About Conversation Kindling

The purpose of this blog is to share stories, metaphors, quotes, songs, humor, etc. in hopes they'll be used to spark authentic and rewarding conversations about working and living fruitfully. There are at least three things you can gain by getting involved in these conversations. First, you'll discover new and important things about yourself through the process of thinking out loud. Second, you'll deepen your relationships with others who participate by swapping thoughts, feelings, and stories with them. Finally, you'll learn that robust dialogue centered on stories and experiences is the best way to build new knowledge and generate innovative answers to the questions that both life and work ask.

I write another blog called My Spare Brain. This is where I am "storing" ideas for use in future books, articles, blog posts, speeches, and workshops. There is little rhyme or reason for what I post there. I do this to encourage visitors to come as treasure hunters looking for new ways of seeing and thinking vs. researchers looking for new or better answers to questions they already know how to ask.

09 July 2010

Friends in Low Places

Country singer-songwriter, Garth Brooks, has sold more records than anyone in the history of the music industry, save The Beatles. His signature song is the blue-collar rouser Friends in Low Places.

Friends in low places is a theme that shows up often in the movie Charlie Wilson's War, which is based on the book of the same name by George Crile. A synopsis of the movie from Reuters follows:

Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) was a bachelor congressman from Texas whose "Good Time Charlie" exterior masked an extraordinary mind, a deep sense of patriotism and a passion for the underdog. In the early 1980s the underdog was Afghanistan - which had just been brutally invaded by the Russians.

Charlie's longtime friend, patron and sometime lover was Joanne
Herring (Julia Roberts) - one of the richest women in Texas and a virulent anti-communist. Believing the American response to the Russian invasion was anemic at best, she prodded Charlie into doing more for the Mujahideen (Afghan freedom fighters).

Charlie's partner in this uphill endeavor was CIA Agent Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) - a blue-collar operative in a company of Ivy League blue bloods. Together they traveled the world to form unlikely alliances among the Pakistanis, Israelis, Egyptians, arms dealers, law makers and a belly dancer.

Their success was remarkable. Funding for covert ops against the Soviets went from $5 million to $1 billion annually. The Red Army retreated out of Afghanistan. When asked how a group of peasants was able to deliver such a decisive blow to the army of a superpower, Pakistani President Mohammad Zia ul-Haq responded simply: "Charlie did it."

Charlie was able to do it because of the help he and Gust got from friends in low places and in other places as well. Crile explains:
"The way things normally work, if you’re not Jewish you don’t get into the Jewish caucus, but Charlie did. And if you’re not black you don’t get into the black caucus. But Charlie plays poker with the black caucus; they had a game, and he’s the only white guy in it. The House, like any human institution, is moved by friendships, and no matter what people might think about Wilson’s antics, they tend to like him and enjoy his company."
"Avrakotos was hardly the first CIA case officer to recognize the value of lower-level members of an intelligence organization. Abroad, every CIA spy recognizes that perhaps the most promising targets for recruitment in an enemy intelligence service are low-level figures: the code clerks, the secretaries, the couriers. But it was rare indeed to fine a case officer who made an effort to befriend such lowly figures within their own organization. In vivid contrast, Avrakotos had always found himself more at home with these fellow untouchables than with the well-born, high-ranking officers of the clandestine services, and from the time he first joined the CIA he had befriended them. He made it a point to intervene when he could on their behalf. He became their champion whenever one of them would be unfairly treated. And he always shared the truth about the way he felt about the blue-bloods."
  • How would you characterize your relationships with the little people in your personal as well as your professional life? Would they echo your comments? Are you sure?
  • How has a friend in a low place helped you?
  • How has an enemy in a low place done you in?
  • As you build and nurture your networks, where do the little people stand? Top of mind? Afterthought? Out of the picture?
  • If you say they are important to you, are you treating them accordingly?
  • If you say they are not important, is it possible you should rethink your position?
"Answer e-mails from junior people before more senior ones. Junior people have further to go and tend to remember who slighted them." - Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from The Sunday Times - June 1, 2008
"If you're in trouble, or hurt or need -- go to the poor people. They're the only ones that'll help - the only ones." - John Steinbeck
"America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but it's people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor, but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters." - Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five

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