My country, ’tis of thee…

It’s been a while since I wrote on this site. Life has been full of travel, recruiting, day jobs, and family.

I had intended to do a post about fish and chips, a follow-up to the last post on fishing. I wanted to be light-hearted and fun.

But today I don’t feel light-hearted, and I want to say why.

I like to think I’m patriotic. Not in the grating, super-power-proud-gloating sense, but in the tear-up-when-I-see-a story-of-American-heart-and-American-goodness sense. Whenever I’ve been out of the country and I feel the touch-down of the plane’s wheels on American soil, no matter the point of entry, I always breathe a little welcome sigh, a recognition of being “home.” I love so many of the things that Americans sheepishly acknowledge…speaking generically, we really are a melting pot. We love corny things, little guys winning uphill battles, we value fairness and people standing up to challenge wrongs. There’s a segment of the population that’s sophisticated, by the going standard, for sure, but I think the majority of us are still focused on the basics…family, making a life for our kids, being part of communities that need good people and good ethics.

Which brings me to my moral dilemma. As the events of the last few days have unfolded, I’m reminded, again, that we have two candidates for the highest office in the land, and I can’t vote for one, and won’t vote for the other. The order of which names fit with “can’t” and “won’t” change from time to time, but the bottom line is the same. No options.

I would love to see a woman in the office of president, but not this woman. I can’t get past the enormous sums of wealth this candidate and her family have accumulated in public service, with no visible sign of creating anything of value, other than influence and favors. I’ve seen estimates of net worth from $30 million up to $111 million. Add that to the decades of scandal and charges of corruption that have followed this family, and I just can’t vote for more of the same. I’m sure there is some truth and some hype, but really, can’t we do better? From the beginning of this election cycle, through the primary season when so many of the contests looked unfairly rigged, there’s been a sense that this was a choice made for voters, rather than by voters. There’s nothing right about that.

A lot of my distaste comes from exhaustion. I wish politicians had the grace to move off the stage after a few years, but it seems almost no one does any more. I am fiercely opposed to political dynasties. I believe allowing multiple family members to milk the political system off name recognition and shared influence gives unfair advantage and access to a process that should be based on merit and work, not who one is married to, born to, or otherwise related to.

And the other candidate…well, I just can’t go there either.

I understand we’re electing a president, not a pope (I read that little nugget recently). I understand we’re all human, we all have faults and flaws, and who am I to judge, anyway? I’ll tell you who I am: I’m a voter. And while I accept that any human being is far from perfect, I want to elect someone who has aspiration toward high standards, who I can look up to and feel that at least they’re attempting to be a person of honor.

I’m sure that all people in places of leadership have their bad moments, lapses in judgment, and say things they regret. I do all that too. We all do. But I’m not proud of those moments when I fall short. I don’t go around bragging on myself that I got away with bad behavior, or find myself expressing remorse because I got caught at something and now have to try to look sorry, whether I really am or not.

I understand that in many ways, culturally we’ve done away with moral standards, with the traditional “rights” and “wrongs” of past eras. Or maybe we haven’t. Maybe we’ve told ourselves we’re all grown up now, so sophisticated we don’t pass judgement on anyone anymore. Live how you want, say what you want, just don’t get caught on camera or mic, right?

I think our culture has an up-close view of what that looks like in a potential leader, and we’re disgusted with what we see…and who we’ve become, to some extent. Maybe the reason so many are outraged with this candidate is that he is a self-indictment, in many ways.

After all, morality either matters, or it doesn’t. Crude language is either acceptable, or it isn’t. Politicians either have private lives, or they don’t. We can’t really have it both ways.

Personally, I believe when someone offers themselves up for the highest office in the land,  for that time, they don’t have a private life. Their children should be off limits, but anyone running for the office of president should be prepared for every word and action to come under a microscope. And if they’re not, maybe they should not invite the scrutiny of the world. I’m not saying that’s fair, or even right. But in this day of ever-present media, and no subject off limits, that’s the way it is.

Honestly, I would be glad to not be privy to the personal details of candidates’ lives…I don’t want to know all the nitty-gritty. But that’s not the culture we live in, when anything and everything is fair game for dinner table conversation and social media posts.

I wish the wise people who founded this nation had given us a blueprint for this scenario: what to do when we want a do-over, but don’t want to create a constitutional crisis or a revolutionary change. I don’t want to see anything like that happen. I do want a way out of this dilemma.

Personally, I would be happy to see the vice-presidential candidates take over the top of the ticket.

Or if we can’t take that approach, maybe we can launch a write-in candidate via social media to win the most votes? Who will step forward to save us from these two? Anyone? Anyone?

Going forward, I think we need to create constitutional amendments that provide two things:

Term limits to two election cycles…I don’t care if you run for dog-catcher, two terms and you’re out. Whatever benefit accrues from having people in office who know the system are far outweighed by having people in office who corrupt the system.

Only one family member can be president, period. This may seem unfair and arbitrary, but I think we could go a long way toward fixing the political dynasty issue if we took the top prize off the table, once someone in the family has had it. Enough already. Go home, go away, just go! There’s a whole country full of people who are potential candidates. Let someone else step up to bat.

I know there are people who believe in both these candidates, who will vote for them for various reasons, and I understand that…we all have to vote our own consciences. For me, this is a year of none of the above. I’m not excited about the third party candidates either, and realistically, we’re not at a point in our politics where that makes a difference. No third party candidate has enough traction to matter, at least not yet.

Maybe the lessons of this election cycle, on both sides, will be that choosing candidates wisely is important. By the time we’re at this stage of the process, it’s too late to get picky…we’re stuck, voting for undesirables, or voting for no one.

It’s rare that I feel much angst politically. Usually I just tell myself that things will work out, and of course, life goes on, as I’m sure it will, whatever the November election brings. But after such a season, I hope there’s a national call for change to some of our process so we don’t find ourselves here again.

Surely, we can do better than this. We deserve better, our children deserve better. It’s time to look in the mirror, and face what we’ve allowed.

 

 

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Political discourse

I’ve never used my blog to express political opinion. That isn’t my focus here, and I don’t want it to become my focus.

But I must say, this year: I’m disheartened, saddened, disappointed, by both major parties, and the candidates.

What has happened to our process? How have we allowed candidates to become so coarse, so small and petty? Where is the dignity the highest office in the land should inspire, and demand?

How can we have candidates for the office of president who are there as much for who they’re related to as for their own achievements? We’re not a country founded on political dynasties. I don’t think that’s what we should seek or allow now. Political dynasties are bad for the country: too much influence peddling, too much opportunity for unfair advantage and cronyism.

What is wrong with our political process when the major parties can manipulate the use of party delegates, “super delegates,” to offset the voice of individual voters? And why is the process so convoluted and complex it seems few can really understand it, much less navigate it?

Why do we need more than a year for our election process? Other countries seem to be able to have an election within a few weeks or months. And why do we need to pour massive sums of money into whole thing? Isn’t there a better way to spend money? It’s so expensive to campaign for office. Have we allowed the Presidency to be reduced to a prize that can be bought? Or to become an office that only the wealthiest and best connected can aspire to?

I enjoy political theater, and it’s interesting when the unexpected happens or a dark horse candidate suddenly breaks free from the pack.

But I’m appalled to see our political process has become just one more reality TV show, full of immature and narcissistic egos, insults, false statements, and bluster. Such conduct belittles us all. How can we as a country expect to be taken seriously by other countries and leaders when our politicians act as they do? When what they say in the setting of national debates sounds like talk from middle schoolers? And they expect voters to believe in them? To believe in their wisdom, their insight, their ability to be calm and collected in times of stress and threat? Do we want these people directing our military?

In election seasons, people often refer to the Founding Fathers, going back to the vision they had for government and the structure they put in place. When I think of the leaders of that time and compare what we have now, the people we look to as leaders, I’m shocked by how far we’ve fallen.

Those people weren’t perfect. They had flaws too, often obscured by the veil of time and the romantic haze of sentiment that colors our view of that era.

But…

They were articulate, educated, thoughtful, far-seeing, and principled. They cared about more than personal gain or risk. And for whatever faults they had, they accomplished a Herculean feat. They designed and built a new country.

They had honor.

Maybe we expect too much from our leaders…we expect them to please all of us, to have the right background, the right education, to be attractive, personable, charming, witty, good in front of the camera. Maybe honesty and integrity are dispensable characteristics, but they must be entertaining to watch, able to generate ratings. That’s the message we seem to send to the candidates we approve by vote tallies.

At the very least, I would like my leaders, specifically the leader in the role of President, to be an honest person, someone of integrity.

I don’t expect to agree with the President on every front. That would be impossible, and even unfair. This person has to lead a huge body of people, and we’re all going to be on the losing side of decisions from time to time. No one can please us all.

I don’t even have to like the person who is President. That would be nice, but what I really want is to look at this person and believe they’re doing the best they can, acting out of principle, and conscience, and strength.

I don’t care if we have a male or female as President. Other countries have had women leaders, decades ago, and they did very well representing their countries and their parties. But I don’t want this office to be a prize given for the sake of historic gesture. I don’t care about color or gender, spouse or no spouse, career achievements or alma mater. I care about choosing the best person for the job. Period.

I do care, very much, about the character of the person we elect. For those who say character doesn’t matter, I say, it is almost the only thing that matters to me. I don’t expect perfection. How could I? No one could meet that standard. I don’t expect that candidates have mistake-free personal lives…in fact, I don’t want to know all that much about their personal lives. I think they have a right to some privacy. But I do expect people who aspire to the office to have integrity, to do their best, to lead with dignity. Is that too much to ask?

Maybe it is, at least this year.

Maybe this will be the cycle that helps us to reset…to pull back from the abyss, to say, “what have we done?” Maybe this election season will open the door to serious election reform, to significant and intelligent change.

If that happens, good. We need to give up our addiction to political drama, and reclaim a political system that functions in the interests of the citizens; we need leaders who are serious, who respect the office and the responsibility entrusted to them; and we need to be able to trust our elected officials. We may not agree with every decision, but it would be encouraging to believe the person in the Oval Office acts out of principle, courage, and conviction, rather than playing to the polls, or political posturing. This is not a game.

Or maybe the whole thing has become a game . But it shouldn’t be.

Maybe this is the year to write in “none of the above,” and ask our parties to go back to the starting line, give us better choices. In a land of 300 million plus, surely that’s possible? What does it say of us, the citizen-voters, that we don’t demand better?

We need change at many levels of the process. We need informed voters, and a better way to express our opinions than going through antiquated and convoluted systems, controlled by party elites who have hidden motives and agendas. We need to allow voices to be heard that we disagree with. But we also need to assure everyone that each vote matters…that votes aren’t nullified by party rules and back room deals.

God help us all. It’s a scary world out there, and we need someone we can believe in…someone worthy of trust, worthy of sitting behind the Resolute Desk.

 

Standards

“Get caught doing something right.”

I started working in the field of health care in 2006. I had a side-door entry, coming in through an administrative role. My experience of health care is from largely from the business perspective. Still, though I have no clinical skill myself, there’s a lot of overlap with the clinical world, specifically with staff.

I spend a lot of time working to recruit providers and nurses, to coordinate meetings, trainings, and arrange for temporary provider coverage. I write newsletters and policies and the occasional grant.

I swim in corporate email.

Sometimes it’s overwhelming…all the technology, regulation, terminology, bureaucracy, acronyms, staff changes, opinions, personalities…and that’s before patients are added to the mix…the world of the modern family practice clinic.

There are so many patient needs that this community addresses every day, with a shared commitment to ethical care and a standard of best practices.

In the midst of this busyness, there are lessons to be learned, lessons worth observing and passing on. In the whirlwind that envelopes the day-to-day of the clinic, these are the practices I believe in.

This list isn’t a standard for the delivery of health care; it’s a standard, period. You don’t have to be a health care worker to treat someone with dignity, and you can be a leader with great vision and skill even if you were first trained as a provider. These attributes are not incompatible. I’ve known people who exemplify the wonderful blend of compassionate care giver with a head for business and leadership.

These worlds, the often competing worlds of business and health care, overlap so much: they intermingle, and there is no separating them. Sometimes it is to the detriment of each. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can all learn, and perhaps remove some of the cynicism in the process.

I have to believe it’s possible to bring out the best in each other. And with all the meaningless and trivial, there is actual good accomplished.

Here’s how you do it, pure and simple. Turns out, good business and good medicine have a lot in common.

  • People rise to their potential when they have clearly defined structure and expectations, and work in an environment of trust, integrity, and transparency.
  • Right makes might! Doing the right thing commands respect and gives moral authority. Leaders are most effective when they are respected. Respect is a product of living with character and integrity. (If you’re unsure about a decision you’re making, visualize yourself explaining your choice to someone you respect. If you can’t feel good about sharing your decision, you should probably reconsider.)
  • The greatest deficit in most organizations is at the leadership level. Leaders need to set the tone, remove barriers to success, then get out of the way.
  • Principles are timeless, process is not.
  • Promote an environment of creativity and thinking outside the box. When an idea has merit, it deserves recognition and promotion. But don’t get caught in the trap of thinking that because a decision or method has been accepted, it is set in stone. Leaders understand innovation is the balancing tool of structure. Great organizations regularly evaluate and adjust process.
  • Do one thing at a time. Focus! Concentrating on one thing at a time is actually more productive than multi-tasking.
  • Define the problem. When something is not working, take the time to get to the bottom of the issue. Sometimes the most obvious difficulty is only a symptom of a greater problem.
  • When you’re problem solving, listen and then ask questions. Survey everyone involved. The perspective of an entry-level employee may be just as valid as the opinion of a department head. People with different roles in an organization have very different insights into how things work, and every point of view is important.
  • Separate noise from the real issues. Sometimes people are just focused on the drama, rather than the root cause. If you correct root causes, the noise will usually go away.
  • Change is inevitable. No individual, position, or process will last forever. Change can be unsettling, but it can also be refreshing.
  • Acknowledge mistakes. Apologize when necessary. Be gracious when someone apologizes to you. Set the example.
  • Express ideas as simply as you can. Be direct. Don’t use “corporate speak.” Simple is best, and people know when they’re being patronized with a lot of flowery words.
  • Promote an atmosphere of calm. Chaos is unsettling and leads to loss of productivity. People do not thrive in an atmosphere of uncertainty.
  • Promote a positive environment. Discourage gossip. Catch people doing something right. Reward that. Honor that.
  • Give honest value and treat people fairly, and both you and your organization will reap the rewards. Perhaps not every time, but in time. Plus, doing the right thing has an impact on the doer. As Abraham Lincoln said, “When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad.”
  • What you reward, you repeat. What you permit, you promote. Set the tone, and most people will rise to the expectation.

I’ve sometimes been accused of being idealistic. Well, I’ll take that. I would rather have high hopes and expectations than weary cynicism.

Find your brave.

Go forth and slay dragons. Get caught doing the right thing.