The Secret to Peace is YOU

I just had lunch at my desk.  And watched an 18 minute TED Talk – .   In the past, I have applauded the value of TED Talks.  And I’ve posted on a few favorites (December 29, 2016 and February 5, 2017).  While I am frugal in my recommendations, today’s talk does not deserve frugality. 

I just watched “The Walk from ‘No’ to ‘Yes‘” presented by William Ury – an American author, anthropologist and negotiation expert.  Ury co-founded the Harvard Program on Negotiation and helped develop the International Negotiation Network.  He is the author of numerous books including Getting to Yes which describes the method of principled negotiation and establishes the idea of a “best alternative to a negotiated agreement.”  

Ury’s presentation touched on the divisive issues faced in the Middle East — between Israel and Palestinians (and others).  And the religious strife in the region.   And Mr. Ury offered ideas – that are being used today.  In short, he reaches out to each one of us to become a part of the peace process.  I know — sounds simple.  But if you’re having lunch, you’re bored or you want to see how you can make a difference – please — invest 18 minutes and watch   The secret to peace is YOU. . . . . 


For those Americans who know a foreign language like French, being able to speak with the accent of a Frenchman is probably a crowning glory.  To sound more French than you do American.  As an American visiting Paris, to speak French with a Parisian accent would likely raise a less arrogant eyebrow and invite a more moderate response than might be normally expected from a Frenchman.  When I am in Mexico, I try to conform my Spanish to the local accent.  I can clumsily mimic an Argentine accent with the “shha shha” sounds.   Or the faster clip of a Puerto Rican accent.  I try not to “speak American” (Bway-nohss deee-ahss seen-yor).  

A few years ago, I had an acquaintance criticize me when I spoke English with an Indian accent (some of you know I speak some Urdu – the language of Pakistan).  She felt it was “politically incorrect” to mimic another language accent (though she speaks nothing but English). 

That said, it crossed my mind that when one visits London, Scotland or Ireland, why don’t Americans adopt a British accent in London (“howw dooo yoooo dooooo?”) or an Irish lilt in Ireland or a Scottish brogue in Scotland?  It would seem natural for a linguist to try and “fit in” in just as with German, French or Spanish.  But it also seems a little quirky that an American would “put on” an Irish or English accent and adopt the jargon (“That tosser’s a bit wonky.  Probably a scouser“).  As you might imagine, I’ve tried it.  While in a taxi — with Donna.  We were chummy with the cabbie.  So I asked him if I could try talking with an English accent — and have his opinion.  “Bee’s knees, Governor” he said.  Well, I put on my best Prince Charles accent, yabbered on for a minute or so and then asked the driver what he thought.  “You sound like a bloody snoot.”    Maybe it was the Prince Charles impersonation . . . . .          


Every day I have lunch. Sometimes I go to a restaurant but most days I grab a sandwich, soup or salad and bring it back to my office.

Everywhere I go, a carefully-wrapped sandwich is placed into a larger bag.  A salad is placed in a large bag.  And a small container of pasta or tuna salad is placed into a large bag. Bags bags bags bags. As soon as I get to my office I would crumple the “bag” and toss it out.   A brand new and perfectly serviceable bag goes deep six into the garbage within minutes.

I see some folks in these places take their sandwich bag from the counter, walk 10 feet, take out their wrapped sandwich and sit down in the seating area.  And pitch the bag into the garbage. 

I considered the waste incurred in this avalanche of paper that — usually within minutes (often seconds) — gets tossed out.   So for years, I bring the same dog-eared bags back to my lunch joints (I have a collection of bags in my office).  And reuse them.  Just think if everyone reused bags (lunch, shopping or whatever).  I would wager that in one day of saved bags, a lot of trees would be much happier . . . . and the environment a wee bit cleaner.   You can also save coffee sleeves (see 10/29/15), note pads (see 7/20/17), water and energy (see “Just Turn it Off” – 7/26/11).  

I figure I’ve saved a tree.  Or two.  And a few gallons of water.  Every little bit helps.  Or hurts.  Do it for your grandchildren.    You can do this!   

Did you Shave?

I golf a couple times a week.  If I get up early, I hop in the shower, dry off, and dress in the space of 7 or 8 minutes.  I normally don’t shave unless I have to “go somewhere.”  Last weekend, I went off to play golf.  Donna was up.  She gave me a quizzical look.  “Did you shave?” she asked.  “Nah.  I’m just playing golf.”  “Don’t you think you should shave?”  She asked.   “Nah.  Nobody notices,” I replied.  She gave me another “look” and I made a hasty exit. 

Now I have to say that I have never – never – said to Jim, Bill, Tim or Joe “Psssst . . . did you see Norm?  He didn’t shave this morning.”   I have never observed that one of my brethren had not taken Barbasol and Schick to face.  Frankly, I probably wouldn’t notice if a guy hadn’t shaved unless he started to look like Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top.  “Hey Mark – did you shave this morning?”  “Scott – I haven’t shaved in six months.”  Golly I never noticed.   I’m not sure what the big deal is about shaving.  But whenever we go anywhere, I inevitably get the question “did you shave?”  Most of the time, I come up with the right answer.       

In my house, I make all of the big important decisions. Donna makes all of the piddly ones. However Donna is the one who decides what decisions are “big” and which are “piddly.”   Shaving, it seems, is one that borders on piddly . . . .


When I was 16, well into my senior year of high school, I went to see my guidance counselor – Floyd Hillman.  Mr. Hillman told me (the words are etched in my brain) “I think I can get you a job as an assistant plumber.”  I sat.  And wanted to cry.  An honorable profession.  But I didn’t want to be an assistant plumber.  I left his office.  Sad about my impending future.  But some of my friends talked about “college.”  College sounded pretty good. 

My father never finished high school and my mother never went to college.  So we never talked much about college at home.  I would finish high school and then go to work.  Even so, I mentioned “college” to my father.  “College?” he said.  “The only guy I know who went to college is Bill Swanson.”  He looked at me.  “You wanna talk to him??”  I nodded.

So we went to see Mr. Swanson.  He said “I went to Augustana College.  Maybe I could get you an interview.”  My dad said “you want that?” and I nodded. . . . not entirely sure what that meant.  My parents and I drove out to Rock Island, Illinois — home of Augustana College — and I had an interview with Mr. Henning, the Director of Admissions.  It was April or May — around the time of high school graduation.  Mr. Henning said that the class was full.  And my grades were not great.  But he liked that I was an Eagle Scout.  He had a couple of discretionary spots.  So he offered to admit me on academic probation.  If I didn’t have a “C” average first semester, I was out.  So I signed on.  A few months later, I was in college.  My first semester – of 6 courses, I had 5 “C’s” and one “B” (in swimming).  I was in.  The second youngest freshman in my class (I’d skipped 2d grade).

This fall, I will have my 50th reunion.   I owe Augustana College for taking a flyer on a just turned 17 year old kid with mediocre grades.  I was given a chance.   It will be good to be back.  See old friends.  My fraternity brothers.  And visit. . . my college.           

My Biggest Case

A repeat from July 17, 2014

When I was a young(er) lawyer, my father got a speeding ticket. “I wasn’t speeding” he protested. “I wanna fight this thing. You wanna be my lawyer?” he asked me.  I’d never handled a speeding ticket but I said “sure, Dad.”

So on the appointed day of the court hearing for my father’s speeding ticket, we showed up and sat toward the back of the courtroom. The room was crowded and people milled around. The judge entered. Everyone rose. And the judge got down to business – “anyone who wants to plead guilty, I’m willing to give you supervision – which means you pay a fine but if you get no ticket in the next six months, the conviction is wiped out.” The judge directed those interested toward a window where they would pay a fine but get their “supervision.” My father – who had been deaf since World War Two – didn’t hear but I knew he wasn’t interested (“I wanna fight this thing“).

After a while, my father’s case was called and I took my father’s arm, stood – and we walked to the front.  And stepped before the judge. “Good morning, your Honor” I said. “My name is Scott Petersen and I’m here representing the defendant Peter Petersen.” The judge got a glint in his eye and looked at me.  Smiling. “Is he your father?” “Yes Your Honor” I replied seriously. The judge chuckled. Looked at the ticket and said “case dismissed.” I thanked the judge for this amazing gift – and started to lead my father away.  He pulled back – “wait I wanna say . . . ” “DAD” I hissed – and put a finger to my lips.  

I’ve had a few cases in my career but none that gave me the satisfaction of that one.  Once outside the courtroom, I explained that the case had been dismissed.  He smiled.  “You’re pretty good,” he said.   Yep.


The current tsk tsking by some on whether to approve Gina Haspel as Director of the CIA reminds me of my post of August 7, 2014, which reflected on “Torture.”  Let’s say your spouse, your two daughters, your son and your four grandchildren have been kidnapped by [insert your choice of “Bad Guys“]. Your family has been beaten and abused.  Your daughters raped.  A grandchild butchered.  The rest are stuffed into an air-locked room. The air runs out in 12 hours. 11:59:59. 11:59:58.

One of the bad guys has been captured and knows where the air-locked room is. It’s 30 minutes away. Somewhere. The bad guy is seated in front of you. Tied to a chair. And when you ask him where the room is – he smirks and says %&#*x!.  “Gimme water.”  And he demands some food.

Now there are some who would shrug and go get a pitcher of water and a ham and cheese sandwich for the guy. “Not ham – lamb — you idiot.  And don’t forget the chipsAnd Oreos.”  But I’m sure that some of us, given a scenario that is this close to home, might narrow their eyes. And think how can I get this information?  I must save my family.  I heard Mr. Obama state casually that America had “tortured some folks” and that it’s “wrong.”  I wonder if confronted by the above situation, Mr. Obama might react differently. 

I’m not here to posit a moral judgment either way.  But simply to raise the question.  What would you do if your entire family had 12 hours to live?  How far would you go?  If you had the chance to save them.  Or save someone else’s family?  Using “enhanced interrogation.”  What if you had the chance to save 3,300 people from being incinerated?  A hundred thousand.   It is a tough question until it walks in your door.  And sits down at the table in front of you.  Blood on his hands.  Grins.  And spits at you.  What would YOU do?  The clock is ticking. . . . .      


I get up in the morning.  Exercise.  Go to work.  I pay my mortgage.  Pay my bills.  Donate to charities.  I take care of the house. Take the dog out.  Put dirty laundry down the chute and put the garbage on the curb. I drive carefully and obey the law.  I pay my taxes and I (usually) don’t grouse. I love my wife and family. I go to Church on Sunday.  I try to eat right.  And I try to be nice to and respectful of all people – those I know and those I don’t.

So – big question – why on earth do I do this?  Why do you?  The answer – to me – is the single most important word in the English language. INCENTIVE.  I have incentive to do all of these things.  To earn a few bucks.  Keep a nice house.  Eat right.  Be respectful to everybody.  To drive carefully.  Yadda yadda. . . .

I’m concerned that we are losing that sense of motivation.  It is being replaced with a sense of entitlement.  A sense of expectation.  Something for. . . nothing.  Incentive is waning.  Maybe it’s a bit old-fashioned.  On January 20, 1961, President John F. Kennedy admonished “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your country.”   There was loud applause.   Nods of approval.  Media approbation.  Today though, more and more people are asking what their country can do for them.  Gimme gimme gimme.  With no strings attached.   Some politicians encourage it.  According to the Tax Policy Center, in 2013 40.4% of all Americans paid no income tax.  In 2017, that number rose to 43.9%.  A continued rise in that number could reach a tipping point.  And become unsustainable.   

What’s your take?  More importantly – what’s the answer?