That is Not This

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You can’t defend an action by pointing to the actions of others, not in a courtroom, not in politics, not in an argument with your significant other, not anywhere, not ever.

Yeah, but he did, she did, or they did doesn’t excuse what you or whoever you’re defending did.

This is something we all should have learned when we were five years old. If we missed that lesson, it’s time to catch up.

I’m saying this because I’ve noticed  people have a habit of attempting to excuse one person’s bad behavior by pointing to someone else’s bad behavior. Oh, you think THIS person told a lie, committed an act of violence, started a war, misused their power, acted like a dim-witted bogot? Well, what about what THAT person did?

What about it? What does that have to do with the thing we’re discussing right now? Are we expected to ignore a broken bone because cancer exists?  I don’t get this line of reasoning.

You wouldn’t leave a pile of crap on your rug because there’s a bigger pile of crap on someone else’s. Crap is crap. Acknowledge it and do your best to clean it up. Then we can talk about how to deal with the next mess.

The Museum of Awkward Beginnings

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I’d like to build a museum and exhibit the works of all the greats. Picasso,  Da Vinci, you name them; I’d procure them.

But there’d be no Mona Lisa, Girl Before a Mirror, or Birth of Venus. Instead, I’d exhibit the masters’ early works, and I mean very, very early works. I’d show Da Vinci’s Wretched Sketch of an Apple and The Mucked Up Flower by Georgia O’Keefe. On every wall in every hall I’d display the failed attempts of our finest artists.

I would then give tours to busloads of aspiring painters.

“Look here,” I would say, pointing to a piece by Matisse, “See how he struggled with color?”

“Quick, follow me. You won’t want to miss Van Gogh’s lack of perspective.”

There would also be a room housing the Angry Fit Exhibit, a collection of broken brushes, ripped canvases, and dented paint containers once hurled against makeshift studio walls.

“Do you feel it?” I would ask, “Can you sense the frustration?”

At the exit would hang a large plaque engraved with giant letters, and it would read, “You see, there are no angels here. No gods. No geniuses infused with inborn talent. Just men and women and their efforts. What lies between the works you’ve seen today and the ones you’ve always known are lifetimes. You too have a lifetime. How are you going to use it?”

The Lousy Service at the Idea Cafe

imageWouldn’t it be great if your ideas arrived fully cooked and ready to consume?

You could dig in, enjoy them, then sit back and wait for the next delivery. And I’m sure you’d appreciate it if they could at least show up in a timely fashion.

But, you probably know this already: the service at the Idea Cafe is lousy.

Here’s how it usually goes.
You try to make a reservation and the surly voice on the other end of the line snickers and says, “You can come by anytime you like, but you’ll need to bring your own chair.”

So you squeeze some time into your busy day, bring your chair, and speak to the host who couldn’t seem less interested.

“Um, where should I sit?” you ask.

“Anywhere ya like.” she says while chomping her gum, smoking a cigarette, and texting her boyfriend.

You stare. She drops the cellphone and gives you a look. “Just park your ass, honey.” she says.

“How long will I need to wait?” you ask.

“As long as it takes, sugar.” she says.

You take a deep breath, find a spot, and do as you’re told.

Then you wait.

Time passes. You can hear the ticking clock and you wonder who you have to know to get a muse around here.

Finally, someone talks to you, some guy in cutoffs and a wife beater t-shirt.

“Someone says you want ideas.” he mutters.

“Uh, yeah. That’s why I’m here.” you say.

“Well, it ain’t that easy, pal.” he says, “You have to do something.”

“Do something?”

“Yeah, do something. You think we just give these things away?”

He has a point, you concede. “What would you like me to do?” you ask.

“I dunno,” he says, “Whatever it is you do. What are you? A writer? A painter? One of those business people? Anyway, doesn’t matter. Whatever it is you do, you have to start doing it.
That’s the way we work. Don’t like it? Go watch TV.”

“No, no.” you say, “I’ll do it. Just bring me some ideas. I’m hungry.”

“You and everybody else, pal.” he says and walks off.

Once again, you do what your told and start doing your thing. Eventually, an idea arrives.

It’s not what you ordered. It’s cold. It’s tiny, undercooked, and half or more of the ingredients are missing.

You flag down Mr. Cutoffs and say, “Excuse me, this isn’t what I ordered.”

“Yeah, but it’s what you’re getting. The rest, my friend,” he says, flashing a toothless grin, “is up to you.”

So you do what you can. You move it around on your plate. You look at it and think of ways it could be improved, what could be added to it, and what you can make of it. And when it’s time to leave, you wrap it up (You don’t bother to ask them to do it.) and take it with you.

Later, you unwrap it, throw it in a crockpot, and leave it to simmer and stew. You pick up some ingredients here and there and toss them in. You take a peek and a whiff and a taste every now and then. You stir things around and start to notice how much better it’s becoming.

And one day, you think to yourself, “This stuff is ready to serve.”

You dish it out and scoop it up with a spoon and you have to admit it’s pretty darn good. You share it with others and they like it too.
“Where did you get it?” they ask.

“Oh, I got it at the Idea Cafe.” you tell them.

“Oh, do they take reservations?” they ask.

“Not really.” you say, “Besides, You can always get in. You’ll just have to bring your own chair.”

When Ali Was On TV

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I became aware of Muhammad Ali when I was a little boy sitting on a living room rug watching him on a black and white television. When I listened to some men–some white men, to be more exact—-talk about him, I got the impression I wasn’t supposed to like him.

But I loved him no matter what anyone else thought. I didn’t care that much about boxing; I just wanted to hear the man speak.

Every time he was on the screen, I was nothing but eyes and ears. What was he going to say next?

He boasted in a way I’d never heard anyone boast before, with rhyme and rhythm and humor and no malice. He had a cadence and a presence and he made a liar out of every bigot I ever knew, because whatever they wanted me to think of him, the little boy that I was recognized the indisputable: this black man appearing on my tv really was the greatest, and I knew it drove them mad.

It made them even madder when he refused to fight a war he didn’t believe in. I know there were others who went off to fight that war and many who never came back, and I believe it’s right to honor their service, courage, and sacrifice.

But I often wish there were more people in the world who would say, “No, I will not go off to kill or be killed by people I don’t know just because you’ve stamped the orders with the emblem of a country, ideology, or creed. You have to give me damned good reasons to do that, not just wave a flag or some other symbol in my face. I don’t kill or die for flags. I’d only do something like that, like I said, for a very damned good reason, and you haven’t given me one yet, not as far as I can see.”

If there were more people in the world willing to do that, older men of every nation and creed would have a much harder time recklessly spending the lives of the young.

Ali was never greater, in my book, than when he stood up, put his fists and his foot down, and said, “No, not me. I’m not going to kill for you.”

And I don’t care what anyone thinks of me for thinking that. I was just a little boy when a man on my tv screen taught me not to worry about such things.

Longing to Set Sail? You’ve Got a Lot of Ships to Choose From

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Maybe you’re standing on the shore. You’re looking out across the big, blue ocean, longing to set sail, aching to get your journey started, but not sure where to begin.

A Shore Thing

Some of your friends have already launched. You can see them on the horizon, their sails whipping in the wind and their bows plowing through the waves, and you want to join them. You want to be out there, splashing about, getting wet, moving forward, exploring, discovering, making your way.

But you don’t have a ship to sail. It’s not that there aren’t any available. You simply haven’t chosen one.

The Sails Pitch

Many have tried to convince you of the merits of their ship, the one they’ve chosen for their own particular voyage. And some are quite persuasive, so much so that at times they can make you believe that theirs is the only ship worth boarding.

“What,” one might say while hauling in their nets, “you have a job? Poor thing. You really must try entrepreneurSHIP.”

“Oh no,” cries out another while holding up their captain’s log, “still working with your hands? Haven’t you heard of scholarSHIP?”

“Hey you,” calls yet one more from aboard a crowded deck, “you seem to be lost and alone and confused. Why not join our fellowSHIP? We have all the answers you seek.”

But you’re not so sure about all that they’re so certain about, so you stand in the sand with all your doubts and reservations, wondering what it will take for you to finally begin your own journey.

I’m not sure. I don’t have your answers. It’s okay if you don’t either.

Going Below the Deck

Not having the answers just means you have to ask questions, questions of yourself, questions that ignore the assertions being fed to you, questions that focus instead on what’s real.

You have to choose your own ship. You may even have to build it. You may have to amass or construct entire fleets of them, because there are so many ships to choose from and one might not be enough.

I’ve already mentioned entrepreneurSHIP, scholarSHIP, and fellowSHIP, but you know there are others. FriendSHIP, craftsmanSHIP, citizenSHIP, leaderSHIP, showmanSHIP, and partnerSHIP are just a few that come to mind.

And there are some you’d do well to avoid like censorSHIP, dictatorSHIP, and one-upmanSHIP.

Which ship do you wish to set sail on? Don’t be afraid. Pick the one that’s calling to you and forget the ones others are calling you to. It’s your voyage. Which way is the wind blowing in your world, today?

Eat Your Words. They’re Good for You.

“If you never change your mind, why have one?” Edward De Bono

It happens. You support a candidate and they turn out to be a crook. You wear a belief on your chest only to have it ripped away by undeniable evidence. Your big idea turns out to be not so big and pretty terrible.

You have two choices.

You can close your eyes, plant your feet, and stick your chest out, or you can do what you know you need to do: eat your words. The sooner you do, the faster you’ll grow. It’s okay to be wrong, but it’s stupid to stay wrong as a matter of principle.

Do you have some words you need to eat? Why not swallow them now and get on with it?