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There’s more abundance than you think

Most mental health professionals agree: It is difficult for a psychopathology – or any negative emotion – to coexist with gratitude.

Want to be happy? Be thankful. It’s easier said than done, but it’s not impossible.

We are not born thankful. We are born self-centered and appropriately so given that a child is completely vulnerable.

But as we age, we begin to understand what it takes to move us from completely vulnerable to warm, safe and well-fed. Triggers of thankfulness then prick our consciences.

“I didn’t do much to put these shoes on my feet or to put my bottom in this school chair,” the epiphany might go. “I should recognize the people who did.”

This is a generous serving of pumpkin-pie-in-the-sky. Children, much less teenagers, aren’t predisposed toward gratefulness.

At some point, though, most of realize we stand on the shoulders of others. We sit under the shade of trees we did not plant. We may bring home the bacon, but a butcher likely slaughtered it.

Life is too complex and lives are too interconnected to think we do anything alone. Thinking so turns isolation into loneliness. Loneliness turns to sadness and the other negative emotions: anger, fear, guilt, shame.

All of which can be helped by gratitude.

Show me a person who writes down three things each morning she is thankful for, and I’ll show you a person who weathers well the storms of life.

Her list may include:

A purple cloud

A fully stocked grocery

A check engine light that is not on

A friend’s smile

A healthy child

A faithful spouse

A door of opportunity

Indoor plumbing

Outdoor adventures

Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler are likely thankful people. Several years ago they wrote a book called “Abundance: The future is better than you think.” Its premise: media and information networks capitalize on gloom and doom news as a way to keep our attention and sell advertising.

According to the authors, the world is actually improving at a much faster rate than we realize. Artificial intelligence, robotics, technology networks, biotechnology and synthetic biology are driving advances that lift standards of living including among the world’s poorest people, the “bottom billion.”

Through the World Wide Web the poorest person in America today has access to more information than the President of the United States had just three decades ago. This access is driving a democratization of tools, Diamandis and Kotler assert.

An “explosion of connectedness” will have an Internet-enabled device in the hands of five billion people by 2020. A DIY (“do it yourself”) ethic is spreading. Exponential technologies have created a “techno-philanthropic” class that is attempting to outlive itself.

These factors work together to improve access to energy, water, nutrition, education and health.

Like pilgrims before us, we are living in an age of abundance – if we have eyes to see it. And the gratitude to appreciate it.


Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star. Read more at www.kwt.info.

 

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New dog breathes life and death

“She’s an ‘alpha female,’” the shelter director told us.

I had never heard the term before. I assumed it was similar to “queen bee” or “prima donna.”

Our kids, particularly a six-year-old boy, had hounded me for months for a new dog, pun definitely intended. He was too young to remember when we adopted Hank, our five-year-old lab mutt.

He was also too young to remember the thousands of dollars of property damage Hank inflicted upon my estate.

Okay, it may have been in the hundreds, but it was certainly more costly than any damage Pumpkin the cat has perpetrated.

So, naturally, the term “alpha female” sent chills up my spine. Just when Hank finally quit gnawing on furniture, toys and shoes, here comes a bitch.

“We got a new puppy,” I told a friend a few days after she arrived.

“You mean YOU got a new puppy,” he corrected as my head dropped under reality’s weight.

While the kids have struggled to take responsibility for her care and feeding, they did take ownership of her name. She’s “Lucy,” and, given the feistiness of Lucille Ball, that’s about right.

She’s only a foot high and two and a half feet long, but she can leap vertically to where her nose hits the knob of our back porch door. She can’t yet turn it, but give her a few months. She’s still only a puppy.

She actually shouldn’t get much bigger – her body, anyway. Her ears are another story.

She was sold to us as a red heeler, but we’re seeing more and more chihuahua in her, especially in her ears. They’re starting to pick up TV stations in Austin.

What they’re not picking up are my instructions to stop biting legs, jumping on houseguests, barking before dawn and urinating on freshly-cleaned carpets.

While I have wanted to return her multiple times, my wife sees redeeming qualities in hard-to-love mammals, yours truly included.

Whereas you can’t take Hank on a walk that includes the crossing of a bridge of any size (he must have been abused under a bridge before we adopted him), Lucy is a decent walking companion. I can see how heelers really do heel.

I can also see how Lucy could drag me into an oncoming Ford F350. Thank God for the parachute ears to slow her down.
Lucy has breathed life into Hank, the old eunuch. She nips on his neck and slips under his hind legs. He climbs on her back and wrestles her in the yard.

She eats his food. He doesn’t mind.

On the other paw, Lucy has breathed death into Pumpkin. She traps him under cars and runs him up trees. He sleeps on the front porch now.

As I’ve written in this space before, city ordinance says pets must be licensed. Hank and Pumpkin both have their $4 tags of approval. Lucy is unsanctioned.

I wonder what Pumpkin had on his mind when I saw him in front of animal services the other day. That tattle tail.

I have no idea who put him up to it. I love Lucy.

Subscribe to regular posts from Kevin Thompson at http://www.kwt.info.

A Halloween Treat-giving Guide

Holiday gift guides have started hitting mailboxes. Sausages, cheeses, pies, steaks. Technology gadgets, leather goods, popcorn. There’s no shortage of treat ideas for people you know.

But what about treat ideas for kids you don’t know?

Before you get carried away with Thanksgiving pie ordering and Christmas gift buying, let’s get Halloween right.

Greeting card companies have driven the prominence of conjured holidays. Similarly, candy companies have driven the modern Halloween custom of throwing handfuls of high fructose corn syrup at any kid that comes on your property.

Starting tonight – no, this afternoon – kids of all ages will begin filling pillowcases with candy. Throw a stick over their shoulders, tie on the bags and the teenagers will look like bona fide carpetbaggers.

The candy thing has gone off the insulin charts. We need to get back to a saner trick-or-treating time because there’s nothing more normal than knocking on strange doors seeking handouts.

Given the extreme swing our culture has taken toward sugar consumption, I recommend a new tack for trick-or-treat participation. Consider the following items in lieu of the customary diabetes-inducing fare:

1. Raisins – You have options here, but all will be good for post-Halloween digestion. You can purchase individual one-inch raisin boxes or you can buy in bulk and create your own Ziploc baggie-fulls.

Best yet, you can give a single raisin to each child who darkens your doorway. Any of the above will freak out your visitors which is the point, correct?

2. Pennies – Most kids these days have never seen a penny unless they’ve participated in the “share a penny” program at your neighborhood quick mart. Throw a few pennies in your visitors’ buckets to create a mysterious jingle effect. The bell tolls…

Feel free to add a story about the pennies’ origin: decomposed eyelids at the city cemetery.

3. Work – Here’s your chance to reform the lackluster work ethic of a generation of kids. Order ten yards of cedar mulch and have it dumped in your front yard.

When kids knock, hand them a shovel and tell them to start spreading. When they ask for payment, reinforce that the work is the gift.

4. Apples – It’s ridiculous that people stopped giving out whole fruit because of a few bad apples. The chances of finding a razor blade in your Halloween apples back in the day were actually, well, razor-thin.

A Fuji apple is sweet enough to satisfy any sweet tooth. Plus, apples are like a virtual teeth brushing after stops at homes of unreformed treat-givers.

5. Toothbrushes – This handout is the trick-or-treat equivalent of tough love. Kids may see it as party-pooping, but years from now they’ll remember you as the one with perspective.

Throw in a travel size tube of toothpaste and your wisdom will become legendary. You may even get some eggs out of it.

***

I admit this list may be too much too soon. If so, and if you haven’t made a candy aisle run, consider your junk drawer as a source of giveaways: pencils, stickers, trinkets, coupons.

Just stay away from the razor blades.

 
Kevin Thompson can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

My philosophy on selling

Regardless of our respective occupations, we all sell something. It may simply be ourselves, our ideas, or our opinion on where to have dinner.

Selling is a fundamental part of life. Most people hate that idea.

Dating back to my first job at a fireworks stand, I have been selling.

“Might I interest you in these Morning Glory sparklers? They are ideal for small children because they have easy-to-light tissue paper wicks and longer handles to prevent burns. Plus, they change colors as they burn down!

“We buy them for half a cent each. I’ll part ways with this bundle of six for only $8.99.”

Okay, that last part wasn’t in the pitch, but the margins certainly were.

Through years of studying and practicing the art of selling, I have assembled the following philosophy on the topic.

Without energy, work ethic and determination, you’re dead on arrival. Energy isn’t everything, but it’s the impetus that gets everything else going. If you’re selling for a living, it helps to be heavily motivated by financial reward.

Sales is a numbers game. Play the percentages. The more at bats you get, the more hits (and home runs) will come, assuming your fundamentals are sound.

Organization is key. Work hard and smart. Daily routines are critical. “I only make cold calls when I feel like it, and I make sure I feel like it every morning at 9 am.” There’s no substitute for discipline.

Identify decision-makers. Qualify well. Probe. Ask the tough questions to figure out who can actually buy from you in a volume that makes your time worthwhile.

Persuade the supporting cast. Be diplomatic. Treat the receptionist like the CEO. Think politically. Smart decision-makers want buy-in from their key staff members.

Get to the root of the pain. Ask questions; listen well; understand process. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Be interested before you try to be interesting.

Think relationship, not transaction. Figure out what’s important to your clients in business and in life. Add value in those areas through thoughtful conversations, business referrals and resources (articles, books, etc.). It will set you apart from other chatterboxes.

Keep your client’s best interest at heart. Argue against yourself if it’s what’s best for your customer. It will pay off… in the long run.

Trust takes time. Don’t give up. The first time you call on a prospect, you’re a stranger. The second time you’re an acquaintance. The third time you’re a friend. The fourth time you’re a friend he wants to do business with.

Prioritize benefits before features. People naturally think “WIIFM” … What’s in it for me? How will this make my life easier and more productive?

As successful politicians say, “Ask for the vote.” Ask for the sale directly. Press for a decision. Your prospect won’t be offended if you do. She’ll be offended if you don’t. She’ll think you think she’s not worth doing business with.

If you don’t believe in what you’re selling, move on to something you do. It’s impossible to fake it long enough to be successful.

At the end of the day, you’re not really selling. You’re helping. And everyone loves to be helped, especially with their sparkler selections.

 

Write to Kevin Thompson at kevin@kwt.info.

Screening screen time

“Can we discourage teachers from asking for iPads for five-year-olds?” a fellow board member asked.

She and I serve together with a local education group that raises money for public schools.

Several heads nodded in agreement with the spirit of the question.

It’s the same spirit that cringes when we see a two-year-old staring at a movie on a cell phone. Such scenes prompt “no wonder” moments, as in, “No wonder our society is struggling.”

Though the original cathode ray tube screens were introduced decades ago, the last two decades have seen exponential growth in screen numbers.

With their declining cost and and inclining definition, we usually can’t look without seeing a screen of some size, shape or pixelation.

For example, consider a modern-day office visit:

  1. A sign-in clipboard? Nah, here’s a tablet to register on.

  2. A piece of fine artwork for the wall? Forget about it. We’ll display upcoming promotions on a jumbo flatscreen.

  3. A magazine for you, ma’am? No, thank you. I have some texts to respond to and some Wayfair ads to peruse.

The ubiquity of screens has introduced messaging that’s full of emoticons and extreme abbreviations.

An in-person chat with my fourteen-year-old revealed key truncations that every Gen-Xer and beyond needs to know.

Dad to son: “Can you give me some abbreviations you use in your text message chats?”

Son: “Do you mean shortcuts?”

Dad: “Yes, I meant shortcuts. Thank you for reducing my syllable count by sixty per cent.”

Son: “Sure, Dad.”

  1. wyd –  “What are you doing?” Warning, if the answer to this question is something exciting, it may lead to…

  2. fomo – “Fear of missing out”

  3. wbu – “What about you?” as in “I’m going to the county fair. What about you?”

  4. nvmd – “Nevermind”

  5. idk – “I don’t know”

  6. rly – “Really?”

  7. fr tho – “For real, though” as in “no joke”

  8. tmr – “Tomorrow”

  9. lol – “Laughing out loud;” this trunc hangs on after many years but smartphones now often convert it to a smiley face emoji with tears streaming down.

Of course, you don’t have emojis if you have a flip phone. A local dad purchased his middle schooler one recently.

“I don’t think she takes it out much,” he projected. “It’s more for my convenience than for her entertainment.”

There’s a novel idea: An adult acting like one.

If there was ever a time for adults to play adults, it’s now. If I told you things some middle schoolers do with their electronic devices, it would make your heart skip a beat, if it didn’t break first.

Kids need restrictions. Foregoing them is parental malpractice. Unabated access to Internet-enabled apps will sour naivete in no time.

Non-technical boundaries help, too, such as no screens in non-public places, particularly bedrooms.

Parents shouldn’t try to be GOATs (greatest of all time) and let kids make the rules.

Parents should offer the kind of personal engagement that makes screens, and the conversations on them, a little less mesmerizing.

With strong relationships and communication, kids won’t need this shortcut: psos – “Parent standing over shoulder.”

Follow Kevin Thompson at www.kwt.info.

 

Reviewing the writing process

“What’s it like to write an article every week?” people sometimes ask.

“It makes the week fly by!” I usually respond.

All good writing starts with good ideas. And good ideas are birthed by other good ideas.

My college English professor, Darryl Tippens, was right: “You’ll never write a lot unless you read a lot.”

Put another way, all good readers aren’t good writers, but all good writers are good readers.

Oftentimes good ideas come to life as they’re dwelt upon. Hence, revising is paramount in the writing process.

I hated revising as a student. Proofreading felt like a waste of time. I now realize it makes or breaks a piece, and it has become a favorite part of my routine.

“Two words are not better than one,” Newberry Award winner Madeleine L’Engle said.

Especially if your throng doesn’t know what one of them means! Throng? It means audience.

William Zinsser, in his classic work On Writing Well, wrote:

“Rewriting is the essence of writing well: it’s where the game is won or lost…We all have an emotional equity in our first draft; we can’t believe that it wasn’t born perfect. But the odds are close to 100 per cent that it wasn’t.”

Getting an imperfect first draft down is half the battle. Fear of failure, fear of exposure, fear of apostrophes; the opposition is fierce.

Accept that your first draft will be crappy, Anne Lamott said, albeit in slightly smellier language.

In conquering the rough draft, no substitute exists for old-fashioned discipline.

“I only write when I feel like it,” Max Lucado told a writers’ conference once. “And I make sure I feel like it every morning at 9:00 a.m.”

“Write a page every day at the same place and time,” John Grisham told the New York Times in May. “Nothing will happen until you are producing at least one page per day.”

Grisham continued, “Early morning, lunch break, on the train, late at night — it doesn’t matter. Find the extra hour, go to the same place, shut the door. No exceptions, no excuses.”

But don’t keep the door shut forever. Try out your writing in other places.

Lucado suggests reading your writing to yourself, to a friend, out loud, in your bedroom, in your dining room, on your porch, etc. Hear how it sounds in different settings and before different audiences (a.k.a. throngs!).

Zinsser agrees, “Bear in mind, when you’re choosing your words and stringing them together, how they sound…Readers read with their eyes. But in fact they hear what they are reading far more than you realize.”

Then there’s the need for voice, which basically means being true to yourself.

“My commodity as a writer, whatever I’m writing about, is me,” wrote Zinsser. “And your commodity is you. Don’t alter your voice to fit your subject. Develop one voice that readers will recognize when they hear it on the page.”

Lamott also encourages personalization.

“You own everything that happened to you,” she wrote in Bird by Bird. “Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”


Kevin Thompson can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

 

Developer: Build up and close, not far and out

I heard a telling definition of “developer” recently from none other than a developer himself:

“A developer is someone who takes your money and his experience and turns it into his money and your experience.”

The Greater Boerne Chamber of Commerce has been on a mission to advance the conversation about how, where and when healthy development happens in our area.

Within the last year, the Chamber has hosted two presentations with ties to an organization called Strong Towns, a public affairs group dedicated to rethinking how America builds its cities.

Strong Towns exposes the fiscal and congestion-related challenges facing U.S. municipalities, particularly as they relate to creating new infrastructure and maintaining old.

Austin-based developer Terry Mitchell is affiliated with the group. He addressed a Chamber gathering in Boerne last week.

Mitchell compared development in any region to a swath of oak trees with an extensively intertwined root system. A cause on one side of the grove can have an effect on the other. With any kind of development – just like with legislation – there are both intended and unintended consequences.

For example, suburban office parks pop up when a city’s core becomes too pricey and too congested. According to Mitchell, this happened in Southern California in the 1970s and 1980s and then in Austin a decade later.

Decades of urban and suburban sprawl are now hamstringing American cities with infrastructure upkeep costs.

I won’t scare you with the numbers. Suffice it to say the maintenance costs on our existing state and federal roadways are huge enough – and resources are thin enough – to have “gravel” offered as a potential solution. (Gravel is cheap to maintain.)

“You never pay off a road,” Mitchell said. “Every twenty to forty years you have to rebuild it.” He noted transportation challenges are exacerbated by public resistance to toll roads.

Given the ongoing maintenance cost of even brand new infrastructure, some cities are demanding more tax value from new developments in exchange for the future infrastructure costs the cities will absorb.

Cities are also using other strategies to crack the nut. They are attempting to drive more tax base growth on top of existing infrastructure (e.g., build up instead of out).

And they are trying to bring jobs, recreation, services, etc. to where people live in order to minimize transportation needs.

Density seems to be a silver bullet in the fight to leverage past infrastructure expenditures rather than creating new ones. Mitchell referenced examples of triplexes that look like the single family residences on either side of them.

Higher density development can improve quality of life while reducing the cost of life. It can increase community spirit with its common areas and vegetable gardens. It also brings energy savings as unit sizes decrease.

We haven’t always needed much space, Mitchell noted. The average home in 1959 was 953 square feet.  And if you don’t need much space, you don’t have to build that far out, thereby further limiting transportation outlays.

If there’s anything our fiscal pickles and public debt debacles teach us, it’s that we must get smarter about how we grow. Otherwise, we’ll eventually collapse under our own weight.


Follow Kevin Thompson at www.kwt.info.

 


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