Managing My Appetites

Friends,

It’s been a week of thinking about the frailty of human leaders.  I find myself thinking a lot about how sometimes my human appetites undermine what matters most to me.

When leaders are caught in scandal – especially about private behavior – the public seems to vacillate between moral outrage and protestations that what a leader does privately should be his or her own business. A good psychologist could argue that both of those public responses may be triggered by our personal defense mechanisms.  For it’s easier to condemn someone else than to face one’s own foibles.  And a vehement tolerance of others’ privacy may be a way to keep people from invading our space.

Some of our appetites are dark and notorious — addictions to gambling, sex, or substances; or tendencies to be physically abusive of others.  Other appetites are more garden-variety — intensely controlling behavior, workaholism, incessant scapegoating or perfectionism.  Isn’t it true that in one way or another we are all rather wounded characters?  I love the consolation I find reading memoirs, as individuals lower the mask and share their struggles.  Nobody’s got this mystery of being human all figured out.

The great challenge is when our appetites or habits undermine our values.  In my case my wife and children are of supreme importance in my value structure, yet my appetite for achievement, recognition, and new pursuits continually threatens that primary value.  Feeding that appetite to achieve compromises both the quantity and the quality of my presence at home.  I see it as a kind of addiction, both in its compulsive power and its corrosive effect.

So, in 2008 I’ve recommitted to telling the truth to myself; I’m watching that appetite for work and achievement, and trying to honestly recognize the impact it has on my family.  And I’m doing other things that it’s important to do with addiction: talking about it openly, seeking the help of others, and removing myself from the conditions that tend to create the compulsive behavior.

Like many, I feel sad and indignant about the stories of Detroit’s mayor.  But on a personal level, instead of judging him, I’m hoping his experience will make me more aware of my own humanity, as well as the impact that my appetites have on those around me.  When we lead in positions of authority – as parent or boss – our behaviors really do profoundly affect others.  It’s important to try to tell the truth about those behaviors, and to seek help to manage them as best we can.  I hope you will, too, and thus

Lead with your best self!

Dan

15 responses to “Managing My Appetites

  1. Your observations are true and I know politicians are very vulnerable because they also have a perceived power that protects them from shame. I find it distressing that so many “good men” (and women too) that are held up by the schools, teachers, and society as examples for young people to emulate degrade their positions and hurt their family and friends by their behavior. Public figures have never had privacy and never will. They also are given a pass when they break laws i.e. perjury under oath. Ollie North is richer and a TV personality following his lies. Clinton lied to the nation and the world while looking us in the eye. His lies and his disgraceful actions send the wrong message to younger politicians. I will be amazed if anything meaningful is done to our Detriot mayor. He is another “comeback kid”.

  2. I believe that “managing our appetites” is appropriate terminology, especially in the truth that we share with key persons who are affected. By contrast, the notion of self control and discipline imply an entirely personal approach.

    Discussing and managing our appetites can be very difficult and contentious, and it’s tempting to avoid those discussions. Leading well, however, demands that level of honesty and courage – and if we stay the course it can yield a balance of personal and group needs.

  3. It’s very disheartening that we live in such an unfogiving world. “Let he who is without sin (for those who dont’ believe) flaw/error, case the first stone.” As long as Mayor Kilpatrick’s love life does not clash with his ability to make my city a better place; then so be it. I hope that he has grown since that first term in every way. But he is still young man with a great responsibility that needs a lot of support as well as constructive criticism.
    Too bad MOST people can’t find that in their hearts….

  4. Dan,

    Human passions are what we must control, otherwise we give in to others controlling us by our passions. Mao Tse Tung, a former and legendary chairman of the Chinese Communist Party was known to use the attributes of his enemies against them. He would find out what most upsets a person, or a person most believes in and use it against them.
    A simple example from nature: We humans have discovered the sex hormone attractant for roaches and perfume roach traps with it. The male roach zooms into the trap to be stuck in glue. He has no choice, it is his nature. As we know with humans, sex sells.
    What I have seen many times is that the general population is far more likely to get involved in a discussion about a candidate’s or official’s morals, than the morals of the same official’s policies and actions as an elected representative of the people.
    Also, as we have seen in the presidential debates, people get attracted to lines where candidates squabble and argue, and then Edwards asked how many problems this arguing will solve? People like that kind of simple standard of behavior, I suppose because it is easy to understand, but complaining about behavior so often ends the discussion of the issue. At times I would rather have the officials holler and scream at each other and get the issues and facts out, than politely say very little of substance. Once facts and substance are brought up, someone can make sound rude that the other person is discussing the problems of the day.
    That is the passions and habits out weigh the values in the sense of finding answers to problems. By having the public get caught up in criticizing the manors of the candidates, we are losing the debate on the issues, or making the behavior more important than the problems to be solved.
    Another problem is that the general public takes too many cues from the candidates and commentators as to what is appropriate behavior, and so the competitors in a political race can step on the other candidates message by merely starting into the issue of the candidate’s behavior, even if the other candidate is not really behaving poorly, or only slightly rude. I will give as an example the unfair depiction of Barak Obama by ABC News as was reported on the HuffingtonPost.com. Obviously someone at ABC does not like Obama.
    We need to have some tolerance for irritations expressed by public actors, and for each other on a personal basis, and not use the slip ups of our fellow humans as a tool to silence them. We must appreciate their thoughts are lose out on their contributions to our world.

    Mark John Hunter – Alpena

  5. Thank You Dan
    I find it amazing how we all are of one mind and this has all of us going through simlar feelings

    I study “A Course In Miracles” It has a lesson for each day, and Todays lesson is “Above All Else I am Determined To See This Deferantly”.

  6. I’m a firm believer that, although public people are larger than life and held to a high standard, they are still flawed human beings, just like the rest of us. Kwame’s behavior is one that brings him and his family personal shame, but it’s not something that creates a problem for the public – until he fires 2 people to keep his secret and then lies on the stand about it. When our public officials believe that they can get away with anything because they’re public officials, that’s when it’s our responsibility to remind them that they are, just like the rest of us, flawed human beings who need to take ownership and responsibility for their actions.

  7. Unfortunately, if this was about a Priest or Evangelist the world would be all over it… I believe there are a lot of people forgiving of what the Mayor has done … I also believe if he wasn’t the Mayor he might be serving time. How impartial is that… It would be interesting to hear what the prisoners are saying about this who are serving time for the same acts committed by the Mayor. It’s pious to say we don’t want to judge… We do need to judge! We have judges. We have courts. We have written laws & codes. We have police men. If we don’t want to judge get rid of them all & just let man kind do what they want and we’ll all just forgive each other & the last person standing can forgive it all. Think about it… Why correct your children, if you don’t want to judge? We need law & order. Personally, I’m very thankful for the men in blue who protect me everyday. I’m very thankful for our court system (that appears corrupt at times) but they get criminals off the street. God wants us to judge right from wrong; otherwise, we can all put our heads in the sand like Ostriches & say, ‘oh, I can’t judge — I know that person just shot someone one — but I’ll just forgive him. Yes, we can forgive him but a person reaps what they sow in this world & God gave us rulers & kings to establish justice in the land. There is no mystery of being human — God said we are all fallen — All have sinned — we all fall short — all we know how to do is sin — we need a Saviour. Plus, we need the most honorable judges, lawyers, and policeman we can get. That are not corrupt. We also need to do a history lesson. All Nations that fell — fell because of immorality. When I was a child we looked up to policemen; sports people, etc. Now, the majority of them are all a joke and commit shameful acts and are awful role models. When you take any public office, your life is no longer private – it becomes public and the last time I checked God said to expose all the deeds of darkness and bring them into His light so they can be judged. Yes, I can forgive, yes, I can love people, but as people, the last time I checked, we are all responsible for our actions. God is very clear on what HE has already judged — what is right & wrong to HIM. And HIS Word will be the final judgment – whether you believe it or not. And I implore you — please do not stop judging — let justice be served, do not be partial in judgment (forget he’s the Mayor) and apply the law to the acts committed. Thank you.

  8. Your insights are thought-provoking and spot-on. It is easy to condemn others for their weaknesses but more difficult to recognize our own frailties. Mayor Kilpatrick’s personal life, in and of itself, is not relevant in an evaluation of his role as a mayor. But his duplicity and arrogance are relevant and should be a strong condemnation of his performance. It is sad that Detroit’s reputation is again blackened and so much energy is wasted on dealing with this.

  9. I, too, will not judge the personal not public actions of the Mayor. Judging for the public impact, unfortunately, is best reserved for the voting booth or a court of law. I will, however, apply this lesson introspectively and once again evaluate my behaviors and actions from an outsider’s perspective. Right is right and wrong is wrong and much of what we do falls somewhere in-between. Perspective in those gray areas is so easily lost. We all experience the incredible force of our internal appetites and structure our lives accordingly. As in most things, one’s approach to managing one’s appetites is learned. Our peers and society in general reinforce, positively or negatively, our management methodology. Those who openly admit their frailties do so with great risk, especially if they are in positions of leadership, as they are often seen as weak or feeble. Others expend considerable energy trying to mask their frailty, causing others to see them as control freaks/perfectionists. The best approach is to recognize this common human foible and both embrace it and safeguard against it. Embrace them because our appetites add flavor and dimmension to our lives and to the lives of those we encounter. Safeguard against them, because unchecked they can cause incredible strife, hurt and ruin. The “how to’s” of managing ones appetites should be mandatory mentoring lessons – and not just reserved for leaders.

  10. Your last paragraph states that instead of judging a person we should become more aware of our own humanity. You are absolutely right. The problem is that when I reflect back on the Bill Clinton years, he was haunted for an inappropriate behavior with an intern by Washington, D.C. goons and thugs. Now we have an emperor in the White House who is by international criminal court standards a mass murderer and a war criminal. The same Washington, D.C. goons and thugs have given him immunity for his mass murders and war crimes. Even though we do not want to judge another person, we still must have certain human standards that know right from wrong behavior.

  11. Dan, I agree with your main point. I couldn’t care less about the mayor’s private life. However in the case of Mayor Kilpatrick (and Bill Clinton) the problem is their lying under oath! The mayor broke the law. Few people seem to remember that he was in court because he fired city employees (police officers) for telling the truth about him. He deprived these men of their income, reputations and civil rights! He tried to do it again by lying in court. The man is not fit to govern anything let alone a major city and should be sent to prison like the criminal he is.

  12. The world has to live with Mr. Kilpatrick’s and Ms. Beatty’s personal relationship and whatever any individual’s or organization’s opinion of it may be. What cannot be tolerated and must be pursued to the end is Mr. Kilpatrick’s obligation as a public official and a lawyer (and Ms. Beatty’s as a public official and a citizen subject to the law of Michigan) not to commit perjury under oath, making a mockery of the court. This conduct cannot be excused and the Wayne County Prosecutor and the State Bar of Michigan should pursue enforcing the rules and imposing appropriate penalties as vigorously and expeditionsly as possible.

  13. Dan,

    I found myself reflecting on your statement that: “I’m hoping his experience will make me more aware of my own humanity, as well as the impact that my appetites have on those around me. When we lead in positions of authority – as parent or boss – our behaviors really do profoundly affect others. It’s important to try to tell the truth about those behaviors, and to seek help to manage them as best we can. I hope you will, too, and thus, etc.”

    Very powerful. Those words have resonated quite loudly this week as a child prepares to move out on his own. And of course, my thougths and desires (appetite for/need to control)tended to sap some of the joy out of the preparations that he is making. As an individual, I value the freedom to be and become who I am meant to be, grow to my fullest potential. It is a value that I want for my son, and yet, human nature and old habits are hard to shed.

    As leader in my family and a parent, thanks for sharing.

  14. As a tax paying citizen of Detroit, my concern is that it is now my responsibility to pay a debt that could have been avoided. Instead of attempting a cover-up the mayor should have allowed any investigation to run it’s course and delt with the consequences. He however “chose” to take away the carreers of people who were only doing their jobs. All behaviors have consequences, and those consequences should not be impossed upon US the citizens of Detroit. Mayor Kilpatrick stand up be a man and YOU assume your own debt. I am handy cap and can’t access the Services that are supposedly are available to Detroit citizens, yet I still pay my property taxes on time every year. How dare the mayor take from the people of the city he claims to love. The Mayor should stop trying to baffle us with BULL CRAP and be genuinely honest and go into his own pocket to clean up the mess he made. Maybe then we can talk forgiveness. He can have relationships (sexaul or otherwise) with whom ever he chooses, he can party like a rock star just don’t make me pay for it.

    Thank you

  15. It must be difficult to live your life in the light of public scrutiny. It might paralyze some to the point of avoiding any controversy or statement that might make one “unpopular” or “politically incorrect”. The drives that propel people to behave excessively in any domain are incredibly strong, so strong that they drive people to do extremely stupid things, an though the spotlight won’t find them. And sometimes those drives are pathological or even physiological.

    And so, I commend your refusal to judge, but rather use other’s mistakes as a tool for self-examination and introspection. Personally, I have found that trying to get to the root of my behavior can be cathartic, even if it means going back to childhood. And an honest listener helps, too. Extremes in any situation seem to me to be warning signs of a deeper malaise.

    Peace,
    Mary

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