Archive for March, 2015

hell two

What a hell of a week it was here on Mother Earth. There’s growing evidence that the co-pilot of a reputable airline deliberately crashed the plane into the French Alps killing all aboard.  Boko Haram militants kidnapped more than 500 women and children in Nigeria. A jury is considering the case against the Boston Marathon bomber.  Isis troops continue to terrorize the Middle East.  A fraternity’s video of a racially insensitive and inappropriate “sing-along” goes viral.  Locally (Orange County, NY) a school district’s language week Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic ignites a national debate on what it means to be an American and what is considered un-American. And did I mention a few elected officials around the country were either arrested or charged with a laundry list of crimes.

While the last item doesn’t cause many of us to lose any sleep, the other events should definitely keep us awake at night.  Are we going to hell in a hand basket or is it human life as usual?  From my limited perspective and sense of history I fear that it is all more of the same.  We’ve been going to hell in a hand basket  for hundreds of thousands of years.  Take any period in history and you’ll see that we’ve f*^**ed at every turn.

If we haven’t been slaughtering one another over a piece of land, we’ve been killing us because of different religious beliefs, different political philosophies and mainly because one group has what another group wants.

We might be living in the chronological 21st Century, but all across the globe there are people living physically, emotionally and mentally in the 6th, 11th, 15th and 19th centuries.  Even here in techno-America we have people who use the latest forms of modern technology only to have an 18th century mindset when it comes to views on gender, race and religion.

For the purpose of this post let’s take a look at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (Oklahoma University) racial chant.  Not that such a chant would or should have ever been tolerated, but would we agree that if the chant had been chanted 100 years ago it would not have raised as many worried eyebrows than as it does today?

What we tolerated in the past often comes back to haunt us…as it should. Our past blunders should not be swept under the carpet. We all need to come face-to-face with our prejudices and realize that what we once thought of as “acceptable” was wrong, wrong, wrong.

But here’s the problem. We never seem to be on the same page at the same time when it comes to pressing issues.  Our racial prejudices run deep. I am embarrassed to admit how insensitive my own father was with some of the things he said, despite the fact that he was “relatively” open-minded…sometimes.

I don’t remember where I read it, but I was impressed by an article that talked about how we are well-wired by the time we are seven or eight. The author meant that most of our belief systems are wired and that wiring system often impacts what and how we think as adults. And this despite the fact that by the time we are adults we are supposed to be better educated.

Words that were commonplace when I was growing up were racially, theologically and socially insensitive. Even generally accepted terms for people….African-Americans were called “colored People” when I was very young. Today, such a term would label the user a racist…as it should.

So what do we do?  Do we throw up our hands and say there’s nothing we can do? Or do we subscribe to the butterfly effect? And by that I mean we hope that every little thing we say and every act we make an impact because we believe it will spread.

If it’s true that we are going to hell in a hand basket, the worst  thing we can do is waste our time making fire-retardant baskets because we’re still be going to hell. The only way we can change our course is to root out ignorance and that will only happen if each of us stands up and speaks out against any and all forms of intolerance and injustice.

hell one


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Driving on my way to my second job from my eight a.m. public speaking class at Marist, I got to thinking, which happens to be the bane of my existence. Nonetheless, I can’t help it. Cogito, ergo sum. (I think, therefore I am)

The students in my class were supposed to listen to David McCullough, Jr.’s 2012 high school commencement You are not special speech and react/respond to it,  Having been raised in a world where being special is commonplace, I can’t fault any of the students with being confused by a message telling them they aren’t special.

McCullough backed up his theory with some interesting statistics: “Across the country no fewer than 3.2 million seniors are graduating about now from more than 37,000 high schools.  That’s 37,000 valedictorians… 37,000 class presidents… 92,000 harmonizing altos… 340,000 swaggering jocks… 2,185,967 pairs of Uggs.  But why limit ourselves to high school?  After all, you’re leaving it.  So think about this: even if you’re one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you.”

One student suggested that instead of using the word “special,” we should say “different.”  I’m alright with that.  If we are not special, we are definitely different. But here’s the problem with that. The average high school student does not want to be different because being different sets us aside. Being different causes us to be noticed. It’s better, many people believe, not to be different because that way you can fly under the radar of scrutiny.

But let’s back up to my ride from Marist. While the highway was clear, the ground all around me was covered with the remnants of three or four winter storms. The snow-covered landscape reminded me of humanity. It was an endless expanse of a sea of white despite the fact that the whole was made up of millions if not billions of snowflakes. And if you remember anything about snowflakes, not two of them are alike.  Each snowflake is different. And rather than say each snowflake is special, I would have to say that each snowflake is unique.

I don’t believe that special and unique are synonyms. The word special is a limited descriptive while the word unique is a characteristic.

We are unique. At no time in human history has there ever been anyone like us. After us the mold was broken. Being unique doesn’t have to mean we are special. It simply means we have untapped potential. We are not limited. Our destiny is not etched in stone. It’s ours to explore.

In a world where any antic could go viral at any minute, we might feel anonymous. In a world filled with people craving to be recognized we need to take a deep breath and realize we don’t have to win an Oscar, a Nobel Prize, or any of the other thousands of awards we have created to set us aside to be special. All we need to do is live in and for the moment in the little part of the world we call home at the moment. In that moment if we can be the source of goodness, we will discover that being special doesn’t matter.  What matters is that we have discovered the meaning of meaning.

If you don’t believe me, I suggest you grab a copy of The Velveteen Rabbit or The Little Prince. 

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elephants three

Ringling Brothers Circus just announced that the elephants at long last are going to pack their trunks and “hightail it out of town”. I guess that means the Elephant Man might be forever banned from Broadway and that Babar might stop wearing that silly suit of his and go au natural.

Despite the fact that as a kid I loved watching the elephants on parade, I was unaware of how tortuous an experience it was for elephants to be trained. And while Dorothy never ran into an elephant on the yellow brick road (come to think of it, if she had, she would have noticed it) that doesn’t mean the elephant metaphor or analogy on the YBR is absent.

Elephant training is reduced to breaking an elephant’s will and destroying its spirit. An amazing creature, the largest land mammal in fact, is subdued and broken by a tiny mammal (man) in comparison.

Unfortunately man the miniscule is responsible for breaking the will and destroying the spirit of not only other species, but of other human beings.  Some of man’s mistreatment of man is obvious. But that’s the subject for someone else’s blog.

For the moment I want you to think about how we educate our children. For a moment I ask you to remove teachers from the equation because most of the teachers I know or have known have nothing but their students’  best interests in mind.

However, the very nature of a public or state-dependent education reduces children to circus elephants who are trained to perform certain tricks that are (supposedly) better for society. Having spent only a brief part of my work life as a teacher and having only earned a master’s degree in education very, very late in life, I cannot call myself an education expert.

But that’s not going to stop me from making certain accusations about the way we educate our children. Mass education prohibits individualization. Mass education has no choice but to reduce children to robots. Mass education is forced to stigmatize the child who is the outlier.  Unfortunately most of us throw up our hands and say there’s nothing we can do because education is what it is.  To this I say elephant poop.  (I can’t say BS because that’s been copyrighted by another animal.)

If the purpose of education remains the act of forming students into specific shapes to fit in very specific holes we will continue to see history repeat itself. If the purpose of education is to have our students perform the same tricks in the same way, then we’re succeeding because that’s what’s happening.

I say three cheers for circus elephants because they are, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. “Free. Free at last!”  Now all we need to do is free the young elephants we have in the classroom.


Photo from “The Elephant in the Classroom”


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While you’d think there was enough gold to mine in the metaphor called the yellow brick road, I want to take Peter Pan out of Neverland for a moment and put him in Oz. I am doing this because the story of Peter Pan is high on my list of stories that have many layers of meaning and there’s one particular part of the J. M. Barrie story that is relevant to the journey along the yellow brick road. And that part has to do with Peter Pan’s shadow.

Dorothy was looking for a place over the rainbow where her dreams could come true. Peter, who we could say actually lived over the rainbow, needs to come back to earth to retrieve his shadow. In the blink of an eye he gets his shadow reattached and that’s it. Nothing more is ever made of Peter’s shadow.  I think that there’s much more to it than that.

The shadow is a part of religion, folklore, literature, and psychology.  The shadow has many different definitions and meanings. Many of the meanings are very dark and ominous. And while I can understand the many meanings of shadow, I don’t see it as a symbol of death or of bad things to come, as when the shadow is used in murder mystery movies to scare the bejeebies out of us.

When I was a kid my shadow was my friend. I can remember spending hours chasing after it and being chased by it. When I saw my shadow I knew it was a good day because it meant the sun was shining. I didn’t know it, but my shadow was an extension of me. It was a projection of who I was. In good times and bad, my shadow always stuck with me. And that’s why Peter Pan was so desperate to get his shadow back. He felt lost without it.

There’s no mention of shadows in the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but I do believe that Dorothy was motivated by her shadow to follow it on the yellow brick road.

But what about our own shadow?  As adults we rarely ever pay attention to it because we’re too busy. I wouldn’t even go so far as to say that somewhere along the line we lost our shadow…and we don’t even know it.

Peter Pan didn’t want to grow up, a condition that prompted modern age therapists to give it a negative label. But I say that we’ve made a mistake. If growing up means growing out of dreaming, out of hoping and no longer believing in possibilities, then I want no part of it.

The next time you see your shadow, get reacquainted with it. You might see an older face looking back at you when you look in the mirror, but your shadow never ages.

shadow play

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Teaching an 8 a.m. college public speaking class is like being a stand up comic in a morgue. There’s no signs of life, However, I make an attempt every class to bring my “A” game even though most of my students are too tired to play.

Yesterday I showed my class a TED speech that I had not pre-viewed, primarily because many times I have to wing it in an attempt to stimulate the brain cells and I’m trusting in the fickle hand of fate that maybe I’ll strike gold. (In the case of teaching a required college class striking lead or plastic would be an accomplishment.)

TED Speech


In the proverbial nutshell (in the event you are neither inclined to watch the TED speech nor do you have the time) the speaker made the following statement. “90 percent of everything is crap.”  My immediate reaction was, “OMG, did I pick the wrong speech to show.”

Boy was I wrong.  The speaker’s point was that during the average day 90 percent of what happens is routine, mundane, groundhog dayish…or crap.  But, it’s the other 10 percent that makes the difference. And that ten percent is that part of our day when the universe is reaching out to us and tapping us on the shoulder begging us to take notice. It’s what we might call “coincidence.”

I don’t believe coincidence is the time you when you’re shopping at Harrod’s in London and you bump into Gladys Smith, an American neighbor. Rather, a coincidence has to go a bit deeper. Imagine you are shopping in Harrod’s and you see something and you say to yourself, “Boy, Gladys Smith would love this,” or something to that effect, and the next thing you know, you turn around and there’s Gladys holding the item in her hand.

But even that doesn’t capture the real meaning of a coincidence. In my fragmented belief system, a coincidence is what you do when a chance occurrence happens. I believe a coincidence is the key that opens the doors of opportunity. And as such, nothing will happen unless you open the door!

Dorothy’s adventure in Oz was filled with a number of real coincidences. She drops in on a witch and before she knows it she’s wearing the witches Prada shoes. (I think it was a coincidence that Dorothy and the Witch had the same shoe size.)

Every step Dorothy took along the yellow brick road offered her another opportunity.

In her case, the bleak and drab Kansas landscape was Dorothy’s 90%. The wonderful land of Oz was her 10%.

How many times does opportunity knock but we don’t answer the door?  Remember, “Opportunity is not a lengthy visitor.”

When coincidence does tap us on the shoulder we have to think it through and turn the mundane into magic.

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