girlI’ve worked with a lot of women over the years – some were my bosses; others co-workers and some worked for me. Generally, I had good working relationships – to the point that I would often be the recipient of discourses on many topics that left me wanting to apologize for half the human race. Since listening didn’t cost me much I didn’t mind if it helped them feel better. But I recently overheard a conversation between two 10-year old girls that left me troubled.  Because I don’t have an explanation.

It seems that they were discussing why it is that boys get rewarded for participating in games where the objective is to hurt people when they have been told that hurting people is bad. I quickly realized they were talking about football as they continued the discussion. And then one of them said, “You know that men are paid a million dollars for each game!” And the question that was the real crux of the matter, “How is it right to pay people to hurt other people for fun?”

As an adult, we live in a world that is full of contradictions but we manage to find rationalizations that allow us to function at a reasonable level. Usually it is by burying the contradictions and ignoring them. But not always. It is then at we are faced with the real moral question of what we are. And the most often practice is to compromise when it happens.  What a great explanation!

Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of a great arc of history leading to more equality and justice. The concept of slavery is now universally outlawed even though it’s still practiced. You no longer have to be a white property owner in order to vote. And we are discussing why women, on average, earn 88 cents to every dollar that men make instead of whether women should have the vote. King’s arc of history is real but the change is slow because the way forward is usually via compromise.

I heard a joke in my youth about a mathematician and an engineer dating a young woman who had one rule – her date had to start three feet away from her and could decrease the distance by half with each succeeding date. The mathematician quit because he knew that no matter how many times you divide the distance there’s always a distance left. The engineer immediately started dating because he knew he’d get close enough.

But the question of close enough is a tough one to explain to a 10-year old girl. She’s trying to figure out the rules that govern our lives – and what she’s seeing and hearing is that boys are better than girls – and she doesn’t understand how that can be.  What a great explanation!

I was faced with this issue when my older son joined Cub Scouts – a great organization for young boys – no question. But his younger sister, who was in Brownies, saw the difference in what her brother was being given the opportunity to do and what she was being given – and she wanted what her brother had – she could do that stuff as well, if not better than, he could! Today, she’s a leader of young women and she makes sure that they have opportunities that are just as good as the young men. The change comes slow.

I’m not trying to change society – but I will do my best to make sure that all that I interact with – boy, girl, white, black, red, yellow or polka dot – are treated appropriately. At least, close enough for an explanation for 10-year old girl.

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.