why do whitetail deer have white tails?

why do whitetail deer have white tails?

I asked this question of a workshop I facilitated at work. The topic was continual change. Our worlds evolve. We evolve with them or we become irrelevant, especially in a service organization. My job is in public service. My boss is the great American animal loving public. You might ask, “Eric, you work in government, isn’t that pretty static?”  Good question, thanks for asking.  In fact it’s not. The head of our department (Health and Human Services or HHS when you are in the biz), Kathleen Sebelius, suddenly resigned her post as secretary of HHS. Our Center just persuaded drug sponsors to discontinue feeding antibiotics to food animals solely to increase production. Just to name two recent changes.

Back to the workshop, we talked about how our environment is in constant flux.  If we are to remain relevant, we have to monitor to these changes and accommodate them. In his book, “The Advantage”, Patrick Lencioni discusses the value of being “addicted to relevance.” I get this query in my Organization Development capacity, “why do our colleagues leaving us out of the process? It’s right there in the procedures manual, after the first division reviews it, it is supposed to come to our division.” So I ask the question, “Why would they want to come to you? What value do you bring?”

Daniel Pink’s new book, “To Sell Is Human” says we are all always selling. Not necessarily commercial selling, although that is certainly true. We also persuade and influence our colleagues, our mates, our progeny, our neighbors, and the like. You have a perspective and you want others to see what you see. “You should vote Nan Rich for Florida governor, she is a candidate of the people, she believes in equal pay, better education, and other causes that I believe in…”  The reasons I give to vote for my candidate must be relevant to you or you will not be persuaded.

Have you figured out why deer’s tails are white yet? The answers I got from the class were because of evolution, because their forebears had white tails, to attract a mate, and more. The reason that the deer’s white tail perpetuates is because it offers a survival advantage. What might that be and what does that have to do with this blog? Deer, like bunnies, use their white tail to draw attention to their back end when being preyed upon. By having a dramatic flash of white in an attack, the predator is drawn to the place that the deer was, not the place where it is going.  When the predator lunges at the shiny, glittering white tush, the prey is long gone.  If its face was white, the predator would lunge at its head, miss, and get the torso; still a success for the predator.  When you are addicted to relevance, focus on where the deer is going, not to where it was.

Albert Einstein supposedly said, “I am more interested in the future than the past because the future is where I intend to live.”  What are you focused on?

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productive discomfort

me ans stefan on the roof

I just went to a coaching conference for the same reasons anyone goes to a conference in their field of endeavor. Review old techniques, learn some new techniques, reconnect with colleagues, meet new colleagues. I attended one workshop on Facilitating Groups by Rae Ringel. http://www.ringelgroup.com/ She is the kind of person you want as a facilitator and teacher: warm, confident, uber-competent, and funny. She used a term – productive discomfort – that has stayed with me since the conference. It is self explanatory and yet I feel compelled to explain. We talk about stretching our comfort zones and stretch assignments and learning from our mistakes and dancing on the edge of our incompetence. There is a level of discomfort that is paralyzing, there is a level of discomfort that is so mild as to be barely noticeable. The sweet spot between the two is the productive type. It’s where the growth happens. There is no learning without discomfort, right? In Scott Adams’ (the Dilbert cartoonist) new book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, Mr. Adams states, “Every failure is an opportunity to learn something, I don’t let that pass until I’ve extracted every bit of learning that I can.” I am not a fan of the word ‘failure.’ It is too often associated with shame. And it diverts attention to the loss and not the gain. But Adams point remains, there is a benefit to making mistakes. I’ve heard it said that all original thoughts are first considered mistakes. That is because no one has ever said it before.  It feels odd and people resist its novelty. So what do you think of when you hear ‘productive discomfort?’ Do you seek it out? Do you take the learning path? Do you look at each mistake as an opportunity to learn? By the way, the photo is me and a roofer, Stefan Mach,fixing a roof for a community center in North Carolina.  I am, or used to be, afraid of heights.  Let’s just say I was uncomfortable up there on the roof.

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give blood


It’s the new year.  A time for rebirth.  The coldest and shortest days of the year are ripe for considering stuff of life.  And what can be more life giving than blood (accept maybe boiled peanuts, but that is another blog).  Kellianne (our daughter) was the recipient of a blood transfusion after delivery by emergency cesarean section.  She was gravely anemic after having lost half her blood volume in utero.  The survival rate for her condition, we were told, is pretty low.  Thanks to Charles Drew (blood bank pioneer), Kenny McAlpine (our obstetrician), and David Tharpe (her blood donor) she survived.  So yesterday, the last day of 2013, she and I donated blood.  We are O+ and my blood has the additional characteristic of being CMV negative (that is free of the cytomegalovirus, for those interested).  Perfect for neonates.  We do this every 56 days (or so).  That she was once the recipient of this vital oxygen carrying fluid and is now the donor of same supports the adage “what goes around comes around.”  But that is not assured.  We still have to sign up, we still have to make time, we still have to go, and then answer those same questions on the pre-donation screening (yes I took aspirin, no I have not had sex with some one with hepatitis or from a country on the banned list, yes I have been out of the country, no I don’t have Chaga’s disease…).  That is to say, we have to be intentional and take initiative.  It’s like that saying: “5 frogs on a log, 4 decide to jump off, how many are left?”  ————– the answer ————  “5, because deciding isn’t doing.”  Now, what is important to you that you need to act upon?  Happy new year.  Get off the log.  Give blood (http://www.redcrossblood.org/) or do some other act of service.

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eating dirt

A mother overheard some people criticize a project her teenager was doing.  Many people thought the teen was doing a fine job, a few did not. The mom asked me, what I thought she should she say or do about those people.  How can she protect the child from the critics?  She can’t of course.  Any more than than we can eat broccoli and have our children can get the nutrients.  It reminds me of when my wife and I were new parents and we were told that all kids will eat a pound of dirt by the time they turn 2.  No sense freaking out every time they put dirty fingers or raw soil in their maw, we were told. It is part of growing up.  We did freak out (though we’ve relaxed a good deal since) because we’re parents and don’t want our kids exposed to risk.  Medicine now understands that kids that are exposed to more dirt will have fewer allergies and sick days.  The immune system needs the stress to develop properly. As does the ego.

I got fired from one of my veterinary jobs.  I was in Pensacola working in a clinic that could best be describe as a bad fit.  I knew I had to go, he knew I had to go.  He told me to move on. I was shocked and angry at first.  Then I came to accept that it was not rejection so much as a course correction.  It was dirt I had to eat.  No one could eat it for me.  I needed the Ecclesiastical punch to my vanity.   In her book, “Feel the Fear, Do It Anyway,” Susan Jeffers talks about how one’s course in life is like an airplane flight path. Planes don’t fly straight, they waver some as the winds buffet them.  As you travel from the start to the destination, you veer off course and then veer back.  The signal to veer back is the pain or discomfort of being off course.  In that case, pain or discomfort is really the world telling you you are off course.  That’s what makes mistakes in judgement so important.  They are indicators, gifts, even.  In the song, “If You Could Only See”, by Tonic, (see YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sfg6-4mBs6Y) there is a lyric (at the 2:06 time mark), “and you got to take a little dirt to keep what you love, that’s what you gotta do.”  And you do.  Whether it’s literal dirt or figurative dirt.  You gotta take it, no one can take it for you.


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What matters?

I am a federal employee on furlough. When your work defines you, it is easy to think,”I am my job.”  In a story I read recently, someone asked Bill Russell if he was Bill Russell, the basketball player.  He told the fan no he was not.  His team mate said yes you are.  Russell said, I am Bill Russell and I also play basketball.  I am more than just a basketball player.”  In the case of a furlough  I, and many of my colleagues, are forbidden to work.  The projects I am working on, the classes I teach, the groups that I facilitate, are all put on hold.  Said to be unessential.  If I define myself by what I do, then I’d be lost.  We are what we do.  And we are so much more. Essential is defined by our Federal rules as protecting life or property.  So what is truly essential?  What defines a person?  What defines a life?  There was a salmonella outbreak in California poultry plant.  My dad called me to tell me about it.  He said, this is from Congress playing “Chicken” to see who flinches first.  Real people are paying a mighty high price of their health because of the brinksmanship on the Hill.  What threat to life and property does the tainted chicken represent?

So back to the question, what is essential?  Here is our family in a aviary full of lorikeets connecting with them by giving them food.Image

The birds are eating apple pieces out of our hands and sitting on our heads and shoulders.  It has been said that food is love.  If that is so, then what really matters?  Oh, and to be on the safe side, make sure you cook your chicken to 165 degrees F.  Because, while food may be love, contaminated food is not.

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watching birds

I like to watch birds.  When I tell people, I take some ribbing for it, like “you are not one of those nerdy birdwatchers, right?”  And I guess I am or at least that is what I aspire to.  So why bird watching?  I am not sure.  I was raised in Florida and got to see some pretty cool birds growing up.  Sand Hill Cranes, Swallow Tail Kites, Image,

Wood Storks, Snowy Egrets.  Some pretty dramatic fowl.  As I have gotten older, I am appreciating finer distinctions among similar birds.  Do you know how many types of sparrows or ducks there are?   I was thinking about where this joy comes from recently.  It occurred to me that watching birds is no more difficult than just being still and noticing what is already there.  Birds are everywhere, city or country, downtown or on a rural road, walking on a sidewalk or hiking on a trail.  It does not matter.  When I stopped long enough and just pay attention, I’ve seen amazing things.  Driving on the highway, I saw a kestrel on a wire.  Sitting in the woods, I saw an indigo bunting.  Walking the dogs, I saw hooded mergansers on the water.  They have always been there.  They have not changed.  I have changed.  I have opened my eyes to the that which is already there.  Marcel Proust said true discovery is seeing the same landscape with new eyes.  That is what watching birds means to me.  Same landscape, new eyes.

It can be the same with people.  I have good idea of what to expect from many people.  Can I see them with new eyes or hear them with new ears?  Am I open to the possibility that what they do or say may have a different explanation than what I expect?  The answer is “yes” only if I am aware that it is a possibility.  I want to apply the simplicity of birdwatching to the rest of my life.  Be open to what is already there.  Plus, I just like to be outside and see cool stuff.




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I just finished reading “A Tale of Two Cities”, by Charles Dickens.  A charming little story about the days of terror and the French revolution.  The book is considered a classic work of literature.  I mean, who hasn’t heard, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” and “It is a far, far better thing than I have ever done,” How about this gem, “Detestation of the high is the involuntary homage of the low.”  I read the afterword.  It criticized Dickens for his poor character development of two main characters (Charles Darnay and Lucie Manette).  Also, there are too many melodramatic coincidences (Sidney Carton is Charles Darnay doppelganger allowing for a vital identity mix up).  Really?  More recently, I went to a guitar workshop of shred-wizard named Michael Angelo Batio (rhymes with ‘radio’) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qG74eVb6V10   He is obviously a very fine guitar player.   If you like, click the link give a listen and look at the likes (16,735) vs. dislikes (818).  In Batio’s workshop he discussed how no matter what you do, whatever you put out there, people will criticize.  Play to the critics and neither you nor they will ever be satisfied, Batio said in his workshop.  How does that apply to regular people like you and me?  I am no Dickens or Batio.  Either are you, I am guessing.  And yet, we may find ourselves holding back fearing criticism.  What is the take home?  People will criticize regardless of how much you or I guard against it.  We have no control of what people think or say.  Write what you need to write, play what you need to play, sculpt what you need to sculpt (see below).

susan cards

original art by Susan Brown

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