Archive for July, 2010

           “Who died and left you king?”

            It was an expression my dad used a great deal when, as a young person in the last Century – hey, wait a minute; most of us were young people in the last Century – I’d done something bad. Usually, he said it when I had been inconsiderate of others, their feelings or their physical well-being. It was also generally followed by some kind of punishment, the kind you’re probably better off not knowing. Dad didn’t believe in that ‘spare the rod,’ nonsense. Even after I was married, Dad was apt to use the expression; however, I was now a bit large for punishment; the words were punishment enough.

Today, it seems to me that caring about the feelings of others or about their physical well-being is about as out of vogue as a good swat on the backside. I don’t know about you, but one incident left me appalled. I’m speaking of the episode with the Pittsburgh Pirate baseball player who thought it would be fun to hit one of the Milwaukee Brewers “racing sausages” over the head with a baseball bat. He hit her with a baseball bat, folks. Swing! Wham! Hit! Down she goes. Oh, but she says it’s okay because she wasn’t really hurt. The Milwaukee Police must feel it’s okay because, although they arrested him, they certainly let him off the hook in one hell of a hurry. The judiciary must feel that he did nothing wrong; after all, he did pay a fine of $432. The young lady went on national television and had her 15 minutes of fame, sounding like a Valley Girl who’d already taken one too many shots to the head. Oh, and the baseball player? Well, yes, he did apologize and said he’d think twice next time. You are kidding, right? Next time? What next time? There shouldn’t have been a first time and this idiot is already talking about “next time?” What does that mean? Is it that next time he’ll make certain no one’s around to see him assault another person?

Am I overreacting to this incident? Yes, probably. However, when I see the episode reenacted as a joke on the Espy Awards show, I get the feeling that the message did not get through to these ‘professional’ athletes and their friends. Who died and left them kings? What message are we sending to the kids who idolize these overpaid, whining jocks? Is it that, “It’s okay to assault someone…even you only mean to do it in fun?” Assault is assault is assault, folks, whether it’s Pittsburgh Pirate first baseman, Randall Simon, lying in wait for “Guido, the Italian sausage,” or some joker making light of the fact on national television. If you or I had done it, even had it been with a Whiffle bat, we’d probably be sitting behind bars or be a heck of a lot poorer than $432. Of course, we’re not professional athletes; you know, the role models whose behavior our children are encouraged to emulate.

Spring training is designed to get professional baseball players back to that finely honed performance level. The same is true of the grueling summer training programs for pro football players and the early season workout schedules for all of the other professional athletes. Perhaps some of that training should involve proper human behavior, good manners, and what constitutes unacceptable behavior.

This episode occurred before Michael Vick was convicted of dog fighting at his palatial estate or before Tiger decided to become champion on another circuit; even before Lebron James proved his greed and blamed it on “wanting a championship ring.” Lebron, you will never be a champion, no matter how many rings you may wear. Perhaps “chumpion” would be a better word if even the dictionary has yet to accept it.

It’s unfortunate that hardly a week goes by without some big name professional athlete making headlines for doing something that is foolish, stupid, or criminal. Too many of them are like spoiled children who should have been taken to the woodshed many, many years ago. Please don’t get me wrong. There are professional athletes who do a tremendous amount of good for their communities. Look at the Cleveland Brown lineman who helped avert a potential accident by following a drunk driver until he pulled over. Look at the number of athletes who have their own charitable foundations. Look at the charity events that so many sponsor or attend to draw larger crowds Every professional team has a charitable arm or a private foundation to support activities in their local area. The Red Sox, for example, are synonymous with the Jimmy Fund and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, while the Bruins, Celtics, Patriots, Revolution, and Breakers devote their efforts to different charities. Unfortunately, these activities don’t draw press coverage; they’re the good things that are being done, but it’s only when a professional athlete goes “off the reservation” that he or she makes news.

Charitable giving aside, demeanor is the watchword of the day. No, wait a minute, maybe the word of the day should be, “think.” Professional athlete or not, thinking before acting makes a whole pile of sense. It can also keep us out of a whole pile of trouble. Remember, no one died and left us king.

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We live on a planet that is filled with pollution and polluters. We are killing ourselves and our earth with wasteful and despicable habits. We all deserve to be taken out and horsewhipped for the manner in which we treat this green-slowly-turning-to-brown habitat of ours. And I’m learning that I am among the most wanton, willingly wasteful weasel ever to inhabit this place I call home.

“How did you come by this probably-accurate-but-I-don’t-know-you-well-enough-to-say-for-certain-information?” you ask. “You don’t want to know,” just doesn’t work, so let me go back to the beginning. Sometime ago, a friend and I decided to live together. She is, by nature, a very, very ecologically conscious person. I, on the other hand, would reuse the plastic bags from the grocery store as waste basket liners. I’d even crush up plastic water bottles and throw them in a recycle barrel. This was good stuff. I was being responsible for my environment…NOT!

Some months before she moved here – she’s actually from out of state – I happened to mention that I had begun to enjoy yogurt, particularly the kind to which you added “crunchies” that came in a separate clear container. “I hope you’re not throwing them away,” I was asked in a tone resembling a drill sergeant when he knows one of his recruits has screwed up; just not certain of how badly. “Ah, well, um, you see (how the hell do I get out of this one)…yes, I throw them away,” I boldly admitted, after every possible lie was exhausted. “Don’t” was the one word, definitive response. The drill sergeant would have added a few more things – unprintable here – and eventually she did. “Don’t you realize how valuable those are?” she queried. I had to admit to total ignorance. “From now on, wash them out and save them,” I was commanded in a voice that made it very clear if I did not obey, my days on earth were, somehow numbered…by a few less than originally anticipated.

“You just don’t understand what you can be doing,” she said in the voice that made me a little child in the first grade, learning a new lesson from Miss Lannin. I was the simple child who could be forgiven his ignorance because he just didn’t know. Teacher was going to help him along…seriously, that’s what it felt like. I was getting a reaming from someone young enough to be one of my own children. It was humiliating; what’s even more disheartening was that she was right. I’d throw out cereal boxes, newspapers, banana peels, and all sorts of other stuff that could be “reduced, reused, or recycled.” My own wastefulness was being explained to me, long distance I might add, and I was learning something I didn’t even know I didn’t know.

The wastebasket began to diminish his size; the recycling box was now accompanied by another. When she arrived, she started a compost pile for the garden we were now growing; I hadn’t gardened in 75 years. One day, I casually mentioned that I had to get a container so that I could bring bird seed out without having to lug the entire bag. “Wait here,” she said. Next thing I know she was handing me a one gallon, plastic milk carton that had its bottom removed and was in the shape of a scoop. “You can either empty it from the top all at once,” she said, “or you can remove the cap and spread it more evenly across the feeder.” My God, was there anything this woman wouldn’t reuse or recycle?

Before moving on, let me tell you what happened to the yogurt and Jell-O cup containers, the plastic, Stouffers macaroni and beef and lasagna packages, and the bottom of an old roasting pan. The small containers were filled with potting soil and fertilizer and used as starters for strawberry, mint, and herb plants. They, along with the shallow-rooting plants that Stouffer donated, will be transplanted into larger plastic containers or into beds next year. As for the Clorox wipe containers, the potato and chicken salad holders, they became homes for knitting needles, paper clips and elastic bands. Speaking of paper clips, they have been ‘unbent’ and reused as ‘u-shaped’ holders for new seedlings, to protect them as they grow.

We are both lovers of sweets, which, I suppose in and of itself would cause some ecologically freakazoid to begin weeping, but that’s just the way things are.  Even here, however, we have found ways in which to reuse and recycle. For example, we reuse the sticks from Dove bars, the chocolate-covered ice cream bar that tickles our palates daily. Once, when we were in Costco, she spied a seven-layer chocolate cake. Although decadent – and I suppose we could have just thrown the cake away…yeah, right – the container bore a remarkable resemblance to a small greenhouse that was on sale elsewhere for twelve dollars.  So figure this out; here we have sixteen pieces of chocolate cake for seventeen dollars, plus a greenhouse that is costing us zero dollars. I mean, is this a deal, or is this a deal; it was just too good to pass up…as was the cake, which was frozen between layers of wax paper.

“What else can people do,” I naively asked one day. “Buy used clothing,” she retorted. We both had to admit that was a bit over the top. There are very few people who would be willing to take ecology to quite that level. However, we agree that old T-shirts can be torn up and used as rags around the house or to wash the car or whatever one does with old T-shirts. Socks that have holes in them can be used as dusting mitts.

I’ve learned a great deal. Perhaps most important, I’ve learned to be more ecologically aware. In retirement, I can take the time to do all that we speak about. Your life may be a fast-moving treadmill that doesn’t allow time to think about saving the planet. That’s okay for you, but what about for the next several generations. Can we really afford to be wasteful? Can we really afford to “let the other guy handle it?” Do we really want to leave a legacy of unnecessary wastefulness for our kids, their kids, and future kids to come, one for which they will be responsible for cleaning up? If you answered, “No” to these questions, welcome to my new world. Actually, there is no answer other than “No.”

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It is little wonder that the US government brought suit against the State of Arizona over the new immigration law. If you have ever, ever attempted to read the USCIS regarding immigration, your eyes will glaze over before you have finished one section. By comparison, the Arizona law is clear-cut and to the point. For example, Chapter 8, section 275 of the USCIS concerns entrance of aliens at an improper place or time and the misrepresentation or concealment of facts. This is only one of – I think; I became confused – fifty chapters in the Immigration and Naturalization Act, each of which has a series of chapters that could put an insomniac into a coma. It is a wonder that any business at all gets conducted in Washington, DC when one notes the manner in which these things are written. Arizona SB1070 is Cliff Notes compared to the US Code. My personal belief is that the Federal Government in the person of Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr. didn’t like being upstaged by the Arizona legislature which finally determined that “enough is enough” and, using the US Code as a base, drew up some pretty stringent laws in an attempt to protect the ranchers of Cochise County, the seniors of Green Valley and the families of Tucson. As US Representative Gabrielle Giffords said, “It is time – in fact, it is way past time – for the federal government to start taking that (securing our borders) responsibility seriously.

That is one of the things that is both wrong and right with the federal government. It is wrong when we see a problem and don’t take immediate steps to solve it; it is right that we ensure that any laws governing that problem are properly written to guard the rights of all concerned. However, when the rights we’re talking about do not regard legal citizens of the United States of America, the gloves should come off, and we should have the courage to say, “Go home or get thrown out.” It appears, from a friend who has a home in Arizona and from some of her friends who live there year round, that the problem of illegal border crossing has become epidemic. One woman wrong of seeing a truck with a machine gun in the bed riding in front of a trailer truck with another armed truck bringing up the rear. I don’t think they were bringing in a load of tortillas but, of course, I might be wrong.

The Arizona Daily Sun quoted various supporters and opponents of SB1070 in an articles following the law’s blockage by US District Judge Susan Bolton. Omar Jadwat, a staff attorney with the ACLU immigrants rights project, noted, “This is a major step towards overturning Arizona’s law that, if allowed to go into effect, would turn Latinos and other people who might appear ‘foreign’ into criminal suspects and create an un-American ‘show me your papers regime.” I’m sorry, Omar, but where were you on 911? If America, which has been so open and welcoming to immigrants, doesn’t tighten things up a bit, you may expect your ass to be blown to kingdom come along with the rest of us ‘infidels.’ Jihadists don’t care that you’re busy trying to defend their rights; to them, you’re just another ‘American’ who must die.

As I see it, Arizona screwed up. The people of Tucson and others living on the border with Mexico knew exactly what was going on. They watched the illegals come over every night. They even found several dead ones in the desert. They cowered as heavily armed thugs brought tons of drugs over their borders while immigration officials sat safe and sound about sixty miles from the border…if that isn’t “see no; hear no; speak no evil,” I don’t know what the hell is. Of course, if those same immigration officials tried to do anything, they’d probably be gunned down by illegals that were much better armed. Meanwhile, back in the land of the lost, a.k.a., Washington, DC, much more important matters were under discussion. You know, things like health care and education for illegal aliens, those wonderful people who come across the border and do the jobs that Americans are too proud to do. Never mind that fact that some of those “nice” people killed a few others on their way to the United States. Yes, that is a glittering generality just as much so as saying that all illegals are good people who merely want the opportunity to work.

One of the things that irritated me most about this ruling was the fact that Mexico and seven other Latin American countries were protesting this bill. Excuse me, but what gives you the right to protest a bill that is merely attempting to protect the citizens of the state in America from people in your own countries who are illegally immigrating. Mexico, in particular, has some of the toughest immigration laws you’ll ever read. Arizona already has to cope with over 400,000 of your people who are undocumented and living here. How many Americans are living, undocumented, in your countries?

Is it possible that the Arizona law was too harshly written? Sure it is. Is it possible that Governor Jan Brewer knew full-well when she signed it that it would cause controversy? Yes, I believe that is the case. Was she signing the bill into law to further her own political career? Who the hell can tell when it comes to political animals? Will this cause the boobs in Washington to finally recognize the problems associated with illegal immigration? Probably, but I wouldn’t put any money on it.

Our problem is multi-fold; we have jobs that Americans don’t wish to do because they consider it beneath them. We have companies that cannot afford to pay Americans what labor unions demand and therefore they use people from other countries to accept lower wages thus increasing their profits. This, of course, is illegal, but if the product is going to be produced, the crops harvested, etc., it is a necessity. Immigrants cross daily into the United States to do many of the things “Real Americans” a.k.a. “lazy bastards” won’t do. Unfortunately, along with the good folks come the bad. That’s what Arizona was trying to stop. I certainly hope someone will come to the realization that Brewer and company need help and find a way to provide it.

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            I was brought up with a certain set of beliefs and values. They have stood me fairly well for seven plus decades. Among these beliefs are that if you’re the most qualified person for the job, that job is yours. I’ve sure seen that one blown all the way to hell and gone, so I never bothered to pass it down to our children. Another belief I had, largely because it was something that my folks believed, and I read it in the Constitution of the United States, is that all men are created equal. Now that one’s about as believable as thinking the crops will grow without fertilizer…if you get my drift. There are still too many glass ceilings and too much racial, gender and lifestyle prejudice to suit me.

            We were also taught to share with those less fortunate than our own family. To some extent…no, to a great extent, that’s still true; you share resources, time, and even skill sets with those who can use them.  The biggest difference that I see is that it seems to be the less fortunate sharing with those who are even less fortunate, and that the fortunate ones talk a lot about sharing, but don’t do their fair share. Instead, those who have the wherewithal just get more and flashier toys, have bigger houses, in more resort areas, and as long as they’re getting theirs, the rest of the world doesn’t exist. One prime example of this is movie actors threatening to strike because they may not get what they want for residuals if their films appear on television. For some of those actors, the ones whose faces we don’t necessarily see in the movie magazines, that’s probably a good thing. Unfortunately, it also includes the big names, and they need residuals like I need a hole in my head.

            It seems to me that somewhere along the line, things got screwed up. The old adage, “An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay” doesn’t seem to be what it once was. I feel certain that there are brilliant economists, financial analysts and others, who could explain this phenomenon, but I like to take the simple view, and to me, the simple view is that we got sold a bill of goods that we were never going to be able to afford to pay for with hard cash money. Put even more simply, the concept of credit purchasing was allowed to get totally out of hand by some folks who found a new way to make a fast buck without really having to work for it. Toss into that mix that it was imperative we have what our neighbors had or were getting, and the race was on to see who could own the newest, latest, biggest, most up-to-date widget that we probably didn’t need in the first place. The common term that is used, “conspicuous consumption,” was first mentioned by Thorstein Veblen, an economist and sociologist, as a term to describe the nouveau riche. Today, the term is used more broadly to describe a wider segment of society. Those of us who are déclassé call it “Keeping up with the Jones’s.”

            Not to put too fine a point on this entire situation, but I think we got screwed by those in the fields of marketing, advertising, and banking. The first two groups painted us as ‘losers’ if we didn’t have, “what everyone in your neighborhood wants to own,” or however they wanted to market it, and the third group told us we didn’t have to pay for it right away; we could get it on credit…with only a modest interest rate…ouch!

            How far can we carry this concept of marketing? I worked at a college that hired one of the first vice presidents for marketing. This was not the old get out the press releases about how great your students are or which faculty member published this book or that paper. This was about establishing a brand for the institution. This was marketing as defined by marketers in business and industry. This was going that extra mile to attract the best students as well as the most qualified faculty members. “If ya can’t do it with a D-1 football team, ya do it with academic excellence and beyond.”  Beyond, in this case, meant test marketing advertising campaigns with focus groups of alumni and others in cities across the country. Is this necessary? Yes, it is, because everyone else is doing it and if you don’t, you’ll be looking at hard times ahead.

            Look at the number of hospitals that are now marketing themselves on television. To whom are they actually appealing? Most of the people I know can’t really take advantage of choosing a particular hospital. Maybe that’s because I’m older and am limited in my choices, but I’m not too certain about that. It costs a great deal of money to produce these ads or marketing tools, if that’s what you wish to call them, and a great deal more to place them on air at certain times of day or evening. Who, in the final analysis, is paying the bill for all of that marketing and advertising? I think you already know the answer to that.

            Our values have changed. It’s difficult to tell who is good and who is evil, because we aren’t even certain anymore which principles are good and which are tainted. What was once perhaps true has been perverted. We are, for the most part, no longer a nation of hard working men and women who can get ahead by “keeping our nose to the grindstone; our shoulder to the wheel.” It seems to me that the way to get ahead today is to lie, cheat, steal, and put the boots to as many suckers as you can find; then get someone like the late Billy Mays to pitch it…although few could sell it like Billy.  You’ll make a fortune. It’s rather strange; I used to mute the television whenever Billy came on to pitch something, but I really do miss him. He was the “master pitch man.” Now, if I see an old commercial where Billy is speaking, I find that I enjoy him…wonder what that says about me.

            It really is terrible to have become so cynical about my fellow human beings. What’s even more horrible is that it’s become so obvious, I feel compelled to sit down and write about it.

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            “I love you.” What a silly thing to say. We say it to our pets, to our spouses, to friends, and to anyone and sometimes anything that we find enjoyable or that affects us deeply. It’s between “lout” and “low” in the dictionary. That may be appropriate placement, particularly since I’ve known some louts who can sink pretty low by using the word “love” when they actually have something else in mind. The thesaurus gives sixteen synonyms for the word so that just further adds to the confusion.

            Since this is the time of cyberspace, the Internet, and the ability to research endlessly, I decided to check out this word, “love” that we bandy about so carelessly. Would you believe there are over 92 million references to the question, “What is love,” many of them referencing only the word itself. Much of the meaning seems to center on the language that is spoken. The Greeks, for example, use five very specific words to describe what I would call “the stages of love.” ‘Epithumia’ is the attraction or desire stage; ‘eros’ is the romantic stage and if you were Roman instead of Greek, you would know this as this stage in which Cupid fires his arrow of love. ‘Storge’ is what we would call affection, while ‘phile’ is the stage in which we cherish the one we love. The final word that is used by the Greeks is ‘agape’ or the selfless giving of one to another. Other references from the Internet will tell you that there are only three, four, six or ‘many’ kinds of love. Perhaps what all 92 million references are really saying is that love is what you and you alone believe it to be. Philosophers and poets may offer their own opinions but in the end, only the lovers can define it. St. Paul said, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”                                    

            Sophocles said, “One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: That word is love.” I’m certain that if one were to look hard enough, there would be another philosopher or poet somewhere who would say the love is the epitome of the weight and pain of life, so there is disagreement among many of the true definition of this simple, four-letter word. “Love is like quicksilver in the hand. Leave the fingers open and it stays. Clutch it, and it darts away,” says Dorothy Parker, the writer and poet who was known mainly for her wisecracks and cynical view of life. The upshot of this is that we have a dilemma; well, perhaps you don’t but I certainly do. You see, I refuse to put a finite definition on my love. Karen Sunde, an award winning American actor, writer, producer, put love into a definition that I can readily accept. She says that “To love is to receive a glimpse of heaven.”

            When I first glimpsed my late wife, sitting in a teacher’s room with her friend, Barbara Willis, way back in 1957, I caught a glimpse of heaven. I have been fortunate enough to catch glimpses throughout my life; the birth of our children; their first steps; watching them mature into grown men and women; the birth of their children; and on and on and on. We catch glimpses of heaven when we leave the harbor on a summer morning and watch the sun rise out of the sea or when we sit on the front stoop and watch it close out our day in beautiful pinks and blues and even shades of gray. We grasp a glimpse of heaven when we pick up our first puppy or kitten, hamster or guinea pig or whatever our first pet may be. These and so much more provides us with Sunde’s definition of love.

            You can see from this that love can take many forms. As Nicholas Sparks has said, “Love is more than three words mumbled before bedtime. Love is sustained by action, a pattern of devotion in the things we do for each other every day.” When Joan died, a piece of me died; love that I could feel and touch died. Did I still love and cherish the memories we had created together? Oh, yes, and there were many. Did I still love the dog and the kids? Of course I did. Did I still “love” those sunrises and sunsets, the ocean and the land? Most assuredly, those things were still there and I love them deeply, but I must think of Sophocles and note that the loss of love brings great pain.

            I have now learned that it is possible to re-kindle love in a way that I thought would never be possible. I have found love with another. It is not the kind of love that Joan and I shared, but it’s love; of that I have no doubt.  No quotation would fit so well here as that of Boston’s own John Ciardi, poet, teacher, and etymologist, as well as a crusty curmudgeon, when he wrote, “Love is the word used to label the sexual excitement of the young, the habituation of the middle-aged, and the mutual dependence of the old.” While I would enjoy disagreeing with Ciardi, I think he may have nailed it, although I’m not certain why sexual excitement, habituation, or mutual dependence should be proscribed by a generational definition…we Bostonians love to argue, even if it’s with one another.

            A word of advice, if I may, to those who are now totally confused. If you love someone, something, or some whatever, don’t ever lose that love. Don’t let the cynic steal your view, or the naysayer defile your feelings. Without some kind of love in your heart, your heart has not reached its full potential; with a full measure of love in your heart, your life will have new meaning and offer rewards of which you have not even dreamed.

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            One of the added benefits to working out regularly at a gym is the opportunity to meet and talk with people of so many different viewpoints. Unless they’re plugged into their I-pod or so ‘zoned out’ in their workout that their eyes are glazed over, people are usually willing to carry on a conversation. Most of us will freely admit that it makes the workout time pass more quickly. It also allows one the opportunity to hear different viewpoints.

            Recently, I was ‘treadmilling’ along, chatting with one of my fellow gym rats….let’s call her ‘Judith.’ She indicated that she’s going on vacation; going to the West Coast; going to be gone for a couple of weeks. However, her big thrill about the vacation is not the opportunity to get away. No, she’s ecstatic that the company has given her a special card for her laptop so that she can be in instant communication with the organization. It will allow her to conference, use her laptop as a phone of some kind, and all sorts of other wonderful ‘-nearer-my-office-to-thee’ gadgetry. Whoopee! I’m happy for her…not!

            Questions just begged to be raised. “When will you actually vacation and enjoy yourself?”

            “Between the times that I’m talking to the office.”

            “How often do you intend to talk to the office?”

            “As often as they want me.”

            “What if they want you all day?”

            “Oh, that wouldn’t happen, but if it did, my husband would understand.”

            Is a picture beginning to form here? This is someone so obsessed with her job that she, quite literally, is unable to step away from it. Is it a small organization? No, it is not. I asked Judith – you know me; tactful and diplomatic – if she was making a seven-figure salary. She allowed that she was not. I asked what would happen to the company if she got hit by a bus tomorrow and was killed. “Would the firm go belly-up without you,” was the exact question. “No,” she replied, “but they’d be very disrupted.”  I really didn’t have the heart to tell her that when Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy, were assassinated America went on with barely a hic-cup.

            This sense that we are all so indispensable to our organizations is a disease that seems to afflict more and more Americans. It’s wonderful to be committed to the organization that pays your wages, helps to keep a roof over your head and food on the table, but is it appropriate to be so attached that you feel a degree of indispensability? Before you think I’m being somewhat cynical, remember that I gave 19 years to an organization, felt secure in what I was doing and where I was going, and then had the rug pulled out from under me. Without the support of my family and a copy of Dr. Wayne Dyer’s Your Erroneous Zones, I’m not certain I would have made it through the three-year hiatus from daily employment. As a consequence, it took a long time before I developed a true sense of loyalty to Babson; yet, I have to say, as I’ve said before, it was the best 20 years of my working life.

            I guess that Judith’s attitude left me more sad than upset. She’s already survived one reorganization purge and that should have built her confidence. The fact remains, however, that unless we’re a one-person operation, business will go on; sales will ebb and flow; the bottom line will go up or down.

            Her comments also raised the question of how many other people feel the same way. Do people shorten their vacations, not take them, or contact their office regularly while they’re supposed to be relaxing and enjoying time away from the daily grind? What are the effects of this on their health? How do others in their offices view them? Is this part of a ‘new culture’ in business? We are well aware that government takes its vacations seriously; well, at least on certain levels, they appear to take them very seriously.

            A very hurried straw poll indicated that people are all over the place on vacations. Some folks tell me they leave the office and forget about it while they’re away. Others call in once or twice. Fewer say that they haven’t taken a vacation in years – that’s frightening. Those with more than a couple of week’s vacation complain that they have difficulty finding time to take more than the two weeks.

            Perhaps this all comes down to attitude and confidence in one’s abilities, or perhaps it comes down to priorities. Which is more important, work or taking the time to smell a few roses, being so committed that you think your place will fall apart without you or spending time with the wife/partner and/or kids?

            My poll also included a quick e-mail to Holland. Marlene de Kort, a longtime cyber friend. She admitted that heart attacks and stress-related disorders are part of their culture, but, she added, “Those are the people who work more than 40 hours per week and have lots of money…but that can’t buy you health.” Sabine, Marlene’s oldest daughter indicated that most “dutchies” have about five weeks vacation and that they use all of their “holidays.” In some cases, people in Holland can buy additional vacation time. “I can buy two weeks of extra days,” Marlene told me. I had also told Marlene about Judith. Her response was cryptic: “About the lady: I think it’s not a good way to live your life.” I’m not certain I could have summed it up any better.

            I’ve been wracking my brain, trying to remember any cases where someone on his or her deathbed has said, “I just wish I’d spent more time at work,” although Edward VII, king of Britain is rumored to have uttered as his dying words, “No, I shall not give in. I shall go on. I shall work to the end.” Frankly, I prefer the words of actor Errol Flynn, “I’ve had a hell of a lot of fun and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” or those of actor Humphrey Bogart, “I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis.” The man had a point; that vermouth will get you every time.

            In summary then, enjoy your vacation. Forget the job. If you drop dead tomorrow, you can go out happy in the knowledge that your life was filled with more than a chain around your ankle that was attached to a heavy ball entitled, “job.”

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             Diversity: difference; otherness; distinctness; contrast; the condition of being different…but what does it really mean? Ask some college athlete who didn’t get a scholarship and he might say, “It means that women’s teams have to get the same number of scholarships as men’s teams…and it’s why I didn’t get a free ride.” In this case, we’re not talking diversity; we’re talking equality. “All men – that’s the generic ‘men’ – are created equal.” It’s saying that women athletes are to be treated in the same way that male athletes are treated. That’s not diversity in the truest sense of the word.  Ask a job candidate who didn’t receive an offer because a minority candidate was considered better qualified, and she might say, “They had to fill a quota,” never considering qualifications as a factor. In this second case, we’re talking about ability and qualifications. Could it be “filling a quota?” Sure, if you believe that anyone who is not exactly like you can’t possibly have stronger qualifications… but I believe they call that prejudice. Ask a middle school student, as a teacher friend of mine did, and the student said, “It means someone who’s black.” Middle school children can certainly be forgiven for not recognizing ethnicity versus diversity.

            Wait a minute, what about ‘diversity’ to the marketer, contractor, or teacher. For the marketer, diversity could mean numerous product lines; to the contractor, developing a site where all of the houses look sufficiently different but blend well together; and to the teacher, it’s presenting a variety of topics and subjects that will keep all of the students interested in learning. For his or her class, it might mean, for the first time, meeting others who aren’t ‘like’ them in color or ethnic background and being fascinated to learn new things.

            The meanings are endless. Diversity becomes a noun, preceded by some adjective such as species, biological or habitat. However, in today’s society, when we mention the word, “diversity,” the majority of people are talking about cultural diversity, or what the first paragraph actually addresses. Based on the examples above, we now understand what cultural diversity isn’t…therefore, what is it? In my simple mind, diversity is a combination of anything that makes the whole better.  I decided to ask several people how they react to my definition. What more diverse and better place to seek answers than ‘the gym’ and the members of Westwood’s No Place for Hate committee (NPFH)? At the gym I found that everyone reduced ‘diversity’ to a matter of skin color. I have to attribute this to the fact that many of the folks there had never been asked for a definition before my query. Either that or it really doesn’t matter to them. I work out at times with Haitians, Dominicans, Columbians, and Indians, as well as Black Americans, Irish, and several people about whose ancestry I have no clue. The point is not that we are all color blind. Our criteria are different: Is this a good workout partner? It’s that simple.

            One of the very interesting points made by several people at the gym…Black, White, and others…revolved around the attitude of politicians when it comes to skin color. “Have you ever noticed,” I was asked, “how the politicians seem to make more of the situation when a white person is killed than when a black person is killed?” As I watched the news coverage of one of Boston’s latest homicides, I couldn’t help but think just how right these people were, and what a sad commentary that is on the state of our society.

            The members of the No Place for Hate committee are perhaps more attuned to diversity in all of its aspects. Michelle Ewing-Perry is an executive coach for Performance Insights and also chairs the NPFH ‘Coffee and Conversations subcommittee.  When asked for her definition of diversity, she responded, “Variety. When I think of the word diversity, I think of variety. Variety of culture, race, ethnicity, and ability: intellectual as well as physical, and socio-economic status. Then, respecting that variety truly is the spice of life, not something that has to be changed, or worse yet, tolerated by another, it’s really a mix of parts that serve to improve or complete the whole.”

            Marge Griffin, the Interfaith Council representative on the NPFH committee, indicated, “I think of diversity this way, that each person, and by extension each group, culture, etc…has unique goodness. That is , something different and wonderful to contribute to a community and thereby enriching it and bringing about more good ideas, more willingness to work for the good of the community, inspiring more goodness and ultimately more harmony. I believe that everyone deeply desires to be useful, appreciated, and loved for their interest in and ability to contribute to the wellbeing of all, near and far. When appreciated, these wonderful qualities come forward and actively benefit the community. We could have a Wototo – the Ugandan children’s choir that performed at Westwood High School recently – experience every week. What great inspiration is out there waiting to be tapped.           

         “Diversity can be challenging in that the world generally accepts a view of man as a mix of good and bad, stemming from a belief of the reality of evil. I think that, unfortunately, for a lot of people, adding more diversity to the mix means adding more bad along with the good, to our experience. And there’s fear of that. And often the view of the bad eclipses the view of the good. I take the question to a higher level and don’t focus on what world thought thinks is bad, but really work on appreciating the vast amounts of good in each person. And, for the record, to my thought, good is the only absolute reality.”

            There are several other ‘definitions’ that I’ve received. I’d like to hear your definition of diversity. If I receive a sufficient number of responses, next week’s column will be “Your View” as opposed to my own. Please e-mail me at bishop@aol.com. This is your opportunity to express your thoughts. I promise to print all definitions possible with appropriate attribution to the contributor.

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