Friday, December 27, 2019

Thomas W. Jones on From Willard Straight to Wallstreet and What Happened at Citigroup

In this interview, Thomas W. Jones talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about his book, From Willard Straight to Wall Street: A Memoir.

“Give yourself a personal gift of 100% effort to achieve your highest potential.” ~Thomas W. Jones

Citigroup had entered a contract related to mutual funds, and the Securities and Exchange Commission had claimed that the contract concerned wasn’t fully properly disclosed to the mutual fund board. The Citigroup legal department had vetted the contract in all details, and while Citigroup settled the complaint, they didn’t include the otherwise usual provision that the senior management group concerned was also included in the terms of settlement. The SEC took this to mean that Citigroup had investigated the matter and concluded that the senior managers were at fault, hence the lack of inclusion of the senior managers in the terms of settlement - something which Tom remarked was “cynical” of then-CEO Charles Prince. This resulted in the full force of the federal government, through the SEC bringing charges against him, being brought on Thomas, and Thomas, rather than settle, spent eight years clearing his name. This process cost “millions” of dollars, and Thomas pointed out that the cost of his defense will not be recovered. He noted that, while the case against him was ongoing, he wouldn’t be able to hold a senior job in a regulated industry if one was in a fight against the regulating body, and that he chose to fight the charges because he was right and because he didn’t want those whom he worked with to think that there was anything shady about him. As he wasn’t employable, he thus needed to find a way to generate the funds needed for his legal defense as well as to support his family.

Thomas has noted that the way corporate America has changed since the 1970s, when he began working. As an example of this, Thomas notes that the CEO of General Electric, in the 1970s, retired with a package worth $10 million (around $50 million in today’s money); today, that CEO will retire with a retirement package worth $1 billion, and this cascades down the line, with the second in line getting a half billion dollar retirement package, the third in line getting a quarter billion dollar retirement package, and so on. He notes that this means that most of a company’s wealth is tied up with the top executives, and recalls that, in the 1970s, people viewed joining a major company to be a lifetime career move, with generous retirement and medical benefits. Thomas remarks that, in the 1970s, during a time which he called a period of “benevolent capitalism,” companies structured their guaranteed retirement packages so that retirees got around 65% of their working salary. All this changed, he notes, in the 1980s, when corporate raiders would buy and then control companies and then increase the companies’ cash flow by stripping out the costs (which included medical and retirement benefits and jobs) and then reselling those companies at a higher value, thanks to the apparent increased profitability of the company due to its increased cash flow. This led to later CEOs getting a mentality of wanting to cut costs wherever possible, and this shows itself in today’s environment, where retirement benefits are no longer fully funded by a company and medical benefits are greatly reduced. According to Thomas, this has resulted in a fear of people are able to keep up, and is a source for millennial thinking that capitalism isn’t the way to go, and perhaps socialism is. (In some comments made after the interview, Thomas remarked that the era of benevolent capitalism began after the Great Depression, when those in power realized that the common people had lost faith in the capitalist system and were likely to turn to socialism and communism.) He also notes that this has led to the transactional nature of work at present, which then breeds insecurity and which creates to tone of politics and the angry discourse that is prevalent today.

Where racism is concerned, Thomas notes that, at the present, the amount of progress that has been made isn’t front and center, whereas the issues that still need to be addressed are. He notes that there is still discrimination and believes that racist crimes, while these still do occur, are far less frequent now compared to fifty or a hundred years ago, as well as notes that the police back then weren’t punished for their actions. “It’s not perfect,” he notes, “but it’s moved in the right direction,” pointing out that people from non-white groups are now members of the middle class, thanks to this progress. Thomas also adds that the quality of education also plays a role in opportunities for everybody, but that, under the present system, as education is funded by local property taxes, those communities which collect a lesser amount of property tax will have fewer resources available for education that those which can collect more from their property taxes. This would explain why wealthier people, who cluster into higher-income communities, can afford good public education systems for their children, while those from lower-income communities cannot; and this means that children from the latter communities aren’t as prepared as those who come from the former communities.

Thomas has an investment fund which invests in startup businesses, and he enjoys being involved in this because of the energy and creativity of the people who are starting up new businesses. “This entrepreneurial energy is the secret sauce that makes America more successful than any other country around the world,” he notes. His fund identifies if a would-be business has a product that can solve a particular problem, as well as any added value when this product is applied and the size of the market. The revenue that can be generated is also considered, and the startup company is thus set up in a way where it can make the most impact.

Thomas emphasizes that the United States has come so far, as a country, from where it used to be, and while it should recognize that there is still some issues that need to be resolved, all should be proud of what has come out. On a personal level, he notes that the discipline of doing one’s best, of giving 100% every day, enables self-actualization, where one achieves one’s full potential. “You’re the only person who can do that,” he remarks.

Purchase from Amazon: 
From Willard Straight to Wall Street: A Memoir by Thomas W. Jones

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Marni Jameson on Downsizing the Blended Home (for when two households become one)

In this interview, Marni Jameson talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about her book, Donwsizing the Blended Home: When Two Households Become One.

“I don’t write because I know all the answers; I write because I want to find out.” ~Marni Jameson

Marni began writing about home design around twenty years ago. In addition to writing a blog about what was going on in her life, she is also a syndicated home and lifestyle columnist. She was always interested in doing home design, but originally didn’t know how to approach doing so. As a journalist, she then began asking people how to do various things related to home design, and this came in handy after she and her first husband broke up, when she became a home stager, which is someone who lives in, and dresses up, a house which would be put on sale. According to Marni, a well-presented house, which is what a home stager works to create, sells faster and for more money. She staged six houses in four years, and the experience helped her out when setting up her own household after her second marriage.

Marni’s parents were moved to an assisted living facility some years back and she blogged about how “heartbreaking” it was to clear out the family home, working to be respectful while, at the same time, deciding on what to throw or give away. It was also around this time when she likewise downsized her own home, as her marriage at that time was unwinding. And after she married her present husband the two needed to blend their households, and this experience led her to writing Downsizing the Blended Home.

A blended household is a household where both partners come from previously established households. (Marni, after the interview, mentioned that: more than 60% of homes in the United States have stepchildren; in one out of five marriages in the United States, both partners have been married before; and in two out of five marriages in the United States, one partner has been married before.) Marni referred to some of her clients who created blended homes, and while most of these did work, some did not, because of the issues related to creating a blended home. She also remarks that she talks to such people as psychologists and designers to make her work stick.  Marni admits that she had her own challenges when creating a blended home with her present husband, as she needed to create a house that represented the both of them, rather than just herself.

Marni remarks that people get attached to the things they have collected over their lives, and when creating a blended home, both partners can get “contentious” about what to keep and what to release; as she notes, “The fight about the coffee table isn’t about the coffee table.” The goal, Marni notes, is for both people, and their pasts, to be respected in the new house, so that the house doesn’t become a shrine to the past and has space for the future. One partner capitulating to the other doesn’t work, as the capitulating partner will come to a home where he or she feels that something is missing. This means that both partners have to agree on what they are trying to create, together, particularly when it comes to listening to each other.

“Something’s got to give when two people move in together,” Marni notes, and the concern is for people to give up half a house each, and this requires a lot of bending and giving, rather than digging in, which can damage the relationship. She remarks that, for newly-blended newlyweds, it’s best to start by looking for neutral territory where design is concerned, as well as identify one’s own personal style. Marni then gave an example of a design style which would speak to both partners, after which she stressed the importance of sticking to that new style. Both partners should then pick around five items of their own which are non-negotiable, which are that person’s anchor pieces which would represent the person in their new home. Everything else then becomes neutral, and anything then purchased should support the new style.

Marni notes that she has never had “giver-up” remorse over anything, thanks to her experiences, and has learned that, if one hangs on to the past, one leaves no room for the future. She notes that adults being attached to things is the very same thing as children being attached to transitional objects - items which serve as intermediaries for the love and security of their parents or caregivers. Items become endowed with meaning and stories, and it is actually the stories that people have trouble giving up, rather than the item associated with the story. Identifying the story and creating ways to keep the story alive without the actual item itself, such as taking a picture of the item, helps people move on and release things. “If everything’s important, nothing is important,” Marni notes, adding that this kind of attachment is what has created the “epidemic” of storage lockers in the United States.

Marni surveyed bookstores to discover that there wasn’t much by way on the topic of creating a blended household, although there were several which covered the topic of blended families, and this was the reason behind her writing Downsizing the Blended Home. She contacted experts to make sure her work was as accurate as possible, and from these has gotten advice which she has applied to her own life. She admits to undershooting her own expectations when she and her husband set up their first blended home, as it didn’t allow her to be able to invite their offspring for gatherings, so she can create relationships which can cover future generations.

For those setting up a blended household, Marni recommends agreeing on a style, then communicating honestly with each other about what will go into that space they will create. “There’s a lot of security in the smaller items,” she adds, noting that everyday items which are touched daily are just as important as the large, obvious pieces. She also notes that people should remember that the relationship comes first, and that the blended household is what the couple is becoming, rather than being who they once were. Marni also remarks that couples actually need to give up more than half a house, as space needs to be created for the future, and recommends getting rid of any beds.

Purchase from Amazon:
Downsizing the Blended Home: When Two Households Become One by Marni Jameson

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Paul Smith and Kenny Tedford, Jr. on their Book, Four Days with Kenny (who is partly deaf and blind)

In this interview, Paul Smith and Kenny Tedford, Jr. talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about their book, Four Days with Kenny Tedford: Life Through the Eyes of a Child Trapped in a Partially Blind & Deaf Man's Body.

“Look at the mirror. You are the greatest hero you could ever meet. You are. Not those around you.” ~Paul Smith and Kenny Tedford, Jr.

(Explanatory Note: Kenny Tedford, Jr., while in utero, experienced oxygen deprivation, which has resulted in him being deaf in both ears, legally blind in one eye and being cognitively impaired. The reason that Paul repeated questions to Kenny throughout the interview was because Kenny was more familiar with reading Paul’s lips than those of the interviewer’s.)

Kenny Tedford (left) with Paul Smith (right).
Kenny’s parents had nine children, and Kenny was the only one with issues, as he was born two months premature, as he was taken out once his doctors realized that the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. His parents died when he was eight, when he then lived with his uncle and aunt. Just about everyone around him - his uncle, his teachers, the school principal, his childhood psychiatrist - said that he wouldn’t amount to anything. As he was deaf, it was easy for other kids to jump him, and he became the target of bullies due to his conditions. As a teenager, Kenny wrestled, did gymnastics and played football. He learned sign language only at the age of 21, and he remarks that who he is now is essentially his “inner child,” as being a grown up man “doesn’t seem to work.”

Kenny mentioned a story of being called “retarded” when he was in high school, and he didn’t know what the word meant. Two of his friends took exception to that and held down the boy who called Kenny retarded so Kenny could beat him up. Kenny was somewhat puzzled by that, as the boy had insulted him, rather than his two friends, and Kenny figured that, if he was insulted, he should be the one to act on his own. “If I don’t understand what you say or do to me, why should I get mad, ‘cause I don’t know what you’re doing,” Kenny sums up.

Kenny related that one of the incidents that got him started on the road to becoming a storyteller took place in second grade, when he and his classmates were given crayons and told to draw something. Kenny was only given two or three colors of crayons, while his classmates were given twenty-four colored crayons. Kenny’s pictures with the three crayons weren’t that good, but when he was finally given twenty-four crayons to work with, Kenny was able to draw better pictures. One of these was a picture of a butterfly with a woman on it, and when the psychologist asked him who the woman was, Kenny told him that the woman was his mother who would fly around and tell the teacher to give him an A instead of a D. This story was one of the first Kenny began telling, and he’s been telling stories ever since.

Where Paul is concerned, what he got from Kenny’s crayon experience was that, given the proper tools, anyone can create work that would amaze others.

As a child, members of his family would tell him how funny he was, and it took Kenny some time to realize that, instead of laughing at him, people were laughing with him, and his becoming a storyteller grew from there. Kenny also ventured deeper into storytelling by getting a master’s degree in it at the age of 55, and is presently only one of two deaf people to hold such a degree. He got interested in getting a master’s degree in storytelling after getting a bachelor’s degree in theater, when he heard about it from acquaintances, and he had a lot of fun going through the program. Kenny admits that he doesn’t have a particular process for creating his stories, which led to challenges while he was taking up his master’s degree. Instead, Kenny remarks that all he essentially needs to do is to read a story once, after which he can perform that story, with all its characters which, he notes, is different from the way a lot of people approach storytelling as, with the latter, research can be involved.

Although Kenny is deaf, he does get feedback for what he does and what he says from the way the audience reacts, as it does whenever he tells a story. Paul then remarked that Kenny is so good at touching the audience that he, Paul, is professionally jealous. “People like me, but they love him,” Paul jokingly remarks.

Kenny also points out that people aren’t what they have, giving an example from his own personal experience: “I may have had cancer, but cancer didn’t have me.” “It’s not what happened to me, but how I respond to that,” he adds.

For Paul, the elements that make a story worth telling or listening to are: a hero to care about, a villain to be afraid of and an epic battle between them - in more business-friendly language, a relatable main character; a relevant challenge that someone listening might find himself facing someday; and and honest struggle. For Kenny, it’s all about sharing himself, “opening up my heart,” as he calls it, as well as telling the story with love and compassion.

Paul and Kenny got together when they were speaking at the National Storytelling Conference in Covington, Kentucky, in June 2012. They had been speaking in different rooms, and one time, after they had presented, Paul and Kenny wound up sitting right next to each other, with Kenny’s sign language interpreter telling the latter what was going on. Paul was intrigued by the thought of a deaf person coming to a storytelling festival, and it was after lunch that same day that their relationship started.

Kenny admits that he included a lot of trauma and secrets in the book, so much so that he hopes that he’ll “still have family for Christmas.” He also remarks that, with the book, he and Paul are giving the readers the tools they need to be able to live their lives with the same kind of cheer that he does. “I am like I am because of my father,” Kenny further explains. “He loved me as his son, not a disabled son or a handicapped son.”

Paul remarks that Kenny is one of the most unique individuals that he’s met, particularly given how positive Kenny is after experiencing things that Paul admits would have made him bitter. His curiosity about how Kenny could maintain his optimistic outlook was one of the reasons he co-authored the book. Paul also notes that Kenny was agreeable to writing a book, as the latter had always wanted to get his story told, but didn’t know how to write (which Paul knew how to do), so the collaboration worked out well for both of them. Paul also acknowledged that, at the start of the project, he had a mindset which a scientist studying a subject so he can write Kenny’s life story. He quickly discarded that mindset when, after two or three interviews, he realized that he was learning a lot from the disabled Kenny, rather than the latter learning from the able-bodied Paul, during the process.

The title of the book came from the four days that Kenny and Paul spent together, writing it out, during which time the two sat and traded stories “from eight in the morning until six at night.” The idea was Paul’s, and Kenny admits that he thought the idea “insane.” That said, the process worked, and Kenny got another good story out of it when Paul’s son gave Kenny some insight into how a child would see him. Paul’s then-nine-year-old son had to read a book and write a report on it, then create a cereal box, complete with pictures and stories from the book all around it. The boy chose the book Paul and Kenny were writing (the first draft had been finished by then), and after presenting it in class the boy then kept it in his room until he gave it to Kenny.

Kenny hopes the book will help people learn to love themselves, admitting that it’s not easy to do that. “But if I can do that, there’s hope,” he remarks. Kenny also notes that 98% of all parents with deaf children do not know sign language, which results in the deaf children growing up lonely, as they exist in a silent world. Where Paul is concerned, he points to the 27 different life lessons which are listed at the end of the book, with half of these being for people with disabilities and the other half being for the members of the families of such people.

Kenny gave an example of how he views people by telling a story about a wheelchair-bound friend named Marty. Kenny told of a time when he through a door ahead of Marty and wound up closing the door in front of him, as Marty being wheelchair-bound isn’t in the forefront of his thoughts. Kenny only then realized that Marty was left outside in the rain and hurriedly opened the door so Marty could get in. Once inside, Marty then turned his head and began talking to the people around them. Kenny then noticed the people around them laughing, and when he asked what was going on, he was given the reply: “Marty’s making fun of you.”

“I can’t read your lips!” Kenny then complained to Marty.

“That’s because you slammed the door in my face,” Marty then replied.

“Don’t look at someone as if they have a disability,” Kenny then emphasizes, adding that, if a disabled child does something wrong, then he or she should be corrected just like any other child.

“Love yourself,” Kenny gives as advice to those who might be in the same situation as himself. “Just be you.” He also adds for people to be around positive people and get away from the naysayers. “Believe in yourself,” he adds. “Every time you look in a mirror, you’re somebody.”

Purchase from Amazon: 
Four Days with Kenny Tedford: Life Through the Eyes of a Child Trapped in a Partially Blind & Deaf Man's Body by Paul Smith and Kenny Tedford, Jr.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Paul Smith and The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell (for Leadership and Sales Success)

In this interview, Paul Smith talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about his book, The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell.

“Be honest.” ~Paul Smith

Paul remarks that his working career was typical, in that he took a job with large corporations such as Accenture and Proctor and Gamble after graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree in economics, after which he got a master’s degree in business. He got involved with storytelling when he realized that storytelling was something which leaders should have, thanks to the leaders he admired while he was in Proctor and Gamble. “They didn’t teach me that [storytelling] in undergrad, they didn’t teach me that in business school,” he remarks about his frustration when figuring out what storytelling was all about. He thus set out on his own to explore the realm of storytelling, which is how he is where he now is, as a storyteller.

For Paul, storytelling is “telling a story about something that happened to someone.” A story is thus not a speech, a presentation or a memo with bullet points, but a narrative that has a time, place, a main character that has a goal, an obstacle in the way of getting to that goal, events that take place along the way and an ending with a resolution. Paul notes that there are eight questions that a good story must answer, and these are:

  1. Why should I listen to the story? (The answer to this must be given by the storyteller, so the audience has a reason to listen to the story.)
  2. Where and when did it take place?
  3. Who’s the main character, and what did they want?
  4. What was the problem or opportunity that they ran into?
  5. What did they do about it?
  6. How did it turn out in the end?
  7. What did you learn from the story?
  8. What do you think I should go and do, now? (This question is something that the audience needs to answer.)

Paul remarks that all stories share the same common traits; that said, in business stories, the audience is the one who needs to summarize what is learned and figure out the next steps to be taken. Storytelling is becoming popular as a means of communication within businesses because it works at getting people to think and feel what it is that needs to be done, according to him, and this is because stories communicate with both the logical/rational and the emotional parts of the brain. A list of reasons, on the other hand, only communicates with the logical/rational part of the brain, which makes this method fall short, as Paul notes that human decisions are made in the subconscious, emotional part of the brain, after which these decisions are rationalized. He also notes that facts and data are between six and 22 times more likely to be remembered if these are told within a story compared to if these were merely given as a list, which makes these facts more likely to be acted upon.

Paul mentioned that, in the three books he wrote prior to The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell, he covered some 70 different types of stories and 250 examples of these types of stories. He was thus often asked: “What are the most important ones?” and he would give different answers each time. He decided to narrow his focus on a particular type of story when a publisher contacted him to write a book which could be read in an hour’s time, and he chose the field of leadership because several of his clients, who are leaders in their respective fields, ask him how to tell stories which could help them with their work.

The ten kinds of stories great leaders tell, according to Paul, are:

  1. Where we came from. (This is a founding story.)
  2. Why we can’t stay there. (This is a case for change story.)
  3. Where we’re going. (This is a vision story.)
  4. How we’re going to get there. (This is a strategy story.)
  5. What we believe. (This is a corporate values story.)
  6. Who we serve. (This is a story about the customer.)
  7. What we do for our customers. (This is a classic sales or customer success story.)
  8. How we’re different from our competitors. (This is a marketing story.)
  9. Why I lead the way I do. (This is a personal leadership philosophy story.)
  10. Why you should want to work here. (This is a recruiting story.)

Paul gave, as an example, a personal leadership philosophy story of Mike Figliuolo, who was a West Point graduate who was assigned to lead a platoon of tanks. In one of his first training exercises, despite the planning that had been done beforehand, he found himself in a situation where he was leading a force of 400 tanks against an opposing force of 400 tanks and had to pick a direction at a time where he was somewhat confused. Mike could have spent thirty seconds stopping where he was and studying his map to figure out what to do - which is a long time, given that the opposing force was likewise looking for him so they could “kill” him and the tanks he was leading. Mike made a decision on the fly to head in one direction, and within seconds of doing so, he and his entire platoon were taken out. The tanks behind him, however, saw what happened and turned in the other, correct direction, subsequently took the high ground and, in the end, won the exercise. The lesson Mike learned was that it is sometimes better to make the wrong decision quickly than the right decision slowly; and since life gives quick feedback on whether the decision taken is right or wrong, provided one doesn’t get killed by it, one can adjust and figure out what to do next, rather than get stuck in analysis paralysis. This explains why Mike is a quick, decisive leader who forgives his people for making mistakes, so long as they learn from it.

Paul notes that leaders have a difficult time telling strategy and vision stories because they don’t know the difference between a strategy document or a vision statement from a strategy or vision story. He remarks that a story for these would run along the likes of what it would be like for someone to work in a company once the latter has achieved the vision, and that, if the story is attractive enough, people will want to pitch in to achieve that vision. The founding story of the company, on the other hand, is the kind of story that leaders find the easiest to tell, because they know it by heart, because it is the most often told and is most obviously a story.

Paul recommends that people who are looking for the stories to tell need to ask for these stories from the people they work with. He recommends creating a wish list for the kinds of stories needed, and then asking around for these. He notes that, in each chapter of the book, there are guides on why such a story would be important as well as tips on how to find such stories within a company, as well as the kinds of questions to ask. He also reflects that he might want to add a “Why you want to invest in us?” story, as this is something that smaller companies need to convince people to invest in them.

Paul points out that storytelling is just one tool in one’s communication kit, and that, in general, people should be honest whenever they communicate. He also notes the popular impression is that those who tell stories effectively are natural-born storytellers, and that one is either a storyteller or not. This isn’t the case, Paul remarks, and adds that, if people want to tell stories, they should take lessons on how to do so from people who know how to do so, as storytelling is a skill on its own.

Purchase from Amazon: 

The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell by Paul Smith

Monday, November 18, 2019

Dr. Stephen G. Post on God and Love on Route 80: The Hidden Mystery of Human Connectedness

In this interview, Stephen G. Post talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about his book, God and Love on Route 80: The Hidden Mystery of Human Connectedness.

“If you cultivate a spiritual path, truly, no matter what difficulties arise, you will be blessed and you will be smiling.” ~Stephen G. Post

Stephen grew up on New York’s Long Island who went to an Episcopal school for high school, and had always been a good student and has always been spiritual. (The Episcopalian Church is the American version of the Anglican Church, which is, in turn, a British version of the Roman Catholic Church.) He was on the usual track for a middle-class child - school, college, then a corporate job - when, as a fifteen-year-old who was interested in spirituality, he had a vivid dream where he saw a thick, silvery-gray mist covering a road going somewhere, after which he saw, to his left, see the face of a youth with stringy blond hair, leaning out over a ledge. Stephen then saw the face of a blue angel who spoke to him in a feminine voice, saying: “If you save him, you, too, shall live.” The exact, same dream kept recurring over the next one and a half years, around a half dozen times, and he even became the “centerpiece” of a meeting on adolescent spirituality during this time. For Stephen, the dream occurred to him as being that of an Infinite Mind trying to break into his consciousness to suggest that there was something more to life than what was present materially.

Stephen applied to Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and after graduating high school he got interested tutoring some people who were living in the Bronx. His parents figured that the place was too dangerous for him to go to, so Stephen’s father got him a job in a factory cutting cardboard, and after two weeks of driving to the workplace in his father’s second-hand car, Stephen decided to drive out west after meeting with some friends, to follow his dreams. His drive west got cut short while he was in Pennsylvania, while on Route 80, after which he left a note to the Pennsylvania state police with his father’s address and then began hitchhiking west. He later called up his mother, collect, from Lincoln, Nebraska to let her know he was okay, and his mother then told him that she would call off the Pinkerton detective agency. Stephen then continued on to San Francisco to live with his cousin, George, who had, by then, spent two tours of duty in Vietnam.

Stephen spent that summer playing classical guitar and spending time at a nearby Buddhist temple. It was also towards the end of summer that he drew a bad draft number, which meant that he would be drafted into the Army unless there were some extenuating circumstances involved, such as becoming or being a college student. Stephen thus called up Reed College and asked to be accepted, which he was; and this was why he left San Francisco one September morning, with a holy Buddhist scroll in his bag which had been given, and explained about, by the temple monks. His journey took him across the Golden Gate Bridge, and despite the foggy morning, where he couldn’t see more than three feet in front of him, he felt safe enough crossing it. When he got to the middle of the bridge, he heard a sound on his left; and when he looked that way, he saw the face of a youth with stringy blond hair, a youth who looked very much like that of the youth he had been seeing in his vivid dream. Stephen then spoke to the youth, remarking that he shouldn’t jump, and the youth reacted by screaming out over the water. Stephen managed to talk the youth down, explaining his dream and how he got there. He then showed the young man the scroll he had and went over it briefly before sending the young man, Harry, to his cousin George’s home, along with the scroll and a note of introduction so he would be allowed to stay over. The two then parted ways, and Stephen then hitched rides to Reed College.

For Stephen, the dream and the encounter that it led to suggested to him that there was a connection, a oneness at a level of mind, spirit and soul between humans and the Infinite Mind, and that the entire experience was a lesson for him about the nature of love and reality.

Stephen remarks that people who aren’t part of any formal religion can refer to themselves as being spiritual, in that they have an inner sense of the Divine Presence as well as a sense of the spiritual dignity of other people. He also notes that there are people who are both religious and spiritual, as religion isn’t just about formality.

The book, Stephen notes, isn’t a memoir, but a collection of stories that highlight his experiences with synchronicity and connection with the Infinite Mind, and shared a story on synchronicity of his being in Oregon and being taken on a wild, wet-weather motorcycle ride on someone’s new Harley Davidson. Stephen was rather frazzled at the end of the two-hour ride as he walked into his dormitory’s common room, which had a pay phone installed in it. Stephen might have given his mother the number of that particular phone, but he never answered it himself, until this evening. Although it was 11pm Pacific Time, which meant it was 2am Eastern Time, Stephen, as soon as he picked up the phone, found himself speaking with his mother, who said that she had had a premonition of fear and anxiety and thought that Stephen was dead.

Stephen’s experiences have led him to believe that the mind is more than just brain and tissue, and that the connection with a loving, Infinite Mind allows humans, such as himself, to be guided into growing and flourishing, remarking that his life has been “a journey on Route 80.” He also claims to be a noticer, one who notices the small winks and hints of the connections between oneself and the Infinite.

God and Love on Route 80 was his first non-academic book, so he needed to learn how to write non-academically to get the book out. It sprang somewhat from the founding of the nonprofit Institute for Research on Unlimited Love. Stephen began writing out vignettes on the topic of love and what he was about, to help explain what the Institute was all about, and while he had stopped writing his vignettes for some time, he decided to write a book to pull everything together - hence the book. He also notes that the general opinion of scientists not being spiritual isn’t always true, as scientists - particularly physicists - do believe in synchronicity and a higher power.

Stephen’s favorite quote is from Eleanor Roosevelt: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

Purchase from Amazon: God and Love on Route 80: The Hidden Mystery of Human Connectedness by Stephen G. Post

Monday, October 28, 2019

Tanya Zabinski on Peace, Love, Action! Everyday Acts of Goodness from A to Z

In this interview, Tanya Zabinski talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about her book, Peace, Love, Action! Everyday Acts of Goodness from A to Z.

“In life, if you have a vision of what you’re aiming for, then it helps you get there.” ~Tanya Zabinski

Tanya came from a family whose parents were “alternatively-minded people,” with her father giving her a camera at the age of five and showing her how to develop pictures at that time, which made her aware of such things as visual composition. Her mother was an avid reader who exposed her to literature, yoga and organic gardening, and in childhood her family went camping, which she loves doing to this day, as a way to connect with the land. Tanya had always to become an artist since childhood, and as she got older this felt incompatible with her desire to help others and essentially make the world a better place. This conflict was resolved when she saw a documentary of Isaac Stern going to China after that country opened up to the West, and when she saw how Isaac Stern coached a master class student on how to feel a piece, Tanya realized that she, as an artist, could give a lot to the world as an artist, and then gave herself permission to become an artist.

As an artist, Tanya counts Peter Schumann, the founder of the Bread & Puppet Company in New York, as one of her influences, particularly when combining images with single worlds, as well as his combining art with social justice topics. Peace, Love, Action! is a reflection of Tanya’s attraction to the subject of peaceful activism in its many forms, and is her first published book, which also reflects her love of a combination of stories and illustrations. Tanya reflects that she had always written throughout her life, writing out stories and poetry, and remarked that she has always wanted to be an author-illustrator. Writing Peace, Love, Action! was, for Tanya, a culmination of a life of reading about the lives of people who inspired her. She had originally wanted the book to be one only of illustrations, but then realized that she needed to add biographies and other information gave readers time to dwell on the picture and what that picture actually meant.

As a person, Tanya had occasionally felt that she wasn’t doing enough, that she was so involved in her own world that she didn’t do anything beyond that, and she shared a story that helped her realize that what she does everyday, in her ordinary life, is something that is worthwhile, that such activities are worth something. Tanya also shared the story of Andrew Bienkowski, whose family was sent to Siberia for two years, and whose mother and grandmother helped him look for beauty in everyday life, as well as how to be thankful for the difficult things in life. Tanya also shared her experience of feeling “not yet there” and of thinking that she would feel good about herself once she became a published author, then shared a story where she realized that she didn’t need to “be there” to reach people and become successful.

When Tanya originally submitted her book to the publisher, the latter wanted her to make the book run along the concept of going from A to Z, which the book originally wasn’t, as well as to eliminate half of the people she already had and to make it more diverse. Where advice is concerned, Tanya recommends that people to take advice based on that which they lean towards, noting that the activists in her book chose what to focus on, as “no one can do it all.” She also recommends people to follow their inner voice, and to not wait for confirmation from the outside world.

Purchase on Amazon: Peace, Love, Action! Everyday Acts of Goodness from A to Z by Tanya Zabinski

NOTE: Author Tanya Zabinski recommends people to find independent bookstores as she wants people to patronize something other than Amazon

Friday, October 18, 2019

Thomas W. Jones on His Journey From Willard to Wall Street

In this interview, Thomas W. Jones talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about his/her book, From Willard Straight to Wall Street: A Memoir.

“Every person can control those things: that you did your best, you kept the faith and you went as far as you could.” ~Thomas W. Jones

In this interview, Thomas W. Jones talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about his/her book, From Willard Straight to Wall Street: A Memoir. “Every person can control those things: that you did your best, you kept the faith and you went as far as you could.” ~Thomas W. Jones Tom, by his own admission, had “an unusual childhood” for an African-American child, as his father got a Master’s degree in Physics, after which he was employed in the defense industry, becoming a senior engineer on the Atlas guided intercontinental ballistic missile project. He acknowledges that he and his family experienced the harshness of racial segregation as well as overcame the barriers associated with this, courtesy of education. Tom’s father’s keys to success were: commitment to God, education and hard work, which he passed on to Tom and his family, with Tom noting that personal morality and moral discipline are critical to elevating one’s life.

Tom notes that, when he was admitted to Cornell University, there were 35 African-Americans in his freshman class, whereas there were only 23 African-Americans who were ever admitted to that date - and Cornell University had a student body of around 12,000. He also notes that, in a five-year span in the 1960s, four prominent people had been assassinated and riots raged across cities in the United States, particularly during the summer. It thus appeared that a violent uprising from the black population was likely, and it was against this background that the Straight Hall siege took place. It was during his college days that Tom came in contact with African-Americans who came from backgrounds which were more challenging than his, which made him realize the degree of oppression inflicted upon African-Americans in centuries. He and his peers felt that it was their generation’s responsibility to “draw the line” and end their oppression, and while he was well-accepted in Cornell, he identified with that particular cause.

Tom and his fellow African-Americans had been working for a black studies curriculum in the university, to bring into the fore the effects of slavery in the United States, and in the process of such agitation, several African-American students had been sanctioned, which led to the takeover of Willard Straight Hall. Those who took over initially didn’t carry weapons, but after the Delta Epsilon fraternity members - all of whom were white - broke in and attempted to push these out. Tom notes that this was viewed by him and his fellows as white vigilatism, and it was after this attempt was rebuffed that guns were brought into the building. The university administration quickly realized that the siege could spin out of control, which was why the takeover was quickly settled. Tom remarks that the symbolism given by the siege was that African-Americans were no longer intimidated by white vigilantism and were willing to fight to support the cause of educational truth and opportunity about American history, rather than being subjugated as previous generations had been.

Tom notes that American history is full of contradictions, pointing out that, while many white Americans engaged in racism, there have also been white Americans of conscience who worked with slaves and former slaves. He noted that, at the time of the Willard Straight Hall siege, the United States was at a “fork in the road,” where they could have gone the road of oppression or moving on a path of liberty, and Tom wanted to be part of the liberalizing path that the United States then took. He also wanted to go into business because he realized that the greatest resistance to integration would be where the money was, and so acted accordingly. When he began his road into a business career in the 1970s, he figured his chances to be low, and he realized that he could only focus on what he could control, which were his attitude, how hard he could work and his commitment to excel in that which he did. “You can do these things and not succeed,” Tom notes, “but you will know, in your heart, that you have done all that you can possibly do, and that’s all that any person can do.”

It was during his climb up the corporate ladder that he realized that there was a gap between giving 100% of one’s effort and the culturally-conditioned 95%, in that, while that difference was small, the cumulative results eventually add up, where achievement and results were concerned. It was this which attracted the attention of his bosses in senior management, who, Tom notes, are like coaches in sports teams who are always scouting for good talent, as the executive with the best team would be the one who would deliver the best results. His subsequent bosses offered promotions, protection and opportunities, while Tom reciprocated by making them look good, thanks to his own performance. “All affirmative action does,” Tom notes, “is get you in the door. It is rare, in corporate America, to determine the winner in those high-level positions that everybody is striving for.” He also noted that, throughout his career, his white peers didn’t see him as competition, which made him greatly underestimated - a huge advantage.

Tom shared that his lesson of giving 100% commitment to being the best one can be is something that individuals don’t know what that really is until an individual gives in everything that he or she has and realizes what he can be, and this enables people to achieve their highest potential. He also shared that, at the beginning of every year, he would note down three overarching goals, some of which could be technical, others of which could be physical or spiritual objectives. He gave the example of his setting down, in 1982, of reading the entire Bible from cover to cover, noting that, given his background, it was “foolish” for him to come to the end of his life without reading what, for him, was the most important book ever written, particularly as it was the basis of several of his own life’s concepts.

When asked about the collapse of Citigroup’s stock price in the 2000s (the company’s stock price in August, 2002 was in the $300 per share range, with a high of around $368 per share, declared insolvency in November 2008, and its share price dropped to 97 cents per share in early April, 2009), Tom explained that the Citigroup general counsel Charles Prince was chosen by the then-retiring CEO Sandy Weill over Citigroup’s President, Robert Willemstad, who was well-regarded by a lot of the senior managers, as well as the other business leaders. Tom remarks that, within two years, all of the senior business leaders at Citigroup were out of the company, with Tom himself being fired in 2004. Charles Prince then placed his own people in the vacated senior leadership positions, a move which Tom notes that was due to Charles’ own insecurities. This resulted in a senior management which told Charles what the latter wanted to hear, rather than factually based on what was actually going on, and all this came to a head in 2008, when Citigroup ran into a lot of trouble when the mortgage security crisis occurred.

Were Tom to meet God, he would like Him to say: “Thomas, you have fought the good fight, you have kept the faith and you have finished the race.”

Purchase from Amazon: From Willard Straight to Wall Street: A Memoir by Thomas W. Jones

Monday, September 30, 2019

Lisa Boucher on Raising the Bottom: Making Mindful Choices in a Drinking Culture

In this interview, Lisa Boucher talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about her book, Raising the Bottom: Making Mindful Choices in a Drinking Culture.

“I’ve never met one person who ever regretted getting sober, but I know many who have the heartache of what they did to themselves and their families because they refuse to look at themselves.” ~Lisa Boucher

Lisa had an alcoholic mother whose addiction began with the latter taking medication, and this flowed into alcoholism, which made her incapable of functioning. Lisa’s mother wouldn’t drink openly but would take nips of alcohol from the bottles strategically located throughout the house, and her coping method used was to smoke, “put on makeup” and drive, with her children in the car, while drunk, which resulted in numerous car wrecks. Lisa’s childhood was thus highly unstable - “a montage of chaos and insanity” - and her mother’s addiction also frustrated her father, who lashed out at his own children. That said, Lisa remarks that she was blessed in that her father didn’t leave the family and that the family’s finances didn’t collapse, even though her father was “as crazy” as her mother was. That said, Lisa’s mother did attempt to find help, with her father driving her around to get that help, but the medical professionals - as, Lisa remarks, they still do today - misdiagnosed her as being anything but an alcoholic. Lisa’s mother’s recovery began after a household accident where she broke her neck, with the doctor dealing with her putting her into rehabilitation. Lisa’s mother recovered and has never taken another antidepressant or antipsychotic medicine since then.

Lisa herself began drinking at the age of twelve, and she got sober in her 20s, when she realized that her drinking was escalating. During that time, it didn’t seem like a problem, and it felt like fun. That said, her alcoholism kept her from graduating college for a decade and led her into relationships and marriages with problematic men, as well as keeping her from seeing the reality of whatever situation she was in. Lisa admits to making a lot of questionable choices as an alcoholic and notes that she was fired from some jobs because of her attitude. Lisa remarks that, in her case, there was likely a genetic predisposition towards alcoholism, with people in her family also being alcoholics, and the other factors that enabled her alcoholism are availability of alcohol, childhood trauma. Lisa mentions Dr. Vincent Felitti’s study which relates traumatic childhood experiences with health and social problems once those children become adults, and notes that 89% of adults have at least one adverse childhood experience. Lisa also remarks on a study that found that those babies whose parents “fed” alcohol had a four times greater chance of winding up as alcoholic adults.

Lisa, a registered nurse like her mother, has been around children since 2014 - children with stories similar to those of her own childhood. Lisa mentions that “every alcoholic impacts at least four other people,” and remarks that, based on her experiences in health care, in emergency rooms and psych wards, this is true. She is thus very aware of the “devastation” that alcoholism can cause, and is very focused on informing people about the early signs of alcoholism, so it can be nipped in the bud.

The way the health care system and professionals today deal with alcoholics is “a travesty,” with doctors prescribing antipsychotics and antidepressants rather than dealing with the root cause of the problem. Lisa remarks that alcoholism is a brain-related disease which is linked to the release of dopamine, or the brain’s “feel good” chemical, and that taking alcohol released the dopamine which overrode the general feeling of fear that she chronically felt throughout her childhood, and over time, more and more alcohol is needed to get the same feeling. People who abuse alcohol and other substances tend to not feel good enough about, or loathe, themselves.

Lisa notes that 80% of alcoholics are employed, have families and are functional, rather than the stereotype of a homeless person being an alcoholic, and shares the story of a female surgeon who passed out while breastfeeding her child because she was an alcoholic and who realized just how narrow her life was - defined as it was by her drinking. “Just because you can function and just because you’re drinking with other people who drink heavily doesn’t mean that you don’t have an alcohol abuse problem,” she notes, adding that alcoholism is a progressive and fatal disease.

Lisa notes that one blacking out while drinking over the weekend isn’t normal, as normal social drinkers have an “off button” so that they don’t black out. Where indicators of alcoholism are concerned, Lisa notes some such indicators as:

Multiple marriages or problems in all relationships, with one gravitating towards dysfunctional people;

  1. Failure to launch;
  2. Not having hobbies or activities which don’t involve alcohol;
  3. Complaining of depression and anxiety and going to the doctor to get anti-anxiety or antidepressant medicines rather than stopping drinking (alcohol is a depressant).

Lisa remarks that people don’t correlate alcohol with their depression, where in fact they should. She also notes that there are seven cancers (such as colon, breast and throat cancer) related to alcohol, as alcohol is a Class 1 carcinogen, just as asbestos is. She also notes that unchecked diabetes, heart disease, cirrhosis of the liver are also related to alcohol, as is domestic violence, and that $249B are spent on alcohol-related mishaps and lost productivity.

Lisa remarks that people don’t recover from alcohol just by quitting cold turkey, as the emotional and psychological issues such as fear, resentment and trauma, that enabled the condition need to be addressed and talked through and brought out. This will bring up pain and discomfort, Lisa admits, and people are afraid to confront this. Being honest with oneself is vital and necessary, Lisa remarks, as the alternative is having one’s children not want to see them because they are angry and have cancer.

Culture, Lisa notes, has normalized alcoholism, as everything now revolves around the consumption of alcohol, pointing out the absurdity of “yoga and beer” sessions, supporting people lying to themselves where alcohol consumption is concerned. Lisa also notes how prominent alcohol is on TV, social media and the news, such as adults attacking referees and coaches in sporting meets. She also remarks birthday parties of three-year-old children where wine and beer are the centerpiece, and notes how offended people can get if their alcohol consumption is pointed out to them. “If you are a social drinker,” Lisa remarks, “then it should be no problem for you not to drink 24/7 in front of your children, in front of other people’s children or at birthday parties for a one-year-old. If you’re a social drinker, save your drinking for when the kids are in bed, or you’re out to dinner with your adult friends and you have a responsible babysitter at home.” She also points out that parents drinking in the park and then driving home with their children while drunk has become the new normal, and that the children get particularly stressed when they see their parents essentially drinking uncontrollably.

To those who are alcoholics or who know an alcoholic, Lisa recommends finding somebody in their social network who knows somebody who’s sober. She also recommends researching sources which can help the alcoholic, and that the person involved needs to be willing to be rehabilitated, as such methods do work. Lisa also remarks that getting help is also an ego issue, as one has to face up to one’s pride and admit that one needs help.

Purchase from Amazon: Raising the Bottom: Making Mindful Choices in a Drinking Culture by Lisa Boucher

Monday, September 23, 2019

Kari O'Driscoll: Developing Self-Awareness and Critical Thinking in Adolescents One Teenager at a Time

In this interview, Kari O'Driscoll talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about her book, One Teenager at a Time: Developing Self-Awareness and Critical Thinking in Adolescents.

“As soon as we start listening, they start feeling like they’re being heard, and that’s really, really important.” ~Kari O'Driscoll

While writing was something that Kari didn’t aspire to, it was by doing so that she processed the world. It was while she was in college that she got fascinated with the power of being able to understand scientific concepts and write them in a way that the average person could understand. Kari admits that she likes advocating to people and interacting with them, which was why doing so was her “sweet spot.” For her, philosophy was about curiosity and that the answers there were open-ended and led to more questions, rather than with science, where there is only one right answer. Kari also notes that philosophy also deals with ethical and moral questions, which also appeals to her.

Kari founded the SELF program sprang from her experiences with working in health care and working with the Mental Health Division of Washington State, as advocating for children with mental health issues. It was particularly after having two children of her own that she noticed what was going on in formal education as well as what was missing in this, and the SELF project was founded as a way to fill the gap that she saw that children in the United States weren’t being taught about.

The SELF project is rooted in how mindfulness impacts health and brain development, as well as on the latest research into adolescent brain development. It uses non-violent communication techniques to help those aged between 10 - 25 years old, as this is when “massive brain development” occurs. The project is intended to enable adolescents to ask questions about who they are and what their values are, as well as how to create strong, trusting relationships and build networks that they can rely on. The project also enables adolescents to develop patterns to help them deal with stress and create a positive mindset, to create a strong foundation for their adulthood.

Where the present educational system is concerned, Kari notes that the United States has “bought” into the idea of competition and that there are prescribed paths that children should take. This results in a lot of stress being placed on children, particularly since the requirements to go from one grade to another, much less such leaps as those from high school to college, are driven by outside forces. This environment is one which is not conducive to enabling adolescents figure out what it is that really drives them and what they feel about what is going on. Kari also notes that personal emotional development isn’t addressed, pointing out that children, in the present educational system, spend 40 - 60 hours a week away from their parents, and that it is difficult to address the entirety of a child’s personal emotional development over dinner.

Where adolescent brain development is concerned, Kari notes that adolescents are very socially driven and are biologically designed to take big risks, as well as not really think through the consequences of their actions. This is mainly due to adolescents seeing things through an emotional filter, as the amygdala, which is an organ in the brain which processes emotions, physically swells to thrice its previous size - which explains why adolescents react emotionally to concerns, as an adolescent’s brain tells the individual that the situation is one that requires a “flight or fight” reaction. Adolescents also learn how to understand abstract concepts at this period, which can be used to nurture curiosity and openmindedness. Kari also remarks that the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is related with rational thought, isn’t fully developed until the age of 25, which means that adolescents aren’t capable of doing rational thought until that age. Thus, telling an adolescent such things as “Why can’t you act / think like a grownup?” are pointless, as they literally cannot do so. Kari also notes that, towards adulthood, the brain “prunes” neural connections so that only those which are vital, efficient and effective in adult life are maintained and those which aren’t are allowed to degrade. These neural connections essentially form the basis of habits and patterns that individuals use, and if the kind of habits that enable emotional intelligence haven’t yet been created, neither would those neural connections which would support such habits. The connections that are supported are those which cause people to be petty, and this is one reason why there would be adults who act irrationally, emotionally and excessively. Kari also calls such neural connections “superhighways,” in recognition of the brain’s drive for efficiency, and notes that the superhighways which enable a person to do critical thinking and to become aware need to be created during the adolescent years.

The SELF curriculum is based on the subjects of:
  • Mindfulness,
  • Compassion,
  • Positive mindset,
  • Self-worth, and
  • Stress, anxiety and fear.
There are several lessons in each subject, and each lesson starts with a story, which is a great way to catch a person’s attention, after which the lesson becomes a journey of guided discovery. The curriculum is meant to be used with several adolescents at the same time, to harness their social drive as well as to normalize conversations about difficult subjects, particularly those where there is no “right/wrong” answer. An activity, usually a solo activity, is also part of the lesson, and the last piece of the curriculum is a guided meditation / visualization where the adolescents can internalize the lesson. The curriculum is very flexible, and Kari gives an example of the first part of the lesson being given on Monday, with the kids being asked what came up for them on Wednesday (which was also when the activity was done), and wrapped up on Friday, with the visualization and debrief of the lesson being done then. The full curriculum of 50 lessons should properly take over the course of several months, particularly given that some of the subjects concerned are difficult to deal with, and giving the adolescents time to ruminate on the subjects enables richer discussions. That said, the program is flexible, with Kari remarking that she once gave the curriculum in 75 minutes.

Where results are concerned, Kari points to her work with a recovery school for children who were recovering from addiction. The adolescents there were both real and raw, and the adolescents remarked that they felt heard, rather than being merely spoken to. The adolescents were thus able to really dig into the questions posed in the lessons, and one of the once commented to Kari that it had been the first time that someone had listened to that individual. Doing the curriculum, Kari remarks, enables adolescents to take a break from all the stress they are in and just play, and those who have undergone it feel they have a right to speak up, are more self-assured and are more “comfortable in their own skin.” Kari gives an example of a lesson on shame, which includes such pointers as who would make an adolescent feel ashamed. Exploring and unpacking the experience of shame is difficult for adolescents, as they want to be thought of as “cool” by their peers, and Kari notes that people in power use shame to control adolescents’ behavior, which only makes such as situation more uncomfortable to deal with.

Kari would like to remind adults that adolescents nowadays are being asked to do more things than adults do, and are asked to be something which they literally cannot be and do things that they can literally not yet do. The social and logistical expectations set to teenagers can be overwhelming, she notes, and that leading with compassion and curiosity and as supportive and loving adults goes a long way towards creating positive relationships.

Purchase from Amazon: 
One Teenager at a Time: Developing Self-Awareness and Critical Thinking in Adolescents by Kari O'Driscoll

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Dr. Jennifer Cobbina: Why the Protests in Ferguson and Baltimore Matter and How They Changed America | Book: Hands Up, Don't Shoot

In this interview, Dr. Jennifer Cobbina talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about her book, Hands Up Don't Shoot: Why the Protests in Ferguson and Baltimore Matter and How They Changed America.

“Ending the killing of black people really requires doubling down on investments in communities, and not the criminal or justice system.” ~Dr. Jennifer Cobbina

Dr. Jennifer Cobbina is a Canadian and, as such, has not had the kind of experiences, growing up, that were noted in her book. That said, she got interested in criminal justice in college, and it was as she was working on her doctorate that she became aware of the impact on how race is viewed, and how people of certain races are thus treated, within the criminal justice system.

According to Dr. Cobbina, racism includes prejudice, hatred or discrimination against a person because of their skin color, ethnicity or national origin, based on one’s personal feelings and beliefs about that other person. She notes that, while the most common types of acts that people would associate with it are acts of abuse and harassment, such acts do not necessarily have to be violent or intimidating; name-calling, jokes and excluding the person from groups or activities are also acts of racism. Racism thus shows up in people’s attitudes and, where institutional racism is concerned, the way institutions and systems function. Not all racist acts are obvious or overt, such as someone looking for job applicants not considering those resumes which come from people with certain surnames, no matter how qualified they can be.

Dr. Cobbina notes that, as human beings, we all inherently have biases, but while biases can include racial bias, not all biases are racist. “People are not born with racist ideas or attitudes,” she says, “racism is learned,” and the subsequent belief in the superiority of one’s group can lead to racial hatred. That said, racism can also stem from fear, anxiety and ignorance; and where ignorance is concerned, Dr. Cobbina opines that the willingness to contact and connect with people of other ethnic groups is important where enabling people to find commonalities is concerned.

The impact of racism on those who experience it harms those individuals profoundly, with respect to their health, as they suffer from anxiety, frustration and anger. Moreover, the effects of experiencing racism on a consistent basis cause people to withdraw from social life, eventually diminishing their quality of life, as they can feel like second-class citizens whose freedom and dignity are compromised.

The American criminal justice system comprises of several government agencies and institutions intended to control crime by imposing penalties on those who violate the law. The three main components of the criminal justice system are:
  • the police;
  • the courts; and
  • corrections.
The criminal justice system is thus responsible for:
  • investigating criminal conduct and gathering evidence;
  • identifying people who are suspects;
  • making arrests;
  • bringing charges to bear on suspects;
  • conducting trials; and
  • determining sentencing and subsequent treatment of people who commit crimes.
Dr. Cobbina notes that the criminal justice system is, in the eyes of many, broken, as it focuses on criminalization and incarceration, rather than on rehabilitation. She notes that the growth in criminalization is the driver behind the two million plus people who are presently held in prisons, which is a 500% increase compared to 40 years ago. Dr. Cobbina also remarks that, based on studies conducted, changes in laws and policies, rather than changes in crime rates, are the reason behind this increase, which has resulted in overcrowded prisons and fiscal burdens on states. She also notes that it has been proven that increased incarceration doesn’t improve public safety.

Where racism is concerned, Dr. Cobbina remarks that racial disparities are present within the criminal justice system, giving the example of racially biased use of discretion, where police are more likely to stop blacks and Hispanics in investigatory stops, wherein the police will stop a driver deemed to possibly be carrying drugs, firearms or other illegal material in their vehicles, than they would white people. She remarks on studies that have shown that blacks are three times more likely than whites to experience physical force or be threatened with physical force during an encounter with the police. Dr. Cobbina also remarks that blacks, for all their being more prone to being searched, are less likely to be in possession of something illegal than white people. She also notes that people of color are more likely to be charged more harshly than white people, and that, once charged, they are more likely to be convicted and, once convicted, are more likely to receive harsher punishments than white people, even when taking into account the type of crime that was committed and the individual’s criminal history.

The facts behind Michael Brown’s death, based on a report from the Department of Justice, are policeman Darren Wilson saw Michael Brown and his friend on the roadway and asked them to move towards the sidewalk. Wilson had just received a report of a convenience store robbery and was given a description of the suspects, and used his vehicle to block Brown and his friend from walking any further. Brown then punched the officer as he was getting out of his car and went for the policeman’s gun, but the policeman managed to keep his weapon and fire two shots which injured Brown. The report then stated that Brown ran and that Wilson chased him, then shot Brown to death after the latter turned and charged right at him, firing twelve shots, six of which hit Brown, two hits of which hit Brown in the head. That said, several witnesses noted that they had seen Brown raise his hands in surrender before Wilson shot him to death, but the witnesses’ credibility was questionable.

The facts behind Freddie Gray are that he ran away from a Baltimore police officer, but was caught with an illegal switchblade and then arrested, with a cell phone video of his arrest showing him being dragged into a police van, screaming in pain as he limped. Gray requested for an asthma inhaler, but this request was denied, and he was thrown in the police van and transported unbuckled. The van then made several stops, and when it arrived at the police station, Gray was unconscious. Gray then underwent surgery because his spinal cord had been 80% severed and his voicebox had been crushed, and Gray remained in a coma for a week before dying.

Dr. Cobbina notes that racial minorities and crime are viewed essentially as being one and the same, which is why the police view the individuals of such groups as both criminal and dangerous, which would explain the “aggressive” methods used to deal with Brown and Gray. “It’s likely that they would still be here today, if they were white,” Dr. Cobbina concludes.

Where the protesters were concerned, these were ordinary, everyday civilians, most of whom were young, first-time activists, which meant that they participated in protests for the first time in their lives. The protests were centered around the deaths of black individuals at the hands of the police and were intended to affect change by ending police violence and the criminalization against people of color. The belief was that Brown’s death was unwarranted, even if it seemed lawful, and it didn’t help the authorities that his body was left in the street for four hours, in the hot sun, in a move reminiscent of that of the bodies of lynched black men being left hanging from trees for a long time as a warning to other blacks. What also led up to the protests were reports of armed police killing unarmed black civilians, as well as with the “strange” relationships the Ferguson police had with communities of color.

Dr. Cobbina differentiates between a protest and a riot, in that a riot is a situation where people behave violently, and that destruction of property is a result of a riot. A protest is a demonstration against a specific course of action or official policy and is constitutionally protected. A lot of the people whom Dr. Cobbina spoke with were against violence and rioting, and several even attempted to stop that; but she acknowledged that it was the rioting that drew attention to the issue and that, without the rioting, the protests could easily have vanished beneath the waves of public awareness. Dr. Cobbina remarked that, when she was observing a protest in Ferguson, the situation was extremely intimidating, with a line of policemen in riot gear making it very clear that those they faced down were the enemy. She also noted that, while some of the people she spoke with had had positive encounters with the police, most had negative encounters, with these experiences affecting their perceptions of the police. Dr. Cobbina also remarked that, with the people she interviewed, there were racial distinctions amongst these reported encounters, with whites being given the benefit of the doubt while blacks were more likely to encounter aggressive policing, racial profiling and disrespectful behavior.

Dr. Cobbina remarked that a federal investigation into the Ferguson and Baltimore police departments revealed that these departments engaged in racially biased policing, with a pattern of unconstitutional stops and arrests on black people being recorded. One of the best stories that Dr. Cobbina gives as an example is that of Kevin of Ferguson, while he was a sixteen-year-old black boy playing basketball with his friend in the neighborhood. A police car then came by, telling them to get off the street, and when the friend stared at the policemen as they drove by, the policemen then did a U-turn, got out of the car, grabbed the friend and slammed him on the hood of their vehicle, telling him: “What are you looking at?” The boy then wondered aloud: “What is he doing? He’s being too rough!” to which the officer then replied: “Shut the fuck up.” Dr. Cobbina then remarked that this incident had happened years previously, but that Kevin still felt the same pain, indignity and frustration, telling her that story, that he did when the incident happened.

Where having more black officers in the police force is concerned, Dr. Cobbina remarks that doing so wouldn’t change things, based on her study, 25% of those she surveyed saying that black officers enforce the law more fairly and are more courteous. Another 25% said that black officers also operate aggressively against black civilians, with this sentiment being more prevalent amongst black Baltimoreans. Dr. Cobbina notes that diversifying the police force in this way isn’t the solution, and that even those communities which engage in lawful behavior are still treated as “the criminal enemy” by the police.

Where impact is concerned, Dr. Cobbina remarks that the protests has brought the issue of racial injustice within the criminal justice system, as well as aggressive policing against blacks, into the public consciousness and public conversation, while also calling attention to the issue of racism in the United States in general. She also remarks that history also plays as much a part as culture where racism is concerned, as the United States has always been historically racist and violent, and that this aspect has yet to be confronted. Dr. Cobbina notes that steps are starting to address and confront racial tensions, historical grievances and misunderstandings and that, based on the conversations she’s had, it would be better to invest the money being spent on police and prisons in marginalized individuals and communities, to address the fundamental issues of poverty and inequality from which crime springs - intervention and prevention, rather than punishment, in other words.

Purchase from Amazon: Hands Up Don't Shoot: Why the Protests in Ferguson and Baltimore Matter and How They Changed America  by Dr. Jennifer Cobbina