Radical kindness

Last week, the excellent documentary called “Would you be my neighbor?” on the life and mission of Mister (Fred) Rogers, won an award from AARP’s Movies for Grown-ups annual ceremony. Morgan Neville, the producer/ director summed up his reflections of Mister Rogers with the words “radical kindness.” He noted we need his wisdom more today than ever.

In the film, Rogers, who was an ordained minister, puppeteer, and musician made it his mission to teach children about how to understand and address their feelings. His shows focused on issues that were previously avoided with children – anger, hurt. grief, confusion, jealously, greed, love, etc. He told these kids it is OK to be angry, but you should not hit others in reaction.

Through words and examples, often delivered through his puppets (and his modified voice), he discussed death, divorce, bullying and bigotry. A key example is his having an African-American in a recurring role as his Officer Friendly and friend. This sounds rather innocuous now, but he did this in the late 1960s. He made a further point of having both share the same wading pool to wash their feet, a purposeful lesson that could come straight from the bible.

Among several powerful moments in the movie, three stand out. The first is his testimony in front of a Senate committee chaired by the ornery Senator John Pastore to petition the committee not to cut $20 million funding of PBS. He focused on what he tries to do and asked if he could say the words to the following song:

“What do you do with the mad that you feel? When you feel so mad you could bite. When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong, and nothing you do seems very right. What do you do? Do you punch a bag? Do you pound some clay or some dough? Do you round up friends for a game of tag or see how fast you go? It’s great to be able to stop when you’ve planned the thing that’s wrong. And be able to do something else instead ― and think this song ―

“I can stop when I want to. Can stop when I wish. Can stop, stop, stop anytime … And what a good feeling to feel like this! And know that the feeling is really mine. Know that there’s something deep inside that helps us become what we can. For a girl can be someday a lady, and a boy can be someday a man.”

A visibly moved Pastore said he would make sure the funding continued.

The other two moments are more visual. He filmed an episode with Coco the gorilla who could do sign language. This enormous beast was quite visibly moved  by Rogers. Coco seemed to feel the radical kindness that exudes from Rogers, hugging and petting the man and signing that he loved Mister Rogers.

The other visual is of Rogers inviting Jeff Erlanger, a wheel chair bound young man on to his show. Erlanger explained to the audience what had happened to make him a quadriplegic, the result of a spinal tumor. In a very poignant manner the two sang a song together that left both my wife and me a little teary eyed.

Mister Rogers came along after my formative years. I would watch an occasional episode as I channeled surfed. Yet, seeing this and another documentary about his work, left me with a very favorable impression. As a producer noted, Rogers did the opposite of what other TV shows did. He talked directly to the children with radicaj kindness. We adults sure could use a large dose of that.

 

 

 

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Civility and frankness are not mutually exclusive

I find it interesting when I get push back as folks ask why should we be civil when the other side is not? Often I respond with the simple retort – civility and frankness are not mutually exclusive. One can push back without taking the other person’a head off.

I am reminded of the story of a black man who has been able to change the mindset of more than 200 KKK members. In so doing, he collects their robes. Now, the KKK is as extreme a white supremacist group as there is. How did he do it? He spoke civilly toward them asking a few questions. He listened to their answers. Then, he asked pertinent follow-up questions. Eventually, the KKK members saw the logic of his argument. He says people just want to be heard.

Diplomacy is an art. It is a way of understanding people, but being forthright with what you believe and want. In essence, it is precisely what this black man did in speaking with the KKK members. He did not shout. He did not tell them they were wrong or bad people. He started conversations and listened to them. Then, he asked questions in follow-up. He heard them which allowed them to hear him.

A few diplomatic phrases might be beneficial. You might ask, “Help me understand why you would say that?” Or, you could use a more unnerving statement like, “I understand your points, but I do not find them to be entirely true.” Or, you could say, “I have not heard that before; tell me where did you read that?” Or, you might say, “that used to be true, but is no longer.”

Tone matters. The more measured you are, the better chance your points will be heeded. If you raise your voice, expect it in return. Avoid the use of labels and name-calling. When I hear labels, it means the other person’s arguments are not as well-grounded. Labels are short cuts to convey a derogatory meaning to less informed people. As with shouting, name-calling begets name-calling.

In today’s America, we are less civil. The current President did not invent uncivil behavior nor did he invent stretching the truth. A way to convey a position without attacking one of his fans might be “I wish the President would not tweet as much as he is hurting his message.” Another is “I wish the President would not demean people when they are critical of his efforts.” I wish the President would reconsider the tariffs he placed on our allies.” Or, “I wish he would not stretch the truth like he does.”

I am far from perfect and my poor wife hears the more unvarnished version of what I type and say. But, I will leave with one final thought I have noted before. If you want your children to really hear you, whisper.

Prime numbers tell a story

A revealing item in my make-up is I have been around the block with mathematics, even though I have long forgotten most of my learnings. Prime numbers are part of the past I still remember as numbers only divisible by themselves and 1.

Using the initial several prime numbers, let me reveal stories for your weekend cogitation.

1 – represents the number of people the US President will not blame for his mistakes.

2 – represents the number of folks it takes to Tango.

3 – represents the number of blind mice or wise men, but just for fun transpose the two groups of three and see how the stories vary.

5 – represents the first part of the Five and Dime stores. Just think what we can buy for a nickel these days, which may only be avoiding change on a $1.05 purchase.

7 – represents the number of deadly sins. First prize for the person to name them in a comment is a nickel.

11 – represents the number of donuts that make it home when I go pick up a dozen.

13 – represents the number of bagels you get from a highly frequented baker in a baker’s dozen.

17 – represents the jersey number of retired quarterback Dandy Don Meredith, who achieved more fame as the initial trio of announcers on Monday Night Football – when the outcome of the game was in hand he would sing “Turn out the lights, the party’s over.”

19 – represents the numerator of a favorite fraction I use to illustrate a point-  someone can do the right thing 19 times out of 20, but the one time will get all the press.

23 – represents the number of donuts that make it home when I buy two dozen, noting the second dozen is an assortment (cake donuts rock).

29 – represents my current age on my birthday, as in I just celebrated the 31st anniversary of my 29th birthday.

31 – represents an ideal age where you survived your twenties and know more what you want and can navigate the world’s landmines a little better.

Have a great weekend. If you finish this post without wanting to go to Dunkin or Krispy Kreme, you deserve another nickel.

When your friends begin to leave

It is amusing to me that the Republican National Committee is doing its darnedest to prevent another candidate running in a primary against the current US President. This is very premature in my view and is not reading the tea leaves very well. This will be a year when the you-know-what hits the fan, which has already started to build.

There are many dregs in the tea leaves that the RNC should pay attention to, but here are a few they may want to consider.

First, as of today, two separate polls – The Washington Post/ ABC poll and the Marist College poll have very similar figures that might be worth considering about the President. When asked whether you would vote for Donald Trump, the two polls said the following:

  • No – 56% and 57%
  • Yes – 28% and 30%
  • Undecided – 14% and 13%

Granted, he won with 46% of the vote and it depends on where these folks are located, but this should give the RNC pause. It should be noted the Texas Republican leaders told the RNC they are worried about Trump carrying their state. If someone is going to run against him, they need to start fundraising now.

Second, he has been yet again berating journalists, but this time he picked on two reporters on the news side of Fox News. An anchor named Julie Banderas at Fox took issue with Trump’s condemnation as she tweeted, “@realDonaldTrump This is NOT right. I stand by my colleagues @johnrobertsFox and @GillianHTurner They don’t deserve this. No reporter does. They are doing their jobs and reporting the facts. They are not opinion journalists and deserve the respect from the @WhiteHouse they cover.” 

Third, he has unfriended Ann Coulter returning her attacks with her disillusionment over his backing down calling him “weak.”  Personally, I am not a fan of Coulter’s as she tends to be mean-spirited, flippant and loose with facts. She and Trump are very similar in how they treat others. Yet, no one is safe from criticism in Trump’s world. As an attorney who worked with him for years said, if you are on Trump’s good side, you won’t be there for long.

To be brutally frank, shutting down the government is not a very good business decision by the boss. Usually, the boss wants his employees at work serving customers. In this case, the boss called the strike not others. People are harmed by his decision. Plus, he further harmed his reputation by once again reneging on a deal, the second time around immigration and the wall. If you deal with Trump, get it in writing. A contractor who has worked with Trump said it plainly, when you deal with the Trump organization, get your money upfront.

With Roger Stone being indicted with strong evidence, with Rudy Guiliani saying people on the Trump campaign had interactions with Russia, with The New York Times reporting over 100 contacts with the campaign and Russian officials and surrogates, and with the concern by Politifacts, five biographers and staff members with his difficulty with the truth, this should give the RNC concerns. This is without even mentioning the economy may have headwinds due to the tariffs, trade challenges and slowing global economy, nor does it recognize the House will be doing more investigations into Trump.

So, when your friends start to leave, that does not help with your popularity. At this point, the President needs all the friends he can get. Yet, there is the rub. He tends to value loyalty through a one way lens.

 

 

A fix up story from my past

A few days ago I wrote a post noting “We are ALL fixer uppers.” I shared a story with my oldest son yesterday about when life knocks you down. This one now seems small, but when it happened to me as a high school senior, it hurt.

I was a varsity basketball player who started for a very good team. I was a co-Captain, but not our best player. I was the one who focused more on defense, rebounding and passing. About 1/3 of the way into the season, I was moved to the second team as we had several pretty good players.

I had two paths in front of me. I could sulk and go throw the motions. Or, I could work hard in practice to make our first team better and try to win back my position or playing time. I chose the latter – life knocked me down and I got up and tried harder.

Everyday in practice scrimmages I would set out to keep our best tall player from scoring. Playing good defense requires effort. It should be noted that our best tall player would only wash his practice jersey periodically, so extra effort was required as I had to stick my nose into a sweaty, smelly jersey as I guarded him.

In short, he got a good practice work out and the coach saw my effort rewarding me ample time as the sixth man, the first substitute. Eventually, I would start again.

I shared this with my son to let him know we all fail. I have failed at other things as well. The key is what we do about it. We can mope or we can get back up, dust ourselves off and keep going. If you do otherwise, you let yourself down. And, you might even let your teammates down.

So, my 2019 wish for everyone is if (and when) life knocks you down, ask yourself the question, “what am I going to do about it?” Then, get up, dust yourself off and keep going.

We are ALL fixer uppers

As we stew over those extra holiday pounds and think of possible New Year’s resolutions, let me state the obvious. From one imperfect person to another, we are ALL fixer uppers. So, we could benefit from a few touch ups. All of us.

To remind us of how imperfect we are, here are few truisms to think about.

– Everyone thinks they are better than average, but in actuality that is not possible.

– The customer is not always right, but they are the customer. Yet, being the customer does not give you license to be a jerk.

– It takes at least two people to have a communication problem. It may not be 50/50, but both sides are almost always at fault to some extent.

– Opinions are like rectums. Everyone has one. (I cleaned this one up). It does not make them or you right.

– Saying it is my fault is not a crime. It is actually welcome to fess up. Others, with some degree of fault, might even admit theirs.

– Saying thank you is important, as we need to recognize people do not have to help you.

– One of the greatest gifts is the gift of time. Be generous with yours and try not to waste another person’s time.

– Finally, please remember the most intolerant of people require the most tolerance from others in dealing with them. Sometimes it is better to just reduce or eliminate exposure to such toxic people.

I hope everyone is having an enjoyable holiday season. Let’s set some reasonable and sustainable resolutions for 2019. We could ALL use some fixing up.

 

 

Remember who passed you the ball

Legendary college basketball coach Dean Smith preached to his players who scored to acknowledge the player that passed them the ball. Think about why that is important in a team game.

It can also apply to everyday life. So, at this holiday time, let’s acknowledge those who pass us the ball. Or, we could honor them by paying their kindness or help forward. Here are a few random thoughts.

Let’s start with teachers, who do not get paid near enough to do the many things they have to do. Parents should not expect perfection, but hope they have teachers who care and can reach the hearts and minds of their students. They deserve thanks.

Let’s move on to healthcare workers who tend to the basic need of patients whether it is at a hospital or long term care facility. They are not paid a King’s ransom to put up with people’s s**t, literarally and figuratively. Yes, we want our loved ones taken care of, but we should put what these folks do in perspective and offer them some appreciation.

Wait staff in restaurants are not on any highest paid lists. No question, we should want good service in a restaurant, as we are spending our hard earned monies. Being a waitress or waiter is hard work, especially when someone does not show-up and people have to cover for them. But, two golden things might help us all – that golden rule is one, while the other is honey. Treating service people with dignity and as a person, will improve your service.

I picked these examples as we seem to live in a world where people are more demanding and less kind to service providers. Of course, we should want good service, yet we could do ourselves and others a favor to understand the context. Acknowledge those passing the ball. It would be a nice birthday present to the guy who said that golden rule thing.