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Leaving a Legacy

Leaving a Legacy – 18th Century Style

Two American Revolutionaries struggled to tear the Colonies away from British rule, now they are known for their words—not their swords.

John Adams, a short, cranky, pudgy Yankee, swung the First Continental Congress with his intellect and the strength of his common-sense arguments. At 41, Adams, who headed the committee tasked with writing the Declaration of Independence. disrupted his standing and upended his own legacy when he plucked 33-year-old tall, suave, handsome, popular Jefferson of the golden pen from the steno pool (not exactly, but in 1776 the two men operated from entirely different political spheres.) Defining characteristics come from historian David McCullough, whose spent a lifetime “knowing” these two, in part because he got to read their mail.

Adams’ diary tells us the Second President could only start to think when “I sit down at the desk with a piece of paper and my pen.” Thinking being an art in short supply then and even less today. Modern political leaders and writers receive their training from diverse institutions and (hopefully) read from a myriad of books and materials. The Founding Fathers all were familiar with Alexander Pope’s “Essay on Man”: “Act well your part, there all the honor lies.” Honor seems not to be the goal sought by the combined leadership in 2021, more is the pity.

Ironic for a Harvard man and respected lawyer, Adams grew up one of three sons in an impoverished household that owned a single book, the Bible. His mother was illiterate; his father a small-time farmer and preacher, who brought John along when he moderated town meetings, inspiring his son’s interest in community affairs. Seeking to fulfill his desire that his son go to Harvard, Deacon Adams sold a portion of his precious family land. The payoff? Junior discovered books and bragged “I read forever,” giving a foundation to his purpose in life. From this knowledge grew the man whose words swayed the Colonist legislators to stand up to the British and stay the course for seven long, brutal years.

A little Adams bio could aid those who did not dip into McCullouch’s superb take on him. Before he began his political career, he rode the court circuit in Massachusetts, just as Abraham Lincoln did in Illinois. Few remember the principled role Adams played after the Boston Massacre. No American lawyer would stand up to offer legal services to British soldiers charged with the death of Americans. Adams feared that offering legal aid to the British soldiers could destroy his future legal and political career, but Adams took on the case. He said: “If we believe in what we say, somebody’s got to represent them. If you all will not, I will.”

 Instead of sinking his career, the trial brought Adams more popularity after doing what he believed to be right. Adams won election to the Massachusetts Legislature. He did not just take on the Brit’s case on American soil, he proved to the jury that the soldiers were performing their military duty, protecting themselves, acting in self-defense against the mob, without intent to murder. But he remained an ardent critic of Great Britain’s policies.

Adams took another stand unpopular among the landed gentry north and south. He and wife Abigail stood together in their opposition to slavery. Adams became the only signer of the Declaration of Independence to take that stand. In a letter to Abigail after the Continental Congress voted on July 2, 1776: “This will be the most important day in the history of our country.”

Adams grew to regret his selection of Jefferson to write the Declaration. Not because he was not talented, but Adams felt bruised and brushed aside as the spotlight shifted to the younger man who received full credit for the Declaration, despite Adams’ leadership and committee review after the initial draft. Successful passage of the Declaration and the necessary signatures depended on Adams’ oratory that pulled legislators on board[ME1] .

As the Revolutionary War wound down, Adams retired to Braintree, Massachusetts, then served as a Joint Commissioner to negotiate for Peace with Great Britain, then served on a diplomatic mission to France. Adams compensated for his lack of French language skills by studying on board ship crossing the Atlantic. He reviewed and signed the Treaty of Paris, securing recognition of the United States’ independence from Great Britain.

 Later lanky, diplomatic, wine connoisseur, and multi-linguist Jefferson traveled to France to replace Adams as envoi. He served as Adams’ vice president based on the number of votes he received in an era when the President and Vice President were not always of the same political party. Four years later in 1800, Jefferson turned the tables and beat Adams for the Presidency.

Adams can be forgiven for being cranky that as the U.S.’s Second President he did not receive the public adulation of his successor.[ME2]  The two men had one official sit-down, when Jefferson served as his VP. The relationship did not go well because they did not pencil in regular lunch dates, but more likely because they came from different sides of the political spectrum.

Few Presidents have failed to accompany their successor to their inauguration, most recent excepted. But John Adams ducked out of DC before Jefferson’s swearing in. While some saw this as the ultimate snub, they did not know the entire story. Adams had rushed home to Massachusetts to Abigail after the death of their son, Charles. Their son’s alcoholism caught up with him. Not information one would broadcast in 1801. His eldest son, John Quincy became an avid reader like his father and accompanied him when he served in Europe, learning the ropes. Eventually he himself served as an American statesman in the 1780s, and subsequently won the White House—a legacy repeated by few others.

If this tickles your fancy to learn more about the Founders, peek into The American Story, Conversations with Master Historians, a 2019 book by David M. Rubenstein featuring interviews with prominent historians, like David McCullough, Jon Meacham, Ron Chernow, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Tyler Branch and Robert Cairo. Or check out McCullough’s John Adams.

Can We Be Optimistic?

Hot-air-balloon clip artwork

Can We Be Optistic?

(*Yes. we can. I took a short break from Past Becomes Present but didn’t do the promo because I didn’t know how long it might be.  Optimistic by nature, I believed it wouldn’t be long. And happily, my positive attitude bore fruit!)

Optimists get a bad rep. People say we’re Pollyanna’s, breezing along believing that everything is wonderful and will continue to be. True, we like to walk on the sunny side, but there’s the other half of the equation—we work to “make it so.”

The recent Delta strain threatens to scale back Americans’ escape from Covid’s 15-month hibernation. Some cities, like Austin, hang a return to level 4 restrictions over our heads (and dim dreams of mini vacations, while increasing infections nationwide).

How do our brains handle the dramatic pendulum swings we encounter now? Well, being optimistic doesn’t come naturally. Martin Seligman, a psychology professor, and director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, says we are “hardwired” to stick to a negative bias. He indicates this goes all the way back to the caveman, preparing us to address the worst-case scenario. It’s why we know not to touch a hot flame after we’ve been burned. Humans are more likely to respond to negative stimuli.

But we are not condemned to be grumps! Humans can learn to protect themselves and bounce back from misfortune—like divorce, unemployment, or health crises. But how? We’re not good at predicting how each of us will react to misfortune, according to Tali Sharot in From the Optimism Bias, A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain.

Imagination Helps!

How is it possible for humans to stimulate and predict the outcome of possible future scenarios? Using imagination can help us create and examine all the possibilities we might face, pulling away the drama that could prevent our success.

Like many others, prior to experiencing hip surgery I feared for a long, painful recovery unable to get around and completing the most basic tasks with great difficulty.

Sharot’s research points to the human mind is flexible enough to find ways to restore balance when facing a challenge. Our brains can change our perceptions of the physical world.

Matt Hampson, a 20-year-old rugby player, experienced a life-changing event that proves the point. In 2005 during practice, he dislocated his neck, paralyzing him. Suddenly this vibrant young man needed round-the-clock care and steers his wheelchair with his chin and breathes through a ventilator.

Rather than dreading his life, Matt has found a purpose. He created the Get Busy Living Centre, a rehab center for those with life-changing injuries in Leicestershire, England. The brain can find the silver lining in seemingly unimaginable circumstances, if only we can use our imagination. The brain is more flexible and adaptable than we imagine.

We don’t need to have a crisis in our lives to take a moment to check in about our own purposes—or to create something that enriches us or others. Putting a couple words together, even just for us, can start the ball rolling. What’s important to you? How could you make a difference in your life and maybe others?

Notice the balloons in the photo above. They are not your garden variety birthday balloons. No, these are Hot Air Balloons. Why this choice? Anyone can manage a single helium balloon but rising a hot air balloon high into the sky and bringing it back to the ground safely requires effort and skill—an optimistic approach paired with knowledge!


Optimism is my vision. Positive brings on more of the same, provided it’s joined by works! So now let’s just try it out and see if it breeds!

A Courageous Woman with a Vision

Jehan Sadat. former First Lady of Egypt (1970-1981) and professor of International Studies,
University of Maryland

A tribute to a woman who walked in peace within a region of constant turmoil–Jehan Raouf Sadat. She died on July 9 at 87 after living a full life in the Middle East and as an academic in the United States. I did not know her personally but my friends at the University of Maryland had a high regard for her. Through them I gained a particular respect for her vision.

Although she was young at 15 when she married the up-and-coming Egyptian military officer, Anwar Sadat, and he twice her age, it did not muffle her voice. She became a partner in his quest to challenge the British occupation of Egypt in the 1940s.

Rather than be a seen-and-not -heard First Lady in 1970 when he became Egyptian President, Jehan Sadat used her post to become a proponent for women’s rights. She influenced the country’s civil rights legislation and advanced laws, referred to as the “Jehan Laws”, which have given women in Egypt a range of new civil rights, such as the right to child support and custody in the event of divorce.

In 1972 she set up a charitable Rehabilitation Center to assist disabled veterans and other Egyptians inflicted with disabilities. The center also serves visually impaired children and has a music and choir band. known throughout the world. She established The Egyptian Society for Cancer Patients, SOS Children’s Villages in Egypt and headed the national blood drive. She headed the Egyptian delegation to the UN International Women’s Conferences in Mexico City and Copenhagen and founded the Arab-African Women’s League. Five years later she received a bachelor’s degree in Arabian Literature from the University of Cairo.

The First Lady gave her full support to her husband’s attempt to bring peace to the Middle East after several brutal wars had been fought. President Sadat came to Washington, DC in 1979 to sign the Peace Accords with Meacham Begin with President Jimmy Carter. Powerful members of his own military believed the signature represented treason against Egypt. In 1981 Sadat was assassinated by members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad during an annual victory parade in Cairo.

Mrs. Sadat mourned her husband but went on to continue her studies in Arabic literature, in which first completed in 1977 at Cairo University after her four children were grown. She continued to complete a PhD. In Arabic literature at age 52, six years after the death of her husband. She spent time in the Uni ted States as an academic at the University of South Carolina and the University of Maryland. At the latter she served as a senior fellow and a professor of international studies (1993). There she worked to establish the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace & Development there in 1997. Jehan Sadat said she “didn’t want to see starving children or weeping mothers who has lost their sons, so her husband did not die in vain.”

While the days of peace in the Middle East seem now to be a distant memory, if it has been nearly achieved once, the desire described by Mrs. Sadat—to prevent hungry orphans and the mourning of families over their lost sons and daughters—and the hope that the billions of dollars squandered on the instruments of war could be better spent providing for generations to come on both sides—remains alive. Has nothing been learned over the centuries?  It is not the land but the people who hold the value?  The youth now being lost could be the salvation for their countries–and the Middle Eastern region. They hold the ideas to resurrect the future and the ability to move their nations forward. With each volley of missiles, the Middle East dims its future and limits its ability to extinguish the rancor of opponents and shake off the horrendous history of blood. They diminish the opportunity to rise above the mayhem to build a prosperous future—not repeat the sins of the past ad nauseum.  This is what Jahen Sadat hoped to create. Even though she did not live to see it, we cannot abandon her vision.

What Does Freedom Mean?

Kellen Lenz artwork, July 2019

What Does Freedom Mean?

Updated post from what seems a decade past—just a year ago.

My best July 4th? A picnic on the National Mall, red-and-white checkered tablecloth laid out with fried chicken, butter-dripping off the corn-on-the-cob, and large slices of watermelon as we listened to Washington’s Symphony play John Phillip Sousa’s marching tunes. Inevitably my daughter would need a Porta-Potty visit when they broke into my all-time favorite, Aaron Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. We would be back in time for the opening bars of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture complete with cannons—the signal that fireworks would begin.

Not just any fireworks, but the loudest, most colorful display we would ever see. Red, green, blue, yellow, purple bursts high above us that seemed the size of a city-block—one on top of another, then side-to-side, flipping and disappearing, so another could appear to complete with a waterfall of white bursts shimmering nearly to the ground.

Washington’s fireworks are also the smokiest display with the smell of gunpowder descending into the audience, bringing me back to the origin of July 4, 1776. Fifty-six men from the 13 Colonies (it was just men then, but there were strong women, like Abigail Adams, behind them) signed the Declaration of Independence.

By signing they were acting against a powerful British Crown and several of them paid dearly for their bravery. Five men were tortured and killed by the British for treason. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons as Revolutionary soldiers and two other sons were captured.

How are we addressing freedom as we reopen the country following the Pandemic? A year ago, my blog “Celebrating a Nation of Promise and Contradictions” touched on some of the challenges we face. We realize that “freedom” is not doled out equally, neither economically, in the health care we receive, or based on the color of our skin. In the Pandemic we have been fighting a ghost that we cannot see. Months, now over a year, confined to working from home (or finally slowly going back, but much has changed) or still attempting to find work to replace what was lost. Now two million women have left the workforce in part due to the lack of dependable childcare and the need to be at home with children released from school learning online due to the Pandemic. What happens to financial freedom for those still struggling to pull themselves up from economic ruin?

The nation’s been a financial colossus, leading the world in—Gross National Product in January 2020 was over $19.5 trillion, and growing 2.1 percent. Obviously, it dropped in July 2020, to $17.4 trillion, but already has come back to $19.6 even though several million workers are still looking for work. The last few months the unemployed ranks have dropped, giving positive direction to the economy.

As adults we can get bogged down with our responsibilities as we struggle to weave our own safety nets. Freedom has more than one meaning when you are in close quarters with others—you cannot be free yourself if you are endangering others the phrase “what goes around comes around,” seems trite, but we see we are not at the end of this yet. Today we are averaging 2,000 new Covid cases a day nationwide. Much better than the 55,000 cases diagnosed per day a year ago. We cannot move forward without recognizing the 608,741 people lost to the virus as of July 3, 2021. And what over half a million lives lost means to their families and friends, and to the entire nation.

Freedom requires responsibility. We have a new meaning for freedom. It is being part of something greater than yourself. I suspect if we were being invaded by Martians, I hoped we would work together to protect our planet and our families. There would be no red or blue factions.

Enjoy the fried chicken and the tangy barbeque, corn-on-the-cob, and watermelon. Squeeze your family and carefully send up some fireworks, unless you live in drought areas, then have the kids paint some bright-colored facsimiles and appreciate you are not inhaling smoke!  We have got some work to do– we have become painfully aware of that this past year. But we are pulling away from one of the greatest challenges we have faced. Now let us begin to move forward…together.

Opal Never Gave Up–Recognizing a Day of Freedom

Two and a half years after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, a Union General freed 250,000 slaves in Texas, saying they would work for hire from then forward. Juneteenth, 1865

Opal Never Gave UpRecognizing a Day of Freedom

(Juneteenth Recipes for your celebration – see below)

Determination does pay off. . . at last!  Opal Lee, a grandmother from Texas, at 89 walked two and a half miles a day from Fort Worth to Washington. DC, surrounded by a caravan of cars. Opal walked to raise support for designation of Juneteenth (19th) as a federal holiday. Thursday at 94, she received a signing pen from President Biden after he inked legislation creating such a celebration. Vice President Kamala Harris took her hand while praising her determination.

Opal, who had been a teacher before becoming “the grandmother of the movement”, had a personal reason for her crusade. When she was 12, she lived in Marshal, Texas, in a home surrounded by several white homeowners in Sycamore Park. A band of white men came one night and burned her home to the ground. Freedom means more to her than recognizing the end to slave labor, but safety in one’s home and access to quality education.

No doubt President Lincoln would be pleased with Opal’s determination and Congressional efforts in 2021 to celebrate Juneteenth, but he might hope this was not a consolation prize offered instead of insuring the opportunity for all Americans to exercise their constitutional Voting Rights.

Above you see the document that Lincoln wrote and signed after Congress passed the Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect on January 1, 1863, ending slavery in the Confederacy. Governors in Southern states, with economies mainly dependent on cotton, were very slow to pass this information on to the enslaved population, some waited until the end of the Civil War to notify blacks in the South that they were free.

Texans, being the furthest western state in the Confederacy and with an abundance of cotton, were least likely to share this information. And they didn’t. . . until Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, backed up by 1,800 U.S./Union troops, issued General Order Number 3, from his headquarters in Galveston, Texas, June 19, 1865—156 years ago.

Maj. Gen. Granger’s order began: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” Simple. Then: “This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”

This order announced the freedom of 250,000 slaves in Texas. In the two and a half years between the Emancipation and Granger’s arrival nearly 200,000 black men had enlisted, mainly in the Union army. Historians estimate that about 500,000 slaves—out of a total of 3.9 million—liberated themselves by escaping to Union lines between 1863 and the end of the war—the rest remained in slavery, according to Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

More recently, in 1979, Texas State Rep. Al Edwards, “known as the father of the Juneteenth holiday” succeeded in working with the Texas Legislature to make the date an official holiday statewide as a “source of strength” to young people. “Every year we must remind successive generations that this event triggered a series of events that one by one defines the challenges and responsibilities of successive generations,” Rep. Edwards said. These efforts plus others worldwide can be seen at https://juneteenth.com .

Books

The Great Migration helped spread Juneteenth across the country, as Gates says, one person, one family, one carload or train ticket at a time. Isabel Wilkerson’s book, The Warmth of Other Sons: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, tells the story brilliantly, spreading the knowledge Juneteenth to places distant to the South, like Los Angeles, Oakland, and Minnesota. Ralph Emerson’s novel, Juneteenth, said to reflect the “mystical glow of history and lore, memory and myth.”

Unveiling

Juneteenth 2021 will also mark the unveiling of Frederick Douglass’s statue in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, the result of long-term efforts of D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.  

Watermelon salad–Immaculatebites,com

Juneteenth Recipes

In honor of the festivities, perhaps these dining festivities will prepare us for the Fourth of July, red, white and blue creations, while Juneteenth recipes focus on the color red. I’m told that’s for resilience and freedom. So I have one offering and links to several others:

Strawberry Watermelon Juice 

4 cups watermelon       

2 cups strawberries

½-1 tablespoons lemon juice

½-1 cup coconut water or water

Can add syrup or sugar to taste

5 fresh mint to garnish

Dash of cinnamon

Place watermelon and strawberries in blender

Add lemon juice and other ingredients.

May add favorite adult beverage.

www.Immaculatebites.com

(2nd row of recipes:

24 Mouth-Watering Juneteenth Recipes)

www.africanbites.com

African Fish Roll – africanbites.com

African Fish Roll (Fish Pie) Popular West African dish sold by venders.

Peach Cobbler

Red Velvet Cake (or cupcakes)

Red Velvet Cake

 Recipes at https: ImmaculateBites.com

Do you really know what you think you know?

Sometimes are your ideas as tangled as these branches? Photo: K Mitch Hodge

Do you know what you think you know?

What do you know about these topics?

  • What job did Walt Disney have before he drew Mickey Mouse?
  • On which spaceflight humans first laid eyes on the Great Wall of China?
  • Why women were burned at the stake in Salem?
  • Why eating candy affects how kids behave?

Easy enough, right? I got them all wrong. I’ll keep you thinking until the end. Adam Grant set us up. He points out we don’t always KNOW what we think we do. Sometimes it can be dangerous. Or at least put us off our game by leading us to make the wrong decisions or not allowing others to help us make better ones, which he explains in Think Again. He’s an organizational psychologist at Wharton. He’s got some unstuffy ideas about how we make decisions.

Grant points out that if we’re certain we know something, we think there’s no reason to look for gaps in our knowledge. But we all have moments when we overestimate what we know. You can call it overconfidence, which comes easily when we judge our driving or our trivia knowledge.

If there’s something we truly don’t know anything about, say driving a race car, we tend not to exaggerate what we know. But when we’re moving on to amateur status that’s where we can easily cross the line. These are the areas where we might not consider that others could know more than we do. As Grant says, we can easily climb to the top of Mount Stupid. As we gain experience—move from novice to amateur—humility slips, too. Moving us into the “beginner’s bubble” of flawed assumptions. Here we could be ignorant of what we don’t know.

Humility has gotten a bad rap in modern society, being tangled with low self-confidence. Actually. Grant points out it should be linked with its Latin root “from the earth”—being grounded, knowing our fallibility. With a little dash of humility, it’s easier to admit what we don’t know or to draw upon curiosity to learn a bit about what could enlighten our decision-making.

Confident Humility is a sweet spot for us because we don’t tip over into overconfidence , have faith in our ability, but we have just enough doubt that we are willing to re-examine our existing knowledge. Finally, we have enough confidence that we are willing to investigate further.  By the way, the most effective leaders score high in both confidence and humility, according to Grant. They know their strengths, but are aware of their weaknesses.

Life comes complete with biases. Whether we investigate our differences or fall upon a philosophy of  “agreeableness” makes all the difference. Doesn’t matter if we are inside a family, a hospital addressing critical care, a team building an airplane, or creative types trying to create a movie.

On the surface it would seem harmony should rein at the dinner table. Civility might be a better take on the family meal. But “productive disagreement,” where each person voices his or her take on a particular idea, could provide life-lessons about how to address questions not just within the family but in the outside world.

Hospital doctors and staff have been faced with overwhelming challenges that have required each member to call upon their muscle memory to match wits with overwhelming odds. Sometimes medical questions seem impossible to solve or staff are too exhausted to summon critical thinking. If the Pandemic has taught medical centers anything, it is that new ideas can come from any part of the team paying attention to the critical issues and thinking again to develop workarounds with the potential to save lives.

Grant points out that the Wright Brothers were able to be successful not because they agreed with each other about how to get an airplane off the ground. They didn’t. Instead they wrangled for years, grappling with each other’s ideas, which helped bring them forward solutions. But there’s another important aspect that might be forgotten in modern teams. The Wrights respected each other (even flipping a coin to determine that Wilbur would pilot the first flight) and based their work on a collegial foundation, even while they could disagree on the scientific details.

A modern example: Brad Bird, fired from Disney because they thought his ideas were too expensive and unworkable. He went over to Pixar, where his reputation as a pirate, even a black sheep, won him support. He worked to create a team that developed comradery and respect for each other’s talents. This helped because team members were not agreeables—they could be skeptical and critical when their ideas clashed. But they developed productive disagreements that led to creative solutions to complex digital movements. Four years later their Incredibles yielded an Oscar for animation and $631 million worldwide.

I’m not promising you health, wealth and happiness if you check out Adam Grant’s Think Again, but it might start a discussion with your family, colleagues or your fellow creatives that could instigate solutions. Maybe new thinking might stimulate a whole new idea!

Response to the opening questions:

  1. Walt Disney didn’t draw the characters; he hired someone else to draw Mickey
  2. The Great Wall of China is not visible from space.
  3. The women were hung, not burned in Salem, as we think we know.
  4. According to Grant, sugar does not impact the behavior of children. Here I will be the devil’s advocate. Don’t know if he has children, but when the kids return from a birthday party in the late afternoon, bedtime can be challenging! Just saying.

Adam Grant, Think Again, New York: Penguin House, 2021.

Let’s Not Languish!

Andreas Weiland/Unsplash

Let’s not Languish!

A century ago when the planet went through the last global Pandemic, folks that recovered were just joyful if they survived. * Today many of us are moving past survival of the trauma, isolation, and grief of 2020. Now we want a joyous, fulfilling life.

Some of our bodies and our minds say: “Not so fast. You’ve got steps, maybe a little penance for ‘stayin’ alive!”

The Pandemic fog, depression, burnout or blahs, the feeling of not being productive, an aimless, boring, joyless state has fallen upon some survivors. It is more of a valley between depression and burnout. Some might equate it with ruminating—mimicking the senseless, continuous review of a single bite of hay by a country cow.

Adam Grant from the Wharton School of Business, a psychiatrist by trade, says its important to think back to what gave us joy in the Before Times. Actively thinking about when people were moved by what you did—when you had/have an impact. In his interview with Anderson Cooper, the CNN host of Full Circle, admitted he sensed he was “languishing.” He’d binged as many Netflix movies and TV series as he could manage. Because of the Pandemic he wasn’t flying around the world to do newstories and now operates from the office by himself. He enjoys playing with his young son, but usually his child is in bed when Cooper got home. So he was languishing.

Take an active role in your life

Grant noted taking an active role in remembering what had given us joy in the past could begin the process. We could move from ruminating to doing by picking one thing that provides us joy/meaning, then doing it.

Getting to this point is as important as the doing itself. Grant suggested we give ourselves permission to engage in thinking time. Map out two hours a week to read and think about our habits. How could you revamp your day to find time for joy? Refine your week to allow time for energy-creating ideas that stimulate you to rethink old ideas and make them better.

The idea here is to lift yourself onto self-satisfied territory. Then it will be easier to move out from our dreams of the Before Times into the Post-Pandemic Mental Prosperity, which will banish languishing.

Flourishing really is what people are ultimately after,” said Dr. Tyler J. VanderWeele, an epidemiology and biostatistics professor and director of Harvard’s Human Flourishing Program.

The good news is that simple activities can lead to marked improvement in overall well-being.

How to to begin? Simply asking yourself is an effective disagnostic tool, according to Dr. Laurie Santos, a psychology profssor at Yale, who teaches a free 10-week course called “The Science of Well-Being”. They found the little times of joy, simple celebrations and moments offering gratitude to others for their service to you can bring joy as well.

Write it down!

Grant suggests writing down three small accomplishments that gave you joy and purpose. Use that as a launchpad for your next achievement. So you don’t forget the progress you’ve made, keep a journal, keeping a list of the moments of joy, now or at other times in your life. Start with the simple task you start to get yourself off the couch. Just something simple.

“There are lots of American adults that would meet the qualifications of feeling happy but they don’t feel a sense of purpose,” adds Dr. Corey Keyes, a professor of sociaology at Emory University. “Feeling good about life is not enough.”

“Most important for overall well-being,” according to Dr. Keys, “would be a sense of ‘overall well-being’–a sense of satisfaction or happiness.” The Pandemic has prevented us from pursuing many of our interests.”

Flourishing = Finding purpose in life

Each of the experts agreed that finding purpose in everyday life- and beginning to feeling good–comes from seeking out new interests. Suggestions: learning a new skill, reaching out to thank the people you value in your daily life, even the simpliest project–can provide this sense of well-being and accomplishment. Keyes suggests a short 10-minute jog or a walk around the block, volunteering for a nonprofit organization, maybe a 10-minute meditation–simple moments in time.

Maybe your teach your new skill to someone else–to stretch your skill. Then you will begin to create memories. These memories will help build a ladder out of the languishing pit and provide you a joyous landing pad from which you can launch your exploration into a myriad of delightful activities you forgot while you were just ‘stayin’ alive!”

  • (I’ve read the global population in 1910 was 1.5 billion, so to lose between 20 and 50 million people would stymie nearly every community.) In comparison, today the global population is 7.9 billion with 500 million lost to the Pandemic around the globe, 675,000 perished in America.
  • Adam Grant wrote Think Again, part business, part psychology, that we’ll talk about. He also has the Work-Life podcast and appeared on recently on Anderson Cooper’s Full Circle on CNN to talk about “Languishing.”
  • Other professional comments appeared in today, “The other side of languishing is flourishing. Here’s how to get there.” May 12, 2021.
  • https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/04/well/mind/flourishing-languishing.html Dani Blum, New York Times, May 6, 2021

Here Comes the Sun

Free Rainbow. freeimages.

Here Comes the Sun!

I am hoping for sunshine tomorrow because we deserve it after four days of rain, pouring in sheets(not the expected drought), with four more days projected. Why sunshine? Because May 20 is Mental Health Action Day—within a month of awareness many of us could use after the no good, awful news of 2020 and the shadow that follows some who experienced Covid.

But this is not a “downer” blog, but an appreciation for those who are embracing personal well-being and hoping we all invite someone to share an active part of our day. And an encouragement to others to join in the action.

This is a celebration of life as we can look out for our friends and neighbors and enjoy active pleasure—yoga, meditation, Tai Chi, learning again (after a year’s retreat) to share conversation with others. Doing something physical can be the absolute best cure for the blahs. Heating up the body, burning off some calories can be a quantum cure for anything that might ail you. Maybe you are not sure about hitting the gym or its just not your thing. So, find some stretch bands, maybe spare hand weights. Nothing better than stretching the body to rush away the gloom.

I learned about Mental Health Action Day when Anderson Cooper interviewed Talinda Bennington, the window of Lincoln Park’s lead singer this week. She is one of more than 1,000 sponsors of the national awareness event. She scheduled activities for her sons in tribute to her husband, Chester Bennington, lead singer for Linkin Park, who committed suicide in 2017. She encourages her sons to perform personal exercise, like isometrics, as a stress reliever to raise their heart rate as well as their spirits.

Bennington discussed American’s habit of asking, but not expecting a response to: “How are you?” Instead, Cooper mentioned a friend from Israel told him they ask: “How do you feel today?” as a more personal way to avoid a meaningless phrase. And it can yield a more useful response.

Activities can be found on YouTube. Here is an excuse to escape the isolation of the Pandemic at your own pace. Join a friend for a cup of coffee outside a favorite shop. Make an appointment to meet someone you have been missing. Take a half hour or an hour to enjoy conversation over lunch. Invite a friend to take a walk along your favorite path. 

The Day, which fits into Mental Health Awareness month, offers contact information about affordable therapists in your own community. (Check out https://Mental Health ActionDay.org). Learn where to find resources in your home community. A wide variety of mental health-positive organizations took part. Here is just a sampling (check the website for a complete list): MTV Entertainment (general sponsor), Country Music Association, Comedy Central, Athletes for Hope, Wounded Warrior Project, Austin Mindful Counseling, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Healthy Moms Strong Babies, The Art Therapy Project, Crisis Text (Text HOME to 741741), Gen Z for Change, Eating Disorder Coalition, and libraries from around the country.

Make TODAY a special day for yourself, someone you know,or someone you just met!

Future Tangles with the Past

Hourglass on Ocean Beach. Amazon.com

The Future Tangles with our Past

Recently I read that high school students who have lived through the Pandemic mainly choose to live in the Present, letting the Future fend for itself. They are not willing to trust they will be around tomorrow, so why plan for it?

Frightening! 

Some are still willing to slug through calculus or biochemistry or trigonometry to prepare for careers in engineering and medicine. But that is not a large number.

 Those parents who are able are speeding up their plans for retirement, now more aware that life is short. Why not begin to enjoy the benefit of one’s efforts as soon as possible, not knowing what the future may bring?  While others are still struggling to feed and educate their children today.

Many of us vaguely remember the “Before Times,” as some call them, and are not certain that we can return to what now seems to be the distant past. Frankly, the times of being crammed like sardines into stadiums, music venues, and offices are not as appealing as they once were and will require mental and physical retrofitting.

While we are thinking about the future, will we be able to blindly return to following one political party or another out of habit or will we require something more?

“Identity politics” some call it, following along with a particular label because it is what you have always done, blind allegiance to the Dems or the GOP Party. Not because you believe what it stands for. But because you feel a part of the group.

Originally the parties were considered “shortcuts” that provide a range of choice between alternatives of action. “The act of choosing a party is the act of choosing whom we trust to perform our values across a vast range of issues that confront the country,” according to Ezra Klein, who believes the most valuable opportunity to influence the course of public affairs is in their choice of a party. He authored “Why We’re Polarized.

The rub can be traced to 1923 when Idaho Republican Senator William Borah said: “Any man who can carry a GOP primary is a Republican. To Borah it did not matter if the guy (then they were all guys) believed in free trade, states’ rights, or every policy of the Democratic Party.

Move to the 1950s when the positions of the two political parties became muddled as much by regional thinking and historical perspective. Voters could not define the party by the beliefs of their individual candidates. Democrats in Minnesota ran liberal candidate Hubert Humphrey, while in South Carolina the same party put uber-conservative Strom Thurmond on the ballot, both in Senate races.

Without the restraint of party unity, some argued political disagreements escalate. Debate on issues, like health care, motivates supporters and turns them against opponents. But in the end, issues get aired and resolved. Divisions get deeper and angrier.

Think about 1964 or consider this if you were not around for that initial foray into the political ring we encounter today. Republican Presidential Candidate Barry Goldwater promised an election that “would not be an engagement of personalities, but an engagement of principles.” But the conservative wing of the GOP got hung up with purity and worked diligently to “expel the moderate wing” of the party, forgetting they would need them to win the election. Goldwater got creamed by Democrat Lyndon Johnson.

George Romney, then moderate Republican governor of Michigan who would be a candidate for President in 1968, (and the father of Mitt Romney, who ran for President on the GOP ticket in 2008) outlined his disagreement with Goldwater’s “take no prisoners” approach.

After the Goldwater disaster, George Romney wrote his Republican colleagues: “Dogmatic ideological parties tend to splinter the political and social fabric of a nation, leading to government crises and deadlocks, and stymie the compromise so often necessary to preserve freedom and achieve progress.”
Think about that.

Interesting that Mitt felt it necessary to brand himself as “severely conservative” during the 2008 Presidential Campaign. And he went down, not as severely, but lost his bid never-the-less. In 2021, Mitt has taken sides again, more as a moderate, perhaps taking a longer view, sees the impact of following the former President down a purist rabbit hole could have on our democracy.   

Shortly the Republicans in the House will stage another “purity contest.” This one based on whether a House leadership position should be held by a conservative woman (Liz Cheney, daughter of a Republican VP under Bush II) who has been vocal in her opposition to Trump and his continuing cries of “foul” over the final tally of the now fading 2020 Presidential Election. She also objects to the former President’s role instigating the June 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

Fear that Trump would back a Primary challenger against them weakened the knees of many Republican House members who voted against accepting votes cast for Joe Biden. Nevertheless, the election results were approved on a vote of 306-232 at 2:15 am on the long day-into-morning of January 6-7, 2021.

William Faulkner, a writer who I suffered through in college, but respect more with age, wrote: “Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders.” He noted that “the past is never truly past, but it returns through haunting and repetition.”

Ezra Klein, Why We are Polarized. New York: Avid Reader Press, 2020. In November Klein resigned as editor-at-large at VOX to become a New York Times columnist and host of a political podcast.

Stay tuned for interesting thoughts on what percent of the country is fully invested in the political divide (six percent). And how the rest of us can help pull the needle from the far walls. What can be done to give thinking a chance and avoid having the noisiest among us rule.

How Times Change 1981 – 2021

Ronald Reagan’s first Inauguration CBS News

Ronald Reagan wore a gray tie

Ronald Reagan wore a gray tie to his first inaugural. Not red, not blue, not yellow, but gray. the color set out for formal occasions in 1980. See his Vice President, George Bush, wears gray, too. Nancy proudly wore her trademark red coatdress with a red pillbox.

We forget Americans didn’t get caught up in the red is for Republicans and blue is for Democrats until 1992 when NBC selected those colors as an easy way to show TV viewers how voting progressed across the country on election eve. This January Joe Biden carried on the tradition with a pale, powder blue tie with a sheen amplified in his wife Jill’s shiny aqua dress and coat, more a statement of joy than a political marker.

Joe Biden and Joe Biden on Inauguration Day 2021 Win McNamee

Some may forget the phrase “Make America Great Again” came as a near direct swipe from the Reagan’s “Let’s Make America Great Again,” though his version gave the impression we would ALL take part, not just those with red MEGA hats standing in crowds or waving out-sized banners off the back of pickup trucks.

The 40th President’s response to the events of January 6 can never be assured, he being long dead. But he opened his remarks in 1981 by thanking President Carter for “how much he did” to guarantee a smooth transition, continuing in the American tradition.  He noted “in the history of our nation, it is a commonplace occurrence—the orderly transfer of authority, as called for in the Constitution.” Reagan said with some pride that it “routinely takes place as it has for almost two centuries.” He also pointed out that then, in 1981, “few of us stop to think how unique we really are in the eyes of the world—this every four-year ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle.”

Until it wasn’t.

Some who call themselves Republicans, who might think they are traveling along as Ronald Reagan would have wanted—in his path—aren’t. I was in the crowd that cold January day as a slightly idealistic congressional staffer. I didn’t agree with everything Reagan said that day, particularly about government, of which I was a servant. Reagan strongly believed in reducing the size of government (going so far as to fire unionized Air Traffic Controllers, a loss of trained personnel and postponing the replacement of antequated equipment that hampers American’s air safety to this today). I believe government has an important role in providing safe operations for the American public (and still refer to it as National Airport).

But he did believe in We the People, that we were all in this together, for better or worse. He didn’t divide the nation into his Red Coats and the other Blue Coats. Reagan didn’t believe you were either with him or you were against him.

One of his buddies, a fellow Irishman, you can see standing above him in the photo, House Speaker Tip O’Neill, a Democrat. The two men disagreed on many issues, but they could sit down and talk about it. America was a different country then for sure, simpler, if not at times slightly simplistic. But the founding principles of the nation still remain. That’s how Reagan began his Inaugural Address.

He did believe in smaller government and focused in reducing it. To me the health and safety of all Americans is the essential job of government. And cannot be ignored. More than half of the internal divisive battles raging like wildfire in America today address these issues, not the traditional policy issues of the 1980s and before. I have no wand to return the nation to LOGICAL thinkers, focused on problem solving, not finger pointing. This hyperventilation on both sides is leading to the destruction of critical infrastructure and precarious health and safety issues, as critical decisions are pushed off. Many of these issues are reaching a dangerous tipping point.

Will we realize demonizing the “other” has accomplished nothing but a sicker population (and the death of half a million Americans) and a crumbling infrastructure? It seems the resolution so necessary today is impossible to achieve. Could we not tiptoe towards the other side for a moment of silence? There are good minds in both camps. We just cannot hear their thoughts over the roar of selfish megaphones, spouting cultural divisiveness, not solving a single issue. The loudest seem to be the ones who most want to run for President in 2024. Let us solve some problems and try to set out a future for all our children before  we even think about who is up next. Then we’ll talk.