The Confluence of Violence

I just finished reading Henry Rollins’ blog entry regarding the Steubenville rape trial (http://henryrollins.com/dispatch/detail/dispatch_03-17-12_los_angeles/).  In the comment section, someone asked what could be done about the segment of society who engages in rape and violence simply because they don’t care about the consequences of their actions on others.  Without splitting hairs on the definition of “sociopath”, my response is below.

It is the kernel of a thought that I’ve been mulling over for a few months in the context of the well-publicized gang rape and murder of a young woman in India and grad school research I was working on regarding the challenges for women and minorities in gaining promotion to executive level positions in the business world and higher education.  In the midst of that I was also exploring with a counselor some of the ways my own abuse as a teenager is still affecting my life and relationships.

There is much more to be written on this subject, but it’s time I at least got started.  My central thesis is that the various expressions of violence that we see in our society share a common spring from which they flow.  That spring is the exercise of power.  Power dominates our lives.  Relationships are constantly illustrated as contests of power between individuals.  Our ability to use power effectively has almost everything to do with our career success.  The use of power is used as an excuse for the abuse of power, as though dominance is so glorious a state that acheiving it at any cost is forgiven.

As a result, the abuse of power is a constant reality for nearly everyone, either as a power-wielder or as a victim.  The result of this permeating atmosphere of power-wielding has desensitized most of us to violence against our selves, our minds, and our spirits, leaving us feeling powerless when the violence becomes physical.  When we become desensitized to the violence inflicted on ourselves, it is to be expected that many people will also lose their sensitivity to the effect of any sort of violence against others.

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(What follows are my original comments on the blog.  You can read them in context here: http://www.underthegunreview.net/2013/03/18/henry-rollins-comments-on-steubenville-rape-verdict/)

I think that section of the population can be split into two: those who feel powerless in their daily lives and therefore resort to violence as a means of asserting their identity and those who feel superior in their daily lives and engage in violence because they do not consider the effect on the victim as notable.

Responding to those in the first instance requires us to consider why so many people feel powerless in so many areas of their lives. How can we better disperse power in our communities, flatten our social structures, and generally stop feeding the oligarchic wealth eating machine that is our current economic and finance system. When you live as someone dominated, the idea of freedom becomes linked to domination.

The war in Iraq is a testimony to the prevalence of this behavior in our culture. We were dominated, so we found someone else to dominate. We took back the Alpha position. Our society glorifies the Alpha and despises the Beta and the Omega. As long as we do, those who cannot get to the top, for whatever reason, are going to find someone weaker to assert dominance upon.

For those who have achieved Alpha status, such as the Revered Athlete, the message our culture broadcasts to them is quite simple: you matter more than everyone else. We back this up by creating terms such as “too big too fail”. All mistakes will be paid for by the masses, as long as you are big enough. All morally bankrupt behavior is excused for those who have an Alpha position.

Until we reject the use of power as the basis of our society, we’re going to have to deal with these kinds of actions. At some point we have to stop giving obeisance to the Alpha and realize that we have evolved over the past 10,000 years. The ownership of shiny things should no longer impress us, yet we continue to buy into the lie that a diamond is the basis of a lasting marriage. Physical strength should not automatically warrant a position of leadership, yet we grant massive amounts of social capital to professional or world-class athletes.

 

Until we reject a caveman social structure, we will have to accept the actions of cavemen.

My take on the Caps’ loss

I’m a big fan of the Washington Capitals, have been since high school when I stumbled onto a broadcast of a game on the radio.  Over the years I have watched them grow from being a non-factor in the league to finishing this year with the best record in the league.  Their team captain has played 5 seasons and won rookie of the year and two MVP trophies.  This year expectations were high, they were up 3-1 in their playoff series and lost the next three games thanks to some sloppy play on their part and some ridiculous play on the part of their opponents.  Below are my comments from the blog Russian Machine Never Breaks (http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/2010/04/28/2009-2010-washington-capitals-rest-in-peace/):

So I’ve been stewing over this for a while and I think I figured out why this loss bother me so much. All season long my favorite team has been flying in the face of hockey pundits who said they never had a chance to win playing the style that they do, at least not a cup. Guys who have never won a cup themselves seemed to take great joy in pointing out what’s wrong with my favorite team. Even the league officials seemed to have a problem with the Caps style of play (or at least our team captain). It seems like no one outside of DC wants to see our team be successful. No trophy earned in the regular season seemed to matter, and the more successful the Caps were, the more they seemed to want them to fail.

All I wanted was for all those guys to have to eat a Stanley Cup full of crow and instead they’re going to be crowing about this all off-season long. And all next year they’ll be downplaying every accomplishment, quenching every fire of fandom as well as they can. For what? So that we can have more boring hockey? So that players will simply hand the puck to the referee a la Barry Sanders after scoring a goal?

I say to hell with that. I don’t just like the Caps because they are my hometown franchise. I like them because they play the most exciting style of hockey I’ve ever seen. I like them because most of the time they play like men possessed. I like them because they usually leave it all on the ice. They make me like hockey more, period. If that’s not going to win us a cup, well, I think I honestly can live with that. If watching Ovie do his thing, watching Mike Green go coast to coast, watching Varly and JT spike my WTF meter, cheering for players that give and give and give to their fans, pull out their teeth on the bench to keep playing, take pucks to the face and still look good, and score, score, score all season long is not going to win us a cup I think it’s a fair trade for the privilege of not having to watch some grind it out, boring, yawn-inducing, “classic” hockey that makes Don Cherry happy.

Think of it this way: in order to beat the Caps, the Habs had to be absolutely miraculous. How many times do you get to see a goalie make 53 saves? I wasn’t happy with the result, but that was some amazing hockey. To win tonight their defenders had to block, what, 41 shots? That’s ridiculous, guys had to have been flying all over the ice. That is the kind of hockey I want to see. The Caps make every game they are in the kind of game I want to see more of. That’s why I’m a fan. So I’m going to check in on YouTube every now and then, watch replays of The Goal a few times, keep an eye on the Nats and look forward to another season brought to me by the most electric team in hockey.

Until next season, I still LOVE this team.

Worldview Assignment

So I’ve decided to post some of my grad school online forum posts here as well since for the next 8 weeks I won’t really have time to post much new stuff in both places and I don’t get graded on my blog (I think).  Below is my first assignment for this new class in response to some questions on worldviews and how they influence our private and professional life.  Since this is a more public forum than my online classroom I will not be posting my Watchmen PDF here for the sake of respecting their copyright.  I don’t have a problem with the online equivalent of show and tell with some classmates but I think blogging copyrighted stuff is crosses the line into reproduction without permission.  The issue number and page references are in the post, I highly recommend you get yourself a copy.  I also highly recommend the other text I reference, Margaret Wheatley’s Leadership and the New Science. One of the most readable and fascinating studies of organizational leadership I have read.  I welcome comments but won’t necessarily have time to reply like I might normally.

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How would you describe your ” worldview” – your philosophy of life and reason for living? How does that impact your personal and professional life? Who/what is at the center of your worldview?

My worldview is based on the notion that each human life is of inestimable inherent value.  Over the years as I have taught classes and worked with kids to help them understand their own value I have come to codify my worldview into my Three Rules (these are adapted from a less formal set of rules a couple of old co-workers of mine used all the time that stuck with me as I developed my own use for them).  I don’t pretend that I’ve got these down pat, but I strive to live the following every day:

1.  Go big or stay home. Because we are incredibly valuable, we have an obligation to our nature to aim for the utmost in whatever we do.  This means striving to be our best, even if that isn’t as good as someone else’s best.  This doesn’t mean that we can’t simply do things for fun but that when we do we should not rob ourselves of that fun by being overly competitive.  If you have to win to have fun then you probably need that win to prove to yourself that you have value.  When you already understand your value you can truly appreciate the successes of others and encourage them to greater heights knowing that nothing they do can detract from who you are.  In my worldview to attempt nothing is far worse than failure.

In my personal life this meant, after many years of looking for a wife to show that I was worthwhile, finally letting go and waiting until the right partner came along, even though at first I thought she was “out of my league”.  By setting my standards high I not only have found a great wife and friend but I can also relate to her without needing her to support my self-esteem.  I don’t need her constant approval to still know that I’m OK which means that in moments of conflict I can lay aside my need to be right and work with her to solve the problem.

Professionally this means finding a career that involves things you enjoy and for which you have talent.  It is at this crossroads of joy and skill that I believe our most excellent achievements are possible.  (That last sentence may also be read in your best Bill and Ted voice, I won’t be offended.)  With excellence, the financial rewards or additional responsibility we seek will come from something we had pleasure in doing.  Too many people, in my view, work too hard to afford things they never have time to enjoy.

I realize that sometimes circumstances put us in a position where we have to take whatever work comes our way.  Even so, if we know ourselves and the kinds of things at which we excel we can emphasize the positives of our situation until another comes along.  Valuing ourselves does not mean that some jobs are too menial for us – I’ve cleaned toilets in a South African township for free – it means that those jobs do not make us who we are.  So we can invest ourselves wherever we are fully to gain the most from each experience rather than waiting for someone to give us the opportunity we think we deserve.  There is an old theatre adage, “There are no small roles, only small actors.”  If you can be your best in the small things, when big opportunities come along you’ll be ready.

2. Always a pleasure, never a chore. I picked up this phrase from the assistant manager of a pub I used to frequent in Plymouth, England.  Every night he would shout that while standing on the bar as part of his “we’re closed, get out” spiel.  It struck me the first time I heard it and I’ve been using it ever since because it so perfectly illustrates the attitude I want to have about caring for and serving others.

I believe that the Golden Rule is not so much a command as a statement of principle: one loves ones neighbor as one loves oneself.  I have found that the deeper I accept my own value, the easier it becomes to see the value in others.  As I seek to perfect that view of others (because of rule 1), it becomes ever easier for me to give to those around me without seeking anything in return.

The best example I have for what happens when this rule is followed and broken involves going out to lunch with a group of close friends back in DC.  We’ve known each other since high school and over the years all of us have had our ups and downs financially, sometimes just from month to month.  Because our friendship meant more to us than the price of a Big Mac and fries if one of us couldn’t go because of money we’d tell them not to worry about it, one of us would cover it.  Most of the time, that person was covering at least one of us the next time so over the long haul everything evened out.  The result of all this was a deep, deep set of friendships based on mutual respect, trust and fast food.

After a while, though, a couple of my friends started doing better at work and gained some financial success the rest of us had (or have) yet to reach.  Because they never found themselves on the short end of the stick they began counting the times they’d pitched in and became very regimented about who they helped and how much.  It didn’t help matters that their tastes had also grown more expensive and so they wanted to eat at places fewer of us could easily afford.  As a result, our friendships slowly began to deteriorate.  I still remember the day that one friend told me that they weren’t comfortable fronting me the cash for Wendy’s until I’d paid them the two fast food lunches I owed them.  I realized in that moment that somewhere along the line I had ceased to be a friend and had become a line item in his ledger.  We don’t talk any more.  In fact, I don’t think any of the people in that group talk to him any more.

Being aware of our own value and the value of others frees us to be generous and in giving we most accurately express our true nature.  In my professional life this means that I can give a hand to anyone without regard to whether or not it will boost my position.  Karen’s example of her boss taking credit for her work is a perfect example.  She knows that the right work was done well and she has been true to herself and her own worth by not stooping to petty attention-grabbing.  Sometimes the best thing we can give is our support to the right course of action.

The other application of this principle, for me, is a deep passion for mentoring others.  I think that mentoring may be the single greatest task a leader can undertake.  By sharing my time and experience generously I make it easier for newer members of the organization to achieve more than those of us who’ve gone before while passing on the values that have made us successful and define our mission and our methods.

3. Don’t be poopy, don’t be poopy, don’t be poopy. Not much more to say, really.  Being mean, spiteful, cynical and cruel is a waste of everything we are.  Most of these actions are fueled by a jealous desire to take from others something that wish we had or wish we were.  Nothing we take can make us more than we already are nor can it make our victims less than what they are.  Our worth is set forever at “immeasurable” and cannot be changed any more than a gold ingot can be made less valuable by covering it in mud or more valuable by washing it off.

This series considers two “diametrically” opposed worldviews. What are your initial impressions of the secular, or “scientific,” worldview? The ” spiritual” worldview? Explain how these impression contribute to or mediate your worldview?

My impression of the secular worldview is that of an outsider.  I was raised in a very religious home and held fervently to a more classically spiritual worldview for the first 30 years or so of my life.  I was taught that the worldview of the atheist or secularist is that because there is no God, nothing has meaning.  We are all cosmic accidents and therefore nothing we do really matters.  Since we are descended from a process of survival of the fittest, to follow our base passions is only natural, since that is how we’ve come so far.  The fundamental premise of the secular worldview as I was taught it is that everything can be known or explained without requiring the existence of God to do so.  There is no plan for the universe, no destiny, no fetters.  We are as free as our minds can take us, we can potentially do anything.

The view I was raised with is that God created man for His own pleasure, man sinned and broke a perfect relationship with his Creator and only due to faith in the redeeming sacrifice of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, can that relationship be restored.  The fundamental truths of this worldview are God’s perfection, man’s imperfection in sin and God’s willingness to do anything to overcome the consequences of man’s sin.  God has a plan for all of creation and is ultimately able to make it come about.  We either cooperate with His plan or we resist.  While we have free will, we are not free to do anything at all and remain confident that we are still “in His will”.  Our potential is realized in relinquishing our selves to let God act through us.  (Granted, this is a very specific type of spiritual worldview, but it’s the one that formed my impression of them all.)

Both worldviews, to me, have some major flaws.  If one takes the secular worldview, on what basis are morals and a sense of meaning founded?  A completely amoral society has never survived, so using the theory of natural selection it makes sense that moral behavior is necessary for the continuation of our species.  The fact that so many people end their lives or the lives of others because they feel that life has no meaning indicates that we need a sense of meaning in order to be mentally healthy.  Where are these less-than-concrete necessities to come from?  What shall be the basis of our morality?  What gives meaning to our lives?  Science alone offers few answers, if any, to these questions.

On the other hand, where I see the spiritual worldview lacking is in the problems of evil and God’s means of communication with Man.  Whether God created evil or merely the potential for evil is moot.  If God created all things, and evil exists, then God is ultimately responsible for the existence of evil.  If He is the uncaused cause from which everything issues then evil must have issued from Him at some point.  This makes it hard to stomach the notion that we are so responsible for it that we deserve eternal damnation as a result.  Certainly an all powerful God can do as He sees fit, but justifying that is like trying to justify a tobacco company setting up a firing squad for smokers.

How does the Almighty communicate with His creation?  Ask a thousand people of a thousand faiths and you will get a million answers.  Even people within the same faith disagree vehemently and the question of what God has said has sparked more conflict and ended more lives than perhaps any other in the history of our race.  Why can’t God just talk to us, all at once?  I have faith in my friends, I believe in them and I have relationships with them, none of which require them to be invisible.  If God is real the way the spiritual worldview say He is, why does He need to remain so secretive?

I have spent most of my life trying to find answers to the questions the spiritual worldview raised for me.  Some time ago I decided that perhaps the answers I was looking for just weren’t there so I began checking out what a secular worldview looks like from the inside.  Part of this is because I discovered that most of the spiritual experiences I have had are very similar to those described by people who have been brainwashed into cults and later rescued.  Some of it is based on my own study into the history of the Bible and the various writings that are not part of the Christian canon and why.  My studies in these areas have caused me to re-think some of the basic assumptions of the worldview of my upbringing.

Yet I also find that I cannot simply let go of the notion that there is still something beyond matter that connects the universe.  If we all did start as a Big Bang, than at one point everything that exists, us included, was mashed together into this incomprehensible Unity of Being.  No matter how far through time and space our particles have flown, we bear the mark of that connectedness down to the quark.  Science bears this out in our study of the behavior of subatomic particles (Wheatley, pp.41 & 42).  There is still room for the miraculous in a worldview that is not centered around a specific God.

In summary, I have attached a few panels from a graphic novel called Watchmen (Knowles, Smith, Moore, & Gibbons, Vol. 9, pp.26 – 28) that very eloquently state this view of the universe and why I believe in the value of people the way that I do.  Both the secular world and the spiritual world offer me a great many unknowns.  What I do know is that I am here and you are here and that together we’re pretty spectacular.  I plan to do my best to make the most of myself and take care of those around me and let the unknowns take care of themselves.

Sources:

Wheatley, M. J. (2006). Leadership and the new science. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Knowles, E., Smith, M., Moore, A., & Gibbons, D. (1986, 1987). Watchmen. New York: DC Comics.

Ludicrous labels

I was just looking at my site and noticed in the description that the first thing I said to look for in this blog is rants.  Yet I have published nary a one.  Until now.

My wife went to Costco today (no this is not an anti-Costco screed, I like their pizza too much) and brought back another Gigantic Thing of Garlic.  This is in and of itself a very good thing.  I like garlic, especially in non-powdered form (though that has its uses) and with a new baby cooking time is at a premium.  Having handy minced garlic around whenever I need it makes me happy.  However, this particular Gigantic Thing of Garlic had a label on it that made my eyelid twitch: Fat Free.  Well no shit.  Thank God my wife wisely sprung for the lowfat garlic!  It saves me all the time cutting the fat away when I peel it myself.  Who the hell thinks that there is a High Fat brand of garlic out there?  Besides the complete waste of my time that this label represents it also shows an extremely cynical point of view on the part of the marketing people who designed it – People like things that are Fat Free.  Garlic doesn’t have any fat, so it’s Fat Free at no cost to us.  If we put that on the label, even though no one shops for garlic by looking at the fat content, then people will buy our product.  Wow.  It reminds me of a sign I saw on a shelf at a gas station in Tuscaloosa, AL: “Did you know that pork rinds have ZERO carbs?”  Only in Alabama could deep fried pork fat (I hope that’s what they are) be touted as a diet food.  Zero carbs?  It must be healthy!  And it is, except for all the parts that are made of PORK RINDS.  Again, the cynicism reflected in that sign is vicious.

Selling me something is one thing, but dammit, quit trying to con me.

Can-do versus We’re-screwed

So I had an interesting conversation at work today.  The subject of the conversation (as I hijacked it) was The Environment.  Where I came in, one of the participants (I’ll call him The Liberal – by this I mean nothing derogatory to him nor to the term, it’s just accurate) was mentioning the problem with over population.  Recalling a statistic that I read years ago in Reader’s Digest that the entire population of the earth could fit in Jacksonville, FL (or the surrounding county, I forget exactly), I begged to differ.  We then engaged in a lively and civil debate over the issues of world hunger, monoculture farming, human greed, etc.  What really struck me about the conversation wasn’t a sense that I was right and he was wrong or that either of us had convinced the other of anything but rather that there are two ways to view the world’s problems: we can do something about them or we’re all screwed.

Let’s take the issue of world hunger.  The We’re Screwed side says that there are simply too many people to feed without resorting to monoculture farming which is not sustainable in the long term.  7,000,000,000 people sure seems like a lot, especially as populations have urbanized over the past 100 years.  However, I did a little math before writing this and found that if you gave everyone on earth a 10 ft. x 10 ft. (100 sq. ft) plot of land the entire population of the earth could fit in the Mojave Desert (approximately).  The Can-do side looks at numbers like that and concludes that there has to be a way to grow enough food on the earth for everyone.

The We’re Screwed side, having concluded that we cannot provide enough, approaches the problem from a standpoint of demand reduction – how can we stop population growth?  The Can-doer in me has concluded that we can (and already do) provide enough food for everyone so the issue is one of distribution, not demand.  (According to this article just a quarter of what we throw away at home could feed 20,000,000 people and this doesn’t count the amount that grocery stores and restaurants throw out.)  It was at this point in the conversation when the real core difference between these two perspectives became evident:  We’re Screwed because people are inherently greedy and selfish and cannot be trusted to do the right thing OR we Can Do anything because people are capable of doing good.

After that conversation this one thought became crystal clear – the only solutions possible for issues like world hunger start with all of us making a choice to think of others first.  If we don’t, then we’re all screwed.

JELYM or Avatar Review Part 2

I was originally going to post this review weeks ago, back when Avatar was new and newsworthy and my opinion of it perhaps slightly more germane to any readers of this blog (if any of you are still hanging around).  Since then, I’ve changed more diapers than I have gotten hours of sleep, started adjusting to using a CPAP machine at night and have generally just not been in a position to write much here.  One thing I have learned, though, in my growing up lately is that commitment counts, and I made a commitment to myself to start this blog and to keep up with it.  Sometimes following through is more important than creating something timely and brilliant.  Inertia is both close friend and dear enemy to efforts like a blog.  The more I write, the easier it gets to keep writing.  Where I get bogged down is trying to produce a masterpiece every time my fingers touch the keys.  As I learned while cooking dinner tonight…What I was in the middle of saying before I was rudely cut off by my blog host was that some times you just have to put some food on a plate that is tasty and nourishing and leave the fancy garnish for another night.  Now that I have to recollect my thoughts on this entry yet again this is even more true.

Watching Avatar felt very much like being the main character in The Princess and the Pea.  No matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t get comfortable.  At first I thought it was the 3D glasses or sitting too close to an IMAX screen.  Then I thought it was because the plot kept jumping from convention to convention without any of the in-between stuff that makes for good storytelling.  (Unless, of course, you too have fallen deeply and meaningfully in love with someone by engaging in a series of training montages.)  As I walked out of the theatre I realized what it was: I felt like I had just sat through a big budget “youth group movie”.

What’s a youth group movie, you ask?  A youth group movie is the kind of a movie that you throw against a wall and if it don’t bounce back you go hungry (bow bow bow)…Sorry, having an obscure reference moment…okay we’re back.  A youth group movie refers to the straight-to-video pablum that I was fed as a churchgoing teenager.  Imagine a religiously-themed ABC after school special without the good writing or big budget (though I think they both often have Kirk Cameron in them – ooo burn!) and you’ll get the idea.  According to the YGM’s that I watched, kissing gets you pregnant, having a beer will make you kill people with your car, smoking will make you a junkie and staying out of church will make you a wife beating SOB with no job.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not mocking these films because I am anti-Christian or anything.  What drove me mad about them, even as a teen, was that sex, substance use and abuse and domestic violence are issues that are far too important to be given such awful treatment.  The choices we make about these issues in our lives will deeply affect who we become and will also determine what kind of effect we will ultimately have on the world around us.  It’s disgraceful to offer platitudes, glossy generalizations and stereotypes when purporting to educate people on these issues.

This is exactly the same kind of treatment that James Cameron gives to the issues of environmental responsibility and the modern corporate version of Manifest Destiny.  Here are the lessons I learned from watching Avatar:

1) It’s totally fine to lie to and betray someone that you declare love for as long as you feel really bad when the consequences of your betrayal destroy their home, their family and their way of life.

2) When unjustly persecuted by people who embrace violence against the innocent the best solution is to become more effectively violent.  This will show them the error of their ways and certainly will not lead to any sort of escalation like, say, being bombed to subatomic particles from outer space.

3) Everything is nature is connected.  Except for the people who are not connected to nature.  Those people will try to blow nature to smithereens until nature gets pissed off and sends cavalry units in against heavy artillery.

4) Fear is a powerful motivator.

5) Everything is better when you’re a ‘Toon.

In most cases I would find this kind of funny and would shrug it off.  I don’t generally look to films of this sort to educate me or calibrate my moral compass.  The thing is, I have a daughter now and suddenly the future of this world means something different.  It’s not enough that it’s here long enough for me, I want her to be able to live a long and fruitful life as well.  There now exists for me an “and so on” that wasn’t there a few months ago.  So these issues carry weight with me and I want them to be discussed intelligently in the public forum because I ultimately want wise decisions to be made.

Sarah Palin’s recent talks at Tea Party events and the like (side note: that no one attending these events was in any way risking their life for the sake of obtaining independence is a testament both to the efficacy of the work of our founders and the laughable use of that moniker for this current political fad) and the popularity of commentators like Bill Maher, Keith Olbermann, Sean Hannity and such demonstrate that we are increasingly seeking people out who will aggressively agree with us and who will help us circle the wagons against the threat of The Other Guys.  When public discourse is a) moderated primarily by entertainers who have more incentive to spew invective than to offer reasonable propositions and promote healthy compromise; b) reduced by the Sound Byte Brigade to slogans, talking points and catch phrases; and c) approached from the viewpoint that all answers are obvious and only great fools (like anyone who doesn’t see things our way) can’t see the righteousness of our beliefs, then we will never be able to solve the problems we face together.

Banal fantasies like “military types like killing things for money” and “Mother Nature’s gonna get ya” only serve to encourage people to tune out on what you might have to say.  I remember a conversation I had several years ago with a friend of mine on why various Christian evangelizing techniques were so completely ineffective.  Mostly it’s because the vast majority of people I know don’t want to read a pamphlet with strangers.  It’s also because in those pamphlets and tactics and techniques the heart of the message is lost.  I suggested replacing the class with one phrase, “Jesus effing loves you, man.”  (JELYM for short).  Be honest, if all someone did to try to convince you of their belief was say something simple like that, you’d listen more than you would to, say, Kirk Cameron reading the 10 Commandments on a street corner (ooo burn again! – I actually saw him encouraging that exact thing on late night TV once).

Right now we’re facing crushing public debt, a growing divide between rich and poor – especially as it relates to health care, terrorist groups who truly do hate us, ongoing war efforts and serious environmental concerns.  We must deal with these problems sooner rather than later and we must do so maturely with the best interests of all in mind.  It frustrates me to see our legislators (I will not sully the word “leader” by associating it with Congress) focusing on outmaneuvering their opponents rather than reaching useful consensus.  Particularly when the heart of the issues is lost amidst the bellicose tumult and podium pounding.  You see, I think that most people would agree that giving public money away in large sums to people who just squandered the last large sum of money they were given is a bad idea.  I think most people would agree that taking steps to ensure the longevity of our ecosystem is a good idea.  I think that most people would prefer not fighting to fighting if we can help it and that if we can find a way to make sure that everyone has access to medical treatment then we should try to do that.  And I think that most people would accept the notion that spending more money than you have without consideration of the consequences is a very, very bad idea.  Granted, we will certainly differ on methodologies and priorities but if we agree on the heart of the matter then we can focus our debate on finding the best way to achieve a common goal rather than on how to best malign our opponents.  We have got to acknowledge that despite our differences we are ultimately all in this together.  My daughter is counting on it.

Find your strength

There is something to be said for seeking to shore up one’s weaknesses in order to become a well-rounded person.  I know this is true because the better I get at improving on my weaknesses the happier my wife gets.  However, in a professional context I think that the thing to be said is, “Thpppppbbbbbt.”  It’s all well and good to try to learn new skills that might help you in your day to day tasks but at some point you have to focus on what you’re good at or you’ll never achieve anything truly great.  Excellence is found at the intersection of passion and talent.

During a yoga class recently I noticed some pain in my right shoulder while executing what amounts to a negative push-up (starting at the high point of a push-up and slowly lowering my body to the mat).  Before my next repetition, though, my instructor used this entry’s title phrase, “Find your strength.”  As I lowered myself down again I flexed all of the large muscles in my chest and around my shoulder and, low and behold, pain free!  As I have reflected on that I have found the same principle holds true in other areas of life.  For example, the more I focus on writing, one of my strengths, I find that I am becoming more disciplined with my use of time, one of my weaknesses.  By giving myself an outlet for something that I love to do, I have also given myself a reason to set aside things that waste my time.

As a newlywed (just over 18 months now) and new father, I have found myself in lots and lots of frustrating situations where I just don’t know what to do.  There is so much to learn about the women in my life, so many details to keep track of (I’m more of a big picture person), that at times it can all get a bit overwhelming.  So lately I’ve been trying to play to my strengths instead – working around the house, making goofy faces at my daughter, laughing and talking with my wife on the phone.  I’ve noticed two results: First, because I am operating in a comfort zone, I am in a more positive frame of mind when I think about my family and that positive attitude has helped to reduce the number of involuntary things that I do that can cause friction.  Second, because I am focusing on the things I can do well rather than the things with which I struggle, I am generally more relaxed and operating at a less frantic pace which makes it easier to remember to put the seat down.

I started this entry talking about work and I’ll wrap it up on that subject as well.  I realize very, very well that we don’t all have the freedom to drop everything in pursuit of our dream job.  However, I think it is worth the time to look at where we are and think strategically about how we can play to our strengths more in our day to day work.  Sometimes this may mean taking on some side projects, I know it has for me, but I have found that these projects energize me and make me better at the other, less appealing, aspects of my job.  I have also found that the more I delve into forming closer relationships with my co-workers (a strength) the easier it is to stay motivated (a weakness).  Finding your strength at work doesn’t necessarily mean looking for a new position, it means flexing your muscles to make the position you are in less painful and more exhilarating.

Impact

From a post on mentoring:

As a first-time father of a seven week old little girl I found your analogy helpful in a way I might not have two months ago. The lesson I am currently learning with my daughter, especially in these early stages, is that the first challenge in a mentoring relationship is learning how to communicate. Right now, she doesn’t know how to tell me what she needs so it’s up to me to observe her closely to learn what she might be saying unconsciously (rubbing her eyes means she’s tired, kicking her legs means check the diaper, etc.). As she gets older she will gain a wide array of communication tools that she can use to clearly let me know what she wants, the challenge will then be to get her to use them.

When we first begin mentoring someone in a professional context, especially someone who is new to the company or the position, they may not know what they need from us as a mentor. They may have no way telling us how we can help them to improve or grow because they aren’t familiar with us or with their environment. In this stage it is up to us to know the environment and what skills and attitudes are needed for successful growth. As the relationship develops and they are able to more clearly ask for specific help, the next challenge to ensure that they feel comfortable asking for that help. Maintaining an open attitude towards the people we mentor is vital to creating a sense of safety and well-being in them that will allow them to make full use of us as a resource.

Lastly, I would like to add another perspective to the subject of impacting the lives of others. While it is clear that deep investment over time is an extremely effective way of influencing others, it is also possible to impact people deeply with just one meeting. The analogy I like to use is geology. For centuries it was accepted by geologists that the physical landscape was primarily the result of eons of slow shifts in the earth’s tectonic plates. However, that perspective has changed in the past 20 years or so as we have gained a greater understanding about the effect of meteor strikes on the surface of the earth. Entire valleys in central Europe contain mineral deposits that are evidence of a massive meteor strike millenia ago. Siberia, Arizona and the ocean floors also show evidence of large meteor impacts that have had a makor influence on the earth’s landscape. Modern geologists accept that the shape of the earth is due to a blend of long, slow internal change mixed with sudden upheaval from external impacts.

Is there a speech, a seminar or a passage from a book that you still think about regularly even though you’ve never seen that person again? Perhaps you’ve had a fleeting introduction to someone you greatly admire and while they only said a couple of sentences to you, those words have stuck with you and inspired you for years? I know that I have.

The application is this: sometimes we don’t have the opportunity to invest in a long term mentoring relationship. In those cases it is up to us to always give our full attention and energy to the people we with whom we make contact. You never know the sudden impact you might have that could inspire them for the rest of their lives.

Who’s Next?

From a discussion on leadership succession:

I disagree with the comment that planning immediately for the next successor is a dangerous strategy. First, if it is the stated policy of an organization to manage its succession policy this way then there is no undermining message to be received. The decision to prepare for the next change is simply a matter of course. Second, CEO longevity is not guaranteed. Being prepared for an unexpected departure is simple common sense. We back up our hard drives and our files regularly and assign backups for job responsibilities not because we do not trust our hardware, our software or our staff but because accidents happen, people get sick and power surges are beyond our control. Surely it is better to be prepared than caught off guard.

Another area of concern in leadership succession is the matter of organizational culture. As businesses become less traditional in structure, environment and personality companies like Google and Apple must also consider how well a new CEO fits into the unique culture that is an integral part of both their public image and their financial success. In organizations such as these it is even more important for the current CEO to be involved in the selection and mentoring of future leaders in order to ensure that the values that drive the organization are effectively passed along.