Archive for the ‘Courage’ Category


I don’t take the Yellow Brick Road to work, although I imagine it too can get congested, just as congested as the local highway was this morning on my way to work.  Fortunately I saw the backup before I committed to the entrance ramp and navigated around the traffic and took an alternate route that ran parallel to the highway. I only had to look over to my left to see traffic at a standstill.

I can’t take full credit for out-smarting the potential highway snafu.  It was not a stroke of genius. It was one of those rare serendipitous moments that saved me from getting stuck in a traffic jam.

But it got me to thinking.  Why should I have been one of the lucky ones?  And more importantly, why did so many people get stuck?

Life is like that, isn’t it?  Had the people in the traffic jam only known what I did, they could have done an end run and been merrily on their way.

We live in a world where for a number of reasons….many of which are out of our control…we get stuck in traffic. Poverty and lack of education are often the leading causes of getting stuck in traffic.

There are probably as many exits on a real highway as there are in life, but more often than not we fail to take an exit. Instead we inch forward in bumper-to-bumper traffic, cursing our lot in life.

Those of us fortunate to have alternate routes at our disposal often fail to realize how blessed we are.  Our blessings should be reason enough to engage in efforts to help provide people stuck in life with the tools to exit the highway to hell.


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oz slot machine

Because most casino table games demand a degree of “know-how,” I usually head right to the slot machines because all I’m expected to do is drop some coins, or to be more accurate, load the machine with cash.

If you’ve ever played the slots you always start off with high hopes, somehow believing that you are going to hit the jackpot.  More often than not you leave the casino up a couple of bucks or in my case, down twenty bucks.

The slots hook you.  You don’t win anything on five or six spins and then you hit it for a couple of bucks.  Believing your luck might be changing you continue playing and continue playing…until.

Until you realize today was not the day you were going to hit the jackpot.  Better luck next time.

Playing the slots is a lot like traveling on the YBR.  You believe that by putting your right foot forward and investing your time, energy and heart into your journey you will make it to the Emerald City. Just when things are going your way you come across the monkey men or the Wicked Witch hurls a fire-ball at you.  Still, you believe that you’ve got to keep going.

When you’re playing the slots you’ve got to use your head.  You’ve got to consider your options.  Do you keep dropping coin in the machine that’s been eating your money or do you pick up and look for another (winning) machine?  And if you do move, how long do you stay before either finding another machine or calling it quits?

Many of us are guilty of failing to use our head when we play the YBR slot machine.  Even when the writing is on the wall, we keep dropping coin expecting a better outcome.  (Sounds like the definition of insanity.)  But in life we often invest too much time, money, heart and energy without thinking of changing our direction.

I know we are all encouraged never to give up, but sometimes it takes a lot of courage to face the facts and change our direction.

Unlike the slots at a casino, you can’t just quit the YBR. That’s never an option.  But, what is an option is to think hard about your options, heed your heart, and ultimately have the courage to make a decision that you believe is the decision that is right for you.

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oz gate guard

The 2018 Commencement Address at Emerald University

It is with dubious distinction that I stand here before the Emerald University Class of 2018. I say dubious because last year’s commencement speaker, the Wicked Witch of the West, and the recipient of an honorary doctorate, was stripped of her honorary degree because she ran afoul by misusing her power.  I found it a bit disingenuous that while the university took back her honorary doctorate, they did not return a single penny of the mega bucks she donated to said same university.

In that regard I have  nothing to fear because I have no intention of donating a single Oz buck to this university.

I stand before you a humble man. I say this in gest because I am not the least bit humble. I take pride in being proud. I don’t intend to fill the already hot air with worthless platitudes. Rather, I want to talk to you honestly in a straight-forward manner.

As you all know, or as you all should know, the Wizard of Oz was nothing but a humbug. A man who invented false news. No sooner had he landed in Oz, he began building the walled city of Oz.  And because he was so intent on keeping out what he called the un-documented, aka the “Undudes,” he hired me to stand guard at the only entry point to the Emerald City.

For years I turned back more people than you can imagine. And then I began to wonder what filled the poet, Robert Frost’s’ mind when he wrote  “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out.”

Before I lapse into a political polemic about walls, I want to steer the conversation in a different direction. I want to talk about the wall that separates the splendid garden of learning and the world you will be stepping into after you cross the stage with your diploma in hand.

When Dorothy and her three friends, and Toto, too, stopped by at the gate to Emerald City, you’ll recall that they rang the bell. When I answered the door I confused the matter by telling them the bell was out of order and that they should have knocked on the door as directed by the sign that wasn’t there.

I had no intention of letting them in to see the Wizard until Dorothy told me she was sent by the Good Witch and as proof she showed me the slippers she was wearing.  I had no choice but to let her in.

You are like Dorothy and her traveling companions. You not only knock on the door because you were instructed by a legion of  Good Witches. You have been instructed by dozens of men and woman who were eager to share their learning with you. And not only were these people you called “professors,” your Good Witches, first among your Good Witches were your parents, family, mentors, community and friends.

Today you stand before the grantors of degrees wearing metaphorical ruby slippers, a symbol of your status as a college graduate. You stand knocking on the door and I say “welcome.”  I would also like to suggest that you don’t go looking for the Wizard of Oz, because as I said earlier, he is a humbug.  I also suggest that while your entry-level job was your four-year goal, don’t think of your career as your final destination because I am here to tell you that as you cross over the portal into the “real world,” you are about to step foot on another long and winding yellow brick road.

Make sure you take your yellow brick road and not someone else’s because if you do your life will never be as full as it should have been if you follow your own yellow brick road.

Follow it, follow it, follow it, and when you do come to one of the many crossroads on the yellow brick road that you will undoubtedly encounter, listen to your head, heed your heart and have the courage to make a decision.

I officially open the door to Oz for you.  Welcome. Enjoy the journey of your life time!

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blind spot four

Have blind spots gone the way of rotary dial phones, cursive writing, and handwritten notes?  While many of those things that were part of our lives are no longer in use or no longer necessary…despite our fondness for things we once held near and dear, we have not eliminated blind spots.

That doesn’t mean we try to live our lives as if blind spots don’t exist because that’s far from the truth. In truth, we try to live our lives by denying that blind spots ever existed.

We don’t want to face the fact that we are all blind to certain things in our lives on the YBR.  We only want to get to the Emerald City. We don’t want to be mindful that there are things in our blind spot that impact the way we drive.

If you’ve ever tried to move over the left land on a highway and either hear a horn blasting you from behind or in the last second you finally see that car in your blind spot, you realize how it can scare the shit out of you.

When your heart stops racing you wonder how you forgot to take into account that there might have been a vehicle in your blind spot.

Many of us try to step on the accelerator to get ahead of those pesky shortcomings in our blind spot. We fail to realize that no matter how fast we drive ourselves those shortcomings will always be there unless we face them.

Sometimes getting spooked by something in our blind spot helps us face reality…something we often don’t want to face. It takes a lot of courage to do that.

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Illustration credit: http://www.freakingnews.com/Donald-Trump-the-Scarecrow-Without-a-Brain-Pictures-140003.asp

What do President Donald Trump, Hamlet, and The Wizard of Oz have in common?  A lot. Let me go right to a snippet of Hamlet’s often quoted soliloquy on man:

What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god!
the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!
And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?

At first glance it appears that Hamlet is giving a glowing review of man. But when the quote is taken apart and the exclamation points are changed to question marks as they are in some versions of the text, the meaning changes completely. And I believe it is closer to Shakespeare’s intended meaning.

Consider the current meaning of the expression “you’re a piece of work.”  It’s not a compliment. It’s an insult.

So, with that said, if we insert this meaning into the Hamlet quote with the change in punctuation, we come away understanding that man is not noble in reason, not infinite in faculty, etc.

To Trump’s supporters the exclamation points remain. To his detractors the question marks are in place.

For a minute take Trump’s campaign rhetoric and his political moves out of the equation and look at Trump the man, the mere mortal.  Contrary to the saying about actions speaking louder than words, President Trump’s action and words speak out loud and clear.  As a businessman he might be the great and powerful wizard, but as a man, he is a humbug.

Put Trump in Oz and he would fire the Wizard and take over control of the Wonderful Land of Oz. Where the original Wizard might have put green glasses on all the people in the Emerald City to convince them they were seeing what he wanted them to see, he knew in his heart he was misleading the people. (Take note of the word “mislead.”  It literally means to lead people astray.)

In Wizard Trump’s case, he actually believes in his “humbugary.” In truth he is the scarecrow in need of a thoughtful brain. He is also the Tin Man, in need of a compassionate heart. And he is the Lion, but not the Lion who knows he lacks courage. He is the Lion who believes he is the King of the Forest. A lion who roars, rages and tweets.

I have lived through the “reign” of a dozen presidents. My view of them as political leaders means less to me than my view of them as men. I judge them using the checklist in Hamlet’s speech.  I want a person in the White House who is noble in reason, a person who is admirable, and a person who is in action like an angel.

There’s no doubt that Obama, Bush and Clinton might have fallen short in many human areas. However, they were elevated by the office of the presidency and more often than not acted accordingly.

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The annual commencement speech at the University of Oz was delivered by the Wicked Witch of the West, her sister unable to attend the ceremony because she was bogged down with housework.

Good afternoon graduates. While it is customary to be warmly embraced by your commencement speaker, it is not in my purview to offer you hollow plaudits and pleasant platitudes. I will not coddle you, I will not play nice-nice with you, and I will most definitely not bull shit you.  You have a legitimate reason to celebrate because you did finish what you started out to do when you graduated from high school. That’s more than the close to 50% of college bound students can say who didn’t pass the finish line. But don’t get a swelled head. Across the fruited plains of America two million undergraduate degrees are being awarded.  Mathematically that means you are not even one in a million.

Economic statisticians love to point out that college graduates have a much higher life-time earning potential than non-graduates. Big deal. So you spent about $200,000 to get where you are today.  It will take you a decade to break even with your non-graduate contemporaries’ earnings. Imagine what you could have done with that $200,000.  Instead of earning 15 credits studying abroad for a semester, you could have actually lived abroad for four years and come away with a lifetime of valuable experiences.  You could have invested your $200,000 and bought a nice car with the interest.

But for the moment let’s forget about earning potential and let’s focus on what happened to you after four years on the Yellow Brick Road. What did you really learn? What did you really learn here in these hallowed halls and rolling hills that you couldn’t have learned somewhere else? How many hours did you spend in class and working on papers and projects that were wasted hours?  If your four years of college were an orange, how much juice would you have actually squeezed out?

If we were to be really honest you would know that it wasn’t the courses you took in college that made all the difference, but it was the course you set to navigate the waters of higher education. If you didn’t set a course, all the credit courses you took were for naught. But don’t think for a moment that your course had to be a rigid one because many a boat has been dashed upon the rocks because the navigator failed to trim the sails or let them fly when necessary.

Graduation is not a final destination. It’s a port. If you got the most out of your education you will see the open seas and be overwhelmed about all the opportunities that await you.

Please don’t think for a moment that your diploma is equipped with a GPS. Your diploma is like a driver’s license. And if you can remember the day you passed your road test you had no problem saying you still had a lot to learn.

Sometime in the next week or so, check your parents’ odometer and see how many miles they’ve journeyed on the Yellow Brick Road and ask them what they’ve learned in all the years they’ve been driving.

It is totally out of character for me to say anything that is not a tad wicked, but I will break character today and say this. You life is what you make of it and if I can offer you a suggestion, your life will be full of meaning if you take full responsibility for your actions, your motives and your decisions. You will never have full control of what happens to you in life, but you can retain control over how you deal with what life throws at you. So don’t spend your life blaming others.

Formal education eventually comes to an end, but learning does last a lifetime…if you choose a lifetime of learning.

Now get out of here before I turn you into a Munchkin.


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