Sand castle virtues (a reprise)

With my recent trip to the beach, this old post is aptly titled. I think of these words often, when I am walking along the shore as yesterday’s castles are washed away.

I was listening closely to an old song called “Thick as a Brick” by Jethro Tull, when a phrase struck me more so than before. Jethro Tull is renowned for interesting and unusual lyrics mixed in with equal parts flute, guitars and piano making a unique sound. Yet, amidst the lyrics is a reference to “sand castle virtues.” Here is the stanza which includes the term, penned by Ian Anderson:

And the sand castle virtues are all swept away. In the tidal destruction, the moral melee
The elastic retreat rings the close of play. As the last wave uncovers the newfangled way.

I found this reference profoundly insightful, as many of our so-called virtues are not as concrete as we would like them to be. In other words, they are easily washed away by the waves and replaced by a modified version meeting a new paradigm. This is one reason people can support a candidate or politician who changes posture on a topic. Or, when the candidate was against an issue earlier when the opposing party supported it, but now favors it as it suits his interests today, we followers can overlook the previous stance.

The tide has washed away the previous virtuous stance and has been replaced. What is interesting to me is this song was written in the 1970s, so it is referencing that these malleable virtues or positions have been around a lot longer than today. The only difference is today we can more easily find the previous position, which may have only been stated a few years before. Yet, we don’t ask questions of why you have changed. In essence, we are “thick as a brick” by not staying on top of things and realizing when smoke is being blown at us.

Speaking through my imperfections, I find it hard to fathom why we choose virtues like we are at a cafeteria. A friend of mine uses the reference to “cafeteria Christians,” not to pick on this religion, but use it as an example. Some will cherry pick the parts of the bible they support, but overlook overarching themes. But, this occurs in other religions as well.

If we focus on the overarching virtues and endeavor to do the right thing, we will be on more solid footing. It is when we try to massage a virtue to meet an ideologue or a position, do we risk our position being washed away with the tide. Here are few that would solidify our foundation:

– Treat others like you want to be treated

– Be more inclusive, rather than exclusive

– You have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion

– Kindness is not a weakness and in fact is a quiet strength

– It is easy to love someone when things go well; only when they don’t is it hard

– Help your neighbor when he needs it, as you may be in need one day

– Pay attention to what leaders are doing and shine a light on poor behavior

– Treat our environment well for the next generation, which is even noted in the bible

I could go on, but these are a few virtues that would not be washed away. These virtues are far more than sand castles and could stand the greater test of time and barrage of waves. And, if we did these things day in and day out, they would become ingrained making us less “thick as a brick.”

Don’t Laugh at Me (a reprise)

The following was written about eight years ago, but sadly it seems to be in even more needed today. The words go straight to the heart, especially if you are a parent. We should remind ourselves that every child or even adult who is tormented, is someone’s child. Thinking of the Golden Rule, is this how you want your child treated?

Peter Yarrow, Noel (Paul) Stookey and Mary Travers made famous a song written by Steve Seskin and Allan Shamblin called “Don’t Laugh at Me.” Mark Wills, another artist has also recorded a variation along with Seskin, but it is the context and words that are embodied in Peter, Paul and Mary that makes the song resonate. When you live your lives speaking out for the disenfranchised, this song takes on far greater meaning than with any other artist, even the writers. Here is the entire song, courtesy of Peter, Paul and Mary with due thanks to Steve Seskin and Allan Shamblin. You can give it a listen after the lyrics.

I’m a little boy with glasses, the one they call the geek. A  little girl who never smiles ‘Cause I have got braces on my teeth. And I  know how it feels to cry myself to sleep.

I’m that kid on every playground who’s always chosen last. A single teenage mother tryin’ to overcome my past. You don’t have to be my friend but is it too much to ask?

Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names. Don’t get your pleasure from my pain. In God’s eyes we’re all the same. Someday we’ll all  have perfect wings, don’t laugh at me.

I’m the beggar on the corner you’ve passed me on the street. And I wouldn’t be out here beggin’ if I had enough to eat. And don’t think I  don’t notice that our eyes never meet.

Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names. Don’t get your pleasure from my pain. In God’s eyes we’re all the same. Someday we’ll all  have perfect wings, don’t laugh at me.

I’m fat, I’m thin I’m short, I’m tall I’m deaf, I’m  blind Hey, aren’t we all?

Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names. Don’t get your pleasure from my pain. In God’s eyes we’re all the same. Someday we’ll all  have perfect wings, don’t laugh at me.

Well I’m fat, I’m thin I’m short, I’m tall I’m deaf, I’m blind. In a way we’re all.

I’m black, I’m white. And I am brown. I’m Jewish. I’m  Christian. And I’m a Muslim.

I’m gay. I’m lesbian. I’m American Indian. I’m very, very young. I’m quite aged.

I’m quite well fed. I’m very, very poor.

Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names. Don’t get your pleasure from my pain. In God’s eyes we’re all the same Someday we’ll all  have perfect wings, don’t laugh at me.

My country ’tis of thee. oh, sweet land of liberty. It is of thee I that I sing.

We need to stop the bullying of others whether it be physical or mental torment. Whether it is in person or online as cyberbullying. Whether it is in the legislature or in the pulpit. But, especially the latter. One of my greatest pet peeves is bigotry from the pulpit and when bigotry is espoused by a spiritual advisor it is just like bullying. And, per Dan Savage who advises teenagers who are bullied because they are gay or lesbian, it does get better. Yet, it could be better still, as we have too many adults and hate groups (which is the extreme version) who try to divide, exclude and torment. Please heed these words and advocate by voice and example to treat all as we want to be treated.

Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names. Don’t get your pleasure from my pain. In God’s eyes we’re all the same Someday we’ll all  have perfect wings, don’t laugh at me.

Peter, Paul & Mary – Don’t Laugh at Me – YouTube

More on that kindness thing

Following up on my previous post about “fierce kindness,” I think many of us could look to our mothers, fathers, teachers, mentors, etc. as exemplars. A blogging friend lost her mother this month and she said her mother’s final words to her were be kind to others. That is profound and telling advice.

Even with the ravages of Alzheimer’s, my mother and mother-in-law remained kind. Yes, Alzheimer’s can cause a brief temper snap, but it is more due to confusion or as a defense mechanism. Both mothers were heavily involved in outreach for the churches to which they belonged. They helped others through tough times.

At the memory unit of the long tern care facility, the teacher in my mother always showed through. She would help the facilitator by first paying attention, but also in participating and helping others do so. To her, it would be rude to ignore the facilitator who went to great lengths to be there.

One of my late memories of my mother-in-law is we took her to my daughter’s school function in a large hall. I remember her telling one of the mothers, who must have come from work, as she was well dressed, how lovely she looked. This woman just beamed. That was not an unusual occurrence.

Although my father had a drinking problem, he was the kindest of men. He went out of his way to bring food to work for pot luck lunches, usually smoking a turkey or ham. Before his drinking got the best of him, he was heavily involved in our sports programs, coaching, practicing, leading and attending. He had a hearty laugh and was helpful to people in need or friends with homework or other problems.

Let me close with a nickname I got on occasion when I followed my parents’ example and fought for people – Don Quixote. I knew I would fail to save someone from being let go in our matrix managed organization, but on certain occasions, I had to try and fight that windmill. I did help save one (who is still there twelve years later), helped lengthen another’s time, but far more often it was for naught. Yet, invariably I would do my best to help these folks get placed elsewhere. When my boss said I was ruffling some feathers (and actually had a comment placed in my HR file), I noted I would do the same for him. I was kind, but firm. And, foolish on more than one occasion.

Kindness is not a weakness. Helping people is a good idea, even if you are not successful. Just trying means something to people. One thing companies fail to realize is how you treat someone when he or she is forced to exit is important. Fellow employees see it. Clients see it. So, even when tough decisions are made or push back is needed, be kind. Treat people like you want to be treated.

Fierce Kindness

A mantra of mine is “do not mistake kindness for weakness.” Watching CBS Sunday Morning, I learned a new term “fierce kindness.”

Kindness exists in people of all colors, shapes and sizes. From the CBS Sunday Morning show, the focus was on an Indianapolis man who works with children to repair donated run down bicycles for donation to others. Another segment looked at a Boston doctor who serves the homeless community, a journey that started over thirty years ago.

The doctor noted he was told to set aside his stethoscope and soak a few feet. What he learned, by helping someone with their feet, they are above him telling him how they feel. When asked what is the most important thing to do when seeing a homeless person – look him or her in the eye and say hello.

The bicycle fixer shows kids the path of kindness. He said it is ok to be fierce with kindness.

I found this helpful, as many people see kindness as a form of acquiescence. It is not. We can disagree without being disagreeable.

That is what civil discourse is all about. Civil is an important part of the discourse equation. Name calling, shouting down others or smugly denigrating someone who disagrees with you, is not civil.

Treating others like you want to be treated is what these two men are teaching others. Be kind. And, it is ok to be fiercely kind.

When I see folks who are doing the right thing against the pushback of others, fierce kindness comes to mind.

A path forward

As we end one decade and start a new one, there are plenty of posts and articles telling us what is wrong with the world. I agree we have numerous challenges, but please remember this one truism – negative news has a higher bounce than positive news.

Since the many good things happening don’t get reported with the appropriate frequency, it is hard to avoid getting despondent. Our friend Jill has a weekly summary of about three to five good news stories (see link below to a recent one). These folks are the “points of light” the elder George Bush spoke of. We must shine a spotlight on these exemplars.

Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof wrote a year-end column (see link below) called “2019 has been the best year in human history – here’s why.” He largely makes the above point, but cites the following observations:

“The bad things that you fret about are true. But it’s also true that since modern humans emerged about 200,000 years ago, 2019 was probably the year in which children were least likely to die, adults were least likely to be illiterate and people were least likely to suffer excruciating and disfiguring diseases.

Every single day in recent years, another 325,000 people got their first access to electricity. Each day, more than 200,000 got piped water for the first time. And some 650,000 went online for the first time, every single day.

Perhaps the greatest calamity for anyone is to lose a child. That used to be common: Historically, almost half of all humans died in childhood. As recently as 1950, 27% of all children still died by age 15. Now that figure has dropped to about 4%.”

But, what do we do about those negative stories with a higher bounce. They are real and concerning. Here are few thoughts, some of which may be Pollyanna-ish:

– engage in thoughtful discussion asking probing questions and listening – only then will you be permitted to offer your thoughts that may be heeded (“Help me understand,” “That is an interesting view, why do you believe that to be true?”, etc.).
– advocate your beliefs, focusing on the issues, not the people are parties; often one party is not 100% wrong and the other is not 100% right.
– write and call legislators – they may not be listening, but we need to let them know where we stand; calling is better, but don’t chew the head off a staff member – give it like you want to get it.
– write to the news paper, publications or other blogs, again focusing on the issues and not just wanting to disrupt.
– avoid name calling, labeling, denigration, smugness and raised voices – all of these are masking poor arguments; when I hear name calling or labeling, it raises a red flag (unfortunately, a certain global country head does this often).
– avoid less than credible sources – be a truth seeker; if they do not print or post errata when they get it wrong, it is not credible; fact check claims made by various sources, especially those who have a habit of sensationalism or conspiracy BS.
– finally, understand that almost every issue is more complex than portrayed, so solutions are less black and white; be wary of easy fixes and panaceas.

Happy New Year to all. Happy decade to all. Let’s be civil and active truth seekers.

Good People Doing Good Things — Little Things Mean A Lot

https://www.iol.co.za/news/opinion/2019-has-been-the-best-year-in-human-history-heres-why-39896456

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.

Sunday sermonettes redux

Good Sunday morning everyone. It is a rainy morning here. Here are a few little sermonettes on this Sunday morning.

A favorite mantra of mine is “don’t mistake kindness for weakness.” This weekend, the embodiment of that mantra passed away, former President George H.W. Bush. A key lesson for many today, toughness is not correlated with a false bravado. If someone has to tell you how tough or how smart he is, my advice would be to look under the hood.

With the G20 conference now ended, what stood out to me is the giddy handshake/ hug between MSB and Putin. To me it was due to them both being in on a joke. They have gotten away with doing their own thing and having something on the current US President. Both know that the US President has business ties in each country with a goal to leverage his candidacy and presidency to do even more. So, they both feel a level of impunity. Note to all, when leaders squash human rights or look the other way when violated, that is when Jesus crires. If you are not religious, that is when our parents cry.

Yesterday, I watched the terrific movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” about Queen and Freddie Mercury’s rise to fame and impact. It is very entertaining and even emotional. A key premise is how Mercury defined the group to a record producer, ironically played by Michael Myers. He said we are a family of misfits playing to the misfits in the final row. I like this. This group’s family chemistry is a key thread to the movie, which I won’t spoil here. Do go see even if it is just for the music.

So, to wrap up these sermonettes, kindness is important, human rights are important and family in whatever form is important.

 

 

 

You don’t have to be cruel to be strong

Today on CBS Morning News, veteran broadcaster Bob Shieffer quoted FDR reinforcing his point that this vote is a referendum on us. FDR said, “a nation does not have to be cruel to be strong.”

This quote sums up the actions of the US President who has self-proclaimed he governs off “fear.” He has lied to and bullied allies, the media and anyone who dares criticize him. He paints groups of people as evil and enemies of the people. Why is the question we must ask?

My mantra is do not mistake kindness for weakness. But FDR says it a different way. We don’t have to be cruel to be strong. Strength is using your power only as the very last option, not the first. Leaders who want to wage war tend to be the ones who have never fought.

Let me close with a lesson from Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” When Atticus showed restraint when the real criminal spit in his face after Atticus fought to save a black man on trial, that showed a courage which too many did not understand. Atticus did not give his power away to this reprehensible man.

So, what kind of country do we wish to be? Do we want to be civil and strong or cruel and untrustworthy?