Byron's Babbles

These 5 Made Me A Better Person In 2021

Every year at this time I do a few blog posts about my top books of the year. To me I would rather hear an individual person’s picks rather than see top picks done by voting. I want to hear what someone learned from reading a book. Or, what inspired them about reading a book. That being said, feel free to reply to this post, about my top fiction author picks for 2021, with your top fiction picks. I am excited about this post because this is the first year I have read enough fiction books to have picks. I have to say I have grown immensely from reading so many fiction books this year. I wrote about the impact the fiction genre is having on me in Adding Fiction To The Reading Diet. I also have learned The Power Of Fictional Lives can have on us. In fact, I might goes as far to say I have grown more from reading fiction this year than non-fiction. So, because of all the fiction I’ve read, I get to do a “Top 5 In 2021.” I am going to cheat a little and do it by authors instead of books. That way I can include more books. I also am doing it by authors because the five incredible authors wrote multiple books that I absolutely loved this year. And, by the way, I blogged multiple times about all the books mentioned here. So, search the book titles in my blog and find out what I have learned and been inspired by from these books. Here we go – my Top 5 Fiction Authors in 2021:

#1. Amor Towles

#2. Patti Callahan Henry – I am not really sure what to say here except that I love Patti’s writing. She is an amazing writer. Between her and Amor Towles I have overnight become a big fan of historical fiction.

#3. Matt Haig – Matt’s work is amazing. He is the reason I am now hooked on fiction. I also read The Comfort Book by Matt this year and it may just end up on my top 5 of non-fiction.

#4. Maggie Shipstead – Maggie has two other books I want to read in 2022: Seating Arrangements & Astonish Me. As I read this book I found myself googling to make sure this was not a true story. I love Maggie’s work.

#5. Suzy Vitello – Amazing, Amazing, Amazing! I want to read more from Suzy in 2022.

See why I needed to go by author and not by books. I want to close by saying a big THANK YOU as we close out 2021 to Amor, Patti, Matt, Maggie, and Suzy for being part of making a me a better person in 2021. Can’t wait to read more from you in 2022. And my big wish for 2022 is to meet each one of you in person in 2022. Happy New Year!


The Design Of The Pencil

Posted in Amor Towles, Educational Leadership, Eraser, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development, Pencil by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on December 5, 2021

Another great line from Amor Towles’ incredible book The Lincoln Highway, was about the design of the pencil: “One end is for saying something, the other for taking it back.” At first I thought about how it is too bad we’re not designed like a pencil, but then I decided that would probably not be a good idea. That would be too easy. We could say anything and then just take it back. Then we would not need to think about what we were going to say at all – not cool!

As it is now, our words matter. We don’t get to take them back or erase them. It’s kind of like when an attorney says something in a courtroom and then withdraws it or the judge asks the jury to disregard it. That’s really impossible – you can’t un-hear something. Even disregarding something you’ve heard is downright impossible. So, choosing what we say wisely is very important. We can’t just erase it.

Also, we can’t erase, subtract, or undo decisions, but we can make new ones. So many times we try to erase the past – we need to just take we learn and go on to new decisions. Remember, we were not designed to be a pencil.

Eliminating Disdain & Maintaining Respect

In the leadership development work I do we always all agree that relationships are the key to everything. And, they really are. Healthy and respectful working relationships are a must if you want an effective and enjoyable workplace, organization, community, or even world. One cornerstone to healthy relationship building is intellectual humility. When practicing intellectual humility, we open our minds to learning. With intellectual humility we become wiser. It is really about realizing that we can learn from opposing views and have more constructive discussions, even when we disagree. Practicing intellectual humility allows us to be less judgmental of others.

This has actually been a topic of my blog posts many times before. I began thinking about virtue signaling, which I first blogged about in Leading Without “Virtue Signaling.” Then, this morning, when reading in Amor Towles’ incredible book The Lincoln Highway, I came across this statement about Emmett Watson, an 18-year-old Nebraskan farm kid just released from a Kansas juvenile detention center after serving 15 months for involuntary manslaughter: “Emmett was raised to hold no man in disdain. To hold another man in disdain, his father said, would presume you knew so much about his lot, so much about his intentions, about his actions, both public and private, that you could rank his character against your own without fear of misjudgment.” That’s a pretty powerful statement, don’t you think? By not judging, virtue signaling, or holding others in disdain we enable a community that values learning and where learning happens when what is not known or understood is acknowledged.

We must model this humility by admitting when we do not know or understand something. Modeling also involves recognizing the value in opinions that are different from our own. In the face of conflicting evidence, we need to be open to changing our opinions. The disdain and contempt described by Emmett’s father destroys teams, communities, and relationships. It prevents trust and respect and makes it hard for any real human warmth. It is tangibly damaging, causes stress and can harm people emotionally, mentally and ultimately physically.

Finally, I am reminded of what Carlo Strenger said: The difference between civilized disdain and political correctness is that the former allows one to feel disdain for a person’s or group’s views or beliefs while maintaining respect for the human beings that hold them.” There will be gaps in knowledge, ideological divides, differences of opinion, and cultural differences, but we must strive for fruitful cooperation and shared learning to be effective world citizens.

One Of A Kind Of Days

Posted in Amor Towles, Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on November 15, 2021

I seem to be on a role blogging about Amor Towles’ great new book The Lincoln Highway. Towles is an incredible storyteller, as I pointed out in The Long & Short Of Great Stories. There are so many points in his books that cause me to think and reflect. I really like the character, Woolly, in the book. Woolly told us that we need to turn “every-day-days” into “one-of-a-kind of days.” I love this! Think about it: too many times we get into a rut liking the every-day-days, but it’s so great to have days with no equal and that are completely unique.

What if we could do something we had never done before every day. Now those would be one-of-a-kind of days. Our goal could be to use everything that happens as an opportunity for a one-of-a-kind experience. As I write this my plane has been delayed for two hours. I am going to go explore. Who knows what I will find? Maybe inspiration for some great activity; maybe some new technology; maybe a new acquaintance I would have never known; who knows! Here’s what I do know: while others are griping, moaning, and stressing, I’ll be exploring.

The power to make each day something special is ours. But, we must be responsible for our own experience. Grandiose things don’t have to happen for a day to be special. We need to appreciate the little things. Pay attention and notice things that would pass you by in an “every-day-day.” The little inconveniences of the day can turn into incredible experiences. We need to pay attention to the sounds, smells, and sights that probably get ignored on the “every-day-days.” If we don’t look for extraordinary in the ordinary, we won’t find it. Believe it’s there, believe we will find it, and we will.

I guess it all comes down to making the most out of each day. I don’t want to be content with “every-day-days.” I want to make a difference for others and help others each and every day. To do this I will need to make every day a “one-of-a-kind of days.”

The Long & Short Of Great Stories

We’re all in situations where we have to be able to tell stories. I believe story telling is an important skill for leaders. It’s one reason I have fell in love with reading fiction novels. We can learn from great authors like Amor Towles. I am reading The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles right now and loving it. A quote I wrote in my notes the other day while reading was: “The funny thing about stories is they can be told as long stories or short stories or anything in between.” I thought about this today as I was doing a leadership development gathering in Georgia. A lot of how I facilitate gives the participants an opportunity to reflect and tell stories. Some are short and we long for more, others are long, and many are in between. Not everyone is a natural-born storyteller. That doesn’t mean, however, that we don’t run into a ton of different situations where we need to do just that.

I love listening to peoples’ stories. The more animated they get, the more interested I become. Our stories should be anchored in personal experiences and show vulnerability. I also love imagery. Imagery is one of the things I love about Towles’ writing. He is a master at this and I am striving to learn from his work. Right now I am reading about Duchess’ and Woolly’s trip from Nebraska to New York in the Studebaker they “borrowed” from Emmett without his permission. On the trip they are staying in Howard Johnson motels. Remember them? Orange roofs and blue spires. When Towles described the buildings, rooms, the restaurant, and even the food and placemats I was transformed back to my childhood and could see myself there with my parents. I was transformed back to those days gone by. Amazing! Towles knows how to give just the right amount of detail without overwhelming with unnecessary details. Something we all need to hone in our own storytelling. Reading the work of great writers helps us do this.

Good storytelling isn’t about buzz words and fancy language. It’s about conveying our message clearly and simply. We need to connect with our audience as humans. I always try to tell stories as if I was telling the story to my friends sitting around a fire on my back porch. Or, better yet, consider how you would tell the story standing around a water cooler. I guess shorter probably is better, but always remember, every story can be told long, short, or in between – the message is the key.

Separating The Idle From The Industrious

I’m now getting to another prompt for a post that I had on my “to blog about list.” This prompt is from another quote in The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles: “Time is what God uses to separate the idle from the industrious.” I learned from David Marquet that great leaders understand how to control the clock. This quote got me to thinking about this control of the clock. When I looked up being industrious, this is what I found: industrious: applying oneself with energy to study or work; actively and purposefully getting things done; opposite of being idle and accomplishing nothing. The best example of why we need to be industrious is thinking back to being a kid (okay, I still kind of am a kid). The worst days ever were the ones when there was nothing to do. Time seemed to stand still – I wasn’t controlling the clock. When we are idle and purposeless, we are at our unhappiest.

The way to happiness is finding purpose in how we use our time. We are at our best when our time includes industriousness that leads to tangible production. Also, think about that great feeling at the end of a very productive day of working really hard. It’s such a great “tired.” There are a lot of days like this on the farm. This feeling also happens when you are taking the shot where others will not, and doing things that other people may consider difficult. Time passes whether we are controlling the clock or not. The best athletic coaches are the ones who know how to control the clock the best.

My takeaway from the interaction in Towles’ novel was that we need to find purpose to truly be industrious. When we take a moment to really look around to see what is out there, we can find an unlimited number of things that can and should be done for ourselves, for others, and the betterment of the world. Participating in resolving these things can help us not only feel useful and helpful, but actually be useful and helpful.

Being Kind

Posted in Amor Towles, Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Kind, Kindness, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on November 4, 2021

I am continuing to learn from my reading in The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles. There has been so much talk and many articles written about kindness in the last year. Additionally, there has seemed to be a great deal of hypocrisy where organizations, companies, and leaders would be lauded one day for acts of kindness and be reported for being unsafe the next. Or, articles about kindness is more than providing for basic needs, the lowest wage possible, or most bare bones of benefits. One thing is clear: being kind is necessary and the right thing to do. It’s even a bit intriguing to me that we even need to talk about it, but here we are.

We’ve all seen the buzz word ridden definitions of kindness that people/leaders love to give. You know, the ones that have words like considering, balancing, satisfying needs, fostering group well-being, innovation, potential, and productivity. What? It’s got to be simpler than that. It is! A character, Sally, in The Lincoln Highway likes to make strawberry preserves using the recipe and technique taught to her by her mother. When asked why she goes to the hours of hard work to make the preserves when you can go to the store and buy a big jar for 19 cents (the novel takes place in the 1950s), she says because she can and precisely because it takes so much effort. She explains she does it because it does take so much labor and it is a kind thing to do.

Furthermore, Sally defined kindness as being “where necessity ends.” Let’s read that one more time: “For kindness begins where necessity ends.” Now there’s a definition we can understand. If we let that sink in it’s pretty basic – kindness kicks in after basic necessities are met. Kindness is also a part of our everyday interactions.

As it also asks in the book, “For what is kindness but the performance of an act that is both beneficial to another and unrequired?” To me that puts a whole new light on kindness. Sometimes we pat ourselves on the back for being kind when really we’ve just begun to provide for necessities. Let’s not ever forget this lesson: kindness begins where necessity ends!

Picking Your Moments

Posted in Amor Towles, Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on November 2, 2021

I just started reading the incredible new book The Lincoln Highway by one of my favorite authors, Amor Towles. As a believer in the importance of storytelling as a skill, reading an Amor Towles’ book is like taking a clinic. Besides becoming completely engrossed in his books, I become very reflective and end up learning a great deal about myself.

A line in the book already jumped out at me: “Sometimes the moment is picked for you.” I tell leadership development groups I work with all the time that we sometimes forget that we need to control the clock. Think about it; the best coaches control the clock from beginning to end. You might be thinking how does the moment being picked for you translate to controlling the clock. Well, it means using that moment to the fullest. This means we need to keep our attention focused on the present. One thing is for sure, whatever we are attending to in this moment will change. This change could give us the opportunity to practice accepting whatever it is that will emerge in the next moment. There is wisdom in cultivating acceptance.

I heard it said once that the reason we can fully appreciate sunsets is that we can’t control them. But, even though we can’t control when sunset happens each day (the moment is chosen for us), we can plan to be standing on the beach at the right moment to experience its glorious moment. So remember, make the most out of those moments that are chosen for you.

The Centrifuge That Is Life

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every so often a book comes along that makes me reflect on many aspects of my own life. This great book, Rules Of Civility by Amor Towles, did that for me. I had pages of notes and quotes when I was done reading. Additionally, I had blog posts that were inspired by Rules of Civility – Visions & Revisions and What Do You Look Forward To?. This book brilliantly took the reader back to Manhattan in 1938, where authentic, human characters inhabit a playground that comes alive with the manners of a society on the verge of radical upheaval. George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Descent Behavior were weaved into the book throughout and were actually all listed at the end of the book.

At the end of the book we realize we’ve had a look back from the protagonist, Katey Kontent’s, 1966 perspective and that we have experienced all the twists and turns of the characters’ lives. This made me think of all twists and turns in my own life and the non-linear nature of our lives. One of my favorite quotes in the book is, “Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Sometimes, it sure seems that’s what life intends. After all, it’s basically like a centrifuge that spins every few years casting proximate bodies in disparate directions. And when the spinning stops, almost before we can catch our breath, life crowds us with a calendar of new concerns.” I thought about all the people who have come and gone in my own life and those that have come and gone and come back. This also made me think about the peoples’ live I have come and gone from. What influence were they on what the portrait, that is my life, looks like today? What influence have I had on others’ portraits?

As Shakespeare taught us, “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages.” This book was a powerful reminder that people come into our lives and we enter other peoples lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Also, as a person who believes we should create space in our lives for serendipity, I think about the chance meetings of people who have then become influential in my life. What if characters in the book had shown up at a bar on a different night? Think of all the “what ifs…?” in your own life. When we treat every encounter as a chance to impact, influence, or inspire we bring purpose to our lives. Most people that enter our lives are seasonal and they’re with us for a reason. Once that reason is fulfilled life has a way of moving them on.

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