The power of perspective

04 MERCYRealizing that my column is routinely longer than what is normal, I considered making changes to lessen my word count. Doing so would adversely impact how I approach important topics. That is, presenting thoughtful discussion of a topic while supporting that discussion with logical flow and sound facts. In sharing my challenge with my wife, Denise, she suggested that I start each column with a brief statement summarizing the column’s central point. Doing so will, hopefully, allow individuals to quickly decide whether they will read the lengthy piece. I decided to follow Denise’s advice. Commencing with this column, each one will open with a “Column Gist.”

Column Gist: The perspective with which a person views whatever life presents dramatically impacts how they respond in every instance. Given this fact, every individual should give serious attention to his or her perspective. Doing so requires a level of self-reflection that is extremely rare in America. This lack of self-reflection allows for holding onto perspectives that result in unreasonable, even destructive, actions. I am convinced that flawed perspectives are at the heart of many of the problems we face in America.

My latest period of intense attention to the power of perspective was prompted by seeing the movie “Just Mercy.” Here is a summary of the movie from “A powerful and thought-provoking true story, ‘Just Mercy’ follows young lawyer Bryan Stevenson and his history-making battle for justice. After graduating from Harvard, Bryan had his pick of lucrative jobs. Instead, he heads to Alabama to defend those wrongly condemned or who were not afforded proper representation, with the support of local advocate Eva Ansley. One of his first, and most incendiary, cases is that of Walter McMillian, who, in 1987, was sentenced to die for the notorious murder of an 18-year-old girl, despite a preponderance of evidence proving his innocence and the fact that the only testimony against him came from a criminal with a motive to lie. In the years that follow, Bryan becomes embroiled in a labyrinth of legal and political maneuverings and overt and unabashed racism as he fights for Walter, and others like him, with the odds — and the system — stacked against them.”

Bryan Stevenson and Walter McMillian are black, while the 18-year-old murder victim was white. When the movie was over, given the legitimate focus on mistreatment, racism and discrimination based on the accused being black, I was troubled. I was so troubled that I was still sitting in the theater when everybody else had left, and two young people were waiting to clean the area.

I was troubled because of feeling confident that far too many black Americans would view this movie with a Civil Rights Era perspective rather than one based on current conditions in America. I sat there grieving for our country because failure, by so many, to adjust perspective is wreaking havoc on our country. Let me be clear: I am addressing concern for black perspectives, but the power of perspective applies to every person.

Https:// provides a revealing definition and example of perspective: “Your perspective is the way you see something. If you think that toys corrupt children’s minds, then from your perspective, a toy shop is an evil place.” The truth of this statement caused my troubled response to what is a moving and extremely well-done movie. If a black person holds a perspective based in the 50s and 60s, as opposed to present conditions in America, that person will be more likely to see racism where it does not exist. We live in a time when this circumstance is rampant, and the results are downright scary.

Within 20 minutes of leaving the movie theater, I had an experience that confirmed my view that perspective must be based on current conditions, and every person must have the capacity to adjust their perspective. I was approaching a crosswalk and still struggling with that movie and its likely impact. A black lady walked up alongside me and we started a conversation. I asked where she was from and she said, “Birmingham, Alabama.” Since the movie told of actual events that took place in Alabama, I told her that we had just seen “Just Mercy.” She responded that she wanted to see the movie.

Given that she was from Alabama, I asked how things were going in the state. By this time, we were on the other side of the street. She stopped and stood still; then, looking directly at me, answered my question with clarity and total believability. The lady said that she was past her mid-70s and grew up in Birmingham during the Civil Rights Movement. After becoming an adult, she moved away for many years. Deciding to move back a few years ago, she expected to find a challenging situation — obviously based on her memories of the Civil Rights Era. That was her perspective.

However, her assessment was that Birmingham is a much better place than she expected to find upon returning. This lady explained that she lives in a quality neighborhood surrounded by supportive and cordial neighbors, most of whom are white. She frequents a senior citizen center where there is a mix of participants by race, ethnicity, culture, income level and so forth, but they all get along extremely well. Then came a surprising comment. She said that when Donald Trump was elected president, her expectation was that the good racial conditions of her city would decline, but there was no change.

After all of the positives, she said, with obvious sadness, that the neighborhood where she grew up is in very bad condition now. Then a closing comment that, as black Americans, we are hurting ourselves. She said, in Birmingham, blacks are killing each other in large numbers, even babies. The headline of an article by Paul Kersey confirms her assessment. That headline is “In 2018 Birmingham, Alabama (a 75% black city), Not One of the 99 Criminal Homicides Involved a White Male Suspect.”
After many years, this lady went home to Alabama with expectations based on experiences and observations from the Civil Rights Era. Her perception was set. To her credit, she adjusted that perception in light of conditions much improved from the horrible circumstances she saw and experienced during her youth and early adult years in Birmingham.

Therein is one of the great challenges for all of us. It is to recognize when our perspective is out of sync with present reality and adjust accordingly. Failure to consistently and faithfully take this action can not only adversely impact us as individuals but, to varying degrees, adversely impact society in general.

I contend that failure to shift in perspective is happening across America, and we are paying a high price because of the failure. What is happening in Fayetteville by way of black citizens opposing the building of the North Carolina Civil War & Reconstruction History Center is, for me, the result of a failure to adjust perspectives. Here is an opportunity to accurately educate citizens, young and old and help heal the destructive racial divide while producing substantial positive economic impact. Based on the contention that the people — mostly white — who are leading the effort will not accurately tell the Civil War and Reconstruction story and will glorify the Civil War, a movement that will likely kill this very promising project is underway. The relevant question is what perspective might a person hold that would result in this level of distrust?
It has to be one from some period prior to the present. I have thoroughly researched this project and talked with people, black and white, who are involved with it. Nothing I have seen supports the distrust perspective obvious in this opposition.

This is just one case where I contend the power of perception is at work in a very negative way and needs to be realigned to sync with current conditions. This kind of faulty perception is running rampant in America and doing great harm. We, all of us, would do well to learn from that 75+ year-old black lady from Birmingham.

The latest in midlife crises

03 N1903P68004C“The exact instant you realize that you have less time in front of you than you do behind you is the moment the crisis begins.”

A Floridian named George Raymond wrote that to The Wall Street Journal in response to a WSJ article last month, “The Virtuous Midlife Crisis.” If Baby Boomers, Americans born between 1946 and 1964, most of whom are now on Medicare and Social Security, suffered midlife crises involving sports cars, younger and/or multiple partners, tattoos, facelifts and fancy jewelry, their children now settling into middle age are putting their stamp on that venerable midlife phenomenon. Instead of partying in Las Vegas, Gen Xers are meditating, eating well and hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Andrea Petersen, author of “The Virtuous Midlife Crisis,” put it, “Many people facing midlife now don’t want to blow up their lives, just upgrade them.” Having married later than their parents, Gen Xers may feel that they have already had plenty of fun and want to stay healthy and happy for as long as they can. Many appear less concerned with achievement and money than with life experiences and overall well-being.

Gen Xers’  revised thinking in midlife is having impacts in all sorts of ways. Doctors report more people in their 40s and 50s are altering lifestyles by less food and drink and more exercise, with a clear goal of staving off lifestyle-related conditions including cancer, heart disease and possibly dementia. Yoga and meditation classes are packed with middle-agers. Travel professionals increasingly book “adventure” travel for Gen Xers to commemorate birthdays, anniversaries and other life markers. Why party on a yacht when you can go biking or hiking — maybe in a far-flung destination and maybe in your neighborhood — seems to be the operative thought.

At first blush, Gen Xers’ rejection of their Boomer parents’ midlife crises to strive for a healthier one probably stings a bit to Mom and Dad, but there is a darker side as well. While today’s middle-agers seek well-being, economists point out that Gen Xers face economic realities their parents did not. Many of them came into adulthood in the early 1990s, during a recession, and were starting families and trying to become homeowners during the mortgage scandal Great Recession of the 2000s. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, only about one-third of Gen Xers have the wealth their parents did at their age, and many have six times more debt.

Patty David, director of consumer insights for the American Association of Retired People, or  AARP, puts it this way. For Gen Xers, the American Dream centers on “well-being, to be healthy and not necessarily worry about the big expensive things and having all the money. … Because they can’t have everything Boomers have, their American Dream isn’t going to be what the boomers’ … was.”

As a proud Boomer watching with great fascination as her massive generation, once the largest in American history, moves through the demographic snake and changes every institution it encounters, I salute Gen Xers for approaching middle age their way. Individually we all do it our way, of course, and there are millions of Boomers living healthy lifestyles and engaging in what is now deemed “self-care.” There are also millions of Gen Xers who may well head to Las Vegas, or at least Myrtle Beach, for their birthdays. And, there are folks in both generations neither buying convertible sports cars nor meditating for hours on end.

Wherever we may be on the continuum, it does appear to at least this Boomer that our children, the Gen-Exers, are copying not so much our choices as following their grandparents, the Greatest Generation. That generation forged by the Depression and World War II and now almost gone, counseled all things in moderation.

Potluck on the highway

14 car at side of roadReturning from a funeral in Texas, I encountered on the west outskirts of Columbia, South Carolina, on I-20, a 10-year old Lincoln four-door sedan, which had “just died”. Occupants were “Kiki”, the driver, a 30-something-year-old woman with a purple wig, “Estevan” a 25-year old guy and two young grade-school kids. Kiki told me that the clamps to her battery posts — battery was in the trunk — were loose and the car had cut off several times.

 I asked how she knew the clamps were loose. She replied that she had gotten a jump start from someone else who had told her that, but this person didn’t have any tools to tighten the clamps. I figured that getting the clamps tightened would be easy, and it was — only one clamp was loose, but it required six 1-inch-long segments of paper clip wire inserted between the clamp and post to add enough bulk to the post. This paper clip trick on the battery worked, since the engine started right away and kept running. 

In the trunk, I noticed that the vehicle’s donut spare had no air; there was a gap where there should have been a bead between the tire and the rim. The spare was not needed since there was no flat tire, but when I told Kiki about the empty spare and offered to try to inflate it, she agreed.

I was hoping that my new more-powerful Viair compressor would pump air into the tire fast enough to reseal the bead without having to use a ratchet strap around the tread to force the tire’s inner lip against the rim. After massaging the tire with my hand as the compressor hummed away, I was delighted to hear a very loud pop as the bead sealed. As Estevan looked on I pointed out a jack in the trunk, but there was no lug wrench.
I informed Kiki of all this, recommending she get a lug wrench. It was then that she told me also that the vehicle’s steering was very loose so the car was hard to keep in a lane. I advised her to call for a tow or drive the car slowly and directly to a shop like Pep Boys in Columbia.
She replied that she had no money for either so she would have to try to drive it another 20 miles to her original destination. Before we split, Kiki and Estevan both thanked me for helping them. I hope they made it.
Walt’s tips:
Keep battery clamps tight, so they cannot be moved by hand.
Check the spare tire for proper inflation.
Have tire changing tools.
If the car cannot be steered safely, park it!

Six to one. Mayor wins. Fayetteville loses!

02 Colvins building If I were a property owner or downtown Fayetteville business, I would be looking at the members of the Fayetteville Historic Resources Commission with one eye closed saying, “What the hell were they thinking?” after voting 6-1 to allow Mayor Mitch Colvin several unapproved changes to his downtown building that violated the commissioners’ Certificate of Appropriateness guidelines.

Colvin’s building is the old Kress building. He painted the building and added glass and aluminum doors to it.

Eight responsible Fayetteville citizens were charged with overseeing policies designed to establish and maintain the dignity and historic integrity of our downtown community. Then they spinelessly acquiesced with authoritative objections as meaningless, ineffective and ferocious as a collective pack of paper tigers. The unintended consequence of this action is heard loud and clear by all downtown property owners: Mea culpa is an acceptable strategic tactic to get things accomplished downtown since COA violations have no consequences. No fines, no sanctions, no reprimands or penalties. Out of the eight — only one responsible, policymaking, law-abiding, honest, Fayetteville citizen with integrity took their responsibility as a board member seriously and had the backbone to ward off the threats and intimidation of those who perceive themselves above the law. That is downtown businessman Bruce Arnold, owner of Rude Awakening coffee shop. Even with his sense of responsibility, he is that lone voice in the wilderness when it comes to demonstrating a leadership style that reflects doing the right thing for the right reasons. It was Arnold who pointed out that Colvin violated the COA and gamed the system by making unauthorized changes to his building. Sadly, even after acknowledging and condemning the violations, the FHRC board voted to approve the changes 6-1 with Henry Tyson abstaining because of a compromising conflict of interest.

Even with this dubious victory tucked securely under his belt, Colvin took to social media to continue his undignified attack on Arnold by doubling-down and playing the race card. No doubt to draw attention away from his misdeed by garnering sympathy from his supporters — without any regard to the fact he is dividing our community. This is not leadership. However, it is a near-perfect example of why Fayetteville struggles to project a positive image and gain respect among statewide peers and why it’s difficult to attract industry to our community. But, there is something even more troubling here. Colvin is only one person cashing in on his authority and privilege. Bruce Arnold is only one person trying to do the right thing for the right reasons.

 Troubling is the fact that seven Fayetteville residents serving in leadership positions on the Fayetteville Historic Resources Commission (Thomas Batson, Jeremy Fiebig, Gordon Johnson, Tiffany Ketchum, George Turner, Henry Tyson, Liz Vernadoe), collectively not only recognized, identified and acknowledged Colvin’s violations and wrongdoing, but they refused to take the appropriate action. Their refusal left one of their own FHRC board members, who followed the rules, enforced the policies and executed the FHRC’s responsibilities, out in the cold to absorb the full wrath of the mayor all by himself. That’s a significant betrayal of trust and dereliction of responsibility.
Sure, we assume we know what the commissioners were thinking when the vote was taken: “Too late now. The work is already done.” True as that may be, the question remains: Why are they serving on the board in the first place? And, what about the future? How is this commission going to handle the next set of COA

Something else is disturbing about this situation. Before Bill Kirby’s comments appeared in Saturday’s Feb. 1 edition of The Fayetteville Observer’s article “You are right, Mr. Turner; vote doesn’t look good,” many people had already expressed the same sentiments as Kirby. Social media and blogs exploded and were having a field day with the FHRC decision and the resulting 6-1 vote, saying it was shortsighted and ill-conceived. Kirby’s observations and analysis were right on point, but after the fact. In the weeks before the vote, The Fayetteville Observer could have and should have assigned a reporter to this story, talked with the mayor about the situation and interviewed downtown residents, businesses and property owners from the downtown historic district as well as individual FHRC commission members.

This style of investigative reporting is the purest form of journalism, yet, it didn’t happen. Why? I suspect it would have caused a public outcry, resulting in the mayor having to comply with the COA. Or maybe that it would put some of the FHRC members at odds with the mayor or any of the building’s “unnamed” partners. Transparency and a little objective reporting just might have stirred up public sentiment, which would have provided the information and confidence that the FHRC board needed to face the violation head-on. Unfortunately, it’s too late now, and the virtual can has been kicked way down Hay St. Bad decisions always have consequences. You can bet you will see that can again in the near future.

In marketing, your brand — whether personal or business — is defined by a combination of who you are, what you are and what you stand for. I’ll be surprised if the stigma of this poor decision doesn’t cause at least a few, if not all, of the FHRC members’ resignations. No one enjoys being used or publicly compromised. This case could be the poster child for both. We’ll see.

Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

Are you a mindful investor?

05 moneyRecently, we’ve seen an increased interest in mindfulness, although the concept itself is thousands of years old. Essentially, being mindful means you are living very much in the present, highly conscious of your thoughts and feelings. However, being mindful doesn’t mean acting on those thoughts and feelings — it’s just the opposite. With mindfulness, your decision-making is based on cognitive skills and a rational perspective, rather than emotions. As such, mindfulness can be quite valuable as you make investment decisions.

Two of the most common emotions or tendencies associated with investing are fear and greed. Let’s see how they can affect investors’ behavior.

• When investors are fearful … Investors’ biggest fear is losing money. So, how did many of them respond during the steep market decline from late 2007 through early 2009? They began selling off their stocks and stock-based mutual funds and fled for “safer” investments, such as Treasury bills and certificates of deposit. But mindful investors witnessed the same situation and saw something else: a great buying opportunity. By looking past the fear of losing money, they recognized the chance to buy quality investments at bargain prices. And they were rewarded for their patience, long-term perspective and refusal to let fear govern their decisions, because 10 years after the market bottomed out in March 2009 (as measured by the Dow Jones Industrial Average), it had risen about 300%.

• When investors are greedy … We only have to go back a few years before the 2007-09 bear market to see a classic example of greed in the investment world. From 1995 to early 2000, investors chased after almost any company that had “dot com” in its name, even companies with no business plans, no assets and, in some cases, no products. Yet, the rising stock prices of these companies led more and more investors to buy shares in them, causing a greed-driven vicious circle — more demand led to higher prices, which led to more demand. But the bubble burst in March 2000, and by October 2002, the technology-dominated Nasdaq stock index had fallen more than 75%. And since some of these companies not only lost value, but went out of business, many investors never recouped their investments.

To avoid the dangers of fear and greed, take these steps:

• Know your investments. Make sure you understand what you’re investing in. Know the fundamentals, such as the quality of the product or service, the skill of the management team, the state of the industry, whether the stock is priced fairly or overvalued, and so on. The better informed you are, the less likely you’ll be to chase after “hot” investments or to bail out on good ones.

• Rebalance when necessary. If you’ve decided your portfolio should contain certain percentages of stocks, bonds and other vehicles, stick to those percentages and rebalance when necessary.

• Keep investing. Ups and downs are a normal feature of the investment landscape. By continuing to invest over time, rather than stopping and starting, you can reduce the effects of volatility on your portfolio.
It’s not always easy to be a mindful investor and to avoid letting emotions drive your decisions – but it’s well worth the effort.

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