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.

30 November 2010

Andy Reid and the Redemption of Michael Vick

When Andy Reid, head coach of the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles, announced that he had signed Michael Vick, who had just been released from prison after serving 18 months for running an illegal dog fighting operation in Virginia, to an Eagles' contract, I was both surprised and not surprised. I was surprised that any NFL team would take on the public relations nightmare that surely would ensue; I was not surprised when I heard it was Reid and the Eagles who did it in spite of that. Let me explain further.

In a 1977 Harvard Business Review article - Managers and Leaders: Are They Different? - Abraham Zaleznik, the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership Emeritus at the Harvard Business School, said that most great leaders are "twice born" individuals who have endured a major event such as a tough childhood, a religious revelation, or a life and death experience (a second birth) that leads to a sense of separateness, or perhaps estrangement from their environment. As a result, they turn inward and after a period of self-reflection emerge with a not only a deepened and stronger sense of self, but also relatively free of dependency on the social structures that surround them. This, I think, is Andy Reid's story.

Reid stepped into a crucible of fire on January 30, 2007 when his two oldest sons, Garrett and Britt, were arrested in separate driving incidents. Garrett, the older of the two, was charged with felony drug possession. Britt was charged with felony drug possession and for illegally carrying and brandishing a hand gun. Both were subsequently convicted of the charges and incarcerated. Reid immediately drew heavy fire from the media and the public, of course, but chose not to respond to any of it. In fact, I'm guessing that if you'd dialed him up on the cell back then, you'd have heard:
"You've reached the voice-mailbox of Andy Reid. I'm sorry I'm not here to take your call. Please leave a message. You can begin speaking at the beep."
And even though the cacophony of advice, recriminations, and demands for a "come to Jesus" meeting with the press grew louder and louder, Reid maintained his silence. He turned inward; it was a time for soul searching.

Andy maintained his separateness for almost a year before he finally agreed to do an interview with Philadelphia Magazine. He was joined by his wife Tammy. The interview is here. If you read it front-to-back, you'll get a real sense of how much - and how fundamentally - he changed during his year of self-reflection or "second birth." Here are a couple of things that stood out for me.

First, when he was asked what he had learned about addiction by participating in Garrett's treatment he said:
"Because of the chemical makeup of the brain, certain people are more susceptible to drug use and addiction than others. You might be able to have knee surgery, take Oxycontin, and you’re fine. Where Garrett might take a quarter of one, his mind gets hold of it, and he’s got to have more. He’s got to have it. You find out that everybody is different. Everybody has their drug of choice, that their mind loves. It’s an epidemic that has attacked America. I was sitting there, in counseling, with good people. They are not bad people, it encompasses everybody."
Second, when he was asked what he had learned about himself he said:
"You put it all out on the table. As a parent, if you can’t do that with them, then there is going to be a wall. And so we both put it out on the table. Every emotion, you go through every emotion you can imagine, you go back to when you were a kid and work to the present, the whole shebango. It was a great experience. I’m not saying it was fun — but it was an unbelievable experience, an emotional roller coaster."
Third, when he was asked to compare the amount of control a coach has over his team with the amount of control a parent has over an addict he said:
"They’re really very similar, though. In a game, once the whistle blows, and you’re playing the game, now the human element is there, and it’s how you’ve trained them. Some days they are going to throw an interception or miss a tackle. You didn’t train them that way. But you live with it, and you keep on teaching them. That’s why we’re here, we’re here to be teachers. And so you do the same thing at home, you teach them and then let them go. You blow the whistle and let them play. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t."
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't point you to the reader comments at the end of each page. See if you can tell the difference between the folks who've walked in the Reid's shoes and those who haven't.

Back to Michael Vick. In describing the press conference in which Reid announced Vick's signing, sportswriter Rich Hoffman of the Philadelphia Daily News said in part:
"The coach acknowledged that Vick has been on his mind for months and years. He said that Vick got into trouble at about the same time his sons got into trouble, and that he followed Vick's story from afar and compared it to what his sons were enduring. It was as open and as human as Reid has ever been at an interview podium, and it was clear that not only was this Reid's decision, first and foremost - but that his personal life opened him to the possibilities.

"At one point Thursday night, he was asked whether he might not have been so open if he had not seen his sons, and the mistakes they made, and what they went through. He said: 'I don't know that. I would hope that I would be, just like I hope the fans would be.'

"A minute later, he added: 'I've kind of lived that process. I've seen change.'"
Did Michael Vick do wrong? Yes, but don't we all? Did he deserve a chance to redeem himself? I say, "Yes." Why? Because I've walked a mile in Andy Reid's shoes, and if it's good enough for Andy, it's good enough for me.

  • Would you have given Michael Vick a second chance? Why or why not?
  • Have you gone through a "second birth" experience? If so, how were you changed, and how has your life been affected since?
  • Has someone given you the opportunity to redeem yourself sometime during your life's journey to date? What happened? Who was involved? How was your life changed? How much did it matter?
"There is not a righteous man on Earth who does what is right and never sins."
- Ecclesiastes 7:20
"Some of the best lessons are learned from past mistakes. The error of the past is the wisdom of the future." - Dale Turner
"Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls. The most massive characters are seared with scars." - Khalil Gibran
"Every kind of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism." Carl Gustav Jung
"I am not being flippant when I say that all of us suffer from addiction. Nor am I reducing the meaning of addiction. I mean in all truth that the psychological, neurological, and spiritual dynamics of full-fledged addiction are actively at work within every human being. The same processes that are responsible for addiction to alcohol and narcotics are also responsible for addiction to ideas, work, relationships, power, moods, fantasies, and an endless variety of other things. We are all addicts in every sense of the word. Moreover, our addictions are our own worst enemies." - Gerald G. May, Addiction and Grace
"Every form of refuge has its price." - The Eagles, Lyin' Eyes
"And the truth I see is that the Bible is populated with people like you and me. People who are flawed and imperfect. People who have crooked teeth and bad skin. Who have stinky breath and dirty feet. Who don't always know the difference between right and wrong. Who are self-serving and capricious. People caught in the conflict and dichotomy between good and evil, between the sacred and the profane, between beauty and ugliness, and between the bright and the moronic. People who hope - and many believe - that they are made in the very image of God." – Barry Moser
"Up to a point a man's life is shaped by environment, heredity, and movements and changes in the world about him; then there comes a time when it lies within his grasp to shape the clay of his life into the sort of thing he wishes it to be. Everyone has it within his power to say, this I am today, that I shall be tomorrow." - Louis L’Amour

09 November 2010

Playing the Ball Where It Lies

Bobby Jones is certainly the greatest amateur golfer who ever lived, and a strong argument can be made that he should be recognized as the greatest golfer ever. His climb to that dizzying height began in 1923, when he won his first major championship - the U.S. Open - at Inwood CC, Inwood, NY. It ended in 1930, when he retired after reaching the top of golf's Mt. Everest. He won all four majors that year - accomplishing what has come to be known as golf's Grand Slam - including his last competitive outing, the U.S. Amateur at Merion Cricket Club, Ardmore, PA. In between, he won 11 other majors - 3 U.S. Opens, 3 British Opens, 3 U.S. Amateurs, and 2 British Amateurs - in 18 tries.

Jones accomplished all this while devoting only about a quarter of his time to golf. The rest of it was spent pursuing a law degree, and practicing law once he obtained it. Besides his playing prowess, he is remembered for co-designing and building Augusta National Golf Club and founding The Masters golf tournament.

Among the many things worth knowing about Bobby Jones, there are two I want to point to in particular.

The first involves an incident during the 1925 U.S. Open at Worcester CC, Worcester, MA. During the play of one of the early holes in the final round, his ball dribbled into the rough just off the fairway. As he addressed the ball in preparation to play his next shot, the ball moved imperceptibly. He immediately turned to the nearby tournament officials, and called a penalty on himself. The officials were stunned; they hadn't seen his ball move. They asked if anyone in the gallery had seen it move; no one had. They huddled and decided that since no one had seen the ball move, the final decision was Jones'. Bobby Jones didn't hesitate for one second, and let the penalty stand. He ended up losing the tournament by a single shot. When he was praised for his gesture, Jones replied:
"You might as well praise me for not breaking into banks. There is only one way to play this game."
The second, involves the great tragedy of his life. In 1948, at the age of 46, he contracted syringomyelia, a fluid-filled cavity in his spinal cord causing first pain, then paralysis. He never played golf again, and in due time was relegated to a wheelchair. He died December 18, 1971. He was 69. Shortly before he died, he was asked about his illness. His answer is testament to his deep and abiding wisdom:
"I will tell you privately it's not going to get better, it's going to get worse all the time, but don't fret. Remember, we play the ball where it lies, and now let's not talk about this, ever again."
To play the ball where it lies is the most basic rule of golf. Golfers who play by this rule - accepting and handling both the good and bad breaks that come with the territory - are not only able to leave the 18th green with a score that truly means something, but also with the deep personal satisfaction that can only come from doing what's right - win, lose, or draw. Golfers who ignore it - who cheat to win - not only debase themselves in the eyes of their fellows (word gets around) but in their own eyes as well.

For Bobby Jones playing the ball where it lies was also a basic rule for living a good and noble life, and a true test of character. Do you think he passed?
"For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, He writes - not that you won or lost - but how you played the game."- Grantland Rice, sportswriter
  • Are you willing to confront the truth of even the worst of the situations you face in your life? Is there a particular lesson you've learned that you can share?
  • Do you trust someone who cheats at golf - or any other seemingly innocuous activity - to do right when it comes to the more important aspects of life?
  • How do you play the ball in your work and life?
  • What will the One Great Scorer mark against your name?
"The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names." - Chinese Proverb
"The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it." - John Ruskin
"Fame is something which must be won; honor is something which must not be lost." - Arthur Schopenhauer
"There's a gigantic gray area between good moral behavior and outright felonious activities. I call that the Weasel Zone and it's where most of life happens." - Scott Adams, Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel
"When another is shooting, no player should talk, whistle, hum, clink coins, or pass gas." - Willie Nelson, reciting a rule he enforces at the private golf course he built for himself and all his rowdy friends