On giving back

You’ve done very well for yourself. You’ve stood at the trough and filled yourself for years. Your children have done well by you, too. And now, it’s time to pay the piper. You called the tune, now it’s time to ante up. We all have to give something back. There is a very delicate scale that will balance all things—the ups and the downs, the in’s and the out’s, the large and the small—an equipoise that will fall out of kilter if all things aren’t just right. And yet, there have always been those who have taken much more than they have given back; conversely, there are those who have given back much more than they could readily afford to. Therein lays the problem, the balance of the scale.

W. Buckminster Fuller was an odd-duck but most of the geniuses are. One of the several pearls of his that I picked up over the years was what is it on this planet that needs doing that I know something about that won’t get done until I take responsibility for it? There is your call to arms. And there are any number of reasons for giving back, some good, some selfish. But in the final analysis, there can not be a downside to giving back because you are planting the seeds of hope in someone who definitely needs it. I have mentored gang-members from Chicago’s Southwest side and I thought I was banging my head up against a wall for the first 12-15 months and then everything started to click, not just in their general attitude but in the way that they were speaking to their own children. And they carry that attitude today, 10 years later. That’s a pretty warm feeling. When we joined the program, there were over 300 business’ involved in the mentoring. One year later, there were only a handful of us left. ‘Business’ wanted the kids to think the way they did. These kids wouldn’t play that way. There was no family structure, no father figures, no job skills—and for a business to walk in and say do this and do that, well, there was no repo ire there. The few number of business’ that prevailed were the ones who believed in the kids and could talk their talk. It also helped that these guys were pretty ‘street-savvy’, those who could separate the b.s. from the hustle.

There are those today who will tell you that you should put your trust in them and they will take care of you, too many, even some on radio and t.v. But in the final analysis, you want to empower those that you are helping to help themselves in the end. And when you empower others, you also empower yourself. Otherwise, you are just creating dependence and, while that may make for good television, it makes for a poor social fabric. By making them dependent on you, you are, in reality, stifling their own growth.      Then, there are the selfish reasons for giving back. All of a sudden, your anxiety and depression disappear. Dr. Anthony Barbato taught me a lot over the years but when he was running the Loyola Medical Center just outside Chicago, he would talk about putting your anxiety and depression into perspective by just walking up and down the halls of any hospital, not just his. It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself when you’re looking at a 6 year old with cancer or seeing someone waste away from A.L.S.

So, if you have some spare time, maybe a night or two or even one Saturday a month; maybe you want to start feeling a little more useful, then give some serious thought to start giving back. For the most part, your only expense will be your time. But, in the end, it’s worth it.  There are 2 ways to show your strength—push down and pull up. (B. T. Washington). If you’re going to give back, then you have to ‘pull up.’

At least, that’s the way I see it. MLProko (2011) [mikeproko.com]

Published in: on June 30, 2011 at 2:04 am  Leave a Comment  
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On the Alchemist’s Dream: It’s you and I.

They’ve been with us since the beginning of time—the alchemists. You might have known them as ‘wizards’, but they were one in the same; men who might be able to see something that none other was able to see, perhaps make gold out of ordinary metal, usually lead. But, there was always one part of the puzzle that was missing, one element that the wizard (alchemist) would search high and low for, at the king’s bidding, of course. And this non-existent treasure could be likened to the mythical ‘philosopher’s stone.’ Could we turn ordinary metal into gold? Metaphorically speaking, we do all the time right here in our own back yard. We are the ones the alchemists dreamed of. No, not Americans. Beyond that. Humans beings on a general scale.

Since there have been people walking upright on the thing we call Earth there have been those seemingly ordinary people who have gone onto lead extraordinary lives. Yes, there have always been the privileged few that take their turn running and screwing up the world as we know it but every now and then, an unknown kicks through the gate and has his say, even if just for a little while. Kings that were born in barns; great leaders that were born in log-cabins; a slave that would lead his people to freedom after almost 1000 years; lest we forget about probably the greatest leader born humbly in a manger because His parents were too poor to stay at an inn, being born amidst the animals and livestock.

Our fathers and grandfathers were brought up on the Horatio Alger stories where some young man, usually poor and on his own, strikes out on his own and makes good, usually flying by those better-healed and more connected than the hero. Time and time again, the reader is shown that the victor possesses an integrity and an honesty that those around him or competing with him lack. Forget about the quick score, these were stories that taught generations what it meant to have a backbone and some guts to go along with it.

So, we can take what’s ordinary and turn it into something quite amazing akin to turning ordinary into gold. But what of the missing piece, the ‘philosopher’s stone’? Where or when does that come into play? How do we find it? The answer is quite simple and probably in the last place that you’d look for it. We were all born with it, that spark. And each of us was sent down to this planet to do what only we could do. One thing. No one else can do it in our stead; otherwise it would not be necessary for us to be here. Only our individual spark can ignite that fire that will cause everything else to fall into line. Someone else’s spark will only ignite their dream, but not yours. If you don’t ignite it, it will never come into existence. If it comes not into existence, then your time here was in vain.

What each and every one of us brings to the table is more precious than all the gold in the entire world. What we carry within us is worth more than all the alchemists and all the wizards since the beginning of time. That spark, that Divine spark can change the entire world—one thought, one idea, a movement that can move all of civilization. And we all carry those seeds within us. No, the treasure that the wizards were searching for was here all along, deep within all of us. We have found the ‘philosopher’s stone’. It’s up to us to release it. And now is the time. At least, that’s the way I see it.

MLProko (2011) more at www.mikeproko.com

Published in: on June 27, 2011 at 10:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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On toys and Toyland

A small rubber statue of a strutting Daffy Duck wearing a straw ‘boater’ and brandishing a cane attached to my dashboard; the golf shirts from Disney World with Mickey’s likeness stitched into them; even the animal head covers that I carry on my golf bag; a bear, a tiger, a dog (Rottweiler), even a koala. Looking at all those ‘toys’ and you’d probably figure out that this guy was the kind that never wanted to grow up. Truth be told, you’d win that argument. Usually, when you give one thing up, something else has to take its place. In most cases, what you left behind was better than what you gained.

It’s the age old human paradox: when you’re young, you can’t wait to grow up and when you’re older, you wish you were young again. Been going on since time began. Even the good book teaches us to put away your childish things. I have a feeling that the guy who started that one never wore a golf shirt with Bugs Bunny on it. Think about how many people have suffered needlessly because that guy came up with that one. Someone shoulda shot some seltzer water down his pants or hit him in the face with a pie. All of mankind for eons would have been much better off.

When are you guys going to join the real world’ was always my dad’s admonishment to my brothers and I. Rather than making us cower, we wore that like a badge. Toys and our sense of humor are what got us through the day. Little by little, everything that we grew up with ended up in the trash—the Hopalong Cassidy Fanner 50s, the Mickey Mouse watches, the Lincoln Logs, the Lone Ranger masks, the Commander Cody decoder rings, etc. It wasn’t until I was a little older that I figured the real world is generally overrated anyway. Really overrated.

Oh, I did put away my childish things when I hit 20 or 21, without even thinking about it. I must have been in some kinda fog or something, but y’know, life is the great equalizer. And then we had a little girl and I started to think like a child again, thinking about toys. Like all the kids since time began, Sara was in a hurry to grow up. I had warned her about letting go of her treasures, that once they were gone she couldn’t get them back so she did keep a few when she moved away.

Every Christmas season, I get to listen to Perry Como’s ‘Toyland’ where he reminds us once you pass its borders you can never return again. One of my favorites.

Can we go back? Of course we can. Not only can we go back, but we can now appreciate everything that we took for granted earlier in life. And, once again, life and time are the great equalizer. Where we once had children, now our kids are having kids. Oh boy!! Sure, the toys have changed a lot. But kids will always be kids and toys will always be toys. Look at the toys the way the kids look at them, with that same wild-eyed look. Pretend that you have no idea how this thing works and look at it as a miracle, like they do. Yup, you can go back again.

Maybe now you know why I started writing children’s books a couple of years ago. Actually, I don’t write them. There’s this small boy who lives inside of me, he’s about 8, and he writes them. I just move the pen for him. When Pendleton the Penguin takes off, I have visions of walking up and down Wall St.delivering stuffed toy penguins to the CEOs. Maybe those guys, too, lost something that they thought was special as youngsters. I think our country will be much better off for it in the long run. At least, that’s the way I see this. MLProko (2011) more at www.mikeproko.com

Published in: on June 22, 2011 at 6:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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On Stress

(How to Get It & How to Get Rid of It)

There are some who never get it. There are those who are immune to it. There are those who cause it in others. And there are those who die as a result of it. STRESS. Let’s see if we can figure this thing out and then let’s see if we can toss this demon aside.

Your baptism into stress probably started when you were a youngster. You were asked to do this and asked to do that and then you had to help your brother out or your sister, let’s not forget the aunts and uncles, etc. The thought of saying ‘no’ was completely foreign to you. You were convinced that everything had to be answered in the affirmative. And then, you start carrying around all this weight on your shoulders and, pretty soon, you can’t breathe. Then, it occurs to you that I would have been better off if I’d just learn to say ‘NO’.

Tragically, it doesn’t stop there. What you grow up with you take with you when you enter the real world. In business. In relationships. Wherever you go, there you are. Business, especially business, can spot a weak fish even before he/she has the job. Then, they start piling all this extra work on your shoulders and, pretty soon, you can’t breathe again. This was the job that I wanted. Why is this happening to me over and over again? It’s always easier to change circumstances than it is to change your personality. Different job. Same guy/gal. Same result. Simple enough.

In relationships, same thing. There’s always going to be one that takes on more responsibility than the others. Most of the time, it’s going to be the mothers. Sometimes, it’s the dads. Either or both will try to pass some of their own inability to say ‘no’ onto their kids. If either or both start to take your measurements for a ‘hair shirt’, from that point forward you can look forward to shouldering the weight for the entire family. Guilt plays a big part in all of this, but hush up now, we don’t talk about guilt either.

So, what’s the answer and how do we get off of this merry-go-round. Simple. And not so simple. You’re going to cause some arguments, maybe even bruise a few egos but the first thing that you have to do is learn how to say ‘no’. If someone else said ‘yes’, that has nothing to do with you. If you’re not there to bail them out, next time they will think twice about saying ‘yes’. If you want to help then by all means help but not because you were goaded into it. Continue to say ‘yes’ will only get you closer to that dirt nap that comes soon enough. Learning how to say ‘no’ will actually create more sunrises on your horizon. As it is, we only average about 25,000; if you can add to that then more power to you.

Next, stand in front of the mirror and take a good look at yourself. See anybody there with you? Nope. Just you. You are responsible for just you. No one else. The others? They, too, are responsible for themselves. Period. That is not to say that you are turning your back on everyone that you love and care about, but what your doing is teaching them to stand up by themselves. Kids that don’t learn to stand up by themselves will become adults who cannot stand up by themselves who will raise kids who will not… Y’see where we’re going now? Take the first step and everything else will fall into line. You owe it to yourself. And you owe it to those around you.

At least, that’s the way I see this. Take care. Be well. MLProko (2011) more at www.mikeproko.com

Published in: on June 22, 2011 at 3:45 am  Leave a Comment  
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On Squeaky Wheels and Crybabies

THE SQUEAKY WHEEL ALWAYS GETS THE GREASE!! I learned a lot from my grandparents but they didn’t teach us that one. All the people around us and their extended families didn’t fancy that kind of thinking either. These were the strong silent type. I really didn’t know any squeaky wheels growing up. If you did whine, it was usually followed up with a quick slap to the back of your head. That was your cue. The next one wasn’t going to be on the back of your head, now shut your mouth and get to the getting.

Even the ones that we looked up to in the 50s and 60s missed the ‘whine’ train, too. Look back on your heroes in sports: baseball, basketball, football, hockey, even tennis. Especially tennis. All ladies and gentleman. Not a whiner in the bunch. And as we got older and we heard that some of these ‘heroes’ were actually SOBs in real life, we all cut them a little slack because it never really interfered with their playing ability. Mickey Mantle was the one that I looked up to, a Chicago kid pulling for a Yankee? Oh, perish the thought! And then, you find out that ‘The Mick’ wasn’t all peaches and cream. Matter of fact, he was all that and more. His only sin was what he washed it all down with and that was plenty. If you could drink it, then it had Mickey’s name on it. And we loved him anyway. Why? ‘Cause he was a gentleman and he didn’t whine. No squeaky wheel here.

Look at the squeaky wheels in your life. What do they all have in common? First off, they’re always alone. They get to the party alone. They leave alone. They live alone. For the most part, they work alone. What’s the optimal word here? That’s right—ALONE. Go figure. No one wants to have anything to do with them. Why? They’re always whining. But, that’s the way it is with whiners. And, they whine about everything: it’s too cold, it’s too hot, it’s too windy, my drink had too much ice, my meal wasn’t right, this guy, that guy, my car, my house, boo-hoo, boo-hoo, whoa is me, sob, sob.

I have a hunch that before this phrase became part of our lexicon, it meant just what it said: grease that squeaky wheel. Or: that wheel’s squeakin’. Grease it! It had everything to do with wheels and nothing to do with humans. Then, some dim-wit, probably a whiner himself, thought that he’d wear this mantle around his neck for all to see and because he probably did live alone and had no one around to give him a well-placed whack on the back of his noggin’, he just kept whining and whining until he got whatever it was that he wanted. Then, I’m thinking, he probably knew some other mopes who lived alone and liked to complain a lot and he shared his secret with them, for a fee don’t you know, much the way our modern-day franchise system works. Then, after he was up to his butt in whiners and couldn’t stand the mess that he created, he probably cashed in his chips, took off for America and started an ashram on the west coast, where his descendants now live and are constantly asking for people to help them out of the mess that their great-great-grandfather Pooh-bah created that is now known as California.

Eventually, the pendulum always swings the other way, so the ‘greasy-wheels’ won’t have a leg to stand on. Too much grease. Then, we can get to the gettin’. Until then, we just have to tolerate it, I guess for the meek shall inherit… Oh no! I gotta go. I feel another column coming on. At least, that’s how I see this shakin’ out.

MLPROKO ©2011 [more at www.mikeproko.com]  

Published in: on June 20, 2011 at 10:15 am  Leave a Comment  
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On Joy and Soap Bubbles

In our busy and hectic world, no matter how complicated our days, the children can always put things into perspective. O’ to see the world through the eyes of a child. The unbridled joy of a child’s laughter, seeing the sustained magic in something as simple and quaint as a soap bubble should give those with all the answers time to pause and take a much-needed time-out.

One day, while visiting our grandchildren, I stumbled upon a couple of ‘soap bubble wands’ in a small store. One pink. One purple. The look on our granddaughter’s face when she saw that first bubble was precious. And she didn’t know what to do. So, she ran around the park lickity-split to catch them laughing all the while. When they were all gone or when they had burst, she’d yell over her shoulder Papou, do more bubbles! And then, she’d start up again chasing the bubbles and laughing all the while. Pretty soon, other kids in the park also noticed the iridescent orbs flying towards the sun and decided to join in on the chase. Where there had been one girl running and laughing now you had a dozen or so carrying on and laughing at about a half a pennies’ worth of soap. Precious. Just precious.

Off to my side, I noticed a couple, perhaps in their mid 60s, sitting on a park bench with plastic smiles on their faces. They had to be amused, c’mon, how could you not be? They’re kids, for crying out loud. I decided to take a breather and made my way over by the bench with the sitting couple and their pasted-on smiles. (Perhaps they were wincing from the sun or maybe just a little too much Botox. Then it hit me! It could have been both—sun AND Botox. Who knows and who cares?) I was watching the kids in amazement and I looked at the couple and said ‘R’member when we used to be like that, when we used to laugh like that? We all were like that once.’ And then, almost on cue, they both start up about having responsibilities and this thing and that thing, blah bah blah bah blah. I was dumbfounded. I just looked at them: Are you serious? And, again on cue, they both started in about putting away childish ways and being serious and this, that and the other. Geez, for cryin’ out loud, sit back and take a chill-pill, willya?

Y’know what, we all get older, there’s nothing we can do about that. Take it from a guy who’s been around the block a few times, growing up ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. You start losing stuff—your family, your friends, your dreams, your memories. The end will come soon enough. And the bad news is that none of us are getting out of here alive anyway. What did my grandpa used to say: ‘You might grow up, but you can stay immature for the rest of your life.’ So laugh a little more and don’t be in such a rush that you fail to see a little frivolity or the magic in the simplest of things.

The ancient Egyptians felt that when your life here on earth was over, you’d travel by boat to the heavens and get to meet the Sun-God. Before you could make your entrance into heaven they believe that you were asked two simple questions: #1. Did you find joy on your earthly journey? And #2, did you bring joy to those you met on your earthly journey? An answer in the affirmative probably got you in. The wrong answer meant that you were probably going to end up rowing your boat through space for eternity never finding dry dock.

Find it. Find your joy and share it. You still have time. And don’t be surprised if you find it hidden in something as simple as a soap-bubble. Take it from your Papou.

At least, that’s the way I see it. MLProko (2011) more at www.mikeproko.com

Published in: on June 18, 2011 at 8:40 am  Leave a Comment  
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On Carrying The Load

We all want to change. We are all willing to change. And some of us need like heck to change. So, what’s the problem? Maybe it’s in how we’re carrying the load or looking at the problem.

We, as human beings, like to shoulder as much burden as we possibly can. We, as Americans, like to think that we can carry more than is physically possible. And therein lays the problem—learning what to carry and knowing what to cast aside. All of us have carried an extraordinary amount of weight at one time or another; work, family, outside interests, inside interests, schooling and interests at church. AARRRGGHHH!! You can’t move with all of that weight on your shoulders. Here’s the formula: Weight times time is what crushes the human spirit. Weight times time. That’s as simple as it can get.

Now, what we have to do is change the way we’re looking at whatever needs changing. Dale Carnegie advised his followers to do the following: [#1]. Identify the problem. [#2]. Identify the causes for the problem. [#3]. Figure out the solutions for said problem. [ #4]. Pick the best possible solution. Take your time and answer 1-4 honestly. This should be able to put ‘your load’ into perspective. Or you may want to consider an alternative to Carnegie’s method. This is one that I stumbled across from Dr. Ben Carson: [#1]. What is the best thing that could happen if I do this? [#2]. What is the worst thing that could happen if I do this? [#3]. What is the best thing that could happen if I don’t do this? [#4]. What is the worst thing that could happen if I don’t do this? Between either one of those gentlemen, you should get a handle on what your problem is and how to eliminate it.

What some people do, in error I might add, is make up a list of the pro’s and cons about a given situation and then chart a course that they should take. And then, everything starts to move verrry slowwwwly. Then, they go back over their list with a sharper pencil and pretty quick they’re running around in circles and soon enough they don’t even know which way’s up. They were so wrapped up in what they were doing they forgot what the heck they were doing in the first place. And they’re making themselves crazy (and everyone around them) in the process. You call these the ‘crazy- makers’. They are the ones who just can’t seem to get out of their own way.

Life is not really all that difficult. What makes it difficult is us, you and I. Then, you sprinkle on a little ‘control’, (‘crazy-makers’ are big on control) and ‘VOILA’ you’re up to your knees in mental garbage. This actually could be viewed as comical if it weren’t so tragic. It seems that some people just like to live in a tornado, I guess.

D’you remember the old expression inch by inch it’s all a cinch. You don’t need a master-plan that you have to file with the village, stamped and certified by an architect. No. Just a ‘mind set’ where you tell yourself today I’m going to move in this direction. That’s it. Today, do that. Tomorrow, do it again. And then the following day. And on and on. Don’t stop. Just keep moving forward. Soon you’ll notice a difference.

In 1999, I was felled by 2 strokes. Couldn’t walk, talk or stand. If I had looked at the mountain of work that I had in front of me, I probably would have just given up. Some of the others did just that. They never got better. But what I did was something each day, every day. Every day, do one thing that you didn’t or couldn’t do yesterday. That’s all you can do. And watch your whole world change. I’m betting you can do this.

At least, that’s the way that I see this. MLProko  www.mikeproko.com 

Published in: on June 14, 2011 at 8:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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On Dreams

Dreams. The one’s that talk to you in your sleep. Those are the fascinating ones. Those images. Those thoughts. Those emotions. They say that this is how we cope with reality, through our dreams. That’s why the elders always taught us to sleep on something. Usually, after a good dream or two, your sub-conscious will try to make sense of whatever it is that is bothering you. How many times have you woken in the morning with an entirely different perspective? While the intellectual brain was at rest throughout the night, your subconscious was burning the midnight oil. One gets to rest, the other has stood vigilant since the day you showed up on earth.

But what about the other dreams, the ones that we have during the daylight hours. If our night-time dreams help us cope with a situation or reality, the dreams that we spawn during our wakeful hours are what create that situation and/or reality. Each is just as important as the other; in actuality, they feed off of one another. Without those night time images, our days would be mundane, methodical and even boring. Without those daytime dalliances with thought, our nights would be akin to a wasteland in sleepy town.

In all of your daylight hours, there is a particular thought or image that keeps popping up. Over the years, you’ve tended to ignore it. You might have even looked at it as a fantasy. But still, it persisted. Even when ignored, it would not go away. There is a reason for this. In a nutshell, this is your dream. THIS is what you were meant to do. Your logical brain will tell you different, that you were never made to climb a mountain of that size, that others have what it takes, but not you. That’s not you. But then, your subconscious steps in and reminds you that you indeed are special, that you have what it takes and that YOU HAVE ALWAYS HAD IT. Now, which one will you listen to? The brain? Or the subconscious? Don’t answer too fast. The outcome of your life will be based on that decision. There is a reason that the subconscious decided not to let this thought or image out of your realm of possibilities. Some psychologists call this the ‘frustration of potentiality’; in essence, unless you follow your dream, there will be a hole on your psyche all of your days.

Well, y’know, I’ve always had this one dream, I wanted to… What? Why just one? I look back on all the teachers that I had from kindergarten through college and, for the most part, that’s what they did—teach. But there was one that I had heard of that wasn’t a teacher of mine and him I remember. The reason? He taught his students on the south side of Chicago to have a dream for every finger on their hand. WHOA! How’s that for lighting a fire under someone. One dream for every fing… That’s 10 DREAMS! Now there’s a teacher worth remembering.

Because of the fact that your dream has been steeped in emotion, yours, it will carry with it a strength only known in the natural world. And to have faith in your dream will be stronger than anything that you will face in your lifetime. Keep in mind, however, that tomorrow is promised to no one. And no one else can make your dream come true. That’s entirely up to you. Do it. Make it come true. And at the end of the day, when you drift off to sleep, if another dream pops into your mind, pay attention this time. Your possibilities are endless.

At least, that’s the way I see it. MLProko    www.mikeproko.com

Published in: on June 12, 2011 at 3:37 am  Leave a Comment  
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