Although I only spent 5 years in the city of my birth…I remember it well! There was a snow on the ground and more in the air, as mom announced that she had retrieved Laughing Santa…and that I must come to see him!
Before me was the little, stuffed, Chief Elf…with his brightly painted face and the crank on his back. The more that mom turned the crank…the more heartily Old St. Nick laughed. I watched his antics and reveled in his laughter and wondered how he was able to be so human and yet…seemed not to be so?
There were many, uniquely wrapped, gifts under the 8 foot aluminum Christmas Tree. Pointing at the shiny artificial Tannenbaum was a rotating light with a cover of multi-colors that diffused the spectrum of color of the subsequent glow of the beam.
We had returned from our excursion into the city where we saw the new release of Walt Disney’s movie, Lady and the Tramp. And, the information overload for me, at 3 years old, was tremendous…and ‘visions of sugarplums danced in my head!’
Soon dad and me and mom sat under the Tree as a, mysterious visitor, took our photo…’and that is the rest of the story.’
It was after dark and our outside Christmas lights were lit…and we heard a terrible commotion on the roof of our house in Sauk Village. It sounded like someone had been on the roof and fell off. As dad answered the door, I heard him proclaim…’Why come right in!’ There before us…was Santa Claus in all of his red suited, and white bearded, and pipe smoking glory!
Santa laughed, a lesser laugh, than what I had expected…and he wondered if he could use our phone to call Mrs. Claus? He went on to say that he and the Missus had been involved in a spat when he left and he needed to ensure that there was a home for him to return to…when the Christmas Eve work was completed. Dad showed him our one phone in the hall…and he began to dial. We gave him his privacy…he looked like that he needed it. We heard him say, ‘but…but…but,’ on several occasions, and then he joined us in the living room. Santa said that he had patched things up and inquired was there anything that he could do for us…before he resumed his journey. Mom responded that she would like for him to snap a family photo of us under the Christmas Tree. Santa took her camera and took two pictures…in case the first one did not come out right.
Dad poured the, ‘spritely old elf,’ some eggnog and asked if he wanted something stronger in it…and he smiled with the rosiest of cheeks and said, ‘absolutely!’
As Santa left, on our carport were the reindeer and a bright red glow…from Rudolph’s nose. Donner and Vixen called out to Santa and asked, ‘where’s ours?’ referring to the spiked eggnog.
So, that is how the Brooks Family Photo…was taken.
‘Waiting for Godot is a play by Samuel Beckett.’ Wikipedia
”The play is a typical example of the Theatre of the Absurd, and people use the phrase ‘waiting for Godot’ to describe a situation where they are waiting for something to happen, but it probably never will…’ Wikipedia
So, I often say that I am, ‘waiting for Godot!’
Aren’t we all waiting for many things in our lives…that have not exhibited themselves ever…or at least not on a semi-regular basis We wait for Godot when we seek justice and fair treatment for all peoples…not just the majority or those who are favored by the political class. We wait patiently for our elected leaders to care more about their constituents than their own interests. What a treat it would be to witness a concerted focus to address global warming!
We live in a country that, by all available measurable criteria, live in multiple realities. There was a famous book, many years ago, that was entitled, Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus. This book demonstrated the difficulty in men and women communicating with each other and understanding and empathizing with each others point of view. Today points of view are dictated by the television news network that you receive your news from.
When I was a teenager, men simply understood that they were going to be drafted and be sent to Vietnam. My cousin, Billy, was drafted. The only reason that I was not drafted was due to President Carter abolishing the draft before I became of age to go!
We all watched Walter Cronkite on CBS or Huntley and Brinkley on NBC and we basically received the same news.
We wept when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963 at 12:30 pm, central standard time. Somehow, we understood that we would never be the same…and we have not!
We are told by our parents and our elders to work hard and ‘pay-our-dues’ and seek to excel in our careers! We are assured that if we will apply ourselves…we will climb the ladder of success…and we will be another example of the American Dream! We are told that anyone can be President of the United States and anyone can be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company…the Horatio Alger story of rags to riches…is ours for the taking….
But, what if the person who is doing the hiring…does not play by the rules? What if it is not…what you know…but who you know….?
Institutions agonize regarding their low morale. They engage is studies….and consultants….and large committees…too investigate and conduct in depth research into the quandary of ebbing excitement about the work-place!
The answer is simple….we all wait….much as our Jewish friends wait for the Messiah…or justice and equity and fairness…and recognition of consistent hard work and a passion for the job….and someone who has placed their heart and soul into their career….being recognized for their efforts…rather than being passed over for a friend of the boss!
We are still, ‘Waiting for Godot!’
I was reflecting, this morning in church, what I liked so much about First Presbyterian. As I was listening to the, lovely, granddaughter of one of my fellow congregants…sing out so boldly and courageously, during a hymn, I considered what out church believes its mission is. Jane and Bill’s granddaughter is full of the active […]
So, we were enjoying a tasty burger at S and B’s Burger Joint when MJ said that she had seen some nice looking rugs on sale at our Macy’s department store…which is undergoing a liquidation sale and is going out of business. Since Macy’s was next door to the restaurant…we walked over to have a look.
I vividly recall visiting Tunis, Tunisia during the ‘Arab spring.’ It was in 2011 and our tour guide was very complimentary of Americans and the United States. We stopped at the ruins of Carthage. We visited the World War II, American Cemetery. Our guide spoke of the sacrifice that Americans had given, to aid Tunisia. Tunisia experiencing Cruise Tours…was new. It was a direct result of the uprisings and overthrow of totalitarian governments occurring across the Arab world. We were on a Holland America ship and they had just begun stopping at Tunis. As our bus snaked its way down the crowded and winding streets of Tunis, many of the residents waved at us and smiled broadly. However, I did see one angry gentleman who gave us the middle finger as we passed. One of the highlights of the tour was a visit to a hand-weaving of Tunisian rugs. When we entered the facility where the rugs were both weaved and displayed, or guide introduced me to his boss. He smiled and greeted me warmly.
We were ushered into a long room with benches on both sides of it. Several women entered the room and began to distribute tea to each of us as well as sweet cakes. Then, the hand-crafted rug show began. I have never seen such beautiful and intricately woven rugs in my life! The many assistants brought each rug before each of we cruisers and we could feel them and admire they’re craftsmanship. They were simply exquisite. The prices were exorbitant. But, as I observed the negotiations with each prospective buyer, I noticed that the ending cost…was much less than the beginning. Rugs that sold for $5k…were haggled down to $800. So, as I, quizzically, observed that although many in our group quickly caught on to the fact of sliding prices…some did not. To my amazement, the non-negotiators took the first price given and purchased the marvelous handcrafted rugs…on the spot, while others watched the dynamics of the process and held back.
The gentleman that was helping MJ and I at Macy’s, was from Philadelphia and had the singular purpose of selling rugs at the Macy’s liquidation event. The two rugs that we purchased were 70% off their retail price. I inquired of the Philadelphian if the, full, retail price was actually what Macy’s sold them for. He responded that probably not but that they they were, definitely, considerably more expensive, prior to the liquidation.
The closing of our Macy’s store is sad. MJ and I recall when our Macy’s store was, first, a Famous-Barr store. Famous was a wonderful department store. I purchased so many items at our local Famous, that the attendants all knew me by name and each spoke to me every time that I entered the establishment. In the 1990s we attended the grand opening of Famous-Barr. There was complimentary wine and horderves and our spirits were at their zenith, as Carbondale and the Southern Illinois region came out to celebrate the grand opening of such a quality department store! I recall seeing my friends, Don and Shirley Beggs, and pondering what a tremendous addition a Famous-Barr store was going to make in our city.
Our identity with Famous-Barr went back many years before the store came to our town. We traveled to their headquarters and primary store, in St. Louis, for many Christmases. The establishment had seven floors of sumptuous consumerism. On the 7th floor, during the holiday season, there were the animatronic bears. Virtually the entire floor was the Christmas Bears in their Christmas Village. As Aaron and Jonathon watched them, with wide eyed wonder, we knew that our Christmas was complete!
Macy’s subsumed Famous-Barr, which was the flagship store of the May Company of St. Louis, in 2006. Sadly, the quality fell, immediately…and continued to deteriorate for the 14 years of Macy’s occupation of the space. I remember being so shocked to see that Macy’s, which I had only know from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, was delivering lesser quality than Famous had been. Yet…there is a profound sadness to see an anchor store in our, once great mall, closing.
However, perhaps a renaissance is afoot? A new theatre is going to occupy the space that AMC vacated a couple of years back. Also a new store is moving into a vacant space in our mall. Let us hope that everything does not gravitate to on-line purchasing….There is a beauty to the tactile efficiency of hands on…store shopping.
My mentor and friend.
When I began working at Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale on October 10, 1978, I knew no one and no one knew me. I could not believe my good fortune in obtaining a civil service position at the University. The position of Building Service Worker I in the housekeeping department, Building Services, had over 700 people on the test register. I truly believed that there must have been a mistake and that, in short order, I would be notified that my services were no longer required. As I traveled to my assignment of cleaning the Accounting building, Thalman Hall, my supervisor asked me if I had met the foreman, yet? I responded that I had not, and he assured me that, Jim, would be over sometime during the evening. As I became engrossed in my work…I suddenly heard a loud voice calling out, ‘Brooks’, and I stopped to see the…
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I just completed a survey that our church is conducting prior to our search for a permanent pastor. As I proceeded to respond to the over 100 questions, I noticed that when asked, specifically, my feelings or opinions…that I was somewhat surprised as to my answers.
For instance if you were being surveyed as to your employment satisfaction, should you be asked if you are satisfied with your job…you might check that you are very satisfied. However if the next question was, do you believe that your supervisor cares about your success, you may check the box of …tend to disagree. It seems that we are prone to paint, the blanket-opinion of our environment with a broad brush, when the nuances of what makes up that opinion are complex.
At the conclusion of the survey, there was a paragraph in the explanation section of the instrument. It was a response to the inquiry, ‘why would there be a need to ask each member of the congregation of the church when there is elected leadership that are tasked with representing the will of the people?’ The answer was that church leaders tend to identify with a small group of the congregation and are not good barometers of the thoughts of the congregation, as a whole. I have found this to be true for the entirety of my adult life, both in churches that I have been a member of and throughout my career at SIUC.
Loud voices tend to be heard, more clearly. I had a supervisor, once, who decided that my department was comprised of a certain type of person, that was representative of the few members of the staff that he knew because of complaints or concerns that they had expressed to him. From the time of his ‘blanket-decision’ forward…his comments to me, on a weekly basis, would be that he did not know how I succeed with the staff that I had. I continually had to fight the biased opinion that he had developed regarding a group of the hard working, and intelligent, and well educated, colleagues, that he had, mentally, pigeonholed into a corner of limited potential and possibilities.
Church congregations tend to have strong voices among the group. Often these voices speak for the people that they work with in mission or ministry…while many of the silent majority of the congregation are assumed to be in agreement with leaders…if for no other reason than their silence signifying assent. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Many christians live and die believing that their opinion is neither sought by leadership or if it is…it will be discounted if it is in disagreement with leadership.
Families leave churches due to their understanding that no one really cared what they thought…or how they felt. Many members of congregations are searching for someone to give voice to the voiceless.
The comprehensive survey, that I concluded today, was a beautiful tool to examine my nuanced thoughts and feelings regarding a church that I love and have been a member of for over 20 years. The revelations of my answers caused me to think of how healthy it is to survey other areas of life. It is important to understand why you are engaged in the activities that you are in the midst of…and what you may want to change about facets of those activities and dedications.
Let me tell you a little secret…no one will ever care more about your opinion and feelings…than you do. No one will be a more powerful advocate for you ideas…than you are.
It is incumbent on church leadership, as well as supervisor and managers and administrators in the work-place, to hear the voice of the silent majority. It is imperative to be a voice for the voiceless.
I was looking, as all good husbands do, for the ideal Valentines Day gift for MJ. I had been watching a holiday decorative pillow, at Macy’s, since before we went to Florida, last month. The needle point image on the pillow is of a French Bulldog with a holiday toboggan on his head and a red coat and scarf. Although the image is of a Frenchy…he looks just like our, dearly departed Boston Terrier, Wallace.
Wallace came to live with us after a celebratory luncheon at a Fairview Heights restaurant called, Lottawata Creek, and our indulgence in the drink special, Long Island Iced Tea. We were celebrating MJ’s good news regarding a medical situation with her eyes, that had, had us worried. Admist the humongous platter of french fries and the delicious Reuben Sandwiches, Jonathon noticed that the Long Island Iced Teas…were on special. As we enjoyed one….and then another…we…
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This morning in church Pastor Kerry referred to, beautiful brokenness. I though, what a great title for a blog! On many occasions I have considered volunteering for one thing or another or attempting to perform a task that I believed needed doing…only to be sidelined by my belief that someone else was more up to the job or skilled for the mission. The Pastor went on to illuminate the positive productivity of mistakes. As Jonathon and I sat trough training for church elders and deacons, we learned of the significance of making mistakes as we learn how to serve God’s church. Servant leadership has been a hallmark of my definition and vision of an effective leader. When I was a manager at Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale, I was often counseled and advised and extolled as to my deficits in the understanding and effective performance of my leadership responsibilities. Once a member of the campus community recited her many grievances with the lack of my managerial expertise and how she could make it better for upwards of one hour. Finally, she concluded by informing me that, ‘Mr. Brooks…you could be better.’ Seeing my opportunity I replied that I could not argue with her assertion and that I was going to hang up the phone and get busy on becoming better.
Humility is a rare virtue. I am captivated by a humble leader. Someone who understands that they do not have all of the answers…and does not know all of the questions. I have never been associated with a success that was not a group effort.
‘Great leaders take responsibility when things don’t work and share success when things go well. No matter why the team failed, he or she is the one to blame. This is how they create the conditions that allow the team to make mistakes, speak honestly and find fulfillment.’
‘In other words, they use ‘We’ instead of ‘I’ and – ALWAYS – put the interest of the organization ahead of their own self-interest.’
‘Great leaders create more leaders by empowering others and allowing them to make mistakes. Everyone has permission to fail, as long as they fail fast and passionately!’ Lifehack
Moses was a reluctant leader.
‘Then Moses said to the Lord, ‘O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant, but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’
‘So the Lord said to him, ‘Who made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord? Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.’ Exodus 4: 10-11. KJV
Another timely subject, Kerry discussed today with we trainees. was an openness in regarding committees that elders should be members of.
It is easy to be pigeonholed into areas that you have worked in. I had this discussion with SIUC chancellors and presidents, on many occasions, during my university career. I advised university leadership that they had a vast untapped reservoir of talent contained within the civil service community… that if they would just think outside the box, they would find eager and educated staff that would donate their time to help. I am convinced that if university chancellors and vice chancellors would seek the advice of the longest serving group of employees at the campus…they could go a long way in ameliorating the recruitment and retention problems that beset the organization. So often we see a carpenter…because she or he work as a carpenter…there is much more to the person than their vocation. The carpenter…could be an intellectual.
All to often when a person is working in the physical services…we see someone who would be talented to work with the churches physical plant. Or a person who works in marketing…church membership. When in fact there is no way to distinguish a church leader’s strengths without reading their mind. Saul of Tarsus persecuted the churches…until the road to Damascus.
‘Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?’ Mark 6:3
Success is incremental. I often marveled at the television commercials for Publishers Clearing House, where a representative of the company knocked on the front door of some, extremely lucky, person and presented them a giant check that effectively wiped away their financial concerns for the rest of their life.
Many years ago during some challenging times that my department, Building Services was experiencing, I decided that more people needed to understand the value that the civil service community brought to Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale. I had been a member of the Civil Service Council, which is the elected group who, at that time, represented over 2,000 colleagues. Having been a member of the group for 10 years, I had been pleased to never be an officer for the organization. I had enjoyed a wonderful career where my supervisors recognized my efforts and had been fortunate to attain every promotion available to me. But, it was clear to me that someone needed to attempt to communicate with the university’s chancellor regarding his most valuable and loyal staff. I, actually, did not want the job and felt certain that I would not be elected, by my Council colleagues, for the position. That realization comforted me as I did not desire a leadership role and had but a few years until my retirement. To my dismay, I was elected to represent the largest group of employees on the Carbondale campus. I felt a little sick to my stomach and doubted that I could be effective…but I knew that I had to try.
I have never enjoyed conflict. All gains and progress that I have made has been attributable to talking together with the powerful and the powerless. So, I began to meet, on a monthly basis with Chancellor Wendler. I found the Chancellor to be a brilliant man and easy to communicate with. He was a man from a diverse background and had, at one time, worked as a carpenter. Our discussions were wide ranging and colorful. Dr. Wendler had a heart for the poor and needy. During my, years of meeting with the Chancellor…I was admonished by some of my colleagues to demand our rights! I would not waiver from my bedrock philosophy of, praising a person from the mountaintop and constructively criticizing another…only in private.
Chancellor Wendler understood the sacrifice of our veterans and listened carefully to the Councils pleas for a recognized holiday to honor our heroes. Our campus owes him a debt of gratitude for his passion in ensuring the reality of our request.
Another vital issue that Chancellor Wendler spearhead was to give many members of the AceS union, parity raises, where data illustrated the they were being paid below the norm for their, primarily, clerical positions.
Chancellor Wendler asked me to chair a committee that he commissioned to review; pay increases for meritorious work performance, and a re-writing of civil service staff’s evaluations. In partnership with Human Resources, SIUC administration, the Director of the State Universities Civil Services System, and
representation from the Administrative and Professional ranks…we were not only able to perform the tasks that we had been charged with…but many civil service staff have benefited from the out of season pay raises that are based on merit.
In view of the extreme stresses that civil service staff were undergoing when they were diagnosed with critical diseases, such as cancer, the Chancellor enhanced extended sick leave to help ameliorate the suffering of his colleagues.
The Chancellor and I had many serious and private conversations. One was where the leadership of University Housing had gathered a University wide committee that was prepared to issue an RFP, a request for proposal, seeking privatization of Food Service services. This would have affected many civil service staff. I was told, privately, by a member of the committee that the Chancellor and the Vice Chancellor were looking toward privatization of Food Service for Housing. I was also given the same information by my good friend, Jim S., who asked me if there was anything that I could do. I was quite sure that little man like me could do nothing…as it appeared that the decision had already been made. However, I telephoned my friend, Jake B., who was the chair of the Administrative and Professional Staff Council and he agreed to accompany me to visit the Chancellor, in the evening. The Chancellor was a bit out of sorts. He was somewhat perturbed by my explanation for my and Jake’s visit. He went on to explain to me that he was only doing his job and that, perhaps, he should examine Building Services for privatization. I responded that I was fearful to be before him, our leader, as I was but a janitor. I continued by attesting that I had neither the wisdom nor the understanding to convince him to change his mind regarding privatization…but I had to try. I spoke about SIUC being the economic engine that propels the economy in Southern Illinois. I touted the dedication of the Housing Food Service Staff and their love to our students. I spoke of the dismal fact that when you lost a job at the University…you would not find another in Southern Illinois. I quoted the scripture: ‘But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. And, she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from the master’s table.’ Mark 7: 26-28 KJV
The Chancellor turn his head from Jake and I and stared for several minutes…and then asked if we had anything else. I meekly responded, no.
The next morning, my contact, that was a member of the Privatization committee, told me that the Chancellor had called the Vice Chancellor into his office at 7:00 A:M: and told him to disband the committee and that there would be no more discussion of privatization of Food Service staff.
About a week later my Executive Director told me to pass the word that the Chancellor wanted civil service staff to understand that there would be no discussion of privatization while he was Chancellor.
If there was any concern that was greater than fairness in the workplace…I do not recall it. Each of us are members of the workforce for a variety of reasons. A primary passion for working is the need for money. As I have commented, on numerous occasions, most geographical locations are splendid…if you have enough money to enjoy the benefits of living there. Southern Illinois is one of the most lovely locations to reside in, with the ancient hills and valleys created by the glaciers stopping nearby, and the luxurious natural surroundings. Consistent with the need for a living wage is a clear plan for not only attaining good job performance but a map for success, or promotion, for ambitious employees.
There is a valuable creed that I attempted to live by as a supervisor/manager/administrator…for over 30 years, ‘Be friendly, but not familiar…good, but not gullible.’
If you are…
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Navigating the sea of life can be likened to a placid and peaceful cruise in the Mediterranean, that, if you did not look out the port hole you would not realize that you are sailing…to riding the rough seas around the United Kingdom, where the ship rose several feet on each tremendous wave….and then slammed down to its horizontal correctness and resulting seasickness and disorientation!
As I have reached my senior years I have realized the truth that, things change. As a child, reading and writing and arithmetic were emphasized to me. Television was something that you engaged in during your limited free time. Books were important. Reading was essential. There was no reality TV. Issues in political life or religious thought did not boil down to a sound bite.
My mother read, daily. She belonged to the book of the month club. She read a book a month, at least.
The challenges of life are not solved in 30 minutes or during an hour of a court room procedural drama. I have noticed that, especially on network television, the scenes change at such a rapid rate in their weekly dramatic programs…that it has a somewhat dizzying affect on me. I was watching the latest John Wick movie and could not help but notice that the entire movie was comprised of character after character getting killed. The action was so fast and the scene changes so numerous…the movie had a frenetic video game quality and little to no sense of reality.
Senator Mitt Romney, who was the Republican Candidate for President 8 years ago…was a profile in courage, today. The Senator gave a moving speech on the floor of the Senate explaining his up-coming vote regarding impeachment: ‘In the last several weeks, I have received numerous calls and texts. Many demand that, in their words, ‘I stand with the team.’ I can assure you that thought has been very much on my mind. I support a great deal of what the President has done. I have voted with him 80% of the time. But my promise before God to apply impartial justice required that I put my personal feelings and biases aside. Where I to ignore the evidence that has been presented, and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demands for the sake of a partisan end, it would, I fear, expose my character to history’s rebuke and censure of my own conscience.’
Public service is not blind obedience to a political leader, whether Democrat or Republican or Independent. Critical thinking is vital to success in life. What I found most refreshing regarding Senator Romney’s comments was his dedication to his oath to God and his willingness to suffer the vehement verbal and written abuse, for his decision, that has already begun.
I understand what it feels like to make decisions based on principle and against public and, safe and comfortable, opinion. It is unsettling and frightening and life changing.
Team is important. Being a member of a group is empowering and a vehicle that enables each of us to accomplish more than we could by ourselves. However, in our society of multi-million dollar sports stars and our praise of the pig-skin…we must not confuse the blind support of team to the exclusion of our oath to God.
President Kennedy wrote a famous book entitled, Profiles in Courage, that recounted the exploits of courageous individuals. It was a thin book.
There are times that you win…by loosing!
Something that we all desire!
Having spent 31 of my 32 years and 2 moths and 3 weeks of my career at Southern Illinois University as a supervisor of others…I have a few reflections on what I think comprises a good supervisor. A valuable learning tool for me in my quest to be a good leader, was having worked for leaders who were not so good.
I remember beginning a new job, during my teenage years, where I was neither trained, or had the parameters of the job duties or expectations explained to me. I simply had to judge what needed to be accomplished and, ‘wing it,’ as the the methodology in completing the tasks. This, hands off, style of supervisor, left me often failing to perform what was expected of me…until I was reprimanded for not performing up to par.
Another employment position that I occupied, for nearly a year included being cursed at…on…
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