Passing the Buck or Not?

President Harry S Truman was famous for many things.  A plain-spoken man.  He made the terribly weighty and controversial decision to drop two nuclear bombs on the Empire of Japan, no doubt hastening the end of World War II.

But he is perhaps best known by a little sign he kept on his desk (see image above).  He was the chief executive officer of the United States and Commander-In-Chief of our armed forces.  He made choices that affected history and lives.

“The buck stops here.”

Buck-passing is currently in vogue now and has been for some time.  But it has never served anyone who has participated in it.  President Truman used this maxim to communicate one thing: I am ultimately responsible. See the picture.

Some time ago, I heard someone say, “The moment in which you grow up is when you take complete responsibility for your life.”


I’ve been thinking about this lately, owning up to my position in life.  I’ve done my share of buck-passing, blame-shifting and the like.  What I have found, however, is that as I have embraced full responsibility for my life—where things went bad, where I fell short of some objective, where life ended up being the pits—I feel strangely liberated.  Like a young man who moves out on his own for the first time and assumes the responsibility that had been his parents’.

As a leader, you will grow rapidly as you wrestle with this challenge and not permit yourself to be seduced by the siren song of the culture.  No more will you say “I can’t” about a thing when you know inside that you can.  It will just cost more.  Longer work.  More exercise.  Loss of a friendship because you tell the truth in love.

  • I am responsible for being out of shape. I chose to eat poorly and not exercise.  Now I’m trying to eat better and am exercising and weight training regularly.
  • I am responsible for my career advancement or lack of. I chose to stay in an unfulfilling job when the time came to go.  I chose not to pound the pavement and send out résumés.  I chose not to further my education in one way or another.  I spend my weeks furthering my learning, polishing my skills and gifts.  On my own time.  Without monetary pay.  There’s more than one form of remuneration, after all.
  • I am responsible for inferior relationships. I chose not to cultivate friendships or to repair those that have taken a beating in the rough and tumble of life.  I’ve recently reconnected with old classmates.  It’s an important step.

Challenge:  Take a long and honest look at your life and see if there’s a time you ducked responsibility.  Evaluate it.  And own it.  Then craft a plan to do things differently the next time you are thus challenged. You will feel empowered immediately.


Suggested Resources:

Where the Buck Stops: The Personal and Private Writings of Harry S Truman (Harry S & Margaret Truman)

Personal Responsibility: Why It Matters (Alexander Brown)


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Preparation: Key to Overcoming Fear

Winston-Churchill-Flashing-Victory-SignAbout twenty years ago, I read a fascinating book–The Sir Winston Method–by James Humes.  At the time, I was doing a fair amount of public speaking.  The book, an exploration of Winston Churchill’s speaking techniques, was apropos.

One practical bit of information I gleaned from this book was this: The way to overcome the fear of public speaking is to know more about your subject than anyone else in the audience.


It is fairly well-known that there are a lot of people in our world who fear getting up in front of people and speaking more than death itself.  Fear of humiliation.  Fear of unpreparedness.  It is quite potent.

I’ve learned that when I do my homework, when I have put myself through the paces, when I own my subject–I am far more unafraid.

Here’s the challenge:  Prepare.  Put in the time and effort to know your topic.  I mean really know it.  Anticipate the arguments and objections.  Indeed, shoot holes through your subject before anyone else can.  Know the weaknesses, the tenuous spots, and strengthen them.

Watch fear dissipate!

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Educate Yourself On Money

Know Your Money

“You must walk to the beat of a different drummer. The same beat that the wealthy hear. If the beat sounds normal, evacuate the dance floor immediately! The goal is to not be normal, because as my radio listeners know, normal is broke.” (Dave Ramsey)

Now, more than ever, you owe it to yourself and those you love to do your financial homework.  There are lots of audio and video resources to help you get a handle on your money.  Among them, Dave Ramsey (quoted above).  Scores of people have liquidated their debt and got on their feet by taking his Financial Peace University class. Many others have been helped by the direct and passionate style of Suze Orman.  Here are some things I am reading and learning:

The current debt-ceiling crisis in Washington D. C. highlights the need to be aware of our money—what we have, what we owe, where to get more, etc.

Do yourself a favor and get yourself an education—if you haven’t already done so—on the way money, debt, deficits, markets, lending, borrowing and the like functions.  In this time, more than ever, ignorance is not bliss—it is dangerous.  Be awake.

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The Book of Lights and Tough Ethical Questions

The Book of LightsI’m currently reading a book by Chaim Potok, author of my favorite novel, The Chosen.  This particular book, written in 1981, The Book of Lights, is set in Korean War-era New York City near historic Riverside Church and Grant’s Tomb, Korea, and Japan.

The main protagonist, Gershon Loran, has been ordained into the rabbinate and conscripted into the service after the armistice has been signed.  He is a somewhat melancholy and, at the same time, brilliant and reflective man who is particularly enamored with the study of Kabbalah–the books of Jewish mysticism.  He is haunted by visions.

His roommate, Arthur Leiden–also a rabbinical student and future rabbi, is a curious figure.  He is a conflicted man, often drinking too much and coming to class unprepared (and drawing upon himself the kind of ire that was standard for teachers towards lazy students a generation ago.)

Arthur is conflicted as well because his father, a physicist, was involved in the creation of the atomic bomb.  Albert Einstein, Harry S Truman, Leo Szilard and Enrico Fermi are all colleagues of Arthur’s father and figure into the story.

The book, a predictably thoughtful story, forces the reader to examine the moral import and consequence of developing weapons of mass destruction and its consequences for those who bear the weight of such a dark legacy.

I am about half the way through this novel.  Potok is a masterful writer.  He understands the human psyche and Jewishness (in which he was both raised and trained).  Read this and his other works.

And reflect.

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The Horse’s Mouth (Go to the Source)

The SourceI had an interesting discussion with a friend some time ago.  He is trained and makes his living in the biological sciences.  We discussed a variety of topics related to his discipline—Charles Darwin, natural selection, evolution, Intelligent Design and the book of Genesis.

I told him that one of the things that bothers me—a pet peeve, to be honest—is the way in which people comment upon and dismiss out of hand concepts about which they know little or nothing.  Most of the people I know who eschew anything remotely connected to Charles Darwin and evolution have probably never read On The Origin of Species.  If you mentioned the word “beagle” to them in context of a discussion about Darwin, they’d think you were talking about a dog rather than a ship.

Disclaimer: I’ve never read On the Origin of Species, though I’d like to in order to hear Darwin on his own merits.  And for my purposes here, I’m not even discussing my own personal beliefs about how the universe came to be.

What I’m after is giving people a fair hearing on every matter rather than going on hearsay.  This leads to libel, slander and all sorts of misunderstanding.   And it gives ignorance a platform it doesn’t deserve.

When I attended seminary years ago, one of the strengths of the program in which I was enrolled was its insistence on reading primary sources.  In other words, we got our information from the horse’s mouth, rather than from those who kept—or thought they kept—the horses.  For example, we didn’t read an analysis about Thomas Aquinas; we read Aquinas.  You encounter trouble rapidly when you get your information second-, third-, or fourth-hand.


  • How much do you know about Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Richard Nixon from a) their own writings, b) their public lives and service, c) their respective voting and executive records, and d) their tax returns? You get this from going to the source.  And that source is their own lives, their tax returns, public records and writings, not necessarily mainstream media.
  • Where, in the Scriptures, is the verse “God helps those who help themselves?”
  • Was the Peter, Paul & Mary song “Puff the Magic Dragon,” written by Peter Yarrow, about drugs? (You will be surprised!)

These are some teasers.  You can find your own.  You must do your homework–you can’t outsmart the work.  But whatever you do, have the integrity to get your information first-hand.  From the principals themselves, not their defenders or critics.

That is, from the horse’s mouth.

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Respect: Its Acquisition and Maintenance

command-dont-demand-respect-fullSome time ago, I had a thought-provoking discussion with a group of young leaders.   A good deal of our interaction concerned the concept of respect.  Respect is something that is often misunderstood and confused with deference.  Let me explain.

Deference is the perfunctory and appropriate behavior we manifest towards position, authority and station in life.  You may not agree with a decision your boss or your President made this past week.  But prudence dictates that you are restrained when you express your displeasure and disagreement.  You do so mindful of the offices they occupy.  That is deference.

Respect, on the other hand, is rather an instinctual behavior, like sweating in hot, humid weather.  The gain or loss of respect is predicated on the presence or absence of integrity.  Put another way, deference is given; respect is earned.   It is an automatic response to the practice of integrity.

This is the way of life.  I’ve watched men in high office—political, corporate and ecclesiastical—demand respect without manifesting the kind of behavior that entitles them to respect.  It is unedifying, to say the least, and breeds cynicism in their constituents.  If you want respect, you’ve got to pay your dues.  They are substantial.  Respect is always earned.

I’ve both gained and lost the respect of people, especially those closest to me, over nearly fifty years of life.  This has always been in just proportion to my integrity or lack of it.  It’s no use for me to whine about “not getting respect” if I’ve not dug deep and won it.  There are no shortcuts.

How then does one win this prize, something essential to all human beings and particularly important to males?

  • Walk in integrity.  If you profess a creed, certain values and expectations, you must back these up with the currency of consistency.  You cannot keep two sets of books.  Be one person.  Not two or four or a dozen.  What you are in public must equate what you are when you are outside of public view, in the crucible of the secret place.
  • When you blow it, admit it. No equivocation.  No excuses.  No blame-shifting.  If you screw up, own it.  All of it.  And say you’re sorry and rebuild.  Apologizing and amending one’s ways with earnestness begins building respect immediately.
  • Realize that you cannot mandate an instinctive behavior.  You can say, “I am your father and you will not speak to me that way” to a mouthy child.  That is fair and right.  But when someone calls you out for your failures, you are not authorized to pull rank to avoid dealing with your transgressions.  If you do, you are a fool.  A big fool.  Don’t go there.

This prize is worth fighting for.  Be true, humble, and serve.  You’ll earn more respect than you know what to do with.

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Never Forget

Never ForgetI lived in Southern Lower Michigan until the summer of 1987.  During the 1980’s, I developed an interest in–nay, a love for–all things Jewish.  A portion of this curiosity emerged as I learned Hebrew and studied the Hebrew Bible as a young Christian man.  Part of this affection for Judaica was no doubt because my late stepfather, of blessed memory, was Jewish.  And some of this came organically, as I learned the history of the Second World War and was introduced to people like Elie Wiesel.

I was fascinated and moved.  We lived not far from a very large Jewish community, centered in Southfield, MI, a suburb of Detroit.

A segment of my weekly routine was this: I drove twenty-four miles to the Borders bookstore in Beverly Hills MI every Friday and bought a copy of The Jewish News, a weekly publication highlighting the events and concerns of the Greater Detroit Jewish community, at that time about 80,000 strong.

As my love for all things Jewish grew, I attended Jewish events in the Southfield area.  I well remember a gathering at a local high school with Congressman Sander Levin highlighting the plight of then-Soviet Jewry and their hopes for making aliyah to Israel.  It was Congressman Levin who urged us to read The Abandonment of the Jews by David S. Wyman, detailing our country’s callous refusal to give safe harbor to European Jews during the War.

It was only a matter of time until I made my way to the Jewish Community Center on Maple Road.  The place enthralled me.  As a Christian man, I felt I was connecting with something much larger than I when visiting the campus.  I attended a play there, The Diary of Anne Frank.  I perused the bookstore.  I loved it.

One of the prime features of the JCC at that time was the Holocaust Memorial Center, an adjunct to the larger community building itself. Admission was free and the architecture of the building sloped downward.  It was a fitting metaphor in architecture.  As one descended the darkened walkway of the Memorial, filled with re-creations and actual relics from the Shoah, one descended, as it were, into some history of the horror of the Third Reich and its leader, Adolph Hitler.

It was a numbing experience, to say the least.  I visited there three or four times before it moved to its new and expanded location in nearby Farmington Hills.  I’ve visited the new Memorial twice.  It is much larger than the original HMC and beautiful in a dark sort of way.

What one comes away with after such visits, among other things, is this:  Never underestimate the power of hatred couched in shrewd rhetoric.  Six million Jews perished in World War II because one man was able to convince Europe that the Jewish race was a contagion.

We must never, ever forget.

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