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Archive for February, 2010

Well, the 2010 Winter Olympics have come to an end, and again for I don’t know how many games in a row, I never made it up to the podium. (My worst nightmare would be mounting the podium to receive my gold medal and slipping off and free-falling. But maybe my free fall would have earned me another medal.) Whatever, there’s always the upcoming Summer Games. (Kudos to all the athletes who participated in the Vancouver Games. From Apolo Ohno and Shaun White to the USA’s women’s and men’s hockey teams, the spirit of competition was exhilarating.)

The fact that people from around the world can share in a global competition speaks volumes about the potential of the human spirit and what we can accomplish when we focus on doing our best to be the best…we can be.

Even though most of us never experience the thrill of Olympic competition first hand, those lucky enough to participate in sports…from the Pee Wee level to the college level  have been fortunate enough to taste the nectar of the game. And for those who never got a chance to get up to bat, seeing our children (grandchildren) of good friends participate is often more than enough.

And the experience is not limited to sports. The same can be said about participation in theatre, music, art, debate…or just about anything where people get together and share their talents.

The YBR is filled with golden opportunities. And it really doesn’t matter if we ever make it to the podium.

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How do you know when you’ve actually stepped foot on the YBR? Do you have to drop a house on a witch, meet a gaggle of very short people, and have a woman with a very high voice tell you to follow the yellow brick road?  Sort of, but in ways only meant to get you starting on your own journey down the YBR.

Although I can look back at specific moments in my life when I thought I was only on the YBR, in retrospect, I know I was only on the YBR’s service road.

It took me until my junior year at Marist College when I set sail (well, it wasn’t really a sail boat; it was more like a small ocean-crossing motor ship) for a year abroad at Oxford.

When I boarded the MS Aurelia I had to wait on deck with 1000 other students so our trunks could be stored below. I happened to have a book with me. It was a copy of Edgar Lee Master’s Spoon River Anthology (a collection of poems told in the first person about people buried in a small mid-Western cemetery. Fun reading, right?).

Not only can’t I tell you why I had that book, I can’t begin to tell you why I just happened to open it to page 86, to a poem titled George Gray.  I just did.

GEORGE GRAY

I have studied many times
The marble which was chiseled for me –
A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor.
In truth it pictures not my destination,
but my life.
For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment;
Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid;
Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances.
Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life.
And now I know that we must lift the sail
And catch the winds of destiny
Wherever they drive the boat.
To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness,
But life without meaning is the torture
Of restlessness and vague desire —
It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.

That was my house falling on a witch and the 1000 other students with me on the boat were the Munchkins. There was no Glinda, but the message from the poem had meaning known only to me. It was the push I needed to step foot on the YBR.

I decided then and there (how do you like that cliché?) on the deck of the Aurelia that I had to lift the sail and catch the wind of destiny wherever it drove the boat.

When did you know you were on the YBR? It might not matter to anybody else, but it should matter to you.


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Tweeting on the YBR.

Dorothy completed her journey along the yellow brick road without the benefit of any manner of technology. The jury is still out on how much better out lives are because we live in such high-tech times.

Indulge me in a “what-if” moment. What if Dorothy did have access to some 21st century wizardry? What if she had had the ability to ‘tweet.’ What would she have tweeted. Perhaps some of the following might have been found on her Twitter account:

You call that a gentle breeze, Aunt Em? Gentle breeze my fanny. It was a twister. And yeah, thanks for locking me out of the storm cellar.

Just dropped in on this woman. Have to be a little more careful if I ever expect to get a driver’s license.

The vertically challenged citizens say they’re Munchkins. Whatever.

Talk about being over-dressed. Glinda, the hat was a bit much, but thanks for the slippers, although I would have preferred a pair of UGGs.

He said he doesn’t have a brain. He’s a guy. What do you expect.

Tin. Hmm? All of him?

Lions, tigers and bears? No shit Sherlock. It’s a forest.

I don’t care what anyone tells me. He was the Queen of the forest.

A scarecrow, a tin man and a lion, and you ask me how I sleep at night. I don’t.

Toto, too. Who’d ever say something stupid like that. It’s like saying ‘there’s no place like home.”

“Click your own heels.”

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Sr. Malachy, O.P. aka Sr. Betty Lamb

The students in my Public Presentation class at Marist College (www.marist.edu) are scheduled to deliver their “Most Unforgettable Character” speech on Friday (Feb. 26)…weather permitting. While I won’t be giving a speech, I couldn’t help but think about some of the unforgettable characters I’ve had the great fortune of sharing the YBR with. Even though this is the first time I’ve added this feature to my blog I’m thinking it might become a regular feature.

Sr. Malachy, as she was known when I had her as a tenth-grader at St. Agnes Cathedral High School (Rockville Centre, NY), was my English teacher. She was also the moderator of The Agnesian Rock. the school’s student newspaper. I was a contributor my sophomore and junior years. I became the sports editor (a job I shared with fellow student, Jim Larkin). Unofficially, Sr. Malachy was my fairy godmother, my Auntie Mame in a habit.

She introduced me to the world of literature. She saw that I had some writing ability and encouraged me to develop my writing skills.

But more than that, Sr. Malachy was, in a word, AMAZING. She was filled with so much love that it just spilled over. She was also one of the funniest people I have ever known. She and I shared a love of puns. In fact she gave me a book of puns as a graduation gift. (When she offered a pray before the beginning of class, she once said “Grace,” because as she put it: “The pearls of wisdom that fall from my mouth are food for thought.”

Unlike the relationships we have with even some of our favorite teachers – they fade after we move on to college – I kept in touch with Sr. Malachy in college and after, exchanging letters, talking on the phone and getting together when it was possible.

Today Sr. Malachy, known since 1970 as Sr. Betty Lamb (her real name), is living in the Dominican Sisters’ Home in Amityville. She is in the later stages of Alzheimer’s.

Even though we set foot on the YBR as teacher-student in 1964 (My God, am I old), she walks with me today. I’ll never forget her.

Thank you, Sr. Malachy!

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I believe my fingers have ADHD (additional digit hyperactivity disorder), i.e. when I type, an extra finger comes out and randomly strikes my keyboard. Typos have made a number of guest appearances on my “blagh.” But I’m not alone. So, in an effort to lighten the load on the YBR, following are some interesting typos:

From job application cover letters:
“I have a graduate degree in unclear physics.” (I never understood physics either)
“I worked for 6 years as an uninformed security guard.” (ignorance is bliss)
“My last role was a plumbing and hating specialists.” (all that hating must be a real drain)
“Most of my experience to this point has been as a blue-color worker.” (must have been very cold)
“As part of the city maintenance crew, I repaired bad roads and defective brides.” (I’m sure you had your work cut out)
“My career goal is to shave my talents with a growing company.” (maybe you should look for work with the Knicks)
“My hobbies include raising long-eared rabbis as pets.” (Good Luck!)

How about these from real estate listings:
– a sinking living room (vs. sunken)
– walking closet (where is it walking to?)
– wreck room (well, clean it up)
– stainless steal appliances (was it a steal or just a good price?)
– contract fell threw (an nobody caught it?)
– hardware floors (you usually find these in The Home Depot)
– remolded bathrooms (yikes!)
– two full bedrooms (as opposed to what?…half bedrooms?)

Signs of the times.

Is it any wonder why travelers have to pay for extra baggs?

Have a niece day!

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Whether you call it Kismet or serendipity, you can’t tell me that some things are purely coincidental. Sometimes things happen just when we need them to happen. After yesterday’s “blagh”* on power and authority, one of my sons emailed me on a non-related topic. The email had to do with the writings of Edwin P. Hollander. (I had never heard of him.) So I went on the Marist College library site and looked for some of his articles. My first click landed me on an article about…of course: power and authority. (Is that just a coincidence?)

In Ethical Challenges in the Leader-Follower Leadership Relationship, Hollander wrote (regarding leaders): “that because of their need to maintain power and distance, self-serving leaders may become detached from how their actions are perceived and reacted to by followers. This pattern can be especially damaging to teamwork when leaders continue to receive disproportionate rewards despite their poor performance, especially when coupled with organizational downsizing and layoffs. Implications are drawn regarding the ethics of equity, responsibility, and accountability in the exercise of authority and power.

“Various streams of thought have converged on the concept of leadership as a process rather than a person or state. This process is essentially a shared experience, a voyage through time, with benefits to be gained and hazards to be surmounted by the parties involved. A leader is not a sole voyager, but a key figure whose actions or inactions can determine others’ well-being and the broader good. It is not too much to say that communal social health, as well as achieving a desired destination, are largely influenced by a leader’s decisions and the information and values upon which they are based.”

What can I add to Hollander’s insights into what I consider a major problem in business as well as in life, i.e. the blatant abuse of power and authority.

I don’t know how much the citizens of Emerald City paid the Wizard of Oz, but I believe he was over-paid, as are many so-called real-world business leaders. And that doesn’t mean I don’t think a ‘good’ leader should be well-compensated, but when so many leaders are NOT good, why should they be paid two, three, or four times what people who report to them are paid? And if the salary difference isn’t ‘criminal’ enough, these same ‘leaders’ expect the people who report to them to be cheerful cherubs who are willing to die for the company.

Ain’t gonna happen. And when it does, the ‘leader’ who thinks he’s “the cat’s meow”  is either stupid or in major denial. (I really had another word choice for ‘cat’s meow’ but thought better of it.)

Hollander, based his findings on Lao Tzu’s philosophy about true leadership.  Lao Tzu wrote: A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.

I’ve known a handful of leaders of that caliber. What about you?

* what’s a ‘blagh?” It’s a blog that might contain a little too much ‘blah-blah-blah.’

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An email I wrote this morning on power and authority is the prompt for this blah-blah-blog. And while there are some who would say I have a problem with authority, I would hasten to modify that by saying I have no problem with legitimate authority. It’s the other kind of authority that I can’t handle.

Authority in Oz was a subject of some importance. Forget the movie for a minute because MGM really screwed things up by only including three witches – two bad and one good. In the book there were four witches representing the four points on a compass. Each one of the witches had limited amounts of power. Limited power aside, the four witches’ power was individualized in a very Old World way. Much like that between Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy.

But the Wizard of Oz. He was New World all the way.  After he was shown to be a humbug (by Toto, no less) he explained how, after he drifted for days in his hot air balloon, he acquired his power and authority.

My balloon came down gradually, and I was not hurt a bit. But I found myself in the midst of strange people, who, seeing me come from the clouds, thought I was a great Wizard. Of course I let them think so, because they were afraid of me, and promised to do anything I wished them to do.

Just to amuse myself, and keep the good people busy, I ordered them to build this City, and my Palace; and they did it all willingly and well…

Talk about illegitimate authority and the total misuse of power! But how similar is Oz’s power and authority to that of so many people in government, the church, big business and even in education. And it isn’t a syndrome limited to only those at the top of the ladder , it can be found at all different levels of management.

And while the two bad witches might be accused of abusing their power and authority and the two good witches blamed for allowing the abuse to go on for so long and not using their power and authority to challenge it, at least they weren’t trying to hoodwink anybody. You can’t say the same for the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz.

I believe authority has to be legitimate, earned and consecrated by those under said authority. And as for power, it too has to be freely be given by the people to someone who will use it for the common good.

During my working years on the YBR I have witnessed…first hand…power and authority used well and also abused. When it has been used as it was deemed to be used, I am a soldier who will defend right and just use. However, when the authority is illegitimate and the power abused, I will not stand by wearing a  pair of green spectacles (as worn by the citizens of the Emerald City) and make believe everything is right with the world. I will fight it to the end. (You haven’t heard the last on this topic.)

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