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.

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.

 

 

 

People make a difference

The significant majority of the news is about what is not working in the world. What we focus on far too less is what is working well. People make the difference. People can overcome bad structure and even governments.

We see it first hand during disasters when people help those who have lost their homes and loved ones. But, it also happens everyday in the normal course of living.

We see it in helping homeless families climb a ladder out of poverty and into sustainable housing. We see it as someone delivers meals to shut-ins and speaks with them about their day.

We see it when people volunteer to read or tutor kids who are failing behind. Or, as my wife says just give them a soft place to land. This also helps the teacher who may not have the benefit of a teaching assistant.

We see it in the people who greet and speak with customer service people in stores or on the phone. We see it in the many donation drives for coats, school supplies or food. We see it in the countless volunteer coaches, choir leaders, scout leaders and school leaders.

We see it in people who listen to the point of view of others. A Black man said he was able to get KKK members to give up their robes and change their ways by listening first and then asking questions. Our friend Jill has written recently about the loss of civility. We need to follow these examples and practice it more.

A famous person once said the only way to change the world is one person at a time. That has always been the case. So, let’s embrace civility and celebrate what is good about it. And, please remember, kindness is not a weakness.

Give a piece of your heart out today

Happy Valentine’s Day. I have written before I tend to say hello or chat with people who are serving me or in waiting rooms, elevators, etc. I usually look for a conversation piece.

While this may not be in people’s nature or culture, try something today. Say hello, good morning or afternoon to more people. Or, just smile and acknowledge their presence.

My wife and sister are good at this. With my sister’s health issues, I tell her she is the ambassador of waiting rooms. I get tickled to see how people respond to her “good mornings.”

In my last post, I noted how imperfect we all are. Giving a piece of your heart with smiles and greetings goes a long way. I will leave you with a story about a homeless man who commented after being greeted and spoken with, “you are the first person to talk with me in a long while.”

Do yourself a favor and try this

A few weeks ago I wrote about the need to connect more with people, highlighting the role of dot connectors. I value the effort and talent of those who reach out to people to find common ground. We need more of this in the world.

If you are not inclined to do this, I want you to try something for a few days or even a week. As you pay for services or ask for help in any retail store, coffee shop, or supermarket, make a nice comment to the cashier or associate. It can be very simple such as “I hope you are having a good day,” or it could be something related to that person. Often, I find myself commenting on interesting names, tattoos, or just because the person had an effervescent smile.

Life is too short not to make conversation. And, you just might be making someone’s day who has been on his or her feet for several hours. I am reminded of the true story about the manager of a grocery store rushing out of his office to see all the paying customers in one line. He encouraged them to go to another line, but they wanted to stay in that one.

Why would they do that? The bagger for the line was an autistic teenager, but that is not the whole story. The teen was so moved by a speech the president of the company had made to all store staff when he dropped in the previous week, the teen had taken action. The president said “You are the company. You represent us to our customers. How they are treated is important.”

The young man went home and he worked with his mother to prepared little sayings on cut up index cards. His well wishes ranged from “Thank you for coming here” toHave a great day” to “Your business is important to us.” He would place these little well wishes in each shopper’s bag. So, the shoppers would flock to him each time they and he was in the store. They felt good about receiving his well wishes and wanted him to know it.

It only takes a few words to make a difference. After your trial period, take a pulse and see if this impacted others as well as you. It makes me feel good to touch someone like that. It is not uncommon for me to learn something new through conversation. Thanks for spending some time with me today.

 

Do not mistake kindness for weakness

One of the blogs I follow, called the Kindness Blog, gives me daily hope about the goodness that we humans have inside of us. The blog* attempts to counterbalance the negativity that gets highlighted in the news and on the Internet. I had a conversation with a reporter a few years ago about the unevenness of good versus bad news stories. He said we report both, but I countered that if someone does the right thing nineteen times out of twenty, only the twentieth item would be newsworthy and not the nineteen good things the person did. So, it truly is not even reporting and is actually quite uneven in the wrong direction.

Which brings me to my title, which speaks to those who feel they are being weak by exhibiting kindness. People will long remember an act of kindness as many witness so few in their lives. And, while a negative echo will have a higher bounce, a positive one can live longer in the minds of those who benefitted from the gesture. I would also note that leadership studies have shown that the better leaders tend to deflect credit to others, while the worse ones tend to assume more credit than they deserve. These good leaders are rewarded for their kindness with better loyalty and esprit de corps. As a former consultant (and employee), it amazes me how some leaders fail to grasp this.

In my career, my volunteer advocacy, my interactions and my parenting, I have witnessed that my opinions are heard more if I treat the recipient with dignity and avoid shouting or telling them their argument is stupid. My kids will listen more when I am talking with them quietly. We often don’t recognize we are the navigators of our own customer service, so if we are kind and diplomatic with our queries, by treating the customer service representative with respect will glean better service. And, if  you avoid condescending to people in a perceived lesser economic strata than you, you will actually be more successful in your job and business.

All of the above comments could be grouped into the “walk in their shoes” mantra. If you do this more often, then you will interact in a more compassionate and kind manner.  It will greatly benefit the audience, but it will also benefit you. When my diplomacy is not met with the same level of kindness, which I sometimes get when writing legislators who have fairly strident views, I remain diplomatic and feed back informed responses. It is more than okay to disagree with someone, but be as civil as possible. The lack of civility is growing at an alarming rate, so it behooves us to remain civil and calm others. I would also add, even with people you agree with most of the time, there will be times when you disagree, so you don’t want to indict with your concerns or disagreements as you turn an agreeable relationship into an adversarial one.

Like many, I am a person of strong convictions and opinions. I detest people being taken advantage of by those with means. I detest bigotry, especially from the pulpit, as I believe that is a misuse of power. I detest politicians using faulty arguments spoon fed to them by lobbyists to step on people’s rights. Where I can, I share as diplomatically as possible my concerns. Sometimes, I address injustice by deed or action. Sometimes, I will share that I do not find something to be true, based on my experience and reading. Sometimes, I may just be silent and vote with my feet, not frequenting a store or spending time (or limiting time) with a negative person.

If you do feel the need to act or speak, if you remain kind, civil and speak to the action, not the person, then you can remain on the side of the Angels in your argument. You need to treat others like you want to be treated. I also recommend picking your battles. We are a world of imperfect beings and we all make mistakes, both big and small. As a parent of three, one still a teenager, there is almost always something that the parent could complain about or remind the child to do. Don’t sweat the small stuff, with your children or others and encourage them to do the same. Sometimes, it is better to let them make the mistake, even when you see it coming.

So, if there are any takeaways, follow my paraphrasing of the Golden Rule, which appears in almost all religious texts. And, if you walk in people’s shoes, or as a colleague used to say, “picture yourself on their side of the desk,” you will be more civil and kind to people. They will remember your kindness and you will benefit from the better interactions, both mentally and physically. I would love to read your feedback.

* A link to the Kindness Blog follows: http://kindnessblog.com/2014/07/09/yes-or-no/

 

 

 

A greeting or smile can make a difference

I am the friendly old guy that tells people he meets along the avenues “good morning,” offers a nod or smiles. A good friend of mine from upstate New York said one of the hardest things she had to get used to when she moved to the south were strangers talking to you in the grocery store line. She said if you did that where I am from, people would think you are crazy. So, please forgive my intrusions, I am not crazy, just proud of my southern eccentricities. I am trying to acknowledge that we are human and need to be greeted. I am just a big, tall guy (hence the moniker, BTG) who does not mistake kindness for weakness.

I was reading a blog which is devoted to capturing acts of kindness. In this stressed out, less civil  world in which we live, acts of kindness are needed more than ever. A recent entry was meaningful as the author made a difference to an older man, walking along in pain, merely with a smile. Here is a link to this encounter.

http://kindnessblog.com/2014/02/24/a-simple-smile-lit-him-up/

Since I am an Old Fart, I have been greeting people like this for all of my adult life. Based on my anecdotal experience of tens of thousands of greetings, the lion share of people will respond in kind. I do get the silent treatment on occasion, but I make up for it by offering their missing part of the unstated conversation in my head – “Thanks for asking, I am doing great. Have a nice day.” Since I do a lot of hiking and walking on trails, I fully understand the need for a lone female jogger not to engage in too much conversation with a lone male on a trail. I get that. But, many will smile or nod their heads. As a needed sidebar comment, I would also encourage female joggers to not jog alone, unless it is a well-frequented trail. I worry when I see a lone jogger on a woodsy trail.

Yet, I also realize that some people need a “hello” more than others. There was segment on CBS Good Morning last week about how that “hello” can make a difference. So many people are depressed or lonely, that a greeting can boost their spirits. I would add that in working with homeless people, many feel less valued and appreciate even the smallest of gestures. Treating people as human beings is important. There is a story of a pedestrian who spoke to a homeless person on the street and he started crying. He said, “you are the first person to speak to me in a long while.”

I was walking on a college campus the other day and there were some people using the college facilities for a community meeting, but by their actions gave me the impression they did not feel they belonged there. They looked down when I passed. So, when I spoke to say good afternoon, it startled them. This made me sad, as it should not be this way. I must confess, it made me think less of this college for my daughter, as it gave me the impression that these guests were made to the feel this way. Fortunately, she deselected the college for other reasons.

So, if you are less inclined to do this, do yourself a favor and try greeting people for a day and see what happens. See if it makes you look at others differently. Remember the responses and how they made you feel. Look for conversation pieces. T-shirts, ball caps, brightly colored shoes, funny handbags are all fair game and people usually enjoy being noticed. Plus, you just might be greeting someone who truly needs it. Good day.