Original Thought · Self Improvement

Arrogant

Over the past month, I have been accused of being arrogant on at least four occasions. The accusers didn’t say I was arrogant but that what I was saying was arrogant. According to Meriam Webster’s definition of arrogant;

1 : exaggerating or disposed to exaggerate one’s own worth or importance often by an overbearing manner an arrogant official
2 : showing an offensive attitude of superiority : proceeding from or characterized by arrogance an arrogant reply

I concede that what I said was controversial and worded in a way as to provoke debate but the only dog I have in the race is my opinion. I didn’t exaggerate or express superiority in my position even knowing that the people I was talking with held, a strong polar position. Am I responsible for how my views make you feel about yours? Can I express a differing proposition and allow you to express yours without delving into accusations of assumptive presumption?

If I state, as I did, that “I have easily and comfortably moved from an agnostic to an atheist”, which carries with it a challenge to understand am I pretentious? In these cases, I am sure that if I had said ” I am a follower of Christ”, these individuals may have seen pious sensibility rather than arrogance. Are superiority and inferiority built into differing opinions? I recognize that I see confidence in some leaders, who I share some agreement, while other people that I know look for high-handed pompousness. If I disagree with a policy, I can view the politician as mean-spirited while a supporter sees practicality.
Are my monikers and labels just laziness and laxness? Do I choose mean-spirited for its impact? Should pompous, haughty, proud, insolent, overbearing and arrogant be saved for circumstances that warrant their definition? Have I resorted to a logical fallacy when I create a straw man by invoking a fascist or pervert label when the words or behavior that I am critical of is neither? Did I get a taste of my own exaggerated medicine?
When I make a comparison between two things that share some characteristics, I need to be careful that the analogy only stretches to the common ground. When I am tempted to make a point by extending a ‘guilt-by-association’ inference I need to step back onside. I hold some strong views on equity, social justice and economy that are shared by people that I find detestable. Does that mean that I am detestable too?

Are the phenomena new or have we been shortcutting and caricaturing for centuries? My sense of awareness around the behavior is heightened, and I would like to blame it on the models we see from world leaders in government, business, and charity. But I am not sure that is a valid assessment. I have found examples of biting political satire from the 15th Century, so maybe this can’t be blamed on President Trump, Prime Minister May, Kim Jong-un, Silvio Berlusconi or Robert Mugabe.

Changing how speechwriters, editors, journalists, and pundits choose to describe ‘the other’ is outside my span of control. I can take everything with a pinch of salt, and I can consider how I choose my descriptors and match my intent to my words. That still leaves me a lot of latitudes and obviously, I can ignore the stated intent and be rancorous and obnoxious, but maybe this will force me to acknowledge my intent and accept responsibility. As in many things that I think and write about, this is easy to say and harder to do.

I keep learning, adapting, improving, faltering and getting excited, disappointed, confused but it id the only way I know I am alive.

B

Original Thought · Self Improvement · Uncertainty

Football

Sports metaphors lack grace, but I will begin the year with one that those who are fans (casual or rabid) of North American Football. You have just been given a fresh set of downs – what are you going to do with them? If you are a Canadian, you have three new opportunities to move the ball to a new marker at least 10 yards away. If you live in the United States, you get four attempts.

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You can run, pass, handoff, lateral, fake, pound straight ahead or use finesse. The choice is yours and will be dictated by your comfort with risk, your flair, and how easily you make decisions. The clock is running and time doesn’t stop often. What you do first will impact how close you are to the next goal, and the results of the first try will influence the second, third, and fourth. There is a bit of pressure but being in the game means that you need to be willing, if not ready, to play.

I am a fan of some razzle-dazzle and appreciate daring offense. The sum of my experience and acquired tendencies would have me throwing down the field on all three attempts on the first series. A new game has started today, and if I take a risk and I fail, there is still time to learn from the results and adapt my game plan. If I complete a throw and score, I will take that information and refine my expectations for the next opportunity that I get. In football, you can create additional opportunities to play offense by playing strong defense and stopping your opponent from scoring. I can’t make stretch my metaphor that far, in life, without adding aggressive competition. I don’t believe that when someone else succeeds, I lose (except in game theory and practice). I favor a more collaborative approach. In this time, in this place, with these people, we should be expecting remarkable results. If we all pull together and apply our energy, intellect, and determination to any problem, I am confident that together, we can find an as yet unimagined approach and solution.

That doesn’t mean that we acquiesce. We should be ready to respectfully defend our position and to challenge the thoughts, ideas, and opinions of others. If I do that right, I allow my curiosity to observe, reflect and adapt to new and shifting information and circumstances.

While I am part of many teams and I appreciate the skills and dispositions of others, I need to be the quarterback of my own life. In those situations where the circumstances are fully within my control, and the impact won’t adversely harm those around me, I can/must make my own choices. If I am not observing, reflecting and adapting my own life someone else will be dictating every how, where, when, and who.
My health and happiness depend on my acceptance of and responsibility for the autonomy. I am also accountable for the results that my choices deliver. When they are as good or better than expected, I should celebrate. (Not with some ridiculous touchdown dance but with a moment to acknowledge to myself the accomplishment). When the results are less than expected, I should learn from the moment. What variables didn’t I consider? Do I need additional skills, training or coaching? Is there a nuanced approach that I should try next or do I need to rethink the plan? The key to success is observe, reflect, adapt, and try again. Even when I succeed I can look for ways to add value to the choice and then watch to see if there was an improvement. A 1% increase (whatever that means) for even half my attempts could mean a significant difference after 100 tries.

Some days, my instincts, my intuition, and my experience will tell me that today’s conditions would be better served by running north-south and on other days I might recognize that a series short passes will be a better strategy. There isn’t a magic bullet or elixir or formula that is a one-size-fits every situation, but if we wake up determined to play the game and are aware of the current situation, we can draw from our growing playbook and attempt something we never dreamed possible. When we falter, fall and fail, we will pick ourselves up off the field, check for bruises and then call another play. Being in the game is more rewarding and fun than sitting on the sidelines so as you finish reading today’s post, get up and run a few plays.

Make today and every day remarkable,

B

Self Improvement · Teamwork · Uncertainty

December 30, 2017

Are our best days behind us? Or do you see a promising future? Either way, it is mostly perspective. If I look back wistfully to a better time when I was happier, smarter, taller, thinner, fitter … the view is tainted with nostalgic naivety. I remember the best of times in the past and have conveniently forgotten any discomfort, stress or anxiety. Troubles seem to have melted away, and I see only the high points. This is probably a healthy outlook (back look) because there is very little that can be done to change yesterday and if we narrowed our perspective on the negative, we would find ourselves swimming in the same pool of despair and discomfort. Beginning the next adventure with that cloud hanging in the rear window can suck the enthusiasm and possibilities out of the journey.
When we look forward to moving forward and anticipate remarkable opportunities, we are most likely to be attentive and observant, so we see them as they appear. (they don’t really appear, we create them by intentionally doing those things that are necessary, but if we aren’t looking for them, we pass them by).

As I tear another page off the calendar and hang a new set of pages on the wall, I am aware of a couple of potential projects and need to continue to cultivate relationships and knowledge so I will be involved. I have committed to five daily actions that lead to my five 2018 goals, but none of them will happen unless I am diligent and intentionally habitual. Completing five new tasks every day (none of which are directly related to the work that I do) requires me to change my morning routine and move some current practices to other times or eliminate them from my priority list. I have spent years learning about my disposition and tendencies and recognize that if I don’t apply rigor, accountability, and positivity to my priorities, I am prone to self-sabotage and excuse making. 2018 is the “Year of No Excuses”. I can accept that there are reasons within my control and much that is outside my influence that can and will impact my progress but those reasons can not become excuses for not continuing, for not overcoming and for not finding a different approach. My self-examination and reflection over the past five years have verified that I am ‘destined’ to doing great things when I am prepared for, confident in and hopeful about all my tomorrows, whether I can see them from where I am standing or not.
If you haven’t taken time and exerted energy in examining your life so far, your conditioned practices, and your desires for the upcoming trip around the sun, I encourage you to block a couple of hours today, tomorrow and Monday to reflect, write, plan and ready yourself for the “Year of No Excuses”. Some helpful starting points for your reflection and planning might be in these questions.

1. What action, project or assignment from 2017 are you the proudest to have been involved with?
2. Why does this action, project or assignment from 2017 make you proud?
3. Are there similar, associated or ancillary projects that could be part of your 2018?

4. What work did you undertake in 2017 to improve your physical, emotional and mental health?
5. What resources; people, material, practices were helpful in the improvement?
6. How can you jumpstart the next level of physical, emotional and mental health improvement?

7. Who was your most important relationship in 2017? Do they know how important they are to you? Did you add value to their life in 2017?
8. Did you neglect relationships in 2017 by being too busy to connect? Can you change the situation?
9. Are there people in your life that drain your wellbeing? Do they know how they impact you?

10. What three desires/goals do you have for 2018? How will you feel on December 31, 2108, when you celebrate that you have achieved them?

If you haven’t taken time yet to answer questions like this and can’t/won’t make time to respond over the next three days, don’t throw your hands up in frustration. It is always better to start late than not at all. If you need a kickstart, we can provide you with a Q1 coaching program with an hour session every week until March 31, 2018. We can help you work through these questions and other exercises that will help you with accountability to those things that are important to you. You can join us in the “Year of No Excuses” and make the next 8760 hours the best so far.

Make this year remarkable,

Bob

Original Thought · Uncertainty

Democracy

This is an unpopular truth, but not everyone’s opinions are equal. ~Shane Parrish

In the Farnam Street post this morning, the above quote appeared. Shane went on to defend the statement with a reliable if simplistic story. ” I am going into surgery and have a few choices to make. While the opinion of my partner and a first-year resident should be heard, they should have less weight than an experienced surgeon.

If we should give more credibility and validity to some opinions or advice in a potentially life-threatening situation, shouldn’t we extend that rationale to other circumstances? Or do we?

If I am considering the purchase of a new laptop, I review information from a number of sources; social media, tech sites, manufacturer’s promotion, friends’and colleagues’ recommendations, and bring my own experience, logic and intuition to bear. Somewhere in the calculation, I might add a measure of confidence to my logic and a friend who has a tech rep. If I am satisfied with the choice and find the decision to be reasonable I (all thing$ being equal) would act and purchase a specific laptop. If I am later satisfied or disappointed with the purchase, I would refine the selection criteria in subsequent searches and weigh the input differently.

Yet, we, without question, believe that every elector should have a full vote. We don’t consider the voter’s preparation for the decision. It would seem outrageous to suggest that informed, concerned, interested, involved individuals should have greater sway in the choice of elected representatives. Is it outrageous for pragmatic or philosophical reasons? What ramifications would we face if voting was a responsibility rather than a right? If I was required to fully participate in the fulsomeness of debate and arrive at a well-reasoned and informed position (whatever that was) before my x on a ballot counted as 1.0, would I be making a different or better choice?

For me, I realize that I have tendencies towards certain political ideologies, I have an ease at making decisions, and I am likely to be more informed about the substance rather than just the sizzle of a policy or platform. Should that make my input more valuable to the greater good than someone who is influenced by self-interest? religious belief? partisanship? financial gain/loss?

Is the idea that elections or referendums should produce the best result a red herring/ What if democracy isn’t about the quality of the choice or even the quality of the participation? Maybe, democracy is about the ongoing quality of equitable relationships. What if the results are supposed to be accepted because it holds polar opinions in tension, somewhere between agreement and conflict? Democracy reduces the disparity of disposition and narrows the bandwidth of societal norms? Is a smaller range of acceptable positions advantageous to individuals, community, society?

Does it feel uncomfortable when the range gets so wide that someone else’s opinion seems reprehensible? Do we stop listening when a line is crossed? It seems that we loudly and quickly assign labels to positions that are outside the narrow spectrum that is safe for discussion. Can the scope grow if we are subjected to a vocal force who espouse a view that is outside the box? I have witnessed changes in societal norms and acceptance that a few years ago was outside the realm of ‘polite conversation’.

The big progressive issues of the past 50 years have gained traction and change the conversation by courageous activists constantly bringing them forward. 50 years ago, no country accepted the concept of same-sex marriage. 50 years ago abortion was taboo. 50 years ago health care was a luxury. 50 years ago sovereign debt seemed impossible. Is it unreasonable or unrealistic to expect that the pendulum will continue to swing? Would democracy suffer if it only swung in one direction? How would conservative voices be heard if the scales were always tipped towards the left? Would revolt be inevitable if only conservative ideas were validated?

Are we on one edge of the paradigm today? Are we on the verge of a swing or the cusp of a revolution? Is the frame stretching or ready to burst? For me, the answer to these questions is “it depends on the day”. With that in mind, I can’t accurately predict where the state of affairs will be in 2019, 2020 or at the end of the next election cycle. It feels like we can survive if we accept responsibility for the process and become engaged in the debate. Is it optimism? Maybe, but without that hope, I need to concede that we are doomed to dangerous conflict. What are you going to choose?

Make Today Remarkable,

B

 

Original Thought · Self Improvement · Uncategorized · Uncertainty

Learning Curiousity

Am I a slow learner? Am I in the too old to teach a new trick category? Do I continue to expect a different result from the same process? Am I unwilling to consider possibilities that don’t confirm what I already hold to be true? Yes, yes and yes but not as often as I was three years ago and not as often as I was three months ago. I am getting better at listening and observing. I have improved my willingness and ability to embrace strategies, tactics, and practices that don’t guarantee an expected and preferred outcome. I am able to say ” let’s give it a try and see what we learn.”

It’s not easy being curious but inquisitiveness has it’s own rewards too. Accepting that what you are doing, in this moment, is the best use of your time and the actions you are taking will give you the best bang for your buck is the easier road. It is more difficult to question the status quo, make an inquiry that doesn’t have a ready-made answer or just do what ‘we have always done’. It seems impossible to lift our heads and see how the world has changed since we started and see if what we have been doing has made an impact on what we are trying to achieve.

Learning isn’t a random activity. I conceded that we can acquire experience by happenstance but curiousity requires intention (non-randomness). I have gained information in moments of chaos but recognize that I ascribed the result post experience and missed a genuine window to learning something as yet unimagined because I hadn’t set out to intentionally absorb, digest and regurgitate. We can commit to being observant, reflective, questioning, and accept knowledge lightly without grasping it to our chest and pretending it is sacred.We then actively search for confirmation and actively pursue misunderstanding so that our delusions don’t disolve.

I am a self-confessed impatient imperfectionist with and extreme action bias. This leaves me jumping to conclusions and off bridges before I spend time hearing the options and then making an informed decision. My stubbornness and self-importance present as unreasonable pride and can limit my willingness to explore. Some days I believe I am the most accommodating and interested person that I know and on the next day, I am self-assured, self-righteous and self-centered. I can constantly convince myself that I understand how the world works without applying any rigor or testing to the thesis. I can smile and nod with self-satisfaction when nothing out of the ordinary or nothing I couldn’t have predicted occur. It would seem, after some thought, that the results are a function of the conditions and preconditions that I established rather than some sacred or scientific rule. The same results are a function of the same blind routine rather than the best and only impact that is/was possible.

If I consider and then change the starting parameters I can reasonably expect that the process and ends will be different. Even if I am pleased with the way things went, isn’t it incumbent on me to see how I may improve the results?
As always, when I write in the first person I could as easily be using second or third. Are you a slow learner? Are we in the too old to teach a new trick category? Do you continue to expect a different result from the same process? Are we unwilling to consider possibilities that don’t confirm what we already hold to be true?

Embrace some ambiguity today. Test a new ‘off the wall’ thesis. Be bold and go where you have never gone before.

We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.
~ Walt Disney

Curiousity is the lust of the mind ~ Thomas Hobbes

Science means constantly walking a tightrope between blind faith and curiosity; between expertise and creativity; between bias and openness; between experience and epiphany; between ambition and passion; and between arrogance and conviction – in short, between an old today and a new tomorrow.
~ Heinrich Rohrer
The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.
~ Albert Einstein
Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose. – Zora Neale Hurston

Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.
e. e. cummings

My favourite words are possibilities, opportunities and curiosity. I think if you are curious, you create opportunities, and then if you open the doors, you create possibilities.
Mario Testino

As I get older, the more I stay focused on the acceptance of myself and others, and choose compassion over judgment and curiosity over fear.
Tracee Ellis Ross

 

Make Today Remarkably Curious,

B

Uncategorized

Nostalgia

Nostalgia’s only frame is our imagination. Whether the lens is rose, green, or black, we rearrange and edit to suit the mood and moment we are trying to recreate. In the memorable moment, we store the events and circumstances arbitrarily influenced by how well we slept the night before, how much traffic we encountered, or if the sun is shining. If I have expectations that joy and laughter, or anger and sadness will be present the data that is stored through confirmation or denial of those expectations alter how the event is captured. When the extraction of a memory happens, it is revised by the proximity to the moment, the reference it is being called to explain, the stimulus evoking the need, and my mood, disposition and experiences since the last filing of the remembrance. The first telling is freshest, although potentially fictional, and then influences subsequent testimonies based on how the story impacted the teller and the audience. Black becomes grey, sad becomes despondent, or late afternoon can become evening. The shading towards larger or smaller, louder or quiet is a reflection of observation of the narrative rather than the instant being described.

The following is a chapter from my “Faded Recollections” project. See if you can hear where my shifts and shades push into the narrative. This chapter was written 3 years ago, I wonder if you can feel my state of mind then?

After ten weeks in grade 4, I had figured out a pattern that made me popular or at least not unpopular. Being a teacher’s kid wasn’t as bad as a pastor’s kid but I was always viewed with a little suspicion. ” He might tell his mom.” ” Bobby is coming, don’t let him see it”. It made it difficult to be part of a group and impossible to get a girlfriend (whatever that meant). Patty and Diane, two very cute girls, didn’t reciprocate any of my clumsy advances but there were a couple of other boys who would run to the far corner of the playground with me and sit watching the girls giggle at us oogling them. Crossing the monkey bars, two hand holds at a time and shinnying up the swing standard had given me some credibility with Brian and Allan and instilled some awe in the grade 2 kids. For north end kids, all we had was name and reputation.

Life for kids was far more disorganized then, and way more fun. No teacher picked teams at recess for baseball or hit fly balls for Shag or explained the rules for freeze tag or fretted about boys being boys (or girls being boys). Life was simpler. You knew who liked you. You knew who you hoped would like you. You knew who didn’t like you and you shunned them just like they were avoiding you. Feelings got hurt all the time. Kids pushed each other and name called. Kids got knicks, and bled and bumps and bruises appeared and disappeared. Kids learned a lot.

November 1963 had been chilly, dipping to -20C ( 4 below on the old scale) and winter felt like it was edging in early. Well, maybe not early because my memory serves up many Halloweens with snow covering the lawns and eggs freezing on windows. Regardless, the weather hadn’t gotten frigid enough to confine the 200 kids in the basement at lunch and recess. That only happened when they were really afraid that one of us would get frostbite or stick our tongue to the bootscraper, on a dare. After all the teachers needed a coffee and a smoke in the teacher’s lounge and 15 minutes away from their charges. For Mr. Berg there wasn’t any respite. He had grade 5 kids asking inane questions, getting on his nerves, not listening to instructions and yawning in his classroom and then did supervision so his wife could get new curtains, or slipcovers, or dishes or something. “Every little bit helps”

At morning recess, he faced south leaning against the greying brick at the ready to pick up the pieces if a humpty dumpty incident happened, like when Harvey parachuted off the big swing and broke his left leg. Like the all the King’s men, he wasn’t responsible for stopping the carnage just repairing the damage and watching for true craziness and listening for potty mouths. He could hear Kevin say “shit” from 200 yards and knew that if Adele was moping by the back gate that she might be contemplating a runner. In September, Adele took off at morning recess heading east and Patty said: “ her parents found her in Winnipeg a week later.” I don’t know how a ten-year-old could travel 500 miles but that is what Patty said and we always listened when she was making pronouncements, besides the goal posts.
At lunch break, Mr. Berg faced east imagining something better. Maybe some excitement would jump in his lap tomorrow. “It is only November, I have 7 months until summer and two months away from this drudgery”. When he was in the noon position, he couldn’t see what was going on at the swings, teeters or climbing bars and was oblivious to the activities at the corner gate. Plots were hatched, nicknames were taunted, horseplay arose and I remember trying to hold Patty’s hand. Nobody swore, or thought about smoking or really hurting each other but the rules were different then.
By the afternoon recess, Mr. Berg had given up on another day and didn’t even come out of the covered entry. The principal always took an extra five minutes before ringing the bell and never did a sweep to see if he was earning the extra $2. If havoc and mayhem was going to break out, this was the time. For most of us, we had no real sense of time but it was obvious that freedom was on the horizon. Even in November, the sun was still promising something and our imaginations worked together to fill the hours between supper and street lights. We were powerless to change the cycle so we adapted to the rhythm.

November 23 started just like November 22. Harvey and I were first to the playground, just before 8:30, and staked the best spot in the grade 4 territory, on the pavement under the Kindergarten window. We bragged about yesterday and proudly prophesized about tomorrow, avoiding today. Four other boys joined us before the lineup bell rang and then the stragglers raced across the field from every direction. If we timed it perfectly, we could meander kicking stones and looking cool to arrive at the back door just as the second bell rang and the girls lined up. The daily dance started. It is hard to flirt and avoid being seen or seeing all at the same time. By now, we were pretty much in sync and our moves were choreographed like the Virginia Reel we practised in the playroom. “Would today be the day that Mrs. Mattson actually paired me with someone other than Shirley – Squirrelly Shirley?”
I don’t recall what occurred at morning recess or in any of my classes which is weird because I did well in school and this would turn out to be one of the most important days of my life. Maybe I was foreshadowing the upcoming events or maybe the rush that was coming has erased pieces, to leave room for clarity and sharpness, in what was important and remarkable.
Lunch was the highlight, for me. I rushed home to grab a peanut butter sandwich and a glass of whole milk with a plan to meet back on the playground in 5 minutes to play a game of Aerial. Aerial was a local version of football where one kid, the quarterback picked up the ball off the dirt field and all the other kids on his team raced toward the goal posts. The quarterback had three or five elephants to select a receiver and heave the ball in his direction before the opposition madly chased him in an effort to tag him with two hands. Invariably, “ I got you on the back”, “ You only tagged with one hand”, “Missed me” rang from the playground as often as the ball was caught. The team with the ball had three chances to score( CFL rules) and then the other team took over and tried to move the football across the other goal line. A score of 21-14 was a good noon hour, especially if you scored one of the three touchdowns. You could be a minor celebrity for a couple hours. “Nice catch”, “ You really deked him out”, or “ I want to be on your team tomorrow” was the highest compliment.
For some reason, the television was on. It was never on at lunch. Maybe one of my sisters turned it on hoping to catch Flintstones but with only one channel you got what was delivered not what you wanted. A news program was playing and a serious man in a dark suit was saying something important. All the suits looked dark in black and white. “ President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas, at Dealy Plaza at 12:30 Central Standard Time. “ How could he be shot at 12:30 when it is only 12:10?” was my first thought and then the serious man said “ Reports indicate that the wounds were fatal but the Whitehouse hasn’t confirmed this”. Shot, president, wounds, fatal… fatal meant dead didn’t it? There weren’t any pictures, just serious man. I imagined as hard as I could what the president looked like. I had seen glimpses of him on the news that was on every day before supper, when we all had to be deadly quiet if dad was watching. I conjured his image and a gunshot with blood spurting out like when I got clunked on the forehead with a rock hit off a broken bat. I couldn’t picture dead, I didn’t have a picture of shot dead except from the occasional Saturday movie at the Capitol Theatre. Then no one ever bled, they just fell down when it was their turn.

I was 9 years old, living in a different country but this was the most important thing that I had ever heard and there was no one to tell. My sisters had already headed back to school to sit by the playground and watch the big kids climb, swing and teeter. It felt like I was teetering. My heart and brain were racing. I remember touching my tongue to the roof of my mouth and it felt soft and sticky. I had stopped munching on the PB&J and was sitting with my mouth wide open staring at the first images of the car and the chaos. I didn’t see blood but in black and white not everything is clear. I don’t know how much time had passed but I eventually recovered and washed my mouth out with a big gulp of still cold milk. I picked up my sandwich and glass and took them to the sink. I wasn’t supposed to eat in the living room. There were rules that you never got caught breaking.

I knew who I could tell. There was one adult who I knew would be there. Mr. Berg would be standing guard in the schoolyard and he would know what to do with this information. I slammed the back door on my way out and took the three steps off the stairs in a leap. I raced back to school rehearsing the words, rethinking the words, reconsidering the words. As he got closer, he seemed so relaxed as if nothing had happened. “he didn’t know”. I was going to be the one to tell him, to share this important news. I had something he didn’t have. I knew and he didn’t. I slowed a bit to relish the moment of power but unfortunately, I didn’t have much restraint. From ten steps away I shouted, “ The President has been shot and I think he is dead.” All the kids in earshot turned and the sentinel swiveled in my direction. Everything went into slow motion and this was way before slow motion replay on every second play of the televised football game. The pace crept and sound lengthened so as to be almost unintelligible. Those final steps took what felt like minutes and I had become the center of attention for hundreds of kids. It was likely less than 20 kids, but when you have the spotlight it seems like more.
The moment was greater than scoring a touchdown and greater than what I had imagined kissing Patty would be like. I felt my head swoon and I started sweating and panting. I could taste steel in the back of my throat like when I fell off the roof of the school after retrieving a football. I couldn’t catch my breath.
“Stop, What did you say, young man?” ‘Young man’ was his phrase when you were in big trouble. It was like I had said “ shit, damn, piss”, he was glaring at me with crazy eyes like when Kevin pounded on Larry beside the pump outside the gate. “Why was he furious?” I was the messenger, not the shooter. My left arm felt his grasp and I was lifted into the air in one motion. “ You are coming with me. You are a liar. You can’t spread horrible rumors like that”. He shouted as loud as I had. “ Mr. Davidson will want TO DEAL WITH YOU”. Mr Davidson was the principal and grade 6 teacher. He didn’t come out on the playground unless a man arrived to do an inspection and then we all lined up alphabetically by grade so he could check out our hair, fingernails and for some reason the knees of our pants. What did he mean Mr. Davidson was going to deal with me? I had heard about the ‘strap’ but surely he meant I would get some kind of award.
We were charging up the back stairs and down the hall towards the teacher’s lounge. Before I could feel true foreboding, he opened the door and tossed me through it. I stumbled and fell forward onto a chair where the Kindergarten teacher was sitting. She looked as stunned as I must have looked. “ He is telling lies on the playground and scaring all the other kids”. And then the most shocking statement rose from Mr Berg. like a machine gun in a mobster movie, he rat-a-tat-tatted;“ He needs to be strapped for saying that the President, the president of the United States was shot and is dead. Make an example of him so he learns not to say things just to scare us, to scare the other kids”.
Now my audience was six teachers and Mr. Davidson and the venue was their territory, not the schoolyard where I knew every turn, every stone, every dip and rise. I was in their sanctuary, still not sure how or why I had arrived. My mom, who taught grade 2, must have been there but I don’t remember seeing her and we have never really talked about the incident.
But the teachers and Mr. Davidson weren’t looking at me, they were staring at Mr. Berg. I glanced up and his face was flushed, like he had just run around the schoolyard, his eyes were as big as the big red balls we threw at each other when he wasn’t watching and his nostrils were flared. I had only seen nostrils like that on the horse at grandma’s farm. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one shocked by the past five minutes.
There was silence, staring and then a sigh from the school nurse. Not the kind of sigh that says, this is good but the kind that says “oh no, what should I do?”. The principal broke the spell and stood up. As he approached, his eyes moved from me to my charge and back to me. “ What’s this about William?” I didn’t know who he was talking to but Mr. Berg started “ He came racing across the playground past the grade one and two kids shrieking that the President of the United States had been shot and was dead. I had to stop him so he didn’t really scare the little kids. You know how they are. What if what he said was true? We would all be doomed to the Russians coming over the north pole.”
The voice of authority regained composure and plainly asked “ Why would you say something like that?” Before I could respond Mr. Berg said “ He is a bad kid who will do anything to get attention. I saw him pretending to smoke just to impress a couple of girls.” I wasn’t a bad kid. I listened in class, got mostly As and Bs, didn’t swear when adults were around, didn’t tag hard in football… I wasn’t a bad kid. The voice continued ignoring the rantings saying “ who told you to say that?”
I collected myself, “ no one told me to say it, I saw it on TV and thought I should tell an adult and Mr Berg was the first one I thought of”. This time I could tell where the sigh came from, maybe from everyone. It was probably more of a gasp that sent one of the teachers to the radio on the counter. She either turned it up, I hadn’t noticed it being on or turned it on. I really hadn’t noticed anything in particular but now I saw the yellow-brown walls and thought of my last diarrhoea and realized the room smelled like sweat, cigarettes, and maybe fear (not at all like diarrhoea).
As I started scanning the room, which was way smaller than I would have imagined, the radio announcer solemnly reported “ President John F. Kennedy is dead. He was shot in Dealy Plaza in Dallas while his motorcade was on parade. Vice President Johnson will be sworn in as President this afternoon”. Then almost as an afterthought “ Investigators are searching for the gunman or gunmen”.
The silence was different this time. Not driven by fear but rather a disbelief. Not the ‘you are lying disbelief’ but the kind that rises when you don’t want to believe. I felt Mr Berg’s hand leave my shoulder. I really hadn’t known it was there until it wasn’t. He sort of swayed sideways and fell to his knees. No one breathed as if we could reverse time if we didn’t move it forward. The room was choked and I felt responsible. It felt terrible and thrilling all at once. My knowledge, my words, my little voice had power.
“ Bobby, go back out to the playground” the principal whispered. As I made my way to the door I heard
“ What do we do? What do we do now?”

My only visit to the teacher’s lounge was over as the door closed behind me. The hallway was empty and seemed longer than a few minutes ago. I was on a rollercoaster as the floor pitched and the walls shook. I was at the stairs before I knew I was moving and through the east doors. The light was bright and my eyes dilated from the glare. The image ahead of me was fuzzy. It seemed all the kids were huddled in a semi-circle around the entrance. There was no one on the field, or on the swings or at the gate. They were all here waiting. They weren’t pushing. There wasn’t any swearing or name calling. My ears rang from the stillness. Still swaying from the hallway pitching, I hit a wall of anxiety and worry.
Harvey and Brian started it. The applause rippled through the circle. Even Patty and Diane were clapping. My only possible response was a smile, a crooked disbelieving smile. I told the group, who listened without interruption the news I had heard on the TV. The reaction wasn’t like the teachers or like what Mr. Berg anticipated. Like me, they didn’t know what to do with the information. There wasn’t enough information to think about the consequences. Slowly small groups drifted away back to regular lunch hour activities. I was famous for a day but the story of the teacher’s lounge got me an audience every time I told it until I went on to middle school.
We were all changed that day whether we knew it or not. Innocence evaporated for some, dread directed decisions for others. Our future changed and we can only imagine how another 5 years of Camelot might have played out. I learned that knowledge is power and even when you don’t completely understand it you can still wield the sword.

 

The sword and shield are important tools in the reconstruction of the past. In rereading the piece today, I still believe that there is no intentional misrepresentation but acknowledge that there could easily be significant misremembering.

Original Thought · Uncertainty

You and Only You

Fiction friction occurs when I scrape my imagined reality up against someone who has created a different narrative. If I rub my centrist, libertarian, ideological promiscuity up against your socialist, environmentalist, feminism or your socially conservative, monotheism things heat up. When I brandish a capitalist fiscal framework and you are armed with an egalitarian universalist schema a battle is likely to ensue. Is there a way to overcome the Us/Them divide? I have asked dozens of friends and colleagues, reached out to influencers in numerous fields and pressed my memory for times when the chasm was successfully closed. The usual approach is to seek common ground and work from those moments of agreement forward rather than backward. One of my closest friends was once an adversary who I held in extreme prejudice. She stood in front of me in presentations to authorities and governing bodies decrying the position I was soon to take and defending the status quo as beneficial to those she represented. We didn’t share the same worldview, we didn’t share ideology, and we didn’t share collegial conversation. Seven years ago, a common friend invited us, separately, to a fundraising event and then sat us together at a table off to the side. The interaction started aggressively with each of us staking and defending a macro position. Our common friend said ” You are both better than that, start over again.” We did. I asked ” what is the most important issue that we are facing, today?” Her response wasn’t terribly different from what mine would have been and that evening over a pint or two, we debated, discussed, defended with curiousity and respect and arrived at a 12 point plan to make our corner of the world a better place. The goals were the same even as the approaches were different. I learned that I/we can’t build bridges if we stand on opposite sides of the divide and hurl accusations and insults at each other. We don’t often agree but we share life together, when we can, trying to understand the other and holding one another with affection and admiration. Finding common ground didn’t remove the friction but it helped me understand why her fiction was so different from mine. I have shifted my perspective on some ideas and she has altered her position on some. We still create some heat when we meet but we don’t hold grudges and we lead with grace. Inside respectful differences lies the as yet unimagined. We can fear it as unknown or use the tension to spark and ignite a different way.

I am not suggesting collaboration or even cooperation as a predictable approach to problem-solving. We do need to demand enough diversity of opinion and approach in our lives in order to overcome the inertia of mediocrity that we live in. I need to understand how someone that I dislike because of our differences can possibly think what they think. I am unable to battle racist tendencies if I am unaware of or refuse to acknowledge the reasoning and arguments of a racist. We can’t overcome wicked problems by blaming the victims but we can’t really solve them without understanding how we are all complicit (including the victims). Even typing the parenthetic bit, I realize that it will cause friction with many readers and would outrage colleagues if I said it out loud in a meeting. How can we warm up the discussions without burning up social and political capital? I am learning the lesson and still usually err on the side of too much fuel to the fire.But I have also been involved in far too many debates where all we hear is our own voices bouncing off the walls and faces in the room.

Have you experienced fiction friction this week? Is the broken world we live in adding constructive or destructive flames? Do you need permission to be provocative in your proximate relationships? Do we need a reminder to redress with respect and to listen with attention and intent to understand? Can I enter a discussion without wondering or worrying about winners and losers?

This morning I had three coaching sessions where I was able to practice controlled burn and saw all three clients react with their own measured, heated response. I learned something new, they committed to doing something different and we left the sessions without anyone feeling injured or insulted. The experience leaves me hopeful that we can intentionally change how we rub up against each other without becoming too smooth or being erased completly.

Make Today Remarkably Hot,
B

Original Thought · Uncertainty

Foxes and Hedgehogs

In the midst of the 2017 fall election in Calgary, Alberta I am reminded of a quote from the Greek poet Archilochus, who lived around 650 BCE, ” The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” The sly fox knows how to deceive his prey and predators with misdirection or misrepresentation or by hiding in the weeds. Even after he has been caught in the henhouse, he won’t just own up to the crime but deflects it towards a skunk, a weasel or another fox.
The hedgehog knows that transparency is the best defence and when he makes a mistake he acknowledges his position and rolls into a ball seeking atonement. He really knows many things but they all revolve around honesty. He knows he is a hedgehog, he knows he isn’t a horse or a hare or a frog. He has accepted his role and has determined to be the best hedgehog in the woods.

I am biased regarding the politics of my city. I was biased going into the campaign and signed the nomination forms for the incumbent mayor and incumbent councillor. I pretended to be objective and neutral during the debates I heard; pretended in the sense that objectivity and neutrality are myths. I bring the sum of my experience to my analysis of ‘evidence’, as do you. I heard nothing that changed my opinion of the candidates and was not persuaded to consider changing my vote. I cat my ballots in the advance poll in favor of Mayor Nenshi and Councillor Carra. I did, however, move my vote for Public School Trustee. The candidate that I initially was leaning towards did nothing to convince me of his trust and I was offended by the heir apparent message that I heard from a campaign worker. I exercised my franchise fully and I anxiously await the results.

In reality, whatever happens on Monday will have little effect on me personally. My taxes might go up 5%, I might pay additional fees for services I use or don’t, I might need to petition my representatives or engage in public forums but all those things have been part of my life for the last 30 years.
However, Monday’s results will have a dramatic impact on our city. Collectively we will be a different place depending on which frontrunner wins the Mayor’s chair. We get to vote once every four years and then wait and see how it plays out. There seems to be a clear enough difference between camps that I/we could predict where we might be when we go to the polls in October 2021. I have declared my subjective preference and no doubt that helps create a vision of a progressive, positive, passionate city where anything is possible for everyone. My worldview worries that under a less visionary leadership, we will see a city that is devoid of culture, except cowboys and hockey teams and a less caring and less equitable place to live.

I recognize that if your preference of candidates is different from mine, you may see hope and possibility through a different lens but that is what democracy is supposed to afford us.
For the next 48 hours, I am going to proudly wear purple and represent hedgehogs as best as I can.

If you live in Calgary, I encourage you to get out and participate in the process. Vote for whoever you choose but don’t let others make decisions on your behalf by not marking your ballot. Stand up and be counted. It’s too important not to.

Make Monday Remarkable,

Bob
And then let’s get back to building a world-class city on Tuesday morning.

Original Thought · Self Improvement · Uncertainty

You are Remarkable

Maybe it is a revelation, maybe a realization, maybe a ruination but this morning a bolt from the blue reminded me that I have a theory about Maslow’s Pyramid but I wasn’t observing it in my life. Most social scientists and public intellectuals believe that the way to fill the pyramid for others (I assume for ourselves) is to begin at the base and pour resources and time into creating what we determine to be the right measure of basic needs and then move to the safety and then belonging and rarely to esteem and almost never to self-fulfillment.
For ten years I have been saying that Maslow’s hierarchy is correct just upside down. I don’t know what old Abram would say but I speculate that he was far more concerned with quality of life rather than mere survival. He would agree with “adding life to our days rather than just adding days to our life.” While starting with the bottom of the triangle might alleviate some pangs, it seems inevitable that we just help people to live longer and slightly better in their misery.

maslow

What could be achieved if they knew and understood that they (we all) have a personal mission to contribute to our own well being and the well being of our family and community? What would it look like to create circumstances that fostered, encouraged and rewarded those who used their strengths to strengthen others?
Would the pyramid fill itself if we all lived to our potential and celebrated the promise and potential of others in our midst?

My life is full and rich – not in the way bottom up pyramid fillers might see it but full and rich from where I get to sit. I am blessed with a partner (for the past 42 years) who shares most of the values and goals that I do. We have 3 remarkable sons who have amazing partners and inspiring children that we get to share life with. I am able to read, write and share what I am thinking with thousands of people, that I might never meet and live life with a couple dozen people who celebrate me, support me, challenge me and somedays irk me. I am working towards my potential and feel fulfilled.
I have a strong self-esteem bordering on delusions of grandeur that I credit to my level of awareness and compassion for others.

We want for nothing but couldn’t point to a plan that justifies the abundance. Our roof is dry, our walls are warm, our larder is stocked. We have the ability and freedom to make sensible choices about where and how we live. For both of us, each day is an adventure filled with surprises that we notice and appreciate and surprises that unfortunately we miss or worse take for granted.

Our current adventure has us living in the midst of 10,000 books and each week we get to lift up 100 children and their families by sharing the joy and confidence that reading brings. We don’t know where the next experience will take us but believe that whatever the shape our years form, as long as we fill it by strengthening others that we don’t need to fret about the bottom.

For my Canadian friends, Happy Thanksgiving and for others, take time to celebrate all the blessings you have and then spread some to others along with your love.

B