Humility in a haughty world

Legend at birthIn his book Good to Great, business guru Jim Collins describes what he calls “Level Five Leadership,” and why it’s so hard to achieve.

Level Four is mainly attained by a person’s drive to make it to the top. Ambition, talent, egotism and self-fulfillment characterize the ascent.

But Collins’ “Level Five” leaders also have a humility that makes them truly transformational people. They have ample motivation, extreme knowledge and special skills, but they also know it’s not all about them.

Here’s the irony: Everything that catapults a leader to Level Four works against him or her in the jump to Level Five. That’s why, Collins says, not many people get there.

When I look around our world today, I see growing levels of hubris, pride, arrogance and self-aggrandizing. Heck, we even put lines like “Future Hall of Famer” (and worse) on toddler tee shirts.

At a middle school B-team basketball game recently, a player blocked a shot, and then towered over his victim with heavy taunting.

I thought, in a measure of disbelief, “This is middle school! And B-team at that!”

Professional sports drive a lot of it. Kids just mimic what they see. Practically every play nowadays is punctuated with a Super Bowl-level celebration.

The concept “act like you’ve been there before” has flown the coop, along with “let your play do the talking.”

The entertainment culture contributes cockiness, too. The more highly one thinks of himself, the more likely a fifteen minute run of fame will last to sixteen.

Social media perpetuates a look-at-me environment. “Influencers” are paid based on their followership and followers rarely follow the self-effacing.

It’s not an easy line to walk. I want “Make America Great Again” without forgetting pride comes before a fall.

I want confidence in our progress but also a recognition that for as far as we’ve come, we still can’t land all helicopter flights safely.

Scripture is full of admonitions like Luke 18:14, “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Last week, San Antonio Express News sportswriter Tom Orsborn highlighted the reading passions of San Antonio Spurs past and present.

Legend Manu Ginobili recommends Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday. I haven’t read it, but it looks timely. Here’s a clip from the prologue:

While the history books are filled with tales of obsessive, visionary geniuses who remade the world in their image with sheer, almost irrational force, I’ve found that history is also made by individuals who fought their egos at every turn, who eschewed the spotlight, and who put their higher goals above their desire for recognition.

Are we surprised that an organization that won five world championships in fifteen years would spawn players interested in selflessness? Win or lose, head coach Gregg Popovich consistently encourages opposing players and coaches after games.

Corey Benjamin, the Chicago Bulls’ first round draft pick in 1998, once told a teammate he could beat a retired Michael Jordan in one-on-one.

When word got around, Jordan showed up to the Bulls practice facility to set the record straight. The game wasn’t even close. His Airness, in sweatpants, handled the upstart with ease.

A little humility – “I’d like to play Michael Jordan in one-on-one.”- would have kept Corey Benjamin off the wrong pages of basketball history.

 

Kevin Thompson writes frequently for The Boerne Star. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

Age and the current political climate

Before the recent opioid drug crisis dampened the growth of U.S. life expectancy, Americans were living an average of 1.5 to 2 years longer with each passing decade.

Today, the average American lives about 78.5 years which is roughly 8 years longer than the average American lived in 1970.

Longer lifespans have prompted retirement and other benefit markers to inch up along with life expectancy.

When I was young, my sister and I had a self-appointed adopted grandmother. This lady was a widow from our church whom my parents drove to evening services when darkness prevented her from driving.

She insisted on being called “Grannie.” My sister and I indulged her mainly because we didn’t want to face her wrath for non-compliance.

Grannie was the most opinionated woman I had ever met. She had a comment – usually negative – on virtually any topic, from the length of my pant leg to the length of the preacher’s sermon.

Our family never invited Grannie to our house because Mom couldn’t bear the thought of her housekeeping critiques.

Grannie was difficult to get along with. I wonder how much more challenging she would have been if she had lived five or ten years longer. Probably a lot.

For most people, filters come down with age. Some people get kinder as they age; most seem to get more cantankerous. They don’t as much. They’ll tear up a speech on national television immediately after it was given…by the president of the United States.

It’s well-accepted that our politics are more polarizing than ever. I wonder if age has anything to do with it.

The aforementioned speech ripper, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, turns 80 this month. Most of the major Democrat candidates for president are septuagenarians: Elizabeth Warren (70), Joe Biden (77), Bernie Sanders (78) and Mike Bloomberg (78). Their debates are a circus of squabbles.

Of course, President Donald Trump, 73, is prone to name-calling (“Sleepy Joe,” “Mini Mike”) and other childish behaviors.

His sardonic commentary both on Twitter and at the bully pulpit is the stuff previously reserved for pundits and comedians. It’s not generally conducive for healthy policymaking, or raising kids.

Years of experience can bring wisdom, and many of Trump’s presidential actions have been good for our country (Supreme Court appointees, tax cuts, regulatory reform, etc.). Our beloved President Ronald Reagan served a majority of his two terms while in his seventies.

But the circle of life has a way of returning aged adults to childish forms as their days wind down. Humans start in strollers and end wheelchairs. We start and end with feeding and bathing assistance.

Which begs the question…

The U.S. Constitution provides age minimums for the Presidency (35), the Senate (30) and Congress (25). Do we also need age maximums?

Many corporate boards have age limits. They usually are set at 72 or 75 according to a Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance.

At age 70, U.S. citizens must start collecting Social Security. At age 70.5, retirement accountholders must start taking distributions.

Given the demographic trends of our society, age discrimination is a legitimate concern. We must prevent it at all cost.

But it shouldn’t stop us from asking, “What are appropriate age limits for federal officeholders and would it help our political climate if we had them?”

 

Kevin Thompson writes regularly for The Boerne Star. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

A Christmas column montage

IMG_3623In my years pontificating in this space, I have penned a handful of Christmas-themed columns. Here are some of my favorite lines. Nothing quite like an author quoting himself!

I wrote once about a “real, live Clark Griswold” who perennially turned his quarter-acre lot on “an overlooked street in an underdeveloped part of town” into a magical holiday light display.

Jimmy Sartain included a nativity scene in his spread. During my visit, I noticed something was missing.

“Some kids were having one of those scavenger hunts,” Sartain said. “Somebody needed a baby Jesus, I guess.”

“Particularly somebody who steals one,” I wrote.

My cleverness continued, “When you turn into the neighborhood, a sign will say ‘No Outlet.’ But don’t believe it. There are actually many outlets, all being put to very good use.”

Another year I wrote about my favorite Christmas comedy, Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I called the piece “Herdmans, Herdsmen, and Me.”

Imogene Herdman was “as unlikely a carrier of the baby Jesus as Mary was herself,” I wrote. “Therein lies the story’s glory: God acting in the lives of ordinary people, the kind of people who get dental floss for Christmas.”

(My six-year-old had asked me that year, “What do you want for Christmas, Dad? Maybe some dental floss.”)

After the pageant, Imogene “returns alone to a darkened stage…In tears, she clings to the swaddled savior of the world.”

“From virgin birth to shepherd witnesses to a daring midnight escape…nothing is as you or I would have drawn it up. If a saving, gracing Creator can break through to Herdmans and herdsmen alike, just maybe he can break through to me.”

In “Both Rich and Poor Find Place at Christ’s Birth,” I wrote about lowly shepherds and lofty kings who visited the Savior baby born to humble folks.

“Was there really no room in the inn, or was there just no room for them in the inn?” I asked.

“At Christmas and in Christendom, rich and poor bow down together. They worship together in an upside-down kingdom. First are last. Poor are rich. What’s on the inside counts.”

In “Kids Can’t Not Believe” I write about how eager kids are to hold on to the magical, even an elf on the shelf. “Since the world is bigger than them, they assume there’s a world beyond them.”

It’s a lesson for us adults. That year, I was “struck by two miraculous births: Jesus, born to a virgin, and John, born to a barren woman. Whether we’re before our prime and scared, or past our prime and sad, the message is the same: God is in the impossible. Believe!”

Finally, in “Bottling the Spirit” I wrote about the season of miracles.

“You find a unique gift at a department store. You find an affordable one at a boutique. You think about families who have too little and people who have no families. You consider trees with no gifts and homes with no trees.

“You hit a movie, maybe a love story, and the popcorn tastes better than you remember. You stay through the credits. You attend a Christmas Eve service and hear the town’s best voice belt O Holy Night. You close your eyes and it’s Mariah to your untrained ears. You go to dinner afterward. You leave 35%.

“You recall the baby who, for the joy set before him, endured a tortuous death, rejected its shame and returned from where he came to prepare a place for us. Joy – to the world and back.”

 

Kevin Thompson writes regularly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Read more Christmas columns at http://www.kevinwt.com/christmas.

In search of forever families

Happy family heaving fun in the park.November is many things. A time to celebrate veterans. A time to give thanks. A time to parse the difference between a yam and a sweet potato.

It’s also a time to remember children who need a forever family.

November is National Adoption Month. Special thanks to Nineteen Ten Church’s Jason Brown for the reminder.

The initiative’s roots date back to 1976 when Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, a Democrat, announced an adoption week to recruit families for his state’s foster children.

In 1984, Republican President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the first national adoption week. About a decade later, Democrat President Bill Clinton expanded the campaign from a week to a full month.

Caring for orphans is rightly a national, bi-partisan concern. As President Trump stated in his 2019 proclamation of National Adoption Month, “…every child — born and unborn — is uniquely gifted by their Creator and endowed with both potential and immeasurable value.”

We should do everything we can for the children in need of a family, and for the families who take them in. It’s the highest of callings.

“Our son has ADD, PTSD and a bunch of other acronyms,” an adoptive father of an eleven-year-old told me last week. “He experienced every kind of abuse you can think of: physical, verbal, sexual, even neglect and starvation.”

The young man has been with his forever family for about five years. Progress is slow, but he is making headway.

“You can’t deal with adopted children, particularly those who have been through trauma, as you would your biological children,” the father continued. “They’re angry. They think you’re going to throw them away anyway, so they try to get rid of you on their terms. They want control.”

Adoptive parents know the struggles: tantrums, meltdowns, manipulation, threats, violence.

“Our son threw scissors at his teacher and flipped over desks,” the father remembered. “He’s a very smart kid, but he’s still often in trouble.”

Another forever dad honestly described how his adopted son has disrupted their family system:

“We don’t want to reward his bad behavior by taking him places, but we don’t want our other kids to miss out. When we do take him, even if he’s not acting up, he’s constantly interrupting.”

There are no easy answers. There is only perseverance.

The 2018 film “Instant Family” portrays some of the challenges of adoption. It will make you laugh and cry. If you haven’t seen it, watch it with your family over Thanksgiving.

President Trump’s adoption month proclamation pays respect to families who have taken the plunge:

“We recognize the loving and devoted individuals who are part of God’s plan for every child by taking on the role of a parent through adoption. We celebrate the beautiful families created through the generous act of adoption.”

I think about these special families whenever I meet a contributing member of society who tells me he or she was adopted.

Nineteen Ten’s Pastor Brown noted that if just one family from every church in Texas adopted a child, all kids in Texas’ foster care system would be home for good. One family per church doesn’t seem like a lot.

Perhaps that stat would make a good topic of conversation at Thanksgiving dinner, once the sweet potato / yam question is resolved.

 

Kevin Thompson writes regularly for The Boerne Star. Read more at http://www.kwt.info.

Online grocery shopping leads to faux pas

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We Americans live in an ever-advancing convenience culture, but grocery shopping has remained relegated, for the most part, to the aisles of antiquity.

We roam through paths of produce and staples much like market-going Egyptians or Greeks did in the third century before Christ.

Someday, stores will resemble giant vending machines with conveyor belts and robotics that assemble and spit out orders like a Snickers from a snack machine.

Today, however, grocery shopping is still incredibly inefficient, and then they go and put the milk in the back! But not before burying the bread in the middle!

I know, it’s a ploy to get me to fall for that inflatable slip ‘n slide.

Like you, I have been hungry for a way to make getting groceries – and ibuprofen – less painful.

So, when our friendly local grocer introduced online ordering combined with curbside pickup, I logged on to what I thought was the correct, red-colored web site. I proceeded to order $112 of groceries for curbside pickup…IN WAXAHACHIE!

Waxahachie is just south of Dallas. I live hours away near San Antonio.

I wrongly assumed I could easily switch my store preference to my hometown.

Instead, I had to visit a completely different web site and re-select all $112 worth of groceries – which somehow now cost me $118.

At the end of the process, the web site asked “Substitutions OK?” That’s code for “We’ll charge you no matter what’s in stock and throw something in your basket. You won’t remember what you ordered anyway, so don’t worry about it.”

I clicked OK.

When the appointed hour came, I pulled up curbside a little early. I needed to go inside the store “old school” and get some things I forgot to order online.

In the deli line, I noticed a red-shirted personal shopper taking a long look at me. I knew what he was thinking: “That’s the guy who’s getting cinnamon raisin bagels because we’re out of plain. Oh yea, he’ll eat anything.”

Back at the curb, so many cars were in line that it made picking up one’s groceries nearly as time consuming as shopping for one’s groceries in the store.

I’m pleased to report that I have since found a solution for the pickup delay. I now schedule pickups for 8:00 p.m. or later.

I know I sound sophisticated, but don’t take me for an expert. I’ve committed plenty of mistakes.

Two weeks ago, I accidentally ordered so many bags of grapes that I got a cease and desist letter from Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

Then, last week more bunches of bananas showed up than we have monkeys – and we have a lot of monkeys. My kitchen felt like Costa Rica.

In a pistachio shell, online ordering is worth the five dollars they charge to send a personal shopper around the store on my behalf. He’s the expert anyway. And he knows exactly the substitutions I like.

Hitting the quotation mark

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Graphic credit: Drew Beamer

I have long been a sucker for quotable quotes. I can’t often remember stories, jokes or movie scenes, but a good quote jumps off the page at me.

As a high school sophomore, I started writing daily inspirational quotes on the white board of my basketball locker room.

My teammates likely thought I was outside my lane; I was just a scrawny bench warmer. But my coach didn’t seem to mind, and for good reason.

Coach was a Pennsylvania native who had come to Nashville to write country music lyrics. When that dream didn’t pan, he became an English department chair.

You read that right. A head varsity basketball coach who served as the English department chair of a 1,500-student high school. He was probably the only one in the country.

In English class Coach introduced us to his favorite quotes, like Booker T. Washington’s, “I shall allow no man to belittle my soul by making me hate him.”

He also had quotes on our locker room walls:

“Nothing great has ever been achieved except by those who dared to believe that something inside them was superior to circumstances.”

And the sign we slapped when we exited the locker room, “Those who work the hardest are the last to surrender.”

I drew many of my white board lines from a motivational book for young athletes that my mother gave me. The sayings weren’t complicated, but they were helpful, such as “Remember when you were at your best. Now get there again!”

I likely inherited my love of one-liners from Mom. Her walls are full of them:

“Worry is the advance price you pay for troubles that may never come.”

“I asked God for all things that I might enjoy life. He gave me life that I might enjoy all things.”

The quotes of historical figures are never far from my consciousness.

Margaret Thatcher: “Being in power is a lot like being a woman. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”

Mark Twain: “When I was fourteen, my old man was so stupid I could hardly stand to be around him. When I turned twenty-one, I was amazed at how much the old man had learned in just seven short years.”

Vince Lombardi: “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

I’m constantly on the lookout for new fodder, like this line lifted from my friend Steve Garrison’s email signature: “Think like a man of action; act like a man of thought.” Here are some other new discoveries:

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.” – Abraham Lincoln

“You can’t think your way into new ways of living. You must live your way into new ways of thinking.” – Richard Rohr

“Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” – St. Francis of Assisi

And, finally, a great word for parents of small children on the power of trajectory: “If you’re an inch off on landing, no big deal. If you’re an inch off on takeoff, you miss the moon by a million miles.” – Neil Armstrong

Kevin Thompson writes regularly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

Advice for my college self

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Giving unsolicited advice is usually a bad idea, unless you’re giving it to yourself.

I recently attended my 20th college reunion. I’ll save you the math: I’m 42.

I graduated in 1999, which now sounds more like a sale price than an actual year of history. Our class motto boldly stated, “The century saved the best for last.” Yes, that’s the best we could come up with.

As I strolled a campus I’ve visited only a handful of times since graduation, I contemplated what I would tell my college-age self, if I could, from my current vantage point aloft forty-two years of experience.

This is not a definitive list. If there’s anything you learn from four decades of life it’s that there’s not much definitive in this world.

Nonetheless, truth, wisdom and perspective are accessible. So, here’s what I’d say to that handsome young buck, in between his Sadie Hawkins dates, of course:

  1. You’re about to make life-altering choices. Don’t agonize over them. There are many right options and only a few wrong ones. Spend more time and energy making your decisions right than you do fretting over making the right decisions.
  2. Your life up until now has been marked by milestones. Tests, graduations, licenses, liberties. These clear-cut goals can lure you into thinking summits are the point. They’re not. Find joy in the journey. As your friend’s tattoo will one day read, “The journey is the destination.”
  3. You’ve been rewarded for achievement. Not since kindergarten have you been commended for sitting still. Accomplishments require activity and effort, and there’s a good lesson there about the value of work. But keep it in check. We’re human beings, not human doings. Do less; be more.
  4. It’s good to explore your passions, but people pay for skills. You’ll need some practical ones to support yourself and your family. Money is not everything; it is something.
  5. Don’t worry about what others think of you. Think for yourself, and don’t be consumed with pleasing others. People aren’t usually thinking about you anyway; they are mainly thinking about themselves.
  6. Build up your patience and perseverance. The best things in life require a long process. Weeds sprout up quickly, as Jesus pointed out, but they’re useless in scorching sunlight. A shady oak took years to grow from a single acorn.
  7. Life is a team sport and a group effort. Help others, and learn to ask for help yourself. Then, be humble enough to receive it. “Alone we go fast; together we go far,” business consultant Ed Krei says.
  8. Watch out for perfectionism. It will sabotage your plans and relationships. Pursue faithfulness and consistency instead. You’ve heard Jesus said, “Be perfect as my Heavenly Father is perfect.” According to one seminarian, a more accurate translation is, “Be whole as my Heavenly Father is whole.”
  9. An onslaught of distraction is coming; learn to focus. You think cable TV and America Online are time suckers…
  10. The older you get, the faster life will go. Don’t wait to start down the path you want to be on. But don’t rush. In fact, “ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life,” Dallas Willard said. That’s good advice, as is this: Life is a marathon, not a sprint.

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