Those on Your Way Up, Might Be Those on Your Way Down

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I used to visit my uncle at his huge textile factory in Long Island City, N.Y. The man was owner of a well-respected company and a giant in his industrial circle.

Each morning, he would bring three cups of coffee to work: One for himself, one for his receptionist and one for the janitor.

One morning on my weekly visit, I asked him: “Why, if you own the firm are you doing this”?

His answer was simple: “Those you meet on the way up, might be the same people you meet on the way down — so get your nose out of the air!”

The answer surprised me, but taught me an important lesson: When you enter the offices of the company you work for, want to work for, or just have a scheduled meeting with an associate, always treat each person who crosses your path as if they owned the place.

We all have had bosses who treated us brutally and all have witnessed colleagues who treat the janitor as if he or she was of less importance than that boss.

Bad mistake.

Not only does it show that you have little regard for your fellow human being but — more importantly in a business situation — it shows you have little knowledge of human resources.

(We won’t even get into the first time I was referred to as “human collateral” and almost forgot the point of this post and nearly reverted to the street kid I once was.)

There is an old business axiom that goes something like this: I’d rather be respected and feared than loved.

To me, that’s a bunch of malarkey.

Most of us, barring those who are totally miserable on the job, want to make their worth known. We want to be appreciated and respected for what we do and what we bring to the table.

This does not mean you have to “love” everyone you work with or for. What it does mean — and without sound trite, or biblical — you should do onto others.

On that note, here are several lessons I have learned in my years as an employer and employee:

  • Always at least listen to what a colleague has to say — whether you agree with that person or not or whether she or he is a subordinate or a manager;
  • If you do disagree with what is being said, politely let the person know why and how the idea might be improved;
  • And finally, never demean or besmirch a person’s idea, especially in front of others.

This might seem like obvious comments, and you might not always be in the mood to have to sit through — let’s say a meeting you consider full of drivel.

But in the long run, it will serve you well.

Just ask my ex-boss, who was just fired for his negative attitude toward his employees.

All I could do was smile as I waved good-bye.

And, by the way, I bring the receptionist coffee every morning.

When a ‘Connection’ . . . Isn’t

Zappa

You’ve sweated through high school, college — maybe graduate school. You’ve held several jobs, possibly in different careers and along the way you have met scores of people.

On LinkedIn, for example, you can find these people, or people who know these people, or those who are somehow connected. It can be a very useful tool in getting a job or more business — no complaints there.

You network elsewhere and meet more people, who know or knew people whom you know or who know of you — or who you once were.

And here my dear colleagues lies — as the late, great Frank Zappa said — the “crux of the biscuit”:

Who of these people are really connections — and which ones know who you are — TODAY? And which ones remember who you were, maybe as a different and less — or, in some cases more — appealing a colleague than you are now?

It is therefore critical that before you send your references and connections off into the world, it’s best to reconnect with the people you’re listing and make sure they are who you think they are and reinforce to them who you are at this point in your life.

I’ve been working since I was 14 and along the way have met a lot of people — been good to many — maybe not as good to others.

I have lived in several countries and, in some, actually have accomplished at a very early age what some people never accomplish in a lifetime. I can back this up.

I remember my mother telling someone when I was 21 that I had already lived three lifetimes.

But I digress.

This post is about connections — and whether they are just part of your past who can be of no help to you, or you to them.

Or even worse: They don’t remember when you were there for them and, now that you are in need, they are nowhere to be found.

So let the story be told.

As is my way, this tale will be slightly altered so no links can be made to those guilty of what I call severe and demeaning memory loss.

It was my second or third job, and I was approached by my boss and told of a colleague who had broken up with his live-in girlfriend and basically had nowhere to live.

I had taken in strays before — both human and animal — and she knew this. She also knew I had room in my house and asked if I would take the man in.

Without hesitation, I said yes.

Several years passed; my colleague was much more of a likeable character than I was — or, more likely, played the part very well. He also hung around me like a stray puppy as he built his network, through what even I will admit was intense charisma and good looks.

We still worked together, but he had found a place to live and I had moved in with my then-girlfriend.

And then several occurrences, some self-inflicted some happenstance, left me in a lurch. I was basically homeless and without a job.

So I turned to my colleague, but he said his current circumstances could offer me no solace.

Having met a sufficient number of ingrates in my life, I took it with a grain, and pulled a phoenix, getting my life back together.

Years passed. This once-homeless colleague of mine became a leader in his chosen profession and quite well known both here and abroad. I continued pursuing my career, had some setbacks here and there, but was doing quite well.

Then I heard that my old colleague had hit the pinnacle — so I approached him, not really out of immediate need, but figuring it might be of future use. Plus, I thought we might renew an old friendship.

This new superstar would not even acknowledge my existence. Worse: While speaking to mutual friends he said: “Oh yeah, I knew him — he once helped me find a place to live.”

I went ballistic and let him know as much.

As I said, he is now at the top of his profession, but I know to me — as a human being — he is still a user and manipulator.

Enough venting and personal anger; here’s reinforcing my point:

Not everyone you think is a business or personal connection really is one. And when you are in need, be careful who you turn to.

They might legitimately not be able to help or they might just not care.

My former colleague?

May he continue with his unbridled success.

And, I am glad I don’t need him now.

The NYC Police and Public Respect

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I am part of the baby-boomer generation.

During the protests against the war in Vietnam and the general difficulties that faced the city of New York in the early 1970s, though quite young, I was aware of the constant complaint about “police brutality.”

I was a kid then and of course the cool thing was to be against the war and call police “pigs”.

The neighborhood where I grew up was considered tough – very tough. Ironically, it is now known as the Upper West Side.

I went and visited my old building not too long ago and found that where I had a rent-controlled apartment that cost $250 a month at the time had been changed to condos, with my old apartment going for a $1.5 million.

So certain things in New York City have changed, but obvious some things have not.

I was raised with a tremendous respect for the New York Police Department and at one time even considered becoming a cop.

While anti-war activists and race relations made their job difficult, all they ever did for me was good.

There were issues with race relations, violent crime and general disobedience. But I always believe the police were on my side. I can list numerous instances when they were called and showed up immediately.

I understand the dismay people have with the “broken windows theory” and the “stop and frisk” method of policing since it seems to some to be an extension of racial profiling. But crime is down in NYC for the first time in years.

I am dismayed that the police have been turning their back on the mayor of one of the world’s greatest cities as New York’s Finest mourned two of it’s own.

On the other hand, telling the public how he has told his multi-racial son to react to police doesn’t help.

Not since John Lindsay has the relations between police and the mayor been so bad. It is a shame, as Bill deBlasio was preceded by a list of strong, opinionated and diverse mayors. But they all had respect for the police.

And deBlasio is not helping his case. And note that few New York politicians of any party are standing beside him in support.

It’s a shame, especially when police-public relations have been in the news and the subject of demonstrations for months.

There has to be a solution.

After 50: Retooling for a New Career

I am using my 30-year career as a journalist as an example.

When I first started as a reporter/editor – and I am talking just after typewriters and bottles in the bottom drawer hit the dustbin – we worked on terminals connected to a central computer.

I was working for a wire service at the time and everything we “posted” had to be custom coded – something that is now similar to HTML and other coding methods.

When I get asked whether I know HTML or how to use Content Management Systems, the answer I want to give is: “We invented them.”

My first point: The technology might have changed – or renamed – but the core of most business and journalistic writing remains the same – you just have to adapt with the times.

When I was laid off from my last editing position and began looking for a job strictly in journalism, I was told by an old colleague and former employee – who now holds a position of power in the industry – one piece of advice: “Switch careers.”

And journalism has changed: Newspapers are dying; media companies are intensively moving to web and mobile and verticals on specific issues – mostly something we used to call beats.

Now, this post serves two purposes: Except for the old-school, hardcore obstinate if you really want to remain in the journalism business you have to adapt.

The second: After 50?

I have accepted that despite my considerable and well-honed journalistic skills, people my age looking for a position in the industry are at a disadvantage.

The advantage – we have the old-school skills: the need to have a balanced story; the need to have every claim backed by at least two sources; the basic structure of a news story.

The disadvantage is many of us are not schooled in social media as a tool in journalistic pursuits — plus we cost more.

Then there is the constant quandary of being hired after 50.

But here is the good news:

Barring an age issue the skills you have attained are transferable: to content writers for corporations, to becoming an expert in social media and its uses if you have the time and desire to learn how (I did); to learning some of the finer points of public relations and media outreach.

It can all be done; and I am living proof it is being attempted – big time.

And unless time has truly not been on your side, once you get your foot through the door, the age issue becomes secondary.

Prose: A Social Network That Could Rouse the Publishing World

prose-logo

Welcome to Prose: A social network that could just revitalize the literary spectrum as we know it and create a more rewarding experience for both readers and writers alike!

I am a writer by profession — have been for 30 years. Yet, I often get frustrated with the timing or conditions under which electrifying ideas come to me that should be put “on paper.”

I could wake up in the middle of the night or be walking down the street and an inspiring thought to write the next prize winner could be within my grasp. It could be a casual observation; words to a poem; a phrase or item that caught my attention and stimulated my creative juices — but I wanted to write it down quickly, cleanly and get it out to the world at large.

In March 2014, another professional writer — frustrated with similar limitations — decided it was time to try and resolve this dilemma.

What if there was a social network that provided creative and enthusiastic readers and writers — professional or amateur — the opportunity to write more in less time; get feedback; share ideas; discover writers with matching literary tastes; and connect and mutually inspire?

In October, Prose was born.

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“Prose is needed because writing is needed and yet the media through which people around the world create and consume writing aren’t satisfactorily fast, social, and entertaining,” said Henry B. Augustine, one of Prose’s founders. “Prose satisfies this lack. Additionally, Prose is needed because the world of publishing today is too hierarchical, lopsided, and aristocratic.”

Prose levels the playing field for all writers.

“Prose launched as both an iTunes and web application serving to accomplish three main things: make the experience of reading and writing more efficient; make the experience of reading and writing more social; and make the experience of reading and writing more entertaining,” Augustine said. “Prose accomplishes these things through its minimalist design, through its social integration, and through its challenges feature.”

Prose already has attracted thousands of users on its mobile and web application, has a tremendous following on social media, and has peaked widespread interest among writers — both professional and “amateur.”

One of the unique and stimulating aspects of Prose is a new form of creative competition: Where readers come up with a topic, write about it and then compete with others for the best way to publish their thoughts.

You rise in rank among the readers/writers of Prose and the competitions give you more visibility.

prose-challenges

“Prose, unlike any other reading/writing platform, incorporates subtle game mechanics through both ‘challenges’ and ‘levels.’ Anyone can create a writing challenge that prompts any kind of writing, then invite anyone to participate,” Augustine said. “Whichever response gets the most likes after that challenge expires is crowned winner. This writer then acquires a number of ‘points’ equivalent to the total number of likes on all responses to the challenge.

“Writers on Prose ‘level-up’ when they exceed certain thresholds of total likes/points received from both challenge posts and regular posts,” he said. “These levels — ranging from ‘Scribbler’ to ‘Legend’ — signify writing prestige.”

Prose then takes on the form of a personal blog, social medium, all in one convenient click.

Following Prose can add to a writer’s creativity and ability to prove that writing and reading is a passion that remains vibrant in a mostly digital world.

And, it is beginning to click.

When is Torture not Torture

It is not quite clear to me why so much shock is being displayed at the recent report on CIA torture. Because to me it returns to something I learned as a child: There is no such thing as a fair fight.

We don’t fight wars according to Marquess of Queensberry boxing rules nor does everyone in most countries adhere to the Geneva Conventions and its added protocols during times of conflict.

So let’s stop either fooling ourselves or feigning shock when we hear of the torture tactics employed by some members of the CIA, or others.

Forget whether torture achieves its goals and all the reasons and arguments given as to why it is counter-productive. Let’s not even concern ourselves as to whether it should be a national or international policy.

The bottom line is you are going to have people in all countries put in the position of either deciding whether torture is appropriate or not — and even in those nations where the decision is not to torture — in the classic sense — you will have the rogues.

Yes, rogues who either for ideological, religious, or just plain sadistic reasons think that torture is what a terrorist, enemy combatant, or anyone who is a danger to U.S. national security deserves.

And, yes, I said sadist: Because unless ice runs in your veins or you are a psychopath, torture by definition involves an element of sadism.

I am not advocating nor condemning what the CIA has been accused of doing — just like I am not taking a position on whether the Geneva Conventions should always be followed.

What I am saying is that just like my dad — who was a professional boxer and wrestler in pre WW-II Poland — used to say to me: Someone attacks, use whatever is at your disposal: Sticks, stones, broken bottles… “and make sure to kick them where it hurts.”

I believe torture in its true sense is a plague on mankind and has been used for so many nefarious and unfathomable reasons throughout the centuries that if you believe it is needed you better have a dang good reason.

But who are we — the average citizen removed from the specifics — to decide what that reason might be and under what circumstances.

We are not in the shoes of those who after 9/11 made certain decisions that resulted in what internationally is “considered” torture and verboten.

What we did do, however you spin it, is achieve results.

And this argument will continue and intensify — because you can be sure with the proliferation of ISIS — or the “Islamic State” — the issue of First World torture will again rear its ugly head.

Marion Barry’s Mixed Legacy

Last night, former “Mayor-for-Life” Marion Barry passed on.

If you live or lived for any extended period of time in the District of Columbia, you might have seen him as a civic and civil rights hero; a champion of the disenchanted and disenfranchised; the first true leader of the city — or a scofflaw, a letch, a drug user and a tax evader.

But the one thing you could not do was ignore him.

marion barry

When I first arrived in D.C. at the end of 1976, there was a definitive distinction between “tourist” Washington and the city itself. The only comparison that immediately comes to mind is the “Green Zone” in Iraq and the rest of the country.

There will be plenty written in the next few days about this incredible – yes I said incredible – man.

He started the revitalization of a city where people – both black and white – were afraid to tread at night. He brought the concept of civil rights – of which he had considerable experience before he arrived in 1965 – to a broken city.

And most importantly, to me, he made me proud to live in D.C.

One of my first jobs in D.C. was covering the District government and Barry.

I watched as the four-time mayor pushed the city of Washington and its citizens as dynamic forces.

There were always questions in the background about his infidelities and other “liberties” taken both with the law and with the City Council.

As a matter of fact, at the end of one news conference he made an overt pass at my then girlfriend and I unabashedly said if I ever saw that again, I wouldn’t care that he was mayor.

We also both worked out at the same YMCA, so I am pretty glad I never had to carry through on any threats.

I was also on the scene of the now-forgotten hotel where video was taken of the mayor smoking crack and – when busted in what was obviously a frame-up – uttered the now infamous: “The bitch set me up.”

He went to jail for that, but came back and was re-elected to the City Council – several times – while continuing to be accused of various violations of traffic laws and other white-collar crimes.

Why?

Because D.C. loved Marion Barry.

I watched as Barry went into dilapidated areas of the city and offered long-boarded up houses in questionable areas of the city for $1, if the buyer agreed to have them renovated. The townhouses now sell for millions.

I watched as Barry pushed to renovate some of the city’s black landmarks – many of which were destroyed during the riots after the 1968 murder of Dr. Martin Luther King – who Barry once worked with.

(Barry as head of Pride, Inc., working on D.C. impoverished housing in 1970 before he entered public office. Photo courtesy Henry David Rosso.)

Barry was a longtime warrior for civil rights long before he came to D.C., a fact acknowledged by President Obama upon news of his death.

“Marion was born a sharecropper’s son, came of age during the Civil Rights movement and became a fixture in D.C. politics for decades,” Obama said. “As a leader with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Marion helped advanced the cause of civil rights for all. During his decades in elected office in D.C., he put in place historic programs to lift working people out of poverty, expand opportunity and begin to make real the promise of home rule.”

I watched as Barry fought to bring the city the respect it deserved.

In his recently published autobiography “Mayor for Life: The Incredible Story of Marion Barry, Jr.” he flaunts – in his flamboyant style – his accomplishments, but also acknowledges his foibles.

There was no doubt that the “Mayor for Life” was a controversial character.

But, the District of Columbia is a better city for having had him in its midst.

There was no doubt that the “Mayor for Life” was a controversial character.

But, the District of Columbia is a better city for having had him in its midst.

The Powerhouse and His One-Eyed Dog

I have the honor of knowing an 89-year-old gentleman whose physical, mental and emotional capabilities would put most men a quarter of his age to shame.

Like many other men of his age, he has watched as his wife, friends and relatives slipped away and as result was granted a service dog for “emotional” support: A one-eyed, shelter, service dog — though it was not known at the time that this amazing animal was half blind.

This gentleman: A veteran of the wars of the Brooklyn streets when the Mafia ruled; the son of a woman who made bathtub gin to keep the family afloat; and who worked on some of the most sensitive defensive weapons this nation has ever created — sometimes alongside Nazis brought to this country for their scientific knowledge — loves his service dog.

But, it is what he does with the dog that is truly astounding. He uses the one-eyed miracle to help others.

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This gentleman is not content to sit at home; he takes the dog named Shayna — Yiddish for beauty — to homes for the elderly, hospices, hospitals, children’s wards and to those who have little happiness and hope in their lives.

This is his passion — as he often opines: “Everyone has a right to a little company.”

Shayna brings smiles to faces of those who talk of death, despair, pain and loss of hope. Shayna Gives them joy.

dad and shayna

One particular story is both an example of what can be done and a tragedy of what cannot be changed.

The man often visits a 52-year-old former journalist who is suffering from advanced multiple sclerosis. The ill young man speaks only of his desire to die; the life he could have had; and the lack of those who care that he still suffers on the face of this Earth he no longer considers his own.

But when the upright smiling gentleman enters with Shayna, this all changes. She jumps straight into his lap and snuggles next to his face. Yes, he still talks of the tragedy that is his life.

But for a few hours each week, the three: The 89-year-old man, the one-eyed dog and the man whose life is wasting away sit together in peace. And the former successful journalist finds a tad of joy in what he knows will eventually be a horrible end.

This is a story of strength — the strength to look hell straight in the eye (sometimes with only one) and come out ahead because people care.

I cannot name this man because it would embarrass him — and he probably could kick my butt, even though I am considerably more than 30 years his junior.

But he is an inspiration: To me, to his family and to everyone who has the luck to cross his path — to anyone to whom he brings a moment of relief.

And Shayna?

This one-eyed super dog is a gift — a gift we would all be lucky to have. shayna

The ‘Art’ of Plagiarism in the Digital Age

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For my first full disclosure of this post: I did not write the above quote. It was written by a much greater writer than I: Ralph Ellison. But that’s for later.

Yes, my fellow readers plagiarism is an art. It has to be if the plagiarist can be artistic enough to get away with one of the most egregious acts of theft: To me there is nothing lower than stealing someone’s words or intellectual property and calling it your own.

In a way, with the Internet, blogs and hundreds of publishing platforms it becomes tempting, almost inevitable and very easy — unless you have a sense of ethics. And, I am not here to make specific accusations — though I could, because I am seeing a growing number of instances.

So what exactly is plagiarism when it comes to writing? We all know what it was called in college when you either lifted a paper written by someone who took the course before you, or found a paper or dissertation in a long-forgotten source.

We have all heard of instances where newspaper or magazine ombudsmen — or “social editors” as some are now called — have either caught the guilty or been alerted to the practice by astute readers.

But in the digital age, the act has become more refined — and subtle. According to Dictionary.com., plagiarism is:

“An act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author’s work as one’s own, as by not crediting the original author.”

The bolding is my own. It is the “closely imitating” that seems to have overtaken a lot of posters and bloggers.

It has happened to me, several times in recent months and it makes me very angry. But more than that, there is a certain sense of pathos when you encounter a writer who steals — yes steals — your thoughts because they are too shallow to have any of their own,

For the sake of full disclosure: I am not the first to notice this problem. Search the Internet and you will find numerous programs, for multiple categories, which give the publisher the opportunity to see if the item written — or parts of it — have been used before.

I can say I have never engaged in this evil art myself. I would rather clean hotel bathrooms first.

Then again — and not to belittle those who have to clean bathrooms — there is a distinct similarity.

As a matter of fact, there is more honor in honestly doing a day’s work.

So, if you have nothing new to say or write, have the dignity and self-respect to admire the writer’s words. Quote them, attribute them, but don’t use them as your own.

You eventually will get caught — and after that you might as well go clean toilets.

By the way, the quote in the lead image is from brilliant writer Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” — a book which I have read several times and quoted from, always with attribution.