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Monday, October 28, 2019

Skin in the Game

The Huffington Post recently took on the often delicate subject of what is appropriate dress in the workplace. The victim of their close-up examination turned out to be one of the largest professional services firms on the planet: Ernst and Young (EY). It wasn’t pretty.

The stage can be set easily by reading the first two paragraphs. I’ll share them:

“When women speak, they shouldn’t be shrill. Clothing must flatter, but short skirts are a no-no. After all, ‘sexuality scrambles the mind.’ Women should look healthy and fit, with a ‘good haircut’ and ‘manicured nails.’”

These were just a few pieces of advice that around 30 female executives at Ernst & Young received at a training held in the accounting giant’s gleaming new office in Hoboken, New Jersey, in June 2018.”

The special training was part of a day-and-a-half seminar. At the time the material was presented, America was in the throes of the #Me Too movement.

The training had a name: Power-Presence-Purpose and included a 55-page workbook. Many takeaways from the seminar left attendees wondering what century they were now living in. Thus, it earned the scrutiny of the somewhat, but not always, reliable Huffington Post.

The article exceeds 3,000 words. Worth reading if you like mini novels. Especially ones that can educate you on what not to put forth or how women should act around men in the workplace.

Here’s a bit from page 36 of the presentation. It advised corporate women to be “polished,” have a “good haircut, manicured nails, (and) well-cut attire that complements your body type.” Women were also told that the most important thing they can do is to “signal fitness and wellness.”

The envelope was then pushed with this instruction, “Don’t flaunt your body―sexuality scrambles the mind (for men and women).” Giving more clarification to this was a former EY employee named Jane who attended the training. She remembers being given this important tip: to keep men focused on the substance of your presentation, “Don’t show skin.” Because, as Jane recalls, men are less likely to focus “because of sex.” This caused Jane to “feel like a piece of meat.”

There was also a “Masculine/Feminine Score Sheet” to complete. It purportedly encouraged women employees to model the more feminine traits listed. Not doing so would put your credibility in jeopardy with both men and women.

Enough already. You get the point. Bottom line, if you’re living in the real world today of either business or not-for-profits, be very careful what advice you are doling out on living out sexuality.

This topic is also a hot button in the church. A pastor I often interviewed on my previous talk show, Karl Vaters, wrote a piece about “What is Appropriate to Wear in Church?” His very grace-filled approach left a lot of room for “whatever you want”—with a few caveats.

He listed three guidelines, saying, “As believers, we should not dress immodestly, pridefully, or rebelliously.” As for that immodesty point, he writes, “Anything that emphasizes our sexuality is inappropriate for anyone but our spouse. And this goes for men as well as women.”

His challenge on pride states, “It’s amazing how some people get upset about seeing a t-shirt or baseball cap in church, but they have no problem with outrageously expensive suits or dresses, tons of makeup, expensive haircuts, gold watches and fancy jewelry on the preacher.”

I get it. He’s right.

The rebellion issue shows up mostly with teens, but the point is well made. As is Vaters' conclusion. His bottom line, if you will, is that how we dress should help a worshipper “think more about Jesus and less about yourself–-and what will help others do the same. In church. At home. At work. Anywhere.”

Good job, Karl.

And BTW, wise people don’t put much “skin” in the game.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

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Monday, October 21, 2019

Yankee Pride...

The New York Yankees are finished. At least for this year. Good.

Over the years, I’ve refined my distaste for the Yankees. I think it goes beyond that. Perhaps I disdain the attitude that seems to emerge from a fair share of folk from New York City.

I must confess that some of this has to do with my faithful fan status for the Minnesota Twins. As a young boy, I had the privilege of watching some of the Yankee greats from the 60s come to play the Twins. I saw Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, and the true Christian gentleman, Bobby Richardson. The problem then was the same problem as now. Those darn Yankees kept beating up on my Twins. And, yes, they did it again in the first round of the American League (AL) playoffs this year!

In my early 20s, my short military career took me to Iceland where I was the sports director for American Forces Radio and Television. Part of my job was to select the one or two games each day during baseball season that we would air on our radio station in Keflavik. Who were my problem children? Those darn Yankee fans. They would call and leave messages bugging me to put the Yankees on every day—as if no other team mattered. To them, no other team probably did.

The ugly Yankee fan showed up big time in the recent AL Championship series against Houston. The Astros right field is Josh Reddick. Having been to Darn Yankee Stadium before, he was psyching himself up for the fan abuse he expected. He’s always handled the nasty verbal insults well. But last Tuesday night, fans were throwing objects at him in between innings. Reddick was infuriated.

Objects like what? Says Reddick “I think I saw seven or eight water bottles out in the outfield, and two souvenir baseballs thrown from center field to left…I don’t think a lot of people realize how scary that can really be. You throw a baseball hard enough, hit somebody in the head when we’re not looking, it can do some damage to you as a player.”

What was Reddick’s offense? He had hit a home run in the second inning. That earned the catcalling Darn Yankee fans chanting “You suck” for virtually the whole game. Josh added, “There’s a lot of expletives in there, but stuff I can’t repeat.’’ And Reddick says this has always been the case during his 12 year career when visiting Yankee stadium. Fans even Googled his family information to insult them!

Okay, to give some balance, there are millions of people in the state of New York who would never act so childishly and rudely. My son graduated college from a fine New York school in Rochester. His wonderful wife and family are sweet people from western New York. But those Yankee fans are another breed.

I think those diehards can’t stand losing. The thought of supporting an inferior ball club is crushing. So they lash out. It hurts their pride.

Is there such a thing as “healthy pride?” Counselor Lynn Namka writes, “Feeling proud of your children who have done well in an activity and are good, decent human beings is normal healthy pride. Healthy pride supports people and their growth. It is a reward for expending effort and a job well done.”

In New York City, we saw a powerful example of healthy pride after the destruction of the twin towers on 9-11. The encouragement and support for the emergency responders was overwhelming. Plus the inner strength to rebuild.

And make no mistake. Churches and pastors can be destroyed by the wrong kind of pride as well. Success in ministry can and has led to dangerous downfalls.

We should not be surprised. King Solomon wrote, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18, ESV)

So my baseball soul now rests for another year. Except for those Yankee nightmares.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Freedom and Faith

Using a business platform to be an advocate for good seems a most noble thing. It gets complicated when the advocacy is highly controversial. Even divisive. Even wrong.

The most casual observers of the news have witnessed what is happening in Hong Kong. The Chinese government is not particularly fond of pro-democracy reforms. Well, they are a Communist country after all.

Many who reside in Hong Kong likely remember the “good old days.” That was when the British ruled over that portion of China. That governance began in 1841 and lasted until 1941. After a brief occupation by Japan, Hong Kong returned to British rule until 1997.

I’ve visited the colony a few times in the 1990s. It was as seemingly capitalistic a place as you could get. And an amazing amount of wealth resided there. Along with greater freedoms. Beginning in the 1950s, the Chinese government frequently made threats towards any British attempts to advocate for democratic changes. But it seems the hunger for freedom among residents in Hong Kong persists.

In June of this year, protests began over plans that would have permitted extradition from Hong Kong to mainland China. Those protests have grown. Citizens are pushing for wider democratic reforms. And the mainland doesn’t like it.

So how does America interact on this issue? Two stories this week give us some insight. Wired Magazine reports this headline, “Hong Kong Is the Latest Tripwire for Tech Firms in China.” The subtitle explains, “Blizzard, Apple, and Google remove signs of support for pro-democracy protesters, in apparent concessions to the politics underlying the Chinese market.”

The story details how over the last ten years, a growing relationship has developed between high-tech products interested in US sports in China. Businesses in our country have been blessed by the wealth of many of these Asian consumers. But it’s bigger than that. Several of our high tech firms are dependent on factories and supply chains in China.

Comments cited in the Wired article include those of Chris Meserole. Chris is a foreign policy fellow and technology expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington. He notes, “I don’t think the public is aware of just how fully intertwined our economies are.” I’m sure he’s right, but who among us has not joked about how many things Americans own that are made in China.

One example of the capitulation of American business on this issue involves an app. This particular app aided protestors in tracking police movements. The same police who attempt to quell the protests sometimes using live ammunition. Apple pulled the app—claiming it was used to ambush law enforcement. This followed a bitterly critical article of Apple by a state run Chinese newspaper.

Then there’s the NBA. This is the place where players on a championship team refuse to accept an invitation to the White House because of politics. They understand a protest. But wait…also reported this week was a story about Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morley. He tweeted support for the Hong Kong freedom protestors! Then…he suddenly deleted his tweet. His NBA overseers said it was "regrettable" that the tweet was found to be offensive to the Chinese, and the Rockets said Morey's views did not represent those of the team. Sissies.

It’s well known that the Chinese government persecutes Christians. They shut down churches and forbid teaching of the faith to children. It’s the Communist way.

Jesus of Nazareth said to expect this. Freedom and faith go hand-in-hand.

In this country, we can protest and make our voice known without fear. Unless, of course, you decide to wish a college student a Happy Columbus Day. Now you’re asking for real trouble!

I think mean-spirited politics is becoming indigenous to our people.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Of Wolves and Camels

(This blog of mine was originally published in January of 2014. I re-share today as I’m on vacation.)

I did not see the film The Wolf of Wall Street. Probably never will. I do admit to being fascinated by the intensity of the lifestyle of traders and financial players.

The film featured Leonardo DiCaprio playing the role of one bad and out-of-control banker, Jordan Belfort. It’s supposedly a true story, replete with the trappings that come with incredible wealth. We get a picture of the very ugly side of Belfort and his eventual fall involving crime and corruption. The feds took him down.

Early in my time in Chicago, a friend arranged a lunch for me with a trader after he gave us a tour of the Chicago Board of Trade. It was surprising how in that array of activity someone could focus and maintain sanity. Apparently the burn or burnout rate comes at a fairly young age.

Two recent New York Times stories gave me reasons to think about the passions and lessons learned from financial power brokers. Cliff Oxford wrote the article, “Entrepreneurial Lessons from the Wolf of Wall Street.” Quoting, “Two of them were: You can’t build a culture in a comfort zone, and there is a dark side in the drive to be first.” He added that the film shows “how you can take ordinary people and make them maniacs for the mission.” (Link below)

The second article gave quite a bit more depth to another wolf who has left the pack. It’s powerful. It’s titled “For the Love of Money” and is written by Sam Polk. (Link below)

Polk had an upbringing in a middle class home with a salesman father who dreamed of being rich. Sam did more than dream. After his time at Columbia University, which included significant drug use and suspension, he got himself a trading floor job. It started his rather meteoric rise to wealth. He next went to Bank of America and, four years later, he was offered a Citibank job at $1.75 million per year. Perks galore.

But his self-written story is about how there was never enough. He came to learn about envy. Greed. Power. The kinds of things that take a man down. Like Jordan Belfort.

But Sam Polk had an epiphany. And it came from his superior’s reaction to hedge fund regulations being implemented. As he challenged the assumption that these regulations were not necessarily bad, the responses he received showed almost unbelievable self interest. Almost.

Polk’s epiphany led him to serious self examination. And he acted on the dark sides of his life. He left the company. He experienced withdrawal symptoms of greed. His world today is vastly different as his testimony tells.

Sam Polk does not make a clear connection to any specific spiritual driving force. But reading his story, it reminded me of Jesus telling His audience that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25) Folks in Jesus’ time believed wealth was a sign of God’s blessing. How possibly could wealth be a barrier to God? We know better.

Here’s our challenge. Forget the amount of wealth involved. Our souls need to be constantly on guard against the destructive forces of envy, greed, the love of power, and pride. There are a few more as well, categorized over the years as “The Seven Deadly Sins.” Google that if you need help identifying them.

To avoid becoming a big bad wolf, discipline yourself to fight those sins as a camel would fight to get through the eye of a needle.

You’ll likely need a lot of get over the hump.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.