Thursday, December 29, 2011

Happy New Year!

I can’t believe it’s the end of 2011.  Nor can I believe all that happened in 2011.

The United Nations designated 2011 as the Year of the Forest…that’s amazing since there was absolutely nothing in the news about that.
I guess all this other news drowned that out:



The Arab Spring, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the economic roller coaster, Prince William married Kate, the tornado in Joplin, Dr. Kevorkian died (of natural causes), Governor Blogojevich went to jail, more sensational legal battles (Casey Anthony and that guy from the IMF), NYC had an earthquake, tornado and hurricane, the endless Republican debates, the Rupert Murdoch phone hacking scandal, some team won the World Series, there were killings everywhere (Arizona and Finland were the most notable), Occupy Wall Street became a movement, Bin Laden was killed, Steve Jobs died, Joe Paterno retired in disgrace, the European Union nearly imploded, the war in Iraq ended (really?) and too much more to mention here.

So what about The Year of the Forest?  My friend Virginia puts this on all her emails: The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago.  The second best time is NOW. Maybe the UN should do the same!

Maybe all the news that we see and hear each day isn’t what’s really important.  Maybe we need to slow down and focus on just a few important things in our lives. Maybe we have to stop running as if there’s someplace important we have to get to:

There’s a set of escalators in New York’s Grand Central Station that many people use every morning to get up to street level.  Escalators are nice because you don’t have to climb the stairs – right?  But people push to be able to run up these escalators as if that will give them some extra time to complete the things they have to do.  But really, how much time can they gain?  And does that really make a difference?

Fact is, we are all rushing around rather that slowing down to smell the proverbial coffee or roses.  The days, months and years all keep rolling on and unless we each make a commitment to doing something meaningful then nothing much is going to change.  And this leads me to this week’s punch line: maybe that’s why people make New Year’s resolutions!

So what’s your resolution going to be for 2012?  What’s the one thing you hope to accomplish in 2012 that will make a difference?  Sure we all want to be better, or lose weight, or see some beautiful winter scene, but what will you commit to in 2012 that will really make a difference?  That’s the question of the hour and now’s the time to answer it.  If you haven’t already made a resolution, stop right now and do it.

At times like these my mind tends to go back to the songs I’ve learned and sung.  Maybe one year’s ending and the new one’s beginning is like that line from the song All My Life’s a Circle by Harry Chapin:

                        No straight lines make up my life, and all my roads have bends; 

                       There's no clear-cut beginnings, and so far no dead-ends.

Where will your roads lead you in 2012?  And what will you do to steer the course you choose?  Those are the questions that are on my mind as 2011 ends, and I’ll spend 2012 trying to find the answers.

I hope you have a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

Stay well!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Life is a Journey

If today were my last day on Earth and I could share 500 words of brilliance with the world, here are the important things I'd want to pass along to others...
My Dad always told me to live each day as if it were my last, and as a child the specter of one's last day always seemed like a remote possibility. But with maturity and experience comes the realization that it's not just about one's last day, but also the lost chances and opportunities in life that should also be seen through a lens of hope and caring. So as you go about your daily chores it's always best to do all you can to make every day count.
Be positive and upbeat: We all can find the glass that is half empty, but why bother? Every day presents us with so many glasses that are half full and you should spend all of your time trying to fill them all the way up. Think how much you can help others by showing them how and when and why they can help others today.
Be an inspiration: Live your life as an example to others. We all observe those around us and try to mimic the good things we see, so remember that when on your journey. It's so much better to do the kinds of things that inspire others to be better and to leave that as your legacy.
Tell others you care about them: All too often we just assume that others know how we feel about them, but are you sure they know? There's no harm in telling them as often as you can how you feel - it never gets old. And if by chance you never get another chance you'll be happy that you did.
Find the harmonies in your life: The best things in life are those that complement each other and you should never miss an opportunity to share in them. Being part of a team, working closely with others, sharing good things and times with those you care about - these are the moments that make the most of your time and energies. Don't miss any chance to join in and find life's harmonies.
Leap empty handed into the void: I must admit, I didn't come up with this one - I saw someone in an interview on TV saying this and it's something I now believe in. Whether it's your last moment on Earth or just one of the many along the way, remember to put down what you're doing before you start to focus on the next thing. To get the most out of anything you should always be ready to put your all into everything you do.
That's it: short and simple. Now the trick is to remember these and make them a part of your life every day.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

                      Inspire Me


I'm excited to share some great news with you. On December 23rd, 2011 I will be the featured Inspirational Luminary on InspireMeToday.com, sharing my thoughts with the world.

Inspire Me Today features the 'Brilliance' of a new Luminary every day. You can start your day with the wisdom of Sir Richard Branson, Guy Laliberte, Seth Godin, Neale Donald Walsch, Marci Shimoff, or one of hundreds more, now including me. I'm honored to be with such esteemed company!

To help you stay inspired, you can sign up to receive this 3 minute 'Today's Brilliance' pick-me-up each day by email, by RSS feed or as an iPhone app. You can even subscribe to it on the new Google Currents.

Please visit the site on December 23rd, 2011 and help me inspire the world. If my traffic and comments break records, InspireMeToday.com will share my content with millions of additional people too! I hope you'll check it out, leave a comment and share it with your friends.

From the folks at Inspire Me Today and from me, thank you in advance for your kind support. I know you're going to love InspireMeToday.com! Together we really can inspire the world.

Be inspired,

Arte

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

 Razr



I got a new phone and phone number last week.  The phone’s pretty cool – but I’m not anywhere near prepared for the learning needed to figure out all that this phone does. I’ve had the same cell phone number for nearly 12 years – that made me easy to find.  And I’ve had a Blackberry for more than 5 years and that makes me a Crackberry addict.   Now they’re both gone – replaced with a new number and a Droid Razr.  Droid??  Razr????  I guess I’m just an old dog thrown into a world of new tricks.  Grrrrrrrrr.

So the first thing I did was send the new number to lots of people I know, on the off chance that any of them were going to call me.  Talk about being an optimist.  I hope I’m not going to be terribly disappointed.  And then I changed from a Blackberry to this Droid – the old one I knew and was comfortable with; with this new one, even the name creeps me out.  I told the guy at the phone store I do lots of email on my phone, and he said these new touch pads are just as good as the Blackberry keypad.  Not.  And the guy at the phone store told me how cool it’d be to more easily surf the web – you know, find the closest gas stations and dim sum restaurants.  Huh?  The Blackberry was not very good at surfing the web and I seemed to get along ok with that.  But, hey, maybe he’s right.  Maybe I do need to spend more time looking for things I don’t really need or was able to get along without before.

But there’s got to be something to these new-fangled devices – I say devices because they go way beyond just being a phone (duh, I guess that’s why they call them smartphones).  Remember the first cell phones – those big old bricks with the hard black antenna – some of them even had a regular old hand set tethered to them.  All it could do was make a call, and even then there wasn’t enough cell coverage to make that a particularly good experience.  But these really are smart….or at least the people who designed them are smart.  Maybe we have to be careful about using the word smart – people are smart, pets can be smart, but phones – I’m not sure smart is the right adjective.  

Ok, so what can I do with this that I couldn’t do before?  Text and email while I talk on the phone – that’s the new multi-tasking standard.  See where I’m walking and heading as I try to find what I’m looking for – that’s the new replacement for stopping and asking for directions (a distasteful task for guys, right?).  Photos, tweets, voice commands, Skype on the go, check the weather and subway routes, read a book, watch tv, listen to the news, and millions (literally) of other things in the app store.

App store?  Yep, in yesterday’s NY Times they announced that there are now more than a million apps available.  I won’t even go into what all of them can do because I can’t even imagine what all of them can do. Or why I’d need any of them. I spent the last few days looking at many these possible apps – I didn’t see one to help me breathe, or make eye contact, or act nicely, or care a lot, or any of the countless things that humans do (and presumably Droids don’t). Yep, I’m an old dog, and learning these any or all of these new tricks may be somewhere between a full time job and impossible for me.

And now that I have this new phone, I’m getting flack for not choosing the iPhone, and challenged why I don’t put down the phone and pay attention to those I’m with.  It ain’t easy going from a Crackberry freak to a Droid – I just hope I don’t forget that I’m a human and not a Droid. I hope I don’t fall farther into the cyber world where connections are on the web rather than face to face.  I hope I don’t start to become one of those people who look more at the small screen rather than at the big picture. I hope… no, I wish, the world would slow down and give us back some of our real people to people world.  I wish I didn’t have to be an old dog in a new world.  

My message this week is about working and interacting with other people up close and personal:

“I can achieve far more if I work amiably with people, if I support other's goals.”     Ruth J. Simmons

Ruth Jean Simmons (born July 3, 1945) was the 18th and current president of Brown University, the first black president of an Ivy League institution.  She stepped down in September, 2011 and will continue at Brown as Professor of Comparative Literature and Africana Studies.

How well do you work with people? Are you the kind of person who claims the spotlight and the glory, or do you share equally with all?  Are you the kind of person who casually leaves the details for others or do you personally dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s?  Are you the kind of person who creates a lot of drama or are you more steady and dependable? Customers, colleagues, family and friends all react better when you’re someone whose knowledge and behaviors can be counted on, whose efforts complement those of others, and whose commitment is beyond question.  You probably know people who take more than they give and are insensitive to how that affects everyone else’s efforts.  Make sure you’re not one of them.  Make sure your involvement and participation benefits everyone.  Make sure you work amiably with others and support their goals.  Make sure you participate effectively today.
 
Stay well!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

                  I Get It

You haven’t heard me talk about the subway lately. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been paying attention to some of the better things people do while riding the rails. I’ve been watching one specifically lately, and I think I got it.

Try standing on a moving train and reading a newspaper while holding on to a bar or strap. Time was when I had all I could do to keep my balance. Time was when I had to stay focused so that I wouldn’t miss my stop. Time was when I had to make sure I didn’t get swept off the train by the masses. But once I got those basic things down, I wanted to be able to read the New York Times at the same time. Not easy. But since I saw so many others doing it I thought I should give it a try.

First you have to be able to fold the pages twice – so that the result is a half-page. Now doing this and still getting the crease in the right place is not that easy – takes two hands, have to smooth it out and get it so you can unfold and refold it to be able to see the other half of the page. And then when you’re done with that page, you have to unfold it so that you get to the next half page. And so on. Sounds easy, right? Nope – because the folds come undone, the flipping back and forth gets confusing, and what if a story is continued on a much later page, how do you get to that one and then back? You get the picture.

So I watched for months, and then practiced at home when no train was moving beneath my feet and no one was watching. And in this there are lessons.

First: we watch others all the time, and whether it’s leading people, riding a bike, playing golf or reading a paper, much of what we learn is done by mimicking the actions of others who are more skilled and knowledgeable. That’s the best way to learn the countless moves we need to know in life.

Second: there’s the need to perfect things through practice – which is best done when you’re out of the spotlight. Now I will admit to trying this paper thing on the train before I learned and practiced… didn’t work well and what I did could have been embarrassing if anyone were watching. And even if they weren’t, I still made a fool of myself in my mind’s eye.

And third: we’re all our own harshest critics. That’s as it should be, so we work extra hard to do things that feel and seem right to us. But still, we want to be good at what we do, we want to meet or exceed the expectations or perceptions of others, and we want others to notice how good we can be. That’s human nature.

So now I’ve got it. I can get the fold right the first time (most of the time), hang on and read the first half-page, and let go of the strap quickly and refold things accordingly and keep on reading. I may not be perfect, but I’m more than credible. I look like I almost belong on a subway. I pretty sure I look like I get it.

My message this week is about learning to act professionally and then doing what needs to be done.

“Self-respect is the cornerstone of all virtue.”  John Herschel

Sir John Frederick William Herschel, 1st Baronet (1792 –1871) was an English mathematician, astronomer, chemist, and experimental photographer/inventor, who in some years also did valuable botanical work. He originated the use of the Julian day system in astronomy. He named seven moons of Saturn and four moons of Uranus. He made many contributions to the science of photography, and investigated color blindness and the chemical power of ultraviolet rays.

What’s your best virtue? These musings look at values such as professionalism, passion, loyalty, team spirit, participation, grandeur, ownership, integrity, innovation and pride – and self-respect may be at the heart of them all. All of these values are important, but self-respect is how you feel about yourself, and how you approach things, and how people see you, and how good you try to be. It’s about doing the right things because they’re the right things to do, about caring a lot and trying hard all the time, about being the kind of person you want and hope to be, about trying and learning new things, and about setting an example for others. Actively living all of these virtues will make you a great role model – and in life, being an example for others is all about observing others, listening to others, learning from others and teaching others. Look at your life – can you honestly say you’d be what you are today if others hadn’t shown you the way? So live all of these values and virtues every day, and let self-respect be the cornerstone of them all.

Stay well!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Being Thankful for All the Right Things


It’s that time of year again, when we focus on all the things we should be thankful for. And one of the things I’m thankful for is all the good service I get. So it was a bit of a shock this past week when I was faced with the following question from my bank: what’s better: security or customer service? A loaded question, I know, but I hoped that I could have both. I’m not sure my bank agrees or even knows how to do both.

I’ve been banking with this outfit since 1987 (says so right on my debit card). And that card has mostly worked every day since I got it all those years ago. So you can imagine my surprise when I tried to use it last week and was told that it was inactive. Curious – I’d used it the day before and it was fine. And speaking of curious, I wanted to know why.

So I called the number on the reverse side of the card to get to the bottom of this, and that proved to be a real challenge. When I finally got to a live person, I was asked some questions intended to verify that it was me – and my second surprise was when they told me my answers were incorrect (I guess I really don’t know my address, birthday and mother’s maiden name). So I asked for and got a supervisor, who asked me several more questions that ultimately proved it was me they were talking to.

Only then was I finally able to find out why my card didn’t work: some place where I used the card was caught then trying to use it inappropriately, and what happened next was done entirely by the bank without notifying me whatsoever. They immediately cancelled the card and issued me a new one, put it in the mail, and then waited 7 calendar days (which their policy assumes is enough time for it to get to me) before automatically invalidating the original card. Good plan, except that the USPS got in the way and took more than 10 days to deliver the card to me. I didn’t know that the fraud happened, didn’t know the card was cancelled, didn’t know to expect a new one, and didn’t know any of these arbitrary time frames that were set by their policy. So I was left with the old card that was invalid rather than the new one they assumed I would have received. Ah, the law of unintended consequences.

How come they didn’t pick up the phone and call me, or go online and email me. They have all my contact info; in the past they’ve called or emailed when they saw what they thought were questionable uses of the card (you’ve had that happen, right??). I wanted to know why they discontinued this service-friendly practice as it related to my current problem. So I called again and had to go through the process of getting to a supervisor who finally told me that they’d discontinued that practice because they had to make so many calls, and it just wasn’t efficient. Huh?

Now here’s the rest and most amazing part of the story: the card finally came in the mail and I noticed the zip code they used was one of those with 9 digits, not the normal one with 5 digits that we all use and can remember. I called them back, waited on hold, and, when I again finally got to a supervisor, asked if this was the reason that they thought my answers to their questions were wrong? And believe it or not, they admitted that it was. I asked if they thought that giving the correct 5 digit zip code it could or should have been sufficient. “Sorry”, they said, “the policy says you have to give the whole 9 digits.” “Think that’s good service”, I asked. “Sorry”, they said, “just trying to fully protect you”.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful for the bank doing what they can to look out for my security. But wouldn’t it be better if they’d used a bit more common sense in designing good measures, and then allowed their employees to apply them sensibly. Wouldn’t it be better to encourage people to use their heads to help figure a way to help someone rather than forcing them to read and stick to a simple and senseless script. Wouldn’t that be better than being forced to choose between security or good service.

All of this brings me back to being thankful during this season of Thanksgiving. It’ll be good to gather with friends and family tomorrow and reflect on all that we have to be thankful for. And while I’m doing that I’ll make a silent wish that the people who run things and design the policies and practices that affect us all put themselves in their customer’s shoes, and figure out how to make things like security and good service work together for everyone’s benefit. This wish would be directed to government officials, bank managers and all of the countless other people who make the kinds of decisions that affect us all. Now that would be something to be thankful for, and make this a Happy Thanksgiving indeed.

My message this week is about taking ownership for what you do and how it affects others:

“We must exchange the philosophy of excuse - what I am is beyond my control - for the philosophy of responsibility.” Barbara Jordan

Barbara Charline Jordan (1936 – 1996) was the first African-American elected to the Texas Senate after reconstruction and the first Southern black woman ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and became the first African-American woman to be interred in the Texas State Cemetery.

Are you going to have to give an excuse for your work today or will you take responsibility for it? Tough choice to make – one comes from weakness, the other from strength. You want to be given lots of responsibility, but have you earned it. If you’re given the responsibility to do something then you have to do your best: that means being fully prepared, that means acting like you own it fully, that means working hard to get it done right and on time, that means not stopping until it’s done. And it means you can’t blame anybody else if you don’t – because it’s also your responsibility to figure everything out to make sure you live up to that responsibility. There’s no excuse if you don’t – only the responsibility to keep at it until you do. That’s the philosophy of responsibility.

Stay well!  And Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Life is a Marathon


How many times have you referred to something you’re involved in as a marathon? While I’ve used that metaphor many times, seeing the New York Marathon last week gave me new insight into the real meaning of that phrase.

The race ran right through my neighborhood here in Brooklyn and what a sight it was. 47,000 people all running in the same direction – professional athletes, casual enthusiasts, competitors young and old, people with disabilities, runners with prosthetics, marathoners of all ages, races and creeds. Some were dressed with the latest running attire, others just put on what they had available; some ran with purpose, others with the casual attitude of a stroll in the park; some ran with friends and colleagues, others ran alone; some took this very seriously, others brought the party to party; some were intent on finishing in good time, others with just finishing. Our apartment was at the 8 mile mark, so there was still a lot of life in the runners as they ran by. The professional leaders ran by approximately one hour after the official start, and then 45 minutes later a throng of runners began – it took nearly 3 hours for this mass of people to finally pass. The last of them were walking slowly – but they were no less intent on finishing the 26.2 mile course than were the Kenyans who flew by first.

There’s a lot of history behind these marathons:

• The name Marathon comes from the legend of Pheidippides, a Greek messenger. The legend states that he was sent from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated in the Battle of Marathon (in which he had just fought), which took place in August or September, 490 BC. In commemoration of this, the marathon became one of the original modern Olympic events in 1896. With 47,000 runners in this year’s event, it was of Olympian proportions.

• The length of the course (officially it’s 26 miles and 384 yards) is also an interesting tale – while it is ostensibly the distance that long ago Greek messenger had to run with that battlefield message, this official distance was modified over the years as Olympic officials modified the start and finish lines to accommodate the British royals

• Today, more than 500 marathons are organized worldwide. Five of the largest and most prestigious races, Boston, New York City, Chicago, London, and Berlin, form the biennial World Marathon Majors series, awarding $500,000 annually to the best overall male and female performers in the series. No wonder the front runners (no pun intended) were so motivated to run so fast.

• Among the more unusual marathons are the Midnight Sun Marathon held in Tromsø, Norway, the Great Wall Marathon on The Great Wall of China, The Big Five Marathon among the safari wildlife of South Africa, The Great Tibetan Marathon run at an altitude of 11,500 ft., and The Polar circle marathon on the permanent ice cap of Greenland. The Intercontinental Istanbul Eurasia Marathon is the only marathon where participants run over two continents, Europe and Asia, during the course of a single event.

• Many marathons feature a wheelchair division. Typically, those in the wheelchair racing division start their races earlier than their running counterparts. The New York City Marathon banned wheelchair entrants in 1977, citing safety concerns, but by 1986 14 wheelchair athletes were competing, and an official wheelchair division was added to the marathon in 2000. This year’s race was highlighted by hundreds of racers, young and old, in wheelchairs of all varieties. It was especially moving to see the dozens of military veterans in this year’s race whose injuries and disabilities did nothing to dampen their enthusiasm and commitment.

The crowd at this year’s event was practicing some other rituals that were equally as amazing:

• In our neighborhood there was a festive atmosphere including an all-rhythm band that played non-stop for three hours, and a disc jockey who called out the names of the interesting and colorful runners. This gave the runners, who were from all over the world, a sense of America’s real diplomacy – regular people cheering on the efforts of other regular people.

• Everyone all along the route cheered for every runner that went by – this gave the runners a needed shot of adrenaline and helped spur them on for the remainder of the race. These anonymous affirmations were offered genuinely and accepted gladly. This warm and festive atmosphere belied the seriousness of the runners’ intentions; but it seemed that other than the front runners, all the rest were thrilled to be able to do something this incredible.

• The runners themselves had many different outfits – clearly there’s a line running gear that most wear. But then there are the exhibitionists that are decked out in outfits most likely intended to amuse – the Brits in Bras (dozens of men and women in colorful and costumed bras), the runners who were wearing those goofy new 5 toed shoes, and the decorations on the wheelchairs. All of these added to the human element of what is otherwise a pretty serious event.

And then there were the countless examples of people to people diplomacy – the crowd and the runners interacting in ways that are not readily found in the conflicts throughout the world. The crowd on my street stayed until the last runner limped by and cheered just as wildly for their courage and spunk as they did for those who passed first. People who don’t know one another, have little in common and would not ordinarily discover the things they each appreciate, were drawn together in this universal event. Why can’t this happen in the many other instances where disparate people are brought together? Why won’t people join together in common purpose and good cheer for non-sporting events? Why won’t people who don’t know anything personal about one another take the time to learn and accept each other? I guess we just get nervous about the unfamiliar things we bump into each day. I would hope that the same level of diplomacy found in the Marathon could be extended to all the other times when and where strangers are brought together. Take time today to look for someone you don’t know who is doing something you’re unfamiliar with, and applaud them, tell them you’re impressed with them, wish them well, and show them some real warmth and kindness. You just might meet them in a race someday and wouldn’t it be grand if you were able to cheer together.

My message this week is about treating others the way we want to be treated:

“Histories are more full of examples of the fidelity of dogs than of friends.” Alexander Pope

Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744) was an 18th-century English poet, best known for his satirical verse and for his translation of Homer. He is the third-most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, after Shakespeare and Tennyson.

Ever been compared to a dog? Lots of times people refer to each other as “a dog”, or we reference what’s happening as “a dog’s life”, or we say someone’s “working like a dog”, or someone asks us to “stop barking”. And even more often we talk about “man’s best friend” as the measure of one’s loyalty. We all know people with dogs, many of us have dogs, we even know people who look like their dogs – and these pets are often treated better than family, friends and neighbors. People talk to their dogs as if they’re human, they ascribe human-like behaviors to their dog’s actions, and they’ll take their dogs to the vet faster than they’ll go to a doctor themselves. And because society puts so much stock in loyalty, it’s not surprising that history is filled with examples of man’s fidelity to their dogs. So please reflect on these dogisms and remember to be loyal to your two-legged companions today.

Stay well!

Friday, November 18, 2011

                           The Payoff


We work hard in hopes that our efforts “pay off” one day – well, ours just did. My daughter and her wonderful husband just called and told us that they’re expecting their first child, and that we’re going to be grandparents. Like many things in life, the perception of what we think this would be like is nowhere near as great as the real thing.

When we got the call, the “are you sitting down” was the tip off. Now I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t expecting a call like this, but none the less it was like a pure shot of adrenaline. Old bones, like mine, don’t get many of these kinds of shots these days, and since this is our first grandchild, we were flooded with lots of emotions. Someone once told me that the payoff for being a parent is becoming a grandparent – now I can say “ain’t that the truth”. All those days and nights and years of doing the things that one does with their children (too many good and bad things to list here) dissolve into the euphoria of learning that you’re going to be a grandparent. It’s funny how the world advises how not to spoil a child, but it seems to be just the opposite when starting to learn how to feel about and treat a grandchild. It’s almost like throwing out all sense and caution, and then getting giddy when considering what the kid just has to have.

My wife immediately thought about making a blanket that the baby would use and take into adolescence; our daughter had one that became worn and tattered over the years - I think she might still have a small piece of the fabric from that cherished “blankie”. I immediately thought about what the baby would call me – Grandpa, Pop-Pop, Opa, Zaide – the choices are endless. And then our thoughts focused on all the loved ones now gone and how they would have reacted to this. Fortunately, the parents-to-be have two wonderful maternal grandmothers who are now filled with the joy and expectation of having a new great-grandchild. This life-goes-on thing is really exciting!

So, what does one do when the prospect of grandparenthood is really imminent: these days you go and check it out on the internet! And what do you find: Grandparents.com; National Grandparents Day; Grandparents Magazine; your state’s Department for the Aging; and even a Foundation for Grandparenting. And then there are the millions of references and images of grandparents and their extended families on the AARP site. There’s no end to the miles of smiles associated with this happy event.

But then, in the back of our minds, there’s the awareness of all that goes in to having and raising a child, the stages the kids (and their parents) go thru, the colds and viruses, the sleepless nights of missed curfews, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat of every event the kids participate in, the many anxieties and countless emotions that accompany everything the kids do. In the end, none of us parents would, in hindsight, change the fact that we had a kid, even if we could. All of the plusses far outweigh any of the minuses. And now that we’re going to be grandparents, there’s this belief that we’ll mostly be around for and the recipients of the good things. Because at the end of the day, we can always give the grandkids to their parents and go home, right?

But that’s too flippant an attitude. In this crazy world of ours, we all worry about bringing another soul into the world we read about in the news every day. Hatred, wars, poverty, inequality, distrust, double-dealing, unemployment, economic uncertainty – the list is endless. But you know what – our parents, and our grandparents, and all of their ancestors faced uncertain times too, but they still had kids. That’s because of this instinct to build a family, to care for someone, to give what you can to others, to continue the human race. That’s because there’s a trust and belief that tomorrow can and will be better, and that with a new bundle of responsibility we’ll work that much harder to do more, make more and be able to give them more than we had. That’s because this really is the spark that launches generations, and it’s the reason we’re on this earth. And that’s because it’s a moments like these that the depth and meaning of our existence becomes apparent and real, and that we again sense our place in this vast universe.

It’s all part of the payoff for all that we do in life, and all that life takes out of us, and all that we ever hope for. It’s all there – believe me, it all flashes quickly to show that it’s there – when they ask whether you’re sitting down. So we sat down and let the thrill of this announcement carry us into this next phase of our lives. And just like when we were kids and declared that we would do things differently if and when we became parents (and didn’t), now we’ll reflect back on all the things our grandparents did (and didn’t do) and try to do and be more. But in the end, it will all be about the same. It will all be filled with hope and love and more – all the things that were there when we were kids (and then parents) but couldn’t really see from those perspectives. And, just so you now, I hope the baby will call me ‘pop-pop’ just like my daughter called my father. That will really be the payoff.

My message this week is about accepting the responsibilities that come your way and making the most of what you do.

"Most of us can read the writing on the wall; we just assume it's addressed to someone else.”
-Ivern Ball

Ivern Ball was a Dadaist poet and writer famous for wise quotes. Dadaism’s purpose was to ridicule what its participants considered to be the meaninglessness of the modern world. In addition to being anti-war, Dadaism was also anti-bourgeois and anarchist in nature.


What’s written on your wall? This writing-on-the-wall idea is often about some unspoken and unwritten undercurrent. People are always judging what they see and hear, and whether they formally communicate it or not, they form perceptions about who and what others are. And some of the things that people judge are whether someone has integrity, is responsible, and accepts responsibility for their actions. The best ways to show that you do have these things are to be open and transparent, to treat others the way you want to be treated, to do what you’re supposed to do when you’re expected to do it, to say what you mean and mean what you say and to accept and fulfill your responsibilities. So when you see the writing on the wall, assume it’s for you and address it appropriately. Things like this can help you be better, so pay attention. You’ll be glad you did.

Stay well!

Friday, November 4, 2011

unmade bed It's a Guy Thing

I’ve been a bachelor for the past 4 months while my better half stayed in the Adirondacks with our 2 dogs and the cat.  They’ve had a great summer there: my wife has re-discovered the photographic beauty in the mountains; the dogs got to run free, the cat couldn’t get enough of the birds and mice, and me – I turned our Brooklyn apartment into what looks like a bachelor pad.  I’d better do something about this sorry situation before my wife returns.

For those of you who don’t know or remember how bachelors live, let met elaborate.  Making the bed – nope, just going to get back into it tonight. Putting away my shoes – why, they’re easier to find spread out around the apartment’s floors.  Towels – since I only use them after a shower, how dirty can they get?  The same water that cleans me in the shower cleans the tub too – right? Dirty clothes – simple piles eliminate the need for sorting later on.  Doing the laundry – after all this time I don’t think the colors will run.  Washing laundry in hot water – why not, the way I buy clothes they’re never going to shrink too much for me.  Washing the sheets – it’s only me so once a month outta do.  High heat when drying – that gets the wrinkles out. Dirty dishes – keep piling them in the dishwasher until full – that’s a good way to know when to run it.  All those attachments on the vacuum cleaner are way better than dust cloths.  Butter – leave it out – it’s easier to spread on toast when soft.  Milk – the nose knows when it has finally run past the “sell by” date – and aren’t those dates only guidelines anyways?  Dinner – best served in front of the TV – and those paper plates are a great invention. Menu selection – the same thing 7 nights in a row works – either from the leftovers or just getting the same thing over and over (hey, ya gotta know what you like)!  Peanut butter and jelly have all the food groups covered.  Breakfast – OJ from the container is quick and saves on the washing. Figuring out where to put whatever I am using – that’s easy: on any flat surface I can find.  And watching endless reruns of Law and Order is a real entertainment treat.  Life is good!

Walter Cronkite used to say “And that’s the way it is…” as his way of signing off each night on the CBS News – worked for him, but I don’t think it’ll work for me when she walks back in here.  So – what to do? No problem, I’ll just clean it up.  Uh, there’s more here to clean now than I thought.  I never knew how many places dust could build up on and in, and I didn’t know how hard it was to go around and pick everything up and put it back in the place it’s supposed to be, and I didn’t know how dirty a refrigerator could get and how hard those caked on stains could be, and I didn’t know so many other things that I took for granted because my wife always made sure they were done.  You see, guys just don’t know about some things.  Look, I’m not completely clueless, I just act it sometimes.  I love doing the dishes, but that’s not enough.  I love running the vacuum, but that’s not enough.  I love washing my own clothes, but that’s not enough.  I love eating dinner and watching TV, but that’s not enough.  I’ve gotten sort of used to being alone, but that’s not how it is when you’ve chosen to be with someone else.

I know what should be done – I just got lazy.  I know what I need to do now – but I may not have enough energy or time to get it done.  And here’s where my mother’s words come back to me (or to haunt me)…”Never put off to tomorrow what you should have done today”.  And here are the words that immediately ring out in a guy’s mind when he hears that: “NO KIDDING!”  How come we take our relationships for granted like this?  How come we procrastinate like this?  How come we get lazy and let questionable habits like these get started?  I had such good intentions when the summer started, and my initial attempts at doing things the right way, were good.  But the first time I didn’t do one thing the rest of these other things just started piling up around me.  What’s that rhyme: “oh what a tangled web we weave….”?  The truth is, you should always do what you’re supposed to do, when you’re supposed to do it.  Laziness is a bad habit – and there’s just no excuse for it!

Well, you know how this movie ends: there aren’t enough hours in the day to do what needs to be done after leaving it undone for so long.  I’ll clean and sort and put away and straighten stuff right up to the time my wife walks back in; she’ll graciously acknowledge all that I’ve done and quietly notice all the things I didn’t do.  She won’t say anything – she never does, but more importantly she won’t have to.  I’ll know it, she’ll know I know it, and she’ll hope that maybe I’ll remember this the next time.  And that’s another guy thing: our uncanny ability to forget this kind of simple lesson the next time.  I’d like to think it’s an inoperable or immutable DNA flaw. But it’s not.  It’s a guy thing.

My message this week is about doing what you should be doing, no matter what.


Arte Nathan
 “He is not wise to me who is wise in words only, but he who is wise in deeds." 

-St. Gregory

Pope Gregory I (540 – 604), better known in English as Gregory the Great and St Gregory, was pope from 590 until his death. Throughout the Middle Ages he was known as “the Father of Christian Worship” because of his exceptional efforts in revising the Roman worship of his day.

I think that what Pope Gregory was trying to say is that “talk is cheap”.  You read all the time that successful people both walk and talk the talk, but what’s that really mean?  There are people all around – at work, home and in the community – who watch and listen to what you say and whether you really mean it.  And the proof is in how you act and what you do - it’s not enough in today’s world to only superficially address things, or to only do half of what you say and promise. All the talk about transparency means that everyone can see and assess everything you do, and they always judge you by those things.  So be wise today, not just in the words you use, but in the deeds you do.  Remember – be wise is words and deeds today.

Stay well!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Memories

Leaf by Kathleen Nathan Memories

My dad died 20 years ago this week.  The leaves all fell off the trees in the wind and rain this week. Somehow these are connected.

My dad died in front of me twenty years ago this week – that was a real shock.  Even more of a shock: for 40 years he always told me how his father had passed away in front of him, and how it remained fresh in his mind every day.  And he always said: “that’s how I want to go”. Hey, a child never wants to hear that; a child never wants to think about losing a parent. But it happens; it’s one of the few things we can know will happen.  We just never want it to happen.  The good news (if there is any) is that he was healthy, he never suffered, he never lost any of the quality of life that we all hold dear, and he lived his life to the fullest and happiest right up until that moment. He lasted long enough after his attack that we got to say our goodbyes, but that wasn’t enough time to say and do all that I wanted.  And then he was gone from this earthly plane. And it's still like it was yesterday.

And then there are the leaves - they progressively fill the trees and the forests every spring until right about now each year. We watch them grow, we love how the trees look, and we never really stop to enjoy it because we take it for granted.  We think it happens every year so it’s no big thing. But Mother Nature is clever: she does this every year in hopes that we’ll learn to slow down and take another look, to stop and really see all the beauty in this yearly display, to better understand how to appreciate all that we have. ut we don’t. What happens is that when the wind and rain blow the leaves to the ground, we again see the barren forest for what’s really there: those bare trees silhouetted against the grey horizon brings into clear perspective again the shape and strength of the trees and the depth of the forest. Those empty vistas are not really empty, they’re giving us another glimpse of all that’s really there, of all that we should see and know every day but somehow overlook because we’re again taking all of that for granted. Those views are supposed to make us stop and realize that this amazing and natural scene is fleeting and should be appreciated every day, through every season, through all the sunshine and rain and wind and snow.  Just like the friends and loved ones we know. But we don’t.

So, now the leaves are off the trees – but they’re not really gone. There’s a vibrant carpet on the ground that’s a reminder of what was and will forever be. There’s a memory that never fades because there are so many reminders to remember. There’s a view of things as they are now that serves to remind us that they never really go away. There’s a realization in the stark vistas that remain against the backdrops of the sky, and of life, that the underlying things that remain – the feelings of love, the memories of a lifetime, the things we learned and which affected us - are the things that will remain with us forever and always make us strong. I often would like to turn back the hands of time – but that’s just not going to happen. I’d like to forever keep and have the things that I love, but that also rarely happens. So here’s the deal: know and enjoy and cherish and admit every day that you do love these kinds of things; tell the ones you love that you love them, before it’s too late and can’t; share the things you love with the ones you love, before it’s too late and you can’t; show how we feel – really show and express it – before it’s too late and you can’t; live life to the fullest with the ones you love, before they’re gone and you can’t.

I miss my Dad every day; and it’s just like he said: it seems like it was just yesterday. But, he’s still here in my heart, and in my memories, and in my mind everyday as I do things and think about things. And he’s there in that barren forest where, because the leaves are gone, I can see all that’s really there so much more clearly.

My message this week is about creativity and innovation – about how you have to make the most of what you see and get.

Arte Nathan
"Creativity is not the finding of a thing, but the making something out of it after it is found." 

-James Russell Lowell

James Russell Lowell (1819 – 1891) was an American Romantic poet, critic, editor, and diplomat. He is associated with the Fireside Poets, a group of New England writers who were among the first American poets who rivaled the popularity of British poets.

What do you think you’ll find today?  Hopefully it will be something that will make you happy, wise, content and wealthy.  All of those things could surely happen, but more likely you’ll have to take what you find and make something more out of it in order for those things to ultimately occur.  Sure – you can buy a new suit of clothes and try, or a good book and learn, or a lottery ticket and hope; but chances are you’re also going to have to work hard to make the regular things in life pay off today.  You’ll have to take whatever comes your way, think long and hard on how to improve it, be creative in making the most of it, and then do all you can to make it all it can be.  So take what you find today and then use your creativity to make something out of it.

Stay well!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Rock On!

Street performerEntertainment Tonight



This is not a story about that popular television show that’s a tell-all about Hollywood celebrities. It’s about the resilient street entertainers who spend their days and nights plying their talents on the streets and in the subways of New York. It’s about the real deal.

There are all kinds of people who work on the street trying to entertain or attract attention for money:

  • Sometimes it’s just a guy reciting what might be verses from the Bible as if the words will inspire and save us – unfortunately most of these people have the wild-eyed look of someone who’s insincere or not all there.
  • Or there’s the guy with the boom box playing his own brand of CD golden oldies that you might find on late night TV – unfortunately his selection of songs has a very narrow (read that: non-existent) market.
  • Or the parent who pushes their children to perform to the embarrassment of all.

But then there are some really gifted and dedicated performers who do this because they really do love what they’re doing AND need the money.

  • The guys with the bongo drums who together make a syncopation that quickens the soul.  
  • Or the one guy with the pipes who’s able to play music from Equator as well as Con Te Partiro  by Andrea Bocelli.   
  • Or a group doing a great rendition of the Four Tops whose harmonies and moves bring back memories of the Motown sound.  
  • Or the Amish choir who’ve obviously travelled a great distance to give us a glimpse of their faith and culture.
  • Or the two guys with beat up old guitars who play and sing like they’ve been on a big stage somewhere.
  • Or the old guys whose music is right out of the French Quarter.

Each of these, and so many more, hang around subway station entrances, down on the platforms where the trains come and go, or even on the trains themselves.  They hop on with the rest of us and have their routine perfectly timed from one station to the next – that’s a pretty nifty trick that even a road crew would have trouble doing – and when the train stops, they’re off to the next car, hats and cases in hand looking for the next group of possible paying customers.

Sounds like a tough life, doesn’t it? Sure does, but maybe it’s not unlike life in general.  As in: the better someone is and the harder they work, the more they make.  While the audience can’t contribute to all of the performers, we almost gladly give to those who are truly unique or exceptionally talented.  And it really is about how they perform. Just like sales people, lawyers, doctors, cooks, food servers and bartenders, auto repair mechanics, insurance salespeople, housekeepers and so many others who work hard every day? In just about everything, excellence and quality shine through and stick out because in this world of the mundane we just don’t expect anything more. But because we’re so used to average, the exceptional catches our attention.  nd because the newspapers and airwaves are so filled with numbingly meaningless stuff, we nearly overlook and miss the real deal.  And when it is the real deal, there’s no need for fancy ads, talking heads or endless commentary to tell us what it is – we just know it.

But back to these street entertainers: maybe they’re a bit more real than many other things in life. Let’s face it – most people work for small businesses – maybe these are the ultimate small business. Many people aspire to work for themselves – maybe these performers are the new entrepreneurs since it’s mostly them without any supporting organizations. Many have dreams and hopes that are realized through their work – maybe this is what hopes and dreams look like in this recession-affected economy of ours. We shouldn’t be so quick to judge; like the song says: there but for fortune go you or I. Maybe it’s a wakeup call for us to stop and realize that in this life we should look for big things in small places.  That’s how Cirque du Soleil got started – stilt walkers and sword swallowers on the streets of Montreal. Maybe we have to realize its okay when we or others do what has to be done to get by, as long as it’s honest and ethical and well-intended. Maybe this is the spirit of America shining through.

These performers, much like the vendors on the street who sell everything from jewelry to food to clothing to umbrellas, are just trying to get by. And isn’t that part of the American Dream – to do what you have to do to get by? And maybe even get ahead.  And once you get a little ahead, to begin to build and plan for the future? Sure is. So the next time you see one of these street entrepreneurs, remember how hard they’re trying to just get by. And who knows – just like those Cirque guys, one of them might start something and just be the next big thing.

My message this week is about professionalism, and how to develop the character to be really successful:

Arte Nathan“Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones.”  -Phillips Brooks

Phillips Brooks (1835 – 1893) was an American clergyman and author, who briefly served as Bishop of Massachusetts in the Episcopal Church during the early 1890s.

How and when does your character appear to others?  Whether we like to admit it or not, others are always watching to see what we’re made of.  In quiet times we have the time and opportunity to appear to be anyone we want, and we have the chance to work on it and figure it out because there’s no pressure. But we revert t who and what we truly are in moments of stress and pressure (and there are lots of choices available): collaborative or authoritative; kind or mean; communicative or frozen; open or closed; thoughtful or thoughtless; giving or selfish; warm or cold; focused or distracted; creative or robotic; flexible or rigid; happy or sad, good or bad.  The choice is yours. Use the quiet times to learn who you really are, what you really believe in, what you’re really made of, and how you want to appear to others.  It’s in the small moments that we become who we are. Take the time today to study, learn and prepare for all the moments in your life. That’s how true professionals develop their character.



Stay well!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Aspirations

Menorah & TallitAspirations

Yom Kippur begins at sundown today.  Also known as the Day of Atonement, this is the holiest and most solemn day of the year in the Jewish religion. Its central themes are atonement and repentance. It’s a day when we’re asked to reflect upon and make amends for our actions during the past year. These themes are an important part of being a good and righteous person. And isn’t that what we should aspire to?


Here’s some background on Yom Kippur:

Yom Kippur marks the end of a 10-day period of reflection and repentance that begins with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. During these days, Jews seek forgiveness from friends, family and colleagues, a process that begins with the symbolic casting off of sins that is traditionally observed on the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah by throwing bread into a body of water. And then on Yom Kippur, Jews attempt to mend their relationship with God. This is done, in part, by reciting a public confession of sins.

The vast majority of the sins enumerated in this confession involve mistreatment of other people, mostly by speech (offensive speech, saying nasty things, slander, and telling false tales, to name a few). These all come into the category of sin known as "the evil tongue”, which is considered a very serious sin in Judaism.  This day is essentially a last appeal, a last chance to change the judgment of one’s behavior during the past year, to demonstrate repentance and to make amends. Many Jews who do not observe any other Jewish custom will refrain from work, fast and/or attend services on this day.  It reminds me of that children’s game of musical chairs, where none wants to be left standing when the music stops – or in this case, when judgment comes.

And here are some thoughts and questions:

Like most religions, Judaism is steeped in rituals that have been passed down from one generation to the next.  And like all religions, one’s faith is based in part on the observance of these rituals. But in this secular life we lead, these and other rituals have become marginalized because of all the other things that are going on in our lives. And also in life, we all are perceived by others on many levels – and whether we like or not, our principles and values make up the bases of those perceptions. While many adopt the rituals of religious life, it is even more important to adhere to the values from these religious rituals in the broader context of our daily behavior.  That’s an important lesson to learn.

In Judaism, this period of reflection occurs around these ten days.  But I’ve often wondered why we wait - isn’t this something we should do every day?

•  If you speak or act or think unkindly about someone, shouldn’t you stop and make amends immediately?  
•  Aren’t these the kinds of things that, if left unresolved, create bad feelings and ill will?  
•  Don’t these hurt others, and if so, don’t those hurt feelings get worse over time?  
•  And isn’t it harder after a period of time to go back and try to reverse or make amends for these kinds of things?  
•  How often have you not dealt with something like this, and then how often do these feelings become, or seem to become, too much to overcome?   
•  And how does it feel if you’re on the receiving end of these kinds of things?  
•  Worse yet, how does this look to others who are not directly involved but see these kinds of things going on?

Maybe these are not the kinds of things you should leave until the end of the year – maybe you should deal with them directly and immediately just like you’d want others to deal with them with you. Fact is, the way we treat others, act towards others and think and speak about others says a lot about who we really are.  It’s about the way we want to be treated and the way we should treat others.  It’s that Golden Rule thing again.

Every religion has some form of ritual like this that deals with confessing and resolving the things we’ve done that are wrong. Again: if we know we’ve done and should resolve things that are wrong, why do we wait for some formal or organized or public way to address them? Why do we put off dealing with this kind of stuff until it gets so that we almost can’t deal with it? And how much confusion and hurt do we create by waiting?

While we don’t make resolutions on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur like we do on the January 1st New Year holiday, maybe we should. Maybe we should resolve to stop and make amends, and ask forgiveness and try to mend relationships in real time. As I am reciting my own public confession of sins today, maybe my resolution will be to now start practicing this ritual of reflection, repentance and forgiveness in real time. Better yet, maybe I’ll also resolve that the things I say and do in the coming year will be good enough that I don’t have to go back and ask forgiveness or make amends. I know: that’s a tall order – but in this New Year I really do aspire to become a better person.  That’s what Yom Kippur means to me.
 
My message this week is about integrity – and what it means to do good and be good:

Arte Nathan“A single lie destroys a whole reputation of integrity.” -Baltasar Gracián

Baltasar Gracián y Morales, SJ (1601 – 1658) was a Spanish Jesuit and baroque prose writer. He is the most representative writer of the Spanish Baroque literary style known as Conceptismo (Conceptism).

There’s almost nothing more important in life than integrity. This means you always try to do the right thing, even when nobody’s looking. It means you should always tell the truth, even when it might hurt you or others.  It means you protect others and their reputations, even if it risks your own.  Integrity, like trust, takes forever to build and only a moment to destroy – and everything affects it. When’s the last time someone didn’t tell you the truth – not that he or she just didn’t tell you something – but that they told you something that was clearly not true. How did you feel? You probably couldn’t trust that person after that - right? Once that happens, you’ll have a hard time believing lots of other things they may tell you, or their intentions when they do something… and then the trust is gone. That’s not good. So remember: always tell the truth. Your reputation depends on it.

Stay well!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Changes

Leaves changing color on a lakeChanges

I love the fall and how the leaves change from deep greens to reds and orange and gold.  This natural riot of color takes place wherever there are trees with leaves and there’s almost no place better to watch the leaves change than in the Northeast.  This part of the four-seasoned ritual of life attracts tourists from far and wide and tugs at me to make a special trip to our home in the mountains there.  And this reminds me every year about the natural changes that are a constant in our lives.

Ever wonder why and how the leaves change colors?  

•    As summer ends and autumn comes, the days get shorter and shorter. This is how the trees "know" to begin getting ready for winter.  The trees will begin to rest and live off the food they stored during the summer. The green chlorophyll disappears from the leaves. As the bright green fades away, we begin to see yellow and orange colors. Small amounts of these colors have been in the leaves all along - we didn’t them in the summer because they were covered up by the green chlorophyll.  The bright reds and purples we see in leaves are made mostly in the fall. In some trees, like maples, glucose is trapped in the leaves after photosynthesis stops. Sunlight and the cool nights of autumn cause the leaves to turn this glucose into a red color.   It’s the combination of all these things that makes the beautiful fall colors we enjoy each year.

Ever hear o
f Thomas Coles The Voyage of Life series?  In 1840 he did this series of paintings that represent an allegory of the four stages, or seasons, of human life:

•    In childhood, the infant glides from a dark cave into a rich, green landscape.
•    As a youth, the boy takes control of the boat and aims for a shining castle in the sky.
•    In manhood, the adult relies on prayer and religious faith to sustain him through rough waters and a threatening landscape.
•    Finally, the man becomes old and the angel guides him to heaven across the waters of eternity.

In each painting, accompanied by a guardian angel, the voyager rides the boat on the River of Life. The landscape, corresponding to the seasons of the year, plays a major role in telling the story.  And in those paintings you can clearly see the leaves changing colors in the season (manhood) that represents the fall of the voyager’s life.

So what’s this mean to you and me?  Things change!  Always!  Life is full of changes and most of us are creatures of habit.  And because we don’t know what’s next, we tend to cling to what we already have and know and are comfortable with.  We reminisce about and cherish the past because it’s familiar, it’s already happened and we know how the movie ends.  And while that’s generally true, it’s the half of the story that we tend to recognize.  The other half is that the things we learn from the past should continually be updating our knowledge of life, and how to process the new things we see and experience, and how to better understand the meaning of who and what we are – that’s the harder part of the story to accept.

With each passing season, and the changes that occur, we need to grow and become wiser.  And that wisdom should create the stuff we need to constantly be better, to do the things we’re called upon to do each day better, and to help those around us to become better.  But you won’t learn anything or get better if you’re not open to the changes – natural or man-made – that occur every day.
I wish you could join me here at our camp to look across the lake at the beauty that is unfolding.  The scene is constant; the colors let me know that time is marching on.  On the one hand I could worry that the seasons of my life are marching on, or, on the other, I could be challenged by the things I’ve learned this year that will help me to be wiser and more thoughtful in the future.  One stunts natural growth; the other invigorates a sense of wonder about the world around us and the endless possibilities that potentially exist.  The choice is ours.  And while these leaves will begin to fade and fall soon, the inspiration that they trigger should last a lifetime.  That’s the voyage of life, and I’m sure glad to be on it!

My message this week is about being inspired to dream about improving our lives:

Arte Nathan“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”  -C.S. Lewis

Clive Staples Lewis (1898 – 1963), commonly referred to as C. S. Lewis and known to his friends and family as "Jack", was a British novelist, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian and Christian apologist from Ireland.

Got any new dreams today? Not the ones you try to remember and think about when you wake, but the kind that have you excited to try something really new.  Everyone can dream, but not everyone has the curiosity, energy, courage and stamina to try to attempt and achieve their dreams. Most want things to be smooth and easy, with no surprises or challenges that can potentially make you look silly.  Fact is, without those challenges or knowing how to recover from looking silly you’ll never get to experience what it is to learn from trying something new.  You can tell the ones who are into this – the twinkle in their eye, the bounce in their step, the way they carry themselves.  If that’s you, and you’ll know if it is, then set another goal today, dream another dream today and make a pledge to be creative and innovative today.  Go ahead – you’re never too old!

Stay well!

Friday, September 23, 2011

True Blue

True Blue

“Everyone wants to be true to something, and we’re true to you” - that’s the marketing tagline for Jet Blue’s travel rewards program.   I know because it kept scrolling across the little screen on the back of the seat in front of me when I recently flew across country.  It’s okay in the context of what they’re trying to promote, but it also might apply to more than just loyalty programs.  And it may be that because people naturally want to be ‘true blue’ to so many things, it becomes overused and almost trite.  That’s too bad.  Because being ‘true blue’ can be a good thing.

First: ever wonder where the term ‘true blue’ comes from?

Meaning
• Loyal and unwavering in one's opinions or support for a cause or product.

Origin
• 'True blue' is supposed to derive from the blue cloth that was made at Coventry, England in the late middle-ages. The town's dyers had a reputation for producing material that didn't fade with washing, i.e. it remained 'fast' or 'true'. The phrase 'as true as Coventry blue' originated then and is still used (in Coventry at least).
• True Blue is an old naval/sailing term meaning honest and loyal to a unit or cause.
• And dictionaries say that true blue refers to “people of inflexible integrity or fidelity”.

And second: does ‘true blue’ really mean anything in this era of fast food and slick advertising?

There are lots of loyalty programs – hotels, airlines, slot clubs, retail stores, pop food brands, credit cards, clothing, wine, restaurants, movie theaters, travel sites, theme parks, computer games and countless more – and they all try to get you to stick with them by rewarding you in all kinds of ways: points, miles, free gifts, shows, food and on and on.  But it seems a bit contrived, as if there’s some Oz-like character behind a curtain trying to entice you with these awards (read: bribes).

Imagine if this kind of thing were done with going to school or work, singing in a choir, participating in some community event, volunteering your time to some worthy cause, remaining friends or staying in a relationship… doesn’t seem as appropriate in those, does it? Think of someone or something you really like: do you really and truly like them or it, or do you need to be bribed with rewards to feel that way.  Of course you don’t.  So why do the airlines and hotels and all those other things we purchase have to bribe us like them?

But – there are companies out there that do understand what it takes to win your loyalty:

•  Southwest Airlines was one of the first companies that made having fun and using common sense part of their strategy for success.  Singing the safety jingle, devising a different boarding routine and setting the record for on-time departures set them apart and won over customers.  They got it!
•  Zappos doesn’t give you anything extra to make you want to come back – they believe that great service plus free shipping and returns will do that. Everyone said that nobody would buy shoes online – wrong.  Zappos gets it!
•  Apple wins and keeps their customer’s loyalty by incubating and introducing cool new ideas and products all the time.  And they’re just about the biggest and most successful and most admired company on the planet.  They get it!

But for every Southwest Airlines-type great experience there are hundreds of others that under perform and underwhelm.  So they sign you up and hope that rewarding your loyalty overcomes the other things they do that destroys your loyalty.  Seems to me they just don’t get it?

Jet Blue says they give you more leg room – that’s true if you pay extra for those few rows that have it.  How come they just don’t make eye contact and smile more?  How come they can’t get the bags to the conveyor in less than 30 minutes (which may not seem like much to them but after a cross country flight an extra 30 minutes is painful).  How come they don’t get it?  I want to join their loyalty program so I can get another trip with them like I want to have my teeth drilled.  And then they spend so much time and energy trying to give you that free round trip ticket if you apply for their credit card – you know, the one that has annual fees and high interest rates.  How come they don’t get it?  Why can’t they just treat me like a loyal and valued customer, like someone they genuinely like and appreciate, like they’d like to be treated if they had to fly on someone else’s airline.  Seems to me they just don’t get it.

Most of the good things in life are rooted in quality, trust and respect.  People you work with and for, family that you live with and love, things you do for fun and relaxation, games you gladly play with others, friendships you’re lucky enough to have, clubs you join and actively participate in, activities you sign up for – they’re all based on the simple premise that things that are good are that way because they are genuinely good and fun and worthwhile.  And that’s why you stick with them loyally.

But all these other kinds of loyalty programs are contrived. And yet we sign up for them like they’re free and worthwhile.  They’re not free – we pay for the increased costs of these rewards.  And they’re not worthwhile - we’re treated poorly by those who have the attitude that the cheap rewards they give are enough to overcome the thoughtless and robotic service they go through the motions of providing.  Next time someone asks if I’ve signed up for their loyalty program I’m going to give them a tip:  treat me nicely, treat me fairly, treat me respectfully, act like you really do care, thank me like you really mean it and treat me like you really do want me as a customer – and I’ll come back as often as I can or need to, willingly and freely.  When are all these marketing geniuses going to wake up?  When are they going to be ‘true blue’ to the Golden Rule?

My message this week is about how excellence can lead to greatness:

Arte Nathan
”If you want to achieve excellence, you can get there today. As of this second, quit doing less-than-excellent work.” -Thomas J. Watson

Thomas John Watson, Sr. (1874 – 1956) was president of International Business Machines (IBM) and oversaw that company's growth into a global force from 1914 to 1956. Watson developed IBM's distinctive management style and corporate culture, and turned the company into a highly-effective selling organization.  He was called the world's greatest salesman.

Do you want to achieve excellence?  Some people don’t – they’re content to work alongside others, doing just enough to get by and satisfy their basic needs, content to have a few toys, take life easy and not make waves. But is that what you want – would that be enough for you?  If not, then you’ve got to decide right now to start going farther, looking to help others, caring more, trying harder, and being more  of what you can be today.  You’ve got to take it to the next level – in commitment, in energy, in enthusiasm, in being a role model, in paying closer attention to details, in always striving to do and be all that you’re capable of.  As of this second, you’ve got to quit doing less-than-excellent work.  That’s how YOU can achieve excellence - (note: the emphasis is on YOU)!

Stay well!