Search This Blog

Friday, May 17, 2013

National Service

My profession allows me to visit with many new people, some of them quite accomplished. Some time ago, I visited with a thirty-something private equity professional in St. Louis. Jay (not his real name) was articulate and very bright, clearly a member of the cognitive elite. This did not make him especially unusual - many folks in the private equity world have the same profile. Jay, however, is different than most. He is a West Point graduate who spent over ten years in the  U.S. Armed Forces, serving as an officer in the Rangers. He was in uniform during the first Gulf Conflict, during 9/11, and during the launch of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. He saw lots of stuff, I'm sure. I suspect that the stress and trauma associated with the private equity profession doesn't trouble him much after his combat service.

As I was speaking with Jay, I began to reflect on my own brush with the military. I registered for the draft when I turned 18, in 1972. The Vietnam War was winding down; the U.S. did not draft many folks in 1972 and it was clear that the draft was going to disappear soon. So I was able to avoid national service easily, with no drama. I wasn't drafted, and I didn't volunteer.  I was relieved that I didn't have to make any decisions about serving in the military.  I wanted to go to college and attend to my selfish goals.

I feel bad about that now, especially when I meet someone like Jay. I have never been in favor of conscription, but I am in favor of serving.  Military service doesn't "work" for everyone, but some form of national service could (AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, a new environmental clean-up service, etc. etc.). Devoting time and effort to something beyond your narrow self-interest is good for the community, and its good for the human soul, too. But it can be bad for the wallet and bad for family relationships. I let self-interest govern my decision in 1972; it still governs me today. I am not kicking myself too hard about this; I am an imperfect human and can't expect to do everything that might be worthwhile. But when I meet a guy like Jay, I feel a bit ashamed.  He stepped up, and carried us selfish people on his back.

As Memorial Day approaches, consider this - regardless of what one might think regarding the worthiness of America's recent wars and other military adventures, it is important to remember that very capable people are in service on our behalf, and on behalf of the military policies of our government.  Many other very capable people have died on our behalf, and on behalf of the military policies of our government

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Estranged on Mother's Day

Here in the good old USofA, we are awash in flowers, chocolates and brunches on this Mother's Day.  It is a good thing to honor your mother and to thank her for all the wonderful things she has done for her children.  But what if you don't want to see your mother?  What if your mother has created such  pain for you that you have to turn your back and cut her off?

When children cut off a relationship with their mom, there is always a reason.  The mom may not understand, or may not acknowledge the depth of the hurt the child is feeling.  The mom may desperately try to reconcile and repair without success.  There is pain all around.  The only person that can initiate a reconciliation is the person that initiated the estrangement.

I am one of the lucky ones - my mom was the greatest and I hold her memory close since she passed 20 years ago.  We had our bad moments, I guess, but I don't seem to remember that part.

On this Mother's Day, I want to acknowledge that not every mother-child relationship is a source of comfort, that not every wrong has been forgiven, that some children and mothers withdraw from each other in order to establish a zone of safety.  Estrangement is a type of prison, but one that the incarcerated often enters gladly. Even a comfortable prison is a trap and shrinks life's possibilities.

Here is a good piece on estrangement

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

A Good Dog

In January, we adopted a new dog.  His name is Tai, and he only has one eye.  The folks at the Anti-Cruelty Society didn't know what happened to him, but I suspect that another, larger dog attacked him.  Tai has gradually settled into our household.  He isn't very big, but he has a big dog attitude.  He has a focused spirit - beams in on his favorite humans and can pick up on tone of voice, moods, gestures and a surprisingly long list of words.  He is tolerant of his fellow pets in our house.   Oh, and he believes that Life Is A Ball.  When you throw a ball for him, he is fulfilling his purpose in the world. Focus on the ball, be the ball, chase the ball, fetch the ball.  He would rather play ball than eat.

Tai has a small bag of tricks.  He can give "high fives" (but you have to give him a treat afterwards).  He will dance on his hind legs.  But his best trick is the one-eyed stare.  He will sit and watch you, looking for signals.  I feel that he sometimes reads my mind, but of course this is a ridiculous idea.  He is just a little, scruffy, one-eyed dog who is dialed into the human who feeds him.

While dogs probably don't feel "love" the way we humans define that emotion, there is certainly some kind of deep connection between dogs and people.  Of course, dogs don't understand the details of human lives so they are never judgmental.  If you have done something that has brought scorn down on your head, your dog doesn't know about that and will still be glad to see you.  If you come back from the gym smelling ripe and gross, your dog will not complain - he probably prefers you in that condition. 

So I talk a lot to Tai.  He cocks his head at me and trains his remaining eye on my face; he focuses and gives me silent attention (which is quite rare in human society).  After a while, he brings me his ball and seems to say "enough with the blah blah - let's get down to the Meaning of Life - MY BALL!"