Warren Bennis defines several themes that he thinks are key to leadership and just plain living (he's a well-practiced speaker, if you get a chance to see him, it's worth it).
  1. Adaptability - the capacity to change and learn.
  2. Voice - When needed, the ability to express yourself clearly and with palpable sincerity.
  3. Engaging others - we're social animals, be sociable and associable.
In his exposition of these themes, he had several bulletpoints. The one that struck me the most was:

Work tirelessly for honest dialogue.

Ben Franklin also touched upon this in his autobiography, as he urged his son to not converse idly, but to strive to communicate something worthwhile. We have to work ceaselessly to communicate honestly because (I contend) we are lazy social animals.

We tend to take the cheap route to satisfy 'relatedness' needs. The easiest is to just engage in the quick culturally pre-programmed touch session ('hi', 'how are you?', 'fine, you?', 'fine', 'great, see you around', 'bye'). To import real meaning into these exchanges is to turn one of these exchanges into an opener for conversation. Otherwise, we use them as barometers for social contact with that person.

On the laziness scale, the next is to complain about some quality of life. Converting this into meaningful conversation is difficult as the complainer usually just wants someone to listen. But we can certainly sympathize, try to see life through their eyes, and offer words of support. We may one day need the same. I'm not sure how to convert these conversations into anything more meaningful.

Next is to tell stories about others or yourself. The quality of these stories is strongly indicative of the different qualities of intelligence in a person. These stories (hopefully new ;) can provide ample ground to ramp up into a cerebral conversation or a chance to practice your own story-telling art.

Next, we have to realize that all of these types of conversations have some value, or else we wouldn't engage in them. It's just that some are less valuable than others. And the most valuable conversations in our life are quite varied. What was the most valuable conversation you've had?

Now why don't we strive to have more meaningful conversations? Quite possibly because we don't know what a meaningful conversation is until we just had it ;). Ben Franklin would urge you to enrich yourself by conversation, i.e. obtain news, listen for opportunities, and plan for the future. Warren Bennis would urge you to see the conversation as a sharing, whether you share something of value, or help create value is up to you. Ben's advice is easier to adopt, Warren's requires a whole lot of practice as you need to know what you truly value.

"War is never a first or an easy choice. But the risks of war need to balanced against the risks of doing nothing while Iraq pursues the tools of mass destruction." Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld.

Shame on Rumsfeld for contriving to over-simplify the debate into either War or Ignorance. These would be the only two options IF we could prove to the rest of the world that Iraq will use WMD in the immediate future. If we cannot prove this, then we should not commit our youth to war that does not yet have to be fought, and perhaps may be avoided by pursuing other less costly measures. If proving their case would destroy their military advantage, then after the war I would want their decision tree to become public record.

To work some paraphrase-judo on Madeleine Albright, "What's the point of having this superb military you're always talking about, if it only ever says the options are 'War' and 'Being stupid for not going to war'?"

Last Friday, I was talking with Jim Geruntho, who's the IT coordinator for a local school. He was asking if we could help out a bright kid who's having a rough time in HS. I asked if the kid had home issues and there are plenty. The kid has basically just written off school. And I wished I could help him, but I couldn't. I don't know how many more times I'm going to be able to say no.