“Make friends with pain, and you will never be alone.”

That headline is a quote from Ken Chlouber, Colorado miner and creator of the Leadville Trail 100 ultramarathon.

You don’t need to run an ultramarathon. You don’t even really need to make pain your friend. Almost all of us, though, could stand to become a bit (or perhaps a lot) more comfortable with discomfort. I wrote about this topic some years ago, and it bears repeating.

This article recently brought the concept back to my mind. As its author says, “We all need to get more comfortable with being uncomfortable. We’re soft!”

I think that’s true. It’s one of the concurrent benefits and drawbacks of our first-world modern life that our day-to-day existence may feature no pain or discomfort unless we go seeking it. But why, you ask, would we go seeking it?

Because NO life, no matter how pampered, has NO pain. Which is just great, until the unexpected pain comes along (and it will come along). As I said in this earlier blog post, “Learning to do things well when you’re in good shape can save your life when you’re in a bad way.” And one of the key things to learn is to handle discomfort.

But there’s constructive and destructive pain or discomfort. I’m not recommending you go out and break a leg, or starve yourself to near death. Probably the most constructive way to get comfortable with discomfort is a fitness program, where no improvement is made without some level of minor suffering. You get the double benefit of better health and an improved ability to handle being uncomfortable. (I count myself blessed that I enjoy bicycling and running.)

There are other constructive ways to learn to handle discomfort. Spending time outdoors, especially in adverse weather, is a good way – so long as you’re well prepared. Fasting is another way – and Lent is upon us, so there’s a ready opportunity for Catholics! Even just trying something new can add to your ability to deal with discomfort.

At the very least, then, find a way to make discomfort your acquaintance. You’ll be better able to handle it when it comes along unexpectedly.

A life to learn from, part 3

It’s been many years since I read We Were Soldiers Once… And Young by Lt. General Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway. Yet this passage has stuck with me ever since:

Platoon Sergeant Fred J. Kluge of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry was moving his men into the fighting holes along the old perimeter. “Two of my men called me over and pointed. There was a dead American sergeant in the bottom of the foxhole. I looked at him and couldn’t help thinking: He looks just like me. I told the two troops: ‘Get him by the harness and drag him to the choppers.’ Someone came up behind me and said, ‘No, you won’t do that, Sergeant. He’s one of my troopers and you will show respect. Get two more men and carry him to the landing zone.’ It was Colonel Moore, making a final check of his positions. If we hadn’t found that sergeant he would have. I had cause to remember his words, and repeat them, just two days later.”

This vignette struck me powerfully as the perfect model for how to speak up for what’s right. I’ve always seen myself as a big fat wimp of a pushover, and I guess this gave me a mental picture of how to stand your ground for a critical principle when saying nothing might be easier and more comfortable. For that lesson alone I owe General Moore a perpetual debt of thanks.

I never knew much about General Moore other than his story of the Vietnam War battle of Ia Drang that’s the subject of his book. I made it a point to read more about him this week, after learning he’d passed away on February 10, just three days shy of his 95th birthday. I learned that his life, like the lives I detailed in Part 1 and Part 2 of this blog series, was one of constant service. General Moore had a full career in the US Army, starting at West Point and running through the wars in Korea and Vietnam (where he won the Distinguished Service Cross for his efforts at Ia Drang), and a variety of post-war assignments both domestic and international. He was a master parachutist and an expert at cleaning up drug abuse and racial strife in the Army. Despite being in the bottom 15% of his class at West Point, he went on to graduate from the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, the Naval War College, George Washington University and Harvard. He also served as an instructor in infantry tactics at West Point.

I’m grateful to General Moore for introducing me to other heroes from the Ia Drang battle, such as:

  • Major Myron Diduryk, who led the iron defense by Bravo Company that saved so many lives in Landing Zone X-Ray. Tragically, he was killed in action on my fifth birthday, during his second tour of duty in Vietnam. Moore described him as “…the finest battlefield company commander I had ever seen, bar none.”
  • Colonel Rick Rescorla (whose photo graces the cover of Moore’s book), one of Diduryk’s men who survived that war and went on to become the Vice President for Corporate Security for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. in New York City, where he was laughed at for the evacuation drills he insisted the company conduct. Nobody is laughing now; most of his charges survived the war he didn’t, the one that began in earnest at Ground Zero, the World Trade Center, on Sept. 11, 2001. Morgan Stanley lost just six of their 3,700 WTC employees in that attack; Rescorla was one of them, dying when he went back in for a final check of the company’s floors and Tower #2 came crashing down with him inside. The survivors owe him their lives.
  • Lt. Colonel Bruce Crandall, whose unarmed Airmobile Hueys became both ammo supply and medevac choppers when lesser men refused to fly into the hellhole of LZ X-Ray. He piloted several different ships as one after another suffered too much battle damage to continue, flying continuously for sixteen hours and winning the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions that day. In 2007 this award was quite rightly upgraded to the Medal of Honor by President George W. Bush.

It is his finest epitaph that Lt. General Hal Moore was the leader of men such as these. Godspeed, General, and thank you.

Left-Wing Executives + Politics = Nitwittery

I’ve been in the professional world for a long time, and I can honestly say that the ridiculousness I’ve seen since President Trump’s election is unprecedented. To be brutally frank, I’m ashamed, embarrassed and disgusted by the way many executives have behaved these past few months.

Back in November, I read many of the “letters to my team” that CEOs and corporate executives wrote in the wake of that month’s election. I was flabbergasted by the contempt displayed by these “leaders” for a large segment of their customers and employees. As I’ve commented many times on LinkedIn since then, this is not a winning strategy. Sadly, their subsequent behavior indicates that too many of our corporate leaders are bent on ignoring that lesson.

The post-mortem analysis of this election showed that the result pivoted on rural middle America, where a combination of former Democrat stalwarts voting Republican and other party loyalists staying away from the polls turned the seemingly reliable Blue states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin Red. Staunch Republican states became even more so because of this shift. The gains the Republicans made in statehouses and governorships are an even more telling result than the presidential polls here.

The cohort that drove this dynamic is whiter, more male, and more religious than the national average (though not exclusively so). The Clinton campaign and Democrats in general failed to court this demographic, though President Bill Clinton and Michigan Representative Debbie Dingell were two in the party who tried to get them to do so before disaster struck. More destructively still, the party has been increasingly contemptuous of these people for years, and has become even more so since the election, despite the clobbering they’ve taken from the voters for several election cycles now.

Dismayingly, big business displays a similar growing contempt for “flyover country” folks. In many of the aforementioned letters, the corporate executives made no effort to hide their naked disdain for Trump voters. The CEO of GrubHub famously ordered Trump backers at his company to tender their resignations, backpedaling later in the face of massive public anger. Less famously, the head of “inclusion” at General Mills saw fit to leave most Caucasian men out of his invitation to a support meeting for those traumatized by the election results (summarily dismissing most of the 31% of white males who were Hillary voters, while loftily and incorrectly assuming all women and minorities share his political views). Other letters were more balanced and neutral in their words, but the fact that no such missives were sent after the previous two presidential elections points to a corporate leadership contempt for half the U.S. population.

The childishness has not only continued since then, but has reached a crescendo since President Trump issued his immigration executive order. In reading the many letters corporate executives have felt compelled to issue on that topic, it becomes apparent that many of them either don’t understand it or purposely misrepresent it. Many more seem to believe that openness to people different from ourselves requires unregulated borders and a complete lack of policing of domestic security. These corporate titans seem to miss, or else believe that it’s good business to ignore, that the immigration constraint is supported by a majority of their customers and employees. These are our economic geniuses?

Even more appalling is the business community’s response to the hatred directed at President Trump’s daughter Ivanka. Somehow her business is now a legitimate target to many corporate executives, who’ve offered support for those wanting to destroy what she’s built simply because of she’s the child of a man they despise. This is unethical, stupid and infantile.

There are certainly businesses that can make lots of money selling only to urban, agnostic, liberal consumers. The big national brands can’t survive that way; witness the decline of the National Football League as a result of the anti-American protests they’ve allowed in their ranks. There’s been a similar decline in the fortunes of many businesses whose executives have hitched their companies to the bandwagon of progressive hatred. You’d think those “leaders” would have more important and positive things on which to spend their efforts.

It’s high time for these exorbitantly-compensated corporate executives to stop putting their personal politics first, and to focus on good business leadership instead. This means they should serve all their customers and all their employees, not just the ones who share their own political ideology. Either that, or they need to acknowledge their incompetence to lead a business because of their lack of personal control and judgment, and step aside – or perhaps be pushed aside by Board members looking for more responsible leadership. (At least Packetsled fired their CEO Matt Harrigan, who had threatened to shoot our then President-elect with a sniper rifle. It’s a start…)

Be prepared

I’m not sure why this story from four years ago is still rattling loudly around in my mind. It’s probably because I have two sons about the same ages as the boys in this tragedy, and we spend a fair amount of time in the woods ourselves.

It’s an awful story. There are lots of things out there that can sneak up on you and kill you if you’re not ready. This is by no means a criticism of the man involved. Every single one of us has unwittingly taken similar risks. Nothing is going to bring him and his sons back, but their loss can certainly help the rest of us learn.

One of the things I love about the Cub Scouts and Boys Scouts programs is their stress on preparation in all things (hence the Boy Scout Motto, “Be Prepared”), and especially on preparation for outdoor adventures. The boys learn about what to take on every hike (the Cub Scout Six Essentials and the Boy Scout Ten Essentials). The Cub list includes rain gear and a whistle, while the Boy Scout list adds extra clothing and fire-starting gear. Any single one of those items may well have saved the three lives lost in the above story.

Another thing Scouts do is practice regularly. All the fancy gear in the world does you no good if you don’t know how to use it. Plus, when you get in a bad way physically, your brain doesn’t work right either. I nearly killed myself on a long bike ride one hot summer day in Georgia years ago when I became badly dehydrated but took far too long to quit and call for a ride home. I’d never considered that scenario before it happened, and my dried-out brain missed very clear warning signs. I was lucky. Learning to do things well when you’re in good shape can save your life when you’re in a bad way.

The lessons here have value well beyond the great outdoors. The same ideas apply in business, as well as in other areas of our personal lives. In any scenario, it’s important to think about what the potential risks are and how you can prepare for them. What “gear” and training will make you ready if things go wrong?

You can’t anticipate every possible disaster, nor can you prepare for every eventuality. (A coworker of mine many years ago shared a tale of a canoe trip he and his Scouts once took, where a freak lightning bolt from a nearly clear sky killed two boys.) However, the simple act of preparing for some of them makes it much more likely that you’ll react well to any disaster that comes your way. And disaster will come your way eventually.

Hate breeds hate

I posted a comment regarding immigration in response to a recent LinkedIn article, the meat of which is this:

I’m willing to bet that most people would agree that well-integrated migrants can be a boon. Unfortunately, we now have to overcome a justifiable anger resulting from the long years of contempt our elites have shown people over their very real concerns about un-integrated migrants. The backlash by the populace is both warranted and long overdue.

My dear old friend Ayo Phillips replied:

I agree with your point here. As you know I am an example of the type of integration you speak of. However as a culture, we are terrible at nuance. And the inability to deal with nuance breaks, roughly along educational lines. For those below some minimum acceptable educational level the inability to deal with nuance plays out as rage, anger, contempt and in many cases hate. I have personally been the recipient of such attitudes. So how do we have this conversation in the public sphere recognizing the need for integration, but not simultaneously arming uneducated people with a dangerous weapon?

I promised him a full answer to his question in this forum. So here goes…

Reasonable people can differ in how many immigrants their nations can appropriately absorb, and the level to which those immigrants should be expected to integrate with the host country’s norms: language, culture, social mores, and so on. These are all proper matters for lawmaking, public policy, and societal expectations, and have been so since the founding of the nation-state. And those things have forever produced anger, and yes, even hatred. My own grandparents experienced some of the same things Ayo himself has, as Irish immigrants a hundred years ago. It’s a sin that any of them or anyone like them experiences such treatment, as they’re the very example of immigrants who are an immense boon.

But haters gonna hate, as they so annoyingly say. As long as we’re fallible humans, we’ll never eradicate hatred. We can certainly minimize it, though. Probably the number one caution here is to keep in mind my title, “hate breeds hate.”

When it comes to immigration, and much else in politics and business, however, hate has become part of the norm. With respect to immigration in particular, it’s become a staple of the “debate” for one side to call those who believe our US laws should be enforced racists and xenophobes. This has gone on for years, which is why I say the backlash is long overdue. To most ordinary people, I’d think a reasonable starting point here should be that we enforce our existing laws, and those who don’t like them work through the political process to get them changed. Instead we have officials at all levels, right up to the current President of the United States, who believe their moral superiority allows them to pick and choose which laws should be enforced. This is a recipe for disaster.

Meanwhile, officials at all levels heap scorn on anybody who suggests that those who come to our country should adapt to our ways, rather than the other way around. And let’s not get foolish here: nobody expects an Ayo Phillips to give up every old custom. My Dad’s grandparents came from Poland in the late 1800s, and he still celebrates the Wigilia every Christmas Eve. He just doesn’t insist that everybody else does, or that they speak and write in Polish for him. If Dad were to fly the Polish flag while stomping on the Stars and Stripes, I think he’d fully understand if people didn’t react well to that.

This extends beyond immigration, too. In business, we’ve had a full generation now of the “diversity” project, and elements of that even in the early 1990s involved training by “experts” that was nothing more than hate-filled propaganda sessions against the majority population. Today’s move to make workplaces more accommodating to women has unfortunately begotten a constant, officially-sanctioned hatred against men, as I wrote on LinkedIn some months ago. In both of those cases, what started as advocacy has become open discrimination against the innocent, which certainly doesn’t help quell the anger that feeds hatred. And just a couple days ago, actress Meryl Streep let loose about how angry she was that so many of us fail to conform to her warped world view, heaping her venom not just on our incoming President, but on those of us so lacking in refinement as to enjoy mixed martial arts and football. (Yes, sometimes hate can become downright laughable.)

I struggle desperately to understand why some people who say they want to effect change believe that a constant stick in the eye of the people they’re trying to convince is the way to go. (Though I’m guessing Meryl Streep isn’t paying me any attention.) Through much of my life I’ve been constantly amazed and appalled at how much of this kind of treatment good people will quietly tolerate. Again I say, the backlash is long overdue, and it certainly isn’t hate to push back against the hateful.

It is a difficult balancing act, though, to push back appropriately without feeding further hatred. So to wrap up, dear Ayo: “So how do we have this conversation in the public sphere recognizing the need for integration, but not simultaneously arming uneducated people with a dangerous weapon?” One key way is for all of us, on all sides of the debate, to constantly keep in mind that immortal line read by Miss Greer Garson in The Little Drummer Boy:

And he knew at last that the hate he had carried there [in his heart] was wrong, as all hatred will ever be wrong.

A life to learn from , part 2

mom

The day I published the “part 1” of this title, about my Dad’s cousin Bernie Vinoski, is the day my Mom died.

One thing I hadn’t played up with Bernie is how his was a life of constant service. That trait has been reinforced in my reading lately. I mentioned in another previous blog entry about reading Clayton Christensen’s How Will You Measure Your Life?, which stresses that virtue. I’ve also been reading all of WWII correspondent Ernie Pyle’s writings, most recently his dispatches from the North Africa campaign. Of his many stories from those early war days were some about the extremely demanding duties of the doctors and nurses in the forward hospital units, who worked like dogs and lived like paupers – and were the happiest they’d ever been.

Julia Teresa “Dooley” (Cosgrove) Vinoski’s life was one of constant service, too. As my brother John said in his eulogy, hers was the service of a stay-at-home mom of seven kids, a laudable undertaking in itself – but it was so much more, whether that meant scaring off nighttime prowlers with a rifle in backwoods West Virginia, or running the whole show for that huge family while my Dad fought forest fires out west every summer when we were little, or becoming a cafeteria cook at our Catholic high school once we kids were mostly self-sufficient. Two of my favorite old memories of Mom were of her serving us: hand-washing our basketball practice clothes every single weeknight during the high school season, and having nice hot chili ready for dinner when Dad and we kids would drag in from a long, cold day of wintertime firewood cutting.

You’d think that would be a life of drudgery, boredom and frustration. But like those overburdened doctors and nurses in Ernie Pyle’s dispatches, Mom was one of the happiest people anyone had ever met. At her funeral at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Hurley, Wisconsin, Father Frank told of the Celtic spiritual legend of “thin places,” spots where Heaven and Earth are closer together than normal – in those myths, usually the barren, rocky mountaintops and seacoasts of Ireland. He spoke of his own experience of visiting Mom the past few months at the nursing home where she was trying to recover from recent injuries and surgeries, and of being amazed at how much joy she had despite her numerous health problems and our loss of my sister Michelle in August. He was convinced Mom was a personification of those thin places of her parents’ native land.

And I believe she still is. The day before her funeral, I awoke from a dream I don’t remember. But the last sound in that dream still echoed for a few moments even as I became fully conscious. It was the sound of my Mom laughing. (I don’t believe my Mom has any influence over the weather, but given her hatred of the harsh winters of her adopted hometown in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, she must have gotten a big old chuckle over the multi-day blizzard that raged there the week of her funeral.)

My heart aches and I miss her terribly. But I know she’s okay (and free of the pain she’s suffered for a long, long time) and that I’ll see her again. In the meantime, as with our cousin Bernie, I have the challenge of living up to the example she set for me.

Thanks, Mom. I love you.

PS – Dooley could do a whale of a Bennie Hill impression.

A life to learn from

bernie

One of my heroes was buried Friday.

Bernard B. Vinoski, Sr, MD, Colonel, US Air Force (Ret), was my dad’s cousin. They grew up together in little South Connellsville, Pennsylvania.

His obituary is here – in it you can read all about his life of incredible accomplishment and service.

To me, he was at first just a name, one that shared my last name, in a famous lady’s book. Anita Bryant mentioned him several times in print because he was her physician and friend, so at a very young age I knew of Bernie Vinoski.

I didn’t get to meet him until I was in my mid-thirties. Miss ViVi and I lived near Atlanta at the time and decided to join some old college friends for a week on the beach at Hilton Head, South Carolina, a short drive from where Bernie and his lovely wife Joyce lived in Beaufort. At that point, some of my siblings had already met him, and knowing we’d be near him, we contacted him to see if he would like to join us for lunch.

He did, in his own way. He directed us to take a carriage tour of beautiful Beaufort, then come out to his house to eat. We did; the tour was lovely, and then we learned later that day that there are no strangers to Joyce and Bernie Vinoski. We were dear family, not newcomers to their home – and so were our friends. It was the first of a number of visits we made over the years, and our reception and time with them were always the same. Miss ViVi put it best: “When I visited them, my IQ went up by twenty or thirty points, and I felt like an 11 on a 10-point scale.”

It amazes me to think now that our total time together measured in mere hours, which seems ridiculous given the space Joyce and Bernie take up in my heart.

I learned important things from Bernie. I knew my dad’s childhood was far from idyllic, but he talked little about it. Bernie revealed some of the horrors my dad experienced, and I got the sense that Bernie tried to help as best he could.

Bernie met me at a time when I didn’t think I wanted children, and somehow knew that I’d change my mind. My sons got to meet Joyce and him the last time we saw him, and I’m awfully, awfully glad they did (and that he was right).

I’ve been a World War II buff since childhood, and was fascinated to learn Bernie had been a bombardier on B-29s in the Pacific. I told him once I was reading a book about Iwo Jima, and he said, “Thank God for those boys who took that island. We had to ditch our plane there shortly after they took it, and if it weren’t for them I wouldn’t be here talking to you.” But he also shared that before he and his crew were retrieved from the island, they woke up one morning to discover that the men in the foxhole next to theirs had had their throats slit in the night by enemy interlopers. Joyce knew never to shake him awake because of that. I’ve always had a deep appreciation for those who’ve fought for my freedom, and Bernie’s stories made it that much deeper.

His story about decided when he started his practice as a family physician that he’d find something else to do after 25 years still sticks with me. He was getting close to that mark, and shared his concern about it with the Air Force recruiters who had an office near to his. It didn’t take them long to land him as a Flight Surgeon. He was probably around my age at the time – I hope I can be as open to new adventures!

Bernie’s passing comes just days after my previous post about reassessing my life. Now I’ve firmly decided to try to be more like him. I seriously doubt I have the years or ability to match his accomplishments, or the demeanor to match his gregariousness, but a man can try.

This is the first time I’ve simultaneously felt such a terrible sadness for losing someone dear, and a great joy for having known such a man.

 

Rethinking Things

My little sister Michelle passed away almost three months ago.

I decided at the time to rethink some things in my life, though I’ll admit I’ve been somewhat adrift with that effort. I’ve committed to making some progress before the year ends.

I picked this book up not long after she died, started it briefly, then put it down. I just started reading it again today, and I think it’s going to awfully helpful. More to come as I progress.

She was a writer, so I’ve committed to doing more writing myself. So I’m off to a start on that, anyway…

This is probably much more effective at retaining customers than anything the Columbia Record Club did

“Do not stop taking Xarelto without consulting the doctor who prescribed it, as this will increase the risk of stroke.”

Some random thoughts on fertility, feminism and modern young women

This article gave me something of a start.  I had no idea until I read it that our son AJ, now six, had a less than 5% chance of ever coming into this world.

My wife was just shy of 42 when he was born.  Our older son John had come along almost exactly three years earlier.  You see, I just wasn’t sure for a long, long time that I even wanted kids, which was just plain stupid but there you go.

I count my blessings that I got to bumble along until I was nearly 40 before I finally figured things out, then was able to have two happy, healthy boys with my dear wife.  Now I know most bumblers like me aren’t so lucky.

I’m not even sure what drove my reluctance.  Part was probably seeing many friends have kids earlier and become complete slugs, doing nothing with their lives but working and taking care of children.  I wasn’t wise enough to know that was a choice they made, and I could make a different one.  Part may have been my growing up in a large family and just wanting to enjoy having money and relative solitude and comfort for a while (not that I was ever poor or wanted for anything important).  And part was certainly our modern sickness that devalues having children when we’re supposed to have children.

In that vein, I feel very, very sorry for our young women today.  Modern society tells them they can have it all — that they DESERVE to have it all and if they don’t someone is victimizing them.  Trouble is, the ones victimizing them are the ones spouting this “wisdom.”  The real wisdom is in reality as spelled out in the article at the link above:  once these young women get their degrees, work a while, get advanced degrees and work some more, while traveling and living the good life, many of them will find that they may not be able to get husbands and even if they do, may not be able to have children.  And too late they’ll realize that the one thing they can’t have is the one thing that will, for the vast majority of us, in any way be our lasting legacy in this world.

As an aside, it’s equally sad and victimizing that feminists have succeeded in making the worst male behaviors — self-centeredness, prurience and lasciviousness, commitment-phobia and living for trivial things — the things most celebrated in our popular culture about being a woman nowadays.  There are three generations and counting that are suffering because of this horribly destructive ideology, and I truly feel sorry for them, and for our society that let this happen with scarcely a whimper.