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Monday, January 28, 2008

Nice is Out...

We live in a day and age in which 'being nice' is out. People second-guess motives, don't trust a random comment, outright believe that something a person says is an effort to manipulate or hurt them. What has happened to our society?

Sometimes I wish I lived in the 50s, when being nice was not only in, it was expected. Instead, no one believes it's possible today. Everybody wants something from somebody. But do they really? I don't think so. I believe we can chat with people without expecting something in return, that we can say thank you and mean it, that we can say you're sorry for someone's loss or hurting and truly believe it. But paranoia is a more normal emotion than compassion. Fear replaces empathy, and too close behind is apathy and anger.

This week, at least for a few days, think before you react. Take a deep breath before you assume something you're perceiving isn't what it seems. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Remember to take out your mirror before getting out your magnifying glass.

As a writer, it's hard to imagine a world without conflict…all stories revolve around it. But the nature of our world signals that if something doesn't reverse or take a serious turn soon, we're going to self-destruct. I, for one, often do things for no other reason than to be nice. And I know many people do. But the focus for many is on the self-serving belief that people are out to hurt them. The most important adage for most Americans is to understand that not everything is about them. We're a self-indulgent, self-absorbed, self-obsessed society. Being nice takes too much time, too much effort, and isn't the kind of attention many people want.

Imagine, though, the reaction of a person when they think they're going to get a ticket but they discover someone dropped fifty cents into their meter? You might not get credit, but you made someone's day. Leave a good book on the counter at the laundromat, pick up a stranger's tab at lunch, or simply offer a smile to someone today and tell them, "You look great today." The results beat the heck out of the effort.

Yep, being nice may not be vogue, but I prefer a world out of style than one with so much anger and hatred that you dread encounters with people immersed in it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What is the secret to the U.S. equaling Asian’s education success?

If I could answer that, I’d be rich. I can tell you one of our number one mistakes has been letting politicians mandate what goes on in the classroom, instead of schools and those trained for it orchestrating the framework for learning.

When President Bush got the NCLB bandwagon rolling, no one understood the full concept. It sounds good—No Child Left Behind. However, as harsh as it sounds, teachers can only move forward with the kids who want to move forward. Someone will be left behind, because in this country, nearly 7% of our kids want to drop out of school. If we focus too much time and energy on those who don’t want help, what’s happening to everyone else in the meantime? The bottom 7% will wander off into the sunset to work at McDonald’s or suck the marrow out of the welfare system, and in the meantime, we’ll be letting a new 7% flounder…Bush’s plan is to keep that average up. Think about that for a moment. Let’s increase the average, matter of fact, let’s keep all kids ABOVE average… Did President Bush take math? I’ve seen him blunder statements about fool him once, shame on him, etc. So perhaps someone should tip him that an average is created by numbers above and BELOW it… Teachers understand the reality: we will leave some kids behind. Not because we want to, but because it’s the nature of education…in America.

However, the idealism of NCLB works in Asia. Have you seen Shift Happens? If you haven’t, you should. Because as we face the stressors of keeping American children motivated, other countries are leaving us to eat their dust. The difference? Families. Homes. Respect. Expectations.

I have friends in the PhD program with me who are from China, Korea, Taiwan. Their children don’t talk back to them. Their children don’t expect to be entertained 24/7 by XBoxes, iPods, or teachers. They spend nearly 10 hours a day learning, and their common language? English. They understand that to fail in school is to let their families down. Drugs are for gangbangers and criminals, not casual use on a Friday night. What have these countries done that we haven’t? If we don’t find out soon, America won’t be the leading innovator in anything, not even the highest percentage of English speaking citizens. We’ve taken the melting pot concept to an all-time high. It’s projected that by 2015, the most prominent language in our country will be Spanish, while China and India will be 100% English speaking (as a first or second language). The most startling fact is that our percentage of those living in poverty or supported by the state will exceed those who, well, aren’t. While we’re focusing on how to keep our kids off the streets, off drugs, and out of gangs, Asian countries will be figuring out how to get all American products outsourced to them. They’re well on their way.

To break this cycle, we must address the other number one mistake we’ve made – parents need to step up and remember they are their kids first teacher. We’ll have to decide: Am I going to be politically correct and reason with my child or be a parent and raise my child?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

My Own Bucket List

After seeing the movie on Friday, I think Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman have tapped into something inspiring. If you haven't seen it, The Bucket List, the basic message is to live life to its fullest before you die. Therefore, make a list of all the things you'd like to do before you kick the bucket.

I was inspired enough to start my own "Bucket List" and it got me thinking…in the words of Tim McGraw, we should all "live like we were dying." Instead, what we do is live to exist, to pay the bills, work for the weekend, don't pass go until Friday… But life isn't just from Friday at 5:00 until Monday morning. It doesn't pause for the stress of the work-week, for early bedtimes and higher stress, it doesn't say anywhere that you should only grill in the summer and only go out on the weekends. One thing I've learned is to catch a movie on a Wednesday night or play cards on a Monday. Nothing erases the stressors of work faster than play. And adults forget how cleansing play can be.

My New Year's Resolution is always to work out more, to make time to get in shape. As a former college athlete, it's a no-brainer. But this year, I'm going to wrap that in a different package. My resolution is to play more, spend more time laughing, focus on what's really important: living.

Monday, January 7, 2008

A New Civil Rights Movement…

I was born in a decade of civil unrest. Riots, anger, supremist mentality…despite the summer of love, the sixties echoed with turmoil and hatred. Rising in the time were brave voices, strong resistors, people who fought for what they believed in without fists or bloodshed. Where are the Martins and Bobbys now? Who would step up and fill Rosa's shoes, advocate with Medger, lead with JFK? Turbulent times called for calm leadership, and someone always stepped up.

After a visit to Memphis, I'm left wondering who could step forward now. With the rising youth movement of gang mentality, a sense of entitlement from most under the age of twenty, a dropout rate soaring…we need a Martin Luther King, Jr. Someone to stand up and open the eyes of a generation blind to the realities of the world they're ignoring. Are we leaving that to the idols of today? Eminem? Allen Iverson? Michael Vick?

There are saviors, but too many of us pay little attention to what matters. Movements center on the environment, politics, religion…while these rank high on the importance list, nothing outweighs the future of our youth.

I was in junior high during the late seventies -- skyrocketing gas during the energy crisis, hostages in Iran, a peanut farmer's down-home attitude in the White House. Being a teenager was tough, times were tough, but nothing like the Civil Rights era. And now…years after most nations have long-since had female and minority leaders, the U.S. continues to battle issues spawned by racism and classism. We've gotten nowhere, except in the midst of an overly obsessed era of political correctness. Coupled with the spiral down a drug-gang toilet, we've succeeded in preserving all the worst components of past decades. My generation saw to that.

Violence has been a central theme in our nation since its inception. Good for us…at least we have some nostalgia for our past. It's time for someone to step up, to impose a positive spin on a generation in dire need of help, of leadership, of hope.

We can only pray people will listen.