Friday, July 14, 2006

Positively Interesting

Right now I'm really immersed in the Gallup Organization's research on talent and excellence. They have combined this research with an emerging field called positive psychology, which instead of studying what is wrong with people, studies what is right with people.

It sounds all a bit Pollyanna-ish and Norman Vincent Peale-ish, but it tries really hard to avoid that and is rooted not just in theory, but actual studies of people who are the best (and the average) of what they do. Gallup is really interested in what distinguishes your average joe versus the best of the best.

Gallup has found that what makes excellence (at least in the workplace) is a strong match between a person's job and their talents. A talent, for Gallup, is any recurring thought, feeling, or behavior that can be constructively applied.

Gallup distinguishes talent from skill, which are those things that can be taught (like how to fill out a database or spreadsheet) and knowledge, which are those things you know from experience or being taught/reading. Talent, on the other hand, cannot be taught. They can be sharpened into strengths, but because they are innate to who you are, they can't be changed. For instance, if you aren't empathic (the ability to feel what others are feeling - the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes), then no amount of training or practice will turn you into a strong empath. You can learn some skills that will improve how empathic you are, but likely you will always have to think very purposefully about those things (what your posture is, what nonverbals to look for, make sure to listen to voice rate, pitch, tone, etc.) and you may even funtion at a decent level of empathy, but it will never come naturally and spontaneously to you. It will never be as fulfilling to you as other things you are more talented at doing.

And, you can "not do it." Your talents are things that you can't not do.

All of this setup to say, therefore, I loved the following quote that was the signature in an email I received from a staff member of Leadershape:

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act but a habit."

Apparently this stuff has been around for a lot longer than we realized!

Friday, July 07, 2006

A Necessary Set Back?

I've surprised myself by taking the New York Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage pretty hard. I honestly hadn't thought much about it, considering it well out of my realm of being able to do anything about it. And although I wasn't certain about the chances of success there, I certainly thought that same-sex marriage had a better chance of being upheld as being legal and in accordance with New York State constitution than not. But, what I think hurts the most is the language and rationale behind the judges which suggests that they cowed to political or public pressure.

The word "sexual preference" over "orientation" was used by at least one judge and a portion of the ruling seems to suggest that gay marriage disrupts traditional heterosexual marriage and that is needed to stabilize the currently shaky state of affairs in many straight relationships. I swear I'm not making this up! According to the New York Times:

In particular, they noted one section suggesting heterosexual couples need marriage to be preserved as a way to shore up their faulty relationships and protect their children who might suffer in broken-home situations.

"It's a mess of a decision that in the end makes a very weak argument: That you can justify barring same-sex couples from marrying because of the unstable relationships of heterosexual couples," Mr. [David Buckel, head counsel for Lambda Legal] said.

To quote Jon Stewart, "muwa-huh?" I've never understood how giving same-sex couples legal protections impedes on traditional marriage. The idea of preserving something that won't be going anywhere is highly illogical to me.

I'm also greatly pained thinking about the gloating that several right-wing groups are going to be doing for a while now. They'll certainly take the opportunity to say that this is a message/signal/sign that God/America/People with SUV's isn't going to stand for gay marriage. This decision has already been called the Gettysberg of gay marriage. I'm just going to have to not watch TV for a while because I just don't want to hear it.

If anything, I think the clear message here is that we must work on changing laws by working through legislators and winning over individuals and communities (which, by and large, is done individually). It's more difficult, it's a much harder journey, and it requires more sacrifice. It requires gay and lesbian people to be more out and open and expressive about our lives. We must speak up and out to our family and friends about this issue. It's not easy; I find it very difficult to do with my own parents. But trying to win through the courts is not working by and large. Yes, we've had some victories, and yes, we did it through the legislative process in California and got sent to the courts by a coward and a snake. But people are resenting the victories in the court and it's giving ammunition to our opponents.

Although it's easy to get depressed and tired from set backs like this, I hope it leads the advocacy groups to re-think their strategies and re-prioritize to make them even more impactful and effective. For my fellow gay American, I hope it makes us more willing to share our lives with the people around and to express how deserving we are of the legal protections our straight friends and co-workers share.