Category: "Reduce"

Recognizing Millennials

August 23rd, 2013
I read an opinion piece earlier this month, and the words haven't left my mind since. It appeared in Lehigh Valley Business, and being a business journal article, it offered business-management advice. The writer, a consultant for manufacturing companies, suggested ways to recognize and reward today's young employees. The piece began with results from a recent study wherein the Millennial generation was evaluated. Four paragraphs of bad news followed. In summary, a general lack of professionalism, work ethic, teamwork, buy in, and focus was being found in the majority of newly hired college graduates. Sharp-edged words described the poor attitudes that will soon make up more than 50 percent of the American workforce. Then, the author laid out a strategy for employers, urging them to adjust their recognition programs to meet changing expectations. ("Managing Millennials: It's all about immediate recognition.") He wrote of the need to cater to them. Key points included ways to appease a desire for instant gratification, pluck egotistical strings, and tap into a sense of entitlement. He recommended giving instant, "broadcastable" applause to fit the impulse to brag on social networks. He suggested customized rewards that match each person's particular taste. For this type of employee-recognition program--one undoubtedly more complicated than the last--an investment in software could help to provide the structure needed to achieve such a specialized strategy. It wrapped up stating how this advanced outlook could motivate Millennials, keep turnover to a minimum, and increase productivity, because it aligned with the "needs, preferences, and values of today's new professionals." On the surface, that sounded great. Underneath was a severely problematic foundation. If you're a business manager, you don't have time to instill qualities that should have been taught at home a decade ago. And it's quite sad that colleges are not properly grooming kids for the workforce. I remember after Enron collapsed from executive selfishness--after suicides were committed and fortunes were lost--it was suggested that colleges require students to undergo ethics training so they understood the risks of putting personal gain before the organization's. Did that not happen? Is that not still relevant? Meanwhile, if you're a blogger who writes about simplicity, long-term thinking, community mindedness, and slowing down, you can't see the benefit in encouraging such "values" as selfishness, instant gratification, and a lack of discipline.
Why should the older generation--undoubtedly wiser by virtue of having experienced more of life's lessons--invest in building a culture that is opposite of what those lessons taught? How will our communities strengthen if we support the polarization of the individual? What is the benefit of catering to traits that, in my opinion, should be shunned? If all goes well, I still have half my life to live. In the first act, I watched awareness for our planet's health build, acceptance for diversity increase, and life's most important qualities (peace, community, connectedness) grow in popularity. I get excited when I hear young people express their views on recycling, community gardens, sustainable living, and social change. Still, a person's work has a profound impact on their lives in general, and none of those positive views will shine through if we allow personal pursuits to overshadow teamwork or if ego becomes more important than constructive criticism. We cannot untie work ethic from "social goals, environmental practices, cultures, and public missions," goals the article said are important to this new breed. This concerns me because, as I age and eventually exit the workforce, the second act of my life will depend on the path professionalism takes, whether I care to admit it or not. At work or at home, if even the oldest and wisest among us have trouble slowing down, showing compassion for others, and appreciating every moment for all that it is worth, how are we to help the Millennials do the same? And what happens when we give up trying and just let the sins of speed and selfishness have their way?
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Quiet Achieved

June 21st, 2013
In my last post I wrote about a desire for peace and quiet. Then, I took a weeklong vacation to a very quiet place: the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I had plenty of time to think about why it was I cherish the quiet so much. I found it wasn't about what I couldn't hear; it was about what I could. My husband sometimes calls me Jaime - the character with robotic hearing in the old TV show, "The Bionic Women." Having spent a lifetime respecting and protecting my hearing around loud noises (such as concerts or machinery), I've preserved my ability to hear. This likely contributes to my sensitivity about which I wrote last week. Plus, I listen. And having heard the silence before, I know what exists within it, and that makes me desperate for more. So what are these sounds? Here are a few heard on my trip: Foremost were the ones that rung in my ears, the loudest often coming from the birds. Scientists believe deep-forest birds and city birds avoid each other because the volume of their voices is not compatible. Whether this is true or not, I don't know. I did find that wilderness birds didn't need to shout. Even the Robin's late-day goodnight – one of the last and loudest, warm-season birdcalls from both backyard and backwoods each evening – was softer in this quiet place. Then there was the sound of the trees. Without voices, they most certainly were not silent. The leaves of the paper birch had a certain rustle, which I often mistook for heavy rain or a waterfall. (In Colorado, my friend has a nickname for the Rocky Mountain's active leaves: Waving Aspens. The aspen flutters so easily and often, it appears to wave when you look at them.) But the sound of pouring water wasn't just coming from the trees. Spring rain and snowmelt turned every ravine, gorge, and channel into a rush so loud, you could feel it in your chest.
Flume Brook in Dixville Notch
At Beaver Brook Falls near Colebrook.

For instance, we stopped for a picnic in Pinkham Notch along the Peabody River. My husband was cooking lunch at the table near the water while I wandered away to look at some flowers in a nearby field. At a distance of 80 feet, I couldn't shout loud enough for him to hear a single a word.
Away from the rustle and rush, quiet let me see things, too. There was life wandering between the trees, hidden from view. Bear, deer, moose, turkey, porcupine, beaver, bobcat, and more. My husband and I were on the move, making noise of our own as we hiked. As a result, we didn't spot much wildlife during our trip (not a single moose sighting to take home). But the sounds told us something was watching. The occasional crunch of a step or a whir of retreat reminded us we were never alone.
More abundant, though, were the sounds imagined, such as a mountain talking to a lake...
At the Willey House Site in Crawford Notch

or to a poet..
The view from Robert Frost's bedroom near Franconia notch.

to each other...
A view from Mount Washington including Wildcat ski area.

or to the sky.
A view from the Mount Washington summit.

And with the pleasantries came the dreaded sound of insects. The buzz of the black fly or mosquito was like a drill sergeant. It kept me moving, for standing still only made me easier to bite. However, during the entire trip, one insect proved to make the noisiest racket of all. Heard not in the White Mountains (thankfully) but along the edge of the Catskills in New York as we made our way home, the Periodical Cicada en masse could be heard above all road noise – windows closed, radio on. And so we aimed for home. The volume increased with every mile toward man. The quiet of the wilderness was behind us; the vacation for my hearing was over. It was up to my brain now – with its remarkable ability to tune out or tune in – to keep me calm. Benefited by a six-day reminder of what to listen for, I'll find it easier, for a while, to block out the noise and make room for sound, now with bionic focus. Then, when my strength runs low, I'll return to the woods to be recharged again. ----
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Quiet Please

June 6th, 2013
Beep...Beep...Beep...Beep. Is it an alarm clock or a reversing trash truck that has pierced my silent morning? How did all this noise start? I'll never know. The truck signal became necessary – I can guess – after some kid got run over by a commercial rig, and the authorities got together and said, “We must prevent this.” They came up with a universal safety symbol, always played as an E on the musical scale, always loud enough to be heard above a roaring diesel, always required on any work-related vehicle that might possibly run over a blind spot. It’s just one of the many once-new, now-commonplace noises that fills our days and nights. There’s always more; there's never less. Noise, noise, noise, and noise. Car alarms, cell phone rings, seat belt reminders, fireworks on the final night of every carnival in the state. But we can’t have festivities end without some sort of climax. We certainly can't have children crushed or vehicles stolen. So we add layer upon layer, stressing our internal sensors harder and harder until what? The sound of my emotional breakdown gets added to the mix? Is there any hope that quiet will come back to commonplace?
Will there be any places left where the alarms of natural voices and the climaxes of joyful singing can still be heard from the treetops? Where are the places where the human artificial is silenced so we can hear the rhythm of life again, a rhythm where nests are robbed but life continues; where rains come, waters flow, stars rise, soils crack, flowers blossom, and leaves unfurl? A place where humans intertwine, quietly, making sound only when warranted, instead of just because something could happen, something like a truck running over a kid or an adult showing up late for work, prevention of which only ever seems possible by adding a little more noise? Beep...Beep...Beep...Beep... ----
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And the Living is Easy

May 9th, 2013
Money. When you have it, life is fine. Right? I'm going to challenge this notion, but before I do, I want anyone who has been suffering in the unemployment lines or working too-long hours for too-low wages to know that they have my condolences. There is a stress that comes from this kink in our financial system, one that can eat away at a person's health, self esteem, and quality of life. Conditions in America have been down for a LONG time, and it's taking its toll. I know that; food-on-the-table-hardship is not what this is about. For the rest of us, a need for thrift can yield good results, and it helps to be reminded of that from time-to-time. Think of a royal palace filled with opulence and waste, scandal and pretentiousness, and a general misperception of what's important in life. Every one of us is subject to the corruption that money can bring, no matter how small the purse. Meanwhile, every one of us has a natural instinct to respond to a challenge when it presents itself. We may wish we could be lions laying the shade, but even the king needs a little chase once in awhile. It is in the challenge that we find -- and often get -- what we really want. Here are a few positive things I've seen come out of the challenges since the 2008 financial downturn: 1.) Renewed interest in our cities. I would suffocate in the city, but I'm an advocate for city life just the same, especially for the folks who want convenience, stimulation, and activity.
Philadelphia, PA In the 1990s, thousands of such people fled the streets for the promise of safety and a new home in a field, and as suburbia filled up, they seeped into the rural zones, too. Natural areas turned into housing developments as the locals kept asking, "Who is buying these monstrosities?" Because the transients were accustomed to shopping frequently, developers were happy to feed them shopping centers and grocery stores. Gyms popped up in the places where farmers would have otherwise gotten their workouts just by living life. All the while the city -- with its existing buildings, roads, infrastructure, and amenities -- crumbled from a lack of infusion. This was bad for the environment. It was bad for the rural families that gave up pieces of their generational roots. It was bad for the once-proud and productive cities. And it placed significant hardship on every suburban town's ability to build and maintain infrastructure. It was just bad. But that has changed. The pressure to protect suburban land has subsided as people have figured out their lifestyle and their pocketbook is better suited for a clustered community. Small towns and some big cities are revitalizing. I still cringe when the market reports on "new home starts," as if growing more houses in the midst of so many abandoned buildings is a good thing, but at least the attitudes and the demands of the consumer have shifted. And most of that change was driven by the high cost of fuel and the need to be frugal. (I'm much better at frugality in the country, but this part's not about people like me.) 2.) Renewed appreciation for the simple things. I love to go camping. Yes, there is an initial expense for a tent and sleeping bag, but after that, camping is a low-cost way to spend quality time with the people you love or quiet time by yourself. So is a walk in the park. Or a visit to a local museum. Or a bike ride down the trail. Or a Frisbee catch in the back yard. With such activities, you challenge your mind, your muscles, and your senses, often without spending a dime. We've been led to believe that we must buy our experiences, and that's simply not true. A tough economy forces us to recognize that.
My husband after a fun game, at the park, in February, with yard-sale-bought discs.

3.) Greater attention to the money path. You probably haven't been in favor of the trend wherein jobs keep shipping overseas. You probably don't like the idea of buying asparagus from Peru when the farmer down the road has some growing in his field. For a long time, we've grumbled about this "global" situation. However, now there is a desperation in our voices as well as a deeper appreciation for just how much that farmer needs your business or your kid needs a job. We've reached the end of our rope, as my mom used to say. More and more of us are putting aside the foreign-made product in favor of the local one, and we're learning that the choice isn't just better for our community, it's a better product all the way around. And with less money to watch, it becomes easier to see where it goes.
The faceplate on my old, Betsy Ross spinet piano indicated it was originally made in Philadelphia. Like cars, pianos were once made in American cities everywhere. Now only a few remain...Steinway's the only one I'm truly sure about. How great would it be if the tides turned back?!

Those are just three examples. I've got more, but you get the picture. Sure, we've still got a long way to go. Our cities are still in trouble, we still spend way too much money on nonsense, and there are no new piano companies moving in yet. But thanks to this financial hardship, we're realizing the true meaning behind the idiom, "money isn't everything." That gives us reasons to be grateful for this prolonged state of woe. We humans are slow learners; we need time to let our habits to sink in. The longer this goes on, the better chance that, when the abundance returns, we won't frivol it away on opulence and waste. Besides, life can be easy or hard -- regardless of our financial condition -- because fine is just a state of mind. ps. If you are looking for a job -- one that aligns with your environmental intentions -- check out the links here. ----
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Defying Science in our Backyards

May 3rd, 2013
In America this week, it's as if one half of the country is still waiting for spring. Getting snow in May must be frustrating for anyone who is ready to emerge from the cold. The Denver Post From The Denver Post online: "Dick Williams bends down to get the best angle to photograph the flatirons at Chautauqua Park in Boulder on May 2, 2013. (Cliff Grassmick, The Daily Camera)"

Meanwhile, the eastern half of the country is appreciating a pressure system, one locked in place, holding back the weather like a barricade, and on this side it's as perfect as it could be. But this post isn't really about the weather. While the greenery is coming out faster than I can watch,
Poison Ivy is always easy to spot this time of year.

...so too are the landscapers, with their mowers and shovels and wheelbarrows. Some have their cars moved out of their driveways, making way for the garden center to deliver this year's giant pile of mulch. Every time I see one, my back aches from the thought of all that work. There is so much mulch everywhere you can smell it as you take your evening stroll. Homeowners are racing to apply it, it's use a smart mimicry of nature's way. Like a blanket of leaves covering the forest floor, mulch retains water and helps to prevent the underlying soil from drying out. Over the winter, it prevents plants -- bulbs in particular -- from getting pushed out of the ground by the soil's response to freeze and thaw. It encourages earthworms and beneficial insects that love a moist habitat. And if that's not enough, it slowly decomposes to feed the plants all year long. But in typical fashion, humans have taken this mimicry and added their own silly twists, ones that catch on neighbor-to-neighbor, association-to-homeowner, and advertisement-to-consumer. Reaction to peer pressure takes over and tramples the science that was behind the initial intention. Even I have to catch myself sometimes from getting caught up in all the hype. Maybe it's because I grew up in the country, but I don't ever remember my parents paying a dime for mulch. Like mulch in the woods, ours was made of leaves. Dad would mow them over to make them more manageable and to keep the mulch from smothering the tender plants. Or he'd add in grass clippings and such. But we never had to move our cars from the driveway, and we never had to get in our cars to obtain a bag of dead plant material; our yard produced plenty of that on its own. Even when I lived in town, the township had a wonderful yard-recycling program, where our fall leaf piles and winter Christmas trees would rot in a big pile on township property. Maintenance workers would turn the pile with a bulldozer occasionally, and come spring, we could take the magical result for free.
Cut leaves from last fall's cleanup.

A lot of American's don't make mulch, they buy it, and they get more every year whether it's needed or not. I never saw anything like the "mulch volcano" until a tree-hugging friend pointed one out a few years ago, another example of mulch ridiculousness I've written about many times before. All told, I've either grown to notice more with age, or we're now coloring so far out of the lines of mulch science, we not only have to buy mulch, we have to worry about it fading. Fading? Like leaves do when they rot. The yard-care-industry giant, Scotts'®, latest advertising campaign calls mulch that fades "inferior." Inferior to what? Nature? Is that why their product is called Nature Scapes®? Once again, Nature must be shaking her head. In the meantime, I hope she'll let down her barometric barricade long enough for Colorado to see some nice spring weather. I promised my western friends I wouldn't post any photos of my Pennsylvania landscape right now. I feel a little greedy keeping all this springtime locked on the Eastern seaboard. ----
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