Monthly Archives: February 2015

Saying Goodbye to a Best Friend, Reconnecting with an Old One, and Doing the Right Thing

Saying Goodbye

I said goodbye to a friend this week. He was one of the greatest beings I have had the privilege to know—canine or human. Most people love their dogs, so these feelings are not unique, but that in no way diminishes what he meant to me.

He was the first to make my friends feel welcome, and the first to make those that may threaten my family feel quite unwelcome. He slept outside my kids’ bedroom door at night and by their beds when they were sick. He had endless patience with them as they have grown. They have never known life without him.

The first few years of his life were not good ones. He came into my life starving and abandoned on the side of a dirt road. I was told he would not recover from the condition he was left in; that I should not become attached, because he would not live more than another week. Instead he lived almost ten more years, and good ones. Almost all of my adult life up to this point.

I found out last Monday that he had a giant tumor in his abdomen, well hidden by his deep chest (he was half grey hound). The tumor was pressing against his internal organs, halting digestion, and causing kidney and liver failure. His quality of life was already rapidly declining, and there was little to be done.

Oliver-mans-best-friend

Oliver the Great

So, the tough decision had to be made to put him down. It was tough not because it was difficult to decide—I did not want him to suffer—but because of how much it hurt knowing he would be gone. That night we ate roast beef, shared a brew, and went outside as often and for as long as he wanted. I stayed by his side after his many years of faithfully staying by mine.

Returning to the veterinarian’s office in the morning was the longest short drive of my life, yet still seemed to pass too quickly. Thankfully the process didn’t take long, and he did not seem to experience any discomfort.

His body has been donated to the veterinary medicine program at the university, which seems appropriate. Oliver’s last act of service.

Sometimes Doing the Right Thing Goes Wrong

My sister recently broke up with her boyfriend and due to some shitty circumstances has been without wheels, making the whole process quite a bit more difficult. Wanting to help, my dad finds a cheap vehicle that will suit her needs, fixes a couple of little issues it had, and has it in mind to bring it to her.

The only problem? She lives down in the Anchorage area— roughly 360 miles south of the town where he and I currently reside. My assistance is requested, and we make plans to caravan down and carpool back. No big deal; just 12-14 hours of driving to and from.

My dad and I met up at a predetermined location, fueled up, grabbed the necessary sundries, and set out into the night.

And directly into a torrent of freezing rain.

Initially we pressed forward, but every turn on that dark road brought worse conditions. Visibility and traction were diminishing by the minute.

Finally I hear, “I’m losing control back here,” over the radio, and I know our noble quest has been cut short.

“Alright, let’s turn it around,” I reply.

Attempting to come to a full stop revealed just how dangerous the road had become as we were failing to find a safe location to begin our retreat. Eventually we find a straight stretch of road long enough to see traffic coming from either direction, turn around, and slowly make our way back.

Doing the right thing did not go as planned, but over-confidence or under-awareness might have exacted a high price.

Not wanting to let the night be a total waste, we head over to a bar to shoot some pool. The lively atmosphere was cathartic, and we parted ways in agreement that we made the right call. Earlier in the week I made the decision to end a life, and tonight our decision possibly saved one.

An Uncanny Coincidence

A couple hours after making it home I realize that I left my card at the bar.

Rookie mistake.

After briefly weighing the risk of additional drive time in the rain, I decide to return to the bar for my card. The roads are bad, but there would be fewer vehicles to contend with than in the daytime.

In those couple hours the world had transformed into an enormous ice skating rink. Driving was a little dicey, but walking was flat-out treacherous.

As I carefully shuffle toward the bar entrance I notice a couple ladies standing outside the door, and I make an offhand joke about the danger of my predicament. I did not take a good look at them due to the task at hand of not busting my ass on the ice, but when I made my way past them the one nearest to me asks, “Hey, what’s your name?”

I reply and finally look over at this point to see it is an old friend from my days in long-term care!

Yeah, yeah, small world, small town and all, but I have not seen her in years. More than that I recently learned she had been diagnosed with cancer, so this friend from an old life has been in my thoughts.

She wastes no time in telling me that she’s going under the knife soon, and will be cancer free post surgery. What fantastic news I would not yet know of if anything had happened differently tonight.

And so I am thankful. Thankful for the opportunity to do the right thing, thankful that it went wrong, and thankful that I made a rookie mistake.

In the grand scheme of things, getting the good news a little earlier does not change much, but I cannot shake the feeling of significance. It causes me to ponder the nature of coincidence. I know some people say there are no coincidences, and others say chaos reigns. Most probably think little of it at all.

I am not sure which direction I lean toward, but my mind is open.

Leadership Scarcity: A Modern Epidemic

I read an article today about why good employees quit their jobs. It was a shitty hack job of something originally posted on LinkedIn, but it did spark a thought about leadership. Well, that and the following bit of vitriol from a Facebook comment:

“Side note: ALL bosses are assholes/bitches/dumbasses in any shape or form. Only difference is if they like you or not”

Hardly true. Then this:

“Well we live in a world where the intelligent and common sense thinking individuals are outmatch by the dumb and thick headed fence post and those post fence become bosses and they make other post fence become boss”

More true.

Now I don’t know the guy, so this is hardly a personal indictment, but that’s directly from the script read by righteously terrible and entitled employees. Maybe he has a legitimate ax to grind, I don’t know, but it did get my wheels turning. So in response I posted this:

“I would never paint an entire group of people with the same brush, but there is an epidemic of bad management. Some of that stems from the individual; everyone is accountable for themselves and their actions.

However it is too widespread to simply base it on that.

Leadership attributes are not what is most valued when choosing leaders. The cold hard fact of the matter is there are a disproportionate number of leaders needed and people capable of leading. Some have innate leadership traits and we call them natural leaders, but even then those traits are not nurtured, because they are not as valued as they should be. Some amount of skill can be developed in most people, but once again, this is not a priority.

The biggest problem is society’s collective mindset. Just look at the language. We don’t need managers, we need leaders.”

Naturally I did not stop pondering the issue just because I tossed my initial thoughts into the Facebook ether. Specifically I keep coming back to the concept of managers versus leaders, because language matters. Subtle differences in how someone is described can create a profound difference in how that person is perceived—to include how that person perceives himself.

A man who describes himself as a manager and a man who describes himself as a leader are two very different men.

A manager sounds like someone who simply keeps people doing their job just well enough to meet the lowest acceptable standard. Only just managing to keep everyone from fucking up too badly. Best case scenario: the employees and managers get along well enough to function. More commonly there is an antagonistic relationship between the two, and worst of all this has become an accepted and expected part of the workplace.

“A boss creates fear, a leader confidence. A boss fixes blame, a leader corrects mistakes. A boss knows all, a leader asks questions. A boss makes work drudgery, a leader makes it interesting. A boss is interested in himself or herself, a leader is interested in the group.”

– Russell H. Ewing

The thoughts and mental images associated with the word ‘leader’ are very different. A leader is someone who is taking you somewhere. Someone who isn’t managing a group of quarreling individuals, but leading a team that is committed to a goal and to each other.

General George S. Patton, leadership embodied.

“We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead people. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.”

Unfortunately society currently values subservience over initiative. Obedience over audacity. Conformity over leadership.

Parents do not lead their children; they incubate them.

Teachers do not lead young minds to knowledge and critical thought. Less teaching than indoctrination.

This issue goes deeper than workplace satisfaction. Everyone is concerned with managing their lives rather than leading them. What happens when the average person has to be told what to do, how and when to do it—but never asks why it’s being done? When this person needs to be directed and supervised like a child? It is okay to be a follower; the world needs good followers, but no one should follow blindly.

So what am I going to do?

I am going to lead. Regardless of who is above, below, behind, or in front of me.

American Sniper: A Flawed Character Study

Not an honest study of a flawed character.

My expectations were really high for American Sniper given the star, the director, and the outstanding trailer. Bradley Cooper nails it to be sure, but I just found it lacking over all; especially the first half.

Seth Rogen is of course taking a lot of flack from the hive mind over his take on the film, and Michael Moore is an idiot, but the first half was so clichéd that I felt like it was recruitment marketing aimed at rednecks. This was before reading any reviews or comments about the movie, mind you.

Now, if that’s the story, then that’s the story. It is supposed to be based on a real one, and the movie becomes more compelling as we start to see the stress and the job take its toll on the protagonist and his family.

American Sniper, Chris Kyle, Bradley Cooper

Bearded Instrument of War

When evaluating the movie and not the controversial subject matter, there are some big problems structurally. Poorly edited, poorly paced at times, and most surprisingly for an Eastwood film, some scenes were poorly shot. If not for Bradley Cooper’s performance, American Sniper would likely have flopped.

Then you look at Chris Kyle himself. It sounds like he may have been a hero, certainly to the men he was deployed with in the very least.

He was also a narcissist with delusions of grandeur.

Taking only second-hand sources into account, he was very accomplished with skill and bravery to be revered, but given some of the outrageous lies he told about his deeds he must not have felt like it was enough. This actually makes him a much more interesting character, with a lot more depth to explore.

I am not going to pretend that I know all there is to know about Chief Petty Officer Kyle, and I obviously cannot say that I knew him personally, but he made himself into a public figure before his death. Naturally by doing so he opened himself up to the public scrutiny that accompanies that. Under that scrutiny it was proven* that some of his wildest stories were only just stories.

They were lies.

Kyle did not gun down assailants in a gas station parking lot, just like he did not set up on top of the Superdome and hunt looters in New Orleans during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. These non-events didn’t make the big screen version of Kyle’s story because they did not fit the narrative, and likely because some support for the project would have been lost—namely that of Mrs. Kyle and image conscious republicans.

Perhaps the rights to his story came with restrictions, but what a missed opportunity to examine the different facets of an extraordinary, but deeply flawed man. Unfortunately most can only see Chris Kyle in black and white; either he was an infallible hero of great accomplishment and integrity, or he was a sociopath with a license to kill.

Neither interpretation represents the basis of a character study of this man. He stated in an interview that he is just a man, and he deserves to be evaluated as such.

The filmmakers have even come out and said American Sniper is not a movie about the war, but a movie about a man. A character study; but an important part of the character was left out to create a more palatable product.

*I understand that lacking any proof does not necessarily equate to being disproven, but some claims just do not hold up to logic without any evidence.