Category Archives: Causes and Friends

Posts regarding causes–mine and those of some friends.

Helping With Boots…

Thurgood Marshall is often quoted, “None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by the our bootstraps. We got here because somebody–a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns–bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”

Snow angelI think of that quote every time I’m at school with kindergarteners and it’s recess time. Not only do they often need help with their boots, they sometimes need help with zippers and mittens and other winter paraphernalia. I continue to work on my zipper repair skills and have gotten better at pulling on mittens. And while I am certainly charged with encouraging and increasing independence in these little humans, it’s kinda fun to zip up a coat beneath a raised chin and hear, “Thanks, Mr. Boomsma!”

As long as I’m not going outside with them, I usually have a few minutes to stand and watch them clomp down the hall and head outside while I ponder that awesome responsibility we all share. We have to make some pretty tough choices about when and where we draw the line between helping people and enabling and encouraging them to remain independent. It just might be that the asking the question is as important as finding the answer. This isn’t a simple issue whether we’re talking about a five-year old who needs a shoe tied or an adult who’s dealing with a difficult situation.

The holidays bring with them so many things. We of course think of turkeys and shopping a family events… but another topic arises. In some ways it seems incongruous–this is a meaningful, warm and charitable time of year. One would think festive moods would be the order of the day. And yet, for many different reasons many people get a version of the “holiday blues.”

My biases are strong, and one is that we tend to study problems to death, perhaps as a way of avoiding the need to admit we don’t know the answers but at least we’re doing something. At the same time, I believe prescription without diagnosis is malpractice whether it’s medicine or management. So I do not want to be clinical and talk about depression versus the blues versus SAD (seasonal affective disorder). But I do want to share two stories with you.

Many years ago I worked for a large company in an office environment. My sales job required frequent interaction with the customer service department. I still remember one young lady who was a bit moody on occasion. Thankfully, she didn’t self-diagnose from the available list… depressed, SAD, PMS… instead she would warn me to be advised “I’m not having a very good day.” Ah! Bad days! Those I know how to deal with because I’ve had a few myself! I would usually wish her a nice bad day and encourage her to enjoy it as much as possible. Ironically, I would often leave her laughing. If time permitted, I would sometimes give her a call later in the day to see if I could further contribute to her misery. She would tell me I was nuts. In time it became a bit of a game and we’d discuss when I might have a turn. One might say we learned to share bad days.)

Now please understand, I’m not recommending this approach universally. My second story might help explain where we’re headed. I recently listened to a TED talk by a self-admitted “depressed comic.” It was not funny, but it was extremely revealing and helpful, because I understood him to say that most people who want to be helpful to those who are “depressed” are, in fact, anything but. His message to us is that we are often misguided because we aren’t acknowledging the reality of depression. In our effort to “fix” it, we actually make it worse because now we have confirmed the person’s belief that there is something wrong with him or her.

I confess as I thought of my friend from years ago I felt a little smug. It turns out allowing (or even encouraging) her to have a bad day may have actually been the right thing to do!

So, if you find yourself suffering the “holiday blues” and feeling sad I’d like to assure you that it’s okay. To some degree it happens to all of us–it’s part of our human nature. It might even be possible to appreciate it. Now if it goes on and on… or you find yourself sinking deeper and deeper, it might be time to reach out. A challenge you may have is finding the right person. If you find someone who immediately starts trying to make you happy… or suggests you take a pill or some other drastic measure, you just might be barking up the wrong tree.

A good start? Listen to what the depressed comic says because he understands there’s a difference between being sad and being depressed. But more importantly, he understands that acceptance of oneself and acceptance of others is an important component.

“The world I believe in is one where I can look someone in the eye and say, “I’m going through hell,” and they can look back at me and go, “Me too,” and that’s okay, and it’s okay because depression is okay. We’re people. We’re people, and we struggle and we suffer and we bleed and we cry, and if you think that true strength means never showing any weakness, then I’m here to tell you you’re wrong. You’re wrong, because it’s the opposite. We’re people, and we have problems. We’re not perfect, and that’s okay.”

You have got to listen to this guy whether you think you are depressed or not. Because just maybe you’ll have an opportunity this holiday season. You may be the person who’s “going through hell” or you may be the person who meets someone who is. Either way, know that it’s okay to need to help with your boots. It doesn’t mean you’re a baby. I won’t try to say I can remember when I needed help with my boots, but I know there was a time when I did. So I get it when the kids hand me theirs. And I know there are things I face now that at times I need help with because “we’re people, and we have problems. We’re not perfect, and that’s okay.”

Listen to the TED Talk at http://on.ted.com/Breel.

Combating Bullying…

Cyber bullyWhile admitting it’s very easy to over-simplify the “national epidemic” referred to as “bullying,” I do want to encourage those with an interest in the topic to read at least this one article. October is National Bullying Prevention Month–a program first introduced in 2006. In spite of all the attention we are giving the problem, most sources will concur the problem is actually increasing. The article will explain that bullying is now the “leading form of child abuse.”

Clearly, becoming more aware of the problem is not having an impact on reducing it. I’m forced to speculate that’s because we are focusing on the problem instead of solutions. One of the things I like about this article is that it is solution-oriented and the solutions proposed are both realistic and achievable.

I’d love to tell you more, but don’t want to be a “spoiler.” Read the article for yourself!

 

 

Avast ye, Matey!

teacher_colaberation_pc_400_clr_3388Okay, so I’m not especially good at “pirate talk.” (“Avast” means “get a load of this!”)

In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a new page on the site called “PCSS Pirate Specials.” The page is designed to give you a cursory glance at what is truly an awesome program. If you’re ready to just jump right into some specifics, read on!

The program is actually underway and the second series starts Oct. 15th. One of the sessions is Career Exploration for sophomores. There are currently 19 students enrolled.

What’s needed right now are “guest speakers.” I put that in quotes because you don’t have to be a polished presenter. You just have to be willing to talk with these kids. (You are paired with teacher.)

The program is designed to get these kids thinking about their future careers/aspirations so they can plan more appropriately when they sign up for classes in high school. You get to talk with the kids for about a half hour on topics like what you studied in high school that helped prepare you, the kinds of summer work you looked for, what you wish you had done differently in high school to get better prepared,  and the kinds of decisions you had to make about schooling after high school.

As long as it’s legal, any career or job is fair game. What’s it like to be a carpenter? Is there a future in banking? Have you started your own business? Do you work in the woods?

I’m sure you can talk about it for thirty minutes. I’m even more sure the kids will have some questions for you and I can guarantee you’ll enjoy it and feel good after! Teaching skills aren’t required. A little sense of adventure would perhaps help, but mostly you just need to be willing to share your experience with some kids. When you’re ready to invest a half hour in some kids call or email MSAD 4 Curriculum Director Elaine Bartley at ebartley@sad4.org or call 876-4378 to see what times are available. Most of the slots are around lunch time so you can do it during your break! I can certainly nag, encourage, and beg. Just let me know what it takes to get you involved!

“We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today.”

– Stacia Tauscher

I want fries with that!

StorefrontFriend and colleague Jack Falvey is now writing daily investment tips*—I’ve mentioned that before. In today’s he describes briefly the McDonald’s success story. One sentence jumped right off the page for me. “Hunger to succeed is the kind of hunger McDonald’s satisfies.” Jack was not only talking about investor success, he went on to note, “…without federal or state funds, the most successful youth training program on earth is teaching adolescents to show up on time, wash their hands, smile, make a neat appearance, and to ask with great expectation, ‘Do you want fries with that?’”

Where Jack wrote “hunger,” I saw “passion.”

Earlier this morning another colleague and I had a short but interesting conversation about an upcoming event designed to “raise awareness” of one of the many issues our society suffers. I confessed that I’m tired of programs for causes that are focused on “raising awareness.” Too often there’s little hunger and there’s no real passion. As a result we engage in activities that allow us to feel better but accomplish very little. It’s like feeling a little bit hungry and nibbling on a cracker. Or a small order of fries.

Just tell me when do we go from being “mildly interested” and aware to being passionate? Do we truly believe putting a bumper sticker on our vehicle is going make a difference? Help me understand how changing my status on Facebook for an hour is going to help.

During my years of consulting, I was never hired by an organization to “raise awareness.” In fact, those companies were usually painfully aware—perhaps not always of the root problem, but they knew there was one. I recall one organization that was having trouble “getting people to come to work.” Absenteeism and turnover was so high entire lines could not be started in the morning.

I can assure you, I did not recommend a program to increase awareness of the problem. We did not print bumper stickers for supervisors and company vehicles saying “Help stamp out absenteeism.” It took real passion and effort and sometimes drastic measures.

See, if you’re only a little bit hungry, it doesn’t take much to satisfy that hunger. A cracker might do it.

The McDonald’s story Jack tells includes some dismal failures in the early days of the company. Jack makes it fairly easy to see that success only came after a husband and wife put their last dollar into their store. “They invested their lives.”

I would say they were pretty hungry. So hungry they didn’t peruse cookbooks or debate where to eat or change their Facebook status to “I’m a little hungry.” They literally had to eat now. It became an obsession. There was no other option.

All of this reminded me that today I’ve been nibbling around the edges of the cracker. Maybe if I stopped nibbling I’d get hungry enough to remember what I’m passionate about until I feel the pangs of hunger that drive me incessantly and almost insanely to eat a big meal—to dine on the sweet success of achieving some things I care deeply about.

And not only do I want a big meal, I also want fries with it. When we care enough to want it all we know we have to go beyond raising awareness to making something happen.


*Investor Education Briefs is an online investor education program provided by the Institute for Politics at Saint Anselm College. It goes out each business day of the year at no charge. The editorial opinions of Jack Falvey, a Fellow of the Institute and a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal and Barron’s, are provided for investor education only and are not offered as financial advice. Anyone may enter or exit the program at any time. There are no tests or academic credits involved. It is designed as a modified massive online open program which will recycle and be updated every twelve months.

It’s Only Fair…

Skowhegan 4HOne of my summer diversions is taking in some fairs here and there. My digestion usually suffers a bit. (Why is it that agricultural fairs with displays of award-winning produce only serve stuff that’s supposed to be bad for you?) My boots take a beating and often come home with bits of agricultural residue which Harley Dog finds extremely interesting. Occasionally my back gets a little stiff from sitting on bleachers watching ox and horse pulls. But the rest of me enjoys it and finds the celebratory nature of fairs exciting. I’m hoping I’m not done yet for the year, but I do have to share a couple of things that I’d like to celebrate.

First, if you’ve not ever visited the 4H exhibits at the Skowhegan Fair, you’re missing a treat. You’ll be greeted by a couple of young people who are extremely pleasant and have a vocabulary that consists of more than the monosyllabic language most often used by adolescents. You’ll find the various exhibits reflect club pride, teamwork, and very often a high level of creativity. I found one individual example this year that gets “Mr. Boomsma’s unofficial blue ribbon.” A simple paper plate bearing a message to the judges. “My Dad found my sample cupcakes and ate them all. He said they were very good.” I gather the judges couldn’t accept Dad’s testimonial because there was no ribbon attached, but I accept this young lady’s ability to come up with a rather unique fair exhibit.

Another highlight of fair visits for this year took place at the Piscataquis Valley Fair when a brother and sister I happen to know from school spotted and dragged me to the 4H area to show me their projects. (Admittedly I didn’t resist too hard.) The older brother revealed his hobby of metal detecting and asked me to check out some of his finds. He also pointed to several pictures and told me a story.

Using his metal detector he found a high school class ring–dated ten years ago. Using his detective skills he researched and located the ring’s original owner. In one of the pictures she is clearly crying while he is looking up at her. At this stage of the story another fairgoer who’d been eavesdropping on the story asked my friend–almost accusingly, “You mean you didn’t get a cash reward?!”

Fortunately, I didn’t have time to seriously consider punching the guy. Without pause, my young friend responded eagerly, “Oh no, mister–seeing that woman’s smile was my reward!”

The only thing I can add to this story is two words. “There’s hope.” (If I had a blue ribbon I’d offer it to him, but he’d probably refuse it and say again, “Seeing that woman’s smile is my reward.”

Yeah. There’s hope.