Citizen Leaders: Grade School Boys Band Together to Stop Bullying

Congratulations to these young grade school boys who banded together to show their support for a first grader who was subjected to bullying and teasing from other pupils. These youngsters rock! In the words of American anthropologist Margaret Meade:

Never doubt that the actions of a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Let’s Leave, They’re Only a Buck Fifty at Safeway

If you are fortunate enough one of these days to drive along the central coast of California between Santa Cruz and Monterey, you will pass by field upon field of tall, thick-stalked, prickly leaved, some say prehistoric-looking spiny plants supporting a fist-sized vegetable that is poetically known as the vegetable of passion, the food of nobility, the thistle of love — the California artichoke. Artichokes are one of the oldest foods known to humankind. They are said to be an aphrodisiac. They were first cultivated for food in the Mediterranean thousands of years ago. Early plantings were first made in North America by French settlers in Louisiana, and then brought to California by Italians in the late 1800s.

Castroville lies at midpoint along the central California coast between Santa Cruz and Monterey. This small town, population 6,700 or so, claims to be the “artichoke capital of the world.” In 1949, in Castroville, Marilyn Monroe was crowned the first official “California Artichoke Queen.” Settled by the Spanish, and planted by Italian immigrants, Castroville is now largely populated by Mexican-Americans and Mexican farm workers who cultivate and harvest nearly four million artichokes from the Monterey region every year.

A mile or so south of town, Pezzini’s 100-acre farm straddles the coastal highway. A nine-foot-high green plywood “artichoke” gives direction to Pezzini Farm’s roadside grocery stand — take exit 414A. It’s not remarkable. Just an old, gray clapboard barn. Yet, it’s entirely unique.

In the back, wooden crates four feet on a side and four feet deep overflow with artichokes. Out front where I poke around, artichokes are heaped into bins, sorted and priced by size — I’m sure there is some official agricultural formula by weight or girth or something like that. To me it looks like: xs, s, m, l, xl, xxl, xxxl.

If you can’t wait to get home, you can buy an xxl freshly steamed artichoke right there (or if you prefer, some deep-fried artichoke hearts), along with as much dipping sauce as you like — homemade lemon-dill or garlic-mayo, or both. It’s a whole meal. There are a couple of picnic tables just out front, too.

So, on one of my visits, as I was finishing up the last bite of my artichoke heart, a 60-something couple drove up to the front of the stand, parked, got out. The couple poked around the stand for a few minutes, the husband following in the footsteps of his wife.

She closely examined the bins of different sized and priced artichokes — starting with the “xs” priced at $0.79 each, and moving down the line to the “xxxl” at $1.99. Perhaps no more that five minutes into their visit, she paused, turned to her husband, and insisted, “Let’s leave, they’re only a buck fifty at Safeway.” They got back in their car and drove off.

That one sentence unleashed in me a whole stream-of-consciousness. Part of me felt sorry for the woman. Another part of me felt fearful. My stream of consciousness went something like this:

Lady, get a grip.

These are right out of the field.

There’s no way you’re going to find this at Safeway, even if an artichoke there is only a buck and a half.

In that one sentence, I felt jolted by the rude and very real reminder that an important and meaningful part of my world is endangered. I dearly love my community. More accurately, I dearly love the unique character of my community — local mom-and-pop entrepreneurs whose businesses are personal expressions of creativity and courage, and whose survival is almost entirely dependent on our support: on us, the members of the community. In that one sentence, “Let’s leave, they’re only a buck fifty at Safeway,” I was reminded that character survives only in direct proportion to the sum of our actions to safeguard it. Is our world so caught up in commoditization that we are blind to character?

Metaphorically, I believe Pezzini’s is each of the local entrepreneurs whose small businesses form part of the soul of my community. Their grocery store and farm stand represents each of the local entrepreneurs whose businesses offer an oasis of uniqueness and personality in a world mounded with food and furniture and clothing and coffee that all seems to come out of the same limited variety of molds. These entrepreneurs offer a taste of natural, no-artificial-flavor in a world dominated by corporate formula and chemical-infusion. They offer an encounter with robust authenticity — albeit one sometimes rough around the edges. And yes, at Pezzini Farms, chances are that an artichoke will cost more than it does at a strip-mall Safeway.

Chances are, the smaller guys will never be able to compete on price with the bigger guys. Such is the law in an economies-of-scale world.

Chances are, indeed, that my community (well, our communities) will increasingly include the cookie-cutter coffee shop, the big-box building supply hangar, the fast-food franchise, the monolithic bank branch, the identical-looking chain store, the gigantic supermarket, the mega-mart and the big bookstore whose name begins with a “B.” Stocked, supported, subsidized and sometimes supersized by suppliers and shippers originating from places unknown, these better-financed, lower-priced, reliable, predictable, formula-driven purveyors provide (and always will provide) products that we need and want, at prices that most of us can afford.

And for that let us be thankful.

But, chances are the bigger guys might not buy and stock the proudly crafted, local cottage-industry products that you’ll find at the small-guys’ stores. Such is the larger guys’ limitations in an economies-of-scale world.

I liken my community to a patchwork quilt with each store, each shop, each street vendor; each merchant, each market, each mom-and-pop shop; each Safeway, each Shaw’s, and each Shop-and-Save; each minimart and each mega-mart; each small guy and each big guy; each — a colorful, exciting, lively and vibrant patch contributing to the texture and warmth and uniqueness of my community. There is a need for them all.


The local entrepreneurs are part of our fabric. I value the texture that the proud, local proprietors contribute to my community. I’m mindful of my role as a member of the community today, and as a co-creator of the world I want to live in as I grow older. I’m mindful of the character of the community I want to inhabit. And I’m mindful, too, that that character will survive only in direct proportion to the sum of my actions, and those of like-minded individuals, to safeguard and support it.

So, I choose to channel my purchasing power in their direction. Not all, but some. Not all of the time, but some of the time — routinely, regularly. Not because I have to, not because I am told to, but because I want to, and because I care.

I take personal responsibility to support our local entrepreneurs. I choose to freely, frequently and gratefully pay a small premium to our local entrepreneurs as a purposeful, intentional investment in their survival. I have decided not to assess the price of uniqueness as a cost, not to have it weigh on me as an expense. Instead, I have chosen to treat the premiums I pay to the small business owners as investments — investments in supporting the character I long to enjoy well into the future.

I’m thinking that the premiums I pay are minimal investments in another day. I’m thinking that on another day, five months or even ten years from now, as I pass by exit 414A on the coastal highway, I will still see that nine-foot-high green plywood artichoke pointing the way to Pezzini’s small 100-acre artichoke patch and grocery. I’m thinking that I’m investing now, so that on another day, I and many more like me will still stop and sit down at those picnic benches, and that I and many more like me will still eat and celebrate and even give thanks for a freshly steamed artichoke right out of the field — even if someone else still insists, “Let’s leave, they’re only a buck fifty at Safeway.”

— from The Engaging Leader

Peter’s Perspective: Crafting Culture

The culture of our communities is, for better or for worse, the predominant pattern of our collective behaviors, speech, choices and actions. Our families, our schools, our neighborhoods, our towns, our teams, our troops, our places of worship, our places of work – all of these are the communities that make up our world. Each one of us, through our daily behaviors, speech, choices and actions contributes to the character of these communities. We shape the world in which we live and work, for ourselves, for our families, for our friends, for our colleagues, for our co-workers and for our fellow citizens. As such, it behooves us to ask ourselves, what is the character of the culture that we aspire to create and live in as a community?

Whatever the answer to this question, and whatever the size or scope of our community, we have an opportunity to be more deliberate and intentional. We have an opportunity to choose how to behave and speak and act, individually and collectively, with renewed commitment, to craft a purposeful culture.

Crafting purposeful culture is an act of dedication and ownership – both individual and collective. Purposeful culture doesn’t happen because we will it to happen. It happens because we and many other people in our community turn our wills into behaviors and words and choices that honor and demonstrate the characteristics of the culture that we aspire to create. Everyone can be involved. Everyone can accept ownership and take responsibility. Now, whether everyone accepts that ownership, whether everyone takes responsibility by holding themselves and one another accountable – that is another issue. Accepting ownership for oneself is an act of citizenship; asking others to accept ownership and holding them accountable, regardless of our position or title, is an act of leadership. Not to do so, especially if we are entrusted with the responsibilities of a leader, is an act of abdication.

It is abdication among those who were most entrusted at Penn State that we now painfully learn about. (It is abdication among those who were most entrusted in the hierarchy of the American and Irish Catholic Church that we have painfully learned about for a decade now).

Crafting purposeful culture requires our full commitment. It requires ongoing conversation and dialogue between and among the leaders and the members of our communities to define the characteristics of the culture that we want to create or safeguard for the future.

During that deliberative process, we need to consider:

  • What do these cultural characteristics really mean?
  • Why do we each personally care about these characteristics?
  • How do or could each one of us turn these characteristics into tangible behaviors and action?

Our candid and collective consideration of these questions will better prepare us to engage other members of our communities in a conversation about the whats and whys of our culture. In turn, they will better understand the importance and implications of their dedicating themselves to taking ownership for their own behaviors and actions. Equipped with a clear understanding of the culture that we want to create collectively, we, the leaders, can more confidently distribute ownership to the other members of our communities for behaving, speaking, and interacting in ways that assure that the culture we aspire to, becomes a reality. They, in turn, are better prepared, and indeed expected, to identify and take action on what needs to be promoted, what needs to be protected, and what needs to be put to an end.

We Must Stop Bullying. It Starts Here. And It Starts Now.

On Sunday, April 22, in response to the tragic suicide of a 14-year-old boy who had been relentlessly hasassed and bullied after coming out as gay, the Sioux City Journal faced down those who would say that bullying is simply a part of life and declared, “those people are wrong, and must be shouted down.”

We must make it clear in our actions and our words that bullying will not be tolerated. Those of us in public life must be ever mindful of the words we choose, especially in the contentious political debates that have defined out times. More importantly, we must not be afraid to act.

The Journal published the following full page opinion piece on the front page of the paper to stand up to bullies, to those who condone their behavior and to their apologists.

“Siouxland lost a young life to a senseless, shameful tragedy last week. By all accounts, Kenneth Weishuhn was a kind-hearted, fun-loving teenage boy, always looking to make others smile. But when the South O’Brien High School 14-year-old told friends he was gay, the harassment and bullying began. It didn’t let up until he took his own life.

Sadly, Kenneth’s story is far from unique. Boys and girls across Iowa and beyond are targeted every day. In this case sexual orientation appears to have played a role, but we have learned a bully needs no reason to strike. No sense can be made of these actions.

Now our community and region must face this stark reality: We are all to blame. We have not done enough. Not nearly enough.

This is not a failure of one group of kids, one school, one town, one county or one geographic area. Rather, it exposes a fundamental flaw in our society, one that has deep-seated roots. Until now, it has been too difficult, inconvenient — maybe even painful — to address. But we can’t keep looking away.”

Read the full editorial >>

Peter’s Perspective: Lovers are Better Leaders


A fundemental tenet of my book, The Citizen Leader, is that citizenship challenges us to participate in efforts to better our communities and improve life for all — that we earn the right to call ourselves active citizens when we contribute to the communites where we live, work, play and pray.

Let me follow and add that our willingness to act, and by extension our willingness to contribute to the world around us at all, is linked directly to our feeling and beliefs about our communities. As Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great American philosopher and advocate of self-reliance and personal initiative, reminds us: nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. So, as we look at our potential and capacity to be active citizens in our communities, let us focus on our enthusiasm and the source of our enthusiasm — the source that prompts us and fuels us to take action and make meaningful contributions. That source is love — love for the people of our community, and love for our place and purpose in it.

Our topic is love.

When leadership experts and bestselling authors Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner began their research for their highly acclaimed and widely read book, The Leadership Challenge, they came across then U.S. Major General John Stanford. They write that this was a man who was a highly decorated veteran of multiple military tours in Korea and Vietnam, and who headed up the Military Traffic Management Command for the U.S. Army during the first Gulf War in 1991. When he retired form the military, he went on to become the superintendent of the Seattle Public Schools where he sparked a very positive revolution in public education. As Kouzes and Posner write:

All that we learned of John’s public service was impressive, but it was his answer to one of our interview questions that most influenced our own understanding of leadership. We asked John how he’d go about developing leaders, whether in colleges and universities, in the military, in government, in the nonprofit sector, or in private business. He replied,

“When anyone asks me that question, I tell them I have the secret to success in life. The secret to success is to stay in love. Staying in love gives you the fire to ignite other people, to see inside other people, the have greater desire to get things done that other people. A person who is not in love doesn’t really feel the kind of excitement that help them get ahead and to lead others and to achieve. I don’t know any other fire, and other thing in life that is more exhilarating and is more positive a feeling than love is.”

Kouzes and Posner elegantly conclude:

Of all the things that sustain a leader over time, love is the most lasting. It’s hard to imagine leaders getting up day after day, putting in the long hours and hard work it takes to get extraordinary things done, without having their hearts in it. The best-kept secret of success leaders is love: staying in love with leading, with the people who do the work, with what their organizations produce and with those who honor the organization by using is products and services.


Leadership is not an affair of the head. Leadership is an affair of the heart.

Our topic is love.


In his recently released book, Stepping Up: How Taking Responsibility Changes Everything, John Izzo recalls an interview with a bank CEO whose responses echoed the same sentiment. Izzo talks about meeting Jimmy Blanchard who was, at the time of the interview, CEO of Synovus which had just been named the best of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For. Izzo writes:

When I asked him the bank’s secret and why it might have been named the best company to work for in America, he offered a simple reason:

It is the power of love. We are successful because we love each other and we love our customers…it’s that simple.


Conclusion: Lovers are the better leaders.

Peter’s Perspective: Citizenship in a Community

Citizen is a deeply honorable title. Yes, it is most commonly a designation bestowed by an accident of birth or location. But it can be so much more. In a truer form, citizenship is a merit that we earn by extending ourselves to others and contributing to the world around us. Citizens are involved and engaged. They are participants. They are doers. They are not spectators. In essence, we earn the right to call ourselves citizens because we are willing to actively participate in efforts that better a community and improve life for all. In so doing, it is we who, by the virtue and the value of our contribution, transform ourselves from just one among a crowd into an active member of a particular community.

And herein lies the first challenge. What is community? What do we really mean by community? These are questions that I have struggled with, and still do. So, I’ll start by sharing some thoughts with you that have helped me to get clearer on the notion of community.

Community. It’s one of those words we use as an easy and convenient way to label or group people. Sometimes we say community to identify the inhabitants of a geographic area (say, the community of Santa Cruz, California, where I live) or political entities (the community of nations). At other times we say community to identify individuals by a host of widely different criteria and affiliations: professional (business, high-tech, medical, military), religious (Christian, Jewish, Muslim), racial and ethnic (black, white, Hispanic, Asian), sporting interests (golf, NASCAR) … and the list goes on. Just as often, we use community in referring to ourselves as a way to self-identify — to think of ourselves as a part of others rather than apart from them (as in “I am part of the gay community” or “the surf community”). At a fundamental level, community conveys a sense of belonging.

Almost every morning for the past two years, I have driven or biked to People’s Coffee, about two miles from my home in Santa Cruz, for a triple americano. Everyone behind the counter knows my name, greets me, asks me how I am doing and chats. We’ve gotten to know a little bit about one another over time. The crew: Curtis (Cordon Bleu master chef turned barista/owner — we trade tales of weekend adventures, in the kitchen or dining out), Austin (avid gardener — we regularly update one another on what is growing, ripening or flowering in our gardens), Andrea (graduate student, multilingual — she and I speak French together), Dan (aspiring musician/singer who just cut his first CD — very Native American beat — gave me a copy and asked me for my candid feedback) and Cody (café mascot, Australian sheep dog, wanders in and out flashing his watery eyes hoping for a handout).

I am part of the wave of regulars who show up at the café day after day. We recognize one another. We sometimes nod or offer a brief hello. Some of us hang out, sip, read, write or do whatever it is we do on our laptops, phones or iPads. People’s is a place of familiarity in the morning. We are the morning crowd. But it leads me to ask, is that all we are — the morning crowd? — or is our band of regulars a community? Do a group of people who share a common space, frequent the same coffee bar or live in the same dormitory or co-op or even zip code constitute “community”? What does it take to transform crowd into community?

I graduated from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, some 30 years ago. To this day, I regularly get mailings of its alumni magazine, newsletters from the president, annual requests for donations and a yearly calendar with pictures of the campus. By virtue of my being an alum, I am and will always be connected with Bowdoin, and the college will try to stay connected with me. In fact, we band of alumni are oftentimes referred to as part of the “Bowdoin community.” I have deep affections for my college. I do my part by occasionally reading their online daily newspaper and their monthly email bulletins. But is this virtual connection enough for me to honestly say that I feel part of the Bowdoin community?

Is sharing an interest enough to constitute “community”? Interests in common often lead to a self-selected identity that we willingly, even eagerly, assume. Look to the citizens of Red Sox Nation. Is this band of passionate fans a community?

Or can sharing an activity build a community? Hundreds of surfers live in Santa Cruz, many of whom know one another and have been surfing together for years, even decades. Most share the waves. Some, though, band together and can act fiercely possessive of what they consider “their break,” a localism that can create friction with outsiders. Mind you, an outsider can just be a surfer from the other side of town. An outsider can also be someone who surfs on a different-length surfboard. So, when I hear or read about the “surf community,” I wonder what it means.

The overarching question remains the same: What makes community?

For an answer, I look first to a dictionary. Webster’s informs me that community derives from the Latin prefix con, meaning “together.” It also comes to us from the Latin munis, which means “performing services.” Ahh! I begin to see deeper, and perhaps appreciate the overlooked essence of the word: community is individuals who together serve and support one another.

Now we’re getting somewhere. More than identity (Bowdoin graduate, Red Sox fan, surfer), community means involvement: involvement with others with an aim to serve and support one another. Community is active. It is engagement. It is participation. Community is not a spectator sport.

That meaning has gusto. Community connotes a group of people in whom I can place my faith and trust to help me out when and if I’m in need, and to whom, by the same token, I’d be willing to lend a hand if one of them were in need. We’re all in this together, and our strength is in our unity. Sign me up.

Now, how about you?

Who are your communities — the various bands or crowds with whom you come together (be they real or virtual) to support and serve one another? Look all around you: at work, at home, in school, at play, in support groups, in faith-based groups, in neighborhood groups, on teams, in troops, in virtual groups and in the many ways and places that you and others come together to serve and support one another. Each of us probably belongs to several communities. Put an identity to these groups of individuals with whom you connect through your active and supportive participation, not begrudgingly but willingly, not because you have to but because you want to.

Try this:

1. One at a time, focus on the communities of which you are a member. In your mind’s eye, picture several of the individuals in that community. Picture the individuals with whom you actively engage to support or serve one another. Allow yourself to own and rightfully call yourself an active citizen of that community. Hear yourself say out loud: ” I am an active citizen of ___________________________________ community!”

2. Repeat for another commmunity or for all of the communities in which you are an active citizen.

Excerpted from The Citizen Leader

Citizen Leaders: All-Americans Hudson Taylor and Colin Joyner

Citizen leadership is:

Character and courage: men, women, young adults and teenagers acting and speaking with the courage of their character day in and day out, in private and public – at home, in school, at work, in their club, in church and temple, on a team, in a troop, in the support group, in the neighborhood.

Courage of character begins with their getting clear on who they are and how they want to be in the world, so they are or become the person they’d want to follow, and by extension the person others would want to follow.

Contribution to the community: men, women, young adults and teenagers applying the qualities of their character as they participate in or champion efforts to better their world and create great places for us all to live, work and play.

Hudson Taylor, an All-American wrestler and coach at Columbia University, has committed himself to eliminating homophobia from all levels of sports. His efforts have gained national and international recognition.

This is only about how we treat one another, how we speak to one another. It’s not about politics or religion or anything else. I just want to create a safe space for people.

Taylor created ATHLETE ALLY™, an online resource to encourage athletes, coaches, parents, fans and other members of the sports community to respect all individuals involved in sports, regardless of perceived or actual sexual-orientation or gender identity or expression. When you arrive at the website for the first time you’re presented with a pledge — ” I pledge to lead my athletic community to respect and welcome all persons, regardless of their perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression” — and from there, you’re presented with other steps for action. Hudson says, “I created the Pledge so that we, as an athletic community, can take proactive steps to end homophobia and transphobia in sports. When we inspire entire teams and athletic departments to commit to a new standard of athletic integrity, we will change the environment in locker rooms and on playing fields.” 

Read the full article about Hudson Taylor in The Huffington Post, and hear him talk about his efforts in an MSNBC interview.

At Bowdoin College (the #6 ranked national liberal arts college), Colin Joyner is also attempting tearing down walls of homophobia in sports. Joyner, a three-time All-American tennis player and current men’s tennis coach, created Anything But Straight in Athletics (ABSA) with Kate Stern, Director of the school’s Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity. The group’s aim is to help closeted athletes come out by dismantling homophobia in Bowdoin athletics. Joyner has expressed a great hope that more schools will build programs like his ABSA.

Read the full article about his efforts in OutSports.

Peter’s Perspective: When all is said and done, we live in a world we create by our actions and words

We are all witness to the torrent of fabrication, lying, maligning, intimidation and fear mongering that are being used (and all too often condoned or lauded) by people in all of our institutions – government, business, media, sports, religion – to pursue their ends. Hiding the truth, if not outright lying, seems to be emerging as a behavioral norm rather than abnormality. (This is the topic of the recently published Tangled Webs: How False Statements Are Undermining America: From Martha Stewart to Bernie Madoff by Pulitzer Prize winning author, James B Stewart).

So many people are at risk of being or are already being swept up with the tide – choosing to act and speak in ways that mirror these public and private figures without pausing to examine the kind of world their words and actions are creating for themselves and for the people around them in their homes, at work, in school, on their teams, in their churches and temples, or among their neighbors.

It takes a strong and steady sense of self at one’s core, and the courage to act and speak from one’s core, to deflect the daily forces that would have us follow a leader who invites, tempts or at worst insists that we deviate from who we are and how we aspire to be in the world.

When all is said and done, we live (today and well into the future) in a world we create by our actions and words. Citizen leadership asks us to be clear on who we are and what we stand for today, and prompts us to speak and act in ways that create the great places where we would want to live, work and play, today and tomorrow.