Interview with Bud Bilanich, Author of Straight Talk for Success

Bud Bilanich is The Common Sense Guy. His pragmatic approach to business, life, and the business of life has made him one of the most sought after speakers, consultants and executive coaches in the USA! Dr. Bilanich’s work focuses on helping individuals, teams and entire organizations succeed. Bud is Harvard educated, but has a no-nonsense, common sense approach to his work that stretches back to his roots in the steel country of Western Pennsylvania.

In addition to “Straight Talk for Success,” Bud has authored six books on business and leadership. He is a regular guest on talk radio and podcasts. He writes two popular blogs: http://www.SuccessCommonSense.com, which focuses on career and life success and http://www.CommonSenseGuy.com that is devoted to advice for leaders and small business owners.

His clients include Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, Abbott Laboratories, PepsiCo, General Motors, Citicorp, JP Morgan Chase, UBS Financial Services, AXA Advisors, AT&T, Pitney Bowes, and The Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

Bud is a cancer survivor who lives in Denver with his wife Cathy. He is a retired rugby player and an avid cyclist. He likes movies, live theatre and crime fiction.

Tyler: Welcome, Bud. I’m glad you could join me today. We all want to know how to be successful. To start out will you tell us what made you feel the need to write “Straight Talk for Success”?

Bud: Thanks Tyler. I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me today. As you know, I’ve been in business as a consultant and speaker since 1988. About five years ago, many of my clients began asking me to help them out by coaching some of their senior executives and high potential employees.

As I began my coaching work, I decided that I needed to put together a model of career and life success. I wanted to identify the characteristics that all successful people have in common. After about a year of research-on line, reading every success book I could find, and interviewing successful people-I came up with my five point model of success. This model says that successful people have five things in common.

Successful people are self confident.

Successful people have positive personal impact.

Successful people are outstanding performers.

Successful people are great communicators.

Successful people are interpersonally competent.

My coaching clients told me that they found this common sense model to be very helpful.

Several suggested that I should turn it into a book. So I did.

Tyler: Who do you think will most benefit from and enjoy reading your book?

Bud: There are three main audiences for this book. The primary audience is young people, 20 to 30 years old, just beginning their careers. The second audience is people who have just received their first promotion and are beginning to advance in their life and careers. The third audience is people who are feeling stuck in their careers and who are looking for some advice on how to get it moving forward again.

In short, anyone who is interested in becoming more successful in their life and career can benefit from the ideas in “Straight Talk for Success.”

Tyler: Bud, how will the book help people who feel stuck in their careers, or who are having difficulties at work?

Bud: Well Tyler, I’ve learned that the biggest mistake people make when it comes to career and life success is thinking that good performance is enough to guarantee success. Outstanding performance is important, sure. It’s at the heart of the model. However, I have found that the people who become truly successful are more than good performers.

People who read “Straight Talk” will learn how to put the other four key success factors-self confidence, positive personal impact, communication skills and interpersonal competence-into play to build a great life and career.

Tyler: What do you define as success?

Bud: My definition of success is two part. First success means being happy with yourself, your life and career. Second, success means doing something-no matter how small-to make the world a better place.

Tyler: Bud, will you tell us a little bit about how the book is organized. Is there a specific path you outline to help a person reach success?

Bud: Tyler, as you might have guessed the book is organized into five main sections:

Self Confidence

Positive Personal Impact

Outstanding Performance

Communication Skills

Interpersonal Competence

Each section has three chapters.

The self confidence chapters focus on: 1) Becoming optimistic, 2) Facing your fears, and 3) Surrounding yourself with positive people.

The positive personal impact chapters focus on: 1) Developing and nurturing your personal brand, 2) Being impeccable in your presentation of self, and 3) Knowing and using the basic rules of etiquette.

The outstanding performance chapters focus on: 1) Becoming a lifelong learner, 2) Setting and achieving high goals, and 3) Getting organized for success.

The communication skills chapters focus on: 1) Becoming an excellent conversationalist, 2) Developing your writing skills, and 3) Becoming an outstanding presenter.

The interpersonal competence chapters focus on: 1) Becoming self aware, 2) Building long lasting, mutually beneficial relationships with the people in your life, and 3) Learning how to resolve conflict positively.

Tyler: Bud, one of the aspects of success you focus on is that a person must have good communication skills. How can a person develop these skills?

Bud: As I mentioned, there are three types of communication skills important for career and life success: conversation skills, writing skills and presentation skills.

Here’s some simple, common sense advice on each of them. Questions are the main secret to conversation skills. If you ask other people questions, you will become known as a great conversationalist. Writing is easy. Use the active voice, small words, and simple sentences and you’ll become a clear concise writer. Practice is the key to making dynamic presentations. The more you practice, the better your talks will be.

Tyler: You also talk about self-confidence. How does one go from feeling fear, for example, of public speaking, to being self-confident?

Bud: My suggestions for dealing with fear are also simple and common sense. To best your fears you need to do four things. 1) Identify it. 2) Admit it. 3) Accept it. 4) Confront it and take action.

So, to use your example, if you’re afraid of public speaking, making as many presentations as you can is the best thing you can do to overcome this fear.

Tyler: What about interpersonal competence? How do you define it, and how does one master it to become successful?

Bud: Interpersonally competent people excel at three things. First, they are self aware. They understand themselves. They use this self understanding to understand better the people in their lives. By understanding how others are similar or different from them, interpersonally competent people are able better to alter their communication styles. This helps them relate well to all sorts of people.

Second, interpersonally competent people are good at building strong, mutually beneficial relationships with the people in their lives. They do this by using their conversation skills, and by being willing to help others with no expectation of anything in return. This giving mentality allows them to make regular deposits into the emotional bank accounts they have with others. When you make regular deposits, you have enough emotional capital to make the occasional withdrawal.

Finally, interpersonally competent people resolve conflict in a positive manner. They do this by identifying the points where they agree with someone with whom they are in conflict. They use these points of agreement-no matter how trivial to build a solution that is acceptable to both parties.

Tyler: How would your advice for achieving success differ if for example, you had a male college student who views success as being a well known brain surgeon, versus a senior citizen woman who views success as staying physically active?

Bud: Not much. I believe that career and life success are a function of the five factors I’ve mentioned several times as we’ve chatted: self confidence, positive personal impact, outstanding performance, communication skills and interpersonal competence.

Successful brain surgeons need all of these, just like my mother-who is a senior citizen, suffering from COPD – that’s Chronic obstructive Pulmonary Disease, what they used to call Emphysema.

Tyler:”Straight Talk for Success” contains many stories as examples. Would you share one of these stories with us?

Bud: I love stories because they make the points I want to make in the book come alive. Here’s a favorite because it is about a time that my self confidence helped me succeed against some pretty tough competition.

Mark Twain once said, “All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, then success is sure.” I love this quote. To me, it says you’ll be amazed by how much you can accomplish (success) if you don’t know (ignorance) how hard it is to accomplish it. If you don’t know that it’s hard or impossible to do something, you are more likely to be able to do it.

Here’s an example from my life. When I was a junior in high school, the local paper sponsored a writing contest. The winners got to spend two weeks at Kent State University during the summer participating in a seminar sponsored by the High School Press Institute. Only two students from all of the high schools in our county would win the contest. I decided I was going to win-because winning was the only way I was going to get to go to the seminar.

Funny thing is, I thought that two students from each school in the county were going to be selected. In other words, I was ignorant about the difficulty of winning. I was sure that I was one of the two best writers in my high school; I was sure to win if I wrote the best essay I possibly could. I wrote a kick-ass essay, sent it in, and waited to hear that I had won.

Which I did. However, I was shocked when I realized I was one of two kids from the whole county-not just my school-to win. It was just like Mark Twain said. All I needed was ignorance and confidence. I was ignorant of the difficulty of the competition-we had about 25 high schools in our county. It was 25 times more difficult to win than I thought. And I was confident. I knew the competition in my school, and I was pretty sure that if I wrote my best essay, it would be better than the essays of the other kids (I knew this because I was editor of the yearbook and newspaper and regularly edited their writing). My ignorance allowed my confidence to flourish, and I wrote well. Had I known that I was in a county-wide competition, I might have been more tentative in my writing, and I might not have won.

The common sense point here? When you are faced with a challenge, focus on your skills and talents, not how difficult it is-and you’ll be likely to succeed.

“Straight Talk” is filled with these types of stories.

Tyler: Bud, would you say success also depends on listening to yourself and not other people? If people had started to tell you that you had a slim or no chance of winning, would that have stopped you?

Bud: Success absolutely depends on listening to yourself. That’s why self confidence is the first point in the model. All successful people are self confident. They believe in themselves – even when others tell them that they can’t be successful.

The 2008 Super Bowl is a good example. If the Giants had listened to all of the experts, they wouldn’t have even made the trip to Arizona. They would have just conceded the championship to the Patriots. But they believed in themselves, and ended up winning the game in one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history.

Tyler: I mentioned earlier that you’ve written several other books in your career. Will you tell us a little about them?

Bud: All of the other books I’ve written have been in the leadership arena. I’ll give you a quick list of the titles here:

4 Secrets of High Performing Organizations

Supervisory Leadership

Using Values to Turn Vision Into Reality

Leading With Values

Fixing Performance Problems

Solving Performance Problems

I’ve also written an e book called “Star Power: Common Sense Ideas for Career and Life Success”. It was sort of a rough draft of “Straight Talk.”

Besides that, I’ve contributed chapters to several books:

Conversations on Success

One Great Idea

The Handbook of Business Strategy

180 Ways to Walk the Customer Service Talk

Tyler: Besides writing books, Bud, you teach success through coaching. Will you tell us a little bit about that work?

Bud: I began my career as a trainer. From there I moved into consulting and speaking. Speaking is a lot like training. You just have less time to make your point. Most of my talks last 45 minutes to an hour. Most training courses are usually a full day at a minimum. My coaching is done one on one. My typical coaching engagements last six months. During that time, I usually meet face to face with the person I am coaching three or four times. I speak with him or her via the phone every week, and I am available by email to answer questions as we go forward.

As I mentioned before, the five points in “Straight Talk for Success” are the starting point for my coaching. I begin by assessing how well my coaching client is doing in each of these five areas. Then, we jointly develop objectives for the coaching and a plan to make sure we meet those objectives.

Tyler: Bud, do you plan to write any more books?

Bud: Sure. I’m planning a follow up to “Straight Talk for Success.” I’m thinking about calling it “More Straight Talk for Success.” I’ve been interviewing thought leaders in the self confidence, personal impact, high performance, communication and interpersonal competence fields. My plan is to make the new book a compilation of the best thoughts of the best people in these fields.

Tyler: Bud, you’ve obviously been extremely successful yourself. To what do you attribute your own success, and what put you on the right path through life?

Bud: My parents gave me a great start in life. Their greatest gift to me was a strong work ethic. Also, I’ve been blessed with a good mind and a love of learning. However, most importantly, I attribute my success to my self confidence, positive personal impact, outstanding performance, communication skills and interpersonal competence.

Tyler: Bud, how did you get to be called The Common Sense Guy?

Bud: As you know, Tyler, a strong personal brand is an important element of the second success factor, positive personal impact. Several years ago, I decided to create a personal brand. I began by asking people close to me-friends and clients-what came to mind when they thought of me. The term “common sense” came up a lot. I agreed that common sense is one of the terms that defines me pretty well. I also thought that it made sense as a brand because it differentiated me from my more theoretical competitors.

Once I settled on common sense as the core attribute of my brand, I had a little trouble coming up with the third word. Common Sense Guru sounded too pretentious and new age all at the same time. I considered Common Sense Doctor-a play on my educational credentials, but it ran the risk of being confused with a medical doctor.

I settled on Common Sense Guy because, when you come right down to it, I’m just a regular guy. Common Sense Guy struck the right chord with me because it captures the essence of who I am as a person.

Tyler: Will you explain the role of common sense in becoming a success?

Bud: I think that we tend to overcomplicate things. I believe in looking for time tested principles and applying them. That’s where common sense comes in. Most common sense has stood the test of time-that’s why it’s called common sense.

My five success principles – self confidence, positive personal impact, outstanding performance, communication skills and interpersonal competence-resonate with people because they make sense. They’re just common sense. The hard part is putting them to work. You have to commit to doing the work necessary to reap the rewards that will come from applying them.

Thomas Edison once said, “Most people miss opportunity because it comes dressed in overalls and looks like work.” The same is true for common sense. Most people know what to do in most situations. Their common sense tells them. However, many people don’t do what their common sense tells them for any number of reasons-it’s too much work, they may make someone angry, it takes too long.

So to me, the role of common sense in becoming a success is simple. Listen to what your common sense tells you-and then do it, no matter how hard, or unpleasant.

Tyler: Thank you, Bud, for joining me today. Before we go, will you tell us about your website and what information readers can find there about “Straight Talk for Success”?

Bud: http://www.BudBilanich.com

Also, my blog, http://www.SuccessCommonSense.com is a great place for people to go to learn more about the five success factors in “Straight Talk.” I write about one of them every day: Monday, self confidence; Tuesday, personal impact; Wednesday, performance; Thursday, communication skills; Friday, interpersonal competence.

Tyler: Thank you, Bud. If our readers want to be successful and they have Common Sense, then I hope they’ll read your book.

Interview with Mamata Misra, Author of “Winter Blossoms”

Mamata Misra is a community volunteer and anti-violence activist living in Austin, Texas. She has been published in poetry collections, newsletters, journals, and contributed to the documentary film “Veil of Silence.” Formerly, the Programs Director of SAHELI, an organization in Austin, Texas that assists Asian families dealing with domestic abuse, Mamata Misra is a core member of a national team called ACT (Action + Community = Transformation) that is developing prevention and intervention strategies for child sexual abuse in South Asian communities in the US. Her community service has resulted in several awards, including the YWCA Woman of the Year award in 2005.

Tyler: Thank you for joining me today, Mamata, and congratulations on publishing your book. To begin, I understand “Winter Blossoms” has a theme that connects the poems. Will you tell us about that theme?

Mamata: Thank you, Tyler.

The poems were written at different times over a period of several years; so when I decided to put them together as a book, I expected to find multiple themes. I organized the poems under five broad themes as chapter titles: Mother and Child, War and Peace, Questions NOT Answers, Hope and Despair, and Sound and Silence. But many of the poems could have been placed under multiple themes and I had to choose. So there seems to be a deeper connection between the poems across the chapter themes, a thread that holds them together.

Probably the best way for me to answer your question is by answering a different question: Is there a phrase that would sum up what I was doing in all those years? If so, that would be the thread that connects the poems in this book. I think I was simply “seeking inner peace in our connected and isolated world.” For example, the first poem “A loving presence” is about the peaceful, joyful beginning of life and connection with one’s own mother. The last poem “On Enchanted Rock,” a haiku, is a stark truth about life and death, and our connection with elements of nature. All the poems are about some aspect of living or dying. They call to pause for a moment to examine how we lose peace and our connections with others, and to seek ways in which peace and connections may be retained.

Tyler: How would you describe the style of poetry you write?

Mamata: I use simple and clear language. I ask a lot of questions. I write in first person. I am intentional, the intention being, to capture in words the intensity of the thought or feeling that compels me to write, so that after the intensity of the feeling leaves me, the words would carry it and compel the reader to see what I am seeing, feel what I am feeling. Usually, the ending note is important in my poems. It is the point of satisfaction for me where the transformation of thought into words has been completed; but it is also that transition point where the poem may create an understanding or a lingering thought in the mind of the reader.

Tyler: Mamata, you mentioned an intensity of feeling-is it always a feeling, an emotion that inspires your work-how do you get the concept for a poem, and how do you then take that feeling or concept and get it down on paper?

Mamata: Many of the poems in Winter Blossoms were inspired by the feelings and struggles of survivors of abuse, when I was deeply moved by their stories. Then there was 911 and what followed. There was illness and death in the family. Emotions were not on shortage to energize a concept.

The concept for a poem may come from anywhere, something I saw, heard, read, felt, discovered, or understood. Sometimes the concept comes as a spontaneous image or thought that suddenly surfaces from the subconscious; I feel a tremendous urge to put it down on paper just as I see it, and it comes out easily and fast. At other times, it lingers in the mind vaguely for days until I can find a handle to hold it and look at it from different angles. Writing helps me to think and the idea becomes clearer. Sometimes I get stuck, or change my mind. Sometimes, I may have started out with prose in mind but it may jell in poetry. Poetry seems to have a mind of its own.

One of the poems in the book, “Writer’s Companion,” is about the process of getting it down on paper. Once I get something down, over the next few days, I try alternately to be the reader and writer, pointing out what isn’t working and trying to fix it. This can be a long never-ending process sometimes.

Tyler: Why did you choose the title of “Winter Blossoms”?

Mamata: “Winter Blossoms” is the title of one of the poems in the book that was triggered by seeing spring blossoms in winter. The poem came out in a spontaneous way; like a painless childbirth. I thought it would be a good title for the book because it implies something beautiful, bold, and rare.

Tyler: Mamata, will you tell us a little more about your background as an Asian American? How do you think that experience is different from that of other Americans, and to what extent do you think your being Asian American is the source of your poetry?

Mamata: I was born and raised in India in a middle class Hindu family. I lived the first twenty-two years of my life in India, and then migrated to the US to join my husband. I have lived in the US for 35 years. So I should be more American than Asian and probably am in some ways. But my upbringing, Indian mythology, and mysticism have influenced my attitude and thinking.

Experiences of immigrants are different from those of the natives in any country. First generation South Asian Americans in the US like myself, who migrated in the 70s and 80s, missed their culture: language, religious and social practices, holidays, food, music, dance, and their way of life in general. In addition, we had no family in the US to laugh or cry with. So first, we built communities that addressed these cultural, social, and religious needs. Being the educated lot, we were, by and large, successful in our careers and became known as a model minority group in the US. While we related to other Americans through our professions, our social interactions often stayed within our own ethnic communities. Then we gave birth to a second generation of kids who didn’t speak our language or understand our culture. How to raise children in two different cultures became the worry of South Asian parents and how to handle conflicting pressures from parents and peers became the worry of the kids. Thus the culture gap didn’t exist only outside, it had penetrated our homes too.

As we rolled into the 90s, some of us noticed that even in our educated model minority community, some women were facing difficult living conditions, such as family violence, and had no recourse. The mainstream services were neither adequate nor accessible for Asian women due to linguistic, cultural, legal, or financial barriers. Therefore, some women took leadership to engage their communities to help the victims of family violence. In many cities, volunteer-run, South Asian women-led organizations formed with confidential help lines. SAHELI is one such organization that started in Austin in 1992, the first of its kind in Texas, which reached out not just to South Asians but all Asian Americans. I became a part of it as an advocate.

Thus, my life was touched not only by my own experience as an Asian American immigrant but also by the collective experiences of women I came in contact with through my advocacy work. My poetry draws from Indian mysticism that is part of my culture, my own experience as a first generation Asian immigrant, and my experience as an advocate for Asian women survivors of family violence.

Tyler: Will you give us an example of how you have used Indian mysticism and your Indian background specifically as a source for your poetry?

Mamata: For example, a concept that comes from ancient India is that of ‘maya’ which is a creative and illusive power that makes things look different from the truth. I have a poem titled “Maya,” where a mother is wondering how to explain this difficult concept to her American born son.

I have also used lines from Vedic peace prayers, the concept of the witnessing consciousness present in each of us, characters from Indian epics, and symbols of Hindu goddesses in my poems.

Tyler: You also mentioned you have done a lot of community service work, especially for South Asian communities in the U.S. How has that work influenced your poetry?

Mamata: My advocacy work provided a window to look closely at gender bias, human indignity, and injustice that I probably would not have seen otherwise. It moved me to action in many ways and writing about it both in prose and poetry was one of them. My work was challenging and lonely. Poetry was an effective way for me to take care of myself by taking the nagging thoughts out but not losing them. It was also useful in my community outreach work. Appearing in SAHELI newsletters, it touched readers.

Tyler: When did you first decide or realize you were a poet?

Mamata: I wrote poems in my first language Oriya as a child, around age 8 or 9. I was published in the children’s weekly of a local newspaper. I had pen friends with whom I was corresponding in verse. My brother and I had produced several issues of a family magazine that was handwritten and hand illustrated with contributions from kids in the extended family. All this was just childhood fun that stopped eventually. As I grew, my interests shifted. I studied science, not liberal arts, not literature, and settled with a career in computer science. Then I kept myself busy for many years juggling family and work with little time for anything else.

My old love for poetry returned when I was in my mid 40s. It got awakened in the shocking discovery that in our educated South Asian community in the US, some young women were getting beaten up by their husbands or tortured by their in-laws. I remembered how lonely I had felt when I migrated to the US. What would I have done if it had happened to me? Surprising myself, I responded to my own question in verse. I also learned that in the US, where women seemed to be ‘liberated’ compared to women in South Asia, domestic violence was prevalent. I took volunteer training at the Center for Battered Women (old name for SafePlace) and became a frequent customer in the library of the Texas Coalition on Family Violence. I started noticing and questioning sexism and other isms everywhere. I volunteered at SafePlace and SAHELI in every possible role. I also started writing poetry again after thirty years, this time in English, and with intensity and purpose. I felt that I had this potential, this gift, worth exploring, and the confirmation came from readers.

Tyler: Mamata, I assume you grew up being bi-lingual, speaking and writing both English and Oriya. What are the advantages and difficulties of each language for poetry? Do you write in Oriya at all now?

Mamata: Actually, I didn’t speak much English until I came to the US although I could read and write it well. There wasn’t a need to speak English. Oriya was the only language I knew in my early years. I attended schools where the medium of teaching was Oriya and we learned three other languages: Hindi starting in 4th grade, English in 6th, and Sanskrit in 8th grade. This four-language formula continued until the end of high school. In college, English was the medium of teaching, but most of the speaking outside the classroom continued in Oriya. With non-Oriya Indians, I spoke mostly in Hindi. I also picked up a little Bengali from neighbors because its sound had an attractive power.

For poetry, Oriya, a Sanskrit-based language, has a structural advantage of ease of sound and length manipulation: it is easier to produce rhyming sounds and rhythmic patterns; a whole phrase can be packed into a single word. English, on the other hand, has the advantage of ease of expression of modern thought.

I think it is difficult to write poetry in a language in which you don’t think. It would be a good translation at best. When I didn’t speak in English, I didn’t think in English, even though I could read and write it well. If I had written poetry during my early years in the US, I probably would have written in Oriya. But when I started writing poetry, I had lost my fluency in Oriya due to lack of use for almost 25 years. One of the poems in the book, “Woman,” I wrote in Oriya initially. When I started translating it into English a year later, I ended up rewriting it and the English version was stronger. Choice of language was clear at that point. I don’t write in Oriya now. Sometimes, I translate passages between the two languages for play and practice.

Tyler: Have you found a readership at all in India? If so, what has been the response by readers there?

Mamata: I have been published in India a couple of times in magazines. It will be possible to find a readership if I try. Until now, the readership for “Winter Blossoms” in India has been limited to my family and friends circle but the response has been positive and encouraging. One English teacher told me that she used the poem titled “Silence” in her class and asked for a copy of the book for the school library. Some people have expressed surprise seeing the Indian mysticism in the poems.

Tyler: Why have you chosen to tell the stories of the women in your book in the form of poems rather than short stories or as a group of characters in a novel? What does poetry add to the theme that prose cannot?

Mamata: I find poetry to be an effective medium to make a point. With poetry it is possible to convey a lot with a few words. It takes less time both to write and read a poem than a short story or an essay. I don’t have to write about all the details. I don’t have to tell the whole story, develop characters, build the plot, or do a lot of research. I can just focus on a moment, and spill what I see and feel at that moment. The advantage of poetry is its brevity, its intensity, its suddenness, its free form, its sound, and its power to touch the heart. This is appealing to me.

Having said that, I must point out that I didn’t write the poems for the book; I decided to create a book for the poems that were already there, like one creates an album for pictures. The book doesn’t tell a story or several related or unrelated stories, for which prose would have been a more effective medium. The book is about a journey; what I encountered during the journey; each poem is a picture.

Tyler: Mamata, would you share with us a favorite poem or a favorite passage from a poem and tell us why it is one of your favorites?

Mamata: You know, Tyler, a mother loves all her children equally although she knows the strengths and weaknesses of each. So I don’t want to say one poem is my favorite. But I shall share one, along with the corresponding mother’s brag form, if you like. Let me share the title poem “Winter Blossoms” since you had asked about it earlier.

Winter Blossoms

The red bud tree in my back yard

is dressed in bright pink

fooled by the unusual mid-January warmth.

Surely it’s spring, it says.

The weatherman shakes his head.

The Alaskan front is days away

from stripping off that beautiful attire.

Malathi, when you say

Surely he is going to change

when he sees his baby kick and cry

and touches the tender skin!

After all, isn’t it his own flesh and blood!

When you try not to remember

how he left you

to bleed alone

to starve

not caring

if his baby in your womb

kicked or not,

I feel like the weatherman,

knowing that the battering front

is only days away

from turning your hope into despair.

I had mentioned earlier that writing this poem was like a painless childbirth. Here is how it happened as mentioned in the book.

“Early one morning, I pulled the blinds on the kitchen window and saw the red bud tree in our back yard full of blossoms overnight. I remembered the weather forecast from the night before and at the same time saw the face of a woman I had been helping superimposed on the tree branches. It was one of those moments when I have to surrender myself to the writing urge that takes control of me. I found myself typing away at the computer instead of pouring myself some coffee.”

This short poem shows the extent of physical violence, the undying hope and denial frequently seen in battered women, the concern and frustration of the compassionate listener. The weather analogy brings it all out in a simple way that anyone can relate to.

Tyler: Thanks for sharing the poem, Mamata. I can definitely see the relation between the subject and the image. I also like that you include commentary about why you created the poems in the section titled “Poems and People.” What made you decide to include this section?

Mamata: I sometimes used concepts or characters from Indian spiritual or mythological books for an analogy. It would be difficult for non-Indians to understand fully such poems without some explanation. At other times, poems were my response to some incident and I felt that readers needed to know the context to be able to understand or appreciate the poem. I could have used footnotes for these details. But footnotes would have changed the look of the book, interrupted the flow. So I decided to include such information as notes at the end of the book, and named the chapter “Poems and People” following the naming style of other chapters.

Tyler: I can certainly understand that you want non-Indians to understand the Indian background of the poems. Do you have many non-Indian readers? Have you found that being Indian has been a benefit to you in promoting your poetry or has it worked against you?

Mamata: It is too early for me to answer that. The optimist in me thinks that the Indian elements in the book will be a benefit because they add something different. Also we now live in a smaller, flatter world and move across cultures more than before. Reason for people’s interest in other cultures is shifting from mild curiosity to usefulness. Being Indian has not worked against me in my past endeavors; it shouldn’t now.

TTyler: Which of your poems do you think has the most interesting origins?

Mamata: Several of the poems have interesting origins. For example, take the short poem called “Rights.” It reads:

Your rights are like Lakshm
i
knowing them is Saraswati

living them is Shakti, sister,

the goddesses are with you.

Lakshmi, Saraswati, and Shakti are Hindu goddesses symbolizing wealth, knowledge, and strength respectively.

Here is how the poem came about. I had participated in a workshop at the University of Texas called the Austin Project where poets, performing artists, and activists experimented with Image Theater to sculpt their ideas with human bodies and expressions and have participants interpret what they saw. The precursor to this poem was born at the workshop. Its theme was immigrant rights and I had written something describing the images I had made. It was the season when Hindu goddesses are publicly worshipped with grandeur and the central Texas Bengali community was getting ready for the celebration. Within a week, my scribbles from the workshop evolved into this poem, retaining only the title, got translated into Bengali and sent to their journal, where both the English and Bengali translation appeared side by side.

This origin is interesting in the way it stretches from a point to a line, connecting two very different events. The outcome is interesting in the way the poem connects two dissimilar themes. A human rights activist may not usually relate human rights to wealth, knowledge, and strength; and one who prays for wealth, knowledge, or strength may not see their connection with human rights.

Tyler: If you imagined yourself as the reader of the poems, what is the feeling you hope you would come away with after reading “Winter Blossoms”?

Mamata: I hope the reader would be able to feel the emotions of the subjects, connect what seems distant and unfamiliar with what is familiar. I also hope the reader comes away with a feeling of compassion, understanding, and hope, and some food for thought.

Tyler: I understand the book is illustrated. Who is your illustrator and why did you choose to have illustrations?

Mamata: Indira Chakravorty is the illustrator. She is also an anti-violence activist and is a co-founder of two Texas organizations that work against domestic violence: SAHELI in Austin and DAYA in Houston. I felt that line drawings would enhance the messages in the book, and give the book a unique look. I had worked with Indira for years, on various projects, and had seen her artistic talent. I thought that she would be perfect for this job. I have been happy with the result.

Tyler: Thank you for joining me today, Mamata. Before we go, will you let readers know where they can go to learn more about “Winter Blossoms” and where to purchase a copy of the book?

Mamata: Readers can browse the first few pages of the book at the iUniverse website (www.iuniverse.com). Reader reviews are available at the Amazon website. A copy may be purchased from either of these websites, from Barnes & Noble. The SAHELI website (www.saheli-austin.org) also showcases the book on their home page. In addition to being a tool for understanding domestic violence in the Asian context, the book helps SAHELI with royalties received from the sales of the book. I am available for reading at non-profit events, especially for similar causes. I will soon have my own website at http://mamatamisra.com with information about Winter Blossoms.

Tyler: Thank you, Mamata. I’ve enjoyed talking to you. It’s been a pleasure to meet both a poet and someone intent on improving the world. I wish you all the best.

Mamata: Thank you, Tyler. It is my pleasure.

In Search of the Elusive Third Way

Be the Solution
By Michael Strong
Foreword by John Mackey

Many supporters of Obamacare regard the bill’s passage as a dual triumph. Not only has Congress had its way with a disinclined American public, but the bill itself is a prime example of the “third way,” the devoutly to be wished for consummation of capitalism and socialism. Thus the celebrations.

For the rest of us it’s simply another opportunity to enjoy again Fr. John Neuhaus’s famous observation regarding those who believe in that particular unicorn:

“The vicissitudes of history have not dissuaded them from their earnest search for a ‘third way’ between socialism and capitalism, namely socialism.”

Oh, Father John, you are sorely missed.

As it happens there is a new movement afoot – nascent to be sure, but important nonetheless – that is also seeking a third way, namely capitalism. Its promoters argue that capitalism is the best way to achieve numerous good ends, including world peace, better health, improved education, the raising of billions out of poverty, a pristine environment, and greater personal happiness.

“So,” you may be asking, “what exactly is new?”

Well, nothing, really, save the overarching political views of those newly espousing these ideas, and the political demographic to whom they are preaching. Specifically, there is growing within the left a new respect for capitalism. And as we all know, there is no zealot like the convert.

Examples are popping up everywhere. For example, here is Lucy Corne castigating “penny-pinching hippies” on BootsnAll, a website devoted to backpacking travelers: “Wake up and smell the incense, hippies: sure, grass-roots travel is all about avoiding multi-nationals in favor of local businesses, but shelling out two or three dollars a day is worse than spending vast chunks of change in five-star hotels – at least that creates employment.”

Indeed, many leftists have seized on these ideas as if they were freshly minted. This is altogether a good thing, because there is nothing that so attracts the liberal mind like a glittering new intellectual fad. Is it really necessary to let them know they have stumbled into an archaeological dig? That would diminish their enthusiasm, and it is their enthusiasm that will make all the difference.

Or that, at least, is the theory underlying the extended essay that is Be the Solution, a new book by Michael Strong and John Mackey. Strong has spent his career successfully reintroducing old ideas into education, while Mackey is the founder and CEO of Whole Foods.

Theirs is just one of a number of recently published books that have the same or similar message, among them Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists; Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World; The Heroic Enterprise: Business and the Common Good; and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Good Business: Leadership, Flow, and the Making of Meaning.

In addition to hyperbolic titles, these books share the the notion that profits may provide the best means of solving the world’s ills. As one reviewer put it, “It used to be that people who wanted to solve a social problem – like lack of access to clean water or inadequate housing for the poor – created a charity. Today, many start a company instead.”

The apostasy isn’t entire, with these new cheerleaders for capitalism often retaining their personal identity as liberals. After all, if capitalism is good for the world, it is largely a coincidence that conservatives have long embraced it. Even Milton Friedman, the patron saint of conservative economics, is spared that awful stamp as Strong kindly notes in Be the Solution that Friedman denied he was a conservative.

While Adam Smith is ever present in Be the Solution, the Buddha and the Dalai Lama are also given honored mentions. In keeping with the zeitgeist, Christian philosophy is almost altogether absent, but the Hoover Institution and The Cato Institute show up regularly. They are virtually always relegated to the small type in the footnotes, but wily old Paul Johnson makes multiple appearances within the text itself.

Mackey is to be commended for participating in this work. Several months ago he expressed his displeasure with Obamacare in a column he penned for the Wall Street Journal, describing as a better alternative the medical plan he established for his thousands of employees. You will not be surprised to learn his system gives Whole Foods workers the maximum possible choice in providers, and puts the onus on the individual to make his own health care spending decisions.

Many of Mackey’s customer weren’t happy, and some called for a boycott. So be it, Mackey said.

In his own way, Strong’s background is just as interesting. After high school he attended Harvard for one year, but found it unserious. He transferred to St. John’s College in Santa Fe, NM, where he spent the next three years immersed in the Great Books, an undertaking that was much more to his liking.

If you find the title Be the Solution saccharine, you will not care at all for the book’s subtitle: “How Entrepreneurs and Conscious Capitalists Can Solve All the World’s Problems.”

But the issue lies only with our mildly abraded aesthetic sense, and perhaps with that modifier “all.” On the other hand, who among us was entirely comfortable leaving our copy of How to Swim with the Sharks Without Getting Eaten in plain view? I would call this excellent marketing, hitting the bullseye of its intended audience, the folks Strong calls “idealists.”

Idealists is a broad term, and includes most of us, even those of us who don’t wear our hearts on our t-shirts. By idealists, Strong means those on the left; we can also say those who believe all of the world’s problems can be solved.

While Mackey is given equal billing (surely another wise marketing move), Strong is in fact the master of ceremonies and lead architect of this large and wildly ambitious book. One reviewer has suggested skipping everything other than Strong’s words, and if you intend to simply sit down and read it through, novel-like, that isn’t a bad idea. But the book provides a great deal more of value, including an entire library of arguments in favor of its thesis. This includes contributions by Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize winner for his for-profit micro-lending bank; Hernando de Soto, whose studies of the free market in South America are effecting a revolution there (an anti-socialist one, for a refreshing change); plus some specialists on happiness, including advice on achieving higher consciousness via your job. (You see, great marketing.)

If you want to improve the condition of the world’s people, they each say, there is only one mechanism capable of achieving this, and that is the unleashed power of every entrepreneur in the world. Entrepreneurs are roughly defined as everyone.

Governments will be required to firmly ensure property rights, and to otherwise stay out of the way.

The examples are provided by the dozen, including several glowing write-ups of Wal-Mart’s astounding record of lifting tens of millions of ordinary Chinese citizens out of poverty. The argument is also well and repeatedly made that the establishment of market mechanisms will best secure the health of our natural resources (the “environment” in today’s popular usage). As he does occasionally in this book, on this issue Strong not-so-tenderly treads on leftist nostrums, pointing out that current efforts promoting the “change in consciousness” premise of environmental improvement are “completely unrealistic.”

Many of these ideas aren’t new. But it would be unfair to say Strong is simply re-stating old ideas. He brings to them a notable vigor and erudition — and when those might be insufficient, torrents of data and and anecdotal evidence. Would we had more on the right who could make these points so well.

Perhaps more importantly, he states his various subtheses in language that will not be too jarring to the leftist who is encountering these ideas for the first time. That’s something few conservatives have the patience to do.

It is an altogether earnest piece of work, and nowhere more so than in confronting the issue that has long bedeviled capitalists: is doing good good business?

Milton Friedman, who as you may recall was not a conservative, was fond of quoting Adam Smith on this question: “I have never known much good done by those who profess to trade for the public good.”

Mackey disagrees, saying the healthiest and most profitable businesses arise not out of individual greed, but rather out of a management philosophy that takes into account everyone involved in the free exchange of goods. “Conscious Capitalism,” the catch phrase of the day, is defined as voluntary and fiscally healthful transactions that serve the interests of suppliers, employees, management, the environment and customers. Mackey provides statistics to support this notion, though he primarily relies on his own experience at Whole Foods.

Mackey says his customers are happy to spend the sums necessary to enjoy the benefits of shopping at Whole Foods, which include the cultured aesthetics of the physical plant and the products, and the healthful benefits of “going organic.” Philanthropic causes, like those supported by Whole Foods, are also among his customers’ priorities.

Other, less visibly “idealistic” companies are now discovering the same dynamic. Robert Szafran, a sociology professor at Stephen F. Austin University, recently noted that Home Depot is finding it useful to promote an image of social responsibility as a means of recruiting good hires.

Strong turns to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to explain the growing appeal of marketing that extends beyond matching price to product, noting that once the basic needs are achieved (food, shelter, security) we begin seeking to belong and to be esteemed. Try finding a better description than that for Whole Foods shoppers.

It could be argued that the prices charged at Whole Foods, which range from high to absurd, provide the necessary buffer to ensure everyone, including the largely well-to-do clientele, is happy. But let’s not cavil. I don’t shop at Whole Foods because I regard the expensive effort toward aesthetic satisfaction not worth the money (and perhaps a bit manipulative), and I further believe the increased cost of buying organic food is unnecessary. Organic food is nice, but when you compare the billions of lives that have been saved by chemical fertilizers with the unknown but assuredly minuscule number saved by organic foods, there is just no comparison. Indeed, if you are regularly driving two additional miles to purchase organic foods you have surely tipped the risk management scales against you.

But that’s just me. Somebody’s buying one helluva lot of stuff from Whole Foods, and I say God bless ’em. That’s their business.

The real question regarding “Conscious Capitalism,” in which the goal is largely or wholly to meet the needs of others, is: why bother?

If profits are all that matter, doesn’t it just make sense that you should simply take whatever steps are necessary to increase shareholder value?

Part of the answer is provided above: Mackey says doing good for everyone does good for the bottom line. Nice idea, but history proves differently. Yes, you can earn reasonable, and occasionally fabulous profits by ensuring everyone is served. That’s the whole point of Rotary’s corny and entirely useful Four Way Test.

But raw greed — which is exactly what it sometimes is — has its own impressive history.

Strong counters that conscious capitalism provides additional benefits, including an enhanced level of happiness. As he puts it, you can make money, serve others, and have fun. Who wouldn’t want that?

Strong provides voluminous data on the science of happiness, which is now being studied for the first time as an academic enterprise. Once again, the results are those anticipated: we are happiest when we are fully engaged in what we should be doing, particularly when it provides benefits to ourselves and others.

While noting that the world is richer than ever, and that billions of people now have the means to purchase luxuries that would have made Louis Quatorze weep with envy, Strong also recognizes that levels of happiness have remained largely static, and have perhaps declined.

This, he says, is another of the world’s problems that can be solved through conscious capitalism In the same way their contributions have wrought wonders in the digital world and medical care, entrepreneurs can provide miraculous new tools for creating happiness.

Those who are now rolling their eyes might find interesting John Lamont’s essay in the latest edition of First Things, which he begins by asking an important question: Why are Americans the most church-going people in the world? Lamont says recent research is pointing to a perhaps unexpected answer: “The free market… has permitted religious groups that adopt successful strategies to expand, and to do so at the expense of those groups that fail.”

The established churches of Europe have endured no competitive challenge, and are the duller for it.

Greater freedom for entrepreneurs will in the end improve our education system, our environment, our aesthetic enjoyment, and give us more happy, fulfilling lives.

So, why hasn’t everyone become a conscious capitalist? As Mackey says, most entrepreneurs already are conscious capitalists. Very few find the pot at the end of the rainbow sufficient cause to endure the exquisite difficulties that are required to build a new business. Instead they do it because they seek a challenge, or they receive a profound satisfaction from creating jobs, or because it’s just damn good fun.

In the end, it’s the few well publicized jerks (Strong’s term) that give the rest a bad name.

Once again I’ll point out there is nothing new in that observation. But that doesn’t diminish the importance of having it said by John Mackey. If the idealists who read this book take from it just one lesson, let’s hope it’s that one.