Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Are you an optimist?

You have probably been asked on a job application or during an interview some variation of the question "Do you consider yourself an optimist?" "Why?"

Consider this excerpt from Jim Collins' book, "Good to Great" about a conversation he had with Admiral Jim Stockdale. Stockdale survived 8 years as a POW in Vietnam and wrote a book, "In Love and War" about his ordeal and the lessons learned. He and his wife wrote alternating chapters to share each perspective. Collins read Stockdale's book to prepare for their meeting and conversation. His thoughts;

"As I moved through the book, I found myself getting depressed. It just seemed so bleak—the uncertainty of his fate, the brutality of his captors, and so forth. And then, it dawned on me: “Here I am sitting in my warm and comfortable office, looking out over the beautiful Stanford campus on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. I’m getting depressed reading this, and I know the end of the story! I know that he gets out, reunites with his family, becomes a national hero, and gets to spend the later years of his life studying philosophy on this same beautiful campus. If it feels depressing for me, how on earth did he deal with it when he was actually there and did not know the end of the story?”
“I never lost faith in the end of the story,” he said, when I asked him. “I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”
* * *
I didn’t say anything for many minutes, and we continued the slow walk toward the faculty club, Stockdale limping and arc-swinging his stiff leg that had never fully recovered from repeated torture. Finally, after about a hundred meters of silence, I asked, “Who didn’t make it out?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” he said. “The optimists.”
“The optimists? I don’t understand,” I said, now completely confused, given what he’d said a hundred meters earlier.
“The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say,‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”
Another long pause, and more walking. Then he turned to me and said, “This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

From this conversation, Collins coined the term "Stockdale Paradox". Its meaning is the last statement above, maintaining confidence in a positive outcome eventually (maybe years) but refusing to pretend everything is currently as it should be.

Agree or disagree?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Amish Country/Amish Ways

My friend and co-worker, Wanda just returned from a two week vacation with her family. They took their travel trailer north to many interesting places, aiming mostly at the Michigan International Speedway for the NASCAR races. Part of their time was spent in the Amish area of Pennsylvania. Today she brought a few pictures from vacation to share. All of them were good, but one really grabbed my attention. There is so much I would like to say about the picture, but let's do this; you add your best caption and see how entertaining that can be.

Sunday, June 17, 2007


Life is good! My beautiful wife has already made Father's Day great. Thanks, honey, for cooking a great breakfast, for the shirts, and for getting the kids and their spouses together for lunch. Especially, thank you for the MISSISSIPPI MUD CAKE with ice cream and chocolate syrup. I may have to upgrade my plans for an evening at Krystal for our anniversary Friday! Thanks, Laura, for nominating me for the "delightful dads" contest and rounding up some votes. Spiro also looked good in that competition. I don't think that was a picture from this year. Thanks, Baron and Laura for the "Rick and Bubba" best-of CD's (sorry about ruining the book idea). Thanks, Helen, for the gift card for Red Robin. Thanks, Mark and Lindsay, for the Mountain Hardwear hiking shorts. I am truly blessed beyond what I deserve. On a motivational note, here is a quote I read recently that is a good principle for dads to pass on to kids;

"Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time." Thomas Edison

Thank you, Thomas, for hanging in there. I am enjoying the lights. I am going to try to remember what you said and do better at trying one more time.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Man's Search for Meaning

Thanks to Michelle for lending me her copy of Viktor Frankl's book "Man's Search for Meaning". It is an interesting read. Victor Frankl was a prisoner in the German concentration camps during World War II. Every member of his family, except his sister perished in these camps. He was stripped of all posessions, including the manuscript of a book he was writing. During this experience, which he describes in the first half of his book, he discovered the thought process that led to what he calls logotherapy. Dr. Frankl describes in vivid detail the suffering he experienced and witnessed. One thought he had early was how he clung to the image of his wife. He did not even know if she were still alive, and in fact she was not. He explains learning that love goes far beyond the physical person of the beloved and finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance. He still had vivid mental conversations with her that helped sustain him. Dr. Frankl tells of a time he was asked "Can you tell me in one sentence, what is the difference between logotherapy and psychoanalysis?" He answered, "Yes, but can you first tell me in one sentence the essence of psychoanalysis?" The answer was, "During psychoanalysis, the patient must lie down on a couch and tell you things which sometimes are disagreeable to tell." Dr. Frankl's retort was "Now, in logotherapy the patient may remain sitting erect but he must hear things which are sometimes very disagreeable to hear." His reply was meant facetiously, but he also realized that compared to psychoanalysis, logotherapy is less retrospective and less introspective. "Logotherapy focuses rather on the future, that is to say, on the meanings to be fulfilled by the patient in his future."

Few people will read to the end if I continue a full summary of the book. Frankl suggests that suffering can be a blessing in the long run and he condenses his approach to mentoring people to this one statement; "Live as if you were living for the second time and had acted as wrongly the first time as you are about to act now." What do you think of that statement? Please think about it and leave a comment.

Mountains or Beaches?

Where do you prefer to vacation? Do you like the sun and crowds at the beach or the cool shade and solitude of the mountains? Both can be nice and I have enjoyed trips to the beach. But my preference is usually for the place with the fewest people per square mile. Theme parks and tourist towns are interesting--once. Don't get me wrong-- I love people and socializing. I just do not care to be around thousands of strangers who have left manners and civility at home. So, I prefer the mountains as a place to return year after year. I am very thankful that every member of three generations of my family gather at Vogel State Park each summer for a week (more or less) to relax and catch up on "who we are becoming". Friends have asked me what we did for a week. It is difficult to explain. Lots of time is spent just sitting on the deck of the cabin sipping coffee and sharing life events or comparing opinions on current events. I said that I would not eat as much this time, but I did--Laura's blog has proof of the peanut butter and cornbread snack. For the first time, I did not take a single picture. My 35 milimeter camera seems so old fashioned when so many of the family is snapping with digitals and uploading to the two laptops that made the trip. It is pretty cool that they can upload and share with a zip drive so that all the pictures are instantly on both laptops. I used to be so proud to have 2 or 3 rolls developed one hour after returning home! I appreciate the technology and the instant gratification. More than that, I appreciate the chance to slow down and appreciate God's creation--even the early morning crows. I am also thankful for Baron and Lindsay who married into our family and use vacation time to join our pedestrian pace. They are young and energetic and would probably like to go more and do more, as would Helen, Laura, and Mark. These two pictures were nabbed from my brother's facebook where he chose to show the world my lack of grace and abundance of body mass. I share them to show 1) that you can make fun wherever you are, 2) old people do not have to sit on the porch all the time, 3) it is o.k. to allow people to laugh at you. I could probably explain away the unflattering parts of the ski picture, but the climbing picture just looks like an old, overweight monkey. Is that a honky-tonk bedonka-donk? Thanks, Keith. Your shutter timing is impeccable.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Monster Pig

As tempting as it is, I really try to avoid posting comments on sensational stories. These stories pop up almost daily and spread through "news" outlets like flash fires. One story that really gained momentum quickly was of the 11-year-old boy who killed a "monster pig" with a pistol. This pig was said to weigh 1051 pounds and be over 9 feet long, making it larger than the "hogzilla" killed near my hometown in southwest Georgia. This young boy gained notoriety so quickly (mostly due to a quickly constructed website-- www.monsterpig.com) and he was invited to be part of the upcoming movie about the hogzilla killed in Georgia. Well, if that is not confusing enough, toss in lots of skeptics about the authenticity of pictures on the website and lots of REALLY hateful e-mail directed at this kid and lots of praise and accolades for the same kid. My first comment when I saw the pictures was "Somebody has been feeding that hog, because you can't grow jowls like that rooting around in the woods." As it turns out, the pig was raised on a farm and sold to the hunting preserve not long before this father and son booked a guided hunt. You get the picture. Speaking of pictures, here is the pig. If you are violently against hunting or have never seen animals in between grazing and blackened, then stop here and save yourself some strong emotions. It is not a pretty picture for several reasons.

Here are my personal observations;

1] That is a big hog!

2] That is a cool gun. When I was 11, I had a Daisy BB gun. That is a $1500 heavy duty Colt pistol with a rifled barrel.

3] In response to the unbelievably hateful emails sent to this boy I say, lots of people are very confused about whether man is here to serve animals or to have dominion over them.

4] Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall. Pride led to poor behavior by most of the people involved in this story, including the lady from the farm that sold the pig to the hunting preserve.

5] The many people who would write to attack an 11 year old kid and wish he were shot, condemn him to hell, hope he gets some disease from the pork, and throw in lots of profanity for flavor cause me great concern for the direction of our country. That they would use the opportunity to 1) condemn all Christians, 2) ridicule all southerners, 3) repeatedly use the word "redneck" as if it is something worse than all the profane words they know, 4) manage to include the "fact" that the president is committing terrorist acts DAILY, and last but not least, 5) communicate in such an arrogant, condescending manner while demonstrating the grammar and spelling of a third grader--is at the same time both hilarious and terrifying!

6] When you hear the term "feral" pig it is not a type of pig. Feral just means wild. Any animal can be called feral. Once this pig was sold from the farm and began living in the woods, he became a "feral" pig. Obviously, there is some matter of degree--he would have been "wilder" in a year or two.

7] This dad made some decisions that I would not have. But he earned my respect, not for spending lots of money on a guided hunt with premium weapons and not for grabbing the spotlight for his son, but most of all for getting up early in the morning and driving his son to the home of the folks who claimed to have raised the pig and confronting them to learn the truth. This caused the supplier of the pig to soften their attacks considerably. The truth was told without exaggeration BECAUSE this dad looked into the eyes of the couple who were being critical of his kid and asked direct questions. At the end of the day the two men demonstrated respect for each other.