Friday, July 17, 2009

The Economy Mantra

Let's Get this straight. The economy is bad and has been bad for the past couple of years at least. It's going to take time to get it turned around. But let's not allow this economic quagmire to keep us from living.

Times are tight, but we still need to breath, eat, make love, laugh, recreate rather than spending time crying.

Now before anyone accuses me of being out of touch or delusional, here is some quick background.

Before the down turned economy came into vogue, back in 2006, I was laid off from my job. If that wasn't enough, nearly a year after being laid off, my house was foreclosed on. Then if that wasn't enough, health problems I had gotten under control 15 years ago, had resurfaced. So if you're keeping score at home - lost job, lost home had health problems.

Thank God my wife still had her job and health care. But we had to stay with friends for a couple of months until we found another place to stay. Also thank God for my father who helped financially. Prior to getting sick, thank God for the part-time security job that I loathed, but helped tied us over.

All this happened long before the bottom dropped out in the economy. What made it worse, is we didn't have the daily economic media coverage or peer group to share in our pain. In fact, many people couldn't relate to our situation at the time. So we mostly kept it to ourselves.

Fast forward to 2009. We've been in our townhouse for nearly two years. I haven't found another job, but I am able to collect disability due to my health condition - which has at least stabilized. Throughout the whole ordeal our two youngest sons didn't skip a beat, maintained good grades in school and continued with extracurricular activities - even the ones that cost money. Our oldest son, who is grown is trying to make his way in the world and lives with another relative. We are no doubt blessed to have weathered the storm and now have a testimony.

My long winded point is, throughout all these trials, yes we got frustrated, but rarely discouraged. We kept the faith. It was difficult at times, but we maintained our sense of humor. We tried our best to maintain the normal routine, sans a few changes. Sure my wife and I haven't been able to go on another cruise just yet, or take the family vacation to Orlando. But we're here.

No question we're still working at it and not where we want to be financially, but the economy is no longer our mantra as a reason for not doing something. I encourage all to try and avoid this as well - be positive, no matter how bleak the situation may appear. If your a person of faith, lean on that to help get you through. Also lean on your immediate family and don't be afraid to tell your friends and others what's going on in your life. If you don't talk, chances are you may miss an opportunity for someone to help you.

I understand some will disappoint or just ignore your plight. But just keep rolling on anyway.

Not matter how low your financial situation sinks, still take the opportunity to offer a helping hand to someone else, it will help someone and also make you feel good in the process.

People lived through the dust bowl, the Great Depression, we can survive and overcome this current economic downturn. That's what I believe.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Farewell, Michael -- Not Goodbye

Michael Jackson, pop superstar and entertainer extraordinaire, was celebrated in a memorial service at the Staple Center in Los Angeles, California on Tuesday, July 8, 2009. Although the center was filled to capacity by an orderly, respectful audience, the majority of the actual observers watched by way of television around the world. Millions, if not billions, of people stopped to take the time to pay their respects to the person who Motown Records President, Barry Gordy, pronounced to be "the Greatest Entertainer of All Time."

As the youngest member of the former Jackson Five pop music group, Michael went on to develop an explosive career that rocketed him to the top of the charts consistently. He transformed the pop music world through his innovative dance routines, music videos and magnetic music. He was the barrier breaker for African Americans in terms of opportunity and product distribution in a profession well-known for robbing African Americans of their music, credits, opportunities and profits.

Personally, he was one of the most charitable entertainers in the industry, as well as gracious. He was also known as an astute businessman, which will well serve his children and other beneficiaries of his estate. However, his personal life was also troubled, something already well-documented. It is not necessary for me to recount it here.

Nevertheless, in death, just as in life, there are many who still do not understand him, nor the world from which he arose.

The memorial service was a respectful, classy home-going for someone whose genius can not be denied. Time Magazine writer, James Poniewozik, found the service to be "...gaudy and strange...". How little you know about African American funeral customs! We believe in celebrating the life of the deceased with the elements or reminders of what the deceased did in life. It is a positive expression of grief by those who care. Attend an African American funeral service and you will find many of the same elements. Michael's just happened to be on a grander scale because he lived on a global scale. Attendees in the Staple Center are to be applauded for their display of sensitivity and respect.

Much controversy still surrounds Michael's life and death. Legal squabbles, rumor and inuendo will continue for a very long time. None of that is of concern to me. Yet, I believe people need to remember what can easily be overlooked.

When this is all said and done, the real tragedy is that there was a man who lived. He was part of a family who loved him. He had young children he was raising who he loved and who loved him. That family is now without a son, brother, and uncle. Those children are now without a father. Their grief is real. Their loss runs deep and will continue for the rest of their lives. Once the media finds another "hot" story and everyone else has gone back to their own personal lives, the Jackson family will still have to cope with missing their Michael.

If you have ever lost a loved one, then you know how they feel.

For the public, Michael will continue to live on through his music, his videos and his charities. He connected with the masses on the basis of our humanity. Although his family must say, "Goodbye," for us it is not. It is only, "Farewell." We are greatly blessed.

Monday, July 6, 2009

And Miles to Go Before I Sleep...Robert S. McNamara

Robert S. McNamara died at his home today, July 6 at 5:30 am. For those of you who may not know, he was the the former Secretary of Defense under the administration of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon S. Johnson. President Kennedy recruited him for the post in 1961, when McNamara was president of Ford Motor Company and served for seven years, longer than anyone else had ever done.

He was 93 years old and had been in failing health for some time, according to his wife, Diana.

Publicly, McNamara was a staunch defender of US involvement in Vietnam, despite intense opposition. Even his own son participated in public demonstrations against the war. Yet, McNamara insisted more troops and more arms would conquer North Vietnam's government and influence in Southeast Asia. As we know, it did not. The US ended up having to withdraw, beaten by the North Vietnamese as the French had. Before the war was over, 100,000+ American military personnel were killed and many more returned home physically, mentally and emotionally broken.

In his memoir published in 1995, "In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam", McNamara reported he had serious doubts about the ability of the United States to prevail over "...a guerrilla insurgency that had driven the French from the same jungled countryside..." as early as 1967.

In an Associated Press interview given just before the book's release, McNamara admitted, "We of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations acted according to what we thought were the principles and traditions of our country. But we were wrong. We were terribly wrong." [Emphasis added]

In the same memoir, McNamara reported he and others in the administration failed to ask themselves five critical questions concerning US involvement in the war:

"Was it true that the fall of South Vietnam would trigger the fall of all Southeast Asia? Would that constitute a grave threat to the West's security? What kind of war — conventional or guerrilla — might develop? Could we win it with U.S. troops fighting alongside the South Vietnamese? Should we not know the answers to all these questions before deciding whether to commit troops?" [Emphasis added]

After leaving the Johnson administration, McNamara became president of the World Bank, a post he held for 12 years. Upon retirement, he championed the causes of nuclear disarmament and aid to the poorest nations by the wealthiest. Unfortunately, he will always be remembered as the champion of US involvement in the Vietnam War -- a war he came to deeply regret.

His greatest legacy, however, is one that has been overlooked by Washington DC since then. It appears the hard lessons were not learned, nor the five critical questions asked by administrations and Congress that came after. Supposedly promoting the "principles and traditions of our country", we have become embroiled in Iran, Iraq -- and now with increasing intensity, Afghanistan. What is our goal?

Did anyone ask the five critical questions before committing our troops?

Mr. McNamara, you learned those lessons the hard way and tried to pass them on, but it looks like we still have miles to go before we sleep.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Self-Esteem Is The Catalyst For Achievement

Tonight I read an article at about the focus of America's Promise Alliance, a group formed by former Secretary of State Colin Powell and chaired by his wife, Alma Powell. The APA is heightening awareness of the severe high school dropout rate in the United States by conducting studies and holding dropout prevention summits across the country. Hundreds of educators, business leaders and grassroots activists come together to brainstorm methods to solve the problem.

There is a crisis in the US education system. The APA did a study in 2008 that concluded only 52 percent of students in the nation's 50 largest school systems graduate with a high school diploma in four years. Among Hispanic and African-American students, the percentages are 57 and 53 percent respectively. The national graduation rate is only 70 percent.

What's happening with our sons and daughters that they find it difficult to believe their education -- even on the basic level -- is an important foundation piece for what they want to achieve in the future? The article quoted Secretary Powell who said, "Finishing high school is absolutely basic to being a success at any place in our society. We can't afford this."

Indeed, the United States can not afford this.

The article highlighted the work of Willie Thornton (pictured above), coordinator of the dropout prevention program for Greenville High School in Greenville, Alabama. Although his school has a 75 percent graduation, many do not receive their diploma within four years. It was Mr. Thornton's responsibility this past school year to mentor, encourage and counsel the 70 students identified as being at-risk for dropping out. I found Mr. Thornton's observation on the work he does to be quite interesting.

"The benefit [of the prevention program] is basically for a student to say that 'I can' and 'I've raised my self-esteem enough,' because prior to that most of them in their hearts have already quit...What we do here is try to gain some sort of success story that they own. And we try to build story by story. That gains a lot of energy and hope. When you lose hope, you lose everything."

These children lack the confidence to believe they have within themselves the ability to successfully achieve a basic, but important goal. Within that mindset, they grow to be adults who lack the basic self-regard that helps them dream, set goals, achieve success, make a solid contribution to their families, communities and the nation as a whole. Yet, we need their innate talents and gifts more than ever before.

Starting right now, begin to build the self-esteem of some child. Focus on the person hidden within until they can begin to see their own greatness. Point the way to a destiny greater than themselves and don't allow them to be defined by their present circumstances, nor past behavior.

If you happen to be an adult who has lost hope, begin to do the same for yourself. We need you, too.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Nothing...Can Be Everything

Perhaps you've heard that old adage, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained"? Well, that adage doesn't always apply. In fact, if you live in a multi-tasking culture as I do, you should have already seen huge gain for all the venturing you've done.

Don't see it, huh?

Despite all the hoopla about constantly striving, achieving, pushing forward, etc., I can show you there are specific instances when doing nothing provides enormous benefits. In fact, if you embrace doing nothing at the appropriate times, you can elevate it to a fine art in your life. People will admire and celebrate you. They will want to know how to do what you do. Never again will you feel a twinge of embarrassment in that moment someone asks you what you're doing and your response is..."Nothing."

I will add this one caveat. Despite what I say, some of you will insist on doing something. I understand this is a deeply ingrained, culturally supported habit. It will take more willpower on your part to stop. You will have to make multiple attempts to make this work -- far more than others. However, don't stop trying. There is hope for you, too. You'll need some community support through the transition. So, if I don't forget it, I'll add a link at the end that will take you to the homepage of the DNA -- Doing Nothing Anonymous. Your local DNA can assist you.

The benefits of doing nothing are:

  • Stress Relief. The next time your employer accuses you of substandard production and wants to know why projects haven't been completed according to the ridiculously impossible company standard, tell him (or her) that both your cardiologist and your DNA have recommended you do nothing. The stress caused by trying to meet unrealistic deadlines initates a racing pulse and socially unacceptable behavior. Share a suggestion with your supervisor that he/she do nothing also, instead of straining to begin a disciplinary process.
  • Creative Development. Scientific research has proven that people who do nothing often daydream. Their creative juices flow freely. They originate far more innovative methods of solving problems than people who are constantly in the "rat race." (This comes in very handy in case your former supervisor chose to ignore your admonition to do nothing. Your DNA will find a way to help you pay for those little necessities -- like eating regularly.)
  • Expanded Social Circles. You'll begin to meet new people and travel to places you've never been before -- like the unemployment office, social services and homeless shelters. It's always good to expand your personal perspective on life by getting to know others outside your usual comfort zone. Remember: you're gathering experiences that increase intellectual development, as well.
  • Professional Success. Once you've become proficient at doing nothing, you can "take your show on the road." Write a book, create a blog or website, do professional speaking and secure a brief on-camera interview on Oprah. All the people you encountered through the previous stages will not only buy your book, they'll claim they know you personally and will dig through their previous documents that bear your signature as proof. You'll know you've arrived at a high level of success when your signed food stamp application is being auctioned off on Ebay.
Global recession?! What recession?

Repeat this mantra several times daily. I guarantee you'll find yourself well on the way to doing nothing successfully. Ready? Doing nothing is...

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day - Time For A Different Focus

Today is Memorial Day in the United States. In numerous cities all over the nation, there will be parades and speeches. Bands will play. Military color guards will display their absolute precision in impressive uniforms. Flowers will be laid at the graves of fallen soldiers. Expensive floral wreathes will be placed at public memorials. The American flag will be proudly unfurled for passersby to see. The nation will proudly, somberly -- even tearfully -- mourn the loss of countless men and women whose lives were involuntarily snatched away by the killing machine we call war. Old and young war veterans -- having witnessed more human devastation than any person should -- will be honored, as they remember the horrors they survived, but their buddies did not.

Memorial Day, as it is commonly celebrated, is not working. On the altar of national pride, we continue to sacrifice too-large a percentage of our younger generation. The concept of collateral damage is far too heavy a price to pay. For every military person who physically dies as a result of combat, there are others who die a psychological death. They have broken spirits, broken bodies, or both. Their families relive the nightmare of the reality of war daily.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying suddenly eliminate war. It will not disappear overnight. Yet, we should not consider ourselves morally superior to other nations, just because we are us. Every nation glorifies death in combat. We are disgusted by Muslim extremists who encourage wives and children to become human bombs, yet we do the same. In the name of national service, we call upon our young men and women to serve in active combat zones all over the world during a so-called time of peace, for reasons that have more to do with mineral resources than human resources. This is the same message on the flip side of the coin.

The dead are dead. Instead of celebrating the dead, maimed and broken one day out of the year, why not celebrate the hope that future generations will not engage in war to resolve conflicts? War has proven to be ineffective. We have tried to hide our own ulterior motives behind the so-called necessity for war. We witness the genocide of ethnic peoples in foreign nations and stand silent. We disagree with the politics of nations that hold vast resources of oil, gold, etc., and we invade on the pretext of spreading democracy. Stop the hypocracy!

If we are truly concerned with peace, we must focus on peace. We must concentrate on devising methods of administering peace. We must funnel our efforts, funds and people into developing "weapons of peace." We already have the ultimate weapon. It's called love -- not some weak, flimsy romantic concept of infatuation. Real love is tough, hard and unrelenting. It recognizes the value of every human being. It demands respect, even when people disagree. It refuses to accept wrong for right.

Mahatma Gandhi was effective in his non-violent protests because he had a deep, loving respect for humanity. He recognized the connectedness of one human being for another. He understood that instituted governmental abuse of one people over another is wrong. He defended that principle through non-violence. That type of love for humanity withstood the challenges. It broke Great Britain's rule over India. Love conquered all.

Administering love can be grindingly hard work. It requires that we listen to one another. It acknowledges the truth of our existence -- that even if we don't like the other person's dress, accent or culture, that person is made in the image of God and due our respect. We must meet on the plain of understanding. We can't engage in any kind of successful diplomatic process, unless we're willing to learn one another's perspective and history. If the goal is worthy, the processes to achieve the goal must be worthy, as well.

Maya Angelou made a statement about love that is so true. "Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope."

I don't know how you feel, but I believe my children, your children, our grandchildren and everyone's are worth the effort to substitute love as the weapon of choice instead of war. Love is THE ultimate weapon of mass transformation. In so doing, could it be, we may yet find...peace?

What do you think?