Author Archives: Arlene Somerton Smith

Our responsibility not to be thoughtless jerks

More than four years ago I read a post on the Matt Walsh Blog entitled, “If I can’t accept you at your worst, then maybe you should stop being so horrible.” I made note of it and set it aside as a “someday” topic.

Someday has arrived.

Matt’s post is long but it boils down to, we have a responsibility not to be thoughtless, hurtful jerks. He refers to the quote: “. . . if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”  

I picture in my mind a person speaking that line.

I see an indignant person off-loading responsibility onto others. I see a person unwilling to try harder to accommodate and collaborate. I see a person who doesn’t believe she needs to give her best because we’re all supposed to accept the hurt and confusion caused by her actions because, well, just because. I see a person who doesn’t believe he needs to think before he acts, speaks or writes.

More than ever our news sources, our social media feeds and our conversations with each other need a healthy dose of thoughtful foresight. More than ever we all have a responsibility to ask, “Is it kind? Is it necessary?” before acting, speaking or writing.

More than ever we need to stop being horrible.




What is success? Let us Celebrate

What is success? Cars? Money? An interview with Oprah?

Or could it be moving a finger, or taking a shower? 

The definition of success changes with every person, or even with every person on a different day. We have the challenge of learning to see our own version of success and celebrate it without comparing it to others, to be proud of each accomplishment.

Here is a link to a reflective talk entitled “Let Us Celebrate” presented by my friend, Lynne, who has a mental illness and has had to redefine success for herself. The fact that she stood up and made this talk in front of a large crowd is something HUGE for her to celebrate. Preparing for it and processing it after took a lot of effort. Please do yourself a favour and listen.

Let Us Celebrate

And here is the short video she refers to.


The Captain Class and the art of social loafing

My reading material during my ski vacation last week was The Captain Class: The Hidden Force That Creates the World’s Greatest Teams by Sam Walker. The book had me thinking about leadership and team work beyond the world of sports.

What makes a great leader? How to get the most out of a team?

To write the book, the founding editor of The Wall Street Journal’s sports section examined sports teams that achieved exceptional success and tried to figure out what drove the outstanding accomplishments. His findings surprised him, and me.

He found that the freakishly successful teams shared the same kind of captain, and it wasn’t the glamorous version of captain that would spring to your mind. Instead of the gregarious highly skilled aces, the flamboyant superstars or the squeaky clean idols, the captains were what he called the glue guys, or the water carriers. 

They were:

  1. Dogged and focused to the extreme
  2. Aggressive players who tested the limits of the rules (and sometimes crossed them)
  3. Willing to do thankless jobs in the shadows
  4. Low-key, practical and democratic
  5. Able to motivate others with non-verbal cues
  6. Courageous and willing to stand apart if it meant upholding a strong conviction
  7. Ironclad controllers of emotions

His captains achieved success not through exceptionally skilled play, but by never giving up They didn’t shun the small jobs, but instead did whatever grunt work needed to be done for the good of the team, not themselvesThey didn’t deliver flowery motivational speeches, but they held people accountable by looking people in the eye

It’s easy to quibble with the scientific method Sam Walker used to arrive at his list of exceptional teams, but with hundreds of thousands of sports teams around the world to work with he had to narrow it somehow. He almost excluded baseball which would have led me to shelve the book immediately, but—phew—baseball skimmed through his criteria sieve and I was able to carry on.

I was particularly intrigued by the idea of social loafing, an idea born out of research by Maximilien Ringelmann. Ringelmann tested the amount of effort exerted by people pulling on a rope. He started with low numbers of people and then added on. You would think that the more people pulling on a rope, the more effort would be exerted, but he found that the more people, the less effort each individual exerted. Working as a team caused people to work less strenuously than when working alone.

We’re willing to coast a little when we feel other people can carry a little of our load. 

Anyone who has ever been part of a group project has seen this kind of dynamic at play. We assume that the highly skilled star players motivate teammates to work hard and try to excel at the same level, but Walker’s examination of exceptional teams seemed to indicate the opposite. Fellow team members of superstars were willing to let them carry the load.

But when less-skilled dogged captains courageously and aggressively lead a team, individual efforts around them increase too.

Who are the people in the organizations that you work or play in who never give up? Who does the grunt work for the good of the team, not themselves? Who holds you accountable by looking you in the eye?

Who are your water carriers?


A ski trip to fill the well

This is where I am this week.

Mont Sainte Anne, QC, Canada

This is what I’m doing this week.

Riding the chair lift

This is what my family is doing this week. Not me, I don’t like maple syrup. Yuck.

Maple Taffy in the snow at Mont-Sainte-Anne, QC.

This is what I will eat this week. I don’t like maple syrup, but I do love St. Hubert chicken.

A ski trip—and some St. Hubert chicken—to refill the well.



Love: Looking outward in the same direction

“Love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.” —Saint-Exupéry

Something I remember at this time of year: A better translation for the word “love” in the Bible would be “compassion.” 

I changes everything. Imagine if couples promised to have compassion for each other instead of to love each other. It takes away the possibility of  the kind of damage people inflict on each other in the name of “love,” a word that can lead to possessiveness and manipulation.

Compassionate couples trust. They don’t need to keep watchful eyes on each other. They turn outward together to look at the world in the same direction.

They don’t waste time gazing. They look at what can and needs to be done.

They take action, do good, have fun.

If Valentine’s Day can lead to a little more of that, I’ll get on board.







Winter: So bright, so beautiful

The Turtlehead blog post yesterday entitled Frozen talked about winter, and how it’s possible to love it. The skating, the skiing, the walking and playing in the snow.

I am finding so much JOY in winter this year. As I write this I am looking out my window at sunshine glinting off a snowy landscape.

So bright. So beautiful. 

On New Year’s Eve when it was -22 degrees Celsius in Ottawa, Canada, we walked from house to house during our annual “travelling” dinner celebrations with neighbours. No breath of wind stirred the air. The almost-full moon cast crisp shadows on the snow. So bright. So beautiful.

In early January we skated on the ice rink put in place on Parliament Hill as part of Canada 150 celebrations. It was really, really, really cold that night and the wind howled. But we skated in the evening with the inspirational images and music of the Northern Lights sound and light show playing in the background. So bright. So beautiful.

We skied on Sunday at a local ski hill. The sun shone on our skis as they shooshed through perfect snow conditions. So bright. So beautiful.

The family on a less sunny ski day.

On Saturday we visited the outdoor skating rink at Rideau Hall, the home of the Governor General. (Affectionately known to many as the GG, she is the Queen’s representative in Canada.) We happened there on the same day as the Winter Celebration. We walked on the grounds, skated on the rink, drank hot chocolate and enjoyed winter. So bright. So beautiful.

We skated on the Rideau Canal on Thursday, and if anything encapsulates the winter experience, it is that. How lucky to have such a gift in my city. The National Capital Commission does an amazing job of maintaining the world’s largest skating rink, but this is nature we’re talking about. Some parts of the 7.8 km stretch (not quite 5 miles) was glassy smooth. So bright. So beautiful.

Some parts were smooth, but not glassy and with bumps under the surface.  So bright. Proceed with caution.

Other parts were pitted and rough. Navigate those patches by pointing the skate blades straight and coasting until it’s over. So bright. Not so beautiful.

Those rough patches mean the experience is not flawless, but the joy of skating for almost five miles without ever having to make a turn, the benefits of crisp cold air and sunshine, and the beauty of our Ottawa landscape makes the overall experience SO worth coasting through the rough patches.

That sums up winter for me. I don’t love everything about it, but the joy of skating, skiing, walking, the benefits of crisp cold air and sunshine, and the beauty of our Ottawa landscape makes the overall experience SO worth it.

Skating on Parliament Hill

Finding joy in winter is about wearing the right clothing and choosing the right attitude. You don’t wear a parka on a beach on a hot, humid summer day, so you shouldn’t wear jeans and thin jackets outside on a winter day either.

Dress appropriately and look for the bright and beautiful. Choose joy.


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