Sunday, September 27, 2009

Transparency and Trust

I am very uncomfortable when someone tells me secrets or asks me not to tell a specific person something. It makes me suspicious. What more don't I know? What has the person tried to keep me from knowing? What are they doing that they are ashamed of doing?
I'm told I tend to be too open about things. I don't see a need to hide a lot. If I can't trust you to know things about me, then it is one of two problems. 1) It's something I shouldn't be doing or saying 2) You are using that information in a way to purposely hurt me.
I sincerely avoid doing and saying things I shouldn't.
If you take information from me and use it to purposely hurt me, I should avoid you.
I believe in transparency because it builds trust. It builds trust personally. It builds trust professionally.
Obviously, I'm going to protect certain information from getting into the hands of people who cannot be trusted. I don't want criminals getting my financial information, for example.
But when I begin to hear couples tell friends not to tell their spouse something - where they were, or about a shopping trip or about a speeding ticket or worse - it's a sign of a bigger problem. Transparency and trust.
With businesses, it's the same thing. If a lot is being hidden from the public or employees or management, there's probably a bigger problem.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Healthy Attitude

No matter what is going on in our lives, a healthy attitude makes all the difference. Our attitude - how we choose to speak and act - is the one thing we, ourselves have full control over. It's our choice.
I try to remind myself of that fact often. It's my choice how I react. It's my choice what I think. It's my choice what I feel. I may make that choice based on someone else's action, but my reaction is still my choice. One of my favorite song lyrics is; "There's more than one answer to these questions pointing me in a crooked line. The less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine."
It's when I most stubbornly seek the black and white - the absolute - that I am most distressed. Life is a crooked line with more than one answer.
As I consider those I most admire, it is those who display an optimism and healthy respect for everyone around them. Their optimism and respect lift me up. These are the people who seek excellence in what they do. They can communicate their expectations in a positive way - even in conflict. They do not fear conflict but are always approaching it from a determination to find a solution.
They know there is more than one answer and they are willing to hear it. They key is ANSWERS. That, to me, is a healthy attitude.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Building Bridges

The toughest challenge in any debate, any conflict - is to communicate one's point without name calling and without attacking the person rather than addressing the actual issue. If we are to be successful in bridging our divide, we have to be able to communicate our differences in way that helps us each understand what separates us. Then, we can begin to discover what we have in common. If the things we say are intended to invoke an emotional response, or are an emotional response rather than rational discourse, we cannot expect to find solutions.
We see so much of that in politics these days. And, sadly, we do it in our personal lives as well. It's difficult to work through things sometimes. When we disagree with someone, don't like what they are saying or if we don't want to believe a truth, we will take an emotional route. "Kill the messenger". Discredit them with things that have absolutely nothing to do with the issue at hand. Distract everyone's attention. Shift the focus to something quite trivial but may capture a knee jerk response.
As I follow the health care debate, I am so saddened by this type of reaction. "Socialist" "Nazi" and derogatory signs that are inflamatory and, I believe strongly, simply racist. What is that about?
FDR was called Socialist in his calls for reforms that this country now embraces. Social Security is one of them.
We have a health care crisis in this country. We are far behind the rest of the world in caring for our citizens in many ways. If it is "socialistic" to believe we need to take care of one another, I am not ashamed to bear that label. But Nazi??? Who could say anyone who wants to provide care for all is a Nazi? Come on!
Businesses cannot endure the rising costs of health care. Some say employees should not expect that benefit. If employers cannot afford it, how can we expect employees to take on the burden themselves? So, what is the solution?
We are supposed to be one of the greatest countries in the world. Can we not solve this together? Let's stop the name calling and the distraction and get this job done.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Family relationships are a microcosm of societal interaction. The larger and more extended the family relationships the better the representation of the broader society. Through the years there are conflicts, dramas, crisis and celebrations. Families come together and families are sometimes split to pieces.
At your last family reunion or gathering, was there one person who walked in and changed the whole tone? Good and bad?
The same thing happens in the board room, the social club meeting, the school reunion and in any regular gathering.
When I was teaching, I was humored that each class had the same personality dynamics. There was always an over achiever. There was always a student who tested the teacher. There was always a student with excuses. There was always a student refusing to work within the structure of the system. And these were adults.
These approaches to interacting in groups surely began with family relationships. It's tough to break patterns of behavior that are deeply ingrained. Of course, the good patterns we want to keep. The bad may be very difficult to overcome, especially if they are not recognized as bad.
As I've heard stories from friends about the various gatherings this summer, I've been interested in the ones talking about the relative who was perhaps a step out somehow. The most positive stories were about city relatives coming to the country. The kids began their visit timid and uncertain about getting involved. With encouragement, they were soon kayaking and cooking on an open fire. It took caring encouragement.
The saddest was about a relative who is perpetually stirring drama. Without even being at the family gathering, she was able to interject a degree of controversy. It was based on a battle that has been a recurring theme for many decades in that family.
Where did it begin? And how can it ever end?
I'm learning for myself that the better I work with family issues, the better I work with larger groups. Family issues are the most difficult and there seems to always be one family member that seems simply impossible. That's a challenge. I'm thinking if I can learn a comfortable way of dealing with that one, I can use that skill later in a larger context. I've certainly had more time to practice and may be able to get away with more mistakes on that one.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


“Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see.” Benjamin Franklin
As we muddle through the vast array of information now available to us, how do we determine what is true and what is not? So much information is at our fingertips but how much is simply garbage?
Maybe we should take the approach Ben Franklin advised. If someone tells you something, simply don't believe it is true. If you see something, believe there is a 50/50 chance that it is true. So, then what do we do?
In the end, I think we need to all learn to follow our inner voice. There is a positive energy - a source of all things good - God, perhaps. We need to quiet all around us - what we have heard - what we have seen - and let our inner spirit guide us to what is right and true.
Maybe that is why I have been thinking about Greenland lately. Imagine the silence of that place in the deepest chill of winter. A dark northern sky - only a few hundred souls nearby - only the sound of cold nature - darkness - a crunching snow - Silence, thundering Silence. A clarity that the soul can feel and hear. Something that can be believed deeper than one can see or hear.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Fall Arrival In Greenland

I arrived in Greenland October 1978. We flew in a C-130 cargo plane stopping in Goose Bay, Labrador before hopping the ocean. It wasn't fancy. Like riding in an oversize cargo van, there was no insulation and it was very noisy. Webbed cots folded out from the sides and we could lay down for the trip which was about 4 hours from Goose Bay.
We arrived in daylight though the days were already growing short and the temperature was wintery, about 30F. I was immediately issued heavy mittens, a parka, Sorrel boots (which I still wear) and mukluk's (a boot with attached canvas leg protection that tied at the thigh.)
Bundled up, I was ready for the grand tour. The landscape is stark like a frozen desert. It is not green at all. The little vegetation that exists is short and brown. Less than 1000 people were living there; about 800 Danish, 80 US Air Force and a small number of US civilians. Most of the Danish people lived on one side of the runway and the rest of lived on the other. There was a movie theatre, an NCO club, a gym and bowling alley, the Polar Bear Hotel, a dining hall, the Base Exchange and barracks on the US side. On the other side was Scandinavian Airlines and the International Airport with a restaurant and grocery store and apartments were nearby.
From the Danish side, we could drive out to the port on the longest paved road in all of Greenland - 9 miles - speed limit 35 mph.
From the US side, we could drive across the fjord and up the mountain on a 3 mile dirt road to Lake Ferguson, a beautiful glacial lake - deep and blue. That was my regular drive for work at the Radio and Television Station. A short walk away was the Danish Row club which by October, was closed for the season.
This would be my world for the next year. The nearest civilization is hours by plane, longer by boat, and a dogsled is only going to get you to an even smaller village somewhere out there. The next day I would meet the station manager for my first official day as a broadcaster in Armed Forces Radio and Television.

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Year In Greenland

One of the most extraordinary experiences in my young life was being stationed at Sondrestrom Air Base. That was 30 years ago.
It closed as a US Air Base in 1992.
I've been thinking for some years that I'd really like to go back. So, recently, I downloaded Google Earth to see if I could find it. And I did. From the air the place looks pretty much like I remember. It's still a very small town - Kangerlussuaq. Now it is promoted as a tourist destination. Is Greenland on your list of tourist destinations? It is on mine. I lived there one year.
Check out the midnight sun tab. I saw the northern lights in even greater glory than the picture shows. The pictures of Lake Ferguson reveal the landscape I saw everyday. It's about 3 miles up the mountain from Kangerlussuaq and where the Radio/TV station broadcasts originated in those days. The Danish Row club was nearby.
So, what is Greenland like? Sondrestrom - Kangerlussuaq - is the "Miami" of the north. While Thule had a complete underground system for going from one place to another, we did not need that in Sondrestrom. Our winter temperatures that year were in the -60F degree range. As long as we plugged our vehicles in, they would start. We dressed accordingly and learned that exposed skin was not an option.
I wrote home that I had walked to the truck without drying my hair and it froze on the way to the truck. My family sent me a hair dryer. There are no trees - except for the one in Royal Danish Commander's yard which was in a pot. My brother sent me pictures of the trees of PA in various stages of color.
Greenland is an amazing place. I will write more about that year in the days ahead. At this time, 30 years ago, I was leaving there. I was there when they won their "independence" - home rule. I spent only one year there but am still drawn to it. I am drawn to the place but also the people - both Danish and Greenlandic. I am also drawn to the historic significance of the United States presence there.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Rhetoric of Motives

Two of my favorite college courses were Communication Law and Communication Theory. Communication Law focused on the First Amendment and copyright. Communication Theory dissected the complicated aspects of communication.
As we examined First Amendment cases, I was facinated by the distinctions between free speech and individual rights protecting libel and slander. We do not have the right to lie. We cannot yell "fire" in a crowd. And if those lies harm another, it is against the law - whether verbally or in writing. It's really that simple.
Communication Theory was my passion. I love it still. How do we effectively communicate a message? How do we effectively evaluate the messages we hear and see? My career has led me in the path of crafting messages so I am reminded to go back to basics often and look at how messages are perceived. How can we craft communications to help people understand our intended message? And, as we receive a message, how do we determine it's true intent or truthfulness?
We often assume a great deal. When we hear gossip, for example, how do we determine what is true? Is it more reliable based on the person who tells it? Is it more reliable if they tell a story and a portion of the information is also in the newspaper? Is it more reliable if that person tells the gossip in front of someone else who nods in agreement?
How do you decide? My favorite theorist, Kenneth Burke, would point to Motives. Look deeply at the motives of the communication source. You must go beyond the message and seek the greater context. There you will gain a larger truth. You can apply this to corporations or individuals. Look for the motives behind the rhetoric.