Uncommon

My brother heard Tony Dungy on the radio the other day and called me up after. He said he thought Dungy had a lot of good things to say, so I grabbed it on the Kindle. That’s where the Kindle is most insidious; you are literally seconds away from buying a book that you hear about, so it takes a big man to resist the temptation and defer the gratification. That’s appropriate, because part of Dungy’s quest with this book is help men do less of that, to think about their decisions and make the right ones instead of the easy ones.

There aren’t many stunning revelations in this book. It’s a very basic treatise on leading what Dungy refers to as a significant life. Near the end he puts it succinctly like this:

Real, true significance doesn’t come from winning games or running a successful business. It comes from having a positive impact on the people around us.

If one non-religious thread runs through this book, it’s that Dungy continually stresses how important it is to love, listen to, and help the people around you. He extends this call beyond the family. It extends to friends, co-workers, and even casual acquaintances. The guy has the idealistic view that the simple act of one individual helping another can make the world a better place. He says:

I read last summer that Indianapolis’s public schools had the nation’s lowest graduation rate for males—19 percent. That’s fewer than one in five. My goal shouldn’t be to cast blame but rather to determine what I can do to make an impact on that statistic, even if it’s “only” for one kid. One kid, or one small group—and then another and another. And, who knows? As the word gets out about my one-man crusade, maybe someone else will join the effort. How many kids could we reach then?

I love this view. It’s good to hear it from someone who has devoted a large amount of time to helping troubled youths. I think he’s saying that there is hope, we all just have to wade in and start helping.

Dungy delivers this stuff to the reader in 31 chapters, each themed for a lesson that he wants to teach. He is responding in some respects to a religious calling. He is about as religious as can be without actually being a pastor. You have to wait until the end to get to this, but here is where he is coming from:

I believe my purpose is this: to serve the Lord and use all that He has given me to help others to the best of my ability. When I’m staying focused on that, it allows me to find the joy and abundant life that Christ promised, even if we don’t win the Super Bowl or I don’t meet every goal that I have for my life.

I didn’t, however, feel like I was being preached to. He doesn’t couch his whole message in religious values. I don’t think it clouds the message.

I’m reading this stuff because I live in a big city and that’s had a horrible year for student homicides and I often wonder if there is any hope of changing this trend. Chicago is my home. I love this city. It’s full of vibrant businesses, great people, and endless opportunity for work and pleasure. Yet in big chunks of this city, kids cannot walk to school without being afraid of being shot. Can you imagine that? In this place I call home, there are thousands and thousands of teenagers that need to carefully plot their route to school every day to insure that they have the best chance of making it there alive.

Dungy is trying to change this, one man at a time. He is reaching out to males, speaking directly to them, and telling them to be uncommon. This is his tone:

At the end of the day, I’m sure of one thing: accumulating stuff and women and titles and money are wrong keys. Fitting in, following the crowd, and being common are not what we’re supposed to do. There’s more in store for us.

He does it by telling a lot of stories, quoting a lot of philosophers and the Bible, and using a lot of folksy straight talk.

It’s an appropriate time to be talking to any male because it has been a rough year for high-profile men. I note:

  • South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford tells his constituents that he is hiking in the mountains, when actually he’s visiting his mistress in Argentina.
  • A-Rod has to go on national TV and apologize for using steroids. He actually teared up a couple of times I think.
  • Letterman has his own mea culpa during his show and comes clean on years of sleeping with female staffers so as to thwart an extortion scheme against him.
  • Kanye gets drunk during the VMAs and wanders up on stage while Taylor Swift is accepting her award, grabs it from her, and says it should have gone to Beyonce. Then he weepily apologizes on Letterman.
  • And finally, Tiger Woods. ‘Nuff said on that.

Like I said, rough year for testosterone. These are certainly not the role models that Dungy has in mind. This is how Dungy feels about being a role model:

This idea of stewardship is another area where I think our young men have gotten the wrong message over the years. I see it in our players a lot. They are told that because they’ve worked hard and sacrificed, now that they’ve made it into professional football, they deserve the rewards that go along with it. And it is tempting to get the nice car and the nice clothes, to acquire some of the things that you’ve always wanted. There’s also a great deal of peer pressure to “look like a professional athlete.” But the idea of being a role model, of giving back to the community where you grew up or where you live now, is not talked about much. It doesn’t have to be money that you give back. It can be time, encouragement, or simply role modeling—letting our young men know that they don’t have to follow the crowd; they don’t have to do the stereotypical things. I tell our players that being good role models is one way we can be good stewards of the positions God has put us in.

It’s clear that Dungy is speaking to all of maledom, not just high school boys on the wrong track. And he’s not the type of guy who’s going to get frustrated and feel like he’s beating his head against the wall. He’s almost puritanical. I mean, the guy gave up golf to spend more time with his wife and kids.

One of the things I decided to give up was golf. Although I enjoyed playing, I was never very good at it, and we had such limited time off in Kansas City that I couldn’t justify not being home when I got the chance. I’ve never really picked it back up, and I’m sure if I did, my game wouldn’t be pretty anyway. Maybe, however, if one of our younger children takes up the game and needs a playing partner or a caddy—we’ll just have to see.

Who does that? And that’s just a smattering of his parenting and relationship advice. Here is his take on balancing work and family:

To me, “balance” cannot be achieved simply by walking out the door at a set time or by scheduling a certain number of family activities. Rather, it is a function of our preparation and performance in those realms that we are seeking to balance, measured against our prescribed priorities. In other words, if I work hard and get my work done, I can go home knowing that I have given my employer my best. If I am diligent when I am at home about being present for Lauren and my children, then I can leave with a clear conscience and right relationships when it is time to go back to the office. The two biggest obstacles I have seen to creating margins in our lives are poor time management and workaholism. The former keeps you from ever feeling like you can allow yourself to leave the office, while the latter is a function of misaligned priorities, a distorted self-image, or some combination of both.

I don’t think this flowcart pertains to Dungy. He’s also anti-video game and anti-TV violence.

I am troubled by a society that devalues life directly and insidiously and then markets that idea to our kids through video games, music, movies, and television. This, in turn, contributes to kids not realizing that life should be respected, nurtured, and protected.

Maybe he’s on to something. I’ve always thought that watching violent movies or playing violent video games doesn’t contribute to real violence. I’ve given humanity enough credit to discern between real and fake. I figured most people could watch Kill Bill without actually killing Bill. But Dungy disagrees strongly with me. He abhors this part of our culture.

The guy has a lot of good things to say. Makes you think.