Reflections…………….start anew and flourish

In 2001 an international school for boys asked me to serve as their President. Somewhat reluctant to take on the challenge of a school designed for learning-disabled boys, I was encouraged by the statistical data supporting 20 years of college placement for their graduates.  My immediate thought for this astounding success rate had to be attributed to their low teacher-pupil ratio (3:1).

gary's blog picture While individualized instruction was a contributing factor  for a group of young men who had experienced academic failure in their neighborhood schools, a major factor could be found in their motto: “start anew and flourish.”

After the first year on campus it became apparent there were three major factors contributing to the success of these young men.   First, presentation of self was first and foremost.  These young men were caught up in a culture of “dress down” and the first order of business was “dress up”.  While “dress up” was directed toward your personal appearance it applied to all aspects of life, including your dormitory room, the school campus and other places where you happened to be. A common statement on-campus was “did you make your bed.” Gradually the students lived in an environment, including their personal dress, that was very pleasing. I hasten to add there were “no excuses”, only responsibility and respect.

Secondly, and this is my personal term, they had to empty their trash can.  Not literally but their lifestyle trash can. Trash included unfinished commitments, broken relationships, unpaid debt, and forgiveness.  In other words start anew.  The common statement to describe the empty trash can was; “have you erased the board?”

Thirdly, with the board erased, acceptance of grace and forgiveness was paramount.  Old things passed away, all things were new.  This is a hard concept to process and the natural course of action is……..”don’t you remember when I……..” or “there is no way I can get forgiveness for what I have done”.  Everyone had to subscribe to the concept, especially the parents.

2016 is a great time to take inventory and be sure our “presentation of self” is positive and our “trash can is empty”.  The course of action is to make the people we meet and the circumstances we encounter a ‘laboratory’ where the principles our Creator has given to us are placed into action………Start Anew and Flourish.



get-attachment.aspxHave you noticed that today’s youth and young adults are wedded to ear phones, let me explain. A group of young people are getting on a school bus headed on a field trip, a large majority of the students have earphones in their ears. Similarly, athletes disembarked their team bus going into a stadium and their path to the stadium is  surrounded by loyal, supporting fans yelling and screaming ‘best wishes’ and accolades.  However their sounds are shielded by the earphones the athletes are wearing.  A similar phenomenon can be seen in everyday life when young adults turn on the radio or television as soon as they wake from a night’s sleep.  Is it possible that we, unknowingly, have produced a society where silence is frightening.

Just as there are two nights, one filled with the light of the moon and stars and another absent of the light from these elements,  there are two silences: one is frightening, the other peaceful. Is it possible today’s young people don’t know what to do with silence?  If they come upon a place where no cars are roaring, no hum of a radio or television, where no music is playing, they feel their entire bodies gripped by an intense unrest. Some people can’t study without a solid wall of music surrounding them.  If they are forced to sit in a room without a constant flow of sound, they grow very nervous. Have you heard this statement from today’s generation, “there is nothing to do, I am bored.”

We have produced a generation that is alienated from silence.  If we go to the beach or on a picnic, earphones are often the most important companion. As I walk on the college campus where I live a large percentage of the students I pass are wearing earphones. It is as if they cannot bear the sound of silence.

If this is true we are creating a dangerous situation. Are we unable to hear the full sound of silence………  the wind murmuring, the leaves rustling, the birds flapping their wings.  Are we masking the sounds of the environment and life itself with earphones.  Are the “games” of life drowning our calls from the environment and even our own compassion?  In all our busyness and ambition, we learn to ignore those calls, to push them away.  This pattern certainly holds true in my own life.  How many times have I heard the calls—sometimes faint, sometimes deafening—and turned away, consumed by my own life?

Did you ever have a parent tell you “be still and be quiet” which was usually followed by “don’t you dare move until I tell you to.”  During this time-out you did some of your best thinking, some of your best planning.  You could not have done either if you were ‘plugged in.”  Unknowingly your parents gave some of the best philosophical advice you could have received.  Just a thought, could the diversion we look for in the many things outside us be an attempt to avoid a confrontation with what is inside?  We must be able to stand alone from time to time, shut our eyes, gently push aside all the assorted noises, and sit calmly and quietly. We, like our parents, must teach our children the art of freedom to stroll through their own inner yard to rake up leaves and clear the paths so they can easily find the way to their heart. For today’s youth and some adults this will be a strange experience which could be accompanied by fear, especially when one comes upon this unfamiliar terrain. However, slowly they will discover an order and familiarity which deepens their longing to stay at home with themselves. It is not uncommon for me to tell my wife, I need some Gary time.  This is an indication that I need to be alone, quietly thinking.

Parents teach your children to embrace the sounds of silence as a gift to be developed.  It is a wonderful asset in the development of the cognitive processes of the brain. Learning is an active process.  Listening via earphones is a passive process.  Unplug and you will enhance the process of thinking.

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence
………..Simon & Garfunkel