Tag Archives: personal strength

mother teresa 2

Mother Teresa, For The Ages

By: Chris Warren.

I had started an article about Mother Teresa over a year ago, then changed my plans and never finished it. Now that Mother Theresa is officially Saint Teresa of Calcutta, it’s a good time to finish the story, even though the story of Mother Teresa will never end, nor should it.

Mother Teresa’s path to greatness started the same way as most great people: She wasn’t looking for greatness, she was just looking to make a difference. After starting the Missionaries of Charity religious order in 1950, Mother Teresa set out on a quiet mission to serve the poorest of the poor, the forgotten, the unseen, the unwanted, the untouchables.

Earning a Nobel Peace Prize, several honorary doctorate degrees, dozens of other awards and honors, being celebrated by Popes and Presidents, and even having an airport named after her was never part of the plan. Through it all, this woman of God kept plugging along and never diverted from her calling.

What impresses me most about Mother Teresa is her sense of humanity. Not only in her public service to others, but also her private personal struggles, admissions of doubt in her own faith, and her open acknowledgement that she was really just a regular person, a sinner in need of God’s salvation and no better or more deserving than all the rest of us.

It’s easy to see someone like her as some perfect being who operates on a level the rest of us will never realize. Yet, Mother Teresa herself would be the first person to deny having a special pipeline to holiness. She did not see herself as being much different than those she served.

If we dig into the biographies of figures who changed the world by peacefully serving others we find people who were, well, just people. They had faults. They did things they later regretted. They sometimes hurt others and were hurt by others. At their roots they were ordinary folk who somehow found a way to rise up and do big things in spite of their personal shortcomings. Their greatness was not that they were flawless, because they weren’t, and they knew it. Their greatness came from their faith that they could overcome both internal and external obstacles and live what they believed.

These “star throwers” know they are never going to save everyone, but that’s not the point. It did not stop Mother Teresa because trying to save everyone and coming up short is more virtuous than using the impossibility of the task as an excuse not to try at all. Her effort had the added benefit of being an example to others. Mother Teresa never knew how many others saw her good works and were inspired to go out and do something good themselves.

mother teresa 1

Pope Francis recently Tweeted, “To offer today’s world the witness of mercy is a task from which none of us can feel exempted.” This serendipitous statement is everything Mother Teresa lived for. Mother Teresa does not live on in the form of anything she directly did to help others, although those contributions are indeed memorable. Her gift to the world, and what she would want as her legacy, was her role as a guiding light for the rest of us to join her. As Pope Francis teaches, none of us are exempted.

No one ever received God’s grace, much less became a Saint, by watching others perform acts of mercy. To that end, the world’s adulation of Mother Teresa does not mean much if the world will not also walk a path of selfless service. Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s message for the ages is that she did not want to be admired; she wanted to be emulated.

Author’s Note: Please also see my related article, Strong Enough To Throw A Star.

 

chitty chitty bang bang

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Teaches Us About Life.

By Chris Warren.

I was on YouTube researching material for another website I write for and ended up wandering around and getting lost on my own click trail. YouTube does a great job of getting me to drift off task. My proclivity to being an easily distracted airhead had me watching clips from the classic British children’s movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I loved that movie as a kid. It never seems to get tiresome and I diverted from my mission for just a few minutes to partake in a little childhood joy.

I did not have time to watch the entire movie, but I saw enough Chitty Chitty Bang Bang clips to realize what I did not notice as a kid: The story, intentionally or not, had some depth to it. It was not just a cute kids’ movie. There were lessons buried in there:

Children can be strong agents of change. The magical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car would never have existed if the kids had not grown fond of it and begged their eccentric inventor daddy to buy the old wreck before the junkman did. What started as a mere appeasement of children turned out to be a major process of self realization for its builder.

In real life, adults  learn a lot about themselves as a side effect of doing some pretty crazy stuff to please kids. Having kids means not living solely for yourself. It means being needed. And sometimes, it means buying an old junk car that you would otherwise have no interest in because a little kid begged you. It reminds me of all the things my parents put up with to make me happy and how that contributed to their wisdom.

How many of us will not actively go looking for a challenge but will accept one if it is given?

Great people always underestimate themselves. Main character Caractacus Potts (played by Dick Van Dyke), is a loving single dad of the two children but is a somewhat inept inventor who doesn’t make any real money. Lacking confidence, he seems resigned to his mediocre standing until he is forced take his flying car to the fictional Kingdom of Vulgaria and rescue his kidnapped father.

He successfully recovers his father and unintentionally also liberates an entire country from their immature man-child Baron. Throughout the story, even Caractacus himself seems amazed at his own abilities and those of the car that he built. By the end of the movie, everyone returns home safely. Caractacus gets the pretty girl, finally attains status as an inventor, and lives happily ever after. And oh yeah, the children get a really cool car that can also be a boat and an aircraft.

Great people usually begin as average  people. On the surface, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is just a whimsical kids’ story. But in the mix is a regular guy many of us can relate to: Potts trudges through life doing the best that he can with what he has. He deeply loves his kids but does not have a lot of money to give them the lifestyle he’d like. He never gives up, but does not take any big risks, either. That is, until he is forced to. How many of us will not actively go looking for a challenge but will accept one if it is given? It’s not the same as being lazy. Some of us just need a little push. Like many people who overcame adversity or achieved a difficult goal, Caractacus didn’t know how great he was until being great was the only option.

Ok, I know the plot of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a very far fetched and implausible children’s movie, but I’m not reading too much into this. There are legitimate lessons buried in there. Even the movie itself  defied its own fate: It received wishy-washy reviews from the critics when it  was released and was only a modest financial success. Yet like Caractacus it endured and hung in there and is now considered a timeless classic. What entertained me as a child now enlightens me as an adult., and that’s not silly kid stuff.

 

comfort dogs

Comfort Dogs Speak For Us In The Midst Of Chaos.

By: Chris Warren

In the aftermath of the radical Islamist terror attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, it’s nearly impossible to write about anything else this week. Like all decent people, I was horrified and deeply saddened over what happened. There is no true healing; the surviving victims and families of the lost have no choice but to find a way to endure a pain that will never completely go away. Messengers of peace have been dispatched to Orlando that will hopefully contribute to helping the community cope with the pain: Comfort dogs.

I was so distracted and disturbed that I considered not even doing an article this week. It would have been the first time since this blog started that I skipped a deadline. Instead, I decided to push ahead and find something, anything, I could pull out of this terrible loss that fulfills the thoughtful, positive, relevant mission of Twenty First Summer. I knew it would be a heavy lift: How do I find a benevolent message in a such a hugely malevolent act and not make it sound dismissive of the emotional torment of those directly effected?

The Lutheran Church Charities comfort dogs and their handlers are sent on a moment’s notice to all kinds of trouble spots where their sole mission is to bring unconditional love –the kind only dogs can express– to people who are in such intense pain that they may feel that love has ceased to exist.

Hugging comfort dogs has no downside. No one has ever hugged a dog and went away from the experience not feeling better. And the comfort dogs give the Lutheran Church an outreach to people who might otherwise not be open to anything a church has to say.

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All these missionary comfort dogs do is walk around and let people pet and hug them. Really, that’s it. It doesn’t sound like much, but to those on the receiving end of their wagging tails and sunny dispositions, it is a powerful healing force. The clinical effectiveness of therapy animals is admittedly a bit cloudy, yet no science is needed to explain the smiles of happiness the comfort dogs provoke in people who have little to be happy about.

When there are no words to express sadness and despair, let the comfort dogs silently work their magic. I understand it’s certainly not a long term solution to the grief of the victims’ loved ones, but in the midst of so much hurt, a dog can be a powerful force for good, even if just for a few moments.

Week after week I discuss a topic that I hope will have a positive impact on my readers’ lives. The truth is, nothing positive can be said about a radical Islamic terrorist attack. At the same time, saying nothing is cowardly and disrespectful to those effected.

We, all of us, owe it to the victims to do what we can to lessen the pain, knowing full well that making them whole is an impossible aspiration. It’s something of an irony that non-human comfort dogs are sent to help patch up the evil of humans. The Bible teaches us that God’s love can come in unexpected forms. Yes, I absolutely do believe that animals can be His ministers.

I would like the people of Orlando, Florida to know how much I deeply care about them. I wish I could undo everything that happened, and I hope the Lutheran Church comfort dogs silently speak the love that I can’t adequately say myself.

Peace be with you.

idrache

The Amazing Flight of US Army Lt. Alix Schoelcher Idrache.

By: Chris Warren.

The American military is full of incredible people. There are so many real life heroes, so many success stories, so many tales of selfless bravery, that what is superlative to us civilians is actually kind of baseline average to those in uniform. When there are so many outstanding people collected together, it’s hard to find that one who rises even higher than what they consider ordinary. Lieutenant Alix Schoelcher Idrache has achieved the envious goal of distinguishing himself among those who already meet an impressive standard, and his military career has barely even begun. His story is almost too amazing to believe, but it’s all true and it’s something that every American needs to hear.

Lt. Idrache is an immigrant from Haiti who started off life with very little going for him. Haiti is not the kind of place where kids realistically think they might someday be in command of a multi-million dollar, high tech helicopter like the ones Alix saw the US Army flying during humanitarian missions around Port-Au-Prince. Most Haitian kids live a day by day existence and feel lucky to have a safe place to sleep at night.

The Idrach family came to the United States, legally, for the same reason millions of immigrants before him did: To build a better life in a land where the opportunities are infinite and anyone can become a huge success if they only have grit and work ethic.

Almost immediately upon arrival, Alix enlisted in the Maryland National Guard in part because it would fast-track him for US citizenship. His path fortunately crossed with a Lieutenant and a Sergeant who saw his potential and shepherded him through the complex process of applying to the US Military Academy at West Point.

Their mentoring paid off in a very large way. Idrache met every challenge, passed every test, and made it all the way through to become a West Point graduate, class of 2016, with a degree in physics. He was awarded the Brigadier General Gerald Counts award for the top physics student and was also named regimental commander of 950 cadets.

“I am humbled and shocked at the same time. Thank you for giving me a shot at the American Dream, and may God bless America, the greatest nation on earth.”

-Lt. Alix Schoelcher Idrache.

A moving graduation day photo of Lt. Idrache standing at attention with tears of pride running down his face raced around the internet. More meaningful is the hard work, studying, dedication, patriotism, and faith that drove those tears. A few years ago he was a poor kid in Haiti who could barely speak English. Now he’s an officer in the United States Army and a top graduate of one of the most respected military institutions in the world.

Lt. Alix Schoelcher Idrache speaks in humble words about his thanks to God and the United States for the opportunities he’s been offered. It is We The People who should be thanking him. Besides having a brilliant mind and a pure heart, Idrache’s story is a reminder how blessed the rest of us are to be citizens of this great nation.

Idrache did not have the benefit of being lucky enough to be born in the right place. He had to sweat and work very hard for what most of us were given by birthright. How many of us would rise up to the challenge the way Idrache did? By living his life the way he does, he’s almost daring the rest of us to keep up with him.

That kind of challenging leadership is what America needs. The next stop for Lt. Alix Schoelcher Idrache is helicopter flight training school in Fort Rucker, Alabama. It’s very symbolic, being that he has already lifted himself –and the United States– to a place of honor. We should all be grateful and proud that he chose to come here and dedicate his life to defending our freedom.

Lt. Idrache, the scrappy poor kid who once thought he had no future beyond the dirty streets of a third world country, is living a reality unimaginably above that far-fetched Haitian childhood yearning.  I am certain his life and career will go a lot higher than what any helicopter can do.

class of 2016

Celebrate Me Home, Class of 2016.

By: Chris Warren.

You’ve spent years preparing for this day. The sum of all the hard work, all the achievements, all the failures, every moment, is right now. The class of 2016 will carry the lessons learned here for the rest of their lives. No matter where you go, you will have a connection to this place. Carry that connection with honor.

Many of you are anxious to get out of here and go chase some far away, exciting goal. That’s understandable and I encourage you to do exactly that. The class of 2016 has the potential for greatness and needs to get out and experience new things. There will always be supporters in your hometown praying and hoping for your success. They know you. They know what you are capable of. They do not want you constrained. They want the whole world to see what they see in you.

You may not believe it right now, but when the class of 2016 is far away in time or place, the memories of the years you spent here will be a comfort in difficult times. Even if your life was hard and painful up to this point, it will still be a positive guiding force later and make you strong for when troubled times come again. And they will come again.

Your connection to this place helped make you what you are. For better or worse, it is the foundation for the rest of your life. From this point forward, the class of 2016 is responsible for building something meaningful upon that foundation. You are hereby released from the rules that you felt were holding you back but were really there to help you grow and mature. This is your big chance to use your good judgement and show everyone what you can do with your own wisdom. Whatever happens after today is to your credit, or your fault.

The day will come when it’s your turn to do the guiding and protecting. You will be hoping for the next generation the way your elders hope for you now. You will be the foundation that others will build on. What kind of foundation will it be? Will you try as hard to help them as your parents and teachers and entire community did to help you?

Do not say that helping the younger generation is not your responsibility. It’s important that you help them because, even if they are not your children, they will be taking over someday. Your duty to the next generation is not because of tradition or civil legislation, though these mandates do exist. You should help them out of your own free will  because it’s the decent and right thing to do.

The class of 2016 is wise enough to see that kindness is the only valid reason to do good works. You will be held accountable for how you apply the kindness you learned here to others in the future. By showing compassion to others, the class of 2016 is in effect “going home,” that is, passing on what you learned here. Honor your elders by following them down a path of selflessness.

A path of selflessness always leads to home, and I do not mean a physical place. I mean a state of mind where one knows who they are. Home is being at peace with oneself and feeling affirmed that you contributed something positive to the world and lived a life of benevolence. It means you know in your heart you did as much as you could to make the world better.

Decades from now, when you have accomplished much and can’t count how many people whose lives are better because of you, you’ll be confident that the younger generation will carry on where you leave off because you taught them everything they need to know about love and decency. When they will follow you on that path of selflessness, you, the class of 2016, will ascend to the place of honor that your elders hold now. You can look at your grandchildren and great-grandchildren and tell them, “celebrate me home.”

challenges

The Challenges of Mount Magazine.

By: Chris Warren

I consider myself a reluctant adventurer, meaning, I don’t go looking for challenges but if one is pushed upon me I’ll take it. Sometimes the challenges are mental, other times they’re physical. When I recently got caught completely unprepared for a long hike in the woods and came out of it feeling affirmed and positive albeit beaten and tired, I made the connection between mental and physical challenges and how they complement each other to make us stronger and better.

I was in Fort Smith, Arkansas visiting my active, outdoorsy friends who love taking long hikes in the many hills and mountains of the Ozarks. A day of bad weather finally gave way to sunshine and they invited me to to join them on a hike to the top of Mount Magazine.

Mount Magazine is 2,753 feet straight up and the highest point in Arkansas. My friends had never been there, so this was going to be a totally new experience for all of us. I had no idea what to expect so I stuffed my backpack with a jacket and some bottled water and we were off.

Mere minutes in I realized that this was not going to be a gentle stroll on a nicely groomed, clearly marked trail designed for retiree tourists and grade school field trips. What the map called a “trail” was barely a clearing of very rough, uneven rocks. I thought maybe it would smooth out after a while but it didn’t. It actually got worse.

The mistake of not wearing proper hiking boots became apparent almost immediately. All I brought with me to Arkansas was a pair of light Nike running shoes. I felt every sharp corner of every rock through those thin soles. It was going to be a long day.

It took us over an hour and an half of walking through this very rough inclined terrain to reach the summit of Mount Magazine. I’m glad I had the foresight to bring a jacket because it was cool at the higher elevation. My feet were killing me, and we still had to go back down, but the view and camaraderie with my friends as we pushed ourselves was uplifting.

On the descent the rocks were becoming even more painful on my feet. One of my friends happens to be a doctor and I joked that she might have to refer me to a podiatrist when we get back. After three-plus hours of walking on rocks, half of it uphill, we arrived back at the trailhead where we started.

We plopped on a bench and looked at each other in weary silence. There was a sense of “We did it together. We were given challenges and we beat them.” When I got up to leave, the consequences of my poor choice of shoes reached its peak: Everything below my knees was numb and in pain. I was walking like a ninety year old man! Fortunately, I was not crippled for long. The hour and a half ride back to Fort Smith gave me a chance to stay off my feet and by time we got home I was mostly back to normal. I was surprised and grateful that I recovered from that much pain so quickly.

Later that night when I was laying in bed waiting to drift off to sleep, I was contemplating my exciting day. A hike in the woods is more than just hard physical challenges. Nature is a classroom of philosophy and spirituality and introspection. My takeaways were:

1. With the right mindset, challenges can be overcome. We all must walk over the same rocks but how you approach it determines the outcome. Had I worn the correct hiking boots, the trip would have been far less physically painful, but I kept up with the others and finished because I wanted to. There is an analogy to other life situations: If your progress in work or relationships is difficult and painful, it may be because you have the wrong attitude. The difference between those who succeed and those who fail is usually in their outlook.

2. With the right friends, challenges are easier. I would have never walked that trail alone. And the others probably would not have either. The physical pain of aching feet and the emotional pain life sometimes thrusts upon us is greatly reduced when you have friends to encourage you along.

3.  When you succeed in completing challenges as a group, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. When it was over, every one of us felt bigger than just individuals. And none of us would have felt as good had we done it with random strangers. People who think they can do everything themselves usually get lost in the woods. Having friends matters.

Our day on Mount Magazine was far from a high adventure trek worthy of a North Face commercial, yet it was something we will be talking about years from now, and will probably do again (Note to self: Bring appropriate footwear!). Had we decided to bum around a mall or go to a movie that day, I doubt it would have made much of a lasting impression on me. To really understand the world, one has to get out in it, push one’s limits, and share the challenges with a friend.

earth day 2016

Earth Day 2016.

Editor’s note: This article was originally posted on April 19, 2014. We are recycing it for Earth Day 2016 with a few edits and updates.

I’m going to say up front that today’s blog article is not going to be a conservative hit piece on Earth Day 2016, nor will it be a sappy New Age love song about windmills and composting. As someone who has been a strict vegetarian for close to three decades, incorporates numerous meaningful green practices into his life, and is gun-toting, flag-waving Libertarian (which is not the same as a liberal), I feel I have an understanding of Earth Day 2016 that belies the absolute left and right attitudes that define it.

April 22 is Earth Day 2016, and for political liberals, leftover hippies, and various eco-activist groups, it’s a High Holy Day. Started by flower children in 1970 on the momentum of anti-Vietnam counterculture, Earth Day has evolved into a slick, professionally organized international media spectacle complete with its own website and corporate sponsors. Like all things liberal, Earth Day is heavy on shallow sentimentality, squishy platitudes, and calls for “investments” (taxescoughtaxes) in green projects. The real message: We simpletons need big government liberalism to save us from our own stupid. And like all things conservative, Earth Day is an opportunity for overt mockery and to dismiss environmentalism out of hand, because in the Orthodox Church of “drill, baby, drill!” it’s apostasy to even hint that the green movement has a legitimate point buried in there somewhere, especially if it interferes with making a lot of money.

Years before recycling became fashionable, I was lugging magazines and aluminum cans down from my 12th floor college dorm to a recycling center on the other side of campus.

I absolutely do believe in a clean environment and the premise behind Earth Day 2016. I also have a big issue with advancing the cause via rules and edicts that make for good press releases but never achieve their intended goal. I’ve spent a lot of time arguing with myself over how to resolve my conviction that we need to stop trashing the planet against my conservative sensibilities of resisting at every chance an egalitarian nanny state that, especially regarding environmental policy, regulates our lives down to the ridiculous, up to and including federal standards for…shower heads?

Years before recycling became fashionable, I was lugging magazines and aluminum cans down from my 12th floor college dorm to a recycling center on the other side of campus. Back then, recycling required considerable dedication and muscle. As one can guess, hardly anyone bothered. Today, recycling is as straightforward as placing recyclables at the curb where they are picked up along with garbage. My neighborhood even has entrepreneurially-minded scrappers who will scoop up discarded appliances, hot water heaters, bikes, BBQ grills, and whatever metallic waste suburbia tosses away. I don’t know how much money they make, but it must be pretty good because there are more than one of them patrolling the streets competing for junk every week. In many locales, recycling has developed to the point that there aren’t any good excuses not to do it.

Renewable energy is one area that has made considerable progress but is still a long way from being a real game changer. Even with tax incentives and subsidies (which I have a problem with), the bang for the buck is just not there. I will be well into retirement before my roof full of solar panels pay themselves off. Fortunately for me, my motivations are not solely about money. For most, the start up costs of green energy for individual use is well beyond the budget. Germany is often held up as a proud example of a “successful” national renewable energy program, but the rationalization works only if affordability is taken out of the equation.

For the Germans, solar energy may be an environmental win but it is collapsing as a business model due in no small part to regulatory overreach and meddling. Progressives here in the United states have been trying for years, but they cannot come up with a talking point that gets them over the mountain of government incompetence. Green energy will never evolve beyond the fringe unless it becomes cost effective, and it will never be cost effective without free market-based energy policy. The environmental movement will never, ever embrace this simple truth. They run their mouths about how the US should emulate Germany’s example while completely blowing off the ugly fact that it is breaking the bank.

A recurring theme in my blog is making fun of the left for doing things just to feel good. It’s not an unfair criticism: A major piece of liberal dogma is that good intentions and feelings are a valid substitute for reality and actual results. But here’s where I split with conservatives: While liberals are all about being warm and happy even if nothing gets done, conservatives seem to be of the attitude that the value of something is proportional to the amount of difficulty and sacrifice needed to do it. Or to put it another way, if something is enjoyable it’s either not worth doing or you are not working hard enough. Some of the most pissed off, bitter people I know are conservative, possibly because they have forgotten that life can’t always be about that hard journey going for the gold. But what if I can do something that really does produce results and I can feel good about it…what’s wrong with that?

Unfortunately, most of what passes as “environmentalism” is really just fluff. Earth Day 2016 will have plenty of celebrity appearances and petition signings and resurrected Joni Mitchell songs. Within twenty four hours everyone will go back to what they were doing before. They have conned themselves into thinking they are environmentalists because they plop a blue bin full of junk mail at the end of the driveway every week. Toss in an annual one day feel good retro hippy trip and they are completely sold on the hustle. I don’t know what’s worse: Liberals who pretend to be environmentalists with their hollow showmanship or conservatives who never claimed to care in the first place.

I no longer accept the idealism of my youth that had me thinking I could singlehandedly save the world one aluminum can at a time. But doing nothing is also unacceptable. Decades out of college dorm life, I’m still recycling. I’ve also been on solar panels for a while. They aren’t enough to run the whole house, but I can produce a significant chunk of my electricity with them.

When I switched to a vegetarian diet 29 years ago, it was not for environmental reasons. Since then I’ve learned a lot about how dirty and energy-intensive meat production really is, and how many thousands of gallons of water are needed to produce just one pound of beef. I work only a little over a mile from where I live; some weeks I rack up less than 25 miles on my vehicles. When the weather is good I get around on a motorcycle. These are things I do all the time, not just for display purposes. I don’t wear my environmentalism on my sleeve and people who do annoy the hell out of me, especially since most of them are pretenders.

Those of us who live our lives as if every day were Earth Day 2016 are a little vexed about the concept of waiting for a special occasion to take positive action towards keeping the planet clean, nor do we feel a need to show off how “green” we are. True Earth Day practitioners divorce themselves from the fad of environmentalism and go quietly about their eco-friendly business. It’s a lifestyle, not a hobby or a holiday. Conservatives will be pleased to know that when done properly it requires effort and is often a challenge; liberals can be assured that in the end, yes, it feels good. In a truly honorable world, there would be no need to reserve a spot on the calendar to commemorate what everyone should have been doing the whole time anyway.

edwin armstrong

The Hollow Vindication of Edwin Armstrong.

By Chris Warren.

History is littered with biographies of brilliant geniuses who let their personal struggles ruin them. The storyline is an old bit: Unable to handle success, they become a party to their own undoing. A twist on this story are the geniuses who kept their personal conduct  on the straight and narrow but were ruined by others. Edwin Armstrong is such a person. His story teaches that great people often have poor coping skills and do not surround themselves with other great people.

Edwin Armstrong (1890-1954) is not an everyday name but we all benefit from his contributions, every day. He was an early radio pioneer who developed regenerative and superheterodyne receivers. The technical details of these inventions are not the point of this article, but trust me when I say that all our lives are better because of them. Edwin Armstrong also invented FM radio. Yes, the same FM radio that’s in your car and home and everywhere.

One unusual Armstrong accomplishment was proving the capabilities of a device he did not invent. The Audion tube (later to become the vacuum tube found in old electronics) was invented by Lee DeForest but it was Edwin Armstrong who did all the subsequent research that led to the practical uses of the tube. DeForest did not even understand his own invention!

“Courts don’t do what’s fair. They do what’s legal.”

But Edwin Armstrong is most known for inventing FM radio, and that’s where his life took a horrible turn. After years of hard work and spending a lot of his own money to build FM radio into something practical and useful, the tables were turned on him when the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) successfully lobbied the Federal Communications Commission to move the FM radio band to a different range of frequencies to make room for television, which was a nascent medium. At the stroke of a pen, all existing FM receivers and transmitters were rendered obsolete. RCA then claimed that they, not Armstrong, had the patent rights to FM radio. A huge court case followed.

By any measure of fairness, Edwin Armstrong got royally screwed. But as my very wise & street smart father once told me, the courts don’t do what’s fair. They do what’s legal. Armstrong spent most of his career in litigation defending his patents and lost nearly every case he was involved with. One of his close associates stated that Armstrong spent more time dealing with his legal issues than he did actually researching radio.

edwin armstrong

Edwin Armstrong’s extensive personal and professional troubles ended on January 31, 1954 when he committed suicide by jumping out the window of his New York apartment. Decades of business related acrimony and legal strife was too much for him.

The epilogue to this story is where the lesson lies. Edwin Armstrong eventually won his lawsuit with RCA. The court vindicated him as the true father of FM radio, but there was no “making him whole” in the legal sense because by then he was dead. His heirs collected a monetary settlement in the millions, but riches mean nothing to a dead man, and they mean barely more than nothing to the surviving family. Unlike celebrity deaths willfully caused by a wild lifestyle and substance abuse (which might be considered a form of suicide), Armstrong badly wanted to live the serene life of a scientist and was battered by forces outside himself.

We can’t control everything that happens to us, we can only control how we react to it. It’s unfortunate that Edwin Armstrong, for all his technical prowess, could not master this common and very effective psychological defense mechanism.

The simple conclusion is that Edwin Armstrong is solely responsible for the decision to end his life. But these things are never that simple. Suicide never happens in a vacuum, and never happens for no reason. David Sarnoff, the president of RCA and the face of most of Armstrong’s legal problems, reportedly stated that he “did not kill Armstrong.”

Armstrong was killed by his inability to choose good people to do business with and his inability to find a better way to deal with the trouble that seems to follow extraordinary geniuses no matter how hard they try to live an ordinary life.

hug

When All You Have Is A Hug.

By: Chris Warren.

Luckily, it is rare when I find myself in a situation where someone important to me is in a lot of trouble and pain and there is absolutely nothing I or anyone can do about it. No matter how much I want to help them, no matter how much I care, no matter how much I empathize with them, none of it changes the ultimate outcome. When there is nothing left to give, or more appropriately, nothing to give, all that is left is the power of a hug.

I find myself in such a situation right now; it involves a close friend who is going through a painful and difficult period and all I can do is stand back and watch. She doesn’t deserve it. Then again, does anyone? Fate can be a both a bastard and an angel, often at the same time. It’s also indiscriminate. Good and evil happen to everyone at some point in their lives. Evil can be avoided to some extent with good judgement and money, but sooner or later, the bastard is going to catch even the smart, the rich, and the lucky.

I sat in a hospital lobby with my friend for several hours late into the night while waiting for her husband to arrive. The place was quiet, very well appointed, with deep comfortable chairs and soft light. They even had a fireplace! My friend did about 80% of the talking, describing in great detail the storyline that was soon going to end sadly in that hospital. The whole scene: The nice furniture, fireplace, and personal conversation made me feel like I was in a therapist’s office, except I was the therapist.

Other than listening and hugging, we bystanders in an untenable position. We can’t really help, and we can’t just stand there either. For those who are hurting, an attentive ear and a hug go a surprisingly long way. A hug has warmth. A hug has hope. A hug has meaning that cannot be expressed with words. A hug has power. A hug is what you have when you have nothing else. And that’s a lot.

 

advice

What Advice Would You Give Your 17 Year Old Self?

By: Chris Warren.

The other night I was on the phone with a buddy I’ve kicked it around with since we were young brats. We are still close friends and we sometimes get carried away while shooting the breeze and yapping about whatever. What started as a five minute check-in call turned into a lengthy introspective. It was a sometimes serious, mostly funny conversation, contemplating what advice we would give our seventeen year old selves. As it turns out, it’s not really an original idea.

If I were having a face to face talk with my seventeen year old self, the list of advice would be far longer than can be fit into a few hundred words on a commentary blog. But there are two Big Things old Chris wants young Chris to know:

“First, you somehow got it in your head that you have to go it alone on everything, but there are a lot of people on your side, and letting them in, even just a little, would make your world a lot better. There is no shame in asking for help, nor is there any particular glory in struggling by yourself. Decades from now you will still be doing everything yourself, but by then you will have become a very resourceful person and learned to work it to your advantage.

“Second, take yourself less seriously: You brood over inconsequential junk that you’ll barely remember five years from now. I understand that friends, school, and life seem very heavy to you. It may shock you to hear me say this, but the world you are in now, the one that gives you so much stress, is not reality. It’s not even close. Everything gets harder from here. Your life will never be as easy as it is at seventeen. Toughen up and stop thinking that no one has bigger problems than yours. Not everyone who superficially treats you well is your friend, and not everyone who kicks you in the balls is your enemy. Learn the difference. If you can’t handle your present day problems, then there is no advice that will save you from becoming hopelessly dysfunctional as an adult.”

advice

Today I hear young people say stuff that sounds amazingly similar to things I said and felt myself when I was in their shoes. In their limited life experience, their problems seem very real. I feel a responsibility to help them gain some perspective and make them see that these things do pass.

One of the worst things an adult can do is trivialize a kid’s problem, even if the problem is, in fact, trivial. Yes, I get it: Breaking up with a girl/boyfriend after a two month “relationship”, or not making the team, or not having a date for the dance, or not getting cool new clothes don’t rank high as the most profound concerns in the world, unless of course your world is not that big to begin with. That is the viewpoint teens see things from. My advice to my seventeen year old self was to take myself less seriously. The advice goes the other way for the adults: Take kids’ concerns more seriously, because to them, making the team, or whatever, is a pretty big deal.

When I think back to those times I am somewhat embarrassed about how much I used to let trivial things bother me. I am certain that pretty much everyone my age feels the same way. If we all had the benefit of our adult selves counseling our teenaged selves, would we follow our own advice? I don’t think I would have listened. The paradox is that had I listened to my own advice, I would have missed out on the failures that resulted in the life experience that allowed me to give the advice in the first place. As the cliché goes, no pain no gain, at least until someone discovers time travel. My seventeen year old self will just have to accept the growing pains and wait a few more decades to see that my older self was right about everything.