Sticks and stones can break my bones but names can never hurt me

By Jackie Cushman

Published on

Last Monday, the New York Times ran an ad paid for by the pro-Democratic organization with the headline, "General Petraeus or General Betray us? Cooking the books for the White House." The ad ran the same day that General Petraeus testified before Congress about Iraq.

According to's Web site, "the ad was successful in what it was intended to do: Call the credibility of Petraeus' testimony into question. It garnered more coverage than any ad that has run in years. Every time Republicans debated the ad, they helped raise questions around reliability of the General's report."

But some Democrats distanced themselves from the ad. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., called it "over the top."

"I don't like any kind of characterizations in our politics that call into question any active duty, distinguished general who I think under any circumstances serves with the best interests of our country," said Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate and a decorated veteran.

White House spokesman Tony Snow called the ad a "boorish, childish, unworthy attack."

Two days after the ad ran, after having testified for hours on end, Petraeus told reporters in Washington: "Needless to say” and to state the obvious”I disagree with the message of those that were exercising the First Amendment right that generations of soldiers have sought to preserve for Americans. Some of it was just flat, completely wrong and the rest was at least more than arguable."

The target of the attack was the integrity and honesty of Petraeus, a 1974 West Point graduate who has served his country for decades, a professional soldier who this past week conducted himself with professionalism and credibility.

Civility in a civilized world, is it too much to ask?  Possibly it is my stage in life (middle aged), but I believe that there should be civility in a civilized country, that we should have a certain amount of respect for people on a personal level, and we should use common courtesy in our interactions with others.

There are a few items to consider here: the person calling the name, the manner in which it was done, the object of the name calling and the context of the situation. acknowledged on its website that its language was inflammatory and noted that this was intentional, since "the truth about the mainstream media is that the kind of analyses with which some of us feel more comfortable don't generate enough attention or news coverage to shift the debate.

"Phrases like "General Betray Us" are "sticky”that is, they get repeated again and again in the media because they are so memorable. The manner in which this name calling was done was through a vehicle, the "New York Times" that is delivered into people homes on a daily basis.

It helps to have a bit of background regarding the object of the name-calling: in this instance, Petraeus. Last month, the Wall Street Journal published a wonderful, insightful column by Peggy Noonan that tells the story of Petraeus getting shot on September 21, 1991.

The short version is that Petraeus was accidentally shot in the chest during a live-fire exercise when a soldier tripped on an M-16. Petraeus was taken for emergency surgery to a nearby hospital, where Dr. Bill Frist “the future Senate majority leader" was on duty. The surgery was a success; Petraeus was discharged early after completing 50 pushups.

The context of the name calling is personally driven vs. data driven, with the goal of maligning a professional soldier who has given decades of his life in the service of his country.

Certainly as a free people (thanks to soldiers like Petraeus), we have the right to question the veracity of information supplied by our leaders. But do we have the obligation as members of a civil society to do so without degenerating into name-calling?

We have all been called names, some deserved, some not.  We have also all been told that sticks and stones can break our bones, but names can never hurt us.

Those of us with children relive the experience of dealing with name callers as our children grow up. Preschool is fraught with such lessons. Two years ago, one of my children arrived home, upset at having been called a name at school.  I listened to her story and, when she finished, I asked her: "So, is what they called you true?"

And her answer was "No."

I asked, "If I called you a panda, would that make you a panda?" After a quizzical look and some serious contemplation, the answer was "No, just because you called me a panda does not make me a panda."

This is the approach we still take in our family. Some cases are easier than others, because as often as I repeat the mantra regarding sticks and stones, I know that words matter and have power. However, in the end, we get to determine how we react to the words, which is often more telling than the name calling.

Copyright 2007 by Jackie Cushman
All Rights Reserved

"The basis of good citizenship is the home" Theodore Roosevelt

By Jackie Cushman

Published on

Visiting other people's homes gives you a sense of who lives there. Houses, like pets, often reflect the characteristics of their owners. This holds true for presidents, who are both people and elected officials. President Bush reminded us of this recently with his statement that "I do tears."

On Labor Day weekend, I, along with family and friends, visited Sagamore Hill, the summer White House and home to Theodore Roosevelt and his family. Located in Oyster Bay, New York, Sagamore hill was built by Roosevelt in 1885. Roosevelt was the twenty-sixth president of the United States. In 1901, when President McKinley was assassinated, the 42-year-old Roosevelt became the nation's youngest president. He served until 1909.

His home, a three-story, 23-room, blue-painted, wood-framed house, is perched atop a hill. Walking into the house, a visitor instantly feels she is entering not a house, but what was -- a century ago -- a home to a family with six children.

That homey feeling persists, despite the presence of velvet ropes stretched across the entrances to rooms to keep out guests who might try to reach in and touch artifacts (yes, the alarm does work). The dark-wood panels in the entrance hallway and the stuffed animal heads convey a feeling of masculinity and roughness true to the outdoorsman and conservationist.

The second floor includes bedrooms for guests, children and Roosevelt himself, who died in an adjacent bedroom where he had been moved so that he could be near a fire.

Roosevelt was a bibliophile, with a collection of more than 6,000 books. They are tucked away in corners throughout the house, including a small bookshelf built into the entrance to the master bedroom. An American Flag, from Roosevelt's time, Roosevelt's red presidential flag, and the Rough Riders Flag all hang in the trophy room of the house. Lessons in history and life are woven into the surroundings and highlighted in quotes from Roosevelt. Many of them are still applicable.

"Only those are fit to live who do not fear to die: and none are fit to die who have shrunk from the joy of life. Both life and death are parts of the same great adventure." President Roosevelt, "Metropolitan" October 1918.

Life transcends as individuals, we live in a nation and a world that is larger than us and that will endure after we are gone. A walk through Roosevelt's family's home underscores this fact. Though the original occupants are long gone, their legacy remains.

The second message is that there are things we can do ourselves. By that, I don't mean things we can get the politicians to do or things we can assign to bureaucrats, but things we can do as individuals to give ourselves, our children and our grandchildren a better future.

While we are individuals, we are also part of an American civilization that gives us freedom, security and prosperity. We are able to have a limited government because we have an active civil society. Civic activity and philanthropy are part of the American fabric. Roosevelt was active and engaged in bettering society. As a conservationist, he made a lasting impact on the preservation of land from which even children yet unborn will benefit.

The third message is that it is important to work hard. "There are two things that I want you to make up your minds to: first, that you are going to have a good time as long as you live ... I have no use for the sour-faced man and next that you are going to do something worthwhile, that you are going to work hard and do the things you set out to do," Theodore Roosevelt talking to schoolchildren in Oyster Bay, Christmas 1898.

This quote reflects Americans' belief in hard work and the impact that hard work has on our culture and civilization. One of the benefits of hard work can be civil peace. When we are busy creating, we are too busy to be destructive. This evokes Atlanta's description as "a city too busy to hate."

Americans' have great freedom and, with it, great responsibility. Part of that responsibility is to pass American civilization onto future generations. As Newt Gingrich said at the 2006 groundbreaking of Atlanta's Millennium Gate, "It's almost as though we believe you can take this extraordinarily complex thing called American civilization and figure that your children and your grandchildren would automatically learn to be Americans. It's not true. It is not easy to learn to be an active member of American civilization, but it critical for us to be safe, prosperous and free." Roosevelt reminds us that "the basis of good citizenship is the home."

We often get caught up in society's obsession with possessions: having a larger house, a nicer car, better clothes and the right accessories. Possibly this is because this is an easy way to keep score. By continually refocusing on what people do, specifically in regards to furthering our civilization in such a way that we create a better future of ourselves, our children and our grandchildren we create long-term value for our civilization.

Can you image if we had a nation of doers not possessors. How do we create a nation of doers, who understand that what you have is not as important as what you do with what you have; that it is better to have less and do more that to have more and do less.

Copyright 2007 by Jackie Cushman
All Rights Reserved

144 Million dollars, the high cost of late character development lets hope it pays off

By Jackie Cushman

Published on

After signing a 10-year, $130-million contract with the Atlanta Falcons less than three years ago,, Michael Vick appeared to have it all  and maybe he did but only for a moment.  In the last few days, he has plummeted from role model and hero to despised dog abuser.

On Aug. 24, Vick pleaded guilty to one count of "conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture." Sentencing is set for December 10. The former NFL No. 1 draft pick from Virginia Tech could face up to five years in a federal prison, but prosecutors have agreed to seek a lesser punishment.

Michael McCann, an assistant professor at Mississippi College School of Law, estimates that what Vick called his bad judgment, making bad decisions, could cost the quarterback up to $144 million in lost pay, bonuses and endorsements.

On Aug. 27, Vick apologized publicly. "I was not honest and forthright in our discussions," Vick said, referring to his interaction with law enforcement authorities, the NFL and the Falcons.

Vick said he was most upset with himself for having let down children who view him as a role model. "I hope that every young kid out there in the world watching this interview right now who's been following the case will use me as an example to using better judgment and making better decisions," he said.

Vick may find solace in knowing that, after hearing his story, both my children concluded that it was good neither to be involved in dog fighting nor to lie. I hope all of the millions of children who once looked up to Vick as a hero and have slept in a number 7 Falcons jersey reach the same conclusion.

Vick has said his new goal is to focus on "how to make Michael Vick a better person."

He might be able to learn from another quarterback who had his own share of problems. Although a bit younger than Vick (24 vs. 27), Colt Brennan, senior quarterback at the University of Hawaii, had a brush with the law in 2004 that resulted in his being convicted of second-degree burglary and first-degree criminal trespass. This occurred when he was a freshman at the University of Colorado and appears to have made a lasting impact on the player.

Brennan left Boulder and attended Saddleback Community College in the fall of 2004. He moved to the University of Hawaii in the fall of 2005, where he regained his footing and is in the running for the Heismann Trophy.

During his apology speech, Vick said, "I found Jesus, I asked him for forgiveness, I turned my life over to God."

Brennan too underwent a spiritual transition. It happened as he was Googling words for peace of mind around the time of his trial and stumbled across a passage from Romans 12. "'Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God' what is good and acceptable and perfect.  According to Brennan, this passage changed his attitude.

Brennan recalled thinking,  "I don't need to worry about what anyone thinks." Today, he says, “my actions, over time, will display not only the person I was, but help me clear up everything that happened out there in Colorado. "I'm not perfect, and I know I'm going to make plenty of mistakes. But it's all about the journey and what you are and what you do."

Brennan appears to have accomplished his goal of becoming a better person through humility and community service. He often speaks to school children about making good decisions and overcoming adversity. Possibly, Vick can carve out an area of interest where he can provide a positive role model once again to the children whom he let down.

Pacman Jones, a player for the Tennessee Titans was suspended for the 2007 NFL season in May of this year for numerous violations for the NFL's personal conduct code. Commissioner Roger Goodell stated in response to Pacman Jones' behavior: "You have to earn your way back into the National Football League, and you have to earn it through your conduct. It's not about what you tell the commissioner, or what you tell anyone. It's your conduct and your activities."

In an e-mail, McCann predicted Goodell will let Vick play again in the NFL. "Vick's guilty plea, acknowledgment of his wrongdoing, and expressions of sorrow appear to indicate that he recognizes his failings and wants to correct his behavior, McCann wrote." Certainly, the genuineness of his contrition may be questioned, but at face value he appears to be sorry.

"If he serves his time without incident, avoids other controversy, and commits to using his football fame for good (such as pledging to donate a meaningful portion of any future football-related income to animal abuse shelters), he would seem to be on the right road to redemption, not only in the eyes of Commissioner Goodell, but also of many Americans." McCann added, "And while we never forget his role in unspeakably horrific dog abuse, we also, I suspect, recognize that we all make errors and that we can all change and become better persons."

So Michael Vick faces a long road before he can expect to shake his current image and be judged by his future activities and conduct. I wish him luck and hope that he does redeem himself.

Copyright © 2007 by Jackie Cushman
All Rights Reserved

It's great to be a part of history, especially when it involves buttered popcorn

By Jackie Cushman

Published on

More than 17 million viewers tuned into the premiere of "High School Musical 2" on August 17, making it the most watch basic cable telecast on record.  Our house included four of those viewers.

I heard about the debut from a friend whose daughter was having a premiere viewing party.  This was not an isolated event -- there were debut parties across the nation.  The Disney Web site even offered party tips for the event.

Disney promoted the movie throughout the summer, providing fans with an interactive way to help create the new show through the Disney Web site.  Fans' choices determined, among other things, what was written on Chad's t-shirt and Sharpay's golf cart accessories.

As with the original movie, Disney did a terrific job of combining talent and entertainment with a story that has a moral.  The original "High School Musical" revolves around the ideas of working hard, taking a chance and being successful.

"High School Musical 2" focuses on being true to yourself and to your friends.

The movie begins as the last class of the year is ending and summer break is beginning.  The plot revolves around Troy, the basketball team captain, and school heart throb; Gabriella his smart girlfriend; and Sharpay, the rich country club girl with the pink convertible, who decides winning Troy over will be her summer activity.

Troy, Gabriella and the majority of the basketball team are looking for summer jobs.  Sharpay decides to assist Troy (without his knowing) by having the manager of her family's country club offer Troy a job.  Troy turns his good fortune into good fortune for his friends, securing jobs at the club for them as well.

In her quest to win Troy over, Sharpay orchestrates numerous tricks and twists, including Troy's promotion to assistant golf pro, access to a golf cart, new Italian shoes, golf clothes and clubs, and an introduction via her father to the Redhawks college basketball team.  Troy is faced with choosing between opportunities and old friends.

During one telling scene, Troy and the Redhawks are at a table, when Chad, Troy's friend approaches to serve lunch.  Troy interrupts his conversation with the Redhawks, Chad's face lights up, thinking his friend is about to introduce him.  Instead, Troy informs Chad that his order is wrong; he had asked for Swiss on his hamburger.

The drama continues: Sharpay kicks her brother Ryan out of her talent act, and enlists Troy by trapping him into a promise.  Gabriella responds by enlisting Ryan into directing the team and friends for a separate entry in the contest.  Sharpay retaliates by forcing the country club manager to exclude club employees from the contest.

After Gabriella has broken up with Troy, citing her need to move on, Troy is pictured lying in his bed contemplating what to do when his father walks into his room.  After his father notes that Troy has not been himself recently, Troy tells his father that he is confused and does not know what to do or who he is anymore.  Picking up a picture of Troy, his father expresses confidence that Troy will figure it out.

Troy does, in fact, figure it all out, requesting his friends' forgiveness, and announcing to Sharpay he will not appear in the talent contest.

In the end, as would be expected, everything works out. Troy sings in the talent contest, Gabriella joins him in a duet that Ryan orchestrates.  Sharpay receives the award for the talent show, turning it over to her brother Ryan. In the end Troy chooses friends, but is also able to take advantage of opportunity.

While this story line may appear simple on the surface, the program also contains scenes that provide viewers with a framework for understanding the characters' actions.  The basketball team members lounge around in Troy's kitchen, obviously quite at home, indicating this is a normal event.  Troy's mother walks in the house after shopping, asks the team to unload the groceries and all the team members go outside to help. Troy and his father work together to rebuild a truck, which his father then gives to him. Gabriella's parents pick her up after her shift ends at the club and Ryan's father constantly adjusts his son's cap.

These little details paint a picture of families providing structure and support for their children, with the expectation that the children will respond with good behavior, hard work and by doing their best.

The good news is that the time spent to create this framework is also what makes 13 to 24 year olds happy. A recent AP article, "Poll: Family Ties key to Youth Happiness" reports the results of an AP, MTV poll.  "When asked what one thing makes them most happy, 20 percent mentioned spending time with family more than anything else. About three-quarters - 73 - percent said their relationship with their parents makes them happy."

So the takeaway from watching "High School Musical 2," is that adolescents will make the right choices as they grow up, based on what they have learned throughout their lives.

The good news is that spending time with their family, which will create this framework, will also make them happy, now that's a happy ending.

Copyright 2007 by Jackie Cushman
All Rights Reserved

Sow an act and reap a destiny

By Jackie Cushman

Published on

The ancient Romans coined the phrase "dog days" based on the period of time that the brightest star (Sirius, the Dog Star) rose and set in conjunction with the sun. The Romans believed that Sirius radiated heat to the Earth, causing the hottest part of the year as it traveled with the sun.

The "dog day" dates vary based on the source. The Old Farmer's Almanac refers to the 40-day period that begins July 3 and ends August 11. The 1552 Book of Common Prayer refers to the period from July 6 to August 17. Many references extend the "dog day" period into September.

The dog days are popularly believed to be a time of agitation and unruly behavior. Anyone who has experienced this period of time in the South can understand why people might have been driven to madness and lethargy before the advent of air conditioning. Possibly this was why, on occasion, Southerners were termed lazy. After all, it is hard to work in heat that exceeds 100 degrees.

The dog days of summer are inevitably followed by fall. It is just a question of how fast the weather and people's focus will change from vacation, playing and fun to work, school and seriousness.

For many people, the change in focus coincides with the beginning of the school year. This signals that the fun of summer is over and the seriousness of learning is beginning. Family vacations come to an end and routine sets in. For most schools, this start occurs between mid-August and mid-September.

For other people, the start of football season, budgeting season at work or baseball playoffs may signal the change. Each of these provides the signal that summer is over and fall is about to begin. And with fall comes some serious work until the Christmas holidays.

This past week, our family focus changed with the end of our summer trips and the start of our children's school. It was an even greater transition for us as our youngest child started kindergarten.

Many teachers recommend the rapid-transition approach. Starting on day one, they enforce rules governing the behavior that they expect of their students. For instance, our daughter's second-grade teacher has the children in her class sit in the hallway and read books from the time they arrive at school until 7:45 a.m., when classes begin. This activity began on the first day of school.

Our family is using this same rapid-transition strategy with our children's homework habits. Our rules are simple, but firm: no TV during the week, and homework first. There has been a bit of pushback this week, but it diminishes each day.

I hope that, soon, there will be no more questions regarding expected actions and the habit of homework first will be ingrained in them and help them throughout life.

The beginning of the school year, and fall have commonalities: each allows us to begin anew, to plant seeds in anticipation of what might sprout and blossom in another season.

This may also be the time to go back to our roots, as a gardener might say, to practice those habits that can lead to success. They include taking personal responsibility, working hard, taking civic responsibility, helping others and viewing the world with optimism. These become habits only after repetitive, deliberate practice.

Learning is not always easy or fun, but it is what helps us move forward instead of becoming stagnant. Often, when we have trouble learning, we want to give up rather than try again and risk failure. Next time this road block occurs to you, you might want to remember Aristotle's insight: "For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them."

In other words, do not worry if you will fail, for we all fail. Instead, worry that you might not act and therefore stagnate. Just remember that, since repeated actions lead to ingrained habits, we should act in ways we will want to repeat.

Charles Reade, an English author, said, "sow an act, and you reap a habit. Sow a habit and you reap a character. Sow a character and you reap a destiny."

Beginning this fall, begin to act, creating a habit that will strengthen your character and shape your destiny.

Copyright 2007 by Jackie Cushman
All Rights Reserved

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