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Donald-Trump-the-Scarecrow-Without-a-Brain--127373

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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witch

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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crayoladandelion

Word went out on March 30, 2017 that Crayola was going to retire Dandelion, one of eight new colors introduced in 1990. Dandelion wasn’t the first color to be retired. Six colors introduced along with 32 other colors in 1903 when Crayola changed the way we colored as children, bit the dust seven short years later in 1910 (RIP: Permanent Geranium Lake, Dark Venetian Red, Light Venetian Red, Celestial Blue, Charcoal Grey and Raw Sienna.

Yellow crayons have never been given their due in Crayola’s long history.  It should come as no surprise that word of Dandelion’s retirement was met with a degree of sadness on the YBR for two reasons, the first being the direct connection with the Cowardly Lion (The word dandelion is a corruption of the French “dent de lion” – the lion’s tooth) and the second has to do with the “yellow brick road.”

For the moment let’s forget about the color and name connection of the soon to be retired crayon and focus on the word “retired.”

While many people are overjoyed when they “retire,” there are some who rue the day when they are the guest of honor at their own retirement gala. Being retired is, in some ways, like being taken off the shelf.   In baseball jargon it means to be put out…not a very positive term.

With a growing number of baby boomers choosing not to “retire” either because they like to work or because they have no choice, the word retirement needs to be…retired.

We have been conditioned to look upon the time we spend toiling in the market place working or tending a career as the penultimate time of our lives.

I disagree.  While it might be our longest stretch, it does not have to be the most important part of our lives, nor should it be the defining time of our lives.

Consider this. In our youth we don’t say we’ve retired from high school or college. We say we’ve graduated.  The word graduate carries with it a forward motion.  It means growth as in taking the next step.

I say that instead of anyone of us “retiring,” I think we should say we are graduating, graduating to another level in life.

Crayola might be retiring “dandelion,” but our true color never has to, nor should it ever… retire.

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rain on the YBR

With the exception of a freak snow storm that blanketed the poppy field, I don’t believe it ever rained in Oz. But, as that old Ella Fitzgerald song goes, “into each life some rain must fall.”

As I write this blog it is cold, cloudy and an annoying rain continues to fall as it has done all day, as it did yesterday and two days before that…and likely the rain will continue to fall tomorrow.

I don’t think it’s accidental that our spirits sag as the weather sogs. Gloomy days challenge us to rise to any occasion.

Worse than literal rainy days are spiritual rainy days when we have doubts about almost everything. The weight of the world seems to settle on our shoulders.  All we want to do is find sanctuary under covers in a nice warm bed.

The world is filled with people who live from one spiritually rainy day to another. Unfortunately when the sun does break through the clouds many of these people continue to be burdened by cloudy skies.

So many of us are unaware of the clouds that hover over people we come into contact on a daily basis.

Despite Dorothy’s grey life in Kansas she did believe in looking for a rainbow.  I believe with some understanding we can be a rainbow in someone’s life. If we can remember how we felt when the “rain began falling on our heads,” we might better understand how sadness grips other people.

rainbow on ybr

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english muffin whole

With social media taking over our lives I fear that we’ve moved from having superficial relationships to having what I call “surface-ficial” relationships. Many of us are no deeper than our facebook profile photo. Of course that’s not true, but it is so much safer and easier to be surface people. But as we trod the YBR we gain so much along the way.  Every knock and every boost goes into making us who we are. But rather than reveal the inner us, we show the world our outside.

Just think about the many people who have been or still are in your life. Just think about the hundreds upon hundreds of people you have met and will meet on the YBR. Because we travel the YBR at breakneck speed we don’t have the time to see more than what we see on the outside of  person.  Of course there are people whose insides show on the outside.  Sadness seems to rise to the surface and hardships also can shape the surface.  Happiness and joy can also radiate on the surface as well. But for the most part we hide much of what is inside us.

In the classic musical “A Chorus Line,” the opening lines in the opening song say, “Who am I anyway. Am I my resume.”  Well, modern man can often be reduced to a resume, but that only scratches the surface.

Take the ordinary English Muffin. On the surface it looks like most other English Muffins. It’s not until you fork-split one, that you reveal what the makers of Thomas’ English Muffins call the nooks and crannies.

nooks and crannies

If you fork split open a person you reveal not just nooks and crannies, but every knock and every boost of a person’s life.  In short, once fork-split, we reveal our character. And it’s only after you do this can you actually understand who someone is and how someone became the person they are.

So many people who mean something to us step off the YBR without us ever having ever seen all those “nooks and crannies.”  And once gone, it’s too late.

I had an Aunt Mary who was an extraordinary English Muffin.  Fortunately as I got older (and I dare say, wiser) I got to see inside my Aunt Mary.  She had far many more knocks than she did have boosts, from being abused by a wicked step-mother, to having a very challenging marriage to my uncle that eventually led to a permanent separation.

But through it all and sharing all her love to raise two amazing sons, she glowed and had a laugh that was contagious.

Unless we see the “nooks and crannies” that make up a person, we can never say we know them.  Unless we are willing to let people see our “nooks and crannies,” we will never be authentic.

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wicked witch

Today we toss words around like a volleyball and as a result the words not only lose meaning but get turned inside out.  The word “deserve” comes to mind because a young neighbor of ours just lost his mother suddenly and his father, who is divorced from the mother, is battling cancer.  My wife said that no family deserves that much hardship.  And while I agreed with her that such a burden was more than anyone can handle, I disagreed with the word “deserve.”

A very old word that once simply meant the benefits accord to someone who was worthy of them because of what they had done.  Being deserving was not a trivial honor. It was a high form of “earned”recognition.

Today you might hear someone say that a young Boy Scout who was working in a soup kitchen did not deserve to have his bike stolen or the young rock star did not deserve such praise and adulation.  In both cases the sense of deserving is purely subjective.  We, in our often misguided ways, think we have a right to determine who should or should not be deserving.

Did the Wicked Witch of the East deserve to die when the housing market dropped?  She was evil and if we are to believe the Munchkins, she ruled Munchkin Land as a cruel despot. So, did she get what she deserved? And did the Wicked Witch of the West get what she deserved by being melted away?

I believe in the demise of the Wicked Witches we are talking about our sense of justice which is “the administering of deserved punishment or reward.”

In our daily and ordinary lives we often confuse deserving or not deserving of something with our sense of “fairness.”  We don’t think it’s fair when someone we believe is good , and therefore deserving of good tidings, is stricken with cancer or suffers some tragedy.  We also don’t think it’s fair when a rich and powerful person gets richer or more powerful…for no reason.

We need to forget about deserving and fairness in the human condition unless we can say justice has been abused.  And when justice is abused we not only have the right, we have the obligation to fight to see that justice triumphs.

I think the worst thing we can do is bring in a “supernatural being” into the equation as if this “being” is the cause of or responsible for usually allowing bad things to happen. When we do this we minimize we make ourselves a pitiful victim of a whimsical god.

Bottom line?  We should be advocates for justice (and mercy). And we should stop thinking we deserve anything just because.  I don’t “deserve” to be treated fairly.  I can’t be responsible for other people’s actions. I can only be responsible for the way I think and the way I act.  I need to live each day being a positive force.  I need to be kind and caring. I need to put others before me. But that does not mean I should not stand strong against injustice.   That’s where I stand firm and say no one “deserves” to be the victim of injustice.

Complicated…right?

 

 

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ybr

Face Book always wants to know what’s on your mind. Most FB followers are less interested in what’s really on your mind, preferring to see selfies, cat videos, and quotes about how much they love third cousins (pease like and share).  A blog, on the other hand encourages you to speak your mind. So, what’s on my mind?  Roads. Those taken and those not taken.

When I think about roads, two thoughts immediately come to mind.  The classic Robert Frost poem and M. Scott Peck’s best seller “The Road Less Traveled.”

Apparently L. Frank Baum was not interested in the road conundrum. When Dorothy met the Scarecrow she was not at a crossroad.  She didn’t wonder which way to go. She and the Scarecrow engaged in the usual blah-blah-blah and in short order were off to see the Wizard.  (I believe the yellow brick road Dorothy was traveling on was her road less traveled.)

For whatever reason, the filmmakers wanted Dorothy to have to make a choice.  It’s funny, but after all the pondering, the movie lacks any dialogue on why Dorothy and the Scarecrow did take the road they eventually took.

Looking back on my highway I can say without fear of contradiction that choosing the road to take is not a once-in-a-lifetime event.  In fact we are constantly having to choose the road to take. Sometimes we take the well-traveled road and less frequently we take the less-traveled road.

Every semester when I begin teaching the one course I teach, I ponder the question of which road to take.  Every semester I am greeted with twenty new faces.

I am teaching the GPS generation.  They were born knowing where they wanted to go and they seem to know exactly what road/s they have to take to get there…wherever there is.

I am the scarecrow they meet on the road.  To be honest, most students do not want to engage in conversation let alone take me down and invite me to travel along with them.

The dilemma I face every semester is do I act like a brainless scarecrow? Do I just smile, go through the academic motions and keep my big mouth shut? Or. Or. Or do I rip myself off the wood frame and open my big mouth?

Why would I want to do that?  Because I believe that letting them go their merry way toward Corporate City without asking them to think about the journey would not only be a mistake, I would be missing an  opportunity to shake them up a little.

My greatest fear is that the current generation is actually lost. And that’s not a bad thing.  They should be lost, or at least they should think long and hard about the yellow brick road in their life. The current generation is so directed, so pampered and so content that rather than ask hard questions about their journey, all they want is for you, the teacher, to see they graduate with an EZPass.

I have no doubt that the students in my class will succeed.  They have been well-taught. They know what to do and how to do it to succeed. They are determined.

I am a speed bump.  I want my students to think. I want my students to question and to challenge beliefs they have taken for granted. I want them to believe they have a choice.  I want them to understand that consequences come both from taking action and from choosing to be inactive.  (You can neve escape from consequences.)

In the end I also want my students to realize that the most important thing is to make sure the road they travel is THEIR road because THEIR road is one that has never been traveled on.

It’s all about seizing opportunites. But we all need to remember that opportunity is not a lenghty visitor.

A bumper sticker from my college days gave me some food for thought: Remember, wherever you go there YOU are.

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