Two Questions in Remembrance of 9/11

“Where were you when the world stopped turning?” sang country music artist Alan Jackson in the weeks after 9/11.

I was at a Chik-fil-A in North Dallas. Then, in my cubicle. Then, in a co-worker’s apartment. We didn’t have a television at the office, and the news sites were jammed.

The perpetrators that day demonstrated certain foresight. They chose planes full enough of fuel to create maximum explosions but empty enough of people to limit resistance.

Their first hit got us all watching; their second terrified in real-time. All on 911, a universal number of distress. Though the terrorists were organized, their plans didn’t fall completely into place.

In Pennsylvania, the courageous passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93 scuttled its kamikaze mission. Cell phone calls provide a record:

“We’re going to rush the hijackers.”

“Are you ready? Let’s roll.”

“I have to go. They’re breaking into the cockpit. I love you.”

In New York, the hijackers knew forty-thousand people worked in the World Trade Center. Thousands more visited daily. Remarkably, less than 2,700 people perished in the structures. The Dallas Morning News’ special edition on the afternoon of 9/11 had predicted “tens of thousands” dead.

In the days after the attacks, stories flooded in. Some told of narrow escapes, others of loved ones lost.

Two public address announcements within the towers had life and death effects. One message encouraged workers to return to their offices stating the damage had been contained.

Another Titanic-esque message said the buildings were incapable of collapsing, which actually helped evacuees stay calm during their stairwell descent.

The stories of rescuers going up as regulars came down still put a pit in my stomach. One hero, “the man in the red bandanna,” was an intern at an investment bank. Welles Crowther is credited with saving at least five lives before he fell that day.

As chronicled in a new book by ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi, Crowther had plans to join FDNY. The department made him an honorary member posthumously, only the second such bestowment in its 141-year history.

On a macro level, we were fortunate to have a principled Texas cowboy riding herd at that point in our nation’s history. It was not a time for gray. We needed black and white, good and evil, us and them – we needed George W. Bush’s resolve.

“Our grief has turned to anger, and anger to resolution,” Bush told Congress in the days after the attacks. “Whether we bring our enemies to justice, or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done.”

Countering Secret Service opinion, Bush pushed to get back to Washington, D.C., by nightfall on September 11th. He knew the risks, but he did not fear the enemy.

In the years that followed, tens of thousands of his fellow Americans would take on similar risks, and they would not fear the enemy. Many would encounter Crowther’s fate.

At the end of the day, any day, especially that very long and somber day a decade and a half ago, the United States of America is still a nation of givers, sacrificers. We place service over self.

After the ash settles and the Psalms are read, we still ponder an age-old question: What does it profit a man to gain the whole world yet forfeit his soul?

State of Texas v. Yours Truly

“Do you want to play flag football with your coach from last year?” I asked my ten-year-old. “No,” he replied, much to my surprise. I thought he had fun last fall.

“I want to play tackle.”

His friends are playing tackle. A physician is letting his son play tackle. Mom is okay with tackle. Our 13-year-old is on his third season of tackle, after all. I’d still prefer flag.

It felt like me versus the State of Texas, where Friday Night Lights is as much religion as Sunday morning sermons.

I’m conflicted on football. I never played organized ball growing up. Dad got me into soccer early on to keep me distracted from it, I suppose. He never directly said I couldn’t play, but I somehow perceived his perspective.

I loved playing football in the neighborhood – even tackle, especially tackle. The physicality of tackling tickles something in a boy’s development.

For years I regretted never knocking heads and testing strength with pads on. I thought it would have done me some good to take on the next city state with a band of fifty-five brothers.

So which do I want for my sons?

The camaraderie of football is its greatest selling point. The sport is simulated battle, border-lying on barbarism. It is modern, somewhat socially acceptable gladiation.

For me, however, the attraction of football is not the violence. It’s the grace. The streaking, passing, route running and needle threading; not the smashing, bashing and crashing.

Naturally, I like the pad-less seven-on-seven summer passing leagues that teams play in the off-season. I wish there were similar competitive, non-contact options in the fall for high schoolers in lieu of traditional tackle.

Unlike some medical professionals and parents who restrict young boys from playing tackle, saying their brains and bodies aren’t developed enough, I prefer the opposite.

I’d rather them play early when they’re like marshmallows bumping into each other. It’s later on when testosterone starts doing damage.

Stronger muscles create speed, force, impact and contortion that the human body was never meant to absorb. At some point laws of physics take over. No matter how thick the muscles around it may become, the fibula is still less than an inch in diameter.

Today, grown men across the country walk around with disabilities, mostly minor, resulting from high school football. I have a friend who traveled to and from his senior year Cuero High School football games in an ambulance. He needed treatment before and after to rein in the pain.

Despite purported advances in padding and technique, injuries seem to be no less prevalent today. Just ask the Champion High School player who recently suffered a gruesome facial injury or the Dallas Cowboys’ Tony Romo who went down, yet again, before the season even starts.

I don’t have nagging football maladies and I’m thankful. Others do and they’re thankful, too – for their experiences in the arena, for participating in something bigger than themselves. Football in Texas certainly fits that bill.

As for this fall, the State of Texas has won. My 10-year-old is playing tackle.

Boat Rides Headline Stay-cation

Stay-cation. I first heard the term during the summer of 2008 when gas prices went to four dollars a gallon and I had just bought a used Chevy Suburban, mpg: 14.

The term gained strength through the recession of 2008-2009. It was perhaps more utilized in San Antonio because of our nearby tourist attractions. A stay-cation in Shreveport is still probably known as a family budget cut.

Now that gas prices have ticked down and the stock market up, the term, if not the concept, has generally been shelved. It seemed like every other Texan I called in July answered in Colorado, Wyoming or Montana.

When the better half suggested I use a few vacation days before school starts, I resurrected the stay-cation idea and priced out the usual suspects.

For a family of seven, a day at Six Flags would cost $400; a day at Sea World, $500. And that’s just for parking, discounted admission and a bucket of fried food for lunch.

Throw in a few rigged games, some stuffed or lighted souvenirs and a $25 refillable drink, and a two-day escapade gets you well into the four-figures.

A dusk fireworks display at Six Flags, however, only costs the price of a family meal on Chuy’s patio across the interstate. I prefer “innovative” over “cheap,” please.

After thinking outside the tourism box, I called Crane’s Mill Marina on Canyon Lake. They offered a pretty new 8-seat ski boat with all the accessories for about half the cost of a day at Sea World.

With positive attitudes, fishing bait and half a shelf of consumer packaged goods, we embarked. None of the above lasted long.

The positive attitudes fell in with our twelve-year-old when he got thrown hard from the tube. This, after he asked to be thrown hard from the tube.

Then, a ten-year-old covertly tossed the bait overboard. His sensitive heart couldn’t stand to watch live minnows impaled by an eight-year-old with catfishing hooks.

All along, snacks settled into stomachs like Jonah in the whale, long before the required protein and fiber were consumed. What leverage does a parent have in the middle of a lake?

As time ran out, kids were still wanting tube rides. They still wanted to fish. And somehow they wanted yet another plastic-wrapped cupcake.

We left the marina with plans to return and with our eyes set on a second stay-cation boat ride: a dinner cruise on the Riverwalk downtown.

The better half explained to the tribe that some couples would be on date nights. I explained that “facilities” meant bathrooms and that there wouldn’t be any on the river taxi. No, going off the side wouldn’t be an option.

The kids minded their manners particularly well. They stayed in their seats. They tried what was on their plates. They survived without lemonade. They even listened to the tour guide talk about things older than their dad.

Evidently, someone is listening during those broken-record family dinners at home, the ones where it feels like we’re doing it all, again, for the very first time.

Or maybe they just believed me when I said the annual dredging of the Riverwalk turns up jewelry, cell phones, patio chairs and misbehaving children. How’s that for leverage?

 

Kevin Thompson can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

 

Cops Face Catch-22s

When Dallas Police Chief David Brown said recently that we’re asking too much of cops, he meant we’re demanding the impossible.

Not only are we asking the blue to salve a variety of societal ills, we have also put officers in a perpetual catch-22.

On the one hand, we expect them to sniff out horrors before they happen. On the other, we have restricted their instincts and their ability to use past experiences to predict future events.

Across the decades a few rogue officers have certainly committed atrocious injustice against civilians of all races. But most agents enter law enforcement because they believe in order and rightness. They want to give and serve.

Most are like Boerne Police Officer Jason Abbott. He and other local law enforcement faced a catch-22 in recent weeks.

Gun advocates are scattering the countryside to flex their Second Amendment rights. They are walking populated streets of various jurisdictions with arms overtly born. One carried a rifle through Boerne recently with his cell phone camera rolling.

The law allows open carrying so long as no alarm is caused. Unfortunately, defining alarm is about as subjective as choosing the best breakfast taco in San Antonio.

What I find alarming is different than what my six-year-old finds alarming. Yet, cops must decide what’s actually alarming.

The rifle-carrying activist posted his interactions with officers on YouTube. You could tell by his tone he wanted a tussle. “Am I being detained, officer?” he asked as Abbott approached him near the intersection of Main and Blanco.

“No, sir,” Abbott responded respectfully. “I just want to ask you some questions.”

“I feel like I’m being detained. My rights are being violated,” the visitor replied with profanity mixed in.

“If you’ll stay calm, I just want to have a dialogue. Is the gun loaded?” Abbott inquired.

The gentleman pleaded the Fifth Amendment for a moment, but then couldn’t help himself.

The remainder of the video consists of the activist lecturing Officer Abbott on how he should handle calls from concerned citizens about people like him.

It also shows Abbott explaining that he is not taking away anyone’s rights by approaching the subject of another citizen’s call to determine whether a safety concern exists.

Tactfully, Abbott kept the interaction subdued. He seemed to understand that simply allowing passionate voices to be heard usually defuses their intensity.

This situation represents the classic quandary cops face:

Intervene when a situation is safe and get accused of harassment and rights violations; fail to intervene when something is wrong and get accused of missing the chance to stop a tragedy.

I asked a good friend and San Antonio policeman how he’s changed as an officer in recent years.

“I’m less proactive. I’m still willing to lay down my life to protect innocent people like those guys in Dallas did, but I’m more cautious. We all are. That’s why violent crime is up nationwide, 17% in San Antonio this year.”

Along with Chief Brown in Dallas, my friend points to the absence of fathers as the primary driver of the disorder facing our nation. Officers know. They’re on the front lines everyday. They see the decay firsthand.

Meanwhile in ivory towers, distant leaders bark of background checks and gun control. They never mention the best form of gun control ever invented: fathers and sons going hunting together.

Follow Kevin Thompson at http://www.kwt.info.

Columnist’s Headshot Gets Refresh

For the past 8 years, a headshot photograph taken in my twenties has graced the pages of my local newspaper. I am now in my thirties, late-thirties. It’s time to update my profile.

To spin two phrases from FBI Director James Comey regarding Hillary Clinton’s email habits, the old headshot is not “grossly negligent,” but it is “extremely careless” in its handling of reality.

This is not the only time I have been misrepresented in a widely-consumed publication. An August 2015 edition of Bankers Digest showed my face next to an article about a Kevin Thompson of the Centennial Bank headquartered in Jonesboro, Arkansas.

The Arkansan Thompson had been named an emerging leader of the Arkansas Bankers Association. He sounds like an impressive young man.

My “friends” back here in Texas ridiculed me incessantly for an honest editor’s honest mistake. They obviously don’t understand the frantic nature of the 24-hour community banking news cycle. They accused me of moonlighting and wondered if everything were okay at home.

I assured them I was fine, except for the emotional pain and suffering one endures from being taken advantage of because of his good looks. I’m still considering a lawsuit.

Back to Boerne and the great headshot update of 2016. A variety of factors has compelled this pictorial refresh. For one, autograph requests at the grocery have dipped.

In fact, the only time in the last year I have been recognized in public was at my kids’ school. According to one of their friends, I showed up in art class under a paper mache project.

That was almost as embarrassing as the time a local pharmacy tech flattered me about a recent article while handing me a less-than-flattering prescription. Small-town pharmacy tech would be a fascinating job.

I have also decided to update my headshot because of my fundamental commitment to under-promise and over-deliver. There’s enough baiting and switching going on out there.

Growing up in Nashville, I once barely recognized Tim McGraw and Faith Hill at a local meat-and-three. Things just aren’t the same without the makeup and styling. It’s worse when your headshot is almost ten years old. Perception-as-reality has its limits.

I understand the tension, though. As much as stars don’t want to get old, fans don’t want their stars to fade. It’s sad enough hearing about the Oak Ridge Boys playing second-tier casinos. I don’t want to see what forty years of tryin’ to love two women will do to you.

Hence, most celebrities believe an older photo of a newer subject trumps a newer photo of an older subject.

Not this celebrity. I’m all about authenticity. Therefore, I submit to you today a new headshot…that is almost four years old.

 

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas Hill Country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

 

Strategic Thinking on Leadership

The most basic challenge of leadership is to get followers. The second most basic challenge is to keep them.

Whether it’s getting employees to stick with your vision or getting customers to stick with your brand, leadership is principally about getting and keeping followers.

San Antonio-based management consultant Keith Hughey led a strategic planning and leadership development course in Dallas last month. He offered some insights that are worth repeating.

The freshest and most intriguing concept was a descriptive juxtaposition of an organization’s vision versus the truth about that organization. Hughey’s model was built on the work of sales consulting firm Critical Path Strategies.

Two equilateral triangles sat side by side. One pointed down representing the vision, the other pointed up representing the truth. A listing down the side of the chart showed stakeholder levels, from owners and executives at the top to front line workers and customers at the bottom.

Here’s the crux: The board of directors and “C-suite” management know a lot about the organization’s vision, but only a little bit of the truth.

Conversely, customers know little of the vision but 100% of the truth about what it’s like to do business with that firm.

As you go up the stakeholder chain (front line staff, supervisors, middle management, etc.), stakeholders know progressively more about the vision, but less about the truth.

The instruction is two-fold: (1) Find ways to understand what customers actually experience about your organization; and (2) Find ways to display your company’s vision throughout all stakeholder levels, down to your customer base.

Hughey had a simple but meaningful definition of value: experience minus expectation.

If my experience of your company surpasses what I expected from it, I will assign it value. Otherwise, I will not pay for a product or service that leaves me with more expectation than satisfaction.

Addendum: Once you exceed a customer’s expectation, you just have to be consistent. You don’t necessarily have to keep raising the bar.

This principle applies to personnel, as well. Hughey says seventy per cent of voluntary turnover is caused by something a supervisor did or didn’t do. In other words, experience fell short of expectation.

“People don’t quit their job. They quit their boss,” Hughey states.

With help from the late management science guru, Peter Drucker, Hughey gives seven needs of workers: teamwork, training, communication, recognition, growth opportunities and fairness.

Lacking any of these leads to employee disengagement and turnover.

In evaluating existing staff performance, ask two questions: (1) Would you hire them today? and (2) If they told you they were leaving, would you try to keep them?

“The toughest decisions you will make have to do with people,” Hughey told us.

Finally, Hughey tossed out a twist on Einstein’s famous definition of insanity being doing the same thing and expecting different results.

“The new definition of insanity is doing the same things and expecting the same results. The world is changing too much and too fast,” Hughey believes.

Old methods of gaining and keeping followers (e.g., command and control) are quickly losing effectiveness. People have too many options.

Leadership today must be aware, intentional, convincing and value-producing.

 

Follow Kevin Thompson at http://www.kwt.info.

 

Rules of the Roost

The better half and I had discussed getting chickens at some point in the hypothetical future. Such as when the kids were older, and the house was restored to order.

So, I was slightly surprised when a box of chicks showed up the week before Easter. Slightly more surprising: two ducklings appeared in the box of fowl.

Boerne, Texas, is actually a hotbed for the “chicken-as-pet” movement. Randall Burkey Company on Industrial Drive produces the Happy Hen Chicken Treats sold in Tractor Supply across the country.

Several friends of ours have entered the backyard chicken craze with varying results. The more rural their properties, the less success they seem to have. Evidently, it’s still the Wild West for white meat out there.

I was unaware. Unlike most men in the hill country, I have no motion-activated, Internet-accessed hunting camera in the woods.

So, hearing of hawks, foxes and coons, I planned for the worst as I planned my coop. Its walls would extend twelve inches into the earth. Its frame would consist of commercial grade pressure-treated two by fours.

And despite its name, chicken wire simply wouldn’t do. We would use half-inch steel-welded wire. I stopped just short of a reinforced concrete safe room.

As coop construction commenced, the chicks and ducklings roamed half a refrigerator box in our garage. We quickly realized ducks grow faster than chickens and that ducks have only one kind of stool: loose.

If anyone knows of a company that removes duck movement stains from a garage floor, I could use a recommendation.

After the first week or so, we began to let the youngsters get some fresh air around the yard. Of all the predators I had contemplated, “family dog” was not one of them.

But to a half-Labrador retriever, a chick is basically a ball that throws itself.

For a time, we fended off friendly fire from Hank, as well as from his partner in crime, the family cat, who seemed quite intrigued by the yellow mice that had taken up residence in the garage.

Then, having momentarily let down both our guard and the walls of the barricade the birds occupied, disaster struck.

In three days, Hank eliminated four chickens. The attacks weren’t mutilating bloodbaths. He’s too friendly for that. He basically just played them to death. He literally wrung their necks.

We buried the fallen chickens just days before they were to move into their poultry palace.

About this time, the ducks began sleeping in the yard. After a couple of weeks of safety, one fell prey to a more traditional predator. We’re not sure what it was, but it was at least kind enough to cover funeral expenses.

So, a quick recap of the fowl count: Seven chicks are now 3 chickens, including a rooster; two ducklings are now 1 duck.

Rather than the remaining duck soiling my pristine poultry palace, we released it into the wild at Cibolo Creek. There, we watched her face a predator of another type: a male eager to start a family.

Back at the coop, the young rooster has started to crow. It sounds more like a fog horn than the perky “cock-a-doodle-doo” I remember as a child. Accordingly, I have added an entry to the potential predator list: neighbor with gun.

 

Kevin Thompson can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

 


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 686 other followers


%d bloggers like this: