Confidence to Listen

Confidence to Listen

I have the power to believe whatever I want to believe. It is, perhaps, the only unalienable right. Neither life nor liberty is an unalienable right. There are powers, both legitimate and illegitimate, that can alienate me from life or liberty. No power, however, can take away my pursuit of happiness because it is a belief.

And at the end of every process based on evidence, empirically proven, and grounded in authority, a leap of faith is required to reach reality. That leap of faith is based on belief. Belief that I have absolute power over. I have the power to choose the belief and change it.

Why be disgusted or disrespected by someone voicing a different belief?

Why be threatened by someone voicing a different belief? Emotionally triggered?

The person voicing a different belief also has the power to choose their own belief.

Or change it.

Is the inability to listen to an opposing belief simply a lack of confidence in my personal power to accept or reject it – or accept or reject a part or parts of it? Maybe in those areas where I don’t listen to opposing beliefs, I am uncertain about my personal power.

Maybe in those areas where I don’t listen to opposing beliefs, I am unsure about my own belief. Perhaps rather than do the work of owning the belief I just leased it from someone else. In that case, I can’t listen to an opposing belief because I don’t know what parts of the opposing idea to accept or reject. I don’t know because I leased my belief from someone else – I really don’t know why I believe it. I just believe it because someone else – someone I trust – believes it.

Either way, why not choose to have the confidence to listen to opposing beliefs? I can listen to an hour-long lecture, seriously consider every point that was made, and wholly accept it or wholly reject it. Alternatively, I can accept some parts and reject others.

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Brandon Blankenship
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Corrections Officer Echols and Inmate Hector

Corrections Officer Echols and Inmate Hector

This post is used as source material for Prof. Blankenship’s courses.

Naomy’s cousin, Theadore “Ted” Echols learned about corrections officers from an early age. His father was released from prison when Ted was five years old. Ted listened to his father’s stories about “corruption” officers, what they did day-after-day to inmates and how the officers themselves ended up in prison. Ted doesn’t remember the day he made the committment, but for as long as he can remember he has been committed to being a corrections officer, an honorable one.

Hector had a hard life. By the time he was 24-years-old, he had been arrested over 30 times and spent over half of his life in the County Jail. Hector was known on the street and in the criminal justice system as an honest criminal. His crime of choice was drugs. In Hector’s mind, there’s nothing wrong with selling something to people who wanted to buy it at a fair price. In spite of the fact that Hector was a successful drug dealer, he had never been arrested for a drug crime. All of his arrests came from violence.

Right after his 25th birthday, Hector got into an argument with another drug dealer who was trying to recruit Hector’s “salespeople” away from him. When the argument didn’t go Hector’s way, he pulled a gun and killed the competitor. The shooting was mid-day on a city street and captured on several video cameras.

After a jury trial, Hector was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

For the first few years in prison, Hector’s life in prison and his life outside of prison looked pretty similar. He was violent and sold drugs on the outside of prison, he was violent and sold drugs on the inside of prison. Strangely, Hector was respected by both other inmates and corrections officers. Even though it was known that he was a drug dealer, it was also known that if he told you something he was good to his word.

One day, Hector was talking with a corrections officer, Ted Echols. Officer Echols told Hector about some new classes that were going to be offered by the prison in Vipassana Meditation. Officer Echols had watched a few YouTube videos about it and was telling Hector what he had learned. As Hector turned away to line up for his work duty, Officer Echols laughed and said, “You should try it Hector – you might find some inner peace.”

That night, Hector couldn’t sleep. He didn’t like that fact that not only did he not have “inner peace,” he wasn’t really sure what it even was. Plus, this Vip – ass – a – naa would be a distraction from his work detail. He decided to try it.

Months later, Hector was a different person. He talked through most problems that came up rather than using his fists. Every time he had a chance to take more classes, he did. Eventually, he earned his Graduation Education Diploma, or “GED.” He was the first person in his family to graduate, well, anything.

Hector wrote his mother and told her that there would be a small graduation service and he sure would like it if she would come. She wrote back,

Dear Hector,

I am so proud of you. I know your Granny wud be to if she was livin.

I checked on the bus ticket and it is $68 for me to com.

I love you, but I just ain’t got it. I will be thinkin bout you on that day.

Momma

Hector was dissapointed but he understood. He talked with Officer Echols about how just a few years earlier it would have made him so angry he would have hurt somebody. Now, he was different.

Several weeks went by and the graduation came. When Hector walked in the training room for graduation, his eyes filled with tears and he had to catch his breath to stop from openly sobbing and embarrassing himself. His mother was sitting on the front row. Officer Echols, who had paid for her bus ticket, was standing at the back of the room.

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Brandon Blankenship
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Naomy and the Anonymous Envelope

Naomy and the Anonymous Envelope

This post is used as source material for Prof. Blankenship’s courses.

Naomy was working 412 files in the prosecutor’s office. The caseload was heavy but she never complained. Many of her friends she went to law school with took months to get a job and some still didn’t have one. She felt blessed to be working as an attorney. She and Rafi could use more money, but the money she made plus the benefits (like health insurance) made their life better.

The file that took the most of Naomy’s time was one Charles Alexander Scott who was known in the neighborhood as “Axx.” Axx associated with a long list of known criminals. He had a reputation of being someone that should be taken seriously. He was suspected of almost every crime in the book but he had never been convicted. Axx was represented by a somewhat academic attorney. He was soft-spoken, early to court, and polite. He never missed the opportunity to challenge the prosecution’s case and most of his challenges – he won.

In her first courtroom battle with Axx’s attorney, Naomy lost. It was a motion to suppress evidence. Naomy had worked hard, fought hard. She had done everything she knew to do. She just lost the hearing. As a result of her loss, the murder weapon in a murder case that Axx had been charged with Not come into evidence. Without the weapon, her boss, the District Attorney, did not believe a jury would convict Axx for murder. The case would most likely be dismissed.

After the loss, Naomy returned to her office and found a bulging envelope. When she opened it, it was full of cash. With a quick count, Naomy estimated there was about $5,000 in the envelope. The envelope was anonymous. There was no note. In fact, there was no writing at all.

Naomy put the envelope in an old lunch bag in the bottom right drawer of her desk, in the very back. She needed time to think about what the envelope might be. About what it meant. After all, several of her co-workers knew that she and Rafi were barely getting by financially. Could it be a gift?

Two days later, Naomy’s boss poked his head in her office door and said, “we have someone in lockup who says he can put the murder weapon in Axx’s possession on the day of the murder. He, of course, wants his charges dropped in exchange for his testimony.”

“Do you believe him?” Naomy asked.

“Not really, but there is something about the fact that he knows about the murder weapon.”

“What do you want me to do?” Naomy asked.

“Interview the witness, see if he is credible or not. Right now, the murder weapon is suppressed. If you want to use his testimony to try to get the murder weapon back into evidence, file a motion to reconsider the judge’s ruling on the motion to suppress. I will leave it up to you.”

As her boss walked down the hall, Naomy thought to herself, “if I filed a motion to reconsider, and lost again, I wonder if another anonymous envelope would show up.”

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Strategy is Dynamic

Strategy is Dynamic

Why is the role of strategist fading away at a time when it is the most needed?

What is a strategist? The origin of the word strategy is in Greek – the Greek words stratos (army) and agein (lead). “Strategy“ is then derived from the word strategos (a military general). The main meaning of strategy is long-term planning to help achieve an objective. The strategy describes how the objective will be achieved. The person responsible for crafting such a plan is called strategist.

Like a military general, a strategist works with tacticians to carry out strategic plans. In non-military organizations, this work is most efficiently carried out through collaboration with tacticians such as CEOs, COOs, specialists, and project managers, who use a carefully planned strategy to achieve a specific end.

Sun Tzu’s maxim teaches that strategy and tactics work in concert to accomplish objectives. Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy are the noise before the defeat.

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory.
Tactics without strategy are the noise before the defeat.

-Sun Tzu

In an ad agency, there is a role for creative integrity. The person filling that role ensures that at each step of a campaign (tactics) the integrity of the strategy is maintained. Otherwise, the final deliverable is unrecognizable because each tactician that touches it re-interprets the deliverable based on their understanding, creative expression, or skill.

In a trial, the case frame, the story, and the sequence of facts is strategic. Tacticians select a jury, deliver the opening statement, examine witnesses, prepare and present evidence and demonstratives, and make the closing argument.

But the strategist’s role is not one-and-done at the beginning of a project, campaign, or trial. The strategist’s role is dynamic. It is constantly changing. Consider a kayaker. As a tactician, a kayaker will have a map of a river as well as notes from other kayakers who have been on the river before. As a strategist, a kayaker will recognize that the water is dynamically changing and the objective is to enjoy the run and reach the take-out point alive. This might mean kayaking areas that have never been kayaked before. It also might mean carrying the kayak around sections of the river that have always been deemed safe in the past.

The objective for a trial lawyer as a tactician, for example, may be to win a trial for a sum certain or more. The objective for the strategist may be to resolve the conflict to minimize the collateral costs of trial (like publicity, inviting additional claimants, and so forth).

For the strategist, a trial may be a necessary tactic to bring the parties or the process to the point where negotiation is possible. And once negotiation is possible it becomes the new tactic to achieve the overall objective of resolving the conflict.

I am not suggesting that the strategist and tactician roles cannot be played by the same person. I am suggesting that in organizations and teams the differentiation of the roles has value. I am suggesting that where strategists and tacticians dynamically collaborate, objectives are achieved more effectively.

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Brandon Blankenship
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Experiments are a Success When You Learn

Experiments are a Success When You Learn

Someone shared this image with me of a pigeon’s nest. I don’t know if this accurately reflects the average pigeon’s nest. I didn’t google it. That isn’t the point I took away from the image. The point I took away is that for an onlooker – like me – this nest looks like a failure. For the pigeon, it seems like a success. Success for me is when I learn.

Pigeon's nest

I know many of my experiments look like a failure when folks look at them. Sometimes, they look like a failure — after some time passes — even to me. And I have to remind myself that because that experiment I know how to ______________________ (weld, plumb, research, cite, whatever). Success is when you learn.

Now that I have this image, I’ve got a reminder that what might look like a failed experiment might, in fact, be a success because I learned.

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Brandon Blankenship
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