Friday, May 24, 2013

What is an apology?

It's very difficult to apologize. As a young child, I was often told "apologize to your sister," for which I would mumble "I'm sorry." Inevitably, this would be followed by the command "and say it like you mean it." Of course I would say (only slightly more clearly) "I'm sorry" again, but I rarely ever meant it more the second time than I did the first. But I knew if I didn't comply, I would prompt my mother or father to take an action that would truly make me sorry. At least sorry that I didn't convince them, rarely sorry about what started the mess.

Lately, this has been on my mind a lot. Not the offenses I committed against my sister - and I'm sure that I committed many. But the idea of apologizing. What does it exactly mean to apologize?

A little help from Merriam-Webster gives three broad definitions. In one of my college classes, I recall reading "Apology" by Plato and Merriam uses this as the first definition - "a formal justification." This has nothing to do with feeling sorry and I think is probably the definition most politicians use when they "apologize." Merriam goes on to say that this could also be an "excuse." Makes me wonder if Merriam was in congress.

The second definition given is "an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret." I'm certain that this is what my mother meant after my "errors" against my sister. Note that, like my mother, Merriam says that the admission is "accompanied by an expression of regret," or (as mom said) "say it like you mean it." To me, this should be the main focus. Let me explain:

In order to truly apologize as a child, I had to admit that I was in error. Certainly telling my sister "I'm sorry I hurt your feelings" qualified as a "discourtesy," but I knew from my mother's glare that she wanted me to be sorry for my action, not just the hurt feelings. The admission of error was key.

Secondly, it does no good to apologize unless you really have regret. I have more ideas on this aspect, but I think that belongs in another post.

Merriam adds a third definition: "a poor substitute." I know many times I've bought something that was a poor substitute and I had to apologize for the mess I created. I also felt like I should get an apology from the manufacturer.

So what do you think? What is an apology to you? Were you sometimes forced to apologize when you didn't really mean it? Do you think that was an apology?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Word picture - crave

Ok, I've published my favorite two (the only two I know) word pictures, integrity and detente. Both words have descriptive backgrounds, stories that paint a picture in your mind.

Now I'm looking for help in creating a new word picture. It should be tied to some other culture or language and possibly come from the same root word.

The word that needs a picture is crave. Another option, would be the word yearn.

There are times when I crave the company of my children. Times when I yearn to be with my wife, just to touch her hand, to see her smile.

These feelings need a better word than just crave and yearn, so I'm asking for your help. Help me find a word and a word picture that means crave or yearn, a word picture that fits the feeling.

Special note: for those that read the Bible, Job 19:27 has this same feeling "How my heart yearns within me" and Psalm 42:1 "so my soul pants for you, O God." I think Job and David had trouble coming up with a word picture just like me.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Word Picture - Detente

I mentioned in the previous post that I liked word pictures - where you define a word, by building a picture or telling a story. Today's word picture is "detente" - a word picture that has stayed with me for around 30 years.

Thirty years ago, our nation was at war. It was the cold war, a war with the USSR (which doesn't exist anymore). The newly elected president, Ronald Reagan, was determined to win that war. That meant tough talk about the enemy, the bear in the woods. It meant building more and stronger nuclear weapons and implying (or saying it outright) that you weren't afraid to use them. It meant coming up with a nuclear defense shield or at least convincing the enemy that you could.

With all the talk about war, newspapers showed maps of strike zones, US cities that would be wiped out in the first wave of Soviet missiles, and in the second wave. I lived in Columbia, SC, a target in the second wave. Some may think I'm paranoid, but (as I admitted in my blog back in 2008) I even mapped out a strategy to escape, hoping I'd have time between the first and second wave. Just remember, even if you are paranoid, it doesn't mean they aren't out to get you.

About that time, the term detente came into use. The picture that goes with it is this: imagine a Russian hunter, who has been trekking through the Siberian snow in hunt of food. Then he sees his prey. Slowly, quietly, he pulls an arrow out of his quiver and loads the bow. Just as slowly, he draws his bow, takes aim and is ready to let the arrow fly.

Then, he changes his mind. Slowly and deliberately, he releases the tension on the bow. That is detente. A deliberate reduction in the tension.

There are many situations that call for detente. Politics needs detente all the time. Friends need to practice detente. And families also (well, not in my house).

The next time you're in a discussion that you can't win, but don't want to lose, think of the Russian hunter and practice some detente.

What do you think? Good word picture? Will it stick with you?

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Word Picture - Integrity

This is the first of three posts on word pictures. It's actually a rerun of a post I did back in 2008, but I've updated it somewhat. It fits with my next two posts, so I decided to revive it.

I like word pictures. It's where you define a word, by building a picture, telling a story. The result is a more robust definition, something that sticks with you for a long time.

One such word picture surrounds my idea of integrity. Wikipedia defines integrity as being the concept of basing of one's actions on an internally consistent framework of principles. Another way to say this is by asking the questions "Does a person's walk match his talk? Does he do what he says he will do? Does he follow through?"

But a better word picture comes from a pastor I knew in Charlotte, NC. It's been on my mind a lot and I've shared it with some friends lately. A little research (thanks to Google) told me that it comes from the Latin word sometimes interpreted sincere, which literally means "no wax".

The picture is that of pottery. Pottery is of course made out of clay. It is shaped carefully for a particular purpose, say carrying water. Then it is placed in an oven to bake it. During the baking process, the clay can shrink and sometimes leave cracks. Of course a pot with cracks is pretty useless, so it should be thrown away.

But some dishonest dealers found they could fill the cracks with wax. They might paint the pot, to make it pretty and then sell it to an unsuspecting buyer. The pot works fine until it ages or is heated and the wax melts out. Then the pot is fairly useless for carrying water.

The word integrity can be literally interpreted "no wax". It's a finer grade of pot and the seller has the integrity of only selling pots with no cracks.

Word picture number 2 is coming up next and then a special request for word picture number 3.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Thoughts on being a hermit

I think I've always been fascinated with the idea of being a hermit. Just dropping out from society and running away from it all. I thought about it many times as a kid (doesn't every kid?).

It's not that my life has been bad, it hasn't. I've been blessed in many ways. Sure, there are times when job or life pressures overwhelm me, but there's always tomorrow and when you look at the grand scheme of things, does it really matter if one thing falls off your oh-too-crowded plate? But there's a certain allure...

The first time I blogged about it was in 2005 (here), then two years later I posted about it again (here). Then less than a month later I posted about Drew Peterson who thought his wife just ran away and Ian Darwin who actually did run away for five years (see here).

Then in 2008, I posted twice about being a hermit: in March about a man who sold everything to run away (here) and in April, a some-what tongue-in-cheek post about running away (here).

So with all this hermit/running away fascination, what keeps me from doing it? Well first, life in the here-and-now isn't that bad. In fact, it's quite good. And if I ever doubt it, all I have to do is look around and see pictures of my family. And if it does get bad, I can look at where I've been and see that He's gotten me through a lot worse and will get me through the day's problems.

Which brings me to my point. Becoming a hermit would mean hurting a lot of people that I really care about. Back in 2009, a man, named Bruce Windsor in my town did just that. He found an interesting way to become a hermit, he robbed a bank. Life was at a bad point for him and the walls were caving in. By robbing the bank, he ran away for 25-years-to-life. (He got caught. Read my blog posts here and here).

Now I read where someone else has done it. Brenda Heist simply ran away from her family in 2002 and never contacted them again until earlier this week (full story here). Her family thought she was dead. She caused them a lot of grief. Now that she's back in the real world, her daughter doesn't want to speak to her. Which shows how wrong it is to simply run-away.

Still, there is that Siren song, calling...

Thursday, May 02, 2013

L'eggs Pantyhose

Since I had such great success posting yesterday about a business-related issue, I thought I'd continue the trend and relate another business story I heard from long ago. A story about L'eggs Pantyhose.

Now just to be clear, I am not now, nor have I ever been a consumer of L'eggs Pantyhose. However, I may or may not have been a person who played with the packaging. You see when the product was first released in 1969, I was a 10 year old boy (if you want to devise my age from that, do the math). The product was packaged in what looked like a large white egg. I honestly don't remember playing with the eggs, but it seems like something I would have done.

Originally the product sold for 99 cents. However sales were weak. The manufacturer did what any good manufacturer would do, it brought in consultants. They evaluated the product quality and found that it was acceptable. They evaluated the packaging and (at the time) kept it. They evaluated the marketing effort and found it within expected norms. And then they evaluated the price.

The consultants found the pricing model to be good. The margins were good. The price was within the range that the expected consumer could pay and was, at 99cents, a bargain. So what did they recommend? Increase the price. To $1.49. Now that may not sound like much, but it's a 50% price increase. No change to quality, just 50% price increase. No change to style, no change to quantity, just 50% price increase.

And sales increased. Because the perception was that the product was now on the level of other products. (I've seen a similar reaction with pricing at an institution of higher learning) And consumers bought more readily.

So what do you think this says about the product? What does it say about consumers?

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

The Sears Catalog

Most people today don't remember the Sears Catalog. Think of, put into a book and mailed to your doorstep. Or picked up in the store. This was a 1970's version of internet buying.

If you can imagine that, the Sears Catalog had pictures and descriptions of everything you could buy in the magazine/book. It was a couple of inches thick and you could order things over the phone or by mail (US Mail, not email.)

There's a story of a company that moved a plant into Mexico. This was before outsourcing was "popular", so ignore the negative connotations associated with it in this case. The company paid their Mexican workers a small amount compared to US workers, but an ENORMOUS amount on the Mexican pay scale.

The problem they had was that many workers would quit after their first paycheck. They had never before seen that much money at one time and couldn't imagine needing more, so they just didn't show up the following day.

After much consternation, the company came up with a good idea. Next payday, with every paycheck, they gave each employee a Sears Catalog. The following day, every employee returned to work, ready to make more money and order from the Sears Catalog.

The moral of this story? I'll let you decide, either from an individual viewpoint, the viewpoint of the company or even the viewpoint from Sears. Comments are welcome.

Now where did I place that catalog....