Good faith dealings

The passing of former President George H.W. Bush has highlighted the many positive attributes of the imperfect 41st President. Of course, we are all “fixer uppers,” and our willingness to know this about ourselves keeps us humble and in a constant state of self-improvement.

Many positive things have been highlighted about the elder Bush this past week, with many of us nostalgic to how we all should conduct ourselves, especially our leaders. Here are a few things I took away:

– a communication advisor to an early campaign noted he made a big mistake from which he could not hide. Thinking he would be fired, he recalled Bush telling him “I know you will knock the next opportunity out of the park.”

– a friend noted he played golf often with Bush when he was President. He noted the clubs Bush played would invariably try to “comp” his green and cart fees. Bush insisted that he pay for his and his friends fees. He noted it would not be right for a golf club to not expect him to pay.

– a Democrat Senator noted that it was not unusual for Bush to invite a handful of Senators or Congressional representatives to the White House on late Friday afternoons for martinis, which Bush made. He would also give them a tour of the White House, if any had not seen it before.

– many noted that Bush was a voracious note writer and they took pride in words of encouragement, support, sympathy or thanks; these notes were received by media, foreign and domestic leaders, public servants, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters.

– after he retired, the son of one of his secret service guards was struggling with Leukemia and losing in his hair due to the Chemotherapy. Bush shaved his head in solidarity with the son to lift his spirits,

– many leaders and public servants noted that Bush had many relationships around the world and here in the states, which benefited him and our country in troubling or challenging times. His ability to tap these resources to build coalitions to do things is paramount to several successful endeavors.

– relationships matter at home too, with a lovely marriage to Barbara for 73 years and a beautiful family of children and grandchildren. Marriage is hard work – this speaks volumes about the Bushes.

– Finally, in today’s times it is hard to convince some that perception is not reality. We seem to spend an inordinate amount of time polishing our own apple or thinking those that do it well rate more highly as a result. One magazine defined Bush as a wimp when he ran for President, primarily because he was an obsequious Vice-President. Here was a man who flew 58 combat missions in WWII and was shot down. He was not raised to brag on himself. It would not have been false bravado for him to do so. False bravado seems to be mistaken for actually bravery these days. But, the reason he was called a wimp due to being obsequious is while he offered criticism to  President Reagan in private, it would have been detrimental to call him out in public.

Each of us could be better people. Our leaders should be among our better angels. Character matters. Dealing with people in a good faith manner matters. Telling the truth to the media, colleagues and the American people matter. Being accountable matters. Real courage is usual quietly borne and not bragged about. We should remember these truths. We should do our best to emulate them.

 

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No good deed goes unpunished – a sequel

There is an old saying in Human Resources that simply says “no good deed goes unpunished.” This saying has been around since well before social media. But, social media has highly leveraged this phrase into over-sensitive political correctness.

Mind you, I am all for treating people like I want to be treated. Yet, there is another quote that comes to mind which was told to me by a friend who advised high school students. She said, “Do not give your power away. If you do not take offense, then you are not offended.”

It seems almost daily that someone with notoriety makes an effort to communicate a message offering a self-help tip or commenting on maltreatment of a group or person. Yet, someone or some group takes offense at the tip saying it demeans another group. A key question to ask is did people speaking on behalf of that group take offense? Another is was the slight intended or was it inferred?

I fully recognize there are people like the US President who often intentionally and accidentally offend individuals and groups. These folks need more pushback because they seem less inclined to change or could care less. With that said, the President will often use derogatory comments to distract the media from a greater malfeasance, so focusing on a slight, allows him to change the subject.

What I am speaking to most is people who blow small or unintended things into major transgressions. Using an old phrase, they react as if someone killed their mother. Folks, don’t make mountains out of molehills. In so doing, it is akin to crying wolf. One gets ignored on the more impactful transgressions because people become inured to the constant criticism of smaller ones.

Recently, a celebrity made a point to say exercise and watch what you eat during the holidays and was accused of fat-shaming. She apologized for any perceived slights, but said that was not her intention.

Comedians often focus on generalizations that help people see we all have imperfections. They also are keen on poking fun at lies and hypocrisies in leaders. Of course, they need to be mindful of not going too far, when the humor becomes cruel, but if we cannot laugh at ourselves, we will have a very boring world. I am reminded that President George H.W. Bush loved Dana Carvey’s impersonation of himself as did President Obama of the the “angry Obama” portayed by Keegan Michael Key.

So, let’s pull back on punishing folks for every unintended slight. Let’s not punish good deeds. Pick your battles.  Let’s reserve our offense for more serious slights that lead to bad policies, military deployment or demonize (or make false equivalence for) groups of people or their actions. If we focused on every lie the President said, we would be at it all day.

 

 

Cups of coffee and thanks

An old friend and colleague used to say about marketing, “You can never have enough cups of coffee with people.” I have expanded his advice over time to mean  fellowship and building relationships regardless of whether a future transaction is involved. To me, it is also a metaphor for saying thanks.

Cups of coffee (or tea, smoothie, etc) represent getting together for whatever reason. It could be to help a friend or the friend’s adult child network for a new or first job. It could be to meet to discuss how someone can follow their service bent and volunteer.

It could be catching up with an old friend you bumped into at the store. It could be to coach someone on an interview or offer snippets of advice to an adult child. Or, it could be to say thanks to someone for doing you a favor.

Whatever the reason, those cups of coffees represent more than the caffeine. They represent community. They represent gratitude.

Just like cups of coffee, you can never thank people enough. And, of course, you can order decaf. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Imperfections

We humans are an imperfect lot. We do our best to hide our imperfections, but we all have them. No race has any more or less than others. Yet, one of our imperfections is as old as time. Jesus warned us against this with the Golden Rule. The imperfection is to think we are better than another group of people that may look, worship, vote, or love differently than we do. Too often, we feel a group or person is beneath us and should not be given the same rights.

The US Constitution and its various amendments has also tried to provide a set of rules that say we are all created equal. Quite simply, my rights are no important than that of another. The converse is also true. Like Jesus’ words, it is an ideal that we should strive for. And, when we fail, we should feel remorse and do better. Our leaders must represent our better angels. When they don’t, we lose the benefit of their example.

Unfortunately, examples can work in the opposite direction. Bigotry has to be carefully taught. And, when leaders look the other way or grease the skids on bigotry, it festers and becomes more pervasive. Under the guise of populism, we are seeing a greater degree and more pervasive bigotry in the US, Hungary, Poland, Germany to name a few countries. At the heart of this populism is a bigotry that betrays the Golden Rule.

With the current US President, America can no longer claim to be a beacon of democracy. The traits of lying, bullying, demeaning the media and allies, and thinking me first are not conducive to leadership. The current US President occupies the seat of leadership, but I would not use that term to define what he does. A leader unites. A leader accepts responsibility. A leader is accountable. This President could do better in each of these areas.

We must hold him accountable. When he lies, we must say that is unacceptable. When he demeans, we need to let him know children our watching. We are all imperfect, but imperfect people should not throw stones. Jesus said something about that as well. I hope and pray he will do better. We need him to. The same goes for other leaders. And, for us.

 

Accidently saying the wrong thing

Watching an interview of Michelle Obama with Gayle King of CBS, her mother Ms. Robinson joined in. As many know, Ms. Robinson moved to the White House to be there for her grandchildren as their parents traveled and did their jobs.

During the interview, King asked her why she was only on television once. Robinson said the reason was “I did not want to accidentally say the wrong thing.” I greatly admire her self-reflection. This comment struck me as we have a man in the White House who consistently says or tweets the wrong thing.

If the current incumbent would recognize that he is his worst enemy, he may be less inclined to opine on things where he does know the facts. He also would refrain from being hyper-critical of folks who dare criticize him or say things he does not care for. This attacking style toward anyone is wearisome and reflects poorly on the office of President.

Just this week, the US Presideny took criticism of Emmanuel Macron too far indicting the whole country of France. It is similar to when couples argue and they say something cruel in the heat of argument, which they regret. In the case of the President, he makes these cruel remarks on almost a daily basis.

This morning I read yet again a letter from a Trump fan who says the US President is just being “politically incorrect,” making it acceptable behavior. What this man does is well-beyond politically incorrect. He is being an untruthful bully. As I have said many times for several years, people can be politically incorrect without being an asshole.

A Rose without any thorns

I have written before about three friends whose friendship began for three of us in elementary school with one joining our group in junior high school. Yesterday, I learned the last of our eight parents had passed away during the night. It is fitting that Rose was the last one to go.

Each of our parents were fine people and raised good families. While we used their first names among ourselves, usually referring to a quirk or possible punishment for our misdeeds, we always called the adults Mr. or Mrs. Except for Rose. We all called her by her first name.

Rose was much younger than her husband, so he passed away in his late 60’s over 45 years ago while we were in junior high. So, we gravitated to Rose. She was as approachable and welcoming a person as you could find. She was not unlike my brother-in-law, Joe, of whom I wrote after he passed away in September. This Rose did not have any thorns.

Raised in Pennsylvania as an American of Italian descent, Rose was a devout Catholic. When I think of her, I remember her well-attended Christmas parties before  Midnight Mass. Each year around 10:30 pm, the party would come to a close to go hear the beautiful Mass, which was memorable for its contemporary music. When in town, I would not miss these occasions. When away, I would call around 10 pm to wish her and her son, Merry Christmas.

The other things I remember are her sense of humor and interest in others. The two went hand-in-hand, as she took delight in being teased and telling stories. Her son makes a living off a self-deprecating sense of humor and ability to tell stories, which he learned from her. Being a good Italian-American, we teased her that if you cut off her hands, she could not complete her stories. If you asked Rose travel directions, she would invariably draw with her fingers on the table. She was quite the animated person.

My wife and I last saw Rose three years ago when we were looking for a memory care facility for my mother. We stopped by to see her in her room at one of the places, as she too, was battling a declining memory. She perked up as she remembered me, most likely without knowing my name. But, we carried on a lovely conversation about the past and her son and my friendship.

Dementia and its evil twin Alzheimer’s are horrible diseases. We are glad to have seen her before further demise. Rose lived  a joyous life, filled with friends. She welcomed her son’s friends into her home and gave us all another mother to hug. Bless you Rose. And, as the Father would remind us, Peace be with you, your son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter.

 

Two hopeful stories

Jeff Jackson and Nora Trotman are both running for the same State Senate seat in North Carolina, currently held by Jackson. By itself, that is not newsworthy. What is newsworthy is the civility that both are exhibiting during the campaign. It is a much needed breath of fresh air,

As reported last Sunday in The Charlotte Observer in an article entitled “Running a ‘positive’ campaign for state Senate,” the Democrat Jackson tweeted praise for Trotman, his GOP opponent. Per the Observer, he noted, “It feels like our divisions are growing deeper each day. So, let me just take a moment and commend my opponent on running an honest, positive campaign. She’s a good person and deserves your consideration.” He also included her photo and a link to her website encouraging people to find out more.

After some national attention, which brought a positive tweet from Rachel Maddow, Trotman responded with “A lot of people are running against each other rather than to represent their district…Happy our race is an exception. We need representatives not politicians!” In an interview with the Observer, she added “It’s important to have two people who really want a positive campaign and not attack each other.”

We need more stories and attitudes like Jackson and Trotman exhibited. Let me layer on one more story I heard on NPR this weekend. A piece of advice was shared from an old interview of Mister Rogers when we are facing a terrible tragedy.

The advice was being shared after the horrific shooting at the Pittsburgh temple which killed eleven people last week. Mister Rogers said in the old interview what his mother had taught him. She said “Always look for the helpers” during times of tragedy. Look for the emergency technicians, doctors, police, firefighters, and citizens as they do their best to help others during the tragedy. These people will give you hope when we need it most.

I heard these words while I was driving my car. They made me want to pull over and listen with more intent. To illustrate his point even more, the Pittsburgh shooter was taken to the nearest hospital and was nursed back to care. The hospital CEO and many of the staff are Jewish.

One of my mantras is “kindness is not a weakness.” It reveals an inner strength which is foreign to some who feel they must run roughshod over others to prove their mettle. Let’s celebrate the words and actions of Rogers, Jackson and Trotman.