August 20, 2014

Why indeed?

This was the question Washington Post columnist Brigid Schulte tackled in her August 10 column in The Denver Post.

Schulte notes that “We Americans work hard. Weekends are more like workends. We sleep with our smart phones. And we think vacations are for wimps. So we don’t take them. Or take work along with us if we do.”

We are indeed a nation of workaholics. Indeed we are the only advanced economy with no national vacation policy. One in four workers, typically in low-wage jobs, have no paid vacation at all. Those who do, get, on the average, only ten to fourteen days a year. Europeans enjoy twenty to thirty days of paid vacation every year.

Terry Hartig, an environmental psychologist at Uppsala University in Sweden, maintains that “when people go on a relaxing vacation, they tend to return happier and more relaxed. . . . And those mellow, good vibes spread like “a contagion’ to everyone you come in contact with. . . . Send everyone away on vacation at the same time [as is true in Europe], and that contagion takes off through the population like a viral happiness pandemic.”

Hartig and his colleagues conducted a major study based on the incidence of anti-depressant prescriptions in Sweden during the years 1993 through 2005. They discovered that the more people took vacations at the same time, the more prescriptions dropped exponentially. True for men, women, workers, and retirees. Since 1977, Swedish law has mandated that every worker must be given five weeks of paid vacation each year (and they may take four of them during summer months. “The benefits,” maintains Hartig, “are huge. Not only is the society measurably happier, but workers are more rested and productive, relationships are closer and people are healthier. And depression is a very costly disease.”

Depression alone costs the U.S. economy an estimated $23 billion a year in lost productivity.

* * * * *

We were not created to run non-stop, but rather to take time off from work at least once a week. Scripture mandates Sabbaths during which we may regenerate. Longer Sabbaths were also mandated periodically. Multiple studies have confirmed one universal truth: Those who work non-stop soon reach the point of diminishing returns. The more hours they put in on the job the less effective they are, the staler their ideas are. So employers who work their employees to death end up losing even more than their employees do.

Furthermore, unless you frequently get out of your workplace squirrel cage, you never gain fresh ideas at all, but merely recycle increasingly outdated concepts and methods.

So back to Hartig who notes that, in Sweden, “It’s like there’s this national agreement that it’s vacation time, and work will be left aside. So instead of working and being distracted and busy, people get outside. They do things they like and enjoy. They see friends, visit their aging parents, or finally have time for that cup of tea with a friend who has been blue.”

* * * * *

America continues to pay a terrible price for our workaholocism. The current epidemic of depression and suicides ought to be a wake-up call for us.

We must take time to live!

Barely Begun at Seventy – Part One

July 9, 2014

It was a glorious spring morning in California’s verdant Napa Valley. And the alumni were coming home from all across the nation to their alma mater, Pacific Union College, judged by the likes of Newsweek and U.S. News to feature the most beautiful college campus in America.

I was privileged to be one of six alumni to be honored that weekend. But for us it was a two-way street: we were expected to give as well as take. Each of us was given around eight minutes to share with the audience the most significant distilled wisdom life had brought us. If you don’t think that would be a tough challenge, just put yourself in our places: how would you have responded to such an assignment?

For me, the question had profound implications, convicted as I am that all true wisdom comes from God. And since I’ve tweeted nuggets of wisdom every day now for almost three years, I had a lot of distilled wisdom to access. But the core of my response to this assignment was a no-brainer: There was for me only one possible quote that would satisfy. Especially, given the makeup of this particular audience. This is it:

A life may be over at sixteen
or barely begun at
it is the aim
that determines its completeness.

That well-over-a-hundred-year-old-quotation came to me just when I needed it most: during the countdown decade leading up to the biblical “threescore and ten” that symbolizes a lifetime. At least that used to be true. In America, prior to the twentieth century, the norm was only forty-five years. Today, we’re back to the biblical seventy. I discovered that seminal quotation in a very old issue of that great magazine for young people: The Youth’s Instructor.

I needed it because as each of us approaches this time-period in life, one’s seventieth birthday can be almost terrifying: You mean my life is almost over? I don’t have any more time left? Will it be all downhill for me now? Will I be living on borrowed time? Is my productive lifetime over? Will it all be just a waiting game–waiting to die? All these questions swirled around in my head.

Also part of this ferment was a long-time metaphor for the perceived terminus of one’s productive lifetime: the proverbial Gold Watch. When or if one lived to be 65 years of age, one’s employer presented you with a gold watch. From that day forward, you were no longer a worker bee. You were now officially old. But not to worry: the benevolent government would now take care of you in the short time-frame you had left. Blessed be Social Security.

You see, when Social Security was born during the traumatic FDR era, no one expected Americans to live much longer than 65: many would die before they reached 65. This is why it seemed such a safe life raft for our government to offer its citizens. No one then even dreamed that more and more Americans would be living into their seventies, eighties, nineties, and, gasp! hundreds! Prime reason why the Social Security program is today threatening the fiscal stability of our nation.

The mind-set back then was this: You have exceeded expectations: You have reached 65. This gold watch means you’re done. We’re putting you out to pasture. We expect no more work out of you. Rock away on your front porch until you have the good sense to die. Always remember that Social Security is short-term: we can’t afford to pay you for living much longer. Most certainly we don’t expect you to live past seventy! Goodness! Do you think you’re immortal!

This was the mind-set of my grandparents’ generation.

But the problem today is this: We have never developed a template for vibrant productive living beyond the Gold Watch.

I see this reality at every alumni weekend I attend. Classmates who have given up on productive living now that they’ve entered the Gold Watch period. They don’t admit this in words, but they most certainly articulate it in their actions! They’ve traded their heretofore active lifestyle for a meaningless sedentary one. They’ve given up on goals. You ask them what they’re doing these days, and they sigh, “Not much…. Watch TV, putter around, play a few holes of golf, babysit the grandkids–you know: the usual.”

You can tell they’re telling you the truth because physically and mentally they are rapidly falling apart.

Each of them is indeed just waiting to die!

Next week, July 16, we shall continue on this topic: BARELY BEGUN AT SEVENTY.
Copyright© 2014


A Honeybee Allegory

July 31, 2013

In the tenth and last of “The Good Lord Made Them All” animal story series is a fascinating story that will appear in the book next January. As I was preparing to write this week’s blog, a subject prominent in today’s media (both electronic and print): the current standoff between the forces of entitlement and the forces of job-creation came to mind. Keeping in mind, of course, that both opposites are always with us, each serving a purpose. For some strange reason, I felt impressed to take some lines from the story, and use them as this week’s allegory, leaving the application, if any, to our readers.

Until now the sycamore hollow had been strictly a female domain, but in early May there emerged from the central brood cells a limited group of double-sized, stripeless bees who conducted themselves in a decidedly loud and lordly manner. To some extent, this arrogance was understandable. From the very first they were pampered by the household legions. They toiled not and neither would they rule, yet the queen herself received scarcely more attention.

These males, numbering perhaps three hundred, each resplendent in a velvety jacket of golden brown, grew fat and sleek on the choicest sweets from the honey pantry. By June they were spending their hours mainly in a sluggish stage of honeyed drunkenness. But the thousands of toil worn harvesters and domestics pursued their ceaseless duties….

There nestled in the carefully guarded center of the brood nest a half-dozen cells much larger than the rest. By the second day after the old queen had been swarmed away from the sycamore, one of these cells pulsed with life. There was a stirring within, a faint, gnawing commotion somewhat like a chick pipping an exit from its swaddling shell.

Excitement quickly simmered throughout the queenless colony. A corps of nurse bees hurried to the a-borning cell, and lent their aid. Soon a new queen, as pallid as alabaster, crawled forth into her mysterious new world. Nature, ineffably wise, had not forgotten Apishontee.

Even the drones, who until now had shown little concern for the queenless condition of Apishontee, perked up noticeably. Twirling their fine sensitive antennae – somewhat as ancient suitors were wont to flourish waxed mustachios – the males crowded toward the royal brood nest.

For once, their arrogance was resented. Jealously ministering nurse bees drove them back, swiftly and unceremoniously. Whereupon, recoiling sullenly, the drones marched back grandly to the nearest honey cups.

The new queen of Apishontee emerged into daylight two days later. Pausing on the threshold of her honey-scented domain, she chanted a muted drone of motherly affection, while her joyous thousands of subjects thronged about her. The queen presently took to the air and made a series of calm, slow flights about the slanting sycamore tree.

It was now that the phlegmatic males quit their sulking and made their appearance. Heads glistened in the bright sunlight like buttons of ebony. On each proud back gleamed an irregular dark crest – that mark of bee royalty found also on the queen, but not on her daughters who wore the gold-striped livery of toil.

Drumming up their deepest bass of male importance, the drones wheeled about in songful courtship. The queen, for a time, seemed unimpressed. The drones continued to circle. They rose and dived, spun and droned with magnificent song, strutting in their most handsome behavior.

Abruptly the shining new queen zoomed into the air. She spiraled steadily and rapidly into the cloudless azure sky. The drones, momentarily bewildered, perhaps reluctant to attempt such dizzy heights, finally coursed after her. But of the several hundreds of them, scarcely a dozen of the lustiest continued their pursuit. These whistled on into the blue – up, up.

* * *

July burned its course across the countryside. Apishontee the Younger had quickly regained her busy stride. The new queen, moved by that serene gravity imposed by her station in life, set herself to bee-queenly tasks. Eggs multiplied with a machinelike prolificity, a thousand a day, two thousand a day. The numbered strength of Apishontee grew steadily.

But not so the golden stream of new honey. There came hot, rainless weeks. Wild bloom, which normally laced the swampland, withered and dropped. Nectars, so scarce, so scattered, were gathered more and more tediously. Honey came into the sycamore more and more uncertainly.

Finally it ceased.

Apishontee grew frantic. During this lean season of drought only the handsome drones remained unruffled. The thousands of busy harvesters, ranging farther afield, worked themselves ragged. Busy little legs became worn to a wirelike smoothness. Small striped abdomens took on the dull, harsh sheen of worn satin. Gossamer wings became dusty, torn. Hundreds died.

But the drones, born to a life of ease, knew but one thing to do – eat. This they did, and kept luxuriously fat. Early each morning they descended from their comfortable perches in the highest sector of the hollow. They promptly gorged themselves on honey, then thrust an indelicate and wobbly course through the humming household legions, to gain the outside.

For the handsome drones, though at first pampered and allowed choicest foods and privileges, had come to suspect that their importance in a busy household had somehow vanished. As difficulties afield stirred a subtle change of attitude among the toilworn workers, the drones seemed more and more anxious to make themselves scarce while daylight lasted.

True drones, they were strict, however, in maintaining dignity. They thrust a way past the sentinels at the entrance and took to the air in grandest manner – bound, their pompous actions assured everyone, on an important mission for the day. Safely beyond sight of the tumultuous hive, they promptly dropped their air of high purpose.

Shiveringly careful of the dew-damp woods, they loitered awing. But as soon as the sun had dried away the dew, they settled themselves comfortably in open spots, where during the busy morning hours they might remain pleasantly stupefied on fragrances that they could no longer hold in substantial form.

The drought was broken in late August. Black clouds bilged up at sunset. By midnight, rain again lashed the swampland, and again the wind blew violently. Apishontee huddled inside her sycamore hollow, feeling no complacency tonight. The sycamore rocked before the wind, groaning fitfully. Apishontee, the Many-in-One, huddled together anxiously, perhaps fearful lest another blast of sky-fire might demolish their home.

It happened an hour later, but it was not by lightning this time. It was the steady pressure of driving wind. Each rocking motion of the leaning sycamore bent it farther, left it slanting at an increasingly perilous angle.

Apishontee sensed this unexpected threat with a sort of collective despair. No more flowers to harvest. If the hollow were broken asunder, the precious store of honey lost, the colony could never collect enough to survive the coming winter.

The wind continued its fury. Rain ceased, and started again; but the wind came on unceasingly. Lower bent the sycamore. Then, under a violent surge of rain-chilled wind, the bee tree was abruptly uprooted. It began falling – a dizzying sensation even to the hollow-huddled bees.

But the sycamore top had slanted only a foot before there came a grating, sliding sound. It ceased falling and came to a dead rest. Its central bough, sturdy and crooked, was caught in the solid crotch of a giant water oak near by. Instead of her home being demolished, Apishontee now sensed that it was made permanent, even more solid, by this chance stroke of storm.

* * *

Rain brought belated life to the scorched earth. Late season flowers sprang up. The harvesters of Apishontee plied them eagerly, willingly, for soon winter would be upon the swampland. The drones were undismayed. The drought had not worried them.

It was on a crisp, chill morning in October that they were made to give close heed, however, to their laggard existence. Descending as usual toward the nearest honey store, they brushed through a collective mood distinctly hostile to them. The drones tried to ignore it; they galloped hurriedly down the narrow corridors between the honeycombs. The domestics, wings aflutter, voiced shrill resentment this morning.

It happened swiftly, then. The workers surged upon the glittering-bodied drones. Tumbled legs-over-wings, the males tried to right themselves, sought futilely to retrieve their dignity. But the outraged honey harvesters and work-worn domestics were firm. In a seething pattern they fell upon the gorged, oversize members of Apishontee.

A few reached the outside with injury no more serious than a deflated ego. Many, alas, came into the early day sans wings, or minus certain of their glossy black legs. These were hearsed away by the zealously determined house cleaners, and dropped to the ground with grim finality.

Apishontee of the sycamore tree as simply, as sternly as that, rid her colony of those members who had long ago served their one purpose in life, who could thereafter contribute no mite to its perpetuation. Winter was soon upon the swampland. Apishontee went to sleep, content in the knowledge that she had at last reached a proud peak of wildwood civilization.

Published in: on July 31, 2013 at 5:00 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , , , , ,


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:


          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.

A Trembling World – Part 5

Part Five


For four weeks we have spelled out a litany of woes and bad news; now it’s time to search for both silver-linings and solutions, for doom and gloom alone will merely lead to paralysis and despair.  So it’s time for us to approach the issue from a different perspective.

For three-quarters of a century, we have been born into, lived, and died, within the parameters of the Great Society template.  In short: the promise of cradle-to-the-grave care promised and delivered by generation after generation of politicians.  Now we are discovering that those old assumptions that worked so well for so long are no longer valid.

Let’s quickly look at what we lost during that 75-year period: First, the very backbone of a great civilization—a moral code by which that society lives and acts.  In our case, before the so-called “Great Society,” Americans by and large believed in God and the biblical injunctions about good and evil, right and wrong. For close to a century, our almost universal sources of allusions were three: The Bible, Pilgrim’s Progress, and the McGuffy Readers (or counterparts).  We as a society firmly believed in two things: God and country.  When we swore by the Bible that something was unquestionably true, or declared on the witness stand that our testimony would be true, “So help me God,” it meant something.  It was the bedrock of our entire civilization. Today, both religion and patriotism have been under unrelenting attack by a predominantly unchurched and amoral media that seeks to so undermine and discredit the values Christians live by that they will crumble and cease to matter.  Christians have, by and large, supinely accepted such characterizations as perhaps true, and impossible to refute.  In short, in this respect, we have all but lost the battle.  But now, as the Great Society cracks at its seams, we are all given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reaffirm these values.

Second, we have all but lost the home, family—the very bedrock of a great civilization; when it has crumbled, historians tell us that it will only be a matter of time before the civilization itself collapses as well.  When America was assaulted by the Great Depression of the 1930s, America’s families were strong enough to together (intergenerationally, with all three generations circling their wagons) somehow muddle through to the light (paradoxically World War II, fifteen years after the Crash of 1929).  Today; with single-parent households being the norm for the first time in our history, with out-of-wedlock births skyrocketing from one-third towards half (close to 80% in Black families), there is no such familial safety net to fall back on.  If the government can no longer afford to take care of us, and if the family (What family?  What with the discrediting of marriage, ubiquitous live-ins, multiple sex-partners, divorce after divorce, with children tossed back and forth as human frisbees) —where are the children (the adult children too) going to find a life-line?

Recently, a dear friend of mine (an erstwhile millionaire) lost everything: his six-figure position, his wife’s executive job, his home (appraised for a million and a quarter that several  years later dropped so far below its original “value” that it was foreclosed on for a little over $400,000 .  By that time, my friend had been forced into bankruptcy.  Poignantly, he told me, “Because my credit is in such shambles, I couldn’t even buy a junker of a car.  I can only purchase things (including food) with what cash we have.  Belatedly, I have come to realize that in this life, we can count on only three things: God, family (one that still loves and respects us), and health.  With these three, we can make it.”  So it is that now, in an economy that appears unable to find any kind of bedrock, perhaps again we Americans may rediscover the value of marriage, commitment, and family.

Third, 75 years ago, we once had a work ethic that was the envy of the world.  Because the Great Society taught us that we no longer had to give an honest day’s effort for an honest day’s pay (indeed that we were entitled to pay even when we were out of work, providing few incentives to return to work for all too many who abuse the system), there has been an increasing reluctance to work at all.  We refuse, by and large, to accept “menial” work.  We no longer teach industrial arts in our schools and colleges or honor those who keep the machinery of our society in working order.  Work that our text-messaging media-junkies could be doing is now being down by untold thousands—indeed millions—of migrant workers who are delighted to have a job at all.  In offices across the land, rather than contributing to the firm’s bottom line by conscientious work, it is said that untold thousands dither through their days, playing word games with each other, watching Internet porn, text-messaging their friends—and then they wonder why their companies fold!  There appears to be a real disconnect with what it takes to produce enough product to warrant steady pay-checks.  No small thanks to these rampant abuses, pundits are telling us that offices as we know them will, sooner than we think, begin to disappear.  Contract-work (far easier to monitor) will replace nine-to-five jobs in glass and steel boxes.  And that may not be such a bad thing.

Next Wednesday we will continue to search for solutions.