COVID Positive

As published on LinkedIn Influencers March 28th, 2020.

I have been wondering for six days whether or not to write this article, and if I did, how to write this article. What to say, and how to say it. It was only this morning, after waking up feeling truly better, that it felt like the right time.

On Friday March 20th I was tested for COVID-19, having had symptoms of headaches, body aches, stomach issues, and chills earlier in the week. It was only after learning that two people we had been with at a recent gathering, a “before” gathering, had tested positive and were pretty sick that getting tested seemed like the right thing to do. I was lucky, because I was able to get tested. Two days later I got the call that I had tested positive. At the time, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, there were 136 confirmed cases in Utah.

The night before I got my test result, I did what I always do before I go to sleep. I prayed. However, that night I was not sure what to pray for. I always pray for my family, my friends, and the world in general. I pray for health, for safety, for kindness, for wisdom, all the usual things. I was pretty sure I had it, which meant everyone in our household likely had it, but so far none of our symptoms were that severe. We had already been isolating for a week at that time, so I prayed to either not have it, or have it, but please God, let it not be severe for anyone who I may have exposed to it. And so far it seems like that prayer is coming true.

As I shared my symptoms with family and friends, it seems to me that a lot more people may have this virus than is being reported. Of course, the lack of testing is making this an incredibly huge and challenging issue. But the good news is that if we continue to wash hands, stay home, social distance, quarantine if you are confirmed sick, and truly take care of our more vulnerable populations, then the experts tell us that we have the best chances of getting through this, together.

Ironically, March 1st was going to be the day that I emerged from my gap year (18 months) of sorts. While I have been working on a few things during this time, including non-profit boards, charitable giving, and investing, I had given myself some time after fully transitioning from my role at Women Moving Millions to figure out what was next for me in terms of how best to use my time, treasure, and talent to serve. I wanted to get through my full hip replacement that happened on February 11th first, and then I was going to hit the ground running. But let’s recall what has been happening since then, shall we? Global pandemic, financial markets tumbling, Utah earthquake, economic shut-down, three week home quarantine, and somehow we’re still having endless snow storms in Park City. So needless to say my March 1st date has shifted to April 1st. However, expect to hear a lot more from me going forward.

And please. Take care of yourself and take care of others.

Leaders or Hucksters?

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on March 21st, 2020.

I woke up before 5am this morning, slightly later than my new normal of 4am, with words from “Ironic” by Alanis Morissette playing in my head. For a minute, disoriented, I wasn’t sure whether I was about to laugh or cry. And then I cried.

In January of 2008, I decided I would start blogging, and I hired a talented writer and friend, Deborah Siegel, to work with me. If you need a refresh as to what was happening in the United States at that time, the topics and people included President Bush, sub-prime mortgage crisis, Ben Bernanke Chair of the Federal Reserve, Hank Paulson Treasury Secretary (my former boss), and US Presidential candidates dropping out like flies. In fact, on the day Deborah and I worked together for the first time, we paused to listen to the news as Hank Paulson made a special announcement regarding the unprecedented (at the time) financial interventions of the US government to try and bail out the economy. I was so fired up and pissed off that I started to rant, but Deborah simply said, “Write about it.” And so we did. We submitted a piece titled “The Confidence Man” to the Huffington Post, and it was published on the front page.

Today’s announcement by U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is but the latest effort by the current administration to downplay the severity of the current economic crisis. In the grand old American tradition of hucksterism, Paulson’s prescription is a sorely misleading sell.

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It’s time to wake up and smell the economy. Sadly, there’s no short and easy fix to the longer-term problems created by excessive borrowing combined with rampant consumerism. Yet Paulson insists (White House Stimulus Fact Sheet, Jan. 18, 12:03pm, WSJ.com), “By passing an effective growth package quickly, we can provide a shot in the arm to keep our fundamentally strong economy healthy and help keep instability in the housing and financial markets from more adversely affecting the overall economy.” Believing the economy to be grounded on a “solid foundation,” Paulson is ignoring the walls falling down.”

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Fast forward 12 years. Today, and every day for the past week, we have had government leaders and financial gurus appear before us on the same news channels as in 2008. In fact, this very second, as I hit publish, we are awaiting an announcement on another historical financial and legislative intervention, including billions, if not trillions of dollars worth of interventions. Instead of President Bush, we have President Trump. Instead of Treasury Secretary Paulson, we have Treasury Secretary Mnuchin (another former Goldman boss, my direct one). However, unlike 2008, we also have an array of health experts to listen to, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. If you flip from channel to channel as I have done unhealthily for the past couple of weeks, all you will see are panels of “experts”. Some of these politicians and health experts are giving us facts and useful information on how to take action against the Coronavirus. And some are not.

Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?

The financial crisis of 2008 is obviously different than the crisis we’re currently facing. This time around the trigger is a global pandemic. Should we have foreseen the possibility of this and had a better plan? Heck yes. Will people, many people, die because of the lack of foresight and planning? Sadly, the answer is already yes. As of this writing, there were 18,900 confirmed cased in the United States and 263 deaths. 26 people are dying every hour in Italy. And beyond the absolutely devastating loss of life, there is the short term and long term economic and social impact.

Once again I find myself screaming at the television, and so once again I am turning to writing. This time around, I chose the medium of poetry to express my frustrations.

I keep thinking. Asking. “Why this is all so surprising”? Do you? I am not in to blame and shame. but I am into – leadership, responsibility, accountability. It’s a big deal to have NOT been better prepared. In all the big and obvious ways. And in all the invisible and hidden ways. A very big deal. This is about some people in particular. Those with big titles, big salaries, big platforms, big influence, big teams. But most of us. As well. It’s a big deal to witness and unpack and understand what all of this exposes. It will also be a big deal to respond. rethink, regroup, rebuild, reconnect. NOW. And especially. When the droplets settle and disappear.

Earlier today I looked up the term hucksterism, as I am not sure I have seen or used this word since 2008. Let me define it for you:

Hucksterism: To promote or attempt to sell (a commercial product, for example) in an overaggressive or showy manner.

Now, how about another word?

Leadership: A simple definition is that leadership is the art of motivating a group of people to act toward achieving a common goal. They are the person in the group that possesses the combination of personality and leadership skills to make others want to follow their direction.

We have, and always will, live in times of hucksters and leaders, and it has and will always be up to us to figure out who falls into which bucket. What I can do, what we all can do, is pay attention. Make note. Remember. Act. And throughout all of this, my favorite definition of insanity keeps coming to mind: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.

So President Trump. Everything is not perfect and great and awesome and amazing. Nor is it all your fault. But you are the President of the United States at this moment, and your job is to be a leader, not a huckster. The same is true for every other leader right now, and especially those with the big titles, the big teams, and the big pay-checks. The walls are indeed, falling down. This pandemic is quickly exposing the cracks, if not downright fractures, in our institutions, our systems, and our social norms. This includes those in government at all levels everywhere, businesses both big and small, philanthropy, and civil society. There is so much to be learned in terms of how we live and work, practice proper preparedness, and care for our most vulnerable populations, both in “normal” times and in times of crisis and need.

We should never forget that countless people suffer and die every single day for so many preventable reasons. We have normalized the abnormal because it has been going on for so long. We have become so used to the word ‘crisis’ being in the news that the meaning has become lost. We move on and move past the headlines around deaths due to violence, poverty, addiction, preventable diseases, and mental-health, and we do this for so many reasons, perhaps the most common of which being it is someone else’s problem to solve. It may be someone else’s problem, but it is our problem too. Problems are everywhere, but so are solutions. We can all do something, or we can all do nothing. Isn’t it ironic that the number one message of this particular crisis is that we can in fact ALL do something that matters.

We can stay home. We can wash our hands. We can social distance. We can take care of one another. We can donate to charities serving the needy. We can search #covidkindness on twitter to lift our spirits. People really can be awesome!

In closing, I am quite sure I will continue to wake up before dawn for the foreseeable future. I am quite sure I will continue to yell at the television. And of course, I am going to keep sharing, posting, writing, and connecting; doing as I have done, out loud, for the past 12 years.

A few lines from the end of this poem I wrote and shared on March 14th called Maybe/Who/Next.

Let us all do the next right thing. Let us all do the next kind thing. Let us all do the next hopeful thing. Let us all do the next generous thing. The next compassionate thing. The next wise thing. The next rational thing. The next loving thing. The next safe thing. The next calm thing. And then. Do it again and again. We are all connected. We always have been. We always will be. (May heeding the call to ‘social distance’ be the force that actually draws us closer together)

I have written 778 blog posts since 2008. If you want to check them out you can find them here. And of course you can sign-up to have them emailed directly to your inbox. 

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*A friend shared with me this white paper called “Public-Private Cooperation for Pandemic Preparedness and Response: A Call to Action”, which was prepared in partnership with the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the World Economic Forum, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation last year. Again, for a second, I did not know whether to laugh or cry. And then I cried.

What is the Opposite of Hate?

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on April 10th, 2018.

This may sound like the ultimate contradiction, but I hate the word hate. I truly do. I hate the way it sounds. I hate the way it feels. I hate the word hate. And I especially hate the fact that I can’t seem to avoid it these days. Politically and socially this word has seeped into our collective consciousness at an alarming rate, and while a lot of people have spent countless hours debating how we got to this point, I’m personally far more interested in how we move forward from here. How do we bridge this ever widening gap to find common ground and work together to move this country, and the world, forward?

Clearly, this is not an easy question, and as such there are no easy answers, but thankfully there are people who are trying to find a way forward. One such person is Sally Kohn, a political commentator and contributor to both CNN and Fox News, whose book on this very topic is available todayThe Opposite of Hate examines the current epidemic of hate and its historical and cultural roots, but more importantly, it offers insight on how we can move past this bitterly divided impasse and learn to work together. I have known Sally for many years, and so when I heard that she would be devoting an entire book to the issue of hate and how we can move past it, I knew I had to pick up a copy. Sally’s writing has previously been published in The Washington Post, Fox News, USA Today, and The Huffington Post, but this is her first full book, and I encourage everyone to pick up a copy for themselves. And if you need a bit more incentive, please check out below some questions I posed to Sally prior to this book’s publication and her insightful responses. I know I’m looking forward to delving into this issue more deeply when my order arrives later today, and I hope I’m not the only one.

Jacki Zehner: Hate is such a harsh and strong word that I actively avoid using it because of how that word makes me feel, and yet you chose to write a book about it. Why? What made you decide to address this topic at this point in time?

Sally Kohn: I don’t want to sugar coat the hard reality of what we’re facing right now as a species. And there’s no other word for it, really. We have a problem with hate. We hate each other. And it only seems to be getting worse at the moment. Whether we’re talking about racism or misogyny or Islamophobia or anti-Semitism or extreme partisan hate and bias, we have a historical and habitual problem with demeaning and dehumanizing others based on their identities. A problem that has ebbed but more often flowed throughout the history of the United States and the world, which we’ve at times made progress on however imperfectly, but also are clearly still struggling with. Arguably it’s been worse before but still, I don’t think hate needs to be at its worst now to be bad enough that we have to do something about it.

JZ: What is the opposite of hate?

SK: It’s not love. Not for my purposes, anyway. You don’t have to love someone to not hate them. But you do have to understand how we’re all fundamentally connected as human beings, how in spite of our differences and disagreements — which, by the way, I think are incredibly important and even worth celebrating — we’re still more alike than not and have more in common than not. And we all want a world that’s less divided and less cruel. And the way we get there is recognizing how we’re connected, and studies show when we connect with people outside our own bubbles, the people we think of as “other” we hate them less. The opposite of hate is connection.

JZ: I love that answer and I could not agree more. The opposite of hate is connection. Thank you. So how did pursuing this topic change you and your worldview?

SK: You’d think that writing a book about hate would be really depressing, and of course parts were, especially coming to terms with our profound history and capacity for cruelty. But honestly, I walked away from the process of writing this book feeling more optimistic about humanity than ever. Sure we have the ability to hate, but we also have the ability for stunning kindness, for forgiveness to a degree that I never thought imaginable, for seeing the best in others in spite of every excuse not to. When I met former terrorists and ex-neo Nazis and people who had participated in heinous genocides who had somehow managed to leave entire lives of hate behind, that left me feeling more inspired and hopeful about human beings than I ever imagined possible. We all have the capacity for great hate, but we also all have the capacity for its opposite — and, to me, it’s that positive possibility that makes us all so remarkable and full of promise.

JZ: You have spent a lot of time working as a social and political commentator on various news channels. What is your take on the current state of our news media? How has the relationship between the news media and the government changed since the last election?

SK: I’m deeply worried about the state of truth and fact in our world today, which I still believe in the power of journalists to defend and promote, but has obviously been deeply undermined. And in addition to each of us as individuals standing up for facts and real news, there’s a role that government I think needs to play in working with the media, in a cross-partisan fashion, to make sure that we the people have access to the facts and information our democracy needs. In addition, I also worry that the news media helped create this moment in part by sliding away from an emphasis on reporting toward over-emphasizing opinion and debate — a dynamic, by the way, I still play into. And I think it’s important there be spaces in media for discussing and debating opinions. At the same time, I worry when news media starts to borrow too much from sensational reality television… and then we elect a reality TV star President and it comes full circle.

JZ: Increasingly, Americans are dividing up and self-sorting themselves into groups and spaces where we are constantly surrounded by people who think alike and hold the same opinions as each other, particularly in the online spaces. What are the dangers of this division? How do you think this is effecting our ability to engage and connect with people who think differently about important issues?

SK: I’m an opinionated person. I literally have opinions for a living. That’s my profession as a commentator and columnist. So I want to be clear that I don’t think the problem is people having deeply held convictions and beliefs or even defending their perspectives. I think the problem is when we do so by demeaning and even dehumanizing those who don’t agree with us. And divisiveness — both conceptual and in real life — just makes the problem worse, because it’s easy to be mean to people you don’t know. And more and more of us don’t know people, don’t live around people, don’t work with people, who hold different views than we do. And then we reinforce those bubbles in the news we consume and the social media we follow. Which is why connection is the answer — making sure you have friends outside your political bubble, or at the very least following smart thinkers on social media who come from the other side of the political spectrum. And then learning how we can disagree without resorting to or reinforcing hate.

If you read this, love your thoughts in the comment section. Have a wonderful day.