Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sing The Changes

I've felt more than the usual push-pull over work, this blog and other social media venues, and life in general over the past few weeks -- issues that I've debated whether I should or should not share in any forum other than conversations and emails with family and friends.

Cindy and I watched "The Social Network" the week before last and afterwards, putting aside questions of how much was fact and how much fiction in the film, we discussed the very real issue of whether social networking, particularly Facebook but to some extent blogs as well, has become a substitute for genuine relationships and the honest expression of emotions.

Two predilections are at work in social media that seem to undermine interpersonal relationships and the need to communicate simple truths or profound thoughts: first, the compulsion to post regularly one's status on Facebook; and second, the need to post regularly to a blog, lest it become a blog without readers. Both, as the movie seems to conclude, are the antithesis of genuine communication and are at best a poor substitute for the personal sharing of substantive thoughts, ideas, and emotions.

These critiques caused considerable personal introspection last week. We received a call last Sunday morning informing us that a good friend of Kelsey's had died in a rappelling accident in California.  Matt was a wonderful young man with an infectious smile and a twinkle in his eye. He had battled some substantial demons in his life and had won; through determination and pain, no doubt, but I wouldn't have put it past Matt to have charmed the Devil himself as well.

The news of Matt's death hit our entire family hard. Kelsey had stayed in touch with Matt and they had gone hiking and rappelling in West Virginia over the Christmas break. Matt had always been exceedingly kind to Ethan, even when it would have been easier to simply treat him as the annoying little brother. They had seen each other at a 5K last year and Matt told Ethan he hoped they'd run into each other again soon. I had only seen Matt twice in the last five years, but for both Cindy and me, Matt's place in our children's lives as they went through middle and high school made the news tough to take and last week a long and emotional one.

During the week I kept my Facebook posting to a minimum and made no direct references either to Matt or to what we were going through as a family. The last thing I wanted to do was to appear to attempt to take ownership of his life, his passing, or the incredible grief that I knew his family was feeling.

After reading an impossibly positive and life-affirming story about Matt last week and then attending a celebration of his life on Saturday at which the warmth, compassion, courage, and caring of those who spoke about Matt was awe inspiring, I decided to post something here about Matt and honor and celebrate his life.

These thoughts aren't very original and are often repeated at times like this. But they are all things that Matt taught us in his too short thoroughly lived life:

Tell those that you love that you love them, sincerely and incessantly.
Enjoy creation, regardless of by Whom or how or why you believe it was created. Preferably in its wildest, most unspoiled and majestic state.
Embrace change.
Be kind to strangers.
Serve the less fortunate.
Play and don't keep score.
Love Life.

And next time, don't change your status, write a letter to a friend. In longhand. Don't "Like" a post. Give the person a call. Don't admire the pictures in someone's photo album. Go take your own.

There were a lot of wonderful quotes that were shared over the past two weeks regarding Matt and the impact that he made on a lot of people. I'm more pop culture than high culture, though, so rather than e.e. cummings or Bertrand Russell I give you some Paul McCartney, in honor of Matt:

Sing your praises
As you're sleeping
Feel the quiet
In the thunder.
Sing the changes
Calling over.
Everybody has a sense of
Childlike wonder.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What Gets You Excited?

These are exciting times for two of my favorite soccer teams, at least as far as I'm concerned.

The U.S. Men's soccer team played its first match of the season last week and four of the starters and seven players altogether earned their first caps (a "cap" is the term used for a full national team appearance, for all you soccer-challenged readers). One of them, Zach Loyd,  a 23 year-old outside back, was named Man of the Match. Another, Teal Bunbury, a 20 year-old forward, scored the only goal for the Yanks in a 1-1 draw with Chile.

Teal Bunbury.

By my unofficial count, 12 players on the U.S. squad who saw action in the match were 23 years old or younger. Landon Donovan, Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, and many other National Team veterans were nowhere to be found.

Meanwhile, in Lancashire, Blackburn Rovers have just concluded the January transfer window by adding four players, one of whom is a former team member (forward Roque Santa Cruz, a Paraguayan international), an American defensive midfielder (Jermaine Jones) and two young offensive players (Mauro Formica, 22, from Newell's Old Boys -- is that a great club name or what? and Ruben Rochina, 19, from one of my other favorite clubs, Barcelona).

Ruben Rochina.

Rovers' new owners, Venky's, an Indian poultry company, made noises about trying to sign David Beckham or Ronaldinho to "strengthen" the team but whether they were truly interested in either, or whether they were just trying to realize some media profit for their recent investment, fortunately neither will wear the blue and white halves.

No doubt there are casual fans of both the U.S. team and Rovers who would have welcomed the veterans back to or into their squads. But not me.

It's probably the coach in me, but nothing is more exciting to me than the introduction of young and (hopefully) talented players to a team. The opportunity to mold a group of individuals into a winning, entertaining team is much more interesting than watching some "big name" past his prime earn a last few paychecks.

The same is true with our national team.  I'm sure Howard, Donovan, Dempsey et al. will still play a big part in the near future, but it's way more exciting to get a glimpse of what 2014 and beyond may look like than trotting them out for another friendly.

The introduction of young talent to an established team isn't something that happens all that often in the business world. After all, the goal there is to keep valuable employees for a working lifetime, which is normally considerably longer than an athlete's viable economic life.

That doesn't mean, however, that management and the employees themselves can't try to inject a breath of the unusual or extraordinary into the workplace. Team meetings, lunches, social events, or bonus or other incentive plans based on unique criteria are all ways that you can try to give your workplace a jolt of newness, even when the roster doesn't change as dramatically as it did recently for two of my favorite teams.