Author Archives: Warren J. Ludlow

Let the Consequences Follow

I realize this post might come across as political. That is not my intention. Rather than focusing on the politics, policies, or prejudices of the individuals I discuss below, I hope you will look at their courage to stand up for what they believed in and their willingness to let the consequences follow from their actions.

The initial inspiration behind this post comes from Senator Mitt Romney. I know. Some of you might dismiss my praise of Romney merely on the basis that we are both members of the same religion. Or that I am not particularly fond of the rants of our current President. But we can learn from people of courage, even if we don’t agree with their stances.

As a recent article from The Atlantic described it, Romney “is voting his conscience when doing so comes at a cost.” Of course, the vote referred to is the Senator’s decision to place his conscience over his party when he became the lone Republican Senator to vote in favor of one of the articles of impeachment against President Trump. For those that missed it, here is Romney explaining why he voted the way he did:

Romney told of a church hymn that came to his mind as he deliberated how to vote. One line from that song is “Do what is right, let the consequences follow.” That line convinced him to follow his conscience.

Someone once said, “More people would listen to their conscience if they could tell it what to say.” Romney might not have liked what his conscience told him, but he listened to it, even knowing the consequences could be severe.

Immediately following the Senate vote, his fellow Republicans castigated Romney as a turncoat. President Trump tweeted: “Had failed presidential candidate @MittRomney devoted the same energy and anger to defeating a faltering Barack Obama as he sanctimoniously does to me, he could have won the election.”

Mike Lee, Utah’s other Republican Senator, tweeted, “Congratulations @realDonaldTrump. I’m looking forward to your next five years in office. Those who voted to remove you were wrong. Very wrong.”

The President’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., stated that Romney is a member of the resistance, and the GOP should boot him from the party.

Matt Schlapp, chairman of the Conservative Political Action Conference, tweeted, “Hey Utah, you have a problem, and we @ACUConservative would like to help you fix it. #DumpRomney.”

Since Romney is not up for reelection for another five years, we will have to wait to see if the backlash ends his political career.

Sorry, but I don’t understand how you can criticize someone for doing something they believe in. How can you fault someone for choosing conscience over politics?

In announcing his decision, Romney referred to his religious faith, which led some commentators to compare him to Sir Thomas More. More served as the Lord High Chancellor of England, and was one of King Henry VIII’s chief advisors. But More was a devout Catholic and refused, on religious grounds, to acknowledge the King’s annulment of his marriage to Cathrine of Aragon and as the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Those refusals led to his conviction of treason, which ultimately led to his execution.

The film, A Man For All Seasons,[i] captures the political battle between King Henry VIII and Sir Thomas More. Here is the scene where More is convicted: 

Losing his head became the consequence that followed Sir Thomas More’s courage.

Centuries later, as Union forces battled Confederate forces in America’s Civil War, The Union’s Commander-in-Chief, President Abraham Lincoln, had to fight members of his cabinet to gain the support of the 13th Amendment, which would abolish slavery. The film, Lincoln,[ii] dramatizes this battle.  Here is one of the best scenes from the movie:

Of course, soon after the end of the Civil War, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln, at least partly as a consequence of his standing up to the enemies of preserving the Union and abolishing slavery. 

But it is not only heads of state that stand up for what they believe is right. I had never heard of Kathryn Bolkovac until I watched the movie, The Whistleblower.[iii] That movie tells the story of how Bolkovac, a Nebraska police officer, uncovers a United Nations cover-up of a sex trafficking scandal in post-war Bosnia. In 1995, thousands of international peacekeepers flooded into Bosnia to help repair the damage done by the war. But many of these peacekeepers became perpetrators of human trafficking, sexual violence, and abuse. Bolkovac reported her findings to Madeline Rees, who worked for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. In this scene, Rees warns Bolkovac of the potential ramifications of her report: 

For blowing the whistle on these crimes, both Bolkovac and Rees faced sanctions, stigma, and termination of their careers with the United Nations. Fifteen years later, Bolkovac explained that she had suffered emotional, financial, familial, and professional turmoil since she decided to “do the right thing.” She once remarked, “People ask me continually if I regret what I did or if I would do it again, and, as time has progressed, I would now really need to think about my answer.” But then she reaffirmed her commitment to accountability and bringing the perpetrators to justice. 

Decisions of conscience often bring unwelcome consequences. American journalist, Henry Louis Mencken, once quipped, “Conscience is a mother-in-law whose visit never ends.” Someone else joked that “conscience makes a boy tell his mother before his sister does.” My favorite is, “Your conscience doesn’t keep you from doing something wrong; it merely keeps you from enjoying it.”

Let’s hold up Mitt Romey, Sir Thomas More, President Lincoln, and Kathryn Bolkovac as examples of courageous people who followed their consciences, despite realizing that consequences will follow. And let’s have the courage to do the same.

[i] A Man For All Seasons:

  • Production Company: Highland Films
  • Director: Fred Zinnemann
  • Screenwriter: Robert Bolt
  • Starring: Paul Scofield, Wendy Hiller, and Robert Shaw
  • Release date: May 3, 1967

[ii] Lincoln:

  • Production Companies: Dreamworks, Twentieth Century Fox, and Reliance Entertainment
  • Director: Steven Spielberg
  • Screenwriter: Tony Kushner (based in part on the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin)
  • Starring: Danield Day-Lewis, Sally Field, and David Strathairn
  • Release date: November 16, 2012

[iii] The Whistleblower:

  • Production Companies: Sadsmuel Goodwyn Films, Whistleblower (Gen One), and Barry Films
  • Director: Larysa Kondracki
  • Screenwriters:  Larysa Kondracki and Ellis Kirwan
  • Starring: Rachel Weisz, Monica Bellucci, and Vanessa Redgrave
  • Release date: October 7, 2011

Find Someone to Love

A few weeks ago, my wife and I watched the Oscar-nominated film, Marriage Story.[i] We should retitle it “Divorce Story,” as it is the tale of a couple’s divorce. I found the film extraordinarily frustrating. The movie began with each spouse expressing what they loved about the other. First Charlie:

Then Nicole:

With so much to love between the two of them, Charlie and Nicole lead us to believe they will work things out. And even though there are a few negatives in their expressions of love, the positives far outweigh them. If they will only listen to each other, this is a marriage that can make it.

Or so I thought.

I soon learned that expressing what they loved about each other was the result of an exercise suggested by their couples therapist, but things break down, and they never get a chance to hear what the other said about them until it’s too late.

No matter. Nicole and Charlie remain confident they can work things out between them.

But then the lawyers get involved, battle lines are drawn, and compromise becomes impossible. The marriage crumbles beyond repair, and I become embarrassed to be called a lawyer.

This week I also watched the remake of Alfie[ii] for the first time. The film is about a young man who is looking for love, but being unwilling to commit to anyone, he confuses it with sex. The film is far from one of my all-time favorite movies, but I did enjoy this scene where Alfie gets some unsolicited advice from an older man who just lost his wife:  

“Find someone to love and then live every day as if it were your last.” Good advice, for sure. And notice Joe says find someone to love, not fall in love. Too often, we only want to fall in love, as if it were a passive state you live in. But true love requires action. We must love someone, not just be in love. And then live every day as if it were our last.

And I also found Joe’s last statement in this clip to be thought-provoking. In discussing his relationship with his departed wife, he says, “We were not that fond of each other. But we were very close if you know what I mean.” Joe’s statement reminded me of what a good friend and therapist, John Dehlin, once told me: “If you and your spouse are the same, there is no need for one of you.” In other words, the best relationships are those where each partner’s differences compliment the other; not where both partners end up the same.

Here is the final scene of Alfie, where the lead character realizes that all his past relationships have been about what his previous girlfriends gave to him, and how he gave nothing in return (no need to watch the credits unless you like to hear Mick Jagger sing):

Alfie concludes that he has a lot going for him, but he lacks one thing: peace of mind, which I interpret as true happiness. He then asks, “What’s it all about?”

So, in honor of upcoming Valentine’s Day, and to help answer Alfie’s question, I set out to discover, when it comes to our love relationships, what’s it all about?

I began by asking my family what’s the best marriage advice they have heard or given.

One of my favorites is from my sister-in-law. “If you have to argue, argue naked.” That advice alone might save many marriages. But loving someone usually requires us to dig a little deeper.

My nephew offered this great advice: “Something that helps me to find joy and contentment in my marriage is to inwardly focus on me being my best self while striving to be generous and patient with my wife. People fall out of love when they impose their expectations on the other.”

My daughter emphasized that it is often the little things that matter most. “Find someone always willing to take care of you, no matter the circumstances. Someone who will bring you water, your toothbrush over and over again, and rub your back when you are in one of your least pleasant states. And not only do it but do it willingly and with an attitude as if there is no place they would rather be.”

My daughter continues: “It’s ok to ask for what you need in your marriage. That goes with anything as little as, ‘Please, can you take out the trash?” to bigger things like, ‘I need you to acknowledge my feelings and validate the way I feel.’ Your husband or wife can’t read your mind. And they don’t love you any less because they can’t. Instead of getting upset that they aren’t doing what you want them to do, ask for it. I think we get caught up in the fairy-tale love that our partner will always know what we need and do everything we want them to do and all this would happen because they love us, but that’s not reality. I’ve learned that our marriage is a lot better when we communicate what we need and stop huffing and puffing around while we wait for the other person to magically know what we want.”

John Dehlin also taught me there are three common myths people tell themselves about their spouse:

1.    You belong to me, and I belong to you (our wants/needs/interests need to be the same).

2.    You’re going to meet all my needs.

3.    If you don’t achieve numbers 1 and 2 above, it means you don’t love me.

John’s comments are similar to the psychoanalyst, Esther Perel, who said that, up until the 1970s, we used to think of our partners as fulfilling just one part of our lives.  Now, we subconsciously expect a soul mate who fills all of our needs.  They need to be our best friend, our confidant, our intellectual resource who’s always reading the same books, our passionate lover, our co-parent, and also make us a better person.  If they are not doing all this, then we feel cheated or they aren’t the “one” who must still be out there somewhere.    Likewise, if we aren’t meeting all these needs for our partner, we have this identity crisis of not being “good enough.” 

The TV miniseries, Howard’s End (based on the classic novel by E.B. Forrester), has a great scene that emphasizes these points and teaches us a more realistic way of approaching marriage. In this scene, Margaret tells her sister, Helen, about her recent engagement to Henry Wilcox. Helen is not pleased to hear the news. In response, Margaret says:

There’s a wonderful feeling knowing a real man cares for you. Remember, I have known and liked him for a long while now…. I know Mr. Wilcox’s faults. He’s afraid of emotion. He cares too much about success. Too little about the past. I’d even say spiritually, he’s not as honest as I am…. I don’t intend for him or any man or any woman to be all my life. There are heaps of things in me that he doesn’t and never shall understand. So with him. There are heaps of things in him, more especially things he does, which will always be hidden from me…. I don’t intend to correct him. Or to reform him. Only connect. That is the whole of my sermon. I have not undertaken to fashion a husband to suit myself, using Henry’s soul as raw materials. It would be contemptible and unfair.     

Here are a few more ideas from my family and the experts:

  • Remember, no one wants to be married to a teacher, a parent or a missionary (typical roles we play in relationships). We want a partner, a friend and a lover. (John Dehlin)
  • There is a difference between criticism and a complaint. Criticism is an attack on one’s identity (you are a lousy person vs. you never put the toilet seat down.) (John Gottman)
  • The ratio of positive comments to a spouse compared to negative ones needs to be twenty to one. Humans remember criticism much more than praise. Said another way, an ounce of criticism equals a pound of praise. (John Gottman)   
  • The great secret of a successful marriage is to treat all disasters as only incidents and no incident as a disaster. (Harold Nicolson)
  • Choose your battles wisely. The only certainty in relationships is that there will be times when your blood beats red. But when it comes to small disagreements with your partner, you’re better off just shutting up. (Michael Thompson)
  • If you were paddling a canoe together, the important thing is that each paddle in the same direction. In marriage, if each has a different goal, they will always be in trouble. (Dr. Paul W. Popenoe)

Food for thought for all of us. If you have some great marriage advice, please share it.

In closing, remember these words from Justin Bieber (yes, that Justin Bieber): “Flowers are great, but love is better.”

[i] Marriage Story:

  • Production Companies: Heyday Films, Netflix
  • Director: Noah Baumbach
  • Screenwriter: Noah Baumbach
  • Starring: Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver
  • Release date: December 6, 2019

[ii] Alfie:

  • Production Companies: Paramount Pictures and Paralex Productions  
  • Director: Charles Shyer
  • Screenwriter: Bill Naughton
  • Starring: Jude Law, Sienna Miller, and Susan Sarandon
  • Release date: November 5, 2004

Can’t You Hear the Whistle Blowing?

A miniseries I recently watched entitled FatherMotherSon reminded me of a truth I had learned long ago: knowledge is power. In this miniseries, a newspaper mogul maintains his position of influence, even to the point of controlling elections, by using the dirt he collects (sometimes illegally) on others. Sadly, history is full of examples of persons, governments, or businesses that rose to power because they knew the corrupt or evil acts of others while keeping their own outrageous actions hidden. These people or organizations held others accountable for their actions but took little responsibility for their own. As karma would have it, often, those that rose to power in this manner subsequently fell from their lofty perches because someone finally revealed their secrets. We call these revealers of secrets whistleblowers.  

There has been a lot in the news lately about whistleblowing, which is fitting since at least two recently released movies are about whistleblowers. In Dark Waters,[i] a corporate defense attorney named Robert Bilott takes on industry giant DuPont and exposes a history of pollution and the ill effects of Teflon products. Due to his efforts, the EPA assessed DuPont a fine of $16.5 million, which was peanuts compared to the annual profits of the company. But Bilott did not rest there. He has spent the last twenty years pursuing litigation against companies for their harmful dumping of chemicals. DuPont ultimately settled a class action for $671 million.

In this clip from the film, Billot points out that we (you and I) must protect ourselves from the potential abuses of corporations because no one else will:    

That protection often comes in the form of exposing the secrets the corporation wants no one to know about. In this case, DuPont’s internal documents acknowledged that its products were harmful. And now, Rob Billot’s story joins those of many whistleblowers who have protected the public against the destructive actions of corporations taken in the name of profit. Here are a few of my favorites that became films:

  • Spotlight – The story of how the Boston Globe uncovered a massive scandal of child abuse within the Catholic Church.
  • The Insider – The story of how Jeffrey Wigand, a cigarette company insider, agrees to appear on 60 Minutes and expose closely-held secrets about the tobacco industry.
  • Erin Brockovich – The story of how a legal assistant almost singlehandedly brings down a major power company for polluting the city’s water supply.

Governments can be as destructive as unethical corporations if left unchecked. In the recent film, The Report,[ii] Senate staffer Daniel Jones investigated the CIA’s hostage interrogation program following 9/11. That investigation led to shocking secrets about the mistreatment of those hostages, which the CIA’s internal documents admitted were utterly ineffective.

Here is a trailer for The Report:

Daniel Jones was not alone in exposing the ugly secrets of our government. Here are a few of my favorite whistleblower films involving our government:

  • All the President’s Men – The story of how information leaked to the Washington Post by a government insider led to the downfall of a U.S. president.
  • Snowden – The story of Edward Snowden’s disclosure of classified documents of how the government was spying on all of us.
  • The Most Dangerous Man in America – The story of how Daniel Ellsberg leaked classified documents known as the Pentagon Papers that helped end the Vietnam War.

As these films illustrate, whistleblowing is almost as American as baseball or apple pie. Even before we had a union, we enacted protections for public employees who divulge abuses of power by government officials. In 1778, the Continental Congress passed a resolution “to give the earliest information to Congress or any other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors committed by any officers or persons in the service of these states.” Such laws would not be needed if corporations, government, and others in power would hold themselves accountable for their actions.

Back in September of this year, an intelligence analyst blew the whistle on President Trump, claiming the President had solicited foreign interference with the upcoming 2020 election. But this analyst was not alone in complaining about the President. More than a dozen federal officials have come forward, from various departments, reporting concerns to their superiors about Trump’s dealings with the president of Ukraine. These superiors either ignored or blocked each complaint. But based on the initial whistleblower’s complaint, Congress launched an investigation that ended in issuing two articles of impeachment against the President.

I am not a constitutional law expert, so I don’t know if President Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden’s son reaches the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” as required for impeachment by the Constitution.  I am confident, though, that he did what all the analysts claim he did. I am more concerned about the second article of impeachment—that the President obstructed justice by prohibiting others in his administration from testifying, relying on executive privilege. Mr. President, if you did nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide. The situation echoes the early 1970s when then-President Richard Nixon tried to use executive privilege to conceal the wrongdoings associated with Watergate. And we all know how that worked out for him.

Not surprisingly, Trump has characterized his whistleblowers as unAmerican, attacking them as “traitors” and “human scum.” He has equated them to “spies” who are guilty of “treason,” which, if convicted, would result in the death penalty. But instead, these long-time government officials turned whistleblowers, most of whom had worked tirelessly for decades for both Republican and Democratic administrations, saw their actions as essential to preserve the checks and balances on the abuse of power within our government. As a recent Time article says it:   

“For each, the decision to step forward came at a cost. None expected to become household names or to find their faces on televisions across the country night after night. And though each followed the rules and used the proper channels, some have found themselves vilified online, their decades of government service impugned and their background questioned.”[iii]

I find it sad that we have to rely on whistleblowers. If persons in power acted responsibly and in the best interest of their constituencies or customers, we would not need whistleblowers. But that is not the nature of people in power.

I believe the statement of Joseph Smith, the first prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the “Church”) when he said, “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.”[iv]

Somewhat ironically, the Church has had its own whistleblower in the news lately. A Church member who had worked for an investment arm of the Church named Ensign Peak Advisors recently filed a whistleblower complaint with the IRS, claiming Ensign Peak Advisors should lose its tax-exempt status because it stockpiled earnings from charitable donations instead of using those funds for charitable purposes. The complaint also alleges the only two disbursements from the Ensign Peak fund went to for-profit ventures, not charitable ones.   

This situation hits close to home for me. I am a member of the Church and have paid to the Church tens of thousands of dollars over my lifetime in tithing and other charitable contributions. I do not know whether the Church violated any tax law, as that is beyond my expertise. Several tax experts have said the Church probably has not done anything wrong, although the rules in this area are somewhat ambiguous and have not been the subject of court cases. Nor am I trying to say the Church exercised unrighteous dominion in connection with these funds. Many (including me) would argue the opposite—that the Church invested the money wisely for hopefully the ultimate benefit of the Church and its members. What has surprised me, though, is the size of the fund that it is being stockpiled rather than used for charitable purposes, and how little transparency there has been by the Church in connection with these funds.

According to the whistleblower’s complaint, the fund managed by Ensign Peak Advisors amounts to approximately $100 billion—that’s billion with a “b.” The whistleblower alleges the Church brings in about $7 billion each year in charitable donations from its members and others but has annual expenditures of $5 to $6 billion. The Church takes the excess $1 billion and gives it to Ensign Peak Advisors to invest. And although the Ensign Peak fund has grown to $100 billion since its creation 22 years ago, Ensign has never used any of its funds for charitable purposes. The Church disputes that it has done anything wrong, but has not refuted these numbers.

How much is $100 billion? According to documents filed with the IRS, Ensign Peak made a seven percent return on its investments last year. That’s a profit of $7 billion, meaning the Church could meet all of its current annual financial obligations ($6 billion) using that profit alone from this fund and still have $1 billion left over to reinvest. In short, the Church could suspend the responsibility of its members to pay any tithing or offerings. I don’t expect the Church to do that, as the Church considers the payment of tithing to be a commandment of God. However, a former prophet of the Church, Joseph F. Smith, once said the day would come when the payment of tithing would no longer be required.

But I won’t hold my breath. Perhaps the Church could lighten the financial burden on its members in other ways. The Church currently has approximately 65,000 full-time missionaries, whose families pay $500 per month to support them. (In an instance of bad timing, the Church announced it is raising the cost per missionary from $400 to $500 per month effective January 1, 2020.)  The Church states that it subsidizes the cost of keeping its full-time missionaries in the mission field, and I do not dispute that. But using the current $100 billion to pay the full cost of its missionaries (and relieving the $500 per month burden on their families), the Church could support 65,000 missionaries for more than the next 250 years. Couldn’t the Church use some of its surpluses to ease at least part of that burden? Could the monthly missionary expense be made optional so those who can ill-afford it do not have to pay it?

At the Church’s last general conference, the current prophet of the Church discussed its Humanitarian Fund, which helps the poor throughout the world and those who have been devastated by natural disasters. According to the prophet, since the creation of the Humanitarian Fund, the Church’s expenditures from that fund have totaled $2 billion. That sounds like a lot, but considering the fund has been in existence for 35 years, that is less than $58 million per year, and we don’t know how much of that amount came from individual members in contributions other than tithing rather than the Church itself. But, even giving the Church credit for the entire amount (which the Church admits is not the case, as the prophet tells us Church members donated $6.5 million to the fund in a single day), that $58 billion per year is less than six percent of the Church’s excess tithing funds received in a year. As I reread the prophet’s conference address, I realized most of the Church’s help to those in need came not from the Church itself, but its members in the form of donations of money and clothing in addition to tithing, and volunteer service. Another Church leader stated the Church’s expenditures from its Humanitarian Fund amount to $40 million per year or only four percent of its excess tithing annually. So, no matter how you look at the numbers, it is less than the ten percent it requires of its members. In short, I wish the Church would be as generous as its members.

Again, please do not misunderstand me. Over my lifetime, I have trusted the Church to use my contributions wisely in the help and support of others. I have no problem with the Church maintaining a “rainy day” fund. But with so much need in the world, is not more than 16 times your annual expenditures in such a fund more than necessary for a rainy day considering the Church acknowledges the U.N. report that more than 820 million people in the world go hungry every day? The Church asks me to give it ten percent of my increase as tithing. Could not the Church also pay at least as much of its excess to charitable causes?

Winston Churchill once said, “The price of greatness is responsibility.” For the Church to be great, it has a responsibility to not only invest its excess funds wisely but to use them for the purposes we contributors had intended. And just as important, I believe the Church has a responsibility to be more accountable to its members for those funds by being much more transparent about them. Through the years, I have given my donations to the Church willingly and trustingly. But trust needs to be earned.

I hope the Church will respond to these new whistleblower revelations not as lawyers, hellbent on defending their position at all costs, but as Good Samaritans, helping “the least of these my brethren.”[v]  

[i] Dark Waters:

  • Production Companies:
  • Director:
  • Screenwriter:
  • Starring:
  • Release date:

[ii] The Report:

  • Production Companies:
  • Director:
  • Screenwriter:
  • Starring:
  • Release date:

[iii] “Guardians  of the Year—The Public Servants: Serving Country Over Self,” Time Magazine, December 23/December 30, 2019; page 77.

[iv] See Doctrine & Covenants 121: 39.

[v] See Matthew 25:40.

The Secret of My Success

How do you measure success? By your worldly possessions? By your position of power? By the number of your friends on Facebook? Success means different things to different people.

While in Austin at the Austin Film Festival, we saw The Current War,[i] the true story about the electrification of America. Who knew a movie about direct current versus alternating current could capture my attention for two hours? But capture my attention it did, and that was because of the fascinating characters involved. At the heart of the movie is Thomas Edison, considered America’s greatest inventor. His inventions include the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the incandescent light bulb. In all, Edison held 1,093 U.S. patents. He founded 14 companies, including General Electric, still one of America’s largest corporations. By most measures, Edison would be considered a success. But he didn’t have much of a family life, as he much preferred spending time in his laboratory rather than with his wife and children. Perhaps he didn’t realize that when a person is so busy building a successful business, they might be busy making a failure of themselves.

And some may question how he obtained some of his accomplishments. Edison was not generous to his employees. He generally did not compensate his employees particularly well, and at least two of his more famous employees left because Edison would not listen to their ideas. Frank J. Sprague left Edison’s employ when he realized that any invention he came up with would belong to Edison. After leaving Edison, Sprague invented an electric motor that became the standard for motorizing cable cars and subways in America. Edison later bought out Sprague, including his patents, and removed Sprague’s name on all his motors and replaced it with Edison General Electric.

As illustrated by this scene from The Current War, Nikoli Tesla was a brilliant scientist who told Edison repeatedly that Edison’s system of direct current was an inferior system to George Westinghouse’s method of alternating current:

Tesla ultimately left Edison’s employment, and Edison continued to argue that alternating current was the more dangerous system. He demonstrated his point by repeatedly electrocuting various farm animals and helping to develop the electric chair as a means of executing convicted felons. He did this even though direct current could also be life-threatening at high voltages. Here is one of  my favorite scenes from the film:

Perhaps George Westinghouse gives us an insightful measure of success: Did I leave this world better than how I found it? If I could say that, in some small way, I improved the world around me, I would consider my life a success.

            As I watched The Current War, I thought of The  Founder,[ii] which tells the story of the rise of McDonald’s by Ray Kroc. Like Edison, Kroc didn’t invent the efficient system that McDonald’s used to revolutionize the fast-food industry. Here is a scene from the film:

In some people’s minds, the result justifies the means of getting there. Ray Kroc took the McDonald brother’s system and became a billionaire. Kroc left the McDonald brothers only their original restaurant and the satisfaction that they, not Kroc, had developed the art of making fast food fast. So, who was the most successful? Ray Kroc or the McDonald brothers? It depends on how one measures success.

            Another possible measure of success is this: Did we use our talents to solve a problem in a way that no one ever thought of before? Moneyball[iii] is a perfect example of this. In 2002, the Oakland A’s had little budget and few players after the departure of its stars to free agency that were good enough to turn the A’s into a competitive team. But General Manager, Billy Beane, put together a group of undervalued players—at least undervalued when evaluated by traditional scouting methods. Using a sophisticated system of sabermetrics (focusing on things such as on-base percentages and ignoring other weaknesses), Beane fielded a team of mostly “no-name” or “over-the-hill” players that went on to win 20 consecutive games near the end of the season and win their division. Two years later, the Oakland  A’s won the World Series with a similar group of “misfit toys.” Here is one of my favorite scenes from the film:

This clip also illustrates another critical point about success. We rarely can achieve it on our own. Billy Beane did not come up with the mathematical analysis used by the A’s. Instead, he retained the help of Peter Brand, a young economist out of Yale, who refined the formulas the A’s relied on. And this quote deserves repeating: “People are overlooked for a number of biased reasons and perceived flaws: age, appearance, and personality.” Almost all of us can find success in some way if someone gives us the right opportunity.

            While in Austin, we also watched Ford vs. Ferrari.[iv] If you haven’t seen the movie yet, and don’t know the story, stop reading if you don’t like spoilers. The film, another true story, depicts how Ford set out to develop a Formula 1 race car to challenge perennial champion, Ferrari, at the 24-hour race at Le Mans in 1966. Here is the scene where the challenge got started:

Led by automotive visionary, Carroll Shelby, and his British driver, Ken Miles, the Ford team built the legendary GT40, the perfect racecar, which swept the competition at Le Mans in 1966. As the race neared its conclusion, Ken Miles was laps ahead of the other cars, including the two other Ford entries, who were in second and third. A Ford executive ordered Miles to slow down so the other two Fords could catch up for a photo opportunity—all three Fords crossing the finish line together. In the end,  the photo finish shows that Bruce McLaren, not Miles, crossed the finish line first, making McLaren as the winner. Was Miles, though, any less of a success because he slowed down to let other drivers catch up? Success can be measured not just in the result (the destination) but what it takes to get there (the process).     

            In preparing this blog post, I asked my extended family about how they measured success. A nephew sent me this link to a Ted talk given by John Wooden:

A niece came up with this checklist of questions we always should be asking ourselves. If we can answer “yes” to each of these, we could consider ourselves a success:

Did I do my very best under the circumstances? (John Wooden’s definition)

Did I do the right thing for me and my family?

Did I help others?

Did I get back up when I fell?

Did I learn something new?

Did I endure when the going got tough?

Did I maintain a healthy balance in the different aspects of my life?

I love that checklist, and I agree with John Wooden about success being measured by doing our best—but only up to a point. How do we know when we have done our best? In sports, for example, could I have practiced a little more, or practiced more perfectly? Could I have worked out a little more so I would have greater endurance, strength, or whatever else I could potentially improve upon? We can ask those same questions in life as we try to succeed. We can always second-guess ourselves as professionals, spouses, parents, friends, teachers, and every other aspect of our lives. Can’t we always say we could have done a little bit more? And if so, did we do our best?

So, how do I measure success? In short, I consider myself successful when I am experiencing true happiness. Similar to Gene Miles and Carroll Shelby in Ford vs. Ferrari, or the McDonald brothers in The Founder, I find more joy in the journey than in the destination. The term in vogue these days is when we get in or find “flow.” When I get in a flow, I experience joy. I become focused on the moment, the task at hand, and that is all that matters. I am not worried about past mistakes, or accolades I might receive in the future. As a lawyer, there were times when I became so focused on researching an issue, drafting a contract, or writing an article for publication that time seemed to stand still. I found that process exhilarating. Those were the experiences that told me I was a successful lawyer. It was not my title, my salary, or how many people reported to me. I had similar experiences in my glory days (using that term very loosely) of my basketball career (also using that term very loosely). The game became a joy to me when I focused on the moment and blocked out the outside world and all its distractions.  During those times, I  played the game for the pure joy of the game. I was not playing to hear the roar of fans or to get “atta boys” from my coach. And not surprisingly, it was during those moments of “flow” on the court that I played my best—or as John Wooden would tell me, those were the times I was the greatest success as a basketball player.

Trying to broaden those experiences into life in general, I am finding when I can “get into” whatever I’m doing, when I can experience that flow, that’s when I am the happiest and, therefore, the most successful. That is my measure of success. It works for me.

Your measure is probably different. That’s not just okay; that is the way it should be. I hope each of us can consider ourselves successful, however we individually determine it.

[i] The Current War:

Production Companies: Bazelevs Production, Film Rites, and

Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Screenwriter: Michael Nitmick

Starring: Tom Holland, Benedict Cumberbach, and Michael Shannon

Release Date: October 25, 2019

[ii] The Founder:

Production Companies: The Weinstein Company, FilmNation Entertainment, and Faliro House Productions

Director: John Lee Hancock

Screenwriter: Roert Siegel

Starring: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, and John Carroll Lynch

Release Date: January 20, 2017

[iii] Moneyball:

Production Companies: Columbia Pictures, Scott Rudin Productions, and Michael De Luca Productions

Director: Bennett Miller

Screenwriters: Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin

Starring: Brad Pitt, Robert Wright, and Jonah Hill,

Release Date: September 23, 2011

[iv] Ford vs. Ferrari:

Production Companies: Cherin Entertainment and Twentieth Century Fox

Director: James Mangold

Screenwriters: Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth

Starring: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, and Jon Bernthal

Release Date: November 15, 2019

To Err is Human

Hubert Humphrey once said, “To err is human; to blame someone else is politics.” But I like better what someone else said: “We all make mistakes. But we cannot let those mistakes define us.”

But sometimes they do. And sometimes our mistakes define others as well.

Amber Guyger might be one of those persons defined by her mistake. If you live in DFW, or Texas, or even in America, and have not heard the story, then you probably live in a cave. Guyger, of course, killed a young black man in his apartment while he watched TV and ate ice cream. Her mistake? She thought she had entered her own apartment and had found an intruder inside. Although a “mistake in fact” is a valid legal defense, it must be a reasonable one. A jury recently concluded that Guyger’s mistake was unreasonable, and found her guilty of murder, sentencing her to ten years imprisonment. She will be eligible for parole in five years.

Amber Guyger’s mistake defined her victim’s life as well. The victim, Botham Jean, was only 26 when Guyger killed him. He was well-educated, professional, law-abiding—and black. And now his life has ended. That, to me, is why murder is so heinous. You can’t undo it. You can’t bring back the life you cut short.

Guyger’s defense is the same one used 46 years ago in a murder trial of another Dallas police officer making a fatal (and fateful) mistake. On July 24, 1973, Darrell Cain grabbed 12-year-old Santos Rodriguez, and his 13-year-old brother, David, from their beds, in the middle of the night. Cain handcuffed both boys and put them in his patrol car, Santos in the front seat with Cain, and David in the back seat with another officer. Their alleged crime? Robbing a vending machine at a local gas station of eight dollars. Forensic evidence later proved the two boys were never at the scene of the crime.

To encourage Santos to confess, Cain took his .357 magnum handgun and placed the barrel against Santos’ head. Playing Russian roulette, Cain pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. When Santos still refused to confess, he pulled the trigger again. This time, the gun fired, killing Santos instantly. Cain immediately jumped out of the patrol car and shouted, “My God! My God! What have I done? I didn’t mean to do it!” Later, he would insist that he thought the gun was not loaded. At Cain’s trial, the jury determined that Cain’s mistake was unreasonable, found him guilty of murder, and sentenced him to only five years imprisonment, of which he served two and a half years.

Cain tried not to let his mistake define him. After leaving prison, he moved to West Texas, became an insurance adjuster, and had a family. But the family of young Santos Rodriguez? I cannot imagine how Cain’s mistake has affected Santos’ mother these many years. And I wonder how Santos’s brother has lived with the vivid memory of watching Cain execute his brother. Mother and son, together, had their lives defined by the mistake of Officer Cain. 

My wife and I recently attended the Austin Film Festival. The closing film, Just Mercy,[i] is based on the true story of Bryan Stevenson, an African American lawyer, who fights for justice for prisoners on death row. One of his first cases is that of Walter McMillian. A jury had sentenced him to die for murdering an 18-year-old girl, despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence. Here is the trailer to Just Mercy:

I love the line, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” Darrell Cain tried to become more than his biggest mistake. I hope Amber Guyger can do the same.

See Just Mercy when you get the chance. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and received an eight-minute standing ovation at its conclusion. While you’re waiting for the film to be released, please watch this Ted Talk by Bryan Stevenson, the lawyer whom the film is about:

But there is more to the Amber Guyger story.

The brother of Botham Jean, Amber Guyger’s victim, and the judge presiding at her trial, believed in both justice and mercy. In a moment of compassion, Brandt Jean, while testifying during the punishment phase of the trial about what the loss of his brother meant to him, Brandt paused and asked the judge if he could give a hug to the killer of his brother. When he asked a second time, and the judge relented. Brandt hugged Guyger for a long moment and told her he forgave her and wanted the best for her.  

Judge Tammy Kemp watched Amber Guyger throughout the trial and noticed how she changed after the jury announced the guilty verdict. During the trial, Guyger remained stoic. But after the jury’s ruling, Kemp described Guyger as “a broken person.” After the proceedings, Judge Kemp first offered her condolences to the Jean family and then told Guyger, “Mr. Jean has forgiven you. Now I need you to forgive yourself so that you can live a purposeful life.” Then Guyger asked the judge if she could hug her. Judge Kemp, hesitated, but when asked again, Kemp opened her arms to Guyger. When Kemp learned that Guyger didn’t have a Bible, she gave her one of her own.

Some have criticized Judge Kemp for both the hug and the gift of the Bible. I have a hard time understanding that. I believe in justice. But I also believe in compassion. As the Reverend George A. Mason, senior pastor of the Wilshire Baptist Church, said, “Justice without mercy is heartless, but mercy without justice is thoughtless.”

In the past 50 years, many things have changed; but some remain the same. We still experience racism, hatred, and violence in our streets and even our homes. We still have police officers killing citizens. We still have citizen protests of those killings.

In a sad postscript to the events of the Guyger trial, another police officer, this time in Fort Worth, shot and killed a 26-year-old African American woman as she played video games in her home with her nephew. In connection with peace officers dealing with the public they serve, quoting Reverend Mason again, “Deadly force must be the last resort, instead of the first choice.  

Balancing justice and mercy is hard. We consider it just when a murderer gets what he or she deserves – the death penalty. But one in nine people on death row is later determined to be innocent of their alleged crime. And every case is different. My sister-in-law recently reminded me of a horrible car crash that occurred to a family she knows at a location less than a half-mile from where she and my wife grew up. Chris Williams, a father of four, was driving his pregnant wife and three of their children down a road I have driven many times when a drunk driver, a 17-year-old, traveling at a speed estimated to be over 75 miles per hour, rammed into the Williams’ vehicle. The impact killed the wife, their unborn child, and two of their children. A third child was critically injured and would need years of physical therapy to recover from his injuries. The crash hurt Chris Williams, as well, but he would survive – at least physically.

The story of Chris Williams became a little-known movie entitled, Just Let Go.[ii] (No clips from the film are on YouTube, but you can watch it in its entirety on Amazon Prime.) The film shows the struggle Williams has over balancing the justice demanded by the death and injury of his family and showing mercy toward the young man who made a deadly mistake. If the court tries him as an adult, the result would most likely be 25 years to life imprisonment. If the court tries him as a juvenile, the likely outcome would be he serves three years in a juvenile facility, after which the court would expunge his record. Everyone around Williams argues that justice demands the young driver of the other car be tried as an adult. But something holds Williams back. With a twist at the end, both Williams and the young driver are able to move on from the terrible incident that brought them together. There is a strong faith element running through the film, but regardless of your religious beliefs, it is worth your time to watch.

Perhaps the best film of all time dealing with redemption is The Shawshank Redemption.[iii] It is the story of two prisoners, Andy and Red, who become friends while serving life sentences in the Shawshank prison. Andy is innocent of the murder the jury convicted him of. At one point, Andy points out, “The funny thing is, on the outside, I was an honest man, straight as an arrow. I had to come to prison to be a crook.” But Andy does not allow the mistakes of his jury and others to define him. He maintains hope for a better life and encourages Red to do the same.

In this clip from the film, we see how Red’s attitude changes over the years at his parole hearings:

Until Red met Andy, he had allowed a single mistake to define who he was. But grasping that hope instilled in him by Andy, Red determines to make a new start. Here is the closing scene from the movie:

We all make mistakes, both big and small. Let’s hope our mistakes do not define others. More importantly, let’s not let our mistakes define who we are.

[i] Just Mercy:

  • Production Companies: Endeavor Content, MACRO, and Netter Productions
  • Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
  • Screenwriters: Destin Daniel Cretton and Andreew Lanham (based on the memoir by Bryan Stevenson)
  • Starring: Brie Larson, Michael B. Jordan, and Jamie Foxx
  • Release date: January 10, 2020

[ii] Just Let Go:

  • Production Companies:  Number 7 Entertainment and Propel Pictures
  • Directors: Christopher S. Clark and Patrick Henry Parker
  • Screenwriters: Christopher S. Clark, Vance Mellen, Patrick Henry Parker (based on the book by Chris Williams)
  • Starring: Henry Ian Cusick and Brenda Vaccaro
  • Release date: October 9, 2015

[iii] The Shawshank Redemption:

  • Production Company: Castle Rock Entertainment 
  • Director: Frank Darabont
  • Screenwriter: Frank Darabont (based on the short story by Stephen King)
  • Starring: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, and Bob Gunton
  • Release date: October 14, 1994

Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day!

Not too long ago, I checked my calendar to see what important events I had scheduled for October. That’s when I saw it. My calendar listed October 14th as Indigenous Peoples’ Day – the same day as Columbus Day. Who knew such a holiday existed? Not me.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day began in South Dakota in 1989. It is intended to celebrate and honor the history and culture of Native Americans (or “first people,” as some tribes prefer to be called). Following South Dakota’s lead, various cities and states now celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of, or in addition to, Columbus Day. The states that have adopted Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a holiday, in addition to South Dakota, are Alaska, North Carolina, New Mexico, Maine, and Vermont. A few of the cities that have adopted this holiday include Albuquerque, Berkeley, Boulder, Denver, Oklahoma City, Salt Lake City, and Seattle. Sadly, the state of Texas (which derives its name from a Native word meaning “friend”) has not yet adopted the holiday. But the county of Bexar (San Antonio) and the cities of Austin, Corpus Christi, and Dallas have.  

I recently attended a musical performed by the Dallas Theater Center. At the beginning of the performance, the theater did something I don’t recall it ever doing before. In addition to telling everyone to turn off their cell phones, the theater acknowledged and honored (I’m paraphrasing here) the history and culture of the Wichita tribe, whose ancestors once lived on the land where the theater now stands.

Even though I was born and raised in Utah, a state deriving its name from the Ute tribe, and even though I graduated from the University of Utah, whose mascot is the Ute (as represented by an eagle), I have never had much interest in Native American history and culture. That began to change when I saw the film, Hostiles.[i] This movie tells the story of a legendary U.S. Army captain whose superior officer orders him to escort a dying Cheyenne chief to his ancestral homeland so he can be buried with his fathers. The captain does so reluctantly, as he and this chief have been bitter enemies for most of their respective lives. But as they travel together and fight common enemies along the way, they begin to see each other as fellow humans, and more alike than different. Here is my favorite scene from the film:

I believe, like the captain and chief in Hostiles, if we make an effort to see our enemies from their perspective, our hatred of them will evolve into respect and understanding.

Not long after watching Hostiles, I saw Woman Walks Ahead,[ii] a film inspired by the true story of how a portrait painter, Catherine Weldon, travels to the West to paint the portrait of Chief Sitting Bull. Here is one of my favorite scenes:

I enjoyed the film because it painted (pun intended) Sitting Bull as a real, complex person rather than the typical stereotype of Native Americans. At one point in the movie, Ms. Weldon asks Sitting Bull if he liked New York City. His answer is insightful and says a lot about our competing cultures: “[New York has] too many people with too much. Too many people with nothing at all. Your society values its people by how much you have. Ours by how much we give away.”

Unfortunately, we learned many of our stereotypes about Native Americans from watching movies. The documentary, Reel Injun,[iii] traces the history of Native Americans in film. In the heyday of Westerns (think John Wayne), Native Americans were always the savages, and the heroes were always the cowboys. Graham Greene, a Native American actor, tells about growing up and playing cowboys and Indians with his Native American friends. Despite their ethnicity, everyone wanted to be one of the cowboys, because if you an Indian, you were the loser. Always. Here is the trailer to this excellent documentary:

If you love movies or are interested in Native Americans, you will love this film (you can watch it for free on

In the 1970s, movies started portraying Native Americans more realistically. Dances with Wolves was one of the first of those movies, but despite its more sympathetic portrayal of Native Americans, the film still had a white man as its central figure. In 1992, The Last of the Mohicans did a better job, but again, the central character was a white man who had been raised by the Mohicans.

In the film, Smoke Signals,[iv] a coming-of-age story of a young Native American, the makers of the movie (who were Native Americans), tried hard to dispel some of the common stereotypes of Native Americans. Here is one of my favorites scenes: 

As I began studying Native American peoples and cultures, I learned some fantastic things about their history and culture. Many of them are sad. Here are a few:

  1. Native American words or tribes are the sources of half of the names of U.S. states.
  2. There are more than 566 federally recognized Native American tribes (and many more that are not recognized). There are more than 1,500 Native American languages. None of these languages is written (other than pictographs).
  3. The word “Sioux” is a Chippewa word meaning “enemy” that the French adopted for the Lakota people. “Lakota,” however, means “where the people of peace dwell.”
  4. Native Americans invented the sport of lacrosse.
  5. The United States did not grant full citizenship to American Natives until Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act in 1924. Congress passed the Act, in part, as recognition of the more than 8,000 Native Americans who served in the military during World War I. Over 24,000 Native Americans served in World War II, including the Navajo Code Talkers, who were a select group of volunteers who created an unbreakable secret code based on the unwritten Navajo language. The film, Windtalkers is the story of the use and importance of this code to the war effort.
  6. Only about 22 percent of the approximately 5.2 million Native Americans live on reservations. Surprisingly, over 75 percent of residents who do live on reservations are non-Natives.
  7. Approximately 28 percent of Native Americans live below the poverty line. The life expectancy of Native Americans is five years lower than other Americans. Native Americans are 177 percent more likely to die from diabetes than non-Natives, 500 percent more likely to die from tuberculous, and 82 percent more likely to die from suicide. Native American young adults are twice as likely to die before the age of 24 than any other ethnic group in America. Native American infant mortality rates are 60 percent higher than the rate for Caucasians.
  8. When Columbus reached the New World in 1492, scholars estimate that as many as 18 million Native Americans lived in North America. By 1900, war and disease had reduced their population to about 250,000 in the United States and 100,000 in Canada.
  9. Native American women experience the highest rates of assault of any group in the United States. A young girl born on a reservation has more than a one in three chance of being abused during her life.
  10. Many celebrities claim to have Native American ancestry, including Cher, Lou Diamond Phillips, Anne Hathaway, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Burt Reynolds, Johnny Depp, Kevin Costner, Dolly Parton, the Jonas brothers, and Elvis Presley.   

My interest in Native Americans inspired me to make one significant character in my new book, Snow Angel Sam, a Native American. It is a sequel to my earlier Christmas book, The Presents of Angels. I hope to get it published on Amazon by the end of October. Please check it out. You will learn some things about Native American culture and their Christmas traditions. Regardless, I hope all of us can develop an understanding of, and respect for, Native Americans, and all other persons who might be different from ourselves.

[i] Hostiles:

  • Production Companies: Grisbi Productions, Le, and Waypoint Entertainment
  • Director: Scott Cooper
  • Screenwriter: Scott Cooper (based on the manuscript by Donals E. Stewart)
  • Starring: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pyke, and Wes Studi
  • Release date: January 26, 2018

[ii] Woman Walks Ahead:

  • Production Companies: Black Bicycle Entertainment, Potboiler Productions, and The Bedford Falls Company
  • Director: Susanna White
  • Screenwriter: Steven Knight
  • Starring: Jessica Chastain, Michael Greyeyes, and Sam Rockwell
  • Release date: June 29, 2018

[iii] Reel Injun:

  • Production Companies: National Film Board of Canada and Rezolution Pictures
  • Director: Neil Diamond and Catherine Bainbridge
  • Screenwriters: Neil Diamond and Catherine Bainbridge
  • Starring: Adam Beach, Russell Means, and Chris Eyre
  • Release date: June 18, 2010

[iv] Smoke Signals:

  • Production Companies: ShadowCatcher Entertainment and Welb Film Pursuits Ltd.
  • Director: Chris Eyre
  • Screenwriter: Sherman Alexie
  • Starring: Adam Beach, Evan Adams, and Irene Bedard
  • Release date: November 27, 1998

Labels Are for Jars

One of my son’s favorite sayings is, “Labels are for jars, not people.” I like the sentiment, for when we label others, we are judging them—and usually harshly. But sadly, our world is too imperfect for that sentiment ever to become a reality.

As humans, we continuously try to make sense of the world around us. And one of the significant ways we do that is through labeling, organizing, and classifying. Not all labels are hurtful. Here is a list of some of mine that I find to be helpful: husband, father, grandfather, lawyer (okay, maybe not so much), movie buff, writer, sports fan, theater fan, friend, feminist, American, and male. If you knew nothing about me, and you read that list of labels, you would have at least a start of an accurate depiction of me.

But many labels are hurtful. A few of the negative ones others have pinned on me at various times during my life have included stinky, worrywart, uncaring, unemotional, unemployed, lousy with tools, and unfriendly.

I like this statement of Henry Longfellow: “We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.” I believe Longfellow is telling us that it is important what we do with the labels others give us. So, in a moment of vulnerability, let me tell you what I did with two of the hurtful ones others have given me—with opposite results.

When I was in the seventh grade, I took a required woodshop class. One day the teacher reviewed one of my projects. Although he didn’t say these exact words, the look on his face was enough to shout at me that my work was unacceptable. Maybe worse, taking my project, the teacher said, “Here, let me help you.” He then completed the project for me. I believe he intended to help me by showing me how to do it, but I took it as his way of telling me that I was lousy with tools. And that self-perception of myself has haunted me the rest of my life. Now, anytime I attempt a do-it-yourself project, I wait for disaster to happen—and it usually does. I have turned that negative self-perception into self-fulfilling prophecies over and over again. On those rare occasions where things have turned out right, I attribute it to mere dumb luck.

When I was in second grade, my teacher pulled me aside and told me that I worried too much about things that either didn’t matter or that I had no control over. She then encouraged me to change. As I thought about it, I realized she was right. And I determined then and there that being a worrywart was not going to be a characteristic that defined me. Since then, I have tried to take whatever life has thrown at me, whether good or bad, with the attitude that it was just life. And since second grade, I often have had people compliment me on being able to maintain a calm countenance and steady approach to problems that have arisen.

Sorry for talking so much about myself, but I hope to make a point. We cannot stop people from labeling us. The important thing is what we do with those labels. If they are positive, do we accept them and make them a part of who we are? If they are negative, do we agree with them, or do we do something to prove to ourselves that they are inaccurate?

No matter who we are, someone will call us a “loser” at some point in our lives, even if they do not use that word. The same is true of many characters in movies. So, here are three of my favorite losers from some of my favorite “oldies but goodies” films.

Napoleon Dynamite.[i] No one in the film tells Napolean he is a loser. But everyone watching the movie knows that he is. Here is one of my favorite scenes illustrating that truth:

Happy Gilmore.[ii] Gilmore wants to become a professional hockey player but doesn’t have the necessary skills. Even his girlfriend calls him a loser:

George McFly from Back to the Future.[iii] George is the ultimate nerd and the easy target of the school’s biggest bully. When his son, Marty McFly (the furthest thing from a nerd), goes back in time, he is horrified at just how nerdy (and picked on) his future father is:

 In his book, What to Say When You Talk to Yourself, Shad Helmstetter, Ph.D., compares our minds to a computer that we are continually programming. He says that “as much as seventy-seven percent of everything we think is negative, counterproductive, and works against us.” What kind of effect might that negativity have on us? Dr. Helmstetter continues:

“Until very recently no one understood well enough the human mind—how it really works. The result was that without knowing what they were doing, and with us not recognizing the immense effect this [counterproductive] programming was having on us, [others] have been programming us in the wrong way…—and we took it to heart. Year after year, word by word, our life scripts were etched. Layer by layer, nearly indelibly, our self-images were created.”[iv]

So, what can we do about it now? We can start to reprogram ourselves. Tell yourself what you can accomplish. Better yet, tell yourself what kind of person you are, even if you’re not yet the person you want to be. From the moment I talked with my second-grade teacher, I began telling myself that I was not the type of person that worried excessively, and I visualized myself as a non-worrier.

Studies have shown that visualizing something is just as helpful as actually doing it. For example, one study looked at the improvement basketball players made in their free-throw shooting percentages. One group practiced shooting free-throws every day. The other group only visualized themselves making free-throw after free-throw without actually shooting any. Remarkably, both groups improved their percentages at the same rate.

Those same losers from the movies can also give us some tips.

Napoleon Dynamite was smart enough to recognize that to get girls, you had to have “skills.” So,  he taught himself the finer points of dancing. Here is the finished product:

His dance performance is almost good enough to make me vote for Pedro. Napoleon decided to tackle something and put in the time to learn the skill. And proving the saying that imitation is the highest form of flattery, moviegoers everywhere started learning Napoleon’s dance moves and showing their skills off to their friends. Although we might tell ourselves repeatedly that we are good at something, most of us also need to put in the time to learn that skill.

To help his grandma get her house back, Happy Gilmore joins the professional golf tour (using his hockey slapshot, he can drive a golf ball further than anybody). As Happy Gilmore prepared for the competition, he needed the help of an expert. And so he turned to Chubbs Peterson to help him with his putting. Peterson helps Happy refine his putting on a miniature golf course with this result:

Sometimes we need extra motivation to become the person we are destined to be. Often, when a loved one needs our help, we can do almost impossible things. And that brings us back to George McFly:

When Marty McFly returns to the present, he finds a father that he hardly recognizes. George has become super cool; even his high school bully works for him now. In that one moment in high school where George told himself he could do something meaningful to protect someone he loved, he changed his future forever.

Shouldn’t we do the same for ourselves? By picturing ourselves as having skills, practicing those skills until we become proficient at them (and bringing in experts when appropriate), and using those skills in times of crises, we can shed from our personalities those negative labels others have given us.

And while we are working on becoming our better selves, let’s help others to do the same by not putting harmful labels on those around us. Let’s be a person who touches someone else, but without leaving a scar.

Now if I could only get comfortable with all those tools.

[i] Napoleon Dynamite:

  • Production Companies: Fox Searchlight, Paramount Pictures, and MTV Films
  • Director: Jared Hess
  • Screenwriter: Jared Hess and Jerusha Hess
  • Starring: Jon Heder, Efrin Ramirez, and Jon Gries
  • Release date: August 27, 2004

[ii] Happy Gilmore:

  • Production Companies: Universal Pictures, Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, and Robert Simonds Productions
  • Director: Dennis Dugan
  • Screenwriters: TimHerlihy and Adam Sandler
  • Starring: Adam Sandler, Christopher McDonald, and Julie Bowen
  • Release date: February 16, 1996

[iii] Back to the Future:

  • Production Companies: Universal Pictures, Amblin Entertainment, and U-Drive Productions
  • Director: Robert Zemeckis
  • Screenwriters: Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale
  • Starring: Michael J. Fox, Chistorpher Lloyd, and Leda Thompson
  • Release date: July 3, 1985

[iv] What to Say When You Talk to Yourself by Shad Helmstetter, Ph.D., copyrighted 2011, published by Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster; e-book format by Park Avenue Press, page 9.

One Small Step

On July 20, 1969, a young baseball player in the San Diego Padres farm system got the call he had dreamed of all his life. Padres’ management brought him up to the major league team. He arrived in San Diego barely in time for the team’s game that night. To his amazement, the manager inserted him into the starting line-up.

His first game as a major leaguer would be one he would never forget.

Even the best hitters are successful less than one in three times. And a rookie, batting in the majors for his first time, normally would do even worse. To everyone’s surprise, including the young man himself, he got four hits in his first four times at-bat. As a major leaguer, so far, he was perfect.

The two teams were tied as they entered the bottom of the ninth inning. The rookie was up next. He felt nervous as he picked up his bat and headed toward home plate.  But as he stepped out of the dugout, the crowd began to applaud. The applause grew louder as he reached the batter’s box. Soon, every fan was on his or her feet in a rousing standing ovation. But not just the fans. His teammates were whooping it up in the dugout. He glanced at the opponent’s dugout.  Remarkably they, too, were standing, cheering. Even the umpires clapped. The ovation lasted over five minutes.

The young man moved back toward the on-deck circle, overcome with emotion. With tears running down his cheeks, he nudged the on-deck hitter and said, “Four for four is pretty good, I admit, but I never expected this. These fans, this team, everyone. They really love me!”

The on-deck batter shot him a disgusted look. “You idiot,” he said and then pointed to the scoreboard.

The rookie turned to center field and read for the first time:

Astronaut Neil Armstrong just became the first man to walk on the moon.

I heard that story at a continuing legal education seminar. And since a lawyer related it, and his lips were moving, I don’t know for sure that it is true. But true or not, I love the story because it illustrates how life is. Whenever I think my life is going well, that I’m pretty smart or successful, when I start to believe that it’s all about me, something comes along that puts things into perspective and humbles me. 

One thing that humbles me is the size and complexity of the universe. In comparison, each of us is rather small. We just marked the fiftieth anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk. If you were alive at the time, like me, you probably were glued to a TV set somewhere watching the drama unfold. An estimated 600 million persons worldwide watched that broadcast live.

Of course, a lot needed to happen before Armstrong made his historic landing. The film, The Right Stuff[i] is the true story of the selection of the original Mercury astronauts. But even before NASA chose those astronauts, there was Chuck Yeager, the first test pilot to break the sound barrier. At the time, no one knew if it could be done, or what would happen if someone did. Here is a clip from the movie. Note that when the clip shows the photographs rattling on the wall, those are photographs of test pilots who died trying to break the sound barrier before Yeager succeeded.

The race for space began in the 1950s in the middle of the Cold War with Russia. When the Russians successfully launched Sputnik 1, the first satellite to orbit the earth, the United States feared that Russia would arm similar satellites with weapons of mass destruction. Fortunately, that never happened. But the Russians’ success propelled the United States into space. On September 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy gave a famous speech at Rice University that challenged the country to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Here is part of that speech:

“There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade …, not because … [it is] easy, but because … [it is] hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

And so began the nation’s search of a group of men who had the right stuff. To be one of the original astronauts, you had to meet all of the following criteria:

  1. Be less than 40 years old;
  2. Be less than 5 feet 11 inches tall (due to the limited size of the space capsule);
  3. Be in excellent physical condition;
  4. Hold at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent;
  5. Be a graduate of test pilot school;
  6. Have a minimum of 1,500 hours total flying time; and
  7. Be a qualified jet pilot.

Most of us have seen videos such as this one from First Man[ii] that shows some of the physical testing astronauts had to undergo:

The space program was expensive. From 1960 to 1973, the United States put 12 men on the moon at the cost of about $24 billion (about $155 billion in today’s dollars). That equaled about 4 percent of the total federal budget. It is less than one-half percent of today’s federal budget. But exploring space has been expensive in terms of human lives as well. Twelve men from both the U.S. and the USSR died during space flights or training missions before 1973. And since then we have had fatalities associated with the Soyuz 11, the Challenger, and Columbia space flights.

The space program was mostly white and male. All of the original astronauts were white males. The first African American in space was Guion Bluford, who orbited the earth during a space shuttle flight on August 30, 1983. Since then, 13 other African Americans have been to space, three of which were women. NASA selected Robert Henry Lawrence for astronaut training in 1967, but Lawrence died in an aircraft accident shortly after that. In 1961, Ed Dwight made it to the second round of an Air Force program from which NASA selected its astronauts, but it never chose Dwight. He made it that far primarily due to Attorney General Bobby Kennedy’s influence in supporting the notion “that for symbolic purposes in crossing the frontiers of space, this country [sh]ould have qualified members from minority backgrounds.”

Women did not have it much better than African Americans at NASA. Several women were working in computer programing during this period. We now now acknowledge those women as indispensable, as illustrated by this scene from Hidden Figures:[iii]

These women were known as computresses. In those early days, only one woman worked in an operational support role in the Mission Control Center. Frances “Poppy” Northcutt started as a computress straight out of college in 1965. NASA promoted her in just over a year to the team responsible for bringing the Apollo spacecraft back to earth from the moon. “I was sort of the trophy,” she says. “I was blonde, I was young, I was thin, I wore the ladies fashion clothes.” A reporter once asked Northcutt whether it’s true that whenever she clocks in, as “a pretty girl wearing mini skirts,” the “mission grinds to a screeching halt.” Northcutt explains her feelings at the time: “Well, of course, I was being used. My feeling was, you can play this both ways. The mere fact that a lot of women found out for the first time that there was a woman in mission control was a very big deal. I thought it was important that people understand that women can do these jobs — going into science, going into technology, doing something that’s not stereotypical.” In the early 1970’s she learned that her male counterparts were being paid overtime, but she was not. Since then, she has become a powerful voice against gender discrimination.

Although we look at our astronauts as heroes, they were not particularly heroic in every aspect of their lives. Of the 30 astronauts in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, the marriages of only seven remained intact. “If you think going to the Moon is hard, try staying at home,” said Barbara Cernan, the wife of Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon. Here is a scene from First Man illustrating the tensions at the homes of our astronauts:

The Apollo program occurred during a time of great unrest in this country. The Vietnam War and the civil rights movement were both in full swing. Many protested that the money the government spent on the space program would be better used solving problems here on earth. a scene in First Man shows musician Gil Scott Heron rapping his protest poem, “Whitey on the Moon.” I couldn’t find the clip from the movie, but here are the words to his rap:

A rat done bit my sister Nell
With Whitey on the moon
Her face and arms began to swell
And Whitey’s on the moon

I can’t pay no doctor bills
But Whitey’s on the moon
Ten years from now I’ll be paying still
While whitey’s on the moon

You know, the man just upped my rent last night
Cause whitey’s on the moon
No hot water, no toilets, no lights
But whitey’s on the moon

I wonder why he’s uppin’ me?
Cause whitey’s on the moon?
Well I was already given him fifty a week
And now whitey’s on the moon

Taxes takin’ my whole damn check
The junkies make me a nervous wreck
The price of food is goin up
And if all that crap wasn’t enough
A rat done bit my sister Nell
With whitey on the moon

Her face and arm began to swell
And whitey’s on the moon

With all that money I made last year
For whitey on the moon
How come I ain’t got no money here?
Hmm, whitey’s on the moon

You know I just about had my fill

Of whitey on the moon

I think I’ll send these doctor bills

Airmail special

(To whitey on the moon)

The day before the launch of Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, along with about 500 other protesters, rode up to the launch site in a horse-drawn carriage (symbolizing poverty in this country) to protest misplaced priorities in federal spending. At the time, 20 percent of the population lacked adequate food, shelter, and medical care. Abernathy met with a NASA representative, Thomas O. Paine, who described his meeting as follows:

“I said that the great technological advances of NASA were child’s play compared to the tremendously difficult human problems with which he [Abernathy] and his people were concerned. I said that he should regard the space program, however, as an encouraging demonstration of what the American people could accomplish when they had vision, leadership and adequate resources of competent people and money to overcome obstacles. I said I hoped that he would hitch his wagons to our rocket, using the space program as a spur to the nation to tackle problems boldly in other areas, and using NASA’s space successes as a yardstick by which progress in other areas should be measured. I said that although I could not promise early results, I would certainly do everything in my own personal power to help him in his fight for better conditions for all Americans, and that his request that science and engineering assist in this task was a sound one which, in the long run, would indeed help.”

If we learn anything from our quest to land a man on the moon, I hope it’s that we can accomplish almost anything when it becomes a priority. During a time of war, civil rights unrest and racial and gender discrimination, politicians, scientists, and experts from many areas joined together to solve the problem of landing a person on the moon and bringing them safely home again. And they did it without much thought about a person’s race, religion, culture, or gender. How much better of a world could be ours today if we placed the same amount of time and energy in solving the continuing problems of poverty, racism, and discrimination?

I close with the last sequence of the documentary, In The Shadow of the Moon,[iv] as some of the astronauts who walked on the moon tell of their experiences. (Watch it until the end when the astronauts discuss the conspiracy theory that we faked the lunar landings.)

As we think of the earth upon which we live and the heavens above us, may it humble you as it has humbled me, but also propel us into action to continue to solve the problems we face

[i] The Right Stuff:

  • Production company: The Ladd Company
  • Director: Phillip Kaufman
  • Screenwriter: Phillip Kaufman (based on the book by Tom Wolfe
  • Starring: Sam Shepard, Scott Glenn, and Ed Harris
  • Release date: February 17, 1984

[ii] First Man:

  • Production companies: Universal Pictures, Dreamworks, and Perfect World Pictures
  • Director: Damien Chazelle
  • Screenwriter: Josh Singer (based on the book by James R. Hansen
  • Starring: Ryan Gosling Claire Foy, and Jason Clarke
  • Release date: October 12, 2018

[iii] Hidden figures:

  • Production companies: Fox 2000 Pictures, Chernin Entertainment, and Levantine Films
  • Director: Theodore Melfi
  • Screenwriter: Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi
  • Starring: Taraji Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe
  • Release date: January 6, 2017

[iv] In The Shadow of the Moon:

  • Production companies: Discovery Films, FilmFour, and Passion Pictures
  • Director: David Sington
  • Starring: Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Stephen Armstrong
  • Release date: November 2, 2007

The Sixties are Over

During the past few months, I enjoyed watching two movies about two of my favorite rock stars. Rocketman[i] tells the story of Sir Elton John. Bohemian Rhapsody[ii] tells the story of Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of Queen. Both were musical geniuses. Both lived troubled lives. Both happened to be gay.

Here is a scene from Rocketman, followed by its official trailer:

Here is a clip from Bohemian Rhapsody, which illustrates the creative musical genius behind Queen in general, and Mercury specifically:

Both Elton John and Freddie Mercury were born at a time when being gay was far less accepted than it is today. Both had confidants that helped them accept their gayness. For Elton, it was John Baldry, a member of one of his early bands, Bluesology, and from whom he took his last name (it wasn’t John Lennon, as portrayed in the movie). For Freddie, it was his lifelong friend, Mary Austin, as illustrated by this scene:

I bring up these two movies because June is Gay Pride month. In honor of that, my wife, Janene, and I flew to Salt Lake City to attend Love Loud, an annual musical festival supporting the LGBTQ community, headed by Dan Reynolds, the lead singer of Imagine Dragons. You can see how Love Loud came about in the documentary, Believer.[iii] Here is its trailer:  

I recently watched a documentary that had a more significant impact on me than either Rocketman, Bohemian Rhapsody, or Believer. June 28 marked the 50th anniversary of the riots at The Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, which became the defining moment of the gay civil rights movement, and led to the first gay pride parade. This documentary, entitled Stonewall Uprising,[iv] gives the viewer an up close and personal look at the people behind the riots, and the world in which the LGBTQ community had to live back then. Here is the official trailer for this documentary:

The most significant impact Stonewall Uprising had on me was the realization of how far we have come the last 50 years in connection with LGBTQ civil liberties. In 1969, every state but Illinois had laws making “homosexual activity” a crime, with the penalties for violating such laws being incarceration for a term ranging from five years to sixty years. Those punishments were longer than those for such other crimes as public intoxication, armed bank robbery or second-degree murder. And it didn’t matter that the “homosexual activity” was between consenting adults in the privacy of their bedrooms.

Stonewall Uprising sets the stage for the Stonewall Inn riots by incorporating portions of a CBS Reports documentary entitled The Homosexuals.[v] It was the first American network TV documentary to explore the topic of homosexuality. You can watch the entire show here:

In connection with the making of The Homosexuals, CBS News commissioned a survey to determine how Americans felt about gays and lesbians. That survey found that, in 1967, “two-thirds of Americans considered homosexuality more harmful to society than adultery, abortion, or prostitution,” and looked upon homosexuality with “disgust, discomfort, or fear.” One out of ten Americans looked at gays and lesbians with “hatred.” And the vast majority back then considered homosexuality to be an illness. Stonewall Uprising takes a clip from The Homosexuals in which Dr. Charles Socarides, a New York psychoanalyst, lectures to a group of resident psychiatrists at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine. Dr. Socarides states, “Homosexuality is, in fact, a mental illness which has reached epidemiologic portions.” The residents are taught that “No man is born homosexual; that it is not genetic in origin; not the result of a hormone imbalance.” Instead, Dr. Socarides tells these residents that “homosexual behavior is learned behavior.” In response to this query from one residents, “I was wondering if you think there are any ‘happy’ homosexuals, for whom homosexuality would be, in a way, their best adjustment to life,” Dr. Socarides states, “The fact that someone is homosexual, a true, obligatory homosexual, automatically rules out the possibility that he will remain happy for long, in my opinion. The stresses and strains, the psychic apparatuses they are subjected to, over the years, will cause him, in time, I think, to have increasing difficulties. I think the whole idea of saying the happy homosexual is again to create a mythology about the nature of homosexuality.”

In a blog post last year (see, “Where is the Love?” posted October 15, 2018), I discussed Believer and gave a brief history of my relationship with the LGBTQ community and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church has made great strides since the 1960s to help LGBTQs feel loved and accepted. It no longer considers same-sex attraction, in and of itself, to be a perversion. It no longer teaches that homosexuality is a choice. It has established a website for the LGBTQ. It has donated significant dollars to a group called Affirmation, whose mission is to help prevent youth suicides, especially among LGBTQ Mormons (whose rates of death by suicide are far higher than for any other demographic). The Church has even expressed support for Love Loud. And perhaps most dramatically, the Church rescinded a policy it had established in November 2015, which prevented the children of LGBTQ from participating in Church ordinances such as baptism and priesthood ordinations. I have encountered many good Church members who love and support their LGBTQ friends and family members. I also believe that the overwhelming majority of church leaders are much, much more accepting of their LGBTQ members than they were in the 1960s.

I rejoice over these changes, especially the rescission of the November 15 policy, although I acknowledge that many people had been emotionally harmed, even scarred, by its implementation in the first place.

But one church leader seems to be stuck in the 1960s.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks, the number two person in the leadership hierarchy of the Church, continues to paint the entire LGBTQ community with disdain. At a recent talk he gave at BYU Hawaii, he said, in part, the following:

“We also have the challenge of living in a godless and increasingly amoral generation. More and more publicized voices deny or doubt the existence of God. More and more support the idea that all authority and all rules of behavior are man-made and can be accepted or rejected as one chooses, each person being free to decide for himself or herself what is right and wrong.

“Along with these challenges and caused by them, we are confronted by a culture of evil and personal wickedness in the world. This includes:




The diminishing of marriage and childbearing

The increasing frequency and power of the culture and phenomenon of lesbian, gay, and transgender lifestyles and values.”

I acknowledge that a lesbian or gay relationship can be abusive or immoral, just like any heterosexual relationship. But many gays and lesbians live in committed relationships where each partner loves and respects the other, where each partner is honest, law-abiding, a good parent, and a hard worker. They love their children; they pay their taxes; they donate to charities and serve their communities. Most believe in God. Most do their best to love God and their neighbors—just like most of those of us who are straight. Are such relationships a culture of evil? I think not. To consider all gays, lesbians, and transgender people to be part of a culture of evil and personal wickedness, to me, is wrong. We no longer live in the sixties, and thankfully, most of us do not still consider homosexuality to be more harmful to society than “adultery, abortion, or prostitution.”

Elder Oaks, I invite you, no, I plead that you move on from the sixties and join the rest of us in 2019. Your rhetoric, whether intended to be hateful or not, needs to stop. Too many people, both queer and straight, are being scarred by it. Too many people feel marginalized by it. Too many feel “less than” because of it. And too many good, wonderful, faithful young men and women are ending their lives as a result of it.

And to all of my LGBTQ friends and family everywhere—whether I know you yet or not—please know that we see you. We love you. We admire your courage to be your authentic selves. Toward the end of the Love Loud festival last night, Dan Reynolds invited to the stage parents of Stockton, a young gay man who took his life by suicide. I echo the words of Stockton’s father who told all the LGBTQ in the audience that “you have a beautiful light within you—whether others can see that light or not.”

[i] Rocketman:

  • Production Companies: Marv Films, Marv Studios, New Republic Pictures
  • Director: Dexter Fletcher
  • Screenwriter: Lee Hall
  • Starring: Taron Egerton and Jamie Bell
  • Release date: May 31, 2019

[ii] Bohemian Rhapsody:

  • Production Companies: GK Ffilms, New Regency Pictures, Queen Films Ltd.
  • Director: Bryan Singer
  • Screenwriters: Anthony McCarten and Peter Morgan
  • Starring: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, and Gwilym Lee
  • Release date: November 2, 2018

[iii] Believer:

  • Production Companies: Live Nation Productions, 9.14 Pictures, and Another Brother Productions
  • Director: Don Argott
  • Starring: Dan Reynolds, Aja Volkman, and Ben McKee
  • Release date: June 25, 2018

[iv] Stonewall Uprising:

  • Production Company: PBS American Experience
  • Directors: Kate Davis and David Heilbroner
  • Screenwriters: David Carter and David Heilbroner
  • Starring: Paul Bosche, Alfredo Del Rio, and John DiGiacomo
  • Release date: June 16, 2010

[v] The Homosexuals:

  • Production Company: CBS
  • Writers: Mike Wallace, William Peters, and Harry Morgan
  • Release date: March 7, 1967


I love to do jigsaw puzzles. I like the process, not the completed picture. So, after I finish a puzzle, I almost immediately tear it apart and put it away. I like puzzles that have a lot going on in the picture. I avoid doing ones with too much sky or too much of one color. That’s because, when you are down to one color left, the process becomes mostly one of trial and error. I like to be able to look at the piece, then look at the picture on the box, and know where it goes. In that light, I can never understand how some people like to do jigsaw puzzles without ever looking at the picture.

I recently watched a little-known movie called Puzzle[i] (it is currently available on Starz). The film is about a woman who discovers she has a talent for jigsaw puzzles, and that discovery changes her life. This scene from the movie explains better than I could why puzzlers like me love to do puzzles:

In short, completing a puzzle is one of the few experiences we can have in our random lives over which we have some control, and when we complete the puzzle, we know we have made (ultimately) all the right choices. This scene reminded me of the old Howard Jones song from the ’80s (yes, I am showing my age), No One is to Blame,[ii] a song about life’s attractions, frustrations, and contradictions, especially the line, “It’s the last piece of the puzzle, but you just can’t make it fit.” Fortunately, although my life has been full of contradictions and irony, I have never had a problem with jigsaw puzzles. But I digress.

I found the movie, Puzzle, thought-provoking in another way. Although set in modern times, Agnes, the lead character in the film, is a housewife straight out of the 1950s. She is married to an auto mechanic with two grown sons and has, her entire married life, sacrificed her feelings and dreams to run an efficient household. She makes sure the men in her life have everything they need to be happy—a tidy house, clean clothes, three meals a day. Then a friend gives Agnes a jigsaw puzzle as a birthday present. When Agnes decides to put it together, she discovers a hidden talent for doing puzzles. She decides to buy another one, which ultimately leads her to question her current life and opens the way to finding new and enlightening experiences. Those experiences give her the strength to begin to challenge her current way of life and begin to make changes, as illustrated by this scene:

I found the attitude of Agnes’ husband a bit frightening in today’s world, but I suppose those types of beliefs persist with many. I have posted on this subject before (see, for example, my March 15, 2018 post, “Doing it Backward”); I will probably do so again until some of the injustices I see against women disappear. I like to think of myself as a feminist especially considering this definition of the word by historian, Claudia L. Bushman, who defined a feminist as someone who believes that “all of the talents and abilities of women should be developed for the benefit of themselves, their families and their communities.”

Recently, I have watched or re-watched several movies dealing with a lack of this feminist value. William Shakespeare lived at a time when society barred women from doing much of anything but running households. In Shakespeare in Love,[iii] for example, women couldn’t act in public, even when the role was a female character. In this scene from the film, the theater is shut down due to the scandal of a female actor:

Think of what we would have missed without being able to witness the great performances of our female actors. One of my favorites is Glenn Close, a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her performance in The Wife,[iv] in which Joe Castleman, the husband of Glenn Close’s character, Joan Castleman, is awarded the Nobel Prize for literature for works that were written by Joan. Here is my favorite scene in two parts (warning: some strong language):

Again, Joe Castleman’s attitude is puzzling in today’s world.

The Wife is a fictional story, but sadly, there are many true stories with a similar theme. In Mary Shelley,[v] the author of Frankenstein must initially publish her work anonymously because no one at that time would read a book written by a woman. And she was not alone. Each of the Bronte sisters (authors of such classics as Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, had to use male pen names to get their works published. Mary Ann Evans needed to write under the pen name of George Elliot before publishers would take on her classics such as Middlemarch, The Mill on the Floss, and Daniel Deronda. Even Mary Louse Alcott, the author of Little Women, began her writing career as A.M Bernard to mask the fact that she was a woman. And the recent movie, Colette,[vi] is the true story of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, who, using her husband’s pen name Willy, wrote her first four novels making up the “Claudine” series, all of which became best sellers. Here is the trailer for the film:   

Colette went on to write novels under her own name and ultimately nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature in 1948.

If you think discrimination against women in the world of publishing doesn’t happen today, consider that the publisher of the best-selling Harry Potter series, penned by J.K. Rowling, did not want her to use her first name (JoAnne) because of concern that a woman author might drive away potential readers. On the contrary, we should welcome women authors, if only because their experiences and emotions are often different from men’s. I love this short scene from Mary Shelley, which emphasizes that Frankenstein is much more than a ghost story:

And such attitudes don’t exist just in the literary world. For example, the film, Big Eyes,[vii] tells the true story of Margaret Keane, whose husband took credit for the artwork she created. Here is a short clip from the movie:

If you haven’t seen any of these films, I recommend you do so. But more importantly, let’s give all women their due. Our society still has a way to go before women can feel equal to men. I am puzzled as to why this is. A recent article in Marie Claire magazine provides some statistics on several ways women still trail their male counterparts. These statistics include:

  • Women make 16 percent less than men in comparable jobs. That percentage increases to 23 percent worldwide.
  • Women make up 51 percent of the U.S. population, but only 20 percent of members of Congress.
  • At Fortune 500 companies, women comprise only 17 percent of board members, and only 5 percent of CEO s are women.
  • Women are more likely to live in poverty than men. In the U.S., 15.5 percent of women live below the poverty line, while only 11.9 percent of men do.
  • Between 20 to 50 percent of women serving in the armed services have reported being the victim of rape or other forms of sexual harassment.
  • Women are more likely to be victims of human trafficking. Of the 800,000 victims of human trafficking each year, 80 percent are women.

So, although the opportunities for women are improving, we still have work to do. As Claudia Bushman’s definition states, let’s encourage women everywhere to develop their talents and abilities for the benefit of their families, their communities, and especially for themselves.

[i] Puzzle:

  • Production Companies: Big Beach Films, Rosto, and Olive Productions
  • Director: Marc Turtletaub
  • Screenwriters: Polly Mann and Oren Moverman
  • Starring: Kelly MacDonald, Irrfan Khan, and David Denman
  • Release date: September 7, 2018

[ii] No One is to Blame

  • Music and Lyrics by Howard Jones (Released March 1986)

[iii] Shakespeare in Love:

  • Production Companies: Universal Pictures, Miramax, and The Bedford Falls Company
  • Director: John Madden
  • Screenwriters: Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard
  • Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, and Geoffrey Rush
  • Release date: December 13, 1998

[iv] The Wife:

  • Production Companies: Silver Reel, Meta Film, and Anonymous Content
  • Director: Björn Runge
  • Screenwriter: Jane Anderson (based on the novel by Meg Wolitzer)
  • Starring: Glen Glose, Jonothan Price, and Max Iron
  • Release date: September 28, 2018

[v] Mary Shelley:

  • Production Companies: BFI Film Fund, Film Fund Luxembourg, and Gidden Media
  • Director: Haifaa Al-Mansour
  • Screenwriter: Emma Jensen and Haifaa Al-Mansour
  • Starring: Elle Fanning, Bel Powley, and Owen Richards
  • Release date: July 6, 2018

[vi] Colette:

  • Production Companies: Number 9 Films, Killer Films, and Bold Films
  • Director: Wash Westmoreland
  • Screenwriters: Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland
  • Starring: Kiera Knightley, Fiona Shaw, and Dominic West
  • Release date: December 20, 2018

[vii] Big Eyes:

  • Production Companies: The Weinstein Company, Silverwood Films, and Tim Burton Productions
  • Director: Tim Burton
  • Screenwriters: Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski
  • Starring: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, and Danny Huston
  • Release date: December 25, 2014