Talking in your sleep

Angry-Computer-GuyOftentimes, it’s not so much what you say but rather how you say it.

It’s an important lesson for all of us, but especially important for those who aspire to be our leaders. Think: “Social Security is Welfare

Earlier today, I was interviewed for a locally produced talk show in my community. I was pitched for this idea several weeks ago, and my first instinct was to decline the invitation. But the host was persistent, and he wanted to talk about a subject near and dear to my heart: strategic communication.

As I prepared for the 25-minute taping, I paused to think about some words that I routinely take for granted.  After all, I am a strategic communications consultant; my job makes sense to me but I wondered if it made sense to anyone else.

stra-te-gic \strƏ-tē-jik\ adj 1. of, relating to, or marked by strategy. 2. necessary to or important in the initiation, conduct or completion of a strategic plan.

com-mu-ni-ca-tions\ kә-myὕ-nә-kā-shәns\ n. 1. an act or instance of transmitting; 2. process by which information is exchanged between individuals.

con-sul-tant \kәn-sәlt-nt\ n. 1. one who gives professional advice or services: expert

Thinking more deeply about those words led me to a basic conclusion: Despite the rapid and sometimes overwhelming advance of technology, the basic fundamentals of good communication skills haven’t changed much.

In fact, I quickly recalled a lesson that my late uncle drilled into my head during my teenage years: God gave you two ears and one mouth. Use them proportionately.

Human beings have always had the need and desire to communicate. Our ancestors used hieroglyphics (an earlier version of SnapChat) before sharing stories around campfires and passing those tales and lessons from one generation to the next. From there, we moved on to the invention of the printing press, the telegraph, telephone, television  – – all the way into our brave new world of Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.

But as the speed of our communication increases exponentially, it becomes increasingly important to remember my uncle’s Golden Rule of Communication: take the time to listen and think before you speak, post or tweet.

If you want to learn a little bit more about my professional life (how I feed my family): check out this relatively short video clip.

In the meantime, remember that social media tools are power tools and require caution and a firm understanding of the consequences of making one wrong move that can happen in an instant without warning.

As always, I encourage your feedback. You can contact me by clicking this link.





Hair of the dog

cvs-storeYou probably heard that CVS, one of the nation’s largest drugstore chains, made news by announcing it will no longer sell cigarettes.

While a majority of pundits and health advocates were quick to heap praise upon the retail giant for its “bold and principled” move, some lingering questions remain about the decision and its fallout.

Depending on your perspective, one of the following things precipitated Wednesday’s announcement:

A: the CVS board of directors decided that their good conscience should prevail: selling tobacco products is in direct conflict with their company’s core value of promoting healthy lifestyles, and they made a “principled” decision; or

B: the CVS board of directors violated several regulations of the Securities Exchange Commission by willingly turning away an estimated $2 billion in annual revenue generated from the sale of cigarettes at its stores, and was thereby willing to accept a loss in profits for its shareholders because of principles; or

C: the CVS board of directors knew exactly what they were doing, and this was little more than a calculated and strategic move that would 1.) attract new customers; 2.) provide a significant public relations and marketing boost to a company that is constantly battling with fierce competitors; and 3.) most importantly, open up new sources of revenue and cost discounts with the chain’s affiliated vendors and health partners, including health insurance companies.

Which of those scenarios do you think is most plausible?

If you chose A, you are what people in my profession call completely gullible. If you chose B, you should probably get back to promoting your own grassy-knoll theory.

The right answer, of course, is C.

Allow me to explain. There is no defense for smoking cigarettes. It’s a terrible and nasty habit. But CVS is relying upon a questionable talking point here, especially when considering all the other products that are stocked on its shelves.

The last I heard, the United States is dealing with an obesity epidemic that is costing taxpayers and insurance ratepayers billions and billions of dollars each year. Yet, CVS, the self-proclaimed bastion of good health and righteous moral principles, has yet to announce that it will no longer sell soda, potato chips or candy at any of its stores. Why?

Every once in a while, I enjoy a cold beer, a nice glass of wine or a soothing shot of bourbon. Alcohol, however, is a known toxic. Many people are unable to consume alcohol responsibly. Alcohol related deaths are skyrocketing. Alcohol abuse can be found at the root of many social problems, including crimes that range from inxtoxicated driving and domestic violence to robberies and assault. Loss in workplace productivity related to alcohol consumption is staggering. The impacts of alcohol on our nation’s health care system is extraordinary.

smokingWill CVS sell wine or beer at any of its stores?

I am a free-market capitalist. I am tickled pink that CVS made its own decision. The government did not pressure the company. The market did. That’s the way it should work.

But for CVS to single out just one of several products its sells for profit earns them my Hypocrite of the Year Award.

And for health advocates to call this a “move of principle” is a joke because they conveniently (for now) ignore some much larger issues.

Today, it’s the smokers. And eventually, smoking will be eliminated. But then what?

Do you really think it will stop there? Do you really think that they won’t come after your food, your beverages, or any of your choices?

Attempting to create a physically fit, morally upright citizenry has been attempted before. Maybe some day, we will get it right.

Sand in the Vaseline

the_internet_simplified1This blog is on equal footing with the New York Times.

No, I am not having a Richard Sherman moment. I am simply stating a fact. A fact that should give all of us pause as we contemplate the marvels of technology

What I write on these pages is instantly available to billions of people, anyone connected to the world-wide web. By virtue of nothing more than my registered domain, my silly and perfunctory blog is just as accessible as any other online media source.

The internet, virtually free of government regulation (at least in the United States), is the great equalizer, and it has fundamentally shifted the way we live our lives. Today, we can do things that would have seemed impossible or the stuff of science fiction just 20 years ago.

Medical records can be transmitted at lightning speed, sometimes helping doctors save a life; you can now renew your driver’s license while wearing only boxer shorts at 3 a.m. from the comfort of your own home; 12-year-old boys no longer have to suffer the humiliation of sneaking a peek at a Playboy magazine perched on the top shelf at the local drug store. There are millions of funny cat videos to watch; and you can argue politics with absolute strangers (today they are called Facebook “friends” or “followers”) 24 hours a day.

I think we can all agree that the internet is pretty cool. Thank you, Al Gore!

I write this because of a recent court decision that is considered by some as a victory for free markets and by others as a threat to humanity.

The issue is known as “network neutrality,” a terrifying concept with a very appealing name. Thank you, public relations professionals! (You’re welcome)

Those who favor net neutrality say they want to “save the internet.” Those who oppose net neutrality say they want to “save the internet.”

Enter the District of Columbia U.S. Court of Appeals, which sided with Verizon and other telecom giants over the schizophrenic rulemaking proposed by the FCC.

According to Reuters, the Court rejected federal rules that required Internet providers to treat all web traffic equally, a decision that could allow mobile carriers and other broadband providers to charge content providers for faster access to websites and services.

The Federal Communications Commission’s open Internet rules, also known as net neutrality, required Internet service providers to give consumers equal access to all lawful content without restrictions or tiered charges.

Which side of the net neutrality debate is right?

The sad fact is that both sides are a little bit right, and we can all agree that the internet should continue being cool and delivering porn or funny cat videos at blazing fast speeds, right?

Unfortunately, that’s not really the issue at hand. Let’s pause for a moment and watch a video:

Clash of the Titans

At the center of the net neutrality debate is a sad truth. This is not some humanistic battle on the wild frontier of technology. This is a race to the bank by two sets of very large corporations.

On one side, you have internet service providers like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T. On the other side are huge internet users like Netflix, Google, Amazon, Microsoft and YouTube.

The late Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) was roundly chastised for describing the internet as a “series of tubes,” but he was not that far off the mark.

The bottom line? It costs money to make the internet work. It requires infrastructure that is in constant need of upgrades and repairs to meet the challenges of an exploding market and skyrocketing volume demands. The world has a big appetite for cat videos and pornography.

Netflix, Amazon and others want to use the internet just like you and me. Equal access for all, they scream.

But does that make sense? Net neutrality opponents argue that the internet is a public domain and should thus have equal access for all users. Let’s think about that.

AA001879Can we apply that logic to other public domains? How about the post office? Should it cost as much to mail a post card as it does an air conditioner? Is that discrimination?

Or how about the Turnpike, a quasi-public piece of infrastructure subsidized by tax dollars? Tractor trailer trucks have to pay a bigger toll than someone driving a Prius. And that is fair because the truck creates more wear and tear on the road.

Proponents of net neutrality say that consumers may have to pay more for faster services or special tiered packages. Oh my!

Their rallying cry, as demonstrated by a recent op-ed in the New York Times by Susan Crawford is that the internet could end up being like (gasp) pay TV.

I don’t know about Susan Crawford, but television when I was growing up sucked. We had three channels, and I was my father’s remote control. Television today is much better. I have a huge TV and about a zillion channels that all show the same seven movies over and over. I pay through the teeth for that kick-ass, high-definition, Dolby surround-sound, 60-inch, power sucking thing of beauty, and I can pause live television. Imagine telling that to someone watching Archie Bunker in 1972.

Net neutrality is a solution desperately in search of a problem. Your internet today is better than it was five years ago. I guarantee it will be even better five years from now, . . . unless, the “Save the Internet” crowd opts for a second bite at the apple.

Who do you love?

me and the manThere is only one subject I find more fascinating than politics: psychology.

Some of us spend so much of our time focused on the candidates or those elected to public office, yet we barely scratch the surface when it comes to examining the people beyond the headlines and the hype.

Who are those people? You and me, the people in the streets.

At the risk of being redundant to the extreme, I find myself falling back again to the words of Henry David Thoreau: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

My rather loose, modern-day translation?

The masses (you and me) tend to operate on a day-to-day hamster wheel of human obligations: family commitments, jobs and financial security, concerns about the future and the occasional circus: The Red Sox, rock n’ roll or watching Honey Boo-Boo.

The masses crave bread and circuses. And abundance of both typically leads to a sense of apathy when it comes to politics.

This dynamic was true in the days of Caesar, and it has changed little today.

An abundance of bread and circuses allows us the luxury of ignoring the machinations of the political class. But take away the bread or the circuses, and all hell can break loose pretty quickly.

You’re dumb, I’m smart

I spent the better part of this weekend representing one of my clients at the annual Maine Snowmobile Show in Augusta.

As it is every year, statewide political candidates attend the show to press flesh and talk to prospective voters. In about a year, Maine voters will choose the state’s next governor. Today, there are three leading candidates: Republican Paul LePage, the incumbent seeking a second term; Democrat Mike Michaud, a member of Congress; and Independent Candidate Eliot Cutler, who is making a second attempt to live in the Blaine House.

I had the opportunity to speak with all three candidates this weekend. These were brief, perfunctory interactions. Like them, I was there in a professional capacity so — of course — those conversations were limited, professional and cordial.

Because I was working, I did not have the opportunity to follow any of the candidates through the show or to observe all of their interactions with other exhibitors and attendees.

Thus, my observations were anecdotal and certainly limited; but I was able to observe the candidates from a decent vantage point and had the luxury of hearing public reactions long after each of the candidates left the civic center.

I began to wonder about the motivations of those who support LePage, Michaud or Cutler. What makes those people tick? What drives their political preferences? Why do they react positively to one candidate and not the other?

I got some answers to those questions only a few moments after I posted a photo of me and Governor LePage. The reaction from my “friends” was equally swift and clear.

Posting that photo on my Facebook page caused a visceral reaction that brutally revealed a harsh reality.

The angels want to wear my red shoes

One man who I consider to be a close friend made his assessment of the photo with just a pithy comment: “Maybe 100 total IQ points right there.”

Honestly, that comment stung. Without any other context offered, my friend was speculating that Maine’s governor and I had a combined IQ of 100 points, literally translated: on average, the governor and I have a respective IQ of 50 points, meaning that neither of us would be able to function at even the most basic level.

My friend’s comment was endorsed by a couple other Facebook “friends.”

These very same people will be among the first to bemoan a sorry state of political discourse or to champion “civility” and a bi-partisan approach.

Take this to its obvious conclusion: Governor LePage is stupid and so are the people who support him or even those who have the temerity to be photographed standing next to him.

Further commentary on this photo ranged from those who said they would “vomit” if they were within a few feet of the governor to another friend’s description of LePage as a “useless turd.”

What causes such a visceral reaction? Why do people react with such emotion? I suspect it is motivated by fear.

Make no mistake. We see this same dynamic on the political right. Just mentioning President Obama’s name in the wrong crowd can ignite a bonfire of emotion and even asinine comparisons to Adolph Hitler.

A while back I wrote a piece about Sarah Palin and her appeal to so many of my fellow Americans.

When we dismiss Sarah Palin, especially when we run off the rails and make fun of her penchant for shopping at Wal-Mart, her religious beliefs or her love of hunting, NASCAR or her limited education, we are subconsciously pointing the same critical finger at the millions of those who are undeniably loyal to her.

Democrats bemoan the loss of moderate Republicans (code: Republicans who tend to support Democrats).

John McCain was described by the left as an honest, independent maverick who exemplified the proud, glorious and bygone days of a better GOP – – – right up until the day he was selected as the GOP’s nominee to take on Barack Obama in 2008.

Hands down, Governor LePage received the warmest reception at this weekend’s snowmobile show. It was not universal, but it was clear and undeniable. People flocked to him, offering hugs and encouragement.

Whether you like it or can admit it, the 2014 gubernatorial race will be a battle for the political center.

Democrats are at a disadvantage, just as they were in 2010, because their own party is divided between two candidates. The Maine Democratic Party needs a major win in 2014, especially since they were crushed by an “independent” candidate in last year’s senate race.

Democrats would be well-served to better understand LePage’s appeal to those who they routinely dismiss. There are plenty of reasons to vote against LePage, but they also need some even better reasons to vote for Michaud. Otherwise, they can expect the same results we saw three years ago.

Let’s give ’em something to talk about

Concept - politically correctMany years ago, when I was still a teenager, my mother gave me one of those funny key chains that featured a picture of a gorilla and the following text: “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.”

That message seems to encapsulate the rather recent drive to create a Utopian society by imposing a vernacular corralled by the concept of “political correctness.”

Of course, my mother was not always so jovial or light-hearted, especially when it comes to politics. In fact, my mom makes most progressives seem like Bush-appointed circuit court judges. She is an avid reader and a regular subscriber to Mother Jones.  She was one of the first people in Maine to carry a Working Assets credit card. She read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee as a bedtime story to me and my sister.

Okay, I’m sort of kidding about that last part, but let’s just say that my mother pretty much defines the word, liberal. May God have mercy on her soul.

It is without question that my political opinions and rantings have caused my poor mother many a sleepless night, wondering exactly where she went wrong.

Here’s where my mom went wrong: She had the temerity to teach her children about critical thinking. She taught us to question authority, and she loves us so much that she allows us to have our own voices, not merely reflections of her own pinko-commie-subversive thought process.

My mother, like most mothers, also had a handful of favorite adages that she never hesitated to repeat;

  • “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
  • “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” And my favorite:
  • “Don’t put that in your mouth!”

Brave New World

My mother also encouraged her children to read; and to read voraciously. Although I caused my mother consistent grief, sorrow and disappointment, I generally exceeded her ingrained expectations about reading. I recall a lengthy conversation we had over Kentucky Fried Chicken about George Orwell’s Animal Farm, a study of the good intentions and the eventual pitfalls associated with the Bolsheviks and the Russian Revolution in 1917.

All of this brings me to my point (finally) and an admission that this post was written as a lengthy response to my eldest niece, Bre Kidman, a law student and Loyola graduate. (Also a card-carrying pinko, feminazi who apparently lives in a world where every little girl receives a pink pony on their eighth birthday.)

Actually, Breanne is one of the smartest people I have stumbled across during my near half-century of wandering this planet. She’s also a gifted writer and has a sharp wit. In essence, I am intimidated about tackling her logic. Bre had a visceral reaction to one of my earlier blog posts: Talking in Your Sleep  That post highlighted my contempt and loathing of the politically correct model. You can read the exchange that took place over the next three days by clicking on the comments link at the bottom of that page.

While I find “political correctness” to be a dangerous hybrid of processes envisioned years ago by George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, Breanne bases her rection on the false premise that being “politically correct” and being “polite” are essentially the same.

PC is just another way to be polite?

Breanne and I agree that people should strive to be polite, respectful and courteous. These are laudable goals and foster an ability to absorb differing perspectives and enrich our lives.

Surprisingly, especially considering that Breanne is such a strong “pro-choice” advocate, she fails to acknowledge that political correctness is too often imposed; while being polite is basically voluntary. Although I will concede that a failure to be polite has its consequences, those consequences are typically more severe when one fails to adhere to the dictates of our “newspeak.”

Breanne challenged me to provide tangible examples of when a political correctness failure has “bitten someone in the ass.” (My words, not hers)

Roll up your sleeves, Bre. It’s about to get tense. I will start with the words of a black woman. Note: I did not describe her as an African-American, but please hold your criticism until you finish reading her thoughts on the subject of political correctness and its unintended consequences

Yvette Carnell, a former Capitol Hill staffer and now a blogger, published a piece entitled Why is Pro-Black Being Attacked? The Unintended Consequence of Political Correctness.

Carnell wrote her piece in response to the uproar caused by the hiring of a white editor by the publishers of Essence Magazine, a publication specifically marketed toward black women.

An excerpt: The real cause of cognitive dissonance here is the political correctness which has returned to devour the very little angel faced darlings it was designed to protect.  Political correctness was initiated in an effort to soften language and expressions which could be interpreted as offensive to disadvantaged communities. 

So instead of ‘black’ or ‘colored’, those of African descent were assigned the glossier, new and improved, Negro 2.0 category of African-American, and so on.   A new school of words were employed to shave the jagged edges of the language which had been blamed for causing much of the emotional angst observed in the black community.”

Another woman, BJ Gallagher, writing in the Huffington Post, offers some salient food for thought in her essay: The Problem With Political Correctness

Excerpt: I wonder, do the TV talking heads understand the true definition of the labels they hurl at public figures: “racist,” “sexist,” “bigoted,” or worse — based on nothing more than a comment taken out of context, someone’s clumsy attempt at humor, or a photo or image that’s the artistic expression of a creative person?

How many of us understand these definitions when we call someone a racist or sexist jerk? Jerk, perhaps… but racist or sexist? Perhaps… perhaps not. Do we really understand the seriousness of those labels? Or, are we simply indulging in destructive name-calling based on political correctness?

Damn, I love Google! Let’s keep going for just one more because who doesn’t love a Top-10 list? For example: this list from Jay Carlson and our friends at the ListServe blog ( 10 Ridiculous Cases of Political Correctness,) is chock full of juicy tidbits, such as an office worker who filed a complaint and was deeply offended about the words “master” and “slave” to describe computer files.

You get my point, and I am confident that you can use Google without my biased guidance. But before you blather on about mind-numbing topics like political correctness, please at least acknowledge that its consequences are real, if only to force us into uniform conformity, like cattle headed for the slaughter.

Final note: If you think there are no consequences for living in a world that has gone overboard with a zealous push for political correctness, you may want to have a chat with four former lacrosse players from Duke University or the now-disbarred District Attorney who rushed to prosecute them under the pressure of political correctness.

Be polite, and try to keep your feelings in check because they are not facts and they belong only to you.

The kids are alright

v1I remember it like it happened yesterday, but actually it took place a little more than two years ago.

I was standing in my back yard, practically screaming into my cell phone and more than annoyed with the obnoxious punk on the other end of the line.

I’ll get more into the substance of that conversation in just a bit, but here’s the kicker: the young man I was arguing with was incredibly mature and polite, best evidenced by how he responded to my venting anger about his arrogance.

“Mr. Seaver, I simply disagree with you,” he said more than once during that 15-minute call.  He called me “Mr. Seaver,” a sign of respect offered by a much younger person. It was both jarring and nostalgic.

My parents insisted that we always refer to adults (even their close friends who frequently visited our home) as Mr. So and So or Mrs. Smith . . .

It’s been almost 40 years since I was in the fifth grade, but I still call my fifth-grade teacher Mr. Flaherty, despite the fact that he is a Facebook friend. I know many of my peers do the same. It’s how we were raised. You know, back in the good ol’ days.

The good ol’ days weren’t always so good

Lately, I have heard what appears to be an increasing amount of complaints about Generation Y, those born between 1982 and the early 2000’s.

Of course, the criticism reached a crescendo recently in reaction to the performance by Miley Cyrus at this year’s MTV awards show.

A few days later, a good friend shared a link on his Facebook page about Generation Y, pointing to a familiar narrative about what is supposedly the most self-absorbed, narcissistic and generally lazy generation of all time.

It occurs to me that sociology experts said a lot of the same things about the generations that preceded those Generation Y twerps, Gen X and the so-called Baby Boomers (those born in the years following World War II).

In fact, no one seems to enjoy writing about and analyzing the societal impacts of Baby Boomers quite so much as other Baby Boomers.

For disclosure, I was born at the tail end of the Baby Boomer generation; and I often wonder about the real differences between Baby Boomers, Gen X, Generation Y or even the group that Tom Brokaw so famously dubbed “The Greatest Generation.”

With all due respect to Mr. Brokaw and to those amazing people he wrote about, I think we too often view history through rose-colored glasses.

Tomorrow’s not as bad as it seems

Kids today could not survive in the world I grew up in. Kids today are so disrespectful. Parents no longer teach manners. Kids today are so lazy, self-absorbed, belligerent, spoiled, blah, blah, blah . . .

Sure, I have caught myself yelling at a teenager to “turn down that awful music!” And every time I see a boy with his blue jeans hanging on the bottom of his ass, I have to work really hard not to slap him up side the head.

Within five or ten years, there is absolutely no doubt that I will be screaming: “Hey, kid! Get off my lawn!”

But are kids today really worse than they were in the 1980s, the 1960s, the ’50s, during the Depression . . .?

It seem as if many of us are more than happy to be armchair sociologists. We extract an abundance of anecdotal evidence over time, recognize a trend and react with a combination of resentment, anger, nostalgia and a sense that the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

What we see scares the living shit out of us. These kids are about to inherit the reins. Some day, they will be running this country. We need to do something, and quick.

Not necessarily.

Exception to the rule?

Remember that young punk I was talking to a couple of years ago?  His name is Ryan Gavin, and he came to my house on Sunday to interview me for a radio show he produces in Bangor.

RGA little more than two years ago this young punk took out nomination papers to be the mayor of Biddeford. Other than serving as an appointed student representative on the school board, this punk had zero political experience. He never owned a company or worked to support a family. He was a college student who had yet to finish his educational career. How friggin’ arrogant can one person be? How could he possibly think he was ready to lead an entire city or oversee development of a mult-million dollar budget?

But I was annoyed because I was supporting another candidate. I knew the perils of what could happen in a three-way race. I wanted a two-way race: my guy versus the incumbent, a clear, easy and obvious choice for every voter, regardless of their affiliation. A third candidate, I reasoned, would only muddy the waters. This arrogant punk was about to rain on my parade.

Other volunteers on Alan Casavant’s campaign thought I was overreacting. They did not see this young punk as a threat. I knew they were wrong. Ryan Gavin was no ordinary kid. Eventually, he dropped out of the race and joined our team, heading up the campaign’s social media efforts.

When he came to my house, he was prepared for the interview. He had done his research. He asked tough questions, and caught me off guard more than once. Just the two of us in that room. One of us was a pro, but it was not me.

So here’s my own anecdotal observation. There are just as many Richie Cunninghams in the world today as there were in the 1950s. There are also just as many Fonzies, and Fonzie was actually (beneath the surface) a pretty good kid.

Ryan Gavin is much more Richie Cunningham than Fonzie. He was a stand-out student at Biddeford High School. He made older people feel comfortable. He is articulate, polite and wears his jeans on his hips. My wife served with him on the school board and often remarked about how we was always the most prepared, the most earnest of school board members.

In January 2009, Ryan founded WildbrookMedia, and now serves as its executive director, overseeing the creative process for some of the most recognizable content on the air and on social media in Maine.  In 2008, Ryan attended the American Legion’s Dirigo Boys State program, and joined the staff in 2009, currently serving as Media Coordinator. Ryan ran for Mayor of Biddeford in 2011, before endorsing Mayor Alan Casavant in the general election. He  represented Maine at the 47th Annual United States Senate Youth Program, and is a member of the United States Senate Youth Alumni Association.

In summary, this young punk offers a lot of hope for the future, and so do the majority of his peers. It’s just that we spend a lot more time talking about people like Miley Cyrus instead of people like Ryan Gavin.

Sure, this is just one piece of anecdotal evidence, but you don’t have to look very far to figure out that the only thing us old farts have to fear is fear itself.

Get back

Someone once famously said, the only apparent constant is the consistent and unyielding persistence of change.

In political campaigns, the word “change” has long been a favored rhetorical tool for those seeking to oust an incumbent. On the other hand, if those challengers are succesful, they quickly drop the battle cry for “change.”

The New Page mill in Rumford.  (Bangor Daily News photo)

The New Page mill in Rumford. (Bangor Daily News photo)

Change is rarely quantified during political campaigns. Consider: If your house burns down, that will be a change, but not necessarily a change you would choose.

Unfortunately, none of are us are immune to change or able to control its impact.

But it’s important to remember that we can respond to change without panic. We can embrace change and accept it. We can and should always prepare for the next change that waits around the proverbial corner.

I chose this topic as the result of an article I read in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. That story, about 1,100 lost paper mill jobs in Alabama, jarred me and re-ignited a lingering sense of anxiety I carry around with me about Maine’s fragile economy.

The thrust of the story involved the diminishing need for paper in an increasingly digital age.

I spent the sophomore and junior years of my high school career as a student at Rumford High. Still, more than 30 years later, I always enjoy telling people from away that I lived in Peru and traveled daily on a school bus through Mexico to simply attend classes.

It did not take long for me to understand what it was like to live in Rumford, a community that is literally dependent on the financial health of yet another paper milll perched along the shore of the Androscoggin River.

Every year, while driving my family toward our summer excursion to Rangeley Lake, my kids and wife will complain about the smell of the mill as we drive through the neighboring town of Mexico. “That’s the smell of money,” I remind them.

When I was a kid, the mill was the preferred future for many of my classmates. Those were good-paying union jobs with excellent benefits. If you get into the mill, you would be all set. You could earn a good living, raise a family and buy a decent home.

Those days are changing.

It’s no different in my hometown of Biddeford, another Maine community hit hard by the influence of global markets and a decline in what were once traditional manufacturing opportunities.

Historically, Maine’s economy has been driven by the 3 Fs – – – Forestry, Fishing and Farming. All three of those once strong economic engines are facing serious challenges  – – from unstable and rising energy costs and tightening environmental regulations to global competition and advances in technology.

Fortunately, many of Maine’s paper mills are learning to adapt to a world that consumes less paper as the result of rapid advances in digital technology. But that adaptation seems slow and certainly painful.

 Maine is the second leading paper-making state by volume, producing more paper than any state other than Wisconsin, according to the Maine Pulp and Paper Association. Maine’s paper production has consistently increased since 1990, and in recent years Maine has produced more paper than ever before, according to the association’s web site.

But the challenges cannot be ignored or dismissed. My job regularly takes me into rural communities throughout Maine. Too many of our communities are mere shadows of what they once were.

just last week I spoke to a school principal in northern Maine who told me her school district has a 74.3 percent rate of students who qualify for free or reduced hot lunches. In the same breath she proudly tells me that her school district also has one of Maine’s highest graduation rates and that her school district was the first in Maine to raise money for Hurricane Sandy victims.

Just amazing.

There are many other good stories out there, An increasing number of commercial fishermen throughout the Gulf of Maine are becoming partners in collaborative research projects and using new technology to adapt.

But still, I worry. I worry that my fellow voters will not support our state’s technical schools. I worry that too many of us blindly follow change or react to it within a narrow vacuum of our own experience.

I know what it’s like to live in a community that shudders with fear and anxiety when rumors of No. 2 machine shutting down begin to circulate around town.

Can technology and education overcome the painful consequences of change? Yes, but only if we can accept and prepare for change.

Still, it hurts to think about those 1,100 people in Alabama, just like it hurts to drive through portions of Washington County.

Make no mistake: change is something you can believe in.