The concerns we are not talking enough about

In the US, we spend an inordinate amount of time talking about whatever the President may tweet or say. And, since he is not known for being the most truthful person, we often chase issues that are over-stated, over-simplified or just not true.

Yet, what we are not talking enough about concerns me. Here are a few items that get too little air time.

– With global warming, coral reefs are in jeopardy. Coupled with over fishing due to territorial issues (like in the China Sea), fish populations are diminishing. This should concern us all, and will create conflict along with industry and food loss. *

– Also due to global warming, we are seeing heavier and repetitive weather patterns which are flooding our farmlands, causing more elongated droughts in drought prone areas, and sparking more forest fires. I read a forward-looking report from 2010 sponsored by the largest global pension trustees that predicted global warming causing more of these occurrences and the multiple tens of trillion dollars in costs to remedy them. *

– We also have a global water crisis that is rearing its ugly head in a number of places such as Capetown and Saudi Arabia. Aquifers are diminishing in certain areas and increases in population far exceed the ability for some areas to provide fresh water. Global warming is making the water crisis worse.

– Bee populations around the globe are in decline. The UN reported 37% of bee species are in decline with 9% now extinct. That is 46% of bee species. The bees pollinate many foods which will be in decline as well, which when added to other threats should raise alarm. Certain pesticides are one cause, but it is likely a more holistic problem, including global warmlng.

– Finally, as alluded to above, we need to be concerned about population growth. A scientist said a few years ago that if everyone consumed resources like the average Rwandan, the earth could support 15 billion or so. Yet, if they consumed like the average North American, the number drops to around 2 billion. We have about 7 billion now. Family planning and birth control have to be in the equation.

There are so many more things to discuss, but we need to discuss protecting our species and environment. Call me crazy, but I think that is important.

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* Note: I did see a few stories this morning that were encouraging and concerning. The Central US flooding is a recurrent issue for some towns and even barge shipping traffic on the Mississippi River has shut down until June as a result.

On the coral reef bleaching, I read that Florida and Australian scientists are sharing working approaches to save and try to revitalize dying reefs. That is encouraging, but is it enough?

A science teacher teaching climate change is actively identifying (and teaching her students to do so) the approx. 30,000 internet sources of misinformation on climate change using dated, refuted and untruthful information saying variations that climate change is a hoax. Also, several petroleum companies have provided free teaching materials, which downplay climate change and sell the advantages of petroleum. In contrast, there are about 700 reputable, peer reviewed scientific sites that are worthwhile. That smaller number reveals where the money lies.

Everyone needs a Joe

Everyone needs a Joe in their life. You know the person. The one who is curious in learning and sincerely knowing what is going on in your life. The one who can talk with your kids as easily as he or she talks with you.

Joe’s are the kind of people who end up being teachers because of that desire to help others grow. The one who is the teacher that cares about the kids more than anything. Joe may dress and act in an eclectic manner, but is as down to earth as it comes. Joe would give you the shirt off his or her back if you needed it.

Joe is the kind of person who gets animated about upbringing, travels, or subject matter interests. A rapt storyteller is Joe which is a key part of the charming person. When Joe gets going, his or her voice can fill a room.

We had a Joe, but his body gave out on him after only 61 years. Too many car accidents left his body in pain and his big heart likely gave out on him after so much medication for too many years. He was my wife’s brother and left a lasting imprint on more than a few. He loved teaching science and married his soulmate after two earlier marriages went awry. His wife was also a teacher having just retired. It is a shame Joe won’t be with her in this physical world. He leaves three children who love hiking and the environment like their Dad.

Bless you Joe. Our Thanksgiving table will have a huge gap, just like our lives as we carry on without you. But, we will remember you forever.

No caveats found

Going through my mother’s old things, I came across a book mark that must have resonated with her, as it did with me when I found it. My mother was a teacher in public schools and as a bible study fellowship leader, so even after her death, she can still teach me something.

The book mark quotes Jesus’ words in John 13: 34 – 35, which says:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for another.

In looking at this, three words jump out beside the key word “love.” The first is “commandment,” meaning this is so important it is an additional commandment to the first ten. The second is “everyone,” which means he wants all to see the love each has for another as an exemplar. The last is “disciples,” meaning followers of Jesus should love one another.

Throughout this quote or in adjacent bible verse, I found no caveats. He did not say love only those who agreed with you. He did not say love only those who are heterosexual. He did not say love only people of your race. He did not say love only Christians or Jews, since we have to remember he was a Jewish teacher and referred to often as Rabbi.

In our and our leaders’ efforts to win arguments, we have overlooked what is more important. We need to treat others like we want to be treated. Love may be too strong a word for strangers as we are not nearly as good a person as Jesus, but we should treat each other with dignity and respect. We should listen and hear what others are saying. Winning an argument means little if people are harmed by the outcome.

New Year’s resolutions I can keep

It is that time of year to say farewell to an old year and welcome a new one. I am not too keen on making resolutions, as they usually don’t last too long into the year. They are not unlike the sand castle virtues I wrote about in my previous post. So, with that in mind, what are some resolutions that I can keep alive in 2015?

– I resolve to remain imperfect. I will do my best to mitigate the impact of my imperfections, but they will shine through.

– I resolve to try to maintain my weight. I am good at trying to do this and sometimes I am successful. It is the sustainability of that success that usually gets me.

– I resolve to lose more of my hair. Look at it this way, I am just gaining face and visible scalp. Maybe I will invest in Coppertone stock.

– I resolve to retell stories I have told several times before. And, when I ask my kids if I told them that before, they will say only five or six times.

– I resolve to try to stay married for my 30th anniversary. Thank goodness my wife has a good sense of humor, otherwise we may not have made it to ten.

– I resolve to treat others like I want to be treated. I will fail on occasion, but know that I will feel badly when I do and apologize when I can.

– I resolve to continue to focus on the issues of the day and not who is winning a political game. I will do my best to give a needed voice to the disenfranchised, as they tend to get lost in far too many political calculations.

– I resolve to love my kids and my wife. That is the easiest resolution to make.

So, I think I can keep the above. But, I did note my resolution to remain imperfect. So, we will see. Let me know some of yours. Have a safe New Year’s celebration and a wonderful 2015.

Restorative Justice – a concept which makes a difference

Earlier this week, my wife and I were enthralled by a PBS Newshour report on a concept being deployed in a Colorado high school called “Restorative Justice.”  In essence, rather than suspend offenders from school, which does not resolve much of anything, the school counselors invite the offenders into a circle with their parents to discuss the conflict and various points of view. They pass around a “talking stick” which means only the person with the stick may share his or her points of view. The idea is the offenders hear the other person’s point of view, recognize how differences occur and begin a restorative process rather letting animosities fester.

The concept is straightforward, practical and replicable in many settings where conflict resolution is needed. The number of suspensions and fights have declined significantly in the Colorado high school comparing the numbers to previous year trends. Yet, the school is taking it a step further to teach the kids how to resolve conflict in a restorative circle. In other words, they are letting the kids resolve some conflicts and issues, as well as brainstorm ideas, etc. which are terrific skills to cultivate.

The news video can be accessed with the following link:

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/new-approach-discipline-school/

A more detailed summary of the Restorative Justice concept can also be gleaned from the attached link to an Oakland high school, which includes some metrics and data around the demographic groups affected most by suspensions and how this approach has kept kids in school.

http://www.ousd.k12.ca.us/restorativejustice

We came away very impressed by these efforts and hope you will as well. I would love to hear your feedback and thoughts. Restorative Justice has a nice ring to it.

Who is learning from whom?

As Anna said in the “The King and I” a movie and play where an English tutor is engaged to teach the children of the King of Siam, “If you become a teacher, by your pupils you’ll be taught.” This is actually based on a true story of Anna Leonowns and King Mongkut, so the line has even more merit. I use this reference which I read this morning in a USA Weekend article called “Voluntary Volunteer” by Mo Rocca about this same theme. In the volunteer work with homeless families I have been blessed and privileged to do, one of our secret sauces to success is our Hope Teams which mentor the families.

I equate the two stories for the following reason. One of our requirements for our Hope Teams, which are almost entirely made up of the faith community, is to not witness to the families. You are witnessing by deed by trying to help, but cannot proselytize your faith to them as it can be off-putting. It did not take long for us to realize that the converse was occurring. Or, as our Executive Director used to say “Who is witnessing to whom?” The irony is these families who were forced into homelessness due to the loss of one of their jobs, reduced hours, healthcare crisis, car crisis, etc. held tightly to the only thing that could give them comfort – their faith.

Through this devotion in times of such great crisis and anguish, our faith community members would come away from the mentoring relationships with a renewed faith. They were learning from the people in need they were helping. I mention this as well, as there are some who believe that people are in trouble because they are less virtuous. Bob Lupton who wrote the book that all volunteers must read, “Toxic Charity,” lives among those he is trying to help. One of the key lessons Lupton shares is when one of those who had been helped lamented about a church bus coming to help do certain things. When Lupton asked why, the person said, please do not get me wrong. We greatly appreciate their help. Yet, I wish the helpers would ask us about our faith, so we can have a conversation around a mutual interest. He said some people with good hearts assume we are less pious because of our situation.

In the book “The Rich and the Rest of Us” by Dr. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley, they address this misconception head on. The number one misconception about poverty is the following assertion – “poverty is the absence of money.” It is no more or less. West and Smiley define it this way to get away from a belief of poverty being due to less virtue. When people spend time helping those in need, the helpers come away with the learning that poverty has nothing to do with being less virtuous.

I took some time off between jobs last year and did some tutoring of two fifth graders. While tutoring them in math, I came away with as much as they hopefully did. They both were English-as-a-second language citizens who moved here from countries in Africa. One girl lived in-house with ten people and three generations. The other girl lived in a house with seven people and three generations. These two young girls had a heavy role in household chores, both cooking and cleaning, to help the breadwinners. So, imagine trying to study as a fith grader when you go home and have to work so hard beforehand. Also, the countries they left have issues still. So, the fact the girls made it here, gives them a much greater advantage over their former compatriots.

In addition to these learnings for me, I also came away with the following. These young girls wrote a brief letter to their school counselor asking for help as they were worried about the End of Grade exams. For those who have children, please reread the above sentence and remember the age of a fifth grade student. The school is teaching their students how to advocate for themselves in a civil manner. They do this with conflict among their peers as well. They could teach our leaders a few lessons about civil discussion and conflict resolution.

Let me close with the following observation. The psychic income of helping others is huge. If you help someone, you gain as much, sometimes more, than the person you help. You learn from them. Someone asked a popular DJ what was her greatest tip when she was delivering pizzas while in college? Without batting an eye, she said $2. When asked why, she said she delivered a pizza to a poor neighborhood and the young kids were so excited when she rang the doorbell. The mother explained we don’t have much, but once a month, we splurge on a pizza for the kids. When the future DJ tried to leave, the mother said, wait, let me give you your tip and gave the pizza person $2. When she tried to decline, the mother said, you work hard and I insist that you take this. Think about that for a while.

Football coach suspends team as a lesson in character

This may be one of the more adult measures I have witnessed by someone in authority in some time. It is worth sharing as we must always strive to treat others the way we want to be treated. Matt Labrum, the football coach for Union High in Utah, took a profound step to suspend his entire football team after witnessing and learning of poor behavior to others and an overall lack of accountability. With the support of his fellow coaches and, eventually the parents, he kicked everyone off the team and told them later how they could earn their way back.

The final straw that precipitated the action was some cyberbullying of a fellow student that was strongly believed to have been fueled or done by members of the team. Yet, before then, he had observed or been told of football players skipping class, showing disrespect to teachers and not being accountable to teammates. More on the subject can be gleaned by clicking on the attached link to Deseret News: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865587020/Taking-a-stand-Union-High-coach-suspends-entire-football-team-in-lesson-about-character.html?pg=all

The kids were devastated, but understood the message. We cannot tolerate poor behavior to others and you are responsible and accountable. Character is more than a word, it is something you earn by doing right by others. The team was told what they needed to do to earn their way back onto the team: community service, write an essay, and do day-in and day-out what we all should do – treat others like we want to be treated. The impact on these young men will carry with them the rest of their lives. Being a man is much more than being physically gifted. In fact, being physically gifted has nothing to do with being a man. It is being responsible and accountable. Per the line from “Rob Roy,” one of my favorite movies, Your honor is a gift you give yourself.”

What is also terrific about Coach Labrum’s actions is the echo effect it will have on others in the school and who are aware of this story. They will say to themselves, if it can happen to them, it can happen to me. So, please help me share this story by telling others about someone who is of the finest character – Matt Labrum and his fellow coaches. Well done.