The Now-Mandatory Standing Ovation

Have we taken the idea of how we express public appreciation too far?

I found myself mulling that question recently after attending a performance of the U.S. Air Force Heritage of America Band. The concert was uplifting, entertaining, and relaxing, especially since I enjoyed it in company with my wife and a couple of friends.

The band’s performance of “The Armed Services Medley” was especially inspiring, stirring feelings of patriotism and pride in the role of family members who had served in the various branches of our military. As you might know, the piece is a medley of the hymns of each military branch, and whenever the hymn of a particular branch in which one served, or a family member served, is played, one stands in that veteran’s or service person’s honor.

Our friends stood for the Air Force Hymn, honoring their grandson, who is training to fly a C-130 gunship. My wife stood for the Navy Hymn, honoring her father, who fought in World War II aboard the heavy cruiser U.S.S. St. Paul, and her brother, who served aboard an LST during the Vietnam era. And I stood for the Marines Hymn in memory of my nephew, Captain Justin Peterson, who was killed in Iraq.

But I was disconcerted when, at the end of the concert, the audience gave the band a standing ovation. It’s not that the band didn’t perform well; they certainly did. But was it worthy of the highest expression of appreciation an audience can deliver, a standing ovation?

I’ve noticed over the years a growing tendency for audiences to give standing ovations for every performance, regardless of quality. People seem to have forgotten (if they were ever taught) that standing ovations are to be reserved for truly exceptional, outstanding, over-the-top performances. We now seem to think, however, that every performance deserves such a response. Whenever it happens, my wife and I glance at each other and mouth the words, “Here’s our ‘mandatory!'” Or, as I overheard my friend say to his wife, “Here we go again!”

Maybe this situation stems from the idea that we must make everyone feel like a winner. We want to encourage people to do their best, so we stand, applauding wildly for even the most mundane, mediocre performances. We wouldn’t want to make the performers think we didn’t like the job they’ve done, would we? And in rewarding all performances with standing ovations, as though they were the best we’ve ever experienced, we devalue the truly great performances.

We’ve done the same thing in the matter of tipping. We’ve come to expect that for every service we receive we must reward it, regardless of its quality. A tip was once considered something extra given as a reward for outstanding, above-and-beyond service. Now it’s deemed to be the expected, even the employee’s right.

At some point, someone set the standard tip at 10 percent, but now it’s grown to 15 percent–at a bare minimum. And many businesses require that all tips of whatever amount be dumped into a collective pool, so that everyone, regardless of how well they’ve done their jobs, shares equally in the “take” for the evening.

I still don’t understand the math. People argue that with rising prices, wait personnel deserve the higher amounts. They ignore the fact that as prices rise, so does the amount of the tip, even though the percentage remains the same. For example, if the ticket totals $50, a 10-percent tip is $5. If, because of inflated prices, the ticket increases over time to $100 for the same food and/or service, the tip increases to $10, although the percentage has remained at 10 percent. Yet, we’re now expected to tip 15 percent. (It’s interesting that we don’t apply the same logic to our tithing in church or our charitable giving!)

But back to my original premise. We certainly should give honor and recognition when it is due, but we should not dishonor and devalue the recognition by making it the same for every performance regardless of merit or quality. Standing ovations should be rare occurrences, not the norm, the standard, or what is expected.

Call me a cantankerous curmudgeon if you like, but I’ll remain seated for “okay” performances and reserve my standing ovations for truly great performances. And I’ll tip according to how well I’m served, not according to some percentage externally imposed.

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson


But That’s Not in My Plan!

Sometimes things just turn out differently than we plan. That’s life. But, if you’re like me, such unexpected changes to the plans tend to upset us.

For example, whenever we’re heading out on a trip, I like to make a list of everything I need to pack so I don’t forget anything. (Yet, I always manage to forget something! I once had to buy practically a new wardrobe because I left my suit bag hanging in the closet at home. My wife still insists that I did it on purpose.) I also like to have a schedule: a specific time of departure to which I adhere religiously; a timetable with definite milestones that we must reach at precise times; planned necessary stops for food, gasoline, bathroom breaks, etc.; and a definite time of arrival. Any deviation from the plan creates frustration.

But it seldom works according to my plan. Things happen. The stops take longer than expected because we have to wait longer than we should at the fast food joint. The bathrooms are crowded (or we have to do the janitor’s job for him before we can use them). Or we have car trouble. The more such disruptions to the plan, the greater the degree of frustration that results.

I must admit, however, that sometimes the best things have happened when the unexpected disrupts my plan. At the moment of the disruption, I might not know how it will turn out, but afterward I might see that the revised schedule or itinerary or event actually worked out for the better. I think that’s what’s called a serendipitous moment.

That has sometimes happened with my writing. In fact, it happened just a few weeks ago.

From the beginning, my original plan for my four books has been that my promotion and marketing efforts would focus on only two of them, Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries and Teacher. A third, Look Unto the Hills, would receive much less attention because it is a collection of memoirs of my early personal life (childhood, in fact), and I knew there would be little public interest in that. And for the fourth book, A Goodly Heritage, I intended no marketing efforts whatsoever, having written it for only my own children, my two siblings, and possibly a few other close relatives who might (might!) be interested.

That was MY plan. And then something happened to change that plan. I received an e-mail request from the editor of Southern Writer magazine. She wanted to “push” one of my books, but neither of the two that I would have expected. She wanted me to write an article on how I wrote and researched A Goodly Heritage. She wasn’t interested in my family; she was interested in sharing with her readers how to write a “family legacy.”

Who knows how this article will turn out or what may result from its publication? Perhaps nothing at all will come of it. Nothing lost. On the other hand, it might open other doors for my writing that I could never have imagined, things that weren’t on my plan.

This is often the way God works with His children. His Word tells us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9, Amplified).

But He also tells us about His plans for us: “For I know the thoughts and plans that I have for you, says the Lord, thoughts and plans for welfare and peace, and not for evil, to give you hope in your final outcome” (Jer. 29:11, Amplified).

Have you had a sudden change in your plans? Rather than allowing frustration to ruin your day, seize the new opportunity and make the most of it. That’s what I’m slowly learning to do. Let’s learn together!

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

In all Honesty. . . .

One of the most important lessons my parents taught us kids when we were growing up was always to be honest, always to tell the truth. Even when doing so would cause us pain (as in bringing on punishment for something we admitted doing), they expected us to tell the truth. Being true to one’s word was the most important characteristic of the reputation they wanted us to develop. Such had been the case with our ancestors, and they wanted it to continue with us.

I thought of my parents’ admonition recently when I ran across two quotations from Napoleon Hill (on the right in the photo with W. Clement Stone). I share them here with the hope that they will inspire you, too.

It’s mighty easy to justify dishonesty if you make your living from it. [For some reason, I automatically thought of politicians when I read that statement! A sad commentary on the state of our government today.] The subconscious mind makes no moral judgments. If you tell yourself something over and over, your subconscious mind will eventually accept even the most blatant lie as fact. Those whose lives and careers have been destroyed by dishonest behavior began the process of self-destruction when they convinced themselves that one slight infraction of the rules wouldn’t matter. When you sell yourself on an idea, make sure the idea is positive, beneficial to you, and harmless to others. Just as negative thoughts and deeds return to their originator, so do positive ones. When you practice honest, ethical behavior, you set in motion a force for good that will return to you many times over.

Closely related to and building upon that first quotation is the second one:

Falsehood does evermore have a way of publishing itself. It is virtually impossible to conceal the truth forever. It is the natural order of things that the truth will eventually come out. This single fact is the foundation of our judicial system and the basis on which all human relationships are formed. A business, professional, or personal relationship built upon a lie cannot long endure, but one that is founded on truth and equality of benefit for the participants is unlimited. Make it a practice to tell the truth in all that you do–even when it doesn’t matter–and you will form a habit of truthfulness. You will know instinctively that it is better to tell the truth and face the consequences than to launch a falsehood that will eventually make itself known to the world.

Mother and Daddy had never read anything by Napoleon Hill, but they read faithfully the original source of his tidbits of wisdom: the Bible. Jesus Christ said, “I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life” (John 14:6). What better foundation to build a reputation upon than the Truth Himself?

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Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

The Family Just Keeps Growing!

News Flash! Dateline North Carolina–Thurs., April 5, 2018

We’re grandparents again! Our daughter Rachelle gave us Number 7 yesterday morning. That makes five granddaughters and two grandsons.

Dakota Grace Anderson was born via C-section at 7:43 a.m., Thursday. (Because the parents moved down to North Carolina from Wisconsin last summer, we told them that she’s South Dakota!) She weighed in at 6 lb., 15.7 oz. and measured 20 in. Mother and baby were doing as well as could be expected as of this writing. Because Dakota had some fluid in the lungs (common for early-arriving babies), she was on oxygen to flush it out, so she might be in NICU for anywhere from a few hours to up to 72 hours.

We’re not old enough for this! But the responsibilities are great. We’re praying to have a good influence on each of the seven grandkids. With the geographic distance, that’s more difficult, but. . . . We’ll do what we can and pray for opportunities.

Late-Breaking News!

And this late-breaking news about another of my “babies,” my book Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries: 73 major university libraries (both U.S. and international), historical societies, and museums have now purchased copies. (Harvard actually purchased two, one for the main library and another for their HCL Technical Services library!) May the Lord continue to bless its sales in His perfect timing. I also have a couple of other book manuscripts “in embryo.” May He see fit to place them with a “good home” soon!

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

The Tissue in the White Wash

I was ready to tackle the last of my morning domestic duties–taking the white wash from the dryer, folding it, and putting it away–when I noticed what my wife had warned me of earlier.

(As a home-based writer/editor with a teacher for a wife, I have to chip and do my share of the house work: clean up the breakfast dishes, vacuum, dust, etc. And I’ve honed the process to a science. I had to if I expected to have any time left for my real work.)

I recalled (vaguely) hearing my wife mention something about finding a facial tissue in the white wash. Her comment went in one ear and out the other, as I’m wont to let such remarks do whenever I’m focused on something else. I promptly forgot her warning.

Until I opened the door of the dryer and out fell dozens of little pieces of white tissue.

Thankfully, the lint trap caught most of it, I thought.

I removed the trap and scraped off an amazing amount of tissue among the normal lint. Putting the trap back into its slot, I caught a glimpse of a bit of tissue that had escaped. My eye followed its lazy descent to the floor. At my feet the floor was covered with shreds of tissue. I dutifully picked them up and tossed them into the trash can before pulling out the assorted T-shirts, athletic socks, and unmentionables and depositing them in the laundry basket. With every handful of white cotton wash came bits and pieces of tissue.

I took the load to the kitchen table and began to sort the items. I shook each one vigorously to get out the wrinkles before I folded it. With every shake came a cloud of tissue lint and residue.

That tissue must have been of three-ply (maybe even four-ply) construction. It multiplied like the biblical loaves and fishes. It seemed that every time I moved a piece of clothing, it shed particles of tissue all over the kitchen floor. I picked up all I could see and tossed it into the nearby trash can.

I carried the folded clothes to the bedroom and began placing them in their assigned corners of the dresser. As I did so, I picked more tidbits of tissue from the items.

Sighing, I returned to the kitchen to begin my writing for the day. As I passed through the living room, I noticed bits of tissue on the carpet, pieces I’d missed on the kitchen floor, stepped on, and tracked through the just-vacuumed living room and bedroom.

I just know that the next time I pull a T-shirt from my dresser drawer that with it will come even more tissue particles. I can feel that lump under my armpit even now. Or the lump in the toe of my sock after I’ve put on my sneakers and headed out for my walk. I’m convinced that if I could reassemble that one tissue like a jigsaw puzzle, I’d have a small box of tissues for that next cold or sinus infection.

As I think about this incident, I can’t help seeing the lesson it can teach. Our words and actions, whether intentional or unintentional, have consequences. Although we might try to clean up or make amends or seek the forgiveness of those affected by what we say or do, the consequences sometimes keep cropping up, just like those infernal bits of tissue.

Eventually, those pesky pieces will all disappear, but until they do, I’ll have constant reminders to check somebody’s pockets before doing the wash. And I’m reminded that it could be worse; I could have left an ink pen in my shirt pocket!

Been there. Done that. Don’t want to repeat it!

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson


More on Getting Started

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. But taking that first step is, admittedly, often hard. Harder for some than for others. Especially hard for some writers. And at some point for all writers.

Continuing my thoughts on this topic from my two previous posts (…ersistent-writer/ ‎ and ), I’d like to offer for your consideration the following two quotations, each by a famous, successful author.

Louis L’Amour: “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

Some of what you write will, undoubtedly, be garbage, but you can remedy that when you go back to edit your work. After all, didn’t someone else say, “The writer’s best friend is the trash can?” (This quotation reminds me that I have downloaded on my Kindle several of L’Amour’s novels that I must get around to reading. Someday.)

William Faulkner: “Don’t be a ‘writer.’ Be writing.”

Many people want to be known as writers, but they don’t want to do what is required to warrant that title, which is to write! They’re more than willing to talk all day about writing, what they’re going to write, what someone else ought to write, etc. But they don’t write.

Now you know what to do. So what are you waiting for? Start writing!

(Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson)


The Time to Act

A Chinese proverb states that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. But when? No time like the present! Do it now!

One of the problems I (and, I dare say, many other writers) face is getting started. Once past that initial hurdle, the words begin to flow. There’s no guarantee that they will flow indefinitely or without interruptions, but I’ve learned that I must write while they are flowing. I must redeem the time. Now.

James Gifford, executive director of the Jesse Stuart Foundation, noted that Stuart “wrote furiously, like a man killing snakes.” Stuart had to get his stories down on paper, so he wrote quickly. He had “a tireless work ethic” and, as one critic stated, “wrote like a force of nature.” He wrote the 703 sonnets of Man with a Bull-Tongue Plow in only eleven months, 42 of them in one day while sitting in a church cemetery. But that resulted from his acting on his ideas.

Much of my writing requires quite a bit of research. Some of my knowledge comes from what I already know or have experienced, but most of it requires research because I don’t know everything that must be said on my topics. (As one of my favorite practical philosophers, Will Rogers, put it, “We’re all ignorant; just on different subjects.” And even in our area of “expertise,” we don’t know even a fraction of that!)

So I must read, dig, and study, mentally putting it all together into a coherent form around a solid skeletal structure before I can begin writing. But one of my greatest problems is knowing when to stop researching and start writing. The amount of information on almost any topic is seemingly endless. One source turns up multiple additional sources that I feel compelled to peruse, and those turn up additional information, which, in turn, forces me into still more avenues of discovery.

If I allow myself, I can get lost in all the information gathering and never get around to writing what I want to share. That’s when I must force myself to set aside the books and articles and online sources and get busy producing the end product. And that takes discipline.

And I’m not alone with this problem. Other writers also are more than willing to talk about what they’re going to write “some day.” They can tell us a lot about what they are studying or researching and planning to do “one day.” But they never seem to get to the point of acting on that information or those plans. It might be a family history, a book about some momentous event in their lives, or a novel that they’ve been cogitating for years. They find endless excuses for not taking that first step toward writing and publishing. So it never gets done.

Augusten Burroughs revealed to an interviewer for The Writer (April 2017) the cure for this debilitating condition: “Stop thinking about all the reasons you have not to write your memoir and what people in your family might think and just get busy writing it. . . . Stop thinking about writing, stop reading about writing, stop worrying about writing, and just actually sit in one place and write something.”

It’s as simple as that. And as one Patch the Pirate (Ron Hamilton) children’s songs says, “Do it now. Don’t delay. Don’t put it off till another day. Go ahead; begin it. Right this very minute. You’d better do it now!”

How about you? What writing project have you been putting off for whatever reason(s)? Now is the time to act on it. You don’t know what might happen tomorrow. It might never come for you. Take the first step of that journey of a thousand miles now. Today. In the end, you’ll be glad you did.

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

How to Be a Highly Persistent Writer

Jordan Rosenfeld, author of numerous books, including A Writer’s Guide to Persistence, offers the following good advice for writers who want to last over the long haul. (I’ve summarized her advice in my own words.)

  • Don’t worry about success; just write. The success will take care of itself.
  • After submitting something, don’t just sit around waiting. Get busy writing on the next project.
  • Take chances. Who knows? Something you submit at great risk might be accepted and bring great rewards, not the least of which will be publication.
  • Don’t be a lone wolf. Collaborate on something.
  • Be willing to say no to some opportunities. The ability to do so indicates that you know your boundaries and standards.
  • Don’t always do things “by the book.” Risk doing things in unusual ways.
  • Be passionate about your work. “Plant your own roots of purpose deep in the ground of meaning.”

A Week for Friends and Family

The much-anticipated week has come and gone, and when I look back on all that happened, it was good, a refreshing break from our routine and a time of reminiscence and nostalgia. And it all began with a pleasant surprise, something that we had not planned as part of our busy schedule.

About 4:00 p.m. of the Friday before the Monday on which our scheduled visitors were to begin arriving, my wife got a call at school from her sister Faith. She and her husband Roy were on their way to visit their parents in central and southwest Florida via their son’s in Atlanta. They were only about 45 minutes away and wanted to stop by to visit briefly before continuing their journey. We rushed home and arrived just minutes before Faith and Roy. After chatting for half an hour or so, we went out for a laughter-filled supper at one of my favorite restaurants, Fatz Cafe. Their visit was much too short, but we appreciated the unexpected treat.

On Monday afternoon, Craig, one of my college roommates and a groomsman in my wedding (as was I in his), and his wife arrived. And talk about a time of reminiscing! We had seen each other only about four times since we graduated college, so we had a lot of catching up to do. During the days they were with us, we toured downtown Greenville, explored the campus of our alma mater, sat in on the last few minutes of the daily chapel program, and chatted with a professor friend and former churchman of Craig’s. Near the end of Craig’s visit, my brother Dale arrived from Michigan, and the five of us went out to eat–at Fatz. (No wonder I can’t lose that spare tire!)

While here, Dale met with one of his former professors and several of his friends, none of whom he had seen in quite some time. Also, the two of us did a lot of reminiscing and went target shooting. But the main reason Dale came was not to see us but to see and hear a renowned speaker and athlete: Tim Tebow. Dale was accompanied on his trip from the still-cold northlands by his friend Bob, who had an extra ticket to the Tebow event, and he graciously invited me to accompany them (including his son, grandson, and son-in-law). We all had a wonderful time not only fellowshipping together but also hearing Tebow recount some of his life experiences, from growing up in a family of missionaries in the Philippines to playing T-ball to events of his college and pro football days. The heart of his message, of course, was the role his faith plays in his life and the consequent influence he has had helping others in need. (Photo courtesy of Robert McCall.)

From the euphoria of all those reunions and activities, Connie and I had to return to the real world of yard work this past weekend. The main task was cutting down our pampas grass and burning the flags and leaves on an increasingly windy day without allowing the flames to get out of control. (Thankfully, a burn barrel does wonders for the containment of embers!) By the time we finished, we were both exhausted, and our clothes and hair reeked of smoke. The odor of smoke washes off; the exhaustion has carried over into the new week!

As quickly as it came, the week of excitement and enjoyment has passed. Not every week can be so fun-filled; the real world demands work and exertion and sometimes exhaustion. But the memories remain, and they will carry us forward to the next time of similar refreshment. As I age, however, I’m finding that I just can’t take much of such excitement, at least not all at once!

“New” Old Ways

“In their never-ending search for better ways to teach, educators are tempted to be enamored of anything new and to eschew what they perceive to be outdated or old-fashioned. Sometimes, however, some of the best ‘new’ teaching principles turn out to be long-forgotten or neglected old ways.” (from Teacher: Teaching and Being Taught, p. 267)

I’ve often wondered what today’s teachers do when the power goes out in their classrooms and they can’t use their computers and smart boards and projection screens. When the technology fails, does learning stop? Take time to consider the old ways of doing things, and be prepared for every occurrence. Keep the learning process going no matter what!


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