Olmec Heads (Pt. 4) Palenque

We waited about 10 minutes, and a little man walked in and came directly over to our table. 

“Welcome to Palenque, my name is Moises, and I was expecting you,” he announced in perfect English.

How did he know that we were coming and would meet in this little bar? When we asked Moises if Raul had contacted him about us, he said they had not seen each other for many years and had not talked. So, if Raul did not call him, how did Moises know we were coming? Why did he come to the bar except to meet us? These were things we did not understand—and still don’t.

Moises said that he was hired by a French group to guide them through Palenque and would be with them for the day. “Perhaps we can meet for dinner tomorrow evening?”

That or any other arrangement was fine with us, and we said so. 

The next day we went to the site, ready for a full day of experiencing one of the great Mayan cities of its time. Who was waiting for us? With a big smile and welcome, it was Moises. He had asked another guide to take the French group so he could be with us for the day and evening.

Holy Mackerel, What more? Still, there was.

We cherished every moment of being expertly guided through the ruins by Moises. He spoke in great detail, sharing hundreds of wonderful stories about Palenque and its people. We were mesmerized by his every word as Moises continued into the evening.

Moises also mentioned that he was invited to lecture in many places. But, before he did, he would walk the streets in every new place he visited, and if the place did not feel good, he would fly home and not lecture.

“A place must welcome you,” he said. “If not, leave it.”

More to come.


I walk on the ground—It is my reality—More above, below?

Olmec Heads (Pt. 3)

When Raul gave the bit of jade to Lenette, he said, “This is from Palenque. It will watch over you.” He then looked at me, put his finger to my heart, and said, “you have very important things to do, and Lenette must take care of you.”

I didn’t know then, but when we returned from Mexico, an entirely different life awaited us—A new career working with professionals and entrepreneurs and a world of tremendous challenges.

Lenette wore the piece of jade around her neck, which had an extraordinary effect on those who saw it. Wherever we went, villagers, when they came close to her, all stepped back, not in fear but in awe. The tiny jade signified to the local Mayans that Lenette was a very important person. The jade was a message they all understood, but we did not, so Lenette decided to take off the necklace when we traveled among the locals. 

A side story: When we tried to buy food from the food stands in the villages, we rarely paid for what we asked for. Whatever we chose was always met with smiles, a wave of the hands, and “No charge” in Spanish. We tried to pay but to no avail. We thoroughly enjoyed each moment of these experiences. 

It was about 10 at night when we arrived in Palenque. The town was entirely dark except for a single light bulb shining in a store window, which turned out to be the bar in town. Having no other choice, we parked and went in.

It was empty, except for one man who invited us to sit. “Moises will be here shortly,” he said in Spanish.

How does anyone make up a story like this??—I’m not! Sy

Olmec Heads (Pt. 2)

We enjoyed a wonderful village dinner and a conversation about the history of the Mayans. I tried to pay, but no bill came, only smiles and outstanding service. Raul Mendez was our host, who speaks fluent English and probably ten other languages. Once dinner was over, we parted but arranged to meet again in the morning for breakfast and more scintillating conversation. Wow! What an evening.

The next day we met at the café. We ate breakfast and did not pay, nor did Raul. Raul invited us to his abode and told us he had some things to give us. He also asked to see our map and where we planned to drive. His apartment was on the roof of the one small hotel in town. It was about twelve-foot square and contained a bed, washroom, small dresser, and a wire in the corner where two shirts and pairs of pants hung and nothing more. It was bare bones but clean.

At that moment we knew we had to send him some gifts like a radio, camera, books and a shirt or two (and we did). Although a pauper by some standards, he was a “king” in the eyes of the villagers. We saw both in this one person. There was something truly remarkable about this man, and we felt it.

We returned to the café where we had coffee while he checked our map. He also gave Lenette a tiny piece of jade with a hole to string it. He said this was from Palenque and told us he was one of the archeological students on the dig with another student named Moises. He said Moises was a world-famous lecturer and teacher of Palenque history. He also said that they had not seen each other or talked in many years, but they were in touch. Before we asked how that could be, Raul said we were going to Palenque and showed us the only safe road to take, as other routes were not safe for us to travel on. Also, he went on to say we would arrive at night and meet Moises in the bar.

We were locked in. People and events rule our lives.


The Olmec Heads

In October 1974, we decided to go on an adventure to Mexico in our pop-top VW Van. We even took some classes at Northridge College on the Pre-Columbian history of Mexico. Among graduate students, we both became the best students in the class. The professor knew we were planning an extensive trip to Mexico and intended to visit as many Pre-Columbian sites as we could. He warned us to be especially careful because we would be exploring areas not necessarily open to “gringos.” It was typical of the way we traveled, far from the beaten paths.

So, this is not a detail of our daily adventures but the strange events that began at dusk on a rainy night on the fringe of San Lorenzo south of Vera Cruz. We had begun looking for an off-road site to camp for the night when we saw several large Olmec Heads behind a wrought iron fence. Because we had studied them as students, we immediately pulled over so we could walk the fence and see the Heads. The gate to the outdoor museum opened, and a tall man in a white shirt with rolled-up sleeves came out.

He said, “I was waiting for you. Come, and I will walk with you and tell the history of my heads.” He was the museum’s curator and, as we were to discover, so much more. (GOOGLE OLMEC HEADS.)

He took us on an amazing journey with a big flashlight. The Olmec Heads stood 6ft high and were as wide as they were tall. During our “tour,” Lenette and I watched in astonishment as the eyes of the heads appeared to follow us as we walked among them. The Olmec Heads seemed to come alive as he spoke; they were looking at us as we looked at them!

After the walk and talk, I invited him to join us for dinner in the village. Things became even stranger as we walked through the village. As it had stopped raining, people were coming out for the evening. As we passed by them, we saw the villagers offering our host the respect one might pay a King. They literally bowed as we walked by them.


The Encounter

It was the 2nd week after we purchased the 80 acres near Montgomery Creek, California. The land was in the wilderness, close to the Shasta Indian Tribe, The wild Shasta River, and to the east and south of us was Lassen National Park. Lenette and I drove 600 miles from LA to get a feel of our pristine forest, meadow, and magnificent spring.

Our intentions were to cover all 80 acres, touch the huge trees, visit and drink from the miracle spring on our property, and see and get wet in our Northern border, Richardson Creek. On all sides, there were beautiful forests where wild animals were the only close residents.

The trip from Los Angeles was an all-day drive, and at that time, in 1959, highway 99 was a narrow two-lane road used essentially by farmers. We loved the sights and meandering highway because it was OUR land we were driving to. For us, it was something wonderful and challenging.

After eating dinner in Redding, Ca., we arrived at camp as dusk settled in. We threw our ponchos and sleeping bags down by a large Oak Tree, beyond what was to become center field in our baseball diamond, and settled in for the night. Heidi, the best watchdog anywhere, slept at our feet.

Early the following morning, Heidi became suddenly alert but did not bark. We felt her body tense up and woke to find ourselves looking straight into the eyes of a huge buck with a giant head of antlers—one of the largest we had ever seen.

The buck stood at the foot of our sleeping bags, close to Heidi, checking us out. To all of us, it felt like he was the spirit of the land we were on—his land. Then, lifting his enormous head, he turned and disappeared into the forest. At that moment, we all felt accepted and welcomed. During the entire encounter, Heidi remained silent. I’m sure she felt it too.

That day we enjoyed wonderful hikes to every corner and felt welcomed. We knew we belonged and that it was meant to be. All of it. Us, the kids— we were home.


Selecting A Leader

I’ve been thinking about this coming election and the issue of leadership. Two words immediately come to mind—cooperation and dialogue. How does any leader ever hope to arrive at creative problem-solving, possible consensus, or any meaningful degree of agreement without understanding these words and the importance of how they relate to each other. Please note I am only interested in sharing what I know to be true about leadership and not recommending a candidate.

Over many years, I’ve worked closely with young people with little or no experience in any field. If I hired them, it was because I recognized the student in them. I’ve always been attracted to those with potential. When I worked with experts in their chosen fields, I found they also had to accept that they were students and eager to grow. Otherwise, our working together would be wasted.

Because of my work with other entrepreneurs and professionals, I discovered that leaders create the environment, not employees. And, as I’ve repeatedly stated, leaders are their own worst enemy. I realize there’s a good reason why so little of this truth has been exposed. Being a messenger is a dangerous business. Have you read Machiavelli’s “The Prince” lately?

The lesson learned is that how leadership power is exerted makes all the difference in how those dependent on that power react. The environment the leader creates ripples all the way down the line and results from their relationship and communication with those dependent on their power and influence. This is true whether the power is in the hands of a parent, teacher, business person, or government leader. Dialogue and cooperation must go hand in hand if there is to be growth and solutions. Keep that in mind when you choose and be sure to vote!


Populism Is Not Leadership

I consider a Populist as “one who speaks to and for common people.” This type of leader purports to know what the “common folk” are feeling, thinking, and saying. Usually, they voice this from the safety of their homes or while among friends at work or church. The populist leader is acutely aware of what specific groups want to hear if this aspiring leader is to generate followers.

A populist, as I choose to define them, attempts to become this unstructured group’s public voice. Despite what they may insist, their goal is not to help the individuals in the group but to claim the power to represent them. In most cases, however, what the populist does and says is for their own advancement and self-aggrandizement. If this last point is true, a populist cannot make a good leader.

Good leaders do not attempt to speak for any group. Instead, they seek to nurture the individuals who follow them to be as much themselves as possible. Their goal is to grow them into full participants and empower them to become leaders themselves. Also, a good leader does not lower their standards to the “common” level to seek popularity.

This leader realizes that they are responsible for creating an environment that facilitates and assists individuals who are unafraid to grow and duplicate the same nurturing environment in their own inner circles. A good leader is a role model in every sense. Respect, dialogue, and personal integrity are their hallmarks.

On the other hand, division and exclusion are the populist leader’s stock in trade. Their power is exercised from the top down, with “divide and conquer” as their guiding principle. When society is broken into “for and against,” division occurs almost everywhere. When that happens, trust and dialogue become impossible. How can problems be solved when dialogue between people does not exist?

Compare this to the outstanding leader I constantly refer to. They seek inclusion, the fullest participation possible between people of every persuasion. They unite their followers, increasing the opportunities for addressing problems and reaching a consensus.

People Must Have People in Their Lives

It all begins with two people creating another or more. Here is the unalterable fact that people need people. Why does this truth go so awry as we age? I wish I could answer this question to benefit those who find ways to alienate others. For everyone else, I offer how best to understand and nurture the most important relationships.

I make it my responsibility to build relationships, and it does not matter with whom. If a waiter in a restaurant, I’ll build the bridge. If visiting a new Doctor or any professional I need to see, I build the relationship. If it’s the people that work for me or I work for them, I build the relationship.

It is not that those I meet, regardless of the reason, are not intent on a relationship with me; I do not have any expectations that they will or are supposed to. Still, I do not wait. I desire to communicate with almost anyone I see as one of my own, which is me simply being a person. A smile, kind words, and “thank you” are so easy to do and speak. And why not?

When Barbra Streisand sings: “People Who Need People Are the Luckiest People in The World,” she speaks to all of us. The words mean so much if we recognize how profound is our need for each other.

Never forget we do not exist except for others. Have we thanked them? Do we take the time to acknowledge those who have brought us into this world? Do we know their history? Have we taken the time to listen, understand, and appreciate that we are here because of them?

Sadly, I never took the time to sit my parents down and ask about their lives as children and young adults. Although I needed to know their story and family history, I failed to ask. It’s a loss I can never make up for.

Is Aging A Blessing?

I note that it’s the people in their 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s who do most of the writing and commenting about “being old.” A few claim that aging is a blessing; however, not being there and having age as their own experience makes “knowing” impossible.

I am old, about to be 96, and still have awareness, memory, and a creative bent. I write essays and poetry and am about to publish a third book on current issues concerning leadership, power, communication, and the world’s challenges. Yet, none of this makes my getting older a “blessing.” The blessing is in my creativity, not my aging.

“Old” means not being who you were in so many ways that I won’t take the time or space to note them. Clearly, being old sucks for those of us who are really old despite being fantasized about as a “blessing” by those not there yet.
Perhaps these younger individuals are whistling in the dark out of sheer fear for what is to come. The old have no need to conjecture. They are in the very center of the storm and have a real sense of its outcome. The old may not speak about this, but they know what being old is. Words are inadequate. Only “It is what it is” comes close.

I loved my life and the many challenges Lenette and I faced almost daily. I love her and do so even more today. I know it will all end in the not-too-distant future. How in the world can I see this as a “blessing?”

The sand not endless—It runs out on all of us—time is limited.

Who Am I?

Who I was: A Kid growing up on the streets of Westside Chicago during the great depression, living with a family of eight in a small apartment. A fearless fighter determined that no one would bully my friends or me, step on me or deny me from being. The cauldron I grew up in shaped much of me.

In the military, a brief event on Okinawa showed me that I could do well as a student. I became an Educator, Child Psychologist, Entrepreneur, and lecturer specializing in Leadership, Power, and Dialogue. Over my career, I’m told I became more of myself from whom I was.

Who I am: In 2010, I retired from lecturing, workshops, and extended travel. Still, I knew I needed to continue to study, work and push barriers. So, I began to write a book (Leadership, Power & Consequences), and with the help of a knowledgeable friend, a short handbook on leadership (Navigating Leadership, Growth, And Change) and a Blog (sywords.com) of my one-page essays.

To this day, I continue to be a student and teacher. No question, I owe much of my growth to my loving Lenette and many of the remarkable people I worked with as a mentor, who, in turn, taught me so much. I gave all I had and was given back in kind.