3494– Monday, October 7, 2019 — Can We Really Grow Old Gracefully? – Part 2

persico family with names

This is the continuation of an article I started which might have been called the “Top Ten Attributes for Growing Old Gracefully.”  In Part 1, I described attributes 1 through 5.  I also noted that two of my very good friends had been ill for some time and were not expected to live out the year.  One of these good friends, died two days after I published Part 1 of this article.  He was a unique individual about whom I wrote the following to some common friends the day after he died:

“I will always remember Sam for his brilliance and intellectual rigor.  I do not think I have ever met anyone with a greater knowledge of the world than Sam.  He was my first mentor out of graduate school, and I learned almost all I know about consulting from the work that we did together at International Nickel in Canada.  He was kind and gracious to a fool that knew little or nothing about the consulting world.  Over the years, we had our ups and downs, but Sam always helped me when I was in need of advice or guidance.”

“The world is truly less of a place for me and many others without Sam.” 

I must say a word about the validity and reliability of the ideas that I am presenting here.  I believe in them with my whole heart and soul.  Everything about life that I have learned up to this point says that they are the keys to a happy old age.  A friend whom I have found since writing my blogs left a comment in Part 1 where she said: “I hope you are following this excellent advice, John!  I replied: “Jane, I wish I could honestly say that I always do but that is not always the case.”

For me, I am somewhat like the alcoholic with good intentions who occasionally falls off the bandwagon.  Looking at each of these attributes, I have good days and bad.  But somehow, I climb back up out of whatever is bothering me, and I start again.  I have days when I am not grateful or have very little sense of humor.  I have days when I can find no joy in life and days when I can find no purpose or meaning in what I am doing.  But I know that “this too will pass” and that it is important not to give up.  Growing old is a journey that only ends when it will be too late for you to do anything about it.  But as long as we are alive, we can do our best to enjoy the journey.  So, here are the rest of the key attributes that will help you grow old gracefully and enjoy the trip.  Following are attributes six through ten.

one_kind_word

  1. Kindness

This is a simple one.  Do something kind for someone each day.  Make someone else happy by sharing your good fortune, knowledge, skills or abilities with another.  It is often easier said than done though.  We get so busy with our own problems that it is easy to forget the needs of those around us.  Very few people will wake up today and jump out of bed with joy at being alive.  For many people, the kind word or deed that you can do for them will give them the strength to live another day or to have a day with joy and happiness.

A funny thing happened to me this afternoon while I was on my way to see a play called Pipeline at Penumbra Theater in St. Paul.  An old rumpled homeless looking man on a bicycle asked if I could give him a few bucks for a meal.  I was feeling generous, so I pulled out my wallet and took a peek in it.  I had a five, a twenty and three one-dollar bills.  I grabbed the fiver and handed it to the old man.  He took it and thanked me, and I impulsively decided to give him another single.  He took the second bill I gave him and let out a rather exuberant exclamation of thanks and gave both me and Karen hugs.

He set off down the street and said that he was heading right to McDonald’s to get a meal to eat.  I was still surprised at his extreme gratefulness.  Later on, when I went to look in my wallet for some money to pay for some stuff, I found that I still had the three singles but no twenty.  I suddenly realized why the old feller had been so ecstatic.  I had given him the five-dollar bill and the twenty-dollar bill.  I could have kicked myself in the butt.  I told Karen about my unexpected generosity and we both laughed and wondered what he was going to get to eat for the money we gave him.  I felt a little stupid giving this much money away but on the other hand, how many times have I wasted three or four times this amount on some impulse purchase that I did not really need.  It felt good knowing that I had made somebodies day a little brighter even if it was by accident.

“Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight.  Extend to them all the care, kindness and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.” — Og Mandino

benifits-of-physical-fitness

  1. Physical Fitness

What is the secret to living a long and health life?  Ask anyone who fits this qualification and who is in their nineties and do you know what they will say?  “Keep moving!”  “Keep moving!”  Stay active!  Garden, run, swim, bicycle, play Pickleball, walk, do Zumba, do Yoga, do anything but keep your body moving!

I have talked about the need for an exercise plan in many of my other blogs.  You have a choice.  If you live long enough and stay somewhat reasonably fit, then like our friend Joan, you can still play golf when you are ninety.  Or you can sit all day watching TV and become more and more dependent on walkers and canes and surgeries for your ailing joints.  Some of the problems of old age are unavoidable but some are due to a lack of good nutrition and good exercise.  Keep all things in moderation.  You will not be an Arnold Schwarzenegger at 80 but you can still be healthy enough to take trips and spend active time outdoors.  The key?  Right!  Keep moving!

For me, I love having an exercise plan that will adapt to my changing circumstances and that is fun.  If you are interested in more information on developing an exercise plan, see my blog at:  How Can We Set Realistic Exercise Goals as We Age?

“Those who think they have no time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.” — Edward Stanley

friendship

  1. Friendships

There is a story told about Thomas Jefferson who supposedly attended a fiftieth anniversary party for the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1826.  According to the story, Jefferson was not recognized by anyone at the party.  He was one of only three surviving members of the original signers who were still alive.  The other two being John Adams and Charles Carroll.  Jefferson died on July 4th, 1826 as did John Adams, so I am not sure when the party was actually held.  Nevertheless, Jefferson is reported to have said that he felt like a ghost.  That he felt like someone living in a time when he no longer belonged.

This story made an impact on me since as we age, we see more and more of our loved ones, relatives and friends pass away.  In the picture (top of blog) taken at a wedding for my father’s youngest sister, I am standing to the right in the picture.  The wedding was held in 1957.  The most remarkable thing about this photo (For me anyway) is that I am the only one left alive in the photo.  My sister died of lung cancer several years ago and my two cousins in the photo both passed away.  One died of a stroke and the other died younger of suicide.

My Aunt Mary, who is on the right in the picture, (She was my Godmother) died at the age of 103 about four years ago.  She too outlived almost everyone in the photo except me.  She outlived two of her sons and her husband who are in the picture.  I asked my Aunt a few years before she died if she felt like she no longer belonged and that her time had passed.  Her answer surprised me.  She said “No.”  I asked how she managed, and she told me that you must keep making friends.  She said that she had made many new friends who cared about her and helped enrich her life.  Could this be how she made it to 103 years of age?

The attribute of “Friendship” was mentioned at the Caregiver Conference I attended as one of the most important factors for a happy old age.  We cannot bury ourselves in pity or sorrow for the past.  Life must go on.  As someone said: “Life is for the living.”  You are never too old to make new friends.

“If you go looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re very scarce.  If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere.” — Zig Ziglar

chronic_pain_treatment_continuum_jpeg

  1. Pain Management

Yes, you better believe it.  Pain management is a key attribute of growing old gracefully.  The older you get, the more pains you will have.  You will have pain and if you cannot deal with it, life will be one endless day of misery.  The sad fact is that people seem to only know two ways to deal with pain.  The first is to see a doctor who will often prescribe surgery.  The second is similar, you go to see a doctor, only in this case, the doctor prescribes some sort of pain killer.  If you want to know what is causing the pain, which should be the first step towards any diagnosis or remedy, the doctor will be very reluctant to order a Ct scan or MRI due to the cost of such diagnostics.  He/she might do some blood tests or other tests that will probably not tell you very much.

More than likely though, your doc will just tell you that the cause of your pain is “Old Age” and your remedy is to live with it.  The older you are, the more likely the latter will be your diagnosis and prescription.  A few years ago (until the opioid epidemic which doctors and pharmaceutical companies created), they would probably have given you an abundant supply of Oxycontin or Vicodin and told you to go home and swallow a pill.

Now the first step towards pain management is preventive.  You guessed it.  Exercise and weight control.  However, even with diligent exercise you will encounter problems.  The chronic pain treatment diagram (I have included above) is one that best fits my ideas of how we should deal with pain.  You start with the lowest possible tier with the least side effects and you work up.  You do not immediately accept that surgery is the solution.  There are more surgeries done in this country that are unneeded than I can count.  If you doubt my assertion, then see my blog on the subject where I have written about the epidemic of surgeries which serve only to make more money for doctors.  “Should we be cautious when seeing our family doctor?”

I could tell you true story after true story of pains that I have dealt with over the years.  Yes, I had prostate surgery and hernia surgery.  These required invasive medical procedures and some respite from exercising.  But I have had Plantar Fasciitis, Sesamoiditis, Morton’s Neuroma, knee pain, hip pain, shoulder pain, back pain and several other neuromuscular pains.  I have not had surgery for any of these.  While several of these problems managed to derail my exercise program for some months, I have managed to deal with each of these without surgery and am still running and exercising regularly.

In all cases, I have used the pain management continuum as noted above.  Starting with diagnosis (sometimes seeing a doctor but often doing research on the web) and moving up to the first level of diet, exercise and nutrition.  My second level would include OTC drugs, lotions like Tiger Balm or now CBD cream and diet supplements like Glucosamine and Turmeric.  I have managed to avoid opioids except in one case of dental problems where some implants became infected.  My second level also includes things like knee braces and elbow braces to help stabilize the joint until the inflammation went away.  My favorite second tier cure is a great massage which if I appear to be in enough pain, my spouse will usually proffer.  A massage will not cure the pain, but it helps to alleviate the pain and with other pain management techniques can speed recover.

I will not say anymore about pain management except to be wary of surgery until you have exhausted other less invasive possibilities.

“I’ve dealt with a lot of physical pain, with a lot of emotional pain; anybody’s who’s ever been an alcoholic has handled both of those in extreme.” — Jason Isbell

hope and optimism

  1. Hope and Optimism

I have saved these two attributes for graceful aging for last.  I believe these are essential for a happy and complete life.  I also believe they are the most difficult to acquire and maintain.  How can we be optimistic or have hope when death surrounds us and is the most inevitable fact of our lives?  What is there to be hopeful for when your friends and loved ones are dying and you see a future where you are left alone?  Sounds pretty bleak doesn’t it?

They say hope springs eternal in the human breast but a simple observation of the people you know, will tell you that is a lie.  People give up hope when they are continually beaten down by the daily toil and challenges of life.  It should be a great deal easier to be optimistic when you are twenty than when you are eighty, but I doubt whether hope and optimism are linked to aging.  (True, the suicide rate for the aged is very high, but some of that may reflect practicality rather than hopelessness. The suicide rate for teenagers is nearly as high as that for the aged.)  The simple fact is that some people are more optimistic than others.  Some are more hopeful than others.

But hope and optimism are a choice we each can make in how to see life.

I can’t tell you what your hope should be.  My hope is that my writing will help you to lead a better life. I am hopeful that something I say and someone who reads what I say will find some value in my ideas.

I can’t tell you what to be optimistic about.  I am optimistic about my trip to Russia this coming year.  It will be a new adventure and I will go again with my spouse to our 40th new country.  I have always dreamed of taking an express train across Europe and we are going to take the Paris to Moscow Express for our trip into Russia.  There are a million things that could go wrong between now and then, but what gain do I have from being negative and pessimistic?

Find your hope and find your optimism.  Perhaps they will change each day but without them, your life will be like a life without sunshine

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

 

 

Debate versus Discussion:  Why Debates are a Waste of Time!

(Listen to the Debate Song, while you read my blog this week.)

berniedebateOnce upon a time, I thought debates were the answer to the question of “how do we discover the truth?”  I thought that if you put two intelligent people together and each took opposing positions on an issue, that through the interplay of ideas the truth would emerge.  If you think about this a bit, it is the basis for our judicial system in America.  One side argues for the defendant, the other side argues for the prosecution or against the defendant.   It is also the basis for an academic exercise called Dialectical Research or Dialectical Inquiry.

dialectical inquiryA dialectical investigation is a form of qualitative research which utilizes the method of dialectic, aiming to discover truth through examining and interrogating competing ideas, perspectives or arguments.  This latter method is often applied through the use of case studies in which students or investigators discuss real world examples of complex situations.  The purpose of a case study is to provide a more thorough analysis of a situation or “case” which will reveal interesting information to the reader.  As I use them in my classrooms, my goal for my students is to help them understand how to better form strategies for success in business.

159_TJ_Dillashaw_vs_Dominick_Cruz.0.0Unfortunately, in the real world the strategy of debate does not work.  Debates are a waste of time when honest discussion takes second place to winning or looking good.  Dialectical Inquiry is also often useless since the complexity of the subject can be beyond the ability of many students to grasp.  Real world situations are froth with uncertainty, volatility, complexity and ambiguity or as some have called it VUCA.  VUCA is an acronym used by the military to describe or reflect on the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of general conditions and situations.  Many complex situations are seldom able to be accurately modeled leading in most instances to weak images or portrayals of the actual situation.  This is why debaters opt for simple explanations rather than complex explanations.  Another example of this watering down of reality is a Hollywood movie depiction of a supposed “true” story.  Recent movies that come to mind include the following:

  • The Revenant – Story of legendary frontiersman Hugh Glass.
  • American Sniper – Story of U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle
  • Steven Jobs – Story of the founder of Apple Corporation
  • The Theory of Everything – Story of physicist genius Steven Hawking

Hollywood loves to take stories of great enterprise and or daring do and change them into a 1. 5 hour dramatic show full of love, heroism and imaginary situations that often did not exist.  Did I say lies?  Perhaps that would be more accurate.  For often, these Hollywood epics are no more than half true.  The other half are stories added for dramatic impact.  Even worse perhaps are the often skewed biases that intrude into the movie which distort the reality of the character or situation.   For instance, here is what one critic had to say about the Steve Jobs movie:

“With all this in mind, I was disappointed in the Steve Jobs movie.  Partly because as an Apple expert I watched the film in dismay as events were pulled out of context and people appeared in locations and at times where they simply wouldn’t have been around.  I can’t help but think that in his desire to avoid the chronological retelling or Steve Jobs story, a traditional childhood to death epic, in favor of three acts (which would be better suited to a theatrical production) Aaron Sorkin constrained himself too much.  The only way he could tell the story was to pull events from all corners of Jobs’ life and present them as if they had happened in the 30 minutes before a keynote presentation.”  — Karen Haslam, 10 Nov 15

I mentioned earlier that debates cannot work when winning is the primary objective.  Hollywood’s version of winning is making money.  Making money becomes a more important objective than telling the truth.  Similarly, the truth takes second place to winning in political debates.  Winning for the networks means providing entertainment to sell ads, not necessarily a stage full of erudite rationale individuals trying to discover the truth.

The 2016 debates for both the Republican and Democratic candidates have not only been a farce but they have been an insult to the American People.  Here is one comment regarding the Republican debate on TV a few nights ago:

“The GOP debate on FOX last night was an embarrassment.  The talk show hosts said it best.  This debacle stooped to a new low. Penis size?? C’mon people.  Seriously. We need to respect our President.  It is beyond my comprehension how anybody could respect this pathetic excuse for a candidate.”

politifact-photos-Trump_gesturesI have watched several of the debates now and I see no evidence that truth is being discovered.  The debates have become hyperbolic spectacles of insults, half-truths, reality distortions, innuendos and petty personal attacks.  I doubt if anyone has found much truth in these debates never mind elucidations of complex policy positions for any of the candidates.  Trump 2495-so-funny-and-true-rhetoric-wallpaper-427x454will build a giant wall.  Cruz will fix Syria.  Rubio will fix health care.  Sanders will fix inequality in America.  Hillary will fix Obamacare.  Do you know how any of the candidates will accomplish these lofty goals?  Of course not, since they know that the “debates” are no place for such a complex discussion.  Trump perhaps realizes this fact better than anyone and has kept his discussion and clarification of his policy positions to less than fifteen second descriptions.  The general consensus seems to be that if a candidate cannot explain their position on any subject in less than fifteen seconds, they are doomed, i.e., they lose.

In their book, Presidential Debates: The Challenge of Creating an Informed Electorate, (1988) Jamieson and Birdsell make a case for the importance of Presidential debates but only if certain changes are made to the usual format.  Their book was written over twenty five years ago and if you have watched the recent debates, you will note that their recommendations were not heeded.  Furthermore, the present debate formats have probably encouraged worse excesses in rhetoric and sophistry than either Jamieson or Birdsell could have imagined in 1988.  Looking historically at debates, the Lincoln-Douglas debates were the epitome of rationality and decorum.  Today, the networks want drama and entertainment.  Debates such as took place between Lincoln and Douglas would never qualify as either drama or entertainment.

debate parrotsOn a more personal level, I have a problem with debates.  I have a few friends who love to debate.  I have noted as a result of recent discussions with them concerning the Presidential elections that do not want to understand or clarify any issues, they just want to argue or perhaps debate.  I say that they want to argue, because their main agenda seems to be looking good or advancing their points and not understanding my points.  They often enter into these contests (Since that is what a debate means to them.  It seems to be a contest between winning their points and looking good or losing their points and looking bad.) with a pretense of trying to understand why I think or feel a certain way.  Sometimes, they start the “debate” with a flat out rejection of my position or with a declaration such as “you are dead wrong” or “you don’t know what you are talking about.”  I confess that such latter utterances often preclude my disposition to have a rational discussion with them.   I see no point in it.

Have you ever changed anyone’s mind which was made up?  Have you ever tried to have a rational discussion with someone who was being emotional?  Have you ever tried to explain something to someone whose main objective in talking with you was to score points or make you look stupid?  Under the rubric of “debate,” are we to think that our antagonists give one farthing for the truth or where we stand on an issue?  There is a big difference between debating me on an issue and discussing an issue with me.

The result of these “debates” with erstwhile friends have led me to two inescapable conclusions.  First, I don’t need or even want debaters in my life.  I have little time left for scoring points or winning games by making someone else look bad or proving that they are wrong and I am right.  Second, debates do not start from an honest position of fruitful and objective inquiry and thus cannot lead to truth or relevant knowledge.  Rather, most debates start from a position of “I am right and you are wrong.”  The antagonists goal being to show you or the audience how right and smart they are and how wrong and stupid you are.  Is there a point to such an exhibition?  I presume winning is the payoff and reward.  As Vince Lombardy once said:  “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

If your objective is to understand something or if you want to find the truth, I suggest that you think more of discussing and less of debating with others.  A good discussion aims to find an understanding and comprehension of complexities that is often beyond our singular abilities to understand.  The truth can usually (but not always) be found between two extremes.  However, the process of truth seeking is more important than the process of truth finding.  The truth will inevitably change over time.  You will never have found a truth that will be good for all eternity.  There will always be a new truth to be found somewhere.  Thus, the process of truth seeking becomes a way of life that outfits the seeker for a journey through the cosmos that may take the seeker to the end of the universe and back to the beginning.

Well, if you finished my blog and you think I did not give a fair presentation on the evils of debate, then please listen to the song I noted above.  This song makes a case for the value of debate.  It does it in an Indian Rap song with great visual effects, music and choreography.  I am probably undoing my entire argument by including this song but Amen or so be it. 

(Listen to the Debate Song, it makes a great case for the value of debate)

Time for Questions:

Do you seek first to understand or first to be understood?  Do you debate others or discuss with others?  Are you more concerned with understanding or looking right?  How do you grasp complex issues?  How do you insure that you truly understand and are not being duped by charlatans trying to sell you simple answers to complex issues?

Life is just beginning.

“And finally, that Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:”  — The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom written by Thomas Jefferson in 1777.

 

What is the One Thing that is Hardest to Find in Life? 

What is the one thing that we all want in life but that we can’t buy or pay for?  We can live a life without it but we will end up feeling like we only lived a shell of a life.  We can chase all over the world for it but we will sometimes end up finding it in our back yard.  We can live a life with security and comfort and never find it.  We can settle for the mundane but we will regret that we did not have the courage to grab it when it was in our reach.  Sean John says “Life without passion is unforgiveable.”  You can buy his cologne for fifty dollars an ounce but it will not give you passion.  Most of us will never have passion in our lives.  We might think a one night stand or our favorite team winning the Super Bowl or taking a trip to some exotic land is passion but deep down inside of us we know that these activities are only surrogates for passion.

The saddest people I’ve ever met in life are the ones who don’t care deeply about anything at all. Passion and satisfaction go hand in hand, and without them, any happiness is only temporary, because there’s nothing to make it last. ― Nicholas Sparks

You can climb Mount Everest.  You can dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench.  You can get a Ph.D. degree but you can never get passion simply by accomplishing things.  Passion is not a fad or a commodity.  You can’t buy it in Walmart or find it on top of the Empire State building.  Most of us do not grow up with a desire for passion.  We do not even know that it is missing in our lives.  Passion gets smothered in us when we are very young.  It is extinguished before it can be ignited.  Passion scares people.  Authorities and parents both fear passion.  The passionate person is a juvenile delinquent.  Early on, parents, teachers and others wage a campaign to destroy the roots of passion in children.

Sex is the consolation you have when you can’t have love ― Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

Someplace deep inside all of us, the embers of passion still burn.  We go through life thinking that there must be more to it then what we are experiencing.  We look for God.  We look for Ghosts.  We look for love.  We look for things but still they do not bring us the passion that we crave.  Some spark must be ignited in us to rekindle our passion.  When they speak of quality, they say that you will know it when you see it.  However, you can’t see passion.  You have to feel passion.   We know it exists because from time to time, we can get a glimpse of it in others.  The passion that we sometimes see in others thrills us to the bone and leaves a certain degree of incredulity in its wake.  We know we are missing something that seems unfathomable to us.  Greatness and passion seem to comingle.  Does greatness produce passion or does passion produce greatness?

I want to know what passion is. I want to feel something strongly.”  ― Aldous HuxleyBrave New World

Hollywood is perhaps the most frequent purveyor of passion.  We get our impressions of passion from our Hollywood idols and movie stars.  Passion is pervasive in Hollywood.  From superheroes saving the world to unrequited love romances to tales of great daring, we glimpse a world where passion is the norm.  A world where passion is as common as grass.

There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” — Nelson Mandela

Looking at passion from a theoretical perspective, (something rarely done) we can see that there are three areas in which we can inspire passion.   These conform to our three life components.  We can be passionate about ideas or thinking.  We can be passionate about doing or activities and we can be passionate about feelings.  What about things you may be asking?  I will argue that we cannot really be passionate about things.  Hard core motorcycle riders usually care more about riding their bikes than they do looking at them.  Trophies, money and even fame are ephemeral and rarely suffice to infuse passion in anyone’s life.

Maybe the bike is more dangerous, but the passion for the car for me is second to the bike. — Valentino Rossi

People who are passionate about ideas are intriguing.  We find that they have a love for the mind and all things cerebral.  We may not understand their theories and concepts, but we are fascinated by the premises and hypotheses that they can spin out.  History has shown that a key element of progress lies in the intellect that a civilization can bring to its culture.  The Jews, the Greeks and the Chinese each stand out in our minds with their history of great thinkers from Abraham and Maimonides to Socrates and Plato to Confucius and Lao Tzu.  These cultures had a deep respect for the ideas and philosophies of its great thinkers.

Some of us are passionate about books, education, museums, history, biographies, TED talks, documentaries and other intellectual activities.  We would rather read a good book then go to the Eiffel Tower or the beach.  Our ideal life is of the mind and not of the body.  We no sooner finish one book then we are off to another.  Our dream of heaven is one vast library with no late charges.

You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.”  — Steve Jobs

Some people are passionate about their activities.  Great explorers like Marco Polo, James Cook and Zheng He lived for the adventure and excitement of finding new places and new civilizations.  For such adventurers the risk was hardly a consideration given their dreams and desires for discovery.  One cannot imagine anyone undertaking the hazards and deprivations that met these men without a true love for action and doing.  People like this cannot be content in an arm chair reading a good book or sitting in front of a fire place with a family watching TV.

Some of us are passionate about our work or our sports.  We love what we do so much that we would pay our employers to let us do the work that they are paying us to do.  This is what passion means.  To love something so much that you would pay someone to let you do it.  We live for the activity whether work, traveling, sports or a hobby.  Our dream of heaven is an activity that allows us to become intimately involved with the act of creation or the challenge of overcoming some obstacle or the chance to exceed some goal.

If you don’t love what you do, you won’t do it with much conviction or passion.”  — Mia Hamm

Our final passion involves the realm of feelings.  We usually think of passion as connected to sex.  We have watched the all night love affair of two Hollywood stars as they undress and ravage each other in a fit of what one might call sexual frenzy.  We marvel at their physical dexterity.  Two bodies engaged in positions that would challenge the authors of the Kama Sutra or even tax a painters abilities to portray.  And to think, that after they are done, they start over again until the sun begins to dawn on another day.

“When I touched her body,
I believed she was God.
In the curves of her form
I found the birth of Man,
the creation of the world,
and the origin of all life.”
― Roman Payne

But sex is only a small part of what emotional passion can be.  Passion can involve feelings of all sorts.  People who are deeply passionate about their emotions feel things that the rest of us do not.  They feel the joy and pain and sorrows of other human beings.  They experience the highs and lows of existence.  They live a roller coaster of feelings that range from happiness to sadness.  They do not let the pain of empathy discourage them from identifying with the feelings around them.  Perhaps the greatest fear that people of feelings have is the fear of apathy or indifference.  People who are passionate about their feelings live for harmony and rapport with others.

People who live a life of passionate feelings dream of a heaven that will be populated by all the people that they have known in their lives.  They want to see all their old friends, relatives and loved ones.  They dream of making amends for the wrongs that they have done to some and sharing their love and compassionate hearts with all others for infinity.

Time for Questions:

What are you passionate about?  Do you have enough passion in your life?  How could you have more passion? What would happen if you tried to live a more passionate existence?

Life is just beginning.

My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”  — Maya Angelou

Dear Friends and Family, Our Holiday Message and Greeting to You All.

anniversary partyAs we celebrate the birth of Jesus and the start of another New Year, we also look back at the celebrations of 2014.  Foremost for us was the joint celebration of our 25th wedding anniversary and Karen’s 70th birthday.  It’s so hard to believe both of these numbers.  Our 25 years of marriage (plus 5 dating years) have been so full of adventure, laughter, and love.  But, just in case we don’t make the ages of 93 and 95 for our 50th, we thought we’d recognize the interim event.  Having friends and family travel and stay with us for a few days really was special.

Jeanine (our sister)  came from Rhode Island, Peg (Karen’s “best friend” from grade school) came from Chicago and Xibo and Mary, our friends from Shanghai were able to come from San Francisco where they now live Jeaninemost of the time.  The party brought a nice combination of new Wisconsin friends and “old” ones Peg and Kathyfrom Minnesota.  And Karen got a picture of herself, Peg and Kathy (her “best friend” from high school) who all turned 70 this summer.  They look terrific and that 70 number is starting to be less scary.  We are also celebrating John’s successful recovery from two surgeries this year.  The report after his prostate surgery is that he is cancer free.  Then, about the time he was feeling “almost” as energetic as usual, he needed hernia surgery.  Now he’s back running in the Casa Grande Mountains.

Ice SkatingWe’ve settled into the snow bird routine well.  It’s a bit schizophrenic to leave one set of activities and friends and walk right into a second set, but it definitely keeps life interesting.  Karen misses her dulcimer buddies from WI, weekly coffee get-togethers and her Pilgrim church family.  John misses his “library guys” fellowship which start most of his mornings and the “green and blue” of WI.  But, when it’s time to return, Karen misses her Zumba/Curves group, our First Karen and MeganPresbyterian friends and the mountains plus her new tradition of Lefse and Christmas Cookie baking days with Megan.  New traditions combine with old as John continues to make an annual Jesuit retreat and Karen finds music and choirs wherever she is.  John has been working hard at marketing his consulting business and teaching while in MN.  Karen takes her work with her and does ICD-9 coding for Select Data and home health consulting with Alstar Consulting Group.  Be sure to check out John’s weekly blog at http://www.agingcapriciously.com.  He is very proud of his blog and puts about 4-6 hours per week in researching, writing, editing and publishing the blog with music and pictures to enhance his message.

Orphanage childrenIn-between “commuting” we participated in a mission trip to Puerto Penasco, Mexico in March with a group who support an orphanage in Sonoyta and a thrift store/meals program in Puerto Penasco.  The orphanage houses children who are unadoptable as their parents are still living, but Puerto Penascooften incarcerated.  They are beautiful, happy children, but there is little funding available and they need so much.  Karen did manage to put down the 2 year old boy who wanted to be held and snuggled for the whole time we were there.  As we go to the dentist in Sonoyta, it gives us an opportunity to bring things at other times before our next trip in the spring.  In June, we spent a week in Kentucky for music week.  Karen played her dulcimer most of her waking hours and John toured the area more fully Jim Beam Distillery 2and Karen Dulcimerchecked out a few more Kentucky bourbon brands.  During the fall commute to AZ, we spent 2 days in Colorado viewing the cliff dwellings at Casa Verde National Park.  In November, we spent a weekend in Tucson with our MN/AZ friends Dar and Denny to watch the Day of the Dead parade.

Grandchildren keep getting older which is so much fun to watch.  Juli’s Garrick (22) is a cast member now for the Renaissance Festival and Emily (14) is delightful.  Susan’s Zach (18) is in his first year of college in Rochester MN—and playing year around baseball and Sam (15) is busy with sports and school in Northfield.  Juli is co-leader of the Hastings Paranormal Society; Susan is still at HealthPartners as a pharmaceutical buyer; Kevin is in San Francisco at LinkedIn as a Systems Engineer and Megan has a new training position with Multiple Listings System.

Wishing you and your families a Blessed Holiday Season and the best for the New Year.

John and Karen

What the Hell Do We Need Morality For?

morals and ethics

This blog is about the subject of morality.  Once upon a time, they taught morality in school and in church.   The first system of morality that many older Americans were exposed to was probably the “Ten Commandments.”   This was a code of rules given to the Israelites by Moses on Mount Sinai.  I have always thought it ironic that a set of morals from the “Old Testament” was supposed to be the foundation for a Christian America.  Even today, advocates of this code of morality want to hang it in town halls, schools, courts and government centers.  This is a part of the Bible that promoted an “eye for an eye” and stoning adulterers.

Jesus did say “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17).  Jesus added at least one commandment to all others that was even more valuable than the ten TenCommandmentsMoses gave.   Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John: 13:34).  I would be much more in favor of seeing this posted in my neighborhood than the Ten Commandments.

Perhaps even more importantly in terms of a system of morality, Jesus gave a sermon where he proposed what has been called:  The Eight Beatitudes:   (Click here to hear the The Beatitudes Song

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  —- Gospel of St. Matthew 5:3-10

It is my opinion that the Eight Beatitudes constitute one of the greatest systems of morality to come out of the Bible.  I would rather see these taught (if we are going to teach a system of morality) than the Ten Commandments.  I would also not mind these being posted in schools and other public places whereas I am sick and tired of those who want to post the Ten Commandments.

I noted that once upon a time, we taught morality in schools and churches.   Actually, we not only taught morality but morality was also imbued in our social fabric by many traditional stories and the media.  Children from an early age were exposed to Fairy tales, Uncle Remus stories, Aesop Fables, and Tales of the Arabian Nights.  These stories were full of morals on how to live and behave properly.  Early TV was also full of morality tales.  Shows like Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver and Andy Griffith each week clearly conveyed stories of morality and what was right and what was not right in terms of behavior.

sin-guilt-causes-body-pain-sicknessSomeplace along the way, we started losing our sense of morality.  Some have blamed it on becoming a multi-cultural environment.  Some have blamed it on the decline of religion and church going.  Some have blamed education while still others have blamed progress and a business culture that has no room for strict morality.  I am not sure what the actual cause was.  I am more concerned that it did happen.  Studies have shown that our culture has become more amoral than moral and that narcissism now plays an increasing role in our society.  People are less moral and more self-centered than ever before in the history of this country.  A book by Joel Marks (Ethics without Morals: In Defense of Amorality -Routledge Studies in Ethics and Moral Theory, 2012) is one of several that makes an argument for amorality:

“In clear, plainspoken, engaging prose, Joel Marks presents the case for abandoning belief in morality. Anyone who wants to defend the practice of making moral judgments will have to confront the issues Marks raises, and the alternative to morality he proposes.” – Mitchell Silver, University of Massachusetts, Boston, USA 

In the book “The Moral Fool: A Case for Amorality (2009)” the author Hans-George Moeller advances the following case for amorality:

“Justice, equality, and righteousness—these are some of our greatest moral convictions. Yet in times of social conflict, morals can become rigid, making religious war, ethnic cleansing, and political purges possible.  Morality, therefore, can be viewed as a pathology—a rhetorical, psychological, and social tool that is used and abused like a weapon.”

In an article “Why Is Narcissism Increasing Among Young Americans?”  by Peter Gray in Freedom to Learn (2014), Gray notes the following:

“For the past three decades or a little more, researchers have been assessing both narcissism and empathy using questionnaires developed in the late 1970s.  Many research studies have shown that scores on these questionnaires correlate reliably with real-world behavior and with other people’s ratings of the individuals.  For example, those who score high in narcissism have been found to overrate their own abilities, to lash out angrily in response to criticism, and to commit white-collar crimes at higher rates than the general population.[1]  Those who score low in empathy are more likely than the average person to engage in bullying and less likely to volunteer to help people in need.[2.]

Over the years, these questionnaires have been administered to many samples of college students, and analyses that bring all of the data together reveal that the average narcissism score has been steadily increasing and the average empathy score has been steadily decreasing ever since the questionnaires were developed [3.]  The changes are highly significant statistically and sufficiently large that approximately 70 percent of students today score higher on narcissism and lower on empathy than did the average student thirty years ago.

What accounts for this historical rise in narcissism and decline in empathy?  There is no way to know for sure, based on the data, but there are lots of grounds for speculation.”

I think we have thrown the proverbial baby out with the bath water.  I agree we need to keep the State separate from the Church.  I also agree that we don’t need the Ten Commandments as the foundation for moral thought in America.  Nevertheless, I do believe that we all need a code of morality to live by.  Whether it be Christian, Buddhist, Confucian, Agnostic, Atheist, Islamic, Jewish, Hindu, Baha’i, or other, we need a set of morals as a template and foundation for our behavior.  We need a baseline that each of us can start from so that we can assess what is good and what is right.  We need to have some system of ideas about what is correct behavior and how we should live in a socially interconnected world.

When I was a kid, (somewhere along the way) I was taught the Seven Deadly Sins.  Sometimes they were called the Seven Deadly Vices or the Seven Cardinal Sins.  I assume that since I attended a Catholic school, it went along with the teaching.  The Seven Deadly Sins included the following:

  • Lust
  • Gluttony
  • Greed
  • Sloth
  • Wrath
  • Envy
  • Pride

7 deadly sins

Some of you might think that this list is old fashioned or out of date.  How could this set of implicit moral values make a difference in our society?  They are so old; do they really have any relevance anymore?

Take a close look around you at the world.  You have only to look for a few minutes to persuade yourself that these “sins” are at the top of the list of major problems.  Greed, envy, gluttony and lust appear pervasive in our culture.  (See my series on Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins) TV shows, movies, magazines, radio, supermarkets, superstars, sports, credit services, escort services, pornography, Las Vegas all portray an American brand of materialism that is nothing short of sick.  Get it now, get it fast, and get more and moreMore is better!  Bigger is better!  Shop till you drop!  He who has the most toys wins!

“If necessity is the mother of invention, then surely greed must be the father. Children of this odd couple are named: Laziness, Envy, Greed, Jr., Gluttony, Lust, Anger and Pride.”  ― John R Dallas  Jr.

Black Friday ( The day after Thanksgiving in the USA) is only a small manifestation of the greed, lust and sloth that has infected our society.  How many Americans have a regular exercise schedule?  How many obese citizens can you count on the street each day?  How many Americans spend more each week then they earn?  How many Americans will go in debt this Holiday Season to spend money that they don’t have on gifts and toys?  Where is the self-restraint that is necessary to push oneself away from the table or shut the TV off and say “Enough.”  It barely seems to exist.  Is it any wonder that so many countries have a very negative stereotype of the “average” American?  We appear to be a group of people who have lost our moral compass.

ARTICLE 29 —  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

  • You have a responsibility to the place you live and the people around you-we all do. Only by watching out for each other can we each become our individual best.

At this point, you well may be asking “What right does he have to be so damn moralistic?”  Didn’t Jesus say “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone?”  “Are you so perfect that you have a right to look down on other people?”  “Who does he think he is, Jonathan Edwards?”  “I don’t need anyone telling me my faults.”  “I get enough negativity from work without having to get it from you.”

Please allow me to clarify a few misconceptions.  In some religious circles we are all sinners.  Since I am agnostic, I don’t subscribe to a religious view of sin.  My use of the terminology is borrowed from the religious sphere since I think that the concept of sin has a very useful connotation if we can free it from some of the pejorative and negative associations with which it is fettered.  First of all, I do not believe that you will go to hell for committing these Seven Sins.  Second, you will not be a bad or evil person because of them.  Third and accentuating the positive, you may be happier and healthier if you are more aware of these “sins” and can do a better job of examining the role that they play in your life.  My bringing these “sins” out is to help us all become more aware of the morality that we have allowed to become obscured in our daily lives.

There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.  —-Buddha

We have had a decline in morality that started over one hundred years ago and it still seems to be declining.  More people are worried about their taxes increasing then the poverty facing many people in this country.  More people are worried about their security then the number of people going to jail every day for victimless crimes.  More people are worried about the price of gasoline then the pollution we send into the atmosphere every day.  Self-centeredness has become a dominant fixture of the American landscape.  “Greed is Good” says Ivan Boesky and everyone applauds.

If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.   — C. S. Lewis

Why do I think we should care about morality? 

goodevilWithout morality, we are not even as good as animals.  Animals eat, drink, sleep, procreate and fight when they have to.  They do not do it simply to hurt other animals or to wage war against groups or individuals that they cannot tolerate.  Animals care for their young and exhibit many characteristics of moral behavior.  In captivity, animals may display much more aggressive behavior.  For instance, Orcas in the wild have never been observed to kill other Orcas.  This is not the case for Orcas in captivity.  There is no such thing as civilization without a commitment to moral and ethical behavior.  Even animal societies are proof of this.

“I am Envy, begotten of a chimney-sweeper and an oyster-wife. I cannot read, and therefore wish all books were burnt; I am lean with seeing others eat – O that there would come a famine through all the world, that all might die, and I live alone; then thou should’st see how fat I would be! But must thou sit and I stand? Come down, with a vengeance!”  ― Christopher MarloweDoctor Faustus

Without morality, we have no compass to define what is good behavior and what is bad behavior.  We are reduced to the level of opportunists willing to take advantage of anyone and anything that suits our ends.  Listen to the current debate on the use of torture and the recent CIA report and you will find numerous “experts” advocating that the “ends justify the means.”  One man on NPR noted that he thought we should ask the victims of the Twin Trade Towers what they thought about the use of torture to capture Osama Bin Laden.   John McCain (May he Rest in Peace) once said it best when he opined in Congress (12-9-14) that “”Our enemies act without conscience. We must not.”  Nevertheless, he was opposed by his own party in his opposition to torture and in fact to even releasing the CIA Tortmoralityure Report. 

Many Republicans argued against releasing the report, especially as the threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria grew and U.S. intelligence officials had warned that its release could cause backlash from nations and groups hostile towards the nation.   American embassies in the Middle East had been put on heightened security alert for its release.

McCain replied that “This report strengthens self-government and, ultimately, I believe, America’s security and stature in the world.”  (CNN 12-9-14)

Finally, without morality, there is no way to transmit values from one generation to another.  A lack of morality has led to the increase in amorality that is now symptomatic of our society.  Amorality is a set of beliefs which deny the value of morality or at best are indifferent to morality.  A rock is amoral.  It is neither good (moral) or bad (immoral) but may be used for either purpose.  Anything or anyone without a conscience is amoral.  It is a fine line and one that is very easy to trespass between amoral and immoral.  Many people today may think their behaviors are amoral when actually they could better be described as immoral.  Harken back to the Seven Deadly Sins and ask yourself, how many of these vices are amoral?  Are greed, gluttony, lust and wrath amoral?   Can anyone with a good conscience say it is okay to partake in these vices?

“Seven deadly sins,
seven ways to win,
seven holy paths to hell,
and your trip begins

Seven downward slopes
seven bloodied hopes
seven are your burning fires,
seven your desires…”
― Iron Maiden

Time for Questions:

What is your moral code? What are the three most important morals in your life?  Do you think everyone should have an explicit moral code?  Why or why not?  Do you know many amoral people?  What do you think about amorality?  When is it justified?  What do you think the world would be like if everyone was amoral?  Would it be a better world or worse? Why?

Life is just beginning.

“Remember tonight… for it is the beginning of always”  ― Dante Alighieri

Friends and Friendship: Part 2:

I confess I ended a number of friendships this past year.  I decided to simply “let go” of people who don’t call me or who do not seem to have any interest in whether I am alive or dead.  I can’t say this task was easy.  I have misgivings about when and how I have approached the effort.  My solution has been to simply not call or contact others unless they contact me.  I have for many years felt like I was the one doing most of the work in several “friendships.”  I am not sure whether it is the “parsimony” of old age (i.e., only so much time left on this earth) or simply laziness.  Somehow though, I thought: “Well, if they want to see me, they can call me for a change.”  Maybe it simply means that I do not care about friendship enough to invest the work they need.  I even had misgivings over my “best friend.”   I began to feel that we had drifted apart over the years and no longer had the basis for a friendship.

In Friends and Friendship Part 1, I described some basic theories of friendships and went back to the ideas of Aristotle to help describe what friendship is and the types of friendship possible.  I outlined my theory on the importance of intimacy to friendship.  Here in Part 2, I want to identify ten behaviors that I think are necessary for a true friendship.  I am not sure ALL of them are necessary (You may have good friends without all ten being present) but I do think most of them are essential for a friendship.  I would like to describe each behavior and why it is important and its role in helping to create a true friendship.  I think friendships take time and effort.  In this respect, I don’t think friendships are any different than a good marriage.  You can’t take your partner for granted and ignore them day after day and expect your marriage to last.  I believe the same is true for friends.

As you read my friendship behaviors, please remember that I am not advocating that anyone take their friendships lightly or that you simply jettison friends who do not meet my criteria. I am simply saying that if you want to have good friends there are some behaviors that are necessary to create, maintain and continue a friendship.  Given the need to invest time and effort to keep good friendships, the idea of 2,000 or even 200 Facebook “Friends” is ludicrous.  If you can maintain even one good friendship in your life, I would consider you lucky.

If the time comes and you decide to take stock of your friendships, please remember one thing:  You do not have to “let go” of old friends.  You can rejuvenate or refresh your friendships by once again becoming a friend.  If your efforts are not reciprocated over time (and not necessarily fifty-fifty) you might want to reevaluate just who you should spend your time and energy with.  This might sound “cold and calculating” but if you have found a better solution please send me an email or drop a comment in the box.   I would sincerely like to keep as many friends as I can and if there is a way to do it without time and effort; I have not yet found it.

1. Disagree respectfully:

I cannot imagine a friendship where we agree on everything 100 percent of the time.  However, I also cannot imagine a friend who would insult me, disrespect me or try to make me look foolish.  I would not call that a friend.  I expect my friends to listen to my ideas and even if they do not agree, to at least try to understand where I am coming from and not deliberately try to denigrate or diminish my theories or opinions.   I have no problem with friends presenting facts or logical arguments against said opinions, but I don’t believe a friendship can be based on disrespect unless it can be done in a caring manner which is sometimes possible but usually very difficult to effect.

2. Overcome anger:

I have often noticed that real friendships seem to start “after” friends get angry with each other.  Perhaps, more than the anger signaling the start of true friendship is the process by which you are able to overcome the anger with your friend.   If we can’t confront the anger with another, it is unlikely that we will become good friends.  I remember once going to a marriage seminar and they said there were three things you needed for a good marriage:   1. A communications process.   2.  A fight-fair process.  3.  A realistic budget.   I was very intrigued by the fight-fair process. What this entails is the ability to communicate with your spouse or friend about things that make you angry or disappoint you.  It goes beyond daily communication to encompass “extra-ordinary” situations that arise when something does not go as we expect it to.  For many of us, this is a daily event.  If you can’t communicate with and overcome your anger with another person, you probably do not have a true friendship.

3. Share common interests:

Perhaps, you met your friends at Curves or work or playing bingo.  We meet people all over and I allow that ninety five percent of the people we meet are simply acquaintances.  They never become true friends because they never go beyond sharing common interests.  Nevertheless, the sharing of common interests helps create a bond that is fundamental to a good friendship.  It is indeed possible to stay good friends with someone long after the initial interests have disappeared simply on the basis of the shared history that you now have with that individual.  For instance, you might have been on a trip together or been in the service together.  These shared memories act as the cement to continue to provide a sense of common interests.   At some point however, these former interests become faded and need to be replaced by new and more salient experiences that can be shared together.  Without such interests as a foundation, I have seen many former friendships simply fade away.

4. Help each other when in need:

There is perhaps no truer saying that “A friend in need is a friend in deed.”  The power of the feelings that are manifested towards someone coming to our aid in time of need is beyond comparison to any other single aspect of friendship.  I remember a good friend of mine who once told me during my divorce: “The hell with your ex-wife, I am here for you.”  I will never forget how grateful I felt towards him for the fact that he was willing to unequivocally provide me with emotional support when I needed it.  Friends may help you in many ways, but perhaps no help goes further than the emotional support that we provide towards friends when they need it.

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.”
Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

5. Don’t expect your friends to be perfect:

This is a simple but profound truth:  None of us are perfect.  If you constantly find fault with others, chances are you will not have many or even any friends.  It is not always easy to accept the faults in others.  For instance, I disagree with one of my friends over some of the people whom he calls friends.  I would not have a racist or a bigot as a friend.  I am willing to overlook many warts and blemishes in my friendships but I draw the line at liking or even tolerating people who hurt or pick on others.  Perhaps I should be more charitable.  I admit, I write off many potential friendships because I will not tolerate hateful attitudes towards others.  Nevertheless, I do recognize that the more that you can handle and deal with the imperfections in others, the more friendships you will potentially have.

6. Care about each other:

This might be the single most important bond for a good friendship.  Do you really care about what happens to the other person?  Are you willing to go out of your way to take an interest in their needs and lives?   Caring can take many forms and might be attending a funeral at one of their relatives or driving your friend to the hospital or giving them a ride to the airport.  A few years ago, I remember a friend who told me that whenever any of his friends were in need, he simply showed up with helping hand, or a pie or a shoulder to cry on.  He said that he did not ask the common question “How can I help you?”  He simply went ahead and tried to help without being asked or given permission.  His initiative seemed to me more powerful than the common refrain “Let me know if I can be of help.”  I would be much more grateful towards the friend that simply showed up rather than waiting to be asked.

“It’s the friends you can call up at 4 a.m. that matter.”
Marlene Dietrich

7. Occasionally reach out to each other:

I believe it is important for friends to have some form of regular contact with each other.  I cannot understand or believe that a good friendship can endure without some form of mutual interdependence.  Whether, you come by for dinner, attend a movie together, take a trip together or simply call or even email your friends, it seems (to me anyway) that friendships need some form of regular lubrication that mutual contact provides.

I have said that Facebook friends are generally not true friendships. They do however; provide regular contact between “potential” friends and people who you truly call good friends.  The simple “like” button provides a very powerful and instant means of letting others know that you appreciate, admire or support something they are engaged in.  I have given many likes and received many likes on Facebook and I always feel closer to those individuals who take the time to “like” or note some issue that I care about.  Liking is not a very big effort but it forms that sense of mutual contact that I think is the lubricant for a good friendship.

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh?” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”
A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

8. Apologize when you hurt the other person:

Good friends do not deliberately hurt each other.  However, hurts both physical and emotional will often be inflicted.  I cannot tell you how many times I have bumped into Karen, stepped on her toes, or unintentionally inflicted some pain on her while we were together.  Fortunately, it was nothing ever very serious.   More serious to our relationship, has been the emotional pain and hurts that I have too often inflicted on her.   Some of them were intentional, some were not.   None were ever deserved though.   At such times, I think it is critical and essential to apologize to the other person.  Whether or not it was intentional is not the point.  The point is that you have hurt the other person and if you truly care about them, you want to know how you can help alleviate the pain.

A number of years ago, I was on the Oprah Winfrey show. The subject was apologies.  The expert that Oprah had on the show said that a true apology has three parts:  1. Saying: “I am sorry.”  2.  Listening to the hurt or pain you have caused the other person.  3.  Setting things right.  Part one, saying you are sorry is often the easy part.  However, many of us expect that as soon as we say we are sorry, the other person should forgot about it and get on with their lives.  Simply issuing an apology may not help the other person move on.  The difficult part is listening to the feelings, emotions and disappointments that your actions have led to.  People may all respond differently to different insults and individuals are responsible for their own feelings.  However, we all have feelings and in a good relationship you must care about the feelings of others.  Whether or not you have caused the feeling is a moot point.  Can you listen to and empathize with the pain that is in the other person?   This is often the only way; that they will be able to move beyond the pain and truly rejoin a relationship with you.

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

9. Kidding or joking with each other:

Insulting a person or demeaning a person deliberately is a far cry from kidding someone or even “roasting” another person.  The first is done with malice and hatred, the latter is done with love and admiration.  I have never been really good at humor and my efforts to be funny have often backfired.  Good friends are friends that you can joke with.  Of course, everyone has their sensitive spots and tolerances and knowing these are important to a friendship.  The deeper the friendship, the more likely you will have a greater tolerance towards each other in terms of how much you can push the boundaries of joking and ridicule.  Most of us have learned that texting, emails and online communications do not lend themselves to humor and spoofing.  That is why an entire arsenal of symbols 🙂 has arisen to show the other person that “no malice” is intended in our comments.  In our face to face communications, our body language readily communicates towards our friends our intentions and whether or not they are playful or benign.  I cannot conceive of a real friend who I could not joke with or make fun of from time to time and of course vice verse.

10. Trust your friends:

The amount of trust you would put in a friend might be the single most obvious indicator of how strong that friendship was.   But what do we mean by the word Trust?  We often hear the phrase “trust me” used today.  What does it mean to trust though?  ASU Online defines trust as follows:

Trust is both an emotional and logical act. Emotionally, it is where you expose your vulnerabilities to people, but believing they will not take advantage of your openness. Logically, it is where you have assessed the probabilities of gain and loss, calculating expected utility based on hard performance data, and concluded that the person in question will behave in a predictable manner. In practice, trust is a bit of both. I trust you because I have experienced your trustworthiness and because I have faith in human nature.

A friend is someone who you can expose your vulnerabilities with.  In Part 1 of this blog, I discussed the importance of intimacy to a friendship.  When we are intimate with someone, we are more exposed and more vulnerable.  There is no escaping vulnerability in a good friendship.  If you want a strong friendship, you must be willing to trust the other person and that means you must be willing to be vulnerable.  The fewer secrets you have with your friends, the stronger your friendships will be. The issue of trust is paramount here because who but a fool would share secrets with someone they could not trust.  The Internet is full of ridiculous instances of people posting, texting or sharing secrets with others who it became glaringly evident they could not trust.  Some of us are more trusting than others, but I think that most good friendships grow in trust as our experiences teach us whether or not the other person can really be trusted.  Thus, the final hallmark of a good friendship is trust.

Time for Questions:

Are you happy with your friendships?  Do you have some good friends?  How do you define friendship?  How many of the ingredients of friendship that I have outlined do you share with your friends?  Which ingredients do you disagree with? Which ingredients do you think I have missed?  What do you need to do tomorrow to have better friendships?

Life is just beginning.

Friends and Friendship: Part 1.

It is easy to measure friendship today.  Simply count the number of “friends” you have on Facebook and subtract the number of people who “defriended” you.  Multiply this number by the number of followers you have and divide by the number of people you are following.  This number or index will accurately tell you the number of friends you have in the whole wide world.  If you are not good with math and numbers, then simply call up each of your “friends” and see who will lend you a hundred dollars.  Another quick and easy solution to see how many friends you have is to count the number of your “friends” who bring you some chicken soup when you are home in bed with the flu.    

The subject of friendship has been written about since writing first began.  An advantage of friendship and perhaps one of its most enduring qualities is that you can pick your friends but you can’t pick your mother, father, aunts, uncles or other relatives.   While “blood” may be thicker than water, actual counts show as many dysfunctional families as dysfunctional friendships. (An observation extrapolated from my 67 years of experience as a relative and friend.)  Another advantage of friendship is that people seem to have more concern about being a good friend than they do about being a good relative.  To test this latter point, I went to Amazon.com and typed in “friendship.”  I found 57,722 books on the subject.  Next I typed in “relatives.”  I found only 20, 930.  Since this experiment did not seem very definitive I also tried the following.  I went to Google and typed in: “How to be a better friend?”   I found 1,470,000 hits on this subject.  Then I went back and typed in “How to be a better relative?”  I used the quotes to frame both question.  I found NO hits.  Not a one. NADA.  ZERO.  Go ahead and try it yourself.  Type in: “How to be a better relative?”   Here is what you will get:

   No results found for “How to be a better relative?”.

https://www.google.com/#q=%E2%80%9CHow+to+be+a+better+relative%3F%E2%80%9D

So there you have the second major or perhaps third major advantage of friendship.  Namely that people care about being a good friend but no one cares about being a good “relative.”  You are just supposed to love your relatives and that’s it.  End of subject.  “I love you brother.”  “I love you sister.”  “I love you Dad.”  “I love you Mom” are words taken for granted.  Your friends might regularly invite you over for meals and never say “I love you.”  However, your relatives may never invite you over for a meal, but they will not hesitate to say: “I love you.”  I guess love should be the subject of another blog, since the love of relatives seems to be something that needs better defining.  However, to return to the subject of friendship, let’s look at Aristotle’s three types of friends.  I will refer you to Amazon for more works on friendship.  Anyone reading all 57,722 books will receive a certificate as a bona fide “Friendship Expert.”  Simply mail me the ISBN number of all the books you have read or rip off the back cover and send them to me.  I will mail your certificate ASAP. 

Aristotle identified three types of friends.  I would like to compare Aristotle’s ideas on friendship to my ideas on friendship.  I wrote on the subject about thirty-five years ago and it was my first piece of paid writing.  It appeared in a Men’s Journal somewhere on the West Coast.  I regret I cashed the check as it would have been a nice souvenir and it was only for twenty dollars.  However, I was in graduate school at the time and twenty dollars seemed like a lot of money back then.  The title of my article was called:  “Male Friendship and the Three Types of Intimacy”.   I will return to my theories later, however let’s start with Aristotle since I give him a head start on the subject and much greater profundity.

Aristotle’s ideas on friendship were part of his larger work The Nicomachean Ethics.  Aristotle divided friendships into three types based on the motive for forming them.  These three types were:  Friendships of utility, friendships of pleasure and friendships of the good.   

“Friendships of utility” describe encounters with others that are very commercial or practical.  There is no love or intimacy exchanged in such relationships and they are simply based on a quid pro quo type of arrangement.  For some, these types of friends would better be called acquaintances but I think acquaintances lack the level of commitment that is sometimes necessary in “friendships of utility.”  Many of the people we work with, have business transactions with or even network with on LinkedIn would fit into this category.  Such relationships are not very intimate but they can engender a certain depth of emotional attachment. 

Aristotle’s “friendships of pleasure” include those individuals who we enjoy being around or spending time with.  These are people we like because they are fun to be with or they make us feel good or they bring some level of excitement to our lives.  Many of these types of friendships involve some type of shared activity.  You might be on the same bowling team, church council, or simply hang around in a bar or coffee shop together.  The intimacy involved in this type of friendship is deeper than in “friendships of utility” but it is often is limited to the activity that is being jointly pursued.  Once the activity ends, often the friends go separate ways.  Such friendships may end unless there is some other reason to create a bond or another reason to interact together.  

Aristotle’s third and deepest friendship is the “friendship of the good.”  Such a friendship is based on the enjoyment of the other person for some “good” or character trait that the person exhibits and which you find compelling or attractive. You like the person not for what they can do for you but because of who they are.  According to Aristotle these are the enduring type of friendships since they are not based on utility or shared activities but on a mutual liking or affection between the friends.  As long as the character traits enjoyed by each friend do not change, the friendship will continue. 

While I find Aristotle’s three types of friendship interesting, I do not think they go far enough or deep enough to define friendship.  I think he comes closest to my idea of friendship with his “friendship of the good” but even that does not go far enough.  The major fault I have with Aristotle is that he misses what I think is the key ingredient of friendship, namely intimacy.  A friendship must involve intimacy or it is not a friendship.  Intimacy is the key ingredient for all “true friendships.”

Intimacy:

1. the state of being intimate.

2. a close, familiar, and affectionate personal relationship.

3. a close association with or deep understanding of a place, subject, etc.

4. an act or expression serving as a token of familiarity or affection: the intimacy of using first names.

5. a sexual liberty.

6. privacy, esp. as suitable to the telling of a secret: in the intimacy of his studio.

I believe there are three types of intimacy upon which a friendship can be founded.  I do not include sexual intimacy here since for the most part, I am describing “non-sexual” relationships.  Relationships between lovers usually involve sexual intimacy but they do not have to include much if any of the three types of intimacy that I think are a key to a good friendship. It would be a better relationship if they did.  You will note though that it is frequently hard for ex-lovers to remain friends because once the sex part ends there is often little of the intimacy necessary for true friendship. 

I have labeled the three types of intimacy as: 

  • Face to face
  • Side to side
  • Back to back

Face to face intimacy is more emotional and affective and generally involves two people sharing feelings, problems, emotions, and issues that they would not discuss with anyone else.  Women are typically considered to be very good a face to face intimacy.  You can find women sitting together over coffee discussing any number of emotional issues.  Dealing with personal subjects with another party is central to face to face intimacy.  No gender has a monopoly on this type of intimacy but in the past, men were brought up to avoid dealing with emotions making such intimacy very difficult.

Side to side intimacy is doing and conative.  It is active and involves sharing some physical activity with the other party.  This could be working together, playing sports together, helping each other with some tasks or chores or simply taking a walk together.  This is an area where men in the past found much of their intimacy with other men.   Sports and other side to side activities were more condoned for men than sitting exchanging emotions together.  Time has changed and women are now as active in many sports as are men and we increasingly see men spending time with other men talking and sharing feelings.

Back to back intimacy involves a willingness to share risk or face a threat for the other person.  Soldiers develop strong friendships because of their need to rely on each other.  Police also develop strong friendships with their partners because of the element of shared risk and the strong need to rely on each other during emergencies and threats.  Any individuals that help each other during emergencies or dangerous situations can experience the type of intimacy that I call back to back intimacy.  (Just as an aside, I used this phrase before the term “I got your back” became popular but the current phrase  does express the essence of this type of intimacy.) 

A friendship may involve one, two or all three of these types of intimacy.  They are not all required for a good friendship.  A friendship based on only one of these types of intimacy can be very strong and profound.  However, all things being equal, a friendship based on two or three of the types of intimacy will be stronger than one based on a single type.  The caveat here is that when the intimacy no longer exists, there is a good chance that the friendship will fade away or become only a source of memories. 

In my blog next week, I would like to address some ideas for developing, maintaining and even enhancing our friendships.  I speak from having some experience at developing friendships but also at losing many good friends over the years.  Friendship much like love, romance, marriage or any other type of strong bonded relationship must be worked at.  A failure to commit to working on a relationship is the death knell for that relationship.  Bonds are only as strong as the glue that cements them together. When the glue loses its adhesion, the bond falls apart. The glue for friendships is intimacy.  Lose the intimacy and you lose the friendship.

Time for Questions:  

Do you have many good friends?  What do you do to maintain your friendships?  Have you ever lost a good friend?  Why?  What do you think you need to do more of to have stronger friendships?  Which type of intimacy are most of your friendships based on?  Do you have friends that fall into Aristotle’s three types?  Which ones?  How much work do you put into your friendships?  Do you put enough? 

Life is just beginning.

 

 

 

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