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Live, Love and Let Go

August 22nd, 2009

Of all the phrases that have been directed toward me during my lifetime (“We have a deal“, “It’s a girl!”, “You are cancer free!“, “It’s a boyl!”, “You’re starting today’s game“, “It’s another girl!“, “You flushed what down the toilet?”) perhaps no other phrase has consistently touched me (except for “I do” or “I love you“) than the one I heard last night, “Hold me Daddy“.

Hold me daddy
. As the old saying goes, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that, I would be a rich man.

Last night I did not actually hear those words. Rather I felt them resound in my soul.

I dropped my oldest daughter off at college yesterday. She is a freshman, starting her first year…away from home. What on earth was I thinking? Can she really be ready to face the world as an adult? Without her dad? Or is it that I am not quite ready to face the world without her?

As I hugged her one last time to say goodnight, a flash of images raced through my mind: lifting her as a crying infant out of her crib when it was time to nurse; pulling her two year old body up onto the sofa so she could lay on my chest in the early morning after waking; grasping her hands to dance around the room, a princess in her imaginary castle; hoisting her up on my shoulders to carry her the rest of the way through the zoo; holding her hand to lead her across a crowded parking lot; stretching out my arms to catch her as she jumped off the side of the pool and into the water for the very first time; grabbing one handle bar and sprinting (huffing and puffing) alongside her as she learned to peddle a bicycle without training wheels; grabbing her little fingers and providing balance as she took her first steps; placing her hands at the 10 and 5 positions on the steering wheel as she figured out how to become independently mobile for a second time…then last night, helping her push open her dormitory door as she entered a whole new world.

As a father, I have spent the past 18 years – some 6,700 days – holding her hand, pulling her up, helping her balance, lifting her, guiding her, protecting her, comforting her – all very much a hands-on approach. And then, just like that, one day – yesterday – she was gone.

The proverbial freight train had slammed into me with all its force. For months I had seen it coming; bearing down on me from way down the tracks. The collision was inevitable. No doubt it would hit me, the only thing in question was just how hard. I have learned the answer: much harder than I imagined. No matter how I prepared for impact, it wasn’t enough.

My daughter is an amazing person; straight-A student, state track champion, salutatorian, children’s hospital volunteer - all things she achieved that make her mom and dad feel quite humbled. Yet she is not defined by these honors and platitudes. Rather, she is a mature adult… (gulp!)…one who lives by conviction, makes great decisions, and who loves, gives, and gives her all. And those are the things that make me so very proud of her. She really is one of the finest people I know. And I know there is an amazing destiny in the works for her that will be unbelievably exciting and fulfilling…

…I just won’t be there to catch her, guide her, balance her or hold her as she navigates this part of the journey.

And that’s where the old conflict of interest rears its head – wanting her to grow into all that is purposed for her, yet still wanting to be there to witness every step along the way.

Sheesh. Somebody please hold me!

It practically ripped the heart right out of my chest to say goodbye last night, yet I recognized that this is the next step in this mysterious grand plan that is set for her life – no, each of our lives. For my daughter, it is a step into a new season, into the next stage in pursuing her destiny. For me, it is another step, gut-wrenching as it may be, in learning not to hold on, but to let go.

I never knew that letting go would be so difficult.

There is a quote I love, have tried to live by in fact: “Greater love has no man that this: that he lays down his life for a friend.”

It tells us that the greatest rewards in life come not through personal gain, rather through personal sacrifice; laying down our lives, our desires, our selfish ambition, so that others might benefit. There is no greater love.

This is the essence of parenting. And it is radical. It is also the essence of true relationships of every kind. The fundamental core of loving is giving of yourself. If we truly want to love, and demonstrate that love, it means selfless giving, laying down our own desires, putting others before you…and knowing when to hold on and when to let go.

This is radical. It flies in the face of our self-centered and self-seeking nature. Yet it is also where true fulfillment, meaning and real living is found.

In the same way that I once let go of those little fingers and watched her toddle across the room, in the same way I let her slide through my arms and splash into the water of the pool, in the same way I released the handlebar, and in the same way I stepped out of the car’s passenger seat, I am letting go and letting her head down the path toward her destiny - bumps, bruises, scrapes and all that may come.

And so I see now, that the purpose of those moments racing through my mind last night was not to moisten my keyboard, but to remind me that this is all about letting go, about laying it all down.

I recalled the day after my daughter was born. As the nurses handed her to us and waved while we left the hospital, my wife and I turned to each other and said, “What in the world are they doing letting us take this baby home? Don’t they know we have no idea what we are doing?”

With similar angst from that day 18 years ago, I turned to leave my daughter’s dorm room last night, knowing that once in crossing that threshold the real umbilical cord would be cut, and that I was walking away from my baby girl and into a present and future that would be immediately radically altered.

As I took those agonizing steps away, the emotional blur of memories, the rush of feelings, and the flood of tears was suddenly jolted to a halt when I heard those familiar words once again.

Hold me daddy!

I looked down to see my 5 year old daughter, arms outstretched toward me. As I leaned over to pick her up and hoist her up into my arms, I realized that I am indeed already a very rich man.

My sincere hope is that you can say that too.

Steve

ps. would love to read your comments!

Chip Hilton Lives

December 16th, 2008

“Nice guys finish last.” - Leo Durocher

“Leo the Lip” as he was not so affectionately called, could not have been more wrong. At least not this year.

As football fans watched intently for the results of the 2008 Heisman Trophy voting last Saturday night, the winner had already been determined: us.

Not in years have we been given us three such players to root for. Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy and the recipient of the award, Sam Bradford are throwbacks. Not just in the way they play the game, but in the way they live their lives.

Older reporters at the Heisman ceremony had to pinch themselves, thinking they were in some sort of 1930’s, ’40’s, ’50’s or ’60’s dream, reliving the days of Nile Kinnick, Doak Walker, Pete Dawkins and Roger Staubach. But this was not then, this is now. And these men are the real McCoy, Tebow and Bradford.

All three wowed us on the field with their amazing exploits: Bradford’s 48 touchdown passes, McCoy’s 77% completion rate, and Tebow’s air precision (only 2 interceptions) and ground assault made them the three best players in America.

And winners.

Just one loss marred the season records of each of their teams. If three teams could play in the BCS national championship game (which actually might be better than the current BCS system), these would have been the three; finishing 1-2-3 in all of the polls. Bradford’s Oklahoma Sooners and Tebow’s Florida Gators got the two spots, in a decision that was as hotly debated as the Heisman voting. Any of three there could have won the award, and their play demonstrated that all three were worthy.

More than that, each could have been the model for the Chip Hilton books of the 1950’s. The book series written by late Hall of Fame basketball coach, Clair Bee, depicted a mythical schoolboy athlete who was everybody’s All-American. Great on the field and in the classroom, Chip Hilton was the penultimate hero who threw touchdown passes, kissed his mom, patted the dog and befriended everyone. He was Bee’s ideal for what a scholar-athlete should be.

For decades no one thought Chip Hilton existed, or could exist, in the current landscape of college sports…until this year, when he was resurrected in Tebow, McCoy and Bradford.

Already a legend at the University of Florida, Tebow is the son of Christian missionaries. Rather than hitting the south Florida beaches, he spent his spring break in the Philippines helping doctors perform surgery and sharing his personal story of faith with the masses. Defying the long-held stereotype of the Christian athlete as being soft, he met the press following the team’s upset loss to Mississippi and told them they would never see a player work harder to help his team succeed, nor see a player help push his teammates to be successful. He was right. They hadn’t. His will and his play carried the Gators to the championship game.

McCoy is from Tuscola, TX, population 750.  That’s right 750. More people live in his dorm at University of Texas than live in his hometown. The Church of Christ kid has already saved a man from drowning and helped Longhorn fans get over the fact that Vince Young couldn’t continue his professional career at UT. He also dedicated the season to his cousin, Grant Hinds, a marine who passed away after returning from active duty in Iraq.

Bradford is the quarterback who helped Oklahoma shatter the modern single-season scoring record. He is also part Cherokee Indian and has given the Cherokee nation a new role model; and deservedly so. He was self-effacing upon receiving the Heisman. He first thanked God, then his parents, his extended family, his coaches, his teammates, high school coaches, his friends…the equipment manager, the waterboy. It was a remarkable display of selflessness.

John W. Heisman would have stood and cheered had he been there to see it all. What the man who gave the trophy his name would have seen is three young men – each a model of humility, character and goodness. They are three young men who live the Brian Piccolo motto: God is first; others are second; I am third; three men who demonstrate the true heart of a champion by placing team above self, people above possessions, and honor before honors.

It is a dramatic turn from a 30-year period in which the focus was on the individual, who did nothing to discourage drawing attention to himself. The Miami Hurricane teams of the ’80’s, the Boz, Heisman poses, and so many other demonstrations over the years that said “Look at me”, became the norm. When we look at the soap operas that exist at the NFL level today, is there any wonder why?

While the Heisman Trophy is not an indicator of future football success, nor are the runner-up positions, it would be hard to argue these young men have not already achieved an even greater success.

This year, three 21-year olds from “middle America” have changed the landscape. This year, nice guys do finish first.

Chip Hilton lives. And it is great for college football, great for sport in general and great for us.

Red, White, and Blue?

July 7th, 2008

As our celebration of Independence Day rolled around this week, I found myself in deep thought. As I sat on the beach, enjoying our family vacation, three main thoughts struck me.

I know what you are thinking: Oh great! Here comes another one of those pieces packed with a plethora of patriotic platitudes and political propaganda!

Well, no, not quite. And it wasn’t just an excuse for a little alliteration.

The three thoughts actually did revolve around red, white and blue, but these thoughts may be a bit different than you might expect. And being the backward thinker that I am, I thought about them backwards. Blue, White and Red. Kind of a dyslexic approach I know, but it seemed to work for me (or at least for this column).

My first thought was of how incredibly fast the last year has flown by. Can it really be 365 days ago I sat here on this same beach watching my brother-in-law turn his thumb to cinder while doing his best Clark Griswold imitation in giving us a great fireworks show? In anticipation of this year, I’m thinking of bringing him a pair of gloves with steel reinforced tips. Either that or a really long lighting device.

So that is the blue of this day, as in feeling a bit blue. The sudden realization, once again, of just how fast time goes is startling and a bit of a downer. Yet, it is a realization that should cause us all to pause (pause…ok, good) and evaluate how we are making use of our time. In the grand scheme of things, our days are few. Yet we are presented the opportunity to use every one of them in meaningful ways.

OK, so Action #1: Don’t be Blue. Make the best possible use of each day, drinking in all that the day has to offer, investing into people and relationships, and seeing to it that every ounce of what I have to offer is emptied out on the things that matter most – like my wife, and kids, and seeing the culture changed, and working toward the lives of others being bettered, and…(fill in your own thoughts here).

So, now you are getting engaged in this piece, and you are thinking what about the white, right? When I thought of white, I thought about purity. The purity of thought, purity of heart is such a great need in our culture today. So much revolves around the profane – both in speech and in innuendo.

Webster’s defines profane as:

1: to treat (something sacred) with abuse, irreverence, or contempt : desecrate; 2 : to debase by a wrong, unworthy, or vulgar use

Unfortunately, in our current culture too few things remain sacred. So much that was once private is now unabashedly in-your-face, and has obliterated a sense of virtue. We need a return to personal and corporate purity. We need to remember that “we are not our own”. Our actions and words do affect others – sometimes greatly. In a return to purity of heart, we would all look to the interests and concerns of others, and how what I do will affect them.

Action #2: “Paint” my heart White again. Remember that I am not my own. I am connected to a family, community, society of others and what I do and say has an effect on all of them as well. If I uphold virtue, then I will help my family, community and society become a bit more virtuous. And if we all did this? (Rhetorical)

So what about the red? (Get ready for the partially patriotic portion of this piece, which is part and parcel of the primary point. Ugh! It’s that dreaded alliteration thing again!)

When I thought of red, I thought of sacrifice. Yes, I did think of the blood that has been spilled by red-blooded young men and women who have sacrificed to protect our freedoms. I also thought of the not-so-young men and women, also red-blooded, who spilled that blood to initially gain us our freedom, when all they had to hold onto was a vision. But I also thought beyond that.

Vision requires sacrifice. It requires a willingness to give up what might stand in the way of that vision being fulfilled. What are you willing to sacrifice so that the vision you have for your life, your family, your marriage, your job, your impact on this world, can be fulfilled? Are you willing to lay some things down in order that the greater things can be achieved? Often it is the thing that seems to be good which keeps us from what is actually best. Forfeiting the “good” so that we can attain the “best” requires sacrifice.

Personal freedom also requires sacrifice. In order for me to truly be free, I will have to sacrifice the things that would otherwise bind me – whether physical or emotional. I will also have to sacrifice of my self for others. True personal freedom comes when I am willing to lay down my wants and desires so that I can lift up others. When I desire to see others become all they can be more than I desire to acquire more “stuff”, I will have to sacrifice something. Yet, the rewards are always greater.

So, Action #3: Go Red. Determine to lay my self interests down so that others may be lifted up. Contrary to our current me-first culture, I have learned this way to be the way of real freedom. It was once said, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for a friend.” I have found that to be true.

Action #4: Enjoy the 4th of July from my spot on the beach again…while helping my brother-in-law keep what is left of his thumb this year.

Action #5: Vow to stop using the string of P alliterations…at least for the rest of this commentary.

It Ain’t Over Until It’s Over

June 30th, 2008

“It ain’t over until it’s over.” - Yogi Berra

yogi

It was the great philosopher…okay, so he wasn’t a great philosopher. He was a great baseball player who happened to have a knack for saying things that were simplistically profound.

While Berra was definitely a better batter than super scholar, his point is well taken. Things really are not at an end, until they reach the true end. (Sounding a bit like Yogi, aren’t I?) What I mean is that when situations look hopeless, there is always still hope.

Do you believe? Let me convince you.

I’m not sure how many of you paid any attention to the College Baseball World Series (the sport’s championship tournament), however, this event gave us one of the greatest stories in sports history. And since sport is the ultimate metaphor for life, there is application in this story for us all.

The Fresno State University Bulldogs were not even supposed to be in the tournament. The team’s regular season record was only 37-27. They did not even win their own conference. They began the season by losing 12 of their first 20 games. They had to come from behind to win the Western Athletic Conference tournament just to make the NCAA field of 64, then fought off elimination in regionals and super regionals, and became the first No. 4-seeded team from a regional ever to advance to the College World Series.

In Omaha, the site of the College World Series, the Bulldogs lived up to their name. Coming into the tournament ranked 132nd in Division I in batting average, 102nd in scoring, they were playing with what looked like a MASH unit. Their best pitcher was injured and out for the season. One of their best hitters had a torn ligament in his left thumb. Another had a torn ligament in his knee. They lost their first game in the double-elimination event. Playing with their proverbial backs to the wall, they proceeded to play through the roof.

Facing elimination, FSU came back from the brink of defeat in five times, down in each game, to win and finally advance to the best-of-three championship final versus the University of Georgia. It was Bulldogs versus Bulldogs. And one dog showed they had a bit more bite and a bit more fight.

Fresno lost the first game 6-1. They were down by 5 runs in game two before erupting for 15 runs late in the game to win. It was yet another return from the brink to play one more day. In the deciding final game, it was clear Fresno was a team of destiny. With a 6-1 win, the team from the central California town that is known most as the largest city in America not directly connected to an interstate highway, took home the school’s first ever national championship in a men’s sport. The Rocky Balboa of college sports reached the Promised Land. No previous national champion has ever had more losses than the Bulldogs with 31, and to do so meant defeating 7 of the top 10 teams in the nation in the post-season.

So was it serendipity?

It was William Jennings Bryan who once said, “Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice.”

The Fresno team won because they did whatever was necessary to win. While they may not have been the most talented, fastest, strongest or deepest team, they were the most tenacious. They never gave up. They understood that destiny is not a matter of the planets aligning properly. Rather, it is a matter of choosing to never let go of the dream.

“It’s mind over matter,” outfielder Steve Detwiler said of playing through the pain and overwhelming challenges. “It’s just a little pain. The pain is temporary. Pride is forever.”

So, I ask you, what is your dream? In life, in your marriage, in your job, in relationships, what is your vision? How are you doing in terms of hanging on to that dream? Are you a bulldog? Your destiny is a matter of your choice – what you choose to believe and what stance you choose to take.

Bulldogs

If you have a vision in your heart (which most of us do), and it is not yet fulfilled, here is a simple piece of advice: hang on.

No matter what the scoreboard shows, even if it’s the bottom of the ninth inning, the opposition you face is formidable, you are on the brink of elimination, and you feel like walking-wounded, do as Winston Churchill once famously told a group of college graduates and, “Never, never, never, never give up.”

After all, it ain’t over until it’s over.

Are You Happy?

June 2nd, 2008

The World Values Survey, a study released in December 2007, shows that among all of the 194 counties in the world, the United States ranks as the 23rd happiest nation on earth. Does that surprise you as much as it did me? I would have thought that a nation whose constitution guarantees its people the right to “the pursuit of happiness” would have ranked higher, wouldn’t you? It can be hypothesized from the lower than expected ranking, that the U.S. is not as happy a nation as we should be; meaning that we have a relatively sizeable amount of unhappy people. With the freedom and prosperity we enjoy, this is somewhat puzzling.

Happy Earth

So what are the keys to personal happiness? Where you live? How much money you have?

According to the study, these are not the key contributing factors. If they were, we would all move to Hawaii, right? Well, actually, Hawaii ended up in 2nd place among the happiest places in the U.S. to live (And you thought Disneyland was the happiest place on earth, didn’t you?) In fact, the happiest people in America actually live in South Dakota.

Now, I suppose you would like to have me explain that one. Well, okay, here goes. We can only conclude from the results of this study that happiness has nothing to do with climate, material wealth, or fame and popularity. So there must be something else to it. According to Dr. Ron Inglehart, director of the World Values Survey, there is.

Dr. Inglehart has discovered 10 keys to happiness, as evidenced in the findings of the survey. They are:

1. Genetic propensity to happiness
2. Marriage
3. Strong friendships
4. Desire less
5. Do good
6. Have faith
7. Stop comparing
8. Make more money
9. Embrace age
10. Don’t worry

Notice how far down making more money placed on the list? And since most of us have no idea whether or not we have a genetic propensity to happiness, we know can’t control that (oh-oh, one more thing we can blame on our parents), however, we can focus on the other factors that appear to bring about happier lives. According to the study, the happiest people living in the U.S. don’t just reside in South Dakota. Regardless of the part of the country in which they live, they are: married, have children, attend a place of worship regularly, and adhere to a set of moral values. And according to Dr. Inglehart this not only makes up happier, but also makes us healthier.

Case in point is a study reported in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine, in which Dr. Sheldon Cohen of Carnegie Mellon University examined happy people, sad people, and the connection of each to the common cold.

Dr. Cohen injected 334 participants with the rhinovirus, the germ that causes the common cold. Sad people got the cold while happy people had no change in initial status. Cohen’s reasoning was simple: symptoms of a cold are caused by a release of chemicals that makes us sick; yet happy people naturally combat the release of these chemicals because of increased levels of so-called “happy” hormones which offset the common cold. According to Cohen’s study, those who are happier are indeed healthier. Perhaps laughter is indeed the best medicine after all?

So, I’ll go back to my initial question: Are you happy? If you are, then either you are tracking well with Inglehart’s 10 keys (or you recently moved to South Dakota!). If not, and you are sick and tired of being sick and tired, then maybe it’s time to pursue real happiness by pursuing those 10 keys.

Throw your energies into strong, significant relationships. Make do with less. Give more of yourself, and your resources, to the benefit of others. Embrace faith and your age – one will change you and the other you can’t change anyway. Stop comparing and worrying – you cannot gain one good thing from either.

You have the right to pursue happiness, so go after it and live healthier, longer and with greater peace.

…or you could always check out those real estate prices in South Dakota.

Shifting Wind

June 2nd, 2008

Recalling Eleanor Roosevelt’s great quote on perseverance in the previous blog entry had me thinking more about the topic. I was reminded of how a good friend of mine tells the story of visiting a Caribbean island shortly after the hurricanes had battered that region a few years ago. As he scanned the landscape, he noticed something unusual: The trees that lined the shoreline were still standing, which the trees that were inland were part of the devastating destruction. He asked a local why this phenomenon occurred.

What the local told my friend is so pertinent to us today. He said that the trees on the beach were accustomed to wind. They were constantly hit with the strong winds that blew off the ocean, which caused them to bend and sway. This also caused the roots of these trees to grow stronger to keep them anchored to the ground beneath them. Conversely, the inland trees rarely were hit with much more than a breeze. Therefore, they had not been bent back and forth, nor had their root structures grown stronger. Simply put, they could not endure the winds the hurricane brought in the same way the trees on the shoreline could.

What, you ask, is this a lesson in botany this week? No, I am clearly not a botanist; hardly able to keep my grass alive without help. Rather this story illustrates a great lesson in perseverance.

While none of us look forward to the strong winds of adversity that hit us from time to time, we can be certain of one thing: If we can stand in those winds, the chances are great that we will be able to stand when the unexpected hurricane hits.

The winds of adversity, while challenging, test us in a way to make our roots deeper and stronger, as it is in adversity that you clearly determine the principles and ideals you have based your life on. If these are solid, they grow even stronger during hard times. The winds of adversity also bend us back and forth – much like the trees – without breaking us, and enabling us to develop a much greater flexibility to deal with the trials and challenges of daily life. All of you reading this know this first hand. As you have been hit with various challenges, your have undoubtedly become much more flexible.

The result of the wind that we face in our lives is not only do we grow stronger and more flexible or adaptable, but we also gain hope that we can face – and endure – the storm that hits us next.

As my 17-year-old daughter has learned through high school track meets when she has run three grueling races – the 400 meters, 200 meters, and 400 meter relay – all in about a 45-minute time span, the idea of “If I can get through this, I can get through just about anything” quickly becomes an object lesson of great reality.

So, I ask you, is what you are facing truly a hurricane, or is it just wind?

If it is wind, then take heart in the knowledge that you are being made stronger and more capable to face the next thing that life brings your way. And be thankful that your life is lived on the shoreline where the real action is.

Time to Persevere

June 2nd, 2008

At this time of year, when it seems that a good dose of perseverance is needed…

“I gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which I must stop and look fear in the face. I say to myself, ‘I’ve lived through this and can take the next thing that comes along.’ We must do the things that we think we cannot do.”

- Eleanor Roosevelt

Perseverance

Whether you are dealing with adversity, facing seemingly insurmountable odds, have experienced failure, or are working through challenging emotional issues, stand firm. Look fear and obstacles in the face and press on. You will gain strength and confidence from the experience and know that in standing firm in this one, you will have confidence to stand when the next one comes along.

Cleaning Up and Standing Up

June 2nd, 2008

It was a small note found on page 6 of the sports section in the local newspaper. Just a few sentences actually. And yet, those few words spoke volumes.

Last week, at the U.S. Olympic media summit in Chicago, sprinter Allyson Felix and decathlete Bryan Clay – both favorites to win gold medals in their events at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games – announced they have been undergoing an extraordinary number of voluntary drug tests each week. Their actions come as part of Project Believe, a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency program that has not yet been officially launched or explained.

In participating in the program, Felix and Clay submit to urine and blood tests in addition to mandatory in-competition and random, no-advance-notice tests. While the process is undoubtedly both inconvenient and unpleasant, the two athletes have been clear this is all about restoring credibility in the aftermath of the recent steroids scandals, and more importantly, a way of living out their personal convictions.

“I just felt like whatever I can do to prove I’m clean, no matter what time I have to wake up or where I have to drive, I’m willing,” Felix told the Los Angeles Times. She is favored to win both the 100 meter and 200 meter runs in Beijing.

Clay also determined he wanted his nutritional supplements tested to provide documentation of the absence of performance enhancing substances. “I want people to know I’m clean and I want people to know I’m doing everything in my power to make sure I stay clean,” Clay told the Times.

“It’s more of a pain for me and it might end up costing me money,” he said, “but as long as I can say I’m clean and can take that doubt away from people, that’s my No. 1 goal.”

Both athletes are known as people of faith, who exemplify integrity in their approach to athletics and life. With this step, Clay and Felix have shown they are also people of serious conviction, who are willing to be accountable for their words and actions. For this, they are to be applauded.

Said Felix: “I feel more responsible myself to be a role model for younger kids…that’s important to me.”

Spread the word about these two athletes who have determined they will do all they can to stem the tide of cheating in sport, and in doing so are willing to become spokespersons for competing the right way – with integrity and honor.

Now if we can just encourage more men and women like them to stand up – in whatever field they are in – and do the same.

Seeing Eye to I

June 2nd, 2008

re • spon • si • bil • i • ty – The state, quality, or fact of being responsible; something for which one is responsible; a duty, obligation, or burden.

“It’s not my fault.” “If they had just done their job better, this would not have happened.” “There’s nothing I can do about it.”

Each of the above responses has become all too common in our current culture; a culture that grows increasingly more determined to avoid responsibility and accountability.

That is why, then, the words that crossed the lips of American Airlines CEO Gerard Arpey seemed so shocking.

AA

In the aftermath of grounding some 300 MD-80 planes last week, which caused the cancellation of 3,000 AA flights and the stranding of some 150,000 passengers, Mr. Arpey uttered these words to the assembled press: “I run the company, So if there’s any blame to be had, it is my fault, and I take full responsibility for this.”

Wow, what a moment. The head of a large corporation actually took responsibility for his company’s failure. Immediately following Mr. Arpey’s remarks, it’s entirely possible that the sound of the cheer emitted from my living room was heard from coast to coast.

Responsibility is a big word with a simple meaning. Responsible people do what needs to be done, fulfill their obligations, are accountable for their actions, use good judgment, and don’t let people down. This is how Mr. Arpey responded last week, and in doing so, set himself apart from a generation of public leaders who have consistently “passed the buck.”

Aldous Huxley said, “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” The facts are all around us, yet many leaders simply choose to turn a blind eye to them. Not Mr. Arpey. He showed us what it means to accept responsibility for the performance of his company, As such, he should be hailed for his example and, at the same time, be held accountable for the failure by shareholders.

Whether the response was heartfelt or calculated, only God and Mr. Arpey truly know. Still, his immediate acceptance of responsibility is worthy of our acknowledgement and applause. As John D. Rockefeller said, “Next to doing the right thing, the most important thing is to let people know you are doing the right thing.” This is what Arpey did.

And as a consumer, his response earned my respect, and caused me to want to continue to fly American.

There is a “price” to greatness, as Winston Churchill once said, and that price is responsibility. Would that we all take a page from Mr. Arpey’s book and stand up and take accountability for our actions rather than pronounce blame in order to absolve ourselves from responsibility. Then, we would see our culture begin a return to greatness.

A Team of One

June 2nd, 2008

“Ask not what your teammates can do for you. Ask what you can do for your teammates.”   - Ervin “Magic” Johnson, Basketball Hall of Fame

As I watched the NCAA Men’s Basketball championship game unfold on the night of April 7, 2008, I was struck by two things.

Jayhawks
One was the remarkable perseverance shown by the Kansas team. Down by 9 points with just over 2 minutes left in the game, the Jayhawks scratched and clawed their way back to even the score at the end of regulation and send the game into overtime. They never gave up and – even when many of their faithful fans had – never stopped believing they could win. Because they believed they could, the team stayed focused on the goal. Because they refused to give up, they drew together as a team, which is the second thing that struck me: Teamwork.

It took a concentrated effort from every player on the team – from playing great defense, to creating turnovers, to grabbing rebounds, to creating offensive opportunities, to scoring points – to pull out this win. While it is true that Mario Chalmers’ game-tying shot will be most remembered from this game, there was no one superstar that decided this game for Kansas; no one outstanding performance. In order for KU to cut down the nets, a total team effort was required, and that’s just what they got. In the he end, every player contributed down the stretch of the game, each making a big play, key pass, a great screen.

Just as our body has various parts that must work in harmony for our greatest physical efficiency, or members of an orchestra must all be reading the same sheet of music and playing their part on that sheet, great teams are made up of diverse individuals, who attain true unity in seeking a common goal that is bigger than the individuals who make up that team. In striving together, they find they have what it takes to overcome challenges, to persevere, and to reach the common goal.

A great team won the college basketball championship in San Antonio on Monday night, and it reminded us that those that put the success of the team above individual achievement are those that are most successful, and share the greatest sense of reward.

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