Let’s listen and enjoy the silence

I have always been more than a little uncomfortable with silence. I love to talk. Argument and debate are part of my skin.

Silence actually unnerves me and I will invariably do something to end silence and create dialogue. I often will use humor to do that. My daughter and my late wife could be silent for 30 to 60 seconds when they were talking on the phone on and it drove me up the wall. With the patient guidance of my wife Candace, I am beginning to appreciate the beauty and benefits of silence.

Silence can be beautiful but I need to listen in order to find that silence. Listening has never been a strong point for me. These days it seems as if everybody is yelling and few of us are listening. I am trying to change that by doing several things that have long been foreign to me. I have been trying to:

Listen to my breath, to my beating heart. They are a profound gift. I have people who I loved who no longer have that gift of life.

Listen to my better self. When I am quiet, that better person often talks to me and guides me. When all the talking is raucous and unnerving, my better self can get me through it without resorting to anger and meanness.

Listen to my dreams. No matter my age I can still dream about what might come next. Hope can shape me and guarantee my positive outlook on life.

Listen to those I love without defensiveness. I know they care deeply about me and they have wisdom I need.

Listen to my critics and to those who just tick me off. It’s difficult because those people are often not very nice and they believe stuff I don’t. Yet, my understanding of the world and of myself will be incomplete if I don’t listen to the critics. I don’t have to buy what they say, but it is terribly arrogant if I don’t at least consider their thoughts.

Listen with an open mind. I, like everybody else, have my beliefs and my “frames” for thinking about things. Increasingly, I am trying to consider the merits of other people’s thinking.

Listen to the written word. I am reading ever more non-fiction, history, current events reading from reliable sources, and provocative books such as Hillbilly Elegy. The more perspective I can find the better. Listen to the world around me. As I write I am sitting on the sunny patio of a coffee shop. I can hear just enough of the conversation next to me to know that it is not healthy. It is full of gossip and griping.  Listening to that sort of thing shows me how cheap and vulgar I sound when I do that same thing.

Listen to the environment. The birds are chirping. The bunnies and squirrels are chattering and the dogs are barking. I need to listen more closely to the rising temperatures, the weird weather, such as tornadoes in Minnesota in March, and the melting ice packs, so our grandchildren can listen to the birds and the bunnies.

Talking is easy. I find listening far more difficult, but a worthy effort.

Finding my happy place at a Spring Training game

Early in my newspaper leadership career my company sent me and other top executives to a development clinic for its top executives where I learned something memorable and profound. It helped me appreciate my true joy.

Every time the clinic psychologists and psychiatrists wanted us to deeply reflect on  important parts of our life, they told us to mentally go to the most peaceful, happy place we could imagine.  I remember some colleagues went  to their imaginary beaches, forests and parks.

I did not struggle at all. I closed my eyes and mentally went to a spring training game in Lakeland, Florida at Joker Marchant stadium. When I worked in Florida from 1977 to 1979,  I had spring season tickets to the team I had followed since I was little boy. When asked to think of my ideal happy place, it was easy to imagine myself in great seats, near the Tiger dugout with the Florida sun gently kissing the small, intimate field. Sure, some players were fighting for jobs, but the vibe of camaraderie and freshness was invigorating. Winners and losers don’t matter much in the spring. It’s all about kicking off the rust and getting sharp for the season.

In that beautiful setting, the stresses of my high pressure job melted away. When you say peaceful and happy to me, those scenes at the ball park almost 40 years ago flood my mind.

I have a friend who claims the three greatest words in the English language are “Pitchers, catchers report,” because that is such a harbinger of spring. I beg to differ with him. “Spring training game” are three much better words.

My fantastic journey, we call life, has brought me full circle back to a place where spring training thrives. A quiet, sunny afternoon at a spring training game in Scottsdale is still my perfectly peaceful, happy place. At practically every San Francisco Giants spring home game you can find me basking in the sun. I have owned season tickets for several years but this, the first year of retirement, has allowed me to see just about every game.

The magic and mysterious peace of the spring ballpark still thrills me. Sure, the setting is ideal, but I also deeply admire the game of baseball which can best be appreciated in person. The perfect measurements of the baseball field combined with the fluidity of movement fascinate me. I love to critique game strategy and decision-making. It is a game tailor-made for second-guessing.

I often sit at a game and jabber with a friend as I watch the action. Sometimes, I go to the game alone and just soak up the comforting vibes while admiring the artistry of hitting a small ball coming at a guy at 95 miles per hour. In moments like this I can let peace wash over me.

Spring training games are definitely about baseball, but for me they are also about going to my happy place, a peaceful refuge that allows me to reflect and find real peace.

And no matter the season, all I need to do to slow down and find equilibrium is to recall those magnificent images of spring baseball.  My happy place has given me peace and joy for many years and it keeps on giving.

Here’s to your happy place.

 

Steve Buttry lived a wonderful life and he lived a great death

Steve Buttry lived a fascinating life. His death a few weeks ago was tragic and sad as all deaths are, especially to the family who loved him, and to the many people who called him friend. His death was also intriguing, instructive and  provocative. Provocative, because I think Steve did a great and powerful good with how he LIVED death.

Steve and I considered each other dear friends even though we were actually together less than a dozen times. Our friendship was fueled by the digital age. We grew close through blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. Our bond became strong.

I deeply respected Steve’s determined efforts to move the stodgy newspaper industry into the 21st Century. He was outspoken when he needed to be. To my delight he tilted at more than a few windmills and he passionately cared for journalism. He did all that with unerring kindness, concern and attention to people’s feelings and emotions.

To be candid, I was lucky that Steve said nice things about me and my book in his compelling blog and in private forums. Steve and I had a comfortable mutual admiration society.

You don’t have to take my word about Steve’s successes and his impact. This salute from a student editor is heartwarming. Wonderful tributes are  here, here and here. And this incredible collection of salutes should tell you everything you need to know about Steve and his professional and human contributions.

Assuming I have established how well Steve lived an extraordinary life, let me travel the road less traveled (Steve would expect nothing less of me) and talk about what I find the intriguing and instructive part.

Steve was a deep believer in transparency before he got sick so it was unsurprising that when he faced his third bout with cancer he discussed it openly on Caring Bridge, Facebook and on his excellent blog. Steve especially impressed me with his constant gratitude for his life, his loves, his experiences and his friends. He eloquently wrote about all the gifts he received since he survived his first two cancers. His omnipresent optimism also fueled that particular blog.

The striking thing about Steve’s path to his death was his amazing commitment to his relationships. His devoted, funny and strong wife Mimi could never have doubted Steve’s love, and her love for him shone like a guiding star.

Last August, Steve and I shared breakfast at a suburban hotel outside Minneapolis. We both knew his path was growing short and I brought the relatively fresh scars of my late wife’s death to the table. We both shot straight and hid nothing. Before Mimi joined us, Steve told me he was spending a great deal of time writing letters to his three sons and Mimi. These were not dashed-off letters. They were comprehensive stories about the family, his interaction with each of them and reflections on his deep love for each of them.

Steve did the same for his friends with far greater brevity. A few weeks ago I received a delightful two paragraph letter from Steve thanking me for being his friend. Apparently several other friends received similar notes. My note thanked me for what I had done for him, wished we had known each other better and concluded with some nice compliments.

Now to the provocative part. Here is how Steve began that note. “I’d rather die suddenly, but a slow death does let you leave with less unsaid, so I am writing letters to some friends.” I responded with this:

Thank you for your brilliant and kind letter. Writing these took guts.

I was a little surprised that you said you would prefer to die suddenly. From afar it seems to me you are LIVING a perfect death.

Colleagues and friends have been able to honor you in several different ways. You had a wonderful opportunity to share with and embrace your family and your devoted wife.

I think I have told you that the greatest thing my Dad ever taught me was how to die. Well, friend you are my new model. Your transparency, your courage and your integrity are fantastic examples for all of us.

Now that gentle Steve has passed there is a small tinge of regret for telling him how he ought to feel, but it is a small tinge.

As I said in the first paragraph, I think Steve did a great and powerful good with how he LIVED death. I wanted him to realize that, in my view, he accomplished so much with that death.

Steve has left us with three instructive lessons.

He fashioned a model of strength that any and all of us should strive to follow. His courage, his candor, his attention to to others and his selflessness set a standard that I pray I can match when the time comes.

He allowed people to honor him. LSU’s Manship school honored him with a scholarship in his name, and he was awarded a Chairman’s Citation from the National Press Foundation in 2017. Certainly those honors should have pleased Steve, but they also allowed so many givers to formally thank him for his great contributions.

Steve taught us to attend to relationships in an intimate and professional way. His wife, his sons and his friends are not going to forget his final communications.

I remain surprised by Steve’s wish for a more sudden death. I have a dear friend who lost his wife about five years ago. Dan Untiedt;s  wife Ginny’s car  inexplicably hit a tree and she died suddenly. Dan was incredibly distraught and dearly wished he would have had some time with Ginny before she died as I had with my wife before she passed three years later.

I told Dan shortly after my wife died, that a sudden death is horrible, awful and terrible. I also told him a lingering death is horrible, awful and terrible. They are simply different.

Steve Buttry’s slow death must have been painful, horrible, awful, terrible and a loathsome burden. But for my money one of his many legacies will be the great lessons he taught us with the way he died.

God bless Steve Buttry’s soul and his outstanding family.

 

Kindness in Zurich is just like kindness can be at home

I don’t even know the name of the kindest woman I have met in a long time.

Zurich is a tale of two cities. It is the modern banking center portrayed in books and articles. It is also a baffling medieval town that feels more like a rabbit warren than a modern, hip city.

Fondue makes Zurich proud and we were told of an excellent, traditional restaurant the Old Town area. Our taxi driver was not so nice and kind. He dropped us off on a main street and pointed into the confusing tangle of streets and said, “It’s in there.”

We assumed that cryptic instruction meant we could follow the street straight ahead of us and find our dinner. Not so much. We went straight, then we turned and we turned again. My wife and I are not afraid of asking directions. Asking does not guarantee anybody will care, or know what we were asking. The language barrier made it difficult, but most people gave us the “I can’t be bothered” shrug. The English speakers who bothered to listen to our plea seemed to know less about Old Town than we did.

Then we stopped a woman who was walking fast and with purpose. She struck us as a knowledgeable resident. We were wrong. She did not know the restaurant we were seeking.Yet, she didn’t blow us off. She concentrated, furrowed her brow and finally said, in halting English,”No, I just don’t know.” She then continued on her way. After about 15 steps, she stopped and turned back toward us. By then she had pulled out her phone and she had apparently made a mental commitment to help us.

I’d like to think the kindness fairy or our guardian angel tapped her on the shoulder. More likely, her innate goodness took over and she decided she was not in as much of a hurry as she thought she was. Her phone, however, did not equal our immediate rescue. The directions she found were confusing. She decided they were far too difficult to explain. Thankfully, she did not try.

With her phone in hand and incredible kindness to strangers in her heart, the woman, who probably had a score of things to do that early evening, guided us gently through the nooks and crannies of Zurich’s old town. The walk was probably only five minutes. If we had been left on our own it might have taken five hours.

We reached the front door of the restaurant and the woman flashed a smile of triumph as if she had just climbed Mt. Pilatus. We thanked her profusely and her smile confirmed she was incredibly pleased she could help. She walked away with a bounce in her step and a smile on her face. Kindness made her feel good and rescued our evening.

We will never see her again, but I won’t forget her.

Tim J. McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home.”

Steve Twomey’s Pearl Harbor book teaches us a lot about life and relationships

Sometimes books teach us things we never expected to learn. History can be a great guide to living our daily lives.

Countdown to Pearl Harbor: The Twelve Days to the Attack by Steven Twomey is a fascinating history book. I like to read about World War II. Most of my reading has been about the European Theater so Twomey’s keen insight into the Pacific taught me a lot.

The book confirms in spectacular detail the general impression many of us have that the U.S. could have or should have known the attack was coming in Hawaii.

Twomey, who is a Facebook friend I don’t know well at all, is a Pulitzer Prize winning feature writer and it shows. The book is terrifically written. Twomey’s words made me sweat the entire 12 days even though I obviously knew the attack was coming. You know it is a great book when you find yourself yelling at the men from 1941 for screwing the pooch.

It is how those men messed up that fascinated me. It dawned on me fairly quickly that every day many of us make the same mistakes  that U.S. Army, Navy and political leaders disastrously made in 1941.

Twomey actually wrote a piece on the business lessons to be learned from his book. He has allowed me to append it to the bottom of this post. It is a good read and he is right on the mark.

But as I bumble through life, I think we would all do better in our social discourse if we learned from the Pearl Harbor errors.

Assumptions

The naval and military leaders at Pearl Harbor assumed ships could not reach Pearl Harbor. They assumed Japanese weapons were inferior. They assumed Japan did not have the courage to attack and on and on.

Many of us roll through the world making assumption after assumption about our spouse, children, friends or people we don’t like much.

Those assumptions are based on past behavior, stereotypes, tone of voice, etc. I know I jump to some pretty dumb conclusions sometimes simply because I react before I completely listen. I assume I know what’s coming and I really don’t like making an “ass out of u and me” as the old cliché about the word assume goes.

Belittling the other folks

The United States naval and army leaders held the Japanese in very low esteem. They belittled their intelligence, their flying ability and their naval acumen. Our leaders thought so little of the Japanese they believed it was impossible for them to attack us.

That’s exactly what is happening in our political discussions today and it also happens in our families today. Too often we judge people who disagree with us as stupid and ignorant.

They must be inferior if they don’t see our brilliance and insight.

My children and I used to have a rule.  If we thought we had heard something outrageous and even stupid, we had to ask ourselves if we thought that person was stupid. The answer to that question was always no. That told us we had sold our family member or friend short and we probably needed to ask for clarification.

Not invented here syndrome

Too many of our military leaders believed in American superiority to the point of foolishness.

They could not imagine that anybody, especially the Japanese, could figure out solutions to problems that had vexed us. If we couldn’t figure out the solution, nobody else could either.

Pride and hubris have laid me low more than a few times. I have learned over and over since a high school debate competition that there is always someone smarter than I am. Still, I forget it way to often.

When I taught entrepreneurial thinking, I used to urge my students to spend a lot of time examining whether competitors actually had a better mousetrap. When I was an editor and story subjects insisted our findings were wrong  I urged reporters to give every consideration to the fact that the objectors might be right.

In the same way our spouse, children or friends might be correct if we climb down off our high horse.

Dumb allegiance to your frame

The Japanese will not attack. The Japanese cannot attack. It is illogical that they attack and it is logical they do what we expect them to do. We have done nothing to provoke them.

That was the frame through which American leaders saw the Japanese prospects and possibilities. Our leaders never considered how angry the Japanese were, how belittled they actually felt and how squeezed for territory they felt. America never appreciated just how far the Japanese were willing to go.

We all have frames built by our upbringing, our faith or lack of it, our worldviews, our ethical values and even the role of love in our lives. Because our life experiences are different, our frames can be a little different to radically different.

We often have an innate inability to recognize our different frames. Doesn’t everybody think like I do?

I used to teach students about thinking differently by hoisting a Starbucks cup. I would hold the cup between two students. One student could see the green mermaid-like Starbucks insignia on one side. The other student saw a philosophical saying. Neither student was wrong about what they were seeing, but their frame was constrained. The truth is, few of us turn our cup around to see both sides of the cup and really focus on what the other person is seeing. So we make our decision with only half the story.

A little paranoia is healthy

The Americans at Pearl Harbor were so convinced they would not attack they never even looked for the Japanese. A wise man taught me early in my career that “paranoia is only heightened awareness.”  My late wife’s secret to raising our children was “trust but verify.” That’s why my kids always knew that their Mom might call the other Mom just to make sure somebody was monitoring their actions.  A little “trust but verify” at Pearl Harbor would have at least put some planes in the sky to see what was happening.

Steven Twomey’s book is a fine account of an important 12 days in our history. It can certainly teach us some things about national defense, but there are also important life lessons in it too.

Tim J. McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home.”

 

 

 

Op-Ed Piece

bu Steven Twomey

November 7, 2016

 

Give Japan’s navy its due. It successfully ambushed Pearl Harbor seventy-five years ago because its commander was partial to gambles; its technicians eliminated a confounding quirk of torpedoes, and its seamen proved adept at sailing thousands of miles undetected. The Japanese got lucky, too. In the era before spy satellites, they had no way of knowing as they set out whether the Pacific Fleet would even be in Hawaiian waters on December 7, 1941. And, no, Franklin Roosevelt did not know they were coming.

But mostly, the Japanese were the beneficiaries of acute managerial breakdown. One of the most unexpected, self-image shattering events in American history may be receding into a misty other century, but it is the perfect primer of the mistakes that government and business – that all of us — make every day.

Lesson One: Make sure there’s no other way to read what you write.

As peace was fraying in late November, Washington alerted its forces in the Pacific to probable Japanese aggression. Or thought it had. In reality, when officers at Pearl Harbor saw the Navy Department’s unprecedented first sentence – “This dispatch is to be considered a war warning” – they concluded danger lay elsewhere, because the note immediately went on to list Japan’s likely objectives, and Hawaii was not one of them. Its writers knew what they had meant – that while the listed locales seemed especially threatened, no outpost should feel safe – but they hadn’t considered how recipients might conflate the parts. If he missed the point, the fleet commander said later, “Then there must have been something the matter with the message.”

     Lesson Two: To assume is to regret.

That commander, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, was not required to report he understood the warning, or what security steps he was taking. Those in charge on the sea frontiers had risen to their exalted positions by demonstrating smarts and judgment, and the Navy Department was certain they would do the right thing. It wouldn’t micromanage. Only too late did Washington ask Oahu if search planes had been out, only to learn the answer was no. It is wise to give subordinates the room to be creative; it is not to remain ignorant of their choices.

In contrast, the Army did order its Hawaii commander to report how he was responding to the warning. But the War Department then failed to grasp what General Walter C. Short wrote back: He was guarding only against sabotage by islanders of Japanese descent, not an attack from without. “I told them as plainly as I could,” Short said. The Army Chief of Staff blamed a deluge of work for not reading carefully a reply he had demanded personally.

     Lesson Three: You can’t have multiple leaders.

The Navy and Army on Oahu did not compare notes after the warnings. Neither was subservient to the other. A congressman who was also a Marine reservist had spent a month of active duty on the island that summer, and concluded that one man ought to be in charge of both services there, someone to whom the crucial data and problems went, and from whom the big decisions emanated. To leave responsibility muddled “may prove dangerous and tragic,” the congressman wrote the Navy in October. Nothing had changed by December. As for whether Kimmel had begun a search after the warnings, which is what he thought might happen, Short said, “I did not pin him down.”

     Lesson Four: Don’t let your desires color new facts.

Too often on Oahu the latest intelligence was interpreted in a benign way, which enabled everyone to avoid disrupting plans and routines. By December 2, the names of four Japanese aircraft carriers had vanished from intercepted radio traffic, but the conclusion was they most likely remained in home waters. By December 3, Japanese diplomats were destroying codebooks and machines in Washington and elsewhere, but that was seen as merely a precaution Japan was taking in case the United States attacked it. “I didn’t draw the proper answer,” Kimmel said later.  “I admit that. I admit that I was wrong.”

This tendency to give information a sunny spin was especially costly in regard to torpedoes. Dropped from an airplane, a torpedo plunges deeply before running to its target. Pearl Harbor was but forty-five feet. In June, Washington advised that while an attacker would probably need considerably more water than that to avoid having its torpedoes plow into the sea bottom, no depth should be thought safe. The fleet did not take the caution to heart. No cumbersome protective netting was strung around the tethered battleships, which wound up punctured repeatedly by torpedoes the Japanese had modified for shallow waters.

     Lesson Five: If you are given expert advice, remember it.

In March 1941, a general and an admiral on Oahu concluded that in a time of tension, a fast Japanese raiding force might reach island waters “with no prior warning from our intelligence services,” and prior to a declaration of war. Launched from one or more carriers, Japanese planes might catch the fleet unawares in port, the two officers said. Reconnaissance would be the only antidote.

But then, just about everyone relegated that dangerous scenario to their mental back pages. It was a box that had been ticked. Americans did not view the Japanese as particularly creative or capable. The Navy felt its own ships would have a hard time pulling off a comparable strike on Japan, and if our boys couldn’t do it, theirs couldn’t. In the days after the war warnings, with four enemy carriers unaccounted for, no one even mentioned the news to the admiral who had co-authored the March report.

That morning long ago, as warplanes with red balls on their wings swept down on his ships, Kimmel stood in his yard watching with a neighbor, who would remember the look on the commander’s face. He was “as white as the uniform he wore.”