What do you do for recreation?

Aging Capriciously

Recreation time is something we learn to value as little children. It is that time when we can “re”-create; meaning we can go out to play and have fun. Every culture in the world knows the meaning of recreation time. Doctors and scientists tell us how important it is for adults as well as children to have recreation time. It is an essential time for growth and development. We actually re-create ourselves. How do we do this? By using recreation time to pursue other interests, by being less goal oriented and by exploring things that have no immediate payoff. Recreation is doing things just for the fun of doing them without expectation of gain or reward.

As the world becomes more global and more competitive, perhaps we all need more recreation time both at work and at home. The fifteen minute break time you get at work is not the…

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Courage: The Seventh Most Important Virtue for a Good Life

Courage is number seven of my seven essential virtues for leading a happy and successful life.  Every Sunday I start my day with the following prayer:

  • Give me the ability and courage to make a difference today, no matter how small.

 I have been thinking about courage now for quite some time.  One of my favorite quotes is as follows:

“The test of courage comes when we are in the minority. The test of tolerance comes when we are in the majority.” — Ralph W. Sockman

Courage has been one of the most salient virtues in my life.  I think about it often.  I am afraid to be a coward but wonder if I am brave.  Is it courage to do things because you are afraid of how you will think about yourself if you do not?  I have tried to test myself often to prevent feeling like a coward.  Caesar said “Cowards die many times before their deaths, but heroes only die once.”  Perhaps, it was Shakespeare who really said this, but the point remains the same.  My father hated cowards and more than once chastised me for being afraid of something.  I can think of too many times in my life when my father would have been sorely disappointed in me.

When I was young, I always took the side of the underdog.  I would defend anyone against a bully.  I hated bullies with a passion.  I still prefer the underdog.  This might explain to some degree why I care about the poor, the sick and the homeless.  Psychologists would say I was overcompensating to try to win my father’s approval.  It really does not matter to me what they say.  There is something poignant and sad about people who have less or are needier than I am.  There is something despicable about people that only care about themselves and are too ready to say “I did it myself.”  One of my favorite poems is:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
  — John Donne

In thinking about courage, I have found that the subject is more complex than it would appear.  I believe that there are five kinds of courage.  Some of us may be stronger in one while others are stronger in another kind of courage.  I would like to list each kind of courage, give you my definition and then say a little about each one. The five types of courage I have found are:

  • Physical courage
  • Intellectual courage
  • Emotional courage
  • Moral courage
  • Spiritual courage

Physical Courage:

physical courageThis type of courage is the most obvious and perhaps least subtle.  The mountain climber, the motorcycle racer, the football player, the sky diver all display what to some of us would seem to be a reckless disregard for life.  Each of these individuals risk life and limb for either fame, fortune, fun or to achieve some goal.  Often money is the least of their motivations for risking their lives.  These people do things that leave most of us awestruck but also inspired.  We watch their events on TV, in the movies and at live shows.  We never fail to be impressed by the exploits and daring do that such individuals undertake.  Risk is the hallmark of their efforts and we note that many of them pay for their risky behaviors.  Death is an ever present companion for these people.  Somehow though, they rise above the fears that chain the rest of us to the TV and they are out there doing what many of us only do in our dreams.

There is another group though that exhibit raw physical courage and they do it for a different set of reasons.  Soldiers, police officers, emergency medical people and fire fighters all risk their lives on a daily basis.  Most of these individuals do it for altruistic motives.  There is not enough money in the world to convince the rest of us to risk our lives like these people do.  No one can say they only do it for the money, since sadly these occupations are not very well paid.  We pay accountants, Wall Street brokers and MBA’s many times more than we pay the people who risk their lives every day to protect the rest of us.

Intellectual Courage:

Death of Socrates JacquesLouisDavidWhat do you do when someone tells you that your ideas are stupid and that you will never amount to anything?   If you are like most of us, you give up and go on to something else.  The person with intellectual courage though is different from the rest of us.  They don’t give up on their ideas.  They plod forward in the face of distain, insults and criticism.  Many times they are dead and buried before the value of their ideas are recognized.  Darwin, Mendel, Pasteur and Copernicus were all ridiculed and ostracized for many years before their ideas were accepted.  Socrates was executed for his ideas.  Indeed, here is what Socrates said at his trial:

“But some of you will ask, ‘Don’t you regret what you did since now it might mean your death?’ To these I answer, ‘You are mistaken.  A good man should not calculate his chances of living or dying.  He should only ask himself whether he is doing right or wrong—whether his inner self is that of a good man or of an evil one.’  From Plato’s Apology.

Now I ask you, was Socrates a brave and courageous man?  Would you have the conviction to die for your ideas?

Emotional Courage:

moral courageI have a good friend of mine who will not go to funerals.  They make him feel very sad and he tries to avoid such feelings.  No one of us likes to feel sad.  It takes a kind of courage to go to a funeral.  What do you say at a funeral to the friends and relatives of the departed one?  How do you act?  What if you did not know the person very well?  There are many ways to feel embarrassed or like a fish out of water at a funeral.  Easier to stay home then go.  But it takes a certain kind of courage to deal with emotional risk.  Any courage is difficult because of the risk.  Emotional risk entails looking stupid, feeling stupid or having to deal with difficult feelings.  A person with emotional courage confronts these situations with a degree of bravery and élan that escapes many of us.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.  The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”  — Nelson Mandela

emotional courageOne of the greatest fears that many people have is called “stage fright” or fear of public speaking.  Many professional speakers and actors/actresses feel significant stage fright.  Actress Carol Burnett was so nervous that she threw up before many of her performances.  Many of us would never think of getting up on a stage.  I know that people call it stage fright, but it is not really about the stage, it is really about us.  None of us wants to look stupid and particularly not in front of hundreds or people.  It takes emotional courage to deal with life.  All of us have it, but many of us choose not to exercise it.  We simply spend our lives trying to avoid situations that might make us look dumb or embarrass ourselves.  The people with emotional courage deal with these situations and take the risk that the rest of us hide from.

Moral Courage:

malalaThe world is full of examples of moral courage.  However, to my way of thinking, the amount of moral cowardice far outweighs the shining examples of moral courage.  The number of Kings, Gandhis, Mandelas. Parks, Kellers and Kyis are dwarfed by the number of moral cowards who turn the quote I noted above around.  These are the people who when in the majority would tyrannize the minorities.  They are the moral cowards who use their positions to foster hatred and bigotry and intolerance towards the disadvantaged and weak.  They prey on the sick and quote-moral-courage-is-a-more-rare-commodity-than-bravery-in-battle-or-great-intelligence-robert-kennedy-345839hungry and would deny benefits or help to anyone who is not a member of their club or affiliation.  They go through life pretending to be good people and deluding themselves that they are.

Conversely, we have those cowards who when in the minority are afraid to risk.  They are afraid to speak out when they are surrounded by racists and bigots.  They are afraid of what their friends and neighbors might think if they stand up for their beliefs.  So they say and do nothing.  They find it easy to ignore the admonition that:

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.”  — Edmund Burke

This group of moral cowards also includes the pious so-called Christians who feel that all they need to do to guarantee their ascent into heaven is to spout religious slogans from the bible. They conveniently forget what Jesus himself did and what the apostle James noted:

“So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” — James 2:17

Jesus said:

“So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.” — Matthew 7:21

I understand both of these passages to mean that a good person must do good deeds.  It is not enough to have good thoughts or to say “I believe, I believe.”  You must also be able to say “I do good.”  “I do good.”  And what good do you do?  Do you stand up for those who are being persecuted or do you join in their persecution?  Moral courage is standing up for your beliefs.  It is standing up for other people.  It is not just thinking about “What would Jesus do.”  It is doing what Jesus would do.  Jesus would not be silent in the face of persecution of others.

Spiritual Courage:

In my mind, spiritual is the ability to face the uncertainly of life and to greet each day with a sense of awe and hope that the world I can be a better person and that I can help make the world a better place.  If we look at the word spirit, we can find the following definition:

“The inner character of a person, thought of as different from the material person we can see and touch.”  — Cambridge Dictionary

The world greets us each day with new possibilities.  Many of these possibilities entail risk.  Risk of dying in a car accident.  Risk of dying in a shooting.  Risk of being raped.  Risk of losing a loved one.  Risk of disease.  Risk of unhappiness.  The list of risks we face each day is endless.  We are sensitized to these risks by the onslaught of news and media that bombards us minute by minute and second by second with ghastly deeds that journalists love to print.

Fear is ever present in our society today and is it any wonder?  The media exalt in horror stories that should have most of us seeking sanctuary in a deep dark cave.  We long to be  hidden from the persecution that seems to engulf our daily lives.  Catholics fighting Protestants.  Jews fighting Muslims.  Shia fighting Sunnis.  Tea Party people hating liberals.  Blacks and Whites inflicting insults and defamations on each other.  Women and children subjected to abuse every second of the day.  Wars raging in one country or another.  The wealthy despising the poor and the poor envying the wealthy.  Life is portrayed as nothing but an unmitigated disaster waiting for a tragedy to befall us or so these stories would seem to have us believe.  The news becomes simply a drug whose side effects are to convince each of us to drop out of life and to give up on the world.

“During my 2009 service as an Air Force chaplain in Iraq, I saw countless examples of heroism.  However, the most spiritually heroic act I witnessed was the prayer of a soldier who asked God to forgive the insurgents who had killed his battle buddy.”

Hero’s Highway: A Chaplain’s Journey Toward Forgiveness Inside a Combat Hospital

I wonder that anyone has the courage to get out of bed each day.  It is astonishing to me that any of us has the desire to do good for the world or to make a difference.  It hardly seems possible to roll back the evil and injustices that pour forth each day from every corner of the globe.  So why bother?  One atrocity surpasses and begets the next atrocity.

courageroarNevertheless, in the face of all this iniquity, the majority of humankind has a spiritual courage that defies logic.  The majority of people want to do good for the world. The majority of people are good and most people try to leave the world a better place then they found it.  This is truly an amazing observation.  More people are spiritual heroes than not.  Every day anyone who has the courage and strength to get out of bed and to start a new day is someone who shows a sense of spiritual courage.  It would be easier to hide and to do nothing then to face the daily rigors of life on our planet.  Yet, that is what the majority of people do each day.  They get out of bed.  They go to work.  They volunteer.  They innovate and create.  They campaign for their ideals.  They build.  They love.  They pay taxes.  They die.  And the cycle starts all over again for the next generation.

“I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.” — Helen Keller

Time for Questions:

What kinds of courage do you have?  What kind of courage do you wish you had more of?  Why?  What could you do to find more courage in your life? Do you think it would make a difference?  Why?

Life is just beginning.

“One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential.  Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency.  We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.” — Maya Angelou

 

 

 

 

Compassion:  The Sixth Most Important Virtue for a Good Life

Compassion is number six of my seven essential virtues for leading a happy and successful life.  Every Saturday I start my day with the following prayer:

  • Help me to be strong and kind in the face of adversity, attacks or injustice perceived and help me to always be Compassionate in dealing with others.

what is compassionCompassion is the most important of the seven virtues.  Compassion is just one stroke short of love.  Compassion leads to love but it takes some doing to get there.  The journey involves a number of steps each predicated on a trait or behavior that is uniquely human.  In this blog, I want to describe the journey to compassion and beyond to love.   Each step of the journey is a commitment to humanity.  If you do not care about others, you will not be interested in the journey.  Compassion is the opposite of narcissism.   A narcissist loves them-self.  A person with compassion loves others.  With a narcissist, it is “all about me.”  With a compassionate person, it is “all about them.”

5aHomeless-Corbis_435_290The journey starts with sympathy.  We think of sympathy as “feeling sorry for someone.”  It is the ability to have feelings for another person.  We see another person who looks hungry or unhappy or ill and we feel some sense of remorse or regret for the other person.  We might be distressed for them or we might simply be glad that we are not in their shoes.  A part of us hurts or aches for the other person, but we do not identify with them on a deeper level.  Our sorrow goes no further than to perhaps wonder what had befallen them to bring such misery.

“Sympathy is feeling bad for someone else because of something that has happened to them.”

compassion two childrenOur next step in our journey to compassion takes understanding.  We need to try to understand others and to put ourselves in their shoes.  We must avoid separation and thinking that we are so different from others.  We must avoid judging others.  When you couple understanding with sympathy, you have taken the next step.  You have now arrived at empathy.  To have empathy for others, is to combine sympathy and understanding.  You are sorry for those who are less well-off then you are, but you do not separate yourself from them and instead you seek to find the common ground that links you to the other person.  Sympathy involves the heart.  Empathy involves both the heart and the mind.

“I always think that if you look at anyone in detail, you will have empathy for them because you recognize them as a human being, no matter what they’ve done.” — Andrea Arnold

By the way, not everyone thinks empathy is a good thing.  Paul Bloom, psychologist and Yale professor, argues that empathy is a bad thing—that it makes the world worse. While we’ve been taught that putting yourself in another’s shoes cultivates compassion he says it actually blinds you to the long-term consequences of your actions.  He blames empathy for war and many other social injustices.  You can see his argument for his case against empathy at:  “Against Empathy.”   This is a short 3 minute video where Bloom makes his case.  I personally think his case is fraught with logical fallacies and unproven assumptions.  However, I suppose the fact that he is a Yale professor will sway many people.   

we must actThe next step in our journey is action.  All of the empathy in the world will not make a difference if we do not take action.  Empathy + Action = Compassion.  Compassion is the way we make a difference to others.  Jesus said “Feed my sheep.”  He did not say to just take pity on them or to simply have empathy for them.  Empathy by itself does not clothe the poor, feed the hungry or help the weak.  We must make action and doing a part of our empathy for others.  This is true compassion.

africanamericanwomenAs I said before, compassion is the opposite of narcissism.  Compassion is about what you can do and will do and are doing for others.  There are many stories of compassion.  Hollywood, novelists, ministers and pastors of all stripes will tell us story after story of compassion.  We hear these stories and are touched.  We sympathize and empathize with the victims in these stories.  But are we moved to take action?  Unless we take action to help others, we can never get to true compassion or love.  But love goes beyond compassion.  Love entails pro-active measures to care for others.

Compassion + Pro-Action = Love

Compassion can involve two types of action.  It can entail reaction or pro-action.  Compassion that is reactive takes place when you see a need and do something about it.  However, there is still a final step in the journey.  Love is our ultimate destination. When you love others, you do not wait to be asked or wait until the need is apparent.  When you love, you are pro-active.  You reach out before you are asked.  You seek for those that need help and you do not simply wait for them to arrive or show up on your door step.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” — John 15:13

I can recall a situation where I once had a friend in need.  I called Mike up and asked him if there was anything I could do for him and he said “No, he was ok.”  A thought I was doing a very fine thing by being pro-active and asking if Mike needed any help.  A short time late, I found that another friend (Bob) had gone over and actually rendered some assistance to Mike.  I asked Bob how this came about as I noted that I had called Mike and he said he did not need any help.  Bob replied: “Yeah, he told me the same thing, but I did not believe him.  Mike will never ask for help.”

acts of loveBob’s actions made a great impact on me, since I had seldom gone further in my life than either waiting to be asked for help or sometimes asking others if they needed help.  It would never have occurred to me to just show up and help.  Perhaps, you might think as I had that simply showing up and helping someone is going too far.  However, think about yourself.  Would you really ask others for help?  I know I probably would not.  Pitching in to help when not asked may not always be warranted but I now see it as something worth endeavoring to do more often than not.

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”  — Ralph Waldo Emerson

I did not include love as one of my several greatest virtues.  This was no accident.  Many writers have described love much more adequately than I have.  The Greeks over two thousand years ago described four types of love.  Love has been the subject of more novels, poems and songs than there are stars in the sky.  We are constantly bombarded by the use of the word love.  How many times have you been told “I love you” by some relative or perhaps friend who seldom goes any further than their admission of love for you?

I am skeptical of love for two reasons.  First, I am still not sure I know what it is.  Second, I hear the word used so often that I doubt anyone else really knows what it is either.  If everyone in our world who was professing love really loved, I cannot believe we would have the wars and violence and cruelty that we see every day on the TV and in the papers.  I think “true love” probably exists but I do think it is practical for my daily journey through life.  It is one of those things that like happiness we probably do not seek but it finds us.

free sandwiches for the homelessI think compassion is a much more useful and practical virtue for my life.  I can deal with compassion and I can be more compassionate if I really aspire to.  I am not sure I can be more loving.  I have a hard time “loving” others whom I dislike or who do unkind things to people I do like.  I more often “love” others who think and act like I do.  I may be taking the easy way out, but if I can be more compassionate to others and if someday I am thought of as a compassionate person, this will be enough for me.  If you are further along in your journey through life, then you should consider including love as one of your “most” important virtues.  No one will be a worse person for it.  For me today, compassion for others is enough of an effort.

Time for Questions:

 Are you a compassionate person?  Do you have compassion for strangers as well as friends and relatives?  Can you be compassionate towards people of different ethnicity, philosophies, religions and political ideologies?  What makes you a compassionate person?

Life is just beginning.

“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you.  If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”  ― Barack Obama

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faith:  The Fifth Most Important Virtue for a Good Life

Faith-of-a-childFaith is number five of my seven essential virtues for leading a happy and successful life.  Every Friday I start my day with the following prayer:

  • “Help me to be as well as to do and to have Faith in the future by living today the best that I can.”

 Please listen to Pete Seeger’s rendition of:  “You Gotta Walk That Lonesome Valley” for a musical version of what Faith is really about.  Read the comments about Pete Seeger.  He was a prime example of a man that had Faith. 

Faith is the first of the three major theological virtues.  As I thought about preparing this blog, I asked myself the question, “What is the difference between Faith and Trust?”  Or perhaps there is no difference?  I wondered if one has to be religious or have a religious affiliation to have Faith.  Most people think of Faith in terms of a belief in God or some other deity.

faithI decided that I must first understand what Faith really means.  To do this, it is helpful to deconstruct how we think about Faith and how we use the word.   I thought about how we use both Trust and Faith in common language.  For instance we use trust in English as follows:

  • Trust me!
  • Do you trust yourself?
  • Have a little trust in me.

Now if you try substituting the word Faith for Trust, it is obvious that in the first two instances, it just does not fit:

  • Faith me!
  • Do you Faith yourself?
  • Have a little Faith in me.

You will notice that in the third instance, you can substitute the word Faith for the word trust.  A grammarian would quickly note that the word Trust can be used either as a noun or a verb whereas the word Faith is primarily a noun and cannot usually be used as a verb.

It might be interesting to compare dictionary definitions of Faith and trust.

Faith: http://www.merriam-webster.com

  • Strong belief or trust in someone or something
  • Belief in the existence of God : strong religious feelings or beliefs
  • A system of religious beliefs

Trust:  http://www.merriam-webster.com

  • Assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something
  • Dependence on something future or contingent :  hope
  • Reliance on future payment for property (as merchandise) delivered : credit <bought furniture on trust

mountain climbingI think you can readily see that there is a certain degree of overlap between the two concepts. However, Faith generally seems to convey a more sectarian or theological concept of belief whereas Trust is generally used in more secular terms.  Thus, we don’t “trust” God but we have Faith in her.  Faith seems to be a term that is not contingent upon any kind of physical or logical proof.  We might not trust a person with our money without proof that they are “bonded” or trustworthy, but we would not expect such displays of material evidence when it comes to having Faith in God.  So what is the relevance to this in our lives?  What good is Faith if we can substitute trust for faith and have more security in the long run?

He replied, “Because you have so little Faith. Truly I tell you, if you have Faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” — Matthew 17:20

childThe answer seems to be (IMHO) that sometimes we can trust without evidence but generally we are better off trusting with some element of surety that can mitigate the risk of our trust being unfounded or mistaken.  Whereas, there is little or no evidence that can prove your need or desire to have Faith.  You must have Faith like a parent has love for a child.  It is unconditional.  You have Faith simply because you want to believe.  You have Faith because you accept something without conditions.  You need no proof or evidence to support your Faith.  Is this a good thing or a bad thing?   Should you have Faith without proof?  What would a life without Faith be like?  Would we be safer or happier with less Faith?

“On a long journey of human life, Faith is the best of companions; it is the best refreshment on the journey; and it is the greatest property.”  — Buddha

Buddha thought that Faith is a companion that we cannot ignore on our journey through life.   There is a story about Mother Teresa that when she was visiting Iowa many years ago and was being interviewed by a somewhat cynical journalist; she was asked if she really thought she was making a difference to the poor in India.  Her reported reply was “I am not called upon to make a difference.  I am called upon to have Faith.”  If that sounds somewhat evasive, consider the following professionals who toil diligently and with great dedication:

  • Teachersblack couple
  • Doctors
  • Psychologists
  • Writers
  • Philanthropists
  • Artists

There are no doubt dozens of other professionals who toil in areas that are not readily amenable to evidence that they are “making a difference.”  As an educator and consultant, I can readily attest to the fact that seldom if ever is there “evidence” or concrete proof that my actions and thoughts have made a difference on my students or clients.  Most of us work on day after day, motivated by one force and one force only.  That force is the power of Faith.

You must not lose Faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” — Mahatma Gandhi

Each time I write a blog, I write with the hope that something I say will help someone have a better day or lead a better life.  I have now written over 800 blogs and I have received about two dozen or so letters or emails telling me how much they appreciate my writing or how much it has helped them.  The percentage of letters received is about 3.4 percent of the blogs I have written and whose readers have been moved to write to me or drop me a comment.  And that is fine.  People are busy and many times the thought of writing to a writer is something that readers never think of.

big-challengesFortunately, the 3.4 percent of respondents have been more than enough to help me keep my Faith.  (Should I really need such sustenance if I have Faith?) Yes, I have Faith that my writing is making a difference to the world but alas, I have no proof for the empiricists, the materialists or the skeptics.  I have to ask you as well as myself to believe that I am.  It is Faith that keeps me motivated.  Without Faith, life would appear to be a futile waste of time.  Faith helps us to carry on when everything and everyone is saying to quit.  The woman in the life raft, the athlete with a severe injury, the parents with a disabled child, the poor fighting hunger, the righteous fighting injustice are all sustained by the power of Faith.

19176-Have-FaithFaith can believe everything
That we say.
Belief can increase the strength
Of Faith.
Belief is pure,
Faith is sure.
Belief looks around
To see the truth.
Faith looks within
Not only to feel the truth
But also to become the truth
.  —- Sri Chinmoy

Time for Questions:

What do you have Faith in?  What helps you to maintain your Faith?  Where would you like to have more Faith?  Do you think we have too much or too little Faith in the world?

Life is just beginning.

“Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” —- Saint Augustine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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