All posts by Walter

How Do You Spell… and does it matter?

According to a recent warning from Techlicious, there’s a fairly slick scam being foisted on Amazon users. Except maybe it isn’t so slick if you’re paying attention. Here’s a sentence in the warning  from Techlicious that caught my eye:

For instance, one tell-tale sign of bogus emails is the presence of sloppy writing in the email — especially misspellings and grammar errors. However, not all scammers failed English 101, so some phishing emails actually do sound and look professional. So, looking for language anomalies may not be 100 percent reliable, but they are usually red flags.

That’s sound advice, but there’s one problem with it.

I maintain several blogs/websites that include contributions from others. I have come to the conclusion that many adults either do not know or do not pay attention to basic rules of grammar. Therefore, I do a fair amount of editing.  Yes, it makes me feel needed, but it also makes me feel sad. Why aren’t we more interested in the mechanics of writing and communication?

I don’t consider myself a “Grammar Nazi” — in fact, I believe there are times when one should ignore a fine point of grammar in the interest of good communication.  However, my high school English Teacher (Thank you, Mr. Russo.) often  said, “You can’t intentionally break the rules of grammar if you don’t know what they are.”  He often made this statement when students started whining because they didn’t see the point of learning the rules, keeping us focused on communication and the role those rules play. (We also learned that violating a rule of grammar unintentionally sometimes resulted in communicating something we did not intend to say.)

Well, technology gives us another reason to pay attention in English Class. An inability to recognize fundamental spelling errors and violations of grammatical rules increases the odds you will fall victim to a scam. 

Yes, in the larger sense it’s actually about paying attention to detail. I received a phishing email from “Capital1” instead of “Capital One.” In the scam reported by Techlicious, the request to “confirme” your order details is like waving a red flag.

I’m truly excited to report yet another reason to promote a knowledge of  “good” writing, including spelling. Aren’t you?

Let’s Make Some Beauty!

Three years ago chance circumstances meant a last minute opportunity to invite two young friends to attend a Christmas performance of the Nutcracker with us.  We had a grand time and ultimately decided we would at least in some form repeat the tradition the next year. When we started discussing our plans, I’ll admit that I was a bit surprised when the girls’ choices were all repeats of what we’d done the first year. They wanted to attend the same performance and go to the same restaurant–even to order the same food! Their explanation was “It’s our tradition.”

I joked that I didn’t realize it was possible to establish a tradition by doing something once. But why not? After all, this is a season of traditions. Our annual event changes very little. We’ve all come to look forward to what some might see as repetition, but there is comfort and much excitement in it.

Another tradition is counting the number of houses decorated with Christmas lights on the way to the theater. The Christmas Season is about sights and sounds and, in a word, beauty.  It’s a time to engage in tradition and enjoy the opportunity to see and hear beauty that ranges from a ballet to decorating our homes to how we (well, some of us) wrap gifts. For some, baking cookies becomes an art form. This truly is a season of beauty.

Several weeks ago I paused to stuff a few dollars into a Salvation Army kettle. When I commented that his kettle was pretty full, his smile widened as he said, “It’s the third one I’ve filled one today.” We chatted for a few minutes and I learned that this young man schedules his vacation every year so he can be a bell-ringer.  That’s just as beautiful as the music and decorations.

Last year I stood and listened to over 200 individuals perform the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah, accompanied by a symphony orchestra. It gave me chills. This year I got to hear some high school kids (the Mount View Chamber Singers) perform a cappella and was equally moved.

Beauty comes in many shapes and sizes.  While it wasn’t meant as a Christmas gift, I have a paper captain’s hat sitting on the shelf in my office. The kid who made it for me labeled the brim “Captain Boomsma.” As paper hats go, it’s a nice one. But the real beauty for me is that he made it for me and gave it to me.

My wish for you is that you see and experience much beauty during this season of opportunity. Make seeing and experiencing it a tradition (habit). Your world will be a better place.

My wish for the world is “Let’s make more beauty.” There will be no winners and there will be no losers. We’ll make our world a better place.

 

 

 

 

Keep Your “Warm Line” Open

The song tells us “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” but that’s not always the case. While it may seem counter-intuitive during a “season of joy,” there can be moments when we are overwhelmed and even anxious. We may find ourselves feeling we’re not “measuring up.”

I’ve noticed a recent trend on Facebook whereby people are posting the suicide hotline phone numbers and encouraging others to do the same.  That’s not a bad thing but we can each be a “warm line” and perhaps prevent a crisis.  All it takes is some sensitivity to those around us and a willingness to intervene–even in subtle ways.

If you sense that someone is feeling the holiday blues, look at this infographic, especially tip #4, from the perspective of providing some relief–think of that person’s need as a call to your warm line. Make some time for that person to “love and support” him or her. You can take him or her ice skating (tip #3). Understand, of course, that it’s not specifically about ice skating, it’s about exercise and a change of scenery.

My theme for 2017 is going to be “Little Things Mean a Lot.” Inviting that harried friend to take some time out for a cup of coffee or cocoa may seem like a small thing, but it can make a huge difference. Just yesterday I was at a gathering of colleagues for lunch. I was the last to leave and when I went to pay my check, I was informed that it had been paid. It was an act that has “stuck with me” not because of the dollars, but because of the simple kindness and sense of connection it provided.

One of the hazards of this season is that perceived demands of “getting things done” means we don’t always take the time to genuinely connect. I was at a school holiday concert last night where my self-appointed role is that of unofficial photographer. During a lull in the photos, I stood at the back of the room. Two little girls came over and one said, “Mr. Boomsma, will you come out in the hall and play with us?” I explained that I couldn’t but a big part of me wishes I had–if only for a few minutes. Fortunately, I’m pretty sure they weren’t suffering the holiday blues. They were simply bored.

Connecting is such an important part of self-care (see tip #1). Best of all, when we connect at least two people benefit. Keep your warm line open. The ring may be subtle–keep your eyes and ears open and be ready to answer. You’ll be glad you did.

Where You Fly Makes a Difference

One of my more fun presentations is a series of stories beginning with one young fellow who spots a dead rainbow. Rainbows are, of course about hope and so are most of the stories. Some of the stories are sad, some are funny, but each leads to the inescapable conclusion that where we stand makes a difference. Sometimes it’s a difference to ourselves. Sometimes it’s a difference to someone else.

Two of the stories are about bullying. One is about a little guy named Rudolph who is a victim of some typical bullying. The story shows that, when it comes to bullying, where you stand (or in this case fly) can make all the difference.

The story is told in a simple song published by Montgomery Ward in 1939. While it may not have been originally intended as such, it really is a song about over-coming bullying. We didn’t call it bullying back then, but today we probably would. Fortunately, I don’t sing the song, I merely recite it as poetry with some editorial comment.

“You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen,
You know Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen,
But do you recall
The most famous reindeer of all?

Here’s a little experiment for you. Close your eyes and, without singing the song or reciting the line from “Twas the Night Before Christmas” try to list Santa’s Reindeer. You’ll probably find the song irresistible, but I’m betting the eight regular sleigh-pullers aren’t all that memorable. You don’t readily recall them, but you do recall the most famous reindeer of all. That’s significant. You recall him because…

rudolphRudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Had a very shiny nose
And if you ever saw it
You would even say it glows.

Rudolph stood out in a crowd because he didn’t exactly fit in with the crowd. He wasn’t like the other reindeer. While we don’t know how old he was, he’s often pictured with very small horns suggesting he’s an adolescent. We know that “fitting in” is very important during adolescence, so there’s little doubt Rudolph was not a very happy reindeer. He probably hated his nose. And it didn’t help that the other reindeer were bullies who made fun of him.

All of the other reindeer
Used to laugh and call him names
They never let poor Rudolph
Join in any reindeer games.

Reindeer can be mean, can’t they!? And so can kids. It’s a complicated social dynamic, but a kid who is different—maybe wears a different style clothing or has a different physical characteristic (a red nose?)—gets ostracized and maybe worse. Simply being ignored by others can be painful. Being the last one standing when teams are selected is bad enough. But when they start to laugh and call names, the hurt and pain can seem unbearable.

I think it’s interesting that Santa apparently doesn’t take action. He could have started an anti-bullying program. Maybe created a stop bullying policy and hung up some kindness posters in the barn. In fairness to Santa, we’re not sure if he knew what the other reindeer were doing to Rudolph. He was probably busy keeping an eye on the elves and all the kids. How else could he know if they’ve been bad or good? He clearly had plenty on his plate besides the milk and cookies kids often leave him. So we can perhaps forgive him for not knowing that his reindeer were being mean to Rudolph.

We might also wonder why the SPCA didn’t respond and try to protect Rudolph, although it’s not clear whether cruelty among or between animals is covered by their mission statements. They seem a bit more focused on human cruelty against and neglect of animals.  Rudolph simply did not have much of a support system.

Let’s look at what did happen.

Then one foggy Christmas Eve,
Santa came to say,
“Rudolph, with your nose so bright,
Won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”

The song doesn’t record Rudolph’s answer. I suppose he could have said, “The heck with you—why should I help after what I’ve been put through by those other reindeer!?” We only know that Rudolph was finally recognized as having something to contribute. Ironically, the very thing that had separated him from the herd became the very thing that gave him status. Instead of cowering in the corner of the barn, Rudolph became the leader of the herd. And the results of that change were significant.

 Then how the reindeer loved him,
As they shouted out with glee,
“Rudolph the red-nose Reindeer
You’ll go down in history!”

Consider what didn’t change. Rudolph didn’t get nose surgery and his nose didn’t dim. The eight other reindeer didn’t attend some anti-bullying intervention and suddenly become more loving and accepting.

Circumstances changed. It became foggy. (We could rightfully wonder how all of Santa’s previous trips were on clear nights, but that would spoil the song and story.)

What ultimately happened is, I think, most important. Santa does play an important role in the outcome of the story. He’s obviously more troubled over the foggy night than he had been regarding Rudolph’s status with the herd. That reality might put a little smudge on Santa’s image, but let’s be honest. He needed a solution to the foggy night problem.

And there was Rudolph with his nose all aglow—a solution to a problem. Santa saw him differently for the first time—not as a misfit reindeer with a defective nose. So, perhaps grudgingly, Rudolph steps to the front.  He had to raise his head so the glow would light the way. And in that moment—as is so often the case with childrens’ stories—all is well! Everybody’s happy! Santa can make his deliveries. The eight bully reindeer no longer have to worry about running into things in the fog. They are shouting with glee!  In all of the picture books I’ve seen, Rudolph is smiling and his head is held high, not just to light the way but because he feels valued.

The song doesn’t record whether or not the “other” reindeer change permanently. Sure, they were shouting out with glee but that was because they were able to complete their rounds without hazard. The question that remains unanswered is whether or not they became any kinder and accepting as a result of the experience. If another reindeer came to the barn with, say, a deformed antler, would they laugh and call him names? Would they let poor Bent Antler join in any reindeer games?

I don’t know.

One thing I am fairly certain of, though. I think Rudolph began to think differently of himself. While I am sorry for his pain, I’m also glad that no one stepped in and deprived him of the opportunity to do just that—to learn and discover who he was—uniquely and individually.

What we think of ourselves goes much farther in defining who we are than what others think. A change of circumstances may trigger it, but the real change lies within ourselves. Our own self-value beats a red nose or bent antler any day. Where we stand makes a difference