John Livingston


Great people think differently than the average person. It doesn’t matter what line of work they are in. My life has been touched by great men and women who all thought differently. My father, my Quaker grandmother, a coach, a college professor, a Navy Captain, and pilot, all gave me glimpses into their lives and thinking that allowed me to appreciate that greatness is not about talent or acquired skills or genetics—that all are gifts from God that that can leveraged for good or bad. Rather, placing oneself offstage, and seeing ourselves as part of the picture, allows us to understand our ability to be part of the great novel of our own lives where we are connected to the great novel of other people’s stories.

My Quaker Grandmother. Taught me to pray. She started me on my journey of finding God who made be because He loved me. She taught me the importance of guarding our thoughts because they become words that lead to actions and then habits, and habit define a life.

My father’s great lesson—”The thing is not the thing”. Many times, we do things not because we want to accomplish the task at hand, but rather to make an investment in the future. A father playing catch with his young son isn’t going to make him a professional baseball player, but it may create a bond of love and friendship that will last for a lifetime. Fathers playing catch with their children is a family tradition that has been passed down in our family for five generations. I played catch with my 5-year-old grandson last week. Like strands of DNA that pass-through generations, moments, and memories traverse time.

My football coach taught me the value of images and the connection between fiction and non-fiction. “See clearly but imagine doing something that you think is beyond your abilities” “Set the bar high not low. By attempting to go high and failing you accomplish more than crossing a lower bar and succeeding.” I saw this in listening to J. R. Simplot and to Leon Musk. Great people imagine the future in almost fictional ways and are not afraid to failing when the bar is set high. They think big and fail and succeed big.

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The Navy Captain and pilot taught me about forgiveness and redemption even in the face of great disappointment. Watching the actions of others and not just listening to words can be life changing. “There is no sin greater than God’s love and forgiveness.”

I am thinking of these things today in the context of what we are hearing from our politicians, the media, and many people in education at all levels, where we are defined as being “victims”. Equality and equity are not virtues in and of themselves. Sympathy and empathy are not compassion. Welfare should be a short-term solution and not incentivize dependency. We all have limitations in our talents, intelligence, and physical abilities. We all have opportunities that are the result of those same talents, intelligence, and abilities. What determines if we are going to be successful is the choices, we all have when opportunities are presented before us. Making the right choice when deciding to choose to work and learn and educate oneself, instead of choosing to bemoan a situation or circumstance that from the front side seems to be a roadblock, but from the back side may prove to be a catapult to an unforeseen opportunity. In addition to seeing things differently than other people, great people see opportunity where nobody else sees opportunity. They seem to be filled with “hope and joy” when confronted with a challenge or even a defeat.

I think adult men and women, should always understand that we are always teaching. Younger people look to us as role models. We don’t have to speak or lecture. Sometimes all that is needed is to just play catch. “The thing is not the thing.” The headline that inspired me today was the story of the Boise State Quarterback that after four years at Boise State has entered the TRANSFER PORTAL, quit his team after four years, and is looking to play somewhere else. If football is what his life is going to be for the next 30 years and he is part of the .1% who can play in the NFL, then that is the right decision. But for the other 99.9% of college football players “the thing is not the thing”. Football is a means to an end like organic chemistry or physics is to a doctor or engineer. It is a “cornerstone” of a foundation. A foundation and context that adults with life experience can better to appreciate than a young person who does not understand the exegesis of an unfolding life.

My football coach after every practice or game would huddle with his assistant coaches and ask: “Are we making better boys”. Not, did we put in a new play, or did we accomplish the short-term goal of our practice, but did we take a step forward in reaching our goal of “making better men” Accomplish that and winning will take care of itself— accountability, transparency, and personal integrity.

Purely by happenstance, I was privy to an example of such a mentoring. In high school I played against the great Rex Kern who three years later led Ohio State to a National Championship and a Rose Bowl victory. He beat out a quarterback for the starting position named Don Underearth who could have quit the team but decided to stay at Ohio State and pursue his real dream and goal of becoming a medical doctor. Football was a means to the end—not the end. Four years later Don was my chief resident on the Internal Medical service at Ohio State. He told me a story that defines how adults should lead and teach. How leaders should lead.

His college coach Woody Hayes wrote a letter to the Harvard Medical School recommending Don for admission. It was the first letter that Woody had written to Harvard and Woody’s reputation was on the line. In his first semester, Don became depressed and wanted to quit. The day after the big Michigan game and at a crucial time in the recruiting season, Woody flew to Oxford, and sat up for three nights with Don in his apartment, making sure he studied and passed his first semester exams—an exercise of compassion, not sympathy or empathy. Don subsequently overcame his depression, graduated from Harvard, and became a world-renowned Cardiologist and Academic pioneer in myocardial anatomy and physiology. But the end of the story is even more interesting about how Woody viewed his role as mentor and teacher. One night while I was on call at University Hospital, Don told me that if it weren’t for Woody he would never have stayed in Medical School. For almost 5 years Don had written or tried to meet with Woody to try to thank him, but Woody refused to see or respond to Don. It seems that while Woody received news that Don was considering dropping out, he had just written another letter of recommendation to Harvard for another football player. Woody’s reputation was again

on the line. Woody believed that by quitting Harvard, Don was jeopardizing the other player-student’s ability to get into medical school. In Woody’s eyes, Don wasn’t living up to his end of the bargain and was jeopardizing Woody’s reputation. End of story. The lesson—your actions have ramifications beyond yourself. Other people’s jobs, opportunities and futures are at stake in everything we do, even if you aren’t aware of it. We are all connected.

Our elected officials need to understand that the “thing is not the thing”. Being part of “the good old boys club” and remaining in power and going along with their corporate cronies should not be their focus. Their responsibilities should only be to The Constitutions of State and Country and to We the People. At the end of every Committee meeting and legislative session they should ask of themselves:

  1. Are we growing government or increasing the liberty of Idahoans?
  2. Are we staying true to our oaths and our principles or are we doing the bidding of lobbyists and special interests?
  3. Are we leading by example, or are we purposefully fighting transparency?
  4. Are we holding ourselves accountable?

And most importantly Are we building a better Idaho? Idahoans are a Great and virtuous people. We need leaders who “see clearly”, who will be connected to WE THE PEOPLE, and who will be worthy of those they are called upon to serve.

As a great man once said: “The thing is not the thing”

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