough of the 120 decibel rock and roll. But at the time I thought it was pretty awesome to have my own “studio”. He was, on the whole, a pretty cool dad. 

He was always supportive. When I started my first business he gave me a $20,000 loan that I paid back over many, many years. He was always willing to help if he could. He had a soft heart even if he sometimes fronted like a tough business man. 

When I was in my teens and 20s I was often told by friends and family “you are looking so much like your father”. And I hated it. Like most people at that age, I didn’t want to look like anyone but myself. But as I got older those comments became less offensive to me. Now I am honored to remind people of my father. I hope that I am honoring him in how I live my life. How I love my wife- remembering how he loved his wife, his “lovey”, grabbing her rear in the kitchen while she cooked. How I love my kids- remembering whoop de dos (essentially throwing a young child waaay up into the air and catching them right before they crash to certain death), fireworks and wrestling “strongest boy in the world” where he would pretend I was incredibly strong and could throw him across the room. How I run my business- seeing how he treated his employees with care and respect. How I treat others- remembering a constant stream of foreign exchange students, homeless dinner guests, foster children, international students, friends, family, etc etc.

Jim Banner was a powerful example of someone committed to living a meaningful life. It was an example that affected me deeply. I know that example impacted many more than just me and my siblings. I am sometimes surprised by how many lives he touched. But I shouldn’t be. That was just his nature. He truly cared about other people and lived that every day. He always pushed me to consider someone else’s perspective. To not assume. To challenge my biases. To walk in someone else’s shoes. In that area I continue to strive to honor my father’s example. I love you dad.

The Trouble With Hope

Hope is usually considered a good thing. But I’ve come to see it as dangerous and even narcotic. Similar to nostalgia. 

When someone is hopeful they are usually longing for something not present. This can fuel dissatisfaction with the present. Hope can be the never arriving train. Always pulling you towards a better future. This can sow discontent. 

There is a healthy role for hope. When we are desolate, it can console. When we feel lost, it can show the way. But it can also trap us. We can get lost in an idealistic future that never comes. 

We must decouple hope from desire. Wanting something creates attachment which leads to bondage. We become enslaved to a future (mostly) out of our control. We should instead wish for good things to come for ourselves and others but not desire them. It’s a subtle but important nuance. Desire is carnal, it takes us over, it’s possessive. Wishing is more like a prayer, it’s spiritual and etherial, we can let it go. 

Hope is a tricky one, we must avoid its traps.

Next Level Care: Friend Over Friendship

What does it mean to truly care about someone? I’ve been struggling with this for a while and here’s where I’ve arrived: real care means being there when no-one else is and it means giving someone the feedback they need to grow. 

The first one is easier. Being there for a friend when they hit rock bottom. We become the safety in the storm. It can be draining but it is also rewarding to know that we are truly helping someone. And when we have been there ourselves we know the deep solace it brings to have someone there with us, telling us we aren’t alone and aren’t crazy. 

But being there isn’t as easy as giving a friend or colleague the feedback they need to grow and see themselves, and the world, in a new, transformative way. That kind of care is at another level and I’ve come to think of it as “next level” caring. When we get out of our comfort zone to help someone we care about become the person they are meant to be.

We all need honest feedback to grow. It’s a critical nutrient. It’s like sunlight. But we rarely get it. And this essentially starves our emotional and spiritual selves. Which leads to an internal atrophying. Just like eating sugar when we need protein, we ingest our own beliefs and fears which alienate us from a larger reality and limit our potential. Although we can break through with learning and reflection there is nothing as effective as having someone we know and trust tell us the truth. One honest conversation can do more than a year of meditation. “You only talk about yourself, why don’t you ask me about my life?”, “Don’t you see that you are an artist? Stop fighting it”, "You are being manipulative, stop it." There is an authority that comes from a trusted external source which can uniquely disrupt our internal narrative. If you want to change your life, change your internal narrative. That may mean you also need to change your friends.

Next level caring means valuing the person, the friend, even more than the friendship. 

I want to be that kind of friend and I want to have that kind of friend. I feel blessed to have many people in my life that can be that kind of friend to me, even when I don’t “want” it. A friend that can tell me their truth about my life. Unvarnished, real feedback and insights. I want to give and receive next level care.