Competency Discrimination–My Fear of Your Competency

Why does competency threaten so many?

A friend, a very special friend, and I were talking about personnel actions in places we worship, teach, and work–in our lives generally. It seems so often what is preached, spoken in workshops, staff development and other “culture” building activities is not what results in the everyday lives of the people engaged.

A “culture” of team building, developing the skills of people, helping people to grow, listening to creative ideas and encouraging ideas for improvement are those that are talked about. Simulations and exercises are used to help people understand and practice the desired results.

But then when the “rubber meets the road” and the simulations and exercises are over, it seems so often these happenings are switched off, never to hit the light of day in the workplace or the everyday life of the institution. A switch goes on and the “I’m in charge” buttons come out of the pocket, off the shelf, or new shiny ones emerge.

It becomes clear that all of the culture building was just an exercise; people could play the games but were not ready to live them. A workplace culture of teams, of shared vision, of looking for the gifts people have, of showing gratitude for successful interactions and actions, of sharing ideas and helping everyone to improve was just a simulation. It was just an exercise. But it looked good to the consultants and the leaders with the vision. And it may even have felt good for a few days.

But I can tell you from years of experience as a participant, as a leader, as a consultant, and as a developer of these workshops, unless everyone comes out with a different kind of “I’m in charge” button, status quo has been successfully maintained. The old “I’m in charge” buttons always seem to be at the ready.

The button required, I believe,  is “I’m in charge of responsibility with my colleagues rather than power over” to create and maintain an environment where all look for the gifts of others, where all show gratitude for the gifts of others, and all help to develop the gifts of all, and all are rewarded for such behavior.

It’s what I call a Christmas Tree Place. The gifts just keep showing up. The steps are lighter. The smiles are brighter and more prevalent. Problems, issues, and concerns are shared. Creative ideas and ways to improve are encouraged and celebrated.

And one last thought. A discrimination rarely acknowledge anywhere cannot exist. It is the discrimination against competency. When competency no longer threatens anyone, discrimination against competency cannot live. It will be replaced by the celebration of the gifts, hard work, and energy that created success and competency wherever they are found.

P.S.  My friend taught me the language about the gifts. Pretty wise, huh? And then I read in my Bible this morning, “Wise choices will watch over you.”  I’ve had quite a day already, and it’s not even noon.


My Field of Dreams

Watching a WNBA basketball game the other day brought back all kinds of memories. What fun it would have been when I was playing basketball in my high school and college days to have known that there was a career possible in the sport that I loved so much. And of course, my mind wander back to those early days in that small high school gymnasium in the basement of my high school in Lansing, Iowa.

My first games were played with the floor divided into three parts. Two players played guard in the back third, two played running center in the middle third, and two played forward in the front third. While I was still in high school, the rules changed and the court was divided into two parts. Three played guard in the back court, and three played forward in the front court. I tried to play with the boys sometimes because I loved having the whole court for play. And I loved being able to dribble on the whole court. We could only take one dribble. It was a challenge to see how far you could make that one dribble take you. But we played our one-dribble-two-court game with passion. We felt lucky in Iowa because not many states had girls basketball at all.

I loved basketball; I still do. I love to watch my granddaughters play. I loved playing enough to sneak out of the house for school the morning I woke up with a rash on my face and, of course, in other areas of my body. I knew something was amiss, but we had a game to play that Tuesday night, and I wasn’t going to miss it. Of course, I got no further than the first teacher I met at school, my coach. He saw me and recognized that I had measles. I really didn’t feel ill, but I obviously was sent home. My mother was not happy. I think probably she was more embarrassed because the teachers might think she sent me to school with the measles. She was pretty strict about right and wrong. Going to school with measles was wrong, but sneaking out was like lying. That was really bad.

The girls played the first game of the evening and the boys games followed. We were always pleased when we could draw the crowd to our game. We had tournaments just like the boys. Boys and girls in our school had the same coach. Eddie Albertson was a special guy. He was not only my coach; he was a mentor, my math teacher who gave me advanced math books for the summer because we didn’t have the classes in our small high school, and he was my friend. We played “HORSE” after we finished practice. He believed in me; he never “let” me win. When I did, it was pure accomplishment. He helped me to understand my athletic and academic gifts. He pushed me to find my own “yellow brick road.”

So many memories. Harpers Ferry had the biggest pot-belly stove I have ever seen to heat their barn-like gym. It was nice and warm within fifteen or twenty feet of the stove. The rest of the gym was freezing as was the classroom where we changed our clothes. Wow. I can still feel that cold. Sometimes we would stop on our way home after games out of town to have a snack. Mother always managed to have a little change for me. We never ate out so these little restaurant visits were pretty special. Waterville had sisters who were amazing shooters; Gronna sisters, I think. I envied them because they had a basket on the side of their barn and they practiced all summer. I didn’t have a barn nor could I afford a basket or a basketball.

The coach helped me buy a pair of leather basketball shoes; it was such an amazing luxury. Do you know how proud a little girl can be of a pair of leather basketball shoes? We had a little shower in our locker room; some places we went did not. I earned letters all four years in basketball and kittenball (softball). Those letters meant I earned a great deal of respect from my peers, but more importantly, I knew I had been given great physical and mental gifts. In my small town, those gifts often languished into submission to mediocrity. As each year has passed, I realize how fortunate I was to have Eddie Albertson as my coach and to work for the Superintended who had a sign in his office that read: There’s always room at the top.

Those were the days of three-court basketball, short basketball pants, cold gyms, cold showers, getting to the game with very cold hands and feet after walking to the game and wondering if they would ever warm up. They were times of listening to the cheers, seeing the pride on your parents’ faces, getting the accolades of the teachers the next day, being elected captain of the team, and loving the coach. They were times of walking into a market and having the owner say, “Great game, Sylvia,” when normally they didn’t know I existed. And they were times when I had to walk home after practice and sometimes it was pretty scary. I could choose to walk through a pasture where there was a bull, or I could walk the road past the city dump. But my dad always told me I could run faster than anything chasing me.

They were times of expectation and happiness. I was very good at this game I loved. I learned there how to excel. I learned how to outthink my opponent. I learned the value of every minute; a game has only so many minutes. The importance of one minute on the outcome of the next, taught me life lessons. I would try to live my life like I played basketball. Give it my all, play fair, solve the problems at hand, listen to advice from those who cared about me, discard the criticism of those who envied or were trying to hurt me, play with passion, and learn from each experience. I leaned that I  had been given by my Creator everything that I needed to play the game. Yes, I had been given gifts, but I knew that gifts unopened were of no value. They needed to be used, expanded, shared, and utilized to serve others.

Basketball was a field of dreams whether it was three or two courts. I was quick and very fast; I can only imagine the fun I would have had playing the whole court. But believe me, I play full court in all that I do at 92.


When I Was a Little Girl…

I walked to school in snow that was occasionally quite deep. When I got to school my feet were cold, my mittens were wet, and my hands were very cold. The schoolhouse was nice and warm, heated by the pot-bellied stove that the teacher had started a fire in much earlier. I don’t know what time the teacher had to get there.

Now, when I was your age or when I was a little girl are statements that can produce the closing of the ear passages. The words can bring a sigh or at least non-verbal behavior that indicates disinterest. Or it might even bring the statement, “Well, would you like to go back to those horse-and-buggy days?”

No, I don’t want to go back to freezing hands and feet. And I don’t want my grandchildren to have to walk in deep snow to school, or run behind a horse-drawn bus to keep warm, or sit on the cold wood seat with a bag of salt or a hot brick to moderate the cold just a wee bit.

However, I wouldn’t mind going back to some other things I learned.

I appreciated the heat because I knew the cold. I appreciated the snow and the warm summer days because I knew both. I appreciated the teacher who went early to light the fires for her kids; I never heard her say it wasn’t in her contract or that her day started fifteen minutes before the kids arrived. I never heard one of my teachers say she had to go home when I wanted to stay and read a book; she knew I didn’t have books at home. She would just put more wood in the stove.

I learned character from my family and from the great stories with a message in my readers. I wasn’t separated from the concepts of our Founders that have made a great nation because of the “establishment clause.”  I read about our history as it really happened. I learned about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. They were there to guarantee the freedoms that people fought and died for. It was presented as the lasting document that it must remain if we are to survive as a republic. No one suggested modernization to “fit the culture and the times.”  I learned from the writings of the Founders that they sought Divine Guidance in their work.

Yes, I learned to appreciate, to be grateful for the opportunities, to love my country and understand what has made it great. And I didn’t expect anyone to shovel a path in the snow to make my trek easier. In the process of it all, I learned to serve, to shovel paths that make it easier for those who follow.


Food Stamps and Food for Thought

fThe young surfer who is unemployed and declares that he is happy with his life style and his food stamps is a well-known story. It has been on the news and his interviews are prominent. He slides his food stamp card and picks up his lobster or sushi or whatever other delicacy he wishes, and he says he feels perfectly OK about it all–unemployment though able-bodied and surfing, hanging out without any thought of becoming employed, perfectly comfortable receiving food stamps, and generally happy about his existence. California is a perfect place to do it. There seems to be no thought about what food stamps mean to those who need them. They are free and available for the asking when he says he does not have a paycheck.

Stories abound about misuse and fraud. Students have parties and supply food for events; there seems to be no limit on what they are to be used for. People turn them in for money at a discount with not so scrupulous stores. Name any kind of scheme and it seems it has been tried with food stamps. The astronomical rise in the last four years in the numbers of people who get food stamps and other entitlements should be a warning to us that it is more than just free stuff from the government.

It is an alarming change in attitude about ourselves. When you are happy to accept food stamps that you don’t need, you don’t want to be employed, you don’t see yourself as a contributor but a taker, and when you feel perfectly comfortable about misuse and confiscation of other’s money (their taxes), you have drifted far from the founding principles of our great nation. Serving and earning, learning and growing, giving more than you take, working so the next generation can still live in the City on the Hill are all measures of self-respect and dignity, of accomplishment, of integrity and honesty, and of courage and patriotism. Yes, patriotism. You cannot continue to thumb your nose at the things that have made us great and expect this nation to survive with its vital signs in good condition.

We may survive for a while with more and more taking free stuff that they neither need nor are they entitled to have. Soon there will be no one left to supply the free stuff. Then what? Will you go to the streets and break the windows of the food bank? Will you torch the fields of grain that supply our nation because it’s not free? Will you tell your children, if you have any, how unfair this country is that you don’t have free stuff anymore?

Or will you go to work, stop asking for food stamps you don’t deserve, stop taking disability payments when you are not disabled, and teach your children and other children about the things that make us great? This is your country, too. It may not be perfect, but it’s the best thing tried so far in history. Get out of the brambles of laziness, deceit, and fraud. Throw off the shackles that keep you from the freedoms found only in this country. Breathe the clean air of integrity and honesty; breathe the stimulating air of self-respect. Surf the clear waters of giving and serving. Taste the sweetness of earning and learning. Feel the exhilaration of self-respect and individual responsibility.