Empathy for the Persecuted Smoker

Up until recently, I have been on the bandwagon to make smokers pay for all of the polluted air, the lighting up of a cigarette in a restaurant or near my children, and the absurdity of driving by a hospital (the refuge of all things healthy) and witness a dozen doctors and nurses standing outside smoking. Smoking will harm you, cut your life short, and slowly destroy various parts of your body. The packs come with giant warning labels and the prices for packs are becoming outrageous (how many smokers need to quit nowadays, simply because they can no longer afford it?).

How many house fires and forest fires have been carelessly started by a smoldering cigarette? How many lives lost or cut short because of the lingering health problems associated with smoking? How many times have you seen an attractive woman (or man) walk down the street and you say to yourself 'wow, she's got it together....' Then she lights up a cigarette and the whole scene turns ugly....I am on the bandwagon that says smoking is bad. Smoking should be banned in hospitals, restaurants, and shops.

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Three Easy Ways to Energize Your Global Inner Child

Living in an interconnected world is here to stay. One cannot claim ignorance any longer on some parts of the world with 24/7 cable networks visually reporting the recent news and images from around the globe. Couple this with Twitter updates, texts messages, and online updates: information is not our problem. Engagement with that information is another story. How does something like news impact us emotionally? Part of our emotional engagement comes when we actually allow ourselves to be immersed or exposed in a fresh way to people and their stories.

So, to become more emotionally connected rather than mere information collection, here are a few suggestions....

1) Read books written by foreign authors.....don't simply read a book by a Western author about a different part of the world, but truly read a book by someone who does not live here and who has written a book for people who don't live here. Spending hours and days, not sound bytes and minutes, will help with emotional engagement.

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True Leaders in an Interconnected World

(this is part 5 of 5 of a series of posts on leadership in an interconnected world)

If you have been keeping up with the previous posts, then you'll note that Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Rosa Parks, Steven Spielberg, and William Shakespeare all contribute something to leadership in an interconnected world. To review, let me simply make 5 brief points.

In an interconnected world, leaders will have to:

1) work with people of clashing ideologies (see Lincoln in Goodwin's book Team of Rivals)
2) focus on something bigger than their job or themselves (to me Lincoln is the example again, but a case could also be made for Wilberforce)
3) utilize words carefully and understand that words do leave a legacy (see Jefferson's example)
4) know when to stay seated on principle and when to move ahead; sometimes staying still is progress (see also Rosa Parks)
5) understand who the storytellers are and how their influence shapes ideas (see how Spielberg and Shakespeare have shaped ideas)

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The Legacy of Storytellers: Quiet Leaders of Every Generation

(here is part 4 of 5 on leadership in an interconnected world. This particular post is an excerpt of a longer study I have done on storytellers as heroes and the ones who shape our identity and ideals)

In a world increasingly interconnected by visual media and web technology, emerging personalities and heroic personas will often arise in the midst of stories told that withstand the test of time. We are saturated with information, what remains in our minds amidst the onslaught of email, web pages, scrolling television updates, film clips, and advertisements will be personas that we not only resonate with, but who reveals the longings deep within that shape us all. Understanding that “in a world of networks, individuals, companies, communities, consumers, activist groups, and governments all have the power to be shapers,”[1] two artists have emerged above the rest in the cinema and theatre respectively. William Shakespeare continues to be the standard by which theatre is judged hundreds of years after his death, while the films of Steven Spielberg have so captivated our culture, that he is the single biggest money making filmmaker in history. The pervasive use of English as an international language has not only served to disseminate the works of each artist, but also helped each to shape the way people see the world.

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Speaking Out While Sitting Down

(this is part 3 of 5 of a series dealing with leadership in an interconnected world)

In the last post, I discussed the power of words and the legacy that our words can leave behind. The example being, Thomas Jefferson, whose words have transformed our country and have often been the envy of other nations. In this piece, part of leading in the 21st century will not only be linked to skills, but also to a sense of timing as well as self awareness. And here, the example for me is Rosa Parks because she linked both timing and self awareness.

Parker Palmer in his book Let Your Life Speak speaks of Rosa Parks in the following terms:

"Rosa Parks sat down because she had reached a point where it was essential to embrace her true vocation -- not as someone who would reshape our society but as someone who would live out her full self in the world. She decided, "I will no longer act on the outside in a way that contradicts the truth that I hold deeply on the inside. I will no longer act as if I were less than the whole person I know myself inwardly to be."
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Remembering the Power of Words

(this is part 2 of a 5 part series on leadership and legacy)

In part one of this series, I began with Abraham Lincoln and why some of his leadership traits are not only necessary in the 21st century, but in fact, leaders like Lincoln remain elusive and rare. In this series, I am processing in my own mind, but then also building a case that if leaders are going to be effective in a globalized world, then certain traits will need to be prevalent. In looking at the legacy of Abraham Lincoln two primary traits needed for leadership in today's globalizing world stand out: 1) Lincoln's resolute focus on a higher purpose and his commitment to something greater than himself and 2) Lincoln's amazing ability to work alongside people with 'clashing ideologies' and to get people who disagreed to move in the same direction.

Now, in this installment, I want to focus in on yet another trait necessary for leadership in an interconnected world and one that has considerable relevance for bloggers and readers of blogs. Leaders in an interconnected world (particularly where English is often the primary tongue of global business, technology, and higher education) will still need to learn how to use words effectively. And perhaps, the best wordsmith in American history remains Thomas Jefferson.

Historian Stephen Ambrose, though, doesn't set up Jefferson as a great leader. In fact, he writes,

To Amercia "Thomas Jefferson did not achieve greatness in his personal life. He had a slave as a mistress. He lied about it. He once tried to bribe a hostile reporter. His war record was not good. He spent much of his life in intellectual pursuits in which he excelled, and not enough in leading his fellow Americans toward great goals by example. Theodore Roosevelt called him our worst President,"
(To America, p.2)
The enigma of Jefferson doesn't stop there. Ambrose continues,
"He ignored the words of his fellow revolutionary John Adams, who said that the Revolution would never be complete until the slaves were free...Jefferson left another racial and moral problem for his successors, the treatment of the Native Americans...The author of the Declaration of Independence threw up his hands at the question of women's rights,"
(To America, p. 5)
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Learning from Lincoln: Leadership in the 21st Century

This weekend, I finished reading Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, the Pulitzer Prize winning book by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I will make a confession: this book will linger with me for a long time--it's an amazing experience and if you allow yourself the time to get lost in its 19th century world for a while, this book could change your perspective on leadership in the 21st century. Growing up in Northern Illinois with regular trips to Springfield, I encountered Lincoln's heroic status at a young age and as I have grown older, I am simply more appreciative of Lincoln not simply as a leader, but also as a man.

The New York Times, in November of 2005, published the following words in regard to the book by Goodwin and more specifically in regard to Lincoln the leader:

"How did he do it? Goodwin deals with this question better than any other writer. Part of the answer lay in Lincoln's steadfastness of purpose, which inspired subordinates to overcome their petty rivalries. Part of it lay in his superb sense of timing and his sensitivity to the pulse of public opinion as he moved to bring along a divided people to the support of "a new birth of freedom." And part of it lay in Lincoln's ability to rise above personal slights, his talent for getting along with men of clashing ideologies and personalities who could not get along with each other." (the full article can be found here.

Let's reflect on the lessons as identified by this New York Times writer, but let's do so with an eye to faith and leadership in the 21st century.

1) "steadfastness of purpose"--instead of caving in to public opionion or trying to be trendy and relevant, Lincoln seemd to focus his energies on leaving a legacy. And I believe we'd do well to mimic his example.

2) "inspired subordinates to overcome their petty rivalries"--how many times have we seen teams split up or churches fall apart due to 'petty rivalries'? The phrase seems to haunt the present relationships being exhibited in Congress as well.

3) "his talent for getting along with men of clashing ideologies"--this may be one of the single most needed traits of leaders in a globalized era. Now, how will faith leaders within Christendom prioritize what's essential over and above what's not essential? Who will not only lead God's people, but who will also "get along with men of clashing ideologies," so that Christians can press forward with what's important instead of devouring one another in partisan debate?

Of course, there are many more lessons to draw and Team of Rivals is worth its own seminar or college class. For whatever reason, the world seems devoid of leaders who are willing to put a higher purpose above petty debate and rivalry. If you have a leadership role in any organization, do yourself a favor and read Goodwin's book. You won't be sorry and you may find yourself challenged to imitate Abraham Lincoln over a 100 years after his death.

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Chesterton Keeps Me From Going Crazy

A business consultant once told me about 'crazymaking' cultures. She observed several corporations that posted their vision and mission on the wall, but it had little do with daily life in the company. People were rallied around things at the big sales meetings and management retreats that simply had nothing to do with the true day to day operations. What this leads to is a 'crazymaking' culture. Sometimes I feel like I am completely losing my mind as I listen to various 'pep rallies' around certain camps or issues. Maybe we live in a 'crazymaking' culture all the time?

Chesterton rescues me when he writes in his book The Everlasting Man that: "the sanity of the world was restored and the soul of man offered salvation by something which indeed satisfy the two warring tendencies of the past; which had never been satisfied in full and most certainly never satisfied together. It met the mythological search for romance by being a story and the philosophical search for truth by being a true story...." 

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Rebuilding Rome

In the classic Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbons, we find these words in chapter 2: ""The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful." Gibbons, of course, could have written these words yesterday for the New York Times and we would still nod in understanding.

Perhaps, this is why we have seen a veritable rebuilding of Rome in film and in fascination in recent years. We have now moved into a time period in American history where we are not only seeing the global influence of the United States brought into question or doubt, but also the global dominance of the United States brought under greater scrutiny. And so, the influx of films on Rome may simply serve to feed our fascination with a time period that, frankly, is becoming more and more familiar to us. Rome, a great civilization built upon the backs of an incredibly large military force and amazing technological prowess, was also a society in search of stability. The people longed for the glory years and men like Marcus Aurelius, Augustus Caesar, and Marc Antony served as not only images of power, but as examples to men who would follow. Will there ever be another leader like Caesar? Will we see an alliance the likes of Antony and Cleopatra again? How about a philosopher/leader like Aurelius, does our world still have room for men who would be known more for their ideas than for their charisma?

This past weekend, a new series entitled Spartacus premiered to rave reviews on the Starz network. This comes on the heels of the great success in recent years of films like Gladiator and 300. This also follows the acclaimed HBO series Rome, which I confess hooked me rather quickly. And I confess, I am caught up in the resurgence of the Roman Empire. Yet, I wonder how long this will last?

Most of the contemporary versions of Rome, unlike previous takes, are able to push the envelope and actually display graphic violence, sexually explicit material, and a raw spirituality, that was previously intolerable for well meaning people to watch. But, not only are we able to see Rome in all of its power and profanity, but we are also able to experience a Rome that elicits in us a longing for men and women who would rise above the masses and fight for something bigger than themselves. Part of the glory of Rome isn't even real; part of the glory of the Roman empire remains the mystique of it, the mystery of it. Part of the decline of Rome historically and its resurgence cinematically is found not only in the annals of world history, but in the recesses of our own imaginations. And so, I wonder if the mystique of the United States is starting to decline and thus our fascination with Rome is begining to rebuild and rekindle in us a longing for a civilization that is seen not only as great, but truly epic in scope.

Gibbons, in chapter 3 of Decline and Fall adds these words: "The influence of the clergy, in an age of superstition, might be usefully employed to assert the rights of mankind; but so intimate is the connection between the throne and the altar, that the banner of the church has very seldom been seen on the side of the people. A martial nobility and stubborn commons, possessed of arms, tenacious of property, and collected into constitutional assemblies, form the only balance capable of preserving a free constitution against enterprises of an aspiring prince." Perhaps, the rebuilding of Rome would be the thing that also wakes up the church to be 'on the side of the people', one that dares to stand against the principalities and powers that define a world enthralled with itself. Just maybe, this new Rome resurgence will also decline and eventually fall, but then again, such a decline won't happen overnight. Rome was neither built nor rebuilt in a day. 

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'That Isn't Right'

I miss my grandfather. One night, in 1994, he went to sleep and never woke up. Instead, I woke up the next morning, received a phone call and cried. I miss him for a variety of reasons and I am sad for many reasons as well. My wife never met him and I hate that. My children never met him and I hate that too. I think that my family may understand me more if my grandfather were still around. Why? Because in his own simple way, he made sense of the world in which we lived. And sometimes common sense is in short supply. And for me, he made sense out of chaos, not because of his simplicity, but because he understood chaos better than most.

Now, he came from a generation that isn’t known for conversation and emotional dialogue. Tom Brokaw called it the ‘Greatest Generation.’ He fought in Asia and was wounded in battle. He worked on the Chicago Northwestern Railroad for over 40 years (a photo of that engine hangs above my son’s bed) was married for fifty years and fathered four children. He had a Marine tattoo that simply looked cool. He was tough, but in a way that was unassuming. He once drove himself to the hospital because he had, what he called, a ‘stomach ache that wouldn’t go away.’ The doctor diagnosed it as a ‘coke can size’ hernia in his stomach. An urgent surgery was performed and a few hours later, he drove himself home.

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As a University director of study abroad in Central Texas, ideas and stories matter. These reflections are for pilgrims making progress.