“Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.
How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.”
– W.H. Auden excerpted from The More Loving One
In all relationships large and small, we engage in the dance of trust. Small signals, often unspoken, tell us how to proceed. However many millions of times we get this right in the course of a lifetime, we remember the times we got it wrong, stung by heartbreak or business setbacks. No matter our level of personal or professional due diligence, we wonder, how did we miss those signals? Yet, trust-building always requires someone to go first. “Let the more loving one be me.”
On a perfect late spring night at the very end of May 1974, with junior year of high school about to become a memory, I was on the backyard deck of my friend Matt Osnos’ home, overlooking dozens of dense trees and discussing boundless possibilities in the way only high school students can. Later in life, the innocence and infinite optimism of youth would be replaced by the suffering of “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” but for that brief and shining moment, anything was possible.
Matt’s father, David, made a surprise visit onto the deck, in a celebratory mood, just home from working late, trusting us with a secret that would become news the next day and burnishing a beer each for two young men just about to become of age. He was a partner at Arent Fox—a law firm he would work at for more than 50 years—representing, among other clients, Abe Pollin’s sports and real estate empire, which included the expansion Washington Capitals professional ice hockey team. Hours before, the Caps—as they would become known—had secured their first ever draft pick and David was brimming with excitement.
Long before ESPN and other networks televised every move of professional sports leagues, the 1974 NHL Entry Draft was conducted over a secret conference call from Montreal. David reported to us that the Caps took highly touted defenseman Greg Joly as their number one draft pick and beamed, “The Caps may not win the Stanley Cup, but I am telling you they are going to be competitive.” The Caps would go on to win a total of just eight games, lose 67 and tie five in that first year, a record for futility not broken to this day. In fact, the draft was so unfair that the NHL has subsequently changed its draft rules to make teams more competitive from the start. Greg Joly would be traded within two years, never living up to expectations, a fate difficult to comprehend in sports and in life. The past is not always prologue.
If memory serves me correctly, the last game of that near-fruitless season was a high-scoring 6-6 tie with the historically impressive Stanley Cup playoff-bound Montreal Canadians, where the indefatigable Caps came back from 3-0 and 6-3 deficits. At the game’s conclusion, in one of the warmest tributes in sports I have ever witnessed, the Canadians lined up Stanley Cup-style to shake the hands of every Capitals player as if it was a series final and not a meaningless 82nd regular season game. Never give up, never surrender. David was right, the Caps had become competitive.
David was so remarkably kind and generous, and his excitement so palpable, that I remember that moment on the deck nearly half a century ago with vivid clarity, even though I don’t think I ever saw David again. The Caps may have been perennial losers, but they were loveable. And it all started with David, who passed away this past week. He was the “more loving one.”
Life’s lessons are often found in unexpected places, not the least of all sports, including, of course, hockey. How did the U.S. men’s amateur hockey team win the 1980 Olympic Gold medal—the Miracle on Ice—including beating the heavily favored professional Soviet Olympic team? Why did brilliant Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov freeze and forget to pull his goalie in the last two minutes when they trailed by a lone goal? Sometimes our very success is the reason for our next failure.
As for the Americans, they were comprised of men who were “the more loving ones” and the Soviets, so used to near-perfection, forgot for 60 minutes the love that got them there.
I was thinking about that magic moment with David and his son Matt nearly 50 summers ago when I was interviewing John Bacon, an award winning New York Times bestselling author of 12 books including the highly regarded and recently released Let Them Lead: Unexpected Lessons in Leadership from America’s Worst High School Hockey Team, on the daily podcast In House Warrior that I host for the Corporate Counsel Business Journal.
In 2000, John became the head coach of his former high school hockey team, the Ann Arbor Huron River Rats. The team he inherited was the worst team in school history (0-23-3 in 1999-2000). He helped transform them into the best, including a number four rank in the state of Michigan and number 53 ranking nationally, in just three seasons.
As a writer he did what writers do and recorded the stories and the lessons learned, many of which fly in the face of today’s logic of participation trophies and lowered expectations. He provides so many great lessons that it took us a two-part episode to get to just a fraction of them: making it special, selling the hard, authenticity, the joy of victory, diversity, motivating millennials, creativity and more. His strategy is straightforward: “Set high expectations, make them accountable to each other and inspire them all to lead their team.”
He discussed two more of his 12 books including Playing Hurt: My Journey from Despair to Hope and the bestselling The Great Halifax Explosion: A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism, about the munitions ship Mont-Blanc which exploded in early December, 1917 with 2.9 kilotons of TNT as it neared port in Halifax. The ensuing explosion – which caused 11,000 casualties, including many people being instantly vaporized — is the third most powerful explosion ever visited on a human population, behind Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And yet, it is largely forgotten in Canada and the United States. Its lessons of over-confidence and human error should not be.
I also interviewed Albert Fox Cahn, the Founder and Executive Director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (S.T.O.P.) on balancing security, surveillance and privacy. We discussed the most topical issues in surveillance and privacy, including police departments purchasing large troves of data, inherent biases in facial recognition, geo-fence warrants, cell tower data, corporate responses to government requests for data while aggressively mining it on their own and AI bias. If we are looking for a place where trust breaks down quickly, it is the internet. If we are to rebuild our social fabric, then this is a very good place to start.
Finally, in another two-part series I discussed the U.K. legal market with my old friend Moray McClaren and Paul Brown of Lexington Consultants, who have been advising law firms globally for decades on their most complex strategic and organizational issues. We covered post-merger integration, cultural challenges, profitability, the unique financial pressures of 2022, private equity, the growth of boutique law firms and more in the first in an occasional series looking at the law firm markets in the U.K. and continental Europe, Latin America, Africa, India and the U.S.
Over the past week, we lost Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk and Zen master, whose book, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, influenced millions, including me. His message of urging us to embrace mindfulness—to be fully present in each moment—is never more important than today, in a world divided by tribal political instincts, harsh judgment and a seemingly endless sense of scarcity.
Let us practice abundance. Today, as in every day, we will be confronted with choices. “Let the more loving one be me.”
“You must trust and believe in people or life becomes impossible.”
Enjoy the shows.
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