My thoughts about the death of Robin Williams:

Magnificent drawing by Plishman. See others here:

I’m still working through Robin Williams’ death, and these are some things that stick out for me.
— Radio talk show host: “How can someone so loved around the world feel badly enough to do that?” Answer: It’s not about the love of others, it’s about the love of self and one’s feelings of self-worth.
— Asphyxiation with a belt as it was described says much about how depressed he was – what a deep, deep emotional pain he must have been feeling.
— To anyone who would say that suicide is a meaningless gesture, only the person committing it needs to see the meaning or purpose. Our judgments are useless and, at times, insulting to the deceased. How dare we try to understand what they were feeling? This doesn’t justify the act, merely adds understanding.
— Overheard at a fast food place: “Well, if he was a real Christian, Williams’d know the consequences and wouldn’t a done it.” That comment shows a total ignorance of mental health and, worse, indicates that they presume to know what would or wouldn’t have prevented his death. (I left at that point knowing my anger was rising and my appetite was gone.) When someone is in that much pain, to think that the afterlife is the deciding factor is just plain wrong.
— While the death of some celebrities elicits a few comments, Williams’ death has really hit me for some reason. He was one of my all-time favorites and I know my reaction is a combination of shock, dismay, disappointment, sorrow, pity and the reality that anyone can become a statistic.

My lovely wife, Deborah, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and has been for over 25 years. In that time, although I do not know her clients nor their names, I’ve learned two things from their stories:
A. Nothing is more subjective than reality: If someone hears voices, they are real to them and no amount of saying there are no voices will dissuade them. Williams’ version of reality was dark indeed.
B. We are who we are and none of us is born physically or mentally perfect. Our brain is an electro-chemical vat that we barely understand. Some of us have wiring that is different and, in his case, tragically wired with a tremendous negative energy. That angst is, I believe, where he got much of his boundless comic energy – making people laugh was a way to dull his pain and establish his purpose in this world. In a way, perhaps the laughter of others is what kept him alive during his adult life. Sadly, it seems that wasn’t enough in the end.
—Update: Since this was posted, it was revealed that Williams had very recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. There have also been reports that the depression he felt after his heart surgery in 2009 remained pervasive. Depression after cardiac surgery is fairly common but, unlike most folks and unfortunately for Williams, it remained with him to some degree. While knowing these things is cold comfort, it helps understand his actions a bit better.

Country poor and city poor

City, country - both need help.

City, country – both need help.

When you grow up in a small town, I think you get to observe life, people and their character more closely than growing up in urban areas.  My hometown had 3,500 people in the 70s, and today it’s around 4,300 according to the US Census Bureau. It’s easy to get to know a lot of the townsfolk when numbers and geography are more compact. Why?

First, you frequently see the same folks (weekly or more), versus living in Lexington where I might run into someone outside my neighborhood once a year or less. Next, how you live your small town life is more apparent to more folks, which is another way of saying people do talk. Besides, when you know you’re not likely to get away with bad behavior, most of us are more careful about how we act, and that’s often a hard lesson for kids to learn (he said knowingly). Hearing people talk about others over the years gives you greater insight into people’s behaviors and lets you peek more deeply into their character.

That attention to character is almost a reflex when you leave your small town. You’ve had the opportunity to more closely examine people’s lives and you recognize behaviors in others more quickly, and this brings me to my point: There is often a difference in (and excuse this pejorative-sounding term) city poor and country poor. Granted, I’ve not lived in Scottsville for a long time but, from conversations with folks from there — some who still live there and some who’ve moved here — my premise rings true with them. Allow me to explain.

Growing up, there were lots of poor folks and, given how many there were, we didn’t consider them poor per se. They were just country folk who, for the majority, chose to live a simpler life. Despite living in the city limits, I went to the county school so many of my classmates were those country kids. Of those with the most meager resources, most were still self-sufficient; sure, a few were simply lazy, but most were hard working people. Allow me to use a classmate as an example, and we’ll call him Horatio. He came to school each day smelling of wood smoke because that’s how his family heated their home, cooked their meals and got hot water for baths and laundry.

Brogans - a familiar sight in my hometown.

Brogans – a familiar sight in my hometown.

There was no shame because he had lots of company, and maybe still does. Their home was sturdy, but constructed mostly of found materials with one room having a hard packed dirt floor. He wore “brogans” as many of the farm kids did because they were sturdy, inexpensive and you could work in them if need be. He usually wore white socks, overalls (often with “high water” legs), a button-up shirt and a burr haircut which was easily dispensed at home. Horatio was one of the cleanest kids in school with never a speck of dirt under his fingernails. His clothes were always spotless even if they were worn. His manners were impeccable and, even though he had one heck of a country accent, he was well-spoken and intelligent.

Next, let me be clear: I am not condemning any poor urban dweller. There are plenty who, like Horatio and his family, are honest, hard-working folks. I’ve worked with and been friends with folks who live in areas some would call slums or centers of urban decay. The difference is much more subtle than clothes or homes – it’s the attitude with which they regard the world.

Gotta love country living

Gotta love country living

Families like Horatio’s can be far more self-sufficient than their city poor counterparts because, if they need fuel, there’s always a fallen tree that can be chopped up; the produce from gardens is canned; food comes from the end of a rifle because there are many deer and other game animals, and a fishing pole is just as handy. Country poor can often support themselves in ways those living “in town” cannot. In my experience, this gives them a larger measure of dignity due to their self-sufficiency.

Add in that the urban poor often must rely on “the system” to make ends meet. Welfare, subsidized housing, food stamps and the array of other government programs support them, but they also now must rely on what some in my experience have called “shitty hand-outs.” As someone I know who lives in a rougher part of town put it, “You take all the government assistance and, for some, it’s a lifeline but, for others, it destroys the need to make something of themselves.” What that says to me is that their dignity has been diminished, and dignity is a crucial human element.

How crucial? “Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen,” said Louis Zamperini, and he should know. He was held prisoner in WWII for over three years and endured some of the harshest conditions imaginable.* Despite his captor’s efforts to demoralize him, he endured the starvation and beatings and survived when many perished. While his situation was dire indeed, he credits keeping his dignity about him as being crucial to his survival. His quote underlines what I’m trying to say: Country poor have the opportunity to maintain their dignity in ways many disadvantaged inner city folks do not.

I’m sure many will say this is hogwash, and perhaps it is. I’m only expressing what I’ve seen in my life and show my appreciation for something special about life in a small town, something that seems more rare in cities.

The Original War on Poverty

The original war on poverty with LBJ, Lady Bird and former governor Ned Breathitt front and center.


*I strongly encourage you to read Laura Hillenbrand’s book about Zamperini, ” Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption because he is an amazing man who conquered incredible odds and went on to be a positive force in people’s lives.

Ch-ch-ch-changes (again)

Your company's IT department"

“Your company’s IT department”

Good Monday to all. I’m very happy to say that I’m now the sales and marketing Manager for GAAN Technologies. G.T. Smith and crew have been handling tech problems for folks for fourteen years and have a very loyal following. Expect a lot of great tips, tricks advice and info to keep your throughput high, except through your wallet.

Check out our website and call us if you need expert help at the office, or at home.

GAAN Technologies: 859-221-1234,

Interesting vs. Meaningful vs. Funny: Choose?

Funny or not, you looked.

Mixed monsterphors

In these days when there is a torrent of media washing over us every day, people struggle with what works in their marketing communications. Some sample questions I’ve gotten:
“Is it better to blog, or be on Facebook, or do email, or use Twitter – what’s best?”
“Is it better to be funny or serious in my (blog, posts, ads, etc.)?”
“There’s so much I want to say that people should know, so how do I decide what to tell them?”
“Is it better to be funny or meaningful?”

Here’s a little secret: There’s no right answer. Sorry to disappoint you, but a formula doesn’t exist because there is so much variance in your audience, what you do, and other things. Being meaningful can be too heavy; trying to be funny can be dangerous because, if it’s not funny, you can seem goofy; interesting is tough, too, because each person is interested in different things.

So what’s the answer? Well, there are several.

A. Expecting one approach to always work is not realistic, so vary the tone of your writing. In one, tell an amusing story in a simple way (note that I said, amusing, not funny, because a smile is as good as a a laugh); the next could be serious advice told simply; then one with a series of  advice or how-tos that all relate to a single topic (like using different passwords for everything, or making homemade lawn care solutions). Mix it up because everyone is different and responds to a variety of things. Just make sure they obviously relate to your business.

B. Find a friend who’s a good writer or, better still, pay someone to edit your work. Think of the times you’ve read something poorly written, then decided the author was someone with whom you’d never do business. You’ll pay for the best doctor because that’s important to your life, right? Quality communications contribute to your image, and that’s important to the life of your business, so why scrimp? Truth be told, as many folks who think they’re good drivers also think they’re good writers – think about that when you’re in your car dodging traffic. (Yes, I can be paid to help you.)

C. Ask for likes, shares, retweets, etc., every time you post. People often respond, and that helps you see what works.

D. Measure audience response and track it for the long run. Just as you have a profit and loss statement to gauge your business results, you can measure the success of your efforts and see what moves them.

E. Keep throwing things at the wall and see what sticks. What works today might not next month, so be willing to do the unusual even if folks think it’s goofy. Again, measure the results.

So, to follow my own advice, send this on to others. It might make you a hero.

Respect = Professionalism = Dignity

Dignity is this and so much more.

Dignity is this and so much more.

There is one thing I’ve learned in my (deleted) years on this planet: There is no substitute for mutual respect in a professional relationship, or any relationship for that matter. I’ve also learned that dignity is a crucial human emotion, one for which there is no substitute. One definition of dignity is: “The state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect.” Those stripped of that worthiness often either die or fight back in unpredictable ways.

Prisoners of war stripped of their dignity become as sheep, but those who manage to hold onto theirs are often the only survivors. Viktor E. Frankl’s book about his time in Nazi death camps, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” is a sterling testament to this. In his case, he held onto his hope by believing that he would be reunited with his wife one day. That gave his time in the camps meaning, and that meaning let him hold onto his dignity and his desire to survive. Those who firmly believed that all had been stripped from them rarely survived and, if they did, were but a shell of their former selves.

When you do something to erode another’s dignity, you have automatically eroded your own. Anthropologists have long written about tyrants and despots who fell from power because they robbed the people they ruled of their dignity. Treating another human being poorly is a sure sign of one not being capable of effective leadership. Effective leaders who have the loyalty of their charges accomplish many things, often beyond their expectations and of those who follow that leader. Look at Churchill and FDR in WWII – the odds were stacked against us, yet they held their heads high and set the example for those whom they led. Conversely, the inhumane actions of the Axis powers served to galvanize the will of the Allies, just as the words and actions of our leaders stiffened our spines. Churchill and FDR displayed dignity and honor, and their demeanor inspired us to believe in our cause and ourselves.

When dealing with customers, if you them respect, that bestows a dignity on your relationship. As the person seeking to do business with them, your actions create their sense of your dignity. If they sense that dignity, it engenders their respect for you, and that creates an atmosphere in which you can successfully do business.

So, no matter what you do for a living, be it a sales person, teacher or carpenter, work to create an atmosphere of mutual respect and you’ll find success in many ways.


(Picture from