Waterboarding Adrian Peterson

15 Dec

Late last week two seemingly unrelated stories broke.

The first was the announcement of a final ruling from an “independent” arbitrator on Adrian Peterson’s appeal of his suspension from the NFL for domestic violence. The arbitrator, an NFL plant who was hand-picked by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, upheld the original ruling. As a result, Peterson will remain suspended through at least the remainder of the 2014 season.

goodell-soviet

 

In the second, the feds released an exhaustive study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques. The study (at a cost of $40 million !!!) outlined a controversial program that was shielded from presidential and congressional oversight and ended the life of several enemy combatants.

What was striking about both stories was the public reaction to them. For Peterson, aside from the most rabid fans, it was accepted. “He got what he deserved, who cares, he’s a child abuser”. For the CIA case, the narrative was largely a debate. “Did we get actionable intelligence from these techniques?” and “did we save American lives?”.

Completely lacking from each discussion was any focus on the real story. Corruption due to a lack of oversight.

In one, you have Goodell the dictator, a committee of one, arbitrarily and capriciously wielding power. Under the old model, if you didn’t like his verdict you could appeal to… him. Following his bungled Ray Rice verdict, your appeal is no longer heard by him, but a lackey he appoints– a lackey who happens to be on his payroll and under his supervision. It is truly a distinction without a difference.

If the NFL ever wises up and fires Godell, he’d do well to consider a career in the CIA. There they are equally adept at making it up as they go. In the field, their operatives alone define the line they can’t cross and then revisit that decision once they reach that line. The good news is that unlike the NFL, the CIA eventually gets to transparency, albeit at a cost of $40 million bucks.

Is my point that I think Peterson is a neat guy, or that we aren’t better off from having water-boarded a few terrorists? Of course not.

My point is that the reaction to both stories is more evidence that our national consciousness has landed on a “means justifying the ends” mentality. People are overly focused on the outcomes and missing the real issue here.

Process and accountability still matter. We all need to be accountable to someone or something and lacking that, just like Godell or the CIA, we will always get into trouble. It works the same for government or private business as it does for morals or even entrepreneurship.

 

Speed

The reason you haven’t started your own business isn’t because you don’t have the time, or the finances. You haven’t worked on it because you have no process and no accountability.

Consider John. He’s an acquaintance of mine who always wanted to open a brewery. For years he thought about it. It was always “what he was going to do someday” and never “what he was doing”.

You know what finally got him off the schneid?

He finally shared the idea with two buddies. Only then did his dream take on action. Together they helped him chunk out the tasks and begin to live his dream. Today they are partners in a small business. John is working long days and busting his butt, but he’s also living his dream.

There is a saying about taking on a large task. They say the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. I’d add that an even better way is to follow John’s lead. Find someone you trust and share your intent. Confide in them, define the steps to get to your goal and empower that person to hold you accountable.

Only by working a process and checking ourselves regularly, can we begin to become our best selves. We do this best in groups. Surround yourself with yes men who never challenge you and you will end up soft. We need some accountability and a process. If we pursue both, together we can collaborate, build support systems and finally start consuming those pachyderms.

On Conquering Adversity: Millenials, meet Michael

5 Dec

Coaching matters, but barely.

Genetics are nice, but optional.

Practicing 10,000 hours can only help.

But one factor rises above all others in determining athletic prowess.

Drive.

I have seen it firsthand.  From the third grade girl with the wicked jump shot to the middle-school soccer player with the sick moves, the best players in youth sports have all been driven to excellence.

More interesting than the outcome however, is the source of that drive.  They didn’t get it from a parent that coaches,  better equipment or a spot on the select team.  They weren’t even born with it.  They earned it through struggle.

The best kids share a common trait.  They all have older siblings who also play.  It is the lone source of grit for kids these days and this alone has set them up to succeed.  You see at some point they were in a pickup game and realized that they had a choice.  Either quit, learn to play better, or continue to get your butt kicked daily.

Their failures + their struggles + their challenges =  their fuel

Have you ever heard Michael Jordan’s hall of fame induction speech?  It’s like none other.  Most of these Hall of Fame guys are all but finished with life.  They hobble up to the podium on induction day and recount all the great things that ever happened to them.  Broken and gray, they tear up about what used to be, they thank people and they leave. In short, they give a nice speech.

Michael has no time for nice, he’s still burning.

“I got two brothers – James and Larry –They gave me all I could ever ask for in terms of competition. My brother Larry dude fought me every single day. You guys sit there asking where is my competition or where did my competitive nature come from? It came from them. They started the fire in me.  And as I moved on in my career people added wood to that fire…”– Michael Jordan

He continues in the speech to recount every disappointment and every slight.  Three thousand six hundred and nine words about setbacks.  He names names.

From players who bested him, to GMs who doubted him, to opponents who questioned him, each is called out as a log.  Logs, lobbed onto a fire, fuel for his drive, building the inferno that is Michael Jordan.

Jord2

The bottom line is that successful people all have logs.  They are driven by past failures, competition and fear.  Despite this, we’ve built a society that shields our kids from all of this.  We have crafted a generation fueled by carseats, helmets, band-aids and bactine. Helicopter parents demand meetings with coaches about playing time, fighting all of their kid’s battles for them on the way toward countless participation trophies.

We’ve lost them.

In the course of sheltering our kids from failure, we have stunted their drive and neutered their effort.  The results are exactly what you’d expect. Kids who never fail grow up to be adults who can’t compete.  It becomes easier to pick up a picket sign than a job application.  Blame and finger-pointing replace self-reflection and accountability.

So how do we get them back?  The advice is simple:  Let them fail.

The next time you see a life lesson coming your kid’s way stand down, don’t step in.  Have them try out for the travel team and let them feel the sting of getting cut.  The ensuing pit in their stomach is the same one someone allowed you to get once.  That pit will grow, it will fester and it will ultimately build them into a leader.

It could even become their first log.

 

jord3

Building a Buff Brain

24 Nov

brain

Miller’s law.

It’s the reason you need a grocery list.

George Armitage Miller’s famous theory states that unassisted, the average person can store seven to nine items in their short-term memory.  This sounds reasonable to me and anyone else who has ever been on a Target run, but it seems like utter nonsense to Todd Sampson.

You see Sampson is fresh off of competing in the World Memory Championships; a competition where he memorized the order of a shuffled deck of 52 playing cards in a mere 10 minutes.

How can we explain this apparent anomaly?  What makes Sampson so adept at storing meaningless info and ignoring Miller’s law?

In a word- training.

It turns out that much like the scope of government, our brains are capable of continuous growth over the course of our lifetimes.  Unlike D.C. however, the growth in our brains leads to cognitive upticks and improvements.  Brain exercise can re-map, fine-tune and hone our grey matter.  Perhaps most exciting, a very small investment of training time can elicit some rather large changes.

Sampson isn’t what you’d think.  He’s not some super-nerd from MIT who speaks fluent Klingon, collects bitcoin and has never kissed a girl.  He’s an intelligent guy, no doubt, but largely a well-rounded one who until quite recently was stuck on seven to nine just like you.

Under the guidance of Dr. Michael Merzenich, Sampson spent roughly an hour a day over three months “Hacking His Brain” for a science channel television show.  His cranial turbo-charging included some computer-based testing, but also took the form of some new experiences.  It turns out that something as random as learning to juggle, or a similar new task that requires concentration, can help us burn new synaptic pathways and build us up.  This phenomena falls under the umbrella concept of neuroplasticity.

The results of his training were nothing short of amazing as Sampson significantly raised his scores on a series of neurological and behavioral tests.  The implication of this (and neuroplasticity itself) is important.  It implies that not only are our muscles or physical fitness a function of our training and diligence but so too are our brains.  This may be the key to stopping or reversing brain disorders and definitely has impacts to cognitive development as we age.

It also means that the inverse is also true.  If we continually reinforce set pathways in our brains by maintaining patterns and routines in our lives, we are stifling growth.  Stagnation is the enemy.  Staying at a dead end job, biding your time until you can find time to pursue your dream may be robbing you of the growth you need to be successful when you finally do.

The implication is clear.  The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.  If you aren’t honing your craft, investing in growth and getting out of your comfort zone, the step you are taking is backward.

Pink Jerseys And Shame

11 Nov

Raise your glass of Metamucil; it’s time for a toast.

Geezers and prospective geezers alike rejoice. Recent statistics confirm that the long term trend of Americans living longer and generally in better health continues.  Information released by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) indicates that eight of the top ten leading causes of death decreased significantly between 2011 and 2012.  The impact of this is longer life expectancy and better quality of life across the board.

Less dying, more living, and better health– sounds good to me.

Despite the overall numbers, it’s not all good news. While eight of the leading causes of death are down and one is flat, the final is up sharply. Perhaps more troubling, this cause of death is most likely to affect 25-64 year olds, cutting people down in their prime. What is the increasingly lethal killer that no one is talking about?

Suicide

How is it that in 2014 with all the advances of medicine we are taking our own lives at such alarming rates? The research points to several reasons –all with a common thread.

Risk Factors for Suicide:

  • History of mental disorders, particularly clinical depression
  • Barriers to accessing mental health treatment
  • Unwillingness to seek help because of the stigma attached to mental health and substance abuse disorders or to suicidal thoughts

We are losing our mothers, daughters, sons and brothers. Not because we can’t treat them, but because of the stigma of obtaining the help they need. In a word, shame.

And these numbers are horrifically underreported. Countless more of our mentally ill are self-medicating with alcohol or drugs and dying from addiction-related causes. Make no mistake, mental health fueled suicide is an epidemic.

And we’re doing next to nothing to address this for one simple reason. We are too busy with causes that stress style over substance. A prime example is the NFL. Each October NFL teams deck themselves out in pink to raise awareness about breast cancer.

*Awareness*

Do you know anyone who isn’t aware of breast cancer? The NFL knows this. They aren’t stupid, but they are interested in marketing themselves to women and checking the altruism box. So they make a big show of it and feign interest. When in fact it was recently revealed that they only donate $12 of every $100 they make selling the pink merchandise.

Style 1, Substance 0.

ray

Whereas an issue that could use some awareness is ignored.  You hear nothing but crickets  from the NFL or anywhere else, because there is no cachet to mental health. No untapped market to conquer, no jerseys to sell. Yet we all know about restless leg syndrome and where to go to get boner pills.

The schools are even worse. Stop by your kid’s class and you won’t see meaningful mental health screening nor will you hear about a link between mental health and suicide. What you will hear all about is bullying. Not because of a causation link, but because a special interest group has glommed onto an issue and is pushing an agenda. Is there a link between bullying and suicide, there can be, but ham-fisted advocates oversimplify what is really a mental health issue.

Am I pro-bullying or pro-breast cancer? Of course not, I am just anti-bullshit.

It is highly unlikely that a mentally sound kid is going to commit suicide based on bullying without an underlying issue. That issue is mental health. But there is no special interest group for mental health, no celebrity spokesman, just reality and shame.

We need to get real about the issues and attack them in a meaningful way. What exactly does that look like? Two things we can all do.

First and foremost, know the symptoms. Look for them in yourself and those around you.

  • Feeling sad or down
  • Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt
  • Extreme mood changes of highs and lows
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Significant tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping
  • Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations
  • Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Major changes in eating habits or sex drive
  • Excessive anger, hostility or violence
  • Suicidal thoughts

Second is to take action. If you are struggling, get some help. While the symptoms can be paralyzing, self-medicating with alcohol or drugs or burying yourself in denial won’t help. A screening by your primary care physician can. If you think others may be struggling, ask them. Be a friend. They may push you away but their very life may rely on your diligence.

The bottom line is that we’ve got to start talking about this.  You can help.

Electile Dysfunction

31 Oct

They called it Operation Iraqi Freedom and in April 2003 it was all but over.

By any and all accounts, it was a complete and total ass-kicking. The vaunted Iraqi Republican Guard was obliterated in less than a month by the shock and awe of the US military.

The streets of Bagdad were flooded with ecstatic Iraqis celebrating the American’s triumphant march on the capital city.   Marines poured into the city and were greeted like heroes.  In an almost perfect metaphor, a giant statue of Sadaam was pulled to the ground, the impact serving as an exclamation point to mark the end of the war.

Sadaam Statue Falls

 

What was happening was clear to anyone watching. The Iraqis were embracing freedom.  They saw all the potential of liberty and a free society and were running with open arms toward independence.

Eleven years later the privilege of hindsight tells us, what we thought we saw was all a lie. Our interpretation of their reaction was just plain wrong. These people weren’t fired up about what they got; they were pumped about what they’d escaped.  A tough lesson we eventually learned on the backs of many lost lives.

Fast forward to 2014, and I’d warn you that the US is about to have our own Sadaam statue moment.

If you believe virtually any poll out there, Republicans are about to win and win big. They’ll take control of the Senate, increase their control of the House, and pick up many governor chairs.  Tune in to election coverage on Tuesday and you’ll see a lot of white men giving speeches to throngs of crazed supporters in cramped convention rooms filled with campaign signs and streamers.  They’ll be flanked by supportive wives and disinterested children, and they’ll all be enthusiastically telling you how everything is going to get better.

They’ll also be lying.

The truth is that while the names and parties on the ballot may change, nothing else ever does. Any victory gained on Tuesday will be just as hollow as the one we gained in Baghdad.  The sooner we all realize that politicians will never have our answers, the sooner we can solve them ourselves.  The truth is that the best we can hope for is that they stay out of our way while we do it.

America doesn’t need a change in the political sphere, we need a spiritual renewal. Such a renewal won’t be led by government; it can only be led family by family.   Hard work, service to others, and liberty aren’t political talking points, they are biblical mandates.  Your rights don’t come from men, or even the constitution, they come from God.

So if you choose to watch election coverage on Tuesday, I would encourage you to take the results with a giant bag of Morton’s System Saver pellets.

Today’s freshman is tomorrow’s incumbent.  We’ll be toppling their statue soon enough.

Anything I can do? Supporting the Grieving

28 Oct

“If there is anything at all I can do, call me.”

We’ve all said it.

Someone has just experienced a loss and we don’t know what to say. It’s our sincere attempt to help. We really would spring into action if they called.

But they won’t call.

Grief

The problem is that those words fall so very short. They fall short of expressing the feelings of the person who said them, and far short of offering real comfort for the one who is grieving. Yet, it’s sort of “what you do” when you hear of someone’s loss.

It turns out that what we’ve always done is not working. There is a better way.

First, a little background about me is in order, a little confession if you will. I try and serve others, I’m empathetic and helpful and I work hard to be a supportive friend.  Despite all of that, I have a massive hole in my game.

When a death occurs, I choke.

I find myself frozen in inaction when those around me need me most.  I fear saying the wrong thing, so I say nothing.  I fear doing the wrong thing, so I do as little as possible.  On some level I expect if the loss happened to me, I’d just want to be left alone, so that is what I offer.   On another level, I am paralyzed at the prospect of doing it wrong and increasing someone’s pain.  I am self-aware that I completely and totally suck at this and I’m frankly disappointed in myself.

So recently when I had to opportunity to attend a Saturday morning workshop to learn the basics about how to support the grieving, I was all over it. I simply have to get better at this, and I was glad to have a place to start.  The workshop offered the Cliff’s Notes version of a much larger discipline known as Stephen Ministry that equips people to serve others in grief.  It must be an awesome discipline because even the Cliff’s Notes provided extensive info I had never heard– info so important that it must be shared.

My biggest takeaway from the day is that I am not alone; most people (in fact) “suck at this”. So contained below are three actionable steps. Something you can do so that the next time you find yourself in this situation, you won’t ask if there is anything you can do, you’ll know of at least three.

Tip #1 Be Present

Spend time with the person who is grieving. Sit with them, cry with them and engage them.  Being present and supportive in and of itself is a gift, one that they desperately need.  Don’t attempt to address any solutions; just sharing time is invaluable.  Be with them, it doesn’t matter what you do, you very well may do nothing.  Just keep in mind what you say.

Be sure to leave your cliché’s at the door.

 

  • “he’s gone to a better place”
  • “she’s gone home”
  • “he led a long full life”
  • “she had a good run”
  • “…at least he’s not suffering anymore”

All of these come from good intentions, none of these are appropriate. The last thing someone in grief needs is to be “talked out of it”.  They need to process their feelings and discounting those feelings won’t help. Just be available.  Replace “call me if you need me” with “I’m going to be in the neighborhood… I’d like to stop by”.

Show up and shut up. You’ll get much better results.

Tip #2 Stick it Out

True friends play the long game, investing time over the course of months or years, not hours or days. Following a loss there is a natural outpouring of support for those in grief, but this often fades quickly.  The casseroles fly fast and furious the first week or so, but soon a widow or widower is left alone in an empty house while still in the throes of mourning.  This can degenerate into a bad scene.

Adjustment to the new normal will take a long time. Therefore you need to make sure you are there offering support long after the smoke has long cleared.  Each birthday, Christmas or seasonal change offers another chance to reflect on what is missing.  This is particularly true on the anniversary of the death.  Help fill these voids by marking time with your friend.

Be around to go for a walk or simply talk through memories.   And don’t be afraid to mention the dead by name.  While it may seem counterintuitive, it is actually a valuable and important thing.  Your friend doesn’t need to “get over it” by ignoring the deceased, they need to recalibrate.  It is an important distinction.

 Tip #3 Encourage Small Steps

Everyone grieves at their own pace, the timing of which is largely outside of your control. What is fully in your control is being supportive as they adjust to the new normal.  The Stephen’s Ministers frame the whole process as a transformation in thinking.  It is the transformation of a loved one from a “physical presence” to a “memorable presence”.  Be encouraging in helping the mourner rebuild and make that transformation in thinking.  You’ll know progress when you see it.  Encourage that progress.

There you have it; three key behaviors that can make all of the difference. There is no magic bullet or miracle cure, but there is a process.  Come alongside someone and become a part of their’s.

Next time when you think “If there is anything at all I can do, call me.”

Remember, to step up.  He already called you.

 

 

 

Note: the discipline around Stephen’s Ministry is much more involved and intensive than I’ve covered here. I am not an expert, I am informed just enough to be dangerous. Nonetheless I wanted to share the 100,000 foot view that I myself only recently gleaned.  If you have interest in being certified as a Stephen Minister, it takes around 50 hours of training, and classes are available at churches throughout the country.

 

Culture Wars: Engagement or Withdrawal?

24 Aug

My site is growing.  Slower than I’d like, but it is coming along.

Each time I post a new column to Ebeneez, I pick up some new followers. These are folks who found my column, presumably liked it, and want to receive an email when I put out a new post.  There is nothing more gratifying.  I am truly thankful for the interest.

That’s what makes this post especially hard to write.  You see last week I received the following

Untitled

GodInterest is now following me.

My immediate response was thankfulness for a new follower, but almost immediately my newest follower got me to thinking.

Do we really need a Christian version of Pinterest?

Don’t get me wrong, I suspect the good people over at GodInterest have an awesome site and do some great stuff in the name of our Lord, but I thought the Christian version of Pinterest was well, Pinterest.

Is this yet another example of Christians inventing new ways to segregate themselves, subtlety alienating non-believers in the process?  Are we building a subculture to the detriment of the broader culture?   Fiddling while Rome burns around us?

A popular discussion among Evangelicals I know revolves around what it means to live out the biblical concept of being “in this world, but not of this world”.

John 15:19
If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you

Romans 12:2
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

1 John 2:15-17
 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father[a] is not in them.

 

The biblical mandate is clear, the real-world application a lot tougher.  Because of this, people are all over the continuum.

For some it means honesty, monogamy and a biblically consistent moral life.  Others see it as important to sit out R-rated movies or avoid alcohol.  For others, it means homeschooling their kids, avoiding media, ending longtime friendships, or a million other things.  Presumably to Westboro Baptist it means something entirely different.

The reason this all gets so sticky is the Great Commission.

The reason this is important is the same.

The fact is that “Go” and “Make” are action words and both are tough to do while driving past non-believers, racing home to post on GodTube.

How can we engage without compromise?

Clearly the answer is to participate, but keep the culture at an arm’s length.  This means different things to different folks.  Let’s hear what that means to you.  How long are your arms?

 

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