Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Unique Ability

People I work with know that, to the extent possible, I try to keep my mind fresh by reading and listening to audio presentations on ground-breaking ideas.

Several weeks ago I was listening to an interview on the concept of "Unique Ability" which says, more or less: every person is able to do something that is uniquely and wonderfully theirs. The speakers suggested that we would all not only be happier, but we would achieve far more and contribute more to the people around us if we would concentrate our efforts as much as possible on our unique abilities rather than exerting ourselves in those areas where we are weak, mediocre, competent, or even "merely" excellent!

"Focus your efforts on those things where you are not only outstandingly excellent, but where you have a passion." --It’s similar to the old idea, I’m sure you’ve heard, that you should "do what you love, and the money will follow."

But I was particularly struck by the source of this "Unique Ability" concept.

Dan Sullivan, founder of a Toronto-based company called Strategic Coach, came up with the idea when he was working with whatever portion of the Canadian government is dedicated to serving handicappers. He said he had begun to notice that some handicappers were bright, cheerful, achievement-oriented people who "even" made lots of money. Others seemed doomed never to rise from the gutter in which they lived. They were depressed, lacking in motivation, unable, it seemed, to do much of anything for themselves much less anyone else. No one would pay them a salary because they had nothing to offer.

What was the difference?

Dan realized that one of the key differences had to do not only with a general mental attitude. It had even more to do with where these two groups of people concentrated their mental, emotional, and physical energies. The one group more or less ignored their limitations; they acquired equipment or hired people to do for them what they could not do for themselves. They focused all their energies on those things they could do. And they became uniquely good at them.

The people who floundered in the gutter, as it were, never had time to think about what they could do because all their energies were spent thinking about and mourning over what they realized they would never be able to do on their own.

Clearly, the situation Dan faced as he worked with these handicappers was somewhat different from what most of us face in our own lives: the handicappers had some things they really and truly, despite all efforts, would absolutely never be able to do. Most of us believe--even if our natural inclinations are in other areas . . . --Most of us believe that, if we would only try harder and spend more time, we really could learn how to play the violin, dance in the ballet, change the oil in our cars without stripping the oil pan plug, etc., etc.

But what Dan and his cohorts have begun to say is this: "If you spend your time really strengthening what you’re not good at, at the end of your life, all you’re going to have is some really strong weaknesses. . . . And what good is that? Why not, rather, devote yourself to those things in which you can become exceptional?"

I will confess that I, myself, have been aware of the "Unique Ability" concept for a little over three years. I have been taking baby steps toward implementing the concept in my own life. I have a long way to go.

I have acquired a copy of a helpful book on the subject: Unique Ability: Creating The Life You Want. It helps you understand what "Unique Ability" is really all about; it helps you discover your personal "Unique Ability"; it helps teach you how to apply your "Unique Ability" to produce extraordinary results; and it seeks to help you use your "Unique Ability" to maximize your impact on the world around you.

It’s a bit expensive, but if you apply what you learn, it can truly revolutionize your life (and the lives of those you know--like your kids and spouse!).

Check it out at

Sunday, April 10, 2005

"Lies Across America": Franklin Pierce and the Homestead Act

I so enjoyed James W. Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, I recently purchased his Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong (New York: Touchstone, 1999).

This morning I was reading (pp. 433-435) about a marker in Concord, New Hampshire, dedicated to former American President Franklin Pierce (1804-1869). According to Loewen, the marker reads
[Pierce was] Fourteenth President of the United States (1853-57). Lies buried in nearby Minot enclosure. Native son of New Hampshire, graduate of Bowdoin College, lawyer, effective political leader, Congressman and U.S. Senator, Mexican War veteran, courageous advocate of State's Rights, he was popularly known as "Young Hickory of the Granite Hills."
Loewen says Pierce was "popularly known" by no name.
The "Young Hickory of the Granite Hills" moniker was a Democratic Party campaign slogan.

But of greater interest was Loewen’s comment that, unlike what the monument says, Pierce wanted nothing to do with "States’ Rights." If anything, he was a strong nationalist. But--and here I began to realize how language can become confusing--he was pro-Southern slaveholders all the way. And if you think of the slaveholder interests as being "States’ Rights" advocates (and post-Lincoln, one can understand how and why one might think of "States’ Rights" as being synonymous with pro-Southern/pro-slavery), then one can understand how and why someone might suggest Pierce was an "advocate of States’ Rights."

It gets more interesting, however. Loewen notes that
Pierce . . . opposed a homestead bill in the West simply because slaveholders saw that letting Americans get land cheaply was a threat to slavery. Homesteading had to wait until the Lincoln administration a decade later.
I had never thought about the conflicting political and social goals a liberal and/or freedom-loving American has to face when considering the effects of the Homestead Act. Four things quickly sprang to mind when I read Loewen’s comments about Pierce.
  1. Someone in favor of small government (i.e., therefore, someone who believes in the Jeffersonian ideal that "that government is best which governs least") should oppose the idea of the national/federal government "owning" and/or being able to "grant" or "give away" large tracts of land. I.e., therefore, such a person should oppose the Homestead Act.

  2. On the other hand,

  3. Jefferson himself and, decades later, when the Democratic Party first came into existence, the Democrats, were officially supportive of small landholders, small farmers (in opposition to big business and banking interests). If you are in favor of "the little guy," and especially if you are more pragmatist than idealist, then I would expect you might support the idea that the federal government ought to be able to "grant land" to homesteaders.

  4. On the other hand,

  5. If you are concerned about the rights of Native Americans; if it bothers you that the federal government repeatedly failed to live up to its treaty obligations toward the Indians: well, then, I would expect you should oppose the Homestead Act--because the Act brought a flood of European-Americans into territory that the native peoples, by treaty, had a right to possess.

  6. But, apparently,

  7. As Loewen suggests, someone who is distressed by black slavery should support the Homestead Act because it made the entire institution of slavery that much less tenable.

So where do you stand with respect to the Homestead Act?

(Isn’t history fun?!?)


While I’m at it, let me make one last comment about Pierce’s alleged pro-States’ Rights perspective.

I had always understood that the Democratic Party, up until the turn of the 20th Century, was the "small government" party. It was the Republicans, most famously exampled in their first major leader, Abraham Lincoln, who were the party of "big government." It was they who were the nationalists. But according to Loewen, the Democrats really were a strong nationalist and anti-States’ Rights party--at least while Pierce was president:
Pierce supported the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which the Democratic party pushed through Congress in 1854. This law opened Kansas to slavery even though it lay north of the Missouri Compromise line set up in 1820 to separate slave from free states. The result was a rush by slaveowners and free soilers to settle Kansas.

The antislavery settlers won. In 1855 their leaders met in Topeka and wrote a constitution in the first attempt to organize a state government. Although the Kansas-Nebraska Act supposedly allows new territories and states to decide for themselves whether to adopt slavery, Pierce refused to allow states’ rights. A Kansas historical marker in Topeka tells the result: "The next year their legislature was dispersed by U.S. dragoons under orders from President Franklin Pierce." Emboldened by support from the national government, pro-slavery forces in Missouri crossed over to vote illegally and intimidate free soilers from voting. Pierce approved the results even though his own appointees in Kansas criticized the election.
My thought: "States’ Rights" is often supported or opposed depending solely on whose party is in control of the national v. the states’ levers of government.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Coming to a Restroom Near You?

As goes New York City, so goes the rest of the country?

According to an article in the April 2nd New York Times, "Transgender Group Reaches Agreement on Restrooms"," New York City's anti-discrimination laws were toughened two years ago to forbid "discrimination based on sexual identity whether or not it differs from a person's biological sex."

The first settlement under that amendment was issued by the city's Commission on Human Rights on April 1st. It found that employees of Advantage Security, a New York security guard company, discriminated against two people when they demanded to see identification after they used women's restrooms.
[Pauline Park] said that she had been having lunch with friends and was "taken aback" when five guards - four men and a woman - stopped her after she used the restroom a second time that day. The first time occurred without incident, she said.

"They encircled me in a very menacing and hostile stance," Ms. Park said.

"The female security guard demanded to know, 'Are you a man or a woman?'" Ms. Park said. "I said to her that I identify as a woman. And she said, 'One of my colleagues thought you were a man.'" . . .

Last March, an Advantage Security guard asked Justine Nicholas for identification after she came out of a women's restroom in a Manhattan office building where she was taking the Graduate Record Examination.
You need to understand, however. "Like Ms. Park, Ms. Nicholas was born male but identifies herself and lives as a woman."

And there's the rub. It doesn't matter if they are biologically male. What matters is that Park and Nicholas view themselves as female. And so, now,
[u]nder the terms of the settlement, Advantage Security will adopt and enforce a policy allowing people to use bathrooms "consistent with their gender identity," said Michael D. Silverman, executive director and general counsel for the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, which represented the two complainants before the commission. The company will also pay $2,500 to each complainant.
I wish the company good luck. Their risks just increased exponentially.

I am a member of an online community made up almost entirely of mothers of young children. We were discussing the implications of this case. "I am the mother of six daughters," wrote one. "I can just imagine that this decision will now permit sexual predators to simply dress in drag for admission to women's restrooms. Who will keep the rapists and molesters out? Are we now supposed to 'assume' any guy in drag is a woman in his mind???"

Others posted about being in women's restrooms where they have found men (in men's clothing), and cross-dressers and/or "pre-op transsexual" individuals and/or sexual predators (???who is to know???). They described how scary and creepy it was for them. One woman described having some cross-dresser/pre-op/sexual predator (???again, who is to know???) come and sit down right beside her as she was seated in the women's restroom lounge--a place she had always understood was set aside for women to breast-feed their babies. . . . Obviously, whoever he was, he was not there to breastfeed an infant. . . . So why should he have the right to be present? Because he feels like he belongs? Because he pretends to feel as if he belongs (when, in truth, he is there "simply" for his own sexual gratification)? . . . Obviously, prior to Park's and Nicholas' "victory," such a person could not argue that he had a legal right. But now . . . ?

Several women posted stories of those they know who have been molested in public restrooms. One said she had been raped.

I suggested that, despite their fears, maybe this legal change wasn't quite as big a deal as they were thinking. After all, the law as it has been hasn't prevented the kinds of things that bother them. Further, I said, honestly, sometimes I feel very vulnerable when standing at a urinal in a public men's room. Indeed, sometimes I feel so uneasy that I mentally steel myself to "be prepared" to defend myself in case some guy tries to come up and attack me while I am exposed in the way one is exposed when urinating. . . .

Maybe we "simply" need to be more aware of our need to defend ourselves?

One of the forum participants replied:
You feel vulnerable at a urinal? How do you think a woman who is trying to keep track of three small children and needs to use the restroom herself feels? As hard as it is for you to imagine defending yourself while caught in the act, imagine how difficult for a woman who has 'other' personal issues to care for in the restroom!

Women are MORE vulnerable in a restroom than a man.

I'm a tall, well built woman who regularly hefts 80# sacks of grain and such. Most women do not.

*I* know from experience that in MOST instances, if I had to defend myself against an 'average' man, I would physically be overpowered and lose.


My children even more so!

Whether a man is dressed in slacks or a dress, he still has the increased leverage of a man's build, along with the greater muscle mass, and the larger quantity of testosterone coursing through his vessels. Those things make him a more powerful creature than I am. Even a male who is taking female hormones will STILL have his male frame and muscle structure working in his favor.

A sexual predator in the throes of a hunt has even more testosterone and adrenaline which increases the discrepancy between our strengths.

A transsexual may choose to think, dress and behave like a woman, but he still has the strength and the frame of a man. *HE* may pose no harm to anyone, BUT by him forcing himself into a private place where women are especially vulnerable, and having laws changed and patterned to do likewise for others, he has now given an excuse for men who really are predators to 'be,' regularly and freely, in those same places.
Pauline Park is a relatively high-profile person. S/he is co-chair of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy (NYAGRA). Indeed, I found his/her email address on the NYAGRA website. And so I have written to him/her:
How do you believe these women's human rights, and their concerns about safety for themselves and their children, can be upheld? Perhaps the Civil Rights Commission addressed these concerns?
Somehow, I doubt it.

I look forward to hearing back from Pauline.