Life Happens: Now What?


Just over a year ago, while I was driving home from my mother’s funeral to catch a flight for a job, I hit a tire in the middle of the highway. Rain, traffic – I couldn’t swerve, so I just hit it. A jolt, a shudder, and then my rugged little SUV recovered. It was going to be okay.

Until suddenly it wasn’t okay. The steering mechanism failed, and I hit a Kentucky mountain’s rock wall at 60 miles per hour.

In slow motion my vehicle flipped onto its side and slid back onto the highway. A thick haze of dust from the airbags had me coughing and barely able to see, but I crawled out the back of the car and sat on the side of the road to wait for the ambulance. With a dazed curiosity I surveyed a surreal landscape of rubble decorating the wet pavement: my luggage, my car battery, a concrete dove from my mother’s garden.

Later, after x-rays, I thanked God that I had survived with fairly minor injuries. The doctor had said no air travel for at least a week because of the soft tissue damage and a possible risk of developing blood clots. Sitting alone in the examination room I breathed deeply and gathered my thoughts.

I’m supposed to be in New Mexico in two days to deliver a speech to hundreds of people. Clients are counting on me. And I won’t be there. Now what?

Consider Impacts

Family soon descended on the emergency room to check on me. We found a nearby hotel to rest overnight. The doctor had advised staying close in case my leg swelled and I needed to return to the emergency room immediately.

As soon as we were settled into the hotel, I considered all the impacts for my client and grabbed my phone to call and explain what had happened.

Communicate Facts

I calmly explained about the funeral and the accident. I said I was very unhappy to have to break the news that I wouldn’t be able to do the workshop and keynote based on medical advice.

I apologized for the inconvenience a second time because I knew that this event had been a year in the making.

My client reacted with concern and compassion. She asked how I was, and assured me that she and the conference committee would work around my absence.

She expressed her condolences and said that while it was unfortunate to have to cancel, she was sure everyone would understand. Accidents happen to all of us, she said, and sometimes we have to adjust.

She expressed a hope that we could work together in the future.

Collaborate On Next Steps

Sensing that she was ready to end the call and begin to troubleshoot, I thanked her for her support and explained that I wanted to collaborate with her on next steps.

I offered to contact the travel agent to cancel the flights and hotel reservations and to pay any cancellation fees. I didn’t think they should be left with those expenses because of events outside of their control.

She thanked me for my consideration, but said that she would take care of everything and that I should just rest and get well. Before we hung up, she asked if it would be okay to touch base in a week or two to check on me. I thanked her and said I would like that.

I have advised many clients over the years on how to deal with unexpected change: Consider Impacts, Communicate Facts, and Collaborate On Next Steps.

That strategy worked wonders for me in this situation. A few months later, my client called and invited me to give a keynote at their next event.

Considering impacts, communicating facts, and collaborating on next steps helped to preserve a valuable, and mutually beneficial, business relationship.

Life happens. What matters is what you do next.

Integrity In Action

An Artist At Work

The death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman sent shock waves across the entertainment industry. Those ripples touch me too. Everyone is talking about how he lost his battle with the demon of addiction. I don’t think how someone dies should define them. So, I want to focus on his work ethic, and why I recognized him as an “actor’s actor.” I only met Hoffman through his work. I followed his career as one actor who respects the work of another.

I spent six years in the professional acting company at Arena Stage in Washington DC. It was a critical part of my professional development. It was where I learned what it means to be an artist at work.

Commitment – On a professional stage you work six days a week – eight shows a week. In any given show you may have to learn lines, dances, songs, and stage combat. If you are new – like I was in the first few years – you also have to learn those for one or more of the other lead actors, too, in case one of them gets sick. Commitment, focus, strong work ethic, and self-directed learning are crucial workplace skills if you want to be hired for the next show. I did it on stage in DC; Hoffman did it again and again to critical acclaim on Broadway.

Core Empathy – Finding the core of a character goes far beyond learning your lines. The art is in how you portray a complex human being with a heart, spiritual beliefs, vulnerability, complexity, strengths, dreams, and frustrations just by using those lines. How do you show your character’s truths through interactions with other characters, while allowing space for their truths to shine through? And how do you make the work so seamlessly simple that people forget they are watching a play or a movie, and begin to live the journey with you? No one did that better than Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

He has been described by some as a character actor – that usually means an actor with a unique look who is chosen for smaller roles. That would be in contrast to the leading man – usually known as the handsome hero type. But there are some actors, who, by the force of their talent and the scope of their roles, begin to transcend those stereotypes. In my view, Phillip Seymour Hoffman was an artist who pushed the boundaries of those perceptions.

He’s been called an actor’s actor not because he could play an everyman – (like Tom Hanks); Hoffman had a gift, a genius, to become any man completely. Some of those were a hospice attendant, a gay lovesick porn film crew member, an award winning writer, a charlatan spiritual leader, a doubted priest, a blue-collar thief, a hot-tempered career spy, to name a few. His unique talent gave him the ability to carry a movie – as he did in his role as Truman Capote.

Hoffman had the rare ability to shed light on aspects of the human condition that many actors – and many people – shy away from. He fearlessly went where other artists hesitate, or flatly refuse to go. He even bravely spoke of his challenges with addiction early in his career. That was risky considering how his brand could have been tarnished by negative press. It could have caused other artists to avoid working with him. That did not happen for Hoffman. His courage and honesty were respected. His work ethic and brilliant output spoke for themselves. “Let the work I do speak for me,” could have been his mantra.

His death was a shock. His loss will be huge for the industry. He was one of those actors who made everybody bring their best game. In fact, he was the type of team member every team needs. He was about the work first. He inspired by example. He challenged others through his commitment. He was humble, private, and respected. And he was also a complicated and flawed human being, just trying to make it in the world, too.

In my small acting universe, Hoffman was an actor’s actor – someone you can always learn from.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman will be missed by many, and I am one of them. His work as an artist deserves that we tell the whole story, not just the end.

Photo Credit: Georges Biard, WikiMedia Commons

M.E. Hart Keynotes at Social Services Conference

M.E. Hart's Identity Matters BlogIdentity Matters All The Time It shows in someone’s face when something we say attacks their sense of self. It shows in their crossed arms – unconsciously seeking to protect themselves from the edge in our voice.

People are finely tuned to the subtle message that they are welcome – or the stinging signals that say that they are not. This is especially true when someone is seeking help after being assaulted, or after years of suffering in silence because of sexual abuse or domestic violence.

This was one of the concepts explored in my opening keynote for the 2014 Culturally Specific Services Program Institute held in Washington DC from January 7th – 9th. Participants came from around the nation to learn about working across cultures.

For this conference, I used poetry and interactive exercises to help participants recognize aspects of their personal identities and to consider the different communities they identify with. I highlighted the importance of respecting the unique personal, identity, social, and cultural factors that come into play while assisting specific families in different communities.

One aspect of identity that I think should be spoken about more is when someone has worked hard to move from suffering in silence to being a silent thriver. I shared this poem with them.

Then participants got into the act creating their own “Keyword Poems” around the themes of Reflecting, Transforming, & Honoring the individuals in the communities they served.

Those communities include: African-American, Asian and Pacific Islander, Korean, Portuguese, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Native American, Spiritual & Faith, Youth Services, Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Immigrant Services, Women’s Services, Hispanic Services, Latin American Services, Crime Victims Services, and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Allies (LGBTQA) communities.

The primary sponsor for this event was the Office on Violence Against Women, United States Department of Justice. Presenting sponsors were Casa De Esperanza, The National Organization of Sisters of Color Ending Sexual Assault (SCESA), The Institute on Domestic Violence in The African American Community (IDVAAC), and The Asian & Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence (APIIDV).

It was an honor to work with this group of dedicated professionals whose work touches so many lives.

Celebrating Our Veterans

M.E. Hart and Congressional Gold Medal Native Veteran Jimmy HargroveRetired Master Gunnery Sergeant Jimmy Hargrove was one of the first African Americans to serve in the US Marine Corps.

I had the honor of meeting and talking with him recently in Virginia Beach at an event honoring both Native American History Month and Veterans Day.

In his eighties, Mr. Hargrove still has a vibrant, engaging, fighting spirit. He was celebrating his service and his Native American Heritage. His father was Cherokee. As sacred drums were played, he led an honor circle for Veterans and their families.

I attended the event to honor my Native American Ancestors, after learning a few years ago that my DNA is 20% Native American. My family doesn’t have exact information on the specific tribes, though oral history says Cherokee and possibly Seminole. I joined the honor walk to celebrate the four generations of military service by members of my family.

Jimmy – as he asked me to call him – is a brilliant storyteller. He had me spellbound talking about his surprise at arriving for his basic training in 1948 to discover that the Marines were segregated. As he said, “I had to fight two wars, segregation and the enemy.”

He spoke of his commitment to become a Marine no matter what it took. So he put up with whatever he had to throughout his 3o years of military service. Including deployments in Korea and Vietnam.

He and his fellow Marines serving at Montford Point, North Carolina were honored with the Congressional Gold Medal, the Highest Civilian Honor, in June of 2012.

It was my honor, privilege, and good fortune to have had a chance to meet and talk with this American Hero. What a great way to celebrate Veterans Day! Learn more about Jimmy Hargrove here.

M.E. Hart to speak on Helping Male Survivors of Sexual Trauma

In the aftermath of high profile cases like the Jerry Sandusky trial – which brought back into the spotlight the sexual victimization of young boys – it is critical to provide continuing education for court staff, and technical assistance service providers, to help them understand how to best serve the young men coming into the court system as victims, survivors, and witnesses of sexual trauma.

As an attorney, I spent four years at the Federal Judicial Center designing programs for federal judges and other federal court professionals; I was invited to be in the audience of the two ground breaking Oprah Winfrey shows in 2010 supporting male survivors of sexual abuse; and I have been speaking on the topic since my appearance on BET’s Our Voices over 20 years ago.

I am happy to be using these experiences and skills to provide an educational workshop on November 13, 2013 at the All Technical Assistance Provider’s Conference in Bethesda Maryland sponsored by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) – whose mission is to ensure justice for every family and every child in every court throughout the country.

One pillar in that mission is providing research, training, and technical assistance to help the nation’s courts, judges and staff administer justice in this challenging area of the law.

I consider it an honor to have the opportunity to share insights and information that can help service providers better support male survivors of sexual trauma who come into the system.

Hart Learning Group proudly supports NCJFCJ in it’s educational mission.

Positive Diversity Meetup Coming Soon

Faces of Positive Diversity

The Meetup which was planned for Thursday Nov 7 2013 about Positive Diversity has, for scheduling conflicts, been postponed. My apologies to those of you who had planned to attend – but we will reschedule and let you know the new date. The event will be at the very cool TeqCorner in McLean, and will be hosted by our friends at Positive Business DC. We look forward to seeing you in the not too distant future, when together we’ll explore new approaches to diversity with a focus on strengths and well-being.

Positive Diversity goes beyond race, gender, and ethnicity, to emphasize the work styles, passions, and shared values that we bring to the workplace. Knowing how to recognize and nurture these strengths helps us make sound choices in the hiring process, and build high performance teams.

I love reading the latest research and sniffing out relevant facts from Neuroscience and the hot new field of Positive Psychology, and I’ve got some interesting insights to share. For example, did you know that creating a work culture in which people feel comfortable talking about their strengths and differences can dramatically improve team performance and engagement?

We will want to hear your take on these issues – what has your experience shown you? What core lesson would you like to share? What challenges have you faced that we can learn from? We will need your input, so once we are back on the schedule, please join us!

In the mean time check out the great selection of books in the Professionalism & Diversity section of our website bookstore, and if you would like to know more about our training seminars and bootcamps, please drop us a line.

Oprah in the Swiss Shop

In the Summer of 2013 Oprah Winfrey traveled to Switzerland to attend the wedding of her good friend Tina Turner. In a trendy Zurich fashion shop she spotted a fancy alligator handbag on a shelf, and asked a saleslady to show it to her.

“No, the woman said, “It’s too expensive.” Oprah asked again, and was told: “No, no you don’t want to see that one, you want to see this one because that one will cost too much. You will not be able to afford that.”

Oprah told this story to Entertainment Tonight when they asked if she had experienced racism personally. The incident instantly made headlines, and arguments raced like wildfire across social networks. Was this racism, or just (as the saleslady later claimed) a simple misunderstanding?

Click on the title below to hear my take on this incident. Then check out the snippet from Entertainment Tonight. What do you think?

Oprah in the Swiss Shop

Oprah in the Swiss shop not receiving good service.
When the word race is added to the mix
The story circles the globe making everybody nervous.

Was the clerk Racist, or was she just lazy.
Either one could be the case
        motivations below the surface are always hazy.

But context always matters and events are not the same.
The March on Washington, voting rights, Trayvon
        all fueled this flame.

A movie about the past haunting the present moment
Servants in the White house in days gone by
The first black president and my-my-my

We’re so primed to see race as a motivation at every turn
Our thoughts and emotions automatically start to churn
When any incident first comes to light.

When we look through such a narrow lens
It’s hard to figure out what’s wrong and what’s right
        we’re so sensitized for every slight,
        we can’t wait to jump into any fight.

What would happen if we could step back
Or look at the situation from above?
Maybe see the people in it as similar to ourselves
        in their quest for love,
        life, liberty and maybe a little peace.

When I look at Oprah in the Swiss shop I see many things
A workplace, very bad service, and the open question:
        Was it because of the color of her skin?

We’ll never know the answer to that one
But with that level of unprofessionalism
        It’s not a place I’d want to shop in.

Rude, dismissive, disrespectful like getting a “puppy pat,”
        And nobody, nobody
        wants to be treated like that.

M.E. Hart Introduces “Poetry with a Purpose” at Violence Against Women Conference

Logo of event where M.E. Hart Speaks at Office on Violence Against Women EventI was honored to speak recently at an annual meeting sponsored by the Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women. Fund administrators from US States and Territories met in Louisville, Kentucky for updates on processes and procedures, to share best practices, and to develop strategies for shaping the future of their vitally important work. I collaborated with staff at the Alliance of Local Service Organizations (ALSO) to prepare for the event.

As the closing speaker, I helped participants explore the conference themes in a unique way: using the core elements of the conference’s themes we created Keyword Learning Poems.

Here are a couple of examples:

Reflecting groups

Transforming community

Shaping systems


Reflecting relationships

Transforming quality

Shaping capacity


This is what I call “Poetry with a Purpose.” Inspiration met practicality as we explored the real world impacts of OVW funds rippling into the lives of recipients. Their funds provide a vital lifeline for many families living through the challenges of domestic violence; they support law enforcement and community services for women and children in crisis.

Hart Learning Group is a proud community partner supporting efforts to raise awareness of the impact of domestic violence on women, children and families.


HartLG Supports 1 Billion Rising Campaign

ONE BILLION RISING began as a call to action based on the staggering statistic that 1 in 3 women on the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime. With the world population at 7 billion, this adds up to more than ONE BILLION WOMEN AND GIRLS.

On February 14 2013 businesses, activists, writers, thinkers, celebrities, and women and men across the world will express their outrage, demand change, strike, dance, and RISE in defiance of the injustices women suffer, demanding an end at last to violence against women.

We encourage our friends, men and women, to get involved in any way you feel comfortable. There are many options listed on the website at the link at the beginning of this post. For our male friends who need a simple way to get involved we suggest these two options: (1) watch, then share the “Man Prayer” with your friends and (2) attend an event and/or tweet your support at #Menrise throughout the week.