I wrote a piece for an on-line magazine for its spirituality section. Although the article was about forgiveness and love, the editor wanted to put my photo in front of the word hate to accompany the article. After much discussion and protest on my part the photo was changed, but he did so begrudgingly.
One very huge fact bothered me about this. EVERY photo put on the internet stays on the internet forever. The photo of me smiling with the word hate behind me would have gone out onto the world without the accompanying article and would have stood alone without explanation. People Googling my name would pull up the photos of me and there would be my smiling face with the big word HATE behind me.
You may not remember, but I do, the negative impact a standalone photo had on a very young Jane Fonda when she innocently held up a rifle in Vietnam during the war. A photo was snapped of her smiling face holding the rifle and to this day she is still thought by some to be a traitor. But the truth is she was too young to know the reality of what was going to happen and allowed herself to be used and abused as a result. And this was way before the internet.
Love yourself by evaluating what you put out on the internet. Not from fear, but simply from the perspective of knowing it will be around forever. Make sure you are not allowing other people to have any control whatsoever over the image you are leaving out there. Make certain you are proud of what you are saying and doing.
One day my neighbor called to say a woman who lives down the street was taking oranges off the trees in front of my apartment building. I am friendly with the woman and have encouraged her to pick them, so I was not upset—until I learned that in the process of gathering the fruit she had crushed many of the flowers I’d planted below. I went downstairs to find several broken plants.
Later in the week, the woman stopped me on the street. Before I could share my disappointment in finding so many crushed flowers, she spoke up.
“My five-year-old granddaughter insisted we take all the oranges I could reach. I lost my balance and stepped on your flowers. I am so sorry. I also want you to know the oranges were not for us. Every time my granddaughter visits me, she goes through my refrigerator for leftovers and my purse for loose change. Then we walk up the street and she gives them to the homeless man who sits in front of Peet’s coffee shop. That day she wanted as many oranges as possible to give to him, too.”
It took about three weeks for most of the flowers to recover. There was one bald patch. I thought of getting a few more plants to fill it in but decided against it. The spot served to remind me of the loving behavior of the young girl and that it is best not to jump to conclusions because others’ actions are not necessarily what they might seem.
To create deep relationships, avoid problems, and make life easier, we accept it is not responsible to jump to conclusions based on hearsay or prejudicial fear. Instead of buying into negativity or opinion, we care enough about ourselves and others to search for truth.
The aroma of warm gingerbread cookies swirled deliciously around my granny. She was an excellent playmate, thrilling storyteller, and creative tailor of special items to outfit the fantasies of children.
When we skinned our knees, her gentle hugs were comforting. Spilled milk seemed to go unnoticed. There was never an angry, blaming word for a broken dish.
Granny was satisfied with life. Her glass overflowed. She accepted people as they were, laughed easily, and greeted each person with a smile. She did her best to enjoy every day to the fullest. Each of her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren were convinced we were her favorite. She loved and was deeply loved. Yet her life was not easy.
She wanted to attend school but had to stop at the fifth grade because her family needed her to work. Granny was not wealthy, lost her teeth early, and lived with heart disease. She also faced the unimaginable grief of having to bury her five year-old son.
Despite adversity, she did not dwell on or run from the disappointments of life; she courageously faced hardship by grieving, accepting, forgiving, and moving on. She made mistakes. But instead of living with regret, she made the effort to make a better choice the next time she faced a similar situation.
Granny was not afraid of death. She was focused on doing her best, each day, to live in ways she would honestly be pleased to remember. Eighty-five years of doing her finest added up. When she passed away, crowds of people came to pay their respects.
During her memorial service, her spirit was alive in the shared memories of family, friends, and acquaintances. She was praised for creating a life of joy and serenity. People were deeply moved by her humility, kindness, and friendship. Her compassion, trustworthiness, and faith were inspirational.
Each person with whom Granny spent time was touched by her open heart. Though decades have passed since her death, my memories of her have aged well.
When my other grandmother passed away, she did not leave the same memories. Her attitude was negative, her glass always half empty. Nothing was good enough. Life had been too hard.
She placed value on things. My memory of her surrounding herself with fine objects is especially vivid because I was not allowed to sit on the furniture in my grandmother’s living room. I learned not to take it personally. Thinking back, I do not remember anybody ever sitting in her living room.
My grandmother also supported judgmental television evangelists. She sent them money and was especially generous with those who desired to change gay people into God-fearing heterosexuals. At the time, I took this personally. Later, I wondered if she may have felt differently had she known about me.
My grandmother’s lifetime of self-centeredness caused her heart to close. Instead of facing life’s hardships and challenges head on, she attempted to medicate them away. She was constantly ailing and focused on her suffering. As a result, her off putting demeanor kept other people at a distance. At her funeral, people struggled to find positive things to say. It was awkward and embarrassing.
Today, I realize how fortunate I was to know both of my grandmothers. While they were two different people, each taught me by her own example.
One grandmother modeled how to create a life filled with anger, resentment, and loneliness. She did not connect the dots between investing adversely in life and receiving the undesirable in return. She spent her life looking outward for accountability and change. When it did not come, she resorted to blame and increased efforts to control others.
The other grandmother was a positive role model who showed me how life works best. Granny understood she did get back what she put out in the world. She recognized part of loving herself was doing the work necessary to intentionally change any of her behavior that did not feel good to her or to others. She accepted, the greatest legacy we can ever leave is choosing how well we live. I work hard to follow in her footsteps.
I invested twenty years pursuing a formal education. I received a high school diploma, an associate’s degree and my bachelor’s. After being in the work world for many years I returned to earn a master’s degree in management/leadership. It was a three year, forty-eight credit hour executive program which meant I was required to have a certain number of years’ experience in supervisory, management and executive positions to be considered for admissions.It’s been twenty-two years since I received my graduate degree. Before my master’s degree, and after, my work history included running for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. I was privileged to manage, recruit and train large staffs and allocate large budgets. I wrote and implemented several long-term strategic and marketing plans. I hired and released many people during my professional tenure. As CEO and COO I was the spokesperson, the leader, the face of the organization, and liaison to other organizations. Therefore, as the person at the top, the success or failure, while not completely on my shoulders alone, did finally rest with me.
I have an idea of how effective organizations work and the leadership skills necessary to guide them to success. And, while I readily admit I do not know everything about running every organization, I have learned much about what does and does not work. So, here are a few fundamental things I’ve learned. I share these with you as we watch our current political climate unfold because it is always responsible to remember WE THE 325 + Million PEOPLE of the United States are the major (stakeholders) in our country (organization).
Any successful endeavor, whether it is a personal or professional relationship, depends on clear, concise, thorough, frequent and direct communication. There can be no ambiguity, lying, taunting, false news stories, vilifying investigative reporting, bullying, egocentric posturing, or mixed messages in a successful organization. Without transparent, regular, respectful and honest communication there will be NO trust built among workers, stakeholders and constituents. Without trust there will be no success for the leadership. Eventually those who do not communicate effectively and honestly are deemed untrustworthy and are removed from the organization.
Each productive, respected and effective leader gains a majority buy-in of a mission, vision and strategic plan for the organization. A strategic plan is developed with care and great attention to detail. While an organization must remain flexible to move with the ebb and flow of unforeseen circumstances in achieving its goals, a sound and competent leader does not vacillate wildly on the direction of the organization. Organizations do not succeed, long-term, if the goals of leadership and those in positions of power fluctuate crazily or differ from the goals of the majority of shareholders (majority of citizens in our scenario).
Without seasoned and experienced employees in key positions, the drain on organizational resources (money, time, efficiency, strategy, opportunities, relationships, etc.) will be much greater than for a leader who hires the best qualified for a job. Effective leadership hires those with relevant and applicable experience for the position for which they are hired. Leaders know to establish cohesion and effectiveness within the organization there must be appropriate experience in positions of great importance. A real danger to overall organizations success is that those hired (appointed) without the necessary and applicable experience may have conflicts of interest between a personal agenda and the goals of the organization (citizens). Also, inexperience creates a learning curve situation, and naïveté may create challenges and controversies for the organization that experience and training could prevent.
Whether an organization is large or small, the person (people) at the top need to remain in touch with the masses who work for and are benefited by the organization. Listening to those from the lowest to highest levels is mandatory for decision-makers. Without a finger on the pulse of the people who make up an organization (majority of citizens) no leader will be effective or last any length of time. Eventually, organizational culture will disintegrate as a result of leadership disconnectedness. The organization will become stagnated and ineffective. One warning sign of stagnation is that the organization experiences internal conflict and stops producing positive and desired results.
Ethical, moral and legal impeccability begins at the top and is mirrored down the line. Unethical and illegal business dealings will eventually be the downfall of any dishonest organization as stakeholders (citizens) always demand the best behavior from those in positions of power over others. The bottom line is, we truly admire those who remain people of honorable character, no matter how big the bribe. And no corrupt organization can withstand the eventual backlash created by disgruntled stakeholders.
Overall, effective leaders are composed, balanced, honest, and exude an air of dependable, rational mental and physical decorum. Executive excellence is dependent on authentic, humble self-confidence, self-control, forethought, integrity, respect for differing points of view and a devotion to creating compromise. Only the world’s autocrats, dictators and tyrants view those who disagree with them as enemies. True leaders welcome differing as an effective tool to the collaborative process. Effectual leadership knows cooperative dialogue and varying points of view results in the best solutions to challenges. Successful leaders know they do not know everything.
Do you remember the movie “Network”? If not, check out protagonist Howard Beale’s impassioned speech from it on YouTube: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” Mad as hell is how I want you to feel also, because in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “A good indignation brings out all one’s powers.”
It’s time for you and me to get and stay fired up in a positive, peaceful and purposeful way, because, to be a great United States of America, we must value being governed by a principled and united leadership. Since the election of 1796, we’ve been a nation of two-party divisiveness. That was the time in our history when, as voters, we began to express allegiance to one party or the other. The elder statesmen of the American Revolution imagined the two-party system as being temporary. They failed to foresee the grip party affiliation would have on the American voting public. The result, our current nasty political atmosphere, is simply the continuation of a long tradition.
The constant battle between sides to stay in control has resulted in politicians being known as bullies, liars and casters of blame who shun personal responsibility, ego-box for sport, avoid coming to the table with feasible solutions to the issues we face and who refuse to assume accountability for their part in our stagnated system. Having fallen victim to greed and moneyed influence, deaf to the voices of the American people, they are destroying the very fabric of our democracy. These are not the values of great, cooperative leaders, but they have become the norm in Washington because we are accepting them as the norm within our media, entertainment, dialogue and daily social interactions. As voters, we can no longer deny our moral, ethical and spiritual accountability in the Washington politics fiasco.
In the wisdom of Rabbi Abraham Heschel, “Few are guilty, but all are responsible.” We, the American people, must admit one thing and care about it: irresponsibility and apathy are our greatest weakness. We must realize the wheel of inaction and fighting to maintain control will continue to spin round and round while you and I are left, like hamsters on that wheel, to suffer the consequences of a perpetually ineffective government. For this reason, you and I must get righteously mad and join together to courageously face and defeat an out-of-control Goliath: the disgusting, irresponsible and self-centered legacy we are continuing to write with our lack of focus on being a country of well-informed, active and noble citizens.
When we, the American people, place the greatest importance on being a nation filled with educated, employed, involved, nonviolent, healthy, accepting, positive, honest and responsible people, we will thoughtfully identify public servants who bring with them proven track records as respectable leaders of outstanding, honorable resolve. To change an inoperative system, we must first fix what is faulty about ourselves by making character, not party affiliation, the most important qualification for public service. But this requires making integrity the foundation of all that is cherished and practiced in our homes, educational and religious institutions, sports and civic organizations.
As citizens and human beings, our fundamental responsibility is to help create a country we are proud to leave our children, their children and their children. We cannot do this unless we get disgusted with allowing ourselves to continue down the same road of two-party divisiveness and nasty attack ads, fake news, dishonesty, cronyism, nepotism, bullying, greed, abuse of power, ineptitude, while expecting different results. Isn’t that a definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different outcome?
Until we have heart and soul in Washington in the form of personal accountability, integrity, unity, honesty, transparency, competence, and humility, we are going to continue down the divisive path, making it impossible to support a mutually positive agenda to actually move ourselves or our country forward.
President John F. Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” What you and I can do for our country is to step up, by voting in ALL upcoming elections, with mindful and responsible purpose for principled candidates who, through consistent behavior, have proven themselves to be respectful, unbiased, cooperative, honest and effective, no matter their party affiliation.
To those who say this character-based, independent-voter proposal is naïve, impossible, or will not influence lasting change, one of the most freeing and powerful lessons we can learn in moving toward improvement is the benefit of challenging the status quo. Our current lack of principle-based, collaborative thinking to address what is defective about our system of government will continue to limit our ability to create a unified, living legacy of which we are morally and ethically pleased and for which we will be proudly remembered. An unwillingness to look candidly at our weaknesses only perpetuates a very dangerous and arrogant ignorance. It’s time to wake up to this.
Until we courageously move ourselves outside the box of what we tolerate as acceptable in our personal and collective behavior, we will remain blind to the fact true strength, power and clarity of purpose are only found in people of principled character. Current Washington politics and the inherent divisiveness of our two-party system are at odds with the behaviors we can truthfully label honorable.
In order to actually be an outstanding nation, we must value being a nation of outstanding people. As citizens, parents, teachers, clergy, public servants and voters, it’s time to get mad as hell so our righteous indignation moves us into valuing a shared standard of honest, transparency and principled excellence.
Albert Einstein said, “The high destiny of the individual is to serve rather than to rule.” By moving away from electing politicians to choosing servant-leaders who work for “We the People,” we will increase the pool of qualified candidates, those who have the intelligence and heart to design a new system in which compromise and efficiency bring about lasting positive change. A diverse and dedicated collection of experienced people of integrity is our best hope to end business as usual in Washington. To thrive, we must find creative, cooperative and effective ways of accomplishing this, so our great nation once again leads the world in a beneficial, peaceful and sustainable direction. But, to do so, we must first become a nation of people who stay mad as hell about growing these new leaders, by being a nation of people who most value great people of honorable character.