Management Secrets from the Iditarod.

Someone once said that “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”  Having been in management since 1970, I would add that “metaphors” are equally malignant when it comes to disseminating business advice.  No doubt you have read:

  • Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun,
  • Leadership Secrets of Jesus
  • Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell
  • Leadership Secrets of the Bible
  • Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham
  • Leadership Secrets of Hilary Clinton
  • Leadership Secrets of Abraham Lincoln

There are 392 books listed on wherein the phrase “Leadership Secrets” is part of the title.  You can even find “Leadership Secrets of Santa Claus” if you still believe in him or her.  Each of these books uses what I would phrase as a series of metaphoric devices to show you that the “Secrets” of whomever can readily be applied to modern management practice. With so many secrets extant, is it any wonder that managers are bewildered when it comes to understanding what good management practice is?  By the way, if “Secrets” are not your bag, then you should go to my next blog, which will cover the “Seven Attitudes of Killer Managers.”  No pun intended!

Well, this is your lucky day.  It just so happens I have a set of management “secrets” derived from a bunch of dogs.  No, I am not kidding!  In all sincerity, if you are still looking for a metaphor for your next HR meeting, here it is:  “Management Secrets from Iditarod.”  The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is one of the most grueling and difficult races in the world.  It traverses a distance of over 1100 miles over some of the roughest most desolate terrain in the world. It is run annually in early March from Anchorage to Nome. A Musher and a team of 16 dogs, of which at least 6 must be on the towline at the finish line, cover the distance in 9–15 days or more. Teams frequently race through blizzards causing whiteout conditions, sub-zero temperatures and gale-force winds which can cause the wind chill to reach −100 °F (−73 °C).

The Iditarod race requires organization, training, recruitment, resources, preparation, strategy, stamina, and leadership.  While there are no products sold, endorsements play a major role in helping the teams finance their competition. Thus, branding and image play are key to a team recruiting backers who are willing to shell out at least $20,000 dollars to support the team.

While, I think many metaphors often strain the envelope of credibility, I think the Iditarod really offers an interesting insight into how a key resource in any organization should be recruited, selected and trained.  I stumbled upon this insight while reading USA Weekend from March 8-10, 2013. On page 2 was a short article called “You Can Do It To!”  This article was about Lance Mackey who has won the Iditarod Championship 4 times since 2007.  In 2007, Lance became the first person to win both the Yukon Quest and Iditarod in the same year. This feat was considered almost impossible by many and is considered one of the most impressive feats ever by a musher and he was nominated for a 2007 ESPY Award based on his performance.

Now here is the key part.  How does Lance treat his dogs?  Well, he could use the one of the tried and true management strategies such as:

  • Kick ass and take names.

Treat your employers coolly. Stay distant so they will respect you. Make them know who the boss is early on. Never fraternize with your employees or they will take you for granted.  Surround yourself with ass lickers and people who will never threaten your position.

  •  Hire the best and smartest guys in the room.

Remember Enron and Ken Lay?  This is talent management at its best. Only recruit MBA’s and only MBA’s from Harvard or MIT or Stanford.  Be sure you adequately screen your recruits for competitiveness and a Machiavellian attitude.  Beware any who took too many courses in ethics.

  •  Reward, reward, reward and incent with bonuses, stock options and perks.

Nothing works like the carrot. If you want to get the most out of your employees, you need to reward them and shower them with performance incentives. A good performance management system is key to getting the most out of your employees. We all know that a good employee works for the financial rewards and that if you want to increase productivity, you must increase financial incentives.

  •  Fire the bottom twenty percent, promote the top 10 percent and warn the other 70 percent that their jobs are on the line.

This is the well-known GE or Jack Welch method.  Just look at how successful GE was!  Indeed Jack Welch has been called one of the most successful managers of all time.  He has also been called a few other names which I won’t mention here. Needless to say, it is results that count and not how a few slackers feel when they get their pink slips.  Just keep on promoting the top ten percent and get rid of those do-nothings in the bottom twenty percent.  Those employees who are left will work so hard to keep their jobs, productivity will go through the roof.

So, DRUM ROLL!  Which method does Lance Mackey use with his dogs?  I will use his own words to describe his method and let you decide which category his strategy fits in.

Lance has a very simple attitude and method with his dogs. Speaking about his dogs, Lance says We live in a barn together and hang out.  They are my best friends.”  He specifically states that he does not pick his dogs for speed or strength but for a good attitude, a willing appetite and cooperation.

How many managers do your know who could say that about their employees?  How many employees were selected for cooperation and attitude versus being the best and brightest?  How many managers hang out with their employees?  Lance’s strategies go against all the best management wisdom.  Lance truly has a relationship with each dog on his team.  His concern for his dog goes well beyond simply winning the race. He has said that his relationship with his team is more important than his winning.  When winning is the “only” thing, what does that do to our relationships with our employees?

I don’t want to make too much of this simple metaphor here. I suppose I could write a book called “Leadership Secrets of the Iditarod Dog Race” but I think there are enough “secrets” out there. My goal in writing this was to challenge some conventional thinking in respect to how we think employees need to be treated.  If dogs can be treated better than people are in most organizations, what does that say about our Human Resource practices?  Maybe we should start a new practice called DR for Dog Resources and start treating our employees as well as Lance treats his dogs.  Maybe then, productivity would pick up and the floggings could stop.

Ok, time for questions:

What will it take to change our paradigms for treating employees?  Are you friends with your employees? Do you believe it would be too dangerous to fratenize? What if you hung out with your employees? Are you afraid they would take you for granted?  What if you selected employees without regard to degrees and credentials?  Do you only promote the top ten percent?  How do you decide who the “bottom” ten percent is?  What if you eliminated your “Performance Management” system and instituted the Deming System of Management?  Do you know what Deming promoted? Do you realize that your current system is probably more Taylor and less Deming.

Life is just beginning.

My 10 Favorite Quotes for Living.

Some say, you can judge a person by their goals and the vision they have for the world.  Others say, you should judge a person by their actions and not their words.  I suggest we can judge a person by the aphorisms and thoughts that govern their behavior.  Each of us from the time we were born has been told stories and parables that have left their mark on our lives. Who we are is shaped by these stories and the indelible morals they have imprinted on our lives.  Often we only remember some short phrase or memorable quote from these tales but they continue to have an important impact on our lives long after we have forgotten the actual source or story they are derived from.

For my blog today, I am going to print my TOP TEN FAVORITE QUOTES of all time.  If you want to judge me, try using these as a means of determining who I am or perhaps who I aspire to be.  It may not be an easy task since these quotes are fairly diverse.  I am going to list them in no particular order of importance, but I will “annotate” each with my own interpretation of the meaning of the quote and of course, what it means to me.

  • A triumph of intellect but a tragic failure of reason. – Max Born

We allow ourselves to be seduced by technology into developing smart bombs, drones, spy satellites, stealth missiles, bunker busters and a host of “high tech” solutions to be deployed in pursuit of egregious goals and political mandates. We are perhaps cursed rather than blessed with brilliant people who can create such weapons that can then be given to IDIOTS who may just end up destroying the planet.  I seldom see science as the savior of humanity but simply as another thought system which can be useful but should not be treated as a god.

  • Survival is not compulsory W. E. Deming

The famous quality guru, Dr. Deming often used this quote to answer queries concerning what would happen to stalwart companies like GM and Ford if they did not change their ways.  His nonchalant blasé attitude reflects an acceptance of the rise and fall of corporations basically through their own stupidity.  I often think of this quote when I am working with clients who are resistant to change and new ideas.

  • What doth it profit a man if he gains the whole world but suffers the loss of his own soul?Matthew

Perhaps the most famous quote from the gospels and one I have often thought is the most forgotten. We search for fame and fortune and greatness but at what cost?  When we die, what will we be remembered for.  In the new movie: Oz, The Great and Powerful, there is a line at the end where the Good Witch says to the Wizard, “it is better to be good than great.” This reminds me of the thought that says “What knowledge is there that is greater than kindness?”  We live in a world that seems to idolize fame and fortune and the outcome has been for us to create perhaps the greediest society in the history of the world. As great as America is, its greatness once stemmed from the Goodness of its beliefs concerning life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. America’s greatness did not come from an obsessive infatuation with wealth and fortune but instead from a pursuit of justice and equality. Somewhere along the line, we have lost our way and the “heart” of Christianity has been forgotten in a nation where most people pride themselves on being Christian.  Sitting Bull once commented about Christianity: “Sounds like a great religion but I don’t see anyone practicing it.” 

  • Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.Santayana

If only our politicians believed this quote.  History is the most reviled subject in high schools across the nation and many of our leaders eschew studying the past as a waste of time.  Countless crisis from WW II to the present Afghan-Iraq debacle could have been avoided if only we had learned the lessons that history had to teach us.  In the Fog of War, the documentary of McNamara’s fiasco with Vietnam, there is a scene where the North Vietnam war leader Vo Nguyen Giap asks McNamara if he is stupid.  McNamara appears astounded at the question and Giap explains that if any American Leaders ever read the history of Vietnam they would have realized that the Vietnamese hated the Chinese more than they hated us.  There was little recognition that we faced a nationalistic insurgency and not a domino type take over by the Chinese. We continue to compound our mistakes today in the Mideast by failing to learn from the past.

  • I killed you because it’s my nature. – Panchatantra

This quote is from a famous fable that tells the story of a scorpion who hitches a ride from a skeptical frog across a small pond.  The frog at first will not give a ride to the scorpion for fear of being stung. But the scorpion assuages the fears of the frog by asking what good would it do to kill the frog when the scorpion would then drown.  The frog relents to this reasoning but is subsequently stung by the scorpion. When with his dying breath, the frog asks “Why?”; the scorpion replies because “It’s my nature.”

Sometimes we want to see things as we think they are or should be but life dictates character and choices to a far greater extent than our puny influences and efforts. It is wise to consider that as individuals we can have only so much impact on others and that people will act according to their own volitions and instincts and not our own fatuous expectations.

  • The test of courage comes when we are in the minority. The test of tolerance when we are in the majority.Ralph W. Sockman

When to be bold and when not to? The above quote provides a good guideline for action.  It is easy to be bold when in the majority but much more difficult when we appear surrounded on all sides by enemies or naysayers.  This is the time for courage. If you want to be a hero/heroine, then you should act when others around you are all against you.  It is much more difficult to be courageous when you are alone then when you are surrounded by a likeminded crowd.  Major General Smedley Butler, put his career and fame on the line when he came out against war.  All of the military were arrayed against his courageous anti-war position but it did not stop General Butler from condemning the war industry in the USA.

When you are in the majority, it is time to be tolerant.  When the lynch mobs are forming their nooses, when the crowd is screaming for intolerance to other religions, immigrants, minorities and other belief systems, this is the time to step out and demonstrate compassion for those in the minority.  Be brave and take the side of those who have no one to stand up for them or who are being persecuted on all sides.  Jesus spoke out against the majority when he said “Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.”   

  • Life is but a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. – Shakespeare

I admit to a somewhat skeptical attitude with this quote. Nevertheless, life to me often seems senseless and unfathomable. When I think of the random crimes, stupid political decisions and incorrigible greed that surrounds us, I am left with the feeling that life is nothing more than a charade run by a few demented idiots.  I realize I can take myself too seriously and this quote often helps me to put my life into a perspective that is not all rose collared lenses. Nevertheless, I will continue to live as though life was full of meaning and purpose, if only the meaning and purpose I put on it for myself.

  • So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew

The quote above is also attributed to Jesus from one of his famous gospel parables.  The man who tries to store up goods for the future arrives at his bed only to find he is going to die on the morrow.  Some have said “Live each day as though it will be your last but watch your money as though you would live forever.”  As with all wisdom, there is truth to both sides.  However, one who studies the major world religions will note that among all the great prophets, from Buddha, to Lao Tzu, to Jesus Christ to Osho, there is the recurring theme of the need to live in the present.  A rather less sensible version of this theme is the quote “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you may die.” As a guide to life, I think this quote is somewhat at the other end of the thought left us by Jesus on the need to live in the present. The prophets all want us to live the best we can each day while the latter thought is a guide to profligacy and irresponsibility.  To live in the present, is to take responsibility for our lives on a moment to moment basis and not to blame God, the President, the Pope or our parents for the life we are now choosing to live.  Only when I give up on life, will I succumb to the “eat, drink and be merry” dictum.

  • All models are wrong, some are useful.George Box

A model is a conception or depiction of the world. We create computer models, scale models, construction models, ideological models and many other models to depict a future end state or goal we want to reach.  In all too many cases, we treat these models as though they were “perfect” depictions of reality. The opposite is the truth. No model was ever made or will ever be made, that can perfectly depict reality.  All our thoughts, belief systems and ideologies are flawed by a fundamental principle inherent in Box’s quote. Simply, that the world is more complex and multi-facted then anyone or any number of us can ever understand.  Add to these futile attempts to depict reality, the fact that the world is dynamic and constantly changing and you can understand why many of our plans go wrong.  We simply never have an accurate enough picture of the forces facing us to be 100 percent correct. Thus efforts at perfection must succumb to a simple pragmatism stated as “some are useful.”  Something can be useful without being perfect.  Most maps and guidance systems are useful even if flawed. The religions of the world may not be perfect but they serve a purpose in helping people live better more compassionate lives.

  • A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. —  Ralph Waldo Emerson

This quote should form the basis of a set of new laws for all bureaucracies.  Craziness lies in doing the same thing and expecting different results.  The foolish bureaucrat thinks that if he/she follows all the rules and policies then everything will always work out fine. The bureaucrat thinks it is her job to guard all policies and procedures against changes or exceptions.  Exceptions cannot be made to the rules for anyone since this would violate the fundamental principle of all bureaucracies, namely: No exceptions under any circumstances for anyone, anywhere, anytime, anyplace or anyhow. 

The faceless bureaucrat is faceless so that she/he cannot be blamed for taking any responsibility. The bureaucrat lives in abject terror of responsibility and is relieved by the policies and procedures that enable them to avoid responsibility. “Don’t tell me your problems, don’t explain your situation, and don’t cry on my shoulder.  The law is the law.” The bureaucrat does not face any guilt or shame and can sleep peacefully at night knowing that they simply followed the rules.  The answer for me has simply been to break as many stupid idiotic rules as I can.  Too hell with rules and policies and procedures!  As Jesus said when healing on the Sabbath:  “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. – Mark.

 Ok, time for questions:

What are your favorite quotes? Why? How do these quotes influence your life?  Who are your role models? How do they influence your life? What stories do you tell your children and grandchildren? Why? If you had a different set of quotes how would your life be different?  What if you do not have any quotes? Why would this be?

Life is just beginning.



Is Youth Wasted on the Young? Or is Age Wasted on the Old?

Part of the title of this blog is a quote by George B. Shaw.  It is one of those simple “truths” we accept without much scrutiny.  We of the “older” generation like to use this phrase to blame and condemn the “younger” folks for the problems of the world.  Each generation that follows the next generation is somehow not quite up to the standards of the prior generation.  Thus, kids today are lazy and part of the “Entitlement” generation.  The Entitlement Generation (as all of us older folks know) want things easy and expect instant rewards without the hard work that characterized the efforts of their elders.   But what if the reverse was true?  What if “Age Was Wasted on the Old?”

Old people wasting their lives playing Pickle Ball, shooting endless rounds of golf and sitting around collecting retirement funds don’t really seem to add too much to the world.  Older people take up more of the health care dollars spent in this country.  Older people produce fewer new and innovative products.  Older people are more resistant to change and new ideas.  Older people are in a disproportionate number of accidents.  Older people are more fearful and become more and more conservative creating less willingness to adapt to needed changes in the political and economic environments.

So many older people, they just sit around all day long and they don’t get any exercise. Their muscles atrophy, and they lose their strength, their energy and vitality by inactivity. – Jack LaLanne

How are we going to pay for all the health care needs of the baby boom generation?  According to some reports, baby boomers will drain the Medicare Program and cause it to go bankrupt.

Between 2010 and 2040, median annual real out-of-pocket costs for Americans age 65 and older will more than double in constant 2008 dollars, from about $2,600 to about $6,200. Nearly 1 in 10 older adults will spend more than $14,000 per year on health care in 2040.

Will Health Care Costs Bankrupt Aging Boomers?

 I suppose much of the problem of the “older” generation could be cured by the solution given in the movie Soylent Green?  I wonder how many of you remember this old movie starring Charlton Heston of Moses and NRA fame and Edward G. Robinson.  The 1973 film depicts an investigation into the murder of a wealthy businessman in a dystopian future suffering from pollution, overpopulation, depleted resources, poverty, dying oceans, and a hot climate due to the greenhouse effect.  Much of the population survives on processed food rations, including “Soylent Green”.   One might say looking at the list of future problems the denizens in this film faced that it was more than prophetic.  Pollution, global warming, depleted resources, poverty and dying oceans all echo headlines we see every day.

In this future, “old” folks are processed into a food staple called Soylent Green when they reach a certain age.  They then contribute to the health of the society in two ways:  Less use of resources when they are “terminated” and they “give back” as a tasty and nutritious food with all of the needed amino acids.   It is a wonder that none of our politicians today have glommed on this idea as a solution to the Medicare and health crisis facing this country.  I suppose it might have something to do with the lack of votes among the elderly this idea would generate for any politician bold enough to suggest it.  The political clout of the elderly and the AARP is probably only second to the political clout of the NRA and the pro-attack rifle crowd.  Maybe that’s why guns are growing in this country?  Too many baby boomers saw Soylent Green and want to be sure that no one turns them into green spinach.  My good friend told me last night that his gun group is frustrated because the gun stores are sold out of bullets and magazines.  He says you can’t find any useful items in the gun shops these days.  Is it all Obama’s fault for suggesting new gun laws?  Actually, with gun sales doing so well, I wonder if Obama is not actually on the payroll of Smith and Wesson.  Take a look at the following stock chart to see how well Smith and Wesson have been doing this past year:


Sorry, I digressed there a bit.  Let me return to the point.  We often blame others and fail to see the problems that we create.  The problems of today are blamed on a generation that was not even born when the etiology of these problems was first sown.  Problems we face today have their roots in decisions and choices made long before the Generation X’s or Generation Millennium’s were conceived.  The young have been reviled and blamed since the time of Socrates and probably even earlier.  We have a tendency to separate generations as though they were black and white and we ignore the overlaps and myriad nuances that culture, ethnicity and class play on the outcomes.  As a teacher who has been in middle schools, high schools and colleges all within the last 3 years, I can attest to the vast differences in the attitudes and preferences shown by students.  The diversity in this country is much greater than anything we have ever experienced in our 250 year history.  It is undoubtedly going to increase as the world becomes ever yet more mobile and fragmented.  Blaming the young and failure to see the young with anything other than a set of biased lens creates a dangerous illusion.  It leads to a failure to see the true sources and causes of the problems that are facing us today.  Only by accepting responsibility and acting as one nation, old and young can we solve the crises that come to each new generation.

Ok, time for questions:

Is age wasted on the Old?  Should growing old be saved for the young?  Do we grow too conservative as we age?  Are we too afraid of taking risks?  Do we blame everyone else except ourselves for the world’s problems?  How do we tap into the strengths of all generations to solve the problems of today?  How do we create a world that will be better for future generations?
Life is just beginning.

The Greatest Story Never Told!

I think this is a great day to write a blog.  Imagine rain and thunder and lightning in Arizona!  I went to a conference on writing skills at Central Arizona College on Thursday with my friend Socorro.  It is amazing how much one can learn about writing no matter how much one thinks they know.  I have been suffering from “writers block” for the past week or perhaps “lack of writing time” and this workshop motivated me to get my butt on the keyboard.  There is no writing without some form of sitting time.  With a day of rain and storms, there is little I can use in the form of an excuse to not write this blog.  Besides, I was inspired by my dead grandfather last night to tell this story.  It is the story that he never told me.  I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about this story and deciding it needed telling.

Now if he never told me this story, you may be wondering how I can write it.  Simple, I will make it up.  See, my grandfather never did tell me any stories, at least none that I remember.  In fact, I don’t remember anyone telling me stories when I grew up.  My father never told stories, my mother never told stories and I never listened to my teachers so I don’t have any stories from them.  And yet today, I seem to always have a story to tell that fits the occasion, whether I am speaking, teaching or writing.  I love stories.  Where do I get my stories?  My stories come from many sources including other people, events, dreams, mistakes, stupidity, idiots and geniuses.  I use stories from: Socrates, Uncle Remus, Aesop, Kant, Einstein, Deming, and of course myself.  I am a neophyte in the art of story-telling and the truly great story tellers are a continuing inspiration to my writings.

So what is the greatest story ever told?  Or perhaps, I should say what is the greatest story “Never told.”  Some of course, would say that the greatest story ever told is a religious one and concerns the coming of their deity or prophet or god.  Jesus Christ is often noted as the “Greatest Story Ever Told” and since there are so many religious or at least spiritual people out there; it would be foolish for me to argue or promote my own “greatest story” against such opinions.  But that does leave the “Greatest Story Never Told” as the one I can talk about. In fact, I think this is the one my Grandfather never told me.

Once upon a time (all good stories start out with this line, as I am sure you know) there was a little girl who lived in Kansas and had a dog named Toto.  “Ooops, sorry, I forgot that story has been taken.  Okay, let’s try this one.”  Once upon a time, there was a little boy named Harry Potter who (Dam, that story has also been taken). “I will start again.” Once upon a time there was a place called the Shire wherein dwelt a group of beings known as hobbits.  “Oh!  You really think Tolkien would mind if I expropriated his stories?”  Darn, this is going to be more difficult than I thought.  All the good stories have been told already.  Are there no stories that are waiting to be told?  Would you settle for how I came to love reading and libaries?  Well, this may not be a great story but I can assure you it has never been put in print before.

The story goes like this:

Once upon a time, there lived a shy introverted fearful little boy (that’s me) who had a big bad mean old father.  My dad stood 6’4” tall and was a former professional boxer.  His rule was law and you did not ever ever ever talked back to my dad.  My father ruled the house with fear and intimidation.  He was very competitive and did not like to be beat at anything but especially cards.  My father’s rule was “Kids should be seen and not heard and most of the time, they shouldn’t be seen.”  It was scary to ask my father for anything, because you never knew how he would respond.  I quickly learned that if I wanted anything, I would ask my mother who would then somehow broach the subject with my dad.  It was a little like going into the lion’s den.  My father might be stormy or tranquil depending on his mood. His mood would depend more on how he did at cards or the horses then on how the weather was doing.   Thus, one day when I was quite young and first starting out in school, I noticed that other kids could do their homework at home because they had encyclopedias.

Since my father seemed to put great store in my grades and how I was doing at school, I naturally reasoned that he would want to provide me with resources to insure my success.  Of course, knowing my father, this was not a sure assumption.  Thus, I made the pitch to my mom and asked her if I could get a set of encyclopedias to help me with my schoolwork.  My mom thought this was a reasonable, if not expensive request and agreed to ask my father about the proposition.  His reply was delivered to me directly. It was not hard for him to figure out who made the request, since I was the oldest child and my mother never read.  I still remember his response.  It went like this:  “What the hell do you think libraries are for anyway.  Get off your lazy butt and go get a library card.”  Thinking this was prudent advice to follow, I trudged down to the local library.  When I entered the library, I remember it as perhaps the greatest moment of my entire life.  Books on shelves, books on the floor, books hanging from the ceilings, books on display on walls, more books than I had ever thought existed.

A kindly old librarian helped me to get a library card (back then, you did not need a passport, driver’s license, patriot disclosure form AND birth certificate to get a card).  I was like a kid in a candy store. I could not hold all the books I wanted to take home. Finally, I worked my way around to the encyclopedias.  I could not believe it, there before my eyes were the World Book and OH MY GOD,! the “Encyclopedia Britannica.”  The Britannica was the Rolls Royce and Rolex of encyclopedias all rolled up in 20 or so volumes.  It was well known that it contained all the knowledge known to mankind from the Pharaohs on up to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, with monthly updates for new wisdom.  I could not have been happier if I had died and gone to paradise.  Unfortunately, you could not take reference materials home.  Nevertheless, my love affair with libraries started at this moment.

I love libraries more than football fields, baseball fields, basketball courts or hockey stadiums. I would give up all the sports in the world to support one library.  I cannot think of a more useful development for humans than the establishment of a library. I revile the Spanish for destroying the libraries of the Incas and I would hold out capital punishment solely for anyone desecrating a library.  If I were president, the highest priority on my budget would be for libraries. I would cut military and defense spending by ½ tomorrow and allocate the money to libraries. I would include foreign aide to build libraries in every country in the world that lacks the funds to do so.

Okay, I digress. So you know I love libraries, books and am a very curious person.  There is more to the story though.  You may or may not remember that there were three levels of encyclopedias:  Very Expensive, Britannica; Expensive, World Book and Cheap, Funk and Wagnall.  My mom knew I could not take reference books home and she still felt bad for me.  She decided on her own that she would somehow get a set of encyclopedias for me.  You may remember the old S&H Green Stamps?  Well, I gather our local grocery store had some sort of promotion wherein for X amount of money spent you received some stamps. My mother assiduously saved these stamps and one by one using the stamps saved she collected an entire set of Funk and Wagnall encyclopedias for me.  I never learned how my father felt about this contribution but I will never forget how grateful I was (even though I still longed for a Britannica) for my mother’s compassion and thoughtfulness for my needs.     

End of Story.

So that Dear Readers is the “Story my Grandfather Never Told Me” and perhaps for me, it is the “Greatest Story Never Told.” I wish I could say that I always treated my mom with the respect she deserved or that I did not often take out my latent hostility towards my father on her but that would of course be a lie.  My father died at the age of 60 and my mom died at the age of 67.  I long ago realized that they had their own demons to deal with and if perhaps they were not always the perfect parents, I sincerely believe they both tried their best and only wanted the best for me.  Another story never told.

Ok, time for questions:

Do you have a library card? Are you a Friend of the Library?  Do you use your local library?  Do you enjoy reading? If not, why not?  Do you help insure that your town has enough funds to support the library? Would you rather go to a football game then your local library?  Have you ever been to a library?  If not, when will you go for a visit?

Life is just beginning.

Beyond Death and Dying

“The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered…We know that. And yes, there are certainly times when we aren’t able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It’s called being human. But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful.”
Elizabeth Edwards   

I have noticed a curious phenomenon.  As I get older and the people I know get older (which is most of them), there seems to be more concern about death and dying.  I observe more people talking about their heart conditions, ailments, cancer or whatever ills afflict them. Some of these people could go on forever talking about doctors, appointments, medical exams, medical procedures, treatment regimens, hospital care, nursing care, palliative care, hospital food.  Perhaps I am in denial, but five minutes is enough for me to hear about death and dying.  I am sorry, I know you are dying but so are we all.  Do I really have to hear about every stage of your progress towards your end journey?  Is there nothing else to talk about?  What about living?

Death seems to be the most common fascination of our news media as well.  Each day brings a fresh story of some new death, murder, massacre, slaughter or other carnage.  What would it take to produce more stories of people who are really living?  Of course, we do occasionally get snippets of such people.  One of the most inspirational stories of the past year concerned the young Pakistani girl Malala Yousafzai who was shot by the Taliban. 

Malala was a 15-year-old who was shot at point-blank range in October 2012 after becoming a symbol of resistance to the Taliban’s efforts to deny women education and other rights. The attack on Malala, which also wounded two of her classmates prompted international revulsion and condemnation, and helped galvanize supporters of women’s education worldwide.  This is a story worth telling and it is a story about defying death and dying.  Threatened by the Taliban with death, Malala refused to be silent.  She put her life on the line for her beliefs.  Death was not a fascination with Malala but an acceptable risk for living her life and not being afraid to pursue her beliefs.

“When we talk about sin, we need to understand what sin is. Sin is not God says ‘you can’t do this’ because He wants to take something away from you. He says: “If you do this, it will be death. If you do this, it will be life.” And then He says: “Please, choose life, so that you can live. I’ve made you, I know how you work. I’ve made this whole Earth, I know how it works.  Please, choose life.”
― Lacey Mosley

I understand that each moment brings me closer to my death but more importantly each moment is another moment of living.  My brother-in-law suggested that the only reason people retire in Arizona is to die.  I was not offended by his remark because in some ways it seemed to be true.  I have met too many people down here who seem to be somewhat patiently and stoically marking time until the Grim Reaper comes for the harvest.  Some of them seem to be having fun while waiting and others seem to be morbid about the wait.  I often meet people who say “I wish I had something to do” or “There is nothing to do down here.”  Nothing to do except wait until they die. 

To have a sense of fatality about life is perhaps not a bad thing.  Before I received my prostate cancer diagnosis, I was continually battling (at least mentally) such comments as “You are so healthy, you will live to be a hundred.”  “You are a runner, you are so healthy.”  I would often comment on the numbers of runners I knew who dropped dead of a heart attack.  I hope it was not connected to their runningJ.  I am sure that I offend some people when I am not as sympathetic to death and dying as they are.  For instance, I may hear a comment like: “My sister-in-law who is 85 years old is dying of some incurable disease.”  Well, I am very sorry, but we all are going to die someday and 85 is not a bad age to live to.  I feel more sympathy for the unexpected deaths and premature deaths that afflict families. Young people who die before their “allotted” age.  On the other hand, what are any of us allotted? 

Instead of focusing on dying, we should be more concerned about what our living means to the world.  What are our lives writing in the sand each day?  What footsteps do we take?  What good are we doing today?  What kindness are we bestowing? What value are we creating for others?  God Forbid, are our golf scores and Pickleball matches going to be our legacy to life?

“I’ve reached the point where I hardly care whether I live or die. The world will keep on turning without me; I can’t do anything to change events anyway.”
Anne Frank

I have been struck by the emphasis on the goal of retiring that many people placed when I was growing up.  It once seemed to be the sole reason for working.  “When I retire” was a mantra and a rationale for putting in 30 years at a job one hated.  “Someday, I will sit on the dock and fish every day.”  Ironically now, many of the “retired’ people I know are busier than ever with schedules chocked full of activities.  But what is the value of a day full of activities?  Echoing my brother-in-law, are we simply filling up our days until we die?  Is there any value in living that does not include purpose as well as passion?  Is it enough purpose to golf or fish every day? 

I think the reality is that most of us are not taught in schools or even in our homes to pursue a life of passion and purpose.  If we were taught to pursue a life of passion, we would go into work and careers that we loved without concern about “making a living.”  We would follow our hearts more and our minds less.  If we pursued purpose more and money less, we would all be driven to find work and goals that helped make the world a better place for future generations. We would be more concerned about finding ways to help the poor and the less advantaged.  We would be less worried about what we need and more worried about what others need.  The world would be less greedy and less self-centered. 

Living is to worry about others.  Dying is to worry about your-self.  What can I do to make a difference today is a question that helps keep the focus on giving back rather than receiving. 

“I have showed you all things, how that so laboring you ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.”   –Acts 20:35 (King James Version):

We have all heard the quote that “Today is the first day of the rest of our lives” but I rather think now that “Life is just beginning.”   When I was young, I did not really know what life was.  That is not to say that I know what it is now either. However, I am much more content with life and I am able to live more in the present.  Living in the present was never my strong suit. I think the young do not worry about death and I know that when I was young, I had an almost suicidal attitude towards life. Like I was challenging it to try and kill me.  A friend of mine used to say he had “no regrets” and when he died, it was the theme of his funeral.  Some might say he died too young but he reminded them as he was dying that he “had no regrets.”  I doubt that anyone could make such a claim unless they lived their life with passion and purpose. 

To conclude then, don’t die, live.  Dying will take care of itself. It is the living that needs care. While, I am not going to jump off any high cliffs in the near future and I certainly am more cautious about some things, too many cautions can be live threatening activities.  What is life for if not growing and growing means taking risks?  When you stop growing, you stop living.  When you stop living, you have only dying to look forward to.

“All God does is watch us and kill us when we get boring. We must never, ever be boring.”
Chuck Palahniuk    

Ok, time for questions:

What does living mean to you?  What fears do you have of death?  Why?  Are you really living or are you just marking time?  Do you have passion and purpose in your life?  Do you think it’s too late? What would it take for you to live a life of passion and purpose?  What fears stop you from really living?  Are you banishing fears as you get older or are you accumulating more fears? What good do they do you?

Life is just beginning.



%d bloggers like this: