Caleb’s Crossing – a good book with a dose of history

Take a surprising true story – the first Native American to graduate from Harvard in the 17th century. Season it with a historically appropriate context. And, mix in a story told through the eyes of a growing young daughter of a minister and you arrive at “Caleb’s Crossing” by Gretchen Brooks, who is a Pulitzer Prize winner for her 2006 book “March.”

Bethia Mayfield is the girl growing up in the settlement of Great Harbor on what is now called Martha’s Vineyard. Her father has an earnest effort to convert and educate members of the Wampanoag tribe on the island. While Bethia is not allowed advanced schooling given her gender, she listens to her father’s lessons to her older brother, Makepeace. Since her brother is not the best of students, unlike his younger sister, she gets the benefit of hearing the lessons repeated.

As she lost her twin brother in a terrible accident, she wanders the coast, woods and meadows. She befriends a a Wampanoag boy about her age. She eventually gives him an English name of Caleb. He is as curious to learn as she is and he teaches her about where good berries can be found and how to fish. He also teaches her his language and vice-versa. Yet, other than taking her berries home, she must keep her learnings to herself.

I will stop there as not to reveal too much plot. If you are a woman, this book will exasperate you at times. You will pull for Bethia throughout and wince when she does headstrong things that her mother cautioned her about. She will acknowledge that she may have said too much on occasion in the book.

While Bethia and her story is fiction, there are many parts of the story that are true. Brooks points these out at the end of the book, as she does not want her book to replace history. Yet, so much is unknown about Caleb and another Native American Harvard student, that the story is a good teaching aid.

“Caleb’s Crossing” is a good book. It is not a can’t-put-down-read, at least to me, but it is entertaining. Men will find it of interest, but women will likely be more invested with how it portrays the subservient nature of girls and women in the mid-to-late 17th century and how Bethia overcomes obstacles.

Bigotry – you have to be carefully taught (from “South Pacific’)

I have often cited these words, but the following is from a post I wrote several years ago. I repeat it here due to its relevance today.

For those of you who have seen the play or movie “South Pacific” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, you may recognize part of the title as a pivotal song in the story – “You’ve Got to be CarefullyTaught.” The play involves a woman who falls in love with someone and then realizes his children are half islanders. She has a hard time coming to grips with her bigotry as according to the song, we are not born hating; hatred has to be carefully taught. A sample of Hammerstein’s lyrics follow:

“You’ve got to be taught, to hate and fear. You’ve got to be taught, from year to year. It’s got to be drummed in your dear little head. You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

“You’ve got to be taught, before it’s too late. Before you are 6 or 7 or 8. To hate all the people your relatives hate. You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

This play was written in 1949 based on excerpts from James Michener’s novel “Tales from the South Pacific.” Rodgers and Hammerstein knew precisely what they were doing with this novel and lyrics as America was full bore in its civil rights crisis and more reasonable people were questioning why? Bigotry, hatred, bias – it has to be drummed into you before it’s too late. Before you can think for yourself.

Yesterday, I saw a picture above a story about the Boy Scouts and their delaying a decision to allow gays in their ranks. As a father of three, this picture was very disheartening as it showed young scouts holding up signs which were derogatory to those who are gay. For all the good the Boys Scouts does for young boys, teaching them to be bigoted toward others who happen to have different sexual preference, is not something worthy of a merit badge. For all of the teachings about responsibility, accountability, advocacy, and civility, to carefully teach them it is OK to hate these people because they are different from you is not in keeping with the mission of the Boy Scouts, nor is it in keeping with the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus said it in many different ways per the bible I learned from. The two that are burned in my memory are “love your neighbors as you love yourself” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” There are no exceptions about being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. And, for that matter, there are no exceptions about them being Black, White, Atheist, Muslim, Jewish or Agnostic. Words are easy. I have seen people who can inspire with words. Yet, the proof is in the action. What do you do each day? How do you interact with others? I see people everyday treat customer service people or perceived subordinates poorly and treat others in more cordial way.

However, these scouts are learning from us adults, both parents and leaders. I have noted many times before, it disturbs me greatly when spiritual leaders promote bigotry. This is one of the greatest betrayals of their responsibilities I know. Yet, our civic leaders are not much better and tend to be worse on occasion. Right now, Congress cannot pass an act which will make it easier to protect those who experience Violence Against Women. The primary hold up is the inclusion of gays and lesbians in the bill. Violence against anyone is crime, unless it is self-defense. To distinguish who should be protected more than others based on sexual preference is the height of hypocrisy, especially since the push comes from the evangelical right.

Hatred has to be carefully taught. The Congressional leaders who are against the bill to stop violence against loved ones, should truly be embarrassed to be on the wrong side of this issue. Domestic violence is a horrible crime because it happens routinely and consistently until a tipping point occurs. Unfortunately, the tipping point may be a death of a loved one. Women and children are the primary targets, yet others are impacted and should be protected. I have written before about an acquaintance whose sister was killed by her husband and he and his siblings had no idea she was being beaten. They learned the kids, on occasion, would have their father pick them up and beat their heads into the ceiling. What difference does it make if the target is gay or lesbian? This is not right and those Congressional leaders who are against the inclusion of all are “not on the side of the Angels.”

What should and can we do about it? We need to strongly encourage our leaders to think like parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts on most issues. Stop thinking like politicians. When GOP Governor Bobby Jindal says “we need to stop being the stupid party” this is an example of what he is talking about.

But, if we cannot alter the bigotry of the adults, please let’s focus on teaching the kids not to bigoted in their views. By word and deed; by encouragement, mentoring, or by corrective action or admonishment, please encourage people to do their best to follow Jesus’ examples and treat others like we want to be treated. The most important thing of all, is to walk the talk. Do everyday what you are telling them to do. That is what they will remember most.

Let me leave you with an encouraging story, which I may write more about later. The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra* is a highly successful orchestra. But, that is not newsworthy by itself. The news is the orchestra consists of Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians, Iranis and Iraqis. The news is the orchestra is right in the hornet’s nest of danger. These teens and young adults come together at great risk to play and collaborate. Many of their friends and relatives judge them harshly for so doing. Yet, they continue because it is important. By working side by side toward a common purpose, they see that the person they are supposed to hate is just like them.

They are being carefully taught, this time not to hate, but to get along and play as a unit. We could learn a great deal from these young people and those who lead them. You’ve got to be carefully taught. My question as a parent – what do you want to teach them?

Today, these words remain very relevant. I am encouraged by parents of all colors taking their children to peacefully and civilly protest the ongoing wrongs which are heightened by George Floyd’s murder. Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor are just the most recent notable deaths. And, for those who offer a rebuttal of “All lives matter,” that word “all” must include “Black lives matter.” Sadly, for some in our country, the latter group is omitted from their thinking.

* Please refer to Ellen’s comment below for a quick history of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (I have made your correction on the name).

Rainy day people – a tribute to Gordon Lightfoot (a revisit)

With it raining cats and dogs outside tonight, this title has greater meaning. “Rainy Day People” is not necessarily my favorite Gordon Lightfoot song, but it describes my bride of now 34 years. Why you might ask? Here is a glimpse of Lightfoot’s magical pen in this song:

Rainy day people always seem to know when it’s time to call
Rainy day people don’t talk…they just listen til they’ve heard it all
Rainy day lovers don’t lie when they tell you they’ve been down like you
Rainy day people don’t mind if you’re crying a tear or two.

My wife embodies rainy day people. She is a listener who people feel comfortable in being around; comfortable in confiding in. Gordon Lightfoot’s talent and the reason we both love his music is his ability to capture who we are. We saw him perform a few years ago. We enjoyed his music, but also his storytelling between songs. A man who could have many did not seem to have any airs.

His most famous song is “If You Could Read My Mind.” I think even non-Lightfoot fans could sing many of the lyrics of this song. Since it is so popular, I will skip over it to some of his lesser known, but also great songs. Another favorite is “Circle of Steel” because it tells a painful story of an alcoholic mother whose husband is incarcerated and who will lose her child in a week. The gripping, soulful lyrics include:

A child is born to a welfare case…where the rats run around like the own the place
The room is chilly, the building is old….that’s how it goes
A doctor’s found on his welfare round…and he comes and he leaves on the double.

The subject of the song is not heroic, but the words tell a story of how people struggle. Most of us don’t live in gated communities. Life is very hard for many.

For the romantic side in each of us, he write songs like “Beautiful” which has words like:

At times I just don’t know….how you could be anything but beautiful
I think that I was made for you and you were made for me
And I know that I will never change…’cause we’ve been friends through rain or shine
For such a long, long time.

He has written so many songs that were so well-loved others also recorded them. “Early Morning Rain” was sung by Elvis. “For Lovin Me” was sung by Peter, Paul and Mary. He also added a second song to the back of that one as the first part talked disdainfully to a woman scorned when the man said “that’s what you get for lovin me.” The added song he recorded had a lament “Did she mention my name” as the person who scorned his lover was feeling great remorse later on. Other great songs of his include:

“Whisper My Name”
“Sundown”
“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”
“Carefree Highway”
“Cotton Jenny”
“Old Dan’s Records”
“Summer Side of Life”
“Cold on the Shoulder”

And, countless others, that should not be construed less by my failure to list them. Yet, let me close with a self-portrait of Mr. Lightfoot, at least by my interpretation – “Minstrel of the Dawn.” In it he says:

The minstrel of the dawn is here….to make you laugh and bend your ear
Up the steps you’ll hear him climb….all full of thoughts, all full of rhymes
Listen to the pictures flow….across the room into your mind they go
Listen to the strings…they jangle and dangle…while the old guitar rings.

Words and music. To me this is what it is all about. Gordon Lightfoot would have been an excellent poet without his music. He was lesser known, but may have rivaled even Bob Dylan on his penning of songs. Maybe the fact one was from Canada and the other from Minnesota meant they had time to collect their thoughts when it was too cold to venture outside. Yet, with his music and armed with a better singing voice that Dylan could only dream of, he was the minstrel to all of us.

For our younger readers who may not know him as well, I would encourage you to take a plunge. You can start with the songs above, but that is only sticking a toe in the water. I invite other Gordon Lightfoot fans to offer their favorites whether listed above or not. “If you could read my mind love, what a tale my thoughts would tell….just like a paperback novel, the kind the drugstore sells.”

The biggest selling self-help book

On NPR, yesterday, the son of Stephen Covey (who has passed away) was being interviewed for Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” This self-help book made it to number 1 on the non-fiction best sellers’ list in 1989 and stayed there for a long while, selling over 25 million copies. It was also the first audio book to hit 1 million in sales.

So, what is all the fuss about? Covey sought to help us find our “true north” principles. He defined “effectiveness as the balance of obtaining desirable results with caring for that which produces those results.”

His seven habits are grouped under three headings – Independence, Interdependence and Continual Improvement.

Independence

1. Be proactive – take responsibility for your actions.
2. Begin with the end in mind – envision what you want and plan.
3. First things first – here he uses a two dimension matrix organized in four quadrants along level of urgency and importance (do the urgent/ important, plan the important but less urgent, delegate the urgent/ unimportant and eliminate the non-urgent/ unimportant).

Interdependence

4. Think win/ win – look for mutually beneficial solutions; Nobel Laureate economist John Nash said we make more money if we look to collectively win.
5. Seek to understand/ then to be understood – use empathetic listening; this jives with a favorite saying – you have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion.
6. Synergize with others as a team – there is a great book called “Play to your strengths,” which will help people work with others using their strengths to balance yours for a better outcome.

Continual Improvement

7. Sharpen the sword – seek to improve and grow.

The attached link will give a nice synopsis of each of the above as well as offer better context.

I was struck by the interview with Covey’s son. He used a couple of examples his father used. When the son did not get into a college class he needed, he told his father. His father asked what do you plan to do about it? When he asked for help, the father said contact the professor. He found out there was a waiting list. His father then suggested to go see the professor. The son did and got into the class. He took responsibility and was proactive.

The second example is his father was very much about owning up to mistakes. The son said the father would apologize often. Think about that. He used an example of a family trip when everyone was late and the father lost his temper. The son remembers the father apologizing for losing his cool, when he had every right to be irritated.

If you have not read the book, it is worth the read. If you want a brief glimpse, click on the link below.

http://www.quickmba.com/mgmt/7hab/

A few thoughts on a rainy Tuesday

It seems like we cannot escape the rain, but at least it is better than ice and snow. Take care and drive safely. Here are a couple of thoughts on this rainy Tuesday.

In the first Harry Potter movie, one of Potter’s dorm mates won his group extra points by standing up to his friends when they were about to do something wrong. The headmaster noted standing up to one’s friends shows more courage than standing up to one’s enemies. Senator Mitt Romney should be awarded more points for his political courage for standing alone as he spoke truth to power. Like Romney, the public servants who testified under oath and at great risk showed courage when they knew they would be punished by “he who should not be named.”

There is an old saying “one should never argue with a street preacher.” Why? If someone is going to stand on a corner and yell for several hours, they may be a tad zealous. Online or on social media, it is hard to identify the street preachers (a metaphor for zealous people). Their views are given too much weight, especially when they are elected officials. Unfortunately, with gerrymandering and tribal politics, some authors of ludicrous statements are better left ignored. When an official advocates killing people for their beliefs, that is not only asinine, it is hate speech. I wish the press would ignore much of the BS spewed by the US president, yet they feel obligated to report it.

Since my computer seems to be hiccupping this morning, let me leave you with those two thoughts. Have a great day.

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.

Bank CEO blasts peers for not seeing inequality (per The Charlotte Observer)

With more interest and advocacy for the disenfranchised in our midst, an article by Austin Weinstein of The Charlotte Observer caught my this week called “Bank CEO blasts peers for not seeing inequality. A link to the article is below.

I have written often about the “haves and have-nots” in America. The disparity has been worsening for years and it now matters more to whom and where you were born than merit. Sadly, the declining middle class and growing poverty problem has been addressed by more trickle down economics and attacks on benefits to help people in need.

Per The Charlotte Observer:

“Kelly King, the CEO of Truist — America’s sixth largest bank — issued an exhortation to the economic elite of North Carolina and the country: We are blind to the difficult lives of many in the U.S. and must work to resolve the country’s educational and economic divides, or risk the consequences.

‘We see what happens when we have this giant divide between the haves and the have-nots,’ King said to bankers and executives gathered in Durham for an annual economic forecast hosted by the North Carolina Chamber and North Carolina Bankers Association. ‘If we have this scenario where people lose hope, they have no sense of opportunity, they’re dysfunctional. They get mad, they get on drugs, they get guns, they start shooting.’…

While there are many origins to America’s widespread educational and economic inequality, King pointed to the perceived failures of American public school system as one of the paramount reasons for the divides in the country. If people can’t read or do simple math, he said, they are effectively left out of much of the U.S. economy.

‘We are cheating our kids and our grandkids of a future,’ King said. ‘They will not have the same kind of life we have had,” he warned, if the current course of the country isn’t changed.'”

We must invest in our children and our communities. Asset Based Community Development means repurposing depleted assets or restoring them to original form. A neighborhood school is more than a place of seven hour education. It offers a community meeting place for after-school programs, neighborhood meetings, civic meetings, exercise classes, etc. Inviting schools, rewarded teachers, safety mind-sets, etc. will reinforce better education for our kids.

King’s admonition speaks to the crisis it is. The US disparity has widened at the same time our educational ranks in science and math have fallen. If we don’t invest in our kids, we really don’t have the standing to speak of American exceptionalism. It is hard to be a shining light on a hill if we fall from the top.

Read more here: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/business/banking/article239048138.html#storylink=cpy

A beautiful day in the neighborhood – a must see

My wife and I watched the wonderful movie about Mister Rogers called “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” on Friday. The film stars Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers, the ideal candidate for the role due to the kindness of both. Matthew Rhys co-stars as Esquire writer Lloyd Vogel, Susan Kelechi Watson as Vogel’s wife and Chris Cooper as Vogel’s estranged father.

For those not familiar with Mister Rogers, he had a long running kids show called “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” where he openly talked to kids about life’s tough problems – sadness, anger, divorce, disability, bigotry, and even death. Through his guests, cast members, puppets, music, and site visits, he reached the kids. As he told Vogel, “if something is mentionable, it is manageable.”

Why Vogel’s name appears so often is the story is about the profound impact Rogers had on Vogel during an interview about heroes his magazine was doing. Without revealing too much, Vogel was struggling with his relationship with his own father as he was dealing with being a new father. He called himself a “broken man.”

Since Vogel was an investigative reporter, he expected to find the real Mister Rogers too good to be true. Instead, over the course of their interaction, Vogel’s faith in himself is restored by Rogers.

I will stop there, so as not to reveal too much. The movie is based on a real life interview for Esquire, although the name of the interviewer has been changed. My eife and I both found it rewarding and had our favorite moments. We encourage you to see it and let us know what you think below. For those who have not, you may want to avoid the comments beforehand.

That leadership thing

Just because someone is in a position of leadership it does not mean he or she is a leader. Leadership is earned. A person put in a position of leadership may have a brief honeymoon period, but it can be wasted in an instant.

The military has an unstated rule. The troops eat first. This is a terrific metaphor. They are doing the heavy lifting, so a leader will do what he or she can to make sure the troops are taken care of.

A few rules of thumb to judge what leaders looks like:

– do they defend their team members or do they remain quiet?

– do they throw people under the bus when mistakes occur?

– do they deflect credit to others or assume all the credit?

– do they hide from blame when things go poorly?

– do they treat people with dignity and seek input from multiple sources?

– are they cool under pressure which calms anxious followers?

– do they represent our better angels or our worst?

My son and I watched the excellent movie “Midway” about s highly pivotal naval battle in World War II – if the US lost, the Japanese would have more impunity to attack cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, etc. A key part of the movie was the need to trust intelligence code breakers. Admiral Nimitz (the recently appointed Pacific fleet commander) visited the code breakers to confirm their confidence and methods, asking many questions. It helped him trust their input as a key reason for our success at Midway was we knew the attack was coming on the day it came.

Nimitz went to the sources. It should be noted these same sources told his predecessor of concerns in advance of Pearl Harbor. His predecessor did not heed their concerns and be more alert on December 7, 1941.

With the complexity of our world, leaders need to be editors of lots of information. There is a humility in knowing how much you don’t know. Be very wary of people in positions of leadership who convey a false sense of awareness. There is a Texas term for big talkers – they are all hat and no cattle. They have a big head, but don’t have many steers.

It should be noted an increasing number of corporate leaders are more introverted. The business is more complex and varied, so understanding the moving parts is important. I mention this as we should not assume someone who is more outgoing is a better leader.

We are craving better leaders. The better ones may be the ones who look less like the part.

Colorado Family Planning Initiative

As the veracity of Planned Parenthood is being discussed, there is a program and study that was conducted in Colorado over a seven year period that offers meaningful data. The Colorado Family Planning Initiative offered low-income women and teens access to low or no-cost contraception, including IUDs and implants.

The Governor’s office released the results of the program which analyzed data from 2009 – 2013. The key findings are:

  • there was a 40% statewide decline in the teen birth rate
  • there was a 35% statewide decline in the abortion rate

If the goal is to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions, funding the use of contraception along with family planning efforts and information is the better answer. Cutting funding will only increase these numbers. And, it should be noted there are correlations between poverty and increasing family size and poverty and single mothers. This is more true the younger the mother.

Education is a vital part of the program as well. If people want to teach abstinence as part of a holsitic program, that is fine. But, the teachers and funders need to clearly understand these teens and young adults are just like we were, if not more so. They are tempted and will have sex. It would be so much the better, if they were informed of the consequences and knew what options there were.

A key part of the education must help girls understand that self-esteem need not be tied to sex. These girls need to be able to say no and feel confident in withstanding pressure, especially today with so many ads, shows, and stars (by dress and manner) saying it is OK. And, boys need to know that no means no. It can be uttered up to the time in which sex occurs.

As a parent, I know parents worry about their kids. You hope they will make good choices. Yet, we did not always make them and they will likely follow suit. Also, please understand even kids brought up in the strictest of homes will be tempted to do things when away at school or college. It is only natural.

Three anecdotes might help illustrate the importance of education and planning.

  • My brother-in-law taught eighth grade science in a high poverty rural area. Annually, he had a number of girls in his class get pregnant. To them, it was being like an adult a right of passage. Only when it was too late, did they realize the consequences.
  • A colleague was viewed by teens in her church as being the kind of person who would shoot straight with them. She was asked questions that told her these kids thought they could not get pregnant the first time and if they had sex standing up they could avoid pregnancy. When she mentioned to the minister to have a sex education class, he scoffed at her request.
  • A friend who has run several non-profits and is very devout told me the children of his friends would go off to a religious university nearby. He said these kids would go wild when finally away from their parents and shocked some of his friends by what they got into.

So, Planned Parenthood and organizations that provide holistic family planning need more funding to reduce the number of abortions and unwanted pregnancies. Kids need to get good information and access to tools. It is their lives. And, while I focused on pregnancies, STDs and HIV are very viable threats to manage through contraception and education.

Let me close with this thought. As the former Board Chair of an organization that helps homeless working families, single mothers is the predominant group that is helped. It is also the fastest growing homeless population in America. Key tools to help lessen the propensity of poverty and homelessness in this group are family planning, sex education and low-cost birth control.