STUCK ON YESTERDAY

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev commented, “If what you have done yesterday still looks big to you, you haven’t done much today.”

Someone once told me that you can tell when people are getting old: Their eyes start shifting around to the back of their heads . . . and they get stuck looking backward at yesterday. It’s a bit like trying to drive down the highway while looking in the rear view mirror. It might help you see where you’ve been, but it doesn’t help you get where you’re going!

American baseball legend George Herman Ruth, best known as Babe Ruth, understood that past accomplishments don’t guarantee future success. As an American League baseball player for twenty-two seasons, including seven seasons with the Boston Red Sox, Ruth helped the New York Yankees win seven pennants and four World Series titles. (Ruth won a total of seven World Series championships before retiring.) Babe Ruth became one of the first five players to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. During his career, he set the record for home runs (714) and runs batted in (2,213). He was also home-run champion for twelve years.

But Babe Ruth never allowed his incredible successes as a home-run champion to get in the way of his present and future goals. To his great credit, Ruth was able to maintain his focus on each game he was playing, and with true insight, he reminded the world that “yesterday’s home runs don’t win today’s games.” It’s nearly impossible to have a better tomorrow if you’re stuck on yesterday.

What each of us has accomplished in the past is a very strong indicator of what we’re capable of doing in the future. Through our past accomplishments, our actions have indeed spoken louder than our words.

Your past accomplishments should be recognized and applauded. You dreamed and visualized what you wanted to accomplish, you identified what you valued most, and then you brought your energies to bear on what you perceived would fill a specific need and make other people better off.

At your time and place in history, you began to fantasize: You dared to dream. You asked yourself, “What if . . .?” Then you began to crystalize: You engaged in dream screening, calculating what it would cost you to accomplish your dream. You became determined and specific. Next, you began to actually visualize that dream: You began to see yourself as having already achieved it. Your dream became such a reality to you that your subconscious mind began to work out the details of accomplishing it.

But that future accomplishment needed to be reinforced, so you began to verbalize the dream to yourself and others. You had to become vulnerable and accountable in order to see your precious dream come to fruition. You depended on that verbal affirmation to maintain your focus and strengthen your confidence. You may even have quoted King Solomon’s observation: “As [a man] thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7, nkjv). The dream was working!

All that was left was to actually see your dream materialize: You saw your plans for the accomplishment of your desired goal become reality. The pathway for your accomplishment had gone over, under, and around all the obstacles and impediments that could have become your tombstone. Now they have wonderfully become your touchstone. As your goal was attained, a feeling of fulfillment and worthiness developed. You might even have shouted, “Wow! Just look at what I accomplished!”

You’re to be congratulated and recognized for your success! However, you now stand at one of the scariest and most fragile points in your life. Accomplishments should prove to be not a destination but a journey. Nothing can fail like success, and nothing can be as miserably defeated as yesterday’s spectacular accomplishments, if your success makes you lose your focus.

We all must learn from yesterday’s accomplishments, gain from the confidence acquired, and press on to greet the opportunities of tomorrow. But we must not stop. The temptation will always be to allow yesterday’s triumphs to rob us of today’s opportunity and creativity.

I vividly recall the euphoric feeling I got as Project C.U.R.E. shipped its first million dollars’ worth of donated medical goods to the needy country of Brazil in the late 1980s. There was an overwhelming temptation to just settle into Brazil and rejoice in the success. That would have been undeniably good . . . but it wouldn’t have been best, or smart. We could have gotten stuck on yesterday—and stuck on stupid.

It wasn’t long before other Latin American and South American countries came asking for our help. They wanted desperately needed medical goods as well. I remember considering the choices: We could sit and enjoy the beauty of the mighty oak tree that had grown from yesterday’s accomplishments—the life-changing contribution to the nation of Brazil—or we could take our newly gained knowledge and confidence and help create a mighty forest for the future by getting busy and planting precious acorns today.

I chose to plant for the future, and today Project C.U.R.E. is shipping medical goods to more than 130 different countries, bringing help and hope to thousands of needy people around the world. Even to this day, we’re striving to never get stuck on yesterday. We want to fulfill today’s goals and embrace tomorrow’s opportunities, remembering that “if what you have done yesterday still looks big to you, you haven’t done much today.”
 


A MATTER OF ECONOMICS

It’s an economic virtue to be frugal corporately as well as personally. A strategy of waste reduction, pursuit of efficiency, and suppression of instant gratification just makes good business sense. There is, however, another subtle aspect of responsible economics that is sometimes less obvious: Don’t let things go to waste just because they’re in the wrong place.

Prior to founding Project C.U.R.E., I was involved in economic consulting in lesser-developed countries. While working in Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia), I was taken out and shown grain-storage facilities that were running over with maize. For three years, the country had experienced bumper crops, and they had run out of room to store the grain. I was shown stacks and stacks of burlap bags filled with maize and covered with black plastic. The stacks were the size of very large buildings. But the rain was getting into the sacks from the top, and rodents were getting in from the bottom. And all the while, the tribes across the Zambezi River in Zambia were starving. The irony was that Zambia was rich in copper production. The price of copper, however, had plummeted, and no one was buying Zambia’s copper, so they had no money to buy the maize.

There was nothing wrong with having the maize, and there was nothing wrong with having the copper. The commodities were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they weren’t being utilized. It took a third party who wasn’t involved in their tribal problems to help them structure an exchange whereby Zambia could receive the needed maize for their hungry people, and Zimbabwe could take Zambia’s copper and put it in warehouses in London until the copper prices returned to normal. Everyone then came out better off!

Adam Smith, sometimes referred to as the father of modern economics, sought to explain that markets emerge out of the division of labor. When people divide up the labor and perform only certain specialized jobs as occupations, instead of trying to do everything for themselves, it’s necessary for them to depend on others to fulfill most of their needs. An efficient market will make those services and goods more readily available to meet those needs.

The word entrepreneur is sometimes a difficult word to pronounce—and even harder to spell. The function of the entrepreneur is simple: to help the economy’s markets run more efficiently. The entrepreneur will see an opportunity to make the market run more smoothly by taking something from a position of “lower” value out of the economy and placing it back into the economy at a “higher” value. The idea is that the services or goods were simply in the wrong place in the economy.

For example, our company Jackson Brothers Investments (JBI) developed real estate in the ski areas of Colorado during the 1960s and 1970s. We would purchase large, economically struggling ranch sites and develop them in accordance with state and county regulations. We would also provide roads, electricity, water and sewer districts, and approved tracts of land overlooking the ski slopes. The completed projects brought happiness to a lot of new owners, provided jobs, generated handsome profits, and greatly increased the tax base for the counties and the state.

Project C.U.R.E is perhaps the best example I can think of to illustrate the economic principle of “Don’t let things go to waste just because they’re in the wrong place.” Since its inception in 1987, Project C.U.R.E. has aggressively collected, managed, and distributed more than one billion dollars’ worth of medical goods and services to the neediest people around the world. 

At the beginning, millions of tons of medical supplies and countless pieces of medical equipment were in the wrong place. They were all subject to waste. At one time, they took up space in someone’s warehouse, with no plan for utilization. But Project C.U.R.E. pursued and secured these items, and some of the most talented and devoted volunteers in the United States—medical nurses, doctors, physicians’ assistants, and paramedics—have spent countless hours sorting and distributing them to bring health and hope to sick and afflicted people in the right places in over 130 countries around the world.

Of all people, I’m most fortunate to have been on the scene in university teaching institutions, hospitals, surgical centers, and clinics where those medical goods arrived at just the right time to save the life of some precious mom, dad, or child who would have died without the needles, syringes, sutures, IVs, scopes, monitors, and anesthesia machines.

I am, in another respect, one of the most fortunate people on earth. The economic principle of “Don’t let things go to waste just because they’re in the wrong place” works in a spiritual realm as well. I clearly recall when I was personally in the wrong place and headed for the nearest Dumpster, but the Eternal Economist graciously gave me another chance.

Whether you use this tested economic principle at your next garage sale or to save the lives of thousands of hurting people around the world, never ignore this admonition: Don’t let things go to waste just because they’re in the wrong place!             
 


FOLLOW YOUR HEART

 I would like to dedicate this blog to Nicholas Muller  I became acquainted with Nick through Jim Peters, who was President of Samsonite International until his retirement in 1989. Nick served as Vice President and General Counsel for Samsonite starting in 1972. These two men were not just friends to me, but are heroes of mine in the business world.  Like Jim Peters, Nick Muller did not waste his time living someone else's life.  He lived out the beauty of his own calling, and let his heart guide him.
                                                 
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Jacob Petrovic was my friend. I knew him by his Americanized name Jim Peters. He knew his life was limited and didn’t want to waste a single moment living someone else’s dream. He had dreams of his own, courage enough to follow his heart, and sufficient confidence to trust his seasoned intuition. Jim wanted to return to the unstable federation of Yugoslavia, but the civil war in the 1990s, the bloodshed, and the violence made the political climate throughout the Balkans extremely tentative.

American essayist James Baldwin once advised, “Be careful what you set your heart upon, for it will surely be yours.” For more than fifty years, Jim had his heart set upon returning to his birthplace in Belgrade, Serbia. Jim was sitting in the audience where I had just delivered a presentation on my recent trips to North Korea and Iraq.

After the speech, he approached me and said, “You’ve been to Baghdad, Iraq; Havana, Cuba; and Pyongyang, North Korea. Have you ever been to Belgrade, Serbia, in Yugoslavia?”

“No.” was my answer.
“Why not?” was his rapid response.
“Because Project C.U.R.E. only goes where we’re invited,” I answered.
“Then would you go to Belgrade if you were invited?”

Three days later, the two of us met in my office to discuss the possibility of traveling together to Belgrade to arrange the donation of needed medical goods to the hurting people of Yugoslavia. This wasn’t the first time Jim Peters had followed his heart where there was no pathway to lead him. But he had learned early on that wherever you go, it’s necessary to go with all your heart, because the intuition of the heart has reasons that even reason doesn’t necessarily understand. You see, Jim had escaped Yugoslavia in 1944. Germany had wreaked havoc on the Balkans during the First World War; then during World War II, Germany, Italy, and Russia had unleashed their cruelty on the area.

Young Jacob Petrovic and his brother were part of a prominent Belgrade family. They had joined up with the resistance movement to protect their homeland from the Nazis and Communists. When Allied pilots from America or Britain got shot down over Yugoslavia, the resistance group would try to get to the pilots first and, through dangerous and clandestine strategies, eventually deliver the pilots back across enemy lines to the safety of the Allied encampments.

Jim and his friends had been able to save the lives of more than two hundred American and British pilots. But eventually the Gestapo closed in on them, and they had to flee the country without even saying good-bye to their families. Soldiers had surrounded the Petrovic family home and were in the process of breaking down the doors to capture Jim and his brother. The soldiers had orders to bring them in as prisoners or shoot them on the spot if need be. Jim and his brother sought the help of Jim’s school girlfriend, who was also in the resistance movement. She successfully hid them in her house. That night they escaped, slipping from her house, jumping fences, and running into the nearby forested hills. It took more than two years for them to complete their escape by eventually working their way to Switzerland. Yet Jim continued to follow his heart.

While Jim and his brother were in Switzerland, two of the American pilots whose lives they had saved searched for them, miraculously located them, and brought them to America. The brothers landed in New York in 1947.The very first day they arrived, they found jobs and went to work. The pilots whose lives they had saved sponsored Jim and his brother so they could attend Columbia University in New York City. Both graduated with MBAs in 1949.

Jim’s world was becoming as big as the dream in his heart that was guiding him. His talents were quickly recognized, and he was soon hired as an international representative for the Singer sewing-machine company. From there he was able to leapfrog into an international position with RCA, and later he moved to Denver, Colorado, where he became the senior vice president for Samsonite luggage company, in charge of all international business. After fifteen years with Samsonite, he retired and worked as an international consultant for Mattel toys.

Jim and his wife continued to make Denver their home, but the burning desire of his heart was still leading him. He was going to go back to his homeland and, with the help of Project C.U.R.E., take help and hope to his relatives and needy compatriots. During all the years of his absence, Jim had kept up on the events taking place in the Balkans. But as we tried to put the travel plans together, we ran into difficulty. The United States had cut off all diplomatic relations with Yugoslavia. We were then forced into trying to secure the necessary visas for our passports by going through the Yugoslavian embassy in Toronto, Canada. That required working directly with the government officials of Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. But eventually we were able to work our way through the international bureaucracy of Canada, NATO, the United States, and the warring factions of the Balkans and receive our proper paperwork.

Only twice had Anna Marie ever cried when she dropped me off at the airport terminal. Once was when I first went to Baghdad, Iraq, and the other time was Sunday, July 16, when she dropped me off at the airport to leave for Belgrade.

“When I see you walk through those airport doors, I never know if I’ll ever see you again.” Then she apologized for crying.

At the airport was where the rubber really met the road. There were no outside pressures making us do what we were doing with Project C.U.R.E. We received no money. It was truly a love gift to God. Anna Marie and I were both totally a part of that gift.

Once Jim and I arrived in Belgrade and had settled into our hotel, Jim wanted to show me some of the history of Belgrade. As we walked through the city, he pointed out where his boyhood friends used to live, where he used to work, and the office buildings where his prominent family members ran their businesses. When we got to one intersection, he stopped and gestured toward an old bank building where his father was once an influential officer. Just across the other street, he pointed out where he spent his last night in the city of Belgrade in 1944.

Jim Peters had followed his heart. He hadn’t let time or inconveniences or the noise and static of others’ opinions drown out the inner voice of his own heart. He had found the seed that had been placed in the citadel of his heart and had nurtured it into a beautiful living flower. That beautiful vision and lofty ideal had now been realized.

Jim and I traveled a couple of different times together to Yugoslavia and spent enough time in Serbia, Kosovo, and Montenegro to make all the arrangements necessary to send millions of dollars’ worth of donated medical goods to hospitals and clinics all over that part of the Balkans. Jim had followed his heart.

Don’t waste your time living someone else’s life. Live out the beauty of your own calling. Let your heart guide you. Your heart usually whispers . . . so listen carefully!


 



 

CRISIS REVEALS CHARACTER

During my travels in the Soviet Union, the outright arrogance of the Soviet leadership occasionally caught me totally off-guard. One of the favorite sayings leveled at me was “Nothing ever goes wrong here, because nothing ever can go wrong here.” If one of their five-year economic plans failed miserably, or there was a costly industrial accident, an ingenious cover-up was promoted, but never an admission of a mistake That historic attitude spawned an international catastrophe in Chernobyl, Ukraine, in 1986.

The disaster took place during a systems test on April 26 when, due to faulty design and inappropriate and inefficient actions of the nuclear staff, an explosion and fire released immeasurable quantities of radioactive contamination into the atmosphere. The majority of the heavy fallout landed directly in Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia; the rest was spread throughout the USSR and Europe.

Some reports indicate that the Soviet authorities in control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant tried to cover up the whole episode. They apparently failed to warn plant workers of what was happening. Military personnel and emergency workers who were sent in to control and clean up the mess weren’t informed of the risks, and government officials delayed evacuating thousands of residents in Pripyat and other contaminated areas surrounding the reactor. The Soviet government was also slow to admit to the world that an accident had occurred. 

More than one hundred emergency workers died from radiation exposure following the Chernobyl disaster, but the long-term health impact and future death toll is impossible to calculate. The World Health Organization has estimated that an additional four thousand people from the highest-risk groups of emergency workers and civilians could eventually die from the lifelong effects of radiation. Long-term studies have also shown that survivors have an increased risk of certain types of cancer, particularly those who were children or teenagers at the time of the accident.

In June of 1996, I had a meeting in Minsk, Belarus, with a military commander named Peter Ivanovitsch. He had been a Soviet army commander in Afghanistan in 1986. On April 27, 1986, he was ordered to take 2,900 of his men into Chernobyl to help. When he returned from Chernobyl, they noticed that they were all getting sick, but the Communist government said it was impossible that their sickness had anything to do with Chernobyl, and officials dismissed their concerns. Soon, many of Peter’s men began to die. They organized themselves not only to try to help the invalids left alive after the disaster but also to bring food and aid to the families of the rescuers who had already died.

The Communists still refused to help, saying that their claims weren’t valid, even though the men who went in on the rescue attempts were all seriously affected. The majority of the men had died by the time I met with the commander. Peter was enlisting Project C.U.R.E.’s help to supply medical goods for the remaining families. He was forty-three years old, but he knew he had only a very short time to live.

My next meeting that day was with the bishop of the Evangelical Union in Belarus. When the evacuation of Pripyat was taking place, a number of pastors had accepted the challenge to go into the nuclear plant area and minister to the victims. These pastors had faced the oppression of the Soviet leaders in the past and had survived. The bishop had warned them of the high risk involved, but these brave pastors traveled into the areas of heaviest radioactive fallout and ministered to the hurting people. Even though all of the pastors died, they were the ones who displayed true strength of character in the midst of crisis.

Common logic would have us believe that character is developed in times of crisis. I doubt that. Very little character was being developed by the Soviet leadership during the Chernobyl disaster. We may also be tempted to say that in a time of crisis, we’ll rise to the occasion. . . . Probably not, unless we’ve been consistently developing strength of character before a crisis happens.

Pressure proves the product . . . Crisis simply reveals the character.


DELAYED GRATIFICATION

The one thing we know about instant gratification is that we can’t quite experience it soon enough. Our culture seems to claim a birthright for instant and lavish gratification. Delayed gratification, however, is one of the keys to cultural well-being. Overcoming the demand for instant gratification is necessary for healthy achievement and fulfillment on a personal level as well as a cultural level.

We can experience a world of difference when we’re no longer addicted to indulging in instant gratification on our way to a larger and more meaningful reward. Delayed gratification can be thought of as instant gratification saved and leveraged for later usage. When gratification is delayed, we are indirectly saying that we can handle the lack of a reward now, and that we’re confident of the benefits that will be coming our way later on. That confidence involves informing our minds, emotions, and will that it’s worth persevering toward the greater goal even at the expense of immediate gratification.

I witnessed one of the most impressive examples of the principle of delayed gratification in Africa while on a safari in the Masai Mara of Kenya. At the break of dawn, my companions and I quickly gulped our coffee and loaded into the game van to shoot some photos of the magnificent birds and animals of the Mara during their early morning activities.

Almost immediately upon leaving camp, we began seeing hundreds of wildebeests, Thomson’s gazelles, warthogs, zebras, impala, topi, and Cape buffalo. We were even fortunate enough to get some shots of two black rhinoceroses . . . And then came the thrill. We spotted a mature male lion and a young female just returning to their pride following a night of hunting. They encountered a large herd of Cape buffalo beginning their day of grazing. The buffalo had assigned huge male sentinels to the edge of the herd to warn and protect the others.

As we viewed the unfolding drama from our safari van, the male lion carefully stalked the buffalo guard. They paired off staring at each other. The buffalo began to snort and bellow and paw the ground, throwing his head of massive horns from side to side. But the male lion was not to be intimidated. He just began circling the big bull. Meanwhile, the young lioness slowly crept into the scene. Now the buffalo was confused as to which lion he should watch. Several times he bellowed, lowered his head, and charged the male lion. The male lion retreated a few paces as the female crept closer. When she got too close, the buffalo charged at her to move her back. At that moment the male lion attacked the bull from the rear by jumping high onto its tail end. The lion sank his sharp teeth into the bull, ripping the hide and laying open the backbone section about eight inches above the tail. The bull was temporarily paralyzed. 

As quick as lightening, the female was back at the tail with the male, and they each grabbed a jawful of upper vertebrae. The big bull went down, sitting like a dog, unable to move. That allowed for the lions’ unguarded access to the bull. Right then an unusual thing happened. For no apparent reason, the lions backed off and stood looking at the helpless bull, as if to say, “Get up and keep walking around. We have confidence that we’ve got you, but we’ll discipline ourselves and not kill and eat you now. We’ll wait and have fresh, juicy meat at our own discretion.” They escorted the big Cape buffalo over to the thick savanna grass and lay down, one on either side of the bull. They would simply delay their gratification and multiply their enjoyment by postponing their consumption. They didn’t need a refrigerator to keep the meat fresh; all they needed to do was to keep the huge bull alive until they were hungry.

The emotional mastery of impulsive indulgence is also necessary to overcome the majority of personal problems people encounter. Overwhelming debt, crime, obesity, sexually transmitted diseases, the breakdown of personal relationships, and the selfish violation of intimate trust all have their roots in the inability to practice delayed gratification. There isn’t a long-term, positive correlation between quick rewards and positive benefits. I personally believe that even in business, the characteristic that best defines an entrepreneur is the ability to utilize the concept of delayed gratification.

In the late sixties and early seventies, Stanford University professor Walter Mischel tested preschool kids on their ability to delay gratification. The children were asked to stay in a room alone for fifteen minutes, and a marshmallow was placed in front of each child. If they waited for fifteen minutes before eating the marshmallow, they were told they would get another one. So they would get a total of two marshmallows.Six of the ten students ate their marshmallows before the designated time, even though they were given a toy to distract them, and only four lasted the fifteen minutes
 
Mischel followed up approximately ten years later and learned that all of the children who were able to delay gratification had good grades, good prospects, and good relationships. Those who had waited to get two marshmallows also scored higher on their SATs than the others. In the study, delayed gratification was associated with adolescents being “more academically and socially competent, verbally fluent, rational, attentive, planful, and able to deal well with frustration and stress” compared to those who opted for instant gratification.

If you’re a business person, a student, a parent, or any other participant in our culture, the subject of delayed gratification merits a second look. Who knows . . . maybe you could end up with even more than one additional marshmallow! 


GRATEFULNESS

A certain excitement and energy gust down through our Colorado mountain canyon as October morphs into November. The golden aspen leaves of autumn skip along the surface of our high-altitude stream in lively funnels of brilliance. The late-afternoon air takes on a crisp and moist character as the nighttime dustings of snow begin to cover the highest mountain peaks. The gorgeous summer flowers are but pleasant memories now. Picnic umbrellas have been put away, and the bright-yellow snowplow blade has been methodically reattached to the ATV. It’s fall in Colorado!

I love the fall, and I love November, because I’m still the kid who loves Thanksgiving. I’ve adopted, and throughout my life I’ve embraced, the idea that it isn’t happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy. Gratefulness is being thankful for what we’ve received from others. It’s not only a feeling or expression; it’s an attitude. When we receive something and express our appreciation for it, something happens deep within our souls.

Multiple studies have shown that people enjoy some pretty significant health benefits from cultivating an attitude of gratitude. Among the benefits are a happier disposition, less depression and stress, better overall immunity and health, and more satisfaction with life. It appears that grateful people also have an edge on personal growth, have better coping and planning skills, and are more likely to seek out support in difficult times. The grateful people I’ve observed over the years seem to have a clearer purpose in life and enjoy a broader spirit of self-acceptance as well.

They even sleep better because they concentrate on thankful and positive thoughts just before going to sleep, instead of allowing their minds to be filled with disturbing or negative thoughts.

In the course of my travels to so many venues, I’ve observed the practice of gratitude and thanksgiving in many religious traditions. According to the Greek philosopher Cicero, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”

In the three major world religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, gratitude plays a central role in life and worship. For Christians, gratitude is the heart and soul of the gospel. As Martin Luther said, gratitude is the “basic Christian attitude” that directs thoughts, emotions, and actions.Christians are admonished to express gratitude to God in worship as well as in their lives for all he is and all he has done. Interestingly, the Greek word eucharist means “grateful.” So each time Christians celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection in the eucharist, they’re saying thanks!

According to the Hebrew worldview, God created everything, and in Judaism worship is considered a continual expression of gratitude for his goodness. Gratitude is reflected throughout the book of Psalms, in passages such as “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart” (Psalm 9:1), as well as in traditional Jewish prayers and blessings, such as the Shema. or orthodox Jews, in particular, reciting blessings, such as the berakhot, is an integral part of daily worship.

The Koran teaches Muslims to express gratitude to Allah for everything. Faithful Muslims who “praise God in prosperity and adversity” will be “the first to be summoned to Paradise.” That’s a pretty strong motivation to be grateful, if you ask me!

One of the most unforgettable lessons I learned about the inner need to express gratefulness occurred when Anna Marie and I visited Brazil. Dr. Casio Amoral and his wife, Vera, ran the best cranial/reconstructive and plastic surgery hospital in the country. After our arrival, Anna Marie and I were ushered into a conference room, where Dr. Amoral and Vera shared the story of their lifelong work and the establishment of the hospital in 1972. We were escorted through the hospital as I performed the customary Needs Assessment Study. At 11:00 a.m., we returned to the conference room with Dr. Amoral and his wife, where we joined a team of twenty staff members for a preoperative session with all the surgical patients for the following week. One at a time, the cases were reviewed, and the doctors handling each case reported the status of the case to Dr. Amoral and made recommendations regarding the upcoming operation.

There was really no way to prepare ourselves for such an experience. I was invited to sit right next to Dr. Amoral during the examination and consultation.Viewing each of the nearly twenty patients was enough to make me cry out. It was very traumatic. The patients ranged from just a few weeks old to their teens. Most of the mothers and patients had perhaps traveled hundreds of miles to get to the hospital that day. They were poor mothers who were typically single, unemployed, indigent, and very frightened.

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The first little girl, age eight, had already undergone ten operations.She still had many, many operations to go. Her hands were completely fused together with her arms in a clump. Many surgeries had already been done on her hands to separate the clumps into fingers and thumbs. Her feet were the same way. But it was her head that was most severely deformed. The next operation was to include a complete cranial restructuring to relieve the constriction on the brain that was causing behavioral and motor problems.

But one mother, who looked very poor, brought in her daughter, Sylvia, who was wearing a large hat, jeans and a T-shirt. Sylvia appeared to be in her early teens. She had many congenital deformities of the face, head, and thorax area. She had received several earlier surgeries, and only recently had Dr. Amoral been able to complete a major operation.

The girl’s mother, an older lady, was sitting next to me. As the doctors began discussing Sylvia’s case, she turned, gripped my forearm, and began speaking directly to me. Her eyes were like sparkling flames, and her words flowed in a steady stream of white-hot emotion. I could literally feel the intensity of emotion build as her speech rose to a crescendo and her grip on my arm tightened. Neither her emotion nor her flow of speech slowed down a bit when they informed her that I couldn’t understand Portuguese. She just kept on talking.

They said she was telling me that her daughter had been so deformed and ugly, but Dr. Amoral had made her pretty. She just couldn’t stop praising the doctor and thanking him. No one could quiet her. I took her by the hand and just smiled. She needed to express her feelings, and she wasn’t concerned whether I spoke English, French, Chinese, or Pig Latin. She needed someone to listen as she expressed her gratefulness, appreciation, and thanksgiving. Her precious daughter was now so beautiful! And with every word of recognition and praise, an uncontrollable flood of happiness and deep joy washed over her. 

I learned a spiritual lesson from that sweet Brazilian lady. Many in the room were embarrassed for the woman, but I simply stood up as she left and kissed her, first on one cheek and then on the other. I had just experienced the unstoppable power of praise and the satisfying gift of gratefulness. 


THE BEAUTY OF LETTING GO

It’s been said that “getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.” Our current culture would persuade us that the important thing in this life is to grab, grasp, and accumulate. More is way better. But many are discovering the beauty of letting go. We’re learning that when we hold on too tightly, we can lose everything. The tighter we squeeze the things we’re holding, the quicker they slip right through our fingers, and we lose them anyway.

Of course, there’s an important difference between letting go and giving up. Letting go gives you an opportunity to move forward; giving up drops you clear off the monkey bars.

A very subtle temptation tricks us into thinking that always holding on proves we’re strong. But sometimes, letting go allows us to become the people we really wanted to become all along. In fact, history reveals that some of the world’s greatest battles have been won by those wise enough to let go and take a second strategic look. Alexander Graham Bell observed, “When one door closes, another door opens, but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.”

It’s especially difficult to let go of something we don’t even realize we’re gripping so tightly. And usually it’s pride that blinds us from recognizing the death grip we’ve applied. So don’t let your pride bully your wisdom into thinking it’s imperative to hold on when it’s actually the right time to let go and move forward. The exciting challenge of life seems to be the fine art of deciding when to hang on and when to let go.

Earlier in my life, I became involved with a local religious institution that later proved not to be a healthy situation for our family. I had to come to a place where I realized that it was prudent to quit allowing the strife and let go of the tension so we could move on with our lives in pursuit of other worthwhile and honorable endeavors. It was one of the best decisions of my life. Great good has come as a result of that choice. I discovered that you can lose only what you’re blindly clinging to, but strategic surrender is certainly not the same as losing. 

Strategically relinquishing our rights in certain situations, and to certain institutions, runs parallel to our relationships with the people who are closest to us. Most of us have heard throughout our lives that if we truly love someone, we’ll let go, rather than clinging on selfishly and possessively, in order to help that person achieve his or her potential. I’ve seen that work with remarkable results.

In 1994, Anna Marie and I witnessed an unusual story of love and relinquishment in Kenya. We were assessing the hospitals around Nairobi and throughout the enchanting Rift Valley. While there, we were invited to stay at Elsamere, the famous home of Joy and George Adamson, located on the shores of the impressive Lake Naivasha. While Joy was alive, she had gained international recognition after writing Born Free in 1960, a book about Elsa the lion that sold more than five million copies. A popular movie telling Elsa’s story was released in 1966 and won two Academy Awards as well as a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Motion Picture the following year.

In 1956, George Adamson was a game warden for the local African region. He was forced to shoot a lioness that was attacking him, only to find out later that the shooting had left three lion cubs motherless. Two of the cubs were sent to a zoo in Rotterdam, Netherlands, but Joy and George kept Elsa. It was their intention to raise the cub and educate her sufficiently in order to safely release her back into the Masai Mara, but in the process, they fell in love with Elsa. The book reveals the difficulty she and George experienced letting go of Elsa and actually releasing her back into the wild.

But at last, Joy succeeded. With mixed feelings and a breaking heart, she returned her friend back to the jungle, alone. Joy and George then traveled to England for a year before returning to Kenya. They were hoping when they returned that they would find Elsa. They did find her and discovered that she hadn’t forgotten them. In fact, Elsa brought along her three cubs to get acquainted. Elsa became the first lioness to be successfully released back into the wild, the first to have contact after release, and the first known to have cubs. Loving Elsa resulted in setting her free. Love demanded letting go. 


It might be the better part of wisdom to consider the relationships and situations in which you find yourself today. Whether you’re trying to save a lioness or negotiating monkey bars, it just might be that letting go will allow you to move forward.


SKULLDUGGERY IN SOMALIA

It’s imperative that integrity be the cornerstone of any endeavor where everyone is expected to be better off. Napoleon Hill declared, “I fully realize that no wealth or position can long endure, unless built upon truth and justice; therefore, I will engage in no transaction which does not benefit all whom it affects.”


I agree with Warren Buffett’s curt advice about employing people:    In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence,  and energy.  But the most important is integrity, because if they don’t have that the other two . . . will kill you.

Integrity is a precious commodity, and when it is compromised or put up for sale in the marketplace of life, the result is always moral and cultural bankruptcy.

Integrity has to do with consistent behavior stemming from a core group of values or virtues. When we speak of someone’s integrity, we often use descriptors like honesty, principles, truthfulness, strength of character, or incorruptibility. Probably the most common descriptor used for the lack of integrity is hypocrisy, because there is an observable disconnect between the projected expectation and the actual behavior.

While working in Somalia in 2001, I was shocked by two glaring examples of the lack of integrity that impacted the culture of that historic nation. The first had to do with the presumption of the citizens that the new president possessed “integrity, intelligence, and energy.” In the early days of his regime, Siad Barre had dreams of unifying the twelve major tribes of Somalia and developing a strong economy by emphasizing national loyalty and pride instead of clan individualities.

He realized he needed outside help and readily fell into the trap of accepting that “help” from the Soviet Union. He swallowed the Marxist-Leninist ideals of Communism and took control of the markets. Those concepts and practices were an irritant to the independent and more entrepreneurial tribal clans of Somalia.

The Soviets came creeping in, wrapping their tentacles around every life-giving artery of Somalia. But when Barre invaded Ethiopia in 1977, the Soviets cut off aid to Somalia and began to channel their military support and supplies to the Ethiopian government. They also brought in thousands of Cuban troops to drive the Somali military out of the country.

At that point, Siad Barre began endearing himself to the United States. He played the Soviets against the US to get his best deal. The US wanted to stop the Soviet expansion throughout Africa, as well as Soviet aggression in Ethiopia, so they agreed to pump millions of dollars of economic aid into Somalia and arm Barre with the latest and most sophisticated military weaponry to protect himself from the Soviets.

After the Soviets pulled out of Somalia in the late seventies, economic growth began taking place. However, Siad Barre became enamored with his own greatness and power, and his regime assumed a cultish personality intolerant of any challenge or criticism. The different Somalian clans resented the regime’s elitist cruelty, but Barre abandoned all thought of unity and resorted to control by pitting the twelve clans against each other. The clan warlords, in turn, began plotting Barre’s assassination. All of that chaos eventually became the setting for the “Black Hawk Down” incident in Mogadishu on October 3, 1993.

In the years leading up to this incident, when Siad Barre still wielded power, life in Somalia continued to deteriorate. Wherever there were pockets of discontent, Barre would send his trusted troops to machine-gun down all the livestock herds and throw into prison anyone who might speak out against him. He even sent his men into the northern areas of Somalia to poison the water wells of his own people. Eventually he utilized his military arsenal of bombs, tanks, airplanes, rifles, mortars, and other weapons that the US and Soviet governments had supplied to him and employed them to murder his own people.

In 1988, during a visit to the northern seaport city of Hargeisa (with a population of half a million people), Barre declared that he would punish the people for their disloyalty. He loaded the bombers he had received from the Soviets and the US and deployed them from Hargeisa’s international airport to destroy the buildings, water systems, industries, and homes in an ethnic-cleansing effort.6 Very seldom in history can you find anything as sinister or evil as what President Barre perpetrated upon Somalia. He also strafed and bombed other Somali cities, like Berbera and Burao, and eventually Mogadishu. The entire country of Somalia was left in shambles. 

After twenty-one years of murder, deceit, and skullduggery, Siad Barre foiled an assassination plot and escaped with his money to Kenya and then to Zimbabwe. Finally he died in Nigeria in 1995. Siad Barre had possessed intelligence and energy, but he lacked integrity.

A second glaring example of perfidy and treachery in Somalia included the United Nations. During the genocide, Somali citizens were desperately trying to escape the country as refugees and appealed to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for help. Somehow the rampant lack of integrity engulfing Somalia washed over the UN as well. The incident took place while I was in Somalia, and it became a textbook case of “mess up” and disgrace.

The United Nations’ employees who were in charge of filling certain refugee quotas to countries such as Great Britain, Canada, and the United States were charging refugees up to $5,000, or more, in US currency to process their applications and place them in the host countries.8 That money went straight into the pockets of the UN employees. They would make the penniless refugees pay fifty shillings just to get inside the waiting room to talk to a UN individual. It was discovered that UN employees would actually sell false documentation, phony identification papers, and bogus case histories to enable people who weren’t even refugees to “resettle” in the United States. The UN admitted that four staff members were suspected of soliciting money from the displaced persons they were paid handsomely to assist.

UN officials came to the defense of their workers by insisting that they were really the victims in the situation. The UN had been informed for the previous two years of the employees’ scam but claimed that the employees had been placed in very difficult and stressful positions. Outsiders just couldn’t understand the unbearable pressures the employees had been under, or the temptations they had been subjected to when there were thousands of refugees seeking asylum in developed countries, and limited openings in those countries.

Finally, the United Nations directors reassigned the UN workers to locations where the pressure wouldn’t be so “unbearable,” but they made that decision only when some refugees, who had paid $5,000 but were never selected to go to the United States, threatened to kill the extortionists. The UN had to then protect their poor, victimized representatives. No one was held accountable or punished for the bribery scam. The UN employees had intelligence and energy but did not possess integrity.

It really wasn’t safe to go to Somalia when I did. There was no central government, no rule of law, no infrastructure, no civilized politics or security. But the Somali community of Denver had literally begged Project C.U.R.E. to go there with one of their members and assess the medical needs of Somaliland, since the entire healthcare delivery system of the country was broken, and all of the medical facilities had been ransacked, leaving the people without access to medical supplies. We felt that Project C.U.R.E. could significantly improve the healthcare delivery system and greatly influence the everyday lives of Somalia’s people for many years to come.

I was astounded at the absence of integrity I witnessed in Somalia and was reminded of an old Rwandan proverb I had learned in Kigali: You can outdistance that which is running after you, but not what is running inside you.

I believe that sometimes we are commissioned to go into dark situations with the match of goodness to rekindle the fire and fan the flame of compromised integrity.


TAKING THE RISK

The very fact that you’re alive tells me that you are encountering risks. It’s been said that “the person who risks nothing does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn, feel, change, grow, or love. Chained by his certitude, he is a slave; he has forfeited his freedom. Only the person who risks is truly free.”

We usually describe risk as “a state of uncertainty where some of the possibilities involve a loss, catastrophe, or other undesirable outcome.” Of course, the other side of risk includes the possibility of gaining something of value.

When I was young and starting out in business, I always felt that I could well afford to run the risks of failure, because in failure I really didn’t have that much to lose. I could take the lumps, count the cost, pick up the pieces, and start over again. I didn’t mind going out on a limb because that was where the fruit was growing. My attitude was that if I pushed to the very brink, I would be shown a way to proceed on the ground, or else I would be taught how to fly. After all, how was I to know how far I could go in a venture if I hadn’t run the risk of going too far?

But the more I accumulated, the more the idea of risk became an issue.The more I had to lose, the more seriously I considered my options, choices, and consequences. I learned several times that I was very vulnerable and had a lot to lose. That prompted me to start developing some skills of risk assessment and some practices of risk aversion. I was discovering that in my business dealings, I was developing a risk attitude, and I began measuring my decisions against a rather clumsy gauge of rate of gain versus rate of ruin. Somewhere in the adventure, I was being exposed to concepts like regret and fear of loss.

When I became involved in international business and traveling with Project C.U.R.E., I was glad I had learned some things about risk taking.There were situations in Afghanistan, India, Iraq, Palestine, Russia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and even Kenya where the risks involved my very life and safety. God’s protection, some carefully made decisions, and the help of many friends in more than 150 countries averted the serious consequences of some of those perilous risks.

In one of my Project C.U.R.E. offices, I had a map of the world affixed to the wall. One day I made a statement to the people visiting me: “If you were to stand on this side of the room and throw a dart at the map, provided the dart didn’t land on water or snow, within a three-inch radius of the dart, I would have a friend who would be willing to risk his or her life to help me out of danger.”

That was a rather audacious statement, I know. But it was based on the fact that I had worked in nearly every corner of the world, and the unusually positive influence of Project C.U.R.E. had enabled me to develop many deep-rooted relationships with people who would have put themselves in harm’s way to come to my rescue.

Taking a risk is an interesting concept. It includes the possibility of loss or injury, or at least the inconvenience of an imposing circumstance.And there is a notion that choice has something to do with whether or not the outcome is altered. Risk taking can get complicated. The consequences of my risks can splash over onto other people around me and affect their lives and well-being. We’re hardly ever isolated, stand-alone objects in situations that include risks.The events set into motion by our choices, as well as the eventual consequences, will usually invade the lifestyles of our families and friends.

As I’ve reflected on my statement regarding the map in my office, I realize that there would be no need for someone to come and help me were I not involved in a high-risk circumstance. The willingness of my friends to come to my rescue would imply that they would be placing themselves in a risk-taking situation because I was already in trouble. 

Our culture teaches us to seek safety and security, but as Mark Twain used to say, “Necessity is the mother of taking chances.”  And I am in theologian Paul Tillich’s corner when he observed, “He who risks and fails can be forgiven. He who never risks and never fails is a failure in his whole being.”

I personally believe that no noble thing can be accomplished without taking risks, and ordinary people can do extraordinary things if they’re encouraged to be confident, to stand tall, and to fully engage those calculated risks.  


THE MAIN THING

Steven R. Covey offered some of the best advice available when he said that “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

As a cultural economist, I deal continuously with the economic trilogy of scarcity, choice, and cost. Everything that exists is a scarce commodity. That isn’t to say that there is an immediate shortage of something or that something is “as scarce as hen’s teeth”—because there aren’t any hen’s teeth. But something is deemed scarce because everything that exists has alternative uses. People have unlimited wants and needs and they can come up with more uses for the capital or commodities than existing resources. Scarcity is called the “basic economic problem,” meaning that the problem always exists.

Ultimately, a choice has to be made to determine how a resource will be used. We have to choose the alternative we most highly desire. Sometimes we may think that cost deals only with dollars and cents. But in a truer sense, the cost of the alternative we choose is the loss of the value of the next highest alternative we forgo in making our choice. In other words, the real cost is the value of the alternative we could have had but decided to do without.

When we say that “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing,” we’re dealing with the subject of priorities, which is the arrangement of precedence and preference regarding certain resources, supplies, or services. We first have to decide what the main thing is?  Then we have to decide to keep that main thing at the top of our priority ranking.

Consistent priority ranking is a difficult assignment on a personal basis. It’s an even tougher assignment on an international and cultural basis. Let me illustrate this from my travel journals: 


      Shortly after the tragic genocide situation in Rwanda, I traveled in a Volkswagen van from Kampala, Uganda, to Kigali, Rwanda. There had been nearly one million people murdered in the short span of one hundred days during the Hutu-Tutsi slaughter. It was one of the most heart-breaking incidents I had experienced in over thirty years of international travel. Limbs of dead bodies still protruded out of shallow graves. The economy was in shambles, and all was chaos. For the most part, the world totally ignored the tragedy and even the UN and the US refused to use the word “genocide” and chose not to send help. Project C.U.R.E. went there to help. 

    Upon my arrival in Kigali, I met with a lady named Christine. She was in her thirties, very knowledgeable and articulate, and was in charge of administering the offices of the cabinet members. She was openly supportive and appreciative of Project C.U.R.E., and I presented to her the inventory list of the cargo container from Project C.U.R.E. that had just arrived. She took the time to brief me on the genocide situation and I asked her if she had stayed in the country or fled to another country.  She said that she had stayed in Kigali, and had witnessed the bloody attacks on the innocent citizens.  

    Christine also acted as the minister of rehabilitation and social in­tegration.  She asked about crutches, wheelchairs, and prosthetic equipment for those who had been left disabled by the war. They were in desperate need, and no one else was coming to their aid. Almost a million people had been murdered, and there were hundreds of thousands of other suffering human victims.
 
     I expressed my surprise that others were not quickly coming to their aid: “While I have been in Kigali, I’ve seen scores of new, white Toyota Land Cruisers and new Land Rovers driving the streets of the city with the fanciest and newest of optional equipment added on. I’ve seen many NGO (nongovernmental organization) personnel sitting and conversing in the restaurants of Kigali. I just presumed that all those resources had arrived in Rwanda to aid in the horrible genocide crisis.” 
 
     Christine hesitated, then turned and looked out the window. “I’m sorry you saw that. No, those new resources and personnel are not here to bring help to the victims of the genocide. They’ve come as a result of a new grant of over fifty million dollars to further the ongoing study of the eating, mating, and sleeping habits of the gorillas in our forests. I wish there were some way to get our priorities straight.” 

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Keeping the main thing the main thing sometimes becomes a knotty problem. As I mentioned earlier, we’re the ones that ultimately have to make the decisions regarding the arrangement of precedence and preference of all resources, supplies, or services.

People have unlimited wants and needs and they can come up with more uses for the capital or commodities than existing resources can supply. But the old economic trilogy of scarcity, choice, and cost can help us remember this advice: We first have to decide what the main thing is and then, we have to decide to keep that main thing at the top of our priority ranking.