Friday, September 24, 2010


It was not the sound I expected to be coming from the sight of an elderly man, slightly bent over and walking with a cane. Whistling. In fact, it apparently caught others by surprise as well, given their reactions as he walked past them.

Whistling seems to be a fading public expression of happiness or contentment. I don’t remember the last time I heard anyone whistle.

And yet, here was this seventy-something seasoned citizen, brightening moments in the days of so many around him.

I found myself remembering songs I used to hear that featured whistling.

“Whistle while you work,” from the Disney movie, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

“Sweet Georgia Brown,” the warm up song used by the Harlem Globetrotters.

Bing Crosby in his seasonal hit, “White Christmas.”

The theme song to the 1950s TV show, “The Andy Griffith Show.”

But perhaps my favorite is Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” You can check it out at

As you go through this Friday, maybe you can try a little whistling. I found it surprising refreshing and happy-invoking.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


I don’t know which I dislike more. Turgidity or wordification. But I think I’m leaning toward disliking turgidity more.

Permit me to share an example of each to which I was subjected recently.

In a lecture hall of a college campus, we were told by the visiting professor, “It is endemic among noeticists to discontinuously reach ebullition when the prolixity of their paradigmatic disceptations are more casuistry than verity.”

What the WHAT? I knew the professor was speaking English, and yes, it is expected that students in post-graduate classes have a higher than fifth grade grasp on communication, but … what the heck did he say?

Roughly translated, it means that sometimes smart people argue “violently” when their long-winded discussion becomes more fiction than fact. So why couldn’t he have simply said that?


That is, language which has become pompously embellished. Now, I know that the word turgidity is not exactly common either, but I really like it because it sounds like it could be related to turds. Which, it could be loosely argued, it is. After all, many of the comments by those who were listening to the visiting professor, included the word, “s#!t.” As in, “What kind of s#!t is this guy saying?”

The second example is what I call, wordification. The making up of words which, within context, can actually make sense to those listening. Incidentally, wordification is a word I made up.

At a community discussion regarding the deteriorating state of public education, one of the speakers, a middle-school teacher, with heart-felt passion, said the following: “With all seriosity, I emplore are leaders to stop dumb-downing education goals and lifting are sights to set higher goals. We need, with all seriosity, to begin the progress of undumbifying are children if they are ever going to dream about getting ahead. They have a dream and we must stop turning them into nightmares by ignoring them in the abakiss of despair.”

Granted, her passion was obviously genuine, and she received applause at the end of her comments (which continued on in a similar vein), but might we be able to be taken more seriously without the made up words? Or worse, the sad misuse of words? (I’m not sure, but given the context of her comments, I think she meant to say the “abyss of despair.”)

Somewhere in between turgidity and wordification lies simple communication. Truthful communication.

Somewhere in between saying what you mean and meaning what you say lies simple understanding.

We have to get away from the Humpty-Dumpty approach to communication. In Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass,” Humpty-Dumpty says to Alice, “When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” To which Alice replies, “The question is, whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

To which I would reply, it is time to stop making the same words mean so many different things.

It’s time to stop hiding our ignorance behind the veils of our vanity. And it’s time to stop feigning our intelligence behind the whimsy of our wordification.

It’s time we let our yes, be simply yes. And our no, be simply no.

Otherwise, we’ll be left to suffer the words of a former spokesman for the State Department, Robert McCloskey, “I know that you believe that you understood what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


You won’t find a lot of book reviews or recommendations on the Eclectic Chalkboard, but today I would like to recommend one that has had a tremendous amount of influence on its readers, including me. It’s a perennial that’s been around since 1970 and is considered the bible on job search.

What Color Is Your Parachute,” by Richard Bolles, through good times and bad, is an invaluable resource for personal and professional employability. It was instrumental when, having gone a few years without any real employment (hey – I was a stupid young “adult”), I used it to land my first professional gig – Director of Public Relations, for a not-for-profit organization. My PR experience prior to the job? None.

The 2011 edition will undoubtedly continue its trend of being a best-seller and helping hundreds of thousands of those seeking work to better know themselves in order to better market themselves to prospective employers.

It’s not about classified ads, or craigslist, or schmoozing, or networking, or even knowing the employer as well as you know yourself. (Although those things can be included in your skill set.) It really is about getting to know yourself so well that no matter what the question is regarding what value you can bring to the employer, you will have the answer.

Suffice it to say, if you’re in the market for a job, make it your job to figure out what color your parachute is.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I spent a basketball season coaching a first year, fifth grade, girls team. It was the first time the girls had participated in structured league play, and it was the first time I had ever coached a sports team. Oh. And I didn’t particularly like playing or watching basketball, but they desperately needed a coach and I … well … I thought, “Why not?”

The other teams in the league were seasoned and accustomed to the rigors of competitive practice and play, their ultimate goal to beat every other team and win the trophy in the end. My team, not so much.

I didn’t know the difference between a point guard and a power forward. Curl cut versus a back screen? Couldn’t tell you. A double-post motion offense versus a zone defense? No idea which is better or why, or even what they truly mean.

I did have two rules for practices and games.

One: Have fun.

Two: Think it in.

We did a lot of running and blocking and shooting and laughing and talking. I’m sure a few of them had doubts about my ability to coach them to a winning season, and frankly, that wasn’t my main goal as their coach.

And so the season started.

Game one – won.

Game two – won.

Game three – won.

And so it went through the thirteen games of the season. Win after win. Whether the opponents drilled and played hard or soft, or their coaches screamed loudly or softly, we always ended up winning. Sometimes by only a couple of points, sometimes by quite a margin.

Through it all, I kept telling my girls, “Have fun” and “Think the ball in.”

They did both.

Our first season was a perfect season.

The next year, the girls were excited for the new season to begin. Because of the success we enjoyed, a few more fathers were willing to volunteer to help coaching. One, a big basketball fan offered to be the assistant coach in charge of strategies and plays. I thought, “Well, why not? I don’t have any.”

The girls learned a lot of different plays and specific strategies for offense and defense.

Me? I kept telling them to “Have fun” and “Think it in.”

Unfortunately, the assistant coach didn’t think too highly of my two rules. Instead he focused a lot more on his X’s and O’s, half-court and full-court diagrams, and practicing and playing specific plays for specific situations in the game.

The girls stopped having as much fun. They also stopped thinking their shots in the basket, and relied more on “shooting” the ball in the hoop.

The second season, not so perfect. In fact, more imperfect than perfect. It was a losing season.

Some of the girls instinctively knew why they lost. As one of them profoundly said, “Different mindset, different results.”

Monday, September 20, 2010


But I do know it’s the Monday Morning Chuckle.