Category Archives: History

Havana: A City Caught in The Past But Looking Toward the Future

We recently spent two days in Havana, Cuba as part of a Caribbean cruise. As children who grew up in the 1960s and 70s, my husband and I know nothing of a world in which the tiny island was a hub of glamour, music, beauty, and of course, The Mob. So we were intrigued, and yet a little uneasy, to visit what is today a Communist country that is a mere shadow of it’s former self.

We began our visit with a lengthy wait on the ship to disembark. The line of cruise passengers snaked through the ship, down the gangplank and into the terminal. After making our way through immigration, passport control and security, we stepped out into the blazing sun, unsure of where to head first. We had scheduled our guided tour for the next day and planned to spend this first day exploring on our own.  IMG_3852

We crossed to the square across from the terminal, narrow streets falling away in different directions. We headed off down one of them, following the crowd. As we wandered some people checked us out, some ignored us, several people approached as we walked asking if we needed directions or wanted to book a tour or hire a taxi. Skeptical American tourists that we are, we tried to put them off and keep walking. After awhile it became clear that for these folks, cut off for decades from the U.S., seeing Americans on their streets is a curiosity. They want to engage in conversation, to learn about the world beyond their island.

During this first day, the sights, sounds, smells, were overwhelming. We’ve traveled to many countries, but nothing prepared us for this. Havana’s decay is stunning. Once beautiful colonial buildings barely hang onto life as makeshift homes and shops. The cobblestone streets can rise up at any time, so it’s important to have a steady foot and sturdy shoes.  IMG_3855

The most famous attraction of Havana is, of course, the cars. Those relics from the 1950s are everywhere! Some have been beautifully restored and serve as government run taxicabs and cars for hire. Some are simply held together by screw drivers and duct tape and are privately owned cars that also serve as makeshift taxis.  IMG_3871

As we explored, the sky turned dark, the air thick with humidity and of course, it began to rain. We saw cabbies run to cover their cars, scrambling to put the tops up on the convertibles. We ran for a local hotel and headed for the bar. This particular hotel is part of a European chain, part of the burgeoning partnerships between the government and the private sector. After enjoying a Cuban beer and listening to some music, the rain finally let up and we headed back to the ship to get ready for our evening.

After freshening up and relaxing a bit, we made our way off the ship, again through immigrations, passport control and security; though this time it didn’t take but a few minutes. We found a cab, a more modern car, which took us speeding along the coast to the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, where we had reservations to see the Cabaret Parisien show. During the drive, we were surprised to see hoards of people hanging out along the sea wall, relaxing, talking, drinking.

The hotel sits atop a hill overlooking the ocean. It is one of the few buildings we saw that first day that has been restored and maintained. After we were dropped off, we entered the lobby and walked through the doors to the outside grounds. The patio was alive with people having a drink at the outside bar, wandering the gardens and listening to a strolling mariachi-style band. Overlooking the cliffs, off in the distance, a rainbow began appearing, creating a beautiful photo op.  IMG_3896

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That evening’s cabaret show was a feast of sights and sounds as performers wove a story of Cuba’s cultural history. Our small table was right next to the stage so we didn’t miss a thing. It is worth noting that the food, although adequate, was pretty much what we had heard about government-run restaurants: bland and uninteresting. This is due to a lack of spices, herbs and fresh vegetables, which are expensive and in short supply. But the Mojitos were great!  IMG_3911

Day two, we were up and out early and made our way to the hotel where we were to meet our tour. Our guide was a young woman named Sady. She explained the day’s events, which would include a walking tour of Old Havana while she educated us on the city’s history and architecture. Of course no tour of Havana is complete without stopping at La Floridita, the bar frequented by Ernest Hemingway where he would enjoy the traditional Daiquiri.

Midday, we stopped for lunch at the home of one of Sady’s friends. This is a privately owned Palidore. These establishments are popping up throughout Havana as families try to supplement their meager government incomes. Some families, as was the case here, also rent rooms in their homes. We made our way up four rickety flights of stairs to the rooftop. There, under a gazebo and surrounded by mint bushes, was a table set for our group. We happily gathered around the table to relax, drink some ice-cold water and relax. We watched as our hosts snipped sprigs of fresh mint to make mojitos, while enjoying a 360 degree view of Havana.  IMG_3974

Lunch that day was a delicious feast of chicken, fish, fresh vegetables, fruit, potatoes and flan for dessert. Although government run restaurants offer up bland, colorless food, this family-run establishment featured the best of traditional Cuban cooking. The herbs are all grown in their garden and there was no lacking for spice and flavor. The meal was prepared and served by the family.  IMG_3973

Following lunch, we headed out for a ride in the cars! We chose the 1956 Chevy Bel Air convertible, newly restored, red with white leather interior. Off we went, with our driver winding us down the coast away from Old Havana, toward memorials to Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, through the neighborhoods where stately old homes abandoned by their owners during the revolution now stand as embassies, and through the Havana Forest.   IMG_3985

Our driving tour ended back at the Hotel Nacional where we gathered in the Mob Bar to relax and enjoy more Mojitos!  IMG_3998

During the course of our tour, I had the opportunity to talk to our guide about her life, her political views and her plans for the future. She lives with her mother and her boyfriend, has a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and is currently studying for her MA in Sexology and Emotional IQ. When I asked what she plans to do once she finishes her degree she told me she wasn’t sure, but since the education is free, she wanted to study what was interesting to her. She also explained that the banks do not extend credit so people generally don’t have bank accounts and cannot own a home or a car since everything must be purchased in cash. I asked if she is able to travel beyond Cuba. She explained that while Cubans are technically allowed to travel, they must pay hefty fees to apply for a visa with no assurance they will be granted one. Most people don’t even bother since those fees are nonrefundable. We discussed the current American political scene and she said people in Cuba are worried about the new administration’s plans to roll back the advances made by the Obama administration to encourage tourism.

As we approached the memorial to Che Guevara and Fidel Castro I asked her what people in her generation think about the future. She said most are not members of the Communist party and believe things will change. “Communism is an interesting philosophy,” she said, “but it doesn’t work in the real world.” It has been reported that Raul Castro will retire in two years and, with no immediate successor from his family, it’s unclear who or what is on the horizon for the Cuban people.  IMG_3982

My visit to Havana has stayed with me and I hope someday to return and see more of the countryside. I am still processing the trip, though it’s been several weeks since our return. With an uncertain future, both inside the country and between our two governments, one thing is sure: the basic curiosity to know about those different from ourselves, and the desire to find common ground. Even those living under a regime, effectively captive on their island, have dreams, thirst for knowledge, the desire to improve the world around them, hope and love for their families.  IMG_3843

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the proud owner of Nashville Pilates Company, a boutique Pilates studio in Nashville’s Wedgewood/Houston neighborhood.  Check it out at  www.nashvillepilatescompany.com.  She is also the creator of The Peretz Project: Stories from the Shoah: Next Generation.  The Peretz Project, named for her late father-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor, is collecting testimony from children of survivors.  Visit http://www.theperetzproject.com.  If you are, or someone you know is, the child of survivors of the Shoah, The Holocaust, and you would like to tell your story please leave a comment and Barbara will contact you.

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What Makes a Hero?

What makes a hero? I cogitate on this question every year as July 20th approaches.  On July 20, 1944, a group of German Army officers came darned close to killing Adolf Hitler with a bomb.  Today those officers are considered heroes of the anti-Nazi resistance. It wasn’t always that way, though.

 

In 1944, the officers were considered traitors by their fellow Germans and by the people on the Allied side of the war.  In 1944, only anarchists, traitors and Communists were so morally challenged as to commit political murder.  No one wanted to believe that respectable, educated, upper-class men would commit pre-meditated murder.

 

So who were the German officers who tried to kill Hitler? They were primarily Junkers or German aristocrats and most of them were related to each other. They tended to be devout Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant. They thought, incorrectly, that if they killed Hitler, the western Allies (U.S., Britain, and France) would sign a ceasefire and agree to join them in fighting the Russian Communists.

 

Alas, their bomb failed to kill Hitler and the Nazis took revenge.  Henning von Tresckow, the mastermind, died on the eastern front hours before Gestapo agents stepped off a plane to arrest him. Graf von Stauffenberg, who planted the bomb, was shot by firing squad on the evening of July 20th. They were the lucky ones.  Most of the other plotters, and quite a few innocents, were taken to Gestapo headquarters in Berlin where they were tortured before being tried in kangaroo courts and hanged.

 

Their wives and children ended the war in prison or in concentration camps. The youngest children were sent to orphanages. Stauffenberg’s widow gave birth to her daughter in prison and spent about 10 years searching orphanages trying to find her sons.  The widows were ostracized after the war until the 1960’s when their dead husbands were proclaimed as heroes.

 

The plotters became heroes because West Germany needed heroes. In 1945, Germany was split in two. East Germany was occupied by the Russians. West Germany was created from the American, French and British occupation zones. By the 1960’s, West Germany needed heroes to give the country a sense of continuity with the past but without the taint of the Nazis.  The German officers who plotted to kill Hitler fit the requirements and became heroes.

 

So what makes a person a hero?  In the case of the July 20th conspirators, it was political necessity. But I like to think that the July 20th conspirators would have been recognized as heroes even without political necessity. They were truly brave men who knew they were risking the lives of their families in their quest to build a better future for all.

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Contact me at norma.shirk@complianceriskadvisor.com.

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Independence Day!

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Independent:   a (1) :  not subject to control by others :  self-governing (2) :  not affiliated with a larger controlling unit an independent bookstore b (1) :  not requiring or relying on something else :  not contingent an independent conclusion (2) :  not looking to others for one’s opinions or for guidance in conduct (3) :  not bound by or committed to a political party. Merriam-webster.com

Hmmm…so, based on that, are we ever really completely independent? I suppose when it comes to the notion of being self-governing, then I would say as a nation, we are independent. And while some may argue that, given recent election events, we have been the victims of outside influences, we are theoretically still an independent democracy.

But what about the concept of not looking for outside opinions or guidance? I’m not sure I agree that independence means not being open to ideas or opinions different from my own. In fact, I would argue that true independence requires research, information gathering and an exchange of ideas. In the absence of such, aren’t we just living in a vacuum? In order to make informed decisions, to exercise my independence, I must understand the context of the world around me. And, I must filter the information in light of my own values and experiences. Indeed, my natural curiosity drives me to seek input from a variety of sources.

When it comes to my business, I am constantly seeking advice, gathering input from experts, researching new concepts and ideas, conferring with my partner. Am I independent? Well, in the Merriam-Webster sense I guess I am. I’m not subject to the control of other, larger entities. And yet, decisions are made based on all of the above. And the demands and responsibilities of business ownership often leave me feeling less independent than I’d like. But in the end, this form of servitude and endless engagement are of my choosing. I can stay and fight the good fight, or I can walk away.

So I suppose that is my true independence. The opportunity to chose my path, using the knowledge gained through hard work and research, integrated with my personal values and instincts and viewed through the lens of my life experiences. And while I may agree with certain elements of the dictionary’s definition, I believe independence comes from within.   Our nation’s history is filled with those with the drive to discover and innovate, and with the confidence to raise their voice against all odds to speak truth to power. Today, on this Independence Day, let us all remember those Americans, and pledge to do our part to exercise our own independence to further both our individual goals and the to fulfill the promise of our country. Happy Fourth, everyone!

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the proud owner of Nashville Pilates Company,a boutique Pilates studio in Nashville’s Wedgewood/Houston neighborhood.  Check it out at  www.nashvillepilatescompany.com.  She is also the creator of The Peretz Project: Stories from the Shoah: Next Generation.  The Peretz Project, named for her late father-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor, is collecting testimony from children of survivors.  Visit http://www.theperetzproject.com.  If you are, or someone you know is, the child of survivors of the Shoah, The Holocaust, and you would like to tell your story please leave a comment and Barbara will contact you.

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Living with Fear

Fear is a universal emotion.  Every person alive is afraid of something. It’s what we do next that matters most.

Fear can be a motivator. It drives us to meet our goals. But too much fear can overwhelm us, paralyzing our emotional and physical responses.  As a person who has experienced both these effects of fear, I wanted to know how other people managed their responses to fear.

I’m a history buff so I looked for historical examples. An excellent study in fear is provided by the men and women who were in the French Resistance in World War II.  Every Nazi-occupied country had resistance movements, of course. But the French are notable for their tradition of writing books about their political activities. As a result, the survivors of the French Resistance were more likely to write about their experiences than resisters in other European countries.

What a life they lived! Living in occupied France meant living with fear. The Gestapo could stop any person at any time and demand to see their identity papers. Resistance workers knew if they were detained in one of these street sweeps, their forged identity papers would probably not withstand scrutiny. Or their forged identity might already have been revealed by a tortured colleague or a collaborator. In either case, it meant their worst fear would come true; they would be arrested.

Another quick path to arrest was violating the nightly curfew.  Resistance workers constantly broke curfew to travel to rendezvous sites to retrieve supplies flown in on moonless nights. They also conducted most radio communications with their leaders in London at night. Resistance workers caught at rendezvous sites or with a radio could be shot “resisting arrest” or arrested and taken in for interrogation.

Interrogation meant torture and probable death. Resistance workers were tortured in an effort to make them name names since the Gestapo was attempting to wipe out all resistance efforts.  The standard rule for Resistance workers was that they should hold out for at least 48 hours under torture to allow other Resistance workers to move to new, unknown locations.

Many Resistance members died due to the torture. If they didn’t die while being tortured, they were sent to prison in France to await deportation to a concentration camp.  Resistance workers were not covered by The Hague or Geneva Conventions governing the treatment of prisoners of war. They were not legally soldiers. They were legally defined as spies, criminals, or “enemy combatants”.  That meant they could be tortured, starved, murdered, or used as slave laborers.

Resistance activities could be deadly for a worker’s family. If the Gestapo knew or suspected the true identity of a Resistance worker, they would arrest family members of the Resistance worker.  Family members could be tortured, imprisoned, murdered, or deported to a death camp in retaliation for the Resistance worker’s activities.  Resistance workers knew they were jeopardizing the lives of their loved ones and this knowledge caused their greatest fear.

French Resistance workers lived with overwhelming fear that left psychological scars for the rest of their lives.  So why would anyone choose to join the Resistance when they could have kept their heads down and sat out the war?  Sitting out the war could have meant staying neutral, not collaborating, and waiting for it all to end.

French Resistance workers spanned the political spectrum from communist to fascist; but they had one thing in common. They were all French patriots. They wanted to end the occupation and free France.  That goal kept them going through deprivation, torture and fear.

Fear is often synonymous with weakness which is synonymous with cowardice in books and movies. That is wrong. Only an idiot or a liar claims to be constantly brave, never knowing fear. The bravest people are those who acknowledge their fear and still do their job.

That is the lesson about living with fear that I learned from the French Resistance. We are all afraid of something. But if we don’t allow fear to stop us, we can do anything that we want and reach any goal.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com.

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The Other Side of the Couch – Does Marching Matter? 


Following hard on the surprising election of Donald Trump, marches and protests have taken place across the United States and, indeed, across the world.  Beginning with the Women’s March, which took place the day after the inauguration, and which saw record crowds in almost all the areas in which it took place, most of these marches have been buoyed by a spirit of hope and connection.  The march in Nashville, Tennessee was described by the Tennessean as follows:

“About 15,000 people marched in downtown Nashville Saturday in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington.  Middle Tennesseans marched for one mile from Cumberland Park to Public Square in support of a myriad of social justice issues, including women’s rights, reproductive rights, LGBT rights, worker’s rights, civil rights, disability rights, immigrant rights, environmental justice and access to health care.”  The Tennessean, Jan. 21, 2017

Since that march, other events have taken place, including town hall meetings with legislators, such as the one held on February 21, 2017 with Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R).

The question for me is this:  Does any of this matter?

Andreas Madestam, Daniel Shoag, Stan Veuger, and David Yanagizawa-Drott say that it does.  In a paper quoted below, “Do Political Protests Matter, Evidence from the Tea Party Movement,” the authors suggest the following:

Abstract

Can protests cause political change, or are they merely symptoms of underlying shifts in policy preferences?  We address this question by studying the Tea Party movement in the United States, which rose to prominence through coordinated rallies across the country on Tax Day, April 15, 2009.  We exploit variation in rainfall on the day of these rallies as an exogenous source of variation in attendance.  We show that good weather at this initial, coordinating event had significant consequences for the subsequent local strength of the movement, increased public support for Tea Party positions, and led to more Republican votes in the 2010 midterm elections. Policymaking was also affected, as incumbents responded to large protests in their district by voting more conservatively in Congress.  Our estimates suggest significant multiplier effects: an additional protester increased the number of Republican votes by a factor well above one. Together our results show that protests can build political movements that ultimately affect policymaking, and that they do so by influencing political views rather than solely through the revelation of existing political preferences.

  1. Madestam, et. al. The Quarterly Journal of Economics (2013) 128 (4): 1633-1685

The authors’ analysis shows that protests increased the turnout in the following congressional elections.  Thus, protests and marches DO affect legislators and affect turnout.  Keep on marching – but don’t forget to do the work of organizing and getting out the vote!

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”  Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com

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Finding Hope and Inspiration in a Life Well Lived

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These days it’s hard to feel inspired.  I wake up each morning worried and anxious about what new, manufactured, crisis was created while I slept.  I check the news outlets I believe are reliable so that I can try and anticipate what will come today, and I struggle not to panic and to keep focused on my personal goals.  It’s a challenge I’ve never faced, this difficulty feeling optimistic and inspired.

Last week’s New York Times published an Op-ed by David Leonhardt.  It was a eulogy of sorts for former PepsiCo executive Brenda Barnes.  Barnes made news 20 years ago when she quit her job to become a stay-at-home mom.  She died a couple of weeks ago, at the young age of 63, following a stroke.  After reading her story, I felt a spark of inspiration mixed with some hope.  You see, Barnes started the dialogue about work/life balance.  She was proof that it is possible to craft a meaningful life filled with work, parenting and personal growth.  She paved the way and while there is still much work to be done in the area of equal pay and workplace supported parenting, she elevated the topic.

To be fair, Barnes’ path was incredibly atypical.  After raising her kids, she was able to move back into the workforce as chief executive of Sara Lee.  Her legacy is carried through her middle child, 28-year-old daughter Erin.  She herself left a lucrative job a few years ago, so she could care for her ailing mother and today is pursuing a nursing career, one she finds more meaningful and adaptive to family life.  Erin acknowledges her mother’s unique opportunities, but the message remains the same.  At a family memorial for her mother, she implored everyone to remember her mother’s insistence that we not work too hard.

So why does Brenda Barnes’ life give me some hope and inspiration?  I also made life choices based on spending time with my children.  Sometimes I wonder, “what if,” but most of the time I’m happy with my choices.  Of course I’m just a few years younger than Barnes, so perhaps the path wasn’t as clear for me as it is for my daughter.  But therein lies my hope and inspiration.  I am hopeful that, thanks to women like Brenda Barnes, this next generation will move the needle farther.  Although women continue to pay a higher price for parenthood and making choices, I’m hopeful our voices are stronger and that we will continue to push harder.  I am inspired by Barnes’ story and of her lasting message that work isn’t everything, that life is precious and often too short, so it’s important to find meaning and purpose and, ultimately, love.

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the creator of The Peretz Project: Stories from the Shoah: Next Generation.  The Peretz Project, named for her late father-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor, is collecting testimony from children of survivors.  Check it out at http://www.theperetzproject.com.  If you are, or someone you know is, the child of survivors of the Shoah, The Holocaust, and you would like to tell your story please leave a comment and Barbara will contact you.

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Was Duchamp Really An Artist?

 

duchamp2Marcel Duchamp is considered one of the brightest artists of the 20th century.  Not to me.  I pretty much hate everything he did and wouldn’t pay a plugged nickel for any of it.  But that’s okay because it’s my opinion.  Art is subjective. If a piece of art doesn’t “speak” to you emotionally, it’s not worth a plugged nickel.

I learned that lesson from an English professor who taught a class in Renaissance English poetry. (It was the only English class that fit my schedule that semester.)  At first, none of us wanted to voice our opinion on the poetry we were reading because we didn’t want to sound gauche or uninformed.  Then the professor told us that any work of art, regardless of the medium used, only has value if it speaks to us emotionally.  Without that emotional connection, art has no value.

Years later I was invited to a special exhibit in Dallas, Texas of the private collection of one of the city’s leading citizens.  The collection was a mishmash of Benin sculptures, Anasazi pots, Mayan knickknacks, some random Asian artefacts and so on.  It was a 30 or 40 year history lesson in art collecting based on what the avant-garde defined as “art.”  The owner of the collection had buckets of money but apparently collected only what everyone else collected.

That brings me back to Duchamp.  This guy is famous for displaying three panes of glass.  When one pane of glass was broken during transit, Duchamp claimed he liked the piece even more. It’s still on display somewhere with one cracked pane.

Most famously Duchamp put a urinal on display.  Viewers proclaimed that it had classic lines rather than pointing out that it was a bathroom fixture that should be returned to the men’s room down the hall.  No one wanted to be mocked by the avant-garde crowd for lacking artistic sensibilities.

It’s amazing how much guff and abuse we are willing to take to remain part of the “in” crowd.  Duchamp always reminds me of that human trait.  He not only convinced people that panes of glass and a urinal were “art,” he induced them to pay huge sums of money to own one of his pieces.  So I admire his chutzpah and think he was one of the greatest marketers of the 20th century.  But, in my opinion, Duchamp was not an artist.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com/.

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Finding Inspiration in Losses

soccer-panoramic

I am constantly searching for examples of how other businesses stay successful despite losses. Examples are everywhere, but one of my favorite examples is Southampton Football Club (Southampton FC).

Southampton FC is based (obviously) in Southampton, England and it plays in England’s top football (soccer) league, the English Premier League.  Each year the club loses their best players to rival clubs with more money to spend on acquisitions. Each year they lose their head coach (manager, in England) to rival clubs.

Any business that consistently loses its best performers would be expected to slide into oblivion.  Southampton FC temporarily appeared doomed to such a fate. In 2008, Southampton FC was bankrupt and demoted. They began the 2009/2010 season in the third tier of English football. (By comparison, the U.S. has two tiers of professional soccer.)

Then a group of new owners bought the club and initiated two key strategies. First, they brought financial stability with a cash infusion and a new team of experienced financial advisers to run the back office. Southampton’s problems were apparently rooted in poor financial practices.

Second, the new owners reinforced the existing corporate culture of the club. The club has a reputation for developing young talent. Their corporate culture requires everyone from the youth academy to the senior players to use the same system of training and learn the same game tactics or style of play.  That may sound like a no-brainer, but an amazing number of businesses try to change their corporate culture each time they choose a new manager.

Southampton FC hires managers (coaches) that fit their system. The corporate culture is so resilient that each year the manager changes and the top players are sold but the club remains competitive.  It’s called “the Southampton way”.

By the 2012/2013 season, the club had played its way back into the English Premier League and has finished in the top ten every year since.  Other businesses now regularly travel to Southampton to study the club’s business model.  Southampton FC’s four-year journey from loss to success is truly inspirational.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com/.

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The Other Side of the Couch – What’s in a Name?

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A question on Facebook recently sparked my curiosity regarding names.  The question was:  Were you named after someone?  I answered that question easily because I have always known that my name reflected a generational struggle perpetuated in my family from the early days of my parents’ marriage.

I was named “Susan” after my maternal great-grandmother, Susan Crawford White, and “Elisabeth” after by paternal great-grandmother, Elizabeth Wilson Mosier.  Please note the “s” in my name and the “z” in my great-grandmother’s name.  Because of that difference in spelling, my paternal grandmother rejected the idea that I was named after her mother.  The way she saw it was that my mother’s family had “won” some unnamed contest.

This “contest” reflected the merger of two different cultures – that of my mother’s family and my father’s family.  Mimi, my maternal grandmother, came from a Nashville family that had acquired some success.  Mimi’s younger brother, Weldon White, was an attorney who later became a Supreme Court justice in Tennessee.  Her family highly valued education; she graduated from Hume Fogg High School, and after her husband suffered financial reverses after WWI, she became the stable family breadwinner, teaching first grade in the Nashville public schools for forty years. A pioneer in her own way, she pursued her own college degree and graduated from Peabody College for Teachers at the advanced age of 47.  She was a life-long Democrat and supported the Equal rights Amendment when she was in her seventies.

Mam-ma, my dad’s mother, came from a different situation.  Her father moved his family repeatedly, always in search of a better situation.  Mam-ma left school after 8th grade, in part due to this constant moving.  She married at 20 to a young man who had ambition to get off the farm, and my grandfather won a position as a railroad mail clerk, moving the family to Nashville in 1924.   Mam-ma was very proud of her home and her homemaking skills; her home was her pride and joy.  A product of extreme poverty (her family never owned land and farmed for others), she believed in very traditional family values.  My grandfather was a staunch Republican, and she never questioned his positions.  However, they supported and were completely proud of my father’s college and medical school successes, and they made sure that their daughter also went to college.

So, what was the struggle?  These two strong women were jockeying for what they perceived as inclusion in the household that I entered as an infant.   Mimi was often present, always a helper, always looking for something to do that would be useful.  Mam-ma and Poppy visited often, but were the “fun” grandparents who brought us treats, took us to do fun things, but were not helpers in the way that Mimi was.  Mimi saw Mam-ma as overly frank, too direct, and a bit uncouth.  Mam-ma saw Mimi as a snob who was hypocritical.  My parents, and to some extent the children as well, were aware of navigating challenging waters between Mimi and Mam-ma.   Never overtly antagonistic, they nevertheless were cut from very different cloths and called each by their last names for all the years of my growing up.

One letter of the alphabet became emblematic of a much larger issue.  Who is included?  Who is on the outside?  How does a family navigate the choppy waters of extended family life?  How do mothers and mothers-in-law manage the tasks of allowing room for the new family to emerge?  It took these two women many years; I was an adult with a child of my own before they called each other by their first names.

The stories of my grandmothers seem to me to be emblematic of the divide that is roiling our country today.  One strand focuses on equal rights and embraces change; the other strand highly values continuity and traditional values.  I loved both of them dearly, and I celebrated the day they finally reconciled themselves to each other and to the family that my mother and father created.  Both were born at the tail-end of the 19th century; both lived to see changes that were unimaginable at their births.

The important part of this story is that they found a way to respect each other.  It was a process that was grounded in love.

What is the story of naming in your family?

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”  Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com

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A Christmas Truce

a-christmas-truce

December is a difficult time of year for many people.  December can be especially lonely for soldiers who are far from home.  In 1914, lonely soldiers caused one of the most extraordinary Christmas events.  They (briefly) stopped the First World War.

The impromptu ceasefire began on December 7, 1914, when Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary ceasefire so that the soldiers in the trenches could celebrate Christmas.  The governments of Britain, France and Germany refused to observe an official ceasefire.

It’s not clear why they said no, but there were probably two main reasons for refusing a ceasefire.  First, no one was tired of the war.  In December 1914, the war was only about five months old.  The major slaughters, like the Battle of the Somme when a million men were casualties, didn’t happen until 1916.

Second, and I think more importantly, the governments opposed a ceasefire out of fear.  Specifically, fear of fraternization.  Soldiers are better able to do their job of killing the enemy if they don’t know their enemy.  It’s why we demonize our opponents as a faceless “other” and use derogatory nicknames to dehumanize them.  If a soldier sees the enemy as human with a family and personal aspirations, it becomes difficult to shoot to kill.

Consider the line “from a distance, you look like my friend, even though we are at war.”  It’s taken from an anti-war song called “From a Distance.”  The song became popular during the First Persian Gulf War in the early 1990’s and it evokes a universal sentiment.

In 1914, the soldiers in the trenches ignored their governments and saw the enemy as a friend.  On Christmas Eve, they sang Christmas carols to each other across no-man’s land.  On Christmas Day, they crossed no-man’s land to exchange food and talk of their families back home.  In one instance, they played a game of football (i.e., soccer).

After Christmas, some of the soldiers decided they couldn’t return to war.  One anecdote says that some French and German soldiers refused to fight each other.  Their commanders threatened them with all sorts of disciplinary action to no avail.  Eventually, the affected French and German units were pulled out of their trenches and sent to fight in other sectors.

The Christmas Truce of 1914 has never been repeated.  As wars continue around the world, that is one of the saddest commentaries on this holiday season.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com/.

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please… Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

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