What We Are Not Doing (Thoughts on the Charlestown shooting)

“What we don’t do may reveal more about us than what we do.”

About one week ago, the latest American massacre took place in Charlestown, South Carolina.

charleston_victimsUsing my Facebook feed as a guide, here is a glimpse into what people are thinking … with three glaring absences.

* It’s a tragedy
* It’s an individual problem.
* We are a racist country.
* Who the shooter is.
* What white supremacist leader contributed to both the shooter and political candidates.
* “My” right to own guns.
* Gun Control or lack thereof.
* There should be guns in churches. Or not.
* The Confederate Flag should be lowered. Or not.
* And from the vast majority …. Silence.

Here’s what is missing.

1. Discussion about the victims as individuals – their names and who they were.
2. That this was a crime against Christians.
3. Action.

The first two absences show a focus on the criminal. (i.e. – We focus on the shooter, not the victims. And, if the shooter had been Muslim there would have been more discussion of religion.)

The third absence reveals a lot about ourselves. It may simply be our numbness to violence or a reflection of not knowing what to do, but we simply don’t act. I don’t personally know one individual that acted in response to the shooting or spoke up to say they are already working in this area. Even in a small way. Myself included.

At the very least, we can reflect on our individual inaction. Perhaps by focusing less on the perpetrator and more on how the victims led their lives we may find more ways to act in our own communities – One was a librarian who helped people learn and grow. Another just graduated from college getting started in journalism. Another was a track coach. One man was community leader. One woman had just retired from a community block grant program. Another lady cleaned up after others. And on and on.

Maybe it’s time that we give more time to what we are not thinking … and not doing.

It took some digging, but this link is an attempt to fill in the first absence. It gives the names of the victims, their pictures, and a little about who they were. Please visit it.

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Giving Our Time Update

“Real generosity is doing something nice for someone who will never find out.” –Frank A. Clark

Oh, how time does pass. We so often give it away to the trivial yet wonder profoundly where it went.

medium_988539961This blog has been idle the past few months, but here is a link to another blog I started last summer. It’s a weekly post with ideas about how to improve your listening, observation, and evaluation skills – designed to be read in about a minute or two.


In case you’re wondering, I’m still giving my time.

Over the past six months, I’ve given a few dozen workshops on evaluation. I’m also building a Toastmasters Speakers Bureau in the Portland, Oregon region as a free community service. I continue to volunteer when I make time.  I’ve been a coach at Future Stars Toastmasters for the past few years and continue to give my Saturday mornings to those bright, aspiring students. I’m still president of Feedbackers Toastmasters. Supporting my parents who are in assisted living has become a virtual second job for this only child. Our kids are all teenagers now and supporting them takes as much time as a third job (but doesn’t really feel like it). I try to help my wife out as much as possible – dishes, laundry, yard work, housework, etc. Oh yeah, then there’s that work thing. Above all though, I simply try to find ways to help others.

Many times over the past few years, when I look at how my life has changed – and it has been a deep, philosophical paradigm shift –  I remember the Resolve to Give Challenge –  over 800 days of giving time to someone and/or my community everyday. Then, it was a challenge. Today, it’s a habit.

That’s my update. Apologies for the entirely self-focused post, but I’m still here. I hope you are giving your time, focused on what you can do for others. If you are, please know that helping another person is never trivial, takes great courage, and helps you far more than you might think. At least I believe it.

We can’t really make a difference in the world if we don’t start making a difference in our little corner of it.

photo credit: chilsta via photopin cc

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On 9/11, The Sun Still Shines

“Keep your face to the sun and you will never see the shadows.” — Helen Keller

How one remembers is a choice.

20140911_173555With another anniversary of September 11th passing into memory, many assuredly made note of the date before they closed their eyes on the day. To express their sadness and anger, some posted messages. Some observed quietly. Some wept. And some, sadly, used the occasion to display their ignorance and racism wrapped in the glorious guise of patriotism.

But there are others who chose to remember differently. There are others who have chosen to turn 9/11 into a day for not just saying something, but doing something. They choose to volunteer their time to help build up society where some would tear it down. They choose to act and not just stand idly by even if it is just for one day. They do it to so a little ray of sunshine can pierce the clouds of an otherwise gloomy day.

As I volunteered today on the 11th day of September, helping a few refuge kids from Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Burma with their homework, I saw something through the window of the makeshift classroom. Not anger, nor sadness. Not hatred, nor bigotry. Just a few kids playing. And the sun. It was shining.

On 9/11, when we choose to act by helping others, we do more than remember. We create a little sunshine.


Posted in In the community | Tagged , | 1 Comment

A Glimpse Into Another Side Of The Story

“Every truth has two sides; it is as well to look at both, before we commit ourselves to either” — Aesop

We make many assumptions about life. But there are times when the tiniest glimpse out of the corner of our eye can tell that there’s another side to the story.

medium_3077971451Early this morning on my way to martial arts class I pulled up to a stoplight. To my left, unmoving, with head hanging low, an older bearded man sat alone with a cardboard sign. Late the night before I saw the same man in the same spot, sitting in the same position, with the same sign, and the same downcast expression. He looked as if he hadn’t moved.

The clock told me that I was ten minutes early to class. McDonald’s was directly across the street. Without much thought I pulled through the drive-thru and ordered a sausage biscuit and coffee. Five minutes later, I pulled back around to the same stoplight, rolled down my window and asked if he wanted some breakfast. Slightly startled, a much younger man than I saw before got up, took the sack with the biscuit and coffee. I nodded and pulled the car forward a couple feet, perhaps out of habit. Perhaps out of discomfort.

I sat only for a moment when I looked back over my shoulder and out the corner of my eye.

In that short moment, perhaps three or maybe five seconds, I could see the young man had buried his face in the sandwich, two hands engulfing the wrapper. When I looked again seconds later the sandwich was almost gone. A glimpse of Hunger.

We’re often taught … or at least I was always taught … that a cardboard sign on a street corner indicated a scam artist, a lunatic, or someone dangerous. Probably a criminal.

Maybe that’s true. Maybe the gentleman I met was nothing but a freeloader. Yet, a tiny glimpse told me that there is, perhaps, another side to the story.

photo credit: .craig via photopin cc

Posted in Thoughts About Giving | Tagged

A Better Mother’s Day Card

Yesterday, I mailed my mother a standard Mother’s Day card. But today, I felt like that card just wasn’t good enough. So today I mailed her this letter. I thought I’d share it because some of you might feel the same way.

Dear Mom,


Dear Mom ...

Dear Mom …

  • I got up at 6,
  • Made the bed,
  • Made coffee,
  • Drove 2 kids to the bus stop,
  • Drove 3rd child to school,
  • Wished 4th child a good day with a hug,
  • Did dishes,
  • Kissed wife goodbye,
  • Drove across town to work,
  • Helped a co-worker with a problem,
  • Ate lunch at desk,
  • Worked all day,
  • Drove across town to pickup up daughter after school,
  • Took her for ice cream,
  • Then to her doctor’s appointment,
  • Stayed with her through the appointment,
  • Brought her home,
  • Called and talked to you on the phone,
  • Drove across town to take son to piano lesson, 
  • Listened and asked questions of the teacher,
  • Told son his song sounded fantastic,
  • Drove home, stopping briefly to rescue a little boy’s soccer ball,
  • Drove across town to daughter’s concert,
  • Talked with wife,
  • Listened, but did a bad job,
  • Tried harder to listen better,
  • Cheered daughter on at her music concert,
  • Drove home,
  • Did dishes,
  • Listened to other daughter’s troubles at school,
  • Encouraged son with his homework,
  • Talked with exchange student
  • Consoled her about having to leave soon,
  • Tucked daughters into bed,
  • Fell in bed at 10,
  • Played with dog,
  • Fell asleep at 10:05,
  • Jumped when dog barked in ear at 10:30,
  • Then laid awake in bed for 2 hours.

Yesterday, I also mailed you a standard Mother’s Day card. It was a nice card with pretty words, but it didn’t seem good enough, so I’m sending you this letter.

You’ve told me how you are frustrated by your Parkinson’s disease. I imagine that there are days when you wonder “why me?” when there is no reason. I imagine that there are days when you wonder what you did to deserve it, even though you did nothing wrong. I also imagine that there are days, perhaps yesterday, when you feel bad for not being to help other people and sometimes, yourself.

But, although you may not know it, you do far more than you think.

Yesterday, in a way, you did everything on this list. You did it because you taught me to work hard, face my responsibilities, and persist when I fail. You taught me to remember that the little things matter and to take care of my family. You taught me to look around, observe the world, and to listen. And, most importantly, you taught me to help other people.

If we are what we do, then everything I did yesterday is who I am. But who I am is only a reflection of what you gave me. So everything I do is really because of you.

And tomorrow, you and I will do it all over again.

Happy Mother’s Day, and thanks.




Posted in Poetry | 2 Comments

A Story For The Next Time You Feel Like You Are Not Making A Difference

My friend Scott passed away unexpectedly earlier this year. Recently, I spoke at length with his mother. Here is a simple, yet powerful, story she told me about him.

Scott worked as the office manager of a janitorial supply store in Sante Fe, New Mexico. It wasn’t a large store and so he was the primary contact for customers.

A few weeks ago, quite unexpectedly, Scott’s 45-year-old heart stopped and never resumed. Both friends and family were devistated. His mother and brother drove from Iowa to collect his affairs, friends gathered to tell stories about him, and another employee stepped in to run the store. I’ll call her Becky.

The day after Scott’s passing, Becky’s first customer was a little old woman who only wanted to buy a single item. She refused to let Becky check her out insisted on being served by Scott. Sadly, Becky had to tell the woman the bad news. The elderly lady expressed sadness and left the store shortly thereafter with her small purchase. Other customers filed in and out of the store and expressed their condolences, but business continued as usual. 

At the end of the day, Becky called one of her friends on an unrelated matter. In the course of the conversation, her friend said that she was concerned about her own housekeeper. A regular and faithful employee, this housekeeper was just not herself. She seemed despondent and broke down into tears several times that day. This housekeeper, ironically, turned out to be the same little old lady who came into Scott’s store that morning and bought one small item.

When the housekeeper finally could talk about why she was so sad, she said she lost someone special that day – someone who listened to her. She went on further to say that she often needed many things for her work, and today was no exception, but she only ever bought one item at a time from Scott’s store. She made many extra trips because it always made her happy to go into the store and talk to Scott before work everyday, so she never bought more than a single item at a time as an excuse to talk to him. Scott was always there and always willing to listen, for years.

He made a profound difference in the life of one person simply by listening. How many other lives did he touch?

Scott, I wish you were here so I could tell you how much that little story says about you, and how much it means to me. But since I can’t tell you that, I can only hope that others will read it and, when they’re feeling low, feeling their age, and wondering whether they’re doing anything worthwhile, perhaps they can take solace and inspiration in the fact that making a difference is often quiet work.

Like so many seemingly small things in life, this story won’t make the news. Many will read it, and pass quickly on to more sensational news or other crises in their day. Yet, that doesn’t diminish the quiet effect that one person can have on another …

… when they simply care enough to listen.



Posted in In memoriam | 3 Comments

Red Tulip

In memoriam,  Scott Svetly 1969 - 2014

In memoriam,
Scott Svetly 1969 – 2014

When the tulip bulb emerges,
from it’s winter sleep, and pokes it’s head
above the frozen earth, we welcome it.
The warm gesture of Spring.

But deep in our hearts,
we know that it’s red vibrance will soon fade;
the once-lustrous petals falling quietly.
Through our fingers.

So too is it true that all beauty is fleeting,
that our youth, and even our being,
will also pass back into the earth.
Like old petals.

But looking up from the fallen, our grief,
we can feel that the warmth of Spring is still here,
made all the better by that one little red tulip.
So fragile, yet so enduring.

And so too may we endure
knowing that the tulip which brought so much joy
isn’t really gone, it’s just sleeping.
In our hearts.

Posted in In memoriam | 2 Comments