The Human Touch

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What is the next great idea in education? How might we best help our students to master difficult material? Does anyone have the key to unlocking minds?

These are questions that every teacher and concerned parent ask. We truly want to improve our educational system and we spend millions of dollars seeking answers. Our educational force travels to foreign lands to observe programs that appear to be successful. Our teachers spend summers learning new skills. Districts invest in diagnostic tools. We reinvent the educational wheel over and over again, hoping to stumble upon a magic bullet that will in one fell swoop increase our children’s knowledge, thinking abilities, and curiosity. We attempt to make mathematics and science more accessible to all, while we strive to demonstrate how to read and write more fluently. In spite of all of our efforts we find ourselves in a quandary. We still appear to be losing so many of our kids to struggles with learning, and so we continue to experiment in the hopes of one day stumbling upon the key to unlocking minds.

Fifty or sixty years ago when I was earning a degree in education a psychologist named B.F. Skinner was all the rage. His focus was on the types of reinforcement techniques that we humans use to motivate individuals, and so we learned that encouraging students when they do something right is more likely to have them repeat the good behaviors than punishing them for mistakes. He insisted that we can slowly move a person toward a goal with the just the right amount of encouragement. He even attempted to create a teaching machine that would be able to accomplish such a task according to the specific needs of the learner. Back in his days technology was a long way from being reliable or effective and so his efforts failed, but he predicted that one day there would indeed be a mechanism designed to enact his ideas.

Fast forward to the future which is now. The power of the computer has allowed us to create individualized instruction complete with feedback that would no doubt delight Skinner. While it has revolutionized education in general, there are still difficulties when it comes to creating effective programs for individuals. The fact is that it simply does not work for some people. There is till a need for a warm human to unravel questions and provide inspiration and motivation. A machine is far too cold to handle the task alone.

I do a great deal of interventional tutoring since retiring from education six years ago. I find that there is no substitute for small group interaction between humans. The first step in helping a struggling student is always a matter of dealing with fears and frustrations, something a computer can’t do effectively, at least not yet. Not all students have the ability to focus well enough to concentrate on a mechanized one size fits all instructional video, and yet they are being used in most of the schools that I encounter. Virtually every high school student is well acquainted with Kahn Academy, and while I use the lessons myself to brush up on ideas for teaching certain concepts, it cannot be used as a substitute for a good warm blooded teacher inside a classroom. It’s proper use is for reinforcement of material, not initial instruction.

I have encountered a new trend of late that involves assigning an instructional video to students for homework. They watch the electronic teacher explaining various concepts and then work independently on similar problems. The following day in class they are able to ask specific questions about the material. For the students with whom I work, this methodology has been a disaster. It is backwards from the way that works best for them. Namely, they would be better served by first receiving instruction from the teacher, then watching the videos to clarify the processes, followed by independent practice with problems and finally questions about the work. They are floundering but sitting quietly in the classrooms because they don’t even know how to begin their inquiries. They are simply lost and sometimes even drowning in confusion. By the time I get them they are feeling dejected and their confidence is in shambles. My job becomes demystifying the definitions and processes in a way that guides them to understanding. Sadly, the time that they have to spend with me often increases their stress because they are always just a bit behind in their mastery and so their grades do not reflect what they eventually manage to learn.

When I watch the videos that they must view I actually appreciate all of the time and effort that such teachers have put into producing them. I enjoy knowing how the instructor is presenting the material so that I might use similar terminology and practices. Still I find that I have to learn how and when to pause the stream of information so that I might take notes or try some of the problem solving on my own. I find that I am able to do so effectively only because I already know how to perform the operations and I am familiar with the vocabulary. I am also able to separate the chatter from the most important ideas. I suspect that the top students who are already rather gifted in mathematics have little difficulty doing as I do, but for the average to below average soul those videos must be just a cacophony of meaningless sound. For those with specific learning disabilities I can only imagine how frustrating it must feel.

I’ve been in a classroom and I fully understand and appreciate the frustrations of teachers as well. They have far too many students and increasingly complex demands that don’t always have much to do with teaching are placed on them also. Their days are long and exhausting and the vast majority of them are doing their very best. Sometimes the most gifted among them are able to break down the barriers that all too often separate them from their students. They become the inspirational individuals who change minds and manage to touch hearts as well. In other cases they simply feel as beaten down as the students. They desperately want to make a difference but can’t seem to find the way to do so. Far too many aspiring educators last less than five years before they leave in total frustration.

We seem to understand that people are complex and as such there is never one right way of doing things. It has been proven that even with regard to diet, there must be differences that take individual genetic tendencies into account. Why, I wonder, do we still approach education as though there is indeed a magical way of reaching all students without concern for their individuality? Why do we crowd our children into rooms as though they are being warehoused like cattle? Why do we push them at the same pace? Why are there so few of us who want to teach them in charge of so many? What is it about our society that we place so little value on such an important task? Why do we complain but demonstrate an unwillingness to support our schools?

The truth about education is that it has to be tailored to a person, not a crowd. Everyone is capable of learning, but not in the same way or at the same pace. How many times have we met an adult who struggled in school but eventually got it all together at a later date than his/her peers? It is the way of humans to meet milestones in a variety of ways. It is up to us to appreciate that fact and provide our young with educations suited to them. It’s perhaps the most important task that we might ever perform, and it will pay unmeasurable dividends to our future. It always requires the human touch.

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Houston We Still Have A Problem

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I have a friend who is a widow. When she first lost her husband she was showered with attention, but as time went by she became more and more alone. It was almost as though she had simply been forgotten. She and her husband had enjoyed an active social life until he became critically ill. After his death the invitations and visits that she had always so enjoyed became less and less frequent.

I recall the same thing happening to my mother over time until she mostly relied on family to invite her out of the house now and again. She remarked that it was human nature to provide comfort at the beginning of a loss, but that people slowly become preoccupied with daily routines that sap their time and energy making them less likely to stick around. She was quite understanding and nonjudgemental of those who drifted out of her life. She adapted and made do with the help that was offered, and didn’t dwell on the friendships that withered away because her life had become so different with my father’s death.

As the sun shines, schools open and so many people return to a semblance of normalcy after hurricane Harvey I find myself worrying and possibly even panicking for those most impacted by the devastating storms. Most of them have all of their possessions piled in heaps on the curb along with mounds of sheetrock, flooring and carpet. The stench of mildew and rot fills the air around their neighborhoods. They await word from FEMA or insurance adjusters to tell them how much assistance they will receive in rebuilding their lives. They often wear somebody else’s  clothing and shoes. They rely on others for rides because their cars are gone. Their futures are so uncertain that they are numb. They sit in their yards or rented rooms staring absently into the distance. Everything feels so overwhelming, particularly as the interest of others wanes. They have been the disaster of the week, the big news headline, but now it feels as though so many begin to move on to the next big thing.

Even the people who still remember them and appear to understand their plight are being pulled and tugged by the everyday demands of existence. They have to schedule their voluntary hours and assistance now. There is so much pressure to get back to the usual grind and a pervasive feeling that there aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish all that must be done, but the piles of rubble are still there. The shells of what were once rooms where memories were made await financing that may or may not come. Stressed out homeowners jockey to book overworked contractors to bring their dreams back to life. Word is that it will take months, maybe even years to make all of the needed repairs. What are the injured parties to do while they are waiting? How much debt will they incur? Is there really any way to help them to feel safe and secure once again? Will they eventually be forgotten, or should they expect to be mostly on their own? These are the questions that haunt them in their sleepless nights. These are the worries that fill their thoughts.

Harvey has already been pushed to the back pages of the news. Irma is the new kid in town, the tragedy of the hour. FEMA is moving some rescue efforts from Texas to Florida. There will be competition for limited resources and funds making frustrations even more intense. All the while we have to continue to support our neighbors in the long journey that lies ahead for them even though we too are tired. Still those of us who were lucky understand that we do not have the luxury of simply resuming life as though nothing has happened. Our neighbors are frightened and weary and just as psychologically scarred as their homes are physically.

Every part of town is feeling the impact of this horrific event. Harvey was an equal opportunity storm whose wrath made victims of the rich and the poor and virtually every race and ethnicity. We have rushed to provide stop gap assistance. We provided cleaning products, tools and the labor to clean out houses. We gave food, clothing and shelter to those who have been displaced. We took school supplies to schools and did our best to care for the personal needs of people of all ages. There have been untold heroes who have worked tirelessly and selflessly for days. Now comes the hardest part of all, the moment when we just want to have happy thoughts and forget about all of the pain. Unfortunately to do so would betray all of those whose fate might have been ours but for the randomness of the destruction.

In the coming weeks we must be certain that all of our neighbors get the repairs that they need to make their residences whole again. More than that though, we must insist that measures are taken to make our streets and neighborhoods safer. This may mean purchasing homes that are in harms way and repurposing them as green spaces. We may have to strengthen and build levees, create more retention ponds, get dams up to date, install pumps around town, build houses on higher freeboard elevations, improve drainage. We have the know how, but we also need the vision and the will.

Long ago Houston leaders had a dream of making what was then a small town into a major port even though it was landlocked. They dug a big ditch from the Gulf of Mexico all the way into the city that became known as the Ship Channel. Today it is one of the busiest commercial centers in the world. With a bit of imagination we built the Harvard of the South on the campus of Rice University and created one of the best medical centers anywhere. We need the same kind of willingness to use technologies and knowledge to rebuild a city capable of withstanding even the unthinkable. We showed the world that we are not a population of ordinary people. We Houstonians are quite special and its time that we translate all of our spirit into a victory over tragedy. Houston we have a problem, but we have found answers to other conundrums before. Now let’s see what we might do to unravel the complexities that caused the worst flood that our country has ever seen, and insure that we will be prepared if such an event were ever to occur again.

Filed Away Into Oblivion

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All across the Gulf Coast of southeast Texas from Corpus Christi to Beaumont/Port Arthur the devastation from hurricane Harvey has left a trail of destruction, tears and questions. Weary citizens have spent days upon days mucking out houses, washing flood soaked laundry, cleaning the everyday items that were once the fixtures of their households. Neighbors have helped neighbors. Family has embraced family. Strangers have opened their hearts and their wallets. The restoration has begun in earnest even as some areas still lie in the clutches of high water with no sign of when their residents may return.

It doesn’t seem to matter which part of Harvey’s path one might choose to explore. Virtually everywhere that the beastly storm chose to go there are entire neighborhoods or unlucky blocks where the evidence of its heartlessness is horrifyingly present in the endless piles of debris that rise several feet from the ground and on the vacant faces of those affected. Seeing the wreckage is mind numbing and heartbreaking. Witnessing the people who are attempting to deal with the unthinkable is unbearable. While there is a determination to rise from the waters, there is also a kind of pall over the landscape and wonder if the things that we took so for granted will ever be quite the same again.

It is estimated that only twenty percent of those whose homes and property was damaged had purchased flood insurance. Many of the affected areas had never before been inundated and there was little reason to compel homeowners to buy the policies. It will be up to the federal government and FEMA to help the families to rebuild, and the cost will no doubt be staggering. More disturbing will be the loss of a sense of security that even those who were spared are now feeling. We fret and worry over what will eventually become of all of us who endured the tornadoes and days of relentless downpours that poured fifty one inches of rain over our rooftops. The memories of one weather warning after another and all night watches over the water creeping toward our doors are still so fresh and terrifying. The sights and smells of the destruction seem to follow us even as we close our eyes and attempt to shower the grime from our bodies. The fear that we all experienced stalks us now that we attempt to go back to work and our usual routines.

As the sun shines once again in our part of the world, a monster hurricane threatens Florida and the east coast. Others have formed in the ocean. Fires burn in Montana, California and Oregon. It seems as if Mother Nature is unleashing her fury, and we begin to ask ourselves questions and consider what we may have done to be accomplices in the creation of such events. Are there proactive steps that we might take to change the course or the magnitude of climatic events in the future? These are the thoughts that fill our brains and none of the answers are easy or certain.

My husband likes to call himself a belt and suspenders kind of guy. In other words he is a very cautious sort. As such we expend large amounts of our income on various kinds of insurance policies and fraud protection systems. When the federal government first began selling flood insurance he signed up immediately even though we had never experienced water seeping inside any of our homes. We have continued to renew the policy year after year in spite the increasing cost and lack of use. Our thought as native Houstonians has been that we never quite know what strange occurrences my happen, and we want to be ready for the unexpected. I suspect that after Harvey the premium for our policy will go through the roof, but we will continue to purchase the safety net just in case, and I would recommend that everyone else do so as well. So many of those affected by the damage would be sleeping so much better with that little piece of added security in their pockets

The bigger questions involve infrastructure and building practices that may or may not have helped to prevent much of the damage. It has come to light for example that engineers from the Harris County Flood Control District outlined a plan to improve the drainage system of the Addicks and Barker dams all the way back in 1996. They presented their concerns and suggestions to the Army Corps of Engineers and nothing happened. The report was filed away. Today the tragedy that the study predicted in very clear terms has come to pass. The belief is that it might have been prevented at a cost of under ten million dollars rather than the billions it will take to rebuild the neighborhoods that sit under water today.

When we are cautious in the way we do things we sometimes never know if our efforts actually have some sort of effect or not. If wisdom had ruled the day and the money had been found and spent to improve the dams’ drainage capabilities there would be no flooding in the affected areas and we would wonder if we had really needed to expend all of the effort. That is the way of proactive measures. Often the occasion to use them never arises, but when it does we pat ourselves on the back for being so prescient.

We might argue forever about topics like climate change, building practices, drainage systems, and insurance, but our question becomes why we would ever want to take unnecessary chances. It is a fact that hurricane Harvey created an unprecedented event with its fifty one inches of rain. It is true that homes that have been high and dry for decades only flooded because the storm dumped an amount of water that no form of planning might have overcome, but I find myself wondering why we would want to just walk away from this experience without considering important changes that might actually help if and, God forbid, when we have to experience such an event again.

Our ancestors were more often than not a bit more inclined toward precautions than we were. The Addicks and Barker dams were built in the 1940s because of major flooding incidents in the city of Houston in 1929 and 1935. My mother and mother-in-law often spoke of those events and how they impacted the people who had endured them. The dams themselves were eventually located on land far from the center of the city and most of the population. Adjacent tracts were purchased to insure that there would be no habitation in the path of water. Sadly, as the city grew and sprawled across the landscape developers purchased plots next to the city owned land and built suburban neighborhoods without thought of what might happen if those dams were ever overrun with water in the kind of scenarios that experts had foreseen.

Back in the old days people avoided building too near the bayous and creeks. They elevated their homes on pillars. They terraced the lawns and built houses considerably higher than the level of the streets. Most of the neighborhoods and homes built by our parents and grandparents weathered the deluge just as they have done for decades. They were constructed in ways mindful of the presence of the network of bayous and creeks and rivers that crisscross the geography. Perhaps it would behoove us to consider such things just as they once did. There really should be an appropriate way of building for specific parts of the country that takes the possibilities of nature’s whimsy into consideration.

Of course there is the lurking question of the part that climate change plays in wreaking havoc across the globe. I suggest that instead of wasting our time arguing over whether or not it is true, we simply begin to change our ways just in case. What would it hurt to become more considerate of the world in which we live? Why can’t we all become more conscious of the ways that we use and waste the earth’s resources? Simple gestures multiplied millions of times will indeed make at least a small impact, and every little bit will help. We can be more like our parents who only allowed the television to run for so many hours a day. They scurried about the house turning off lights and appliances. They created compost heaps and recycled bottles. They were mostly being frugal, but their habits certainly helped to reduce waste and emissions of carbon dioxide.

I would never want to be accused of being one of those people who smugly suggest that somehow all of us who live in Harvey’s path are somehow responsible for what happened. Ours is a tragedy wrought by a storm that would have inundated any city or town regardless of what protective measure had been taken. Still, I believe in reflecting on tragedies and asking ourselves hard questions about what measures we may take in the future to alleviate at least some of the suffering. It is something that we must do. We have to insist that reports that predict disaster will never again be simply filed away into oblivion. 

Music of Angels

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I was more than excited about having tickets to see Hans Zimmer in concert. I have enjoyed his soundtracks for years. I purchased the first one after watching the movie Greencard. Since then I’ve added The Last Samurai, Blackhawk Down, Sherlock and so many others to my collection of his works. Each of them is unique and captures the essence of the movie in which it was featured. Since I was going to attend the musical event in the company of my husband, daughter and two grandsons, I was even more excited about the evening, especially since my husband had suffered from a stroke after I had purchased the tickets. I thought it would be a grand way to celebrate life, but I expected to sit in the audience listening politely to some of my favorite music with perhaps a film clip or two to go along with the hits. I had no idea how much more wonderful the experience would actually be.

The concert began with Hans Zimmer entering the stage under a lone spotlight. He sat down at an upright piano and began playing. Slowly other musicians began to join him, adding a bit more interest to the tune. One by one they entered and the depth of the music increased until there was a full orchestra and a choir with the entire stage lit in cadence with the amazing sounds. It was one of the most musically exciting things that I have ever witnessed. It demonstrated the power of a single melody to expand with the help of multiple instruments and intricate arrangements. It was like a lesson in the development of a soundtrack or a symphony. I found myself almost imagining the workings of Mr. Zimmer’s mind as he develops the wondrous music that enhances so many movies. He manipulated our interest and our mood with the help of remarkably talented individuals who have worked joyfully with him for decades.

I was particularly taken by his use of amplified instruments to enhance the normal orchestral implements. There were guitars, violins and cellos all amped up and making the most incredible sounds. To use a terrible pun it was quite electrifying. I was particularly enchanted by an Asian woman playing an electric cello. She was wildly enjoying her work so much so that I was enchanted by her. The audience would learn that she has been playing since the age of three and that she practices for eight hours every day. Such dedication to a craft is almost unimaginable but it has paid off for her.

The concert featured some of Hans Zimmer’s most popular works including music from The Dark Knight, Man of Steel, Angels and Demons, Interstellar, Inception, Driving Miss Daisy and many more. With lighting designed to operate in time with the music it was a very interactive evening, and I was thrilled beyond anything that I hoped to see and hear. I swear that I actually felt the music on my skin and I’m certain that my seat was vibrating from the sounds. I know that there were moments when I became so emotionally involved with the music that I felt almost breathless. I even joked that some of the music was of the type that I imagined I might hear as I enter heaven one day. At least I hope that it will be that lovely!

After the concert I read an interview with Hans Zimmer in our local newspaper. He mentioned that he was concerned that so many orchestras worldwide are losing money and audiences. He fears that we may one day see the demise of such local musical troupes because they have failed to capture the interest of younger audiences. They struggle just to keep the older folks in the seats. He suggested that the orchestras employ more fun and innovation in their presentations, and he believes that the people will then come. He noted that the composers of the past were often way ahead of their time. They experimented with music and created new forms. It was the excitement of their compositions that made them famous. Now we seem to simply offer stale copies of their inventiveness. He urged musicians to instead be more daring as he has tried to be.

I completely agree with his analysis because I found his presentation to be so stunningly exciting that I would have stayed for hours more if only his musicians had continued to play. The concert hall was filled with people of every age group and everyone appeared to be enchanted. My grandsons who are college age were as taken by the concert as my husband and I who are in our sixties. The affair spoke to the genius of humans and their ability to create sounds that both please and tell a story. The level of brilliance and musicianship was astounding and mesmerizing.

As people we have incredible creative talents. What we have achieved scientifically and medically is a testament to our intelligence. It is in the arts, however, that we truly demonstrate an aspect of our essence that goes beyond utility. We enjoy art for arts sake, for our pleasure. Our ability to fill our environment with sights and sounds that elevate the human spirit is what truly makes us different from the animals. We take words and string them together in beautiful combinations. We draw lines and curves to create visions from our souls. We use sounds blended together to intensify our stories and our moods. We use our voices and play instruments crafted out of wood and metal and strings. What we have done is so amazing if we really stop to think about it.

I can’t imagine living in a time in which there were few opportunities to hear the best music from the finest composers. Because of our inventiveness anyone has the opportunity to listen to the sounds of angels wherever they may be. It is a gift that I enjoy and cherish every single day. I wonder that we don’t seem to fully appreciate such miracles born of our creativity.

Some seem to believe that we are teetering on a precipice as people. I happen to think that as long as we continue to celebrate and enjoy music and art in its many forms we will maintain our humanity. Music is universal. It brings us together without a need for translation. It speaks to each of us and burrows into our very souls.

As a new school year approaches I find myself thinking of a child will picking up a cello and brimming with excitement upon plunking the strings and creating music for the first time. Perhaps that youngster will one day be entertaining all of us. I can’t wait to hear from him/her. We so badly need such souls in our midst, so I hope we will be careful when making cuts to education. I can’t imagine anything more thoughtless than using arts programs as a way of saving money. We truly need our most creative individuals to keep us centered. It is in our natures to desire enrichment of our imaginations. Bravo to the musicians, singers, dancers, artists, and actors who make our world all the more beautiful with their gifts. Like Hans Zimmer I truly hope that we don’t lose any of them.

Shall We Begin?

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There was a time when the world was a quieter place. There were fewer sounds, no cars, planes, trains, televisions, radios, telephones, complex machines. People heard each other, the calls of animals, the wind, the rustling of water. Life was stiller, slower and in most ways more difficult. The very things that so often annoy us, cause us to feel stressed and steal the silence that we often desire also make our lives easier than those of our ancestors. The conundrum that we face in the modern world is how to keep a balance between simplicity and over consumption. It is the tightrope that we walk in our pursuit of happiness and comfort.

I live in a southern climate. I might be happy to eschew using a great deal of energy in the winter because the days are mostly mild and even on an abnormally cold day a heavy coat and a pile of blankets make the chill go away. The summer presents me with a far greater challenge when temperatures linger in the mid nineties for weeks at a time. It is so hot that I take refuge in my air conditioned home and car during the middle of the day. The thought of being without the cool air is almost untenable and yet there was a time in the not so distant past when I lived through nineteen summers without air conditioning and never felt beset upon.

It was a normal and accepted way of life back then. We simply adjusted to our circumstances and carried on the way people had done for thousands of years before us. We led simpler lives that were still more modern than those that our grandparents had known. It never occurred to us that we may have been disadvantaged. We coped with what we had.

Somehow in spite of the multitude of improvements in American life our society seems to be more dissatisfied than ever. We tend to believe that we should all have more and more and more when just maybe we have reached a tipping point at which we should consider cutting back on some of the things that we do and take for granted. We often argue that each successive generation should do better than the last but what if that idea is flawed? What if our real goal should be to find ways to enjoy the best of our modern inventiveness without being so obsessed with accumulating wealth and things? Is it possible to live the good life while also being more frugal in our use of resources and capital? These are our modern day questions. Our dilemma is in finding the answers that will benefit the most people in the world, a gargantuan task at the very least.

I believe in the concept of liberty and as such I mostly disdain the idea of forcing a particular lifestyle on people. I prefer that we each decide on our own how to partake of the world’s benefits. Still I would like to encourage everyone to find their own personal ways of stepping back just a bit and considering how they might simplify and thereby save for the future. By that I mean in terms of both money and our precious resources. Small measures taken collectively often lead to great gains. Our ancestors knew this well and they pulled themselves out of a major depression and two world wars with determined effort and a great deal of patience.

When I describe the world of my youth it sounds absolutely antiquated. My family had one car, one phone, one television. Computers and cell phones were but dreams of inventive souls. Travel was by car for most people other than the wealthiest among us who had the means to fly from place to place. Eating out was a rare luxury. The books that we read mostly came from the library. I only knew one person who had a swimming pool in her backyard. The rest of us went to the city pool on hot afternoons. Air conditioning was a luxury that was only beginning to come into vogue and even then it was in the form of a unit set in a window. Homes usually had a single bathroom often shared by as many as six or seven people. Children bunked together in rooms. Most of us had two pairs of shoes, one for special occasions and the other to be worn for daily activities. We exercised by running and walking and riding our bicycles. It was a happy time and it never occurred to us that one day people would look back on how we lived and think it quaint and wonder how we were able to endure such seeming want.

The average household of old would appear to be more like a state of poverty today. We have improved things considerably but what have we lost in the process? Our desires seem almost insatiable. Our complaints would confound those who lived in another era. They would wonder at the luxuries of even an average person and ask why we still feel as though we need even more.

We argue over the state of our planet ad infinitum. Why would we risk being wrong? The simple answer is to always think about the consequences of our actions. Our golden rule should be to leave every place better than we found it. If that means recycling, planting trees, composting garbage, picking up trash, adjusting our thermostats, buying only what we really need, turning off lights, or finding our own ways of using less energy why would we complain? These are actions that our ancestors took for granted. It doesn’t matter who is wrong or right when it comes to climate change. We should all still want to be kinder to our world.

We probably will never receive the entire cake of benefits but we are certainly capable of sharing pieces of it with our fellow men and women. We will never be able to achieve perfection but surely we will find more contentment in working together just as our ancestors once did. They raised barns as a community and made certain that people experiencing hard times were cared for. My grandfather told countless stories of people coming together to insure that all members of the community were safe and secure and happy. It was understood that this was behavior expected of everyone. They had so much less than we have today but they willingly gave whatever they were able in times of need.

Sometimes it seems as though we have closed ourselves off inside our modern day castles. We have everything that we need inside and we may have anything that we want delivered to our front doors. We isolate and insulate ourselves from the problems outside our domains, often not even knowing the names of our neighbors or what challenges they are enduring. We come and go and rarely think of the difficulties that are ongoing all around us. We turn off bad news and idealize existence and quibble over issues that should have compromised solutions. We have lost our way on so many levels when we need look no farther than the examples of the past to know what to do.

Thoreau admonished us to simplify, simplify, simplify. Mother Theresa showed us how to share. Our grandparents demonstrated courage and a willingness to adapt to changing situations. Marshall rightly urged us to help our struggling European neighbors after World War II. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us how to open our hearts to differences. The lessons to be learned tell us how to live without the worry and strife that exists in so many corners of our world today. If each person were to change just one way of doing things for the better perhaps we might all wake up to brighter days. It’s time to cease all of the grumbling and work together. Shall we begin?