Light And Darkness

This morning’s blog will be a little different. It is Saturday morning and my wife and I usually have a long discussion during the early hours of the day. I usually get up around 6am, she will join me in the family room around 7am, and we talk. We talk about family, current events, and other things. I remember one discussion we were having a few years back, not a Saturday morning talk, but in the car as we were driving to downtown Portland, OR. We were discussing gun control and she made a comment about machine guns and Jacuzzis. Being the good husband I am I immediately began thinking about mobsters sitting in hot tubs holding tommy guns. My wife noticed I wasn’t listening anymore and she got a little angry. However, once I told her what she said, we came to the conclusion that she meant a machine gun and Uzi.

I love my wife, and at times I have no idea what she will say, but usually she will inspire some interesting thought that I will spend hours thinking about. Today was no exception. Today we spent a bit of time talking about the world around us. Anyone who knows us knows we are between the ages of 40 and 64. This aligns with Erik Erikson’s seventh stage of pyscho-social development. According to Erikson the crisis experienced at this stage involves generativity vs. stagnation. The existential question involves whether our life counts or not. Thus we talked a bit about whether we are handling this crisis appropriately with our kids and the world we can influence.

The largest part of our conversation involved goodness and evil in the world. Having walked in this world for a bit, I wonder if life is more evil or less evil than previous years? I don’t know if that is the case or if we see more evil due to better news reporting. However, as my wife said this morning, the fact that we live within a dark world has not changed.

1 John 1:5 says that “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” In Luke 1:78 the world saw a great light in Jesus Christ. In John 8:12 Jesus describes Himself as the light of the world, and anyone who believes in Him would not walk in darkness. However, this is contrasted to those in this world who chose to love darkness rather than light, because their work is evil. And as John 3:19-20 states everyone who practices evil hates the light and does not come to the light.

Regardless if one believes our current society is more or less evil than previous generations, the fact is there is just as much a need for light now as when Jesus came to this world. Therefore, those of us who have come to the light are required to walk in the light, and be light reflectors.

The question that I kept thinking about this morning is how do we do that? How do we become light reflectors? First, we need to recognize we are not the light. Jesus is the light, and in order to reflect that light we need to be close to Him. Second, if we are going to be good reflectors, then we need to mirror Him. This means we need to live like Him. What does this mean? Galatians 5:22 tells us what His characteristics are: Love, joy, peace, forebearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If we are light reflectors then these characteristics should be evident.

We could ask ourselves another question, what does darkness look like? Galatians call these the work of the flesh. These works are: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like.

There are those who would say that the works of darkness are much more fun. However, in each of these actions selfishness is central. However, with the acts of the light, selflessness is central. So what does the world need? Does it need more selfish people who are living only for themselves and what they deserve, or does is need people who walk in the light of love doing good for others?

I think it is the latter. I think we have enough hatred around us. We have ISIS, killing people in the name of religion, and we have Christian fundamentalists who focus on hatred and judgment, instead of love and forgiveness. Neither of these religious expressions are light reflectors. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in hell, and I believe in salvation through Jesus Christ alone, but I don’t believe in spreading a gospel of hate.

So I for one intend to be a light reflector. I am going to attempt to draw close to the light, so that when people see me, they will see the reflection of one who can make a difference in their life. The One who they need to know!

And that is my thought for the day!

 

 

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Houston We Have A Productivity Problem

Over the years I have been a proponent of buying American. However, actually buying American is a bit more difficult today than in previous years. Honda, Toyota, and Nissan all build their cars in the U.S. of A. They employ American workers and pay a livable wage with good benefits.

Andrew Liveris, CEO of Dow Chemical, and Andy Grove, retired CEO of Intel, have both made the case for making things in America. President Obama has made many comments about the value of American competition and wanting companies to move work back to America. However, this is not as easy to accomplish as it is to declare the need from the housetops.

Stanley Furniture wanted to get on the USA bandwagon and build its cribs here rather than in China or Vietnam. “The move four years ago, was a gamble that Americans would pay a hefty premium for U.S. made baby gear.” For $800 new parents could buy a Young America crib, however, competitors who had their cribs built in China would sell theirs for half as much. We the people did not see the value in buying American, thus Stanley is shutting down its Robbinsville, NC plant and looking for a buyer of its business. 300 workers will be laid off, and the facility will probably be liquidated.

Is it just baby cribs that Americans have decided they won’t pay premium prices for? Bruce Cochrane, founder of Lincoln Furniture, “attended the 2012 State of the Union Address as an example of a manufacturer bringing back jobs from overseas.” He reopened a plant in North Caroline and started building dining sets and wooden furniture. The problem, we wouldn’t pay the prices, so Lincolnton, shut down its plant last January due to a lack of orders. They couldn’t compete.

I could go on an on with blaming the consumer for this fiasco, but it is not just our buying habits that are problematic. There is the high business taxes that our businesses pay, the number of regulations that a company must adhere to, to do business in the United States, and our work force does not have the skill needed to do manufacturing work. Chesapeake Bay Candle owners, who provide scented candles to Kohls and Target, have found that employees and supervisors have problems with math. “Not middle-school math, elementary school math.” And don’t get me going on the fact that the number one reason people are unable to get hired at temporary agencies is the inability to pass a drug test. We have a plethora of problems associated with our economy. Is it any wonder why our GDP has detracted during the first quarter of this year by 2.9% at an annual rate?

One issue behind this productivity reduction is fewer business startups. When I read this in my morning paper I thought, how can they draw this conclusion? First, using the latest information available, “the creation rate of new businesses, as well as new plants built by existing firms, was about 30% lower in 2011 compared with the annual rate for the 1980’s.” Then, adding to the above, a 3.5% decline in worker productivity, has led to a loss of $1 trillion is business output. This is problematic because new startups become stronger and replace aging businesses that are no longer relevant. If this doesn’t happen then we don’t advance.

Why are startups becoming more infrequent? Surveys of small business owners indicate it is current economic policy driving this detraction. “Chamber of Commerce surveys show that roughly 80% of small-business owners believe that the U.S. economy is on the wrong track and that Washington is a major problem.” Added to the problem list is the inability to find skilled labor, a complex tax code that penalizes small business, regulations that raise the cost of doing business, and the lack of available financing, and you have why start-ups and productivity are declining.

The complexity of our system of commerce in the United States is not just hamstringing startups, but is also pushing larger established companies out the door to other countries. With a 39% basic corporate tax rate, the U.S. has the highest cost of business in the world. This has led to 20 major American companies over the last two years to reincorporate in other parts of the world. Eaton Manufacturing merged with Cooper Industries in Dublin, Ireland. “Substantially lowering its tax liabilities.”

Medtronic “announced recently that it planed to acquire the Ireland based firm Covidien and relocate headquarters to Dublin.” Medtronic is the largest company to escape, but it may be just the beginning of the escape, unless we change some things. We can argue that this is not very patriotic, but the fact of the matter is companies that are leaving are paying a premium to leave, which demonstrates the value they see in escaping the complexity of our tax systems.

Another by-product of this scenario is the vulnerability to takeover for American companies. Anheuser-Busch was “absorbed by Belgian firm In Bev in 2008, leading other American brewers to merge with international brewers for tax savings purposes. Unless we get our act together we will continue to lose business to the world, and lose our standard of living.

I have heard people complain about businesses, I have heard people complain about the rich, and I have heard people complain about inequality. But I don’t see a lot of people really trying to look at all of this from a systems perspective. If we are going to repair this situation we need to see how all of this is connected. We then need to think through where the leverage points are and take action to get the ship turned around.

We need to overhaul our horrible tax system. It truly needs to be simplified. We also need to create stronger pre-school programs that prepare children to become good students. We also need to improve our elementary and secondary schools systems to produce stronger results. When high schools don’t have enough textbooks for all their students, meaning that students have to check out textbooks to do assignments, then Houston we have a problem.

We also need more trade schools, because not everyone needs to go to college, and we need more apprentice programs. Many jobs are going unfilled because our labor force just does not have the skills. These jobs are good paying jobs.

I also think we need to raise the minimum wage rate. However, to do that we the consumer need to know that we will pay more for the things we enjoy. Whether it is our coffee, or favorite hamburger, some of the cost of higher wages will be passed on to the consumer.

We also need to overhaul our immigration system. We need both high-end immigrants and we need laborers who work in the fields. It has been proven time and time again that Americans do not want to pick fruit. So we need more people who are willing to do that kind of work.

So don’t whine to me about American companies aren’t willing to create jobs here in the U.S. if you are not willing to pay the higher cost. Don’t whine to me about how horrible American business is when you have not thought through the alternatives, we all have to work somewhere, and if we don’t we don’t eat. Other countries want to be open for business, and it appears we want to close up shop so we can play video games and sit back and watch The View. The end is coming.

And that is my thought for the day!

 

 

My Summer Reading

I love the summer. My teaching duties are reduced; leaving administrative duties, some adult classes, and lots of reading. I’d like to emphasize lots of reading. I am currently invested in four books, as well as some case studies in preparation for classes in the Fall. I am reading Creativity, Inc., which is about Pixar. This is a very good book about the inner workings of Pixar during its initial years. It is a great study of leading and managing within a creative environment. The author deals with the dissonance associated with the human and economic issues associated with creative endeavors.

The second book I am reading is View From the Top, by Dr. Michael Lindsey. It explores how people at the top view the wor and attempt to shape it. It is a very interesting read. I have not observed anything world shattering yet, but I have read some confirming words. “Using relational influence rather than positional power, allows a leader to get what she needs by using her unique understanding of each of her coworkers and constituents.” The power of influential leadership rather than a military style of telling people what to do is critical to modern leadership in organizations.

The third book I am trying to get into is “The Rational Optimist.” This was a recommended alternative to “Capital” by Thomas Piketty. I thought if I was going to attempt to wade my way through Piketty’s book, I should have the counter view in front of me too. Matt Ridley attempts to demonstrate another perspective on “how prosperity evolves.” In this book I read something that reaffirmed what I think is true. Instead of focusing efforts on the rich, let’s focus on the poor and helping them develop the skills needed to compete in this economy. Frederick Hayek said, “once the rise in the position of the lower classes gathers speed, catering to the rich ceases to be the main source of great gain and gives place to efforts directed towards the needs of the masses. Those forces which at first make inequality self-accentuating later tend to diminish it.” This is contrary to what Piketty focuses on in my fourth read for the summer, “Capital, in the 21st Century.”

Pikettymania has emerged from the publishing of this French economist’s book. I am finding the book interesting and his argument to be good, just not compelling. As Alan Blinder mentioned in the WSJ this morning, Piketty’s “central claims are that inequality is both too high already and destined to rise further,” and I agree that these two claims need to be discussed, but Blinder thinks the focus should be placed in income inequality rather than wealth inequality, which I find this to be a compelling statement.

Piketty does a good job of describing the difference between the owning of capital and income. He also does a good job of describing how our current economic situation is generating more wealth for those who own capital, and less for those who rely on income to live. Piketty’s solution is to tax the owners of capital and distribute what is taken from the rich to the poor. He feels the rich are too rich and therefore needs to be brought down a peg or two.

Blinder points out three things that I think we should focus on. First, “a significantly smaller share of the nation’s income now goes to labor than was true 30 to 35 years ago.” This is an important point. Lower wages, less jobs, and more complicated tasks have impacted our workers in a way that has resulted in a reduced participation rate in the work force. This needs to change. To get this maybe the owners of capital will need to generate less wealth for themselves and be willing to distribute more income to laborers.

Blinder’s second point involves how the reduction of wages for labor has impacted the standard of living for a great majority of Americans. “In 1979, 11.7% of Americans lived below the official poverty line. By 2012, the percentage rose to 15%, even though real GDP was 72% higher. Only about a third of these unfortunate people worked in 2012, and fewer than 10% worked full-time, year around. As a result, much more of their income domes from government transfer payments than from earnings.” Oh my gosh, does that concern you as much as it does me? Talk about initiative destroyers.

Thus when Blinder describes his second bottom-line as “labors shrinking-share has grown more unequal,” there is the real, observable result of increased poverty and reliance on government. Blinder’s third point is that our government does less than European government’s do for their people, but the fact of the matter is, if someone can get free money for doing nothing, the incentive to work, especially if it is difficult to find jobs that provide livable wages, diminishes.

Now you have it. The list of books I am reading this summer. Sounds exciting huh! I am convinced, that productivity is the solution for poverty, not larger government. Just recently, I found out that a company I know about was going to remove a long-term employee from a role that they were in but was not doing a good job. This person could not be depended on to do anything. Someone else tried to remove the unproductive person from their position, and the person who was not doing a good job talked to someone in the organization that was protecting them, and now the person who was trying to do something about this unproductive person has now been removed from their position. The lazy unproductive person wins. This is so wrong.

Sometimes I think our world is so upside down, but I will not give up! Productivity, creativity, and initiative are critical for a meaningful life. This is why I read, so I can help my students learn this lesson a lot earlier than I did.

And that is my thought for the day!

 

 

 

 

Leadership

I will be teaching a new class next semester. The title “Entrepreneurial Leadership within an Urban Context.” I have two textbooks I will be using, one by Peter Northouse and the other by Warren Bennis. I am now looking for examples of leadership, and case studies, that will allow students to not only observe but reflect on what good leadership in an urban context is. Today I want to describe one of those examples to you.

There is a business leader who will be retiring from the company he has led since 2006, and from the manufacturing industry that he has been working in for decades. I experienced this man’s leadership skills indirectly during my career at Boeing, and have watched his work at this new company for many years. I knew he would do a good job leading this company and was not disappointed.

When this man started working for this company it was projected to lose $17 billion. “Facing sliding profits and dwindling market share, [this company] needed someone to inspire its managers, shareholders, workers, and customers. Simply, there was a need for bold action.” This man provided the needed leadership for this very difficult situation.

This leader did not just create romantic ideals for people to commit to; he took strong and decisive action to ensure a sustainable business model. He mortgaged the company by borrowing $23.6 billion, called “the largest home improvement plan in history.” This concrete action step provided needed capital to ensuring the company would not take bail out money from the government. “By 2012, the mortgage was repaid” which has led to a growing stock price and success for this corporation.

This leader is pragmatic and knew that certain products within its portfolio were not profitable, nor did they fit its core competencies, therefore this leader sold off non-productive product lines that were using resources needed to bolster its more successful offerings. In 2007, this leader struck a deal with a union “that traded new product commitments for competitive labor contracts.” Don Brunell describes this event as “a high-stakes play that paid off last year when healthy profits allowed [this company] to pay all hourly workers a record profits sharing bonus of $8,800 each.”

I would agree with Brunell when he stated “[this leader’s] success isn’t about the executives at the top its about figuring out how to get every employee to understand the vision of the company, buy into the plan, and feel supported in their jobs.” This particular leader actually encompassed three necessary characteristics: Solid transactional leadership skills, in other words being a good manager, skillful transformational leadership skills, inspiring people to follow him, and optimism, reflecting a positive future. Now the question is who is this leader?

If you haven’t guessed, Alan Mulally is the leader, and Ford is the company. Mulally will be retiring on July 1st handing over the leadership of Ford to Mark Fields. Don Brunell argues in his editorial this morning that Mulally should take his skills to government. Mullally is inspirational, demonstrating his ability at Ford to bring together differing factions for the good of the cause. Sounds like something our country needs. Some are saying that our country has never been as fractured as it is today.

Brunell stated, “We need to rebuild our national confidence and provide a solid road to recovery that puts people back to work. People, especially young people, are losing hope. In April, the number of people younger than 25 in the workforce declined by 484,000.” When you connect this with the fact that one in three people between the ages of 18 and 34 still live with their parents, and how the millennials have a higher level of unemployment and are more likely to be in poverty than any generation since the second world war, you can see how demoralizing our problems are and the need for dynamic and inspirational leadership. Maybe Mulally could do something new and different?

With all of the conversation around the M&M boys, Clark County commissioners, putting a inexperienced person into a role in county business, one needs to ask if Mulally has any public experience? Has he been involved with the community or in politics that would demonstrate how he would do in a political environment? Mulally was one of five business leaders in the state of Washington involved with Gary Locke’s, our then governor, Competitiveness Council. The goal of this council was to reform business regulation in a manner that would improve our state’s ability to compete in the attraction of businesses and jobs to the state of Washington. This endeavor was successful, and Washington was one of the few states that did not need to borrow federal money during the economic downturn. So maybe Mulally should consider a new career in politics.

If Alan Mulally wants to just retire and live on a beach in Mexico, or some other warm spot in the world, he has earned it. But I have to think that he is a person who wants to be productive, needs to be productive, so I don’t think we have heard the last of him yet. It will be interesting to see where he goes from here, but he has now been on the national and international stage and has performed well. I would expect him to find some other way to express his wonderful leadership skills. Maybe it will be in politics, and Lord knows we need good leaders in that realm.

And that is my thought for the day!

 

 

Are Employees A Commodity?

I have just returned from Virginia where I received a wonderful reeducation on the beginnings of this country. Several collective human characteristics from our history were pivotal to our early success, and our continued success as a country. Our distrust of King George, or despotic leadership in general, our partnership with the French, and our tenacity played a central role in overcoming hardships both in the army and the families left behind to emerge as the United States of America. However, there was one dark mark on our past that I hope we never forget; that is slavery.

What got me reflecting on this during my morning coffee was an article I read about Starbucks. The company is starting a tuition support program for its employees. Starbucks recognizes the higher costs of education, and the fact that many of its employees are college students, so they felt it was important, for employee retention, to support their employees with this new program. I for one see the social and economic benefit of a program like this. When I worked for Boeing, I took advantage of its tuition program and went to school for 16 years; all on Boeing’s dime. They got the benefit of my education too, but I am now a college professor because of the company’s willingness to support its employees.

Starbuck’s new program can be placed in juxtaposition with other companies that are not willing to care for their employees, if fact many of these companies exploit their employees to ensure a higher level of profit. This to me is very similar to the exploitation of slavery, and something Marx warned us about. Marx felt that the owners of capital helped to create a large army of unemployed to allow the exploitation of the proletariat to ensure low wages and higher surplus profit that lined the pockets of the capitalist.

When Ford decided to pay his employees a living wage in the early 1900’s, his plan “invoked a variety of responses. Workers viewed him as a friend, while many businessmen viewed Ford’s idea as reckless. The Wall Street Journal called it blatant immorality-a misapplication of Biblical principle in a field where they do not belong. Ford disregarded his criticisms because he knew the importance of acknowledging the human element in mass production. He believed that retaining more employees would both lower costs and lead to greater productivity. His beliefs proved his critics false, as the company’s profits doubled from $30 million to $60 million between 1914 and 1916. The payment of five dollars a day for an eight-hour day was one of the finest cost-cutting moves we ever made, Ford said.” It appears Starbucks has the same philosophy.

I know comparing current employee conditions with slavery is not new, and it is a stretch, but the reasons for slavery in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries are the same as paying substandard wages to employees today. The word efficiency was used then as now, as business attempts to ensure the proper use of capital and maximum returns to the owners of said capital. However, just as our early fathers struggled with this “peculiar institution,” so do modern business leaders when is comes to balancing pay and benefits with productivity.

“It was Benjamin Franklin who initiated efforts to measure the relative efficiency of slave and free labor.” The early research that arose out of Franklin’s and others desire to measure the level of productivity associated with slavery demonstrated the difficulty of making just a quantitative argument for or against slavery. The question of technical efficiency or allocative efficiency is important? The so-called masters were proven to be very efficient when moving their workers from field to field as necessary to meet harvesting needs, which involves allocative efficiency, but technically the ratio of output to the level of input may not have been as high as a free labor setting. Technically when you have women, children, old, and sick people that have been pressed into forced labor, the production system will not be efficient. In response to this the owners would us a process called gang labor.

In the book, Without Consent or Contract, William Fogel goes into great detail describing gang labor. He described this as an efficient system based on an assembly line dealing with specialized crops. “The un-remitting, machine-like quality of gang laborers repelled 19th century observers who valued traditional agrarian ways.” But the owners were looking for efficiencies in order to maximize their return on investment.

What is my point? I am applauding Starbucks for its choice to support its employees. In an age where our society has lost all sense of loyalty, and employment longevity, it is wonderful to see something that improves company/employee relationships. All this does is create greater social capital as well as a more engaged employee. It reinforces the morality of paying a fair wage to an employee. Oh by the way, there was a woman in Virginia named Elizabeth Bet Van Lew, who owned slaves, but was a spy for the North during the Civil War. She also spent her fortune to purchase and free slaves, sending them north to get educated. This is called manumission, or the act of a slave owner freeing his or her slaves. Starbucks is helping its employees gain an education, which will make it a better company, and society a better place.

In the days of slavery people were bought and sold as a commodity. The owners viewed these people as nothing more than capital, not people. We as a country recognized the horror associated with this type of thinking, and many thousands of our young died to destroy this system. We recognized that people are not commodities to be bought and sold. Today it is refreshing to see companies that do not see their employees as commodities but as people with needs, and if these people are supported they will be loyal employees and customers. This is nothing new, Ford figured it out in 1913, I hope others remember too.

And that is my thought for the day!

Some Things Never Change

Wow, what a week! We were vacationing in Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown all week and had a wonderful time. After spending several days in a Revolutionary spirit, we shifted forward about 80 years and travelled to Petersburg, where we relived the ending of the Civil War. The last day was spent in Richmond, VA and camped a wonderful historical week that has helped me to remember how important freedom is. As Patrick Henry once said to the House of Burgess in Richmond, VA “I know not what course others will take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!”

How hard is it to keep liberty? Benjamin Franklin answered a question raised by a Mrs. Powell, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” To which Benjamin Franklin responded, “ A republic, if you can keep it!” Keeping a republic is hard work that requires good people in leadership, just like running a successful business. Each need leaders who are willing to listen and learn from the circumstances around them.

I did keep an eye on the news as we were on vacation. It is amazing how the circle of life goes on. Horrible shootings, Governors visit areas in their state, and politicans are voted out of office. Here my wife and I have taken a week to step out of the flow of life, but yet we arrive home and nothing is different. Or is that really a true statement? Ed Barnes is now a county commissioner, and he intends to fulfill his role as being the thorn in the M&M boys side. This is good. Whenever someone thinks they can make decisions in a closet and not have consequences; that is a problem. Eric Cantor was defeated by an almost unknown tea party person named David Brat, is that something that we should be concerned with? Cantor is a House member, and has been for many years, yet the good state of Virginia has voted him out of office. Is there another tea party movement occurring?

You know, I don’t know, but one thing I do know is that we the people are tired of being led by people who only have their own interests in mind. This means being reelected and staying in power. I do think Eric Cantor is a class act, and did try to serve his state well, but I think all incumbents should pay attention to what just happened. If you are a leader who thinks you can do business as usual, which means lining your own pockets with money, power, or prestige, then you will be voted out.

I think Dana Milbank made some good points today in discussing leaders and their continual love for groupthink. Groupthink is a phenomenon that was brought to our attention by Irving Janus. He wanted to know why the smartest people in our country could have made the very stupid decision of using Cuban exiles to invade Cuba. It was a horrible disaster. The invasion was launched from Guatemala on April 17, 1961, but Brigade 2506 was defeated within two days.

By definition, groupthink is “a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome.” This is a simplistic definition, but it illustrates how everyone on Kennedy’s cabinet was waiting for someone else to point out the weakness of the Bay of Pigs plan. There was not sufficient debate around the event.

If we knew all the inner workings of each Presidential administration, before and after Kennedy, I am sure there would be examples of this phenomenon. Milbank reminds us of the Bush administration example associated with Iraq, “which distracted the military from the more important war in Afghanistan and unnecessarily prolonged the conflict.” And there several more with the Bush reign.

However, his main point involves President Obama and the Bowe Bergdahl event. The words he uses are “the President feels strongly about this.” Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security advisor stated, “There was not dissent on moving forward with this plan.” I cannot believe that the decision-makers did not question whether Bergdahl had defected or not. We are told the decision was unanimous. This concerns me, that decisions are unanimous, without dissension.

Milbank makes a very good point when he states, “I don’t doubt these accounts about Obama’s agreeable advisors. Such affirmations of Obama’s instincts are what has worried me about the way Obama has structured his administration in his second term: By surrounding himself with longtime loyalists in the White House and on his national security team, he has left himself with advisors lacking either the stature or the confidence to tell him he is wrong.” If this is true then this is a problem.

The word Milbank uses to describe these people is acolyte. The word means someone who follows and admires a leader. I would probably describe them as sycophants, or as people “who act obsequiously toward someone important to gain advantage.” These are people who do not want to sacrifice their position and therefore will tell the king how great his new cloths are.

Lets compare Obama to another famous person from Illinois. Who were the individuals who made up his cabinet? Three of the members of his cabinet Edward Bates, Salmon Chase, and William Seward were very complicated and difficult men. They had run against Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 election. However, in order to deal with the splitting of our nation Lincoln recognized he needed people who would tell him the truth.

Lincoln was an excellent example of leadership at its best. I would venture to guess that groupthink was not an issue at cabinet meetings during Lincoln’s administration, however I could be wrong. But, I think our modern leaders, both in business and politics, need to look at the past, because if they don’t they are destined to repeat it. We need to learn from Lincoln, if not then we will see many more examples of groupthink.

And that is my thought for the day!

Which Wolf Will You Feed?

I have spent the morning thinking about choices. Choices I have made in the past, choices my children, grandchildren, friends, and acquaintances have made. My conclusion, none of us are perfect, but some of us continue to make the same bad choices thinking they are good choices. I look around me and it seems like we think right is wrong and wrong is right. My gosh, I am amazed.

As I sat on my couch this morning pondering, praying, reading, and talking with the wife, I latched onto two illustrative concepts; one from the Apostle Paul and the other from the Cherokees. Both make the same point.

Paul states in Romans 6 verses 12 and 13, “Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. “ In Romans 6 Paul tells us there is a war that goes on inside of us. This war is won or lost based upon choices we make. In verse 16 Paul states, “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness.” Paul describes what goes on inside of each of us as we live our lives. To some level all of us experience two voices within us. One that leads us to do good, and one that leads us to do evil.

The Columbian newspaper is selling coffee mugs with the following words written on them, “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff.” I love it, and one of these days when I am downtown I will stop in and buy one. Although the message was originally pointed at the M&M boys, our illustrative County Commissioners, I think it applies to all of us. Don’t do stupid stuff. It is sad to watch someone who used to believe a certain way, leave that and begin the journey into darkness. Darkness is used figuratively here and could mean many different things. It could be into a certain type of group, a certain boy or girl friend, or a certain type of lifestyle. They just quit trying to fight the good fight. I have heard people say that they just don’t want to give up this or that, and the result is a life of doing stupid things.

The question is how does this happen? Why does someone just give up, and stop doing the good they once did? This is where the Cherokee parable comes into play. The story goes like this:

“One evening, an elderly

Cherokee brave told his

Grandson about a battle that

Goes on inside people.

He said, “My son, the battle is

Between two wolves inside us all.

One is evil. It is anger,

Envy, jealousy, sorrow,

Regret, greed, arrogance,

Self-pity, guilt, resentment,

Inferiority, lies, false pride,

Superiority, and ego.”

Just as a side note Paul describes similar elements as the bad wolf in Galatians 5:19, “the acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like.”

The grandfather continued:

The other is good.

It is joy, peace love, hope serenity,

Humility, kindness, benevolence,

Empathy, generousity,

Truth, compassion, and faith.

Paul describes the very same thing in Galatians as the fruit of the Spirit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

The grandson thought about his grandfather’s words and then asked:

Which wolf wins?

The old Cherokee simply replied,

The one you feed.”

We see this truth played out at so many levels in our society. We see a young man feed the wolf of hatred and shoots classmates because he thinks they don’t like him. We see people give up on faith because they like to have “fun.” They like their alcohol. We see managers make stupid decisions because they want the short-term benefits of profit, instead of long-term craftsmanship.

We are becoming so narrow-minded and focused on short-term pleasure that we have forgotten the consequences of choosing the bad wolf. May we never give up the good fight! May we always seek God and His expression in our lives! If we do that we will have less of a chance at doing wrong and stupid stuff.

And that is my thought for the day!