Archive for April, 2008

We sat across from each other at dinner,

a worn fern bar table and four decades separating us.

She, the Millennial, full of youth, beauty, and promise.

Me, the Boomer, bone tired and beaten down,

neither attractive nor promising. Old certainly.

We spoke of many things, conversation flowing effortlessly, honestly.

She crackles with energy that, harnessed, could power

the mid-Atlantic states.

I absorb it, refreshed to be in such a presence.

She converses in Millennial speech with words like

“sustaining”, “color blind”, “fairness”, and “community”.

I nod knowingly, but feel the weight of my generation’s sins

of omission and commission.

The Millennial does not condemn, for she is far too busy

planning great things to assess blame.

I am thankful for that.

We did our best. We had no more of a guidebook

than she will have.

I am fascinated as she texts friends while talking life strategy

and answers straight-up questions

with “yes” or “no”, never saying “absolutely”.

She speaks of concepts beyond her years.

She seems an old soul in a nymph’s body,

not yet scarred, bent, and made resentful.

I want so much to say, “here is the way; follow this plan

and learn from my pain. Stay this course

and avoid the traps that will make you regret in the night.”

But even as I wish for her a path straight and simple,

pain free and full of safe goodness,

I would no more impose on her that free pass than I would send her

purposely down a dark road.

No, my best for her is to give counsel if asked

and let her chart her own way to self-actualization.

She must face life in full force to be tested and tempered

and earn tensile strength of mind and spirit.

Better to compete in the arena on her own than take

shelter from broken sages, wise though they may be.

To my delight, she does ask counsel.

She shares ideas, and she asks that I give in equal measure.

Rather, she expects it.

I look with great affection at this strange and wonderful creature who is

without guile or meanness, who is at once naive and worldly-wise

and seeks to fight the good fight for the planet’s ecosystem

and the advancement of community.

She seeks nothing less than true equality, peace, justice, and

a light human footstep on Planet Earth.

I yield to her radiant spirit.

Trapped in my generation’s DNA, I embrace the changing of the guard,

knowing that on her watch, wrongs will be righted.

She will peel away the injustice and inequity

that clogs the arteries of previous generations.

She will, as Faulkner said, not merely endure, but prevail.



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Have you kept up with the seemingly ever-changing TV rating codes? Long ago it was simple enough. An X rating meant it was nasty stuff for a variety of reasons. An R rating meant it was racy, but not in a NASCAR sort of way. Everything else was pretty tame.

We are more sophisticated now. The ever-helpful TV industry provides parental guidelines as a public service. Now we have Y, designated for all children; Y7, designated for children 7 and above; G, general audiences of all ages; PG, parental guidance suggested; 14, parents strongly cautioned; and MA, which means unsuitable for children under 17.

Under 17? Yeah, right. As if they don’t know what’s going on.

There are also extremely helpful subratings. There is V for violence; S for sexual situations or activity; L for coarse language; D for suggestive dialogue; and FV for fantasy violence.

I remember the first time I tuned in a program and noticed the new ratings. I think it was an early episode of Nip/Tuck. Before the show starts, you get this black and white warning with a voice over saying, “The following program contains stuff that will damn near offend most anyone. Parental guidance is advised, which means, you aging Baby Boomers will probably need your Millennial kids to watch this with you to explain what’s going on.”

Later, this was added: “The following program is rated MS-LSV. It is intended for mature audiences only.”

The first time I heard that one, I thought to myself, “Heck, I’m a Boomer, and I even know what ‘mature audiences only’ means.” That would be me.

But MS-LSV? Let’s see: Does AARP offer a guidebook on this? I think not. But since I am a highly educated and erudite college professor, I figured the MS meant “Me, see this?!?  The L must be for Levitra, and V of course is for Viagra. That’s probably because the S doubtless means sex. Got it. Start the show.

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It’s tax time in America. This great American season makes grown men cry, competent women tremble, and young people new to the process long for the innocence of childhood.

But it has its ironies. Two illustrations:

1. A firm is advertising its help with investing in the stock market. The last name of one of its counselors is Panic.

2. Paying bills today, I came to the invoice from my CPA firm for preparing my 2007 tax returns. I wrote the check, then recorded it in my checkbook register. The balance after writing the tax prep check was, get this, exactly $1099. Too funny.

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In a previous post about financial management, I said, “I believe the purpose of college is to prepare students for careers that will enable them to be independent, productive members of society capable of managing all aspects of their lives.” I stand by that. Ah, make that, I sit by that (think about it).

My specific responsibility at Towson is to teach Mass Communication subjects in the PR Track — PR writing, strategic and integrated communication/PR planning and management, principles of PR, and PR for nonprofits. But I am doing enough?

Every class I teach includes at least some reference to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This is usually part of teaching students to analyze publics and their motivations to set the stage for persuasion. At the top of that hierarchy is self-actualization. My favorite author Marsha Sinetar says that simply means growing whole. Am I helping students to become whole? Is that part of my responsibility?

Perhaps it is not directly my responsibility, but I want to help students become whole, to become self-actualized people equipped to deal with life successfully. College years are a time of discovery, a time to learn and explore options. It is a time for students to learn to do something that will support them and allow them to be productive, responsible, independent citizens.

Ultimately, I believe that college provides the framework for students to find their right livelihood.

College years are filled with decision-making opportunities. I firmly believe that growing up means learning to make wise choices. That’s a tough one. Which career path should I follow? What do I really want to do? What do I really want out of life? Setting career goals and making wise choices that will get you there is the real beauty — and terror — of college.

Sinetar says that every time we consciously choose something, however insignificant it might seem, in line with what we feel is highest and best in ourselves, we support our true life goals.

Students are saying: “So, professor dude, like where’s the wikipedia info to show us like how to do this?”

News flash: You already have all the guidance you need. It is inside you.

First, you have to examine your inner programming to determine what tapes are playing on a continuous loop in your brain. Are you genuinely pursuing your own path or one that has been programmed for you. This can be as simple as gender-specific roles that society programs us to adopt. Men do certain jobs and women do certain jobs. Period. End of story.  Is such programming interfering with your pursuing a desired career path? If so, erase the tapes.

Next, consider what you want out of life. While it takes a certain income level to be above the poverty line, how much money is enough? Is money that important to you? If so, then you must consider what career path will lead you to the riches you desire. 

Pursuing the big bucks means some serious sacrifice. The people I’ve worked with who made the most money worked the longest hours and had the most difficult assignments. Their relationships and their health suffered because of it. Everything is a trade off — if being rich is your goal, then you can do it, but be prepared for the personal cost it demands.

I firmly believe that you can have a meaningful career that allows for your personal growth and make enough money to be comfortable, too.

It gets back to choices. Choose to know who you are and what you want to be. Then, study what career options are open to you that will allow you to travel the road to self-actualization, to wholeness. There are many paths to wholeness, but only you can choose which is right for you.

Remember, it is not so much what you do, but who you are, that matters.

A Zen proverb says, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” This has always proven to be true in my life. I have lived three times longer than my average-age student. One advantage I have over my students is I have been my age and their age, too.

My advice to students is to trust this proverb. When you are ready, the teacher you need will appear, or on the job, the mentor you need will find you. But you have to trust this to make it work. You have to believe.

So much in life is based on the choices we make and what we believe. Know yourself, believe in yourself, and make wise choices that affirm who you are and what you want to be. Do this, and you WILL live successfully.



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“In responsibility both obedience and freedom are realized. Responsibility implies tension between obedience and freedom. There would be no more responsibility if either were made independent of the other.”

Dietrich Bonhoffer, “Freedom,” in Ethics

There comes a time when we have to adopt an ethical code to govern our lives. To live a professional life, as college prepares us for, is to learn responsibility. To live a responsible life is to live an ethical life. No matter what we do in life, no matter what our ultimate profession, an underpinning of ethics is necessary to be responsible.

Teachers are especially grounded in ethics. Education programs include healthy doses of ethics as part of the training.

Better communication/public relations programs include ethics as well. Towson’s PR Track includes a strong course in ethics. But beyond that one course, ethics is a subject taught in every one of my classes. In this time of heightened scrutiny of organizations due to such highly-publicized situations as the Enron and Worldcom scandals, to name just two, an ethical underpinning is critical to organizational success. No organization can have good PR in the absence of ethical business practice.

Where does it start? Where does an ethical perspective come from? Simply enough, I think the old saying, “if it is to be, then it begins with me,” fits nicely here. The college years are a great time for a future communication/PR practitioner or educator to form a personal ethical code.

John Dalla Costa said “to be ethical is first and foremost a choice.” Once this choice is made, a communicator/PR practitioner who chooses to practice ethically can look to IABC and PRSA for codes of ethics that will provide detailed guidance.

The same is true for educators. Codes of ethics are readily available from a variety of sources, including school boards. As a member of Kappa Delta Pi, the international honor society for education, I have a network of top educators for advice and counsel plus many professional development opportunities.

But while there is a wealth of external guidance for ethics, I believe that adopting a personal code begins with an examination of who we are and what we believe. Much of this — if not all — is shaped by our own life experiences. Sometimes we must overcome early programming to behave ethically as adults. This requires reflection and self-examination. To practice ethically as a communication/PR professional or an educator, we must understand our own motivations and predispositions in order to challenge them if they interfere with our being able to act ethically.

Growing up is hard work, no matter what age we are. After much reflection, the underpinning of my own ethical code is simply this: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

To me, the Golden Rule is the golden key to living successfully, fully, and ethically.


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Continuing the theme of financial management, I heard something interesting today listening to Ric Edelman’s (see previous post) radio show. Banks that make car loans have a bold new way of dealing with customers who miss payments.  When a loan is made, banks have a device installed on the car that it can activate and render the auto unable to start when a loan customer misses a payment. The message? Stay current on loan payments or sit at home.

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