Friday, February 27, 2009

What Matters

I ran into a lady in the supermarket the other day who was cursing the food manufacturers for giving us so much to choose from that it added frustration to her life. What a dilemma to have.

Her comment, coupled with a powerful Ash Wednesday homily I heard the other day about giving to others got me to thinking about how we choose life priorities.

Imagine 29,000 children, the number that die daily around the world from preventable disease and starvation, standing in front of your home or place of business. As you watch them, they begin to die one by one. You and the people around you are horrified at the sight and look for ways to run to the children, to help them in any way you can. As you hold them, they die in your arms and your heart is filled with anguish as you seek ways to help them. Your adrenalin is pumping through your veins and you will do anything to make a difference - even if you can save only one child.

Now imagine the same scenario but this time you are blindfolded and restrained. You can hear the cries of the children as they die, their final moments filled with suffering and pain. You are told you can't help them and you hear yourself crying out to the children while cursing the people who refuse to allow you to help them. Your emotions are running high because you feel helpless to comfort the afflicted and you weep at the sound of their suffering.

Now imagine a third scenario. The children are still dying but they are not in front of you, so you can't see them or hear them. Perhaps your heart feels a little pain, sadness or pity at the thought of them suffering. Perhaps it doesn't. If it does, it is nowhere near the intensity of the first two scenarios that I described. You may not feel compelled to rush out to find a way to help them in an impactful way or if you do feel compelled, you probably schedule a contribution for some time in the future.

Where is the sense of urgency?

Is it like the old Zen riddle of a tree falling in the forest, where people ask the question "Does a falling tree make any sound if there is no one to hear it"?

Can you hear the sound of children suffering from poverty, disease and malnutrition crying out for help?

Can you hear the sound of battered women crying out for support and justice?

Can you hear the sound of the homeless, crying out for love and shelter?

Why not? To me, it seems that their voices are so loud I can hardly think.

Maybe if no one is around the tree when it falls, perhaps it truly doesn't make a sound.

But we know it does.

By the time you read this blog (assuming 10 minutes to read it), 200 children under the age of five will have died around the world from preventable disease and starvation (that's about 10.5 million children per year). At the same time, 67 women will have been beaten by abusers in the US alone (an estimated 3.9 million victims per year).

While all these things happen, more money will be spent on a cure for baldness and erectile dysfunction than on seeking solutions for the problems that afflict a great number of people around the world.

While it is true that conditions of the poor have improved over the years, they could improve much faster if more of us focus on what really matters.

Do we really know what matters?

We can be like the lady in the supermarket that I referred to earlier, complaining that we have too much to choose from.

We can agonize over the selections on a restaurant menu, wondering if it will be the lamb or the prime rib. During the 15 minutes you contemplate this important decision, 300 children will die of malnutrition, death bringing escape from the cruelty of one meal a day (or less than one meal for many).

We can spend a week wondering what color our next car will be and be in total angst over it, totally consumed by the unfairness of life that we should have so many options to choose from.  200,000 children will die from malnutrition during the week.

We can spend a month or more planning next year's vacation, making sure that every minute of every day is filled with the most bliss possible with the least amount of worry and downtime.  More than 870,000 children will die from starvation and disease during this timeframe.

We can spend a couple of years planning a wedding, knowing that 50% or more of them will fail anyway, making the money and time spent seem to be wasted.  If we take two years, more than 20 million children will die from starvation as we make plans.

Meanwhile, the pressure of these things bring real worry, sleepless nights, confusion and frustration.

How unfair life is, we think.

Meanwhile, the things in life that really matter will continue to not get our attention as much as they should.

The great irony is that much of what we enjoy in the 21st century has been built on the backs of the poor and destitute, either within their own country or after bringing them from one country to another.

Some of us look upon the rest of the world with a sense of "if they would only be more civilized, perhaps we could help them more or they could help themselves in a better way".

Meanwhile inside our own world, as the financial crisis hammers us, we worry about tough decisions before us:

  • having to buy less food for entertainment purposes (as opposed to food for nourishment)
  • being forced to make our car last another year - "oh the pain of this recession, I really wanted the car with the new satellite radio feature"
  • being forced to wait for the $2 million home until the banks loosen up their credit restrictions so that we can max ourselves out - I guess we'll have to suffer through the home we live in although some of us don't know how we'll make do with such a small Jacuzzi
  • maybe some of us will have to suffer through the 40 pairs of shoes we own
  • what about this golf bag - I can't be seen on the course with this piece of garbage?

Oh, the injustice of it all, we think - why are we suffering like this?

Meanwhile, good people in the western world lose their homes, wonder where the next meal comes from, lose healthcare benefits and unwillingly take a step closer to the way some cultures have lived their lives for centuries.

The point is that you don't have to go far to find people who are in need while we lament the loss of luxury.

If by some stroke of poor luck, we lost our electricity in the western world, think about what would happen here.

  • No fuel refining and therefore few usable vehicles once fuel stockpiles run out.
  • No heat or light in our homes for most of us.
  • Minimal healthcare.
  • Minimal clothing manufacturing.
  • Minimal food harvesting and distribution.
  • Minimal clean water.

As our society sinks down into the depths of our worst nightmares, we would turn to the rest of the world and say "Please help us - kindness and love for fellow man is what is most important in the world.  You can't allow us to suffer like this - it is inhuman and indecent.".

Oh, the wisdom that comes when the shoe is on the other foot.


We can assume that someone else will help them.  If we all assume this, then there are very few people actually helping those in need.

We can say we don't know how to help them. However, we are extremely creative when it comes to solving any other problem that confronts us.

We are always creative when we need to be for the things that are important to us.

The question is .... do we truly know what is important? 

Yours in service and servanthood.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Twenty-First Time

I was listening to a powerful song today by the group Monk and Neagle.  The song, "The Twenty-First Time", describes how the singer routinely walks by a number of people in welfare lines, sleeping in alleys, etc. and intentionally looks away.  Over time he starts to see the same people consistently.  It occurs to him one day that perhaps one of these people he is passing on a regular basis is Jesus Christ who is waiting to see if he will stop and help Him and yet he consistently looks away.

It caused me to think about the people we interact with every day on a cursory level.  I'm not talking about people whose lives are tightly entwined with ours - spouses, children, parents, siblings, business associates, etc. although often times we may be guilty of treating even these people in a casual way.

It's the majority of people we come in contact with in life - the ones we never really get to know or never meet but who we are aware of. 

It's the person who gives us a coffee at the drive-thru window every morning.  It's the person at the supermarket checkout who we make idle chatter with a couple of times per week about the weather, vacation plans and the like.  We never take the time to get to know them.  Why should we bother, we think.  They are just doing their job.

It's the politician that we feel so free to judge, waiting for them to solve every problem in our town, country or world because as we see it, the problems are extremely simple.  If the politician won't solve these problems, we conjecture, they should move over and let someone else do it.  However, we can't get involved because we are too busy.

Maybe it is the homeless person who has set up on a particular street corner.  We notice them as we drive past them, wonder for a moment what their story is and then return our thoughts to what is squeezing us today.  It's a shame the western world allows this, you think, and then your mind moves on to another subject.

It is the people who live in socially-assisted complexes, causing some of us to wonder why they can't get jobs like everyone else.  Meanwhile we are oblivious to their story and have little understanding of how they came to be there.

Perhaps it is the prostitute or the incarcerated individual that we feel so free to judge, forgetting that if we had the same genetics and life experiences, there is a good chance we would be in their shoes and being judged by someone else.

Maybe it's the crying child we see on television in an appeal for money to be sent overseas to helped the diseased and the poverty-stricken.  What a shame we think - we should make it a point to contribute more to causes like that.  Five minutes later, the cause is forgotten as we move on to deal with our own pressures.

Why should we get to know any of these people or get involved, we reason?  They are where they are, that is their business and I am in a hurry and have my own difficulties.  If I take the time to get to know every person, I will not have any time to live my Life Purpose.

Perhaps our Life Purpose is to contribute to their story and allow them to contribute to ours.

Everyone has a story.  We are so consumed writing and living our own story that we forget about the myriad of stories around us.  Many of them are far more powerful than our own but we are so consumed by our own story that we don't take time to notice the stories of others.

Many of the stories are missing a few chapters, though.  The chapters are the ones we are being asked to write, completing the story of someone else or that others are being asked to write to complete ours.

All of our stories are interlinked.  As a society, we raise our selves to new levels or diminish ourselves to new lows based on how we recognize the interdependence of our stories and whether we choose to contribute to the compendium that describes our existence on Earth.

If we increased our contribution to the stories of others by half of one percent, the results would be incredible.  A one percent increase in contribution across the board would produce a profound result.

One half of one percent is less than an hour of time per week.  For many of us who say "we don't have an hour to give", as someone who studies human productivity, I can assure you that many of us have many hours of wasted time on our hands - time that could be recovered if we were honest with ourselves and others about our priorities and how we execute towards our Life purpose.

I would like to offer a challenge to the wonderful readers of my blog.  If you have the courage, put some time on your calendar this week to do one of the following (or come up with one of your own).

1. Stop by a children's cancer clinic and ask to speak to staff, parents or children.  Ask them to tell you stories of courage, hope and love.

2. Reach out to a local prison support group or to a prison itself and speak to someone who can share the backgrounds of some of the prisoners.  Really listen to the life experiences of the people who spend time inside the institutions - prisoner and guard alike.

3. Volunteer to spend a little time in a soup kitchen or food bank and as you share nourishment with others, ask them about their story.  Listen closely - the stories are profound.

4. For those in larger urban centers, if you have not done so recently, spend some time in the more decrepit parts of town.  Take note of what is going on around you, especially when it comes to how nurturing the environment is for children.

5. Speak to a doctor or teacher and ask them to share their story with you - why they chose the profession, why they enjoy it and what presents the greatest challenges.

6. Have an honest dialog with your government representative.  Really get to know his or her world and then ask yourself if you could do better.  If you can, prepare to run for election.

7. Stop to give some food or money to a homeless person and ask them to explain their story.  Open your heart as you speak to them and listen to them.

8. OR - Insert your own challenge here.

Let's not talk about it - let's do it.

If you do it, your story will become permanently changed as others write new chapters in your story in indelible ink.  Hopefully, you will have an opportunity to do the same in their story.

If you do it, your Life Purpose may either become more solid, may change slightly or may become rewritten.

Each person in the world, including ourselves, can change the world with unique ideas, passion, skills, talents and knowledge.

Maybe others are waiting for us to finish a chapter or two so that they can become empowered to make a greater difference to themselves, their families and the world.

Maybe we are waiting for them to do the same for us.

What are we really waiting for?

Yours in service and servanthood.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Staring in the Rear View Mirror

A couple of days ago, I merged into some heavy traffic on a highway and then immediately began to fidget as the truck I was driving behind drove at half the speed limit while the passing lane zoomed by.

Intent on changing my situation, I monitored the traffic in the passing lane with the mirrors of my vehicle, waiting for the right moment to inject myself into the lane that would assuredly take me to where I needed to go in a faster manner.

At some point, I realized as I was driving along that in fact, I was entirely focused on the traffic in my mirror and wasn't paying any attention to what was going on in front of me.  There might have been things of beauty around me or immediate danger in front of me.  I was too busy paying attention to what was behind me while at the same time, not being happy with how fast I was getting to my destination.

As I corrected my driving behavior, I experienced a little A-HA moment as I realized how similar this is to the life that many people live.

For many people, their focus is on what is behind them and includes reminiscing about:

  • their successes and great memories - they relive these over and over with delight and perhaps with a touch of nostalgia or sadness when they think "will I ever experience that again",  the more detrimental thought "why can't I ever experience that again" or the completely negative "I will never experience Life as good as that"
  • their failures, or rather, what they perceive to be failures - which they use to constantly bash themselves as they think "I wish I had done .....", "I wish I had known ...." or the more caustic "Why wasn't I smart enough to ...."
  • their losses and how they would give anything to have their time back again to regain what they have lost
  • thoughts of better or easier times, forgetting that with newly acquired knowledge, their potential for their best result ever is in front of them.

We have all met people focused on their rear-view mirror of Life.  There are times when perhaps we were the one focused on the rear-view mirror when it was important to be looking forward.  I know I have done this more than once, especially recently.

When we do this, so many opportunities to manifest positive new results in our future may become harder to achieve.  After all, if we can't see the promise of a new day because we are consumed by yesterday, how do we expect to manifest a greater result?   I know that as I stared in my mirror the other day, I drove past a beautiful lake that I happened to also notice in my mirror.  It was too late to appreciate it once it faded in the distance behind me.

In the same manner, Life presents a plethora of opportunities to witness its beauty when we are looking around us and not just behind us.  Opportunities to witness the miracles of Life and to make a difference to others manifest around us when we are paying attention and open to the opportunities; opportunities that are only visible when we are not trapped in where we have come from.

By the same token, danger may also be lurking in front of us when we are consumed by that which is behind us.  Many of us have experienced a moment where our attention may have faded for a moment while driving, only to be suddenly alerted by a passenger whose quick alarm of "watch out" brought us back to reality.

Looking backwards on occasion is important and has value.  Just as looking in the mirror occasionally for a brief moment helps make our travel safer and more enjoyable, looking in the mirror of Life to revisit good or bad memories has importance for establishing a more enjoyable Life journey moving forward.

Just don't get stuck staring into the mirror and forget that while you are doing this, you are still moving forward towards something!

As we drive through Life, think about this.

You have just entered a tunnel and in the distance, there is a light.  Is it the light that signals the end of the tunnel, with sunshine illuminating a beautiful, majestic scene in the mountains or is the light in fact a train rapidly moving towards you? 

You will never know and never have the opportunity to enjoy or avoid what's in front of you if you are focused on watching the light of the tunnel entrance fade in your rear view mirror.

Let's be cognizant of our "driving" habits as we are blessed to enjoy the abundance, opportunities and love all around us.  It is good to check our mirrors once in a while and observe that which is behind us as we move forward.  However, let's be aware that manifesting our Life purpose is a lot easier to achieve when we are focused on the direction we are traveling rather than being focused on where we were.

Yours in service and servanthood.


Friday, February 13, 2009

How is Your Legacy Coming Along?

I walked into a client's building today and the security guard said "I saw your name in the obituaries today".

I replied "Really?  Maybe I am not really here today" and laughed.  As I watched, the security guard brought up this obituary.

Harry Tucker, Bell Island
Born in St Phillips, Newfoundland, Canada

In loving memory of a dear husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather who passed away 20 years ago today.

Silent sorrow remains a constant heartache but loving memories are left to share.

Till we meet again - Evelyn and family.

The obituary that I was looking at was honoring the 20th anniversary of my grandfather's passing.

My grandfather left an amazing legacy - a legacy of a hard worker who put food on the table for 12 kids.  A legacy of a quiet man who went about his business without interfering with anyone.  A legacy of a man who could outwit the craftiest of people and was no one's fool

I ran into someone a couple of weeks ago who looked at me and said "You're "Happy's" son, aren't you?".

I replied in the affirmative (smiling at the nickname that my father had when he was younger).

The person I was speaking to immediately started telling me stories of my grandfather and the fond memories he had of him and the contributions that he made from 30, 40 or more years ago.  That is a legacy.

I'll share one of those stories because it makes me laugh every time someone recounts it to me.

My grandfather was once asked to build a chimney for someone who had a reputation for not paying people for services rendered.  Even though my grandfather was cautioned not to do the work for fear of not being paid, he built the chimney anyway.

Sure enough, the man who had commissioned my grandfather hemmed and hawed over whether he would pay him or not.  When the first fire was lit, it was discovered that the smoke came back into the house instead of going up the chimney.  Peering up into the chimney, no discernible reason for this was evident.

My grandfather indicated that if the man paid him, he would fix the problem immediately.  Accepting his payment, my grandfather carried a large rock up to the top of the chimney and dropped it down the shaft, breaking the pane of glass that he had intentionally placed across the chimney.  He had anticipated this event and played it perfectly.

All these years later, people remember him for events like this.

How will people remember you?

Will you fade into obscurity, remembered by immediate family or close friends only?  Will your legacy extend only a generation or so and then disappear with no visible impact?

Or will your legacy live well beyond your years, going beyond friends and family such that complete strangers can walk up to your children's children and say "Did you ever hear the story of ...." as your grandchildren feel their heart swell up with pride for being descended from someone who had such an impact.

What are you doing today to help ensure a positive, long-lasting, far reaching legacy?

Yours in service and servanthood.


Monday, February 2, 2009

Canada's Role in the World - A Disruptive Conversation

Have you ever had a conversation with a person or a group of people that was so powerfully disruptive in a positive way that it caused you to stop and reassess everything you ever thought about regarding personal purpose, national pride or an opportunity to make an impact in the world.  Have you ever had such a conversation where all of these things came into play in a single dialog?

I have just had one of those experiences at an event hosted by Canada's World and to be honest, my brain is still struggling to come to grips with the magnitude and potential of the conversation.

I was honored and privileged this weekend past to participate in a national dialog around reassessing Canada's role in the world and it was powerful.

Before I go any further, I know what you may be thinking.

Yes, Harry, we've all seen these things before.  So much dialog with no results in the end.  Expectations set and then dashed.  Some events even grew so heated that people in the event imploded as they were unable to come to grips with their passion and differences in defining our role in the world.

However, this one was different.

Oh sure, we had all the same types of participants, including but not limited to:

  • Anglophones
  • Francophones
  • Aboriginal peoples
  • young people
  • life-experienced people
  • well traveled, and not-so-well traveled folks
  • varied education levels
  • retired folks and people just engaging in careers
  • diverse career selection - public and private sector, entrepreneurs, educators, writers, ecology-focused, etc.

So what was special about this dialog?

A couple of things come to mind.

First and foremost, the group that came together was unified in their love of Canada first and what it means to be a Canadian (even though their definition of being a Canadian varied).

Secondly, we came together with a vision for Canada's role in the world and the strong belief that Canada needs to reassert itself as a leader in a number of areas - political, diplomatic, socioeconomic, ecological and with new innovate economic models to name a few.  We are proud of what Canada has accomplished but see the need to raise the level of contribution and results significantly on all fronts at home and abroad.

All that being said, the thing that grabbed me the most was the heightened level of passion, respect and collaboration that embraced this group.

Conversations about identifying our role as leaders domestically and globally often break down as different groups debate who is more or less significant, who has contributed to or detracted from solutions, etc.  We certainly had enough contrasting demographics to have gone down that slippery slope if we wanted to.

But we never went down that path.

Instead, we embraced our respective differences as the thing that makes Canada great - that in Canada, all voices matter and that it is the differences in language, culture and life experiences that each one of us brings to the table that enables us to create innovative solutions that other countries will choose to model.

Our different backgrounds and experiences made the conversation stronger, more relevant and more profound.

One of the important elements for me is that such a conversation goes nowhere unless it produces a call to action.  Dialog without results is just entertainment and frustrating at that.

Canada was once looked upon as a leader in many areas of international and domestic policy.  While some leaders would have us believe that all is still wonderful from the perspective of how others view us, a number of domestic and international studies tell a completely different story.

How do we reassert ourselves as a global leader, perceived by other countries as the role model by which they can learn?

We start at home - we lead by example.  We continue to embrace our phenomenal culture originally built upon three founding nations - Anglophone, Francophone and Aboriginal peoples.  Our relationships aren't perfect.  However, they are incredibly powerful when combined and growing stronger every day - an incredible model of cultural diversity and collaboration that many envy.

We embrace immigrants who come to our country.  We tend to forget that outside of Aboriginal peoples, we are all immigrants here in one form or another.  Let's make this a place where an immigrant's education and accreditation abroad mean something here.  We need to encourage intellectual and cultural capital to flow into this country.  While some people say that Canada is an easy place to immigrate, there are many stories that suggest there is room for improvement in how we attract and retain people from all over the world.

Let's stop talking about things like Kyoto and actually start living up to our green commitments and obligations.  If we make a lot of noise about creating initiatives that we don't live up to, other countries eventually stop listening to us.

Let's stop talking about being "greener" and be truly green.  We see green technology as an investment and not an expenditure.  Our brilliant researchers in green technology can create technology that we embrace in Canada and cause other countries to say "I want what they have".  We can and must market this technology to the world.

We need to stop bragging about our wonderful healthcare and education systems as being the best in the world (which they are not) and focus on actually fixing the challenges within them, to create a truly enviable system that countries around the world will copy.

We talk about our wonderful cradle to grave system, yet so many of our children live below the poverty line, with insufficient food, clothing, shelter and personal safety.

There are so many topics - these are just a few.

However, the conversation this weekend made one thing very clear to me.

We need to care.  We need to stop being indifferent or apathetic to what is going on inside and outside of Canada.

We need to restoke the passion within us as Canadians.   Many of us spend a lot of time waiting for someone else to fix our concerns domestically and internationally while at the same time, simmering on the inside that others are not doing it fast enough or to our liking.

Pogo noted "we have met the enemy and he is us".

We are our greatest enemy and yet we are our greatest strength.

We can choose to be indifferent, apathetic people waiting for someone else to fix things while we complain the solutions aren't right, aren't fast enough, aren't thorough enough, etc.

Or .....

We can choose to be a part of the solution, to engage with fellow Canadians, to bring our strengths, talents and skills to bear to craft the perception of Canada, internally and externally, that WE believe we are.

It starts with an inner passion to get engaged.

Once your passion is stoked, bring your passion and beliefs to the table in a national dialog that makes government, NGOs and citizens equally responsible and accountable for manifesting the country that we know we are capable of creating - one that sets new standards by example and establishes a new paradigm domestically and internationally.

Are you ready to help manifest Canada's destiny in the 21st century or would you rather lament about how others are not living up to your expectation?

I think I know what you would prefer.

When you are ready to contribute, go to Canada's World and prepare to engage in a positive, constructive, respectful dialog with fellow Canadians who are passionate about improving how Canada becomes a role model in a number of different areas on the global stage.

Canada and the world eagerly await your strengths, talents and skills and the passion that you have to make this place a better one for everyone.

Your ideas have potential to profoundly influence and impact the world.

Isn't that an incredible thing to realize?

Yours in service and servanthood.