Fallen from Grace, the American Dream

When I first noticed people wearing masks, I couldn’t buy one for any amount of money. Instead I asked a friend to make me one. That was my operating procedure, to buy protection, buy insurance and buy insulation from whatever threat existed beyond the walls of my single family home with a yard. I was exercising my right as a white female Anglo American with a good job to buy my way out of harm’s way.

But when money couldn’t buy me toilet paper, disinfectant or a mask I felt helpless. My saboteur of victimhood kicked in. My vitality was wasted as I obsessed on my internal processing and brooding.

Despite having fabric, a sewing machine and a pattern from the New York Times to make a mask for myself, I wanted someone to make me one, then pay them for their effort. Outsource the problem, that’s what we do in the USA, right?

This is how my world has operated since I joined the bottom rung of the Corporate ladder at Apple in 1993. I climbed until I fell off the ladder in 2018.

Growing up in the UK in the 1970’s and 80’s the political leaders, whilst not altruistic were not entirely capitalistic either. With a “Keep Calm and Carry On” attitude, you could live in a class-ridden society under a rain cloud in relative peace and quiet.

There was, and still is, a value system in the UK that recognizes that when people need help, they will be cared for. Rich or poor, you will receive free medical help, and a roof over your head.

Growing up our Sunday roast hadn’t been sprayed with chlorine to extend the shelf life of our roast chicken. My Friday night kebab inhaled after clubbing, didn’t have growth hormones pumped into it to maximize the meat on a cow.

I have lived and breathed Corporate America’s capitalist values for 25 years. When I first arrived as an immigrant interaction designer, it was shocking the differences between what I knew and what was on offer. But I learned how the system worked and how to operate inside the rules.

The rules are, make your boss look good. Do this by solving problems that lead to profit creation. Do this consistently on a quarterly basis, and you have the keys to operating the corporate ladder.

The bigger and harder the problems you solve, the more value you generate, and the more compensation you will receive. That is, until you reach an age and level of compensation, when you are no longer valued and let go.

Living in Silicon Valley, now during Covid 19 and California wildfires, I’ve been changed by the realization that all the institutions of the US are run by capitalism. The indifference of our leader to not declare California to be in a state of emergency (he eventually did) will directly lead to more suffering and lives lost. Human lives, animal lives, the environmental life that sustains us here on earth.

Somewhere in the halls of Washington, D.C., I picture a room dedicated to keeping Lists. Lists of everything and everyone, with their dollar value written next them from most to least valuable.

Similar Lists are kept anywhere big data is used to automate the economic growth of Big Corporate. These Lists exist inside a black box of algorithmic complexity, conceived during a time of technological optimism, naivety, that I contributed to creating.

Todays’ ultimate lever of power is having control of big data and the rules that are applied to the data.

A rule we are familiar with is how engaging content is in our newsfeed. The more engaging content is, the more frequently it will be shown.

Advertisers who understand the rule of engagement, make ads for maximum impact and are rewarded with lower advertising costs. This drives ad sales and more profit for Big Corporate.

In the confusion of Covid 19, the California Wildfires, Hurricane Sally, and protests against police brutality, we rush to our news feeds to protect ourselves by buying more guns, fashionable masks and hate. This is what ‘freedom of speech’ looks like in 2020 and we are not free at all.

We suffer when we are isolated from our families, our children, our pets, our church, our place of work, our community, our coffee shops, gyms, hairdressers, bars and restaurants, and mostly our friends.

It’s not in our nature to be separate from one another. The worst thing you can do to a criminal is put them in solitary confinement. We are not only humans that do things, we are human beings.

On the West Coast of America where fires burn down entire communities, capitalism and its polarizing effect has come undone.

The developer who built your home on a hillside surrounded by trees with only one way in and out, a cost saving that cost lives. “For residents of Paradise, California fleeing the fire, the four-lane road known as Skyway, which quickly became paralyzed by traffic, a situation similar to what residents of Malibu endured along the Pacific Coast Highway, another choke point.”

When all that is left of your home is the rebar, a skeleton from a washing machine and a molten engine oozes silver metal across the scorched earth. It must have burned at over 3,500 degrees for my friend Rao’s Mercedes engine to melt like that.

We have no frame of reference for these orange eerie and oppressive skies or the ash that settles on surfaces making skin itch, lungs feel asphyxiated, eyes water, breathing wheezy, and smelling smoke on our clothes and hair.

The American Wild West is still the wildest place you will ever visit right now. Left by Washington to our own devices, the West will recover and we will be made differently from the experience.

A new generation of entrepreneurs who are growing up now and being homeschooled, will change the fortunes of this State for the better.

They are growing up in a firestorm of physical constraint, political turmoil and emotional uncertainty. They are being told by the media the COVID interruption in their schooling (known as “covid slide”) is a concern for their long term economic future and job prospects.

If you are 15 years old and hearing that you’ve been written off the value list before you even left school, how would you feel? Dismayed? Appalled? Mad as hell?

This new generation will reject the values of self-interest, violence toward others, and me first ways.

They won’t accept the rhetoric of racial, political and economic division. They will create new Lists, make new rules for big data to run on informed by new priorities.

  • Where people of all colors, religions and cultures have the right to live equally “transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice”.
  • Where environmentally sustainable work is what defines who we are and what we do.
  • Where a living wage includes money for food, healthcare, education, transport, vacation and entertainment, and is available for every family.
  • Where food hasn’t been chemically enhanced and water is free from contamination for everyone.
  • Where rewards come from the sweet carrot of acknowledgement from others, and not the stick, tazor or knee on the neck as you are pinned to the curb suffocating.
  • Where love or country and love of community, love of family, and self love are what we do and who we are.

Love, not fear, will prevail.

Sally Grisedale is a former product design executive with Apple, Yahoo! and Facebook, she runs Clear Channel, a coaching consultancy based in Silicon Valley, California. She is an expert at taking high-achievers take their careers to the next level of success.

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Sally Grisedale

Sally Grisedale

Sally is a leadership coach supporting creative thinkers and extraordinary leaders to expand their leadership skills for high impact results.