Tuesday
May312011

Ending Athletes' Bankruptcies

ANNAMARIA LUSARDI HANOVER, NEW HAMPSHIRE, UNITED STATESI’d like to dedicate another blog post to the issue of athletes and financial literacy. Around the time of my previous post on the topic, NPR featured a story about professional athletes and their financial literacy (the link is provided at the end of this post). The article mentions Kenny Anderson, who earned more than $60 million during his 14 years in the NBA, yet declared bankruptcy the year his career ended. The story goes on to talk about what happens when athletes acquire great wealth without having a clue about money management. Even in the NFL, which has the most college graduates, players often do not have any experience managing money, including what they might learn from paying for a college education, as they generally attend college on a scholarship.

I sent the NPR story to Reggie Howard, who is the President of the United Athletes Foundation and cares deeply about this topic. His reply came back with even more sobering information. He was just informed that 15 athletes in the Miami area have been victimized by a single financial advisor. Each athlete gave the advisor’s agency control over their bill payments and money management and all got a bad deal. No one ever talked about it, which allowed the advisor to continue to use the same method on each player. Reggie was outraged and ended his message with the passionate tone he uses when he talks about victimized players: “This subject really gets my blood boiling. We have to change this.”

Stories like this one illustrate yet again the dire consequences of financial illiteracy. Unfortunately, professional athletes—newly wealthy, young, and inexperienced—are ideal targets for scams or unscrupulous advisors when instead good financial planning is the thing they need the most. Even for those making very sizeable incomes, there is no guarantee that the money will last a lifetime; athletes’ career paths are very unique (for example, they can be quite brief) and risky (a serious injury can put a quick end to a high income), and this requires even more skillful money management than normal. Sound planning is needed to make sure that money will extend well beyond the careers of players, that it is invested to grow over time, and that it is not squandered in unsustainable lifestyles or in risky investments that players do not understand or have experience with. And athletes need to know how to protect their wealth, including how to avoid bad advisors and unscrupulous agents and how to make good decisions when presented with well-intended requests or investment suggestions from friends. 

We cannot expect all professional athletes to be experts in dealing with money. They become wealthy very early in life, before they have had a chance to gain any experience in dealing with financial matters. Their colleagues are mostly other athletes or sports professionals, so it is not possible to get much help from their peers. In my view, some money management has to become part of the standard, ongoing services that are offered to athletes. In the same way that it is standard for athletes to have coaches, doctors, and managers to help take care of their physical fitness, so it should be standard to have help in taking care of their financial fitness. And this help has to be specialized, designed to fit the needs of the very specific career that athletes face. Finance and financial decisions are too important, with potentially profound consequences for athletes' futures, to just be left for the athletes to figure out on their own.

Like Reggie, I detest the idea of athletes going bankrupt. It is not just the fact that it is unjust, unnecessary, and ugly as hell. It is also that we look up to and admire these people. Unlike them, we cannot bound up two flights of stairs without gasping for breath, we have back pain from sitting long hours at a desk, and we have boring jobs and screaming children. But when we see these athletes play, they make us dream. We believe they are special and we admire their skills and talents. This is why we get very upset when we find out that an athlete has, say, a gambling problem or beats up his spouse. In our eyes, they are better than we are, and they should do better than we do. And to young people, athletes are practically superheroes. Telling kids about athletes’ financial troubles would be like breaking the news that the Bat mobile has been repossessed. If athletes are in financial trouble, then, well, they are just like the rest of us. I’d like to see them be better equipped to make good financial moves; maybe if they can do so, the rest of us will follow. 

Here is the link to the NPR story.

http://www.npr.org/2011/05/19/136445218/for-some-athletes-a-short-lived-financial-success

 

Thursday
May262011

The Art of Delegation and Empowerment

Cornerstone Competencies of a Successful Company!

 

By John T. Hewitt

Founder & CEO of Liberty Tax Service

 

[Sixth in a series of articles on managerial and company building successes by John Hewitt.]

 

For many business leaders, the great conundrum has always been how much can I effectively delegate and how much empowerment can I provide before I lose control of the quality of the fulfillment. In order address this intelligently, perhaps we should begin by defining the fundamentals of delegation first, and then move into appropriate empowerment as associated with each delegated task or responsibility.

 

There is an art to delegation. Savvy leaders realize this and work diligently, as any artisan would, to expand their skills in this area. Understanding delegation practices allows the successful leader to associate appropriate responsibilities or tasks to the appropriate individual who is trained and capable of its successful fulfillment. For example, it is highly unlikely that any intelligent or responsible leader would delegate year-end audit reviews to anyone other than someone whose background and expertise would allow them to actually be able to do the job. Using myself as an example, this approach would make as much sense as my being delegated the task of painting or sculpting art suitable for the Louvre. This is simply not within my area of expertise; and no matter how hard I may try, and in spite of how sincere my efforts may be, I will likely never meet the expectations as fulfilled by a Michelangelo! As outrageous as this association may sound, so often are the types of demands and expectations some managers and leaders often make on unqualified staff. That being said, it is not by any means the act of delegation that is at fault; but rather the “art” of the action is where the error exists.

 

In order to create an atmosphere of successful delegation, savvy leaders must first ensure that they hire internal intelligence capable of implementing-to-expectation. The onus is on the leader to ensure he/she understands the importance of “artful” delegation, and has set the stage accordingly, in order to build a thriving company. Savvy leaders create an atmosphere in which there is a straightforward contract with each person who joins their company, an unambiguous agreement to perform to excellence, and clear messaging that nothing less is acceptable. What does this mean? It means that every function within the company, from Building Maintenance to Receptionist, from Managerial to Departmental staffing, from Executive team to the CEO, and in my particular case as a tax service Franchisor, from our family of Franchisees to their staff — we are all in this together and must work in synch in a cohesive manner in order to accomplish success. A successful company is essentially a “healthy organism”, one that continues to grow and thrive ONLY because its health is nurtured and maintained. If there is a breakdown in any part of the organism that creates this “body” we call a corporation, the disease of failure contagiously takes over. After all, business leaders and internal intelligence (i.e. employees and Franchisees in my case) are the hosts of this great organism, and therefore must ensure that they maintain its health through innovative and supportive practices so that the body that is “the corporation” may flourish.

 

As I look introspectively, as well as outwardly to many of my fellow corporate leaders, I realize we all have a tendency to think, at one time or another, that we are indeed “Atlas”, and that we can, and often are expected to, hold the weight of our corporate worlds squarely on our own shoulders. While we all do indeed hold the responsibility of successful direction of our “worlds”, success, as I continuously proclaim, is unequivocally dependent on the efforts of the whole. I will not insult your intelligence by boring you with more well-worn adages such as “no man is an island”, and so on; nevertheless, I will repeat the fact that no company has ever truly been successful because of one person. One person may have had the idea and he/she may have had the leadership skills – but these corporate leaders were smart enough to bring in the right people to fulfill that strategic vision. With over 42 years in an industry that has provided me the pleasure of leading two very successful companies, both of which have broken industry records over the years, my current company, Liberty Tax Service, is considered to be quite an anomaly in its ability to grow at an unprecedented pace in the tax industry’s history. However, I am confident in proclaiming that I did not do it all on my own. This is why, in my opinion, delegation sets the stage that is vital to the encouragement and empowerment of a team that will ultimately reach the heights of success that began as only a “vision” within a visionary’s dream!

 

Delegation allows internal intelligence to work through and solve problems that you, as a leader, may not have had the opportunity to see. After all, no matter if your company is a “David” or a “Goliath”[discussed in a previous article], as a leader, you need to focus on the big picture and build a team that will support and enhance the foundations of the strategy. And, for those of us who, heaven forbid, think we ARE on top of all situations, it is important to remember that proper delegation allows innovative thinking, which in turn, creates new approaches surrounding ideas or solutions pertaining to issues, or potential issues that we, as corporate leaders, may not have had the time to even realize existed. The role of a successful business leader is to focus on the future and the opportunities it provides. By virtue of being corporate leaders, and I say this to anyone leading any company at whatever size, big or small, we have accepted the responsibility to ensure that the company’s internal intelligence is of the highest quality to ensure its success. In my case, this is what our employees and our Franchisees depend on me to do, because both are dependent on one another. Liberty cannot be a successful company without exceptional employees and Franchisees alike. So we continue to work toward achieving the symbiosis that this reality requires in order for Liberty to continue in its path to becoming the “greatest tax company in the universe”, the corporate mantra I explained in a previous article to be the revered chant in our company. 

 

That said, it is important that we understand the essential components of triumphant delegation, so that we can follow this discussion with the all-important “empowerment ingredients” that are so essential to this formula for success. Learning to delegate may seem like more of a chore than a complement to success by some; but it is indisputable that savvy delegation dramatically increases the amount and quality of work, not to mention employee satisfaction. In fact, delegation is simply common sense....but it  takes work.

 

I realize that attaching the words “delegation and work” in one statement may seem like an oxymoron; but to delegate successfully, you must deploy a great deal of effort. Smart leaders ensure that, as delegators, they (and their management staff) fully understand the task(s) at hand and are very clear about the expectation for fulfillment so that they can select the appropriate individual that has the skill sets and/or potential to victoriously complete the tasks and responsibilities that have been assigned. Communication-to-expectation that accompanies successful delegation is not always something that comes naturally for many people. That’s why I refer to the ability to delegate successfully as an “art”, because those who are accomplished at delegation have worked on this craft, viewing it as an essential element of their managerial and corporate growth. In my opinion, this is, in fact, an integral function of a great leader. However, delegation is also a skill that can be honed into an art, and should be part of all leadership growth practices. [More on this in an upcoming article.]

 

Unsurprisingly, the toughest part for many leaders and managers is being able to shift the decision-making authority that must ultimately accompany delegation. It is important to realize that responsibility assigned to any staff member, at whatever level of the company, without granting authority to those same individuals who will be rated on their successful fulfillment of a delegated assignment is not only incongruous, but can be calamitous to the success of the overall organization. This practice serves to only breed discontent and lack of emotional engagement by your stakeholder team. For many companies, this lack of attention to internal satisfaction mechanisms have been directly tracked to their eventual downfall, as the corporate culture was viewed as restrictive and unsupportive. For this reason, it has always been important to me that I build a company that allows its internal intelligence to be exactly that — intelligent. And by doing so, I have had the pleasure to work with many professionals to whom I can personally attribute as having been instrumental in the success of my companies, including the thousands of Franchisees with whom I have had the pleasure to work over the years.

 

There are simple rules of thumb that should be followed when delegating a responsibility. None of these are “evangelically inspired”, but are simply commonsensical approaches to a commonsensical practice. As a successful leader, I believe these simple rules should always be in practice in your organization for appropriate delegation practices:

 

1)  As previously stated, delegators must understand the assignment and match it to the appropriate individual for fulfillment. This is their responsibility and it is important that they realize its importance. As a leader, you are responsible for ensuring that you have built a culture within your management team that requires strict adherence to this primary rule.  

2)  Communication-to-fulfillment is without question. If employees are uncertain of what they are supposed to provide at the end of the day, so to speak, then how can they satisfy the expectation for successful fulfillment? This communication should always include deadlines and specific deliverables.

3)  Ensure you have created a culture wherein the individual being assigned a project feels comfortable in asking for more detail and, in some cases, perhaps guidance, i.e. a level-leveling approach between management and employee. Remember, your goal as a leader is to create other leaders, and you can’t do this if you don’t provide an environment conducive to open communication without repercussion.

4)  Monitor results. This requires an open feedback loop so that expectations can be reiterated if necessary, and an open interface between delegator and delegate is encouraged. This is not only a very common team building exercise, but it is a very simple and savvy project management technique.

5)  Do not focus on the process but always on the results. This statement just happens to be one of our core principles at Liberty Tax. We acknowledge that everyone may have a different route to the finish line. As long as they arrive at the finish line by the designated time with an eye on excellence and integrity, we make it a principle to refrain from forcing the route they may take to get there. At Liberty, our goal is to move as far away from micromanagement as is humanly possible!

 

Enough about delegation, for now, I think I’ve made my take on this subject fairly clear. Let’s move on to the all-powerful “empowerment”.

 

Empowerment allows your internal intelligence access to the necessary stepping stones to reach the next level of success for themselves and your company. In today’s technologically-rich environment, company leaders sometimes forget that their staff is not just a new “software release”. They are not mechanical and/or programmed beings that intellectually or emotionally function within a contained environment, programmed to be effective, supportive, constructive and content. A company very simply cannot build internal evangelists, who will proclaim and exhibit the superiority of a company or its services internally and externally, unless it acknowledges this reality. Smart leaders understand that they cannot lose site of the humanity within their corporations that is fundamental to each individual that supports the company’s success. Unfortunately, this acknowledgement often seems to be lost by so many companies as they embark on their road to success. That is why empowerment is so important to building a prosperous organization, because it incorporates the needs and intellect of a thriving support system.

 

So why are so many business leaders and/or their management staff afraid to empower their staff members? By definition, empowerment is the process by which an employee is enabled or authorized to think, behave, take action, and control work and decision-making, theoretically, in an autonomous environment. I believe that the sense of “autonomy” is the key detriment driving many leaders to shy away from this very powerful strategic business tool.

 

But what we, as business leaders, must realize is that empowerment allows our team members to take control of their own professional destiny and to do so through the success of their inputs and contributions to the organism to which we have referred herein as “the corporation”. We may fear staff-level empowerment because many of us are afraid that someone might make a mistake; and if we had not empowered individual thinking and action, this would never have happened! But think about the adverse effect of disempowerment. In my mind, stagnation is the true threat of death for any company. A business simply cannot survive, and certainly not prosper, if there is no sense of responsibility shared across its internal intelligence. Empowerment is key to building that much needed internal ownership that all team members must have in order to ensure corporate success. Empowerment encourages creative thinking. It encourages discussion of possibilities. Empowerment opens doors for thought and innovation that would forever remain closed if never given the opportunity to exalt in the light of “unencumbered permission”.

 

Let’s be very clear about what I am saying. If delegation is done properly, then empowerment is a fairly safe risk, and one that is well worth the taking. Isn’t it better to build a company that consists of “extraordinary professionals” than one filled with “ordinary subordinates”? Every business leader should be aiming for “unimaginable success”. It is only with this goal in mind that successful companies can ever reach the heights of achievement beyond that which they are experiencing today. I believe that a successful company will never reach its full potential unless their leaders realize that, with each new day, with each new hire, with each new opportunity and with each new influence, their companies have the opportunity to transcend beyond what once might have been believed to be the great “home run”. But, companies will only get there if their leaders understand that that they have a world of intelligence available to them. And, if treated and nurtured properly, they may proudly proclaim that they have extraordinary professionals as part of their team, who act as invaluable drivers of their success.

 

Savvy business leaders never rest on their laurels. They understand that the certainty of a new challenge will always exist and they are keen to embrace the opportunities at hand by developing internal competencies to greet these new opportunities, while creating a culture that will attract like-minded professionals to the family.

 

I personally will always opt for the “extraordinary”, and I am always on the lookout for talented, enthusiastic individuals. It has been our tradition never to isolate our recruitment efforts only to fill job openings or position descriptions. We are always seeking out talent regardless of whether we have a position available within the firm. As a matter of fact, sometimes we interview individuals who ultimately create their own positions during the interview process.

 

It has always been important to me that we sculpt a team environment that consists of professionals that joined us because we appreciated their talents and enthusiasm, and they, in kind, appreciated the opportunities and culture of personal growth and empowerment we offer. Does this approach work? Without being too braggadocios, I think my track record has proven this approach to be more than adequately successful! 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday
May252011

PRESS INFORMATION

For Immediate Release

May 16, 2011

CONTACT: Martee Pierson

Title: Director of Diversity Programs

757.301.8111

 martee.pierson@libtax.com

 

Liberty Tax Service - Una Familia Sin Fronteras forms educational alliances with the Kansas City, Missouri school district and with University of Missouri – Kansas City educational outreach program

 

Liberty Tax Service will provide fiscal and financial education programs to parents of elementary, middle and high school children in underserved communities throughout the Kansas City area.

 

Liberty Tax Service announced that local offices in the Kansas City area have formed an educational alliance with the University of Missouri – Kansas City supporting the University’s outreach program for parents of elementary school children. Local fiscal and financial experts from Liberty Tax Service’s unique educational outreach initiative, Una Familia Sin Fronteras, will offer financial and fiscal education seminars free-of-charge to parents throughout the year. Programs will be tailored to answer the participants’ primary areas of interest, including small business start-up procedures and first homeowner information. The majority of programs will be offered in Spanish, since this educational outreach program serves many 1st-generation Hispanic immigrant families, but they will also be available in English for the non-Spanish speaking communities. Many of these seminars also qualify for college credits with the University of Phoenix, so participants can enjoy the excitement of completing a college accredited course!

 

Additionally, Liberty Tax Service is partnering with the Kansas City, Missouri School District (KCMSD) offering financial and fiscal education seminars to parents of elementary, middle and high school students throughout the year. The first seminar will cover Student Financial Aid (FAFSA), outlining the opportunities for families to take advantage of financial aid for education, explaining the application process, and encouraging families to apply for FAFSA grants in order to help enable qualified students to pursue higher education.

 

These seminars and workshops will also be taught by Liberty Tax Service professionals from offices in the Kansas City area that have earned the Hispanic Services Seal of Excellence from Liberty Tax, through a rigorous certification program provided by the Una Familia Sin Fronteras corporate team. This certification training ensures that Liberty offices are qualified and trained to provide services to Hispanic consumers. The goal of both alliances will be to develop programs of value to a broad parent base, so that the attendance and interest in parent programs can expand for both organizations, and so that parents can learn the values of the economic system in the U.S. and better enter into our mainstream economy.

 

These new alliances are extensions of Liberty Tax’s unique and highly successful Hispanic initiative, Una Familia Sin Fronteras (A Family Without Boundaries) and its Foundation by the same, which together provide educational outreach programs that bring financial and fiscal education seminars and courses to Hispanic communities across the nation, at no cost. Courses and seminars are taught in Spanish (and English as needed), and many qualify for college credits through the University of Phoenix. Franchise owners and their staff across the United States demonstrate their commitment throughout the year to Liberty’s Una Familia Sin Fronteras Hispanic educational initiative by their enthusiastic support and fulfillment of the educational initiatives spearheaded by Liberty’s national Hispanic Programs Team. Because of the integrity, success and value of the Una Familia Sin Fronteras educational initiative, Liberty Tax Service has been embraced by nonprofits, educational institutions and governmental entities across the nation, with which private companies are rarely allowed to partner.

 

“Liberty has focused on ensuring that we provide special services that are very much needed by our new immigrant communities,” explains John Hewitt, CEO and Founder of Liberty Tax Service. “We believe that information provides options, and options provide empowerment. Our Una Familia Sin Fronteras initiative and were created specifically to bring these much needed values to our Latino neighbors across the U.S.”

 

 

About Liberty Tax Service

Liberty Tax Service is the fastest-growing retail tax preparation company in the

industry’s history. Founded in 1997 by CEO John T. Hewitt, a pioneer in the tax

industry, Liberty Tax Service has prepared over 8,000,000 individual income tax

returns. With 41 years of tax industry experience, Hewitt is the most experienced

CEO in the tax preparation business, having also founded Jackson Hewitt Tax Service (NYSE:JTX).

 

Each Liberty Tax office offers customers audit assistance, a money-back guarantee, and free tax return reviews. An elite group of Hispanic Services Seal of Excellence Certified offices also provide assistance in Spanish and offer many special services geared toward our Hispanic population free of charge, across the nation.

 

The Liberty Tax Service franchise opportunity is #7 on the list of fastest-growing franchises in Entrepreneur magazine’s “Franchise 500” list for 2011, and was selected as one of the top 25 Franchises for Hispanics by PODER magazine.

 

 

 

Monday
May232011

An Other Understanding of The Other

 

Gene Stowe

 

In a familiar inspirational story, a visitor wanders through the stonecutter section of a medieval construction site in Paris and asks various workers what they are doing. “I’m cutting stone,” says one. “I’m practicing my craft,” says another. “I’m earning money to feed my family,” says the next.

“I’m building a cathedral,” says the last.

 

You almost never hear what happens next. The visitor, being a modern American, proceeds to explain to them what they are “really” doing, correcting their answers for their own edification. Since they are obviously all doing the same thing, as the visitor can see, either (a) one of them has identified that thing correctly (perhaps the empiricist who answered first and recognized only the physical act of stonecutting, or the economist who answered third and recognized all labor as a quest for sustenance), or (b) none of them see the truth and the visitor can reveal it (perhaps “serving a tyrannical master” or “advancing an unworthy religion”).  

 

So far in modern life, an obsession with singularity (“Truth is one”) coupled with an exceptionalist presumption (“We have it”) has devolved into an intractable otherizing of difference that precludes a concerted effort against the enormous common challenges humanity faces. In politics, philosophy, the media and other fields, an approach to variety is ascendant that, if applied to architecture, cuisine or music, would quickly turn the world into a repetitive, bland monotone.

 

The reflex is all the more insidious for its unexamined place in society. Statement after statement is accepted as self-evident, unquestionable and unquestioned. Examples come easily, such as a recent New York Times headline: “Promise of Arab Uprisings Is Threatened by Divisions.” The story presupposes a certain “promise” – essentially, that Arab nations would establish Western-style democracies – then laments that people suddenly free to make their own decisions might decide differently. That the “promise” might have been national self-determination in the first place, and that a variety of outcomes among the variety of nations might be a fulfillment, is never considered.

 

Part of the “threat” in the article involves a contrast between “secular” and “religious” models. As axiomatic as this distinction is in modern discourse, from the perspective of ideas and of history, I find it perplexing and unconvincing. The “secular,” it seems to me, bears all the pertinent marks of the “religious,” including shades of meaning in its linguistic variations (secularity, secularism, secularist), and would best be treated as a religion among religions. Its distinction survives only because of colossal misunderstandings about both what religion is and about what secularism is. The flippant claim that they are not to be compared because religion proposes an external God (and an afterlife of reward or punishment) relies on general ignorance about non-Abrahamic religions and about the apocalyptic narratives of secular thinkers such as Marx. Maybe humans are homo religious and homo economicus as well as homo sapiens. The atheists in the Enlightenment-driven French Revolution, like the Nazis, adopted quasi-religious practices addressing common human needs and desires. High-quality developments in science, medicine, law, politics and art (Italian Renaissance and Harlem Renaissance, for example), as well as stomach-turning inequality, oppression and genocide (Crusades and Communism, for example), happen in history at rates entirely without reference to the supposed gulf between “religious” and “secular” societies. Maybe we are all cutting stone and practicing our craft and earning food for our families and building cathedrals.  

 

The position of “secular” in our society has become similar to the position of “Catholic” in medieval Western Europe: the standard by which every other idea is measured for approval, tolerance or disapproval. Other systems must demonstrate that they can be understood in its terms, or at least that they do not pose a threat to its ascendancy, in order to gain a hearing in the public square. My objections to that are not, by the way, objections in principle. As I have said elsewhere, I believe that cultures, including territorial cultures, have the right to adopt whatever framework they choose within which to operate. I would defend the existence of a secular democracy in precisely the same terms I would defend the existence of an Islamic democracy or a Christian democracy.

 

My objection specifically as an American is that the Constitution goes out of its way to reject national privileging of one framework over another. Political intolerance, as Jefferson pointed out in his First Inaugural, is no better than religious intolerance. The national government was founded, at least partly, as a government of states as states who could arrange their internal affairs as they pleased, including established religions in some for nearly 40 years after the federal Bill of Rights. Since the 14th Amendment, adopted in the context of ending states’ right to include slavery among their internal affairs, the same principle has continued to apply in a non-territorial way to other groups who organize their own internal affairs, such as the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, this dimension is usually overlooked and the Amendment is generally considered only in the case of individuals, where of course it also applies. But in any case, the secularist presumption threatens to flatten the bastion of diversity into a homogenized sea of conformity, the same “melting pot” that Protestant Christianity once saw as the nation’s Manifest Destiny.

 

I believe that the differences among human beings and human cultures exist not because they have departed, more or less, from some idealized version of “the good” but, as my faith teaches when it describes the diversity as willed by God, because they thereby have an opportunity to get to know each other. The world is an arena for dialogue, not an echo chamber and not necessarily a battlefield. As I described in “The Origin of Varieties,” the diversity need not divide the species, but it is vital to keeping the species vigorous.

 

To be fruitful, the dialogue must be aimed not at the conversion of one group to another but at the good of all humanity. The conversation, rather than a face-off of opponents, is mediated by the world that we all share and upon which we all depend. That, and not each other, is the proper focus of our operation. The dialogue is also not merely between individuals but also between cultures. In reality, any dialogue between individuals is a dialogue between cultures – the culture of each – that provide even the meaning of the words in use. But this fact is usually overlooked, and even more forgotten is the benefit of deliberate intercultural dialogue (a rare exception: the 1999 Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification). In particular, many Americans, whether religious, non-religious or anti-religious, seem to lack the habit of respecting other cultures – coherent, durable, identity-producing systems – as equal partners in the dialogue.

 

The presumption of inequality shows up, unrecognized I think, in the requirement that the other account for each position in the terms of the questioner. (The understandable eagerness by religious people to provide such an account as far as possible, such as odious descriptions of the lives of pigs by those who don’t eat pork, likely compounds the confusion: in the end, they don’t eat pork because their religion proscribes it, and other reasons proposed are not an invitation to debate a perceived open question.) Respect for the other should mean that “Because it is part of my faith (or culture)” is finally an acceptable reason for a practice. Not to accept that would be to refuse the curative power of chicken soup until the chemical activity could be demonstrated. The fear that accepting such an answer leaves others open to inhumane treatment is vastly overblown – whatever perversions arise requiring correction, no community-sustaining religion is grounded in fundamental injustice (lying, stealing, killing, abusing parents, etc.), although some “secular” societies seem to expect survival while protecting covetousness. Of course, I believe in a responsibility to protect – to guarantee the fundamental rights of persons that religions understand at least as well as so-called secular philosophies – but it must not become a pretext to remake the world in an American image.

 

“Diversity” will remain a diversion as long as it means a calculation of color and gender differences in a group, and “inclusion” will be an insult if it means “you can come in and join what we are” rather than “we together will work on our common project with mutual respect and an expectation that collaboration is more fruitful than exclusion of differing ideas.”  We will build cathedrals – or skyscrapers or anything else – only when we recognize that we are also cutting stone and nourishing our families and, like the others, making our own contribution to the common good.