Monday, April 23, 2012


Are corporations people?

After I first read about and then watched on Youtube Romney affirming that corporation's are, indeed people (my friend) at the Iowa State Fair, the question lingered with me. This echoed through my head last week as I ran. 

So much so, I sought out a dear friend afterwards, who spends much of his professional life arguing the legal and philosophical answer to this question.  In his response to me he wrote, “The short answer is corporations are a collection of contracts to prevent a repeat of negotiations.  Who are the negotiations between?  Who drafts the contracts; benefits from them, and the like?  Why, people of course."

Then he went on to ask, “What is a corporation on a desert island?”

Though this question keeps getting thrown into the political arena, it certainly isn't a new one. For me it came to light back in my college days, when all things Ayn Rand and the principles of Objectivism were introduced to me by my aforementioned friend. In Rand's works, especially in Atlas Shrugged, she essentially personified corporations through her characters. 

She developed those corporate people in a manner, which made their pursuits almost inseparable from their person. It worked for me, in the bent of individuals building something bigger than themselves in their pursuit of happiness. And, I’ll go ahead and say it —  through self actualization. I believe to this day that the best of the best comes into fruition only by this, and mutual respect.

Rand's basic tenants always have lingered with me, not only in my professional life, but also through my individual pursuits and athletic endeavors.

Today I see it played out in a very basic level every day through swim coaching. You can be the best coach in the world, but each swimmer must be willing to find out who they are in the water. Realizing their best takes more or less time, depending on the individual. At my best, I’m a steward, helping an athlete realize their true potential. A team's success is measured through individual accomplishments.

Is a person who they are, based on the logo they wear, the team they represent, or the corporation for which they work?

That's a big no. It comes down to branding, and the effectiveness of a collective message. Whether it is a small group, comprised of individuals who together make a team, or a larger group of people who work for a corporation.

But it's more complicated than that, isn't it?

Are the characters in works such as Rand’s congruent with what we see today in corporate America? I would argue, “No.” Obviously her view was a utopian version of what corporate America should be, and sometimes is, but certainly not always. And I think it's this reality, which has people stumped — or at least me.

Corporations are comprised of a collection of individuals who, if the corporate branding is successful, identify in some way with the institution. The employees of said corporation act lesser or more on behalf of their employer, depending on their level of commitment. And their commitment isn't always so great. Frankly I see this all the time when dealing with folks who work for our government.

It gets more personal with family owned companies and smaller businesses. 

 In Rand’s world, when corporate commitment was on par with a life-long pursuit, I buy into the relationship between the two — institution and individual. But in today’s society when employees are fairly transient, how can they possibly relate to the core humanity of a  corporation as strongly?

In today's reality, when someone is acting on behalf of their employer, do they feel compelled to a lesser or stronger degree to hide behind that branding when the situation serves? Do folks use their corporate position to make the world a better place, or maybe sometimes, to achieve their own individual sustainability, to the better or worse of another?

That, too, is a yes.

So are corporations people? Still yes — and sometimes people behave badly. 

That last assertion is something upon which we can all agree.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


I speak French.

Or at least my iPhone does. You type a word or sentence for translation, and it speaks back to you. How cool is that?

I learned this least week, which is one more reason to embrace my phone. I was more than ambivalent when my husband gave it to me recently. My thumbs never seemed to navigate right when I used his, and I didn't think I needed all the fancy accoutrements. But after months of never being able to reach me, he'd had enough.

I had a cell — only it never had any charge. Or if it had charge, then it had no minutes remaining. And when you spend as much time faraway from the familiar and as apart as we do, this was an issue for him. (Maybe it was my post about getting lost on a run without a phone that did him in …?.). While, communicating via phone isn’t my first choice, sometimes it’s my only.

Anyway, I’m a little bent out of shape that my phone speaks more languages than I’ll ever master.

We were in France last week. Whenever we travel I’m conscious of my communication skills (or lack thereof). I like to blend as much as possible, especially when I'm travelling alone or just with the kids —not only for safety, but for experience. Unlike the stories I heard growing up, I found the French people I met quite accommodating. But in the country where many don't speak English, I had to completely rely on my friend Andy, who is fluent. I loved listening to his conversations, although I had no idea what he was saying. He could’ve been saying, “Look at my friend over there, isn’t she a silly one?”

Language barriers leave me feeling vulnerable, and I don’t like that. 

In high school I spent a lot of time at my friend’s house realizing I couldn't understand a lick of Korean. She is first-generation, and her parents who came from South Korea often spoke their native language at home, especially when her grandparents came for a visit. 

I remember a time at dinner when I was fairly certain her grandparents were making fun of me during the meal. (It could’ve been their laughter and general nods in my direction that gave me a clue.) After we left she confirmed it. They wondered how much my Amazon self could consume with their silver chop sticks, since I couldn’t keep hold of anything. (Unlike their wooden counterparts, they are slippery!).

Early in our married military life we lived in San Antonio. I worked downtown at the symphony. It wasn’t long before I felt the impact of the “merging of the Americas.” I realized I could only understand about half the conversations happening around me.

I took German through high school and college. It took too many years to put it to the test, and I now know just enough to know I don’t know enough. But I got by better there than in Normandy.

French is a voluptuous language. I loved listening to people speak around me. It seems all the words are formed in the front of your mouth, ready to burst out — all juicy and plump like a peach in summer. I began mimicking the sounds I heard, sort of like the fiction “Mockingjays” I read about in The Hunger Games.

German, in contrast, feels stuck in the back of your throat. You must almost spit out the words.

Italian is sex on a stick. Or at least that’s how I felt when I was in that country.

While English seems almost universal, it also travels around the whole of your mouth, depending on the words. And depending on where you are, it may feel like a language not your own. Have you ever heard a Scotsman speak?

Maybe it’s the simple notion of reaching someone on their own terms, that I crave.

Body language works, and I cherish the moments in life when you know you’ve come to an understanding with someone upon making eye contact. At one point over the weekend, the housekeeper came in looking for the dog (who we let in, b/c it was raining). We sized each other up, because neither of us could understand a word the other was speaking. She looked at me and said something terse. It wasn’t hard to tell she was miffed; nothing lost in translation there.

The French countryside was everything it’s cracked up to be. The vast fields of yellow rape seed you see during the Tour de France already are everywhere. Cyclists are prevalent, too. Even on the narrowest of roads, motorists seem respectful of them. This language; the culture and all its nuance,  you cannot capture in or on a screen. We went for a few runs. Everything went uphill. While the views from above are spectacular,  my legs were screaming — in English.

Each time I return from a place I’ve enjoyed, I resolve to resolve to learn more. It all begins with speech. Maybe soon I can have a conversation with my iPhone...