The Opposite of Listening

At our Men’s Breakfast this morning, the New Testament passage was Luke 10: 38-42:

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a]Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

We got to talking about the Marthas (doers) and the Marys (observers), and one of the more humorous things said was that ‘if we didn’t have Marthas, we’d never have Marys. Or if we didn’t have the Martha type, then we’d have no food to eat, roads to drive on, and so on.

But one thing struck me: Martha had ceased to listen to Christ. Instead, she chose to get upset and argue.

It was at this point that one of our group who had been in Management, and so had facilitated and participated in many different labor and union negotiations, chimed in: “It’s a known fact that when you get angry or emotional, the blood leaves your brain and goes elsewhere in your body. Any time I saw emotions start to get out of control, I stopped everything and sent everybody home to come back the next morning. When you get emotional, you lose significant, significant, reasoning power. And it’s at that point that I know we’ll never get anywhere. For today, at least.”

So when you start to argue, you stop listening.

We admitted that we all know people who like to argue, some of them just for the fun of disagreeing. And when we got to thinking about it, we realized that these type of people tend to be the most hard-headed among those we know, and, in an interesting twist, this type of person often tends not to be too much fun to be around.

Now that made for an early-morning attitude check.

What is “the blend wall” and why does it matter?

I happened to be passing by the TV the other night, and heard some ranting by a particular Presidential hopeful who promised to “tear down the blend wall”.

We should be incensed at such an incredible pile of ignorance! Yet people were applauding. Ay, yi, yi…

This is such a simple thing, and someone who wants to be a leader putting such gross ignorance on display makes my head hurt. He must have said it because it sounds good, perhaps imagining himself to be some incarnation of Ronald Regan. But at least Regan had his facts straight.

This is really a simple thing; let me show you:

Back in the Bush era, the EPA was convinced by Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) that we should blend corn-based ethanol into our gasoline motor fuels. Reduce our dependency on foreign oil! Give farmers a guaranteed return on their crops! Sounds like a great idea, right? But there are a few problems with this.

  1. Ethanol is corrosive. In any concentration, particularly anything higher than 10%, it tends to ‘eat’ fuel system parts, with the chemical byproducts passing through and damaging not only automobile engines, but outdoor power equipment. Your lawn mower, my tractor, my gas trimmer, they’re all at risk of the fuel systems being wrecked from ethanol. If you try to use more ethanol (a higher percentage) in your fuels, then many more parts – internal parts – in the engines will be wrecked.
  2. In the US, we together all use a certain average volume of gasoline motor fuel each year. It changes a bit with the seasons and with consumers’ car and power equipment buying habits. But it doesn’t change much.
  3. You just can’t blend more than 10% ethanol into our fuels, as stated above. Automobile manufacturers categorically state this, and have put together a powerful lobby against change from their side. Because everyone’s engines – yours and mine – will literally be trashed by too high a percentage of ethanol.

We take these factors, and now you can see that because we only use so much gasoline motor fuel, there is only a certain volume of ethanol which can be used in motor fuel blends. No more than this.

In simpler terms, think of a can of gasoline. This represents the US average use in a year. Now add 10% ethanol to it. You can’t add any more, because the total volume is fixed. There’s just plain nowhere for it to go.

This is what’s known as “the blend wall”.

Now you understand that trying to exceed it is irresponsible and ignorant of the damage you will do to everyone’s cars and trucks.

Yours and mine.

Look, as I’ve said a number of times: I’ll never tell you how to vote, but just to think about what you’re voting for.

“Do you always have to be right?”

In the course of building this post, I made 18 revisions to it, all of them because I didn’t convey the right message. I clicked ‘Publish’ on this posting some two months ago, and it’s been bothering me ever since.

Well, I’m going to have one more run at it this morning, because with time, I think I may finally have the proper perspective. It’s a quiet, rainy morning (some two months later) and the right words are finally coming.

First:
I can finally say that this judgmental statement was uttered with the deliberate intention to hurt. (And the punch carried plenty of extra weight, because this person is respected in his church.)

It has been on my mind ever since, and worse yet, it interfered with my prayer life; getting between me and God. I literally could not get into my quiet time devotions because this was in front of me.

I have been examining myself ever since, and have put lots of prayer into this. And here’s where I am: God brought me to this point in my life to write. He gave me a curious mind, and the ability to share what I’ve found. Reflecting the title of this posting, I actually enjoy being wrong.

Wait, what?

I enjoy being wrong, because it is an opportunity to learn, and to pass along what I’ve learned. Maybe I can help someone save some time, avoid a mistake, or even more, to avoid being hurt or injured.

Second:
I believe that we all have gifts from God, and to deliberately misuse these gifts is a grievous sin.

From 1 Peter 4:10:

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

Notice: ‘to serve others’, not to judge others. The only time we get to judge anyone is if they are in our employ (for instance, when I was running television crews, I had to judge performance and adherence to the script on a moment-by-moment basis) or if they are our slave. Seems safe to say that neither case applied here.

Third:
What you say in a heated moment reveals a lot about the darkness in your heart. This is also why I don’t care to listen to every-day political stuff. This got the Ephesians into really hot water with Paul.

From Ephesians 4:

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Pretty rough treatment from Paul, there.

Since we’re also talking about gifts here, one of the other ways I’ve been wired to do things also kicked in and ran like a computer program:

I connect things.

I suddenly saw the connection from this person thinking he recognized something in me (because we see our own faults in others first); and it ran along to other things:

The need to be right is only the visible tip of an iceberg.

If you have to be right, then that means you stop listening to others when their point of view disagrees with yours.

Here’s where I try hard to differ with this person: You listen, you learn about the world around you, you learn better ways of doing things. But you have to listen to the person’s whole point of view!

But what if I find I disagree with you? Should I stop listening there? Of course not. We’re all entitled to our own opinions; this is one of the very few entitlements in this world. Besides, unless I listen, I’ll never learn anything new.

Just because I might disagree with you doesn’t give me the right to stop listening and start arguing with you in some high-handed pretense of making you change your mind.

And please notice that you have to stop listening in order to think up clever-minded ‘zingers’, like the above. There’s also the aspect of simple human respect.

Cultivating this churlishness has a subtle and destructive effect upon your personality, beginning with attempting to find a way to disagree about every little thing. Quickly you graduate to being unable to accept favors, advice, and works offered in love. Eventually, nobody wants to be in your presence for fear of being judged.

Being unable to accept others the way they are builds neither your faith nor your wisdom; nor the faith of your brothers and sisters. God does his best work with open hearts and open minds.

I am forgiving you for failing to listen to me, for failing to honor the person that I am, the way that God made me; different from you. It’s a long process, as evidenced by the need to go back and edit this post.

Eighteen times. Strike that; Nineteen.

The Noble Task to which we must call Congress

The Greek Tragedy of this last couple weeks has left me astounded. Allowing one person from a Greek chorus of what in any other time of common sense would be called ‘a bunch of nut-cases’ to hijack what should have been a simple process has greatly shaken my faith in the Legislative branch of our Government. What bothers me most is that they were willing participants in this Joe-McCarthy-in-an-Elmer-Gantry-disguise tragedy. I would have expected these people to be more objective than to just follow fantastical falsehoods.

And as of today anyway, not ONE apology. NO APOLOGY for screwing up people’s credit ratings because they couldn’t pay their bills. NO APOLOGY to people who couldn’t feed their families. NO APOLOGIES to the children in Head Start who have been set back; for their parents who are both working and so use Head Start as a daycare. NO APOLOGY to the millions of people who had their lives disrupted and will be paying the price of this shutdown for months.

Shame on you people. Shame on you for being so small-minded. Shame on you for letting so many millions of people down! SHAME ON YOU!

I want to direct your attention for a moment to the times when the Temperance movement was strong in this country: it was essentially the same thing. Government was hijacked by people with high-sounding ideals, yet the only thing they wanted to accomplish was to push forward their personal agenda in the form of the 18th Amendment. Prohibition. And we all saw how well that worked.

The parallel here is that a very small but vocal group, in listening only to themselves, essentially hijacked the economy and negatively affected the well-being of hundreds of millions of people. The Volstead Act was actually vetoed by Woodrow Wilson, who was very principled and a person of deep faith – because he saw and understood the dangers. But the veto was overridden.

And Prohibition had long-lasting effects, beyond the short-term ones. Because of Prohibition, crime rates soared astronomically. This was the era of widespread gang violence, all driven by Prohibition. We see it now on Saturday night TV as black and white moves that seem too absurd to believe. For those who lived through it, it was sheer terror. The police were overwhelmed, because it came so fast and was so incredibly ruthless and violent. We would call it terrorism, today.

All created because of a small but vocal group who thought they knew better than everyone else.

Because of Prohibition, we went from a simple system of the Government able to keep itself and the country running through the collection of liquor taxes. It was a relatively simple system, where the greater the cost of the commodity, the tax was incremental to that cost. In short, if you bought more expensive booze, you paid higher tax. Guess what: that also meant that the wealthy paid more and the poor paid less.

But this entire system got hijacked by the 18th Amendment.

And because of the sudden lack of funds to run our Government, the Internal Revenue Service was created. I don’t need to say any more.

Taking this full-circle:
It’s been known since the 50’s that the United States needs some kind of universal health-care system. We need a way to care for those who are crushed by high medical bills; we need a way to care for those who are unable to care for themselves; we need a backup plan for our young people (who think they’re bulletproof) but are just as subject to the vagaries of our world.

I’ll state the obvious in saying that we already KNOW the Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect. But it’s a start. Let me quote FDR from when he began to get the New Deal enacted: “We have to start somewhere. But we have to start. We’ll make it better as we go, but we first have to get started.”

So instead of trying to kill the Affordable Care Act, let’s make it better. Let’s work within our system of Government and make the ACA better.

THIS is the noble task to which we must call our Congress.

Could I have possibly been right about not pandering to Shareholder Value…?

As recently as June, I posted some of my convictions regarding Shareholder Value. I said then that Corporations are throwing away fundamental values of integrity, providing a viable living for employees, and most of all ‘having fun at what we’re doing’ because of the almighty pursuit of an extra buck.

I still assert that if a Corporation can afford to stop focusing on squeezing every…single…dime… out of the organization, then suddenly fun will creep into the equation, and people will actually work harder at their jobs because there is a satisfaction interwoven with the job when a company has the integrity to run a little thick. Suddenly there comes a focus on the satisfaction of doing better instead of sweating for not doing enough.

And this morning, the Washington Post has a really good article which says a lot of what I’ve been saying for years. 

The key is to tell investors up front that they should never be able to count on financing their yachts from investments in the Company stock. Instead, they need to see it as a way to feel good about supporting values that uphold human, and yes, Christian, ideals: never sacrificing integrity for the sake of a profit, helping those who are in need in a way that allows them to help themselves, forming a community of people who get together as a single body to work for an ideal; and most of all – we’re in this to have fun, and to deliver to our Customers what they truly want, in a way that’s responsible to our planet, our country, our employees, and our God.

And guess what – the Post has a series of stunning conclusions in the story:

The real irony surrounding this focus on maximizing shareholder value is that it hasn’t, in fact, done much for shareholders.

If you are the sole proprietor of a business, do you think that you can motivate your employees for maximum performance by encouraging them simply to make more money for you? Of course not. But that is effectively what an enterprise is saying when it states that its purpose is to maximize profit for its investors.

… it is no coincidence that companies that have maintained a strong customer focus — think Apple, Johnson & Johnson, and Procter & Gamble — have consistently done better for their shareholders than companies which claim to put shareholders first. The reason is that customer focus minimizes undue risk taking and maximizes reinvestment over the long run, creating a larger pie from which everyone benefits.

Sounds a lot like what I’ve been shouting into the wind for years. Ever since the mid-90’s. Nice to hear it come back as an echo, even if it has taken a long time.

And I hope that we finally get to the point where we can say:

Gordon Gekko, go sell ‘greed’ somewhere else; it’s not appreciated here.