Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle · Writing, editing, editorial, philosophy

Things we tell ourselves

Having just canceled an appointment, I was surprised and disappointed to hear old messages from my dad who has not been with us for almost forty years. He reminded me in this ancient suggestion that I was lazy. Surely my life has been indicative of everything other than laziness, so I am compelled to ponder why I am still hearing his criticisms.

Before I seek out a therapist to examine old childhood issues, I consider that we all do this to one degree or another. My guess is that most of us could easily enumerate all the criticisms or compliments that we received from our upbringing. But unless we use them for some positive outcomes, what’s the point?

Here are some of the reasons why all that negative self-messaging is harmful. First, how much is true? In this case, being in the labor force for the last many years is a pretty good indication that my life is not consistent with laziness. Secondly, what constructive purpose does it serve? Hearing negative things that were said decades ago doesn’t motivate, construct or rehabilitate.

And of course, as an educator, I consider the damages and values of these messages. My parents, your parents and everyone else who has had an influence on you has no way of either retracting comments or understanding the effects that they have. Tell a child that he’s awful in math and he will continually live down to your expectations. Tell another child that her art is exceptional, and she will continue to create.

If it were that simple to lose these old habits, we would definitely be doing so. But I suggest that because we oversee the paths and destinations of our thoughts, we can do much better than allowing them to direct us. Tell Dad that his perception of your math abilities was incorrect. Be sure to tell Mom that you are grateful for her non-stop, flowery encouragement. As much as possible, disenfranchise the messengers you send to yourself that reinforce your limitations. Use that time to enhance, not detract. Shalom.


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Driving home today, I observed an interesting and potentially frustrating road reality. The setting was a busy highway, midday, with an average amount of traffic. In the second lane from the right was a tired, road-worn truck with a driver who looked as though he had as many miles on him as his truck. He was probably 70+, and he was traveling at about 45 miles per hour in a 65 zone.

Judging from the reactions of neighboring drivers, his speed presented an inconvenience to them. But it occurred to me that he had as much right to that highway at his speed as anyone else. It seems that we are frequently in the habit of depriving others their rights in order to protect or express our own.

When you look around, you can quickly identify other examples of average citizens whose rights are violated, often in minor ways. Let’s change the venue to a mass market store such as Target or Walmart. Someone at some time is urgently searching for an item, right in the middle of the aisle through which you are proceeding. You become impatient, issue an impolite, “Excuuuuuuuse me,” and wait for that person or team to relocate.

Go around them. There is always another method for entering that aisle to accomplish your objective. Maybe the shopper is having trouble reading the labels, due either to illiteracy, age or eye problems. But he or she is equally entitled to the space in that aisle that you are. The same is true of the person who grabs a cart that you approached, enters a checkout lane to which you were headed or wants the head of lettuce that you were about to grab.

Rights don’t apply only to us. Because that’s true, you don’t have license to deprive others of their rights for the sake of expanding or articulating yours. Oftentimes, the process merely requires taking a breath and hesitating before becoming indignant. My hope is that Mr. Senior Truck Driver arrived at his destination without numerous folks honking at him. May we all reach where we are going without having to defend our speeds. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Let me know

Those of my readers who are writers can probably understand the frustrations and challenges associated with putting words together in some format. One of the most formidable difficulties is that of receiving feedback.

Within this venue, the most obvious form of input is the “like” button. When someone likes my work, clicking on this link is easy and expedient. Receiving likes is enjoyable and rewarding, the best indications that my work has been worthwhile reading. Unfortunately, the readership in any medium is very difficult to measure.

Here’s an example. In October I will be celebrating the sixth year anniversary of publishing my first book, The Three Legged Milking Stool. While I have sold many copies, both those who are close and unfamiliar with me are reluctant to write reviews. The choice is mine: Does this indicate a lack of interest or feeling about the book? Or is it a fear of putting words on the site to register positive or negative reactions?

This lack of information continues with respect to a few of my writing clients. Many of them are quite articulate about appreciating or valuing my work. But in at least three cases, clients simply stopped contacting me. Does this mean that they have other writers? Does it mean that they suddenly stopped wanting/needing/loving/using my work? Getting no data is worse than negative commentary.

Yes, it’s true that we can’t please all the people all the time. The taste fairy is alive and well although I’m not sure where she currently resides. Perhaps the answer remains with me – my imperative is to solicit responses from my clients and readers, regardless of the substance of that information. The other alternative is to live with it and recognize that people simply don’t want to take the time and effort to leave remarks.

If you want to discourse about something I’ve said, please do so. If you don’t, I’ll take the route of positive interpretation and believe that you agree or commend me. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle


For as long as I can remember, I have been liberally saying the words, “I’m sorry.” This is not one of those realities that is uncomplicated. As a teacher and a parent, I have always advocated delivering apologies for hurting someone or doing any other kind of disservice.

This is another type of sorry that is often difficult for others to understand. When someone I care about is in pain or has experienced an injury, I say that I am sorry. When someone loses something or someone, I am sorry. The immediate response is often that there is no need for me to be sorry because I was in no way at fault.

Perhaps we have the power to deliver extraordinary kindness with two words – I’m sorry. Sorry means that I wish you weren’t in pain. It also means that your inconvenience or loss also diminishes me, even though I was in no way involved.

Is there any other way to achieve the same result? We might want to express the same sentiment in other terms such as, I wish that you weren’t in pain or in a difficult situation. Or we could try, I hope that your discomfort or sadness soon come to an end. From this standpoint, I’m sorry says quite a bit more with substantially fewer words.

This is a statement that I often make in the classroom. A student comes in from the playground with a scrape or bump and I automatically say that I’m sorry. Kids inevitably ask me why. My response is generally that I feel bad because they are hurting and hope that their injury or accident heals quickly. Surprisingly, they always get it.

Because my responsibility is to teach life lessons as well as math, science, reading and social studies, this is another one of those feelings that kids need to model.

Before going overboard by feeling bad for every tragedy or misfortune, I am careful to be sorry only for those I know. If you ask my advice, I suggest that you let those who matter know that you care enough to be sorry. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Doing justice

The other day, I asked a friend if my blog reference to him did him justice. Happily, he said that it did, and I began thinking about the word justice. None of the curricula that I have taught have included any reference, direct or oblique, to justice. We talk about the judicial system, especially when we are adding a Supreme Court justice. But beyond that, how often do the majority of world citizens think about justice?

Many of us often think about the need for justice when we see someone or a group of people doing something that is clearly and absolutely wrong. A good example is the cretin who was taunting bison at Yellowstone, one of my most treasured places. He was eventually apprehended and placed in the Yellowstone jail. Justice was served.

Likewise, when the pedophile who abused hundreds of young Olympic gymnasts was arrested, we cheered at the delivery of justice. There were no gray areas or chances for mitigation. My opinion is that society hasn’t yet identified a punishment that is harsh enough for him.

My goal as an educator is to deliver justice to rule-breakers as often and consistently as possible. We need to give them choices. If they fail to uphold promises, they understand that they will experience appropriate consequences. To my mind, this is how we teach our children about justice.

If you steal a classmate’s food, you get no snack. If you can’t manage to work cooperatively, you work alone. If you keep blurting out information during class participation, I will not call on you.

One way or another, we must teach that we always have choices. Making wrong ones will result in justice. When you’re driving 65 in a 40 mile per hour zone, I will cheer at your speeding ticket.

Likewise, justice can be positive. Pay your taxes, abide by the laws that are in place and you’re entitled to help mold your world by voting. Violate that with gymnastic students or bison and you deserve the worst that we can orchestrate. Shalom.

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You can

Because one of the objectives for writing blogs is attracting and engaging readers, it’s always a challenge to determine what will be compelling. The key must be a compliment expressed yesterday from someone very close to me about one of my blogs. He said, I wouldn’t be surprised if people are motivated to do something or another after reading your blogs.

This is perhaps the greatest accolade I can receive, as an educator and a writer. If somehow, I have encouraged you to do something that you’ve wanted to do and haven’t done, please move forward and do it. If thinking about something has likewise been difficult or overwhelming, you are capable of analysis. Create some private space and indulge in the celebration of your mind’s strength and ingenuity.

Please remember that this is the only shot you’ve got at your life. When you have a story to tell that is compelling, interesting, amusing, illuminating or all of the above, tell it. As I recently (and repeatedly) told a close friend, don’t worry about the format – your story is far more important than the manner in which it’s told. You will be doing yourself and the rest of the world a favor if your life and its details have the potential to improve or enlighten others.

But it doesn’t have to be a book. If you’ve always wanted to draw, find a community college or other venue to pursue your talent. You are likely to be surprised at your potential for works that are expressive and extraordinary. Or it could be any other form of activity such as poetry, dressmaking, sculpture, jewelry-making or floral design.

The best reason to begin is that you are the only one who can do what you do. No-one else can tell your tale, bring life to your oils or arrange your posies. If you have children or grandchildren, they will be inspired by your new creative pursuits. If you have a meaningful social circle, they will likely be encouraging and energizing.

Don’t let the insecure compartment of your brain discourage you. Begin to believe that you have the goods for greatness and watch what you can accomplish. Students in my classrooms always hear from me, “The only ceiling above your head is the one that you place there.” Shalom.


Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle


There is something about being part of a team that makes it a uniquely demanding and often gratifying experience. While I’m not referring specifically to sports teams, they may and often do share some of the qualities that non-athletic teams derive from group experiences.

From the top, I’m not referring to all of the “Hoorah” or knuckle-bumping that you may associate with many collaborations. It’s not about paying dues, wearing the right hoodie or doing the team mantra. More importantly, it’s about being with and around people who care about your success and personal growth.

This all occurs to me as one who has recently rejoined a business organization. The experience of doing so has been quite a surprise. People whom I had forgotten were remembering me. Those whom I had not met were interested in knowing more about me and what goes on in my brain.

Clearly, none of that puts money in the bank, cleans my garage or gets me better gas mileage. But I’m beginning to believe that folks of all flavors are enriched by belonging to something. It creates camaraderie, stimulating human interaction and often, the sense of community predicated on shared priorities.

For those who seek becoming enhanced by the emotional or psychological benefits of being part of an association, do whatever is necessary to move forward. The only true requirement is that you believe in the philosophy or objectives of that collection of participants.

Tutor some kids. Teach financial literacy to elementary school youngsters. Spend some time serving meals at a homeless shelter. Work for your political party. Dedicate volunteer hours to a local nursing home. These have all been in my past and provided more gratification than any paycheck. No matter what you choose to do, the process of proceeding toward something with others will be worthwhile. Your presence will inevitably and definitively improve that ensemble while you are benefitting yourself. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Talk, talk, talk

In a society that relies heavily on words and their meanings, I am often surprised at how much powerful discourse is nonverbal. Certainly, my craft relies on the proper placement of timely language. But never do I believe that dialect is the best or only way to convey messages.

For example, we recently completed a major landscaping project with a hard-working gentleman who spoke almost no English. While I tried to express our needs and priorities in the best Spanish I could conjure, many words were beyond my recollection. Yet we managed to organize and execute a project, primarily by eye contact, handshakes and copious thank you affirmations in both languages.

We speak volumes when baking a favorite dessert or remembering to buy an ingredient that was omitted from the shopping list. Carrying heavy packages, holding a door and preparing new coffee flavors are all forms of communication.

The best and finest exercise of language is not to employ it at all. As adults, we all have (or should have) filters that prevent us from hurting others, stating the obvious and spouting junk that others simply don’t want to hear. Children without these filters have inherently less liability.

Thomas Fuller said, “Promises may get friends but it’s performances that keep them.” From this desk, I would rather say nothing to you than waste your time, bore you or distribute meaningless gossip. There is really something wise about vows of silence.

My best guess is that we would all be enhanced by more promise-keeping or viable engagement and minimal verbal pollution. If you need substantiation, check your social media, local news broadcasts or political blustering. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle


Because I’m always skeptical of people who claim to have found the secret of life, I am hesitant to send one out there as a panacea or universal elixir. But today I thought about how good it is for the body, spirit and state of being to laugh. I’m not talking about a little chortle or a snicker. This is a huge belly laugh that is loud enough to attract attention if you’re in a public space.

Here’s the subject of today’s guffaw. Someone captured a video of a young person (I hesitate to invoke the term “millennial”) trying to use a rotary telephone. For those of us who grew up using such devices, it’s as normal as tying shoes or brushing teeth. But this youngster didn’t realize that he had to pick up the receiver before dialing the phone. He tried and tried, each time discovering that when he finally picked up the handset, all he had was dial tone.

Although there has been a recent interest in the ancient and antique devices known as typewriters, many people under thirty have never seen one. This was another source of giggledom, watching kindergarteners trying to use one after they figured out what it was. It had no screen, no apps, no GIFS and no music other than the clack, clack of keys. If you can find one of these videos, it’s worth a serious chuckle, especially if you’ve spent much of your life navigating a typewriter.

My suggestion is to find a reason to laugh each day. Lucille Ball has long been one of my heroines because so much of what she did generated unbridled gaiety. Check out the program where she becomes the spokesperson for  Vitameatavegamin and you’ll have the humor that will brighten your disposition and your day.

If Lucy doesn’t do it for you, the miracles of technology allow access to the Three Stooges, Jerry Lewis, Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carrey or Johnny Carson. If you’re not familiar with some of them, check them out. Make time to take time for the purposes of your health and disposition. Smiling is the best expression that you can give your face and the process of hilarity is absolutely rejuvenating. Shalom.



Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Each moment

While searching for a baked zucchini recipe this afternoon, I found a note to myself that I had taught a female student what a thesaurus was. The noted ended with the hope that she’ll think of me the next time she needs or sees a thesaurus.

The thought was a provocative one, not because I remember her name or where the teaching moment occurred. It made me wonder how many individual teaching moments I have succeeded in creating throughout my years of teaching.

When I try, I can think of some specifics. In one case, I talked about my home town of Chicago – its lakefront, its public transportation system, its institutions of higher learning and the Chicago Public Library where I spent many years of my life. In most cases, students are quite curious, asking me questions ranging from my age to the names of my kids.

In other cases, I can remember explaining life in southern California, with the world’s most perfect climate, the extraordinary military presence and the spectacular Pacific Ocean.

But here’s what was more exhilarating: how many teaching moments have I succeeded at creating without my knowledge? When I taught someone how to spell a word, did that correct spelling persist? If I described the differences between ovals, squares, rectangles and octagons, did that teaching/learning moment remain with them?

It also occurs to me that every minute is an opportunity to be intentional and specific about what we say and do in the presence of our kids. It’s altogether possible that my describing all of the beautiful, remarkable components of a library motivated a student to explore the local library. It’s also possible that a student or group of students took home a spelling list and proudly spelled some difficult words that they would use into adulthood.

When we label our chances to teach as learning sessions, students are likely to resist, indicating that they don’t want or need to know any individual thought. But when we express information with excitement, you can almost see illumination occur. It’s the difference between showing a student how railroads have evolved over the centuries and having them read the paragraphs in a book. Wake up the content and listen to the locomotive and cars rolling down the rails. Shalom.