The Ugly American

Beauty may only be skin deep, but ugly reaches deep inside.  The inner ugly is the idea behind the pejorative term, “ugly American.”  Americans aptly described this way suffer from what I call B.A.  In other words, they have a bad attitude towards non-Americans.  Ugly Americans act in an arrogant and demeaning manner towards those from other countries and cultures.

Perhaps you, yourself, don’t act this way, but Americans as a whole may be labeled “ugly” because of how highly visible Americans behave.  While the initial thought might be that American tourists are the ones giving the rest of us Americans a bad name, that is not always the case.  U.S. corporate businesses in the international arena have made Americans seem pretty ugly by mistreating the locals.

A vivid portrayal of this scenario occurs in the 2015 Owen Wilson movie, “No Escape.”  Wilson’s character, an engineer, arrives in an unidentified South East Asian country to start a new job.  Timing being everything, he shows up just in time for a violent coup.  Citizens of this country were upset that foreign (translate American) businesses controlled their water supply.  They are mad and are not going to take it any more.  Looting and killing.will take care of that problem, they think.

Wilson’s character runs for his life.  He is a target, not because of anything he has personally done, but because he is an American.  That label inextricably links him with the American businesses taking advantage of the citizens of the foreign country in which he finds himself.  He is thus “ugly” and suffers the wrath of the citizens of that country.

Americans being “ugly” is not a new development.  The concept was the basis of the 1958 best seller, The Ugly American., a political novel penned by William Lederer and Eugene Burdick.  .The book addressed the failures of the U.S. Diplomatic Corps in Southeast Asia.  Not deigning to learn of the local culture, language, and customs, did not serve the Americans well in that area.

The current political climate makes a strong case for non-Americans concluding that the U.S. is a nation of ugly Americans.  America First is the major theme of the Trump administration; the president embraced this philosophy off the bat, referring to it in his inaugural address.  While I do not disagree with the idea that taking care of our country is and should be the primary concern, I am not sure that the way that idea is now being expressed gives our world neighbors any warm, fuzzy feelings about Americans.  In my opinion it seems to gratingly come across that we only care about ourselves.

This perception is only going to be exacerbated by the political actions taken in support of America First.  President Trump has announced major penalty tariffs on steel (25%) and aluminum (10%) imports.  Certainly a $375 billion trade deficit with China needs to be addressed.  But, placing oneself in a non-American’s shoes, you can see how these actions might be viewed as economic bullying by ugly Americans.

While tough talk and actions may be called for, I would suggest that Americans balance that harshness by showing their soft side.  Reading The Ugly American prompted John F. Kennedy to work to establish the Peace Corps, a means to assist those in other countries.  Anyone in the world can relate to the idea that taking care of one’s own is the top concern; however, non-Americans need to be shown that Americans do care about others outside their country and are not solely concerned about taking care of themselves, including lining their red, white and blue pockets.

Do I have the solution? No.  Do I want to enter politics? No.  Do I care about others who aren’t Americans? Yes.  Is the ugly American really a problem?  Yes!  If you don’t think so, let me tell you a true story from an encounter with residents of another continent.

In November 2016, I went on a mission trip to Ecuador with a group from my church.  During a down time, some of our group set out on a hike up to a waterfall.  The views were stunning.  I felt like I was in another world far away from my real life.  Here I was in the Andes on a narrow trail in the middle of nowhere.  Who would care about politics in this idyllic setting?

Well, politics reared its ugly head.  As we progressed along the trail, our group encountered a couple of local residents.  One was a very old man.  These men spoke in Spanish to a couple of men in my group.  It was obvious that our group was composed of Americans, if not from our clothing, definitely from our language.  What do you think this little old Ecuadorean man wanted to ask Americans?  Did he want to know what our country looks like?  Did he want to know what type of houses Americans live in?  Was he curious as to what type of food Americans eat?  No, sir.  He asked if Donald Trump was going to deport all the immigrants when he took office.  This Ecuadorean man was very friendly to us Americans in his country; nevertheless, he perceived Americans were being hostile, i.e., ugly, to non-Americans in the U.S.

Where different countries exist, there are going to be different points of view, different ways of running things, and different ways of addressing issues.  As my mother always said, “You can disagree without being disagreeable.”  I will modify her words slightly.  Americans can disagree with other countries, but we don’t have to be disagreeable, i.e., “ugly,” in doing so.   Americans can do what needs to be done, but let’s do so in a civil and respectful manner. Let’s make “ugly” a four letter word in the figurative sense when dealing with our world neighbors.  It’ll make the world a more beautiful place.

Just WONDER-ing:  Have you ever been in a situation where your status as an American was viewed negatively?  Was that because of something you had done or was it guilt by association with ugly Americans?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What’s For Sale? YOU!

Self-respecting, decent people cringe at the thought of someone selling herself.  Images of “ladies of the evening” are evoked.  But wait. All of us sell ourselves on a regular basis.  Maybe we don’t do it so brazenly or sell our bodies, but we do sell our skills, availability, talents, personality and family on a regular basis.

Before you screech, “What is she smoking?,” allow me to explain. Promoting ourselves for whatever gain is, bottom line, selling ourselves.  Sure we sell our skills.  You do this in a job interview.  Sure you sell your availability.  You do this in a dating profile online.  Sure you sell your talents.  You do this when you try to pitch a book or a song you wrote.  Sure you sell your personality. You do this when you post a witty remark on your Facebook page.  Sure you sell your family.  You do this when you compile a profile book when seeking to adopt a child.  So, just admit it.  You do sell yourself.

The phrase “selling yourself” has a negative connotation.  Not only is it usually tied to thoughts of loose women in a red light district or high end madams providing “escorts,” but selling ourselves means self-promotion.  People are uncomfortable with this idea because most are raised believing that it is rude to toot your own horn.

The idea that you are selling yourself out by marketing yourself is also a consideration. Whether you are indeed selling yourself out depends on your view of marketing.  The term “marketing” makes one think of products which are marketed and the claims which the buyer makes to get consumers to buy them.  Sure, you sarcastically think, the product makes your teeth whiter, your clothes brighter and your bathroom scale lighter if you buy the product.  We take these claims with a grain of salt because we know that the goal is to sell the product.  Truth in advertising is a distant priority, if even a priority at all.  If we are accurately presenting our strengths, then we aren’t selling ourselves out; we are simply providing the facts to be reviewed.

When we sell ourselves, the product being touted is us.  Let’s consider some common scenarios where we are required to toot our own horn.  Job interviews are probably the most familiar opportunity for self-touting to occur.  If you don’t convince the interviewer that you are the best man or woman for the job, you don’t get hired.  So for an interview we get all gussied up, act extremely polite, and spout prepared answers.  Is this really who we are?  Or is it sales hype?

Want to know why Facebook causes social anxiety?  Because readers assume that the persona we are selling online is who we actually are.  We put our best foot forward to show the world.  We post about accomplishments, great vacations, witty thoughts, etc.  Come on, folks!  Get real.  How often do we boast about how we lost our keys, dropped food on our new shirt, can’t balance our checkbook, etc.  We are selling a glorified and not completely accurate version of ourselves on social media.

Daily at my office I see instances of people selling their families.  No, they don’t have their spouse on the auction block.  I review profile books that prospective adoptive parents have put together to offer to birth mothers in the hopes they will be selected to take placement of a baby.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with telling a birth mother what you have to offer.  But where do you draw the line between that and selling yourself?  Answer? When everything looks perfect, you are selling yourself.  Just once I would enjoy seeing someone’s bedroom with shoes on the floor or a kitchen with a dirty plate in the sink.  Come on, let’s get real!  No one’s house is that tidy on a normal day.

And speaking of real, how about those dating websites?  Aren’t the lonely hearts with profiles posted there trying to sell themselves?  Think not?  Well, I came across a “how to” site giving advice about putting together a great profile to snag dates.  The article started off with the statement that today’s dating world is “all about marketing” with the person making up the profile being the product to be sold.  So much for love connections.  When singles connect through such sites, sales coups have occurred.

Obviously, I love to write and do so quite frequently.  Unfortunately, my naive view of writing was that you write good stuff and publishers will publish it.  Ha!  Publishers will publish it if you sell yourself to them, i.e., can prove that you are marketable.  Before publishers will look at your literary masterpiece, they want to know your platform.  How many followers do you have on Twitter? Facebook? Pinterest?  Are you well connected on LinkedIn?  I was discouraged to hear from fellow writers who attended a recent writers’ conference that they were told writing is 60% marketing and 40% writing.  Huh?  Shouldn’t writing be 100% writing?  Sadly, no.

Maybe I am a wishful thinker, but if we are selling ourselves for whatever purpose (gaining employment, finding a date, expanding our family, increasing our popularity, publishing a creative work,etc.), shouldn’t we be more concerned about the quality of the product being offered than how to hype it?  You can come up with a great marketing strategy to sell yourself, but the proof is in the pudding.  Someone might buy what you are selling, but what’s going to happen when they find out that the product, you, is not all that she was cracked up to be?

So it is inevitable that we will sell ourselves. But let’s sell a good product and not just have a good sell for it.  Sell yourself if you must, but make sure that what you are selling is not only a good product, but also that it is really you, not a hyped up version for sales purposes only.

This post is me selling myself–my writing talent, I want you to give me your time and attention to read it.  The writing is my real thoughts and not a glorified version of me. If you enjoy this post, your satisfaction will be based on the actual writing itself, regardless of how many followers I have on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, etc.  But, hey, feel free to follow me there if you want to make me more marketable to publishers.

Just WONDER-ing:  How did you sell yourself yesterday?  Was that the real you?

 

 

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

After springing forward last Sunday, most of us feel like we are in a time warp.  While it is easy to adjust one’s watch, it is not quite as easy to reset our body clocks.  What the digital display indicates the time is does not agree with what our bodies are telling us it is.

But what is some disruption to our body clocks when we can have Daylight Saving Time and make better use of our daylight hours?  Who knew that simply manipulating a time display would magically transform us into good stewards of our time?

We can thank good old Benjamin Franklin for the idea of Daylight Saving Time.  He conceived this idea while serving as an American delegate in Paris in 1784.  Being in the City of Lights must have set off a light bulb in his head as to how to produce more evening daylight hours.  Perhaps Ben needed more time at the end of the day to sit at a sidewalk cafe while it was still light, watch the world go by and come up with pithy sayings such as “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”  Mais oui!

 

Unfortunately, when we have to spring forward the time change occurs at 2:00 a.m.  How convenient–if you are vampire Edward Cullen of Twilight fame and don’t sleep.  Except for sleep-deprived parents of infants up for a feeding, what normal people are awake at that wee hour of the morning to set a clock forward?

To help us remember which way to adjust our clocks, we have the cute saying, “Spring forward and fall back.”  Of course, that saying presumes you know what season you are in; often I wake up and don’t know what day it is much less what season I am in.  Throw 2:00 a.m into the mix as the time the adjustment is to be made and odds are something might get confused when resetting a clock.

Spring forward occurs on the second Sunday in March.  Silly me.  I thought March Madness had to do with basketball.  Nope.  The real March Madness occurs in the days following the clock adjustment when you wake up at the time your clock says you routinely get up, but you are exhausted and it is dark outside.  You are mad at the ridiculous idea of getting up when your body is clearly telling you it isn’t time to start the day yet.  Mercifully, we gain an hour when we fall back on the first Sunday in November giving us a little something extra to be thankful for on Thanksgiving.  Woo hoo!  Back to the real time!

Of course Daylight Saving Time has always been controversial.  Some places, such as the state of Arizona and the Virgin Islands, do not observe Daylight Saving Time.  Opponents of “Summer Time” have sought to abolish it.  Others enjoy it so much they do not want to ever fall back. Recent legislation in Florida proposed having the Sunshine State adhere to Daylight Saving Time all year round.

While I understand the desire to extend evening daylight hours, manipulating the clock just seems unnatural to me.  Time has traditionally been measured by the position of the sun in the sky.  Noon is when the sun is at its highest point.  The clock can tell us whatever time we set it to say, but isn’t it still noon when the sun is at that highest point regardless?  Seems like we are observing pretend time when we are on Daylight Savings Time.

The Bible tells us that there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens.  (Ecclesiastes 3:1.)  A laundry list of what there is a time for is provided.  There’s a time to be born and a time to die.  A time to love and a time to hate.  A time to weep and a time to laugh.  Strikingly missing from that list of “a time for” is a time to mess with the time.  It does not say “A time to spring forward and a time to fall back.” If God had meant man to change the time, don’t you think that such an activity would have been listed?

Clocks can be and are manipulated to show whatever time we desire them to show.  Thus, they are inherently unreliable.  I prefer to rely on the ultimate clock, my body, to tell me what time it is.  It never fails to let me know when it is time to eat and time to sleep.  Right now it is telling me that I need to end this post because I am tired and my brain needs a break.  And why am I tired?  Let’s just blame that pretend time that requires me to observe a time with which my body disagrees.

Isn’t it time to quit messing with time?  Forget saving daylight.  Let’s save ourselves the bother of attempting to adjust our internal time clocks twice a year.  It’s time for a change, and I don’t mean changing the time on the clock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Break? Give Me A Break!

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, had it wrong.  A young man’s fancy doesn’t lightly turn to thoughts of love in the spring.  No, sir!  His thoughts turn to SPRING BREAK.  Well, let’s not be too hard on the British Poet Laureate.  Spring break really didn’t begin in the U.S. until the 1930’s–a few decades before Alfred’s time.

In case you have been living under a rock and have no idea what spring break is, let me enlighten you.  Technically speaking, spring break is a vacation period for schools and universities.  Practically speaking, spring break is a riot–figuratively and, sadly, often literally.  This period is associated with large gatherings of young people looking to have a good (translate “WILD”) time (translate PARTY!!!) in a warm climate.

Since I am neither college age nor attending an institution of higher learning, why would I care about spring break?  Well, lucky me.  I live near ground zero of Spring Break Party Central;; I’m about 50 miles or so west of Panama City Beach, “The Spring Break Capital of the World.”  Party Central is a floating one.  It originally was in Fort Lauderdale and then moved north to Daytona Beach.  Now, spring breakers must “Go west, young man” to the sugar white beaches found in the Florida Panhandle.

This shift in Spring Break Party Central occurred because the previous locations were victims of their own success.  Hordes of spring breakers descended on these other Florida cities leaving a path of destruction in their wake.  Taking spring breakers’ money is nice, but dealing with their mayhem is quite another.  What’s a city to do?  Enact new ordinances!

In an effort to keep spring break activities within legal limits, Panama City Beach has enacted some ordinances which have been publicized in advance of Spring Break 2018 set to extend from March 5th through April 6th.  Not only is the Panama City Beach publicizing their legal measures, but it is emphasizing that it will enforce them with “zero tolerance,” i.e., it really means business.

So what should spring breakers be aware of when they come to Panama City Beach?  Obviously, there are the common sense things beachgoers need to know: stay out of the water if red flags are flying; wear sunscreen; stay hydrated.  Spring break ordinances seem to stress common sense, which only goes to prove that common sense is a rare commodity, even for students attending institutions of higher learning.

Let’s consider what is and what is not banned behavior during spring break.  Exhibit 1 is the ordinance making it illegal to climb on, jump off of or throw things from balconies. These actions are misuses of a balcony.  Balconies were made to sit on and enjoy the view; they can also possibly be used as a location for drying wet swimsuits and towels.  What idiot would jump from a balcony of a multi-story building?  Answer:  Quite a few inebriated spring breakers.

Unfortunately, this ordinance simply does not go far enough.  It says nothing about spitting from a balcony, pouring beer off a balcony, or relieving oneself from a balcony.  If I thought about it long enough, I am sure I could come up with a number of other stupid and rude behaviors which should be outlawed.

Moving on to Exhibit 2, we learn that there can be no possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages on the “sandy beach.”  Huh?  Isn’t a beach by definition “sandy?”  Raise your hand if you have ever been on a non-sandy beach.  Please tell us where that non-sandy beach is so we can avoid it.  How can we play beach volleyball on a non-sandy beach?  What fun is wriggling  our toes on a non-sandy beach?  How would we pitch our beach umbrella without sand to stick it in? Shaking my head.

Finally, we get to Exhibit 3.  Open house parties  are prohibited.  Hey, I am all for that one.  No open house I ever attended was any type of a fun party.  Of course, a closed house party doesn’t sound like much fun either.  Do the partygoers congregate in the yard or a non-sandy beach near the closed house?

Spring break ordinances aim to achieve law and order while young adult tourists are present.  These measures seek to control the dangers of alcohol, public indecency and parties gone wrong.  But aren’t those dangers that lurk on or near every college campus all the time?  The location changes temporarily for spring break, but the behavior is still the same.  More publicity is generated about bad behavior during spring break because the behaviors are engaged in en masse, i.e., everyone’s doing it!

Although Lord Tennyson never got to witness spring break, I am sure that he could have penned a fitting tribute.  Perhaps he might say that “During spring break a college man’s fancy turns to thoughts of liquor, licentiousness and loud music.” Alliteration is so poetic, isn’t it?  Poetic or not, I prefer to go with the romantic  view of young men.becoming besotted with love in the spring rather than besotted with lager.  Give me a break–and not the current spring one!

 

 

 

Marvelous Mistakes

 

As the familiar quote by English poet Alexander Pope tells us, “To err is human.”   So why do we get so perturbed when we make a mistake?  Isn’t that normal for us humans to slip up? 

The dictionary definition of a mistake is a wrong action attributable to bad judgment, ignorance or inattention.  Who hasn’t been guilty of lack of knowledge, lack of attention and lack of good judgment?  No one, that’s for sure.

The fact that mistakes are inevitable should tell us something.  God knows what He is doing.  If He created humans with the capacity for making mistakes, then perhaps there is a method to His madness.  He recognizes that making mistakes can be a positive thing in the long run.

Mistakes are prime opportunities for growth.  Since we are bound to make them, we should make the most of the situation and figure out what we should learn from our mistakes.  Henry Ford commented that “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”  We should view mistakes as opportunities in disguise. If we admit we’ve messed up, then we have the chance to analyze what we did and determine how to do better–or at least not make the same mistake again–in the future.

Of course, in the heat of the moment when a mistake is made, it is hard to feel good about having made it.  But taking time to reflect on the error, allows us to formulate a better plan for future action.  Let’s consider some of the blunders I have made and what I have learned from them.

As a teen, I made a big relationship mistake.  I was dating two guys who had names that rhymed.  Let’s call them Dan and Stan to protect their privacy.  My mistake was not dating guys with similar names; my mistake was a slip of the tongue.  Imagine a nice romantic goodnight kiss on my front doorstep.  I murmur, “Good night, Dan.”  Only I wasn’t with Dan.  I was kissing Stan.  Oops!  Good thing it was fairly dark so my red face was not too noticeable.  Lesson learned?  Always engage your brain before opening your mouth.  Words matter, and carelessly said words can hurt even if that was not the intention.

But, of course, I grew up and became a responsible, educated adult.  So, no more mistakes, right?  Wrong!   One night after work I was trying to get a number of domestic tasks accomplished.  I hurriedly entered the amount of the bill I was paying online and did not double check what I had done.  Fast forward a couple weeks to when I got my next bill from that creditor; it indicated I had paid $3,000.00 for a $30.00 bill.  Yikes!  On the bright side, I was in the black and had the money in my checking account so that my check did not bounce.  I then wasted a good half hour on the phone getting the mistake straightened out.  Lesson learned?  Pay attention to detail.  

Ever tried to memorize something?  Sometimes it sticks; sometimes it doesn’t.  Making a mistake can be just the thing to ensure that you will remember something.  In elementary school I misspelled the word “catalog” in a spelling bee and was eliminated from the competition as a result.  To this day I have NEVER forgotten how to spell that word.  As a new lawyer, I gave a wrong answer to a question on a federal bar exam.  I can’t tell you what else was on the exam, but I have NEVER forgotten that there is a time limit for filing a suggestion of death with the court.  Lesson learned?  Committing some mistakes makes such an impression that we won’t ever make that mistake again or forget what we learned.

Often when a mistake is made, we focus on the wrong thing.  What could we have done better/right?  Perhaps a better question is what the error allowed us the opportunity to do, i.e., our reaction to the error is more important than what we did wrong.

A mistake adults often make is to place something important in a “safe place.”  That place sometimes turns out to be so safe that we cannot remember where we put the valuable object.  In my infinite wisdom years back, I decided to put the envelope with my mortgage payment in a book I was caught up in reading.  Why I’d certainly not lose the check because I carried the book with me and read it whenever I got the chance.  But, like the best laid plans, this one went awry.  I got busy and didn’t have time to read.  But it was time to mail the mortgage payment, and I couldn’t find the envelope to send off.  I searched everywhere.

Finally, one morning when driving to work I said a prayer and asked God to show me where the missing envelope was.  No sooner had a silent “Amen” been said than a car pulled in front of me suddenly causing me to slam on the brakes.  The items in my car went flying, including the book which ended up open on the floor revealing the errant envelope.  Hallelujah!  Lesson learned?  Some times the lesson is not how to have avoided the mistake but how to handle the mistake made.  I had the opportunity to build my faith and lean on the Lord to handle the trying situation resulting from my mistake, i.e., a lapse in memory..

And viewing mistakes as something bad or a failure is not always an accurate conclusion.  I took piano for seven years when growing up.  I had to practice daily (no, I wasn’t dedicated, my parents MADE me practice) to improve my playing ability.   When I first worked on a musical piece, the result was not my best.  I may have missed some notes or the timing may have been off, but doing things over again allowed me to improve my skill.  Some actions we take are not our best effort; maybe it is better to view them as working to polish our skill in that area rather than simply making mistakes.

Making mistakes is human  It is a mistake to think we should avoid ever making a mistake because making mistakes, admitting the mistakes and trying to learn from our mistakes is a way to grow and better ourselves.  Thank God for the wonder of blunders!