Lead With Your Heart. Sometimes.

One of the favorite stories I love to share comes up when I introduce lending to new hires in my job at the credit union. I make the story fit my curriculum at work but I’ll share with you what really happened.
A guy, I’m just going to call him Mike, came in to get a loan. The thing was, Mike saw me often to get a loan but I was never able to give him one. Mike had a good job but had made some poor financial choices in the past and held more debt than any man ever should. I knew that every month it was likely he needed to make the decision to eat or pay his bills. I just wasn’t able to do anything for him that wouldn’t make his situation worse.
A lot goes into the measure of a man. Mike could just never say no to his family. The repeated loan requests were always for the benefit of his wife or daughter and never about him. One beautiful spring day he came into my office and sat heavily in the chair across my desk. He had been crying. I acted as if I hadn’t noticed. He needed fifty bucks to get him through to payday because his daughter had been invited to Prom. His wife and daughter would make a dress. He was certain she would be the most beautiful girl at the prom… if he could only get his hands on fifty bucks… to buy a bit of cloth.
Everything about this loan was wrong. Credit worthiness, IMG_0086capacity to repay and the loan fell below my minimum loan requirements. I made the loan. You might ask why I didn’t just hand the guy fifty but I knew he wouldn’t have accepted it that way. I set him up for a ninety day note and by the time you add up the cost of toner, the documents, the statements and the data processing expenses it was a loser of a deal no matter what interest rate I would have charged him. But sometimes doing business isn’t about making the best deal.. Sometimes doing business is affording another a little dignity and that is what this was about. As the papers came out of my printer and I spun them for a signature I noticed Mike sitting taller and looking about ten years younger.
I have made some good loans in my day. College loans, vacation loans, wedding loans, car loans and home loans. Few things are better than handing a check to someone to make their dreams come true. That being said, no loan ever gave me more satisfaction than handing over that fifty dollar loan draft on that beautiful spring day. We locked eyes and shook hands. A lot can be communicated through a handshake when you look a man in the eye. I think I never saw more resolve and gratitude than in that moment. Still, no matter Mike’s intention at that point, I had assumed that I would pay off this loan before it went delinquent. I never had to.  I’ve heard people brag about making the best deals, the biggest deals and so many deals, believe me, I’m just not impressed. I want to know what’s in a man’s heart. If he works hard and struggles for others then I’m impressed.
I got lucky on that loan. I explained it to my board and they weren’t happy but they trusted that my heart was in the right place. We need more of that these days. There are times when leading with your heart is the right thing to do. Oh! And Mike came back after prom and showed me pictures. My favorite was the one where he stood tall beside his daughter with the look of the proudest father in the history of fatherhood apparent in his smile. It’s likely his daughter was the most beautiful girl at the prom.

A Story About Ducks, Football and The American Dream.

It was homecoming of my senior year at Cedar Falls High School. Time was running out and we had a 21-0 lead over cross town rivals from Central Waterloo. I didn’t have a spectacular high school football career but I like to think I played an important role for the team. Eleven starters had bravely defended our goal for the entire game. They were able, in part, to do that because I and my duck squad had learned the opponent’s tendencies and prepared our team for what they might see in the game. That’s the thing about teamwork; victories are often the result of unseen contributions.IMG_0083
I was captain of the ducks but I’m not sure how the name “ducks” was attributed to our practice squad. Washington park had a pond that was home to a flock of ducks and I assume the name originated with less than complimentary intent. Regardless, by the time I was in high school the moniker had its own sense of honor.
We were fortunate to play our home games in the local university’s domed stadium. The air supported cloth roof had flashed throughout the game as a raging thunderstorm lit up the October night sky. The fans were jubilant as the defense struggled to maintain the shutout. The Chargers were driving toward the end zone. It was time for my ducks to shine. We were fresh. We were hungry. We wanted our taste of this victory in the understood contact that we got to play when games were well in hand. Two minutes left.
The coach hadn’t looked our way. I called out. “Coach! It’s duck time.” One minute thirty remaining. Maybe he hadn’t heard me. “Coach! We’re ready.” “Not now Willy” he said. A couple more plays went by and my duck squad was looking to me with hope in their eyes. Another play. The clock ticked under a minute. I was mad. I saw what was going on. The coach wanted the shut out. I stepped in front of the coach and fighting back tears of rage yelled, “Coach! We want to play! Now!” For his own reasons the coach turned his back on me. Time expired. The shutout was in the books.
9EDB06D9-BF91-4CA3-9679-1546807C72CBOur high school and locker room was a couple of miles from the stadium. Normally the bus ride home after any victory was marked with macho and boisterous bravado in the manner only teen age boys are capable of. But there was no hooting. No hollering. No chanting. No laughter or talks of events after the game. There was only some murmuring; maybe a sniffle here and there as the bitter disappointment from the unrewarded hours and hours of hard work and dedication sank in.
It was still pouring rain. It was a seriously reduced visibility kind of rain. And as the bus pulled up behind our gym I looked down disgustingly at my glaringly white game pants. I made sure to get to the front of the bus before the doors opened and I looked back at my team. “I’ll tell you what! I didn’t get to play tonight but I’ll be damned if they aren’t going to have to wash my uniform!” I ran off the bus and swan dove into the muddy field beside our school. As I came to the end of my slide teammates, all of them, ducks and starters alike, were sliding past me. The first sounds of joy filled the air as we frolicked in the mud.
The coach was waiting at the door when we went in. He didn’t say anything but he looked me in the eye and I knew he knew. He was a great coach but had made a mistake that night. He knew it. We knew it. Sometimes that’s enough.
I thought about this story because I’m seeing more and more stories of people banding together to challenge adversity. Western society is hierarchical in its own ways and just like my heart swelled when my team had my back I have to believe we encourage people who feel at risk when we show them support. There are many changes facing our country these days. Nearly every psychological need is at risk by one person or another in America today. To fully grasp what it requires to be our best certain hierarchical needs must be met. From Maslow’s great work:
1. Biological and Physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep.
2. Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear.
3. Love and belongingness needs – friendship, intimacy, trust and acceptance, receiving and giving affection and love.
4. Esteem needs – achievement, mastery, independence, status, prestige, self-respect, respect from others.
5. Self-Actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

You can see how these things are at risk for many in our community under the Trump administration. Only by standing together will we be able to ever truly celebrate home coming. Let’s make the world a better place. Resist. Persist.

That’s Just How We Do Things Around Here

There’s a story about an experiment involving five monkeys that has been floating around and is popular in management seminars. Basically it goes like this:
IMG_0080A scientist put five monkeys in a room and in the middle of the room was a ladder with bananas on the top of it. Every time a monkey went up the ladder to get a banana, the scientist sprayed the other monkeys with ice cold water. The monkeys didn’t like that. The monkeys learned that they would be sprayed if another monkey climbed the ladder so they would attack any monkey that got near the ladder. Eventually, none of the five monkeys dared to go up the ladder in spite of the covered bananas. Once the behavior was learned the scientist no longer sprayed the monkeys because none would go near the ladder.
One day the scientist replaced one of the monkeys with a new monkey. The first thing the new monkey did was head for the ladder to get the bananas. Immediately the other monkeys attacked. It didn’t take very long for the new guy to learn he didn’t want a banana that bad so he quit going near the ladder. After some time, a second monkey was substituted and the same thing occurred. Interestingly, first new monkey eagerly joined in the beating of the second monkey even though he had never been sprayed. Then a third monkey was exchanged and the same thing happened.. The fourth monkey was substituted, same result. Finally the fifth and final original monkey was replaced so none of the monkeys remaining had ever been sprayed with ice water. None would climb the ladder. When the scientist asked the monkeys why, they replied, “We don’t know. That’s just the way we’ve always done it around here.”
It’s a pretty dark story but I imagine the point resonates with most of us; that we all have some things we do in life and we aren’t sure why, What is that? It’s not even always about comfort or complacency. Hearing that story has me wondering what things I do that don’t make much sense. My weight is always a challenge and it’s possible that some of that is conditioned response. I have validation issues, just a little bit though. (wink) What is it that makes me crave approval? Or how about judgement? When I hear someone refer to liberals as elitists I want to thank them. Because I do see liberals as more evolved and deep down…I know that’s not right.
There are many things in a given day that rob me of my Zen. IMG_0081People with more than 15 items in the twelve or less checkout or the old man with a coin purse digging for the exact change shouldn’t bother me. Last second lane mergers, other people’s wild kids, mushy apples and reality TV aren’t worth a flash of negative thought. There’s no sense holding onto things because that’s what I’ve always done. It’s time to let some things go.
I’m glad it’s Friday. Let’s go enjoy some bananas.

Turn That Frown Upside-down

Sometimes you just have to take a step back. I’ve mentioned before that I tend to these pages because it is cheaper than therapy. (wink) I was driving in to work suffering the blue-black darkness of a cold and windy morning (Ok, the sun was actually up but ”blue-black darkness” made for a dramatic scene. Am I right?) But this morning I was just not “feelin’ it.” Generally I’m an IMG_4960advocate of positive attitude but this morning my mind had been become recusant to letting go of a decidedly unhealthy funk. I was wallowing. I was holding on to the divisiveness of my “us versus them” obsessions. I was lamenting the last vestige of winters icy grip because it keeps me from pursuing my outdoor passions. And then there was that battle I have from time to time where I become mired in misplaced expectations. Sounds fun huh?
I’ve participated in enough pity parties to know that part of my problem was I needed to have a talk with God. That works for me. He doesn’t actually talk back but somehow I’m usually able to hear what He would say if He did. I had my talk and then felt the urge to turn on the radio. (See how that works) My car filled with the dramatic aria of Beethoven’s Symphony #9. As I became lost in the powerful chorus of “Ode to Joy” I realized that the cause of my angst was as simple as my focus had been misplaced. Not saying I’m shallow or anything but the revelation came to me as I was thinking about how much I enjoyed the powerful 16 speaker Bose sound system in my car. That chorus combined divergent voices to create heaven on earth. I recognized that the heated leather seats under me were a good placeholder until I could resume those outdoor passions I was longing for. And those expectations I wrestle with? They are mine. It’s kind of ridiculous to imagine things outside of my control have anything to do with aligning in a way that makes the world work the way I imagine it should.
Focus baby. It’s curious that I need to be reminded from time to time that I need to begin my day with gratitude. It’s such a powerful tool. Maybe why it works is simple to someone who understands brain chemistry but I’m just gonna leave that right there. And I’m grateful I don’t have to understand brain chemistry in order to turn my day around. I hope y’all started your day better than I did. If you didn’t, I hope it helps you to know you made this old man happy by just stopping by. You’re groovy and ya know it.
Peace.

What I’m Working On

For all of the tolerance I preach and all of the common ground dialogue I propose I’m really not very good at accepting other people’s way of seeing things. I tend to cling to the notion of my moral superiority when people advocate for free markets over free people, corporate interests over human interests, exclusion over inclusion and religious values over humanitarian values. In many of my arguments I generalize and paint with that broad brush of categorizing all of the opposition to my world view as being selfish, heartless and or ignorant. I never, in my mind, mean that everyone associated with an opposing view is selfish, heartless or ignorant. It is lazy to form my arguments with words that suggest that. More importantly it is ineffective.
Who is going to listen to someone when they condemn first and maybe, possibly listen later? IMG_4958Who is going to want to engage with me when I present my prejudice up front; certainly not the prejudiced racists who voted for Trump? (Just checking to see if you are paying attention.) You know what is telling? For all of the tolerance I preach and all of the common ground dialogue I propose I rarely get the opportunity to engage with those who do not share my sentiment. I complain about polarization and I contribute to the polarity.
It’s no secret that I favor progressive politics. I advocate on these pages that we need to work together to bring about the change we want to see in the world. I recognize that there are many non-negotiables in the values I hold dear but words do matter. Those words not only matter when posted here but they also matter in my inner dialogue. If I am unable to try to understand a person’s reasons for expressing ideas I disagree with there is little chance I will ever convince them to understand mine. I need to do better. Feel free to hold me accountable. Have a great day. Thanks for stopping by.

What About Hope?

I like to think I’m a thoughtful and rational guy. Lately it seems that I am questioning myself more and more. I wonder, is it just me? I get that uncertain feeling because I believe, societally, we are shifting away from civilized behavior. I believe an emboldened racism, xenophobia and misogyny threatens to make the world suck even more than it already does with regard to that kind of ugliness. Not so long ago we had hoped that progress was being made with regard to the more noble elements of humanity. And now, it seems, to have all come crashing down.
There are numerous reports of rising anxiety and even depression as people sense that something is slipping away. Stories of threats, bullying and actual violence permeate the news. Moneyed interests consolidate power and beholding politicians acquiesce at best and enthusiastically comply with the sellout of individual protections. Not to be too hyperbolic but it feels as if some of the policies coming out of Washington legitimately have the feel of institutionalized oppression. And why? In almost every example profits are to be made or power is to be gained. Economic policies are exacerbating income inequality and social issues are being leveraged to polarize the populace within our gerrymandered borders. And nobody is trying to hide it anymore. These are extraordinary times.
The stories of beatings and detention and bullying and threats in the news are heartbreaking. It is inconceivable that people can be like they are when they commit such atrocities. The words from empowered leaders expressing disdain for the concerns of those in their constituency which did not put them in place are dumbfounding. The fact that certain religious institutions condone all of the above is disgusting and the lack of a clear centralized voice in opposition to these forces is absent and alarming.IMG_4952
So I ask again. Is it just me? This stuff keeps me up at night. About the time I start to think things are getting hopeless a report will come out describing someone speaking truth to power or news of coalitions forming by divergent and/or intersectional risk groups. There is growing participation in town halls and people are taking to the streets in the most likely and unlikely places. There is a free press that is energized and hungry to remind us they are professionals no matter how badly we treat them. We seem to be finding a rare unity around common values and embracing the individual strengths of each other to persist and resist. Like a pendulum, when all of it seems so hopeless and insurmountable, we need to remind ourselves that we are many, we are strong and we will push back. We got this.

Trump Support Remains Steady

Are you dumbfounded as to how Donald Trump can possibly maintain the support of his white working class voters? He has. As we watch Trump’s cabinet picks line up to dismantle nearly every institution that safeguards American exceptionalism we keep waiting for the Trump voter to be “woke”. I’m not going to bullet point how the repeal of the ACA disproportionally harms his base or how diverting money from public schools to for-profit tuition based enterprises will disadvantage their children. IMG_0074There is no need to itemize the cost of selling out clean air and water in favor of heavy industry profits. I needn’t explain how the planetary destabilization that has occurred as the light of Lady Liberty has been extinguished to hopeful and desperate refugees around the world. The setbacks to our sense of justice, human rights and income disparity are alarming. The details of such are readily available on every news feed.

Progressive thinkers are mind blown that the expectation of the Trump administration’s fall from grace hasn’t happened. I don’t think it will. Our political ideologies are too entrenched. Conservative media consumers have been conditioned to think the essence of their condition are the fault of a society built with the underlying belief that equal opportunity must abound. Without government intervention an individual stands little chance of striving toward the American dream if it conflicts with powerful interests or the homogenous values which they find themselves separated. We are ships that have long since passed in the night.

But what is it really that holds such a tight grip on those who want to make America great again? What drives those who seem incapable of accepting that the strength and beauty of diversity and inclusion includes them? How do they not recognize that regulations are necessary because capitalism is an economic system, not a values system? How is it that so many are willing to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater because policies protecting some don’t align perfectly with their values? Before we can address the current conservative ideology we need to first consider how unwilling many Trump voters really are to engage with us and consider our point of view. When you read the comments on news feeds, visit social media or listen to call in shows one thing is clear. Many Trump voters are so thrilled that liberals find themselves in anguish that they can’t even begin to consider what the dismantling of the protections and safety nets our government afford will mean to them.

When we are reminded elections matter, oh do we know it, or are told to quit whining and move on we need to consider how our message is being heard. Trump voters are ecstatic with their victory and presumption that it was a rejection of liberal ideals. They should be happy they won. They are fools to assume the latter. Regardless of the challenges we face in the coming years we must persist in confidence that all that we stand for supports a better world for all of us, including our political rivals. They don’t have to ever say it but I hope one day they will appreciate it.

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