Archive for the ‘Team building’ Category

Choices…What an interesting word. Are you aware that the average adult makes 35,000 choices in a single day? That’s right; you read that correctly…35,000. Heck, we make 226.7 choices just about the food we’re going to eat in a single day. By contrast, children make only about 3,000 choices in a day. Much of the research, particularly about the food, was done at Cornell University, which is appropriate considering they have one of the best schools of hotel management in the country.

But…once more I digress, only to be pulled back to the subject at hand; in this case, “choices.” I’m willing to bet that without half trying, you could list 1,000 choices you make in a day. Consider your clothing, your mode of transportation, your job, your career, the television you may or may not watch, and of course let us not forget about the food you choose…or not. I suppose we could add the choices you make about what to do on the computer or, if you use a smart phone…oy, let’s not get started on those choices

I’d like to consider myself as a pretty average adult. Stop laughing right now! Okay, so I’m a bit older than average. Maybe I’m a bit taller than average even with my age-diminished-height. I could also be thought of as a bit heavier than average – although I have just lost 25 pounds, with 25 more to go. But here are some of the choices I have to make first thing in the morning: Gym clothing or street clothes; water or fruit juice; a protein bar or some fruit; go to the gym or not; if not, what will we be doing today and how do I dress for it; if going to the gym, is the battery charged on my I-pod or should I charge it while I’m getting ready to go. I could go on and on and on and I haven’t even been to the gym yet! Geez, all these choices, most of which we make without even considering that we are doing so. Are you getting my drift here?

If you remember Newton’s Third Law…”For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” then you will, perhaps, understand why we make those 35,000 choices each and every day. Making a single choice influences so many other choices that they quickly add up, and the number doesn’t appear quite as large as it initially did.

Along the line we may make some choices that don’t affect us at the time but that have a huge impact on us later. My decision to smoke for 51 years of my life has now resulted in emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). As a result, my choices of exercise are quite limited. On the other hand, my choice not to get involved in any criminal activities – yes, it was a choice – means that I didn’t have any kind of a record that would have prevented me from getting a security clearance or pursuing any number of professions.

Are there choices that I made that perhaps I should not have? Absolutely. Let me cite college as an example. In my undergraduate years, I never took the classroom all that seriously. That was a choice that, in hindsight, was about as dumb as I had to have been. Don’t get me wrong, I had wonderful collegiate experiences. They just weren’t in the classroom. By the time I got to graduate school I was married, had a full-time job, and truly recognized the value of higher education. To this day, however, I look back at my undergraduate days with some regret.

But enough about me. Let’s talk about you for a few moments. What choices did you make today? Were they choices that affected only you or were the effects felt by others? Were the effects on others positive or negative? Did your choices affect the choices made by others? The choices you make as an individual, ie, breakfast, clothing, etcetera, these only affect you. Supposing, however, that you are the head of a small or even large organization. Every choice you make may affect the lives of hundreds or even thousands of others. The choices you make compound over a lifetime and lead to who, what, and where you are. Your choices define you, and they define how others view you. This latter may not concern you at all, but you’d be wise to consider it. Let us return to you as leader, president, CEO, or whatever title you wish to hold. Your choices now become decisions and those decisions always affect the choices and actions of others. So how do you make those decisions? Do you go with the first choice that is offered and to hell with the consequences? Do you make the choice to go with what will please the majority, even though it may have long-term negative consequences? Or do you carefully weigh what is good for the organization, the employees, the community, and a host of others that will be affected by this one decision that is made up of complex choices?

It’s at this point that you begin to think, “Damn, I never looked at my choices this way,” or words to that effect. Our simple choices that only affect us are one thing, but when your choice has a ripple effect (damn, there’s that word again), well, that’s when things become complicated. If you’re on the top rung of the ladder, the choices you make cannot be made impulsively. Every single factor must be weighed. It doesn’t become a breakfast choice or a clothing choice, or the choice of a television program to be watched. Your choice becomes your decision. Can you live with it?

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I’m attempting to put my teaching hat back on as it relates to law enforcement. The police officers whom I taught over the years ranged from the very, very serious to those who looked on what they were doing as just another job – I never really understood the latter group – that they would get up and go to each day. I could have been reading them all wrong, but perhaps it was just that they didn’t believe I couldn’t understand them because I wasn’t a ‘cop,’ a word more common among them than ‘police officer.’ Be that as it may, my job was to teach them to understand how to work in teams, rather than as individuals, and how to understand the underlying problems that contribute to the larger and more visible problems that they see on a daily basis. When asked to describe the major problem in their community, I would always ask, “Why,” why is that the major problem? What causes that to become the major problem? In other words, we would break the problem into its various elements, finally reaching the point of understanding that the perceived problem could not possibly be solved until the underlying problems had been taken care of.

As I watched the 60 Minutes report on the terrorists who have been attacking in France and in Denmark, it occurred to me that these types of attacks will become as great an epidemic as ISIIS or ISIL or whatever the hell you wish to call them because there is an underlying problem that first must be solved within each country…Why do these homegrown terrorists have such hatred for the nation that spawned them? What has caused their anger? Do they feel that their nation has rejected them? Persecuted them? Done nothing for them (and what do they expect the nation to have done for them)? At some point they have been radicalized against their own nation. Why? How? What is at the very root of their hatred?  It’s quite easy to say that there is a certain part of the population in any area that feels the world has forgotten about them or doesn’t give a damn about them. They drop out of school the minute they turn 16 because they don’t see the value of education. In addition, there is money to be made on the street and “It ain’t flippin’ burgers at the arches.”

Have we, as a society, failed this group of people? Have their parents failed them? What and where is the problem? Until the very basic problem is identified and the road is paved toward solving it, we can expect to see more homegrown terrorists in every country in the world because the terrorists abroad are way ahead of the good people of the nations in propagandizing and converting dissatisfied youth to their side of the street.

The French found out the hard way about who is and who isn’t dangerous. Said and Cherif Kouachi, along with Amedi Coulibaly were well known to French Police as young thugs who had served time for various crimes. Contacts within prisons helped to convert these three young people to violent radical jihadists who could take their hatred out on their own country. In Denmark, Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, the 22-year old shooter, was another home grown terrorist with a record as a local criminal. Okay, where are the commonalities here? What is the basic problem? All had police records from a young age; hell, plenty of kids have that and grow up to lead good lives (I happen to have a sealed juvenile record, and I haven’t done too badly); what brings these four people together or does anything? These are the questions that are facing law enforcement officials all over the world.

In the case of the French shooters, so much appears to be known about their lives that perhaps they could be used as models with certain base characteristics to help law enforcement organizations to put together some type of profile. Nah, that would be too easy, to unsophisticated. Perhaps it might also be too overwhelming a task because of the number of (a) youthful offenders who have served time, come out, and are now lost; (b) the number of recruiters in prison who have already converted some of those in the ‘a’ category who have now gone to ground; and (c) the dearth of people in the law enforcement system who are unable to keep track of the youthful offenders because they have a caseload that would choke an elephant.

“It’s impossible to keep track of all the possible,” I’ve been told. My answer to that goes back to the outset of this very essay…Why? Why is it impossible to keep track of all of the possible? Is it a lack of trained personnel? Is there a personnel pool out there that is being underutilized? How are we using our military police personnel who are being released from active duty? How about those who may be coming back as wounded warriors who are finding it difficult to adjust?  Somewhere, somehow, there is an answer to keeping better track of those who may be preparing the same thing or worse that was done in France and Denmark. The ACLU wouldn’t care for it a whole hell of a lot, but I’d rather be more protective of our general citizenry than less.

Let’s start asking the right questions and let’s begin a campaign to protect all Americans from facing more attacks on this wonderful place we call home.

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Is there any politician or CEO left in this country who will accept responsibility when things go wrong? When President Obama introduced the Bergdahl  family in the Rose Garden, it was all about how he was responsible for bringing Bowe home safely. Now that Congress is getting its hackles up, the President appears to be shying away from responsibility and keeping his mouth shut. When General Motors announced the recall of the various Chevy cars, one of which had already caused 13 deaths because of a faulty ignition switch, who was blamed? Seems to me that not one of the sons of bitches who were in power when those cars were produced had the balls to step forward and say that it was their responsibility. It took new CEO, Mary Bara to accept the bitch slaps that GM was receiving on all fronts…and she did. Now that GM has released its report that has already lead to the firing of fifteen individuals – with more to follow, I’ll bet – Congress is blaming Bara for not reporting all of GM’s failures. Congress is still the old boys’ network and any chance they have to take a shot at someone other than one of their own, they go at it both barrels.

Years ago, I was throwing a tennis ball against a brick wall that was part of Holy Family School in my hometown. At one point I missed; the ball struck and broke a window. To use an often overlooked phrase, “I was scared shitless.”  Heck, I was still in elementary school…and it wasn’t Holy Family. I ran home and told my mother – Dad was at work – what had happened. Her solution was simple. “You march right back there; find the nun who’s in charge; tell her what happened and that it was an accident; then you tell her that you, not your Dad and I, but you will pay for the damage somehow. Now go.” Me, alone, off to see the top penguin. Since I didn’t know much about nuns, only horror stories told by those who went to Holy Family, I was terrified. The school was about a hundred yards up the street. It was like the Green Mile; I felt I was marching to certain death by crucifixion. See, I still remember some of this stuff. Anyway, the school door was locked so I had to go to ‘the nun’s house’ next door. I was greeted pleasantly enough and asked for the “head nun.” Things get kind of blurry after that except for one thing; the mother superior spoke to me gently and thanked me for coming forward. There was no ruler across the knuckles; they didn’t pull out a couple of boards and some nails; no one told me that I had committed a sin that would prevent me from going to Heaven. They were nice. I remember that I had to erase blackboards after school, but I don’t remember for how long. I also remember the relief I felt as I walked home. I was kind of proud that I told someone I had done something bad and had been forgiven. I’m not even certain I knew what the word, “responsibility,” meant. Today, I can look back and say, “Yeah, I accepted responsibility.” The lesson must have stuck because I believe firmly that I should accept responsibility for my actions, good or bad. It’s a code I’ve tried to live by all of my life, but I think that it was my mother who instilled that into me when she sent me back to Holy Family on my own. Can you imagine the majority of today’s parents doing that? I’ll let you picture in your own mind how today’s mothers would handle that situation.

It seems to me that everyone rushes forward to accept praise and will even exaggerate a bit to overemphasize the word, “I.” However, if the shit hits the fan, those same people revert to their old “duck and cover” drill and hide until the air is clear. Did President Obama personally bring home Sergeant Bergdahl? Of course he didn’t. Who knows how long negotiations were taking place to free the sergeant? Who knows if any Americans were involved in the negotiations? Chuck Hegel might have initiated the negotiations by speaking with people in Qatar, but I don’t know. I’m certain, however, that it was a team effort to free Bergdahl. Was he on the verge of being killed? Who knows? Who cares? “No man left behind” is not some rah, rah bullshit; it’s a code and a damned good one. We had to give up five bad guys to get him? So what? I have no idea why the hell we’re still in Afghanistan in the first place. Look at Iraq. It’s already falling back into the hands of those we oppose. Are we supposed to send our troops back so more Americans can die? We damned well better not or I’ll lead the march on Washington. These people are primitives. Let them have their 2,500 years of stupidity. They’re wrong, but I’m not willing to give up one more American life to show them just how wrong they are. If they wish to remain in the Stone Age, fine; let’s cut off all aid and tell them to get along on their own. Perhaps that, in and of itself, will be enough to force us to give up our dependence on foreign oil or whatever the hell the Iraqis and Afghanis are giving us. If our own Muslim population starts to complain, ship them back where they came from. If you’re in America, act like an American. If you want to help your country, get your ass back there and help them that way. I am just plain tired of this nonsense.

Repeat after me: “If something good happens and I did it alone, I’ll keep my mouth shut. If something good happens and my team was responsible, I’ll praise my team…all of my team. If something bad happens and I’m responsible, I will step forward, admit my error, and take whatever punishment is due. I will do all of these things because I am a responsible person. I don’t need to give myself accolades, only those who did the grunt work.” You can leave out the last sentence if you wish. In fact, you may wish to rewrite the entire credo; just remember it’s never ‘I’ when something succeeds; there is always a ‘we’ somewhere in the mix. As for the failure, sure, it could also be a team effort, but if you were top dog, accept the blame and move on. End of sermon.

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I’m kinda funny about certain things. Like…if you want to piss down my leg and tell me it’s raining, I won’t believe you but generally speaking, it’s no big deal. However, if you tell me that I won’t lose my health insurance because you’ve got some great new deal coming my way, well, I get rather pissed when I find out that you’ve lied to me. Right now, I’m just a wee bit pissed at President Obama.

The truth is that I’m not quite as pissed at the President as I am at those who drafted the Affordable Care Act. This had to have happened one night when a small group of complete idiots were sitting around a table in Georgetown, drinking bourbon or whiskey sours, gnoshing on peanuts and pretzels. Somebody asked, “What can we do to really fuck up the new guy in the White House,” and some other genius reminded the group that seven presidents before him had failed on national health care…”So why don’t we convince him that that will provide his lasting legacy.” I’m certain there were belly laughs and guffaws around the table; even a few pats on the back. Then they began putting notes together.

Shitfaced and filled with the free snacks from the bar, the fools began writing and by morning had drafted…drum roll please…the first national affordable health care bill that stood a chance of passing…ta dah! Of course, it then had to be given to their aides who gathered the following evening in a small bar at the far end of Wisconsin Avenue – they couldn’t afford Georgetown – and over draft beer and anchovy pizza – they further refined this proposed bill, changing much of the meaning, muddying the clear parts and clearing up the muddy parts. The following day, this proposed bill, now a tome of over 600 pages was given to a group of secretaries from the various offices of the first group of fools and told to “…and put this in order so that it makes sense.”

These secretaries, now called Personal Assistants – to whom they never knew because it seemed to them that they were at the bottom of the hill from whence the shit flowed downward – met over coffee in the office building of the aides and the legislators – bourbon, whiskey sours, or beer – hell, they were lucky to afford the single two-room apartment twenty miles away on Route 50, and for two days they talked about the document they were being asked to ‘translate.’ That was the only word they could think of for what had been put before them. Mary Ann, the one with a husband on his third tour in Afghanistan and the three kids was elected ‘consolidator’ of the shit pile, as it was called. Joanne, the most senior accepted the title of ‘shit kicker,’ which meant that the most obvious pieces of garbage would be pulled out and turned into appendices. Sarah, the most senior of the group, would be the ‘creator,’ meaning that she would take what remained after the shit pile was coordinated and the garbage removed and attempt to make sense of the remaining shit pile. Roslyn and Meredith, as the two most recent additions to the various staffs, would be stuck with entering the data into the computers. Of course none realized that Roslyn was a graduate of the University of Edenborough, with a masters in Journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State or that Meredith also had a background that qualified her to make intelligent insertions into her typing. A graduate of Columbia, Meredith also held an advanced degree from the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU.

If ever a bill of any kind didn’t stand a chance, it was one put together by a bunch of drunken politicians, congressional aides who thought they were God’s angels on earth, and personal assistants who had more brains in their heads than the politicians and aides put together…but who didn’t understand the inner workings of the political scene in the nation’s capital.

From this amalgam came “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” 900 plus pages of gobblygook that would never be read through completely by any elected legislator in the House of Representatives or Senate. Somehow…and it must have been by the Grace of God and the Blessings of the Devil, the bill passed. The personal assistants congratulated one another and went out for coffee. The legislative aides gathered at the bar on the upper end of Wisconsin and slapped one another on the back for the great job they had done. The fools who put the original plan in motion met at the Inn in Georgetown, chugged down their first bourbon and/or whiskey sour, and asked one another, “My God, what have we done?”

Since no one had read the bill, no one had the vaguest idea of how to put it into effect. The President, having signed the bill on March 23, 2010 [without reading it, one might add] paraphrased Larry, the Cable Guy, and said, “Get ‘er done!”

No one in the United States government appears to know what happened after “Get ‘er done,” but somehow, the same firm that fucked up the Canadian Health Care Program was hired to put a computer program in place that would enable uninsured Americans to sign up for this wonderful new patient protection and affordable care act – has it ever bothered anyone that the word, ‘health,’ is not included – within a brief period of time.

The rest, as they say, is history – as doubtless as the affordable care and protection act will be in the future. Members of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives have attempted more than 40 times to kill the bill in one way or another. The Democratically-controlled Senate has defeated these attempts, but so much time has been spent arguing that nothing else seems to have gotten done. The eventual rollout of the bill was nothing short of disastrous. The computer firm that designed the rollout package has left the country and is now deigning a similar program in Manzhouli in Inner Mongolia far from the reaches of the FBI, CIA, NSA, or the Keystone Kops. President Obama is now the public apologist which is exactly how the crowd at the Inn in Georgetown had planned it in the first place.

Ain’t democracy wonderful?

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About this time every year for the past several years, I become somewhat emotional as well as pissed off at my body for letting me down. This year I guess I have an excuse because of the torn Achilles, but if it’s not one thing, it seems to be another. I’m speaking of the fact that I am no longer able to volunteer for my favorite charity, The Pan-Massachusetts Challenge (PMC) which will be held this first weekend in August. The PMC raises money for the Jimmy Fund and the Dana Farber Cancer Research Center. Since its beginnings in 1980, the PMC has raised over $375 million.

“What is this PMC?” you ask.

Oh please, don’t get me started. The PMC is a bike ride; it’s not a race; it’s a bike ride! For many, it’s a two-day ride from Sturbridge, Massachusetts to Provincetown, MA. Don’t bother to figure the mileage; it’s 192 miles. Don’t worry, these folks stop at the Mass Maritime Academy in Bourne for a sleepover before crossing the Bourne Bridge which is one of the two entrances to Cape Cod. Over the years, shorter routes have been added to accommodate the number of riders who want to be a part of this great organization. I guess here might be a good time to tell you that every penny raised by riders goes directly to the charity. Administrative costs come from a separate foundation – and the fact that there are overworked and underpaid slaves in the office who are beaten severely on a regular basis [just kidding]. There are now over a dozen routes to ride the PMC, and many are single-day rides.

My commitment to the PMC spanned over 10 years, not as a rider but as a volunteer. It began before my late wife, Joan, was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer, and it lasted after her death in 2008. It is impossible to describe the feeling, the emotions of preparing to volunteer, just as I’m certain it’s impossible to know how the riders must feel as the train, both separately and in groups, for the ride – training includes a one-day century ride; you’ve got it…100 miles in a single day. Obviously, not everyone puts themselves through that kind of a regimen, but there are some 7,000 plus who do.

On the day of the ride, emotions run high. There’s a great deal of hugging and kissing, well-wishing and yes, a great many tears. Many people ride with pictures attached to their jerseys; for others, it’s a list of those for whom they’re riding. Helmets are adorned with animals of all kinds, usually representative of a toy that was someone’s favorite. There have been times I’ve invited friends to “just come over and watch.” Every single one of them has later admitted that he or she has cried tears of joy for what they saw as genuine dedication and commitment on the part of the riders as well as the volunteers.

The year after Joan died, I was asked to be part of the very brief speaking program that precedes the start of the ride. It was tough, one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. As I looked out at that sea of riders, I had trouble holding it together. These people were riding so that there wouldn’t be any more Joan’s or Jimmy’s. There they were…cops and teachers, college students and investment bankers, Red Sox wives and then-Senator John Kerry; there were husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, and just about any profession you can name, including many of the doctors, nurses, and administrators from Dana Farber and the Jimmy Fund…now that I think of it, I wonder who the hell was minding the store?

Now that I can no longer be an active part of this event, I do a bit as a supporter of a couple of riders. I’m proud to support them and I’m proud of my association with the PMC. If you’d like to learn more, please go to http://www.pmc.org and learn more about this wonderful program. Oh, and if you’ve got an extra buck or so, don’t be afraid to become part of the PMC. I guarantee it’ll feel good to give to such a worthy cause.

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I have discovered the ultimate in love/hate relationship.. The answer is “Age.”

Think about it; when you’re very young, you want to be older. When you’re very, very young – and I’m only assuming this part to be true, you look around and see all of these bigger beings walking around; you can’t do that yet…you haven’t learned how to do it, but those who can seem to move so much faster than you can by crawling along, pulling with your arms and pushing with your feet while your belly flows – quickly if you’re on linoleum or tile or wood; slowly if you’re on a rug – across some surface.  Let me give you a clue young babe: When you’re older, you can have the same problem; if you’re on that smooth stuff, you can finding yourself slipping and falling; if you’re on a rug, you can find yourself tripping and falling…see, we’re not so different. While I wouldn’t want to be you – crawling on your belly like a reptile, you really wouldn’t want to be me with my creaky joints, poor eyesight unable to see all of the obstacles that can trip me up. When I trip and fall to the floor, however, it’s like a bag of old twigs that snap and break.

Once you’ve reached that walking point, it’s exploration time and the world – which usually consists of the house or apartment unless you go for a ride in the stroller – is yours to conquer. When you’re old, you remember the conquests that you made – not that kind, fool – and you reminisce about the places you’ve been and the sights you’ve seen. Now you get madder than hell if you have to fly anywhere because you’re unable to walk distances through airports and you have to be wheeled around just the way you are in the stroller. It seems we both hate that time in our lives because of our helplessness.

When you’re young, you want to be older; when you’re older, there are times when you’d like to be younger and there are times when you look back on your younger years and think, “Oh, Lord, am I glad I don’t have to go through that again. In your teens, you get interested in the opposite or maybe the same sex. By the time you’re older, that person with whom you eventually made your way through life with is dead or dying. There was love, but now there’s hate; you hate the world because it’s the world’s fault that he or she is going or gone.

As you go through your formative years – what the hell are formative years anyway – you want to be old enough (a) to get your license; (b) to be able to drink; (c) to get a job and make some money; (d) own a car so you can go places; (e); (f), and; (xyz), you can fill in for yourself…if you can remember back that far. As you get older, you remember the number of times you lost your license; the day you learned that drinking wasn’t all that big a deal; the time you realized that you’d probably never have enough money and that, while important, money isn’t the be all and end all of life – remember, the Joneses are in debt –  the jobs you loved and hated, and; cars come and cars go, but you will never forget that first POSBIR that was all yours (POSBIR…piece of shit, but it runs!).

As we age, there seems to come a point where the love/hate relationship almost comes together to create a neutral center. You neither love nor hate your age. Your feelings about it are very vague. On the one hand, you love many things about where you are; on the other hand, you have four fingers and a thumb…no, no, no, get serious…on the other hand, there are things about this stage of your personal evolution you wish were different, and while you don’t hate them, they could be better. Maybe you’ve just bought the house you love, but to do so, you’ve assumed a debt that you know is going to put some pressure on you that you didn’t have before and you really don’t care for that. Maybe you’ve just received that promotion you’ve been coveting for so long and you really, really love that because it comes with a giant raise…but deep down, you may not trust yourself and you don’t really hate that feeling but it does get the stomach acid roiling about a bit.

You reach a point in your life that you start looking forward to that thing called “retirement” or maybe not; maybe it’s thrust upon you. So you either love retirement or you hate it; there really isn’t a hell of a lot you can do about it. You may retire from one job and go right into another, but then you have to ask yourself, “Am I going to work myself to death?” Retirement can be loved and hated at the same time. Many younger friends have asked, “Did you want to retire?” I always have to carefully consider my response. It changes according to the day. The last ten years of my working life were the best ten years of my working life; it wasn’t work at all; it was fun! It was fun because I had joined that group of people where it was no longer ‘manager as decision-maker.’ I had ten years of working as part of a team…where team accomplishment meant more than individual accomplishment; where team members weren’t that in name only; where people really worked together toward common goals and objectives; where going to work wasn’t a task, but a genuine pleasure. We succeeded or failed as a team, and the odds of failure grew less and less as the team became more and more comfortable with one another. I ha ted to leave than environment. I left because a new leader – overall leader of the institution at which I was working – didn’t appear to believe in the team concept. Remembering that, I have to say that I loved going into retirement. However, getting back to the question that was asked…”Did you want to retire?” the answer is a definite, “Yes.”  I didn’t want to go back to the days of cutthroat competition; I was too old for that crap!

There is a warning that goes with retirement…don’t do it unless you are prepared to be busier than you’ve ever been before.  Did you ever hear of a round tuit…when you retire, the first things you should do is all of those things you said – while you were working – “when I retire I’ll get around to it.” It may be that you’ve wanted make yourself an authority on some subject by reading as much as you can about it…not for any particular reason; just because you want to learn. It may be that you’ve never had time for a garden and you’ve always wanted one; here’s your chance. Maybe you’ve wanted to travel and never had the time; you will now. Let me give you a bit of advice: Before you set off to see the world, see your own country first. I was blessed. When I was 18 I was asked to help drive a lady and her son across country. He was a friend and we had a ball. If you are an American and you’ve ever driven across the nation, you know what I mean. America is a collection of 49 contiguous nations within a single boundary. We speak the same language…almost, but sometimes you just have to listen harder to hear the words. We even have different cultures even though we’re basically the same. It’s quite eye-opening.

Whatever it is you want to do on retirement, have something to do or you’ll be dead in a year or two, and you’ll pretty much really hate that…as far as we know! In retirement, you’ll begin to wish you were younger so that you could do what some of the younger folks do. You’ll hate that, but as I mentioned before, then you’ll start to think about it and say to yourself, “I wouldn’t want to go through that again, thank you very much.”

It doesn’t matter what age you are. Some of it you will love; some of it you will hate. Suck it up and accept what and who you are. Life at any age is a beautiful thing. I may be old and creaky, but I also have memories of times when I wasn’t like this; they are wonderful memories. I’m certain there must have been some times I hated, but those fade much faster than the good memories. Take life for what it is; take your age for what it is. Love it or hate it; heck, you really don’t have much choice when you think about it.

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Oh, good, I have my own civil rights group. I never realized that. I think I’ll ask them to picket my doctor’s office. Ya see, at six-one, two-fifty, he calls me really obese. Now when I look at myself in a full-length mirror (ego does that to ya, ya know), I don’t think I compare with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. He should be really happy he doesn’t have my doc all over his ass! Hell, just imagine if my doctor had been President William Howard Taft’s medico; it wouldn’t have been a pretty sight. At six feet, 350 pounds, I’m willing to bet no one ever called him “Bones.” How do you think the obesity civil rights group could have justified him in the Oval Office? That sure would have been one big oval.

It seems as though there’s a civil rights group for everything today, except for those whose civil rights don’t seem to matter a whole hell of a lot to anyone. The United States Congress doesn’t care about yours or my civil rights; hell, they trample them every day with their so-called party loyalty. They put us, our savings, our climate, and everything else that we think is ours in danger every time we turn around.

State government doesn’t seem to give a damn. They put a tax on this and a tax on that and, quite frankly, I don’t feel I have the right to protest. Whatever happened to “No taxation without representation?” Anyone who believes that he or she is being fairly represented by the people we elect to state or federal government has been a victim of the smoke machine…and you know damn right well where that smoke gets blown.

Minority groups have civil rights and organizations to protect those civil rights. I admit that White America screwed up in a big way in the early days, but for Christ’s sake, don’t take it out on me; I didn’t lynch your granddaddy and I didn’t prevent you from seeking an education. White people, Black people, Hispanic and Asian people, people of all colors and ethnicities, races and religions had damn well better learn to get along or some fool is going to get pissed and push a button. Of course, it won’t matter then because you can’t live on a dead planet.

“Well, if we don’t do it by getting organized, we won’t accomplish our goals.” What the hell are your goals? You want recognition and money for Crohn’s Disease…you already have a lobby; you want more money for autism research; you already have a lobby; even rare diseases have a day set aside for their recognition (last day of February each year).

It appears that everybody has their hand in somebody else’s pocket. Everyone wants a spokesgroup that will take their fight…where? Who the hell is going to listen? “I’ve got my own problems,” they say. So what it really comes down to is, “Fend for yourself, buddy, ‘cause in the final analysis, all you have is you.”

Fat people are tired of being abused because they’re fat? Tough shit; you’re fat; get over it. You feel abused because you’re a smoker and your building, office park, mall, campus, or whatever is smoke free? Hey, quit, go to another place, but get the hell out of my face about how you’re persecuted and your civil rights are being violated. You’re talking to someone who smoked for 51 years you asshole and if you want to go ahead and kill yourself, be my guest, but don’t you dare do it around me. I’ll think there’s a fire somewhere and throw water in your face. You just happen to be violating my civil rights to breathe clean air.

There was a time when America was called a “melting pot.” Do you know what that means? Think about it for a moment…a melting pot meaning that whoever you are, whatever you are, you are assimilated into this one big pot and you became one with everyone else who was in that pot. You might not like some of the tastes of the stew that was being concocted in that melting pot, but that didn’t mean you were going to smash the pot; you’d just add you to make it taste better.

Today, America is defined not as a “melting pot,” but as a salad. You’re either the green lettuce, the red tomato, the yellow pepper or maybe a jalapeno. You’re the black olives who don’t like the green ones because they have pimiento; you’re the celery who doesn’t like the radish. And there is no way in hell that we can come together to meld; to become one with each other. We are all too busy to care about anyone else. “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” said our Sixteenth President, Abraham Lincoln, borrowing a quote from Jesus. Today, as we move into the second decade of the 21st Century, America once more finds itself trying to stand as a house divided. We are not Yankees or Confederates. We are not Easterners or Westerners. We are not Black or White, Asian or Hispanic. We are not Arab or Jew, Yemini or Russian. We are Americans. Until we all come to that conclusion, we will remain a “salad” versus a “melting pot.”

Let’s cut out all of this nonsense that we belong to this group or that group, and you are excluded because you don’t possess the qualities. I believe it was Dr. Benjamin Franklin who said at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, “We must all hang together or surely, we will all hang separately.” Now, once more, we stand on a threshold where Franklin’s words hold true. It is time to stop being part of a fragment and begin to be a part of the whole…the whole United States of America.

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