Archive for January, 2014

01/23/2014

Applying Experience…

“There is nothing so easy as to learn as experience and nothing so hard to apply.” – Josh Billings (aka Henry Wheeler Shaw) 1818-85

josh billings

01/22/2014

“I Wanna Know My”…Legacy!?

2013 was a year like any other, filled with some highs and lows on my end. One of the lows was the passing of my grandmother during Thanksgiving weekend. I had a chance to go back home to her send off and as with was meeting new family and getting acquainted with old family, the whole experience put me in a very reflective mood.

My grandmother had 7 children, 19 grandchildren and about 30 great-grandchildren at the time of her send off. I was swimming in a sea of aunts, uncles, and cousins during her send-off weekend. Above and beyond that though, she was a well-liked, well-respected woman in the community. During the church service, the building was packed – and the tent we put up outside was full to capacity as well. Typically, during memorials like these there is nothing bad said about the person – even if they were evil incarnate on Earth. In this case however, all the accolades were not only very genuine, but well deserved and appropriate. She was one of those real yet very accepting and wise people who sometimes I think we may be losing a few more of them than we should as time goes by.

It was such a powerful experience to see old family, meet new family and just reconnect with my roots. Having returned, it has got me thinking about one word: legacy.

What kind of legacy do I want to leave behind? What kind of mark do I want to leave here on Terra Firma?

I share this not be facetious, but my grandmother’s send-off was a reminder of the fact that the mark one leaves is often most evident in those who remember that person. Some of the most well-remembered people do leave tough roads to follow, the proverbial big shoes to fill. Sometimes the goal isn’t trying to fill those shoes per se, but to put what one needs from their examples in order to leave their own mark. Many will say that the greatest way to follow a legend is to walk your own road and be firm in your own principles. Guess that was what Steve Young, who ended up being a Hall of Famer himself, did after stepping up when Joe Montana (one of the top Hall of Famers) left.

I suppose that from a spiritual/giving account of things perspective, there will come a time where our merits and missteps get laid out for others to see. Perhaps it is in the “halls of judgment” as some of the religious texts say. Perhaps it is even at the memorial service, because as each attendee reflects, they may be weighing those scales of the person and forming their own judgments during the course of the service.

I’ll never forget attending a funeral during the spring 2013 where the preacher stated clearly:

“Funerals aren’t for the dead. The dead cannot hear the praise or scorn that is heaped upon them. Funerals are for the living – as reminders to seize the moment, to address what needs to be fixed in your life and do it. Because when you die, the time to do so has passed.” (Paraphrased)

So as I move forward into what I feel in a critical stage in my own life course, the term of legacy starts to carry an even deeper level of significance for me. I take solace in the fact that I feel like there is still time to make changes I need to, and am hopeful to build upon existing strengths. Still, I look at those who have passed on before me and feel that time is still of the essence.

What will my legacy be? Time will tell. I hope that yours and mine end up being ones that people who are alive after we transition will reflect upon as favorably as I do with my grandmother and those of her gracious ilk.

01/21/2014

Paying Attention To Others…

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” – Plato 427-347 BC

ZP - Plato Play-Doh 02

01/20/2014

“The Dream” of MLK

Some of my favorite inspirational leaders I like to read their works from time to time include Malcolm X, W.E.B. DuBois, and my all-time favorite two: Marcus Garvey and MLK. On this MLK Day, it’s always a good idea to take stock as to where we are in the pursuits of the dreams and ideals advocated by these leaders.

My suspicion is that from their vantage point, those leaders above may be pleased with what they’re seeing. So we have a Black Man as President of the United States – pretty cool stuff. I’ll never forget seeing people weep openly, both at upon his election and during his 2009 inauguration. Now, I made the following comment to a friend recently and got hammered for it. For all the ability and grace Mr. Obama has shown to galvanize the poor and middle class (to some degree), he has left the rich people out of the party in his quest to bring back a unified America and move things forward. Yes, the political climate is a lot more complicated and unfortunately, his ethnicity and the ethnicity of his opponents still plays a role. But, the fact that we even have one in the Oval Office, was reelected, and can debate his effectiveness more so based on his credentials than simply his skin color is still an amazing achievement.

There are now minorities in other places of high office too. In NYC, there is now a Latina City Council Speaker;  few year ago a Latina Supreme Court Justice was elected as well. One looks around at the changing landscape with gay rights getting to the point where more states are offering the opportunity for gay marriage.  In the film industry, 2013 was a banner year for African-Americans in lead roles, and in powerful films nonetheless. “12 Years a Slave”,” 42”, and “The Butler” led the way in a string of noteworthy films with prominent African-American actors and actresses delivering noteworthy performances. Even in the music genre, 2 groups in a prominently televised Acapella only competition – 1 Filipino teen males, 1 African-American coed gospel singers– placed 4th and 2nd respectively. And that’s just a sample of all the amazing achievements on behalf of equality that happened within the past calendar year.

Yes, there is a lot more change happening here in the US, and globally in many ways. But there is still much work to be done. For example, the ongoing situation in Russia about gay rights is absolutely a shame. Here in the US, still no paid maternity leave for women – one of 4 countries globally not to offer that right. Women in the US still make only 75 cents of every $1 to men doing the same work in many industries. Many causes and sources for injustice still occurred; racism and inequality are still rampant – in some places more entrenched than before. Some of our communities still battle unemployment, high crime rates, chronic chemical dependency, and homelessness plague minorities in many areas.

But, we are making progress, and I would like to think that those leaders, especially MLK, knew that change was a long haul thing. I suppose just as how Rome wasn’t built in a day, we cannot expect change to happen completely overnight. I’m hopeful that MLK’s dream will come true. I won’t lie and say selfishly I’d like to see it happen on my watch, but as long as we all continue to pull together, it has a good chance of becoming a reality in the years ahead.

01/19/2014

Mediocrity vs. Success

“There is plenty of room at the top because very few people care to travel beyond the average route. And so most of us seem satisfied to remain within the confines of mediocrity.” – Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe 1904-96

nnamdi azikiwe

01/18/2014

A Costly Reputation

On a rare sick day earlier this week, I was at home, catching up on some TV while battling an uncooperative stomach. As I was channel surfing, I spotted something that really caught my eye. Now, I am a guy who watches a lot of sports – and while I don’t claim to be a fanatic, I tend to know a bit more than the average person who watches the games. So I am watching ESPN’s Mike and Mike simulcast on ESPN2 and the topic of Alex Rodriguez came up. What ensued was a surprisingly a high level discussion that hosts Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic don’t always get into that I found highly refreshing.

The short version of it is that Alex Rodriguez is an immensely talented baseball player who now plays for the New York Yankees. This dude is a real glamor boy – having dated big names like Kate Hudson, Cameron Diaz and even Madonna. In the past, he has admitted to using performance enhancing drugs, something that has become a huge no-no in the sport. Now, he is caught up in another drug scandal and he has been banned from playing a full season. The league was trying to ban him for a year and a half, but the suspension was reduced to 1 year (in baseball that’s 162 games), inclusive of any post season games played by the Yankees. This is a huge deal in the sport, simply because it is the longest drug suspension handed out ever to this point, to one of the most recognizable face of the game over the past 20 years no less.

In an almost expected turn of events, Alex has sued the MLB Players union (one of the most powerful labor unions overall in the US) and Major League Baseball over the grounds of his suspension. (Here’s the one of latest updates: http://espn.go.com/new-york/mlb/story/_/id/10302554/alex-rodriguez-new-york-yankees-speaks-media-first-season-long-suspension). Things have gotten to the point where there is talk in the media that the Yankees should pay him off the rest of his contract – 61 million over the next few years – and just cut him loose. Now, A-Rod, as he is commonly called, has long become a pariah in the sport, a seriously polarizing figure that has put up incredible numbers – Hall of Fame numbers – but may never, ever get into the Hall of Fame.

He’s made to this point about US$352 million in earnings from baseball. So Mike and Mike on their radio show proposed this question to their listeners that got me thinking:

“Knowing that A Rod has made enough money in the bank to have his family set for life, would you trade places with him, especially since his reputation ruined and legacy shredded?”

Of course, there were mixed reactions on Twitter. Some people said take the cash; others said their reputation wasn’t for sale. It got me really thinking.

Some folks, as far as A-Rod is concerned should use his $352 million and buy a new reputation. The thought there is that this will fade after a few years, and maybe many years from now people will view this time period differently, perhaps with more compassion. Others say that there is no price for a good reputation. I heard quotes like “my father game me one thing – my name – and instructed me to take good care of it”, and “what would it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul”. Mike Greenberg posed the following thought:

“As for your kids, in your pursuit to take care of your family, how comfortable would you feel with the idea of having a reputation so tarnished to the point where they would have an uncomfortable pause to say –‘that’s my dad’“? (Paraphrased)

The truth is everyone has a price for doing business and achieving their goals. For some, taking care of their family by any means necessary, especially when their survival is constantly at stake, is more important than the risks associated with their methods to achieve their aims. It is why some desperate folks get into illegal activities; some sleep with a boss or coworker to keep a job/get promoted; some abandon their families to please a spouse. These are complicated decisions people are forced to make, often times under pressure packed situations.

It triggered a side note of an episode of a show called “Cocaine Wars” I saw later that day. In it, they follow US DEA agents working with Colombian authorities to bust drug rings in Colombia. There was a case of a man traveling with his 3-year-old daughter who got stopped in Columbia’s international airport for smuggling large quantities of cocaine in his suitcase. He shared later that his wife and other kids in his home of Spain only had money left for the next few days. He was just trying to do this deal and get enough money to fix their financial problems. Now, he is in jail for many years, his daughter who was with him goes into protective custody, and is wife and family back home face even more hardship.

I don’t envy having to face these dilemmas, and I have mad my share to this point. As for me, I was taught that once lost, your reputation cannot be repaired. Even if you rebuild it, things are never the same again. It’s almost like that feeling one gets after replacing a broken window pane with either the same glass before or a new sheet of glass – it is just not the same as before. Guess that has made me more cautious and protective of my rep and more critical in how I thinking through decisions as I handle my own affairs. Would I bend the rules and sacrifice a sliver of my rep to take care of my family? Probably, given the situation – because I know what my price is and that no one can set my price for me. The fact is knowing one’s price, and not having others set that price for you are very important. If you don’t know your price, how can you truly handle those high-risk, morally charged dilemmas?

 As Kenny Rogers once said: “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run.”

Good luck, A-Rod. It will surely be fascinating to watch.

arod-cigar

01/17/2014

Loving Freely…

“The love we give away is the only love we keep.”Elbert Hubbard 1856-1915

elbert hubbard

01/16/2014

“When The Lights Gone Out..”

I was at home a few days ago, settling into what was supposed to be a quiet Monday after an uneven work day when a power outage struck, plunging my apartment complex and the surrounding areas into complete darkness. So I did what any professional would do in this situation, I got up, found my lighter, lit a few candles and started turning off electronics. Then I sat back on my couch, put on some music and continued to relax before showering and going to bed.

Why so calm? Well, for one, this wasn’t my first power outage. In fact, growing up in my corner of the island back home, full power outages or low voltage outages were “le fait de faire”. We had the whole kerosene lamp routine going, where each bedroom had a lamp and matches were placed within easy reach. Now, mind you when the power went out where I grew up that was P-I-T-C-H-B-L-A-C-K. So you were feeling around and getting matches, lighting one lamp, and then walking to the other room to light the larger lamp which goes into the living room. When you wanted to shower during the black out, you took the smaller lamp in the bathroom and put it in a safe spot to see what you were washing. I even knew the power grid we were on and the local utility’s power outage hotline. I even reported an outage a few times, because fortunately the phones didn’t go out.

During the outages we would sit on the verandah and listen to all the kids who came out in the darkness and were playing in the streets and making noises. I was just happy to sit outside and it was a little bit of family time where we would tell old school stories and PG-13 jokes. It was often cool during those late evenings/early night-time hours when the power went out. With the local utility, there was never an estimate – power was restored when power was restored. Often times I would be in the house and hear a tremendous roar in the streets – the equivalent of home fans cheering their sports time on the game winning play – to signify that the lights were back on. I would just chuckle and go to bed.

Still, there were some folks who never got to experience that thrill of seeing the lights back on in their house. I knew friends where the kerosene lamp at night was the way of life for them. I suppose knowing them and my own experiences above caused me to never to take access to electricity for granted.

Last night’s outage had a different feeling, because the implications were different. It had me flashing back for a second to walk down Park Ave South from Grand Central Station to Union Square the night after Sandy hit in Fall 2012 and the area was in complete darkness. There was an eerie foreboding outside – that frankly, it wasn’t safe. Cell service got spotty in my apartment a few times too, so I can imagine how some people may have panicked a little bit with a low battery when the power went out. I looked out my window and watch the cops drive through the nearby streets, just to keep the knuckleheads inside and not take advantage of the cover of darkness. I saw the fire department come into the complex at one point, presumably to help get someone out who was stuck in an elevator. Yes, the power outages I experienced as a kid were equally dangerous but there was a slight sense of romanticism with them. What I saw last night and during that walk down Park Ave was eerie and foreboding.

Fortunately, they fixed it promptly. When I woke up a few hours later, the annoying infomercials on TV signaled that order was back in this corner of the universe from a power perspective. For some folks, this may have been a simply blip on the radar and life returns to normal. But when things like this and natural occurrences such as Sandy step in, I often wonder how prepared most people in my corner of the globe are. The answer is, frankly, not so much. Can you blame folks though? Some are too busy enjoying the finer things in life, some are trying to survive life and others fall somewhere in between. Still, being prepared for an emergency situation like this is always helpful in staying calm.

 So…what would you do when the lights go out?

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