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Words we use

Sometimes we get to be a bit sloppy about the words we use to express ourselves. As a writer, I believe that I have a more pressing imperative to be precise about my language. But I don’t think that I am exempt from using language that could easily be improved.

What got me thinking about this was a television series in which a man referred to his mother as “Ma.” While it’s been many years since I was able to speak with my own mother, I’m sure that I never called her “Ma.” It conjures an old country, perhaps eastern European image that simply doesn’t fit into my world. But the other piece is that I don’t think that I have been called by that name, primarily because I’ve been Mom, Mommy, Mama or Mother Figure, depending on the decade.

The other concern I’ve had recently about the words we use is the decision to call the Coronavirus the “Chinese” virus. This has resulted in a rash of serious hateful acts toward Chinese citizens whom others have held responsible for this pandemic. To say that this is gratuitous and self-serving is an understatement. If you really want to blame someone or something for the virus, the newest data suggests that 5g is responsible. For real?

This is a time like no other that our world has ever experienced. Blaming it on a culture or a technology is seriously ridiculous (why can’t something be serious and ridiculous at the same time?) and serves no purpose whatsoever. Does yelling insults at a Chinese citizen make you any less quarantined? While the Coronavirus might have originated in China (and I’m not absolutely certain of that), a man trying to run over a Chinese Albuquerque lady in retaliation should concern all of us.

We have enough stress going on right now. Let’s be thoughtful about our words and actions. If your dear mother likes to be called “Ma,” so be it. My preference will always be “Mommy” or “Mama” or actually, anything that my offspring would like to use. It’s really about loving one another, isn’t it? Shalom.

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As good as your word

The appointment was for 3:00 pm. We had diligently cleared an area to work and prepared our electric bills for the past year. This was the preface to a scheduled 3:00 appointment with a solar panel salesman who had energetically petitioned for an appointment to discuss the feasibility of solar panels for our home.

We observed 3:00, 3:30, 4:00 and 4:30 come and go, with the salesman failing to appear. From my standpoint, it was an opportunity to save some time. So far, I have yet to see the practicality of solar panels, especially because of the cost and the fact that our electric bills were the lowest I’ve seen in many years.

Ultimately, that’s not the point. Having spent the majority of my career in sales (with the hiatus in the classroom as the only exception – and aren’t I selling knowledge and learning?), I can safely say that I never no-showed an appointment. That’s not to say that I felt confident of the legitimacy in all my appointments, but I would never think of not appearing.

This is a sad commentary, on the integrity of the representative and maybe that of the company and/or its products. If you believe strongly enough in a product to make it available through door-to-door canvassing, you must have some conviction of its value. And there’s the fact that he neglected to secure a phone number when he set the appointment a week ago.

Any of the usual situations could have been in effect. He may have been ill. He may have had a sick family member or two. He may have gotten delayed on a previous appointment. He may have been run over by a road runner. But my best guess is that many have lost the professionalism that I feel is crucial to a viable sales career.

We’ll ultimately see if he shows up again or not. And if you want to make the case that his brand of salesmanship suggests large numbers for negligible chances of success, I understand that as well. No matter your conclusion, I maintain that we are only as good as our words. Telling someone, anyone that I will be somewhere at a certain time is tantamount to a promise. And breaking promises is a habit that I simply can’t support, for myself or those whom I am fortunate enough to educate. Shalom.

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Consider for a moment how many times per day or week you issue the comment, “I don’t care.” If you are like most folks, you liberally suggest to individuals and the world that you have no interest in a subject, cause or event. Something recently motivated me to think about the messages implicit to “I don’t care.”

One obvious reality is that I would never make such a statement in the classroom. My kids tell me the name of their dad’s favorite football team, where their cousins were born and the birthday parties that they attended last month. A day ago, the subject of birthdays came up and I was advised of the birthdays of twenty-plus second graders.

Take it out of the classroom setting and the same rule applies. You’re on the phone with a long-distance relative who begins a description of the activities within the family, the neighborhood and the town in which they live. The first reaction is that you really don’t care about the Rotary pancake breakfast or the quilting program. But it’s just good sense and propriety not to suggest that the information is irrelevant – something implicit to not caring.

If that doesn’t hit home, think about what you’re saying when you indicate that you don’t care about the horrible fires in California. Or maybe you state that you don’t care about mass shootings in Las Vegas, Pittsburgh or El Paso. Is our society dominated by a population that simply doesn’t have interest in tragedies happening in their towns or somewhere else?

Because I value my kindergartener, I want to hear about her birthday. And because I treasure my cousin and sister-in-law, I am interested in the events large and small that surround them. Many of us have become cavalier about those statements or events that we deem to be unworthy of our consideration. The more important fact is that when we protest with, “I don’t care,” we are essentially indicating that we don’t cherish that person or have interest in his/her concerns.

For my part, I’m going to do whatever is necessary to delete the expression from my language. My goal is never to diminish another by my disinterest or lack of empathy. While I don’t care for everyone at all times, I do want those whom I impact to know that they are important. Shalom.


If I may assist with any of your writing endeavors, it is my privilege to do so. You may reach me at csbutts19@yahoo.com.

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Sometimes I wonder about the expression, “You talk too much.” To begin, I would never say this to a student or anyone else. But if anyone ever said it to me, I would be likely to take the statement very seriously, depending on the source.

What constitutes too little, enough or too much? Ultimately, we must all be the monitors of our loquaciousness. We’ve encountered the chatty people who talk on and on, often without sense or awareness of others. Saying, “Stop talking! You’re not saying anything worthwhile” doesn’t work very well. But there are always ways to encourage the end of a long and tedious discourse.

Providing the information that we need to make an appointment or get somewhere (anywhere) else is useful. Another option is to attempt the interjection of something that will redirect or disconnect the conversation. At the very least, asking a question such as, “Do you really think so?” can often terminate an endless diatribe.

As a writer, brevity is usually the best path. This is also true for the length of sentences. One of the books I read recently had a sentence that droned on and on for about 100 words. Functionally, this is annoying as well as generally incorrect. While it’s unlikely that any of us will speak a 100-word sentence, there’s a lesson for all with regard to overstatement.

My recommendation to those accused of talking too much is to ponder why we are doing so in the attempt to abbreviate our language. While I’m not suggesting that you speak in two or three-word sentences, consider your conversation partner, time and location when forming your responses.


The best example I can muster is when a student asks why we should use “whom” instead of “who.” It’s fair to conjure the concept of object versus subject – we give something to whom rather than who is responsible. But going into painful detail about prepositions, case and forty-five examples is a profound waste of time.

And so, if you are accused of talking too much, think about who is making the comment and determine whether or not the source is reliable. From there, either shorten your language or determine that the person making the statement is communicating something totally different from time. Shalom.


If I may assist you with any of your writing endeavors, it is my pleasure to do so. You may reach me at csbutts19@yahoo.com and I hope that you will not use this address for less than honorable purposes.

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A delightful day

It was certain to be an unusual day in the classroom. But it wasn’t until 4:00 pm that I found out how extraordinary it would be. This was a school that I had never visited before and I was a floater, meaning that I would be relieving four teachers, enabling them to attend meetings.

From the time that I entered the building, I was received with appreciation and cordial smiles. That approach continued throughout the day, with the first three teachers thanking me profusely for my presence and engaged teaching approach. All three of them requested my contact information so that they could invite me to return to their classrooms.

Then I entered the second grade classroom for my last two hours of the day. My kids immediately appreciated the fact that I had a sense of humor and wanted to take whatever steps to teach them something on a late Friday afternoon. As they were finishing their activities, each one found a reason to arrive at my desk for approval, assistance or acknowledgement.

But there were two who made more of an impression than they would ever know. The first was a little boy we’ll call Conrad. When I handed him a flyer to read and provide answers to questions, he said, “I don’t know how to read.” It’s not uncommon to find wide disparities in reading levels so I made certain to read the titles and important pieces of information. There were six questions to answer.

Six times Conrad appeared at my desk and asked what the question said. After I read it to him, he smiled broadly and went to scribble what appeared to be gibberish. And when he returned for the next question, I congratulated him on his great answers before reading the next question. He amazed me with his cheerfulness, perseverance and determination to complete the assignment that was all unreadable.

Finally, there was Yurely. With no words spoken throughout the two hours, she approached me for a hug. Of course, I returned the affection and followed her example to be silent. She returned to me four times, each time delivering a hug. The last time, I asked her name and she told me, smiling with as much smile as her body could produce. Whether she hugs all of her teachers or not makes no difference. Somehow, I had persuaded that she was special, silent or not, because she was. Shalom.


If I may assist you with any of your writing endeavors, it is my pleasure to do so. You may contact me at csbutts19@yahoo.com.

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Lesson learned

Several days ago, I had the occasion to escort a class to the library for their weekly assigned session. Doing so, I observed a library teacher whom I described as harsh and abrupt. Today I learned how absolutely and completely wrong I was.

Fate put me in that library again for several hours. While I had an assignment for the day, that teacher had a student teacher in charge and didn’t need my assistance. She was kind enough to suggest that I visit the library to assist there because the library teacher had no assistant.

Said library teacher was cordial, congenial and extremely appreciative for my help. She also takes her role as book maven very seriously and responded enthusiastically when I referred to the library as sacred space.

Was she having a bad day when I encountered her the last time? Maybe. Was I tired or frustrated or preoccupied enough to misinterpret her child management techniques? Also, maybe. The only thing that we know for certain is that I was guilty of prejudging, misinterpreting or simply jumping to totally incorrect conclusions.

We exchanged pleasant conversation, worked cooperatively toward straightening her library and I believe that both of us felt good about the outcomes. She is a dedicated and compassionate library professional who was very sweet to the students who arrived in the library while I was present. Everyone won – the library teacher, the students who had additional support in the library and I.

The moral is pretty obvious. But in this case, indulge me for conjuring a cliché that is altogether appropriate for this situation. Never judge a book by its cover. Shalom.


If I may assist with any of your writing endeavors, it is my pleasure to do so. You may reach me at csbutts19@yahoo.com but please don’t use this as an opportunity to send spam or solicitations.

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Earning trust

How many people can you say that you truly and completely trust? While family members are generally at the top of this list, recent horror stories of moms and dads doing unspeakable harm to their children make this questionable. What about brothers and sisters? We can also find evidence of this form of trust being violated or unwarranted. The same is true of sons and daughters, cousins, aunts and uncles, etc.

Excluding these aberrations, most of us can say that we have family members or close friends in whom we deposit all or most of our trust. Husbands, wives, confidantes and offspring are usually the people for whom we have the greatest confidence. But beyond that, when was the last time you told someone that you trusted him or her?This subject came up the other day in a conversation I was having with my hair stylist. When I assured her that I had the utmost confidence in what she does, we decided that few of our contemporaries issue the statement, “I trust you.” Why is that?

For one, I’m thinking that we are often reticent about expressing our trust for fear of having that status somehow violated. That seems ridiculous because if we truly had faith in someone, why would that deposit of confidence be susceptible to being overturned?

Most likely, I think that we don’t tell people often enough that we trust them. If you were a physician and heard from your patient that you were trusted, wouldn’t that enhance your feelings of self-confidence? The same question can be asked with regard to dentists, car repair professionals or educators. As I consider the concept, I don’t think that I’ve ever had a client or student indicate that they trusted me.

Because I believe that the consequences of telling someone, “I trust you” are so positive, I think that I’ll assure more of my network of people that I trust them. It appears to be a gift, a statement of faith and an affirmation of value. If the trust is returned, I am certain that it will enhance me to be that person who is trusted. Shalom.

If I may assist you in any of your writing endeavors, it will be my pleasure and privilege to do so. You may reach me at csbutts19@yahoo.com.

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Oh no – it’s library today. I like to read but I just don’t like to go to the library. Can’t we go to music instead?

When I heard all of this complaining from fifth graders, it was easy to attribute it to the new school year or simply being fifth graders. But once I entered the library, it was easy to see why they objected to that environment.

Although school rules require silence while standing in line, I think of silence as a relative term. From my standpoint, that means no yelling and no interacting with people throughout the line. This line into the library needed to resemble boot camp formations. The library teacher (apparently, we don’t call them librarians anymore; at least in this school) demanded absolute silence and complete lack of body movement. She reluctantly allowed blinking and breathing. As she directed them to their assigned seats, any infraction sent the offender to the end of the line.

This was a young teacher. My guess was late twenties or early thirties. But she was harsh and abrupt. She instructed me to leave the library, adding (reluctantly) that I could return for the last fifteen minutes. This is wrong, on a variety of levels.

In my opinion, a guest teacher should be welcomed and invited to stay. How likely are students to respect me if my colleagues don’t? And her facial expression never changed from resolute and strict. At no time did I see her smile.

Most importantly I talk with kids, not down to them. Respect from them is earned through the delivery of courtesy and kindness, not barked orders. As a relevant aside, my next teaching assignment included second and third special education students and an educational assistant. She referred to me as “the sub” for the entire day, instructing kids to ask the sub, show it to the sub or it’s up to the sub. Each time she did it, I cringed, particularly because I had prominently posted my name on the board.

Because I haven’t walked in the library teacher’s shoes, I don’t know the struggles and particular pitfalls of her work. But in the process of setting the tone for class, having some respect, fun and smiles would result in much more positive reactions. Call me by my name and remember that these are tiny humans who are worthy of kindness and as much love as we can deliver. Above all, they are amenable to compassionate conversation. Shalom.


If I may assist you in any of your writing endeavors, it is my pleasure and privilege to do so. You can reach me at csbutts19@yahoo.com.

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One of the things that we thinking humans often do is minimize our importance. There are as many methods for doing this as there are situations in which we find ourselves. Most recently, I was pondering my communication from God and immediately terminated the process with the idea that God had much more important issues to address than mine.

In addition to that manner of thinking inappropriately limiting God’s abilities, it serves to diminish my overall value. If I think about it long enough, I can identify a litany of examples where we subordinate ourselves when there was no justification in doing so.

Every time one of my students inquires about asking a “dumb question,” I quickly respond that there are no dumb questions – it’s simply not smart to hold back on asking questions. We often refrain from sharing important information from our physicians, attorneys or accountants. Somehow, we believe that what we have thought to say is not noteworthy enough to utter.

While I often ask people behind me at the grocery store if they would like to go ahead of me, that’s not in the effort to make my time insignificant. The same is true of allowing people to enter a highway by creating a break in the traffic. Those are simply good manners and kind gestures.

But when we extend that to, “You go ahead. My time doesn’t mean anything – I have nowhere important to be,” we sabotage ourselves. Or we can cancel an “optional” appointment such as a haircut or massage, in order to see someone or go somewhere that can just as easily be scheduled at our convenience instead of theirs.

This is not a habit that we want to teach our children. Every appointment, opinion, position or possession that we own is as important as those belonging to others. When we minimize and de-emphasize ourselves long enough, we find ourselves firmly established in the inferior position.

It makes more sense to posit our relevance whenever and wherever necessary. The busy, competitive world is eager to hand us sufficient negativity to diminish us and it is only through persistence and pride that we can hold up our heads and be whoever we want to be. Shalom.


If I may assist you with any of your writing endeavors, it is my pleasure and privilege to do so. You may reach me at csbutts19@yahoo.com.

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If you are anything like me, certain words have the power to trigger memories, good or bad. A word that I hadn’t heard for years and years, standpipe, reminded me of those days in Chicago when we had heavy rains and worried about flooding, so we had to put in the standpipe. Other words and expressions have the same effect – Volkswagen Beetle, spelling bees, custard and Beeman’s gum.

One word that always conjures explicit and positive memories is pancakes. Everyone knows what pancakes are. They are flat breakfast foods that are most often eaten with butter and syrup. In more exotic venues, you can add pine nuts, fruits such as blueberries or strawberries and virtually anything you like.

For me, pancakes remind me of the few and treasured times that we went out for breakfast when I was a child. With five people maintaining busy schedules (for me, endless homework) and somewhat compromised finances, going out to eat anywhere was unusual. But breakfast was always very special because I always ordered pancakes.

Venue was irrelevant. It could have been one of the delis that were in our neighborhood. It could have been a restaurant that was one of my dad’s customers. But except for very few occasions, pancakes were never something that we ate at home. To this day, pancakes evoke memories of the rare trip to a breakfast spot where I immersed myself in buttery, gooey splendor.

While I quickly admit that these observations have no national or global significance and won’t improve the world in any way, I always hope to inspire and educate. Three of the five participants in this memory are no longer here to reminisce but the recollection remains.

If you have reminder similar to mine, share them with those who may be enhanced through the suggestion. When that’s not the case, celebrate the reality that something mundane can bring a smile to your heart. Shalom.


If I may assist you in any of your writing endeavors, it is my pleasure and privilege to do so. You may reach me at csbutts19@yahoo.com.