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When in doubt, be kind

                   ...Oh friends, take
whatever kindness you can find
and be profligate in its expenditure:
It will not drain your limited resources,
I assure you, it will not leave you vulnerable
and unfurled, with only your sweet little claws
to defend yourselves, and your wet little noses,
and your eyes to the ground, and your little feet.

“Be Kind” by Michael Blumenthal

My poor son-in-law, a pastor of the UCC, comes as close to a spiritual advisor as I have. He advised always giving to panhandlers when I queried him on the topic. Give. Just give without exception or hesitation.

So when the president of St Catherine University in St Paul shared this editorial from the March 5 edition of the New York Times, I was pleased to see that Aaron and Pope gave the same advice: just give.


The Pope and the Panhandler

New Yorkers, if not city dwellers everywhere, might acknowledge a debt to Pope Francis this week. He has offered a concrete, permanently useful prescription for dealing with panhandlers.

It’s this: Give them the money, and don’t worry about it.

The pope’s advice, from an interview with a Milan magazine published just before the beginning of Lent, is startlingly simple. It’s scripturally sound, yet possibly confounding, even subversive. Living in the city—especially in metropolises where homelessness is an unsolved, unending crisis—means that at some point in your day, or week, a person seeming (or claiming) to be homeless, or suffering with a disability, will ask you for help.
 You probably already have a panhandler policy. You keep walking, or not. You give, or not. Loose coins, a dollar, or just a shake of a head. Your rule may be blanket, or case-by-case. If it’s case by case, that means you have your own on-the-spot, individualized benefits program, with a bit of means-testing, mental health and character assessment, and criminal-background checkto the extent that any of this is possible from a second or two of looking someone up and down.

Francis’ solution eliminates that effort. But it is by no means effortless. Speaking to the magazine Scarp de Tenis, which means Tennis Shoes, a monthly for and about the homeless and marginalized, the pope said that giving something to someone in need is “always right.” (We’re helped here by the translation in an article from Catholic News Service.)
 But what if someone uses the money for, say, a glass of wine? (A perfectly Milanese question.) His answer: If “a glass of wine is the only happiness he has in life, that’s O.K. Instead, ask yourself, what do you do on the sly? What ‘happiness’ do you seek in secret?” Another way to look at it, he said, is to recognize how you are the “luckier” one, with a home, a spouse and children, and then ask why your responsibility to help should be pushed onto someone else.

Then he posed a greater challenge. He said the way of giving is as important as the gift. You should not simply drop a bill into a cup and walk away. You must stop, look the person in the eyes, and touch his or her hands.
 The reason is to preserve dignity, to see another person not as a pathology or a social condition, but as a human, with a life whose value is equal to your own.

This message runs through Francis’ preaching and writings, which always seem to turn on the practical and personal, often citing the people he met and served as a parish priest in Argentina.
 His teaching on divorced and remarried Catholics has infuriated some conservative critics who accuse him, unfairly, of elevating compassion over doctrine. His recent statements on refugees and immigrants are the global version of his panhandler remarksa rebuke aimed directly at the rich nations of Europe and at the United States. America is in the middle of a raging argument over poor outcasts. The president speaks of building walls and repelling foreigners. That toxic mind-set can be opposed in Washington, but it can also be confronted on the sidewalk. You don’t know what that guy will do with your dollar. Maybe you’d disapprove of what he does. Maybe compassion is the right call.

Were I to form a religion (heaven forbid - so to speak), I would have kindness be its most basic tenet. You honor your god by treating all her/his/its creations with kindness whether they be animal, vegetable, or mineral. Pretty simple - the one commandment - Be Kind.

Were I ever to find myself homeless, the first thing I would do is get a scruffy dog. My solicitations would be not for me, but for my canine companion. I bet I'd get more donations than my fellow bums.

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BFTP: Parent portals - are we encouraging helicopter parenting?

Our school has provided a parent portal to our student information system data for a dozen years now. Using a browser or mobile app, parents can view current grades, attendance, work completion, and other data on their children.

All good, yes?

As the father of a child whose idea of satisfactory school performance and his teachers' were often at odds, I would have found such a resource invaluable. While I never did my son's work for him, I always saw my parental role as doing quality control and assuring school work came before recreation. Good access to information about my son's academic performance would have helped me do a better job of both those tasks.

"Homework all done? Grades good? Projects complete?"

"All good, Dad, so let me get back to my video game."

I don't think my son ever deliberately misled me about how he was doing in school. I just think he was a little clueless at times. As a parent, I could have done a better job cluing him in if I knew how he was doing on an ongoing basis rather than just a parent-teacher conferences or report card times.

But helicopter parenting seems to be a growing epidemic. defines it as:

a style of child rearing in which an overprotective mother or father discourages a child's independence 
by being too involved in the child's life: 
In typical helicopter parenting, a mother or father swoops in 
at any sign of challenge or discomfort.
Where does good parenting end and helicopter parenting begin? Does access to student performance data in real time encourage overparenting? Are we doing our kids an injustice by not allowing the chips to fall where they may when work is missing or badly done? Or are we neglecting our role as responsible adults if we don't insist our children put work before leisure and work to the best of their abilities*?

Any good guidelines for how access to student data can be used responsibly?

* In an ideal world, homework would be so engaging and meaningful, children would happily pursue it before any other activity. I am not holding my breath waiting for this to become the norm.


What human ability makes you irreplaceable? 

The question each of us has to ask is simple (but difficult): What can I become quite good at that's really difficult for a computer to do one day soon? How can I become so resilient, so human and such a linchpin that shifts in technology won't be able to catch up?

It was always important, but now it's urgent. - 23 things artificially intelligent computers can do better/faster/cheaper than you can Seth Godin

Robots are people too! Or at least they will be someday. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Robots

There are a number of workers I just don’t see much of anymore…

  • I don’t see parking lot attendants when entering or leaving the airport anymore. My credit card talks to a machine on the way in and again on the way out.
  • I don’t talk to check-in people at the airline counters anymore. My credit card talks to a terminal that prints out my boarding pass. That is if I’ve not already checked in online and printed my pass at home.
  • I am seeing fewer bank tellers and grocery clerks. My cash card talks to the ATM and to the cash register at the supermarket after I have scanned my own groceries.
  • I don’t hear the voice of a human telephone operator, tech support, or reservation clerks until I’ve waded through a half dozen phone menus.
  • My children think I am telling tall tales when I tell them that I once had “people” who pumped my gas, washed my car windows, filled my tires and sometimes gave me a free tumbler as a gift when I went to a service station. Gone Missing, LMC, May/June 2010

Automating a subset of a position’s tasks doesn’t make the other ones unnecessary — in fact, it makes them more important. David Autor Will automation take away all our jobs?

What do I do that a robot cannot? We should all have been asking ourselves that question for at least the past 10 years.

Below is a chart labeled with the sexy title “Trends in Tasks Done by the U.S. Workforce 1969-1998 (1969=0)” that appeared way, way back in 2004. (Levy. Frank and Richard J. Murnane. “Education and the Changing Job Market” Educational Leadership, October 2004.)

We've known the need for humans in the workforce has been evolving for some time. As this chart indicates, eventually the remaining jobs will be those that require a high level of complex communication and expert thinking. And, I would add, creativity.

Personally, I am happy to have a robot fix my teeth or book a flight for me. There is a reason we have the term "human error" and I know from personal experience that my robot built car of today is a heck of a lot more reliable and long-lasting than my human built car of the 1970s.

It's only when I have a problem with my teeth that standard procedures won't fix that I would like the human dentist to intervene. And while a computer can get me on a plane from point A to point b efficiently, I'd just as soon a human travel agent would recommend a nice hotel at point b.

I had a too-often occurring conversation yesterday with my home Internet provider. An email revealed that my CenturyLink bill somehow went from the normal $33 a month to $67 a month in April. Hmmmm, worth a call. I punch in the 1-800 and find that automation, of course, gives me lots of choices, identifies me, and gives me simple information like my account balance. All "routine cognitive work."

Finally, I find the right number to push and a human (I think) gets on the line. "Jim" is jovial and chatty and tells me that my special introductory rate has expired which is why my bill doubled. So, old friend, how do I get this rate extended? Oh, sir, I do not have the tools to do that, Jim from Boise laments. Then I will cancel my service agreement since I know I have other, lower cost providers available. "Let me transfer you to the agent who handles cancellations. And have a nice day."

I am quickly connected to Randy, who while not quite so chummy, quickly realizes that I am serious about canceling my plan and quickly finds the correct "tool" to continue my plan for another two years with only a five dollar a month increase in cost. Randy works in the realm of expert thinking. While he, I am sure, has guidelines to follow, he intuits and finds the solution to problem of keeping a customer.

You have entered the realm of expert thinking and complex communications as soon as you utter the words, "May I talk to your supervisor, please."

I suspect artificial intelligence will increasingly have the ability to make judgement calls. Solve problems. Figure stuff out. Robots will eventually trouble-shoot and repair or re-engineer robots. We may find our only value in life is to be amusing to our computer overlords.

If your job requires you act or respond in a single correct way based on pre-defined criteria, start thinking about finding another line of work.

Oh, and if your kid's tests call for a single right answer, start looking for another school.

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