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Wisdom from Washington, finally

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts delivered a commencement address recently. It wasn’t Ivy League or even SEC. It was his son’s middle school graduation.

As most wisdom does, Roberts’ remarks turned conventional thinking on its head in a profoundly simple way. Most graduation speeches wish for the best. Roberts’ speech wished for the worst.

“From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted.”

Roberts continued to wish bad luck for his listeners – so they would understand their “success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either.” He also hoped they’d be periodically ignored, so their own listening skills would improve.

Speaking amidst an increasingly pompous culture, Roberts wished not just failure for the students, but also for their opponents to gloat over them. Then, he said, they would more greatly appreciate the virtue of sportsmanship.

And since the young men were finishing up at a prestigious New Hampshire boarding school, Roberts told them to recognize they were privileged but not to act like it.

“When you get to your new school, walk up and introduce yourself to the person who is raking the leaves, shoveling the snow or emptying the trash. Learn their name and call them by their name during your time at the school.”

Roberts knows the entitlement mentality can attack the privileged as much as it can attack the impoverished. He also knows it will lead to the demise of our nation.

If the world owes me something because of the family into which I was born, or because of the largeness – or smallness – of my bank account, I will not work; I will not strive to earn. The payment is already due.

Extrapolate the point across a country or across a generation and you’ll end up with an unproductive society. The “due tos” will surpass the “due froms” and insolvency is just around the corner.

“What did you do this weekend?” I asked a mid-twenties millennial at my company.

“Mostly played video games,” he answered. The young man works hard five days a week. A few video games on the weekend are probably in order.

For others, the ratio is reversed. A couple of days of hard work entitles them to five days of unwinding.

We all would do well to remember the starting thesis of Dr. Scott Peck’s book, The Road Less Travelled: Life is difficult. It’s one problem to be solved after the next. It requires organization, diligence and perseverance.

And that, I think, was Justice Roberts’ point: Embrace adversity.

The successful life isn’t one void of challenges. It’s one that’s shaped by them. Sometimes they harden us. Sometimes they soften us. Always they strengthen us.

 

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

 

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From the mouths of babes

It’s time for quotable kid quotes a la the late Art Linkletter’s “Kids Say the Darndest Things.” I usually capture them for our family Christmas card, but with five young minds going many miles an hour, there’s plenty for a mid-year helping.

“What are you giving up for lent?” I asked our thirteen-year-old last spring. “Church,” he replied with a mischievous middle school smile. Then, more maturely, “Instagram.”

Our seven-year-old son was catch-and-release fishing recently. When we couldn’t get a deep hook out of one fish’s mouth, we cut the line and threw it back with the hook still in. He observed, “That fish now has a nose ring.”

His twin sister heard her voice bounce off a stone wall. “It made a gecko!”

During a recent rain shower, she saw a rainbow while driving down Interstate 10. “There’s a rainbow!” she said with excitement. The road noise kept her twin brother from hearing her clearly.

“Where’s Rambo?” he asked.

At a restaurant dinner, I explained that the drinks were not free. “You pretty much have to pay for everything you get in life,” I said so as to not pass up a teachable moment.

A seven-year-old needed clarity, “What about if you find it?”

His eight-year-old brother asked a brilliant question related to a retail industry turned on its head by e-commerce: “Does everything at JC Penney’s cost a penny?”

Speaking of money, the twins got some from their grandparents for their birthday. Our son opened the envelope and concluded the $50 check was solely for him. When I explained otherwise, he whined, “But 5 is an odd number; how do you split it?”

When we visited a friend’s church, our eight-year-old noticed a similarity between their minister and ours. “Do you have to be bald to be a preacher?” he inquired.

A few nights ago, I told his little brother to go to bed. His response: “But I haven’t yawned yet!”

His sister tried to bend the rules, too.

Dad: “Did you brush your teeth?”

Daughter: “Uhh, yeah.”

Dad: ”Are you telling the truth?”

Daughter, walking towards the bathroom: “I think I didn’t. Thank you, Dad.”

My pleasure.

Later, as I tucked her into bed, she “didn’t want to use the f-word” to describe an overweight school friend. Instead, she said “he had a big tummy.”

One morning I asked her if she would like some strawberries in her raisin bran. “No, thanks,” she said. “I’m not a grown-up yet.”

“I wish my birthday was on September 25,” our eight-year-old confided. When I asked why, he remarked as if I was missing something obvious, “Because it’s Christmas!”

It’s not just dates we get turned around. It’s words, as well.

“Mom, I need some sand hanitizer.”

“Dad, where should I put the kitty glitter?”

One time I heard this version of This Little Light of Mine:

“Hide it under the bushes, NO!”

It’s not just words we get wrong. It’s numbers, two. (Sic!)

“I know the firefighters’ pass code! It’s 1-1-9!”

And sometimes it’s the letters we get turned around, as in this text from my angel:

“i love you bab”

Follow Kevin Thompson at http://www.kwt.info.

A Weekend in the Sea Breeze

We took the kids to the coast last spring. Seven of us packed into my Toyota Land Cruiser. Despite its 200,000th mile being just around the corner, we took it over the minivan. We thought its more rugged nature would play better in the great outdoors.

I loaded the cruiser with enough beach inflatables to fill both the luggage rack up top and the luggage shelf that plugs into the back trailer hitch.

Ever seen an inflatable kayak? The seasonal inventory buyer at Costco has. He put about 30 “Sea Eagles” in his San Antonio stores five Christmases ago. One of them now sat on top of my SUV.

We rented a house in the middle of Old Rockport. It was a VRBVPO (Vacation Rental By Very Proud Owner).

It was a mile from the man-made Rockport beach, but by the decor inside, you’d think it was on its own island in the Caribbean. Our weekend was basically brought to us by the color turquoise.

Don’t get me wrong, “Sea Breeze Cottage” was worth the money. It just wasn’t always worth the wait.

Our kids are bigger now than when we took our last trip to the coast, but they are also more mature. We thought the two factors would cancel each other out. For the most part, they did.

Silence is golden on road trips with five kids, but it’s also frequently broken by “I’m hungry” or “Stop it!” or “How much farther?”

We played a game called “Catch Phrase” to pass the time. You’re supposed to get your teammates to guess a common phrase without using the words in the phrase itself. One of our younger children didn’t get the message.

“This is a house that’s at the beach. It’s a blank house.” (Beach house)

“This is a day we celebrate mothers.” (Mother’s Day)

“This is a pie that’s made in a pot. It has chicken in it.” (Chicken pot pie)

We got some great laughs, and his team got a nice win.

Once we arrived, coastal fishing was high on the agenda. Unfortunately, I’m not much help. Having grown up in a landlocked state, I’m basically a fish out of water.

Thankfully, the Good Lord sent an angel in the form of a retired Texas A&M marine biology professor. He had also doubled as a bay fishing guide for three decades until retiring a few years ago.

He pointed us to a green-lit pier and showed us how to bait live shrimp. We nabbed a few speckled trout.

On the way home, we took the ferry over to North Padre Island.

“Why do they call it an island when it’s part of Texas?” asked an 8-year-old on the third row. Great question. And why is that island sitting in the “Gulf of Mexico?”

“Gulf of Texas” makes better sense. I agree. Somebody call our state rep…it’s time for a referendum!

Speaking of referenda, our 6-year-old daughter decided one was in order. She polled her brothers, “Who wants a new dad? Raise your hand.” I couldn’t bear to see the results in the rearview mirror.

But then her sweet, angelic voice cast what may have been the deciding vote: “I don’t.”

With that, I found the strength to drive another mile.

 

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

The Miracle That Is Southwest

A summertime nod to family not residing in Texas put me on a Southwest Airlines flight recently. The Dallas-based company still gives a breath of fresh air to the otherwise tedious process of air travel.

Business schools study Southwest for its human resources, corporate efficiency and customer service feats. “Hire for attitude and train from there” is their mantra as I remember it – and experience it.

Even as Southwest has acquired other airlines and added longer haul domestic and international flights, the company still seems to find enough “people people” to service its growth.

Permitting employees to be themselves while doing their jobs is risky business, but Southwest has reaped the rewards.

Rather than squeezing employees into proverbial corporate overhead bins, Southwest allows painting outside the lines – in a regulated industry trying to keep things inside the lines.

This paradox captures the brilliance of Southwest.

While post 9-11 rules and restrictions became more inane, mundane and insane, Southwest flight attendants turned them into fodder (while still getting required messages across, of course.) They simply followed in the footsteps of their irreverent founder, Herb Kelleher.

Southwest’s people people made flying tolerable. The worse the Transportation Safety Administration treated you (“Don’t touch my junk!”), the more you wanted to fall softly in the outspread wings of Southwest.

“If you’ll listen to these pre-flight instructions like it was your first time to hear them,” a flight attendant said on my recent flight, “I’ll pretend like it’s my first time to say them.”

“It’s time to stow all electronic devices,” she continued, “such as laptops, blenders and weed whackers.” The mental image cracked me up.

She wasn’t finished: “Please fasten your seatbelt like Beyonce wears her pants: tight and low on the hips.”

Even the pilot got in on the fun.

“The flight deck would like to welcome you to Flight 5602 with service to San Antonio and continuing service to New Orleans and Sydney, Australia.”

Sydney? Southwest does fly to Mexico and the Caribbean nowadays but not quite the South Pacific.

When we landed, the pilot accidentally welcomed us to our city of departure.

“I’m sorry, folks,” he said with a laugh. “It’s my second day on the job.” The line got plenty of laughs, mainly because we had already landed.

With booking and boarding systems so smooth, personnel so competent and prices so competitive, flyers tolerate Southwest’s general admission seating and crowded cabins relatively void of creature comforts.

Southwest’s mindset seems to be: The pompous class can pay up elsewhere for its assigned first class seat complete with personal flip down TV screen. They won’t get our jokes anyway.

A college friend has worked for Southwest since we graduated. She recalls the time the airline offered $29 fares to select regional cities. The promotion was advertised on Monday Night Football. First-time flyers came out of the woodwork. Their most popular form of luggage? Brown paper grocery sacks.

While Southwest is more than a common man’s airline – plenty of businesspeople refer to the airline as their “corporate jet” – you can bet the people people treated the football fans like kings.

Follow Kevin Thompson at http://www.kwt.info

To Marfa and beyond

The 60 Minutes segment made Marfa, Texas, sound like a peaceful coexistence of cowboys and artists. Lions and lambs lying down in blissful harmony under the million stars of Big Bend range country.

Marfa’s artistic vibes and geographic remoteness landed the west Texas town on our Memorial Day getaway plan.

“I wouldn’t fool with those hippies,” a young ranch hand said after leading us on a horseback trail ride through his family’s ranch in the Davis Mountains.

“If you like baseball, you should check out the minor league team in Alpine,” he suggested. “The stadium is really cool.”

Note taken, but Marfa is where I had booked two nights at the Thunderbird Hotel, the minimalist cousin of the hipster Hotel San Jose on South Congress in Austin.

When you pull into Marfa, you feel like you’re driving a teal 1960 Chevrolet going seventeen miles per hour. You don’t see much activity, but you sense there’s action in the woodworks.

The lavender-scented Thunderbird is a few blocks from the strip containing the historic El Paisano Hotel and the hap’nin’ Hotel Saint George. The stretch, shooting south from the Presidio County courthouse, also includes Stellina, our first night’s dinner destination.

A seven-minute cruiser bike ride past funky artist studios and auto repair shops put us at Stellina, self-described as Mediterranean home cooking. Yes, Mediterranean in Marfa.

“We’re having a food shortage in Marfa,” our server informed us before relating the menu dishes no longer available. Memorial Day tourists had taken their toll, but we still found sufficient fine sustenance for the next day’s art walk through Chinati Institute.

“Will you be coming back for the afternoon session?” our docent inquired after the morning tour. I was noncommittal. I wanted the Marfa arts experience but not at the expense of an afternoon nap.

Chinati is the brainchild of Donald Judd, a modern artist who in the late 1970s assembled funds to acquire a retired World War I-era Army installation in Marfa. The Missouri native spent time in Manhattan but found the west Texas landscape inspiringly unscathed.

Judd added a mile of concrete boxes to that landscape. To the untrained eye, they appear to be drainage culverts. To the trained eye, they appear to be drainage culverts.

He also filled two former artillery warehouses with a hundred precisely-finished aluminum boxes. Each box was four feet by four feet by eight feet. No two were the same. Angled, three-eighths of an inch slices of shiny metal differentiated the pieces.

While many iPhone-carrying, Airstream-sleeping, trust-funded artists have made their way to Marfa to express themselves, Judd gets credit for pioneering the movement.

For those needing a break from navel-gazing, fifty-five miles east of Marfa sits the historic Gage Hotel in Marathon, Texas. Refined Big Benders often overnight there before or after trips to the national park. We went for the hotel’s 12 Gage Restaurant.

From the ranch water cocktail to the elk and bison meatloaf, the meal was exquisite, meaning “really good.” On the drive back to Marfa, we stopped in Alpine for a few innings of the Cowboys’ game against the Roswell Invaders.

At Kokernot Field, built in 1948 as a bit of a Wrigley replica, fans pass the hat each time one of their boys knocks a home run. It was classic. Incentive compensation as pure as the west Texas air.

Follow Kevin Thompson at www.kwt.info.

Some words to live by

Several years ago, I was invited to speak to some graduating high school seniors. What follows is a synopsis of my advice. (Spoiler alert: I haven’t been invited back.)

You’ve been told you can do anything. You can’t; humans have limitations. Work your tail off discovering the few things you do well that you also enjoy. Master those.

Some academic degrees boast that they are so broad you can do anything with them. In reality, they are so general that you can’t do anything with them. Specialize.

Don’t stall out trying to find exactly the right school, major, job or mate. There are many right ways to maneuver through life and only a few wrong ones. Keep moving. Like a car, life’s easier to steer when you’re rolling.

Create more than you consume. People who create are more valuable to employers than people who don’t. In other words, you’ll get paid more.

Practice voice to voice and face to face communication. Consequential business will always happen through them.

Be present. Try leaving your phone in the car.

Build relationships with people in other age brackets. The world is changing; human nature is not. Older friends have wisdom that will help you navigate both.

Budget while you have a little, and it will be easier to budget when you have a lot. You’ll never have a lot unless you budget.

Time, not money or geography, is the limiting factor of our age. Treat it as your most valuable asset.

Don’t over-schedule. Notice the rhythms of the earth. An omniscient God created days, seasons and years. Fallible humans created hours, minutes and seconds.

Learn to say no. Responsible people will always be in demand. Don’t be afraid to forego an opportunity if it takes you off your focus.

The people you spend time with will help shape who you become. Choose wisely. Screen carefully.

The music you listen to will also help shape who you become. Don’t assume the “artist” on the other end has a good plan for your life.

When in doubt, end the relationship. If it’s meant to be, it will come back around – on your terms.

Immature people will want you to be responsible for them. Don’t give in. It will make you miserable. With mature people, give and forgive. It will make you happy.

Sex is not for entertainment. Don’t expect to give yourself physically to a slew of partners and get a committed, satisfying marriage in return.

Don’t worry about what people think about you. They aren’t thinking about you; they are mainly thinking about themselves.

You were born into a situation you did not choose. You are not responsible for that situation or what happened to you as a child. You are responsible for how you respond as an adult.

You are not alone, nor will you ever be. The One who made you loves you. Draw near to him and he will draw near to you.

In the end, your life will be judged by how you relate. To God, your family, your friends, your enemies, yourself. Relate well and you will live well.
Kevin Thompson can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

Another university tail wagging its dog

 

Stories of college students’ imposing their wills and views on administrations and faculties are running rampant. Often in the name of social justice or some other liberal term of art, student groups flex their muscles and find little resistance from adults in the room.

One more episode of a higher education tail wagging the dog came out of Texas last week. The setting for this most recent installment was the 9,200-student Texas Southern University, a historically black institution in Houston.

Texas Southern students co-opted the school’s spring commencement exercises when an invited speaker was perceived to have unappealing views on the Trump Administration, voter identification laws and so-called sanctuary cities.

The university’s core values of “inclusiveness” and “fairness” must only extend so far.

The invited speaker was the senior United States Senator from the second largest state in the nation, Texas. The three-term senator also serves as the second-in-command Majority Whip of the U.S. Senate. He is currently in the running to head the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

John Cornyn knows a thing or two about fairness. As a Texas Supreme Court Justice from 1990 – 1997 and as Texas Attorney General prior to being elected to the U.S. Senate, Cornyn decided and pleaded hundreds of cases based on the fair application of law.

Plus, the steady-as-a-rock lifelong public servant knows a thing or two about service, leadership and succeeding in life.

Nevertheless, in all their twenty-something years of wisdom, the Texas Southern students decided Mr. Cornyn offered them nothing of value: no word of advice, no tip for the future, not even a healthy exchange of opposing ideas.

Remarkably, the students pushed their administration to rescind Cornyn’s invitation. Noteworthy, the students left invitations to Democrat Congressmen Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green untouched.

As myopic as the students’ behavior was, the most tragic part of the story is this: there was no wise man or woman to hold the ground in the name of civil discourse or even historical significance.

“Every consideration is made to ensure that our students’ graduation day is a celebratory occasion and one they will remember positively for years to come,” the administration said in a statement.

In other words, students will receive their trophies in untainted homogeny.

Cornyn, a man of grace, graciously bowed out, though he must have wondered how many more collective forests we will miss in the face of stubborn ideological trees.

Contrast the Texas Southern story with that from another historically black university, Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Its president, Edison Jackson, invited United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to speak at the school’s spring graduation. He then defended her right to express her ideas in the face of student jeering and turned backs.

DeVos has devoted much of her life to helping inner city children escape the burning houses of failing urban schools. President Jackson appreciates her achievements even if many of his young graduates do not.

The regents of Texas Southern University should seek out a leader of Jackson’s stature if the school wants to be taken seriously as a crucible where groundbreaking ideas form.

Otherwise, it will flop in the winds of popular positions held by people long on passion but short on perspective.

 

Follow Kevin Thompson at www.kwt.info.


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