Metaphor: a symbol of something abstract
The last game of the University of Idaho 2016 lacrosse season was a loss to Boise State University. For a loosing season, however, there were a lot of wins. The Lacrosse End-of -Year Banquet turned out to be one of the most surprising wins from my vantage point. This was a season that took great fortitude. Fourteen young men played 12 games against teams in the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA) from much larger, better funded programs such as Simon Fraser, Canada (lacrosse is the national sport), University of Washington, Brigham Young University, University of Utah, University of Oregon, and Oregon State University. The U of I ended the season with 10 losses and 2 wins. But we learned at the banquet, most college teams would not even take to the field without at least 20 players to allow for substitutions. To compete in a major conference with only 14 players and play every game was truly remarkable.
My son, Scott, was recognized as one of 3 seniors on the team. First year, head coach James Courter, talked about Scott’s high energy pursuing a finance/accounting degree, serving as president of his fraternity and playing lacrosse. Coach Courter remarked that Scott has an outlook he labeled “SPA”, superior positive attitude, in all situations. Courter described how when he first met Scott, he found Scott’s smiling demeanor somewhat disconcerting. Courter would be talking about something serious the defense needed to do and he would look up and Scott was smiling. Courter said by the end of the season, he came to learn that Scott just takes on anything with a smile (not a bad trait in life).
The biggest surprise to me at the Lacrosse Banquet was not the kudos from the Coach for the team and volunteers but the Coach himself. Thirty-one years old from Florida, Courter moved to Moscow, Idaho for a part-time coaching position just to get into college coaching. An outstanding college defensive player in the large eastern lacrosse divisions, Courter played lacrosse at Providence from 2004-07 leading his college team to NCAA Tournament appearances in 2004, 2006 and 2007. He earned Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAAC) Defensive Player of the Year honors as a senior in 2007. Since graduating, Courter has worked his way up in coaching from assistant program director of a youth lacrosse program, to head coach of a high school program, and finally to head coach at the University of Idaho. His vita tells me Courter absolutely loves lacrosse. He has travelled across the country to work for a pittance for a team with no funding for scholarships or even the power to get the University to allow them to use the much ballyhooed Kibby Dome during inclement weather. Courter’s resume also reflects a tremendous tenacity to stay with the sport while climbing the difficult to access college coaching ladder.
Courter is tall, slim, losing some of his hair. He came to the banquet microphone with a slightly wrinkled shirt and tie coming unknotted.
He is obviously uncomfortable speaking to groups from a podium. But his presentation was outstanding, not because of the delivery, shaky at best but because of the thoughtful content.
He gave the three team captains a map, a compass, and whistle. As we all know who do any backpacking, this is survival gear. However, Courter is from Florida not the wilds of Idaho. He never alluded to the true function of the equipment in his presentation. Rather he talked about metaphors, he had learned from his father. For success in life, one needs to have a mental map of where you want to go. But that map needs to be tempered by a heart which serves as a compass. Is the map taking you in the right direction in terms of your moral compass, the ability to know what is right or wrong and act accordingly. The whistle can serve two functions; first, stop the action that is not going according to plan or second, alert others that you need assistance.
I spent the weekend reflecting on Coach Courter’s remarks to his captains. The metaphors of map, compass and whistle resonated for me because of my degrees in public administration and my life-long career focus on government and politics. I have sat in many meetings where the map would have been much easier to develop and follow if we did not have to be concerned about the moral implications of the plans we are developing.
In my own neighborhood in recent months, St. Lukes Health System, the largest employer in Idaho has developed a master plan over many years to expand their Boise campus by closing off one of the main streets, Jefferson. The administrators at Lukes have seemed surprised when the neighborhood has raised an outcry about the blocking of a main bike artery and their failure to ensure the plan was pedestrian and bicycle friendly. Given the outcry, St. Lukes has subsequently revised their plan, hosted numerous neighborhood meetings and recently sent out post cards to the neighborhood. But it would have been much easier if Lukes administration had started their plan with not just what is easier and most efficient for St. Lukes (map) but what does the community’s moral compass tell us would be the best approach for serving the East End. Final decisions have not been made on this issue. The East End neighborhood was very effective at bringing out their whistles quickly and loudly when they were not involved from the beginning. The neighborhood protest about the unfairness of not being involved from the beginning was shrill and loud, significantly slowing down the approval process.
We have another example of the map, compass and whistle metaphors in our national government. In the U.S. Constitution, the Supreme Court was established as the final arbitrator of whose map and moral compass should be followed during any period of American history. The Republican majority in the U.S. Senate have delayed confirmation of a new Supreme Court Justice in the hopes of electing a Republican Presidential candidate who will appoint a justice closely aligned with their conservative moral compass. In other words, their map for the rest of the year is delay. During this interim period, the Justices are not able to rule on many controversial issues because they have a tie vote between liberals and conservatives. The fact that the Republicans in the U.S. Senate have essentially negated the power of the court by not allowing a replacement should concern citizens of both political parties. This is a fundamental violation of the U.S. Constitution. The Republican Senators are allowing their partisan strategy to interfere with their moral principles. Without a strong referee, in this case the U.S. Supreme Court, the potential for unintended consequences and long-term harm particularly to vulnerable populations is great. Right now in our country, there is no one in place to enforce the whistle.
In the end, these three simple metaphors, a map, a compass, and a whistle provide a measure of who we are as individuals and a country. A key question for each of us every day is: How do we develop a positive, ethically grounded future with the ability to ask for help or stop ourselves when we have gone too far?