Tuesday, January 20, 2015

lambs and lions

Tension is in the air.  Largely thanks to the virility of social media, law enforcement and the public seem to be gazing at each other even more suspiciously than usual. 

One Gulf Breeze police officer recently made national headlines when a blatantly dangerous and intoxicated driver sped off, dragging and injuring him during a routine traffic stop.  It was a very good case study of community working together to both come to the officer's aid and assist in capturing the driver.  

At the same time, it seems that the public is increasingly fumbling its way to the aid of its own fellow citizens in cases of abuse by government. After much publicity and outcry, two Albuquerque police officers were recently charged with the especially brutal murder of a mentally ill homeless man.  We might never have known of the tragic events had they not been captured on video.  If you haven't watched the interaction, it can be quickly located and is very much worth taking in. It serves as a haunting example of a flippant and immoral utilization of deadly force by law enforcement in modern America. 

The Washington Post recently reported the maddening story of two Maryland parents who were threatened and harassed by police for allowing their children to walk one mile from a park to their home.  The parents, part of the "free range" parenting movement, believe in the utility of children spreading their wings in a world that is empirically safer than the one they grew up in.  The father, a native Russian, has a unique perspective on intrusive government. I share in their frustration at government attempting to dictate the manner in which they should raise their children, even if the couple’s methods might be different than my own.  Perhaps I’d be more inspired to trust government in this arena if it could collectively accomplish far more simple tasks, such as balancing budgets.

Our second President, John Adams, once observed that, “Fear is the foundation of most governments; but is so sordid and brutal a passion, and renders men, in whose breasts it predominates, so stupid, and miserable, that Americans will not be likely to approve of any political institution which is founded on it.”  Fear is an awful and powerful emotion.  As we’ve become increasingly dependent upon government to keep us and our children "safe," often out of fear, more and more power and deference is given to government under the auspices of necessity.  "We can only protect you if we have wide ranging power.  And to that end, do not question our power or the manner in which is it carried out." Russian thinker, Vissarion Belinsky, observed once that he was prepared to destroy half the earth with fire and sword "in order that mankind might be happy."  What do we say to one another in this great land, as governed and governing, as to what we are willing to sacrifice in the name of peace and security?  

One conclusion is that much of the recent backlash against law enforcement is a grossly ill articulated but long overdue rejection of condescending and sometimes abusive authority. The French Revolution serves as a great historical example of the messy manner in which harshly governed people will eventually react, often with blood on their hands.  Our own political tradition is rooted in the deep and divine recognition that mutual respect must be engendered and developed by both the public and authority.  Today, the public is taught to respect government and law enforcement.  And such it should be.  Buddhist monk and luminary Thich Nhat Hanh has written in his masterful work, Keeping the Peace, that mindfulness and compassion training by those in public service can go great lengths in cultivating an attitude of service, peace, and mutual respect.  This does not eliminate the reality that there will be difficult individuals for all of us to contend with.  But the attitude and heart with which we come into those unavoidable interactions is ripe for close examination.  

Several police departments have recently released rather charming videos of their officers singing to popular music in their patrol cars.  They will bring a smile to your face and have reportedly been released under the auspices of humanizing law enforcement.   And they perhaps make the point we've been hearing from those they serve in both word and sometimes very unfortunate action: "We the public are people too."    

Friday, December 19, 2014

men, grumpy monastics, and noticing

I sat with a group of men this week who shared openly about their struggles with relationships.  It is always a remarkable experience to see men open up in a culture which constantly teaches us that we cannot fail, we must conquer, and show no weakness.  Brene Brown tells the memorable story of meeting a man at an event once who commented that it was convenient that she didn't research men.  And then he quipped that his daughters and wife would rather he die on his white horse than fall off of it.  I don't know that it is true that as men, those around us feel that way.  But perhaps we do feel that way about ourselves, that we'd just about rather die than admit failure and weakness.  Men all too often are trained from a young age that vulnerability and feelings are pejoratively feminine.  Which makes it all the more remarkable when men are able to open up about the trouble spots in their lives.  Three thoughts on this rainy Florida morning, as has become customary.

1.  We are all looking for that dance with the divine.  I've been immersing myself in New Seeds of Contemplation, and I have been thinking about Merton's own experience with the need to connect with the feminine, notwithstanding his self elected isolation and commitment to the monastic tradition.  My reflection on Merton's experience has been colored somewhat by reading about the grumpy monastics of Mount Athos this week.  Into focus comes the being of balance and the inevitable need for its actualization.  Asceticism cannot remove balance as a categorical imperative; existence. And there is the curious rejection of the need for balance in our traditions, even in the one sided narrative of the "immaculate conception."  What is the relationship between asceticism and fundamental balance?

2.  What is contemplation?  I read the first section of New Seeds a half dozen times, and I am comforted by Merton's observation that anything we say about it must almost necessarily be taken back.  That it is perhaps more a state of granted awareness which comes perhaps as nothing more than a deeply realized state of grace.

3.  One of my goals for the upcoming year is to notice more.

I'll leave you with a small piece from New Seeds:

For the contemplative there is no cogito (I think) and no ergo ("therefore") but only SUM, I Am. Not in the sense of a futile assertion of our individuality as ultimately real, but in the humble realization of our mysterious being as persons in whom God dwells, with infinite sweetness and inalienable power.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Great ways to get your company sued. Thoughts from a busy employment law attorney.

I spend a lot of time working with small businesses these days.  Which is funny, because I never really intended to. I started out as a brand new lawyer working for insurance companies and big business and it felt really cold.  I transitioned to largely working with plaintiffs and love it.  But I haven’t been able to get away from representing companies even though I tried.
One of my transitional cases back into
representing the employer involved a new two-woman company fighting a mammoth multinational corporation over a non-competition agreement.  Thus, the case satisfied my "underdog" requirement.  It was David (my clients) vs. Goliath (the big nasty multinational).  We got the case resolved and my new clients and their brand new company were off to the races and have been incredibly successful.  As they've grown, we've worked together to navigate some of the twists and turns of a growing business.  I admire how hard they've worked to build their business, employ a solid team, and inspire others.  I count the founders as good friends now.  Since then, I've had the opportunity to work with a lot of other dynamic companies with operations spanning the globe.  You'd be surprised at what gets some of them sued.

1. Excessive "corporatization"

People want to be seen, heard, and understood.  Sometimes in the process of growing, I've seen really great small companies lose touch with the personal connections that got the loyalty of their "from the beginning" employees. Simple things like eating lunch with the team, knowing what is going on in their lives, and an occasional handwritten note expressing appreciation from leadership go a long way in building a crew that wins.  Don’t underestimate the power of really caring about employees.  

2. Burnout

You'd be absolutely amazed at the number of leaders who end up in my office absolutely burned out, and their teams know it.  It is terrifying for subordinates to be led by someone who by all appearances is on the edge of a mental breakdown.  Burned out leadership often results in poor strategic vision and litigation will many times follow.  One of the best things you can do as a leader is take really good care of yourself.  Exercise, eat healthy, and have a life outside of your occupational role.  One of my CEO's told me his life turned around when he replaced his Rotary meeting with a meditation class. What can you take off your plate as a leader and replace with “being still?"

3. Lack of guiding principles

If the only thing your company is about is making money, I see litigation in your future.  An entirely dollar driven ethos leads to cutting corners, a lack of focus on the end user (product or service consumer), and greed (unpaid overtime, poor safety controls, unreported work injuries, and running off older workers, to name a few common examples).  We are all in business to make a living.  But make sure you've got some solid principles driving your company.  Do you educate your customers as part of your core competency? If so, consider renewing your company's commitment to education as a guiding core principle. 

It is often the little things that end up getting companies sued.  And it can be little quarter turns that equate to the kind of positive company culture that keeps employees loyal, your customers happy, and you out of the courtroom.


Sunday, November 30, 2014

crawl spaces, herons, and new growth

New painting is much more glamorous
than work in the crawl space
I've spent the better part of the last three days under our new (well, new to us) house.  You'd be amazed at what will collect in the crawl space over nearly one hundred years.  It may be a testament to OCD or just neurosis in general that I cannot help but clean out even the crawl space.  In my defense, the less stuff for rats to make a home in the better.  I've had a pretty miserable attitude the last few days to be honest. 

Clarence Bell 
I had lunch with my family today at Five Sisters, where my good friend Clarence Bell plays for brunch.  He observed that I am fortunate to have a home. Something clicked and I realized I'd been looking at things wrong.  I found myself grateful as I crawled around in the dirt later in the day.  It is like so many things in life, perspective and outlook completely color whether our days will be filled with gratitude or misery.  Three thoughts on this Sunday evening, as has become customary:

1. I read a spectacular journal entry from Thomas Merton this past week on the Ox Mountain parable. The need for the quiet of the night and the healing of morning.  That we cut down the trees and the oxen trample new sprouts before the new growth can really take hold.  And he makes the observation that it is the same with men and women.  We allow little time for stillness and healing.  We are too busy to allow the new growth within us to thrive.  It gets stomped out these days in many cases with unending progress.

2. I am troubled by the events in Ferguson, and its dramatic proxy for explosive tension just below the surface.  I've come to see race relations ever so differently since having read Twelve Years a Slave.  How many generations does it take for slave wounds to heal?  I am mindful of this especially as I am making my way through Exodus.  

3. A magnificent heron flew over my old truck as I drove out along the beach today, with the sun setting off in the distance and the mystical fog of sand and surf everywhere.  It was a breathtaking moment.  And I thought of Merton's observation of the heron flying off in the distance, trailing an old bi-plane.  Was the plane running or the bird chasing?

I'll leave you with a poem on the house.  It has consumed me.  The literal house, not the poem.


a brave old soul
you were already sixty
when I was born
wise and tested
and true

rusty pipes and old wire
pulled and run
hammers and a few tools
I've never even seen before

the workers seem amused
by me
and my attempts
to be a man who works with his hands

your scars all covered with fresh paint
we wipe away years of grime
finding secrets along the way
sharp objects tucked away in dark corners
steal my breath

the scene of future
coffee and embrace
lazy Saturday breakfasts

until then I'll leave my blood
and sweat in your walls and
attic and crawl spaces

old girl
what will you give in return? 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

privacy, marriage lessons via pug, and widening rings

Everyone under the age of fifteen is down at the beach house.  Jessica is with friends, and I am relaxing after mediating a near international incident which involved my seven year old daughter's pointed allegations of "purposeful invasion of privacy."  Yes, this is the type of thing that children of civil rights lawyers say. Despite the presentation of much cross examination and argument, it is not entirely clear what happened. Her diary and brother and sister were involved.  My son and oldest daughter maintained that it was all in good humor.  And for good measure, I might point out that my oldest daughter called me convinced several days ago that she had contracted the Ebola virus.  Things can be a little dramatic around here.  You just never quite know what you are in for when you walk in the door. Three thoughts on this quiet Tuesday night as has become customary.

1. My wife and I were watching a movie the other night when we noticed that our male pug kept flipping out when there was explosion.  First, he would run at the television barking and then attack our female Weimaraner, who looked at him with eyes that said, "did you forget to take your Lithium?"  My wife casually commented, "hey, that is kinda what you do to me when you get stressed."  And then a light came on and I thought, dear God, she is right.  In my defense, this is clearly a universal male reaction.  Stressed out married man = woman probably dealing with seemingly crazy husband who may randomly attack her between awkward sexual advances.  It must be baffling.  Thanks be to God that I am a man.  I think.
Am I the only one who learns these profoundly important lessons about life is such weird ways?

2.  I just started Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo and have really enjoyed it so far.  I'm burnt out on heavy stuff.  A good story of redemption is in order.

3. I ran across a picture of me and the two youngest a few days ago.  It reminds me how fast time is flying by.  I am grateful to be awake enough to be participating in the lives of my wife and kids.  What would I do without so much grace?

I'll leave you with my favorite couple of lines from Rumi so far, who I am (somewhat confusedly) fumbling through for the first time.

Flow down and down in always
widening rings of being