Can You Value What You Don’t See?

When asked in a national survey, Americans will tell you that the role of government is pretty far down the list of what is necessary to achieve the American Dream. Yet education, which is third on the list (behind hard work and a strong family) is largely financed and run by local, state and federal government.

During the recent debate over health care, many Americans expressed concern that the new Affordable Care Act would result in government-run health care.…


Home Is Where The Heart Is

A nice house with a white picket fence has long been the embodiment of the American Dream. With home ownership comes pride and stability. A place to call home, raise a family, build a life.

In Washington, D.C. today, there is a 40-year wait for affordable housing. That’s not a typo. Forty years. It doesn’t take much to turn a rented apartment, trailer, or a house into a home.…


Does “Who You Know” Ever Impact “How You’re Doing”?

While we may feel like we are “masters of our own universe,” most of us have a galaxy of friends and connections that impact our lives in a variety of ways. We call them our social networks.

There is the obvious way. We reach out to those we know for help. We have a legal question, so we ask a friend who is a lawyer. Our car has an issue, so we reach out to someone with mechanical experience.…


Are You Writing a Resume or a Eulogy?

This is a terrific question raised in a TED Talk by columnist David Brooks. Are more of your actions something to talk about on your resume or for others to talk about at your eulogy?

In Linda Ellis’ poem, The Dash, she asks readers to reflect on that “dash” on your tombstone; your life’s actions between birth and death.

So, when your eulogy is being read,

with your life’s actions to rehash…

would you be proud of the things they say

about how you spent YOUR dash?


I Remember, Therefore I Am

How has the idea of hard work become so prevalent that we have developed blinders to so many factors that affect our station in life?

Some may suggest it’s a cultural thing. After all, it is relatively unique to Americans. We are the land of self-reliance and pulling ourselves from our bootstraps.

Sociologically, researchers like Paul Piff will point to this as a sign of Fundamental Attribution Error, which is our natural tendency to overestimate the role of the individual versus the situation.…


Why Are We Here?

Isabel Sawhill from the Brookings Institution, one of the country’s leading thinkers on social mobility, recently said, “We do need a more nuanced conversation, and we need to get away from this sense that is being created in the political world right now that it’s either all about being a Horatio Alger or it’s all about government support to help you. It’s not either/or, it’s both.”…


Name Calling

When I was six, my mother called me “Little Professor” even though she had never met anyone who went to college, yet alone taught at one. She called me this simply because I wore glasses and liked to read.

At LIFT Communities, people who come looking for assistance are called “members” as a sign of being equal to everyone who works there.

And at the public charter school, KIPP NYC, incoming students are called by the year of their expected graduation…from college!…


Look Up…

Researchers project that 50% of the world’s population will be short-sighted by the end of 2050. The result of spending so much time focused on little screens in our hands and on our laps, and not enough time outside. As disturbing as that may sound, it is just the latest example of our growing short-sightedness.

Increasingly, we seem to focus most of our energy thinking about how our actions will affect us in the short term versus how they may affect others over the long haul.…


What Will You Make Today?

As a father of three little girls, I see them making stuff every day. On our cluttered counter are: a beautiful castle, a makeshift paper house, a Lego swimming pool, and an overflowing pile of drawings and paintings. Beyond these physical works, they walk around the house singing made-up songs, dancing to newly made dance moves.

Just two days ago they were making believe that they were all going on a work trip to China so they could save endangered pandas.…


What Do You Need In Your Bowl?

Wherever you are on the ladder in life, it’s natural to compare your lot to those on the rungs above and below you. But as the comic-philosopher Louis C.K. pointed out to his daughter in an episode of his show, this almost always ends badly.

He pointedly tells her, “The only time you look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough.…


Who Is Your “Everyone”?

“Who is your everyone? Chess masters scarcely surround themselves with motocross racers. Do you want aborigines at your birthday party? Or is that yak butter tea you are serving…. Each people know only its own squares in the weave, its wars and instruments and arts, and also perhaps the starry sky.”

In her essay, “This is the Life,” Annie Dillard eloquently writes about our limited worldviews.…


How Free Are You?

In America, freedom is our most revered value. We are free to live, love, and pursue our dreams. Depending upon your beliefs, these freedoms have been bestowed upon us by our creator and/or protected by our Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and other laws.

Yet how free do you really feel?

Much like the Liberty Bell, our most sacred symbol of freedom, our personal freedom in life often has a few cracks.…


They Say The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions

A little harsh, I’d say, but there is a point to be made about the unintended consequences that well-meaning ideas and words can have on our success.

Consider these three examples:

  • The IQ test was originally created to identify a child’s learning deficits, so they could receive extra attention and instruction. Later these scores were applied as a horribly misused tool of eugenics. Today, while less nefarious, we still use IQ scores to label and limit a kid’s potential and segregate them from their fellow students.

How Well Do You See?

I recently listened to an episode of This American Life called “Invisible Made Visible.

The opening interview was with Ryan Knighton who is blind. He described an evening where he absolutely could not find the telephone in his hotel room. As much as he used various self-described techniques, such as “groping the coffee table” or “Marcel Marceau-ing the walls,” he could not locate the phone.…


Undercover Awesome

That was the term used to describe Commissioner Scott Semple of the Connecticut Department of Corrections as he was introduced to a gathering at the Vera Institute of Justice.

In discussing his work to create a healthier and more humane corrections system, Mr. Semple lamented that people who work in corrections seldom get to see the success of their work.

After all, success is when someone doesn’t come back to prison — and goes on to live a happy life as a productive member of the community.…


The Powerful Play Goes On

He was, at different points in his life, a journalist, a school teacher, a nurse and a government worker. If these were his only contributions in life, his human impact would have still been immeasurable. After all, he tended to Civil War soldiers in their greatest hour of need and educated children at a time when most received little.

But what Walt Whitman is most known for is a short collection of poetry, Leaves of Grass, that he self published in 1855 and continued to revise throughout his life.…


Home Is Where?

In New York and other cities, we have become conditioned to largely ignore homeless people. Sometimes, not even acknowledging their requests. Exceptions are made. For example, when someone performs a song or a dance we may reward their obvious talent with a dollar or two, perhaps rationalizing this as a fair exchange.

Recently, I’ve seen several instances where a homeless person asked for either food or money so they could buy food.…


I Was Wrong

Three simple words, yet so seldom heard.

Recently, after an especially stressful day, I came home to a chaotic house — kids being kids, running around and not particularly listening to anything any grownup had to say.

On a good day, this would have rolled right off my back. Maybe even caused me to get lost in it myself and act equally silly.

But not on this day.…


“I” Of The Tiger

In his acceptance speech after winning the Golden Globe in 2015 for his role in “Creed,” Sylvester Stallone said, “I am the sum total of everyone I’ve ever met and sort of lucky that I’ve absorbed some of it.”

This was a bit ironic given that most people think of the character for which he is best known and won the award as one of America’s greatest stories of the “self-made” man.…


Why Do We Really Send Our Children To School?

This morning children from all over will start bustling back into their classrooms.

Presumably, we send them off to learn, but learn what? How to acquire knowledge, get good grades, or perform well on tests? How to get along with others or be a better person?

Is the purpose to prepare them for college, a job, or life?

Recently, someone shared with me this video (scroll down) of the student speaker, Donovan Livingston, at Harvard Graduate School of Education’s 2016 Convocation.…


The Scariest Part of Bungee Jumping

Recently someone told me that the scariest part of bungee jumping wasn’t taking the first step off the bridge. It wasn’t even at the nadir of their fall when they were closest to the river below. Instead, it was when they began bouncing back up.

The reason? This was the only point when they didn’t feel the safety and support of the harness and it was terrifying.…


“I recommend…”

In our lives we make and receive thousands of recommendations. From books to read and places to visit to foods to try and people to meet, and so on and so on. But perhaps the most important recommendations are those that help someone else move up in life — an idea worth pursuing, a job recommendation, a letter of reference for school.

Is there a recommendation you’ve received that came at the perfect time, that changed the trajectory of your life?…


“I just want to do what’s best for my kids…”

It’s natural to want to do what we think is best for our kids. Consider these three scenarios:

1. Your daughter makes two different travel soccer teams. After committing to one, you agree to switch her to the other team after you learn the second offers, what you hear is, better coaching.

2. After your son mentions the extra time he is spending preparing for standardized testing, you decide that it would be better to minimize his stress and you opt him out of the state test.…


“I am sick and tired…”

Typically we hear this expression when someone is voicing extreme frustration or disgust. People become fed up about one thing or another and on the verge of having a Howard Beale moment—”I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

Often there is good cause for their angst. Systems continually fail, organizations are dysfunctional, and people are, well, human.

Yet the reaction may be out of proportion to its true impact in our daily lives, especially when compared to being literally sick and tired.