Kind words go a long way

I have often wondered why it is harder to say something kind than something cruel, why it takes effort on our part to praise when it is so effortless to criticize? Even when we really feel compelled, it is easier to set compliments aside or allow ourselves to become distracted and never tell someone how proud we are of them or that we see the good they are accomplishing. Yet, when we are upset with someone it is hard to hold the words of frustration in and keep them to ourselves.

One kind acknowledgement from a person we respect can erase many of the negatives we might feel about ourselves. One person who lets us know he believes in us can set us on the right path. We want to believe in ourselves, but sometimes we need to see that others see the same potential in us that we see in ourselves. We can all remember when a parent or teacher praised us when we were younger. It motivated us. It strengthened our abilities, and made us work harder while it all seemed easier. That benefit doesn’t go away simply because we are adults.

 It is the little unexpected words of encouragement that can help get us where we want to go in life. Ideas and dreams that are important to us make us self-conscious, and we can easily become deterred by criticism from ourselves or from others.

We all know people who have done or said something to reassure us when we needed encouragement. Those who believe in us and encourage us are the ones we want to surround ourselves with. They are the ones who help us become better people. Throughout our lives we are blessed if we have people who tell us what we are doing right and help us to do better. Being complimented is like receiving an unexpected gift.

The words we choose have a great impact on other’s lives. We can wait for the right moment to present itself, or we can make the moment we have in front of us work. We should say what we think when it could make another’s life better, happier and more meaningful. What if we hold back our encouragement? Will we wonder how we might have affected the people around us? A few people give compliments naturally and others have a hard time with it. If we are the people who have a hard time, it probably means more to the people around us when we do encourage them. It would be great if we all were strong willed enough that we didn’t care what anyone else said, but that isn’t the case. We need friends and family to tell us when we do well.

It’s easy to say Michael Jordan is good at basketball now or that Martin Luther King Jr. was inspiring, but who told them before they succeeded, amidst the obstacles and the turmoil, that they could succeed, that their lives were built for something important, that the dreams they dreamt would be fulfilled?

Encouragement can come from the faintest praise. We must be motivated to succeed. A few words can encourage the unsure, lift the depressed or change the course of a life. We need to show people we believe in them. In our country where big dreams are possible, confidence still must be strengthened. Each of us has the ability to encourage others in the direction of their dreams.

Future depends on our current political decisions

In 2002 during the Tim Johnson and John Thune Senate race I cared, I voted and I sat on my couch all night watching the results come in. I did not know there was something else I could do, but I had the desire to do more.

In 2004 I was asked to volunteer by someone I’d never met, and I said yes. I walked into a campaign office for the first time. I’d never volunteered before or been around a political campaign. I didn’t know what it would be like, but I knew I wanted to contribute something.

I didn’t know what a county party was or what a county chairman was. Since then I’ve met people like me all across the state who all started the same way, simply by asking what they could do to advance the ideas they believe in.

We volunteer because we want to make a difference and ensure that our party elects candidates who represent us. There are many ways that we can contribute that are not widely known. One opportunity to promote our values I’ve recently learned about is the county party precinct committeemen and women. There are 22 precincts in Brown County.

Each precinct is represented by two people from each party – one man and one woman.

The precinct committeeman and woman from both the Democrat and Republican parties nominate their constitutional candidates at their state convention. The candidates we nominate to go to the general ballot include the lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, state treasurer, state auditor, public utilities commissioner and commissioner of school and public lands. At state conventions every four years we also nominate the national committeeman and committeewoman who will go to Washington, D.C., and vote for the national party chairman.

The state Republican convention will be in Huron, and the Democrats’ will be in Sioux Falls June 24-26.

In the way that legislators represent our district as a whole, precinct committeemen and women represent the values of the regular voters in their party and precinct. Those interested in this position have only to contact the county party leaders or the county auditor’s office by the March 30 deadline. After the deadline, the county party central committee appoints individuals to fill the vacancies.

Party politics is organized so that there is something for everyone to do. The best people in politics are inspired by the belief that we can overcome seemingly insurmountable odds merely by working with people who share our principles, knowing that our participation can lead to something more.

It is the rippling of waters, one drop and then another. One person lifts another. The ripples keep forming until they join together with momentum and create a movement. We are the drops that create the ripples; we determine how fast and far the momentum will travel.

We owe this and the next generation the same opportunities we have been given. It’s up to each individual to decide how he or she will take advantage of that opportunity.

We can choose the people who represent us just by showing up. We can decide if we are content with the direction of our country. Whatever we choose, our involvement matters. We have the ability to help determine the direction our country takes.

We all have different ways of contributing to our political process. Surrounding ourselves with people who come together to work for their beliefs makes our participation in the future of our country effective and meaningful.

My straw bale building project: Photos

Leaders should try leading by example

Lincoln Memorial

When we think of the people we know who stand on the other side of a controversial issue, we do not wish to belittle them. We treat them the way we would wish to be treated ourselves. We seek to persuade them with our view. Sometimes our principles prevent agreement, and neither of us will budge, but we can accept that the differences between us are based on our best intentions for our country. It does not mean that we should compromise our principles when we disagree.

On March 4, 1865, Abraham Lincoln rose to give his second inaugural address to a country deeply divided, suffering from the wounds of war and the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives. Lincoln could have increased the divide or brought forth even more hardship for the South, but he chose words that we could use in our political discussion today. “With malice toward none; with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right …”

He could have spoken as victor over the defeated, as North verses South, but he saw both sides as American. His generosity elevated him above the petty and vindictive. Unfortunately, Lincoln’s death led to policies that ignored his vision, that punished rather than forgave and that made the journey toward recovery more difficult. Lincoln demonstrated the power of a leader who retained his humility and compassion in victory.

Today, too many of our leaders seem to see each other only as enemies, as Democrat and Republican, as partisan rather than principled. Politicians do themselves a great favor when they learn to appreciate honest differences of opinion and recognize that they can learn from others who are equally passionate in their differing beliefs.

The world of politics is one that can be filled with inspiration, the belief that our goals are attainable if we care enough, work hard enough and stay true to our principles. At the same time, politics is full of pettiness and fighting that pull us down and discourage us. Since I have been able to vote, both our presidents have been compared to 20th-century dictators. It is disheartening to presume the least of our leaders.

If we focus on the great ideals and opportunities, we see that people come forward from all walks of life because they have been inspired to improve their world. Most have certain principles they will not compromise or betray even if they lose an election. It is admirable when they stand with conviction on an issue.

We must accept that when immoveable principles collide, politics can become contentious. If Lincoln hoped to heal the wounds of war with his words, a solution to our current problems shouldn’t be that far out of reach. How could Lincoln reach out so compassionately to his “enemies” at the end of such a bitter conflict? In his humility, he saw that neither side was wholly virtuous and that neither side was wholly evil.

We can be thankful over the course of our country’s history for the greatness that has come from leaders who will look past personal differences, understanding that we all come with unique perspectives. The best leaders bring us all closer together through gracious treatment of their adversaries.

Friendships can change lives forever

Capitol Theatre - Aberdeen, SD photo taken by Troy McQuillen

It is interesting how we discover friendship. We might not often look for it or even pick our friends. When we are in need they present themselves. We never know who will reach out and become important to us.

When I was a kid, I loved the theater. I started in community theater when I was about 15, but then when I was 19, I became extremely uncomfortable.

I was in the community play in Stratford and the actress I spent most of my time onstage with committed suicide. I didn’t know her well outside of the theater, but acting together creates a connection with one another. The people who stand on stage together put their trust in each other. We all succeed together or we fail together.

Spending most evenings together for several weeks tends to bring people closer, especially when we depend on each other for success. The rest of the cast went on with the remaining performances a few weeks later with another actress taking her part, but it was no longer enjoyable to hear people in the audience laugh. It was a relief when I didn’t have to think about it anymore.

A few months later, I walked into the Capitol Theater determined to audition for the musical Gypsy and become involved in theater again, but confronted with the thoughts of my last experience, I sat in the back under the balcony and watched while the others visited. I felt like I couldn’t stand up in front of these people. I watched until someone walked in and sat down next to me. That person was Tom Kelly. I didn’t know what he did; I had never met him or seen him before. But he started talking to me. When he asked if I was going to try out, I shrugged, and he encouraged me to go up there. He started to tell me about the play and what he thought it would be like.

I don’t know what made him sit next to me in the theater full of his friends. But it made the difference – whether I tried out or walked out. A few days later, I found out I got a part. I was excited and, at the same time, wondered if I could get back on stage. Fortunately, Kelly was the actor I would be on stage with most. We spent every practice helping each other, and he was able to help get me through it. Months later, when Kelly passed away, I couldn’t believe I’d known him for less than a year. I’d felt like I’d known him my entire life.

Of all the people I could’ve sat with at auditions or shared the stage with, I ended up with a drama teacher. I learned more about theater in that month than ever before. When I was on stage with him, I didn’t worry about failing because he was there to help me succeed. I knew I could count on him when I felt the most vulnerable.

Tom Kelly showed me that we will not be remembered for our professions or by the titles we earn. We will be remembered for our acts of kindness toward others. We often won’t know how our acts affect others, but the person we help won’t forget.

What’s your purpose?

Robert F. Kennedy

The world is not always kind to the people who have a greater sense of purpose; it is often harder and crueler toward those people.
Because they care, they will be hurt. They are people who have seen the possibilities and the great things we can achieve. Once they see these things, it is impossible for them to set them aside. Their vision keeps them from quitting, even when others don’t see it.
Robert F. Kennedy said, “Some men see things as they are and say ‘Why?’ I dream things that never were and say ‘Why not?’”
What does this mean to each of us? What does it stand for, and which part represents the way we live our lives? Are we cautious and hesitant with our desires, or do we act and make them reality? Too often our dreams lie dormant in the back of our minds while we find one more excuse to set them aside as time continues to pass by.
As people, we are very capable of being average, even more capable of procrastination and easily allowing time to evaporate. Our lives are very short, and we should make every moment matter. RFK seemed to be a person of determination who knew he had a purpose. He was not afraid of it. He didn’t seem to set it aside; instead, he confronted his vision and the obstacles to its realization.
When we put aside our fear of failure or hesitancy in doing what is hard, and we do it because we believe in it, there is no limit to our accomplishment. When we accept that each of us is put on this Earth for a purpose and not by chance, we realize that the selfless things are all that matter. When we make others’ lives a bigger part of our own, we can live with a passion to help. When we pursue the dreams locked in our minds and make them reality, we are more likely to offer our time to help make someone else’s come true. Most of us can’t go out and change the world, but we can make a difference to the people we know and care about.
One day we might find all that mattered to us went undone and was real in only our imagination. If we are fortunate, we will realize that our dreams are worth the struggle. There is not a better time for us to re-examine our own lives than now. We should not take a moment for granted.
Although I might disagree with Ted Kennedy’s position on most issues, he recognized in his brother’s eulogy more than 40 years ago the vision and determination that made RFK so appealing to the idealist in all of us:
“My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.
Those of us who loved him, and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will someday come to pass for all the world.”

Control over health care essential

I know my dog has nothing to do with the health care debate except that I care for him.
I know what it is like for him to age and have seen him go from a young German Shepherd cross to an old dog in front of my eyes. I know the walks around the farm have gotten shorter and the shorter distances take longer than before. I know what it is like to have to carry him back to the house when he goes too far and his joints won’t take him any farther or allow him to make the journey back home.
I became attached because I cared for him. Now I want to do the little things that make his life easier and allow him to survive awhile longer. To others it might look excessive, but they don’t have to care because they don’t have a history with him. To them he is just an old dog. To me he is my dog and friend, and I am willing to do more than anyone else would for him because I’ve gone on those walks with him for 16 years.
Now think of the way we feel about our grandparents and our parents, about children born with illnesses and disabilities or soldiers wounded in war. Think of the people we know, and the times when we’ve struggled. Who knew what was best for us? Whom did we turn to and ask for help? We turned to the people who care about us and the people we trust. Would you turn over decisions for someone you care about to a stranger, to a bureaucracy or an entity without the relationship and the memories?
In the health care debate, we are talking about letting someone removed from the experiences of our lives decide the care our family members will or will not receive. These are the people we would do anything for. The people who make the decisions about health care should be the ones who care about those involved intimately, not a government entity that cannot know or understand the struggles of each individual. Under our current system, insurance companies can decide what care they will pay for; they can’t decide what care we have access to.

If we do not have control over our health care then we do not have control over the most important decisions that affect our lives. Yes, we need to do what is right and help people who are less fortunate than us. Americans already spend a great deal to provide Medicaid, Medicare, S-Chip and a prescription drug benefit to protect low-income families, children and citizens older than 65. It is in our country’s character to take care of the sick and help the disabled but not to take away their medical choices, or ours.
We all know of cases where the experts said nothing could be done, but the family didn’t give up. In our system, we can keep looking, trying different experts or different medicines. It would be frightening to lose those options. Imagine how devastating it would be to know there is help, but not have the ability to access to it. Citizens who are denied access in other countries can come here for help.. If our system fails us, where will we go?
When there is a health problem, it gives us peace of mind to know we can pursue every option for the people we are closest to.

Volunteer firefighters important

Over the past several years, I’ve learned how important a volunteer fire department is to a small community and the many ways it improves our lives.
Fourth of July celebrations in Stratford are probably the ideal setting for a small-town movie scene.
A community picnic is shaded by the old trees, followed by kids’ games, such as tug of war, water balloon toss and sack races hosted by the volunteer fire department. Afterward, we all line up along the baseball field and watch the sun go down; we lay blankets on the grass, set up lawn chairs and visit with our friends and family while the firemen prepare the fireworks. In the best years, there is a light breeze to keep the mosquitoes away. Bright as day, the fireworks shoot skyward.
We can see among the crowd the next generation of volunteer firemen. They will be the kids who play the games and watch the fireworks. They understand the importance of the fire department because their dads and moms show them what it means to take the time and be a part of their community; parents show their kids that they can make a difference even in the hardest situations.
Volunteer firefighters are the kind of people who would show up to help even if there wasn’t a fire department, but they also see the value of building the organization. They are willing to drop their own work to help a neighbor or friend the second their pager goes off, and are willing to put in the hours of training so that they can provide the best help possible to their neighbors.

In small communities, when an accident happens, it affects everyone.
Neighbors are not casual acquaintances who are seen going to work and coming home, but people who have lived in the community their entire lives. They are the people we’ve grown up with and are our friends. It is nearly impossible to be emotionally removed from situations that occur.
It is not like a movie, where the fireman helps a troubled stranger. Instead, it is far too likely the call they receive will be an emergency affecting someone they know. It is easy to overlook how personal the struggle is for the rural firefighter.

If tragedies are hard on us as members of the community, it must be incredibly difficult for the first responders who show up to an incident only to find the victim is someone they have been friends with most of their lives.
I remember hearing about the death of a woman I knew. That was when I realized the people who volunteer are forced to face situations far worse than grassfires. I had a hard time with the situation even at a distance, but can’t imagine what it was like to wake up to the emergency call.
Somehow, volunteer firefighters are connected to each person’s life through friends or family. It is impossible to escape those connections when they are the ones going in.
In the simplest of terms, rural fire departments represent the best of small communities – being there for one another.

Dream big rather than not at all

Washington Monument

People are disappointing, especially the ones we believe in the most.
We expect perfection from the imperfect. They have a set of ideals they choose to live by that we share. We hold them to a high standard and expect them to maintain those ideals. We do not allow room for failure or human weakness.
Too often we are harder on those who try to meet our expectations and come up short than those who disregard our ideals altogether. We expect more from people we admire and unrealistically place them on pedestals. When they let us down we become disappointed. In some cases we wonder why we believe in anything at all when the world is consumed with promises that are broken or intentions that are not met.
Often the same is true for the way we judge ourselves. We work hard by setting time lines and laying out a vision for our lives; when we don’t meet our goals, we believe we are failures. No matter what our intent might have been, we are human beings and cannot live up to the ideals we hold. We will always fall short in some way. But as human beings we have the ability to try to be better even while we falter along the way.
No matter how successful we become, our ideals can continue to develop.
People will let us down, and we ourselves will let others down. No matter how discouraged or beaten down we become we owe it to ourselves to dream a little too big rather than not at all, have too much faith rather than not enough. Because we fail does not mean that what we strive for is meaningless or that we are a hypocrite. It simply means we can see greater potential. We should not lower our standards. Our ideals may be unattainable, but we dream of them and we hope for them and we work for them. We should not give them up.
Why do we have these ideals that cannot be met? Why do we hold others to a standard we cannot keep? Perhaps the biggest contradiction of human nature is that our actions rarely match the vision that inspires us. As the poet Robert Browning said, “Ah but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for.”
The people we admire are those who strive to improve themselves. In the end their ideals help them become better and more successful. Too often we place limitations on our potential and let ourselves become complacent and discouraged. We are not meant to be satisfied with where we begin but by the accomplishments we make on our journey toward our ideals.
Politicians, pastors, teachers and community leaders – it doesn’t matter what the profession is; we all fall short. Our nation’s founders didn’t live up to the ideals they aimed for in the founding documents, and neither do we. But they recognized the ideal and wrote with the hope that future generations would attempt to move closer to that ideal and live by those aspirations. It is in the attempt that our lives are made better.

Stimulus not answer

Charles Darwin

In the free-market system, companies that don’t succeed are required to restructure and become competitive, or they will be replaced by something better, cheaper and more attractive.
The stimulus package might have been passed with the best of intentions, but it only delays the hard decisions.
Do we want government dictating what is available – from the cars we drive to the health care we receive?
Each individual should choose what products best suit him or her. Archaic business models, no matter how successful in their heyday, eventually become obsolete. The federal government needs to step aside and let people and industries grow.
As a country, we should not accept mediocrity. One idea from Charles Darwin that resonates with our free-market structure: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” It seems that the candidate who campaigned on change is the one clinging the tightest to the structures of the past.
When government takes charge, it acts on the belief that the methods of the past are superior to those of the future, that yesterday trumps tomorrow and the American spirit is limited. While many past entrepreneurial ideas were incredibly bold for their time, new ideas more adapted to our current society continue to take shape and transform the old. In some cases, existing companies will not make the changes required, and those businesses will fail.

This is always a crisis to the individual who loses work, but we also have the opportunity to adapt and create a better life. Are we to believe that the future is empty of new ideas; that the ones we see struggling today are the peak of our country’s greatness? When old ideas fail and methods that companies used stop working, no matter how great they once were, it is time for businesses to absorb new ideas and adapt to survive.
Adapting to the ever-changing demands of the world and providing the consumer with the best will never be easy, but those businesses that do will be the ones that thrive and prosper. Businesses subsidized or run by the government don’t need to adapt because they are never faced with failure.
If we allow the process to work unrestrained by government forces, natural selection will produce the most innovative ideas.
With government support, we prop up the weak and in the meantime weaken the strong. According to free market theory, a business that is run poorly must evolve from its present state or it will become extinct. Politicians need to accept that change is hard but progress depends on it.
When we see children take that first step we know how scary it is. They do not know whether they will fall. Repeatedly taking first steps is what our economic system requires. We can never lose the courage to take them.