Cool beans before there was cool

Before there was cool Barack Obama, there was cool John F Kennedy. Before there was cool Michelle Obama, there was cool Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. Before Barack Obama was elected as President at the age of 47, JFK was elected the youngest President at the age of 43. I was just a babe but I grew up with the legend of the US version of Camelot, the Presidency of John Fitzgerald Kennedy and the First Lady with a style of her own, a soft voice and shoulders that carried a nation after his assassination.

May 29th marked what would have been the 100th birthday of John F Kennedy. His daughter, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, her daughters & son and the JFK Library produced a short video giving thoughts & reflections on this milestone: https://youtu.be/Hlz355SxDOE.

Would it surprise you to know that JFK planned to be a writer or teacher? I think most of us can’t imagine that. I certainly can only see him as the President that he became. He had so much to give in that role. He was instrumental in our journey to outer space and our journey to civil rights. His assassination left much of the civil rights activities to be completed by President Lyndon Johnson but he advanced its beginning. But, how many of you knew that he was behind the effort to get the Washington Redskins NFL team to finally integrate. The Washington Post published a brief but insightful article on his legacy that included this tidbit: http://wapo.st/2qMIZhw?tid=ss_mail&utm_term=.e936528c9c19.

A new collection of essays was published at the beginning of May in honor of the centennial birthday of President Kennedy, JFK: A Vision for America. It is authored by his nephew Stephen Kennedy Smith and Douglas Brinkley. One of the things that is interesting about this compilation is that it includes speeches from his time as a Senator. The book has received excellent reviews and is noted to have “thought-provoking, inspiring and eloquent insights.” It includes speeches and essays from today’s leaders on JFK’s life that relate how his life and legacy is still relevant today. As I reflect on the eight years of President Obama and all that he did, I can also look back on the short three years of President Kennedy and see what real leadership looked like. Particularly as we have endured these four months of bad leadership. At least we know what a good President looked like. I am putting JFK: A Vision for America on my summer reading list, consider it for yours.

The book includes a 1960 campaign speech on religious tolerance. That certainly is relevant today given the current occupant of the oval office and his hateful executive order banning Muslim and Syrian immigrants. During his campaign, many tried to make an issue out of his religion, particularly Republicans. But, he implored the nation to see him not as the first Catholic President but a President who happened to be Catholic. We need that same understanding in 2017. It was JFK and Catholicism in 1960. It has been Trump and Muslims in 2016 and 2017. It will be something else in another year if we don’t understand tolerance is needed for all. If they come for your neighbor in the morning and you are silent, you need to worry if they will be back for you in the night.

The current occupant has had a theme of “America First”. The new book reminds us of JFK’s belief in diplomacy, which interestingly is quite similar to President Obama, and how he had a vision of an internationalist America where our country clearly had a role in the world to advance peace, cooperation and avoid militarism. Interesting similarities to today’s times indeed.

JFK had a broad respect for the press and was known for his embrace of reporters. He was amused by them, befriended them. He showed coolness, used wit and had a willingness to hold regular news conferences that actually cultivated friendly relationships (some say he “charmed” the press to the point that they overlooked his womanizing transgressions). His news conferences were televised and with the early use of television in 1960, he grabbed this new medium as an effective direct communication. He did not shy away from being accessible. Another stark contrast from today’s current occupant of the oval office who hides behind the medium of Twitter.

An article in the Washington Post (http://wapo.st/2pOyDKU?tid=ss_mail&utm_term=.9c43db50888a) that contrasts the current presidency with JFK’s, notes that a  large reason for JFK’s success is that he came across as being believable. From the beginning lie about the inauguration crowd size, the current occupant of the oval office has been the absolute opposite of believable. He has no credibility because he lies every day.

I didn’t know until recently that JFK was actually a journalist himself at the age of 28 for Hearst newspaper. He learned the business and thought journalists were “well-informed, even intellectual.” Ben Bradlee, who was publisher of the Washington Post said, “Kennedy himself genuinely like reporters.” “JFK understood the crucial role of a vigorous free press in a democracy and liked to point out the absence of journalistic freedom in the Soviet Union.” Such a significant difference from what we are experiencing but a lesson we can learn about real leadership.

Some quotes from JFK that inspire me and give me hope:
“If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”
“The stories of past courage…can teach, they can offer hope, they can provide inspiration. But they cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his own soul.”

“Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try.”

“The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”

  <!– [if lt IE 7]>/common/js/jq-png-min.js<![endif]–> “Acting on our own, by ourselves, we cannot establish justice throughout the world; we cannot insure its domestic tranquility, or provide for its common defense, or promote its general welfare, or secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. But joined with other free nations, we can do all this and more. We can assist the developing nations to throw off the yoke of poverty. We can balance our worldwide trade and payments at the highest possible level of growth. We can mount a deterrent powerful enough to deter any aggression. And ultimately we can help to achieve a world of law and free choice, banishing the world of war and coercion.”

From a commencement address at American University in June 1963: “I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary rational end of rational men. I realize that the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war–and frequently the words of the pursuer fall on deaf ears. But we have no more urgent task.”
“Our problems are man-made–therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable–and we believe they can do it again.”
“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.”
So, on this 100th commemoration of the birth of John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States of America, I salute and thank him. I feel nostalgic for good leadership like that. I feel grateful for good Presidents like him and President Barack Obama. At least we have them to look to and know that we had Presidents like them. One day, we will again. Until then, we have no more urgent task than to speak out but at least we know what cool looks like. Cool was JFK. Cool was Obama. To them I say, cool beans.
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I am going nowhere

Interesting for me to say that “I am going nowhere”. In the corporate world that I worked in for 34 years, those words would be the last words imaginable. In business, you might cringe if someone said that about your company’s prospects. I venture to guess that most wouldn’t want that label associated with them personally for even a minute. But, consider for a moment that going nowhere might be a path to sanity.

There is a book from a TED talk by Pico Iyer titled, “The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere“. I got this book about a year or so ago and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. The introduction is named, “Going Nowhere” and the first chapter is “Passage to Nowhere”.  It’s a very small book and a quick read, just 74 pages. Every chapter is awesomely thought-provoking, full of nuggets of wisdom and will calm you by reading it but most certainly by practicing some of the ideas / techniques listed in the book. It’s a book that is perfect for 2017 and the times we are experiencing although it was published in 2014.

Essentially Pico Iyer says, “Going nowhere is a way of cutting through the noise and finding fresh time and energy to share with others.” “More and more of us feel like emergency-room physicians, permanently on call, required to heal ourselves but unable to find the prescription for all the clutter on our desk.”

“…stillness is really a way of talking about clarity and sanity and the joys that endure.”

“…an invitation to the adventure of going nowhere.”

My mother used to say a quote to me and I only recently realized it was from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

Pico writes that so much of our lives takes place in our heads so we can benefit from being still, doing nothing, literally going nowhere to find sanity and clarity.

I have had a whirlwind busy 9 days and will have another two days of busy-stuff for the beginning of this week. But on Thursday of this week, I am going nowhere. I am going to re-read this book and sit. I am going to inhale deeply and exhale slowly. I am going to be still. I am going to take great pleasure in one to two days of nothingness. The next issue of Oprah’s magazine arrived while I was out of town, it needs to be read. Today, the next issue of Essence magazine arrived, it needs to be read. Both will require at least two cups of tea steeped slowly and then drizzled with honey. And, for some moments I won’t read at all. I will sit still.

“In an age of speed, I began to think, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow.” In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.” 

“The deeper blessing of sitting still … going nowhere … is that it can get you as wide-awake, exhilarated, and pumping-hearted as when you are in love.”

Mothers …the hummingbirds within us

My mother was a wise woman. She was also very kind and very generous. In my life experience, she was the kindest and most generous person that I knew personally. She always saw the good in each person. It was extremely rare to hear her talk negatively about someone. If ever you heard her speak about someone in a negative way, you had better believe that person had taken a major wrong turn and landed on the bad side of town to have crossed Vivian Rouson. It took a lot to make that list and very few did.

She gave of her time, talent and treasure. She literally would give the shirt off her back, her shoes and the last dime in her purse to anyone who was in need. She gave birth to five children but was the mother to more than any of us can count because she opened her heart to so many.

We just finished celebrating Mother’s Day in the U.S. As a side note, that commemoration is celebrated on other days in other countries. It was interesting for me when I used to travel internationally for work to realize that despite our parochial view that the world rises and sets on the United States of America, other countries do exist and have different holidays than us /US. Sometimes we tend to be too US-focused and that approach can lead us to miss out sensitivities and understandings which can add value to who we are as a country. That might sound a bit odd but we enhance our country by being open to sharing and learning from other countries. Everything that is good wasn’t invented here and every person who can contribute to our greatness may not have been born here. My mother appreciated the value of each person no matter where they came from, what they looked like, what hue their skin color had, how broad their lips were or if they possessed a college degree.

Well back to other parts of my mother’s wisdom. Her favorite symbol was a hummingbird. She loved the hummingbird because she believed it defied logic in being able to fly. It’s body was really too big said scientists. “They flap their wings about 80 times per second, so fast it makes a humming sound. They can fly right, left, up, down, backwards, and even upside down.  They can hover by flapping their wings in a figure-8 pattern. They have a specialized long and tapered bill to obtain nectar from the very center of the flower.”

My mother was a teacher and additionally became a newspaper columnist. She published a small book in 1980 that was a collection of reprints from a newspaper column that she had in the 1970s in the St. Petersburg Times and Palm Beach Post.  The title came from one of those columns, The Hummingbird Within Us. I am going to post that column in its entirety for my blog this week. She died in December 2012 at the age of 83. Mother’s Day may be over but a mother’s wisdom is valuable every day.

The Hummingbird Within Us by Vivian Reissland Rouson, B.A., M.S. (printed in 1980,  dedicated to her “very special spouse, Willie Ervin Rouson, Ph.D. and her children”)

Trust yourself, that’s what I say. Feel confused sometimes, or jealous, sad, quarrelsome, dumb? That’s okay. Just remember you are, also, sometimes generous, pleasant, perceptive and witty.

People are that way, unique only in their individual mixtures of what society generalizes into “good” and “bad” characteristics. Nobody is all one way or the other.

If the people or conditions around you add to your feelings of inadequacy or become an uncomfortable mold for the feelings you enjoy, create your own climate for growth. I work at this by trusting my gut level instincts.

A young minister I know calls it “futuring”. He says it’s actually participating in your future now. I would add that it means to refuse to wallow in self-defamation, blocking God’s influence on my life, but to consciously create “spirit” within my community of one and to help it grow by sharing it with anyone I find receptive.

Like the commercial, I “shout it out” when confusion, doubt or worry intrudes. Then, I choose some concrete goal that maximizes the actuality of my potential without too much initial concern about theories and methods. I just start DOING what my best judgment dictates.

It helps to remember the little hummingbird winging through the air while experts ponder why it shouldn’t be able to fly.

I’ve learned that very many decisions, convictions and goals do not have to be lifelong. I give myself permission to change. And as I cope, great and beautiful things happen even amid disappointments.

I like to think: Trust your instincts. God created them; so they’re not just a pile of junk. Table confusions, doubts, pressures. Pursue some concrete, positive actions. Keep on keeping on. Maximize what you CAN do. DO it and resist the urge to become a sophisticated expert, lest you discover “It can’t be done.” Whatever your talents, they are important. Respect yourself.

I’ve followed these personal concepts in parenting, personal relations, religion, curriculum and instruction. It is uncanny how often a day, month, or a decade later, “current” experts finally legitimize those common-sense ideas. It is strange that a wee bird couples its awkward dimensions with flight ability that defies logic. It just CAN.

Based on my mother’s thinking, SO CAN YOU. We each had a mom who somewhere along the way gave us Mom wisdom. I am going to stretch that a bit and conclude that along with that, we have a hummingbird within us.

If necessary, speak …maybe in love language

The first part of the title for my blog this week paraphrases a quote that has been attributed to St. Francis of Assisi and the second part refers to a book, The Five Love Languages.

People shall know you by your deeds, your actions. St. Francis of Assisi was quoted to say, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.” On Sunday, I attended two church services. One was for a friend who was a lifelong Catholic who had decided to join an Episcopal church. During the sermon, the Episcopal priest used the words, “if necessary, speak” as he talked to the congregation about how they could live out their lives in way that would serve others. Spend time doing and let your deeds be what others know of you. Only after that, only if that can’t be seen, only if that is not clear, only if necessary … speak.

How are you living your life? If you have to tell somebody what you’ve done, hmm. If others instead can see the evidence of what you have done, that is meaningful. Do your deeds and let them speak for you.

The bestowing of the Profile in Courage Award to President Barack Obama is to me a beautiful example of words not being necessary. President Obama’s eight years as President and even his professional life before his presidency are full of so many accomplishments that words are not needed. For those who are okay with truth, it’s pretty easy to be comfortable with that. For those who try to obscure the truth, they are the ones who might be critical. I thought it would be interesting to find out what this Award is about. Here is an excerpt from their website:

The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award was created in 1989 by members of President Kennedy’s family to honor President John F. Kennedy and to recognize and celebrate the quality of political courage that he admired most.

The award recognizes a public official (or officials) at the federal, state or local level whose actions demonstrate the qualities of politically courageous leadership in the spirit of Profiles in Courage, President Kennedy’s 1957 Pulitzer prize-winning book, which recounts the stories of eight U.S. Senators who risked their careers by embracing unpopular positions for the greater good.

The eligibility criteria gives this additional information: “Today, elected officials are too often captives to opinion polls, reluctant to act in the broader public interest when it means taking unpopular courses of action or offending powerful groups. The Profile in Courage Award honors modern-day elected officials who govern for the greater good, even when it is not in their own interest to do so. The award celebrates individuals who choose the public interest over partisanship – who do what is right, rather than what is expedient.”

If you heard Jack Schlossberg (JFK’s grandson) give the introduction of President Obama, you know that this award is well deserved. If you heard President Obama’s acceptance remarks, you know that even in his humble recognition for receiving the award, he challenged the current Congress to do what is right, to choose the public interest over partisanship. If this Congress focuses on doing, they won’t have to speak.

If they do have to speak, I hope they speak in one of the five love languages. While I remember hearing about the book, The Five Love Languages, I have not read it. (here is a link to a website about it: http://www.5lovelanguages.com/) The five love languages are: gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service and physical touch.

During the second church service that I attended on Sunday, for the baptism of a newborn of a cousin, the minister spoke about this book. The minister said she has all of the couples for whom she is planning to conduct marriages read the book. She believes relationships boil down to what you do, not what you say. How you show up and who you show up for. It’s not what you say you are going to do but your actions really speak for you. She has the couples do an assessment test of the five love languages so each person knows what is meaningful to the other. What usually ranks at the top is “quality time.”

The profile in courage in our personal relationships comes in being there for who we say is important to us. In these cases, if necessary … speak. Otherwise, your presence is what matters. The minister gave two questions to the congregation: 1) When have you showed up for someone? 2) When has someone showed up for you? In today’s world, social media allows a lot of us to connect in many ways but are we actually connecting? Are we really giving quality time to the people who mean the most to us. Are we relying on words and speaking instead of what St. Francis of Assisi said. Are we giving of ourselves where it matters most? Are we a profile in courage? I wondered about that as I sat in both of those church services on Sunday and again as I watched the JFK Profile in Courage Award ceremony for President Obama.

It might seem like these aren’t related but our personal relationships and our chance to make a difference in our communities are integral to who we say we are. Do our actions match who we say we are? Are we able to look in the mirror and say we are our own profile in courage? Do we have to explain what we are doing because it’s not evident? When was the last time you showed up for someone and gave quality time without being asked?

Your values are reflected in what you do not what you say. Only if necessary, use words.