Thursday, December 15, 2011

I’m Dreaming…

imageIt might surprise some of you who know me that I’m taking a position on this issue, but as a guy who isn’t afraid to muster up an opinion once in a while, I must do what I must do. I’m writing today about the insensitivity shown in some of the songs that are played on the radio and in the stores this time of year every single year.

We are now fairly well established in the 21st century and we’re supposedly far enough along in our cultural development as a free-thinking inclusive society that we should be able to avoid offending those who are different than we are during this holiday season. It’s high time we recognize the effects of regional distinctions and the fact that aspects of this time of year that one group can celebrate might be evoke feelings of being left out to another.

Seasonal tunes like “Deck the Halls,” “Silver Bells,” and “The Chipmunk Song” are fine, but I heard a song on my radio today that really crossed the line. Of course, I’m talking about the regionally-biased lyrics of the classic chorus, “White Christmas.”

We live in a nation where not even one-third of our fellow citizens will see as much as a 50% chance of snow this Christmas. Yet, the other two-thirds of us must suffer through the taunting strains of that song.

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,
Just like the ones I used to know.
Where the treetops glisten,
And children listen,
To hear sleigh bells in the snow.

White Christmas, glistening treetops, and sleigh bells in the snow… Why do those of us who do not have snowy Christmases need to endure the seemingly endless onslaught of references to winter wonderlands, dashing through the snow, and let it snow, let it snow, let it snow?

So, I say let’s take the snow out of the national celebration of Christmas in recognition of our multi-regional sensitivity, our diverse national climate, and the fact that most of us will not see one single flake of the stuff.

And one last thing… Have a Merry Christmas – whether you see snow this year or not – and enjoy a great start to a very Happy New Year.

[Of course, I wrote this as a tongue-in-cheek jab at the idea that we should take religion out of Christmas for the sake of those who aren’t Christian. Clearly, if we observe only those events that resonate with everyone, we wouldn’t observe any events at all.]

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Big Fish Eaten By Bigger Fish

imageMaybe you saw the news story the other day about the 9-year old 4th grader who was suspended from school for telling a friend that he thought his teacher was cute. The principal decided to impose a suspension on the student for “inappropriate behavior” for making that comment which she said was a form of “sexual harassment.”

The principal obviously lost sight of what sexual harassment really is and why it’s a problem when it occurs. Sexual harassment is intimidation or coercion with sex in some manifestation – physical, verbal, body language – used as the lever. It’s not supposed to be a tag you place on innocent remarks made by people who intend no malice and are in no position to exert their will on others. Contorting a young student’s harmless observation that he thinks his teacher is cute and representing it as “a form of sexual harassment” goes way too far.

I do think I know where that kind of overly strong reaction comes from though. These days, there is so much required of school officials as they’re expected to protect the school environment from all manner of real and perceived hazards, offenses, insults, and more. Everything in a school setting takes on so much more significance than it does just about anywhere else.

What’s more is that the failure of a school teacher, administrator, or other official to act on these kinds of events can cost them their job and expose them to the scorn of everyone who reads about their failure to take action on the front page of the newspaper. Ironically, the public is often the first to be outraged by the kind of overreaction this phenomenon sometimes spawns while it also seemingly lays the groundwork for it in advance by being so quick to call for heads to roll.

So, I understand the principal’s position. As a principal, she had to make difficult and consequential decisions every day, and she had to be alert and prepared to pounce on incidents that cross the line.

However, while I understand her position, I do not agree with her decision. The problem with her choice of discipline for the student was that it was neither just nor proportionate. Instead, it bordered on cowardly.

She seemed to me to be much less interested in administering justice than she was concerned about how the student’s remark and her response to it might be perceived by the public and others who might second-guess her. She seemed less interested in issuing a proportionate response than she was in covering her tail (and that reference to her tail is not intended to be a form of sexual harassment, by the way). She simply didn’t want to be on the wrong side of the decision.

But she was getting paid to do much more than simply make decisions though; she was getting paid to lead and to discern the many and diverse shades of the issues she encountered, and make insightful and balanced decisions about them. It’s not too much to ask adult leaders like her to use their heads and a little courage while they’re at it.

Well, this would normally be a good place to insert a concluding paragraph, but we’re not yet at the end of the story. The rest of the story might help explain the culture that made the principal’s overbearing response such a comfortable and logical one for her.

As poor as the principal’s decision to suspend the student was, and as stubborn and entrenched as she remained after she had a chance to reflect on it, I think the school board’s decision to force her to retire or face termination for suspending the student was equally poor and self-serving. When you get right down to it, they really didn’t let her go because she suspended that student; they let her go because the board was embarrassed by the public reaction to her decision to suspend him.

Just as the principal should have stepped back a bit and made a fair decision about how to handle the student without regard for the political implications, the board should have done the same thing with her. Neither of them did that, and the result is that neither of them rendered a just decision. Neither decision was inspired by a sense of justice; both were motivated by a desire to placate real or potential outrage, even if the outrage was itself disproportionate. If the standard was justice – and it was – then both parties failed. The principal failed the student, and the school board failed the principal.

As for the school board, it should have called the principal in for a private session away from all of the turmoil and emotion and encouraged her to reconsider her decision to suspend the student. Hopefully, she would have gotten the message and made a course correction (and an apology). If she didn’t get the message, I would have told her to reverse her decision. If she didn’t, then I would have fired her for insubordination and let the next principal correct the decision.

So, now the student is back in school and he’s still stuck in the classroom with that cute teacher, the principal is out of a job, and the board has flexed its muscles. The news will eventually die down once the buzz over this blog posting finally subsides.(!) And then what?

In the end, no one will have won and no real good will have come of this. That hollow, dissatisfied feeling all of them will experience will be the residue of cowardice and injustice, and they will have earned it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

What’s Wrong with Tebow?

imageMany don’t know that in addition to being a premium football player in high school, Tim Tebow was also a very good baseball player, named to the all-state baseball team as an outfielder after his senior year of high school. I remember watching him play for Ponte Vedra Nease High School the year my son and nephew played for the Florida high school baseball championship. Tebow’s team played in the semi-finals and lost to the team that our team ultimately defeated in the championship game. Even as a senior on the baseball team, Tebow was someone most Florida high school sports fans were already familiar with.

He had already drawn a legion of ardent supporters, but as his college career took shape, he also found a smattering of detractors.

imageI have to say I had mixed feelings about him when he played in college. I appreciated his competitiveness and his burning desire to win, and I admired his adherence to his values. What didn’t always sit well with me, however, was what I took for a penchant for over-playing the part. He seemed to wear too much on his sleeve, and I guess I’ve tended to take that sort of thing as somewhat over-cooked and contrived. Today, I don’t know if that’s accurate or fair to him. It might be that that’s just how he knows to express himself when it comes to the really important things in his life. I think I have to give him the benefit of the doubt on that. People need to have a sense of commitment to the important things and be willing to be thoroughly attached to them. That’s hard to fault him for.

As he began the transition to a professional football career, he attracted a good many doubters, probably for the first time in his life. When this football season began, I gave him only a slightly better than zero chance of starting for the Broncos this year. I’m not a pro scout, but I didn’t know how to disagree with all of those experts who had so much to say about what was wrong with his arm motion, delivery, and so on. At one point, he was the 3rd string quarterback, just a hair away from perhaps being cut from the team.

Now that he’s starting every game for the Broncos and the team’s original #1 quarterback has been cut, we’re seeing some things you just don’t find on the stat sheet anywhere other than in the “W” column. There’s a lot to like about a pure competitor like him.

Here’s a guy who won the Heisman Trophy in college who doesn’t exactly dazzle the crowd with gaudy stats now, but he does seem to win. And he’s a leader at a time and in an arena where we just don’t see enough of that.

Instead, we see so many celebrities who don’t know how to behave with their wealth and notoriety that we really don’t know what to make of a guy like Tebow. We can’t make sense of it so we criticize him, thinking there’s something wrong with him.

Shouldn’t he be spewing foul language, partying into the night, and getting into trouble? Tebow apparently didn’t get the memo. He kneels on the ground to pray during make-or-break field goal attempts, literally in front of God and everyone. He speaks like a guy who seems wise and mature in many ways while still coming across as na├»ve and untarnished by cynicism. He has taken immense heat in the media for being such an overt Christian, yet he doesn’t waver. There’s much more that is unconventional about this athlete than his arm motion and delivery, that’s for sure.

For what Tebow lacks in textbook quarterback skills, he more than makes up for in genuine leadership qualities and character. While the experts continue to be befuddled by his success, I have to say I’m pulling for him because he really does seem to be a good guy, he stands by his convictions and core beliefs in the face of criticism, and he knows how to take guys who are often mostly famous for being too much into themselves and help turn them into winners.

There might be plenty wrong with Tebow as a technical quarterback, but there is also plenty right with him as a man and as a leader. It’s the latter that will have the greatest influence on those around him and if that’s how his professional football career is remembered, that isn’t all bad either.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Lesson of Bambi

imageIt’s funny what you think of when you’ve been sitting in a tree all day waiting for a deer to come along. Yesterday was one of those days. With a big moon in the sky at night, there weren’t a lot of reasons for deer to wander around during the day time. On top of that, the wind was swirling and gusty. Being a nervously paranoid animal in the first place, deer aren’t exactly comforted by all of the scents and sounds in the woods on those kinds of days, so they tend to sit tight until the sun goes down. But there I sat anyway just in case I was wrong.

I have seen deer just about every time I’ve been out this year so far, but in most cases it’s been a doe with a young fawn. The late season fawns have lost their spots, but they’re still wearing kind of a rusty brown coat. In a few weeks, they’ll start picking up some black and darker brown that will darken their coats. I’ve always had this thing about shooting does with young fawns. In passing on the shot, I have just had this sense that I’d really be killing two deer because the predators would get to the young deer without mama there to take care of it.

That happened again Saturday. Mother and fawn came out in front of me and weren’t 20 yards in front of me at one point, totally oblivious of the immensity of my humanitarianism.

Well, as I sat there in that tree yesterday being buffeted around by the wind, I started thinking back to all of those deer I’ve been passing on, probably five or six this season already. On one hand, I thought I had done the right thing. On the other hand, I thought I’m not giving a weaned deer enough credit; many say a weaned deer can make it just fine on its own without its mother.

At one point as I sat there in that tree alone arguing with myself over whether I should be shooting those does or not, my mind went to the Disney classic movie “Bambi.”

As I remember the movie, it starts offimage with Bambi’s mother being shot by an evil hunter while Bambi was still a spotted fawn. Bad day for Bambi, but it wasn’t the end for him, was it? No, Bambi wasn’t immediately set upon by predators and disease. Instead, he was befriended by rabbits, a skunk, an owl, and other forest critters who really stepped up to help Bambi cope. They became Bambi’s friends. As the Disney site boasts, “with the help of pals Thumper and Flower, Bambi learns about the wonder of nature and the power of friendship and family.” Those were some pretty darned good friends poor little Bambi had.

Ultimately, Bambi grew up, became a really nice buck, and sprouted a proud rack of antlers that would have made a nice fixture over someone’s fireplace.

As I sat there in the tree yesterday, the real lesson of Bambi settled in on me. It wasn’t that man is evil and likes to hurt cuddly animals like deer. The lesson was that even though man can seem evil sometimes, even when he’s just putting food on the table for his family, things in the forest seem to turn out okay anyway. Sure, Bambi lost his mom early in the movie, but he gained his independence, some interesting friends, and a really awesome set of antlers.

The next time I see a doe with a young fawn, though, I’ll still pass even if it means the little guy won’t get to meet cool, talking forest friends like Bambi did. It’s just hard to put much stock in cartoons, not even the classics.