Saturday, February 28, 2009

Challenge and Response

When life serves up lemons, do we end up sucking them or making lemon cream pie? I find it fascinating the variety of ways people (myself included) respond to challenges. Some people give up and succumb to problems and others rise above them. We see around us people who overcome tremendous obstacles both physical and mental. We see others who appear to be on the top of the world one minute, then carted away as suicide victims the next. Why does one keep battling and the other give up? What is the spark that motivates one person to climb out of the muck of adversity while another caves in? A lot of it goes right back to attitude. The same situation can be viewed as an insurmountable issue or an opportunity. A chewing-out by the boss can lead to a decision to quit or to explore the grains of truth in the criticism and improve. A sports team such as the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team may coalesce and defeat a more talented and experienced team while a team of all-stars may lose because they don’t care and have never become an integrated unit. So how do we respond to a challenge? Let’s take the example of a bad work environment. When in this situation several times in my career, I learned to face four choices:
· Change my attitude--I could accept the situation and try to make the most of it.
· Change the situation--I could speak to my boss about what modifications would be necessary and convince him to make the improvements.
· Suffer--I could moan and groan about it.
· Get out--I could quit the job.

It’s a good test to run through the four alternatives in any challenge you encounter. When faced with a bad work situation, I try first to change it. If that doesn’t work, since I don’t want to suffer, I decide between leaving or changing my attitude. Dealing with challenges entails hard work. We have to motivate ourselves and need the discipline to persevere. Everyone may be rooting against us so we have to dig down for the extra effort that only we can make happen.
The myth of Sisyphus comes to mind as the symbol of tenacity in a difficult situation. The guy has to push a boulder up a hill. Every time he almost gets to the top, the boulder rolls down again. He sucks it up and starts pushing again. With the four choices possible, he could just leave. But in the myth, the gods have eliminated this alternative as well as changing the situation. So his only choices are to suffer or change his attitude. Does he mope all the time or does he enjoy the scenery while he’s walking back down? And who knows. One of these times he might get the boulder to stay at the top. Joseph in the Bible is one of my favorite stories. The kid was arrogant and had everything. Then he’s sold into slavery and gets put in prison. He hangs in there and becomes right hand to the pharaoh. Along the way he could have given up, but he didn’t. At the end he tests his brothers, but forgives them instead of being bitter and punishing them. This is the epitome of exhibiting a positive attitude when faced with adversity. He has all these adventures, responds to the situation, grows up and succeeds. Part of maturity is learning what battles to fight, when to change the situation, when to change attitude and when to get out--knowing when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. And human resiliency is truly amazing. I’m still awestruck by the obstacles that people can overcome. A haiku poem by Choshu has always been meaningful to me when thinking about challenge and response:
Broken and broken,
Again on the sea,
The moon so easily mends.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Llama Lady

Two days ago I helped with a benefit put on for a 78-year-old woman who lost her house in a wild fire. A group I belong to called the Interagency Network, people providing services to seniors, banded together to put on a silent auction to raise money. The woman who lost her home is known in our community as the Llama Lady because she raises llamas. She was able to rescue all her llamas and no one was injured in the fire but her house was decimated. Over two hundred items were donated as well as food and beverages, and hundreds of people turned out for the event. I haven’t seen the results yet but thousands of dollars were raised to help the Llama Lady who lost much more than insurance will ever cover. It was a welcome sight to see the public come to support a senior in need.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Yesterday at a church near where I live, a man named Bill came in to speak with the pastor, Jim, who was conducting a men’s bible study class. Bill had psychological problems and was about to be arrested for an altercation with a neighbor. Jim suggested that Bill seek psychiatric assistance which caused Bill to go postal, shooting two people, then taking the pastor and five men hostage and forcing them into a room above the church lobby. I was one of the hostages in this SWAT team roll-playing exercise. Bill had us barricade both entrances to the room. Over the course of the next three hours, Bill threatened us, used Jim to shout down one of the two sets of stairs to the police. The police provided a direct telephone for Bill to speak to a hostage negotiator. He let one of the hostages go in exchange for some water being provided. Then another hostage was released for food. The negotiator tried to get more hostage released, but finally Bill put a gun to the pastor’s head and had the other three of us be a shield as he pushed us down the back stairs. The SWAT team appeared, told all of us to drop to the ground and “shot” Bill. Along with the other hostages I had to lie on the floor, be frisked and handcuffed and then released when it was determined I wasn’t the bad guy. It was quite an education being held prisoner and seeing how the negotiations progressed and how the SWAT team took action when the perp made a run for it. It seemed like it took a long time to provide the water and food. Afterwards I asked about this and was told that the police want to be careful before they provide anything to a hostage-taker and also want to make sure they obtain a concession in exchange for what they provide. I’ve attended both a police and a sheriff’s citizen academy and have now participated in three roll-playing training exercises. It’s a great way to learn about police procedures for my mystery writing.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


I’m on an aging advisory council in my county and had an opportunity to review a program for a Medicare Ombudsman yesterday. In addition I also attended a class this last week to learn more about Medicare in preparation for soon qualifying. All I can say is the whole Medicare process is very confusing and requires a lot of attention. If you are going on Medicare, don’t wait until the last minute. Start doing research, learn about the alternatives and seek out any programs your local government or county may offer. After a thirty-nine year career in business and reading many contracts, it still remains a significant challenge for me to wend my way through the morass of information on Medicare. I’m very grateful that my county has a Medicare Ombudsman because I’ve found that just reading the information is not enough. I also need to talk to a knowledgeable human being to help sort out the confusion.