The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates
1. Early in her work in philanthropy, Melinda confesses that she became overwhelmed by it all and was ready to quit. When has saying "I quit" let you to accept a deeper commitment? ("I suspect most of us, at one time or another, say "I quit." And we often find that "quitting" is just a painful step on the way to a deeper commitment." 24)
2. "Wisdom isn't about accumulating more facts; it's about understanding big truths in a deeper way...What do you know now in a deeper way than you knew it before?" (27)
3. At the end of her book, Melinda provides a resource guide of organizations that work to empower women and children. What groups would you add to this list?
4. "American billionaires giving away money will mess everything up!" (30) Do you agree or disagree -- where do you fall on that scale? Has this book changed your views? (Also see p.171.)
5. "Saving lives starts with bringing everyone in. Our societies will be healthiest when they have no outsiders." (53) What would it look like in your community to "bring everyone in" -- including children in discussion, saying hi to neighbors, greeting the homeless...?
6. "It's not enough to help outsiders fight their way in-- the real triumph will come when we no longer push anyone out." (53) How does 'fighting their way in' look different from 'no longer pushing anyone out'?
7. "No matter what views others may have, I am the one who has to answer for my actions, and this is my answer." (74) What do you make of Melinda's tone throughout the book? How does she strike a balance of firm, yet humble (and vulnerable)?
8. "There will never be a system that captures everything, so there will never be a substitute for hearing women's stories. But we have to keep working to get better data so we can understand the lives of the people we serve." (77) What is the role of data versus stories? How do you feel about the balance of data and anecdotes in this book?
9. "Sometimes the best thing a mother can do for her children is not have another child." (78) Melinda sets this sentence apart so we can process it. How do you react?
10. "I've come to learn that stigma is always an effort to suppress someone's voice. It forces people to hide in shame. The best way to fight back is to speak up -- to say openly the very thing that others stigmatize. It's a direct attack on the self-censorship that stigma needs to survive." (79) How have you seen this play out in your own lives and your own culture?
11. Reading Melinda's description of tenuous policy in the USA, how shocking is the precarious state of progress? (see p. 84-88)
12. Regarding 10-year-old Sona's request to have a teacher, Melinda makes it sound simple enough to talk to the government and make it happen. How much hard work and red tape is involved in this work really?
13. How do you feel Melinda balances the stories from the USA with those around the globe? Are the sides lopsided? Are we really so different from each other?
14. Remember Vicki's story about growing up in rural Kentucky and her stepdad threatening to disown her for going to college. How do you react to Melinda's observation that "as they see it, their culture doesn't hold people back; it holds people together. In their eyes, pursuing excellence can look like disowning your people”? (97)
15. What do you make of her statements regarding the importance of love? "The first defense against a culture that hates you is a person who loves you." and "Only love can safely handle power." (113) What does that look like in practice?
16. Melinda writes, "If there is any meaning in life greater than connecting with other human beings, I haven't found it." (119) Do you agree or disagree? What do you find meaningful?
17. "According to MenCare, stay-at-home dads show the same brain-hormone changes as stay-at-home moms, which suggests that the idea that mothers are biologically more suited to take care of kids isn't necessarily true." (130) What are these hormone changes? Anything like insanity?
18. Melinda enters very private, sensitive conversations. Indeed, what gives her the right to get involved? (see p. 171)
19. What do you make of the writing style and organization of this book? Where did you want more or less of Melinda's personal story?
20. What do you make of Charlotte's critique of the culture -- "It's not okay for women to cry at work, but it's okay for men to YELL at work. Which is the more mature emotional response?" (211-212)
21. Melinda talks about how her faith influences her work. How did you react to this, given your religious or non-religious background? (see p.73 and p.212-3 and elsewhere)
22. What do you make of her assertion that tech will decide how we live, therefore necessitating contributions of a diverse group of people? (see Joy's work on facial analysis software, page 228)
23. What do you make of the study that found gender diversity good for results? "...collective intelligence of a workgroup is correlated to three factors: the average social sensitivity of the group members, the group's ability to take turns contributing, and the proportion of females in the group...Gender diversity is not just good for women; it's good for anyone who wants results." (229)
24. What do you make of the data that the USA is one of only 7 countries that does not provide paid maternity leave? (see p.237)
25. What do you make of her take on successful social movements, asserting that they are driven by "strong activism and the ability to take pain without passing it on." (256) She adds that "the most radical approach to resistance is acceptance -- and acceptance does not mean accepting the world as it is. It means accepting our pain as it is." (259)
26. Do you share her belief in the power of women's groups? "I believe women's groups are essential for each of us individually but also for society generally -- because progress depends on inclusion, and inclusion begins with women...This is not about bringing women in and leaving others out. It's about bringing women in as a way to bring everyone in." (261-2)
27. Melinda claims "the supreme goal for humanity is not equality but connection." (263) Do you agree or disagree? Could humanity have a supreme goal?
Thanks so much for coming out to discuss The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates. We were a smaller group but managed to have a spirited conversation about this one!
I personally identified with Melinda Gates so much (aside from her billions of dollars and apparently incredible help with childcare) that when I finished it I found myself hoping for the same kind of closeness and longevity that she has found through her women's groups (spiritual group, jogging group, coworkers). Also similar to her, looking out to the world causes me to reflect on what kind of change I want to see in myself and in my own community.
Critics and book club members alike wished at times for more of a memoir from Ms. Gates, when, to me, it seemed her goal was to present situations where empowering women led to stronger relationships and communities. She could have co-written this book with one of the workers on the ground in India (as some suggested would have been more interesting) in order to hear more about the process of the work, and yet, while that would have been a valuable message, I wonder if her structure as is opens doors to a greater opportunity: As Ms. Gates learned these lessons from her foundation's work, she was convicted to turn inward and examine gender equality in her own marriage, in her own workplace. And I felt her invitation to us, to seek connection and equality in our own lives.
Ms. Gates is a philanthropist, a software engineer, a businesswoman. But she has an incredibly hard time expressing herself, which is perhaps one reason why we don't hear more personal reflection and anecdotes.
But she put herself out there, and I am glad she did. Ms. Gates seemed influenced by Brene Brown who she describes as "a genius in stating big truths with few words" (231). I was fortunate to be rereading Daring Greatly for a book group at church while reading The Moment of Lift, so Brown's definitions were fresh in my mind. And I think Ms. Gates dared greatly, despite not being a writer or being comfortable with vulnerability.
At the end of her book, Ms. Gates lists organizations that work to advance the rights of women and children. Some were more familiar to us than others, and we entered an honest discussion about the struggle of how to decide where to give money. Should you give a dollar to the woman on the side of the road? We had valid arguments for yes and for no.
I want to pass along the advice of a mom who recently told me she believes that "if you are moved to give, then give. You don't have to worry about where that money will go. You meant it for good and God will honor that." If that's too religious a statement, then consider this. I believe that at the very least, when you give, you cultivate a spirit of kindness and generosity that you want to see in the world. I like the way Brene Brown puts it in Daring Greatly, that sacrifice means to make sacred or to make holy. Whether you give to individuals or organizations, locally or abroad, I believe your gift is similarly set apart.
I share Ms. Gates' belief that the ultimate goal of humanity is connection. To use Brene Brown's analogy of twinkle lights, I believe this book club is more than reading books together. I believe that when we come together as women, we are the twinkle lights that remind us of the hope we have in dark places.
And as we enter a literally dark season...please join us in December for a party and book swap! Grab any old or new book from your shelf and look forward to hearing about titles from everyone else. Also, please bring a suggestion for January's pick if you have one -- we'll place them in a hat and draw a choice. If you can't make it, feel free to email in your suggestion, and I'll make sure it gets in the hat. If you have a chance to bring a drink or treat to share, that would be wonderful too.
Hope to see you there!
The Tipsy Mamas' Book Club is co-hosted by Corinne Foster and myself, though the spirit of our discussions is flavored by many readers.