Step By Step

We were in Quebec and I ordered water in French. You should have seen the shock on my daughters’ faces! They had no idea their father spoke the language. I first learned French in grammar school and then again in high school. I retained enough basic vocabulary to get by in limited situations. But having a rough understanding of French has always gnawed at me because, while I could understand parts of conversations, it wasn’t enough to make me even close to fluent. I was stuck in a sort of “no man’s land” of comprehension. But with the advent of some great apps and programs I knew I could get over that hump.

A few years ago I decided to become a bit more serious about re-acquiring my skills in French. I began practicing five minutes a day on an app called Duolingo. Then, I added an app called  lingvist .  By doing both daily, I have became confident that I can and will master the language. I study 40 words a day and, slowly but surely, I have noticed that I am becoming much more adept at it.

 

Generally speaking, it takes about 500 hours to become fluent in a language.  Since I have a head start because I studied it earlier in life, I know I can cut down that time in order to master French.  Oddly enough, most people who take language in high school never become fluent. Most high schools treat it as a basic requirement but don’t really demand the students learn the language. I can  guarantee you that if high schools required that you had to actually learn a second language sufficient to speak and write it in order to graduate, it would be taken much more seriously.

The reality is that just knowing one other language in my life, Spanish, has helped me immensely. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me their stories of regret for not having learned another language when they hear me speaking Spanish, at which I am fluent. In fact, here in Texas, there are many second and third generation Mexicans who don’t speak Spanish because their parents never taught them! Many of them feel a sense of embarrassment for not having learned their native tongue…especially when it comes to the family gatherings.

What many of those more recent generations of Mexicans don’t realize is how much closer they are to learning the language compared to others. They have been around it for years. They have heard their parents and other family members speak it. Their ears, not to mention their brains, have been trained to what the language should sound like. All that is required now is a formal plan and the discipline to put in the study hours. Nothing more.

When I was in my twenties and hadn’t spoken Spanish in years, I bought some language CD’s and studied them for about a year. It was not a huge time commitment by any stretch; but, I faithfully studied the material for thirty minutes a day. At year’s end, I had become fluent once more! I was again confident in my ability to converse in the language. That skill was a major reason I was successful at being offered a very good job. All from daily practicing Spanish.

Once I saw my success at learning a language, I created daily rituals in other areas of my life for things I wanted to master. Today, I do these things every day without fail. Most of them only take a few minutes. What I love about them is that these daily disciplines tend to “compound” exponentially over time. For example, since I know Spanish, French is actually easier to learn. There are many words in the two languages that share commonality in origin; thus, it is easier to figure out certain words…one from the other.  Just by knowing Spanish, my learning curve for French is less.

Another one of my daily habits is reading. I have Kindle installed in my iPhone.  I literally have a book with me at all times. When waiting at the checkout counter or a Doctor’s office, I use those five or ten minutes (or longer!) to read.  As a result, I read much more quickly now and so acquire knowledge at an ever increasing rate. On average, I read about five books a month. There was no magic secret to my getting to this place…just establishing a daily ritual.  An added bonus: my ever-increasing and deepening  understanding has made me a better husband, father and businessman.

Perhaps you will let this post provide you with the bit of inspiration you need to accomplish some of the things in life you’d like to master.  In case you get hung up and start thinking any one of them is just too big to tackle remember the saying, ” How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

One Simple Act of Love

Yesterday was a bad day. One of my worst.

I heard news that devastated me. It was, quite literally, as if I had been punched in the stomach and couldn’t recover. But, as a parent, I had to carry on. It was teacher conference day at the kid’s school.  As soon as I arrived I knew something was wrong. It turns out I was a day early.

Since I didn’t have my car, I had to wait for my wife to pick me up. I waited and waited but she didn’t come. My phone battery died so I couldn’t call Uber or a taxi.  After waiting as long as I could, I decided to walk home. What I didn’t know was that my younger children were at home and they were getting worried. I had been away for too long and they left their rooms to wait for me by the door.

When I finally arrived home some four hours later tired, depressed and frustrated, I walked in the house to see my four- year-old sound asleep on top of a chair with his head pressed against the window. He had been looking out and waiting for me when, exhausted, he just fell asleep.

That scene of him asleep on top of the chair broke my heart but in so doing it made it bigger.  I have a friend who likes to say “there’s more room in a broken heart” and now I know what she means.

All day I had been wallowing in my problems feeling super depressed about my current predicament and the bad news I had received. Then, I was confronted with that expression of my son’s love for me. My absence had troubled him so much that he feel asleep looking out a window.

When I asked my nine year old daughter why they were waiting downstairs for me she said, “We could tell you were really upset and were very worried about you.” I was blown away. I had tried to mask my situation from my kids but they had sensed something was wrong and showed their concern in the only way they could… by waiting at the front door for me. So with iPhones, iPads and computers at their disposal to pass the time or distract them from their anxiety, they had abandoned all of it to sit and wait for their Dad.

Children are amazing. I have been blessed with six. We even wanted more but my wife had a few miscarriages along the way.  So even though raising them is time consuming and makes no economic sense, I wanted more. Children have the ability to reach us and connect us in ways adults simply cannot. There is something magical about a child’s love and innocence. About their awe for things we adults tend to miss or dismiss. They have the ability to inspire.

So, even after a day when I felt like a total failure, my children reminded me of my value and importance. They let me know that no matter what, I am worthy of love and consideration and they showed it by waiting for me at the front door…and falling asleep with a head pressed up against a window.

Thank you, Lee and Amelia, for thinking of me. Right back at you.

Dad

sleeclark@gmail.com

Drowning in Content

There is a famous story in Hollywood about a young director who approached a seasoned Hollywood producer for advice on how to complete a movie he was working on. The producer said, “Live for ten years and then do the movie.”

Most young people have no stories to tell. They have no context to shape stories and no depth to give them life. How could they? They haven’t lived long enough. Are there exceptions? Sure.  Wendy Shalit, who wrote her seminal book “A Return to Modesty” about sexuality, is impressive given that she was in her early twenties when she wrote the book. Or, Ryan Holliday who, at age 20, wrote his expose on the media in, Trust me I’m Lying. Its insight into the tricks used by the media to manipulates the public. However, Shalit and Holliday are the exceptions not the rule.

Generally speaking, lasting creativity require years of living and introspection to mature. Steve Martin’s autobiography “Born Standing Up” provides great insight into the journey of a comic and how Martin became a master of his craft. He spent years living in motel rooms while doing stand-up routines all over the country. He reworked and refined his jokes while performing in thousands of venues before he finally made it. When the public finally heard of Steve Martin, they called him an “overnight sensation” after appearing on Saturday Night Live. What they did not see were all the years of dedication, trial and error to hone his craft.

Most great work and analysis takes time. Yet, given the advent of the web, there is an increased demand for content the likes of which we have never before seen. Newspapers, blogs, media sites must produce insightful and relevant content for eyeballs, clicks and advertising dollars. I suspect that the administrators of these sites are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of content they need to come up with on a daily basis. Combine this with an educational system that focuses more on political correctness than facts… and you have a recipe for disaster. An insatiable  demand for content, a Left leaning educational system and a lack of general history is the baseline for the content we see.

The pressure and rush to create content sublimates the need for truthfulness and accuracy. It does irreparable damage and is making us a less civil society.  Check out these three reports that got it wrong:

Story 1

A  few years ago, CNN reporter Erin Burnett did a huge story on the Catholic Church’s opposition to gay marriage and the resultant decrease in church attendance as a result. Burnett’s position was that people like her would never join the church, and its former members would never return to the church, unless it became more modern and adapted to the prevailing culture. I guess in CNN’s mind it was a valid viewpoint and worth the resources to develop.

But Catholics with any religious foundation understood the juvenile approach to Burnett’s perspective. The Church does not endorse gay marriage because it believes marriage is a sacrament where a man and woman are joined in matrimony for the creation of life. It’s that simple. The Church has taught this for over 2000 years and continues to do so. Erin Burnett thought she had hit upon what reforms the Church needed to enact to become more relevant. Instead, what she displayed was a total lack of understanding of the Catholic Church. The Church does not care about change. It cares about teaching the Word of God. For the Church, the truth is not determined by polls or popular opinion, it is self-evident and found in Scripture.

Story 2

The last eight years was filled with reporting on the “do-nothing” Congress under former President Obama. The story was highlighted every day, ad nauseam, how handicapped Obama was due to Congress’ obstructionism. The obstruction got so bad that Obama’s only real piece of legislation, Obamacare, was passed only when he had control over both houses. Even then, the bill was never reconciled in the Senate.

To those who prefer to forget, Scott Brown was elected Senator from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts solely for his promise to cast the one vote that would stop reconciliation of the bill. But Brown was never given the chance. Obama passed the bill by circumventing the legislative process.

The actual reason President Obama was barely able to pass any bills is because that was how the system was created over two hundred years ago. It had nothing to do with President. The Founding Fathers so mistrusted the political class, and career politicians, that they designed a system that gave all of its power to the people…not the politicians. Anyone with a basic understanding of civics knows this. However, the media did not report it as a systemic fail safe because they wanted Congress to capitulate its role and give in to Obama whose political agenda synced with theirs. For eight years, the media tried to convince the American public that Congress was at fault. To the contrary, under our  Constitution, the Executive branch simply failed to bring along the Legislative branch for consensus.

Story 3

We have seen the complete removal of the Confederate Flag from our national history. Southern war heroes, as well as Confederate solders graves, have been desecrated. The media has a narrative, lacking in subtly, that the Civil War was fought by the North against the South over slavery. Southerners were racist, had slaves and wanted to keep that way of life intact. Northerners were noble, pure and thought the cause was important enough to fight the South to abolish it.

The Civil War occurred between 1861-1865. Slaves in the North were not freed until 1863, or two years after the war had started. If the North thought it was so important, why didn’t they free their slaves prior to the war? The fact is that although slavery was a major issue,  it wasn’t the only issue that drove the Civil War. The South wanted to secede from the North over taxation and other states’ rights issues, including slavery, and the North was not going to let that happen. The Civil War was a manifestation of the ongoing debate over states’ rights versus a centralized government. That debate, which began in the 1700’s, rages on today. The issues affecting the Civil War are complex; but, the false narrative promulgated by the media pushes the narrative of a racist South while never shining a light on the culpability of the North.

Our youth are most vulnerable and easily manipulated because they lack the necessary perspective and critical thinking skills that come from an understanding of history tempered with one’s own life experiences.  When Al Gore tells young people, “There are some things about our world that you know that older people don’t know,” Why would that be? Well in a period of rapid change, the old assumptions sometimes just don’t work anymore because they’re out of date,”  is no different than handing democracy to a nation that has spent hundreds of years or more under dictatorship. You need a period of transition and perspective. Without those, a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

Such is the damage done by a media driving people to civil unrest through revisionist history and misinformation. We are more connected than at any other time in human history. It is ironic that content for its own sake lacking truthfulness and integrity is doing as much harm, if not more, than when we knew less.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com