What Do You Do When You’re Wrong?

In response to last week’s post, several readers wrote me to point out an error. I incorrectly wrote, “Mr. Rogers invited the postman, Mr. McFeely, to come soak his feet in his pool.”  

In reality, he invited Officer Clemmons. Mr. McFeely is white while Officer Clemmons is African-American – not a minor point considering Mr. Rogers was trying to make a statement about integrating public pools.

My initial instinct was to hope no one else noticed and ignore it.  

Ultimately, guilt made me own up to my mistake, email the readers who pointed out the error and send this mea culpa. The net result was not only a personal relief but also some excellent exchanges with readers – even netting a book recommendation. What originally felt threatening instead felt liberating.
A few weeks earlier, my middle daughter had given me a master class in apologies.  Around bedtime, she had completely lost her cool about something that seemed trivial at the time. She said some hurtful and hateful things, including that I was “the worst Dad ever” and she “never wanted to read with me again.”  Both of which stung, especially since we’ve been having an absolutely awesome time reading a book series called The Unwanteds every night for months. She ran into her room crying, slamming the door.

Several minutes later, a notebook came sliding out from under said slammed door. In her two-page note, she walked me through every nook and cranny of what she was feeling and why she acted the way she did. I went into her room, her apologetic words in my proud hand, to tell her how brave it was to share her feelings so directly and purely. I asked if we could read theUnwanteds and so we did.
In the spirit of President’s Day, both examples, reflect these words from Lincoln:

My old Father used to have a saying that ‘If you make a bad bargain, hug it all the tighter.’
Owning our mistakes has always been hard, but it seems even harder today. We don’t allow much space for forgiveness. 
Saying sorry, admitting when you’re wrong. These are really, really hard things.  Yet we put every potential apology through the lens of judgment instead of understanding.  A world that seems more about gotcha, than “I get you.”
The problem is that when we don’t feel safe to own our mistakes, both parties suffer.  Apologies come either half-baked or not at all. And no one is able to move on.
There is something poetic about the imagery of hugging our mistakes all the tighter.  Just imagine, if we could all hug ours as tightly as a nine-year-old.

Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up. 

Small Invisible Acts

A man wrote a short story that he could not get published. So he included it in 200 Christmas cards he sent out to friends and family.
One of the cards ended up in the hands of a film director. He made a film based on that story.
It lost a fortune and the director never made a successful film again. He ultimately had to sell his production company and with it the rights to the film.
The company and the rights were sold several more times. The eventual owner forgot to renew the copyright of the film.
Which meant that it was now free to anyone who wanted to air the film.
So PBS did.
And then other networks followed suit.
They aired it around Christmas because they needed cheap programming to compete with newer holiday specials.
The film was It’s a Wonderful Life.
The story behind how this classic came to be epitomizes its name and central message every bit as much as the better known plot of the film itself.
Small invisible acts by people known and unknown shape our lives.  It reminds us to send more such acts into the world – without thought or expectation of any grand outcome.

Although, as this story shows, this doesn’t mean that something grand won’t eventually happen.  And when it does and others learn the story behind the story, they too will feel all the more grateful and enriched.  Perhaps inspiring more simple invisible acts to made.
Thank you to Phillip Van Doren Stern for sending his story, “The Greatest Gift” out into the world and into our hearts.

Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up. 

They Were Everywhere

On bookshelves, under end tables, on the dining room table, behind the sofa, and under chairs. In the hallway, kitchen, bedroom, living room and yes, the closet. They were spread to every corner of our home like the Starks to the kingdoms of Westeros.
Legos, Legos and more Legos. Our home had turned into a literal Lego-land. Constructed sets abounded – tree houses, ski lodges, yogurt shops, pet hospitals, ice skating rinks, pizzerias and amusement parks. While they are in a seemingly constant state of reproduction, their forces had multiplied exponentially recently — the result of birthday parties and Christmas.
In an effort to contain the madness, my wife and I had decided to take matters into our own hands.  Each year, we make our children a Christmas gift (with Santa supplying all others under the tree.)  

This year we decided to make them each a Mobile Lego Cart. It was tricked out with three shelves. On two we affixed Lego baseplates, which would allow them to display their Lego creations, the third had a storage bin, for either Lego pieces or assembled accessories, like cars and planes. Each cart was equipped with hooks for hanging bags of pieces and magnets (some of which were used to spell their names prominently on the cart).

The idea was they could place their creations on the cart, play with them and when done move them to a place that would be out of sight, out of mind for their Lego fatigued parents.
They were things of beauty and our girls loved them. Soon we would learn the shortcomings of our plan.
Our girls are big fans of these Lego sets. Pre-packaged boxes of 400-1200 distinct Lego pieces organized in one to eight different bags with step-by-step instruction booklets that can be up to two hundred pages long. The assembly process takes hours, sometimes spanning multiple days.  A simple bump or knock can send that effort into a heap of bricks and tears.
Now put that on a moving cart.  Oops, sorry  I meant three different moving carts.
Predictably, within the first few hours, two accidents had led to the previously referenced heaps of bricks and tears.
Beyond the tenuous nature of moving intricate Lego sets was the question of real estate. The adage of “If you build it, they will come” was never more true.

Initially old completed sets were moved into their new home only to be quickly displaced by freshly built new sets – a Lego gentrification process forced by limited cart capacity. The building of new sets was so furious you would have thought they were developers in Dubai.
Frustration mounted as did calls for more carts and space.
When I was young, Legos did not come in elaborate sets with instructions.  There were Legos and your imagination. 

You built something and played with it until you were bored. Then you tore it down and built something different. One set could last a childhood.  
Today each set is intended to have permanence. Our children learn the importance of following instructions carefully and take pride in their studious accomplishment.  And they certainly exercise their imagination when they play make believe and insert themselves into the complex worlds designed by Lego but assembled with their own two hands.  
But something seems decidedly different and potentially lost – and I’m talking about more than just space in our home. 

Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up.

What Will You Leave Behind in 2018?

With 2019 right around the corner, it is customary to look forward.  To set goals, create plans and, of course, make resolutions.  It is also an opportunity to reflect and look back.

Recently a friend told me that during a recent yoga class, the instructor asked everyone to reflect on the question, “what do you need to leave behind?”  In other words, what mindsets, behaviors or habits do you need to change if you want to be able meet those goals, follow through on those plans and keep those resolutions?

For some, it is easier said than done. The weights holding them down cannot be willed away.

Challenges like illness, mounting debt, and lack of opportunities can be debilitating and difficult to simply “leave behind.”

For others, limitations are of our own making. We form habits that are incompatible with the energy required to be our best selves.  Our thoughts are subject to mindsets that make excuses, deflect responsibility, and limit our options.

So as we say hello to 2019, what will you say goodbye to in 2018?

For me, it’s sayonara to sacrificing sleep, excessive time online, and a mindset that too often relies on validations from others.

Imagining how much more I could accomplish with more energy, time and internal motivation creates a vision of a 2019 where more goals are met, plans kept and resolutions realized. 

Some may say this seems simplistic and Pollyanna-ish but so too would thinking that I could accomplish much of anything vital without first leaving something unnecessary behind.

Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up.

The True Meaning of Eve

For millions of children around the world (and perhaps an equal number of adults), today is a day of incredible anticipation.  For tomorrow, they will wake up uncontrollably consumed by the excitement that comes with presents nestled under and around the Christmas tree.
The very nature of any “eve” is one of anticipation and even anxiety.  As the great Tom Petty once sang, “the waiting is the hardest part.”
Its meaning today is simply “the day or period of time before an event or occasion.”  But the word’s Hebrew origin is much more evocative of what is to come. “To breath” or “to live” suggests that “eve” is the very precursor to of our being.
I try to imagine what my mother felt like on Christmas Eve, 1968. The year had been one calamity one after another.  Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy had both been assassinated. Vietnam had escalated.  There were riots in the streets. In this context, already struggling to raise two children on her own, she was now expecting a third.
I can only guess that she felt both excitement and fear. A blind belief that things could only get better and a nagging feeling that perhaps they would not.
The next morning, she watched her oldest son rejoice in seeing his new train set chug around the tree while her two-year-old daughter feverishly tore wrapping paper from one present after another. 
Shortly thereafter, she brought me into this world. To say it was a difficult birth would be an understatement, as I was nearly twelve pounds and breech.
This year is not unlike 1968, as much anxiety and anticipation mark the eve of this holiday. 
It would seem appropriate to take inspiration from the advice that I assume my mother heard while in labor that morning. 

Reminding us to breathe, especially during the difficult times.  

Remembering to offer words of encouragement when someone is struggling, “You’re doing great, you’re almost there.” 

And of course, the solace that comes when our labor is done and we have brought new life into our troubled, beautiful world.

Happy Holidays (and thank you Mom.)

Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up. 

Thank The Forgotten

This Thursday most of us in America will find ourselves surrounded by family and friends celebrating Thanksgiving.

Perhaps during prayer or a quiet moment in our mind, we will offer silent thanks for those whose presence in our life has made us who we are.  Our parents, partners, children, family or close friends will top most lists. 

Hopefully more than a few will go the extra steps and give voice to those silent thoughts in ways that go beyond a cursory thanks but offer a level of specificity of why we are so grateful for their presence in our lives.
Doing this alone would honor the spirit of Thanksgiving and the effort of others on our behalf.   We could all use more open exchanges of gratitude and appreciation.
But what if we also took the few days leading up to Thanksgiving to reflect on and reach out to those whose role in our lives we might have forgotten?
Here are a few prompts, if you need them:

  • A teacher who inspired you
  • A friend who was there when you were down
  • A work colleague who made a connection to help you land a job
  • Anyone who through an act of faith, kindness or trust supported you when you needed it most.

If you’d like a little more inspiration, here is a link to a video I shared previously but earns repeated viewing. It’s Kevin Durant’s acceptance speech as Most Valuable Player in the National Basketball Players Association.

Take note of both the breadth and depth of the gratitude and appreciation he is sharing for the world to hear.

Take ten minutes today, another ten tomorrow and a third ten on Wednesday. Use each to track down someone whose impact in your life you now remember.  It will make your Thanksgiving and theirs.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Freedom From or Freedom To?

After running around attending to the needs of various kids, I had just poured a fresh cup of coffee, grabbed my book and sat down to relax.  

As if intentionally timing her request to my first sip, my daughter summoned,“Daddy, get me a glass of milk.”  This is the exchange that followed:

“You realize this vacation is for Mommy and Daddy too, you know.  You’ve been on vacation all summer and we just get this week.”
“What are you talking about vacation all summer? We had to get up for camp, make our beds, listen to you tell us what to do.  That’s not vacation. Going away is vacation.”

Weeks earlier I stumbled upon a plaque that said, “Vacation is when you’ve got nowhere to go, nothing to do and all the time in the world to do it.” It was in essence a definition of a certain kind of freedom.

It is a freedom from responsibility, from directives, from expectations, from obligations, from stress, from danger.

This freedom from is an often overlooked pre-requisite to the more commonly aspirational type of freedom – freedom to….

Freedom to do what we want, to pursue our dreams, to make our own choices, to say or own whatever we desire.

The catch is that you can’t have the second until you first secure the first. Freedom from allows us to pursue freedoms to.

I kept this in mind for the rest of our vacation. There was no unnecessary scheduling, no plans that couldn’t be altered. “You don’t want to go to the beach today, cool.  You want to sleep in – go for it. You want to just play in the backyard all day – sounds great.”

By creating an environment of “freedom from”, they felt the “freedom to”.  Freedom to play, to be silly, and even to help themselves.

On this last point, it is worth noting that I can’t remember a time when my children behaved so well towards each other and with us. It was a remarkable demonstration of how being free changes how we treat others.

In our current political context, some naturally focus on providing “freedom from” – discrimination, poverty, fear and violence.  While others seek to create more “freedom to” – speak freely, take risks, vote, own guns, pursue opportunities.

Perhaps if more of our leaders recognized how intrinsically linked these two types of freedom are, they would behave better as well.

A Great Vacation Idea

Leading up to the July 4th holiday, several friends told me they were traveling into America’s heartland for the week. There they would undoubtedly encounter people whose political beliefs were the polar opposite of their own. My own family vacation to Lake Erie meant that I would share both their predicament and trepidation. 
Yet there is something uniquely apolitical about how Americans celebrate July 4th

In our case, this included the traditional swimming, hot dogs and fireworks. But it was also marked by an impromptu parade within the park where our cabin was located. Golf carts and bicycles lined up at 11:00AM sharp. They were decorated with the stars and stripes – on banners and balloons.  The marchers ranged from age 6 to 60.  Patriotic music swelled from a golf cart in the middle of the procession whose wheels were adorned with red, white and blue paper plates as hubcaps. The parade commenced with the entire group reciting the pledge of allegiance.
Later that evening, we joined local townspeople for fireworks along the lake. I would be lying if I didn’t make snap judgments about their political beliefs, education and health, based solely on their appearance. A fact that embarrasses me – especially considering how gracious and polite every person I met was and that I was the visitor in their hometown.
Among the many flag themed t-shirts was one that read “Shoot Your Local Heroin Dealer.”  Later I would learn that the number of opioid related deaths has tripled in this county over the last six years. Another sign of this region struggles was an unemployment rate that is almost double the national average.
The conversations I did have about politics during my week away from the trappings of the New York Times and nightly news were unusually civil.

Even when I talked to members of my family whose beliefs often clash with my own – there seemed more room for common ground than previous years.  Perhaps born out of a shared desire for a country we can all be proud off.
During the trip, my father-in-law introduced me to the Luke Bryan song “Most People Are Good.” This country tune includes both a homage to Friday night football and lyrics that support gay marriage. Its chorus ends with:

I believe most people are good.
I believe this world ain’t half as bad as it looks

It’s a sentiment I share but in the din of negative news forget from time to time.  Fortunately, a vacation out of my bubble was all the reminder I needed.

The Future of Work

This July 4th most Americans will have a vacation day – one “free” from work. But how free or independent does your work normally make you feel?

Technology was intended to be the great liberator – transforming our lives and ushering in the 15-hour workweek.  I’m not there yet are you?

The number of people working in blue-collar jobs has decreased since 1970 from 31% to less that 14% today.  Automation promises to dispatch more people working in what we might describe as hard labor.

In his new book Bull—- Jobs, David Graebar raises critical questions about why this shift and others hasn’t “freed us up” to enjoy life more.

His central tenet is that most jobs now require us to serve at the whim of others – decreasing our independence and the meaning that came from once making things.

One of the most provocative questions he raises is “Why do so many people have to squeeze doing the things they love — like writing novels or woodworking — into their free time, while spending grim hours under the fluorescent lights of an office doing pointless tasks?”

The answer might be found in the etymology of the word work itself.  As this essay in the Guardian points out, it dates back to the same root words that are associated with compel, persecute and torture. 

It is interesting to note that two of the most identifiable parts about being American. The ethos of hard work and the belief in freedom are, in fact, at odds with one another.

Ideally it is the work that provides us with the freedom, financial and otherwise, to enjoy our lives. But as Alissa Quart points out in her new book, Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America, that is becoming increasingly difficult for more and more Americans.

The potential of the gig economy persists but its promise will go unrealized until we tackle fundamental policy questions around wages, childcare, healthcare and retirement.

Until then, we should just ask ourselves a few simple questions. If you are an employer or manager of people, what can you do to help your employees feel more independence and freedom? And if you are a worker, how can you go and get it?

A Father’s Day Blessing

I didn’t even see her. I had walked in and out of our local supermarket with my eight-year-old daughter to run a quick errand for a next day’s class picnic.  Once we were both buckled in the car, she said, “Daddy, didn’t you see the woman holding the sign saying – Homeless. Pregnant.”?

I said I hadn’t and now was in a rush to get home as it was well past her bedtime. More out of our curiosity than judgment, my daughter then asked, “Are you going to do anything?”

If I were being honest, I would not have done a thing, if she hadn’t asked. In New York, you become conditioned to not only not help the homeless but to not even see them. It is the norm to walk by impervious to both their need and their humanity.

Instead, provoked by my daughter’s questions, once home I packed a small bag of food and drink and a few dollars I had pulled from our kindness jar.  Returning to the grocery story, she spoke first – asking about my dog that had accompanied me to break the ice. 

Her name is Jessica and she is staying at a homeless shelter. After a few brief but pleasant minutes, I handed her the bag, money and a piece of paper with some referrals provided to me by a friend who is a social worker. We said our farewells with a passing hope that our paths might pass again.

In his recent column on the philosophy of personalism, David Brooks wrote a perfect description of how I felt after my meeting with Jessica.

“Despite what the achievement culture teaches, that dignity does not depend on what you do, how successful you are or whether your school calls you gifted. Infinite worth is inherent in being human. Every human encounter is a meeting of equals. Doing community service isn’t about saving the poor; it’s a meeting of absolute equals as both seek to change and grow.”

As Dad’s around the country opened Father’s Day presents, perhaps the greatest gifts our children give us is when they open our eyes to see the world as they do.  A vision not yet clouded by judgment or bias but kept clear through their innocence, wonder and innate sense of right and wrong.

It happens unexpectedly like when our six-year-old asks of the food on her plate, “Is this an animal?”  Or when our 10-year-old wonders why one character in a book intentionally hurts another?  And most recently, when my eight-year-old questioned, “Are you going to do anything?”

Their questions and observations give us pause to reconsider our own views and actions in the world.   We are become blessed as a result.