Musings from George

Noblesse Oblige
May 26, 2006, 5:51 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I talked this week with cityzenjane ( on the phone, a medium I don't use very much. Email has given me a time-shifting capability, coupled with a memory so much better than my own, that I just don't use those 400 minutes very often.

I know cityzenjane from years back, when we worked at a company that went from the "Gee Whiz" cover of Business Week to a chapter 11 filing last month. The alumni buzz went from musings about the good old days to alarmed postings over what medical claims are no longer being paid (apparently our old employer self-insured, and that's never a good thing when your old employer is bankrupt).

But to the point / title, she is involved with a nonprofit that has been promoting green policies and self-sufficiency for years. We talked about people that would be interested, and people that could help. One of those underlying questions that every charity and nonprofit has to address is "what does it take to recruit volunteers and to raise money?"

I have been asked many times why I spend so much time and energy on nonprofit causes, and have been told by some that I make them feel guilty about their own efforts or contributions. My general response is that I give back because it makes me feel good, and when I stop enjoying the results of my efforts I scale back or drop out (the benefit of working at a nonprofit is that you can always STOP doing it, unlike a job that gets boring or turns sideways). But left unsaid is what KEEPS them (and others) from doing more, rather than wondering how I find the time. Why do some give so much, and so many give little or nothing? The rule of thumb I have heard is that 5% of the people do 90% of the work for nonprofits, and that feels about right from my past experience with churches, alumni associations, and fraternal organizations.

Do we volunteer or donate out of guilt? out of a sense that we owe society something? out of a holy mandate? An oft-quoted sentence from the Bible is Luke 12:48

"For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more."

My grandmother was incredibly active in her church, as is my mother. Side note, I have odd memories of being bribed to memorize quotations from the Bible, and who can say that those $0.25 homilies didn't cause me to do more good deeds than others? My father was active on the local community council, and did many good things (from fire trucks to conservation bonds). From them all I developed a sense of owing society, of needing to give back — of feeling good about helping others. How different would the world be if we _all_ tried to find a way to make our communities better, to make the world better, to feel better about helping strangers as much as we enjoy helping our friends and family?

I attended a nice event this week to receive a grant to a nonprofit that I am active with, and it was great to spend time with generous donors and with other worthy recipients. It occurred to me that the audience was nearly all white, mostly old, and mostly female — and it also occurred to me that today's soccer moms are less likely to be involved in local societies than their mothers were, and that today's soccer dads are less likely to be helping out the Scout troops. Where will we be when the current crop of doers are done, and when the Scouts die and camping experiences are something we shop for online ("do they have canoes?")?

Just a rant, no point to make today. How do we get more people to do more, and to give more, than they do today? Motivate someone to get involved this month, and feel good about your efforts.


Role models and coaches
May 5, 2006, 6:39 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I recently dug up an article that ran in the New York Times Magazine in 2004 about a coach who had played professional baseball before retiring to a small town to coach baseball. He coached many championship teams, and built a dynasty from a program that had no right to be a dynasty.

Through his career, the kids and parents changed — so much so that the earlier generations of kids revered and respected him, and the current generation ignored and mocked him. Parents who used to support his uncritically have been replaced by those who want to second-guess his decisions and who choose to go straight to the athletic director rather than to the coach when they have a problem.

When did we become so indulgent and so selfish? Why is it that wealth and competition causes such destructive, meddling behavior? I have played on many sports teams in my life, and have coached several — our kids don't grow up in a vacuum, and the coaches and teammates they spend time with develop their character and their will to strive for better. Anyone who has achieved a remarkable feat as part of a team knows exactly what I mean — anyone who hasn't is missing out on life. It isn't just sports, and everything I mean here applies to the drama club and the chess club (indeed, I was a Mathlete in high school … one of only a few with three sports on my varsity letter jacket, and NOT the best Mathlete but always willing to go, try, and learn).

My father was a role model for me. Elected repeatedly to the local community governing body, he was foresightful and forceful — he led the effort to issue bonds to buy the hills surrounding our community, and those hills are now the first undeveloped property along 101 north of San Francisco. My water polo coach (Chuck Metz) was also my math teacher — he worked hard to be a good teacher, but he worked harder to be a great coach. He built a successful sports team, taught teamwork, taught the value of commitment and hard work, and he modeled all of these behaviors — always on time, always prepared, always consistently fair. His funeral service was one of the few times that kids from a dozen different graduating classes got together to share their appreciation, and it was incredibly touching.

So I have coached, and I have reffed — soccer and water polo. I have to say that coaching water polo was an awesome and rewarding experience, but also that reffing is a thankless job that is made miserable by ignorant and boorish parents. It's just deflating to put up with unjust criticism (why can't parents read the rule book if they want to be an authority? and why don't they learn to ref if they want to hold the whistle? and what about being a parent justifies obnoxious, imbalanced judgment (yes, your kid just might be the worst one in the pool … someone's kid is)?

When did parents decide to be actors in the life of their children, rather than the sponsors of the play? Why do parents think that they are coaching their child by yelling at the other team or at the ref? Why do parents think that the competition begins with getting into preschool, and that the parents somehow have to game the system to go to the right private school? We went to public schools, kicked the cans in the street, and somehow did all right. Why isn't that going to be good enough for our kids?