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24 Hour Resolution

Posted in Observations, People, Uncategorized on January 1, 2013 by Vince.Puzick

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I don’t write New Year’s resolutions. Not for over 25 years now.  I made plenty of resolutions before then, but they were resolutions with plenty of words but with neither action nor commitment.  They seemed like good ways to put the past to bed and arise on January 1st of the new year with, well, resolve.  I stole from the self-help book du jour.  They were good resolutions, well intentioned, not overly ambitious but promising to be pay dividends:  get to the gym more; read more;  eat more protein, fewer carbs; be more frugal.

And the resolutions would have a short shelf-life.  Maybe they would life with me through January.  Perhaps to Valentine’s Day.  Rarely would my resolutions see the light of the Spring Equinox. I’m human, after all, and a life-time of steadfast, sheer willpower-driven resolve is hard to sustain.

So I stopped writing resolutions for the new year.  I shifted to daily commitments.  I guess, in essence, I resolve to live each 24 hours to the best of my ability.  To live these next 24 hours with integrity.  To live these next 24 hours a little less selfishly, a little more selflessly.  To live these next 24 hours with a little more God-consciousness (Christ-consciousness, Divine Mind, Buddha Nature), a little less self-consciousness.

I’m human, after all, and if my reflection at the end of the day predictably reveals my humanness, then I get another chance, tomorrow, at sunrise.

A complex problem, a multi-faceted solution

Posted in People, Teaching, Uncategorized on December 22, 2012 by Vince.Puzick

I’ve read the NRA press conference transcript, nearly 2500 words of what Wayne LaPierre, NRA’s Executive Vice President, deems a call for “decisive action” toward securing our schools.

The NRA’s plan of action – to be pursued immediately in order to be in place in January when our kids return from their holiday vacation – is called the National Model School Shield Program.  At the heart of the plan is for an armed police officer to be situated in every school in America.  LaPierre’s plan is to ensure that a “good guy with a gun” is a short minute away from any intrusion from a “bad guy with a gun.”  He argues that despite the strained resources on police departments nationwide – and, I would add, school budgets – Congress should appropriate resources now to ensure that this School Shield Program is in place.  He argues that despite these limited resources, trained and courageous police officers and retired police officers (along with a long list of others) are willing to be “deployed” right now.  In essence, he is calling for an armed peace-keeping force in our nation’s schools.

The NRA’s proposal attacks “the media” as immoral and refusing to look closely at its own contributions to the current social crisis.  The media, he argues, refuse to look at its violent movies, offensive music, blood-spattering video games as causes to our mass murders in public schools.   He argues that “[r]ather than face their own moral failings, the media demonize gun owners.”

He situates the NRA position to be one of taking the moral higher ground – with the cause being to protect our children.  But not once in the nearly 2500 words of his argument does he make one concession that perhaps we should revisit and seriously look at current gun control legislation, or the availability of assault rifles (in fact, he criticizes “the media” for not even getting the terminology correct — but what does it matter what the correct name of the weapon is?), or the availability of ammunition of the weapons. In short, he blasts “the media” for its continued glorification and glamorization of killing through video, song, and games.

No doubt, any single-sighted approach to solving the current social situation is going to be insufficient.  A complex problem requires a multi-faceted solution.  No single condition is sufficient to produce the crisis; no single-pronged solution is going to solve this epidemic of mass killings.

No single party is going to concede or compromise its position if it appears that no other party is willing to compromise its position.  We have created a culture right now of “either/or” rather than “both/and” for working toward any meaningful compromise.  We see the dichotomy as we approach the fiscal cliff; we see it in our rhetoric about gay marriage, religious and spiritual beliefs, gender equity.

So, what might it look like to truly engage in meaningful dialogue in a society which values individual freedoms?  What might it look like to pursue a solution to a complex social crisis – mass murders — in which there are several contributing factors none sufficient in itself to produce a culture in which young males can strafe movie theatres, malls, college campuses and first-grade classrooms?

Our national dialogue must:

  • Revisit gun ownership laws Yes, let’s protect the Second Amendment.  And let’s not generalize and stereotype all gun-owners of being capable of mass murder.  However, let’s make meaningful laws about ownership and production of assault rifles, automatic and semi-automatic weapons, that are available.  Let’s even look at the term “sport shooting” which seems to be part of the rationale for the availability of these weapons.  The NRA, in its assault on “the media,” should take a reflective look at its own moral and ethical landscape.  Does “sport shooting” with assault rifles do anything but glamorize the ownership of these weapons?
  • Renew the conversation about mental health policy and care in our nation:  This conversation should also include education policy and practices in our schools.  The recent mass murder shooters have been described as intelligent, brilliant even, and with mental health issues.  And, again, let’s not generalize these individuals’ behaviors to the whole population of others with mental health issues.  I do think that as we discuss mental health care in the United States, we also need to revisit the legislation for providing education to students with special needs.  Do our public school environments, facilities, and resources effectively meet the needs of our students?  I am sure that my education colleagues who closely serve our special needs population may take issue with this concern.  However, if we are going to have a serious dialogue about a multi-faceted, complex issue, then we need to consider all sides of the issue.  If we are going to look closely at mental health policy in the United States, then we need to consider those policies within our educational system, as well.
  • Revitalize our dialogue about being male in our society:  One look at the profile of the mass murderers reveals a police line-up, if you will, of white males in their late teens or early twenties.  As we look at other statistics concerning gender, we see that enrollment of males in our colleges and universities is on the decline.  We see that males are medicated more for such conditions as ADHD and ADD.  This, alone, is a complex issue within a complex issue.  As a society, we have done much in the past 40 years to redefine responsibilities, ambitions, and opportunities for girls, young women, and women in our society.  Have we done enough to support boys, young men, and men in that transformation.  Regardless of how slow this progress may seem for women’s rights and progress, the transformation of our cultural expectations on young men may be revealing itself in unhealthy mental and physical health of our males.  Again, we may be in a position of “either/or” rather than “both/and” thinking for our young males – and females, as a matter of fact – as we look to broaden the ambitions and opportunities for them.  That is, just as young women entering the professional world battle between “either” being a professional woman “or” a mother, we need to become a culture where we can be “both” a professional woman “and” a mother.  Have we effectively addressed a similar dichotomy in the world of masculinity?  We may have made strides for males that it is rewarding to be a “stay at home dad” or for a father to be much more involved in his child’s life than in a generation ago.  But do we do enough to help adolescent males negotiate that emotional and psychological terrain as they are growing into young men?  Do we help them address the competing demands on their lives – as we watch them dropout of high school, fail to attend college, or not enlarge and enrich their late-adolescent lives?
  • Address meaningful reform movement in public education:  Has a focus on standardized assessment and achievement in our public schools diminished the most meaningful role that our schools may play in a child’s life?  Have we become a test-prep nation rather a life-prep educational system?  In our efforts to become competitive in the global economy, have we diminished our capacity to be compassionate, empathetic, collaborative in our human economy?
  • Rejuvenate our voices toward spiritual health:  We saw a glimmer of what the conversation could be like during the Sunday night, December 16, vigil following the Newtown massacre.  Regardless of the path toward spiritual health – Christian, Muslim, secular humanism, Jewish, New Age – we need to foster the health of our soul regardless of individual belief.  We need a collective consciousness toward a spiritual health in our nation.  Regardless of whether we are a “melting pot” or a “salad bowl,” we need as much attention to our First Amendment rights as we do to our Second Amendment.  What we need are voices in our country to continue to foster a larger Self, a wholeness to our individual lives and our collective lives.  I was moved not only by the spiritual and religious voices at that Sunday night vigil but also by the juxtaposition of the religious and the political.  The religious voices preceded the political voice of President Obama.  What if that were always the case?  How can we meaningfully change the context in which our conversations take place?  How do we change the language to inclusivity, to multiple avenues for a solution, to the handshake of “both/and” rather than the finger-pointing of “either/or” and dichotomous polarization?
  • Heal.  Something is wounded in our nation.  Rather than merely call for policy change and a single-sighted solution for complex problems, mournful cries to “fix something” – we need to heal.  But to heal, we need to acknowledge the wound.

At the heart of the issue is not the gun policy, nor the mental health issue, nor the gender issue; those are contributing causes.  Those are factors but they are not, in themselves alone, sufficient causes for the epidemic of mass murders we suffer today. We voice our sorrow but do not change our collective behavior.  Rather than purposeful actions toward deep-rooted, meaningful change, our response is a short-lived emotional sorrow.

Each of us cannot do everything.  But we all can do something.  Let the change begin with me.

The Day After

Posted in Observations, People, Teaching, Uncategorized on December 17, 2012 by Vince.Puzick

I remember preparing for class my English class of April 21st, 1999.  It was a Wednesday, the day after Columbine.  First period would be the most challenging in some ways — the students’ first chance to be in class together after a night that was too long, too draining.  Of course, many had talked to each other on the phone the night before.  They had talked, hugged, probably cried in the halls in the morning before class.  Class time, though, would be the first time that we came together as a tiny little community — a community of learners, a community of people who truly cared for one another — and I felt inadequately qualified for what those first 50 minutes of the school day might hold for us all.

How do you prepare at all for the kind of conversation — or  no conversation? — that was about to unfold?  I decided that I needed three plans … and would have to just rely on my own gut instinct to read the class that I had come to know so well over the prior months.  I would need to take their lead:  were they needing to talk as a group?  were they needing to just return to the normalcy of the class and continue with the lessons we had been working on since Monday?  or would it need to be some blend of those two?

I went into class prepared for all three scenarios.

What I knew I would get from this class was unfiltered, raw emotions and probably some deep reflection on the events of the previous 15 or 16 hours.  They were my IB sophomores — smart, insightful, lively…and only 14, 15 or 16 years old.  Littleton is 60 miles away from us.  I did not think that the students would have personal connections with any students from Columbine High School.

I was wrong.  Jesse knew guys from their football team because of summer leagues and football camps.  Other kids had friends either from the school or friends of friends from Littleton.  It was closer to home than I thought.

I let them talk.  And talk some more.  And get quiet in a reflective moment when they knew — but could not articulate — the feelings that a classmate was either expressing or trying to express.  They looked to me not so much to lead a conversation but to provide a safe place to have the conversation.  And we did.  What they needed — what we needed — was genuine connection, honest and safe dialogue.

When the energy was almost exhausted from the room, when they had connected to each other’s lives in ways that made the world safe and ok again for them right there and then, I shared the only piece of literature I brought to class that day,  an excerpt from Donne:  “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

I shared that the deaths of the teens 60 miles to the north of us diminished me.  We all feel, grieve, cry, and mourn people with whom we have distant connections because we are involved in mankind.  We cannot lose that.

One River Flows

Posted in Uncategorized on June 30, 2012 by Vince.Puzick

At the river’s bank, my shadow spooked a brown trout.  He flashed his mottled body to the middle of the river.  Another pool, behind a submerged boulder, held rainbows which now flashed their silver body along-side the first startled, darting brown. Further upstream, feeding in the current along the far bank, other fish remained undisturbed.  Rising and feeding, submerging again, in rhythm and routine.  One river flows, holding them all together.  

The Phenomenon of Craving

Posted in Uncategorized on February 15, 2012 by Vince.Puzick

I’m an addict.  I know the phenomenon of craving.  If one (of anything) makes me feel good, more (of the same) will make me feel better.  Give me a cherry Jolly Rancher, I want the ranch. Give me  a drag on your cigarette, I’ll be at 7-11 buying a pack of Camel Filters.  Another pack the next day.   Give me a beer, I want to be Coors-filled.  Bet I can’t eat just one Lay’s potato chip?  Damn right I can’t.  For me, one (of anything) sets off the phenomenon of craving.

It’s at the heart of addiction, this phenomenon of craving. The Japanese have a proverb:  “First the man takes a drink.  Then the drink takes a drink.  Then the drink takes the man.”  The “drink” comes in many forms:  from prescribed varieties to those you can buy in the park.  My “connect” can be wearing a hoodie or a stethoscope.

Years ago, Nancy Reagan sloganized “Just Say No.”  It only works BEFORE the phenomenon of craving seizes the addict.  No recreational drug user, no experimenter, sets out to become addicted. “Control your drugs before they control you” is the mantra.  One cannot know beforehand that  you will set off the phenomenon of craving until you do, indeed, set off the phenomenon of craving.  For addicts, the phenomenon lies in wait.

So how do we get to the potential addict before the first experience?   What does the drug (drink, prescription, chip, sugar)  fill in us  in the first place — then seek to fill again and again?  Some say it is  a God-shaped hole within us.  Some say it is an addict’s  overly sized ego.  Some say it is an addict’s low self-esteem.  Some say it is never feeling like we are quite enough.

What was it with Whitney?  With Michael?  With Keith Whitley?  People who seemingly had it all still had a need to feel differently, to escape somehow, to fill something inside that money, fame, fortune, talent could not.  What shape is their hole?

Perhaps when we develop a standard of right living rather than common core academic standards as the true measure of education, when we foster in our children, in our selves, a sense of well-being and acceptance of ourselves, then we will not experience a craving that must be satisfied.    Perhaps when we  nurture a sense of belonging, of being loved, of “you matter,” then we will have no void to be filled, no craving to be satisfied.

I don’t sit in judgment of Whitney or Michael or the alcoholic under the bridge. I wonder, though, why it is as easy to die wrapped in a blanket under the Bijou Street bridge as it is to die submerged in a bathtub in a Beverly Hills hotel.  When will “I’m saddened by the loss” be replaced with “I’m outraged at the condition”?

On Being There

Posted in Uncategorized on January 4, 2012 by Vince.Puzick

So I learned a lot over this past holiday season about just being there, being present. Sometimes another person needs just a comfortable, safe spot to crash — physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. But like our college friends (and others!) in the past (distant and not-so distant) they may need a worn and comfortable sofa, metaphorically and literally speaking, on which to crash. Sometimes all we have to offer is that safe space. Sometimes that’s enough.

Penn State Disgust

Posted in Uncategorized on November 11, 2011 by Vince.Puzick

So the question that has been lingering in my head for a few days now is making me crazy. I’ll share it here even if it is only a half-baked thought. What if the victims in the Penn State situation had been girls? Would the grad student who witnessed the act in the shower not spoken up? Would there be any doubt about the firing of those who did nothing as evidence of these acts had come to light? Would people have stood rather idly by if there was knowledge of a man being a serially rapist to 10 and 11 year old girls?

Does the fact that the victims are boys increase the perverse nature of the horrific situation…and therefore make people mute? I pray that I would not be unable to respond…I pray that others would not stand idly by and struck silent if such an atrocity was happening to my daughter or any child.

Protect the children.

Young America League Football

Posted in Observations, People, Teaching, Uncategorized on January 25, 2011 by Vince.Puzick

Like millions of American boys growing up, I played pee-wee football in the fall. Here, it was called Young America League (YAL) football and was sponsored by the Colorado Springs’ Park and Recreation department. I played a couple of positions from the time I was 8 until 8th grade.

I was a Packer fan, then, and my idol was #15, the quarterback, Bart Starr. First of all, and incidentally, I enjoyed the almost poetic consonance of his name: Bart Starr. (An aside: perhaps it was this fascination with linguistic features of the athletes that caused my football career to end so soon.)

In 6th Grade, I bought a book by Bart Starr that was a primer on quarterbacking technique. I read that book. And I studied that book. I’d go out in the small side yard at our house on Nevada Avenue or across the street in the medical center parking lot and practice every lesson in it. I had the techniques down for fall practice. I was especially proud of my ability to lateral the ball to a running back just like it was described and pictured in the book.

A few practices into the 1969 season, we were ready to run-through a more full-blown offensive practice. I was trading off at the QB position with some short dude who was fast and pretty smart — but I don’t think he had read the Bart Starr “Playing Quarterback for Dummies” book (I don’t think that was the actual title). I knew that I had that advantage.

So we were running this sweep where the QB would turn, take a few steps parallel to the offensive line, and then lateral the ball to the running back who would, no doubt, take off around the end of the line for a touchdown. I took the snap, took my steps, and in Bart Starr-esque form (see picture 3), lateraled perfectly to Rocco Villani, our running back. The ball slid through his hands and to the ground.

“He’s spiraling the pitch!”
“Puzick, pitch the ball the RIGHT way,” barked the coach.

Next snap, I took my two steps, and sent another perfectly spiraled lateral to Villani.

“Puzick! Quit spiralling the gosh-dang ball and pitch it right.” Evidently the coach had not read THE Book either. I’m sure he saw me as either uncoachable, stupid, or something other than very well-read on quarterbacking technique.

Another snap. Another spiraled pitch to the running back. Another tongue-lashing.

It was that autumn evening, the sun setting behind Pikes Peak and the chill of dusk spreading over the grass at Bonny Park, that I took my last snap at Quarterback. Damn you Bart Starr. Damn you reading. Damn you Coach “Gosh-Dang.”

Mos Def – "Words"

Posted in Uncategorized on January 2, 2011 by Vince.Puzick

Look to this Day: A Reflection on Resolutions

Posted in Uncategorized on December 30, 2010 by Vince.Puzick

Somewhere around 27 years ago, I forewent writing New Year’s Resolutions. To look out over the landscape of 365 days with the confidence that I had enough self-discipline to live a new life — which the resolutions foreshadow and promise — seemed deflating rather than invigorating. But I can live one day at a time in full and rich ways that hold promise.

In essence, I suppose, my new year’s resolution became the same resolution for the past 27 years: live each day as fully as I can. As trite as it sounds, it seems the most authentic way for me to live. I am not always successful even in that bite-sized morsel of a year, 1/365 of the new year, but I get a new chance each day.

Probably the best writing of this entry follows (because it is not mine!):

Look to this day,
For it is life,
The very life of life.
In its brief course lie all
The realities and verities of existence,
The bliss of growth,
The splendor of action,
The glory of power —

For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision,
But today, well lived,
Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.

Look well, therefore, to this day.

Sanskrit Proverb

Happy New Year and best wishes for 2011.

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