The Leaders We Deserved by Alvin S. Felzenberg (Book Review)

History has the potential to be our tutor in humility. I will not claim any excellence in humility, but I will say that what humility I have is in large part due to reading history.

The Leaders We Deserved by Alvin S. Felzenberg is one of the better historical tutors as it exposes to us not only the lives and actions of our leaders but also the times, controversies, and cultures in which they led.

History can be dull and dry – because the writing makes it so, or the topics are mundane, or because we fail to see what it has to teach us. Yet history can also be exciting and insightful – history teaches us truths like:

  1. Those we judge today as scoundrels or imbeciles are oftentimes our heroes of yesterday.
  2. What seems the only way, the right way, frequently proves the wrong way with the passing of time.
  3. We are greater and worse than those who came before us – leaving us to consider, will we search out the sins of our generation and forsake them or will future generations look back at us in dismay?
  4. We repeat our past with variations. We are not the first to face such a dilemma, nor are we likely to be the last.
  5. People operate within a personal and cultural milieu; their actions are heavily weighted by their experiences and a little more listening, a little more grace, can go a long way towards understanding and appreciating the other.

Lets look at a few examples and I will share some of the lessons I learn from these historical truths:

  1. Anti-immigrant sentiment is not a new phenomenon. John Adams supported and enforced the Alien and Sedition Acts which specifically targeted immigrants. (pg. 258)
    1. Lesson: Anti-immigrant movements are not a new phenomena nor should one dismiss such movements as intellectually crippled, for great minds have supported them.
    2. Question for Consideration: Who were anti-immigration policies focused on? (Hint: Those who now proclaim themselves proudly and truly American were oftentimes the very individuals opposed in the past, e.g. the Irish)
  2. Nor is suppression of freedom of speech a new phenomenon – as John Adams used one of the laws in the Alien and Sedition acts to suppress political opponents. (pg. 258)
    1. Lesson: Freedom of speech has been threatened by great leaders in the past; it is not a new threat, nor does it being threatened mean that we are imminently facing its extinction.[1]
    2. Question: Who else in American history has constrained the rights of American citizens? (Hint: Abraham Lincoln suspended habeus corpus; under FDR during WWII we placed over 160,000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps)
  3. Under Andrew Jackson we were the perpetrators of horrific acts of human rights violations as we manhandled Native Americans.[2] (pg. 261)
    1. Lesson: While we should oppose human rights violations around the world, we should not pretend that we are above such abuses.
    2. Question: What other atrocious acts have been committed under the authority of the United States? (Hint: Look for our purposeful infection of individuals in Latin America with a horrible disease, we are talking 20th century; also some of the regimes we have supported despite their genocidal human rights violations)
  4. Ulysses S. Grant fought for African American civil rights but his endeavors were not lasting enough to offset the foundation of the Ku Klux Klan, which violently enforced segregation and subjugation. It was with 700,000 Southern African American voters that Grant won the election; but, fast forward a short time into the future and African American civil rights would again be suppressed – including the right to vote. (pg. 278)
    1. Lesson: Americans allowed slavery to endure for a lengthy period of our history and when it was ended there was hope of a new equality, but we failed to protect those who were vulnerable and ensure that might didn’t make right…it was our inaction that allowed subjugation of our fellow members of humanity to continue on.
    2. Question: What other sorts of racism surfaced later in American history? Have we seen any recently? (Hint: Look for riots not just in Southern states but Northern as well – I’m looking at you, New Jersey, for one)
  5. There is something to be learned from Ulysses S. Grant whom Felzenberg notes as the only president “to apologize in his farewell message for his personal and policy failings.” (pg. 285)
    1. Lesson: It requires a deeper dive into U.S. Grant’s personality and circumstances to determine whether this apology came from a healthy place and whether it is something to be imitated by others. At first glance, though, we behold a refreshing humility for one of our elected leaders – the ability to admit one’s own incompetence.
    2. Question: What other American leaders have apologized for their actions? What is true about the character of these individuals as opposed to those who refused to apologize or did so in a belittling manner? (Hint: John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan may be a good start)
  6. Under Franklin D. Roosevelt America placed into concentration camps (and thereby abandoned the constitutional rights of) 120,000 Japanese Americans (60%+ were American citizens). (pg. 314)
    1. Lesson: Even if our cause is right we are capable of making grave mistakes that permanently and negatively affect the lives of others.
    2. Question: Have we placed other individuals into concentration camps or otherwise significantly curtailed their liberties? (Hint: Look into the historical treatment of the mentally ill and of those who were ill with HIV/AIDS)
  7. John F. Kennedy, in some ways an astute and successful leader in foreign affairs badly bungled the American-backed invasion of Cuba (pg. 355), and his numerous dalliances with the opposite gender could have been disastrous for national security. (pg. 356).
    1. Lesson: As we consider who will be most careful with our national security it is important to remember that heroes of the past had their great weaknesses as well.
    2. Question: How was John F. Kennedy’s health while in office? (Hint: Look into the consequences of his wartime injuries [WWII] and how this was handled and hidden during his time in office)

What historical books have you read? What lessons have you learned from specific historical events? What questions have historical events raised for you?

  1. [1] Not that I am suggesting we should stop fighting for freedom of speech or be aghast at attempts to deny it, only that in historical context our doomsday predictions are usually not fulfilled.
  2. [2] Some balk at the idea of the United States mistreating Native Americans, insisting this was brought on by their own misbehavior. Even if we were to grant this premise, we would still have committed many acts of atrocious violence against Native American civilians. Sixty thousand Native Americans died traveling the Trail of Tears! (pg. 263) It may also be worth noting that this horrific behavior was opposed by individuals such as American hero, Davy Crockett. (pg. 264)

So You Want to Work From Home….

kittens at workYou’ve heard the ads, perhaps dreamed of working from home. You envision yourself positioned in your own little office in the spare bedroom or a cozy corner of the kitchen, working away while the children play quietly nearby, the dog sleeps by your feet and the money just keeps dropping into your bank account as you faithfully apply your skills.
As a seasoned medical transcriptionist with nearly 11 years’ experience, I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you some of the ups and down of working from home.  There are many reasons people choose to work from home and certainly there are a lot of benefits from doing so.  For me, my venture into this lifestyle started when my marriage fell apart and I was suddenly the sole provider for myself and the 3 of my 7 children still at home. I had been a stay-at-home mom for over 22 years and the thought of diving headfirst into the regular workforce was terrifying. I think it was a real saving grace for me and for my kids that during this time of great upheaval in our family I was able to still be the at-home-all-the-time mom while being able to work and provide for us. Being able to avoid the need for before and after school care and the predicament of knowing you really need to be in the office when your 6-year-old is running a fever significantly lessened the load for all of us. Snow days weren’t a problem, because I was home. Teacher conference days, Christmas break, summers….all were handled with so much more ease because I didn’t have to feel quite so pulled in both directions. I know a lot of women seem able to juggle working outside the home and family and do it really well…but I will always be grateful I had this opportunity to remain in my home full time.

So, for me having the chance to work from home really was a lifesaver and a blessing and I do encourage mothers (especially mothers with young children) who need to work to consider working from home. But, there are also special challenges and drawbacks and I’d like to present some of those here, because I think knowing what you’re up against can strengthen you to face the challenges and still achieve your goal of working from home.

obed at workThat picture of the kids playing quietly and the dog by your feet? Yes, it happens sometimes…maybe once or twice a year?! Seriously, one of the biggest challenges to working from home is that because you are home everyone assumes that means you’re available…the kids, the neighbors, the dog, the cat. There have been so many times I’ve been on a roll typing away when one of the animals would get sick, or the dog would bark to go out. Then there were the times I would spot something outside my window…yep, the goats had broken out of their fence again and were running down the road or worse yet, heading for the neighbor’s garden! So keyboard tossed aside and a dash out the door to do a little mid-morning goat wrangling, or clean up after the dog, or answer the phone and talk for a few minutes with a lonely grown daughter in another state. I found the best way for me to handle distractions like these was to work either early in the morning (really early, i.e. 4 a.m.) or late at night, after kids were in bed and life had quieted down. Some companies will allow you to choose your own schedule and are pretty flexible while others are very rigid. If you can choose to work when there are fewer distractions that’s great. If not I think establishing firm boundaries right from the beginning is a key. Set up your answering machine stating that you are working and will return phone calls when you are finished. We have a code in our family that if we are calling home and really need someone to pick up the phone we call 3 times in a row. That is the signal that somebody needs to answer the phone right away! So you can either use caller ID or a code or another idea of your own so you are accessible in emergencies, but really try to guard yourself from phone interruptions.

Teach the kids right from the beginning that you are not to be interrupted while working unless it is urgent…and be clear on what is urgent. The younger your children the harder this will be. Of course when the goats escape…there’s nothing to do but catch them!

goats4Working from home can be pretty lonely. I’ve spent decades at home…first as a full time stay-at-home mother and then as a working-from-home mother. While there is no workplace drama, there is also no workplace conversation or adult companionship. So, you have to find that on your own. Scheduling in coffee with friends or other activities that feed your soul can help to revitalize you and keep you sane, sometimes literally!
Some of the other positives include being able to keep handle on running the home with a little more ease than a mom who has to be gone from her home all day…you really can get 4 loads of laundry done and be there to turn off the oven when the brownies are done baking. And I believe scheduling a break so you can be there to greet the kids when they arrive home from school is a priceless gift you can give them, and yourself. I also scheduled a break when my kids were getting ready for school in the morning. One of my fondest memories is that every morning one of my teenage daughters would come into the kitchen while I was packing up lunches and say “Hey mom, listen to this song” and she would play me a new-found favorite song on her iPod. Just a little thing, but I was there for it and now that her high school days are over I’m glad I didn’t miss it. So, those are what I’ve found to be some of the basic ups and downs, positives and negatives of working from home. If it’s something you have been thinking about I’d definitely encourage you to do it!

Please feel free to post questions regarding working from home in the comments section below; help me determine what other topics I should cover in this series!

In my next post I will discuss working from home specifically as it relates to being a medical transcriptionist…the good, the bad, and the ugly…stay tuned!

If you are interested in becoming a medical transcriptionist I highly recommend CareerStep.  It’s the school I graduated from and it’s graduates are highly sought after by transcription companies.  They also offer the following programs:  Medical coding and billing, medical office management, medical administrative assistant with EHR, pharmacy technician, health information technician, computer technician, executive assistant, medical billing, and veterinary assistant.  Visit them today at http://www.referral.careerstep.com/ref12112.