Tuesday, March 22, 2016

WRITER & AUTHOR THARINI PANDE: Scurry's New Neighbor & the Importance of Calling Each Other by Name

Inspirational Writer & Author
Tharini Pande (www.tharinipande.com)

Names are important.

Just recently, my wife has changed her morning routine. She used to walk down our almost quarter-of-a-mile gravel driveway to retrieve her daily newspaper, walk back, pour herself a cup of tea, sit down at the diningroom table and dictate to me the noteworthy parts of the newspaper while I mind-mapped in one of my journals or worked on my laptop. This routine would last from 8:00 a.m.-9:30 a.m. until recently when we woke up to the reality that, while informative, this arrangement did more to stifle our chi than, say, listening to caustic talk radio for positive inspiration.

 Our driveway

The reason we stopped reading the paper in the morning was because it set a pretty depressing tone for the rest of the day. As writers and publishers, my wife and I naturally channel and assume the thoughts and positions of others. Additionally, we have a vested interest in topics currently popular, like veteran issues, cause marketing, business trends, and immigration. It's a high level of functional empathy we experience that can be both intermittently exhilirating and exhausting. You just don't know until it happens. But one factor that made it easy to switch up my routine of newsgathering was the refugee crisis. Especially the children. 

Other than suffering, acceptance of one's mortality, or having children, I'm not sure of any better teachers to help dislodge the meaningless, petty, and untried doctrines to which we intellectually subscribe but which becomes ugly when manifested in the physical world. I have children: six of them. And lately when challenged by religious, political, and social idealogues whose gut impulse is to speak in damaging ways about the least of these, I've ended such conversations with the sentiment I'm a parent. I don't have the luxury of principles. So when I saw the image of the three-year-old Syrian boy who was found washed up and face-down in the surf on a Turkish beach, I couldn't help but to feel a jolt of primordial pain.

The Grayson Children

During this last year as the refugee situation has taken up more and more space in our daily newspapers and news outlets, I was working with the author Tharini Pande (www.tharinipande.com) on her first children's book Scurry's New Neighbor, illustrated by Lex Avellino (http://www.alexanderavellino.com/). The story has a simple storyline, reminiscent of Aesop's Fables, but in expanded form. 

Scurry is a squirrel that, living up to his name, darts about gathering food around his tree. One day he realizes that a beautiful bluejay has built a nest in his tree. Fearful that the bluejay not only has invaded his space but might also compete for his finite food resources, Scurry doubles his efforts to scurry about and hoard all the food that he can. More anxious than anything else, Scurry finds himself overworked, caught in a rainstorm, tired, and hungry. But just when he is about to go to bed miserable, the bluejay invites him into her nest to share berries. Needless to say, the selfish squirrel is caught off guard but accepts the offer.

Blue-wy: Call me Blue-wy.
Scurry: And call be Scurry.
Both: I think we are going to be great neighbors.

I told Tharini in a phone call that after several dozen times of reading her book, it finally clicked with me why the book's message meant so much to me. It was because the relationship changed when they learned each others' names.

So I learned the little Syrian boy's name. His name was Aylan Kurdi. I also learned that his 5-year-old brother's name was Galip, and his mother's name was Rehan. All drowned. And as much as it pained me to learn their names (others might say that I've unnecessarily burdened myself by learning their names), it makes Aylan, Galip, and Rehan that much closer. Like neighbors.

Aylan and his brother, Galip

So that's one major reason my wife and I don't read the newspaper in the morning anymore. Too many nameless faces and too many tragic histories that our hearts, unable to take it all in at a respectable human level, become that much more hardened to the plight of these humans. To our plight. Now, we learn about their stories after our work for the day is more than over. We converse about it in the evening, and it often plays out in our dreams. But then we wake up again the next morning, feeling more energized to work on their behalf, especially when we know their names.

To learn more about Tharini Pande and her book Scurry's New Neighbor, go to website www.tharinipande.com or drop her a line on her fb page at https://www.facebook.com/authortharinipande/

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

8 Broganish Habits That Changed the Way I Think About Work

(Chris Brogan)

Few people in my life have changed the way that I think. Chris Brogan is the latest in that short line-up. 

I met Chris through a subscription link given to me on April 18, 2012 by a South African colleague who was working in Taiwan (Thanks, Ian Campbell). Somewhere in the middle of several weeks of leveraging our efforts to get Taylor Swift to perform in China (We were successfully circumvented), Ian thought that subscribing to Chris's newsletter would help me better organize the strange but rich network I had. 

So I did.

My first email to Chris was this: 

"I just finished reading a blog entry you sent to a mutual friend of ours, Ian Campbell. It was brilliant! You described my life! I found your blog to be so freaking honest, that I subscribed, and I look forward to passing it around to my American network."

Chris's response was:

"You're very kind, Robbie. Thank you for sharing it, and I'm happy you found this useful. That Ian's a nice fellow :)"

Every Sunday morning since then like clockwork, I've awakened to a bubbly newsletter from Chris. At first, I was intrigued with the list of teas/coffees/drinks that invigorate his newsletters. Next, I was intrigued with the brevity of his ideas. Then I began taking his advice. 

After almost 4 years of reading Brogan, the habit-forming culminated into a streak of major, noticeable changes in my vocational work, beginning the summer of 2014 and continuing to now.

These work habits have:
  • decreased my workload
  • increased my income
  • increased my output
  • decreased my customer problems
Here are 8 Broganish work habits I attribute to Chris:
  • Don't Let People Pick Your Brain. If, like me, you exchange money for information, one of the worst things you can do is to meet people for casual business meetings around food. My wife and I were at a friend's house a while back where I met a new friend. Intrigued with our conversation, he asked if we could "do coffee: one day. My wife smirked, and he wanted to know if he said anything wrong. I explained that I don't "do coffee." Why not? Because I end up paying $5.00 for a cup of substandard coffee and end up giving away hundreds of dollars in free information. Picking my brain is equivalent to picking my wallet. That doesn't mean I'm a stingy guy. It just means that I probably won't go to coffee with you and talk about business.
  • Don't Care About What People Think: Especially If They Aren't Paying You. People have certain expectations of American educators. Usually, those expectations involve 1) being highly specialized in a small but impractical area and 2) being poor. In my former circles, certain people have always been suspicious of how I've made my money (because clearly my school wasn't paying the bills for years). Whatever consulting jobs I took in addition to running a school, I made sure that I didn't appear to be smarter or wealthier than people's expectations (I even gave away loads of money when I had it so that I couldn't be characterized as a snob). That led to stretches of scarcity or the inability to enjoy my money. So I learned to stop caring, and the fanbase to which I was shackled slowly disappeared. 
  • Dont' Look at Your Email or Social Media the First Thing in the Morning Or the Last Thing at Night. Because most of my clients hear about me through one of my many social media portals, it's easy to justify waking up and going to bed with my phone or computer on. The reality is that most of my clients who come through social media are potential clients, and potential clients aren't the same as real clients because most of them need to be courted and sometimes coddled before you make a sale. So I've made it hard for people to get in touch with me (email & voicemail). Potential customers who shoot the breeze with me on social media are not the best investment of my time. The real ones contact me. And pay me.
  • Stop Subscribing to Stuff You Plan to Do. I used to borrow credentials against reputation like I've borrowed money against time. When potential clients would ask for my credentials, I found myself telling them about projects I was planning to do, books I was planning to read, places I was planning to go (I don't know... maybe highlighting my bucket list sounded sexier?). So I was always having to play catch up. I've psycho-analyzed numerous times why I subscribed to ideas I didn't care about, books I didn't like, music I didn't care to hear, meetings I didn't want to sit through. It came down to this reason: I wasn't enough. The present was never good enough. I was perpetually unsatisfied. So, as interesting as some things are, I hit unsubscribe if it doesn't fit into my life.
  • Do the Thing You Think You Cannot Do. I no longer believe people who pretend they don't know where they have gone wrong in their vocation, their marriage, their health, etc. Don't get me wrong: confusion is a very real thing. But most people can at least guess what their problems are or where their problems lie. I've learned that a lot of frantic or hyper activity isn't so much attributed to personality as much as it's suppression of the thing we need to focus on. Now, my work time is dedicated to identifying and completing these boring and unenjoyable tasks. Barring work that is overdue, I've learned that creating systems to target these boring areas minimizes the hyperventilation of incessant activity.
  • Only Supervise the Areas That Need Supervision. I've spent a lot of time in the worldview world and have noticed a curious thing about my behavior over many years. When one part of my worldview shifted, I would feel the urge to overhaul my entire worldview. As integrationists, the worldviewer might spend a lot of time "thinking" about how things are wrong, but s/he doesn't do anything about it until s/he figures out how it fits. Of course, worldviews are always incomplete and always changing (it's really no big deal), so parts of it will always be in tension. But do you really not want to lose 10 pounds if it doesn't fit into your health worldview? Or do you really want to avoid paying that one bill just because you don't have a grasp on your entire financial portfolio. Thinking can be virtuous, but action (even just a little...) is the final arbiter.
  • If It's Really Important, Put It On the Calendar. Chris Brogan says that if you aren't making enough money, show him your calendar and he can tell where your problem lies. Routinely doing the smallest increment of a project gets you further than random attention. For several years I was writing a book. When I applied Chris's structure, I set my alarm 6 days a week to write 20 minutes each day. In two weeks, I had a comprehensive outline and had put 4 hours towards the book: more time than I had put in the last 3 years. What's even more amazing is that for 3 years my conscience plagued me several times a week for not writing. Now, I can write for 20 minutes, and I don't think about it again until the next day. 
  • Stop Pretending You Don't Know Who Your Customer Is. One part of my marketing struggle has been a desire to design the customer I want. That's not the way that it works. Just as the inventor struggles to create a valve that doesn't leak, in the end he never can have a valve that is 100% leak-proof. That's because this world gives us- get this- leaky valves! So it's not a matter of creating the perfect valve as much as it's determining how much leaking you can tolerate. So it is with customers. You can attract any number of customers, but you will only sustain the customer base that needs you. My customers have problems they want me to solve privately. Sometimes they are huge problems. Sometimes they are too huge for me so that I need to bring in a team. Those are the clients who pay good money, let me do what I need to do, and are usually satisfied with my work. I've tried to appeal to a different customer base (believe me), but this is the one that keeps coming back. I've learned that's what I'm good at. And I'm proud of it. Oh, and it just is.
Chris is a master mindshifter. And he's good at what he does. Like a scientist in a lab, he tinkers with media & online communities and tells us what has and hasn't worked for him. What I especially like about Chris is that he delivers SO MUCH VALUE in his free Sunday newsletter that you immediately will experience small successeses if you follow his advice.

So subscribe here!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

TRIGGERPIECES, BRAIN SAKE & VETERAN SUICIDE: How One Female Combat Veteran Turned the Tables

When I first met Cleo on my birthday last year (May 29), she was on her way to NYC for a speaking engagement. I was introduced to her by my good friend, Malachias Gaskin. So I browsed her photos, which indicated that, should I make contact, I would be dealing with a badass.

Not being a stranger to badasssery, I talked to Cleo. And found her to be DELIGHTFUL. Cleo was a combat veteran with an awesome Boston accent (She didn't take that as a compliment) and a survivor of suicide... 3 TIMES. The first time she shot herself in the face. The other two times: carbon monoxide poisoning & downing 90 tranquilizers. 

Within a couple of weeks of her return from NYC, Malachias and I had her on the road to Texas to try out a farm retreat for combat veterans. The start of that road-trip was less than desirable & Cleo ended up calling me to let me know that had she a gun, she would "eat a bullet." That was probably my first introduction to the volatility of Cleo's PTSD.

Since then, Cleo visited my family at our home in August 2014 (We had to learn not to knock on her door or come up behind her, because her startle reflex was out the roof... no pun intended). In September 2014 I met Cleo in San Francisco with a platoon of other veteran-leaders for a conference.

Shortly thereafter, Cleo "went off the grid" & didn't answer her phone over the period of a day or two. A call was made from Brentwood, Tennessee, and the police came out to Cleo's house. She ended up being at a pool hall with a friend. She wasn't happy that the police broke a metal bar in her window to gain entry to her house. Yes, I felt like an idiot. But I would rather feel an idiot and know that my friend was alive then the other option.

In February 2015 Cleo had an opportunity to undergo a little-known treatment through a company called Brain Sake in Bethesda, Maryland which specializes in treatment for veterans suffering from PTSD, TBI, and a myriad of related issues. Cleo just finished the treatment yesterday (March 30). Here is a list of hurdles Cleo says she overcame throughout the 58-day program:
  • a horrible stutter... gone after the 2nd treatment
  • a Boston accent (never been to Boston)... gone after 2 treatments
  • major depression... gone after the 1st treatment
  • suicidal ideations... gone after the 1st treatment
  • rage and irritability... gone after the 1st treatment
  • nightmares where she would wake up in cold sweats, unable to go back to sleep... gone after the 1st treatment.
  • hypervigilance... gone after 4th treatment
  • high startle rate... gone after 6th treatment
  • intrusive thoughts... gone after the 1st treatment
  • desire to harm myself (she's been a cutter since age 13)... gone after the 1st treatment
  • and...the BIG one... suicidal ideations...gone after the 1st treatment.

In addition Cleo published a book while in treatment: Triggerpieces. This is a book of memorable pieces (poetry) coalesced over the last 20 years that spans topics of Cleo's abusive childhood, combat, post-combat, and her post-suicide attempt. Many of these pieces are dedicated to battle-buddies, mentors, and friends along the way who have helped Cleo along the way. It has taken a team... a battalion... for this veteran to get to this point. And what about the others out there?

That's Cleo's real concern ... advocating for veterans who suffer from PTSD, TBI's, suicide ideation, and MSA (military-sexual abuse).

After 5 p.m. (MST) today (March 31, 2015) Cleo will be greeted by FOX News and the controversial Sheriff Joe at the Phoenix Airport as she heads back home to Mesa. 

If you want to get a copy of Triggerpieces or find out from Cleo more about her treatment, go to https://www.facebook.com/SoldiersJourney.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


If you've every been in Nashville long enough, then you know that there is more to this city than country music and seriously committed Elvis impersonators. Nashville (and its surrounding cities) has a language all to its own. A few weeks ago I was venturing into the Nashville community once more after 3 years of almost exclusively working with clients outside Nashville. In less than one week I was worn out with all the uber-religious language that naturally seeps in and out of transactional language (believer and sub-par-believer alike). On a couple of occasions I was actually dumbfounded at how to steer the conversation back on business-course (Rarely am I tongue-tied).

In mulling over these expressions, I thought I would try my hand at defining a few of these idioms and giving them accurate illustrations. While I recognize that these terms have other meanings (and probably more legitimate meanings) I submit to you 13 examples below that represent ACTUAL conversations based upon my interpretation of these conversations:

1. hey, broth·er! [/ˈhā brəT͟Hər/] 

a. a title intended to disarm into compliance a male professional of his normal logic and intuition or an expression used as a precursor to an outrageous request. 
  • Hey, brother! You're such an encouragement to me which also can mean I can't think of any specific way you have helped me but you have assets I want to reserve now in case I need them in the future. That's why I'm being nice to you! or Hey, brother! We should do coffee sometime which also can mean I need thousands of dollars of free, professional advice from you because I've gotten myself into major marital, legal, or financial trouble. 

2. covet [/ˈkəvət/]
a. Hyperbole indicating material lust or strong, sexual desire, but directed towards a spiritual end.
  • More than your money, I covet your prayers which also can mean Did I not make it clear the first time that I'm asking you for money? or You are obligated to give me something because either I am very spiritual and to be admired or I am in dire straits and YOU are the answer to my prayer.

3. root of bitterness [/ˈro͞ot əv bidərnəs/]
noun phrase
a. An historical fact of injustice that under normal circumstances is actionable to some degree but in the case of the spiritual reputation of a figurehead or community is, like a root, buried. 
  • Don't listen to anything that person says because it comes from a root of bitterness which also can mean That person knows too much and can ruin us. If you listen to that person or associate with him or her in any way, then consider yourself fired or, at the minimum, dead to me.

4. praise the Lord [/'prāz T͟Hē lôrd/] 
a. a non sequitor that indicates nervousness, frivolity of conversation, or an unwillingness to communicate.
  • Well, praise the Lord! It's so good to see you which also can mean I have nothing of importance to say to you, but I'm too cowardly to tell you... but at least I'm being friendly by being religious about it. 

5. the Bible says [/'T͟Hē bībəl sez/]
sentence fragment
a. Prefatory to an argument to indicate that no more discussion is to follow.
  • I know that you have issues with such-and-such a person or organization, but the Bible says that talking about others is sin which also can mean Shut your mouth or If you know what's good for you, then shut your mouth. Or else.

6. in the name of Jesus [/'in 'T͟Hē nām əv jee-zuhs/]
prepositional phrase
a. An invocation that means whatever follows is not to be challenged under any circumstance whatsoever. 
  • I rebuke that evil spirit in the name of Jesus which also can mean I have no interest in listening to any critique because it might be legitimate, making me feel bad about myself and ruining my day.

7. for the glory of God [/'fôr T͟Hē ɡlôrē əv ɡäd/]
prepositional phrase
a. An indicator that the highest of intentions is meant.
  • We need to confront those lies for the glory of God which also can mean If we need to character assassinate or alter the truth to annihilate our opposition then it's permissible because... well, because we are especially special.

8. anointed [/'əˈnoint id/]
a. Off limits
  • I received an anointed word that I need to quit taking my medication which also can mean I'm naturally oppositional and don't like taking medication or taking doctor's orders, so screw that crap.

9. God told me [/'ɡäd tōld mē/]
a.  An admission of deification where the individual was privately revealed information for which s/he also has no proof & therefore conversation about it is of no use.
  • God told me that he will prosper us because we've been persecuted for so long and our day is coming which can also mean We've been buttholes to people for so long that everybody hates us. Things have gotten so bad that something HAS to get better or we're done for.

10. Christ-centered [/'krīst sen(t)ərd/]
a. Often special modifier or ruse to eliminate questioning about the normal flow of cause-and-effect surrounding the topic at hand.
  • Our business offers a Christ-centered service even though we are a start-up which can also mean Even though we have no interest in anything but minimal compliance (because the government sucks) and even though we have a high turnover rate of clients, at least we have the freedom to talk about Jesus while we are working (even though we probably should be working).

11. serving the Lord [/'sərviNG/ T͟Hē lôrd/]
verb phrase
a. an expression that means whatever an individual is doing is right and not up for discussion
  • We need to be busy serving the Lord instead of living like the world which can also mean Whatever normal people are doing, we don't have to be doing because we are special people. No one will understand us, and no one can understand us because they are all idiots.

12. child-like spirit [/'CHīl(d)līk spirit/]
noun phrase
a. Having the quality of ignorance and trust of an infant.
  • I like her because of her child-like spirit which can also mean She lets me touch her boobs, and then apologize, touch her boobs again, and then apologize AGAIN. This is great!

13. answer to prayer [/'ansər/ to͞o prer/]
noun phrase

      a. Getting what one wants.
  • That thunderstorm was really an answer to prayer which can also mean I didn't know how I was going to meet all of my obligations today, but then one of my customers had to go to the emergency room... so I had four hours free to catch up on work!

Providentially, you get the point!

P.S. Please, add your own definitions below.

Friday, December 27, 2013


I met Scott Barron in a museum near Laoying, China in November 2011. We had finished looking at the exhibits & bumped into each other on a rare bench in the atrium. After a 20-hour trip overseas, we were surprised to discover we lived no less than 4 hours away from each other in the U.S. 

Later that week, we meet in a hotel lobby in Beijing. Scott had this little book in his hand:

In a few minutes, I listened in fascination to Scott's story behind the book & why he brought it to China. The story goes that at 42 Scott wanted to change the direction of his life... 

The Yabwi Tree tells the transformative story that changed Scott's life (which you can find below):

The Yabwi Tree resonated with me because I had just finished a stint in my educational career and had closed the full-time portion of my school. That was my 40th year of life. The stresses were insurmountable. The sleepless nights endless. The emotional tension taut. Ever since reading The Yabwi Tree, my life has diversified in ways I could not have imagined.

Here is the question: for whom does The Yabwi Tree make an ideal gift? The answer is: for people in transition. I have given out several copies of The Yabwi Tree to...

-worn-out professionals
-stressed entrepreneurs
-nervous high school graduates
-exhausted thought-leaders

What's magical about this gift is that you don't wrap it up. What you do is find a few free moments where you both can sit undisturbed...

And you read it to them.

When was the last time anybody read you a story? A parable? A fable? A fairy tale where in the end the monsters are defeated and the good people thrive?

Because, according to The Yabwi Tree, that's your story.

*YABWI comes from the hopeful phrase Yeah, But, What If?

Monday, December 23, 2013


Several months ago I received a gift that literally dumfounded me: a Wingard painting (the regal lion in the photo above). While I've admired art in galleries and museums in the United States and abroad (my favorite is the Metropolitan in NYC), it never occurred to me to actually own an art piece. 

Receiving a valuable gift like that brought back memories of all the awkwardness I've experienced when receiving gifts from others.

In December of 1994 I ran out of money at college & was unable to return for the spring semester. I stayed with an elderly widow in Fort Walton Beach, Florida for that winter (I couldn't afford to visit my home in Germany), and she learned about my situation. The day that I was to head back to college to clean out my dorm room, she gave me a blank check. 

"You're an honest man, Robbie. Fill in whatever amount you need. We can work out the details later." 

To this day I can't believe that I wrote it for only 1/4 of what I needed! Somehow I felt I was doing her a favor by not receiving the gift like she intended. Because of that, I struggled with college payments for the next two years.

The rule for me seems to have been The higher the value of the gift, the more unworthy I am to receive it. But why should I feel unworthy when it's not my gift to give but only to receive?

Maybe ...

-my being perceived to be in need is a scourge
-my taking is an admission of inadequacy
-my receiving is a form of slavery

Would you agree that everybody is needy at one time or another? 

If so, then is it true that people who are needy HAVE NOTHING OF VALUE? 

Here is a picture of my youngest child. She has no job, no money, and no experience in any field (other than being herself). Yet I will bend over backwards to make sure she has shelter, clothing, food, and love. I will make sure she's safe and happy.


And you know what? She doesn't apologize for taking the time I'm only too happy to give her. She doesn't shrink herself as small as possible because she's self-conscious about being cared for. 

What is most difficult to believe is that while our PERCEIVED VALUE might dip when we are in need, our TRUE VALUE doesn't.

Do you want to know your true value?

Just click on the link below...


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Sunday, December 22, 2013


Above is a picture of me worrying. I can tell by the set of my jaw and the furrow of my eyebrow. It's a little ironic, isn't it... my carrying my youngest daughter on my shoulders, her being oblivious to it all? 

But there were reasonwhy my brow is furrowed and my jaw is fixed. There were YEARS of reasons...

-I was struggling to keep my fledgling school a-flight in a merciless economy
-I was "upside down" in my house in a ritzy community
-I was grossly behind on several payments.

I could go on. In fact, when I think about this day, I don't really even think about it. 

feel it.

Here are a few other things I was doing that day:


Washing the kitchen floor...


Looks like I'm being productive, doesn't it? In retrospect I can honestly say that each of these activities were DIVERSIONS from the acid that was slowly eating away at my soul. 

Acid? Eating away? Soul?

At the time of these photographs, I was reflecting on almost 13 years of investing in a community of people who in very damaging ways ended up not being what they projected 13 years before and all along. In reality, they were petty, grasping, devious, and effectively deceptive in convincing me that I had a place with them for as long as I lived.

But I'M the one who believed it. So I forgive them.

But should I be stupid again? 

I mean, aren't we supposed to trust? Isn't that what cultivates a genuine sense of safety and ease among people?

Yes, it does. But I was missing a basic element that my HEART was telling me throughout those 13 years but my BRAIN was conditioned to suppress: I was told that thinking about myself FIRST was selfish.

This hit me like a ton of bricks about a year ago on a flight from Baltimore to Nashville. I've heard it dozens of times from air stewardesses, but this time it finally made sense: 

In the event of an emergency and oxygen masks are deployed, put YOUR MASK ON FIRST. Then put your child's mask on. 

When do you get "selfish" like that?


-Have you ever wanted to tell your boss exactly what you think about him or her, but you refrained from it because you could lose your job?

-Have you ever wanted to tell someone who cheated you in business WHERE THEY COULD GO, but you refrained because it could jeopardize your clientele?

-Have you ever wanted to tell a caustic neighbor how petty they are, but you don't because it could cause you more problems?

Of course, you have.

Do you have others depending on you?

Of course, you do.

Do you want to know how you can put your heart first in every important decision?

Click on the link below.

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