Here are great lines from Czech playwright and activist Václav Havel (shown also in the image above):
A genuinely fundamental and hopeful improvement in “systems” cannot happen without a significant shift in human consciousness, and… it cannot be accomplished through a simple organizational trick. It’s hard to imagine the kind of system I’ve tried to describe here coming about unless man [sic], as I’ve said, “comes to his senses.” This is something no revolutionary or reformer can bring about; it can only be the natural expression of a more general state of mind, the state of mind in which man can see beyond the tip of his own nose and prove capable of taking on—under the aspect of eternity—responsibility even for the things that don’t immediately concern him, and relinquish something of his private interest in favor of the interest of the community, the general interest. Without such a mentality, even the most carefully considered project aimed at altering systems will be for naught.
I think he’s right. As a leader who seeks to effect change in systems (and in individuals), I find this sobering and ultimately liberating. There’s only so much change any one person can actually bring about. In the end, each needs to take responsibility for themselves.
(It’s been a long time since I read this quote in context, so I don’t know if Havel makes this connection, but the Parable of the Prodigal Son uses this same phrase to describe the younger son’s turnaround in Luke 15:17–“he came to his senses.”)
As a Christian, I would add, there is the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the “senses” of humankind. That can significantly change any person, system, and organization–if we would let it.
The authors of the book, Erika H. James and Lynn Perry Wooten, write, “Crises are never one-off events. They happen again and again, although we never seem to expect them.”
James and Wooten wrote The Prepared Leader to help leaders prepare for crises, but why don’t we already? They write:
A crisis can feel like it hits you and your organization out of the blue. In reality, certain types of crisis can simmer in the background until the conditions are just right for disaster to materialize. These smoldering crises can be hard to predict, even if they are technically foreseeable.
Crucially, this is because these crises “are often tied to failure in organizational culture or procedures—the same failure that allows them to happen while also making them hard to see or track.” Bury sexual harassment claims, for example, and it will eventually turn into a crisis. (And, worse than whatever “crisis” befalls an organization, real people get hurt behind this stuff.)
I think of Charlie Brown and Lucy and the running football gag by Charles M. Schulz. Like a crisis that could have been avoided or at least prepared for, it gets Charlie Brown every time.
Why is this?
James and Wooten list five biases (“cognitive distortions”) that prepared leaders need to recognize—and overcome:
Probability Neglect: we “underestimate the probability that something (bad) will happen to us.” They give the example of COVID-19, and how many North Americans thought it was all the way over there in China and would never reach us.
Hyperbolic Discounting: it’s easier to focus on the present than the future, even if (especially if?) the problems of the future feel overwhelming.
Anchoring Effect: we “tend to cleave to the first impression or understanding we form about a risk or threat.” This especially serves us poorly if we know such-and-such a person as someone who would never do that, even though they’ve just been credibly accused by multiple people. The cognitive dissonance in such cases is painful and difficult to resolve.
Exponential Growth Bias: this is bias against the exponential growth that a crisis tends to have. In other words, we think situations unfold in a linear, straightforward way. They often don’t.
Sunk-Cost Fallacy: “once we have settled on a course of action, and invested time, effort, and resources, it’s hard to change direction.” Once Charlie Brown is running toward that football, even though he knows Lucy is going to pull it out from under him, he still follows through and tries to kick it.
The Prepared Leader calls all of us to hold these cognitive distortions up to the light right now, because “the next crisis is already heading your way.” Or you’re in one right now. They warn readers not to “let your guard down,” which may be our default mode, especially when our biases almost hard-wire us to miss warning signs.
Is there good news here? Yes! Chapter 1 of The Prepared Leader profiles Adam Silver, commissioner of the NBA, and his brilliant (and seemingly lightning-fast) move to implement a “Bubble” when COVID-19 hit, so that the season could continue.
Silver’s actions remind us that we have agency, even in the midst of a crisis. In short, we should “have a learning organizational culture, with processes and protocols in place to surface and share information and to resolve any blockages in knowledge flow.”
Leaders and organizations that try to wish a crisis away (tempting as it is) won’t do much better with the next one. Examining and trying to overcome our cognitive biases is an important start.
Erika H. James and Lynn Perry Wooten are experts in organizational leadership, especially leadership through crises. They each moved into major new roles of leadership at the start of 2020: Dr. James became Dean of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania; Dr. Wooten became the President of Simmons University. They describe what would already be a set of daunting, exciting, high-stakes challenges in leadership positions.
“Then,” they write, “COVID-19 hit.”
I can relate (albeit on a smaller scale). The church I pastored for nearly eight years was confronting its own constellation of challenges as Fall 2019 turned to Winter 2020. I was already experiencing the reality James and Wooten describe: “A crisis will invariably test your leadership to the very limits of your abilities.”
Then COVID-19 hit.
In early 2021 I accepted a call to pastor a diverse, urban church in the heart of Boston. When I began pastoring there, the church was still not far removed from the previous Pastor’s departure; there had been about a year of the Pastor position’s being vacant; COVID-19 was still raging; and we didn’t have a building to meet in.
It seemed the congregation had experienced loss upon loss. Loss may not always be the same thing as crisis, but the congregation that had just called me had had its leadership tested “to the very limits of [its] abilities.”
We’ve stabilized since then, thanks be to God. I’m a month away from the two-year mark as Pastor there. Most if not all of us have been vaccinated, with all the boosters. We rent space in a church just a block or two away from our previous location.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t face new crises—now or lurking around the corner.
As I started the introduction, I realized this book would be powerful and instructive for me, even if there had never been a COVID-19. But seeing how Drs. James and Wooten integrate findings from that new (and still present) global health crisis make their work especially relevant.
Without downplaying the negative disruptive potential of a crisis, they describe how crises can be opportunities:
If there’s one thing we have learned about crises in our research over the years, it is that they bring opportunities as much as they bring risks. Crises are opportunities to sharpen your leadership skills and to unearth new expertise—often in surprising places. They are also opportunities to learn—to determine which important lessons a crisis has to share and to embed those lessons in your leadership practice going forward.
There’s so much wisdom to receive and unpack here—and this is just in the Introduction! As I read these lines, here are all the opportunities a crisis brings, according to the authors:
Crisis brings opportunities to become a more skilled leader
Crisis brings opportunities to find new expertise in your organization
Crisis brings opportunities to discover that this new expertise could be somewhere (or with someone) you didn’t expect
Crisis brings opportunities to learn important lessons
Crisis brings opportunities to integrate these lessons into leadership in the future
I know that crises, loss, and threats all bring opportunities with them. I’ve heard this before. And I don’t disagree, but it’s a truth that—if I’m honest—I’ve had a hard time appreciating. “Consider it pure joy,” the biblical book of James says, “whenever you face trials of many kinds.” No, I consider it pure joy when I don’t have to face any trials!
But James goes on, “Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work, so that you may become mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Trials mature us. The testing of our faith forms our character, even makes us more like Jesus.
Do I like that reality? Not really. If I were God, would I try to create a set of conditions whereby people could develop perseverance without the trials? Maybe, but then again, any sentence that begins with “If I were God…” (especially when I write it) is a bad one.
I believe that Apostle James, Dr. James, and Dr. Wooten are not only right about the formative effect of crises/trials—I think they are preaching an essential life truth.
Crises are inevitable, The Prepared Leader says. Jesus said, “In this world you will have much trouble.” The Psalmist wrote, “Many are the afflictions (troubles, dangers, trials) of the righteous.”
The questions are: how will we respond to a crisis, what will we learn from it, and how will we prepare for the next one?
It’s rare the book that I want to write about after just the introduction, but The Prepared Leader has been as good as a cup of coffee with an engaging Executive Coach (or two, in this case).
Next time I’ll write about James and Wooten’s insights about why we fail to foresee crises, even when a crisis give us hints that it might be coming.
There is a Bible verse that always stops me in my tracks:
Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance.
—Matthew 2:16 (New Living Translation)
This is some of the most heinous evil the Bible reports. Can you imagine?
Herod couldn’t find Jesus, but he knew Jesus was in Bethlehem or nearby, and he knew Jesus was two years old or under. So Herod just took that whole group of people and had them killed. It’s an egregious abuse of power.
The Gospels record attempts on Jesus’s life once he is active in ministry, but it’s a miracle that Jesus even made it to adulthood. He emerged from an entire generation of babies that Herod ordered murdered.
The story of those babies and their families doesn’t stop with their murder. The parents had to live with the death of their children for the rest of their lives. All the birthdays, yearly feasts, and celebrations: gone. Two high school graduations—class of ’13 and class of ’14—cancelled, because no one was there to graduate. A murderous, abusive, vindictive tyrant stole those kids from their parents.
Jesus’s birth was surrounded by child abuse.
“O Little Town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie”? Nope. At least not for long. Herod was making that little town a cesspool of death and trauma. There’s no stillness in what Matthew goes on to describe, quoting the prophet Jeremiah:
“A cry was heard in Ramah— weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead.”
Did Mary and Joseph and Jesus have survivor’s guilt? How awful must Mary and Joseph have felt about all this? And what was Jesus’s reaction when he realized the circumstances surrounding his birth? Surely this did not look like the salvation the angel had promised Jesus would bring—maybe even its opposite.
I’ve started wondering: all this killing of little babies… did this shape Jesus’s passion for ministering to children? Was it a deeply formative experience for how Jesus would live in the world?
More specifically, did the abuse and trauma Jesus learned about inspire him to especially love the abused and traumatized? Did the erasure of children and complete destruction of their rights lead him to become a champion of children?
Reading against such a backdrop, these words of Jesus strike me as even more poignant—and powerful:
“Let the little children come, and do not forbid them, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
“Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.
And this powerful moment:
And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
I have to think Jesus carried all the death and grief and trauma that others experienced, not just at the cross, but from the very time he was born. When he looked at the children coming to him, did he remember all the children that would never have a chance to approach him? When he blessed the children, was it a deliberate undoing of the curse Herod had pronounced?
Miraculously, Jesus survived citywide infanticide. He lived through that systemic abuse. Now he would prioritize the well-being of children. He would make sure they could truly live.
Someone at Koren Publishers invited me to review their new Hebrew-English Tanakh (The Magerman Edition). After taking one look at a picture of the book, I was convinced. (Thanks to Koren for the review copy, which did not consciously affect the objectivity of this review.)
Check it out:
Yes, I judged this book by its cover, but the judgment was proven right by its insides.
The edition above has both the Hebrew text (beautifully typeset) with a new English translation that I’ve found to be significantly more readable than the previous one Koren published.
For example, there is more gender accurate (i.e., “gender inclusive”) language where it did not exist in the previous edition, although I thought this translation didn’t go as far in the direction of gender accuracy as it could have.
The transliteration decisions are more fluid. This English reader still stumbled over, for example, Yeḥezkel for Ezekiel, but this was a conscious decision on the translation’s part to “convey the authenticity of the Hebrew original.” I respect that.
Not only is this Bible beautiful, but the binding is sewn. It will last a long time.
Here is the lovely Hebrew typography:
Especially awesome is that the shewa appears differently in the text whether it is silent or vocalized. I have repeatedly found that helpful as I’ve tried to read the text aloud:
There are ribbon markers:
There are colorful charts and tables and diagrams and timelines throughout. Not so many that this already heavy Bible gets heavier, but not so few that the reader needs an additional study Bible for background overviews.
Here is a bit more from the publisher:
The Hebrew-English Koren Tanakh respects the classical Jewish interpretive tradition, while being cognizant of contemporary scholarship. It includes simple notes to aid comprehension of words and names, and features extensive, full-color reference material including genealogies, timelines, maps, charts, archaeological artifacts, and more. Proper names have been transliterated (Yaakov, not Jacob; Moshe, not Moses) to convey the authenticity of the Hebrew original. This edition also includes a thumb tab index to aid in finding sources and references, making the Tanakh easily accessible for its readers.
You can find The Magerman Edition of the Hebrew-English Koren Tanakh here, with more available here.
I’ve been enjoying teaching through the Gospel of Mark in an ongoing Webinar series called “Translation Notes.” We focus especially on the words and grammar of the Greek text, trying to answer questions that arise when translating to English.
A few weeks ago I taught a session on Mark 4:35-41, where Jesus exercises authority over the elements by calming a storm that had the disciples fearing for their lives—and already starting to drown.
Paying attention to Mark’s Greek helped me see two important parts of the narrative that could be easy to miss.
First, in Mark 4:37, when the “furious squall” (NIV) comes up, the waves are breaking into the boat where Jesus and his disciples are. Mark says, “the boat was already (ἤδη) filling up.”
This is an important detail, especially with ἤδη = already. The point at which the disciples call out to Jesus is not when they see storm clouds, or when they’re worried a storm might come, or even when they’re sure it is coming. The storm is already there, the waves are already breaking, and the boat is already getting swamped (so NRSV). Not just wet—drenched.
This means the disciples must have felt like they were seconds away from drowning. This isn’t a cute story or an object lesson for them: “Teacher, doesn’t it matter to you that we’re dying?”
Translations that give “we are about to die” or “don’t you care if we drown?” or “we’re going to drown” seem to soften the force of the present indicative verb Mark uses: we are dying. And don’t you care, Jesus?
I think this makes the story all the more relatable. We can cry out to Jesus not just in moments of feeling like we’re about to die, but in moments of actual dying.
A second important point in the narrative: before the disciples can utter this desperate prayer to Jesus, they find him sleeping. Mark narrates it like this:
Major translations tend to change the Greek word order in translation, so that it reads, “But he was in the stern, sleeping on a pillow.”
But I think the word order as Mark has it is worth preserving in English, because Mark is heightening the drama:
And he… (okay, phew, Jesus is at least around!)
…was in the stern… (wait, what’s he doing in the back of the boat?)
…on a pillow… (at a time like this? He’d better not be sleeping!)
I struggled to find any English translation that translated it this way, but Eugene Peterson’s Message (supposedly a paraphrase—certainly more thought-for-thought than word-for-word) gives us, “Jesus was in the stern, head on a pillow, sleeping!”
It’s a short sentence, but I think Mark’s word order is deliberate—it’s like a slow-motion nightmare where the already-dying disciples find the worst possible outcome: the one who can save them is asleep.
Those two moments in the story—of actually beginning to die and of terror at Jesus’s being asleep—are worth inhabiting as readers today. Or maybe a better way to say it is that we already feel like we inhabit those moments, and we need to acknowledge it. Mark reminds us that we’re in good company: the company of the dying and terrified. And he invites us to cry out to Jesus, even in our dying, even when it looks like Jesus is fast asleep.
If anyone wonders why a book called Running While Black is necessary, author Alison Mariella Désir answers with an 8-page spread before the book even begins: “Timeline: Freedom of Movement.” One column of the timeline is “U.S. Running History”; the other is “Black People’s Reality.”
For example, in 1896 in U.S. Running History, “The first modern Olympic Games and the first running of the marathon are held.” “Black people’s reality” that year: “In Plessy v. Ferguson, the U.S. Supreme Court (all white men) rules that racial segregation laws do not violate the constitution, a doctrine that came to be known as ‘separate but equal.’”
Another example: as the 1960s and 1970s jogging boom hit the U.S., Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated: “We were being killed in the streets while white people were taking to the streets to run.” (!!!)
The two timelines are emblematic of one of the key points Désir makes: especially with distance running, “Running’s whiteness… (has) permeated the sport.” She notes that Coach Bill Bowerman started running programming in Eugene, Oregon in 1963, but Oregon’s history of Black exclusion and segregation meant that Bowerman was starting a de facto running club for white people.
Yet despite how whiteness and white supremacy have infiltrated running culture—and this is another of Désir’s key points—Black people have been integral to the history and growth of distance running. In 1936 three Black men started the New York Pioneer Club, “a running and civil rights group.” Ted Corbitt was the first Black man to run the marathon for the U.S. in the Olympics in 1952. Désir herself has had major impact on the sport, not least through her founding of Harlem Run, whose history she details in her book.
Désir’s goal in Running While Black—and in her life’s work—is doing what the book’s subtitle says: “Finding Freedom in a Sport That Wasn’t Built for Us.” She writes:
My goal and hope is that we can reimagine running as a sport for everyone, making freedom of movement possible for Black people at all times, in all spaces, where Blackness is seen not as a threat or even a statement, but commonplace and normal. Where Black runners feel welcomed and safe at every race. Where our stories and voices are part of history, part of the universal story of what it means to run. Where we feel like we belong. Only then will the sport live up to what it aspires to be—open to all.
As a white person and as a man (and a big and tall one, at that), I feel like I can pretty safely run just about anywhere and everywhere. At night. On city streets. In neighborhoods with “Police Lives Matter” and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags. This has not been Désir’s experience, though, and she heartbreakingly begins the book by describing a pre-run decision to wear a “bright, long-sleeved shirt with reflective beads, a shirt that screams, ‘I’m running! Don’t shot!’” She says, “When I go for a run, I’m not just going for a run. I am stepping outside as a Black body in a white world. …I would prefer to just be me, but my country has not given me this choice.”
I expected Désir to talk about Ahmaud Arbery (whom she describes with a deserved gut-punch as “a man who committed the crime of jogging while Black”), and she does, at length. But what surprised me about Running While Black was just how extensively Désir unpacks her line: “I would prefer to just be me, but my country has not given me this choice.”
Early in the book she talks a lot about “just… me,” her family upbringing, her experience running track as a kid, caring for an aging parent, struggling with depression, training in mental health, and overcoming struggles in the early days of starting Harlem Run. It’s an enthralling narrative.
And woven throughout the book is a history a country that has “not given (her) this choice” to be just herself: through both the whiteness of running, and the persistence of white supremacy in U.S. history. Phrases like “best places to live if you’re a runner,” for example, have racial histories (segregation, redlining, exclusionary real estate policies):
My immediate reaction (to this article) was to think this didn’t happen by accident. Racism created the “good” parts of town (read: white) and the “bad” parts of town (read: Black). White people didn’t just happen to live in the places that were conducive to running, and Black people didn’t choose the “other” areas.
Désir’s book aims to be history, memoir, sociology, cultural study, and it all works somehow. She’s a great writer.
My only critique is of Désir’s criticism of the Boston Marathon, how it is “elitist rather than democratic” because—unlike other marathons with a lottery-based entry system—it is a time-qualified race. I’ve got no pushback on her detailing Boston’s racist history, and how the marathon skips Dorchester and Roxbury and “travels through predominantly white suburbs and finishes in a predominantly white part of the city.”1 And of course she’s right that “exclusion” is a tool of white supremacy. But I wish she had said more about how she sees the Boston’s exclusion as racialized. It surely is! But more than any other marathons? Aren’t marathons, because of their physical and time and financial demands, exclusive across the board anyway? Maybe I’m just being sensitive in defending my hometown, which is (sadly) PLENTY racist, both institutionally and among individuals. But Désir’s writing on the Boston Marathon left me wanting more.
Overall I really appreciated this book and sort of devoured it. For all runners and readers, Désir’s deep dive into Black distance running history is an especially valuable use of time. I learned so much that I had not seen detailed anywhere else, either in writing about running or in Black studies. Running While Black is a powerful book that will inspire and challenge readers who are willing to listen.
Désir’s popular article for Outside magazine offers a conclusion similar to what her full book asks:
If you found yourself uncomfortable reading this, please know that my discomfort writing this far exceeds yours. To what extent am I now a target for speaking truth to power? I don’t know how my words will be picked apart and shredded, and which doors may close as a result of writing this. What I do know is that I am speaking passionately from the heart about difficult things. And I don’t have all the answers but I am willing to do the work. Are you?
Thanks to Portfolio & Sentinel for sending the review copy, which did not (at least not consciously) affect how I reviewed the book.
But weren’t Dorchester and Roxbury “white” when the marathon started, as well as when Hopkinton became the starting point? So is her challenge that they should change the route now so it’s not so “white?” If so, I agree. ↩
The pandemic has afforded many of us an extended opportunity to think and re-think our jobs: Am I in the right one? Can I live out my values at work? Am I doing what I’m good at? Is my work environment a healthy one? How can I best contribute to the world?
We don’t answer these questions in isolation—even those of us who are solo staff or who work remotely. Work is inevitably work with others. So what to do when those others are hard to work with?
Last fall Harvard Business Review Press published Amy Gallo’s Getting Along: How to Work with Anyone (Even Difficult People). It offers strategies for how we work with challenging others. And it looks at how interpersonal stressors can affect one’s own mental health. Gallo suggests numerous practical ways for us workers to care well for ourselves in tough settings.
Gallo wrote the book “to provide a more nuanced, practical, evidence-based approach, one that acknowledges the complexity of unhealthy relationships at work and the immense discomfort they can create“ (7). She wants to help readers develop “interpersonal resilience” (9). She makes a big promise, on which she delivers:
With the advice in this book, you’ll be able to put work conflict in its place, freeing up valuable time and mental capacity for the things that really matter to you. (9)
Gallo lists “eight archetypes,” eight categories of difficult people we might expect to face in the workplace:
the insecure boss
the passive-aggressive peer
the biased coworker
the political operator
Each of these archetypes gets a chapter, with Gallo admitting there can be overlap between archetypes. She gives background to each archetype, names some “costs” to working with such a person, lists “questions to ask yourself” (this inward turn is hard but needed), and ends with “tactics to try.” For those working with “the pessimist,” for example, she suggests you “reframe cynicism as a gift” (77) and “give them a role to play” (78), but that you also “help them understand when their pessimism helps and when it hurts” (80). Toward the end of each chapter Gallo gives a list of “phrases to use,” which I think was one of the best parts of the book.
As practical as Gallo is, I benefited from the time she spent in the first two chapters laying the groundwork for navigating difficult relationships. I agree it is true, after all, that “you’re better off trying to create a workable situation with your colleague now than hoping things will improve if they leave” (238). So how to make it workable? Why bother? Gallo’s early chapters talk not only about why work relationships are worth investing in; she also suggests the idea of actually making friends with your co-workers! And she details how relational stress impacts the brain in a way that really motivated me to keep reading.
The final chapters are great, too. Having run through the archetypes, there are still lingering questions. Gallo addresses them all, and well: Should I just quit? How can I stay in a sustainable way? Is there someone I can escalate this to? How do I take care of myself? Gallo suggests these two powerful mantras: “It’s OK to feel hurt” and, “Who I am is not shaped by this person’s beliefs” (247). I found the last one especially affirming.
I really appreciated this book. It comes at a great time for a lot of us, and Gallo’s years of experience and passion show. Getting Along is accessible and practical, as well as backed up by research and lots of interpersonal interactions across industries.
I also thought Gallo does a good job of thinking inclusively. Early on she notes, “Not everyone experiences the workplace in the same way—and particular groups are often the targets of incivility to a disproportionate degree” (8). Throughout the archetypes she uses lenses of racism and sexism and other -isms to analyze difficult interactions. It feels like this level of analysis is often missing in self-help or workplace productivity books.
If I have a critique or two of this book, it’s that—based on the title and book description—I expected to see more writing on how to address a co-worker who has a distinct mental health issue. This would probably make the book much longer, but what if your boss actually is a narcissist? Gallo jumps right in on this possibility in the “know-it-all” chapter (starting on p. 118), but I worry she might have too quickly dismissed a reality some folks face, even if she’s right that we shouldn’t be armchair psychologists and even if “pathological narcissism” is rare. Or, to take another archetype, what if your “pessimistic” co-worker is (also) clinically depressed or has an anxiety disorder? Should that shape how you interact with them? If so, how? Are you on the hook to try to get them help? Do you need to be more careful about how you word things? Or not?
Finally, I wonder if readers who are in a persistently (or even occasionally) abusive work environment might need to look elsewhere for help on how to navigate their toxic environment. Gallo does much to help readers work toward health, and I think (I hope!) what she offers will cover the vast majority of workplace personality difficulties. But I can call to mind settings where something like a more trauma-based lens might be needed to help the worker navigate their setting. How to respond, in other words, when you believe you are being abused at work—physically, emotionally, sexually, or psychologically? To be fair, Gallo’s chapter on “the biased co-worker” offers an in-depth response to discrimination and microaggressions in the workplace, although I think the chapter on “the tormentor” could have covered abuse dynamics more fully.
I don’t mean these final comments to take away from how truly affirming, helpful, and empowering Getting Along is. I appreciate how an author of a book like this may be putting themselves out there. And it seemed clear to me that Gallo has heard about, coached people through, and lived through more than a fair share of workplace conflict and difficulty. That she shares her hard-earned wisdom in such an engaging book is a gift to anyone who would read it.
You can find Amy Gallo’s Getting Alonghere. Her own Website is here (where I have just signed up for her monthly newsletter).
Thanks to Harvard Business Review Press for sending the review copy, which did not (at least not consciously) affect how I reviewed the book.
The first time I saw Michael K. Williams’s memoir in the bookstore, I devoured the main chapter on his character Omar from The Wire. I thought that was most of what I’d want to read.
But then I started reading from the beginning. And kept reading. And reading.
Mike tells his powerful story in a compelling, humbling, and vulnerable way. From childhood to adulthood, he wrestles in view of the reader with his family, identity, joys, insecurities, ambition, addiction, and what it means to come back home and give back to one’s community.
There are gems throughout the book. For example:
What most people don’t realize about addiction is that it is in you before the drug even shows up. That’s because the drug itself is not the problem; it is a symptom of the problem. The drug is the culmination, the final step—not the first.
If you push something down, it’ll find its way out. You can’t run from it. Jay-Z says we can’t heal what we never reveal. And it’s true. You can’t heal what you never reveal.
In talking about a powerful encounter with Reverend Ron, who showed him God’s love:
It didn’t happen right away, took years in fact, but Reverend Ron was the beginning. I started to see myself as worthy of his love, of that congregation’s love, of God’s love. It all started there in that New Jersey church.
It’s not like boom I was saved and clean all at once. There’s not an addict on the planet who it’s like that for. Being an addict means forward and back constantly. It means saying no again and again. That’s why someone who is clean for thirty years can still call himself an addict. They’re always one choice away.
Especially poignant is Mike’s description of the ebbs and flows of his addiction throughout the five seasons of The Wire, including his emotional response to the show’s conclusion:
It was like in Forrest Gump when he decides to stop running across the country and everyone following him just kind of stops too and wanders away. I felt like one of those people. Like, What do I do now? It wasn’t even about the next job. It was Where do I get this feeling again? How am I going to reach in and get that feeling? That drug, that Omar drug, that shit was powerful, and I didn’t have any legs to stand on. I didn’t know who I was because I had stopped doing work on myself.
The reader does see how much progress Mike made in his life in loving himself and loving others. His self-love is an amazing counterpoint to this truth he articulates: “Every addict, every alcoholic has a self-loathing; we bathe ourselves in that.”
Having learned to love himself—even in a society that in many ways still does not love young black males well—Mike gave back to overlooked communities.
We have to get back to the idea of the village, figure out how to mend our struggling families in the community. Give them culture, respect, connection, the experience of dreaming and hoping. The permission to dream is so important. The permission to love yourself is so important. You don’t have to get scarred up in your face and go through endless rehabs and almost die and overdose to finally understand that you’re worth something.