(This is a talk delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Franklin, NC, July 5, 2015)

This story starts about 35 years ago, when I made my very first stop at an Ingle’s grocery store. I had visited these mountains in 1955, and camped in these mountains twenty years later, but this meeting happened when I moved here, and as I say, it was my first visit to an Ingle’s. This store happened to be in Black Mountain.

As I stepped out of my 1965 Volkswagen squareback I was hailed by a lanky old man who was leaning against a pickup truck about twenty feet away. He gestured at the canoe atop my car and said, “You oughta take that boat down to the Nantahalee Gorge!” Then he took a long drag on his cigarette.

I told him I’d not heard of that before. I introduced myself and he did the same. Luther Ownsby is what I think he said. Though it could have been Ownby, or Owenby, or Owensby. It wouldn’t be until sometime much later that I came to understand that in some of our hollers confusion about those names could get you punched or shot at or worse. So I’ll just call him Luther.

Luther nodded. “I died there, you know.”

As you might suppose, this was news to me. “Yes?” I asked rather than affirmed.

“Workin’ on the Fontannee Dam. I drownded. I fell in the water and sunk plumb to the bottom and I drownded.”

“Oh my.”

“I can’t swim, you know. So I sunk right to the bottom and drownded.”

I looked a little harder at him. He was wizened, and gaunt and had the grey pallor of a long-time smoker. But he seemed to be very much alive. “And you died?”

“I died. And I saw all my people on the other side of the river. Mamaw and Papaw and aunts and uncles and cousins. My dead brother too, and they was all in white and looked so peaceful. They was wavin’ at me and sayin ‘It’s not your time yet.’”

I didn’t say anything, only nodding to let him know I heard.

“Then I was up on the bank. Some fellas had fetched me up off the bottom and hauled me out.” He shook out another cigarette and before he lit up he looked hard at me and said, “Water is one of the powers, you know.” Before I could reply he added, “That was the second time I died.” Then he lit his smoke.

“What was the first?” was the obvious question.

“We was livin’ in cabins while we built the Fontanee Dam, you know. And they had screen windows. And one night when I was sleepin’ a terrible lightnin’ storm came around and the lightnin’ came in through that screen and set me on fire, and I died.”

“Oh, my!”

“Lightnin’s one of the powers, you know.”

I nodded again.

“But then an angel looked in at me, through a window in a wall where there wasn’t a window, and the angel said it wasn’t my time. And so I was still alive.” He paused and added, “Alive that is, you know, until I drownded.” He then lapsed into silence, smoking his cigarette while I tried to think of something to say.

Finally, I asked, “Did you say Nantahalee?” He simply nodded. So I thanked him for the advice and headed into the store.

What I later understood was that he was suggesting the Nantahala river and that he’d worked on the Fontana Dam which was built in the 1940s as part of the Tennessee Valley Authority effort to electrify much of the central south. You could say that before the TVA was established pretty much all of the technology in the region was wireless. Other than a telegraph wire along the railroad and barbed wire around the cattle, I suppose. Oh, and the Biltmore House which had electricity from the get-go. George Vanderbilt had money. You might say the Vanderbilts were one of the powers.

In the years since Luther made his suggestion I’ve rafted on the Nantahala, and at least in the gorge you really wouldn’t want to use a canoe. The white water is pretty fast and the drops pretty steep. Back when Luther worked on the dam I’m sure the gorge was a really remote location, but today it is easily accessible. Tourists by the raft-load run the river, dodging boulders and kayakers. Fontana Village is a well developed vacation resort.

But back before the TVA moved in, many sections of this region were extremely isolated. A native I met while I lived in Broad River Township, down south of Black Mountain, was named Luny Gilliam. Luny told me that growing up in the early 1950s there was no road to Black Mountain which is now the closest commercial center. Broad River even shares the Black Mountain ZIP code.

Luny told me, “You couldn’t buy a job here. And we’d load our apples on a wagon and take the dirt road to Hendersonville. That meant an overnight trip because you couldn’t make it there and back again in a day on a wagon.”

Another example of that isolation is a widow woman I worked for in Broad River from time to time. I put a new clutch in Pearlee Ledbetter’s pickup, and did repairs on her tractor, and even painted her barn. It had stood there unpainted for decades, perhaps a century or more, an unpainted, weathered gray. Pearlee told me she had always wanted it to be red, and it was one thing she wanted to see before she died. In exchange for my work, she let me farm an acre of bottom land for a couple of seasons. Pearlee was one of 13 children, and her dead husband was one of 13 children, and 12 of each set of siblings had married into the other. There weren’t other choices available. I think she had been an Owenby. Or an Owensby.

Luny told me once that he was more than a little upset when his son went all the way to Asheville to find a wife. Today that’s a half hour drive but in Luny’s youth Asheville might just as well have been Charlotte or Chicago or Shanghei – it was distant and foreign and strange.

Pearlee is long gone now, as is the barn. In its place is the fairly grand entrance to a gated community that replaced her farm, a place intentionally fenced off from the rest of the valley. Sixty years ago there was no paved road from Broad River to urban civilization and today there’s a gate on one of the recently paved roads to keep people out.

The railroad came to Western North Carolina in the late 19th century, reaching Asheville in 1880. Soon afterward George Vanderbilt began to make regular visits to the area, ended up buying everything he could see, and built an estate. Though we tend to focus on the immense wealth, architecture, landscaping and forestry practices he engendered, it’s worth noting that it was the railroad that brought Vanderbilt here and enabled the easy tourism of New Yorkers and others from eastern cities to these mountains. It ended the isolation of the towns and villages along the rails. Within 10 years of the train’s arrival, Asheville’s population swelled from 2,500 to more than 10,000.

Farmers had new markets and residents had more available commercial goods. Life was busier and arguably better, certainly for most people.

In the early 1900s, Edith Vanderbilt, Charlotte Yale and Eleanor Vance teamed up to create a combination training and marketing effort, teaching various crafts and providing an outlet to the wider world. This became Biltmore Industries, heavily dependent on the railroad to market its wares. That business continues today.

A company called Manual Woodworkers and Weavers was founded in 1932 in the Hickory Nut Gorge – in Gerton. It appears in retrospect that it was modeled on the success of Biltmore Industries. They organized local weavers and crafters who worked at home and the company made the connection to the railroad and out-of-state markets.

Once electrification hit, everything speeded up. Electricity meant knitting mills and manufacturing plants and canneries. Stokely foods canned vegetables and Gerber arrived to bottle baby food, while Ball moved in to make canning jars. Growing industry meant there were road-building jobs as well. New and better roads improved the connectivity of all kinds of local producers to more distant markets.

Luny, the apple grower I mentioned earlier, told me a story that relates to the expanding market here. In the 1950s, as I noted, Luny’s family hauled their apples to Hendersonville, At least they hauled the apples that weren’t converted to apple jack right in the valley. From the time of Johnny Appleseed, and surely long before that, a major impetus for growing apples was alcohol production. The same was true for corn, and clandestine distilleries were soon using Ball jars to bottle their product.

As roads improved Luny’s clan used a truck instead of a wagon. When the market expanded they were able to sell their apples to produce distributors who shipped the fruit to a much wider area. The funny part of Luny’s story involved television. Gerber baby food was running TV ads that promised to reveal the entire recipe for Gerber’s apple sauce. The ad featured a slowly tumbling, perfectly formed, blemish-free, Red Delicious apple. As the perfect apple landed the announcer intoned, “Apples, just apples.”

Luny’s punch line was this: all the apple growers in the region knew that the local Gerber plant was the market of last resort. If your apples were so bad that no one else would even consider buying them, you always knew you could sell them for baby food.

By the time I moved here just more than 35 years after Luther drownded while building the Fontana Dam there were satellite dishes beside a whole lot of homes in Broad River and everywhere else in these mountains. That’s why Luny was seeing Gerber ads on TV. In half a lifetime this place had changed from insular and isolated to being literally and figuratively plugged into the world. A boy who had grown up in a remote backwater holler had become an adult cracking jokes about Madison Avenue advertising.

But that was only a beginning, as we’ve seen in the 35 years since.

It is entirely possible that the changes wrought by the railroad and or rural electrification were more significant than the ongoing communication revolution… but the jury is still out and we’ll presumably have a more definitive conclusion 35 years hence.

Electricity brought effective lighting and power tools into mountain communities, whether for residential or commercial use. It had a huge effect on reading habits, as kerosene lamps gave way to light bulbs. It brought radio and then TV communication, delivering cultural and political change in its wake. It enabled some local craftsmen and artisans to compete with others more northern and urban, though still in a relatively limited market. Producers in the hollers had access to middle-men in a chain of wholesalers and retailers that linked to an ultimate purchaser.

Telecommunications changed everything again. Early phone systems like the party lines I recall from my youth, made local connections easy and cheap, with long distance more or less complicated and expensive enough to inhibit many phone owners. The barriers gradually fell until today most of us experience no difference in cost or difficulty between local and long distance calls.

During and following that same period we saw the Arpanet – a university and military computer system – evolve into the Internet across a World Wide Web. Today, anywhere on earth, you can access the Web. It’s easiest if you have a very local connection like an ethernet or wifi system in your home, but it is publicly available in many places, commercially available in many restaurants and hotels, and technically available via satellite if you have the right equipment.

In some sense there are no more obligatory “hollers” – places where people are technologically cut off from the larger world. A dozen years after I met Luther, when I lived in Broad River, off the grid and up near a ridge, with a phone line that predictably went dead during every other winter ice storm, I could log onto AOL via a dial-up connection. It was like magic.

I died there, you know. I did.

I was responsible for maintaining a couple of miles of private dirt road that serviced a dozen or so homes. Over the years I’d call in a truck load, or a few, of road bond – that’s unwashed gravel – and patch up one stretch or another. On the occasion of my death the driver was making his third delivery of the day and I hopped into the cab to write him a check. He raised the bed and started forward on a fairly flat stretch of road. Suddenly something snapped, the lift piston or a steel rod in the pivot point, and we were rolling sideways down the mountain. We tumbled three-sixty and were gaining speed.

Everything in the cab was floating around, like when astronauts used to train in those padded airplanes, only the cab wasn’t padded. A thermos, a lunch box, a clip board, an empty potato chip bag, my ball point pen, and two men, because of course we weren’t wearing seat belts. Somehow I managed to hold onto the check book.

My life passed before my eyes. First I thought, wow! So this is how my life ends! Then it was scene after scene and face after face and a profound sorrow that I wouldn’t get to say goodbye to the people I loved.

None of them were dressed in white, however, and nobody said it wasn’t my time yet.

I flashed on the garden that I hadn’t weeded in weeks. A book I hadn’t finished reading. Did I leave dishes in the sink? Trivia and treasures and regrets and joys speeding by for, what? Seconds? Surely not a full minute, but in dream-time an eternity. Then everything stopped.

A stand of massive chestnut oak trees had broken our fall. Trees are one of the powers, you know.

We were upside down with the cab nose up. When it seemed clear we had stopped moving I pushed open the door. It was more than a dozen feet to the ground. I jumped, he jumped and we scrambled out from under the looming wreck. I was badly bruised, he had a couple of broken ribs.

That was actually the third time I died. But I digress.

Today you can run an internet sales business from your home in Broad River, do university level research, join a global chess club, post kitten videos to Youtube, share recipes, watch Jon Stewart, or find your next spouse on Match.com. A weaver in Weaverville can sell her creations to a buyer in Britain via Etsy. The buyer in Britain can sell the weaving to another in Malaysia via eBay. The buyer in Malaysia can sell it to a collector in Franklin via Bonanza or YardSellr – two of the many up and coming competitors in the person-to-person online marketing business.

There are financial barriers but they are falling fast. A three hundred dollar cell phone has more computing power than the computers that landed astronauts on the moon and is arguably a more effective communication tool than the radio the astronauts used to announce “Houston, we have a problem.”

That smart phone can take pictures and videos, transmit selfies around the globe, browse Web sites, find parking places, tap into restaurant reviews and provide driving directions to addresses you’ve never visited before, tune in to music or news both audio and video, be swiped at a checkout like a credit card or accept credit card payments and check your status on Facebook or tweet on Twitter, do conference calls and watch cute kittens frolicking in kitchen sinks or dressed up as Santa Claus.

To give you some sense of the scale of this communications revolution – people upload 400,000 hours of video to YouTube and over 350 million photos to Facebook –EVERY DAY.

Amidst all those Gee-Whiz apps, it seems to me that the two game-changing functions are for commercial transactions and social networking.

Following World War II, television became a great divider in our country as people opted to stay at home on the sofa instead of getting out in the world. Club memberships dropped, church attendance fell, bowling leagues dissipated, and local sports teams lost audience to 24-7 coverage of professional games. That’s because it represented the high point of one-way communication. They talked. We listened.

Today there is a very real sense of global community emerging, most famously on Facebook, but in myriad other social sites. People are exposing and sharing emotions and ideas that are often buried in old-fashioned face-to-face interactions. It’s really no wonder that people are falling in love online, and breaking up as well. Honesty is a two edged sword. But it goes far beyond one-to-one connections. Interest groups are coalescing without regard to geography, and local groups are recruiting more effectively than they have for decades.

And meanwhile the internet has become an economic leveler, at least among the 99 percent. As I noted earlier, anyone, anywhere can compete in a global marketplace, a market of both goods and ideas.

A Luny Gilliam growing up in Broad River today could find work as a game programer in Chicago or do day-trading on the New York Stock Exchange without leaving home.

The only threat to this wide-open communications system is financial. Some companies would very much prefer to peddle different levels of service so that the high dollar players would get faster service and the low dollar players be relegated to the slow lane. In other words, poor folks would be isolated in the electronic hollers, the backwaters of commerce. This raises the issue known as net neutrality, and it involves the idea of a last mile.

The World Wide Web is an incredibly complex network of server farms, fiber-optic cable, switching devices, radio communication and much much more stuff that few, perhaps nobody, actually understands. But to tie into that Web I need to find a place to plug in either physically or via wi-fi, and the company which makes my connection possible owns the so-called “last mile.”

Advocates of net neutrality raised concerns about the ability of broadband providers to use their last mile infrastructure to block Internet applications and content, to offer premium speed, and even to block out competitors.

Opponents claimed net neutrality regulations would deter investment into improving broadband infrastructure and try to fix something that isn’t broken.

On February 26 of this year, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission ruled in favor of net neutrality by reclassifying broadband access as a telecommunications service. By defining it as a common carrier, the FCC decreed that the playing field will be level. No company can relegate some customers to the hollers and elevate others to the Biltmore House.

Like water and lightning and the Vanderbilts and ancient oak trees, the FCC, it seems, is one of the powers.

The Ten Non-Commandments

  1. Be open-minded and be willing to alter your beliefs with new evidence.
  1. Strive to understand what is most likely to be true, not to believe what you wish to be true.
  1. The scientific method is the most reliable way of understanding the natural world.
  1. Every person has the right to control of their body.
  1. God is not necessary to be a good person or to live a full and meaningful life.
  1. Be mindful of the consequences of all your actions and recognize that you must take responsibility for them.
  1. Treat others as you would want them to treat you, and can reasonably expect them to want to be treated. Think about their perspective.
  1. We have the responsibility to consider others, including future generations.
  1. There is no one right way to live.
  1. Leave the world a better place than you found it.

Won’t you be my neighbor?”

Mr. Rogers vs. Thomas Hobbes on the human inclination toward trust, empathy and friendship.

by Cecil Bothwell

(This is a talk delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Franklin, NC, Dec. 7, 2014)

(sung) It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,

A beautiful day for a neighbor,

Would you be mine?

Could you be mine?

Mr. Rogers became famous for his TV show that emphasized friendship, cooperation and neighborliness. Thomas Hobbes was famous for his pronouncements on the human condition. Probably Hobbes’ most famous elocution stated that absent civilization the life of man was “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.”

That’s why I set the two against each other in the subtitle of my talk today.

Its not that Hobbes was principally a negative sort of fellow, and some call him a progenitor of modern liberalism. Yet, his characterization of pre-civilized humans has turned out to be wildly off the mark.

fred rogers copy

Actually, studies of Cro-Magnons or what modern scientists refer to as European early modern humans, show that they were quite healthy. Furthermore they lived in tribal groups, so they weren’t solitary; they had tools and clothing, so they weren’t necessarily poor; they invented separation of labor with men doing the hunting and women doing the gathering and child rearing, which doesn’t seem inherently nasty; they had enough leisure time to paint the amazing cave art in Altamira and elsewhere around the world, which doesn’t strike me as brutish; and almost certainly lived longer than most people in early cities.

Once we began to civilize ourselves, which really refers to the agricultural revolution that allowed towns and cities to grow, the human diet tended to get a lot worse before it got better. People became shorter due to nutritional deficiencies, they had more tooth problems due to the change in diet, and diseases got passed around much more efficiently due to crowding, lack of sanitation and the poor nutrition, so we were sicker, sicklier, and died earlier.

To digress from my main theme for a moment, the tooth problem was particularly an issue in Egypt, where the available rock for grinding grain was sandstone. In other places grinding tools were made with harder rock. Egyptian flour was consequently full of grit which eroded tooth enamel. A common cause of early death in Ancient Egypt was infection permitted by serious tooth decay caused by sand in the bread. So much for the bread of life.

The rise of agriculture meant that wealth could be accumulated since large harvests could be stored. In fact, harvests had to be stored, because instead of depending on a steady supply of foraged food, major crops were harvested seasonally. Whoever controlled that food storage suddenly controlled the lives of the people dependent on the food, and soon the fellow who might have been the head man in a tribe (which usually meant the best hunter) turned into a king or a priest, and huge disparities in wealth became common. Great wealth and piles of food were a fine target for barbarians who engaged in looting wars. And a collateral effect was that once large populations became dependent on farmed food, crop failure could easily cause local famine. Hunter/gatherers rarely starve to death because they follow their food supply.

So to correct Thomas Hobbes, once we began to become what he would have called civilized, life for most humans became much poorer, much nastier, much more brutish, and a lot shorter.

Civilization is not the cause of human success. It is actually one effect of the thing that made us successful, which I have decided to call the Mr. Rogers Syndrome.

The Mr. Rogers Syndrome precisely contradicts one of Thomas Hobbes’ most famous statements, “The condition of man… is a condition of war of everyone against everyone.”

To get a handle on Mr. Rogers’ profound insight it’s helpful to start with ants, bees, wasps and termites. Edward O. Wilson is easily the most famous ant lover on earth and he explains this idea in his latest book, The Meaning of Human Existence. Wilson offers a particularly fascinating fact. Ants, bees, wasps and termites comprise about 20,000 species, a very small fraction of the million or more insect species on earth. That is, less than 2 percent. Yet those critters compose more than half the total body weight of insects on earth. They are very, very successful.

What makes these few types of insects different from all of the others is the Mr. Rogers Syndrome – or what scientists call eusociality.

Eusocial is spelled with “E-U” before the word “social” and it refers to animals that engage in cooperative brood care (including brood care of offspring from other individuals), overlapping generations within a colony of adults, and a division of labor into reproductive and non-reproductive groups.

In all the long history of evolution on our planet, all the many multiple millions, perhaps it’s billions, of life forms that have blossomed and disappeared, or emerged and morphed into the creatures we know today, eusocial behavior has only emerged about 20 separate times, and most of it belongs to that group of insects. In addition there are three species of shrimp, two species of mole-rats, and homo sapiens.

The golden rule is pretty powerful, and pretty common in the animal world. A lot of animals share food and defense and treat each other fairly, but the big difference for ants and mole rats and human beings is the division of labor and a baby-sitting co-op.

For instance, one of the explanations offered for why we beat out the Neanderthals about 40,000 years ago is that they never figured out a division of labor. So everyone went hunting. Everyone picked berries. Everyone fought battles. Their culture was consequently less efficient in accumulating resources, and that contributed to their extinction. Also there’s strong evidence that we cross-bred with them, and some evidence that we ate them.

It’s the Mr. Rogers Syndrome that made the civilization that Hobbes loved possible. Despite the fact that early civilization was worse for many individuals, on the whole and over thousands of years it was better for most. Once wide scale trade emerged, local famine was less frequent. As we realized cleanliness mattered, disease abated, and so forth.

It is sometimes observed that a greedy, strong individual, or a greedy, powerful nation, can take advantage of their strength to steal things from their generous, sharing neighbors, but that tends to lead to short term gain because the neighbors react.

From an evolutionary standpoint, one major strength of a community is its ability to deal with adversity and to ward off attacks. If a group of animals or humans operates only on self-interest, what emerges is the condition Hobbes referred to as “a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man … wherein men live without other security.” Over time the cooperative community wins and reinforces the tendency of its members to cooperate.

The Mr. Rogers Syndrome is the reason we find we can and do trust other people most of the time. Except for the most paranoid among us, our default attitude is trust.

To take a particularly clear example, most modern American adults drive cars or trucks on two lane roads, often at fairly high speeds. We place enormous trust in the oncoming drivers to not be suicidal, drunk, asleep, texting, or reaching behind the seat for a thermos of coffee. Without that implicit trust, none of us would drive anywhere.

And the thing is, most people are trustworthy, though we know that some are not, and some can be trusted in certain circumstances but not in others.

Trusting has huge advantages, as does being trustworthy.

For example, if you are the person tending a home fire and cooking up a pot of stew, the returning hunter needs to trust that you didn’t decide to experiment with some new mushroom you found that might kill everyone who comes to dinner.

And if you are the hunter roaming long distances to bring home the bacon, the person at home needs to trust that you are good at hunting and will come home with the protein, or there won’t be any stew left when you get back to the cave. If the folks at home don’t trust you, they might not even be home when you get there.

This plays out in fascinating ways in our modern world.

Some researchers did an experiment in restaurants. If some items on a restaurant menu are marked with an asterisk, with a note at the bottom of the page that indicates that those are the most popular items, sales of those dishes always increases by 12-19 percent. We not only trust the opinion of other diners, but we trust the restaurateur to tell us the truth about the other diners’ opinions.

If the restaurateur cheats and simply puts asterisks beside items she wants to sell, either to get rid of an overstock, or because the items are more profitable, it doesn’t take long for diners to realize that the advice on the menu is flawed. Business slumps.

We depend on each others’ opinions all the time, and that saves time and money as well. The reason the cheating restaurant loses business is because we talk to each other and news of untrustiness travels fast. Before you spend $10 to see a movie or buy a book, you probably either hear a positive comment from a friend, or read a review from a trusted reviewer. We trust our bankers and lawyers and mechanics and carpenters and grocers and nurses and doctors and day care workers and teachers and utility companies and insurance companies, all in more or less degree – but we mostly trust them, or we simply couldn’t function.

Psychologists like to invent games to investigate how people interact and one variety of game is called a Trust Game. Here’s how one trust game works. It’s called the Lost Wallet. Players are anonymous, seated at computers in separate cubicles. Player One is told that he has found a wallet which contains $150 and a note. There is no I.D., no credit card, nothing but $150 and a note. The note says he is free to keep the money, and no one else will ever know, or he can send the wallet to Player Two who will receive $300. Player Two may or may not send some of the money back to Player One as a reward.

The logical, selfish response would be to keep the $150. No one will know. Player Two is a stranger, so benefiting her isn’t necessarily a good idea. And Player Two may not send any money back.

In repeated testing 90 percent of people in the Player One position send the money to Player Two, and 95 percent of the second players send some money back to Player One.

Different versions of this test have been done over and over and over again. We trust complete strangers and our trust is well-founded.

More broadly, this is the source of the social power of Facebook. We are more trusting of those we know well, say those in our families, or our immediate circle of friends. But we also trust Facebook “friends” – people we may never meet face-to-face – but with whom we share some level of commonality. It allows the formation of a meaningful sense of community in the social media world. We share news, stories, humor, tragedy, and lots of videos of kittens and puppies.

On the flip side, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and other internet companies mine our data, looking for things we like and advertising them to our friends, knowing that we have shared tastes. And the very best advertising of all is if a company can tell you that your trusted friend liked something.

You may be familiar with the online encyclopedia called Wikipedia. A Wiki is a project to which many people or everyone can contribute, and Wikipedia has become the go-to source for many of us who use the internet. At first many people scoffed at the idea that everyone could get together and create a meaningful encyclopedia, because it would be so prey to misinformation from the uninformed or the intentionally duplicitous. In fact it is so effectively self-correcting that within a few years of its startup, Microsoft quit trying to compete with its Encarta software. We can trust all of us most of the time.

To take another internet example, look at eBay. The principal reason the site became so successful is the system that permits buyers and sellers to rate each other. Trust is reinforced when strangers you will never meet have reported that other transactions with a seller you will never meet have been positive. Trust begets trust. This idea has spread and many retail companies provide a forum for consumer opinion on their product pages.

Religions offer an interesting take on trust.

To start with, some religions teach that human beings are born in sin and are basically bad unless they are saved by faith or by one or another god or sacrifices to those other gods. It’s interesting that such beliefs gain any following at all, since they so directly conflict with our everyday experience. Very few people see a newborn infant and think of it as evil incarnate. And most of us are able to trust our intimate circle of friends and family and are unlikely to think of them first as sinful or inherently bad. Yet many people trust what they are told by others or in books said to be divinely inspired.

Most wars involve people on both sides praying for success. The same is true of high school basketball games. But there are always winners and losers. Still, many people trust that prayers are answered.

It seems miracles usually happen to someone else, somewhere else, far removed in space or time, but still people believe, apparently because they trust the reporter or the shaman or the priest. Trust is often more powerful than our personal experience.

Why is that? Did we evolve with some basic propensity to trust? Is it hard-wired into our brains?

The answer seems to be “yes.”

Our bodies produce a couple of hormones that incline us to trust each other. One is oxytocin (ox-ee-toh-sin) which is sometimes called the “bonding hormone.” Production is particularly ramped up after childbirth and seems to play a part in cementing the mother/child bond. This is true of all mammals. According to researcher Larry Young at Emory University the hormone “is there to make the mother think that this baby is the most important thing in the world, and I’ll do whatever I need to take care of that child.”

But it isn’t just present in new mothers. All of us produce extra oxytocin when we are happy and it makes us feel calm and pleasant. Interestingly, oxytocin production has been shown to increase when we help other people. A feeling of empathy is particularly likely to trigger oxytocin release. Everything from a sappy movie to petting your dog can trigger it.

To circle back to Facebook, if you’ve used it or other social media you know how often people post pictures and videos of both happy puppies and kittens and stories of abused ones. You read of other people’s personal losses, illnesses, work-place problems and more. All of these tend to arouse empathy and therefore oxytocin release. It’s no wonder many Facebook users feel a strong sense of community there.

Oxytocin works in combination with other pleasure hormones such as dopamine. Dopamine is closely associated with pleasure and reward, and is released when we have rewarding experiences including food and sex. Both of these hormones operate on some of the oldest parts of our brains, that is to say, the parts we share with many so-called “lower animals.”

We also seem to have a built-in drive for reciprocity. The common saying is “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” If you’ve ever watched non-human primates grooming each other you know that this inclination long predates our descent from the trees.

Another psychology experiment reveals how innate that drive can be.

A waitress was recruited to perform the test. The experiment went this way: For some diners Nicole delivered just the check at the end of the meal. For other diners Nicole delivered the check and two pieces of chocolate for each diner at the table. For still other diners Nicole delivered the check and one piece of chocolate for each diner, stepped away from the table and then turned back and offered the diners a chance to take another piece of chocolate from the basket she was carrying.

The diners who were given two pieces of chocolate with their checks showed a slight increase in their tips over those who got no candy. But the diners who were given one piece and then offered another increased their tips by an average of 21 percent over the two chocolate diners. It seems that their sense that they were being treated a little differently, that the waitress was going out of her way for them, increased their sense of obligation to reciprocate.

The important thing about reciprocity is that we all know that we all tend to feel that way. So we aren’t simply guessing when we do something generous for someone else, we know that what goes around comes around.

What our trust, our sense of reciprocity, our oxytocin and dopamine levels do, working together, is to help create social norms. Those norms are very powerful.

Social norms keep us trustworthy. We don’t dig into the cash register even though the clerk has gone to the back room. We don’t park in front of fire hydrants even though we figure we could get away with it while we run a quick errand. We pay our tab in a crowded bar even though we could pretty easily slip away. We are trustworthy even when no one’s watching, because we have deeply shared standards for our conduct. And those standards are shared in large part because we want to feel good about ourselves. We want to be able to look at ourselves in the mirror and like what we see.

And recent psycho-social research has demonstrated that we feel best when we are part of a group. We actually feel more ourselves when we are part of something larger – whether it’s a congregation, a cult or a book club.

In Leviathan, Hobbes set out his doctrine of the foundation of states and legitimate governments and creating an objective science of morality.

Hobbes imagined what life would be like without government, a condition which he called the state of nature. In that state, each person would have a right, or license, to everything in the world. This, Hobbes argues, would lead to a “war of all against all.”

But in fact, we were already good before we came up with civilization, with religion, with government. We are good because we evolved to be good. We evolved to cooperate. We evolved to trust.

(sung) It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,

A beautiful day for a neighbor,

Won’t you please,

Won’t you please,

Please won’t you be my neighbor?

Here’s the basic text of the message I delivered to the Unitarian Universalist congregation in Franklin, NC, August 17, 2014. (The lyrics marked with a * are sung, not spoken.)

*15 men on a dead man’s chest
Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum*

On July 11 I woke up at 4:30 a.m. with a great title for today’s talk. “Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of rum!” Together with the subtitle: Black death, white sugar and the quest for a living wage.”

Three weeks later I sat down to actually write this thing and abruptly realized that I was going to have to connect a whole lot of dots over about seven centuries. To begin with, I should probably have said “brown sugar” even though the imagery of black death and white sugar seemed pretty strong. So I did the only thing a reasonable person can do when faced with that sort of problem. I went outside and pulled weeds.

Later I tried again. The first, obvious, question to ask is what were 15 men doing on a dead man’s chest? Was he still breathing when they sat down? Thinking back to my childhood I recalled that my immediate assumption when I first heard that song was that it must have been a treasure chest. But Wikipedia set me straight. There’s an island in the West Indies called Dead Chest Island. It’s a rocky little bump with no trees or water which looks a little like a floating body. Legend has it that Blackbeard once left several unruly pirates on the island as punishment. Each man was supposedly given only a single bottle of rum. As the story goes, when the ship returned at the end of a month, a few of the pirates were still alive. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote the song for his novel, Treasure Island and turned Dead Chest into Dead Man’s Chest.

Good story, but it seems that Blackbeard was actually quite a gentleman and ran his boat with the support and consent of his crew who he apparently paid pretty well. He paid what we could call a “living wage,” or at least a fair crew-share of the proceeds. He avoided violence while cultivating a violent image because he believed fear was better than murder in achieving his goal, which was looting merchant ships from the Indies to coastal Carolina.

Piracy was one reason that a lot of those merchant ships were carrying molasses. Not many pirates wanted barrels of molasses which is a sticky mess after you shoot up the boat with a cannon. And there wasn’t much of a black market, or maybe you’d call it a brown market, for molasses.

I could see I was getting ahead of myself, so I went back to weeding and pretty soon I realized I should have started with Christopher Columbus.

In the late 15th Century European ships had improved to the point that exploration and trade were becoming popular with Queens and Kings. The marvelous goodies that had come from the Far East via the Silk Road had dried up when the Turks captured Constantinople in 1453.

So the Portuguese were exploring the African coast looking for a western route to China, and Columbus convinced the King and Queen of Spain that he could beat the Portuguese by sailing east. He promised to make them very, very rich, which is something Queens and Kings like even better than spices and silk.

Columbus promised gold, but in the course of his voyages he didn’t find much. So he switched to slaves, which were also becoming popular in Europe, with a regular trade developing along the Gold Coast of Africa.

Slavery had always enjoyed some popularity in Europe, but there was a new reason for the demand.

In the 14th and 15th century the Black Death swept Europe. One third to two thirds of the people died over the course of about 100 years. Historians still debate the numbers. The principal disease itself, bubonic plague, was only the beginning of the problem. Many farmers quit planting crops believing that the end times had come, so starvation ensued.

The germ-theory of disease was way off in the future, and whole towns-ful of Jews were murdered because they were thought to be poisoning wells.

Witchcraft was blamed, so witches were burned and cats were exterminated because they were obviously involved in witchcraft. My four cats and I have long thought that was one of the highest ironies of that era, since rat fleas were the carriers of the disease and cats were and are one of the most effective rodent control systems on earth.

The results of the Black Death were extremely beneficial for most survivors. There were a lot of empty houses. Demand for goods collapsed so prices fell. And labor was in short supply, so wages rose. Landlords desperate for workers were outbidding each other. Serfs who didn’t like their treatment simply left, knowing they could find other work. The first strikes occurred and in some places serfs revolted and took over whole towns and regions.

You can see why there was a burgeoning demand for slaves.

So when gold failed to materialize, despite the reasonable rule laid down by Columbus that natives would deliver set amounts of gold each year or have their arms cut off, jolly old Christopher started shipping slaves back to Spain.

Big problem. Over half of each boatload died en route, and the survivors didn’t last long. Other than the Vikings, way up north, there hadn’t been any contact between European and Asian germs and Western Hemisphere natives for tens of thousands of years. Bubonic plague, smallpox, measles, and other diseases for which Europeans and Africans had developed some immunity were lethal.

Columbus and crew also apparently took home syphilis, which was new to Europe. Not sure the Kings and Queens were wild about that.
Between cutting off arms, disease and horribly abusive slavery, Columbus and his followers quickly depopulated every island they visited.
This continued everywhere Europeans landed, and disease ran ahead of advancing troops and settlers, ravaging two continents. Cortez conquered the Aztecs before they took sick, but most Incas were dead before Pizarro arrived in Peru, and most North American tribes were felled before they ever saw a white face.

What to do? Well, one of the other things that Queens and Kings had taken a fancy to, and that the Turks had cut off, was sugar. Sugar cane had been domesticated in Asia a couple thousand years ago, and then the process for deriving sugar crystals was invented in India a thousand years later. Later still sugar cane was planted in Mesopotamia, but now the Turks controlled the candy and the candy store.

Portugal began growing sugar in Brazil, and then Spain and England recognized that conditions were perfect in the newly conquered islands. Soon the islands had been converted to huge monocrops of sugar cane, with smaller plantations of limes, which were also in short supply since the old lime groves were in Persia. Unfortunately the potential local workers were dropping like flies, so pretty quickly the same ships that delivered sugar to Europe were delivering African slaves to the islands.

Then someone invented the daiquiri. Actually, what happened is this. Fermented sugar cane had been consumed for thousands of years, but in the 17th century slaves in Brazil and the West Indies discovered that distilling the brew made it much tastier and of course, much stronger. Soon enough there was a thriving rum trade. Kings and Queens and nobles and tradesmen and everybody else who could afford it thought it was a great addition to the bar. Pirates and sailors liked it too.

It seems that sailors really couldn’t be trusted with barrels of rum and some of it inevitably disappeared en route. Worse still, pirates both enjoyed it and knew where to sell it.

There was another problem as well. Distillation requires a lot of fuel for boiling and fuel was getting scarce in the islands. But lo and behold, New England was covered in hardwood forests just aching to be clearcut for farmland and sheep pastures, and the wood was going to waste.

Soon molasses, which sailors didn’t drink and pirates didn’t steal, was being shipped in quantity to Boston, where it was converted into rum. In short order there was more rum than the locals could drink, although anyone who’s been to a Red Sox game might doubt that, and shiploads of rum were sent to Europe and Africa.

The sailors still drank some, but piracy is a lot less likely on a cross-Atlantic trip than sailing up the coast from the Indies to Boston. Poor Blackbeard was out of luck. Now the New England traders could exchange rum for slaves in Africa, whom they took to the Caribbean where they traded the slaves for molasses, and everyone was happy. Except the slaves, of course.

Although modern Americans mostly remember the Tea Act which resulted in the Boston Tea Party, and the Stamp Act which precipitated the American Revolution, we often forget that the first tax protests were against the Molasses Act, a tax on molasses from non-British colonies. This was a price support measure intended to force New Englanders to buy British molasses for their rum production. As with all such efforts, smuggling was the result. The American colonials mostly ignored the law.

In regard to the American Revolution, I’d also note that the Continental Congress borrowed huge sums of money from France in 1781 to keep the war effort going. Soldiers hadn’t been paid for months and were threatening mutiny, so one of the first military supply purchases was 300 barrels of rum.

Along the way, sugar also became more and more available, and was tremendously popular among the tea drinking English and their American colonists.

*So drill, ye tarriers, drill
And drill, ye tarriers, drill
Oh it’s work all day for the sugar in your tay
Down beyond the railway
So drill, ye tarriers, drill.*

In fact, over the years, it became abundantly clear to rulers around the globe that assuring their populations of a steady supply of sugar and other sweeteners, along with alcohol, was a very good way to dampen discontent and revolutions and other unpleasantness. When was the last time you were in a government office where the clerical desks didn’t sport candy dishes? And have you taken a good look at the amount of real estate in Ingles devoted to candy, cookies, soft drinks, beer and wine? Not to mention the corn sweetener in pretty much every prepared food item on the shelves. Sometimes we seem to act just like the hummingbirds at my hummingbird feeder, aggressively chasing each other away in order to protect our sugar supply.

Next came cotton. The invention of the cotton gin made large scale production possible, but picking cotton remained a manual task until the 1950s. So the well established slave trade began to supply workers to the American south. After the Civil War, sharecropping took the place of slavery, and due to a lack of opportunity elsewhere, the system continued to depress wages in the South until mechanization of farms and industrial growth in the North began to erode the sharecropping system.

During the Civil War somewhere between 650,000 and 850,000 men died, most from disease. I haven’t been able to trace the specific effect on wages of this enormous loss. However, the South lost more workers than the North, and plantation owners were soon complaining about a labor shortage. Adding to that was a sudden shift away from field labor by many black women, no longer slaves, who saw more benefit to their families in tending to children, raising and processing food for the home and so forth. Meanwhile, many northern widows entered the work force, which helped offset losses of labor there.

What is clear is that unions began to gain strength in the late 1800s, hundreds or thousands of labor strikes occurred each year, the National Guard and federal troops were often called in to break strikes, and many organizers were gunned down or executed. Populism and socialism found tens of thousands of advocates. In 1900 there were 2 million union members in America, less than three percent of the labor force. By 1920 that had risen to more than 12 percent.

Fifty years after the Civil War another plague swept the world. The flu pandemic, which was sometimes called the Spanish flu, though Spain had nothing to do with it. In the U.S. an estimated 675,000 died. Globally it killed more people in one season than the Black Death had killed in a century. Unlike the strains of flu we are familiar with today, it was most deadly for young adults, age 20-30, and so it had a tremendous effect on the labor force.

According to an in-depth study of the effect of the flu on economies, the resulting labor shortage drove up wages. Workers were less mobile in the 1920s than today, so wage rates were more local. In states hardest hit by the pandemic, the average income of survivors increased much more than in states where the disease was less prevalent.

During the 1920s powerful business interests fought off unions with open shop rules, like the ones still in place in North Carolina, but after the Depression unions successfully pressed for federal legislation and greatly improved wages and benefits for most American workers.

The pandemic was coupled with the devastation of World War I, in which somewhere between 9 and 15 million people died. Because the physical destruction never reached the United States, we benefited enormously in the aftermath, with industry taking up the slack in Europe. This was repeated again following WWII. Wages rose with the help of a strengthening union movement operating in a rising economy.

The greatest downward pressure on wages today is arguably mechanization. As one wag has it, the factory of tomorrow will be run by one man and one dog. The man is there to feed the dog and the dog is there to keep the man from touching any of the machines. Automation is coupled with global population growth and the ease with which employers can change location.

While factory jobs offered a way out of the south in earlier generations, leading most noticeably to the so called Great Migration of African Americans to the industrial north, today’s factory jobs require far fewer people. The new automobile factories across the South use robotics, and southern anti-labor laws keep wages low. Just like the poor whites who fought for the Confederacy, hoping to preserve the slave system that was helping to keep them poor, today’s southern voters keep voting for politicians who support labor laws that depress their wages. They seem to have forgotten where their sugar comes from.

Today’s living wage campaigns face enormous hurdles thrown up by both mechanization and politicians reliant on corporate donations. As Elizabeth Warren pointed out last February, “If the minimum wage had kept pace with productivity over the last several years, the minimum wage today would be $22 an hour. Productivity went up, but wages didn’t.”

In the same conversation, economist Robert Reich said, “I think that Sen. Warren’s $22 is certainly defensible, but it’s at least $15 an hour.”

According to Just Economics, based in Asheville: “A “living wage” is the minimum amount that a worker must earn to afford his or her basic necessities, without public or private assistance. In short, a living wage is the real, just, minimum wage.”

“The living wage for a single individual living in Western North Carolina for 2014 is $11.85/hour without employer provided health insurance, or $10.35/hour with health insurance provided by the employer.
While large companies are mostly very resistant to raising base pay, small businesses tend to be more in touch with their employees. Just Economics has certified well over 200 businesses in WNC as Living Wage Employers.

The cities of Asheville, Montreat and Weaverville have all adopted living wage rates for full time employees as well. In Asheville we even voted to make a living wage requirement part of all City contracts, but the General Assembly killed that idea last year, banning any pay restrictions in municipal contracts.

One of the early names for rum was Kill-Devil, memorialized in this state in the name of Kill Devil Hills, where the Wright Brothers first flew in 1903. The area got its name because shipwrecks were once common in the area and enterprising locals often salvaged barrels of rum which they then buried in the sand dunes for later recovery.

Interestingly, when Orville returned to Kill Devil Hills in 1911 to set a new world glider record, he glided into the wind for more than 10 minutes but made almost no forward progress. Looking at the plight of working people through the centuries, that could be said of the struggle toward a living wage. Sometimes the demand for increased wages and more benefits gets airborne, but the aircraft is as likely to move backwards and forwards.

Today in the United States the wealth gap, that is the disparity between the rich and the poor, is arguably the highest it has ever been. One percent of the people control 25 percent of the wealth, and globally the richest one percent own 45 percent of everything. In former colonial territories around the globe as fast as countries shook off colonial rule, powerful elites took over and diverted wealth to Swiss bank accounts.

In China and Russia communists once promised to level society, but when the old dictatorship model collapsed, the politically powerful engineered exactly the same result.

Meanwhile increasingly automated factories and farms need fewer and fewer workers, and industry moves around the globe to employ whichever work force will labor for the lowest price.

In conclusion, and playing the devil’s advocate, a not illogical conclusion one might reach is that the best hope for a general pay increase for the workers of the world is another devastating pandemic.

H1N1 anyone? (In sort of a call-and-response a few voices in the congregation added “Ebola?”)

*Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of rum.*


Following Billy Graham’s 95th birthday bash at Asheville’s Grove Park Inn, many observers deemed the guest list unfortunate, perhaps unrepresentative, of Graham’s career. Donald Trump? Sarah Palin?

Some blamed son Franklin for the rightwing/corporate tilt among invited guests, accusing the son of tainting Dad’s image.

Such criticism is unfounded. In Graham’s myriad authorized biographies, one can’t miss endless photo-ops with the rich and powerful. Graham was ever eager to shake hands of presidents and despots, movie stars and industrial kingpins, and to offer grandiose approval of their greatness.

To read more, click here.

Some scenes from my latest book: She Walks On Water, a novel (Brave Ulysses Books, 2013)

8th Grade Commencement Speech

Francine Delaney New School for Children

June 4, 2013

by Cecil Bothwell


You are about to step out of your childhood, a step that will take the next four years of your life.


High school is where you will learn the basics about being an adult, about taking charge of your own life, about taking responsibility for your own finances and about steering your own education for the rest of your life.


Really learning how to learn is the most important lesson you’ll gain from these next few years, if you pay attention and take advantage of the opportunities high school offers.And the most important lessons may come when you least expect them.


In terms of earning a living, the two most important experiences in my entire education came when I was about your age. In geometry class I learned the Pythagoran Theorem which involves the relationship between the three sides of a right triangle – that is, a three-sided figure where one corner is 90 degrees.


At the same time, in Boy Scouts, I earned Home Repairs merit badge—that’s a badge you earn for learning how to use screwdrivers, hammers, pliers, saws, drills and other basic tools to fix things around your house.


Most of my adult life I have used those tools and the Pythagorean Thereom to build and remodel houses. If your house is square and level you can thank some carpenter’s geometry teacher.


My most important teacher, not counting Miss Nanette who taught me how to read in First Grade, was a man named Dr. Harold B. Bender. He was my 11th and 12th grade chemistry teacher, and he taught me everything I needed to know to continue my education for the rest of my life. Was it chemistry? No.

He taught me how to use a library to conduct research, how to track down essential information, how to sort facts from fiction, and how to use multiple sources so that I arrived at the best possible understanding of a problem and its solutions. If he were alive today, he’d be teaching students how to optimize internet search engine results.


How did that help me? Well, in my first career, as a builder, I knew how to use geometry and tools, but there was a whole lot I didn’t know about specific building skills. I had started out as a mason – that’s a person who builds with bricks and blocks and stone. In 1980 I traveled to Alaska because I wanted to see the big northern wilderness – and I did see glaciers and grizzly bears and moose and lynx and big horned sheep and Mt. McKinley and all the rest. And I figured I’d find work as a mason to pay my way.


Wrong. They have so many small earthquakes up there that nobody builds anything with bricks and blocks – they just shake apart. But because I had learned to read blueprints in an eighth grade shop class, I got a job as a foreman on a carpentry crew. Unfortunately I had never built a wooden house – so I went to the library and checked out some books. Each night I’d read about what we had to do the next day, and suddenly I was an expert! (At the same time, I asked the carpenters working for me a lot of questions.) When I came back south I became a general contractor, and built homes and did remodeling for another twenty years.


Along the way, I began my second career, as a writer. Here my chemistry teacher’s lessons really paid off. I became a newspaper reporter and editor, I won awards for investigative reporting and have written nine books. Along the way the library grew to include the whole world, when the internet was invented and computers extended research around the globe.

When I was in 8th grade, I thought I would grow up to be a herpetologist. That’s a scientist who studies amphibians and reptiles. I was fascinated with snakes and turtles. In my high school years I had 16 pet snakes and did presentations for Scout troops and school clubs. I was a summer camp counselor when I was 17, and taught all of the nature related merit badges to other scouts. I was certain my future was in science.


What I learned along the way was that my future was actually in learning how to do whatever I needed to do in order to do the things I wanted to do. Learning how to learn was the most important lesson of all. Oh, I still think snakes are fascinating, and I’m always available to catch rattlesnakes and copperheads if my neighbors find them in the garden. I take them way out in the national forest and let them go. But I’ve never made a nickel on herpetology.


Now here’s the thing I really want to tell you today, as you take your next big steps toward adulthood. You won’t really believe me for about eight or ten more years, but if I tell you this now, I think you’ll have a lot higher likelihood of being alive eight or ten years from now, and maybe then you’ll think back to this day and think: Hmm, that old geezer wasn’t as much of a fool as I thought back then.


Your bodies and your emotions are growing up fast right now, and your brain is right behind. What scientists have proven in recent years is that the part of a human brain where good judgment comes from isn’t developed and fully formed until you are 20-22 years old. That’s not a criticism, that’s a physical fact. Right now, inside your head, you do not have the wiring to easily know better.


Your parents might say to you, “You should know better than to go out in freezing rain without a coat!” but actually, you don’t. A teacher might say, “You should know better than to turn in a term paper with doodled cartoons in the margins!” But, actually, you don’t .


There will be a whole lot of experiences over the next few years when you’ll do something pretty stupid, and then argue, “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.”


That’s why so many young adults take stupid chances. They climb on slippery rocks at the top of waterfalls. They drive too fast, or drive while texting, or sometimes even get hold of some beer and drive while drunk. They hang out with the wrong crowd and get tempted into doing things they might not have thought of on their own, or get into bad situations where someone gets sexually assaulted or into a fight or gets bullied. Trust me, you won’t avoid it all. But with a little bit of smarts you can navigate through these next several years with minimal damage to yourself and the people around you.


Even though, as I said, you currently lack the part of your brain that will make that much easier ten years from now.


To help you out, I’ll now pass along the most important life lesson I learned in school. This was from a Commuinty College professor named Dave Ehlert. It was in a Humanities Class, which is a class where you study how the arts and literature and theater and sports and history and science all come together to create the world we live in.


Dave told us this: If you want to live in world where people drive the speed limit, the first step is to drive the speed limit.


Now that seems pretty simplistic, doesn’t it. But it is actually pretty deep.


At the most basic level, most people want other people who drive throught their neigborhoods to drive the speed limit, to drive carefully, because their children and their pets and their friends and their neighbors are all less likely to get hurt or killed if people obey the speed limit. The reason we have speed limits is because we have agreed as a community that there need to be some rules so we can all live together happily. We’re all better off if we all play by the rules.


In a way, that’s no different from sports. Basketball and baseball and football and tennis and volleyball and ping pong and horseshoes … all of it, would make no sense at all if everyone made up their own rules.


So if you want your neighborhood to be safe from speeding cars, the first step is not to speed yourself. And if you apply that everywhere, then you’ll be encouraging everyone to do the same, and make everyone’s neighborhood safer. And every driver safer too, since mistakes at high rates of speed are more likely to cause accidents than mistakes at slower speeds.


But if you apply that rule throughout your life you’ll find that it helps over and over again.


Do you want to be in a school where people don’t cheat on tests? Then don’t cheat on tests.

Do you want to live in a town where your money is safe in the bank? Then don’t rob banks.

Do you want to be part of a world in which everyone is treated fairly? Then treat everyone fairly.

Do you want to drive a car safe from drunk drivers who do really stupid things? Then don’t drive drunk.

Do you feel better when people don’t make fun of you? Then don’t make fun of other people.


You see, it goes on and on. And many of you have probably noticed that it is nothing more than a special case of the Golden Rule. Do on to others as you would have them to onto you.


From my perspective though, the specific rule is often more useful. The Golden Rule? Well, sure, we should always do that.

Drive the speed limit? Oh, right. More times than I can possibly report, over these many years, I have been in a hurry, and tempted to speed through a neighborhood and abruptly recall Dave’s lesson. And I slow down.


And the lesson doesn’t just have to be negative.


Do you want to experience a community where people express their love and affection for others? Then tell the people you care about how much you care.

Do you want to live in a world where who you are counts more than how much money you have? Then choose friends and heroes for who they are regardless of how rich they might be.

Do you want to be allowed to express your creativity? Then express it, and congratulate your friends who paint or write poetry or dye their hair six different colors or play guitar or draw cartoons.

Do you want to live in a world of happy people? Then do what makes you happy.


We make the world around us every day, by being who we are, by doing what we do, by sharing what we share. The most important lesson you will learn in the next few years is how to learn to be who you are, and to be who you are to the very best of your ability. No matter what someone else tells you you ought to do. No matter what someone else thinks is impossible for you to do.


We old folks are more excitied than you can imagine, waiting to see what kind of world you create for yourselves. I certainly hope you have fun.


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