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COMMUNICATING WITH CLICHÉS

Our world is so fast-paced with the variety of technologies we use to communicate with that it seems we’ve been reduced to talking in cliches. It’s hard to get a straight answer to a question, a dogmatic determination or a difficulty, or a workable solution to a problem. Thanks to TV NEWS, CNN,MTV, FOX AND FRIENDS, NICK AT NIGHT, THE INTERNET WIRELESS AND OTHERWISE, many of us have been reduced to trying to communicate via cliches.

You’re probably thinking, “If the shoe fits wear it.” Right? After all, “a rose by any other name will still smell as sweet.” And you may be thinking, “methinks thou dost protest to much.” Well, “hold your horses”, and listen to the argument for a moment.

It is necessary to speak softly and carry a big stick.” Because “there is nothing to fear but fear itself”, “to coin a phrase.” But when you consider the problem further you should realize that “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Truly, love is never having to say you are sorry”, and “there is a broken heart for every light on Broadway.” But “que sera sera whatever will be will be,” you say? Well, let me “leave no stone unturned” to make you understand. “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”, and if we don’t use our minds and words to communicate we will soon all be “left holding the bag.” Do you follow me so far?

Curing people of using cliches is like “leading a horse to water.” “You’ve got to have goals” and you must “go for the gusto.” To stop using cliches, you’ve got to “grab the bull by the horns” because “a stitch in time saves nine.”

If we are to stop using cliches in our communications we’ve got to realize that “it ain’t over till it is over.” Actually, “it’s not over until the gravitationally challenged lady sings.” But to communicate accurately we must “accentuate the positive” and foremost we must “eliminate the negatives.” The negatives, of course, are cliches but “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sows ear.” We must also remember that “all generalities are false including this one.” And of course, “if you think you are beaten, you are.” So concentrate on communicating with clear, concise language and “never give up, never give up, never give up, never, never, never give up.” Oh my goodness, I have completely run out of time and, as you all know, “time flies when you’re having fun.”

IS SERVICE GETTING WORSE, OR IS IT ME?

Lately I’ve been feeling a lot like Andy Rooney of “60 Minutes” fame. I find myself asking out loud, “Is customer service in the world getting worse, or is it just my perception of the same?” Like you, all I want in life is to encounter a little customer satisfaction for me. I want my food served promptly and courteously. It would be nice for the auto technician to be efficient and competent. I would derive great pleasure, when I call a major banking institution or computer service department or what ever company I call, in talking with a real, live, friendly person without having to punch buttons on a phone tree directory for thirty minutes or longer. Is it too much to ask? Is there any way possible that I could get value for what I pay for? To receive prompt and courteous service for a change? Do you feel this way too, or is it just me? Let me share some of my frustrations with you. You might find a way to help me as a friend or as an aware and astute consumer. Will someone help me, please?

Let me begin by saying that I actually have received terrific customer service once in the last six months. It was on a busy holiday at the “Outback Restaurant” recently. The place was packed. A 45-minute wait according to the smiling receptionist. But I could sit at the bar and eat. Checking out the area I noticed nobody else at the Bar. I sat down. The bartender/waiter said, “What for you sir?” I said, “How about some sweet tea and that new chicken dish there on the menu?” The young man said, “No problem, I’ll get you started.”  In three minutes I had an ice cold mug of sweet tea. Two minutes later he brought some hot fresh baked bread. Fifteen minutes later I was eating my new chicken dish and had a tea refill and another loaf of bread. I told the young man, “You are the best waiter I have ever had in this place.” He said, “Well, you were the best customer I’ve ever had because you knew what you wanted and we got the order in and viola!” Happily, I paid my check and gave the gentleman a 30% tip. As I left the restaurant, I noticed that some of the people who came in when I did were still waiting. Eureka! I finally got some great service, with a smile, prompt, efficient, and friendly.

But I do have some bad stories I want to share. I’m going to name names too, because I think it is only fair to give the bad service folks a little publicity as well as laud the good ones. About a year ago I bought a set of tires for my truck. About $750 or so with a life time rotation fee attached.  Six months went by and I took my truck in on a Saturday morning for a free rotation. The place was BTW. I was the first customer of the day. It should have taken less than 30-minutes. An hour and a half later I was still waiting and getting irritated. Other customers came in, got serviced and were leaving. Confronting the young man at the desk only seemed to irritate him. He went to check. When he came back he said it would be ten more minutes. Well, 25 minutes later he said it was done. The next day when I stopped to get gasoline I noticed two of the special lug nuts were missing from one of my tires. I called the manager of the BTW. He said, “Come in this morning and I’ll put them on for you.”  When I arrived the manager comes out and says, “Sorry, we can’t find your lug nuts and will have to order them.” Absurd. My lug nuts should be there in the shop. They weren’t. He said he would call me when they came in. Four days later he called and told me he had them. He said he would be there at a specific time. I arrived at the specific time. The manager had stepped out. The guy on duty had no idea where my lug nuts were. I said, “Go check in your managers office right now.” He did and came back with five sets of lug nuts and tried to match them with my truck tire. Finally, the young man said, “I THINK these are the right ones, if they fall off come back and we’ll get you some more.” Incredibly inept. The entire scenario was totally frustrating. I told the guy I would never be back and that I would discourage everyone I knew not to do business with them.

Another thing that grates my craw as we say in Mississippi where I am from. Grating ones craw is not a good thing, I might add. In the last month I have received no less than eight marketing calls from Bellsouth. Each time I tell them that I am satisfied with my current service. I do not want to change anything. Please stop calling, I tell them, and take me off your list. All the calls but one comes from either a man or woman calling from somewhere in India. First, I tell them I am not interested in making changes to my Bellsouth calling plan. They are persistent. They keep talking undeterred. Second, I tell them over and over again that I do not want to change. Third, I tell them to tell all the other people in the Punjab Province not to call Me. I say thank you very much and I hang up the phone. Once, after such a conversation I got another call immediately after hanging up and the young woman on the line said to me, “You are the most rude American I have ever spoken to on the phone.” What audacity. I said, “What part of do not call me again and I am not interested do you NOT understand?” Once, I did get a persistent American guy from Dallas on the Bellsouth marketing call. He was understandable so I spoke with him and he offered me the new package. I said, “Break it down for me and tell me how much I will save if I take this new plan.” He broke it down by the numbers, paused for a minute or two and said, “Oops, it shows me here that the new plan would cost you $2.49 more per month.” I told the young man, “You guys need to work on your new offers, and it should cost less not more. I’m not interested. Please don’t call again. Thank you. Goodbye.” They called again last week.

Are you able to sense my frustration? Giving bad service and trying to “Convince” a customer who knows what they want is not the way to build up a customer base or hold on to a customer. Bad service and bullying are not what I would call efficient and effective customer service. Chuck Reaves of Atlanta, Georgia is one of the foremost successful professional speakers and sales trainers in the world today. Chuck says, “The new trend in sales today is faster more efficient service.” Everyone wants the sales experience to be better, faster, and we want what we buy at a lower cost, according to Mr. Reaves. If a corporation wants to learn what is new in sales and effective sales training I would encourage the decision makers in that business to engage my friend and sales mentor Chuck Reaves to fine tune their approach to making customers happy, content, and satisfied.

All of us want to be treated fairly by those we seek a service from. I believe that most everyone wants to feel that they should be served with dignity, respect, and integrity. Those offering a service should treat and serve their customers like they would want to be treated in a similar situation. When the average Joe or Jane has a problem all they want is a solution to their problem. If a business offers solutions to problems they should do everything within their power to do what the customer asks and even go beyond the call of duty to exceed the customer’s expectations. If a company is in the service business their top priority should be fair, prompt, efficient, service. Anything less than the best is insufficient. Even the slightest effort made to exceed the customer’s expectations will be seen as excellence in the market place. Any company that is truly customer service driven will reap the benefits, and rewards of solid customer loyalty. Get it right the first time and do it with a smile! So, I ask you again. Is customer service getting worse? Or is it just me?

ORDINARY HERO’S

It was the renowned humorist Mark Twain who said, “Everyone cannot be a hero; there has to be somebody standing on the curb to applaud when the hero’s pass by in the parade.” I am not certain that I totally agree with this great writer, thinker and humorist. My reasoning is because I have met many ordinary people in a variety of circumstances who live heroic lives. These people have lived lives of quiet heroism, having lived a life time of giving, doing, love, accomplishment, and sacrifice to make the world a better place. They do it by “doing what they do” one day, week, month, year, and decade at a time. Following, you will find the story of a few of these ordinary heroes’s who have touched me and inspired me as I have traveled around the world. These people have given me a new insight into what makes a life heroic in an ordinary fashion. Each story is different; each circumstance non-related, yet the common thread is the ordinary, day-to-day living of a life in a positive, uplifting manner, done by ordinary people. It is easy to extract a life lesson from them all.

During my radio talk show each day, my radio partner, colleague, friend, and I regularly communicated via email with a young marine in Iraq named Lance Corporal Rudolph. We checked on his progress and safety during the course of his tour of duty in some of the most dangerous territory on earth. He was in Iraq answering his country’s call of duty. Eventually, he came home and we invited him to be a guest on the radio show. He accepted and brought with him another young Marine from his unit. They both shared what it was like to be in mortal combat, their thoughts, concerns, and their perspective on the war and how they came to be thrust into the fray. Listening to these two twenty-something year old young men talk of their patriotism, love of country and of their fellow Marines was awe inspiring. They saw their duty and they did it. To me they are heroes. Ordinary young men doing extraordinary things because they felt it was their job. As the young men were leaving the studio, one of them said to me, “You don’t remember me do you?” I honestly said I did not. Then he said, “You were on my Eagle Board of Review panel when I was trying to get my Eagle Scout award about three years ago.” He continued, “You encouraged me with your words and challenged me with your questions and made me think about doing great things.” Then he said, “thank you for taking the time to be on that Eagle Board of Review panel.” It is amazing to me how doing ordinary things can touch others and affect them in a good and positive way.

On another occasion I was in California speaking to the legal department of a major oil company. The next morning I took a cab back to John Wayne Airport in Orange County and that is when I met another ordinary hero. His name was Petros, a Greek-American cab driver. It was early in the morning and Petros was very talkative on the way to the airport. He told me that he believed in hard work and saving money and not buying anything that he could not afford. He was 55 years old and he had raised five children and instilled in them a good work ethic. We talked about how some people get in debt and never get out of it. We talked about how some people like to live high on the hog and flaunt their affluence. He told me that he started out in New York and waited tables. He saved his money and then he and his wife eventually opened their own restaurant. Then they expanded and at one time ran five restaurants. He made his money and moved to California and lived in the San Juan Capistrano area. He said he drove a cab part time because he could not stand to be idle and needed to feel like he was working. Petros told me about the time he was waiting on Aristotle Onassis the Greek Billionaire. He said he gave the Billionaire great service and at the end of the meal and evening Onassis wrote him a tip check in the amount of $5000. That amount was for all the waiters who worked that evening. Petros said then Mr. Onassis said, “Would you like to flip double or nothing for the tip? If you win I’ll give you $10,000 but if you lose you’ll get nothing.” Petros told me he thought about taking the risk but finally decided that a bird in the hand was better than a lot of other birds in the bushes. He told Mr. Onassis that he would take the original offer for himself and the other hard working waiters. Mr. Onassis told him that he made the right decision and that a person should never take such a risk when the odds were just 50-50. Petros told me that it was a unique experience waiting on the billionaire and that he learned that when you work hard for something that you should not be flippant about it, but rather you should take the reward of your labor and be happy with what you have earned. He said,” We should never gamble or risk everything we have to try to get an increase from nothing and that we did not earn.” What a story. Petros the positive cabbie from San Juan Capistrano. He’s an ordinary hero who has done extraordinary things with his life and his influence among friends and family is immeasurable.

I spoke in Hermosilla, Mexico to a group of engineering students and met a couple of young men who were to me, ordinary hero’s. Their names are Jose and Victor. These young men were in college and came from very poor families. They attended my sessions and we ate together and went to other meetings together and I got to know them on a personal level. They both talked about coming to America and going to graduate school after they finished college. They had dreams of succeeding academically and financially. Though their prospects were dim at the moment and their future uncertain, they were living lives of optimism and expectation. Daily they go to classes, they do their homework, and they do their studying to pass their course work. They have no prospect of a job when they finish college in their area but they have big dreams, high hopes, and they both have a drive to succeed. They want to succeed, and to help their families and to eventually have families of their own. Seeing these young men and how hard they were working to facilitate their success was inspiring to me. They are doing what they have to do and need to do, one day at a time, one week at a time. They are ordinary hero’s who are doing what it takes to better themselves and to realize their dreams. Some how, I am confident that they will press on toward the mark and reach their goals.

I suppose that we all can’t be hero’s commanding a parade in our honor. There has to be that group standing on the curb applauding as the big hero’s pass by. However, I would submit, the real hero’s in the world are those who “are”standing on the sidewalk applauding and encouraging others. They are the ones who are carving their good deeds on the hearts of others. Without those who stand aside and in line, off the beaten path, those who are the hard workers, the appreciators, the encouragers, the optimists, the doers of good things, there would be no grease to smooth the way for those who accomplish great things. These are the ordinary hero’s. To those whom I’ve met and to those I have yet to meet, I salute YOU!

AMBITION

My Grandfather came to the United States from the Ukraine in the early part of the last century with nothing but a small suitcase and a pocket full of dreams and ambition. He was processed through Ellis Island in New York where all the immigrants had to go. He related the story to me about getting something to eat in the Ellis Island cafeteria. He said that he sat down at an empty table and waited for someone to take his order. Nobody did, of course, because it was not a restaurant but rather a cafeteria. Eventually, another man sat down beside him at the table with a tray full of food and related to my Grandfather how it all worked. The man said, “You start at the end of the line. Go along the line and pick out what you want and at the other end they will tell you how much it costs and then you pay for it.”

My Grandfather told me that he soon figured out how it worked here in America. He said, “Life here is like a cafeteria. You can get anything you want as long as you are willing and able to pay the price for it. You can even get success. But you will never get anything if you wait for someone to bring it to you. You have to get up and get it for yourself.” He told me, “If you alter your attitude about things you can change your life.” What a terrific life lesson. As I remember it, I learned this from my immigrant Grandfather when I was about 12 years old. I was a young boy full of ambition and dreams of success.

The definition of ambition is interesting. “Ambition is having a desire for and making an enthusiastic effort for advancement, power or success; ambition includes having high hopes with goal tending.” Walter Savage Landor said the same in, Imaginary Conversations. Others have said a lot about ambition as well. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Hitch your wagon to a star.” Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Nothing is so commonplace as to wish to be remarkable.” Deep within most of us hides the ambition to be a success, to achieve great things. Maybe we do not want to be radically famous, but most of us at sometime have the desire to succeed, to make ourselves better than we are at that moment we think those thoughts. With that ambition and desire, there must be enthusiastic effort and goal tending. We must go through the line in the cafeteria of life, take what we want, and be willing and able to pay the price.

I’ve long been a student of what makes others successful. Often times in my younger days I would emulate the qualities of successful people. My ambitions took me from a small town, Mississippi poor boy, on a long journey. I learned from others that being ambitious and accomplishing self established goals was very important. Learning the power and importance of positive self-talk also helped me achieve my goals and realize my ambitions. When I entered the cafeteria of life I started at the end, I went through the line, I took what interested me, and I paid the price. As I made my journey through high school, then college, and then through Law school my ambition was to accomplish my goals, not to be deterred by naysayers, and to enthusiastically work at achieving. The main catalyst for my various successes was, in my own mind, that I BELIEVED that I could do what needed to be done to accomplish my goals. If somebody told me I would never make it, never do what I set out to do, or that I didn’t have the brains, brawn or stamina to succeed. My attitude was always, “You wait and see.” I knew that I would get to where I wanted to be because I never intended to give up.

The great Olympic track champion Carl Lewis said, “If you go by other people’s opinions or predictions, you’ll just end up talking yourself out of something. If you’re running down the track of life thinking that it’s impossible to break life’s records, those thoughts have a funny way of sinking into your feet.” Carl Lewis wasn’t a track champion when I was struggling and working to find my way in life. But Carl and I had the same attitude. We had similar ambitions to succeed. It is a universal attitude. It is a universal ambition to succeed at what one sets out to do. Carl Lewis was saying that, “The world is a mirror that reflects your own face. Frown at it and it will show you a sourpuss. Laugh at it and it will be your jolly friend.”

Be positive in your belief in yourself. The first person who has to belief in you is you. Ambition is hard work. There is always room at the top. Most people want to improve themselves, but too many don’t want to work at it. Ambition looks up; failure looks down. Remember the analogy my Grandfather told me, “Nobody is going to bring it to you in the cafeteria of life, you have to go get it yourself, and you have to be willing to pay the price.”

The best qualification for someone with ambition who is craving, wanting, desiring success, is to come from humble beginnings. When you start from humble beginnings and when you begin at the end of the cafeteria line, you have to muster up the courage and enthusiasm to go get what you want. America was settled by generations of immigrants who came to this country with a burning ambition to make something of themselves. Ambition should flourish in the United States of America. Ambition, essentially, is the desire to fulfill what the Declaration of Independence describes as “the pursuit of happiness.”

If you have that burning desire to succeed, if you are diligent in the pursuit of your goals, if you are willing to pay the price for whatever success that you desire to achieve, you can realize your ambitions. Start at the end of the cafeteria line, walk through the line and pick out the things you want for yourself, and then determine in your mind that you can and will pay the price. W. Clement Stone said, “There is little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative.”

Keep looking up. Hitch your wagon to a star. Follow that star. I close with a poem by an anonymous poet which speaks volumes about ambition.

Bite off more than you can chew,
Then chew it.
Plan more than you can do,
Then do it.
Point your arrow at a star,
Take your aim, and there you are.
Arrange more time than you can spare,
Then spare it.
Take on more than you can bear,
Then bear it.
Plan your castle in the air,
Then build a ship to take you there.

ONE NEVER KNOWS, DOES ONE?

There is no greater challenge than speaking before a group, large or small. As a 30+ year professional Humorist, I find that each audience is unique. Each presentation poses a variety of expectations. Each brings unexpected circumstances that a speaker must react to, overcome, and circumvent. When I speak, many things happen that remind me of my dear Mother who always said, “One never knows, does one?” I have found that to be true. Just when I think and feel that I have seen it or experienced it all, something always seems to pop up that creates an exciting challenge.

Take the introduction, please! Good speakers need good introductions. It is the first contact with the audience. First impressions are usually the most important. A good introduction is tantamount to success on the platform. Alas, however, sometimes you not only don’t get a good introduction, you don’t even get a fair one. Once I was speaking in Hawaii to a large global company. The introducer gets up and says, after a long evening of food and drink and company speakers, “We have a very funny man from Birmingham, Alabama who is going to make you laugh.” This was an international group, half Japanese and half from New Jersey. Most had never heard of Alabama or me. It was clear to me in that circumstance that the group had already decided mentally that nobody was going to “make them laugh.” For the most part, they didn’t laugh. It was a tough situation and I called upon all of my training, experience, and skill to pull it off.

Speaking at a lake house one evening, a big storm blew in right when I was introduced and the electrical power went out. It was pitch black, and the air conditioning was off too. Since the show had to go on I decided to be clever. I got a flashlight and used it as my spot light. I went on to speak for 45 minutes. The audience appreciated the innovation and we all had a delightful evening despite the difficulties.

While I was speaking at a luncheon in a Dallas civic center, a loud noise and a flashing light flew past the back of the stage. It was a maintenance worker driving a motorized floor sweeper. He stayed behind the stage for 35 minutes or so oblivious to the meeting going on and he never went away. Nobody told him there was a meeting going on. I told the audience that it was just one of their competitors trying to sweep them out of business. I made other jokes about it and went on to have a successful speech despite the interruption.

Like that TV commercial for Vonage, life comes at you fast and so do things that cause difficulty in your speaking. Things happen frequently, in fact, more often than not. You have to make the best of it. It pays to be prepared on the platform with a pre-planned quip or a terrific ad lib. Like Scouting, speaking before a live audience where you must stand and deliver, no matter what, being prepared for the unexpected is to be expected.

I would surmise that the most beneficial thing about being a professional Humorist is the fact that preparation is essential for success. We always look for the punch line in every situation. A speaker friend of mind is fond of saying, “It’s not “IF” something strange will ever happen to you while speaking, it’s “WHEN” will happen again?” So being prepared is the rule of the day when you are at the podium. Life and circumstances come at you fast. Strange things happen. Stay loose, and pray that your preparation is sufficient for every unexpected opportunity. Mom’s philosophy is accurate; “One never knows, does one?”

LAUGHING MATTERS

Humor and the laughter that it evokes is one of the fundamental ingredients for success in live and business.  There is the old adage that, “He who laughs, lasts.” The Humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw said, “There are few good judges of humor, and they don’t agree.” The Webster definition of humor is: “That which is designed to arouse laughter; wit, comedy; laughing matters.” One preacher proclaimed that, “Laughter is God’s gift to mankind, and mankind is proof that God has a sense of humor.” According to Dana Farnsworth, A funny name in my opinion, “A sense of humor is not so much the ability to appreciate humorous stories as it is the capacity to recognize the absurdity of the positions one gets into from time to time together with skill in retreating from them with dignity.” That statement appeals to me in a big way. After all, we may as well laugh at life because none of us is going to get out of life alive.

A sense of humor is the lubricant of the machinery of life.  Grenville Kleiser tells us that, “Good humor is a tonic for the mind and body. It is the best antidote for anxiety and depression. It is a business asset. It attracts and keeps friends. It lightens the burdens of humanity. It is the direct route to serenity and contentment.” It can be said that the person who cannot tolerate and enjoy a little nonsense once in awhile does not have much sense. The cultivation of a good sense of humor and the ability to see life and living in all of its absurdity is something that people everywhere should work hard at doing. Laughter is contagious. It is certainly more contagious than tears and much better for the health and well being of the participant. I believe that people who can agree upon what is funny can usually agree upon most other things as well.

Many distinguished people agree that a good sense of humor is beneficial to living, loving, and life on this crazy, mixed up planet. Will Rogers said, “If there is no laughter in heaven, I don’t think I want to go there.”  Joseph Addison said, “Man is distinguished from all other creatures by the faculty of laughter.” According to Henry Ward Beecher, “Men will let you abuse them if you will only make them laugh.” That is certainly true when you think about some of the aggressive Comedians we see and hear on Television these days. But if it is fun, amusing, and if there is no malice in your heart or your humor, people seem to eat it up.  Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote about the power of humor in his piece called “The Comic.” Emerson said, “Wit makes its own welcome, and levels all distinctions. No dignity, no learning, no force of character, can make any stand against good wit.” This is particular true in the political arena when we consider men of great wit, who used it quickly and often to diffuse tense situations. Winston Churchill had a magnificent wit which he used with ferocity and candor. So did Ronald Regan. Regan had so much with there is even a book about the many humorous things he said using humor to make an important point without being mean or cruel. Perhaps, one of the greatest Statesman-Humorist’s in the United States was Benjamin Franklin. His well placed words of humor can be found in hundreds of publicans. He had the ability to use humor to make a poignant point as well as make tongue-in-cheek statements that were memorable because of their humorous content. In the famous, “Poor Richard’s Almanac”, Franklin said, “You can not joke an enemy into a friend, but you can make a friend into an enemy.” That speaks to the power of humor.

History is filled with stories of how humor was used to belittle and demean some of the cruelest dictators on earth. During World War II, Adolph Hitler was ridiculed and put down with humorous remarks. Although, calling him a “paper hanging SOB” was funny, the humor served to show people that he was not a big, rough and tough heroic person who was larger than life, but just a poor, weak, egomaniac who thought people should live like he wanted them to live. Joseph Stalin’s brutality was minimized, albeit on the sly and behind closed doors, by Russians, in an effort to cut him down to size. It was the same with the chubby porker Mussolini,  Idi Amin and later with Saddam Hussein. These were cruel and vicious men who brutalized the populace under their control. When the people and the world began to minimize their “supposed greatness” their reputations began to suffer, people more bold, and eventually, one by one, they were deposed. When we can use humor as a powerful tool to ridicule things and people that are “wrong” or “Ugly” in the world, we can eventually see that there is a method to the madness. All humor contains a little bit of truth.  Remember the words of Emerson, “No dignity, no learning, no force of character, can make any stand against good wit.”

Elsa Maxwell said, “Go ahead and laugh at yourself first, before anyone else can.”  Fulke Greville ( another funny name) said, “Man is the only creature endowed with the gift of laughter; he is also the only one that deserves to be laughed at.” I agree. On a daily basis life is filled with opportunities to laugh. There are so many absurd things that we can find humor in it is ashamed to let them go unappreciated. That is one of my missions in life. I endeavor to show others how to laugh at themselves, and at the absurdities we all endure on a daily basis. Don’t take things so seriously, especially yourselves. Life is too serious to be taken seriously. As Bob Hope would have said, “ain’t that something?”

Humor is one of the most best selling commodity’s in the market place. I know of many comedians and humorist’s who make more money that a lot of Corporate Presidents and premier politicians. People love sitcoms that are based on comedy. Advertisers like to put their money where the laughter is. People buy thousands of joke books every year seeking some levity. Every day American’s laugh hundreds of times. Good for them. Laughter is contagious. We like to see and hear about funny things happening to others, to government officials, to celebrities, and we crave to hear about the funny and humorous differences among us. Humor is the great equalizer. It is the shortest distance between people, and again, if we can agree on what is funny, we can usually agree on other things too. Laugh and the world laughs with you. Well placed and well timed humor can mean the difference between success and failure in interpersonal relationships. Laughing truly does matter. As the song goes, “When your laughing, the whole world laughs with you.”

So remember, by all means and maybe my every means, “He who laughs, lasts.”

OVERCOMING DIFFICULTIES

It was a dark and stormy night. The tired, weather beaten man made his way to a run down Inn appropriately named “George and the Dragon’s” eatery. It was after 10 PM, but the man was cold, wet, and hungry. He took the door knocker in hand and began to rap heartily on the door. Soon a light came on and a small window in the door opened. A woman in curlers, without make up, and with bad teeth yells out, “What do you want?” The tired traveler replies, “I would like to know if I can come in for a warm bowl of soup and a kind word at this late hour, because I have been on the road all evening.” The woman snarled and said, “Look you idiot, we are closed. It is after 10 PM. Why don’t you just go on your way and stop bothering me?” The woman slams the window shut. The man, undeterred with this difficult situation knocks again on the door. The woman opens the small window and says again, in a hateful voice, “Now what do you want?” The gentleman, standing in the cold and the rain says, “I was wondering if I might have a word with George?”

Difficulties and difficult people are everywhere. I am certain that every reader has experienced many difficult situations and many people who have been less then cordial and cooperative. Such scenario’s happen, in the business world every day. Difficult people abound. Difficult situations are encountered by all of us at every turn. How do we deal with these circumstances? Do we become angry, incensed, or bitter? Do we pull our shoulders back, lift up our head and brush off the slights of others and the trying times in life? I think that is the best way to deal with difficulties. It has been said that difficulties are stepping stones to success. When we can manage the courage, the stamina, and resolve to “step above the fray”, to over come the difficulties and obstacles in our path, we become stronger individuals. We become more resolute. If you let circumstances get you down and beat you down you will most likely stay down in the dumps and wallow in your difficulties and you will let difficult people get the best of you.

How do you react to difficulties and difficult people? The fabled Aesop said, “Good manners and soft words have brought many a difficult thing to pass.” The Bibles says, “A soft answer turns away wrath.” If we can conquer our own insecurities, and our own short comings, we are on the road to success. If we can become resolute in the face of difficulties and maintain an attitude of goodness, a desire to serve others, and to accomplish our mission, despite our difficulties and despite those who make the road hard to travel, we are on the right track. Difficulties and hardships will be our stepping stones to success.

Often, the people we have the most trouble with in life is ourselves. When you think about it clearly, all things are difficult before they are easy. When you were a baby it was difficult to crawl, to grasp things, and it was hard to learn to speak. But babies are optimistic and courageous. They keep on trying, keep on crawling, then they pull up on things, then they learn to walk, to discover, and to learn. It is the same when we go through kindergarten, elementary school, and high school, then college and then perhaps post graduate school. Each step on the road to learning is filled with problems, difficult challenges, and even difficult people. I used to read a lot when I was a pre-teen, then a teenager, about the success achieved by various leaders of the world and society. Everyone who has accomplished good things in life has been through difficulties. Difficult people sometimes make it hard on the person who is on the journey to success. The key to their success is their resoluteness. They are driven by their desire to make things happen, to do their work, to reach their goals. One of the things that helped me on my journey to success was to learn about successful people and to emulate them in a way, so as to take their good habits, and make them my own. Often, I drew strength and courage from the obstacles and difficulties that they had over come. Others who have overcome difficulties and who have mastered the art of dealing with difficult people have been and still are an inspiration to me. Many times the thrill of life comes from a difficult job well done.

When I was in Law School in the late 1970’s I recall an incident when I had to go consult with the assistant Dean of the Law School. She was a young woman who tried to dampen my spirits and challenge my dedication to learning the law. At that time in my life I had a full time job, was running an advertising business, speaking all over the United States as a Humorist, and in my third year of law school paying my own way. Because I had such a heavy and difficult load on me at that time, I asked permission to take only two courses during the summer months. This assistant Dean said to me, “I don’t believe you are serious about law school, and really don’t seem to want to apply yourself to finish the courses. If you were serious about completing your studies you would take a full load and get on with it.”

I looked her in the eye and replied, “Pardon me, but you do not have the right to tell me that I am not serious about my studies in law. I do not understand why you want to make it more difficult for me than it already is. You are challenging my commitment because the schedule that I want to have does not coincide with what you think a successful student should take on. I think you are off base, out of line, and you have no right to make the charge that I am not serious about law school. I can guarantee you that I will graduate this law school with flying colors.” I did only take two courses that summer semester. I went on to finish law school and graduated cum laude, won the American Jurisprudence award for the study of Torts, and was vice president of the Student Bar Association. As Aesop said, “Good manners and soft words have brought many a difficult thing to pass.” However, rising to the challenge, being resolute and firm in one’s purpose and confident in one’s own abilities also helps to make the difficulties dissolve and to silent the difficult people who try to side track you on the journey to success.

Life can be brutal and life can be beautiful. It is hard to forget but we must forget the slights that come our way, and we must persevere. It’s difficult to apologize when we are wrong but very necessary to do so. It is hard to be unselfish and to serve others but it is another ingredient of success. Sometimes we make mistakes; it is hard to avoid them. It is difficult to get out of a rut but we must keep digging until we get out. To make the best of things and the best of a difficult situation is hard, but we must do so if we want to continue to succeed.  It is not easy to hold your temper, to think first and act afterwards and to maintain a high standard. But success in life demands that we do all of these things. When we make mistakes, we must accept the blame, and we must keep on keeping on. Admit your errors in life, then move on and try not to make them again. Always be charitable to others and above all be forgiving when others make mistakes that affect you. When you over come difficulties and difficult people you are on your way to achieving your goals on your journey to success. Success IS a continuing journey. We never really reach a point where we can rest on our laurels. When you encounter difficulties and difficult people on your journey, view them as stepping stones to your own success. Step over them, forgive and forget the slights you have endured, move on and keep working to become the person, family member, and employee you want to become. Problems in life and problematic people help us grow. A sign on a business executive’s desk says it all for me; “We eat problems for breakfast.” Difficulties in life and business are things that show what we are made of.

THE LAFF-ATTITUDES

Laughter is the elixir of life. A fun loving spirit, a light hearted moment can soothe a troubled soul, erase a slight, diffuse anger, give comfort and solace to the hurting, and even enhance physical and mental well being. Laughter in the work place helps people focus more intently on their work and makes them more creative and productive. Promoting fun in the work place and an attitude of creativity and light heartedness will benefit the bottom line of any business. Humor is everywhere and the benefits of humor, which is laughter, should be promoted. A sense of humor in the work place makes sense. When you laugh at the jokes your Boss makes, it may not prove you have a sense of humor but it will prove that you have sense. In my many years of laughing and promoting laughter I have come to the conclusion that laughter is the best medicine for a long and happy life. He who laughs’s lasts, and a merry heart with malice towards none produces what I call “The Laff-Attitudes.”

Hopefully you are familiar with the beatitudes in the Bible. In Matthew chapter five we read the words taught by Jesus who began, “blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, those who are meek, those who hunger and thirst, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted”, and so on. Borrowing from this theme created by the master teacher I have come up with what I called the “Laff-attitudes.” Because laughter is so beneficial to humankind, because I believe in promoting laughter and levity in my life and in the circles I travel in, I want to share these with you. Laughter truly is a medicine that can heal, and soothe, and bring joy to a person. Light heartedness is good for the soul. It’s actually better than “chicken soup for the soul” if I may say so without stepping on the toes of my speaker friends Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hanson, who wrote the immensely popular series “Chicken soup for the Soul.”

Enjoy the “Laff-Attitudes.”

1.  Happy are the poor in spirit when they are uplifted with laughter.

2.  Happy are those who are sad when they enjoy a good laugh.

3.  Happy are the meek when they are made gregarious with laughter.

4.  Happy are those who hunger and thirst for fun and light heartedness, when it comes on the wings of laughter.

5.  Happy are those who are warm, and kind, and friendly and filled with laughter.

6.  Happy are the pure in heart when they share laughter without malice.

7.  Happy are those who make peace and soothe the troubled world with laughter.

8.  Happy are those who are put down and assailed when they can respond in laughter.

9.  Happy are those who can respond with gentility and laughter when others abuse them.

10. Happy are those who don’t take things so seriously, especially themselves.

There is even an 11th Laff-attitude that I discovered recently. It says, happy is the person who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” I don’t particularly adhere to that philosophy but I do think it is funny. Personally, I expect a lot out of life, my work, my family, and myself. I expect every morning to get up and I expect to laugh several hundred times a day because I expect to find the humor and laughter in life. I am serious about humor and concerned about business and global events and circumstance but there is something deep within my being that wants to seek out humor and laughter amidst the common ordinary things we all encounter.

I’ve come across people over the years who eschew laughter and humorous things. In turn, I try to make it a point to eschew these people. When I find people who like to laugh I do my best to hang around them. More has been accomplished by well rounded people with a good sense of humor than has ever been accomplished by those who act as if they were weaned on dill pickle juice when they were children and who carry a perpetual sadness about them and who cannot enjoy the simple benefits of a good laugh. A sour disposition and attitude is negative and it is a downer. A merry heart, a happy heart, a happy attitude is contagious and beneficial not only to those who possess it but to those it is shared with.  Most of us show our character by what we laugh about. We also show our heart and soul in our attitudes when we are incapable of being light hearted and when we cannot laugh at the foibles of life and living.

Some religious people seem to think that laughter is a frivolity and we should concentrate on being serious and spiritual. But some of the most spiritual people I know and have read about historically have seen spirituality and laughter as both beneficial and as a gift given to us by God.

After a hard day’s work in serious spiritual discussions, Theodore Cuyler and Charles H. Spurgeon went out into the country together for a vacation. They roamed the fields in high spirits like boys let loose from school, chatting and laughing, and free from care. Dr. Cuyler had just told a funny story at which Pastor Charles Spurgeon laughed uproariously. Then he turned to Dr. Cuyler and said, “Theodore, let’s kneel down and thank God for laughter.”

There on the green grass, under the trees, two of the world’s greatest men and theologians knelt down and thanked God for the bright and joyous gift of laughter. There is no antagonism between spirituality and laughter. One is conclusive evidence of spiritual health and the other is evidence of physical and mental health.

William Makepeace Thackeray said, “A good laugh is sunshine in the house.” A humorist friend of mine says, “Laughter and a smile is that little light in your eyes that lets people know your heart is at home.” Use, enjoy, encourage your “Laff-Attitudes” at every turn. He who laughs lasts. A merry heart does good like a medicine. Laugh and the world laughs with you. Cry and you simply get wet.

CHARACTER- THE REAL YOU

How would you define your character if you were asked to do so? Webster’s Dictionary indicates that character is a “distinctive trait, behavior typical of a person or group, moral strength or reputation.” William James wrote, “I have often thought that the best way to define a man’s character would be to seek out the particular mental or moral attitude in which, when it came upon him, he felt himself most deeply and intensely active and alive. At such moments there is a voice inside which speaks and says; this is the REAL me.” In Helen Keller’s journal we read, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” John Morley said, “No man can climb out beyond the limitations of his own character.” In proverbs 23:7 in the Bible we read, as a man thinks in his heart so is he.” Interestingly enough, it seems that all of these thinkers have expressed their opinions of what character is and it seems to settle to be that, “character is the REAL ME. Or the REAL YOU.”

If you want to be of good character you have to practice those habits which will instill good behavior in your life and mold your mind and personality toward good moral strength much like the qualities we read in the Boy Scout Oath. A scout is loyal, thrifty, brave, clean, reverent, kind, helpful, physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight. Such qualities and habits practiced by an individual really can help build a strong character. Austin Phelps put it this way, “The grand aim of man’s creation is the development of a grand character, and grand character is, by its very nature, the product of probationary discipline. Doing what is good, right, and proper as often as possible will help you discipline yourself to the maintenance of a good character. Fortitude of character, it can be said, is the capacity to say “no” when the world wants to hear “yes.” So said  Eric Fromm in “The Revolution of Hope.” Charles A. Wong put it another way. He said, “Listen to a man’s words and look at the pupil of his eye. How can a man conceal his character?” Our character begins to form based on those habits, activities, and thoughts that we continually practice and reinforce in our daily lives.

“A wise observer of human nature once said that a sure test of a person’s character was for him to list honestly what things are luxuries to him and what are necessities. Try it. The result will show what kind of person you are. It will show the nature of the “real you”, your-deep-inside-yourself character. Under the heading of “necessities,” some people will put down such items as an expensive car, a house in an expensive neighborhood, nice and trendy clothes, or memberships in exclusive clubs. These will soon crowd out things needed for life and the soul. Other people will put down as necessities integrity and independence of spirit, no matter what they cost in terms of social approval. Others will put down on the list the religious quality and influence of the home, and the sharing of one’s goods in the work of the Kingdom of God. What we consider the necessities of life will indicate the “real us”, the deep-inside-person we really are. It will reveal our character. What do you consider the “necessities” of life for YOU? It can be an interesting and revealing process when we attempt to define our real and true character.

Our character is very much like the foundation of a building or a house. It is what is below the surface. It is what our life and attitudes are built upon. Thomas Macaulay said, “The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew nobody would find out.”  I’ve heard that reputation is what you have upon your arrival and character is what you have when you leave. We cannot escape our true character and we cannot escape the fact that, if we live long enough, our true character, who we really are, will be revealed.  Reputation is what people think we are as we do our daily duty, but character is what God knows we are deep inside of ourselves. And If God knows our true character, we will know it too.  The famed preacher Dwight L. Moody said, “If I take care of my character, my reputation will take care of itself.” We can take care of our character by the habits and behavior we decide to cultivate every day. You might say that a good character is the sum of many ordinary days well used.  We all show our true character by what we say, by what we do, and by how we act on a daily basis.

It takes practice and discipline to develop a good character. Those things that we think about most, those necessities which we cherish and strive for, those thoughts, words, and deeds which we promote will determine our character. I read once that we all have three characters; there is the character that we exhibit to others on a daily basis, there is the character that we actually have, and there is the character that we think we have. The important key would be to strive to make the character that we exhibit, match the other two if it is built upon a firm foundation of honesty, benevolence, love and service to others. When we develop good character traits and exhibit those to others we will be more satisfied with ourselves and will expect the best and most likely receive the best from others. Thomas Paine said, “Good character is much easier kept than recovered.”

In our present time of outrageous corporate fraud, government misfeasance and malfeasance, and sordid Hollywood style decadence, along with “me first” attitudes, and situational ethics in all areas of life, there is a great need for men and women of good character to step up. There is the old adage that states, “A person is seldom better than their word.” In today’s climate of “anything goes” in business and in life, good character has taken a back seat. Yet, there is evidence that a few people care about their word, their character, and the value of being a good, honest, helpful, person of integrity. There are those among us who place a high value upon developing and maintaining good character. A person’s good character is the guardian of the soul. Quoting John Morley again, “no man can climb out beyond the limitations of his own character.” Do your own character check and see if you like, and respect the “Real YOU.” I hope you will be pleasantly surprised by the person you discover inside.

DON’T STRESS FOR SUCCESS

Most of us in the business world have heard  how we should “Dress for Success”. A great number of people in the work force today, however, seem to “Stress for Success.” Dressing for success is a good thing but when we come to the point of stressing for success it is not a good thing. The medical community has identified a number of stressors that can occur on the job that can run employees ragged and manifest themselves through a variety of real illnesses. Too much bad stress has been linked to a number of illnesses like tension headaches and migraines, to stomach disorders, as well as hypertension, panic attacks, heart disease and emotional distress. When employees feel like a rat in a maze and feel like they have no control over their work situation they are often placed under a huge amount of stress which can be debilitating to them personally and effect their performance on the job thereby lessening their productivity and creativity.

The Center for disease control and prevention along with other health entities have identified a number of high stress career’s; The air traffic controller, the big city school teacher, police officer and the miners all encounter a tremendous amount of stress on the job. They are not the only ones of course; I would imagine there are stressors peculiar to a lot of jobs that most of us don’t think about; such as the sales person, customer service representatives, middle management personnel, airport security personnel, and even the corporate public relations person. Each of these jobs, plus a host of others, can be filled with stress and have a debilitating effect on a person’s performance and future career. Couple these normal stressors with job uncertainties, cut backs, lay-off’s, and downsizing fears we can understand that there are many of our fellow workers out there who stress over their success.

A number of surveys , including documents from Insurance companies, Princeton, University of Alabama at Birmingham, and the CDC indicate that more than half of all American workers feel and experience job-related stress. Many of those surveyed say that their job is THE MOST stressful thing in their lives. As a radio talk-show host I can attest to the fact that there are a lot more demands than their used to be in broadcasting. In a four-hour radio shift of constant talking and interaction with callers on a variety of subjects the energy level that must be maintained is extremely high and exhaustion usually is the end of it all. A four-hour shift on talk radio has been likened to doing an eight hour shift on an assembly line. You have to be attentive, you have to listen, you have to respond immediately, and you have to make rational and logical commentary in an instant. There seems to be a constant rush of adrenalin when doing all of the above which never lets up. You are constantly on guard, rapidly thinking, trying to assimilate the information coming through your ears so that you can disseminate information from your mouth that somehow must make sense to the listening audience. Trust me; it can be very stressful at times.

Jobs where a worker receives little praise, constant scrutiny and evaluation, and that require a high state of attention and vigilance and responsibility with little or no control can stress those workers to the breaking point. The emphasis here is not on short periods of stress but on prolonged periods of stress. The body seems to react well to short stress periods but long term is another story. The medical community tells us that long periods of stress where the brain and body are constantly active produce a higher heart rate, faster breathing, and heightened senses. Over longer periods of time the previous can cause heart problems, gastrointestinal distress, along with neck and back pain and severe headaches. All of the previous mentioned products of continuous stress can even cause high blood pressure and/or extensive hypertension. When we attempt to succeed on the job and in the work place by allowing these stressors to dominate our minds, bodies, and emotions we are headed for disaster with regard to our health.

The work environment of today, in many instances, is more stressful than it has ever been in the past. Whenever you have to work long hours and have to endure periods of prolonged stress and unhealthy working conditions you are on the road to stressing for success. There are ways, however, to lower your stress levels at work and in life. A lot of the responsibility to control  stressors is up to the individual worker. One way is to quit your high stress job. I don’t recommend that. There are ways you can make a huge personal effort to reduce your work environment stress. Let’s look at some stress relieving options that could produce a major benefit.

Hopefully, the management where you work recognizes the need to reduce worker stress. The manger is probably stressed at work too. The manager has as many stressors as the worker does in addition to the responsibility to manage the corporate work place. If the manager recognizes the challenges his workers face then he can establish some work place rules to help reduce the stress on everyone. Often a break room, where people can talk with each other and discuss problems, difficulties, and work related situations is helpful. Encouraging workers to get to know each other and bond as a team is a good start. A suggestion box in the break room is a wonderful way to not only get good suggestions on how to improve the work-place, but also to allow workers to vent in a constructive way without fear of reprisal.

There might be a possibility to delegate some of your work, if you feel particularly burdened, to other workers who can help you get over the hump on a very busy project. Good communication between workers, co-workers, and management is essential to discuss difficulties and problems related to work. Sometimes sharing ideas and discussing workable solutions with others pays big dividends and it spreads out the stress so that workers don’t feel isolated and alone on the job. When you do have a break try to use this time to engage in stress reducing activities. If you can’t leave your desk try to do some stretching exercises. When you go to the restroom do some bending and stretching and try to clear your mind before you go back to your desk. In a close knit group you might give each other a two minute neck rub. That is one of the things I do at my office to help ease the tension and stress of what I do. Just make sure it is a therapeutic rub. When you get home get into an exercise regimen. Walking is good. Tai Chi is good and can be done in a quiet place in your home or in the back yard. Make some time to engage in a hobby or something else you enjoy that frees your mind to relax. Learn some deep breathing exercises which helps to eliminate heavy stress and can be done at home or in your office or in your car. Use your days off and your vacation time to truly relax. Another good way to ease the stress on your body and mind is to try to maintain a healthy diet. Choose one that fits your lifestyle and needs. Finally, I would be remiss if I did not suggest that you learn to laugh more and see the funny side of things and life. A good belly laugh and frequent laughing is the best stress reliever you can find. Reduce your stress anyway and everyway you can and try not to Stress for your Success!