Grasshopper Mind
SORT BY

2021

WE DIDN'T KNOW WE WERE LEARNING

JULY 27, 2021

Recently, in The Charlotte Ledger, I read an obituary for an obviously much-loved music teacher.  I did not know the gentleman. It drew my attention because it was not the usual obituary.  It was mostly remembrances from his former students; many of them now with High School students of their own. 

 

The former students wrote about lessons that influenced who they are today.  None has become a famous musician; most have not pursued music.  Along with music, and understanding lyrics, this teacher taught that important bit extra.  One student summed it up: “He nurtured creativity, confidence, and compassion in thousands of young people. He guaranteed he would live forever in this world.” What a legacy.

 

These students make us ask – who impacted our lives?  What did we learn when we didn’t realize we were learning?  No man or woman is self-made.  The question is - who helped make us who and what we are?

 

 I began recalling the individuals who, I now know, influenced me – in big ways and small --reaching back as far as memory would go.  The list is long, very long.  It includes a mail carrier slogging through the snow.  It includes family, friends, teachers, bosses, artists, construction workers, air raid wardens, bus drivers, even a musician on a plane.  They shared, either by example or with words, lessons that would, unknowingly, become part of my life.

 

The musician on the plane:  Listen to your inner Geiger counter, it will rarely lead you in the wrong direction.  The mail carrier: I made a commitment.  The artist: Please do not color inside the lines.  The air raid warden: I will lead you to a safe shelter.  The bus driver: I trust you – you can pay tomorrow.  Bosses:  We appreciate you.  Family:  Help your brother and sister.  Friends: I’m listening.   Teachers:  Good, but you can do better. Construction worker:  The foundation is important; we build from that.

 

Sometimes it’s not a person’s voice, it’s a choice that became a defining moment.  Growing up my grandson played a lot of baseball. He was excellent. The pros were mentioned. He did not become a professional baseball player. Were his baseball days wasted?  Not at all.  What he learned, while he did not know he was learning, was patience, and a remarkable ability to get along with all manner of people.  Learning, no matter the situation, topic, or teacher, is never wasted.

 

We have here. We have now. We have memories.  It’s interesting to recall the voices and examples we learned from and heed the new voices insisting their way into our lives. Look what happened because of one special teacher. 

 

# # #

 

 

 

 

CIVIL IS AS CIVIL DOES

JULY 17, 2021

 

This morning, as I eagerly headed toward my favorite coffee shop, a young woman dashed ahead of me, through the door – and, without a backward glance – let the heavy door slam back in my face.  Ouch.

 

It wasn’t the slammed door that bothered me, I didn’t get hurt.  What bothered me was the lack of civility, the lack of courtesy.  A reminder that both seem to be fading in our conversations and culture.

 

And yet, on the way out – a young man held the door open wide for me to exit.   I thanked him for his courtesy.  He said, ‘my pleasure.’  Faith was renewed. 

 

Jayne Reardon, a brilliant attorney, writing for the ABA says: “The French and Latin etymologies of the word civility suggest, roughly, “relating to citizens.” In its earliest use, the term referred to exhibiting good behavior for the good of a community. The early Greeks thought civility was both a private virtue and a public necessity, which functioned to hold the state together. Some equate civility with respect. So, civility is a behavioral code of decency or respect that is the hallmark of living as citizens in the same state.”  Well said, Ms. Reardon.

 

Still stewing over my bad and good experiences at the coffee shop, I wondered: When did everyday courtesies and good behavior stop being commonplace? 

 

What happened to our instinct to attack the problem and not the person?  “Civility also requires relearning how to disagree without being disagreeable … surely you can question my policies without questioning my faith.” (President Barack Obama)

 

How do some conversations become a minefield of insults? “Sir Winston, you are disgustingly drunk! And you my dear are ugly. But tomorrow I will be sober, and you will still be ugly.” (Lady Astor & Winston Churchill)

 

Civility to most means behaving in a considerate, courteous, polite – and, when needed, helpful manner.  (Merriam Webster) If I could add a footnote, it would be one dating before the dictionary or the word civility existed.  It would be “Do unto others …”

 

In my youth I was warned Handsome is as Handsome does.  Today I remind myself – Civil is as Civil does.  Whoever you are, young man at the coffee shop – thank you. Civility may be struggling, but you proved it is still alive.

 

# # #

 

 

 

 

The Magic Word: MAINTENANCE

JULY 10, 2021

 

 

During a conversation with friends, recently, we talked about the recurring  tragedies and trials, at home and around the world. We asked - why does this keep happening?

 

 

There were diverse observations - but most of us agreed that often, except where Mother Nature is at work, it is lack of maintenance.  Maintenance is one of the most important words in any language.  Yet, when we hear maintenance department, maintenance person, or the word maintenance itself, it’s a rare individual who thinks of a VIP, or thinks beyond their immediate problem.

 

Relationships – between friends, families, clients, and countries, need maintenance.  So do our bodies, automobiles, homes, animalsthe infrastructure of life as we live it, the earth, sea, and sky.  We couldn't  think of a single person, group, corporation, place, or thing that does not need maintenance.

 

The catch phrase ‘prevention is often better than cure,’ goes back to the 1500’s and is credited to the Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus. That’s 520 years, and still we are not convinced.

 

Why such slow learners?  Why eagerly accept the latest fads, and neglect life-extending maintenance of what we already have?  The answer often given, and hard to justify, is that we’re just human.

 

If you have a better answer, let me know.  This human’s automobile is in the shop right now, and the Erasmus theory is chafing at my conscience.

# # #

 

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY?

JUNE 24, 2021

This past month brought lots of graduations, and speeches with well- meaning advice. I read some of the speeches, hoping to capture new magic.

 

For the most part, the speakers offered boilerplate messages:  You are ready. You can make a difference.  Today is a new day. Some gave formulas for success.

 

The speech that caught my attention was by Ruby Bridges, herself a part of history. She spoke at Tulane University, and her unique message included these words:  Opportunity comes packaged in many boxes, and it shows up with no return address.  The sender is history, and she does not accept returns. Once the package is opened, you accept the gift, and embrace the demands attached to it.

 

Ms. Bridges message challenges us to examine what is in the box, ask ourselves how we can use, improve, or share the contents, makes us wonder why we were the ones to receive this box. And, it makes us ask If we can trust  history - the sender of the box.

 

After reading the speeches I asked myself -- if you were invited to be a graduation speaker - what would YOU say?  Searching my memory bank for people whose words had left an impact, Dr. Charles Bott, my decades-ago headmaster, came to mind.

 

Dr. Bott did not promise or predict anything. He talked about Trust. His closing words were: At the end of a conversation, a speech, or a promise … we will always ask ourselves ‘Do I trust this person? 

 

If offered the opportunity, I would say to our graduates … “Give people a reason to trust you.” 

 

What would you say?

 

# # #

PEOPLE WHO NEED PEOPLE

JUNE 11, 2021

It’s odd, isn’t it? Just when we are certain we can handle any challenge that comes our way – without, heaven forbid, asking for help - life does a 360. We suddenly find ourselves in a serious predicament. It hits us like a bolt of lightning – life cannot always be a solo act. We might need fast action and physical help with a medical emergency, or simply wise advice with a worrisome dilemma.  Whatever the situation, we cannot handle it alone. 

 

Self-reliance is a laudable trait, and one to be applauded.  Yet, when trouble knocks, nothing replaces having family and friends to answer the door. If we do not have these special people, we discover how much we need them.

 

For many reasons, we humans seem to make it just as difficult for others to give us help, as it is for us to ask for help. Pride is usually the biggest reason.  But pride is like self-reliance – we need it.  So how do we mingle self-reliance and pride, with the willingness to give and receive?  According to those who do it well, it takes patience, planning and empathy.

 

Recently a man who is, possibly, the best friend one could have, reminded me that we should prepare the help stage in advance. Our friends need to know we will not think they are incapable or needy if they come to us for help. They need to know we will consider it an honor to be asked.  Another thing, this remarkable giver suggested is … get in the habit of doing something without being asked … make a meal, offer to baby sit. Every spontaneous and thoughtful gesture, he believes, helps pave the way for friends to ask for help when the asking is hardest.

 

Why is this topic suddenly top of my mind?  Because recently this self-reliant woman - OK it was me - found herself needing help. It turned out not to be the emergency envisioned. Still, a quick call and a friend was there; faster than 911, a reassuring rock.  Confirmation of the word friend.

 

Barbara Streisand got it right when she sang … ‘People who need people are the luckiest people in the world…’   Believe it. 

# # #

 

By the way, I almost didn’t send this; telling myself … my friends already know this.  I sent it anyway figuring we all need a reminder. 

IMPROVISE ACCORDING TO THE SITUATION

MAY 21, 2021

A Memorial Day Tribute.

Until I saw their story on a recent 60 Minutes episode, I had never heard of The Ritchie Boys. Now in their 90’s, these survivng remarkable men are still, well – remarkable.

Their story unfolds during WWII. Most of the Ritchie Boys were Jewish academics– many recent immigrants from war-torn Germany.  Each was commissioned to work with the U.S.Military.  Their language skills, along with their temperaments, bravery, and ability to adapt,  according to military records,  most likely saved unknown numbers of lives.

 

The primary job of this select group was interrogation and translation.  They interrogated prisoners of war, as well as local citizens.  Germans speaking with Germans in their own language, understanding the nuances of the language, feeling their way to a beating heart.  “You must understand,” says one of the men.  “Many of those we spoke with wanted an end to the war as much as we did.  They were willing to share what they knew to save humanity, even if it cost them their own lives.”

 

One of this elite group, now 99 and still working every day; observed that understanding what was being felt, folded into what was being said, made it easier to bring out the truth … they became two individuals talking about a deadly problem, instead of captor and captive confronting each other.  And, their ways of interrogating, history shows, persuaded entire squadrons to surrender without fighting, and without losing face.

 

Another survivor, now a 97 year old professor, said their strength was in knowing how to improvise according to the situation. Landing at Dunkirk on D-Day, their objective was staying alive and helping  fellow soldiers; when in an interrogation tent it was gleaning information.

 

Many of these men rose to the top in their professions. When congratulated on their success, their response was ‘we believe, if you were saved – you must show you were worthy of it.’

In retrospect, the Ritchie Boys still seem to share the philosophy that helped them during traumatic days and years:  It is always the right time to do the right thing.  Never lump any group under one label.  Meet people where they are.  Listen.  Be willing to ask for, accept, and offer help.  Adapt your thinking and your plans to meet each situation  - no one and nothing are the same all the time. 

You can find the ‘rest of the story’ at your local bookstore.  I’m sharing this cameo because the Ritchie Boys words, actions, beliefs and courage seem as valuable today as they were eight decades ago.   

# # #

 

Book: The Ritchie Boys, by Bruce Henderson
60 Minutes

 

EXCUSES OR REASONS?

MAY 9, 2021

Have you ever listened, really closely, as people rattle on about why they did, or usually why they did not do something?  Or, for that matter, have you ever listened to yourself doing the same thing?  It is quite fascinating how adept we humans are at justifying our actions or inactions.  Maybe we need a reason/excuse monitor to check our impulses. 

My monitor, growing up in England, was my father – he was Irish, fun, a storyteller, and a stickler for ‘tell the truth and shame the devil.’   Back then I ran track, and I was always the winner in the Girls 200 meters; no one came close … until they did, and she passed me. (I still remember her name.)  My father was watching the race, and I came off the track fuming and grumbling -- ‘I need new plimsolls (sneakers) – these are worn down, and the track was wet today … and a tirade of reasons why I lost.  He looked at me and said “Joan! There’s only one REASON you lost – you didn’t run bloody fast enough, so enough with the excuses.’  

He could have temporarily consoled me with the prospect of new sneakers; or told me everybody has an off day; or maybe patted me on the back for past wins.  Not a chance.  You win, you lose, you learn.  Excuses just balloon up and out, and pretty soon they become a way of life.  At least that’s what my father said – and, turns out, he was a very smart fellow. 

By the way, our sons grew up with the ‘excuses not allowed, reasons accepted’ philosophy.  I kind of like the way they turned out. 

# # #

Postscript:  If you missed the first post, explaining why Grasshopper Mind was chosen, look at 2021-The Curious Grasshopper.  If you left a comment on the first post – and if you can remember what you said, can you share again?  Comment door is now open. 

THE CURIOUS GRASSHOPPER

MAY 5, 2021

Have you ever watched a grasshopper? I don’t mean studied it, like a scientist – I mean lazily watched it hop from leaf to leaf; a nibble here - a nibble there – never devouring an entire single leaf; but always consuming enough to keep it lively and hopping.  Maybe the smorgasbord dining even helps him or her stay curious about what’s next on the menu? 

Since I’m past caring whether people will think I’m a slug who just sits around watching grasshoppers hop, instead of doing something productive – I’ll admit, I have watched them endlessly.  And, after observing their habits, I have come to believe that grasshoppers work the way my mind works.  They take in a lot of random tastes and tidbits from lots of leaves, but not a lot from any single leaf.  I seem to take a sampling from a lot of sources, but not a deep dive into a single source. 

Why am I sharing this strange monologue?   Because this is the first Grasshopper Mind post.  Like the Grasshopper it will be delivered randomly, no set days or dates.  And content will be random too, whatever is top of mind or seems interesting at the moment.

You’re invited to sign up and be surprised.  If you like what you see and hear, that’s good – if not, that’s OK … either way, let me know what you think.