Camp Whatchamericana

What is this obsession with camps in America?

When I was a kid, the sports teacher at my school. He was a great guy—unless he made you run cross country in the rain. (I used to run with the smokers. I could count on them to stop for a cigarette, and honestly, I needed the break even if I didn’t inhale.)

At the end of the school year, he’d go off to a summer job in America. People would ask him what he did in America in the summers and he’d say, “I’m a camp counselor.”

I didn’t have a clue what that was, having never been to camp anywhere, much less in America.

Now I do. My two little girls have had a summer full of camps. First they did Vacation Bible School together. Then separately one went to swim camp and the other to dance camp. Ava was the star, of course, the best of the two dozen girls on stage. You can trust me on that. I am telling you the truth. You know I wouldn’t exaggerate on such a matter.

Later Ava went to Frozen camp. Just when I got those songs out of my mind, she made sure they were wound up for another round, turning our house into a constant karaoke zone. Meanwhile Ellie was doing mud camp. You read that right. Mud camp. Who knew? Every day’s outdoor activity ended in a pool of mud—and various lost articles of clothing. People pay money to send their kids to camp to get filthy, and apparently I am one of those people.

The camps are popular, and they help kids learn all sorts of skills. In addition to the variety of camps, I’m taken with everything else Memphis has to offer. The library has all sorts of free summer activities. So many organizations have so much going on. It’s great, really.

I had none of that as a child. So what did I do in the summer? I played the World Cup in a little alley next to our house. It was narrow enough for me to play on my own. I could kick the ball up against a house on either side of the alley, representing the competing teams. Because I was England, I would always get knocked out early from the World Cup. But then there was Brazil and their star player Pele. While I was Pele, I was also the crowd chanting, “Pe-le! Pe-le!”

Because my dad was ill, he was home a lot during that season of my life. My most shameful moment happened in that alley. My dad was outside watching me for a few minutes, and a boy came down the street and said, “What are you doing?”

My dad said, “Oh, he’s playing football again and he’s Brazil.”

Then he went in the house, and the boy said, “Who was that?”

“My granddad,” I said.

I was only eight or nine, but as a consequence of being ill, my father looked old enough to be my grandfather.

I don’t know why I said that. I don’t torture myself over it, but the fact that I denied my father in that way still echoes in my mind more than forty years later.

Although no one else has known, until the first person to read this post, I feel the shame of it. I have had a hard and fast rule since that day that I would never deny someone like that again.

I saw Pele play once. He came to England for an exhibition game, and my older brother took me. I could hardly see, but there he was, dressed in gleaming white and looking stellar. Everybody wanted the Brazilians to get a free kick outside the penalty area to see what Pele would do. He did get a free kick—and missed. Harry Potter hadn’t come along yet at the time, but if it happened now, the crowd would be hoping for a Harry Potter style of moving the ball back to the net when obviously even Pele had missed the target.

We all miss the target. It’s part of our human condition. But what do we learn from it? How do even our failures help shape us into the people we would like to be? Whether in summer camps or playing the World Cup singlehandedly, we make slips during childhood, and we must learn our lessons. My swimming, dancing, singing, muddy daughters are both in the general age range I was that day in the alley. I’m sure they made some slips, and not just in the mud, but I hope they also had insights at camp this summer that they will carry with them as they grow into the amazing women I know they will be.

Why Do I Watch This Stuff?

I am addicted to the political discourse that will take us to November 8 and the election of the next president of the United States. (POTUS is a very cool nickname, don’t you think?)

November 8 is also my daughter Ava’s birthday. She will be seven, and by that point we will have been in America for the best part of six years. Ava knows only America as her home and Barack Obama as her president. The truth is Ava wonders why he has to go.

If I’m honest, I’ve had a fixation about politics for quite a while. It’s just that at the moment it’s virtually insatiable. This latest round has been fueled by Brexit in my homeland and of course the nominating conventions here in the US. I watched both the Republican and Democratic conventions almost fanatically. Speeches and strategies and platforms and promises. Some of it was lofty, and some of it was … not.

On the one hand, I chide myself. What is the attraction of watching all this? I’m not a US citizen and I can’t vote. I don’t actually have a citizen’s obligation to reach a conclusion and show up on November 8. On the other hand, it frustrates me that I have a sense of what is right, but I cannot participate in the process of bringing it to be. I feel blessed and happy to be in this country, and I’m eager to contribute. My girls could not help but encounter some of the conventions because they were on all the time. Both girls began to ask, “What happened today?” as if it were the latest reality television craze. Of course, they can’t vote either.

I talk about my girls a fair bit here on the blog, so I felt an affinity to Michelle Obama’s compelling speech and her focus on her children. (FLOTUS is also a cool nickname.) I appreciate the historical context of the last seven and a half years of an African American woman living with her black daughters in the White House, a national structure that slaves were required to help build even though they could no more vote than I or my girls can now. The Khans were incredibly moving in the presentation about what being an American meant to the son they lost to war. My mother’s loss of a son helped me connect to the Khans.

Despite glowing moments, however, I would have to be living under a rock not to shudder at the divisive language that—ugly as it has been—is only beginning as we head into 90 days of intense campaigning. “You can’t be a true person of faith if you vote for this candidate.” “You have no moral center if you vote for that candidate.” “The choice is between evil and more evil.” “I will never vote for a candidate who (fill in the blank).” #NeverTrump. #NeverHillary.

Can we even hear each other over our polarizing statements?

My thoughts keep returning to the word convention. The term points to the kind of gatherings we have just witnessed with nonstop television coverage, a large meeting with some sort of common purpose. But another definition is the way things are usually done with regard to a particular activity. (And I suppose the political conventions have their own conventions about how they do things.) A third definition is an agreement that represents a mutually beneficial way of moving forward on matters that are genuinely important. For instance, the Geneva Conventions are a body of international law that provide minimum standards of humane treatment to individuals who become victims of armed conflict. The conventions—agreements—establish the way of acting that will be widely accepted and followed. The Geneva Conventions address war, a dirty, horrid, awful thing, and say that even in extreme circumstances, we can still express our humanity.

Perhaps in this post-nomination, pre-election season, we would do well to set aside the meaning of the word convention as a large gathering where neither side has to listen to the other. Instead we could focus on the meaning that suggests ways we can agree to conduct ourselves for mutual benefit.

What would it take for all of us to hear—and offer—less anger and more respect? What would be some conventions that would carry us into the future we will share no matter who is elected? Even when things get down and dirty, how will we express our humanity toward one another?

Now that would make some good television.

Brexit and Blexit (Don’t Ask)

Brexit. Where did the word start? I suppose it traces back to Grexit, a term coined several years ago amid speculation that Greece would exit the Eurozone. That was bandied about sufficiently that when the UK considered leaving the European Union, we had Brexit.

I couldn’t stop there. I put all sorts of letters in front of “exit” to make new words. My wife is sick and tired of it, frankly. My favorite is blexit, a combination of bladder and exit that especially amuses me at three in the morning when I have to get out of bed. Andrea would prefer I stop broadcasting my blexit tendencies.

The Brexit vote is a few weeks old, but I still get questions. England has a new prime minister as part of the fallout of Brexit, but people are still watching the continuing consequences. For instance, there was a surge of people exploring whether they might get Irish passports that would allow them to remain part of Europe despite the Blexit vote. The value of the pound against the dollar is of concern. And it was a bit disconcerting when I heard just after the vote that there was an enormous surge of Internet searches on “What is the EU?” by people in England.

Whenever something happens in Britain, Americans want to know what I think of it, though in this instance I have also heard words of gratitude for Brexit taking the world’s gaze from American political discourse and becoming the number one global embarrassment at least for a little while.

If you are thinking that this is where Antony is going to talk about leadership, you would be correct.

Leaders must hold duality gently. The reality is that organizations, teams, even countries, are split in their opinions on many things. Brexit illustrates this for us. In any point in time, Britain is roughly 50-50 on the question of leaving or staying in the European Union. Nobody could have argued that if the vote had been to remain in the EU, it would have been an overwhelming position. Either way, the margin was thin.

Parker Palmer talked about holding people in ongoing disagreement and finding a path forward. When it comes to England, I hope we can get that back. We need to remember what the EU was all about in the first place. Underlying the context of the stock market or someone’s immediate vocational needs or currency, or a certain person’s comedic and endearing (right?) need to shoehorn exit into every word, is the idea of collectivism. People react viscerally to that term and associate it with socialism, which evokes an even more ingrained reaction on this side of the pond. The word is not always popular, but what the concept means is that we are doing something together. And that is a good thing.

The European Union came out of the simple commitment for nations not to kill each other again.

It was a promise not to encounter the horrors of millions of people killed as they were in the World Wars and the Holocaust because of the occupation of other countries and the threat to their cultures.

We’ve forgotten this.

Far from taking away a country’s ability to make decisions, the union was created so those decisions could be enjoyed more freely. The power of a dictator would never again quash individual nations and families.

Now is there any foreshadowing in American politics? I’m not sure. That’s something to parse in another blog post. But there is a lesson to be learned for all leaders at every level. What we judge to be best for one “side” or the other in a snapshot of time must be measured against the rolling movie of the history we share and the future we hope to create. Regardless of those things on which we are split 50-50, organizational leadership—and spiritual leadership—is about finding the path forward with duality.

 

You Say “Goodbye” and I Say “Hello”

I’ve been on a bit of a blog hiatus. It began when I broke my ankle and had a forced slow-down. Around the same time, other facets of my life were shifting along with my bones, and I write to you now from Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare System—still in Memphis.

I’m an emotional masochist. I like transitions. They hurt, but I like them. We all live through them, whether in the ages and stages of our personal lives, where we grieve what we leave behind while simultaneously inhaling the freshness of something new, or employment transitions that stretch us in new directions.

In my recent transition, circumstances whirled in a way that meant I could not say goodbye the way I meant to. That caused me a fair bit of anguish. It’s a little haunting. How can you fully move forward without saying goodbye in some way? Every transition, even exciting ones, bring loss in some form, and for me, not saying goodbye is a piece of that loss.

I worked with some incredible people. It was a wondrous thing watching them wrestle with deeper understandings of participating in bringing greater wellness to more people. They work hard and sincerely care for those they serve. When my family arrived in Memphis, they welcomed us and gave us a warm place of belonging as we settled into a community that we now think of as our own. Some of them learned to cheer for Manchester United and can even pronounce “Leicester”—and that is going the extra mile! I can think of no greater testimony to a group of people than that they make strangers feel welcome. A mosaic of faith expressions around a uniform core of commitment inspired me, and I will carry those colleagues in my heart.

And now, here I am at Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare System with an ambitious agenda that excites me, especially the opportunity to work on a primary care system for underserved populations and advise on developing a line of behavioral health services sustainable across the hospital system. “Goodbye” and “Hello.”

Transitions build a body of experience. I once said that someone had 25 years of experience, and a colleague rephrased to “one year of experience 25 times.” I like that angle. It highlights the cumulative effect of all the experiences we bring with us through the goodbyes and hellos of our lives. Personal life changes, working in different jobs, experiencing various environments, conquering challenges—it adds up to something bigger than simple chronology. Twenty-five years on the job multiplies into centuries of experience that we carry with us through all the goodbyes and hellos of our transitions.

I was speaking with a colleague whose job is to make care transitions better from a health perspective, with the goal that the person who needs care can move through each step of the process—each therapy or treatment, each consultation, each phase of rehabilitation—in a way that not only brings benefit from each individual piece but also creates an overall experience of care that feels beneficial.

Of course that is what we should be doing in healthcare. But we can also look at the transitions of our lives this way. Each piece contributes wholeness and meaning in a particular circumstance, but also the way the pieces weave together clothes us in care for one another and connections that allow us to look at our lives as whole piece of cloth and be grateful for the ways all the goodbyes and hellos have shaped us.

Keep the Conversation Going

Events of the last couple of weeks, with the loss of life in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas, have certainly reminded us all that racial issues have not been resolved. After each tragedy, we see both polarity and determination to keep the conversation going. For multiple reasons, both personal and professional, racial inequalities are close to my heart, and I intend to remain in the conversation.

I thought this might be a good time to share with you again some of the reasons I believe we need to keep talking about racial issues and come to deeper understanding of one another. Here’s a link that will take you the various posts I’ve made on the topic in the past.

May grace and love rule the day.

Of Kings, Soccer, and the Little Team That Could

Istomped on King Richard III.

Personally, I had no beef with King Richard, but I had to park my car somewhere. He was buried more than 500 years before I began working at a Leicester hospital for England’s National Health Service. In 1485 there was a church on the land, but in my time it was a city-owned parking lot. Although I was gone from Leicester when researchers undertook exhuming the king’s remains, I watched with interest from afar as the story unfolded and they really did find his skeleton.

Leicester has a wonderful diverse population, the most diverse in Britain. Leicester also has the best curry anywhere in England. In the spirit of public service, I’ve eaten a lot of curry over the years in order to test and confirm this statement with confidence. The city is also famous for its successful rugby team, the Tigers. (If you’re wondering how to say Leicester, rhyme it with Lester. All of England thanks you.)

What Leicester is not famous for is its football team. The Leicester City team, the Foxes, came into existence 132 years ago, and until a couple of weeks ago, never in those 132 years had they ever won a significant trophy of any sort. Ever. And it seems that no one expected they would begin now. At the start of the most recent season of England’s Premier League, bookies gave 5,000 to 1 odds against Leicester City winning the league title. These were worse odds than King Richard III being found under the parking lot. They were worse odds than King Arthur’s remains being found right there with King Richard—and Arthur never even existed.

But they won.

The Leicester team’s manager, Claudio Ranieri, has been nicknamed “the Godfather” because he’s Italian and he came to England to head up the “family” of Leicester City. By all accounts he’s a really decent human being. Though he came to the team only eight months before the championship, with odds that clearly suggested they were not a winning team, he brought it all together. The team played hard, honing not only skills but a fundamental belief in each other. While there were players who stood out during the season, there were no real superstars. This championship victory was about what they accomplished together, rather than depending on one or two big stars.

Having already mathematically clinched the championship on a Monday, the team waited until their final home game on the following Saturday to receive the trophy. As soon as the game ended—Leicester won—the media pressed in to get interviews and photos. Ranieri received accolades for his achievement as a manager, but rather than hogging the limelight he beckoned others to come to center stage. He made sure everybody, including coaches and support staff as well as players, were photographed. Every player, including those who were injured, had a chance to lift the trophy and kiss it, as is the custom. The crowds roared.

I tend to look at many things, even football, through the lens of leadership. In my mind, Ranieri is a leader in the style of business writer Jim Collins, who said you have to look into the mirror for responsibility and out the window to give credit. Ranieri’s players in turn came over and hugged and kissed him. What a sign of their regard for his leadership! We must acknowledge the contribution everybody makes. We must share together both in the daunting challenges and the sweet victories, because we achieve more this way than trying to be the big star.

Surely no one will want to bury this Godfather under a parking lot. Because Leicester won, next year big teams will go to Leicester to get a good curry and perhaps play a little football while they are in town.

And surely there will be a movie, right? I must make sure my agent knows how to reach me so I can be in it.

Hopefully they will not cast me as King Richard.

Of Kings, Soccer, and the Little Team That Could

 

The Largeness In the Smallness

TThe first thing to keep in mind is that I grew up in the British equivalent of what Americans call “the Projects,” known as a “council house” where we lived Somebody somewhere had the authority to make decisions about what went on in our neighborhood, right down to the color of our front doors, and both the men who rolled through to paint those front doors and the residents who lived behind them were in that sphere of authority.

The second thing to keep in mind is that my parents were humble people. They were incredibly caring and compassionate, which meant they were suited for their work as nursing assistants.

But let’s face it: nursing assistants have limited scopes of authority.

The third thing to keep in mind is that I’ve always been in awe of the medical profession. My parents sometimes handed me off to each other between shifts at the hospital. I trained as a nurse, as did my sister (in addition to being compassionate and humble, our parents were influential!), but of course even as a nurse I deferred to the authority of doctors. And I knew lots of doctors.

Having a respect for people in authority served me well during my time in England’s National Health Service, where I worked with large and diverse bodies of people from different professional backgrounds.

I seem to have a natural bent toward respecting people and what they accomplish, whether it’s in a professional or personal sense. When I came to Memphis I learned a lot of new names and heard about a lot of new accomplishments and gradually sorted out a Who’s Who of Memphis. They all impressed me and engendered respect.

One day one of these people, who would not want me to name him so I won’t, knocked on my door at home and said, “How can I help you?”

It felt like an amazing gift! This person of prestige who I respected and who certainly had plenty to do other than check up on how I was doing, came to my home. He reached out in a very personal way that blew my socks off. And the truth is he turned up at a moment when I was feeling low.

Just the fact that he would think of me at all helped turn things around.

That is a lesson I will not soon forget no matter what adventures my work as a leader take me on. It’s not the grand public gestures that mean the most; it’s a simple personal gesture that touches the heart. It’s not a sermon or great speech that turns things around; it’s a few personal words of encouragement or an arm around your shoulder, someone telling you it will be all right, somebody saying “I’ll be there right now” when you text. All of these things have happened to me, and I am grateful.

Even the briefest encounter can be terribly important. Indeed, there is largeness in smallness. So let us realize the power our words, our gestures, and our nearly-invisible moments encompass. This is power to intersect another person’s life at just the right moment. This is power to lift eyes toward hope again. This is power to remind us that no matter our differences in background, education, employment, or wealth, we are humans with the ability to really see each other.

And on some days, just being seen makes a world of difference.

Two ships pass each other in the night and shine their lights to one another