Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Engaged vs Disengaged

I had the good fortune to sit in on a briefing this morning from a representative of The Gallup Organization. Central question: Can character be measured? Answer from the speaker: Yes.

It is, of course, more complicated than that. But that's it in a nutshell. Most importantly, I came away convinced.

More importantly still, I came away wanting to work for the company that said they could do it. I came away convinced that they get it. That, for all their inexperience with military culture, they can translate. I came away thinking that the most cogent quote of the day might have been, from John C. Maxwell, translated and paraphrased, "There's no such thing as military ethics. There's just ethics." In other words, for the most part, there's no need for translation.

I also came away a little saddened, and clearer than ever in my mind that, for my good, and for the good of an organization I've loved for a long time, and given 26 years of my life, it's time for me to leave. I am anything but disengaged, but I share too many characteristics at the moment with the disengaged. At some point, when I have time to pull from the web the characteristics I mean, I will explain them one by one. Disturbed, I asked whether possession of the characteristics was what classified a person as disengaged, or if some other test determined that, and then the disengaged could simply be expected to exhibit those characteristics? I was told that the measuring of engagement was independent of these factors.

Let me offer a few examples. The engaged and the disengaged tend to have opposite answers to questions like, "Would you recommend this company to a friend?" or "Do you want to still be working here in a year?" Engaged workers are happier and more productive. I'll buy all of that, but there is still that chicken/egg question: disengaged, therefore unhappy; or, unhappy, therefore disengaged. More importantly, can you still be engaged, yet share answers with the disengaged. These are questions I'm pondering, but questions I'm sure Gallup has the answer to.

Probing my own situation, I found some consolation in one more point. The quote went something like this: "People join organizations; they leave individuals." You can love your job, love your organization, and reach a point where you can no longer watch it driven into the ground by one or many in positions of authority. The longer you watch that occur, the more you may find yourself in the "disengaged" camp in answering certain questions. The more you love your work, your mission, your teammates, the more devastating the impact of poor leadership on your morale. Does that make you disengaged or too engaged? This is more than semantics. There is something very basic at stake here.

There is a book answer, I'm sure. But I'd love to hear any comments. Bookish or otherwise.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Don't complexify things

My prolific record of posts since my return from spring break should speak volumes regarding my failure to heed the title's advice. And yet, though I've written little here, my fingers have been no stranger to the keyboard.

I'm attempting to draw one long career to a close and set out on another. Just which other is yet to be determined. But the exploration of possible others has kept me rather busy lately.

The other thing that's kept me busy has been reconnecting with some old friends. Back in May, I stood beneath the center of the new Air Force Memorial, staring up at the stars, with only even an occasional passing car as a distraction. I recommend visiting that monument--in fact, I recommend visiting all of them--well after midnight in the middle of the week. I don't like crowds. But I do like individuals. And those I call friends, I tend to like intensely, and for a lifetime. One of those friends gave me that midnight tour of DC. The monuments were nice, the government buildings were nice, the empty streets were like something from The Twilight Zone, but the best thing of all was reconnecting with a friend I'd not seen in a quarter of a century.

Today, I reconnected with another, after nearly a decade. Over an hour on the phone wasn't really long enough. Our kids were in grade school the last time we talked. This fall, we'll each drop one off at different colleges on the east coast. The last time we connected was his birthday, a decade ago, and he was about halfway through a year-long deployment to Korea. For his birthday, I sent him a copy of Cormac McCarthy's The Crossing and one of two Costa Rican cigars from a little shop in Fredericksburg, Virginia, picked up on a visit to a battlefield there as part of a graduate course on the literature of the Civil War (good luck untangling those modifiers). Then, through e-mail, we coordinated so that, at the same time, half a world apart, he smoked his cigar on a morning walk in Korea, and I smoked mine, on an evening walk, in gently falling snow, near Charlottesville, Virginia. The walk itself, a long-range version of something we did rarely, but with intense consciousness of each precious moment, sporting cigars on the starlit terrazzo of our shared alma mater, not quite two decades earlier still. A world apart, a shared, smoke-haloed perambulation--and then, the long drift. I hadn't the heart to tell him today that I'd driven by his house once, or, at least a house that was once his, some four years ago. On a road trip from North Carolina to a conference in Florida, I'd detoured through Alabama with an associate to look at a house he was arranging to live in with his family for a year of school there. At my request, we detoured by another as well. There wasn't time to stop for a real visit anyway, we had somewhere we had to be, "miles to go." But even more than that, there was, has been for years, for me, an unexplainable conflict between yearning and foreboding, more like than unlike that of Frost's most famous traveler. Still, I wanted to see the house, to have an idea in what surroundings to picture the closest friend I made in the four-year crucible we called a college, should one or the other of us bridge that drift again.

So, today, I did. Only I could really. I've moved three times since that December walk; he only once that I know of.

Funny thing about both those reconnections, the one spanning a quarter century and the other a decade: both are doctors. Well, technically, I suppose we all three are, but they're the kind who can cure you; whereas, I . . . well as I've told more than one jumper who's approached me for medical care, "I can describe that injury in colorful iambic pentameter and analyze the subtext within the plot turns of your life leading inevitably to it, but I'm not going to be much help to you, medically--not that sort of 'Doc' . . . sorry."

And both are artists, of one sort or another, so naturally, I'm coming to believe that all surgeons have this alter ego as a feature of their personalities. One gardens and cooks on a level well above my head, and the other draws and paints. Both have a gift for words as well, and it is to today's reconnection that I owe the lovely coinage that titles this post. As we both laughed at our growing collection of reading glasses (I find I'm not the only person with a pair in every room, pocket, vehicle, and end-table) and lamented the utter complexity of our lives, I mentioned a yearning "to simplify" my life. He responded, rightly I think, that we were probably past that point, the better strategy would have been "not to complexify them in the first place."

So, this post is a tribute to simpler times and to one of the simplest and most fundamental of life's pleasures: friendship. Quite honestly, I probably don't deserve the caliber of friends I have, and my gratitude that God has seen fit to bless me so abundantly nonetheless is probably all the explanation I ever need seek for my affinity for expressions of friendship in art. Some people saw Serendipity as a chick flick; I saw it as a buddy movie. I've never seen a better scripted or acted portrayal of that mysterious way in which male friendships materialize than the first few episodes of Deadwood, from Bullock's and Hickok's first meeting to the latter's murder. And you already know that I think Reign Over Me the finest movie to come out thus far this year, in any category. But I digress.

To my friends, thank you for putting up with me. You're really the only readers I have anyway. And to any of the latter who haven't been or aren't yet the former, I hope for you that you are or will be at least half so blessed as I in that arena, for were I only even half so blessed, I would still consider myself a very, very lucky man.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Now I've seen everything

The author of the words taken for title of this blog appeared on Oprah today. My phone and e-mail have been hopping ever since. More to follow.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Two movies

My beautiful eldest daugther and her mother and her mother's mother took off for a week in Hawaii following my daughter's high school graduation last week. For me, it was a rare opportunity to spend some time with my younger daughter. We shopped, we cooked, we saw a couple of movies.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End--Good movie to see with your daughter. Good movie to see, period. Entertaining. Great special effects. Minimum of stupidity. Good story. The critics--what do they know.

We also saw Knocked Up--For God's sake don't go see this with your 15-yr-old. Great reviews: "poignant," "hilarious," etc. Reality: mildly funny. Poignant, in a "this is the sort of real life I go to movies to escape from" sort of way.

Lastly, there is Spiderman III--SAVE YOUR MONEY. When I saw Mission Impossible II with my wife, she took all the fun out of it by laughing out loud at some of John Woo's more over-the-top directorial moments. At Spiderman, we both laughed. To begin with, Tobey Maguire is no great shakes as an actor. But really, when said 15-yr-old comes home and says it's the worst movie she's seen in a while (and this from someone who thinks Will Farrell can act), you know you're probably going to want that three hours of your life back.

Want to know what you shouldn't miss? Reign Over Me. So far, for 2007, the best movie I've seen, and I saw most of the Academy Award Winners. First, Adam Sandler can act. If you didn't know that after Spanglish, you weren't paying attention. Second, there is not an emotion that Reign Over Me leaves untapped: anger, love, humor, happiness, passion, friendship, grief, and every other corner of your heart that I've not named. If there is a don't miss movie for this year, this is it. Critics gave it a C+. They gave Spiderman a B; same grade they gave Talladega Nights. See a pattern yet?