How do we make a difference?

Many people want the complete community experience where they live.

Safety. Recreation. Education. Art. Eating. Entertainment. Opportunity.

Author Richard Florida contends in his book, “Who’s Your City?” that where we choose to live is as important a decision as who we choose to spend our life with and what we choose to do for a living.

While I have friends all across our fruited plain, for this example I will focus on Lee’s Summit.

Why do we live here? Are we happy here? If not, what are we doing to improve our community?

Some join a social club. Others give back through service. Our greatest gifts are likely as simple as our gift of time. We know that talk is cheap. Actions show our resolve to help, assist and give back. If it’s at a thrift store, an elementary school or a nonprofit organization, we make a difference simply by showing up.

In Lee’s Summit, it really is just that easy.

A small, and sometimes vocal, minority like to bat around terms like “insiders” and similar phrases to describe those that are involved around town. Like any community, Lee’s Summit isn’t immune to the “most of the work falls on just a few” routine. But it doesn’t have to be like that. It is easy to be involved in Lee’s Summit. Making a difference is as effortless as picking up trash, reading to a kid or volunteering on a committee. Some of the strongest leaders in Lee’s Summit do it very quietly.

I will use the example of a young man named Mike Ekey who, after a little persistence, was appointed to the Lee’s Summit Arts Council and later the Planning Commission. Mike has been in town just a few years.

From our parks to our downtown, HOA’s to private schools, it takes an abundance of volunteerism and that gift of time to keep things moving. I know there are countless parents out there putting in that time when they barely have it.

Others, though, don’t bring anything to the table other than blustering and complaining. And social media has helped feed that ability to gripe unfettered and offer no real solutions.

When you listen to this loud minority, you would think Lee’s Summit is on the verge of falling to pieces. But we need to remind them that they chose Lee’s Summit. And if things aren’t great, what are they doing to make it better?

Florida sums it up nicely here:

“Finding the right place is as important as—if not more important than— finding the right job or partner because it not only influences those choices but also determines how easy or hard it will be to correct mistakes made along the way. Still, few of us actually look at a place that way. Perhaps it’s because so few of us have the understanding or mental framework necessary to make informed choices about our location.”

So, that’s the challenge. Finding your place means you’ve taken everything into consideration. Happiness isn’t about where you live, but you do live somewhere that should make you happy. If it doesn’t, change it.

Another great nugget from Florida:

“The place we choose to live affects every aspect of our being. It can determine the income we earn, the people we meet, the friends we make, the partners we choose, and the options available to our children and families. People are not equally happy everywhere, and some places do a better job of providing a high quality of life than others. Some places offer us more vibrant labor markets, better career prospects, higher real estate appreciation, and stronger investment and earnings opportunities. Some places offer more promising mating markets. Others are better environments for raising children.”

Can you read that paragraph and not think of Lee’s Summit? I can’t.

Now, go make a difference. We’re a better city and a stronger community when you do.

The poetry of music lyrics

My recent fascination with Hozier’s haunting “Take Me to Church” got me thinking about the power of music lyrics.

When Hozier laments that he will “tell you my sins so you can sharpen your knife,” among other obvious religion-themed verses, the song takes on a new meaning to some.

To others, it’s just a song.

Of course, the messaging of music is nothing new in pop culture. For as long as music has been around, there are those that feel compelled to break down and understand the true meanings behind our favorite songs.

The theologians had a heyday with R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion,” probably due to as much of the visual images of that video as the lyrics itself. My theology-minded brother, Dr. Thomas More, even weighed in on that topic during a VH1 special.

And like R.E.M., Hozier encourages the religious discussion and our natural tendency to break down the music. With lines like “I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies,” how can we not wonder aloud?

It does diminish the music or dampen the integrity of the art to discuss lyrics. Still, we sometimes go a little overboard.

Bell Biv Devoe didn’t literally mean that girl was “Poison,” did they?

Women, love and heartache-filled-angst has made the best music over the years. And some of that we can take quite literally.

Jefferson Starship told us all about “Sarah.” KISS introduced us to “Beth.” The Police filled us in on “Roxanne.” Toto’s famous ode to Rosanna Arquette was popular in the 80s. And Prince told us way more than we may have needed to know about a good friend named “Nikki.”

Hozier offers an explanation of “Take Me to Church” on a YouTube video. My initial take was you can’t riddle you song with faith-related phrases and then tell us the song isn’t about that at all. I’ve changed my tune a bit now, though, as I think back to many great songs.

The Band had us believing they “pulled into Nazareth, was feelin’ about half past dead…” Really? Either way, can’t argue with the song. That tune is still killer after all these years.

Songs that dare to dip into religion will always draw the ire of some. Others, like Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” (no, he’s not singing “hold me close my Tony Danza…”) will live in interpretive infamy forever. Deliberate or implied symbolism makes for great discussion points, especially when we look at some of the great songs of Pink Floyd or The Doors.

As one of my friends put it recently on a Facebook discussion, in his mind, the song is just the song. It’s good music. Maybe that’s all we need say.

That a topic, a woman, a loss or a love can inspire deep and meaningful music is still what drives me to listen.

If music moves you, allow it to happen.

The dream should include love

Tony

In the midst of a racially charged time in our society, we pause today to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King and his vision of peace, love, justice and fellowship.

Dr. King’s dream was celebrated tonight in Lee’s Summit, in Kansas City and throughout the United States via these types of events, speeches, vigils and remembrances.

I got a glimpse of King’s dream while traveling to Memphis last summer. During my annual guys’ trip, I finally detoured off Beale Street and found the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. While touring, reading, listening and visualizing all that King had preached regarding civil rights and civil disobedience, I was struck by one thing in particular – his age. King was just 39 when he was gunned down by coward James Earl Ray. At 40, I was walking through and seeing this tremendous affect he had on our country and culture in such a short amount of time.

And while race relations are never seemingly at an even keel, since that trip to Memphis, it has gotten exponentially worse.

Eric Garner, a 43-year-old New York man, died July 17, 2014 after officer Daniel Pantaleo performed what some consider an illegal choke hold. Why Pantaleo took such drastic measures against Garner is beyond me. Still, it happened. And a flurry of race-related riots followed after Pantaleo wasn’t charged in his death.

On Aug. 9, 2014, Michael Brown died in Ferguson, Missouri – an event that prompted me to head to the St. Louis suburb and find some sort of humanity among a racially-fueled and angry community.

Since that Grand Jury released its findings, we know now what transpired between officer Darren Wilson and Brown on that fateful day. That situation and the fate of Eric Garner are starkly different. We know that now.

But the results are the same. Race is in the headlines, used in the news as a flash point of controversy and talking points and, months later when we celebrate the work of Dr. King, relived again as we discuss where we have been and where we are heading as a country still dealing with racial issues.

On this day, though, I thought more about my brother-in-law, Tony, who passed away a year ago this month.

Tony was a proud black man. A preacher. A helper. A wonderful husband to my sister, a friend, brother and mentor to many.

Tony and I rarely had the “big” racial discussion. We didn’t break down Dr. King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” or “I Have a Dream” speeches.

Mostly, Tony talked about love. Loving your neighbor. Love for your family. Loving God. Showing love, sharing love, offering love. Over the years, I tried to better embrace and understand that message. I know that Tony and my sister Ann practiced that message of love. And saw it given back a thousand times over during Tony’s service.

King’s messages during his life resonate well after his death. He was willing to say the hard things about race that we sometimes don’t want to talk about.

I believe we have many hard conversations still ahead.

But if we have them with a dose of patience, reverence and, of course, love, I think we could actually get somewhere.

The meaningful gifts

It’s mid-January, which means my daughter has pretty much moved on from any gifts she got at Christmas.

The new coloring books are half used. The slippers are somewhere in her room. God only knows where her purple pony is.

And the damn flying fairy is broken. Irrevocably busted.

The only saving grace is the Light Brite that hasn’t left the box yet. Yes, I guess the Light Brite has made a reappearance in the toy world.

My kiddo doesn’t seem to take notice when some of her toys disappear into the night. I’ve gotten her in the habit of trying to think of still-new toys she can give away to kids that maybe don’t have as much. She’s been largely supportive, and has even brought up that a particular new toy could go to another girl some time.

I did face a little of the 4-year-old wrath when I gave away her Lalaloopsy doll. She’s still bringing that up to me from time to time.

As kids, I know toys are king. When we rip into the wrapping paper on our birthdays or Christmas and find socks or a sweater awaiting, those are pretty quickly tossed aside, hoping the next box or bag will hold the promise of something we had seen on TV recently.

As an adult, a new softball glove or old Nintendo game might be nice, but the gifts that really resonate are the ones where, the second you open them, you say, “this person really gets me.”

A shirt you know you are going to love isn’t discarded at all as an adult. A pair of copper mugs to make your favorite drink in is met with a smile every time they are used. Or simply a box of pencils made from recycled newspaper. A gesture that not gives a nod to my newspaper past, but shows an understanding of what I might truly appreciate.

Of course, I don’t expect these things out of my daughter just yet. Gift giving to her will, I hope, for years to come be about something that she will open, scream with joy about, and play with. Even if for only 17 minutes or so. (The fairy didn’t last long).

And, perhaps, the really meaningful gifts come at a time when no gift is anticipated at all. I’ve noticed on Facebook some people committing to doing something for five friends throughout the course of the year. Each year I see a few more of my friends doing this. I’ve never asked if they follow through. I want to believe they will.

In a world that is quite mad and violent, I can believe in little gestures of kindness and compassion, whether that is in the form of gifts, words, a gentle touch, shoulder to cry on or in simply being there for our loved ones.

I hope to provide all of that to my friends, family and loved ones.

And if it happens to come with a little something wrapped up with a bow on top, I hope that I, too, can always find that most meaningful gift to them.

2015 goals…for the 4-year-old

1115

If our children made New Year’s resolutions and goals like we do as adults, I would imagine they would look as ridiculous as ours a few months into the year.

Not because they are unattainable or irrational. They come each year with good intentions, each of us promising and striving and yearning to achieve something we didn’t in the previous year; to leave something behind that may have been negative and hope beyond hope that the New Year will bring only positive growth and outcomes.

As I entered the 2015 with Addy, I started to think about what this crazy kid is going to be “resolving” to do in the future. Not that I want to think about her teenage years…but I know it’s coming. Lord, before I know it, she will be on Facebook. If there is such a thing. And then I will have to answer for all those photos I posted.

So what does my 4-year-old want to accomplish in 2015?

Addy would like to eat less veggies. A lot less. Like, none, would be a great start.

She would like me to stop eating anything green, too, as witnessed by her incessant need to always inform me that she would, indeed, “not eat” whatever she deems undesirable on my plate.

And, like any 4-year old girl, Addy would resolve to: play more, sleep less, watch Frozen, watch Strawberry Shortcake, go to grandma’s house more often, dance daily, eat cookies, eat cake, eat ice cream, eat pancakes, play nonstop.

But here’s the thing: Addy’s goals are real. They’re worthy and honest.

While I want to challenge myself to do more one-on-one volunteerism, be a better father and friend and hit the gym more often, things we “want” to do in the next 365 days should perhaps be a better place to start on Dec. 31 or Jan. 1. When we shoot for “what I should become” or “I wish I could have the courage to do this” we set ourselves up for failure.

When I asked Addy what is one thing she would like to get done this year, she said, “Go to Paradise Park.”

Simplicity. You have to appreciate that.

My kiddo isn’t hard on herself. She doesn’t linger on the negative. She’s either always happy or looking for something that she can laugh about.

Perhaps, then, my outlook for 2015 is simple: take more lessons from someone that’s be alive less time than I spent in college.

Oh, and write more. You’ll be hearing a lot from me in 2015.

From rough to rational to respect

When I was 22, I had a bit of a problem.

I thought I knew it all.

While that’s not uncommon for type-A folks, it sure didn’t bode well for my entry into the workforce.

At this point in my life, I was (I thought) an accomplished collegiate and semi-pro writer, professional student, waiter, bartender and known cynic.

On my first day at The Examiner newspaper, I met my match.

Dick Puhr didn’t care what I had written. Or who I knew. Or what I thought was interesting. He knew stats. He knew copy. He knew infinitely more than I did. Sadly, it took me years to realize that.

As the days turned into weeks and weeks into months, any newspaper team worth its salt will start to work better as a unit. That happened at The Examiner, certainly.

As we transitioned away from longtime sports editor Huey Counts to the new boss on the block, Karl Zinke, we had to learn styles, quarks and strengths. A sports writing team that ranged from creative features to award-winning game coverage and compelling column writing became the norm around Eastern Jackson County. We did it better than anyone. And, without always acknowledging it, we did it that good because Dick Puhr was a walking encyclopedia of high school and prep sports knowledge.

As I learned to better pick my battles and do more listening than talking, I started to hear things from Dick that I hadn’t ever processed before.

Connections between coaches and schools. Records and historical data. And just the off-the-wall stories that rattled around in his head that he would, quite randomly, throw out. I caught myself more than once asking to hear a Dick story about a coach that got booted from a high school basketball game or an athlete’s inspiring performance in the face of adversity.

As my role at The Examiner changed over the years, I heard less and less stories and that familiar pecking of the typewriter at the desk right next to me. Still, when Dick was in the office, you knew it. He was a proud Rotarian. A staunch stat keeper. A fair journalist.

When I left for Iowa, Dick flat out asked me if I was ready for this new role as a newspaper publisher. That stopped me in my tracks. And I remember we ended up just sitting at our adjacent desks and talking about it for a while.

Years later, when I returned to run the Lee’s Summit Journal, Dick called to welcome me back. And to tell me about an error that was on my sports page. In fact, that turned into a routine. And really, I didn’t mind at all. It was good to hear from him and getting that still-stern “correction” from him all these years later just made me smile.

The last few conversations this year with Dick helped solidify the respect I have for him. First, he called to congratulate me on hiring a former colleague of his, Dave McQueen, to the sports editor position at my papers. Months later, he called to wish me well after he had heard I was laid off from the newspaper industry. That meant far more than I could have even communicated to him.

Dick is an example of why we should tell people they appreciate them in their living years.

I began this column around 8:30 on Nov. 22, a few hours after getting home from visiting Dick in hospice care. I was able to tell him about my new job, my 4-year old daughter Addy, read him some of his cards and just talk to him. I woke up around 3 a.m. Nov. 23 to the news that he had passed away around 11 p.m.

So, I finish this column after his passing. Thank you for a half-century of sports coverage Dick.

Some use the “there will never be another” adage here. In all honesty, there cannot be.

What Dick did in all those years and weeks of hours of journalism is, though, thankfully recorded for all to read for the next 50 years and beyond. He was as much a historian as a writer.

That contribution is timeless.

The speed of truth

What happened on the streets of the Canfield-Green Apartments in Ferguson or during a recent car stop in Independence has been the product of much debate.

And rightfully so.

In an age where we can find out the population of Greenland in 1944 or the latest Iggy Azalea video with JLo with just the push of a few buttons, it somehow vexes us that we don’t know exactly what happened, blow by blow, second by second, with the events in Ferguson or the car-stop turned Taser incident in Independence.

I am wondering why the hell we feel so entitled to know these things immediately?

While the truth is an ever-unfolding process, what happened between Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown truly should not be a topic of ongoing debate. Just because we don’t know every moment of that encounter doesn’t make the event itself any less truthful or real. And it doesn’t lessen the gravity of either event, or any police encounter that comes into question, when we don’t have instant access to every moment of it.

Instant gratification has obviously spoiled us beyond recognition.

And caught up in our irrational need to know immediately and our rush to judgment, frankly, the truth. As well as the lives that we are putting under the microscope.

I will defend the media all day, it seems. I always tell people news is news. We don’t get to decide what is news and what is not. Sometimes there is bad news. Somethings people kill other people, houses catch on fire and elderly are scammed out of their life savings.

The media, in all its forms, still largely distributes information in a responsible way. Yes, outlets strive to be first. But there is always an eye on being accurate. The media may be seen as dangerous to some. But the flood of speculation that follows is far more threatening.

With every acknowledgement that I am a part of the media, and having done a little coverage in Ferguson and of police activity for many years in Independence, I can speak with a little knowledge on the subject.

First, the car stop where Tim Runnels, an Independence officer, found himself in a situation where he deployed a Taser to Bryce Masters.

Short of all of standing right there when it happened, this immediate call to investigate the police is as asinine as condemning Masters.

And that logic goes in Ferguson, too.

Asking for an immediate trial of Wilson for the Brown shooting makes no sense. It may satisfy some in the short term, but it as irresponsible as calling Brown a “thug.”

I think much of this comes down to one simple thing: we are all highly impatient. We want and expect answers.

The phones and the web have increased that anxiety on all of us.

The truth is out there. We can surely set out to seek it. Patiently.

It is just as brave to be cautious and controlled, willing to let the facts unfold before rushing to judgment.