Intents & Purposes

holding hands
Intent doesn’t matter.

Sure in a courtroom or an ethics class or a therapist’s office, intent is relevant. But in human relationships, it serves little purpose.

Why bother to make the distinction? Because too often peoples’ initial reaction when they realize they have hurt someone is to say

   “I didn’t mean to…”

   “It was an accident…”

   “I didn’t do it on purpose…”

Pleading intent misses the point.

It’s about caring. If people think of you as malicious, they aren’t going to let you get close to them in the first place. So when they let you get close and you inadvertently hurt them, minimizing your role suggests you don’t care. Saying “I didn’t mean to…” may make you feel better about it, but it doesn’t acknowledge the other person’s experience…it puts pressure on them to drop the issue. Selfishness quashes caring.

Instead of pleading intent, validate what’s happened. It’s not about blame, it’s about compassion. Own it. Keep it real. You have the power to make it better. Indeed, if everyone does this, the world will be a much better place.

To be clear, I don’t think this applies to people who are threatened by points of view that differ from their own. Keeping it real requires us to engage in rigorous, respectful vetting of one another’s ideas and values. There’s nothing wrong with that. But that having been said, insensitivity does not cancel out sensitivity; it exacerbates it.



“Teach us to care and not to care. Teach us to sit still…” 
   -T.S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday (1930)   


Own who you are, but not at the expense of others. Take charge of your actions…in relationships…in work…in life. When your actions do damage, caring makes the difference.



Don’t be “that guy.”

Find your tribe.

Is that a “thing?”

Nowadays it’s easy to let people, situations, and…yes…even mindless expressions…define you.
But here’s the thing: DON’T!

Don’t let ANYTHING define you. Resist that tendency. Because the more you get cornered and labeled, the more you get pigeonholed and marginalized…limited…stuck. And no one does that to you better than you. Defy being defined…DEFY-ne!

Nope. Don’t be defined by brands, beliefs, biases, colors, flavors, talents, weaknesses, habits, routines or styles. Resist being corralled by words, thoughts, feelings, titles, careers, dogmas, ideologies and pet peeves. Never think of yourself as locked into relationships, social circles, favorites, preferences, desires, dreams, successes, failures or mistakes. Even in things you didn’t choose or you don’t have control over, like family, friends, neighbors, rivals, adversaries and enemies…refuse to see yourself as the sum total of what’s around you.

At the same time, don’t be hemmed in by goals, objectives, drama, assumptions, expectations, fears, threats, pleasures, compulsions, obsessions or addictions. Refuse to think of yourself as predominantly competitive, aggressive, ambitious, opportunist, lazy, vulnerable or invincible. And never be limited by history, poverty, prosperity, attitudes, achievements, awards, nor your reputation as it stands in the moment.

Defy being defined! Any time you get comfortable or complacent, change it up. Be open to what’s not immediately in front of you. Demand different. Keep it fresh. Keep them guessing…keep yourself guessing! Because every time you allow yourself to be reined in, you’re limiting your awareness of new experiences, new possibilities, new happiness.

Sure hometowns and  home teams, alma maters and political parties have a place on the landscape. But if they’re forcing you to think and do and be like everyone else…bang a U-ey*, do a 180, roll down the windows, hit the gas, hold on tight and rediscover the exhilaration of the open road. It can take you places you’ve never been!

It’s too easy to be defined. Never settle. Push back. Question. Don’t be intellectually lazy. Stay hungry! Relish the raw. Savor the surprise. Renegotiate reality and claim what makes you never-endingly unique!

Easy to say? Don’t talk or think about it. Do it. It’s in your DNA.

Morph. Grow. Evolve.


*Bostonian for “make a U-turn!”
  Read all of my thinking out loud at!

What If?


Imagine educators running for congress in droves this November! Not running as democrats or republicans…but on a kids-first platform…a pragmatic, non-partisan, what’s-best-for-all-of-us, consensus-building, invest-in-the-future tidal wave of a mandate educators ride into office.

Imagine the possibilities:

  • Ending blind loyalties
  • Voting out ideologues
  • Rejecting quid pro quo business as usual
  • Repudiating the politics of personal destruction
  • Terminating cynical catering to identified political bases
  • Striking the death knell for pandering to ignorance, bias, bigotry, hatred and intellectual laziness

Imagine the country becoming one giant, energized community of learners and doers, where teachers lead with a moral imperative to do what is best for everyone:

  • Setting a tone and expectation that brings out our best in one another
  • Demonstrating respect and tolerance for all ideas
  • Making decisions based on facts and data
  • Crafting policy and legislation that funds and fuels the promise of the common good
  • Working with our public institutions to ensure all children are healthy, safe, supported, engaged and challenged to realize their full potential
  • Espousing an inclusive vision based in a belief that we all matter and we can all make a difference
  • Modeling impartial, ethical choices
  • Redirecting inappropriate behavior
  • Implementing policies and laws fairly and equitably
  • Creating a culture of mutual support and accountability so things get done

What if?

Not that it’s going to happen this November…but it could happen…someday.

Imagine the possibilities leading by example…just like we do in our schools! Setting high standards! Following through on what we say and do! Fostering cooperation and collaboration! Even offering remedial citizenship classes for those who don’t know how to play nicely! Indeed, a vote for kids-first candidates is like sending business-as-usual career-politicians to time out to think about what they’ve been doing! <insert smirk here>

In the meantime, what if every one of us who puts children first gets out and votes in November to let those who are elected know our values and priorities, and that we hold them accountable? Let’s start there…

Vote in November!

Run in 2020!

What are your priorities when you ride that tidal wave into office?


Need to Know

It’s in the knowing.

It’s not in the guessing, the posturing, the fake it til you make it…you need to know.

Leadership is on a need to know basis.

Yes there’s all kinds of feel-good notions about pulling a sword from a stone…mystically finding one’s way…but leaders are not preordained nor predestined. When it counts, you either know…or you don’t.

Of course you factor in strategy and culture and context and relationships…but in that lonely, imminent moment when a decision must be made…you need to know. You’ve seen the scene before. The players are different, but the feel is familiar. And you lead.

You know the ask.

You know yourself.

You know what matters.

You know what doesn’t.

Everything else is background noise.

It’s not hardwired or handed to you. You earn it…you learn it by doing…rolling up your sleeves and getting your fingernails dirty. There’s no substitute, no finesse, no smoke and mirrors that compensates for the lack of it.

Leading is a challenge even when you know…leading with anything less is folly.



In-Your-Face Civics

Ervin and Baker

In the fall of 1973, I cam home from sixth grade every afternoon to the Watergate hearings live on television. The bushy browed Sam Ervin presided over the senate investigation, and the ranking Republican Howard Baker coined the now infamous phrase, “What did the President know, and when did he know it?”

It was a constitutional crisis, and no one was sure how it would (or was supposed to) play out. Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, presidential domestic affairs advisor John Ehrlichman, Attorney General John Mitchell, White House counsel John Dean, special counsel to the President Charles Colson, White House staff and ex-CIA operatives E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, and the security director for the council to reelect the president James McCord were all casualties as the truth slowly came out and the Nixon administration unraveled, in spite of the president’s firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox, (known as the “Saturday Night Massacre”) in a vain attempt to thwart the investigation. In the end, mindful of his place in history, the president resigned, rather than escalate the crisis further. It was high drama. And at twelve years of age, I was learning reams about how our constitution works.

In the aftermath, respected news analysts of the day proclaimed the entire inexorable drama a current events civics lesson, because, not unlike my sixth-grade self, most adults of the day were learning the practical application of checks and balances as the news spilled out of our TV sets into our living rooms. Sure, we had been taught about our government as students, but there was nothing like the real-life hearings and resulting firings, jailings and (eventually) impeachment and resignation of the president, to help reinforce the fact that we are not a nation of men, but a nation of laws.

The parallels to today’s investigation into the Trump administration are undeniable. As the conflict continues to escalate and tensions continue to rise, there is endless speculation as to where the special counsel’s investigation will take us, and how the president will respond. As indictments become public and sentences are handed down, we are on the verge of a new constitutional crisis, even more compelling than the Watergate showdown some forty-four years ago. No one has a stomach for this; no sane person would sign up for it. Yet here we are.

My point? No matter where the coming months lead this country (and you may be well-advised to fasten your seatbelts tightly) the American people are about to be schooled once again on the inner-workings of our government, and the intricacies of our most sacred and enduring living document, the United States constitution. In the early 1970s, there were no cable news networks, yet we had a steady diet of live coverage across all three (yes count them, three!) networks. Needless to say, there is no end to the coverage in 2018; every big news story these days gets to be overkill (why is everything “breaking news”?!). Tune it out when it adds no value and turn it off when you’ve had enough, but don’t miss the opportunity to witness history, and to benefit from our very own in-your-face American civics lesson. Because, God willing, we won’t see another confluence of events like this in our lifetime.


Happy Mulligan’s Day!

I wish for you a happy Mulligan’s Day! Please celebrate accordingly!do-over

Well….what would you do if you could call “Do Over!” for one significant choice in your life? Getting a chance to back up, start over, and move forward is a gift not all of us have had the chance to enjoy. But what if you could?

You don’t have to be a grizzled veteran to make good use of a mulligan. From early on we make choices that become life lessons…experience we sign up for unwittingly through:

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Careers
  • Relationships
  • Confrontations
  • Disappointments
  • Ethical dilemmas
  • Finances
  • Health
  • Travel

Ah, the sweet benefits of hindsight!

But, you get my point. If you could pick one thing on Mulligan’s Day 2018 to go back and do differently from your past, what would it be? And what if you knew you could give yourself a mulligan once a year, every year? How would that change your thinking about yourself and your future?

Now let’s zoom out a little. What would your mulligan be as an educator…not necessarily for you personally, but for the profession? Imagine the possibilities! Consider the implications! How can you work to make it happen?

The concept of Mulligan’s Day can be an opportunity for reflection, a rhetorical musing, or a fun conversation starter; but however you choose to observe it, I encourage you to make the time to celebrate. As educators, each of us deserves to celebrate Mulligan’s Day, because in observing it, we honor ourselves, and our profession.

As I write this, Mulligan’s Day is not necessarily a set day…it’s not today or tomorrow…not akin to St. Patrick’s Day. Mulligan’s Day can be any day you give yourself permission to take an honest self-assessment, acknowledge what you’ve learned, forgive yourself, and award yourself a do-over.

N.B. Mulligan’s Day is not about moving on. It’s about revisiting your choices and doing things differently.

So regardless of when you choose to celebrate Mulligan’s Day, I wish for you this rare gift…the freedom and the power of doing it over and doing it better.

Happy Mulligan’s Day!