The Story of My First Demontreville Retreat in Lake Elmo, Minnesota

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34 years ago, I made my first retreat at Demontreville.  Demontreville is a Jesuit Retreat Center in Lake Elmo Minnesota.  I was not a Jesuit or even a practicing Catholic when I made my first retreat.  In fact, I hailed myself as an atheist or sometimes an agnostic.  I like agnosticism since it is a “just in case” religion.   Just in case there is a heaven, hell, devil or god, I can always claim that I did not totally disavow him/her.  This might give me a chance to get by the pearly gates.  Anyway, I did not go to Demontreville for the religious experience.

WintertrailIt was January of 1986.  I had finished all my course work for my Ph.D. degree.  It had already been a long and cold and snowy Minnesota winter.  I had finally collected all the data I needed to finish my dissertation.  Four years in school, working part-time, divorced, no money and writing a dissertation had just about wrung me out.  I needed a vacation but had no money.  Someone told me about this place called Demontreville which they described as a sort of place to get away from life.  They had beautiful facilities, private rooms and some really nice ski trails.  You could get three free meals for four days and there was no charge.  It was all based on voluntary donations.  Weekend retreats ran from Thursday evening to Sunday evening.

This sounded too good to be true.  I packed my knapsack with some fun reading.  Threw some schoolwork in and loaded my skis on my car ski rack.  Just in case, the trails were not very good, I brought alone my running gear.  Off, I went from St. Paul to Demontreville in Lake Elmo, Mn.

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I arrived at a beautiful (I thought resort) nestled in an old pine forest.  I drove down a wonderfully secluded road and past a horse stable.  “Wow,” I thought, “I might even be able to get some horse back riding in.”  The weather was cold, and snow covered all the grounds and buildings.  It was a scene out of paradise.  I could not believe my good fortune.  Of course, I still wondered whether or not there was a fixed charge in which case I was screwed.  I had brought fifty dollars with me and just in case a check book.  However, my bank account was about zero.

I was directed by a young man in front of a large garage at the end of the road on where to park my car.  I took my suitcase and followed a bunch of older men down a hill and into what appeared to be a large conference center.  It was about 6 pm.  I had been told that arrival time each week was between 6 PM and 7 PM on Thursdays and that I could leave after dinner on Sunday night.  I was perfectly willing to spend three days here.

maxresdefaultWhen I went into the “conference” center, there were many men milling around and talking in small groups.  I am not the most social guy in the world, so I took a seat on a couch by myself and commenced reading a magazine called America.  This is a magazine published by the Jesuits each month and to this day I always enjoy reading it.  depositphotos_201877558-stock-video-male-friends-are-talking-toAt about 6:50 PM or so, a Jesuit priest arrived and after a loud hand clap, announced that dinner was being served.  We first said a short prayer called the Angelus and then went into the dining hall which is connected to the conference center.  The “conference center” is really just a large room to relax in.  It has numerous chairs and sofas scattered about a well-lit room with large windows looking out over the grounds.  It is one of the most peaceful places in the world to sit, reflect and enjoy a coffee.  The conferences (Which I learned about later) are all held in the chapel which is also connected to the dining hall.  The only time you have to leave the building is to go to your room.  I was given a room assignment upon entering the conference center.

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Tables are organized in the dining center with places for four or five people at each table.  We were advised that once we had a seat, that was where we were expected to stay for the weekend.  We were asked to fill out a dining card specifying what we wanted to drink with each meal (alas, no beer) and any dietary preferences or restrictions.  Once we put this on the table, we needed to take the same table and the same seat for the duration of the retreat.

Things were still going along fine.  Most of the other men who had joined me at a dining table were older men.  I had just turned forty.  We did some chit chat about where we were from and what we did and of course, how many retreats we had done at Demontreville.  One guy at my table had done 40 retreats.  I was astounded that anybody could keep coming back to the same place for that many years.  On the last night of each retreat, awards are given to men who have made 20 or more retreats.  Oh, I should also mention that there were NO women at the retreat.  It is a male only enclave.  I figured that this was my first and last retreat.  I could not see myself as an old guy here getting an award for attending twenty retreats never mind forty or more.

Dinner, the first night was roast beef.  Meals are almost always the same at each retreat.  For 34 years now, I have had roast beef on Thursday night and Prime Rib on Sunday night.  Other meals are also fixed.  One breakfast will include pancakes, one will have French toast and one will include omelets.  The same predictability is true for lunch and supper meals.  Many men can tell you exactly what will be served for each meal.  You soon figure out that consistency is an important concept at Demontreville.  I actually look forward to the meals each day as they are always plentiful and very well prepared.

Lecture or sermons (hard to tell the difference) are on a fixed schedule every day.  We have some in the morning, some in the afternoon and some in the evening.  There are of course the Catholic worship services every day.  These include prayer sessions every morning and a full mass at 5 PM each day followed by Benediction at 8 PM.  Oh, please don’t let me forget to mention the all-important cookies and coffee which are served every morning and afternoon at the same time each day.  If you don’t like the wonderful cookies that are served, there are always bananas and oranges to eat.

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So here I sit, my first night at Demontreville.  We have finished eating and desert has been served.  We are almost done with desert when a thunderous voice rings out followed by a loud hand clap.  I turn to see a short but rugged looking little priest named Father Ed. Sthokal, SJ.  Father Sthokal is the Retreat Director.  Father Sthokal was born on January 20, 1922.  He was ordained a Jesuit in 1954 and came to Demontreville in the late fifties.  He was an icon at the Retreat Center due to his longevity.  When he finally retired at the age of 95 to a Jesuit community in Wisconsin, he had served almost sixty years at the Retreat Center in various capacities.  He struck me as a drill sergeant when I first met him.  Tough, no nonsense but with a total dedication to helping the men attending Demontreville to “make” a good retreat.

“Good evening” Father Sthokal said.  He then launched into a mini sermon which in my nearly 30 retreats with him never seemed to vary, except for this first night.  Of course, it was my “virginity” at the time which caused his message to seem very personal.  In actuality, his themes never seemed to change from year to year, but they were always inspiring, funny and somewhat caustic every time I heard them.  He talked about discipline, making a good retreat, being “disposed” and responsibility.  Tonight though, what I heard was this.

“Okay, some of you men are here for the first time.  Well let me tell you, this is not the place for a vacation.  I see some of you guys have brought your work with you, well maybe that is why you can’t get your work done, because you have no boundaries in your life.  Some of you have brought ski’s (Oh MY GOD, he is talking about me!), well this is not a ski resort. The trails are there for you to walk on and meditate on about your reason and purpose in life and what God wants for you in your life.  Some of you have brought fiction books to read so you can escape the daily grind of your boring humdrum lives, while this is not the place for that.  If you want to escape life, go get a room at a hotel and spend the week in a hot tub reading.”

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“We are here this weekend, to spend time reflecting and thinking and praying and meditating.  You will get the most out of this retreat if you are disposed and do not have any agenda.  Let God come into your life and talk to you.  Open your heart and mind to what God has to say to you.  This will allow you to make a good retreat.  Oh, and we expect silence from this point on in the retreat until supper on Sunday night.  One of our key rules is no talking.  This allows each man to listen to God and not to the chatter and gossip that is typical of communication outside of these walls.  We have no radios, no TVs, no internet and no news from the outside for you.  In the event of a family emergency, we will contact you.  Until then, don’t call your wife and kids or friends to chat.  Put your phones away.  Observe silence.  Please adjourn now to the basement where we have some ground rules to go over and we will ask for volunteers to help out with certain parts of the retreat.”

Oh my God!  Except I don’t believe in God.  What am I doing here?  I wonder if I can sneak out when no one is looking.  He must have x ray vision.  How did he know that I had work and books to read?  This is another fine mess I have gotten myself into!

I stayed for the entire retreat.  I have come back for 34 more.  I now stand up with the old timers when they get awards and recognition for retreats made.  I cannot believe I am still coming.  I am still an Atheist or on some days an Agnostic.  To me Jesus Christ is a great religious leader along with Moses, Muhammed, Baháʼu’lláh, Buddha, Krishnamurti and Osho.  I cannot totally describe how much these retreats have meant to me.

In my next blog, I would like to discuss my 2019 retreat and what it taught me.  In many ways, this retreat was very typical of my other retreats.  Every year, I take notes and jot down reflections.  I would like to share with you some of the insights and thoughts from my 2019 retreat.  These insights were and are very meaningful to me and I hope they may also be meaningful to you.  In any case, they will give you a better idea of why I keep coming back to these retreats.  Father Sthokal once joked that it simply takes some of us longer to “get it” than others.  Perhaps, I am one of those men.

For any of you who might be interested in attending a retreat:

  • The Silent Retreats are held 47 weekends a year at the Demontreville Jesuit Retreat House, 8243 Demontreville Trail N., Lake Elmo.
  • The retreat house is not open on the weekends of New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
  • Men of any denomination are welcome to attend. Free-will donations are accepted.
  • For more information, call 651-777-1311 or go to demontrevilleretreat.com.

The Three Boxes of Life:  What Does the Coronavirus Have to Do with Them?

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In 1970, Richard Nelson Bolles wrote what was destined to become one of the most famous and useful books of all time.  Richard Nelson Bolles was an Episcopal clergyman and the author of the best-selling job-hunting book, What Color is Your Parachute?  It became an international best seller and was widely adopted for use by job seekers, employment counselors, human resource development people and educators.  It has been in print since 1970 and has been revised annually since 1975, sometimes substantially.

Bolles-AZ QuotesOstensibly, it was just another book to help job seekers find work.  However, Bolles wrote more than just tips on writing resumes and job letters and where to find work, he wrote a bible on how to live a better life and what work could really mean for us.   Bolles gave us a broader vision of work and the role it could play in our lives.  Bolles vision of work was more than just the idea of productivity and pay.  At the core of Richard’s concept of life was his idea that life could be divided into three boxes:  Work, Play and Education.  But there is a novel twist to Bolle’s ideas about work, play and education that no one had ever put forward before.  Before we go into his unique idea, let’s examine each of the three boxes.  After this, I will present the truly revolutionary idea that Bolles had about them.  Finally, I will discuss the implications of Bolles ideas to the present coronavirus crisis that we are facing today throughout the world.

Work:

For most people work involves making a living.  Bringing home a paycheck to pay the bills.  For Bolles, work meant passion and purpose and meaning.  Work could be so much more than just a 9 to 5 grind.  However, before this could happen, the job seeker must fully understand their life, loves, passions and goals.  Bolle’s book was designed to help the job seeker undertake these tasks.  Armed with this information, a job seeker could look for work that provided meaning and purpose to his/her life.  Work would not just be 9 to 5 and go home and relax.  Work could be exciting and challenging.

Education:

We typically go to school from first grade to perhaps college or grad school and then education for the most part ends.  We might join a company that provides some job-related education or tuition reimbursement for work related training.  Typically though, after you are out of school, you are on your own for education and training.   No workplace that I have experienced practices or believes in the need for life-long education and training for their employees.  Dr. W. E. Deming (who was a mentor for the company I joined after finishing my Ph.D. degree in Training and Organization Development) created his famous 14 Points for Management in which two of his 14 points addressed this issue directly:

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Point 6:  Institute training on the job.  Dr. Deming believed that continuous training was needed by all employees if continuous improvement was to become the norm in a workplace.  Training was job specific and job related although it could also involve things like cross training or training for a new job or new tasks.

“People are part of the system; they need help… Many people think of machinery and data processing when I mention system. Few of them know that recruitment, training, supervision, and aids to production workers are part of the system.” — Dr. W. E. Deming, Out of the Crisis

Point 13:  Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement for everyone.  Dr. Deming was a visionary like Bolles.  He believed that education for all employees was an ongoing part of any job.  Education went beyond job specific tasks to include life skills, human relations skills and skills for happiness and creativity.  Many employers are willing to adopt Dr. Deming’s Point 4 but are much more reluctant to embrace his Point 13.

“What an organization needs is not just good people; it needs people who are improving with education… There is no shortage of good people… Shortage exists at the high levels of knowledge—and this is true in every field… One should not wait for a promise of reimbursement for a course of study… Moreover, study directed toward immediate need may not be the wisest course… Advances in competitive position will have their roots in knowledge.” — Dr. W. E. Deming, Out of the Crisis

I have written quite a few of my blogs on the issue of education.  Simply type “education” in the search box and you can see some of my ideas on what a life-long education system could look like.  Many of my ideas have roots going back to Ivan Ilych, Paulo Freire and John Holt, however Dr. Deming and Richard Bolles also played a significant role in the formation of my ideas.

Play:

Now here is where it gets really interesting.  How many employers do you know that want you to play at work or to have fun while on the job?  Save it for vacation time, right?  Or as one oft heard idiotic comment goes “We work hard and play hard!”  Sorry, but play should not be hard.  Play should be fun.  Play should not encompass meaning or purpose.  Play is about being and not doing.  It is about enjoying the moment and living simply for the present.  We play when we get home from work with our spouses or with our kids, but work is reserved for productivity.  Get the job done and play later say most employers.

Bolles Revolutionary Idea:

What if we combined work, education and play?  One day when I was doing some training in Deming’s 14 points with about 20 hard rock miners down about 2000 feet below ground.  I was in one of the training rooms in INCO’s Thompson Nickel mine in Thompson, Manitoba.  I always liked teaching on site with workers since if they did not understand a concept, we could go right out into the work area and I could show them how the idea applied.  This was not simply theory, but real-world experience coupled with theory.  Dr. Deming always said that “Experience without theory teaches nothing.”  My corollary to Deming’s point was that “Theory without experience teaches nothing.”  Thus, I strove to integrate theory and experience in all my teaching and training.

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On this particular day, we were in a room off one of the mine tunnels (known as drifts to miners) and I was lecturing about education and training.  I was suddenly mindful of Bolles’ ideas that life would be more exciting and productive if we could integrate work, education and play.  In other words, schools would be about more than just learning, organizations would be about more than just productivity and families would be about more than just relaxation and play.

sea-777x437I posed a general question to the miners’ present.  “What if we integrated work, education and play in your jobs.  What would life be like for you,” I asked.  There was silence for a moment.  I did not know if I would get a response.  Suddenly a hand shot up.  I recognized the man and asked him what he thought.  I never would have guessed his reply in a million years.  It was perfect but it still astounded me.  He said very simply “I would not know whether it was Monday or Friday.”  To this very day, I cannot think of a more profound or telling comment than that.

Unfortunately, in classrooms all over the country you see students often engaged in educational activities that have no bearing on purpose or meaning.  Little attention is directed by educators to find ways that student work could actually be made more meaningful by finding ways that students could profit from their activities.  Even worse perhaps are the responses by educators towards children having fun in the classroom.  In the early years of education there is often time for classroom fun but as students progress in schools from kindergarten to college, the fun is systematically wrung out of the curriculum.  Schools are designed to be serious activities and thus have little place for fun and playful work.

In most workplaces, managers are much more concerned about productivity than they are in workers having fun.  Fun times are allocated to off work activities or more likely to activities when the worker goes home.  IF you want to play, you do that with your kids when the job is over.  There is little or no effort in human resources departments to help managers find ways to integrate play in work.  There may be time allocated towards training by some HR departments but again, that is as far as it goes.  If an employee or the organization can benefit from more education, that is the employee’s responsibility and not the companies.

Home life is where we go to relax.  We have enough education at school.  We have enough work at our job.  We go home to watch sports on tv, to play with our kids and to spend time with spouses and friends.  How many people read anything beyond fantasy and romance novels at home?  How many people go home and do an online course for fun in English or history or physics?  We have grown to hate these subjects that were imposed on us by our schools so most of us never want to hear about them again.  Even if we know that education should be for life, it is difficult to find classes that are not geared towards getting a degree or a diploma or a certificate.  Many of us take up hobbies like gardening, wood working or playing an instrument because we see these activities as fun and less purposeful than the stress we associate with learning and education or the work we do to make a living.  I have friends who love woodworking and make some beautiful objects.  They have no thought of selling these and do it for fun and the gratification of creating something.  Most often they give these to friends and relatives without consideration of remuneration.  To put these on a paying basis might take the fun out of the activity for them.

20110907101009home-ecOur work activities at home are generally allocated towards improving our living conditions.  We work on repairing our appliances, roofs, etc. because we either enjoy doing it or because we are trading our time for money.  If we hire someone to do it, it will cost us money that we might not be able to afford.  We may not have the skills to so some work that needs to be done, so we are often forced by necessity to contract out needed repairs.  Some people have never learned how to cook and so either spend extra img_7363money on prepared meals or they often eat out.  I never learned any wood working skills when I was in high school because these classes were deemed “general education” and I was in the “college track.”  The home economics classes mostly dealt with sewing and cooking and were largely populated by girls.  Even today in most high schools, girls dominate the home economics classes and boys dominate the construction related classes.  There is admittedly more cross over then when I was in school in the sixties, but it is by no means 50-50 in gender distribution.

Conclusion:

I would like to conclude with some observations from the present crisis in relation to integrating work, play and education in our lives.  There is no doubt that we are in a crisis of perhaps unprecedented proportions.   As I write this, we have no idea when it will end or how many people will die as a result of this virus.  Thus, it is hard to look down the road and see any possible positive outcomes or merits that could come out of this disaster.  Yet, I do see several trends that have emerged and portend some major changes in the future of work, school and play as we know them traditionally.

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In terms of work, more employers are allowing their employees to work from home.  This was an idea that had merit many years ago however, most employers were loath to let their employees out of their sight.  I am sure you have heard the comment: “But how will I know they are doing their work and not goofing off?”  Sad, that any employer would have so little faith in their employees that they could offer this lame excuse.  Not only are many employees more productive by working from home, but it allows them to integrate their work lives with their family lives often to very positive advantage for both families and employers.

Another major benefit to the world comes from the decreased air pollution by eliminating a significant proportion of automobile traffic.  In addition, we will be seeing a decline (unfortunately offset by Corvid 19 deaths) in highway fatalities and accidents. More people will be productive by simply eliminating commute times that add nothing to the bottom line in organizations.

Homeschooling-pro-and-conFrom teachers and many educators, we hear the lament that children will miss three or more months of schooling.  Unfortunately for the teachers that feel this way, students may miss out on “schooling”, but I think not on learning.  Many studies have shown that students home taught learn more and score higher on standardized tests than public school students.  I have been working in high schools as a substitute teacher for three years now and much of the work I see being done in classrooms can easily be accomplished from home.  Whether or not students working from home are less bored with the subject matter remains to be seen.  Nevertheless, there are plenty of opportunities for children to learn from home at their own pace and to some extent be more excited by a custom curriculum which suits their needs.  There is obviously a great deal more that can be done in this area to create customized education programs.

Finally, we have a new breed of hero/heroine.  Traditionally, we have viewed soldiers, fire fighters, police officers, nurses and doctors as involved in heroic activities.  This is still true in the current pandemic.  However, now we have added a new dimension to the world of heroism by recognizing service workers, food handlers, truck drivers, delivery people, retail workers and many other groups who are risking their lives to help the rest of us stay home and safe.  Never before did anyone think of a retail store clerk putting toilet paper on a shelf as doing a heroic job.  If you have been to any store lately, you will certainly see the risk these people are taking.

Millions of ordinary people are losing their jobs or out of work and not getting a paycheck because of this pandemic.  Yet, we can clearly see that the ordinary person whether working now or not was responsible for the great economy we had.  The loss of stock value, the decline in GDP and the possible coming depression shows to what extent the “Economy” is a product of ordinary people doing extraordinary work in ordinary times.  The economy never was and never will be a product of politicians, billionaires or the stock market.  Dr. Deming said this about the common worker, and it bears repeating:

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These comments from Dr. Deming directly reflect on his Points Number 8-9-10-11-and 12.

“I’ve seen how deeply plant workers appreciate it when somebody recognizes and respects the storehouse of knowledge they accumulate day to day on the job. Giving people the opportunity to participate in improving the product pays off, because workers realize security isn’t worth a hoot if the product is shoddy.” — Dr. Deming

When we finally overcome the monster that is terrorizing our world, we must begin the task of restoring honor to people who work for a living by paying decent wages and not allowing .1% of the population to control 40 percent of the wealth in our country.  We must continue to allow people to have more joy, fun, meaning, passion, education and purpose in their lives by integrating these factors at home, at school and at work.   We must start to do more research and to invest more in long term goals for health care, education, infrastructure and the environment.  Unless we value these goals as much as we value the daily stock quote, we will become as obsolete as the dinosaurs were.  Dr. Deming always said: “Survival is not Compulsory.”

P.S.

I found this “Letter to the Editor” in my local paper the day after I wrote the above blog.  I think it summarizes pretty well how some people feel about our present system of employment and work.  

Casa Grande Dispatch, Thursday April 2, 2020

Editor, Casa Grande Dispatch:

As an American who was born in 1941, I ain’t lookin’ like no “spring chicken.” That should not mean it is OK to wring my neck to save the U.S. economy. I am not quite ready to die for a chronic boom and bust system that excessively enriches a few at the top while marginally supporting ordinary workers. An economic system that also must periodically be bailed out by taxpayers — also to the benefit of those at the top — is not worth dying for.

I might be willing to sacrifice for a stable and sustainable economy that recognizes the primary value workers add to the economy both in the creation of wealth and as consumers. If 70% of GDP is generated by consumer spending, it should make sound economic sense for corporations to pay the worker/consumer a living wage along with regular increases and a strong benefit package. I am old enough to remember a short period of time when that was what corporations did while still remaining profitable. That was also a time when the American middle class grew and prospered.

Try me again when work is valued at least equally with investment and inheritance. Try me again when there is an institutionalized economic system that guarantees economic fairness for all who work and support for all who cannot. That might be something an old person like me would be willing to die for because it would truly help my grandkids and my country. In the meantime, those who are still looking for senior citizens to sacrifice for this yo-yo economy — consider starting with the politician who came up with the idea in the first place.

John T.

Tucson

 

In Search of Stupid People

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Have you ever thought that there is an epidemic of stupid people?  Stupid people to the right, stupid people to the left, stupid people in front, stupid people in back of you.  You don’t have to go very far to find stupid people.  In the middle of a world-wide pandemic, we have people who still want to congregate with others.  We have ministers insisting on holding church services and encouraging people to hug and shake hands.  We have governors who deem golf courses and gun shops as “Essential” services.  I won’t dwell on some of the dumb things that our politicians have said as I am sure you have heard enough from them.

If you thought that there were easily enough stupid people to go around before, they now seem to be growing like the corona virus in exponential numbers.  When we are finally back to normal, I am going to suggest to my local college and perhaps high school that they offer a course called “Stupidity 101.”  I will also recommend that we change the name of our species from Homo Sapiens to Homo Stupidus.

Just last night, Karen and I were coming back from a trip to the grocery store and we had to stop at a railroad crossing to let a train go by.  Karen noticed that there was a sign along side the roadway that said, “Do not stop on the railroad tracks.”  She turned to me and said, “Who would be dumb enough to stop on the tracks?”  I replied that “I am sure there are enough stupid people in the world that need to be reminded.  Although I doubt that the sign would do them any good.”

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The train finally passed, and we continued down the road.  The street (named Battaglia) does not have a shoulder or streetlights where we were at.  It is a fairly narrow road.  Some movement up ahead caught my eye.  It was on the right side of the road and I swerved to the left to miss it.  As I went by what I thought might only be a post, I saw that it was a woman walking on the same side of the street with her back to traffic and half on the road.  She had on dark clothes and was barely visible.  I wanted to back up and tell her to either walk facing traffic or to wear more visible clothes or better yet, even both.  Karen was startled by my swerving and did not even see the woman as we drove by.  I told her why I had swerved.  I explained that it was just another stupid person who has a death wish.  I personally don’t care about her death inclinations as long as she finds some other way to do it besides me plowing into her with my car.

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This thought of stupid people kept echoing in my mind.  Why are there stupid people?  What makes people stupid?  How do we fix stupidity?  Is there any cure?  I went on the internet to research the subject.  As with any research we must first start with a definition of our problem or the entity we are studying.  Webster’s Online Dictionary defines stupidity as: “Behavior that shows a lack of good sense or judgment.”  I thought about this definition and while it is not bad, I like my own definition better.  I would define Stupidity as “A denial of reality.”  Now, why do people deny reality?  What blinds people to objectivity?

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First of all, allow me to get off my “high horse” for a minute.  By now you are contemplating what an arrogant asshole I am.  “The whole world is stupid, but he thinks that he is the only intelligent one in the world.”  No, unfortunately, the world cannot be easily divided into stupid people and smart people.  All of us are stupid at one time or another.  I have my stupid moments and you will or have had your stupid moments.  What are some of the things that make us stupid?  My brief research shows an astounding number of things that make us stupid.  Here are some of the more common factors influencing stupidity:

  • Greed
  • Jealousy
  • Envy
  • Ego
  • Arrogance
  • Short-term thinking
  • Power
  • Love
  • Religion

You are probably thinking “My god, is there anything that does not make us stupid?”  Even my brief list is enough to indict most of the human race at one time or another.  Take the issue of love.  Have you ever made a fool of yourself over an infatuation with someone else?  Or take religion.  How many religious zealots do you know who become so self-righteous that they cannot see the value in other religions or people who do not subscribe to their religious views?  Take any item from my list above and I am sure that you can find any number of examples to illustrate the ongoing stupidity of the human race.

Greed is a particularly interesting factor.  I once heard a quote that said, “Greed is not the worst of all sins, but it is the gateway to all others.”  Just recently we had a Lt. Governor who intoned that “older people should be willing to die for the good of the economy.”  Few older people I know have volunteered to take him up on the offer.

When we are children, we are all taught the story of the little boy and the cookie jar.  This is a great example of the stupidity that greed often leads to.

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Once upon a time there was a little boy who lived with his mom.  He was an only child and was quite spoiled.  His mother gave him everything he wanted.  One day upon his request, she made a batch of cookies.  When they had cooled, she put them in a cookie jar.  Most cookie jars are narrow at the top and wide at the bottom.  She told him that he could have one cookie each day.  As soon as she left the kitchen, he reached into the cookie jar and grabbed the biggest handful of cookies he could hold.  He then tried to get his hand out, but it would not come out.  He pulled and he yanked but he could not get his hand out.  He finally became frustrated with his efforts and screamed for his mom.

“Mom, please come quickly, I need your help.”  His mother came rushing back into the kitchen and looked at her son.  “What is your problem?”  “I can’t get my hand out of the jar.  It is stuck.”  “Well, let go of the cookies” she replied.  The little boy opened his fist and let the cookies fall out of his hand.  Immediately he was able to take his hand out of the jar.  The moral of the story is so obvious I will not insult your intelligence.  But think about all the people and companies and politicians who have their hands in the cookie jar and cannot get them out.  Stupidity is a derivative of greed in many cases.

So what can we do about stupidity?  Will my Stupidity 101 class cure the problem?  What would I teach in Stupidity 101?  Some people say that “you cannot cure stupidity.”  Is this true?  Are we doomed to stupidity as a race?  Can scientists help us?  Are they the people with the solution? Or do we look to philosophers to help us?

"I've been thinking harder than you have, and my thought experiment disproves your thought experiment."

Goethe’s Faust is a classic example of the folly of brains and intellect.

“The erudite Faust is highly successful yet dissatisfied with his life, which leads him to make a pact with the Devil at a crossroads, exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. The Faust legend has been the basis for many literary, artistic, cinematic, and musical works that have reinterpreted it through the ages. “Faust” and the adjective “Faustian” imply a situation in which an ambitious person surrenders moral integrity in order to achieve power and success for a limited term.” — Wikipedia

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Tragically, Faust not only destroys his life in a sybaritic bargain for power, knowledge and lust but he nearly destroys the woman who falls in love with him in the process.  Marguerite is redeemed because she repents and sees the folly of her ways but for Faust there is no redemption and he goes down to hell for his deeds.  Stupid thinking by highly intelligent people is nearly as common as among those of lesser intelligence and intellect.  So the question still remains “Can we cure stupidity and if so How?”

See:  10 Most Famous Scientific Theories That Were Later Debunked

"Ulrich, that's bad science and you know it!"

I wish I had the answer to this question but alas, I have no solution.  Here are some comments from others perhaps far wiser than I am.

“The donkey heard the book gives wisdom and ate it.”  ― Ljupka Cvetanova, The New Land

“People think that whatever comes out of the mouth of a wise man is the choicest gem, sometimes it’s utter stupidity and rubbish” ― Bangambiki Habyarimana, Pearls Of Eternity

“I’m tired of being told it’s elitist to call stupid behavior stupid. Remember when you were just a tot and thought it might be a good idea to stick your wee-wee in the electrical socket? Hopefully, you had a mom who kicked you in the behind and called you stupid. There are times when mincing words and pleasant euphemisms simply don’t cut it. Sometimes, you need to call stupid by its given name.”  ― Quentin R. Bufogle, Horse Latitudes

“Wisdom is the distance between intelligence and stupidity.”  ― Matshona Dhliwayo

 

 

-10 Things to Manage Your Health at Home – 居家管控呼吸道症状的10种方法 – 10 maneras de manejar los síntomas respiratorios en casa

English Advice

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Spanish Advice

 

I Wonder Who’s Curious Today?

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I wonder how many great novels have started out with these two words: “I Wonder?”  Ok, I am curious, so I will find out.  “Google, how many great novels have started with the words: ‘I wonder’?”   Well, I found “Wonder” a great book about children who are different and Natalie Merchant’s beautiful song “Wonder” about the same subject, but no list of great novels.  I will try again: “Novels beginning with the words ‘I wonder’.”

Wow, now I have found a list of some interesting books.  Foremost among the list of books is “I Wonder as I Wander: An Autobiographical Journey: by Langston Hughes.

In I Wonder as I Wander, Langston Hughes vividly recalls the most dramatic and intimate moments of his life in the turbulent 1930s.

His wanderlust leads him to Cuba, Haiti, Russia, Soviet Central Asia, Japan, Spain (during its Civil War), through dictatorships, wars, revolutions. He meets and brings to life the famous and the humble, from Arthur Koestler to Emma, the Black Mammy of Moscow. It is the continuously amusing, wise revelation of an American writer journeying around the often strange and always exciting world he loves.

Now I am getting somewhere.  Although sadly, Mr. Hughes stole the title of my proposed next book.  But I will let it go.  I am sure I can think of another title.  But the point that I am thinking about is that wonder and curiosity is or should be the essence of our lives.  “Once upon a time” is probably the most popular starting words for many stories, but I propose that “I wonder” should be the start of any journey.  More stories need to start with “I Wonder.”

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I wonder why they do not?  I think I know.  Schools do not encourage wonder and curiosity. Schools encourage learning the right answers to pass tests.  Society does not encourage wonder and curiosity.  How many times have you heard “Curiosity killed the cat?”  Of course, the retort is “And satisfaction brought it back.”  But there is already the societal warning that curiosity can kill you.  Consider one of the most famous anti-heroines in history and her story about wonder and curiosity.

debfcabe3a329e58d451650b7bbe3120653267d4r1-299-371v2_uhqPandora was the first human woman created by Hephaestus on the instructions of Zeus.  Pandora was a curious woman.  She was given a jar or box by the conniving Zeus with all the evils of the world.   Being a woman (sexism at its earliest) she could not resist peaking in the box.  So she opened it and inadvertently allowed all the evils within lose upon the world.  The only thing that did not fly out of the box was the spirit of Hope which remained in the box when Pandora put the lid back on.  Thus to this day, our world is full of evil but balance always by the ever-present Hope that things will be better.  Nothing could be more fitting than Hope for the times we live in today.

Here is a great song to listen to about Pandora’s Box by David Francey

Now, I have been teaching since 1975, on and off. I have taught every grade from preschool, to elementary school to high school and up though grad school.  There are trends and fads in teaching like in business and society.  Many argue every year about what the “core curriculum” of a school should be.  Some say math is essential, some say English is essential.  Some want civility to be added to the curriculum and some are still fighting over the dreaded “Sex education.”

One of the most popular subjects today is “Critical Thinking Skills.”  Every single teacher in America believes that “Critical Thinking” should be part of every curriculum yet less than five percent of any curriculum is allotted to these skills. There simply is not enough time to teach everything that people want to see taught.  Particularly, when we have standardized tests to prepare for and a believe that what was good for the Greeks and Middle Ages is still valid today.

Here is a great song for the curious:  “Be Curious” with English lyrics by Humood Alkhuder

I could leave every one of these subjects behind.  It is my belief that schools should only teach one thing.  That thing would be “wonder and curiosity.”  I doubt if anyone would agree with me.  I can hear the arguments now: “Schools must prepare children for life.”  “Schools must prepare children for jobs.”  “Schools must prepare children for society.”

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Just think for a second.  What if schools actually did teach children to be more curious?  What if they taught children to wonder about the world, to wonder about life, to wonder about people?  What would anyone imbued with a sense of wonder be like?

5 Benefits of Being A Curious Person by Leigh Weingus

  1. It can strengthen your relationships.
  2. It can help protect your brain.
  3. It can help you overcome anxiety.
  4. It correlates with happiness.
  5. It can help you learn pretty much anything.

You will find many articles about the virtue of curiosity on the web.  You will also find many of the components of curiosity.  Whether or not we can teach curiosity is perhaps another issue.  I have seen little in my many years of education that show we have the desire or knowledge to teach children to be curious.  If anything, I think curiosity is an innate trait which rather than nurture we do the best to kill.  Children ask fewer and fewer questions as they progress through our school systems.

‘Schools are killing curiosity’: why we need to stop telling children to shut up and learn – The Guardian

Imagine if you will that kids were not taught answers but were taught questions.  Anyone who has ever raised a child knows that they are the most curious little creatures on the face of the earth.  But right from childhood on, we do our best to extinguish this innate curiosity.

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Imagine if kids who asked, “who made the world?” or “why do I have to do that?” were given the quest to investigate and come back with their own opinions.  Imagine if children who asked, “why are some people racist?” or “why do people hurt other people?” were told “Well, I don’t really know, but can you research this and come back and tell the class what you have found out?”

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Imagine if we had leaders who asked more questions and looked more to experts to help solve social problems rather than political polls.  Imagine if politicians were curious about life and wanted to explore life rather than control it.  Imagine if stories written in newspapers and the media were less biased and more honest about what is known and what is not known.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.  — —”Old Man’s Advice to Youth: ‘Never Lose a Holy Curiosity.'” LIFE Magazine (2 May 1955) p. 64” — Albert Einstein

Autobiographies from the Dead — Jesus Christ the Martyr

Here is a blog I wrote a while back. Part of my “Autobiographies from the Dead” Series.

Aging Capriciously

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I am adding a few new autobiographies to my series.  I had stopped with seven, but it seems appropriate to add several more.  Thus, I really should not have said that this series will end since so many “dead” people still have stories to tell.  If you have not read my other “Autobiographies,” I strongly urge you to do so and add your comments or thoughts to their stories.  I know many of the “dead” will appreciate your perspectives.

38000-christian-denominations-good-luck-choosing-the-right-oneThis week, you will hear from one Jesus of Nazareth.  He has been called by many names including: Messiah, Emmanuel, Christ, Lord, Master, Logos (the Word), Son of God and by himself more often The Son of Man.   He is often credited with being the founder or perhaps foundation for a popular religion called Christianity.  Today, it is difficult to see the link between the teachings of Jesus and many of…

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The Man Who Was Smarter Than God

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Once upon a time there was a man who was smarter than God.  At least that is what his friends said behind his back.   Michael was indeed one of the smartest men you could ever meet.  Now some might call this a blessing while others might call it a curse.  His mother was fond of saying that “ignorance is bliss” while his father believed, (though he did not practice it himself) that intellect and knowledge was everything.  A man who was smart enough could rule the world.  His father continually berated Michael to think and to use his intellect.  Michael’s father demanded that Michael read only non-fiction and in an argument stick to the facts.  The only things that mattered in the world were facts, data and evidence.  Emotions ruled stupid people and decisions based on emotions were decisions that were stupid.

Michael grew up with very little respect or tolerance for anyone or anything that was not logical and rationale.  When the first Star Trek series became popular, Michael was surprised at the admiration for Lt. Commander Spock.  Many people saw Spock as the epitome of logic and rational thinking versus Kirk’s impulsiveness and McCoy’s rampant emotionalism.  However, Michael saw Spock as divided between emotions and intellect.  He could not accept that Spock was a role model for logical thinking.  Nothing was as important to Michael as mind and intellect and the ability to ignore and suppress emotions. This of course had its negative side as far as Michael’s social aspirations were concerned.

Michael had few if any male friends and zero female friends.  Men did not like Michael because they feared his put downs and lack of acceptance of their often biased and illogical thinking.  Michael was very intolerant of what he saw as inept thinking and has no qualms about correcting anyone.  It was hard to deny that Michael was usually right, but this meant that being around him would make you feel inferior and stupid.  No one wants to associate with anyone who makes them feel insignificant.

Michael was attracted to women and would have liked to date and have a social relationship with the opposite sex.  However, most women saw him as wooden and unemotional.  This was a state that Michael was rather proud of.  Moreover, compassion and love were traits that Michael saw as incompatible with a rational human being.  There traits would lead to decisions based on emotions and not logic.  Dates that Michael went on with the opposite sex usually lasted less than an hour and calls for a second date by Michael would always go unanswered.

Somewhere along the line, some of Michael’s friends (more like acquaintances really) tagged him with the moniker “The man who was smarter than God.”  This was the source of endless jokes and laughter, all of course behind Michael’s back.  Michael grew more and more isolated from any human contact, particularly after his mother and father passed away.  Michael never even bothered to attend their funerals.  “They are dead” he reasoned, “So my going to their funeral is not going to bring them back.”

As the years went by.  Michael became lonelier and lonelier but also richer and richer.  Michael was a genius with computers and also finance.  He invested his money earned from writing software programs into a stock portfolio that he managed.  This portfolio grew to nine figures and Michael never had to worry about working for a living or where his next meal would come from.

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Michael loved to take walks to break up his work and enjoyed being outside.  One day while taking a walk, he stopped at a little bench in a park and sat down to take a short rest.  A young man about 16 years of age walked up to the bench and sat down next to Michael.  “Hi,” the young man said, “My name is Joshua and I am special.”  “That’s nice,” replied Michael, hoping to end the conversation quickly.  “I am running away from home” came back a reply.  “Oh”, said Michael, not particularly caring why.  “Nobody likes me” explained Joshua.  “My sister makes fun of me and my mom and dad don’t do anything about it.”  Somewhat curious, Michael asked “Where are you going to go?”  “I always go to this bench until its time to go home” said Joshua.  This did not make any sense thought Michael, so he continued the conversation to find out more about this strange boy.

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Joshua was fifteen years old and a developmentally disabled child.  He had suffered a fall when he was very young which left him with a severely diminished cognitive capacity.  He also suffered from some physical limitations.  He was now in high school but spent most of his time in special needs classes.  From early on, his family told him he was special.  They were very loving parents and did their best to help him cope with his limited capacities.  They knew he would never be able to live on his own.  His older sister Inez, whom Joshua loved dearly, frequently became exasperated with him.  She did not quite have the patience of his mother and dad, but right about now, she would go out looking for Joshua.  The typical pattern was that Joshua would become angry with her and “run away from home” to this park bench.  Inez would come and “find” him and take him home.  She loved him as much as he loved her.

The conversation finally ended when Inez showed up.  Joshua introduced his new friend Michael to Inez.  She said hello to Michael and that she was very happy that Joshua had a new friend.  Joshua asked Michael if he could come to visit him after school sometime if he did not live too far away.  Michael reluctantly agreed thinking that he would never see Joshua again.  In some respects he regretted this since he actually felt a stirring of compassion towards Joshua and he was moved by Joshua’s openness and lack of pretentiousness.  Goodbyes all around and each left to go home.

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A few days later, much to Michael’s surprise, who should knock at Michael’s home but Inez and Joshua.  Inez said that she would drop Joshua off if it was okay with Michael and pick him up in an hour or so.  Michael agreed and spent the next hour or so talking to Joshua about many different things.  Joshua was surprisingly able to comprehend many things that Michael would bring up and they had some interesting if eclectic conversations.

Michael learned that Joshua loved science and animals and nature.  He also learned that Joshua’s parents were not very wealthy.  Michael deduced that they did not have enough money to buy some of the things that Joshua wanted and that they often struggled to buy some of the things he needed.  Apparently, the fall did more than just brain damage to Joshua and he had some severe internal injuries which needed ongoing treatment.  Joshua never complained though and saw most of these hardships as simple facts of his life.

al_roker_marqueeThe first day that Michael and Joshua spent together turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months.  Each week, Michael and Joshua would spend at least an hour together.  Some days, Michael would play video games with Joshua and other days they would do “walk and talks.”   Inez would drop Joshua off and Michael would take Joshua home.  Michael looked forward each week to seeing Joshua and spending time with him.  Michael often tried to buy Joshua some of the things that he wanted, but Joshua’s parents were very proud and explained that they would prefer that he did not.  Michael accepted their request but would take Joshua out for a hamburger or pizza whenever possible.  His parents did not mind this as Joshua had a prodigious appetite.

A few years went by and Michael s life became less lonely and much happier.  Michael greeted people on the street and spent time talking to other people without correcting them or giving them advice.  Every week Michael and Joshua would get together.  Then one week, Joshua did not come by.  Michael was disappointed but simply thought that some event had come up and Joshua had to attend it.  The following week went by and again no Joshua.  By now, Michael was very worried.  He called Joshua’s parents.  Inez explained that they were at the hospital with Joshua who was very sick.  She said she was sorry she had not come by to tell Michael about it, but things had been rather chaotic.  She said Joshua had asked about Michael and when would he come up to visit.   Michael told her that he would go right now.

When Michael arrived at the hospital, he found Joshua in bed with many tubes sticking out of him and his worried parents at his bedside.  Joshua looked up when Michael entered his room and his face turned into a big smile.  “I knew you would come,” he happily exclaimed.  “I am dying,” he whispered to Michael.  “But don’t worry about it, I will be OK.”

Michael stayed for awhile until Joshua fell asleep and then went out of the room followed by Joshua’s parents.  “We are very sorry we did not call you sooner”, they apologized.  “We always knew this time would come but we thought he had a few more years.”  “Isn’t there anything they can do?” replied Michael.  “No”, said his father.  “We wish there was, but they have done everything they could.”

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Michael came up every day to visit Joshua for a week.  Then one day, when he came to the hospital Joshua was no longer in the room.  The nurse explained that Joshua had died in his sleep the night before.  Funeral arrangements were made by Joshua’s parents and Michael attended the wake.  At the funeral, Michael gave his condolences to Inez and Joshua’s parents.  Michael was nearly as devastated as they were.  Joshua had a simple funeral, but Michael made sure that there were plenty of flowers there.

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Michael went home and for the next week did nothing and said nothing.  Then one day, he thought.  I am not going to forget Joshua.  I am sitting on a pile of money that is not doing anything for anyone.  I am going to start a home for “special” children where they can come each day to play games, have meals and interact with toys that their parents could not afford for them to have.  My home will have first class aides that are well trained in caring for special needs children and we will have all the security needed to ensure that these children have a safe and secure environment when not home.  This will be someplace that parents can drop their children off when they need a break or rest.

So Michael started this home.  It had the capacity for about 150 children.  The home had numerous playrooms, security cameras in each room and a full kitchen staffed by cooks with degrees in dietary nutrition.  The home was free to qualified children which was based on need and not income.  Parents would fill out an application and it was reviewed by a board of professionals versed in the needs of special education children.

Michael came each day and spent at least four hours at the home.  During these visits, he would meet the parents of each child and spend time with all the children to find out how they were doing and what they liked and did not like about the home.  Michael was constantly making improvements to the home.  When he was not at the home, he was using his genius to earn more money that he would then plow back into the home.  Michael named the home: “The Joshua Home for Very Special Children.”  Michael was admired by parents and loved by the children for the care and compassion he put into this home.

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Twenty years or so when by and Michael passed away.  In his will, he set up a foundation and trust to manage the home.  Every penny he had was put into this foundation.  Michael specified that he did not want an elaborate funeral and wanted a very simple burial.  Despite his request, the number of people that called to inquire about his wake and funeral soon dictated that his request would go unheeded.  A number of unnamed benefactors put up money to have the funeral moved to a larger venue.  Even with a bigger church, there was standing room only.  Estimates were that over a thousand people attended Michael’s “simple” funeral.  Many people stood up to talk about his generosity and compassion and all the children that he had helped not only with the home but often with medical expenses and care that they could not afford.  And no one referred to him as: “The man who was smarter than God.”

The End

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