Saturday, February 17, 2018

THE ANSWER IS IN THE QUESTION

As many of you know, math has always been a difficult subject for me in school.  I just couldn't see things the way many students could when looking at an equation, and I cannot tell you how insecure and anxious that made me.  My father was brilliant at math; he had a masters in economics, for goodness sake!  I saw how easily he could add and subtract numbers in his head--big numbers--and even though he never made me feel foolish or showed frustration when he tried to help me with math, I felt like a failure.  What made matters worse, is that I had a math teacher in 6th grade who told me, "Well, math just isn't your area."  And so it goes.  I accepted it, much to my father's chagrin:  I was just not a "math person."

Then, I got to high school and met Mr. White, math department head, and, to my good fortune, my teacher for Algebra 2/Trigonometry.  He told me there is no such thing as a non-math person: everyone could learn and love math, it just might take a different method of instruction to get them there.  He offered to give me and a few other students help during 0 period and after school--whichever worked best.  I remember asking him, "You really think you can help me confidently find the answers to problems like these?"  and most of all, I remember his answer:  "I think I can help you learn to ask the right questions to confidently solve problems like these."

It really doesn't matter what the subject area; asking the right questions is the only way we get to the very best answers.  It is how new inventions are born, cures are discovered, and the trickiest of problems are solved.  So what is the secret, then?  Is there, in fact, an art or skill involved in developing the right questions?  We often reply to others, "That is a good question!" when we find ourselves confronted with a question that is difficult to answer.  So is that it then?  Is a good question characterized by being difficult to answer?

According to Vincent F. Hendricks, professor of formal philosophy and logic at The University of
Copenhagen in Denmark, the answer is "No, not necessarily."  He knows a thing or two about asking the right questions, and has plenty of guidance to offer.  "We can all ask, 'What's for dinner?' But we have to think carefully if we move up the hierarchy.  Do I want the answer to something specific or just an assessment?  You have to ask yourself that type of questions before you can ask a good question."  Henricks teaches that context is key.  As a whole, there are two types of questions you can ask and each of them are important depending on the answers you are specifically seeking.

Open questions are good if you want an answer that includes consideration and assessment, for example:  "What's so intriguing about a good detective story?"  The danger of asking open questions is that they can be too open.  For example, "What is the most important problem we must solve?"  A question like this is so open, we don't know how to answer, and it may create more problems than it solves!  What type of problem are we talking about?  Is it environmental, economic, political, scientific or personal?

Closed questions are good if you want a very clear answer, for example, "Can you ride a unicycle?" You can only answer this type of question very simply, in this case, "yes" or "no."  The danger with closed questions is that they often produce answers that make things seem simpler than they are in reality.  Hendricks suggests that if you want to become more informed, "A good question is not necessarily one you can answer "yes" or "no" to, but one where your answer depends on conditions or qualifications.  Open questions invite reflection, but they need a frame or a context to help us understand and focus on the specific issues that are needing our concentration.



Hendricks has developed three rules of asking good questions that are as follows:

1.  Frame the question- give it a context.  This is how you avoid talking at cross-purpose.
2.  Establish some agreed facts.  The more you agree about the framing of the question, the clearer your answer can be.
3.  Ask a short, clear, precise question to avoid ambiguity.  If any doubts arise over how to answer the question, you'll get a bad answer because you have asked a poorly formulated question.

So then, whether we are trying to solve a math problem in Trigonometry or a country-wide economic crisis, we must begin in the same place.  The best answers truly are already there waiting to be found in the carefully formulated best questions.

Click on the link here to read an article in Forbes Magazine about asking the right questions.  Tell me the single thing that stood out to you the most in that article.  Then, check out the "mystery puzzle below."  What three questions must you ask yourself in order to come up with the solution?  What is that solution?  I am interested in hearing your theories!

Forbes link:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidsturt/2013/10/18/are-you-asking-the-right-question/#189da4083d38


The Case of the Insured Painting

     Conrad Sleuth’s alarm clock and telephone rang at the same time.  He turned off the alarm and answered the phone.
     “This is Hilda Dean,” a young woman said.  “Someone broke into my house last night and stole a valuable painting.”
     Sleuth took her address, put on some clothes, and drove to her house.  She let him in, and he asked her to tell him exactly what had happened.
     “I was asleep,” she said, “When the howling wind woke me up.  I got up to close the window, and I thought I heard a noise downstairs.  When I got downstairs, I realized that the street light was out, and it was too dark to see anything.  So I lit a candle and walked out on the front steps.  Sure enough.  I saw a man running off.”
     “Then what did you do?” Sleuth asked.
      “I came back inside and looked things over,” she said.  “Nothing seemed to be missing, so I went back to bed.  Then, this morning, I noticed that a painting had been taken from the basement.”
     “Is the painting insured?” Sleuth asked.
     “Well, yes. But money will never replace it.”
     Have you called the police, Ms. Dean?”
     “No.  I’ll call them now.”
     “I’ll do it.” Sleuth said.  “While we’re waiting for them, you can decide whether you want to repeat your story to them – or tell them the truth.”

Why does Sleuth think Hilda Dean is lying?


Saturday, January 20, 2018

WORDS ARE LIFE

"Don't get upset by what he said.  They're only words." 


 Does this statement, or any close variation of it sound familiar to you?  How many of you embrace it as your own philosophy?  How many of you would like to give the speaker a nice, firm sock in the arm?  Well, I am going to start the semester here by making a bold statement.  Here it goes:  Whether you acknowledge it to be true or not, your words have power.  Lots of it.  You may not feel very powerful when you utter them, but they are, as the great English proverb tells us, "Mightier than the sword."

Now, allow me to explain and expand.  For some, the words of others don't sting as much as they will for others, but whether you are tough as nails or a marshmallow when it comes to matters of the heart, those to whom you communicate may not fall into your same category.
For this reason, being a thoughtful, empathetic, yet clear communicator is a precious skill--especially for those of you who plan to be in any form of upper management.  The best leaders in any industry got there because they knew how to communicate.  They were aware of the great power of their words, and they used that power with skill and wisdom.

If not everyone receives the same words in the same spirit, than how do we become astute at the great art of communication?  Well, the answer is in the question:  it is an art, so we practice.  We test the waters.  Observe more than just verbal communication/language.  We communicate who we are to others in many different ways and within many unique nuances.  Reading people --really taking the time and presence of mind to actively listen to not just what they say but how they say it--can really tell you a lot.

In year one and year two of the IB Language and Literature, Diploma Program, we have already done a lot of communicating with one another in various groups and partnerships, as well as all together on our blog.  Most notably, the seniors have just completed the novel The Book Thief, in which the power of words becomes one of the central themes in the novel.  We learn that "words truly are life," figuratively and quite literally for our young protagonist, Liesel Meminger.

This semester, you will continue to have many opportunities to observe and learn from each other's communication style, and practice wielding your language "sword."  The spoken and written word both have their moment on the world's stage, and whether their influence is felt on a small or large scale, it is a moment that carries power for the listener: a moment in the ears can lead to a lifetime on the heart.  In his novel The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfus writes: "Words can light fires in the minds of men; words can wring tears from the hardest hearts."  See?  I'm not the only literary person to make those bold statements.

In the link below, you will have the opportunity to read Cat Thompson's article, The Power of Language.    Read through it, maybe even commit some of it to memory as a resource to use when you communicate.  See what happens!

Afterwards, click on the second link, which features an essay written by a College student (and fellow Communications major) when she was also, like many of you, a senior.  In her own words, her essay was written mainly because she wanted an excuse "to talk about why I loved The Book Thief so much."

You are powerful.  Whether written or spoken, your words carry the power to build someone up and bring life, or tear them down and bring death.

Just like that mighty sword the English were talking about.

https://experiencelife.com/article/the-power-of-language/
and...
https://neptunemade.neocities.org/library/essays/bookthiefessay.html

Read both of the articles.  Then, reflect on what you learned, and what most resonates with you on the topic.  I would LOVE to hear your thoughts...in your own words.

Just for fun....
The idea that language has great power is nothing new!  Even though our modern society is much more sensitized and defensive in nature (we seem to have lost the art to debate and replaced it with the great art of mudslinging in the public arena), in ancient times and during the Renaissance, the power of our language was acknowledged.  Here are a few famous quotes, including those collected from Proverbs in the Bible and the great bard, Shakespeare, himself.  If you would like to share another quote or discovery you have personally made with regards to the power of words, I am truly all ears!


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

MY FAVORITE THINGS

Once again, Christmas has come and gone, hopefully leaving us with some warm memories of time well spent with those we love. Better than the presents we give and receive is the presence we offer with our friends and family--time spent enjoying each others' company, setting aside all the daily stresses and responsibilities, if only for a little while.  Taking time to stop and look at all of the beauty around us, to engage in deep conversation, to get out and enjoy the beauty of nature here in the desert; these are all good ways to refocus, set new goals for the upcoming year, and empower ourselves to pursue our dreams.  Another way is to stop and consider all the things we love, those things that make us smile --things for which we are so grateful...and then, put pen to paper.

Christmas is the best time to do this, for sure, but it is important, as our dear friend Charles Dickens suggests, to keep Christmas alive and well in our hearts, all the year through.  As we prepare to say goodbye to 2017, I am renewing the "My Favorite Things" post: an annual activity to make a list of the things that each of us holds most dear--those things we love and cherish in this life.

So, to review for those who have done this before, and to introduce to those who are new to the blog
this year, here are the rules for the annual Favorite Things post:  Make a list of your 25 most favorite THINGS.  The key word is THINGS.  No people allowed on your list.  That removes the pressure you may feel to name every family member and friend.  People and things should never be categorized together.  People come first.  This list is much more light-hearted.

This was REALLY tougher than I thought to narrow it down to 25 for me (initially, I was afraid I would draw a blank!) but here is what came to mind first for me.  Try to just take pen to paper and write what comes to your mind first.  These will probably be the most honest.  :)

Let's conclude this beautiful Christmas Season, and ring in the New Year with a list of all the things we love...those things for which we are most grateful, shall we?


MRS. CARAWAY'S FAVORITE THINGS...(in no particular order)

1.  Cathedral bells
2.  Beautiful music - the kind that makes your heart ache.
3.  London's Christmas market
4.  Christmas Eve
5.  Shopping and whiskey tasting in Dublin
6.  Normandy - the beauty and pain of great sacrifice
7.  Paris at twilight
8.  Walking on the beach--everything about it.
9.  WW2 History.  I cannot get enough.
10. Handwritten letters from people you love
11.  Word-smithery (The joy of reading it and practicing it - words put together beautifully and powerfully so that you lose all sense of time)
12.  The Book Thief and books that stay with me long after I have closed them.
13.  Things that sparkle (candlelight, glitter, jewels, etc)
14.  Standing on the stage at night after a last rehearsal - anticipation everywhere.
15.  The color red
16.  Really good French wine
17.  Twinings English Tea...served with REAL carrot cake and cream cheese frosting!
18.  The sound of my children laughing together
19.  Bubble baths
20.  Outrageous shoes
21.  Unexpected discoveries in my travels
22.  My faith and the mystery of Grace
23.  Perfume
24.  The way it feels outside...right before the snow falls.
25.  Heroes - the real kind

Now, it's your turn...   


Friday, December 1, 2017

CREATING CHARACTERS: Fantastically Flawed, Beautifully Broken, & Readily Redeemed

What is it about a character that makes him or her so memorable?

Hero or villain, damsal or duke, rebel or royal, the characters in a story are the author's greatest assets in the quest to win the heart, mind and soul of the reader.

How that character is manipulated by the plot, and how he/she in turn manipulates it right back, that is the key to story telling.We have been exploring characters in our close reading and class discussions, and we will also, from different angles and approaches, analyze how stories impact readers and how the author creates a unique story to entice and inspire the reader in our Written Task assessments. Each one of you represents a very unique and original set of backstories and experiences.  You bring these in to each new experience you encounter, including reading a novel. Because of that, how you interpret stories and respond to and relate to characters will always be different.  Your culture, your virtues and values, your personality and preferences and past experiences will color the lenses through which you read and interpret literature.

I will admit that I have always rejected "Prince Charming" type romantic heroes.  I liked fairy tales, but there were times that I found myself more interested in the villains than the heroes; why were they the way they were?  Did they have a backstory that explained their choices, perhaps?  Some dark and tragic experiences that formed them into the so-called witches, monsters, and evil stepmothers they seemed to be?  I fell in love with the Rhett Butlers, Heathcliffs, Rochesters, Darcys and Edmond Dantes of literature.  There was just something alluring to me about the not-quite-perfect-and-sometimes-even-jerkish-more-accurately-described-as-anti-hero type heroes.  Their flaws were
fantastic.  Their brooding? I found it beautiful.  And the fact that they were in desperate need of redemption or restoration?  Relatable!  Many readers, however, do NOT find solace in these so-called "Byronic" heroes.  They prefer the sensitive more thoughtful types who sacrifice for the greater good; never compromising their ethics and values, but instead, choosing always to stand for right in the face of evil and temptation.

Okay, I like them too.  But given the choice between reputable and the rakish?  I'll go with rakish every time; both as a reader, and as a writer!

Recognizing your own leanings as a reader is, in fact, the first step in becoming a thorough and credible literary critic (critic in this case meaning someone who engages in the act of dissection, evaluation or appreciation of literature).  We must acknowledge the fact that we do look at everything through a unique perspective that can and will color our evaluation.  That is not a bad thing, it's a human thing.  Recognizing it and graciously allowing for other possible interpretations is a professional thing.

Okay, so we've acknowledged that we do have a limited view--a unique and valid one, but limited as we, in each of our own unique perspectives, are limited.  Now; how do we become more comfortable and confident in that adventure that is dissecting, exploring and detecting as readers?

You know the answer.  It's the same answer for everything you seek to do well:  you practice.

We have learned in class that there are various, set ways that authors can reveal characters to us in literature:  1.  By showing us what the character says  2.  By showing us how the character behaves in a situation 3.  By allowing us to hear the character's thoughts and 4.  By letting us hear what others say or think about that character.  Depending upon the genre and the point of view chosen, the author may not have access to all of these methods.  So...how do the great authors put these tools into action? How have you seen Markus Zusak and Charlotte Bronte use these methods as they have brought their characters to life on the pages you are reading in The Book Thief  and Jane Eyre?  Both of these books have MEMORABLE characters, that is for sure!  But what makes them so memorable?

Below, I have included a link to a blog called Now Novel.  It outlines seven character lessons we can learn from seven great novels.  Read over it carefully.  For your blog response, you will do the following:

1.  Read the article CAREFULLY.  Here is the link:  https://www.nownovel.com/blog/character-description-examples-famous-authors/
2.  Choose one of the main characters from the novel you are currently reading in class (Seniors:  Hans, Rudy, Liesel, Death, Rosa, or Max  Juniors:  Jane or Mr. Rochester)
4.  Pull text from your novel that you believe really "shows" that character.
5.  Using the blog article as a guide, explain how Zusak or Bronte is bringing that character to life in the example you chose.

Voila!  By reading and understanding how characters are developed in well written stories, you not only learn how to analyze literature more insightfully, you also learn how to write characters better in your own creative work...should you desire.

Who are your favorite characters in literature?  What makes them so special?  Certainly, an effective writer helps bring them to life for us on the pages (and perhaps, eventually, on the big screen) but remember: reading is an interaction.  Sometimes, who a character is to us as we read has more to do with who we are as the reader.  Perhaps a more poignant question to explore is, what is it about ME that makes me drawn to specific types of characters and repelled by others?

Happy reading!






Sunday, November 5, 2017

UNSUNG HEROES: A TRIBUTE ON VETERAN'S DAY

In Flander's Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard among the guns below.

We are the dead, short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
in Flander's Fields...(Major John McCrae, May, 1915)

In just a few short days, on November 11, 2017, America will once again observe Veteran's Day, or as it is known across Europe, Remembrance Day.  It is one day: twenty four hours, 1,440 minutes,  or 86,400 seconds; that we are to stop and remember those who sacrificed all for our freedom.

For most of us, Veteran's Day is a happy relief from school and work--a day to sleep in, binge watch your favorite programs, go out and play a game of tackle football with your friends, or just enjoy a BBQ in the yard and the beautiful Arizona weather we are so blessed with this time of year.  It is a day we celebrate, in our own way, our freedom to do the things we like to do, or take a well needed rest from our responsibilities.  I have always had a very deep appreciation for our Veterans as I come from a family of people who served their country with great pride.  However, I don't believe I ever truly felt the weight of what that day means until 2013, when I stood in the Globe Theater in London on Remembrance Day with my Will Power Cast.

Every November 11th in London, during the 11th hour of the day, everyone stops:  pedestrians, cars in traffic, people going about their business in the office or at school.  All of them stop and offer two full minutes of silence, and then the church bells chime, all throughout the city, to remember the dead.  Our tour guide at the theater that day told us this would occur, and so, in the middle of our tour, we did as Londoners do:  we stopped.  We stood silently, many of us wearing our poppy flower remembrance pins.  We waited in that silence, bowing our heads, until the chimes reminded us wistfully of the wondrous gift of our lives and our freedom.


Every time we visit London with Will Power, we visit Westminster Abbey which is located near Big Ben and Parliament. During the entire month of November, surrounding Westminster Abbey, there are small crosses decorated with red poppies with names on them.  They fill in the grass all around the large cathedral, each bearing the name of one who was lost.


In 2014, an artist was specially commissioned to create glass poppies to fill the grassy moat around the Tower of London-- one poppy for every British subject who served and gave his or her life in all of the battles since WW1.   With my Romeo and Juliet cast that year, I had the incredible honor of seeing that sight.  I have included pictures here because this is one of those times when words truly cannot capture the magnitude of such a sight.

For this blog, I wanted to take the time and honor some of the heroes--some of the lost.  I have chosen four.  They are not all Americans.  They fought in different battles and in different ways.  They are not well known or widely celebrated, but they are, most certainly, heroes who offered great sacrifice--one of them, the ultimate sacrifice.  They are but four of thousands of these such unsung heroes, and they deserve our reflection.  I hope that after you learn about them and read a little bit about their contribution to our world and our freedom, you will give them a few minutes of your time and remembrance this November 11...

JOHN ROBERT FOX: The ultimate sacrifice

The 92nd Infantry Division (segregated African American soldiers) also known as the Buffalo Soldiers, was a division that fought in WW2.  First Lieutenant John R. Fox was a member of the 366th Infantry Regiment when he sacrificed his life to defeat an enemy attack and save the lives of others.  In December of 1944, Fox was a part of a small party that volunteered to stay behind in the Italian village of Sommocolonia.  American forces had been forced to withdraw after that village had been overrun by the Germans.  From his position on the second floor of a house, Fox directed defensive fire.  German soldiers were attacking, and they greatly outnumbered the small handful of Americans.  Fox radioed the artillery to bring its fire closer to his position.  As the attack continued, he ordered fire directly onto his own position.  The soldier who received the message was stunned, as there was little if any chance that Fox, himself would survive the offensive strike.  When he questioned the order, Fox simply replied, "Fire it.  That's an order."  His sacrifice gained time for the US forces to organize a counterattack and retake the village.

After the war, the Italian citizens of Sommocolonia erected a monument to honor the men killed during the artillery barrage:  eight Italian soldiers and the American, Lt. Fox.  Fox was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on January 13, 1997.

NANCY GRACE AUGUSTA WAKE:  Code Name, "The White Mouse"
Nancy Wake was a British Special Operations Executive agent from Australia during the later part of WW2.  She became a leading figure in the maquis groups of the ferocious French Resistance or "Army of the Shadows" that fought against Nazi occupation; she was one of the Allies' most decorated servicewomen.  After the fall of France in 1940, she became a courier for the French Resistance and later joined the escape network of Capt. Ian Garrow, helping Allied pilots who were shot down over enemy territory secretly escape through the Pyrenees Mountains from France into Spain, where they could be flown out to rejoin their troops.  Just three years later, Wake was on the Gestapo's most wanted list, with a five million franc bounty on her head.  On the 29th day of April in 1944, she parachuted into occupied France near Auvergne, becoming a liaison between London and the local maquis group headed by Capt.  Henri Tardivat in the Forest of Tronçais.  From April 1944 until the liberation of France, her 7,000 maquisards fought 22,000 German soldiers, causing 1,400 casualties while suffering only 100 among themselves.

Nancy's husband George was tortured to death in 1943 by the Nazi Gestapo for refusing to disclose her whereabouts.  Nancy Wake was awarded the George Medal, the US Medal of Freedom, the Médaille de la Résistance, and, three times, the Croix de Guerre.

VASILI ARKHIPOV:  The Man who Saved the World

Vice Admiral Vasili Arkhipov was a Soviet Navy officer credited with casting the only vote that prevented a Soviet nuclear strike and all out nuclear was during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Such an attack would have caused a major global thermonuclear response which could have been our WW3, destroying much of the world.  As flotilla commander and second in command of the diesel powered submarine B-59, only Arkhipov refused to authorize the captain's use of nuclear torpedoes against the United States Navy, a decision requiring the agreement of all three senior officers aboard.

Apparently, on October 27, 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a group of eleven US Navy destroyers and the aircraft carrier USS Randolph located the B-59 near Cuba.  The Americans started dropping signaling depth charges, which are explosives intended to force the sub up to the surface for identification.  There had been no contact from Moscow for a number of days, and those on board the Russian sub had no idea whether or not war had broken out.  The captain of the submarine, Valentin Grigorievitch Savitsky, decided that a war had probably already started, and wanted to launch a nuclear torpedo.  As such a decision required the three top in command to unanimously agree, Arkhipov was the one voice that saved the US Navy and probably, the world that day.

LARRY FROST:  Vietnam War Veteran and My Friend
You have all come to know Larry Frost as the author of Conversations in the Asparagus Patch.  He is a dear friend of my family and the husband of Sherri Frost, a woman I am proud to call my best friend--literally since birth.  Sherri is that type of friend who stands with you through it all in life: the storms and the celebrations.  They are an incredible couple of great faith and grace who are truly an inspiration.

Larry is a man who has been a great leader in business and his community and a mentor to many over the years.  He has shared with us, personally, some of the most remarkable stories I have ever heard from his own war experiences as a Vietnam Veteran.  If you are not someone who believes in miracles, you most certainly would change your mind if you heard Larry's stories from Vietnam.  Larry doesn't consider himself a hero, but his wife and his friends most certainly do.  He is a man who deeply loves his country and would willingly lay down his life for another in a time of great crisis or peril.  While very humble when it comes to his own accomplishments, Larry does, however, consider those amazing young men with whom he served as heroes, and probably none more than his best friend, Shelby.

My family had the honor of finding Shelby's name on the traveling Vietnam Memorial
Wall a few years back, and I hope to have the chance to find it again someday on the real one in Washington DC.  I want to share a poem, with Larry's permission, that he wrote for his friend Shelby with all of you.  I have included a link to that poem at the bottom for you to read.  I think you will learn that Larry has forged an eternal bond with his young friend from so many years ago, and that his very deep and strong faith has seen him through some horrifying tragedies he experienced when serving his country in the United States Army.

War is ugly.  It is a monster that steals away the best and brightest, and leaves the rest haunted by misery and images too horrible to speak--too ghastly to forget.  It represents the very worst human beings can be; that ugly, selfish, hatred that seeks only to avenge, kill, take, and destroy.

But on Veteran's Day, we are not honoring the wars, themselves; we are honoring the heroes that dared to face the plague of battle so that we would not have to.  They represent the other side of human beings--the extraordinary and unbreakable spirit that longs for life, beauty, freedom, love and opportunities for happily ever afters.  I am going to quote my friend Larry Frost here to sum it up:  "Where do we get such men and women?  Only a loving God could ensure that in each generation there will be people with this level and courage and strength."  Larry also shared with me that Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, in his book On Combat once said, "If we were to go but a single generation without such men and women, we should surely be both damned and doomed."

I will be flying across the country and the Atlantic this year on Veteran's Day; off to London with
Will Power Junior for their debut on the stage.  I am excited to journey back to see the poppies surrounding Westminster Abbey; to once again look out across that sea of crosses and red flowers in complete and utter awe at the brave souls that dared to stand up against the evil that threatened the freedom of their time and generation.  I will, in that moment, reflect upon the extraordinary: those who were willing to lay down their lives so that I might stand there on a day of rest and relaxation and freely express my gratitude to them.  Wherever you are on November 11th, I hope you will take the time out to do the same.

Please watch these two videos (links below) explaining the origin of Veteran's Day and honoring American Veterans.  Then, click on the link to read Larry's tribute to his dear friend Shelby and the baby girl his friend would never meet.

In your blog response, comment on your own reflection as we come towards Veteran's Day, November 11, 2017.  I conclude this very special blog with this, one of my favorite poems.  It was brilliantly used by President Ronald Reagan as he stood where I will be standing in just a little over a week, on the shores of Normandy in France, honoring the men who stormed those very beaches to liberate France, and Europe in 1944:

Oh!  I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth 
Of sun-split clouds, and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of--wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence.  Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew--
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God. 
~ John Gillespie Magee, Jr.


Video One:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SvkrwxsLXAw

Video Two: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQUxu9uyyBs

Larry's Poem for Shelby:  https://docs.google.com/a/topamail.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=dG9wYW1haWwuY29tfGNhcmF3YXlsYW5nLWxpdHxneDo1ZmEzYzhhNjcwZWM2ZGQx



Friday, October 13, 2017

THE CONTEXT KEY: OPENING THE DOORS TO DEEPER UNDERSTANDING

You have probably heard it said (often, if you are in the second year of my class!) that context is everything.  Okay, so I admit, it is definitely a cliche, but I would also like to suggest that it is a whole lot more than that.

I recently read a blog post in which a woman detailed a story about attending a church service that was very "charismatic."  In other words, people were very vocal and enthusiastic in their worship style.  She was okay with that, at least at first.  But it really started becoming annoying to her when a woman behind her started yelling "Glory!" and sometimes, "Glory, Glory, Glory!" during the service and the preacher's sermon.  Once was fine.  Twice or three times was pushing it.  But when it became constant, the blogger had enough.  She had formed a judgment about this woman and it wasn't a complimentary one.

After the service, the blogger stopped to speak with the pastor's wife, who was a friend.
The pastor's wife asked, "Did you happen to notice the woman who sat behind you today?"  The blogger commented that yes, indeed, she had noticed her, but she stopped herself from saying anything negative or judgmental that she might regret (she was in a church, after all!). That was when the pastor's wife said, "Her son was killed just last week in a drive by shooting."  The pastor's wife went on to share what an inspiration the woman had been to everyone at the church in the way she had clung to her faith through her pain, "It's truly beautiful," she said.

In that moment, everything changed.  No longer did the blogger see the woman as an obnoxious, over zealous church goer.  The woman calling out, "Glory!" had suffered unspeakable loss and tragedy; she was a human being who was bravely confronting her pain and suffering.  The blogger posted these words:  "When we know context, we are slower to judge, slower to write people off, slower to feel disdain, and slower to puff ourselves up in self-righteous [or indignant] pride."*

Communication and social interaction processes are an integral part of our every day lives;  at school, at work, and at home.  In each of these situations, both our culture and the unique context of our individual lives and situations play a role in how information is communicated, received, and most importantly, understood.  This is such an important revelation as you take in the flurry of information hurled in almost rapid fire succession at you everyday. Whether in watching the news, paging through advertisements, engaging in hallway gossip, or just making your own observations, you must always consider the role that the larger context of that message or sound bite is playing.

This should inspire this question in us all:  Who is judging you without a context today?  All of us can
do only so much to allow others to see the "bigger picture."  But ultimately; in a world of Snapchats, Instagram, Facebook Posts, short tweets and snippets of time that people may see us in the grocery store, hallway, or out on the field, they are going to see what they want to see, make of it what they will, and form an instant judgement.  This shouldn't surprise us; after all, we live in a hurried, "instant" world.  Personally, I'd like to hope that people who see me out and about, at my best and my worst, will give me the benefit of the doubt...

I have attached a video link here that highlights the results of a very interesting experiment.  Several photographers were hired (unaware of each other) to photograph the same man.  Each photographer was given a simple background or "context" of their subject.  None of them were true, and all were very different from each other.  It's very interesting how it affected even their artistic choices!  Please watch it by clicking this link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-TyPfYMDK8   
Share what you learned in the video, and what your own life experiences have taught you about the importance of context.

We live in a fast moving, rapidly changing world of quick reactions and snap judgements.  Maybe it would do us all good to stop, take a deep breath, and consider all the experiences, emotions, interactions and relationships that have brought us to this very moment.  Maybe it would do us all one better if we took the time to stop and consider all the possible factors that have brought each individual we encounter to this moment, as well...

(*Booker, Adriel.  "Context is Everything," I Still Belong blog, 2017)


Friday, September 29, 2017

THE ASPARAGUS PATCH DIALOGUES: A Life of Limitless Learning

These past few weeks, we have been talking about the power of our language.  As juniors, we are looking at the language of persuasion, and the power of language to educate and influence others ideologically and politically.  As seniors, we are looking at influential and instrumental power and propaganda, and how the language we use and meaning we construct is largely shaped by the structure and content of the message AND the culture and beliefs of the recipient.  In both cases, it is very important to take a leisurely stroll back through the "asparagus patch..."

Juniors, you have just "met" my friend Larry Frost through his writing, and learned of his deep desire to look beyond the messages and into the hearts of the messengers.  Seniors, you first read this piece last year and have heard me make reference to it since then from time to time.  But in both of our studies, the message of Mr. Frost's reflective narrative, "Conversations in the Asparagus Patch," is very appropriate and worthy of our ongoing consideration.

We are currently living in an environment of deep division and polarization.  Even though we have been given the gift of free speech in our country, a truly precious gift bought at a very high price, we are often afraid to use it, or we find ourselves wishing we could stop others from exercising it.  Living in a Democracy requires a GREAT deal of emotional maturity, and a commitment to staying active and informed in the events that shape our lives and history.  Because our views are so closely tied to our emotions, it is very hard to discuss, listen to, understand and accept opposing or opposite points of view without feeling "attacked."  Unfortunately, we cannot look to our leaders as shining models and examples.  They often seem more concerned with winning votes and gaining power than creating solutions, cultivating productive discussions and achieving unity.  So what do we do? 

There is a well known piece of advice  that goes:  "If you want to keep your friends, don't talk religion, politics or finances."  I believe that in many contexts, that is very good advice to be heeded.  But problems don't get solved if nobody talks about them.  In fact, often they grow.  So...maybe the problem isn't WHAT we talk about, maybe it's in HOW we talk about it.

Grace Bronder recently shared a Ted Talk with me that really connected to another Ted Talk we watched in year one last week called "Dare to Disagree."  You probably remember in that talk, the speaker proposed that it is in learning how to face and welcome conflict in problem solving and discussion that we discover new ways to inspire creativity.  It even suggested that asking for and offering constructive criticism or opposing points of view in a spirit of respect is, in fact, a form of love!

I have provided a link here for you to watch the Ted Talk Grace sent to me:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qty0NjF3pdQ&feature=youtube

It is a very specific personal story of a unique friendship that really could and should become a model for all Americans. Watch the talk and then respond in your blog by addressing the following points and questions:


1.  What is your reflection on the message of the friends?
2.  Do you have a friendship like that?  What is your strategy to keep it?
3.  How will you challenge yourself to practice open, respectful dialogue that welcomes conflict and/or challenges to your own viewpoints?

 I am here to tell you, learning to listen to other points of view on the touchy subjects is a lifelong
lesson, but it is one we MUST agree to pursue with great determination and passion.  I am still learning how to do this, that's for sure--and probably will continue learning and trying to master it up to my last breath!  Language is powerful, that is for sure, and it is often wielded as a lethal weapon.   But as Americans, we owe it to those who came before us--to those who fought and died for these precious and rare freedoms we enjoy--to master the art of listening, questioning, and considering other ideas and points of view.  It means we learn to use our language to break down barriers and heal the wounds of misconception.   It doesn't mean we are wishy-washy or changeable.  It doesn't mean we lack conviction.  It means we care about and value each human being's right to learn, to seek and pursue truth, and to develop a sense of purpose.  We put people before politics and policies.

We are SO unique!  Let's celebrate and embrace that! We are a country founded on a principle of welcoming and even encouraging diverse ideas, not stifling them.  Whatever our problems or issues may be, we certainly cannot untangle them by ignoring or silencing them.
We must be brave; we must listen to each other, with open minds and open hearts...

We must be willing to take a stroll through the asparagus patch.