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Monday, November 23, 2020

Thanksgiving Peanuts


"What's this? A piece of toast, pretzel sticks, popcorn!" she says. "Where's the turkey?!” And so goes the conversation at the Thanksgiving dinner hosted by Charlie Brown with the gang of Peanuts fame. The question comes from a very disappointed Peppermint Patty in the television special, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving that first aired in 1973. (This year you can watch it on PBS or on Apple+ TV)

In this animated story, Charlie Brown and Sally were intending to go to their grandmother's house for Thanksgiving dinner. The plan gets interrupted when Charlie Brown gets a phone call from the aforementioned Ms. Patty. She ungraciously invites herself to Charlie Brown's house for the annual feast.

This actually leads to TWO Thanksgiving dinners. The first was Charlie Brown’s unworthy offering to his companions—served up by the always helpful Snoopy. That’s the one our Peppermint friend dissed in her role as the designated complainer. However, Grandma comes to the rescue! All are invited to her place for the real meal deal. Thanks abound!

In 2020, we are likely to hear many conversations around the Thanksgiving table that reveal far less than gratitude. It may all start with a complaint over the limits placed on the size of our holiday gatherings. Here in Illinois, the strong suggestion has been made to feast only with your nuclear family.

Next, we may hear a round of grumbling about what it took to get the fixings! Stores are expected to be crowded with lines, perhaps, strung out in waiting queues. Just like the olden days of March of 2020! Fine, I suppose, if you're in Florida or other warm climate locations. But standing outside in Chicago??

Then let’s hear it from those most impacted by the COVID Holiday Catastrophe. Hospital workers, angry with no room in their inns for patients. High school athletes forbidden from playing winter and maybe spring sports, based on our Governor’s edict. Business owners sweating bullets over another undetermined length of closures, which may kill them in the not-so-long run. It’s enough to make Peppermint Patty lose all her flavor.

But back to Charlie Brown. Indeed, his feelings were hurt by the ungrateful Ms. Patty. But now Marcie assumes responsibility for turning the conversation in the right direction and explains to all what the day is really about. In her words: "Thanksgiving is more than eating, Chuck. You heard what Linus was saying out there. Those early Pilgrims were thankful for what had happened to them, and we should be thankful, too. We should just be thankful for being together. I think that's what they mean by ‘Thanksgiving,' Charlie Brown.”

In our hard times, can we truly be thankful? Of course. Leaders should help inspire us to do that.

George Washington offered us these opening words in his Proclamation of 1789:

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God…"

This tradition of proclamations advocating a national day of Thanksgiving have continued over the years. Even in our nation’s hardest times. If our leaders can find a way to do it, so can we.

Colossians 3:15-16 tells us, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” (NIV)

And thank you, Marcie, for reminding us what this day is about.

Happy Thanksgiving.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCosyuBzdSh1mXIas_kGY2Aw?

For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit www.elfstrandgroup.com

Monday, November 16, 2020

Kiss of Death


Slowly it turns. Step by step. Inch by inch.

I’m speaking of the progression of including LGBTQ characters into television programming and movies. It goes well beyond cable programs now. We see same sex actors and actresses in full embrace and kissing on network television shows. The pressure must be intense.

So intense, in fact, that even the Hallmark Movie Channel has succumbed to that pressure. In August, the “family friendly network” debuted a film featuring a same sex wedding ceremony. Earlier movies have created same sex attraction scenes but never a wedding. Ironic that Hallmark has a ton of Christmas themed programs. So now, in a sense, “Christ” gets in the middle of this.

Yet I find something about this purported trend quite interesting. Despite all this pressure and the unsubstantiated claim that the LGBTQ lifestyle is everywhere, it really isn’t visible on most media. Overwhelmingly, romantic relationships portrayed on television are between male and female. This includes network and cable programming and commercials. Same for magazine ads. And billboards.

There are exceptions, of course. But a question looms for the “bold ones” who decide to pursue forcing the “gay agenda” on the marketplace. That question is one of "turn off." It’s one thing for the public to become more accepting of the lifestyle—as long as it’s done privately. My well-educated guess is that for most Americans, they want PDA among the “gay world” to be done out of their sight.

The Pew Research Center gives us an annual or bi-annual look at attitudes in their Global Attitudes Survey. In what I personally consider to be a disturbing trend, the findings released this year, “show the opinions on homosexuality from religious believers of all faiths and the religiously unaffiliated—defined as identifying as atheists, agnostics, or saying their religion is ‘nothing in particular’—having little variance.” The study included 18 countries.

Depending on the religious types or groupings, you will find more dedicated views aligning with Scripture on this issue. The Pew research revealed that in all countries with data on the LGBTQ issue, except Mexico, people holding religious views were less likely to think homosexuality should be accepted by society than nonbelievers did. Not something to be real cheery about.

Apparently in Finland, they are so prone to show their openness to alternative lifestyles that even Burger King has jumped on board. With Ronald McDonald! Newsweek reported the story of an ad that is titled, "Love Conquers All.” It was part of a September campaign for Helsinki Pride. Burger King Finland was an official brand partner for the Finnish Pride promotion. The two burger icons were portrayed as a single heart.

Kaisa Kasila is Burger King Finland's brand manager. According to Adweek, Kasila said, ”Burger King has always stood for equality, love, and everyone's right to be just the way they are. We thought, what a better way to convey our values than by portraying an all-encompassing kiss between Burger King and Ronald McDonald. We wanted to show that, in the end, love always wins. And we know McDonald's stands for the values we stand for, too.”

Well, McDonalds didn’t exactly grab on to partnering in this promotion. Then-CEO Steve Easterbrook posted, "We love the intention but think our two brands could do something bigger to make a difference.” A polite way out.

And a wise decision. Most people on the planet still understand how God designed us—male and female. They know that sweet and special children aren’t created in the pretend world of LGBTQ “equality.” Yes, a large percentage of folk are more willing to “live and let live” with those of different lifestyles. But don’t be confused. That is far different than endorsement.

Jesus clearly explained the right view saying, “‘Haven’t you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?” Matthew 19:4-5 (NIV)

Male and female. Male and female. Quite simple, really.

Apparently, Burger King doesn’t get it. And going down that advertising road, might well lead them to the kiss of death.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCosyuBzdSh1mXIas_kGY2Aw?

For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit www.elfstrandgroup.com

Articles of interest:

https://truefreedomtrust.co.uk/what-does-bible-teach-about-same-sex-practice 

Monday, November 9, 2020

Veterans and Heroes


Wednesday is Veterans Day. It is on this day we find tributes to all who have served faithfully in our U.S. military. This differs, of course, from Memorial Day when we honor those who have given their lives in service to our nation.

This annual recognition of service men and women is often marked by parades in communities of all sizes. COVID-19 has changed that. In Indianapolis, they’ve declared, “The Veterans Day Council’s decision to cancel its in-person events was taken out of a great abundance of caution for safeguarding the health and well-being of spectators, participants, and volunteers.”

No doubt similar decisions have been made around the nation. Instead, veterans will have to accept virtual tributes. For example, the American Legion Mall in Downtown Indianapolis will feature a “Veterans Day virtual service and awards ceremony to honor veterans.”

Speaking of the American Legion, a long standing chapter in Wilmette, Illinois, has decided to call it quits. Again, blame it—at least in part—on COVID-19. The Legion does. The building will be demolished and the post is planning a farewell, 21-gun salute on Veterans Day.

And here’s the ironic twist. The Wilmette American Legion location is named after Peter J. Huerter. This 22-year-old U.S. Army soldier from the Chicago area died during the influenza pandemic of 1918! Peter had hoped to serve in World War I but he passed away on board a ship headed to Europe and was buried at sea.

Reporting on this story, the Chicago Tribune explained that spokesmen from the American Legion and VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) claim that falling membership numbers have hurt them for a while. But COVID-19 shutdowns have been crippling to their revenue streams. The typical moneymakers including BINGO games, spaghetti dinners, and banquet space rentals all faced cancellations with concerns over the virus.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus is no respecter of persons and, often, refuses to take prisoners. The House Veterans' Affairs Health Subcommittee got an earful on this in July. Rep. Neal Dunn, MD, from Florida said that "due to multiple inherent risk factors such as age, health, and difficulty physically distancing, veterans in state homes are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.” Several states had reported numerous cases and deaths by mid-summer at veterans homes.

On September 28th of this year, CBS News laid claim that military suicides have increased by as much as 20% this year over 2019. Additionally, incidents of violent behavior “spiked as service members struggle under COVID-19, war-zone deployments, national disasters, and civil unrest…Army and Air Force officials say they believe the pandemic is adding stress to an already strained force.”

Early on in the pandemic, those who have already served were ready and willing to engage in the new battle against COVID-19. In March, the Army sent a notification to more than 800,000 retired soldiers to determine their willingness in returning to service in a volunteer capacity.” Initial response was very positive.

More than 9,000 retired soldiers re-upped to the Army’s call for retired medical personnel to assist in response to the pandemic. Additionally, hundreds of active duty soldiers were deployed to support field hospitals. In Chicago, The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Illinois National Guard refurbished McCormick Place to treat victims. It turned out to be unnecessary. But thank you, vets!

For those veterans alive and well, they might feel particularly blessed this year by the restaurants and other businesses who continue to offer gifting tributes on November 11th. It appears this is not about to be curtailed as much as one would have thought—although access to these places may vary across the country. Everything from meals to car washes to haircuts and more were listed as available as recently as October 12th. (link below)

Yes, Veterans Day 2020 joins the list of celebrations gone awry. But for those who’ve served our country with honor, a simple word of thanks goes a long way.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCosyuBzdSh1mXIas_kGY2Aw?

For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit www.elfstrandgroup.com

Articles of interest:

Monday, November 2, 2020

Conscientious Protector


Tomorrow is election day. For millions of Americans, the ballot has already been cast. Early voting and mail-in voting means you do not have to go to actual polling places tomorrow.

It seems to upset a lot of people that we have something called the “electoral college” that is the final determining factor of who becomes our president. It doesn’t offend me. In fact, the concept was another piece of brilliant thinking from our “founding fathers.”

It parallels the wisdom of creating a legislature that has two separate and distinct political power centers: the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. The two have different responsibilities and limit the rule of one over the other. This system also helps to keep some balance in governing by tipping the scales away from states with huge population numbers.

Actually, I should have no need to explain this to any American who has taken basic civics classes. In their lessons, students should have found a clear explanation of the purpose and value of the electoral college system. Alas, I find that the main opponents of this system are those whose preferred candidate may win the popular vote, but find the final decision honoring more marginalized states to be offensive.

I get the frustration of electoral college opponents. They are simply…wrong. Fairness should prevail. Representative government is how our republic works. The winner is not chosen by a popularity contest of individual votes. Enough said on that point.

The next big disagreement of the 2020 election is what to do with Donald Trump. Admittedly, the man acts in a more bizarre fashion than any president I have witnessed in my lifetime. I doubt I could ever report directly to him, though obviously he has his devoted fans.

In many cases, his values are not my values. I was never fond of his television series, “The Apprentice.” My heart goes out to any hard working and dedicated employee who gets belittled in the process of hearing, “You’re fired!” The American people may well decide to slap Mr. Trump with that message in this election.

On the other hand, many of his stated values…ARE my values. I’ve totally lost confidence that elected officials really understand the term “public servants.” And the way candidates portray their opponents in elections is pathetic. Thus, one of my main values related to government is that it be limited. Smaller is better than bigger.

I’m also keen on what has been given to us as freedoms in the First Amendment. It reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” I’ve figured out which political party truly supports religious freedom.

I’m also quite fond of our Declaration of Independence. It opens this way, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

High taxation and stealing great sums from the wealthy wickedly defeats the pursuit of happiness. As for liberty, I found it almost humorous as I searched to find how many federal laws are currently on the books that one site said, “No one knows.” We have often regulated away liberty.

As for life, this is a clincher. Nothing, I repeat nothing, offends me more from the political voices than a defense of killing babies and calling it “choice.” The horrific description of partial birth abortion should, at minimum, repulse us sufficiently to reject those who support it. In this election, that choice is clear.

Jesus was always an advocate for the disenfranchised. (Matthew 25:31-46) A strong America would be one that creates opportunity for everyone. Its leaders would inspire us to work together and look after each other while not creating dependence on government. And tender-hearted politicians would protect babies.

Those are my values. Tomorrow I make my vote. May God guide my conscience.

And yours.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCosyuBzdSh1mXIas_kGY2Aw?

For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit www.elfstrandgroup.com

Articles of interest:

Monday, October 26, 2020

9 Lessons on Teamwork

Last week, I chose to offer up some “pearls of wisdom” that have blessed by life. Today, I’m sharing a blog originally posted by Rick Ezell on September 7th. (I’m on vacation this week.) Rick is a workplace chaplain with Employee Care of America. (link below) Perhaps these pearls that he values will give you some extraordinary insights.

From Rick: 

We were not built to function well alone. We work best in teams.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”—Helen Keller

“A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”—The Harvard Business School

Some lessons on teamwork:

1. A compelling direction is needed.
Everyone needs a compelling direction that energizes, orients, and engages its members. Goal, purpose, cause, passion.
Everything begins with a vision. Ideas become reality, but first there must be the idea. Begin with the end in mind.

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”—Henry Ford 

“The best teamwork comes from men who are working independently toward one goal in unison.”—James Cash Penney

2. Planning is required.
“Make time for planning: Wars are won in the general’s tent.”—Steven R. Covey

Planning is the process of creating your organizational future before it happens. 

Planning is creating your actions in advance so that life will respond to you. It is writing history in advance.  
Proper planning prevents poor performance.

3. Focus on systems instead of goals.
Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results.

Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.

“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”—James Clear, Atomic Habits

“Stop setting goals. Goals are pure fantasy unless you have a specific plan to achieve them.”—Stephen Covey

“The score takes care of itself.”—Bill Walsh, Super Bowl winning coach

4. Make good use of people’s time.
“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.”—Paul J. Meyer

5. More is accomplished together than alone.
TEAM: Together Everyone Accomplishes More.

6. Fun is necessary for fruitful work.
“If work isn’t fun, you’re not playing on the right team.”—Frank Sonnenberg

7. Rest and socialization must be taken regularly.
“Take a rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.”–Ovid

8. A high level of trust is demonstrated.
“Teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.” – Patrick Lencioni

9. Common people can attain uncommon results.
“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”—Andrew Carnegie

The 1980 USA Olympic Hockey Team was a group of common men who produced uncommon results by defeating the Russian team and the Finnish team to win the gold medal.

Thanks once again for your refreshing insights, Rick! 

If this resonates with you as something from which your company might benefit, check out Rick’s website for more information. Contact him at: Rick@employeecareofamerica.com or phone him at 864-770-3560.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCosyuBzdSh1mXIas_kGY2Aw?

For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit www.elfstrandgroup.com

For more information:

Monday, October 19, 2020

Pearls of Wisdom


Thursday, Lord willing, will be my 69th birthday. There are ample sources of quotations to inspire us as we journey in life. Obviously, some resonate more than others on a personal level. It is with that in mind that I’ve decided to share of few of my favorites that give me pause to reflect and, in several cases, act upon.

I’ll begin with a treasure from William Gladstone, who was a British statesman and politician. During his 60 year career, he served for 12 years as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. His four terms began in 1868 and ended in 1894. Here was an example of his wisdom:

"To comprehend a man’s life, it is necessary to know not merely what he does, but also what he purposely leaves undone. There is a limit to the work that can be got out of a human body or a human brain, and he is a wise man who wastes no energy on pursuits for which he is not fitted; and he is still wiser who, from among the things that he can do well, chooses and resolutely follows the best.”

Next is a powerful reminder from John Newton. Having had early religious instruction from his mother, who passed when John was a child, his religious convictions had faded. His father was fond of sailing the seas, and young John followed in his footsteps—eventually becoming captain of his own ship profiting from the slave trade.

On a particular voyage, while attempting to navigate through a violent storm, Newton would experience what he termed as his “great deliverance.” At one critical moment all seemed lost. Confident that the ship would surely sink, he cried out, “Lord, have mercy upon us.” His journal tells us that later reflection about his mercy plea led him to believe that God had reached out to him through the storm and that grace had been bestowed to him. Newton’s conversion was dramatic, calling him out of the slave trade. He is known for penning the words to the song, Amazing Grace. I love this quote from John Newton:

"If the Lord be with us, we have no cause of fear. His eye is upon us, his arm is over us, His ear open to our prayer, His grace sufficient, His promise unchangeable.”

Les Brown is given credit for this next gem. Leslie Calvin (“Les”) Brown was born in 1945 and held a variety of jobs. He’s a former Ohio politician having served in their House of Representatives, also an author, a radio DJ, and former host of The Les Brown Show. Brown is also a motivational speaker, often using the catch phrase, "It's possible,” as he encourages people to follow their dreams, as he had learned to do. This quote reveals the way he sees life…

“The graveyard is the richest place on earth, because it is here that you will find all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled, the books that were never written, the songs that were never sung, the inventions that were never shared, the cures that were never discovered, all because someone was too afraid to take that first step, keep with the problem, or determined to carry our their dream.” Love it.

I’ve been unable to trace the source of this next maxim—but I’ve pondered the significance of it on many mornings.

"All men are created equal. At birth and at death all men are the same, all are equal. It is life that is not equal. Life is the time given each one of us from our first breath to the last. To live life all we have to do is to decide what to do with the time given us. Will you live life or let life live you?”

I will end with this one. It is, in essence, something of a life verse I recite almost every day. It gives me hope: "The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.” Psalm 138:8 (ESV)

Perhaps you will agree with my assessment of the quality of these quotes. Pearls of wisdom can take us a long way.

May you be blessed.

 

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCosyuBzdSh1mXIas_kGY2Aw?

For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit www.elfstrandgroup.com

Articles of interest:

Monday, October 12, 2020

Watch Out! You’ve Got Mail


“Oh look, honey, somebody is sending free money!” And indeed! Sometimes it happens. For example, I recently received a check from Melania Trump. Unfortunately, it wasn’t made out to me. The $45 was to be endorsed by the political party of her husband. Dang it.

Occasionally, we get an envelope with a crisp, new $1 bill tucked inside. This is an “incentive” gift encouraging us to multiply it many times over and support some charity. The smaller version of this comes from the March of Dimes which sends us—you guessed it—a dime.

We’re thankful for this free money. And we graciously keep it. Helps to pay for our coffee habit at Starbucks.

And then there are the address labels. I think at last count I have 8,327. Unfortunately, some company got my middle initial wrong so I now have 1,641 of those with an “R” instead of a “J.” But I save them. You can never have enough return address labels. Or note pads. Gobs of note pads.

’Tis also the season for free Christmas cards to arrive. Just received a package the other day. Useless. They’re from a respected charity—one to which I have previously contributed. Three of the cards say “Seasons Greetings.” One says, “Let it snow.” (Please, no.) Another has a quote, “The ornament of a house is the people who frequent it.” None of them said… “Merry Christmas!!” Watch my lips, “No moolah for you!”

The most extravagant freebie mailing came a week ago. It was from a national organization whose mission is “saving children and healing families.” I like that. To my recollection, I’ve never given them a dime. (Not even the one we got free in another mailing!)

Inside the 1 1/4 inch mailer was a treasure trove of un-requested items. There were eight cellophane wrapped Christmas cards. All but one offered true Christmas greetings. There were multiple calendars of various sizes. A crossword puzzle booklet was enclosed. More mailing labels. And…a partridge in a pear tree. (Okay, slight exaggeration.) I have never received so much free stuff to tempt me to give. But I resisted.

Why? Is it because I am a heartless penny-pinching heathen? I hope not.

No, it’s because all of these gimmicks—and that’s what they are—are intended to create an implied obligation. Since the organization has blessed me freely, perhaps I should pony up a return cash gift to say thank you. Plus, my name is now added to the Mailing Lists From Hell which are sold or traded among these groups. That’s why I keep getting offers to Mark “R.” Elfstrand!

Another mail manipulation is the so-called free shipping. It’s explained in the article, “The Email Strategy that Made $47K+ by Giving Away Free Stuff.” Here’s an excerpt. “There’s no denying the power of the free shipping campaign when it comes to getting new new customers…People love free stuff. It’s why so many companies have simply priced shipping into their items and then claimed ‘free shipping.’"

Here’s a twist. A small item is offered to a client’s email list for free. The customer just needs to pay shipping. Say it’s a $5 “free” item. You charge $10 for shipping and handling—$3 more than the cost. You get the profit on the item AND $2 bonus on the shipping. As the writer explains, “the psychological desire for free stuff fuels incredibly successful sales campaigns.” A mind game in which you lose.

Even that “free test drive” invitation from your local car dealer is a quasi-obligation incentive. The dealer and salesman know they’ve not only increased the temptation to buy, but you’ve taken up their precious time and used their vehicle to drive around. Don’t ya kind of feel like you owe them? Most likely, they do!

Not all incentives are evil. But all “great offers” are designed to move your mind toward something you may or may not have been thinking you need or want.

Manipulation. Watch out! The wicked witch is calling. “Come here, children. I have some free candy for you!” Riiiiiiight.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCosyuBzdSh1mXIas_kGY2Aw?

For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit www.elfstrandgroup.com

Articles of interest:

Monday, October 5, 2020

Manipulation Magic


Last Monday, my blog challenged the “wisdom” of some that manipulation in selling is a good thing. No one likes to be manipulated. Face-to-face sales transactions give us the most direct way of feeling sales trickery—if we’re aware of it.

The Internet, however, has given us a whole new world of abuse. A ministry friend passed along an eye-opening article on this topic from a technology expert named Tristan Harris. The article is titled, “How Technology is Hijacking Your Mind—from a Magician and Google Design Ethicist."

Let’s start with the magician perspective—Scary Thought Number One:


“Magicians start by looking for blind spots, edges, vulnerabilities, and limits of people’s perception, so they can influence what people do without them even realizing it. Once you know how to push people’s buttons, you can play them like a piano. And this is exactly what (technology) product designers do to your mind.”

Harris now moves us along through specific ways this happens with his “Hijack” points. His article (linked below) provides details. Here is Scary Point #2: “They (site designers) give people the illusion of free choice while architecting the menu so that they win, no matter what you choose.”

Mr. Harris posits that app developers have mastered the skill of keeping people “hooked.” He sees it like you have become a form of slot machine. The tech designers create a link to a user’s action similar to a slot machine lever that offers a variable reward.

Tristan claims that an average phone user checks that phone 150 times a day. And when you check, who is feeding you the sites and links and data you see? It may seem like conscious choices are made. He argues it’s not so.

Humans are particularly vulnerable to social approval. Belonging, approval, and appreciation by peers ranks very high in human motivation. Today, this social approval comes through tech companies. Facebook, Instagram, or SnapChat can manipulate people getting tagged in photos by suggesting all the faces people should tag. 

A second insightful glimpse into tech manipulation can be found in the Wired magazine article, “The Facebook Defectors Turning Trump’s Strategy Against Him.” James Barnes is with the political nonprofit Acronym. Formerly working on the Trump campaign, he now meets each week attempting to move voters away from Trump toward Joe Biden.

How does this work? Acronym uses a custom-built tool they’ve coined Barometer. With it “they micro-­target ‘movable’ voters on Facebook, run randomized tests to see what kind of ads work best, and then adjust them to taste.” Sin
ce about 75% of U.S. adults use Facebook, it’s quite a political playground.

Barnes claims that two types of voters exist: Those who know whom they're voting for and those who don't. Most fall into the first category, committed long before Election Day. This means candidates must work hard to get their most dedicated to the polls. The bigger challenge is "to sway the very small pool of undecided, ambivalent, or otherwise out-of-touch voters that remains.”

Target messaging is what works here. A campaign might identify conservative voters with religious leanings by, say, mining the public records of hunting licenses, purchasing membership lists from mega-churches, and looking at home ownership in specific zip codes. Earlier research found that people who watched TV Land reruns were less likely to have a presidential preference.

The new tech platforms are precision driven. For example, today’s political advertisers use “geofencing technology” to locate Catholics who have been to mass at least three times in the past 90 days. Damon McCoy, a researcher at New York University's Online Political Ads Transparency Project puts this clearly in perspective: “It's very easy for these political advertisers to partition and very narrowly message and tell different people different things. It definitely has an element of manipulation.”

So there you have it, my fellow victim.

Manipulation may seem like dirty work. The techno types see it like a game. And you are the pieces with which they play.

(Next week: Manipulation in the mailbox.)

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCosyuBzdSh1mXIas_kGY2Aw?


For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit www.elfstrandgroup.com

Articles of interest:

Monday, September 28, 2020

Secrets of Selling...Not so Secret

Did you know that there is a Sales Hall of Fame? Could you name any of the most recent inductees? Do you care? They’re definitely not household names.

I found the website for these honorees. Here’s how you get in: “Here at the Sales Hall of Fame, we honor some of the most distinguished professionals who continually inspire people with their cutting edge insights and intellectual influence. The Sales Hall of Fame is the only award that recognizes these innovators in the field of sales while encouraging future generations to take after them.”

Impressive, eh? Little did you know that when you bought that last used car you might well have been dealing with someone who has “cutting edge insights and intellectual influence.” Or…maybe not.

The best sales person I ever knew personally, who is also known around the world, was Zig Ziglar. Given enough prep time, I’m pretty sure he could even sell me an alligator suit. He definitely mastered his craft.

The weird thing about sales is that it can easily cross the edge into manipulation. But wait! There’s more! Did you know that manipulation is actually—get ready—GOOD?

So says Margo Aaron in her article, “When manipulation becomes deception: Where should salespeople draw the line?” found on the website nutshell.com. (Not nuthouse—nutshell.) And apparently, she is SOLD on this idea.


Here’s what Margo believes, “Manipulation entails pulling persuasion levers to encourage someone to act in their own best interest. You can think of it as taking someone from “interested, but maybe later” to “must have this now!!”

As for the techniques, Margo adds, “When you use things like scarcity, urgency, and exclusivity, you hijack the brain’s rational decision making abilities and get people to take action.” Now you understand. These sales intellectuals are hijacking your rational decision making to line their pockets, while providing you with something you may neither really want nor need.

Among the non-intellectual crowd wooing your buying appetites are retired athletes and respected actors. Former football great-turned-pitchman Joe Namath is trying to convince the elderly crowd about how his Social Security plan is so helpful to him. Right, Joe. Let me jump on that deal!

The star of the Bluebloods television series, and another senior, Tom Selleck, is hawking some financial program or service. I find him just a step up from Broadway Joe. A very small step.

Frankly, I’ve never considered manipulation an honorable achievement. No doubt I’ve used it myself. In my earlier life, I held several sales and sales management positions. However, learning how to “close” a sale, or techniques to draw interest in a product or service, generally rises above the line of manipulation.

Steven Covey is known for creating his list of habits for highly successful people. One of them is win-win. I would even add a third “win.” A truly healthy transaction benefits the sales associate, the purchaser, (assuming it’s not the end user) and…the end user. Anyone who loses in the deal will eventually figure it out and not be happy.

The marketplace needs skilled, honest, and hard working sales people. The marketplace is not served well by manipulative tactics however they may be glossed over. The frequently offered “secrets of selling” perhaps should stay as secrets if they abuse the customer relationship.
There is probably no simpler guide on this than what we often refer to as the Golden Rule. In Jesus' words, “Do to others as you would like them to do to you.” Luke 6:31 (
NLT) Clear as a bell.

Next week, a look at the manipulative ways technology plays with your mind!

Meanwhile, anybody interested in a great deal on Ginsu knives? I’ll throw in a poster of Joe Namath.


That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCosyuBzdSh1mXIas_kGY2Aw?


For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit www.elfstrandgroup.com

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Monday, September 21, 2020

We’ve Fallen & Can’t Get Up


Tomorrow at 8:31 AM CDT, Fall begins. The greens of spring and summer will be steadily disappearing. Temperatures will begin their decline. Pumpkins will arrive at our neighbors' houses. And…we’ll have an election. Ugh.

My wife Rhonda recently purchased a new t-shirt with an Amazon-like one-star rating and the message: “2020: Horrible. Would not recommend.” The general opinion of my men’s 55+ group that met last Saturday left NO positive language on the table in descriptives for this year. Overall, I think Americans, en mass, believe that 2020 has been a loser. And this is before the election!

Restaurants in our area are simply, to use an odd expression, fed up. They’re tired of being told when they can open and when they must limit access. Their customer base has been drying up. Of course it has. And with colder weather coming, they pray that mandatory outdoor-only service will not return.

Lawry’s The Prime Rib in downtown Chicago has been delighting patrons from around the world for 46 years. They’ve just announced they’re closing at the end of the year. And they may never re-open in the city. Their lease is up, but that’s easily fixable. The other reason they gave for their decision isn’t so easily fixed: civil unrest—which has reared its ugly head multiple times over the summer months.

Several airlines have found 2020 to be the worst year in their existence. United recently threatened to furlough a mass of pilots and workers if the federal government didn’t come to their “rescue.” Many airline seats are vacant on the majority of flights domestically. And, frankly, what fun is it to be zooming around the country in a mask?

And speaking of zooming, should not “Zoom” be the word of the year? Like it used to be said of irresponsible sexual behavior, “everybody’s doin’ it.” School classrooms now meet via Zoom. So do business meetings and church gatherings. But at least you don’t have to wear a mask…usually.

Pity building owners who are saying goodbye to tenants—at least the ones who are paying! The governor of Illinois just offered another reprieve to those renters who simply can’t pay for their living space without jobs. Why didn’t he offer a reprieve to the building owners who have to continue to pay the banks for loans on those places? Of course, he’s a billionaire.

Churches are changing. I just read that a sizable Baptist church in Tennessee is re-thinking their entire program of ministry. They might even hire a full time pastor who serves only Internet-based meetings of the church. And they’re developing small groups and fellowships in states 2000 miles away! Many churches are not making their pre-COVID-19 budgets.

Oh. And then there’s the political season we’re facing. One that just got more complicated with the passing of a Supreme Court justice. What will the process of replacement be like in the future now that we know to bring spirited accusers to destroy the credibility of the candidate—whether truth is told or not. Some honor!

And about that upcoming election. Threats have been made of violence unless a certain candidate wins. Mail in ballots, the hot item of 2020, will no doubt delay final results into 2021. Just in case you thought relief was coming.

We mustn’t forget the west coast fires destroying millions of acres of trees and leaving many people desperate for recovery. The same for victims of hurricanes and flooding. Their challenges abound.

And then there’s that nagging virus—about to get even more complicated by something called "the flu.”

If I didn’t know better, I’d be depressed! But I do know better. I know these aren’t the worst of times. Or the worst of circumstances. I know there’s a better world to come. Jesus promised it. Revelation 21:4 reads, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (ESV) Christ followers have that promise for their future.

Until that day, we must realize we live in a fallen world. And unless the hearts of Americans seriously change, I’m not so confident we’ll get up again.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCosyuBzdSh1mXIas_kGY2Aw?


For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit www.elfstrandgroup.com 

Monday, September 14, 2020

Equality... Over the Top


Since childhood, I’ve heard the line that “too much of anything is not good.” But there is a parallel version of this idea that hits a bit harder. It goes, “too much of anything is good for nothing.”

I feel we could well be reaching that point with sports and the racial equality and social justice movements. Of course, I would not be allowed to say this if I worked for any major media—be it radio, newspapers, or television. I could not likely say it if I had major sponsors for any of my writings. The pressure companies face is too great.

All sporting events seem to have taken the pledge to make some form of a diversity statement show up in a myriad of ways. It’s more pronounced, of course, in sports where black athletes are highly visible. Hockey and golf pay homage to the issue, but it has not become the dominant conversation point.

In baseball, the NBA, and now football, we find ourselves in their version of re-education camps. In watching a recent Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins contest, a huge banner now sits at the right field wall at Target Stadium. It is there to “honor” George Floyd. Even the Minnesota music legend Prince did not receive such a tribute!

Thursday Night Football on NBC was a steady stream of discussion and commentary from the announcers and in features both in pre-game shows and the actual game itself. (It’s always helpful to hear two white guys paid to make their pitch on the importance of social justice. Yawn.)

The game itself took on a bizarre moment related to pre-game song performances. The Kansas City Chiefs had all their players lined up and locking arms to the tune of “Lift Every Voice.” This was followed several minutes later by a performance of our national anthem in front of the same display of “unity” from Chiefs players and coaches. Minority artists performed both songs. A must.

But what made the showing a bit bizarre (as I noted) was the absence of the Houston Texas team for either song! They chose not to make a “statement,” which they felt would be distracting to the game. And as a result, their team was booed by KC fans in the stadium. Something that apparently bewildered Houston player J.C. Watts!

Saturday now has some college football being played. I switched on Fox for their pre-game show on Saturday. Lo and behold…what should I see? Lots more chatter on the same topic. And watching a few players warm up, t-shirts with messaging related to the issue as well. In other words, it’s everywhere!

Like many of my caucasian brothers and sisters, I support the idea that black lives matter—but not the organization by that name. Two inspirational black leaders of our day— Tony Dungy and Ryan Bomberger—dare speak up on issues like abortion and homosexuality in ways that put them in media peril. Ryan goes further.

Bomberger, whom I’ve interviewed, wrote a superb article earlier this year titled, “Top Ten Reasons I’ll Never Support the #BlackLivesMatter Movement.” Read it…and weep. Weep, because of all those souls who cannot separate the movement from the evil backside it reveals. (story link below)

If the souls of all these Americans who are suddenly socially conscious were bared for all to see, shame would be on many faces. Racism is a sin of the heart. Preaching to darkened souls the “radical” idea that every person created by God is of great worth is lost on most people. Just look at the way the false gods of Hollywood and sports are idolized for their “worth” compared to you and I.

Jesus followers KNOW the following statement to be true (if they are genuine): “Faith in Christ Jesus is what makes each of you equal with each other, whether you are a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a free person, a man or a woman.” Galatians 3:28 (CEV) We are to believe it and live it.

Attempting to press the message of equality and value of our fellow human beings is a lost cause on lost souls. And in the massive attempt to do this, I fear it’s going over the top. Instead, it’s creating tune-out.

Just don’t tell anyone I said that. Well, except Dungy and Bomberger.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCosyuBzdSh1mXIas_kGY2Aw?


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Monday, September 7, 2020

Witness the End



One of my favorite movies is The Three Amigos. In one particular scene, the Amigos are in a Mexican bar when a wild shooting spree takes place. The bartender responds, “This town is getting too rough for me.”

America is turning into such a vitriolic, hateful, and sometimes violent place that I’m now thinking, “This country is getting too rough for me!”

There are many contributing factors and I suppose plenty of blame to be shared. But it’s bigger than that. The very soul of our nation has become sick. We can’t even treat our neighbors well—much less the “enemy.”

Witness the recent story from Park Ridge, Illinois, where a business owner had to close up shop so his workers could have a “mental health day.” What?? This was due to their having to deal with “confrontational customers.” Some didn’t like the mask policy of the restaurant. Another became threatening when the business tried to enforce the “no dogs eat here” health regulation at a restaurant. These are customers in an upscale neighborhood.

Then there were the multiple reports of the highly offensive “protestors” who showed up at the White House on the last night of the Republican National Convention. Having been to Washington a number of times, I’ve witnessed constant protests of one kind or another outside the White House gates. This was different.

The President had a number of guests invited to the event—several giving inspiring and spiritually uplifting messages. Forget about Trump here. These speakers were Americans who love their country and the cause of freedom. Outside the gates, within earshot, protestors organized live bands to disrupt the proceedings.

But it got worse. Guests were harassed as they were leaving the event. One of them, Jim Daly, is president of Focus on the Family. In his words, “Stepping off the White House grounds, I was immediately confronted by angry individuals who hurled profane insults at me. They let loose with a verbal barrage I’ve never personally encountered–which is saying something given my upbringing in a rough section of Southern California.”

Senator Rand Paul encountered the same abuse. He tweeted, “Just got attacked by an angry mob of over 100, one block away from the White House. Thank you to @DCPoliceDept for literally saving our lives from a crazed mob.” A DC police officer was holding a police line around the senator and his wife when a protestor reportedly punched the officer in the face, causing a cut requiring stitches.

What fuels this kind of angry and bitter reaction to those with whom one disagrees? Hard to know for sure. But here’s one idea.

Recently arriving in whatever bookstores remain open (and online) is this gem: In Defense of Looting: A Riotous History of Uncivil Action. Written by Vicky Osterweil, the publisher offers us “strategies of wealth redistribution and improving life for the working class.” What strategies? How about “a fresh argument for rioting and looting as our most powerful tools for dismantling white supremacy.”

One of the arguments raised claims, “Looting represents a material way that riots and protests help the community: by providing a way for people to solve some of the immediate problems of poverty and by creating a space for people to freely reproduce their lives rather than doing so through wage labor.” Add this truly special insight, “Looting is an act of communal cohesion.”

Aside from the content of the book, it is interesting to note that Vicky Osterweil, the author is a self-described agitator” and is transgender-identified. A rebel.

People of faith should—must—stand in sharp contrast to this nonsense. Even in the midst of turbulent times for many who lived under Roman rule in the first century AD, the apostle Paul wrote, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18 (NIV)

The breakdown of a civilization is a bitter thing to watch. To see a free country, raised in principles found in the Bible, so rapidly giving in to robbers and anarchists is beyond shocking. It is horrifying.

Certainly…the end is near.


That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCosyuBzdSh1mXIas_kGY2Aw?


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