Unintended Consequences

Wars… elections… laws… words.  We think we’re doing the right thing.  But too often the result is not at all what was intended.  Here are a few examples:

  • China’s one-child policy:  The intention was to control the booming population.  And it did that.  But since most families wanted that one child to be a son, it has caused a gender crisis. According to the Chinese government, by the year 2020, men of marrying age will outnumber women by at least 30 million.
  • CEO salaries:  Yes, many of us complain that they are way too high–which they are. So some years ago the SEC stepped in and required that CEO salaries be made public. But instead of shaming CEOs, it showed them that others were getting more, so they demanded more, too. The result? Between 1976 and 1993, CEO salaries leapt from 36 times to 131 times the average worker’s pay!
  • Prohibition: The 18th amendment to the US constitution was well-intended.  Surely less drinking of alcohol would benefit the country. In 1918, when the law was passed, New York had 5,820 legal bars. By the time it was repealed in December 1933, there were over 100,000 speakeasies.
  • Texting while driving: We all know the price we pay on the road for this.  There ought to be a law! You would think so, but when such a law was first enforced, auto accidents actually increased. Why?  Because rather than stopping their texting, too many people simply moved their phones from the steering wheel to their laps so the police couldn’t so easily see what they were doing.  Which meant their eyes were off the road for longer periods of time.
  • No more DDT: DDT dangerous to humans?  Obvious solution: ban it. When that happened, it had limited impact on people’s health. But it greatly crippled the fight against malaria. Which mean millions of deaths to people–especially children–in developing countries.

The lesson to be learned?  Be careful what you wish for.  Or vote for. It will likely have unintended consequences.  And some of those may well be catastrophic.

“It is much easier at all times to prevent an evil than to rectify mistakes.”

~George Washington~


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Love is Showing Kindness, Kindness is Loving

Breaking News:  We are in a kindness crisis.  Yes, in our own country, but also around the world.  Everywhere we look, there seems to be less kindness in public life.  Sure, different ones of us will pinpoint different people we think are responsible for it.  But whoever is to blame, the sad fact is that the lack of kindness in public is affecting all of us.  In ways large and small, it trickles down to us everyday folks, and then we follow suit.  The result is that we are less kind to our own families, to our friends, and certainly to the strangers among us.

But here’s the thing:  kindness isn’t simply frosting on the cake. Far from it. It’s what makes  respectful connections possible.  And here’s the good news:  opportunities for showing kindnesses are everywhere.  The difficulty is with knowing where to start. But that’s also the power of kindness.  You don’t need money and you don’t need a ton of time.  And you can start right where you are.  Some suggestions:

  • Pay a compliment.
  • Lend a busy mom a helping hand.
  • Run an errand for someone who is sick.
  • Speak a word of encouragement.
  • Remember someone’s birthday.
  • Do yardwork for an elderly neighbor.
  • Pay a complement to someone not used to it.

If we can help to change the anti-kindness trajectory, it will benefit us all in the long run.  But also in the short run. Because when we extend kindness to others, our own negative outlook will become more positive.  Let’s try it, shall we?

 “Love will draw an elephant through a key-hole.”

~Samuel Richardson~

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Writing is Like Living~

I just read a fairly long article on how to get started as a writer. It pretty much gave the same advice I’ve seen countless times before.  You probably have too.  The article suggests:

  • Write what interests you
  • Write about what you know about
  • Write what you like to read
  • Be willing to rewrite
  • Network to find writing jobs that will pay
  • Don’t give up

Ever heard any of these ideas before?  Yeah, me too.

Shortly after I read that, I happened upon a Dr. Oz article titled Living Long and Living Well.  Because I really want to do both, I read it. Pretty much the same advice I’ve seen countless times before.  You probably have too.  He suggests:

  • Get daily rigorous physical activity
  • Get 15 minutes of sun every day
  • Choose natural foods
  • Sleep at least seven hours a night

But he had one more suggestion:  Have a purpose.  Dr. Oz wrote, “There may be no better longevity booster than simply wanting to be here.  You have one life; it makes sense to love living it.”

Yes!  That’s the secret to writing, too.  Want to do it.  Write what makes you happy.  Write what doesn’t require you to neglect your family, your friends, your community.  You have one life in which to write.  It makes sense to love doing it.

Write on!

“Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.”

~E.B. White~

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America Today?

“America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”

~Alexis de Tocqueville~

Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville (1805 – 1859) was a French political thinker and historian. He is  best known for his books Democracy in America,  published  in two volumes in 1835 and 1840. The theme of his work was the effects of increased equality, both of individuals and of the state in western societies.  The result of his travels in the United States, the work is still well-known and respected today.   


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Metaphoric Confusion

Metaphor:  a figure of speech in that makes a comparison of two thing without using like or as. (“I fell through the trapdoor of deception.”)

Simile:  a metaphor that does use like or as. (“It was as soft as a bunny.”)

As a writer, as well as a teacher who teaches writers, I am well aware of the allure of literary devices such as metaphors and similes.  I’m equally aware of their misuse.  And in this last post of  January 2017–our month of truths–I am seeing a great metaphoric opportunity in the use and misuse of literary devices.

First the misuse, as written by various students:

  • He was as tall as a six-foot tree.
  • The red brick wall was the color of a brick red crayon.
  • It’s like trying to give an old dog new spots.
  • He was watching me like I was a hawk.
  • A loose tongue is like eating broth with no taste buds.
  • She will never be able to fit into the shoes of being his wife.
  • He did his research so well that he left no detail unturned.
  • It was her design, and it was selling like wildflowers.

Yes, yes. I know. You would never make mistakes so grave that I would be tempted to use them in a blog post.  And you can relax on that count, because I only use such material when I am 90% certain the author never reads my posts, and here you are reading this.

So here is our ninth and final truth to begin 2017:

TRUTH #9:  Be sure of your words before you speak.

In this new year, may you soak up what is good and true like a sponge, and squeeze out what is bad and false like dirty water  from a car wash rag.

“They laughed at Joan of Arc, but she went right ahead and built it.”

~Gracie Allen~


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Seize the Moment

I went through high school saving for college.  Every penny I got my hands on went into my savings account.  I had an after school and on Saturdays job, and I saved everything I earned.

“You need to have more fun,” my best friend Carol’s mother told me.

But I so wanted to go to Westmont College.  Sure, I might get a scholarship or grant, but I couldn’t count on it.  So I smiled and thanked Carol’s mother and kept right on saving.

When I graduated from high school, I made Carol promise not to get me a gift because I couldn’t afford to get one for her.  She promised, but her mother didn’t.  Her mom gave me  a beautiful and expensive set of lingerie–creamy white silk, decorated with lace.  Never had I owned anything so beautiful. I folded the tissue paper around it and tucked it safely away in my dresser drawer. I would save it for college.

When I went away to college I took my beautiful silk and lace lingerie, but I didn’t wear it.  I saved it for a special occasion.  I had many, but none special enough.  I decided to save my gift for graduation.  But I was engaged the year before graduation, so I saved it for my wedding.  But I got many nice things at showers, so I continued to save my silk and lace.  Years  later, when my family was vacationing in England, our house burned to the ground.  My beautiful silk and lace lingerie, still wrapped in its original tissue paper, was in my dresser drawer.  Gone.  And I never wore it once.

TRUTH #8:  Seize the moment.  You never know what tomorrow may bring.

“Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart.”

~Erma Bombeck~


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To Vote or Not To Vote?

What would you risk in order to vote for democracy? Would you walk more miles than you can count?  Spend several nights sleeping beside the road?  Would you risk having your car blown up?  Or being kidnapped by terrorists?  Maybe having your fingers chopped off? Even being killed?

Probably not.  In our 2016 presidential election, none of us had to worry about any such things, yet  over 90 million eligible voters didn’t vote.  Surprised?  Many of us were.  Around the world, countless people were absolutely shocked.

Consider South Sudan. After mostly Christian and Animist Africans from the southern part of the country had endured many, many years of warfare and abusive discrimination at the hands of Sudan’s Muslim Arabs, they finally had a chance to vote for democracy and a country of their own.  And they did.  Some walked for days to get to a polling station.  Many couldn’t read, but they came anyway, so the ballots were printed with pictures. Tribesmen came with their bows and arrows.  Herders came with their sheep.  They were well aware of the dangers they faced, yet they came anyway.  “Not for us,” one man said. “For our children.”  They voted and the country of South Sudan was born.

Consider Afghanistan, where 7 million people risked their lives to stand up against the Taliban in order to gain democracy.  That’ 58 percent of the country’s eligible voters.  In our last presidential election, 55% voted.

If only half of us vote, can we still keep a straight face while we insist we are a government of the people, for the people, and by the people?

TRUTH #7:  If you don’t vote, you lose the right to complain.

“Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves, and the only way they could do this is by not voting.”

~Franklin D. Roosevelt~


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A Time to Speak

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I remember when I first heard those words.  I was in third grade, and my teacher, Mrs. Earhart, told us how our nation was founded and built by immigrants.  Whether we came from another country, or our great-great-great-grandparents did, still we are all the decedents of immigrants. That’s why the words on the Statue of Liberty ring so true, and so very important. I wonder what Mrs. Earhart would say today?

Over the past year, some 52,000  children have crossed the U.S. border illegally to escape the violent gangs, drug traffickers, and strongmen in their home countries.  But in the last month, when 140 of those kids and their mothers were being  transported to a Border Patrol facility, an angry mob of protesters surround the bus.  They shook their fists and shouted demands that the busload and all the other illegal immigrant children be sent back to where they came from.

Not to suggest we have always been true to our ideal.  There was the St. Louis–the ship with more that 900 Jewish refugees aboard that in 1939 the U.S. turned back to Europe and the German concentration camps.  But we certainly have been better than we are now.

If those kids are sent back to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvadore,  what will they go back to?  Sexual abuse? Beatings? Drug gangs?  Death?

Surely the Statue of Liberty must be weeping.

Our sixth truth:

 TRUTH #6:  When your heart is moved, say what needs to be said.

That’s what I learned from Mrs. Earhart when I was in third grade.

“When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.”

~Malala Yousafzai~

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Live Who Are You

Last week in our local newspaper (yes, the kind you open and read and turn pages) a writer named Bill bemoaned “anti-Christian discrimination.”  As a Christian who has visited people around the world who really do feel the pain and anguish of discrimination, I would risk a guess that the discrimination Bill’s talking about isn’t really against Christians as such–or even what Christians believe. The name “Christian” is applied to a whole lot of folks, many of whom aren’t even sure what they do believe.  For instance, many white supremacists claim to be Christians.  So do people to whom “Christian” only means not Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist.  Others mean they are political conservatives, not one of those lazy folks who want to live off the government.

Actually,  Christian means “follower of Christ.”  And what Christ taught is to feed the poor, care for widows and orphans, shelter the homeless, care for the sick, and treat everyone fairly and equitably. To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.  To love God with all one’s heart, soul and mind, and to love others as ourselves.  To do to others what we would want them to do to us.  Oh, and to take care not to judge.

Here, then, is our next truth:

TRUTH #5:  Live in such a way that no one doubts what you believe.

P.S.  Happy birthday, Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Every man dies, but not every man truly lives.”

~William Wallace~

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Laughter Really is the Best Medicine

Research can take so much time.  Not as much as it did in the olden days when we had to go to the library and search through the card catalogue and all. But it’s still consumes time.  Which is why I so loved the idea of the speech recognition program Dragon Naturally Speaking.  What a set up.  Just speak your info into the mic and it types it all out for you.  Such a deal! Fortunately, it’s constantly being improved.  First time I used my early version, I excitedly finished a whole day’s work on a book of meditations before it occurred to me that it might be a good idea to read over some of the Dragon-typed pages.  When I did, I was puzzled by all the references to Claude.  Who was he?  And how did he get into my manuscript?

That’s when I discovered the Dragon’s weakness.  He and I both speak English, but in two different dialects. Whenever I said God, the Dragon heard Claude.

And it got worse.  I wrote about my first published article, an interview with a scientist who worked on the Manhattan Project in all the molded court over. (What I said was “Alamogordo.”)  I wrote of the “rise of a consumer culture.”  Dragon heard “rice has come to sue Mereck’s culture.  It didn’t help that I was writing with international references.  Included were Mao Zedong (a mouse died young), Benito Mussolini (they need more linguini) and Hirohito (Here are the details)

Sometime I could barely figure out what I had really said.  For instance, Dragon vowed I had told him beavers built the church of Jesus Christ.  Say what?  It was “Believers” who built the church.  And though there surely was some truth in Dragon’s statement that the Israelites had laundered in the wilderness for 40 years, the word I used was “wandered.”  While it was pretty straightforward for me to say their journey must have seemed “unendurable,” Dragon was definitely wrong to change it to “an indoor pool.”

My first impulse is to state as my fourth truth: Never trust a dragon.  But now that Dragon and I are more able to communicate:

TRUTH #4:  Enjoy humor wherever you find it, and take  time to laugh!

BTW, I have grown to love my Dragon.  Even if I’m not in complete control.  Or as Dragon says, not in flea control.

“A day without laughter is a day wasted.”

~Nicholas Chamfort~

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