Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Biggest Mistake I Made as a Judo Player

The biggest mistake I made as a judo player was not a technical one  ....

... and I did not realize I was making such a stupid mistake until I was in my fifties. For someone who has a reputation for being smart, that is a really long time to make the same mistake. Seriously, it is embarrassing to say this and I am writing this post to save some of you who might be making the same mistake now.

My biggest mistake may have led to a lot of my success, but I was wrong, in the end

So what was this, you might be wondering. It’s that I judged people simply based on how good they were at judo, how good of a competitor or how good of a coach. I never particularly cared if someone was a good referee, only if they were an honest one. My attitude about referees was “I will beat this person up and make you give me the win.”

That’s a story for another day.

Today’s story is about all the missed opportunities I had for getting to know amazing people better.

When I was competing, my biggest priority in life was winning. If I met someone who was a judo player who was also a physician, an engineer, an army Ranger or the mother of ten children, I was solely interested in how they could help me get better at judo. Yes, I had a job and I did my best to learn whatever language I was supposed to be programming in at the moment, but once I left the office my only focus was on winning.

You are studying how a new protein might reduce the prevalence of early onset Alzheimer’s ? That’s nice, can you help me improve my seoi nage? No? Next!
Dawn and I were great friends
If someone was a terrific judo player or coach, I spent as much time around them as possible so I could learn and improve. If they were just good or even so-so, I really didn’t spend much time with them because I was focused on winning.

Dawn Beers and I were great friends, but would that have still been the case if she was not a talented judo player and a great training partner?  Now, yes. Back then, I am embarrassed to say the answer is, "Probably not."

Maybe that laser focus on winning helped me be best in the world. Probably it did.

Then, I quit competing.

When you have children, they need to be your number one priority.

I thought about quitting when Maria, my oldest was born. I talked to my brother about it, who had children a little older than mine. He told me that if I quit at this point, I’d have to be almost inhuman to never, ever look at her and think ,

“If it wasn’t for you, I could have been world champion. I gave this up for YOU!”

That’s a pretty big burden to put on a tiny human.

Shortly after she was two, I won the world championships, retired from competition and went on to get a Ph.D. I had two more children, started a career as a professor, then founded a company, had another child (there were a couple of husbands in there, I still have one of them).. I would drop by the local judo club when I lived in Jamestown or do a clinic every once in a while. Except for few close friends, I never really talked to anyone from judo.

Then, my daughter, Ronda started judo

I knew how to help her win. I took her to different clubs that I thought could help her, where they had good competitors or good coaches. I really did not pay that attention to anything any of them did outside of judo, not the other competitors, parents or coaches. I tried to organize events and raise money for activities that would benefit our local teams, and later our national teams, because that’s what you do when you are the parent of an athlete in a sport. Certainly the camps and trips that I helped organize and fund benefited everyone who participated, not just Ronda.

Still, when I met people in judo, my focus was on how I could help her. You founded a company that made 9 jillion dollars? Good. Is your kid a really good athlete who can be Ronda’s training partner? No? He cries when he gets thrown but he’s super smart and got into MIT at 15. Really? That’s awesome. See ya around.

You would think that I would have gotten smarter over the years, but not so much

It wasn’t that I had a big mid-life crisis epiphany at 50 but more that I was not really doing anything with judo that focused on winning so much. Ronda was off in a different direction and I was coaching some great kids at Gompers Middle School. When we managed to raise a few thousand dollars, I would not use it to send one kid on our European tour but rather to take a dozen kids on a road trip to practice in Nevada and Utah, hike in the mountains and see a rodeo. I got to know Jose Gonzalez well, who is still a green belt because he won’t learn kata but who has been the heart of the Gompers Judo program since day one.
Teaching matwork at Gompers Judo's first gym

I met Brian Money, from Riverside Police Youth Judo club, speaking of heart, who also runs a special needs judo program.

I got to know Roy Hash better, who is a real Captain America army Ranger with an amazing history.

I heard Hal Sharp tell stories about how he talked his wife into marrying him, about being an accountant in post- World War II Japan.

I got to hear Jerry Hays and Joe Ciokon’s stories about the navy and Hayward Nishioka’s philosophy on life.

The list could go on and on. Sitting here, I am just shaking my head at all of the amazing people I met who I could have gotten to know better but didn’t because they weren’t ‘good enough at judo’.

That’s not everybody, of course. Some of you aren’t all that good at judo and you’re stupid assholes to boot. I’m glad I don’t know you better. You know who you are.

Here’s what I should have done differently

In all those hours-long sessions where I sat around with other players or coaches and talked about nothing but judo, I should have turned to some of those people on the sidelines. I should have asked at some point,
 “So, you have a life outside of practice, what is it?” 
“You’re studying orangutans in Madagascar? That sounds really cool. Tell me about it.”

If I’d had those conversations, I would be a smarter person now, have more friends and know things like whether or not there are actually orangutans in Madagascar

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Starting Back Up Your Martial Arts Program Today

I've been thinking a lot about those gym owners and instructors who are wanting to re-open for many reasons, whether it is
 a. they miss their students,
 b. they miss training,
 c. they need the money,
 d. they want to get their team in shape for tournaments
e. All of the above

Here are some ideas you can try, TODAY, that I think comply with health requirements.

Family Conditioning

If most families are like mine, they have been getting a lot less exercise the past couple of months. Everyone - mom, dad, kids - could do with a little conditioning.

Invite 2-3 families, no more than 6 people

With one instructor, that will give you a group of no more than 7. Everyone should wear running shoes, comfortable clothes and bring a towel, blanket or yoga mat from home as well as their own water bottle. Schedule 30 minute sessions the first week or two then gradually increase to 45 minutes. If you do multiple sessions in a day, this gives the first group 15-30 minutes to be out of there before the next group comes.


I know some of you live in places where you have a farm or a big backyard so that might do. In Santa Monica, the city parks are open but they tend to be crowded in the evenings and on weekends - by this, I mean there are family groups every 20 feet or so.

Work out as a family

If necessary, put the kids in front so they are not embarrassing the parents by watching them. If you have small children, you may want them next to the parent.  Make sure you have 6 feet between each family. Start with stretches, then simple exercises anyone can do - jogging in place, laying on their back doing bicycle kicks. The middle of your practice should be a little more difficult, something like circuits.

Here is an example of a circuit. See below how to modify it

  • Step-ups (bench or steps)  20 reps (10 each leg)
  • Clap push-ups x 15
  • Squat thrust (or burpees) x 15 reps
  • Plyo Jump ups to bench x 10 reps (jumps which push off of both feet simultaneously from a squatting position)
  • Bent knee sit ups x 25 reps

This is a plyo jump

You can see above that Julia and Ronda are just using a wall at the park. This was before we were quarantined, but also, if you have people from the same household you don't need to maintain the 6 feet distance.

You can also use a bench. If your park doesn't have any walls or benches or you are in your backyard, steps work perfectly fine, too. If you have some 2-inch think boards and nails around you can even make a box for jumping. Even I have done that and I have the handicraft skills of a squirrel.

Even though you might think a milk crate would work fine for young children, I would not recommend it because although it will hold their weight, if they end up jumping on the edge instead of in the middle - a fair possibility with little kids - it may tip over and they'll fall backward.

Once you have finished a circuit, everyone rests for two minutes and you do it again. Do three circuits and then do some stretches to cool down.

Modifying circuits

For more serious players, have them bring their own dumbbells and do the step ups and jumps holding 5-15 lb dumbbells in each hand. For people who are just getting into shape they can do regular push-up instead of the clap push-ups. Also, they can't do all three circuits or all of the reps, that's fine.

Modify workouts to suit each group

This is a workout I would do to start but you know your club / gym better than I do. Modify the exercises to suit your families.

Don't I know that martial arts are contact sports?

Yes, yes I do. I also know that people often lose, get injured or make mistakes because they are out of shape and got winded or tired. Do your students a favor by helping them get gradually back into shape.

Why do this as a family?

There are several reasons to include whole families. First of all, everyone needs to get out of the house. Secondly, the distance requirements are between households because the reasonable assumption is that if someone lives with you, they probably already infected you if they are ill. Third, most martial arts programs are social. People know each other's kids, spouses. It gives them a chance to socialize and see each other.

As a parent and coach, I feel very strongly that parents often devote their time to their children and don't take care of themselves enough. Working out as a family helps the parents as well as the children. Exercise is good for you. Since the parents are probably driving their children to wherever you are anyway, they may as well be part of it.

Stress as heavily as you possibly can, this is NOT a competition. This is like when college or pro teams get back together pre-season. You are starting to get back into shape so you can get back on the mat, back to your pre-quarantine gym sessions or whatever.

Sign people up for a month of "semi-personal training"

If it were me, I would sign up groups for a month or so. Ten sessions with your family. If they do 2 sessions a week for 5 weeks, they will notice a difference.

I have a lot more ideas including for athlete conditioning, but I really have to get back to work.

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Friday, November 29, 2019

My Life: Not on Instagram

I lead the opposite of an Instagram life.

That’s not to say it’s boring because it’s not. So far this year, I’ve been in five countries, nine states and I’ve lost track of the number of cities. I’m also not opposed to Instagram. I do have an account and I post on it most days. No, what I mean is that while most people are posting things to make their life look more interesting than it is, I often forget or don’t have time to post because I’m too busy doing interesting things.

Been so many places, I couldn't remember where this was at first.
California, in the mountains.

Where I’ve been lately

Since the last blog post, a dozen of us from Gompers Judo attended Judo Con - which was GREAT. There were judo instructors and coaches from all over the country learning everything from teaching judo to children with special needs to jump roping for conditioning in martial arts to character development in youth sports. Every one of the presenters was my favorite.

I’ve gotten back to teaching at Gompers regularly. Thanks a million for the judo gi donations. It’s hard to believe that Gompers Judo has been in existence ten years now. We've had gis donated a couple of times previously but over a decade, things wear out.

It’s looking like Judo Con will be on the East Coast next year so next on my agenda is raising money for a dozen plane tickets to get some kids there.

I’ve also gone to Washington, D.C. twice because I was selected as an AARP Purpose Prize Fellow - which was also amazing.

 It is for people who have led a “purpose driven life” and have a noteworthy “second act”.  Many award winners founded charities, like The Pink Fund which pays the non-medical bills for women who have cancer (what do you do if you can’t work for 3 months?) , Starting Right Now which provides homes, counseling and academic support for homeless youth. I founded 7 Generation Games, which is not a charity but has helped 20,000 kids get better at math and English.

Along with that, I’ve been a speaker at the South Dakota Indian Education Association conference, National Indian Education Association Conference ...

Minneapolis: National Indian Education Association
Language and Learning Conference in Merritt, British Columbia, where I also had the opportunity to attend a joint workout of the Nicola Valley Muay Thai , then head to Vancouver to participate in a self-defense workshop offered by Protect Our People.

I put up another More Than Ordinary podcast, this one with author, long-time judo coach and budding YouTube celebrity, Steve Scott.

So, I have literally been coast to coast, from Boston, where I had a couple of meetings on our new Crossroads games and also got to see Julia play in her final season of soccer.

In case you haven’t been keeping up ...

This spring I was in Melbourne, Australia for a week and I started out the beginning of the year in Santiago, Chile.

There have also been a couple of short trips to Mexico.

Oh, and I did a month-long road trip with my husband.
Driving through South Dakota

Two big things I learned this year

Just say, “Yes”. 

From going to Melbourne to the Nicola Valley to teaching summer school at Spirit Lake, I did a lot of things this year that were only tangentially related to what could be considered our "core business" at 7 Generation Games. I did not regret a single one of them.

I've learned that life is far less predictable than we'd like to believe. I often think back to the fact that my husband died when he was seven years younger than I am now.  I absolutely guarantee you that if you went back to any of the teachers I had in junior high and high school and told them I was doing life in prison now none of them would be surprised. But I'm not. Not yet, anyway.

This isn't to say that you should spend your days lying on the beach or scrolling through Twitter on your phone because, "Life is unpredictable, why bother?"

What I mean is that you should not get so laser focused that you lose sight of opportunities that might not come again. That's why I went to Chile, why I started 7 Generation Games, why I do a lot of things.

Some people worry about dying without a full bank account. I think a bigger worry should be about dying full of regrets. 

NOTHING is more important than associating with good people. Nothing. 

 Explaining one of her business decisions, Carly Fiorina said,

"Once you sell your soul, no one can buy it back for you."

People make this mistake in judo, in other martial arts or sports and in business. Because someone has money to invest or donate, is good at a sport, is a successful coach, their character flaws are overlooked. Sure, I wouldn't trust Bob alone with my teenage daughter or my wallet, yes he is physically abusive to athletes and overly controlling but look at ....

I'm not looking at jack shit.

If Bob isn't a good person, if he isn't honest, trustworthy, brave - cut him out of your life. This lesson took me too long to learn and I am never, never going to forget it. I don't care if Bob's judo is so great he could defeat the entire U.S. Marine Corps single-handed. It doesn't matter how much money Bob has. Please don't make me vomit by asking me to think of how much good could be done for the athletes/ children/ investors with Bob's money.

Good people attract other good people. Bad people repel them.

If I know Bob is a lying, cheating douchebag and I see you hanging out with Bob, I'm less likely to have anything to do with you. If I don't know you from a hole in the wall and I see you with Bob and your cousin over there is hanging out with Sally B. Goode, I'm going to go see what Sally and your cousin are up to. Even if I DO know you, if I know that Sally is always doing something to help people, save the whales or find a solution to world hunger, I'm STILL going to go check out what Sally and Cousin Lou are up to.

When I started my first company, many years ago, I reached out to Bruce Toups for advice. I was still a young puppy and he was a successful businessman. He told me,

"Hire for character first. Everything else is secondary."

Apply that to everyone around you, not just hiring. It will improve your life.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Being Hyper-competitive is a mixed blessing

Few things are an unmixed blessing.

I’m a hyper-competitive person. That has helped me in many ways my whole life but it’s also cost me in ways I am just now coming to realize. I have beaten a lot of people who had superior technical skills because I trained harder and was willing to put up with more pain both in practice and in a match.

After seeing a demonstration at a clinic of a  technique that the coach said,

“This will be so painful, your opponent will turn over to avoid it,”

I went up to him and said,

“I’m sure that will work with a lot of people. For me, and for the people who really want to win, they won’t move to a position that’s a disadvantage for them. They’ll endure it and make you pay for it later. Those are the people you really need to figure out a way to beat.”

Being hyper-competitive has helped me in business, too.

I learned from sports that you don’t win long-term by cheating but rather by working harder and learning more than the competition. I’ve applied that to my career as well. That’s one reason I have four degrees. I always find time to learn new programming languages, new technologies, read up on the latest marketing trends, even if it’s only a few hours a week. I put in my hours on the job, travel more miles than our competition. My former teammates from judo know this because I only see them every year or so.

What could possibly be wrong with being hyper-competitive?

It took me a long time to learn this - if you are hyper-competitive, you look at almost everyone and everything through the lens of "Will this help me win or not?"

 I have far fewer friends in judo than most people who have been in the sport for almost 50 years. Whether it was for a spot on a team or as a member of a board promoting policies that I really believed would help grow the sport, I looked at most people as competitors or “team mates”. Competitors keep you from winning and team mates help you win. I never had a single friend who was in my division. There was one gold medal and I wanted it.

Now, there is nothing wrong with looking at a person as someone who helps you win, since it can go both ways. It’s the same as looking at someone as a customer. I get their money but they get software that helps them or their children learn and do better in school. They don’t have to fight about doing homework to learn fractions. The same with a team mate. I get a good work out, the other person gets a good work out and we both leave the gym better.

The point I missed is that I ONLY looked at most people as helping me win or keeping me from winning. If I met someone who knew a lot about teaching counters or organizing a tournament I tried to learn everything possible that would help me win. To be fair, I would make sure they got paid or show up at their next event or whatever I could do to pay them back. Hyper-competitive doesn’t mean you have to be a selfish jerk.

What I realized, sometimes years later, was that a lot of those people had qualities and life histories that were far more fascinating than just judo or business. Some of them had careers in special forces in the military (hello, Roy Hash) or had been doing stunts for decades (Gene Lebell) or where working in civil rights law (Karen Mackey).

I think it might be necessary when you are competing to only focus on winning if you really want to be number one. Some people are there for the experience and that is fine, but that was not me.


That line about “In the Olympics, the important thing is not to win but taking part”

I never believed that for a minute. 


Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed almost every minute of judo practice. I even liked the cross-training in running and weightlifting - except sprints. I hated sprints and I hated getting up in the morning to run them twice as much because morning was involved. Still, the important thing to me was winning.

When I was done competing, I had put so many other things on hold, I just switched from competing in judo to competing in my doctoral program, in my career.

If I hadn’t been so busy trying to be the smartest person in the room with the most degrees, most publications and highest salary, I probably would have made more friends in graduate school and early in my career, too.

Gradually, eventually, I learned that not everything was a competition. This may seem like I am a slow learner but I am writing this because I know plenty of people who are still competing every minute and need to hear this. They’re trying to be the one with the most money, most awards and frankly, it’s just silly.

You can have friends who are not fans or potential customers. They can just be interesting people who know things you don’t or who make you laugh until you fall out of your chair or who help the community in ways you admire . 

People can be customers or colleagues and still have  interesting lives outside of your business.

 I was going to go swimming in the hotel pool instead of walking in the game preserve because we all know that swimming is the best exercise.

I still work really hard. Recently, I’d been working so much that I forgot not what day or month it was but what season it was. I was driving through North Dakota and I thought, “That corn is really high for this time of year.” 

That’s when I realized that it was not late spring but early summer.

Going from a world championship run to a Ph.D. and starting businesses is kind a logical progression because if you don't know, academia is SUPER-competitive, especially the kind of grant-funded work I do.  Getting investor funds is a real marathon.

Here is something I learned, as my grandmother would say, "más tarde que nunca" or "better late than never".

Competition can be an important thing in your life without being the ONLY thing

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Monday, August 12, 2019

I may not be at judo today, but I haven't forgotten the lessons I learned

I said over a month ago that there were three reasons that I am not as involved in judo as I once was and it is very fitting that it's taken me this long to get around to the third one.

There are people in judo I really think the world of their knowledge not just of sports but of life. Yet, despite the best of intentions to make it to judo practice or to tournaments, it seldom happens.

I haven't been doing much judo lately because I've being doing other things

Sounds pretty obvious, doesn't it? Often, when someone disappears from our judo, jiu-jitsu, mixed martial arts or other club we wonder what we did wrong, how we could have kept that student. Sometimes, we look at it as a failure on that student's part. If they only had more discipline, were more motivated to be in good physical condition, they'd still be coming to practice.

Over the years, I've seen a good number of students get into ivy league universities, medical school, dental school or clinical psychology graduate programs. Some students went out and started their own businesses.

If it wasn't for Facebook, I wouldn't ever see or hear of them again, and vice versa.

As for me, I haven't been at judo because I've been making games and building a company. In the past couple of years, I have been in Chile, Australia, Trinidad and Tobago and Belize, for research and for marketing. I've been in so many states I've lost track. 

Just because your team is out of sight, doesn't mean you're out of mind

I can't speak for all of those former students, but purely for myself and my children, I would say experiences at judo have been super impactful on my life.

One thing I learned from judo is that failure is never permanent and neither is success.

Our company has had a lot of successes, gotten a fair amount of funding and produced twelve games (check them out, they are educational and cool) .

We've had a good month overall, but today I learned that we hadn't gotten two proposals funded. I've never gotten turned down twice in the same day before, and this comes on the tail of having lost out on a contract last month.

Why am I telling you this? Don't I want you to think I am totally amazing all the time so you will invest in my company or download our games to make you smarter?

I'm telling you because that's another thing I learned from judo.

You never grow by being the big fish in a small pond

When I was a kid, I won almost all the tournaments all the time. I was the toughest green belt girl in the Midwest. Then, I went to the senior nationals for the first time and lost. I came in third. I went to the collegiate nationals for the first time and came in second.  Soon, I was winning the nationals, so I went to Europe - and lost and came in third in the British Open and Tournoi d'Orleans. Soon (although it never seemed soon enough), I was winning tournaments in Europe, Asia and South America.

There are people who I'm sure had more talent than me, but they stayed in that comfort zone and they are still undefeated in Duluth, Minnesota.

The contracts we missed out on were bigger, more of a risk for us. We came close, though. Although Maria pointed out today that close doesn't pay the bills, I did learn from judo that if you are close and you keep working, you'll get there.

I may not be at judo today, but I haven't forgotten the lessons I learned

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Sunday, July 21, 2019

Let the young people run judo

I said there were three reasons I am not involved in judo as much as I used to be - and here is the second one ...

We need to let young people run judo

First of all, I can't do nearly as much as I did 30 years ago. I have nowhere near the strength or speed. Yes, I have plenty of knowledge, but, especially for a lot of throwing techniques, you need SPEED to show how it should really be. You need to be able to BEND to get low enough to show how a throw should be done. I cannot do that nearly to the extent I did when I was young and neither can any of those other older instructors - they just don't admit it.

Years ago, I went to Valley Judo to watch a practice. Sus Kono is the head instructor there. He had Ross Nakamura, who was probably 16 years old, run the warm-ups. Then, he had Jason Uno, who was in his twenties or so, teach seoi nage. Then he had Ross give his take on seoi nage.  Giorgio Gazzani, who was around 18, ran the randori session.

At the end of the practice,  I said to Sus,
"That was great, but some time, I want to come back and see you teach."
He smiled and said,
"You just did."
Valley Judo Institute has grown amazingly since that day and I am not surprised.

We need to put younger people in front of the room

It always seems such a waste to me when I go to a club where I see six or eight young black belts and one (old) person is doing all of the teaching. How are these young people ever going to learn to run a practice, teach a class if we don't let them?

When we put together the instructors for Judo Con, we made a deliberate effort to have most of the sessions led by people under age 50. In part it is to give them practice in being leaders. Also, though, it's because I, and the other people who put this event together, really want to see and hear different ideas.

There's an old saying that,

If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten. 

I'm not saying an old dog can't learn new tricks, but heck, all the young dogs HAVE is new tricks (new to them, anyway).

People my age had our chance at running the judo organizations, running judo programs. Eventually, we should step aside and let the younger people give it a shot. Maybe they'll do a better job than us. I hope they do.

Think about this now, the people who say,

"I'm going to do judo until I die." 

To whose benefit? I didn't quit judo. I just agreed to start teaching again, once a week, in the fall.  I'm not saying you have to bury your judo gi in the back yard. However, there is that whole mutual benefit and welfare thing. Maybe it is to the mutual benefit if you step back and let other people step forward. You had your turn.

 Let the younger people give it a shot.

Maybe at first they won't be as good as you. They'll learn. Eventually, hopefully they'll be better.

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Saturday, July 6, 2019

Mean people: One-third of the reason I'm not around judo much any more

Every now and then, I run into people from judo who say,

"Hey, we never see you around any more? Why is that? What happened to you?"

I wrote this years ago for a project on the Spirit Lake Dakota Nation, and our Country Manager for Strong Mind Studios, our company in Chile, came across it recently. (If you read Spanish, check it out.)

Nothing happened to me. I do run a practice or a clinic now and then, but it is true I am not nearly involved as much as I used to be.

There are actually three reasons I'm not around judo these days. One is that I choose to be more selective about the people I am around. My lovely daughter, Ronda, made this comment about earning quite a bit of money.

There are really only two things money can buy you that really matter to me.

One is the freedom to choose how you spend your time and the other is the freedom to choose who you spend it with."

While money may expand that freedom, I think most of us have more of those freedoms than we take advantage of. I've decided to make better choices. The post below gives one of the three reasons I'm not around judo organizations in particular.

By the way, if I haven't seen you lately, I may think that you, personally, are awesome. There are two other reasons I'm not around judo much lately, so, hopefully, I'll get a chance to post about those soon.

How do you say, "Mean People Suck in Dakota?"

Native Americans are noted for their generosity. People give feasts, presents, time and attention to one another. Once you become a board member, you will be giving of your time and talents to the community. Good for you! That is why you were elected or appointed. There is a reason it is called public service. I am going to assume that you are doing a fine, even an outstanding job. Unfortunately, I have seen people like you get burned out and discouraged by mean people. You can learn what to do through experience, your own or other people’s. Try to learn through other people’s experience whenever you can. It is less painful.

As a board member and consultant to boards, on and off reservations, I have had my experience with generosity, and with its opposite — meanness.
Most of us think of the common definition of “mean” as small-minded or not treating people decently. There is an older, related definition, though — stingy or selfish. You will come to learn as board member that your children are correct.

Mean people really do suck.

Avoid Mean People

For some people, no amount you give will ever be enough. For example, I had someone send me an email on Christmas — demanding an answer. His question wasn’t an emergency. He just wanted me to drop whatever I was doing on Christmas with my family and answer him because he wanted me to do it. What did I do? I made Christmas cookies with my daughters. (Well, actually they made them, but I ate them so that counts as a family activity, right?)

This person will probably speak out against me at the next board meeting and say that I am unresponsive. That’s okay. If people you serve as a board member don’t believe you should be able to have any time to yourself, not even on Christmas, then those people lack generosity and are probably not the type of people you want to associate with.

Other people demand 100% agreement. You can vote on the same side as them 99 times out of 100, but that 100th time, when you vote with the opposition, they are outraged and the next thing you know, they are trying to get you recalled.

Decisions about Mean People

 Sometimes mean people can sound almost reasonable. (Imagine this said in the most whiny voice possible … )

“I called you because you are on the board. People like you are supposed to be providing a public service. If you did not want to help people out why did you run for the board instead of letting somebody who is really committed have that seat?”

Notice the person doesn’t even acknowledge the fact that it is 11 p.m. on Saturday night.

You are on a board to serve your community but you don’t owe any one person or even the whole community your entire life. If this was a regular job, you would have holidays off, sick days and not be expected to work 24–7 . If you can, simply do the best you can and don’t give these people another thought. Turn off your cell phone after 10 p.m. and go back to baking Christmas cookies. Odds are, the majority of the people you serve appreciate your efforts and appreciate how generous you are with your time, and they, in return, are not overly selfish in their demands.

If you are in an organization or on a board that consists of mostly mean people, consider quitting and going somewhere else. Maybe that sounds like quitting — well, it is quitting, I just used that word, didn’t I? In the book, “Business as a game” one of the best chapters has the title, “Never play with a stacked deck.”

One way mean people take advantage of others is by playing on those very ethics, the generosity that motivates you to give of yourself, the perseverance that makes you unwilling to give up. If you find yourself the minority in a group of mean people, there is no win for you. They will keep demanding more and more from you than is reasonable to expect you to give. As Erich always says in his ethics courses, you can’t change other people, you can only change yourself.

Walk away. Left behind you will be a whole group of takers, each trying to get the others to do more for ME, to please ME, to agree with ME. Can that group ever succeed? No.

Does this mean that you are letting down people in the community who you could help? No, again. Someone with your willingness to give of yourself for the good of the community will be welcome many places. Find one of them and leave the mean people behind.

When I gave a very frustrated young man this advice, he protested,

“But, Dr. De Mars, that way, won’t the mean people win? And won’t I lose?”

I asked him,

“Do you really think so? What exactly do they win? What exactly do you lose?”
Think about it.

In case you were wondering, I was at Spirit Lake making Spirit Lake: The Game, where players learn how to solve multiplication, division and geometry through word problems set in the context of a stories based on the history and culture of the Dakota people. Save your tribe from attacks and a spreading epidemic by solving math problems while escaping rabid wolves and hunting buffalo.

You can get it in the Windows store for under  ten bucks.

You can download and play the demo version for free.