Thursday, September 20, 2007


As I mentioned in a previous post, USA Rugby people got together a couple of weeks back for a meeting of the new Board and Congress. The talk was around how we could all pull together to inspire Americans to fall in love with rugby. Core to this dream were a couple of beliefs.

The first is that rugby is a game that can be played and enjoyed by everyone, irrespective of body shape or size. Second, only rugby transcends the local to create a timeless global fraternity. I have also found that only rugby forges brotherhood through blood and respect, creating unbreakable bonds. As most of you know by now, the great passion of my life is centered on the New Zealand All Blacks. To me, they have always been the living embodiment of unbreakable bonds. Hopefully they have now begun what will turn out to be a 7-week odyssey to win the Rugby World Cup for all of New Zealand.

In my last piece on USA Rugby, I wrote about the Maori concept of Whakapapa, which explains a person’s place in the world. It is genealogy merged with mythology, spirituality and sustainability - a simple, beautiful view of the world. New Zealand’s indigenous people, the Maori, see themselves as part of a flowing line of ancestors linked arm and arm, from the beginning of time through to the present, and into the future through yet to be born forebears. The sun moves slowly along this interlinking chain of people and it signifies each person’s life as it shines down upon each of them. And so during every life, the individual is seen as a representative of the people and the custodian of the people’s heritage and values. The chain is unbreakable and the line of people immortal.

These unbreakable bonds are at the core of my own personal value set. Last weekend I spent some time thinking about just that, as I traveled back in time with a bunch of mates. I last played rugby with them 40 years ago in Lancaster and we all came together to watch the USA Eagles kick off their World Cup challenge. 40 years on the bond that held us together was still vibrant and real. It also got me thinking about another concept I discovered through great Maori leaders in New Zealand; that of mana. Mana is a Maori word which we can define in English as respect and presence. You know when someone has mana. When they walk into a room, a bar, or any group situation, they are immediately granted respect from those around them. Sometimes no words are spoken. Their presence is enough. Mana is bestowed, not claimed. The character of someone with mana is summed up in a beautiful Maori saying talking about one of their food staples, “the kumara does not talk about its own sweetness”.

Mana comes from Whakapapa and its connections, through to descendants who have performed great deeds, the personal performance of great actions with humbleness, and being part of a group that has bestowed great charity on others.

All three create belonging and legacy. Sean Fitzpatrick exemplifies it. So does Tana Umaga. So did Buck Shelford. And so does Richie McCaw.


Susan Plunkett said...

I would invite all to take a look at either Tony's blog on:
or my blog on:
to see pride @ passion in place in NZ aka Mr Kevin Roberts. I borrowed the images from Tony however my text is of course different. Thanks Tony for being gracious about the 'borrow'.

When I hear you connect with the deep life rhythms via your love Kevin I do have tears well up in eyes. mana is a very beautiful state both in the quiet existence of it and in the giving.

I am reminded of the following anecdote. A few years ago I was in a suburban train and a whole group of Maori's came into the carriage and sat near me. Two sets facing each other with me in the middle on one side. My mobile rang and the older gentleman opposite me stiffened and everyone stiffened likewise. I answered the call but ended it saying I would call them back. For some reason I looked up and apologised to the man. The most subtle expression passed through his face and body and the whole group relaxed. I find it interesting to locate small moments of respect and being attendant. One doesn't need to know what it was all about - just to respond to instinct (without word form). Not a word was spoken to me but I knew I had given him his due mana.

On occasions I have felt it come to me, it's humbling and nutritious to the soul.

Jim Donovan said...

Powerful stuff, Kevin. It amazes me how we expats/settlers in NZ have taken this on board - like most of the generations of expats/settlers before us, from many cultures. It speaks to powerful emotional and aspirational needs within us all.

Piotr Jakubowski said...

I find the most amazing thing about Whakapapa and Mana, is that the concepts have been around for so long, yet people are still oblivious to them. People still fail to understand that attitude trumps aptitude in a majority of situations worldwide.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but in a situation where a firm is outsourcing it seems that the firm would find it difficult to trust a subsidiary that may have the strongest aptitude, but lacks the right attitude towards the business.

Susan Plunkett said...

Your post reminded me of presentations Piotr. A company seeks a consultancy firm to do "K" job and eventually allows presentations in the selection process. Obviously the meat and substance of the presentation is vital, however, at the end of the day I believe selection will often come down to attitude, particularly when two groups are essentially neck for neck on the other criteria. It really makes better sense to have people who are in sync (tho I consider mild challenge part of harmony) with you than not. Skills or skill shortfalls can always be upgraded; attitude is often there or it's not.

Kevin Roberts said...

Jim – It’s all about belonging to something bigger than yourself. Maori have a word for it but the idea is very basic and universal.