Wednesday, 31 December 2014


I once said to Bill Moyers that one reason I enjoyed his presentations was that he was a very good teacher and I learned so much by just listening to him.  He is a great storyteller.   He responded by saying that he considered himself the student and was always eager to learn from others. As I continued to watch him, I understood what he meant as he is adept at asking penetrating and probing questions that give the conversation resonance and depth.  Thus, I continue to learn from others, from their life experiences, from their fortunes and misfortunes and mostly from their stories.

There are books and articles that speak to me for one reason or another and two recent good reads are Stephen King’s book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and Atul Gawande’s significant work Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.  King’s book is autobiographical and he ends up sharing what he has learned about good writing. Anyone tuned in to current events knows that health care in this country is broken without much hope for a quick fix. Atul Gawande, a surgeon in Boston, gives me some hope, this being his fourth book that I have devoured. I enjoy writing, thus I read widely and write narrowly. I have written two small books in the past two years, mostly for the exercise of sharing some thoughts and experiences more widely with others.  Will I write another one next year?  Time will tell.  Suggestions are welcome.

Many people start a conversation by asking what I do.  I am often tempted to answer by asking another question such as why is that important to you? Or even something more glib such as I do a lot of different things, what do you do? Of course, I know what they mean, so I try to say something that sounds half way intelligent such as I am a teacher or an educator or a project manager or a writer and at least keep the conversation alive and moving along. My goal has been to continue to try and improve the quality of life where I find it. I learned that from Larry Mellon who adopted Albert Schweitzer’s maxims of reverence for life and life being a big canvas on which you throw some paint.

I have learned what works and what the critical variables are in the equation for change and growth. It has taken me back to the beginning. I call it the circle of success: common vision, common values, common purpose. If we are to succeed in our work, in this country and elsewhere, we must learn how to build collaborative energy, listen carefully to what is being said, and just as important, what is not being said, ask questions that are penetrating and honest, discern the real from the superficial and help people move forward with passion and purpose beyond themselves.

My wish and hope for each of you is that you will have a wonder-filled 2015, full of grace and glad surprises. Remember to nourish your spirit often at the wellspring of faith, not any kind of narrowly defined religious faith, but rather faith in yourself and others that extends hope and deepens our humanity.  Let's continue to work toward a more peaceful, just and sane world and enjoy the journey along the way, listening, learning and moving on.

Monday, 22 December 2014


1.    Keep learning alive – Commit to becoming a life-long learner and whether or not you are an early adopter, consider how the world has changed and you along with it. 

2.    Step out of your comfort zone – Whether in learning something new, understanding and appreciating the opposing point of view, or becoming more facile with technology, just do it.

3.    Know yourself to the extent that it is about who you are not simply being identified by what you do.   Your passion is your work, your job allows you to do your best work.

4.    Practice this until it is ingrained in the fabric of every day.  “Tell the
truth, be kind and remember to say thank you.”  

5.    Celebrate special seasons, special days and special people.  It is easy to find them, hold them up for recognition and appreciation.

6.    Set realistic goals and empower others to help achieve them.

7.    Attend to matters of your spirit, your soul, your psyche and make frequent deposits in your savings account.
     8.  Consider each new day as new, a gift to make of it what you will.
     9.  Since change is inevitable, design the change you want and find ways to adapt to change that might be unwelcome.
    10.  Take care of yourself often so you are better able to care for others.

Sunday, 21 December 2014


On Sunday, December 21, 2014, at 6:03 PM Eastern Time (for me) the sun reaches its southernmost point before starting back on its northward trek toward Spring.  You can calculate your own time accordingly.  Actually it has more to do with the tilt of the earth on its axis and its elliptical orbit but we will leave that to the astronomers.  I am just one of those who watches the sun regularly rise and set, notice where it is on the horizon, and give thanks, for I am blessed to be able to see the horizon most of the time.  At that moment, the sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn in the Southern Hemisphere.  That's why the sun appears as far south on the horizon as it ever goes on its journey.
The winter solstice really only lasts a moment in time, and some of the other terms for the day on which this occurs, are "midwinter", "the longest night" or "the shortest day".  It really is not the shortest day or longest night.  It just refers to the amount of light within a 24-hour period.  And, it should not be confused with "the first day of winter" especially here in northern climates where there is  snow and cold since before Thanksgiving.  Ironically, at this moment today I am as far south in the United States as one can go, Key West, Florida.

What winter solstice signals for me is the return of the light as now the days start getting longer or rather there is a bit more daylight each day, just as it has been decreasing slowly each day since last summer’s solstice. This celebration of light is recognized and honored by many religious groups.  From the Roman Saturnalia to the Indian Pancha Ganapati to Hanukkah and Christmas, to the Persian Yalda and the birth of Mithra, and the recent creation of Kwanzaa in 1966, all kinds of cultures have found ways to pay special attention to our source of life and follow the sun.  

Many of us celebrate this season with our families and friends, give gifts and light fires; we might take a walk in the woods or ski down a mountain or through a forest; we might read or pray or sing; many of us will eat and drink around a community table. Whatever we do, it is an opportunity to take some time to do something special that is worth remembering. Stop whatever you’re doing for just a moment in time, for that is what solstice is, a moment in time.  Mark it in your journal or on your calendar with your own special thought and experience and share it with your family and friends.  At the  least, be open to receive the blessings and gifts of the season and celebrate joyfully and gratefully.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

WINTER SOLSTICE (in 55 words)

Hours of sunlight increase and decrease, a predictable schedule.
A calendar of days, weeks, months, one more year.
Come December 21, in the northern hemisphere, the sun appears at its southernmost point along the horizon.
The northward trek starts again, lengthening daylight hours.
We burn candles and fires to celebrate solstice. 
It’s about the light.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014


A colleague asked me to write something about curiosity and in so doing I wondered about what it is that makes us curious.  When we see or hear something about which we want to know more, what is it that propels us to explore in more depth and detail toward a greater level of understanding?   There are those who spend their entire lives researching one particular subject or topic, perhaps most frequently in the field of science, perhaps because science is a systematic way of knowing.

When one of my sons was very young he would spend hours watching ants outdoors, had the classic indoor ant farm, watched all kinds of insects and while he did not become an entomologist, he did major in biology and environmental science, became a teacher and one of his current avocations is collecting a particular species of moths.  Why?  What drove his curiosity all these years to want to know more, to explore and discover what it all means in the larger ecosystem?  Perhaps it’s seeing the connections, how one thing is related to another and that to yet another and so on.  And then one day, we realize that we are all species of life who are connected on this same fragile planet.  And what are we to make of that?  It’s a curious thing, this inter-connectedness.

Those who know me well, know that I watch the sun rise most mornings and while it sparks some curiosity about the solar system, and other galaxies, I usually just end up in a state of awesome appreciation for the creation of yet another day.  I watch with fascination the sun’s apparent seasonal movement along the horizon from solstice to equinox and back again, as predictable and reliable as anything I know.  It’s comforting and quieting to be able to participate in something so constant and feel like I am even a part of this most amazing creation.  I am sufficiently curious to see how I can celebrate each season with joyful activities in order to absorb more of nature’s offerings.

I’ve always been curious about whether animals have thoughts and while I am convinced they do, I have not been sufficiently curious to explore the subject in depth.  I just watch them expressing themselves in various ways and I am not sure about how really smart they are; however, it seems they can figure out a lot of things on their own without much or any human intervention. I am an inveterate watcher of both wild and domestic animals.  So, I concluded they must go through some process of trial and error or sizing up a situation and figuring out how to overcome some obstacle if it’s in their way of getting what they want.  Paul Corey wrote a book some years ago, still in print, called Do Cats Think?  The book was mostly about the many cats he had and some of the stories are funny but if cats do think, then why not other animals too?  My donkeys think mostly about eating it seems.  And there are the behavior codes of survival passed from one generation to another in many species.

As for encouraging curiosity in children, it’s easy to put them in many different places and situations and give them numerous opportunities to explore the world around them whether in nature, through travel, in reading, and most of all, by asking them questions and encouraging them to ask questions of their own.  Here are some examples of questions from children.  Why is the sky blue?  Why do people have to die?  Where do they go when they die?  Why are people mean?  Why do parents have to get divorced?  Who invented time and how do we know it’s right?  Why do I have to go to school?  Why is math boring?  Why is ocean water salty? Why is water wet?  Why is our flag red, white and blue?  How does the moon follow us at night when we travel?  Why are there dimples on a golf ball?  What is a light year and how long is it?  What is infinity? What is the smallest animal in the world?  Where does blood come from?  A parent or teacher can respond by saying let’s find out together and see what we can learn and thus the conversation begins.  Explore and discover and encourage curiosity.

Have you ever been curious about human behavior and what motivates us?  What are you curious about?  What would you like to know more about, not only in terms of the human condition but in the world around you?  Here’s an invitation.  Write down six things that you are curious about, things that make you wonder why they are this way or that way.  Then, take the top two or three and put them in a comment so others can see and share.  I am curious as to what you might be curious about!  Thanks!

Saturday, 13 December 2014


We grow up in this country believing that freedom is perhaps the most important value that one can hold and cherish.   The following sentence has often been called one of, if not the most famous in the world, and has been used repeatedly to bear witness to that belief.  We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Over the course of our history, hundreds of thousands of people have paid the ultimate price to protect that freedom and our way of life.  It is one where we say that we are a people who are imbued with self-determination and we pledge our allegiance to a society where there is “liberty and justice for all.”   Not just for the privileged, but for all. 

We choose what kind of work we will do, we choose the people with whom we live (after a certain age) and we even choose what kind of transportation we will use.  We choose what foods we eat, what kinds of clothes we wear, what kinds of music we listen to, what movies and television we watch, most of it uncensored and without limits.  We choose what we read, where we go, where we live, what services we use and what products we purchase.   We choose how we spend whatever money we have.  We choose who will govern us and how we will be governed although there is some debate about those issues.  We are free to choose our religious practices or choose none at all.  We choose what we read, what we write and the list goes on and on.

Educating young people is often considered a primary way of transmitting our culture from one generation to the next. Thus public and private education include understanding and appreciating our history and that of the rest of the world, especially as global issues become increasingly important for our mutual survival.  As schools struggle to change to meet the needs of a changing world, it seems ever more important that families have the freedom to choose where they send their children to school.

Preparing children to make intelligent, informed, and wise choices may be one of the most important gifts a parent can give to their children.  They do that, in part, by choosing which school their children will attend and where they will spend an enormous amount of time being influenced by their teachers and the values that the school espouses.   The big question is whether or not the majority of parents make this choice consciously, intentionally and with the freedom to choose which school that will be.

Parents are no longer limited by geography or residence.  Budgets aside, many schools that charge tuition offer financial aid when tuition is a factor.  Perhaps the more important variables are how the school's mission and vision align with the parents, what kinds of teaching and learning are going on in a particular school, what resources the school offers, what the school environment and atmosphere communicate and what the core values are of the school under consideration.   There are now more choices than ever before and it is the well-informed parents who will exercise their freedom in making that choice.

To help parents make an informed choice, I have put together a little book entitled, Your Child, Your Choice: Finding the  Right School for Your Child. (2014)  It's a good investment in making a good match between your children and a school that will engage them in meaningful and productive ways.
A 70 page handbook, it has a questionnaire in the back that provides feedback to parents in helping them make this important choice.  Available on Amazon or from your local bookseller or multiple copy discounts for non-profit organizations directly from the author.

Sunday, 7 December 2014


Atul Gawande’s recent book, Being Mortal:Medicine and What Matters in the End, takes a good look at how we, and the medical community, deal with people in the later years of their lives. For those of us with aging parents or who ourselves are already past the midpoint, whatever that may be, there are some very honest observations and recommendations in Gawande’s latest offering.
I had conversations with my own parents prior to their deaths that were quite different due to the circumstances attending each one.  When my grandfather died, I thought it was a good opportunity to talk with my father about his father’s death and how it had affected him. At that time I was in my 30’s, my Dad in his late 50’s and my grandfather was 82 when he died.  But, to my surprise, my father used the occasion to talk about his own mortality.  What he told me was that when that day would inevitably come, all the arrangements were in place and that my brother and I did not need to be concerned about any of the details.

What I recall, besides being surprised about his openness and willingness to talk about it, was that this was typical of my father who was careful about details, who paid attention to seemingly small things that had a large impact, and who had a personal faith that transcended the mundane.  He served as a good role model for me and my brother in so many ways and for that we will always be most grateful.  When he died suddenly in 1979 at age 67 of a massive heart attack, we were shocked but in some ways already prepared.  What he had put in place for our mother provided for her for the rest of her life, which continued for another 30 years.
My mother, who remarried at age 70, four years after my father’s death, was a vital presence until the last year of her own life when the decline started to take its toll.  When she was hospitalized with pneumonia in October, 2007, at age 95, I recall an honest conversation between us about life and death and how gratitude had played such a large part in how she had lived.  Her mind was alert, her sense of humor still in place and she said she was ready to die.  What I said was that it was okay with me and I was sure that when that time came she would know it and that we would be fine. She left the hospital, moved into a local care facility and four months later, checked out one night and just did not wake up in the morning.  She had told her doctor that evening that she wanted no further medication or treatment except perhaps something to make her more comfortable. He complied.  That was two months prior to her 96th birthday.
My wife’s mother, who will be 101 on January 26, continues to live independently with daytime help in the cooking and cleaning departments.  She is still sound of mind, although it is becoming more difficult for her body to function at the same high level.  She is an avid reader, a published author, watches sports on TV and just had a party for some 17 friends although she says most of her close friends are already dead so she has to make some new ones.   She took a cruise a few months ago up the coast of Maine and down the St. Lawrence to Montreal.   A companion traveled with her for assistance.   She refuses to consider going into any kind of commercial assisted living arrangements and prefers to make her own arrangements just as she has for her own death.
These examples serve me extraordinarily well as I consider how to make the most of whatever time remains in my own life.  My intentions are to continue to connect with our families, to celebrate each day with that attitude of gratitude and on occasion, continue working to help others with their own personal, professional and organizational transitions.  Each sunrise brings the gift of a new day with unlimited and creative opportunities for enjoyment, relationships, conversations and connections.  My active full time career of 50 years has morphed into part-time, much to be preferred.

We are blessed with the ability to travel widely and often.  Home base is in beautiful, northern New Mexico and our mobility is increased immensely with the advantage of a large motor home currently parked in the southernmost point of the United States in Key West.  I would not have thought about becoming a “snow-bird” some years ago but migration south and north at this point in time seems to be one more gift.  I suppose you could even say it's part of a larger plan.

Thursday, 4 December 2014


You may have seen the story coming from the University of Texas and the mystery of 100 missing brains.  It seems they were destroyed in 2002.  They were getting rid of “biological waste” either due to lack of use or no longer needed for neuroscience research. Regardless of the reasons, it started my brain to think about other “missing brains” in people who are still living.   I won’t name anyone in particular as you can make your own list of whom you think may not be using their brain any longer.  It might be an interesting exercise to make a list of the top 100 “missing brains” personalities.
The evidence of “missing brains” can be found in numerous places in our culture.  Politics, health care, education, entertainment, food production, transportation, and sports are just a few areas where there are signs of “missing brains.”   Early brain research indicated that we use about 10% of our brain and the question remains whether or not the majority of people use even that much.  More recent research has indicated specific areas and locations of brain functions from speech to memory to psycho-motor skills to higher level thinking, executive functioning, problem solving activity and measurable emotional responses.
The main point is that our brain is the control center for our bodies and minds where the neural network communicates both internally and externally.  There are now all kinds of brain training exercises designed to postpone senility and keep this three-pound mass of grey matter in better shape than previously thought possible.  It starts to become obvious that there is a keen relationship between mind and body and I would add spirit to that triangle to make it compete.  Dan Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA has a different triangulation with Mind, Body and Relationships being the three points.
Perhaps we should be thinking about missing opportunities to learn something, whether from history or from current events and activities. When we fulfill the definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results we are clearly brainless, or mindless.  Here is Dan Siegel on the topic: “Mindful awareness can be considered as a way of being, more than something that involves our “doing” something. Engage a certain “state of mind” that has the range of qualities we have heard repeatedly even though there is no fixed and final definition…How we pay attention (different from awareness), on purpose (but it doesn’t have to be done with active effort, it can in fact be an intention that happens “automatically” as a habit of being, not a consciously thought out plan of carrying out a way of focusing attention) to the unfolding of present moment experience …with a sense alertness, attention to detail, and with kindness and compassion.”