Archive for December, 2014


My wife and I only have a few “must-watch” shows.  We had a mini marathon last night to catch up on episodes of Scared Straight that we have recently missed.  I’m glad we saw several in a row, because in addition to be rewarded with even more surprises that I guessed incorrectly in my never ending habit of misjudging people, we had an opportunity to compare the outcomes different localities’ approaches achieved.  Admittedly, this was an insufficiently large population to make anything I am about to say other than a hypothesis…

Desperately industrious guards, along with the angels with dirty faces who can at this point save only an unappreciative stranger, went into their locally designed battle plans.  One episode in which I predicted that two of the delinquents would fail miserably, as soon as they had a hot shower and a good night of sleep, proved me wrong.  All of the delinquents were now on the right path.  In the episode that followed, I predicted two delinquents would be turned around by the experience.  I was disappointed to see that these two returned to bad habits immediately.

Other than my inadequate understanding of human behavior, I wondered what else might be in play here.  There was a difference between the strategies of the two localities.  The jail which managed to turn all four or five kids around had a lengthy one-on-one, inmate-to-kid counseling session following the “breaking them” component.  The jail from which my two hopefuls returned unimpressed had omitted this formulaic counseling session.

When the delinquents are surveyed following each visit regarding what aspect made the biggest impression upon them, they nearly always cite hearing the life story of someone who was on a nearly identical path.  Hearing a calm voice following the combat phase was the message they most remembered.

These kids are, as Victorian-era writers used to describe, “no better than they should be.”  Their parent(s) are, at best, confused and/or inexperienced.  At worst, parents fight a losing battle against their own demons, setting examples their charges have unarguable permission to follow.  Authority has lost most of its meaning.  The din of loud voices is not translated to any memorable quote; it is just yet another unwelcome loud voice in a life already full of the same.

This “basic training” jolt of reality is essential of course, just as it is in actual Basic Training.  But it would seem to be the calm rescue by their once and future self that really changes history.

We so often have the luxury of judging, without investment.  What is truly humbling is watching the blind leading the blind, picking up society’s slack from a station in which the only reward must be vicarious.


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Hero Worship

This is in response to the Daily Prompt, which is “Who is your hero?”

I used to think that the notion of “having a hero” was lame.  My childhood friends who had heroes had one dimensional characters that were equally inaccessible as the mix of fictional and real folks they were.  Whether they had chosen John Glenn or Superman, there weren’t going to be any real life lessons, other than say…flying.

But I finally do have a hero now.  As great as I might be tempted to think my accomplishments were, my hero’s are more impressive, so I clearly have more work to do.  As much progress as I seem to have made giving others the benefit of the doubt, and practicing diplomacy, my hero wrote the book on such matters.

Others consider my hero their hero as well, further validating my choice.  It seems to be the case that all who encounter my hero have a better life for that fact.  A hero is a role model.  A hero is charismatic to the degree that others want to be around, act in a similar fashion to, and learn more about that central character.  A hero suffers the danger and challenge of life in stride, and gives others the strength to do so.  Face it, your hero makes YOU a better person than you would be, left up to your own devices.

I have a holiday greeting for my hero:  Thank you so much for marrying me thirteen years ago, my love.

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I think lying is just swell.  I recall one lie in particular that Dad told me over and over again:  that he had a great deal of confidence in my ability to do anything I set out to do.  It worked, when the odds are that it should not have.  I lie every time I write the annual ratings of my subordinates.  I state that they are already making improvements in such and such area, which is what I wish them to concentrate on more during the upcoming rating period.  I lie when someone invites me to something, claiming that I have more pressing matters.  The fact is, I simply prefer to be alone most of the time, particularly to eat a sandwich without having to keep up my end of a conversation.  I lie when someone tells me they like my tie, that I like their…eyepatch/other accessory/hopefully recent haircut/”I Voted” button/springtime gait.  The truth would be that I count it a greater success simply recognizing them as someone I know, perhaps even recalling the name.

I was strolling down the street one day several decades ago, remembering at least to match the pace of my companion rather than my own hurried inclination, and that the man walks on the dangerous, curb-side of the sidewalk.  I made out the familiar shape of my best friend, approaching from the other direction.

“Jeff,” I said, “good to see you!  And I would like you to meet…um…why, her name is…um……..   Oh my God, I’m so sorry, but I cannot remember your name…”

She took my friend’s hand and announced “Hi Jeff, I’m Mary.  And I have been his sister in law for eight years now.”

I have since learned that people are the most important thing on this planet.  And to edge them closer to comfort and confidence at every junction, a little white lie can work wonders.  I have the upmost confidence in my daughter’s ability to parallel park, for instance.  And I would love to try that cinnamon/candy corn muffin that you made, but I have just embarked on a gluten-free diet on alternate mornings.  But thanks anyway…Sparky.

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The Teacher Appears

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “An Extreme Tale,”  in which we are asked to describe when the last time “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times” accurately described our life.


To get the tedious discussion of “worst” out of the way as rapidly as possible, suffice to say that I have not been under as much pressure at work since 1980 (that year being a horrendous story for another day).  There, that should do it…  On the plus side, it is sometimes the smallest gain that is the greatest.  Today, I made a huge move in the right direction regarding “clarity of purpose.”  My aha moment suddenly opened possibilities not just at work, but in every aspect of my life.  THAT is when you know you’ve just gotten it right.

The revelation was this:  almost every religion of the world has a concept roughly equivalent to “seven deadly sins.”  Rounding up and carrying the two, I suffer from approximately seven of these at any given moment.  My personal favorites are Sloth, Wrath (sometimes called the more melodic Avarice), and Envy.  I would put more effort into Avarice and Envy, but then that would make me unavailable for Sloth.  So I’m more of an armchair A/E practitioner.

At any rate, what I learned today is that when we take the other vices off the table, Sloth disappears.  Sloth is a byproduct of the other vices!  In retrospect Sloth seems to be an unconscious effort to be available for any other vice, at the expense of more “worthy” (not “more altruistic,” which is not always that motivating…but perhaps “more enriching,” “more enjoyable,” “more memorable,” or simply “more who I wish to be”) activities.

I have been making better decisions, finding more energy, and not only accepting reality–but actually enjoying keeping it real–all day now.

I know all of this must be trivial to the folks who knew it already, much sooner than the 58 years it has taken me to arrive.

But at least I have arrived.


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