Thursday, November 26, 2015

Giving Thanks: 2015

I am thankful for:
Pope Francis, for cultivating compassion.
Bernie Sanders, for challenging inequality.
Rotary International, for its motto, “Service above Self.”
Brett Dennen, who said, “Until we treat one another as equals, there will be no peace.”
James Baldwin, who described the price we pay for fostering personal identities rooted in love of Empire and domination.
Buddha, who practiced Christianity.
Jesus, who practiced Buddhism.
Steve Sears, who understood me profoundly.
Gil Lopez, who helped me understand racism.
Richard Koogle, who invited me to Northaven Methodist Church.
Leonard Frank, who lived the life he wanted to live.
Mother, who taught me the Golden Rule.
Charles Hartshorne, who taught me that paradox is the essence of life.
Martin Buber, who inspired me to engage in authentic, mutual encounter.
Dick Price, who affirmed “increasing self-sufficiency while drawing on support as needed.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson, who gave me my mission: to pursue truth, justice, and beauty.
Bob Dylan, who has led me through the stages of my life.
Michele Dayley, the only person with whom I cried convulsively after making love.
My many friends still living, who comfort me even in their absence.
Life itself, even though it involves dying.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015 Report

The response to the first issue of has been encouraging.

The task now is to consider: how can this newsletter benefit drivers, passengers, and/or others? What kind of information would help drivers? What would be of interest to passengers, or others? I welcome your thoughts about those questions. (My notes about possibilities are at

The answers may influence the format of the newsletter. Options include: 1) Just doing a one-page handout with links to online articles and lists of resources; 2) Two different editions, one for drivers and the other for passengers.

In addition to considerable informal feedback, the following comments have been submitted on the website:

This newsletter is a light in a very dark world, putting forth more than just information; rather, we find understanding with regard to the taxi industry. I do think this newsletter well crosses boundaries and needs to be read in other cities of the United States, but let us start with San Francisco. Taxi Talk may just bring the taxi industry more customers.
--Herman Haluza, Editor, Transportation Perception

Thank you, Wade, great piece.
A spelling error you make here is of Kate Toran, not Kate Tolan

An excellent summarization of our current state of affairs with San Francisco’s taxi industry. Your keen insight and sound advice should be a must read for any professional taxi driver. Looking forward to your next posting.
--Hansu Kim, Desoto/Flywheel President

Very articulate writing. Thanks, Wade.
--Carl Macmurdo, President, Medallion Holders Association

Saw your newsletter and was quite impressed.
--Mark Gruberg, SF Taxi Workers Alliance
Congrats! Very good but too long.
--Mike Larsen, Literary Agent
Drivers at Yellow Cab are taking copies of the newsletter left at the dispatch window, where a sign reads: “Please consider: 1) Give to passengers. 2) Give $1 or more to [the dispatcher] for Wade to make more copies.”  Yesterday, the first day that sign was posted, it elicited $13 in donations, which is good. Previously, $210, including two $100 donations, had been contributed. Expenses to date equal $155. Small invoices for the website and listserv are outstanding. A frequently updated financial report is viewable by the public at

My primary goal is to raise money to cover operating costs. I plan to continue to work on this project pro bono about 15 hours a week.

As of 10/28, the website had received 301 views. Many of those views were prompted by posts on Twitter spontaneously tweeted by a number of individuals, including Kelly Dessaint, SF Examiner columnist, with whom I am communicating. Sixteen individuals have subscribed to the TaxiTalk,info Announce email list. Recently, several more people have signed the Limit “Ride-Sharing” Cars petition, bringing the total to 103. The passengers to whom I’ve given the newsletter have been very interested and supportive.

Those responses motivate me to persist with I hope to develop a presence on Twitter and Facebook soon and build connections with people in other cities.

Early next year, I’d like to help convene a series of public events, such as Passenger Appreciation Days and forums with guest speakers, including public officials. The overall theme of the forums could be “The Future of Taxis,” with a more specific topic each time. Do you have ideas for topics?

I’m working on a statement that presents my underlying philosophy and hope to circulate it for review and comment soon, before including it in the next newsletter. That piece is intended to provide food for thought. Space for contrary opinions will be provided in future issues.

Currently titled "Reforming the Industry," it  presents a comprehensive plan for inter-related structural changes and specific projects. Many of the ideas presented are rooted in the principles that John Carver presented in his landmark book, Boards That Make a Difference.

I’m very open to working in a collaborative manner. Ideally, I’d like to eventually develop a team of co-editors, perhaps taking turns with responsibility for the final edit if and when we face a deadline.

In the meantime, I welcome your assistance. Help with graphic design would be appreciated, for example. Do you have photos or graphics to contribute? Other ideas?

To subscribe to a digital copy of the newsletter and receive it via email, visit

Likely no more than a few times a week, I’ll post to the TaxiTalk Announce email list: 1) reports on my efforts; 2) requests for feedback, advice, and help, and; 3) general taxi-related information. To subscribe to that list, visit or ask me to subscribe you.

Steven Hill, author of RAW DEAL: How the "Uber Economy" and Runaway Capitalism Are Screwing American Workers, will be reading from his book:

  • Mon., Nov. 16, 6:00 PM, Mechanics' Institute Library, 57 Post, Suite 407, SF;
  • Tues., Nov. 17, 6:30 PM, Diesel Bookstore, 5433 College, Oakland;
  • Wed., Nov. 18, 7:00 PM; Books Inc, 2251 Chestnut, SF;
  • Thurs., Dec. 3, 6:00 PM, Book Passage, 1 Ferry Building, SF.


Wade Hudson,
Publisher and Editor

Monday, October 26, 2015 – October 20, 2005

To read the first issue of and initial readers’ comments, comment yourself, and/or subscribe to receive future issues via email, go to

  • The State of the Industry
  • The “Uber Economy”
  • Uber Alles
  • Tip to passengers
  • Tip to pedestrians
  • Tip to businesses
  • Tip to drivers
  • Zen Driving
  • Cabbie Joke
  • State Update
  • The Limit “Ride-Sharing” Cars Petition
  • City Update
  • About

Wade Hudson, Publisher and Editor

Saturday, October 17, 2015 (reply YES to subscribe)

Please reply YES to this post if you want to receive occasional emails from me concerning my efforts to promote and help improve the San Francisco taxi industry. If you do, I’ll subscribe you to the TaxiTalk,info email list, a listserv powered by Electric Embers.

Also, please consider giving me feedback by Monday night, Oct. 19, on the latest draft of the first issue of the newsletter (see below), which I will make available to drivers to distribute to passengers, businesses, and the general public.

The first issue will be two columns on four pages on an 8-½ X 11 sheet of paper folded in half. Future issues may be longer with a greater variety of content.

How many copies are printed will depend on how much financial support I receive. You can donate by visiting or giving me a donation in person. Regular financial reports on income and expenses will be posted on that website.

More information about the newsletter is included below under “About”

Wade Hudson
Wade Hudson, Editor                                                                                          October XX, 2015                                                         

The State of the Industry
We’ve come full circle. During the Great Depression, desperate workers, unregulated, flooded city streets with cars-for-hire. In response, city governments regulated the industry and limited the number of taxis. Now, once again, in a weak economy, an excessive number of cars-for-hire congest streets and pollute the air. Legitimized by a state government that undermined local control, many of those vehicles, like Uber, are de facto taxis, loosely regulated, and driven by inexperienced drivers.
Prior to Uber, drivers were screened, trained, and fired when necessary. Companies were required to carry substantial insurance. Drivers could pick up fares only in their own city. Fares were set at a level that enabled drivers to earn a good living. Many drivers stuck with driving and steadily became better, more informed “ambassadors of tourism.” Visitors often commented on the high quality taxi service in San Francisco and our colorful cab drivers, many of whom were artists. Companies could afford to buy new cars every three years. The City mandated that new vehicles use clean energy, and subsidized the paratransit program for seniors and disabled. The taxi medallion system, though flawed, worked rather well as a mix of public regulation and private enterprise.
That system had many problems, particularly not enough taxis. The City failed to document the need for more taxis and greed led drivers to effectively oppose putting more taxis in operation. The excess of demand for service exceeded the supply of taxis, which prompted drivers to pick up “flags” on the street rather than take more time to serve residences. The proliferation of cab companies made it difficult to establish a centralized dispatch system. Drivers’ status as independent contractors made supervision and discipline more difficult.
Uber has shaken up the industry, demonstrated the value of new technology, and prompted the City and cab companies to improve service. Customer complaints are being investigated more seriously and disciplinary action is more common. The City has investigated systematically and found good response times for calls for service in various neighborhoods. The Flywheel app, “Uber for taxis,” is being enthusiastically embraced by consumers who like getting experienced, screened drivers and dislike Uber’s surge pricing. Yellow Cab and other companies are working to improve their own phone apps. The MTA’s Taxi Service Services Director Kate Toran is bolstering these improvements.
But the industry is shaky. Because fewer drivers are driving, companies are barely breaking even, cutting back on maintenance, and putting new cars onto the street more slowly. Drivers are making less money. Many retirement plans have been devastated. Turnover is higher, resulting in less experienced drivers.
San Francisco needs quality taxis, driven by professionals who become more skilled over time and take pride in their work. Hotels, restaurants, and other businesses need good service. Passengers prefer drivers who’ve undergone criminal background checks. Seniors and disabled need subsidized rides. Most San Franciscans know all that and support the taxi industry.
To sustain the industry, however, will require concentrated effort. Passengers and businesses need to speak up about how service needs to be improved, and drivers and companies need to listen. And everyone needs to encourage their elected representatives to re-establish local control. We need an alliance, a community, of passengers, drivers, companies, businesses, and community organizations to reduce congestion, minimize pollution, and improve taxi service.
Relying solely on the profit motive will not work. The more cars are on the street, the more money Uber makes. City streets are a public resource. The public and the government must regulate that resource wisely.
Taxi Talk aims to help with that mission by producing a newsletter that drivers can distribute to their passengers. We will inform readers about the issues and what it’s like to drive a taxi. And we will present proposals for how we can move forward, together.
[end of page one]
Zen Driving
[Forthcoming: a column by Herman Haluza]

Cabbie Joke
Told just before going down a steep San Francisco hill: “Don’t worry. My brakes usually work…. I haven’t lost very many passengers.”

Celebrity Encounter
During the very early stages of the 2000 Democratic Party Presidential primary campaign, after noticing their Southern accents, my four passengers and I discovered we were all from Arkansas. The woman in the front seat asked, “Are you familiar with Bill Clinton?” I said, “Yes.” She replied, “Will you vote for him?” Since he was my least favorite Democratic candidate, “I diplomatically replied, “If he gets the nomination.” She may have noticed my evasion, but replied, “Good.”

My Weirdest Tale
While parked at Yellow Cab waiting to give a driver a ride home, a teenager from the nearby Potrero Hill projects got into my cab around 2 am and told me to go to Hunter’s Point. Along the way, he mentioned he was wearing a wig. When we got near his destination, he told me to turn left. I noticed three teens standing at the corner. The street turned out to be a dead-end. He said to make a U-turn, park in front of a particular house, and honk three times. As soon as I did, a truck turned the corner coming toward us. Afraid of having my exit blocked and being robbed, I floored the accelerator and took off. My passenger said, “What are you doing!!!???” I ignored him. Driving as fast as I could, I noticed headlights in my rearview mirror on a car that seemed to be going equally fast. I turned and headed toward Candlestick Park. My passenger continued to ask me why I was doing what I was doing. After I no longer saw the headlights behind me, I pulled over and told him to get out, which caused him to absolutely freak out. “No, I can’t do that,” he said. “If I do, they will kill me. This is not my neighborhood.” I kept insisting and he kept refusing. Finally I gave up and drove back toward Yellow Cab. Once we got to Third and Evans, the edge of the Hunter Point’s neighborhood, he said, “Ok, I can get out now.” I pulled over and let him out, without asking for a dime.

Tip to passengers
When you wave for a taxi and the driver waves back or flashes his headlights, you have entered a contract. To get into another taxi that pulls up first is rude. In the meantime, the first driver may have declined to accept a radio call or allow another passenger to get into the cab.

Tip to drivers
If another taxi is stopped at a red light when you pull up alongside, allow it to remain in “first place” when the light turns green so long as it moves at a normal speed. Do not race it down the street.

Tip to businesses
When customers ask you to call for a taxi, ask them, “Can you wait ten minutes?” and comment, “Please don’t step out and flag down the first taxi that comes by.”

Tip to pedestrians
Especially when cars are waiting to turn the corner, the Don’t Walk signal means “Don’t Walk.” When drivers are unable to make the turn, traffic gets more congested and drivers get more frustrated, which endangers pedestrians. Be considerate.

[end of page two]

The “Uber Economy”

Steven Hill, a senior fellow at the highly regarded New America Foundation and author of Raw Deal: How the ‘Uber Economy’ and Runaway Capitalism Are Screwing American Workers, recently posted an op-ed on the San Francisco Chronicle website titled, “Keep Uber from becoming too much of a good thing.” In that piece, commented on how cars-for-hire flooded city streets during the 1930s:
The public and government officials cried out for relief. The policy response was what we know today as the taxi medallion system. Most major cities instituted regulations governing the number of cars, insurance, safety, background checks and more.
With ride-hailing’s popularity, it’s not hard to imagine how this new service could result in returning to the good ol’ days of too many drivers and inadequate consumer protection. How happy will customers be if they can hail a ride right away, but then are stuck in traffic for 40 minutes longer because the streets are jam-packed?

So whether the libertarian Uber model is successful is a key test that could shape the nation’s future. It could lead to ever more deregulation, in the name of some mythical “free enterprise” that is supposed to meet virtually every human need. The need to counter that mythology is urgent.

Uber Alles

Why did Uber founder Travis Kalanick call his company “uber,” even though the word is widely associated with Adolph Hitler? The German word translates as “over” or “above.” The phrase, “uber alles,” which means “ above everything else,” is included in the German national anthem. In 1883, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche coined the term "√úbermensch" (“supermen”) to describe a higher state of human evolution. Hitler used the term describe his vision of an Aryan master race.
As reported by Business Insider, the answer is that Kalanick was inspired by Ayn Rand, a devotee of Nietzsche. For a while, Kalanick's Twitter avatar was the cover of "The Fountainhead," one of Rand's novels. The hero of "The Fountainhead" is an utterly selfish, extremely individualistic rebel who flaunts society's norms. Kalanick’s opposition to regulation and his glorification of the free market are fully Randian. Greed is good and if you win, your deserve it. Catering to the masses is disparaged and labor unions are considered a threat to society.
These beliefs are reflected in many of Kalanick’s proclamations, including:
  • We’re in a political campaign, and the candidate is Uber and the opponent is an asshole named Taxi.
  • Some city-council people are really awesome, but most are uninspired. I meet with them as little as possible.
  • The government is telling us to shut down. And you can either do what they say or you can fight for what you believe.

State Update
Assembly Bill (AB) 1289 requires a comprehensive criminal background check for Transportation Network Companies (TNCs). It prohibits Uber, Lyft and others from hiring drivers convicted of sexual offense, DUI, non-felony violent crime, etc.. Any TNC that violates or fails to comply with it is subject to penalties from $500 to $50,000 for each offense. This bill passed unanimously through committee and the Assembly Floor. It is at the Senate Rules Committee and is expected to get a hearing next year.
Assembly Bill (AB) 1422 requires TNCs to participate in the DMV's pull-notice system to regularly check driving records regardless of whether the participating driver is an employee or an independent contractor. It easily passed through all committees and both the Assembly and Senate. Governor Jerry Brown recently signed it into law.
Senate Bill (SB) 372 prohibits TNCs and taxi companies from hiring registered sex offenders. It passed unanimously through the Public Safety Committee and the Appropriations Committee and is expected to get a hearing in January of 2016.
Assembly Bill (AB) 828 exempts TNCs from having to register commercially with the DMV. After passing easily through the Assembly Transportation Committee and Assembly Floor,with a strong presence of members from the taxi industry expressing opposition, it passed on a slim 6-5 vote at the Senate Transportation Committee. It may be get a hearing with the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee in early 2016.
Senator Ben Hueso, Chairman of the Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee, has considered having an interim hearing on the impact of TNCs on the public transportation industry. Public safety and lack of enforcement on TNCs are expected to be the topics in this hearing.
Taxi Talk will keep track of all the bills  mentioned above and we'll let you know when the hearing at the Senate Energy Committee will take place. The mood towards TNCs may be changing for the better in Sacramento.

The Limit “Ride-Sharing” Cars Petition


City Update


This newsletter, to be distributed by drivers to their passengers, is intended to help develop an alliance of passengers, drivers, taxi companies, businesses, community organizations, and others who want to help promote and improve the taxi industry in San Francisco. Many, if not most, San Franciscans see the need for good, well-regulated taxi service. By providing timely, accurate, relevant information, the hope is that this newsletter will help San Franciscans give voice to their concerns, especially to elected officials and City administrators. Future newsletters may be longer with additional regular features and will include specific proposals for action, including a Passenger Appreciation Day during which passengers could provide feedback and suggestions for improvements. Readers are encouraged to submit content. If you want to meet in person to work on the newsletter together, please email me at <>. A graphic designer who can produce a logo and masthead is a particular need.
How many copies are printed will depend on how much financial support is provided by interested parties. You can donate by visiting Regular financial reports on income and expenses will be posted on that website.
Since 1987, I’ve driven taxi part-time. In 2000, I got my medallion and joined Yellow Cab Cooperative as a co-owner. For almost fifty years, my primary commitment has been community organizing dedicated to fundamental social change. (A brief bio is at  Organizing, activism, and writing is in my blood. I feel morally obligated to do what I can to help make the world a better place. Now that Uber has destroyed my retirement plan, my self-interest motivates me to focus on improving taxi service (so I can sell my medallion as soon as possible and retire). The positive response to my efforts thus far encourages me to produce this newsletter.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
To view a copy of this license, visit

[end of page four]

Insert to be included in copies at Yellow Cab

Unless you want to keep this copy, please put it in the tray at Dispatch.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Checking In

Now that I’ve received some good news from the taxi industry and my financial future is clearer and more promising, I plan to cut back on driving taxi so I can engage in taxi-reform organizing and write more. With Wade’s Weekly, once a week I plan take at least one hour to compose a stream-of-consciousness report like this. I'll set the timer at 45 minutes and write the first draft, after which I will re-set the timer at 15 minutes and rewrite. And some weeks, I’ll probably post essays on specific topics.

Keeping in touch with you, my subscribers, is important to me. My interactions with passengers reduces my isolation and they are often very rewarding, in one way or another. And I have some good friends, and often talk on the phone with Mary, my sister. But otherwise, my life is rather solitary, which is fine, for I enjoy solitude. But over the years my exchanges with you have been very meaningful and I want to revive them.

Writers need readers. So it helps to know if you read what I write. Even a short one or two word comment is appreciated. In the past, I’ve tried to copy, paste, and post readers’ comments. But I may no longer do that. So if you want your comment to be viewable to the general public, please post it to the Web version at Regardless, I’ll try to reply to all comments individually (and catch up on old ones that are still in my Inbox.)

One instance of being gratified by having readers was last week when,at the Yellow Cab lounge, I circulated my Taxi Reform Survey Report to drivers who were waiting to get a taxi to drive. That one-sheet, two-column piece reported on responses to a two-question survey (about Uber and the need for transparency in the sale of taxi medallions) that I had circulated previously. It was very rewarding to see almost everyone immediately read the Report intently. I also received positive feedback to the digital version that I circulated.

That response encourages me to produce a newsletter, titled Taxi Talk, that drivers could distribute to their passengers. As I see it, that newsletter could contribute to the development of an alliance of passengers, drivers, owners, community organizations, businesses, and others to promote and improve the taxi industry.

Possible methods include a Passenger Appreciation Day at which drivers who are musicians could perform and writers could read their work. Prominent performers like Michael Franti and Will Durst might participate as well. Another project might be promoting a public debate on current issues, such as whether the government should limit the number of cars-for-hire. (I’ve asked the Taxi Workers Alliance to organize that debate.)

On the personal front, I plan to invite some old friends to small dinner parties to catch up and socialize. In the past, I’ve tended toward larger affairs, but this time I envision parties of four. That way everyone can sit at the table in my small apartment.

So welcome back to Wade’s Weekly and thanks for reading. I hope we stay in touch during this fascinating moment in human history. Though postmodern nihilism is alive and well, as reflected in films like Black Mass and Sicario, many other phenomena, like Pope Francis and the Sanders campaign, are encouraging. Like Bob says, “We’ll just have to see how it goes.”

Monday, July 27, 2015

Birthday Reflections

At Harbin Hot Springs on my 71st birthday looking forward to my future, I feel relaxed, confident, and clear: for the first time in my life, my priority is to make money.

Thanks to Uber, which has hurt the San Francisco taxi industry enormously, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to sell my taxi medallion, or how much I’ll get if I do. And because I lived on “movement wages” my whole life, Social Security is far from adequate.

So, facing a reality I can neither change nor escape, I resolve to drive taxi as much as possible, write less, cut back on organizing, limit my spending, and save as much as I can for my old age.

What to do about vacations remains open. An old friend and I are going to New Orleans April 7-10 for the 2016 French Quarter Festival (if you want to go, get a room immediately, for hotels in the Quarter are already almost sold out for that fantastic, free event that presents all kinds of music on 23 outdoor stages.) After that vacation, I don’t know.

In about five years, I should move to the top of the waiting list for a Section 8 subsidy, which will lower my rent substantially. If I’m able to sell my medallion for a net of $160,000 (the current price) by then, I’ll probably be able to live comfortably and travel extensively. If not, I’ll keep driving taxi as long as I can and if necessary rely on the Food Bank and cheap meals at Senior Centers.

With regard to my commitment to social transformation, I may have found what I’ve been looking for: a community of political activists dedicated to transforming our social system into a truly compassionate society, while supporting one another in their personal growth by setting aside special time for that purpose. The Purpose-Driven Community project is headed in that direction.

The responses to my volunteer-interest form and subsequent emails have been encouraging. The organizers and I are on the same wavelength. Their success with Generation Waking Up reflects their competence. And I’m particularly encouraged by their commitment to maintain diversity by growing deliberately.  I look forward to their first exploratory event. This development makes it easier for me to shift to full-time cab driving. Rather than being a lead organizer, I can play a support role.

Pulling back from the Western Park Residents’ Council also eases my transition. Though challenging and time-consuming, serving as President was rewarding. I helped to revive the moribund Council and establish policies and procedures that will hopefully enable it to continue with new leadership. The Council has been much more active than it was for at least ten years and we eventually established a cooperative relationship with management.

Unfortunately, several residents are prone to impulsively attack the nearest authority figure, whether it’s the Building Manager or the Council President. At times I let those attacks get under my skin. More seriously, that negativity steadily discouraged participation in meetings. Hopefully after the August election, the Council’s new leadership can establish a more positive tone at meetings.

Regardless, I anticipate engaging in rewarding activities with residents with whom I have established a good rapport through my work with the Council. In order to avoid wasting time with “poisonous playmates,” to organize those activities we may form self-perpetuating teams by invitation only, rather than formal “committees” open to all residents (though others may continue to organize such committees). In this way, perhaps we can help the Council with its primary mission: to nurture compassionate community among our 200 residents.


Looking back on my 71 years, Mother comes to mind first. I wish she’d lived longer so we could’ve overcome the gap she created by smothering me with her love, which undermined my autonomy. She even tried to stop me from reading the “wrong” books. More deeply, her judgmental moralism led me to see humans, myself included, as essentially bad. To find myself and my essential goodness, I had to fight her overbearing protectiveness.

But from her, I learned to pursue Truth, Justice, and Beauty and for that, I’ll be forever grateful.

Though it seems longer, it was only a year ago that I distributed My Search for Deep Community: An Autobiography. One reason I did so was to enable friends and acquaintances who want to do so to know me more fully. Another reason was to liberate myself from shame by being open about matters about which I had been secretive. On those counts, the project was successful.

I also wanted feedback that might help me re-work the book to make it more marketable to the general public. And I did receive lots of valuable feedback, which I very much appreciate. But I’ll probably be unable to re-write it so long as I drive taxi full-time.

The major event of the last year, however, was the death of Leonard Roy Frank, my dear friend for more than 40 years. After the manager of his building let me into his apartment and I found him dead, draped over the bathtub, I sat down on the stairs and cried. For the next month thereafter, while dealing with his affairs, I cried every day, often convulsively. After I gave the manager his keys, I cried more than I had for the whole month. I haven’t cried since.

Fortunately, the memorial service at the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples was very healing. Every word spoken by the ministers, Dr. Dorsey Blake and Dr. Kathryn Benton, was perfect. The speakers and the music were beautiful. Wanting to do Leonard justice, I worked hard on the eulogy, which was well received. But I still think about Leonard often, especially when I have something to tell someone (he was almost always home and available). I doubt that any soul mate will ever replace him.

Two other highlights from last year stand out. The first was an early August sermon on “intimate direct action” at Fellowship Church by Rev. Yielbonzie Charles Johnson, who called for “uncircumscribed engagement in the world” without fear.  This appeal rang a bell for me. It amazes me how rarely people ask one another, “How do you feel about that?” or “Would you like to say more about that?” I understand some of the reasons people are reluctant to be more open or more inquisitive. We often have good reason to be afraid. But if we shut down too much, it becomes a habit and we become frozen. It seems we need to find safe places where we can be intimate with at least a few trusted friends.

Even more inspiring were the exhortations offered by the Lawson brothers at a day-long intergenerational teach-in honoring Vincent Harding. First Rev. James Lawson urged activists to promote personal nonviolent struggle in order to become more fully nonviolent as individuals and more effective as activists. He called on the audience to work on “how we treat each other and ourselves and how we work together” so that we better “learn how to respect each other.”
Later, Rev. Phil Lawson echoed that theme when he asked, “Who is the enemy?” and answered that it is “a spiritual power that has captured everyone” and fosters a wide variety of destructive “addictions.” To counter that force, he said we need a new spiritual power of our own: a profound commitment to nonviolence as a way of life, not as a tactic. “Everyone is an addict and we need to be in some program of recovery from the addictions of our society. We need a long-term, disciplined project.”

Those words were music to my ears.

The most liberating event of the year, however, was reading the transcript to “The Power of Vulnerability,” the fourth most popular TED Talk ever. After struggling at length with my mother’s “you will be a great man” programming, this talk prompted me to affirm, “I am good enough (to be better).” .

The benefits of that insight persist. I feel much less need to prove myself, to others or myself. I look back on my efforts with modest pride. I planted some seeds and achieved some success, along with numerous failures. But I would rather have tried and failed than not have tried at all.

Now I need to save some money. So, if you don’t hear from me for a while, wish me luck.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

I'm Good Enough to Be Better

While struggling with my mother’s “you will be a great man” programming (see “OnBeing ‘Great,’”) my therapist, Rebecca Crabb, Ph.D., suggested I check out a TED Talk on vulnerability. Weeks later, a Google search led me to “The Power ofVulnerability” by Brene Brown. When I noted that it had received 21 million views since it was posted in June 2010 (the fourth most popular TED Talk of all time), my hopes increased. While reading the transcript, I sensed my timing was fortuitous.

I had one or two disagreements with some of her statements, including “Connection is why we're here. It's what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.” Connection is not our only purpose. It’s also a means to other, deeper ends.

But overall the talk rang true. While reading it, I copied the following excerpts:

·       Shame is really easily understood as the fear of disconnection: Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, that I won't be worthy of connection?
·       What underpinned this shame, this "I'm not good enough…"?
·       In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.
·       The people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they're worthy of love and belonging.
·       Whole-hearted people, living from this deep sense of worthiness.
·       What they had in common was a sense of courage.
·       The courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others.
·       And the last was they had connection, and -- this was the hard part -- as a result of authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were.
·       The other thing that they had in common was this: They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful.
·       They're willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out.
·       Stop controlling and predicting.
·       We numb vulnerability.
·       You cannot selectively numb emotion.
·       The other thing we do is we make everything that's uncertain certain.
·       To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there's no guarantee.
·       And the last, which I think is probably the most important, is to believe that we're enough.

The next day I posted to Facebook:

I went to sleep saying to myself, “I am good enough,” and woke up after a good eight-hour sleep with the same thought on my mind. If I can maintain that attitude, I will be like a new person, transformed, evolved to a higher level. As I argued in “On Being ‘Great,” I’ve concluded that we cannot rank people in terms of how good they are, because we can’t totally put ourselves in others’ shoes, read their minds, or see their souls. I can only say, “I am a good person, and I can be a better person.” (None of us are perfect.) Also, I cannot rank people because I grew up in a dysfunctional family and tend to circulate with others who did as well. Undoing, partially, the damage that my family and our society inflicted on me has required great effort. How much more progress I can achieve remains to be seen.

In my taxi, I’ve encountered many families and couples who appear to be remarkably healthy. My impression is that people who’ve been raised in healthy families associate with others who’ve had the same experience. This segregation makes it even harder to compare and rank people in terms of how evolved they are.

But the bottom line is that any such differences, even if we could measure them, would be relatively insignificant, for what we have in common, our humanity, is much more important.

That post received 17 “likes” (many times more than my posts normally receive), one share (which is unusual), and comments from Steven Pak, “Wow! What' a great thought with great impression and admiration...,” and Justice St Rain, “I'm a big fan of affirmations. Paraphrasing the sacred text is a good way to super-charge an affirmation. For example ‘I was created Noble.’”

Later, I posted:

If I am “good enough,” I need not worry about what others think about me. I can trust that I will act compassionately, doing the best I can, for good reasons…. I may want others to do something and ask them to do it, in which case I will be careful about what I say and try to be effective. But I need not NEED them to do what I want for the sake of my own self-validation. So if they say no, I need not take it personally and feel hurt. I can trust they are doing what they need to do…. And if they have something to say to me, I will try to listen and respond compassionately and learn from their feedback how to be more effective. But if they are silent, I need not pull their comments out of them in order to reassure myself. I can relax and trust myself…. And if I end up without a soulful face-to-face connection, then I will be alone but not lonely.

Several days later, I reported on these reflections to a friend who resonated with them and told me that when she was growing up, her mother often told her, “What others think of you is none of your business.”

When I posted that comment, one friend commented, “True, unless one is being a total jerk. Then it SHOULD be your business. Saw this first-hand on a Muni bus the other night.”

I replied, “If another is violating the rights of another, an intervention to stop it is justified. Whether that requires trying to analyze why they are doing it or what they think about me is another matter. I tend to think not.”

Another friend responded, “Sounds like words of great wisdom to me. Do you think she was talking about psychiatrists?” Thinking that therapy tends to involve trying to read others’ minds (it’s hard enough to know my own), I replied, “It may well undermine the typical therapy dynamic.”

It’s only been a week, but the “I am good enough” insight prompted by that TED Talk seems to be holding. My mood has been more consistently positive, and I do seek constancy. Feeling less pressure to prove myself (to myself and others) and worrying less what others think about me has been liberating.

I still believe in personal growth, however, and see no contradiction between the two perspectives. So, believing it’s possible to hold both at the same time, I’ve modified the maxim to read, “I’m good enough to be better.”