Published (and otherwise) Reactionswade.holdinghisown.jpg

 Photo: The writer, holding his own at the age of 4.
















(Response to Frank Rich column on our hit and miss American exceptionalism)


July 4th, 2010
9:18 am

My only solace in the face of your well-laid argument is that our constitution-- the original "house divided"--was forced by the power of its primary truth to fight against itself some eight decades later and deliver us nearer to the reality of universal freedom. God knows, as do we, that state religion and monarchy had been tagged for extinction by that same document. As we fret, appropriately and fearfully, we also are assured that our attempts at institutional and personal liberation of all brands of humanity represent the world''s best active surrender to the known future of mankind: we will always be the same, suffering, thriving, exploiting, celebrating and mourning our proximity to others who are almost like us, but not quite; almost our age, color, intelligence, status,nationality.......

We may be retrograde, but our pals in the world-- those we love and those we don't--require only the color of eyes, the pitch of voice and the cut of cloth to know and persecute their inferiors.

It is true that we are not as good as we see ourselves, but we may have a skewed idea of the current, available ideal.


One Letter to a Fellow  Condo Assn. Board Member

I view my role on the board as one of service at a respectful, official distance from individual homeowners. Only when I separate my private existence from my role as a board member can I feel comfortable both greeting and serving my neighbors.

If there is gossip, anger or other forms of unorganized, negative push-back, I see that as normal, if regrettable. Any time that such distractions take our focus we are hampered in our effectiveness.

There is not now, nor has there ever been, any defense against those who use bad words against us rather than constructive confrontation with a defined objective. We can be useful to those in the latter category, and manage carefully our relationship with covertly negative homeowners.

What we cannot do is allow rude negativity to become part of our own concern or discourse; we must rise above ugliness while handling a sometimes ugly job.


(response to Felicia Feaster’s  article on Viet Nam and its impact on our current behaviors––in Atlanta’s Creative Loafing newspaper)
On Thursday, May 11, 2006, at 04:38 PM, Wade Benson wrote:

Dear Ms. Feaster:
    It is forever useful to challenge our cherished notion of American exceptionalism, and Viet Nam is a critical point of reference for the discussion.
    In fact, our wartime behaviors are simply alternative versions of bad behaviors practiced by nations that predated us––those that survived or perished in large measure according to the effectiveness of their own capacity for brutality. That is to say that we are forever surprised to learn of the baseness of human nature that finds expression in times of war. Sanitized history, spoon-fed to us in our public school youth, has led us to believe that our badasses answer to a higher standard by virtue of their American citizenship. We would like to think that American soldiers wouldn’t buckle under the power conferred by state-sanctioned brutality. With this fantasy in the background, we weep for an imagined loss of innocence, even though we never had the innocence to lose; our humanity can be compromised as effectively as anyone else’s because war debases the best of us.
    Still, like individuals hired for war around the world and throughout history, each soldier has the latitude to kill gracefully, usefully and legally, OR each soldier may release the inner brute behind the anonymity conferred by isolation and by policy officials’ shameful desperation to bring home victory.
    (I had a student deferment during Viet Nam and did not serve; my son is 82nd Airborne.)

Wade Benson

Dear Wade,

    Wow, you and your son must have some really interesting dinner conversations.
I appreciate you taking the time to write and offering your thoughts on war.  I guess I agree with most of what you say. We are all, put into the right situation, capable of debasing ourselves, Americans are of course no exception to that rule.  But I also believe that people have the ability to resist that debasement, even in times of war.  Maybe I am optimistic about human nature despite much evidence that that is a naive way to think.
    I think individual potential for brutality also has a lot to do with how we are conditioned even from the time we are born, and also to do with the different ways men and women are raised.

Best Regards,


Letter to my son on the subject of service--
July 18, 2005

Letter to my son in the army--2005
Dear son,

I am so sorry I missed your call Friday night. I had the phone with me but missed the ring. The message was great, though, and so was the letter I got on Saturday.

Yes, the work you and your brothers in arms are charged with is dangerous and important. The physical requirements are stiff because the risks are physical in nature. Mental toughness is required in order to prevent a casual mistake that costs lives. At some point I guess, many a soldier begins to wonder what he used to do with all the extra space in his brain and body––that space that’s now occupied with everything strategic, everything significant.

I sent your letter by email to Marisa’s dad, former GI that he is. (He joined back in the 50s about the same time Bill Pelfrey did.) He likes knowing about you and your sacrifice. I sat beside him when the news was on last year and he said he wished he could be in the action now. I think the sense of doing something important stays with you forever.

Thanks for staying close; you are always close in my heart.


 Letter to my Wife's Hometown Newspaper

A Thankful Greeting to My Second Hometown

(Published in Thief River Falls (MN) Times)

When you go to a new place and meet new people, you only have fresh eyes once. All opinions will be measured against those first, passing impressions.

My eyes for Pennington County, though, are fresher than I would have thought, even after a couple of years of weeklong visits, here with my new wife. And you people deserve to learn from a recent stranger just what sort of image you project.

Relax. It’s not bad. In fact, I’ve come to count this corner of Minnesota as my own second home.

Ever since I’ve known her, my wife has been subject to fits of remembrance about home that overtake her in the middle of conversation about something else. Any subject can trigger a vivid memory that takes her back in time and fifteen hundred miles from our home in Atlanta, back here to this fertile, flat, cold ground of her growing up. And, when I made a trip with her three months before our marriage, I found the place pretty much as I expected; her descriptions of the countryside had been accurate.

But in describing the people and their ways of getting along, she was limited by the same vocabulary that had served her so well when talking about old churches, short trees and ice fishing. She had never before had to explain the good of the country-and-small-town people of these parts. (Still, she’s good with words and surrounds them with the shades of vocal color that reveal her emotional connection.)

What was missing was any way of conveying the plain, human consistency that has served all around here so well since your ancestors arrived in the late nineteenth century. She knew it but couldn’t say it. The secret hides in the dirt, your blood and the lefse, I guess. Even as you watch your kids grow up and sometimes move away, the feel of the place––as well as its population size––stays much the same. Even in the Ralph arena the feel of the Huck arena is in the air; even with the new rural address system (197,000th Street, is it?) you just know that one fireman is telling the other one, “Yah, then, just make a left there at Klevgard’s granary and it’s a little ways on the right. Can’t miss it, hey?”

Of course, there are changes. Someday soon there’ll probably be as many snowmobiles as deer. And maybe, with these good roads nowadays, there’ll even be some pickup trucks that go a whole lifetime without landing in the ditch on the way to church where most of the members are your cousins. Somebody might actually use that runway at the airport for the real jets it was designed for. Farm equipment will soon dial up the satellite and report back to the farmer, “It’s too wet to plow, Ole. Better go over to the casino today.” Temptations on cable TV will lure young ones away in greater numbers, and new families will average one and a half kids, not two like today. (Or eight like your Grandma’s.)

Even so, I predict that things will stay much the same around here for centuries more. Partly because of the stubbornness of anyone who would choose to live here, where you should really be born with fur, not just wrapped by some other animal’s skin when you’re grown.

That stubbornness––and the polite habits anybody can see––will go a long way to preserving the status quo. But the real peace of tomorrow is to be found in what you don’t see around here:
o    Drivers, sitting in traffic twelve lanes across, reading War and Peace in hardcover
o    Battle casualties in the after-Thanksgiving shopping rush
o    Public officials blinking in front of TV lights, explaining that their Vegas vacation wasn’t really a bribe
o    Public officials being led away in handcuffs (If they’re stupid enough to get caught, baling wire is good enough, hey?)
o    Riding down an interstate in your own funeral serenaded by the honking of annoyed drivers
o    Five dollar cups of coffee

If I’m deluding myself about any of this, don’t tell me. We only come around for some holidays and some “quiet time.” I don’t want to know about the dark edges of the police blotter where names of real criminals are written, or the back door of the rumor mill where minor incidents are reported as social felonies. I’m well aware that there are rotten individuals and bad manners anywhere you go.

It’s just that, the way my fresh eyes see it, there aren’t that many of those bad types around here. And they are a heck of a lot easier to neutralize here because they’re easier to spot on the open plains.

A lot easier than those deer, hey?

Wade Benson
Atlanta, Georgia

(The writer is the husband of the former Marisa Johnson, Lincoln High class of ’80)

My Wife's Newspaper Interview

 (Marisa is my brilliant wife.)

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

 6:29 p.m. Thursday, January 26, 2012 

Structure is key to keeping team on track

By Laura Raines

For the AJC

Recent surveys report high levels of job dissatisfaction in the workforce. It doesn’t surprise Dana Brownlee, founder of Professionalism Matters Inc., an Atlanta-based corporate training company.

 “Companies are continuing to ask employees to do more with less,” she said. “In a difficult economic environment with high unemployment, employees are fearful to speak up when asked to take on extra work. There’s also been a seismic shift in technology with the growth of social media in business, leaving some on board and others behind.”

Technology contributes to worker distraction, according to a May 2011 USA Today survey. It found that more than half of U.S. workers lose an hour a day to email, texting and other interruptions, costing businesses $10,790 a year per employee in lost productivity.

“Workplace cultures of fear, uncertainty and distraction lead to low morale and low motivation, and that leads to lower productivity,” Brownlee said.

When the economy is flowing, companies can compensate workers with salary bonuses, incentive gifts and more training. “Lacking those resources, managers need to find other ways to motivate their teams,” she said.

She advises leaders to take a step back in order to move forward. “Smart managers know that providing a strong structure and foundation is the most important element in getting and keeping a team on track,” Brownlee said.

“Developing a team charter is a key step that many overlook, but I haven’t seen any team that wouldn’t benefit from creating an agreement on how they’ll work together,” she added.

A charter is a collaborative effort created by team members and key stakeholders, such as sponsors and clients. “It should cover the mission, goals and purpose of the team, as well as consider the scope of work, how success will be measured and under what ground rules the team will operate,” Brownlee said.

“Having this conversation provides a sense of direction and clarity for the team. It addresses issues upfront and prevents problems down the road. For every minute that you spend creating a structure, you’ll save three later,” she said.

When teams have charters, there’s less role overlap, fewer tasks left undone, more accountability and fewer frustrations. It’s also easier to bring new team members up to speed. “It should be a living, breathing agreement that is all about being intentional, deliberate and holding people accountable,” she said.

“Consistency in operation” was what Marisa Benson wanted for her team when Emory University created a centralized project management office for information technology in 2008.

“I was pulling project managers from different departments, with different backgrounds, skills and ways of doing things,” said Benson, director of the project management office, University Technology Services for Emory University. “The interesting thing is that we work across all departments with no authority to tell people what to do, but with ultimate responsibility for information technology. I knew we’d have to lead by influence.”

She began by having team members assess their individual strengths and weaknesses. They then discussed the level of knowledge and skills that would be needed for a project management team to add value to the organization.

In three years, the 12-member team has earned more technology certifications, but the team members also have taken courses together in the fundamentals of project management, presentation and communication skills, team building, meeting planning and management, many taught by Professionalism Matters Inc.

“More money isn’t always a great motivator,” Benson said. She’s found that her team of creative managers values autonomy, mastering new skills, getting to work on the latest equipment or being part of the coolest projects.

They do team charters for most team projects to establish purpose and how they’ll relate to one another. “We’ve built a highly motivated, cohesive team and created a culture of having each other’s backs,” Benson said.

Angela Bostick, assistant dean of marketing and communications for the Goizueta Business School at Emory University, said she believes that developing team charters keeps her team effective and efficient.

Having created multiple charters, they can adapt their template easily for similar projects and start fresh when moving into uncharted territory. “Having a formal process keeps us honest, motivated and focused on achieving our goals,” she said.

She finds the upfront time worthwhile. “Everyone gets to have input and express their expectations and vision, so there’s universal buy-in,” she said. “That has strengthened us as a department."