ASA NorCal President’s Message for November, 2010 – Robert P. Lentz III, ASA


The Power of Developing Personal Relationships


On a recent balmy evening my wife Debbie and I heard David Brooks speak at the Oakland Speakers’ Series.  As you may know, David is the conservative columnist at The New York Times.  (Yes, they do have conservative writers over there!)  David Brooks is one of the few who is able to bridge the gap between conservative and liberal thinking, and be very funny and provocative at the same time. (And no, this is not any sort of a political commentary!)  David was very pessimistic that there would be any compromise in a lame duck session of Congress.  So I raised the question: Whatever happened to the dialogue and bipartisanship that had existed in Washington?  Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill were well known to frequently get together over a cocktail, and discuss the ways they could work together to accomplish solutions for the benefit of the many. Outside the Senate, Dan Quail and Ted Kennedy were best friends!


Mr. Brooks’ answer was most interesting. He said two things happened to make reconciliation between differing political views much more difficult these days.


First, the airplane.  Instead of “sticking around the Capital,” our Congress‐people fly from home into Washington for the Monday session, and fly back to their respective districts on Thursday afternoon.  They simply do not know each other well enough to earn each others’ respect and be willing to compromise.  And because of the airplane, the general U.S. population is much more fluid. People can easily move to a new job, and to a new congressional district where their political ideas are more compatible.  Today, any “compromise” by a congressional representative may be seen as a sign of political weakness …which of course no congressional representative can afford.


Secondly, Mr. Brooks said, nobody drinks any more. While there is no shortage of bourbon,” everybody in Washington is drinking protein water and going to the health club after work,” rather than relaxing with colleagues over a drink and developing a meaningful dialogue.  Congressional families are not friends; so why should Congress‐people be friendly with each other?  Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill, Dan Quail and Teddy Kennedy …friendships like those are simply few and far between in Washington these days.


On the way home from Mr. Brooks’ speech, I couldn’t help but think that perhaps the same is true throughout our society today; and that kind of thinking is now “the new norm” in our culture.  Blackberries, smart phones and texting have replaced meetings and even personal telephone calls.  Why bother to meet someone face‐to face when “a text message will do”?  Traffic and parking ‐‐‐ they are such a hassle!  At the ASA lately, there has been quite a lot of dialogue that chapter meetings and even continuing professional education (“CPE”) courses can be more efficiently held online rather than face‐to‐face.  I do not agree.


Those of us who left college and graduate school many years ago may not remember all the details of any particular course.  But we do fondly remember the friends we made and the relationships we developed during those years.  Those relationships simply do not develop on a Blackberry or a smart phone.  And I would bet a Diet Pepsi (or a bourbon) that I remember more of what was said to me face‐to‐face than what I read on my computer or smartphone.


We who are members of the ASA are particularly lucky to have such a strong chapter in Northern California.  This past year (2009-2010), despite the dreadful economy, we have seen attendance at chapter meetings grow, and a very dedicated group of true professionals ready, willing and able to help their colleagues.  I personally encourage and invite each and every one of you to attend our Chapter meetings.  For those of you whom we have not seen lately, you may not realize just how much you are missing!  Your professional career will benefit from the personal relationships that are developed here.


We enjoy the recognition that the ASA affords us because there are dedicated people who consider volunteering for work in the ASA a very worthwhile use of their time, and a contribution to their professional career.   (Top to bottom, the ASA is a volunteer organization, with only a small cadre of staff in Washington.)


Remember the adage: “You generally get out of something what you put into it.”