Rob Ford; leadership guru

Rob Ford, 1969-2016

I wrote a post nominating Rob Ford as a guru during the height of the wreckage he wrought at Toronto City Hall. Rob Ford’s leadership offers all kinds of lessons, so that post still applies, and I repost it now in his memory. Perhaps it applies south of the Canadian border as well, to another constituency of angry, alienated voters.

photo credit: City of Toronto website

photo credit: City of Toronto website

I nominate Toronto Rob Ford as guru of the year.

No, seriously. Buffoonery aside – and that’s a huge aside – his ability to keep voters willing to vote for him defies credibility. It’s what I find most astonishing – his self-imposed implosion and dizzying public unraveling hasn’t deterred his Ford Nation from believing in him. That means he has something to teach.

Had Mr. Ford behaved and been competent, no one outside Toronto would know his name. Now he’s stratospheric famous, enjoying status as a late night joke and top ten list attraction. How does he foster such devotion? Are other politicians paying attention? 

Clearly it isn’t his charisma and charm attracting such loyal and loving constituents. Then what, I ask, accounts for it? 

Rob Ford’s simple rules for finding and fostering love and faithfulness.

What I uncovered from Mr. Ford’s musing are life rules to follow for conflict management and living joyously. Surprise – it turns out Mr. Ford’s good, bad and ugly behavior all conceal useful lessons. It’s a shame Mr. Ford subverted these to the Dark Side:

The Good

1. Respond to people, such as return phone calls 

When his loyal fans and constituents explain clinging to his failed leadership, their refrain goes: “He called me back.”

2. Get involved in small problems people care about

Sure, people seek to save the world, but it’s problems on our doorstep that relegate the world’s problems to second billing. When asked about their loyalty, Mr. Ford’s constituents said: “He had an interest in my problem and tried to help me.”

3. Show up

He had an important title and lots of staff, but when he got a call from a constituent, Mr. Ford rang the doorbell. Those who plan to vote for him in his re-election bid maintain: “I needed a solution and he came to my house to discuss it with me.”

4. Have a clear message

Without more evidence, devotees believe he’s great because Mr. Ford says he’s wonderful and does his job well: “I don’t want to toot my own horn here but I’m the best mayor this city has ever had.” (from NewsTalk 1010, November 3, 2013).

The Bad

5. Pay attention

When Toronto City Council held a vote on honoring Canada’s Olympic athletes and the late Nelson Mandela there was only one vote against – Rob Ford. Upon noticing he was on the wrong side of no-brainer issues, he requested a revote to rectify what he claimed was a mistake. Consensus appears to be he voted ‘no’ because he wasn’t paying attention. People have compassion so long as we’re trying our best. Ford’s theory is that if experts urge you to get fit, eat better, pay attention, and be honourable, he’ll purse his lips, curl his tongue, expel a burst of air, and go ‘pthut.

6. Strive for a goal and then share successes and failures

We know 90% of New Year’s Resolutions are broken before January ends, but we make them anyway. We cheer for milestones along the way, and, most important, we tolerate slippage if we believe the person is striving to achieve the goal. We forgive failure if there’s a perception of effort.

The Truly Ugly

7. Be consistent

Toronto still functions despite the gong show at City Hall, but each exhausting eruption of bad behaviour and expiatory explanation drains its energy. The ups and downs keep everyone off balance.

8. Keep expectations reasonable

Communicate boundaries as well as openness, because people react badly when their expectations are disappointed.

9. Apologize as soon as you’re sincere

If Decker apologized to me so insincerely, one of us would sleep in the guest room. No one except die-hards in Ford Nation believes Mr. Ford’s delayed, vague and hollow apologies. Sincerity matters as much as the words.

10.  Hone good judgment

The questionable company he keeps can’t be justified with noble theory such as, ‘I don’t throw my friends under the bus.’ What’s being judged is that those people are his friends in the first place.

 

RIP Mr. Ford

Does regret deserve another chance?

What is it about regret?
Regret has quite the reputation. Dictionaries shove regret in with remorse, apology and disappointment. For years I accepted this connotation and have been regret avoidant, determined to live without regrets. Lately, I reconsidered my regret aversion.

How many flavours does regret come in?
duhEven when I meant no harm I’ve said stupid and done dumb. I didn’t always realize it right away. It sometimes took me years to understand – slap forehead with palm. And then I’d regret the stupid and dumb stuff and vow to be better.

How did regret get marinated in one negative sauce when regret grows in varied soil? In regret’s favour, it motivates reassessment, curiosity and determination.

At least two types of regrets are teachers.

The ‘what if’ regret poses questions without answers
What if X had happened instead of Y? What if I’d stayed at my great, secure job with opportunities for promotion instead of risking a career change? It sure makes me aware of my privilege in having life choices.

imdb.com‘What if’ regret is often imposed without choice. Helen, the protagonist in Sliding Doors lived two time lines. In the original the train door shut in her face. She got the next train home and her life unfolded. Then, the scene replayed. Helen yanked open the train door, got home to find her partner’s infidelity and her life shattered. Her two parallel lives continued their different trajectories until her futures converged.

Would I wind up in the same place whatever I decide?
It’s comforting to believe such convergence happens. Convergence isn’t my experience. My present life depended on specific decisions. At each ‘what if’ bifurcation point my decision meant irrevocable life changes.

That’s the blessing buried in the ‘what if’ regret. No matter which path to where I end, I’d like to believe I’d have adapted.

‘How could’ regret looks inward to prevent repeating mistakes
How could I have been so [fill in the blank]. Helen #2, who caught the train, couldn’t believe she’d been so [stupid, blind, in love, misled – pick a failing] to miss the signs her partner was unfaithful. Helen #2 adapted to her changed circumstances. Helen #1, who missed the train, didn’t change anything and her infantile cheating partner held her back.

The blessing in the ‘how could’ lesson is the growth opportunity.

Do regrets deserve rehabilitation?
Although I began on a challenging quest to live without regret, I now ‘regret’ that.

photo from CD available on amazon.ca

photo from CD available on amazon.ca

What would it be like to live without regrets? Well, I’d lose valuable lessons. Making mistakes, hurting others, and disappointing myself is inevitable. Regret is born in understanding rather than being oblivious. So, like the lovely Edith Piaf, I regret nothing.

Regret offers the chance to fix hurt feelings or mistakes
My late mother and I regretted our relationship wasn’t closer. A lot of issues we worked out. In the seven years since she died our relationship keeps improving. She’s been my silent partner, and I’ve written some of our conflicts out of existence in my (still) unpublished novel.

My conclusion: it’s never  too late to fix a relationship or hurt feeling. The other person will deal with his or her stuff, and if there’s anything I regret, it motivates me to work on mine.

What regrets are you holding on to that could be turned into teachers?

How did national elections descend into a reality TV show?

If cancer reinforced any lesson, it’s that fear is paralyzing. This troubled world needs leaders, not fear-mongers. I expect shenanigans from the Kardashians. None of their clan expects to emerge as elected leader of a democratic nation. Maybe democracy is now courtesy of “reality TV” producers Jeff Probst, Ryan Seacrest and Simon Cowell. Why else would election candidates resemble contestants on Survivor and Big Brother?

I envision a panel of Jeff, Ryan and Simon, seated behind desks, as a candidate enters the audition room and pivots to face the judges.

Jeff opens. “Tell us what’s unique about you that we should pick you to compete in an election.”

The candidate: “Well, Jeff, I’m average, middle class, very wealthy and know every important person on the planet. So I completely understand the challenges ordinary people face in their little lives. I’m committed to helping them overcome those challenges.”

Ryan says to the camera: “Beautiful answer, love it.” He turns to the candidate. “Tell us what kind of experience qualifies you as a contestant – er, I mean, candidate, in our game, uh, I mean our election?”

The candidate: “Great question, Ryan. I’m a true player; competitive, argumentative, no pushover, can’t be persuaded to change my mind, don’t see other’s perspectives, and I win at all costs. I don’t let others finish a sentence. People will root for me because I’m ruthless and good-looking. You should select people like me. No one would watch or vote for unattractive people.”

Simon leans far back: “So, if you see people arguing, I take it you’d look for strategic ways to make their situations worse and your situation better.”

The candidate: “Of course I would.”

Hmm, this candidate must have been selected to appear in the election debates.

Here’s my message to candidates: Jeff, Ryan, and Simon aren’t your judges, voters or pollsters. Ditch the divisive fear, and expensive promises no one expects you to keep. Show leadership to solve the planet’s many problems instead.

Get over it or get past it (or both)?

No! I didn’t get over it already. What’s more realistic is I’ve gotten past it. Trauma is like flowers that bloom, go dormant, and bloom again. Get over it implies the impact ended. Get past it implies overcoming the impact. Overcome and end have different finish lines. I’ll get over the cancer experience once there’s a cure.

Here’s evidence I’m past it:

  • Less intense panic attacks
  • Fewer decisions I’m too paralyzed to make
  • No need to explain that quadruple mastectomies dictate my wardrobe choices.
  • Haircuts are haircuts, not flashbacks about being bald.

What’s the ‘it’ I’m past?

The radiologist, who I’d never met, entered the room, stared at the screen, and declared with certainty the abnormalities on my breast ultrasound were benign. The ultrasound technician looked shocked but didn’t contradict him. The radiologist missed the cancer. When my doctor did follow up, one year late, I was four months from dead of advanced breast cancer. Treatment left me exhausted, underweight, brain-fried, and angry the cancer wasn’t diagnosed before it required heavy artillery.

They made mistakes where they’re supposed to be experts. But, most decisions rely on imperfect information; even experts can’t know every variable. My diagnosis was in time, if not timely.

I’m grateful. I’m past it.

Is peace a reward for patience?

German Israel lapel pin

Photo from thegalileeexperience.com/

Is peace imaginable even though it isn’t yet within reach? Is there a vision of what the other side of our current age of turbulence might look like?

The entwined German and Israeli flag lapel pin surprised me. Bigger shock; the lapel pin was on a German army officer’s uniform. I accosted the officer in our hotel lobby. Smiling, the officer explained.

“Israeli and German troops are colleagues. Training in Israel was the highlight of my career.”

Imagine. 70+ years ago Germany exterminated Jews and now they train together. Later, I hiked on the red soil of East Africa’s beautiful, peaceful Rift Valley. Imagine. 40+ years ago Idi Amin Dada took power and slaughtered Ugandans. 20+ years ago Rwanda was riven with genocide. Tourists on safari now watch big game roam where people once ravaged the land and each other. My mind whirled at the passing time and effort that healed three massacres with three reconciliations.

Peace isn’t evenly distributed and there’s never a guarantee of permanent peace. Peace is too big a miracle to expect in a world of escalating violence. Transforming societies post-genocide is not an overnight miracle. It’s many people working hard and forgiving the unforgettable.

Here’s my belief – no, more accurate to call it a prayer – as expiring 2014 bequeaths expanding war zones to incoming 2015:

History is dynamic; the future undetermined. People get exhausted with war, money for munitions dries up, governments change, dictatorships collapse, policy catches up with new realities, evil runs its course, and peace gets a chance. Unknowables include how long it may take and whether it’s minimal peace, or social justice with a real future.

At a personal level, would the cancer treatment that saved my life have been available if I lived in a war torn country? Probably not when resources are disproportionately budgeted to military over healthy people and environments, and education. Headlines in the global news include child soldiers, abducted girls, death from curable diseases, poverty, food insecurity, and many barriers to health and education. World-wide hatred, fear, distrust, and anti-Semitism abound.

And, in these amazing months of travel, I’ve seen resilient peoples rebound and offer a vision of what peace brings. Peace in East Africa has meant healthier children, opportunities for universal education, and awareness of environmental needs.

Since no war lasts forever, what sustainable vision of peace can we work for, each in our own way?

red soil

Queen Elizabeth National Park’s red earth, Uganda

Healthy Child Uganda

Healthy Child Uganda is an NGO helping mothers help families thrive.

Girls go to school, women in cities attend university and achieve high positions at work.

HCU clinic

Dr. Ida reviews the Impressive child immunization rates with Decker at a Healthy Child Uganda District Clinic.

Dr. Ida shows Decker the data

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s Valentine’s Day simple rules for love and loyalty

photo credit: City of Toronto website

photo credit: City of Toronto website

I nominate Toronto Rob Ford as Valentine guru of the year.

No, seriously, he could teach Cupid. Buffoonery aside – and that’s a huge aside – his ability to keep voters willing to vote for him defies credibility. It’s what I find most astonishing – his self-imposed implosion and dizzying public unraveling hasn’t deterred his Ford Nation from believing in him. That means he has something to teach.

Had Mr. Ford behaved and been competent, no one outside Toronto would know his name. Now he’s stratospheric famous, enjoying status as a late night joke and top ten list attraction. How does he foster such devotion? Are other politicians paying attention? 

Clearly it isn’t his charisma and charm attracting such loyal and loving constituents. Then what, I ask, accounts for it? 

Rob Ford’s simple rules for finding and fostering love and faithfulness.

What I uncovered from Mr. Ford’s musing are life rules to follow for conflict management and living joyously. Surprise – it turns out Mr. Ford’s good, bad and ugly behavior all conceal useful lessons. It’s a shame Mr. Ford subverted these to the Dark Side:

The Good

1. Respond to people, such as return phone calls 

When his loyal fans and constituents explain clinging to his failed leadership, their refrain goes: “He called me back.”

2. Get involved in small problems people care about

Sure, people seek to save the world, but it’s problems on our doorstep that relegate the world’s problems to second billing. When asked about their loyalty, Mr. Ford’s constituents said: “He had an interest in my problem and tried to help me.”

3. Show up

He had an important title and lots of staff, but when he got a call from a constituent, Mr. Ford rang the doorbell. Those who plan to vote for him in his re-election bid maintain: “I needed a solution and he came to my house to discuss it with me.”

4. Have a clear message

Without more evidence, devotees believe he’s great because Mr. Ford says he’s wonderful and does his job well: “I don’t want to toot my own horn here but I’m the best mayor this city has ever had.” (from NewsTalk 1010, November 3, 2013).

The Bad

5. Pay attention

When Toronto City Council held a vote on honoring Canada’s Olympic athletes and the late Nelson Mandela there was only one vote against – Rob Ford. Upon noticing he was on the wrong side of no-brainer issues, he requested a revote to rectify what he claimed was a mistake. Consensus appears to be he voted ‘no’ because he wasn’t paying attention. People have compassion so long as we’re trying our best. Ford’s theory is that if experts urge you to get fit, eat better, pay attention, and be honourable, he’ll purse his lips, curl his tongue, expel a burst of air, and go ‘pthut.

6. Strive for a goal and then share successes and failures

We know 90% of New Year’s Resolutions are broken before January ends, but we make them anyway. We cheer for milestones along the way, and, most important, we tolerate slippage if we believe the person is striving to achieve the goal. We forgive failure if there’s a perception of effort.

The Truly Ugly

7. Be consistent

Toronto still functions despite the gong show at City Hall, but each exhausting eruption of bad behaviour and expiatory explanation drains its energy. The ups and downs keep everyone off balance.

8. Keep expectations reasonable

Communicate boundaries as well as openness, because people react badly when their expectations are disappointed.

9. Apologize as soon as you’re sincere

If Decker apologized to me so insincerely, one of us would sleep in the guest room. No one except die-hards in Ford Nation believes Mr. Ford’s delayed, vague and hollow apologies. Sincerity matters as much as the words.

10.  Hone good judgment

The questionable company he keeps can’t be justified with noble theory such as, ‘I don’t throw my friends under the bus.’ What’s being judged is that those people are his friends in the first place.

 I want my oncology team to adhere to these rules and earn my undying (especially the not dying part of ‘undying’) appreciation. And, this Valentine’s Day, these rules apply to Decker and me too. 

Bogart’s character Rick in Casablanca: is he an optimist or pessimist?

Photo Wikimedia Commons, Humphrey Bogart as Rick

Photo Wikimedia Commons, Humphrey Bogart as Rick

Rick says to Ilsa: I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world[1]

Then, Rick gets noble and becomes a bean that matters on a hill of beans. He leaves Isla and strides into the fog to fix the craziness in his little corner of the world. Cynical Rick? A hero? What the …? 

Today, Bogie leans against my kitchen wall; his eyes smolder in the shadow of his fedora; he snarls at me, “Sweetheart, if you can’t do much about how crazy the big world is, pick some little problem nearby.”

“Bogie,” I say, “That’s not nobility, that’s optimism.”

Pick a hill of beans

Like most people, I want a life that matters. Having come so close to dead, my quest to live that life has some urgency. Quick! Where’s the accelerated search engine?

Okay, it’s not my destiny to win the peace prize or cure cancer. But, what if Rick was right at Casablanca’s conclusion, when he focused on one little local problem with one small impact? The movie ends before we learn its bigger consequences, but it implies he made a difference. Or is that the optimist’s view? Rick changed his pessimistic outlook and affected – the audience is audacious with hope – the outcome.

Optimistic / pessimistic ambidexterity

What next? Chemotherapy imploded my natural optimism into a pessimism so deep I couldn’t recognize positive action if it stroked my face. I entered one Friday treatment believing the best would prevail. Sunday exhaled a swirling pit of panic and despair; a chemo-induced brain makeover in thirty hours that clung three years.

The upside is my brain now operates as ambidextrous, functioning in optimism and pessimism with equal dexterity. To paraphrase Sophie Tucker, I’ve been optimistic and I’ve been pessimistic. Optimistic is better.

Risk management is a conflict competency

Guess I should thank chemotherapy for the opportunity to live as a pessimist so I can weigh both options and opt for optimism.

Optimism is more than hope, or what I call the twin tyrannies of positive thinking and good attitude. It’s also risk management, which is a conflict competency. Recent research suggests that pessimism is an advantage because optimists depend on happy endings. Is this a fair categorization of optimism? Not all optimists treat lottery tickets as a retirement plan, just like all pessimists aren’t good savers for retirement. I seek to mitigate risk whichever outlook I use. Where optimism has it over pessimism is belief in my ability to make a positive difference in outcome. I’m more motivated when my outlook is that my actions might matter. So go ahead, buy the lottery ticket AND save for retirement. Integrate the inner optimist and pessimist.

Adapting to change is a conflict competency

And that’s a conflict competency; integrating the two outlooks is more adaptive than their competing for mental bandwidth. I had an example in conversation with my bio-daughter Beth.

“It scares and saddens me,” Beth said, “that my generation is the last able to do whatever we want. My son won’t enjoy that freedom.”

Pessimism reality check. History and experience suggest that Beth’s correct, everything we enjoy won’t continue. Optimism alert. Other enjoyments await.

Optimism doesn’t relieve me of the responsibility to leave my grandson a better world but it’s relief from pessimism’s paralyzing fear and sadness.

What’s next? Well, which problem should I prioritize for 2014: climate change, social upheaval, or 2013’s leftover personal turmoil?

Bogie tips his fedora, glides through my kitchen wall, and is gone.

Wonderful words from optimists: (or, words from wonderful optimists)

“Language is very powerful. Language does not just describe reality. Language creates the reality it describes.” ― Desmond Tutu

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” ― Anne Frank

“Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward.” ― Nelson Mandela

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” Chinese Proverb


[1]Casablanca is a 1942 film about an American expatriate owner of an upscale club and gambling den in the Moroccan city of Casablanca who meets a former lover, with unforeseen complications. Directed by Michael Curtiz. Written by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch, based on the play Everybody Comes to Rick’s by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison.” http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Casablanca_(film)

Changing piece of mind to peace of mind

Oh, I was naive to believe my life’s path led straight to graduation and some career. In a blind turn I should’ve but didn’t see coming, the path suddenly dropped off a cliff. Desperate, I clung to roots and branches, terrified of bashing my brains out. I crash-landed, survived, yet couldn’t imagine salvaging a meaningful future. 25-years later that particular cliffhanger had an unexpected happending.

Change seems to breed retrospection and paradox. My past is as big a surprise as any future. I’m in wonderment that I got from then to now. I’ve craved and feared change. Sometimes what I craved transformed into what I feared or what I feared became what I craved. Some big changes left small impacts; some small changes left huge impacts.

I’ve never yelled: “Bring more change. It’s so restful here in the rubble of what used to be.” Change steamrolled ahead anyway. I hung on tight, trying to anticipate impacts, manage risks, adapt as needed, pray it ends well. After profound change came the fun of post change syndrome (PCS), getting used to whatever’s new. I credit four qualities with surviving life’s cliffs I’ve tumbled down – Resilience, Mindset, Optimism and Discipline. I posted about Resilience. It’s Mindset’s turn.

Most of my life I craved courage to write. Writing is hard. I could fail, face rejection and ridicule. My school’s vice-principal selected me to enter a writing contest (“you’re good enough”, he’d said). I never completed the entry form; afraid I’d disappoint him and he’d judge me

Mindset book cover

Now I take the risk of writing online about – of all things – breastlessness. Writing’s still hard. I fail, face rejection and ridicule. Somewhere craving overcame fear and writing happened. Carol Dweck’s research on Mindset [i] didn’t change my life. It did pinpoint what in my life changed. My fixed mindset morphed into an open mindset. Sure, I want to write better. When I fail I learn what I have to do next time.

Dr. Dweck explains that small change can change minds: “mindsets are fostered by a focus on theperson (e.g.,talent or ability) as opposed to a focus on the process (e.g., effort, learning)”.

“Wow, that’s a really good score. You must be smart at this.”
“Wow, that’s a really good score. You must have worked really hard.”
That’s all we did, but the results were dramatic… Intelligence praise, compared to effort (or “process”) praise, put children into a fixed mindset. Instead of giving them confidence, it made them fragile…[ii]
 

In my conflict management practice I draw attention to growth mindsets, assuming even exchanging vowels from piece to peace can foster change.

… the brain was a dynamic, malleable organ and that every time they learned something new their brain formed new connections. … These interventions were relatively modest, but had rather immediate and striking effects.[iii].

Having my breasts amputated (twice) wasn’t entertaining. Was cancer a huge or small change with small or huge impacts, or maybe huge change with huge impacts? I’ll be optimistic and suggest small change with small impacts. Even small change matters but impacts vary with mindsets.

Since August, it feels like I dropped off the path into The Matrix, a simulated reality where my next crisis emerges from my last post.

Chronology of coincidences: 

  • August 22, 2013, I blogged resilience, mindset, optimism and discipline got me through cancer and chemo.
  • September 18, the double mastectomy needed a do-over.
  • September 30, the post about resilience ended: “Now, I’m thinking about Mindset. I’m hoping for no adverse opportunities to put it into practice between this post and the next.”
  • October 13, brain MRI showed an unidentifiable spot. I named it Macbeth[iv]. The neurologist has decreed it benign. Whew.

Yikes, maybe I shouldn’t have said anything about optimism, my next topic.

Resilience helps after a quadruple mastectomy (yup – 4 of ’em)

Oops, I did it again. As in two original breasts, four total mastectomies. Think of that when ordering a double double coffee at Tim’s. After the shock of the first two mastectomies, undergoing another two was – well – a shock. I mean, who has four mastectomies?

Paul comic

“Decker,” I negotiated with my partner, “since you have two nipples to my none, how about a nipple donation? Then you’ll have either a left or right, your choice, and I can have one transplanted to the middle.” He declined.

At least this double mastectomy, on 18 September, was preventative, not because cancer returned. Whew.

remaining breast tissue crop

The July chest ultrasound revealed the bulges were remaining breast tissue and not pooled lymph fluid as we’d believed. Quick consensus followed. Yes, mastectomies may not improve survival. Still, it seemed unwise to leave a potential home for an aggressive cancer while my risk of recurrence is so high. I figured the worst that could happen if I repeated the double mastectomy was that my wardrobe would need adjusting. The worst that could happen if I didn’t have it repeated was too awful to accept as reasonable risk.

Dr. Kanashiro masterfully retraced the incisions she’d made the first time, flattening me further. ‘No’ is still my final answer to reconstruction.

The third and fourth mastectomies were just as miserable an experience as the first and second. Compared to the chemo blowing out my brain, when I fell deep into a non-functional state of profound sadness, repeat mastectomies were only inconvenient. 

Seriously? Have body parts amputated sequentially, endure life alterations in what I’ve dubbed Post Change Syndrome (PCS), and just bounce back? Well, yes. Although ‘bounce’ might be defined as dragging myself up a ragged mountain wall, but that’s where resilience comes in.

In 21 August’s post, I mused about the four qualities that supported my recovery after chemo beat me up:

Resilience, Mindset, Optimism and Discipline.

Once again I relied on these four qualities to recover from drastic change.

The Resilience Project defines resilience well: “In the context of exposure to significant adversity, resilience is both the capacity of individuals to navigate their way to the psychological, social, cultural, and physical resources that sustain their well-being, and their capacity individually and collectively to negotiate for these resources to be provided in culturally meaningful ways.”

I use conflict competence skills to navigate through adversity and negotiate for resources to make my body inhospitable to cancer. But which came first in my case – resilience or conflict competence? I had to trawl my memory for this because, as a professor once said: “scratch a theory, you’ll find a biography.”

Scratch my theory that conflict management is a great skill and you’ll find my biography included battling parents, a home with hostility expressed in screaming insults, leaving me insecure and prone to outbursts. I sought conflict management training to deal with my biography and wound up with a rewarding career and the skills to get through PCS. In my storyline, through negotiation training I gained conflict competence and became resilient.

Grandparents Etta and Meyer Switzer

Grandparents Etta and Meyer Switzer

But I my path to resilience was easier because of one stable person in my childhood – my grandfather.

My new theory: the influence of one stable person plus conflict competence help in adversity. I’m grateful for so many things, including my family and Resilience.

 

4 days after the Calgary flood – #YYCflood, #abflood

This weekend we were environmental refugees. It happened so fast. On my commute home across the Bow River foot bridge June 21, I marveled at the water’s height, speed and ferocity, and took a video. Twenty-four hours later the spot I’d videoed was under six feet of water.

Bow River June 20, 2013

Here’s the screenshot from 5:30 PM Thursday; happy summer solstice. I continued home to make dinner – how extraordinary that ordinariness seems now.

When something’s so ferocious as to make me marvel, I should pay attention to what that’s telling me.

The news reports all evening were dire pronouncements of mandatory evacuation orders of our surrounding neighbourhoods and early indications of devastation to come. Thursday midnight our city councillor texted, tweeted and emailed to “abandon ship” as floods endangered our streets too.

If all around me there’s risk being managed, I should pack an overnight bag to grab on the way out.

Interesting to reflect on what we threw into bags on short notice. Our computers, iPhones and iPads, then some clothes, dog food and other stuff Trail needs, and house insurance policy. No photos, sentimental treasures or souvenirs, no important papers such as passports or financial documents. Just basics to get through the night even though we had no idea how long the emergency would last. We locked the doors, and taped a giant X to our door so emergency crews would know we’d evacuated (and shrugged off that it said the same to looters). I was ok leaving, knowing our possessions could be destroyed. It’s just stuff, right? Such rationalization.

It’s helpful to have ID and money, just in case i should have to prove my identity or pay for a hotel room,

So, after 1 AM Thursday, we and two other neighbours and dogs, imposed ourselves on the kind family in a dry house on the hill. All communities with names like Ridge, Hill and Heights look very attractive now. We fell into Mark and Giovanni’s guest rooms, almost comatose with exhaustion and stress. Imagine Roman, age 8, and Ani’s, age 6, surprise to wake up with 4 people and 2 dogs extra at breakfast. They were beyond gracious and wonderful and the first of many such experiences over the next four days. Patty Nowlin, a co-owner of our superb local Sunnyside Natural Market, closed, flooded, and with no power, let me shop for essentials while she skillfully organized food boxes to donate to streets around us. Meanwhile, a market clerk hand wrote a list of what I took, trusting I’d come back to pay for it when the store reopened. And remarkably, looting was minimal if at all.

Strangers helped out with no thought for their own convenience.

The rivers continued to rise and became tourist attractions despite official pleas to stay away. We became a city of gawkers, driving vast distances to – well, to gawk. One man stood outside his flooded home and yelled at gawkers taking photos to either come down from the hill and help or go home. For the most part, people came in droves to help. That was the next amazing sight to behold; Saturday, the sun and volunteers in the thousands appeared to lift the gloom. Sunday repeated and then Monday the same. With so many offices ordered closed, people had free days to help out. They just turned up to volunteer – in the thousands.

I also understand wanting to see it first hand in ‘real time’ because this event should be a game changer for the city.

Poppy Plaza: Calgary freelance photographer Chantelle Kolesnik.

Poppy Plaza: Calgary freelance photographer Chantelle Kolesnik.

It isn’t easy to visualize the narrow blue Bow River as an angry brown lake, rushing with determination to some point past our horizon. The inscriptions on Poppy Plaza, normally towering over the riverside path, were almost obliterated. The waves crashed against Poppy Plaza’s steps that sit about 20′ above the normal river bed. Poppy Plaza is on high ground at our corner, where Memorial Drive parallels Bow River, thus sparing our street. It may not be an attractive monument but I’m grateful it was big, blocky, and there.

Parts of downtown still aren’t open for business, four days after the river went to bed though it is still, in Olympic spirit, “Faster, Higher, Stronger”. Short-term costs are unpredictable and long-term consequences are unforeseeable.

Get comfortable with ambiguity.

image004 image003Calgary downtown was a dangerous mess and the famous Calgary Stampede became an uncertainty. Last year was its centenary of unbroken yearly events and this year – who knows. Calgary’s known for its spirit and might find a way to remove the broken infrastructure that collapsed onto its famed festival grounds. There’s less than two weeks until the fair grounds are due to open and the horse barns, livestock pens, agricultural buildings, famed Saddle Dome (in my opinion the only iconic building in Calgary), might as well be rafts. They’re submerged to the door knobs with a layer of sludge under the water. Friday the relentless rain added to the woes. But, they say the Hell or High Water Stampede will go and they might pull it off.

If anyone can put on a rocking Stampede #101 a mere 12 days after tragedy, it’ll be this city.

There’s a certain liberation in not knowing where the water would go and being impotent to do anything about it anyway. Our local streets were impassable but everywhere beyond the flood plain was as usual. There were two cities; one was under water, and one was completely unaffected, as if it were happening on the other side of planet Earth.

On Friday we moved from our rescuer’s welcoming home to our friends the Reynolds’. Six of us elegantly dined, like nothing in the city was amiss, in an upscale restaurant – fiddling while Rome burns. We felt displaced yet not so disrupted. How ordinary in an extraordinary time.

Carpe diem – live the day, eat well and laugh because the river doesn’t care.

Meanwhile, some of our friends were in nail biting races against a combination of sewer water from pipes that couldn’t cope with the surge and cold river swells raging at four times normal speed, throwing entire trees downstream. It’s possible friends will be displaced, possessionless, for months; many, many months. It puts my laissez-faire attitude of “can’t change anything so might as well dance” in perspective. I had the wonderful Reynolds family’s lovely home to escape into and resources to cope with whatever happened next. Lots of people have neither – lots, and lots and lots of people.

Pets needs their people, people need people too.

When we accepted Trail into our home, it became our ethical responsibility to keep him safe. And he’s family. We asked the kind people who took us in if we could bring Trail. I don’t know what we’d have done had they said no. Now we read of the many pets left behind, or even stolen in the confusion.

John & Trail enjoy the flood 2013

We had the opposite problem. Trail had the time of his life; everyone fussed over him at both our temporary billets. The Reynolds family is now Trail crazed, even wonderful Kathy who’s allergic to dogs. John Reynolds came home from work and lay down on the floor beside Trail before saying hello to us. Kathy, John and their fabulous daughters Lauren and Julia took Trail walking while we loaded the car for home.  As we called Trail to leave, he walked over to the porch and lay down at their feet to watch us go. He loves us, he really does, but we’re apparently not exciting enough, or at least not as exciting as the Reynolds.

http://past.theweathernetwork.com/news/storm_watch_stories3&stormfile=Albertans_search_for_pets_lost_during_floods_24_06_2013

photo

We went home Friday morning to clear out the fridge and freezer before everything spoiled, and returned to our Reynolds refuge. Tweets flew fast. When we learned all our neighbours were home bound Saturday, electricity or no electricity, we packed the car. An official “Welcome Home” flyer at our door listed how to safely re-enter. Wow, this is a city with a great emergency plan.

Our house was dry at 9:00 PM Saturday. No gas smell, no river or sewer water in the basement and no power. And then, at 10:40 PM, power was suddenly wonderfully restored. All the lights we hadn’t turned off because we didn’t know they were on just sparked and lit up like beacons guiding us home. A spontaneous street party erupted as neighbours rushed to porches to cheer the lights coming on with a chorus of John Lennon’s Power to the People Right On.

We slept at home  – safe, dry and beyond grateful for everything that did and didn’t happen.

The budget for clean up is in the billions of dollars and the total damage hasn’t been assessed yet because the rivers are still high, rainstorms are still forecast and buildings are still sloshing with water in their basements.

2013-06-24 09.54.09

The City of Calgary and its impressive Mayor Nenshi had a disaster emergency plan that worked. Within hours of the peak water falling, trucks, equipment and people were on the job. Monday I walked to my Parks Canada dream job to get my computer and mobile. I passed this line up of trucks awaiting deployment around the city. As I worked from home, a stream of uniformed people came by as part of the door-to-door check-in, assessing needs and offering information. The other hordes, aside from the efficient emergency workers and caring volunteers, are the opportunistic mosquitoes thriving everywhere.

Sometimes, just sometimes, the politicking, the squabbles, the pettiness and the politics of fear just don’t matter and people show off their kinship to the angels. This weekend was one of those times for many of us in Calgary. As a conflict manager and as a human being who received help when in need, it warms my heart to see the impacts on our collective humanity from this collaboration at all levels.

May it continue in this spirit.