Saturday, February 9, 2008

Thought for Ash Wednesday

Even though I missed Ash Wednesday services, it is good to mark the beginning of Lent. It is even better to keep Lent, and remember in our bodies the life and suffering of our Lord Jesus.

“Perversity and pride can lead us to insist on our suffering for selected sins. This one, my special sin, I am going to make atonement for. This is a denial of Christ and Calvary. There is nothing of you that He left out of His atonement for you, left out of His forgiveness. Christ died for you, the whole person, for He would make you whole. There is fact here and there is process. You are forgiven; you are righteous with Christ’s bestowed righteousness. He counts for you; you are justified.

Now you are to become what you are.”

Norman Nagel - From Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel

Friday, February 8, 2008

Dopplegangers and Bizarro World Candidates

As I was our running through the slush this morning, enjoying the fresh snow that has been falling gently gently for the last 6 days, my thoughts turned to democracy and our wonderful elections. I thought about the brave and strong candidates, who thoughtless of their own safety, hurl themselves into the harsh light of public scrutiny, subjecting themselves to all manner of physical and emotional torment at the hands of the people, all for the paltry prize of becoming the leader of the free world.

I occured to me that there were some fasinating parllels among the candidates. It seems in fact that each candidate in the field has his own doppleganger, his own Bizarro complement. Each pair hails from a different party, but shares a style of candidacy. Within each pairing, there is shared style, but a much different emphasis on substance and focus.


Technocrats are candidates who are focused on technology (in the Ellulian sense), "the totality of methods rationally arrived at, and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity." In other words, governing is all about the methodology, the programs, the technique. Romney and Clinton don't really differ that much in style. They differ mainly in the tools and ends they would use the technology of government for. The danger of either, of course, is whether the technology really serves humanity, or vice versa.

The Emoticrats seek to lead by inspiring, by appeal to the emotional desires and dreams of the citizens. McCain says, "I will never back down in hunting and killing the enemies of our Great Nation. I will Never Never stop!" That appeals deeply to certain segment whose main concern is the enemy without. Obama says, "We need Change. I will bring Change. We need to Unite. I will unite us." This appeals to the hearts of those who fear the enemy within, which is only those who cannot just get along, or who don't want to change. Of course, change is never defined. The great danger is that an emoticratic appeal can move millions to action, but to what action? They use similar styles, but their ends are very different ends.

The Populists set themselves up as the contenders for the people against the overwhelming machine of the big bad Wolf we can government. Huckabee wants to save us from the grasping claws of the IRS that want to steal the money that is rightfully ours. Edwards wants to save us from the iron heel of the military industrial bureaucratic complex that presses our necks down so that we cannot earn the money that is rightfully ours. The both style themselves as saviors of sorts, but their means are quite different.

The Polarists stand on the far ends, shouting as loud as they can. Unfortunately for them, they stand so far out there that only a few, those whose hearing aids are already tuned to their special frequency, can actually hear them. It has been said that a sign of integrity is what you do when no one is watching. If this is true, then God bless Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich. They are trying to fit 10 pounds of integrity into a 5 pound sack.

The Non-Starters are good guys who apparently just have no idea whatsoever how to actually run a national presidential campaign. They might have had something good to add, but just totally screwed themselves.

I'm not sure how much value this analysis has for actually choosing one candidate or another, but it's kind of interesting to see how it all breaks out. The question is, will the parties choose there candidates with matching styles, or will they pit one style against another? How will that affect the campaign? If this happens in the national election, you may see one candidate trying to change their style to counter the other. My guess is that the candidate the changes will most likely lose.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

No Child Left Inside

My daughters do not play outside nearly as much as I did at their age. One might tend to think this is the result of their age or that they are girls, but I think not. My mother's litany was, "It's a beautiful day. Go outside and play." And I did. I did not worry, and think my mother did not worry much either, about various dangers and accidents -- that was all just part of raising boys. The horrors of predatory adults were not high on the radar either -- at least I think not.

I am concerned that even though I live in a distinctly rural area, my kids are living a suburban life. They don't play as much as I think they should. We tend to think of kid activities as things we must take them to. Yet our house is surrounded by woods. I can't think of a better playground. It's not that the girls aren't interested in it, either. The eldest loves all things vegetable, animal and mineral. But tell them go to outside and there are a million reasons why things get uncomfortable or scary and the boomerang back in.

An article I recently came across in Drive Magazine made me think of this more. Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks that we are raising kids who are very "concerned" about "the environment" but don't actually spend much time in it.

Within the space of a few decades, the way children understand and experience nature has changed radically. The polarity of the relationship has reversed. Today, kids are aware of the global threats to the environment – but their physical contact, their intimacy with nature, is fading. That’s exactly the opposite of how it was when I was a child. As a boy, I was unaware that my woods were ecologically connected with any other forests. Nobody in the 1950s talked about acid rain or holes in the ozone layer or global warming. But I knew my woods and my fields; I knew every bend in the creek and dip in the beaten dirt paths. I wandered those woods even in my dreams. A kid today can likely tell you about the Amazon rain forest – but not about the last time he or she explored the woods in solitude, or lay in a field listening to the wind and watching the clouds move.

Worth Reading and thinking about. I'm sending my kids out there and locking the door. It's for their own good.

I'm Going to Stop Before I Hurt Myself

It's a good thing I'm not a real football fan. I feel mildly bummed out, and I am not really that into it. If it mattered a lot to me, I would be really upset. I know some people who will be. That's a hard way to live.

Congrats to the Giants, eh? They earned it.

And...because nobody really cares what I think about football, I'll stop now.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Training BS

I am a professional trainer and speaker. I stand up in front of people and teach them useful skills for living and working more effectively. It used to be that people who did this were said to be part of the “Self Help” business. Now it is the Personal Development Industry. Whatever.

I love this business. I love the look that I see in my students’ eyes when they realize that the have just accomplished something they did not think possible. I dig it when a student tells me a story about how what I taught them helped them in some way. My mission is to give people tools to help them to live better lives, and it gives me great satisfaction.

But I gotta tell ya, there are a lot of things about this business that drive me batty. Today, my pet peeve is the “urban legends” of my business. These are stories and illustrations that you will find widely quoted as fact in books, CD’s, seminars and presentations. They are quoted as fact, but as far as I can tell, they have no real basis anywhere. Could be that I’m just missing something, but I don’t think so. In fact, I think I’m smelling something pretty stinky around these stories.

The first is the story of the Bamboo Tree. The story has is that when a bamboo farmer (is there really such a thing as a bamboo farmer?) plants a bamboo, he waters it and tends it for 10 years with no visible results. Then in the 10th year, the plant suddenly shoots out of the ground and grows at some astronomical rate, like a foot a week or something. The moral is that much of our work is like this. We plant and water and tend to our business, and the results are slow in coming. But if we are faithful, and don’t give up, the results will be spectacular. Good story. I think, however, that it is a total load of crap. I have been unable to find any documentation of the growth cycle of bamboo that supports this story.

Second is the widely reported statistic that 97% of our communication is non-verbal. I first heard this in college in my Introduction to Communication class. It is generally accepted fact. Yet I have found no studies or documentation to actually support the claim. How do you measure it? What’s the methodology that came up with that number. The general concept may even be true, but it ticks me off that this is probably just a made up thing that has worked it’s way into the collective psyche.

Third is the widely referenced Harvard University Study on Goal Setting. The story is that “once upon a time” Harvard Business School did a study. They asked a sample of people if they had goals, what they were, and if they had written them down. Only 3% had written goals. 30 years later, they looked up the same people and guess what they found? The 3% who had written down their goals now rule the world. The rest of the sample now live in poverty in Bangladesh. OK, that’s not exactly how it goes, but close enough. I cannot find any such study. The only specific thing I can find is that it happened at Harvard. No year, no publication, no authors. Nothing. I think it’s a load of bunk. Again, it may be true that people who set goals and write them down are more successful, but why must we resort to lies to teach the truth?

I am currently reading Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins. I have tremendous respect for Tony and his work, and I’m really enjoying and learning a lot from the book, but one thing in he wrote really rubbed me wrong. As an example of the power of constant and never-ending improvement, Robbins cites basketball coach Pat Riley. Robbins relates this story, that took place at the start of the 1986 season with the Lakers.

He convinced the players that increasing the quality of their game by a mere 1 ercent over their personal best would make a major difference in their season. This seems ridiculously small, but when you think about 12 players increasing by 1 percent their court skills over 5 areas the combined effort makes a team that is 60% more effective than it was before.

Ok, I’m not a math whiz so I can’t explain why in technical terms, but the logic here just seems wrong to me. A one percent increase in 5 separate areas for 12 players does NOT add up to 60% overall improvement. The categories are mixed up. This sort of noodling with the facts just drives me bonkers. Aren’t there enough REAL stories to illustrate the point. Can’t you use actual logic, rather than made up pseudo-math?

Stories and word pictures are powerful and useful for helping people to grasp the concepts involved, not just cognitively, but emotionally as well. That’s why speakers like to use stories like these. When people change behavior, it is almost always the result of some sort of change in emotional state, not a logical decision. Stories and images tap into emotions much more effectively than facts. The power of facts often comes from the emotional weight granted to authorities like Harvard.

I believe that goal setting is indeed a powerful tool for living an intentional and purposeful life. I agree that we should persevere even when results seem to be delayed. I am certain that how we say things is often more powerful than what we actually say. And I believe that constants incremental improvement can add up to dramatic progress over time.

Yup. I believe all these things. But I don’t buy the stories. Not for a minute. I wish my colleagues would stop spouting nonsense, even in the service of truth.

XLII Haiku

What can better capture the truest essence of world’s most bombastic professional sporting event like poetry? The distillation of the purest spirit is surely the domain of the bards, and this is no less true if the subject involves the fierce clashing of will, and the violent collision of bodies on the turf. And so, in honor of our glorious Patriots and the bid for pigskin history, I bring you Superbowl Haiku.

Belicheck is grim.
The hoodie hides his head while
His lips stay clamped down.

Fourth down or field goal,
Rushing, blocking, blitzing. Sack!
The QB eats turf.

Arizona heat.
It don’t snow nor never rains.
Is it real football?

The beer. The hot wings.
The chips in salsa verde.
Eating and yelling.

A win by touchdown,
Field goal or the extra point.
Which one is sweeter?

Brady’s targeting
Computer is now locked on.
One fire is one kill.

There will be a shot
That will win the game. The hit
Heard around the world.

When Welker, Moss and
Stallworth are hot, Brady fires
Heat seeking missiles.

No pass game? No prob.
We hit the ground running it.
Right down their throats. Boom.

This misbegotten foray into "poetry" was inspired by the NPR program It's Only a Game, where they had a special feature on Superbowl Haiku. You can hear it HERE. Start listening at 40:35 into the program.