Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Lady Wisdom

To round out what seems to have become a three-part wisdom-themed February post series, I’m going to touch on a subject I generally don’t feel equipped to address: gender.

Often, in the evenings, I unwind with a classic sitcom episode or two. It brings me joy, calms me down, allows me to laugh and smile even on hard days, and comforts me in something familiar and warm. Usually, I watch The Golden Girls, but I’ll sometimes switch off to The Golden Palace or Designing Women. In the former, in particular, I’m reminded of my grandmothers—in Blanche’s southern accent, style, and wit and in Rose’s Nordic charm, innocence, and references—and I love them for it. I find great comfort in the humor and power of women ensemble casts from the 1980s and early 1990s, the topics they tackle—some quite ahead of their time—and the impact they had in pushing our societies forward and opening so many eyes to important issues. What I love most is when Dorothy or Julia go off on one of their monologues putting creepy men in their place. I just watched the Designing Women pilot again and the bit where Julia rips into Ray Don is just magical. I clapped. I always clap when Julie slays…just like I always clap when Dorothy goes off on the sexist plumber, Lou, in the best bit of toilet humor I’ve ever seen. 

In my last post, “Proverbial Wisdom,” and one a week or two ago, “Sparrows,” as well as my January post, “Good Neighborliness,” I’ve done some thinking about ancient writings and how valuable they can be in modern society, but also about the all-important grains of salt one must sprinkle in considering the context of the wisdom of the ancients, especially when it comes to the patriarchy that was so pervasive and, I’m afraid, still persists with fervor in many realms today. As much as I want to believe we live in a gender-neutral and gender-inclusive 21st century American society, the reality is that we still—after so much work has been done by real-life Dorothies and Julias—have a whole lot more work to do.

I’ve always tried to change pronouns when quoting ancient writings, when appropriate. In old quotes that say something like “A man’s blah blah blah is measured by his blah blah blah,” I’ll change it to “A person’s blah blah blah is measured by their blah blah blah.” At least, I try to do this, both in writing and in speaking. Why? Because those quotes most of the time are speaking generally and, while the masculine pronoun was used because that’s how most writing was done back then, it’s likely not specifically meant to refer just to men. And when we train our brains to do that inclusive pronoun switch when we read ancient writings, it really can do wonders to help our little pea brains understand that this world was not intended to be men-centric. It’s just that the ancients wrote that way, because that was their context and almost always the examples shown to them, so that’s the example they in turn show in using men in stories, in scenarios, and in defaulting to the masculine pronoun in allegory. I do this pronoun-shifting and gender-wokeness stuff all the time, refusing to say things like “mankind” and instead saying “humanity” and shying away from things like “brethren” and “brotherhood” in favor of more appropriate terms like “group” or “community.” It’s important to me.

I am so grateful to have come from a long line of incredibly strong, wise, formidable, stubborn women—feminists in their own rights, even if some didn’t use the term. And I’m so grateful that I also come from a long line of incredible strong, wise, formidable, stubborn men who have supported, empowered, and trusted the women in their lives to lead, guide, and inspire them—also feminists, among which I count myself included. 

One of my great-grandmothers immigrated from Norway and homesteaded over the harsh North Dakota winters alone, building her own house and staking out her land, to create a farm enterprise that has been passed down through generations of often-women-led farming families. Another great-grandmother was the first female sheriff of Dallas County, Texas, back in the 1920s while being a newly-single mother of nine (some grown at the time she became the sheriff, but not all)...and remained the only female sheriff Dallas had ever had for nearly eight decades. Now, in sharing this, I have to acknowledge the fact that native people were terribly affected by the Homestead Act that granted my great-grandmother her land, as well as the fact that my other great-grandmother was from a privileged White family in 1920s Texas and therefore as Sheriff may not have always been equitable to all people. I don’t know that as fact, but am just making an educated assumption as, in a post that deals with the theme of equity, I feel it’s important to acknowledge. I do believe both great-grandmothers, in addition to being total bosses, were both good humans and did their best with what they knew in the societies they were in and with the power and opportunities that they had; I never got to meet either of them.

I had two great-aunts whom I did know who gave up traditional careers to become homeless, itinerant, volunteer ministers and who spent years in the northern parts of Norway, sometimes traveling with all of their possessions on kick sleds, trudging through immense snow and to places above the Arctic circle simply to proclaim God’s love to the people there, to hold public meetings where they shared the gospel story, and to help communities as best they could. They were soldiers. They were so strong. They were so inspiring. They were so loving, giving, caring, funny, and selfless. They were my “tantes” (Norwegian for “aunts”) and they loved me and my siblings and cousins more than life itself.

My mom, in addition to being the world’s greatest mother (seriously, we have the mug to prove it) to my siblings and I and always being there for us as a parent and leader in our schools and guide and sage advisor and five-star chef and impeccable host, was a very successful small business owner and community leader, guiding a staff of 30-plus at times with a three-location chain of shipping stores in the 1990s and 2000s. Mom was also an industry leader, known across the country as a lead national trainer and developer of many innovated packaging techniques; to this day many people in the shipping business call a certain style of frame packaging she developed a "Cindy Sandwich" and recall stories of her teaching them a silly but effective way to remember the difference between polyurethane and polyethylene foam.

My sister has rocketed through the ranks in the construction industry, in charge of offices and teams and crews full of men in the traditionally male-centric field, and has even started a very important women in construction initiative with her company and peers to drive not only more visibility and inclusion, but also safer working environments and protective gear that previously weren’t available to women. Both my mother and my sister are absolute superstars and I am so, so proud of them, inspired by them, and grateful for the leadership and influence and guidance they both give me daily.

And my dad, well he’s completely amazing as well. Not only is he the most non-chauvinistic person I know, but he also is a quiet, kind, humble, strong, and giving leader who has always been my mom’s best friend and partner in business, parenting, home life, shopping, cleaning, cooking, faith, and marriage for nearly 55 years now. I remember once, in my late teens or early twenties while living in Texas, talking to someone who was about my age who was asking me cordial, getting-to-know-you questions and he simply said, “What does your daddy do?” Taken aback and trying not to laugh because he said “daddy,” I just replied, “My dad works for my mom.” While technically true, as Mom was the majority shareholder in their joint endeavor as business partners, I phrased it that way to make a pointed point that I didn’t come from a family where traditional roles were touted or that a man’s job defined the family. I was never taught that gender matters in a person’s ability to lead, do, say, or be…because it absolutely doesn’t; what does, I’ve learned, make a difference in a person’s ability to lead, do, say, or be is control asserted over them by patriarchy-touting men who are often trying to compensate for their own lack by taking advantage of what they have been taught is a God-given right to be in charge. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Yes, ancient writings seem, on the surface, to tout the patriarchy. Many writers of those texts were incredibly ingrained in patriarchal ways, gender roles were serious business, men were ruling societies and in oft-intertwined religious and political roles of power, directing scriptural translations, and overly comfortable always being in charge…and doing whatever they could to keep it that way. But God? Goodness, the good lord made everyone the same in the eyes of eternity, not valuing one person’s chromosome combination better than another’s in their inherent abilities, worth, or intelligence. To think otherwise is incredibly ridiculous and incredulous.

What women have had to go through for centuries and centuries is just plain gross. To be constantly thought of as a lesser being, a weaker sex, and in a subservient role to often-abusive men has been too often the reality in societies dating back to early human civilization. Yes, some societies have been matriarchal and/or valued women’s leadership as they should, but they have been way too few and far between. The only way we are going to affect change, as I’ve said in many missives lately, is to change our own mindsets, language, actions, and the individuals to whom we give power in our own lives.

I’m a person of faith and try to keep it in check as much as I can—to be informed from the source and not from the huge array of contradictory interpretations that so often completely misrepresent faith in general. One study Bible I have is the NKJV version of The Chronological Study Bible by Thomas Nelson, Inc. (ISBN 9780718020682 for anyone interested in getting their own copy). It’s awesome and I highly recommend it, as the context it gives for societies at the time, timelines, introductions, and overarching world views is very helpful in trying to understand many of the things that so many who tout harmful ideologies, as I tried to dig into in “Good-Neighborliness,” often quote. I’m in the Book of Proverbs now and the little tidbits it pairs with the text have been what’s inspired some of my little “Sparrows” and “Proverbial Wisdom” thoughts. This morning, I came across a bit called “The Person of Lady Wisdom” that caught my eye and really helped me understand more about the context of Proverbs.

Throughout Proverbs, “wisdom” is often referred to with a feminine pronoun. In reading it, I was doing my signature in-head pronoun shifting to change “she” to “they” and “her” to “their” and so-on, just as I do when much more often I have to change “him” to “they” and “his” to “their,” but then the bit about Lady Wisdom stopped me. It explained that the Hebrew Bible sometimes represents God’s wisdom as a person, the feminine figure of wisdom, who “seeks out persons both wise and foolish to teach them. The ways of God are not hidden, neither are the ways which lead to a good human life. Anyone who wishes to succeed is welcomed to learn this way of life. For wisdom, it is asserted, leads to a good life, while foolishness leads to death.”

So, I’ve been thinking about wisdom and all of the incredibly wise, impactful women in my life. Wisdom, especially as explained by example upon example in the Book of Proverbs, is the most important characteristic that we, as humans trying to be good humans and live good lives, can have. Wisdom is discernment. Wisdom is watching our actions and, just as important, watching our reactions. Wisdom is putting up with garbage thrown at us by other people, then knowing when to fight and knowing what battles we need to lay aside to save our strength for something that really matters. Wisdom is choosing kindness when faced with absurdity. Wisdom is knowing the value of relationships over transactions. Wisdom is caring for others more than for ourselves. Wisdom is, in general, seeing the big picture above the little traps that would engulf us if we weren’t set firmly on a goal. Wisdom is strength. Wisdom is grace. Wisdom is fortitude. Wisdom is, as seen in these contexts, absolutely feminine.

I’ve been reading Amy Poehler’s book, Yes Please. It’s awesome. I love Amy so much and have eaten up much of her work from her Saturday Night Live days to Parks and Recreation and beyond. In Yes Please, she has a chapter called “Treat Your Career Like a Bad Boyfriend” in which she talks about the importance of ambivalence—how essential it is to keep our own sanity by choosing what to care about and what not to care about. I learned a lot of good lessons from this chapter, as well as so many others so far in her book that I’m currently halfway through…and recommend it very highly.

One of my dearest friends recently had a double mastectomy and, just yesterday, had a port placed in her chest and neck in preparation for chemo and radiation treatments that are around the corner for the metastatic breast cancer she’s currently in the middle of butt-kicking. She and I are the same age and, because I went through chemo 11 years ago for lymphoma, myself bearing port scars as a badge of honor, we’ve been having a lot of good chats lately. She is one of the strongest people I know—a single mother of two amazing, strong, super smart girls, raised by an amazing, strong, and super smart single mother with two amazing, strong, super smart sisters. She has the best support team available and I’m honored that she’s reached out to me to be part of it. She’s not been public with her diagnosis, which I absolutely respect, so I won’t share more about her story here. But, I do want to share how much she inspires me; I want to express how much her strength means to me.

Folks, we have no idea what most people are going through, and we as men have no clue what most women endure, have endured, and will endure. And not just cis-women, but all the more endurance is required for trans-women. They are the strong ones. I’m sorry to break it to you, my dear boys who live in bubbles, but cis-men are not the stronger sex. There’s an absolute reason that wisdom, as touted by the ancients and as we still need so much of today, is a feminine characteristic.

So, with all of these thoughts recently, I’ve been trying to reconcile my mission to be gender-neutral and gender-inclusive in my writing and speaking. And I need to acknowledge that, as so often is the case, in my well-intendedness, I was wrong. Just like how we know that colorblindness, while often well-intended, dismisses the fact that people of color have a story, a history, a context, and a set of obstacles in a system and society and culture that they have to endure, we also have to be aware of the inequity of genderblindness for the same reasons. I think the difference between being genderblind and gender-inclusive or gender-neutral is a fine linelike the difference between being a schlemiel and a schlimazelbut yet it’s a very important difference. So, while I still want to speak in neutrality in order to be inclusive and not alienate anyone, I also want to be more aware of the entire situation, context, and systems so that I can not only appreciate more, but also support more and acknowledge more, what women endure and have endured. And hopefully change something in my own little capacity, for positive change always starts with the individual.

I’ll end this three-part wisdom series with two bits of modern-day wisdom that I’ve recently gleaned. One was shared by a friend online and it said, “Don’t let the negativity of others derail you.” The other was shared by The Happy Givers on Instagram and it said, “If you are using the Bible to argue for oppression, exclusion, or violence, then you have misunderstood both the story and the storyteller.” I’m so grateful for wise people around me. In looking into this more, I realize how far I have to go to be considered wise myself, but I do want to learn more about it. I still have some ignorance ingrained in me where I’ve taken things out of context or in a way it was never intended to be taken. But, little by little, if we all do our best to let our hearts be our guides, think of every human as equal and loved and valued in God’s sight, and understand both the storyteller’s intentions and the spirit’s guidance, we can make this world a better place. Maybe we can all make choices to let our lives be directed and controlled by the wisest voices possible.

With that, I'm off to listen to two women preach tonighthomeless, itinerant, volunteer ministers in same way my tantes were—at a public meeting they're holding at a fire hall here in our community. I guarantee we'll learn about love, inclusion, heart, and the absolute essentiality of having wisdom in our daily lives to help us be the best humans we can be and make the world a better place.


Sunday, February 25, 2024

Proverbial Wisdom

We got a board game called Proverbial Wisdom when I was, I think, an early teen. I feel like it was a gift, perhaps from my grandfather, as somehow I remember being in the kitchen at what was then our family home and watching my mom read the box and pretend to be excited about potentially playing it someday. Though, like most memories, what I recall about Proverbial Wisdom and its origin with my family could be entirely fabricated. I am roughly 90 percent certain, though, that I was present when it was either received or brought home, and I’m probably 70 percent certain that it happened in that kitchen, and I’m 100 percent certain that we tried to play it just once and then it sat on the shelf in our game closet for decades until my parents sold that house and it likely got donated.

I just did a quick google for Proverbial Wisdom the board game. To prove how much my memory is unreliable, I found the pictures to be absolutely accurate and how it really was, but in my mind before the image search I had the box it came in completely confused with the old-school Pictionary long rectangular navy blue box. While Proverbial Wisdom does have navy on its box, it’s square with other colors too. It just goes to show how much we can’t lean on our own recollection.

Proverbial Wisdom did not end up being a family favorite. An online description I found this morning describes it as “In 60 seconds, complete one of the following activities: 1) Draw a proverb for teammates to guess 2) Guess the proverb meant by a picture already drawn, or 3) Guess the correct meaning or origin of a proverb.” While the google today tells me that there was also a biblical version, the main version that we had was contemporary and the sayings and expressions that you had to guess were common axioms like, “put the cart before the horse” or “birds of a feather flock together.” You know, all of those exhausting expressions that are overused and under-understood, but most with a kernel of wisdom at the core.

I just did another google, this time for the definition of the word “wisdom,” and here’s what I found. Merriam-Webster gives wisdom’s definition three main categories: insight, judgment, and knowledge. Insight, it says, is the “ability to discern inner qualities and relationships;” judgment, it says, is “good sense;” knowledge, it says, is “accumulated philosophical or scientific learning.” Well, my, my, my. I do love that. Particularly, I love the simple two-word definition for the judgment facet of wisdom: “good sense.”

Biblically, any reference to proverbial wisdom would make most people turn to the Book of Proverbs. And most people generally think of Proverbs as being written by Solomon, considered by many to be incredibly wise. But, scholars believe that Solomon only wrote part of the book, as the book itself is a group of collections of poems and truisms. The proverbs therein are, according to one source I found, “short, poetically matched comments on the world” that “do not claim to be universal truth, but rather situational advice to be applied to different contexts.” And, it turns out, only the first two collections (Proverbs 1:1 to 9:18 and 10:1 to 22:16) are attributed to Solomon, and of those two only the second is thought to actually have been written by him; the first collection is more of a tribute to him written long after he had died.

All that aside, regardless of authorship, context, situations, and purpose, a lot of what’s written in the Book of Proverbs is timeless wisdom. In fact, a key theme of the book in many of its sections is about two things: wisdom and understanding. Can we all agree that wisdom and understanding are timeless and important across all cultures, societies, persuasions, creeds, affiliations, and situations? And can we all agree that wisdom and understanding are so often forsaken and replaced with folly and misunderstanding?

I looked up some synonyms for wisdom, which I really enjoyed thinking about. They include contentedness, profundity, perceptiveness, sensitivity, sapience, sageness, judiciousness, astuteness, acumen, insight, foresightedness, logic, appreciation, and reason. Then, I looked up antonyms and they include density, obtuseness, idiocy, dullness, and foolishness.

I did the same exercise and looked up synonyms for understanding and they include comprehending, knowing, appreciating, grasping, fathoming, perceiving, and (my favorite) cognizing. Antonyms for understanding include misinterpreting, misconceiving, misperceiving, misknowing…basically, a big bunch of misses.

I’m not going to get too preachy here, but do want to share a little bit that I found very helpful today. It’s from Proverbs 3: “Happy is a person who finds wisdom, and the person who gains understanding; for her proceeds are better than the profits of silver, and her gain than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies, and all the things you may desire cannot compare with her. Length of days is in her right hand, in her left hand riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, and happy are all who retain her.”

Beautiful, isn’t it, this thing called wisdom and the phenomenon of basic understanding? I certainly want more of each. And I certainly think the world needs a whole lot more of each too. They are precious; they are so important. Their absence is what gets us into the myriad of messes humans constantly get themselves into: arguments, wars, misunderstandings, basic idiocy, misinterpretations, prejudices, and the all-too-common pervasive proliferation of obnoxious and obtuse self-righteousness.

So, to wrap this up, I have some proverbial wisdom that perhaps should be entered into our common adage library…and maybe even shared in a boring board game someday that sits in some family’s game closet for decades. It’s two simple words we see and hear occasionally, but each need to see, say, hear, and do much more—two simple words that seem to be part of, if not the gatekeeper to, all of the good things about wisdom and understanding: “Be kind.”

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Pearls of Wisdom

My dear friend Fahim is a content finder. He seeks out wisdom, follows countless business influencers, and constantly shares posts, articles, videos, reels, and inspiration with his close friends, family, and, of course, his colleagues on the AYM High Consultants coaching team. It just so happens that I am privileged to be in all three categories—close friend, considered family, and AYM High colleague—so pretty much every time I open an app—WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, email, text, you name it—there're likely a few shares from Fahim in whatever messaging platform he happened to be on when he came across something that inspired him that he wanted to, in turn, inspire his people with. It’s one of his most endearing traits and those of us who are his people love him for it.

Today, Fahim has shared with us on the AYM High team in our group chat some very sage advice from Jason Pearl, a LinkedIn influencer whom Fahim follows. Jason gets all of the credit for this content and, though I’m sharing it here, I want to be sure that you go and follow Jason to receive much more wisdom and awesomeness.

Here’s what Jason Pearl had to say today:

                 “You’re just doing your best."

                This mantra is prevalent in the world today, and although I may ruffle some feathers with this post,
                I stand by my opinion:

                Sometimes your best isn’t enough.

        -          Is your best scrolling social media when you’re on a Zoom call?

        -          Is your best looking for ever menial task to do before you spend time on the task you know is the
                   best use of your time?

        -          Is your best not following up with a prospect or client when you said you would?

        -          Is your best missing a deadline?

        -          Is your best gossiping in the workplace?

        -          Is your best talking behind your superior or coworkers’ backs?

        -          Is your best making excuses for the work you didn’t do?

        -          Is your best not showing up to work on time consistently, or showing up to all of your meetings late?

        -          Is your best not taking notes in meetings?

        -          Is your best complaining about others’ success when you don’t know how hard they worked to get
                   where they are?

        -          Is your best working from home, but not really working at all?

                I could go on and on, but I think you get the point.

                If you say you’re “doing your best,” make sure your actions back up the statement.

                If your actions don’t match up, then start pointing the finger inward and start making some changes.

Goodness, I have to admit that I see myself in entirely too many of the not-your-best characteristics Jason shared. To follow it up, another post from Jason read:

                We live in a world where it is very easy for people to talk…

                Social platforms make it easy for people to build their brand.

                PSA: Judge people by their actions, not the image their social profile displays.

                In a world where everyone can talk, watch their walk, and it will tell you all you need to know.

Nailed it, Jason. And thank you for sharing, Fahim. That arrow went straight to my heart. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Perhaps we can all take some lessons from the pearls of wisdom shared by from Jason Pearl today.

Marty Johnson is the Communication and Vision Coach at AYM High Consultants, a columnist, and an editor, producing the mail and business center industry's leading magazine, MBC Today. In 2023, he sold his popular and growing brand, Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office, and retired from shopkeeper life to focus on writing and coaching. Subscribe to his Ask Uncle Marty™ newsletter and read more at askunclemarty.com; follow him on socials @askunclemarty. #AskUncleMarty


This article was co-published on askunclemarty.com and aymhigh.com on February 21, 2024.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Sparrows

Sparrows are found in many ancient writings. Back then, plants and animals were often thought of in a more categorical sense rather than a species-specific sense. So sparrows, in general, to the ancients, were a category of several types of birds. What made a sparrow a sparrow in the ancient sense? A sparrow was a small bird that habituated with humans and adapted to conditions as humans change them.

When I think about sparrows, I think about the popular and beautiful song, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.” My favorite version, by far, is on the Sister Act II soundtrack, sung by Lauryn Hill and Tanya Blount. Goodness, I wore that soundtrack out back in the day and, to this day, it remains one of my all-time favorite collections. In googling it just now, I found Jennifer Hudson’s cover and it’s absolutely breathtaking too. Of course, could Jennifer Hudson ever sing anything not breathtaking? She’s completely amazing.

At the point in the movie when Lauryn and Tanya sing “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” so heartfelt and gut-wrenchingly, there’s a whole lot going on in each of their hearts and minds. There are some major challenges and oppressions weighing on them, particularly for Lauryn’s character as she works through tensions with her mom and misunderstandings all around her. This song, for them, is healing, and in watching it I feel like many of us too felt healing. I know I did. And I know that, when I listen to it now, I still get back to that all-important reminder that everything is going to be okay.

I wrote a blog post recently that I found myself going back to again and again; I just couldn’t let go of it. I kept rethinking it, rewriting it, deleting things, adding things, redeleting things, readding things, and, before I knew it, it had turned into more of a small novel than a simple essay. In the end, I shared way more than I intended to, but think it was important to share because there are so many challenges to be faced at our moment in time and in the current contentious climate the world is in. I felt like I had to go on record with how I see things, which may or may not be how others see things.

In writing the post, I found myself getting quite preachy. Like many, I am so frustrated with the animosity I see in so many aspects of life right now. There are just so many people trying to be better than, smarter than, holier than, and wiser than others. It’s a losing battle. As egos get larger and as tensions grow tighter, I find myself falling into the same trap so many are in: trying to scream back. And screaming and preaching and condemning and hating isn’t going to solve anything.

So, I need to take a lesson from sparrows, because sparrows are small. Sparrows are adaptable to changing conditions. And so sparrows are spiritualized for a very good reason in many ancient writings, because time has proven over and over, as time will continue to prove over and over again, that favor rests on those whose egos are small enough to adapt when change is needed.

Monday, February 12, 2024

The First Ask Uncle Marty Newsletter

 And...sent.

Thank you to everyone who so kindly subscribed to my new Ask Uncle Marty™ newsletter. A copy-and-paste version is below. To view and interact with the newsletter in its entirety, including links to subscribe and view its full issue list, please click here.



For a while now, I’ve had the intention to get a periodic newsletter together. When I shared that intention and a link to subscribe, I was quite surprised and sincerely honored by the volume of responses. Thank you!


This sure ain’t perfect, but it’s a start. Let’s begin…


Gilgamesh and Good-Neighborliness


Gilgamesh. The name just rolls off the tongue in a way that makes you smile, doesn’t it? I’ve heard of Gilgamesh most of my adult life, but other than associating him with ancient mythology, never really dug much deeper into it. Then this morning, I came across a little reference to Gilgamesh in something I was reading. Less than an hour later, while I was in the shower, Gilgamesh made another cameo on a podcast I was listening to. So, I’ve done a little digging…


Possibly a real Sumerian king sometime between 2500 and 2900 BCE, Gilgamesh’s deification and the legends and myths that followed are what the character is mostly known for now—an ancient Mesopotamian hero and the protagonist in epic poems and mythologies that spread throughout Sumerian, Babylonian, Greek, and other cultures.


What struck me today was what the podcaster shared about Gilgamesh’s outlook; she said that he felt the meaning of life was to spend it in happiness and not despair. Now, I’m sure “happiness” for Gilgamesh, as in most ancient (and, I’m afraid, contemporary) stories written by and about men in power, was likely at the expense of others, but isn’t the basic tenet of Gilgamesh’s alleged philosophy a great way to look at things? Spend life in happiness and not despair? It’s so simple. So basic. So important. Yet, so easy to lose sight of. Life gets so un-simple at times and in the confusion and hustle we often forget about the importance of joy.


Joy, often, is a result of peace. And peace, often, is easily lost. We humans love to argue, to feel better-than, to push our thoughts and opinions on others, and to generally neglect respect and kindness—those two basic, simple things that truly make the world much more smooth, palatable, equitable, peaceful, and joyful. In a recent piece about good-neighborliness, I tried to explore this a little bit. Check it out here.

From the Archives


In each newsletter, I hope to share a couple new pieces and thoughts, as well as something from a while ago. In a piece called “
I Can Because I Will,” written in December of 2019, I shared pre-pandemic optimism and encouraged mindset shifts. It’s been good for me to read over again and be reminded that optimism is timeless, obstacles aren’t forever, and our biggest challenges are often internal. Check out “I Can Because I Will” here,  

#WednesdayWisdom

I love quotes. I collect quotes. And for over 12 years, I’ve shared a quote every Wednesday as #WednesdayWisdom on Instagram and also, more recently, on TikTok.


If you have any favorite quotes, please send them my way!

I’m excited to announce that I’ve joined the AYM High Consultants team as its Communication & Vision Coach. Together with other coaches and my dear friends Fahim, Yusuf, Seema, and Steve, we will be helping business owners and managers set goals, stay accountable, and focus unique mission-oriented visions. Check us out at aymhigh.com and, while there, be sure to subscribe to our free, brand new AYM High newsletter that I’m honored to help with (with mostly different content than this newsletter, I promise). The first AYM High newsletter dropped last Tuesday, which you can check out here.

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Thursday, February 8, 2024

From Wawa to Larry

We published an article today on the AYM High blog called “Consistently Clear Communication.” If I do say so myself, it’s a pretty great piece and something every business professional should take a look at. As a follow-up to it, I want to share a few recent, personal stories of my own to exemplify just how important clarity is in professional communication, advertising, and relationship-based business practices.

As a quick preface, I am well aware of my outspoken mission to share positivity and of the fact that the stories shared here can come off quite negative. I’m sharing them with the hope that you’ll see the positive potential in them, taking lessons from the poor and unclear communication shared to improve how maybe you communicate and advertise to your own audience, clients, and guests. So, please excuse my negativity in these stories, understanding that it’s shared to prove a point and not to be a whiner. Though, it’s shared a little bit to be a whiner, because everyone needs to vent and let out a little pent-up snark now and then.

As in every share where I get critical or feel the need to protect someone or an entity to give them privacy or the benefit of the doubt, I’ve either left off or changed individuals’ and companies’ names. Except Wawa. Because Wawa is forever awesome and deserves the positive shout-out.

Wawa Wins

I love Wawa. Like, I seriously love Wawa. In high school, I had a dear friend whose parents, Sam and Pam, met while they were each managers of Wawas; their license plates read SPAM1 and SPAM2, if I recall correctly. Adorable. And Wawa is a fun experience—great food, great branding, fun-to-say name, clean, and full of good juju.

In southern Delaware where I’ve been for a couple of weeks and where I hope to relocate to permanently this summer, there’s a chain of Wawa-like stores/stations, which for the sake of this story we’ll call Blahblah. And I’ve always thought they were OK. They’re not Wawas by any means, but they do have good fried chicken. And seem clean-ish. It seems that most of the popular corners and intersections in this part of the country have both a Wawa and a Blahblah competing across the street from each other for gas, convenience, coffee, and snack business.

Some Blahblahs do have one thing that many Wawas don’t: a carwash. And I needed to get my truck washed yesterday, so I decided to skip my beloved Wawa and hit the Blahblah next door instead. On the side of the carwash was a huge vinyl banner that declared, “20¢ off per gallon with each carwash purchase, up to 30 gallons” and I thought that sounded like a great deal! So, I got in line for the carwash and, as I’m about to enter, see some very small print on the entrance signage that says, “gas must be purchased before carwash in order to receive discount.”

Seriously? You couldn’t tell me this before I got in line? Oof da! So, out of principle and quite annoyed, I backed out of the carwash entrance and went to get gas. I needed to fill up anyway. At the gas pump, I took special care to not miss the carwash purchase option and be sure to get my discount. I read every screen thoroughly and pushed buttons correctly. There was a big advertisement on the pump screen as well: “20¢ off per gallon with each carwash purchase, up to 30 gallons.” Sweet. I was going to make this deal worth it! But, how do you access the deal? How do you tell the pump you want the carwash discount?

Nowhere in the beginning of the transaction at the pump was there an option to purchase the carwash, so I filled up and figured it was something that would come up at the end. But, no. And then a receipt didn’t print, so I went inside to get one printed, figuring now that maybe the carwash would scan a QR code on the receipt or something to apply the discount. But, no. The Blahblah clerk inside the Blahblah building said, “You need to buy the carwash and the gas in the same transaction to get the discount.” So, I said, “How do you do that? There’s no option on the pump to buy a carwash, though there’s plenty of advertising for it.” And she said she didn’t know. And she obviously didn’t care. And so I obviously left, frustrated and quite peeved, with an unwashed truck and a full tank of full-priced Blahblah gas.

What a farce. What false advertising. What a bait and switch—actually, not even a switch, just a bait and downright dirty trick! Because of a complete lack of clarity and communication, what could have been an awesome hook to convert a very loyal Wawaian like me turned out to be a coffin nail in my potential Blahblah business because of a very anti-relationship, transactional style of doing business.

Also, while I’m complaining and on my soap box, Blahblah rewards program is called BLABLO Rewards. Where’d that second O come from? Shouldn’t it be BLABLA Rewards? I get dropping letters, but I don’t get changing vowels. I’m so confused. I think they need to hire a better corporate strategist…

Pharm-Foolery

The main reason I've been in Delaware for a couple of weeks, with two more to go, other than house hunting for my hopeful July move here, is to keep an eye on my parents’ house while they’re out of town and be there for my brother, who lives in their care. The other day, my brother needed to pick up a prescription at a pharmacy. He was having a good day and up for an outing, so we ventured out together, went and got some groceries, and then stopped at the pharmacy to get the refill he thought was ready. After all, three days before he had a notice that one of his doctors approved it. Or something…

I sat in a chair while he waited in line and then got to the pick-up counter at the pharmacy. The clerks there were anything but friendly, quite rudely interrupting him when he was simply trying to spell his name (my brother and I have different last names and his sometimes confuses people because it’s not nearly as common as mine). After some back and forth, they said his refill wasn’t ready and referred him to another window to talk to a pharmacist. So, he went over, and the pharmacist told him it was something that needed “prior approval” and that he should call his doctor.

So, he called and left a message for his doctor’s nurse. Later, he got a message back that the refill was already sent in, so I went back to the pharmacy alone to pick it up for him. I waited in the long line again, faced now-even-ruder clerks who both looked like they had just eaten all of the sour grapes on the break room shelves (and, I get it, it’s definitely not easy in customer service and especially in pharmacies in our current climate, many pharmacies experiencing extreme personnel shortages and other challenges). They barked at me that the refill wasn’t ready and said, “We told him it needed prior approval.” So, I said, “Yes, and he talked to the office and they sent that in and said it was ready.” Then the clerks sent me to the pharmacist window for more information. It seems to be their schtick.

Finally, I interacted with someone kind who could explain things to me. The pharmacist was a delight. I explained that this was the second time that day that I had visited and that both times was told the prescription would be ready and that both times was met with disappointment and frustration when it wasn’t. I told her it’s not a short drive to get there and I’d really like to know, before coming back a third time, how to ensure that it will indeed be read, as my brother had less than 24-hours worth of his last refill left and this is something that he depends on to live. She was very patient and took the time to empathize as well as explain that “prior approval” means that my brother has to call his doctor and then have the doctor call the insurance company and explain why he needs this specific brand of refill, because that brand isn’t otherwise covered under his insurance. So, it’s actually not a strict refill situation, but rather it’s an advocacy situation and, without the doctor pleading his case for this brand to the insurance company, the refill can’t be processed (even though it’s a refill he’s received again and again from this very pharmacy and insurance—so frustrating). I thanked her profusely for the clarification and her kindness and then went back to my parents’ house to tell my brother what needed to happen.

How frustrating that they couldn’t just explain that up front; that it took two trips there, with an impending third, to get something that should have been so simple to otherwise process, order, and pick up. All it would have taken was a deep breath, a smile, and a little cordiality and understanding and clarity in communication from those pick-up counter clerks, saving me a lot of time, gas (using up that Blahblah fill-up!), and the kind pharmacist’s very valuable and important time.

Update: After going back for the third time, the refill still wasn’t ready. However, the clerk at the pick-up window—one of the very same who was incredibly curt with me earlier today—warmed up after a minute and ended up being very friendly once she actually made eye contact with me and realized, perhaps, that I wasn’t there for a fight. I’ll try again to pick up the refill tomorrow. Fourth time’s a charm?

Larry

I got a message on my website the other day. I have a contact form on there to act as a gatekeeper, which protects my private phone number and email address from going out publicly. I get a lot of reach-out from people in my industry, having been in director, instructor, and mentorship positions in it for decades, and if I gave out my direct email or number to many of those people I’d never get any rest or anything done. As my AYM High team members and I mentioned in our article “Respectful Responsiveness,” people seem to have no time-of-day decorum anymore and feel empowered to call and text at the oddest, most unprofessional hours.

I use my website’s contact form as a sort of screening process, answering some messages myself if it’s from someone I know or a quick question here and there, but referring many that seem to be requests for direct coaching or consulting to my colleagues at AYM High who then vet the inquiries, decide which coach(es) is/are best for the request, and then set up a call or consult. It’s awesome. Anyway, on my website’s contact form, people generally leave their first and last name, a message or a question, and the best way to contact them back. Most people are very clear and respectful in doing so, realizing by the fact that I have a contact form that, perhaps, my time is valuable and, perhaps, I don’t read minds.

Anyway, this message I received recently was from someone named Larry. There was no last name or other context, other than a call he mentioned that he had with me in December that he was “following up on.” Now, to Larry’s credit, he did actually send that website contact form message to me in December, likely soon after the call he referenced when my memory would have been clearer about it, but I somehow missed his form submission in my spam and didn’t get to it until February, so that does factor into this whole debacle and is definitely my fault for the time-elapse.

OK. December. Hmmm. I can’t remember who I talked to this morning, let alone in December. In December, I still had my business storefront with a landline, and that landline often got calls from people who had similar businesses who wanted my advice or mentorship on something. So, that must have been it. Larry must have been someone who called me out of the blue at the office. See, because I rarely give out my cell number to people I don’t know well, new contacts often called the public, published number for the business that they knew I owned and where they knew my office was. I did my best to help with callers when I could, but I certainly can’t remember every call or person or interaction. I got the feeling that this was one of those situations, as his email address seemed like he had something to do with packing and shipping. So, I messaged Larry back and asked what it was I could help with and asked him for some clarity on who he is, including hopefully his last name.

Larry messaged back a few days later. Still no last name. But he did fairly directly and, dare I say rudely, call me out for not remembering the conversation from December. He shared that we had met at a conference that I co-hosted last fall. OK. Sounds believable. I meet so many people at conferences and do my best to keep as many names and faces and stories straight as possible. I do preach relationship-based business practices, after all. But, I’m not a name savant. I need a little context and background to jog my memory if we just met once at an event where I was simultaneously very busy co-hosting and teaching and navigating through rooms full of other people I also just met.

So, I messaged Larry back again. What is it you need, Larry? I’d sure love to know your last name or a little bit more context so I can look you up and hopefully help you out. What is your question? Do you even have a question? I’m so lost here, Larry! I’ll be glad to help if only I knew a little bit of information. And I do apologize that I’ve since fielded countless calls after yours, and quite a few of those callers I’m sure were also named Larry. So, just a little bit of information would do wonders for jogging my memory.

I do hope I'll hear back from Larry at some point and see if there's actually something I can help him with. Until then, I wonder if Larry's clear communication prowess could be best used as a corporate strategist for Blahblah...