Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Aravind Adiga on Getting a Real Education

The narrator (called the White Tiger) concludes his book in this way:

“Now despite my amazing success story, I don’t want to lose contact with the places where I got my real education in life. The road and the pavement. I walk along Bangalore in the evenings, or in the mornings, just to listen to the road.”

Source: Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger (London: Atlantic Books, 2008), 302.

A review of this superb book is posted at Reviewing Books and Movies.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Vendor on a street in Bangalore.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Smashing Down the Garage Doors

Roy Petitfils, an author, speaker and counselor in the USA, passed on this story:

Detroit, a living monument to cars, this summer celebrates the centennial of the automobile industry.

It was during the early morning hours of June 4, 1896, that Henry Ford completed his first car, only to discover that it was too big to fit through the doors of the garage where he had assembled it.

The garage owner, from whom Ford was renting, went and grabbed a sledgehammer, came back and smashed at the garage's brick walls until he had an opening wide enough to drive his crude vehicle out onto Detroit's cobblestone streets.

Roy, in his work with youth workers and teachers, makes this application:

Inside young people there often lies a spark that could change the world.

Our job is to demolish the "garage" walls enabling them to share their gifts with the world.

Source: Robyn Meredith, What’s Doing in Detroit, New York Times, 26 May 1996.

Thanks to Roy for passing on this story.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Glad someone smashed the garage doors that allowed this 1930 Model A to get out on the road.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Martin Luther King, Jnr an Embodiment of Effective Leadership

Martin Luther King, Jnr. said that people usually need to see a conviction in order to understand and follow, when he stated:

“People are often led to causes and often become committed to great ideas through persons who personify those ideas. They have to find embodiment of the idea in flesh and blood in order to commit themselves.” (Feb. 13, 1961).

This quote appears in Martin Luther King, Jr. On Leadership by Donald T Phillips, which is reviewed at Reviewing Books and Movies.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Front cover of Martin Luther King, Jnr. on Leadership.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Work, Faith and The Big Kahuna

The movie The Big Kahuna touches on questions about faith, work and integrity.

Based on a play called The Hospitality Suite, written by Roger Rueff, The Big Kahuna is the story of three industrial lubricant salesmen as they try to land a big sale at a business convention. Two of the men are veterans—the nearly divorced and rather disheartened Phil (played by Danny De Vito) and the hyperactive, fast talking and smooth Larry (Kevin Spacey). The third salesman is a fresh-faced young man named Bob (Peter Facinelli), who has been teamed up with the old pros so that he can learn the trade.

The entire movie is set in a hotel hospitality suite, which the men have hired in order to entertain potential customers. But there is only one sale they are really after—the account of Mr Fuller who is the company President of the largest user of lubricants in the country—the man referred to by Larry as "the big kahuna". If they can snare his interest, and sign him up, then not only will their weekend efforts be worth it, but they'll be lauded by their bosses for landing "the big one". If not, they fear their jobs are on the line.

Two problems exist, however. One is whether or not he will attend. The second is—they have no idea what he looks like!

Industrial lubricant is clearly not a sexy product to sell. The vets know this and explain to Bob that really it's not lubricant they're selling--they're selling themselves.

Larry is crass. He’s also a cynic, and he constantly talks down to Bob. To his credit, Bob responds without becoming offended. However, as the conversation continues and Larry discovers Bob is "religious", he begins to bait him mercilessly. Bob struggles to relate to Larry and resorts to quoting Bible verses and making statements such as, "Maybe I just have different standards!"

Eventually, the party begins and the suite is alive with the sound of reps chatting over wine and nibbles.

Soon the function is over and the three salesmen are reflecting on the events of the night. Larry and Phil presume that the "big kahuna" did not turn up, but as Bob reflects on a lengthy conversation he had with one guest he realizes that this man was, in fact, the very Mr Fuller that Larry and Phil were looking for. Mr Fuller even left his business card with Bob.

Larry is excited. He quizzes Bob over what they talked about. Bob initially replies that the guest gave him a life history on the various dogs he had owned. But when Larry probes him further, Bob innocently mentions that all the talk about dogs gave him a "lead-in" to the subject of his faith. When Larry accuses Bob of manipulating the conversation for his own ends, Bob defends his actions. "I just think it's important to tell people what you believe."

"Yeah," mutters Larry, "but is it the interests of the company or our faith that's important here?"

Interrogating Bob further, the others discover that Mr Fuller has invited him to a private party. Bob must go, say Phil and Larry, so he can reconnect with Fuller. And also so that he can pass on Larry’s and Phil's business cards—and ask Fuller to call and make an appointment. Bob agrees to all this, and heads off to the party.

Back at the hotel, Phil is in his own, introspective world—struggling with the aftermath of a marriage breakup, a late mid-life depression, and even thoughts of suicide. His past choices haunt him and he is filled with regret. Over dinner he attempts to engage his best mate Larry in some of the questions of life he has been thinking about. Larry is hardly the kind of friend to confide such feelings and thoughts to. His shallow cynicism conceals a man who’s afraid to think too much about life, fearful of what he might find. Phil wants to talk, but Larry refuses to look beneath the surface. Phil even confides, "I've been thinking about God." He asks his mate, “What do you believe in, Larry?”
“I believe what I believe.”
"Which is what?
"How the hell should I know!"

Finally Phil confesses, "I always had this haunting feeling that I had some kind of mission on earth." However, when Larry inquires, "What kind of mission?" Phil can only admit, "I have no idea." He really is a searching but lost soul.

In due course Bob returns from his reconnoitre with Mr Fuller. It has been several hours, and Larry is eager to find out what has happened. When he asks how the conversation went, Bob replies, "Oh, we just talked."

"What did you talk about:"'
"We talked about Christ - about Jesus"

Larry snorts, "Did you ask about what kind of industrial lubricants Jesus would have endorsed? What did you say to him, Bob?"
"We just discussed things."
"So the subject of lubricants didn't came up?"
"Well, the nature of the conversation steered itself away from that." At this point Larry loses his cool and challenges Bob. "Who raised the subject of Jesus?"
"I did."
"Because it's very important to me that people, hear about Jesus.”
"Understanding that it was very important to us being here to talk with Mr Fuller about industrial lubricants, why did you choose to talk about Jesus instead?"
"Because I think it's more important." Bob stops and thinks through what he has just said. He tries to justify himself. "I didn't mention lubricants because I didn't want him to think that I -.-as using the subject of religion to cosy up to him. I didn't want him to think I was insincere.'
"But you were insincere."'

Bob tries to explain what he believes. "I don't see how we can have a conversation without talking about God."

Larry counters, “At issue here is not your belief in God or your desire to spread that belief; but what we're here to do."
"Which is what'"
"Industrial lubricants, Bob! We're not here to save souls!"

The increasingly heated conversation quickly dissolves into a shouting match with Larry yelling at Bob, and Bob responding angrily with Bible verses and the Apostle Paul! Suddenly the verbal aggression turns into a physical fight. Phil has to try and pull the two protagonists apart.

Awkwardly Bob apologizes and Larry says goodnight.

Phil and Bob are left standing in the suite. As Bob prepares to leave, Phil tells him he has a few things he wants to say. Top of the list is defending his friend Larry. Larry is an honest man. Someone Phil can trust. "You too are an honest man, Bob. Deep down you want to be honest. But the question you have to ask is. ‘Has it (honesty) touched the whole of' your life?’.
Bob responds, "What do you mean?"
"I mean that you preaching Jesus is no different than Larry or anybody else selling lubricants. It doesn't matter whether you're selling Jesus or Buddha or civil rights or real estate. That doesn't make you a human being. It makes you a marketing rep. If you want to talk to someone honestly as a human being, find out what his dreams are. Ask him about his kids. Just to find out. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it's no longer a conversation. It's a pitch. And you're not a human being. You're a marketing rep."

Larry and Phil are clearly individuals struggling with their own tragedies. But in many ways, from a Christian perspective, Bob is also a tragic character. Though his young, innocent life bears none of the deep disappointments, relationship meltdowns and depressing self-analysis that Larry and Phil have gone through, nevertheless Bob's narrow view and experience of life (and of faith) doesn't connect with his older colleagues. He tries genuinely to relate, but often ends up quoting a scripture which just "bounces off the wall", and causes him to be viewed as a naive and odd young man. Which he is.

His actions and words signal many questions—about integrity, about what it means to bear witness, and about the tensions inherent in serving both God and an employer.

Perhaps most of all, his well-intentioned attempts to convert Mr Fuller reveal that he too, like the others, views himself as a salesman. He is trying to "sell" Jesus. That's a problem for him professionally—it raises the question of how he can do his job with integrity. But it's also a problem in his relationships. His narrow understanding of what being a witness is all about means he misses real opportunities to express genuine compassion and care for his colleagues.

Source: Alistair Mackenzie and Wayne Kirkland, Just Decisions: Christian Ethics Go to Work (Christchurch, NZ: NavPress, NZ, 2008), 153-157.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: DVD Cover of The Big Kahuna.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Mark Twain on the Benefits of Travel

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”

“Broad, wholesome, charitable views of people and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

Source: Abu Dhabi/UAE Daily Photo Blog, Home Page.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Mark Twain enjoying some benefits of international travel.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Valerie Jarrett and the Gift of Diplomacy

Valerie Jarrett is one of Barack Obama’s closest advisors and longtime friends. By Obama’s side during the rough and tumble campaign, she is apparently lathered with diplomatic skills. She became known for fencing off his critics and adversaries.

Vernon Jordan said that Jarrett developed “the art of telling people to go to hell and making them look forward to the trip.”

Source: Walter B. Shurden’s Preaching Journal, Vol. 2, Number 9, January 6, 2009.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Valerie Jarrett.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Year Stories

I have gone through the archives of Stories for Speakers and Writers and picked out any stories that I think could be useful for reflection or for speaking about the New Year.

Remembering the Future
Tiger Woods on the Joy of Shaping Lives
Give Me Another Chance
Present Moments
Don’t Let the Past Imprison you in the Present
Eternity at Midnight
The Power that Brings Hope
Facing our Wolves
Four-Legged Guide
Open to Wonder
This is a Better World
Knowing where you are going
The Adventurer Spirit
Starting Over
Why Not the Best?
Life is Gift
All-Encompassing Gratitude
Protesting Against Boredom
Dig Yourself Some Memory Holes
Engaging Life Fully
Forgetting the Point
The Answer is in our Hands
If I Had My Life Over Again
The Most Memorable Graduation Speech
Pace of Life
Never ending Story
Asking Questions
I Want Real Human Moments
Getting Use to Being Alive
Teaching People How to Live
The River Has its Bend
Blessing Your Coming and Your Going
Imagining Peace Together
From Bethlehem to Bedlam
Dreaming and Living
Everybody Can Be Great
Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution
Changes We’ve Survived
I Shall be Ready
Hearing the Story for the First Time
Where are you Looking?
Cricket for Eternity
Turning Frustrations into Fortunes
The Business of Being Human
Larry King on the Future
Rose Gilbert: ‘You Either Live Living or You Live Dying’
How to Kick the ‘If Only’ Habit
How Big is Your Vision?
The BBC’s Formula for Happiness
Experiencing Afresh the Joys of Living
Dealing With Day-To-Day Living
Eluding Death the Business of Life
He Will Never Amount to Anything
Living in the Present?—Impossible!
Deciding Not to be Hostage to Hostility
Time Yawned
Sir Edmund Hillary on His Most Worthwhile Things in Life
Groucho Marx on the Subject of Age
Andre Agassi: What’s Better than Tennis
Time Like a Piano Accordion
Why Whiling Away Your Life is So Important
Do You Really Love Your Job?
Make it a Good New Year by Living in the Present

A happy new year to you all!

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Happy New Year!