“You are wrong, and always have been wrong”

Which is the more difficult?  To be wrong or to be wronged?

Perhaps it is to come to the knowledge that you have been wrong and in that process understand the impact upon others as a result of your being wrong.

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Hugh Jackman as Valjean

Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables has come, once again, to the big theatre screen in 2012, I took the opportunity to go watch it on Boxing Day and enjoyed myself immensely. The classic tale of a man guilty of a minor offense, Jean Valjean, relentlessly pursued by a policeman, Javert, who is convinced that Valjean is a criminal and will never be anything other than a criminal who must pay and continue to pay for his mistake, for the rest of his life. The heinous crime Valjean committed was nothing less than the stealing of a piece or two of bread shortly after the time of the initial French Revolution.

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Russell Crowe as Javert

Times have changed yet I suspect the life of a paroled criminal remains difficult. The New York Times reported in 1985 that 84% of felons in prison were repeat offenders. Is Javert wrong in his obsessive pursuit of Valjean? The price for stealing bread long since paid, the new crime, violating his parole or perhaps daring to live as anything other than a criminal serving as Javert’s motivation for a lifetime of relentless tracking. I would suggest that’s not the point.

It is not my intent to repeat or review the entire story, I do recommend the movie, the book, and hope someday to join the millions who have seen the play, preferably on broadway…maybe even act in it at the local theatre.  I do, however,  want to focus on one piece of dialogue in the screenplay that struck me particularly hard and serves as the title of this post.

On each occasion where Valjean and Javert meet following Valjean’s release on parole, Valjean struggles to hold to the high ground and refuses to be defined by the perceptions that Javert holds about him personally and one might conclude about those who share in Valjean’s unfortunate past circumstances. However I note that on these occasions he is also forced to run, leave what life he has and seek some measure of solitude elsewhere.

What passes as justice appears heavily anchored in a prejudice of supposed correctness that simply will not allow Javert to consider an alternative possibility. Like many others Javert considers himself not only reasonable but just in his opinion. I am reminded of the words of Carol Tavris who wrote, “any opinion I hold must be reasonable; if it weren’t, I wouldn’t hold it”.

At a critical point in the story the roles are reversed and it is Valjean who holds the life of Javert in his hands.  As Javert awaits his death at the hands of Valjean he once again accuses him of being a thief, a thief for life, and specifically one who has waited all his life to get revenge on Javert and take his life.

It is to this charge that Valjean replies:

“You are wrong, and always have been wrong. I’m a man no worse than any man.”

We do not do “wrong” well. Confronted by the actions of others, when actions and words are brought out into the light of examination there are occasions where we come to see that what we held to just moments ago as incontrovertibly true is in fact, false.

I do not agree with Javert’s actions when confronted by his “wrongs”, Kathryn Schultz wrote, “Certain mistakes can actually kill us, but many, many more of them just make us want to die”. 2  I would suggest that these feelings are in part from the realization that in being wrong we have negatively and needlessly impacted the lives of others.

I started with a question, which is more difficult to be wrong or to be wronged? I would suggest that the answer rests in what we do with the knowledge of either.

If we are wronged we may not have the power to change the mind of those who we perceive have wronged us but we retain the power, the agency, to choose our response. If we are are wrong, we must first be willing to be receive the new information which serves to bring our previous actions or beliefs into question. With that new experience we must then acknowledge our error and make every effort to make right what had once been wrong.

I hope I have the courage when wronged to respond with compassion toward those perceived to have wronged me while at the same time working to correct my mistakes and do no wrong in my interactions with others.

1 Mistakes were made (but not by me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson (p.42)
2 Being wrong: Adventures in the margin of error by Kathryn Schulz (p. 26)
Images are available for download at the official website of the movie http://www.lesmiserablesfilm.com
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This above all…

The setting or circumstance doesn’t really matter. When the time comes for us to venture out into the world be it that first day of kindergarten, as a teenager, a university student, an adult to work, as I said the circumstance or timing is not the key what we do while we are out wherever we are, therein rests the focus.

In the Shakespearean play Hamlet a father gives counsel to his son ranging from finances, “neither a borrower nor a lender be”, to friendship, “those friends thou hast, …grapple (hold) them to they soul with hoops of steel” to the art of conversation “give every man thy ear, but few thy voice”.  These are Polonius’ words to his son Laertes as he prepares to leave for France.

Polonius closes with “This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” 

He shares this counsel confident, and hopeful at the same time, that he has provided Laertes with the upbringing and support that would enable him to make good choices in whatever situation he finds himself. That if he is constant to his values and upbringing he will succeed and be someone that others can count upon. In our own lives, our own self-development we would do well to reflect upon what it is we believe, really value as being at the core of who we are and then ensuring as the day follows the night that our actions align with those beliefs.

bravery 2I suspect it takes an element of bravery to stand for something and follow through in a constant manner. There will be times where we slip, stumble and fall in our efforts to be true to ourselves but the key rests in recognizing that the power lies within us to succeed.  To get up each time we fall and carry on. The Japanese word for bravery is Yuki. It is literally the feeling of being brave.

Yu Bravery

chikara-strength-4

As with all Kanji it is the combination of elements, strokes, and images, that creates the meaning. In the character for brave (yu) seen to the left you have at the base the two stroke character that by itself is the Japanese word for power, chikara (seen to the right).

This is not by accident, we might consider which proceeds the other, do you draw power through being brave or does it require power to be brave? I am comfortable believing it is both.

To thine own self be true is not an invitation to be selfish, it’s not to go get what you feel you deserve, it’s an admonition to reflect upon your beliefs, establish what you will stand for and not fall to the everyday breezes we occasionally mistake for the gale force winds of change. I hope people who know me, know what I stand for and can count on me being true.  Even the children’s cartoon Mulan get’s this with the line, “though the winds may blow yet the mountain will not bow”.

Each director must make choices when bringing a play to the big screen.  Watch this version of Polonius and his counsel to his son.  It is Act1 Scene 3 (I’ve included the full text below) He drops a couple of key lines from the original.  An example “Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment” is absent nevertheless it serves as a reasonable rendition and displays the anxiety at parting that I suspect most of us feel.

LORD POLONIUS

Yet here, Laertes! aboard, aboard, for shame!
The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
And you are stay’d for. There; my blessing with thee!
And these few precepts in thy memory
See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch’d, unfledged comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,
Bear’t that the opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous chief in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell: my blessing season this in thee!

My Dad…

The other night  (Dec 10, 2012) I had the chance to spend a few minutes with my wife and son on a skype call to my mother and father on his birthday.  It was their first skype at their house, they’d been involved in a few others but still it was just so much better than a phone call. 75 years old and 75 years young.

My dad is special.  I’m hopeful that all sons and daughters are able to say the same thing but sadly I know that is not always the case.  For me, for my life, my dad has been special even if there were times I failed to recognize just how special, how wise and how instructive he was.

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Dad and Mom watching the “kids” cliff jump in Fairmont, BC

Why share this in a post? Like millions of other sons around the world my dad has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimers and things have become pretty short term in what seems like a flash.  I know he’s given much and has more to give, my reflection provides one side of a set of mirrors and his presents that eternal reflection over time.

Perhaps your dad’s have taught you similar lessons.

At the top of the list for me my dad taught me work. I don’t know for sure when the first time was he said it, I’ve always told others it was a time I was weeding the garden but I think most of those times it was my mom cracking the whip…metaphorically of course…but I hated spiders (daddy long legs specifically) crawling on me while I was doing it and I’d beg to be excused.  “I wish I didn’t have to do this…”  Any wish that avoided work was met with the phrase “Wish in one hand spit in the other and see which one fills up faster” He’d illustrate by spitting on the one hand slapping it against the other, rubbing them together and grabbing the shovel to get to work. It has stuck with me my entire life…sports, coaching, teaching, working on my own degrees, raising a family….I wish…well get to work.

From as early as I can remember my dad was a great story teller, teacher (though not university trained most of his teaching was in Sunday School/Seminary settings) and public speaker, he loved to draw the connections of outside experiences to whatever situation connecting metaphors wherever he might from whatever he could connect. I always wanted to be that teacher who could help students, in whatever setting see the connection and understand the why…that’s from my dad.

I don’t know anyone who was better able to sleep whenever and wherever he needed to sleep. In the early 60’s there was a “trading post” just across the bridge into/out of “downtown” Banff. As kids we’d go into to get stick candy, Dad worked for the morning paper in Calgary at that time, The Calgary Albertan so he worked all night.  We came out of the store and there he was lying on the grass sound asleep snoring like a lion and I recall Japanese tourists taking his picture. Not at all uncommon was his falling asleep during a football game or show on tv and then insisting he hadn’t missed a minute.  My wife will tell you I do the same.  Need the rest, take the rest where you can.

I have coached volleyball, basketball and for most of my life football.  My interest in coaching came from my dad though “just” a newspaper man he volunteered and coached volleyball and basketball. As a volleyball coach he took Sir Winston Churchill High School to a city championship in the early 70’s and I believe to the provincial finals.  He coached church basketball and volleyball as well.  Church basketball in Calgary and Southern Alberta…well it could be pretty competitive, the joke in the church is that it is the only war that starts with an opening prayer.  Dad took the volleyball team all the way to “All-Church” when that tournament used to exist. There are hundreds of men today who remember that he introduced them to basketball through the “mini-basketball program” particularly in Edmonton later in his life and finally while he and mom were serving missions in the Ukraine he arranged to have basketballs shipped over and taught the game there while in his 60’s.

Service leadership…not sure I have enough space to write about this, suffice it to say that Dad has always been available to help whoever needs help in whatever way he can help.  As seniors he and mom have served to missions spanning 3 years and only the downturn in his health prevented a third mission. They have shown all of us the way.  My dad is not a great cook; that’s my mom’s area, but he is a great cook’s helper packing food to catering jobs and working in the kitchen even to this day.

My dad loves my mom.  I don’t think too much more is required there and I really don’t think a father can do anything more important than this in raising his boys, love their mom. They’ve been married since May of 1958 through 4 boys and all that 4 boys can bring and a life time of victories and defeats and through it all my dad loves my mom.

As the weeks and months pass on Alzheimers is doing what it does and Dad’s memory is going, he knows it and we know it but our feelings – all those feelings they don’t go away. It is the one thing the desease cannot touch.  We may lose the ability to express what we’ve felt, what we’ve experienced, even who we are or what are relationships are…but the feelings stay.

A week or two ago sitting in a James Bond movie of all places I found myself listening to the words of Tennyson from the poem Ulysses. It hit me that even in the sunset of life there is always so much we can learn from each other and that I can and will continue to learn from and share with my dad.  I share the last stanza with you below:

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Thanks Dad, I continue to learn from you and the feelings and memories are eternal.

Sir John Gielgud shares a few words from the poem Ulysses by Lord Alfred Tennyson

Vision…for those moments we might feel lost

In the summers of 2002 and 2003 I had the opportunity to travel with Team Alberta’s football team for the National Championships in Ottawa.  On each occasion I found myself on tour and on my free time making my way to the Parliament buildings and grounds.  On each occasion I particularly sought out the west side of the Peace Tower where over the window you can read, “Where there is no vision, the people perish”.

I took pictures of the tower but my impeccable filing system has failed me…at least for now though other pictures exist, check out Marcel Mason’s picture here.

The words have been available a very long time, they are found in Proverbs 29:18 and invite us to ponder for a second about our obligation to determine a vision for ourselves and work toward a shared vision for those whom we either choose to associate with or find ourselves in association as a result of our interests, our work, or our common existence.

The musical group Coldplay in the song entitled “Lost” wrote:

Just because I’m losing
Doesn’t mean I’m lost
Doesn’t mean I’ll stop…I just got lost.

(View the video here)

I believe we can, in the process of developing our personal vision, occasionally get lost. Episodes in our life introduce a new set of variables, the unanticipated consequences of our own actions and those of others serve to create a new reality and in that process occasionally we may find ourselves stumbling a little to regain that balance.

At the core of our recovery it is critical that we have a vision of core values to which we might maintain at least one hand of hold as we right ourselves and re-establish the course of our life.