Reminded Again

December 7th, 2017

As simple decorum becomes complicated, as common decency is no longer common, as truth becomes negotiable, looking for someone to follow is getting more and more difficult. 

Look inside.

“I'm going to sit right down and write myself a letter.”

Fats Waller first made it a hit in 1935. Since then, it’s been covered by everybody from Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and Nat King Cole to Bill Haley and the Comets and Scatman Cruthers to Willie Nelson and, alas, Barry Manilow.

It’s a very popular song. And it’s a very good idea.

Feel free to hum along as you read this week’s column.

As published in The Memphis Daily News, December 8, 2017, and in The Memphis News, December 9-15, 2017

Academy Letterthumb7


When I closed up my parents’ home some 30 years ago, I found myself in my old room, going through my desk drawers one more time. In the back of one, I found something I’d missed – a magnifying glass with a loose handle. Curious, I pulled the handle off and saw a piece of a paper inside. Unrolling it, I recognized the note and laughed, returning that sound to a place once filled with it, replacing a sense of loss with a sense of perspective.

The note said, “Curious son of a bitch aren’t you?” Written by me in the eighth grade, planted in that handle to catch somebody, and catching only me all those years later.

In 1998, I took part in the New Memphis Institute’s Leadership Development Intensive, a four-day, heavy-lifting exercise of turning yourself inside out in front of others, and then spotting them while they do the same. At the end, you know a great deal more about yourself and others, and about observing, understanding, and the capacity to lead. As part of the process, you’re asked to write yourself a letter about things that matter, to be sent to you months later to check your progress against your own standards.

While cleaning out closet crypts a few years ago, and – along with that shirt/suit/coat/blouse/box you know you have but can’t find – I found that letter. I wrote a column about it.

Recently, New Memphis Institute celebrated its 20 anniversary, and I was reminded that I promised to read that letter every five years or so. So I did, and I’m sharing it with you again.

Now, more than any time in my lifetime, each of us needs to determine what matters, and be reminded of it, and personally measured by it.

“Dear Dan,

Remember, always, true vision is not possible with blinders, progress cannot be achieved without motion and that even a little change requires a little chaos. Create it from time to time.

You are not in charge of the process or of another single living creature. You are part of the process, and you have considerable impact on others and they on you. Study each other.

No one and nothing is irrelevant along the way. Learn from everything.

Laughter is free but the cost of not using it is immeasurable. Humor yourself and others.

If you’re always busy being heard you never hear. For God’s sake, Dan, listen.

No love is unconditional, no respect unearned, no result guaranteed. Give back gladly, gleefully, to those who give to you, and be glad for them.

The condition for love is to give it back. To earn respect, invest in some for others. To achieve results, look for and employ your strengths and the strengths of others.

People are, thank God, different. Celebrate the differences, challenge sameness.

Most of all, enjoy the trip without hurting any of the other passengers. 

Did I mention listen?”

I’m a Memphian, and I wrote myself a letter. Write one yourself.


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