Many small comments have had a major impact on my life.

Many small comments have had a major impact on my life.

Bernie Weitzer was a VP at Western Union. In a casual conversation we had he referred to me as a “Professional Manager.” Although I did not have a great deal of respect for Bernie Weitzer I accepted that comment and from then on considered myself a professional manager.

When Western Union sent me back to Middletown Virginia I got an agreement that they would send me back to San Francisco 6 times a year. On one of those trips I was flying back to Washington on the red eye. I was careful not to start a conversation with a seat mate on a long trip because I might not be able to stop a chatterbox once they got going. I always thought it was safer to be quiet and sleep for at least most of the trip. This trip was an exception. I was seated next to a tall thin, grey haired man wearing a black suit, white shirt and black tie. Very conservative. But that’s not all. This was 1973, January, I think. He had a beard and an earring! I did not speak until we were awakened to start our descent in to Washington. He had been an artist, a sculptor in LA. His sculpting, in metal had led to a manufacturing career which he left to move out into “The Valley.” Where he took up real estate and bee keeping. This trip was to meet with people in Washington to be briefed before being sent by USAID to Afghanistan to consult with their agriculture department about improving pollination of their crops. Here I was, a hot shot 33 year old with 125 people working for me, presiding over a 26 million dollar physical plant and a three million dollar a year budget. I was pretty proud of myself. He told me ”not to get stuck in a job, or in my ways. Be open to new opportunities. There will be many changes in your life.” Well, about a week later I was in a conference room with a bunch of guys going over some problem and I think “What am I doing here? Who needs the telegram? Why am I sitting a room with a bunch of guys? There isn’t even one woman in the group.” My life has never been the same. I wish I knew his name and address. I would like to have thanked him. He opened my eyes to new possibilities. Without that conversation I might have buckled down and been more a corporate man and achieved more in my career but I doubt I would have been happier.

When I was in high school I saw the movie “Mr. Roberts.” Henry Fonda, James Cagney, Jack Lemon were the stars. Henry Fonda was Mr. Roberts. I forget his rank but he was above Jack lemon and below James Cagney, who was a ruthless skipper of their ship. Mr. Roberts was a good manager. He got the respect of his men and he stuck up for them. James Cagney was a bad manager. I learned a lot from that movie about how to be a leader rather than a boss, how to put the needs of your team above your own. It inspired me to become a manager and it inspired me to do some of the things that got me in trouble as a manager and even got me fired. But it never cost me a wink of sleep. One time at Western Union I was told to change my budget for raises for the rest of the year because someone at home office had made a mistake And I wouldn’t have as much money for raises as I had been told. Well some of my people had already gotten nice raises by March. They would eat up all the new budget for the year. I would have to diminish or eliminate the raises for all the rest of my people. I thought about it for a while and I called my boss and said “Cliff, I know that the direct refusal of a direct order is a firing offense and that you will have to fire me but I refuse to cut my people’s raises because someone in the home office screwed up. I know you will have to fire me. All I ask is that you tell your management my side of the story.” I didn’t get fired. My raise budget was restored and I silently thanked Mr. Roberts. I figured that what was done was that My raise had been taken to give to my people. When I got the letter at home telling me what my raise was I was very happy to see that it had gone thru. When I got the first paycheck under the new raise I called my boss to tell him that they were paying my $700 a year too much. He told me there was no mistake. When I went home a rechecked the letter and realized I had misread it and had only seen that I was getting a raise but not the detail of how much.

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“How I met your mother”

“How I met your mother”

My Dad always was complaining that we didn’t have enough money. He wanted the lights out when you weren’t in the room. There was one time when I remember him asking us to cut expenses. I already had a grey suit. My mother took me to the store and picked out the same suit in a larger size. I argued that I didn’t like it. (I didn’t. I rarely wore the old one.) Mom and I compromised on taking the suit and letting my father decide. That night after dinner I modeled the suit for my father and complained that it was an extravagance that we didn’t need. He didn’t just choose the suit, he chewed me out for not doing as my mother said. I was very confused. Did we need to save money or not? Why was I in trouble, I was just trying to comply with his wishes. Of course, now I know that Mom and Dad must stick together and not let the snotty nosed kid drive a wedge between them.

I think it was 1958 that Black and Decker pushed Dad into retirement. I was in college and college was expensive. I chose to get a job to help me thru school. If I worked 16 hours a week in the library my tuition would be covered by the school. So I started working in the stacks of the Georgetown Library. Undergrad students were not allowed in the stacks. They came to the desk and asked for the books they wanted. We library workers would go into the stacks and bring back their books. When the books came back it was up to us to put them back on the shelves. It wasn’t the best job in the world but I enjoyed it. It felt special to have access to the stacks.

In the next room from the entry to the stacks was the reserved book reading room. Occasionally after I got off work I would stop by the reserved book reading room to talk to the girl behind the desk. She was cute and funny. We shared an interest in classical music. I invited her to a concert and she accepted. This was about March in my junior year.

I have worn a hat since I spent summers near Danbury CT, the Hat City. One evening as I was leaving the library there was a bat flying in the long corridor outside the library. I caught it between my hat and my notebook. Being the wise-ass I was (and probably still am) I stepped into the reserved book room and placed my notebook and hat on the counter. Sharon heard the scratching of the trapped bat. I don’t remember which of us lifted the hat the let the poor thing go.

The reserved book room was a long reading room with many tables and students studying. The bat was doing laps around the room. I saw some guy look up from his book just in time to see the bat heading right for him. He dove under the table. Eventually I caught the bat again and let him out.

In April I turned 21 and my father gave me a new English Ford car to keep me from buying a 1950 Studebaker. One night I invited Sharon for a ride and we cruised the town. I got up the nerve to park by the Jefferson Memorial where we necked (awkwardly). A few days later I got a card from Sharon showing the Jefferson Memorial with cars parked around it and a comment about car number 218 (I think that was the number).

We went to the quarry which was the swimming hole Georgetown men frequented. One time we had a picnic with Sharon’s room mate, Pru and her boyfriend who was later executed in Iran.

As I was driving home for the summer I was relieved. I thought the relationship was getting too serious. A break would be good for us.

Letters from Sharon in July and August and an evening with Joan, the girl I had loved when I was in high school, clinched the deal. Sharon and I became engaged soon after returning to school in the fall.

The engagement did not go over well with my folks. As time progressed toward the wedding they got more and more resistant even to the point of saying they would not come. Eventually they gave in and participated. It was a wonderful wedding at Holy Names Church in Georgetown, the same church the president, JFK, attended. The reception was at Evans Farm Inn, an elegant restaurant in rural Virginia.

I have plenty of stories about this marriage that I’ll probably tell later. But I’d like to say this about that. We had a great love affair and marriage. For about five years. About 1970 or ’71 there was a book and movie, “Love Story.” It made a lot of people cry, me for different reasons. The story line was an upscale Ivy League student fell in love with a girl from the other side of the tracks. His parents disagreed. They married anyway and did OK. Then she got sick and died. It was sooooo tragic.  I have always thought of our marriage like that but with the different ending. Sharon and I were together when we got married. We changed together for five years. Then we changed in different directions, wrestled with the differences for several years and finally broke up in 1970. If Sharon had died in 1965 or 66 ours would have been that Love Story. In stead we are  just another divorce statistic.

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The Three Most Maligned Virtues; Greed, Sloth and Pride.

The Three Most Maligned Virtues; Greed, Sloth and Pride. (3/22/2010)


I think that greed, sloth and pride get a bad rap. It was not the energetic guy who carried whatever load was required who invented the wheel or the wheelbarrow. It was the slothful soul who said “there must be an easier way.” We owe most all labor-saving devices to slothful folks. When you hire a carpenter or mechanic don’t you want the person who takes pride in their work? How about a doctor? I want the prideful person working for or on me. Who has created our economic system that has made it possible for us all to live as well as we do? Greedy folks. They do things people need to make money. They may be motivated by money, by greed, but what they do to get the money is of benefit to others.


Now, I don’t mean to say that all greed, sloth and pride is virtuous. I know it can be carried to extreme and be detrimental to a quality life for others. Iodine is good for you, in moderation. Too much is poison and can kill you. Greed, sloth and pride are not unmitigated good or evil. They can be among the deadly sins but I think they also should be considered virtues.


“Michael Lewis, Author of Liar’s Dice and a new book about being a father was interviewed on a late night show. He quoted his father as saying “Do as little as possible, and that unwillingly. For it is better to receive a slight reprimand than to perform an arduous task.” Michael went on to suggest a corollary “An awful lot of life’s problems solve themselves if you just leave them be.”

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Fischer’s Law

Fischer’s Law

I regret that I never found the time or inclination to write “Fischer’s Law.” I should have written it and publicized it and made it as popular as ”Chicken Soup for the Soul,” etc. Fischer’s Law states, “When a person is in a position where they think they can’t win, they become unpredictable and potentially violent.” Fischer’s Law may have explained 9/11. It may have explained the Bush administration’s reaction to it. It explains the people who get fired and go back to work and shoot people. It explains many cases of domestic violence. I first discovered it one evening when I was trying to have a quiet time in the kitchen at Vine St.. Nancy, who was about ten at the time, wanted to dance around the kitchen and argued with me when I asked her to stop or leave. I wanted quiet and all Nancy was allowing me was dancing or argument. With those two choices, I couldn’t win. I found myself wanting to hit her. I didn’t hit her. But let her know that she was to leave, period! When I analyzed the incident I discovered that even a peace-loving person could be moved toward violence. It was then that I discovered “Fischer’s Law.”


So what? Knowing the law of gravity doesn’t stop you from getting hurt when you fall. Can knowing Fischer’s Law keep you out of trouble?  Yes!


First, if you catch yourself in a Fischer’s Law situation you can stop and think. You do not have to explode. If you can’t win, you can’t win. You don’t have to make matters worse by over-reacting. Killing coworkers doesn’t get your job back. Hitting your spouse doesn’t make the marriage work. Shouting nasty things you can’t take back won’t make the situation any better. Just stop and think.  “Count to ten,” was the advice I got when I was young. It’s time to stop long enough to think of what we want. What do we want to accomplish? What will accomplish it? Hitting someone or shooting them probably won’t accomplish your goals. It will definitely interfere with other goals.


Second, recognize when someone else thinks that they can’t win. Help them find a way to win, or, at least, not to lose. Or if you can’t do that, get away from them. When I listen and remember my love for my honey, there is peace in my home and my heart. When I can do that, I can help her to find a way not to lose. Parents can distract or redirect the kid having a melt-down.


What could have been done to stop Timothy McVey, or the Fort Hood Psychiatrist? Would knowledge of Fischer’s Law helped that guy I read about in the paper this morning who shot his wife and then himself when she went to see a divorce lawyer?


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Change your words, change your thinking, change your life

Change your words, change your thinking, change your life (3/10/(2010)

Last week I had 3 inches of my small intestine removed in an unpleasant surgical procedure. Being on Chemo my immune system is compromised. Had I not had the surgery my intestine may have burst. With the compromised immune system I may have died. So at one point I thanked the surgeon for “Saving my life.” Wrong! She didn’t save my life. She kept me from dying last week. She prolonged my life. But I am still going to die. We all are.

When we talk about saving lives we mush up the thinking that should be clear when we think about aging and health care. We would make much better decisions if we forgot about “saving lives” and thought in stead about “prolonging life.”

Saving a life is priceless. Prolonging a life? It depends. For how long, for what cost in time, pain, suffering and, yes, even, money? Would I want Michele to spend $100,000 to keep me around for another week? Hell, no. For another healthy 25 years? You bet.

Saving Life seems open ended but is not. Prolonging life invites the important questions. What kind of life are we prolonging? One of health and joy or of sickness and suffering? Prolonging for how long? Should we spend the same energy prolonging the life of an octogenarian as we would of a teenager?

When our beloved dog, Roxy, was very old and sick and couldn’t walk, I didn’t want to lose her. If I thought the vet could have saved her life I would have asked him to do so. He could have only prolonged her life and her suffering. It would have been cruel for me to let him do that. I still miss her. I did the right thing. I let her go.

I’m glad I had my surgery. I’m glad we prolonged my life. I hope we prolonged it for another 26 years one month and 13 days, when I will turn 97. (I reserve the right to change my mind.)

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Assumption of Universal Benevolence

Assumption of Universal Benevolence

Although I want to be special and unique, the older I get the more I suspect that we are all the same. And, we all want to be special and unique. I don’t know anyone like I know myself. And no one knows me. I guess it’s natural to judge ourselves and others by different standards.

I’m sad to say that in my life I have hurt many people. I hurt my parents, my sister, and my brother. I’ve hurt friends, class mates, work mates, girl friends, my kids and wives. I’ve hurt animals. I killed a robin once. When I was about five I kicked my dog. (And I have felt bad about it ever since.) In the heat of the moment I have said things I wish I hadn’t. Sometimes I may have lashed out. But, I don’t remember ever deliberately trying to hurt someone.

And I doubt that other people deliberately try to hurt others, either. I think people are good seeking objects. We naturally seek good. The trouble is that what is good for me may be bad for you. Columnist Sydney Harris used to devote whole columns to lists of triads like “I do tax planning. You fudge your taxes. And he cheats on his taxes.” Or “I am robust. You are chunky. He is fat.” He pointed out how we tend to describe the same actions in different ways depending on who the actor is. We attribute more benign motives to ourselves and friends than we attribute to our enemies.

I used to teach the “Assumption of Universal Benevolence” (AUB) in my communication classes to help people be more effective in their communications. A repeating refrain in my communication training was “there is always a motive in your communication. You want someone to do something, or not do something. Or you want them to believe or not believe something. You want change. Everything you do is motivated by some desire. You don’t scratch where it doesn’t itch. I like that line so much I’ll repeat it. You don’t scratch where it doesn’t itch.” So when you speak to me you want some change in me. If you want to influence me you had best use my language. Don’t give me complicated directions in Greek. I don’t understand Greek. If you describe my behavior in terms with which I disagree I will not get what you’re trying to say. It may as well be Greek.

If you want to influence me you must approach me from my point of view or I won’t listen, or if I listen I’ll hear something different from what you want me to hear. No matter how bad the action, the actor is pursuing good as they see it. If you don’t acknowledge the good intention you will raise their defensiveness.

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Transient Ischemic Event

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Wow!  Just got the news that the obstructions in my carotid arteries are very serious and that I need to see a Vascular Surgeon right away.  Judy, our Nurse Practitioner,  says that on a scale of 1-10 of seriousness I have a 10!

I’d be lying if I said I had no emotional response to that one. I feel like I’m sitting, smoking, on a keg of dynamite.  I have long tried to get to accept that I may get run over by a truck at any time.  But now I see that the truck may be in my arteries just waiting to run me down. It is a bit scary. I am not ready to cash in my chips and deed my body to a McDonald’s meat grinder.  I’m not as cool as I hoped.

I am almost 72 years old. I have had a good run. I can’t complain if it comes to an end now. I guess I had better rearrange my priorities. Clean up my mess. Pay my bills.

Tuesday night I fell asleep at the TV in my office and when I woke up I was disoriented and dizzy. I remember fearing that something serious might be happening. I suspected that I might be dying.  I sat for a while and when I felt stable I got up to go to bed. After about three steps I turned to go back to my chair and must have passed out. I woke up on the floor. It all happened in about 15 minutes. I had not been drinking any more than usual.

Friday 1/21/11

Better than a week has passed. I had an echocardiogram of my carotids that said I had less that 50% blockage on my right side and over 70% blockage on the left. Yesterday the Vascular surgeon put a tube in my right femoral artery and shot dye into my brain. The picture showed that I had 85% blockage in my left carotid artery! 20% in the right is nothing to worry about in an old art of almost 72. But the 85% in the left requires surgery, soon.  So, Monday, they will open up my neck and scoop out the crap in my artery.  I’m to take it easy between now and then.  I don’t need much encouragement. I don’t want to trigger a loose clot to screw up my left brain.

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