Every year on the week before Christmas and New Year’s, I spend time reflecting on the past year. Reviewing the books I’ve read, the goals I set/met, how am I feeling, what am I hopeful for next year. Today, I’ll review what I fed my mind with in 2017. I did quite a bit of historical context reading mixed with gritty topics like vulnerability and belonging. Some books I re-read often because they help me navigate life and fill me with daydreams of the world I want to live in once we get through neutralizing tyranny.
I was deathly scared of politics prior to Nov 9, 2016. Being online leading up to the election was filled with frogs and rabid polarization, reiterating my childhood experiences that politics is emotionally tied to anger, so I purposefully stayed away. I didn’t know how to canvas for a candidate or contact my representative. I assumed we had a pipeline of conscious leaders waiting to run for state or local office. When I went back and looked through the books that had shaped my business knowledge, I realized most were white male conquering stories. Not many females or minorities leaders. Not many businesses whose products were catered to women or minority customers were RUN by women or minorities. I hadn’t thought deeply about where the others were hiding. I believed the promise of upward social mobility of the American dream was possible.
2017 for me was about pushing through that fear of politics. Pushing through my association with anger to understand the historical context of injustices, the mechanics of electoral politics, and the sticky feelings of engaging with others across the political spectrum while being authentic to myself. Learning how our existential crisis of disconnection was wound up through technology and what it would take to heal the divisions. I found comfort in books; grateful to the authors for putting thoughts on paper and sharing stories that need to be told.
I made a 2018 Suggested Reading list on Amazon to house the books that informed my thinking this year so you can easily look them up. We’ve got a 3 to 7 year window to save democracy. I didn’t know until the election we were so close to tyranny or an oligarchy. (Check out, On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder, Yale’s Holocaust historian if you want to know the warning signs of Tyranny.)
Without further ado, here are the titles that shaped my year and what I recommend reading in 2018.
- Daring Greatly — How the Courage to be Vulnerable transforms the way we Live, Love, Parent and Lead.
This book is like a bible to me. Brene Brown explains that contrary to myth, vulnerability is not weakness and is deeply connected to how much we engage with life. To be vulnerable is to let ourselves be seen which requires courage and clarity of purpose. Or, we can hurl judgement and advice from the cheap seats. Brene is a shame researcher at the University of Houston in Texas who gave a TEDTalk few years ago that immediately became one of the top 10 most watched. I re-watched the video several times this year when I was searching for humanity in the chaos. Her research around shame has identified love and belonging as primal to humans as food, water, and shelter. I think her work points out how Maslow’s hierarchy is flawed. It’s why we form tribes. It’s how we know if we “fit” at work. Her recommendation to overcome our crisis of disconnection (que: rise of white supremacy) is to re-humanize education and work by understanding how scarcity is affecting the way we lead and work, how to engage with vulnerability, and recognizing and combating shame. I recommend this book wholeheartedly for parents, teachers; anyone that wants to see a kinder and more loving world.
2. Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone.
This is Brene Brown’s latest book and her timing this year was a saving grace. I recommend for any leader who has taken up the work of community organizing or leading authentically at work this year, and is preparing for great healing that needs to happen in America. (I define leader the way Brene does: anyone who holds themselves accountable for for finding potential in people and processes). Speaking up and engaging with a world that has gone mad is tough. But, Courage is contagious. Once we understand how true belonging works, that it’s a primal need that drives our desire for fitting in and seeking approval, and how we broke it in America, we can begin the work of healing those wounds. One of the main barriers to true belonging is a spiritual disconnection. Brene defines spirituality in this way.
Spirituality is recognizing that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than us, and that connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.
All living peacefully while exercising our individuality. Sounds like religious liberty, huh? She offers four elements of true belonging and shows how to make a practice of true belonging that requires us to be vulnerable, get uncomfortable, and learn how to be present with people without sacrificing who we are. This book offers a road map for the great healing that will be required to reconnect Americans.
3. Run For Something — Amanda Litman.
This book demystifies how to run for office as an everyday person. What you’ll need, how to tell your story, and motivation to step up into the arena. Amanda’s a millennial and writes in a very understandable voice. Please gift this book to inspiring young people in your life who you see have potential and passion to tackle big challenges in government.
4. Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times.
Nancy Koehn tells the stories of 5 leaders from different ages across history and connects the commonalities between them. The story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer resisting Nazi evil confirmed my belief that we are re-living history. The way the Nazi’s spread propaganda, demonized Jews, co-opted the Lutheran church to be a state church, all rings eerily familiar. Dietrich’s writings of how to be a committed Christian in a totalitarian state are something I want to dig more deeply into in 2018.
5. Makers and Takers: How Wall Street Destroyed Main Street.
Rana Foroohar tells the story of our rigged economy so we can clearly see how the wealthy gamed the system by financialization which is threatening the American Dream. She then lays out a way to reverse these trends for a way forward of shared prosperity. Highly recommend this as historical background to the greatest challenge my generation will combat: income inequality.
6. Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It.
Richard Reeves newly released book goes into great detail about how policies around tax-assisted exclusionary zoning, unfairness in college admissions, and the allocation of unpaid internships are all versions of opportunity hoarding. The systemic hoarding of opportunities by the upper middle class is preventing social mobility, the essence of the American dream. His remedy might be unpopular, but the only way out of this is for some of the upper middle class to experience downward mobility. We need tax reform; not the kind passed in 2017 which solidified stratification. There is an expert book coming out soon Fiscal Therapy, that will attempt to address this in more detail. In order to have these difficult conversations with our friends and peers, we’ll have to practice radical vulnerability and empathy, and a stronger resolve in our collective responsibility as American citizens. I highly recommend this book for anyone living in a tourist town such as Bend, to understand how the tax codes set us up for the radical inequality that has manifested.
7. Color of the Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America.
I was shocked to learn last summer that African Americans were forbidden to buy land in Oregon as late as 1969. Many of the segregation laws may be gone, but their effects are living on. Furthermore, we never healed the wounds those policies created, and wrongly assumed that the American Dream by itself would fix the deep wounds these policies created. There has been a collective awakening across America after the 2016 election. This country was founded on white supremacy and we can no longer ignore our racist past. If we want to see a country that lives up to it’s promise of equality and freedom for all, we must first understand how white supremacy was the rule of law into our lifetime through government policies.
8. White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America
There have been many articles written this year about rural America. Joan Williams’s book was more helpful to me than Hillbilly Elegy in pinpointing the language of disrespect that has made it’s way into mainstream — signaling to rural America that they don’t belong here. This is one of the biggest blind spots I see in my hometown of Bend, Oregon. Many of our local efforts around education have focused on an expensive four year college as the only route to social mobility. I find that assumption short-sided and ignorant of more agile means of educating through workshops or certificates. Joan’s historical look of how working class learned to distrust college as a means to upward mobility and resent the managerial class that is given privileges based on those credentials was eye opening. I wrote about rural America’s backlash on tech last fall before the election. Only 20% of Oregon has college degrees, yet that is used as a qualifier for every job that offers a living wage income. We are effectively locking out 80% of Oregon from providing for their family. When I attended my local city council meeting last week, some of the council members were clearly unfamiliar with these statistics and using language they probably had no idea was disrespectful to working class people. This may be a good gift for the Bend City Council for 2018.
9. Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy
I haven’t read this book yet, but it was recommended amongst my tech peers as a good primer to understanding how Big Data / AI will further expand the income inequality problem that threatens democracy today. We must be more conscious in the tech industry with a greater collective responsibility to America, and understand how these technologies alter behavior. Facebook radicalized ideologies and is still running away from being held accountable. We must figure out how to create policies that will protect the republic from being compromised in the pursuit of material wealth.
10. Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.
This book should be required curriculum for every grade school. If every human focused on mastering their own emotions and nurturing their own gifts/potential — we could solve the immediate challenges our humanity faces rather than preparing kids to make more money for the upper middle class (who is clearly hoarding resources for themselves). America could return to a beacon of hope and collective responsibility for the world. In this book, Brene describes how cultivating daily practices of courage, compassion and connection enable us to engage with this world from a place of worthiness. Remember, courage is contageous. We NEED courageous leaders right now — of all ages. Truly courageous leaders defined by their actions, not their titles.
This one is a free PDF published by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I stumbled on ILSR during the #netneutrality FEC vote. They’ve been educating cities on how to implement community-owned broadband, which Sandy, Oregon is a success story from 2015. They also publish resources to help cities become self-reliant through energy independent, banking, waste. Check ’em out. They also have a neat podcast Building Local Power with primers on all these topics.
12. The Nordic Theory of Everything
This book gave me hope early in the year and set in my mind the possibilities for America once we neutralize the threat of tyranny. If we truly value families, we will make it easier for everyone to spend time with theirs. That means prioritizing the first year of life, reduce the barriers to social mobility, and securing financial futures for young and old. This looks like national paid leave, quality affordable neighborhood pre-K, minimal cost vocational training, municipal broadband across rural and urban areas, medicare for all, and nationally available retirement savings plans not tied to an employer. These programs would build our collective responsibility to each other and to this world. We only have one planet, that we are all citizens of. If America wants to return to being a leader, we must act like one first.
These were the books that shaped my mind in 2017. What were the books that shaped yours?