What would you do different today than you did 13 years ago?

Even though I was talking to some newspaper folks at the time, that question caught me off guard.

Thirteen years ago I took the position of editor with The Brazil Times (the one in Indiana.)

I made a lot of mistakes. Emphasis on a lot of mistakes in the first couple years I was there. That is why I am impressed with my current boss, Neil Burk. He has moved into the editor's chair here and is doing much better than I did in my first couple years in Brazil.

I stammered out a reply about "there are many things I would do differently," which was honest but the conversation would have taken hours if I tried to go through every one of them.

In the days since that conversation, I have thought about it and here is a condensed version of what I could have said. This might be interesting to you since much of it impacts how I cover my news beat today and interact with the public and members of our staff.

First and foremost I would have practiced a principle I learned in college: Always respect the local culture.

The class I was taking at the time was talking about Americans trying to work overseas, particularly in cultures very different than ours. But the principle applies to even so very subtle differences in businesses and communities.

A wise man once told me, if someone tries to change a culture, bet on the culture to win almost every time.

I think I have learned that lesson. Instead of trying to change the way a community or a newspaper does things I have learned to do the best I can within the framework of the organization or community.

I have learned that the real structure of any organization is not fully described in the title each person wears. Many times someone with no title has more authority than people who are given prestigious titles. A little time spent observing and gently probing will reveal where the real power lies.

Instead of being self-conscious and afraid of losing respect, I have learned to ask even the "dumb" questions. I know, people always say there are no dumb questions but sometimes people feel they are asking questions when "everyone" else know the answers.

And, lest this column grow too long, I want to close with another lesson I've learned: Don't take yourself too seriously.

I've learned to do the best I can every day and if I earn someone's respect, fine; if not, what does it really matter?