Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Rotary Invocation - December 9 2014

A Christmas Wish

Why do we need the Holidays to be in the holiday spirit?  Why do we need the Season to wish each other season’s greetings?

Shouldn’t we be well-wishing and good-spirited all year?

The good work of Gleaners and the Salvation Army are especially important at Christmastime.  But aren’t people hungry every day?  Don’t people need a place to stay, freedom from fear and protection from abuse during the other eleven months a year?  Don’t children want to believe in Santa every day?

Our attention is claimed by so many priorities, so often, by so many urgent causes – some near and dear, some merely annoying interruptions.  The great malady of our day is attention deficit disorder.   We have so much to pay attention to that we can’t pay attention to anything.

But paying attention is exactly what we need to do.  Whether you are rich or poor, a captain of industry or looking for a job, you have exactly the same attention to pay as the person sitting next to you and the same as everyone else on the planet.

And Christmas is the time when, for a little while, for a part of the world at least, our tradition is to pay a little more attention to each other – to loved ones, family and friends, but also to those who, for the rest of the year, we may not pay any attention to at all.

Practice paying attention this holiday – but don’t stop.   You’ll get better at it if you try!  Use the rest of Winter to practice.  By Spring you ought to be pretty good!  Keep at it through the Summer and Fall and before long you may find that you’ve been paying attention to other people for a whole year!

And when the thought of how to account for all that attention you’ve been paying occurs to you, I hope you find that you have even more to pay.  Like a checking account that grows larger the more you use it.

We all need to pay more attention to other people in this world.  I believe it is the source of goodness and charity and change for the better.  And it doesn’t need to just happen during the holidays.  The people you pay attention to will value it any day, in any season.

That is the true spirit of Christmas and my Holiday wish for us all.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Rotary Invocation - October 2014

Rotary Invocation October 7, 2014
Kim Brand & Beth Ann Brand

Last week, the Earth passed through an imaginary point in space that marks the beginning of a new season: Autumn.  Opposite of Spring – the days get shorter quickly now.  The weather becomes less agreeable.  Even the sun wants to wake up later and rises ever lower in the sky at mid-day.  The more intelligent animals leave if they can.  Winter is surely not far away.

If we didn’t have faith that this was just another in Earth’s eon’s old cycles around the sun it would be worrisome.  But in fact, it is a reminder of life’s great cycle and our place in it.

Poets and writers wax sentimental about the coming cold and the change of seasons.  The change brings vibrant colors and radiant skies and crispness in the air.  The cooler temps signal the start of harvest season.  Soon we’ll have Halloween and Thanksgiving.

But for me Autumn is part of a great rebalancing – perhaps the most thoughtful change of season.  Spring heralds new life.  Summer fills us with confidence that life goes on.  Winter convinces us it won’t.  Autumn is a reminder that balance is what the seasons, and our own lives are all about.  Autumn is like humility to Summer’s pride and Spring’s enthusiasm.

Take a moment today to appreciate the blessings of the harvest time and think about your place in the great cycle of seasons – and life.  There will be more time to be close to the ones we love as we huddle nearer against the cold winds of the approaching winter.   With shorter days and longer nights the glow of home fires and the company of family can sustain our souls in place of the sun.

The point of a college education

I stumbled upon a recorded lecture by Steven Pinker at the Free Library of Philadelphia on the topic of writing.  In it, he explains (during the Q&A @ 55:00) the point of a college education.  I heartily agree.
I think we can be more specific. It seems to me that educated people should know something about the 13-billion-year prehistory of our species and the basic laws governing the physical and living world, including our bodies and brains. They should grasp the timeline of human history from the dawn of agriculture to the present. They should be exposed to the diversity of human cultures, and the major systems of belief and value with which they have made sense of their lives. They should know about the formative events in human history, including the blunders we can hope not to repeat. They should understand the principles behind democratic governance and the rule of law. They should know how to appreciate works of fiction and art as sources of aesthetic pleasure and as impetuses to reflect on the human condition. 
On top of this knowledge, a liberal education should make certain habits of rationality second nature. Educated people should be able to express complex ideas in clear writing and speech. They should appreciate that objective knowledge is a precious commodity, and know how to distinguish vetted fact from superstition, rumor, and unexamined conventional wisdom. They should know how to reason logically and statistically, avoiding the fallacies and biases to which the untutored human mind is vulnerable. They should think causally rather than magically, and know what it takes to distinguish causation from correlation and coincidence. They should be acutely aware of human fallibility, most notably their own, and appreciate that people who disagree with them are not stupid or evil. Accordingly, they should appreciate the value of trying to change minds by persuasion rather than intimidation or demagoguery.