Family Treasures: Missing photographs, missing memories?

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Family Treasures

Jennifer Pollard with photo of her great grandmotherAmericans today are the most photographed people in history. Smartphones and Facebook make it easy to capture daily images of our lives and share them. Go back a generation or two, however, and photographs are rare. Many are missing, representing gaps in the stories of our families.

Do you have a photographic gap in yours?

Here’s a story of one such gap: Jennifer Pollard’s family is from Barbados, the tiny island nation just north of South America. Jennifer participated in our recent group discussion on objects and the values they signify. She showed a photograph of her Great Grandmother Cecelia. This photo is a valuable object. But the missing photograph is one of her Uncle Arlington, one of her Great Grandmother’s 11 children. Seven immigrated to America, and her uncle was the first. As Jennifer told us, “He came through Ellis Island, and he started a dry cleaning business in New York.”

As she told her story, she reflected that the activity of sharing such valuable objects can be difficult. “You realize how many gaps you have about your family,” she said. “I did meet my Uncle Arlington and some of his siblings—but my regret is that I didn’t get to know them more and to meet those whom I didn’t get to meet. I wish that they had lived longer so I would have been able to learn more about them. … A part of me is missing because I don’t have a decent knowledge of my great aunts and great uncle.”

Arlington’s story is a classic immigrant story of people coming here to make a better life for themselves and their families. His example illustrates the values of achievement, hard work, and enterprise.

Do you have a story like Jennifer’s?

Is there a gap in your family knowledge?

What object would you use to tell the story of your values and how you got them?

Your story matters!

Please, share this week’s series with friends on Facebook or by Email. You’re also free to print out these columns and use them in your small group to spark discussion. If you have a moment right now, add a comment below.

Family Treasures: What’s the significance of an Eagle Scout badge?

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Family Treasures
Jim Jeffries talks to the group about the values symbolized in his Eagle Scout badge.

Jim Jeffries talks to the group about the values symbolized in his Eagle Scout badge.

Jim Jeffries talks about his Eagle Scout BadgeAll of us have objects in our lives that convey meaning and significance. These objects tell stories about our values and how we acquired them. The stories remind us that values are not abstractions, but emotionally invested principles that shape our lives.

So, what values are conveyed in an Eagle Scout badge?

This week, OurValues is publishing a five-part series about a new activity guide for United America called Family Treasures. That free guide explains how to organize this experience for your class or small group. In this OurValues series of columns, we’re sharing some of our favorite stories participants have told us. Please, feel free to share this week’s stories with friends. The best way to start your own series is to show others these examples of what you might discover in your community.

In this Family Treasures exercise, leaders ask each person to bring a physical object that conveys their values and how they acquired them growing up. At this point, we’ve heard many fascinating stories that have surfaced in classes and small groups. The stories are a mixture of love, poignancy, joy, sadness, hope, and resilience amidst trials and tribulations. Nearly all of them are inspirational.

One of our favorites was told by Jim Jeffries who showed the group his Eagle Scout badge.

First, a little background: Eagle Scout is the highest attainable rank in the Boy Scouts of America. The requirements are arduous, and all must be completed before the boy turns 18 years of age. The requirements, according to the BSA site, include “merit badges, service project, active participation, Scout spirit, position of responsibility, and unit leader conference.” Only about 5% of Boy Scouts become Eagle Scouts.

Leaders in many fields of American life proudly list, among their accomplishments, having earned the badge, including more than 40 U.S. astronauts, outgoing New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and filmmaker Steven Spielberg.

What values does an Eagle Scout learn? There are many. Here’s Jim’s story: He was a Boy Scout in Maryland, where they stressed camping and backpacking. “When you start as an 11 year old, and do all that stuff,” Jim said, “it really gives you a sense of independence and self-confidence.”

When he was a young teen, Jim and friends would take some significant backpacking trips to the White Mountains. “You really learn a lot when you throw a 50-pound pack on your back and you start walking through the woods for a week and you come out on the other end. You can get hurt out there if you are not careful, so it really teaches you a lot of things.”

I recall hiking (and surviving) the Franconia Ridge Trail in the White Mountains, and I know what Jim is talking about.

So, for Jim, his Eagle Badge represents the core American values of self-reliance and achievement.

This week, I am asking all readers of OurValues:

What object in your life tells a story about your values?

Share your story!

The purpose of the OurValues Project and the United America book is to get Americans talking with each other—friends, neighbors and even total strangers who may enjoy gathering to talk about the values that unite us. That’s a dramatic and refreshing change for a lot of us, these days.

Please, share this week’s series with friends on Facebook or by Email. You’re also free to print out these columns and use them in your small group to spark discussion. If you have a moment right now, add a comment below.

Doing Good: Why do the poor give more than the rich?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Doing Good

Money falling into a pileNOTE FROM DR. WAYNE BAKER: Have you told a friend about Gayle Campbell’s fascinating series about the ways Americans are “doing good”—or, rather, the ways we think we’re doing good? It’s easy to share these columns with the social media icons on this page. Here is her fourth of five parts …

Yesterday, we learned that Americans generally donate around 2% of their discretionary income to charity. The number is a far cry from the 10% often encouraged by charities and religious organizations.

We could point to plenty of reasons for the discrepancy—tight finances and a tough economy would likely top the list. But that doesn’t seem to stop low-income households in the U.S. from giving.

Did you know that low-income households tend to donate a much larger share of their discretionary income than the wealthy?

In 2011, Americans in the top 20% income bracket contributed 1.3 percent of their income to charity, while Americans in the bottom 20% donated 3.2 percent of their income. The Atlantic Magazine calls this “one of the most surprising, and perhaps confounding, facts of charity in America.”

What gives?

Some experts have speculated that the wealthy are simply less generous, and as wealth increases, compassion, altruism and ethical behavior decrease. What’s more—a study at The Chronicle of Philanthropy found that wealthy individuals who live in affluent areas are less likely to give than those who live in more socioeconomically diverse areas.

Simply put: When the rich don’t see the poor, their inclination to give decreases.

Research by social psychologist Paul Piff, over the last several years, generally supports this argument. Want to hear from Piff? Here’s a 16-minute TED talk by Piff titled “Does Money Make You Mean?”

The percentage of income donated isn’t the only major difference in how the rich and poor are giving. The wealthy tend to direct their donations not to the needs of the poor, but to other causes including cultural institutions or universities (often alma maters.) The poor, on the other hand, tend to give to religious organizations and social-service charities.

What do you think? We’d love to hear your experiences!
Are you surprised to hear to hear those with the least are giving the most?
Does increased wealth often lead to decreased compassion?
Why aren’t the rich giving to charities that primarily serve the poor?

Free Agent Nation: Will HitchBOT make it? How about the amazing HelpDesk?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Free Agent Nation

Meet HitchBOT video from Ryerson University

NOTE FROM DR. WAYNE BAKER—This week, we’re spanning generations and perspectives in welcoming guest writers Kathy Macdonald and Miles Grofsorean. In this five-part series, they are reporting on some very creative ideas from entrepreneurs. Here is their fifth and final column …

Young entrepreneurs are launching new ideas every day, as we’ve been reporting in this week’s series “Free Agent Nation.” Of course, the “nation” we’re talking about here is bigger than the U.S. Free agents around the world are coming up with fresh solutions to daily problems that span international boundaries.

HIGH TECH: Will HitchBOT make it?

In fact, as we complete our series, one such experiment is crossing North America from the Atlantic shores of Nova Scotia all the way to the Pacific. At least that’s what researchers David Smith (McMaster University) and Frauke Zeller (Ryerson University) are hoping! Every day, this summer, new headlines are popping up as their computer commuter, HitchBOT, tries to reach its goal thousands of kilometers away.

Many of the entrepreneurial ideas we’ve summarized this week try to build relationships between computers and humans. HitchBOT literally tests the strength of this relationship. Smith and Zeller aim to answer the question: “Can people trust robots?” To find the answer they created HitchBOT, an intelligent robot that is hitchhiking across Canada. Equipped with tweeting capabilities, HitchBOT will engage with its drivers during each trip and tweet information about its travels and location so that others can pick him up.

You can watch HitchBOT’s progress at the experiment’s website. (As this column is published, the little guy has made it past Toronto.) You also can learn about HitchBOT in this brief video made by the creators …

AND … LOW TECH: An amazingly cheap Help Desk from India

Americans joke about a simple fact of life today. Often, when we call for help, we’re reaching someone sitting at a Help Desk in India.

While that huge nation is known for its growing high-tech sector, the nation also is trying to help its millions of rural school children, many of whom grow up in harsh conditions. Students sit and write on the floors of dusty rooms—sometimes stirring up dust themselves from dirt floors. A non-profit organization named Aarambh is launching an extremely low-tech solution to improve these schools.

Even better is the fact that this new Help Desk meshes neatly with other cardboard recycling systems! Aarambh simply takes bundles of flattened cardboard boxes, ready for recycling, and turns them into portable book carriers for students can easily unfold into desks. Want to see how this works? Watch the video …

All this week, we’ve been exploring various new ventures that are in part a response to the transformation we are seeing in the economy–more and more people are shifting from finding jobs at well-established companies—to creating their own.

We’ve given examples of at least three types of “answers”: serviceable, seductive and supportive entrepreneurial ventures.

Where this will go is anyone’s guess, but will you be a part of it?

Like these ideas? Will they succeed? You could help to insure success simply by telling friends.

PLEASE, leave a comment below—and share this series with friends by clicking on the blue “f” Facebook icons or the small envelope shaped email icons.

Free Agent Nation: Scented Jeans? ‘Ficks’ a hangover? High-tech bookmark?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Free Agent Nation

Fragrance Jeans

NOTE FROM DR. WAYNE BAKER—This week, we’re spanning generations and perspectives in welcoming guest writers Kathy Macdonald and Miles Grofsorean. In this five-part series, they are reporting on some very creative ideas from entrepreneurs. Here is their third column …

America isn’t the only Free Agent Nation, and today we’re taking you on a quick trip around the world to show you three more products we’d like you to rate—and tell friends (via the blue-“f” Facebook icons or envelope-shaped email icons) if you think these ideas are worth sharing.

Yesterday, we looked at Serviceable ideas. Today, we focus on the second “S”—Seductive ideas.


Portuguese fashion brand, Salsa, has created scented jeans.

The pants, made from a blend of cotton and elastane, are embedded with microcapsules of fragrance. According to the manufacturers’ sales pitch, many jean enthusiasts believe that jeans are best left unwashed to protect their style and texture. Obviously, this can lead to undesirable side effects, which prompted Salsa to develop the product. They claim their fragrances will last up to 20 washes, and you can choose from 5 different scents: apple, blueberry, strawberry, lemon and orange.


Ficks Cocktail fortifierIf scented jeans are designed to keep young people smelling sweet even if they socialize night after night—a California company has created Ficks to take care of another problem associated with too much partying.

It’s a hangover solution, an “all natural cocktail fortifier” that was created in tandem with Fortitech, the company that formulated Vitamin Water. Their products are based on “years of research on scientific studies related to alcohol metabolization, liver health and medical causes of hangovers.”

Even Amazon now sells Ficks and so far the six reviews posted on the product page are voting 2 to 1 in favor of Ficks. There are four 4- and 5-star reviews vs. only two 1- and 2-star reviews; no one is wishy washy about this one—not a single 3-star review.


Dancing the night away? Worried about hangovers? Well, millions of people aren’t tempted in either direction. In fact, a Brazilian company is launching a small high-tech device that encourages—more reading.

Tweet For a Read is a campaign launched by a Brazil-based Penguin-Companhia publishing house. They recently developed a computerized bookmark with a WiFi-enabled computer, timer and light sensor. When the book is closed, the light sensor sets off the timer. When it’s been too long since you last opened the book, the bookmark (which is linked to your Twitter account) will notify the author’s Twitter account, which in turn will send you a reminder to continue reading the book in question. The tweets are actually pre-written by the author, or are phrases taken from the book you’re reading.

Here’s a short video about this product:

PENGUIN BOOKS | Case Tweet For a Read from Rafael Gonzaga on Vimeo.

Like this idea? Will it succeed? You could help to insure its success simply by telling friends.

PLEASE, leave a comment below—and share this series with friends by clicking on the blue “f” Facebook icons or the small envelope shaped email icons.

Positive Business: Is your work a calling?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Positive Business
This photo of a woman working in a warehouse was taken by Magnus Fröderberg, released via Wikimedia Commons.

This photo of a woman working in a warehouse was taken by Magnus Fröderberg, released via Wikimedia Commons.

What do you think of the work you do?

Is work a curse? Just what you have to do to make a living? Or, does your work serve a higher purpose? What work means to you—and how you can recraft your job to make it more meaningful and joyful—are parts of positive business.

Let’s start with: What does your job mean to you? Work orientation is the phrase we use to refer to the meaning of work for a person. The seminal work on this way done by Amy Wrzesniewski, a business school professor at Yale University. Amy discovered three basic work orientations. Usually, each person has a dominant orientation.

Which one comes closest to how you feel about your work?

  • JOB ORIENTATION: People with a job orientation look at work as something they do to earn a livelihood. They might be very good at their work, but it doesn’t have any special meaning or purpose for them. They do it for the money. If they won the lottery, they would quit right away.
  • CAREER ORIENTATION: Those with a career orientation see work as a means of getting ahead and moving up the ladder. A good job is one that has good opportunities for promotions and advancement. Getting ahead, we know, is one of the 10 core values I documented in United America.
  • CALLING ORIENTATION: People who see their work as a calling believe it serves a higher purpose and does good in the world. Those with a calling orientation have a passion for what they do. They are fulfilled and energized by their work. If they won the lottery, they would keep doing the same work.

Kathryn Dekas, my former PhD student now in People Analytics at Google, and I got interested in the origins of work orientations. One big influence is parents: How your parents (or guardians) saw their work when you were an adolescent influences your work orientation now as an adult.

One of the most intriguing findings involves the calling orientation. You are more likely to have a calling orientation now if both your parents had calling orientations when you were growing up. Parents who spoke about their passion for the work they did are more likely to produce offspring who also see their work as a calling.

Which orientation is yours: job, career, or calling?

Does it match your recollection of your parents’ orientations when you were growing up?

No matter what your work orientation is, you can recraft your job to make it more meaningful and energizing. Care to learn more about how to do this? Go to the annual conference on positive business this week at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, Ann Arbor, MI.

United America, Core Value 7: Getting Ahead

This entry is part 7 of 10 in the series United America
Cover of The Triple Package by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Cultural superiority + deep-seated insecurity + impulse control = success.

That’s the latest formula for success, served up in The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America. That’s the new book by the wife-husband team of Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld. They are professors of law at Yale University. Chua is the “Tiger Mom” in her book about driving their children to succeed.

What do you make of their success formula?

The Chua-Rubenfeld book is an attempt to explain why members of some cultural groups get better grades in school, earn more money, and climb the social ladder faster than members of other cultural groups. The answer, they say, is the triple package of success. First, parents and their children believe that their particular culture is superior to others. Second, parents make their children insecure by driving them to achieve but never being satisfied with what their children achieve. Third, the achievers are good at “impulse control,” otherwise known as delaying gratification.

Whatever you think of their thesis, it is true that getting ahead is one of the 10 Core American Values. Monetary success is a traditional indicator, but so is rising social status and mobility.

Core Value 7: “Getting ahead”—the guiding principle of “individual achievement, status, and success.”

The rub is that actually getting ahead in America is not so easy. Climbing the economic ladder is easier for citizens in several other countries than it is for Americans. But social mobility has not changed much over the decades, according to widely reported research by economists. What has changed is that the gulf between the lowest economic bracket and the highest economic bracket.

Another view of Getting Ahead

Getting ahead can mean more than money. One can get ahead by pursuing a calling—working for a higher purpose—even if it doesn’t yield more money or status. A calling orientation is instilled by parents, according to new research by me and Kathryn Dekas. This gives parents another option than Chua-Rubenfeld’s prescription of superiority and inadequacy.

Do you approve and disapprove of the “triple package” theory?

What did your parents teach you about getting ahead?