The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life: Peace

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“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful.” — John 14:27

Peace is perhaps the second most spoken word in the English language as well as the second most misunderstood. 

546ad58cbe260aa3bb2946b2a7c566acA Rabbi, Iman, Pastor and Buddhist Priest were all discussing the issue of peace in the world and in particular peace in the Mideast.  The Rabbi said there could only be peace in the Mideast if all the Muslims left.  The Iman said that there could only be peace if all the Jews left.  The Pastor jumped into the argument and said there would only be peace if all the non-Christians left.  The Buddhist cleared his throat to interrupt the argument and said, “There will never be peace anywhere as long as there are Muslims, Jews, Protestants, Catholics and even Buddhists in the world.” 

Peace is the nexus that links politicians and religious leaders.  Peace drips from the lips of religious leaders and politicians so often that I would be a billionaire if I had a quarter for each time one of them uttered the word peace.  There is a symbiotic relationship between religious leaders and politicians.  We have hundreds of years of racism, greed, sexism, discrimination, and militarism pursued by political leaders and blessed by religious leaders all over the world.  Politicians need religious leaders to sanction their immoral behaviors.  Religious leaders need politicians to foster behaviors that are not endorsed in their official religious teachings.

We have a world that needs peace.  Peace is to the soul as food is to the body.  Peace sustains us spiritually and mentally.  When we think of peace, we think of such phrases as “Peace in the valley.”  “A life of inner peace.”  “Go in peace.”  “Let there be peace between our people.”  “It was a peaceful day.”  “Peace begins with a smile.”  Racism, sexism, greed, discrimination, and militarism all destroy peace.

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Happiness and joy are two of the sought-after states in the world, but neither state can exist without a foundation of peace.  Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God,”: Matthew 5:9.  You would think that those who say they are called to be Priests, Ministers and Pastors in the Christian religion would understand that Jesus expected them to be peacemakers.  Sadly, that seldom seems to be the case.  It is even sadder that the idea of peace is blasphemed by these same people whose vocation is to foster peace.  The concepts of spirituality and peace go hand in hand.  One cannot be a spiritual person and sanction the wanton and needless destruction of life.  Peace is meaningless if it is just a word.  If we really want peace it must be a way of life for all of us.  You cannot preach peace in the pulpit on Sunday and then support racism, sexism, discrimination, greed, and militarism the rest of the week.     

Mens-Peace-guins-Long-Sleeve-Crusher-Tee_70962_1_lgThe peaceful person does not use violence against others.  The peaceful person is a diplomat who solves problems with his/her brain and not with tools of aggression.  The peaceful person is confident because they have integrity.  The peaceful person has serenity because they have no fear.  Fear is the enemy of peace.  When the world is on red-alert, people live in fear.   People become fearful of others and fearful of living.  Racism, sexism, discrimination, greed, and militarism create fear.  With fear, no one can be at peace. 

We can only appreciate peace if we are carriers and messengers of peace.  The person who endorses violence, abuse or discrimination against others can never be at peace because they have no peace in their heart.  Such people live on violence and thrive on aggression.  They reap what they sow.  By sowing death and destruction, they ensure that they will never know peace. 

51qBtOmrIgL._SS500_We should all be grateful for peace.  This means we need to appreciate peace and understand that it cannot be taken for granted.  Peace is up to us to create.  It is too important to leave to religious leaders and politicians.  If we want peace in our lives and peace in the world, we must create it.  There can never be peace for anyone if there is not peace for everyone. 

Think about peace today.  Do you live in a land of peace?  When you get up or go to bed today, do you feel peaceful?  Are you at ease with life or are you anxious, nervous, and fearful?  Do you appreciate what or how peace in your life would feel?  What would it take for your life to be more peaceful?  Do you think the world deserves peace?  If peace is everyone’s responsibility, what will you do to sow peace today? 

Peace starts with living peacefully. 

Mark Twain wrote a short story called the War Prayer.  It has been made into a ten minute video.  It is very moving and something everyone should see.  The link is below:

The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life:  Physical Health and Fitness

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There is a lot to be appreciative for in this category.  Sadly, too many people ignore or take these elements of life for granted.  Many people confuse good health with the health that they are born with.  Nature gives us a health plan when we are born.  Some of us get a better plan than others.  Fortunately, happiness and success are not totally dependent on the plan we are born with.  There is a large category of mental health which I am not going to talk about.  It is important to recognize though that mental health and physical health while no doubt correlate to some degree are not perfectly correlated.  There are many instances of people with major disabilities who are quite happy and quite successful.  The element of mental health and mental fitness are essential to overall happiness regardless of your physical conditioning.

Physical fitness or PHY ED classes are remembered by most former students as either something they tolerated or something they hated when they are were in high school.  The lessons if any that they learned in GYM classes were promptly forgotten when they left high school.  Those that excelled in sports and loved the extracurricular sports confuse sports with fitness.  I have met many former athletes who played football, soccer, baseball, or basketball and thought that was enough to be fit.

There is a great deal more to being fit than simply exercising or playing sports.  If you look at the people around you today, you will see a nation of unfit people.  Years ago, the obese person in your high school was a minority.  Today, they are a majority.  Walk down most any street in America and you will see a nation of fat and overweight people.

When I taught college, I would see entering freshmen coming in many of whom would have met health guidelines for weight.  Four years later, these same students had joined the ranks of obese Americans.  All too many had no fitness plan.  High school never gave them a fitness plan and neither did college.

But I want this blog to be about appreciation and not about how to do a health program.  If you need a fitness plan, you can search my blogs and find a great deal of information about starting such a plan.  Today, lets look at the fun and value in each of the six major elements of physical health.

I have put together a model based on my experience that includes six elements I think are essential to overall physical fitness.  These include:  Stamina, Strength, Balance, Flexibility, Nutrition and Weight Control.  Each of these elements are interdependent with the other five elements but each are unique in many ways.  I think there is great joy and fun in all six of them and I want to share some of my appreciation of each with you.  Let’s start with stamina.

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Stamina

Instead of talking about Cardio or Cardiovascular activities, I chose to call this group Stamina.  Stamina activities build endurance and also build a strong heart and vascular system.  People can be overweight and still have good stamina.  I was in a bike race and I looked over my competition.  It was my first race, and I selected a few guys with muscles on their legs that looked like basketballs.  I was sure one of them would take first place.  Two hours later, the winner was this skinny kid from the University of Connecticut who looked like he could not punch his way out of a paper bag.

Activities like running, swimming, biking, skiing, roller blading, ice skating, all build stamina.  Experts call them aerobic activities as opposed to anaerobic activities.  I have met many overweight men who see me running and say, “I wish I could run but I blew my knee out playing football in high school.”  I want to say “Bullshit.  There are many other stamina activities that put less stress on the knees, and you could use to get in shape.”  The truth of the matter is that most of these guys would rather sit on the couch and watch football than get out and exercise.  Walking is a great stamina activity, and you can walk with extra knee support and it will improve your conditioning without doing more damage to your knees.

You can and should appreciate the range and variety of stamina activities that have been developed and that are available today.  They offer variety and fun and surely beat sitting on your couch remembering the “good old days.”

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Flexibility

Can you touch your toes?  Can you manage a day without your back aching?  Do you get aches and pains whenever you do any physical activity?  Over the years, I have noticed when going to the gym or involved in some sports that men gravitate towards weights while women gravitate towards flexibility exercises.  Karen and I started doing Yoga about 25 years ago and we do it together about 2 or three times per week.  Most of the Yoga instructors are women.  We use Yoga tapes that are on DVD or now on Amazon Prime.  It is rather sad that many men think flexibility training is something for women and that “real” men lift weights.  The two are not mutually exclusive and in fact, the two are essential.  They have a Yin and Yang relationship.

I can’t say that I ever liked stretching.  After thirty years of doing Yoga, I am still not much more flexible than I was when I was forty.  I would rather lift weights and I can see more progress when I do.  I have been running for nearly 45 years now.  About 25 years ago, I started developing back problems.  Back aches, back pain and back spasms would hit me at the oddest times.  I did not see the relationship between tight hamstrings and low back pain.  I finally made the connection and started doing Yoga.

For the past ten years of so, I have seldom had any back problems.  I can’t do many of the Yoga postures like the instructors.  I often wonder if my muscles could ever be that flexible.  I don’t know the answers to these questions, but both Karen and I will swear that Yoga has helped us over the years to avoid back, hip, knee, and shoulder surgery.  If you look at the list of surgeries, these are epidemic today.  The medical profession makes more money doing surgery than referring people to Yoga classes.

I appreciate Yoga and I am thankful that there are so many great teachers who will put their classes out on Amazon, YouTube, or other media.  Yoga is actually fun if you don’t try to imitate your instructor or compete with your spouse.

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Strength

Lift that bag!  Tote that bale!  Pick up that grandkid!  Strength looks like big muscles to many people.  Everyone wants a six pack abs, bulging biceps and great triceps.  The funny thing is that I have seen many really strong people who don’t fit the stereotype.  There are different types of strength training.  Years ago I would focus on power training to build large muscles and lift large weights.  Now Karen and I use small dumbbells and focus on endurance training by doing higher reps with lower weights.  I don’t need to pick up a 100 lb. bag of cement.  I will leave that to the people that are twenty or thirty years old.  But there are days when I will need to do some yard or garden work and the ability to shovel a ton of dirt, or more is very much appreciated.

20210324_143136Just a few weeks ago, I put a new rock river in our home here.  I had a yard or about 1600 lbs. of river rock loaded into my pickup truck.  I got home with it and used a large Home Depot red bucket to scoop the rock up and put the river rock down.  It took me about two hours of steady work, but I had no aches or pains the next day.  I was quite surprised, and I give credit to one of our strength trainers that we use a lot.  Her name is Cindy, and we purchased her DVD on Amazon.

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Balance

Balance is probably not something that you think about or much appreciate when you are young.  You take your balance for granted.  As you age, balance becomes more salient in your life.  More and more experts are telling elderly people that balance is essential to preventing falls and broken bones.  Karen and I added some balance DVDs to our exercise regimen a few years ago.  I thought at first that these “silly” exercises would be easy.  I run four or five times a week on rugged mountain trails, “What do I need balance exercises for?”  Then the instructor said, “If this is too easy, try doing it with your eyes closed.”  I closed my eyes and fell into my wife.  I still have not been able to do many of these exercises with my eyes closed.

I have noticed that some of our friends have had bad falls resulting in broken bones.  The older you get, the longer it takes for anything to heal.  I have had three falls so far this year since returning to Arizona and running the mountain trails.  I thank both my flexibility training and balance training with preventing any serious injuries when I fell.  The most I have received has been some scrapes and minor bruising.  As the years go by, we will focus more on balance training.  It may look silly, but it is another one of those elements that have improved our lives and that we can be appreciative for.

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Weight Control

Do you like McDonald’s fries, fish sandwiches, or biscuit with sausage, egg, and cheese?  Do you enjoy Olive Garden’s Lasagna?  Do you go to the Golden Corrals’ breakfast buffet or do you prefer the Saturday night fish buffet at your local casino?  Do you expect me to tell you that these are all high fat options and that you should eliminate them from your diet?  Are you waiting for me to tell you that a garden salad full of greens and tomatoes is a much better option?  If so, you will have a long wait.  I love all of the aforementioned.

20210324_150814I now weigh 139 lbs. and am 5’ 7” inches tall.  You might think that my running and exercise is what keeps me thin.  OF course, exercise helps but let me tell you a secret.  If I run for 60 minutes, which is an exceptionally long run for me, I will burn up maybe 600 calories.  A McDonald’s Sausage, Egg and Cheese McGriddle is equal to 550 calories.   A large fries at McDonalds is 490 calories.  I can go through a buffet at Ak-Chin’s Casino and on my third trip to the buffet will easily have eaten enough calories for three runs in the mountains.  I can get an apple fritter at the Circle K after my run, and it will give me back 450 to 600 of the calories that I have just spent an hour or so losing.  I can eat a McDonald’s sandwich in about ten minutes and the apple fritter in less than five.  Here is John’s Law: “You cannot exercise off more calories than you can eat.”

Weight control is essential to good health.  A host of health problems are associated with obesity and being overweight.  We live in a society of food abundance and higher than ever before calories per item in the supermarket.  The supermarket should be called “The fat Market” because of the high calories food you will find there.  A standard box of Pringles holds 900 calories.  If I wash that down with a Modelo beer, I will have just consumed 1100 of my daily allotment of 1800 calories.  You want to know another secret?  In two hours I will be hungry again.  My wife made me a Mexican cheesecake the other day.  Ninety grams for a standard size piece of this cheesecake gives me almost 450 calories but “Oh, is it delicious.”

20210324_131838Weight control is not about good nutrition.  It is about balancing the calories that you get in with the calories that you put out.  You can get 2000 calories of good food or you can get 2000 calories a day of bad food.  You can drink yourself to death by consuming a bottle of alcohol a day.  You can eat fatty foods that will give you high blood pressure and high cholesterol and increase your chances of a heart attack.  Foods that they say are “bad for you” are also foods that we enjoy eating.

I started off by saying that I would not tell you to avoid certain foods.  That is still true.  What I will tell you is that you will enjoy these foods even more if you eat them in moderation.  Rosie Greer the famous football player had to watch his weight.  He loved ice cream sundaes.  He did not give them up, but he would make a mini-ice cream sundae with a fifth of the calories of a full ice-cream sundae.  I often use the “Rosie Greer” strategy in my eating.  Instead of eating a large amount of something, I will dish out a smaller plate and put the rest away and out of temptation.

Scale_Feet_732x549-thumbnailTwo items are excellent for weight control.  One is a health scale.  This is more than just a scale that tells you your weight.  Mine tells me such things as muscle percentage, bone density, body fat and BMI.  I put these down in a log and every few months or so, I add the updated information to my log.  This way I can track how I am doing over time.  You can purchase a good scale for about fifty dollars.

The second essential item is a food scale.  Karen and I keep one on our counter and use it at dinner to weigh out our portions.  It is easy to eat a sixteen-ounce steak.  Instead after weighing it out, we might only eat six ounces and save the rest for a second dinner. Looking at how much we are putting on our plate helps us deal with the number of calories we are putting in.  We lose it when we go for third helpings at the casino, but our casino trips are much less frequent than our dinners at home.  If it were the other way around, I would probably weigh 1000 lbs.  Last Sunday we went to the Angry Crab Shack in Phoenix for lunch.  We had a two hour wait and missed lunch but had dinner.  When I came home, I calculated that my one meal there with two beers, fried oysters and soft-shelled crabs on a po’boy sandwich was over 1700 calories and I took ½ of my sandwich home.  Nevertheless, it tasted mighty good.

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Nutrition

Nutrition and weight control are another balancing act or Yin Yang relationship.  I mentioned above that all things in moderation is a good strategy for eating but good nutrition should also be on your scheme of things.  It is important to eat food that provides a balanced diet with the right amount of fats, carbs, protein, vitamins, and minerals.  It is much easier to do this with fresh foods.  The world is full of “diet” plans and most of them seem designed to sell you some book or program.  There is plenty of good information freely available on what constitutes healthy nutrition.

You do not have to be a nutritionist or doctor to form a plan for good nutrition.  I have heard it said that being poor leads to lower nutrition and higher fat and sugar intakes.  I have also heard it said that a mobile society has no time to prepare healthy foods from scratch.  I do not believe that either of these two constraints cannot be overcome.  Both Karen and I have worked all of our married lives with two full-time jobs and now two part-time jobs.  Both of us are very frugal and look for bargains at the grocery store.  We minimize the number of high-priced cuts of meat or fish that we purchase and do the same with vegetables.  If I can get Mexican squash for ninety-nine cents a pound, I will purchase that over asparagus that sells for 4.99 a bunch.  We will purchase chicken at 1.39 a pound with bone in rather than 3.99 chicken filets.  We will seldom buy frozen pre-cooked foods.

Here are some of my simple principles for good nutrition. 

  • Learn the difference between healthy and unhealthy foods.
  • Look for healthy foods in the grocery store that are bargains.
  • Some grocery stores are more expensive for some things than others, explore your local stores to find the best deals.
  • Measure your portions to your desired weight.
  • Don’t buy “junk” food except in moderation. Think of it as a special treat.
  • Always eat leftovers. Use first in first out to eat leftovers before they spoil.
  • Cook meals that will last a few days in the refrigerator. Such meals as
    • Crock pot pork roast
    • Chicken soup
    • Turkey stew
    • Chili
    • Fried rice
  • Freeze any leftovers before they go bad. Use a marker to put title and date on the container.

I love eating.  It is one of my greatest appreciations of life.  I love eating exotic or interesting foods.  I love trying new restaurants.  Food is more than just a way to live.  Food brings us companionship and adventure.  New places to visit and new tastes to acquire.  Eating a balanced healthy diet should be thought of as a challenge.  Life seldom offers us as many challenges that are as important to living as eating.

“Eating is not merely a material pleasure.  Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship.  It is of great importance to the morale.” — Elsa Schiaparelli

The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life:  Friends and Family

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The famous French philosopher Sartre said that, “Hell is other people.”  What I think he meant to say was that “Friends and family could be hell.”  A number of years ago the mother of a good friend of ours passed away.  The fight between her siblings over who was going to get what was vicious and resulted in a permanent schism between the siblings.  I was commiserating one day with her over our very dysfunctional families.  I noted, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we had normal families?”  My friend replied, “We do have normal families.”  I knew exactly what she meant.  Years earlier when I was attending support group meetings for men who were violent and abusive, we would always hear newcomers say, “My family is so screwed up.  I wish I had:” (Pick one)

  • A more loving mother
  • A non-alcoholic father
  • Parents who did things with us
  • A father who was not a gambler
  • A mother who was not a drug addict
  • A mother or father who was not always gone
  • A mother or father who was not abusive

The more seasoned men in the group would listen to these plaints for awhile but eventually tolerance would run out.  Then you would hear someone say, “If you want a happy family, turn on TV and watch “Leave it to Beaver” or “Father Knows Best.”  The rest of us would sagely nod our heads.  In our milieu, healthy happy families did not exist.

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” ― Leo Tolstoy , Anna Karenina

downloadWell, you are probably thinking, “You can’t always pick your relatives, but you can always pick your friends.”  This is absolutely true, but how many people do you know that have lifelong friends that they can trust and rely on in an emergency?  I could start a long list of friends that I have left behind over the years for one reason or another.  I have ex-friends who became rabid Trump supporters whom I said goodbye to.  I have ex-friends who said goodbye to me, and I never knew why.  I just did not hear from them anymore.  I have other ex-friends who I could no longer relate to for one reason or another.  Friends seem to me to be like annual flowers.  They pop up for a while and then they fade away.  I have five good friends left.  I would have more, but some died early and one committed suicide.

You may be scratching your head now and thinking, “What does this narrative of misery have to do with appreciating our friends and family?”  One answer is that I do not like to sugarcoat things.  Most of life is composed of the good, the bad and the ugly.  I Latino-Family-small-1-850x566have put the bad and the ugly out first so that you would not simply hear a chorus of how wonderful friends and relatives are.  The truth of the matter is that as in most of life, you often have to take the bad with the good.

“The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.” ― Bob Marley

Another point for acknowledging the bad side of things is that it helps us to appreciate the good side.  If things were always great we would never appreciate the bad.  We love the sunny days more after the rainy days.  We enjoy a good movie or a good painting because we know what a bad movie or a bad painting is like.  We develop models in our heads for the good and the bad and they are to some extent a mirror image of each other.  The Yin and Yang of life is a push and a pull.  Happiness, joy, and good health are more appreciated when we have experienced the opposite in our lives.  We appreciate good relatives and good friends more when we acknowledge some of the “mistakes” that life has dealt us.  We rise above life by dealing with the bad, putting it aside and saying prayers of thanks for the good friends and family in our lives.

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Family:

I do not know how many “Leave it to Beaver” families are out there, but I do have many friends who have had loving fathers and mothers.  Their families might not have been perfect, but they learned good values from their parents.  The other night we had two friends (Tom and Nancy) over for dinner.  We started talking about some of our family.  Since we were all over 70, our fathers, mothers and several siblings had all passed away.  We shared some of the good things we missed about these relationships.  Our conversation prompted me to ask, “What are the three most important things you learned from your parents?”  The discussion on what we learned was heart-warming and lasted nearly an hour.

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The answers to my question elicited several traits that we had all absorbed from our parents.  Among the common ones were a value for hard work, education, and honesty.  Tom mentioned that he learned, “You should always finish your work before you play.”  I could hear the same words echoing from my father.  Karen mentioned that she learned the value of frugality from her mom.  Nancy added that she learned caring from her parents.  This was seconded by both Tom and Karen.  I added that I learned to be accepting of other cultures and races.  My father was intolerant of racism and prejudice.  I grew up fighting for the under-dog as a result of what I learned from my parents.

“I sustain myself with the love of family.”   ― Maya Angelou

Good relatives and good families infuse us with good values and good character.  You learn what you live with.  Live with honesty, hard work, and compassion and you will be a person who cares for others and who is unselfish in their efforts to succeed.  Success is more than just one person succeeding, it is an entire world succeeding.  I have always loved the line from John Donne’s poem, “And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.” (No Man is an Island, Meditation XVII, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions)

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Friends:

Aristotle was one of the wisest men who ever lived.  Perhaps he was not as wise as Socrates, but he left us numerous writings which provide a guide for right living.  Aristotle wrote quite a lot about the issue of friendship (See his “Nicomachean Ethics, Books VIII and IX).  He commented that it was good to have many friends.  However, Aristotle had a typology of friendship based on three characteristics.  These characteristics were:  pleasure, utility, and virtue.

e232a636b958e0e88ab2b927e3db8531Friendships based on utility derive some perceived benefits from each other.  Perhaps helping each other with building or fixing things.  Friendships based on pleasure derive fun or shared activities together.  Friends who canoe or ski or golf together.  Friendships based on virtue derive mutual benefit from pursuing shared values and goals.  Friends who work together for a common good.  According to Aristotle, friendships based on pleasure and utility tend to be shorter than friendships based on virtue or goodness because needs and pleasures often change over time.  Our values in life are less transient and more permanent.  Friends who share your same values will be friends for life.

“I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.”  ― Helen Keller

The value of a good friend is immeasurable.  Someone who understands you.  Someone you can trust.  Someone who cares about you and will step up in your hour of need.  Someone who will have your back when you are in a crisis.  Someone who consoles you when you are in grief or mourning.  Someone who cares about your life and wants to share your joys and your pain.  I hope that everyone reading this blog has at least one good friend.  Count your blessings if you have more than that.

downloadI have written about friendship several times in my blogs (See my Friends and Friendship: Part 1 and Part 2).  I have said that Facebook friends should not be counted as true friends.  FB friends are closer to what I call acquaintances.  Facebook can introduce you to possible friends but it will never be able to create real friends.  True friendship is difficult if not impossible to establish on FB or any other social medium.  Friendship is like marriage.  You get out of it what you put into it.  If you look at the high number of divorces today, it may blind you to the almost equal number of marriages that last for decades.  My spouse has some friends since grade school.  I have a few friends going back to high school.  We both share bonds of time and life experiences with these friends.

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”   ― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

In my experience talking to other married couples, the ones that last are the ones that invest time and effort into their relationship.  Good marriages take work.  Good marriages are not taken for granted.  Good friendships also take work.  By work, I mean taking risks to improve your friendship.  The risks can be self-disclosure, honesty, confrontation and saying no.  Good friends are not born, they are made.  And like everything in life, they require effort and maintenance.

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The Beatles had a song and one of the lines was, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”  Hardly a day goes by that I do not think of this line and its relevance for both family and friends.  We are social animals, and we need other people.  We need people to love and people who love us.  Our friends and family are the wellspring for giving and receiving love.   The Covid Pandemic has clearly shown the negative impacts that isolation has on people the world over.  The biggest joy that will come out of defeating the Pandemic will be when we can all freely share time with our loved ones again.

The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life:  Travel and Food

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Yesterday I had an argument with myself.  One of my key values is gratitude.  Years ago, I attended a Demontreville Retreat, and the Retreat Master gave us a sermon.  In the sermon, he told us that Saint Ignatius Loyola believed that ingratitude was the gateway to all sins and misbehaviors.  I thought about this and realized that I am often ungrateful for the joys and benefits that life has given me.  I take things for granted.  I ignore things.  I am simply unappreciative of things.  I compare myself to others and come up ungrateful and angry.  Wondering why or how these people got more than I did.  More money, more talent, more fame, more prestige.

When I started to think about writing this blog, I was confronted with a question.  Are gratitude and appreciation the same thing?  I discovered at a marriage retreat that Karen and I attended that tolerance and respect are not the same thing.  Once, I had thought that my goal in life should be to tolerate others.  I frequently used the quote that “The test of courage comes when we are in the minority and the test of tolerance comes when we are in the majority.”  I thought tolerance was the epitome of human behavior.  I learned at this retreat that respecting others is much different than simply tolerating them.

gratitudeappreciation2Thus, the question arose in my mind about the difference or relationship between appreciation and gratitude.  Perhaps this is like asking how many angels can dance on the head of a needle, but I thought the question deserved some reflection.  Is the relationship between gratitude and appreciation similar to the relationship between tolerance and respect?

After looking up the definition of both words, I have come to the conclusion that gratitude and appreciation are more symbiotic than tolerance and respect.  To have gratitude is to have an appreciation for something.  However, while gratitude is easily defined, the concept of appreciation presents more difficulty.  Websters Online Dictionary defines appreciation as: “Recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something.”  I may be grateful for something and this is a heartfelt or emotional process.  Enjoying the good qualities of someone or something is more of a mental or cognitive process.  What exactly do I appreciate about my spouse?  I say every day that I am grateful for a wife like Karen but why?  What are her good qualities that I appreciate?  How often do I compliment her on these qualities?

In this blog, I am going to talk about appreciating travel and food.  Covid 19 has rendered both of these tasks more difficult.  One of the symptoms of the Covid virus is a loss of smell and taste.  Without smell and taste, you cannot tell the difference between a medium rare steak and roast chicken or between vanilla cheesecake and a chocolate brownie.  Until you lose these abilities, you may never realize how important smell and taste are to your life.  Food is never something to simply sustain life.

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”  ― J.R.R. Tolkien

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”  ― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own.

The Covid virus has also made travel an onerous task.  Countries have closed their borders.  Many nations have instituted mandatory quarantines on travelers arriving in their countries.  Dangers exist in crowded places such as airports and airplanes.  Fools are out there in public insisting on their rights not to wear a mask.  Travel means to be in closed confined spaces with a multitude of people.  All situations which exaggerate the risk of getting the Covid virus.  Furthermore, who wants to come down with a deadly virus in a foreign country 5000 miles from home.  These facts have made travel truly frightful for many formerly adventurous people.

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.” — Saint Augustine

“Well, I’ve done a lot of traveling and, I think over all, travel does broaden one’s soul. If anything at all, that’s probably the most important of what’s happened to me during the past five or six months.  — Malcom X, An Interview with Bernice Bass (December 27, 1964)

Travel and food go arm in arm and hand in hand.  You must eat if you are traveling.  Travel exposes you to mysteries every step of the way.  What will this new land be like?  What will the people be like in this foreign country?  Will they like Americans?  How will I communicate with them?  What do they eat?  Will their food make me sick?  What foods should I avoid?  How will I know what their food tastes like?

Belize Trip-035 (3)If you do not like to try new things, you should not travel.  One of my mottos is “I have never met a food I did not like.”  Karen and I eat at street vendors.  We often shop locally and pick out foods that we do not even know what they are.  When we were on Naxos, we found a meat market.  We entered and were greeted with a variety of skinned animals hanging from hooks.  There were no labels on these various creatures.  We assumed they sold the meat in kilos, so we asked for a ½ kilo of this and ½ kilo of that.  We decided that we would take the meats or whatever they were back to our little apartment and cook them.  We figured that once we did this, we might be able to guess what we were eating.  This was many years ago and I do not think we ever figured out what we were eating.  The food was good and twenty-five years later we are alive and kicking.  It was a great adventure.  One that we have replicated many times.

Karen and I avoid prearranged travel tours.  We have a formula that has worked for us over the years.  We rent a small apartment with cooking facilities.  We then take day trips by car to places that we want to visit, or we might take a train or plane.  We do not have to pack for more than an overnight stay and we have our own “home” to come back to.  Having kitchen facilities means we can eat out or in.  Days that we decide to eat in will find us at the local food markets.  It is always exciting going to these markets.  We buy things that we have never eaten before.  Another of my sayings is that, “I have never met a food that I did not like.”

Belize Trip-083 (2)I was forty years old before I had my first trip out of the USA.  I had always wanted to travel and my four years in the military had not provided me the opportunity to travel.  Later on, I became so busy with school and work that traveling seemed like a remote luxury.  One day I was on a plane coming back from Thompson, Manitoba.  (Canada does not count as foreign travel.)  I had been working with a mining client that week and was now headed home.  Next to me sat a young woman holding a travel guide to Spain.  It was May and schools were getting out for the summer.  I remarked “Are you going to Spain?”  “Yes,” she replied.  “Oh”, I said, “you must be very excited.”  She answered somewhat petulantly, “No, I went there last summer but my parents wanted me to go again since I am studying Spanish.”

Peru Trip 2007-334 (2)I did not say anymore to the young woman, but I thought “My, would I love to go to Spain or anyplace for that matter.”  Then and there in that moment, I made up my mind.  Karen and I were going to travel.  We were going to see the world.  When I arrived home, I shared my decision and determination with Karen.  She was delighted but wondered how we would manage it.  We have since been to 33 countries for a total of about 25 or more trips.  We like to go to one country and see various sections of it rather than trying to see the whole of Europe or Asia in one trip.  Usually we go for three weeks or so.  We are very budget oriented and try to behave like pilgrims rather than like tourists.  Our trips are usually a balancing act between being a pilgrim and being a tourist.

What have I learned from these trips about the world?  I would say my two greatest insights have been as follows:

  1. Americans are not exceptional.  We are privileged to have been brought up in a country with a great deal of natural and cultural advantages.  People the world over are as smart as we are.  People the world over work as hard or harder than Americans.  The inventiveness and level of development in many countries would astonish many Americans.
  2. People in other countries want the same things that we do.  People all want a successful life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Wherever we have been, we have seen people striving to live a good life surrounded by friends and relatives that they can share it with. 

We try to respect the cultures and people we visit.  We take some time to practice languages where we are going to travel.  We research cultural faux pas and expectations so as to avoid insulting or disrespecting other people.  We are visitors in their countries, and we are always grateful for the help that people give us.  Many times we have been helped by people whom we have never met before and who have gone out of their way to befriend us.  We have always been treated with respect on our travels and not as outsiders.  We have made many friends during our journeys.

Conclusions:

Travel to another country may be as educational as a year in school.  A life lived without travel is not really a life lived.  Travel requires risk but the rewards are great.  You will meet people who can enrich your life beyond your wildest dreams.  And to top it all off, the icing on the cake, will be the new foods that will expand your palette of tastes and smells and provide a variety to your diet that will make your life infinitely more interesting.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”  ― Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad.

The Bullfrog and the Scorpion – Apologies to Aesop

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This story is originally by Aesop.  I have used it many times to illustrate the moral that Aesop attached to his story.  However, I am modifying the story somewhat and will attach my own moral to it.  I hope you enjoy it. 

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Once upon a time there was an old bullfrog who lived deep in the forest.  He had lived many years and most of them were on a small pond fed by a shallow bubbling spring.  The pond was surrounded by huge oaks and evergreens.  Closer to the banks, you could see many fronds, ferns and depending on the season a large variety of mushrooms.  The water in the pond was crystal clear and was favored by many different varieties of small fish.  Flies, water skimmers and dragon flies flittered about the pond and all made a tasty meal for Mr. Bullfrog as he was know to the other animals in the forest.  Of all of these meals, Mr. Bullfrog favored dragon flies.  However, his tongue was no longer as fast as it once was or thought Mr. Bullfrog, “maybe dragon flies are faster today than in years gone past.”  In any case, it had been many weeks since Mr. Bullfrog had enjoyed a dragon fly dinner.

Bullfrog contemplates water lily from a lilypad

It was a mid-summer day.  The sun had come up early and the temperature was already in the high eighties.  Mr. Bullfrog was perched on a vacant lily pad in the middle of the pond.  He was enjoying the warmth of the sun on his back and the coolness of the water on his webbed feet as they dangled in the water.  Suddenly he heard a voice say, “Help me please.  Can you help me?”  He looked around but did not see anyone.  Again he heard “Help me please.”  It seemed to come from the far shore.  He paddled over and as he came closer to the bank; he saw a large black scorpion sitting near the edge of the pond.  The scorpion asked, “Can you help me?”

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Now Mr. Bullfrog was wise in the ways of the world.  He had not lived his many years by being a fool.  He back paddled a few yards so as not to get too close to the scorpion.  Scorpions were the vilest meanest most dangerous creatures in the forest.  Everyone knew that you could never trust a scorpion.   

bullfrog-1“What do you need help with?” asked Mr. Bullfrog.

“I need to get to the other bank.  Would you give me a ride on your back?”

Mr.  Bullfrog thought this was one of the most ridiculous requests that he had ever heard.  Why should he trust a scorpion?  “Why would I give you a ride?  What if you stung me?”

“Why would I sting you,” replied the scorpion?  “It would not be in my self-interest.  If I killed you, then I would drown.  Self-interest theory says that a concern for one’s own interest or advantage requires that we be generous in foreign aid.” 

518QHRLJzuL._SX356_BO1,204,203,200_Mr. Bullfrog thought about this for a while.  In some respects it made good sense, but he still could not see that the rewards outweighed the risks.  He had read Dr. Persico’s book on strategy several years ago and applied many of the ideas to his own life.  One of the key concepts concerned risk mitigation.  One should always access the gain of an action against the inherent risks associated with the action.  Mr. Bullfrog concluded that the risks still outweighed the gain.  “What is in it for me,” asked Mr. Bullfrog?

The scorpion thought about this question for a minute and answered it thusly.  “Look, I was going to the other shore to eat a dragon fly that I had left there a few days ago.”  The wily scorpion knew that bullfrogs loved dragon flies.  “If you carry me over there, I will give you a half of the dragon fly for your labors.”

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Mr. Bullfrog started to salivate at the thought of a dragon fly meal.  He was about ready to accept the chore when he suddenly thought about one of Dr. Persico’s key principles.  Think about contingencies and unexpected consequences.   Applying this line of thinking, Mr. Bullfrog thought, “well, what if he is lying?”  “How, do I know you are telling me the truth about the dragon fly and how do I know that once you are across, you will really share your meal with me?” 

The stalemate seemed unbreachable.

The scorpion thought long and hard.  Finally, an idea popped into his mind.   “What if I kill a dragon fly for you now and leave it on this bank?  You will have a whole dragon fly for a meal on this side and once we get to the other side of the pond, you will have another ½ dragon fly for a meal.” 

This clinched the deal for Mr. Bullfrog.  Him mind still continued to pursue contingencies but risk mitigation theory now favored the possibilities of at least one dragon fly meal and possible 1 ½ meals against the possibility that the scorpion did not really have a dragon fly waiting on the other side. 

It took about an hour, but the young scorpion was quick, and he soon snagged a dragon fly.  After stinging it, he brought it to the edge of the pond.  “Here is your dragon fly.  Take me to the other side and you can come back and enjoy your favorite food.”

Mr. Bullfrog paddled to the edge of the bank.  The scorpion jumped on his back and away they went.  The farther across the pond they went, the more the scorpion had to resist the impulse to sting the frog.  Killing things was so much in his nature that it was only with great effort that he continued to resist his natural instincts. 

bullfrog-swimming-w-treat-davidsonAbout halfway across the pond, Mr. Bullfrog suddenly dived beneath the surface of the water.  The scorpion was flung into the water.  Mr.  Bullfrog paddled a few yards away and then surfaced.  When he came to the surface, he heard the scorpion pleading “Why have you done this?  We had a deal.” 

Scorpions cannot swim and he began to sink into the depths of the pond.  The scorpion heard Mr. Bullfrog reply, “Well, I took you ½ way across the pond and given my analysis of the rewards versus the risks, strategic thinking says that I am better off letting you drown here.  The advantages are multiple.  First, if you are telling the truth about the dragon fly that you killed a few days ago, I will find it and have two whole dragon flies to eat.  Second, If you are not telling the truth, I have at least one dragon fly for a meal.  Third, I pursued a very risky effort with you on my back, and ½ way seemed to me to be the maximum that most scorpions could forgo their instincts.  I consider I was lucky to get that far and any further would be pushing my luck.  Strategic planners should never rely on luck.  Finally, letting you drown means one less murderous scorpion in the world.” 

The last words of the scorpion before he drowned were, “I should never have trusted a bullfrog.” 

As Mr. Bullfrog paddled back to his lily pad, he thought, “Good strategic thinking is the best thing in the world, next to a pair of webbed feet.”  

The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life: Literature

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I am definitely biased when it comes to literature.  Without reading, books, magazines, articles, stories, plays, parables, and fables, I do not know what my life would be.  There are few things that enrich life more than the written word.  Movies, plays, and videos would be nothing if there were no words to go along with them.  Even sports and athletic events are heavily dependent on the written word.  Talk show hosts, TV actors, comedians and many other performers hire dozens of writers to script plots and routines that are the life blood of the entertainment industry.

I woke up this morning thinking how to convey the value of literature.  There is so much that I could say.  There is so much that needs to be said.  The question is how best to do justice to the world of literature and to keep this blog from becoming a book.  The thought came into my mind, that literature is everything to me from A to Z.  This gave me the idea to use the alphabet as a device to convey the importance literature has had for me.  But more importantly I want to inspire you as I have been inspired by the many books that I have read over the years.  I want to briefly touch on how they have enriched my life.

For each letter of the alphabet, I will try to note a few authors or books that I have read and what they have meant to me.  Some of my authors will be fiction writers, some poets, some non-fiction writers but each has left me with a piece of the puzzle.  The puzzle I refer to involves the existential quest to find the meaning of life.  I suppose that I may never find the meaning, but literature has helped create many of the puzzle pieces for me.  I am still struggling to put them all together.  The process is more fun than getting the finished puzzle.

A –

Aesop, Alistair MacLean, Agatha Christie, and August Wilson.  A few of the many authors whose writings have enriched my life.  From drama to morals to spies, I am sure that everyone has been exposed to these writers, perhaps without realizing it.   Numerous shows and movies have been based on their literature.  A is a good place to mention the following question, “What is the difference between someone who does not know how to read and someone who knows how but does not read?”

61aJkCcMlhL._SL500_Several of my stories have been influenced by Aesop’s stories.  When growing up, I loved reading stories of foxes, rabbits, scorpions, and other animals that Aesop used in his writing.  His parables and morals still guide my life in a myriad of ways.  I watched a few of August Wilson’s plays that were performed at Penumbra Theater in St. Paul, MN.  It was my introduction to the world of African American literature which was sorely missing in our education system.  For a good escape into the world of murder, drama and spies, MacLean and Christie cannot be beat. On countless rainy and often sunny days as well, I have curled up and said, “To hell with the world.  I am dropping out for a few hours into a world of fantasy.”

B –

I could speak of many authors here but nothing in literature has spawned more stories or ethics or plays or even religions than the Bible.   If you peruse my blogs, you will find at least a dozen stories that I have written that have been based on biblical sources.  There are many authors involved in the Bible.  The Bible notes for different books either who was the author or who they think the author might have been.  In many cases, the authors are unknown.

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Is the Bible fiction or non-fiction is a question that would create great dissention depending on who you asked?  Many would say that the Bible was the literal truth given by God to prophets to pass down to humanity.  Others would say, it was a series of stories that were embellished in the telling.   Neither of these issues ever bothered me.  The point is that the Bible is one of the greatest books in history, if not the greatest.  It has history, drama, murder, sex, morals, and good advice all wrapped up in one binder.  Read it and you will see why some people say that it is the only book they read.

C –

392278aCamus, Eldredge Cleaver, and Cervantes could not be more different.  Camus the existentialist.  Cleaver the revolutionary.  Cervantes the dreamer.  What puzzle pieces they inspired in me.  Hard to find out how they fit together but in the grand scheme of things, I would not leave any of them out.  Cleaver wrote, “Soul on Ice.”  One of the most inspiring prison writings ever written.

“From my prison cell, I have watched America slowly coming awake. It is not fully awake yet, but there is soul in the air and everywhere I see beauty…. I was very familiar with the Eldridge who came to prison, but that Eldridge no longer exists.  And the one I am now is in some ways a stranger to me.”  — Eldridge Cleaver, Soul on Ice, 1968

Camus helped me to understand Existentialism from an applied perspective.  A great deal more helpful than a strictly theoretical understanding.  Cervantes created a character that I would like to be.  A man forever hopeful and willing to battle the world regardless of the forces arrayed against him.  A man willing to “dream the impossible dream.”   If only, I can retain Quixote’s optimism until the day I am no more.

D –

Dostoevsky, Dickens, and W. E. Deming.  I knew Dr. Deming personally.  I had dinner with Dr. Deming and took several clients to visit him at his home in Washington, D.C.  I helped out at several of his five-day seminars.  My first job after completing my Ph.D. degree was attained by reading his book, “Quality, Productivity and Competitive Position.”  A tour de force that would revolutionize American business.  A book that told me that 95 percent of what I learned in graduate school was wrong.  I learned more from Dr. Deming than I learned from all the great professors who wrote so many of the textbooks that I had been studying for 5 years.  Dr. Deming told me I wasted my time.  I was loath to accept his finding but gradually came to realize that he was right.  Eventually, the blinders were lifted from my eyes and I could see the truth of American business.  The truth that Dr. Deming had tried to share with the world.

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I cannot say that I have read all of Dostoevsky’s or Dicken’s works.  What I can say is that few writers I have read have been more articulate about the human condition than these two authors.  They are natural born psychologists.  Their insights into people are so profound that it seems a mystery to me that anyone could as accurately portray humanity as they have done in their writings.  It is not really stories that they tell so much as creating a picture of the inner souls of their characters.  It is easy to describe the outward characteristics of a character but much more difficult to portray their inner characters.  Both Dickens and Dostoevsky portray humans at their best and at their worst.  Reading either of them is better than reading a textbook on human psychology or taking a Psych 101 class.

E –

Jacques Ellul.  Jacques wrote the “Technological Society.”  I read this book in 1982 when I started graduate school.  There are many books that describe the “what” of technology.  Books that talk about computers, software, hardware, and the impact that they will have on society.  The central premise of Jacque’s book is this:  “In our technological society, technique is the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity.”  Not exactly what we read about or think about when we hear the word technology.

But technology is technique.  It is not simply something electrical or digital.  Technology is a philosophy of life.  Ellul showed me the deeper meaning and relationship between life and gadgets.  Society is influenced by technology in more ways than I could ever have imagined.  Understanding technology has given me the ability to appreciate both its pro’s and con’s.  There is always a downside as well as an upside to new gadgets, particularly things like social media, the internet, and computers.  Each of these technologies have impacted our lives both for good and bad.

F –

BondAnatole France and Ian Fleming.  I discovered Fleming’s books on James Bond, after I saw the hit movie “From Russia with Love.”  I subsequently read every one of Fleming’s books and have seen every movie in the Bond franchise.  I loved the character so much I continued to read “Bond” books even when they were written by other approved writers.  I was attracted to the character who was everything I wanted to be.  Handsome, rugged, dashing, brave, a man’s man and a woman’s man as well.  I will never forget the line from one of Fleming’s books, “Boredom is the worst curse of all.”  Eventually, I outgrew James Bond but there will always be a part of me that wonders what it would be like to live in his world.

France on the other hand gave me a different view of the world.  I read several of his books during the early seventies when I was in my socialist learning stage.  I identified with many of his ideas.  France was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1921.  His books were often both ironic and satirical.  He approached subjects steeped in religion with a perspective that might have seemed atheistic.  He challenged us to think of God and Satan and their relationship together.  I think many of my blogs have been influenced by France.  Particularly my blog titled, “A Conversation between Satan and God.

G –

Grendel-2007-Beowulf-movie-Crispin-Glover-cJ. K. Galbraith, Goethe, and John Gardner. Perhaps my favorite story as well as my favorite opera are based on a man selling his soul to the devil in return for some privilege. Goethe wrote the story and called it Faust after a learned man who wanted more than knowledge.  Gounod did the opera based on Goethe’s story.  Many other stories have been based on the idea of a bargain between Satan and humans.  One other that I have always liked was “The Devil and Daniel Webster.”  It told the story of a New Hampshire farmer who sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for success.  When the devil came to collect his due, the farmer called on Daniel Webster to defend him.  This story ended happily as opposed to Goethe’s story which has a tragic ending.

Like many people, I would like to be more successful, more famous, and more admired.  Would I sell my soul to the Devil?  There have been times in my life when I would gladly have sold it.  I am at a point now where fame and fortune do not mean as much.  If I have a soul, I will depart this world with it intact.

J. K. Galbraith was a noted economist and Harvard Professor.  In his book, “The New Industrial State,” he supported much of what Dr. Deming had to say about American business.  I was particularly struck by Galbraith’s denunciation of MBA programs.  Deming also detested these programs and argued that they were destructive for American business.  Galbraith has been lionized and villainized.  Anyone with the audacity to challenge the inherent greediness of Capitalism cannot expect to win friends.  My thinking on Capitalism reflects what I have learned from both Deming and Galbraith.

John Gardner wrote several of my favorite stories.  He was a professor of literature well known for his writing and critiques.  Just when I thought I could learn everything from philosophy, I find a writer who mercilessly skewers philosophy with a character based on Socrates.  Agathon is a wise cynic who knows all about the world but nothing about life.  Gardner also wrote “Grendel” which was the Beowulf story told from the perspective of the beast.  Gardner had a unique way of turning things inside out and getting you to see an entirely different perspective.  His books often dealt with issues of morality, freedom, and justice.  From Gardner I leaned that life is seldom simple and when we look at the world it becomes complex and contradictory. 

H –

Chris Hedges.  Hedges wrote the “Empire of Illusion.”  This book portrays the American Dream as an illusion.  Hedges disparages the idea that America is exceptional and that we live in the land of the free and the home of the brave.  The book was published in 2010 and clearly outlines the descent of America into Trumpism.  On its webpage, Amazon summarizes the main theme of Hedge’s book as:

“A prescient book that forecast the culture that gave rise to Trump — a society beholden to empty spectacle and obsession with image at the expense of reality, reason, and truth.”

No society can make progress if illusions and fantasies guide its policies rather than truth and knowledge.  America today seems to be sorely lacking in truth or knowledge.  Morris Berman another critic of American culture gave up on changing anything in this country and moved to Mexico and off the grid.  I question every day pre-Trump and post-Trump whether America is on an unstoppable downhill slide and if there is anything I can do about it.  Will I be able to help make a difference and steer this country towards the dreams and values that it was founded on?   I wrote sixteen Anti-Trump articles dealing with the menace and danger that he held for America.  A president who represented everything that was bad for the future of our country.  He lost the election but how can anyone forget that 75 million Americans voted for him.

I –

0b243a477fd3257de4b036b2c7e4e52bIvan Illich and Washington Irving.  When I was in my undergraduate program in education which I started in 1971, I decided to read as much of the counter-education literature that I could find.  My most memorable readings were “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by P. Freire, “How Children Fail” by John Holt and “Deschooling Society” by Illich.   I have read many more books on education since the 70’s but it seems to me that nothing new has been added to the schooling critique leveled by these educators.  Schools are still failing students and society.  Educators are like fish.  They live up to the Chinese saying that “The fish are the last ones to see the water.”  I have written numerous critiques of the education system in America as have many other educators, but nothing changes.  The solutions to the problems that ail our education system are rooted in a theory of education that was appropriate 100 years ago but is now obsolete.

School prepares people for the alienating institutionalization of life, by teaching the necessity of being taught. Once this lesson is learned, people lose their incentive to develop independently; they no longer find it attractive to relate to each other, and the surprises that life offers when it is not predetermined by institutional definition are closed.” ― Ivan Illich,

Washington Irving wrote my favorite ghost story.  The “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” still scares and thrills anyone reading it.  Sit outside in the fall just before Halloween on a dark night in the woods and read this story.  Keep looking over your shoulder in case the Headless Horseman is out for his night ride.  Perhaps you will see Ichabod Crane running pell-mell through the woods to escape the Horseman.  This is only one of many great stories that Irving wrote.  I learned to brave the night woods knowing that I was a friend of Irving.

J –

The-12-Personality-Archetypes-Which-One-Dominates-YouCarl Jung was one of the many theorists I studied at the University of Wisconsin for my M.S. degree in Counseling.  Carl Jung was one of the acolytes of Freud along with Alfred Adler, Wilhelm Reich, Otto Rank, and his daughter Anna Freud.  Each follower eventually broke with Freud and founded their own school of psychology.  Jung started the most esoteric and enigmatic of these schools.  His philosophy or methods are called Jungian Analysis and appeal to many people due to his emphasis on the interpretation of dreams, archetypes, and symbolic behaviors.  Jung gave me an appreciation for the elements in life that we might simply write off as useless or meaningless.  To undergo a dream interpretation can be a very life changing experience.  I discovered that there is no single path to self-awareness and psychological health.  Different schools of therapy appeal to different people and each may be effective.

K –

41mABQ-2vlL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_John F. Kennedy, Ezra Klein, and Daniel Kahneman.   What do a President, Journalist and Nobel Prize winner in Economics have in Common?  I learned from Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage” about what integrity really means.  Kennedy may not have written much of this book but the lives of the people he shares puts an exclamation point on the values that JFK had for this country.

I read Kahneman and Tversky’s “Judgement Under Uncertainty” in 1982 when I was in graduate school for my Ph.D. degree.  Years later they would win the Nobel Prize for Economics after having totally changed the way we think about and understand human economic behavior.  Much of the theory I was exposed to in graduate school was proven wrong by the research that Kahneman and Tversky conducted.  I learned a new way to think about economics and organizational behavior from this book.

Klein’s book “Why We’re Polarized” takes a more nuanced and data driven look at the gap that is separating Americans today.  He avoids the nauseous palliatives and bromides offered by so many writers on this subject.  You could fill an entire library bookshelf with all the authors telling us why Americans are divided and angry and how we can solve the problem.  Almost all see the division as a major problem.  Not Klein though.  He suggests it might be inevitable.  His book is laced with data proving that this divide did not just spring up with Trump but has its roots many years before Trump was on the radar.  One might say that Klein proves the adage that, “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.”

So what do these three authors have in common besides a last name that begins in K?  The answer is that each man has helped me to think about life in America and what it could be with more intelligent reflection and commitment to the values that our Founding Fathers promoted.  Economics is worthless without social commitment and social commitment is shallow without a strong economic system.  The principles of economics are not iron clad laws but continue to be better understood.  No doubt many years from now, we will see much of our economic decision making through a new set of lenses.  Kahneman has been a major force in the evolution of economic thinking.  Kennedy and Klein show us what is possible with integrity and intelligent thinking applied to politics and governance.

L –

795355R. D. Laing and Fritz Leiber. Do you know Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser?  If not, you are missing two of the most interesting and funny characters in the genre called Sword and Sorcery.  Fritz Leiber coined the phrase “Sword and Sorcery” and helped birth an entire new form of literature.  When we think of fantasy, most often we think of Lewis Carroll’s, “Alice in Wonderland.”  This classic story is imbued with fantasy and magic, but no one actually does any magic in the story.  Magic is limited to Alice’s dreaming.  Many fairy tales have more actual magic than Alice in Wonderland.  Tolkien’s “Hobbit and Ring Trilogy” come to mind.

When we think of Science Fiction, a more modern form of fantasy, we think of Star Wars and stories that blend fantasy and science.  Sword and Sorcery is different.  It blends heroic fantasy with magic.  Magic is the exact opposite of science.  The Marvel character, Dr. Strange is one of the few Marvel characters to blend fantasy with magic or the occult.

“So tell me, giant philosopher, why we’re not dukes,” the Gray Mouser demanded, unrolling a forefinger from the fist on his knee so that it pointed across the brazier at Fafhrd. “Or emperors, for that matter, or demigods.”

“We are not dukes because we’re no man’s man,” Fafhrd replied smugly, setting his shoulders against the stone horse-trough. “Even the duke must butter up a king, and demigods the gods. We butter no one. We go our own way, choosing our own adventures—and our own follies! Better freedom and a chilly road than a warm hearth and servitude.” — “Swords in the Mist”

R. D. Laing was a psychologist.  When I was in school for my graduate degree in counseling psychology, as I often did, I sought out the unconventional theorists.  Besides Wilhelm Reich, and Thomas Szasz, Laing was one of the most unconventional thinkers in the field of psychology.  Much as Thomas Kuhn became a target for many in science because of his radical thinking on science and paradigms, Laing also became the target of many in his field who felt threatened by his critique of psychology.  And well they should have for Laing challenged some of the major theories prevalent in the field at his time:

“Laing maintained that schizophrenia was “a theory not a fact”; he believed the models of genetically inherited schizophrenia being promoted by biologically based psychiatry were not accepted by leading medical geneticists.   He rejected the “medical model of mental illness.”  – Wikipedia

To go where no man has walked before, one does not have to go to Mars or another planet.  There are plenty of places in the human mind where few dare tread.  You go to these places at a risk to your sanity and reputation.  The status quo must protect itself and people who move to a different drummer or question common assumptions are treated as an invading virus that must be eradicated.  The normal system has no room for mutations.  You will be barraged by assaults from those in the system who have no desire to change.  Vested interests will marshal their big guns to eradicate you if you think differently.  You will begin to question your own sanity.  Only the strong can survive.

M –

Miyamoto Musashi, C.W. Mills and Yukio Mishima.  Two out of three in this group are Japanese.  I wonder if there are more last names starting with M in Japan?  Musashi was the greatest swordsman who ever lived.  He wrote philosophy with his sword.  His “The Book of Five Rings” blends swordsmanship and strategic thinking for anyone who wants a practical philosophy for success.  Some people talk about success but Musashi put his life on the line over thirty times fighting opponents in duels to the death.  His ideas about life and death are forged in a crucible of reality that few of us could ever comprehend, much less undertake.

miyamoto_musashi___vagabond_by_asi4abarai_dd23c8p-fullviewMishima was an author, poet, actor, and modern-day samurai who wanted to reinstate the Bonsai spirit in Japanese Culture.  After WWII, Americans occupied Japan and did everything they could to drive out the Samurai attitudes and policies that dominated Japan the previous fifty years or so.  Mishima created a group of followers who thought that they could overthrow the elected Japanese government and restore the old ruling order.  He greatly overestimated support for his ideas and after a failed rebellion he committed Seppuku or Hari Kari as it is also known.  I read a few of his novels and came to appreciate his writing and even his politics to some extent.  In his “The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea” he states that “living is merely the chaos of existence.”  He has also noted that “I still have no way to survive but to keep writing one line, one more line, one more line….”  A sentiment that I think anyone serious about literature would surely appreciate.

C. W. Mills was a sociologist, professor, and author. He became famous for many of his writings on Organization Theory.  By the time I was in graduate school, pursuing my degree in Organization Theory, he was no longer a popular theorist.  His writings were no longer mandatory readings.  I suppose I chose to read him since he had long since fallen out of favor.  My habit again of looking at those who are lepers in the establishment.

Mill’s, “The Power Elite” dispelled my nascent socialist leanings by clearly disputing the idea of a cabal of rich capitalists plotting to take over the world.  The ideas he had on bureaucracy as internalized social control had also been expounded by Max Weber.  When I was employed as a consultant at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard in 1989, I augmented the prevailing quality theories I endorsed with the theories of Mills and Weber.  Mills died in 1962 at the age of 45 and Weber died in 1920 (Of the Spanish Flu) at the age of 56.  Neither man lived a long life, but their ideas were as valid in the 1980s, and even today as when they were written almost one hundred years ago now.

Conclusions:

I am halfway through the alphabet, and I realize that this blog is much too long.  After writing A-M, I do not think either you are I have the fortitude for N-Z.  I will offer to send you my list of authors for these letters.  People like Nietzsche, OSHO, Plato, Poe, Roddenberry, Idries Shah, Tolkien, Twain, Voltaire, Alice Walker, Mary Wollstonecraft, Yeats, and Emile Zola all made a big difference on my views of the world and thereby on my life.  But for now, this is enough.  If I have not yet convinced you of the importance of reading and literature both for pleasure and for learning, I am doomed to a hell for poor writers and debaters.  It will fall to a “better man than I” to convince you that reading is essential for a good life.

What is the difference between someone who can read and does not and someone who does not know how to read? –  Answer:  NOTHING!

 

 

 

 

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