April 2010 Archives

I don't know .....

I am reading the newest course, Courageous and Ethical Governing Boards, and there is a lot of useful information, if you wanted to really be an ethical governing board.

I remember a story I learned back in grade school about Diogenes, a Greek philosopher who is reputed to have gone around in the day time with a lantern, claiming to be looking for an honest man.  He apparently never found one.

In the Introduction to Ethics on American Indian reservations course there is a discussion on "myths of ethical change"and one of them is "There's nothing to it."

Yes, in this boards course there is discussion of the need to be ethical and honest, not using executive sessions because you are too cowardly to hold a public discussion, not using Robert's Rules of Order to keep opinions you don't like from being heard.

Still, I cannot shake the feeling I have that most board problems are ethical ones, not knowledge ones. Yes, we could probably all do with more information on how to set an agenda, run a meeting so it doesn't go on for five hours and fairly evaluate the CEO.

However ... I still wonder if the root of most problems isn't that many board members are not courageous enough to take a stand they know is right if it might mean someone will holler at them in a meeting or not give support in the next election, that too many board members are really in it for personal reasons, not community service. Like John, the Tribal Board Member,  their motivation to be on the board is to get jobs for their relatives and get perks like board trips to Hawaii for themselves and that's just what they intend to do. They don't know about policies, procedures and Robert's Rules because they don't want to know as they have no intention of following them.

As someone said to me yesterday,
"Why would I ask about the rules or how things are being done? If I don't know it's unethical, if nobody can prove I knew about it then they can't do anything to me. Your problem is you want to know too much."

What really bugged me about that comment is that it came from someone who I thought of as a good, ethical board member. One thing that proves, I guess, is no one is perfect. What we were discussing wasn't any major policy violation, just moving someone else's paperwork to the front of the line and taking care of them first. Still, it showed an attitude I have seen on far too many boards, a feeling that there is nothing wrong with making up whatever rules benefit the board members and totally ignoring those that don't.

Another myth of ethical change discussed in the introductory course is that "nothing can be done" about ethical problems. Erich and I were discussing this yesterday and he agreed that yes, it was completely unreasonable to expect that someone would take a course and immediately become a more ethical person.

BUT ... people do change. We've all seen it happen. So, the courses on courageous and ethical board members, managers, workers and community members are all a beginning, the start to a discussion. After you have had a thought - whether it is that you need to be more honest, drink less or be less judgmental - you can't "un-think" it. That's the beginning of change - recognizing the need for it, thinking about it.

Obviously, I'm doing a lot of the thinking part these days, and maybe, in the end, that will be the big impact this course has on everyone. I sure hope so.
Dr. Erich Longie over the years has been sometimes my boss, always my friend and today he is my hero. After many years of battling against it, the Fighting Sioux nickname has finally been retired.

Now, I am not Sioux, I haven't lived in North Dakota for over a decade and I don't even really follow football (yet, I call myself an American, yes, pathetic, I know). So, why do I care so much about the Sioux nickname. To be completely honest, I don't care about the Sioux nickname all that much, although I do agree that a race is not at all an appropriate mascot for a team. It is disrespectful and offensive to me, personally, if I think about it, which I rarely do.

Erich is my hero because he showed such perseverance standing up for something he believed passionately. In an article in one issue of the Miniwakan News, Erich made the comment that, because he was against racism and determined to show the moral courage to speak out against it, "I was against the logo before I even knew the logo existed."

It's been a long battle. If you read Erich's blog, Dakota Hoksina, you know that he has written a lot about his struggles against the logo issue, his revulsion for what he perceived as the "divide and conquer" tactics taken by those trying to win tribal support for the logo, his views on the connection between the logo and racism and much more.

Erich's views on the logo issue have cost him friendships with some logo supporters who could not forgive him for publicly disagreeing with them. Some of his relatives have disagreed with him and t has caused some hard feelings. Complete strangers have criticized Erich in print and in person. Some of these comments have been particularly racist and vicious. Through it all, Erich has persevered.

We were talking a couple of days ago about perseverance. On the logo issue and other topics, Erich said, sure constant criticism, even if unfair, sometimes impacts his self-esteem. Certainly when the losses, whether it is the loss in an election or the loss of a referendum of the logo issue, certainly, those hurt at the time. However, he says, that makes those time when "good wins out" all the happier.

Erich should be pretty happy now.

Even in those times when he wasn't winning, Erich was more hero. In fact, I think more so in those times. It is easy to persevere when you have momentum on your side and things are going your way. It is not so easy when the odds are against you, when you are being publicly attacked. Heroic leadership is hard. That is why we call them heros.