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"It Couldn't Be Done"

BLOG #16, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
“IT COULDN’T BE DONE”
April 22, 2015

I’ve long been fascinated by stories having to do with this abstraction we call “success.” Just what is it that separates the successes from the failures in life? Thousands of books promising success to those who will buy and read them vie for our attention on bookstore shelves. And success remains one of the most turned-to categories in quotation books.

Each issue of Success magazine is redolent with articles, interviews, and bios geared to readers who are searching for success in their lives.

But is it possible that readers can get so inundated by torrents of success-related hype that they miss the great simple truths that, if internalized, could make all the difference in the world? The sober reality is that all the advice in the world won’t work if the advisee doesn’t.

I’ve long been intrigued by studies that confirm one reality in America today: four-point straight A students usually end up working for B-/C+ students. The former all-too-often being all theory and the latter being persistent pluggers who doggedly slog through obstruction after obstruction en route to eventual success. In reality, grade-point average is a lousy indicator of life-success.

Edward A. Guest (1881 – 1959), though born in England, achieved his fame in America. In 1899, Guest, exchange editor of the Detroit Free Press, began writing daily columns, the chief feature being homespun family-friendly poetry. By 1916, these poems were being syndicated in hundreds of newspapers across the nation. Thanks to daily and weekly syndication, weekly radio programs, royalties on books and greeting cards, movie rights, Guest became the highest paid poet in America. His work dominated the first half of the twentieth century.

Elocutionists such as my beloved mother memorized and performed Guest’s most popular poems before audiences large and small across the nation.

One of his most popular, and most widely anthologized poems, was this one – still alive a hundred years later (my mother performed it often):

IT COULDN’T BE DONE

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it”;
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.

Included in Guest’s book, The Path to Home (Chicago: Reilly & Lee Company, 1919). Original text owned by Joe Wheeler.

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THIS THING CALLED "WISDOM"

BLOG #6, SERIES 5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
THIS THING CALLED WISDOM
February 5, 2014

If you, like me, spend much time in bookstores, and watch where people go, once they’ve come in, you’ll discover that many are there for one reason only: they are searching for wisdom. Browsers search through quotation books, philosophy books, religion books, writing books, advice books, self-help books–the list could go on and on. Each of these browsers seeking answers, solutions, or guidance.

Yet it’s strange,, isn’t it? That we who are all but buried in torrents of information–more so than any previous generation in history–find it increasingly difficult to separate the wise from the foolish, the gold from the mica, the original from a copy or cloning.

Untold thousands of these seekers who buy book after book turn up empty. Eventually, a disproportionate number of them give up on finding solutions for their problems and settle for a guru. A guru who’ll say to them, in essence: You fools! You’ll never find answers on your own. Only sages like me, who have sifted through all the stratas of information and have discovered the mother lode of wisdom, can be trusted to answer your questions and bring you peace. All you have to do is listen to me talk and read my books. Never again will you have to wonder about what is important or not. In the future, you need search no further for I have all the answers.

Sound familiar? It ought to for our contemporary society is overrun by self-annointed gurus and prophets who have set themselves up as demigods, both religious and secular.

I too have long searched for wisdom. All writers do. How well I remember a key epiphany in my life’s journey. I stumbled on a book that appeared to contain all the answers I’d ever need in my search to be a successful writer. In fact, the dust-jacket trumpeted the gladsome news that wanabe writers need search no further than this one book, for in it an impressive group of successful writers each divulge the secrets to their writing success. It was not a cheap book, but I rose to the bait and bought it.

Never in my life have I been more disappointed/disillusioned by a book! It was hollow. Not one of all those famous authors offered solutions or guidance! Instead, each one revealed how insecure s/he was; how terrified each one of writer’s block: of coming up empty idea-wise, wisdom-wise.

Not one of them accessed a Higher Power in this near frantic search for wisdom. At this time in my journey, my books were selling well and letters were streaming in. A number of them praised me for my wisdom, acknowledging their debt to me as a source of wisdom they could depend on. This concerned me no little for I knew it was not true, for I was searching for wisdom myself. For an author, such letters are insidious, for the temptation is to believe them, and write back, acknowledging the truth of their assumptions, and inwardly adding another name to the tribe of devotees who can be counted on to buy his/her books.

Finally, God gave me a totally different epiphany: one that has, over time, revolutionized my life. The catalyst: Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived. If the story is hazy to you, here it is:

That night the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream, and God said, ‘What do you want, and I will give it to you!’

[And Solomon answered] ‘O LORD my God, now you have made me king instead of my father, David, but I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around. And here I am among your own chosen people, a nation so great they are too numerous to count! Give me an understanding mind so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great nation of yours?’

The LORD was pleased with Solomon’s reply and was glad that he had asked for wisdom. So God replied, ‘Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people and have not asked for a long life or riches for yourself or the death of your enemies–I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding mind such as no one has ever had or ever will have! And I will also give you what you did not ask for–riches and honor! No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life!’
(1 Kings 3:7-12 NLT)

Though I had read this passage before, never before had I thought of it as having any possible association with myself. But now the thought came to me: Nowhere in Scripture is it said that God would not grant wisdom to someone other than Solomon! What if I asked for it? I could but ask. I couldn’t possibly be more at sea wisdom-wise than I am now!

And so, with my own adaptation of Solomon’s request, I began the first day of the rest of my life:

Lord, as I begin this new day, I recognize that my own wisdom wells are shallow and the water brackish–only Yours are deep, filled with living water. Would You be willing to grant me, just for today, access to Your wisdom wells so that what I say and write may be a blessing?

Incredibly and immediately, I was engulfed by breakers of wisdom rolling up the beaches of my mind!

And so began my daily partnership with God. It has radically changed my life, for I’ve never again had to worry about accessing true wisdom. I never write a word of a story, or a plot, without humbly asking God, that if it be His will [absolutely critical, for God ignores gimme prayers], He will supply the story concept, the plot, the characters. He may make me wait, but always, the story comes, and all I have to do is toddle along behind the characters as God takes them wherever it is His will that they go. Same is true for my (our) story anthologies: God chooses the stories that make it in.

Thus I take no credit for anything that bears my name, but rather I continually note God’s mind-boggling condescension in partnering with the least of His children, one who has made so many mistakes in life. If there be anything in our books that have been published since that life-changing day when I first prayed what I’ve come to call the Prayer of Solomon, it is because all is His rather than mine.

But the flip-side of the coin is this: In order to continue this partnership with God, I am not at liberty to write anything God would not approve of. I cannot compartmentalize what I write or say.

* * *

But now, let’s get back to you. You may not be a writer, so how does the Prayer of Solomon apply to you? The Prayer may be used by every individual, young or old, on earth. It is no more complex than humbly submitting your daily trajectory to the Creator of us all, who created us in His own image, and is moment by moment, accessible to each of us.

However, if you do decide to make this Prayer the foundation of the rest of your life, be prepared for seismic changes in your life. Not that you won’t continue to make mistakes, zig when you should have zagged, but the trajectory of your journey will trend upward rather than downward.

May God bless you.

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THE PARALYSIS OF THE AMERICAN MIND – Part Three

BLOG #18, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
THE PARALYSIS OF THE AMERICAN MIND
Part Three
May 1, 2013

So what do these three blogs mean? Is there a solution?

Before dealing with those two questions, let’s look at what we’ve discussed in the earlier two blogs:

We’ve learned that Internet social networks such as Facebook, are seeking to take control of every aspect of our lives and by constantly intruding, rip apart the fabric of our lives. For starters, let’s look at the issue of productivity, beginning with the current issue of Success:

SHUT THE FRONT DOOR!

          There’s a good reason to hang a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on your door when you need to concentrate. Researchers for Michigan State University and the Navy have determined that people make double, sometimes even triple, the errors immediately after they are interrupted, even when the diversions last only a few seconds. It doesn’t take much to get off track, which occurs whenever people have to shift attention. Three-second distractions doubled errors in the study; 4.5 – second interruptions tripled errors.

          Scientists call the delay in finding your place in the original task ‘resumption lag.’ . . . .It’s agreed that multitasking—essentially a cycle of interruption and resumption of work—acts like a brake to momentum. The takeaways: Turn off the phone, shut down email and close the door to avoid mistakes and work efficiently.
Success, May 2013

In the same vein, it has been aptly stated that today Americans tend to “Major in minors and minor in majors.” Most of what we read, see, discuss, and internalize is meaningless trivia. Contestants on Jeopardy who know all the actors and roles even in third-rate movies routinely miss the simplest questions from the Bible. Across America, there is an abysmal ignorance of even our own history. We have seemingly lost the importance of differentiating between significant and the meaningless and trite.

We have also discussed the alarming trend towards spending more and more of one’s life energy dwelling in a vicarious world rather than dealing with the day-to-day realities of the real world.

And even when we do dwell in the real world we often choose to accept a distorted view of it. In that same May issue of Success, its publisher, Darren Hardy, postulates that “News media has become a competitive blood sport for our attention. Their focus is finding the half-dozen most violent, tragic, scandalous and ugly things that happened in a day and parade them morning and night. Their goal is to trigger our fear, worry, threat and distress responses so we keep tuning in.”

Hardy wraps up his column with these sobering words:

          This barrage of negative input devastates our productive potential and creative capacity. What we see and hear is what we think about. Our thoughts become our expectations. Expectation leads to manifestations. It’s a dangerous and damaging downward spiral.

We’ve also discussed the significance of who each of us is, in terms of whether we are other-directed or inner-directed. If we are other-directed, inescapably we are bundled into the paralysis of the American mind.

And we’ve tackled, at least superficially, the issue of pleasure: Are we permitting the pleasure-principle to dominate our own life journeys? Furthermore, if sexuality becomes more significant than its God-given reason for being: cementing the life-long relationship of a man and a woman (the bastion of family life and security with our children), then of what value are our lives?

We’ve discussed too the increasing separation between us and our fellow-travelers-to-the-grave in this journey we label “life.” Are we willing to permit technology to replace day-to-day human relationships?

Nor should we forget that reading is at the very core of our creativity. If we are settling for the simplistic and narcissistic media world rather than studying books, magazines, and newspapers, then we are ourselves to blame for the myopic blinders we create for ourselves.

Ever since Gutenberg, reading has anchored civilization and made possible the Renaissance and the subsequent explosion of knowledge. If we desert reading in favor of sound-bytes, we thereby contribute to the decline of America. For if we forget God, forget our Founding Fathers, forget the principles our nation stood for during our first two centuries, our end can only be categorized as tragic.

* * * * *

But let me conclude with this sobering thought: In His earthly ministry, Christ hammered home no injunction more than time-management. In parable after parable, He reinforces His expectations that each of us would prioritize life thus: Each day should result in growth/achievement and in selfless service to God’s sheep. Everything else is secondary.

With this in mind, how can so many millions of us dare to fritter away the bullion of the universe—our time—on things that neither contribute to our daily growth and achievement nor make a positive difference in the lives of others less fortunate than us? Every moment of His earthly life, Christ considered precious.

So should we re-prioritize each remaining day left to us.

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LITTLE BOY BLUE REVISITED

We’ve had a lot of responses to our series of blogs detailing the grim picture for boys and men in America today. Now columnist, educator, and former First Lady of Colorado Dottie Lamm has picked up the torch in “Our Boys Are Falling Behind in Education” (Denver Post, April 18, 2010).

She begins with this preamble:

“What’s the next battle for an aging feminist?

Boys.

Granted, the battle for women’s rights and equality has not been completely won, but the new reality is that in the future, it will be males who are most endangered.”

She concurs with the findings in one of my earlier blogs: That since by 2017 (only seven years from now) the ratio of female to male graduates will be 1 ½ to 1, we’re already in the midst of a terrible crisis, and notes that though women have lobbied for generations for their rights and talents to be recognized, they most certainly weren’t lobbying for a complete role reversal, where they’re predicted to “reign supreme in all fields but the sciences.”

And women, she feels, have not even begun to internalize the fallout from such a seismic shift. So she poses this rhetorical question: “How many college-educated women today would want to marry a man with such low educational achievement skills or ambition that he would be permanently relegated to the role of full-time ‘homemaker’—not by choice, but by default?”

Then Lamm turns to causes, and refers to issues I’ve spent most of my adult lifetime studying. Both of us are convinced that we’re now paying the price for forcing our kids into reading and verbal exercises at an ever earlier age. We used to wait until they were seven or eight, but for several generations now we’ve been forcing them into early-learning kindergartens before they—especially boys—are ready for it. Lamm points out that, generally speaking, “the verbal parts of boys’ brains do not develop to capacity until fourth or fifth grade.” Furthermore, brain-scans reveal that the language area of 3 ½-year-old girls mirrors that of 5-year-old boys.”

We both agree: What results from immersing boys into verbal instruction at such an early age is that we set them up for almost certain failure. When girls their own age can run circles around them in classwork, the wounds to boys’ sense of self-worth can be so deep and long-lasting that they just plain give up, convicted that they’re just plain dumb; that nothing they can possibly do will be enough to enable them to reach performance parity with girls. Quite simply, it’s the Dunce Syndrome all over again: Tell a child enough times that he’s dumb, and it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Studies have also shown that small children’s eyes find it difficult to focus on print. On the other hand, boys are wired for action from birth on. That’s why the best thing we can do for them is let them roam the great out-of-doors free of regimentation during the first seven or eight years of their lives. Instead of Gameboys and videos, they ought to be outside climbing trees, wading in creeks, playing in a sandpile. Our own son Greg, just turned seven, was not quite ready for first grade work, so we pulled him out until he was almost eight—by that time he was so ready he raced through two grades in one year.

Studies have shown that children who are force-fed too soon (many are pushed into reading as early as three or four so that they’ll get a head-start over the others) invariably are passed later on by those who were permitted to begin schooling at a later age. Furthermore, those who start too young get burned out earlier than those who wait.

Lamm notes that “boys are far more likely to be held back a grade in fourth grade and then again in ninth grade, an action that promotes a suspension rate for boys that is twice as high as that of girls. This in turn leads to a male dropout rate of 32 percent compared to 25 percent for females.”

And let’s face it, girls remain considerably more mature than boys through college and later. I had 34 years of classroom experience in which to compare the two genders. Believe me, it was no contest: the average coed was about three years ahead maturity-wise, far more ready to tackle serious issues such as marriage and long-term commitment than were the males. But males do eventually catch up—usually by the late twenties or early thirties.

Lamm feels it’s almost criminal that we as a society have failed to do a thing about a problem of this magnitude, pointing out that the U.S. Department of Education “has yet to launch a single probe into the gender gap.”

Lamm concludes with these revealing words: “If a man’s movement develops for boys, I’ll join it. And, as an aging feminist, I’ll still fight to take big chunks out of that glass ceiling for women. But as a grandmother of three young boys, I’m going to do my darndest to keep young boys from sinking into that academic mud floor.”

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DRILL SERGEANT MOTHER HENS

Without a doubt, those four words describe her perfectly. More on her later.

* * * * *

Most of the truly important lessons I’ve learned in life, I’ve learned the hard way. Unquestionably, my most significant growth occurred after I was fired . . . twice. Everyone ought to get fired at least once in life, just for the learning that follows.

It was at a book-signing that she came up to me, introducing herself with these trenchant words: “You don’t know me, but you ought to: Years ago, at ______, you fired me before you took over as Vice President. That was a big mistake, because I could have made you a success, so you wouldn’t have lost your job.” Turns out, she was right: upon the advice of my predecessor, I had fired the one person who could have saved me. In those days, I was incredibly naive about the real world outside cloistered academia. My relevant epiphany had not yet taken place.

That was the slow slogging result of years of door-to-door book sales and fund-raising. Can’t remember the breakthrough moment, only that my life has never been the same since. That’s one thing that really amazes me about life: the greatest truths are known and internalized by so few.

Here it is:     Every organization has two chains of command: de facto and de jure. The truly successful people know which is which, and act accordingly.

One of them, the de jure, everybody knows about instinctively–the logical one. The one on letterheads and power-flow charts. The person on top (usually a man) is the boss. The next one down is next in importance, and so on, each one proportionally less important, until you get to the bottom. These are the ones most everyone goes to when they need something. But is it valid? Ostensibly, yes. If you ask the person at the bottom for something, you go through your entire spiel, and chances are the answer will be, “Terribly sorry, but you’ll have to talk to _______ [the next person up]; and so it is that you keep getting bumped up to the top. Almost to the top, because the boss is always too busy to talk to you. Same with phone queries.

The other one, the de-facto, almost nobody knows about, because it’s not on letterhead or power flow charts. The only ones who know about it are insiders, and they won’t talk about it. Why? Because it’s too precious, coming under the abstract heading: “Knowledge is power.”

It works this way: in each department, there is a go-to person (usually a woman). There has to be, or the entire organization will collapse, for somebody has to be in charge, know how to negotiate the system. Combined in that one person are two oxymoronic qualities: being both a drill-sergeant and a mother hen. Externally no nonsense and hard as nails; deep down, loving, kind, caring, appreciative, tender, empathetic, and supportive.

What is really intriguing is that these de facto go-to people each report to another, higher up, just like them. Up and up and up till you get to the very top. That’s why, when I want to get or learn something, I by-pass the letterhead people and start with the top. Not the CEO, of course, but most likely his personal secretary (usually a woman); I call on her because she runs the entire organization. It would disintegrate without her.

Even her supposed boss trembles in her presence because he is powerless without her. Alienate her at your own risk because if she loses faith in you, you are history. All she has to do is cash in enough of the thousands of chips (“I owe you’s”) she has in her arsenal, and you walk. Since she alone has in her mental lock box all the corporate memory (also all the skeletons, and she knows in which closets they can be found), she cannot possibly be defeated. Not only is she a king-maker, she is also a king-unmaker.

I’m guessing the reason it’s usually a woman is that women (down through history generally being considered of less value than men) have learned to rule by networking among themselves and through empathetic men. They laugh at letterheads and power flow charts. They let those on them strut and preen their feathers as they grandstand on talk shows and to talking-heads. They laugh because they know where the real power is, how to use it, how to get things done—and how to stop everything in its tracks.

* * * * *

Now back to Sacramento two and a half weeks ago. On Friday evening, when we entered the restaurant meeting room, no one greeted us. We had to introduce ourselves to each one. Clearly, no one was in charge. All we had were middle-aged alumni who’d been told to show up; well, they had, but without a shepherd they were as clueless as milling sheep. Then suddenly, there was a shout: “She’s here!” “Debbie’s here!” It was almost spontaneous combustion in the room. Debbie Bighaus had finally arrived from the northwest. The one person, the Facebook Wagonmaster, who was single-handedly responsible for our all being there, had arrived—our de facto drill sergeant-mother hen.

Let the party begin!