#SGSGlobal An essential hashtag

Social Good Summit? (#SGSGlobal) Sounds a bit ominous but, in fact, so simple, down to earth, and real.

The question underlying this event is “Can social media really make a difference in change for the good?” It can indeed but only if we don’t forget that behind the technology are people. On the other hand, the omnipresence of the cell phone reminds us that technology is a very valuable tool.

Think about it. Suppose you want to increase the concern for women and girls around the globe and could wake up a million minds with a text message? Maybe it is important to you that so much food goes to waste when children are starving around the world and a simple tweet could alert thousands who would help? What if your very own Web page, updated maybe only once a week, could start a widespread movement because when the Internet user “googles” a keyword you use they find your site and respond to your concern?

Seems obvious right? Well, the problem might be that silly Instagram photos taken of yourself with a smartphone in a mirror or unending cat videos on You Tube distract us from the possibilities. For this weekend some of us are rethinking the value of this futuristic technology. Join the program:
http://mashable.com/sags

When are you going to get a real job?

Dirty Jobs

One of my Facebook friends, whom I have known long before the Internet, responded to my new job as a school bus driver with “Now I know you are old.” Very funny. Ha Ha. She should watch me doing pushups.

It did start me thinking about our perception of people in certain jobs. There is not much doubt that all of us stereotype at least some of the time. We talk about “ditch diggers” or “garbage collectors” as if those jobs, however they are defined, are the lowest of the low. I wonder though.

One time many years ago, I showed up at a Galveston, Texas temporary labor office only to be sent to be a small Gulf oil rig tender as a deck-man while the boat was in harbor. Described as a job in which “you must be willing to do what average and ordinary people are not willing to do.” That was an understatement. Picture a typical high school boy’s bedroom and multiply that by 50 or so bunked in one section and add the large shower area. Then just imagine a tornado going through just before you walk in to clean.

The obvious point is that people actually do the dirty jobs. Mike Rowe

One of my Facebook friends, whom I knew long before the Internet, responded to my new job as a school bus driver with “Now I know you are old.” Very funny. Ha Ha. She should watch me doing pushups.

It did start me thinking about our perception of people in certain jobs. There is not much doubt that all of us stereotype at least some of the time. We talk about “ditch diggers” or “garbage collectors” as if those jobs, however they are defined, are the lowest of the low. I wonder though.

One time many years ago, I showed up at a Galveston, Texas temporary labor office only to be sent to be a small Gulf oil rig tender as a deck-man while the boat was in harbor. It was described as a job in which “you must be willing to do what average and ordinary people are not willing to do.” That was an understatement. Picture a typical high school boy’s bedroom and multiply that by 50 or so bunked in one section and add the large shower area. Then just imagine a tornado going through just before you walk in to clean.

The obvious point is that real people actually do this kind of stuff. Mike Rowe does many of them on the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs” and it is clear that he is always relieved that each particular episode is finished. Even if we who sit in air conditioned offices or jet from city-to-city in our vocations think we are not that bad off, what in the world would do without those workers?

One of my fellow school bus drivers admitted that his family bugged him all the time to get a “real” job. I wonder if any of them were a parent standing with their kindergarten girl or boy, entrusting that child to to the driver on the yellow bus, would they dare say it was not a significant role in the life of the young people.

I really don’t mind my friends making fun of me. I give it back in spades. Meanwhile, next time you see a person in a job that you think is probably beneath you, remember, first of all, that is a real person at work and, secondly, who would do it for you if they didn’t?

When the managers are humane

Some of my random jobs are assignments from a temporary staffing company. I began one yesterday and it was a very pleasant experience. The duties are almost identical to those of a position I recently quit in frustration after a whole year of indecision. So why the emotional difference? It is because, clearly, everyone I met treated me and each other as professionals working as a team. That means they gave me credit for knowing what I was doing and if I was on the wrong path, they were kind in their instruction.

This first day was training with the person I am relieving for a week. It turns out that she also had a long term frustration with a previous position. Normally, she would have never started a griping session but by the afternoon we seemed to trust each other and were comparing  our two past unhappy work experiences. Guess what the common factor was. The ones for whom we worked were extremely controlling and were dehumanizing in the process.

Trying to relieve the pressure in those days, I often asked of my coworkers “What management seminar taught that kind of supervision?” In other words, how could anyone expect to get professional results by treating the workers like peons? Those bosses will love it in the future when they only have computerized robots to program any way they want.

On the other hand, gathering untroubled, fairly intelligent people of good will and giving them reasonable expectations makes a lot more sense. Then as the tasks become complicated, ask the employee for suggestions, listen instead of having your mind made up. As trite as it might sound, treat them how you would like others to treat you.

In short, be humane. How hard is that?

The Time I Shot a Bird

When I was 10 years old I got a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. It looked just like the Winchester rifle, The Gun that Won the West” which I had seen on the saddles of all the cowboy heroes in all the westerns kids like me loved.

(That the Indians only had bows and arrows in the beginning and that “winning” the western territories of North American meant killing the people who already lived there, seems to have not been a part of my elementary education)

What a thrill. There were little cardboard tubes of BB’s, tiny shotgun pellets, which you poured into the rifle to be ready for rapid-firing. It had lever-action cocking, you had to pump it for each shot, just like Tom Mix or Buffalo Bill had to do with their Winchesters when they whipped them out of the saddle holsters with the leather thongs. Once you learned the technique you could lock and load with the best of them.

So with a big smile on my face I went outside to, well, shoot my new rifle. The first targets were Coke bottles or tin cans but the ultimate target to “shoot for” was a bird. Now, if you are hunter, you are thinking “Yeah, so?” but maybe you had a parent who also shot animals for sport. As for me, I don’t think I my father had even held a weapon since his days as a member of Florida National Guard back in the 20’s and even then only for formations and parades. So when it came to “hunting” I was on my own and that is the good news and the bad news all in one.

The point of this story is that I had a hunter career of only a few hours. When I finally had the chance to sight my rifle on a blue jay and pull the trigger, I killed it and immediately burst into tears. I don’t what I thought, in fact I didn’t think, I just aimed and fired. It just seemed like a good idea at time. I ran in the house crying to my mother who I am sure had sympathy but was silently wondering about mental stability.

I have had many friends and pleasant acquaintances over the years who were hunters and fishing folk. I never told them they were wrong. It’s also not like I don’t kill creatures. I spend a lot of effort this time of the year trying to rid our kitchen counters of big black ants. My daughter and I killed a mouse with the traditional deadly snap trap. I even had the terribly sad task of holding our beautiful seventeen year old cat, Punkin, as the vet administered the lethal injections for obvious humanitarian reasons. However, a hunter I am not nor will be. Self punishment, such as marathons, maybe, but killing animals for the fun of it, no thank you.

Once a few years ago, as he neared the end of his life, we sat with Bill Coffin in his living room in Strafford, Vermont while he watched yellow finches at the bird feeder outside his window. Here is what he said: “Nature is much more interesting when you realize you are about to return to it”. I think of that each time I fill my bird feeder just out the kitchen window where the blue jays, possibly exacting revenge for their ancestor I assassinated in Florida in 1949, eat everything before the sparrow can get there.

Huh! On a journey to return to nature? What a concept.

A few vital minutes in the morning

“Jane and I have always professed different philosophies about language: she will use meditation while I use prayer for the same set of words.”
-Mark Belletini in the Forward to Jane Ranney Rzepka’s FROM ZIP LINES TO HOSAPHONES

As soon as my Macbook comes alive every morning and I sign into my Gmail, I read three daily posts.

Most of the time, the first one is Today’s Gift, a subscription from Hazelden, the famous treatment center based in Center City, Minnesota but now with locations around the country. These are excerpts from a variety of 12 Step daily meditation books.

Then I usually go to the Stillspeaking Daily Devotional, meditations written by a very down-to-earth and wise group of United Church of Christ ministers.

Finally (I should say “for now”) I open up the Daily Compass, readings submitted by Quest for Meaning, the Church of the Larger Fellowship, Unitarian Universalist Association.

Sounds like a major task, doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t. I would guess that even with pauses to think about what I just read, it may use up 10 minutes of what time I would probably just waste playing Bubble Witch Saga on Facebook anyhow. That little bit of time could be compared with brushing my teeth or showering, things I need to do to maintain my body. These emails are in fact things I need to do to maintain my soul.

This is not all that meritorious. I am not in the least trying act holier than thou. What I am saying should be pretty obvious: there are certain exercises that I must do or things deteriorate. I hope this mental or spiritual activity each day helps keep me emotionally balanced, maybe even make a little progress.

What are these readings anyhow? Are they religious, maybe propaganda or just more of the flood of Internet postings? Are they meditations, words of guidance, centering readings or….? They help me so what difference does it make? I don’t care what they are called if I find the needed nourishment.

Counting to 10 (No, really…)

In the last couple of weeks I have received some communications that I reacted to with more anger than I remember having in a long time. This is not good, being mad feels terrible.

It is also dangerous to the soul. Thus, the motto found on some church basement walls: “HALT: Never get too hungry, too angry, too lonely or too tired”, which cautions I often ignore.  The hungry part is there because who can eat while storming around screaming and threatening whoever I think caused it. Then, that kind of behavior is definitely anti-social and lonely. Finally, tiring, leaving me ragged and dragging. Sorta makes the case for putting up the poster in a prominent  place for meeting goers to see.

Words of advice in these situation is often “Count to 10.” However, if you want that to work remember to go very slowly or maybe better, “shampoo, rinse and repeat” ’cause the first time through probably won’t do the trick. It doesn’t for me anyhow.

When I finally get there I remember a couple of important things: 1) Inconsiderate people do mean and hateful things to others on a regular basis and 2) I don’t have to sacrifice that much emotional energy raging against their idiocy.

Oh yeah, I should mention, from their perspective they think they are justified. So doing battle with them is even more foolish.

Simple But Not Easy

A Flying Oval Office

In the days before our present high tech means of transportation, whistle stops were how US Presidential candidates reached the potential voters. One of the famous news photos was of  Harry S. Truman holding up a copy of the Chicago Tribune with a banner headline stating “Dewey Defeats Truman” and was taken on the rear platform of a train, Wednesday, November 3, 1948, at the St. Louis Union Station. Contrast that mode of communication with the May 1, 2012 television speech to the nation which President Obama broadcast live from a US military base in Afghanistan.

What used to be person-to-person and fairly straightforward has become a blinding confusing of sound and images. We are inundated by candidates debates along with every form of electronic advertising imaginable. If any one got any real clarity from such furor, it would be a miracle. The flow of information, authentic or false, via the Internet, cable TV, global positioning satellites, cell towers and even video billboards on the side bulletins in big cities continue to make communication more and more complicated.

What does it mean for the human spirit that the information flow is non-stop, that “Everybody’s talking’ at me. (and) I don’t hear a word they’re saying”? It means I hear, well,  “only the echoes of my mind”.

That isn’t enough to nurture our spirits. We need to open ourselves to others’ voices so we can find our own. We need to  hear their story so that ours makes sense to us. Filtering out just the right words and exchanging those thoughts honestly with one another is simple but not easy at all. It is, however, well worth the task.