Month: October 2018

Extraordinary People Hidden in Plain Sight

Last week was difficult.  The horrific shooting on Saturday at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh shook many of us to the core. Coming at the end of a week of attempts at mass political assassinations, it called into question assumptions about our nation’s values. As a historian I know that anti-Semitism and bigotry are as old as our country, in fact as old as recorded history. Thankfully, stories of courageous response to bigotry are just as old, yet often not as well known. The Overlooked Obituary project of the New York Times is designed to recognize extraordinary people overlooked by the editors of the paper in their day. People like Rose Zar, the remarkable mother of my National Trust colleague Howard Zar. Rose Zar’s overlooked obituary appeared in the Times on the anniversary of her death in the Jewish lunar calendar.  That happened to fall during this past week, bringing a story of hope and determination amidst a flood of bad news. When she was 19 and living in the ghetto in Piotrkow, …

To Avoid Stress, Stop Screwing Up

I had a “What the heck?” moment recently when reading a book on willpower.  I came across the line, “The best way to reduce stress in your life is to stop screwing up.”  As my children might say, “Well, duh…”  Of course, if we didn’t get ourselves into stressful situations, we could reduce stress. But if you’ll bear with me for a moment, I think authors Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney have a good point.  They were arguing that we should think about ways to set up our lives so that we have a realistic chance to succeed.  “Successful people don’t use their willpower as a last-ditch defense to stop themselves from disaster, at least not as a regular strategy.” The entire book is built around the premise that all of us—even the most successful—have a limited amount of willpower to expend every day and that we use the same resource for many different things. So it is important to think about how we can use our willpower to set ourselves up for success. …

Perseverance and Passion

If you are like me, you may have been told “You know, you’re no genius” at some point in your life.  During her childhood, Angela Duckworth heard that phrase over and over again from her father.  Years later when she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship—often called the “genius grant”—she was able to savor the irony of being told that she wasn’t smart enough, and yet being recognized on an international stage for work that was cutting-edge and transformational in the field of psychology.  Duckworth was compassionate enough not to lord this over her father.  But she did write a book based on her studies which makes the case that for those who have a calling, who challenge themselves every day, who get back up when they are knocked down, perseverance and passion matter more than talent. Grit:  The Power of Perseverance and Passion is the 2016 book that resulted from Duckworth’s life and studies.  The fundamental insight that guides her research is “Our potential is one thing.  What we do with it is quite another.”  …

An Education in the Obvious

In the midst of one of the most turbulent weeks in our recent civic life, I attended the play Lincolnesque last Saturday at Washington’s Keegan Theatre.  First released in 2009, this new production couldn’t have come at a better time.  Here’s the synopsis: “Leo has more on his plate than he can handle. He is a speechwriter for an endangered mediocre Congressman, in the final month before a do-or-die mid-term election. His new boss Carla is a dominating message maven who has been brought in from the corporate world to try and save the campaign. And his brother Francis is a psychiatric outpatient recently released from St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, despite having a powerful delusion that he is Abraham Lincoln. Desperate for inspiration, Leo turns to Francis for help writing “Lincolnesque” speeches, hoping that Lincoln’s transformative oratory will revive his boss’s career.” Playwright John Strand uses humor and plot twists to bring Leo and Carla to the point of stealing Francis’ “Lincolnesque” citations for the final campaign speech that puts the Congressman over the top.  The …

Yes, The Playoffs Are Beginning Without Us

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted very much on the baseball season since the All-Star game.  For those watching the Nats’ season fall apart, the reason will be obvious.  And now that the local nine have wrapped up a miserable year, we get to begin speculation here in D.C. on where Bryce will land next year.  Frankly, I’ve read about all the ink I care to on Harper.  I just hope he makes up his mind early and doesn’t drag this out all year.  Robles and Soto are two excellent young (and cheap) outfielders, so it isn’t like we’d have chopped liver out there in the outfield But let’s move on to the teams still playing.  The team with the top record, the Boston Red Sox, look good, but I think they have a tough row to hoe to win it all. To cut to the chase, here are my picks/hopes: First in the American League: I hope the A’s (now Claire’s team since she lives in Oakland) use their “new pitcher every …

Good Trouble

Congressman John Lewis is a hero to many.  A hero whose skull was cracked more than fifty years ago while working for justice.  So in June when he sent out the following on his twitter account, it was a message worth hearing that day and every day: “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” Lewis wasn’t calling for a “don’t worry, be happy” type of response to the issues of our times. Instead he knows—from more than five decades in the trenches—that despair creates apathy, and apathy destroys activism.  One activist who was in Lewis’ training camps in Mississippi in 1964 notes that “Giving in to despair is lazy surrender.” A few years ago, when the National Trust conference was held in Nashville, John Lewis challenged us to believe in the …