Friday, July 15, 2011

Trash Talk

No matter where you live there’s always trash to be gotten rid of each week.  Especially after a holiday weekend.  Regular trash and recyclables, in bags or cans, on the curb or to the dump – it’s our gross national product.

I get around and see many variations on the removal of trash.  In California they make you put it in special rolling containers – these are placed at the curb and then a truck with one driver and a clever set of tongs grabs and dumps the container of trash into the truck – pretty neat.  The guy in the truck never gets out, never gets dirty and, incidentally, never waves hello.  In the Adirondacks we mostly have to take our trash to the dump – that’s right, one of those old fashioned places where you’re charged by the bag and throw it onto a pile or into a large container.  The guy there knows everyone and keeps track of everything (put that over there, we don’t take that, etc.) - and of course the bears are always around to help reduce the piles. And then there’s New York City – you only imagine how many people live here until you see the mountains of trash put out on the curb several days each week. Did I say mountain – because when the guys responsible for putting out all the trash from all those tall buildings start bringing the bags and things that were somehow stored someplace inside those buildings, you marvel at the sheer volume.  And then the trucks start to pull up – the kind with one guy driving and at least one and usually two more hanging on the back - they work hard to make those mountains disappear.  I guess nobody in the Sanitation Department in NYC ever saw the way it’s done in California.  I guess there are way too many cars parked on the streets to do it the California way.  I guess that’s why there are soooooooo many garbage men in the Big Apple.

For all us nostalgia nuts, these guys have the same look and swagger (is it really a swagger) as the ones who’ve been doing this forever (or at least as far back as I can remember).  You know the routine: truck stops in the middle of the street every few houses, they all run and pick up the bags and containers, throw the stuff into the back of the truck, pull the handle every now and then and that thing comes down and sweeps the trash into the innards of the truck.  And then they all get in or hang on and down the road they go.  I know this because they’re out when I’m walking the dogs.  I see this and have even talked with some of the guys: how should my trash be bundled, when is recycling day, what are the rules – and they’re nice and articulate enough to stop and answer me.  Huh – these guys actually talk and answer questions? Yep - these are people who take their jobs seriously, dress and act professionally, and probably go out to restaurants and bars and movies and ballgames when they’re done. I guess I never thought about them before, but these are real people and they’re part of the countless group (how many I can’t imagine) that keep things moving in a complex society. But surprisingly they don’t fit the stereotypes that often come to mind when thinking of jobs like these. Bus drivers, people holding the signs at highway construction projects, cops walking the beat here and in every other big metropolitan city, letter carriers and just about every other public employee you see and interact with every day…stereotypes could apply to any or all of them, but once you interact with them and get to know them, they become less typed and more real.

And guess what – they turn out to be just like you and me. They’ve got things to do, families to love and support, bills to pay, places to go, jobs to complete – and while some just do an average job, others go out of their way to do them to the best of their abilities and beyond anyone’s expectations. These go on all around us each day, and they’re done by lots of different people (and different kinds of people).  Most just want to do good, they want to be noticed, they want others to recognize them as regular people, and they want to feel good about themselves and what they do. Just because they do something that you didn’t think was worth much doesn’t mean that it isn’t.  Stop and look again – people like the ones who pick up the trash here, or handle any one of the thousands of other jobs that keep our worlds moving should be noticed, thanked and appreciated.  By you.  Regularly.  Remember: they’re people too!

My quote this week is about “excellence” and “grandeur” – the kinds of things we should strive for ourselves and expect, recognize and appreciate from others:

“Excellence is to do a common thing in an uncommon way.”  -Booker T. Washington

Booker Taliaferro Washington (1856 – 1915) was an American educator, author, orator and political leader. He was the dominant figure in the African American community in the United States from 1890 to 1915.

You’re probably going to do lots of things today and most of them will be just what’s expected - nothing wrong with that. Each will take a certain amount of knowledge, time, energy and focus – and that’s what it takes to get any one of them done.  Now what do you think it would take to do any one of them of them just a little bit better or a lot better??  Probably wouldn’t take that much extra – probably would only take just a little more energy, attention to detail, focus and passion.  Fact is, it doesn’t take that much more – just the desire to do better.  And if you have that desire then you’ll be able to do common things in an uncommon way, to make the ordinary into something extraordinary, to meet and exceed all expectations.  But it all starts with wanting to reach those higher levels, with pushing yourself just a little more to achieve those higher levels, to turn an “oh” into a “wow”.  Commit to that today and see how excellence feels.

Stay well!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Picnic basket, watermelon and lemonaideA Holiday Celebration

Boy I love a good holiday. People getting together, getting reacquainted, getting to do things they’ve waited a long time to do, getting to eat and drink and getting to feel good about themselves and the world around them. July 4th is one of those kinds of holidays.

I celebrated the 4th in a little town in the middle of nowhere.  I like it there because the middle of nowhere is a nice break from the middle of everywhere. Most of the time I’m there its very quiet – simple people, doing simple things, enjoying simple pleasures and living life simply. But on a long holiday weekend it seems that everyone comes out and, well, celebrates. You have to go to the store and get hot dogs and hamburgers and potato salad and watermelon and corn to feed the people who are around. More people stop by to say hi and then hang around to talk about the year just ended, their hopes for the coming one and to remember all that’s gone on or those who’ve passed. Some are sick, some are well, others are happy and some are going through rough times and then there are those who seemingly never change. But no matter what their personal circumstances, all are happy to be there, to be alive, to renew acquaintances and to celebrate.  There are old folks to listen to as they tell their stories, newlyweds who are giddy in love and happy to hold hands, teens who awkwardly manage the moves of their age and newborns who go through the endless introductions and cheek pinching with some degree of enjoyment. It’s a time of renewal and it’s always damn good to see everyone.

We were on a lake and so everyone felt compelled to either get wet or watch those who did.  Everyone proclaims how warm the water is even though the water is nowhere near warm enough to get in yet. But hey, it’s a holiday and everyone feels like they have to get involved. And on a holiday like the 4th of July there are lots of loyalists and patriots. And while those adjectives mean a lot today, they are left over from ones that had different meanings when the nation that was born gave rise to this July 4th holiday. Back then, the “loyalists” were loyal to the King of England and they didn’t much want the changes that were sweeping the Colonies. The “patriots” were those demanding change, looking for the freedoms they thought they’d been promised and hoping for a new day. These were people who came from common places but lived different lives; they were from different religious and economic backgrounds; they were all looking for a better tomorrow, each with different expectations. But like most people at most points in time, these differences created frictions that got heated and outsized. So they fought and many died; and while more were wounded physically and psychologically, change came to them all whether they wanted it or not.

And now, 230+ years later, all the descendants of those people are united as one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice enjoyed by nearly all. The new nation of loyalists and patriots came together at the end of that revolutionary war and forged relationships, partnerships and friendships – and together they began to build a new world and nation that continues to today. It’s amazing how resilient people are – they fight passionately one day and make up the next; they are divided one day and united the next. Nations, like families and communities, continually go through this continuing change of circumstances and life and through it all, they’re always glad to come together in common purpose or celebration to focus on the things that bring us together, the things that bind, the things that make the glass half full or more. If you’re as tight as you want to be with those you live with and love then consider yourself lucky. If you’re not, try to understand why and then see if you can do something about it. Because whether you’re a loyalist or patriot, tomorrow will come and then you’ll again be one of the countless people who are on this adventurous journey through life. Make sure you do what needs to be done to get the most out of your journey. And that will be something to celebrate!

My message this week is about deciding how you want to live:

Arte Nathan
“You don't get to choose how you are going to die or when. You can only decide how you're going to live.”  -Joan Baez

Joan Baez (b 1941) is an American folk artist whose songs helped define a generation. She first attended the Newport Folk Festival in 1959 and went on to become one of the leading voices during the Civil Rights and Anti War movements of the 1960s.

People always say that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. While these two certainly impact each of us, the way we live is the true determinant of how we’re perceived and remembered.  And because it’s a choice, it speaks volumes about who and what we are. Have you thought about how you want to live your life – is it as someone who makes things up as you go along or do you plan and implement things logically; do you try to get away doing as little as possible or are you the one that everyone relies on; do you do the minimum and claim the maximum or do you quietly over achieve all the time???  Deciding to do one instead of the other – either way – is the measure of your integrity and commitment to excellence.  Decide wisely because that determines how you’re going to live.

Stay well!