FIVE FUNERALS

That’s how many I have already attended – so far – in 2017.  It’s characteristic of my time of life when friends or their spouses pass away.  All these so far have been males. In some cases, I knew the wives better as classmates or volunteer colleagues. In my own family, it has meant a lot when people turn up for a visitation or a funeral so I try to return the kindness.

Of course for most,  funerals are passé these days.  Instead people gather at the golf club or a bar, have a few rounds of drinks and share memories and stories.  There is validity in this – but I wonder if that marking of a death glves the kind of closure that a traditional funeral does –  with its words of comfort, words of inspiration for those left behind, challenges to carry forward the best qualities of the beloved people we have lost.

The most recent funeral yesterday was the most inspiring of the five. The setting was a cathedral dating back to 1833.  People were lining up to get in an hour and a half before the service started and they were smart to do so because every seat was taken.  Among the guests of honour were a former governor General of Canada, the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario and its Premier.  There were dignitaries from other denominations, an endless procession of robed bishops and clergy. And what they all had in common was love for a man named Terence Finlay – but who always said on meeting anyone new, “Just call me Terry”.  In his life of nearly 80 years he had many titles – husband, father, grandfather, uncle, aunt, Anglican priest, parish rector, Bishop, Archbishop – and after retirement,  interim priest while parishes looked for a new one, chaplain to other bishops, and a member of a commission designed to heal the hurts and injustices of one of the most worst violations of his Anglican church – the role in its residential schools.

Terry was working up to Christmas of 2016 and told everyone that being back in parishes was something he loved.  I saw him in early January when he was giving a final blessing at the first funeral I attended in the year.  Soon after came the news of a serious diagnosis – and messages of decline, but always coupled with “He’s still cheerful”.  The timing of his death, while expected still came as a surprise.

We were told he had planned his own funeral.  At the visitation the night before, his widow told me, “It won’t be like anything that you are used to.”  She was right.  The long entry procession took place to the sound of a drum and a smudging ceremony with the singing of a mournful loud chant sung by a woman with a stunning voice.  Before that we had heard a jazz pianist play “It’s a Wonderful World”.  While the funeral liturgy followed a traditional pattern, the choices of hymns and readings were Terry’s own favorites – all inspiring and positive.  It was poignant to hear something that contrary to the prediction was totally familiar – arrangements by a musician who was a dear friend and whose funeral was number three in my 2017 attendance – among those arrangements, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelluia. We all joined in its chorus as the long procession departed.

Terry had time for everyone.  One woman summed it well when she simply said – “He was so kind and he always had time for everybody”. At one time he visited a social centre dealing with sex workers.  One of the ladies loved his purple ecclesiastical shirt and wanted one just like it.  He named the store and said, Just tell them Terry sent you”.  He was funny,  remarkably humble and not afraid to admit his mistakes and say how sorry he was.

When he asked the Primate (Senior Bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada) to preach the homily several weeks before, he said, “Everything is all arranged.  It will be lovely and I won’t have to do anything but just lie there and enjoy it.”

He did – and we did too. A fitting end to a long life well lived.  Rest in peace.

GREATNESS

Remember the lines from Julius Caesar

Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them

One can watch leaders as The Independent did this weekend and make their own assessment of what leadership really is:

The German Chancellor,  Angela Merkel was born in a family of modest means.  Donald Trump was born to a wealthy one.  Both achieved greatness on their own though one started with additional advantage; and both had additional greatness come their way.

But as The Independent observes.  Angela Merkel has now become the leader of the free world – a role usually ascribed to the leader of the US. The current one has squandered what was thrust upon him.

What it says is that character and integrity matter. How one fulfils the role is what counts – not titles. Most of us have modest titles in life – if any!  But how we carry out those roles will matter in the long run.

FAKE NEWS AND POST TRUTH

 

image1The press is fond of buzzwords and buzzfeeds. In a Twitter age, fast is quicker than deep. Like millions I have a personal Twitter account but my idea of its use is so 1990s. I make it a place to post a link a longer piece of writing that I hope contains some substance.  But I am clearly not part of the Twitteratti.

The idea of a president whose chief method of communication is Tweets ought to be so bizarre that we should burst out laughing and go away.  But the press – which should be at the head of the line on this exit – has turned these ramblings into news and has become its main conduit for those of us who have not become a certain leader’s Twitter “followers”.

In the game of “follow the leader”, there are options.  I remember my mother trying to persuade my son who was four years old at the time to eat something he didn’t like.  She cited several people she thought he would be impressed by saying. Mr. X eats broccoli.  Mrs. Y. eats broccoli.  His response was “I’m not playing”.  We do have choices here.

It’s a problem.  How do you stop bullying or exposure to lies?  You can walk away and ignore it, which many of us seem to be doing – saying we simply want to get on with our own life and focus on whatever grabs us – food, fitness, fun perhaps.  We can blame change.  What happened to the role of religion, or the strength of the family, or the economy before the rise of technology caused the loss of manufacturing?  Or we can invent new buzzwords and think we’re done.

Fake news – as Tabitha Southey notes in this morning’s Globe and Mail needs clarification

  • It’s not sloppy news that lacks validation by thorough research of reliable sources
  • It’s not news we would rather not hear or that we don’t like
  • It’s not news that contains simple mistakes that are improperly fact checked and can be corrected. While someone’s name is misspelled, the person named is rightly upset, but this can be set right.

What Southey goes on to identify is the use of stories that are totally false.  An example is a reprint from a newspaper that doesn’t exist, a location that does not exist, a headline and a story that is totally false.  It’s fake in every way.  These are the pieces currently attributed to Russian Intelligence.  If other publications or social media platforms present them or reprint them, what they are spreading is lies.  As I said in the previous post, the news creates reality for us by choosing what we will see.

The news I read every day is something I care deeply about.  I want its sources to be reliable and valid.  That doesn’t mean I like or agree with everything I read. But I want every reporter or commentator to aim for the truth.  Let’s get real.   What fake news contains is lies.  When public figures or the press dismiss lies as fake news or post truth and suggest we’ve dealt with it, they are saying that lies and truth are interchangeable. What is truth?  Does it matter?

I watched the press conference of the incoming president this week.   The bunch of reporters waving their hands to try to get attention reminded me of a primary classroom. Where was the West Wing’s Allison Janney when we needed her?  It was every man and woman for himself/herself to try to get the scoop.

But do the press have any sense of corporation social responsibility when one of their number is not chosen to ask a question – that might be valid – but openly bullied.  Remember the strategy of S.I. Hayakawa who cut the wires in a student protest to change the dynamic. Whether he was right or wrong, it was an immediate response.  Suppose the reporters with one accord had simply stood up and quietly left the room? Now that would have been a story.  What such an action requires of course is a united commitment to finding the truth –  that treating others in ways that one would want to be treated matters – and standing together as the fourth estate matters for us all.

 

Political Landscapes

Well who says that August  is boring!  My day started with digesting yesterday’s Canadian news about the Duffy trial and its star witness, Nigel Wright.  The wheels of justice move slowly so we are only now getting around to events that happened in 2013.  Memories of being glued to  TV during Watergate poured back, but this time it’s different.  Instead of memos – we now have email correspondence threads – complete with all those endless repeats.  The CBC’s host of Power& Politics is in the courtroom tweeting a stream of almost verbatim Q&A. Reading the more thoughtful press reports aftewwards gives a definite sense of déjã vu.

An inside view of the PMO brings politics down to earth with a bang.  Even though CBC news head honcho Peter Mansbridge thinks it gives a fascinating glimpse of what is really going on, it could be duplicated in the internal memos of any office including his own –  in its full banality – messes other people have created,  protecting the boss,  saving their own skins – though the scale of the game here is a little bigger.  In most offices you don’t have a staff member claiming to cover lots of $90k  items on his own.  And quoting Matthew 6:3 as a rationale for left-hand right-hand actions did inject a new level of interest, as journalists suddenly had to bone up on theology.  Even Facebook Anglicans chimed in.  One claimed to be a classmate of Wright while another admitted preparing him for confirmation.

Some of my own dots connected this week here too.  I learned from an except of John Ibbotson’s new book that Stephen Harper enrolled in my alma mater, Trinity College Toronto; he left after three weeks feeling he didn’t fit in.  I sympathized.  Harper came from suburban Etobicoke; I entered Trinity College many years earlier from a small Ontario city, not from one of Toronto’s elite private schools. But being in residence gave me a tribe that allowed me to survive and even thrive – unlike Harper after his first lonely three weeks.   On the other hand, Wright – a member of an Anglo Catholic parish in Toronto with strong links to Trinity through their joint benefactor, Gerald Larkin – would fit right in.

But it’s election season – and the Duffy trial TV stories are interspersed with election ads and campaign road news clips.  How did campaigns get so goofy – in both the US and Canada?  To start with they both go on forever.  Politics becomes a round of attacks and counter-attacks. Even the New York Times is solemnly chiming in.  After listing all Harper’s shortcomings it asks, “Whether or not he loses, he will leave Canada more ignorant than he found it. “The real question for the coming election is a simple but grand one: Do Canadians like their country like that?”

The response from this voter – aka as citizen or taxpayer or middle classee depending on who is talking to me – needs to be  – uh uh – followed by some laughter before I settle down to some serious thinking about it.  We can start with the PMO philosophy:

Sigursdson Photo

or move on and enjoy reading The Lapine

elizabeth-may-and-stephen-harper

“Harper Says He Found Elizabeth May’s Cleavage Distracting During Debate”

But Elizabeth Renzetti takes my prize for her article in the Globe and Mail about staged press coverage – the people behind the political leaders – in particular the hard hats behind the prime minister.  How did they get there?  Why were they there? What are they thinking about when he noted that he was the only person in the PM office not to know about some pretty absorbing preoccupations?  And why, she asks, “did they clap when it came to the part about Canada being richer and safer”?  She cites the artificiality of the whole process.

Justin Trudeau apparently has to take a cue from the “He’s not Ready” attack ad to reply to it rather than ignore it. Personally rather than “I’m Ready”  I think he could have come up with “Justin Time”.

Renzetti says we get the campaigns we deserve. She is right.  If the most popular shows are The Amazing Race – which I get to watch when my grandsons get to choose –  or if I submit to canned addresses from  teleprompters  and read “bright lines/ message lines put out by the PMO – perhaps I am equally complicit in a  dumbed-down world where only the obsessive achievers are worth watching while I -sprawled on the couch – mutely reach for another potato chip.  The only secret weapon left might be a Newfie comedian or two; we export a lot of them. Maybe it’s time to ask them to come home.

Couch potato quarterbacking

As a Canadian who spent some time years ago living in New York City and loving it, I can never be totally objective about US politics. Many years ago friends and I were glued to the TV and a toddler came in from the backyard hoping to get our attention and sadly went back outside muttering, “It’s just Watergate”.

So in the weeks surrounding our common Labour Day, I have surfed the channels, moving between PBS and CNN and our own networks, hanging out with familiar commentators and sometimes being surprised by their acceptance of the paucity of platform and the elevation of personality. The best of them move away slightly from this after their first visceral response.

Charles Blow writing in the New York Times today put his finger on something important – Facts. In the oral society that we have become, it seems possible to say anything no matter how preposterous, and if it is said with conviction, then it is OK and must be true. When even David Brooks of the New York Times says, “It’s just politics”, he is certainly right, but it makes me uneasy that there is no questioning of whether lies are acceptable.  It’s not a matter of fact or fiction, because good fiction always has an element of truth

There are, of course lots of opportunities to have a second look and get real.  The New Yorker’s article this week on  teleprompters pleasantly reminds us, that rock concerts don’t have the monopoly on great staging. Conventions are really good at that and the only real gaffe was when the teleprompter wasn’t on.

But when Blow observes that Politifact says this:

“Mitt Romney’s statements have been judged Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire 46 percent of the time, versus only 29 percent for President Obama. In the Pants on Fire category alone, Romney is more than four times as likely to suffer trouser immolation than the president. Nearly 1 in 10 statements by Romney earned flaming slacks, versus 1 out of every 50 for Obama.”

Should we take comfort in the figures for either? Is there any way to return to a degree of accountability and what will it take from all of us? Will platforms mean something to stand on outside of the convention hall?

Personal Development on the Job

Getting to the top of the ladder was the objective.  Now what happens?

Probably the hardest thing for us to recognize is that we are not our roles.  I rather like Robert Fritz’s idea that roles are rather like vehicles.  You can ride a Land Rover to the woods; you can also drive a BMW into town. We have many roles,  some of them simultaneous.

We normally come to a new leadership role lacking some of the necessary capabilities. So the first task is to take some time and training to acquire the new skills that we need, as well as delegating what we can to those who possess the requisite skills and experience..

One of the hardest jobs for a leader is not to take things personally. Leaders almost automatically become substitute scapegoats or lightning rods for those dissatisfied with issues.  As Ed Friedman observes, “Expect sabotage”.  It takes ongoing skills to differentiate the self from the role. For that reason, we need alliances with supportive people both within and beyond our own organization.

The pressures of leadership require that we seek sanctuary – not only of time and place but in reflection. For most of us, that requires scheduling it as an activity and giving it as much importance as any other daily appointment or habit.

In the end, leadership brings pain and one has to expect that.  What also needs to be recognized is that it also brings the joy that comes from creating value and meaning.  That’s what makes leadership worthwhile.

The leader’s personal role

Leaders are persons first – and there are three key aspects of how the leaders affect the organizations they lead:

First they are role models.  The combine two disparate characteristics at the same time – determination and humility. They have to believe in the integrity of the purpose and mission of the organization they lead, and give others a sense of hope and meaning.  To do this requires being a good listener. It also means being able to foster dialogue.  Good leaders avoid grandiosity – a real temptation when one is at the head of the pack.

Second they have to be fast learners – students as well as mentors.  And it’s not just the ability to recognize the brutal facts; one has also to confront them.  To understand the realities it’s not just enough to know the facts and figures and the processes. Leaders also have to have respect for human beings. Finally  have to be focused on the big picture and the future, while they allow others to focus on their areas of specialization.

Third, they have to avoid the temptation to think that it is all about their personal charisma.  Instead, leaders have to be trustees of community potential. This is extraordinarily demanding and the next post will suggest some  actions that will help them do that.