Forgiveness: The Second in My Series of Most Important Virtues

This is the second in my series on what I called the Seven Most Important Virtues for Living.   I will speak from my personal experiences on Forgiveness and try to share as much of my own life as possible.  I do not want to speak as an “Expert.”  I am far from being an expert on this subject.

Every Tuesday morning, I start my day with the following prayer:

  • Please give me the strength and courage to forgive those who insult, disrespect or harm me in any way. May I be strong enough to offer forgiveness to others and to ask for forgiveness for myself.

Forgiveness is a subject that is both easy and difficult for me to write about.  It is easy because I have had a great deal of experience with the subject.  It is difficult because much of my experience has not been positive.  It seems to be a virtue that I am not very good at.  I can’t say that I ever gave it much thought until several years ago.  Here is what changed my life.

When my oldest and only daughter started college, about two years after my first wife and I separated, we had a slight argument over money.  I did not think it was that big of a deal but Chris (my daughter) became very angry.  She said she never wanted to see me or talk to me again.  She told me that I had made her life miserable when she was growing up and she wanted me out of her life for good.  Almost ten years went by and despite my best efforts, she would not reply or respond to any overtures I made.  I felt very sad but I did not know what to do.  I was torn between trying to see her and also trying to respect her wishes.

I ended up talking to a sizable number of people who one for reason or another had been cast aside by friends and loved ones.  I thought this would make an interesting story and I wrote some of my thoughts on this and sent it to the Oprah Winfrey show.  I never expected to hear from them.  Several months went by and one day I received a phone call.  The person on the other end wanted to know if I would like to be on the show and talk about my problems with my daughter.  The other person described this particular Oprah show as one that dealt with forgiveness.  I was somewhat intrigued but I had several misgivings and turned them down.

Perhaps a year or so went by and one day the Oprah show called me again.  For the second time they asked me if I would like to be on the show.  They explained that they would contact my daughter and if she accepted, we could both come on the show and tell our stories.  It would be a show about forgiveness and I could offer my apologies for anything I had done and see if Chris and I could work things out on the show with Oprah acting as a facilitator.  I decided to give it a chance and after discussing some logistics, I accepted the invitation.

A couple of weeks later, I was flown with Karen and my step-daughter Megan to Chicago where they had booked rooms for us at the Omni Hotel in downtown Chicago.  We were told that a limousine would pick us up in the morning and then take us back to the hotel or to the airport after the show was filmed.  We were given food vouchers and enjoyed some fine dining in our hotel rooms before going to bed.  There was a definite feeling of both excitement and dread on my part.  I had no idea what to expect.  At this time, I did not even know if my daughter was going to be there.

Next morning, I went for a run around the streets of Chicago.  A funny thing happened on my run.  A film crew from a local TV news network stopped me and asked me if I was a tourist.  I said more or less I guess I was and they then conducted a brief interview with me concerning what I thought of Chicago.  Two TV shows in one day!  After I returned to the hotel, Karen, Megan and I showered, dressed and waited for the limousine to take us to Oprah’s studio.

We were picked up and driven to the studio where Karen and Megan were taken to the audience area, while I was escorted to what they call the “Green” Room.  There were actually two such “Green” rooms where guests could be separated.  I talked to several other guests who were on the show to deal with the subject of forgiveness.  One was a man whose family had owned slaves and he wanted to ask forgiveness for the history of his family.  The other was a Methodist Bishop who wanted to ask forgiveness for her church because of the slaughter of innocent Native Americans led by a Methodist minister named John M. Chivington at Sand Creek in 1864.

A short time passed and while I was getting my nose and head powdered, Oprah Winfrey herself and her little dog came in to chat with me.  We talked for a short time and she told me that she wished me the best but to keep in mind that I might not get what I hoped for.  She said often the people that felt that they had been wronged did not want to forgive the other party.

Well, I went out on the stage with Oprah and I was truly surprised that my daughter Chris had also accepted the invitation to be on the show.  I was immediately hopeful that we could resolve our differences and begin a new relationship.  Oprah explained that there were three components required for forgiveness.  True forgiveness requires one to accept all three components if that is what the other party needs.  The three components of forgiveness are:

  1. An apology or request for forgiveness
  2. A willingness to listen to how you hurt the other party
  3. A willingness to make amends or to try to correct the wrong in some way

Oprah started off the conversation by asking my daughter Chris why she did not want to speak to me.   Chris had a lot of reasons.  I had already realized that I was often angry when she was young and I would explode at the drop of a hat.  I had gone through a Domestic Abuse Program a few years earlier in which through counseling and a support group, I had begun to get my anger under control.  Chris had felt that while growing up she was often terrified to be living with me and feared for her and her mom’s life.  She had never been physically hurt by me and I can only remember one time that I had hit her mom and that was after she hit me.  Nevertheless, there was a constant feeling of fear in the house punctuated by my violent outbursts which included throwing things, punching walls and yelling at Chris and Julie, my spouse at the time.

When, Oprah finally turned to me and asked me what I wanted to say.  I had no doubt in my mind that I was sorry for my actions and that I wished I could turn the clock back.  I apologized to Chris and asked if she could forgive me.  I was ready to make any amends possible.  At this point, I had covered two of the three conditions for forgiveness.  I had said I was sorry and I had listened to her pain and grief.  I was ready to make amends.  However, Chris did not buy into the scenario.  She refused to accept my apology and informed me that she did not need a father in her life.  However, she said that she had two children and that perhaps they could use a grandfather.  She would have to think about it.  That was the end of our conversation.

Before leaving the show, Oprah told me that she was sorry it had not worked out better but that forgiveness is a very delicate process and that it does not always go the way we hope it will.   I was not discouraged though and I felt that the outcome was positive.  I thought that I could be a good grandfather and I welcomed the opportunity.

A few years later, I was again contacted by the Oprah show for a “follow-up.”  I again agreed to go on the show.   I do not know if Chris accepted or even had an invitation as she was not on the show.  My segment was very brief.  I explained that Chris still did not want me in her life but that I had been given a few opportunities to share some time with her two children, Frankie and Jesse.  These times were very brief and it was clear that it was only when Chris was present that I was allowed to see them.  I did not know it at this time, but even this opportunity to spend time with my grandchildren would soon derail.

While asking for forgiveness is never easy, particularly when you realize how you have hurt someone; I do not think it is the hardest part of forgiveness.  I had no trouble asking for forgiveness, for I am truly sorry about how Chris had to grow up.  I wish I could redo her life and give her a new childhood.  It is now fifteen years or so since Chris and I last spoke.  She has been remarried and divorced but I have not been invited to any of her life events and any efforts to send letters or cards have not been acknowledged.

The hardest part for me has been to “let go” and to forgive myself.  I tried going to confession at one of my annual Jesuit retreats.  The Father and I talked about my “sins” and the issues I had as not being a very good father.  I was granted forgiveness by my confessor.  I had hoped that this would help me come to turns with the grief and pain that I often feel when I think of Chris.  It has not.

I have been told, that I really have not forgiven myself.  These are just so many empty words to me.  I do not know how to do this.  Particularly, when I know that out there someplace is someone that I spent twenty years with and to whom I am now totally irrelevant.  I never stopped loving my daughter.  I always wanted to be a good father and in my own way, I did try to be a good father.  I remember many good times we had together as father and daughter.  It is hard to realize that the feeling and memories must not be mutual.  If hell is of our own making, then I have made the hell that I feel when I think about Chris and wonder how she is.  I wonder if she will ever change her mind and give me another try.  Until then, I hope someday to know what it will feel like if I could forgive myself, but how can I?

Time for Questions:

I really cannot think of any.

Life is just beginning. 

Sometimes, it seems like it just keeps repeating itself.







Will a Gun Help in a Gun Fight or Why the Bad Guys Often Beat the Good Guys?

gunpoint1I am a military veteran.  I have hunted and shot a variety of rifles, revolvers and automatic weapons.  I am not against guns.  As an American, I am very concerned about the amount of gun violence in our country.  However, I am even more concerned because too often it seems like the “Bad” guys win and the “Good” guys lose.  Over the past twenty years, I have studied and read about many of the gun battles that have taken place in history.  From cowboy shootouts, to holdups, to police shootouts such as the Newhall massacre and the Miami-Dade FBI debacle, I have read these stories in an attempt to find the underlying reasons for the good guys losing and the bad guys winning.   My blog this week is about the risks and rewards that might accrue from carrying a gun.  As with any tool or piece of technology, there are pros and cons to its use.  In the case of guns, the nexus of these factors can be best characterized as “risk.”  There is a risk.  Carrying a gun is a risk.  Not carrying a gun is a risk.  What are the risks?  When do the advantages outweigh the risks?  These are the questions that my blog will look at this week.  Hopefully, you will be able to make an informed decision about the issue of gun carry and gun control after you read my blog.  Too many people are preaching the advantages of gun carry without looking at the risks and downsides.

My study of violent gun encounters has led me to see that the issues most people consider in a gun encounter do not adequately address the situation.  There is no comprehensive theory of what it takes to win in a gun battle.  Too often, gun advocates think that merely carrying a weapon will insure success or that weeks on the firing range will make a difference in a gun encounter.  Several recent simulated gun battles have shown that this is not the case.  All too often, the bad guys still win.  Why?   A good theory should answer this question.  Furthermore a good theory should allow us to study the critical factors and identify ways to enhance these factors for the good guys or deny these factors to the bad guys.  Until this can be done, both the people for guns and the people against guns are stating their cases from purely emotional viewpoints.  A good theory supersedes emotions and passions by substituting facts and data for feelings and grief.

I propose that a successful gun encounter will depend on six factors.  I will list and explain each of these factors.  These six factors will make up what I am calling a model for a successful gun encounter.  I will also suggest three scenarios to see how this model might be able to predict the outcome of each scenario.  The three scenarios will include:

  1. A lone wolf terrorist shooting in a full capacity stadium or a large hall.
  2. A home invasion with the intent of robbery.
  3. An attempted holdup on the street by a bunch of thugs.

The six factors are:

  1. Speed
  2. Accuracy
  3. Firepower
  4. Offensive Position
  5. Defensive Position
  6. Nerve

In developing this model, I have toyed with the idea of some factors “weighing” more than other factors.  However, this does not seem like a valid proposition.  It is more likely that no single factor can be a deciding factor and that regardless of how strong any single factor is, it will depend on the relative strength of each of the other factors.  Thus, no one factor in itself can decide the outcome of a gun battle. This fact alone is interesting since so much of the gun literature is involved in arguing whether you should carry a 10mm or a 44 magnum.  I have read countless articles on whether a home owner should have a revolver or automatic weapon.  The authors spend hours arguing about which is a more effective deterrent and ignore the other five critical variables.  My model thus proposes that each variable or factor is a critical determinant of the outcome of a gun encounter.  Let us look at each variable.

  1. Speed

western gunfightIt is a well known fact that in the Old West gun battle speed did not always determine the outcome of the encounter.  Speed without accuracy is useless.  Speed without firepower may also be useless.  It is often said “do not bring a knife to a gun battle.”  Nevertheless, deployment of a weapon and the speed with which a weapon can be deployed is a key factor in the success of a gun battle.  Numerous scenarios show a knife fighter killing a gun fighter because within a certain distance, the knife fighter with a fixed blade weapon may trump the gun fighter owing to the speed of deployment.  A key problem in home invasions may be the speed with which the homeowner can access and deploy his weapons.  The invader may have the advantage because they come in with a weapon in hand while the responsible gun owner may have his gun in a locked safe.  The invader will probably not wait for the home owner to access his safe key, load and chamber his weapon and fire.

  1. Accuracy

This factor requires relatively little discussion.  If you cannot hit what you are aiming at, no amount of speed or fire power will compensate, unless of course you are throwing a bomb which is not a factor that we are considering here.  This is one area where practice and gun range time can make a difference in the outcome of the gun encounter.  However, accuracy also must take into consideration the weapons used.  Generally at longer differences, a rifle will be more accurate than a pistol.  This latter fact might nullify any advantage of concealed carry in the event of a terrorist scenario where they are armed with assault rifles.  A concealed carry holder will not have much accuracy beyond fifty feet or even less with some pistol models.

  1. Firepower

The gun magazines have published hundreds if not thousands of articles in the pages of their magazines arguing over the best rounds to use for self-defense.   But ballistics size is only one factor.  As noted above, the accuracy of a round is a critical factor as well. Furthermore, firepower does not just depend on the caliber of the weapon.  Firepower also includes the timing and amount of ballistics that can be delivered in a given time frame.  Obviously two bad guys with assault rifles with fifty round clips will have much more firepower than a good guy carrying a Colt 1911 or a Glock 10mm.

  1. Offensive Position

Offensive position is defined by asking “How easily can you make the shot?”  The better your offensive position, the easier it will be to hit your assailant.  Someone may have a strong offensive position but a weak defensive position.  The converse is also true.  You can have a strong offensive position but little ability to avoid being shot.  Charging a pill box is one example that comes to mind.  Surprisingly many gun battles have seen the assailant simply charge their attackers.  This is one reason many experts recommend a strong enough ballistic to take down an opponent.

  1. Defensive Position

A strong defensive position can be defined by asking “How easily can I avoid the shot?” The stronger your defensive position, the more difficult it will be for your assailant to shoot you.  You can have a strong defensive position but have no ability to make a shot.  The optimum in a gun battle is to secure both a strong offensive position and a strong defensive position.  However, as with everything in life, this is not always possible.

  1. Nerve

The gun battle with the Boston Marathon suspects was described by police officers as “eight minutes of sheer terror.”  Put yourself in their place.  Loud explosions, people screaming, smoke clouding the air, visions of blood splattering around you, more explosions, more screaming, suddenly you see your friend hit by a round, he is covered in blood and something gory is leaking from his gut.  More screams, more explosions.  You can see hardly anything now because of the smoke.  You can’t hear anything except explosions, sirens and screams.  But you must be calm because that is the only way you can fight back.

Marine Lance Corporal Anthony Andrada who had served in the Iraq War was asked to compare violent video games to a real life combat situation.  Here is what he said:

“The games attempt to show how realistic the war situation is, but in the end, it’s just a game and not really what war is really like.  They are all more of just shoot and move type games.” Even though these games may look and sound realistic to a degree, Andrada says, “The feeling of real danger isn’t there.”  He adds, “During dangerous missions, I constantly feel uneasy and on guard at all times.”  Furthermore, he says the games do not capture aspects of daily life that include the “fatigue of going out for long hours and daily stresses.”  Due to the inherent limitations of the medium, Andrada believes that videogames don’t implement this sense of uneasiness because “they can’t.”  — What Do Real Soldiers Think of Shooting Games?

Dave Spaulding in an excellent article in Handguns titled “What Really Happens in a Gunfight?” describes his observations from twenty-five years of lethal force investigations and talks with over 200 individuals who had survived a gun fight.  He states:

“The various phases of body alarm reaction that have been discussed over the years such as tunnel vision, slow motion movement, loss of digital dexterity and the like, were all recalled by the subjects interviewed. None of the people I spoke with remember suffering all phases, but everyone remembers suffering at least one of the sensations listed under the category of body alarm reaction. Those that understood what was happening to them better handled the sensation during the encounter versus the people who did not. Without a doubt, forewarned is forearmed.”

The famous western pistoleer, Wild Bill Hickok, once noted that it was one thing to shoot at a target, but another thing to shoot at a man who was shooting back at you.  Gun fighting takes strong nerves.  This is perhaps the most subjective factor in my model.  At least theoretically, all of the other five factors could be measured.  However, I know of no way that “nerve” has ever been measured before the fact or any way that it could be measured.

Applying the Six Factor Gun Encounter Model

I want to show how the model could be used to study various gun encounters by using the three scenarios I mentioned above and applying the model to each one.  One argument that probably will be made to my choices of decision factors is that I am biased.  That is why, I am trying to make this model very transparent.  Consider my evaluations of the various scenarios using my model and then go ahead and score the scenario yourself.  See what you come up with for scores and outcomes.

Lone Wolf Shooter:

texas tower shootingThe first scenario we will look at involves a “lone wolf” shooter in a packed theater or hall.  Whether the shooter is mentally ill or a terrorist is irrelevant to the scenario.  We will assume the shooter has put on a Kevlar vest and has a Colt AR 15 .223 caliber assault rifle as well as a Glock 40 caliber side arm.  He has several extra clips for both weapons.  Our good guy is in the hall someplace carrying a concealed 9mm Beretta with no extra clips

Here is how I would rate the situation using the Six Factor Gun Encounter Model: I am going to simply score it as + for an advantage, – for a disadvantage and 0 for no advantage.  I will explain my reasoning below.

Key Factors Bad Guy Good Guy
Speed +
Accuracy +
Fire Power +
Offensive Position 0
Defensive Position +
Nerve + +

Speed, I gave the advantage to the bad guy since he came out shooting.  Accuracy goes to the bad guy and firepower as well due to his choice of weapons.  Offensive position is poor for the bad guy but the good guy has no advantage since he/she is pinned down.  Defensive position is also poor for the bad guy and our good guy may have an advantage assuming that he is concealed and the bad guy does not have any knowledge that he has a weapon.  The problem for our good guy will be in deploying his advantage in this area which he will not be able to do unless he can get within an offensive position to use his weapon.  Nerve, I will score equal and that is being somewhat generous.  We know that the bad guys seldom lack the nerve, since their rampage is already a fact, but can our good guy face down the bad guy in a hail of bullets and blood?

I score this scenario 4-2 for the bad guy.  I would give our good guy at best 10-1 odds against being able to prevail in this scenario.  Now, what good is this model?  Can it only help us after the fact? Does it only tell us things that we already know?  Can we use this model to develop alternate strategies for our good guys that will help them prevail?  I believe the answer is yes.  Let us look at what would be the best options for out good guy in this scenario.

We are not going to be able to change our choice of weapons.  Thus, any strategies will have to address the factors of position and nerve.  Nerve is important here because our good guy needs to ask himself if he wants to do more than just survive, which would entail one set of strategies or does he want to try to be a hero and bring down the bad guy at a higher risk to himself.  If he/she chooses the first option, he must find the best defensive position he can and simply stay there until an offensive opening occurs.  If he/she chooses the second option, then he/she must find a way to develop a better offensive position without compromising his defensive position.  He must develop a position that will nullify the advantages of firepower and accuracy that the bad guy has.  This will not be easy.

Home Invasion:

Home-Invasion-Defense-Plan5A friend of mine recently sent me the following story.  Very similar to a home invasion but it involved a couple in a hotel room.

“Just watched an interview between a news show host and a couple in their sixties, who had recently been assaulted in a “reputable” motel chain!  The man was exiting the shower and saw his wife trying to fend off an attack by a gun wielding assailant.  He was able to eventually reach his handgun located in the nightstand, and a firefight ensued at a distance of less than five feet.  The criminal was overcome, but the husband was shot three times and sustained injuries that require continued operations!  The couple are suing the motel chain for not notifying them of the inherent danger in what proved to be a high risk area.” — CNN News Report

I was able to find the actual interview and can add the following facts from reading the report noted above:

  • Assailant was killed by the good guy
  • Assailant was attempting armed robbery and wanted money and valuables
  • Gun battle happened when robber opened fire first
  • Good guy was shot three times. Once in leg and twice in abdomen
  • Good guy somehow accessed two handguns he and wife carried but had concealed in the room and/or her purse

I would rate this scenario as follows:

Key Factors Bad Guy Good Guy
Speed +
Accuracy +
Fire Power +
Offensive Position 0 0
Defensive Position 0 0
Nerve + +

The bad guy gets the nod for speed since his gun was already deployed.  The good guy was the better shot and had two guns to the bad guy’s one so he gets the nod for accuracy and firepower. Neither side had a defensive or offensive advantage and were shooting at each other from a distance of five feet.  I give both sides’ equal score for nerve, but perhaps a slight edge to our good guy who was fighting to protect himself and his wife.

Although this scenario shows a win for the good guy at 3-2, an additional question might be at what cost?  In this case, our good guy is severely wounded and his wife could have been killed.  For what?  Some money and some jewelry in a hotel room.  Given the odds in this scenario, which slightly favored our good guy, one should ask if the outcome was worth the engagement as it played out.  I think our good guy would have been better off giving the bad guy what he wanted and then engaging him as he departed the room.  The factors above suggest that a more reasonable encounter would have found our good guy looking for a more advantageous strategic position both offensively and defensively.  It was only a certain element of luck that one or both of our good guys were not killed instead of the bad guy.  I personally think the risk was not worth it in this scenario, but that a more thoughtful analysis of the factors could have led to a better outcome.

Street Mugging:

You and your boyfriend have just left the movie theater after a 9 PM show.  It is now about 11 PM and you have two blocks to walk to your car.  You are carrying a concealed weapon in a specially designed purse but your boyfriend is not carrying.  As you walk down the block, you notice two guys coming towards you.  They look in their early twenties or late teens and both are somewhat unkempt looking.  As they approach you, one of them stops in front of you and asks you for light?  You begin to explain that you don’t smoke, when he suddenly pulls a gun and starts yelling for you to “give it up.”  Your boyfriend is bewildered and starts to take out his wallet while you try to calm both perps down a bit.  “OK, don’t hurt us, we will give you anything you want.”  The perp replies:  “You bet your ass you will or we will cap both of you mothas.”   What do you do?

I would rate the scenario as follows: (Assuming the situation remains relatively the same.”

Key Factors Bad Guy Good Guy
Speed +
Accuracy 0 0
Fire Power + 0
Offensive Position 0 0
Defensive Position 0 0
Nerve + +

Newtown2I give the bad guys the + for speed since they already have their weapons deployed.  The good guys have no advantage for either firepower or accuracy since they are standing face to face with the bad guys and even a 22 caliber can be deadly.  Neither side has either a defensive or offensive position with a significant advantage, except to note that the bad guy already has his gun out. However, we already gave him a + for speed and firepower.  In terms of nerve, we will assume that both sides have equal nerve.  Thus, as the scenario stands, the bad guys have the edge 3-1.  The good guys need to stand down until they can change the scales.  Can they shoot the bad guys as they run or walk away?  What are the repercussions should they do so?  This is an interesting legal question that might be answered very differently from state to state.  In most states, once you are no longer in bodily jeopardy, you cannot shoot an assailant as they are fleeing, regardless of how much of your money they have.

What can we conclude?

So what can we conclude from my model?  What differences if any would such logic make in a real gun fight?  I think we can draw the following conclusions with some degree of reasonableness.

  1. Carrying a gun does not necessarily confer any advantage
  2. When the bad guys have the advantage, you are at high risk by drawing your gun
  3. It is critical to wait until you have a distinct edge in one or more of the six factors described otherwise the risk is too high to risk drawing your gun.
  4. If you think the perps are going to kill you no matter what you do, then you must develop a rapid advantage in at least one factor or you are going to die anyway.
  5. A good guy with a gun does not mean he/she will beat a bad guy with a gun.

Where do we go from here?

I started this paper by making an argument that most considerations of gunfights as they are described in gun magazines are too superficial and do not realistically consider the key factors other than the weapon that are essential to a successful gun encounter.  I believe this is true whether on the street, in the home, in a war zone or in a private venue of some sort.  The initial advantage will be with the bad guys.  The good guys must consider all six factors and attempt to manage these to his/her advantage.  Failure to do so, will result in death for the good guys.

I hope this paper will start a dialogue that might lead to more varieties of strategies than simply carrying a concealed weapon as a solution to crime and violence.  The thought that concealed carry will make our streets and home safer is both naïve and dangerous.  Gun battles are won not simply by having a gun but by having a strategic advantage during the gun fight.

Time for Questions:

Are you willing to shoot someone to protect your property?  Your life?  Do you carry a concealed weapon?  If so, have you ever had to use it to protect yourself?  Do you think guns have made America a safer country? Why or Why not?  What do you think it would take to make you feel safer on the streets at night?

Life is just is beginning.

The UK counter-terror officials have issued new official guidance for citizens to follow in the case of a Paris-style gun and bomb attack. The document outlines what to do in “response to a fast-moving incident such as a firearms or weapons attack” and also advises businesses to develop procedures for a “dynamic lockdown”.

The document is based on observations following the assault on Bataclan music hall where terrorists barged in and fired indiscriminately at the crowd.

Guidance says that it is better to “escape if you can”, “insist others leave with you” and “leave belongings behind”.

If there are no escape routes, then the best thing to do would be to find cover from the gunfire behind “substantial brickwork or heavy reinforced walls”. It should be noted that cover does not mean that you are safe as bullets can go through materials such as glass, brick, wood and metal.

First – Run, leave belongings behind and get yourself as far away as possible from the attacker

Second – Hide, find a cover from gunfire, but at all times be aware of your exits and try not to get trapped. Make sure your phone is silenced. Lock and barricade yourself somewhere but move away from the door.

Third – Call the police and inform them of the location and description of attackers. Stop others from entering the premises.



If you enjoy reading my blog today, please see another blog I wrote dealing with this issue from the opposite perspective:  Ingratitude:  How it destroys our minds and hearts and souls

gratefulnessI want to talk about Gratefulness today.  It is the first in my list of the Key Seven Virtues that I think are worth developing.  Gratefulness is the opposite of ingratitude.  It is easy to fall into the trap of being ungrateful.  The world besieges us with evidence of our incompetence and faults.  Hollywood glamorizes the mundane and makes the rest of us feel inferior in comparison.  American Idol becomes the graven image that we now worship.  It is not an image of a gold calf or a prophet or a saint.  It is the image of success and fame and fortune that we all desire.  Even as I write this, millions of people are buying a lottery ticket in the hope of achieving instant wealth.  How many of these people are grateful for what they have?  I suspect many of them are very grateful in their daily lives, but it makes you wonder how grateful most people are when they will spend their money against all odds to become an overnight millionaire.  What don’t they have that they will buy if they do win?

Every Monday morning I start my day and my week with the following prayer:

  • I am Grateful for this new day and a new start. I give thanks for everything I have – especially my health, my friends, my family and my wife Karen.

I also say a prayer that my wife Karen will be healthy and happy.  She once mentioned to me that she appreciated my praying for her, so I have made it a part of my Monday morning start to the week.  My goal is to try to keep the thought of being grateful in my mind throughout most of the day.  I confess, I am usually able to keep it in my mind for about ten minutes at the most and then my day commences with the usual busyness and trivia that soon makes me forget my admirable goal.

If I were to rate myself on a scale of 1-10 of gratefulness, with 10 being the highest amount of gratefulness possible, I would probably give myself about a 2.  Nevertheless, I refuse to succumb to the Siren of Desire that drives one to buy a lottery ticket.  I do not want to win any money in a lottery.  I do not want to get any free money through a class action lawsuit.  I do not want to inherit any money from a dead relative or friend.  I admit I occasionally go to a casino and will play the penny slots for about fifteen minutes.  Karen has more patience and will play for as long as an hour.  We both allocate about ten dollars when we go for our “chance to win a fortune.”  We are usually at a casino for the entertainment or food.

My father was a gambler when I was young who lost a good portion of his earnings each week betting on the horses.  I learned from him that most gamblers were liars since they will only tell you when they win and never when they lose.  I still begrudge the fact that when I was growing up, my cousins (whose fathers were no richer) always had a nicer house, better clothes and more expensive toys.  My mother would regularly buy a lottery ticket and promise me that when she won, we would all be rich and never have to work again.  I always replied to my mother that if she put her dollar in the bank, she would have $1.01 at the end of the year.  It was kind of a joke.  When my mother died, my sisters and I had to cover the additional costs for her funeral.

I was reading a news article about two days ago about the continued recovery of former Arizona Representative Gabby Giffords.  I was struck by a comment that was attributed to her in the article.  She said:

“I wake up every day grateful that I have a second chance at life and a second chance at service.”

When, I read this, I thought there could not be much more I could add to the subject.  Here is a woman who could be bitter and angry.  She could rightfully complain about her physical and mental handicaps.  She could endorse stronger sentences for criminals.  She could lobby for more guns in society.  She could preach for more prisons.  Instead, she continues to pursue a life dedicated to service and to doing the best she can every day of her life to help other human beings.  We all need role models like this to really understand what gratefulness means.

One of my favorite blog readers is my sister Jeanine.  I think she is perhaps my most faithful reader, usually reading and commenting on my blogs each week.  Last week she posted a comment which included the following quote.

“I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” — Etienne de Grellet

She mentioned that one of her friends wrote this in her high school yearbook and she has never forgotten it.  She noted that she has tried to live by this quote in her daily life.  Judging by her friends and what they think of her and the efforts she puts out to help others, I believe my sister is also a person who does what she can to help others and who is also grateful for her life.

Let us pose the question:  What does it take to be grateful?

I would say that the virtue of gratefulness is composed of the following three abilities:

  1. Appreciating what we have. Savoring your life, your food, and your friends.  Like you would savor a tasty dish or appreciate a good song.  Appreciating the good and the bad.  Realizing that the bad makes the good better.

Without pain, there would be no suffering, without suffering we would never learn from our mistakes.  To make it right, pain and suffering is the key to all windows, without it, there is no way of life.” — Angelina Jolie

  1. Living in the present. If we worry too much about the past or think too much about the future, we are never able to just accept what is.  Violence is caused by too much dwelling on what happened yesterday.  Greed is caused by dreaming about what life would be like “if only.”  When we refuse to live our lives one day at a time, we inevitably get lost in a wilderness of whys, what ifs, and maybes.

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”  — Buddha

  1. Service to others. I am not sure that I can ever overcome the lure of fame and fortune and success.  They are constantly in my mind.  Except when I am serving others, particularly those who are less fortunate than I am.  Perhaps the only path to developing the virtue of gratefulness is by seeing the down trodden, oppressed, sick, dying, wounded and poor of the earth.  There is no doubt that seeing the misfortunes of others up close has a salubrious effect on our mental attitudes.  It is hard to feel sorry for yourself when you witness people like Gabby Giffords, Steven Hawking, and Malala Yousafzai and see what they have managed to achieve despite handicaps much more severe than any we might have.

“Too much self-centered attitude, you see, brings, you see, isolation. Result: loneliness, fear, anger. The extreme self-centered attitude is the source of suffering.” — Dalai Lama

I have a little device that I learned in my studies, a long time ago.  It is an algorithm for change. You can use it for changing an organization or for changing your own life.  It goes like this:

  • Awareness precedes choice
  • Choice precedes decision
  • Decision precedes action
  • Action precedes change

If we want to develop the virtue of gratefulness, we must first be aware of what it means to be grateful.  We must be aware of what we should be grateful for.  We must also be aware of our ungratefulness and ask ourselves why we feel this way and where it comes from.  Once we are aware of our feelings in this area, we must continue to maintain this awareness.

Next, we must use our awareness to make a choice.  The choice is simple.  Am I going to be a grateful or ungrateful person?  Am I going to see life as full of opportunities and a place of unlimited possibilities or am I going to see life as a living hell on earth?  The choice is always ours.  The choice to be grateful means that we must make a decision.   To live gratefully or ungratefully.

If we accept the decision to live gratefully, then we must take action on this decision.  We must express gratitude whenever possible.  But more than just words, we also need to help others who are not as fortunate as we are.  Regardless of how unfortunate you feel you are there are always people who are less fortunate.  Start looking for these people and ask yourself “How can I help them.”

The final step in the process will occur if you follow the above heuristic. You will find that there are more and more things in your life to be grateful for.  You will start enjoying life more than you ever thought possible. You will become grateful for the little things in your life and stop waiting for the big things.  You will become a person who appreciates every day that is given to you on earth.  Each day will become the best day of your life.  Don’t trust me!  Try it and see.  Age, death, diseases will still be difficult but you will find that gratitude can replace the sorrows of life with an outlook that can find joy in even the most difficult of times.

Time for Questions:

What are you grateful for?  What are you ungrateful for in your life?  How do you cope with the inevitable blitz of commercials telling you how inferior you are?  What do you do to help other people who are less fortunate than you are?

Life is just beginning.

“We are told that people stay in love because of chemistry, or because they remain intrigued with each other, because of many kindnesses, because of luck.  But part of it has got to be forgiveness and gratefulness. ”  — Ellen Goodman



The Seven Greatest and Most Important Virtues for Humanity

christian_virtueI thought I would start the year of 2016 off with a positive slant.  Namely, some things we can all do or practice to be better people.  However, before anyone should pay any attention to what I am about to say, there are several questions they must ask themselves.  I would advise you that the veracity and hence credibility of an author is critical to your acceptance of what the author is trying to sell you or convince you of.  Do not buy an argument from someone who cannot be trusted.  Think about the comment that “If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him.”  An uncritical acceptance of any idea is dangerous to your own integrity and responsibility.  Hence, the questions I would want answered (If I were you) would be as follows:  Who is this writer to say what the “greatest” virtues for a human are?  How did he come up with these Seven Virtues?  What is the difference between a virtue and a value?  Is this an important difference or is he about to sell me another new religion?

Taking each question as noted, who am I?  What credibility do I bring to the subject? 

The-Virtue-ContinuumI would like to answer that I am a seeker of truth and knowledge.  I am very opinionated, often highly judgmental and have frequently been accused of being a “know it all.”  Many people would write my opinions off as being too liberal while others would say that I am too rationale.  I place great value on being logical and trying to stay open to many possibilities.  I have been studying philosophy and religion since I was eighteen.  I have no degrees in either.  But the number of books and stories I have read number in the hundreds.  I have attended many different worship houses and types of religious services.  I was brought up as a Catholic until I rejected its teachings at about the age of 10.  When no one would give me a good answer for “Who made God?” I more or less decided that most religions were based on superstitions.

I continue to read and study and write in the hope and belief that continuous learning is critical to living a good life.  As Socrates noted “An unexamined life is not worth living.”  I want to examine all aspects of existence.  From good to evil, from logical to emotional, from predictable to unpredictable, I want to understand and comprehend all of the mysteries of the universe.  Nevertheless, I am not trying to be omnipotent nor do I think that anyone can or will ever understand all that the universe holds.  The quest is the thing, but the results of the journey are very important.  My goal is to dream the impossible dream.  I am dedicated to the idea that truth and knowledge will bring me closer to being able to live this “impossible” dream.  As the song notes:

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star (From Man of La Mancha (1972) music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion)

How did I derive these Seven Virtues?

In all honesty, seven is a good number for any set of factors since most humans can only remember between five to nine random numbers. Seven is the mean for a large proportion of the human race in terms of memory capacity.  Hence, we see many cultures have used seven as a sort of magic number for deriving sets of values, ideas, virtues, and even mundane things like phone numbers and license plate numbers.

virtues_listGiven that one could easily comprise a list of ten or perhaps one hundred important virtues, why do I believe that my seven are the seven greatest and most important?  I was sitting under an apple tree one day, or perhaps simply thinking about life at one of my yearly silent retreats at the Demontreville Retreat Center, when I compiled a list of seven values that I wanted to live by.  Each day for the last ten years, I have selected one of these seven values to help guide me through the day.  Whether it is patience, kindness or courage, each day I start by reflecting on this value and trying a little more to make it a part of my life.  Recently, I have changed my concept from value to virtues.  While I truly value these ideas, I have begun to understand them now more as virtues than values.  I will address this issue more later.

How does my list compare to other lists?  One of the most famous lists of seven virtues is the Catholic Hierarchy of Virtues.  The top three in the Catholic Hierarchy are Faith, Hope and Love.  Of these, my list includes Faith and Love, though I use the term compassion rather than love. The next four in the Catholic Hierarchy are justice, wisdom, moderation and courage.  My list includes courage but not wisdom, justice or moderation.  This is not to say that I do not think these are important, but my list is based on feelings more than knowledge.  This is somewhat ironic since I believe that knowledge and wisdom are two of the keys to understanding life.  However, like the adage goes “What wisdom is there that is greater than kindness?”  Comparing my list to the Catholic list, I realize that I am emphasizing feelings over thinking.  I am emphasizing the heart over the brain and love over logic.  Thus, my list of seven virtues includes the following:

  • Gratefulness
  • Forgiveness
  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Faith,
  • Compassion
  • Courage

Over the next few months, I will present each of these as virtues and explain why they are important and how we can go about integrating them in our lives. I believe we will all live better lives if we are living a life based on virtue.

What is the difference between a Virtue and a Value?  Is it important?

I would like to include the following excerpt from an article by Iain T. Benson called “Values and Virtues:  A Modern Confusion.”

“Now George Grant, the Canadian philosopher, whom I mentioned a while ago, made this point in an important comment on a CBC radio program a few years ago.  Here is what he said, “values language is an obscuring language for morality, used when the idea of purpose has been destroyed. And that is why it is so widespread in North America.” In North America, we no longer have any confidence that there are any shared purposes for human life. We don’t. It is that dramatic. Consequently, we cannot order any human action towards an end, because all means are related to ends.” 

Looking at the Oxford Dictionaries definitions of these two terms will also shed some light on the differences.

  • Virtue is defined as follows:
  1. Behavior showing high moral standards: paragons of virtue
  2. Quality considered morally good or desirable in a person: patience is a virtue
  3. A good or useful quality of a thing: Mike was extolling the virtues of the car
  • Value is defined as follows:
  1. The regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something: your support is of great value
  2. The material or monetary worth of something: prints seldom rise in value equipment is included up to a total value of $500
  3. The worth of something compared to the price paid or asked for it: at $12.50 the book is a good value

I think it is easy to see from these definitions that a value is generally something we attach to a product or service.  A virtue is more often attached to a behavior or character trait.  We value things, while we practice virtues.  A man or woman may be virtuous but we would not say they are “valuous”, in fact the word does not even exist.  We might say they were valuable, but then we would probably not be talking about their character but addressing their instrumental worth to us.  Therefore, I have labeled these critical seven behaviors as virtues.

-The-12-Lakota-Virtues-native-pride-33907515-700-630The danger in this discussion lies in your taking a sectarian or religious approach to my writings.  I assure you that I am not a religious person.  I may be a spiritual person but I do not think of myself in either of these categories.  I am an agnostic who wants to live a better life and help make a contribution to make the world a better place to live for future generations.  Living by these seven virtues is one way I believe I can contribute to this goal.  My Vision for my life is “To live a healthy useful and wise life.”  My Mission is “To live one day at a time.  To be the best person I can be each day and to do the best I can each day to do good for the world.”   I hope I sometimes achieve at least some of these goals.

virtue is doing itIf I have satisfactorily answered the questions that I posed above respecting my integrity and credibility, I will now set off to address each of my Seven Virtues and explain why they are so important and the difference I think they can make in our lives.  Look for my virtues over the next few months in my blogs.  I often get sidetracked and will probably not do one each week but I will complete all seven.

Time for Questions:

What do you think of my list of seven?  What would you change?  Do you have your own list that you live by?  Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

Just as treasures are uncovered from the earth, so virtue appears from good deeds, and wisdom appears from a pure and peaceful mind. To walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue.  — Buddha



Happy New Year:  Welcome to 2016  The Best Year in the History of the Human Race!

New-Years-ResolutionsToday is the day when we make new resolutions and promises galore.  A time to begin over and to make dreams and wishes come true that did not work out the year before.  We bring in the New Year as a new born baby, full of promise and youth.  Some skeptics might look at the trail of broken commitments from bygone years and laugh at the efforts of others.  Such cynics ignore the profound possibility of hope and change.   (Listen to the Hope Song by Lata, it will inspire you more than my words ever could)

True wisdom is less presuming than folly. The wise man doubteth often, and changeth his mind; the fool is obstinate, and doubteth not; he knoweth all things but his own ignorance.”   — Akhenaton

your-dream-doesnt-have-an-expiraiton-date-take-a-deep-breath-and-try-again-kt-witten-inspirational-quote-julie-flyagre-narcolepsy-bloggerYes, there is injustice and inhumanity in the world.  Yes, there is poverty and disease.  Yes, there are natural disasters and misery.  But there is also happiness and love.  There is compassion and charity.  There is a world of people who are trying to create a better world and are willing to put their lives on the line to do it.  Wherever we look there are heroes and heroines who will sacrifice themselves in an effort to create a world full of joy and love.

Let our New Year’s resolution be this: we will be there for one another as fellow members of humanity, in the finest sense of the word.Goran Persson

sisyphus1Yes, I do not doubt it for one second.  We will be better this year than we were last year.  We will continue to grow and change.  We will continue to overcome the folly of yesterday and of our past lives.  We will overcome the mistakes we have made and do better this year than last year.  Hope, they say, springs eternal in the human breast and what would we be without it?  We need to try again and when we fail, try again.  The only failure is when we stop trying.  So disregard the naysayers, go ahead and make some new goals and new dreams.  Make some New Year resolutions.  Stretch your vision and your horizons.  People do not perish because of their dreams; they perish because of a lack of dreams.

Make New Year’s goals.  Dig within, and discover what you would like to have happen in your life this year. This helps you do your part.  It is an affirmation that you’re interested in fully living life in the year to come.  — Melody Beattie

ReachingOurGoals042610Time for Questions:

Only one question today, “What are you going to do this year to make the world a better place.”

Life is just beginning.

There is no going back.  Let the past go.  It is time to start fresh.

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