I Hope You Will Be Treated Unfairly

“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.

I wish you bad luck, again from time to time, so you will be conscious of the role of chance in life, and understand that your success is not completely deserved, and that the failure of others is not completely, deserved, either.

And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship.

I hope you will be ignored, so you know the importance of listening to others. And I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion.

Whether I wish these things or not, they are going to happen, and whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.”

These are the words of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, delivered this month at the commencement of Cardigan Mountain School.

They speak for themselves.

Avoiding Terror

I’ve never been the subject of a criminal investigation. But I know people who have been — who lived in fear of being prosecuted and imprisoned. In a few cases, their worst nightmares came to fruition: they had to serve time.

One thing I’ve observed: when you’re the target of a criminal investigation and live with the fear of going to prison and having your life turned completely upside down, it instills pure terror. Even men who normally walk with a swagger and play the role of the strongest chimpanzee in the jungle melt into a puddle of fear. Terror works that way.

You might think this is an odd point to make to one’s granddaughter. But I learned something else along the way: the terror that I reference has visited sons and daughters from good families. One never knows who might cross the line.

There’s a lot of pressure to cross the lines these days. I know people in the business world who have crossed more than one line. Some were discovered by law enforcement. Most weren’t.

The pressure to “succeed” in America is intense. And the fear of losing one’s job can be pretty intense, too. It causes people to do stupid stuff — stuff that could land them in jail.

So I no longer think the terror of criminal prosecution is restricted to those who live on “the other side of the track.” I’ve learned that the odds of the getting caught and prosecuted are greater over there, but I’ve also discovered there is more criminality on the “good side” of the tracks than most people imagine.

Personally, I think it’s foolish to cross the line, to subject oneself to possible prosecution. But many people don’t share my concern. Many people are willing to take a lot of risk. I’ve kept some of these people from being prosecuted and from going to jail. But I’ve also visited some of them in prison.

Recently, we learned that our president is under criminal investigation (or at least that’s what he says). Based on what I know about his actions, he has reason to be concerned. Whether his concern has blossomed into terror yet, I don’t know.

It’s obvious, though, that his life and well-being are being affected. Unfortunately, when our president is under the spotlight like this, all of our lives will be affected.

I have no idea how any of this will turn out. I’ve gotten people out of worse predicaments than the president seems to be in, but, of course, I don’t have all the facts. Some of those facts may be helpful. Some may be damning. In any case, the spotlight that’s shining on this matter is unlike any normal case. Bright lights have a way of exposing dark corners.

If I could advise Mr. Trump, I’d tell him several things. First, stop tweeting. Second, stop digging. Third, stop acting so damn guilty.

People who make stupid decisions often make the situation worse by digging the hole even deeper. The president has been digging a lot lately. He needs to stop.

One way people often dig their holes deeper is by lying. It’s rarely a successful strategy. Indeed, it’s often the very thing that ensures things will turn out poorly. The president needs to stop lying. Unfortunately, it may not be possible for this man to do that. Lying has become who he is. This, combined with a deep-rooted insecurity, is usually a recipe for disaster.

As I’m sitting here this morning, Vera, I can’t imagine you would ever do anything that could put you into legal jeopardy. That said, I’m sure many, many parents and grandparents of future felons thought the same thing.

It’s quite possible you may feel the pressure to do the wrong thing at some point in your life. You may feel your job is at stake. Or your financial survival. Whatever fear or pressure may be present, my hope is that you will be strong and courageous and take the high road. Never approach, let alone cross, the line. Do nothing that unfairly injures another person or institution. Never put yourself into a position similar to the one our president has created for himself.

Terror is real. Keep it at bay.

Walk

Looking back, I realize I didn’t walk enough. I should have walked more.

We chose our new house primarily because we can walk. To many things. Stores. Coffee shops and restaurants. The post office. Doctors and dentists’ offices. Barber. Parks. Farmers market. Entertainment venues. A trail that runs from downtown Indy far into the northern suburbs.

My goal is to use the car as little as possible. And to walk or ride my bike just about everywhere I go (locally).

For most of my life, I spent too much time in a car, especially commuting to work. What a waste of time. If I had to do it over, I’d live within walking distance of my work. Or biking distance. Or at least live where my commute was as short as practicable.

Walking is a healthy endeavor. Sitting in a car isn’t. Plus, it’s the time. I can’t imagine many worse ways of spending my time than sitting in traffic. Or spending an hour or two a day commuting. Or more (as many people do).

Do the math. It adds up. I wish I could have those hours back. I wish I’d spent them differently.

I walk more today than I have at any time in my life. Rarely a week goes by that we don’t take quite a few long walks or hikes. Or long bike rides. Usually, a day doesn’t go by without a walk or ride.

It’s possible because I have more control over my time at this point in my life. But it’s also because it’s something I want to do. And because I value my time more than I used to. And because it’s important if one is to age gracefully and try to forestall physical decline. And because outside is simply a more wonderful place to be.

I realize my body eventually will fail. And that it may shrivel up before succumbing. I’ll get shorter. And weaker. But I have no intention of cooperating. In fact, I plan on resisting. Walking is resistance.

There is a reason there are fewer obese people in Colorado than most places we’ve lived. People walk and hike more. And ride bikes. I suspect they have healthier diets, too. I plan on taking a bit of Colorado with me to Indiana.

One thing that concerned me about moving to Indiana is the way people back East hibernate in the winter. I don’t want to revert to that lifestyle. I can’t import Colorado’s sun to Indiana, but I can ensure I don’t hibernate.

If it requires spending some winter months in Florida or Arizona, so be it. Or some summer months in the Rockies.

Yesterday, we took three walks, Vera. You initiated one or two of them. That’s an encouraging sign. Keep it up. Don’t stop walking.

Cars aren’t inherently bad. They’re only bad when they’re overused. Try not to overuse yours, Vera.

Keep on truckin’.

Squandering Childhood

I feel lucky. During my childhood, I learned some important stuff. Hats off to my parents and teachers.

I used to take it for granted. No more. The last year has been enlightening.

The first wake-up call was in the college classes I was teaching. On one of the exams, the correct answer to a question was “June 30,” the last day of the second quarter. (The question concerned companies’ financial statements.)

Quite a few students answered “June 31.”

When going over the exam in the following class session, I discovered that quite a few students didn’t know which months have only 30 days. They never heard of the rhyme that has been taught to me when growing up. Or the knuckles method. I tried to impress on my students that there are some things they simply have to know — without resorting to their smart phones.

As I’m apt to do when a significant number of students don’t know something, I repeated the question, in different format and slightly different context, on the next exam. This time the correct answer was “September 30.” You guessed it: some students answered “September 31.” The rhyme and knuckles be damned.

This was a jaw dropping experience for me. But it wasn’t the last.

Recently, I accompanied my mother to the surgeon’s office to have some clamps and stitches removed. The doctor asked the nurse to schedule my mother for a follow-up appointment Labor Day week because he wasn’t going to schedule any surgeries that week. The nurse commented, making it clear she thought Labor Day was the last week of August.

It was an embarrassing moment. The look on the doctor’s face was priceless.

When my students and I were reviewing course material in preparation for the final exam, one of the students asked if they’d have to know how many days are in a particular month. Progress. Or not. It was clear some of them still didn’t know. And hadn’t been particularly bothered by their ignorance. Their concern was passing the exam. That’s it.

I like to think I have a great relationship with most of my students. Our classes are authentic and honest. Our classrooms are no-BS zones. I respect them. I don’t assign busy work. We have lots of two-way dialogue, and wrestle with important questions. But sometime I think I’m too tolerant, or that my humor is misinterpreted, sending the wrong message about what’s required to succeed.

Had I failed to impress upon them the importance of knowing things in my effort to foster critical thinking, analysis and problem solving? Had they mistaken humor for a license to skate?

This time I decided to take a blunt approach, since my previous softer tactics obviously had failed to achieve the desired results. So, in a kind tone, I told them this: “When you’re in the workforce, you’ll be expected to know certain things. If you were working for me and wrote or said something that revealed you didn’t know how many days are in the months of the year, I’d think you were stupid.”

I doubt it made a difference.

These kids aren’t stupid. But something was missing from their childhoods. I don’t blame them. I don’t blame anyone. It’s not a matter of blame. Indeed, it’s not my problem.

But it is a problem if you can spend 12 years in school and 18 years at home and not learn some basics. If you can make it to your 30s without recognizing obvious patterns (such as the fact Labor Day always falls on the first Monday of September), then it says something about awareness and priorities.

Similarly, from my time in higher ed it’s obvious many students don’t know basic athematic. I’m not talking about algebra. I’m talking about simple math.

I doubt this will be a problem for you, Vera, because you have parents who value learning and probably will have high expectations for you. I hope they’re not too high. I hope you don’t succumb to the achievement disease that afflicts so many. But I do hope you learn something. More importantly, I hope you have an insatiable appetite for learning. And are troubled by ignorance. And are curious.

As your grandfather, my goal will be to help you learn and experience new things. And to encourage you to question. And wonder.

I’ll do this not because I want you to be “smart” or “succeed” by getting the best grades or job, but because learning is key to living a fulfilling life. And it’s fun. And because the questions are so much more important than the answers.

I wish all kids were so lucky. I wish all of them had loving, capable parents and teachers who helped them learn how to navigate life. But not all do.

I wish we could learn how to change that.

Class Matters

Vera, I hope, when you grow up, you appreciate the importance of class. Here is a recent example of the lack of class:

President Donald Trump weighed firing his FBI director for more than a week. When he finally pulled the trigger Tuesday afternoon, he didn’t call James Comey. He sent his longtime private security guard to deliver the termination letter in a manila folder to FBI headquarters. (Politico)

It’s not surprising our president exhibited a total lack of class. That’s who he is. But if this is what he means by “making America great again,” I hope he fails. His America is an ugly place. And utterly devoid of class.

I’d like to say that being classless has negative consequences. But I’m not so sure anymore. After all, the man got elected president. Perhaps we’re simply becoming a society devoid of class. I hope not, but the jury is out.

In any case, you get to decide how to live your live. You have it within your power to take the high road. I’m confident you’ll be a better person than our president.

As for his decision to fire the top cop in the midst of an investigation that could implicate the president himself, what can I say? It’s reasonable to conclude this act constitutes an impeachable offense: obstruction of justice. Time will tell.

It’s hard to understand why the president wouldn’t be bothered by Russian interference in our election unless the president was indeed collaborating with the Russians or, at the very least, being complicit. Perhaps there is another explanation. Yet the president’s consistent efforts to prevent inquiry into the matter cannot help but raise suspicions about his motives.

But this post highlights yesterday’s classless act, not the broader issues. The man chose to fire a dedicated public servant by having a letter delivered to the F.B.I. director’s office when the director was out of town. I’d be livid if any of the managers at any company or institution I managed would have engaged in such conduct. What a cold and heartless — indeed, totally classless — act.

But we knew what kind of man he is. None of this comes as a surprise. Yet our nation decided he was fit to be our president.

You’ll soon be two years old. We have a lot of work to do if we are to leave the world in a better place by the time you come of age — by the time you have the right to vote.

But no matter whether we fail or succeed, remember: you choose how to live your life.

Naturally, I hope you make good choices. Conducting yourself with class would be one such choice.