Role Models

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Caroll Spinney, who portrayed Big Bird on Sesame Street for decades, died late last year. But the lessons he shared on “Sesame Street” live on.

While many look to political figures, actors, rock stars and others for advice, Big Bird offers some great life lessons. Here is how an article about the Sesame Street star begins:

Who among us didn’t learn something from Caroll Spinney’s Big Bird over the years? Spinney, who for decades brought the Gentle Giant to life (and also Oscar the Grouch), died, but the lessons he shared live on with the millions of people who grew up watching “Sesame Street.”

Beyond alphabet recitals and numerical countdowns, everybody’s favorite feathered friend had valuable things to say to both children and grown-ups about the value of cooperation and the best ways to navigate complex emotions. Life can be tough, he told us, but it’s going to be all right. Here are a few of the tricky topics Big Bird broke down for viewers young and old.

  • Self-Confidence
  • Healthy Eating
  • Breastfeeding
  • Understanding Disability
  • Gaslighting
  • Competition
  • Dealing with Disaster
  • Fear
  • Death

Want more? You can read these nine ways here

Social Animals

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While some may feel that they have world-class social skills, for most of us, we readily admit we can always use a bit of help sharpening our skills in dealing with others.

That is why I was drawn to a recent piece in the New York Times entitled: “An Adult’s Guide to Social Skills, for Those Who Were Never Taught.” Here is how it begins:

Unlike topics like math or science, social skills are more of a “learn on the job” kind of skill. When you’re a child, you can learn how to manage conflict, make friends and navigate groups by doing it. But not everyone learns the same lessons the same way. Sometimes, they take a whole lifetime to refine, and many of us never master them.

Learning social skills can be difficult if you weren’t exposed to traditional group dynamics as a child, if you struggle with a mental illness like anxiety or depression, or even if you just didn’t have a lot of positive role models when you were growing up. Young people tend to learn how to manage their own emotions, recognize those of other people and manage them both effectively by socializing. If these weren’t skills you developed growing up, don’t worry. You’re not alone.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

Roll With It

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While we mostly all do our best to remain healthy and deal with change, sometimes things overwhelm us.

That is why I was drawn to Jane Brody’s recent piece: When Life Throws You Curveballs, Embrace the ‘New Normal.’ Here is how she begins:

Just when I needed it most, I learned a valuable life lesson from Lynda Wolters, who has a cancer that is currently incurable, diagnosed just after her 49th birthday. As an Idaho farm girl used to hard work, Ms. Wolters led a healthy life, enjoying ballroom dancing, horseback riding, rafting and hiking when not at work at a law firm. Then, as she wrote in her recently published book, “Voices of Cancer”:

“Everything changes with cancer — everything. Life will never be the same again, even on the smallest of levels, something will be forever different. There is no going back to who you once were, so embrace it and grow from it and with it. Find the new you in your new space and make it wonderful.”

I’ve long been a stubbornly independent do-it-yourself person who rails against any infirmity that gets in the way of my usual activities. For jobs I think I should be able to do myself, I typically resist asking for help. But in reading this book, I finally understand the importance of accepting and adjusting to a “new normal” now that my aging, arthritic body rebels against activities I once did with ease. Like sweeping and bagging the leaves around my house, tending my garden, preparing a meal for company, hosting house guests, walking several miles, even visiting a museum for more than an hour.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

A World Without Work

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Full disclosure, I work at a U.S. government laboratory where we deal with high technology every day. I am enthralled by what technology can do to make the world a better place.

But I am also mindful of the dangers technology can pose and especially of the public’s fear of new technology, especially when it comes to taking our jobs.

That is why I was drawn to a recent book review ofA WORLD WITHOUT WORK
Technology, Automation, and How We Should Respond.” Here is how it begins:

Fearing that a newfangled technology would put them out of work, neighbors broke into the house of James Hargreaves, the inventor of the spinning jenny, and destroyed the machine and also his furniture in 18th-century England. Queen Elizabeth I denied an English priest a patent for an invention that knitted wool, arguing that it would turn her subjects into unemployed beggars. A city council dictated that Anton Möller, who invented the ribbon loom in the 16th century, should be strangled for his efforts.

But centuries of predictions that machines would put humans out of work for good — a scenario that economists call “technological unemployment” — have always turned out to be wrong. Technology eliminated some jobs, but new work arose, and it was often less grueling or dangerous than the old. Machines may have replaced weavers, but yesterday’s would-be weavers are now working jobs their forefathers couldn’t have imagined, as marketing managers and computer programmers and fashion designers. Over the past few centuries, technology has helped human workers become more productive than ever, ushering in unprecedented economic prosperity and raising living standards. The American economy, for instance, grew 15,241-fold between 1700 and 2000.

 

Want more? You can read the full article here

What Makes Someone “The Best”

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With the Australian Open in full swing this week, even with the dreadful fires that are sweeping the continent, much of the attention is on young phenom such as Coco Gauff.

But this year, at the Australian Open, as well as at tennis’ three other “majors” (French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open) there is much attention on the men’s side.

Three players are vying for the title of “world’s greatest” tennis player. The unit of measure in this chase is number of majors won.

Roger Federer is the current leader, but other, younger players are catching up.

Full disclosure, I am a Federer fan. That’s why I was struck by a recent piece, “Roger Federer Will Always Be the Greatest (Even if He’s Not).”

Here is a short excerpt that likely tells you everything you need to know about Roger:

“But there are certain things that the numbers can’t convey. They won’t show that Federer played tennis more beautifully than it has ever been played, or that during his career he was the world’s most adored athlete, revered for the elegance of his game and his graciousness on and off the court. Without intending to downplay the significance of wins and losses and Grand Slam titles, those aspects of his legacy will ultimately matter more and prove to be more enduring.”

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

Living Smarter

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I often think that if I read all of Tim Herrera’s “Smarter Living” articles in the New York Times and did only half the things he suggested, I’d live to be 100 and be the happiest human on earth.

He hit it out of the park with his most recent missive 9 Delightful Tips for Living a Smarter Life in 2020. He emphasizes that these are all SMALL things that have IMPACTS. Here’s how he begins:

Readers of the Smarter Living newsletter know that its third section is quietly one of the best resources for small ideas that can have a huge impact.

Each week, I invite some of my favorite writers to give easy-to-do tips on everything from getting in your daily veggies to knowing whether you should mix business and friendship.

Below are the nine tips that completely blew my mind this year. Some are so obvious you’ll kick yourself for not already doing them, and others are so weird you just have to try them.

Want to see what these are? You can read the rest of the piece here

Are Things Getting Better…Or?

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The turning of the year is a time when most of us pause to reflect. For many, part of that assessment is wondering whether our world is getting better or worse.

There are many reasons for feeling that we are moving in the wrong direction: war, climate change, homelessness and other issues. The list of bad things is often overwhelming.

That is why, every year, I am uplifted by Nicholas Kristof’s article assessing the year. Here is how he begins:

If you’re depressed by the state of the world, let me toss out an idea: In the long arc of human history, 2019 has been the best year ever.

The bad things that you fret about are true. But it’s also true that since modern humans emerged about 200,000 years ago, 2019 was probably the year in which children were least likely to die, adults were least likely to be illiterate and people were least likely to suffer excruciating and disfiguring diseases.

Every single day in recent years, another 325,000 people got their first access to electricity. Each day, more than 200,000 got piped water for the first time. And some 650,000 went online for the first time, every single day.

Perhaps the greatest calamity for anyone is to lose a child. That used to be common: Historically, almost half of all humans died in childhood. As recently as 1950, 27 percent of all children still died by age 15. Now that figure has dropped to about 4 percent.

“If you were given the opportunity to choose the time you were born in, it’d be pretty risky to choose a time in any of the thousands of generations in the past,” noted Max Roser, an Oxford University economist who runs the Our World in Data website. “Almost everyone lived in poverty, hunger was widespread and famines common.”

But … but … but President Trump! But climate change! War in Yemen! Starvation in Venezuela! Risk of nuclear war with North Korea. …

All those are important concerns, and that’s why I write about them regularly. Yet I fear that the news media and the humanitarian world focus so relentlessly on the bad news that we leave the public believing that every trend is going in the wrong direction. A majority of Americans say in polls that the share of the world population living in poverty is increasing — yet one of the trends of the last 50 years has been a huge reduction in global poverty.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

Tech Idols?

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Who do we look up to? Movie stars? Maybe? Sports figures? Sure?

But when we think about it, those people seen different, not like us, possessing special skills.

How about technology industry leaders? Aren’t they just average Joes who were tinkering around in their garages and got lucky?

We can identify with them, so we tend to make them, so we make them our idols.

But that is changing. That’s why I was drawn to a piece, “Twilight of the Tech Idols.” Here is how it begins:

The banking industry, which has consistently been one of the wealthiest industries for the last few centuries, has very few leaders one would call “heroes” or “idols.” Most of them are part of a group of men who fought and finessed their way to the top by being good at corporate politics and managing other bankers.

Silicon Valley, in stark contrast, was built on the myth of the visionary heroic geek. A succession of Tech Heroes — from Steve Jobs at Apple and Bill Gates at Microsoft through Larry Page and Sergey Brin at Google to Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook — embodied the American dream. They were regular guys and middle-class youngsters (several of them from immigrant families), whose new technology changed the world and made them extremely wealthy.

The Tech Heroes also made for fabulous media stories. As their businesses grew, they got breathless press coverage as they promised to “disrupt” one industry or another. It nearly got to the point where if a Google founder sneezed, an article could quickly follow: “Will Google Reinvent the Sneeze?” Critics warned of troubles and monopolies ahead, but their voices were outnumbered and drowned out by the cheerleaders.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

Capitalism = Good?

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Many people are conflicted regarding capitalism. We associate the word with “big business.” And while most agree that capitalism has delivered many benefits, sparking world-changing events such as the industrial and computer revolutions, capitalism’s dark side – a single-minded focus on increasing shareholder value – is increasingly revealed in the media.

That’s why it was so refreshing to read a proposal for a “New Capitalism” by Marc Benioff, Chairman of Salesforce, one of the world’s leading tech companies. Here’s how he began:

Capitalism, I acknowledge, has been good to me.

Over the past 20 years, the company that I co-founded, Salesforce, has generated billions in profits and made me a very wealthy person. I have been fortunate to live a life beyond the wildest imaginations of my great-grandfather, who immigrated to San Francisco from Kiev in the late 1800s.

Yet, as a capitalist, I believe it’s time to say out loud what we all know to be true: Capitalism, as we know it, is dead.

Yes, free markets — and societies that cherish scientific research and innovation — have pioneered new industries, discovered cures that have saved millions from disease and unleashed prosperity that has lifted billions of people out of poverty. On a personal level, the success that I’ve achieved has allowed me to embrace philanthropy and invest in improving local public schools and reducing homelessness in the San Francisco Bay Area, advancing children’s health care and protecting our oceans.

But capitalism as it has been practiced in recent decades — with its obsession on maximizing profits for shareholders — has also led to horrifying inequality. Globally, the 26 richest people in the world now have as much wealth as the poorest 3.8 billion people, and the relentless spewing of carbon emissions is pushing the planet toward catastrophic climate change. In the United States, income inequality has reached its highest level in at least 50 years, with the top 0.1 percent — people like me — owning roughly 20 percent of the wealth while many Americans cannot afford to pay for a $400 emergency. It’s no wonder that support for capitalism has dropped, especially among young people.

To my fellow business leaders and billionaires, I say that we can no longer wash our hands of our responsibility for what people do with our products. Yes, profits are important, but so is society. And if our quest for greater profits leaves our world worse off than before, all we will have taught our children is the power of greed.

It’s time for a new capitalism — a more fair, equal and sustainable capitalism that actually works for everyone and where businesses, including tech companies, don’t just take from society but truly give back and have a positive impact.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

Rich…Pity?

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If the college admissions scandal has done anything, it has reminded us that there are two Americas that of the richest of the rich – and the rest of us.

The extent to which the super-rich have gone to get their offspring admitted to the most prestigious universities is, indeed, mind-boggling.

That’s why I was drawn to Richard Reeves op-ed, “Now the Rich Want Your Pity Too.” The author explains how the rich can’t stop at being rich, they need to work hard to be the richest, camp out to be at the front of the line to get their kids into the premier nursery school, and cheat to get them into the best colleges.

And then they complain that they have to work hellish hours to do all this “goodness.” Reeves has some suggestions – for all of us:

I have some better — and cheaper — ideas to improve the lives of the rich. If you are spending thousands of dollars and thousands of hours cultivating your children to get them into the most selective institutions: Just stop. Your kids will be just fine attending a good public university. And everyone’s life will be more relaxed in the meantime.

If you are a professional working yourself sick in order to make a big salary: Just stop. Nobody is forcing you to work such long hours. Maybe you will only be rich, as opposed to superrich. But you’ll be O.K.

If you are a homeowner with a huge mortgage that you took on in order to live in the very best neighborhood: Just stop. There is no law that says you have to live in the most expensive ZIP code you can afford.

Because, you see, nobody is making you do these stressful, expensive things. It is not a trap. It is a choice. If you don’t want to be stressed out, stop making decisions that will stress you out. It is probably true that rich Americans are making decisions about their lives and their children’s lives that are resulting in more stress and more spending — and so more stress. But it is also true that they could be making different choices. They are not powerless.

Want more? You can read the full article here