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My Brother, My Hero

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John Baird, my brother, my hero.

All of my brothers are my heroes for many reasons. But let me focus at the moment on the oldest of my natural-born brothers, John Baird. There are a number of things that make him a hero: he served our country in a distinguished career of more than twenty years in the Air Force, in duty assignments in a number of hot spots around the world.

But the subject of this post is something he did well before that. The story goes…

In the early 1960’s (1962, I believe), we lived in Columbia, South Carolina. John was a senior in Columbia High School. The city was mired in the racial tension of the ’60s that ran throughout the country, centralized in the South. There were protests all across the South, which focused the nation’s attention on the need to finally fulfill the Constitution’s guarantees of equality to all citizens, without regard to race. In Columbia, as in other cities, there were protests and sit-ins at downtown stores like Woolworth’s and Walgreen’s which had lunch counters serving ‘whites only.’

Columbia High was an urban school, whose campus was only a block or so from the downtown department stores which were a focal point of the historic sit-ins. One day after John got out of school, he walked over to Woolworth’s (or perhaps one of the other department stores) and joined other protesters in the peaceful sit-in at the lunch counter. When he tried to order a burger for himself and one for the man sitting next to him (who wasn’t white), he was run out of the store. He ran halfway home (which was miles from downtown) before those who were chasing him finally gave up and let him go.

I never knew about this incident, until John recounted the story for me when I visited him just a few years ago. Since I was hearing the story for the first time, I asked if he had told our parents about it. He said he hadn’t because he didn’t want them to worry. Well, perhaps he was right to have kept it a secret. Perhaps they would have worried. But knowing what I know of our parents through their actions and the example they set (which is another story for a different day), I’m totally confident that they would have also been very proud of him, if they’d known. I know that they were proud of him anyway, but this would have only added to their reasons to be proud of their number one son.

So John, for your contribution to the public discourse, and for standing up for the change which decency mandated of our society, and for choosing to do the right thing, you are my hero.


Written by jb

March 27, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Ducks Quack, Eagles Soar

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A good while back, a good friend gave me a bit of advice after reading one of my blog posts. He said “Make it about what you love, not what you hate.” I don’t know if he was talking specifically about my blog, or just my general outlook on life. Either way, that was good advice. And with today’s post, I’m attempting to make a turn in that direction.

My brother David sent this to me today. I haven’t bothered to try to verify if it is true or not. I don’t really care if it’s true or not. Because it could be. And whether it’s true or not, it can still inspire me. And whether it’s true or not has no bearing on the fact that I can choose to learn from this lesson and make my life better, as well as the lives of those around me every day. I want to do that. Lord help me to do that.

There is an amazing lesson in this email. Enjoy and make up your mind to soar like eagles.
Ducks, Quack & Eagles Soar!

No one can make you serve customers well. That’s because great service is a choice.

Harvey Mackay, tells a wonderful story about a cab driver that proved this point.

He was waiting in line for a ride at the airport. When a cab pulled up, the first thing Harvey noticed was that the taxi was polished to a bright shine. Smartly dressed in a white shirt, black tie, and freshly pressed black slacks, the cab driver jumped out and rounded the car to open the back passenger door for Harvey .

He handed my friend a laminated card and said: “I’m Wally, your driver. While I’m loading your bags in the trunk I’d like you to read my mission statement.”

Taken aback, Harvey read the card. It said: Wally’s Mission Statement: To get my customers to their destination in the quickest, safest and cheapest way possible in a friendly environment.

This blew Harvey away. Especially when he noticed that the inside of the cab matched the outside. Spotlessly clean!
As he slid behind the wheel, Wally said, “Would you like a cup of coffee? I have a thermos of regular and one of decaf.” My friend said jokingly, “No, I’d prefer a soft drink.” Wally smiled and said, “No problem. I have a cooler up front with regular and Diet Coke, water and orange juice.” Almost stuttering, Harvey said, “I’ll take a Diet Coke.”

Handing him his drink, Wally said, “If you’d like something to read, I have The Wall Street Journal, Time, Sports Illustrated and USA Today.”

As they were pulling away, Wally handed my friend another laminated card, “These are the stations I get and the music they play, if you’d like to listen to the radio.”

And as if that weren’t enough, Wally told Harvey that he had the air conditioning on and asked if the temperature was comfortable for him. Then he advised Harvey of the best route to his destination for that time of day. He also let him know that he’d be happy to chat and tell him about some of the sights or, if Harvey preferred, to leave him with his own thoughts.

“Tell me, Wally,” my amazed friend asked the driver, “have you always served customers like this?”

Wally smiled into the rear view mirror. “No, not always. In fact, it’s only been in the last two years. My first five years driving, I spent most of my time complaining like all the rest of the cabbies do. Then I heard the personal growth guru, Wayne Dyer, on the radio one day.

“He had just written a book called You’ll See It When You Believe It. Dyer said that if you get up in the morning expecting to have a bad day, you’ll rarely disappoint yourself. He said, ‘Stop complaining! Differentiate yourself from your competition. Don’t be a duck. Be an eagle. Ducks quack and complain. Eagles soar above the crowd.’
That hit me right between the eyes,” said Wally. “Dyer was really talking about me. I was always quacking and complaining, so I decided to change my attitude and become an eagle. I looked around at the other cabs and their drivers.The cabs were dirty, the drivers were unfriendly, and the customers were unhappy. So I decided to make some changes. I put in a few at a time. When my customers responded well, I did more.”

“I take it that has paid off for you,” Harvey said.

“It sure has,” Wally replied. “My first year as an eagle, I doubled my income from the previous year. This year I’ll probably quadruple it. You were lucky to get me today. I don’t sit at cabstands anymore. My customers call me for appointments on my cell phone or leave a message on my answering machine. If I can’t pick them up myself, I get a reliable cabbie friend to do it and I take a piece of the action.”

Wally was phenomenal. He was running a limo service out of a Yellow Cab. I’ve probably told that story to more than fifty cab drivers over the years, and only two took the idea and ran with it. Whenever I go to their cities, I give them a call. The rest of the drivers quacked like ducks and told me all the reasons they couldn’t do any of what I was suggesting.

Wally the Cab Driver made a different choice. He decided to stop quacking like ducks and start soaring like eagles.

How about us? Smile, and the whole world smiles with you. The ball is in our hands!

A man reaps what he sows. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Let us do good to all people.

Ducks Quack, Eagles Soar.

Have a nice day, unless you already have other plans.

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

Written by jb

June 26, 2010 at 10:38 pm

The Danny Tate Ordeal

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Years ago, when I was first starting my career in Nashville, I had the pleasure of getting to work a number of times with a talented songwriter named Danny Tate. Throughout the ’80’s Danny was a popular fixture in the Nashville club scene, and I caught his shows a few times. I haven’t seen him or heard anything about him in years. Until this week.

This week, I learned that Danny is going through what has to be an incredibly difficult ordeal, to say the least. He has had issues with substance abuse in the past, although he’s also experienced long stints of sobriety. But in 2007, his estranged brother, with the help of an attorney who may have less than noble intentions (imagine that!), used Danny’s past against him by seeking, and being granted, a ‘temporary guardianship and conservatorship,’ ostensibly to protect Danny from himself. Consequently, Danny has lost control of all his financial assets, all his royalty payments, as well as his right to enter into contracts. Essentially, he’s been stripped of all of his rights, all without the Constitutionally guaranteed protection of Due Process, and without the opportunity to mount a defense.

To make a long story short, I’ll just say that it appears there are many fishy elements to this saga. It doesn’t seem to be totally ‘above board’ but instead looks rather messy and dubious at best. It’s something that shouldn’t happen to anyone, but evidently it could happen to any of us at any time. And now there’s news that the brother’s attorney is in the process of doing the same thing to another person, in the same court under the same judge who ruled in Danny’s case. Fishy stuff, indeed.

Please take the time to read up on Danny’s case. And pray for him. He needs his freedom back, and I want to help him get it if there’s anything I can do.

Here’s where you can get information on the case. But be forewarned: what you find may disturb you. But we need to be disturbed when we see something like this.

If you are concerned by what you find in Danny’s story, I urge you to inform your friends and contacts. Write to Tennessee’s governor. Let’s do what we can to help a brother reclaim his life and his rights.

Written by jb

March 28, 2010 at 12:09 am

Technology – Blessings & Curses

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Technology. At the same time, a blessing and a curse. We all benefit from the rampant advances in technology, but I think we also suffer from some of the downside elements it necessarily brings along with the obvious innovations.

In the professional realm, I used to be a Recording Engineer, hired by people who wanted to make a record. My clients realized that to make a professional recording they needed to rent a studio which had invested heavily in the expensive equipment required to make an album. And they needed someone with experience in operating that equipment (namely, me) to capture their performances and pull them all together in a completed project. And all of that required some hefty funding on the client’s part. But technological advancements finally made it possible for anyone to purchase relatively inexpensive software which modeled the costly studio equipment, and for a couple of hundred dollars, they could essentially have several hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ‘recording gear’ right in their own PC.

A great technological advancement. One which I applaud and also endorse, because it put the necessary tools which were once cost-prohibitive within the reach of anyone who wanted to use it to creatively express themselves. A great boon to the creative juices in all of us. However, even though I embraced this new access that technology brought to Everyman, it was instrumental (along with a variety of other coinciding events) in bringing about an end to the perceived need for clients to hire an experienced professional. Since they could afford to own the equipment, they could make their own recordings. And they did. And forever more, will.

So while I embrace and benefit from the availability of those advances in recording technology, the same advances have contributed heavily to bringing about the end of my career. Consequently, at the point in my life where I should be contemplating retirement, instead I’ve had to start over with an entry level job in retail because my years of experience have been rendered pass√©. Of no use to anyone. That is something that I personally see as a big ‘downside.’

The same holds true in just about every field. I recently read that advances in agricultural technology over the years have made it possible for only 3 percent of the U.S. workforce in 2008 to provide the agricultural output that required 41 percent of our workforce in 1900. In the manufacturing sector, U.S. manufacturing employment peaked at 19.5 million workers in 1979. Since 1979, the manufacturing workforce has shrunk by 40 percent and will likely continue to decline. However, the average value of output per worker is three times as high as it was in 1980, and twice as high as it was in 1990. All this is largely due to advances in technology. These advances have brought definite benefits that we all share, yet to those who have seen their jobs disappear, there are also obvious disadvantages.

Another area where I am observing this same blessing/curse dichotomy is in the sphere of personal relationships. Modern communication technology has undoubtedly made tremendous strides in helping people get in touch and stay in touch. Internet technology. Email. Social networking. Facebook. Twitter. The blogging world. All these relatively new technologies do wonders in helping us remain connected. However, I’m seeing some real downsides in the ease of communication these things have introduced to our lives. Personally, I love the ability I now have to subscribe to the newsfeed of a friend’s blog in order to stay up to date on whatever that friend decides to share with the world. And while in one sense this ability helps me stay up on the events in that friend’s life, I’ve realized that it also puts an element of distance between us, because there is no real and personal interaction in the exchange of information from that friend to me.

Case in point: I recently ran into an old friend. This was a friend whom I used to be in fairly close contact with, and in ‘the old days’ any time we saw each other there would almost invariably be an arm thrown around the shoulder in a ‘buddy-hug’ brought about by the closeness we felt for each other. I don’t see this friend often now, but I subscribe to his blog, and read his frequent status updates and comments on Facebook, all of which give me a (false?) sense that I’m still connected with what’s going on in his life. When I ran into him last week, I spotted him across a crowded room, and as I was making my way over to him, I was headed toward what I instinctively thought would be one of those old ‘buddy-hugs’ because of the personal connection I still feel. But when I got to him, instead of walking into that hug, I was met with a stiff arm extended for a handshake. And even though my emotional momentum kept moving me toward that hug, the handshake was as close as I got to it. To be honest, that felt like running smack-dab head-on into a unseen wall. It felt like a stinging slap in the face. But as I contemplated why this bothered me as badly as it did, I realized that while I felt connected to him as a result of keeping up with his status updates and his blog, there has been no personal interaction in that exchange of information. Even though he’s been sharing openly, he has received no interaction from me which would have given him any sense of continued connectivity with me. No dis intended toward my friend: his reaction was natural: it should be no surprise that he must have seen me simply as an old friend he USED to have a personal connection with. He’s been sharing alright, but with everyone in the world, and not with me. And I haven’t been sharing with him, either.

And so, while I greatly appreciate the ability to read status updates and thoughts and experiences shared through the miracle of blogging, and while I’m happy that I can continue to benefit from them, I’ve decided that I despise the distance those things have introduced into my personal relationships with people. I miss the interactions. I miss the face-time and the closeness that real interpersonal interactions used to bring. I really really do. Human contact… it’s much underrated these days, me thinks.

When you do the projections on this personal experience of mine, and look at what it means when applied to the millions of people in this modern world, what does it mean for our society at large? I’m not encouraged by the answer to that question.

Damn technology. What a blessing. What a curse.

Written by jb

February 8, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Life is Fragile

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I’ve lost two great Friends in the past three days. Bill Manning was a good Friend in California whom I haven’t seen in close to twenty-two years. Tom Howard was a Friend who lived here in Nashville, whom I got to see briefly once every week or two, the last time being just a couple of hours before he died last Friday. Both were really great men, and they both had a great influence on all who knew them.

Life as we know it here on this earth is fragile. It’s here, and then it’s gone. And because of that, it leads us to recognize that there has to be more to it than that. I pray that I will live the rest of the time I have here in such a way that when I am gone I will have left a fraction of the kind of influence on others that either of these Friends have.

One priceless trait they both shared was that they valued others, highly, and they were able to convey that in unmistakable and unavoidable ways in their relationships. That is a part of them that I hope to emulate in my life.

Another thing they had in common was that they both had a deep and abiding relationship with God, which shaped who they were. Neither of them valued their own significance above that of God in our world. Which is a bit ironic in that it’s one thing which gave both of their Lives such gravity with all who knew them.

Tom wrote an essay for City On a Hill which says a lot about his where he stood in his relationship with God. I can’t say that I’m there, but I aspire to be.

It is not only with my own children that I am learning to get out of the way. Sometime within the last two years, the prayer of ‘Thy will be done’ graduated from the rote status it had held in my psyche to an impassioned prayer. I grew weary of hearing myself qualify my prayers, making them comforting and familiar. At some point, I realized I needed to take a stance of total abandon. When I did, the prayer came out exactly like this: ‘God, do what You desire. Do it to me, through me, at me, against me, for me, with me, without me. I’m Yours. Thy will be done.’

On earth as in heaven. My soul waits in silence. Active, anticipating, rejoicing.

Tom Howard

Two great men – gone. But not forgotten. I am thankful that I was given the opportunity to know and be blessed by them. Long live Bill and Tom.

Written by jb

February 1, 2010 at 11:55 am

Posted in Life...