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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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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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Having recently watched the movie that was Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s biography, I find myself thinking about the footprints that all of us leave behind. The messages conveyed in the film were memorable and inspirational, causing me to imagine the exhilaration of leaving footprints nearly as large as hers.

If we take a moment to itemize all of our accomplishments, most of us have far fewer than RBG. And so it seems that we must be satisfied that we will never match her profound legacy. But does that mean we should stop trying to create the best and finest? Absolutely not.

While I will never represent a defendant or preside in the Supreme Court, I will settle classroom disputes. Likewise, just as I will never create the likes of Hamlet or A Farewell to Arms, I do create work requested by my clients and contribute my blogs for the entertainment and illumination of my readers.

Add to that a daughter and son who honor me with their character and integrity, as well as their own boundless affection. As an educator, I continue to hope that my students live up to the expectations to which they are entitled and that I diligently identify.

We all have the capacity to leave behind a footprint as formidable as we choose. Just as I aspire to teach more, write more and love more, we can all avoid those boundaries that are created for us by others and ourselves. The only limits we have are those we establish.

Few of us will have the opportunities to match RBG’S accomplishments. But we all have the means to learn and to give back to our world. Call someone and tell them that you love them. Write a letter to your grandkids, nieces, nephews or other special people – there’s a good possibility that your letters will be the only handwritten letters they will ever receive. Doing so and more, we can change the size of our imprints while improving the universe, one footstep at a time. Shalom.

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If I am very lucky, I have one student a day whom I can identify and empower for his or her kindness, attitude, cooperation or all of the above. This was one of those blissfully special days that remind me of my mission and blessings as an educator.

He was a tiny, effervescent and thoroughly obedient little man. We’ll call him Jesse. For my whole day with him, he required no correction or discipline, remaining quiet and attentive.

At approximately 1:45 pm, I called him to my desk and told him in a small and private voice that he was absolutely special. We looked each other in the eyes and I went on to advise him that he was smart, kind and had everything it takes to be anyone he wants to be.

Jesse confided that he wanted to be a ninja, to which I responded that he would be the best ninja there could ever be. Within the next two hours, he returned to me at least three times, advising that he also wanted to be a football player and for no apparent reason at all, other than to maintain our connection.

While I individualize my attention and work to connect with every child on one level or another, this one was extraordinary. Whether it was the words used, the tone of my voice or the look on my face, he knew how special he was and is.

This day in kindergarten, I had the time to let kids use my construction paper and stickers to create whatever their imaginations may produce. We had castles and crowns, dinosaurs and dragons, farms and families.

Early in the project, I indicated that the more paper and stickers they used, the lighter my bag would be to carry to my car. At least one little girl remembered that statement. As we were cleaning up, she scurried around, assuring me that she was working toward making my bag as light as possible.

But the best gesture was one last visit from Jesse. As he and his class prepared to go to the gym, he stopped one more time to see me. He handed me a sticker of a bus, saying nothing but putting it in my hand. After I thanked him profusely, I attached the bus to my writing sheet, and he went on his way.

No amount of money, accolades or appreciation could compensate me more than the bus or the look in Jesse’s eyes. Two or three sentences may well have improved his day, his semester or his life. Reading, writing and arithmetic remain vital to growth and becoming responsible, functioning adults. But believe that if every educator finds and enables one Jesse each day, we will all make immeasurable contributions and receive indescribable gifts to ourselves. Shalom.

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If you are anything like me, you have a difficult time putting aside your busy life to relax. Three or four days per week, I spend some time in a classroom,  a pursuit that requires my full attention and concentration. On an average of two to three days per week, I find myself completing some freelance work or maximizing my opportunities to secure new assignments.

On those days when I have no tasks to complete, I discover that I continue to find efforts to occupy my time. Sometimes that consists of cleaning a closet, regardless of the fact that I’ve cleaned said closet at least three times in the last three months. Sometimes it’s reorganizing my office, a space that consists exclusively of my possessions that were already in logical and accessible places.

What all of this means is that some of us find it difficult to do nothing unless it somehow resembles work. Be certain that I earned a semblance of retirement. My first full-time, permanent position happened in 1969 and except for a few months following my final job, I have worked nonstop since that time.

It appears to me that the problem is not a lack of endeavors on which I can spend my time but that I have spent so long doing work that it’s nearly impossible not to do something productive. Is that my version of the Protestant work ethic – work hard, thrift and efficiency? In other words, you will be doing that which you are “supposed to” do. Or is it the voice of my dad saying, “You’re lazy and always will be,” a voice that should have been silenced long ago.

Happily, I think that I’m just a person who derives satisfaction and gratification from building, creating and completing. So far, I don’t see that this has produced any negative consequences. Life is happy and without significant stress. My family brings me unequalled pleasure and I’m not missing anything that I can identify. Most importantly, I agree with a fifth-grade teacher whom I met recently. He said that he had been teaching for four years but had never had a day of “going to work.”

And so, if I am unable to stare at a wall and watch the world go on without me, so be it. When I am no longer part of that world, I hope that others will remember me as someone who always wanted to contribute more. Shalom.

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He that is good at making excuses is seldom good for anything else.      Benjamin Franklin

People I’ve known who are happiest and most fulfilled have never made excuses for success, happiness or achievement. Why is it, then, that we are full of excuses for all negative outcomes? It seems to me that the simplest and most reasonable explanation for a lack of victory or positive consequence is that I didn’t work hard enough. Or maybe I didn’t spend enough time in understanding what needed to be done.

This makes me wonder why it becomes so difficult to realize that we weren’t up to or prepared for a particular journey or task. If you didn’t finish a 5k race, was it really because the weather was too hot or humid? Many others finished, probably at a faster speed than you had. Saying that I didn’t train, didn’t focus or didn’t push hard enough is a much better explanation than climate.

Very often, we make excuses for not doing something. Why not call your mother instead of conjuring reasons not to do so? Why not save something out of every paycheck? And if you haven’t worn something for over a year, don’t keep it because you will someday – donate it to someone who can use it now.

We all have a huge amount to learn from special Olympians who finish races or compete in sports that are difficult for those who have all their physical and psychological capabilities. And how many of us have seen youngsters and older people survive and overcome illnesses that would have incapacitated most of us?

My lesson learned is to understand what is required and do everything necessary to approach whatever work or undertaking with all aspects prepared to succeed. Blaming everything outside of us for our inability to prevail provides the enticement to shirk any responsibility we choose. But nothing is learned, and growth is impossible.

Don’t make the mistake of removing yourself from every unfulfilled equation. Excuses are easily created and perpetuated but taking ownership and growing is much more difficult and infinitely more rewarding. Shalom.

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No-one knows

Parked at a stoplight, I determined that I was at the long end of the cycle allowing me to make my left turn. It’s probably germane to mention that I was in no particular hurry. For some reason, I looked around and persuaded myself that there were no police cars in the vicinity; I briefly considered making an illegal left turn. In retrospect, I don’t know why I thought about it. But magically, I had a left turn arrow that was entirely out of cycle and proceeded (lawfully) through the intersection.

Throughout our lives, we have enticements and opportunities to be a little wrong, a trifle illegal or a bit off center. It’s similar to fudging on our income taxes or parking in a handicapped space to run in “for a minute.” Without getting into whether God is watching or not, we are the same as the actions we take. Having had a handicapped plaque for a while following surgeries, I can assure you that an extra ten, twenty or thirty feet represents serious inconvenience.

Somehow, I can’t do the wrong things that may or may not be detected. The risks of doing so are far beyond the IRS audits or moving violations. If we commit those infractions, what else can we justify? In the process of saving a few minutes or a few dollars, don’t we sacrifice our integrity? Teaching our children and grandchildren and students about honesty, those lessons must be accompanied by actions and statements that are genuine.

It may be that my thoughts at the stoplight were a test – just to make certain that my moral compass was still working properly. My guess is that it would have been more difficult to break the law than to sit through as many traffic light signals as it would have taken. And the lesson – it’s never necessary to analyze or justify the right decisions that we make. While I probably wouldn’t have had any trouble sleeping if I had run the red light, I don’t know that it’s the type of thing that a role model would do. Shalom.

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Ending and beginning

As this year comes to an end, many of us contemplate what has taken place and what we hope for the upcoming calendar year. The fact that none of us can accurately predict the events that will take place, this lack of impact doesn’t prevent anyone (including me) from wishing the best for 2019.

Listing the realities that I hope to take place next year, I can only wonder how many of them I can in fact influence. The easy answer is that most of it is out of my hands. While I can suggest to others that they purchase and read my autobiography, ultimately, I can’t cause anyone to do so. The same is true for reading my blogs, soliciting professional services or asking me to teach. And as I hope for continued good health for my family and me, how much of that health is out of my direct control?

With all of that inability, what are our options for 2019? Sitting in my recliner in preparation for the next year seems neither attractive nor productive. My intention is to return to the classroom, for the opportunity to touch young lives every day. Along with that, I hope to join a local choral ensemble so as not to allow my vocal chords to rust. And in a community that actively seeks volunteers in a wide collection of venues, I will seek out the one where my energy and experience may be best put to work.

While I am aware that none of those intentions will insulate me from negative occurrences, I also believe that all of them will maximize my opportunities for a happy and fulfilled life. And the bonus is that by engaging in my planned activities, I have the ability to make the lives of others better in some way, large or small.

Thank you in advance for your wishes for a happy new year; they are enthusiastically reciprocated. But I leave you with the recommendation that you can be a contributor to a good year, primarily by engaging in giving more to the world than you take. Shalom.

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Good books, good friends and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.

Mark Twain

Whenever I fail to find inspiration in my immediate world, Mark Twain always seems to offer reasons for reflection. This quote is no exception. Whether my inability to remember words, names, situations or facts is due to my age or simply too much information to categorize, it remains a source of frustration. Perhaps the true problem is the frustration, not the inability to remember.

Most of us have experienced the situation. What was the name of the guy with whom we worked at the such-and-such office, in 1980-something? You can remember a variety of small facts such as his penchant for cold coffee, numerous children shown in his desk photograph and his quirky ties. But try as you may, you just can’t remember his name. Ultimately, does it matter? Will you be improved in any way other than the tiny victory of overcoming forgetfulness?

The idea of “sleepy conscience” is worthwhile. Don’t we all have events or actions that we would do differently if the opportunity became available? Somehow, the inability to remember details about these regrettable moments is a blessing rather than the proverbial curse.

Compared to good friends and good books, any flavor of regret pales by comparison. It pleases me to describe my conscience (and my memory) as sleepy rather than a product of senility. Sooner or later, I am likely to remember those things that are worth remembering – names, adverbs, authors, evenings or breathtaking sights. And if not, what’s the harm or foul?

And so, I pass on Mark Twain’s perennial wisdom, for the sake of reinforcing what is good and immortal. If we treasure our friends and the words of our beloved volumes, they will produce the good life. Instead of considering our sleepy powers of recollection a deficiency, perhaps they are incentives for cherishing our gifts. Shalom.

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All the questions

Moving to a new place provides an interesting assortment of advantages. One of these is to find notes or comments from the past. Today I found some notes that I made while traveling in a car and thought it might be fun to share.

My first question suggested that I was called upon or asked myself, “all the questions of the universe.” This was evidently done in the launching of a new program. The first reaction I had was that this was presumptuous in its absurdity. Going further, my conclusion was that to stop asking questions was not the way to live life and was an unacceptable path. Moderation is the answer.

Launching any program carries with it as much reliability as a one-size-fits-all financial portfolio or diet regime. Considered from that perspective, all of the truths of life that are valid and relevant to that program can be reduced to very few. Any more than the most basic must be individually designed to have any possibility for success.

The Golden Rule is an excellent place to begin. We all know it: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. But the interpretation can be elusive.

For instance, if you’re sitting in an airport terminal and you notice someone who has mobility challenges, your response will be determined by how you would prefer that others respond to you.

Leave me alone. I don’t want help from strangers.

How very nice of you to offer help! It’s so rare these days that anyone would offer to do anything unrequested for someone else.

Or, in a very tragic example: what do you want from me in return for your gesture of kindness? Are you hoping to get a tip or some other reciprocal action?

It may be that the purest of basic human realities are more complex or convoluted than they seem. So it goes with the idea of finding answers to everything. But I would submit that most of us would prefer to under-analyze than over-analyze the meaning or interpretation of this statement/precept.

For some reason, my notes ended there. A reasonable conclusion is that while we can’t answer most of the questions that plague us, not answering any of them is the worst alternative. Shalom.