Newsletter by Barbara Mintzer

Barbara Mintzer's Newsletter
The Power of a Vision... a Leader's Journey

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July 2006
The Tenement Museum in New York City

It seems like a long time since I've touched base with all of you. I actually took a real vacation this year. Not the usual one, where I tack on some days after a speaking engagement and call it a vacation. This year my husband and I went back to New York City for 10 days to celebrate milestone birthdays and anniversaries with family and friends. NO WORK ... just going back to our "roots" so to speak. I am a Brooklyn girl by birth and my husband is a Bronx boy, so this was really a trip down memory lane. One of the most interesting and profound museums we visited was the Tenement Museum on the lower East Side of New York City. My Newsletter for this month will discuss what I believe we have learned from all those immigrants who lived in these tenements at the end of the 1800's and the early 1900's.

I was particularly interested in seeing this museum, as my parents came to America with their families in 1912. After they were processed in Ellis Island, they landed on the lower East Side with all the thousands of other immigrants from all over the world with the one commonality amongst them ... to start a new life in this new world .. and they never looked back!  I was shocked to see the deplorable conditions they lived in, particularly in the early years before laws were put forth that made landlords responsible for "humane" housing for these people. We saw the exact replicas of apartments they lived in, usually six people in a tiny one-bedroom apartment, with no lighting, no heat, no refrigeration and no toilets. And still they prevailed. How did they do it? How did they keep going against tremendous obstacles, not the least of which was a complete lack of knowledge of the English language. I believe they prevailed because of the following attitudes and beliefs that were at the heart of their experience in America:

1.    Failure was not an option. Many of these immigrants fled their native countries because of religious persecution, and they knew they would never go back. Some came with nothing but the shirts on their backs, grateful to have gotten out alive. Others came because of the poverty and hunger they were living with in their native countries, and they heard that in America everyone has the same chance to succeed and people did not go hungry. They were hard workers, willing to do what it took to survive, and, as in the case of my parents, determined to succeed so that their children would be assured of a better life than they had. Failure was simply not an option. They could not afford to even entertain that idea, for they had no place else to go. They had to succeed. If one occupation did not work, they tried another. After grueling 10 to 12-hour work days, they would go to school at night to learn English. These people worked six days a week and went to school five nights a week, so they had only one day to rest and recuperate and get ready to start again. 

One would think they would complain or feel sorry for themselves. Not so. They had a purpose. They were paving the way for a better life for their offspring and the rest of their families and every new word learned, every dollar earned, was a measure of their success. They never gave up. They just kept on plugging. I think there is a great lesson to learn here. When you cannot afford to fail, you set yourself up to succeed. Your focus is on the positive, incremental steps forward that you are taking. Expectations are realistic, fulfilled one small step at a time. I believe that is still the formula for success today: small positive steps forward, one step at a time, in the direction of a realistic goal.

2.    They were grateful for what they had. Even though life was incredibly hard, it was still better than what they came from. They were grateful for the fruits of their hard labor, for the occasional recreation they could afford and for the opportunity to better themselves. They took great pride in eventually becoming Americans and that their children would be Americans with all the benefits afforded to citizens of this country. At the end of a long, hard day, they would sit down to dinner, crowded into a small kitchen, but the aroma of good food could be smelled two blocks away. Without the benefit of TVs or computers, they talked to one another at the dinner table, after dinner, and till it was time to go to bed. Families were very close, many out of necessity, but all the extended family and neighbors were over each other's apartments all the time. It was a different life than the one we have now. Those people really didn't set many boundaries, they were happy to have people over the house, and privacy was not even imagined. In a strange country there was safety in numbers, and people congregated together every chance they had.

We have come so far from those days. My great-nephew who is seven years old, looks at me increduously when I tell him there was a time when people did not have computers, cell phones, etc. He just can't imagine life without all his "gadgets" and technology is a way of life for him even at this young age. However, with all that we do have, an attitude of gratitude is something that has to be worked on all the time. In this fast-paced, give-it-to-me-now world, it would do us good to stop for a moment, take stock of what we do have, and acknowledge our gratitude for it.

3.    They understood the concept of community.  People reached out to one another. Remember, these were people living with people from other countries, other cultures, other languages, other backgrounds and beliefs, yet they all saw themselves as one community. Absent any help from the government, these people took care of each other. Social groups were formed, houses of worship were built, and communities were becoming the bedrocks of the neighborhoods. Women formed cooking and sewing groups as a way to meet other women, and men formed political groups as a way to meet other men and discuss the events of the day. With people working long and hard, they utilized their one day off to be with community. Committees were set up to help people solve disagreements with each other, and communities formed the nucleus of people's lives along with their work.

I think we need to get back to community in our lives today. I am very guilty of hiding away in my office, doing my work, and taking care of business, without getting involved in community. To tell the truth, I miss it. I live in a community that has a lot to offer, however, I never find the time to get involved. It surely is a matter of setting my priorites and when I am feeling lonely, wanting more people in my life, I need to remember that I am the one who does not reach out. I am aware that when I have some free time, I tend to choose "quiet" pastimes such as reading. There is nothing wrong with that, but as I write this Newsletter I am resolving to get involved with community in some way this summer. There is no better way to express gratitiude for what we have than to give back to the community that has given us so much.

We've had a lot to think about in this Newsletter. If you wish to pass this Newsletter along to a colleague or a friend who may find it of value, feel free to do so. If that person would like to receive the Newsletter, e-mail me with the address, and I will put it on my database. I am now booking speaking engagements for the coming year. If your company, organization or association would benefit from my message, please let me know. If you would like me to keynote an upcoming Conference, or would like me to work in-house with your staff, I would be happy to discuss this with you.

About the Author

Barbara Mintzer is a nationally recognized speaker and consultant with over 30 years in business and healthcare. She speaks from experience! Her how-to programs provide participants with immediately applicable skills and strategies for getting buy-in and commitment from staff and staying on top of their professions in today's competitive and constantly changing workplace. Barbara presents keynote talks and breakout sessions for international, national, regional and state Conferences. She also conducts management retreats and in-house seminars. She facilitates panel discussions and roundtables and can be a master of ceremonies for your next event...a good investment for your meeting budget. To explore the possibility of having Barbara speak at your next event, or work with your staff/leadership team, please contact her office.

Phone: (805) 964-7546
FAX: (805) 964-9636

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