Friday, March 29, 2013

I, Compass

I have to confess, I was a terrible Cub and Boy Scout.  I liked the camping, but spent little if any time on earning merit badges.  And, I’m cursed with what my family has called, “Lewis Anti-Directional Syndrome”.  The simple explanation is that we get lost.  A lot.  In fact, if you ask my wife and kids, they’ll say that I get lost in parking lots.  No joke and no exaggeration.  You will be pleased to know that I can, relatively speaking . . . more or less, tell East from West and North from South.  Again, more or less.

It’s always nice to know what direction you’re headed.  I marvel at those who just seem to know where they’re going and know nineteen different ways to go there.

Yet, there is another meaning to the word “Compass” that is overlooked and not necessarily thought about much.

In Mr. Holland’s Opus, the principal tracks down Holland and says with a bit of disgust and frustration, “A teacher has two jobs.  Fill young minds with knowledge, and give those minds a compass so that knowledge doesn’t go to waste.”  I like to broaden this to not just teachers, but to any adult, any mentor, any person who works with kids in any capacity.  Coaches.  Scout Masters and Den Mothers.  Parents.  I think each of us needs to consider the weight of this statement.

I think we do a pretty good job of filling minds with knowledge.  I wonder, though, do we give kids a Compass?  Are we giving the kids the ethical and moral guidance they need?  Are we giving kids the care, time, love, and concern they need in order to learn what needs to be learned?  Do we love them?

Thinking back to various adults in my life, they taught me more than the ‘stuff’ they were supposed to teach.  They taught me to use that ‘stuff’ constructively, lovingly, for the purpose of furthering myself and others around me.  Hopefully I do that and will continue to do that.  To me, it’s a life-long charge, not a one and done deal.

The players Johnny Wooden coached talk more about Wooden being a person and mentor than him as their coach.  They might remember this season or that season.  They might remember the record for a season or trophies won.  But, more than anything else, they can go into detail on what he meant to them as a person, as a team.  They speak of his character, his words, his example, how he treated them, spoke with them.  Same for Norm Sloan and Al McGuire. 

Take a minute and think of your favorite or best teacher. 

Chances are you remember not the calculus problem or the significance of this battle or that event.  Instead, a smile crosses your face and you think of what that person meant to you, did for you, did with you.  And, I’m willing to bet that even though it was years ago, the memory is as fresh today as it was ‘back then’.

I, Compass.

Helen Keller wrote, “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”

If we take seriously and literally this statement, we can, and should, be a Compass for those around us.  We can and should make a difference in the lives of kids.  Certainly for children, but not just for children.  We can and should be a Compass for each other.  We can and should make a difference in the lives around us.

It’s nice to know where you are and where you’re going.  It’s nice to have and to be able to use a Compass.  How much better it is to be a Compass.  I, Compass.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Unworthy Of Love

There was a quote in the movie, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower that disturbs me.  It went: “Why do nice people choose the wrong people to date? Because they accept only the love they think they deserve.”

Isn’t that the saddest statement you’re ever heard?  I guess it’s one thing to hear it, but it’s quite another to believe it.  “. . . only the love they think they deserve.”  How does one acquire that belief, that mindset?  How does that even enter into one’s thinking?

I know high school is tough, but it can also be a good time in one’s life too.  We’ve all heard stories of bullies and bullying, of “mean girls”, of not being accepted into this group or that group, of being alone.  But I’ve witnessed kids growing up and taking life by the throat and throttling it, making their life their own.  I believe that for many kids, even the majority of kids, life in high school is good.  It’s not necessarily easy, but it’s good.

If that is the case, how is it that one accepts “only the love they think they deserve”?  How is this even possible?

Leo Buscaglia wrote, “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”  Simple, everyday things one can do for someone else.  The opportunities are boundless, endless.  Each day.  Every day.   

That’s a powerful statement, a challenge for adults who are around kids.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a parent, a teacher, a counselor, a coach, a next door neighbor.  From whom else will a child learn that they are loveable?  From whom else will a child learn that they are deserving of all of the love and kindness possible that this world has to give?  From whom else will a child learn that they are unique, a gift to this world and all who are in it?  From whom else will a child learn that there is “specialness” about them that only they can give to this world, and that without them, this world would be less? Yet, there are times when the opportunities for these actions, kind words, gestures exist and we squander them.  Too busy.  Distracted.  Worried about our own lives.

As a counselor, I’ve dealt all too often with child abuse, with kids attempting suicide and with kids who commit suicide.  Somehow, someway, this has to change.  Kids shouldn’t take their own life before it even has a chance, an opportunity to begin.  The thought should never enter their mind.  Not for one minute, not for one second.

There is beauty in each child.  Yes, even the most difficult child.  There is something to be loved about each child, that uniqueness, that specialness.  It is up to each of us to convey that loveableness, that specialness, that uniqueness to each and every child.  That way, when a child forms the belief that they can accept “only the love they think they deserve”, it will be the belief that they deserve all of the love that is possible for someone to give and then some.  And more importantly, we break the cycle.   When those children grow into adulthood and have children of their own . . . and on . . . and on.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Lessons From Geese

Fall is perhaps my favorite of the seasons.  The air changes.  Sweatshirts and jeans replace t-shirts and shorts.  The world is enhanced by the rust, the red, and the gold of trees changing from their usual green.  Leaves float from above to the ground below.  There is peace, quiet, stillness.  The sounds of fall are familiar to us.  The crunch of leaves on the ground as we walk.  The honk of geese overhead as they fly south to escape the cold.

The next time you see geese flying overhead, stop what you’re doing and look up.  (Actually, stopping to look up is a good thing, geese or not, but that is for a future post.)  You’ll see the familiar ‘flying V’ formation.  But take the time to really watch and listen.

First of all, you’ll hear the familiar ‘honk’ of the geese.  Did you know that the ‘honk’ comes from the geese behind the leader and it is a call of encouragement to the leader at the point of the v?  Geese recognize the need to encourage and support one another.  They do this naturally, almost spontaneously.  When the lead goose gets tired, he or she falls back and another takes its place at the point.  Geese recognize that one leader isn’t enough, especially if the journey is long.  It takes more than one or two to lead and as they fly along honking their support of one another, they take turns leading.  They just seem to know.  They don’t ask for help or support.  They just seem to give it naturally.  When one of the geese is sick or injured, it drops to the ground.  But remarkably, it is never by itself.  The sick or injured goose is joined by two others who will stay with it until it is healthy and can fly again.  When it is ready, the three join another flying v and take off.  Geese seem to know when they need to help, to protect, and they naturally care for one another.  And, they don’t ask for permission to join another group flying in the v formation.  They join in and are accepted.  As they fly along in this new v formation, they take up a honk of encouragement and take turns at the point.  They just seem to know.  They accept and are accepted.  They encourage.  They protect and care for one another.  They take turns leading when one is tired.

Simple, unsophisticated creatures geese are.  I suppose you can argue that they aren’t very intelligent.  I mean, they can’t construct bridges or buildings, solve equations, or come up with magical cures for disease or illness.  They can’t repair power lines when they’re down or install cable TV to homes.  They can’t drive a car or work a computer.

But . . .

It doesn’t take a scientist to understand the simplicity and beauty of geese, to marvel at their instinct, at what comes natural to them.  Their understanding that it takes more than one to lead.  Their understanding of the importance of encouragement.  Their care and compassion for a sick or injured brother or sister.  And, their willingness to join in and the acceptance they are shown by their brethren.

Perhaps we can learn from geese.  Perhaps we should learn from geese.  In our homes.  In our place of work.  With each other.  Honk if you agree.  (a smile)  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


I’ve come to the conclusion there are three groups of people when it comes to exploration.  There are those folks who go where there is no trail and build one.  Lewis (no relation) and Clark, and Marquette and Joliet come to mind.  They walked, canoed, climbed and hiked where no one had gone before.  Guts, determination, stamina, perseverance, perhaps a bit of crazy.  You name it, they had it.  Thanks to them, our early settlers had a map or at least a direction to use as a starting point, a reference. History calls them Trailblazers.

The second group, Settlers, waited until those trailblazers established a route to travel, a path, a direction.  They followed behind.  While you would think their way was simpler, easier, in many cases it wasn’t.  Ever tried to cross a raging river on horseback?  Climb a mountain with a wagon?  Get snowed in on a mountain pass and run out of food or water or shelter?  Nonetheless, their path was made easier by the Trailblazers who went before them.  These folks settled and built houses, roads, and factories in lands that were previously uninhabited.

The third group was happy to stay put.  They lived in Boston, or New York, or Connecticut, or Philadelphia, or . . . and didn’t see the need to leave.  They were content, happy, satisfied.  Occasionally they might visit someplace new and different, but in the end, they returned home. They were content, at peace with themselves.  They might have called the folks in the first two groups crazy.

I’ve always had a bit of wanderlust in me.  I’ve lived and worked in five states.  As long as I had a job, I was able to see the country and learn other lifestyles, meet fabulous people.  Along the way, I drove a wheat truck, helped with rounding up and branding of cattle.  I worked in small private schools, small rural schools, small and large urban schools.  You could say that I received a taste of life that I might not have experienced had I stayed put in one place.

Exploration.  To me, it means more than just travel and a job.  It implies that one is open to change, to differences, to accepting uniqueness in individuals and groups.  And if you are open, you are susceptible to risk: hurt, disappointment, sorrow.  But also joy, peace, love, friendship.

Leo Buscaglia said, “Risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.”

I think Trailblazers and the Settlers took that statement to heart and lived it.  Many of us still live it.  Living life brings risk.  But in that risk, there is the awesome opportunity for joy, for friendship, for love, for peace and contentment.  For learning, for accepting and acceptance, for tolerance.

How can you extend yourself today?  What might you be willing to do to take that first step in Exploration?  You don’t know what’s on the other side of that mountain until you climb it and look over the ledge.  Who knows, you might like the view.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!