You can never have enough cups of coffee with people

Happy Valentine’s Day. To honor the day, let’s invite a friend, acquaintance, colleague or even adversary for a cup of coffee. An old friend told me once “You can never have enough cups of coffee with people.”

Note, having coffee is a metaphor for getting together. When I was working, getting a cup of coffee was a smaller investment of time and expense than lunch. As a result, it is less threatening. Having to stand in line affords the opportunity to go Dutch and take care of your own cost. And, if one buys, it is not that expensive a gesture, so no one feels beholden.

So, invest a little time to catch up or get better acquainted. I am reminded of how the city of Charlotte broke down some racial barriers after the Woolworth sit-ins and Civil Rights Act. White and Black business and religious leaders went to lunch together. This made a huge statement.

Having a cup of Joe need not be groundbreaking. But, if you are having an email, text or social media tussle with someone, invite them for a cup of coffee.

Face to face in a one to one setting will grease the skids for better dialogue. Decaf works as well.

Monday morning you sure look fine

With a shout out to Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac, I will use a song lyric of his to start out the week. The whole lyric is “Monday morning, you sure look fine, but Friday I got travelin’ on my mind.”

The word “fine” has a many different uses. In one of my favorite movies about a Scottish hero, “Rob Roy,” played by Liam Neeson, he would tell his wife (played by Jessica Lange) that “you are fine to me, woman.” The meaning which she returned later is you are beautiful to me.

There is an old line that is used that reinforces this belief. “She is so fine, the fine folks call her fine!” I won’t repeat a Richard Pryor line which is quite vulgar, but he responded to a comment, “You wouldn’t know a fine woman if you tripped over her.” Pryor’s line offered a rebuttal to that phrase, but is too colorful for these pages.

Today, it seems when things are “fine,” it means they are OK or slightly better. The usage downplays the meaning, where in the Rob Roy and Lindsey Buckingham examples, they understate beauty or something equivalent. This is one more example where tone and context matter.

The colloquial word “dude” can have multiple meanings depending on the tone. There is cute TV commercial, for an unremembered product, that walks through the multiple definitions of dude ranging from “I can’t believe you just did that” to “That is awesome.” I mention these examples, as my guess is all languages have variable meanings for words depending on when, where and how they are used.

Translation of words and meanings is doubly hard. Slang words often will use an opposite word to mean the same thing. “Cool” is one of those words. “Bad” is another. So, when learning a new language, it makes it difficult. When reading translated text, some of the meaning may be lost.

David Brooks introduced me to a Greek word called “thumos,” which has no counterpart in the English language. It means a sense of recognition and belonging. His context is thumos is the reason kids in school join groups – band, chorus, sports, chess club, etc. It is more than just belonging, it is the recognition they belong. I think this is a key reason we like to learn our ancestry.

So, when a friend walks up to you at a coffee shop, and you say “dude, you look fine,” he may be diminished if you use a monotone, but if you say “Dude…you look fine!” he may be uplifted. The tone matters, but so does the context. If you are in the same group of friends, your language may take on its own meaning leaving others lost in the meaning.

Lindsey Buckingham’s use of “fine” may have altered from Monday to Friday. In other words, the dude was leaving by the end of the week.

Check your sources

The following is a condensed version of earlier posts. I have forwarded it to my local and hometown newspapers. Feel free to adapt and use.
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When Lt. Col. Ralph Peters resigned from Fox as its military advisor, he was critical of the opinion hosts, while holding the news group in higher regard. Too many of us are treating editorial opinion as news, be it Fox or MSNBC. Further Sinclair Broadcasting owns about 1/3 of the local TV stations requiring each to read verbatim, corporate prepared editorial pieces at the end of each show. There are many good news outlets who try to get it right, but check more than one source. And, be very careful of social media, as it is easy to pass misinformation along, and that includes the US president.

Visiting people and places is the ticket

I wrote a few years ago about the wonderful visit we had to New England, made more enjoyable because we reconnected with some relatives. The combination of using a visit to a place to visit people can be marvelous, the caveat is to make sure it is people who you want to be around.

The past few days, my wife and I did a similar kind of visit to my home state of Florida and roots in south Georgia. Starting with my hometown of Jacksonville, we stayed with my brother and visited with his oldest daughter who is temporarily staying with him. The next night, we had dinner with his son, who we had not seen for a few years. It was wonderful to catch up. Earlier that day, we had yet another four hour lunch with my three best friends dating back to grade school, along with their wives. We did hear a few new stories, along with the old, and got to catch up.

The next day we drove to Tampa where we spent a couple of days enjoying its wonderful River Walk and a cool place called the Oxford Exchange suggested by our niece, my brother’s youngest daughter. The key to our trip was to visit with her, which was lots of fun. But, while there, we got to meet our blogging friend Gronda, who I had never met in person. She is a delight and has lived a wonderful life with various experiences, which she shared. We walked to and from the restaurant with Gronda, which was on the River Walk, as we sat outside and enjoyed the meal.

As for meeting our niece, it is lovely to meet her now as a wonderful young woman, as contrasted to the child we saw grow up. Meeting her alone in her new home city was quite fun. We had a nice brunch at the Oxford Exchange which is a rehabbed old building filled with shops and restaurants.

Finally, we ventured north and had a wonderful meal with members of my father’s family in south Georgia. I won’t mention the town, because everyone knows everyone else. There were eight of us, which included the three children (and their spouses) of a man raised with my father after his parents divorced. My dad was brought up largely by his aunt and her husband, who had two children as well. This aunt had helped raise his mother, as her biological mother was not part of the picture.

We had so much fun catching up, trading stories and filling in gaps in other stories. I hope the visits spawn reciprocal ones. It did with our New England trip. In fact, another niece we reconnected with in Maine is coming down for a few days later today.

I cannot emphasize enough how happy we are to have made these trips. I recognize this may not be newsworthy, but let me say don’t wait until it is too late to connect or reconnect.

A true lesson in correcting racist action

I heard this story yesterday while visiting with friends dating back to grade school. One of my friends was a catcher on a good college baseball team.

As they played an arch rival, my friend was catching an African-American pitcher, whom I have met as he was a good friend of my catching friend. That day, an opposing player got a single off the pitcher and, while standing on first base told my friend’s first baseman, “Tell that ‘N-word’ I will own him all day!”

The next time up at bat, the African-American pitcher dusted him back with two pitches (meaning he threw pitches closer to him than homeplate). The opposing coach came out to complain and the Black pitcher’s coach told him what was happening. The offensive batter’s coach told the pitcher’s coach “to throw at him two more times.” After the batter walked to first base after four balls, his coach removed him from the game and told him why. He told the pitcher’s coach after learning of the racial slur, “We are not going to put up with that s–t.”

While I am not condoning a pitcher throwing toward a batter, I repeat this story as it is an exemplar for people in leadership – a coach, minister, teacher, boss, mentor, representative, governor, senator, or president – they can make a huge difference in condemning racism. His quote is priceless, “we are not going to put up with that s–t.”

Just think if these people in leadership positions or, even the rest of us, said “that is not right” or “I do not agree with your saying that.” Or, just by actions, to show support to a target of racism. We need our leaders to be among our better angels. Yet, we must also walk the talk. If our so-called leaders fail to lead, we need to share our disappointment and ask them to do better.

Bad habits

Aristotle said we are creatures of habit. Implicit therein is the habits can be good or bad. Charles Duhigg wrote an excellent book called “The Power of Habit,” where he noted the way to stop a bad habit, is to identify the trigger and replace the bad habit with a better one.

Old habits. The bad ones can be as simple as too many fried foods or sweets to smoking regular or e-cigarettes to drinking more than one should. Or worse. The good ones could be regular meditation, prayer, yoga or exercise, reading or selective and portion controlling eating habits.

Or, the habits could be less concrete. Kindness, civility, and decency are enviable habits, just as rudeness, bullying, lying etc. are habits to avoid emulating.

I have shared before that I am an alcoholic. Yet, to avoid a future train wreck, I stopped drinking more than twelve years ago. The key was a day-by-day mantra I learned from another struggling alcoholic – “I am not going to drink today.” Another key is the substitution of other habits – fruits and fruit juices, selective sweets, hot tea, etc. – instead of a drink.

Another habit I had to lick was to get my weight in order. The stopping drinking helped, but I was carrying too much. Over about a five year period, I have been able to drop 45 pounds. The keys have been fewer white foods – those wonderful carb loaded potatoes, pasta, rice and bread. The other key is portion control whether it is a meal or snack. On snacks, serve a small bowl and leave the bag in the pantry. On meals, serve smaller portions and avoid the temptation to go back.

Plus, I added a daily exercise routine of about fifteen minutes after I shower. This is supplemented with walks and hikes a couple of times a week.

Good habits. Make sure they are sustainable. That had been a dieting and exercise challenge before and my weight yo-yoed. Best wishes on finding better habits should you need to go down that path.

A great songwriter and drummer passed away

The main songwriter for the rock band “Rush” and voted fourth best drummer in the world, Neil Peart, passed away Friday night from brain cancer.

One of the best examples of Peart’s clever wordsmithing is from the song “Freewill:”

“When you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

When my two sons and I saw Rush, Peart had two sets of drums surrounding him. In the middle of the show, the drums rotated, so he could play a different sounding set.

He was representative of the band, which included Alex Lifeson (superb lead guitarist) and Geddy Lee (lead singer, bassist and keyboardist), as people were amazed by how much sound came out of just three people.

People know their bigger hits like “Freewill,” “Tom Sawyer,” ” Spirit of Radio” and “Fly by Night,” but their body of work is pronounced due to great lyrics and musicality. Here are a couple of samples:

From the song “Subdivisions” about cookie cutter housing and thinking is the classic line about having to fit in:

“Conform or be cast out.”

Another clever set of lyrics comes from “Limelight” as he writes:

“All the world’s indeed a stage,
And we performers are merely players,
Performers and portrayers,
Each another’s audience,
Outside the gilded cage.”

Finally, from the metaphor “The Trees,” Peart and his mates write:

“There is trouble in the forest,
There is trouble in the trees,
For the maples want more sunlight,
And the oaks ignore their pleas.”

In the end, the forest is destroyed. The metaphor is plain – the haves must not ignore the plight of the have-nots, but destroying the haves is not the answer either.

Peart will be missed. His drumming, songwriting and his ability to make us think.