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To dream

Sometimes I look at a class full of students and try to imagine what they will be in twenty or thirty years. The class I’m facing is 4th grade, a very good transition grade between the naivete of little people and the pseudo-sophisticated 5th and middle schoolers.

This is quite an interesting exercise. I’m thinking that the young man who keeps bouncing out of his seat will be an athlete. He’s trim, energetic and wants clear definition of the rules.

Another student, a girl, will be a corporate dynamo. She’s forthright, organized, creative and displays decisive leadership skills.

One young man appears to be headed toward a career in the military. He’s serious, clean-cut, and sports the traditional short haircut of the armed forces. When he interacts with me, it’s consistently “please” and “thank you.” Finishing his assignment, he quietly begins work on a paper construction of some sort.

Some of them don’t provide any clues at all. They are carefully observing all of those around them, either to secure answers or see what everyone else is doing that they’re not.

Because I’m not likely to know how close I am to the realities for these students, all of my speculation is merely mental gymnastics. While I’m observing, I see the chatty children without focus, the medical staff student contingent that rushes to a student with a life-threatening cut finger and the ones who simply follow directions.

Whatever they decide to do with their lives, I now promote and encourage them. When I asked a class the other day what they would do in a lab that allowed them to create anything they wanted, many had very mature ideas. Several wanted to eliminate global warming and one wanted to grow sufficient food to feed the world.

As a facilitator, I verify all of it, thanking them for thoughtful responses. And I always consider myself fortunate to be part of their dreams. Shalom.

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Closure

Approaching the end of this year, I think about the word closure and reflect upon the many ways in which we seek closure. Unfortunately, I’m thinking that we look for closure for negative or unsavory events more than positive ones. This seems to be true especially with respect to relationships.

In my experience, I have found the need to terminate romantic relationships more by action than inaction. But I don’t think that this is true of many of us. How many times have you waited for a phone call (yes, our cell phones do make calls), email, text or face-to-face visit that doesn’t materialize? While I think of many of these as gutless, I also conclude that many people just don’t have the ability to close relationships or romances.

We find the imperative to reach closure while on the road. People cut other people off and wind up being run off the road. Worse yet, we hear of participants getting out of their cars and having some form of battle. From my standpoint, the best form of closure is seeing an offending vehicle pulled over by a local police officer.

My suggestion to you is that the end of the year is an ideal time for closure. If that type of resolution is not what you seek, find another way to seal interactions with others. If I think of all the people I’ve known professionally and personally, I remember many of their names but it was the lack of good-bye or best of luck that finalized relationships.

True friends don’t need formal closure. I do believe, however, that we can all do a better job of maintaining the relationships that matter without trusting to the other person to perpetuate communication. In three cases, I maintain important connections with those whom I met within business situations. But many, regrettably, have been lost to the past for their lack of responding to my invitations to maintain contact.

Valuable people are worth keeping without waiting for them to extend themselves. Take the moment to send a note or create a meeting of some kind. Closures belong at the end of a fiscal year, not in terms of people. Resolutions, while popular at this time of year, are generally a waste of time and if we treat people with casual interaction, these are the resources that can never be re-established. And to all of my readers near and far, I wish the happiest, healthiest and most prosperous of new year. Shalom.

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Heroism

The skills that I observe on a daily basis from the dedicated and compassionate professionals around me are always exceptional. What’s most magical is that no-one sees what they do unless they spend time in the classroom.

My most recent encounter was in a special education kindergarten class. One child is visibly autistic but amiable and sweet. Teachers and education assistants are quiet, soft-spoken and thoroughly kind. They enforce those rules that are basic and survival driven. Otherwise, this child plays and operates in the room without interference.

What’s more compelling is the behavior toward a very difficult girl who is missing part of her brain. She is oblivious to rules and what constitutes doing the right thing. In spite of this condition, she is clever at devising methods to be disruptive and boisterous. While I didn’t hear any of her undesirable language, I am told that she has enough obscenities in her vocabulary to make most folks blush.

Teachers must think totally outside the parameters of traditional learning in order to manage her. She is told to do the curriculum that other children do, with emphasis that she can’t proceed to other tasks until the mandatory ones are completed. But it’s done with such patience that I am completely in awe.

As parents, we have all experienced our frustrations and anxieties about helping our children evolve into responsible, intelligent adults. The best of us can’t possibly aspire to the talents of many special education and general education educators.

With all my heart and soul, I am grateful for the heroism displayed by our armed forces, police officers and firefighters. They prioritize the welfare of the general public with all of their actions and sacrifices. But we must add these educators to that list, because of their ability to deliver education to those who won’t be educated, discipline to those who can’t comply and love to all they touch. Shalom.

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Thank a teacher

Do you remember when you learned how to play, “Rock, Paper, Scissors?” How about “Ring Around the Rosy?” In spite of the fact that today’s elementary school students now encounter cell phones, tablets, Internet and social media, some customs  (happily) don’t change.

It’s nearly impossible to see kids acquiring the habits or expressions that we had as children. As I watch and adhere to curriculum for all grades, I primarily observe the traditional subjects. We do math, reading, history, writing, science and specials such as art, music and physical education.

But I’ll continue to explore the non-traditional learning. Much of it is derived simply by observation. First and second graders who see fourth and fifth graders play tag soon learn the rules. The same is true for unacceptable actions such as kicking, slapping and punching.

Where do they learn kindness? Every day, I watch one or two or more students displaying extreme care and gentle actions toward each other. My best (charitable) guess is that some is experienced and emulated at home. But having seen and spoken with many parents, some of the positive behavior must be acquired elsewhere.

This includes helping a fallen classmate get on his or her feet. It’s also sharing food with someone who has none. My favorite is when one child is crying and two or three rally to provide comfort.

For the rest of the positive, compassionate gestures, thank teachers. The teachers are the ones who receive and deliver hugs, all day and every day. We appreciate gifts large and small, rudimentary and sophisticated. We congratulate and celebrate all accomplishments. And we love all of our students enough to teach them how to play musical chairs, heads up Seven-Up and hangman.

One could easily make the case that the informal, non-subject learning is the method by which young people grow into responsible, loving adults. As I play my part in this process, I am ever grateful for an opportunity to demonstrate the power of kindness. Shalom.

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Greetings of the season

Amid all of the acts of kindness, charity and goodwill that we observe during this and all holiday seasons, I find myself having more cautious reactions than normally to the holiday hype. The best example I can muster at this point is Black Friday, a holiday that was endlessly publicized for weeks before and after it took place. While I understand that people love bargains and want to buy something special for someone special, I find myself impatient with the endless advertising.

After Black Friday, we had Cyber Monday and Green Monday. While I’ve never measured the amount of advertising per television program as it compares to actual program content, I would wager that it is close to equal. Before and after programming, we have every organization in our world advertising for the holidays, including insurance companies, car dealers, loan sharks and wig stores.

Please be assured that my frustration has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that this is not my holiday. By no means do I want the celebrations to end nor do I feel that people ought to treat those who don’t celebrate Christmas any differently than the rest of the population. But don’t you think that I have the right to wish someone (anyone?) a Seasons’ Greetings or Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas if I so choose?

Some people feel very strongly that those two expressions must be replaced with Merry Christmas or the entire spirit of Christmas is violated. Before I object, I admit that my perspective is impacted by the fact that I don’t celebrate the religious aspect of Christmas. But I do have the right to choose my words of greeting or seasonal best wishes.

In any case, for fear of sounding like the ultimate bah humbug curmudgeon, I have just finished wrapping what seem like mounds of packages and completing a stack of holiday cards to friends and family. What I suppose that I am requesting is good taste, both in advertising and everyday courtesy. If you choose the holiday season as a political or religious discrimination venue, it doesn’t matter what religion you follow – you’re tasteless. And on the other side of the equation, I am just fine with any kind greeting that you may send my way. Shalom.

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Gathering rosebuds

If gathering rosebuds doesn’t sound familiar, I invoked the first line in a poem by 17th century poet Robert Herrick. He suggests, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,” in addition to other important wisdom.

Several times per week, I spend some time wondering how much time I spend doing things that are entirely frugal or sensible. These activities are the result of many years of needing to save money, simply because there was no choice.

It now occurs to me that I do many of these out of habit rather than necessity. This process takes many forms. When I get close to the end of any of the cosmetic or cleaning items that I use, I always transfer the last few inches or ounces to another bottle of the same product, rather than lose a few days of use. In the kitchen, I will perform the same type of miserliness, using the last stalk of celery or last mushroom when those items may have been more properly discarded.

This is a lesson in the fragility of life and the imperative to live each day as it is made available. There is no secret to the reality that I have already spent more years on earth than I likely have in my future. And so, it seems to be time to enjoy my life with greater freedom rather than by maintaining unnecessary habits.

Translated into everyday life, if I want to buy a pair of shoes that are not within my normal guidelines for work or weekends, I buy them. If I want to add a few blue streaks into my hair, I do so. and if I feel like buying a brand new flavor of coffee to try, I buy it.

Make no mistake. By no means am I suggesting that you abandon everything that resembles care and conscience, spending money recklessly. My bills are paid and my responsibilities are all satisfied. But I firmly believe that without sounding morbid, I must do what makes me happy while I still have a clear mind and the resources to do so. Tomorrows are guaranteed to no-one and I am living life as if today is the last one, just in case that may be true.

Or in the words of Mr. Herrick,  And this same flower that smiles today, Tomorrow will be dying. Shalom.

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Suck it up

One of the realities that I’ve been embracing recently concerns blame. It’s much easier and more convenient to blame others for those events that occur in our lives, making us victims rather than participants. While I am not suggesting that we take responsibility for everything that takes place in our worlds, it’s much wiser to take some instead of none.

Obviously, we’re not creators of national disasters, weather, crimes or political bluster. But when we look at our individual worlds, it’s easy to understand how uncomplicated it is to assign blame to those around us rather than being analytical or realistic to accept that we are in fact the cause.

Here’s an example. You’re beginning to feel that your partner is dumping on you about issues large and small. It’s quite easy to issue statements such as, “You’re grumpy,” or “You’re resistant to reason” or a variety of other accusations. In addition to alleviating any chance of feeling guilty, you also get the opportunity to feel victimized. The reality is that being a victim is toxic, to you and those who love you.

No, I am not suggesting that you withhold any information about your feelings or reactions. As an educator, I am fully aware of the value of asking questions in the classroom. “Are you having a bad day?” “Is something going on that you would like to discuss?” “Did someone say something to hurt your feelings?”

In the adult world, that type of behavior is much more productive than holding others liable for misunderstanding. My goal is to ask, “Did I sound angry or unhappy?” “Did we get off to a bad start today?” or “I’m sorry if I was impatient.”

To be sure, asking those questions and making thoughtful statements is sometimes very difficult. But if the liability or joy of any specific situation is shared rather than dramatically characterized, life becomes much more enjoyable. This is a work in progress for many of us but as is the case with so many of our growth events, the consequences are well worth the effort. Shalom.

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Give

Give me a break. Cut me some slack. Give it up. Give it a rest. Our language is filled with the word “give” and if we didn’t hear it enough in our everyday conversations, we are inundated with those who want us to give to something.

If that isn’t obvious from the comfort of our homes, spend an afternoon in downtown Las Vegas. We watched a man wearing only a G-string campaigning for nakedness and accepting money from those who were sympathetic to his need for nudity. Another man had a cardboard sign that read, “I need a beer.” And on the journey from one location to another, I was stopped by a cosmetics guru who needed a few minutes of my time to convert me into a fashion model, one facial molecule at a time.

Every now and then I wonder how it would feel to have enough money to donate to each cause to which I am exposed. My alma mater solicits funds every week, whether it be to support our famous basketball team or to enable a worthy young person to attend the university. The Red Cross, an extremely important and worthwhile organization, sends me mail each week that solicits a donation.

What’s the point of all of this, you may be asking.  My observation is simply that we may find ourselves feeling guilty for not donating to each and every cause that approaches us. Because I have pockets that have bottoms to them, I simply cannot donate to everyone and refuse to feel bad about it. While I continue to appreciate those who have the resources to make huge contributions for the hungry, homeless and undereducated, I choose to select my recipients without feeling regretful that I can’t support them all.

My guess is that some of those who approach us simply don’t have the ingenuity or initiative to earn a legitimate living. While I suppose that wearing a G-string in a public space constitutes expending energy, I simply can’t see the justification in funding nudity. I guess that I just continue to support cancer research, the Salvation Army and leukemia, in addition to other causes that seem worthwhile. As for the rest, maybe your actions need to be directed elsewhere. Shalom.

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Lofty thoughts

One of the very positive benefits of semi-retirement in New Mexico is the ability to relax on the back patio. We have many aviary buddies who visit. Despite their behavior being strictly about survival, they are absolutely fascinating to watch.

They don’t say anything that I find intelligible, but it’s fun to imagine what they would be saying if we could understand. Here’s a sampling of what I think their chirping really means.

Hi Jack. Hi back to you, Jack. Sure are a bunch of sparrows here. It’s too bad we all have the same name. There’s Woody. He’s got a long beak and we haven’t seen him in a while. He’s a big guy – a non-sparrow.

The two non-feathered blobs are watching our eating habits. I think we should call them Blob One and Blob Two. Blog One keeps putting food out for us so I guess it’s okay for them to watch. But every time it comes near, I get nervous and take off.

Then there’s this big character that the Blobs call Pidge or Pig-en. He doesn’t fly much – he’s probably too fat to be aerodynamic. We see him scurrying back and forth on the ground. Guess it’s either because he’s too big to sit on one of the feeder things or because he likes dirt in his food. Yuck.

Then there are the feeders on the other side of the yard. We don’t like the menu over there so we’re just as happy to leave it to the creatures that the Blobs refer to as wrens.

We can also see the tiny bird-like creatures who want absolutely nothing to do with us. They have feeders that we can’t access even if we wanted to because it’s just wet sweet stuff. They are weird little critters. Somehow, they can flutter their wings much faster than we could ever imagine. And they have long necks and tongues to suck up their liquid junk.

All in all, life around here is pretty good. We have a huge buffet, from the good things in these tube contraptions with perches to the solid gizmos that we can sit on to enjoy our meals. Finally, there is something that the Blobs call a quail block. It just sits in the middle of a bald spot in the yard. It’s like dessert that we can visit, eight or ten of us at a time.

Well, I’ve got to take off. Two big black pidges are nearby, surveying the environment and scaring up food under one of the tubes. They rumored to be vegetarians but I saw one with a bug in its mouth and as far as I know, bugs are meat. A bird can never take anything for granted.

Got to get ready for my journey to southern destinations. Remember – above all, fly safe. Shalom.

 

 

If I may assist you with any of your writing endeavors, it is my privilege to do so. You may reach me at csbutts19@yahoo.com and I hope that you will use this address only for professional purposes.

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Observations

Is there a difference between making an observation and complaining? Take the following statement as an example: It seldom rains in New Mexico. Is that an observation or a complaint? Seems to me, some of it depends on the person receiving the remark and the tone with which it’s delivered.

For the most part,  the subject is the primary determination. If I mention daily (weekly, hourly) that it seldom rains in New Mexico, you can construe that as a complaint. If I emphasize the word seldom, that may also render it as an objection rather than a statement of fact.

The reason I mention this is that most of us neither want to listen to complaints nor be the subject of those complaints. When you are talking about something that I do or believe, the likelihood is that the word “always” will render something as a complaint rather than an understanding.

You are always buying something. You always take her side. You always leave the dishes in the sink.

Again, a great deal depends on the subject being discussed. You always think of other people ahead of yourself. You always buy me presents.

Those who know me well know that I don’t do well with complaints nor do I like being accused of complaining. When someone wants to complain about something I’ve said or done, I immediately remind them that the complaint department is on the sixth floor. (Does anyone remember when the customer service area was referred to as the complaint department?) At the same time, I don’t like to be told that I’m complaining, especially when I do everything in my power not to complain about anything.

If you’re asking about the point of all this, it’s simply to be thoughtful about accusing someone of complaining. We can’t change the weather so it’s pointless to whine about it – whether you are the whiner or the whinee. And if I observe something that typifies or characterizes you, don’t assume that I object to whatever it is.

Without input from others, we all live in a bubble. While I admit that it’s difficult to be dispassionate about negative commentary on my writing, I am getting better at using the information to my advantage and the client’s. But if you are seeking change from me or anyone else, phrase it as a suggestion instead of a complaint and you’re likely to see a much more favorable response.  Shalom.