Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Thomas Merton Identified

“If you want to identify me,
Ask me not where I live,
Or what I like to eat,
Or how I comb my hair,
But ask me what I am living for,
In detail,
And ask me what I think
Is keeping me from living fully
For the thing I want to live for.”

Thomas Merton

Source: Jim Forest, Living With Wisdom: A Life of Thomas Merton (Marynoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1992), v.

Image: Thomas Merton ID

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Thomas Merton on What We Seek

Words from Thomas Merton

“We have what we seek.
We don’t have to rush after it.
It was there all the time,
And if we give it time
It will make itself known
To us.”

Source: Jim Forest, Living with Wisdom: A Life of Thomas Merton (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1992) v.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Thomas Merton

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Joanne Ernst Speaking the Quiet Truth

A personal story from Jim Collins:

I'm reminded of a personal experience in my own family that illustrates the vital difference between bravado and understanding.

My wife, Joanne, began racing marathons and triathlons in the early 1980s. As she accumulated experience—track times, swim splits, race results—she began to feel the momentum of success.

One day, she entered a race with many of the best woman triathletes in the world, and—despite a weak swim where she came out of the water hundreds of places behind the top swimmers and having to push a heavy, non-aerodynamic bike up a long hill—she managed to cross the finish line in the top ten.

Then, a few weeks later while sitting at breakfast, Joanne looked up from her morning newspaper and calmly, quietly said, “I think I could win the Ironman.”

The Ironman, the world championship of triathlons, involves 2.4 miles of ocean swimming and 112 miles of cycling, capped off with a 26.2 mile marathon footrace on the hot, lava-baked Kona coast of Hawaii.

“Of course, I'd have to quit my job, turn down my offers to graduate school (she had been admitted to graduate business school at a number of the top schools), and commit to full-time training. But ...”

Her words had no bravado in them, no hype, no agitation, no pleading. She didn't try to convince me. She simply observed what she had come to understand was a fact, a truth no more shocking than stating that the walls were painted white. She had the passion. She had the genetics. And if she won races, she'd have the economics. The goal to win the Ironman flowed from early understanding of her Hedgehog Concept.

And, so, she decided to go for it. She quit her job. She turned down graduate schools. She sold the mills! (But she did keep me on her bus.) And three years later, on a hot October day in 1985, she crossed the finish line at the Hawaii Ironman in first place, world champion.

When Joanne set out to win the Ironman, she did not know if she would become the world's best triathlete. But she understood that she could, that it was in the realm of possibility, that she was not living in a delusion. And that distinction makes all the difference. It is a distinction that those who want to go from good to great must grasp, and one that those who fail to become great so often never do.

Source: Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t (New York: HarperCollins Books, 2001), 116-117.

A review of this book can be found at Reviewing Books and Movies.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: “she crossed the finish line at the Hawaii Ironman in first place, world champion.”

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Send the Right Message for Ramadan and Eid

As with Christmas and New Year in some other countries, the current Ramadan season and the approach of Eid Al-Fitr has meant it is the time for gift giving and the sending of cards (see pictured).

A woman who was travelling through life like a whirlwind realised that just two days before Eid [adapt this for Christmas in your country!] that she hadn't sent out any greeting cards.

So without a moment's hesitation she drew up a long list of friends and relatives and she hurried down to the nearby supermarket.

Sprinting through the shopping aisles she finally located some boxes of cards which pictured the peace, goodwill and serenity of the season.

She raced home, penned the cards, licked the stamps, tore out and dumped them in the nearest mailbox.

Soon she was back at the kitchen table, her fingers in a pose of prayerful relief.

A smile slowly softened her harried appearance and she congratulated herself for completing the chore with such efficiency.

Quietly nursing a cup of coffee she noticed the remaining cards still in their boxes and realising she hadn't actually bothered to read the message she picked one of them up.

The outside of the card had a lovely greeting but when she opened the card, to her horror, there was a message that consisted of this one line:

"This simple note is just to say...a little gift is on the way."

Talk about the spirit of goodwill and generosity! This wasn't the message she'd intended to convey!

So often we move at breakneck speed thinking we're saving the world but unaware that we're giving out the wrong messages.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Ramadan and Eid greeting cards.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Your Invitation to Subscribe to Postings from this Site

I’d love you to subscribe to postings from this site because:

1. It is free (unlike most subscriptions).
2. You don’t have to become a ‘member’ of this site.
3. I travel a lot and therefore postings are not always regular.
4. When you subscribe you will get an alert that a new article has been written.

Click on the Subscribe button (see pictured) to get article alerts coming to your computer via Google Reader, Bloglines, or however you manage your favorite web site feeds.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: This has become the universal Subscribe Button on most Internet web sites.

William Osler on Bringing Old and Young Together

In his lectures to his students, Sir William Osler, once Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford, implored old doctors to associate freely with the young fellows who were pouring out of the universities, and he entreated these newly qualified medicos to cultivate the friendship of the old men.

`I wish', Sir William exclaims, fervidly, `I wish that the older practitioners would remember how important it is to encourage and utilize the young men who settle near them.' The young doctor is fresh from the university; his brain is simmering with new ideas; he has at his command the fruits of science's very latest researches; he has listened, with wondering ears, to the last word that wisdom has spoken. `If', says our brilliant professor, `if the old doctor has any soft arteries in his grey cortex, he will be able to pick up many valuable points from this young fellow; and, on the other hand, there is a vast amount of clinical wisdom floating about in each parish which is now wasted, and which dies with the old doctor, simply because he and the younger men have never been on friendly terms.'

Source: F W Boreham, The Chalice of Life: Reflections on the Significant Stages of Life (Eureka, CA: John Broadbanks Publishing, 2008), 42.

This new book is reviewed at this link.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: William Osler.

The Amazing Chinese Bamboo Tree

The Californian author and self-confessed amateur gardener, Rick Warren, shares this story:

Of all the growth patterns I’ve observed as a gardener, the growth of the Chinese bamboo tree is the most amazing to me.

Plant a bamboo sprout in the ground, and for 4 or 5 years (sometimes much longer) nothing happens!

You water and fertilize, water and fertilize, water and fertilize—but you see no visible evidence that anything is happening. Nothing!

But about the fifth year things change dramatically. In a six-week period the Chinese bamboo tree grows to a staggering ninety feet tall!

World Book Encyclopedia records that one bamboo plant can grow three feet in a simple twenty-four-hour period.

It seems incredible that a plant that lies dormant for years can suddenly explode with growth, but it happens without fail with bamboo trees.

Warren concludes his parable by calling his readers not to worry about growth and to focus on faithful care and nourishing.

Source: Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message and Mission (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1996), 393-394.

Dr Geoff Pound

Chinese Bamboo Tree, Anecdotes and Fables [This is a simplified account of the story]

Image: Chinese Bamboo Tree.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Arundhati Roy on The Only Dream Worth Having

The only dream worth having ... is to dream that you will live while you're alive and die only when you're dead ... To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or to complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.

Source: Arundhati Roy, The Algebra of Infinite Justice (India: Penguin, 2002), xxiii.

Thanks to Sojo for the referral.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Arundhati Roy

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Jim Collins asks 'Are you a Hedgehog or a Fox?'

Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great asks:
"Are you a hedgehog or a fox? "

He continues with this story and reflection.

In his famous essay "The Hedgehog and the Fox," Isaiah Berlin divided the world into hedgehogs and foxes, based upon an ancient Greek parable:

"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."' The fox is a cunning creature, able to devise a myriad of complex strategies for sneak attacks upon the hedgehog. Day in and day out, the fox circles around the hedgehog's den, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce. Fast, sleek, beautiful, fleet of foot, and crafty—the fox looks like the sure winner.

The hedgehog, on the other hand, is a dowdier creature, looking like a genetic mix-up between a porcupine and a small armadillo. He waddles along, going about his simple day, searching for lunch and taking care of his home.

The fox waits in cunning silence at the juncture in the trail. The hedgehog, minding his own business, wanders right into the path of the fox. "Aha, I've got you now!" thinks the fox. He leaps out, bounding across the ground, lightning fast. The little hedgehog, sensing danger, looks up and thinks, "Here we go again. Will he ever learn?" Rolling up into a perfect little ball, the hedgehog becomes a sphere of sharp spikes, pointing outward in all directions. The fox, bounding toward his prey, sees the hedgehog defense and calls off the attack. Retreating back to the forest, the fox begins to calculate a new line of attack. Each day, some version of this battle between the hedgehog and the fox takes place, and despite the greater cunning of the fox, the hedgehog always wins.

Berlin extrapolated from this little parable to divide people into two basic groups: foxes and hedgehogs. Foxes pursue many ends at the same time and see the world in all its complexity. They are "scattered or diffused, moving on many levels," says Berlin, never integrating their thinking into one overall concept or unifying vision. Hedgehogs, on the other hand, simplify a complex world into a single organizing idea, a basic principle or concept that unifies and guides everything. It doesn't matter how complex the world, a hedgehog reduces all challenges and dilemmas to simple—indeed almost simplistic—hedgehog ideas. For a hedgehog, anything that does not somehow relate to the hedgehog idea holds no relevance.

Princeton professor Marvin Bressler pointed out the power of the hedgehog during one of our long conversations: "You want to know what separates those who make the biggest impact from all the others who are just as smart? They're hedgehogs."

Freud and the unconscious, Darwin and natural selection, Marx and class struggle, Einstein and relativity, Adam Smith and division of labor—they were all hedgehogs. They took a complex world and simplified it. "Those who leave the biggest footprints," said Bressler, "have thousands calling after them, ‘Good idea, but you went too far!' "'

Source: Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t (New York: HarperCollins Books, 2001), 90-91.

A review of this book can be found at Reviewing Books and Movies.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Are you a hedgehog or a fox?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Yearning for the Vast Endless Sea

‘If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.’

Source: Antoine de St. Exupéry

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: “the vast and endless sea.”

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Wanting a Real Blessing

Welton Gaddy tells this story:

I think of a little girl who told Henri Nouwen that she needed a blessing. At the time the great author was working among severely challenged children in Canada. Instinctively, Henri touched the little lady’s head with the sign of a cross. “No,” she responded immediately, “That doesn’t work. I want a real blessing.”

Later, during a group session, this same little girl walked over to Henri and laid her head on his chest. The sensitive priest took the little girl into his arms, enfolding her in his clerical robe and saying, “Janet, I want you to know that you are God’s beloved daughter. You are precious in God’s eyes. Your beautiful smile, your kindness to the people in your house and all the good things you do show us what a beautiful human being you are. I know you feel a little low these days and that there is some sadness in your heart, but I want you to remember who you are: a very special person, deeply loved by God and the people who are here with you.”

No sooner had Nouwen spoken the last word, than every child in the room rushed to him saying, “I want a blessing.”

Gaddy concluded: We all do!

Source: Welton Gaddy, ‘Blessed to Bless’, Northminster, 12 August 2008

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Henri Nouwen and friend.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Quo Vadis? Where are you Going?

A few years ago my wife and I walked from the centre of Rome down the Appian Way (Via Appia) until we got to the catacombs holding hundreds of bodies such as the remains of the early Christian Cecilia.

On our return we stopped at this church (pictured) called the Chiesa di Santa Maria in Palmis, where the Latin word palmis stands for the soles of Jesus. Legend has it (the authenticity was vouched for by Pope Innocent III) that the two footprints on a marble slab at the center of the church which are a copy of a relief in the nearby basilica of San Sebastiano, were the miraculous sign left by Jesus.

There used to be a sign outside above the front door, saying: “Stop your walking, traveler and enter this sacred temple in which you will find the footprint of our Lord Jesus Christ when He met with St. Peter who escaped from the prison.”

The church is better known as the Chiesa del Domine Quo Vadis? Or the Church of the ‘Lord, Where are you Going?’

The chapel stands at the site where, according to the legend (recorded in the apocryphal book, Acts of Peter), Peter met Christ when he fled from Rome to escape more trouble and possibly martyrdom.

His friends had pleaded with him to save his life by leaving the city. Peter finally consented but on condition that he should go away alone. But when he passed the gate of the city, he met Christ coming toward him. Peter says to Him, “Domine, quo vadis?" or "Lord, where are you going?" And Jesus replied to him “I am coming to Rome.” And Peter says to Him “Lord, will you again be crucified?” And Jesus said “Yes, I will again be crucified.” Peter said to Him “Lord, I will return and follow you.”

This encounter, according to the story, helped Peter overcome his fear of suffering and death and he returned to face his persecutors.

The authenticity of the story is in question yet it is powerful. The conversation reveals Peter’s very human emotions of fear and confusion but he is energised by the words and example of Jesus and he follows with obedience and selfless abandonment.

Whether we are walking on Appian Way or a street in our town it is always good to ask the question of others as we ask it of ourselves: Quo Vadis? Where are you going?

Running down ‘Easy Street’ away from responsibility and call or taking the ‘Road Less Travelled?

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Yours truly outside the ‘Chiesa del Domine quo Vadis?’ pondering the echoes of the question, ‘Quo Vadis’. It is of great significance that this writer is positioning his body and setting his face towards Rome!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Jim Collins Gets Important Lesson from Admiral Jim Stockdale

Jim Collins shares in his book Good to Great of a conversation with Admiral Stockdale that had an important impact on his life:

Admiral Jim Stockdale was the highest ranking United States military officer in the "Hanoi Hilton" prisoner-of-war camp during the height of the Vietnam War. Tortured over twenty times during his eight-year imprisonment from 1965 to 1973, Stockdale lived out the war without any prisoner's rights, no set release date, and no certainty as to whether he would even survive to see his family again. He shouldered the burden of command, doing everything he could to create conditions that would increase the number of prisoners who would survive unbroken, while fighting an internal war against his captors and their attempts to use the prisoners for propaganda.

At one point, he beat himself with a stool and cut himself with a razor, deliberately disfiguring himself that he could not be put on videotape as an example of a "well-treated prisoner."

He exchanged secret intelligence information with his wife through their letters, knowing that discovery would mean more torture and perhaps death. He instituted rules that would help people to deal with torture (no one can resist torture indefinitely), so he created a step-wise system—after x minutes, you can say certain things—that gave the men milestones to survive toward.

He instituted an elaborate internal communications system to reduce the sense of isolation that their captor tried to create, which used a five-by-five matrix of tap codes for alpha characters. (Tap-tap equals the letter a, tap-pause-tap-tap equals the letter b, tap-tap-pause-tap equals the letter f; and so forth, for twenty-five letters, c doubling in for k.)

At one point, during an imposed silence, the prisoners mopped and swept the central yard using the code, swish-swashing out "We love you" to Stockdale, on the third anniversary of his being shot down. After his release, Stockdale became the first three-star officer in the history of the navy to wear both aviator wings and the Congressional Medal of Honor.'"

You can understand, then, my anticipation at the prospect of spending part of an afternoon with Stockdale. One of my students had written his paper on Stockdale, who happened to be a senior research fellow studying the Stoic philosophers at the Hoover Institution right across the street from office, and Stockdale invited the two of us for lunch.

In preparation, I read In Love and War, the book Stockdale and his wife had written in alternating chapters, chronicling their experiences during those eight years. 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 depresses 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."

To this day, I carry a mental image of Stockdale admonishing the optimists: “We’re not getting out by Christmas; deal with it!"

That conversation with Admiral Stockdale stayed with me, and in fact had a profound influence on my own development. Life is unfair—sometimes to our advantage, sometimes to our disadvantage. We will all experience disappointments and crushing events somewhere along the way, setbacks for which there is no “reason," no one to blame. It might be disease; it might be injury; it might be an accident; it might be losing a loved one, it might be getting swept away in a political shake-up; it might he getting shot down over Vietnam and thrown into a POW camp for eight years. What separates people, Stockdale taught me, is not the presence or absence of difficulty, but how they deal with the inevitable difficulties of life.

Source: Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t (New York: HarperCollins Books, 2001), 83-86.

This book is reviewed at Reviewing Books and Movies.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Two Jims—Jim Collins and Jim Stockdale.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Ernest Hemingway on Stories that are Trim, Taut and Terrific

The American writer Ernest Hemingway despised flabby, indulgent storytelling.

Early in his career Hemingway had a $10 bet with colleagues that he could produce a story just six words long. This is what he came up with:

"For sale: Baby shoes, Never worn."

Needless to say he won the bet.

Source: Paul Willis, Uncovering the Secrets of Storytelling, CNN, 22 August 2008.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Ernest Hemingway.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Jim Collins on the Value of Criticism

Author and teacher on organizations, Jim Collins begins his book Good to Great with this story:

I was having dinner with a group of thought leaders gathered for a discussion about organizational performance. Bill Meehan, the managing director of the San Francisco office of McKinsey & Company, leaned over and casually confided, "You know, Jim, we love Built to Last [Jim’s earlier book] around here. You and your coauthor did a very fine job on the research and writing. Unfortunately, it's useless."

Curious, I asked him to explain.
"'The companies you wrote about were, for the most part, always great," he said. "They never had to turn themselves from good companies into great companies. They had parents like David Packard and George Merck, who shaped the character of greatness from early oil. But what about the vast majority of companies that wake up partway through life and realize that they are good, but not great?"

I now realize that Meehan was exaggerating for effect with his "useless" comment, but his essential observation was correct-that truly great companies, for the most part, have always been great. And the vast majority of good companies remain just that-good, but not great. Indeed, Meehan's comment proved to be an invaluable gift, as it planted the seed of a question that became the basis of this entire book-namely, ‘Can a good company become a great company and, if so, how?’ Or is the disease of "just being good" incurable?

Five years after that fateful dinner we can now say, without question, that good to great does happen, and we've learned much about the underlying variables that make it happen. Inspired by Bill Meehan's challenge, my research team and I embarked on a five-year research effort, a journey to explore the inner workings of good to great.

Source: Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t (New York: HarperCollins Books, 2001), 1, 3.

A review of this book can be found at Reviewing Books and Movies.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Jim Collins

Monday, September 01, 2008

Telling Stories in Public

Michael Simkins, a London-based actor and author, speaks about his experience of telling stories and concludes that it is harder than it looks, so, it is better to leave it to the professionals:

…The problem is there are so many factors beyond your control: the venue, the acoustics, whether your audience want to hear what you’ve got to tell them: even (and here I speak from bitter personal experience), which person has preceded you on the platform.

The occasion in question was a big charity fund-raising dinner at which I was asked to speak earlier this year. I went fully prepared with notes, gags, anecdotes: even with a touching personal homily to end with. And as I was the only speaker, it seemed I couldn’t fail.

With my big moment fast approaching, the Master of Ceremonies ambled over to have a word. “I’ll just do a couple of minutes to warm them through, and then introduce you,” he assured me.

In fact, his two-minute introduction turned out to be 10 of the funniest minutes of live comedy I’ve ever heard. It transpired he was one of the country’s most skilful toastmasters and raconteurs, and within seconds of taking the microphone he had the audience rocking with laughter.

His material may have been politically incorrect, and was undoubtedly plagiarised…but the gags came at a rate dizzying enough to have had Seinfeld himself reaching for the smelling salts.

He finished to a standing ovation. “And now, please welcome our guest for tonight and a very funny man…” I weaved my way between the chairs like a man on his way to the scaffold. I was reminded of the old music hall line: “There’s something running down my leg, I hope it’s sweat.”

Twelve of the longest minutes of my life later, I wandered back to my now-congealing dinner to a ripple of polite applause. By contrast with my predecessor, I’d hardly raised a titter. Never mind, at least I could enjoy my meal; except it had been cleared away while I had been speaking. I ended up getting a kebab from a nearby takeaway. Greasy meat skewered on a wooden stake: it seemed a fitting metaphor for my experience.

Source and to read the rest of the article:
Michael Simkins, Advice from a Professional on Public Speaking: Don’t, The National, 31 August 2008.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: “Greasy meat skewered on a wooden stake: it seemed a fitting metaphor for my experience.”

Simplifying Life

In Judith Viorst’s book, How Did I get to be Forty & Other Atrocities she has a poem entitled, Self-Improvement Program.

In these lines Judith Viorst recites all the new activities she has taken on in an effort to become successful—needlework, guitar lessons, advanced Chinese cooking, primal scream therapy—and dozens of other things.

And then with a sigh she concludes,
“And I am working all day and I am working all night
to be good looking,
healthy and wise and adored
and contented
and brave
and well-read
and a marvellous hostess
fantastic in bed,
and bilingual,
and then she cries out,

‘Won’t someone please stop me?’”

It is good to take time to slow down, stop and be still.

This does not happen immediately especially if we have been running at a great pace.

This does not happen easily as society often grades us on the basis of what we do, how much we achieve and according to key performance indicators.

Stillness is valuable for the rest and freedom it offers but also for the time and space it creates to gain a new perspective on our cluttered lives and drivenness.

Reflecting on the title of Judith Viorst’s poem, improvement is ultimately not achieved by oneself but by drawing on the resources of God and of others.

Source of the poem:
Judith Viorst, How Did I get to be Forty & Other Atrocities (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1973), 40.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: ‘Won’t someone please stop me?’

A modification of this article has been posted as a reflection on the first day of Ramadan at Experiencing the Emirates.