Saturday, February 28, 2009


I wore a pink shirt to work the other day and while it was no big deal, my best Friend commented that, “only real men wear pink.” That immediately brought to mind an incident and cultural rite of passage that occurred in Atlanta many years ago. Now I’m fairly comfortable in my own skin but the wearing of the pink especially in a work environment wasn’t always kosher and didn’t happen by accident.

In August of 1966 I was hired by the Retail Credit Company (RCC) of Atlanta, Georgia as a Field Representative (insurance investigator) in their Marietta, Georgia branch office. I was originally vetted and approved by the RCC Memphis manager who probably liked me for no more reason than I was an Ole Miss graduate and had played some football there my freshman year - an honorable mid-south pedigree. I was hired under what was then (and even now) their very impressive College Recruiting Program - one of the first real effective fast track succession planning strategies implemented by any major American corporation. I was given probably more opportunities than I deserved though by the Summer of 1970 after operational stints in Marietta, Hapeville and a sub office in Mableton, Georgia, I found myself firmly domiciled by RCC (now Equifax) in their Atlanta, Georgia headquarters at 1600 Peachtree Street working under the tutelage of a brilliant writer and all around nice guy with an incredibly talented sommelier wife, one John Cooper who had the charge to develop and grow the company’s Field Training and ultimately their Corporate Training & Development Department. He succeeded and after some expanded workshops and seminars at the University of Michigan I was able to assume the leadership of the Equifax Educational Programming and Research unit and later the corporate Employee Relations function.

Now in the home office I was able to meet some of the real movers and shakers of this very conservative company that had born and nurtured the now famous white gloved ladies that worked at their original home office on Decatur Street and later in a new headquarters in the Fairlie-Poplar district in the heart of downtown Atlanta. A few of those Ladies were still on watch by the time I hit 1600 Peachtree. They were vigilant protectors of the grail…

Again, the name of the game was CONSERVATIVE in all matters, especially dress. The work dress code required jacket, white (sometimes light blue) shirt and tie, every day. There was no casual Friday and certainly no jeans were ever worn. As a product of the New England prep school system and Ole Miss where blazer and tie were accepted norms, I was right at home. Everyday was Sunday.

Dress conventions and protocols in the 1970’s (Hippies aside) started to ease a bit but who would lead the charge in the twentieth century workplace? Surely not one of the mostly staid officers of the company and not one of us upstart young lions and not even one fellow employee, Earl Crew in HR who when four o’clock rolled around became another person – like the rest of us. Earl was perhaps one of the more industrious of the RCC young Turks (change tomorrow, today!) working a second job selling watches. That experience plus his good humor and work ethic eventually earned him the love of a fellow employee and eventually the position of Vice President of Compensation for Equifax. Not bad…

As an aside, Equifax allowed me the privilege of life long Friendships with the likes of Nancy Bell, Bobbie Blanton, Newt Richardson, Kathy Murphy, Dieter Arnold and John Werner, among others, so this was an excellent career and personal decision. Thanks guys!

At that time RCC had a dynamic leader, W. Lee Burge who first started working for the company as a mail room clerk when he was in College at Georgia State University (then the Atlanta Division of the University of Georgia). Burge worked for RCC/Equifax for fifty years, earned Presidency and Chairman positions with the company and became the poster boy for RCC, the company who “grew their own.” I think that he knew everybody’s name at 1600 and when we would meet in the hall (fairly frequently) he always called me by my first name and asked about my Family. I suspect that I was no different than Earl or any other employee. Burge set the example and standard for the company and the community with his Service Excellence philosophy (“A pleased customer always returns to the place where he has been well served.”) fitting nicely amongst today’s top service oriented companies. He had a insatiable thirst for knowledge and was a voracious fiscally responsible citizen of Atlanta. He was passionate about all he did. I wish that he were still among us to help sort out our current economic woes.

As a natural leader he assumed the helm of not only Retail Credit/Equifax but many organizations giving back to the community at large whenever he could. Among many other honors and projects, he served as Chairman of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia from 1972-73 and in a predominately African American city and an indication of the respect he engendered, served as Chairman of Atlanta’s United Negro College Fund from 1974-75. He was on the board of trustees at Mercer University and member of the board of governors of Georgia State University’s Center for Ethics and Corporate Responsibility and strong proponent of the Georgia State University (GSU) College of Law. GSU established the W. Lee Burge Endowment for Law & Ethics, an active teaching chair that promotes ethics, professionalism and access to justice. Very appropriate for the man who set the standard in the Atlanta Community.

Lee Burge understood the necessity for change and facilitated the very necessary evolution to modern thinking and protocols and all under the noses of the existing RCC Aristocracy. He brought in IBM’s Jack Rogers who in turn brought in Tom Chapman who completed the cycle. Having left Equifax in 1980, it was fun and satisfying to watch the transition.

Well, one hot summer morning while looking in our coffee cups during break (I think it was Earl Crew, Larry Case and me), Lee Burge came down off the hallowed Fifth Floor, strolled through the cafeteria and into the private dining room. Not unusual you say? Except that Burge was wearing blue blazer, pink shirt, gray slacks and white bucks! The cafeteria fell silent as Lee acknowledged several employees, smiled and went into his meeting. The die was cast and the future was ours. We just looked at each other and smiled understanding the ramifications of that one simple deliberate act.

There was no formal announcement of a change in the dress code though from that point the old button-down dress code became a part of RCC history. We had gone from Flash Gordon to Luke Skywalker in a millisecond! Pink and pastels of every color soon visited 1600 along with many a seersucker suit and, yes, white bucks. We had turned the fashion corner and we owed it all to Lee Burge. New Orleans had moved to Atlanta…

Fast forward to the 21st century. Pink remains the color of alpenglow on Mount Rainier, my best Friend's bathrobe, Pepto Bismol, some compromised poodles, traditional bubble gum, my favorite panther, Elvis’ and Mary Kay's Cadillacs, the three plastic flamingos someone put on my lawn in Atlanta in 1979, the performing and stage name of the talented Alecia Moore, a feminine loungewear line, part of the name of several other pop singers and groups and, most importantly, the symbol and color of breast cancer awareness who keep reminding us that Pink is the color of passion! The 2007 Calgary Stampede was a literal sea of pink as “Tough Enough to Wear Pink” Wrangler and rodeo fans from around the world righteously supported breast cancer research and awareness programs.

For all you Scots out there yes, there really are tartans that incorporate the color pink and a company dba Pink Tartan. Well, we actually found a corporate pink tartan material registered with the ScottIsh Tartans Society known simply as, Think Pink, apparently offered by our Friends with breast cancer awareness (the Highlands are alive!). "Legtimate" Tartans that incorporate some degree of pink include the MacMillan Old Ancient and Old Weathered Tartans, the Bruce of Kinnaird Ancient Tartan, the Connaught and Munster (Ulster) Tartans and the Aberdeen (District) tartan. Yes, I was surprised though I have seen the Ancient MacMillan at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games. It's attractive.

We also found the fashionable and very chic clothing label Pink Tartan (, the brainchild of Canadian Kimberley Newport-Mimran. While the company has a decidedly Scottish moniker, they don’t appear to have anything to do with tartans or kilts. They have designed and used some awesome pink plaids in their very popular women’s clothing lines that continue to entertain and inspire Scotophiles.

We noted that the State of Minnesota has a state tartan that has a dark pink stripe, emblematic of the pink in their state flower, the Showy Lady¹s Slipper. Added bonus: When the pink color runs through the blue threads in the Tartan, it becomes purple, the color of the Thistle, Scotland's national flower. Inquiring minds want to know… We can only assume there are more examples we have overlooked.

So, thanks to Lee Burge and other like minded corporate fashion plates we can wear our pink shirts of any persuasion and be comforted that we are not compromising our masculinity – “a real man can wear any color he wants.”

My reality is that as my hair turns more silver, a pink shirt really doesn’t look half bad….. So, support breast cancer awareness and programs any way you can and thank Lee Burge for all he did.

Fashion trends aside, are you tough enough to wear pink?


Ned Buxton

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Great Friend Chuck Fatheree of Atlanta and his Clan Lamont recently reminded me that the Scots term for left-handedness is corrie fistit which literally means clumsy. Another term for left-handedness can also be heilan meaning “Highland” a proud appellation for most of us whose families emanated from the Highlands of Scotland. However, the term refers to the one-time, ill-advised and negative racist perception that Highlanders were awkward and backward. Must have come from the Sassenach… And, yes, we used to eat English babies and our dead…

The real reason why many perceive left handedness as the deviation from the norm is probably because - it is (10% v. 90%). With the world being overwhelmingly right-handed those who developed that sinister persuasion fell under a diabolical and superstitious scrutiny that continues to this day.

The cultural prejudice against left-handedness is pervasive in most societies around the world with the basic implication that right is correct and left is wrong. To this day in many societies and cultures left-handed mannerisms are still discouraged and even outlawed. To the latter part of the 20th century use of the left hand for writing was discouraged in English schools. There’s more.

The old Irish used to use the term ciotóg In the Gaelic language, pronounced 'kitt-ogue', and means “strange one.” Works for me…. Some Irish still use the term Kitter-fisted while the Norse use crooked-handed to describe left-handed folks.

When we hear the word sinister we usually conjure up images of the dark side – to include evil, malicious, harmful, ominous and even Satanic. To many, however, the word denotes (from the Latin) no more than a reference to those who are dominated by their left hand as opposed to the preferred alternative. My maternal grandfather, son and I are among those that constitute from seven to ten percent of Homo Sapiens that are left-handed. As I watched President Obama sign the stimulus package the other day I couldn’t help noticing and being reminded that he’s also a southpaw. By the way, John McCain is also left-handed. Do we find consolation that 60% of our presidents over the last thirty years are left-handed? For me there’s something comfortable about being left-handed though that hasn’t been the case throughout history.

There are many blogs and sites out there that are exploring Lefthandedness, the history of gauche discrimination and some of the more current unacceptable attitudes and practices about this dexterity (oops!). We shall soon overcome. We will recommend some to you later and hope they encourage your further inquiry.

Whether these aforementioned sinister misconceptions came from a less than intelligent, primal eureka that recognized behavioral and mechanical differences to the current cultural stereotypes or the habits of expanding Islamic societies where the left hand is always used in the toilet (use your imagination) and considered evil and unclean, doesn’t really matter. The fact is, they exist. As a side bar we of Might of Right do sincerely recommend that when in the company of Muslim hosts that you lefties eat with your right hand. It’s easy. Heck, if 90% have the hang of it…

On a personal note, throughout my early life my left-handedness always put me at a disadvantage. Think about it, most everything in our world to include knives, scissors, can openers, pens, shears, trowels and other basic implements are all “right-handed”. I not so fondly remember at St. Dunstan’s School and later at Moses Brown in Providence, Rhode Island having to endure incredibly awkward right-handed desks until they finally got me desks sinister. Musical instruments are mostly right-handed. Firearms to include pistols and rifles are all manufactured for the righty user. That may be a sign that we are the peacemakers of the world though I note that dictators like Napoleon, Julius Caesar, Tiberius, Charlemagne, Alexander the Great and thugs like Castro were/are all left-handed. Thank God for Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf two left-handers who fought for peace.

As a youngster I was active as a Junior Member of the National Rifle Association. My left-handed Grandfather, Alden Llewellyn Littlefield, was the Range Master (along with many more responsibilities) at the Masassoit Gun Club in Riverside, Rhode Island which was named for the famous Wampanoag Chief, Massasoit who helped the inept and ultimately discriminating Plymouth Pilgrims survive their first winter in the New World. Granddaddy Littlefield taught me how to shoot and even had a special left-handed 22 calibre rifle (small) available for me. My goal was to someday be able to use his left-handed competition rifles that he used to great success in competitions all over the northeast. He was a crack shot, a true Champion and heroic figure for me as I grew up. I still have some of his vintage left-handed golf clubs which are sacred icons in our Family.

While I no longer shoot competitively I have embraced some of Granddaddy’s lessons when I performed Grant’s New Highland Military Discipline of 1757 with my short land pattern .75 calibre flintlock Brown Bess musket that sure wasn’t designed for the southpaw (no mass produced weapons were). Many a left-handed 78th Fraser Highlander has walked away from our musketry firing range with burns and black powder residue on his face from the right-handed lock. I am glad that today I own an Ithaca shotgun with a bottom load and eject design that works well for this southpaw. No, I’ve never fired the weapon…

Thank God there are stores now to include The Sinister Shoppe and Anything Left Handed, among many others, that specialize in selling items that can be easily used by left-handers to include those pesky knives and scissors and even left-handed spiral bound notebooks or left-handed boomerangs? Ahhhhh, life’s necessities… But before I got to that point I just learned to use right-handed implements and doubt that I could properly use anything else. You do what you have to do.

My Mother never discouraged or attempted to diminish my sinister leanings, rather encouraged me with many books and manuals for lefties. She never tied my left arm behind my back, rather provided special instruction whenever necessary to include training on how to properly tie a necktie. Mother insisted that my Brothers and I only use a double Windsor knot and literally forbade us from using the four-in-hand or half Windsor and inspected us before we headed out for any occasion that required neckwear. So, who taught me? Yes. Grandfather Littlefield whose left-handed tutelage is appreciated and followed even to this day…

We of that nether gauche world have been told that we are different in so many ways with that statement mostly meant as insult. Well, they are right in that we do process information differently than you righties. Daniel H. Pink in his Revenge of the Right Brain says that we are more creative and imaginative and we are going to slip easily into the upcoming Conceptual Age, the successor to our current Information Age. It’s that right brain, left brain thing all over again.

I could rant and rail all day long and provide long lists of lefties that have contributed mightily (bad and good) to our current state, but you can look those folks up yourself (please) while marveling that this grand and very productive group does seem to far outstrip our small 7-10% minority. I can reflect that some of my favorite left-handers include G. Edward Buxton IV, Alden Llewellyn Littlefield, Don and Phil Everly (The Everly Brothers), Bart Simpson, Steve McQueen, Richard Pryor, Jim Henson, Kermit the Frog, Michael Landon, Mary Brinker, George Bush (the Father), Joan of Arc, Queen Victoria, Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, HG Wells, Ronald Reagan, Leonardo Di Vinci and, yes, Michelangelo, among others. I also need note that Terry Sawchuk, NHL Hall of Fame goaltender mostly with the Detroit Red Wings, a personal hero growing up and probably the greatest goaltender to ever play the game, is left-handed. I was a pretty good left-handed goaltender myself and appreciated the competitive advantage it allowed.

Some of the reference sources (web and blog sites - humorous and otherwise) you can easily access include lefty RC and his comprehensive website and the talented Rosemary Kathleen West (not the serial killer) for her and her collection of poetry, fiction and drama, Things That Melt. Well done!

One of my favorite blogs is operated by one left-handed fan Molly Prentiss aka Blogging Molly who can be found at She may be my favorite right-handed person that I have never personally met… She writes wonderfully in a stream of consciousness style.

“…right-handers use analysis. The left-handers use synthesis. If there were one thousand pieces of popcorn laid out on the floor, you would be able to find the blue kernels by looking at the whole picture. The right-handers would be sitting in that gymnasium for months, analyzing each stale piece of the Friday night feature.”

So, if you’re a southpaw; lefty; corrie fistit; heilan; corrie, gar-pawed; cuddy-wifter; buck, gibble or keck-fisted; caggy; ballock, cack, golly, scrammy, skiffle, spuddy, crooked or keggy-handed; kay-neived; kerry kittaghy; left-kelly; left-plug or scoochy, rejoice! You’re creative, adaptable, think outside the box and at the top of the food chain.


Ned Buxton

Saturday, February 14, 2009


The last time I wore a tuxedo was at the Atlanta Ski Club’s casino night at Dave & Busters in Atlanta many years ago. That same year I believe that I wore that tux to the Atlanta US Ski Team Benefit at the historic Fox Theater. With my Scots heritage firmly cemented and all my gear in place, my Sherrifmuir or Prince Charlie with kilt has been the de rigueur since and my preferred and very socially acceptable mode of dress for formal occasions.

Despite an entreaty to wear my formal Highland garb to the recent twenty-third annual Dallas Symphony Orchestra League Presentation Ball, I opted to wear the tux again and allow the forty-six debutantes especially the daughter of our hosts to be the center of attention. Though this probably would not be the case in Atlanta, Charlotte, Chattanooga, Savannah, Mobile, Birmingham, Richmond, Charleston, Washington, DC and even New York, Dallas and Texas in general does not appear to understand their significant Scots heritage and the importance of their contribution to this great nation and even to the formation of the Republic of Texas. But, that’s another story and, yes, there was a piper at The Alamo, the inspired and colorful John MacGregor from Aberfeldy, Perthshire, Scotland.

Lest we think that this rite of passage is a purely Southern institution we need note that Debutante Balls aka Cotillions are now held all over the world and unless you’re a KA, we’re not dealing with an exclusive and nostalgic Southern mentality (though that would be OK by me).

I ventured into the inner sanctums of the magnificent Myerson Symphony Center in Dallas with no expectations save memories of my first Cotillions in Providence, Rhode Island where my first year (1962) I was in white tie and tails and the Escort of Phoebe Gifford a close and dear Family Friend (cousin) and surrogate daughter to my Mother. In 1963 I was incorporated into the general cadre of Honor Guards that escorted the Mothers of current debutantes. The Cotillions were held at the “Grand Dame of Providence” the Sheraton-Biltmore Hotel built in 1922 as the city's premier hotel and now on the National Historic Registrar. The Sheraton Biltmore (now the Providence Biltmore) was the venue for many of the most significant Debutante Balls in the United States. Most of the young ladies were the daughters and scions of American families (the upper crust) of the Providence and southern New England Social Register though many more young ladies from New York and Boston chose Providence to “come out” into the world of adults. It was an extraordinary spectacle that captured the grandeur of the gilded age that then and now exists in nearby Newport.

As an aside, the Biltmore housed the Falstaff Room a bar that conjured up the spirit of Shakespeare’s Sir John Falstaff, the portly and comedic glutton who was characterized by his loose tongue and copious consumption of alcohol (whatever). It was in these gilded and old English environs where many a young man of eighteen was served his first legal drink. Shortly after my eighteenth birthday in 1961 my Father escorted me to the Falstaff room for my rite of passage with alcohol. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that one of my football coaches at Lenox had already taken the lead in New York State (all legal, mind you). So, the Sheraton was the home for two great rites of passage and always of great significance to me. In was in that great spirit that I entered the Myerson…

I’m guessing that there must have been some 1,500+ folks in attendance at this Cinderella-like event; the debs, escorts, Family, Friends and socialites of all persuasions - dressed to impress. The exquisite gowns of Vera Wang, Badgley Mischka, Carmen Marc Vavlo, Carolina Herrera, Donatella Versace and other top designers graced many beautiful ladies who with the requisite cleavage were regaled in their Family jewels. Beautiful People literally filled the lower level Lobby where long drink lines didn’t prevent me from securing a Rex Goliath (free range) Chardonnay and a Tunnel of Elms Cabernet of dubious origin (a seven dollar bottle) though they really weren’t that bad. At 8:00 PM the debutantes were presented on the Myerson stage musically accompanied by select members of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (DSO).

I was in for a treat and didn’t know it was coming even as the first debutante was introduced. Along with the rest of the Debs she wore a gorgeous, extravagantly layered, bouffant white ball gown with either hoops or scores of petticoats to maintain its shape. She was accompanied by her Father who escorted her to the front of the stage, kissed her on her cheek and then released her to the world. I expected the perfunctory St. James Bow and curtsey as performed by Phoebe and the other Debutantes I have seen. She smiled and as if blossoming, slowly raised her arms to her side, parallel to the stage as if ready to fly whilst holding a bouquet of at least a dozen orange roses in her white gloved right hand. Everybody in the Myerson was holding their collective breaths. Like thousands of Texas Debutantes around the world before her she steadfastly looked forward then slowly sank to her knees lowering herself to the floor while maintaining her balance, upright posture and, most importantly, her dignity. It was as if she literally and gracefully melted into the floor. While still facing the audience she leaned over and only when she was almost enveloped by her gown did she look down bringing her face into her dress while she hovered just above the floor. Her gown had blossomed and spread out around her like an open chrysanthemum.

Everybody in the Myerson was quiet as she slowly looked to her escort who steadfastly came to her side and taking her left hand provided some assistance as she gracefully lifted her head up and then seemingly without effort and in a fluid motion unseated herself and slowly rose to a standing position. An appreciative audience politely though enthusiastically applauded while her Friends and Family offered a few Texas He-Haws, Whoops and Rebel Yells. Well done, Aye, Y’all.

This bigger than life embellishment of the curtsey is known formally as the Full Court Bow and referred by many as the Texas Dip and by others as the Texas Swan Lake maneuver. This was no great surprise as in the Lone Star State we do things with a little more bravado, drama, flair and style, Let there be no doubt that this is a big brave thing to do in front of God, the world and lots of Texas folks.

That exercise was repeated forty five more times and far from fictional Willow Bend, Texas and Linda Francis Lee’s tongue-in-cheek Carlisle Wainwright Cushing character and her failure to properly execute the Texas Dip, the 2009 class of DSO Debs were superb in their effort with several approaching near perfection.

One of my high points was seeing none other than one of my personal heroes and PGA golf great, Lee Buck Trevino escort his daughter and facilitate her ascendency to maturity. I entertained and amused those around me with an exclamatory, “That’s Lee Trevino!” He was grand as ever and my only disappointment that evening was the failure to find him later in order to thank him for years of incredible athleticism and entertainment. Thank you, Lee, for all you have done. Our best to you and your Family.

The introduction of the debutantes was followed by a superb three course dinner that was swiftly served by a consummately professional banquet staff. As a veteran and graduate of the food wars (been there, done that) and specifically Carr’s Catering in Rhode Island (next door neighbors) and the Radisson in Atlanta, my compliments for their impeccable execution.

The dance band (Cuvee) wasn’t even a remote facsimile of Lester Lanin and his Orchestra, the New York band with the big band sound that played at so many debutante balls throughout the Northeast (and the world) including the 1962 and 1963 Cotillions in Providence. I was an early beneficiary of the Parent’s League dances at the Agawam Hunt Club (est. 1897) in Rumford, RI where Lanin and his orchestra officiated at many a dance rite of passage especially for most of us that lived on the east side and College Hill area of Providence. We grew up dancing to his music and he was us…

The Cuvee band which has apparently catered to most of the young folk of exclusive Highland and University Parks within Dallas could not carry the bags of Lester Lanin and to compare their music is like trying to herd a bunch of cats. One of their admitted high points was playing at Dennis Hoppers 60th birthday… OK? Maybe they just had a bad night, but they were just loud with their real talent hidden somewhere within those 150 db frenzies. The DSO oversold the function and the excess of guests turned the dance floor into a Standing Room Only saunter. Disgusted, I didn’t dance one step, choosing to conservatively drink the wine and have some great conversation with new Friends. Aye!

Some Dallas critics offered that this celebration was an extravagant excess, not appropriate to our current economic situation, a debauched vestige of our decadent past and that it sent all the wrong signals. Well, my anthropology and College Hill genes protest! I certainly believe that events such as this sends all the right signals and first and foremost that it’s OK to grow up and evolve in a world where change is the mantra. We need to recognize that sacred transition and metamorphosis from adolescence to adulthood as a significant event. We can also point out that this generated employment for perhaps hundreds of citizens and had a positive impact on the local economy (more later).

Having said that there is no doubt that elitism and self indulgence played a small part in this exercise but isn’t that all part of the human experience? As the song goes, Tradition! We can still concede that the world has changed and that Women are equals and probably our superiors. Many of the young Ladies present appeared to be more engaged in networking and that ultimate CEO slot rather than looking for a husband. What a great way to preserve the better part of our past and have a great time doing it!

As they say in the Lone Star State: Where there’s a cause, there’s a charity and where there’s charity, there’s usually a party. That surely was the case here as the Dallas Symphony League has raised over $9M these last twenty-three years for the DSO Education and Community Outreach Programs. The DSO annually spends more than $700,000.00 US on community outreach literally serving thousands of young people in Dallas/Fort Worth and north Texas.

This was an enjoyable evening spent in the company of Friends and a noble, civilized, time honored tradition that helps us to be the best that we can be… My genuine and heartfelt thanks to our hosts and my Best Friend.


Ned Buxton

Saturday, February 7, 2009


The successes of President Barack Obama, former presidents Ronald Reagan and Jack Kennedy as well as some of my favorite business leaders that include the likes of Jack Welch, Hugh McColl, Lee Iacocca and many, many more have validated that effective communication skills top the list of personal qualities and skills demanded and admired by Americans and citizens of the world. These leaders know/knew how to dynamically articulate their visions, construct strong and strategic relationships, build a consensus for their agendas and among many other positive attributes, attract those that would be motivated by and help build on those ideals and goals.

You think that these folks are fluent in English (aka The language) and know how to write, spell and create important thoughts. You bet!

As a Human Resources and recruiting professional I have seen and interviewed perhaps thousands of candidates from entry level factory workers to professionals and corporate executives over the course of my career. The one constant in all their position descriptions was the essential requirement and skill that they be able to communicate individually and as a member of a Team and build a consensus for their mission and goals.

I see young people every day that have consciously failed to put together the basic building blocks of learning and haven’t a clue about communication including spelling and grammar. Far worse, they really don’t care. Instead, they have built a whole sub culture of alternative English (including Ebonics), encrypted slang and modern texting that has precluded the correct usage of the English language in style and substance. Not that I am an ultimate correct practitioner of the Queen’s English. Quite the contrary. I couldn’t tell you the difference between an inflectional plural suffix and syntactic subclasses but I can spell, put sentences together that are understood by my targeted audiences and many others of those cultures that comprehend and appreciate the English language. While I do have the basics down, I am far from perfect in my use of The Language.

It would appear that many of our younger generation share that imperfection to an even greater degree. And just when these young folks are teetering on the brink of a total naïveté and lack of fluency in The Language (mostly because of pure laziness and a cultural affectation), along comes Diane Mapes, a witty and very talented writer from the Seattle area who in a fit of hopeful satire may be letting our lesser educated brothers, sisters, sons and daughters off the hook for their failure to appreciate or learn the basics of The Language.

Mapes in her recent MSNBC posting, Fastidious Spelling Snobs Pushed Over the Edge, invokes research done at Oxford University in England who in her estimation have allegedly come to the conclusion that, “The ability to spell may have more to do with our DNA than the amount of time we spend with our nose in a dictionary.”

Well, the research (not without controversy) she strategically and thoroughly takes out of context was the discovery that the gene that is believed to be associated with Dyslexia is also connected with reading ability. Well, we know that Dyslexia is a learning disability that primarily manifests as, “a difficulty with written language, particularly with reading” so can easily assume that this also segways to spelling and other written language skills (no brainer). Mapes uses this to anchor her comments which are mostly without merit.

Mapes in a pure entitled Kum By Ya (do you have a hanky?) spirit takes special pains to quote one Gary Cohen, a self professed executive coach (?) from Minneapolis who admitted to being, “hassled about his spelling for years” and then stated character issues had nothing to do with his inability to spell. Cohen states, “I didn’t have a choice about being a good speller,” he says. “It wasn’t about lack of effort or practice or laziness, which is what it can often be associated with. I grew up with learning differences. My daughter has them too.” Well, we certainly can sympathize with Cohen and his daughter, but he doesn’t represent the vast majority of folks that just don’t get it and have failed to take advantage of the educational opportunities offered them.

Having said that there are many folks who have conquered this disability and are leaders in their field. They are too numerous to list here though that list would surely include some of my favorite folks like Richard Branson, Anthony Hopkins, Stephen J. Cannell, John Irving, Jay Leno, Charles Schwab and many more. Yes, they can spell.

Now I can’t carry the bags for those folks but when I was a child I had what they called mirror reading (they now call it dyslexia) where I would literally read from right to left and then put the sentences back in their proper place from left to right. I also reversed words and letters. I can only assume that I would have really lit up a cat scan. An alert third grade teacher at St. Marks School of Texas in Dallas recognized my problem, engaged the appropriate reading regimens (lots of phonics) and in a matter of months I was reading, comprehending and spelling correctly. Though I really didn't know I had a problem, once discovered, I had a choice to do something and did. By the way I was an excellent student up to that point. I have no idea what happened since then….

The main purpose of Mape’s surprising and provocative post was to report that factors such as stress brought on by the bad economy, loss of jobs, foreclosures, war, and just life itself have prompted some folks (generally those fluent in The Language) to hold others more accountable for their use of English to what she fashions - an excess. Mapes castigates anyone whether professor or citizen who criticizes someone for improper spelling or grammar labeling them as “fastidious”, a “snob”, “word nerd”, a “spelling, grammar and punctuation snob”, “word warrior” and “control freak” among other less than complimentary terms.

It would certainly appear that this and other crises are reflecting that our society is ever devolving our ability to accept the blame for our own failures and shortcomings thereby diminishing the potential for improvement and the reversal of any bad situation. Younger people in ever increasing numbers appear to be squandering educational or business opportunities and then wallowing in self pity when they can’t qualify for that next great job or an advanced degree. Recruiters and HR folks can write reams on their experiences in these areas.

These failures generally have nothing to do with intellectual capacity or overall ability to engage these important tasks. Rather we appear to be engaged in an “eat and be merry” and “live for the moment” mentality that invokes Aesop and his fable of the ant and the grasshopper which was borrowed from the ancients and even co-opted by Walt Disney, Jim Henson and even author W. Somerset Maugham. The moral of this story though some modern versions have incorporated some diabolical twists is that those who are industrious and persevere and plan for the future will prevail while those who do not will ultimately fail and in extreme cases, die. One recent politically correct version has the destitute grasshopper taking the ant to court and ultimately charging him with discrimination and claiming all his assets basically because he was successful…

Whether it’s spelling, grammar or your own morality play, hold yourself to the highest possible standard as you will be the ultimate benefactor of that effort. Failure to develop and practice good communication skills will sit you on the bench forever. You will always be junior varsity wondering why you weren’t afforded the opportunity to pursue your goals…… why you weren’t a success.

Reality is that many folks for whatever reason chose not to make communication and language skills a priority. Their window opened and closed almost without pause and they didn’t even know it happened. The rush of air they heard and the resultant vacuum was their future rushing to meet that next person who chose the path of opportunity. Bottom line: We have always been in control and responsible for all aspects of our lives. Fat Friends don’t make us fat, abusive relatives will not make us indecisive and a recessive gene will not ultimately deny most of us the ability to spell.

So, what’s it going to be – ant or grasshopper?


Ned Buxton