Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Samuel Patrick Duquaine is Born!

Ok so this post is a day late, but my nephew Samuel Patrick was born 6:35 AM yesterday. He came out at 8lbs exact and is in good health. Thank God! This is what life is about. How can you deny this? Congratulations Mark and Erin! Hannah, play nice with your new brother. I can't wait to see Samuel in person. God bless!

Is Life Cruel?

This past weekend I overheard a woman telling a sad story. This woman's brother impregnated a sixteen year old girl who was addicted to alcohol and drugs. Although she said her brother was ready to be a father, she and several others close to the situation urged the pregnant girl to get an abortion. They contend that it would be cruel not to have an abortion seeing that the mother's addictions would certainly damage the baby severely. This is a common argument for those who support abortions. The argument can be presented in a very convincing way and may initially seem like the "right" thing to do. I thought about it more throughout the day and the following couple days, and I am still convinced that abortion in this circumstance is not morally right even in this instance. Here is why:

The most precious gift from God is life. I'll pose this question to you: What is crueler, to attempt to bring a baby into this life with the understanding that the baby will likely have severe health issues or to deny that baby any chance of life? In other words, is it better to have lived and suffered than to have never experienced life at all? I think when people say things like what I heard over the weekend, their thoughts and intentions are not usually bad. This woman truly thought that it would be best for everyone that this young, troubled girl have an abortion. The problem is that she forgot about the baby. That's often the case with those who support abortion. Is it really cruel to bring the baby into this world or is it a great responsibility for those people close to the baby? This baby will likely require great attention and love. When she says having the baby is cruel, is she speaking for the baby or for herself and her family?

I have heard the argument that it is better for the society as a whole that a woman chose to have an abortion in cases where the baby has a severe health issue or the parents can not or will not take care of the baby. Should the entire society be responsible for this baby when the mother is a drug abuser and the father is a high school drop out? The baby will grow up in a terrible environment and likely be a trouble for society. I have a problem with that, because the baby's life is valued less than the mother's or the fathers or some random taxpayer. Not only that, but we are making assumptions that may or may not be accurate.

As loving Christians, we are called to love God and love one another. This includes those who are sick and the unfortunate. We are called to care for the least of our brothers. It is never a defense to argue that a baby may be a burden for society. Life is not a burden, but a gift. I believe responsibility is often confused with burden. The mistakes of parents may at times adversely affect their children, but they should not be an excuse to end the life of their child. Think about the child. What really is cruel? It's easy for a person to sit here and say it's cruel to bring a baby into this world who is in severe pain, but it's not so easy if you put yourself in the place of the baby. Would you want to be aborted? You are not thinking about what's best for the baby when you chose an abortion. I remember reading a story about a father who lost his child just moments after birth, but those few minutes were the happiest moments of his life. The baby did not make it, but they did everything they could to keep the baby alive. That baby did not live long but her life had a huge impact on her father's life and it turned out that it impacted several lives. So is life cruel or is it the denial of life that is truly cruel? Think about it. Chose life!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Coaching Styles

I was reading about new Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez and it got me thinking about coaching styles. Rodriguez is replacing Lloyd Carr whose long tenure was both successful and disappointing. Carr and Michigan have consistently been one of the best teams in the Big Ten, but they seemed to lose a lot of the big games (such as the recent losing streak to Ohio State and before last year's win vs. Florida sub-par bowl showings). As a result of Carr's mixed success, many Michigan alums and fans were happy to see someone new lead the football team. They got somebody new and Rodriguez promises to shake things up. So what has changed? Well, coaching style for one thing.

Carr's approach to coaching was less fiery and more about creating an atmosphere where players could feel like the coach was their friend. Rodriguez is a fiery guy who will yell and curse at players to try to motivate. Lots of people see this as necessary in football. I don't. I know that football is a tough physical game and I also understand that different people are motivated in different ways, but I don't think that cursing and constantly yelling is necessary. I'm not saying the coach needs to be each player's best friend, but I think there are better ways to lead a team. The goal of any coach is to get the most out of his players. A coach needs to see that his team has good chemistry and focus on team goals as opposed to individual goals. To me, cursing is a sign of poor communication and weakness. Motivation out of fear or anger does not equal the motivation to be a part of something great. If a guy misses a block, what is the best way to handle this situation? Should you pat him on the back and say it's all right? Or should you yell and curse and call him names? Neither. If you pat him on the back, he either won't realize his mistake or he'll believe it was not a big deal. If you yell and curse at the player, what does that accomplish? Well he can take it in one of two ways. Initially the player is going to feel insulted an probably a little bit embarrassed. Then the player will likely get angry. This anger may lead him to "prove to coach" that he can do it right or it may cause him to lose respect for the coach and his anger will be directed in the coaches direction. Either way, it is not the ideal situation. Even if the guy is trying to "prove something to coach," he is doing it for the wrong reasons. He is playing to avoid getting embarrassed again or to avoid the coaches wrath. He is not playing and working hard for the love of the game. His motivation becomes self centered and not team focused.

Bottom line is that constant yelling and cursing is not an ideal or necessary coaching style. There are several better techniques to use that will help to motivate players. Those coaches who curse are not "tough guys" in my book. They are taking the easy way out and they are poor communicators. They are not being good leaders and that's what a coach is supposed to be: a leader.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Baseball, Nuns Bring Cancer Patients Joy

I found this story on espn and I had to share. It is long, but when you're done reading you'll be glad I included the whole article. It is an inspirational article. It stresses the celebration of life. Really that's what my whole blog is all about. I have included information on where you can send a donation. I'm sure the money would go to good use. Please faithfully consider making a donation as I am. Thank you, God bless, and enjoy the article. (I have bolded some of my favorite quotes.)
Donations to the hospice can be sent to:
Our Lady of Perpetual Help, 760 Pollard Boulevard SW, Atlanta, Georgia 30315.

Making Time Stand Still

ATLANTA -- At 7:30 each morning, Sister Mary Edwin pushes her pill cart down the parquet hallway of the men's floor. Each drawer on the cart is marked with a name and room number. Dominic in 101 needs his heart medication and something for the pain. Sister Edwin grinds tablets with the back of a spoon and mixes the powder into a taste of applesauce. John in 108 needs some medicine put in his eyes. She squeezes a dropper and wipes his cheek. She writes everything down. One black pen (dosages) and one red pen (notes) taped together. She washes her hands in hot water after visiting each bed.

Meet the sisters and residents of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Home as they spend an afternoon at a Braves game.

Sister Edwin moves from room to room, singing show tunes. She laughs the laugh of a right jolly old elf. She jingles her rosary beads the way a maintenance man jingles a ring of keys. She perspires at the lip and brow, hustling from patient to patient. "Is your sister back from Florida?" she calls to one. "How are you feeling? Did you watch the Braves game last night?" she asks, rubbing the toes of another. "Nice and easy, take it slow," she says, cupping her hand behind the palsic head of a third, whose mouth has become too dry to swallow pills. A Hawthorne Dominican's apostolate dictates contemplation and service to the cancer-stricken poor. She does not proselytize or preach. Her faith is her work. She does not turn her back or recoil at the sight of suffering. Her faith is the touch of her hand, the comforting sound of her voice. The efforts she makes to know a patient, to be a friend in his last days, to soothe and comfort, are the terms of her devotion to God. Sister Edwin's mission, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Home, is a haven for terminally ill cancer patients founded by author Nathaniel Hawthorne's daughter Rose in 1900. The home opened in Atlanta in 1939 on the grounds of what had once been a Jewish orphanage and has run on private donations ever since. In a two-story redbrick building eight sisters who live in residence and a staff of 22 attendants provide palliative care to as many as 28 patients at a time. The rooms are bright -- tall broad windows looking out on green grass, oaks and rose gardens; polished floors, patterned bed covers, cut flowers in small glass vases, and magnetic Braves schedules stuck to door jambs. The hallways are busy. Joseph, one of the attendants, pushes a breakfast cart and sings an old Manhattans tune -- "Honey, you are my shining star, don't you go away." Sister Rosemary and Sister Augustine stand near the second-floor nurses station and talk about the Braves' victory over the Mets the night before. "We celebrate life here," Sister Rosemary says with an indefatigable smile. "Big time."

Sister Mary Edwin talks baseball with the residents of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Home, giving them a much-needed distraction.

Sister Edwin Through a wall of stained-glass windows on the north side of the hospice chapel, you can hear the sounds of nearby Turner Field, the home of the Atlanta Braves -- a young girl singing the national anthem, the crowd cheering for a home run. On warm summer evenings, Sister Edwin sits on the deck behind the home, under the shadow of a sprawling black oak, and listens. The voice of the public address announcer, a vendor selling ice-cold beer, the crack of a bat, the bright boom of fireworks in the sky. She remembers playing stickball as a girl growing up in Cleveland some 50 years ago, and thinks of nights spent sitting on the stoop, a radio perched in her mother's kitchen window and the Indians game coming through the speaker. "Everything feels so close out here," she says, looking up at the ballpark, "that some nights I think I can reach out and touch it."

Joyce in 204

As a girl, Joyce in 204 loved football most of all. Her brother would chuck a ball high in the thick, blue Arkansas sky, and she would run under it, arms outstretched, breathless for the catch. She walks now, every morning she feels up to it. She moves carefully along the path in the yard behind the home and looks up at hawks floating in the air above Turner, banking in the breeze. She imagines their view of the field below, the spectral light in their cathedral. "It must be beautiful," she says. "They're so free up there."

Mr. Harding in 105

Mr. Harding in 105 played trumpet in the high school band. He stood tall in his uniform. Shoulders back. Bell of the horn toward the sun. Knees high. White spats over his black shoes. Now, at 67, sitting outside with his daughter Tonja, he wears brown slippers and sips a fruit drink through a straw. "My keen interest, even as a young man, was in the church," he remembers. "But marching in that band, stepping high in that grass, did feel sweet."

From inside the chapel walls, you can hear the sounds from the ballgame at Turner Field next door.

The coach who was saved

In the early '40s, when his daddy got drafted and sent overseas, Bobby Dews went to live with his grandparents in southern Georgia. On lazy afternoons, he would sit on the floor by his grandpa's reading chair and surround himself with books off the shelf: "The Sun Also Rises," "The Sound and the Fury," "The Great Gatsby." The stories were sanctuaries. The words were passports. The time, cross-legged at his grandpa's knee, was sacred. "The first book he ever gave me was the life story of Johan Sebastian Bach," Bobby says. "I remember holding it across my lap, turning those yellow pages. I remember thinking I wanted to be in a book some day. I wanted to be great. I wanted to make something of my life." When his daddy came home and started playing minor league ball again, 8-year-old Bobby went on the road with him as a batboy. His daddy was a catcher, still hoping to get a shot in the bigs, and a sometimes drunk, often sleeping away afternoons on a worn-out hotel mattress. He'd send Bobby down to the lobby to get meal money from the team manager. The manager would turn Bobby down cold, tell him to go tell his daddy to get up out of bed and get his own money.

Courtesy of St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame MuseumBobby Dews played 10 years in the Cardinals' organization, but never reached the major leagues.

"And I'd say, 'Please, sir. He's not coming down. And if you don't give me the meal money, I won't have anything to eat all day,'" Bobby says. "I guess that's where I first learned to act." Bobby grew up to be an infielder. He played 10 years in the St. Louis Cardinals' minor league system but never quite made it to the show. Later, he became a minor league manager, also with the Cards, and held several minor league positions with the Braves. In 1996, in the middle of Atlanta's historic run of division titles, he was named third base coach at age 57. This was going to be his big chance. To be great. To be the man. To run the show. His old friends Gene Lamont and Jimy Williams had gotten their shots to manage at the major league level after they became third base coaches. He was so close he could taste it. But it didn't play out that way. He was demoted to bullpen coach at the start of the 1999 season. In 2006, he was named senior major league adviser. "They put me out to pasture," Bobby says. "They phased me out." He had cost himself chances over the years, and he knew it. Sober now for almost 20 years, Bobby had begun drinking heavily while managing clubs in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Modesto, Calif., in the early 1970s. He drank the way his daddy drank. He drank wanting to be something he wasn't, wanting to be the center of attention. He drank hoping to deaden anxiety. He drank wanting someone to love him. He drank until current manager Bobby Cox, then the Braves' GM, finally confronted him and took him to a 28-day rehab program on St. Simons Island in Georgia. "As far back as I can remember, ever since my parents divorced when I was a boy, everything I did came out of a fear of being rejected," Bobby says. "And there I was in '99 in the bullpen, rejected. Angry with myself. Sorry for myself." So he took up running. It didn't help much. He ran from something. To something. He ran with a watch on his wrist, timing himself, morning after morning, remembering Faulkner's line in "The Sound and the Fury" about time being the "mausoleum of all hopes and desires," feeling like he'd been running all his life, feeling like his time had passed, feeling like he was dying inside. And then one day eight or nine years ago, instead of his usual route to the east, he ran out of Turner Field and south down Crew Street, along the back side of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. A giant tree out back of the home caught his eye. He ran around front and walked in, not knowing why. Sister Edwin thinks God gave him a nudge. Bobby says it felt like a homecoming: "It was like they were expecting me." He saw patients being spoon-fed, propped up and cleaned. He saw them struggle to open their eyes and speak. Now he understood: This was dying. He saw the sisters wiping brows, holding hands, whispering prayers. He saw them walk into every room with a smile and provide some measure of comfort to the patients and their families. This was acceptance. This was love. This was good work. This was time well-spent. "I think it must be what heaven is like," Bobby says. "I think the sisters give patients some glimpse of it. They let them know they're going to be taken care of on the other side." He began stopping by every day. He sat in the garden. He looked upon statues of Mary and Jesus. He knelt in prayer in the chapel. He walked the halls with the sisters and heard their stickball stories. He visited with patients, told tales of his baseball days, and promised to take their bits of advice back across the way to Chipper Jones and John Smoltz. He slowed down. Quit chasing quite so hard. Stopped wanting quite so much. He could feel the layers of disappointment peeling away, could sense the mask dropping from his face. "When I walked through the door I began to see things differently," Bobby says. "There was an ambience inside these walls, a sacredness."

Sitting in the garden behind the hospice, Dews has found solace in his regular visits to Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

The 300-year-old oak

The season is long. You play every day. They clean the field each night. They prepare the field each morning. They drop fresh white chalk down the lines. "No matter what happened yesterday," Bobby says, "there's another ballgame today." He is sitting on a bench beneath the black oak in the yard behind Our Lady of Perpetual Help. He sets his straw fedora beside him and looks up at the tree, dappled light on his cropped silver hair.

Nearly 300 years old, the oak tree at the hospice has tapped into a wellspring.

Nearby, Mr. Harding in 105 reclines in his chair beneath the canopy, his chest rising and falling in the easy rhythm of sleep, golden specks of pollen falling on his shirt. The furrowed trunk of the oak twists out of the ground like a giant bridge cable. Its branches, the fingers of an outstretched hand, reach high up and over the roof of the home, shading the deck to the west and the stained glass window of the chapel to the south. Leaves whisper and sparrows whistle. Less than 200 yards away, cars and trucks churn down Interstate 85. The tree is nearly 300 years old, among the oldest of its kind in Georgia. In this place where days are numbered and memories are fleeting, it abides. In this place where bodies grow weaker, it thrives. It drinks roughly 450 gallons of water a day. Somewhere dozens of feet below the surface, it has found a stream. In this place where the mission of the sisters is carried out in a thousand small gestures of kindness practiced and repeated in the care of each new patient, it taps a source. "We're built on a wellspring," Bob Whitaker, the hospice building manager for the past 23 years, explains. "How perfect is that?" The season is long. You play every day.

Game day

Bobby brings caps and T-shirts. The sisters keep the souvenirs in a display case in the first floor dayroom. He brings Cox by to visit sometimes. And he leaves tickets for weekday afternoon home games. Sweet seats behind home plate. On a recent Tuesday in May, the sisters, the patients, family members and the home's volunteers form a wheelchair parade en route to Turner Field, stopping traffic like Robert McCloskey's ducklings, brave and giddy at the prospect of adventure. Drivers wave from rolled-down car windows. Fans walking toward the park shout "Go Braves!" in support. Sister Rosemary, her crabapple cheeks running red, echoes them, and Sister Augustine, with a fielder's glove on her left hand, waves her approval. Mabry in 105 corrects the count in the first inning, speaking authoritatively to no one in particular. "Should be 2-and-2," he says, then nods when the scoreboard makes the change.

The wheelchair procession makes its way to Turner Field for an afternoon game in May.

Mr. Spearman in 104, at 97 the oldest of the patients at the home, is less concerned with balls and strikes. He's in it for the grub. "He's our eating machine," Sister Augustine says, watching him dig a spoon into a helmet sundae. Mr. Harding in 105 sits with Tonja and his older brother, Charles, who wears a cotton fishing cap high up on his head, the way Thelonious Monk used to, too loose to be tight. Charles has a sly smile on his face. He looks out at the field. He looks at his brother -- his high cheeks and gray mustache tucked under a weathered blue ball cap, eyes closed, shoulders curled forward, hands, still, in his lap. "He's happy right now," Charles says. "Just feeling this place. He's quiet, but this means a lot to him to be here." Mr. Harding has lived the past 18 months in examination rooms and on operating tables, trying to turn back the onset of colon cancer. It's come fast and mean. Just yesterday he was a knight in shining armor, always holding the door for his wife, Wendy, bringing her flowers, wrapping his arm around her waist when she got a chill. Now he is the one with the shivers, the one being waited on, the one everybody worries about. Except for today. Today, for a few hours, he's part of the crowd, just another fan watching Tom Glavine paint the black, just another daydreaming kid picturing himself running hard from first to third. "We used to play sandlot near where we grew up, right here in Atlanta," Charles says. "You should have seen him. He could fly." Michael, one of the attendants at the home, takes Dominic in 101 to buy a hat. "I'm a White Sox fan," Dominic says, "but I'll wear this today ... as long as it's not a Cubs hat, we're OK." Bobby stands behind the patients, explaining to Sister Augustine that, if it were him, he wouldn't have Carlos Delgado hold Mark Texeira on first with Brian McCann up. Martha in 201 wears a Braves cap and a Smoltz jersey and politely but unmistakably chops the air with a little foam tomahawk during every Braves at-bat. Late in the game, her son Greg brings her a swirl of cotton candy on a cardboard stick, and they laugh as it clings to the tomahawk. The Braves have a five-run lead with two out in the ninth inning and most of the other patients already have gone back to the home. Martha won't budge. She claps as closer Manny Acosta, after giving up two hits, finally gets the last out on a ground ball to second. She lifts both her arms in the air and holds the pose as long as she can. Greg steps behind her wheelchair, his hands on the handles, and leans in to ask if she's ready to go. She holds up the tomahawk like a stop sign. Not yet. She's a baseball mom going way back. She logged countless miles and spent untold hours watching Greg and his brothers swing for the fences. Maybe she's thinking about that. Maybe she's teasing Father Time, hanging onto a moment. Maybe she's wondering about the difference between what Glavine already knows and Acosta still has to learn. "OK," she says after a minute or two, and Greg turns her chair toward the elevators, their backs to the field. Later, in her room, Martha sits on her bed and brushes her hair. Her thin pink hands shake at the effort. Her cap is on the nightstand, hanging over the corner of a picture frame. "It was a wonderful day," she says. "Being there with Greg was so wonderful." And then, as if maybe she thought the game had healing powers, as if it were more than a sweet exception to the rule of her prognosis, or maybe just as if its pastoral sights and sounds had made it seem as if hope -- in the most beautiful, most rational way -- was all that was real, she smiles and says: "I hope to get back there sometime soon."

Greg Carswell drove down from Alpharetta, Ga., to surprise his mom, Martha, by joining her at the game, an opportunity he described as "a diamond in the rough."

The feud that comforts

Joyce in 204 remembers coming downstairs for Thanksgiving dinner soon after she arrived at the home. She put on her best beige pants and a copper V-neck sweater. She did her hair (not so gray as it is now) and made up her face (not quite so pallid). Then she arrived in the day room to discover she was the only patient in the home at that time able to walk on her own. Everyone else was in a wheelchair or lying in bed. She had sold real estate for 27 years in Atlanta, had been a flight attendant before that. She liked to hike and hunt and fish with her brother. "It felt like a door slammed," she says. "It suddenly hit me that I wasn't going to turn the corner on this thing [colon cancer], that I would never be going home."

While Sister Rosemary, right, cheers for the Braves, Sister Augustine, a longtime Mets fans, is not nearly as pleased.

Sister Augustine, a no-nonsense, Brooklyn-born Mets diehard, remembers when Joyce didn't know the first thing about baseball and didn't care. She knew she needed to change that. She sat by Joyce's bed, turned the TV on and pressed the point, explaining situations and talking about players. "I poked at her some and told her how great the Mets were," she says. "After a while she came back at me -- she loves Atlanta, so she took up for the Braves. Now she knows more about them than I do." The game became their shorthand, a safe language, a familiar routine. If the Mets win, Sister Augustine comes in gloating. If the Braves win, Joyce sits up in a chair waiting on her. "It's something to look forward to," Joyce says. "It carries us from one day to the next. I'm not thinking about being sick or even about myself at all when the game is on. I'm thinking about the two of us giving as good as we get." Sister Augustine comes back from the ballpark with bags of peanuts for Joyce's grandchildren, Hunter, 13, and Savannah, 6. Joyce hugs her in thanks. They don't say much, not even about how badly the Braves have beaten the Mets. They don't talk about how their playful jabs take the place of what might be Joyce's real sadness and anger, how they almost make it possible for her to stand the curious worry in Savannah's face and the knowing fear in Hunter's. They don't say Joyce feels frailer than ever in their quick embrace. They don't say maybe these will be the last bags of peanuts. They don't talk about how Joyce came into the home with just 45 days to live 14 months ago. They don't wonder aloud whether the unlikely connection they've shared has meant the difference. And they don't tell each other how much they're going to miss it. They don't have to. "We'll get you next time," Sister Augustine says. "We'll see about that," Joyce counters.

Sister Augustine returned from the ballpark with a few bags of peanuts for Joyce to share with her grandchildren.

Living faith

A framed quote from Catholic author Thomas Merton sits on Sister Edwin's desk at Our Lady of Perpetual Help: "A saint preaches sermons by the way he walks and the way he stands --the way he picks things up and holds them in his hands."

Mr. Harding in Room 105 is joined by his daughter, Tonja, left, and brother, Charles, as they make their way to the Braves game.

She describes the way the patients buzz with stories for days after a visit to Turner Field. She talks about Martha in 201, how even a broken hip couldn't keep her from a day at the ballpark. She taps her fingers on the capped head of an Indians bobblehead beside the Merton frame, her smile matching the cherubic grin on the doll. "We get so much out of this," Sister Edwin says. "Their brave suffering. The way the patients live. It strengthens our faith."

"No then and now"

It's the morning after the game at Turner Field, and Mr. Harding in 105 wants to say something. He leans forward in his chair on the deck and whispers, not because he has a secret but because it's getting harder to speak. "I haven't written this down," he says. He pauses. He closes his eyes. He's sleeping maybe, gathering himself. "Things are happening in a harmonious fashion," he continues. He licks dry spittle from the corner of his mouth. Breathes deep. "What's happening to me is revolutionary. There is no left turn, right turn. No then and now. It's all merging. Things coming in and going out." Early this year, before his last surgery, before he came to live at the home, Mr. Harding planted a vegetable garden with his grandchildren, Caleb, 8, and Hope, 4. They planted carrots, okra and garlic. The children have been tending the soil ever since. This week, pictures arrived. Sweet, gnarled orange roots and Hope's smiling face. Caleb standing tall and proud, clutching the greens of a young garlic bulb. Mr. Harding points a trembling finger at the photo of the boy. "He plays baseball. They call him 'Clutch.'" He looks out through the garden behind the home, looks up at the brick and beams of the ballpark next door. He would have loved to have been with Caleb yesterday. Maybe he was. "Write this down, will you?" he asks. "I'm not looking for any closure. I'm truly blessed."

Dews leaves tickets at the hospice, allowing residents like Mr. Spearman to enjoy a day at the ballpark.

Back to the beginning

Bobby Dews crouches in a ball on the driveway in front of Our Lady of Perpetual Care, his hands wrapped around his shins, his head pressed against his knees. "This is the only stretch you ever need," he says, slowly rising, straightening his legs to standing. "You begin as a baby in your mother's womb, in darkness and afraid. You feel the first touch of light and you open yourself up to it," he says, spreading his arms slowly as if to embrace you. "You grow, day by day, you reach, like a sapling, toward the sun," he says, bending backward at the hips, arching his back. "You rise and you feel the heat and the glory of the sun and this is your life, your zenith, you tip your face to God," he says, shaking at the strain of his pose, holding it, tilting his pink pocked nose toward the blue above him, eyes closed. "And then, as the sun begins to set, you begin to return," he says, bringing his arms in toward his trunk, bending his knees, lowering himself back into the crouch. "Your time is coming to a close. You go back to where you began," he says, his head bowed on his knees once more, "only this time maybe you're not quite so afraid."

Eric Neel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Nature of Business

Businesses exist to satisfy people’s wants or needs. No business will survive if nobody wants the good or service the business offers. A smart businessman understands the wants and needs of his or her customers and works to satisfy those needs. In this most basic sense, businesses are very good. Society has benefited greatly from the creativity of several businessmen and women who saw a need and worked to fulfill that need. The result of a good business is a good profit. Earning a profit is a reward for doing good business. Profit is also essential in order for a business to survive. This is where businesses may run into ethical questions. Are you in business to satisfy the needs of your customers or are you in business to make a profit? The obvious answer is both and that would be the correct answer, but what takes ultimate priority? When businesses place so much focus on the bottom line, they often become tempted to cut corners and behave unethically. This is why I feel it is essential that a good business always value the needs of the customer and its own employees above profit and all else. When the needs of customers and employees are disregarded, businesses will ultimately fail and history will back up my opinion. Businesses who strive for profits are not necessarily greedy because it is in the best interest of everyone for businesses to succeed. Often chasing profits will force businessmen to keep in touch with customer and employee needs. It also breeds a competitive edge to become the best at what you do. The problem is when businesses take the attitude of “at any cost” to gain profit.

One way to increase profits is to increase productivity. If you can produce more goods in the same amount of time, you can sell more goods. It goes back to the famous line, time is money. An employee who is more productive is more valuable to the business because the productive employee makes the business more money. One employee may be more valuable than another employee, but both employees are human and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. I believe that in an effort to increase productivity, some businesses flirt with dehumanizing their employees. When an employee just becomes a number or a tool to produce a profit, their dignity and humanity may become irrelevant to the employer. There are several viewpoints to look at here and there are occasionally reasons to treat employees differently, but every employee should be treated with dignity, honesty and respect.

As an employee, you have a responsibility to work hard for your employer. You are hired to do a job and it is disrespectful to not work hard or not try to do your job to the best of your abilities. It is disrespectful to the employer and yourself. Those employees who are intentionally unproductive on the job should expect to face consequences. I am not suggesting that employees who are intentionally unproductive have justification for being unproductive. My focus is on the employer and the methods the employer puts in place to become more productive.

A perfect example would be working on an assembly line. Henry Ford found that employees would be most successful if they focused on one task and became an expert at that one task. Work would consist of constant repetitive actions. As long as employees were paid adequately they often didn’t mind the repetitive work. Often they were just happy to have a job. As technology advanced, much of the repetitive work done by employees could be done more cheaply and efficiently by robots. Now those employees were out of a job and the only skill they learned was how to put a nut and bolt together. That is why it is important for employees to constantly look for ways to learn new things and diversify their skill set. I think the employer should also take a greater role in encouraging employees to do so. In the situation with the assembly lines, the employer encouraged employees to specialize and even frowned upon the possibility that an employee try to learn new skills. The employer should always encourage the employees to learn new skills. This not only empowers the employee but it gives the employer more options as well. Chances are this will make the employee much more valuable and even more productive in the long run.

While I don’t think employers should force employees to specialize in just one skill or task, I also don’t believe that the employer should go the extreme opposite route. If an employee doesn’t have a strong understanding of his job or task and is constantly asked to learn new skills, the employee never truly becomes good at any job. When an employer hires several employees with the same job description, they risk devaluing each individual employee as a person and view them only as a person to fill a job description. The employer must hire the person not the position. Each employee brings a uniqueness that can not be duplicated or replicated. The very things that make each person human and unique including the knowledge they possess should be valued. If an employee gets a sense that they and their work is not truly valued, the employer runs the risk of losing that employee’s trust.

In short, employees are not just a number or a tool for profit. Employees are human beings. All humans deserve to be treated with dignity, honesty and respect. Whenever an employer violates one of these three things, they are disrespecting and dehumanizing the employee. It goes both ways. Employees should treat employers with dignity, honesty and respect. I believe that dehumanization is at the root of many evils we see today. When an employer or anyone for that matter can look at a person and try to strip away their humanity, they can justify in their own minds terrible actions. Employees are humans just as the employers who hire them are humans. The most and least productive workers are human and their very life is valuable whether the work they do is or not. If we look at human beings as people who are made in the image of God, we will never dehumanize them and we will treat them with dignity, honesty and respect. That is what God calls us to do: love our neighbors as ourselves. God bless!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Am I Back in High School?

I feel like I’m back in high school playing tennis for the Scots. I feel like I'm back in school playing #2 singles for a very good tennis team. When I first tried out for the team, the team was already good so I didn’t know if I would have a spot on the team. I didn’t have much experience, no competitive experience, but the coach was very impressed with my effort and gave me a spot on the team. I quickly proved to be a more than capable replacement for the guy whose spot I replaced. So here we are after year one and the tennis team has made great strides. The coach is really proud of the improvement we made this past season and he in fact deserves much of the credit for teaching us the correct techniques and teaching us more about the game of tennis itself. My coach has been instrumental in my personal improvement. With continued tutoring, I could see myself reaching the #1 singles spot leading a state caliber tennis team.

Everyone involved in the tennis program has noticed the great improvement the team has made. In fact, those tennis coaches from opposing teams often complement our coach and our team on the noticeable improvement. In fact, statistically speaking this was our best year ever and not only that but there was no chemistry issues whatsoever. Everyone on the team got along well together and every player respected their coach. The coach in turn respected his players. The tennis team was a very positive image for the school itself and all the players and the coach had reason to be proud of their accomplishments.

Unfortunately, the school athletic director did not appreciate the tennis team’s accomplishments quite like everyone else. In fact, the athletic director saw the whole situation as a threat to her own position. The tennis coach was so highly regarded by all his peers that she feared he may one day hope to become athletic director of the school. This thought was based solely on the insecurity of the director and the tennis coach made no indication whatsoever that he ever sought a position as athletic director. He was content coaching tennis, the game he knew and loved, and he was excited about all the players on his team. He knew that as good as they were this year, they’d be even better next year!

I play for a school that values football above all other sports. The athletic director has had experience coaching football. She coached using an aggressive style. She tended to use negative motivation to get what she felt like was the most out of her players. Practices were long and hard leaving players exhausted, but they did not feel a sense of accomplishment because the kept doing the same drill over and over again. The morale of the team remained low, but they performed satisfactory playing out of fear. Now the football team was coming off a disappointing year. In order to improve the team, the athletic director got rid of all the coaches and brought in friends and past acquaintances to fill the positions. Not all had a football background, but all had IQ’s above 120. The entire focus of the AD was football 24/7 and year round. When asked about the tennis team, the AD could only answer in the most basic terms. The conversation would quickly turn back to football.

Since the tennis team had such a great year, I figured the tennis program would continue as always and I was excited about the upcoming season. Well, that’s not exactly how things happened. Apparently, the interim Soccer coach was not happy with our tennis coach. The Soccer team had not won any games and was in fact having trouble getting players to try out for the team. This left the soccer team in shambles and the coach blamed the tennis coach for taking potential soccer players and not caring about the soccer team. She also had a personal dislike for the tennis coach. The reason for this dislike is unknown, but it was not because of the tennis coach’s personality. The tennis coach was the nicest person you will ever meet. Anyway, the soccer coach complained to the AD and somehow convinced the AD that the problems the soccer team had was all because of the tennis coach. The soccer coach had a son who took some tennis lessons and so she felt like she could handle coaching duties for both the tennis team and the soccer team if necessary. She had a long drive to work so she didn’t plan on staying at the school for long, but she would work both jobs in the interim. The one thing she was sure of was that the tennis coach needed to go.

Now the tennis coach appears to be headed somewhere else. So what could the soccer coach possibly say to convince the AD? For one thing, the AD did not care about the tennis team. The wellbeing of the tennis team was irrelevant to her. She would allow the team to continue as it was as long as it didn’t interfere with the football team, but she would never go out of her way to support the team. She also didn’t feel like tennis was even a sport. She didn’t feel like it required nearly as much skill as football. In fact, tennis requires very much skill, just different skills than that which makes football players successful. The AD wanted to make all the tennis players football players so she asked each tennis player to lift weights daily and practice kicking field goals. The tennis players were willing to do what they were told, but thought it was funny and a waste of time and talent to do these things which would not make them better tennis players. In fact it would probably make them worse players. Sometimes coaches take blame for their team’s poor play. Sometimes coaches are placed on the hot seat despite great play by their team, and sometimes kids teach adults. In this case, I just hope that the adults listen to the kids. Their innocence exposes the obvious faults and failings, and hopefully they will one day understand. The tennis coach may leave despite his love for his players, but he will coach again and he will be a great coach. His players will never forget him.