Monday, May 19, 2008

Lessons from the School of Hard Knocks

It’s been a while since I shared any of the multitude of lessons I’ve learned though the decades, something I really should do every so often… just because I’m that kind of giving, caring, sharing person.

If I can allow someone to benefit from my own “school of hard knocks”, I want to do so.

(To tell the truth, I not only went to the school, I have an earned PhD of Hard Knocks. I should really be the one writing the textbook and teaching the courses. And I’m only referring to the actual “hard knocks”… you know, like when I come around a corner and run right into a door several times a week; or trip and fall down the stairs onto my ample derriere; or bump my head on the top of the car every time I get in or out; or any time I engage in even the least bit of exercise and end up knocking something out of whack; or the game my associates at the office often play, called “Hit Rod-Boy in the Back of the Head with a Stapler from Across the Room"; or the time I accepted a dare to see if a bowling ball would bounce off my head; or playing football for seven years as a kid with a helmet that kept falling off because my head was shaped like a microwave oven. I’m talking about actual, bona-fide hard knocks, in the real sense, not the metaphorical.)

If you’re referring to metaphorical “hard knocks”, then I graduated from that school a long, long time ago, too, and by now, I should be the King or the Pope or the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, or something of the sort. Either kind of hard knocks, I’m well-schooled in... I've had my share of 'em.

But I digress.

My point here is to share with you just a few of the lessons I’ve learned along the highway of life, so that you might avoid a hard-knock or two.

So, in no particular order, here are a few random tidbits I’ve picked up on the way to being older than dirt.

Lesson 1: Laughing is good exercise. It's like jogging on the inside.

Lesson 2: If you think nobody cares if you're alive, try missing a couple of car payments.

Lesson 3: The easiest way to find something lost around the house is to go ahead and buy a replacement for it.

Lesson 4: Men and women are different. Deal with it. And be thankful for it.

Lesson 5: If anything contained in Lesson 4 above was offensive to any female, “I’m sorry, I was wrong, I apologize.”

Lesson 6: Birds of a feather flock together… and they mess up your car.

Lesson 7: Invest wisely. From experience, I would recommend against any of the following ideas:
a) Inflatable dart board.
b) Glow-in-the-dark sunglasses.
c) A book on how to read.
d) Solar-powered flashlight.
e) Screen door on a submarine.

Lesson 8: Some days you are the bug, some days you are the windshield.

Lesson 9: Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.

Lesson 10: The older you get, the tougher it is to lose weight, because by then your body and your fat are really good friends.

Lesson 11: It could be that your sole purpose in life is simply to serve as a warning to others. Or maybe a “bad example”. Possibly, you were meant to always be the “before” in a “before and after” comparison.

Lesson 12: There are really four stages of life: First, you believe in Santa Claus; next, you don't believe in Santa Claus; third, you ARE Santa Claus; and finally, you look like Santa Claus.

Lesson 13: Before you criticize anyone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, it won’t matter if they get mad at you for criticizing them, because you’ll be a mile away from them… and you’ll have their shoes.

Lesson 14: If you always tell the truth, you don't have to remember everything you’ve ever said to try to keep your stories straight.

Lesson 15: Never believe a newspaper columnist can really offer you helpful advice which might help you avoid “hard knocks”. Take it from me… it just ain’t gonna happen!

That’s all for now. Have a good week… and, if I were you, I’d wear a helmet.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

You know you've picked a bad candidate when....

Most of these weekly columns are filled with my pointless ramblings about topics of which I know little or nothing. Remarkably, this is NOT one of those weeks.

This week I’m writing about politics… the one topic that I actually know something about. (Not as much as I think I know, it turns out… but when you’ve been practicing politics for over half-a-century, some of it has to stick.)

Politics is, of course, the topic EVERYBODY knows something about, because, at the end of the day, it’s nothing but everybody’s opinions all rolled together into a big giant imaginary ball.

The reason politics is on my mind is because we have an important Election Day coming in just a few weeks: June 10th, to be exact.

I know what you’re probably asking yourself: “Didn’t we just do that a couple of months ago?”

Or maybe you’re thinking: “I thought that was in November!”

The election coming up is South Carolina’s state and local primary election, where the two parties choose their nominees to compete against each other in the November General Election. (This is not to be confused with the Presidential primary elections which have been ongoing across the nation this year, with our state’s GOP and Demo contests being held in January, so as to be ahead of most other states in the lineup.)

Here are two key facts about the upcoming June primary elections:

1. Most races are really decided in primary elections, not November general elections.

2. Most people don’t vote in primary elections.

In 2006, which was South Carolina’s last primary election, a whopping 11% of the registered voters showed up to vote in the Republican contest, while 6% chimed in on the Democratic side.

Most media observers lament those low voting percentages as worrisome, distressing, upsetting, and generally an indication that government as we know it is about to fall into shambles.

Not me. I think its fine that only a handful of people vote. It makes the voting power of the small percentage of folks who DO vote that much greater.

Also, I happen to believe that a lot of people don’t vote simply because they’re happy with things the way they are. And why not? This is America, where the biggest problem many people have is keeping track of which of their seven remote controls operate which of the 23 electronic devices they have in their $240,000 three-story homes.

I think it’s a mistake to force people to vote if they really don’t have a strong opinion. When that happens, we end up with government by coin-toss. Or worse, we end up always re-electing incumbents because their names are better known, and voters who don’t have strong opinions typically vote for the names they know best.

Which is not to say I don’t want people to participate… I do. I always encourage voters to take the time to go to the polls and vote… after they have taken the time to become acquainted with the candidates, their qualifications, and their positions on the issues.

But if you’re not going to spend the energy to make an informed decision, I say just don’t bother. When you toss a coin, you just might be the vote that elects the wrong candidate! (Incidentally, this is my personal opinion… and I will point out that it is shared by very few of my friends and acquaintances in the political arena. None that I can think of, in fact! Just me!)

Which brings me to the point of today’s lecture. Because I know that NOBODY is going to heed my advice, and there will be countless thousands of voters in voting booths who have absolutely no business choosing their own toothpaste, let alone choosing our elected leaders, I thought I would try to offer a helpful guide, which I’m calling:

“The Top Ten Signs You’ve Picked a Bad Candidate”

10-- Campaign theme song is “Freebird”, accentuated by a loud “Vote for me, I’ll set you free” at the end of each line.

9--While knocking on doors to meet voters, also tries to sell subscriptions to “your choice of over 200 quality magazines”.

8-- Official campaign colors are Red, White, Blue and Fuschia.

7-- Refuses to participate in debate; instead, issues challenge to opponent to participate in a televised game of “rock, paper, scissors.”

6-- Was caught by news media using an illegal immigrant as his campaign manager.

5-- New campaign slogan is: “Will work for food”.

4-- In every debate, answers all questions by alternating the same two answers over and over: “Let ‘em eat cake!” or “Let’s drop the big one!”

3-- Wife and kids have taken to wearing bags over heads, and always leaving home by the back door.

2-- Offers you a giant magic marker as you are entering the polling place “to make sure your vote counts”.

1-- Tells you the only “change” he’s interested in is “your spare change! Gotta quarter?”

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A Prayer for Jerry

It was last February when I first reported here that my friend, Jerry Fowler, had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

Jerry and I have been close friends for a number of years, working together on matters of business, marketing, politics, networking… you name it. He is well-known here in the Midlands for his real estate brokerage, as well as his weekly radio talk-show. He has boundless energy, and one of the most-positive attitudes of anyone I have ever met. He’s an achiever. In 2004, I, along with others, helped talk Jerry Fowler into running for a seat on the Lexington-Richland District 5 School Board. As it turned out, Jerry was a natural vote-getter, and became one of the most positive forces on that board.

His campaign for school board is when I really got to know him well. Since that time, we’ve worked together on a number of projects.

Shortly after being diagnosed, Jerry called me to let me know of his situation, and to tell me that he would like to share his coming cancer battle with readers of this newspaper.

While the diagnosis seemed like bad news to me, Jerry didn’t sound like he was delivering bad news. Instead, he sounded full of positive energy, as usual.

“I know it’s going to be a big challenge,” he told me, with characteristic optimism. “I want to face it with a positive attitude.”

He told me that he wanted to use the opportunity to do something positive for other people.

“I want to tell my story, step-by-step, as I face these upcoming challenges, and maybe it will somehow help others overcome obstacles they face.”

Since that time, we’ve published reports from Jerry Fowler each week – for over a year – detailing the highs and the lows of his battle. And the response from readers indicates that Jerry was right: his reports have helped many, many people. In 19 years of publishing newspapers, we’ve never seen anything else have such a positive impact.

But this week, we don’t have a report. Instead, we have a request for prayer.

His wife and partner, Judy, called me this weekend to let me know Jerry is in the Baptist Hospital, and unable to prepare his weekly report.

“Please pray for him,” she asked.

He has endured terrible headaches for the last few weeks, she said, but his faith is strong.

Apparently, the cancer has spread further. A spinal tap indicated that it's now moved to his spine. His doctors say the treatment they plan for Jerry is aggressive and dangerous.

But Jerry and Judy believe in the power of prayer, as they have from the beginning. They know a miracle can occur. She asked me to pray for Jerry, and I did. Now I’m asking all of his friends and acquaintances to also join us in praying for Jerry.

That will be a lot of prayers, because Jerry and Judy have earned a lot of friends over the years.

I wish I had someone more skillful at praying than myself to offer guidance, but I’ll try my best, and I hope the Lord doesn’t judge prayers: “Lord, please look over and protect my friend and your humble servant, Jerry Fowler. Embrace him with the miracle of recovery, so that he might continue to witness for you and serve his brothers, if that is your will. I pray for him in Jesus name. Amen.”

Please say a prayer for Jerry Fowler.