Ask better questions

13 jeremy thomas O6N9RV2rzX8 unsplashI don't have any school-aged kids in my house, but in my mind, as soon school starts it's time for fall. I'm ready for cooler weather, rusty-colored leaves, warm cups of coffee in the middle of the day, football games and “Happy Fall, Y'all” signs in yards.

Maybe I'm weird, but I can smell it approaching. There's something in the air that feels different. It might be the return of routine or earlier sunsets, or maybe my dog getting fluffier for the winter — I can't put my finger on it, but it's palpable. It's time for change, and the earth is speaking it.

My son started day care recently, so although he's not school-aged, it definitely felt like it was back-to-school time. We got "school” supplies, a couple new outfits and a new pair of tennis shoes. The first few mornings of taking him, I found myself thinking about what it was going to be like to actually send him to school. Would he want to talk about his day? How do I get him to volunteer information about what's going on in his life? I want good conversation. I want him to know he's loved and that I care about what's going on in his world. How do I teach him to care about what happens in others' lives? How do I get a deeper answer than “My day was fine?" Okay, okay, I realize he's not even two yet, but I want to be intentional. I don't want to waste a minute.

Maybe it starts by asking better questions.

Recently a friend of mine came up with a list he called “After School Questions” — questions that require more than a one-word answer that you can ask on the way home from school or when the kids get home from school. I'm tucking them away for the day my son can actually talk, but maybe you could add a few to your arsenal right now.

  • What was your day's high and low?
  • Who was an encouragement to you?
  • Was there a way you were an encouragement to someone else?
  • What was the hardest rule to follow?
  • What was the best part about lunch time?
  • Who'd you sit next to at lunch?
  • What did you do during recess or break?
  • Did you do anything different today?
  • What's the most interesting thing (teacher's name) did in class?
  • Did anything happen that annoyed you?
  • What are you grateful for today?
  • Who in your class is most like/unlike you? What do you appreciate about them?
  • Did anyone wear something you thought was awesome-looking?
  • What teachers would you pick for your team in a dodgeball game?
  • What about tomorrow are you already looking forward to?
  • These are just a few questions, sure. Some are random, some are pointed, but they all have the potential to reclaim the small amount of down time we spend with our kids and change our family dynamic. It only takes a little effort sometimes to make a big difference.

As the leaves are changing, so can we. Come on fall, we're ready for a new start!

Figuring out the right thing

03 MargaretMy sense is that most of us realize something is really wrong with our climate these days — more heat, more violent storms, too much water in some places and not enough in others, and the list goes on and on. Even those unwilling acknowledge climate change, and outright deniers of it, acknowledge the importance of preserving our climate as best we can. In other words, most of us want and try our best to do the right things to protect our Mother Earth.

But what are the right things? Are some actions “righter” and “wronger” than others? And if so, what are they?

Project Drawdown is a 5-year-old organization according to its website “that reviews … and identifies the most viable global climate solutions and shares these findings with the world.” It was founded by noted environmentalist Paul Hawken, and it recently released a quiz about what we as individuals and as public and private sectors can do to reduce our negative impact on the earth. The survey ranks actions by individuals, companies and policymakers, but we will concentrate on individuals because that is where each of us can play our own part. I found the questionnaire both interesting and challenging.

Regarding our food, which of these four actions can have the biggest effect on reducing climate change? Rank most to least, realizing that individuals can affect each of these.

1.  Cook over clean stoves

2.  Throw away less food

3.  Eat a plant-heavy diet

4.  Compost your waste

Regarding moving people and goods, rank most to least, realizing that individuals may not affect all of these.

1.  Invest in high-speed trains

2  Fly less … and on fuel-saving planes

3.  Drive an electric car

4  Ship goods more efficiently

Regarding our homes and cities, rank most to least, realizing that individuals may not affect all of these.

1.  Switch to LED lights

2.  Design more workable cities

3  Install green roofs

4.  Use smart thermostats

Regarding materials and waste management, rank most to least ... you know the rest.

1. Increase household recycling

2  Build with “greener” cement compounds

3. Clean up chemicals in our refrigerators and air conditioners

4.  Use water more efficiently

Regarding the empowerment of women, rank most to least important.

1.  Educate girls

2.  Close the gender gap in small-scale farming

3.  Increase access to family planning

And, finally rank Project Drawdown’s top five solutions for reducing climate change.

1.  Manage refrigeration chemicals

2.  Restore our tropical forests

3  Eat more plants and less meat

4.  Install onshore wind turbines

5.  Cut down on food waste

Note your answers to each question most effective to least effective to compare them with the correct rankings listed by Project Drawdown. 

Project Drawdown’s questionnaire includes a couple of questions not listed here, because individual actions have little impact on the solutions, which require actions by governments and large companies. Individuals can — indeed must — pressure governments and private industry to do the right things, just as we try to do in our own households. 

Read on to see what actions make the biggest impacts in curbing climate change, noting especially those that we can take as individuals. I was surprised by some of them and suspect you may be as well. It is clear we all have roles to play in rescuing our planet.

Answers to Project Drawdown questionnaire

 All answers are correct to some degree and are listed from most effective in curbing climate change to less effective in curbing climate change.

Regarding our food.  Individuals have effects in each of these areas.

1.  Throw away less food 

2.  Eat a plant heavy diet

3.  Cook over clean stoves

4.  Compost your waste

Regarding moving people and goods.

1.  Drive an electric car.  Individuals impact this.

2.  Ship goods more efficiently

3.  Fly less ... and on fuel-saving planes.  Individuals impact this.

4.  Invest in high-speed trains

Regarding our homes and cities.

1.  Switch to LED lights.  Individuals impact this.

2.  Design more walkable cities

3.  Use smart thermostats.  Individuals impact this.

4.  Install green roofs

Regarding materials and waste management.

1.  Clean up chemicals in our refrigerators and air conditioners.  Individuals impact this.

2.  Build with “greener” cement compounds.

3.  Use water more efficiently.  Individuals impact this.

4.  Increase household recycling.  Individuals impact this.

Regarding empowerment of women.

1.  Educate girls.  Individuals impact this.

2.  Increase access to family planning.

3.  Close the gender gap in small-scale farming

Project Drawdown’s top 5 solutions for reducing climate change.

1.  Manage refrigeration chemicals.  Individuals impact this.

2.  Install onshore wind turbine

3.  Cut down on food waste.  Individuals impact this.

4.  Eat more plants and less meat.  Individuals impact this.

5.  Restore our tropical forests

Project Drawdown is a 5-year-old organization according to its website “that reviews … and identifies the most viable global climate solutions and shares these findings with the world.” 

Hope Mills Community Roundtable a success

02 01 DSC01825Well, Hope Mills held its first Community Roundtable last Thursday, sponsored by the Hope Mills Chamber of Commerce and Up & Coming Weekly community newspaper. Harmony at Hope Mills, the town’s newest assisted living community, hosted it. This meeting launched the first in a series of roundtable forums specifically designed to engage and inform residents about the future of the Hope Mills community. 

Under the theme “Your Town, Your Future” residents came together to share their experiences, thoughts, comments and ideas. The evening started with an informal “Meet & Greet” hosted by Melannie Armstrong, director of marketing at Harmony. She and the staff did an excellent job bestowing “Harmony hospitality” on all the forum attendees. The meeting began promptly at 7 p.m. as we officially greeted the audience, made introductions and, literally, got to know every person in the room. We explained that the Hope Mills Community Roundtable is not a political venue; it’s not a place to gripe and complain, dump grievances or attack fellow citizens. The sole purpose is to provide a public forum where citizens can talk freely about the community and openly share thoughts and ideas while meeting the people, businesses and organizations that impact their town and their quality of life. 

02 02 pointing manJan Spell, president of the Hope Mills Chamber of Commerce, opened the forum by discussing the Chamber’s vision, mission, events and accomplishments. She made sure everyone understood the Chamber is committed to working in partnership with the town and growing and developing local businesses while aiding town officials in attracting new economic development opportunities. 

She was followed by Cumberland County Commissioner Michael Boose, who did an excellent job bringing everyone up to date about what’s going on in the county and current issues and challenges and how they affect Hope Mills. Boose generated such positive energy and excitement into the meeting that he became the personification of the intent and purpose of the forum. One important point he made was that Hope Mills, one of the largest municipalities in the county, needs to be more involved with the county’s business. He suggested that Hope Mills residents sign up to represent the town on county boards and standing committees. From education to economic development, Boose provided and shared relevant information and insights that affect Hope Mills and its residents.

Then, the floor was opened for comments. I started the conversation by squelching the rumor that the Hope Mills YMCA was leaving the community. Alex Lewis, the Hope Mills YMCA director was on hand for that assurance. From concerns for our veterans and supporting organizations to the emergence of a Hope Mills cultural arts renaissance and the formation of the newly formed historical society, there is no doubt this town is on the move — and in the right direction. 

The audience was receptive and engaged, and the forum’s atmosphere was professional, friendly, fun and relaxed. Questions were answered, rumors were dismantled and, most importantly, new friends were made. And, even though the Hope Mills Community Roundtable is not a political venue, we certainly appreciate the elected officials (and elected wannabes) who cared enough to come out to see and hear firsthand how their constituents feel about the community and the job they are doing. 

Dates for the next two Hope Mills Community Roundtables, which will again be hosted by the wonderful folks at Harmony at Hope Mills, are Sept. 26 and Oct. 24. Mark your calendars and make plans to attend. 

For more information contact the Hope Mills Chamber of Commerce at 910-423-4314, or call me at 910 391 3859. Hope Mills: Your voice, your town,  your future. 

Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly, Hope Mills’ community newspaper.

Picture 1: Under the theme “Your Town, Your Future” residents came together to share their experiences, thoughts, comments and ideas at the Hope Mills Community Roundtable. From concerns for our veterans and supporting organizations to the emergence of a Hope Mills cultural arts renaissance and the formation of the newly formed historical society, there is no doubt this town is on the move — and in the right direction. 

Picture 2: Cumberland County Commissioner Mike Boose generated such positive energy and excitement into the meeting that he became the personification of the intent and purpose of the forum. 

Recognizing and eliminating what is senseless

04 man with mcdonaldsHardly a day passes that I do not see or hear something that makes absolutely no sense to me. I came close, very close, to concluding that this was a rare condition, that I was pretty much alone in having this experience.

Then, on Thursday, Aug. 15, I heard Troy Williams’ comments at the start of his radio show. He is a member of The Fayetteville Observer Community Advisory Board; a legal analyst and criminal investigator. Williams is the cohost of a show on WIDU radio. Across the years, Troy and I have seriously disagreed on some political and societal issues. Consequently, it was a source of relief to hear what he had to say. He, like me, appears to struggle in making sense of so much of what appears to be senseless. I understood Williams to, maybe not in those exact words, say as much.

I was headed to a meeting and only heard his first example of senselessness. There was a post seen on Facebook calling for a boycott of several businesses due to their support of President Trump’s re-election. He pointed to McDonald’s as one company on the list and went on to explain that this is a franchise arrangement where individuals or entities below the corporate level own and operate locations. Therefore, boycotting McDonald’s could adversely impact people who have not, and do not, support Donald Trump. Bottom line, for Troy and me, is that calling for a nationwide boycott makes absolutely no sense. 

Now that Williams has assured me that I am not alone in this struggle to understand so much that seems senseless, let me pursue this topic a bit further. What shows through in the McDonald’s example is the lack of fact gathering and thoughtful examination. Be aware, McDonald’s is not the only business on the list of those proposed to be boycotted. Some others are: Chick-fil-A, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, KFC and Pizza Hut. The list goes on. As best as I can determine, every company on the list is, for the most part, franchise based. That means Williams’ senselessness argument applies in each of these cases.

How, then, is it that there would be people on Facebook, and elsewhere, calling for a boycott that makes absolutely no sense? I would contend that the primary reason is that we do not, any more in America, consciously teach or encourage thoughtful examination of facts and reaching of sensible conclusions.

The truth of that statement is all around us, but here is one example that points to that truth. The following is from an article by Sarah Taylor titled, “Students sign petition to remove oppressive white stick figure from crosswalk signs: ‘We are told by the symbol of a white man when it is OK to cross’ the street.”

“Campus Reform’s Ethan Cai recently visited George Washington University in Washington, D.C., to ask students to sign a petition supporting the motion to change the ‘offensive’ and ‘oppressive’ white stick figure in LED crosswalk signs. 

“Cai visited the university undercover, urging students to sign the outlet’s fake petition. 

“The petition urged the university ‘to consider changing the crosswalk signs,’ because a white man telling students when it is OK to cross the street is oppressive. 

“’As we students cross the street,’ the petition read, ‘we are told by the symbol of a white man when it is OK to cross. Many students from diverse backgrounds, including individuals of color, gender fluid individuals, and LGBTQA+ individuals, feel oppressed by this.’ 

“Many students were in favor of the petition. One educator was also on board with the proposed change. Just one student voiced dissent, saying he was ‘ideologically opposed’ to the idea of making the crosswalk sign more inclusive.” 

What might thoughtful consideration of facts and consequences lead to in this situation? Suppose the white stickman were changed to black? OK … not black, since that would be difficult, if not impossible, to see. Remember, too, that there are white lines and lights all around. This proposal seems senseless to me, but was taken seriously by students at this prestigious university, even by a faculty member. Thought seems absent even in this higher education setting. Please view the video of the petition responses at to get the full impact of what this says about the lack of teaching and encouraging thought.

Since the petition-signing was an exercise with no consequence, one might put it aside and move on. However, this lack of thinking through carries over to real life with horrendous consequences. Consequently, that exercise should not be dismissed. The real-life indicators of thoughtlessness are all around us and the condition cries out for attention. 

A prime example is what happened in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Aug. 14, when a man barricaded himself in a house and shot and wounded six police officers. This from an article by Madison Dibble titled, “Anti-Cop Hecklers Harassed Philadelphia Police ‘in the Midst of the Gunfire’ During Recent Shooting: Report.”

It read, “Anti-cop hecklers harassed members of the Philadelphia Police Department in the middle of an active shooting against officers, according to reporters at the scene.

“On Wednesday night, a gunman locked himself into a seven-hour standoff with police from his Philadelphia, Pennsylvania home. Six officers were wounded when the shooter opened fire into the crowd of officers attempting to coax him out of the house.

“During the seven-hour standoff, anti-cop hecklers harassed police as they tried to negotiate with the gunman to get him out of the house safely.

Alexandria Hoff, a reporter with CBS-Philadelphia, took to Twitter to express her ‘disappointment’ that a group would harass officers while they were in the middle of a gun battle.

“’I mentioned this at 10 and since I was harassed during that live shot, I’ll mention it here too. A major moment of disappointment this evening was watching a crowd of people taunt police officers, laughing and yelling at them in the midst of the gunfire. #PhiladelphiaShooting

— Alexandria Hoff (@AlexandriaHoff) August 15, 2019’”

In that last paragraph of the quote above, Hoff is saying this stuff is senseless. One has to ask what good did these hecklers expect to result from their disrespecting and interfering with police officers who were putting their lives on the line to protect those very hecklers. It is senseless.

Sadly, I could go on and on with these examples of senselessness. The possibilities are seemingly endless: Proposals for open borders; sanctuary city/state policies; free health care for illegal migrants; the push for socialist policies in America when they are failing around the world; federal government borrowing at a rate that will devastate the lives of young people who are alive today; giving more attention to the needs of people who break into America than to American citizens; re-electing politicians who do absolutely nothing by way of addressing the serious problems facing our nation. Again, the list is seemingly endless.

The point of all this is to say that we, as a nation, are inundated with senselessness at a level that should terrify and alarm every American. This is a call for all of us to recognize the senselessness that is all around us, see the causes, join together and defeat what is a colossal threat to the continued existence of this great nation.   

Regulatory closet gets cleaning

05 John HoodBecause Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and the Republican-led North Carolina General Assembly have remained deadlocked for weeks over passage of a new state budget. 

The legislature has passed several bills that make consequential changes to the conduct and reach of government in North Carolina. Gov. Cooper has signed them into law. As their aim is to modify or eliminate outdated laws, think of them as the governmental equivalent of spring cleaning — although it took until summer to begin this latest excavation of the state’s regulatory closet.

One of the measures, House Bill 590, amends a policy the state initiated back in 2013. That policy requires all regulations on the books to be reviewed periodically by the relevant agencies or departments. If the rule isn’t reviewed as required by law, or deemed no longer to meet a demonstrable need at a reasonable cost, it disappears — an outcome known as regulatory sunset.

From 2013 to 2018, hundreds of outmoded or counterproductive regulations went away under this law. But there was a bit of a loophole. The original process created three buckets into which administrators could toss regulations: 1) unnecessary (the rule goes “poof’), 2) necessary without substantive public interest (no one has complained lately, so it is automatically renewed) and 3) necessary with substantial public interest (because there are complaints, it must go back through a re-adoption process).

Regulators were tossing most state rules into that second bucket, so that they weren’t getting significant scrutiny. House Bill 590 removes that bucket from the deck. The legislation received overwhelmingly bipartisan support and Cooper’s signature. Now all regulations must either survive re-adoption or go away.

Another “weeding out” process, this time within our criminal code, is about to accelerate thanks to the passage of Senate Bill 584. It also got overwhelmingly bipartisan support and a nod from the governor. It targets North Carolina’s “overcriminalization” problem.

Over the decades, state agencies and local governments have adopted a range of criminal penalties for offenses that, whatever their adverse social effects may be, don’t necessarily merit criminal prosecution. For example, it is a crime in some North Carolina communities to feed stray animals. It is a crime to sell Silly String in Mt. Airy.

A prior law had required agencies and localities to report all the ordinances or rules on their books that criminalized behavior — a necessary first step to tackling the problem. But compliance was spotty. Under Senate Bill 584, noncompliant municipalities will have their ability to pass criminal ordinances frozen for two years. For state agencies proposing rules with criminal penalties, the new law automatically refers them to the General Assembly for review.

Finally, Cooper signed Senate Bill 290 into law last month. Another bipartisan measure, it contains several changes to North Carolina’s alcohol laws. It allows craft distilleries to sell mixed drinks and removes limits on the number of bottles a visitor can buy on their premises. The law also advances important reforms of the state’s archaic Alcoholic Beverage Control system, such as allowing liquor tastings at ABC stores and combatting the proliferation of patronage-heavy ABC boards.

State agencies and localities are certainly empowered to use their regulatory powers to protect public health and safety. They should ensure a true “meeting of the minds” in private contracts by requiring disclosures and policing fraud. They should protect the persons and property of residents against pollution, communicable disease, and other threats for which effective collective action requires government action.

But these powers should be used with caution, focused on clearly identifiable harms, imposed only when the expected benefits exceed the likely costs, and scaled so that any penalties involved are proportional to the offense. Over the decades, North Carolina has somewhat-haphazardly acquired an odd assortment of intrusive regulations and criminal penalties that don’t meet such common-sense tests.

Now, Republican and Democratic policymakers are working together to clean up the mess. That’s most welcome.

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