Archive for May, 2012

Graduation address

May 31, 2012

Tonight, Denise and I will attend a commencement service for our granddaughter, Madison, and we’ll wish her well as she begins this newest part of her young life.  Madison will enroll at the University of Texas in the fall and we wish her only the best as she goes forward. 

Many of you have attended graduation ceremonies this spring, and you’ve heard speeches from many – sometimes students, sometimes school officials and occasionally from a visitor to your school, someone from far away who will tell us all of those things we’ve heard so many times before. 

Here’s a part of a graduation speech paraphrased from a wonderful poem by Don Valentine, who at the time was sending his child off to school for the first time.  This version was written and presented in 2003 by one of my students – someone I still consider a close friend, and I think these messages would help any young person set out on this life-long and sometimes unfamiliar new world.

Dear World,

The class of 2003 graduates from high school today…it’s all going to be sort of strange and new to them for a while, and I wish you would treat them gently.  You see, during the last years they’ve been ‘king of the roost’ – – ‘boss of the backyard’ – their parents and teachers have always been near to soothe their wounds and repair their feelings.

Today, they start on the great adventure – it’s an adventure that might take them across continents, across oceans – it’s an adventure that will probably include wars, and tragedy, and sorrow.  To live their lives in the world they will have to live in, will require faith and love and courage.

So, World, I wish you would sort of look after them – Take them by the hand and teach them things they will need to know.

They will have to learn that all men are not just, that all men are not true. . . But we hope they have already learned that for every scoundrel, there is a hero – that for every crooked politician, there is a great and dedicated leader – that for every enemy, there is a friend.

It will take time, I know, but if we’ve missed this part, teach them that a nickel earned is of far more value than a dollar found – If they haven’t experienced it yet, teach them to learn to lose so they’ll enjoy winning that much more.

We hope that in school they’ve discovered the wonder of books.  But World, let them also ponder the eternal mystery of birds on the wing and flowers on a green hill.

We hope they’ve already learned that it is more honorable to fail than to cheat, but you can help them learn to have faith in their own ideas, even if someone says they are wrong.  Teach them to be gentle with gentle people and tough with tough people.

Try to give them the strength not to follow the crowd when everyone is getting on the bandwagon. Teach them to scoff at cynics and to beware of too much sweetness – To sell their abilities to the highest bidder, but never to put a price tag on their heart and soul.

Treat them gently, World, if you can, but don’t coddle them – because only the test of fire makes fine steel.

Teach them to have sublime faith in themselves – because then they will have sublime faith in mankind.

This is quite an order, World, but see what you can do – they’re nice people, and our hope for the future … this Class of 2003.

Congratulations, Madison and all of the 2012 graduates!  Welcome to our world.


Attention = Affection

May 25, 2012

Many people today own dogs – companionship, service, protection – for many different reasons.  Dogs thrive on attention, attention to the dog equates with affection.  A pat on the head, a scratched back, a few kind words, an extra special treat during meals will be greeted with a furiously wagging tail and a dog’s expression which seems to send a smile to the owner.  While we seldom get a chance to see how different dogs are treated inasmuch as many of them live in other people’s homes, I’m wondering how many owners make a mistake in dog training (and with raising healthy and successful children) which can cost the owners and the dogs (and the parents) dearly as time passes.  Let’s see how this might work out. 

The dog (or child) does something wrong, and the owner’s (parent’s) voice can be heard from blocks away bringing stinging reprimands to the pet (child).  How does the pet respond to this shouting and reprimand?  Cowering, trembling, drooping expession and often a temporary withdrawal from the owner.  And, even though the pet (child) really doesn’t enjoy this scolding, it does represent to the pet some form of attention – however maligned that sounds at first hearing. 

The dog does nothing wrong, or even does many things just as the owner seeks, and the result of that behavior is . . . nothing!  No words!  No physical contact!  No attention to the pet at all.  A child does nothing wrong, or even does many things just as the parents desired, and the result of that behavior is . . . nothing!

So, let’s look back for a moment – remember these words:  “Dogs thrive on attention, attention to the dog equates with affection.”  When do we pay attention to our pets and/or our children?  When they’ve done something wrong?  And, is it possible that the negative response brings about the exactly opposite reaction that we – dog owners and parents as well – desire?

Hmmm!  When I pay attention to a behavior, I get more of it!  Negative or positive!  When I ignore a behavior – negative or positive – it may go away!  Hmmm!


Attitude is everything

May 18, 2012

“It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which, more than anything else will affect its successful outcome.”  -William James

How many times have each of us heard this thought and, still we often begin projects with negative thoughts or beliefs that if true, will lead directly to failure?  As we face every new day and every new circumstance, we need to remind ourselves (That’s right: This is a do it yourself project!!) that a belief in our eventual success is hugely important. 

Want to hear it again from another?  “I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.” -Martha Washington

This may be insidious

May 10, 2012

The word ‘insidious’ is defined in Webster’s dictionary in this way:  1) proceding in a gradual, subtle way, but often with harmful effects, 2) awaiting a chance to entrap, treacherous, 3) potentially harmful, but enticing – seductive, attractive, 3) having a gradual and cumulative effect: subtle.

Over the years in various settings we’ve heard the story of boiling a frog.  You remember this anecdote, I’m sure:  “The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.  The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability of people to react to significant changes that occur gradually.”  (Modern day biologists tell us that this story is not literally true, but rather just a popular metaphor.)  

For my purpose in this blog, I’m going to bear on the false premise as it may explain an ‘insidious process’ that creeps up on us and before we realize the possible dangers, we may not have the opportunity to go back and ‘do-over’ the cost of neglecting some important items.

Just a little background so you have a glimpse of where I’m coming from in this discussion.  My father and my grandmother were vital to my development through childhood and continuing on through adolescence.  I can’t begin to tell you the number of things I learned at their hand and in their company, but consider with me just a couple.  1) my dad was a man of few words, and still when we were together he told me many important things which have served me well in later life.  In his company I learned about electricity, I learned the value of hard work, I learned ‘Lefty loosey, Righty Tighty’, I learned that I needed to live in such a way that I would not be embarrassed if my record was to be known by others, and many other things.  As a youngster I took apart many things which he had to help me put together again – I’m thinking now of the time I took the braking mechanism out of the rear wheel of my bicycle and with all of those strange looking washers in my hand I felt totally helpless, but there was Dad willing to put aside the things he needed to do to help me learn how that thing worked.  He taught me the value of ‘giving it a try’ without fearing what might happen if I didn’t succeed.  He taught me in sports many lessons including one that I have passed on.  When he threw the football to me and I’d miss it, I can still hear him saying, “If you can touch it, you can catch it!”  2) My grandmother, when my mother died at age forty one, took over the role of Mom for me.  I was a very sickly child in my early school years and she would take me day after day to the Mayo Clinic where I experienced nasty blood tests every day for weeks at a time.  She taught me patience as I learned to crochet, she taught me how to win and to lose graciously as we played Canasta, her favorite card game (She never did ‘. . let me win . . ‘ saying that I’d have to learn the game so that I could earn that ability to win).  She taught me the value of intelligent conversation and frowned when I’d use even the slightest bit of profane language (she didn’t like ‘darn’ or ‘heck’).  

Looking back now from this age I see what a wonderful opportunity I had as I interacted with these two people and with many other adults who lived within my life sphere.  We conversed, we laughed together, we cried together, we shared jokes and stories, adults listened to children and children to adults, we ate meals together, we went to church together, and in general, we learned social skills which have served many of us young ones well as we grew into adulthood. And, we did many of those things face-to-face, often in the presence of others who might have ignored everything that was happening. 

I remember the first contact our family had with ‘technology’ – it was called a radio.  After dinner was finished on Sunday evening, we’d all sit at the dinner table and listen to four or five one-half hour radio shows with mom and dad.  “Our Miss Brooks”, “Fibber McGee and Molly”, “The Jack Benny Show”, and on and on.  We watched as Dad and Mom laughed and we shared with one another our own points of view.  The time seemed to fly by.  We were the very last in our neighborhood to have television and that didn’t seem to matter at all at the time, as we had the radio and we could make our own pictures in our mind as Fibber McGee moved toward the closet to open the door.  (Young people, you’ll have to ask someone what that meant!) And, while the radio was an important entertainment and news channel, it never dominated the ‘family’ things we did together.  It was not ‘interactive’ – that is we listened, but in no way did more than that.  The radio was a silent (and quite useless) device in moments other than those in which we turned it on for our enjoyment.   We were in total command of the radio’s contribution to the family interaction.

Today I have noticed (and occasionally feared) an ‘INSIDIOUS’ element present in today’s remarkable technological advances.  Every man, woman. and child, it seems, has some kind of tech gadget.  And, these gadgets have crept into a central part of our every day living and, for children, every day learning.  The amount of information available today in the tech world is unbelievable.  The addictive nature of the tech world is unavoidable.  This newer collection of ‘tech’ devices, unlike the passive radio, can intrude itself into all aspects of our lives – it can literally take command of our time.  The insidious  nature of these things has begun to show its influence in many places and, I believe, poses an imminent danger to the development of the social connections and social education of our young and old alike.  The smart phones, the electronic note pads, the multitude of recording devices, the smart cameras and all of the rest of this modern tech world have completely overshadowed many of the important moments and connections youngsters need to learn about the world they’ll need to care for and live in.  Young children in the presence of adults will turn on the video games and escape into their own world, occasionally ignoring anything the adults offer.  Adolescents find much stimulation – some of it very questionable – in the ability to connect and to display themselves to others – nearby, far-away, strangers, close friends, and who knows what else.  Adults today can move into the privacy sphere of technology completely ignoring those around them. Even the elderly take great pride and find much comfort in being able to have the constant companion of their note pads or smart phones or other devices – even at the expense of carrying on a conversation with the person at the same table. Driving in a car to some place – a vacation – once provided the people in this confined environment an opportunity to play games of many kinds – counting the number of white horses, remembering a series of animal names beginning with ‘A is for Alligator’ and continuing on through the alphabet until someone started with ‘Z is for Zebra, and Y is for . . . ‘ and so forth, finding the letters of the alphabet (in order) one the various signs we saw.  Sometimes we’d even sing songs together.    

Very recently I’ve been able to travel considerable distances to visit friends and relatives and many times find myself being bombarded by the insidious nature of these gadgets.  People don’t play board games or card games or outdoor games anymore preferring the instant gratification (albeit a personal rather than a group activity) of the ‘video games’.  “Look what my new camera can do,” he says and the whole  group admires the gadget.  “Have you seen these new iPads?” she asks, and the whole group listens to her pride and joy at discovering a new app.  “I’ve forgotten my password,” they say and everyone offers up the ‘solution’ to finding or resetting the passwords for various extensions of these gadgets. Occasionally, the most significant conversation is “I want that outlet so that I can plug my (name a gadget) in.”  Married couples might fly away with each party carrying an iPad.  Any conversation will probably be centered on something derived from the gadget – sometimes only a clearer explanation about what the gadget can do. 

Dads and Grandmothers may have been replaced by this ‘brave new world’ and I am concerned.  My children grew up in a world of board games, card games, family sing-a-longs, story telling, hobbies like art and sewing and building things with their hands – a world quite different from the world of ‘Angry Birds’ and ‘Words With Friends’ and on and on.  I’m proud that my children have learned to win and to lose, and do each graciously.  But more importantly, they have learned that the fun in participating is more important than these.  And, the interaction with others during the games is more valuable than being able to respond quickly to a computerized instrument.  One of the games I’ve enjoyed over the years is a card game we call ‘500’.  I’ve been able to share this game with many of my friends as we gather together and play – not necessarily to win, but rather to have a chance to connect and enjoy one another’s company – to share the joys of life and to help carry the burdens life sometimes brings.  One couple in our group has taught their young grandchildren  to play ‘500’ and this Grandmother and Grandfather are compelled to play when they are with the youngsters – and the grandparents report that the kids ‘ . . . just love to play that game’.  How many grandchildren today will experience that joy of competing in good fun with Grandma and Grandpa?  

There is an ‘insidious’ force moving forward in today’s new world, I think, and we may be too far into it before we realize the cost of that force will be greater than we think. So, I’ve done what I often criticize other for doing – that is, to detail ‘. . what’s wrong here . . ‘ without providing any kind of ‘ . . so this is what we need to do about it . . ‘  After I’ve heard from you, I’d like to be able to pull together some positive suggestions for ‘using’ all of this remarkable technology with out ‘mis-using’ or ‘abusing’ it!  

Now, the ‘ball’ is in your court.  What do you think?