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Weekly Wisdom

Weekly Wisdom

Weekly Wisdom

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.



The Art of “No”

In the April 14, 2017 of the printed Chronicle of Higher Education, there was an advice piece called “The Art of No” (available at

In a nutshell, here is what Robin Bernstein suggests:

1. Volunteer someone, strategically. Often when people ask you to do something, they don’t actually need you to do it. They just need the task done – and they need to complete the task of obtaining a commitment from someone to do it. We’ve all been here, haven’t we? No one else steps up; there’s that long silence. Bernstein suggests, “…politely decline, while nominating a substitute…Be sure to suggest only someone you respect and trust to complete the task reasonably well.”

·         Don’t say: “Um, OK, sure,” and then kick yourself later!

2. Don’t explain. Maybe you have a good reason for saying no. Maybe you don’t. Either way if you try to justify your answer, you open yourself to judgment and bargaining, or you risk oversharing. You don’t have to defend your decision.

·         Don’t say: “I wish I could attend this event, but I need to drive my aunt to the doctor that day.” The event could shift to a different day – and now you’re on record stating that you want to attend!

3. Do explain. When you have an unassailable reason, one that would stop the conversation in its tracks, you may choose to volunteer it. If you want a person never to contact you again, you may say so. And again, don’t apologize or bargain.

·         Don’t say: I’m so sorry, but I just can’t do what you’re asking of me. I promise I’ll do more to pull my weight next month.”  Uh oh. Next month will come! Instead, say, “I teach from 9am to 3pm on Mondays and Fridays so I’m never available during those times.”

4. Set your own policies. Create guidelines to help you decide when to say no. Examples: I only serve on three committees at a time. I’m at my limit. Or, I only write recommendations with two weeks’ notice.

5. Just hit “delete.” Some requests are unreasonable or inappropriate, and they issue from people who have no power over you. Example: Attached please find my paper titled, “Subject Only Tenuously Connected to Your Line of Work.” I look forward to your comments on my paper.”

·         Don’t say: Here is a long explanation of why your request is inappropriate.

·         Instead, say: (silence).

My thanks to Steve Sarchet for finding time to write Weekly Wisdom for the past four months. I appreciate his “yes” to my call! Have a great week everyone. Say “yes” often but learn to say “no” effectively!



PDF version:
~Stephen Sarchet
It’s funny the things that somehow stay with us. Life swirls around us, we move along on autopilot from task to task, place to place. People pass through the landscape of our day and we utter quick greetings without thought, speaking the words with no more meaning and with no more intent than a simple greeting. Asking “How’s it going?” when we see each other in the hallway or at the store. We don’t mean it literally, of course, and so it goes until something or someone captures our attention above the din of the background noise. I had a moment like that not long ago. As I sat watching something on TV the other night (I don’t even remember what it was now), someone said, “I’ll call you later”. Just a normal salutation, no more important than anything else we say, but the moment must have been ordained, because the words clung to me with the weight of both loss and hope.
Four words spoken effortlessly, countless times a day; “I’ll call you later”. It occurred to me that these must be among both the most hopeful and the most painful words anyone ever said. I can’t really explain it. I don’t know why on that particular day, at that particular moment, why the thought should have stuck to me the way it did. I don’t even remember who said it. But as Maya Angelou promised, I do remember the emotion the words invoked as I heard them, though.
My head filled with competing visions. I could see in that instant a mother or father too far from their children, who look forward to the phone calls and whose spirits delight in the too infrequent stories of their children’s lives. In the very same moment I felt the weighty disappointment of waiting and hoping for a call that doesn’t come. The power of our words, or the lack of them, is incredible to me sometimes. I’m nearly always taken completely off guard when the words, the context of time and place, and the emotions they stir reach me and make me take notice.
It’s happened before. Sometimes the emotion passes away quietly, swept aside by life’s distractions. Sometimes the words and emotions linger as I allow the scenes play out and tell their story in my mind’s theater. At least once or twice, I’ve been moved to write down what the words have made me feel or shown me. It’s a little like casting a line and trying catch butterflies on a lure, but when I do catch them and get them down, I find the words aren’t trophies. They’re me at my best (I hope).
Maybe this all sounds like an admonition to call your Mom and Dad, but I thinks it’s more than that. For me it is really about catching a glimpse of the power our words can and do have. Through our words, we have the power to heal, to hurt, to promise, and to disappoint. I think that’s what the story tellers, song writers, and poets have known all along. We are at our best when we reach each other. We are at our best when our stories, our words, find their inspiration and arouse the hearts and minds of others. The only word I know for it is magic.
~Stephen Sarchet
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.


Weekly Wisdom
~Stephen Sarchet
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 and chimed in, so I looked there first thinking I’d get the real, no-nonsense version. 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.
~Shel Siverstein



Weekly Wisdom
~Stephen Sarchet
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.


Weekly Wisdom
~Stephen Sarchet

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.

Weekly Wisdom
~Stephen Sarchet

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.


Weekly Wisdom 2-17-2017       
~Stephen Sarchet
“It’s snowing still”, said Eeyore gloomily.
“So it is.”
“And freezing.”
“Is it?”
“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.”
Weekly Wisdom
~Stephen Sarchet

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.

Text Box: And so, it is not that tradition is saying stop, or halt or “think no more.” It is not saying, “do not question”, “do not grow” and “do not change.” Rather, it is saying, “remember.” Think, but remember. Question, but remember. Grow and change, but remember. Remember who we are as humans, where we came from and how we can take the knowledge, wisdom and experiences transmitted to us from generations afar to live a life more beautiful - and more meaningful.~Katharine RoseOkay, 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.


Weekly Wisdom

~Stephen Sarchet

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.
"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit's clever."
"And he has Brain."
"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit has Brain."
There was a long silence.
"I suppose," said Pooh, "that that's why he never understands anything.”

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.”



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