Thursday, September 8, 2016

Driving In Ireland

I have to admit that I approached the prospect of driving on the “wrong” side of the road with a bit of trepidation, faintly remembering some less-than-stellar vehicular maneuvers while attempting to drive in London about 30 years ago.  But, with some initial “learning experiences” behind me – some right hand turns that inexplicably put me back on the right (not correct!) side of the road, an attempted U-turn that looked more like a figure 8, and then adapting to shifting the 5-speed transmission with my left hand instead of my right - I actually began to enjoy it.  REALLY enjoy it!  The roads were so very narrow and winding, and measuring speed in Kilometers instead of Miles per hour added to the sense of going fast….. faster than you could imagine as the shrubbery (or a stone wall!) on the left and the oncoming traffic on the right were both less than a couple of feet from the sides of my car.  Intense!

But, as I was driving down the left side of a two way road that was just barely wider than a single lane back home, and doing so at 100 kilometers per hour while oncoming traffic was doing the same, I came to a realization……. My safety was dependent not so much on my own driving skills as it was on the skills (and intentions) of the 100’s of drivers around me and heading toward me.  This is not something I would be terribly aware of in the rather monotonous driving environment we have created for ourselves in the U.S.  But here in Ireland, where the roads demand every bit of your attention – even for the locals (no one thinks of texting while driving here in Ireland…… no one’s that crazy!) – I was acutely aware of my dependency on those around me.

This awareness of our “dependency” is something that the capitalistic, competitive, hyper-individualistic culture of the USA has bred out of us – perhaps even taught us to loathe – and it seems to me that every time I’m outside the U.S. and experiencing something else, I see the tragedy of this loss all over again.  One of my dear friends accuses me of romanticizing these other cultures, and I know that he is correct in his doing so.  Every society must have its own blind spots, but still, the contrast that these foreign travels present to my culture of origin make me acutely aware of a dependency that I long for……. and for which I now believe we were made.

In Steve Martin’s classic film, The Jerk, there is this ironic parody of our fear of dependency on each other that I will never forget.  Navin Johnson (played by Steve Martin) has decided to leave his girlfriend/lover (played by Bernadette Peters) and, as he is about to go out the door he says:

“Well I’m gonna to go then.  And I don’t need any of this.  I don’t need this stuff, and I don’t need you.  I don’t need anything except this.  And that’s it and that’s the only thing I need, is this.  I don’t need this or this.  Just this ashtray.  And this paddle game, the ashtray and the paddle game and that’s all I need.  And this remote control.  The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote . . . “

What do we really need from each other? What do we need to give and receive and share? And who do we need to be to each other?  More than someone to safely share the road with? 

Sebastian Junger, in his new book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, writes "Humans don't mind hardship. In fact, they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary."  It seems to me that what we need to rediscover, and share with, and be to each other is “necessary.”

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Little Life


Just finished reading the book "A Little Life" by Hanya Yanagihara, and feel the need to write something while it's still fresh in my mind..... although it may remain "fresh" forever.

This is not a book for the timid, the impatient, or those who like happy stories with happy endings. At 720 pages, it takes some endurance to read and, with every new chapter, we learn a bit more about lives - and especially one life - that are filled with tragedy and abuse almost beyond comprehension. As such, this is a graphic story about the corruption of our human spirit, and it sometimes takes courage just to turn to the next page.

But it is also a story about the power of friendship and love to heal some of the damage that is brought upon us, that we bring upon each other, and that we bring upon ourselves too..... (but the damage we do to ourselves is the hardest to heal.)  I want to believe that true love and friendship, when fully given and received, can heal all wounds.  As the main character's adopted father tells his adopted son:

“You won’t understand what I mean now, but someday you will: the only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.” 

But, while many, many wounds are healed through amazing expressions and relationships of love in this book, some are not.  I cried over and over again, both for the damage done and for the healing love..... but mostly for when the damage was too great, where even love was not enough.

I think this book is about our own lives, on steroids so we don't miss what is more muted in our own day to day, so we can more clearly see the ways in which our lives connect and collide with each other in both damaging and healing ways, so we might choose to heal and love as much as we can.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Brokenness and Love

Between the searching and the need to work it out
I stop believing everything will be alright
We are broken
I'm walking uphill being turned around and round
Secret in motion when my feet are on the ground
We are broken
In my mind's eye
One little boy anger one little man
Funny how time flies
Tears for Fears

How are we to understand and respond to these recent tragic shootings in our world?  What are we to do to protect ourselves from further and future harm?  Polarized political positions that present themselves as mutually exclusive when democracy depends on compromise only add fuel to a fire that has already burned too long….. and I feel the heat rising.

With each new shooting, both sides use the tragedy as evidence to support their intractable stances in a standoff debate while obscuring the deeper truth that the real problem is not in our having too many or too few guns.

The real problem is us…….

The Bible tells us that “hardship does not spring from the soil, nor does trouble sprout from the ground.  Yet man is born to trouble, as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:6-7).  Looking for something or someone outside ourselves to blame, we fail to see that the brokenness out there in the world is nothing more, and nothing less, than the brokenness within us, writ large. 

If we only see the brokenness of the world “out there” without acknowledging the brokenness of the world "in here,” inside ourselves, we can never really understand.  And, in the absence of knowing this brokenness personally, we are doomed to living in the fear of that which we do not understand.

But, when we acknowledge our common human condition, our common capacity for both good and evil, both light and darkness; when we acknowledge that there were 10 tragic losses of life and not 9, embracing our common future and common fate in a world that is unavoidably ours to share, then – and only then – can we see our way forward, see our way out.  For the answer to darkness in not more darkness, nor is the solution to meet violence with more violence.  Instead, the only “force” that can bring light to the darkness and healing to the brokenness that is both within and without, is love.

Not a Pollyannaish Love, not a Hallmark Card Love, but instead……………

A love that holds a person accountable, but more as a son than an enemy

A love that reaches out with friendship so that no one’s thoughts can lead them to a sense of isolation or abandonment

A love that reaches out with generosity so that no one’s poverty can lead them to desperation

A love that reaches out with forgiveness so that no one believes themselves to be beyond help, or hope

A love that reaches out with balm for body and mind because no one is beyond healing

A love given to enemies as if they were friends, a love given to others as we would want to be loved ourselves

Because, when we really know the brokenness, and when we really know the power of love given or withheld, we will at the same time know that the heaven or hell of this world is of our own making.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

At Our Best

So here I am, sitting in a folding chair on the putting green at Mallard Creek Golf Course, writing my monthly President’s Report during my break between my welcome and closing comments while everyone else is playing 18 holes of golf at our LBCC Foundation Annual Golf Tournament.  In front of me are a couple of large lawn tents under which we will have our closing luncheon and program at somewhere around noon, while off to my right is the burned out shell of the lodge that was supposed to be there for us….. but now isn’t.

Stuff happens (there’s another way of saying this that perhaps makes for a more powerful statement but, for my purposes here, the word “Stuff” will suffice).

Buildings burn down, budgets are cut, adversity comes from unexpected places, the sun clouds over and the rains fall.  This is the “Stuff” that happens and, for some, this is the stuff that defeats.  But here I am at a golf tournament fundraiser that feels more like a family event because the challenge of pulling this off has pulled us closer together….. players and sponsors and volunteers and golf course staff all together because it isn’t really about the game or the prizes or the lodge that is a total loss.  Instead, we gather on this beautiful crisp morning because we believe in the difference that a particular community college makes in students’ lives and in the communities that are ours to share. 

Over this summer I finally had the time to read Malcolm Gladwell’s most recent book, David and Goliath, and in it I saw the characteristics that I think contribute to LBCC’s success: the right size for being nimble and quick on our feet, a passionate sense of why we are here, and a willingness to draw together when “things” happen.  Like a golf tournament that rises to the challenge and finds something deeper and wider than just a game, like David who defeats Goliath because he believes in something more than Goliath does, we at LBCC find our success not in our circumstances but in our character.  And it is in this realization that we are at our best.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Outcomes Funding and Mission: How We Can Move the Dial on 40-40-20

In October of 2001, Jim Collins published his most popular book to date, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap….. and Others Don't, describing and demonstrating for us some of the critical ways in which organizations can successfully adapt and advance in a rapidly changing technological, economic, and social environment.  But, with numerous examples of the successful implementation of these principles in corporations across the USA and even across the world, I and many others have nonetheless wondered about their application to the not-for-profit and social sector.

Like most of us, I have read Collin’s book but, more recently, I also had the opportunity to meet and discuss with him some of the principles for great organizations that he presented in his book, and it was on this question of applicability to the social sector – and especially to education – that we focused our conversation.  Collins referred us to his 2005 Monograph, a supplement to his book Good to Great entitled Good to Great and the Social Sectors, wherein he noted a number of ways in which public colleges differ from for-profit businesses, two of which I want to focus on here: Differences in Leadership, and Differences in the Relationship Between Mission and Money.

Differences in Leadership

  • Whereas the CEO of a for-profit business has the power to make and implement any decision she chooses (what Collins calls “Executive Leadership”), the power of a college President is more contingent upon internal ownership and support (“Legislative Leadership”).  For a college to change its direction, sense of purpose, goals, or even the processes by which those goals are pursued, a president must engage in and attempt to steer the formal and informal community convenings and  conversations by which such decisions are given efficacy.  Bargaining, leveraging, and negotiating trade-offs are all part of being a president, but the true power of this role comes in being able to tell stories and form images that capture and then coalesce the emotional energy of those who make up that community, that college.  Always messy, always incomplete, this nonetheless is the work of the effective legislative leader. 

Differences in the Relationship Between Mission and Money

  • Whatever else may be the “mission” of a for-profit business, making money is at the core of this purpose.  Money is “invested” with the explicit expectation that money will be made – Return on Investment (ROI).  But, for the not-for-profit, Mission is almost never connected to money, making the connections between “investment” and “mission attainment” much more difficult to effect, or even discern.  ROI becomes a much more complicated calculation.

So, what does all this have to do with Outcomes Funding?  Well…………

Outcomes Funding is most often presented in terms that reflect a belief in what academics call Resource Dependency Theory – the idea that changing the sources and configurations of financial inputs will result in an organization’s adjustment of external coalitions and internal practices in order to stabilize and maximize these financial inputs.  This makes intuitive sense and, for the most part, seems to hold true when we look at for-profit businesses: Companies DO adapt to maximize profits, ROI.

But, when we try and apply this principle to the not-for-profit/Social/Education sectors, the dynamics of Resource Dependency Theory in general and, I believe, Outcomes Funding in particular, begin to break down.  And here’s why……

Resource Dependency Theory is explicit in its recognition that its impact is limited to BEHAVIORS and not BELIEFS.  Changes in Resources will tend to have the effect of changing the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) of an organization in order to stabilize and maximize the benefit from these changes in Resources, but it will have little or no effect on the “deeper processes” of an organization, such as its sense of purpose, or Mission.   Of course, for organizations where profit – or ROI – IS the purpose, this does not create any problems, any conflict.  In fact, for these organizations, Resource Dependency Theory actually EXPLAINS the relationship between Mission and organizational behavior.  But for the not-for-profit where Mission has nothing to do with profit (as Collins notes in his 2005 Monograph), such organizational manipulation via changes in resources often creates a tension between Practice and Purpose and, even when  you are successful in changing SOPs, the efficacy of these changes is severely limited by  that tension.  In short, you cannot effectively incentivize an organization to accomplish something that it does not believe in. 

So, what can we do to “move the dial on 40-40-20”?  I believe the answer lies in the work of Simon Sinek, author of the 2011 book Start With Why.  As he suggests, in order to make effective and lasting change in an organization, you have to start by asking – and answering – the question of WHY that organization exists.  What is its Purpose; What is its Mission?  And, as Collin’s work suggests, answering these questions for the not-for-profit organization is NOT accomplished by edict, administrative decision, or legislative mandate.  Instead, it takes the kind of “legislative leadership” that focuses on capturing and then coalescing the emotional energy of those who make up that organization, that tells stories and forms images that make it possible for the organization’s members to gather around a Purpose that they believe in enough to pursue.  (If you doubt the need for this affective approach to organizational change, I’d like to suggest you read some of Jonathan Haidt’s work, especially his most recent book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (2013).) This is hard and difficult work.  But I believe that, when given the guidance, support, and time necessary, our college presidents can lead what I refer to as the “Passionate Persistence in the Pursuit of Purpose” that is essential to our collective success.  But we have to “Start with Why” and not with “What” or “How.”

In the end, when we together do the hard work of forming a collective Purpose that reflects a commitment to 40-40-20, then Outcomes Funding becomes not an incentive to do something we might not otherwise do but a resource that enables us to pursue something we already believe.  And this is how we will experience success.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Educational Pathways and Destinations: Journeys that We Share

Let’s be honest…….  As much as we might encourage our students to have a clear sense of purpose and direction as they try and navigate their educational pathway – and we SHOULD encourage this! – we all know that their reality can quite frequently be a meandering route to destinations not yet fully known.   This “wandering” describes two recent community college graduates, and two of my best friends……  Chris, and Chris.

Chris #1 is a graduate of Clatsop Community College; AAS in Historic Preservation and Restoration.  But that’s not where he started.  Chris’ pathway includes a year at Central Oregon Community College with no specific degree in mind, two separate stints at OSU in pursuit of a Forestry degree, and then finally a completion at Clatsop.  Post-graduation, Chris has frequently availed himself to the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) services here at LBCC and he now owns his own historic window restoration company here in Albany.  Chris also works as a part-time faculty for the program at Clatsop from which he graduated.

Chris #2 is a graduate of Central Oregon Community College; AGS.  But he started at Clatsop Community College, pursuing a degree in Criminal Justice.  While attending there, Chris was working as a volunteer fireman and so, when the Criminal Justice path didn’t seem to be working out, he changed directions to focus on an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certificate and a degree in Fire Science.  He completed the EMT and then transferred to Central to pursue his Fire Science degree.  Close to what would have been the final term of his program Chris again changed direction, gathering what he had already completed into an Associates of General Studies and then transferring to an on-line Bible College, from which he will receive his Bachelor’s degree in just a few months.  Chris now works as an Assistant Pastor for a church in Bend.  

Last weekend, these two young men joined me at my place outside Randle, Washington to help me take down a large maple tree that was diseased and dying.  As I spent this time with them, grateful for their help AND for the tree felling skills they have acquired through their firefighting and forestry backgrounds, I became deeply mindful of the powerful bond that has developed between them and me over the past decade.  And I saw in these bonds the role that my life has played in their successful, albeit circuitous, educational journey.  

While Student Success and Completion will and must most certainly involve well-designed pathways, quality instruction and effective guidance & services, all organized around clear and compelling goals, at the core of our students’ success will be the relationships we are willing to share with them.  In our classrooms, in our offices, in the LBCC Courtyard and in the Communities around us, our personal involvement in their lives plays a critical role in their journey, and in their arrival at a destination that makes the difference in their lives that they seek, and we seek for them.

Monday, November 25, 2013

I Built A Sauna

Over the past couple of months I have finally taken on and completed a project I have thought about and procrastinated on for years….  I built a sauna.  8’ x 10’ with a small porch, wood-fired stove, and an interior complete with cedar benches and tongue-and-groove paneling, it’s pretty much everything I (and my sauna-loving friends!) dreamed of…..

And, in the process of building my sauna, I discovered something that once eluded me but now seems so self-evidently clear…. Saunas are not “built;” they are formed.  Formed out of the collective human labor of those who construct it, formed out of the collective human sweat of those who bathe in its heat.  Formed, because at its very essence, a sauna is not a building or a room but instead, a community.  And, more often than not, a community of men.

I didn’t understand this until my friend Chris and I began to build, and I began to read a book he loaned me, The Sauna, by Rob Roy.  Yes, the book is all about the varieties of construction methods employed to build these peculiar little places made sacred by the Finns.  But, behind all of the details about cord wood, stone, sod, glass and cast iron and heat, the book is really about a relationship that develops between the people and the space of their creation….  and about the relationships that develop out of that created space being shared. 

This understanding was confirmed when I was then introduced to a PBS documentary movie entitled Steam of Life .  A couple of on-line film synopses:
From a land of long, dark winters comes Steam of Life, a moody, comic and moving study of Finnish men as framed by the national obsession with the sauna. There, they come together to sweat out not only the grime of contemporary life, but also their grief, hopes, joys and memories.

Both physically and emotionally naked, the sweaty men talk in detail about their experiences, their ambitions, their failings, their darkest secrets and biggest fears, often with a few drinks handy to keep the conversation flowing. The result is a film that offers a look into a unique side of Finnish culture as well as an insight into the male psyche that's universal.

Could my sauna be a place such as this?  Could such a space help even we American men to reconnect to our common humanity, to our common destiny, and to each other?  Perhaps, with this in mind, one of the film’s viewers posted this comment: “May I suggest that Congress, the Senate, and the Administration might benefit from taking weekly communal saunas.”


You can view the trailer to Steam of Life at