Tag Archives: writing


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


In my opinion, writing is performing a service. Or a precursor to the offering of a service that is truly meaningful.

Because writing requires deep intellectual engagement before any action is started. A probe that goes deep into our selfhood and pulls out who and what we are, thereby giving us insights into the world in all its dimensions.

Writing causes a better understanding of our strengths, weaknesses, and potential.

Most of all, it makes our unique and beneficial leadership qualities come to the surface. And gives us courage to use them for the common good.

It is the reverse of the kind of service depicted in The Nun’s Story. Sister Luke was expected to disappear into a collective of those giving allegiance to a core set of beliefs. She was asked repeatedly to sacrifice everything she believed herself to be.

Her writing was limited to keeping medical notes used in nursing or a record of when she was too prideful. Or unable to comply with the rules of her order or proper living.

It worked somewhat, until that sacrifice became unbearable. Coping with the reality of war, the loss of her father, and trying to answer questions not provided by faith alone. To use her intellect and insights to confront evil and serve humanity in a creative way.

My experience in the military was similar. Allowing myself to buy into the military culture until I could not.

The tank is not an object that promotes warm feelings. Nor are its weapons, ammunition, and the human skills needed to make them work effectively. A tank is a death-dealing machine that can also cause massive destruction to buildings and infrastructure. No redeeming value except as a tool to kill and hurt other human beings. Those we identify as the enemy. People like us. Taught to identify us as the enemy.

During my time in the military I wrote letters. Often to my mother and father. Eventually to my fiancé, who later became my wife. Much of my writing focused on how I felt about my work.

That writing made me think about what I was doing at the time and how I felt about it.

By the time I left the Regular Army and National Guard, I had earned a master’s degree and begun a doctoral program in educational leadership. In the Guard, I was encouraged to attend the Advanced Armor Officer School at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

At age 26 I had already attained the rank of captain and was being groomed to become a field grade officer within a few years. Completing advanced combat courses, and later programs referred to as Command and General Staff Officers’ Courses. They pretty much assured promotion up to and through the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Those with advanced degrees who could also write, teach, and effectively manage a unit command were at a real advantage. Combat commanders, while often recognized for their courage and skills in leading successful campaigns under hostile fire, did not always achieve high rank.

As a student of history, it was evident that leaders like Dwight Eisenhower and Colin Powell were successful in the army because they communicated well. They accepted and succeeded in fulfilling difficult managerial responsibilities. Powell served as a small unit commander in Vietnam. But Eisenhower never had such an experience. His skills were both managerial and collaborative decision-making. Especially among diverse and domineering personalities such as those involved with the Allied War Effort in WW II.

And Eisenhower wrote very well.

I admired these men. But I often wondered if their accomplishments were more related to career success than selfless service. My ultimate conclusion was both.

As an 18-year-old private first class in an Army reserve unit, I was asked by a sergeant to conduct a short instructional program on how to use a particular piece of equipment. Since I had no idea how to use that equipment, I turned to the Army field manual. It soon became clear why the sergeant asked me to conduct the instruction.

The technical writing used in the manual was gobbledygook. Filled with military jargon and convoluted instructions. To develop a lesson plan, I rewrote the most critical part of the manual, creating a step-by-step visual for classroom use.

An officer who watched my instruction was critical of my rewriting the manual. But he admitted that the resultant lesson was more lucid and understandable. How insubordinate I was! To have the nerve to redo a document written by a college educated officer skilled in technical writing and use of that piece of equipment.

That experience taught me a valuable lesson. My initiative was a service to the Army and the men who participated in the class. To the disapproving officer, I was an insubordinate young soldier exercising an initiative that would hurt my chances for promotion.

Instead, I circumvented the system and became an officer. With the goal of serving competently, not to just advance my military career.

Eisenhower and Powell also circumvented the rigid “by the book” system. Eisenhower was the architect of the campaign to rid Europe of the Nazi scourge. His leadership often put him into conflict with politicians and subordinates. But his intelligence and communication skills overrode the opinions of those preoccupied with protocol and rigid strategies. Eisenhower became our president during the 1950s and applied those special skills.

Eisenhower’s fresh way of thinking and ability to communicate were more than career advantages. They were a genuine service to the nation.

Powell did much the same thing by reforming a dysfunctional Vietnam era military into the quality force it is today. A good career move. And a good service to his country.

After retirement from the military Powell became the founding Chairman of America’s Promise—The Alliance for Youth. A group meant to mobilize people from every sector to build the character and competence of our country’s youth. Service through communicating. Through speeches and the written word.

We read, reflect, AND write to become more effective human beings. Those actions make us more than robotically motivated creatures programmed with stimulus-response software. They allow us to serve with sensitivity and moral awareness.

©2022 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved