Defend the absent

Dr. Wayne Dyer was a prolific author and speaker introducing many to his life coaching skills. He had a common sense, not-preachy way of offering his counsel. One of my favorite lessons of his is to “defend the absent.”

What does that mean? When his children would speak ill of a classmate, he would take up for that person. When his children would complain, he would say, since he or she is absent from this conversation, I thought I would defend him or her.

His point was two-fold. First and foremost, no one is perfect. No one. Second, talking about someone without knowing all of the circumstances, does not permit the target of the criticism to defend him or herself. Not that they did not do wrong, but they are not there to defend themselves.

I mention this today as there seems to be open game on anyone with a public history. We seem to judge past actions based on current norms that oversimplifies the issues and context of the day. I am not defending or condemning any decision, I am saying context is important.

As an example, LBJ was a good public servant, but coarse man. There was no better leader to navigate major legislation on Civil Rights, Voting Rights, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Often, he offended people who wanted him to move faster or not move at all. Yet, he horse-traded his way through and these bills were signed into law. He appealed to people’s better angels, knowing he would likely drive some folks from his party.

Former Senator and Vice-President Joe Biden is a good person and public servant. He may or may not be the best candidate for President, but his long history will reveal the good, the bad and the ugly of governing. He is known to be a collaborator and, in spite of the opinions of strident party members on both sides, we are in need of collaboration to get things done. Collaboration is not a dirty word.

So, as Democrats consider candidates, please do so through the lens of context and defense of the absent. Why did someone vote a certain way? Why did they compromise with someone who would make your blood boil? What favor was traded to get a key bill passed?

Defend the absent. There are no perfect people. Even Mother Theresa had faults and doubts, and she was one of the finest people to walk the earth.

Advertisements

Summer of ’69 – a few things to remember

While 1968 was a year of significant occurrences, we are now reflecting on the events of fifity years ago in 1969. Bryan Adams sang of this year from a personal standpoint in “Summer of ’69,” so it is a great way to kick off:

“I got my first real six-string
Bought it at the five-and-dime
Played it till my fingers bled
It was the summer of ’69
Me and some guys from school
Had a band and we tried real hard
Jimmy quit and Jody got married
I should’ve known we’d never get far
Oh when I look back now
That summer seemed to last forever
And if I had the choice
Ya I’d always want to be there
Those were the best days of my life”

This song was penned by Adams and James Douglas Vallance and reveals how the band was so important to the life of the singer. Yet, I find of interest how he interjects how life rears its head and alters the dreams. I do not know how autobiographical the song is, but I am glad Adams stuck with it, as he has crafted and performed many memorable songs.

Fifty years ago, we saw the final straw that caused action to occur on environmental protection. Following the reaction to Rachel Carson’s push with ‘Silent Spring,” the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire as it was so polluted by chemical dumping. Seeing this in retrospect, it amazes me that companies would dump or drain chemical run-off into a river and be surprised by the result. Within six months, President Nixon inked the law to create the Environmental Protection Agency, one of his two greatest accomplishments (opening dialogue with China was the other).

Later this summer, we will reflect on Neil Armstrong taking “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” as he is the first human to walk on the moon. Buzz Aldrin would soon join him for a lunar walkabout. These actions opened up science as a possible career for many young people and it also showed us that we are mere occupants on our planet. So, it is crucial we take care of where we live for our children and grandchildren. Maybe this helped provide additional context for enacting the EPA.

In August, will be the fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock where 300,000 or so people ventured to a farm in upstate New York for a three day concert. This event still amazes me and I am intrigued by a friend’s recounting of what happened as he was there as a young college student. From his view, he remembers there were so many people, things like food, water and restrooms were dear. He recalls making food runs for people. The music and atmosphere were wonderful, but the challenges are overlooked in memory.

Finally, people who do not follow baseball or football will yawn, but this was the year of two huge upsets, which in actuality, should not have been as surprising. In January, Broadway Joe Namath led the New York Jets over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl. Namath had bragged that they would win the game the preceding week, but what many failed to realize, Namath had a terrific set of receivers and two of the best running backs in the game. This win led to the merger of two rival football leagues.

In October, the New York Mets easily won the baseball World Series over the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles (it was a tough year for Baltimore fans). For the first part of the decade, the new Mets were the worst team in baseball. What was underestimated by the Orioles is the Mets had two future Hall of Fame pitchers – Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan and another excellent one in Jerry Koosman. Good pitching will beat good hitting almost every time. I mention these two events as when you look under the hood, the outcomes are less surprising, even though they were at the time.

The decade ended with two eventful years. Unfortunately, the US remained in Vietnam fighting a war which, we learned later, we knew we could not win. Many Americans and Vietnamese died, as a result fighting a war that would last several more years. We should remember people die in wars, before we go out and fight another one. As a Vietnamese soldier said in Ken Burns’ documentary on the war, people who feel they can win a war, have never fought in one.

 

 

Sometimes you have to go for it

Yesterday, golfer Gary Woodland won the US Open at Pebble Beach. For non-golf fans, I will be brief on the golf part. What was most memorable, Woodland decided on a key moment to not play it safe, but be aggressive and play to win. He hit an absolutely brilliant shot that led to a birdie on a par five and put him two shots ahead of the two-time defending champion.

As a former athlete who was limited in talent to playing on high school teams, the act of “going for it,” is an act of courage. You may fall on your face, but by taking a risk, even if it is a measured one, it may make all the difference. Why does the best basketball player usually take the key final shot when the other team is expecting him to do so? Because if you don’t and fail, you may regret not going with your best.

And, as one star basketball player said, I try to take the last shot because I can handle failure better than others. That last statement is vital. Taking a risk is a lot easier if you know you can handle a negative outcome.

There is a great line from the movie “We bought a zoo,” with Matt Damon. His older brother taught him “all you need is twenty seconds of courage.” I think that is priceless advice. In the movie Damon’s character summoned the courage to speak with an enchanting woman he had never met. And, she eventually became his wife. What if we don’t take that chance?

Again, the risk need not be foolish, but sometimes it is more than OK to go for broke. A measured risk is worth the chance. Yet, we often overstate the risk and perceived embarassment of failure, when the actual risk is more measured. As I told my kids, “What if the person says no? No, is just an answer, but it at least it is one.” Without asking, you will never know if there is interest in your company, your resume, your idea, etc.?

So, find that twenty seconds of courage and go for it. The answer may be no, but at least you gave it a shot.

 

The catcher was a spy

I caught a movie on Showtime whose title intrigued me, “The catcher was a spy.” The movie is based on tne true story of a major league catcher named Moe Berg who played for the Boston Red Sox before World War II. While an average pro, he became an exceptional spy for the OSS, the precursor to the CIA.

His path to being a spy is not so strange, as Berg was also a professor of history who spoke seven languages, four of them fluently. Since three of those languages were German, Italian and French, he became a rather useful spy. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for confirming the Nazis were not as close to developing a nuclear bomb as the US was. It is still debated whether the lead physicist Werner Heisenberg was purposefully moving slowly or it was a resource issue.

Berg is played believably by Paul Rudd. Mark Strong does justice to Heisenberg. The movie has other high caliber actiors: Jeff Daniels. Sienna Miller, Tom Wilkinson, Paul Giamatti, Guy Pearce, Giancarlo Giannini, Hitoyuki Sanada and Connie Nielson.

If you get a chance to see this excellent movie, please take it. For those who don’t like baseball, don’t worry as it is very light on that part of his career. It is also seasoned by the relationship between Berg and his girl friend Estella Huni, played by Miller. Berg is a close-to-the-vest person, so he is not sufficiently effusive for a relationshlp, yet he does have a depth of feeling.

What is amazing is how Berg’s story is not better known. Yes, he was a spy, but a major league catcher and honored spy? To make him even more mysterious, he did not accept the medal.

**************************

Note, the movie is directed by Ben Lewin and is based on a novel of the same name by Nicholas Dawidoff. Robert Rodat wrote the screenplay. I enjoyed the movies better than the critics. I think it is do to the movie focusing on the complex person Berg was, rather than overplaying his heroics,

 

Competition and collaboration

I am reading a wonderful book on the life of Paul Simon. His story of dedication and diligence to his craft is an amazing read. He is a highly competitive, yet very collaborative professional. And, he notices these qualities in others.

Simon noted after meeting the driving forces of The Beatles, he saw how competitive John Lennon and Paul McCartney were. They made each other better trying to outdo the other. But, they also were highly collaborative with each other and other musicians within the band and recording studio.

Don Henley and Glenn Frey of The Eagles were similar. Like Simon and the lead Beatles, Henley and Frey are highly prolific songwriters. Yet, they worked relentlessly on their harmonies. They were as close to flawless as possible. Regardless of who sang the lead, the others contributed to making the music sound even better.

The Beatles were known for their harmonies as well, with numerous takes and much practice. Like The Eagles, regardless of the lead, they all worked together to get the right sound, either vocally or instrumentally. There is a great documentary on the making of Sgt. Pepper that highlights the competition and collaboration which created the most acclaimed album of its time.

Back to Paul Simon, he and Art Garfunkel would practice their harmonies facing each other to watch the other’s mouth as they sang. They even preferred to record singing in one mike because rhey felt it sounded better. And, like The Beatles, Simon constanty pursued makig the music better collaborating with other musicians who brought different styles of music.

Plus, Simon is competitive due to being told he was not tall enough, he wasn’t good enough, he didn’t have the right birthplace to be a folk singer, he wasn’t rock-n-roll enough, he couldn’t sing as well as Garfunkel, etc. Simon just learned his craft behind the scenes even going to England where he was more accepted for his unique style and songwriting.

Competition is a good thing. Yet, checking egos and working together make the product even better. Collaboration is vital, otherwise the competition can become unproductive through sabotage or rooting for failure. The dysfunction in Congress and White House are obvious examples where the absence of collaboration is stifling progress.

So, it is more than fine to compete, but do collaborate. That added seasoning could make all the difference.

 

When memories of loved ones pop up unexpectedly

I watched a poignant video where a young woman was presented with a birthday gift of a talking teddy bear. The bear had a prerecorded voice and she soon realized the voice was her father’s speaking to her using her name. It brought tears as her dad had passed away a year before.

This beautiful story made me think of two poignant movie scenes and a real story. The first movie scene is from “Peggy Sue got married.” Kathleen Turner played Peggy Sue, who went back in time to avoid marrying her boyfriend who eventually left her. The poignant scene occurs when she answers the phone at her mom and dad’s house and hears her grandmother’s voice, who had died years before her time travel occurred. It gives me chills to write this as she spoke to a departed loved one once again.

The other movie scene is from “Field of Dreams,” with Kevin Costner. After building a baseball field in his corn crop, the now deceased players of the Chicago White Sox, who had been banned for gambling, appear to play. But, the real reason he is inspired to build the field is his father comes to play as a young man and former ballplayer. When he asks his dad for a game of catch, it is a very emotional for me as I used to play catch with my father.

While these movies are dramatically poignant, we came across an old cassette tape of my father-in-law singing. Before he passed in 1997, he used to play guitar and sing in clubs, bar mitzvahs, birthday parties, church, senior living centers, etc. So, we just sat and listened to his crooning, as he performed old standards from the 1940 – 60s. It was a treat for my wife and me. One of my favorite memories is returning from New York at night, with him and my mother-in-law singing old songs like these while riding in the back seat.

Cherish your memories, especially when they unexpectedly pop up. Sometimes, all it takes is a prompt – a song, a movie clip, an old friend, or an old piece of clothing – to flush out the memories.

Make me smile

Humorous things pop up when you least expect them. In this spirit, here are a few surprising and funny things that make me smile. I hope you will as well.

We called my grandmother Big Mama which was not an unusual moniker in the south. While Big Mama had a piano, I never saw her play. One day she saw me chop-sticking and sat down. When she obliged my request to play, I expected something classical. What I heard was flat out boogie-woogie. And, it was well-played. She added to my surprise saying she played by ear.

My mother surprised me by telling of the time my father was visiting her at a pond near the female college dorms while they were dating. Lingering near the female dorms was frowned upon in the late 1940s at this small college. When she espied the female dean watching them, she playfully pushed him and he fell into the pond. That certainly disarmed the situation.

My date and I were at a community theatre which was held in a church hall. The audience sat in fold out chairs on chorus risers. We were in the last row about eighteen inches off the ground. After intermission, unbeknownst to me, one of my rear chair legs moved off the riser. As I sipped my wine, my date appeared to be going forward, but actually I was falling backward and crashed on the floor with a loud boom. Everyone turned. I was not hurt, but it sure was funny later.

Finally, another date became offended when I asked if we could use her car, so my visiting friend could borrow mine. Unfortunately, she told me she did not want to go out after I arrived. In a huff, I tried to back down her diagonal and downhill driveway. Unfortunately, I backed into a rock garden and got stuck. Her father had to tow me off the garden with her watching from the living room window. Oops. It was funny by the time I told my friend, but at the time…

What are your unexpected funny stories?