Give Generously, But Be Smart About It

Even the most generous must be critical thinkers. Critical thinkers must question everything they are told as well as what they believe and even that which they consider to be common sense. As the holidays approach many requests for charitable donations will reach us through email, over the phone, at the mall, outside the grocery store and in church. It’s important to investigate before giving, however. That may sound very Scrooge-like, but it’s important to give intelligently. Not every charity is worthy of your hard-earned dollars.

Just because a charity has the words “national,” “American,” and “cancer” in its name doesn’t mean it is legitimate. Ask for more information and verify the claims before you hand over your cash or credit card information. It’s not Grinch-like to question things. It’s smart. For every bogus charity that gets your money, a legitimate organization is missing out.

Stick to what you know and those organizations close to your heart. Consider thinking ahead about how much you want to donate this season and where you can make the most impact. A donation of time in this tough economic situation could make a significant social contribution. Involve the whole family. This is an opportunity to set an example of critical thinking and social responsibility for your children.

Do you want to focus on feeding the hungry? How about contributing to research for a cure? Would you like to visit a nursing home? How about helping build a home for a needy family?

The possibilities are endless. Do some critical thinking and some research first and then contribute. Happy Holidays!


Happy Birthday Sesame Street!

Today Sesame Street turns 40 and once again, the show is making news and stirring controversy. It is so timely that critics now claim its storylines reflect bias. A recent re-airing of a two year old show featuring a news channel parody, today’s scheduled guest host, First Lady Michelle Obama, and this season’s emphasis on the environment are the reasons for this latest controversy.

Recently PBS re-aired an episode from two years ago where Oscar the Grouch started a news network called Grouchy News Network or GNN. A puppet character caller complained that GNN wasn’t grouchy enough and said, “From now on, I’m watching Pox News. Now there’s a trashy news show.” This is just another very clever parody that Sesame Street is famous for and not an attack against conservatives or Fox News as some might claim. It is a simply a fun and smart show. Sesame Street is famous for its parodies. Other clever parodies include Desperate Houseplants, A’s Anatomy, Law and Order: Special Letters Unit, Preschool Musical and 30 Rocks. Parents can look forward to newer parodies of Dancing with the Stars and even a Mad Men parody in which a Muppet Don Draper pitches an ad campaign that makes him feel mad, sad and eventually glad.

Today First Lady Michelle Obama will appear as a guest star on Sesame Street to help celebrate its birthday. Sesame Street has a history of inviting celebrities on the show to delight parents and children alike. Guest stars, like parodies, are another staple of the show. They serve two purposes. Guest stars make the show current and since co-viewing of parents and children is encouraged, featuring celebrity guests succeeds in entertaining parents along with their kids. Three other first ladies have also appeared on the show. In fact, this year more celebrity guests are scheduled than ever before. Watching them cut loose on Sesame Street is sure to be a treat.

Could it be that Sesame Street is promoting a liberal agenda by focusing on the environment this year? It’s more likely that Sesame Street is doing what its always done and that is incorporating trends into its shows. As we all know, the “green” movement is present in nearly every aspect of modern culture. It would be odd if Sesame Street didn’t follow suit.

Happy Birthday Sesame Street! I’ll be watching and hope you’ll be around for many more years to come.

Technology in Today’s Classroom

As a college writing and communications instructor, I frequently utilize resources from YouTube, iTunes and Hulu in my classes. Today’s students demand media’s integration into the classroom.

Gone are the days when instructors lectured with slides or even more recently Power Point. Watching an instructor read every word on a 68 slide Power Point presentation is just as painful as sitting through an instructor ‘s lecture as he or she stands behind a podium and reads notes for more than an hour. Students don’t want to be talked at, they want to spoken to and then invited to discuss. Traditional lectures leave little room for student participation or discussion and have fallen out of favor with today’s students. Plus, they are just boring.

Modern classrooms are equipped with laptops or desktop computers, Internet access, SMART Board interactive whiteboards, overheads and LCD projectors. All this equipment begs to be utilized. Instructors must be up for the challenge of frequently updating their course materials and the best ones do just that.

I teach in a specific program tailored for working adults returning to school to earn their associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees. The program is accelerated and the students are highly motivated. Each class has to have real world application. I’ve found that weaving carefully chosen media into my lessons helps achieve my goals–to educate and entertain. There are those who find fault with the combination of education and entertainment (edutainment), but I think it makes perfect sense. How can you educate if you haven’t succeeded in engaging your students? You can’t.

When teaching students about the power of persona in persuasion, I show a clip of The Oprah Effect from the MSNBC special. Then we read the famous essay by Judy Brady entitled, I Want a Wife. Afterwards, I facilitate a discussion and ask for other examples. Students understand persona much better this way than they would if I just lectured about persona.

There are almost as many resources out there as there are opportunities to use them. I recently spoke with Dennis Carter, assistant editor for eSchool News about teacher resources that help instructors make education much more interactive and entertaining.

Click here to read the article.

A Link Between Educating Women and Fighting Terrorism

Could it be that a key to fighting terrorism is to educate women?

Oprah recently did a show on the topic and it was both moving and thought provoking. In the past, I’ve always tuned out coverage of the atrocities women face in developing countries because it was too horrible for me to hear about it when there was nothing I could do. Something about this particular show and the teaser about a link between women’s education and terrorism drew me in. I was awed by the hope in this piece.

Through the profiles on Oprah’s show of women in Africa where rape is used as a weapon and women in India where male oppression suffocates and objectifies females as rule, there are women who emerge as heroes. With only small assistance, many women emerge as survivors and leaders. I learned that when one woman is educated, she teaches her community. Additionally, I was intrigued by the concept of how small loans, called micro loans, often as little as $65 could change lives.

Perhaps these problems I thought were hopeless are solvable, however. Many of these women are not people to pity, but to admire. Despite relentless oppression and abuse, these women persevere. Investing in the education and health of women worldwide is the key to making a difference. Change happens on the local level.

An August New York Time’s article entitled Saving the World’s Women: The Women’s Crusade focused on the connection between educating women and fighting terrorism. While many have argued that Islamic teachings have encouraged and justified the disproportionate amount of terrorism in Muslim countries, a closer look reveals that a lack of female education and lack of female participation in the labor force are the common factors. Male dominated cultures create a breeding ground in which terrorism flourishes. Empowering women helps to stop the spread of terrorism.

As a woman and a teacher, I find this prospect most exciting.

Creating Empathy for Elderly: Parts 1 and 2

Part 1

With the baby boomers now rapidly joining AARP, there are 35 million adults over the age of 65 in the United States today and that number will increase to 70 million in the next 20 years. Clearly, elder care is big business. Quality of that care is a major concern, however. State of the art facilities are important, but caretakers are the ones who implement care and many need additional training to learn empathy and understanding for their patients.

It’s one thing to be sympathetic and quite another to be empathetic. When it comes to caring for the elderly, empathy is better than sympathy because it implies feeling with a person in a collaborative sense, rather than feeling sorry for a person in a more distant sense.

Organizations are rushing to train caretakers in the art of empathy and the best way to do that is to give them some experience with the feelings associated with being elderly.

Participants in the Xtreme Aging workshops at the Macklin Intergenerational Institute actually get that opportunity. Activities include those designed to create the confusion stroke victims experience and the physical limitations associated with aging. Participants perform routine tasks wearing gloves with a couple fingers taped together to simulate arthritis, coated eyeglasses to mimic visual impairment, cotton stuffed ears to copy the effects of hearing loss and kernels of corn in their shoes to imitate the pain felt as a result of the loss of fatty tissue.

Simulations are so very valuable because they help create empathy and in doing so also diminish ageism. It’s nearly impossible to really “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes,” but workshops like these sure come close to getting to experience another person’s reality.

Part 2

It’s wildly been reported that the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population consists of those 65 and older. The Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics reported that people 65 and older will reach 71.5 million people by 2030. If nearly 20% of the total U.S. population is elderly, retailers and all their customer service personnel must learn to understand this very important and often ignored group. If not, retailers will alienate a very powerful consumer base.

One of the biggest mistakes customer service personnel make is treating older Americans with a lack of respect. A condescending tone and a complete lack of empathy are the chief complaints those 65 and older make when commenting on customer service failures.

The Pew Research Center Social & Demographic Trends conducted a survey on aging and found of those 65 and older, “fully 60% say they feel younger than their age, compared with 32% who say they feel exactly their age and just 3% who say they feel older than their age.”

While those 65 and older say they may not feel old, there are some common signs of aging most people experience. Understanding aging in addition to tailoring products and services for older consumers generates customer loyalty and therefore, increases sales.

What are the common physical changes that occur as part of the aging process? Sensory and cognitive changes are inevitable. Some discomfort or even pain in the joints, knees, hands and feet is often unavoidable. These things can make daily activities difficult, but there are many things retailers can do to make shopping easier for those 65 and older.

Contact me at 414/688-1306 to set up a training designed to teach empathy for elderly and to make your business more elderly-friendly.

Here’s the link for my Emapthy for Elderly segment on the Morning Blend

Online Reputation Management

When I first heard of an online reputation management expert, I laughed. Now I understand the need for safeguarding one’s online reputation. If a stranger were to read your blog, Facebook page, Twitter posts or view your LinkedIn connections, what 30 second impression would they form about you?

While it may have seemed like a good idea at the time to post about your lack of motivation days and months on end or your failure to complete those projects you had planned, a potential employer or possible date might find this cause to form less than a positive impression about you.

People are looking and forming judgments. Many HR professionals screen applicants by doing a quick Google search before even calling them to schedule an interview. A 2008 survey by Execunet found that 86% of recruiters use search engines to find out more about job applicants. Even more alarming and not all that shocking, 44% said they didn’t hire someone based upon what they found out online. A popular dating service, It’s Just Lunch found 63% of singles Googled someone before they went out on a first date.

It’s smart really. Who can blame companies for doing some type of check? Fewer still would fault the single person before taking the risk of meeting someone for that first date?

The internet is two things: it is permanent and no one polices it. So what do you do if you haven’t always been mindful of the things you’ve posted? Do a search on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn- as well as a Google search to see what’s been written about you and those with names similar to your own. Some have termed this Ecosurfing. Next, clean up your online profile by deleting objectionable content and ask friends to do the same. Make sure to check your privacy settings on all the social media sites you use.

In the future, be cautious when posting anything online. You may find that you simply need to reduce your exposure—don’t rant online. Anything you do online lasts forever and you never know who is reading.

Self Control is a Super Power

As a mother of a four year old boy, I have become an expert in super heroes. Like most boys his age, my son is fascinated with all things super. It’s an intriguing world. In that fictional world, something happens to a normal human and he or she becomes equipped with powers to fight evil and safeguard good. A superhero may adopt a secret identity to protect friends and family from becoming targets of his or her enemies.

Self control is a super power and which is available to everyone. It takes a strength of character and a determination to uphold values. Most people are too lazy to cultivate this super power, however.

Self control is difficult. It is also crucial to success in both our personal and professional lives. Self control requires the realization that one’s needs don’t supercede anyone else’s. Additionally, every action has consequences that involve long term impact. Self control is a one shot deal because in real life, there are no do-overs.

Daily life presents many opportunities to exercise self control. Consider driving, for example. When driving, we are often tempted to exceed the speed limit and break the rules of the road because we are in a hurry. Giving into that temptation reflects a notion that my needs are more important than those of everyone else on the road or that I am not bound by the rules of others because I am somehow exempt.

Anger is an emotion that can overwhelm us in such a way that we lose self control. Consider a two year old’s temper tantrum. Young children aren’t able to control their anger and resort to kicking, screaming and crying out of frustration for not getting their way. Many adults behave similarly when they don’t exercise self control. When we are enraged, it’s easy to lose sight that there are more people in the world than me and their concerns and emotions also deserve consideration.

Dealing with difficult people tests our patience in a way that requires the highest level of self control. Confrontation might be our first reaction when we are faced with someone who seems to deliberately provoke us. Our first response might be to lash out or say nothing. But this is where self control is very important. Self control requires us to direct the conversation to a fruitful end. This takes time, analysis and restraint which may seem very much like super hero qualities.

In conclusion, self restraint is a super power. Thankfully it is a resource we are all capable of cultivating.

Social Media: Shouting from the Street Corner

Recently there has been a barrage of political patianship spreading through social media. Spouting political insults on Facebook or Twitter has become today’s equivalent of shouting on the street corner. Hurling accusations along the lines of us versus them only appeals to one side, whereas critical thinking engages the opposition.

The ability to voice differing opinions is part of what makes America great. It’s this idea that every person’s perspective counts that helps define democracy. Opinions should lead to discussion, however. There is not enough discussion today. An intellectual exchange of ideas is fruitful. Change and understanding are the byproducts of it. This takes critical thinking, however.

Critical thinking requires us to question not only the ideas of others, but also the views that seem obviously right to us. Critical thinkers can’t simply dismiss their opponents. They must listen, question and analyze their opponents’ views. Learning and understanding often result.

While there is no shortage of opinions, there are few critical thinkers. Instead there are assaults and counterattacks. It has sparked an ugliness that has become all too common in America and reflects a complete absence of critical thought. Each time a person thinks he or she has a monopoly on the truth and no other viewpoint is valid, there is an absence of critical thought.

There are many who post things on Facebook or Twitter that they never would say. It’s interesting that a feeling of anonymity has extended itself to the world of social media where a personal photo often accompanies the words posted. Still, most won’t confront the poster when partisan comments are made and so it appears as if these rants are either supported or at least tolerated. The worst part is that no discussion follows. The rants may satisfy the poster in the short term, but the critical thinkers in their audience may react very differently than the poster considered.

Social media has great power to unite. Unless people require more of themselves and undertake the work involved in critical thinking, the power of social media will be wasted. Are Americans brave enough to start a discussion?

Opt Out of School Fundraisers

The school year has just begun and already the children’s backpacks are full of the most recent school fundraiser information.

We are bombarded by pleas to buy various different products and have our children sell them all to benefit school causes like the Home and School Association, various athletic or social clubs. No one disputes the fact that school programs often need additional funding, but the means for acquiring these funds is the problem. Most school fundraisers sell overpriced products that people often do not need or want.

The guilt factor is huge. How many times can you hit up the grandparents, neighbors and family friends before they start to cringe? Many companies are banning solicitations of all types from the workplace including fundraisers. So coworkers are often no longer potential buyers.

The pressure for children to sell products is intensified when rewards are offered for the biggest sales. This creates a different type of guilt—guilt for parents who don’t want their children to sell the products. Even if you can convince your child the prizes for the different sale bench marks aren’t worth it, there are those school-wide and individual class rewards that further attempt to entice student and parent participation. What if your child’s class doesn’t get the pizza party because you haven’t allowed her to participate in the fundraiser? What if the school misses out on pajama day because the sale goal wasn’t met?

The fundraising industry is a booming business. The most common fundraisers are ones that sell products. The variety is vast and includes wrapping paper, cookie dough, pizza, candy and magazines. I was shocked to find that the organizations only get 20 to 50% of the profits gained from these sales. Most of the money is going not to the school, but to the profitable fundraising industry. Why then do school organizations continue to hold these fundraisers?

The reality is that even with this markup, organizations make more from these fundraisers than they could from holding a dozen car washes or bake sales.

But there is another option. It’s called Opting-Out. Consider making a cash donation directly to the school organization instead of participating in the fundraisers. Attach a letter to your check explaining that your family has decided to opt out of the fundraiser. When you make a cash donation, 100% of your money goes directly to the cause. Donating directly to the school organization eliminates the middlemen as well as all the time wasted on the sale, pick-up and delivery of products. It also safeguards important relationships and allows your family to focus on other activities like school work, athletics or leisure.

Character Really Does Count and Sometimes It Costs

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett demonstrated excellent character over the weekend and while he paid a significant price for it, the lesson he’s taught us all is extremely valuable.

It’s quite rare that we hear about something truly good a politician does and it’s so refreshing when it happens. Regardless of your political beliefs, Barrett’s recent actions prove he is worthy of praise and deserving of admiration.

What did exactly did Barrett do? It’s really quite simple. Someone needed help and cried out in distress. Barrett heard and went over to help. When Barrett’s efforts to calm the attacker didn’t seem to be working, he took out his cell phone to dial 911 and then he was brutally attacked.

Anthony J. Peters was arguing with his former girlfriend, reportedly over a custody issue for their daughter, and things quickly escalated. While the woman was not harmed, thanks to Barrett’s intervention, Barrett was severely injured. Peters brutally attacked Barrett with a metal police-style baton.

After a three hour surgery to repair his shattered hand and plastic surgery to repair a cut from his cheek to his nose, Barrett still faces oral surgery to fix broken teeth. He is healing and happy to be home now. Peters is in jail where he belongs.

This is a story worth telling because it’s about a man stepping in to help someone in distress. That’s heroic. Character counts, but it also costs.