Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Where do you get your inspiration?

I’m a moocher. Every so often, I run into opportunities to take something valuable from unsuspecting people. Lest you think I’m some kind of predator, it’s not like I’m actively looking for it. Rather, the chance just presents itself and I take advantage. Besides, folks seem not to realize I get it from them. If I don’t tell and they don’t miss it, why feel guilty? Think about it: if somebody’s putting something that precious out there, it’s not like you’re stealing, right?
Strangers are my main source. I guess I just cross paths with them more. Last winter I got some from this fellow I see occasionally riding in his power chair along North Avenue. That particular day the roads were a slushy mess. The guy didn’t even see me coming. He was too focused on weathering the elements and minding the cars he was forced to ride on the street with; the sidewalks weren’t plowed. It was easy pickings.
I also tap people I’m close to, and as often as not the opportunity comes when I least expect it. One time it happened while mountain biking with a friend. I was out ahead on the trail when I heard her cry out. I doubled back and found her laid out, her bike mangled against a tree. She was banged up and couldn’t ride but was determined to walk out under her own power. It was about a mile back to the trailhead where our vehicles were, so she didn’t notice what I got from her as she painfully limped along. I ‘fessed up later though. She took it well.
A lot of the best opportunities to obtain this treasure are from people I work with. Every now and then I get caught though. I think the look on my face gives me away. But they never do anything, mostly because they don’t believe I’m taking what I’m taking. Most can’t for the life of them figure out why I targeted them, of all people. They often find it hard to accept the value I see in what I get and that’s a shame.
The really interesting thing is I’m not the only one doing the taking. If you talk to others like me, they’ll agree it’s one of the most important things you can get from someone. So what is this thing, this force that people often don’t even know they have to give to others? It’s the gift of inspiration.
Some people get inspiration from famous individuals like movie stars, race car drivers and super models. Others get it from people who do earth-shaking things like the President, or have millions of dollars like The Donald. Still others draw inspiration from people who can sink a basket, hit a ball or complete a pass.
Me, I get my inspiration from regular persons. Time and again I witness these ‘ordinary’ people facing extraordinary challenges. For instance, I have a friend who by herself raised a child, put her through college and remained independent and dignified throughout. She also is a dependable source of strength and wisdom to her extended family and a leader in her career field.
When I think about all she’s done, it instills me with the fortitude to push through my own daily challenges. Watching that brave guy tooling down the street in the power chair motivates me to face my worries more boldly. Witnessing my friend march bloody but unbowed from the woods under her own power reinforces my own sense of determination.
Where do you get your inspiration?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

What floats your boat to Mayberry?

The passing of Mayberry’s Andy Taylor (aka, stage and screen star Andy Griffith) got me thinking about how the simple things in life can often be the most rewarding. It also caused me to reflect on a subject I’ve been turning over in my head for some time now: fishing. Not so much the act of fishing as why it holds such a broad appeal.
To be clear, I’m referring to angling, which is what most of us think of when it comes to fishing. Anglers typically use rods, reels, hooks, lines, sinkers, baits, lures, floats, etc. This kind of fishing can be as high tech or simple as you desire or can afford. And it can be conducted purely for recreation or for more serious pursuits, like feeding your family.
I rarely fish. Okay, I haven’t been fishing since I was Opie’s age. Still, I’ve watched with amazement at how so many different kinds of people have such a deep passion for the activity. Whether it’s a fishing hole, pond, stream, river, lake, marina or even ocean, I have witnessed folks everywhere I’ve lived casting their lines into the water. From smaller places like Battle Creek and Dayton to major cities like Houston and Los Angeles, people were always fishing. From the look of them, they came from all walks of life. Yet, so often times they were doing it shoulder to shoulder.
Funny how it’s so easy for folks to get it in their heads that they’re so different from each other. Oh, it’s true people come from diverse backgrounds, have wide-ranging personalities, preferences and all. But those are just details. It’s my position that most people share more in common than they realize. My observation of people fishing seems to bear that out.
Not a lot of talking that goes on. In its place I have sensed a quiet force that binds them, an apparent unity of purpose. On some occasions I’ve overheard conversations though. They’ll go on about the best places to go; the most effective lures to use and why. Then there are the inevitable tales about the one that got away.
Is it the tranquility of the pastime that promotes the seeming harmony I’ve witnessed? Fishing is something everyone in the family can do – sometimes together. Maybe it’s the restorative effect fishing has that draws people to it. They comment about the ‘power’ of water, running or standing, and the lap of the waves. They refer to the sun and the smell of the fresh outdoors, how it stays with you; the anticipation of the next catch, not knowing what you’re going to get.
Then there’s the range of folks I’ve seen fishing: female, male; old, young; poor, rich; all races, all colors; small, large. You describe them, I’ve seen them fish. Sometimes alone; other times strung together along a bank, pier or bridge. Here’s a riddle: what happens when you put two people from wildly different backgrounds in a row boat on the water? They fish.
Maybe it’s the power of nature. Some who fish claim a purity and simplicity around the activity; others describe its restorative effect. Fishing is a great way to stay healthy. It’s grocery shopping with a pole; a pastime where trade secrets are passed down and stories are shared. Or silence is enjoyed.
We’ve all been to Mayberry. Not the small Southern town but the place in our mind where we experience and appreciate the simple life. Some get there by fishing. I get there by mountain bike. How do you get there?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

You Can’t Have Freedom Without Independence

The Fourth of July is an ideal time to reflect on our freedom – past, present and future. Not freedom in the flag-waving sense; more of the kind associated with your original thoughts and beliefs. Most of us recognize the importance of thinking about our history, where we come from and where we are today. Reflecting in this way can offer focused perspective as we consider how we might want to shape ourselves moving forward. With that said, are you thinking and acting in ways that exercise your personal independence?
As Americans, we enjoy freedoms that others only dream about. Some of these are spelled out in the Declaration of Independence, which was drafted by Thomas Jefferson between June 11 and June 28, 1776 (and signed on July 4). The document is considered by many to be our nation's most cherished symbol of liberty. About a decade later, the United States Constitution followed and was signed September 17, 1787. A few years later, on December 15, 1791, three-fourths of the states in the union ratified the 10 amendments we popularly refer to as the "Bill of Rights."
The thoughts within these historic documents helped frame, support and protect the fabric of our emerging American culture. They addressed extremely important issues that continue to allow us to express such things as religious choice, free speech, the right to assemble, and unalienable rights like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
And yet there is freedom and then there’s freedom.
The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and its Bill of Rights address and preserve our freedom from an outward point of view – stuff happening around us. The kind of freedom to which I’m referring can only be obtained through inward pursuits; it comes from within. I can’t count the number of times I have found myself in situations in which I believed I had no choice but to follow a course of thought or action bound by what others thought or said I should be doing.
For instance, one day at the gym a few guys were discussing the merits of a particular professional athlete who had just been traded to a new team. Although I disagreed with what was being said, I remained silent because I was amazed at the level of certainty they had on the matter and the opinions they expressed.  Later at home when I was watching the news program SportsCenter I realized the guys at the gym were merely parroting what they’d heard commentators saying.
 A similar dynamic plays out frequently during conversations about politics in which people recite, often verbatim, what was spouted by political pundits. People take sound bites from radio, TV, words they’ve read in the paper or on the web, and promote them as their own ideas.
Such lazy approaches to expressing opinions has grown exponentially it seems, thanks to the ease of access to so-called experts. In some ways, this has elevated awareness about certain issues. However, it has not advanced many conversations, nor deepened our knowledge. It also has dampened independent thinking that in turn dims the democratic spirit.
What is it that enables people like Thomas Jefferson to exercise critical, independent thinking, as opposed to conforming to ‘experts’ or what’s popular? I believe it’s the same thing that would have enabled me to voice my different but original thoughts that day at the gym. Courage. Courage to believe in myself, and the will to see it through. Both are at the core of American values.
I dare you to be free.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Not Speaking Out Speaks Volumes

It was sickening to read accounts of eight men who were abused as boys by the recently convicted Jerry Sandusky. Even after the former Penn State assistant football coach was found guilty of sexually assaulting 10 boys, his legacy of manipulation and violence against minors continues to unfold. After the trial it was reported that the perpetrator’s own adopted son Matt Sandusky offered to testify how he himself had been abused, this according to his lawyers Andrew Shubin and Justine Andronici.

It also came to light that over the years, as the molestation of the other boys was happening, there were eyewitnesses to some of the assaults. I was deeply disturbed with what that handful of people, who saw or knew of his actions, did about it: they remained silent. Sandusky’s victims are not included on this point, because I can’t imagine the confusion, shame and terror those young boys felt when they contemplated telling someone about their ordeal.
Regarding adults who know things but don’t tell, it’s ironic. I used to associate ‘snitching,’ or rather not snitching, only within the context of today’s youth. Snitching, according to my laptop’s dictionary, is ‘telling somebody in authority about another person's wrongdoing.’ Many kids believe snitching is a grave, some say unforgivable, offense. As a result, a whole lot of trouble – everything from street crimes to school bullying – goes largely unreported.
When I first became aware of this culture of silence, I was dumbfounded. The obvious source to blame for this ridiculous mentality, which to my mind is akin to cutting off your nose to spite your face, was street thugs and drug dealers. They were my prime suspects for saddling this destructive mindset among our children. Then I thought a little deeper and came up with other culprits, some that were a lot closer to home.
‘Polite’ society explicitly trumpets the values of truth, justice and doing the right thing. At the same time, we embrace our own culture of secrets regarding a whole lot of misdeeds. Among them: domestic violence, family member substance abuse and of course, child abuse. There are other systematic transgressions to which we claim moral offense, including sexism, racism, sexual orientation prejudice and more. We also look with disfavor on various forms of white collar crime. (By the way, snitching in the business world is more commonly referred to as whistle blowing.)
Deepening the irony is the fact that as often as not, remaining silent ‘for the greater good’ eventually results in people getting hurt – sometimes fatally. This begs the question: what’s worse, the one who knows and tells, or the one who knows and tells not? The answer seems obvious, yet in many cases what we end up doing (or rather not doing) suggests otherwise. Why is it so hard to do what everyone agrees is the right thing? Might it have something to do with what people think about themselves inside that makes them act contrary to what they believe?
Some say folks who don’t do the right thing are in denial. That’s the speculation around Sandusky’s wife who lived in the same house where her son said her husband molested him for years, yet she emphatically denies knowing anything. Really?
One thing is certain to my mind and it’s summed up in a variation on a popular adage: all that is necessary for injustice to prevail is for people of good conscience to do nothing. That said, what are you doing?