Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A New Year ritual of renewal

It is the season of both ritual and renewal. While our family is not especially observant when it comes to religion we do adhere to ritual:
-          Every Sunday we read aloud and discuss the NY Times wedding of the week

-          Each Thanksgiving Day we watch Planes, Trains and Automobiles with John Candy and Steve Martin

-          At every meal Nate and my niece Sofie try to sneak some ketchup onto whatever I am eating

-          Every December we take Nate to New York for two days of Rockefeller Center, FAO Swartz, art museums, Share Our Strength restaurants, etc.

-          Every December 28 we eat dinner at Rialto on the anniversary of our wedding reception there and every December 29 we drive to Maine for three quiet, cold days at the beach to see in the new year.

There is comfort in ritual.  But to ensure against too much comfort, one of my personal rituals on the cusp of each new year is to re-read a speech that John Gardner delivered to McKinsey and Co in Phoenix, Arizona in November of 1990.  Gardner was Secretary of Health Education and Welfare under President Lyndon Johnson, and later a co-founder of Independent Sector as well as Common Cause. He wrote several books on leadership and human potential.

Gardner’s speaks about the need to push oneself beyond the familiar, beyond conventional thinking, and to instead constantly renew.  A few favorite excepts follow below:

-          “Everyone wants to be interesting -- but the vitalizing thing is to be interested. Keep a sense of curiosity. Discover new things. Care. Risk failure. Reach out.”

-          “Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt…You have to build meaning into your life, and you build it through your commitments -- whether to your religion, to an ethical order as you conceive it, to your life's work, to loved ones, to your fellow humans. Your identity is what you've committed yourself to.”

-          “There are men and women who make the world better just by being the kind of people they are --and that too is a kind of commitment. They have the gift of kindness or courage or loyalty or integrity. It matters very little whether they're behind the wheel of a truck or running a country store or bringing up a family.”

-          “Someone defined horse sense as the good judgment horses have that prevents them from betting on people. But we have to bet on people -- and I place my bets more often on high motivation than on any other quality except judgment. There is no perfection of techniques that will substitute for the lift of spirit and heightened performance that comes from strong motivation. The world is moved by highly motivated people, by enthusiasts, by men and women who want something very much or believe very much.”

-          “We … must not suppose that the path will be easy, it's tough. Life is painful, and rain falls on the just, and Mr. Churchill was not being a pessimist when he said "I have nothing to offer, but blood, toil, tears and sweat." He had a great deal more to offer, but as a good leader he was saying it wasn't going to be easy, and he was also saying something that all great leaders say constantly -- that failure is simply a reason to strengthen resolve.”

-          “Nothing is ever finally safe. Every important battle is fought and re-fought. We need to develop a resilient, indomitable morale that enables us to face those realities and still strive with every ounce of energy to prevail. You may wonder if such a struggle -- endless and of uncertain outcome -- isn't more than humans can bear. But all of history suggests that the human spirit is well fitted to cope with just that kind of world.”

-           “I can tell you that for renewal, a tough-minded optimism is best. The future is not shaped by people who don't really believe in the future. Men and women of vitality have always been prepared to bet their futures, even their lives, on ventures of unknown outcome. If they had all looked before they leaped, we would still be crouched in caves sketching animal pictures on the wall.”

I find much in here that resonates personally and much that applies to our No Kid Hungry campaign. You will find the entire speech @ http://www.pbs.org/johngardner/sections/writings_speech_1.html  There is obvious paradox in the idea of ritual and renewal, just as there is in the fact that I can’t wait for the holiday break, but also can’t wait to get started again in 2014.  We have an amazing new year ahead of us. Thanks again for the support and generosity that got us here. My best to you and your family for the holidays.