Thursday, August 26, 2010

Is Optimism Killing Us?

I’ve noticed an interesting trend lately in many circles, especially in the corporate and government worlds.

If you point out a problem or even acknowledge that a problem exists, then you are a pessimist.

Meanwhile, the things we want to pretend aren’t happening continue to grow in frequency and intensity.

Here are a few examples:

1. Climate change (regardless of the reason).

2. The government and personal credit crisis that is about to explode with as-yet unknown results.

3. Economies built upon ever-increasing spending (that elementary school mathematics can prove is unsustainable).

4. People in developing nations who don’t have access to basic services, including clean water and basic medicine.

5. Corporations executing with questionable or non-existent strategies.

Equally insidious are the people who are trying to convince their management, peers and minions that everything is under control so people shouldn’t ask questions.

When people like me come along, insatiably curious about everything, we are a threat to their peace of mind.  After all, people who don’t accept with blind faith that everything is perfectly under control are a danger to the myth they are trying to impart upon others and a threat to their ego.

That being said, optimism and hope are critical attributes to have.  Without them, it is easy to feel overwhelmed, that we have no chance of surviving that which we are facing.  If we feel overwhelmed, we give up hope and lie down in defeat.

We must always have hope that great, wonderful things are before us.

But until we acknowledge that oftentimes there really are difficult and challenging obstacles that must be overcome first, we will still be smiling with the deer-in-the-headlights look when the thing we pretended wasn’t there runs right over us, whether it be a personal failure, a corporate blunder or a government collapse.

Being a pessimist is not productive on many levels and can be extremely crippling to you and those around you.

Being an uber-optimist is not much better.

I think it is better to be a realist with an optimistic outlook – that it is ok to acknowledge that we have challenges before us but that through intelligent, proactive action, we will overcome it together.

Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel may actually be a train.  If I deny it’s a train, it will run right over me.

But if I acknowledge it is a train, then I can work to solve the problem and convert the light at the end of the tunnel into a ray of hope.

And that is where optimism and positive thinking work best – as the fuel to help us believe that we WILL overcome our challenges …..

…. whatever they are ……

…. together.

In service and servanthood.


For my Musings-in-a-Minute version of “Is Optimism Killing Us"?”, please click here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Bullying is Completely Fine ….

…. as long as the bullies are on your side …. or so it seems.

I saw this story on the website of radio station VOCM this morning.

Premier Danny Williams says he's pleased the feds did what had to be done to settle with Abitibi Bowater. Williams calls it a good end to the battle. Ottawa will pay Abitibi Bowater $130 million to settle the company's claim that Newfoundland and Labrador illegally seized its assets in the province. Ottawa says it wanted to head off a long legal fight and maintain its commitment to NAFTA. Williams says the Prime Minister has made it clear to him that money will come entirely from Canadian taxpayers without any contribution from the provincial government. The Premier says it had to be done, and calls it fair pointing out our contribution to the country. Interim Opposition leader Kelvin Parsons and NDP leader Lorraine Michael agreed. Michael says the settlement is all part of being a federation.

I found this story to be interesting on many levels.

First of all, Abitibi was expropriated illegally by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador …. which led to the Government taking ownership of cleaning up the ecological mess left behind … which led to Abitibi suing whoever it could get its hands on that the Government had broken a number of laws …. which led to the Government of Canada paying out $130 million of Canadian taxpayer dollars so that there would be no downstream ramifications in regards to NAFTA (North American Free Trade Act).  I left out a few steps here for brevity, including who would be on the hook for pensions, etc.

So Premier Williams applauds the federal government action as a good end to the battle.  It is a great end - he broke a number of laws (including international trade laws)  through application of excessive hubris and the Canadian tax payer foots the bill.  The opposition parties agree with him, saying that this is what it is to be in a federation.  Of course they will agree – they voted in favor of the illegal action also and so they need this to “go away”.

Since when is acting without thinking, breaking the law and laying it on the backs of Canadians who had nothing to do with it “all part of being a federation”. 

Meanwhile, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador bow down and pay homage once again to the savior who has brought them to the promised land.

It seems that when bullies and ego-filled individuals run rampant over others, doing as they choose at anyone’s expense, it’s ok as long as the bully is on your side.

When the bully is against you, that’s another story.  But for now, the bullies are on the side of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and therefore don’t get scrutinized.  The bullies can do no wrong, so why bother with an examination of what is really going on in the province?

There are numerous examples in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador (and elsewhere) where the ruling elite work to create greater opportunity for themselves and spin it to the general public to make the general public believe that this is all being done for the greater good.  Meanwhile, they work hard to make sure that the gap between them and their minions stays significant.

Statistics are often waved around to make sure that everyone understands the incredible benefits being brought to them.

After all – statistics don’t lie.

True – but they can be manipulated to illustrate any fact that needs to be established.

Ask people in rural communities of Newfoundland and Labrador how well the government’s policies are doing for them and you will hear a different story from many of them.

But as long as the bully is for them and not openly against them, people will complain in private and laud the bully in public.

But ……. what if the bullies are puppets themselves?

What if the bullies are fulfilling their purpose perfectly for a greater cause that even they are unaware of?

The bureaucrats inside the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador wield the real power.  Don’t believe me?  Read the incredible book “Against the Tide” by Dr. Doug House (if you can still find a copy).

The bureaucrats, connected with the upper echelons in the province, drive domestic and national policy for the benefit of a few. 

However, in order to accomplish this, they need a few people who are easily manipulated, are good in front of the camera and can take the heat when things explode.  We call these people politicians.  The electorate enables the process by voting those people in.

Politicians who are publicly weak are of no value to bureaucrats because they don’t carry out the deeds they are called to carry out. However, independent thinkers are not welcome either because they resist what they are being told.  Ask Senators Beth Marshall or Fabian Manning how much independent thinkers are welcome in the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

What are needed are people with insufficient egos who can be manipulated to steam roll over others and who are offered rewards at the end of their service. 

What are needed are people who don’t understand business but will force-feed the electorate with useful statistics given to them by bureaucrats to establish a position that looks inarguable.

What are needed are people who don’t understand that they are being used to promote an agenda that they can be convinced is their own.  Ask former Premier Clyde Wells what happens when the elected official discovers the agenda he hoped to bring in is irrelevant.

What are needed are people who take things personally and make every disagreement a personal issue, to keep everyone off balance and to prevent people from asking too many penetrating questions.  Someone should ask Premier Williams or Deputy Premier Dunderdale why every issue is a personal issue; where the primary objective in any disagreement is to personally humiliate people who object to their style or ideas, using language like “pessimist” or “anti-Newfoundland” to publicly embarrass their opponent in the eyes of the people of the Province.

What is also needed is a group of people with insufficient leadership experience so that they can be easily directed.  The leadership void within the ruling party is obvious but they are riding so high in the polls that this doesn’t seem to matter.

These are the people the bureaucrats need to run for office. 

They are good people in many ways – good family people, well-intentioned, backgrounds that bring a lot of different ideas to the table, etc.  But they also have the perfect mix of attributes of value to the true ruling party in Newfoundland and Labrador – they are a group of people easily manipulated to carry out an agenda that is not their own.

The only other thing needed is an electorate that is blissfully content to elect whatever the bureaucrats spin.

And when this happens repeatedly, the great people of Newfoundland and Labrador miss out.

Sure there are a few victories here and there.  People cite the oil and gas revenue, the current financial growth numbers, etc. as reasons why things are great.  But there are a lot of things not great as well – the dying rural communities, the rapidly disappearing culture, health care concerns and other areas.

When one tries to ask questions about what is not great in the province, the response reminds me of the “dead parrot sketch” in Monty Python where a man buys a parrot from a pet shop and it’s dead.  As he describes how it’s been dead all along and he wants his money back, the shop owner keeps saying “yes .. but look at the beautiful plumage”

If the electorate examined the personal growth of these individuals against the average personal growth of many people in the province, they would discover that the gap is growing exponentially and they would ask more questions about who these politicians really serve.

Questions that need to be asked and require real answers.

I’m not saying that the politicians are intentionally doing it for personal growth.  Many are doing it for the right reasons (so they believe) but if you need someone to do something for you, you will feed them what they need such that they will come along willingly.

So neither the electorate nor the elected examine what is going on – they are too busy eating what they are being fed by the bureaucrats.

And for the true ruling elite in the province, this works out just fine.

For everyone else?

Well .. that all depends on what you want and whose side you’re on, doesn’t it?

In service and servanthood.


(There is no Musings-in-a-Minute version of this blog entry).

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How Easily Intimidated Are You?

It has been said that I intimidate people.  To the casual eye, I guess I might appear to be intimidating to some people.  It seems to them that I don’t waver under pressure (wrong).  In their eye, I seem to be comfortable in any situation, from a private one-on-one in a coffee shop to a presentation in front of thousands (not always).  As far as they can see, the bigger the fire fight, the more I rise to the challenge, wrestle it to the ground and solve the challenge without any effort (couldn’t be further from the truth).

For many people that I am blessed to interact with, it seems to them (according to what they tell me and others) that such an individual is intimidating to be around. This intimidation produces in some people’s minds, a wrestling match between their ego and the other person’s (even though the other person is unaware of it).  The wrestling match produces one of three outcomes from the perspective of the observer:

1. My ego is ok with this and we can find things to collaborate around.

2. My ego feels it is not worthy and I don’t understand why he would bother with me, therefore I will not participate for fear of not living up to his expectations.

3. My ego feels it is threatened, that his ego will exert influence over me or have knowledge that I don’t (thus making me look bad) and so I will avoid the opportunity to collaborate.

For those in categories 2 or 3, when they discover that I want a true win-win collaboration, this throws their ego off even more and suggests to them that I must have an ulterior motive on top of an inflated ego.  This deepens their reasoning that their ego must be protected from embarrassment and ridicule at all cost and so a collaboration must be avoided.

Meanwhile, those in category 1 know that the only difference between arrogance and confidence in the one they observe is usually just perspective - notice I said usually :-).

People may be surprised to know how many people there are in categories 2 and 3 who are in high positions of power; whether in government, business or other institutions.  I believe that categories 2 and 3 make up a significant percentage of people in positions of leadership.

What a Waste of Potential

We waste so many opportunities to collaborate and to create positive results for the greater good when we fail to realize that we all bring incredible gifts, talents and strengths to the table. 

With such gifts, there is no need for ego-wrestling.  We all need each other.

The threatened observer, while perceiving a large ego in the observed …. 

is merely observing the gap in egos between the observer and the observed and not the ego of the observed.

In other words, it’s not that the observed person has too great an ego ….

it’s that the observer may have too small an ego.

A More Insidious Intimidation

While we choose to work with people (or not) based on this ego gap, there is another type of intimidation going on in the world that we accept but I believe is potentially more crippling or debilitating in our lives.

I call this intimidation “information or intellectual intimidation”, the use of facts, figures, credentials or a majority opinion to force people into a desired action even when the facts are nebulous, inaccurate or downright wrong.

One could write thousands of pages, citing many examples.  Let’s look at just a few.

1. The war in Iraq and Afghanistan is taking place allegedly for our freedom and protection.  When one presses for the proof, we are told “it’s obvious” but when we demand the ultimate proof, we are told it’s a national security issue and so we accept that we cannot be told.  Meanwhile, cancer, heart disease, stroke and car accidents will kill far more people on an annual basis and yet don’t get anywhere near the funding to solve.  If we voice an opinion against the war, we are told that we are unpatriotic, we are allowing the terrorists to eventually win or that we are not supportive of our troops (who are great people that we should feel a deep level of gratitude for) and so it is a hot potato that many people will not touch.  None of these reasons are true – but our voice is a small one against the cries of the majority or the powerful (who are not necessarily smarter than we are).

2. The stimulus money in the US artificially and temporarily propped up the economy, providing a band aid to keep it moving.  The proponents of the stimulus money cite the positive statistics as proof that it works and yet when people ask “what happens when the stimulus money, which is not infinite, stops flowing”, the querents are told to stop being so pessimistic.  Not wanting to go against “the positive signs of the recovery” or wanting to hope that the designers of the stimulus programs are smarter than they are, people stop asking questions.  Now as the stimulus funds start to dry up, foreclosures continue to be high, new house sales are down, national and personal debt levels skyrocket and unemployment numbers remain high, people who are trying to ask questions are being shouted down as pessimistic, un-American, misinformed, etc. and so they keep their opinion to themselves.

3. We spend billions on airline security on an annual basis to prevent terrorists from killing us in the air.  When we ask how effective this investment is, we are told the proof is self-evident – look how no terrorists have taken planes out of the sky recently.  When we ask for proof that the investment is directly responsible for this, we are told we cannot know the details because of “national security”.  Meanwhile, people like the “underwear bomber” can STILL get explosives on planes (as admitted by Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano) while we can’t bring nail clippers on board.  Insiders in the airline industry tell me that they routinely find firearms and other weapons planted on certain overseas routes.  The professional terrorist will do what they wish to do but we accept what we are told by “the experts” as what is best for our protection.  When someone hides the facts and details under “national security” or they embarrass people who question what is going on in the airline industry, the intimidated stop asking questions or making public observations.

4. Corrupt politicians (not all are corrupt) pass laws that make scrutiny of their spending habits to be beyond inspection (again, for national security reasons, privacy reasons, etc) but tell us that this is ok because they have our best interests at heart anyway.  We begrudgingly accept this but then we are surprised and angered when one example after another appears where the same politicians then dipped into the trough repeatedly, illegally and without concern (or any semblance of morals).  So we get angry, demand an atonement, accept their apology and hope it never happens again. Sure – until the cycle repeats itself.

There are many more challenges that trouble people privately and professionally and yet they are kept quiet for fear of losing their job, their friends, their family, etc.

The “emperor is not wearing any clothing” but for a variety of reasons, we stay quiet or look the other way. Meanwhile, our challenges grow – we just don’t discuss them publicly.

This seems to be to be the ultimate intimidation. and given the potential impact, a very dangerous one.

We Need To Decide What is Really Important

So our ego works to protect us from what it perceives as immediate threats against itself when we engage in one-on-one interactions, when many of those interactions may have produced results far greater than anything we could ever have accomplished by ourselves.

Meanwhile, greater threats to our prosperity and well-being are at play every day and yet we don’t see them or we are afraid to have an opinion about them, for a variety of reasons.

I wonder if our egos need to choose our battles more intelligently.

On the one side, our ego rises to protect us without having any facts to justify its behavior.

On the other side, it accepts things from certain people with specific titles, again without having any facts.  However, many of us make the mistake of assuming that having a title makes some people superior in intention, morals or values and so facts aren’t important in these situations.

When we strip the titles off those people, they are all just people and so our ego should hold them accountable to the same set of rules.

As Neale Donald Walsch wrote:

Be aware

Be honest

Be responsible

Let’s apply our ego consistently across the board – to collaborate, to question, to see the gifts in ourselves and others and to make a difference for ourselves and the greater good.

Better yet, don’t let your ego do the talking or thinking for you.  What does your spirit or instinct tell you?

In service and servanthood.


PS I’m only as intimidating as you think I am.  Don’t believe me?  Rather than guess or assume, reach out to me to find out for yourself and to see what we can create together.  :-)

For my Musings-in-a-Minute version of "How Easily Intimidated Are You?”, please click here.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Making a Difference or Just Pleasing Yourself

I've been disrupted this evening by two quotes. The first, by Leo Rosten, is:

"The purpose of life is not to be happy - but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you have lived at all."

I'll get to the second one a little later in this post.

As with many pearls of wisdom, we read them, absorb them and then move on with our busy lives.

But this time, I happened across these two quotes while looking into the eyes of a young child in an online campaign designed to raise funds for children in developing nations. The child was sickly and starving - someone who lived in a world without hope, without dreams... wondering if anyone out there cared at all.

Wondering if this is all there is.

And when this sequence of events coalesced at the same moment this evening, it made me stop and think "How much do we REALLY do for others"?

Yes, we talk a lot about doing the right things and many of us do the token, obligatory acts of giving that don’t require a lot of effort and then we clap ourselves on the shoulder, congratulate ourselves regarding our benevolence and we move on with our lives.

How much do we REALLY think of people like this child?

I recently went through a pretty serious house-cleaning where I got rid of hundreds of promotional t-shirts, pens, pins and other stuff designed to help me think of the companies that gave them to me.

The promotional industry calls this stuff swag. As I got rid of it, to me it wasn't swag - it was junk.

Junk that occupied valuable space in my home, costs me money to move if I keep it, is negatively impactful on the environment to create, is wasteful to distribute and will be a detriment to the environment if not disposed of properly. Meanwhile, I am not using any of it for the purpose it was designed.

So from my perspective, it IS junk. It is of no benefit to me at all.

A lot of time goes into selecting the right items, deciding who gets them and when it is appropriate to deliver them.

More thought and money goes into the swag (junk) industry than is going into helping others.

Thankfully, not all companies and individuals think this way.

Some companies actually prefer a different approach. One such company, Henge Production and Consulting, buys goats on behalf of its clients instead of providing the clients with the usual t-shirts, pens, mouse pads and other useless paraphernalia. These goats allegedly make their way to destitute families in developing nations, helping to lift these families out of the dire situations that they are in.

However, this raises a question.

When such a gift is made, do the goats actually make it to these families or is this just another scam to help us feel good about helping others while not accomplishing anything measurable or useful for those in need?

Clients of Henge challenged Henge with this very question and the owners of Henge paused and realized:

"We actually don't know the answer - do our ethical gifts actually make a difference?"

So Henge set out to discover if their act of ethical gifting actually delivers goats to families in developing nations and if so, do these goats make a difference to the recipients?

Their incredible journey has been documented in a soon-to-be-released documentary entitled "Where's My Goat?". In the film, Christopher Richardson, a producer at Henge, sets out on a journey that takes him halfway around the world in his quest to find his goats and to understand what, if any, impact they have.

Do his goats exist? Does anyone benefit from such a gift or is it truly a feel-good Western ideal (or worse, is it a scam that produces nothing of value except to the scammer)?

You'll have to watch the film to find out. You can find out more on their Facebook page -

As you watch the film, you will be moved by the passion of a man as he seeks the answer to the question

"Are my intentions of making a difference in the world REALLY making a difference"?

If you have an opportunity to watch the film, be prepared to be disrupted and then ask yourself this question:

"Am I REALLY doing enough for others?"

Your heart will know the answer.

Follow your heart - it will take you places that will surprise you and will impact others for a lifetime.

As for the second of the two quotes I mentioned earlier, it was written by Daniel Berrigan and goes like this:

"Sometime in your life, hope that you might see one starved man, the look on his face when the bread finally arrives. Hope that you might have baked it or bought or even kneaded it yourself. For that look on his face, for your meeting his eyes across a piece of bread, you might be willing to lose a lot, or suffer a lot, or die a little, even."

Mr. Richardson's film is, I believe, a call to look into the eyes of someone who needs help.

When you do so, I'll bet you won't be able to resist helping them to the best of your ability.

And what's wrong with that?

In service and servanthood.