Floods, icebergs and character: success in hip waders

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, June 26, 2013

Area waterways have been littered with trees, trash and treasures – and tragically, even beloved homes – floating downstream due to the floods in southern Alberta the past few days.

But not a single iceberg among all the debris!

Icebergs? What do icebergs have to do with our flood? And what do they have to do with the outpouring of compassion so evident in the face of this disaster?

And just what does any of this have to do with success, the theme of our current series of columns?

Before answering that question, I want to share a response to last week’s column from St. Albert coffee companion Jenny Bocock.

Jenny and her husband, John, are successful dairy farmers, semi-retired now, who live just north of Edmonton. When lucrative opportunities came their way a few years ago to make a financial killing by selling their prime agricultural land to urban developers, they chose instead to be guided by a different vision of success – “inner success,” as David Irvine referred to it in that column.

To preserve their land’s nourishing heritage, Jenny, John and family sold it to the University of Alberta’s agricultural program at a mere fraction of its appraised value.

Jenny credits her father, the late British Wimbledon tennis star Bunny Austin, for his example in inner success. (Bunny was famous back in the 1930s not only for his outer successes in competition, but for being the first to wear shorts in tournament tennis.)

“Dad said to me that, when we die, God is not going to ask us how successful we have been, but how much we have cared for people,” Jenny wrote. “I told this when he was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. (He was in the top 10 tennis players of the world for 10 years. He reached the finals of Wimbledon twice and was on the winning Davis Cup team four times.)”

But it was Bunny’s commitment to caring for “all kinds of people, from milkmen to sports stars,” that meant more to him than all the tennis trophies in the world. And it was that attitude that influenced the Bococks’ decision to entrust their precious farmland to the University of Alberta, she said. “I think we would treat God's planet differently with this kind of thinking.”

Bunny’s example of values-based living leads quite nicely into local coffee companion Lori Craig’s view of icebergs as a metaphor for true success in life.

Lori, a widely travelled human resources consultant to corporations, used to be the HR director for the Stoney Nakoda First Nation at Morley till she retired a year ago. (She’s also co-author with me of an upcoming book on fanning the fading embers of each other’s souls.)

She and her husband, Joe, were two of the 75,000 folks evacuated from their homes in Calgary last week because of the flood. Back home now, she says that her street was “safe and dry” but lacking power, and that has freed her to get involved in flood clean-up for others.

As a workshop facilitator in management-guru Stephen Covey’s popular book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, she, too, laments a drift in the definition of success from character-based toward personality-based.

And this is where icebergs float into the picture.

“The iceberg metaphor helps us understand that the foundation to real sustainable success is indeed character-based, below the surface,” she says, referring to the fact that barely 10 per cent of an iceberg is visible above the water.

“The tip of the iceberg represents personality and the traits we associate with personality: friendly outgoing attitude, good sense of humour, well-groomed, etc. But if we spend more time and energy on these traits than on character, we may find that we have a great 'cover' but no real substance.

“The character qualities that we strive to develop – qualities beneath the surface, such as honesty, integrity, trustworthiness and humanity – are the very things that allow us to build healthy, mutually beneficial interdependent relationships in sustainable, caring communities,” Lori says.

Yes, here too, as in Bunny’s example, icebergs are a lesson in true success – and an inspiration for reaching out to others in the floods of life.


© 2013 Warren Harbeck

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