My Thoughts by Rick Stephens

Food, Shelter, Clothing, and the Internet

Posted in Attitudes,Personal Opinion by Rick on the December 23rd, 2010

Food, Shelter, Clothing and Internet

My oldest son will be 40 in a couple of months, but I still consider him part of the younger generation. Still, we often have some very stimulating and spirited discussions regarding life and the circumstances we live in.

Although he will not admit it directly, my son leans toward the liberal side of thinking, while I am very much a conservative. Therefore, many of our discussions revolve around capitalism vs. entitlements.

Over the years I have come to believe that those who think with a liberal bias must see life through a gloomy set of eyes. For them the glass is always half empty. It seems that the younger generation (at least in this country) fails to understand the importance of free enterprise and how capitalism has been the foundation for what they now consider entitlements.

For instance, on one occasion we were discussing the new health care legislation. I pointed out that the government had no business mandating that I buy health insurance. My son countered with, “They require us to buy car insurance.” Of course, my response was that car insurance is not mandatory unless you want to drive a car on public roads. His response was that a car is a necessity to life and therefore car insurance becomes mandatory.

I just can not seem to explain in a convincing enough way, that a car is not a necessity. A car is simply a product of our choice. He argues that it is impractical to believe that a car is a choice considering the requirement to be so mobile in our society. But the reality is that we can make the choice, though it may not be a very pleasing or convenient choice, to live without a car. We could live on a farm, take a bus, call a cab, let friends drive us or, heaven forbid, walk.

Our most recent discussion revolved around the Internet. In his mind, the Internet has become so pervasive in our lives that it has become a necessity. Again, I believe it is a choice we make to enhance our lives, but far from a necessity.

When the FCC recently began regulating the Internet with its “Net Neutrality” rules, I completely rejected and disapproved of the move. According to my son, we need to prevent the ISP from becoming a conduit to the web just so they can “grab money from our pockets.” This is exactly the type of comment that makes me believe that our younger generation sees life through gloomy eyes. It seems they believe that big corporations exist only to steal or rob us of our hard earned money and prevent us from enjoying the luxuries that we have come to know as necessities.

I believe that The Unites States of America is the greatest and the most benevolent and generous country to have ever existed on this planet. We give more to the under privileged people in this world than any other country, not only as a nation, but as a people. We believe that the individual has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and as such we give so much, that our own people are now beginning to believe that this out pouring of compassion is somehow a necessity and something they are entitled to.

Let us remember that there are only 3 things in life that we need; Food, Shelter, and Clothing. Everything else is either a luxury or a choice. No one is entitled to a job. No one is entitled to a guaranteed retirement or even health care for that matter. But as a nation, our compassion for the welfare of our human brothers is so great, that we are willing to contribute a portion of our wealth to help those who are less fortunate.

But to all who feel entitled and believe that corporations are a bad thing, please understand that had it not been for capitalism you would not have the luxuries you now enjoy. It is because of big business that this country has become so well off and prosperous compared to any other nation. Yes, some have not benefited as much as others. But still, every person in this country has the opportunity do better by making the right choices, not through entitlements.

And if you are not as well off as I am, please remember that my money is not your money. I worked hard to earn what I have and yet I am willing to pay my fair share of taxes and to contribute to charitable causes to help you when you are down. But I fully expect that you will also work hard to achieve a better place in life, make the right choices, and stop expecting that you are entitled to my money.

When people stop expecting life to be handed to them on a silver platter, and instead begin to appreciate the generosity of those more fortunate then they, this country will begin to pull itself out of the debt we are in, be able to help all of those in need, and once again achieve the respect and stature that we know has been given to us only by the grace of God.

To Your Success,

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Remembering Walter Cronkite

Posted in Attitudes,Leadership,Personal Opinion by Rick on the July 21st, 2009

Walter Cronkite 2004

He never sold a single record. He never performed in concert. He never made the headlines of Entertainment Tonight, and he was never placed in the public spotlight for questionable acts of morality. Yet he truly did bring the people of this world together. He broke the racial barriers like no man or woman has ever done before bringing all races, religions, and nationalities together. He caused people to listen and to respond simply by the words he spoke.

He was respected for his honesty, integrity, willingness to challenge the norm, for his compassion in times of difficulty, and for his pride in country when great achievements were accomplished.

He never moonwalked, but he did proudly walk on the moon with all of America on July 20, 1969. He never wore clothes with flashy military imagery, but he did wear the fatigues of Army green while reporting his findings of the Vietnam war effort. He was never called the “King” of anything, but “Uncle” Walter was a predominate news voice in America and will be remembered for his faithful reporting of such events as the Cuban Missile Crises, the Assignation of President Kennedy, the moon landing of Apollo 11, Watergate, and so much more.

We lost a true American icon this week. Walter Cronkite was like no other celebrity in my life time. There were times when I disagreed with him, there were times when I cried with him, there were times when I cheered with him. And when he spoke, I listened, as did all of America and the world.

I, for one, will miss the integrity, professionalism, honesty, compassion, and moral compass that Walter Cronkite brought to Journalism. His death was not surrounded in pomp and ceremony, national television did not preempt all other broadcast in favor of covering his funeral, and tickets were not sold on Ebay to attend the visitation, but his legacy will endure for many centuries to come. Good bye Walter.

And that’s the way it is, July 21, 2009.

To Your Success,

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Reflections of a Veteran

Posted in Attitudes by Rick on the June 17th, 2009

Hovas Stephens - KoreaAs we approach the 4th of July, our country’s Independence Day, I wanted to comment on a few things that have been on my mind lately. I am a veteran. I, along with millions of others who have proudly served this great country during its history, don’t wear that label on my sleeve or look for opportunities to stand up and be recognized.

Although we all appreciate the support and generous outpouring of gratitude that is springing up in this country, it should be said, that when I consider my own service, it pales in comparison to the thousands of others who have given more than I did. As the saying goes, “All gave some, but some gave all.”

I am a Vietnam era veteran. I was not drafted. I served because I love my country and I wanted to give something back for all it had given me. But when I wore my uniform, people jeered, threw things, cussed, and spit on me. No one asked me to stand up and be recognized or applauded me for my service. Nor did they console me when my buddies died.

My father served this country for almost 30 years. He fought in WW II, Korea, and Vietnam. He was also awarded the Bronze Star. Not once do I ever recall anyone at a public event asking him to stand up and be recognized for his service. He died before this new found patriotic movement began.

Please don’t misunderstand. I am appreciative of those who are encouraging patriotism in this country. But patriotism should not be a cyclical emotion. I will be the first to admit, that we have made some mistakes and I am sure we will make others in the future. But regardless of all that, I loved my country back when it was not popular to be a veteran, and today, nothing for me has changed. I will continue to support this country through thick or thin, and I would stand up and defend her still today if needed.

So, when I am asked to be recognized at events, parties, and other social gatherings, I proudly stand, not because I feel I did anything special, but because there are so many others, like my dad, who gave so much more, and were never asked to stand.

I am proud to be a veteran but I am even more proud to be an American.

God Bless the USA.

To Your Success,

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Your Image Makes a Difference

Posted in Attitudes,General Business,Marketing Strategies by Rick on the February 14th, 2007

Raising the Flag on Iwo JimaThe other day I watched a very compelling movie produced and directed by Clint Eastwood called “Flags of Our Fathers.” It was the story of the WWII battle of Iwo Jima and the resulting media coverage in the US promoting the famous picture that resulted from that event. The message that came from that movie was interesting and one that we as business leaders should understand if we want to be successful.

The message was that image is more important than reality. According to the movie, the celebrated picture of the six Marines raising the flag atop the pinnacle of Iwo Jima was not taken when the flag was first raised, but in fact, at a later time after the battle, during a relatively calm moment. Although not staged, the raising of this flag did not occur during the heat of battle, as implied, and the men who raised it were not the same ones that planted the flag initially.

Our leaders at the time were quite aware that this photograph, and the men portrayed, was not as it seemed, but they seized the opportunity to create a gripping image of our brave Marines at a time when this country needed hope and the support of those at home. It worked.

As a business, it is vital that you maintain an image that reflects exactly what it is you want the public to see. If you own a restaurant, you don’t want patrons to walk in and see dirty tables, floors, or counters, the negative image will stay with them and your business will suffer. If you own an auto repair shop, you want your employees driving clean undamaged vehicles. If you own a florist, you want all of your flowers to be fresh and attractive. If you are a doctor or a lawyer, you want your clients to see you as being successful by creating images of professionalism in your office or waiting area.

Be very careful when making decisions about your image. What people see is what you will become. It only takes one moment for your prospects to decide if you are credible or not. The image they see will determine your success or failure.

Hanging in my office, is a picture of Pete Rose, the baseball player and manager, sliding into home plate in the style that made him famous, headfirst. He was once quoted as saying.” …And there is one more important reason that I slide headfirst. It gets my picture in the newspaper.” Be careful with your image, it is more important than reality, because it defines reality.

To Your Success,
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Everything is Broken

Posted in Attitudes,Continual Improvement,Developing Processes by Rick on the February 10th, 2007

Have you ever heard the phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” I was attending a seminar just last week when I heard the moderator say exactly that. Of course, everyone in the room understood his meaning, as we all do, but in the business world, doing things the way we always have can cost us customers, money, and good employees.

Instead of allowing processes to go on just because they seem to work, we should adopt an attitude of Continual Improvement, always looking for a way to make the process better, even if “it ain’t broke.”

Mother and Daughter CookingThere is an old story about a young girl helping her Mother cook dinner. As the Mother was putting the ham into the pan, she cut off a small piece on each side. Curiously the young girl asked, “Why do we always cut the ends off the ham before we put it in the oven?” The mother replied, “I don’t know dear, it’s just the way Grandma always did it. Let’s call and ask her why.” So they did. When asked, the Grandmother responded with the same answer, “It’s the way my Mother always did it.” So they called the young girl’s Great Grandmother and again asked, “Why do we always cut the ends off the ham before we put it in the pan?” The Great Grandmother replied, “I don’t know why you do it, I did it because I never had a pan big enough to hold the whole ham.”

So you see, we can go along forever doing the same thing, the same way we always have, even though nothing seems to be broken, when in fact, if we would adopt the attitude of Continual Improvement we would begin to ask important questions, the biggest one being, Why?

If you want to make your business “the best it can be”, to borrow from the Army slogan, look closely at those processes that “ain’t broke” and improve them, and the next time you hear someone say, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, let it remind you to fix something today.

To Your Success,

Rick's Signature

Are You Choosing To Fail?

Posted in Attitudes,General Business,Leadership by Rick on the January 23rd, 2007

Fixing a CarIt is an interesting phenomenon with us humans… we migrate toward those things that are harmful to us as individuals, as a people, and also, as business owners. We go through life making choices on how we live our lives, the activities we participate in, the things we watch, and the things we eat, all of which become the essence of who we are. Left to themselves, things will deteriorate. It takes positive effort to cause improvement. Unfortunately, it seems that we have a propensity to take the easy road in life, the one that allows things to decline, instead of the hard road which yields positive improvement.

Take a car for example. If all we ever do is drive it around town, or worse yet, let it sit in our driveway, what happens? It begins to fall apart. To keep the car at its peak, we need to change the oil regularly, rotate the tires, check the belts, insure the proper fluid levels, and myriad other inconvenient maintenance chores. If the car just sits, it will begin to rust, tires will become flat, fluids become sludgy, etc. In other words, left to themselves things deteriorate. And so do we.

We choose those things in life that are harmful to us. We choose to sit on the couch and watch TV instead of going to the gym to work out. We choose to eat pizza and fast food on the run instead of taking the time to sit down to a quiet, healthy dinner. We choose to dream and never take action to see it fulfilled. We choose to let others decide our political leaders instead of voting ourselves. We choose to pollute our air instead of applying technology to keep it clean. We choose to build bombs instead of relationships. As business owners, we choose to let the status quo determine our fate instead of applying change proactively to improve our lot.

Kermit the frog once said, “It ain’t easy being green.” We are all green when it comes to life, and believe me it’s not easy. We must take an active approach to make a difference in our lives as individuals, as a people, and of course, as business leaders. We must force change. Left to themselves, all things will crumble. If a year from now you are doing the same things you are doing today, you will be worse off for wear and tear. Lack of change means failure. Are you choosing to fail?

To Your Success,

Ricks Signature

Recognizing a Man or a Turning Point?

Posted in Attitudes by Rick on the January 14th, 2007

Martin Luther King Jr.Tomorrow, January 15, 2007, we recognize one of this country’s greatest advocates to civil rights, a man who courageously stood firm for the rights of African Americans during a time when almost no one was willing to allow the African American equality, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

We celebrate the day as Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the only holiday this country has using the name of an American Citizen. At one time we celebrated Lincoln’s Birthday and Washington’s Birthday, but those holidays have transformed into Presidents Day in recognition of all of our Presidents.

The other day, a friend of the family who is 9 years old, asked me a very provocative and thoughtful question, a question generated from the innocence of a child. She asked, “Why do we have a Martin Luther King Day but not a John F. Kennedy Day?” I probed a little before I answered the question to try and understand what she was really asking. It turns out that she did not understand the reason there were events and days that were specifically focused on the African American population.

Of course, I tried to explain that African Americans in this country were severely suppressed for many years, and it was during a difficult period of our country’s history that one man, Dr. Martin Luther King, stood firm under extreme adversity to bring respect, pride, and equality to this segment of our population. Even while I attempted to articulate the reason for a day named for an African American, I began to ask some of my own questions.

Why do we continue to separate the African American from the rest of the nationalities in this country? We have a Miss Black America Pageant, Black Entertainment Television, etc. I understand that every nationality wants, and needs, to be recognized, and we should all be proud of our heritage. That is not in question here, but these types of events go beyond pride and seem to define equality as something that is still segregated from all others. Was it not the goal of the Civil Rights movement to garner parity for African Americans, or was it to reinforce the attitude of the 1957 version of the Civil Rights Act, “Equal but Separate?”

We made an awful mistake during our early history, and the world has made many of these types of mistakes during its struggle to become a civilized society. I believe it is time we truly grant equality to the races. It has been almost 50 years since the Civil Rights Act was passed and almost 140 years since slavery was legal in this country. It is time we come together, once and for all, put aside our mistakes of the past, allow this wound to heal, and move forward as a united country.

Regarding MLK Day, my friend was right, why do we have a Martin Luther King Day and no John F. Kennedy Day? After all, there were many significant people who were contributors to the passing and subsequent strengthening of the Civil Rights Act, including Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Linda Brown and her father Oliver, who challenged segregation in the public schools (Brown v. the Board of Education), James Meredith (University of Mississippi), and many other courageous Americans, some whose names we will never hear. They all were willing to make tremendous sacrifices in order to propel our nation out of this nightmare. They too should be recognized for their efforts.

Perhaps it would be a major step forward if we changed the name of Martin Luther King Day as we did with Washington’s Birthday and Lincoln’s Birthday, to Civil Rights Day, or some other name which we can use to acknowledge all of the great Americans who contributed to the goal of equality for everyone.

To quote the venerated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during his infamous March on Washington, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal.’ ” I believe that if we truly want to reach this goal and become a nation united and equal as Dr. King’s dream portrayed, we need to stop segregating our races and come together under one name, Americans.

To Your Success,

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