If it can happen once…

Several years ago I ran into the story of a soldier in the Vietnam War, a soldier who started as the classic last kid picked for the team, bottom of the barrel sort of person. It was entirely easy to label him as “the screw up” and send him away because nobody would want that guy on a mission. It could have ended there, with our soldier being the screw up no one wanted for time an all eternity; however, that’s not what happened.

The salvation of this man came through his own honest effort; a little instruction and assistance from a wise old sergeant; and… a cup of coffee.

The sergeant could see what was happening. He talked with his soldier and then made some changes. The sergeant took away all of the soldier’s previous duties and gave him one, just one, thing to do. The soldier would be attached to the company headquarters and was to make sure that the captain had a hot cup of coffee available at any time he wanted one. It was a little thing, a silly thing, but it was something the soldier could do if he put in the effort. And this simple act, this one duty, bore amazing fruit.

The soldier, the former ‘screw up’, did his one duty. The captain had a cup of hot coffee when and where ever he wanted. And, the soldier received two critical things: sure knowledge that he was not a complete screw up, he could do things if he tried; and the opportunity to observe and learn without undue stress and criticism.

The soldier took this opportunity to observe and learn, and then he stepped up to do. Our soldier was no great tactician or leader. He wasn’t a great fighter slaying the enemy with his M16 and bayonet. He wasn’t an engineer conjuring wondrous structures and impenetrable defenses with just his entrenching tool and some communications wire. But, the man did have a gift. And, when he was given the opportunity and knowledge he needed, that gift came out.

Our soldier, the ‘screw up’ no one wanted, was a logistical problem solver. This soldier became the man who could find solutions and get dry socks and warm meals to the men of his unit. That might not sound like much if you’re sitting in your own home with your own washer and dryer, and pizza delivery on speed dial. But, trust me, if you’re out in the field, out in the dirt and muck, that kind of thing matters.

The soldier, the former ‘screw up’, became a beloved and valued member of the unit because he was given an opportunity, a chance to both learn and succeed, and he took it. He took action to become better than he had been before.

But what does this mean to us?

And so it is with us dear reader. We stand on all sides of this equation.

There are times when we are the ‘screw up’ who just needs one success, even a tiny one, and a bit of knowledge and support to put us on course to better things.

There are times when we are the one who can see a need, and an opportunity. In that case we are called upon to take action and help someone to help themselves.

Sometimes we are one of the others in the unit, the ones who need to allow space for change; the ones who will forgive the faults of the past and give someone who can grow the space and opportunity to do so.

Sooner or later we play all three roles dear reader. Sooner or later all good things will come if we let them.

That’s it for this one dear reader, see you next post… Until then…

Find an opportunity and take it!

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Lessons from ‘the great American eclipse’

Yep, on Monday of the week I’m coming back to the blogosphere we had an eclipse, a total eclipse of the sun that ran the entire length of the country. I happen to live in an area where the eclipse was 98.9% from my door step and full totality was only about 45 minutes north…

Naturally our area braced for the event and some of the ‘knowledgeable ones’ predicted lots of things, some of which happened and some of which didn’t. Here are a couple of things we learned and some thoughts going forward.

A once in a life time experience:

Everyone and I mean everyone was saying that a total eclipse (not just a continent spanning one but any total eclipse) was a once in a life time experience. And, it is… If you just sit in one spot and you don’t live long enough!

I’ve been through at least two total solar eclipses, several partials (they were total eclipses for somebody!), and more lunar eclipses than I can remember. But, I’ve moved around just a little bit…

Lesson: opportunities do happen, but you need to figure out where they are and what you are willing to do to get them. If you sit and do nothing they don’t come around very often.

Bracing for the horde:

Government officials, media types and professional prognosticators warned us to be ready for 100,000, then 500,000, then 1,000,000 people to who were supposed to be descending on our area. Gas was sure to run out. The phone lines and internet connections would be overloaded. The state transit department was going to have to make I15 a one way street to deal with all the traffic. Stores and restaurants would be swamped and run out of food and supplies. I believe there were even warnings about witches, zombies and ninjas (Wiccan ninja zombies?).

Well, in the end there were difficulties. After the eclipse a forty five minute trip away from the zone of totality became a four hour trip (on the one side of the I15… Traffic in the opposite direction (toward the zone of totality) was just fine…). Several hotels and gas stations artificially raised prices. And… Several stores and restaurants ended up ordering too many supplies, and didn’t sell them all.

The main problem was a problem of hype over thought. Yes, there were lots of people who came up for the eclipse. A lot of them came from relatively nearby and made a day trip of it (or tried to at least…). A lot of them brought food and water with them. The ones that weren’t making a day trip of it filtered in a day or two ahead. It was only when everyone tried to leave at the same time that there were big traffic problems. Some store shelves got barren, but new shipments were getting in on a daily basis and to my knowledge nobody starved.

If you were looking for roving gangs, there weren’t any. Roving gangs don’t’ usually travel long distances for astronomical events. If you were looking for zombies, apocalyptic horsemen, or other such oddities, there weren’t any of those either (that I’m aware of…). If you’re still looking for them I’ve got some nice fiction books in production that you might like…

Generally if you thought ahead and made reasonable preparations you were fine. If you didn’t prepare ahead of time, or it you went straight to the worst case scenario, then things were less satisfactory (but still not a total disaster in most cases!).

Lesson: Be prepared, but make reasonable preparations. A one day event like the eclipse isn’t the same thing as WW3. Yes, people are going to go see something like the eclipse, but it’s unlikely that the whole state of California is going to take a day or three off work and end up on your doorstep.

People are people and that includes both locals and tourists…

One of the problems that did come up was relatively normal people conflicts.

Several national news reports claimed that the locals weren’t friendly. Several local news reports included pictures of tourists driving their vehicles and setting up camp in local farmers fields, the ones the farmers were growing crops in…

Sorry folks… I know ‘farmer John’ may be “just a farmer”, but if you drive through his field and set up camp on top of the crops you are damaging his lively hood. You are also cutting down your own food supplies. Tourists you need to use some sense.

On the other hand… Locals, please have the courtesy to wait until the tourists actually do something offensive before you get all offended. And remember, they’re new here… Some of them have never have gotten out of the city before… Maybe put up a few signs to mark the active wheat and ‘tater fields?

Again this is one of those things that’s kind of predictable… When you get large groups of people together somebody’s going to be less than intelligent. The goal is for you to be intelligent and do what you can to prevent problems in the first place.

Trust me folks, when it comes to my home I’m as territorial as anyone. I’ve also been the one who’s traveling. I know what it’s like to not understand what’s around me. It is much better to do some thinking, planning and considering about what’s around you than it is to go immediately to harsh words and blaming the other person. (By the way… To the ones who were offended when the farmer decided to call the sheriff: be grateful… I know folks who were stocking up on ammo along with the food and toilet paper! Think first!)

Summing up

The name of this blog is Words Mean Stuff. I named it that because words do mean something; they are symbols for ideas. The biggest lesson from this week’s events is to have and use ideas, good ideas. A lot of problems can be avoided and a lot of truly majestic moments can be witnessed (or even participated in!) if you just gather some good data and think first.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Next week I’m going to talk a little about what I’m doing with the blogs. And then after that… Well, that’s next week’s post isn’t it. See you next post dear reader.

For better or making it worse?

I spent most of this week at my wife’s family’s family reunion. For the most part things went well, so far as I can tell everyone is still alive and had a pretty good time. There were biffs and goofs here and there, but that’s what you expect for a family reunion (especially when you’re hitting four generations of family present, and enough people for you very own baseball tournament…). And of course, as always when riding through the desert, I found a few things to think about…

My wife’s parents and siblings went in to rent a large house and that lead to the title and subject of this post…

A house disinterested in itself?

The problems we faced with the rental had a lot to do with how the couple that owned the place treated it and each other.

When we arrived the electronic lock on the door didn’t function. An hour after we arrived we managed to contact the woman who owned the place. An hour after that her husband arrived and skillfully concluded that the lock wasn’t functioning…

The problem fairly quickly came into focus as I observed the man and how he dealt with us and the property. I’m sorry, if you and your spouse/partner/whatever are going to run a rental property together (or go in on any significant project) your response should never be “I don’t know this is my wife’s thing”… You made a commitment to your spouse/partner/whatever and then you made another commitment together. That means if you are treating part of the project like a chore assigned by an annoying school teacher you are failing to keep two commitments.

Not keeping the commitment to the project might be one thing, but blaming your spouse/partner/whatever and setting him/her up to be ‘the bad guy’, that’s a real problem. We are talking about the person that you presumably love, care about, and have committed yourself to. If you’re going to go into a commitment with her/him, and then not holding up your end what are you doing to the relationship (and you honor as a person)?

Rings in the pond

Between the two issues I think not supporting (or worse being in active conflict with) your spouse/partner/whatever is the biggest problem. Relationship issues can quickly poison other deals, projects, or endeavors.  When that happens it creates problems in the deal/project/endeavor and the things around it. And those problems feed back into the relationship causing more problems…

When you are in that situation it will be painful to address the relationship issues. But, it’s the only way to fix anything.

Remember dear reader, in ever so many ways our lives are about people and relationships. And no amount of success elsewhere can make up for failure in that department.

Take care dear reader. Take care of yourself and yours. I’ll see you next post.

Would You Believe It Isn’t the Money (Why We Do This part 4)

Last Friday (a week before this post went live) I did a book signing thing with the cover artist for my novel Johnson Farm. The next day I got to hand deliver a copy to another beautiful and intelligent young woman who just happened to have been one of my most important helpers in this process. She was the first teen to read the manuscript (kind of important for a YA novel…). Both of these experiences are ones I treasure. Both of these experiences reminded me that there is a lot more than dollars and cents involved in being an author.

Before anyone accuses me of making excuses because my book isn’t selling… I’m not.

A first novel (like Johnson Farm) usually isn’t a big cash machine and I know that. Also, Johnson Farm has outsold my previous book already… Literally it brought in more in the first month than my first book brought in in its first year (and I’m not expecting sales for Johnson Farm to really take off until the second or third book is released). I’m not being bitter about money. I’m just saying that there are other rewards that are more important.

Non-monetary rewards…

Both of the young women I mentioned were excited to be part of something. They got to do something, achieve something that they hadn’t done before. Both got to be on the inside. Both received a tangible artifact that demonstrated that someone valued them for their talents and abilities.

And me? My reward? You could hear it in their voices. I touched their lives. I gave them something more than just paper with words printed on it. I honestly feel like I made their lives better, at least a little bit.

Actually there is no practical empirical measure of how much of an effect even a small nudge toward the good can have. A single pebble, a single sound, can start an avalanche that seems vastly out of proportion to the energy put in to start it.

If you choose to create (write, draw, paint, sculpt, whatever), or just in living your life; if your only purpose is money, yours is going to be a sad and shallow life. There are greater things out there.

In the scripture my religion holds sacred it is said: And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!

It’s not about huge numbers, it is about the one.

What I will say to you dear reader is: If you choose to create, if you choose to build or make something that helps others access and understand the beauty, greatness, and power within them, then you are a force for good in the universe. And that has its reward’s dear reader, rewards that you will not understand until you see them. And even then you might not understand the true measure of what you have done.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Go, do, create, and be a force for good. See you next post.

 

The Mistake of ‘Allness’

That’s what my dear besainted mother called it ‘the mistake of allness’. It’s a relative of the ‘binary choice’ and my old friend the ‘one factor model’. And, it’s a real problem.

In some cases you can make a complete, accurate statement of the form “all x are y”. Much more often you need a qualifier to make the statement correct: “all my x are y”; “all your x are y”; “all oranges currently in California are not currently in Greenland”. Often statements with these qualifiers are correct, but even then you run into trouble. Sorry folks it would not be correct to say “All Latinos in Idaho are migrant farm workers”…

And it gets worse

The mistake of ‘allness’ really comes into full fruition when you get into the area of people. Sorry gang you cannot say “all Muslims are terrorists”; “all white people are racists”; “all ‘straights’ hate ‘gays’”; “all men are rapists”; or “all Russians are communists”. You also can’t honestly make the opposites of those statements. Things are more complex than that.

The moment you step into the world of human beings you step into a world of multilayered complex systems. There are a lot of factors that go into being a human being physically and psychologically (and if you bring spiritual life into the mix things only get more complicated). Even in the most homogenous situation you can create, identical twins living in the same home, you have little differences like one twin getting just a little more oxygen; or being pressed on just a little more in the birth canal; or being dropped by a clumsy sibling that create differences in who the people are and what they do.

The reality is that every human brain is a ‘one off’ instrument. They are generally the same, but from the start each one is slightly different. And then they grow and change based on the things that happen during the person’s life.

Now, this is not to say all people are completely different.  If you‘ve ever watched or read one of Shakespeare’s plays, or experienced a Greek tragedy, you can find the same things going on today. And I’m pretty sure that goes for the works of Musashi, Sun Tzu, and Confucius as well. People can be pretty similar, but when you get into the details each one is unique.

So how do we deal with people if they’re all different?

Well… That’s the trick isn’t it…?

And, if you try to give one answer that covers all people in all situations you’ve just committed the mistake of ‘allness’ again. The only being I know of that can actually get away with making completely accurate global statements would be God and He/She/It (choose one) doesn’t make them all the time either.

The best advice I can give dear reader is that we must use knowledge and understanding. At a minimum we must realize that not everyone is the same. We must realize that no one actually stays the same for their entire life.

Once we make those realizations, and accept that you have to deal with people where they are and (hopefully) help them toward a mutually beneficial goal; then you can actually start dealing with people effectively. As for exactly how to do that… You didn’t expect me to cover it all in one post did you dear reader?

See you next post.