Life’s Little Instruction Book – an old gift

On my first Father’s Day many years ago, my wife gave me “Life’s Little Instruction Book” compiled by H. Jackson Browne, Jr. I was leafing through it today as it lay on an upstairs table near my computer. Here are few of the 511 pearls of wisdom that can be found therein.

#454 – Show respect for everyone that works for a living, regardless of how trivial their job.

#276 – Patronize local merchants even if it costs a little more.

#186 – Be insatiably curious. Ask “why” a lot.

#158 – Pray not for things, but for wisdom and courage.

#107 – Smile a lot. It costs nothing and is beyond the price.

#246 – Wave at children on school’s buses.

#426 – Share the credit.

#375 – Take charge of your attitude. Don’t let someone else choose it for you.

#127 – Wear the most audacious of underwear under the most solemn business attire.

#58 – Always accept an outstretched hand.

Many of the above are not among the usual instructions. The first two remind me of what we need to do more of in today’s pandemic. Of course, the more startling one is my favorite about “audacious underwear.”

It reminds me of the a staid company I worked for, where the very dignified manager of a department had an “underwear optional” day for the troops. Going commando was never so much fun.

The last one is hard, but should not be. Why don’t we want to accept help? After 9/11, America’s approval ratings were at its highest. Other countries wanted to help, but we did not accept it very well. That was unwise.

The one I gravitate to the most and often advise is a variation of don’t cede your power to someone else. Take charge of your attitude. You are not offended, if you do not take offense.

Bloom where you are planted

Bloom where you are planted. I read this phrase from an article that cited it as advice the author’s mother gave her. Sometimes, we go places where we must. Maybe you are a trailing spouse or the child of a family whose breadwinning parent moves a lot. Maybe the better job offer you get is in another place. So, you go and get replanted.

Now, the path forward is up to you. You can cry, bitch and moan. If you are young, you can throw a tantrum. If you are old, you can become colder or invest only in your work and less in the community. Or, you can bloom. You can look at the opportunity to make the most of the situation. You can invest with water, sunshine and effort and bloom.

My wife will lament about how good certain former neighborhoods were. After she does this, I say it was nice because you were in it. You made it nicer. You welcomed people to our home and made new friends. You invested in the neighborhood and bloomed. And, we (and they) bloomed as well.

Although our kids have moved away, with one return exception since COVID-19 altered his travel plans to teach abroad, we had a house that welcomed our kids’ friends. As a result, we seemed to have a constant state of flux with all the guests that came to play and hang-out. Neither of us would have it any other way. Hearing your children and their friends laughing is the greatest sound any parent can hear.

I chose the investment word not to mix metaphors, but to encourage folks to invest time and energy in their new place. It is like marriage – if you invest in your spouse, it will make the marriage last. If you don’t, the marriage, or in this case, your time in the new community will suffer.

So, it is up to you. Bloom where you are planted. Make the most of any situation. How you react to any change is truly the greatest power you have. Don’t cede that power. Bloom.

Why is the English language so difficult?

In one of life’s ironies, the citizens of the United States speak an Americanized version of the English language, yet so few Americans bother to learn a second language. It has been argued that English is one of the most difficult languages to learn, yet because of the exploration of the English and the success of two large English speaking economies, people feel the need to learn it.

I inherited from my mother a love of Crossword and other word (and number) puzzles. As I wait for my computer to boot up, I will pick up a pocket dictionary close by and just leaf through it, testing myself on words that I may use or need. I do not prefer to know arcane words, as using them will be more pretentious than communicative. There are some editorial writers who prefer to show how smart they are rather than make the reader understand what they are saying.

But, why does English have to be so difficult? Here a few case in points.

Ingenious vs. Ingenuous – the first word means clever or resourceful, while the second word means naive or artless. Only one letter divides an insult from a compliment.

Impunity vs. Impugn – the first word means free from harm or punishment, while the second word means to challenge as false or questionable.

Reproach vs. Rapprochement – the first word means to blame or rebuke, while the second word means an establishing of friendly relations.

Glib vs. Glum – while these words sound like they are similar, the first word means fluent or a good talker of banter, while the latter means gloomy. I have often said glib is one word that means the opposite of what you think.

Curate vs. Curator vs. Curative – the first word means a clergyman helping a vicar, while the second word means a manager of a museum, while the third means having the power to cure or offer remedy.

While I was compiling these words, I was reminded of the great college and NBA basketball player David Robinson. Robinson attended the Naval Academy and served his country after his graduation. A very smart man embodied this 6’11” basketball player. When a reporter asked him why he was good at blocking shots, he said he did not want others driving the lane with “impunity.” The reporters had to go find a dictionary.

What are some of your favorite, confusing English words? Before I leave, my wife and I watch the show “Law and Order – Special Victims Unit.” At the introduction to the show, the narrator mentions the special unit that handles crimes that are “heinous.” Now that is a word that means what it sounds like.

Wear sunscreen and other advice

The following post is from eight years ago, but still resonates, at least to this old guy. I hope you will agree

Back in the late 1990s, there was a song that was quite popular with the young crowd. Song is too generous. It is basically an old guy like me who gave words of advice from the perspective of someone who had made more mistakes than the younger listeners primarily because he had more years behind him than they had. The kids called it “The Sunscreen” song as it started and ended with those words of advice – wear sunscreen.

So, in this spirit, I offer some words of advice, which may be helpful or may just be redundant. Hopefully, the reader will find some benefit in a one or two comments. So, in no particular order, here a few thoughts from an old fart.

Context is everything. Please try to understand the context of everything you hear or read. Anyone can be made foolish by taking their words out of context.

Spin doctor is a nice euphemism for “paid liar.” Don’t ever forget it is the job of the spin doctor to perfume any pig. See the above about context.

Try to understand the source of information. Is it reputable? There is a lot of uncensored data on the Internet which is not worth the binary code it is written in. Also, be even more wary of politicians who cite data. Many surveys are sponsored by political parties under mainstream names.

You can be too connected. Folks, take a break and stop looking at your I-phone. Companies love the fact that you are doing your job at 10 pm or on vacation – don’t. Trust me it will still be there when you return or better yet, someone else will solve an issue that was not that important to begin with.

It is not possible to be texting or on the I-phone while driving and not be distracted. “Mythbusters” did a neat driving test which showed you could drive better inebriated than when on a cellphone.

Just because you can does not mean that you should. Computers have enabled us to do wondrous things. Yet, they also provide temptations to do things that you probably should not do.Computer actions leave interesting trails, so your employer or significant other can see when you given in to temptations.

Getting elected to public office costs way too much money. So, politicians need funders to get elected. As a result, the best a politician can be is mildly subjective. This is the best case for term limits I can make. Maybe the backers would not contribute as much if their return on investment is time limited.

Be careful with your personal information. You have to be zealous in guarding against your information. ID theft is a painful process. Be careful in what you put in the public domain. It is very easy to get to. I have been down that road several times to keep the wolves at bay.

Your name is the most important asset you have. Quoting Liam Neeson in the movie “Rob Roy,” “honor is a gift you give yourself.” What do you want people to say about you when they hear your name spoken? He is a good man or he is a jerk.

While it is important to work, do not let it define who you are. I work hard, but when I had a health scare a few years ago and was in the ER with wires attached to me waiting for my wife to show up, I can assure you I did not think of work. I was thinking of my family.

Don’t play the lottery. If you have the urge, just give the money to a person in need instead. You will feel better about it and they will benefit. If you play it, you are just throwing money out the car window.

Laugh at yourself. When you make mistakes, it will make it easier on you and others. Also, if you do screw up, make it right. You won’t regret remedying an error.

Find out what you love to do and find a way to get paid doing it. Sometimes you may have to try on different jobs to discover this.

You can never have enough cups of coffee with people. Meet people, listen to them. Life is more enjoyable over conversations. Also, remember, you have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion. You are not as smart as you think you are, so listening makes all the difference.

Tell someone you love to have a good day and ask how it was at the end of it. Those little questions day in day out matter.

Finally, quoting Ted from the movie “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” – “Be excellent to one another and party on dude.” The best rule Jesus gave us was golden. It still makes sense today. And, have fun because life is too short.

Is it Agnes or Maggies?

My wife says “Goodness gracious Maggies!” I was brought up hearing “Goodness gracious Agnes!” She was raised in South Carolina while I grew up in Florida. We don’t know where Agnes and Maggie were raised.

Geography seems to play a role in variations in similar sayings. In the South, I often heard “Bless his (or her) heart” to reference someone prone to inanity. Our friends from Pennsylvania say “God love him (or her)” meaning the same thing.

The more religiously influenced have a variety of sayings. I think the Catholic influence might lead a surprised person to say “Holy Mary mother of God!” which is quite the mouhful. Often, it is shortened to “Holy Mary!” leaving the longer version for more awe-inspiring events.

“Jesus Christ! or the shortened “Jesus!” is uttered when a religious mother is out of earshot. Otherwise, the child might get a look or rebuke. Often, it is shortened to “Jeez,” “Jeepers,” or “Gee whiz,” depending on the generation or religious zeal of the mother.

We can thank Walt Disney for popularizing another replacement with his character “Jiminy Cricket.” Making his name plural makes another saying of surprise. A variation is “Jiminy Christmas” for more exasperating events.

“Dammit,” has long been a shortened version of GD which would have gotten a strong rebuke in my house. The rebuke for Dammit wpuld be less severe. Either phrase reveals disappointment in some failure. I am reminded of Strother Martin’s character in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” The tobacco chewing character would say “Dammit” when his tobacco spittle got on his chin, yelling “bingo” when it did not.

It saddens me to think of the humor of Bill Cosby given his off-stage criminal acts of sexual assault. But, one of his funnier routines was of his father trying to edit his language around his kids. When mad, Cosby said his father could not complete a sentence due to self-censure.

I have shared before the saying of my wonderful ciolleague whose father was a minister. When very frustrated, she would say, “Bad word, bad word.!” Her saying would lighten the moment if others heard her saying it given her temperament.

What are some of your family, friends and region’s sayings? Are they unique to your area or more widespread?

Sometimes a quote says it all

Quotes can sometimes be painfully pertinent. Yesterday, I read the following quote from a Chinese source as the country develops a response to US tariffs. China’s official Xinhua news agency added: “The wise man builds bridges, the fool builds walls. With economic globalisation there are no secluded and isolated islands.” I think their point is about more than tariffs.

Politicians unfortunately have a hard time with the truth, some moreso than others. One of my favorite quotes is from former Senator John Kyl of Arizona when caught in a lie. “You mistook what I was saying as the truth.” In other words, it is your fault I am lying,

This is an excellent segue to a current politician who is on record as lying more than he does not. Congressman Trey Gowdy said the following about such man. “If the President is innocent, it would help if he started acting that way.”

On a more humorous note, actor Abe Vigoda from the movie “The Godfather” and television show “Barney Miller,” was reported to have passed away. Upon reading of his death in the newspaper, Vigoda sent a press release that said “The reports of my demise have been overly exaggerated.” This was in keeping with his deadpan comic delivery.

Getting back to politics, a famous quote used often by President Richard Nixon was “I am not a crook.” The fact that he felt the need to use it again and again begged the question, who are you trying to convince? After over twenty convictions of his co-conspirators, Nixon only escaped  criminal judgment because of President Gerald Ford’s pardon. Mr. Nixon, you were a crook.

Let me close with one of the finest quotes in American history. It was so crucial it helped lead to the eventual downfall of Senator Joe McCarthy, of Communist witchhunt infamy. After John Welch, General Counsel of the US Army had given testimony over several hours, he said to McCarthy, “Do you have no sense of decency, sir?”

I close with these two examples as they remind me of our current fearmongering President. “Decency” is not a word I would use to define the man.

 

 

 

A lesson that continues to evade someone

A certain man in a global leadership position continues to avoid learning an important lesson. Not only does it hurt his efforts, but it is harmful to this country’s relationships around the globe and within its leadership ranks. The lesson is his failure to vet decisions and communications of such with key people before a broader announcement.

Yesterday, this man decided to walk away from a summit with North Korea without giving advance notice to a key ally in South Korea. As a result, the US relationship with South Korea is strained. Now, he may be whipsawing them again as he has done all week saying the summit may still be on.

But, this is not the first time he has done this. After pleas from our European allies, he walked away from the Iran nuclear deal.  The echoes of that change continue to strain relationships with our allies to the point an EU leader said “with friends like these, who needs enemies?”

His first major change was so horribly vetted and communicated, it was pulled after two days. He failed to discuss with Congressional leaders in his own party that he was instituting a travel ban. He also failed to gain input and buy-in from affected agencies who had to implement the change. It was as he likes to say a “disaster,” but this one was on his shoulders. Soldiers often refer to poor decisions like this with a word beginning with “cluster.”

But, there are many more examples. What may turn out to be his Waterloo is he fired James Comey without telling him. Comey found out from a TV news report. Further, he failed to give advance warning to his communication team, leaving them to make plans in the White House bushes while the reporters waited. That may be the best metaphor for his Presidency.

Yet, for a man who used to have a faux-reality show where he fired people, he has a hard time doing this face to face. He fired Rex Tillerson without telling him. He had Andrew McCabe fired as he cleaned out his desk to retire, an especially vindictive move. Not telling people they are fired beforehand is extremely poor management. And, for someone who likes to talk tough, it reveals those words are part of a false bravado.

His followers like to say what a great businessman he is, but while he is accused of being a great merchandiser, he is rarely accused of being a good manager. Managing a multi-organization business or government is complicated. It requires diligence, input, time, communication, planning and a dose of compassion. For someone who makes decisions on the fly and bullies people, he is at odds with the tools for successful implementations or relationships.

But, as the man once said. “I, alone, can solve this.” With all due respect, no you cannot, but you sure can screw it up.

Execution matters

Very early in the Trump presidency, he signed an executive order to institute a travel ban. It was so poorly conceived, vetted, communicated and staged, its disastrous rollout was canceled in a couple of days. A key example was he failed to tell (or involve) the people who would execute the decision what they needed to do. He also did not advise beforehand the Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader who found out when we did.

Earlier this week and over fifteen months later, the President decided to pull the US out of the Iran nuclear agreement. Whether people agree with this decision, the State department had a very difficult time answering questions the next day as to what this all meant. The did not know answers to questions on the impact on business transactions underway, business transactions that had multiple parties from various countries, business transactions where US suppliers provided parts to French companies working with Iran, etc.

One reporter noted it was shocking how little the State department people knew on what needed to be done and the answers to many questions. They were not briefed. Apparently, the lessons of the first travel ban and other poorly rolled out decisions have not been learned. This is what vetting, planning and communication tries to avoid. Just because a regal person says to do something does not mean it can easily happen. Execution matters. Time matters.

As a former consultant and business manager, I can assure you execution is as important as good ideas. This is a key reason companies spend time and money in project management training. With that said, it is not uncommon to see execution challenges. I recall one prospective client telling me a new software was going to go live a certain date. I asked what alternatives they had considered if certain things did not happen as planned. His answer was of course they would happen on time. It is rare that things go as planned and this was no exception as the start date was delayed.

Yet, what we are seeing from the White House should not be a surprise, as one only needs to look at the business history of the leader. While the confident President would never admit this, what financial reporters and biographers have known for years is Trump is a terrific merchandiser, but they would not confuse him with being a good manager. Managing by chaos and loyalty are not conducive to the very necessary boring competence. Even vetting candidates for jobs is essential and is not a competency for which this White House is known.

Execution matters. Vetting, planning, communication, and time are essential. Without doing these things, too many people are caught off guard. A visual metaphor is White House communication staff hiding in trees from the press after they just found out Comey was fired. Not only did Comey find out after the media did, but so did the Communication staff. Without execution, you have chaos and confusion.

Letter Number 39

I have tried my hardest to reach out to various Senators, Congresspeople and even the President to share my concerns and thank them for certain efforts. Yet, what I have noticed is the use of a standard response letter created by subject. Sometimes, I have received the same letter more than once.

Over the weekend, I was speaking with a neighbor who is an attorney. Since I know he is of a similar mindset, our conversations usually turn to our political frustrations and concerns.

I shared my effort to contact legislators and he said that is nice, but usually is unsuccessful. He told me he used to work with a Congressman and would write those letters. He laughed that he once created “Letter Number 39,” which they would use to respond to a constituent.

We still have to try and contact these legislators. I usually don’t ask for a response anymore, because of the form letter responses. But, I do call and leave voicemails and occasionally speak with staffers. And, I continue with emails.

My friend’s comment is a little disheartening, but we cannot let it stop the reach out. I encourage you to write letters to the editor and share factual information with folks. It is a way to combat the fake news purveyed in large part by the US President and his sycophants.

The President should heed his own advice

In the middle of all the falderol which is largely created by the President, he has made two observations that bear further scrutiny. He said that his White House needs to change its communication strategy. And, this morning after attributing words to the Muslim Mayor of London after last night’s attack that the Mayor did not say, the President said we need to end  political correctness to solve problems.

I see these two comments as very much related. As many, including his own fans, have noted the President’s worst enemy is the man who looks back in the mirror when he shaves. What he says and tweets gets him into trouble.

So, let’s look at these two recommendations. Yes, the White House should change its communication strategy, but it should consider a new idea. They should start telling the truth. Many things bother me about this President, but his high frequency of lying is probably the worst. Yet, his biographers forewarned us. The five writers all said the President has always had a problem with the truth. Thomas Wells, an attorney who worked with the President, said he lies daily about even inconsequential things.

As for political correctness, I agree that we need to be more frank. With that said, being politically incorrect does not give you license to be a jerk or lie. You can be politically incorrect without both, using doses of diplomacy and civility. So, when the President makes a point that is directionally correct, he offends by being a jerk or adding some untruths.

In this vein, let me offer some constructive advice to the President. Our problems are often complex that simple sounding solutions are not the right remedy. It would help us all for you to be truthful and use verifiable data rather data that has been discredited.

As an example, pulling back from world leadership will be harmful to America and the planet. You may want to study the “Nash Equilibrium” which warranted a Nobel prize in Economics for its creator, John Nash who was portrayed by Russell Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind.” In essence, we all make more money if we try to maximize each other’s profits rather than trying to maximize just our own. This does not mean we should overlook groups that are harmed by change, but we need to be mindful of all reasons that may cause pain.

Finally, being politically incorrect requires the truth. Painting one group as the bogeyman does a disservice to greater problems. Domestic terrorism by one of the 1,000 hate groups in the US dwarfs that of Islamic extremists. Yet, when three Americans are knifed by a white supremacist as they defended two Muslim American women, the President had to be shamed into speaking up. And, when he did, he did not use his more popular tweeting venue which likely has more white supremacist followers. Yet, he will be quickly critical of anything that may be due to Islamic extremist.

I recognize fully the President won’t heed this advice. Lying has worked for him for a long time. He treats the truth as a commodity, tending to only use it when it serves his purpose. We need to hold him accountable when he does not tell the truth or when he treats people poorly, especially when they are our allies.