28 Days of Inspiration – Day 6

George Washington Carver

When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.

images-of-lynne-carverHistory remembers this man for his work with peanuts, but the backstory behind his breakthrough work is even more inspirational.  How he came to be in position to help those less fortunate, the rural poor and in the process perhaps saved the economy of the south. His family divided by slavery – we don’t even know his actual birth date or exactly who his father was; indeed “Carver” is the family name of the slaveholders who owned him and his family.

He was kidnapped along with his mother and sister from the plantation where the family were slaves, but only he was found and returned.  He was a sickly child and not very strong, as such the slaveholders kept him in the farmhouse and taught him to read, eventually sending him to school and later moving off the farm to go to high school.

Upon graduating from high school, and determined to engage a college education he applied for and was denied entrance to school owing to his race.  He worked odd jobs – farmhand, railroad work – to save money for that education, eventually enrolling at the first black student at Simpson College in Iowa where he was encouraged to enroll at what is now Iowa State University to study botany. Six years after starting his collegiate journey, he earned his Bachelor’s degree, and two years later a Masters’ Degree.

How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these.
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/g/georgewash106292.html

An inspirational story in and of itself, but there’s more.

He gave up his faculty position and its trappings, to go to work for the first African American college in the country, the Tuskegee Institute, to teach former slaves and where he developed work on crop rotation, rotating cotton and peanuts.  When peanut inventories grew too high and prices dropped, he developed 300 different products for their use and demand soared.

An uncommon man, at the time of his death, he left his entire life savings to the Tuskegee Institute.  He spent his life in dedication to others leveraging the education he had worked so hard to achieve.

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington_Carver

http://www.biography.com/people/george-washington-carver-9240299

http://www.tuskegee.edu/about_us/legacy_of_fame/george_w_carver.aspx

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28 Days of Inspiration – Day 5

Bhumibol Adulyadej

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from kyotoreview.org

 

King Bhumibol the Great  served for over 70 years as king of Thailand, a reign ending with his passing this week at age 88.  Consider the degree of change occurring in this southeast Asian country over the course of his lifetime and monarchy and realize he held this once remote, impoverished country together through the upheavals of coup d’etats, the Vietnam conflict, the bombings of Cambodia and Laos, Cambodian civil war – all going on around his country, without dragging it into the conflict.

 

Now, it’s hard to know just how genuine the Thai people’s reverence of their monarch is due to the lèse majesté laws in place – it’s illegal to criticize the king – but by most accounts it’s apparently quite genuine. He was seen as a stabilizing force in a country and region notoriously unstable.

When asked how he wanted to be remembered, he said on numerous occasions that he wanted to be seen as “useful,” to have acted for the poorest citizens.  Indeed he spent the 1960’s and 1970’s  deliberately visiting the rural poor, and learning of their needs.

He was born in the United States, educated in Switzerland, spoke English and French, but had no apparent desire to travel – there was too much to do at home. Due to political circumstances early on, he focused his attention on development projects, building away from agrarian to modern industry.

This was an apparently humble man who accidentally became king, and made the best use of his authority for his people as he saw it for more than 70 years.

28 Days of Inspiration – Day 4

James Stockdale

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Rear Admiral Stockdale in full dress uniform; US Navy File Photo  www.navy.mil/iew_image.asp?id+25931

The 1960’s are remembered for high profile assassinations, Beatles, love-ins, and Vietnam War protests. A lot is taught in school about the decade of the 60’s but never once did I learn anything about Admiral James Stockdale.

While young men here in the United States resisted military service, perhaps fled to Canada, Stockdale was imprisoned in North Vietnam.  He spent eight years in captivity from 1965-1973 after being shot down and was the highest ranking officer to be held captive there. To put that in perspective, as it turns out eight years was just about 10% of the man’s life.

On September 9, 1965 he ejected from his disabled plane over North Vietnam, landed in a small village, was beaten and taken prisoner.

He relied on stoicism to keep himself grounded and to keep from being defeated.  He was beaten with his shoulders dislocated, legs and back broken, and his will assaulted.  Yet he never gave an inch.  Consider this: as an admiral, he led prisoner resistance.  According to his Medal of Honor citation, he resisted participating in prisoner exploitation by deliberately disfiguring himself; he did this with a razor to cut his scalp and when the Vietnamese tried to cover that wound with a hat, he literally beat himself in the face until it became so swollen as to be unrecognizable.  He slit his own wrists, a near mortal wound, to demonstrate he would not capitulate. He was kept in solitary confinement in a small cell, lights on 24-hours a day, in leg shackles for the majority of those 8-years in captivity.

In Good to Great author Jim Collins talks about “the Stockdale Paradox.”  Simply put, it boils down to this quote:

“Retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” — James Stockdale.

Those who didn’t make it out were the “optimists.” The men who retained optimism with the groundless belief that they would be out by Christmas, were continually defeated and eventually lost faith that they would make it out.  The idea was that in order to be able to be resilient and see what may lie beyond, one has to acknowledge the current situation objectively.  He knew how dire his situation was, but he still had the faith to believe he was going to make it through.  More to the point, he had to accept his situation as what he had to endure and what he was fighting through.  This wasn’t a temporary situation that would resolve itself with time, it was a static feature that was only going to change with his action.  And it wasn’t going to be overnight, there were no simple fixes.

He returned home, willed himself to health – presumably via the same force of will demonstrated in the paradox quote – and resumed his military career becoming a university President and scholar.

Whatever hard time you’re going through, I urge you to consider the lessons of James Stockdale.  Honor, integrity, resilience.

 

28 Days of Inspiration – Day 3

Joel Chavez

Maybe not a name you’ve heard before, or if it is, I’m probably not referring to the same person.  Joel isn’t famous, although perhaps he should be.  He’s an ordinary guy, so far as I can tell, facing extraordinary circumstances.

You see, I “know” Joel through Facebook.  I’ve never actually met him, I may have commented once or twice on his posts, but we’re connected through a mutual group for Spartan race enthusiasts.  He’s ridiculously dedicated to his workouts, is impossibly toned, and so far as I can tell runs as many obstacle course races as he possibly can.

By all appearances, he’s dedicated to his two young kids.  I don’t think he lives with them both because he’s posted that mom hasn’t let him see one or both of them – Facebook is such a strange medium: it allows you into people’s lives without really knowing them and without all the details of their lives.

Here’s what I do know: he’s in his late 30’s, with two young kids – everything in the world to live for. And he’s got cancer.

So far as I can tell, it seems aggressive.  He undergoes chemotherapy frequently.  Almost as frequently as he goes to the gym.  He shares inspirational quotes speaking directly to him.  He shares his optimism heading into treatment, the less than optimistic news he receives from the doctors, but he always seems to buck up. I’ve seen him post despair, but he finds something to hold onto and crawls back.  It must be exhausting, but he continues to find a way.

So many people would back off, crawl into a malaise, give up.  Joel just keeps pushing forward.  I couldn’t be more impressed at his stamina and his will.

I can’t begin to imagine the struggle and the fight this man is waging.  His strength – physical to be sure, but mostly his emotional – is so inspiring.  Where some say that their family inspires them, he demonstrates that through his virtual presence.

Now, I realize that on the internet no one knows you’re a dog, but he’s not looking for aggrandizement.  He’s just a guy.  A guy who’s facing a struggle but making the best of it.  He’s living his life where others might quit.

Here’s to Joel and his battle, and more particular, his spirit and courage.

Update: Today Joel shared news that was not good.  He has lung cancer, and two years ago he was given 18-24 months. He says himself that he knows he’s on borrowed time, but that he was scared to learn how massive the tumor was and what the likelihood that his cancer has spread.  He’s facing further diagnostics this week to determine next steps.

Those next steps have brought with them the knowledge his cancer has spread to his brain and within his lungs.

I learned a little more about the man from that.  He has his good days and his bad days, but he shared more today than I’ve seen him share to this point.  And it’s through that sharing that I learned just how much more I look up to him, just how inspirational his fight, his attitude is.  He’s truly a man among men, and someone I admire tremendously for his courage and will.

28 Days of Inspiration – Day 2

Maurice Sendak

One of my favorite tales is of Max, a boy who is sent to his room as punishment and who subsequently explores his “wild side.”  With monsters he meets along the way and who crown him, he allows himself a “wild rumpus.” He is literally the king of every thing he can see, adored by all around him, yet he chooses to leave; to return home.  To safety and to those who love him.

In my world view, I see this as a story standing for the proposition that what matters in life is doing right by the people who love you, because they are the people most likely to stand by you.  After his temper tantrum, after his banishment to his room, his mother – despite her obvious irritation, if not anger with him – has a hot dinner waiting.

Carelessness. Anger. Love. Redemption.  The reality of life. In a little more than 300 words.

Sendak had a certain reality as well.  He was gay at a time when being so wasn’t accepted. To this point, while he affected my life in helping me accept some of the realities of my life, he had to hide his sexuality from his parents, “they never knew,” and really only became publicly identified as gay when his partner passed away in 2007.

In one of his last interviews in September 2011, he reflects on his career and at the end he repeats, almost on a loop: “Live your life, live your life, live your life.”  I take that to mean that you really need to accept who you are – an angry young man in Max, or the thoughtful elder artist Sendak himself had become – and be present.  Life in the present.  Be mindful.  Don’t take anything for granted.

A wildly inspiring notion once you can stop worrying about the external and concern yourself with those things that make you a more fulfilled and perhaps more interesting person. This is your life, no one else’s.  Go live it to your potential.  Achieve and thrive.

Here is the last 5 minutes of that interview

28 Days of Inspiration – Day 1

Ada Lovelace Day

Ada Lovelace , daughter of Lord Byron, is considered to be the first computer programmer, albeit not without some controversy around that moniker; because Babbage’s ego was too big to allow her credit, or perhaps more precisely too big to allow a woman to share credit .  She is, however, the first person to write an algorithm to be carried out by a computer – in this case Charles Babbage’s analog general purpose Analytical Engine.  Oh, and by the way, this was in the early part of the 1800’s.

Her mathematical prowess enabled her to annotate a transcript of Babbage’s seminar at the University of Turin, annotations that were vastly longer than the transcript itself.  The notes, categorized A-G, were published along with the transcript.  Note G in specific is known for being the first algorithm to be written specifically for a computer to carry out.

She died at the age of 36 of uterine cancer, a diagnosis which today can often be cured. In 1852 however, it was a painful, terminal disease.

October 11 is Ada Lovelace day – a day dedicated to women in Science and Technology with the stated purpose of increasing awareness of the contributions of women to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathmatics) sciences and promote the hard sciences to young women considering their future.

ALD as it’s abbreviated, is based in the UK, but the mission and belief system should be universal.  Why wouldn’t you want to invest in young women making a difference in hard sciences?

 

28 Days of Inspiration

I cannot remember a Presidential election where I was as despondent about the candidates and what the future looks like as I am in 2016.  It’s hard to say if it’s the vitriol from the campaigns, the news of the world around us, general political machinations, or just reading friends’ posts on Facebook – as much as I enjoy fighting with strangers on the internet, I’m finding after a while it takes its toll even on me.

So I’ve decided that I’m going to make the time honored choice and opt out of the nonsense.  I’ve made my mind up about the candidate for whom I’m voting and it’s not likely your Facebook post is going to change that, and it’s not likely one more argument with a stranger is going to make my candidate receive any more votes, and while I can’t change anyone else’s tone, I can change mine; as such I will follow Gandhi’s teaching and be the change I wish to see in the world.

“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” – Mahatma Gandhi

When there’s too much negativity, you have some choices.  You can opt out, you can participate, or you can endeavor to change the direction of the conversation.  Today, I’m going to make the choice to endeavor to change the conversation.  You’re welcome to join me in my goal to spread inspiration instead of negativity for the next 28 days.

Here are my days of inspiration, the subjects chosen in no particular order.  The order of their appearance doesn’t mean any one is any more inspirational to me than any other; my hope is that you find some inspiration to move you forward, it’s not to rank order the relative merits of any one subject’s worthiness.

Day 1 – Ada Lovelace Day
Day 2 – Maurice Sendak
Day 3 – Joel Chavez
Day 4 – Admiral James Stockdale
Day 5 – King Bhumibol Adulyadej
Day 6 – George Washington Carver
Day 7 – O’Connor Valor Fund
Day 8 – Giving Dap
Day 9 – Apologies
Day 10 – Acting with Intention
Day 11 – Julie Creffield
Day 12 – Foster Parents
Day 13 – The 2016 World Series
Day 14 – Because I Said I Would
Day 15 – Rucksgiving
Day 16 – Team With a Vision
Day 17 – Paul Baran
Day 18 – The Principles of Unitarianism
Day 19 – New Horizons
Day 20 – Daniel Kish
Day 21 – Patrick Downes & Jessica Kensky and Adrianne Haslet-Davis
Day 22 – Witold Pilecki
Day 23 – 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg
Day 24 – Robert Cook
Day 25 – Setting Goals, Working Plans
Day 26 – Cliff Young
Day 27 – Nana Asma’u
Day 28  – Family by Choice: Adoption