Shortcuts

While I was walking a path cut through the woods earlier this week, I noticed more than a few shortcuts that would save several steps. Since I am out for a nice walk, who is served by taking the shortcuts? In fact, I would be cheating myself.

It reminded of golfers who mentally shave strokes off their score. If alone, they are only cheating themselves. If playing an opponent, they are cheating an opposition and harming their reputation, as your opponent is not blind and can count.

I have written about good bosses, but one of the worst bosses I have ever had took credit for almost every success and distanced himself from failures. Not surprisingly, he was a notorious cheater at golf.

Does this boss sound like anyone in the public domain? Cheating at golf is not the worst of the US president’s attributes. But, like my boss, it is not surprising he does.

Shortcuts are good when someone needs to shave time or avoid heavy traffic. Shortcuts are great for busy cooks at home to cut a few steps and not sacrifice too much quality. Pre-preparing rice or sauces for the week with Sunday night’s dinner is a Sandra Lee suggestion, whose “Semi-homemade” cooking show was devoted to easier quality cooking.

Yet, some shortcuts are more harmful than good. Not vetting candidates or possible solutions with others will result in poor choices. This especially true if the shortcutter is known for his impatience as that cheating golfer is. Think my doctor is a good choice to run the VA, even though he has no managerial experience, e.g.

The devil is in the details. We must do our best to do our homework and only take shortcuts that will serve us without suffering quality.

Win or lose with class

It seems too many of us have lost a sense of fairness in competition. Be it sports or politics, too many of us feel it matters less if the game was fair, as long as my tribe wins. That is unfortunate as we should strive to be like our better angels and win or lose with class.

Whether the sport is a team game or an individual competition, winning means so much more if it is done the right way. Also, if your team gives it a great shot, but falls short, how the loss is handled matters a great deal. As a participant and a fan, I have had my share of heartbreaking losses. I had to learn as a boy to be a better sport, which is a necessary lesson that a coach or parent must impart.

Sports is just a game. For fans, it is entertainment. For participants, it is a way to test yourself and earn a living, if you are very good at it. But, unlike gladiators, no one dies at the end. No one loses a close friend or mother. Yet, people place the utmost importance to their tribe. If their team wins, it elevates them above their routine lives. If their team loses, they feel less about themselves. To be frank, whether my team wins or loses makes me feel one way or the other, but it is about the outcome not my life.

Politics has become the same way, very tribal in nature. My party must win and your party must lose. Doing our business to solve real problems is less relevant than winning. I want real problems solved. I don’t want politicians appeasing funders. But, the more important tribe is the country for which these elected officials represent. That is what matters the most, yet we lose sight of that.

As a player, I have never been a fan of trash talking. It shows poorly on the talker and dishonors fair competition. I feel the same about labeling and name-calling a political opponent. It reveals a lack of character and a poor argument. In politics, it gets in the way of working together. I can assure you as an independent voter and former member of both parties, neither side has all the good ideas, and both have some pretty bad ones. In fact, the good ideas seem to be drowned out by ideas to solve overstated problems. It is essential to work together.

After 9/11, one of the more profound pieces of advice came from a professional basketball announcer named Gerry Vaillancourt. On his talk show after 9/11, the callers discussed what we must do to quickly get back at someone for the four attacks, one which was thwarted. Vaillancourt disagreed. He said we need to be very calm and diligent as we gather our information, taking the necessary time to get it right. Only then, should we act. He said our calmness will be unnerving. I think about his words as they came from an unexpected source and they ring so true. In life and in sport, you should be more wary of the quiet person.

To me, this is in keeping with treating others like you want to be treated. You do your very best to compete with fairness and, win or lose, do so with class. If you cheat or show your hind end, you will be remembered for that as well. And, one thing sports teaches us is how to handle failure. The very best baseball hitters will fail seven times out of ten. Even the best of boxers get knocked down. So, in life, when you do get knocked down, you get back up, dust yourself off and keep going.

Good governance is needed to protect us from cheating

In our country, it is OK that people disagree. It is OK for legislators to disagree and hold opinions that I do not find appropriate. That is a greatness of our government construct. What I find far less appealing is when legislators cut corners on parliamentary procedures or do not do the right thing when a conflict of interest appears to gain advantage. This short changes the process and makes us less as a result. This is cheating, no matter how you slice it. I will not be speaking about the greater level of cheating and that is following the preferences of wealthy donors and lobbyists. Nor will I address gerrymandering, which puts in office legislators with strident views and insulates them in future elections. Both of these would require their own posts.

Three times in the past year, I have read about or seen a replay of voice votes being conducted by Committee Chairs in the North Carolina General Assembly and US Congress. Voice votes are when the Chair says all in favor say “yes” and all against say “no.” These votes are usually held when they know the outcome will be unanimous or near unanimous. Yet, on these three occasions the Chair, who was in favor of the action, took such a vote on a contentious matter which would have a close vote.

In two of the cases, it was clear the “no’s” won and several folks in the same political party as the Chair said so, but the Chair was predisposed and heard “yes.” When others cried foul, their complaints were not heeded. In the third vote in an US Congressional Committee, the vote followed a very well done impassioned speech trying to give farmers the right to voice their concerns without repercussion against the industry. The industry won in a voice vote, a vote that sounded fairly close and should have warranted a roll call vote. It should be noted that the two votes noted above in NC favored a long-standing industry position.

To further illustrate, we had a former Speaker of the House in NC who led two unsavory votes. On the first, when a legislator realized she had voted wrong, she approached the Speaker to change her vote. Her request was denied and the vote the Speaker favored passed by one. On the second, the Speaker had a tough budget vote. When it passed midnight, he sent everyone home, but told his party to stay close by. He then recalled legislators to the chamber and had a quorum, but many “no” voters were already headed home to their districts and could not return. The budget passed.*

Not to be outdone, we had a former state legislator, who is on record to have participated in two votes where he had a known conflict of interest. He actually had a financial interest in the decision. He did not recuse himself which would have been the ethical thing to do. This is not restricted to NC, where I have seen footage of a Texas legislator who was voting to protect pay-day lenders, while being a marketing person for a pay-day lender. He was admonished on the floor, but that did not stop him from casting his vote.

I recognize fully we have huge problems with money in politics, voter restrictive laws and gerrymandered districts. The money means that the legislator has to win for their funders. The voter restrictive laws and gerrymandering make it easier for them to win an office and stay there. Yet, the money should not permit blatant cheating like the above examples. In each case I mentioned, an industry who had funded a legislator – fossil fuel industry, poultry processing industry, real estate developer industry and pay-day lending industry – each had sway over this politician or the politician had a personal conflict of interest in a vote.

I want to tie these things together, as when you see legislators cheat with parliamentary procedures, it is far worse than Tom Brady’s “Deflategate” cheating with deflated footballs. Brady cheated and is being punished after the fact and his saying that everyone does it is a child’s answer. The greater crimes are noted above.  It is people who have been funded to make votes happen in the favor of the funders. So, we should not say “boys will be boys,” and say everyone does it. We should ask pointedly, why did you cheat like that and who benefits the most? The act of cheating should give you pause about the veracity of the cheater’s position.

* It should be noted we had a previous NC Speaker who accepted a bribe and a previous Governor who got caught up in a real estate boondoggle. So, we have some more tangible cheating issues, but the focus on this post is parliamentary process being short changed to curry favor.