If You’re Going to Ask Kids to Advocate for Themselves, Teach Them to Do It Right!


So I have recently transitioned back into teaching middle school from high school. Not just any high school, but a night high school. I miss it because the kids there stole my heart, but the hours, and my soon-to-be-middle-school-aged daughter led up to the decision.

Culture shock, to be certain, but the most difficult adjustment was being addressed the way these middle schoolers have addressed me via email. As I say in my seminars, “Little screens make for big nerve”; it’s always easy to be brave behind a tiny screen. But each time I read a snotty-toned “You made a mistake and I’d appreciate it if you changed my grade” (Yes, this happened more than once and the semester isn’t over.), I was taken aback. Who, exactly, did they think they were addressing? I’m not their friend, not their parent, and certainly NOT some subservient being. It occurred to me that, in the name of “advocating for yourself”, these kids were never taught how to do so properly.

Fortunately, I have a few tips.

Let’s start with cutting down on the paragraph-long, rambling  explanation. That only leads to digging up every perceived slight. A simple, “May I come in and talk to you about my grade?” is more than sufficient.When it is convenient for the teacher, of course. (I can’t tell you how often a student will enter my room and stand there, waiting for me to stop class to deal with their problem immediately. Ironically, this happens very close to the end of the grading period. Every. Time.)

Advocating for one’s self does not include making accusations, nor does it include demands. A teacher -even in the age of the popular sport of teacher-bashing- still holds a place of authority, and addressing them with just a hint of reverence will get a student a lot farther than proclaiming that the teacher must drop everything and take care of this problem NOW. Remember that old adage, “You catch a lot more flies with honey than with vinegar”? It still holds true. If you’re a quantum physics type, the energy you put out is exactly what you’re going to get back.

The second point would be to spellcheck. Please. Especially when addressing a proud Grammar Policewoman like myself. It is very difficult to even WANT to help a student who is not practicing a grammar rule we discussed that very day in class.

Third, and finally, continue to use correct formatting when writing to a teacher. Yes, yes, email has become quite casual, usually dropping the initial formalities after the first note, but when a teacher’s weekly assignments include proper friendly letter format, at least demonstrate that some of that sunk in and don’t drop the salutations until Spring.

To be perfectly frank, I NEVER had this problem with my night high school kids. As rough as some of them were, they knew the teachers were there for them, modeling what depending on your own self looked like. They took these life-lessons to heart, and they were the most grateful students I have ever had. I see some glimmers of this in these middle grades, so I assure you not all hope is lost.

Communication is key, but written communication is the sticking point as people rarely do it well anymore. Avoid a future social faux pas between your child and their teacher, and teach them early on how to appropriately address an adult in their lives. Teach your children well. Isn’t that a song?

Cable Celibacy (Originally published 2007)


My daughter stared blankly at the young woman.

“You know, the Cheetah Girls!” the teen enthused, doing a shimmy as if that would jog my three-year-old’s memory.

“Uhm, she really doesn’t,” I said, compelled to step in and explain. “My daughter is only three, and she lives in a cable-free home.”

“Oh!” the girl exclaimed. I could see that I might as well have just announced I was growing a third arm as she registered a home without cable. “Well, what about Radio Disney? The Cheetah Girls are played about every second song.”

“No, again. Sorry,” I said, and I meant it as her efforts were truly valiant as she tried to engage my preschooler.

My husband went through the Radio Disney goodie bag we were given on the way home from the Outlets at Castle Rock. “You would not believe what’s in here,” he said.

“I’m sure I don’t want to know,” I replied. “This is one of those moments when our $13 a month basic cable deal is perfect, isn’t it.”

I guess I should have said “almost cable-free”. Long before we had a child, my husband and I agreed basic cable was the way to go. We reasoned that it was better to pay for fifteen channels of nothing versus 500. But tell that to someone (the basic package is not really considered cable), and you get the same kind of reaction I got from the Radio Disney rep.

My daughter watches a few shows on public television, and videos, and that’s about it. One time she attended a child’s birthday party with a Dora the Explorer theme, and I had to try to explain who the backpack-toting cartoon was. Not that this is a bad thing. On the contrary, we can walk by toy aisles at the store without her clamoring for a character she recognizes.

The less TV, the better. For any age group. I’ve done plenty of research on this, even B.C., Before Child. Mostly, it was a means to explain some of the things happening in my eighth grade classrooms. Now I know the evidence of the research can help to explain a lot of people’s negative frames of mind.

I’m certain it was no different when I was a teen, but retrospectively, the stuff we watched was downright wholesome. I can recall when MTV actually showed music videos. I’m under the impression that they don’t any longer; that MTV is now one horridly rehearsed “reality show” after another. Have you ever tuned in to “Next”? It’s almost painful to watch the supposed “daters” stumble over their lines.

Sunday’s paper arrived with the front-page story “Time shrinks between tots and teens”. MSN versed the same information as “10 is the new 15”. Yikes. Kids are growing up faster and faster, this I know, but I can’t possibly be the only one who makes the connection between this fact and the influence of TV.

In 2001 I recorded a Frontline show called “Merchants of Cool”. It was about the “Cool hunters” (there really is such a job) who search malls and high schools for the latest trends, sell the information to the corporate world, and then the advertisers sell it right back to the teens to whom they market their products. Trends are perpetuated for far longer than the former average of five years as a result of this cycle.

Because I was so appalled by what I saw, I offered to stay after school and show it to students and their parents. Invitations went home with all 130 students, and by that night there were ten attendees. I watched one student shrink in his chair as his father grasped what was on the notorious Spring Break episodes of MTV. The parents had no idea this kind of stuff was what was being broadcasted. Since then, I have used this show for the purpose of helping kids to open their eyes, hopefully, to what is being marketed to them.

Which brings me back to the Cheetah Girls. Ironically, in the same Sunday paper, in the USA Weekend section, there they were. I’m pretty sure that like the Monkees, the “band” was born for the movie first. They were described as “A multi-ethnic quartet of New York City teens who juggle friendship with their quest for ‘international superstardom.'” Oh. Well, nothing like humility there, huh? Judging from the picture, humility isn’t a factor as two of them have their chests pushed out as far as physically possible.

Lou Pearlman of Trans Continental Records, famed for the Backstreet Boys, stated in the second movie (Good Grief, there was one before this one.), the Cheetah Girls make the issues they face a “girlfriend thing.” I can’t say I EVER saw one of my girlfriends stand like that, or even use the word “superstar” without laughing.

Obviously, I determined that my daughter wasn’t missing out on anything. The entire goodie bag and its contents went directly to the trash.

The reason we were at the mall in the first place was because they were participating a book drive for Reach Out and Read Colorado. Cable clearly has the upper hand on maintaining a captive audience; to my dismay, my family’s books were the only books in the collection bin.

2015 update: We do now have cable, but have quickly discovered that we purchased 900 channels of nothing. We are simply not as glued to the TV as most (I hardly understand the term “binge-watching”), and watching the same seven channels of the 900 is hardly worth it.

Got Customer Service? Get it Yourself! (Originally published 2007)


Customer service is not dead. Taking its last gasping breaths, yes, but, as Monty Python would put it, “not quite dead.” I recently made an on-line purchase and discovered in the shipping confirmation that there was an address error. Naturally, the first live person I managed to contact assumed I had done something wrong when typing in my address. Probably – I’m not the most tech-savvy person. However, years ago no customer service person would dare suggest such a thing to a money-wielding shopper.

It used to be those in retail lived by the motto “The customer is always right.” Having been on the other side of the counter a few times, I know for a fact this isn’t true. Regardless, living by that rule made things much more pleasant.

Common courtesy and etiquette rules have mostly gone out the window when it comes to relations between customer and cashier. Or customer service representative, hospitality host, or whatever the politically correct term-du-jour may be.

I have witnessed my share of shoddy customer relations and know that it’s a direct reflection of our times. There’s a vicious cycle working over the counter of the cashier thinking the customer isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, and vice-versa. I’m sure it may have always been this way, since the first caveman passed a few shells over the boulder for some flint, but what’s apparent now is that there’s no hesitation in expressing these feelings on either part.

I recently got my engagement ring back from a jeweler repairing a chip in the stone. It took almost nine weeks. Repeated phone calls for a progress report went unanswered week after week, and when I did get someone, it was always someone else’s fault: the gem-cutter’s. I was as nice as could be for as long as could be, but this was my engagement ring here, not some bauble I wouldn’t miss for over two months.

When I finally got to pick up my ring, the apologies were mumbled and paltry. Absolutely no effort was made to keep me as a customer. Clearly, they couldn’t care less if I ever returned. I had become “That” customer and I knew it, but their lack of attentiveness forced me into that role.

Believe me, I am not so naive as to think there aren’t just some plain nasty, self-righteous consumers out there. I’ve seen them. But I do know that a lot of people truly miss good customer service. These are the people who will sometimes shop high-end stores they can’t really afford just to get that level of service.

It has become apparent that some in the retail business don’t even know how to offer good service. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve waited for items to be bagged while the employees are loudly discussing when their next break is, or what they did last night. I usually try to keep my head down and get out as fast as possible because a) I don’t like feeling like I’m inconveniencing anyone, and b) some of the things I’ve heard sound pretty close to illegal.

I’ve had one customer agent simply tilt a phone away from her mouth and glare at me while I waited for her to finish her personal call so I could ask a question. Rather than get into it with her, I took it up with her management. They needed to know that this was unacceptable, and she was more likely to listen to them than me. If we, as consumers, continue to put up with this type of behavior, nothing will ever change.

So the bright spot in this commentary is that I did have a good customer service experience recently. Back to the on-line purchase I made, I contacted a real person who made the corrections for me, catching the package before it ended up in a postal black hole. I thanked him profusely, telling him I had just about given up on customer service. He vowed to “single-handedly restore the concept”. He may very well have to. I hope his management took notice, and that a number of other folks out there are also listening.

Valentine Proposal? Wedding Advice and Etiquette Like You’ve NEVER Heard Before!


Tomorrow is the big day! A day of love and chocolate, or a day some ruefully call “Single Awareness Day”. It’s a day where many couples decide to make it official and get engaged to be married, and that is what I’d prefer to concentrate on today.

I had a recent opportunity to interview with Holly Collins of Adventures in Dance of Littleton, CO, about this impending process of proposal and marriage. She keeps a video blog, and asked me in to discuss a few things couples should know before the big “W-Day” arrived. Even as I awaited the taping, a frantic bride-to-be called to get in some dance lessons before her wedding.

Collins sighed, “They think they can just come in and learn a few steps, and be good to go. It’s not like that – it takes weeks to really learn how to MOVE together.” I had to chuckle inside as I married long before putting on a rehearsed dance routine at the reception was the norm for couples and bridal parties.

To start, Collins asked me what mistake I see couples making. I responded that couples sweat the small stuff, things like chair covers as opposed to the person in them, and that this is not where the focus should be. I think I surprised her when I said the biggest mistake is NOT going to marriage counseling beforehand. The focus falls on the party as opposed to answering the questions about the marriage. You see a WEDDING and a MARRIAGE are two completely different things.

She asked what couples tend to forget when planning a wedding, to which I said EXPENSE! A destination wedding is wonderfully romantic, as taught to us by “reality” (I used that term loosely) shows, but why would you want to do that to a guest’s wallet? Or for that matter, why start off your relationship in debt that can be avoided? The logic seems to be to combine the wedding and the honeymoon, but there are myriad other expenses that do not get factored in here. If nothing else, ask yourself if you can really count on airline travel these days. Yeah, I thought not.

The next question was about wedding etiquette, to which I categorized etiquette for the bride and groom AND for guests. For the couple, send out your invites at the very least six weeks before the big day. A “save the date” card earlier in the year is even better if you want a good turnout. For the guests, get there on time! These things never start on time because they are waiting for YOU to get seated! Also, get in those RSVPs in a timely manner! Unexpected guests throw off what is already a very delicate balance. And for EVERYONE, leave your “baggage” at home. This isn’t about whom you do not enjoy spending time with; it’s about the couple’s nuptials.

Collins asked then how to keep everyone on his or her best behavior, and I boldly suggested NO OPEN BAR. With that much alcohol flowing, you are just asking for trouble. At my wedding, we simply had two bottles of wine on each table, and no one complained!

When asked for my best piece of advice for couples planning a wedding, I suggested again that the “go big or go home” mentality does not work here. Keep it simple is the best rule of thumb to keep expenses and stress in check.

The next question was what happened at my own wedding that I would suggest to couples, and my reply was to have a wedding planner. If not a professional, at least a friend to field any disasters. A friend stepped up to do just this at my wedding, and thank goodness! I did not find out until after we returned from our honeymoon that the catering truck had broken down on the freeway as it was headed for our reception!

The last topic we discussed was how to handle the stress of planning a wedding of any size. Be prepared for it. There is no such thing as a stress-free wedding, so know there will be some. Take steps to combat the stress, from exercising together, keeping communication lines open, and being able to delegate, delegate, delegate! Men like to problem solve, and brides? Take advantage of that and give them a task such as pricing florists. You will be glad you did.

Fifteen years later, people are still telling us ours was “the best wedding ever”, and I still smile.

Teaching is Man’s Work


I had an epiphany today: teaching is man’s work. While historically a woman’s profession, it occurred to me that sometimes I am lacking the “strength” it takes to get myself in and out of the classroom on a daily basis. These days with education reform  – face it; it’s privatization – requiring teachers to spend more time proving to people with no clue about education what wonderful educators we are, it’s no mystery why caffeine is my best friend. My “strength” comes in brown liquid form, but some days there isn’t enough coffee on the planet.

Once upon a long while ago, only single women were allowed teaching jobs, and they certainly couldn’t be dating. (There were some male teachers then.) Now that I reflect on it, the women then were single, living at home, helping with family chores, and they were also expected to care for the schoolhouse. I think those women had the right idea. Could you imagine throwing a husband and a child (or five) to take care of on top of making your own pens, grading papers, sweeping the floors, going to staff meetings, stoking the schoolhouse fire, having parent meetings, monitoring for drug abuse, checking to see if a student had food for over the weekend, going to IEP/504 meetings, lesson planning, supervising dances, proving to some ridiculous computer screen that you are a good teacher, attending sporting events, practicing for armed-intruder lock-out drills, and making sure your goals matched some inane guidelines created by people without ANY experience in education?

A man, married or single, has a LOT more freedom to take care of all this stuff as, more or less traditionally, it is the female who cares for the offspring, the laundry, the house. That nurturing spirit is what drives women into the profession. In fact, the number of women in the profession outweighs the number of men three times over. According to the Institute of Education Sciences, in 2008 the number of female teachers was at 76% while male teachers occupied only 24%. Still, even in 2014, nationwide most female teachers start at a paltry $35,000 a year. Interestingly, men who are expected to be the “breadwinners” will often choose another low-paying profession before going into the classroom because of the notion that teaching is “women’s work”. “Sissy stuff”. “Nurturing.” “Motherly.” “Matronly.” Uhm… HARDLY.

I say, let more men do what I do. I need a man’s strength to not break down in tears as I listen to the horrific stories I hear about my students’ home life. I need a man’s ability to remain composed when I witness a child speak disrespectfully to their own parent, or to calmly take a child to the counselor when they arrive at school covered in bruises or reeking of cigarette (or marijuana) smoke. I need a man’s stoic stance when I can tell a child is starving herself to embody society’s expectations. A male is able to “put himself first” on many occasions in the workplace, and on those days when I have heard enough about what happens beyond my control, I need to adopt that attitude before my head explodes. I need a man’s willpower to avoid throttling people that clearly do not have a student’s best interests at heart.

Oh, wait. I have all these things – I count myself fortunate to have the uncommon sense to know when to call upon them, and when a softer touch is required. This is the quiet strength all teachers possess as they take more abuse than any other profession in America. If you ask me, it takes as much courage to pick on a teacher as it does to kick puppies. (Shame on you, Time Magazine. And by the way, the saying is “Don’t let one rotten apple spoil the whole bunch.”)

So many people LACKING the aforementioned qualities feel they can bulldoze and belittle our profession, break a system that wasn’t broken to begin with, for what amounts to their personal gains. Male or female, it takes the lion-hearted to teach, and the lions are beginning to roar.

A Spoonful of Sugar Makes the Diagnosis Go Down…


The doctor came in and announced in front of the entire family, including numerous small children, that the patient had about six months to live. That patient was my uncle, who did die of lung cancer, but I have, since that moment, had a complete and utter distaste for that medical organization, and this was almost 30 years ago.

Gone are the days of the sympathetic bedside manner of the graceful country doctor. LONG gone. In its place are giant healthcare factories, some just a traffic lane short of a “drive-thru” window. Take a number, unless your bleeding is messing up the floor. I was actually told once, in the middle of an obstetrics exam, that I could dress and go down to the pharmacy, buy the device, come back upstairs, and they would place it. I felt like I was in a Pep Boys auto parts store, and Manny, Moe, and Jack were wearing white coats.

Recently I developed an unusual redness in my left eye, but didn’t think too much about it. Seasonal allergies, or a “cold in my eye” as I had heard once was possible. I awoke one morning to an extremely inflamed conjunctiva (the while part) and fear drove me to the Urgent Care while on vacation. The doctor there guessed a bacterial infection, gave me, and it seems everyone in the exam beds around me, an oral steroid. I’m not kidding – the kid on my left was hacking; steroid. The guy on my right had a rash; steriod. I was also given a prescription for some eye drops, and sent on my way.

A day later the inflammation was back, along with pain. Another optometrist visit decided that I was having a rather common reaction to the preservative IN almost every eye drop known to man! I was given another prescription for, you guessed it, a steroid drop. (I should be HUGE right now.) Yet the next morning I noticed on the box that that same preservative was in even this drop! The excruciating pain had convinced me there was something actually in my eye, though a second visit to the same doctor revealed still nothing. “Give it some time,” was the suggestion.

Well, my father, who had just been treated for sarcoidosis- a body response to foreign particles in the tissue- in the eye, went behind my back and made an appointment with his specialist. What I heard there was about the last thing I was expecting: possible benign tumor. In my eye?! The tear duct, actually, but he wouldn’t know unless he cut my eye open and we biopsied it. Fortunately, my trip was coming to an end, so the plan was to follow up with my eye doctor back in Colorado, and just continue to deal with one extremely red eye with the steroid drops.

Upon my return, my home-doctor studied the eye, and then leaned back in his chair in what I can only describe as “the lawyer pose” (Fingers laced on top of and behind the head) I had seen my dad do so often when things didn’t look good and he was devising a plan. He suggested another specialist and a biopsy. He called while I was at work from his personal cell phone later that night, asking me to call him the minute I got the message. Let me tell you, if that doesn’t scare you, nothing will. Although he assured me he wasn’t calling to scare me, his haste spoke volumes.

The sixth visit in less than two weeks, another pupil dilation, and the specialist leaned back in his chair and said he just didn’t “feel” this was something that needed to be biopsied yet. I was both relieved and exasperated as if this doesn’t work, then we start all over again?

So this is an exceedingly long story to get to this: how did we get from “infection” to “tumor” in a span of three days? Is this just to cover all possibilities so there isn’t a lawsuit? And if so, this isn’t the way to practice medicine when a patient’s mind is the most important thing in the entire healing process. And most patients will jump to the most terrible conclusions on their own, thank you very much. Those who do their Internet research are probably a doctor’s nightmare as absolute worst-case scenarios turn up every time. But to needlessly scare patients to cover your own behind CAN’T be doing anyone any good, mentally or physically.

I know that doctors in some institutions are practically timed with patients these days. Three or four minutes per patient, gotta go, bye. Like a quickie hair-cut, if one goes over their time limit, there is a whole new pricing put into place. I also know that doctors are less likely to misdiagnose a patient they know a little better. And a patient who actually knows and likes their doctor is more likely to follow care directives. A study was done where doctor were given a sheet on a patient to interpret their symptoms and provide diagnosis. When the simple act of placing a patient’s picture along with their sheet was put into place, the number of misdiagnosis declined. Ultimately, isn’t that what healthcare (not the Big Drug business) should entail? Healthier patients? Less time in the hospitals? Less paperwork to submit to insurance companies?

Let’s put the human back into healthcare. Heck, let’s start calling it HUMAN care instead. If a doctor had simply asked me first, “What conclusions have you already jumped to?” and then assuaged my fears, a whole lot of heartache could have been avoided. “Medicine is not an exact science,” someone once said. Ain’t that the truth.

The Miss/Mrs./Ms. Debate Researched


It has always driven me wild when a married woman signed her name on correspondence as “Ms.”. All my daughter’s female teachers did this, and even my name-badge was printed “Ms.” when I clearly indicated I was a “Mrs.” I had to get this annoyance off my chest, so I naturally turned to Facebook to vent. Little did I know this post regarding the use of the title Miss/Mrs./Ms. would spark such a debate. I had stated, “One more time, from the top: when one does not know the marital status of a female, use ‘Miss’. ‘Ms.’ is for a woman who is no longer married. The ‘Mr.’ is gone. Get it?”

I received an earful from friends and others about this, from “I did not know this. Interesting….” to a lengthy post stating very politely, “I appreciate what you are saying but I disagree. Mrs. does refer to married and Miss can refer to single woman. Any woman, according to 1978 edition of, Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette states that a woman regardless of marital status can elect to use Ms. rather than Mrs. or Miss.

Because I was now curious when this title evolution took place, a little research was merited. I first stopped by the website www.ecenglish.com, but quickly noticed no one had remarked on it since 2009. Still, the same question was there; when to use Miss/Mrs.//Ms. A few of the comments confirmed my Facebook post thoughts, and a few were more along the lines of Amy Vanderbilt’s rules.

My second stop was an English language learning website, www.eslcafe.com. If you don’t think English is the most difficult language on the planet to learn, what with all of our homonyms and rule-breaking “i before e except for weird” exceptions, please let me know. (Having now taught it for 15 years I couldn’t explain some of these things if my life depended on it.) Author Dan Oliver stated Ms. should be used neutrally like Mr. is for males both married and unmarried.

Ms. is used for three occasions, he continues, those being for a woman in a position of authority, like a teacher; if one does not know the woman’s marital status; or if the woman is the addressee’s age or older. Tell me that isn’t going to get someone in trouble trying to guess!

It is a matter of choice when it comes to a divorced woman still using her ex’s last name. She can still be Mrs. What-Was-I-Thinking? if she wants to be. Mrs. can also be used by widows. My head was starting to spin, and I was born here!

For years I have taught a book in my English classes where a much older woman, a teacher, went by Miss. When the father, talking to the son about the problem with her, addresses her as Mrs., he is corrected by the son stating “It’s Miss.” The father snidely replies, “That figures.” The meaning is clear – no one had ever asked her to get married because she was so nasty.

Since the writing of that book, though, the feminist movement has declared that Ms. can be used for any mature woman’s title. The website www.womeninbusiness.about.com goes into a discussion about the former use of the word mistress when it was still the feminine version of mister and not something tawdry. Definitely one of the English language’s smarter moves. Author Lakle Wolfe concurred that the word has been compressed to Ms. for married or unmarried women.

The only thing that is clear is Miss and Mr. can easily stand on their own if when addressing someone and one does not know his or her last name. For example, “Excuse me, Miss?” “Hey, Mr.?”

So I stand corrected, but I still don’t like it. Fortunately, with our hasty speech these days, the address is likely to come out “Mizz” anyway. Either way, etiquette fans, you’ll be safe.

It Takes A Village… But the Village Doesn’t Want to Get Involved


I am not a parenting expert. An etiquette expert, yes, but not a parenting expert. Then again, is ANY parent, besides the Duggars, a parenting expert? I didn’t think so. There is no other employment one could have that provides constant on-the-job training that still does not make the person in the position an expert.
Really, all we know about parenting for certain is what NOT to do. Don’t hit, don’t forget to feed them, don’t leave young kids alone… Even then there are more questions; does spanking count? What if you only feed your kid fast food day in and day out? What age is okay to leave a child on his or her own? *sigh* It is never-ending, and no matter what you do, there will be someone, somewhere, ready to tell you that you are doing it wrong. But sometimes someone should be ready to step in and tell another someone they are doing it wrong.
On a recent trip, my family ended up in an airport food court, waiting in line for, I’ll admit, fast food. A young woman was loudly berating her very small daughter, and the lines of people around her stood silent. “If you don’t knock that off, I’ll beat your butt right here in front of everyone,” she barked. As far as I could see, the little girl was doing nothing wrong, save existing in this, I hesitate to say “lady’s”, world. The volume and tone of her voice seemed to be expecting the people around her to approve of her being a tough parent and putting a four year old in her place.
Every fiber of my being wanted to speak up, but I, like the rest of the people around this depressing scene, was afraid of the stability of this young mother. The little girl looked soulless, empty, and too familiar with this type of proceeding. If I stepped in and said, “I know travel is frustrating, but this little girl doesn’t deserve this kind of treatment”, would the woman go off on me? Would she have a weapon? Would a miracle happen and she would thank me for pointing out the error of her ways? What if I stepped in and the woman snapped and said, “Fine, you take her,” and left? Then what? That little girl couldn’t be any worse off.
Clearly, everyone hearing this was thinking all the same thoughts. It is nothing to be proud of, but all of us chose to avoid involvement.
Malcom Gladwell writes of this very same phenomenon in his book Blink. A crowd of people assumes someone else will step in and therefore individuals do not step up.
The woman retrieved her food and stomped off, the forlorn little girl following in her dark wake. The crowd relaxed and went about their business. I felt ashamed, said a prayer for the little girl, and let the scene haunt my memory. What will I do differently next time? Because there will be a next time, sadly. Do I do like the public safety ad where a woman approaches another mom in the parking lot during a meltdown and asks, “Can I help?” Yes. It is disarming enough of a question that it is truly the best way to do something. I vow to do this as it is practicing what I preach; that when you make someone aware that others are aware, there is more likely to be resolution.
Other ideas to stop an out-of-control parent are welcomed. In the meantime, I have come up with a few, from the over-the-top, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself, talking to a child like that!” to a variation of the PSA; “You appear to be really frustrated. What can I do to help?”
I vow to do better, as should everyone who is afraid to get involved. Though I am desperately hoping not to have to practice, I will say something if there is a next time. Stay tuned.

Courtesy in Medicine? “Inconceivable!”


So I had an accident yesterday. A fall, actually. It was my own fault; I should not have been standing on the dresser to dust the top of the mirror. My “ladder” was the footboard of the bed, and the rest is history. As you can imagine, I ended up getting pretty badly hurt. X-rays were taken of my hip and wrist, but thank goodness nothing is broken. Well, mostly my pride as I have some great scrapes on my face and a hole in my lip.

My timing was pretty good as there is a new medical office in my neighborhood and I was able to visit them two times this week. (The first time was for record-breaking hay fever.) The best part was the personal care. Really. Eye contact. Genuine concern. Giving names first. Infused “spa water” in the reception area. Even the administrative assistant pronounced my name correctly.

What I can’t express enough was the joy I was feeling, banged-up as I was, after experiencing big-box medical care for the last two years. Seriously, the giant, not-to-be-named-ever-again-in-my-presence healthcare facility felt like that scene Beetlejuice when the main character goes in to get some case-work forms filled out. Take a number, we’ll get to you, stand behind that line, take a place between the lower portion of the sawn-in-half woman and the witch-doctor.

This is what worries me: healthcare is becoming more and more complicated. There doesn’t seem to be any way to get around that. The human touch that is so important in the healing process will be lost in the parade of cases seen day in and day out. Human beings, especially Americans, are growing too adept at compartmentalizing their empathy for their fellow beings, and what happens from there is the very real tendency to overlook conditions. There have been studies done proving that doctors, when presented with a plain file on a patient, rushed and misdiagnosed described symptoms. However, when the patient’s picture was attached to the file, the amount of misdiagnoses declined.

Remember the business adage, “People will only do business with people they know, like, and trust.” Your body is your business, so you want people you know, like, and trust handling it. This is where the relationship-building all business people are taught comes in, and doctors need to pay attention. Patients are people at their most vulnerable and that trust factor has to be present. Why medical professionals, for the most part, cannot grasp this concept is beyond me. Stop being “owned” by the drug companies, and start listening more to your heart. I mean, that is why you became a doctor in the first place, right? You wanted to help people, not help patients. And the bonus is these people will be better patients if they know you truly care.

Oops! That may empty the hospitals if people start taking better care of themselves, which may lower healthcare costs, but isn’t that what we want? (For more on “Putting the ‘Human’ Back in ‘Human Resources'”(TM), go to www.courtesybootcamp.com.)

It seems when we relate to one another as nonhuman, put some label on them, that’s when the problems occur. The incidents of malpractice, the school shootings, the road rage, the crimes against innocent people just going about their business. Apathy for our fellow man has grown exponentially as we withdraw into our own selves to avoid getting too involved with each other. But ironically we check in on Facebook and 90 times today to see what other people are doing. Studies prove, though, that we do this to compare our lives to theirs, and then start feeling bad about ourselves for not living as excitingly as other people do. (As if everything that can be read online is true.)

There is good news, and that is that we were all born with empathy. We just lose it somewhere along the way in the name of being “professional”. The prescription then is to start practicing it more. Wave to people. Look each other in the eyes. Acknowledge that person on the sidewalk approaching you. Pick up litter that is blowing around just to feel better about yourself. There is a reason that good news websites are so appealing; people are looking for the good in the world, and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, stopping you from being it.

Now according to doctor’s orders, and because I like her and want to be a good patient, I have to get back to icing my bumps and bruises.


Since Public Education is Being Privatized Whether I Like it or Not….


It’s happening all over the country – public education is getting privatized. There is no use fighting it anymore, I guess. Teachers are nearly voiceless, their unions are almost powerless, and everyone from government to big industry thinks this is the way to go. Kids behave like widgets, don’t you know. They will robotically perform on big money-backed tests, and meet and exceed state expectations without fail, showing perfect growth curves every single time. It’s going to be great.

As I pondered this now-for-profit turn in education while out walking, I happened to spot the infamous green straw on the ground. Everyone knows where it came from – no other company has cornered the market on green straws like this one has. An idea struck me since teachers are going to be “fined” in the salary department for their students not performing as expected; why not fine the big money corporations for their consumers also failing to meet expectations? I mean clearly the consumer of this most likely caffeinated beverage was not performing as expected. This consumer was expected to happily consume the beverage, and when finished throw the straw in the trash. He or she instead carelessly threw his or her straw on the ground. What if the company behind the green straw was fined thousands of dollars for the carelessness of its consumers? This sounds only fair to me, a teacher, who more often than not can’t get her “consumers” to perform perfectly on state- and government-mandated tests.

Let’s go a few steps further. Let’s start fining real estate agents when the houses they are showing do not pass inspection when an unforeseen mold problem appears, or the foundation cracks. Let’s fine doctors when their patients do not take the medicine they are supposed to be taking and they don’t heal. How about mechanics when they don’t get our cars fixed properly the first time we bring it in? What about clothing retailers when our clothes don’t fit? (Wait- never mind; we are already suing fast food places for making us fat.)

How about fining the fitness studios when we stop showing up to exercise? I am not getting any thinner, so it must be their fault. What about fining libraries when people fail to read the book they checked out? How about fining movie theaters when we don’t enjoy a movie? What about fining an amusement park when we didn’t have a good time? How about fining the musicians because we don’t like their music?

We could fine the garbage collectors because it was kind of stinky when their trucks drove by. We could fine pet stores and animal shelters every time our pets threw up on our carpets. How about fining cities because we didn’t have fun at their events? How about fining newspaper companies when we fail to open up the newspaper and read it?

If you are starting to figure out that the human (or animal) end of the consumer chain is where things break down, good for you. I only wish governments could figure this one out when it comes to the very real, very human nature of education. It never has been, nor will it ever be, a fail-safe enterprise where kids perform consistently. There are far too many factors to list that make students, and, ultimately, people, the wildly unpredictable, flesh-and-blood free-will creatures that they are. And all too often they throw their straws on the ground.