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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Winter Colds - A most unwelcome winter visitor

With a winter cold going through my family like a six year old through Christmas wrapping paper, I thought a column about avoiding winter sniffles and flu bugs would be a good idea. I will concede my judgment maybe clouded a bit given that I am popping cold pills like Pez. I will also concede that most of what I will write in this column is far from ground breaking medical research, and is as likely to come from your grandmother than the latest issue of the Journal of the AMA.
You can try digging a deep hermetically sealed bunker to spend each winter and attempt to avoid a cold or flu; but in addition to contracting cabin fever, you would miss out on the wonderful winter sports, and the sights of North Idaho covered in white. So, if living in a bunker is not your future, I first suggest trying to avoid hugging and kissing anyone who currently has a cold and washing your hands often in case holiday relatives ambush you. You can also help yourself before you even come out of your bunker by eating well, and getting plenty of rest.
The Chinese have a proverb that maintains, “The superior doctor prevents sickness; the mediocre doctor attends to impending sickness; the inferior doctor treats actual sickness.” I agree with this basic premise; all things considered, avoiding the cold or flu in the first place is the preferred course of action. This can be especially difficult if someone in your family has a cold and it falls to you to nurse them back to health. At the risk of being redundant, dispose of tissues immediately, wash your hands often, and limit how much you touch your face. If you share a keyboard or register at your work, make sure you disinfect the keyboard as often as possible.
Go to the Doc and get your flu shot. I know, some of you don’t believe in immunizations and truth be told I am not fired up about needles either, but there is now a flu immunization that is administered by a nasal mist. The flu can be fatal to certain populations such as the very young and the very old, so in addition to preventing yourself from feeling like Death warmed over for a few days, you will be doing something very nice for people you may never know.
Taking a multivitamin and even certain herbal supplements such as Echinacea are believed to help the body’s immune system, while green and black teas provide antioxidants. Honey can coat a scratchy throat, while menthol can help open nasal passages. In the last few years, I have read research documenting the benefits of chicken soup, stress reduction and, believe it or not, physical activity. Several of my family members are convinced that a hot toddy (comprised of a cup of hot water, a splash of lemon juice, a tablespoon of honey and a shot of whiskey) is helpful. They also maintain that in a pinch, all of the ingredients except the shot of whiskey are optional!
I wish you and yours a happy and very healthy New Year. Hopefully by following some of these ideas you will avoid the colds and flu so many of us will sniffle our way through. Of course, if you are so blessed to avoid being sick you could commiserate with us just a bit and not be so smug when we whine a bit.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb. He can be reached at

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Burden to Bear

The other day I had the chance to see the wonderful movie, Freedom Writers, starring Hillary Swank. This movie is about a teacher in an inner city school, Erin Gruwell, who uses a lesson about the Holocaust to begin the process of getting her students to write about their own lives and engaging in the educational process. All 150 of her students graduated High School; many have since graduated college, several are now teachers themselves and a number are actually pursuing PhDs of their own.

In this movie, Scott Glenn, Gruwell’s father makes a comment to her that is something like, “You have been blessed with a burden, how many Dad’s get to say that to their daughter’s?” While I enjoyed this movie very much and its inspirational story; I would, if I met him, have to quibble just a bit with Mr. Gruwell. His daughter is not the only daughter, or son, with a burden to bear; every parent has a child with a burden to bear.

When I say this, I am not referring to the financial and time constraints of living in the modern, western world. I am referring to the burden borne by each of us as moral and ethical persons to make our world a better place, and to alleviate the suffering of those less fortunate than us. Teaching children this lesson, like most lessons, is best done by example. Unfortunately, most of us treat this social responsibility in the same manner Churchill described our encounters with the truth, "Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened."

We recognize the work that needs to be done; we see it every day, in things large and small, and yet walk on by “as if nothing happened.” Research has shown time and again that a person’s resilience to life’s challenges increases as they perform service for those less fortunate that themselves. This phenomenon, and the benefits gained, hold true whether your challenges are relatively large or small. As your mother instinctively knew, “There is always someone less fortunate than you.”

Teaching your children compassion, empathy, and patience for others not only benefits those your child interacts with; it benefits you with more fully functioning family relationships, provides your child with tools they will need in the future in marriage and as a parent, and provides us all with kinder, warmer and more polite communities. Surely these benefits to ourselves is enough to motivate us all to serve others a little more.

With the holiday season in full swing and an economic crisis hanging like a cloud over our heads, many are tempted to use these as excuses to withhold help or put off performing service for others. I encourage all of us to help another person whenever help is needed; financial help, certainly when possible, but emotional help, compassion and a kind word go a long way as well and cost nothing more than a little empathy. I leave you with the wisdom of Albert Schweitzer, “It is not enough merely to exist. It's not enough to say, 'I'm earning enough to support my family. I do my work well. I'm a good father, husband, churchgoer.' That's all very well. But you must do something more. Seek always to do some good, somewhere.”

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb. He can be reached at

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Time is precious, don't wish it away

Early morning a few days ago, I found myself in a deer stand with my bow, waiting for the sun to come up. For me, this time alone is a good time to think and enjoy nature. However, like most of us, I found myself being impatient and hoping time would pass more quickly. In this case, I was impatient for the sun to rise, for the day to begin with all its promise.

I was excited to know whether I would get a chance at a mature buck, but even more anxious to see the squirrels and rabbits play, and the birds visit in the tree next to me. This anxiety led me to wishing the sun would rise, the day would start, and I would realize the potential the day held. What I wasn't, was in the moment.

That moment, that time before the sun rose, on that day, will never come again. The cool, still air would be interrupted in a few precious minutes; and with a wife, four kids and a host of relatives, the rest of my day would be filled with activity I would find difficult to escape. Therefore, the minutes I was wishing away were important and deserved to be honored and enjoyed for the glory contained in them.

This early morning revelation is something I have to remind myself of often because I tend to live my life in the future, always planning and working toward the next thing. The holiday season tends to push us to wish time would pass, so the holiday hustle and stress would end, or so we can see relatives and friends with whom we don't spend enough time. To my great fortune, several years ago I read "The Book of Virtues" by William Bennett.

In that book is the story of a little boy, who like most of us, sees the glorious spring day and wishes to be playing instead of inside a classroom. He daydreams away his education for the day, and on his way home wishes the school year would end and summer would arrive. A beautiful woman approaches and offers him a silver ball with a little thread hanging out. She explains this thread is his life thread and if he desires time to move faster when he is bored or in pain, all he has to do is pull the thread. However, when he has pulled all the thread then his life is over.

He pulls the thread when he gets bored in school, when he can't wait to marry the girl of his dreams, when his kids are sick, when he is imprisoned for his political beliefs and when he has to go to war. At the end of his life when his wife is sick and he has no money for a doctor, he pulls the thread and she is gone. . . He looks down to see golden thread coming from the ball and realizes his life is nearly over and he has missed so very much, pulling that thread.

He goes back to the stream and sits on a stump and mutters about his poor luck in owning the ball. A ragged old woman appears before him and castigates him, "You silly man, you begged for the ball despite my warning and now you bemoan the loss of your life." He tells her he is sorry and he didn't realize that the bad times of his life were important and sacred too. She offers to take back the ball on the condition he never again wishes for time to pass quickly. When gratefully he agrees, he awakens as a boy, having simply fallen asleep during lessons.

I remind myself of this story anytime I find myself wishing for time to pass quickly. I hope during the stress of the holidays and what the New Year might bring you, this story brings you the lesson and solace it brings me.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. Mark has completed graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is working on a Ph.D. in Leadership studies at Texas A&M University. He is happy to speak or provide a workshop for your organization and can be reached at