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Opinion

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Before February’s Black History Month moves away for another year, I would like to share with you the exciting story I read in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, “Leadership: In Turbulent Times,” with lessons from four presidents as leaders: Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson. Now you might be thinking that’s not the sexiest subject to be writing or reading about, but in her storytelling hands, it is a page turner. 

We all know too well that Johnson, the Democratic vice president, became president when John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963. At that time, Kennedy’s progressive legislation was totally bogged down in Congress, going nowhere. What might not be so well known is that LBJ, as he was fondly known, was a “master mechanic” of the legislative process for he had come of age in politics in Congress. “It was his fierce resolve not simply to dislodge Kennedy’s stalled agenda but to realize a society built on racial and economic justice far beyond the [FDR’s] New Deal and [Kennedy’s] New Frontier,” Goodwin wrote.

Taking advantage of the short burst of sympathy and support that he expected to realize from the nation, Johnson, a Texan, wanted to get the contentious civil rights bill, designed to end segregation in the South, enacted. “We have talked long enough in this country about equal rights. We have talked for 100 years or more. It is time now to write the next chapter, and to write it in the books of law,” he told Congress in his address to the nation on Nov. 27, 1963. 

But first he needed some congressional momentum to oil the rails and cleverly called for Kennedy’s tax cut to pass. Less divisive than the issue of civil rights, the bill had passed in the House after 13 months but was opposed by Virginia Sen. Harry Byrd, a conservative Democrat and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Conservatives then adamantly believed in a balanced budget. The idea of tax cuts came from liberals.

Johnson was able to work out a deal with Byrd. If he could get the proposed budget down below $100 billion in 1965, Byrd would bring the bill to the floor for a vote. With great effort, Johnson did, the bill was voted on and the Revenue Act of 1964 was passed into law on Feb. 26, barely three short months after the assassination. 

Now came the bigger challenge: civil rights.

Once the tax cut bill passed, promising more revenue from increased business that could be spent on social services, Lyndon Johnson focused his
attention and his legislative expertise on securing the mandate of law for civil rights. 

To say the least, Southern Congressional Republicans, many of them Johnson’s friends, adamantly opposed his effort. He liked to tell them his personal story about his longtime black employees, his housemaid and butler, Helen and Gene Williams, and his cook, Zephyr Wright.  

Each year Johnson asked them to drive his extra car from Washington, D.C., back to Texas, a three-day journey. One year Johnson asked Gene to take along his affectionate beagle as well. It was then that Johnson learned how difficult such a trip was for those of color: almost no places on the road to stop and eat, almost no bathrooms in which they were allowed, few places to sleep. “A colored man’s got enough trouble getting across the South on his own, without having a dog along,” Gene explained. Now, all these years later, the winner of the best picture at Sunday’s Academy Awards, “Green Book,” tells us the same story about traveling through the South in the 1960s with its unjust system of segregation.

Johnson knew his passionate advocacy for this bill would separate him from the South and from his Southern friends and colleagues. 

Johnson confronted those in Congress with how wrong segregation was and tirelessly worked the legislative system for passage of his bill. He challenged Virginia’s defiant Judge Howard Smith, a Democratic congressman and chair of the House Rules Committee by resorting to the discharge petition, a rarely used procedure, to blast the bill out of committee with the help of a majority of representatives. He rallied those outside the House to pressure their elected representatives to free the bill. The strategy worked, as leaders all over the country organized to do just that. 

Once out of committee, the House passed the strongest civil rights bill since Reconstruction. 

Next came the Senate. Johnson took on Richard Russell (D-Georgia), Senate leader of the Southern opposition, in a pitched battle that proved history is the result of individuals in the right place at the right time. Only a son of the South could have persevered at that juncture. Johnson managed, with the help of Republicans, and especially Senate minority leader, Everett Dirksen (R-Illinois), to break the Southern-led Senate filibuster. The bill then passed in the Senate. 

On July 2, Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. He ended by saying, “To the extent Negroes were free, really free, so was I. And so was my country.”

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Wait, was that at me? How am I supposed to know? She’s still waving. I could wave back, but what if she’s waving to someone else. Should I put my stupid hand in the stupid air and risk the possibility of looking stupid?

Yes, this happened to me many times during my adolescence. How was I supposed to react when someone I kind of knew, or maybe wanted to know, was waving in my direction? Sometimes, I pretended I didn’t see the person waving, while I casually looked around to see if anyone near me was responding. I probably looked like I had a neck twitch, as I scanned the area to see if it was safe to wave.

These days, the waving conundrum has taken a different form, especially after we moved away from the tristate area. It appears that the Northeast and Southeast have different rules for waving. In the Northeast, we wave when someone we know well walks by us in the car. If they don’t see us, perhaps we offer a quick and polite tap on our horn, just to let them know we saw them and we’ll likely text or email them later.

If someone we’re pretty sure we don’t know waves, we immediately assume that someone else is the recipient of their gesture — they have a small dog on the loose and we better slow down, or their children are playing a Nerf gun game and might dart into the street. If they continue to wave, we squint for a while, trying to figure out if maybe they’ve lost weight. It could be they’re someone we might have met casually at one of our kids sporting events, or they want us to sign a petition, or even buy a product we’re sure we don’t need because we can’t stand all the crap we already have in our own house.

Of course, if we have our defensive curled upper-lip action going too quickly, we might scare away our son’s teacher, our daughter’s assistant coach or a new neighbor who has introduced herself to us four times.

In the Southeast, however, the rules are different. Most of the people in the passing cars wave when I walk the dog. Yes, we have a dog and, no, you can’t pet him even though he’s pulling as hard as he can to get to you because I have to bring him back inside so I can do some writing. I’ve stopped trying to figure out the source of the amicable gesture and I wave back. My son, who sometimes accompanies me on these dog walks, wondered, “Hey, do you know that person?” He is still playing by the rules of the Northeast.

I explained that I wave at every car, even the likely empty parked vehicles in case someone is sitting in them, because that’s what you do here. I told him I’ve conducted my own experiment, where I don’t wave and I see what happens. More often than not, the person slows down and waves even more vigorously, as if to say, “Hey, I’m waving here. Now it’s your turn.”

Kids in the modern era seem to have solved the waving problem. They do a quick head nod, which could be a response to a similar gesture from someone else or it could be a way of reacting to music no one else hears. Then again, they’ve probably figured out how to make a thinner, acne-free virtual version of themselves wave at cartoon versions of their friends.

Girl doing school work in classroom

This year, more than ever, Long Islanders are about to find themselves in a jam when it comes to taxes. 

It’s been a little more than a month since employees received their 2018 W-2 forms. While that extra $20 or maybe $60 in each paycheck felt great to pocket in January 2018 due to passage of President Donald Trump’s (R) Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, it probably doesn’t feel quite so good now. 

Thousands of middle-class residents are facing a sobering reality upon calculating their 2018 tax returns. Many are finding out their anticipated tax refund has turned into an IOU to Uncle Sam. It’s in part thanks to the elimination of several federal deductions of moving expenses, home equity loan interest or, particularly, the $10,000 cap on state and local taxes deduction. 

It’s the SALT cap that is playing a major factor in reducing or elimination people’s anticipated federal tax return. The average property taxes for Suffolk homeowners is $9,333, according to a 2017 analysis by ATTOM Data Solutions. It’s even higher for many property owners along the North Shore in Setauket, Huntington and Smithtown. Now, there’s nothing to help offset Suffolk’s high taxes. 

For the average Suffolk homeowner, 60 percent of their annual tax bill is due to educational costs, according to the 2017 study. Or, more than half can be attributed to your local school district’s tax levy and annual budget. 

As many North Shore residents come to the realization their property taxes alone exceed the SALT deduction limit of $10,000, school districts are starting to unveil their first drafts of the 2019-20 budgets. While most districts, if not all, anticipate a proposed budget that stays within the state-mandated 2 percent tax cap, any increase in taxes no matter how marginal will continue to put an increased burden on residents. 

It is an undeniable truth that providing our children with a good, solid education in a safe setting is of the utmost importance. We must beg the question — is there some way to do it in a more cost-effective manner? We’re not asking school administrators to cut corners but think creatively when drafting their 2019-20 budgets. 

Whether the state-mandated tax levy cap is 1.83 or 2.58 percent, we’re asking you to think of cost-saving measures — for example, collaboratively purchasing goods and services cheaper in bulk — to help keep the school taxes increases far below that cap. If we were to think of the state-mandated tax cap as a ceiling, we want to ensure there’s adequate space or gap between the budget’s ceiling and the annual increases. 

Everyone has to pull together to keep living on Suffolk’s North Shore affordable, one part of which is keeping taxes as low as possible. As school district taxes make up the largest portion of our taxes, we have to ask districts to please tighten your belts a little more and keep those tax levies low.

Amazon, the online retail giant, tried to set up shop in Long Island City. The company came onto the scene in 2018 promising to build its second headquarters in Queens and create more than 25,000 high-paying jobs in the process, but by Feb. 14 Amazon had pulled out of the deal after months of community antagonism and protest. 

What did Amazon do wrong? After all, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) were both completely behind the idea. 

What happened was Amazon, like Marcus Licinius Crassus of Rome marching into the Parthian Empire in ancient Iran, wanted to stamp its logo in the dirt without thinking of the logistics, or whether the people wanted them there.

We, as journalists, know the routine developers need to take to successfully settle into our areas. The prospective business must work with the local municipality, whether it’s a village or town, and establish site plans and conduct environmental reviews. If their idea is sound, the area representative works with the developer, relaying questions and concerns from their constituents to the developer.

More important is reaching out and connecting with the local residents. After all, they are the ones who will likely patronize the business. They are the ones who will see it affect their local ambiance or property values. They are the ones forced to live next to it day after day. 

It might be the height of foolhardy narcissism from all involved, from the government to Amazon themselves, to think there wouldn’t be any blowback from residents. The announcement of HQ2 was kept secret until leaping onto the scene, and residents were stuck either saying “yes” or “no” to Amazon. 

We often see how the community reacts to new developments, and while sometimes there is a little not-in-my-backyard ideology to go around, many residents are keen to know how a development will affect them. The developer needs to listen to their concerns and make changes to their designs, otherwise the plans could blow up in their face.

The Town of Brookhaven, especially Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), has recently shown its desire to see Amazon keep its promise to New York. It has offered the retail giant to set up in the town near the South Shore, all the while keeping the massive tax breaks promised by the governor using the town’s own Industrial Development Agency. While we appreciate the idea of bringing so many high-paying jobs into the area, which may boost the local tourism industry, we also caution the same sort of secrecy and backroom dealing which led Amazon to abandon its Queens plans in the first place.

It’s also a lesson to local governments and prospective developers. Not all residents will agree with every new structure and every new business, but developers absolutely need to listen to their concerns. Amazon is not the only company to be pushed back by protest. The Villadom project in the Town of Huntington that would have created a new Elwood mall, was lambasted by community members who felt they were being sidestepped and ignored. 

The community has a stronger voice than some might expect, and like Crassus eventually learned as he was roundly defeated and humiliated by the Parthians, one can’t simply stake claim on property unilaterally without a spear pointed at one’s neck.

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Presidents Day, as we honor those we hold on a pedestal, is a time for inspiration. Here are some inspirational sayings, some humorously so, that have been culled from the internet. 

1. Don’t talk, just act. Don’t say, just show. Don’t promise, just prove.

2. Good things come to those who believe, better things come to those who are patient and the best things come to those who don’t give up.

3. Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it, time will pass anyway.

4. Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together. (Marilyn Monroe)

5. What you think, you become. What you feel, you attract. What you imagine, you create. (Buddha)

 6. Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better. Don’t wish for less problems, wish for more skills. Don’t wish for less challenge, wish for more wisdom. (Jim Rohn)

 7. Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny. (Frank Outlaw)

 8. Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful. (Herman Cain)

 9. Rule No. 1 of life. Do what makes you happy.

10. No matter how you feel … get up, dress up, show up and never give up.

11. If you can’t change the circumstances, change your attitude. Funny thing is, when you do, you’ll find that the circumstances often change.

12. Hustle in silence and let your success make the noise.

13. Home is where the Wi-Fi connects automatically.

14. The clock is running. Make the most of today. Time waits for no man. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present. (Alice Morse Earle)

15. Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

16. You don’t always need a plan. Sometimes you just need to breathe, trust, let go and see what happens. (Mandy Hale)

17. When you stop chasing the wrong things you give the right things a chance to catch you. (Lolly Daskal)

18. Follow your passion. Listen to your heart. Trust the process. Be grateful. Life is magic and your dreams matter.

19. Every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day.

20. The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old but on building the new. 

21. You should never regret anything in life. If it’s good, it’s wonderful. If it’s bad, it is experience.

22. For every minute you are angry, you lose 60 seconds of happiness.

23. Never give up on what you really want to do. The person with big dreams is more powerful than one with all the facts.

24. One: Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two: Never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose, and life is empty without it. Three: If you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away. (Stephen Hawking)

25. Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option.

26. Be with someone who knows exactly what they have when they have you.

27. Money talks … but all mine ever says is goodbye.

28. A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.

29. Marriage is like a deck of cards. In the beginning all you need is two hearts and a diamond, but by the end you wish you had a club and a spade.

30. An entire sea of water can’t sink a ship unless it gets inside the ship. Similarly, the negativity of the world can’t put you down unless you allow it to get inside you.

31. Yawning is your body’s way of saying 20 percent battery remaining.

32. What do you call a bear with no teeth? A gummy bear!

Stock photo

Over time, parents have learned to have conversations with their kids about drug use — whether they should not use at all or to use responsibly.

With New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) stating his hope to pass legislation to legalize recreational marijuana during his recent 2019 State of the State address — something that has been in the works for years — we think the time is right to discuss marijuana use in the same way we do with cigarettes or alcohol.

While laws will likely prevent minors from buying the drug, legalizing means, in general, it will be easier to find, and parents may need to remind teenagers that just because something is for sale, just as with other drugs, it doesn’t mean they can or should purchase it.

Of course, what’s available at parties always comes into play. Many times, parents may have the talk about alcohol with their children, stressing that their judgment can easily be impaired after only a drink or two, but do they include that smoking a joint can do the same? Just like with alcohol, it’s not safe to drive a car or operate machinery after using marijuana, as it can impair judgment, motor coordination and reaction time.

The sage advice from parents that they would rather have their children wake them in the middle of the night with a phone call asking to be picked up at a party than having them get behind the wheel after drinking — or in a car with someone who has been — would apply to marijuana use as well. Besides waking up mom or dad, there are always the options of sleeping in the house where the party is taking place, getting a ride from a designated driver, or getting a cab or Uber. That’s a golden rule that even adults need to abide by as driving while impaired by a drug in New York state can lead to a $500 to $1,000 fine, a license suspension for at least six months and a possible one-year jail term. If marijuana is legalized, being over the age limit will mean smoking or eating edible cannabis will become a choice, rather than a secretive, unlawful vice.

And if recreational use of pot becomes legal, due to the danger of impairment, despite the new law, many employers may still have random drug testing — something for people to consider as they seek employment.

If state officials legalize the recreational use of marijuana, there will be something else in common with cigarettes. While many may think smoking a joint doesn’t cause the same health problems as cigarettes, according to the American Lung Association, smoking marijuana can still pose a risk to lung health.

To help with discussions about pot use, residents can find out what’s on the minds of others Feb. 25 when the Suffolk County Legislature invites people to share their thoughts about legalizing recreational marijuana at a public hearing at the William H. Rogers Building in Smithtown. We at TBR News Media will be there.

With the possibility of New York becoming the 11th state to legalize recreational use of marijuana, it’s time for parents to get ahead of any problems by discussing drug use with their children.

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Ah, Cinderella. The glass slipper. The handsome prince. A story that even frustrated, annoyed, irritable teenagers can love, right?

That’s what we thought when we bought the tickets. My wife and I enjoy good music, lyrical singing and creative costumes. So we figured we’d share some of that with our teenage children before we pack them up and ship them off to the next chapter of their lives.

The outing started out with such promise. I drove my teenagers to meet my wife. We connected with her outside a garage, where she used her parking pass to get us into a building several blocks from the show.

As soon as she got in the car, she could tell the mood was dark and foreboding.

“What’s the matter?” she asked.

“Nothing,” Angry 1 and Angry 2 muttered in unison.

“Do you not want to see the show?”

No answer.

“Well? Would you rather go home? Dad can take you back.”

No answer.

“Can I please have my ticket?” my wife asked, sticking out her hand. “I will go alone.”

“No,” I replied. “I want to go, too.”

Walking through a city we didn’t know well, we raced to get to the theater before 7 p.m. It wasn’t easy, but we got in by 6:58 and race-walked to the door.

“You can’t come in,” the usher said.

We slumped our shoulders.

“But it’s not 7 p.m.,” my wife observed.

“Yes, but the show doesn’t start until 7:30. We’ll open the doors in a few minutes.”

Funny, right? Well, no, not in the moment.

“Wait, this starts at 7:30 p.m.?” my son asked. “How long is it?”

The usher informed us it was three 45-minute acts, with two 15-minute intermissions. That meant we’d get home around 11 p.m.

“I have so much homework,” he lamented.

We decided I would retrace our steps back to our car so he could get his backpack, order an Uber and send him on his way. I took a ticket and ran with him to the car. Fortunately, the Uber transfer went well. As I trotted back to the theater, I realized I was missing something. I called my wife.

“What’s the matter?” she asked, sensing the continuing unraveling of the evening.

“I can’t find the ticket. It must have fallen out of my pocket.”

“Oh no, how are you going to get in?”

We talked for a moment and then I realized we could show my wife’s two tickets to the usher with whom I spoke to on the way out. Our daughter could hover near the seats. Fortunately, the usher let me return.

Once the show began with frenzied music and considerable dancing, we waited. And waited. And waited. No one spoke. No one sang. It was, to the surprise of all three of us, a ballet.

Now, I know many fine people who love the ballet. Just as I know many wonderful, albeit misguided, people who love the Patriots. For the three of us, however, a ballet was not only unexpected, it was also unwelcome.

By the time intermission began, we were laughing.

“Should we stay for the second act?” my wife asked.

We stayed for another 45 minutes and left the theater.

“You know, it could have been worse,” our daughter said, as we were driving back home.

“Oh yeah, how?” my wife and I wondered, incredulous.

“All four of us could have seen it,” she said.

We chuckled as we hit every red light on the way home from the shattered glass slipper of an evening.

Daniel Dunaief

By Daniel Dunaief

The film “Bohemian Rhapsody” is far better than the critics suggest, while “Green Book” isn’t as deep or powerful as it could be. After watching four movies recently, including “Aquaman” and “Mary Poppins Returns,” I want to share my reactions to each of these films.

Featuring my favorite superhero, “Aquaman” had the opportunity to inspire and demoralize me at the same time. The movie was going to be a CGI (computer-generated imagery) extravaganza, with numerous impossible-to-imagine scenes filmed underwater. I don’t generally crave spectacular and splashy visuals, especially if they are designed to compensate for a weak script or disappointing acting.

Unfortunately for the water hero, the CGI was considerably more polished than the script, with attempts at humorous dialogue that were so underwhelming that it was tempting to urge the actors to stop talking and continue to swim through the scenery. Nonetheless, the movie did have its escapist and captivating elements. Perhaps the best way to enjoy a movie like this is not to think too much and to appreciate the ride. The spectacular visual spectacle almost merited the effort of seeing the movie on a large screen, instead of waiting for it to appear on a movie channel in a few months time.

Making a “Mary Poppins” sequel immediately asks the film to build on its successes, while introducing something new and engaging in its own right. The film succeeded on the first front, but fell a bit short, at least for me, on the second. Emily Blunt captured Mary’s supreme self-confidence, and magic magnificently. She took an iconic character owned by Julie Andrews and made it her own. The animated sequences, which were more lavish and extended than in the original, helped the movie create its own indelible images. The lyrics to the songs, however, weren’t quite as memorable as the original, at least for me.

“Green Book” maneuvers through the societal challenges that arise from a white driver who is transporting an African-American pianist, Don Shirley, through the South for performances in 1962. The movie feels important because it addresses bias and stereotypes during a period when the struggle for Civil Rights took root. Set against racial tensions, the film addresses the developing relationship between its two stars and has moments of tenderness and transformation for the duo at the heart of the story. It also addresses the remarkable contradiction between white society eager to enjoy the talents of an African-American entertainer and the inability of that same audience to respect the person as an equal.

Still, the movie felt like it could have been so much more. The film shows details of the life story of the driver Tony Lip, played with his usual energy and passion by Viggo Mortensen. Shirley, portrayed by Mahershala Ali, tells the background of his life. The movie would have benefited from a deeper and better understanding of Shirley’s life, which, some members of his family have suggested was different from the portrayal in the film.

That leads me to “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I didn’t know a great deal about the musicians or their backstory. For me, the film was an enormous hit for two reasons: Rami Malek, who played lead singer Freddie Mercury, and the music itself. Malek embodied the energy, spirit, and unique character that was Mercury, parading around the stage, commanding every scene and blending bravado with an underlying vulnerability. The story doesn’t turn Mercury into a saint but, rather, shares his complicated life.

For fans of Queen’s music, the movie is a satisfying compilation of familiar hits that allow the legend of a wildly successful group to resonate.

The U.S. government declared a ceasefire in a war against itself Jan. 25. The three-week agreement to end the 35-day government shutdown is a compromise to lower the guns so the two sides can talk but, if anything, the weapons are still loaded.

If it were a real agreement, it wouldn’t have been given a deadline.

That’s what the whole government shutdown has felt like, a war, and like any modern war, the people who are hurt most are the civilians caught in the crossfire.

The number of people affected has been reported so often, but it is worth repeating. There were some 800,000 federal workers who were furloughed or forced to work without pay during the government closure, the longest shutdown in this nation’s history. Last week, TBR News Media reported on businesses who assisted those federal workers by providing free food and services. Some of those shops received 200, 300 or more people in a single weekend seeking help, and those same business owners spent hundreds of out-of-pocket dollars to help feed people. Organizations that usually create food kitchens for the holiday season or during national disasters organized for the thousands affected.

Even though the shutdown is over, major news outlets report workers do not know when they will receive their full back pay. Federal watchdogs said it might take the IRS a full year to recover from the lingering effects of the shutdown. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released a report Jan. 28 saying the shutdown cost the U.S. economy $11 billion, $3 million of which it will never recover.

Over the weekend, President Donald Trump (R) said the likelihood of reaching a deal is less than 50 percent. That’s not good enough.

This government shutdown was a hostage situation, and we at TBR News Media believe it should not become a regular political tool to hang the U.S. economy up by its lapels until it coughs up whatever an individual or political body desires. Another modern country has experienced a shutdown in the past. In 1975, Australia was unable to pass a budget. That shutdown resulted in first, the prime minister getting sacked then later the entire parliament was sacked as well, and a new vote was required to help reform the government. Australia has not had a government shutdown since.

The U.S. requires legislation that mandates some sort of repercussion for politicians that force, or allow, a shutdown to occur. U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) announced at the start of the closure he would not take any pay while government workers went without. That is a good start, and it should be codified and expanded to include every elected official in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

Residents should call upon their elected representatives, like Zeldin, to propose disciplinary measures once the dust of this political wrangling finally settles. While those who work in Congress won’t necessarily feel the pain and indecency that those who have lived without paychecks for several weeks had to endure, it might remind them they were elected to help — not harm — those they swore to represent. 

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

We have abbreviations for laughter, LOL; for humble opinions, IMHO; and for love, ILU. We need shorthand for something that’s “not about you” (NAY).

We live complicated lives and can often travel along a superhighway of speeding emotions. When someone we know sees us, we may be reacting to something we are feeling that has nothing to do with them. We may have received an email that we got the job, that we won a contest or that our bid for a house was accepted. At the same time, we may not want to share whatever someone else sees in us. It’s why the following conversation is repeated throughout the world:

“What’s up?”

“Nothing. I’m good.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yup, thanks.”

So, maybe the conversation doesn’t track with exactly those mundane words, but the idea is the same: it’s NAY. Whatever someone is feeling in the moment, someone else appears who may have nothing to do with the arriving person. The facial expression, body language or vibe someone may have been transmitting has nothing to do with the other person.

The NAY phenomenon is a concept middle schools should teach their students. After all, most adults recognize the middle school years as among the toughest and least enjoyable periods in life, as each day is a battle to overcome fatigue, acne, self-conscious moments, and that impossible transition from adorable youth to uncomfortable adolescence. Middle school teachers work in a building that is a simmering cauldron of strongly held emotions that can and do change as rapidly as shifting winds during a storm.

After reminding students not to bully each other, to treat others the way they would like to be treated, to take responsibility for their actions and to stay ahead in their classes, schools should also encourage students to understand that snickering, laughing, eye rolling and head shaking are often NAY. If someone disapproves of something or someone, it’s quite likely that something in that person’s life is bothering him or her and that it has nothing to do with you.

When we become parents, we relive so many of the stages of our own lives vicariously, watching our children as they search for new friends, speak to their teachers, pick up a bat to hit a ball or put together the pieces of an instrument. Each step they take is their step, not ours. We can and do help and encourage them, transporting them to rehearsals, suggesting they practice singing arpeggios and providing structure for their lives. Ultimately, however, they reach their goals because of their efforts, their talents and their commitment. Our lives have become so linked to those of our children that we can feel the gut-dropping moment when the ball skids behind them into the goal, when they learn their test scores, or when their boyfriend or girlfriend ends a long-term relationship with them.

Our role, however, is not to pile our emotions on top of the teetering pile or to insert ourselves into our children’s lives. We have to step back, realize that their incredible successes or momentary setbacks are not about us, and try to figure out what they might need.

Children offer us an incredible opportunity for connection, commitment and love. They are not, however, a way to correct the slights we felt when we were young or a chance to become the winners instead of the losers. When anything or everything our children do becomes about us and not about them, then what they do is no longer for themselves, which deprives them of owning their mistakes and accomplishments. So, next time you’re drawn into their lives, make sure you remember it’s NAY.