And the band played on, as more people are shot

As a father and US citizen, it is beyond amazing how the leaders of our country can watch more kids and parents be killed by guns and yet do nothing about it. The polls say people would like something done about it, but leaders will not act as they are scared of reprisals from the leading gun selling advocate, the NRA, who brandishes the Second Amendment like it is a lethal weapon – they are right, it is lethal.

Just in the past few months, here is a sampling of headlines.

“Woman shot, killed by gun in her bra holster” – reported on 2/19/15 by NBC12 Newsroom

“Father accidentally kills child while cleaning his gun”– reported on 2/17/15 by AP News

“3-year-old boy shoots father, pregnant mother in New Mexico” – reported on 2/2/15 by CNN

“4-year-old accidentally shoots uncle with gun found on floor” – reported on 1/30/15 by Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel

“2-year-old kid shoots mother dead at Walmart” – reported on 1/30/15 by US News

“Girl 9, accidentally kills instructor while firing an Uzi” – reported on 8/27/14 by ABC News

While I am terribly saddened for the loss of life and the heartbreak people will carry for the rest of their lives over their role in the deaths or injuries, we should not view these incidents as just accidents. In my view, they ranged from accidents waiting to happen to homicidal negligence. The sad truth is I am no longer surprised by these headlines, as awful as they may be. They are more commonplace.

While there are many very responsible gun owners, we cannot train some gun owners enough. Yet, these are just the so-called accidental gun deaths.  The most significant gun death cause in America, by far, is suicide. Homes with guns are three times more likely to experience suicide than homes without. All it takes is one impulsive act when someone is depressed and it is over. This is a key reason college therapists do not want guns on campuses, with the higher rates of depression than in general society. And, homicides are increased in America due to the presence of guns.

Let’s get back to those Second Amendment rights. The second amendment initially did not give everyone the right to bear arms limiting the right for the purposes of forming a militia. It has been subject to interpretation by Supreme Courts, but we should keep the original context in mind. But, one thing is for certain, it should not supersede our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness afforded us under the Constitution.  I think most Americans understand this and want some action.

The US leads the civilized world in gun deaths significantly outnumbering the top 22 wealthiest nations combined. Our fondness for guns is a reason our police are more predisposed to act with violence in perceived threatening situations, than in other countries. Gun deaths are due to a multitude of reasons – lack of civil discourse, entertainment violence, poverty, drugs, mental health issues, etc. – but make no mistake they are also due to gun access. Guns don’t kill people; it is people with access to guns that kill people.

Per a 2013 Elon University poll, people of all political persuasions want elongated waiting periods and better background checks on all transactions. The police want bullets codified and registered to solve crimes. For me, these would help, but I cannot fathom a reason someone needs an Uzi or AK47. At a minimum, we need to limit the numbers of bullets that can be fired before reloading. That would save lives. Plus, we need to have as much recurring training as possible as this is serious stuff.

The NRA and its avid proponents say the answer to any question is we should arm everyone. That is inane. Just look at the above and see what happens when more guns are around people. We will only see more accidental and suicidal deaths. We will also have more homicides over small arguments. And, that serves no one’s purpose. It is time for our leaders to think like parents and not like pawns in a deadly game.

A vanishing art – the follow-up

In our age of instant communication, one of the vanishing arts is the art of the follow-up. Before our instant communication, people were not as diligent to this art, but even now, when it should be so simple to do, it is seemingly a missing part of communication. What do I mean by the follow-up? This is a quick response to let the requester or sender know that you have the ball, understand the message, received the message or recognize the effort of the sender. Further, when you have executed the request or favor, it is the communication to the requester that you took care of it.

I should be able to stop there and people should realize that is something we all must do. But, many of us do not, so it leaves the requester or sender wondering. Even when I worked in a client service setting, there were not as many colleagues who were good about letting you know they took care of something, which should be a modus operandi.

In marketing settings, this happens all the time. You reach out to people you want to do business with or have a meeting with and get zero response. I have often said “no” is an acceptable answer, so it is OK to tell me no. One of the better follow-up people I worked with would say “just tell me no or kiss my foot or something.” Yet, we would rather leave people hanging with expectation. However, that is in marketing, where you expect these kinds of responses.

One of the worst examples of the failure to follow-up occurs when I am forwarding a resume for a friend to someone else in a large organization. What becomes embarrassing is when that person fails to let the person know something and you have to chase it down. I usually tickle file follow-ups with people, but it need not be so hard. You end up embarrassed with your friend because someone else did not follow-up. Again, a “no, we are not interested or have no openings” would be fine.

What surprises me most is when I am a customer and get these kinds of responses. Nada. Nothing. I sit here wondering “did he or she receive my message?” or “maybe the person does not work there anymore.” When something is meaningful to me to know it is being done, I make a note to follow-up. “Did you get my request and do we need to provide any further information?” I have noted before that the customer service is on a steep decline. And, all it takes is a just a little more communication than is done and it would improve by a noticeable margin. Such as:

– I received your request and will take care of it by the end of the week. I will let you know when I have done so.

– I have it on my list of things to do. When is this needed by?

– I wanted to let you know I took care of your request. Here is  a copy of my response.

– Thank you for your request. Unfortunately, we cannot comply with such request, but do thank you for reaching out.

– We cannot easily comply with all of the items in your request, but can more readily respond to these items. Will that be sufficient?

Please follow-up with others. It will make all of our lives better. And, it will reduce a few headaches.

 

Two Macro trends we need to heed

Since our public debate in political circles tends to focus on what donors want or who is winning the political “gotcha” game, I thought it might be important to repeat some comments about macro trends for which we need to plan ahead. Looking forward from a report sanctioned by the World Economic Forum (WEF) and Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that was done in 2008-09 timeframe, several macro trends were identified by leaders in business, education, foundations, and governments. Two are highlighted below.

First, a key concern is simply demographic and it has and will shape our economy and budgets for some time. The world population is aging. It is getting worse here in the US, but it is much worse in places like Japan and Greece, e.g.  In fact, a key reason Greece is struggling today is trying to fund financial commitments made to people who have already retired. You can address the benefit commitments to future retirees, but much of the liabilities owed are for people who have left the workforce and being funded by fewer relative workers per retiree.

This is hitting the US in our cities and states and will continue to do so. Just count the number of states who are grappling with serious underfunding issues on pensions and seeing higher retiree medical costs. It impacts our federal Social Security and Medicare programs as well, but with the earlier retirement opportunities in state pension plans, the cost impact is exacerbated there. With the tandem problem of communities not growing due to suburban flight and poor planning, a number of cities have had to declare bankruptcy. This why it is critical for all governmental pension and retiree medical  plan sponsors to address the future issues now so costs can be spread and mitigated.

Second, a key macro trend that makes the above problem worse, not better, is we are an increasingly obese world.  Unlike the aging ranks, the US can lay claim to being the most obese country in the world. We are number one. This is one of the reasons we can lay claim to the most expensive healthcare system in the world. A former UK colleague, who helped companies with developing global health management plans, noted that the greatest export of the US is obesity. That was not meant to flatter us.

As a former actuary, I can tell you the medical cost rate for people in their fifties is generally 2 to 2 ½ times the medical cost rate of the average workforce.  The ratio goes up for older populations. Yet, as we have grown in size through obesity, we are even greater train wrecks waiting to happen. This is why it is critical we get as many people insured for healthcare as possible, so they can see doctors now, be prescribed treatment patterns, and attempt to ameliorate future health catastrophes. We spend a lot of time talking about and fighting cancers which is great, but heart disease will kill 10 times more people, especially women, who tend to ignore symptoms more so than men and wait longer to seek help. And, heart disease risk is heightened when patients are more obese.

There are other key macro trends noted within the WEF and OECD report. It is worth the read to understand other key drivers of our global economy. But, these two are overarching problems which we need to deal with now before they become worse, as the more we wait, the higher the cost impact.

A Path Appears – Women and Children need our help

Our friend Debra (see link below) has written a review of the much-needed book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn called “Half the Sky.” This is one of the toughest reads you will ever take on as it discusses how women are maltreated around the globe. In addition to how awful it is to the women and children who are subject to this maltreatment including rape, sex slavery, genital mutilation, fistula due to births before the body is able, and domestic violence, it discusses the economic detriment to those communities. The book is based on the Chinese proverb that women hold up half the sky, so if you treat them poorly, you are devaluing your economy, competing with one arm tied behind your back in a world that will leave you behind.

https://debrabooks.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/who-cares-about-poor-women/

Kristof and WuDunn have followed up their first book with one called “A Path Appears,” which expands on these issues, but discusses how we can make a difference. We can find a path forward to help women, children and communities in need and how it will do the giver as much good as the receiver. Attached is a New York Times review which provides a review and summary of the book. I have yet to read this book, but have seen the two authors interviewed on PBS Newshour as they discuss how each of us can play a role in helping others.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/19/books/review/a-path-appears-by-nicholas-kristof-and-sheryl-wudunn.html?_r=0

An additional book worth reading on this subject is penned by former President Jimmy Carter called “A Call to Action.” It leverages further the work of Kristof and WuDunn, but brings the arguments home to America as well as speaking to the global problem. While we are only beginning to give notoriety to sexual abuse in the US military and on our college campuses after long ignoring the problems, while we are finally highlighting the impact and prevalence of domestic violence toward women that occurs in our society, we are still largely unaware that we have a non-inconsequential sex trafficking industry within America. We have sex slaves being brought in from other countries in addition to the women stolen from within our own communities.

I have read Carter’s book as well and find his arguments and anecdotes compelling. It is also a difficult, but must read. Carter has been one of the best ex-Presidents we have ever had. He has done more good for humanitarian causes and his voice is a powerful one and full of substance. We should heed his, Kristof and WuDunn’s messages and begin to better address the maltreatment of women.

Our world needs stronger positioning of women. We see the wonderful examples with Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, Christine LaGarde, Director of the International Monetary Fund, and Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the Prime Minister of Denmark, to name only a few, but need more. When Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, while not the first female, she was the most widely known ambassador of the US and made a huge difference to the issue of helping women.

But, we cannot wait on more women to get in power. We all need to see the wisdom of treating women and children fairly and as we would want to be treated. We all need to see that if we devalue women, we are limiting idea creation, market opportunities and good governance in our country and communities. We all need to see that treating a human being like property is not in keeping with the overarching messages of religious texts or answering well the Christian question of WWJD? What would Jesus do? He would treat women like he would want to be treated.

A disproportionate response

What does this mean you may be asking? It has a couple of contexts. When I first think of it, I usually think of well-meaning people who want to help someone in need. A church or employer group may adopt a family who is going without. This is not uncommon around the holidays. Unfortunately, what happens is the family is over-provided for stripping them of any dignity that remains. Plus, neighbors who are in a similar boat, may ask why them? This is one reason I do not care for the “move that bus” show where they over provide for a family.

This may sound callous, but it is an example of what is called “Toxic Charity” as defined by Robert Lupton. In his view, charity should be reserved for emergencies. We should be transacting with those in need to help them climb a ladder. If we over do, then the family’s dignity suffers. He likes to ask churches, “Is what you are doing more for you or the people you are helping? If it is the former, then you may want to rethink your outreach.”

A former executive director of a family homeless agency calls these exercises a “disproportionate response” to a crisis. He said we need to help people in a sustainable way. The goal is for you to help them stand on their own. That is the premise of the family homeless services agency I have the privilege to serve with on their Board. We do not want to do for our clients what they can do for themselves.

The other context is when controlling a hostile situation. We are beginning a discussion where police officers have on occasion used force when it was not needed or when the crime they were apprehending the suspect for was not that serious. Recognizing the tough job they have, police officers need to be trained and retrained on the art of handling delicate and difficult situations. The predisposition to act with violence needs to be managed, so that it is not used as often as it is with men of color or in less strenuous situations.

Yet, part of the issue is using an aggressive manner to apprehend a suspect of a petty crime. There is a disproportionate response when a violent apprehension is deployed with someone over a petty crime. This is akin to chasing a runaway vehicle through traffic endangering others drivers and pedestrians for running a stop sign. The safest response for the community would be to forego the chase. This has to be part of the new paradigm where training can keep officers alert, but not predisposed to act with violence. There should be a difference when apprehending someone suspected of a burglary or murder versus someone selling illegal contraband like cigarettes.

We need to approach situations with an appropriate response. Some folks will say that a suspect who is gunned down is justified if they committed any crime. I find fault with that. Someone should not be killed for stealing candy.  Further, a child with a pellet gun should not be gunned down in less than ten seconds, when a man with a rifle threatening violence is talked out of it, as he is white and the child was black. The other key question is should someone shoot to kill every one? What happened to shooting to wound? I know in the movies they do this to keep a clean end to a story and to punish very bad people that we can see as bad through our omnipotent viewing. Yet, this should not be the case in real life as much as it is.

I recognize these contexts are very different, but I believe we should be thinking and planning how we should respond to various issues, whether they be someone in need or someone who needs to be apprehended. We need to be more proportionate in our responses. More people may be saved as a result.

She said yes

She said yes. I proposed thirty Valentine’s Days ago and the answer was yes. It still is. We will be celebrating our 30th anniversary later this year and will be empty nesters to boot. We will not know how to act sans children under the roof. We will miss them greatly as they are away at college and working, but we will actually be able to do more impromptu escapades.

My wife still is the “girl who holds the world in a paper cup” the wonderful phrase coined in “Danny’s Song.” People would describe her as genuine. She is that and more. She is a great listener and our kids feel comfortable telling her things that they may not with another mother. If she has a fault it is being there too much for others, sometimes making their problems, hers. Sometimes, she attracts people who need an audience having worn out all their other audiences. This can wear her down on occasion.

Yet, she has good friends who she relishes being around. She loves her lunches with the girls and they will be out for hours. I am sure the waiter will be looking at his watch when they are having a fun lunch. My old school friends and their wives love her as well. When we get together when I return home, we have been known to have three-hour lunches catching up, laughing and crying over old stories.

We yin and yang well together. She is easily the best half of the family and makes me a better person. We are imperfect people and parents, but we tend to be consistent with our conversations with our children discussing who needs to nudge or ask a question. We have had a wonderful journey together so far and look forward to the next chapter. She said yes. Yay, for our team.

Thank the passer – a legacy of Dean Smith

For those who follow basketball, the legendary basketball coach Dean Smith passed away this weekend. Smith coached the University of North Carolina Tar Heels for many years to great basketball success. He also coached the US Olympics basketball team to the Gold medal when we still used amateur players. A great many things are being said about Smith by his former players, fans and the media. They are all deserved. Last fall, his wife accepted the US Medal of Freedom from President Obama.

Smith did much to help young men grow into adults. He taught valuable lessons about basketball, but life as well. He also helped integrate the UNC team with its first African-American player, which is widely known. But, he also helped integrate the Town of Chapel Hill by eating in restaurants with African-Americans. He did not want fanfare over this, as he noted to author John Feinstein, who was told the story by someone else, “doing the right thing should not get publicity.”

Being a former basketball player, I also wanted to share a basketball and life lesson that Smith instilled in his players. This may sound trite at first, but please bear with me. Smith made his players who just scored a basket to acknowledge the person who passed him the ball as they ran back down the court. If you have played basketball, you know that the most fun thing to do is score. Yet, this is a team game, just like life. Someone else saw that you had a better chance to score and passed you the ball.

This sounds so simple, but at the end of the 1970s, the NBA had turned into a game of individual moves to score. This individualism promoted selfish play and the NBA was in trouble. In fact, TV ratings were so down, some of the Championship games were shown on tape delay at 11:30 pm. Think about that. It was not until Magic Johnson and Larry Bird joined the NBA in 1980, that the NBA started a come back. These two players were renowned for their passing ability and seeing a bigger court.

Smith knew this first hand, which is why he had his players acknowledge the passer. Just as in life, most success involves a team effort. Of course, there are stars, but Michael Jordan, who played for Smith, knew he needed a good team to win. So, as a former basketball player who took pride in passing, I admired this trait. It is a good one to take away from the court. I have made this point before about the best leaders – they tend to deflect credit to others. This is a great way to sum up Dean Smith, he deflected credit to others. But, they knew who passed them the ball and are pointing back at him.

Rest in peace Coach Smith.