Thursday, June 15, 2006

70. Feathered friends add joy

My wife affectionately named them the Smiths, after the Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie movie, "Mr. and Mrs. Smith." They have no resemblance to the characters in the movie; actually, their relationship better resembles "Romeo and Juliet." Romantically, this pair of Mallard Ducks have been visiting us regularly now for over two years.

Mallard Ducks are the most popular duck in the world, and they usually stay together in flocks. They are omnivorous, adapting and enjoying a diverse diet- both "dabbling" at the water surface and eating a wide variety of seeds. Males and females form monogamous relationships in the autumn and separate after reproducing the following spring.

The Smiths arrive both in the morning and late afternoon for their daily meals; usually one eats while the other attentively watches for our pack of dogs and other predatory threats. Not only do we see them in our backyard, we see them down the road at another feeder and we often see them flying back and forth between the two. For two years, nearly every time we have seen one, we have seen the other. In true anthropomorphic fashion, they really seem to care about one another; there seems to be an aurora around them and a sense of sincerity in their relationship. In fact, I could have sworn that I heard the male whisper Shakespeare to her one evening:

"Did my heart love till now?
Forswear it, sight!
For I ne'er saw true beauty
till this night!"

It is often the same routine; they land in the neighbor's yard and carefully and cautiously walk about 50 feet to our feeders. During this short, habitual journey, they are assiduously watching for our dogs. We usually look for the Smiths before letting the dogs out, but occasionally they escape our view. The getaway plan includes jumping into the neighbor's pool or an immediate take off.

One day a couple of weeks ago, I was driving down a side road not so far out of the path the Smiths usually take. Lying dead in the road was a male Mallard. My heart sank, for I immediately thought of Mr. Smith. Beyond the fact that I do not know how someone could hit a very slow moving, bright and colorful duck on a 25 mile per hour road, I wondered what Mrs. Smith would do without Mr. Smith.

My fears were relieved, at least for the Smiths, as later the next evening they arrived for dinner on schedule. Their pattern and charm has almost made them part of the family. Mallards live up to twenty years, though due to human influence and predation most only survive a couple of years. When this pair leaves us, whether it is because they rejoin a flock, the male instinctively fly off with his male counterparts or, worst case scenario, they are tragically harmed- it will truly be a somber moment.

Thursday, June 8, 2006

69. Policy often led by bias

A few years ago, in preparation to serve on my first non-profit board, I attended a seminar aptly titled, "The Role of the Board." I was younger and much less accomplished that most of the other people that attended the seminar, and I hoped to learn as much from them as the presentation and panel discussion itself. I do not remember much detail from that event other than what disappointed me most.

Early in the day, experts in the field emphasized the importance of sticking to the mission of the non-profit entity. The discussion of integrity and ethics in this matter was quite pronounced, and I felt that the message really hit home. Later in the day, we were placed into groups of maybe 8-10 people; each group culturally and professional diverse. We were given a set of exercises, only one of which I still recall. We were asked to discuss and make a decision on a large donation to the organization that came with specific details- details that attached restrictions to the donation, most of which ran contrary to the mission of the organization.

I remember sitting, actually stunned in silence, as our group, made up of professional community and religious leaders, worked assiduously, even in a fictional exercise, to find a way to accept that donation. They worked to alter the mission and the services of the organization- whatever it took. I was appalled.

President Bush is beginning to push his "traditional marriage amendment" again in a seemingly desperate attempt for support. Of interest in this matter, is not my stance on gay marriage, which I have frequently commented on, rather the opinion of Vice-President Dick Cheney. The Vice-President opposes a constitutional amendment on traditional marriage, not because he is suddenly open-minded on the issue, but because his daughter is gay. Analogically, the very conservative Vice-President opposing a gay marriage amendment is like the pro-life parents that recommend an abortion to their daughter because an early pregnancy threatens her college education and subsequent career.

The obvious politicking of the issue is embarrassing, as frantic Republicans seek to rekindle the conservative flame that was so successful in 2004. However, my only point is to ask what is the chance that Vice-President Cheney would be opposed to a constitutional amendment on traditional marriage if his daughter was not gay? In the same manner, how adamant would President Bush be if his daughter was gay? Finally, how much would any Republican, except the most evangelical, care about the issue if it was not seen as a dividing issue- one that successfully factored in President Bush's reelection?

It seems that people make decisions, in business, politics and their personal lives based on their personal interest- not what is right or wrong. In the midst of opportunity or in the fear of danger, principle and ethics are tossed aside. The justification of these decisions is often easy, even if the intent is obvious and well-known to others. It is like when people say it is not about the money, then, of course, it is usually about the money. When people change their opinions on an issue, it is usually because the opposing argument now holds a more opportunistic or consequential interest.