I write Weekly Wisdom as the Executive Director of Human Resources at Central Washington University. Having an eye for meaningful things, I include my own observations and thoughts, ideas I've recently encountered, and/or topics that are of current importance. I like to think that others will find reading Weekly Wisdom worth their time....
Posted on: Thursday, April 13, 2017
I woke up much too early. When I laid down the night before, I had decided I was going to let myself sleep in a little and set my alarm for half an hour later than usual. But as it goes, I spent a restless night and woke well before my alarm. Getting out of bed as quietly as I could, I dressed in the dark, slipped out being careful not to wake my wife, and drove through a light drizzle of rain to a coffee shop to read before work. Having woken so early, I was tired and feeling a worn down before my day had even started.
I sat in the coffee shop reading the news hoping to feel better before I had to go to work. I skimmed the usual headlines about the Middle East and North Korea, skipped past articles about weight loss, and read a couple of the sports updates. Then I found myself looking for short, motivational stories to help get myself going. There were one or two I liked, but nothing that really struck home with me. They were the usual mix of believe in yourself, life is short, and the kindness of strangers medleys that always come up. Not that there’s anything wrong with them, but none of them were pearls either. And so I kept searching and reading, more or less idling away the time and putting off having to go to work for just a little longer.
Feeling the pull of the clock, it was time to go to work. I packed up my laptop and as I stood up from the table, I looked out the windows and something unexpected happened. The sky was filled with gray clouds promising more rain, but the light seemed to lift my spirits. I felt lighter, less weary. I walked up to the counter for a refill to take with me and by the time I walked out the door the clouds had broken a bit and there was a hint of blue sky. As I walked to my car, the birds sang to me, a cool breeze brushed my face, and in those few moments I found myself lifting my face to the sky and whispering a little prayer of thanks.
Most of the stories I’d read that morning were just different versions of the same idea. How we see and feel about the life that happens around us is really up to us, and that maybe the emotions that creep in can teach us something if we’re paying attention. I remember the story of the little boy who went to the soda shop to buy some ice cream, but he only had 54 cents. When he asked the waiters how much a sundae was, he rudely responded to the little boy saying it was 50 cents. The little boy asked how much plain ice cream was, and again he gave him a curt reply saying it was 35 cents. He ordered the plain ice cream, enjoyed his treat, and paid before he left. When the waiter went to pick the dish he found a nickel, a dime and four pennies in a neat row that the boy had left for him. The story implies he saw the tip and understood the boy had given her everything he had in spite of how he’d spoken to him, and so we’re reminded to be generous and accepting of others like the little boy. Or maybe we’re reminded not to be inconsiderate of others like the waiter or to recognize the sacrifices others make for us. For some, the story won’t mean anything at all; it’s just a silly story about a boy who should have gotten his sundae instead of settling for less.
Either way, it comes down to perspective. But for me, on that rainy, gray morning I was thankful enough to hear the chorus of the birds and to feel the hopeful breeze of dawn.
Posted on: Wednesday, April 5, 2017
I just finished the DiversityEdu training for staff and faculty. If you haven’t heard it yet, I recommend listening to the presentation. For me at least, it achieved its goal of getting me to think about what diversity is and what it isn’t. Our own diversity statement say we believe that a diversity of peoples, cultures, and ideas is essential to learning, discovery, and creative expression. It says that we believe we all must be and feel physically, professionally, and emotionally safe so we can fully engage in and benefit from the university experience.
And so, with the topic fresh in my mind, I Googled “diversity” to see what I could find. Of course dictionary.com and mirriam-webster.com chimed in, so I looked there first thinking I’d get the real, no-nonsense version. Dictionary.com defined diversity as the state or fact of being diverse and the inclusion of individuals representing more than one national origin, color, religion, socioeconomic stratum, sexual orientation, etc. I also learned “diversity” is worth 16 points in Scrabble and Words With Friends. Seems like it should be worth more… Merriam-Webster described diversity as the condition of having or being composed of differing elements, especially the inclusion of different types of in a group or organization. Their use of the word “condition” in its definition stuck with me. It felt like a negative thought in what is supposed to be a desirable situation. It felt so out of place.
My search continued, following clicks hoping maybe to find someone’s story about diversity. Between what I heard in DiversityEdu and what I read in the definitions, I felt like I wanted to hear more, something personal, thinking a story would be better than more diversity statements, definitions, or charts. Surely they must be out there. People love to tell stories. But I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I wanted something that would touch me, something that, in its simplicity, in its heartfelt honesty would stay with me. Maybe I wanted too much. I looked and I looked, beginning to feel like I wasn’t asking the right question or maybe no one had put into words the expression I was looking for…
Finally, I landed on a short bit from a story called Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Siverstein. I’ve never read the book, but his words seemed to answer my question. Not profound or preachy; not too smart or too teachy; definitely not pushy or speachy. The words are clear, the feeling human. And as I read them I felt them say this is us, and being us, we are, after all, the same.
My skin is kind of sort of brownish
Pinkish yellowish white.
My eyes are greyish bluish green,
But I’m told they look orange in the night.
May hair is reddish blondish brown,
But it’s silver when it’s wet.
And all the colors I am inside
Have not been invented yet.
Posted on: Wednesday, April 5, 2017
It’s been a couple of weeks since I last wrote. In that time we’ve moved from Bouillon Hall to Mitchell and my role has changed within the department. As I sit here writing, I’m as tired as I’ve been in some time having spent a sleepless night with thoughts of things I need to do or remember to check on at work. Besides work, I have an endless number of things running through my mind about family, home, plans, wishes, dreams, ills, wrongs I wish I could right, things I would do differently if only, and on and on.
It can be hard to bear up to all that weighs on my mind and there are days that it would be so easy to give up and slip into despair. To feel as though I’ll never be able to get anything done, at least not anything that matters. The negative voices in my mind are quick to pick up on those feelings and to feed them until without even noticing, it begins to feel like no matter how hard I try, I’ll never be able to do the things I want to do.
But in that crowd, a little voice speaks up. Sometimes it’s a little hard to hear. Sometimes I don’t hear it right away. But it’s persistent and when I do finally hear that voice, it reminds me I do have a choice, and that I can choose to be happy. I don’t mean that in a sappy, prime-time comedy way where everything turns out hunky dorry in half-hour segments. What I mean is that I can choose to be happy; I can choose to “count my blessings” rather than despair over my failings. The the little voice is good at reminding me this is a choice I have to make every day.
What does that even mean? In a March, 2010 WebMD article called Choosing to Be Happy, Tom Valeo offers seven steps. I’ve hinted at one – cultivating gratitude. Another is fostering forgiveness. Being angry or holding a grudge against someone takes a lot of emotional effort, but it’s so easy to hold on to those things that someone else said about us or did to us. The voices in our minds love to build cases against those who’ve slighted us in some way or another. In a similar article, Javy Galindo writes in Time Magazine that rather than looking outwardly for things to make us happy, we should be looking at ourselves. He says we shouldn’t be our own worst enemies, but that we should exercise optimism. When thinking about what may come, we should choose to imagine what could go right and “anticipate positive occurrences since we can often miss them if we aren’t open to seeing them.” Sherrie Bourg Carter cautions us against our own leanings toward negativity in Do We Choose Happiness of Does Happiness Choose Us?
There a lot of articles like these out there about how to be happy, but in the end the choices we make do matter.
Posted on: Thursday, March 2, 2017
Maggie waits patiently for her turn to place the few groceries she has chosen for their dinner, trying hard not to acknowledge the sideways glances of those around her. Their awkward smiles and furtive looks, the meaningful whispers between friends at the sight of her little boy are all too common, sometimes too mean, but mostly just tiring in their regularity. She hardly sees the young man in the apron standing behind the register, focusing instead on her son as he eagerly steps up for his turn.
“Hello mister! We got all this stuff for dinner tonight and I’m buyin’ it for my Momma!” he announced unabashedly. The young man in the apron crouched slightly so the two of them were nearly the same height and replied, “That’s awesome! Your Momma is really lucky to have you to buy dinner for her!” as a smile broke like a wave across the little boy’s face. In that same instant the young man’s eyes met the young mother’s and he gave a slight nod to her saying, “Well then, let’s see what the damage is! Your little man must really take good care of you.”
In that instant, in that golden moment, all the sideways glances and mean-spirited whispers melted away under the light of grace as warm and soft as her son’s sleeping breath. Glancing at the tag on his chest, she whispered “Thank you, Richard” to the young man in the apron as he counted the change and deposited the shining copper and silver coins in her son’s small hand. Such a simple thing, a non-thing really that transpires between people all the time, which meant so much to a young mother and her son.
Grace seems such a rarity. Dignity seems so unexpected, so surprising to us when it rises up among us. But both go with us wherever we are waiting to be given, received, witnessed. They are both our gift and our strength which we give and receive from each other. They point out our humanity to us. With grace we are able to acknowledge our moments of weakness or vulnerability. Our sometimes less than perfect selves. Dignity lifts us up and holds us up to each other. It gives us hope when we see it in others and fortifies us when see it on ourselves.
Posted on: Friday, February 24, 2017
Recently I’ve been watching a documentary about the Eagles from their beginnings in the early days of the southern California music scene through their hiatus (because, for the record, they never really broke up), and their eventual reunion when hell indeed froze over. It was so interesting to me to listen to Glenn Frey and Don Henley talk about their start in music and how they ended up in California learning to make music together with the likes of Linda Ronstadt, Bob Seger, and Jackson Browne.
One of the stories that really stood out to me was hearing Glenn talk about the time he spent with Bob Seger. At the time Glenn had been playing with a cover band and Bob was telling him that if he really wanted to be successful, he would have to write his own songs. Glenn said he had written a little, but his songs weren’t very good, to which Bob said to write them till they are good! That story really stood out to me. Growing up with the Eagles as part of the soundtrack of my life, it struck me that Glenn Frey, who would go on to write and sing some of the best songs ever recorded, struggled with doubt about his ability just as he was beginning his career.
When they got going, when Glenn, Don, Bernie, and Randy became the Eagles, the one thing they all had in mind was to be the best musicians and song writers they could be. Their journey took them to places they probably only dared dream of. Along the way they were joined by others for the trip (the other Don, Joe, JD, and Timothy) that took them all down life in the fast lane and on dark desert highways.
Listening to them all tell their stories, it was clear that they were all working hard to achieve a vision. They all had an idea, a something to shoot for that kept them going. And so they were propelled forward. It wasn’t always easy and the occasionally had to adjust course, but they kept on toward something important to them.
Finding that “something” to shoot for is important. It gets us up in the morning and keeps us looking somewhere out on that horizon. Some of us take the first steps of our journeys with uncertainty. Others blast away from the launch pad in a blaze of fire and confidence. Either way, the thing we have in common is that we began somewhere on our journeys. Even if we find ourselves stuck on a corner in Winslow, Arizona and have to change course, we are closer to having reached our “something” simply because we started.
Posted on: Friday, February 17, 2017
Weekly Wisdom 2-17-2017
“It’s snowing still”, said Eeyore gloomily.
“So it is.”
“Yes”, said Eeyore. “However”, he said brightening up a little, “we haven’t had an earthquake lately.”
We’ve had a rough couple of weeks. Cold winter days with more snow than we’ve had in a while, a closure (which might have been good news for some!), and that swashbuckling sea captain from the East telling us we’re in for more. And yet the days are getting just a little longer, the robins have returned to our trees, and the forecast is calling for sunnier days. Soon the snow will begin its stubborn retreat, the breezes will shift and begin to whisper of spring, and the earliest of flowers will defiantly bloom through the snow. Optimism is in the air.
I’ve always lived in places where time is marked by the changing seasons. I remember the smell of hay in the barn on the cold Ohio air. I’ve borne up to the sweltering heat and the weight of the humidity of August days in Missouri. Each had its time and each eventually gave way to spring or fall in accord with their appointed time. And in following their turn, each has given us not only a changing of seasons, but a sense of optimism and of future. A sense of reassurance that the patterns of life do change just as the tides rise and fall.
Just as our fathers and mothers before us, we look ahead. Even as the cold days of winter frost our windows and drive up our heating bills, we look forward. We know change isn’t far away, and so we plan. We day dream. And we hope.
I remember the story of Viktor Frankl’s time in concentration camps, of being separated from his family and his wife. Yet on a cold day he had a vision of his wife standing before him as if she were there with him, even though he had no way of knowing where she was or if she was even still alive. He discovered the power of love and a sense that he still had something he must do gave him the strength to survive. To look to the future. To find some small reason for optimism in one of the worst places in history.
I like to think people are generally optimistic. We all have reasons for looking ahead. Unfinished business, unfulfilled goals or unspoken words we hold on to till we see each other again. We find reasons with each other every day to be optimistic, to be hopeful, supportive, or to be strong for family we love, friends we spend time with, and maybe even for the people we work with. On the worst days of my life I’ve known two things; the sun will come up tomorrow (and no, that’s not a reference to Annie!) and things to get better. And on my best days? Well, I try not to take them for granted like I did when I was younger. I hear the little voice in my mind reminding me that “right here, right now is the best place I can be.”
Posted on: Thursday, February 2, 2017
Punxsutawney Phil was a bold explorer and grand adventurer who led a rough and tumble crew of society’s rejects and cast offs aboard the good ship Earnest up and down the east coast of North America from Halifax to St. Augustine as privateer or pirate depending on the profit to be gained.
Okay, that’s not really true, but I’ll bet that version of Phil would have some great stories to tell! We know Punxsutawney Phil is a groundhog in Pennsylvania whose been predicting the arrival of spring for over 130 years. The celebration we see today was carried over by German immigrants in the 1770s and has its roots in Candlemas. Originally, the task of predicting spring’s arrival was assigned to the European hedgehog, but the Germans found the groundhog was an intelligent animal who could handle the responsibility and there were a lot of them in the Pennsylvania country side! In 1886 the Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper made it official when it printed the first observance of Groundhog Day and the rest, as they say, is history.
Today Phil is a celebrity who draws crowds of as many as 30,000 to the small town in Pennsylvania every year to try to catch a glimpse of him rising from his burrow and the tradition continues. But what really happens every February 2, what really matters is that for a few moments at least, we are all joined in the question of when spring is coming. We’re joined in that question because of tradition. In an article in the Huffington Post, Katharine Rose supposed the reason traditions are important is they call us to remember and grow.
I think it’s also true that our traditions unite us as friends, family, coworkers, and countrymen. Sometimes we don’t even know why we celebrate a particular tradition, which may or not even be all that important in and of itself. We don’t even all observe the same traditions because we don’t share the same history and customs which can separate us if we let it. But as Americans we are and amalgam of histories, cultures, and stories which become uniquely our own larger story and become the fabric of our shared culture.
So the observances of Groundhog Day might be more important to some of us than to others, but the real reason it’s important is that for in those few moments we look to the east to see what a small animal in Pennsylvania predicts, we are united. We are one.
Posted on: Wednesday, January 25, 2017
There is a philosopher and his small group of friends that just about all of us have known just about all our lives. He ponders big meaningful things like friendship, patience, and love, but somehow he’s able to express such great big thoughts in small little ways that reach us all. These little truths have become part of the back drop of our lives and hang on the boughs of our own experiences waiting to be heard again at the tug of a memory from a place and time we once shared with him.
“If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you,” is a popular, sentimental quote I’ve seen a lot of recently. I came across a pair of his thoughts the other day that felt meaningful to me when I read them. Like most of his thoughts they’re a little funny, innocently expressed, but they ring like tiny bells of truth when we hear them. Probably, I think, because we see ourselves a little bit in these simple words of Pooh.
“Rabbit's clever," said Pooh thoughtfully.
Some may find this exchange meaningless, some might even be a little offended by it…I guess it depends on who you identify with. Of course we all have brains and we’re all reasonable people, but we’re also all a little bit of Rabbit and a little bit of Pooh, which is why we don’t always understand each other.
“When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.”
We do have stresses that burdens us, weigh us down, keep us awake at night, and make us afraid to say or do something. We’ve read articles or heard news about how stress can be both good and bad for us. It can motivate us to achieve or it can grow into an awful thing that hurts our health, hurts our relationships, and holds us back from doing things we wish we could. A wise little bear reminds us our stress is often much more Thingish when we carry it around inside because we fear what might happen if the terrible Thing gets out. Whether we confide in a good friend or a family member, or meditate, or exercise to relieve ourselves of the Thingish Things in our lives, finding relief is important. It’s not always easy, though. Fear is a terrible guardian of Things while it’s having its way with us it is, but maybe there is one last bit of wisdom that can help when we find ourselves hurting and worrying over our Thingish Things. I’ll bet more than one of you already knows
“You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
Posted on: Wednesday, January 18, 2017
By Stephen Sarchet
I find it odd to be writing a column called Weekly Wisdom because I don’t believe by any stretch of the imagination to be any wiser that anyone else nor to have answers of any importance. With that in mind, please accept my musings with a grain of salt for in the end, that’s all they really are!
This week we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day and enjoyed a long weekend in recognition of one of America’s historical figures. In the evening of the holiday, I found myself wondering about him, which in turn got me to thinking about how knowing someone makes them more real to me, which in turn got me thinking that I don’t really know much about Dr. King. That circular thought rolled itself around my mind through a restless night and was my first thought on waking. I needed to know more about the man so that I could “know” the person he was rather than the name on a calendar.
I learned that he was born Michael King Jr. in Montgomery Alabama in 1929. His father, Michael King Sr., changed his name to Martin Luther King after a trip to Germany in 1931 as an homage to the theologian Martin Luther. Michael Jr. became Martin Luther Jr. when he was two years old. I learned that Martin Luther King Jr. entered Morehouse College when he was only 15 years old and he wasn’t originally interested in pursuing the ministry like his father until the college president, Dr. Benjamin Ray, influenced him to pursue it. He entered Boston University to get his graduate degree, and after completing his doctorate in systematic theology, and became a pastor like his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather before him. Boston U is also where he met Coretta who was studying music and singing. I like the thought that these two people, he from Georgia and she from Alabama, should meet in a place so far from either of their homes and become a family. It is a personal story that is similar to my own story of meeting the girl who would become my wife.
He helped organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and was elected its president in 1957, a position he would hold until his death in 1968. After being arrested for helping organize a voter registration movement in Montgomery, Alabama in 1963, he wrote Letter from Birmingham Jail, which I had never read before this week. In reading his words I found I admired the man who wrote them for his conviction in his ideals, not just for himself, but for all of us. I admired his personal courage in living up to his own beliefs. I recalled the images of the police attacking protestors with dogs and firehoses as the backdrop of his words, I believed him when he said “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”, and was moved by his description of having to explain to his six year old daughter why she can’t go to an amusement park she sees advertised on TV and the knowledge of the impact it will have on her, of seeing the “ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky”. I could see that he found himself caught in the cross roads of change. His personal belief in peaceful means for change stood at odds with the rising tide of proponents of change by any means necessary. I could feel his frustration with those he hoped would add their own voices and support, but who remained silent.
So I come back to where I started. I know better than to pretend I can relate to the struggle, but in knowing more about the person he was, he becomes personal for me, more human, which I think is the same for any of us.
Posted on: Wednesday, January 4, 2017
The Ultimate Affirmation
Every accomplishment is based on action, not on thought...yet the thought is always father to the deed. Achievement starts with an idea, a perspective, a point of view, and an attitude: the attitude that no matter what, you will do what it takes to reach your goals -- and live the life you want to live.
To do that, here's one affirmation you should repeat at the start of every day. It's referred to as "The Man in the Arena" and is an excerpt from this 1910 Teddy Roosevelt speech…Try it. But don't just read it to yourself -- read it out loud. Stand tall. Stand proudly. Don't just say the words -- feel the words:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
The best way to be different is to do the things other people refuse to do.
The best way to life the life you want to live is to stop worrying about what other people think.
The best way to succeed is to outthink, out hustle, and outwork everyone else.
You may not be as experienced, as well funded, as well connected, or as talented... but you can always do more than other people are willing to do. Even when everything else seems stacked against you, effort and persistence can still be your competitive advantages -- and they may be the only advantages you truly need.
Dare greatly. Know victory. Know defeat.
And every day, commit to living the life you want to live.