Words & Banter

Hope. The Most Powerful Four-Letter Word?!

Photo taken by David Mendel

There's a line towards the end of The Shawshank Redemption, one of my all-time favorite movies, when the character Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins, writes in a letter, "Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things …" And, although the "Red" is not me, for some reason, it has always stayed with me, not only because it comes when the Red character, played by Morgan Freeman, is feeling particularly hopeless, but because it's a simple yet very powerful statement.

So, it didn't surprise me when my youngest daughter and I were at Belmont University in Nashville for freshman orientation a few months ago, and I listened to their new president, Dr. Greg Jones, welcome us with a message of hope. He spoke passionately of the power of hope and imagination, the promise of things being better, even while living in turbulent times, and how opportunity and optimism for a brighter future are always possible.

So, in the poignant setting of an auditorium of students and parents preparing for the next stage of their respective lives, it not only resonated but, well, made me think of Andy Dufresne and how he'd probably agree with Dr. Jones and his vision for Belmont to be a catalyst to "Let Hope Abound."

A week ago, I was back at Belmont, this time to drop off my daughter, and I lingered on for a few extra days (no, I wasn't being a clingy mom as it was her request so we could celebrate her first day of classes which fell on my birthday). And even though I wholeheartedly believed in the words of hope as expressed by both Dr. Jones and the character of Andy, part of me was feeling more like the character of Red. Well, that might be a bit dramatic as I didn't actually feel hopeless, just sad.

It was bittersweet. A commonly used word to describe chocolate that's both bitter and sweet at the same time, it was also the perfect way to explain the situation as I felt both hope for the future yet also sadness. Unsure of how to let the "positive" be the focus of my thoughts. And while I knew that thousands (and thousands) of parents were feeling the same way I was, it didn't seem to make it any better. Until …

The night of my birthday, having said our final goodbyes after dinner, my daughter insisted that I should take a final walk around the campus instead of immediately going back to the hotel. Belmont's a beautiful campus, and I smiled as I passed students having impromptu "jam" sessions on the lawns and in gazebos. I walked past a security guard who was obviously enjoying a conversation with a student. And everywhere I walked, there were "flags" proclaiming "Let Hope Abound."

And as I thought to myself that maybe the walk was my daughter's way of letting me know that all would be good, I hear the ping of a perfectly-timed text from my daughter letting me know she was going to meet me and walk with me to the car.

Yes, Andy Dufresne. Yes, Dr. Jones. You're both so right. Hope's a good thing, maybe the best of things. Not only for my daughter and me as we each start new chapters in our lives … but for all college freshmen and their families. Let hope abound!

When Red first heard Black talking about the importance of "soft skills," she didn't even know what she was referring to, let alone that they would be important to her life. So, Black explained that it was a term used to describe intangible but essential skills, such as critical thinking and problem-solving, communications, and conflict management.

Red, trying to be sarcastic, then asked if there was such a thing as “hard skills,” Black matter-of-factly told her those are tangible and technical skills such as computer skills.

Of course, Black couldn’t pass up an opportunity for sarcasm and explained that although there’s consensus about the importance of soft skills, there’s debate about what they should be called, with her favorite being the Texas Education Agency (TEA) calling them "21st Century Skills" – although she's old enough to remember they were important in the 20th Century, too.

But would anyone call them “Mom Skills”? Well, Red couldn’t help but remember the time Black told her, “Your job is every bit as demanding as a corporate position, and, in fact, you use many of the same skill sets.”Not something Red could ever have imagined, but it made sense once she better understood what soft skills are and how they are used. But then Black took it a step further,

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Red was your typical straight-A student, getting great grades starting in kindergarten straight through to graduating from college.(Black’s grades were less than stellar, plus she was a discipline problem – some things never change.) And then, excited and proud of herself, Red thought she was done. Black, on the other hand, thinks of education as something that never ends, and much to the chagrin of students, will tell them,

Homework never ends; it just is called “research” when you get older.

Over the last few years, Red has come around to Black’s way of thinking and realizes it’s a mindset. And that education is more than the classes you take in school.

September is when students of all ages are back in school, but it’s also National Literacy Month, which is about so much more than reading and writing. Literacy includes things like Digital Literacy, Financial Literacy, Health Literacy, and even News Literacy. (As the linked Conversation Starters indicate, Red was the “poster child” of a highly educated person who lacked many of these basic literacy skills.)

So, we challenge you to find a topic that interests you or one you could benefit from learning (personally or professionally) and start doing your homework.

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For many of us, Labor Day marks the end of summer (temperatures aside), and as we switch from a summer holiday mindset back to the “real world”, we can’t help but feel overwhelmed.

You don’t need us to tell you how falling back into a work or school routine can be challenging, especially if you’re facing a backlog of tasks and responsibilities. And, if that wasn’t bad enough, the “silly season” is just around the corner. (Red has been seeing Halloween decorations since mid-July, which means Thanksgiving and all the winter holidays aren’t far behind.)

But you don’t need us to tell you why you feel overwhelmed; you need help dealing with being overwhelmed.

When our new website goes live next year, one of the major sections will be THE DAILY HELP, where you’ll find easy-to-implement tools to get your day back on track and feel more in control.

But that doesn’t help you … NOW. So, here are a handful of our favorite posts to help you deal with daily challenges we all face. (Red admits that she picked the ones she felt she needed to reread.)

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