Monday, April 27, 2015

The Significance of Understanding Your Natural Rhythm

I am what researchers call a “lark,” someone who, because of the way their circadian rhythms shifts, is genetically a “morning person.”

This is why I still get up around 6 a.m. even though I am retired.  It is why I work out and write these posts early in the morning.  Other people are genetically night “owls” or what researchers call “undifferentiated.”

A researcher at BYU, my alma mater, found in a study that 44% of people are “larks” like me, another 32% are “owls” and 24% are undifferentiated.

Dr. Jeffry H. Larson, who graduated a year before I did, also found that people whose rhythms are mismatched are far more likely to argue and to do so more often.

Researchers at Harvard and the University of Utah found that this can also impact when people are most likely to lie.

Further, researchers at the University of Washington, Johns Hopkins and Georgetown have found that when energy wanes, as it does later in the day for “larks” and earlier for “owls,” is also the time of day overall when people are more likely to be unethical.

For some time now, researchers have studied what they call “social jetlag” and found correlations to our chronology.  This is what some people feel when they go back to work on Monday or after a vacation.

It is also something that many college graduates are about to experience as they shift into the workforce.

Studies of “presenteeism” (present in body but not in mind,) note that it costs nearly $80 billion in annual lost productivity.

Human performance decreases at night by 5%-15%.  Interestingly, turnover drops by more than half when employees are able to modify a select a schedule compared to when mandated.

Some research has found links between “owls” and smoking and obesity.  Other research has found that “owls” are also potentially more creative and possibly have slightly higher IQs.

It isn’t likely that a person can change their chronology, and there are some well documented health reasons for why we sleep and fast at night.

Flex time is a solution but so is encouraging people in the workforce to be more conscious and respectful of the ebb and flow of their own energy as well as that of others so that they take on big projects when they are operating with high energy.

It may be that teams should be assembled, in part, using compatibility in this regard as criteria.

Years ago, during my four-decade career as a community marketing executive, I set a rule that people who helped me protect my calendar could set no more than one meeting for me in the morning and one in the afternoon without first clearing an exception.

This is what Dr. Christine Carter at UC-Berkley, the author of the new book The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work, calls the “minimum effective dose” strategy.

For me, that rule about meetings was one of those “micro-habits” she writes about which, to paraphrase, channel our brain’s natural ability to run on “autopilot” so our habits can “relieve overreliance on willpower.”

I can also see in hindsight, how some people who are unethical and savvy at manipulation, probably took care to select meeting times where the potential for unethical outcomes was most probable.

They may have innately understood what researchers have observed.  Due to the “psychological depletion” people experience as the days wear on, “in the afternoon, the moral slope gets slipperier.”

Friday, April 24, 2015

Symbols of Intergenerational Compact

In an essay a week ago, I suggested that North Carolina’s annual Interagency Report on Litter Cleanup, Education/Prevention and Enforcement was missing some information.

But I was mistaken; so maybe with this post, I can fill in some of the blanks.

Litter clean-up has many purposes including public health, achieved by reducing contaminants in storm water, but it is also to safeguard scenic character, which is a core trait in the state’s appeal for economic development.

So I questioned why programs to proactively beautify roadsides were omitted.  It turns out these are beyond the legislative scope of the report and I sense that over-delivering may not be well received.

It is too bad because North Carolinians are largely unaware of how much the NC Department of Transportation does to protect and enhance the state’s overall appeal along its roadsides.

Roadsides are the first and last impression that more than 90% of the state’s visitors receive, as well as tens of millions of potential visitors who are just passing through.

When I arrived in Durham twenty-six years ago to complete the last half of a four-decade career in visitor-centric economic and cultural development, Bill Johnson, a now retired NCDOT roadside engineer was deep into two, now award-winning, beautifications projects.

Today, North Carolinians and visitors to the state are greeted with 1,500 acres of wildflowers across the state as they drive along Interstates here.

Bill also started a program to recognize and preserve scenic byways along secondary roads across the state.

Soon the number will be increased to 58 covering more than 2,300 roadway miles showcasing every part of North Carolina including Durham, one of the few urban counties to set one aside, a favorite of mine astride a trusty Harley-Davidson Crossbones.

It is also a stated goal of NCDOT to “have well established and aesthetically pleasing forest along the highways in North Carolina.”  I haven’t seen a report for this decade but from the 1960s through the 2000s, NCDOT planted about 5 million trees along roadsides here.

A good share were planted in league with the America Treeways Program, a partnership of many agencies and volunteer organizations with the National Tree Trust established in the early 1990s by the first President Bush, a Republican.

Back then, it was also a bipartisan national policy to have well established and aesthetically pleasing forests along highways.

I will never forget a sentiment expressed by Bush I during my first few months in Durham, “Every tree is a compact between generations.”

Add that to the list of intergenerational compacts that have been shattered over the past decade.

Today, in North Carolina, many legislators inexplicably work overtime to sacrifice trees along the 14% of roadways that are part of the National Highway System here where they still remain, even though protected in the state constitution.

As a result, except whenever the Governor intervenes, Carolina’s once vaunted appeal for scenic character is rapidly falling into tatters.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The End That Marked A Beginning

I wonder as re-enactors, history buffs and other visitors gather in Durham, North Carolina this weekend if they will realize the even greater symbolism Bennett Place has to this community.

The otherwise tranquil setting is not only where the Civil War ended 150 years ago this week, it marks the place where Durham began to gather a realization of its sense of place.

One of the surprises in the new book entitled, To the Bitter End: Appomattox, Bennett Place, and the Surrenders of the Confederacy, is not only how much of it is new information but that author Robert M. Dunkerly includes a number of essays in the appendix.

One is entitled The Long Road Home from Appomattox by another Park Ranger and interpreter, Ernie K. Price, who has been researching the journey home of Confederate soldiers for many years.

After Appomattox, people who would be giants among Durham’s founding generation were on their way home, having been paroled as part of Lee’s surrender of his much smaller Army of Virginia including several North Carolina units such as the 3rd Cavalry.

Most, traveling on foot, would have reached here in time to hear intense picket battles raging across southern Durham as Union Cavalry chased the remnants of Confederate troopers in the hours before a ceasefire took effect.

As Price notes, while returning Confederate soldiers would have traveled in small groups, the last few miles to home were often alone.  I suspect that if it wasn’t surreal enough to find the war still winding down as they were greeted, then they heard the news was of President Lincoln’s assassination.

I have learned since first penning this essay that next month Durham will be the culmination of another reenactment entitled, A Soldier’s Walk Home, in recognition of the even longer walk home another Durham Confederate soldier made from the coast.

The legacy of Bennett Place is not only that Confederates resisted calls to continue a guerilla war, although several units tried.  By 1868 and only 18 miles west of Bennett Place, gangs of KKK riders were terrorizing the countryside.

That is also the year that tobacco, rebranded as Genuine Bull Durham, was being mailed to fulfill requests from former Union and Confederate soldiers who had helped themselves to it during the truce, marking the genesis of the New South.

Bennett Place remained a working farm until purchased by Brodie Duke in 1890, twenty-five years after the surrender there that ended the Civil War.  Duke saw it as an enterprise and tried to sell it as a novelty during the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Coincidentally, this is also when two of those returning Confederate soldiers, Julian Carr and Washington Duke, helped Trinity College relocate to Durham which later became Duke University.

At its former location in Randolph County, Trinity College had been one of several places stretching from Greensboro to Salisbury where Confederate units awaited the outcome of the surrender negotiations in Durham.

In 1908, 43 years after the surrender, Bennett Place was purchased by another of Durham’s founding generation, industrialist Samuel Tate Morgan, who hoped to see it preserved as an historical park.

It was also the period when another North Carolinian, Thomas Dixon, wrote The Clansman (1905) glorifying and rebranding the KKK from terrorists to saviors and forming the basis of D.W. Griffith’s movie The Birth of a Nation in 1915 and the second coming of the Clan.

Many former Confederates in Durham were staunch segregationists but instead of dawning white robes and burning crosses, they were lending a helping hand during this span to evolution of an “entrepreneurial enclave” of black owned enterprises including the founding of a university.

But before Morgan’s dream could be realized, he died in 1921, a few months before membership in the KKK nationwide peaked.  His family and friends in Durham took up the cause.

It is fitting that as KKK membership reached 4 million, on October 12, 1923 Durham leaders including many former Confederate soldiers were instead erecting the Unity Monument at Bennett Place.

His vision about the importance of honoring place inspired other at the time and while they may not realize it, continues to generations here still working to promote and shape Durham’s distinctive sense of place.

Hopefully, in a few years, we remember to recognize the 150th anniversary of so much that makes Durham distinctive and appealing.  Hopefully, we will not instead be mourning its demise.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Profiling May Not be the Problem

In a recent NYT op-ed, Northeastern University researcher, Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett suggested something that made me realize that our brains are wired to profile.

She describes our brains as predictive organs that make thousands of “neural ‘guesses’” at a time that “largely shape what you see, hear and otherwise perceive.”

Profiling in and of itself is not racially biased but, she contends, for some it may be “one pernicious way in which racial bias expresses itself.”

But those who seek to curb racism by curbing profiling seem misguided to me, especially when our brains are wired to subconsciously profile.

This is probably why so many people rolled their eyes when a law was pushed through in New York City prohibiting the running of credit checks on job applicants.

As justification, in part, advocates pointed out that the percentage of people with scores of 700 or above is less than half among blacks what it is among whites.

A recent Illinois study found that the average credit score in minority neighborhoods was 107 to 130 points lower than in other neighborhoods but so was the percentage who made late payments, by three to six times.

Poverty is more likely the cause than racism.

In the process, people seeking social justice on behalf of others often make unfortunate and inaccurate stereotypes in the process such as linking race to poverty when as the excellent blog Breaking Brown points out “the real welfare queen is uneducated, single and white.”

Of course, I agree that bad credit should not be used to disqualify a candidate before allowing them an opportunity to explain.  A check of existing employees in most workplaces should be enough to warrant credit counseling as a benefit.

On a related subject, an excellent investigative report in Mother Jones this month incorporates research done at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation.

It documents the horrific cost of gun violence, $229 billion each year.

Much of it, nearly $13 million a day is passed on to taxpayers.

To put this in perspective, this will soon eclipse the cost of smoking on society.

The report points out that while 93% of gun suicide victims are white, 57% of gun homicide victims are black.  So are the majority of offenders according to FBI statistics.

In a separate but related piece, the researchers point out the huge disparity in the percentage of homicides solved when there is a white victim compared to case involving black victims.

Police shootings are a tiny sliver of the gun violence in America.  Based on the way our brains work, it makes sense that they will concentrate resources in minority neighborhoods on behalf of minority victims, in pursuit of minority offenders.

But essayist Tim Wise calculates from FBI data that only about 1% of African Americans including 2% of black males will commit a violent crime in a given year.

He continues that “No more than .7 percent (seven-tenths of one percent) of African Americans will commit a violent crime against a white person in a given year, and fewer than .3 percent (three-tenths of one percent) of whites will be victimized by a black person in a given year.”

He concludes, “Whites are 6 times more likely to be murdered by another white person as by a black person.”

It seems to me that profiling isn’t the problem nor is the use of statistics which can be a useful way of predicting crime.

Racism is the problem and it is people who are racist.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A 35 Year Decline in the Desire to Work

Some of my progressive friends don’t like to hear this, even from a moderate Independent such as me.

But there is something to the concern that laziness may play a role in why a certain amount of poverty seems impervious despite societal safety nets.  More than 4-in-10 people who are poor seem to think so.

So do most progressives I suspect.  They are just less prone to stereotype the poor than many at the other end of the spectrum.

They also reject remedies from the far right that seek to starve out the small number of poor who are lazy with solutions that undermine millions of children in those homes along with the working poor, who as I will show, are among the most industrious Americans.

Only 26% of drug and alcohol treatment centers are residential and only a handful of those go beyond a few weeks or months.  Even fewer are centered on instilling a work ethic, as are the most successful, some of which also happen to be at no charge.

But ask the latter what the biggest reason is for washing out within the first months or so, regardless of socio-economic level and you’ll learn that it is an unwillingness to work.

Of course, this is a very small portion of those in poverty but while the question hasn’t been asked recently, in opinion polls 40% of those in that circumstance believe some of their peers are not doing enough and don’t really want to work.

This may also explain why many who are addicted prefer to panhandle along roadsides, which seems like it would be much harder than holding down a job.

But refusing to get clean, not lack of access, is why those who are panhandling aren’t able to access shelters and related workforce training.

Take away those who suffer from mental health issues and those who are crooks and you’ll find many who just refuse to work.

By the way, it hasn’t been posted yet but there is an excellent overview of the state of rehab in America in the investigative Mother Jones Magazine this month entitled Hung out to Dry by John Hill.

Apparently, of the 18.7 million Americans who needed alcohol treatment in 2010, only 1.7 million received it.

In a recent nationwide study of Americans, only 24% felt they had achieved the American Dream while 36% felt it unlikely including 21% who no longer give it much thought.

But 86% cited a strong work ethic as essential to achieving the American Dream.  Close behind that was parents or other adults who instill honesty, responsibility and persistence, followed by good schools.

Telling is that 42% felt the answer is individual effort compared to 39% who saw it being aided by society.  Disturbing is that 19% didn’t believe that either was the answer.

Equal percentages (43%) felt that the American Dream was endangered by a decline in work ethic and hard workers being shut out.  The fact that 14% felt that neither reflected their views may shed light on the number who are lazy among all socio-economic strata.

Since 1967, the Current Population Survey has been measuring among other things, the desire among individuals for work, last updated in 2014.

This is analyzed in a paper published last month.

My friends on the right have one answer for every societal ill: government.  Government undermines values, government caused the Great Depression and the Great Recession, government causes pollution, government caused the BP spill in the Gulf and on and on.

Ironically, the study documents that the 35 year decline in the desire to work started just as let ‘em “sink or swim” conservatives launched an all out attack on the safety-net, dramatically cut taxes for the rich and began to harangue and stereotype the poor.

The fraction of non-workforce participants reported as “wanting a job” trended up during the 1970s, then began a decades long slide beginning at the dawn of the 1980s just when the so-called Reagan Revolution promised the opposite.

The study entitled, Declining Desire to Work and Downward Trends in Unemployment and Participation is fascinating because it unwraps why the desire to work went into strong decline in the mid-1990s just after the government moved to “end welfare as we knew it.”

A report last year in the Wall Street Journal noted, using results from a joint survey by that paper and NBC News, how much the opinions of Americans has changed since 1995 regarding the causes of poverty.

In 1995, “Americans were twice as likely to believe poverty resulted from people not doing enough to help themselves out than to attribute it to external forces.”

Today, “Americans are as likely to blame poverty on circumstances beyond people’s control…,” although the majority of those holding power in Congress appear to remain stuck in the 1990s.

The percentage of Americans still holding to the view that it is because of laziness has plummeted, less among Republicans than Democrats and Independents and white Americans overall.

This hasn’t stopped the promotion of failed solutions across the ideological spectrum.  Personally, I favor a national living wage calibrated to localities, more affordable education and a return to a more progressive tax rate to fuel aspirations to achieve the American Dream.

But from my four decades as a chief executive, I feel we need to also find solutions that will address the 2-in-10 Americans who appear a bit lazy without, as many do today, stereotyping the poor.

Even the controversial white paper by the libertarian right Cato Institute, a follow up to one in 1995, acknowledges that “there is no evidence that people on welfare are lazy or do not wish to work.”

Studies also show there is no evidence that people who are poor value education any less or are any less involved with their children or are more addicted to substances than Americans overall.

Nor is there any evidence they are lazier.  In fact, many of these things correlate to incomes as they rise.

Laziness cuts across the entire spectrum, regardless of pocketbook size.  So should any solutions.