Tag Archives: thoughtful introspection


Writing is not like my service in the military, classroom, university office, church, or work as an AARP volunteer leader. Not like my contributions as a consultant, workshop presenter, or association leader. 

Or the service I provide as husband, father, friend, and responsible member of the human family.

But I hope my writing is a service in helping others find their way through life’s challenges.


Writing can be a service to self or a selected few. Through internal reflection. Penning or typing journals, diaries, confidential letters, and other documents that help us sort out individual problems or manage personally felt anguish.

That kind of writing is a conversation with the self or chosen others. Sometimes to be used later. Or for posterity. Using a medium that supplements memory, registers and acknowledges differences over time.

Service through writing requires introspection and the ability to connect personally felt human frailties and vulnerabilities with our transformational self. 

And with others of our species.

Especially those experiencing similar circumstances in life.

I wrote the book, Confronting Dementia: A Husband’s Journey as an Alzheimer’s Caregiver, to both soften my anguish and help other men who care for a wife with dementia. As a husband, I understood my inability to seek solace from others by sharing the depression and sense of helplessness I experienced. 


I am no historian. But I enjoy reading historical biographies.

Especially intriguing to me are the writings of famous people also known for accomplishing other things. Like Benjamin Franklin, Rachel Carson, Winston Churchill, Jane Goodall, and Theodore Roosevelt.

My reason for favoring those writers is encapsulated by a portion of Roosevelt’s 1910 The Man in the Arena speech: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.”

Roosevelt sought out challenges and entered many arenas as an administrator, rancher, explorer, military leader, politician, president, and naturalist. He wrote extensively about all those experiences, which gave him credibility far beyond anything written by an uninitiated observer.

When I became a college professor my father congratulated me. But, using his own phrasing, he said something like George Bernard Shaw’s well-known line, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”

That hurt.

But it motivated me to advocate and practice something I called “applied scholarship.” Now recognized at Emporia State University as part of its service to our community and culture.

The idea behind applied scholarship is simple. Professors have a responsibility to better understand the contemporary world around us. To explain those understandings in the classroom. To identify and act on how to solve problems revealed by their new knowledge. In the real world. 

To share with students how the problem-solving initiatives worked. Or did not. And write about it in professional publications.

My father knew I also liked to write. He cautioned me in much the same way about that medium. As if to say, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, write.”

But in later years, when teaching plumbers, lawyers, accountants, and others how to teach in a community college extension program, it became evident that good teaching and writing are every bit as challenging as anything else.

Maybe more so.

People in those classes who could “do” were often unable to write a cogent paper, organize and present a good lesson, or deliver a convincing speech.

Many so-called experts in their fields can neither write nor teach well. One of my pet peeves is the technical expert who incompetently tries to write instructions for how to assemble or repair something. Or teach novices the same skill.

I could, if so inclined, make an equally dubious statement by reversing Shaw’s remark: “Those who can, fail to communicate their skills in any medium.” Teaching or writing.

But that stereotypical criticism would be fallacious for the thousands of practitioners who excel at both teaching and writing.


America’s second president, John Adams, was often described as cold and arrogantly judgmental. True enough. Many of his policy and political writings reflected that side of him. But his core beliefs and vision of our American society were much more sensitive and refined when seen through the copious letters sent to his wife, Abigail.

Abigail, as reflected in their letters to each other, was John’s “better half” in upholding the rights of women and abolishing slavery. So, he also wrote eloquently on those subjects.

Much of what we consider to be uniquely American is based on the writings of others, like Adams, who founded the country. Especially Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. Both men had personal flaws but were able to reach deeply into history, philosophy, and governmental theory to write documents that today are the bedrock of our national culture.

At a turning point in our nation’s history, Abraham Lincoln used the writings of Jefferson and others, supplemented with biblical references, to construct a powerful and iconic image of who we are and what we stand for as Americans.


Writing also changes who and what we are. For this reason, academic doctoral programs require dissertations. Preceded by the ability to come up with and explain an “intellectual itch that needs scratching.”

Many believe those who receive academic doctorates are just smart folks who take many more semester hours of coursework. And succeed in passing them with high marks.

But that is not true.

The prelude to conducting meaningful research and writing about the experience must be a kind of cognitive agitation. Because something is not right about a piece of our world.

Answers now given about those disparities are inadequate or nonexistent.

Doctoral research also requires a creative mindset to be effective. Asking the same old hackneyed questions will not reveal new knowledge. Devising new questions takes reflection, introspection, and time conjuring up “what ifs.”

And plenty of creative juices.

©2022 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved


The English language is an exceptional way to communicate. While I am no linguist, it pleases me to be able to use a language rich in meaning. Malleable in ways that allow emotions to permeate the soul. A stretch from precisely defining something to painting connotative images in a human mind. Images that allow the message’s recipient to imagine and create.

So how can we examine the word “commune” as a root word for both supporting and, conversely, undermining the word “service.”

To commune is good when it is extended to mean interaction, connection, and meaningful collaboration. We commune with each other and God. We communicate to better understand each other. We take communion to cement our relationship with God through Jesus.

It is central to everything good about service.

On the other hand, to be a communist or one practicing communism is interpreted by Americans as being evil. Inappropriate and even disloyal. We have been taught appropriately to believe that way. To perform the correct kind of service, one that opposes both communism and those who practice it on an international scale.


In a previous blog post, I mentioned Dr. Zoya Malkova, a Russian citizen and educational leader. In World War II Zoya was a pursuit pilot for the USSR, shooting down Nazi planes. But she was much more than a national hero in the militaristic sense.

She became a marvelous public school teacher and education official in the nation’s bureaucracy.  

I became friends with Zoya after the fall of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), when she made frequent visits to the United States. The purpose of her visits was to explain to Americans what happens when a governmental system with a strong secular and pragmatic core collapses.

Zoya’s best analogy for Americans was as if our Constitution and government were tossed out. That everything we had been taught to believe is now disparaged. That George Washington, like Stalin, was a despot to be forgotten.

Questions asked by citizens of the now defunct USSR were hard to answer. The foundation of education was in disarray.

What is left for schools to teach? What is left for our families to celebrate? To what do we belong as a culture?

Such questions were hard to answer even before the USSR’s demise. The basic core of communism is economic collectivism, which can seem soulless and rigidly practical. Drab in regulated ways.

Even during the highpoint of the USSR’s existence, the ruling bureaucracy only marginally recognized the uplifting achievements of the union’s member nations. Their contributions in the world of literature, music, dance, and even technology.

Economic collectivism emphasized production and distribution of wealth. Believing in and becoming inspired by a gearbox in a tractor. By the statistics of industrial output.

The center point of national pride had less to do with what was valued spiritually or esthetically. National pride was based on industrial strength, military prowess after defeating Nazi Germany, and the expanding territorial achievements. Gaining dominance in nuclear and rocket science.

After the demise of the USSR the once mighty Stalinist empire, built on what remained after World War II, was real estate chopped into ethnic parcels of land. Pieces of territory reinvigorated traditional cultures that lived there. Or formed totally new cultures and nation states.

Zoya had belonged to the Soviet Communist Party. Not because of its allegiance to the teachings of Vladimir Lenin, or the dictatorial rule of strongman Joseph Stalin, but because she knew no alternative.

The political state ruled by the dictatorship of the proletariat (working class) was based on collectivism, an economic principle established by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. German philosophers, political theorists, and economists who lived and worked in England.

Marx and Engels never thought their ideas would be co-opted by a massive empire like Russia, but Lenin did. Lenin sold the idea that those who do the work should reap the benefits of their labor. He created a political system based on that idea.

Starting with a strong central government (“temporary” dictatorship) to ensure the system was correctly established and maintained.

Communism took the idea of “commune” to new levels of economic principles and political infringement on a culture. Earlier communes like those established by indigenous people (and many American villages of the 18th and 19th centuries) were small and interactive. Often glued together with pervasive beliefs associated with things spiritual and life affirming.

Communism, as envisioned by Lenin in the context of a large nation’s needs, had to become both bureaucratic and rigidly based on uncompromising rules. It was and is a prescribed economic set of beliefs superimposed on a misguided political arrangement. Powerfully enforced rules. Rules that allowed Lenin’s successor Stalin to incarcerate or kill hundreds of thousands who did not comply as prescribed.

Living in that kind of culture makes service mandatory and without any kind of spiritual or altruistic base.

My friend Zoya intensely worried about that cultural mandate. The school curriculum, once supported by teachers and resources as training to be comrades in a collective system, had to be turned into something with no validity or overriding reason for existence.

Communism had corrupted the good connotations associated with communal human relations. It had changed our basic needs to commune with one another for the good of each person. Communistic thinking and acting had corrupted the good definition of communing with each other.


The word and function of service must be based on thoughtful introspection and an insight into how it will benefit others. Service has no meaning if it is designed to be obligatory. Forced on us by a bureaucracy or organization with dubious motives.

Service is neither valuable nor good if it is based solely on the strong proclamations issued by a self-proclaimed leader who appeals to our basest instincts and subliminal biases.

Vladimir Putin, an administrator who once served in the security branch of the USSR’s bureaucracy, finagled himself into gaining dictatorial power in Russia. Putin admired the USSR and achieved power as Russian’s current president. A position unlike the American presidency because it allows almost unlimited authority to the holder of that office.

Putin has used his position and the goal of regaining national pride to initiate aggression against nations that were once members of the USSR. To bring them back into the Soviet fold Stalin created after the upheaval caused by World War II. 

To serve Russia now is to serve Putin’s personally held ambitions to make Russia great again.

Putin’s way of unthinking and morally untethered service is an abomination in meeting the real needs of humankind. 

To authentically serve is to offer our ability to commune with each other in love and charity. To fulfill our life’s purpose in ways God intended.  

©2022 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved