I’m the 1%

attitude

 

They don’t do the right thing, but it’s alright.  They don’t play by the rules, and no one seems to care.  The rules that I thought were established and applied to everyone appear to be flexible.  I never considered bending the rules to suit my own needs.  If I ever came close, I would either refrain entirely or go full-on and break the rule (and hope that the consequence is bareable).  But there WAS a consequence!  And knowing that consequences exist is usually deterrent enough for me.  My experiences and beliefs reinforce this.

Before I became a probation officer, I used to process referrals for a Youth Services Consortium.  I treated it like a paid internship.  I was a program coordinator. The big title was deceptive.  I was a pencil pusher, but it gave me preliminary exposure to the juvenile justice system.  The most common and consistent question that I asked in a intake interview was whether the client demonstrated evidence of anti-social/pro-criminal behavior.  But before I could ask the question, I needed to understand it.  Was anti-social behavior akin to criminal intent?  In most cases the client, their parent, or the referring agency didn’t much care (as long we could find services that addressed the problem).  But I needed to know for my own edification.  For all I knew, the questions that I am asking could also reveal something about myself. This may be the first time in my professional career that I spawned an ounce of empathy.  It became a personal endeavor.  Empathy is what distinguishes the social workers from the law enforcers–and a law enforcer, I could never be.


I began to take a deeper look at the problem, the key characters, and the possible solutions.  I concerned myself with positive change, and I knew that I could play a key role in the solution.  I began copying affirmations like “Be the change”or “if you’re not a part of the solution, you are part of the problem!” There were so many problems though.  I resisted contributing to “the problem.” In the years to come I would seek solutions–a never-ending task.

“In everybody’s life there’s a point of no return. And in a very few cases, a point where you can’t go forward anymore. And when we reach that point, all we can do is quietly accept the fact. That’s how we survive.”
Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

Subsequent jobs gave me ample exposures to “anti-social” behavior–all having ramifications for lots of unintended victims.   I began to look at the bigger picture.  My perspective was far enough removed that I could witness the impact that one person’s behavior can have on their family, their friends, and the innocent bystanders caught in the wake of destruction.  If I could glean anything from these experiences, one thing is certain. I must do everything in my power to ensure I don’t cause damage to someone else’s life. My impact must be positive!

Applying this mantra to other aspects of my life is not an easy task.  After all, my effectiveness in my career is met with praise, promotion, and positive reinforcement.  My clients/customers/students respond well to empathy.  Surely someone else could show them that they are worthy, but who else is taking the time to show them how to improve their outcomes?  Hopefully, “the village effect” will kick in.  It takes more than just one or two people in the lives of a children to raise them up to reach their full potential.  For that matter, it takes a village to ensure that every member of the community has what they need to survive and thrive.

The helpers in the community rarely sing their own praises.  The heroes are often unsung. But we are not always in the company of heroes.  There are the others–the constants. The constants in our lives are humbly supporting us, dangerously enabling us, or destructively criticizing us.

privledge

The constants represent the 99%.  They are everywhere!  The business executive honking his horn in the car behind you; the grocery clerk who ignores you as she mindlessly scans each coupon;  or the boss at work (whose demands far outnumber her ability to model positive results).  We are surrounded by the mundane.  We embrace mediocrity because excellence occurs too seldom.  We convince ourselves that it could be worse.  If not for the occasional insistence that we demand more for ourselves, we too would be apart of the 99%.

It’s usually the passion that drives us.  The love beyond ourselves (and the hope that we can make the world a better place for our loved ones) is what keeps us from sinking into a world of lethargy.  


We will fight for our freedoms and privileges, and we care nothing for those who break the rules, those who ignore the general welfare, or for those who oppress the masses.   When it is us that are on the receiving end of a bullet, we fight.  When our entitlements are infringed upon, we rise up.  Hurt feelings, diminished health, or impoverished conditions–these are the things that sink us or force us to swim.  Most times we just tread water.

That’s a pretty vast array of triggers.  Hurt feelings?  It’s not a lie.  The moment someone gets offended, there’s fisticuffs, yelling, screaming, marches and protests.  Turn on the nightly news!  There’s an entire culture comprised of correcting the injustices.  And it’s our culture!  Entitlement!  To some degree, entitlement is not such a bad thing.  We must be mindful that others are entitled to the same freedoms and rights as well.  We mustn’t overlook the importance of others.  When we take on these problems, we can not ignore the larger picture.  Perspective and procedure…if we don’t see it, how can we proceed towards a solution?

angry mobs2

I am the 1%.  I will not be moved by the masses.  I will care but refuse to abandon reason.  I will react.  But I won’t over-react.  I will make a difference because the status quo is not acceptable.  I refuse to approach the problem the same way that the 99% insist.  There is another way!

“It’s not what happens to you that matters. It’s how you respond to what happens to you that makes a difference.”- Zig Ziglar

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Decent Living Wage

imageAfter plenty of debate and threats that law-makers will raise the minimum wage, employers have decided on their own to take responsibility for the well-being of their staff. Fortune 500 companies, national franchises, and domestic industries are leading local businesses in this endeavor. Ensuring that their employees will be able to live within their means has become a priority.  Could this be the beginning of a new competitive streak to determine which employers take the best care of their staff?  Or is this a ploy to show a good-faith effort before the fed makes unrealistic mandates?  Who will be the last to succumb to the pressures?

But there is still heavy debate.  Opposition to raising wages comes from a certain class of individuals.  They warn that offering a higher quality of life for everyone threatens their own livelihood.  This is a bold statement, but it’s not too far from the truth.  Very few people who have worked hard to earn a decent wage (through training schools, colleges, or job experience) want to see someone less qualified offered a comparable wage.  As for the elite, there’s a kind of wealth that causes a sub-class division. Even the rich compete with each other to establish a hierarchy. We are a society of “haters”.  We hate it when someone either has more than us OR if they get theirs easier.  

In a capitalist society, there’s a premise that hard work (and innovative ideas) are rewarded with profits.  These profits, if managed properly will distinguish competitors and drive the economy.  Those who don’t work hard, won’t succeed in business. That’s the belief.  But good businesses fail all the time, mostly because of their inability to adapt in an ever-changing economy. Quick example:  General Motors lost major profits to Toyota because of its reluctance to pursue energy efficient innovations.  Now all auto industrialists are taking notes from Elon Musk’s Tesla!   Adaption is the true requirement for success.

Our legislatures offer a great deal of faith and favor to industries that can generate profits in a variety of ways. The profitability is recognized but not taxed. Instead we hope that  successful companies will be decent enough to offer jobs, pay decent wages, and provide stability for the regions they occupy.  

These same companies tend to capitalize from international labor exploitation.  Those companies that remain loyal to the United States still find ways to exploit the laborers, business professionals, and even stockholders for the sake of profits.  There’s no class warfare in that–everyone is invalidated.  Another bold interpretation.

With raising the minimum wage, there is a fear that prices will increase substantially. This is not a prerequisite to inflation.  Some argue that increasing any expense for the employer causes a domino effect which is eventually offset by the consumer.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  In fact, it shouldn’t!

In can be quite the opposite.  This creates an opportunity to equalize business expenses instead of passing this “additional cost” off to the consumer.  These same companies report huge gains, for which their tax burdens are reduced because they are in the viable position. They can create positive change in our economy, right?

Here’s the rub though. Creating jobs is not the only way to stimulate the economy, nor is it the only expectation of industry.  Providing sustainable goods and valuable services through a productive (and eager) work force yields the highest profits–both financially and intrinsically. There’s value in giving back.

CEO’s and shareholders who refuse to see the inherent good in stabilizing their businesses by distributing the resources between profits, capital, and employee benefits are unwilling to adapt. Society accepts the fact that change is a constant force, but our culture is unwilling to adapt.  Nature, however, is a stronger force than our own free will.  We will adapt–by nature or by choice!

And even giving back to the community is a tax-deductible asset!

We’ve gotten into this terrible habit of praising anyone who can positively impact on our society.  So much so that we’ve mistakenly offered incentives and rewards to entities that don’t deserve it. When Wall Street tycoons warned of a collapsing economy in 2008, the government tightened budgets so that they could give low interest loans and grants. These were later translated into bonuses (and golden parachutes) for CEO’s who later kept that money or invested it over seas.  Those tightened budgets robbed the tax payer coffers of money for education, social programs, and much needed infrastructure repairs. Nearly ten years later, we are worse for the wear and tear.  THIS was done to keep corporations happy.  Where’s the return?

image

More importantly, what’s the real incentive?

There’s an agenda to diminish the value of labor  while giving the appearance that the product (or service) is worth more.  Worth more to whom?  We need to make a distinction between who the customer is.  Just as important, we must identify who is marketing the idea or product.  Does raising the wage send a message to the consumers or to the employees?  Here a hint:  “Don’t strike!”

Employers recognize the awesome power of organized labor.  Non-Union employees hope to capture a taste of the enumerable perks of negotiating contracts and ensuring safety conditions. The labor landscape is evolving.  Business owners as well as industries MUST adapt.  But this may simply be a short cut.

An increased minimum wage is a short term win.  Wage adjustments do not prevent reduced shifts or deminished working conditions.  Cut hours and layoffs are on the other side of added employer expenses. Employees are still exposed to what would otherwise be considered unfair labor practices.

Here’s a question:

Do foreign consumers of American goods value our products for their quality, their durability, or for their support of an American-made consumable?  None of the above!  American exports are at an all-time low!   Even novelties like American flags have no value beyond our boarders.  Retailers mark down items to blow out inventory, but what comes of those products that can’t be sold?  Trash!  When even our citizens will not consume the only affordable, only available goods, we are left with a diminished value and a voided return.

Wages have increased.  Products and services are being marketed. But who is buying?

 

We Are The Revolutionaries!

“Stand up and fight back!”  No matter what side of the political isle you call home, you are going to experience a significant change in the socio-economic climate in the WORLD.  What we are witnessing now is not merely an American condition.

As Canada prepares for American refugees, and Mexico shakes it’s head in disgust, there’s a burning sensation to revolt against the true neo-fascist.  The political infrastructure for decades to come will be built on the decisions we are making in 2016.

Every conservative AND every liberal has a position on all of these issues:

Decent living-wage.  Some defend the status quo because they’ve “earned” their place in life building a skill set based on hard work and opportunity.  Others are demanding a better working condition as they watch their managers and handlers profit from their hard work.  They call it oppression.

Disenfranchisement. The good ol’ boy network has evolved to include a new demographic, but it maintains the same elitist restrictions.  The club is now comprised of both “old money” and new wealth, but a general disgust for anyone looking to evenly distribute the opportunity.  If there’s a way to hamper the positive change on the other end of a registered voter, it will be exploited.  Selma exists in every region of our nation via gerrymandering, pole taxes, residency requirements, and basic literacy expectations. What would result if every ex-con, homeless citizen, naturalized immigrant, college freshman, or disenfranchised senior actually were guaranteed their human right to choose their destiny?

Social Justice. The same injustices that the “privileged” dismiss as delusions of grandeur are the badges of courage for every man, woman, or child who dare wear a hooded sweatsuit while grasping a bag of skittles.    Martyrs are created from the innocent and under-privileged. Civil disparities prompt prejudice and bigotry based on skin color, gender, and creed (with a twist of poverty).  The ultimate sacrifice is minimized and summarized into sound bites and hashtags.  And a cry to go back to a “better time” is embraced by anyone with good credit, a stable job, and…outstanding student loan balances.  The advocates for change are the same folks who have been denied access to the very freedoms for which they’ve paid!  The protectors of those freedoms are the very ones who’ve enjoyed them for generations.

Criminal Justice.  A system that has incarcerated more minorities per capita than any nation in the world is founded on the premise that anti-social is pro-criminal.  But systematically, who is enforcing these norms? There are inmates serving prison sentences for crimes that have been repealed; for peddling drugs that are now legal; while while celebrities glamorize these same norms  and exploit the very same legal system.



Economics.
Profits would be generated on all of this except for the fact that the top one percent has their banks off-shore (and they’re not spending any of that fleeced wealth). Our government can no longer generate revenue from (foreclosed) property, (unearned) income, or (unsold) merchandise.  The money that was spent on industrialized prison complexes, charter schools, and weapons of war…has long-since been directed away from law enforcement, public education, and social services.

“We can do much better!”  This is the new freedom cry, but it’s almost too late.

We are the new revolutionaries!  

But the freedoms for which we are fighting have already been given away.

F U, Mr. Morton!

Twenty years in public service (and another 20 to go) has provided me with plenty of real-world anecdotes.  I’ve witnessed a social dichotomy that’s neither unique to my cultural experience nor restricted to my locale. Nonetheless, my interactions are personal. 

A resumé in juvenile justice, law enforcement, and child protective services prepared me to be…ta da…an educator.  With a brief transition from juvenile probation services to a private alternative school and then back into social services, I’ve searched for a solution to the problem. Only now in my old(er) age do I realize an inherent wisdom in not having the answer.  I barely know the question.  I take a stab at it daily. Today’s hypothesis:  how did we get so despondent?  

With information so readily available and the ability to express ourselves so freely, how did we become more passionate and yet less empathetic?  We care more about our personal experience, and less about the human condition.  We are apart of something great (when we engage in a collective celebration), but we are reclusive when personal responsibility is at stake.  In other words, we only care when we are not alone. 

We are not alone!  We are connected every moment of our day (and night). The revolution will not be televised because it’s in the palm of our hands! Citizen journalism partnered with internet connectivity–there is no escape.  And yet we can’t get the help we need soon enough.  

In my classroom, I enjoy the company of 20-27 elementary school students on any given day. Outside of my classroom, I tutor, mentor, and co-facilitate positive change through various civic organizations.   I’m looking for an answer to a question that’s not been asked. Not who.  Not what.  Not where, how, or when! But WHY?

Why would any of my students treat me with malice?  Why would I be the target of their disrespect or rage?  The students who are the most resistant to compassion are the ones who need it the most, right?  But at what point as a professional do I stop receiving the abuse from my students (and their parents) and put my foot down as a member of the community??  

My career as a professional is second to my farherhood or my residency or my citizenship or my affiliations.  I am not only a teacher!  I live here too!!  My students are the children of my neighbors.  Their parents shop alongside me at the SuperWalmart.  We pay the same high taxes, suffer the same social conditions, and will be buried likely in neighboring cemeteries.  Our human condition is shared.  

Unlike plenty of empathizers who travel 30-50 miles daily to save our children, I LIVE HERE. It doesn’t make me special, but it does give me skin in the game.  Sadly, it doesn’t spare me the abuse; nor does it award me any type special consideration.  Regardless, I’m all in!   

So when a student curses me out for merely applying a universal standard, I don’t back down.  I say a little prayer before I react. Then I apply the wisdom that I’ve gleaned over the years. 

• address the incident

• document the incident

• call the parents about the incident

• refer the incident to the administration

• await a consequence that most certainly will not reduce the likeliness of ANOTHER incident. 

OR

• stop 

• think

• pray

• wait

OR

• warn (the student)

• reason (with the student)

•redirect (the student) 

• wait (for the student to respond appropriately)

• repeat 

Every incident brings with it a uniqueness.  The rhymes or reasons that cause these scenarios have stories of their own.

There’s is something withIN each experience though–a lesson or a fable even.  I know that I’m stronger on the other side of each unpleasant experience.  There WILL be similar occasions, not unlike “Ground Hog Day;” each offering an opportunity to “get it right” or repeat the lesson.   

I’m the teacher, but I’m also the student.  My students are teaching me a lesson.  I’m not certain what the lesson is however.  When I teach, I start each day with an objective that is written on the board.  Although my students may not know the route, they know where we are headed.  I just wish that when others are teaching me a lesson, they would offer some direction.  

Today, when my student said “F U, Mr. Morton!” He was offering the direction that I so desperately need.  Every ounce of my existence spurs me to approach problems head-on!  The sense of urgency is unyielding!   I’m listening, and praying, and waiting…

There’s code in my students’ language.  There’s suggestions in every gesture.  For me, this is a second generation of youth. Their parents celebrate our “familiar” relationship from my previous career(s). They explain that, despite how their kids behave, we will always have history. But that’s not as meaningful as my students returning years later and remarking about our positive interactions. 

I never recall the bitter, but revel in the sweet.  I wonder if each student represents a lesson in patience and perseverance. Are we sharing the same space in the universe for mutual growth?  Is my role as an educator a calling or merely a pit stop onto something greater?

I have no regret–even on the most trifling days.  My disappointments are transformed into enlightenments masking as challenges.  And yet I’m still not adequately prepared for tomorrow.  In my dismay, I long for the meaning behind each moment.  I won’t quit!  I am wondering just how surreal my life would be if I could just figure out if “F U, Mr. Morton!” is just a euphemism for “thank you for not giving up!” Or maybe he’s merely offering a suggestion to where I should get my Ph.D.

Fairfield University, perhaps?

For The Things I Can Never Be

There are certain things I can never be.  Some of them are things I’ve wanted to achieve my whole life.  However, there are other achievements that will go unfulfilled.  I accept that.  In some cases, I embrace that realization. 

 
“Not for nuthing” is an expression that an old girlfriend of mine would mutter all too frequently.  “Not for nuthin, I did the best I could…”  “Not for nuthin, he thinks too much of himself…”  “Not for nuthin, he could never be you…!”  At the time, I wouldn’t think much of these utterances because they were made amidst unremarkable conversations.  Now that I look back, these observations are more meaningful.   

Not for nuthin, I would never try to be something I am not.  I will never be compared to someone who is calous.  I will never hate someone as much as I’ve been hated.  I will never premeditate a plan to harm or destroy someone’s livelihood.  I’m just not that guy. 

  
There are certain things I could never be.  I can never be THAT guy. I will never be the guy that “she” settled for.  I will never be a man who stays home all day (regardless of my ability). I will never be the guy who plays video games all night, and then rushes out the door (without a shower) to get to a job that’s not a career.  And I will never be the guy who abandons his children.  I’ll never be the deadbeat, the wife-beater, or the falenderer.  

Other things I’ll never be:

The drug addict

The gambler

The non-voter

The corrupt politician

The boss

  
I’ll never be overpaid, underworked, or an underachiever.  Nor will I be an overachiever, obsessive, compulsive, or oppositional (well maybe a little defiant).  

Not for nuthin, I will work harder to be a better:

Naturalist  

Risk-remover 

Advocate   
Lobbyist  

Leader  

I will overcome an excessive lack of trust (O.C.E.L.O.T). I will be the best I can be.  I will empower others to do the same–but only if that is their desire.  I will offer myself without demanding.  I will give without expecting.  And I will hold others to a standard no different my own.  I will abandon perfection but strive for excellence.  

  
There are somethings I will never be.  There are things I’ve decided long ago I can not, should not, or will not achieve.  Perhaps it’s a result of becoming a realist.  Or maybe it’s the realization that somethings aren’t worth having. 

Ignoring Red Flags

The choices that we make rely heavily on whether we see the signs–the red flags.

How many times have we been warned by a loved one about a circumstance that may spell a certain disaster?  We proceed with caution.  We may even step back to get a clearer view the situation.  We survey.  We ponder.  We ask questions.  We may even do a risk assessment.  But in the end, the decision to proceed is one that we make on our own.

Sometimes we throw caution to the wind.  Other times we charge-full speed ahead!  Our confidence level is what propels us. Here’s the thing about confidence though.  Like courage, confidence derives from experience, knowledge, and the perseverance to be successful–to boldly go where others would not.

Things get in the way of success.  Things like… a bad experience.  Things like knowledge of how things work (and how they don’t).  Observing how others have proceeded can only enhance our own perception.  What about perseverance to be successful?  How badly do we want success?  Do we want it badly enough to take some risks?

This is called “taking a leap of faith.”  But be cautious!  There’s an un-ignorable ingredient.  Faith!  Not everyone has it.  Not everyone knows how to get it.  In fact, there are a plethora of evangelists who profess it.  It’s more than passion.  And it can’t be had by simply harvesting positive energy.  Faith is as much internal as it is external.  We’ve seen it manifest in various scenarios.  A mother who jumps from a burning building with her infant swaddled in her arms;  or a policeman who runs into that same building to rescue someone’s grandpa.  In those moments of uncertainty, it is faith that overcomes doubt.

red flags

Fortunately, we are not always faced with life or death circumstances.  We make decisions based on their urgency and the risk.  Face it.  Most of us don’t make brash choices when there is a safer way to get the job done.  But what about professional decisions where there are other people involved?  How about personal decisions that impact our loved ones?  The more important the outcome, the more devoted we are to the process.  All the while, we are assessing the risks.  We identify the red flags.  Each flag represents a problem that must be considered.  Ignoring any red flags is perilous.

And yet…

Faith verses function.  We know the way the world works.  We’ve experienced enough failure to have an intimate knowledge of how not to proceed.  And yet we ignore these facts.  We are willing to take the risk.  We will ignore the red flags if we can be assured that what is on the other side is a reward great enough.  That’s not faith though.  That’s a calculated risk.  We can function without faith.  Most of us do. This probably why we don’t succeed as often as we should.

There are so many red flags!  Previous personal failures, short-falls of others, and a that pessimistic feeling that we are not worthy–these all prevent us from achieving our goals. And then there are the red flags that others are waving right in front of us.  They couldn’t hide these warnings if they tried.  Any time we can see that there are pieces missing from (what would otherwise be) a perfect puzzle… that’s a red flag!  When we can see clearly why things haven’t worked out for anyone else in a similar circumstance, that a red flag!! The moment we can tell why we should NOT proceed–red flag!!!  Is it the quest for perfection or the recognition that we should not settle for less?  Although perfection may not necessarily be obtainable, we certainly have expectations of more than…

What we lack is faith.  Generating faith in something greater than ourselves is certainly a step in the right direction.  Faith that we can proceed without worry is how we overcome the red flags.  Faith does not ignore the red flags.  To the contrary, faith enables us to go boldly where others could not because they lacked that one ingredient.  Faith is akin to love in that it does not boast, and it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others. It always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.  Much like love, Faith is strong enough to ensure overwhelming success.

With faith, there is no red flag that can stop us.  With faith, those red flags become victory flags.  Without faith those red flags become white surrender flags!  We are surrounded by folks that have surrendered their effort, their time, and their devotion.  What they see as a red flag can be nothing more than a warning.  For the rest of us it can be an invitation to try harder, go harder, be bolder, and have FAITH.

red flag warning

 

 

My Anger Knows No Color

My anger knows no color! 

I grow more and more angry with every passing day. I recognize the anger, but I’m proud to announce that it never manifests into something destructive. Instead, it translates into a general disappointment in the way that I perceive the world.

After all, there can’t be anything wrong with the world! Everyone else who shares this world seems to be just fine with the way things are going. 

So it must just be me…

I’ll set my sarcasm aside for just one moment. Besides the zealots who either want to destroy the world or emphatically lobby for positive change, no one else seems to give a damn. We argue poverty versus wealth; lower-class versus upper-class–even race-baiting;  We fight a disgusting war that no one is likely to win.

  
My anger knows no color!

I repeatedly convince myself that I am dissapointed in this world (and angry with myself) for believing those things that the world is presenting as true. My intermediate gauge of discernment is all I can rely on now. 

None of this makes sense!

So please don’t be surprised when I don’t believe you. It’s not even a matter of trust anymore. Offering trust on the front end of any relationship (business, personal, or professional) is dangerous. I don’t trust my politicians, my leaders, or my neighbors. I barely trust my “friends.”

Anyone who has earned my trust has been around long enough to know how easily trust can be lost.
Believe me…
My lack of trust has nothing to do with the way you look. It has nothing to do with your demographic… Or your race… Or you’re standing in the community.  It has everything to do with your character. 

And so if you want me to be on board with you, you better be about more than mere words. I’m watching closely. When the actions don’t match the words, there will be a problem. I will not proceed with anyone with whom I cannot trust.

My anger knows no color!

And I don’t think I’m alone on this.