Wednesday, 29 February 2012


I just read somewhere that if you want an extra day, you just had one.  What did you do with it? The reference was to February 29,  being Leap Day and if you didn't catch the recent 30 Rock episode devoted to a celebration of Leap Day, find it.  It's worth a chuckle or two, especially Leap Day William.

My own take on an extra day is that every day is a gift and a great way to begin the day is to start with that same question, what will you make of it?  You see, the truth is that we don't actually know how many days we will have, as they are definitely numbered, and we're most fortunate, for many reasons, to have come this far.  Thus, I start out also with gratitude for being given the opportunities that lie ahead to make the most of this day, today, February 29.  That it is presented once every four years to catch up with a rather weird calendar of minutes in an hour, hours in a day, days in a week, weeks in a month and months in a year is of no consequence.

For a long, long time, since I was a kid who delighted in snow (and still do), I have had this vision of a new day being like newly fallen snow.  No one, especially me, had made any tracks in it yet.  I look out on this new day and there it is, laid out for me in all its splendor with hundreds of possibilities and choices as to how I will engage, with whom, on what terms, for what purpose and where I will be present and make a mark.  And the day begins.

I have a routine, like most people, and mine starts with some meditation, reflection and prayer, often before my feet hit the floor, but many times while sitting or even standing upright.  Position can be very important for thinking, feeling, seeing, musing and planning.  Right now, to my left, is a large body of water, Elliott Bay, in Seattle.  Since I live in the high desert, I often choose to stay on or very near water when I travel as it gives me a deep and visceral connection with one of the elements that nurtures life including my own.

I have already started making my tracks in this day and they will continue with an informal breakfast meeting with a colleague and friend, more encounters and conversations at a national conference of several thousand educators, welcoming my wife flying up from California, seeing long time friends and associates, enjoying a dinner this evening sponsored by an architectural firm in San Antonio and so on.  I will avoid as many formal meetings as possible and probably end the day by reading some of my current night stand book, A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change.  And I will finally review the day to see what kinds of tracks I made, the swiggly curves here and there, the intersections, the pathways, the connections and then turn it over, let it go
and welcome sleep.  At least, that's the outline and plan.   Will it go exactly as I think it will?  Of course not and that's perfectly OK.  I am open to learning something new and taking a different tack.

Since I regard each new day as a gift, to be unwrapped, surprised by grace and celebrated joyfully as often as possible it's even exciting to contemplate the possibilities.  Will they all be realized?  No, but if I can even embrace 50% of the possibilities that lie ahead, what a great day it will be!  I hope you enjoy your day, that you make the most and best of it and have the time of your life.  Now, off I go to see what I can give to this day that has been given to me. 

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Honoring Dad - February 24, 1912

My Dad would have been 100 yesterday and my thoughts about him included a lot of memories that are both vivid and meaningful.  In my 75th year, I have now lived ten years beyond what he was given. During those 42 years that I knew him, loved him and was guided and inspired by him, much of what I learned remains of value for me to this day and thus I want to honor not only his life but so much that he gave to me and many others.

He and my mother started their life together just out of high school.  Neither of them went to college and they worked together in a butcher shop and grocery store in West Manchester, Ohio.  A few years later, my Dad went to work as a salesman for a wholesale grocery company, Westerfield Brothers, and they moved 14 miles north to Greenville, Ohio.  That is where I was born in 1937, and my brother appeared 4 years later.  I remember Dad settling up his accounts on a card table in our living room and he advanced in that business to become Vice-President in charge of Finance.  The business liquidated after World War II with the advent of large chain grocery stores that replaced all the Mom and Pop stores that Westerfield's serviced.  Dad went on to become the GM of a car dealership and finally was the city auditor in his later years.  When he was appointed, and later elected, I recall a friend saying that it looked like he was going to be on the public dole.  My Dad responded with, "If I can't save you and this city enough to pay my salary several times over, then I shouldn't have the job."  Needless to say perhaps but he was successful not only in managing the city's finances efficiently but also in building new water and sewage treatment plants, in improving public safety and fire protection, and in taking care of the city's infrastructure that included streets, utilities and parks.

Here are a few selected highlights of my memories of my Dad..  He loved to fish, finally bought a small 12' Sears fiberglass boat and a Johnson 10 horse outboard motor and we would haul that thing all the way to Ontario every summer for many years to enjoy a week in a cabin at Twin Pines on Lake Mississagagon.  My brother still returns there from time to time with his son and grandson although I haven't been back but once after we stopped going as a family.  My Dad also taught me to hunt, mostly rabbits and pheasants and squirrels, and for him it was more for food than sport as he was a product of The Great Depression and knew many survival skills.   He was also a great DIY guy and had a small wood shop in the basement complete with table saw, jig saw, sander and many hand tools.
Not only did he know how to butcher both big and small animals, but he could build things, paint houses, plant gardens and fix just about anything.  I was often surprised by how much he knew and how he had learned all that he did including accounting and bookkeeping.

My Dad was active as a Boy Scout leader, as a Sunday School teacher and both he and my mother sang in the church choir.  They had many friends, many of which emanated from their church community and we often visited with other families and celebrated many holidays with several families or relatives.  Trips to grandparents homes for Sunday dinners were frequent as well. My Dad's big trip was to Hong Kong, a trip that my mother won on some radio contest.  He wrote a letter to me and one to my brother, said we were only to open them in the event of power failure while aloft or some other unforeseen event that might prevent their return.  I never saw that letter but I can easily imagine that it said everything was in order, they owed no one anything and that we would find directions for how their estate was to be handled.  For that is how it was when he died and later on as well, when my mother, at 96, also left this world.  He was always prepared.

There were many life lessons that my Dad gave to me one way or another.  I know that I often challenged his and my mother's parental prerogatives and usually, instead of just being punished for some infraction or misstep, he included a learning experience.  When I was caught smoking cigars behind the garage with Harvey Wilt, I had to write on a yellow legal pad, 500 times, "I will not smoke until I am old enough to know better."   I never did acquire a taste for tobacco.   When I lifted a comic book from the G.C. Murphy 10 cents store, he made me take it back and confess my transgression in person to the manager.  I was both ashamed and embarrassed sufficiently not to try that one again.

One Sunday, sitting in those hard, oak church pews, I saw the ushers passing large brass plates into which people were putting real money and envelopes with money in them.  We had a box of those envelopes and every week as much as $10 or more went into that envelope to be placed in that offering plate.  I asked my Dad if I could take some money out and he, with his characteristic wisdom and candor, said, "Yes, you can take some out, but remember always to put in more than you take out."  That was a life lesson that extended far beyond church!

Dad lived his life in service to others whether as a public servant, a member of a local service club or as a community leader.  He was a Civil Defense Air Raid Warden during World War II, he helped other people with businesses and farms with their taxes and accounting, he helped his own family of origin with their own needs and projects and gave unselfishly of this time and talent to many causes which he believed to be important.  He seemed to me to be someone who wanted to make things better and he was very good at finding ways to do that.  I know he made me a lot better and for that I am both blessed and grateful.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Learning from Choice and Consequence

Some years ago I learned that over 85% of adolescents believe that consequences can only be negative, undesirable and to be avoided.  When I explained that it’s possible to have a good consequence the kids thought that was an oxymoron or a contradiction of terms.  I said that consequence is synonymous with result and that depending on the choice, the consequence can be either positive and constructive or negative and destructive. 
As I pursued the reasons why most kids believed the negative association with consequences, it became clear that parents had, in many instances communicated a message or a response that “suffering the consequences” was a punishment for making a bad choice. They had not communicated that it’s possible to have a “good” consequence.  Parents weren’t alone in this communication as teachers and other adult authority figures beam the same message, consequences are undesirable.  Actually, they are unavoidable as there is a result for every choice we make.  How can we help others learn from the choices they have made and learn in advance for the choices they are yet to make?
One way to help people learn the choice/consequence relationship is to ask them to provide examples of both kinds of choices , good and not so good, and to consider the results of those actions, behaviors or choices.  By examining their own personal choices there could be a greater likelihood for them to internalize the message rather than an adult providing the example.  Then, ask those same people to make some projections into the future.  Since every choice now in front of them is either in the present or the future and past choices cannot be changed, they can realize that they have greater power to influence the outcome in the next choice.  Ask what might they like to change if they really had an opportunity to do something over again.  What can be learned from that careful, thoughtful review?
In order to change the outcome or at least influence a result which might be more to our liking, it’s important that we consider the options in advance.  We might even want to review the choices and see what others might be available and not limit ourselves to an either/or proposition.  There could well be a third or even fourth option yet to be considered.  One specific example is when someone is faced with a yes or no request, a third option could be to wait and get more information.  That could yield a more intelligent choice with a better outcome (consequence) than projected originally.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

It's About Time!

Here is an interesting phrase, “taking time off” because one can not really ever turn time off.  What we mean is "time out" from the usual and ordinary, perhaps to invest in the unusual and extraordinary.   Like it says in the old ads for Timex, it just keeps on ticking and one day, we will run out of time, or walk out, or lie down and check out.  Think of some of the amusing ways people speak about time.  “I didn’t have time to do it.”  What they really mean is they did not choose to take the time to do it, whatever “it” was, but who is going to say that?    How about this one?  “It’s time to eat.”  That was mother calling from the kitchen.  Whether you were actually hungry or not didn’t matter.  It was “time” for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  One family I knew quite well, not my own, sat down precisely at 5:30 PM every evening for dinner and everyone was expected to be there and be on time.  Being “on time” is highly important to many people but different cultures regard that behavior with more or less value.  Personal priorities about being “on time” may also vary.
Researchers have found that individuals are divided in two groups in the ways they approach time.  The Iowa State University Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning puts it this way:
"Monochronic individuals are those who prefer to complete one task at a time. For them, task-oriented time is distinguished from socio-emotional time. In other words, there is a time to play and a time to work. These individuals value punctuality, completing tasks, and keeping to schedules. They view time as if it were linear, that is, one event happening at a time. Examples of monochronic cultures include the U.S., Israel, Germany, and Switzerland.
Polychronic individuals, on the other hand, are more flexible about time schedules; they have no problem integrating task-oriented activities with socio-emotional ones. For them, maintaining relationships and socializing are more important than accomplishing tasks. These individuals usually see time in a more holistic manner; in other words, many events may happen at once. Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa are places where the polychronic orientation prevails.
In certain cities in the U.S., it is not uncommon for us to find timetables or daily schedules for buses or trains. If the bus is to be at a certain stop at 10:09 PM, for example, one can expect that to happen at the designated time, give or take a minute.
For polychronic individuals such precise timetables are mind-boggling, as many of them are simply used to going to the bus stop and waiting – not knowing whether they will be waiting for five or forty-five minutes. That is just the way things are.
This difference in time orientation is reflected in the complaints of U.S. business people conducting business in Saudi Arabia or in Mexico, for example. A big source of frustration for them is the difficulty of getting through a meeting’s agenda. That is because in these countries meetings begin with an extended socializing time in which time is spent establishing social rapport – usually over many cups of coffee or tea."
We are often like Pavlov’s dog.  The bell rings and we respond whether by changing activities, answering a call or checking something in the oven.  We are conditioned and regulated by time.  It’s “time” to go to bed.  It’s “time” to get up.  It’s “time” to go to work.  It’s “time out” and “time” to start again.  It’s “time” for the meeting.  It’s “time” to leave in order to get there in a reasonable amount of time.  It’s all about time and yet time is an invention, a construct for our convenience and we are bound by it.  How we measure time and how we use it reveals an enormous amount about who we are as individuals and who we are as a culture.
Here’s a phrase that amuses me because of the double entendre. “It’s about time” we say, meaning usually that we have waited for some time for something or other to happen and finally, it has taken place. Whether that expresses gratitude, relief or annoyance depends upon the context.  A long-awaited package arrives at the door and we say, “It’s about time!”   And really, it is simply that it has taken longer than was expected or desired for the delivery to be accomplished.  Big deal!  Get over it!  At least we got the package.
In order to get more done in the same amount of time the phenomenon of multi-tasking has appeared and it seems to have arrived in conjunction with the advent of computers that are able to perform several functions at the same time.   Recent research at Stanford on multi-tasking shows that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.

High-tech jugglers are everywhere – keeping up several e-mail and instant message conversations at once, text messaging while watching television and jumping from one website to another while plowing through homework assignments.  But after putting about 100 students through a series of three tests, the researchers realized those heavy media multi-taskers are paying a big mental price.

When it comes to our brain’s ability to pay attention, the brain focuses on concepts sequentially and not on two things at once. In fact, the brain must disengage from one activity in order to engage in another. And it takes several tenths of a second for the brain to make this switch. As John Medina, author of “Brain Rules” says: “To put it bluntly, research shows that we can’t multitask. We are biologically incapable of processing attention-rich inputs simultaneously.” (

When we are in situations where there are multiple sources of information coming from the external world or emerging out of memory, we are apparently not able to filter out what's not relevant to our current goal.  That failure to filter means we are slowed down by that irrelevant information."

However, that said, there are examples and instances that may show some exceptions and here is one such illustration.  The song, “The Time of My Life” which was the music and lyrics used in the final scene of the movie Dirty Dancing with Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, was written by Frankie Previte.   Previte said: "I received a call from Jimmy Ienner who asked me to write a song for this little movie.  I told him I didn't have the time and he said, 'Make time. This could change your life.'"  Frankie's former bandmate John DeNicola and his friend Don Marowitz came up with the music for the song. Says Previte, "I received a track from John and Donny and I wrote the lyric and melody for the chorus in the car while I was driving along the Garden State Parkway, going to a studio session for another song."

Here’s the message:  Making or taking time to do what is really important can change your life. The question is, what is really important?  And if you’re driving, be careful!