Snob Appeal

thesnob

This is the 36th in a collection of newspaper ads written by Harry Gray, then CEO of United Technologies, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Here is the text from that ad.


Some people know so much about one thing they look down on those who aren’t so knowledgeable.
They are snobs.
There are wine snobs, art snobs, literary, fashion, food, even money snobs.
“I can change the world.” the politician boasts.
“But he can’t even change a tire,” the garage mechanic sneers.
If you’re sure you know more about haute cuisine than your dinner partner, remember she may know more about 19th century architecture.
Don’t let your knowledge turn you into a snob.
Find out what the other guy knows, before you show off what you know.


The first thought I had when I read the ad above was that I really don’t know what is meant by “haute cuisine”, or even how to pronounce it. So I checked the web, and here is the definition I found:

the preparation and cooking of high-quality food following the style of traditional French cuisine

It was at that point I realized why I had no idea what it meant; I could care less about “cuisine”. That’s not to say that I don’t care about what I eat, in fact many people may consider me a food snob. I’ve been vegan for over nine years, and I try to buy organic for all of my produce. Beyond those two basic rules, my approach to eating and my tastes are quite simple.

It’s also been helpful that places like Wegman’s and Costco have been big supporters of organic food, instead of having to rely on just one place like Whole Foods. Shopping at Costco makes me feel like less of an organic food snob. In fact, it appears as if Costco now sells more organic food than Whole Foods. But while we are talking about organic food, I do want to give a shout out to my favorite place to buy produce – Mom’s Organic Market.

And while I think I’m fairly knowledgeable about what constitutes healthy eating and an overall healthy lifestyle, I don’t think I’ve ever tried to force my opinions on anyone, or to even share my opinions, unless asked.

I don’t get the whole idea of trying to show off what I might know; I’m generally much more interested in finding out what others know, since it’s likely I’ll learn something from them.

Plus, as I’ve written about before, I really have no useful skills, so what would I pontificate on anyway?

That’s not to say I don’t have any skills, so in a humblebrag sort of way, let me list a few of those:

  • the ability to take a room full of young, energetic 18-22 year olds, and in a matter of just a few minutes, have many of them sound asleep
  • knowing the phone numbers of the two local pizza places, without having to look them up
  • the ability to write over 300 blog posts, when I really have nothing interesting to say
  • the ability to go to a party, and then leave, without anyone noticing that I’ve gone
  • the ability to drive over the speed limit, yet still be the slowest car on the highway
  • the ability to know which suit I’ll be wearing on a Monday five years from now, and which suit I’ll be wearing on the following Wednesday

While I secretly hope that someday such skills will be valued in the marketplace, as of now I really don’t have the opportunity to be a snob.

In the meantime, I’ll just continue to be that guy at a party who will gladly listen to everything you have to say without interrupting once, then sneak out so that I can go home and write a blog about it.

 

 

It’s Christmas Music Time!

morefmphilly

As my son and I were leaving the gym today, I heard Bruce Springsteen singing “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” on the outdoor music system.

I’ll admit I’m a sucker for Christmas music, and Springsteen’s song is certainly one of my all-time favorite songs to listen to this time of year. I always look forward to when local radio station More FM Philly (101.1) switches to an all Christmas music format, which happened back on November 19. By scrolling through its Twitter feed, it’s obvious that I’m not the only one who looks forward to such an event.

On its web site, More FM Philly lists the most recent songs played, and here is a sampling of some of the classic Christmas songs that have played in the past hour:

  • Dominick the Donkey by Lou Monte
  • Rocking Around the Christmas Tree by Brenda Lee
  • Carol of the Bells by Mannheim Steamroller
  • Rudolph the Red-Noted Reindeer by John Denver
  • We Need a Little Christmas by Johnny Mathis
  • Little Drummer Boy by Bob Seger

At what other time of the year do you get to listen to a radio station where you know the words to just about every song that is played?

In honor of the holiday season, I plan to post to my blog my favorite Christmas song, or two, every Sunday night for the next four weeks.

I’ll kick it off with my all-time favorite Christmas song, Josh Groban singing “O Holy Night’.

It’s a perfect combination; my favorite Christmas song, sung to perfection. Really, is there anyone alive with a better voice than Josh Groban? If listening to that song doesn’t get you into the spirit of Christmas, I’m not sure what will.

And if you want further proof of Josh Groban’s gift, here is a clip from the Ellen Show where he sang ‘You Raise Me Up’ with the African Children’s Choir. It brought Ellen to tears, and it still has the same effect on me. It’s one of the most beautiful songs I know.

So an early Merry Christmas to everyone, and best wishes for a happy and healthy holiday season.

And if you don’t have an all Christmas radio station in your area, More FM Philly does stream over the web!

Our Lamaze Friends

mcgill schultz children christmas

Thirty three years ago my wife and I enrolled in a Lamaze class in anticipation of our first child. During that class we happened to befriend two other couples who were also having their first child.

The friendship started with going out for ice cream after the classes, and soon after we were having pizza together on Friday nights.

Once the kids were born, there were lots of play dates, and the Friday night get togethers continued.

It was wonderful being friends with people who were at the same life stage as we were, and going through similar experiences.

Over the next few years we all had our second child, and a couple of us had a third, with my wife and one of the other husbands serving as godparents for the third child of the other couple.

During those years, there were lots of baptisms, birthday parties, school plays, Halloweens, and Christmases that we shared with each other. There were even a few vacations together at the Jersey shore as well as in Vermont.

A few years later, we had all moved to new locations, but we still got together at least twice a year; once in the summer to celebrate all the kids’ birthdays, and again during the Christmas holidays (pictured above).

While there has been a lifetime of happy memories we have shared with our “Lamaze friends”, it has been nice knowing that we have also all been there to support each other through some of the difficult times that are part of life.

We have gone through the pain of divorce with one of the couples, but are thrilled that the wife has found a great guy to share her life with.

We have attended multiple graduations and celebrated the weddings of some of the “kids”, one of whom now has children of her own, with another one expecting her first child in a few months (the circle of life in action again).

Since the kids are now scattered all over the country (Florida, North Carolina, Maryland, Hawaii, and Pennsylvania), we no longer have a get together to celebrate their birthdays.

However, that has not stopped us from still getting together at least a couple of times per year, usually in the summer and at the Christmas holidays.

Tonight was our annual Christmas get together, and as always it was a night filled with laughter, reminiscing, talking about our kids, and our plans for the future.

It has been a remarkable friendship, and I am grateful for the times we have spent together, and look forward to many more.

Who knew that doing a few cleansing breaths together would lead to having best friends for the next 33 years.

 

A Belated Thanksgiving Celebration

rockwellthanksgiving

I want to give a big thank you to my sister-in-law and her husband for hosting another great Thanksgiving dinner today.

With Home Alone playing in the background and plenty of food on the tables, it was nice seeing the cousins hanging out, getting caught up with each other, and reminiscing about previous dinners.

It also served as a great reminder of the circle of life, with those cousins now young adults, and either out working or in college. There were also a few grand nieces and nephews there, who helped raise the energy level and make us all feel young at heart.

It made me realize how blessed I am to have three great sons, and so many wonderful nephews and nieces (and a grand nephew and grand niece), both on my side of the family and my wife’s side.

It has been a privilege to watch them grow up and become the outstanding young men and women that they are today.

My wish for all of you is to live a long, healthy, and happy life.

P.S. I also want to thank FaceTime for enabling our son in Hawaii to feel like he was part of the festivities!

Thank You to All Artists

balloonbike

Since we will be celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow, today offered a chance to just relax, and have a nice peaceful day.

I spent some time going through my YouTube playlist, looking for songs that seemed appropriate for today, and ended up watching the following:

Peace Train by Cat Stevens

Peaceful Easy Feeling by The Eagles

Back Home Again by John Denver

Back Home Again seems like a perfect Thanksgiving Day song.

Later in the afternoon we went to watch “Creed”, the latest Rocky movie. It was a fabulous movie, and had me in tears a couple of times.

When I sat back to reflect on the day a bit, I felt a sense of gratitude for all these artists who discovered a talent, worked hard to develop that talent, and then had the courage to share that talent with the world.

So a big thank you to all artists – singers, songwriters, musicians, actors, writers, directors, painters, sculptors, comedians, jugglers, magicians, clowns, balloon artists, and all others for your willingness to take a risk of sharing a little bit of your creative self with the world, and in the process, making it a happier, more peaceful place.

Happy Thanksgiving to all family and friends!

 

The Businessman and the Fisherman – What’s Your Perspective?

bizfish

The following is a classic Brazilian story, which I first heard my son tell during a presentation he was giving, and which I later found at Paulo Coelho’s web site.


There was once a businessman who was sitting by the beach in a small Brazilian village.
As he sat, he saw a Brazilian fisherman rowing a small boat towards the shore having caught quite few big fish.
The businessman was impressed and asked the fisherman, “How long does it take you to catch so many fish?”
The fisherman replied, “Oh, just a short while.”
“Then why don’t you stay longer at sea and catch even more?” The businessman was astonished.
“This is enough to feed my whole family,” the fisherman said.
The businessman then asked, “So, what do you do for the rest of the day?”
The fisherman replied, “Well, I usually wake up early in the morning, go out to sea and catch a few fish, then go back and play with my kids. In the afternoon, I take a nap with my wife, and evening comes, I join my buddies in the village for a drink — we play guitar, sing and dance throughout the night.”

The businessman offered a suggestion to the fisherman.
“I am a PhD in business management. I could help you to become a more successful person. From now on, you should spend more time at sea and try to catch as many fish as possible. When you have saved enough money, you could buy a bigger boat and catch even more fish. Soon you will be able to afford to buy more boats, set up your own company, your own production plant for canned food and distribution network. By then, you will have moved out of this village and to Sao Paulo, where you can set up HQ to manage your other branches.”

The fisherman continues, “And after that?”
The businessman laughs heartily, “After that, you can live like a king in your own house, and when the time is right, you can go public and float your shares in the Stock Exchange, and you will be rich.”
The fisherman asks, “And after that?”
The businessman says, “After that, you can finally retire, you can move to a house by the fishing village, wake up early in the morning, catch a few fish, then return home to play with kids, have a nice afternoon nap with your wife, and when evening comes, you can join your buddies for a drink, play the guitar, sing and dance throughout the night!”
The fisherman was puzzled, “Isn’t that what I am doing now?”


My initial reaction when hearing this story was that I was on the side of the fisherman; if you’re already doing something that makes you happy, why would you want to change? You should be happy with what you’ve got.

But then upon further reflection I started to think that perhaps there’s more to life than just making yourself happy. If you have a gift, shouldn’t you share that with the world? If you have the chance to make the world a better place, shouldn’t you do so?

This fisherman could have grown his business and as a result employed several people, thus helping those individuals to pursue their goals in life.

Just think about life would be like if Walt Disney just drew his cartoons for his local newspaper, and then went out drinking each night. No Disneyland, no Disneyworld, none of those thousands of jobs at Disney, no booming town of Orlando.

What if Steve Jobs just let his and Wozniak’s idea for a personal computer be a fun little hack for the members of the Homebrew Computer Club, and then they went out for some pizza and soda afterwards? No Macintosh, no iPhone, and the thousands of jobs that were created at not only Apple, but the whole Apple ecosystem.

When I discussed this with my son, he told me that his perspective on the story was that you should not let someone else tell you what to do with your life.

So I guess that’s what makes the story such a classic. There’s multiple lessons to be learned from such a simple tale, and they are all valid viewpoints:

  • be satisfied with what you have
  • share your talents; serve others
  • live your own life, not someone’s else’s

I think it’s possible for the fisherman to do all of these at the same time, if that’s what he wanted to do. I think most people, when presented with the opportunity to potentially make a difference, would welcome such a challenge.

Rather than trying to persuade the fisherman with monetary riches, perhaps the businessman should have tried a different approach.

As Steve Jobs said to John Sculley, “Do you want to sell sugar water the rest of your life, or join Apple and change the world?”

I think even a fisherman would bite at that bait.

N.B. As one example of someone who is leading a simple life, on his own terms, but making a difference in the world, take a look at Leo Babauta’s web site.

 

The Dark Side of Creativity

darkside

Creativity is valued as one of the most important qualities that a leader can have, yet research has shown that while creative people are skilled at coming up with new ideas, they can also be more likely to engage in morally questionable behaviors.

Researchers Francesca Gino at Harvard Business School and Dan Ariely at Duke University conducted a set of experiments to test whether a creative personality and a creative mindset promote individuals’ ability to justify their behavior, which, in turn, leads to unethical behavior. The results of the experiments provided evidence for an association between creativity and dishonesty.

In another study, Lynne C. Vincent at Syracuse University and Maryam Kouchaki at Northwestern University found that identifying as a creative person can also lead someone to be dishonest. When creativity is viewed as a rare attribute, it can lead to a sense of entitlement. Leaders reinforce such an attitude by giving creative people special treatment.

Vincent and Kouchaki note that creative people just don’t think outside the box, they believe that they deserve a bigger box than others, and as a result might be willing to steal or lie.

So what is a company to do?

The researchers suggest that leaders should try and create a culture of creativity throughout an organization, and not promote the notion that creativity is limited to just a few individuals.

By actively encouraging more people to view themselves as creative, while clearly defining what is considered unacceptable behavior, a company should be able to see the bright side of creativity.

Or put a simpler way, honesty is the best policy, even for creative people.

 

 

 

The Snake That Poisons Everybody

snake

This is the 35th in a collection of newspaper ads written by Harry Gray, then CEO of United Technologies, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Here is the text from that ad.


It topples governments, wrecks marriages, ruins careers, busts reputations, causes heartaches, nightmares, indigestion, spawns suspicion, generates grief, dispatches innocent people to cry in their pillows.
Even its name hisses.
It’s called gossip.
Office gossip.
Shop gossip.
Party gossip.
It makes headlines and headaches.
Before you repeat a story, ask yourself:
Is it true?
Is it fair?
Is it necessary?
If not, shut up.


I’d love to see what Harry Gray would have written today in the age of the Internet, given the ease with which gossip can spread, and how authoritative someone can make his or her viewpoint appear.

Instead of shutting up, as Harry Gray has suggested, the Internet gives people a platform from which they can shout their opinions (gossip) to the world.

I just wrote about this issue a little over a week ago, and suggested that before you post something to Facebook or Twitter, you take a moment to check your facts.

While the Internet makes it easy to spread false info, it also makes it relatively easy to check the accuracy of what you read or what you are about to post. If it doesn’t sound right, then do a little bit of research to verify the story for yourself.

Then comes the hard part, at least for me.

If you come across a false or misleading post on Facebook or Twitter, what is the proper etiquette?

Do you publicly let the poster know that his or her post is not true, do you let the person know privately, or do you simply ignore it?

My response varies by the individual who made the post, but the vast majority of the time I simply ignore the post. The reason for doing so is my sense that the type of person who probably posted such a falsehood likely doesn’t care about the truth, and would gladly engage in an argument with you about the matter, and likely support their position with additional rumors.

So I’ll repeat what I’ve said previously; before you post something to the Internet, check your facts.

If you are too lazy to do so, then as Harry Gray says, shut up.

If it turns out to be untrue or an unsubstantiated rumor, then shut up.

If it’s not fair or necessary, then shut up.

If your post passes these tests, then feel free to share your thoughts with the world.

But one final request before doing so, be kind.

 

NIMBY; Unfortunately, Yes

kozol_amazing_grace

My wife was out with her sister and nieces shopping for a wedding dress, my son was at work, and I couldn’t bear the thought of watching the Eagles game (good call as it turned out).

So I went to my home away from home, the local Barnes & Noble.

I didn’t have any specific book in mind, but given the fact that I’ve been thinking a lot about injustice in the U.S. and the ovarian lottery, along with the fact that it was Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week at Villanova, I drifted towards the Sociology section.

Once there I noticed several books by Jonathan Kozol. I’ve heard of Kozol before, but I haven’t read any of his books. Given how many books he’s written, I thought he must have something to say, and so I picked Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation. Written in 1995, here’s a brief description of the book:

Amazing Grace is Jonathan Kozol’s classic book on life and death in the South Bronx—the poorest urban neighborhood of the United States. He brings us into overcrowded schools, dysfunctional hospitals, and rat-infested homes where families have been ravaged by depression and anxiety, drug-related violence, and the spread of AIDS. But he also introduces us to devoted and unselfish teachers, dedicated ministers, and—at the heart and center of the book—courageous and delightful children. The children we come to meet through the friendships they have formed with Jonathan defy the stereotypes of urban youth too frequently presented by the media. Tender, generous, and often religiously devout, they speak with eloquence and honesty about the poverty and racial isolation that have wounded but not hardened them. Amidst all of the despair, it is the very young whose luminous capacity for love and transcendent sense of faith in human decency give reason for hope.

I got about halfway through the book, and so far it has been mostly depressing.

It was depressing to read about how such poverty can exist in the U.S., and how difficult it is for people in such environments to just survive, let alone thrive. The number of deaths that occurred in such a relatively short time period was staggering, and the deaths were from a variety of causes such as killings, AIDS, and accidents. The lack of effective medical care and job opportunities were also problems for the residents of the South Bronx. It was quite disheartening to read about the seemingly callous attitude of those in positions to do something about these issues. It seems as if many people can’t recognize that this type of poverty exists figuratively, and potentially literally, right in your backyard.

I know the description of the book notes that the children featured offer a reason for hope, but I didn’t get that impression yet from reading the first half of the book. So far, I have a sense that many of the children, while certainly kind and gentle, also seem to have accepted that being surrounded by poverty and danger is the life they were meant to live.

I am looking forward to a more optimistic perspective in the second half of the book.

Side note to B&N customers: When you are finished reading a magazine or book, please just don’t let it sit there for an employee to take care of. You took it out, you should put it away.

Happy 30th Birthday Calvin and Hobbes!

firstcalvinhobbes

November 18 of this past week marked the 30th anniversary of the debut of the greatest comic strip of all time, Calvin and Hobbes.

The strip above is the first one, and introduced the world to Calvin, his dad, and his tiger Hobbes. The final strip was December 31, 1995, and is shown below.

I often use that final strip on the first day of class, particularly if my students are freshmen. College is like a fresh, clean start; like having a big, white sheet of paper to draw on. It can be a magical world, full of possibilities, and just like Calvin, I encourage the students to go exploring.

In honor of the 30th anniversary, I spent some time at Barnes & Noble today paging through a few of the Calvin and Hobbes books. (We have all of them at our house somewhere, but it was easier to go to B&N.)

It was great seeing all those familiar faces again, Calvin, Hobbes, his parents, Miss Wormwood the teacher, Susie Derkins, Moe the bully, Rosalyn the babysitter, and Mr. Spittle the principal.

There were also the familiar characters that Calvin imagined – Spaceman Spiff, Tracer Bullet, and Stupendous Man; the many props that Calvin used – cardboard boxes, his sled and wagon, snowballs and snowmen; the game he invented, Calvinball; and his favorite cereal, Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs.

The comic strips were just as funny and just as insightful today as they were 30 years ago.

If you’ve never read Calvin and Hobbes, I highly recommend you put all of the books on your reading list, or even better, this complete compilation.

Bill Watterson truly created a magical world.