Monday, May 15, 2017

Love and Compassion in Action

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. - Dalai Lama

The purpose of human life is to serve and to show compassion and the will to help others. - Albert Schweitzer

In the middle of the largest M & A (mergers and acquisitions) deal of my career and in the early incubation stages of a Foundation designed to serve the people who serve and lift others, I found myself unable to sleep at 3:30am and began the rigor and discipline of my day.

My day always begins with Quiet Hour, a time of reflection, contemplation, meditation, prayer and planning in preparation for a busy day but this morning, I felt compelled to go somewhere I never go for Quiet Hour.

I tried to change my mind but something kept calling me to go to this place so I finally acquiesced and proceeded to a local 24-hour coffee shop.

It was filled with the usual crowd in the wee hours of the morning, truckers beginning or ending their day, young people laughing, a few people working intently on laptops …. the usual mix.

It also had two “kids” sitting there, two young people in their late teens or early twenties, slightly dirty, disheveled and looking slightly uncomfortable or lost.

My Quiet Hour began as it always does, with my books, my journal and my cup of tea spread out before me and my noise cancelling headphones playing my meditation music du jour.

As my Quiet Hour ended and I changed my music to up-tempo music to energize my day, I noticed that a couple (maybe late 30s or early 40s) were talking to the kids.  The man had an acronym on his jacket which I Googled (I’m a data guy) and I discovered that they represented a local outreach program for the homeless and for people who struggle with addictions.

I took one ear bud out of my ear and listened intently to the interaction.

I observed the gentle but persistent methods that the couple used in telling the kids about the options that were available to them, that there was no pressure or obligation and they if they wanted help, it was available to them.

The couple left and sat outside in their vehicle.

The kids discussed this back and forth as they wondered about it and dismissed it simultaneously.

Then they paused, looked at each other, shrugged, stood up in silence and went outside.

They picked up their bikes, proceeded to the couple’s vehicle and shared some words I did not hear with the woman in the passenger seat.  The woman wiped her eyes and smiled, the man got out and helped them place their bikes in the back of the vehicle and they drove off together.

Perhaps someone’s Life was changing at that moment.

As I reflected on what I had just witnessed, I looked down upon the paperwork for the sale of one company and the creation of another and I realized that I had been given the gift of emotional fuel – a reminder of why I do what I do.

It reminded me of a colleague on the other side of my then largest M & A deal who said, “Remember, we are doing this for our families and for those we serve and not for the money – that’s why we do what we do.”.  His observation changed how I finished the deal and everything I did ever after.

Just then I realized that a line from “Raise a Little Hell” by the Canadian music group Trooper was playing in my ear:

If you don't like what you see, why don't you fight it?

If you know there's something wrong, why don't you right it?

I just witnessed someone righting a wrong.

The Bottom Line

It is easy to get caught up in the trials and tribulations of our Life, whether it’s a large business deal, screaming kids, the fact that our $5 latte and $8 cupcake doesn’t quite meet our expectations (seriously), our belief that our clothing is out of date, our thought that our car is just not new enough, our complaint that the food selection at the supermarket is “not good enough” and the like.

We get caught up in a lot of things in our Lives that others can’t even dream about.  As we go about our day often ignoring the blessings and abundance all around us while simultaneously wondering how our Life should somehow be better “just because we demand it”, someone wonders if they will eat tomorrow, where they will sleep, how they will overcome an addiction ….

…. or if anyone cares at all.

The couple I watched today showed these kids that they matter.

I hope the love and compassion felt by these kids “sticks” and that they move on to create something greater in their Lives.

Experts say that sharing love, compassion and support touches specific parts of our brain and imparts important benefits upon us mentally and physically..

They also say that the same benefits are received by those who are on the receiving end of such gifts.

And equally importantly, they say that those who witness such an exchange are benefitted in the same way.

Was I “called” to be at this spot today to witness this or was it just coincidence?

It depends on what you believe.

Someone out there needs to feel love and compassion today, to be lifted when they feel no one cares for their story and their Life.

Are you willing to be that person?

Maybe you’re the person who needs it – don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Putting $10 in a donation box is one thing.

To get up, get out and serve is another – an act that could change your Life and the Life of someone else forever.

I am reminded of this quote by Bob Pierce (the founder of World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse) when he described “The Great Compassion”:

Let my heart be broken by that which breaks the heart of God.

What in the world so troubles your heart that you can’t bear for it to continue?

What are you willing to do about it?

The world and someone in it is waiting for you.

What are you waiting for?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Friday, May 12, 2017

Last Chances Don’t Come With Warnings

We never really learn from the first mistake, second or third.  It only hits us when we're given the last chance.- Wiz Khalifa

Last night, I was reminded about the importance of finishing what you’ve started with a sense of urgency while you still have the time to do so.

Late last night as a small group of us stepped outside to wind down our evening, we noticed a lightning storm off in the distance.  The lightning was beautiful and approximately 4-5 miles away according to the old “one-one thousand, two-one thousand” quasi-accurate calculation of distance.

Assuming it was safe to proceed with the storm safely off to the south, we began walking when suddenly lightning struck the ground all around us with blinding light, phenomenally loud thunder and a strange, loud sizzling sound in the air.

It wasn’t just one flash but several.  I had fallen to the ground, saw it striking the ground all around us and I remember yelling “Get down, get down, get down”.

After the terrifying moment had passed, I noticed my colleague was still standing and shouting incoherently.  When I asked “Why didn’t you get down on the ground?”, their response was, “I couldn’t – I was frozen and too afraid to move.”

“You always hit the ground when this happens”, I replied, shaken and frustrated at the same time while feeling grateful having survived my third near-strike of lightning.

I later morbidly tweeted that the shareholders would have been ticked off had we been killed so close to the conclusion of a significant deal.

This morning, my colleague still wasn’t feeling 100% as we discussed how close we came to an untimely end.

It got me to thinking about close encounters in my Life.

Bear with me for a moment – there is a method to my madness:

I have survived:

  • 5 aviation incidents - two RPM governance failures on takeoff, a near-miss on final approach, a structural integrity compromise during a violent storm (requiring an emergency landing) and a depressurization.  The lightning strike I encountered on a flight once is considered normal.  I mused about one of the incidents in the post The Last Hour of My Life.
  • A bicycle crash that split my helmet in two when my temple hit the pavement at 25+ mph and left me with a serious concussion, a lot of cuts and abrasions and a destroyed bicycle.  I am an official member of the “Saved by the Bell” club, a designation where a Bell bike helmet was proven to have saved your Life.
  • Another bicycle crash that occurred when I was clipped on the left by an SUV whose driver wasn’t paying attention to how close they were to me.
  • Two near misses by tornadoes, including one that touched down half a block from where I had gone out for a walk and one that formed over me in Vulcan, Alberta and touched down a short distance later.  In the latter incident, I was so busy filming it over me that I didn't realize I was in significant danger.
  • A strike by a vehicle from behind where the vehicle was carrying a piece of lumber sticking out the passenger side of the vehicle.  It was a rainy night and I was walking on the sidewalk when a voice to my left (right by my ear) yelled “look out”.  I jumped to the right, startled by the voice and at the moment, the lumber struck me across the shoulder blades, knocking me out.  A witness in a car behind the car that struck me told me later that he saw a flash of light right beside my head just before I jumped and thought I was jumping because of that.  I was informed by police that had I not jumped at that moment, the lumber would have struck me in the neck and likely killed me.  Who warned me?
  • Two mini strokes, one in my teens and one in my early 20s.
  • Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (stage 4) at the age of 30.
  • A near head-on collision with a large snowplow.  I had come upon a single lane cut in a 20-foot deep snow drift, stopped, saw no one coming towards me and proceeded through it.  Unbeknownst to me, a snow plow had decided to take a second run at clearing the snow and had backed up around a turn in the road in front of me in order to get some acceleration for the second run.  As I was halfway through the tunnel, he came around the turn driving straight towards me.  In a flash, I knew I could beat him to the end of the snow tunnel and so I accelerated towards him.  I cleared the tunnel just as he entered it.  I escaped but the van driving behind me took the full brunt of the head-on collision as the plow entered the snow tunnel and the driver of the van was seriously injured.  People who witnessed the accident thought I was either lucky or crazy for accelerating towards the plow.  Maybe I was both.
  • I’ve been attacked 5 times in New York City, 4 times by individuals and once by a group of 4 or 5 guys.  Of the first 4 incidents, 2 of the 4 guys were unconscious before they hit the ground.  Regarding the group, myself and another colleague were held up by a gang of miscreants who demanded our wallets as we headed home from Brooklyn late one night.  When I refused, the leader (I assume it was the leader) told me that I couldn’t take all of them.  I acknowledged the truth of this but said I would at least kill the first one.  They looked uncertainly at each other and left the scene.  Steve, my colleague, asked me if I would have done that and I said “Yes – we were going to die anyway.  I gambled that I had to look crazier than they were and it worked.”
  • I was stabbed by a man with a mental health issue on a subway stop in Toronto who found a new use for the metal tip of his umbrella.
  • I hit a patch of black ice on a turn one night while driving 65 mph and went into a full spin (I still remember each rotation in slow motion).  I missed all the oncoming traffic, bounced off an ice wall on the opposite side of the road, crossed the road again, missed traffic in both directions, hit the wall on the original side of the highway and then came back across the traffic.  I stopped in the middle of the road, facing the wrong direction.  My car didn’t appreciate the experience but I was completely unhurt.
  • I was almost struck by a vehicle while crossing a street in Calgary during a rain storm but was saved when someone else saw it developing and blew their horn to warn me.  I mused about that in my post Angels Amongst Us.
  • I was the passenger in 5 different high speed accidents in my second semester of college.
  • I have narrowly missed many accidents as a driver, with the vehicle in front of me or behind me being taken out by various incidents.
  • I was rushed to hospital last summer with a blood pressure of 190 / 130.  Doctors were impressed that I hadn't had a stroke or heart attack.  My blood pressure is now a normal 90 / 55.
  • 15 minutes before the World Trade Center bomb exploded, I was standing on the very spot that was vaporized when the blast went off.

All of these came to mind as I reflected on last night’s moment, my third near-lightning strike.  The first one came as I stood on my lawn in New Jersey and watched a distant storm coming in.  I suddenly felt “strange” as if something was inside me and at that moment, lightning struck a playground set about 50 feet from me, with the intense light and blast of thunder knocking me over.  I was later told that a “streamer” was likely coming up through me, making me a candidate for the strike had it connected with a leader coming down from the storm cloud.  Another time, I was riding on a bike trail that cut through a car wreck yard, trying to beat a storm home, when suddenly lighting began hitting the junkyard.  I lay on the ground as lightning blasted all around me like artillery fire.

The funny thing is that I live a relatively low-risk life.  I don’t sky dive, smoke, drink or intentionally put myself at risk in any way.  I eat well, exercise and take care of myself emotionally, physically, intellectually and spiritually.  I drive the speed limit and minimize my risk in business.  I’m so uptight about obeying the rules that even jay walking is something not on my “can do” list.

And despite a low-risk Life, I have dodged a lot of things that many people succumb to on their first encounter.

As I discussed this with my colleague this morning, I made several observations:

  1. We’re still here so let’s not spend too much time navel gazing about it
  2. Either “Someone” thinks we are not finished with our Purpose or we are very lucky – either way, we have to do something with this second chance (or whatever number I was up to, I’d lost count until I sat down to reflect on the moment).
  3. The shareholders are still happy.
  4. Let’s finish what we started.

The reality is that once again, we’ve been given a reminder that our time here is borrowed time – we don’t know how much we are given to start with, we don’t know how much is left and once time is burned for good or for bad, it can never be reclaimed.

How much of your time are you taking for granted?

The Bottom Line

We exist for a variety of reasons, to love, to share, to learn, to teach, to grow, to lift / serve others, to create and for some, to be a lesson to others.

Whatever our Purpose, we may not have as much time as we think to accomplish it.

In fact, today may be our last day, with our final moments coming without warning (the blog post title is a quote from Rob Hill).

Are you willing to allow your legacy, your gifts, your talents, your family, your colleagues or your sense of Purpose to be allowed to languish or remain unfulfilled because you took your time for granted?

Do you need a warning shot for motivational purposes?

Don’t wait for such a warning because it may signify your departure, with anything in-progress remaining unfinished.

I end my emails (and many meetings) with “Create a great day” or “Create a great day because merely having one is too passive an experience”.  Careful observers notice that I also always capitalize the L in Life.

I do it because I recognize that Life is a holy gift, without guarantees, and that we should create a great day because today may be our last.

Are you creating a great day right now?

In service and servanthood.

Harry

PS I am not a Nickleback fan at all but I was amused to discover that as I finished this post, their song, “If Today Was Your Last Day” is playing on the radio.

It’s just a coincidence, of course.

Isn’t it?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Self Discipline–Why You Can Never Reach Me Instantly

Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun's rays do not burn until brought to a focus. - Alexander Graham Bell

We use our gadgets for distraction and entertainment. We use them to avoid work while giving the impression that we're actually working hard. - Meghan Daum

The moment of drifting into thought has been so clipped by modern technology. Our lives are filled with distraction with smartphones and all the rest. People are so locked into not being present. - Glen Hansard

I have a confession to make to the many people who wonder what the secret is to getting me to answer my phone.

If you’re not in my calendar today, then don’t bother calling / SMS’ing me if you expect an immediate reply / comment.  I won’t even know you called me until the end of the day.

In our world of always being connected, always reachable, I have noticed that a lot of people who complain that they never get anything done appear to exist to be at the beck and call of everyone around them, whether it be via phone call, SMS, Facebook, Twitter or whatever the current distraction du jour is.

That’s fine if you believe that you exist only for the needs of others or that you are willing to sacrifice your priorities in order to meet everyone else’s.

However, if you believe you exist to serve a Greater Purpose, using your strengths, gifts and talents to the greatest potential possible, you cannot exist this way at all.

When I plan my day (right after my Quiet Hour), I note who needs to call me that day and I set up my phone to allow calls and SMS to come in from those people or people associated with them.

Family members, my closest friends and colleagues / friends who are currently in trouble and need support are always on this allowed list.

If you didn’t make it to that list for the day, when you call or SMS me, you will be redirected.  I won’t even be aware you reached out until the end of the day when I do my end-of-day wind-down.

While many have told me that this is unfair or uncaring for the people who might want to reach out to say hi, to ask advice or to complain incessantly about something they have no interest in addressing themselves (using me as the whipping post for their complaints), I reply to the criticism with these observations:

If I exist to be everyone else’s entertainment, company, source of knowledge or whipping post, at what point do I get to focus on who I am and why I exist?

If I have to be at everyone else’s beck and call “just because” but the other person reserves the right to reject speaking to me because they are busy or don’t feel like chatting, where is the fairness and balance in this exchange?

If I allow everyone else to monopolize my time, who is to blame when my work / play doesn’t get completed to my satisfaction or for the needs of someone else – the people who called me or the person (me) who allowed them to overrun my day?

Is my ego that weak that my sense of worthiness and self-value is established by the number of people who reach out to me?

If it takes me 20 minutes to get back on track after a distraction, how much work can I really get done if I allow distractions to flow in through the day?

How respectful am I to you (or to someone else) if I keep pausing myself or interrupting them to check my phone?

Do the interruptions contribute to my day or do they just burn time that can never be reclaimed?

I chose one person in particular who didn’t understand any of these ideas (he called them selfish) and I called him daily “just to chat”.

After a few days, he understood, but not before getting angry with me first.  After he calmed down, he got it.

According to my mobile carrier, my phone sends / receives 22,000+ SMS messages a month.  I use SMS more than voice (unless the person I am interacting with prefers voice chats) because I’m busy and focused on meeting my goals as well as serving the needs of the people around me.  I keep communication brief, direct and fact-focused.  People not used to this eventually come to appreciate it and often adopt the same approach themselves.

If you choose to spread yourself across your entire network without any sense of focus or discipline, how do you expect to meet your goals or the goals / needs of those whom you serve (unless you don’t have any goals, in which case wasting your time or having it wasted for you won’t feel like a crime to you)?.

By the way, many times when people call you to kill time, there is a possibility that you were the last person available to them.  How does it feel knowing that your time is of such little value to them that spending time with you is only slightly better to someone than having absolutely nothing to do at all or that they called you simply because they were bored (regardless of what is happening in your day)?

The Bottom Line

The people who complain the most about not having enough time to get things done are often the same ones who have no sense of focus or prioritization in how they use their time or how they allow others to use it.  They also don’t care if / how they waste the time of others.

Those of us who have the discipline to protect our time / results by shutting out distractions believe that we don’t have the time to complain and we don’t have the right to tie up other people’s time “just because” (since we don’t like them doing that to us). We’re too busy being grounded in gratitude to have the opportunity to create and collaborate and we are focused on creating results (whether for work or for play).

And besides, if I have a complaint to make, making it to someone who can do nothing about it infects two people with a negative attitude (instead of one) and meanwhile, my problem still exists.  On top of that, the person whom I have just infected is now distracted, unproductive or spreading my negativity outwards like ripples in a pond.

We all have 24 hours in a day.

Do you use those 24 hours for balanced work / play / learning / sharing / loving effectively, do you waste them or even worse, do you allow someone else to steal them from you?

Are you sure?

I’d love to hear your thoughts but don’t bother calling / SMS’ing me to tell me unless you know that you’re on my calendar today!

In service and servanthood – create a great day for yourself and others because merely having one is too passive an experience.

Harry

PS When I do entertain the complaints of others, I remind them that I am a “touch-once” person.  When a problem comes up, we can avoid it, talk about it or do whatever we want with it.  However, if we don’t adopt a “touch-once” policy and address it as soon as it comes up, it will always be there tomorrow.

So when someone comes to me with a complaint or they are seeking advice, they can only bring it up once.  If they want to discuss the same topic later without having tried to resolve it, I shut them down.  Lack of intention or effort on their part is not an excuse to burn up my time.

If we don’t focus on solving problems at the earliest opportunity, we may find we don’t have much energy / time left to address opportunities for creating and collaborating because we’re too busy being burdened down by the noise of unresolved problems.

And that only leads to more complaining.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Things That I Wonder About

Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up. – Oliver Wendell Holmes

Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean. – Ryunosuke Satoro

In between selling a large tech company and starting up a Foundation that will “help NPO’s “do good better” through fact-based decision-making and evidence-based outcome assessments” (quoting friend and colleague, Doug P.), I often have other distractions that cross my mind that I feel merit some attention.

As a long-time Wall St. strategy guy, unsolved problems are always a conundrum for me, especially when the problems are significant in impact and are far / wide reaching in society.  Problems in society affect us all at some point, even if we don’t feel the affect directly (or believe we don’t).

However, I can’t tackle all these thoughts, nor should I (no individual is tagged as the “savior” of the world).  That being said, they are worthy of thought and action and so, with the encouragement of very nice colleagues who kindly never lose patience with me when I muse about other concerns in the world, I’m going to occasionally toss some ideas out with the idea that someone else may feel inspired to own some of them.

This is not a typical blog post for me such as can be found in the #1206 series, the Abigail / Gabriel series or any general post.  It is a grab bag of thoughts that pass through my brain in the course of leading a busy Life.

If you want to own one, I would be glad to help!

A subset of my random thoughts this week:

  1. How is it that the Newfoundland and Labrador Government can have as its top bureaucrat, Bern Coffey, who, while leading the bureaucratic corps of the Government, was also a lawyer representing a client who was suing a Crown Corporation of the same Government and a few years before, while a clerk of the Government Executive council, led a case against a Government health authority (details here and here)?  While officials claim they are “just finding out”, the truth is that they knew for a while.  Conflict of interest, anyone?
  2. By the same token, how is it that Tzeporah Berman can serve as a member of the Alberta Government Oil and Gas advisory team while at the same time, receive compensation for campaigning AGAINST the oil and gas industry in Alberta (details here)?  Conflict of interest, round 2.
  3. Premier Ball dismissed Coffey in the first scenario but Premier Notley refuses to dismiss Tzeporah in the second one.  When such appointments with obvious conflict-of-interest are knowingly made, what does this tell us about the leadership skills of the people in the respective situations?  Is it a reflection of poor execution, low intelligence, self-serving motives or an indifference to how things are perceived (or something else)?
  4. Are apologies or “sharp corrective action” from politicians acceptable because we believe that someone recognized their own mistake and want it fixed or are we being played as politicians attempt to harvest political points while continuing their inappropriate behavior?  In my companies, you are fully supportive of the organization that pays you or you are not but if you are not, you work to make us better through compromise or you leave.  You can’t play for me and against me at the same time.  Why don’t we demand this of government?
  5. How is it in the Newfoundland and Labrador government, a blind trust for a politician can be run by a politician’s husband, wife, daughter, son-in-law or lover?  There is nothing “arms-length” or “blind” about such a set-up.  Who do you think benefits from this arrangement?
  6. How is it that Stephen Colbert can refer to the President of the United States as Vladimir Putin’s “cock holster” when a comment such as that, if directed at the previous President, would have required riot squads to be deployed (details here)?  Why is it that the “tolerant left” has no issue when insults are issued against the one that they despise but they are quick to demonstrate in the streets should there even be the possibility that one of their own might be insulted at some point in the future?  One must respect the Office of the President and if one disagrees with the President himself, Colbert’s approach is not the way to express it.  Respect earned is respect given.  Anything else leads to significant problems in society.
  7. How is it that very few people care about emergency planning, regardless of the source / scale of the emergency?  Officials routinely warn of difficulties ahead, whether it be in the form of a cyber attack, a nuclear war, climate change-induced natural disasters and a plethora of other things and yet most people would be lucky if they could survive a minor inconvenience that lasted through a weekend.  We have all seen people panic-shop at supermarkets when a storm is forecast.  What if the “storm” came without warning.  I mused about this yesterday in the post Statistics: The Mathematical Theory of Ignorance.
  8. How is it that US politicians can claim a triumph in the low unemployment rate when the vast majority of jobs created in recent years are part-time / low-paying jobs with little or no health benefit plans?  When more than 50% of American families have $1000 or less in the bank, over 48 million Americans are on food stamps and over 98 million Americans are not working at all, how can we champion a recovery that benefits a small minority of people?
  9. Pursuant to the previous point, personal debt is growing and more than 50% of families have less than $1000 in the bank.  Where is personal freedom and empowerment for these people?
  10. If people are happier than ever, why do we have a steady increase in the need for antidepressants?
  11. The next time you are in Costco, a supermarket or other place filled with abundance, ask yourself when you last helped someone who couldn’t partake in such abundance.
  12. It is estimated that we will work 80,000 hours in our lifetime.  1% of that (800 hours or 20 work-weeks) is a small amount to spend in planning our work Life but we don’t teach kids how to do it.  In fact, if I told someone when I was 20 that I was about to spend 5 months planning my career, I would be told I was insane (even though it’s such a small number in the grand scheme of things).  We teach kids phenomenally more than when I was in school and yet basic skills of Life strategy (including long and short term goal setting), financial strategy, respectful dialog when ideas are polar opposites and the like seem absent from the skill-set of many young people.  We seem to insist that they learn these things the hard way.  Why?  Is it because we don’t know how to either?
  13. Many not-for-profits are phenomenally wasteful in how they spend their money and many people who work for them know how to steal from them as a profession but we don’t care.  Why?
  14. How is it that people put little or no effort into the things that matter in society but will spend an amazing amount of time watching videos of cats, sharing pictures of their oatmeal or losing their minds over how their favorite TV series ends?

Do these things matter or am I just over-sensitive?

Should we care that these represent symptoms of a society that is not ticking over as well as claimed by politicians or do we ignore them, saving our complaints and intention for action only when we are directly affected as opposed to when our neighbor is being pummeled instead of us?

If they matter, what can we do about them?

The Bottom Line

I’m a big believer in sharing thoughts and encouraging people to dialog about things with an eye towards taking measurable action.  Good intentions and thoughts are worthless without measurable results.

However, we can’t own everything that comes before us, even when it impacts us deeply.  Some of us who work hard to make a difference in the world need others to share the responsibility, especially when many who put little into society want to reap the harvest that comes from a better world.

It’s time for more people to be concerned about society and where it’s going …

… while it’s still a going concern.

In service and servanthood,

Harry

PS:You will note that I didn't mention things like privacy, surveillance and the like.  I believe that that fight is over.  You needed to care 25 years ago to have made a difference in regards to that subject.  Do you see what waiting accomplishes?  This is also, as I noted, just a subset of the things that went through my mind this week in the 5% of my brain that I have left over from the projects that consume it.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Statistics: The Mathematical Theory of Ignorance

Be able to analyze statistics, which can be used to support or undercut almost any argument. - Marilyn vos Savant

Statistics are no substitute for judgment. - Henry Clay

The #1206 “fiction” series continues …


On a bright, sunlit Sunday in a medium-sized city typical of western civilization, children ran excitedly around, happily exploring police cars, ambulances, MedEvac helicopters and the like.  It was the annual emergency preparedness presentation offered by the city to its citizens and as usual, a fairly large contingent of families had shown up.

“It was”, as one parent mused to another as they meandered by the exhibits, “a great way to kill a Sunday afternoon.”

At one of the exhibits, a group of families listened raptly as a government official explained the government’s latest advances in emergency planning.

“Two key things to remember”, he explained to the group, “Always make sure you have three days of food, medicine, water, toiletries and personal items on hand.”

“And”, he said as he held up his mobile phone, “Always make sure you keep this charged up.  We have an app that you can download that will allow you to receive alerts from us.  You can also use your phone to communicate with emergency officials and family members.”

A tall, thin, pale man wearing dark sunglasses was observing from the sidelines.  When the presenter finished speaking, the thin man approached him.

“Everything you say may be true”, he said to the presenter, “But we all know that in times of emergency, cell phone systems often get overloaded as they are designed for enhanced coverage but not for enhanced capacity. You saw this happen for 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and other situations.  So it is likely that the people here won’t be able to make a call once an emergency event takes place because the networks will become saturated.  Some SMS messages may get through but data and voice communication may become spotty at best so your app won’t work when it is needed most.  As for duration, there have been many emergencies that were not resolved in three days.”

“Well”, replied the presenter, “That may be true but the likelihood of such an event is statistically unlikely.”

“Statistically unlikely”, the thin man said as if he were were digesting the words, “Interesting choice of words.  I will come back to that in a moment.  But back to the mobile systems, the average cell tower only has battery power for 8-16 hours so if a major power disruption of extended duration occurs, your mobile phone won’t be able to connect to anything anyway as the cell towers begin to die.  So people may be prepared for three days but their ability to communicate will cease long before this.”

The presenter frowned at the stranger, clearly agitated by the thin man with his observations.

The thin man pressed his point more firmly.

“Back to your observation regarding statistically unlikely”, he said emotionlessly, “Likelihood is only part of the equation for emergency preparedness when one must also consider the potential scale of such an event.”

“What does that mean?”, asked the presenter.

The thin man frowned at the presenter as if feeling a level of frustration with the lack of knowledge being shown by “the expert”.

“Well”, the thin man pointed out, “If I have an event that is statistically likely or unlikely, knowing the scale of the impact AND to a lesser extent, the cost of preparing for or preventing the event is what determines how much effort goes into mitigation of the event.  If I have an event that is extremely likely but has no impact of merit, then I don’t really care about preparing for it.  If the same event is also expensive to prepare for, then I really don’t want to prepare for it.”

He paused for a minute and glanced around him.  The crowd around him were staring at him in silence.

“Conversely”, continued the thin man, “If I have an event that is statistically unlikely, most emergency preparedness people use this fact as the reason to not prepare for it.  If this statistically unlikely event is also very expensive to prepare for, then emergency preparedness planners claim to have a reason to ignore it completely even if the potential event they are ignoring has catastrophic potential.”

“As they should”, interrupted the planner.

The thin man raised his hand.

“Patience”, he said, “Please allow me to continue.”

“No”, said the planner, “Statistical likelihood and cost are the key measures for emergency preparedness planning.”

The thin man began to respond but was again interrupted by the presenter.

“Give me one example where a major event was unlikely but happened with great significance or impact”, he demanded.

The thin man frowned slightly.

“The event you know as 9/11, the nuclear reactor accident in Japan, multiple suicides by pilots flying commercial aircraft, Hurricane Katrina,some of which I mentioned earlier”, began the thin man but he was interrupted again.

“But we couldn’t have anticipated those”, the presenter said, now clearly exasperated by the thin man.

“Of course you could have and many people in your industry actually evaluated the possibility of them”, replied the thin man, “But they chose the likelihood of it happening as the primary rationale for whether a response plan was needed.  They factored in cost plus the political unpopularity of acknowledging that such a thing could happen and then buried the problem as unnecessary to think about, talk about or prepare for.  To insult people even further, they claimed to be surprised by every major event that happened even though they had evaluated such events and discarded them based on the criteria I just mentioned.”

The presenter turned his attention back to the crowd of people around him.

“Thank you, folks”, he said to the now silent crowd, “I have a brochure here outlining what I shared with you today.”

Members of the crowd took a copy of the brochure and dispersed, some of them looking at the thin man uncertainly.

“What was that all about?”, the presenter demanded as he turned towards the thin man.

“Did I say anything that wasn’t true?”, asked the thin man.

“No”, replied the presenter, “But we don’t like to tell people these things.”

“So you are lying to them”, replied the thin man, “And in doing so, condemning them to some real problems when a large-scale disaster occurs.”

“Not entirely”, replied the presenter, “But putting the people in a panic doesn’t help either.”

“Informing them of reality always helps people”, the thin man replied softly but forcefully, “You need to consider them as your allies and not your enemies, now and in times of emergency.”

“Some people can’t handle truths like this”, replied the presenter.

“Possibly”, the thin man said, removing his sunglasses and looking intently into the eyes of the presenter, “But given that uninformed people become a potential liability when and not if a significant event occurs, I would rather inform the masses anyway instead of choosing to not tell anyone just because a small percentage of people aren’t mentally strong enough to deal with reality.”

The thin man’s eyes were dark and glittered in the sunlight.

The presenter suddenly felt uncomfortable as the thin man stared at him with a strange intensity.

“I think you should leave before I ask security to ask you to leave”, the presenter said.

“No need to be rude”, the thin man said as he put his sunglasses back on, “Someday you will be forced to admit the truth.  I hope that day doesn’t have other complexities that are difficult to deal with for you and your family.”

He turned and vanished into the crowd that was milling around.

The presenter stood in silence and watched him walk away.

He looked down at his cell phone, looked up at the cell tower he could see in the distance, thought about his own family and then pressed a speed dial button on the phone.

“Hi, honey”, he said when his wife answered, “We need to talk about a few things.”

To be continued.


© 2017 – Harry Tucker – All Rights Reserved

Blog Post Background / Supporting Data

The title of this post is a quote from Morris Kline.

Interestingly enough, this conversation actually took place a couple of years ago at an actual “emergency preparedness and planning expo”.

The facts cited by the “thin man” are true.  The possibility of disaster from a hurricane in New Orleans, the likelihood of an event like 9/11, the nuclear disaster in Japan, death of passengers by pilot suicide, and other items have all been evaluated and discarded for the reasons given – statistical unlikelihood, the cost to address and the political damage that could arise should such things be disclosed before they happen.

The facts regarding the cell phone system are also true.

How one prepares for an emergency, whether it be man-made, from Mother Nature, from outer space or from any other source, depends on how much knowledge one has.  And by the way, emergencies are not limited to large scale disasters in our society.  Emergencies can also come in the form of problems with relationships, in business, in personal health, in financial health and the like.

Probability of occurrence is only a small part of preparation.

Time, energy and money to prepare for or prevent the event are important considerations also.

The government’s public promotion of preparedness and how it considers risks ends there.

However, the scale and impact of the event is equally important when evaluating what one should prepare for.  Many times when we are overrun by something, it is because we knew there was a possibility of it occurring but we ignored it for the reasons discussed in this post.  It is the thing that we choose to ignore rather than a surprise that often presents the greatest difficulties for us.

Aristotle often referred to a life well-lived as one that finds the golden mean of excess.  For example, courage is the golden mean between rashness and cowardice.

The golden mean for emergency preparedness falls between doing nothing and exhibiting extreme paranoia.  It can only be found when one informs one’s self instead of relying on data presented by someone with an ulterior motive.

Are you informed for the reason of acquiring knowledge or do you only allow others to inform you based on their needs, intentions and motives?

The answer to this question will determine how prepared you are when, not if, a major event happens in our near or distant future.

Do you care?

How important is your family’s health and safety to you?

What do you need to do, if anything?

Series Origin

This series, a departure from my usual musings, is inspired as a result of conversations with former senior advisors to multiple Presidents of the United States, senior officers in the US Military and other interesting folks as well as my own professional background as a Wall St. / Fortune 25 strategy advisor and large-scale technology architect.

While this musing is just “fiction” (note the quotes) and a departure from my musings on technology, strategy, politics and society, as a strategy guy, I do everything for a reason and with a measurable outcome in mind. :-)

This “fictional” musing is a continuation of the #1206 series noted here.

Related musings:

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Innocence of a Child–Seeing Unlimited Possibilities

In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play. - Friedrich Nietzsche

There is frequently more to be learned from the unexpected questions of a child than the discourses of men. - John Locke

When I was a child, I was challenged with a restless mind – a mind that roamed over an unlimited number of academic subjects.  I couldn’t acquire enough knowledge, having read entire encyclopedia sets, studied military history and Roman and Greek history by the time I was 10 years old.

It was a mind that dared to dream, when being on a breakaway during a hockey game on the marsh, I could imagine that I had just taken a pass from Montreal Canadiens’ great Larry Robinson in game 7 of the finals against our archenemy, the Boston Bruins.

It created without fear of embarrassment of what others thought when I played with my Tonkas in the the sandbox, making the all-important sounds of engines, signal lights (dinker, dinker, of course) and even vocalizing the exchanges between the “drivers” of the trucks.

It created adventure where at the age of 7, I wandered around the car ferry John Guy on trips to my ancestral home of Bell Island as I pretended I was a member of the crew monitoring the status of the ferry.  It didn’t seem obvious to me at the time that adults observing me knew that I wasn’t a member of the crew.

My childhood wasn’t perfect or without pain, but few people’s youth is.

As I reflected on these and other thoughts yesterday during Quiet Hour (a personal daily ritual of reflection, contemplation and planning), I emerged and presented a challenge to all of my teams.  In a nutshell, the challenge was this:

Describe a favorite thing you did as a child or a favorite memory that still brings happiness – something that made you come alive then and that brought joy to your childhood.

There was, as always, a method to my madness in instigating such an unusual conversation.

With the obvious exceptions of children who bore great pain and anguish in their childhood, many of us are blessed to have lived pretty decent childhoods.  We saw the world differently as children.

We were likely less biased, judgmental and skeptical (unless poorly formed by our parents or scarred by difficulty).

We were often less fearful and more open to adventure and possibility (again, with the same caveats).

We were (hopefully but not always) more accepting of others.

Most of us dared to dream impossible things for our futures.

And yet somewhere between then and now, many of us have acquired the baggage of fear of others, fear of how others perceive us, distrust, diminished spirit of adventure, diminished belief in potential, fear (not just understanding) of where the world is going, fear of disappointing others and a slew of other concerns, all of which have created a great disconnect between how we imagined our potential and how we live today.

All because we have allowed the difficulties of Life or the diminished outlook and beliefs of others to impair how we see our own potential, gifts and dreams.

I have told a lot of people over the years that I don’t care what others think of what I say or do (many of my colleagues marvel over this – I don’t know why).  I don’t present this as a license to hurt others or a right to run roughshod over people, places or things.  In fact, my belief that someday I will stand in judgment for everything I say or do prevents me from doing this.

However, I have found that the sharpest criticisms (excluding people correcting poor behavior on my part) of what I have said or done in the past are often from the mouths of people going nowhere in their own lives, people living with great insecurity or fear or people who have their own competing agenda and so they seek to diminish what they perceive as competition.

None of these are valid reasons for why I am not permitted to dream, to seek adventure, to create, to collaborate and to love.

And they are not valid reasons for you either.

The Bottom Line

A lot of people are going to their end of days with their song still inside them, unshared because of fear imposed on them by the diminished outlooks of other people or because they have not learned the lessons contained within the difficulties in their Life.

I believe the world is worse off because of this.

My great friend, author and psychotherapist, Leonard Szymczak once encouraged me to think about what I would say to “Little Harry” if I could somehow go back in time and share my lessons learned with the young person who dared to dream and in exchange, I could learn from the innocence of perception as shared by “little Harry”.

The question I asked of my teams is a variant of this suggestion by Leonard.

As I read and listen to the beautiful, powerful stories shared to me by my team members, I feel a responsibility to make sure that in some way, I encourage their childhood dreams and potential to be manifested in the projects we are collaborating on.

By encouraging a different way of seeing things, we also see new possibilities in how we create and manifest our potential, less inhibited by the baggage we have acquired, seeing things in awe and wonderment while simultaneously being more enabled by the wisdom (hopefully) we have acquired.

What dreams did you have as child?

What brought you joy?

Some of you are living your dreams and experiencing that joy as adults – be grateful for that opportunity.

Many of you are not blessed to live this way.

Are the reasons for not living your joy and not folding it into your personal and professional experiences as adults legitimate ones or are they only excuses?

Would your Life be any different if you decided to bring back some childhood innocence (not ignorance) into your adult Life?

Are you sure?

How do you know?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Addendum - Robert Greene's Views On Seeing Things as a Child

In his apprenticeship in the jungles of the Amazon that would later lead to his career as a groundbreaking linguist, Daniel Everett came upon a truth that has application far beyond his field of study. What prevents people from learning is not the subject itself–the human mind has limitless capabilities–but rather certain learning disabilities that end to fester and grow in our minds as we get older. These include a sense of smugness and superiority whenever we encounter something alien to our ways, as well as rigid ideas about what is real or true, often indoctrinated in us by schooling or family. If we feel like we know something, our minds close off to other possibilities. We see reflections of the truth we have already assumed. Such feelings of superiority are often unconscious and stem from a fear of what is different or unknown. We are rarely aware of this, and often imagine ourselves to be paragons of impartiality.

Children are generally free of these handicaps. They are dependent upon adults for their survival and naturally feel inferior. This sense of inferiority gives them a hunger to learn. Through learning, they can bridge the gap and not feel so helpless. Their minds are completely open; they pay greater attention. This is why children can learn so quickly and so deeply. Unlike other animals, we humans retain what is known as neoteny–mental and physical traits of immaturity–well into our adult years. We have the remarkable capability of returning to a childlike spirit, especially in moments in which we must learn something. Well into our fifties and beyond, we can return to that sense of wonder and curiosity, reviving our youth and apprenticeships.

Understand: when you enter a new environment, your task is to learn and absorb as much as possible. For that purpose you must try to revert to a childlike feeling of inferiority–the feeling that others know much more than you and that you are dependent upon them to learn and safely navigate your apprenticeship. You drop all of your preconceptions about an environment or field, any lingering feelings of smugness. You have no fears. You interact with people and participate in the culture as deeply as possible. You are full of curiosity. Assuming this sensation of inferiority, your mind will open up and you will have a hunger to learn. This position is of course only temporary. You are reverting to a feeling of dependence, so that within five to ten years you can learn enough to finally declare your independence and enter full adulthood.

Source: Mastery by Robert Greene.  A powerful analysis of how one moves from apprentice to master in all walks of life, personal and professional.  This is a highly recommended read!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Power of a Little Twist

Great things are done by a series of small things brought together. - Vincent Van Gogh

Stay faithful in things large and taking on the world, but stay faithful in those things small - because remember it's the small things, the size of a mustard seed, that ultimately moves mountains. - Cory Booker

I was having a little fun this morning when I passed someone three individual strips of paper with the ends of each strip taped together to form three individual loops of paper.

I asked them to pierce the center of the first strip and begin to cut the strip along its length, proceeding around the strip with their scissors until they had reached the starting point.  There was no surprise in the result that was produced – two loops of paper with the same diameter as the original and each half the width of the original (obviously - the paper had been cut in half) fell to the table.

In performing the same exercise with the second loop, I began to speak to them about the power of the mind to influence things and as they completed their cut around the loop, they were surprised that the result this time was a single loop twice the diameter of the original loop.

And finally, passing them the third loop of paper and continuing on about the power of the mind to change things, cutting the paper produced two individual loops, each half the width of the original but this time, the two loops were linked together.

They were stumped by the result but they shouldn’t have been.

The dialog about the power of the mind was all subterfuge intended for dramatic presentation purposes.

What I had done with the second strip before presenting it to them was to introduce a half twist in the strip of paper before taping the ends together, creating what is known as a Möbius strip.

With the third strip of paper, I had introduced a full twist into the strip of paper before taping the ends together.

While it appears they were starting with the same starting point, materials, tools and processes, all it took was a slight twist in preparation to create a different result.

When I look at the team I am working with, having creating some powerful things over the years, they only needed a small twist in their approach, their thinking and their execution to create a much different result than they were heading towards just a short while ago.

The same is true for many of us. 

People looking to reinvent their personal, professional or relationship lives often look for large, impactful changes in order to create large, impactful results.

Oftentimes, however, all they need to understand is the magic that can be created by using a small twist in how they think, approach and execute in order to transform the mundane into the magical.

The Bottom Line

People approach me frequently looking for some grand wisdom or Oracle of Delphi-like insight to move them from their sense of being stuck (or lost) to something much more self-empowering.

Some of those people require a significant overall shift in their thoughts, words and deeds to accomplish that which they aspire towards while others merely need slight shifts in one or more of these areas.

However, regardless of whether the overall change required is large or small, the process always starts the same way ….

…. with a small twist in thought, word and / or deed.

Sometimes a single, small twist is all that some people need.

Others may need a succession of small twists.

But when they get to the end, it appears as if they have created something by magic.

What small twist do you need to make to change your own results or to help someone else change theirs?

What magic are you capable of producing from a small twist?

What are you waiting for?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

PS This makes a great teaser for kids.  Try it!  Encourage them to try variants, like cutting the paper closer to one side instead of in the center.  Many kids can’t wait to bring this magic to school to try it on their friends!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Waiting For Someone Else to Change the World

It's always inspiring to me to meet people who feel that they can make a difference in the world. That's their motive, that's their passion... I think that's what makes your life meaningful, that's what fills your own heart and that's what gives you purpose. - Maria Shriver

It is better to have a meaningful life and make a difference than to merely have a long life. - Bryant H. McGill

Anyone who thinks that they are too small to make a difference has never tried to fall asleep with a mosquito in the room. - Christine Todd Whitman

I always liked this story.

Two boys entered the dentist's office. One boy said, “I want a tooth taken out, I don't want any gas, and I don't want it deadened.  We're in a hurry!” The dentist said, “You're a brave young man. Which tooth is it?” The boy turned to his smaller friend and said, “Show him your tooth, Albert.”

The world is full of “volunteers” like that.

The former are anxious to have something happen to someone else or to volunteer (demand) someone else do something on their terms.

People like Albert in the story allow themselves to be volunteered even when it doesn’t serve their own purpose or opportunity for contribution.

Many are disappointed when others don’t step up and do things as they would like to see them done, all the while doing little or nothing themselves.

Others are disappointed that others are always telling them where to go and what to do.

The world would be a better place if we took greater responsibility for our contribution to it instead of demanding that others get things done on our behalf and on our terms and timelines or letting others tell us what we should be doing.

What do you think?

Be the change you want to see in the world (Gandhi) or stop complaining how others are not stepping up to your liking or always telling you what to do.

The choice is yours ….

…. and there is great power in choice.

Make the choice before it is too late to do so.

The deadline may be closer than you realize.

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Fairness–Taming Our Tongue (And Our Keyboard)

The final proof of greatness lies in being able to endure criticism without resentment. - Elbert Hubbard

Fairness is not an attitude. It's a professional skill that must be developed and exercised. - Brit Hume

After a busy day today, I settled down in a new restaurant for one of my favorite dishes – rack of lamb.

The staff was friendly and professional, the location was beautiful, the ambience of the new restaurant was impressive ….

…. the meal was late enough that the wait staff brought out a complementary salad as an apology (which I insisted wasn’t necessary but I appreciated the effort) ….

…. and then the lamb arrived, probably the worst I have ever had.

My request for medium-rare rack of lamb resulted in the most overdone, dry lamb I have ever experienced.

The accompanying truffle mashed potatoes were actually less than two tablespoons.  I saved them for last and then scraped them together for a photo.

My business partner had ordered wild salmon but instead of a beautiful medium-rare masterpiece, it was also overcooked to a dry semblance of its former self and heavily seasoned with salt.

What does one do when this happens?

What would you do?

I called the waitress over and explained that I had requested medium-rare but received something far more cooked than well-done and that the potatoes were almost invisible.

She was clearly nervous, wondering where I was going next.

I then explained to her that I wanted her to do absolutely nothing about it and that I was grateful for the meal.

I think that she was clearly uncertain of my approach and offered profuse apologies and intentions to do anything she could to make it right but I politely interrupted her and explained my reasoning.

First of all, I explained, while I could complain about the quality of my food, there were in fact people not far from where we sat who had absolutely nothing to eat.  They would have given anything for the problem before me.

Secondly, I added, the reason I was explaining the need to improve their offering wasn’t so that she could fix it now but so that correcting this result in the future might protect her and her colleagues from an abusive person who might forget their blessings and hurl words (or food) in the direction of the staff as they expressed disappointment.  This was a new restaurant getting the kinks out of its system and needed some support and understanding from customers.

She was extremely appreciative of my words but I’m not convinced that she thought I was authentic.

When the manager came over to ask how the meal was, I explained my concerns once again as well as concerns over the condition of my partner’s salmon.

Once again, my concern was responded to with what I feel was genuine concern and offers to correct the situation and I explained to the manager what I had said to the waitress.

When he understood that I was being authentic and not trying to throw him off in one of those passive-aggressive, “I’m telling you I’m fine but in fact I’m just trying to stop you from fixing the problem so I can continue to be an unhappy victim” moments, our conversation turned towards gratitude for journeys explored in our careers, gratitude for the place where we both found our paths crossing today and gratitude for access to things that many people couldn’t even dream of.

He was grateful for how I had reacted to a meal that didn’t meet either of our standards and I was grateful for the genuine concern expressed regarding my situation and the manner with which he accepted my criticism.

And from that mutual understanding and a sense of gratitude that was shared by both of us, I actually enjoyed a meal that many people may have thrown out.

What would you have done?

The Bottom Line

I once mused about a day when a group of women drove up to a local Starbucks in their $80,000 cars, walked inside in their high-end outfits, ordered $5 lattes and then spent over an hour complaining about how their lives were miserable, their husbands were worthless and how anyone in the world must surely be happier than they were at that moment.

Their criticism was designed to mindlessly complain or to hurt others without solving their alleged suffering and without accepting any responsibility in their respective situations, a pointless waste of time that weakened themselves individually and collectively.  While talking with their husbands would have been more useful in solving what these women thought ailed them, their complaining to someone else demonstrated that they preferred to focus on being a victim rather than on solving a problem.

Indeed – I can still feel the pain and suffering they endured.

People who constantly hurt others or make mistakes despite repeated efforts to help them, guide them or correct them deserve criticism (constructive when possible) at a minimum and sharper actions where warranted.

But when genuinely nice people learning something new make significant mistakes, it is important that we put ourselves in their shoes before being quick with the tongue or the keyboard, the latter being where social media easily becomes the place where we look for accomplices to our complaints instead of looking for a solution to our problems.

Too often we forget that we too were novices once, in a specific skill-set, in a specific location, in a specific job or something else new to us.

And likely, we made mistakes then and remember the sting from unfair criticism or the assistance from someone who thought that investing in us instead of destroying us was a better use of both of our time.

So the next time you think criticism is warranted, think carefully before delivering it and be careful how you deliver it.  The modern approach of flaming someone online or not working with the target of our concern as the women in the coffee shop did doesn't solve many issues.

Sometimes criticism is very warranted, especially when it comes to the ignorant, the greedy and miscreants of a similar ilk.

But for others, I think a gentle word to the wise becomes just as important to the person giving the advice as it is to the person receiving it.

After all, the world doesn’t get better or “improve to our standards” unless we are willing to contribute to helping it get there, otherwise we will have plenty to complain about in the future.

That’s what I think - what do you think?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Addendum - The Manager Responds - March 26, 2017

I sent a copy of this blog to the manager to invite his response.  I share his response with permission:

----

Harry

Thanks for sending this along. Personally, I have to agree with you in that all to often we get caught up and forget how genuinely lucky so many of us are to have the luxuries of the lives we lead. As you mentioned, many are so very less fortunate.

One thing I have thought about a number of times in being someone who handles complaints frequently and sees how worked up people can get is Maslow's hierarchy of needs. The reason being is that when people are dining in an establishment or driving an $80,000 car and having a miserable husband, their base needs of security and shelter are certainly covered. I then wonder if due to their base needs so rarely getting challenged that if left unchecked their perception can get distorted to the extent that we have "1st world problems". Problems that as you point out, would be one that some wish to be so lucky to have.

Ultimately, I appreciate the article, the honest and intriguing conversation and the refreshing feedback. As I'm sure you are aware, the errors last night would have been not so kindly reported or discussed by so many others and ultimately open honest dialogue is more helpful in helping us improve. Thank you for that and thank you for the thought provoking blog and the reminder that we are very fortunate to be having the lives we do, kindness is important and feedback is a gift.

Kind regards,

----

With an approach like this, I suspect that this restaurant and the gentleman who runs it, whether he stays at the restaurant or moves on to other endeavors, are both creating a great future for themselves and the people who interact with them.

What do you think?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Next Major Epidemic in America – The Inability To Express Ideas

Those who cannot understand how to put their thoughts on ice should not enter into the heat of debate. - Friedrich Nietzsche

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence. - John Adams

Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please. - Mark Twain

As was to be expected last night, the President’s State of the Union address produced mixed opinion.  However, I didn’t see clear lines separating the two sides as I would have expected, especially the line allegedly dividing the left and the right.  (I say allegedly because I often see people arguing for the same idea when they believe they are representing opposite sides to an issue).

The line I saw represented the difference between people willing to give the President a chance or to at least analyze the data / fact side of his proposals before commenting versus those who wanted to hate or trash him simply for the emotional sake of doing so.

I was discussing his speech with a friend of mine and the importance of fact checking his speech without blindly discarding it when a person I have never met tossed this interesting statement into the conversation, claiming that President Trump’s policies will adversely impact women’s health as well as clean air and water.

The statement in itself is fair enough – someone is using their right to express an opinion.

However, as past and current teams who have worked with and for me know, any statement or position provided to me will always be responded to with:

Why do you say / do / recommend / believe this?

How do you know?

In fact, they know that they should have the answers to these questions before presenting any statement or solution to me.

And so in that spirit, I responded with a request for data.

One never knows what one will receive on social media when requesting facts but I will always give a person a chance to explain themselves and their positions.

The person responded by saying that that President chose an EPA Administrator who wants to get rid of the EPA.

Fair enough.  When I again asked for evidence that this was the case and for evidence that women’s health issues would arise from the POTUS’ policies, this person responded that they feared the total elimination of the EPA.

Ok – we’ve already established that this is her fear but she cited the problem itself as evidence to justify the reality of the problem.

So after I requested proof that the EPA would be eliminated (her words), she indicated that no one could predict the future (but she had already done so by predicting the elimination of the EPA) and that asking for data was a ridiculous standard.

When I asked her why asking for data was a ridiculous standard, she fell back on an old trick, turning the debate around so suddenly I was supposedly the one who had made a statement that required supporting evidence.

So now I need to prove she is wrong, even though she hasn’t proven that her large claims have any data or evidence to support them.

But it was the final part of the conversation that caused me to realize that this “discussion” wasn’t really going anywhere useful.

When I pointed out that she had claimed that the EPA was dead (eliminated was her exact word), she responded with a denial that she had ever said such a thing.

When I sent her a screen shot where she contradicted herself by claiming it would be eliminated and that we were now in a circular argument, she vanished.

Meanwhile, someone observing the interaction sent me a private note telling me that perhaps I should stay off social media.

To this person, I ask this question:

Why – so that emotion-laden, rhetoric-armed, fact-less people can roam around, inject themselves into conversations, attempt to whip up hysteria / fear and then vanish when presented with a request for facts or proof that their alleged reality is mine also?

In other words ….

So that opposite sides to every issue will be eliminated by being whipped into silence?

I was curious who this person was and so I looked up her personal persona.

It turns out that this person is the Senior Director of International Compensation and Benefits at Visa (a very credible, respectable organization).  She was educated at Cornell so lack of education is not the issue neither does she represent the “bored unemployed directionless” group that some people suggest represents the bulk of anti-Trump folks.

So she has influence – the question then became “does she use this influence in a useful, effective way?”

In exploring her other public sharings about how happy she was to be marching against President Trump, I came upon this nugget that she shared

And so as I looked at her Facebook posts about all the marches she is participating in, her drive-by argument with me that produced nothing of any benefit to anyone and this cartoon, I realize that she is representative of something that is killing America:

The lack of ability or interest to use facts and data in the form of a compelling discussion that convinces someone else that their position / belief is worthy of exploration with an eye towards convincing someone else to change their position or at least encourage people to find middle ground on something being explored.

After all, that is how we grow, teach, learn and become better as a species and as a society as we seek common ground to make the world a better place.

When instead, we use emotion, fear (and for some, intimidation) only, we are less likely to convince anyone of anything and will produce little of any real, tangible value.

Meanwhile, the things we fear will continue to grow, either in reality or in our mind, since we are not actually offering solutions to problems real or imagined.

As for this person, if a person wonders out loud whether they are creating or destroying today, then I know what kind of person I am dealing with.

It’s a “my way or the highway” person.

The last time I checked, I haven’t discovered too many people who created a better world because they wondered which of two choices was best – creation or destruction.

How about you?

I prefer creation and collaboration towards a solution – perhaps I’m misguided.

The Bottom Line

The noise that surrounds the POTUS is not “his fault”.  America has been forgetting more and more over the years (and across many administrations) that we solve problems by offering a hand instead of a fist, by offering facts instead of emotion, by suggesting a position instead of playing “king of the mountain”, by listening instead of just talking (or shouting) and that respectful, fact-based, collaborative dialog is FAR more likely to produce a better world than merely folding our arms defiantly and telling everyone else they are wrong “just because”.

If we allow current trends to continue, where rhetoric-laden, fear-based shouting carries the day, we may at some point create a world that actually embodies everything that everyone fears.

And if that happens, shouting won’t matter then.

If that happens, we may not have a government that allows the sharing of opinions towards common goals.

In fact, we may not have a government at all.

And by then, people who like to complain can complain all they want.

The rest won’t listen – they will be too busy just surviving.

Is that the best we can create and the best way we can create it?

Is that the best role model we can present for our children as to how a better world gets created?

I don’t think so.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

PS People protesting against the POTUS’ policies “just because” like to quote people like Hillary Clinton or Nelson Mandela.  Perhaps these two quotes would serve of value to those people.

A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don't have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial, and uninformed. - Nelson Mandela

What we have to do... is to find a way to celebrate our diversity and debate our differences without fracturing our communities. - Hillary Clinton

We need to take the high road together lest we all end up somewhere far less desirable that we want or deserve.

But to deserve better, we must prove it and work together towards it.

Otherwise, we do get what we deserve but it’s often far less than we desire.

Whose fault is that?

Friday, February 24, 2017

That Which You Accept ….

The standard you walk past, is the standard you accept. - Lieutenant General David Morrison

One who condones evils is just as guilty as the one who perpetrates it. - Martin Luther King

I like hats – fedoras, newsboy hats, my Tilley that has over a million airmiles on it and yes, even bowler hats.

I was recently in my remote office (translation: Starbucks) politely waiting for my coffee when I noticed two men in their late twenties smirking at me and my bowler hat.  My ego is not easily bruised or cowed by people and so I ignored them.

I was content to accept my coffee and walk out the door when I heard one say to the other, “He’s probably some kind of f*ing faggot.”

The comments between them escalated in insult-intensity as I waited for my coffee until it reached a level that I was sure would draw a response from baristas or other customers.  I knew that the likely source of anger from the pair of miscreants was a personal sense of inadequacy and they were hoping that I would either cower from their wilting words or rise up in anger against them.  It was two against one after all.

I watched with interest as the baristas and customers observed this interaction and I was curious what they might do.

They never made a sound.

I’m a believer in live and let live, judge not lest ye be judged, being “the big man” and walking away from the ignorant and all of that stuff.

However, I’m also a believer in the reality that that which we accept, we condone and that which we condone, we ultimately support and allow to be propagated.

What stood before me were two ignorant men insulting a customer, using derogatory language that is simply not acceptable in today’s world.  If they would insult me (standing at an athletic 6’3) what would they say to someone much smaller?

And so when my coffee arrived, I walked over to the two men and they faced me in the “what are you going to do about it?” defiant stance.

I looked the two of them up and down, each weighing at least 300 pounds, their pants not pulled up completely, their shirt tails hanging out but not completely covering their guts, their faces unshaven and their baseball hats on sideways.

I smiled at them and said quietly, “I’ll be damned if I will take fashion advice or criticism from two ignorant men who don’t have the wherewithal to dress properly. Understand?”

Both men looked down at the floor and said nothing.

“The next time you want to look at someone to judge them or to suggest ways for them to improve to meet your so-called standard”, I continued, “Start with the man you see in the mirror.  When that man is everything that that man can be, then perhaps you will be in a position to judge others but not before.”

As I turned to leave, both of them continued to stare at their boots, saying nothing.

“Create a great day”, I said as I walked out of the coffee shop.

The Bottom Line

We often look the other way when someone says or does something we don’t agree with.

“It’s not our business”, we think or  “It’s not right to judge others”, “I was the bigger man and walked away”, they’re just having a bad day”, “they have an illness and it’s not their fault.”, etc.

Well, these things apply on occasion.

However, we must be careful lest such thinking becomes a source of leverage for some people to use as a licence to abuse and hurt others.

Sometimes we are meant to be the person who stands in front of someone else and corrects their behavior.

It’s not a question of judging them, playing the role of “holier than thou” or splitting hairs over a point of political correctness.

Sometimes we just know what is wrong and we need to stand up to it and correct it.

My comments may or may not have corrected their behavior.

However, the more people who allow them to do what they do by saying and doing nothing, the more likely ignorant people such as these guys will feel empowered to continue to do what they do.

Such behavior only stops when we stand up to challenge it and correct it.

What do you stand for?

Is what you stand for reflected in your thoughts, your words and your actions?

The reality is that the world only gets better when your actions speak so loudly that we can’t hear what you’re saying.

So what DO you stand for?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

PS Just as I mused in Being Drawn Into Anger? Understand the Downside First, it is important to be cognizant of one's actions before blindly churning out insults.  I might have been one taunt away from hurting myself if such abuse were common in my Life or I might have taken my 6'3 self (complete with martial arts training and / or a weapon) and waited outside for them, to respond to ignorance with an equally ignorant act that would have hurt someone.  We have better control of our mouth and our actions than we claim to have.  It's time we acknowledge and demonstrate such control before we hurt someone else or allow someone else to be hurt.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Bullying – Is Pink Shirt Day Solving Anything?

Not everyone has been a bully or the victim of bullies, but everyone has seen bullying, and seeing it, has responded to it by joining in or objecting, by laughing or keeping silent, by feeling disgusted or feeling interested. - Octavia E. Butler

The solution to putting an end to bullying is to stop it at the source but also to find out what is causing the person to behave the way that they do. - Hunter King

Today is Pink Shirt Day, the day when politicians, businessmen, schools and churches call upon everyone to wear a pink shirt to send a statement about bullying and how it must come to an end.

We are told that to do so makes a difference.

Statistics tell us a different story, that bullying, battery, cyber-bullying and other forms of intimidation (and sometimes violence) continue to grow unabated, regardless of whatever feel-good actions we take and whatever legislation we pass.

And as I reflect upon the collision between feel-good intentions and reality, I reflect upon my own Life.

I spent my entire childhood hiding from bullies.  As part of an education experiment growing up, I had some grades combined which meant that I was accepted in college at the age of 15.

So being much younger than my schoolmates (and therefore much smaller) and more gifted academically (as evidenced by school grades), this left me ripe for bullies.

My bully from grades 2 through 6 was Cliff, who verbally and physically abused me relentlessly and incessantly.  His house was between mine and my elementary school so avoiding him was rather difficult.  <<I understand that Cliff moved on to a cocaine-filled Life filled with many complexities.>>

Poor grades on Cliff’s part caused him to be in a different part of junior high school and so he was replaced by Barry who relished his role as the destroyer of worlds (at least my world).

Barry’s bad grades separated Barry and I in high school but other people were there to fill his shoes.  Paul, Steve, Stewart, Tony, Randy and others took brutality to a new level, often mock-raping me in the shower-room, holding me down and taking turns dry-humping me.  After they finished high school, they moved on to blue collar businesses and are reasonably successful by their own definition although a trail of broken marriages and such would speak differently.

Having been accepted in college at the age of 15 in a classroom of twenty-somethings and being adept in the early world of Computer Science, I became the victim of people like Dennis, Dwight and others who assumed the role of my bully du jour before poor grades caused them to drop out.

It took a lot of years to overcome their damage but I did and I was driven to create success for myself and others.  I was also driven to lift others or to lend a hand when no one else would.

Did the bullies drive me to this?  Could it be argued that what they did to me drove me to experience the blessings that I later experienced in Life and to serve the downtrodden, the oppressed and those without a voice? 

It’s possible but I’m sure there were easier ways to experience the Life I am grateful for now.

I doubt the bullies that I experienced in my early days remember or care what they did.  Statistically, many of them are creating or have created a new generation of bullies.

I wonder if they are cognizant of this or if they care.

I doubt it but who is to say for sure.

And so as I reflect upon Pink Shirt Day today and I look back upon my early days, I wonder if such a campaign would have helped me feel better back then as I suffered in silence and humiliation?

Would Pink Shirt Day have prevented the bullies from chasing me relentlessly, somehow convincing them that they were doing the wrong thing?

I doubt it.

The reason is that they were mentally broken, many of them damaged by broken fathers or other family members.  Feel-good moments rarely have an impact on those who need to be mentally rewired.

The reality is that we need more than feel-good moments to stop the ever-increasing frequency and brutality of bullying.

We need to neutralize the process that creates the bully in the first place.

To accomplish this, we need many things, not the least of which are better role-models in the worlds of business, politics, religion and in the home because this is often where bullying starts or is identified as an acceptable practice.

For example ….

I recently disconnected from a colleague of many years because he was incessantly consumed by pointing out what a mean bully Donald Trump is.  In fact, he was so consumed by proving this that he would tear layers off anyone who dared to suggest that he move on to something more productive with his Life and he spent his days on social media sharing hateful messages designed to intimidate.  Ironically, his actions were directed towards a man who didn’t know and thus didn’t care what my colleague thought, making my colleague’s actions one of futility.

When I pointed out to my colleague that I found it ironic that he was using bullying tactics to fight alleged bullying, he and his colleagues beset upon me with insults.

When I quoted one of his countrymen, Gandhi, that “we should be the change we wish to see in the world” and I asked him if he felt that he was being a good role model for his children in solving the problems of the world, the level of brutal taunting from him and people who thought like him escalated to the point where a 25-year friendship came to an end.

He missed the irony that he was modeling the very thing that he claimed to be against.  In fact, pointing this out merely made him more angry.

Reality can be a brutal teacher.

Another example ….

Many (not all) politicians who cite being bullied online or within their political party have a dark secret themselves.  Many of them are known to their colleagues and victims as brutal bullies themselves, often firing the first shot and not merely being “strong” in an act of self defense.

Ironically (or maybe not), they can dish it out ad nauseum but it serves a useful political tool to come forward and tell people that they were bullied.

The funny thing is that if you name them publicly as bullies once they leave public office, then they will hit you with a SLAPP suit, a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition.  They do this under the guise of self defense to protect their reputation but the reality is that their need to bully is just manifesting in a different way (or the need exists to stifle public awareness of their true self).

Meanwhile, the easily guided (or misguided) fall prey to the politician’s call to rally the troops around their defense, only to realize later that they have been supporting an aggressor and not a victim.

So is wearing a Pink Shirt helping today?

Look at the statistics and answer the question for yourself.

The Bottom Line

Awareness of an existing problem is all fine and good and it is important to an extent.

However, anyone who is not aware of the scale and impact of bullying has likely been transported here from another planet.

It’s fine to get all stoked up by feel-good campaigns promoted by businessmen, politicians, church leaders and various not-for-profits.

But after you have felt the love and camaraderie that comes from wearing a pink shirt like everyone else, ask yourself what you need to do to stop bullying.

Ask yourself what kind of role model you are for others.

Ask yourself what you should do when you see a failed role model in action.

After all, it’s only when we get to the core of where bullies are formed and allowed to do what they do and then neutralize the bullying at the source that we will start solving the deep, complex issues created by bullies (and how the bullies were created).

It will also give us an opportunity to heal the bully, many of whom have been broken themselves by others who are broken, thereby breaking a chain of generational bully creation.

To do otherwise would be akin to feeding a diabetic Twinkies because he aches for them while simultaneously amputating his limbs one after the other.

Feel-good gestures and awareness are fine motivators but they don’t solve much.

Action does.

Are you ready to take action today?

Are you ready to move past the feel-good of wearing a specific shirt and lazily sharing a few social media posts and instead, to become a model human being, exhibiting the traits and behaviors that you want others to emulate (especially our children) and to demand the same from our leaders in business, politics, the church and other areas?

Are you ready to do what it takes to be that model where you work, where you live and in your family?

Good, because the world is waiting for you.

What are you waiting for?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

PS I’ve often engaged in conversations with people who cite the importance of feel-good actions while simultaneously dismissing the importance of follow-on action with measurable results.  When I ask them to cite the data that shows that they are solving the problem that they intend to solve, they eventually admit that there is no data and with that admission, the conversation eventually devolves into a shouting match instigated by them.

What, if anything, does this tell us?

What, if anything, does it do to help those who are in need?


Addendum - Irony - February 22, 2017

Someone was reading this blog while attending a Calgary Hitmen game this morning.  The purpose of the game is to promote anti-bullying and pink shirts were distributed to all the kids who were in attendance.  What was ironic according to the person who texted me was that the kids were chanting in favor of fighting when some fights broke out on the ice during a game meant to promote an end towards bullying.

Ironic indeed.


Addendum 2 - Our Veterans - February 22, 2017

Twitter user artocracy made what I thought to be a powerful observation in comparing feel-good notions like Pink Shirt Day to Veteran's / Remembrance Day when we take one day out of the entire year to honor those who have served and made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.  I found the observation to be a poignant one.  In that case, we leave our vets to suffer from PTSD, homelessness, starvation and everything else for most of the year but on one day, we honor their sacrifice.  Honoring them should include daily action to take care of those who have blessed us with freedom.  We instead opt for one day of easy, result-less feel-good "stuff", honoring them with parades, wearing poppies and the like while we forget them for the rest of the year. 

A sobering thought.


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