Memo From Michael: Thoughts on Turning 70

I am approaching this last month of 2012 with optimism but a special eagerness to enter a completely new year, a blank canvas on which I hope to paint a grand mural of another year’s worth of challenges and successes.

I confess that I have some trepidation approaching my 70th birthday (December 10) – that really, really sounds old to me. I’ve been torn between having some sort of celebration and just letting it pass quietly. My uncertainty has probably made the decision for me though my wonderful daughters have offered to organize a more notable event later in the month. Birthdays just aren’t the joyous occasions they used to be, though certainly as one gets older the reasons for real gratitude become stronger.

I also confess that approaching the Holiday Season – we celebrate both Hanukah and Christmas – with my with my family living close by, but in another house has potential to diminish the joy of the season.

So, as I would advise any of you to do, I will suck it up and focus as much energy and thought as I can muster on appreciating the enormous bag of blessings I have and planning how to multiply them in the New Year.

A great start – I will be taking my oldest daughter Samara (the junior at NYU) on a three-week cruise to Southeast Asia in early January. I can’t overstate how much I am looking forward to spending time with this incredibly accomplished young woman who I really want to get to know.

Adult children are, of course, still our children but they’re not really children, certainly not the children they were when they called me daddy and thought I was both cool and smart. They are completely different human beings, distant relatives to their younger versions.

On the JI front this has been a huge month. We issued our 2012 survey on the Ethics of American Youth and I’ve had a full agenda of media interviews. We also launched an extensive revision of our CHARACTER COUNTS! strategy as it has evolved into a comprehensive, integrated, values-based student development and school improvement system. It’s all based on a set of learning standards I’ve worked on for months integrating the academic, social, emotional and character development domains.

We will post links to materials and pertinent videos soon.

Have a great week.


P.S. I know the Institute is making it’s big annual donor push for contributions. I really hope you will give something. We will make very good use of the funds and we truly need public support.

Comments 33

  1. Happy Birthday to an outstanding man. I wish I had a Daddy like you. Although I’m a grown woman raising my own family, Daddy’s like you are always wanted by “little girls.”

  2. Happy birthday, Michael! 70 is nothing when one has used and is using his alloted time to be of service to others–as you do everyday. Anyway, 70 is the new 50 so enjoy a celebration with your lovely daughters. We appreciate you!

  3. Cynthia is quite right about being of service to others, but I would add that keeping mentally and physically active (often despite the effects of accidents and/or diseases) is paramount to being happy emotionally. Having passed your mark of 70 a few years back, I can attest to the fact that family tragedies and physical problems of aging aren’t as debilitating as looking at one’s life as if it were nearly over. Seventy is just a new beginning, a joyous time of celebrating at least one new interest in life, of discovering and exploring, and of helping one’s community. Happy birthday Michael; celebrate the wonders of the world. They are many!

  4. Happy Birthday. I wish you much peace and comfort over the next few weeks and as we enter into a new year full of promise and excitement.

  5. The holiday season has its challenges. You are a thoughtful person. I am optimistic that you will be using your creativity, positive thinking, and flexibility to help you through any difficulties. Also, 70 is not old. My dad is 93, he still has things to do and enjoys himself. You should expect to live to at least 100. Be well and Happy birthday!

  6. Each day of life is precious beyond measure. With even one more day we have the opportunity to accumulate eternal benefits by making good causes once again and helping others to be happier. Since life is eternal, we will return with a higher life condition each time by living each moment in this manner. Happy 70th Birthday! And may you enjoy many more.

  7. Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas & Happy Hannukah

    I, too, am approaching 70, though it will be another 3 years and yet, I do not feel old. My kids, 26 and twin 21 year olds and my younger wife , keep me young, focused and centered . I appreciate your writings and thank God for people like you that preach ethics and common sense, which, sadly, the majority of people out there don’t seem to have.

    In this joyous Holiday season, It is so good to count our blessings, the richness of family, and friends, and (yes, even non-friends), and thank the lord for this wonderful world we live in.

    Start each day with a smile and give it to everyone you meet! It sets the tone for the day!

    Have a blessed holiday season and I look forward to your future writings.

  8. Happy Birthday and Thank You. I really enjoy the newsletter and all the topics of discussion along with the quotes. Your mention of adult children and getting to know your daughter is a light bulb for me…I think of all the grown nephews and neices I have which I am proud of and realize that I still need to take the time to learn about and from them who they have become as adults.

    Happy Hanuka and Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  9. When I turned 65 I invited all my buddies, my Dad and my son to lunch. I’m very lucky to have many close friends, and we had quite a crowd. Of course I picked up the check. It’s become an annual event, but what’s more, my friends are doing it. They love to celebrate their birthdays, and get stuck with the bill. Now we have at least 1 or 2 birthday parties per month.

    As one of my friends says, “you are never too old to have another birthday”.

    1. Thanks ken,

      I am including here your very meaningful and beautiful tribute to your father so others can read it.

      The Best of 75 Years
      Posted on September 9, 2012
      We just celebrated my father’s 75th birthday. At dinner I asked him to note the most profound change he had seen in his lifetime, technology or otherwise. I found his answer surprising, but not really.

      Before the punchline, a little background and perspective. Surely you can do the math in your head, but to be 75 now you had to be born after the full resolution of World War I, but before the full onset of World War II. The United States was at peace, but not yet a Super Power. There were no televisions in homes; radio dominated news and entertainment, respectively starring Edward R. Murrow and The Lone Ranger. The suburbs as we know them had not really come into being, largely because our highway system was nascent. Automobiles were becoming common, but with gasoline prices crossing a dime a gallon, middle class families got by with a single vehicle that was mostly for work commuting. Flushing toilets were common in cities, but once you got out of cities, you could easily find yourself at a country home with a detached outhouse. The stock market crash was still pretty fresh in people’s minds, and the Great Depression was not over.

      What followed in the ensuing three-quarters of a century was nothing short of astonishing. Adolf Hitler, a single individual of unimaginably maniacal influence, brought forth the Holocaust and World War II, ultimately defeated by an alliance that championed freedom and democracy as global standards. We saw the invention of nuclear power and its expression in the form of a deployed atomic bomb, the first true weapon of mass destruction. We saw the birth of Israel, the end of the British Empire, the birth of Social Security, and the end of the Great Depression.

      In the United States we then experienced immense growth in our economy, reputation, and standard of living. The Interstate Highway system connected our nation in all directions for easy travel and access. Affordable single family homes in the suburbs became realities with the growth of tracts, sometimes referred to as Levittowns after their New York model in Nassau County. Radio gave way to black and white television, initially dominated by local programming (a good deal of it arena wrestling), soon after dominated by coast to coast live network broadcasts, eventually in color. Commercial air flight became real, first short hop prop planes with very cold cabins, then pressurized jetliners flying coast to coast in a quarter of a day (with decent free food even in coach). McDonald’s offered the same hamburger at about the same price in almost every state, going to college became accessible to the middle class, and entry-level business jobs for big emerging brand factories like P&G, Kraft, and Pillsbury were plentiful. There was Elvis, The Beatles, stereo cabinets for record collections, and revolving credit accessed via imprinted plastic cards to help pay for it all.

      We fought a war with fighter jets over Korea and with Napalm in Vietnam. We stockpiled ICBMs in an arms race with the Soviet Union — they beat us into manned space flight, we beat them into orbit and to the moon. We saw personal computers take over our desks — first at work, then at home — and typewriters carted off to recycling. We got cell phones initially the size of briefcases, then the size of candy bars. We got 100 channels of cable TV, then 1000 channels of satellite TV. We got the Internet. We saw the dotcom bubble burst, then we got iPods, iPhones, and iPads. ATMs and debit cards have almost replaced cash, we don’t really need stock brokers or travel agents anymore, and talking about organ transplants is only tempered by available donors. Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Amazon sell us pretty much everything we need at real-time comparable prices, and we can travel to Russia or China without any real restrictions.

      It’s a brave new world. It’s astonishing, truly astonishing, all that progress in one lifetime, a brilliant, beautiful lifetime still unfolding.

      And yet none of that was Dad’s response to what had changed most. We talked about all of it, late into the night, sometimes with a chuckle, sometimes with misty confusion about the timeline. It was baffling how much he had seen, how vividly he could remember the primitive then, how normal the world around him with all its developments seemed now.

      Yet with all that in mind, here’s what Dad thought had most changed — people’s acceptance of others.

      Oh, that.

      When Dad was a child, it just seemed so normal that most people stayed among people most like themselves. Ethnic groups lived in ethnic neighborhoods. People of the same color lived together, occasionally interacted in the workplace, but seldom mixed freely in bars or restaurants. Social and cultural diversity were occasional topics of intelligent discussion, but in everyday life for most people were in terribly short supply. Interracial and interreligious marriage was a very big deal, no matter where you lived – it happened, but it was not the norm. When Dad traveled to and from Florida in the days before Rosa Parks, there really were separate drinking fountains, separate lunch counters, separate universities. Jackie Robinson signed his minor league contract in 1945 and walked on the field with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Separate but Equal was not ruled out by law until 1954. That was change that really started the times a’ changing.

      In 1960 John F. Kennedy became the first Catholic President of the United States. Cesar Chavez co-founded what would become the UFW with Dolores Huerta in 1962. In 1964 the first Asian American woman, Patsy Mink, was elected to Congress. In 1965 the reverent Sandy Koufax declined the honor of pitching in the first game of the World Series because it coincided with the most sacred of Jewish holidays, Yom Kippur. Jump forward to 2008 and the American people elected Barack Obama as President, on whose watch we quickly sent “don’t ask don’t tell” to the scrap heap of divisiveness. None of these milestones went unacknowledged, but with each the comfort level of individuals to be among those of different backgrounds became increasingly more common, increasingly more a cultural norm.

      I don’t think anyone today can call our work done, but look around and you will see a heck of a work in progress. Our friends, our families, our colleagues, we are not uniform. We have seen a parade of civil rights, religious rights, gender rights, human rights. We are a blended society not because we are forced to be, but because it is wonderful and enjoyable and natural to do so. To study and embrace that which is different from our own backgrounds is to celebrate diversity as a shared value that can never be taken for granted, but increasingly warrants less special attention as it becomes more is than isn’t – less lacking, more present. That’s what Dad sees as most different from the days when it was not so, and hopefully what children today will never think twice about as they move through their next 75 years.

      That’s good change, with a lot to do still ahead, but a world that looks different and Thinks Different because it is the very reflection of progress. We mix, we share our heritage, we worry less how we are different, we worry more about our common bonds in humanity.

      That was a birthday dinner worth remembering, a real lesson in progress for us younger folks, a message forever.

      Thanks, Dad. Once again, Happy 75th. You remembered well. You shared even better.

  10. Happy Birthday, Michael Josephson,

    You make a poignant point. The holidays are a time of joy and cheer and family but the losses are also there to add sadness and maybe regret. You are wise though and know to concentrate on the blessings that are always there in one form or another but I sure do feel your conflict. That cruise sounds WONDERFUL and I hope you both have a delightful and bonding time together. And of course, Happy Birthday, it is a milestone indeed (I’m right behind you!). Lastly, thank you for the inspiration and warm thoughts you always share with us all.

  11. Happy Birthday, Michael! And Happy Hanukkah tomorrow! My husband didn’t want a big party for his 70th either so I went ahead and did it anyway. He had a blast and so did everyone else who was competing in the contest to see who knew him best. I wish you many more years of life for a selfish reason – we NEED your services! Rock on, Michael!

  12. I want to wish you a graceful and grateful birthday and extend a happy hanukah wish. I will. share a cultural saying – may the coming year be better than this year ending for we survived it however tough it was . As you also said at this age birthdays are more counting blessings than celebration.

    Best regards

  13. Happy Birthday Michael! I so very much enjoyed your 4.0 workhop last weekend and was very inspired by you!
    Have a wonderful birthday and remember….70 in in this day and age is like being in your 40’s! Enjoy your special day and life’s adventures.

    Linda Kay Johnson

  14. Happy, happy birthday, Michael, at this season of light…birthday candles, the lights of Channuka and of Christmas, to you who has brought light to millions!
    The more candles, the brighter you shine.
    With gratitude for all you’ve given us…
    Love & Light to you and your family,
    Patty Hayes

  15. Have a very Happy Birthday! Hope you have a memorable day and a wonderful Christmas Season spent with your family and loved ones. Thank you so much for the stories your share weekly. They are so enjoyable and inspirational!

  16. Happy Birthday Mr. Michael Josephson! May you have a day full of joy and happy memories, with your family and loved ones. I thank you for all your educational and meaningful posts and commentaries, that I eagerly read weekly.
    Shower of blessings always!

  17. Congratulations Michael. Your thoughts, commentaries, and personal feelings have continued to inspire many. TRRFCC applies to all and what a wonderful world we would live in if others would commit as you have to live it out. Live long and enjoy the well wishes you receive.
    Happy Birthday!

  18. Happy belated birthday. Although this time of year brings anniversaries of serious losses, I wouldn’t give it up for a mountain of money. With the losses are some beautiful memories and even a push to keep moving and doing. I am only a couple years younger than you are and have discovered a host of new activities and ways to serve. It’s great fun!


  19. I have been silently following your thoughts and commmentaries for a long time, maybe some five -six years and often quoting some of your quotes in charitable talks and presentations.

    Many of us here in Singapore are “worshipping” and adore the various sayings
    that can be used for everyday happenings in our life.

    Whether there is a chance to meet up or organise a talk during the chance visit of
    Michael to Singapore?

    sincerely and with best regards

    Mobile (65) 96362416

  20. Happy Birthday Michael
    I will always admire the inspiration you instill in today’s society through your written and verbal expressions.

    On long drives to work daily I listen to you quite frequently. Your messages allowed me to move on with my day no matter if I am feeling up to it or down. Keep up the good work Michael. Everyone needs to tune into your daily commentaries so they can feel the joy of living and the message that you are spreading.

  21. Michael,

    Belated birthday greetings! You have brought so much to so many with your inspirational thoughts. Here’s to many, many more years of being our mentor.


    Donna Phillips

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