The Power of Positive Doing

    My heart sank when I heard Mitt Romney’s videotaped comments to a group of  wealthy campaign donors. I so wanted to believe that he’s a good, kind, spiritual man – even though I disagree with his politics. I think Jesus’ heart must have sunk, too, to hear such cold, condemning words from the lips of someone who professes to be a Christian. But apparently Romney prefers to just worship Jesus, rather than follow Him.

I understand. Every Christian knows it’s much easier to worship than follow. It’s easy to say “God bless America” – it’s hard to go into the military and put your life on the line for her. It’s easy to write checks to your church – it’s hard to extend your generosity to the thousands of people whose jobs you outsourced. It’s easy to help out friends and neighbors in times of need – it’s hard to be compassionate to the millions of needy people you don’t know personally. It’s easy to act pious in public – it’s hard to really be Christ-like when you’re hanging out with your über-rich friends behind closed doors.

What would Jesus say? I’m not a biblical scholar … but I do know that Jesus had a lot to say about the poor, hungry, and needy … and about those who seek power. Jesus tells me that I AM brother’s keeper – it is my job to help those who may have lost their way and ended up homeless, hopeless, and poverty-stricken, no matter how they got there. Jesus tells me to judge not, lest I be judged – it is my job to help others, not judge them as “victims” who refuse to take responsibility for their lives. Jesus tells me to love my neighbor as myself – and He doesn’t just mean my literal neighbors – He means everyone. Jesus tells me that the meek shall inherit the earth – it is my job to be humble, not arrogant. Jesus tells me that if I seek to lead people, I must serve them. And Jesus cautions me against personal, ego-driven ambition: “What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your soul?”

Alas, Mitt, the more you talk – in public and in private – the more we see who you really are. Makes me sad. I want to cry when I hear your cold, cruel comments. I think Jesus must be crying, too. Mitt, Mitt, oh Mitt, have you learned nothing from all your years in church?

When I was traveling in North Carolina some years ago, I noticed the marquee in front of a little white church, and its message has stuck with me ever since: “Those who deserve love least, need it the most.” So I’m trying to love you, Mitt, I’m really trying … even though you don’t seem to love the 47% of Americans who need it the most.

I love you, Mitt, because Jesus tells me to love you as my brother … but I’m praying you never make it to the White House.

On Viet Nam Moratorium Day in 1969, UCLA professor Warren H. Schmidt sat down to his morning writing. What flowed onto paper was a parable he titled “Is It Always Right to Be Right?” In it he examined the divisiveness that was tearing our country apart in the ’60s: Counterculture versus Establishment, women’s liberation movement, civil rights movement, and of course, the war in Viet Nam. Dr. Schmidt’s parable was published on the front page of the Sunday “Opinion” section of The Los Angeles Times on November 9, 1969. It was then adapted into a short film that won an Academy Award in 1971.

Today our country is once again roiling with divisiveness … it seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Dr. Schmidt and I have collaborated to edit his timeless classic about the hazards of being right. This Independence Day seems like the perfect time to ask ourselves again: “Is it always right to be right?”


There once was a land where people were always right. They knew they were right and they were proud of it. It was a land where people stated with confidence, “I am right and you are wrong.” These were words of conviction, courage, strength, and moral certainty.

No one was ever heard to say: “I might be wrong,” “Perhaps I’ve misjudged,” or “Maybe you have a point there.” For these were words of weakness, doubt, cowardice, and moral ambiguity

When differences arose between the people of this land, instead of looking for the Truth, they looked for evidence to support their positions.

When differences arose between the states, those in the Red States would say: “We are the ones who’ve made this land great. Our success is built on hard work, family values, and love of flag and country. We don’t understand you people in the Blue States — your ways seem so strange, so un-patriotic.”

These Red State people were right, of course, and they were determined to save the land they loved.

But the people in the Blue States would respond: “We look around and see a land where corporate greed is the order of the day. Looking good is more important than being good or doing good. You wrap yourself in the flag to hide your hypocrisy. You are the ones who created this mess we’re in today!”

These Blue State people were right, of course, and they were determined to save the land they loved.

And the gaps between the Red States and the Blue States grew wider and deeper.

When differences arose between people of different colors, those of one color would say: “We have worked for many years to create a land of equality for all our citizens and we have come a long way. We even have a black President! Why can’t you people stop fighting a battle you have already won and appreciate all we have given you? Ours is truly the Promised Land.”

These people were right, of course, and they knew it.

But those of other colors would reply: “The playing field is still not level and we are too often treated as second-class citizens. You vow that you value diversity, but hollow tokenism is all that we see. Your ‘Promised Land’ is really the Compromised Land! How can we be happy, with so far still to go?”

These people were right, of course, and they knew it.

And the gaps between people of different colors grew wider and deeper.

And so it went in this “Land of Rights.” Group after group defined what was right, and took a stand against those who were wrong.

It happened between those who believed the health care system was broken, and those who believed that the health care system was the best in the world.

It happened between those who believed the globe was warming, and those who believed that the climate was just fine.

It happened between those who wanted to liberate the world for democracy, and those who warned that democracy at home was in danger.

It happened between those who believed that money makes the world go around, and those who had to go around with no money.

Everyone was right, of course, and they knew it.

The many gaps grew wider and deeper – until finally one day, all activity ground to a halt. Each group stood firm in their righteousness, glaring with proud eyes at those too blind to see the Truth.

People were frightened and angry. Hysterical demonstrations erupted here and there as people grew more frustrated. Violence was a real concern … and the land grew grim and gray.

Then one day, a strange new sound was heard in the land: “Uh, maybe I was mistaken,” someone said softly.

A collective gasp of disbelief was heard in the land. Who could be saying such a crazy thing?

“Perhaps you were right, after all,” someone else said quietly.

The people looked around to see who could be uttering such nonsense.

But the two voices persisted … and after a while, some of the people began to listen. They listened with uncertainty at first – but they listened.

And as they listened anew, they began to see anew – seeing fellow human beings where they once had seen only enemies.

Here and there, people joined together to act upon their common interests. With each new joint effort, people’s trust in one another grew. They found a new faith in their ability to shape their own destiny … together.

They stated their new beliefs in a “Declaration of Interdependence” …

All people are created equal …
but each develops into a unique individual.
All people are endowed with certain inalienable rights …
but each must assume corresponding responsibilities.
For the happiness of all depends on the commitment of each
to support equality and individuality, rights and responsibilities.

In this land, people had learned how two rights can make a terrible wrong.

They saw how little courage it takes to point the finger of blame … and how much courage it takes to extend the hand of partnership.

And they realized how little wisdom there is in defending a narrow right … and how much wisdom there is in seeking a broader understanding.

Most important of all, the people of this land had learned that the quest for Truth is never over … and the challenge is always the same:

To stop fighting long enough to listen and learn from others who differ;

     to try new approaches and build new relationships;

          and to keep working at a process that never ends.


BJ Gallagher and Dr. Warren Schmidt are co-authors of the international best-seller, “A Peacock in the Land of Penguins: A Fable About Creativity and Courage” (Berrett-Koehler), now published in 23 languages.

“If you ever publish with another house, you’ll be disappointed,” literary agent Julie Hill told me. “Berrett-Koehler has spoiled you.” We were both at a cocktail party in San Francisco, celebrating the fourth anniversary of Berret-Koehler, a small publisher with a big mission: “Creating a World that Works for All.”

Sixteen years later – and after 25 books with a dozen different publishers – I discovered that Julie was right, Berrett-Koehler did “spoil” me. They treated me as a full partner in every step of the publishing process; they gave me an enormous amount of creative control; and they trusted me as an expert on both my content and my target audience. I don’t just respect my publisher – I don’t just like them – I LOVE THEM. Not many authors will say that about their publisher!

As Berrett-Koehler celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, it seems like a good time to share what I’ve learned from them … and why they are beloved by their authors, respected by other publishers, popular with book-buyers, and financially successful, even in these tough times. Here are a handful of lessons for publishers, and a few for authors, too:

1. Be up to something in the world. Build your company on a strong foundation of lofty vision, powerful mission, and compelling values. When I first discovered BK they published mostly business books and their mission was to transform the world of work through their books. Wow, who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? Most business book authors are do-gooders camouflaged in pin-stripe suits, motivated to help people and the organizations they work for. We preach the gospel of humanistic management; we want to make the workplace a kinder, gentler environment. BK’s mission is irresistible to authors like us.

2. Love your people. Almost every company spouts the same stuff about “people are our most important resource” but few actually live what they espouse. BK human resource practices are the kind that most HR types just dream about: job-sharing; working from home; flexible work schedules; excellent benefits; employee ownership through an ESOP; employees collectively decide HR and benefits policies, salary schedules, and company salary increases; transparency instead of secrecy in staff salaries..

3. Love your authors. BK has the most author-friendly contract in the book business, including an “out clause” which states that if for any reason the author is unhappy with the way their book is being handled, they can write a letter to BK asking to terminate their contract. BK then has six months to resolve the author’s concerns. If at the end of that time the author is still unhappy, the contract is terminated and all rights revert to the author. This is unheard of in publishing… and it’s brilliant. It’s a good faith guarantee, reassuring the author that BK will do everything they can to fulfill their commitment to the publishing partnership. Result? In 20 years, with over 500 authors, only one has exercised his out clause.

4. Learn from your authors. One of the best things BK does is take the time to hold an Author Day for each and every author whose work they publish. The author comes to the SF offices of BK and participates in a series of meetings all day long: editorial, marketing and public relations, design and production, special sales, and other key departments with whom the author will be interacting. Plans are made, book covers evaluated, marketing strategy mapped out, and more.

At lunchtime (this is the best part of the Author Day) all 25 people in the company gather in the conference room for lunch that has been ordered in. The author eats quickly and then conducts a one-hour workshop on the subject of their book. This gives everyone in the company an opportunity to get to know the author and to become familiar with the book’s content. It’s a wonderful way of getting everyone excited about the new book and equipping them to do great job in marketing and selling it. BONUS: It also provides high-quality training to employees and managers alike, since the company is committed to living the values their authors write about.

5. Don’t just build a company – build a community. BK goes to great lengths to involve stakeholders in all aspects of the company’s operations – soliciting input on book cover designs, book titles and subtitles; inviting subject matter experts to review manuscripts as part of the editing process; asking for feedback on the company’s mission, branding, and other issues. BK is owned by 240 of their community members, including employees, authors, customers, suppliers, service providers, and sales partners. Their annual shareholders meeting is a community gathering.

6. Let the inmates run the asylum. BK believes in participative management and the staff practice what their business book authors preach. Editorial decisions are not made by just the editorial board, but by the sales, marketing, design and production folks as well. They all participate in deciding which books to publish and it’s done by consensus. This means that sometimes publisher Steve Piersanti gets overruled by his team – even if he loves a project, it gets rejected if others don’t agree.

7. Share the risk; share the reward. BK doesn’t pay royalty advances to any of their authors, but instead offer higher royalties. This means that the author and the publisher both have a lot of skin in the game, guaranteeing that both will “work their butts off” (that’s a publishing term) to make the book successful. BK also offers an escalating royalty split, which means that the higher the sales, the larger percentage the author receives. AUTHORS: The days of big book advances are long gone, unless you’re a celebrity or mega-author already. Forget about front-end advances and focus on back-end royalties. If you believe in your book and are willing to promote it, you’ll make plenty of money.

8. Give authors lots of creative control. It is a well-known fact of human behavior that the more input a person has into the product they produce, the more invested they are in the success of that product. This is as true for authors as it for factory workers or anyone else. BK gives its authors a lot of say-so about book titles and subtitles, cover design, graphics and illustrations, layout, back cover copy, and marketing plans. One of the biggest mistakes other publishers make is in leaving the author out of the loop… sometimes alienating the author from their own book! BK never makes that mistake.

9. Authors: Be a good team player. When I was working on my first book with BK, Steve Piersanti told me that “most publishers think their authors are a nuisance.” Many authors – first-time authors in particular – have big dreams of literary success and expect their publishers to make it all happen. The truth is, your publisher has 50 books to promote in a season, or even 500 books — you have only one.

Instead of asking what your publisher can do for you, ask what you can do for your publisher: “What do you need from me?” “How can I help with marketing and promotion?” “Would you like me to write back cover copy or marketing copy for the catalog?” “How can I help you?” You and your publisher have the same goal – a successful book. Look for ways to contribute instead of complaining.

10. Authors: Collaborate with and support other authors. A number of years ago, several experienced BK authors decided to host a one-day marketing workshop for new authors. Turns out that both experienced and new authors got so much out of it that they committed to making it a yearly event. They also decided to find additional ways to support each other, so they formed the BK Authors Co-op. They host a weekend retreat once a year to network, share marketing tips, give and get feedback on new book ideas, and learn about each others’ areas of expertise. They make time for yoga, hiking, meditation, and food for the soul as well as the mind. BK authors do all this on their own – none of it is organized by the publishing house. BK authors feel a huge commitment to their publisher’s future and do all they can to contribute BK’s success, as well as each author’s success.

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BJ Gallagher has written four Berrett-Koehler books, including an international best-seller, “A Peacock in the Land of Penguins” (in 23 languages). Her newest is “Being Buddha at Work: 108 Ancient Truths on Change, Stress, Money and Success.”

Tulku Tsori Rinpoche and Kiley Jon Clark assist a homeless woman

A few months ago, I met a man named Kiley Jon Clark who teaches meditation to the homeless in San Antonio, Texas. My curiosity piqued, I asked him to tell me more about what he calls HMP Street Dharma (HMP = Homeless Meditation Practitioners).

What’s the purpose of meditation?

“In Tibetan, the word for meditation means, ‘To become familiar.’ We are trying to become familiar with ourselves – with how our minds work. It all starts with being here, in the present moment.

“It can be very unsettling when you realize just how frantic your mind really is. Just try it. Stop, sit down, stay in the present moment, and think of nothing but your own breathing. You may find, like Buddhist elders have said, that the mind is like a crazy monkey swinging from thought to thought and from past to future. Our brains do not know how to relax.”

But how can the homeless meditate if they are in a critical situation like homelessness?

“Our main aim of working with the homeless is just being with them. It is about common everyday interactions. And those who ask for meditation instruction will gladly get it.

“Like most of us, the homeless have been listening to the same negative thoughts in their heads for years. ‘I’m so stupid.’ ‘I’m such a mess.’ ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ ‘I wish I were dead.’ Everyone has this negative mental chatter going on all the time and we don’t even recognize it.

“But once the ‘monkey mind’ is revealed through meditation – once we start being present with our thoughts as the observer of them – old thought patterns get broken and things begin to change in our lives. This is as true for the homeless as it is for anyone else. Whether or not you have a roof over your head has nothing to do with quieting your mind, getting to know yourself, and being fully awake.”

What does your work entail?

“We go to the streets to the chronically homeless and also teach at a facility called ‘Haven for Hope.’ Working this way provides freedom to just be ourselves and make friends. Interestingly, this is what both Jesus and Buddha did. Although they both held services and preached, they spent the majority of their lives simply being the message of love and compassion. They lived with the poor – both Buddha and Jesus sat with, talked with, listened to, ate with, and shared the suffering and grief of the people.”

What’s your own personal story? How did you come to be doing this work?

“My story is a long one, way too much to tell here. But the short version is, I was raised in an alcoholic home and became one myself. I’ve dealt with clinical depression, divorce, death of loved ones, and jail. But, in 2006, I met a Tibetan Lama at the San Antonio Airport, of all places. His name is Lama Tulku Tsori Rinpoche and he runs a monastery for Tibetan refugee children in Mainpat, India.

“Meeting this Lama changed the whole course of my life. He has been my guiding light and inspiration.”

If you were going to be a meditation teacher, why teach the homeless? Why not upscale people who want to meditate?

“Neglect is something most children of alcoholics feel, so I think my childhood made me especially sensitive to the loneliness and suffering of others. Among other things, the homeless also suffer from personal neglect – when you have lost everything, it is easy to lose yourself, too.

“As a Buddhist, my life should reflect my beliefs. Most people’s lives are usually driven by unfulfilling desires and cravings for money, status, material goods, sensual pleasures – things we think will make us happy, but don’t. Instead, why not be completely motivated by compassion, generosity, loving-kindness, and wisdom? Can you think of a better alternative?”

Can non-Buddhists be involved in this outreach?

“If you would like to become a homeless outreach worker, Buddhist or not, feel free to contact us. We will be living, learning, and practicing together. Or, if you’d like to support our work with contributions, we gratefully accept. The need here is enormous, so we welcome your help and support.”

What about dangers you might face … any antagonism from the homeless?

“In my experience, there is very little violence among the homeless community. They often have fights among themselves, but rarely, if ever, is that violence directed at people outside their peer group.”

Can you give me an example of how meditation has helped a homeless person?

“When we were doing the meditation group inside the emergency shelter, there was a man named Dino. He was reclusive and angry when he first started coming to group. Little by little, he started opening up. He would share a little more about his life and what he was feeling every week in the group.

“After several months of these weekly meditation groups, he was a very different person. Dino told us that he would use these meditation techniques to keep his mind tranquil and calm throughout the long nights at the shelter. He often spoke about his daughter, from whom he was estranged. We gave him a Tonglen practice to help with this. It was a visualization of taking in the negative energy between him and his daughter, and releasing it back as light, love, and healing.

“One day, Dino came up and gave me a big hug. He said that he had called his daughter after years of not speaking to her. They both cried and talked for hours. She sent him a bus ticket, and as far as I know, he is living with her somewhere in Oregon.”

It’s been fascinating talking with you, Kiley. Any final words you’d like to add?

“The Tibetans have a proverb: ‘If you want to be sad, think only of yourself. If you want to be happy, think only of others.’ I would add to that my own words: ‘Better than a thousand years of bowing to The Buddha is one day lived as a BOW (Buddhist Outreach Worker).'”

If you would like to support HMP Street Dharma, go to and make a donation for ‘Homeless Meditation.’ To contact Kiley Jon Clark directly, email