Saturday, October 20, 2012

Reflections on a Journey Home

I’ve been blessed recently with an opportunity to return to my boyhood home in Foxtrap, Newfoundland, Canada (with my ancestral home of Bell Island just across the bay) to help a client.

This morning as I walked the roads and trails that made up the then-huge world of my youth, I found myself reflecting on the generations who came before us and how we honor the lives they lived as they molded the world we now have stewardship of.

The generations who came before us toiled hard in conditions that most of us would find intolerable.  They overcame challenges that would knock us to our knees or worse and they lived, loved and learned in a world that was uncompromising.

But as challenging as their world was, their desire to survive and even to thrive was equally uncompromising and they persevered to create the world that we take for granted.

And as I thought about what we are doing with the world that they left to us, I came upon a favorite river of my youth.

Manuels River is a small river, known worldwide for its rich fossil beds, that meanders gently into the Atlantic Ocean.  As a boy, I enjoyed swimming in it with my family, fishing for mud trout with my father and watching toy sailboats ply across its waters.  Here is what it looks like this morning at one of its narrow points. 

Manuels River

When I was a boy, there were no groomed trails along the river.  The trails worn down by the many generations before us were more than enough.

In recent years, local people built up some of those trails and made very nice walking trails to replace those natural trails.

But as I proceeded along those walking trails today, I noticed something new to me.

Every rock that stuck up out of the ground more than 1/4 of an inch or every tree root that was the tiniest bit exposed was marked with fluorescent orange paint.

I happened to ask someone who was cleaning up the trail what the paint was for and he indicated that the purpose was obvious.  Apparently it was so I wouldn’t trip over anything while I was out enjoying the river’s natural beauty.

Of course – what an idiot I am. :-)

What was also obvious was that someone had decided that I was incapable of thinking for myself in knowing how to walk in nature’s beauty and so they had better do the thinking on my behalf in order to protect me.

As I thought about this, just for fun I projected one possible future where:

1. Someone trips over a rock anyway and someone else, recognizing how dangerous nature can be, decides to pave over the trails to protect the visitors.

2. A few years later, someone trips on the pavement, falls into a tree on the side of the trail and people recognize that we should clear-cut 10 feet on either side of the trail to protect people.

3. Some years after that, a developer realizes that the trail can be made more beautiful by making it longer but in doing so, it will be too long to walk on.  A beautiful monorail is installed to take care of this.

4. As the monorail becomes old, it eventually stops attracting crowds and falls into disrepair and the trail is considered too dangerous to experience.

5. Sometime after that, someone discovers some old photos and a 3-D interpretation center is built, where one is immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of the beauty that once was.

6. As people experience the interpretation center, they think “What a beautiful place – I wonder why they never did more to protect it when they had the chance”.

And then it hit me.

The world is going where it’s going because most people don’t proactively think about what they believe their strengths, purpose and responsibilities are, what the world’s potential is and what the world’s needs are.

And if they don’t think about these three things, they will definitely not think about what can be created (and what needs to be protected) when all three thoughts come together.

In fact, it’s even worse.

Many people have given up thinking altogether.  They are happy to delegate their thinking to someone else who will think on their behalf.

What they haven’t realized is that in doing so, they have sold their soul.  When someone thinks on my behalf, they won’t create a Life for me that I want.

They will create a Life for me that they want.

And so while I appreciate them pointing out every pebble in my path with bright paint that shouts “WARNING”, I prefer to stumble now and then, learn from the experience and be better as a result.

Otherwise, if they do all my thinking for me, there will come a time when I need to do it on my own and they won’t be there to help (or won’t have an interest).

And then I will be toast.

Which brings me back to how we can best honor those who walked the paths of history long before we came along.

Think for yourself – don’t let someone else think on your behalf.

Know what serves your needs.

Know what serves the needs of others and the world at large.

And then take action.

For our ancestors, choosing to not take action when it was necessary was guaranteed to produce their demise.

Is it really any different today?

In service and servanthood,




Some people wrote to me referring to the litigious society that we live in as being the primary reason for the bright paint.  However, I reminded them that it in fact increases liability instead of removing it.

How?  If I rely on automatically lifting my foot a little higher every time I see bright paint (because the person who marked the bumps is helping me think) and a bump is not marked, I may stumble over that bump.

And when that happens, I won’t take responsibility for my mistake.

I will point the finger at someone else because after encouraging me to rely on certain things (thinking on my behalf), they let me down by missing a bump and I wasn’t able to think appropriately to deal with it.

Friday, October 12, 2012

VP Debate - No Wonder Children Are Confused

Watching the VP Debate last night confirmed for me why many people think that young people are confused or without direction as they grow older.

If they have any sense of confusion at all, it’s because WE are confusing them.

Throughout the debate, VP Biden was seen as smirking or laughing at Rep. Ryan’s comments and many times interrupted Rep. Ryan, burning up Rep. Ryan’s time or talking over him.

After the debate, Democrat-leaning analysts praised this tactic, saying that his “strong pugnacious style” and his constant interrupting were just the strategy that the Democrats needed.  Apparently this was “Joe being Joe”.

Many Democrat supports lapped it up.  Unfortunately, they only agree with such tactics when it suits their need.  If someone treats them this way in return, such behavior would be considered tactless and disgraceful. 

I thought that holding the title of Vice President of the United States implied that some rules of decorum go with the title.

I guess I was wrong.

So the message to our young people is this:

When someone else is talking about VERY serious matters (or anything at all for that matter), the best way to deal with it is with arrogance, disrespect and dismissal.

Wait … don’t we tell them to treat others with respect, to listen to the opinions of others and to voice any dissension respectfully?

Yes we do.

However, our young people model what we do, not what we say.

Think of some other ways we send mixed messages to our young people.

Message:  Don’t push and shove getting on the school bus otherwise someone may get hurt.

Translation: Ever try getting on the train at Penn Station in NYC during rush hour while being too thin-skinned to assert your place in line?  The phrase “being thrown under the train” comes to mind.

Message: Don’t play on the street when you are younger because a car might hit and kill you.

Translation (20 years later): I don’t know why my child never took risks when he/she got older.  It’s like he/she was afraid to for fear of experiencing some great catastrophe.

Message: Don’t talk to strangers. They are all candy-wielding kidnappers and/or pedophiles.

Translation (20 years later): I don’t know why my child seems unable to build relationships or to trust anyone, especially when it comes to strangers.

Message: Be what you want to be when you grow up (although I will offer you no concrete tools or processes to figure out how to do that since I never figured out how to accomplish it myself).

Translation (20 years later): My child never seemed to find himself/herself with their career/Life and I’m not sure why.

Message: Bullying is wrong.  Let’s pass all kinds of laws showing people how we are united against bullying.

Translation: Ever watch these same lawmakers in a sitting of Congress or Parliament and the level of intimidation and bullying that takes place during “civilized debate”?  Sometimes this happens while young people are sitting in the gallery watching.

While Democrat supporters are praising VP Biden’s disrespectful, flippant tone, I think it sends the wrong message to our young people, especially when discussing important subjects such as the nation’s financial concerns, unemployment statistics, poverty worries and national security and especially when the Democrats keep saying they welcome a bilateral solution.

What we say is important.

What we do is even more important. especially in the eyes of a young person modeling our behavior.

Who we are, what we do and how we do it becomes the template by which the young people of today will run the world of tomorrow.

I’m not certain if that’s something to look forward to or be afraid of.

I guess it depends on the message we send today, doesn’t it?

What message are you sending?

How do you know?

In service and servanthood,


Addendum: An observation from a friend and offered as advice to anyone who resorts to taunting or intimidation when engaged in a debate:

When a wise man has a controversy with a foolish man, the foolish man either rages or laughs, and there is no rest.- Proverbs 29:9 NASB

Whether we are the wise man or the foolish one is often easily perceived by others.

We need to make sure our actions are in alignment with the persona we wish to project so that we have some means of directing how we are perceived.

Addendum 2:

Washington Post reporter Dan Zak tweeted the following message during the debate.


Describing a VP candidate as a pervert is an example of where respect-less dialog is taking our society.

I wish some of these people could be as respectful to others as the respect they demand from others.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Leaving the “Junk” Behind

Watching a couple of friends stewing over things that don’t really matter reminded me of this story that I read many years ago.

Two monks, sworn to celibacy (including forbidding touching or speaking to a woman) and dedicated to living a peaceful, worry-free existence were walking along a road when they came upon a river that they needed to cross to continue their journey. 

Beside the river was a woman wondering how she would cross the river.  She tearfully explained to the monks that she was carrying much needed food to her starving family and had to return to save their lives.

One of the monks picked up the woman and carried her across the river, laying her down safely on the other side.  She thanked the monk and walked away.

As the two monks continued their journey, the monk who had not touched the woman was eyeing his companion and as he did so, the frown on his face deepened.

After they had walked about 10 miles, his companion stopped, turned towards him and asked him why he was staring at him.

The monk replied “You know full well that our vows prevent us from even speaking to a woman and yet you dared violate our vows by carrying that woman across the river”.

His companion nodded his head and then replied, “That may be so but I left the woman at the river.  You, however,  have  been “carrying” her for the last 10 miles.  Which one of us is in greater violation of our vows?”

The monk thought about it, nodded without saying anything and they both continued on their journey.

Our day is filled with blessings and challenges.

Carry what you need to carry to create a great day for yourself and others.

As for the rest ….

…. leave it at the river.

In service and servanthood,


Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Thanksgiving Meal–Pass the Gratitude Please

As a Canadian who has spent most of his career in the US, I get the double blessing of enjoying the Thanksgiving holiday twice a year.

As I was preparing the meal today, I reflected on Thanksgiving meals of my youth.

While my years in NYC and elsewhere have been ones of personal and professional abundance, I have never forgotten the early years of my life that were spent in this house in a small town in Newfoundland.

[First house[2].jpg]

We never had much in those days and yet, I remember my family being ferociously grateful for everything.  We never judged anything we were blessed to have.

We savored everything.

I don’t see that same level of gratitude in a lot of people today.  I see people pulling up to their local coffee shop in $60,000+ vehicles (having just left their $1 million+ mansions), walking into the coffee in their designer clothing and buying $5 lattes, only to sit down with their friends and complain about how difficult their life is.

They often try to out-complain each other, reminding me of the Monty Python sketch of the 4 Yorkshiremen.


The 4 Yorkshiremen


Their belly is full and they are not cold.  They never evaded bullets or landmines to get to the coffee shop.  They enjoy the freedom to meet with their friends without fear of being arrested.  They will probably throw out more food and clothing in the course of a year than many people in the world could imagine having access to.

Many would kill to have access to what we discard.

Many suffer or die because they don’t have that access.

And despite all that abundance, too many of us prefer to focus on what we don’t have.

I wonder if many of the difficulties in the western world stem from the fact that we are constantly focusing on what we don’t have or that we always zero in on what the “other person” has, leaving us in a perpetual state of a lack of “whatever”.

How can we ever feel grateful if we eternally live in a state of “the universe hasn’t given me what I desire or deserve yet”?

You Create What You Focus On

Many wise people over the years have told us that we create that which we focus on.

Maybe if we focused a little more on being grateful for the staggering amount of abundance that we are blessed with, we would find ourselves being more passionate about sharing it with those who have lost the will or ability to visualize or partake in such abundance.

And as we sit down to the Thanksgiving meal (or any meal), let’s not limit our gratitude to just the meal before us or the people around us at the moment.

In a world filled with challenge, being grateful for all that we have provides us with the fuel to move forward and a desire to preserve and protect that which we are grateful for instead of ignoring it in favor of something else that always seems just out of our reach.

Being grateful also creates within us the need to share more of what we are grateful for with others.

Otherwise we will manifest what we are focusing on.

And then we will have something to complain about, but it won’t matter anymore.  It will be too late and we will have created the very Life that we so vehemently complained about for years.

As many of us in the western world sit at the table of endless bounty every day, let’s remember to ask for a double helping of gratitude and with our appetite satiated, let’s work harder to bring others to the same table.

And be grateful for the opportunity to do so.

G.K. Chesterton once said:

When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.

The choice you make impacts the quality of your Life and the lives of those around you.

John F. Kennedy said:

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

How are you living?

How do you know?

In service and servanthood,


PS Every generation talks about “the new math” that is being taught in schools and how difficult it is to learn.  Eric Hoffer, though, may have said it best when he said:

The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.

Count them.

Be grateful for them.

Share them.