It was a battle of the Titan Mom and the Tiger Mom in Chicago Thursday night. And I know who won.
Arianna Huffington, the $315 million woman, spoke eloquently and briefly at the WomenOnCall.org annual gathering in the Crystal Ballroom at the Hyatt Rgency on Wacker to about 500 women. The point was “speed dating for causes,” as Huffington put it, an event connecting volunteers with 76 area nonprofit groups from Working in the Schools to National Able Network.
The 20-,30, -40- (and in my case) 50-somethings paid $25 to pair up with a nonprofit to volunteer, but mostly to hear from the media titan who recently took her initial 2005 $1 million investment in Huffington Post to Aol.com for a whole bunch more.
Over the Chicago River and into the Tribune Tower a block away simultaneously –and likely not knowing or caring Arianna was up the street– was Amy Chua, the professor and author of “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” before a spill-over crowd who paid $10 each to hear the author speak about why she pushed her two daughters to the brink and why she is proud of it.
It was an evening of stark contrasts in idealogy, parenting and world view.
Introduced by Margot Pritzker, the founder of WomenOn Call, Huffington took to the stage looking all the world like a woman of leisure, perfectly coiffed wearing an elegant black dress– and well-prepared. She was forceful, inspiring and no-nonsense.
“Life is not truly meaningful if we do not do something for others,”‘ said the author of 13 books. “When you are giving back to people you don’t know, we are expanding the boundaries of our being.” And the world, she added, “desperately needs more empathy. It’s time for everyone to step up to the plate,” she said.
Of course she talked about HuffPo, calling it “community solutions” and she invited everyone to contact her and submit stories of their causes. “Two-hundred fifty million people around the world can read about things to motivate them and that begins to transform their lives and they recognize the responsibility to others,” she said.
Huffington talked about Patch.com, the AOL community journalism project in 900 cities with “profesional journalists and freelancers writing about communities.” She added, “We can cover what is happening in non-profits.”
I met Huffington in 1988 when I was a columnist for the now defunct Dallas Times-Herald. Back then I interviewed her on her tour for her breathtaking book, “Picasso: Creator and Destroyer.” She was smart, inspiring, and if I remember correctly, pregnant with her daughter. I also wrote about her in 1999 for the Chicago Tribune, on her “Greetings from the Lincoln Bedroom.” I introduced myself to her Thursday night, reminded her of the interviews, and she politely said, “Yes, yes,” even though I am pretty darn sure she did not remember. My point is, she was gracious.
“I’ve had an interesting personal journey,” she said Thursday to the crowd.
Everyone knew what she meant: a very public divorce, media criticism, all of that. She also spoke candidly of her daughter’s dealing with anorexia and how volunteering for others helped her daughter put her own problems in perspective. As a mother, I found her comments not exploitative, but authentic.
A lot has been written about HuffPo not paying its bloggers. I tell my students at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism to write for money. It’s a karma thing. But the model for blogging is writing for free; if you aim to buy food with your work, then you have to seek outlets where you will be paid.
I am writing this on my one of two blogs for free with my goal to promote my ideas, my brand and ultimately my books and speeches for money. Because I have a family with two in college, and a third in college in a year and a half, I write for money more than I write for free. I have a paying job as a professor, I write articles for magazines and newspapers for money.
I also give speeches to nonprofits pro-bono each year. I give back. I have been on boards of directors over the years for many nonprofits: Tuesday’s Child, Sarah’s Inn, Journalism & Women Symposium, and now am on the board of advisors for Between Friends, a domestic violence services agency. I don’t count all the volunteering I do for my boys’ schools and teams, because that is to benefit my sons. It is the stuff you do for strangers that counts. I was brought up by a mother who said, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” I heard her.
“The empathy index needs to grow,” Huffington said. And I agree.
While she made no public apologies for the free blogging model at her site, Huffington made a case for giving of yourself to causes you believe in. Because it matters.
“There is far too much emphasis in our media on what is not working,” she said. “We are focusing on our dysfunctionality and perpetuating it.”
Which brings me to Amy Chua.
We came late to Chua’s book event; we nestled in the spill over room and watched on a big screen Elizabeth Taylor of the Tribune interview the controversial Tiger Mom. Like Huffington, she was well-dressed, well-coiffed, well-spoken and well-prepared. But all I heard was whine, whine, whine, complain, complain, defend, defend. Her daughters, her job, her beliefs, her childhood, her students, her stance on boyfriends and sleepovers. She talked about instilling respect and gratitude in her daughters. But respect for her. Gratitude to her.
When she complained about all she did was work and take care of her family, I had enough. She expanded on her plight of having two daughters and a husband who shares in the raising of both girls. We left before it was over.
It got me thinking back to Arianna and just an hour earlier. She is a single parent to daughters. She managed to write all these books, think outside the box, create a media empire built on ideas. She purports to be about the fourth instinct, or the drive to add meaning to our lives by giving back.
“I’m tired of describing problems,” Huffington said. “We need to break that type of behavior.”
Final score: Arianna 1, Amy 0.