Grand Slam Journey

22. Tiziana Casciaro: Power, for All: How It Really Works and Why It's Everyone's Business, Part 1 of 2

February 07, 2023 Season 2
Grand Slam Journey
22. Tiziana Casciaro: Power, for All: How It Really Works and Why It's Everyone's Business, Part 1 of 2
Show Notes Transcript

Tiziana Casciaro is a Professor of Organizational Behavior and the Marcel Desautels in Integrative Thinking at the Rotman School of Management of the University of Toronto. Her research on organizational networks, professional networking, power dynamics, and change leadership has appeared in top academic journals in management, psychology, and sociology and has received scientific achievement awards from the Academy of Management. Thinkers 50 has recognized Tiziana as one of the thirty thinkers most likely to shape the future of how organizations are managed and led. Her research has been featured in the Economist, the Financial Times, the Washington Post, the New York Times, CNN, CBC, Fortune, and TIME magazine. She is the co-author of the book Power, for All: How it Really Works and Why It Is Everyone’s Business (Simon & Schuster, 2021) that received the 2022 George R. Terry Award, granted annually by the Academy of Management to the book judged to have made the most outstanding contribution to the global advancement of management knowledge during the previous two years. Originally from Italy, Tiziana received her B.A. in Business Administration from Bocconi University in Milan and her M.S. and Ph.D. in Organization Science and Sociology from Carnegie Mellon University. Before joining the University of Toronto, she served on the faculty of the Harvard Business School.

This is Part 1 of 2 of my conversation with Tiziana Casciaro. I decided to split this episode into two, so you can digest it easier.

This episode discusses:

  1. The Book Power, for All: How It Really Works and Why It's Everyone's Business, you can find it in Apple Books, Barnes&Noble, or Amazon
  2. Tiziana's path to academia and focus on organizational networks, power dynamics, and change leadership
  3. The process behind writing the book
  4. Definition of Power, what it is and what isn't power, why power for all, misconceptions about power
  5.  Safety, Self-esteem, respect, societal and organizational structures, and power dynamics

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Klara: So we naturally dove into some of the topics and dynamics of sports, but before we go any deeper, Tiziana, I wanna thank you again for being on the podcast, and please introduce yourself to our listeners.

Tiziana: Sure. So my name is Tiziana. I'm from Italy originally. That's where I grew up and developed. And I've taken a path toward North America. When I was in my mid-twenties, I left Milan to go to Carnegie Mellon University, where I was lucky enough to be in a Ph.D. program that was a super interdisciplinary social science program where every social science was contributing to helping us students.

Look at the world and tackle some questions that are important and complicated and have many perspectives to tackle those questions from. And after that, I got a job at Harvard University at Harvard Business School, where I applied some of these ideas to the world of business. And but really, more broadly, how do we manage organizations where we spend so much of our time and so many of our efforts require us to come together in organized forms to achieve something collectively?

And those organizations are very complex and sometimes functional, sometimes dysfunctional. And I was curious to understand what makes them one or the other. And through that understanding, maybe help people achieve things that they care about and maybe come together in ways that are productive for everyone.

So that was my initial kind of impetus towards studying these things. And then I moved to Toronto now 15 years ago. I've been in this really interesting city for 15 years and have joined all it has to offer. And here, I've continued to develop these interests, including primary interests in power and how power helps people achieve what they have at heart.

And doesn't necessarily just have to be seen through a lens of deviousness and manipulation, which is often how people understand power. It has a better rap. And part of my mission recently has been to show people that power is energy and energy can be used for good things or bad things.

It's up to you. It's up to us. And my purpose is to empower in the best sense of the word. If you have something that you want to accomplish that you think is valuable, will you have the tools? Will you have the approach? Will you have the perspective, and the capabilities, to pull it off? And so many people don't.

And I wanted, with my co-author, the wonderful Julie bat. I wanted to support folks that have good aims, have productive and uplifting, and energizing goals, and equip them with what they need to get there.

Klara: I love it. That's a fantastic introduction, and I do have to say when I was reading your book, and obviously you and Julie's book, you both wrote it together, I really felt empowered. There was if I had to summarize the feeling after it, that was how I felt in a way that we all have our own power. We don't often realize it.

Perhaps sometimes we have to sit with ourselves or others to really point out the power that we own. But when we do, we actually always have choices. And I think sometimes even the simplest of power is to walk away. And so there can be power in that alone, but I love that.

Tiziana: That's right. No, it's music to my ears. I'm glad to hear you say this because you are the perfect person to appreciate what this book can do for you. You have many accomplishments in your life and but many new goals and new things you want to pursue, and realize what resources you can count on, and even if you cannot count on them right now, how to get there, how to access things of value that you can then put to use right toward your ambitions.

That's essential to all of us. And to hear an athlete of your caliber feels this way, now that you have kind of tradition to many other interests and many other endeavors, makes me very happy. And I'm sure it will make you leave very happy too if she hears it.

Klara: Yes. Thank you. Before we dive too deep into this, I have so many questions and am so curious about what you wrote in your opinions; I'm always curious about what drove people to the passion or journey that they followed? Curious; what drove you to academia? This research. Is there a specific person who influenced you, or how did you uncover that this will be your career and point of interest?

Tiziana: Oh yeah. I'm glad you asked because I talk to people that are in the phase of life where they're making such decisions all the time. And sometimes, I see that they are a little concerned that they don't have total clarity about what they wanna do, and they feel inferior or somehow handicapped compared.

Folks that have such an overwhelming passion that they know exactly what they wanna do, and off they go, and they pursue it with gusto, and everything is wonderful. I was not the kind that knew exactly what I was gonna do at all. I ended up going to Boone University, which is an Economics and Management University in Milan. Excellent place, wonderful place. But before going there, I contemplated so many different pathways that I could have taken after high school. Really anything from studying East Asian languages, therefore some reason, fascinated me to all the way to studying industrial chemistry, which was also fascinating to me.

So I, I really was all over the place, and it took just trying out. What life could be like if I went down those paths to realize that some things did not feel right; they didn't feel completely appropriate for me. But the advice I give to people that face this kind of indecision, as I did at that time, is to put yourself as close as possible to a situation where you can picture yourself in that world.

And when I was contemplating East Asian languages, for instance, I traveled to Venice, where one of the best places where you can study East-Asian languages is, and I talked to some of the people there, faculty students, and I imagined what it would feel like to be there with them and actually do that.

And that gave me a visceral reaction. It wasn't for me. At the end of the day, I could not really get excited when I tried to steep myself in that environment. So that is pretty much what happened. I explored options, and this idea of being in a school that was more focused on the social sciences did something for me.

I enjoy understanding human behavior. I find it endlessly complex and wonderful to sort out. And when I started to look at those subjects, they resonated. Then, something happened that was true to my deeper interests. And to this day, I don't regret for one second what I chose to do, even though I fell into it except for some.

A purposeful search that I did to try and get myself as close as possible to what life would be like if I went down that path. And that's very revealing to most people. It's what a wonderful theorist in my field, Carl White, calls enactment. You are not gonna know what you wanna do until you take action.

You go there, you swing the bat, and then you get a reaction right from what you are interacting with. And that reaction gives you information about how you feel in that context. And that's when you realize. Where your interests really are. And it was a bit of a discovery for me, but what I can give to your listeners and reassure them is that you don't have to know exactly who you are, who you wanna be, and be able to answer the question.

Ten years from now, what version of Klara you wanna have in your head? I don't know. I'm looking. I am looking; I am; I'm experimenting. I am trying things out, and I'm learning from the information I've received from those attempts what really interests me. And so that's how I got to the, to, to studying these things.

I thought I would be a consultant. I thought I would go to a place like McKinsey and practice management strategy, those things. But then, the more I delved into the research on human behavior basically, and organizations in particular, I just got hooked, and I thought that was too important for most of us to understand because we do work and live with each other in organized forms, in groups families, communities in all of those social aggregations of people are so important to us for everything we wanna do, whether it's a professional goal or a personal goal.

To me, shedding light on how people interact with each other is a secret to a lot of our happiness. And ultimately, that's what I would like to add a little bit to the world if I can. The, ultimately it would be nice if all of us had the tools and the perspective, and the self-view.

That allows us to add a little happiness to the world. And that can take many forms. But each one of us has an obligation to try and find the form that works for us. And mine is to study and understand how people are driven to behave in certain ways for better or worse. There are reasons that lead people to wage war or make peace destroy, or build.

There are reasons, and that's what I like to uncover in hopes of building more on the positive side than on the.

Klara: Wow, that's beautiful. I got so many thoughts. I feel like this topic we can talk about this for hours.

Tiziana: Then your listeners will yell at you: Clara, calm down. You cannot do a five-hour podcast.

Klara: No, seriously, I think that's the risk here. But agree with everything you said, and I hundred percent resonate. And also, I think being an athlete, I have to say I've been fortunate that the sport grabbed me, and I had a very linear path. Once you start, it builds up a little bit, like what you said, one after another. When you're little, you don't really think that's what you're going to be doing competitively and dedicating your whole life to, but after it ends, then you have to rediscover, right? You, for one reason or another, didn't make it. Or you almost have to reinvent yourself and figure out the next thing.

And I think that has been a journey of what I call my second career after that point alone. But Going back to just the power and curious, like how you actually shared a little bit your interests, but how did you and Jullie land it into, we need to write a book about power.

It's going to be Power for All. What was the creative process like, and even how did you decide to write it?

Tiziana: Yes. It wasn't obvious because we operate in a part of academia where we mostly write articles in academic journals. Not everybody writes a book, but we have taught about power and influence to our students for many years, and we have encountered so many people with wonderful ideas and great ambitious goals that literally make the world a better place. In particular works with social change makers, people that really activists, and people that truly want to tackle hard problems that make life really difficult for a lot of people and pour their heart into these things.

I encounter a lot of middle managers, executives young MBAs who would like to really make a contribution but sometimes feel very constrained, almost feel confused by the dynamics around them. They cannot understand why it is that something that on paper is such a good idea doesn't go anywhere, and does not get realized because others around you don't like it, don't want it, or don't like you.

Have other ambitions, other goals that are not compatible with yours, at least at first sight. And there are all of these pressures that make it difficult for people to accomplish what we thought were wonderful goals. And so the first impetus for writing the book was to crystallize in one place all the factors that can contribute to making you capable of accomplishing what you have at heart.

And the factors range greatly from you as a person, your own confidence, development, capacity for empathy, all of the things that make you effective, all the way to very big dynamics. We can be geopolitical, can be economic, can be global, can be structural, And overlay over our own personal behavior.

You have to understand all of these things together. Otherwise, you're never gonna be able to navigate your own personal power. Your personal power is always situated in the big picture, and if you don't understand how the two relate, how you develop as a person, and how that is completely intertwined with the context in which you were raised, where you are at this point in time and how that big microdynamics shapes our behavior greatly, you're not gonna be able to navigate power well.

So we thought, okay, let's write this book, tackle all of these things. And initially, we thought we would do that primarily for people who don't have the power they need to accomplish good things. But then, as we were writing it, it became very clear that we also needed to write for people who do have power and have forgotten or never learned.

How to use it because power does have a dark side. There is no question about it. There is a reason why it has a bad reputation because it can be corrupting, and the people who have experienced and are experiencing a powerful role in their lives can easily fall into behaviors that are quite detrimental.

So we realized that we had also to write for those people to maybe give them, in modest ways, a bit of power education. What are you u what are you gonna use it for? Why are you so needy of it? What goes on in yourself and in your context that makes you so incapable of detaching yourself from the lure of power?

Those are things that are very different from empowering a young person who wants to accomplish wonderful things for the world and their community and their organization to [00:29:00] master the resources they need to get stuff done. It's a very different proposition, but they're both anchored in the same fundamentals of power, basically. And we tried in our book to explain them in a way that people could relate to through stories of folks in very different circumstances, but all facing very typical dilemmas. Constraining circumstances and somehow finding a way out, finding a way forward, hopefully, will equip people with what they need to transform their own lives in the same way.

Klara: Yeah. Thank you. Before we dive into just conversation and other things, is there anything you want to introduce to listeners that would be helpful? Like power 101 to anchor the conversation, as maybe not everyone may have read the book. I hope this conversation will inspire them to read it. But before we dive into other dynamics, anything you wanna start off with, what are the basics of power that people should know about?

Tiziana: Yeah. It's a good question because power can be defined in many different ways. So let's narrow it down. We think of power as the capacity to influence the behavior of others. So you have power over somebody if they depend on you for something that they want, something that they value.

And when I say depend on you, I mean that they access something they value through you, and they don't have many alternatives to you in the sense you control their access to something of value. So that is where power comes from in any relationship. It's the control over resources of value. So the first thing you have to understand when you're trying to interact with somebody in a power relationship is to understand what they want.

understand what they need, understand what they have at heart because those are the resources that, if you secure control over them, you will be able to influence the behavior of the person in front of you. Now, this influence can take many forms. It can be perfectly benign. Where I have something that you want, and because of this PO potential for exchange and contribution, you end up going along with my initiative, my project, because you value it, right?

So that there, it is purely a persuasion process where you see value in interacting with me and making an exchange of resources with me. But the relationship can also be coercive. Potentially. I have something you want, and I can dangle this resource as a way to push you into doing something that you wouldn't do otherwise.

So it can take. Positive and negative forms, but the underlying dynamic is always one in which I have to understand what you value, how you're gonna get access to it and vice versa. You have to understand what I value and figure out ways to get access to it. And that can help us negotiate, in a sense, a power relationship that doesn't have to lead to anybody being abused by it.

We could potentially both find it beneficial. So one thing that is a misconception around power that maybe we need to clear for people listening is that we tend to think of power as a win-lose proposition wherein if you end up having power over me, I automatically lose power over you. But that's not how power works because it's always bidirectional.

It's you and me in an interaction. And it could very well be that I have some power over you, but you also have power over me. Take this particular circumstance in which we are in now; you have a valued resource. You have a podcast with listeners who might be interested in checking out this book that I wrote with so much passion and so much hard for people to read it.

So you are giving me something valuable at this moment. And I depend on you somewhat because, yes, there are other podcasts, but yours is one that resonates with me particularly because of your experience, because of your past, because of your background, and what you're doing now. Does it mean that I am completely dependent on you, and I have to prorate myself before you because you have power over me in the circumstance?

Not at all, because I have some power over you as well. You need good content for your podcast. And let's presume for a second that I can offer it, and so here we are. We are, as we describe, mutually dependent, and this mutual dependence can be very productive for people. In fact, it can be more productive than a situation of power imbalance, right?

When you have way more power over me than I have over you, in that case, the dependency is really skewed to my disadvantage. And what we discover through the research in these domains is that when you have such big asymmetry, the probability that the very powerful person will abuse their power position increases a lot.

So you find that. Indeed, you have to understand power as situated in a relationship. It's never absolute; it's always relative to somebody else. And you have to understand it as a potential win-win proposition. Not only a win-lose, such that if we are both kinds of having some interest in the resources that the other person can offer, we can also together accomplish something better and bigger than if I let you run away with your power and use it to squash me and squeeze me like a lemon.

That is often. Productive for you in the short term, but in the long run, it can become very detrimental. So those are the fundamentals that you have to really grasp because otherwise, you end up falling into some of the big misconceptions about power; one of them is that power is a dirty game. You should stay away from it because it's yucky.

Only corrupt people who are power hungry and we have this association of power as something bad. It doesn't have to be. Because if you think of it as a mutually beneficial exchange of resources, then power becomes a wonderful thing potentially. But we don't see it necessarily that way because we conceive of it as a win-lose proposition.

And the other component that people could benefit from understanding is that power is never absolute. You and I right now have some degree of mutual dependence because we have encountered each other. We have decided to come together today and have this conversation. Right now. We need each other to make this a nice, productive exchange.

But if we had not come into contact with each other, we would not need each other. And you would have no power over me. I would have no power over you. We are only relative to this moment in this relationship. I can consider myself to have a little bit of influence over you, and you can consider yourself having a little bit of influence over me.

But outside of this moment, things can change radically. People are better off abandoning the idea that somebody's powerful in general and really understanding that power is super relative. It's driven by the context, and it can change; therefore, you can change it. Even when you start in a position of dependence and disadvantage, there are always things you can do to rebalance the power in that relationship, and that's where your empowerment comes from.

That there's a possibility there are strategies you can adopt to make your situation better and face the counterpart in that relationship on better ground.

Klara:  How do you see related power and respect? 

Tiziana: To be held in high esteem by others as well as have self-esteem. So ultimately, when we think about what it is that the person in front of us wants, and therefore how can I deliver it so that if I deliver it, they're gonna be dependent on me to get access to something of value to them.

And then, at the most basic level, there are two things that people want. All of us, there's no exception. We want safety so as to be protected from harm. And this is not hard to understand. When you look around the world and see the violence and the threats, the whether we are talking about war or we're talking about a pandemic, there's always danger lurking in the life of humans on this earth.

So, it's no wonder that down deep inside, one thing that you can get me to influence you for is when I can protect you, when I can give you a sense of safety, you will want to exchange with me because I you something fundamental. The second one that relates to your question about respect is esteem and self-esteem.

It is the idea that we all need to feel that we are worth something, that we matter for something, and that we are not just one of 8 billion people. Crawling on the earth with no consequence, with no reason for being. We want to feel valuable, and anybody who can make you feel valuable will have potential influence over you because you are very interested in increasing the sense that you are respected and valued by others because then you feel that you are worth something, and people give you a degree of importance.

Think of you as somebody who matters, and that's where respect comes into play. You can gain respect. Through many things, behaviors that people can see as morally upright behavior that people can see as competent. When you succeed, you achieve something that is actually hard to do, which can lead people to respect you and see you as valuable.

But, interestingly, gaining your respect is potentially giving you some strength in your position because you are seen as somebody who has valuable resources. You're very competent; you have high achievement; you are a virtuous person that has moral authority. Those things can make you look powerful.

But remember, You are also dependent on me to give you this respect, right? So anybody whose respect you value you depend on a little bit because you are so eager for them to give you this resource, which is their appreciation for you, that you will do many things to please. So this is true for our relationship with our parents, where you want them to appreciate you as a child, and when they withdraw their appreciation, when they withdraw their support of you, you feel it as a child.

Sometimes the scars that are left in your psyche when that relationship goes wrong and you don't get the sense of respect and appreciation, and value from your parents can stay with you for a really long time. So you see that it goes both ways, right? If you are a person deserving of respect, you may have some level of status in a context and, therefore, some level of influence.

But at the same time, you're also dependent on everybody else around you to confer respect onto you. And so it's both. You are both dependent and powerful at the same time.

Klara: You beautifully described it. What I would say, almost some of the ideal dynamics, what I ponder about is if we actually sometimes give respect to others too freely and especially in hierarchies, in my view. And I'm actually wondering if this is something you and Jullie have observed even through your studies and as you teach and lecture about power to thousands of people, obviously.

I sometimes find that when we look up, and we think about who's up top on the hierarchy, and we think about, oh, this person is successful we should in some ways, I don't know if I can use the word trust, but trust and respect them without validating enough, we're actually giving power. A way too soon without proper validation of who that person is.

Because I sometimes think that we tend to attribute success. Let's take Trump, for example, as a narcissistic type of person; I think nobody would disagree with that at this point. Definition. But there's this view of, oh, he has been a successful businessman, and this automatic contribution, why wouldn't he be a great president?

Although if looking at people's lives and what they were dealt with, I think it's very questionable whether he's really been debt successful in business, as some people would claim. Yeah. So I wonder, it's like, how do you look at respect? And in my view, even from my own experience, I actually have.

I think, personally, I have given respect too feely. So now, as I grow through life, I actually do extra validation - is this person, no matter what rank they are worthy of my respect? Should I respect them, or should I walk away? What is the respect dynamic?

Tiziana: You capture something very important. That is a way in which we misunderstand power. Oftentimes we tend to extrapolate from some signal that somebody is powerful to other domains in which they may not be. Take the business. Who claims to have done absolutely fabulous when it comes to making a lot of money, and we easily fall into the trap of thinking that kind of power.

Let's assume for a second that it is true that there is a success as a business person. That kind of [00:46:00] power translates into other domains. And if you did well in your life in that particular domain, you're gonna be able to do well in another. And that is absolutely incorrect because every time you are capable of exercising influence, you are capable of that influence in that context with the things you know and understand.

So suppose you are, in fact, a skilled business person. You understand the logical business; you understand how the industry in which work operates, and you understand the players in that industry. You have a network of important contacts in that industry. Those are the things that actually make you successful.

Those are resources that accrue to you by virtue of being really well situated in that context. But if I put you in the political arena or I put you in a humanitarian endeavor, If I put you in a sports endeavor, you may not have any of those resources that have made you powerful in the context where you an achieved.

So our misconception here is to think that we can equate context when in fact, power is always relative to that environment. So number one, in answer to your question, yes, we should not give the benefit of competence and achievement and success to people just because they succeeded in one environment, and then you can assume that they're gonna be powerful in another.

That's number one. The second one is a deeper question that I really appreciate your asking. Sometimes they don't deserve respect at all. They have not in fact, done anything that. It really should not warrant you putting yourself in a kind of subordinate position in this hierarchy. And so understanding where their power came from can give you the elements you need to decide whether they're worthy of your esteem.
What allowed that person to gain the position of influence in the first place? And you cannot answer the question until you understand basic power dynamics, which is what we try to do in this book so that you are equipped to analyze the situation and go, okay, I can trace your success in your position to the element it and nothing to do with you.

They're just contextual. Being born in a certain family and being raised with certain opportunities may be behaving in ways that are morally reprehensible along the way that gave you access to resources but are not something deserving of his team really. So that is something that requires you to understand where the power came from in the first place.

That may really shift your judgment of this person. I don't know if that is what you were thinking about, but the other component of it is more of a psychological part that we need safety. And we need to feel good about ourselves so badly that when we identify somebody as powerful, we tend to bow down to them and hope that they will use their power to protect us and make us feel good about ourselves. This is something politicians do all the time where they appeal to people by saying, I and only I; sometimes they would say, I'm the one who will protect you from all these other people that are taking stuff away from you, from all these groups that are interfering with your prosperity and your wellbeing.

And by the way, I am gonna be the one who will restore your righteous place on top of the hierarchy of our society because your group is better than these other people. Will restore it where it belongs and put the other people who are in your way and are taking stuff away from you. This is the win-lose logical power that is used all the time to give people what they ultimately want, which is protection from risk, uncertainty, harm, and a sense.

They are people of value. And politician does it sometimes very well. Unfortunately, it's a very effective way of influencing people to bow down to you. And so you have these folks that. With the lure of this protection and restoration of their superiority or maintenance of their superiority in the social hierarchy, they will give this leader a lot of leeways, and they will fall on them kind of blindly because they want those two resources so badly that they want to believe what this politician is telling them, what this leader is telling them.

And then you become very critical, right? Just because your needs are shaping your perceptions and your capacity for critical thinking, that's the problem. That's why when I hear you say, I've learned that I shouldn't confer respect. To people. Easily, I have to be a little more thoughtful about it.

Do they really deserve it? You are doing the work that everybody should do to be critical of claims that these people make about deserving their role, deserving that power, and their intention to use it to favor us. They're often not true. It's just words that are well placed with the right audience to make them feel a sense of possibility for themselves, when in fact, sometimes these readers are out to support themselves.

Only not these poor gullible people that believe what they're saying. Contrast this with the leader who says; I can provide this deep sense of value, not by helping you put other people down to feel better about yourself. , which is the kind of twisted negative way of doing things. But I will make you feel valuable by showing you the wonderful things you're capable of.

We can matter to this world because we are good people. We are generous people; we are creative people. We are innovative people that pursue big goals. Remember Jack Kennedy and the Moonshot back in the sixties? It was really making Americans feel special. By saying, we are not gonna do this because it's easy.

We're gonna do this because it's hard. And we are special people. American are special people. We don't let anything stop us. We shall reach the moon, and we'll be the first to get there because we have these capabilities that are wonderful and beautiful and unique, and we can accomplish fantastic things that I'm lifted up, not necessarily in opposition to some group that is there to be my enemy and my inferior, but because I am special and you are lifting me to this higher level of, so to speak.

So both methods work very well. Both might lead people to confer respect to these people. But that they're based on very different things, and I applaud anyone who is a little more critical about how these folks arrive at those positions of power and how they're using them. That's the thing that we need to be very careful about.

What is the user's power for? Is it a completely selfish exercise? Are they in it for just themselves, or do they really mean at least a part of what they say when they say that they want to lift other people up too? They want to allow people to be the best version of themselves. They're very different ways, and it's often a mix of the two, right?

No, no leader is perfect, perfectly altruistic, and perfectly oriented toward making the world a better place. Nobody is completely perfect that way, and nobody's completely evil. Even though sometimes we, some people, end up deciding actually maybe that is, that really is completely evil.

But there's always something for us to analyze that allows us to pay respect to people who might deserve it a little bit more than others.