Endless Horizons:  How We Learn and Develop

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I have a theory about life and about how we grow as individuals. I call this my theory of “Endless Horizons.”  I developed this theory through experience and observation.  I would like to share it with you this week.  It has been a big inspiration in my life and provided a great deal of motivation for me in my journeys.  It involves the ability to accept the unknown but with a difference that is important.  Whereas many theories posit an “unknown and unknowable,” my theory says that what is unknown may just possibly be “over the next horizon.”  Let me explain more.

Once upon a time, I believed that what we see, feel, taste and smell was all that there was.  It did not get any better or worse than what I was already experiencing.  I was usually a very angry guy.  I was ready to physically fight at the drop of a hat or some perceived slur or insult.  My temper and lack of anger management got me into a lot of trouble.  I was arrested for assault and battery.  I had more fights than I can remember.

“Those who improve with age embrace the power of personal growth and personal achievement and begin to replace youth with wisdom, innocence with understanding, and lack of purpose with self-actualization.” — Bo Bennett

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Perhaps worse was the constant state of fear that it kept my first wife and daughter in.  I never realized how hurtful my temper and lack of anger control was to them.  From my throwing things, to yelling and punching walls, I was like a volcano that might explode at any moment.  Even my sleep time was violent.  I was constantly having nightmares of someone chasing me and trying to kill me.  I would wake up drenched in sweat with my pulse racing a mile a minute.

My first wife and I divorced after sixteen years.  My daughter who was fifteen at the time eventually cut off all contact with me.  I have not seen or talked to her for over twenty years now.

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“Building a better life for every child is a lot harder than becoming a world champion. Both goals take dedication and commitment.” — Kim Yuna

I knew I needed some help and I joined a treatment program for violent and abusive men.  About ½ of the men were in treatment voluntarily and about ½ were court ordered.  It was sponsored by the Wilder Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.  I completed the program (which met weekly) for about 16 weeks. After that I continued with a support group for another two years or so.  The support group also met weekly and was restricted to men who had finished the regular treatment program.  I had a buddy (Jerry) whom I could call if my temper flared up.  Jerry was part of my process or control plan for dealing with my anger issues rather than acting out.  There was more to the plan that included walks and other means of cooling off. 

I do not know whether my marriage would have been saved if I had gone through this program earlier.  I do know my wife would have been a lot happier and my daughter would probably still be speaking to me.  Another thing I know is that my nightmares went away.

Getting back to my “Endless Horizon Theory,” I first observed it in the anger support groups that I went to weekly.  Before coming to these groups, most “angry” men were in denial.  It was always, “they or she made me do it.”  “It was not my fault.”  The horizon of most men in terms of their awareness of themselves was very short.  After they went to treatment, they made it to a new horizon of sorts.  From this new horizon, many men could now understand that it was their fault not the fault of others around them.  If they chose to, they did not have to go through life angry, violent and abusive.  Standing at the horizon of having accepted their responsibility for their anger, they could see a new horizon.  This horizon was one of equanimity and if not happiness, at least not misery.  The support groups offered a way to get to this next horizon.  As they say, “Rome was not built in a day.”  Well, dealing with anger problems involves a trip of years.  It would not be an easy journey for many of these men.

I stayed in the group for nearly two years.  Many of the men I met during these two years were also long-timers.  Our support group seemed to grow together as friends and comrades along the journey.  I think many of us made it to the next horizon.  When I arrived there, I saw another horizon just beyond the one I had reached.  We had all assumed that the best we could get would be a life without being constantly angry and explosive.  When I came to this new horizon, I began to understand that there was more that I could accomplish.  The next horizon promised happiness and a positive outlook to life.  Many of us had gone from a negative outlook on life to a neutral outlook and now saw a horizon that promised a positive outlook.

“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” — Joseph Campbell

Unfortunately, the Wilder Center did not see that as the role of these support groups.  They saw their mission as helping to curb domestic abuse.  They did not see their mission as helping men grow and develop beyond their ability to control their anger issues.  With the lack of support and even hostility towards our new goal, many of the long-termers in my group simply quit and went away.  I kept in touch with a few men, but the years have melted these relationships away. 

“Growth is painful. Change is painful. But, nothing is as painful as staying stuck where you do not belong.” — N. R. Narayana Murthy

I realized that when I reached one horizon, I could now see beyond it to a new horizon. It was clear to me that there was possibly an infinite number of new horizons.  If one has the tenacity, discipline and determination, there is no end to the development that we potentially can reach.  Another experience gave me more proof for my theory of “Endless Horizons.”

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My second wife Karen and I have both been to two Marriage Encounter weekends.  We went to our first Marriage Encounter weekend about five years into our marriage.  The second weekend was about ten years after the first.  Both weekends had very positive impacts on our marriage, friendship and lives.  My horizon theory was further strengthened by events that happened at both weekends.  I will relate the events at the first weekend.

I was long past worrying about anger issues by the time of our first Marriage Encounter weekend.  I had been trying to be more tolerant of Karen and some of the things that she did that annoyed me.  I had reached what I will call a Horizon of Tolerance.  I thought I was doing pretty good when I could practice tolerance.  When I could not, I would be sarcastic, rude and frustrated.  We went to the first weekend as a means of improving our marriage.  I will forever be grateful to the organizations and volunteers that put these weekends on.  We have found that both these weekends helped us to be better lovers, parents and friends.

Well, during the first weekend, we were having some discussion about the issue of tolerance.  I was pretty pumped up because I thought I was doing pretty good with dealing with this issue.  I made the remark that I thought I was very tolerant.  The response I received caught me by surprise.  It was something to the effect that tolerance falls short of respecting the other person. The speaker explained that tolerance simply accepts what is.  Respect on the other hand sees the benefits and appreciates the value of what is.  There is a significant difference between respect and tolerance.  For instance, we can tolerate minorities or people who are different than we are but that is not the same as respecting them.

I was confronted with a new horizon for my relationship with Karen and our marriage. Again, I realized that this new horizon further supported my “Endless Horizon” theory of growth and development.  I had finally accepted (and thus my theory was born) that there is an endless number of horizons.  Each horizon presents a new possibility for growth.  We cannot see beyond our present horizon, but we can be sure that something new will await us once we reach it.

“Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle.”  — Napoleon Hill

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What does it take to reach a horizon?  I said earlier that you must have determination.  It helps to have support and coaching along the way.  As the song says, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”  It also takes commitment to keep trying.  There are lots of potholes along the way. There are dead-ends.  There are large crevasses, boulders and obstacles to overcome.  There are no straight flat highways to the next horizon.  It is not a straight-line journey.  There are times when you will get lost and times when you will go backwards.  But the journey is not to the fittest but to the ones who are most determined.

Time for Questions:

What horizon are you at in your life?  What new horizons have you found in your life’s journey?  What obstacles have you had to overcome?  Have you given up on finding new horizons or are you still searching for new horizons?  Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

“The journey is never ending. There’s always gonna be growth, improvement, adversity; you just gotta take it all in and do what’s right, continue to grow, continue to live in the moment.” — Antonio Brown

What are the Myths and Realities of Marriage? — Part 1

Recently Pope Francis said that “The great majority of our sacramental marriages are null. Because they say, ‘Yes, for the rest of my life!’ but they don’t know what they are saying. . . . They say it, they have good will, but they don’t know.”  This struck a chord with me because I see a great deal of naiveté, confusion and even hostility surrounding the idea of marriage.  Many people scoffed at and disregarded Pope Francis’s comment.  People want to continue their illusions and hate it when anyone tries to bring some clarity or truth out that might disturb their ongoing fantasies.

I think the Pope is correct though.  People do not really understand what marriage is about.  My blog this week and next week will look at the pros and cons of marriage in terms of the negative and positive constructs that determine what marriage is.  These constructs are much more important in terms of understanding what marriage is than the idea that it is strictly a union between a man and a woman.  This latter point only tells us who has traditionally been allowed to marry but not the reality of “what” marriage will actually involve.  Understanding marriage means understanding much deeper and less evident truths.  It means examining the myths that too many of us have regarding marriage.  These myths create a distorted view of marriage that makes it difficult to find true happiness with a partner.

Let us start with the cons or perhaps the negative realities of marriage.  Next week, I will cover the pros or the positive aspects of marriage.  It is important to recognize that life is always full of both Yin and Yang aspects of existence. The same is true of marriage.  By better understanding both, we can create marriages that are happier, more fulfilling and longer lasting.

Negative Realities of Marriage:

  1. Marriage is an asymmetrical relationship between two people that is most often thought of as a symmetrical relationship. 

Too many people think that marriage is a “union of equals.”  There is little about marriage that is ever equal.  No too people on the face of the earth are equal.  Equality sounds good in theory but falls flat in practice.  Each partner in a marriage brings different strengths and abilities.  Unless each partner is able to appreciate the nuances of these differences in themselves and their spouse, the marriage will be like an orchestra that only plays with a few of its instruments.  It is important that each partner in a marriage be able to honor, respect and cherish the idea of differences in each other and to help their partner manifest these differences.  This leads to growth and development rather than boredom and stagnation of a marriage.

“You know it’s never fifty-fifty in a marriage. It’s always seventy-thirty, or sixty-forty. Someone falls in love first. Someone puts someone else up on a pedestal. Someone works very hard to keep things rolling smoothly; someone else sails along for the ride.”   — Jodi Picoult,

  1. Marriage is a union of opposites designed to keep the human race viable.

Despite the Bible story of the Garden of Eden, if humans had not been able to procreate, there would be no human race.  Fundamental biological principles point to the inescapable and inevitable fact of procreation.  Evolution or God (take your choice) created humans able to reproduce themselves.  Normally, this takes an egg and a sperm that are donated by each parent.  The resulting zygote will with proper care and nurturing grow into a facsimile of both parents.  The baby has the genotype of both parents in their DNA and at some point in their future can also reproduce and thereby continue the development of the species.

The above process sounds very clinical but it is also accompanied by a great deal of fun and pleasure which no doubt helps to insure that humans find sex enjoyable and desirable irrespective of the goal of perpetuating the species.  This latter fact has not been overlooked by both governments and religions which have often tried to yoke this sexual desire and passion to their own goals.  Thus, Hitler for instance gave medals to women having babies that would help grow the Third Reich.  The Chinese instituted a one baby per couple policy to control population growth.  The Catholic Church denigrates the idea of sex without the goal of procreation and masturbation is still considered a sin.  The Church’s goal is to channel sexual energy into creating more Catholics and thus ensuring that the religion as well as the race will continue.

You may well ask: “Well, what is the negative here with this issue.  Do not most humans look forward to the idea of sexual reproduction? Are not children one of the great joys for humanity?”  The answer to both questions is yes and will be discussed later.  Nevertheless, the negative issues are twofold.  First, the one I already mentioned in respect to the manipulation by both church and state of the function for their own purposes.  The second issue is more widespread and more problematic.  Many couples and individuals often do not put the well-being of their offspring as their first priority.  Too often, children are born to people who have no desire or ability to give proper care to them.  It has been said that you need to have a license to have a dog but any idiot can have a child without the means, motives or ability to take proper care of them.

Children deepen, complicate, and test the “I do’s” of marriage. — Dr. David Stoop and Dr. Jan Stoop

  1. Marriage appears as a mirage of love, joy and harmony to outsiders.

How often have you known a couple who went through a divorce and your reactions were “I thought they were so happily married.  They seemed like the perfect couple.”  As we get older, you would think that most of us would have learned the truth.  There are no perfect marriages and there are no perfect couples.  The fantasy stage of marriage lasts for about six months and then the reality sets in.

The problem is that most people want to hide the authenticity of their marriage from their friends, relatives and even from each other.  “Everything is perfect.  We never fight.  We have no problems.  We agree on everything.”  Such seems to be the truth to those who are looking in from the outside.  The real truth should be obvious.  Any marriage without discord is doomed to failure.  Those who would protect themselves from disagreements and dissension will sooner or later be in divorce court shouting and screaming obscenities at each other.  The pent up frustrations of years of obsequience and servitude now become a torrent of disgust and animosity.

“All married couples should learn the art of battle as they should learn the art of making love. Good battle is objective and honest – never vicious or cruel. Good battle is healthy and constructive, and brings to a marriage the principles of equal partnership.”  — Ann Landers

  1. Once we are married, we will live happily ever after.

No you will not.  Only in a fairy tale do people live happily ever after.  In a marriage, you will go through, suffering, heartache, jealousy, vindictiveness, lust, shame, anger and more sadness than you have ever thought possible.  You will (if you are married long enough) watch your spouse die and perhaps even some of your children.  My Godmother (my Aunt Mary) turned 102 on July 26th of this year.  She has seen her parents, grandparents, husband, three children and all of her six siblings die.  She is not a sad woman but instead rejoices at the long and mostly happy life that her god has granted her.  Many of us would wonder how she can be so positive for someone who has been through so much sorrow.

She once told me that she simply went on each day with a positive attitude to appreciate all that life would bring.  This meant being a good person, helping others and reaching out to make new friends and experience new things.  At 90+ years she was still volunteering at a senior center to serve meals and help in the kitchen.  If you want to live happily ever after, be prepared to accept the ups and downs of life and never quit.  Marriage is not a sprint but a marathon.

“Marriage is neither heaven nor hell, it is simply purgatory.”  — Abraham Lincoln

  1. Marriage is a legal contract that binds us until death do us part.

Pope Francis was right on the money here.  The marriage contract only binds most marriages until one or the other is sick and tired of the marriage.  Then, in less time than it takes to get a wedding certificate, you can get a divorce certificate.  You do not even need to specify hardships or malignant conditions in most States.  It is simply a matter of saying “I don’t” instead of “I do.”  The tired and clichéd vow spoken at most wedding ceremonies has become a thing of the past.  Like the dinosaurs, the idea of “until death do us part” is both obsolete and irrelevant.  The “in sickness and in health” part also falls flat.  Few in their early years have any real understanding of what taking care of a senior citizen will entail, particularly doing so when they become a senior citizen themselves.

People have always been able to opt out of a marriage through divorce.  Divorce was known in the time of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans prior to 800 BCE without written contracts.  In 800 BCE, written marriage contracts first appeared.  The reasons for divorce were probably very similar in ancient times to the reasons for most divorces today.  One study showed the following as the most common reasons for divorce in modern times:

The following chart shows divorce trends in the USA from 1860 through 2000.  As you can see, the frequency of divorces increased dramatically from a low of less than 2 divorces per thousand marriages to a high of 22 divorces per one thousand marriages.  My guess would be that the major difference in divorce statistics from ancient to modern times would probably be in the frequency of divorces rather than in the reason for divorces.

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Today if you are tired or bored or annoyed with someone, you just go and get a divorce.  The idea of a vow is now considered quaint.  Love and honor have been replaced by narcissism and enlightened self-interest.  “What can I do for you” has been replaced by “what can you do for me.”  Loyalty and faithfulness are replaced by “what they don’t know won’t hurt them” and “It was just a little fling.”  When you can get a divorce in a Cracker Jack box, why work on things.  It is easier to play musical divorce and find a new partner and start over again from scratch.

The cycle is very clear:  “infatuation, passion, ecstasy, marriage, disagreement, disillusionment, hostility and divorce.  This cycle plays itself out over and over again in at least fifty percent of the marriages in the USA.  In these marriages, neither partner has ever learned the meaning of responsibility, commitment and hard work.  Until these concepts are grasped, the partners have no hope of finding a long term relationship.  Instead, these individuals fall into what has been called serial monogamy and hookup relationships.

“The remedy for most marital stress is not in divorce. It is in repentance and forgiveness, in sincere expressions of charity and service. It is not in separation. It is in simple integrity that leads a man and a woman [Or two people who love each other] to square up their shoulders and meet their obligations. It is found in the Golden Rule, a time-honored principle that should first and foremost find expression in marriage.”   — Gordon B. Hinckley

  1. Marriage is a cause of more anger, pain, misery, jealousy and unhappiness than perhaps any other institution on the face of the earth.

Did you know that when a spouse goes missing or is found murdered, the number one suspect is the other partner.  This is not profiling on the part of law enforcement.  It is a simple fact worked out from experience because the evidence shows that at least one third of all female homicide victims in the U.S. are killed by male intimate partners — husbands and ex-husbands, boyfriends and estranged lovers. While both men and women experience domestic violence, women are far more likely to be murdered than men.  — http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/09/men-killing-women-domesti_n_5927140.html

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These murder statistics do not even begin to describe the vast amounts of domestic violence that take place under the umbrella of so-called love and marriage.  Given the amount of abuse that women suffer, it is unbelievable that any of them would trust something as flimsy as a marriage contract or want to even take part in the ritual.  For many women, love, honor and obey means that they will have their brains beaten out if they fail to respect the macho image of their spouse.  I find it amazing that any woman in her right mind would want to enter into a marriage that has a high probability of resulting in her being battered and even murdered.  I suppose the old adage is very true that “hope springs eternal in the human breast.”

“Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.” — Katharine Hepburn

Time for Questions:

Have you ever been married?  How many times?  What do you think makes a good marriage?  What have been the major problems in your marriage?  What did it take to overcome these problems?  If you have never been married, why not?

Life is just beginning.

“To say that one waits a lifetime for his soulmate to come around is a paradox. People eventually get sick of waiting; take a chance on someone, and by the art of commitment become soulmates, which takes a lifetime to perfect.”  — Criss Jami

 

 

Forgiveness: The Second in My Series of Most Important Virtues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time for Questions:

I really cannot think of any.

Life is just beginning. 

Sometimes, it seems like it just keeps repeating itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 30th 2014

the-end-of-the-world-2012Are we getting close to the “end of time” or just the end of this year?  Will the universe and everything in it end on December 31st, 2014 this year?  Are you ready if it does?  Have you ever really thought about when time will end? Will time end only when the world and the universe end?  Or maybe time will just quit, like a watch that stops running.  Some religions believe that time ends on judgment day.  Do you think that there are any clocks in Heaven?  What about Hell?  Does the Devil track time for us?  What about in Purgatory?  (Click to hear The End of Time by Beyoncé)  Do you think we will get to hear Beyoncé dance and sing for free in Heaven?

“Purgatory (Lat., “purgare”, to make clean, to purify) in accordance with Catholic teaching is a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God’s grace, are, not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions.”  (New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12575a.htm ).

The Catholic Church teaches that we need to spend time in Purgatory only for certain offenses.  If you are really bad, Purgatory is not an option.  It is only for those who screw up but not really in a very bad way.  You screw up really bad, you go to Hell.  Thus Purgatory would be a stopping point for just about everyone in the human race who is not going to Hell.  Since the punishment is temporal and not eternal, do you suppose they have clocks in Purgatory?  Who do you suppose winds them up?  Can you imagine spending 500 years in Purgatory and watching the clock until you are released?

old-clocksPerhaps, time will simply wear out when we get tired of keeping time. People have been thinking about and tracking time since the first human beings walked the earth.  Time seems to be part of the human psyche.  If humans did not have time, they would certainly have created it.  It is hard to imagine any place where we would not mark time.  Heaven qualifies as one place though where there would seem to be no reason to mark time.  Why keep track of time when everything is eternal and unchanging?  Heaven should be a place where there are no goals, no accomplishments, no meetings, no places to get to, no tasks to complete, no projects due, no emails to answer and no shortage of time.  If any of these things existed in heaven, then we would need to track time.

children playingSo what do we do in Heaven?  We all seem to want to get there, but what do we do with our “time” when we are there?  I guess we just play all day since play does not require us to track time.  Play is by definition devoid of timeliness.  You do not have to be on time to play.  Little children would not have invented time.  Children do not seem to worry about time anywhere near as much as adults.  Maybe that is why Jesus said you must be like little children to enter into heaven.   Adults would be bored in heaven in less than a day.  As adults we become more and more fixed on the idea of time and the limitations that time places on our lives. Perhaps if we could just play all day, then time would end and we would all have less stress in our lives.

Maybe we should create a “holiday” each year where time stops.  A day when you do not have to keep track of time or when time does not matter.  It is difficult to think of living a single day when we are not keeping track of time.  I guess we will just have to wait until we get to heaven for time to stop.  Do you suppose anyone wears watches in heaven?

Time for Questions: 

What if we played more and worked less?  Could we cut time down some?  Can you “end time” when it is just play time?  When was the last time, you were able to forget about time?  How long did it last?  What does it take for you to forget about time?

Life is just beginning.

“Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.”  — Hal Borland

Social Legacy Systems:  How They Block Change and Prevent Progress:  Part 1- Education

KuhnCycle_BasicCycleAccording to Thomas Kuhn when a paradigm shifts, you cannot be successful doing what you did in the old paradigm.  In a new paradigm, you must obey new rules to be successful.  Our culture and world are going through one of the greatest paradigm shifts in history.  It has been happening now for four generations starting with the Baby Boom generation.  The transition or swing generations have been Generation X and Generation Y.   These later two generations have been stuck between paradigms.  The final or new generation has been somewhat appropriately called Generation Z.  Generation Z *(See Footnote) represents the end of the paradigm shift.

The rules and cultural norms that have traditionally applied to: family, education, government, employment and law are all legacy based and present significant barriers to change.  In computers, a legacy system refers to either hardware or software that is out of date but is difficult to replace because of its widespread use.  I am using the term as it is known in the IT world, to refer to our outdated social and economic systems that are difficult to replace because of first: their widespread use and second: because of attitudes and policies that make it difficult to either change or replace them.

(Listen to Tracy Chapman sing  “The Times They Are A Changin.”  A song made famous by Bob Dylan)

Generation Z must create new rules for success and happiness to reign in this new order.  The emerging social and business systems will march to a different set of norms and standards.  Those systems that fail to change will gradually erode and die.  Their deaths will not be without casualties or bloodless.  Already we see the decay and decline of our antiquated educational system.  Our justice and prison systems are not far behind in obsolescence.

Legacy ChangesIronically, the Baby Boomers started the paradigm shift and are now the major roadblocks to change.  As Baby Boomers age, the systems they are most comfortable with (What I am calling the legacy systems) are increasingly dysfunctional.   In this blog, I want to talk about how the traditional systems have become barriers to change and the ways that these systems will need to be changed in order for Generation Z to achieve the success and happiness undoubtedly their parents want for them.  Indeed, the one thing that has not changed in six thousand years is the desire by parents for their children to live in a better world then they did.

What is the New Paradigm and what was the Old Paradigm?

The change in paradigms is embodied in the following dominant forces:

  1. From an Analog to a Digital world
  2. From Family centered to Child centered
  3. From Independence to Interdependence
  4. From Text to Visual based
  5. From Linear to Nonlinear sequencing

Each of the above factors has played a major role in the decline of social systems and economic systems in the USA if not also in many other parts of the world.  However, before we look at these individual factors, let me repeat a very important fact that is often ignored.  The changes in our systems will happen whether we want them to or not.  They are as inevitable as the weather changing or the mountains eroding.  There is nothing anyone can do to stop them.  Examine any of the five factors noted above and ask yourself “how likely is it to be turned back or changed back to what we once knew in bygone years?”  The only choice that we as a society and culture have is whether we want to try to restrain these changes or whether we want to help facilitate them and make the transition smoother and easier.

The old system and its rules and norms are barriers to change.  Laws and policies that support the old legacy systems now have the vice of creating friction and turmoil.  Just like two tectonic plates sliding over each other, when smooth transition is not permitted, one result may be an earthquake that shatters reality with its violent upheaval.  We are seeing many examples of both the inevitable frictions and resulting earthquakes in many areas of society and business today.  Sometimes, the changes are smooth but as often as not they are violent and chaotic.

Let’s look at two of what I am calling our legacy systems to see how these explosions and cultural clashes are playing out.  We will start with our education system (which is now quite similar all over the world).

How Does the Education System Block Change?

Paradigm-ShiftIn the late nineteen century, the American education system was one of the most progressive in the world.  Offering access to people that before could never have gone to school or college, the system was a reflection of many of the emerging industrial era virtues.

  • A mostly democratic system of mass education
  • Standardized learning
  • Linear and hierarchical movement through a graduated system of grades, curriculum and tests
  • Experts in various fields who could bring ideas and knowledge to a centralized location
  • Easy availability of texts and reading material
  • Credentials essential for the new Industrial Age that was emerging

For nearly one hundred and fifty years, the elements of the Education or School paradigm were beneficial and coveted by many other nations of the world.  Witness, the vast numbers of foreign students who came to attend Higher Education in the USA.  The factors making our education system a success in the early 20th Century have changed.  The need for an education system is still there but the “School” system that now dominates the “education” paradigm is hopelessly obsolete.   Each one of the five forces has played a role in this obsolescence.    Let us look briefly at the role that each has played in degrading our present education system.

  1. From an Analog to a Digital world

analog to digitalStudents now carry as much information in their ubiquitous smart phones as in all the encyclopedias in the world combined.  Many schools that once banned IPADS and Smart Phones are beginning to allow them in the curriculum.  Attempts to control what students can see are rather fruitless and doomed to fail.  (The 12-3-14 Casa Grande Paper reported today that the FBI seized 20 boxes of an LA school’s iPad documents.  “Hundreds of students initially given the IPADs last school year found ways to bypass security installations, downloading games and freely surfing the web.”  HORRORS (My comment)

2.  From Family centered to Child centered

family versus child centeredSingle parent families are now nearly 40 percent of all households.  About 4 out 10 children were born to unwed mothers in 2013.  https://singlemotherguide.com/single-mother-statistics.  Children are now the center of attention in many households.  Whereas the family was once the most important component, children are increasingly the center of the family system.  Evidence for this is numerous.  From Soccer Moms to Helicopter Moms to parents that blame teachers for all that is wrong in the school but would never blame their children.  As an educator for over 40 years now, I have seen this shift firsthand.  Today, in all too many cases, if the child misbehaves or acts out, it is the teachers or schools fault.

  1. From Independence to Interdependence

independenceAmerica has always prided itself on rugged independence.  Many examples exist to show that much of this was image and not reality. Nevertheless, from individual grades to individual tests and individual merits of achievement, our schools have reflected this standard in its policies and procedures.  Sharing information with others in school whether on a test or writing assignment is usually labeled as cheating.

In business as in school, the individual performance ethic also reigned supreme.  This has gradually but inexorably been changing.  Today, the team norm has become increasingly dominant in the work place as we see that the old saying “two heads are better than one” is an essential platitude for innovation and creativity.   Schools are still lagging considerably behind the marketplace on the value they place on team work, cooperation and interdependence.

  1. From Text to Visual based

Visual-Tsunamis-Ketchum-first-pageFrom the early Jane’s readers to English Classics to modern stories like Harry Potter, the school system is dominated by a text based paradigm which has made the text-book the center of learning for most classes. This is true from kindergarten to Ph.D. programs and is of course reflected in ideas like Common Core and standardized curriculum.   At the college level, I have been told that I had to use a textbook because everyone else was using a textbook.  Recently we have seen that most hard cover textbooks have become e-books but this is a minor change and does not reflect the real underlying fact that kids today are increasingly living in a visual world.

Examples of this change abound:  Windows based interface systems, Smart Phone icons, You-Tube videos, documentaries, and just about every famous novel in history has been rendered into some form of video.  Children today are visual learners while the school system has standardized on text books, written assignments and term papers.  I wish I had a dollar for everyone that has said “Kids today do not know how to read or write.”  While, they may not express themselves in ink and papyrus, one only has to look at YouTube to see the abundance of musical and visual creativity now being displayed by young people today.

  1. From Linear to Nonlinear sequencing

non-linear-narrativeSchools are like factories with assembly lines. Everyone moves together at the same pace doing a standardized set of procedures designed for maximum efficiency.  Of course, these procedures were wonderful during the Industrial Era and propelled the USA to world leadership in manufacturing and production.  They also made the USA education system the envy of the world.  Today, these concepts are obsolete in business and also in education.  Just as businesses are moving to mass customization, so our schools need to move to customized learning curriculum designed for team of learners with similar interests and goals.  Our school system is now a testament to inefficiency, boredom and frustration for more than half of all students attending.

Conclusions:

Why are children dropping out of school or getting pregnant in school at horrendous rates?  I think the answer is simple:  School is boring and not meeting their needs. If in a business, your customers stopped coming, you would assume that something was wrong with your products or services. This does not seem to have occurred to either politicians or educators.  Perhaps, it is a case that “The fish is the last one to see the water.”  Schools have become obsolete.  The American education system now serves well only a small percentage of the students that enter the system.

Drop Out RatesMany will survive the system only to be glad when they finally get out.  Critical thinking is not well tolerated and the system does not accept challenges to its fundamental premises. Nevertheless, every school shooter represents a distorted but none the less serious challenge to the education system in America.  There will be many who ask “Is he crazy, how can he say that?”  One only has to understand the concept of a chaotic system to know that in any system that is undergoing decay, outliers or special causes will spring up that do not seem to be part of the system or that seem to have no relationship to the other elements in the system.  These special causes are all part of a normal system of variation.  In systems with a high degree of instability or inconsistency, the amount of variation results in increasingly greater episodes of chaos and breakdowns.   Looking for reasons for these “special causes” only results in speculation and frustration and failure.

No single theorist has painted a profile or single underlying reason for the increasing violence in our schools.  I submit, the schools and their dysfunctional paradigms are ultimately the cause of this violence.  If this is true, we will see more and more examples of such violence as our school system gradually deteriorates and becomes increasingly less relevant.  No amount of police in the hallways or concealed weapons will stop this inevitable and remorseless deterioration.   We are well past the time when we need a new education paradigm for the 21st Century.

In Part 2 of “Social Legacy Systems:  How They Block Change and Prevent Progress”, I would like to show how our legacy Prison and Judicial System has become a negative and restraining element in our present social system.  The result has been escalating and unsustainable increases in prison costs, legal costs, police costs and costs associated with our judicial system.

Time for Questions:

What is your opinion?  Do we need to change? Why or why not? Why are so many people only interested in half measures of change?  What will it take to change our education system?  Are you willing to work or financially support the changes that are needed? Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

“And suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.” ― Meister Eckhart

* Footnote:

Gen Z, Gen Y, baby boomers – a guide to the generations by Harry Wallop

 

The 3rd of Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins: Knowledge without Character.

Several years ago I became very interested in the question of “Character.”  What is character?  How do we develop character?  Are we losing character in our population and if so, why?  I found a number of books on the subject but the one that most impressed me was called “The Death of Character.”  It was published in 2001 and was written by James Davison Hunter.   The book description is as follows:

The Death of Character is a broad historical, sociological, and cultural inquiry into the moral life and moral education of young Americans based upon a huge empirical study of the children themselves. The children’s thoughts and concerns-expressed here in their own words-shed a whole new light on what we can expect from moral education. Targeting new theories of education and the prominence of psychology over moral instruction, Hunter analyzes the making of a new cultural narcissism.

One of the observations that I drew from reading this book is that as a nation, Americans have moved from a perspective of absolute values to a strong belief in relative values or standards.  Wherein once people could be labeled as moral or immoral based on their behavior, today we have the concept of amorality which does not seem to have existed before the 20th century.   Some definitions might help here:

Moral:  Concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character.

Immoral:  Violating moral principles; not conforming to the patterns of conduct usually accepted or established as consistent with principles of personal and social ethics.

Amoral:  Being neither moral nor immoral; specifically: lying outside the sphere to which moral judgments apply.

Character:  The aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person.

According to Hunter’s research, the American population has moved from a bipartite arrangement in which people fell between the poles of moral or immoral to a tripartite arrangement in which most people would be classified as amoral, immoral or moral.  I have been teaching in college since 1999 and one question I have routinely asked my MBA and BA students is “What would you do if you were driving down a lonely dirt road and saw a Wells Fargo money bag lying on the side of the road?  Would you return it?”  Would you be surprised if I told you that less than 3 students in 30 say they would return it?  However, if I ask them the following question, the numbers change dramatically.  “What would you do if you noticed that upon leaving the classroom, Mary had dropped a twenty dollar bill?  You are the only one who has noticed it. Would you return it?”  The replies are unanimous in that all students say they would return it.  Students regard hurting another person that they know as wrong or immoral, but stealing from Wells Fargo is not considered immoral but is rather considered as amoral.  My own experiences over the years confirm much of what Hunter says in his book. 

So we come to an important question.  Can we have an educated and intelligent population (more people getting degrees and going to school) and less morality?  What if more people are becoming amoral and we have less moral people?  What are the implications?  Well, I think the answer is clear here.  Look at corporate behavior.  You have only to read the story of Enron “The Smartest Men in the Room” to see concrete examples of intelligent behavior without a sense of morality or character.   When we look at amoral behavior in people and organizations, a primary question is how long before the amoral behavior becomes immoral and crosses the line to illegal – as it did with Enron, Worldcom, and Global Crossing.

Gandhi says this about his 3rd Social sin: 

“Our obsession with materialism tends to make us more concerned about acquiring knowledge so that we can get a better job and make more money. A lucrative career is preferred to an illustrious character. Our educational centers emphasize career-building and not character-building. Gandhi believed if one is not able to understand one’s self, how can one understand the philosophy of life. He used to tell me the story of a young man who was an outstanding student throughout his scholastic career. He scored “A’s” in every subject and strove harder and harder to maintain his grades. He became a bookworm. However, when he passed with distinction and got a lucrative job, he could not deal with people nor could he build relationships. He had no time to learn these important aspects of life. Consequently, he could not live with his wife and children nor work with his colleagues. His life ended up being a misery. All those years of study and excellent grades did not bring him happiness. Therefore, it is not true that a person who is successful in amassing wealth is necessarily happy. An education that ignores character- building is an incomplete education.”

In my book, “The New Business Values” one of my chapters was on Information.  I outlined a hierarchy of information as follows: Data>Information>Knowledge>Wisdom.   I described knowledge as a set of beliefs, facts or ideas that contained relevance to some goal, need or desire.  In my model, knowledge cannot become wisdom until it is linked to emotions and feelings for others.  I think Gandhi’s ideas of linking Knowledge to character probably hits the mark more accurately.  It was my understanding that knowledge without empathy and compassion for others could never be wisdom.  The world is full of knowledge today since scientific belief has replaced religious belief.   However, science can never develop the sense of empathy and compassion is a central part of character development.  Character development stands alone as a primary developmental need for any civilized society.  However, as Gandhi notes, we have let our passion for commerce and money outrun our passion for purpose and character.  

The famous economist John Kenneth Galbraith noted in his book Economics and the Public Purpose (1973, Houghton Mifflin):

“The contribution of economics to the exercise of power may be called its instrumental function… Part of this function consists in instructing several hundred thousand students each year… They are led to accept what they might otherwise criticize; critical inclinations which might be brought to bear on economic life are diverted to other and more benign fields.” 

Galbreath noted over 35 years ago that we are educating MBA students who have become mindless automatons in a corporate system without a conscience.  Having no conscience is one aspect of amoral behavior.  In today’s society and schools such behavior has become the accepted norm.  It’s the “go along” to “get along” mentality that accepts corporate decisions regardless of their impact on people, the environment or even our nation.  The “diversion” that Galbraith speaks of is easily recognized as sports and media entertainment.   Sports and news create 24/7 harmless and benign diversions that keep the public’s mind off of character or moral development.  Indeed watching sports figures and media figures today exhibits a “vast wasteland” in terms of character development. 

So where do we go from here?  The picture appears bleak.  We now accept amorality as a legitimate position on the map of character development.  We ignore the development of true character in our schools and churches; in fact, we supplant the development of character with the requisite amorality needed to get ahead in the business world.  The values of the corporation have supplanted the values needed for a kind and compassionate civilization.  Our schools have become prisons and our prisons overflow with some of the highest amounts of incarceration in the world.  Our courts have become three ring media circuses designed to show an endless succession of trials whose main points seem to be to titillate and entertain the masses.  Can we escape from this cycle of destruction that we have built for ourselves? 

Ok, time for questions:

Am I too bleak?  Do you think there is more morality in society than I describe? What do you do to develop your own character?  Do you feel that there is enough emphasis on character development in our churches and schools?  What do you think can be done about it?  How do we start? 

Life is just beginning.

 

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