Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Gift From the Past

Today was one of those days where few things seemed to come together as hoped or desired.  We all have days like this, try as we might to avoid them.  The events of the day weighed heavily on me as I traveled home, unaware that a gift was waiting for me at home.

The gift was in the form of a message from a friend and client of mine in New Jersey by the name of Lucky P. whom I have not seen in almost 20 years.

What was funny about him calling is that I had been reminiscing a few days earlier about the great clients I have been blessed with over the years and I had named Lucky as one of my top three favorites.  This is no small feat, given that my career spans almost 30 years, covering almost all of the Fortune 50 and includes some of the most powerful and wealthiest people in the world as clients and colleagues.

And yet, several days after I have been praising this man as being extremely influential in my Life, here he is calling me because I am on his mind.  That’s the way my Life has always been – a sequence of serendipitous events that people find hard to believe until they witness it first hand. 

I called Lucky back and had the extreme delight and pleasure of getting “caught up”.  There were the usual niceties – family, career, home location, and such.

But there was an underlying theme in our conversation that took me back 20 years when I worked for Lucky and which made the last 20 years melt away.

When I worked for Lucky back in the early 90s in Neptune, New Jersey, there were a couple of things that struck me about him.

He treated everyone with deep respect.  Not just a cursory, obligatory, professional respect but a deep respect that made you feel like you mattered.

He also lived a life filled with gratitude – gratitude for his family, for his co-workers and for the abundance around him.  It was his deeply ingrained sense of gratitude for everything that opened my awareness to the importance of feeling and expressing gratitude, even in difficult times.

As I spoke to Lucky this evening, we effortlessly switched from one subject to another like it was only yesterday that we worked together.  As we did so, I noticed that the themes of respect and gratitude are still reflected in everything he thinks, says and does.

In fact, they seemed more ingrained now than ever … a true gift to have in the uncertain world that we live in.

When I worked for Lucky, the brunt of my career was still ahead of me - the difficulties, challenges, successes and victories that awaited my discovery.

But much of what guided me through those years to come was heavily influenced by people like Lucky – people who arrived at the right time in my Life and exhibited behaviors worth modeling.

And so as we talked, I was once again filled with gratitude for him and for the influence he had on my Life.

At a moment when I was ruminating over a difficult day, Lucky reappeared and again filled me with gratitude – gratitude that there are people in the world like him who remind the rest of us that respect-filled, gratitude-filled, heart-filled people still exist in the world.

Twenty years later, he is still teaching me but is probably too humble to take credit for it.

His call today reminds me of something else.

Each of us has an opportunity to change someone’s day (and maybe their Life) simply by reaching out and telling them that we are thinking of them.

We may have NO idea about the impact of such a call on the other person.

But they will know.

And that’s what matters.

In service and servanthood,


Friday, November 18, 2011

For Sale: Respect and Courtesy-No Longer Needed

I was intrigued (to say the least) on Thursday when someone suggested that the high levels of respect and courtesy that I show others implied that I “must be up to something” and therefore I should tone it down.

I found this fascinating and disappointing but mostly, after I had gotten over the shock (and, admittedly, a little anger) I found it sad.

I think it is sad that someone perceives a world where respect and courtesy aren’t common and therefore believes that people are only nice to others when they want something.

It is sadder when such people ask that high levels of courtesy and respect be toned down when in fact, the world needs elevated levels of both more than ever.

I guess there is a mistaken belief that toning down courtesy and respect will help the person feel more comfortable since it will confirm for them that people like me are not “up to something”.

Maybe in such situations, I should stop being so courteous and respectful.  Maybe I can sell both on eBay as someone once tried to sell their soul.

In fact, to stop being so courteous and respectful would in essence be selling my soul.  It is how I am wired, it is something I am respected for in turn by others and it is something that I believe needs to be cultivated in the world.

So perhaps the opportunity is not to tone down my courtesy and respect but to pour it on and demonstrate that there are no conditions attached to high levels of both.  It is given as it is intended – no strings attached and no ulterior motives intended.

I give it because I believe that every person should strive to as much as they can.

And I give it because I believe that the other person deserves it.

So on second thought, I’m not going to put them up for sale on eBay.

I’m going to do what I try to do everyday … to give it away as much as possible.

And maybe …. just maybe … I will be able to convince someone else that courtesy and respect doesn’t always mean an ulterior motive is at play.

And if I fail, I will have at least lived by my core values instead of compromising them to satisfy the narrower view of someone else.

“To thine own self be true”.

In service and servanthood,


Friday, November 11, 2011

Lest We Forget … or Have We Forgotten Already?

It’s a damp, cool , overcast day in Fort Saskatchewan, a small town just outside of of Edmonton and I’m listening to the bugler play “The Last Post”.

We have gathered to remember those who have made or will make the ultimate sacrifice so that we may continue to experience the freedoms that we cherish ….. so that we may experience the freedoms we think WE have earned and deserve. 

“We have earned and deserve” - there’s an interesting thought.

And so while the men and women who serve do so without asking anything of us, the least we can do is remember and honor their sacrifice.

Lest we forget.

Lest we forget that as we enjoy the comforts of our lifestyle, there are others who have foregone such comforts. 

These are the men and women who fought in the trenches with nothing to keep them warm in the middle of a bitterly cold winter other than pieces of wool clothing when we complain that our favorite “uber deluxe coat” is not available in that shade of blue we wanted.

These are the people who drive into harm’s way, every mile having the potential to produce the mine or IED that will take their lives in an instant or leave them maimed for life while we sit consumed in anger that traffic is not moving as fast as we would like.  No one is shooting at us as we sit in traffic either.

These are the men and women who suffered through little or no food when supply lines were choked off while we consume in excess quantities or complain that “such and such a meal is not to my liking and I want the restaurant to remake it”, afterwards spending days telling everyone about the lousy experience we had.  The restaurant is also not likely to kill us with typhus, cholera or the plethora of other diseases that these people dealt with daily.

These are the people who stared at the beaches of Normandy as they approached on the morning of June 6, 1944 and realized what was before them or stared at the cliffs of Dieppe and girded their mind in preparation for their assault while we complain that the time-share that we want on some beach in Hawaii is not available on the one weekend that would really make us happy.

In a world of comfort, we sometimes visualize things that make us unhappy and yet all of these things pale in comparison to the things that the men and women who serve and sacrifice have faced and will continue to face.

I can’t help but think that surely they didn’t make these sacrifices so that we would have the freedom to complain about how our Life is lacking. 

It is true that they made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can live Life as we choose.  They make no demands or attach stipulations on how we live our lives.  But are our choices the most respectful, honorable ones we could be making as an expression of our gratitude?

Imagine a scenario where your child is standing in the middle of a highway and suddenly you see a large truck bearing down on them.  Your child is transfixed in fear, you are unable to get to them in time and you know you are about to watch your child die.  Suddenly, out of the blue, someone rushes past you, dives towards the child and they both roll to safety just as the truck roars by.  You thank them profusely and the stranger is humble and gracious in receiving your gratitude, insisting that it “was nothing” or it was “the right thing to do”.

You are indebted to that person for the rest of your Life and with great reason.  Every day that you experience the love of your child, you are reminded of the sacrifice a complete stranger was willing to make.  They put themselves on the line for you, did so without asking “what’s in it for me” and without subsequently demanding a “reward”.

By the same token, the men and women who serve do this every day and have done so for generations.  The fact that we don’t necessarily see them in action every day shouldn’t be an excuse to forget the sacrifices they have made.

When I think that someone whom I will never meet is willing to sacrifice their Life so that I may live mine, that is humbling beyond description.

What makes my Life so worthy that they would do this?

I guess it depends on what I do with it, doesn’t it?

Do I make my Life something that says that their sacrifice wasn’t for naught?

It depends on whether I choose to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice and to make sure that my Life is worthy of that sacrifice.

Because if I don’t remember their sacrifice and don’t do something to honor that sacrifice, then their sacrifice is in vain … and the greatest insult to the men and women who serve.

So when we have something to complain about, maybe we should pause and reflect on what complete strangers were and are willing to do for us.

We haven’t earned a Life of abundance and opportunity.

They earned it for us. 

All they ask is that we use the opportunity to live our Life to its maximum potential and to be grateful for opportunity to do so.  That’s not too much to ask, is it?

And so today, we are called to remember the tremendous gift that they have given us.

But we shouldn’t limit the expression of gratitude to just today.  It is one we should express every day.

Lest we forget.

In service and servanthood.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Consistency of Inconsistency

There is one thing that is consistent about human beings, that being:

“The more we claim to be different than others, the greater the chance that we are just like them”.

The #OWS movement (and all the Occupy movements associated with them) are protesting about a number of things, including the notion that they are tired of being oppressed or having their rights and freedoms infringed upon by others.  Many have talked about the need to stand up against the 1% who for too long have been intimidating the 99%.

To suggest these things is to imply that the protestors are different than others, that somehow they have evolved to a more mature, enlightened level than those they are protesting against.

Despite such assertions, we now have reports of sexual assaults occurring against some protesters at the hands of other protestors, the number of thefts from protestors as a result of the actions of other protestors is on the rise and in places like NYC, a sudden increase in unprotected sex (can we say Woodstock) has caused some protestors to scramble for STD testing.

So …. are the protestors really any different than those they are protesting against?

As I walked out of City Hall in Calgary, Alberta on Monday, I was unaware that inside the Council Chambers, votes were taking place on how the City should deal with the #OccupyCalgary movement.

I left the building to have coffee with a friend and was approached by someone at the entrance to City Hall offering me a leaflet.  Intent on getting to my destination in a timely fashion, I shook my head and proceeded to walk past him.

What followed was a tirade against me and my companion, calling us some unmentionable names that I won’t write here and citing how I was infringing upon his constitutional rights by not taking his brochure. 

A couple of other people entered the discussion and pretty soon, several of us were being lambasted on City Hall property by two individuals who derided and insulted us for oppressing them and denying them their right to push their information upon us.

While I’m always open to an intellectual exchange and my meeting companion also said “I’m in a rare confrontational mood today and ready for anything”, we walked away from them.

As we sat in the coffee shop a few minutes later, I happened to notice that one of them had followed us across the street and was staring at me through the window, wide-eyed and maniacal as he taunted me through the glass.  Eventually, he turned his attention to someone else and began to yell at them instead.

If children or elderly people had been present, they may have been frightened or intimidated by such behavior and I made a note to my companion that if either of them were still there when I went back to City Hall, I would notify security.  After all, don’t I also have a right to walk on a public street in a city in North America without being threatened or intimidated?

As I thought about this interaction, I thought about how consistent people are with their inconsistency.

In many instances, protestors are claiming that they are being oppressed by others, that they are meeting violence at the hands of the authorities and that their personal freedoms are being negated at the hands of others.

In my situation today, the actions of the people who were attempting to intimidate me or infringe upon my right to personal freedom spoke so loudly, that I couldn’t hear the message that they were hoping to convey.

Which brings me to this point.

Gandhi once said

Be the change you want to see”.

In other words, don’t tell us what you want or attempt to shove it down our throats (sometimes literally).

Lead and teach us through example.  Show us that you know a better way of leading and living and encourage us to live the same way through modeling your behavior.

Until that happens, the only thing you are showing us is that the inconsistency of demanding to be treated with respect while treating others disrespectfully is sadly consistent within the human race.

And as long as that is the case, the strength of the #OWS message is diminished and diluted.

At the end of the day, are the protestors any different than the people that they are protesting against or are they merely feeling oppressed because they are not the oppressor?

The latter would be consistent as far as human thinking is concerned.

Sadly, hopes of real change aren't realistic as long as the consistency of inconsistency persists.

In service and servanthood,


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Conspiracies and the Attraction of Redaction

I happened to make a comment on Facebook this morning along the lines of “let’s start a rumor that #OWS was actually started by the credit unions in order to get people to dump banks and switch to credit unions – it would be the ultimate conspiracy theory, to suggest that the credit unions masterminded #OWS to attract business”.

It seemed amusing until I received this email this evening:

“Harry, I know you are always encouraging people to think for themselves and to be aware of truth disguised as something  that is not obvious. Did you know that there is a rumor on the street that the OccupyWallSt group is being funded by credit unions trying to steal business from the banks?”.

Sad, isn’t it?  All it takes is something that sounds good and resonates with our need to be on guard against the covert and devious-minded and you quickly have created something that is shared as fact.

The average human mind hates gaps and will fill them in an effort to connect the dots.  Sometimes we send someone a message and if we haven’t received a reply in the time we have decided is acceptable, we wonder if the other person has been injured and can’t respond, is angry with us and doesn’t want to respond or has a devious reason for not responding.

The same holds true for information.  I love reading stories about people who spend years trying to get classified information out of the government until they finally receive the declassified version that is so heavily redacted that it is worthless and yet, the existence of the redaction reinforces their belief that they are “on to something”.

There’s even software out there that will help you set up your own redaction scheme, just in case someone chases after you about your knowledge of aliens, the JFK assassination or J. Edgar Hoover’s favorite dress color.  And yes, I’m being facetious – I know there are legitimate reasons for redaction in the public and private sector.

Accepting legitimate reasons for redaction, I believe that a large portion of human potential is being wasted processing conspiracy theories and is contributing to the mess that the world is in, cluttering our minds with a lot of noise and distraction.

However, I do get intrigued by some gaps in knowledge.  For example, there is a government group that approached me in the fall of 2010 to ask for permission to explore some of my work in the use of predictive analytics to predict human behavior.  When I asked if I had an option to decline the request, I was told that I did not.  The work that has resulted in the last year as a result of a review of my work is classified and not available to me, even though it is based on my work.  An intriguing gap, but probably not as exciting as the great stories my brain wants to weave from such gaps.

That being said, when I listen to #OWS people, conspiracy folks or anyone else who loves to convert gaps in time or knowledge into covert plans bent on the suppression of our inalienable rights or the ultimate demise of the human species in general, I am saddened by the misdirection of energy.

I mean, I agree that it wouldn’t surprise me if groups like  ████████████ or █████████████████ had an interest in hiding information about ████████████, █████████ or even ██████████.  However, I think we need to get over the paranoia that arises every time a ██████████████ says that we must ████████████ █████████ ██████ just because █████████ indicates that ██████████████ ███████████ ████████ ██████████ ██████████ ███████.

There are, however,  people and groups that we should pay attention to.  Just as the magician achieves magic through sleight-of-hand and misdirection, sometimes the people or groups that are doing the redaction aren’t the problem.  They are the “misdirection” required by someone else. The “someone else” are the ones that the conspiracy crowd should really go after.

Such people are probably pretty powerful.  I wonder if the average conspiracy person would really want to tackle what would come out of Pandora’s box once the cover has been removed on some conspiracy theories. 

I doubt it.

Until then, it is best that we not assume that every government group has a conspiracy behind it, every mountain has a UFO base underneath it and the two guys in sunglasses driving the late-model Cadillac behind you for the last two days are looking to zap your mind with a neuralizer.

Well … the last part is probably true.  But if that were the case, then ███████████ was right when he said ████████ ██████████   ██████████████ ████ ███████ ███████ ███████.

And if that were true, then we know that ███████ ████ ████████ is also true.

And that’s when I would really be concerned.

Until then, let’s put our energy into impactful things that can make a real difference where it is needed.  We can find a lot of things that require immediate fixing in the world without letting our imaginations get the best of us by creating a ton of stuff that doesn’t exist but which drains our energy all the same. 

And besides, sometimes we have to watch what we wish for – we might just find it.

Now … if only that Cadillac would stop following me around.

In service and servanthood,