Optimism, Gratitude, and Grit can together defeat fear

One of my favorite writings assignments I give my 10th graders is the “Optimism, Gratitude, and Grit” write-up. We’re reading a holocaust memoir, and we talk about the qualities the survivors had in common:
1) the ability to maintain hope and optimism;
2) a feeling of gratitude, no matter the circumstances; and
3) grit and perseverance to never give up.
I then read out loud the chapters in All But My Life detailing the Death March to Volary, Czechoslovakia, and have my students mark the novel with sticky notes whenever they encounter someone demonstrating those traits. Then they type up the lines and label each with what trait it demonstrates.

I tell them later that this was practice for their upcoming research papers, reading a text for specific details.

But I really hope it’s practice for life. They can endure nearly any trial and succeed in nearly any endeavor if they’re hopeful, grateful, and gritty. I have them take online quizzes evaluating their current levels, and explain that each of these traits can be learned and improved.

I love hearing the quiet rustles of paper as they mark another part of the text as I read, love seeing their lists and their labels, and I silently pray, “Let this leak into their brains! They’re going to need it all!”

In many parts of the country, teenagers and college students are becoming fearful snowflakes who melt at the slightest breath of trouble.

Most of my downeast Mainer kids, however, I think are a little tougher. They’re more like snowballs–packed firm and ready to fly.

Some of my students have shrugged at the book, claiming they can’t get into it because they “can’t relate.” I sincerely hope that they never do, but I worry that someday they will, too much.

And it’s then that I pray they’ll remember to always have hope, always be grateful, and never, ever give up. (That’s a much better lesson to remember than how to write a research paper.)

fear and success

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You can’t manipulate the educated, which is why they don’t want us educated

The entire reason for my attending a class as a grad student was to argue with the professor. She was on one side politically, I was on the other. I respected the woman immensely, but daggum, did she know how to push my buttons every week! It was like she was TRYING to make me angry!

Realizing that I was monopolizing each class by pointing out how she was wrong and debating with her for the next hour,  I shut up after the third meeting. Someone else needed to take her on, but strangely no one did.

She pulled me aside after that class and said, “What are you doing to me?! Look at the other students–they’re terrified and complacent. None of them  will ever make a peep. Don’t you realize that I pick subjects I know will rile you up? Come on! Show the rest of the class how it’s done! It’s you and me carrying this class!” Once I realized she was intentionally setting me up, the class was VERY entertaining. I remember thinking, “This is what universities are supposed to be about: an informed debate of ideas.” We rarely came to a consensus, but always realized just how close we were on so many issues.

That was 25 years ago. Ancient history. The world’s not like that anymore, sadly. Debate is stifled and opposing ideas are quashed in the name of “safety” for our fragile feelings. (

I told my college experience to my high school students this week. We’ve been talking about propaganda and logical fallacies, and I presented the quote from the most famous propagandist, Joseph Goebbels:

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it . . . It thus becomes vitally important . . . to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie.”

I was pleased to see that my students were intrigued that people could debate issues and still be friends without agreeing. My professor years ago wrote me glowing letters of recommendation when I graduated, even though we disagreed on nearly everything. We respected each other and I am still grateful to her for making me analyze everything I believed.

But today there’s no more debate, no more respect for different ideas, no more desire to discover knowledge for ourselves. If someone disagrees with us, we cut off all discourse and cry “oppression!”

We’ve stopped thinking and asking and debating, which makes us very vulnerable to those who want to do the thinking for us.  In the end, the elite will repress us. It’s happened too many times before.cant manipulate the educated

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Socialism and the greed of citizens: what happens when they want more?

The biggest problem with socialism that no one seems to be addressing is the insatiability of people who believe they deserve freebies–free income, housing, food, health care, education, etc. The problem is greed knows no bounds. Those who espouse “free everything” are underestimating the selfishness of millions.

And then what happens when the freebies run out, which they always will?

buying loyalty

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When we stop thinking for ourselves, we’ll be far easier to conquer

Almost every day I want to leave social media, frustrated with the snarl of words and growls of dissension I see every day. But I can’t; I shouldn’t. I need to know what’s happening, how people are reacting, and what new monster is looming on the horizon needing to be addressed.

As much as I’d love to hide in the corner of my closet (and the house I’m in currently has no closets, so that would be quite a feat) I need to know each day what’s going on. It’s the only hope I have to keep my family safe, because the monsters will come, if I notice them or not.people stop thinking

 

The myth of hard work and wealth

I think there’s been more harm than good done by this statement: “If you work hard enough, you’ll be wealthy.”

I recently met a man named Charles who’s a chef, been working in restaurants since he was 16-years-old, and owned his own restaurant and his own catering business. But he can’t keep up anymore—working from 4am to 11am at the restaurant, catering on the side, and getting to bed by 10pm if he’s lucky only to get up again at 3:30am. He’s stooped over, walks slowly, but still smiles, albeit wearily. He’s 68 years old and doesn’t want to retire, but needs to slow down. However, he worries about the many people who rely on him and his industry. His past generosity means he doesn’t have much saved up, either.

Sara, in her 40s, has a husband is trying to finish his college degree. To help him, she’s now working full-time as a teacher’s aid in a school, and works an additional 20 hours/week at a hotel. In the few hours in between she helps her five kids with their homework so that her husband can study. She has a college degree, but couldn’t find full-time work anywhere in her field, so she’s burning the candle on both ends. Both Charles and Sara work very hard.

How often have you heard this statement? “Get a college degree, and your earning potential will increase.”

I know of far too many people to name with college degrees, with years of experience in management, training, HR, and sales who are currently working part-time jobs–which require no degree–and offer no benefits (we won’t get into the irony of the Affordable Health Care Act right now). There simply aren’t enough full-time jobs, and while a few of these people have considered moving to find work, they’re trapped by houses with no equity in them. Every month they sink deeper into the hole. 

Then there’s my friend with degrees in a hard science and a foreign language, but works as a seamstress. She said “Professional Alterations” was the most useful course she completed in college. And then there’s the friend who finished a graduate degree widely touted as the key to success, but neither he nor the twenty others he graduated with can find work making more than $14/hour. The market’s been saturated with people graduating with that same advanced degree.

I think this one gets under my skin the most: “Work smarter, not harder.”

I read this on an acquaintance’s website. Back in college he drove twenty-year-old German luxury cars, because he vowed he’d always drive new ones in the future. He does, a new model every year, as the head of a company that peddles a “forever young tonic” to vain and aging people. A blogger on his company’s site claimed, “Some people think luck just happens. We make it happen.” Then she went on about how much money one could make selling their snake oil. But I never believed one should become rich by manipulating the vulnerable or stupid. This rouse has been around for generations. It’s not working smarter, it’s working meaner.

How about this one: “Work hard enough, and you’ll get your piece of the pie.”

Or so claims another get-rich website, which buries the actual product they sell but talks all about the vacations their marketers take. The problem with this mantra is that there is only so much pie to go around. But those sitting at the top of a pie kingdom believe in the myth of “spontaneous pie generation,” that they won’t need to share some of the pie they snagged, but if others simple worked as well as they did, another pie would magically appear for them too–and they’re willing to sell you the secret.

As the discussion of the “haves” vs. the “have-nots” comes around again, there’s a prevailing notion of, “I deserve this, and you don’t, because you’re just not good/smart/hard-working enough.”

And this notion is a lie. I’ve always suspected that, but now I’ve seen proof.

Lately my eyes have been opened to how many people in America are hard-working and are just getting by. I thought it was just us, but I suspect it’s the majority. Forget wealth; we’re just trying to cover the mortgage. Like the nearly 70-year-old woman I know who lives with her struggling sister and her family. She works 30+ hours a week in manual labor to help cover half of the very modest mortgage. Hard working? I was by her side for four hours recently, and this so-called “elderly” woman worked circles around me! I was exhausted at the end of the shift and was going home to take a nap. She was going home to bottle several bushels of peaches.

I cringe when I hear disparaging comments about the working poor. And even though what qualifies as “poor” in America is still richer than the vast majority of the rest of the world, there are still millions of good, working adults just getting by month-to-month. Try being a janitor for a week. That’s hard work.

Yes, a great man . . . but he didn’t accomplish it all on his own. No one really does.

If hard work was all it took to become wealthy, there’d be a lot more living in luxury. Take a deep, searching look at the level of hard work many people in third-world countries accomplish, day after day. No one would argue they’re wealthy. So what gives?

The fact is, a great many that have wealth didn’t get there on hard work alone. Quite often we point to Benjamin Franklin as the epitome of working one’s way to the top. But Pulitzer Prize winning biographer Gordon Wood pointed out that Mr. Franklin was the beneficiary of numerous “patronages”: wealthy Pennsylvanians who donated him funds, set him up with those of influence, even paid many of his expenses to get him started with his printing business. “In the end Franklin was never quite as self-made as he sometimes implied or as the nineteenth century made him out to be” (The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin, page 27).

Many of the “greats” have to admit they stood on the shoulders of others, got started with the seed money of friends and relatives, received an inside tip, was in the right place at the right time, even got a bit lucky. Some have attained their positions by manipulation through a product—such as my acquaintance with the anti-aging cream—or have exploited a resource that wasn’t really theirs to begin with.

I love what Brigham Young said, over 150 years ago:

“People think they are going to get rich by hard work—by working sixteen hours out of the twenty-four; but it is not so. . . .
There is any amount of property, and gold and silver in the earth and on the earth, and the Lord gives to this one and that one—the wicked as well as the righteous—to see what they will do with it, but it all belongs to him.” (emphasis added)

Think about that—God’s given more to some than to others, to see what they will do. I sincerely doubt He’s expecting those with more to indulge themselves, but instead to “. . . have mercy on the poor,” as Proverbs 14:21 suggests, for “happy is he” who does.

Now, consider this notion of hard work, from Professor Hugh Nibley, one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th Century:

“What are the qualities that make for success in the business world? Hard work, dependability, sobriety, firmness, imagination, patience, courage, loyalty, discrimination, intelligence, persistence, ingenuity, dedication, consecration—you can add to the list. But these are the same qualities necessary to make a successful athlete, artist, soldier, bank robber, musician, international jewel thief, scholar, hit man, spy, teacher, dancer, author, politician, minister, smuggler, con man, general, explorer, chef, physician, engineer, builder, astronaut, scientist, godfather, inventor.

. . . You don’t have to go into business to develop character . . . There are over one half million millionaires in the country [in 1979 when he delivered this speech]—but how many first-rate composers or writers or artists or even scientists? A tiny handful.” (emphasis added; “Gifts,” Approaching Zion, pages 102-3).

I fear that many in our society don’t hold in any esteem those who truly work hard. Instead, we’re envious of those who seem to get away with working less, yet still get more. That’s what the 1% vs. 99% protests of last year were about: people wanted the magic spell to spontaneously generate their own pie, and if given that magical pie, the cynic in me suspects it wouldn’t be shared either. That’s why we uphold the corrupt system of some getting more only because we hope to rise to that level of luxury and leisure ourselves.

But that’s not how it’s meant to be.

Giyak exhaled. “Colonel, I appreciate your sense of fairness. Very few men have that anymore. That’s what makes you an excellent commander, I’m sure. But politics is different. More delicate. Those that live in the Estates are, are . . . more achieved. More deserving of their station in life. They worked harder, are smarter . . . I don’t know. Perhaps the good doctor could explain to us the differences in achievement in one’s life . . . but you see, those who nature have favored . . . nature has favored. That’s all there is to it. We, as a political entity, must also recognize that nature has chosen some for success rather than others.”

But Perrin wasn’t convinced. “I just worry about a society that deems one person more worthy than another. I believe in the Creator, and I believe He created us all equal. To see us deferring to some and neglecting—I’m sorry, not ‘neglecting,’ but marginalizing others in order to favor another? They’ve already been ‘rewarded’ with more by their status. Is it truly fair or right that a builder of a school makes three times as much as an eggman? Don’t children need food as much as they need education? Or why should I as a colonel make more than my major? We work the same hours, at the same fort, doing each other’s job most of the time . . . If extra silver’s to be given, it should be given to him with the greater need—”   ~Book 3, The Mansions of Idumea

This isn’t the last you’ll hear from on this issue of money, sharing, and worth. Oh dear, not at all. I’m just getting started . . .

Book 3–The Mansions of Idumea–is here!

It’s alive! 

(Love seeing those words from Amazon.)
Book 3: The Mansions of Idumea is available on Kindle ($2.99) AND in print ($14.95).

Mansions of Idumea Front Cover

(So pleased with how this cover turned out. I didn’t realize I’d photographed the sun until I downloaded my pictures and this one blinded me on my computer screen.)

Mansions of Idumea BACK cover only

(I love that supporting column. And the angles. And the words.)

And yes–FREE KINDLE DOWNLOAD days are coming: April 28-30, and May 5-6. And even better–ALL THREE BOOKS will be available for free download those five days.

Tell your friends! Tell your enemies! Tell your neighbors! Tell complete strangers! Tell everyone!
(Oh dear; my earlier exclamation mark malady has returned. Just too excited. I need to calm down and go find my old bottles of valium now . . . so I can use them as mini-maracas and celebrate!)

Covers, exclamation points, and angelic fist-bumps!

If anyone in my house saw me holding my fists in the air today and whisper-shouting, “Yes! YES!” they didn’t say anything. I think my family has learned that odd things happen when I’m at my computer.

Today was a day of rejoicing, of fighting a battle that only I knew I was in, and that only I knew I’d won.

The great demon that I’d exorcised from me? I’d finally figured out how to do that cool little trick I did almost a year ago on GIMP.

Yeah, that’s all: a little bit of formatting for my COVER! YES!  (Fists in the air! Waiting for my angel to fist-bump me back! Thank You!!)
(Sorry—residual joy, leaking out of me.)

book 3 coverAA

I’m sharing this sneak peek with you, my friends, because I’m so stoked! (Yes, I did actually write “stoked” there. And yes, I know how it dates me, but I don’t care because I’m so . . . stoked.)

No one in my home knew that for a week I’d tinkered with my cover off and on, trying to do this one thing and that other thing that any other semi-savvy person could have figured out in 15 minutes.
No one knew that I uttered inane little prayers along the lines of, “Dear Lord, I realize there are far, far greater problems in the universe, but for the life of me I can’t get a shadow on this text. If You’ve got someone up there who could flick me on the side of the head to figure it out, that’d be great, but only if a butterfly doesn’t need saving first . . .”

I got flicked. A few times. AWESOME! THANK YOU! (Fists are still in the air, still waiting for my angelic fist-bump. My angel’s blinking at me, either unaware of this earthly custom, or smirking at my silliness.)
(That darn joy, leaking again . . .)

David o McKayI wonder how many of us have these private triumphs—and private tragedies. In the Olympics we saw the public joy and humiliation of athletes, but I’m convinced that David O. McKay is right, that probably 99.99% of all our jubilation and sorrow occurs silently in our heads, or in private cheers to the ceiling and Those beyond, or in the shower with the door locked and crying in the water so that even we don’t know how many tears we shed.

Because for as often as we are among others, critical moments in our lives are usually exceptionally private. (Except for a few families on TV with no boundaries, and we all send up additional prayers of gratitude that we’re not them.)

And every once in a while I think it’s ok to share an awesome moment, and even a few sad ones. (Hey, what’s Facebook for, right? Middle-aged women nattering?)

So here’s to a private triumph, shared with you. I FINISHED THE COVER TO BOOK THREE!!!
That means I’m on track to RELEASING BOOK THREE in APRIL!!! The Mansions of Idumea is coming!!!
(Man, all those exclamation points are exhausting.)
(But here are a few more, just because I’m in such an awesome mood!!!!!!)
(Now I feel like a fourth grader. Forgive me.)
(!!!!!)

So here’s also to hoping we all have very few private sorrows. Because I think that’s where my fist-bumping angel went: to sit with someone who thinks they’re alone, but they’re not.

Wishing each of you a good day of triumph–and a legitimate reason to use exclamation points–very, very soon.